A Monchau Feeling

Well before we left Monchau I knew it would be my favorite stop in Germany. The architecture and the colors completely grabbed me. We visited the medieval town center dominated by narrow streets, the Rur river, and the half-timbered buildings (structural timber frame is visible on the outside of the structure with plaster, brick, or stone infilling). I love this type of construction because the structural elements are exposed rather than hidden away and are often used to great artistic effect. I’m hoping to see a lot more of these types of buildings on our British Isles trip that is coming up right around the corner!

Monchau is nestled into lush and green hills. I can’t imagine a more appropriate and charming setting for a medieval town. I was smitten. We were caught in a little rainstorm while hiking up a hillside of the town. Under normal circumstances we might be a little annoyed to be wet. However, it seemed so appropriate to rain here that it simply added to the ambiance and our enjoyment of the moment.

I’ve prepared a couple photos that capture a little of this Monchau feeling.

This photo captures some of that medieval timber construction, the Rur river passing between buildings in the midst of the town, and the green hills outside the town. It was taken handheld on May 12th 2017 in Monchau, Germany using the Fuji X-T10 and the Fuji 18–55mm lens at 18mm, 1/250s, f/7.1, and ISO 800. Editing was performed in Lightroom to square the architecture and slightly adjust the white balance.

This photo captures some of German shingle work that I noticed in many of the cities and towns is a favorite detail of mine. Just look at the patterns; the are fantastic! Throw in a little grunginess and I’m as happy as a clam.  It was taken handheld on May 12th 2017 in Monchau, Germany using the Fuji X-T10 and the Fuji 18–55mm lens at 37.4mm, 1/250s, f/8, and ISO 320. Editing was performed in Lightroom to square grunge the photo up a little.

This photo was taken as we were walking back down the hillside into Monchau!

This photo is a great little example of the small and narrow streets in Monchau.

This one is of Julie and the kids taking in the scenery.

We didn’t do anything out-of-the-ordinary…but that doesn’t mean we did nothing extraordinary

We didn’t do anything out-of-the-ordinary…but that doesn’t mean we did nothing extraordinary.
This spring, we:

Celebrated life at 38 years old…

Explored the world…
We watched the Olympics Opening Ceremony and found ALL the represented countries on our map.



Appreciated fine workmanship…

The BYU Museum of Art hosted two wonderful exhibits simultaneously. One was E.C. Escher (famed “Impossible Constructions” artist) and the other was Tiffany stained glass. Nate’s a big fan of the illusions and I’ve always been a big fan of these lamps.
The kids and Rob were studying this display of different glass and I was elsewhere. Nate asked Rob to choose two favorites. A couple of minutes later I came over and Nate asked the same of me. 
Guess what? Out of all these samples, I happened to choose the same two favorites that Rob chose. Match made in heaven, we are!
Were awestruck by nature’s resilience (and OUR OWN!)…

Worked hard and went for it…

Visited the House of the Lord as an eternal family…
Played a prank on mom (who HATES PeeWee!)…

Expanded newly discovered brain cells…
Played at the Happiest Place on Earth in Utah…

Nate doesn’t look quite as happy here as he did on Cannibal.
Snuggled our peeps…


Created joy through craft…

Can you see Nate in his tank (with working gun)?
Every so often we clean out the fridge/freezer and pantry and let the kids “cook” 
with all the throw-away ingredients. They get such a KICK out of this tradition! It started when Nate was a wee lad of 2 and I caught him “cooking” in the kitchen with food he found.
  
Now he’s making stuff like this!
And we basically just keep growing up way too fast!
These are extraordinary days that will be cherished forever.

Our Ballroom Babe

Madeleine joined the school’s ballroom team this year. She loved every minute of it! With her mix of choreography memorization skills and theatric pizzazz, she wowed Rob and I every time she got on the dance floor.

She went to practice twice a week before school and practiced in our family room every afternoon. She loved going to competitions and really enjoyed being part of a team.

Her team did really well and went to state (which is where Rob and I had our first encounter with a real dance mom…Scary and yet so hard to look away!).

We are so impressed with her instructors and are grateful that they work so hard to give these kids an amazing experience.

Madeleine had quite the birthday this year. She decided months earlier that she wanted to use her present and party budget (and saved her own money) and stay overnight in a hotel with her cousin. We had a lot of fun! Since the hotel was mostly paid for with points, she was able to choose some fun activities to do including going to Classic Fun Center, a movie, and Build-a-Bear.

