Friday, May 23, 2008

A little more Doing and a little less Getting it Done

Been meaning to post these for awhile. They were taken April 6th.

After being couped up in the house listening to General Conference all day, Lily was ready to get out and do something. She brought me our book 365 TV-Free Activities You Can Do With Your Child (thanks, Becky!) and we found one about doing a chalk maze out on the sidewalk. Feeling newly inspired by Elder Ballard's talk and thinking about treasuring the doing a little more and the getting it done a little less, we headed outside and I spent about an hour drawing a chalk maze for Lily.

Prepare to be impressed. Not by my cool maze, but by Lily's photography skills. She took these pictures:

Check out the totally sweet dutch angle! I think we have a budding photographer on our hands!

I love this one Lily took of Amelia and me.

(The rest of the photos were taken by me.)

Amelia had lots of fun "helping" me with the maze. She kept stealing my chalk and I'd have to go find another piece, only to repeat the process again a few minutes later.

An hour of chalking and she completed the maze in about 45 seconds. Somehow it doesn't seem fair. Ah well, all in the name of quality time...

And hey, if the photography thing doesn't work out for Lily, she can always fall back on her balloon design skills. She made these shapes all by herself (a human and a dog).

Watch for her on the T.G.I. Friday's circuit in about 10 years. Be sure to give her a big tip!

Nummies are all gone

Just a quick post to tell you that I FINALLY weaned Amelia on May 6th. (Please withhold all "about freakin' time" comments, thank you very much!) She nursed for 20 months.

I was a little nervous to do it because I was afraid Amelia would fight it. Plus, I have really enjoyed nursing her and I was afraid I would be sad. But it was a pretty easy transition. Early in April she was nursing about 3 times a day (first thing in the morning, before nap, and before bed.) One night she just spurned the nummies, so I decided to go with it and just put her to bed. The next day I figured I'd better take advantage and just cut out her before sleep feedings and try to reinvent the before nap and before bed ritual. She is REALLY into books and loves to be read to, so I just started reading with her for 10 minutes or so before she went to sleep. She was happy to snuggle her woobie and suck on her binky while she listened to stories.

So by mid-April we were down to just one nursing a day, right after she woke up in the morning. That one was the last to go because that was our snuggliest time when I was still in bed and she was still mellow. Then at the beginning of May I started babysitting my neighbor's 5 month-old every Wednesday. The first day the baby came, I was already up and showered before Amelia woke up, so we missed our regular routine of the girls waking me up and Amelia nursing so I could squeeze a few extra lazy minutes in bed. We just got breakfast and went about our day. The next morning when she came in for nummies, I sprung (OK, that's perhaps a bit strong) out of bed and got her a sippy cup of milk and she was fine. Over the next couple of days there were only about two or three times, when she was tired and cranky, when she grabbed my boobs and cried, "Uh-num" ("I want nummies"). I just told her, "Nummies are all gone."

So now do I officially have to stop calling her my baby? I don't think I can do it. She's still so small and snuggly and sweet. Here she is in her typical sleeping pose: fingers twirling her hair (if you look close you can see she has a strand wrapped around her finger), snuggling her woobie, and sucking on her binky.

That's my baby!

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Mom's Cakes

I had way too much fun going through old photos trying to find a picture of one of Mom's great cakes for the Mother's Day post. There were so many good ones that I decided to post a bunch. The thing that impresses me the most, now that I am a mother, is how much time it must have taken to do each individual little star of icing. I just don't think I would be willing to do that, and if I was, I probably wouldn't let anyone eat it!

October 1974, Becky's 3rd birthday cake.

October 1974 (David, Becky, Don) This photo says Army Brat all over it. The boxes in the background indicate a recent move (must have been when the family moved to Monterey, CA for Dad to attend the Defense Language Institute) and the kids are eating Jack-in-the-Box for dinner, a sure sign that Mom was way too pooped from unpacking to make dinner. But she totally came through with the cake! I wonder how many boxes she had to dig through to find her decorating supplies...

October 1975, Becky's 4th birthday and Aunt Retha's ? birthday. Mom, the overachiever, decorated two cakes! Nowadays you just have to share!

February 1976, David's 11th birthday, with Mom and little me (6 months).

February 1976, me by David's second birthday cake (for the friend party.)

This is one of Mom's coolest cakes ever. She made it for the bicentennial celebration in July 1976. (Totally sweet bonnet.)

