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Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Cokeville

I grew up in a tiny little Wyoming town named Cokeville. Population? About 600, I think. My graduating class had 16 students--10 girls, 6 boys, but one was a foreign exchange student who was only there for one year. So, when I say I'm a small-town girl, I mean it! Now that I live in the suburbs, I must admit I love being closer to modern conveniences, such as banks, stores, doctors, etc. It would be an adjustment to move back to Cokeville and have to drive at least 30 miles to the closest shopping or doctors. Having said that, I must admit--I still absolutely love visiting there! And thankfully, so do my kids. Their eyes light up like Christmas trees whenever we plan to go, and we try to do it as often as possible.

That may sound crazy to most people. I mean, what in the world could be so exciting about visiting a small town with only a little park and no other entertainment? Well, I'll tell you. Cousins! Lots of them! And there's nothing better than that. Seriously. My kids adore their cousins, and when we are in Cokeville for a few days, I hardly see the whites of my kids' eyes because they spend every waking minute playing with cousins.

Here are a few pictures from our last visit--in October.

A dance party. So fun! These girls are best of friends and they've got some great moves, I tell you.

Regyn, Mylee, Kaybree

Now they are getting into it a little more.

Regyn is definitely not camera shy--she loves to be the center of attention. The other girls--not so much.

A few more cousins join the scene. Kaden, Boston and Mireya. It's a party!

This is what Makyla thought of it all. Lol!

And Berkley wasn't sure what to think.
 The girls have the best imaginations. They spend hours playing store or school or dressing up. Berkley even got into a little bit last time. Don't you just love the way her hair matches her jammies? (hee, hee)

My sister Katie promised them all cotton candy. What a woman! The kids loved it!


 Until the machine stopped working and smelled like it was burning up. We soon found out why. . .


Oops! Apparently, you have to clean the sugar out of the rim every once in a while.

And then there was the impromptu football game in my parents' front yard. I love how Braxton, the 16-year-old cousin, totally includes all the other kids, no matter how young they are. At one point, I watched him hold the ball for one of the 4-year-olds to kick off. Just when the little guy was about to kick, Braxton swooped him up and kicked the ball for him, then they ran down the field. It was so cute! Even Berkley got involved.

Kamille and Nate are the same age and have been great friends since they were little. Don't you love how they are strategizing together? Nate is drawing a play on his hand. That's Kayden standing by Braxton.

I wish I could have caught the looks of delight on all their faces as they played.
Because most of my family still lives in Cokeville, I enjoy it as much as my kids. It's such a needed change of pace for me. Starting with the drive there, I begin to breathe a little deeper and smile a little broader. The mountains that surround this town are beautiful to me. I feel "home" as soon as I spot them. I love the wide open spaces, the fresh, clean air, and I especially love the time spent with my family. We sisters/sisters-in-law have a wonderful tradition--we sit in my mother's living room and chat for hours. Of course we have to get up every once in a while to wipe a nose or get a snack for a toddler, but other than that, we just plop ourselves down and enjoy talking about everything and nothing.

My Grandpa Perkins (my mom's dad) lives with my parents, which is a fabulous perk. We get to see him and soak him up while we are there, too. The kids just love him. Sometimes he will join us in the living room and simply listen to all of us women try to solve the world's problems. It's wonderful jut having him there!

Sometimes we go to high school football games or basketball games, especially since my dad coaches (high school football and high school girls' basketball) and Braxton plays, and sometimes we watch a roping competition in my brother's arena, and sometimes we go to school plays or events. But mostly, we just soak each other up. It's absolute heaven!

And so, Cokeville will always be a special place for me, a place where I can go to clear my head and enjoy my family. I laughed when I saw a man's t-shirt recently that said the name of a place and then this: "Mosquitoes 3 months of the year, Winter 9 months of the year." That describes Cokeville perfectly! And yet, we just can't stay away. There's so much more there than I could explain, but my kids feel it, too, and I'm so glad.