When we arrived back at home, she found her sister had made a surprise for her…rice krispie treat hedgehogs!

 

Although her celebration had already been a blast, Rob and I decided to throw her a surprise party anyway…at SWIG! It was a swinging success!

While we are on the subject of Madeleine, I have a funny story:

Madeleine and I had a dentist appointment this week. She has a cavity and I have one from a couple of years ago that needs to be redone. She really wasn’t looking forward to it. The day came and I was still congested and getting over a cold. I decided to reschedule and when I called they asked if I wanted to reschedule Madeleine’s as well. “Why yes, let’s do that,” I said.

Madeleine came home from school and immediately started crying because she was so nervous. I broke the good news to her and said we were going to sneak away to go shopping together instead. Well now that cheered her right up, of course! So off we went to the Outlets.

She requested mini pretzels and we sat down on a bench in the lovely sun eating them together. I remarked, “This is nice!” She responded,

“Yep! I would be sitting in a chair with a weird man hovering over me,

but instead I’m sitting on a bench…eating pretzels…

like a BOSS!”

I laughed pretty hard and told her I love how funny she is. She says “I know. It’s one of my great qualities.”

Sure is!

Not a Sit-Your-Butt-On-The-Beach-And-Don’t-Move-It Kind of Trip

I’ve been trying to decide which topic to write about this time (how vulnerability rather than strength allows us to connect with each other, or, musings on why so very few of our friends and family members “like” or comment on my blog posts, or, the enormous blessings that have resulted from therapy and a lot of hard work, for example) but I just wasn’t feeling any of those this time. Over the years I’ve learned that my best writing happens when my brain starts racing, sentences begin to form in my mind, a spurt of energy comes, and I feel a sudden rush of urgency. I’ve tried following those cues to guide me when it’s time to put thoughts onto pages.

As I was thinking about the above topics, I just wasn’t feeling any of these physical and mental signs this time. But what else is there to write about these days? Then, as soon as I started thinking about documenting our upcoming trip, all those feelings came. So that’s what I’m going to focus on today and I’m excited!

In a future post, I’ll go into specifics about my process of financing and planning our trips…because it IS a process! This time, one that’s taken 9 months to fund and 4 months to organize. However, since I finished all of that and am now in the waiting game (6 weeks to go!), I want to focus this post on the more fun side of things and just tell you want our plans entail. Eeee!! We are so excited!

Great-Britain

Through the sometimes arduous task of deciding where we go next (dependent upon airline and hotel point availability, easy flights, season and weather, where I’m not susceptible to getting sick, etc.) we settled on a road trip through parts of England, Wales, and Scotland. Ireland was included originally but it quickly became apparent how much we’d have to cut out of Great Britain to make it work. Something had to give. Actually, LOTS of things had to give. There are just too many amazingly incredible places to visit in these countries! We had to do a lot of focusing and zeroing in on the places we ultimately felt we would enjoy the most.

Here’s rundown of our itinerary, subject to any needed flexibility when we’re actually on the ground:

  1. Fly nonstop red-eye from SLC to London.
  2. Take the train to our hotel in the Bloomsbury neighborhood of London. After resting up, we’ll take a double-decker bus to Big Ben and Kensington Gardens. We’ll walk through the gardens to the Princess Diana Playground.
  3. Ride the River Thames ferry to the Tate Modern Museum and eat our way through Borough Market. We’ll also walk across the Jubilee Footbridge when it’s lit up at night.
  4. Explore the Mayfair and Marylbone neighborhoods (or Notting Hill?). Head to St. James Park to watch the Cavalrys Parade and Changing of the Guard. Then we’ll pick up our rental car and head out of town to Eastbourne, a Victorian seafront town on the south coast.
  5. Go see the white cliffs at Seven Sisters Country Park, walk along the beach, and do some rockpooling (tidepooling). That night, Rob and Nate have plans to do the Warner Bros. Harry Potter Studio Tour. The girls and I will relax at the hotel.
  6. Rent a punting boat in Oxford and do a self-tour. Drive/walk through a couple of the Cotswold villages and play croquet at Hidcote Manor Garden.
  7. Stop at Ludlow (medieval town) and walk across the Pontcysyllte Aquaduct on our drive through Wales to Snowdonia National Park.
  8. Play on the beaches of the Lleyn Peninsula (most Welsh part of Wales).
  9. Try our hand at crabbing and visit Conwy Castle.
  10. Drive Winnat’s Pass to Castleton in the Peaks District and on through to York.
  11. Stop at Hadrian’s Wall and wherever else suits our fancy on the northeast coast.
  12. Visit Edinburgh’s Old Town and Royal Mile.
  13. Explore more Edinburgh, Culross, and drive to The Trossachs National Park.
  14. Hike through the forest to see Braklinn Falls and Devil’s Pulpit.
  15. Fly out of Glasgow (possibly stopping at the Necropolis on the way) back to London and catch our late afternoon flight to Boston.
  16. Walk Beacon Hill and maybe Boston Common or Feneuil Marketplace. Fly home!