August 1976, Don's 8th birthday cake. When you go to the trouble (which I'm sure involved some mail order from the States to Germany) to buy a giant bell cake pan, you have to get your money's worth!

August 1976, my first birthday. One word: beaver.

Apparently Mom had a reputation in the neighborhood for being the cake queen because she made cakes for other kids, too. I have no idea who this kid is, but he's sporting some totally sweet lederhosen.

February 1977, David's 12th birthday. Can you believe how much that little rag-a-muffin in front looks like Amelia?

February 1977, again, a second cake for the friend party. I noticed this trend for David and Becky's birthdays, but not Don and I. Must have been because they had birthdays during the school year and could only have their friend party on a Saturday. Since Don and I had summer birthdays, we probably just had one party because kids could come over any day of the week.

Summer 1977. I never knew Mom made wedding cakes, but I stumbled upon these while looking through the album. I especially liked this "in progress" picture because the tupperware pitcher with the handle (back left corner) is the very bucket we use to rinse the girls' hair in the bath now!

Good military wedding, with the Stars and Stripes accenting the wedding cake. Pretty impressive, Mom!

August 1977, Don's 9th birthday.

August 1977, my second birthday. I wonder how many fingerprints were in that cake by the time it got eaten.

August 1977, Don giving me some pointers on how to blow out the candles.

October 1977, Becky's 6th birthday after the infamous hair butchering.

October 1977, Becky's cake for the family party. Man, the doll cake pan sure got a lot of use!

There were dozens of cakes that I couldn't find pictures of because they're all on slides at my Dad's house. There are hardly any pictures in my Mom's collection from 1979-1984 when we lived in Ft. Leavenworth, KS and Ft. Sill, OK because they're all on slides. I've got to get my hands on those!

Two of my favorite birthday parties were (I think) my 8th and 11th. For my 8th (I know we were living in Ft. Sill) birthday party my Mom made a CareBear cake and there were lots of fun party favors. For my 11th birthday, I got to have a sleepover and we had a BBQ on our deck in Burke, VA. Mom let me shop for party favors at a little store called Daring Gifts. I got things like cool pencils and erasers, kitten stickers, and other fun girly stuff.

Thanks for all the great birthdays, Mom! My only regret about posting these is that Lily is going to see them and have expectations for her next birthday. At least we live with the master...

Monday, May 12, 2008

This one's for Mom

My Mom was talking to my sister Becky on the phone a couple days ago and she said, "If you’re looking for a Mother’s Day gift idea, write me a letter telling 3-5 reasons how having me as a mother has influenced you as an adult." Hmm, sounds suspiciously like an English class assignment. My mind instantly went to the movie A Christmas Story where Ralphie’s teacher says, "Children, we’re going to write a theme" and they all groan and moan. But the truth is, a letter is my favorite gift to receive so I decided to give it a go. And what better way to honor my Mom than to publicly extoll her virtues on the blog?

I believe this photo was taken either on Easter or Mother's Day in 1979.

Mom gave me roots. Being an Army brat pretty much guarantees that you won’t live near extended family. But despite the distance, I always felt close to my Cox cousins. Mom always made an effort to make our visits full of good times and fun memories and we were encouraged to keep in touch with letters and phone calls. Mom is also the genealogy queen. She has a passion for her ancestors and has a strong love and desire to give each of them all the opportunities of the gospel.

Mom taught me not to be idle. She is always involved in some sort of project, whether it’s working in the yard, doing honey-do’s for the Scottish Association, or volunteering at the Family History Center. She has never been one to sit around watching daytime television or otherwise wasting her time.

Mom taught me to respect and take care of my elders. I hope when the time comes, I can take as good care of my mother as she took of hers. She respected Gram’s autonomy, yet Gram knew she could rely on her daughter 100%, anytime day or night, no matter what she needed. Mom adored and respected her mother and always made sure Gram maintained her position as an integral part of the extended family.

Mom taught me the value of having a marketable skill. She completed nursing school while being a newlywed, having a baby and supporting her husband who was also a student. There were times when she was a stay-at-home mom, but she always maintained her skills and eventually made a great career out of being a nurse.



Mom taught me the value of traditions. Christmas was always such a magical time, due largely to Mom’s effort to create a warm ambiance and do the same things together every year. I have great memories of my birthdays. Mom always made fancy cakes and made sure we felt like the greatest kid in the world on our birthday. I try to remember that when I feel like blowing off those important days.

My second birthday, August 1977

I love you, Mom. You done good!

