The spiritual side of birth

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Baby Finn, just minutes old.  Also, my cleavage. 

I’m super thrilled to share a book review as a part of the  Virtual Book Tour for The Gift of Giving Life!  I virtually befriended one of the authors a couple of years ago and I am so grateful to have found this incredible resource for mothers and mothers-to-be.  It’s written by women who are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (some of us Mormons :), but any woman of faith will appreciate the revelations contained within.  I believe that this book’s potential to transform our ideas and conceptions about birth is unimaginable!
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First off, this book is HUGE, over 500 pages!  It’s organized by well-written and touching essays on an array of topics concerning birth and motherhood: from infertility to homebirth to the heartbreak of loss.  Besides these amazing essays, it’s chock full of birth stories that will leave you in awe and in tears (good ones!). If I had all the money in the world, I would buy a copy of this book for every mother and woman I know
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Here I am 41 weeks pregnant with Finn.  Did I mention he’s 11 MONTHS today? (wha??!)
It’s evident that the birthing community talks a lot about being physically and emotionally prepared for a baby.  Carrying and nurturing a baby inside of you and then delivering that baby takes a toll on every woman’s body and emotions.  But rarely do we hear that we ought to prepare spiritually or even that birth can be a spiritual event!  This is part of why I’m so passionate about women being informed before birth and taking back some control over their birthing environments.  We all recognize that witnessing someone pass from this life to the next can be profoundly moving and deeply spiritual.  I believe that welcoming a new life into the world should be just as meaningful, and much more joyful!
I couldn’t possible be able to choose my favorite chapter or story in this book but I can say that The Gift of Giving Life completely changed the way that I see and process everything about motherhood.  I know that the role of Mother is so important and so sacred, that every part of it has a spiritual aspect: making the decision to conceive, intimacy, pregnancy, labor and of course, the birth itself.  (There’s also plenty to read for adoptive mothers, grandmothers and others!)  As mothers, we are guardians of the gateway between heaven and earth.  We have been given both the power and the inclination to create life, with husbands and God as our partners.  We can come to know the special connection mothers have with Jesus Christ as we give a portion of our bodies and our blood to bring new life into this world. If we could communicate the importance and sanctity of these truths to the next generation, we could undoubtedly change the world.
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Thanks for reading my review and be sure to visit the Gift of Giving Life Virtual Book Tour page for a chance to win some great baby-related prizes!
Now go buy a couple copies of the book on amazon to give any new moms in your life.  It’s my favorite baby shower gift!

Pain

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Becoming a mother opens you up to so much joy…and pain.  You essentially become an extension of your children and often feel what they feel.
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Remember this (super serious) post?  A homeschooling friend gave an amazing presentation more on this topic during our discussion group and it included this poem that might help me have perspective during rough patches:
Pain stayed so long I said to him today,
“I will not have you with me any more.”
I stamped my foot and said, “Be on your way,”
And paused there, startled at he look he wore.
“I, who have been your friend,” he said to me,
“I, who have been your teacher–all you know
Of understanding love, of sympathy,
And patience, I have taught you. Shall I go?”
He spoke the truth, this strange unwelcome guest;
I watched him leave, and knew that he was wise.
He left a heart grown tender in my breast,
He left a far, clear vision in my eyes.
I dried my tears, and lifted up a song–
Even for one who’d tortured me so long.

As Quoted by Spencer W Kimball (Past president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints)