Oh! One more thing I want to do while there…keep an ongoing list of all the new words/slang we can use in our speech once we are home. Their verbiage is so great and it’d be so fun to sprinkle it in whenever we feel like raising some eyebrows!

Half of our lodgings are normal Holiday Inn type of places, but I did book us in a few gems:

  • Victorian seaside row house B&B
  • YHA (youth and family hostels)
  • Mobile home by the beach
  • Hut in the woods of Snowdonia
  • A vestry (little apartment attached to an 1800s church)
  • Stately luxury hotel on the Royal Mile in Edinburgh
  • Converted manor house garage apartment in a mountain village

Animals we are endeavoring to see:

  • Shire or Clydesdale horses and Shetland ponies
  • Lots of starfish, crabs, etc.
  • Puffins
  • Highland cows

Food we are endeavoring to eat:

  • Fish and Chips
  • Scones with jam and clotted cream
  • Banoffee pie
  • Norfolk crab
  • Blakewell pudding
  • Hot cross buns
  • Rarebit
  • Jacket potatoes
  • Various cheeses
  • Sticky toffee pudding
  • Aberdeen angus beef
  • Scottish eggs
  • Lobster roll
  • Cod

That’s it! Easy peasy! Haha, don’t worry, I’m not daft. I DO realize that this itinerary (and menu) is NOT for the faint of heart or for those who actually like to RELAX on their vacation. This is more for the family who likes to see and do (and eat) as much as they can because they wonder if they’ll ever return to this part of the world again. This is for the family who loves the drive through the landscapes and towns as much as the destinations at the end of the road. This is the stuff that gets my blood flowing and my mood high. Ooooh, I LOVE it!

Maybe our next trip will just be a sit-your-butt-on-the-beach-and-don’t-move-it kind of trip…but I doubt it.

T is for Twelve, Temple, and Tourette

**I had a heart-to-heart with Nate in preparation for this post. I wanted to make sure that, since he is getting older and everything, he is still okay with me blogging about him and his experiences. I want to respect his privacy. He thought about it and told me he really is fine with it but if he ever changes his mind, he’ll let me know.**

This birthday was a big one. Nathan Robert turned 12! All he wanted to do was take his friends to see the new Star Wars movie so that’s exactly what went down. What a fun, great group of boys surrounding him! They learn a lot from each other and always enjoy hanging out and being typical boys. Personally, I’m grateful for these boys’ parents who are raising fine young men. Nate is very blessed!

Nate graduated primary. Although not required, he decided to work and earn his Faith in God certificate by developing his talents, serving others, studying and journaling, and teaching his family about some of the principles of the gospel.

For his Aaronic Priesthood ordinance, my parents and Rob’s parents came for the occasion. After the ordination blessing, the bishop gave the grandparents an opportunity to say a few words. Our dads said some nice words and helped keep the spirit in the room. Then it was my turn. Nate and I both got emotional as I told him that I don’t expect perfection from him, that we will both make mistakes through this new “teenage” phase of our relationship, and that we will keep loving each other no matter what. It may not sound like much, but since I know my son and I know myself a little better these days, it was exactly what needed to be expressed. We had a special mother/son connection happen in that moment and we both felt safe, accepted, and loved. It’s a memory I will never forget.

The next Sunday he passed the Sacrament for the first time and it’s been awesome seeing him take on that responsibility.

Next up was his first trip to the temple to do Baptisms for the Dead. Rob and I have been using the Take a Name LDS Family History app which searches for missing ordinances in your family line. It’s found quite a few for us so we had some family names to do. Nate chose to go to the Draper Temple. Rob stood in to baptize and confirm him. It was a great experience. Afterward, we went out for Utah scones.