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Team Fatty Fighting for Susan

It's been awhile since I've mentioned the Fat Cyclist on my blog. I think the last time was when my cousin Chris and I did the Little Red Riding Hood last June. At the time Elden's (Fatty's) wife had just been diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer and was just beginning treatments. A year has passed, full of chemo and radiation, and after a short break in treatments, it was discovered last week that Susan's brain is showered with tumors.

If you're feeling up to a good cry, read here and here and here. I just can't even fathom preparing to die, worrying about leaving your spouse and kids, going through the physical pain, and yet, you have something to look forward to, something unknown and wonderful that is waiting for you. Now imagine being the one left behind. The one who is going to have to raise children without their mother for years. It's devastating. How do you carry on with your daily routines amid the loneliness and heartbreak? How do you work all day then come home to cook, do laundry, mow the lawn, fix the cars, much less be emotionally available to your children? All knowing that it's not a temporary state that will soon be relieved. It's so overwhelming.

I've been so proud of Dan and his friends who have spent many hours trying to figure out how they can help. It's hard to witness such heartache. You want to just go home and hug your family and be with them, yet you have to continue life. You just can't live every day of your life like it's your last. As right as it seems, you still have obligations to meet and life must continue.

I'm rambling, and most of these thoughts are Dan's anyway, but the whole reason I shared them is because, though I don't know Susan and Elden that well, their situation is dear to me and to Dan. The human heartache of it is overwhelming, but there is also the practical aspect of medical bills, home care, taking care of the kids, etc. It's an incredible burden to bear and while they are getting lots of physical help, they will be needing lots of financial help as well.

It's not always easy to get emotionally invested in helping someone you don't know, but if you are so inclined, you can contribute to their fight in two ways. Read this blog post for a link to donate to a bank account set up in their name, or you can purchase one of the new Fat Cyclist jerseys. (I thought this might appeal to Black Sheep and White Sheep #1.) Jerseys are awesome if you bike or do any kind of fitness where you're out for awhile. All of the proceeds from these jerseys will go directly to help Susan's fight against cancer.

Today I am feeling grateful for Dan, for how much he loves me, for the wonderful father that he is, and for this time we have together.

Monday, May 5, 2008

The Mommy Paradigm Shift

par·a·digm (pār'eh-dīm') n. A set of assumptions, concepts, values, and practices that constitutes a way of viewing reality for the community that shares them, especially in an intellectual discipline.

I have hesitated to write about this for several weeks because I'm still deciding how I feel about it. But I think it is safe to say that I am experiencing a major paradigm shift in my life.

After working full-time for most of my married life and in particular, being a working mom for the last 6 years, we have finally reached a point in our financial life that I don't have to work anymore. Dan's job writing patent applications on a contract basis has finally stabilized and is bringing in a fairly reliable income, allowing us to meet all of our monthly obligations with just Dan's income.

Here's how it all went down: At the beginning of April Dan and I were going over our budget for the month and a major discussion erupted from my intention to spend a couple hundred dollars getting a sample album printed and bound. January through April is always my slowest time with photography, there's not many weddings and it's too cold and ugly outside for most family portraits. So I hadn't been working much for the past couple of months. I'll freely admit it was nice not being constantly overwhelmed with editing and reprint orders and wedding albums. I'd been able to keep up with the housework better and I felt more emotionally available for the girls. But always in the back of my mind was the nagging guilt and worry that I wasn't bringing in enough money.

Dan and I had discussed ways to build my business on several other occasions, but I was sluggish to implement much. I was afraid to get too busy and not be able to keep up with my workload. Last fall was my busiest season ever, and I felt pretty overwhelmed most of the time. And I just wasn't managing the stress of being a working mom very well. Remember this post? (Life did improve greatly once we busted out the Ferber Method on Amelia and got her sleeping through the night.)

Anyway, this money discussion came after a lengthy period of relative inactivity in the photo department, thus Dan was pretty leary of me spending more money on marketing. I had tried several things to try to drum up more business (like my mini-portrait days and the photo handbags) but it always ended up costing more in expenses or time than it benefited us in increased revenue. So Dan said he didn't want me spending any more money building my business until I decided if that's what I really wanted to do.

Here are a few thoughts from my journal:

The thing that I have wished for deep, deep down in my guts for 6 years is finally upon me and now I just can’t figure out what to do... Dan told me, "The thing is, it just seems like you don’t want to build your business. And if you don’t, that’s fine, but you just need to make a decision so we don’t spend any more money on something that you don’t want to keep doing." Did he really just say "that’s fine"? I stewed on that while Dan commuted up to the firm in Salt Lake.

