Sunday, July 21, 2013

High heeled babies and thoughts on being Mom

The other day I turned the corner and saw this and then ran to get a camera. I rarely wear heals, only when dressing up. Why is it that when trying to be "grownup" both my girls put on my heels and walk around proudly doing "adult" things as uncomfortably as possible? Probably for the same reason they love to wear dresses, especially princess dresses. Like one of Jackie's favorite literary characters, Nancy, they like to be fancy! I also like how Bridget has dishes, food and a book in the basket and then cars and trucks in the bottom. She's well-rounded in her interests!
Still, it's endearing that they seem to want to be like their mom. One of Jackie's favorite games to play with friends is Family and she and her friends fight for the role of Mom. I'm kind of surprised when I watch, because in the wide world out there it seems many find the role of Mom less glamorous than, well, anything that pays more. Still, just as I found my low-paying writing positions immensely rewarding, so do I find these moments I get with my girls. I was surprised when I had children at how rewarding, intellectually stimulating and demanding in a fun, creative kind of way, I found parenting. Of course, I was terrified of parenthood, half convinced it would ruin my life. I'm happy to report it hasn't, yet. There's a new rhythm to learn, though, with joy to be found.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

A fourth birthday cake with pink, purple and red flowers

My daughter never forgot her dream for a fancy pink and purple cake, an idea that started while helping and watching me make a four layer Halloween cake for a service auction. So, despite the fact that we had just moved to our first-ever house and were getting ready to travel across the U.S. to visit family, I made her a three-layer cake with buttercream frosting and pink, purple and red roses on top.

Jackie chose colors of the cake's flowers. Ask Jackie her favorite color and she'll tell you, "pink, purple, red" and then she'll probably go on to add whatever other color comes to her mind. But, it always starts with pink, purple and red. Once some adult asked her the favorite color question and received a very long response, leading me to ask Jackie: "Are all the colors your favorite?." "No, not black," she said. So, there are limits. While I didn't put in as much time as I had into the service cake, she seemed excited, and enjoyed sharing it with some friends from Ann Arbor and new families we've met at our new home.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Ghosts, bats and otherwise scary cake baking

At a church service auction I donated an IOU for a homemade cake decorated in buttercream frosting, utilizing my skills as a certified level 2 cake decorator. My sister, Christie, and I once took two Wilton cake decorating classes together. Christie went on to make fondant wedding cakes for each of her siblings, along with baby shower cakes, birthday cakes, and anniversary cakes -- some out of love and some for pay. You can see what I mean on her site,

I on the other hand.... well, the classes were fun and I do like to dabble now and then! For the auction, I thought I was signing up to make a kid's birthday cake. Instead, an adult bought my item for her huge birthday party. Yikes! I mean, "No problem. I'll just make a quick phone call to my little sis'." The process took more than a week. First, Christie helped me find "manageable" cakes online and then suggested how to make the one the girl chose.

Making the decorations is somewhere between the art of a sculpter and a kid's urge to play with play doh. After making homemade fondant recipes for both white and black fondant, I rolled, molded and cut, making bats, a ghost, ribbon and cats. Satisfying!

I used real butter in the buttercream frosting for the orange background, which made it decadent. I also, with Christie's help, found a caramel filling recipe that made the best caramel filling I have ever had and another recipe for the moistest chocolate cake I've ever made. These cakes were heavy, moist and melt-in-your mouth. Mmmmm.

This turned out to be a four layer cake, with two 8" and two 6" layers. I only had oval-shaped 6"X8" pans and so had to trim the extra cake off the edges and then cover up everything in beautiful frosting and decor.

I didn't think the final product looked too shabby, and even better those who attended the birthday party told me my cake tasted amazing. It should have, of course, with all the ingredients I used. The woman whose birthday party it was told me that if I ever wanted to make a business of it her guests seemed very impressed. Uh, no, I'll leave that kind of thing to Christie. But, it was a good bonding experience with my favorite (yes, only) sister ever!

 OK, OK, to share some more credit around. My daughter Jackie helped pour in some of the ingredients and my friend, Megan, helped me find a way to get the bats to stay on the wire (aluminum foil ball with toothpick through it, covered in fondant) and suggested the eyes and fangs on the bats.