Now, for the Tourette Syndrome portion of the post (most people say Tourettes with an S, but technically that is incorrect). I noticed Nate’s first tic when he was around four years old but just recently took him in to be officially diagnosed. A tic is an involuntary, repetitive movement or vocalization. Now, Tourette is usually recognized as bursting out swear words uncontrollably. Yes, that’s possible, but only in the most severe cases and is not very common at all. Here are the more common tics, all of which Nate has had over the years (Little Cara is also developing her own tics, including face and eye movements and arm jerks):

  • Throat clearing
  • Sniffling
  • Repetitive eye blinking
  • Stretching eyes wide open
  • Nostril flaring  
  • Stretching mouth open
  • Crunching face
  • Tongue clicking at the back of the throat
  • Different breathing patterns
  • Overemphasized (almost violent) head shaking
  • Stumbling repeatedly over the first few words of a sentence

Each of these tics come and go and he experiences at least two of them simultaneously. Each phase lasts a couple of months before moving on to the next batch of tics. They get really activated by stress, fatigue, excitement. They calm down when he’s relaxed. At their worst, he tics a couple of times per minute for a couple of weeks straight. This is the hardest time because it’s harder for him to concentrate, gives him headaches, and is exhausting both mentally and physically. As he’s reached puberty they have really kicked into high gear, which is normal. If his tics get too obtrusive or the social implications get worse as he goes through junior high and high school, medication is an option. Although he will always have this syndrome, the more noticeable tics usually slowly fade away in severity until adulthood.

The cause of Tourette Syndrome is unknown, but genetics play a clear role. TS commonly co-occurs with a number of other conditions, including ADHD, OCD, anxiety, sleep problems, etc. Nate has some obsessive-compulsive tendencies, but they haven’t been too serious and we’ve been able to manage them just fine.  

Nate is fairly easy-going with all of this (unless his tics give him a headache). He understands that everyone has “something” that is “different” about them and this just happens to be his “something different”.

I have to give praise again to the parents and teachers in this neighborhood. Nathan has NEVER been made fun of for his tics, even when they’ve been at their worst at school. All the kids in his classes accept him just the way he is and that has made his life with Tourette so much easier on him. I’ve meant to thank some of you personally, but just know that you have touched my mother heart. Thank you, thank you for teaching your kids and your students to be kind.

Nathan has always pretty sensitive, but through our own emotional immaturity, Rob and I used to push him to “buck up” and not feel things so deeply. Through heaven’s help, we’ve learned how unfair that can be so we’ve done a bit of a 180-degree turn on that way of parenting. Now, it’s fine if he feels sad or upset over something…even if we don’t understand why. Now, we listen. We hug. We empathize. We try to understand and help him to understand his own deep feelings. This approach has been incredibly rewarding for all of us.  

I find myself saying, a lot lately, “He’s twelve now…” This is my way of reminding myself that he can make more and more of his own choices. He gets more freedoms but also more responsibility. It’s also a way of “pinching” myself that my little boy is not so young anymore. As I look at his pictures and videos of past years, I just can’t believe his intelligence, kindness, and humor. This boy is MY boy and I love him so dearly. He’s really close to all of our hearts.

Rob’s New Office!

Last November Rob called me with some great news. Someone at work had moved, leaving an office open and available for the taking. Rob jumped on the chance and started working in it right away, staking his claim before clearing it with anyone. After a couple of days of camping out in it he got approval and now he has four walls and a closing door. How exciting!

One of the first things that popped in my head when I heard the news was, “Ooh, can we decorate it?!”

Rob initially didn’t think decorating was necessary even though he is working in that box all day, every day. He should feel good and comfortable and confident, right? And how could you possibly feel those things when you’re trapped somewhere that looks like this?

I mean, it’s not Aleppo or anything so I suppose it could be worse…but it could also be a whole lot better.

Ideas swirled. Initially I was thinking of a midcentury engineering office look (slide rules, perpetual desktop calendar, wire basket full of rolled-up plans) as ode to Rob’s grandfather. Max Williams was a water engineer back in the heyday when engineers ruled the world and every mother wanted her son to grow up to be one. He travelled the world getting pipes and damns up and running in places that had never before had them (Iran, Indonesia, etc.). Grandpa Williams inspired Rob to become an engineer himself so Rob keeps grandpa’s name plate, engineering stamps, and his vintage survey level on display as an ode to his legacy.