This year we are going to spend Christmas in Cokeville, which is something we haven't done for 10 years. It's a ton of work to travel somewhere for Christmas, let me tell you, but something has driven me to do it this year. My kids have been counting down the days until we pack up the Pilot and head to one of the happiest places on earth--Cousinville!

Now, if I could just get Dan to catch the vision!

Friday, December 14, 2012

TODAY

A couple of days ago, I felt compelled to begin a blog post about something that has been on my mind a lot lately. Truthfully, it's on my mind all the time and has been for years. But sometimes, without warning, it forces itself to the forefront of my thoughts and actions, and actually, it's sort of become a mantra for me. It's simply this: Make TODAY count.

My life has been so incredibly blessed. As I have put my hand in the Lord's and allowed Him to guide my choices, I have found all of my dreams and goals being met, although not always in the ways I had envisioned. My most fervent desire was to be a wife and a mother. So simple, I know, but I had this fear growing up that, for one reason or another, these blessings would not be mine. Now, I sometimes fear these children I love so much might be taken away from me for some reason. Maybe it's because the world is so violent and bad things happen regularly. Or maybe it has something to do with the fact that when I was only 11 years old, I went through a life-changing, traumatic experience. In one single event on one single day, my parents almost lost three of their five children. This experience left me appreciating the very fact I was alive and that also left me promising to never take one single day for granted. Now that I am a mother, it reminds me to appreciate each day with my children, knowing life can change in an instant.

Without going into a lot of detail, let me explain just a bit. On May 16, 1986 our small elementary school in Cokeville, Wyoming was held hostage by a man and a woman with a homemade bomb. They gathered 154 of us--students, teachers, etc.--into one small classroom and demanded $2 million/person. Their plan was to  blow us all up and rule us in what they called a "brave new world." We were hostages for over two hours before the bomb was accidentally detonated. Through a series of tremendous miracles I cannot begin to mention here, we all made it out alive, although many were seriously burned and underwent burn treatments for many months and even years. Only the captors lost their lives. (I was recently asked to speak about the events of that day and I put together this short video--click here to see it: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gjF06vHtIEc.)

I went home that day a different person than I was when I left for school that morning. I was 11 years old at the time, old enough to understand the reality of what had happened and to internalize the tremendous blessing of all of us surviving. I determined to never forget that and to take advantage of every day I was given, suddenly realizing that life is indeed very fragile and can change in an instant. Hence my mantra: "Make TODAY count."

So simple, right? I mean, of course I should make today count--that's obvious. But is it really? And if it is, then why do I often find myself realizing my razor-sharp focus is actually a blur of non-vital activities and time-wasters that leave me feeling dissatisfied? I don't really have the answer to this question, but I do believe it has something to do with the ever-attractive, enticing allurements of what I simply call "the World."

I think it's a bit different for everyone, but some of the things I get caught up on are things such as these: TV (I'm a sucker for singing competitions--"The Voice," etc.), a good book (I can neglect my kids, house, husband and more if I get too caught up in a good read), e-mails (I recently unsubscribed from a dozen sources of daily e-mails--and I have a lot more to go!), and more. For some of us, it's social media, such as Facebook, Twitter or Pinterest. All wonderful connections to fabulous ideas around the world, but can definitely be a distraction.

The problem with these activities is not only that they can suck up our time, but more importantly, they divert our focus and attention away from weightier matters, such as service to others, spending that one-on-one time with a struggling child, really listening to our children or husband when they tell us about their day, keeping our thoughts centered on our families and their needs.

A man I love and respect dearly, President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, Second Counselor in the First Presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, said this in a conference talk about "Regrets and Resolutions": "Why, then, do we devote so much of our time and energy to things that are so fleeting, so inconsequential, and so superficial? Do we refuse to see the folly in the pursuit of the trivial and transient?"

I'm afraid sometimes I do. And darn it, I don't want to. The thing is, I know better. My life itself is a reminder that I have been given a gift--a sacred gift--one I simply can' squander away. To be married to a man I love and respect like no other person alive; to be the mother of five amazing children who teach me every day is not a light thing. It is amazing! So I have to make it count.