After awhile, we spoke on the phone and I told Dan, "You say ‘that’s fine’ but I don’t think you really mean that. I think you’ll be disappointed in me if I’m not doing something to bring in money." He said, "well, I just thought that we both agreed that the most important thing for us right now is getting out of debt. But ultimately, if it’s not worth the stress and bitterness you feel about working, then we’ll just take longer to get out of debt. But you just need to decide. Do you want to work?" I answered, "Of course I don’t want to work, but that’s just never really been an option, I’ve always had to work out of necessity. But what I really want to do is be the mom and run the household. I want to help Lily with her homework, read with the girls, spend time with them playing and creating things. I want to manage the finances, keep the house clean, all that kind of stuff. But I just don’t think it will be enough for you." What I meant by that is that I know one of the things Dan loves about me, one of the reasons he married me, was because I had a "thing", something that I pursued and was good at. He admired that about me. And if I stop doing that, I’m afraid he won’t respect me as much. He answered, "It’s not that I don’t find value in what you do for our family. I know that you are busy from the moment you wake up until late into the night. But I just don’t think you realize that you’re not going to feel fulfilled if all you do is be the mom."

After stewing over this for several days, it’s clear to me that Dan knows me better than I claim to know myself. We talked through a lot of things about what I hate about working: the editing, the production work, people always wanting their stuff and me always feeling guilty that it’s not done, me feeling guilty when I ignore the girls so I can work, me being stressed out about not having enough time to run the household and keep up with my business obligations. That’s the biggest thing, the competing sense of obligation to my children and to my clients. Of course, the obvious answer is that my first loyalty is to my family, but after three or four times of telling someone an estimated completion date and still not having it ready, I start feeling so crappy about myself, like my word means nothing. And then there are the days when Lily whines over my shoulder at the computer, "You’re always working. I wish you never had to work." That’s a dagger right through my heart! The same with Amelia, whacking me on the knees as I sit at the computer, crying "Mama!" in desperation and exasperation.

And yet, when I have a set of images that I’m really proud of, where I feel like I’ve really captured a feeling of love, or of silliness, or when I’ve captured the essence of a personality, I swell inside knowing that I did something that is special. And it’s a great stroke to my ego when someone loves their pictures. Dan asked me what I loved about photography and aside from that feeling, I really love designing albums. And it’s not just because I like scrapbooking or graphic design. Dan pointed out that I could get a job doing albums for someone else and it wouldn’t "do" it for me. What I love is taking the images I created, my vision, and translating it into something that tells a story, something that compiles many images to reflect the true nature of personalities and relationships. I enjoy making art out of my photographs.

I wrestled with these conflicting feelings for several days. The truth is, being a photographer has become a large part of my identity. It seems weird or unnatural to be a mom who "used to be a photographer." It's something I take pride in. And I realize it's hypocritical to say that being a full-time mom is the most important job, and yet feel like I was somehow "cooler" on the super-mommy scale by having a job other than mommying. I'm a proud and slightly wicked girl, it's true.

My patriarchal blessing talks specifically of my career. After reading it and praying, I decided that I shouldn't turn away from my talent, from my secondary career. I should just shoot less and charge more. I should do what I really want with my photography, design albums. Click here to see a sample on my photoblog of my first family album.

I had made this decision to keep working, but restructure my pricing and promote my albums more. And yet, I still stressed about how to get people interested and willing to pay for the albums, how a minimum investment of $500.00 might prevent people from booking (even though the average client usually spends this much.) I was still stressed about work.

Then came General Conference. I had prayed that I would find direction in one of the talks, and at the end of the Sunday afternoon session, Elder Ballard's talk gave me such peace about what I should be doing with my life. If you are a young mother, you must listen to the audio feed.

There were two things that stuck out to me most:

If a child lives with parents for 18 or 19 years, that span is only one-fourth of a parent’s life. And the most formative time of all, the early years in a child’s life, represents less than one-tenth of a parent’s normal life. It is crucial to focus on our children for the short time we have them with us and to seek, with the help of the Lord, to teach them all we can before they leave our homes.