IMG_3948 (1)

Anyway, as much as Rob loves his grandfather he wasn’t feeling the midcentury vibe. It just isn’t him enough and that’s fair. My next idea was one that he got excited about. SPACE! Since Rob’s a space and sci-fi nut (with a dash of fantasy) we decided to head that route.

Now, only a few of the offices in his building are “decorated” and the ones that are simply have one wall painted and that’s about it. We pushed the envelope and painted two walls. Rob chose the daring color. Since these pics were taken on two different phones on different days, the paint color doesn’t match. In person the color is more mid-dark blue with a hint of gray. Also, the furniture isn’t so glaringly orange. Dumb phone camera pics that are hard to edit properly…

try1

The lamp was left in the office from its last inhabitant and Rob decided he really like its warm, homey glow so it stayed. We both loved the modern, spacey look of his new clock. The globe was mine when I was a kid and works perfectly here. I helped him arrange the stuff on his bookshelf, including the vintage brass train/boat lights and a concrete core and a basalt core among other random things. He keeps drumstick pencils on his desk. Someone shamefully swapped his large tree for a small plant on the floor by the window.

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To add his personality into the decor, I suggested we scatter memorabilia from his favorite movies around the place. He’s got:

  • Sirius Black wand
  • R2D2 mug
  • Interstellar poster
  • Quote from Gimli (Lord of the Rings)
  • Star Trek Engineering insignia magnet

He rounded out the casual, “not-too-decorated” wall decor with two of his favorite space pictures. The eclipse as seen from his camp location in Idaho and The Hubble Ultra-Deep Fields photo. The image shows almost 3,000 galaxies in a region 5-10 billion light-years away from us…all in the equivalent area of looking through a straw at one spot in our night sky. Absolutely blows the mind to think about it. He loves that. He says it reminds him that “I’m not the center of the universe.”

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Oh! I almost forgot about his fourth wall. There is a white board on it and Rob insisted on hanging a large map of the Mullerthal area we hiked in Luxembourg (even though it doesn’t match the “theme”. I conceded haha).

When it was all finished, he realized how much better it will be to work in his new “space”.  People walk by and give complements and when they enter they always notice something fun to talk about. It’s a warm, comfortable, inviting office that can be a haven from stressful working situations. Congrats on the new orifice (oops, typo…) office, babe!

A Good Day for a Photo Jam

Today is a good day for catching up on Fall and Winter 2017 photos and happenings. Note that I used to do this monthly or so but now I seem pretty happy with myself if I get to it on a quarterly basis. Life…right?!

Caroline’s 7th birthday festivities (Please ignore the various tripping hazards):

Nate-er Gator turned the big 1-2 in December.

After, let’s see…10 years?…I finally convinced Rob to put on a jacket for church again. Doesn’t he look oh, SO debonair?

Whoops! Wrong picture. My bad! Here’s the one I meant to post. Of course, he had to throw in the ever-so-classy Hogwart’s tie:

Christmas woodland creature pjs.

What the…morbid massacre?!

See that giant trophy? Madeleine joined the school’s ballroom dance team and they won the sportsmanship award. I guess they don’t do “winners” but it was the second biggest trophy awarded so that must mean something, right?

 

She only looks a tad nervous.

This is the sweetest. Madeleine is helping her read.

One story from Little Miss Literal:

Over the spring Caroline started complaining more and more about sore legs. She would collapse when she was running outside and would crawl inside to tell me, very sadly, that her legs hurt too much to play. At first I didn’t think much of it but it kept happening more and more and she was miserable because during those episodes she couldn’t put any weight on her legs. During one of these episodes I told her that I would carry her so she didn’t have to try to walk. I assumed it was growing pains, but then remembered she had some hip problems as a baby and her joints are loose like mine (which flare up occasionally).

After a month or two of these fits, and me carrying her around regularly, I decided to just have her checked out by her orthopedist (since she had hip issues before) because all this was happening right before we were headed to Europe where we’d be walking a lot.

At her doctor appointment, which Cara literally limped throughout, the diagnosis was…wait for it…growing pains. Betcha didn’t see that one coming! After the appointment Cara was walking juuuuust fine. I confronted her, asking “What the heck?!”

Her response…”You said that one time that I should rest my legs so that’s why I’ve always been having you carry me around, but they don’t really hurt.”