I have to show love to my children TODAY. I have to forgive them for making the same mistakes over and over TODAY. I have to show patience with a struggling child TODAY. I have to hold them and read to them and comfort them and whisper my love to them over and over, and I have to do it TODAY. I cannot wait until a difficult stage has passed, or the children become easier, or life becomes less busy, or even until tomorrow, because reality is, those things never really come. My biggest fear is that I will look back one day when my children are grown and I will realize I did not enjoy them enough, laugh with them enough, hold them enough, talk with them enough, listen to them enough, soak them up enough while they were right here under my nose. That, to me, would be a regret I could hardly stand to live with.

President Uchtdorf said it this way, "Sometimes in life we become so focused on the finish line that we fail to find joy in the journey." I have a feeling that finish line isn't nearly so satisfying if we haven't enjoyed the path we took to get there. I think that is especially true in regards to motherhood. What is the point in accepting the awesome, sacred role (and yes, difficult, too) of Mother if we don't take the time or effort to appreciate the opportunity to enjoy the process of learning and growing and loving that comes with it?

I like this thought as he continues, "Perhaps we should be looking less with our eyes and more with our hearts. I love the quote: 'One sees clearly only with the heart. Anything essential is invisible to the eyes.'" I have to agree. When I am following my heart, my priorities are much different than when I am simply allowing lists of to-do's and tasks to rule my time. The fact of the matter is, parenthood is all about heart--hearts bursting with joy, hearts beaming with pride, hearts breaking at times with sorrow and disappointment, and especially, hearts exploding with love like we've never known before.

Lastly, President Uchtdorf says this, ". . . We cannot take for granted one single day."

Amen.

I shooed my kids out the door for school today and then collapsed on the floor in front of my husband, in an effort to exaggerate how difficult and chaotic the morning had been. My husband nodded in agreement, but as I lay on the floor and thought about those children of mine, I couldn't help but say, "Yea, but they are all worth it." And I meant it. They are absolutely worth it. And my life would not be the same without each and every one of my children. That's why I must appreciate them and all that comes with them--even the chaos, the tantrums, and the utter craziness--TODAY.

I just found out that today, in a small Connecticut town, lives have been changed forever. Parents sent their children to school this morning without a single idea that they might not return home this afternoon, but according to reports, 20 children  and six adults were killed in a school shooting there earlier today. It's hard to even comprehend that kind of loss, and as I have wept for the children and families involved, understanding in a small degree what they are feeling and what they must face in the future, I am reminded once again of how important it is to appreciate today. When I think of my life in terms of what I might lose, suddenly my perspective becomes so much sharper and I see clearly where my priorities lie: in snuggles with my children, in patient teaching of a new skill, in supporting their endeavors (even when it's painful to watch, like beginning basketball:), in noticing their growth, in playing with them, laughing with them and showing my love for them.





And so, when my children walk in the door from school, I cannot wait to wrap them in my arms, to whisper to them how very much I love them, to tell them how amazing they are and remind them what a gift they are to me. And at times when I feel completely overwhelmed by all that motherhood entails and I feel like I just don't even know if I can go on, I hope to remember to not take for granted one single day--even if it's a hard day. I hope to be able to sift through the struggles and find those golden moments that make it all worth it. I hope to make time for the things that really matter and let the rest go. I hope to . . .

. . .  make TODAY count!

Friday, December 7, 2012

Daddy Love

A couple of weeks ago, I was brushing my teeth before bed when I heard the door close on our baby's bedroom. I thought that was odd as she had been asleep for a couple of hours. I rounded the corner to see who in the world dared go in her bedroom at night and risk waking her up, only to find my husband was the culprit!