Then my husband, Renn, drove 30 minutes to Canton to deliver the cake for the birthday/Halloween party, while I precariously balanced the cake on my lap and shuddered at every bump, and two babies slept in the backseat. Now that I'm ready to retire from cake making, my daughter, Jackie, has been inspired by our project and is already planning the purple cake with pink flowers she thinks I should make her for her birthday. We'll see what she thinks in a few more months.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Happy Halloween: Little Bo Peep found her sheep

This Halloween Little Bo Peep and her lost sheep found each other. Here they are, with Jackie playing the part of Bo Peep and Bridget as the sheep or rather the lamb, as in Lamb-e-r-t. I'd found the lamb outfit at a yard sale in brand new condition and bought it, partly because I liked the pun on the last name. We made Jackie's outfit using what we had around the house, just purchasing some ribbon for her homemade staff (used a wood dowel and wire-covered newspaper, covered in fabric for the basic staff) and hair. We went to a trunk-or-treat at the church last weekend. This is right before we left:

Once there, the kids enjoyed chili and cornbread, the parade of the children, and candy.
This morning, we went trick-or-treating to downtown businesses. Tonight we just stayed inside where it was warm. It was a little disappointing that no trick-or-treaters knocked on our door. But, then again we didn't knock on other's either. I think some people, like us, have concerns about safety. Oh, well, Happy Halloween!

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

A best friend's wedding

Recently, I had the chance to attend the wedding of the girl who was my best friend from fifth grade through high school. This is the person who sat with me at lunch every day in elementary school, listened for hours to my teenage angst, and dreamed with me about the future. She was a friend who in some ways was very different from me –– in religious perspectives, athletic ability, hair color, height. But, we had fun talking about boys, listening to music, and exchanging ideas. Sometimes with all our differences we marveled that we were such good friends, but somehow we stuck together and I believe made each other better. Our unique backgrounds seemed to make the friendship more interesting.

Still, at moments during the last several months I questioned spending the money to fly from Ann Arbor, Michigan, to Utah for the wedding, partly because Renn and I are trying to save up enough for the down payment on a house and partly because, since we're not as close as we once were, I wondered if she'd really care. But, I suppose what was important is that I cared. I'm so grateful my husband never stopped encouraging me to go to the wedding, and that we were blessed that he got a new job that allowed us to afford to do so. I'm also grateful for my parents who babysat, sent their love, and loaned me their car. There was something so sweet about seeing such a significant person to me on one of her most important days. I was glad I could show my love and support in person.

I was relieved when Lexi's mom immediately came up to me to thank me for coming when I arrived. Other of Lexi's longtime and newer friends, as well as her extended family members whom I'd met over the years, also welcomed me. So many memories came back and I felt touched as I saw the gentle grace with which Lexi handled her wedding. She chose what she did carefully, regardless of tradition, and decided instead of gifts to encourage donations to one of two charities, in the newlyweds honor and in honor of her new husband's mother who passed away recently. The blue wild flowers she chose for her bouquet matched her eyes and her outdoorsy, natural personality, as did her simple, elegant dress and jewelry. She kept her wedding small, which gave it an intimate, one-on-one feeling, which is the kind of person Lexi is. It also allowed her time to visit with her guests. Instead of a traditional wedding cake, she had her favorite, flourless chocolate cake. Her uncle, a minister, married her in an outdoor ceremony up Big Cottonwood canyon that emphasized Lexi's view of marriage as a beautiful, important life commitment.

I saw Vanessa, Laura and Sarah, whom I hadn't seen for years and it was fun to see what they were doing with their lives.

I also met the man Lexi married and liked him, and was impressed that his father and brother seemed like good, nice people. That wasn't a surprise since they are from the Midwest after all! From what Lexi has told me, his mother was an amazing woman as well. It was also nice to see my friend's parents, whom I hadn't seen for years, and who while I was growing up fed me endless plates of nachos, took me to University of Utah basketball games, and shuttled Lexi and me all over.