Cue the deep mom sigh…

Love this cuckoo crazy family of mine…even on days like today…

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Emotional Vomit (or Purge on a Page)

Gosh, I could talk for months about emotions. In fact, Rob and I have been doing just that. I usually have a pretty well-thought-out idea of what I want to say when I start writing, but when it comes to this subject my mind goes all over the place and I can’t nail down what it is that I actually want to say. So this time I’m rambling.

One thing I’ve been working on recently might seem small and petty, but that has helped me tremendously. It’s this:

I’ve riddled myself …my entire life…with substantially overusing the phrases I SHOULD do this. I SHOULD be like this. WE SHOULD. THEY SHOULD. IT SHOULD be this way. Also, I NEED to do this. I NEED to be like this. WE NEED. THEY NEED. IT NEEDS to be this way.

You get the picture.

I’ve come to realize how damaging this has been to my psyche/spirit, because when I say those things I’m not giving myself (or others) any wiggle room, any acceptance, any consideration, any way to ever be anything but an impossible, optimized version of what I deem to be “perfect”. 
I used to tell myself I was just an optimizer and if I wasn’t doing my best ALL the time then I wasn’t good enough. The problem is…not only is no one perfect (which I did already knew), but it’s not even possible to try my hardest to be as perfect as possible all the time (which I didn’t already know). In other words, I knew I wasn’t perfect, but I thought I had to try SO HARD to be as perfect as I could be all of the time.

Trying so hard…because I SHOULD be and I NEED to…is exhausting. And painful.

One day I just woke up to what I was saying and realized how unnecessary, how untrue, and how damaging saying those seemingly little phrases over and over again have been to myself and others. I started changing those two tiny little awful words to I COULD do this. They COULD. It COULD be this way. Also, I WANT to do this. I WOULD LIKE it to be this way. It WOULD be nice if.

Doing that slight little shift has opened my eyes and heart to other possible answers and solutions. It has taken so much pressure off of me to always do the perfect thing or to be the perfect way. 

What am I getting at? I don’t know, honestly. There are a thousand other things I could type about.

Honestly, this last year of emotional growth has been an amazingly eye-opening experience for me and Rob, one that has brought so many answers to so many questions regarding:

  • Who we have been
  • Why we have been who we have been
  • Who we really are
  • How to be who we really are 

After all the emotional turmoil Rob and I have both been working through together we’ve learned so much more about ourselves than we ever thought possible. I mean, it was freakishly crazy when one moment we thought we really, deeply knew ourselves and each other…and then suddenly realize that we have to start all over from scratch. We abruptly came to find out that a lot of who we thought we as individuals were, is not really who we are, but a “part” or a “character” we’ve been playing to help us get through life.

We used to think to ourselves, “This is my just my personality.” Or, “This is just who I am.” As it turns out, there are reasons we have certain personality traits and they have more to do with coping mechanisms rather than the true person we actually are at the core.

Sure, maybe we’ve gone our whole lives thinking we are “like this” but what if we don’t want to be “like this” anymore? Guess what? We can figure out why we are the way we are and be honest to ourselves about how our life circumstances have affected us. Once we clear out those closets, we can hit reset. And breathe.

It’s been a miracle to finally realize that just because “I’ve always been…” doesn’t mean “I always have to be…” There’s a surprising amount of freedom we have found in finding out about, and learning how to let go of, the parts of ourselves that don’t accurately reflect who we are and who we want to be. 

Admittedly, it’s been an awkward and even a downright hard transition at times. Fortunately, we’ve both been entirely committed to working through it together. Two or our true personality traits are commitment and hard work. Thankfully we’ve both still got those pieces firmly in place. 
I’m fairly certain that every single marriage goes through a period of tear down and regrowth. If not, then there are probably some serious issues that haven’t been admitted or allowed to surface. Because…when you marry (especially when you’re both so young when it happens) how can you possibly expect either one of you to remain the same person throughout decades of life? If you do expect that, then there is obviously some emotional maturation that needs to take place. 
Emotional maturity. Gosh. I thought I had it. Rob thought he had it. Turns out, neither of us had a clue. But…now we do have a few clues along with a few tools that we are learning how to use. And you know what? It feels right. It feels real. It feels like we are finally learning how to really care about ourselves and each other in healthy, genuine ways. 
Yes, these last 9 months have been growing months for sure. Uncomfortable. Scary. Selfish. Maddening. Sorrowful. 
These last 9 months have also been incredible. Tender. Honest. Loving. Selfless. Healing. Forgiving.
Over my lifetime I’ve heard, thousands of times, people saying they’re grateful for and stronger from their trials and that they’d never trade them for anything. When I’d hear that, I’d always want to raise my hand high and shout, “I don’t believe you! I’m JUST fine just the way I am. I’ll grow on my own without needing any prodding from trials. I can make that growth happen all by myself and save myself from hard things, so I’d rather not test out that theory, thank-you-very-much!”
Well. Now I finally understand what everyone is talking about. My eyes have been opened to how God uses our own failures and shortcomings as opportunities to bestow bounteous blessings upon us. The stuff people say about being grateful for the lessons learned from trials is all true. At least, it can be if you’re committed, hard working, and humble. (I can also see how easily it would all go awry, depending on specific situations.) 
I’m not trying to get at anything here. I’m not necessarily trying to make a point and wrap this up all pretty. I don’t have any final words of advice or motivational quotes or helpful tidbits. Just rambling…for my own sake. Just getting these chaotic thoughts out so I can think and feel more clearly.
This is my emotional vomit, my purge on a page…because sometimes we’ve just got to let it out.