"What are you doing?" I spat. I thought surely he was smart enough by this time to know that it was near insanity to take such a huge risk, knowing how important it was to me that the baby not be disturbed once she was down for the night. I can handle most anything during the day, but by evening, I am exhausted and therefore more than thankful there is such a thing as bedtime. I am not a mother who drags out bedtime rituals or has long routines for snuggling my children in. I pray with them, hug and kiss them, express my love to them, hug and kiss them once more (okay, so I also often read to them as well, but not for lengthy periods of time), then say "goodnight" and leave, not expecting to hear from or see them until morning. Period. This practice has been the only thing (and nap time, that is) that has kept me sane during the past 13 years of motherhood. So, what was my husband possibly thinking?

"I was holding Berkley for a few minutes," he responded casually.

"What????" My eyes widened in disbelief. "Are you serious? How often do you do this?"

"Every night."

I was stunned! I seriously couldn't believe it. Where had I been the past 18 months? Oh, right. In bed. That's where I go once my kids are down for the night. After all, I'm tired. I thought about being mad but I found it way too endearing to be anything but heart struck. It was just a few nights later that I snuck in to snap a quick photo.


After all, I think it's a memory Berkley will always want to have. There's just nothing like genuine Daddy love.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Thirteen

Thirteen.

It's a number that has always frightened me. Not because I'm superstitious or anything, but because it is the dawning of the teenage years, and I've always been certain I would not be ready for what lies ahead. And because I remember my siblings and I being pretty tough on my parents, I thought I would surely hate being the mother of a teenager.

But this teenager happens to be pretty incredible.


And I happen to love her so much my heart just about bursts every time I think about her.

It's still so hard to believe that my sweet little Hallee is already 13 years old. To say it has flown by would be an understatement. But then, I always knew it would. And I'm also fully aware that the next five years will disappear faster than I would ever want them to, and so, my goodness, I sure have to be in the moment today, to love her and soak her up every minute I can.

Hallee was born the day after Thanksgiving. I was pretty sure I was getting close to delivering my baby when Thanksgiving rolled around; however, all the more experienced women in my life told me not to get my hopes up--that it was far more likely I would be overdue than deliver early (my due date was December 5). I was sure they were right, so even though I had been having contractions all night long, I got up early and braved the Black Friday sales with my husband and mother. It was when I was in a very long line at Shopko that I realized my contractions were less than five minutes apart and steadily getting closer. I did the only thing I could think of under the circumstances--I handed my mother my items and left her in line while Dan ran me up the street to the hospital. Hallee was born several hours later. It was one of the most beautiful, sacred, and wonderful days of my life. I was finally a mother.

To be honest, I had no idea what to do next. Getting married and becoming pregnant hadn't been too difficult, but now what? This beautiful baby girl was completely dependent on me, and I felt clueless. All the hours of babysitting I'd done in my life suddenly seemed to mock me, as if to say, "Did you really think taking care of other people's children for specified amounts of time would prepare you for full-time motherhood? I don't think so!"

Regardless of my inadequacies and fears, I soon realized, that although my skills were not yet developed and honed, the most important thing of all came completely without effort--undeniable, unfiltered, unconditional love. Man, I loved this child! I was worried I would never be able to love another child as much (which thankfully wasn't true, of course).

Best Christmas ever--a brand new baby.

Dan and I were sure we had never seen such a beautiful child.
Since that day, Hallee has only continued to bless my life. Being the first child, she has patiently tutored me through all the firsts in parenthood (and there are tons more to go, poor girl!). She has forgiven me time and time again; she has loved me when I have been so unlovable; she has been my friend when it felt no one else was; she has been a wonderful daughter.

And so, although the teenage years still make my heart race a little, I am to the point of recognizing they can be some of the best years ever. I'm looking forward to the journey ahead, anticipating there will be bumps in the road, but knowing this girl can do anything she sets her mind to and that she has great things ahead.

Happy 13th Birthday, Hallee!!


Her lame mother forgot to buy candles so there weren't enough to put on her cake. Thankfully, this child doesn't get caught up in the details and easily forgave me. Next year, I will be ready with 14 candles, however.

Dan's father, Reed, drove all the way up from Logan to take Hallee to dinner. She chose Subway (so easy to please, I love it). I thought that was so thoughtful of him.