Tri, tri again

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I’ll admit, the run is my favorite part of a tri but when your legs are complete Jell-O and you feel like you’re going into cardiac arrest then a good playlist can do wonders.  Here I’m listening to Pharrell Williams’s “Happy”, which is why I’m smiling and not swearing.
I competed in my 4th triathlon about a week ago and it was a total party!  Evidently I’ve become one of those people of questionable mental stability who enjoys sweating and making a fool of myself in front of hundreds of people while wearing spandex.  I don’t know why it’s so addicting but, hot dang, I’m loving these!
image (4)My places and times for each portion of the race.
My swim and run times were surprisingly fast considering the amount of time I’d been training (i.e. not a lot).  The bike killed me (yet again) because I have a ghetto old road bike I bought at a garage sale.  But I got 5th place in my age division (30-40, I think) and 23rd overall (out of 150-something people).  It was a shorter sprint triathlon than usual:  300m swim, 8.4mi bike and 2 mi run and I liked that just fine!
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Me and my best triathlon buddy, Tammy.  Not only does she keep me accountable when training on the bike (not my favorite) but she’s hilarious and irreverent whenever we need some comic relief.
I’m considering doing a “triathlon for dummies” series chronicling some of my favorite tips as a beginner.  I was mostly afraid of what I didn’t know! 
So…stay tuned!

Ode to winter

The temperature reached 100 degrees this week, here in the Valley of the Sun and, well, that really sucks- pardon my french.  I can no longer even pretend that I’ll have additional chances to wear wonderful winter sweaters, button downs and boots.  Therefore, I present an Ode to Winter Fashion post, highlighting some of my favorite cool-weather looks.  If you’re lucky (?) enough to still be experiencing sub 70 degree temps then I hope you try to enjoy your remaining sweater weather.  If not, then I’ll commiserate with you.  I mean, let’s face it…swim suits are WAY less fun to wear than sweaters.  Um, in my current bodily state that is.  Time to tone up!
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leopard overload.  but can you really have too much??
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ah, yes.  the ol’ chambray top/colored jean combo.  Adieu, my beloved winter uniform!  until next fall…

Faith and fear, hope and doubt

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I’m kind of obsessed with color so this last Christmas I challenged myself to decorate with only white, silver and gold just to prove a point.  See!?  I did it!  I can make neutrals look pretty!  And it felt surprisingly good, especially considering I usually have all kind of wacky colors going on at Christmastime: I usually switch between hot pink/green and bold blue/purple color schemes :).
I was just looking at the quote in this frame (from the LDS general conference in October of last year) the other day and felt it resonate with me once again:
“Doubt your doubts, before you doubt your faith”
-Dieter F. Uchtdorf

In the last few weeks, so much sad, sad news has reached my ears: a local family lost a special needs child when he escaped from their yard and drowned in a nearby canal, my friend discovered serious abuse happening to her children right in her own home, and I learned of several other traumatizing stories that happened to parents and children of families I admire or follow online.
I bring this up because as a mom of little children I occasionally find myself contemplating the dangers and accidents and evils that could befall my family and honestly, the thoughts are paralyzing.  I almost can’t breathe when I think about all the things that could bring calamity to my sweet little innocent children.  I’m not a naturally anxious person at all, but I find myself having mini-panic attacks at the possibilities!  Is it even right to bring children into a world so full of hatred, prejudice, violence, accidents and danger??
I contest that YES.  Of course it’s right…and good and necessary and worth it all and here’s why…
Once or twice, after feeling these crippling bouts of fear for what the future holds for my kids (or me…the thought of losing my husband is equally unnerving!), I’ve felt a supernatural sense of calm.  I know it was God speaking right to my soul and saying that yes…bad crap happens (um, but not in so many words….I mean, I’m sure God would never use the word “crap”…this is just me paraphrasing).  Life is full of danger and sin and accidents and really, really awful stuff that even the best people in the world can’t avoid.  But you know, the bad stuff in life does not have to define you. 
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I usually avoid even thinking about the awful possibilities out there, but in these spiritual moments, I’m able to imagine them, in all their seriousness and possibilities, with very little fear.  YES, one of my children could fall seriously ill, one could die.  I could get cancer; Luke’s plane could crash.  Any one of us could suffer abuse or be abducted.  A child could drown.  A child could choke, I could have a severely handicapped baby that would never talk or walk or speak.  But once those thoughts passed through my head, it was made clear to me that I would move through.  Tragedy doesn’t have to be a brick wall which halts our progress forever.  It can sure feel like a brick wall; we can slam into it and get bruised and battered but if we look closely enough, that wall will have chinks in it.  Little holes and pieces of masonry sticking out just big enough for us to grab hold of, and, eventually, we can scale that big old scary wall of tragedy and come out on the next floor up!
During an amazing discussion about this recently, a friend described a family she knew who endured an unthinkable accident that left their son paralyzed and severely handicapped.  The mother of the family had (something like) this to say about it all, years later:
Not only CAN good come from bad, but it MUST.  That is part of the plan of Jesus Christ.  Sometimes the greater bad that occurs, the greater the good that will result from it.  Even when the bad things are your fault, there is always a way for good to triumph. 
I believe that God is the Father of our spirits, which makes him the literal Dad of billions of people.  The same people who lie and hurt each other, who steal and murder and commit hideous crimes.  Something tells me that because God loves more purely than any of us, He likely feels pain more acutely than us.  If He gave us the choice to make these mistakes, even when these mistakes will hurt His other children and hurt Him (probably most of all!), then what does that say about the importance of our freedom?  Surely the freedom to screw up must be one of the most important gifts in the whole world!  (Um…thanks??? 🙂  And then I realize:

Surely more good can come from our tragedies, our mistakes and our learning from them, than from never enduring hardships at all.
THAT is why we’re here. 

Wow.  What a thought.
Here and here are two of my favorite online examples of mothers enduring trials beautifully.  And I interact with more of them around me every single day…

Easy-peasy Egg Breakfast Cassrole

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I looooove breakfast.  It’s my very first chance to eat every day and I SO look forward to it!  In fact, I’d have to say that I’d rather eat out for breakfast than any other meal.  And as if deciding on a great morning meal isn’t hard enough, I’m equally in love with both savory and sweet breakfasts!

I came up with this easy meal after scouring the internet looking for the perfect Christmas morning brunch.  It’s great for holidays (or any other lazy morning) because it can be prepped the night before. (see note) 
It can also be made even healthier by adding more veggies: fresh spinach, leftover zucchini or asparagus, bell pepper, you name it!

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Egg and Hash Brown Breakfast Casserole

20 oz package of frozen hash browns (or made from scratch)
1/4 c olive oil
10 eggs
1/4 tsp parsley
1 tsp garlic salt
pepper to taste
1/2 tsp herbes de provence (can substitute oregano, or Italian herbs)
4-5 strips cooked bacon, crumbled
1 cup cherry tomatoes, chopped
3/4 c cheddar cheese, grated
1/4 c provolone and muenster cheese, grated*
1/4 c milk (dairy or non)

*I used a random combination of these cheeses because I was using up leftovers and it was delicious!  Feel free to substitute any other flavorful cheeses of your liking.

Spread frozen hash browns in 13×9” pan and drizzle olive oil on top; mix until hash browns are coated.  Bake at 425 degrees for 30 minutes. 

Meanwhile, whisk eggs and spices together well.  Add bacon, tomatoes, cheese and milk and mix to combine.  Pour egg mixture on top of cooked hash browns and bake at 350 degrees for 25 min. 

Note: If making the night before, cook hash browns as directed.  Allow to cool slightly, then continue with recipe until egg mixture is poured on top of hash browns.  Cover with foil and refrigerate until needed. 