Best Christmas Playlist Ever (You’re Welcome)

Okay, people. The thing is…hmm…how do I put this gently? Most Christmas music is terrible. At least that’s what we’re led to believe after hearing Mariah Carey 60 times in 30 days.

Well, Rob and I refuse to go through our joyous Christmas season without being able to properly celebrate with some good and groovy tunes. That’s why we’ve been collecting little musical gems for a few years now. I thought I’d post a bunch of our favorites so that those of you who are also fed up with the same Sleigh Ride arrangement that’s been overloading your peripheral hearing your entire life…can finally catch a break.

Check these out and you’ll find yourself enjoying Christmas music once again.

Jazzy: Christmas music played by some of the greats is perfect for celebratory background sound or for parties where you want your guests to think you’re actually kinda cool.

Punk Style: This music may be termed irreverent by some, but if you want your kids to think you’re actually kinda cool, these will win them over (and you might be surprised how much you enjoy rocking out, too).

Modernized Versions of the Classics: It’s not that the classics aren’t wonderful in their own right, they’re just SO overplayed. Try these to make the originals feel original again.

Remember Gratitude, Charity, and the Hand of God in our Lives.

Here is Rob’s talk from a couple of weeks ago. It’s really excellent. Drumroll, please…….

Julie so aptly and thoughtfully captured how gratitude can be experienced in life both in times of happiness and ease and times of difficulty. It doesn’t mean we deny the feelings of difficulty, sadness, loneliness, and pain. We feel them, understand them as the school teachers that they are and move forward by connecting with ourselves, loved ones, and the Lord.

I like to think of and teach the gospel in simple terms. In terms and through feelings that my children can understand and that I can internalize in a deep and emotional way. Living the gospel should ultimately help us feel good and whole. If I don’t achieve that in my efforts to live the gospel I ask myself why and see what comes up.

I’m not going to tell you or imply that you should feel guilty for not feeling enough gratitude. I don’t want to cheat you from the potential to feel gentle and uplifting feelings from the Holy Ghost. Today I hope to share my thoughts in terms which engender, faith, hope and charity.

The English author Aldous Huxley wrote, “Most human beings have an almost infinite capacity for taking things for granted.” I find myself all too prone to this tendency of ingratitude. There seem to be so many reasons to be detached from our blessings.

President Faust said that, one of the evils of our time is taking for granted so many of the things we enjoy. This was spoken of by the Lord: “For what doth it profit a man if a gift is bestowed upon him, and he receive not the gift?” (D&C 88:33.) I’d never really thought about how taking for granted the things I enjoy was rejecting the heavenly gift. But it is!

The Apostle Paul described our day to Timothy when he wrote that in the last days “men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy.” (2 Tim. 3:2.) These sins are fellow travelers, and ingratitude makes one susceptible to all of them.

President Faust also taught that gratitude is an expression of faith and a saving principle.

He said, a grateful heart is a beginning of greatness. It is an expression of humility. It is a foundation for the development of such virtues as prayer, faith, courage, contentment, happiness, love, and well-being.

Elder James E. Talmage said, “Gratitude is twin sister to humility; pride is a foe to both.” Humility is tied in with being teachable and being teachable opens us up to the blessing of further divine attributes.