And, of course, I stayed to enjoy the dancing. I was glad I did, as it gave me some time afterwards to talk one-on-one with Lexi and connect with her on a deeper level. Plus, she thanked me for staying the entire time.

I wish Lexi and Mason a courageous, joyful, beautiful life together.

I'm glad they've found a true friend in each other, and I'm grateful for the friend Lexi was to me during one of the most formative, and in some ways difficult, times of my life.

"Hey, ain't it good to know that you've got a friend? People can be so cold. They'll hurt you and desert you. Well, they'll take your soul if you let them, oh yeah, but don't you let them." – James Taylor

Thursday, September 27, 2012

A bedtime moment

It's 8:18 p.m., which means it's 18 minutes past my three-year-old's bedtime. She's sitting on our green, red and gold plaid couch cushion on the floor of our Ann Arbor townhouse, ready to jump on her make-shift trampoline, even though she's not supposed to jump on cushions. Mommy's feeding little sis' and tells Daddy to put the three-year-old, who didn't take her nap, to bed. Life in our new home here is good, but both adults are already looking forward to rest.

"Go to bed, Jackie," Daddy says.

"No, I want to do my jumping," she says.

Renn looks at his iPad a while longer, while Mommy feeds Bridget and types, then Daddy tries to encourage Jackie to go to bed. Finally, Jackie issues these words of wisdom:

"I'm too tired to go to bed."

That remark prompted me to finally update my blog. Meanwhile, Renn gets Jackie to go upstairs and a few minutes later, Bridget and I go up and see this:

After writing this blog, Bridget and I went to check on Jackie and found her and her daddy sound asleep.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

A couple of graduates

This was graduation weekend. Last night we attended two graduation receptions, with the kids. Jackie wasn't that impressed by the shrimp or scallops, but she did love the chocolate dipped strawberries and most of all the live band. She attracted attention of crowds of people because she planted herself in one spot and watched for around 20 minutes. When we wanted to move, she said she wanted to, "watch the music." This is a little girl who goes around the house singing songs and asking mommy to turn on the tunes.

This morning Renn and I attended commencement. Renn graduated with his MS in environmental engineering, while I tried to watch and tried to manage two babies. Everyone who sat around us was very patient and went out of the way to be nice. Fortunately one of those, a friend of mine from Kenya with three kids, mostly older, was seated nearby and helped during the ceremony. Her oldest daughter sat with Jackie while I took Bridget out at first. After Renn got his diploma cover, I exited to a nearby lobby. As you can see the babies didn't find graduation too exciting. Here's us listening in the lobby while they read off names and handed people their diplomas (By the way, these two pictures were taken by a two-year-old boy with some help from me. Entertainment):

Eventually, Martha's youngest boy, age two, was restless and we both found ourselves in the lobby. We decided to take the kids for a "wiggle walk." The kids raced around the hallways and I felt relieved to walk and talk with another mom who understood.

Afterward, Renn's advisor met him, posed for a picture and took our pictures also. Then, he suggested some more people for Renn to contact in his job search and said, "See you Monday." Renn and I believe he's been fortunate to have a very good professor.

 I took Renn's pictures with the kids.
Then, he offered to take "graduation" pictures of me in his cap and gown because my commencement is next weekend at Utah State University and we won't be able to make it. I'm disappointed because I didn't go to my undergraduate graduation either because I planned to go when I got my master's degree. So, I suppose today is my graduation in a sense also :) I changed the picture to black and white so that you can pretend my hood is Utah State blue!

Here I am with the two future graduates:

Monday, April 16, 2012

Pinata making: the paper mache hot air balloon and bunny

The last month, Jackie and I have been making pinatas. It started when we made a hot air balloon for my Relief Society party. We got some old newspapers and mixed about 1 part water with 1 part flour to make a paste. Then we dipped long strips of the newspaper into the paste and flattened them over a large balloon.

Jackie's friend McKensie came over to help with the second layer of paper mache, but the two of them got bored quickly and went to dress up as princesses and play with toys, which gave me lots of time to finish that layer.