"I wish I had not been in such a hurry to get on to the next thing: dinner, bath, book, bed. I wish I had treasured the doing a little more and the getting it done a little less. (Anna Quindlen)

As a working mom, so much of my life is defined by hurrying from one task to another. It's the exception rather than the norm when I stop and relish a feeling or a smile or how beautiful my daughters are. But their youth, the opportunity I have to really influence the kind of person they will turn out to be, is so, so short. Photography will always be there, but my children won't.

After this talk and after speaking with my friend Cami who is also balancing motherhood with running a photography business from home, I spoke some more with Dan about what I wanted to do. The truth is, I was shocked when Dan opened the door for me to quit working. He was raised in a family where his mom worked, his grandmother worked, and now his sister works. It's just what you do. When Dan was just starting graduate school and Lily was a baby, I would say things like, "I can't wait until I don't have to work." Dan was like, "whatever..." Throughout our marriage, I have assumed that Dan would always expect me to work. But things have changed, Dan sees the importance and the value in having me home with the kids full-time. I finally just realized that the reason he's always given me the impression that I should work is not because his opinion of me was based on my financial contribution, but instead that he thought working would give me fulfillment. After discussing this more, Dan said, "Let me clarify, again. You are under no obligation, express or implied, to contribute financially."

I can't tell you how liberating those words were. I was finally free to be the kind of wife and mother that I want to be. To stop splitting my obligations and feeling guilty about not measuring up to either one.

I have had a few weeks to adjust to this new mindset. Despite my joy over the change, I have felt a little awkward trying to embrace this new image of myself. Partially it's my pride wanting to still be the "do-it-all" woman. And yet, there have been days where all I did was do laundry, fix meals, clean house and it just felt so good to accomplish those things without the sense of guilt hovering below the surface that I should be doing a photo job. Other days I think, "what do I have to show for today?"

It's going to take some more adjusting, but I am definitely enjoying how much happier the girls seem now that I can give them more attention. I've been so used to focusing on my job, which is about everyone but my family, that I'm a little out of practice on not being selfish with my time. I keep having to remind myself that making Dan and the girls happy is more important than holing up to read a book (phew, at least I finished the Twilight series before I came to this realization!)

Now, this does not mean that I will stop shooting all together. I just did a shoot on Saturday and I have one at the end of this week. I'm just not going to stress about getting the jobs like I used to. If someone calls and is willing to pay what I need to charge to make it worth it to me, then I'll happily do it. And any profits I make will go straight to debt elimination.

The shoot I did last Saturday, well, I was dreading it the whole day because I had gotten used to being able to stay home and I just wanted to blog and hang out with the fam. But once I got there, I ended up having a really good time and taking some images that I think will make a great album. It was my visiting teacher's mother-in-law and her 8 children (no spouses.) Previously, at a shoot like this I would have taken a few formal poses of the group, then some of each individual and called it good. But now, since my goal is to sell an album with each package, I need more variety in my images. And I love the candid stuff. So after the formal group shots, I had mom and the 8 kids all sit around in a semicircle in the backyard and tell stories about growing up. It was so much fun and I got some really fun shots of them all laughing together. I'm sure I'll post some of them on my photoblog in a few days.

Once again, I have written a short novel to convey a simple message: My Mommy Paradigm has shifted from "try to be good at several things, but fall short" to "try to raise good children and love your husband, and all the rest is just fluff."

Friday, May 2, 2008

Freakin' Utah

This is what greeted me as I looked out the window yesterday morning.

The date? May 1st.


There's nothing quite like snow in your tulips to make you want to compose a letter full of expletives to Old Man Winter.

Perhaps the most annoying thing is the fact that it still surprises me. After living in Utah for a combined total of 12 years, you'd think I'd be used to the fact that Spring and Fall are nothing more than brief two-week intervals between sweltering heat and butt coldness. But this Spring has been especially lame, with many snowfalls in late March and April.

Dan says you know you're in Utah because it's guaranteed to snow by his birthday, October 20th. I thought we might get lucky this past Fall, it seemed unseasonably warm, but lo and behold, the morning of October 21, 2007 Lily awoke with joy to discover it had snowed during the night.

Note all the leaves and apples still growing on the tree!

Ah, well, I guess Utah has other fine qualities. Like Slick Rock and thick shakes.

I remember when I was in 4th grade, living in Virginia, a friend of mine and I made up this nonsense song that went: A snowy day in the month of May, I like to ski on top of a tee... It seemed so implausible in that time and place.

For more commentary on snow in May, you must check out my friend Matt's blog post So Much for Global Warming! Amen, brother!