Someone has said that “gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all others.”8

President Joseph F. Smith has instructed us that “the spirit of gratitude is always pleasant and satisfying because it carries with it a sense of helpfulness to others; it begets love and friendship, and engenders divine influence. Gratitude is said to be the memory of the heart” (Gospel Doctrine, 5th ed. [1939], 262).

Gratitude seems to tie in with Faith, Hope, and Charity pretty seamlessly. I find this fascinating. So having a general attitude of gratitude and thanksgiving can lead us to the divine gift of Charity.

So how do we develop gratitude and recognize the hand of god in our lives when we live in such a fallen world and there is so much around us to drag us down?

Do material possessions make us happy and grateful? While we should be grateful and happy for the things we possess they will not be the things to connect us to others or to instill a deep sense of gratitude for the Lord.

Does social media make us happy and grateful? Really think about that for a minute. To me the answer is no, most of the time at least. I find it helpful and interesting in small doses. I’m very grateful that I can choose not to open the firehose of twitter when I need more calm in my life and I don’t want to disrupt my sense of gratitude.

President Faust said (in the 80’s), without question, we need to be informed of the happenings of the world. But modern communication brings into our homes a drowning cascade of the violence and misery of the worldwide human race. There comes a time when we need to find some peaceful spiritual renewal.

Those things which provide deep and lasting happiness and gratitude are the things which money cannot buy and social media cannot deliver: our families, the gospel, good friends, our health, our abilities, and the love we receive from those around us. Unfortunately, these are some of the things we allow ourselves to take for granted.

So how do we develop gratitude and recognize the hand of god in our lives? President Joseph F. Smith, provided an answer. Said he: “The grateful man / woman sees so much in the world to be thankful for, and with him / her the good outweighs the evil. Love overpowers jealousy, and light drives darkness out of his / her  life.” He continued: “Pride destroys our gratitude and sets up selfishness in its place. How much happier we are in the presence of a grateful and loving soul, and how careful we should be to cultivate, through the medium of a prayerful life, a thankful attitude toward God and man!”9

President Smith is telling us that a thoughtful and prayerful life is the key to possessing gratitude and to allowing the good to outweigh the evil.

Bonnie Parkin (Past RS President) said that gratitude requires awareness and effort, not only to feel it but to express it. She said that gratitude is a Spirit-filled principle. It opens our minds to a universe permeated with the richness of a living God. Through it, we become spiritually aware of the wonder of the smallest things, which gladden our hearts with their messages of God’s love. This grateful awareness heightens our sensitivity to divine direction. When we communicate gratitude, we can be filled with the Spirit and connected to those around us and the Lord. Gratitude inspires happiness and carries divine influence.

President Thomas S. Monson stated: My brothers and sisters, to express gratitude is gracious and honorable, to enact gratitude is generous and noble, but to live with gratitude ever in our hearts is to touch heaven.

I feel prompted to share some things, attributes, and people that help me feel grateful as I close. This list not exhaustive; however, these things help me keep a balance in my life as I recognize that these good things are greater than the evil that surrounds me.

  • I’m grateful for music as a medium to express and feel so much emotion. There is music for every mood, for every experience. Despite my love of music I’m also learning that sometimes silence is needed to hear myself.

  • I’m grateful for mountains and for nature. I’m grateful to know that the Lord cares enough about natural beauty to create wonderful places for to enjoy. I’m grateful to live in a place so close to nature.

  • I’m grateful for long-form writing for its power to develop ideas and convey thoughts

  • I’m grateful for the art of listening. It is not a skill that I was blessed with but with great effort I’m making improvements. I’m regularly surprised by the insights and blessings that come from listening to people.

  • I’m grateful to possess a deep relationship with Julie. I’m grateful for her forgiving nature, her strong opinions, and her confident intuition. It is so great to know and hear her and also to be known and heard in return. I’m grateful that we get to grow together.

  • I’m grateful that heavenly father has blessed me with three children and I’m so grateful they start as babies and grow from there. I’ve needed time to mature and grow to be anywhere close to as good of a father as they deserve.

  • I’m grateful that the Lord uses our weakness as well us the perils of mortality to keep us humble, to refine us, and to teach us divine attributes. He doesn’t cause these things in our lives but I’m glad he uses them. It would be so much worse if we just had to suffer through them for no benefit.

I’m so grateful to understand that I don’t need to be perfect to be acceptable to the Lord. I’m grateful to know that by staying teachable, through open communication with the Lord and my loved ones, and daily practical repentance, I can be found acceptable to the Lord today, despite my weaknesses.