Live Intentionally

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I just read this AMAZING book and wanted to share how it’s already changed things up around our house.
The title struck me because, hey, who doesn’t realize they have too much shtuff taking up space?  Especially with multiple kids and the junk that they bring along with them…anyway, I expected this book was your usual organization how-to guide but it was so much more!
The author and his family are self-proclaimed “minimalists” which he describes as people who choose to spend their time, money and energy on the things that matter in life (i.e. moments, memories, relationships) instead of the things that DON’T (i.e. possessions).  Instead of just telling you how to manage your stuff (which countless books and blogs are already doing) he challenges readers to assess whether they need all this junk to begin with.
The author explains that living with less stuff is not about depriving oneself, but rather a way of learning how to live intentionally.  Instead of buying random crap to decorate his shelves, he decorates with a few meaningful family pictures or pieces of artwork his kids have done.  Instead of having a closet jam-packed with clothes, most of which he never wears, he has a few very favorite items that are a joy to wear.  When a minimalist does need to buy something, he can even afford to have nicer things because he’s only buying things once.  He also has more time and energy to spend with the people he loves.
This book came at a perfect time for me.  Our 4th bedroom was my “craft” room (also affectionately referred to as the “crap” room) for the past 5 years and in it I stored everything from too much thread, to extra pictures frames, to pillow forms and everything in between. 
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This is what it looked like in its “organized” state…
We just decided to move the boys into this room so that upstairs, the twins could have their own room and Juliet and Finn could share (in hopes for more sleeping all around). 
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It took about 2 full weeks to relocate my sewing machines and find space for everything in other corners of the house. 
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Realizing that I’m a collector, and that I often look to possessions for comfort instead of people and relationships, was just one eye-opening aspect of this book.  Since reading it 3 days ago, I’ve cleared out my closet, the kids’ closets, more craft stuff, useless décor – you name it!  I’m prepping for a huge garage sale and adjusting to the idea of being a minimalist! 
I have to say, it is really a liberating feeling.  Our house seems bigger, and I feel less demands on my time.  I expect daily cleanup to go smoother and less stress from looking around at piles of clutter.
In the end, I realized this book was less of a guide to organizing as it was sort of an emotional re-prioritization.  After reading this book, I was reminded of a quote I’ve thought of often:
“Everything you own, owns a piece of you.” 
It’s no wonder we all feel pulled in a million different directions!
I can’t recommend this book enough…it’s a short, quick read and right now it’s really cheap on amazon (especially if you have a kindle). Go buy it, seriously.

holiday fancies

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In my personal opinion, middle class moms never get enough chances to dress up.  So, of course, I like to overdress at every opportunity I get.  Luke’s work party was my occasion this holiday season.  I managed to squeeze all my favorite trends into one outfit this time: peplum, leather accent, metallics and ankle strap heels.  I’m a multi-tasker, what can I say?!

I was really hoping to find a sleek pair of metallic jacquard crops kinda like these but nothing I liked was in my budget.  So luckily I scored this great pencil skirt on sale at Anthropologie instead.  Way impractical due to the fanciness but I couldn’t help it.
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Sorry, forgot the red liptsick for this picture.  Criminal.
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I could just come up with evening outfits all day long.  Time to start crashing some parties!

15” Baby Doll Dress and Pattern

If you’ve been on Pinterest for like 5 minutes, you’ve probably seen or pinned a tutorial from Craftiness Is Not Optional.  The blog is as adorable as the writer and she’s got the BEST little girl dress tutorials (and TONS of them!).  A friend commissioned me to make CINO’s Junebug dress for her little girl along with a matching version for a baby doll her daughter is getting for Christmas.
Fun right??
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I’ve made the Junebug dress before for all 3 of my girls and loved it.  It was a fun challenge grading it to a little baby doll size…I haven’t sewn that small since my foray into Barbie fashions in 1992 (yes, I was 12). 
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Vivian loved modeling for it too.  In fact, I should’ve documented the holy terror she became when I took it off her doll.  That must mean she liked it, right??
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Click THIS google doc link for the PDF of the doll-sized pattern.  This free version on Craftiness is Not Optional’s site is a toddler size 2 but for $10 you can buy this full pattern all the way up to age 8!