Then I hung it up in the closet for two weeks. By the time I got back to putting on another layer, I was running out of time and had to use two large fans to dry it and then quickly decorate it for the party. Still, I was rather happy with how it turned out.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Happy birthday, Grandpa Steve!

Today, April Fools Day, is my dad's birthday. He's endured years of unflavored jello, beautifully wrapped empty boxes and frosted sponge cakes (made with real sponges). But, this year we decided to do something nice.

This last week, Jackie and I went to work to make him a birthday card. We sent it Thursday and amazingly we learned today that it arrived 27 hours away in Utah on Saturday. Since we didn't think it would arrive, we posted the electronic version, Dad. We love you and Jackie had a ton of fun coloring, drawing, painting, gluing and putting stickers on for this card. I put together the materials and came up with the ideas. It's our attempt to do better at honoring birthdays, which in the past have been lucky to merit even a simple phone call. I modified the song Twinkle, Twinkle because it's become Jackie's signature piece of late. She's been known to start singing and going on and on and on. Here's our new version:

Twinkle, twinkle little star
how I wonder what you are.
Up above my Grandpa Steve so high,
like a beacon in the sky.

Twinkle, twinkle little star
how I wish I could travel far
to see my Grandpa Steve today 
and wish him a Happy Birthday!

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Relief Society birthday

Last weekend, my church celebrated the 170th birthday of the Relief Society, our women's organization. This year we decided to have a traditional birthday party, but with a Mexican twist. We ate tacos and strawberry cake, broke a pinata full of candy and played some fun games.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Something to celebrate: our six-month birthday tradition

Sometimes it's fun to do something totally frivolous, like celebrate a six-month birthday. My mother started the tradition, something that I never thought twice about until my mother-in-law got a kick out of this picture in my wedding video:

The six-month birthday cake my mother made me

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Jackie's marker tatoos, first snowman, Tech hockey, and other 2-year-old adventures

Over the last month, I've been jotting down memories and taking pictures, despite the fact I couldn't get my computer to upload them. Now it's time for some more catchup, with a post focused on my blog's greatest fan (she loves to see pictures of herself and family members!). Here goes:

Feb. 6 - Jackie and I ate a bowl of frozen blueberries -- that we'd picked fresh months earlier by Rice Lake -- they still tasted so much better than store bought and brought back a bit of summer. It was also kind of funny dying our fingers and mouths purple with berries mid-winter. Here's a picture of Jackie's mouth AFTER we tried to wash it clean:

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Bridget's five-month milestones

According to Bridget's doctor, she was ready for rice cereal at four months, although Jackie's doctor had advised holding off until six months. Since Renn and I found the latter advice more in line with our philosophy, so far we've waited. We'll let her stay a milkitarian baby a little longer.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Composition: Minimalism

I'm rather late on updating my weekly photo challenges, and my blog in general, because my photo editing software wouldn't let me import my pictures from my camera. After messing around with the software, I'm still not sure what was wrong, but the photos will import again. So, now I'm playing catchup. Two weeks ago, I'd been focused on minimalist photography.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Photography Composition: Manmade repetitions and patterns

This week my photography challenge was to find manmade repetitions and patterns. I had grand plans, as I drove through downtown Houghton and Hancock and noticed all the patterns in the buildings and streets, but I got a bit overly busy.

Cinderella goes to the ball after marriage and two children

When Cinderella's fairy godmother appeared, did she also give her a bath? Do her hair? 

I wonder because Saturday when the clock struck 10 p.m. I finally did get to go to the ball, thanks to my fairy godmother (i.e. a friend and visiting teacher who offered to watch my kids).

But before that happy moment, I spent a whole day with time running out.

When the clock struck 7, 8 and 9 a.m. I was making biscuits for breakfast, helping the two sweet baby sisters eat breakfast, and taking a shower, hoping to go snowshoeing.

When the clock struck 10 a.m. I felt weary, and just needed to sit down. Perhaps my lack of sleep, due to my nearly five-month-old was showing, because I felt a sort of exhausted sick. I ended up falling asleep and when I woke up I felt much better.

When the clock struck 12 p.m. We still needed to get too many things done to go snowshoeing, in order to prepare for the ball! I began sweeping the floors, then warmed up leftover soup for lunch and fed children.