Keep reading for how to finish the doll version…
For the skirt, I cut 2 rectangles of fabric, measuring 10” wide and 5” long.  Cut them into a slight A-line and sew together.  Follow CINO’s directions here for attaching the skirt and hemming it.  Or if you want to attach a ruffle like I did, cut a strip of fabric measuring 2.5” wide by at least 35” long.  You can go longer for a fuller ruffle but don’t go much shorter.   Sew raw (short) edges together to make a big circle, then fold in half lengthwise (so your strip is 1.25” wide) and press, wrong sides together.  Gather along the raw edge and sew to skirt bottom, right sides together.
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I ended up making a velcro placket on the back for ease of dressing the doll.  So don’t be a dummy like me and go crazy making 6 teeny tiny working buttonholes on the front cause they’ll be too small for any toddler to button anyway.  Just sew the buttons on through the front flap and and side portion of the bodice so that the flap can’t open.
Cut a slit down the back of the finished dress about 4” long (through the bodice and into the skirt).  Then cut 2 placket pieces with the following measurements:
1) 4.5” long x 3” wide   2) 4.5” long x 1.5” wide
Fold #1 in half lengthwise, right sides together (to make piece 2.25” x 3”) and press.  Sew 3 sides together, leaving one long side open.  Clip corners, turn right side out and press again.  You’ll now have a long pocket-like strip with one long opening.
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Now pin it to the left side of your doll’s dress opening in the back, right sides together.  Sew a small 1/4” seam down the length of the slit, attaching only one side of placket to dress.  Fold the other side of placket back around into the inside of the dress and press seam.  Now you’ll just have one raw edge left of the placket on the inside.  Fold a small 1/4” edge of this raw edge down into the placket and sew closed.  Topstitch velcro onto the outside of this placket. 
Now take placket piece #2 and sew it, right sides together, to the right side of the back opening.  Fold it to the inside of the dress, press and then fold the top  and side raw edges of the placket in on itself and stitch those closed.  Add velcro to the INSIDE of this placket.  Then turn the dress inside out and take the bottom raw edges of each placket and sew them together to close it up.  Voila!  All done.
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I realize that those placket instructions sound much harder than they are.  When I get around to making another one, I’ll try to take more step by step pictures but it’s pretty self-explanatory once you get going.
Good luck!
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A Silhouette Princess Shower

The BEST part about having a Silhouette Cameo machine is making gifts and throwing parties.  Baby showers to be exact (I’ve helped out with several this year…all my sisters are fertile women).  When my SIL Anna found out she was having a girl after three boys, I was giddy at the chance to go over the top with girly stuff.  We did this way back in the spring of this year but it would be criminal not to share details of a pink party.
Of course it had to have a princess theme.
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I thought about these invites forever and finally settled on this castle cutout in pink.  Then I added rhinestones to the the door and turrets and glued it onto the invite itself, printed on vellum (um, leftover from my wedding invitations…9 years ago.  Have I mentioned I’m unreasonably attached to craft supplies?)
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Part of her gift included this little metal magnet board I bought from Pick Your Plum a million years ago.  I decided to add baby’s name and this cute little bird in vinyl so that Anna could use it in the nursery to display pictures or whatever. 
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One of my favorite parts was these cupcakes.  My friend Laurie who makes AHmazing baked goods made them for me and then I wrapped them in these crown cupcake wrappers that are just supes fun.  This wrapping-cupcakes-in-cute-shapes thing is entirely new to me and I have to say – I like it.
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There were a few other fun pinky accessories and then I handed out little chocolates made from a crown mold (the mold was borrowed so no clue where it came from, but I’m thinking maybe Michael’s?).  They were ridiculously easy to make, even with 2 colors of chocolate.  I attached a “Happily Ever After” message to it and handed them out in a basket (pink, obv). 
For drinks at the party, I used waterproof sticker paper to add a label to bottles of berry lemonade.  I designed it in Silhouette’s software and then used the print and cut feature on the Cameo to print a Chevron background and words,  and then cut out this crown shape.
Overall it was all crazy fun to do and I got my girly party itch out (hmmm, that sounded kinda weird :/) just in time to have my baby boy.
I may need to sign up for a Silhouette-aholics group.  I just know they’re out there.