When the clock struck 2 p.m. I somewhat grumpily attended a leadership meeting with my husband and my two children, hoping to go snowshoeing after.

When the clock struck 4 p.m. it was over and the greater vision I had for life more than compensated for the lost two hours, but it had taken long enough we postponed our snowshoeing.

When the clock struck 4:30 p.m. I was serving hotdogs for dinner and then was cleaning the bathroom.

When the clock struck 6 p.m. I told my handsome prince that I needed to stop cleaning and start getting ready. He was still washing dishes, putting away laundry and placating children. Shall we call him Rennderella? But, there's a reason princes don't need fairy godmothers in the old stories. It takes them like 30 minutes to get ready. To look extra nice that evening Renn did spend an extra 30 seconds putting some gel in his hair.

As the clock struck 7:30 p.m., I had finished pumping milk for my daughter, and was in my bedroom feeding my baby, half dressed, thinking I'd failed with my hair, and then my fairy godmother arrived. I told the prince to tell her I'd be right out and I was. She said I looked great. I told her my dress had come for the magical price of $1 from Keewanaw Consignment where they were clearing out the old stuff, priced just right for a graduate student budget. She took our picture and we were off to the Library Restaurant, a wonderful kind of place where they decorate with books and letters of the alphabet.

At the Library Restaurant, I took more pictures, enjoyed a dinner of salmon and Mediterranean salad (my husband and I always order two platters and then split each in half),

and attracted the attention of a boy at the neighboring table who seeing me with my camera and fancy gown, asked if I was a spy.

Then my husband and I went to the Snow Ball -- frequented by first year students -- and at first thought all everyone did was sit at the tables and talk.

But, when the jazz band started their tunes the couples came out and turned, swang and swayed.

Renn and I chatted with a retired couple who took a picture for us

and then danced part of a swing song and all of a slow song, before hurrying home to get our kids before the clock chimed 10:30 p.m. We were late by about five minutes. Fortunately, I brought boots and slipped them on to walk through the snow to the door as my glass slippers vanished into thin air.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Photo challenge: Patterns in nature

My daughters and I hiked along the frozen shores of Lake Superior as I sought material for this week's photo challenge: finding patterns in nature. It was a warm day for early February and after all the work to bundle up the babies, I felt like I'd mounted Mount Everest, or something, to actually arrive at McClain State Park, only to discover they don't plow much in the winter. We parked by the front office (the only place to park), ate Little Caesar's Pizza (an unhealthy splurge) for lunch, and then with no cars around Jackie could venture out through the snow as slowly and in whatever direction she wanted. She inspected her footprints as she slowly followed me from place to place. Without my knowledge, she had brought a bracelet with her and she enjoyed dipping it into the snow and made me look for it whenever she dropped it. Bridget slept in my Moby, while I tried to look at the clouds, ice and trees with a photographer's eye. I pointed out what I saw to Jackie and together we inspected ice crystals, fungi and natural patterns in the tree bark and gentle curves in the snow. I was hoping to get a picture of frozen waves or large chunks of cracked ice in the lake, but the water was too warm for that Friday, and wanting to stay safe with two babies I stayed far from the shoreline. I think my favorite shot is the close-up of white ice crystals, perhaps covering some type of fungi, on the tree bark. What do you think?

My wedding cake

My wedding cake
My sister, Christie, made my wedding cake -- all five layers of it. It was fondant, covered in fresh red roses and green ribbon. For a more modern look she chose to make a square cake.

Trip up the canyon

Trip up the canyon
OK, here's the truth, what Renn and I really look like when we wake up. After our first backpacking trip as a couple, Renn's hair looked like grass growing on his head and mine lay flat and matted as we walked out of the mountains.

Karen and Renn in Mexico

Karen and Renn in Mexico
This is us on our last day at the Hummingbird Inn in Maneadero, Mexico. It was a fun week of service with Engineers Without Borders. Renn and other USU engineering students helped put in drain fields at an orphanage, The Gabriel House, for children with severe disabilities. I helped dig some holes and wrote an article for the newspaper about the experience.