Thursday, January 31, 2008

What have I gotten myself into?

Just got back from a rehearsal for "Africa," which is the piece I'm singing in with the SUU choir and the Orchestra of Southern Utah. This was the choir's first time rehearsing with the full orchestra (or any orchestra at all, as a matter of fact). And it was downright frightening.

I excuse myself because I have had the music for less than a week and have only rehearsed with the choir twice before tonight. The rest of the choir has had it since the beginning of the semester. And, actually, except for one passage in which the director told me to learn the alto and then changed her mind and put me on soprano yesterday, I'm really doing fine.

Scary as it was, it was just so invigorating. Who cares that the entire choir had no idea what notes to come in on? (We have been rehearsing only with our parts...we didn't even have a piano reduction of the score, so it took us a few tries to understand exactly what the orchestra was doing when we come in.) I had so much fun. Yes, I've been singing with a community women's choir, which is pretty good. But this is different. They are the top choir at SUU, and though quite small, they are almost as good as the choirs I sang with when I was in college.

I just never realized how much I would miss it. And even though it's taking a quite bit of time and effort, it's totally worth it.

I am nothing, if not resourceful

Oh yeah, remember that one time that I said I was going to devote Thursdays to photography?

Me neither.

But, I will try to do a few photo Thursdays here and there. And lucky you! Today is one of them.

After I posted the photoshoot of Sophie the other day, several of you asked what my backdrop set up is. I'm afraid you might not like the answer, but I will share my secrets anyway.

I don't have a backdrop set up.

Here is what I do have: Two kitchen chairs, a sliding glass door and a big old piece of BROWN fleece. Yes brown. Not black, much as I wish it were. And that's where Photoshop comes in.

So, I set up my chairs at a not quite 90 degree angle to the sliding glass door, and then drape my fleece over it, pose the kids and snap away. Here are some pictures of how it looks:





The other thing I often do is hang up my fleece in the garage. I use jumper cables and hang them to the garage door runner thingies. Basically, I just make do with what I have. But, I don't do any garage photoshoots in the middle of winter because everyone would be blue. I do like the larger space when it's warmer, though.

Now, I like (love) the look of the super black background. It is my favorite. Since the fleece I use is dark brown, it generally looks fairly black, but it does need some darkening in photoshop sometimes. I do this by using the clone stamp tool on color burn.

Here are the instructions for Photoshop Elements 5.0. I can't speak for any other version.

Make a duplicate layer by pressing "ctrl" and "J".

Press "S" to get to the Clone Stamp tool.

Up along the top, underneath the main tool bar will be the bar for whichever tool you are currently using. You will see a "mode" field with a drop down menu. Pick color burn.

Go to your picture and place your cursor over the darkest part of your background.

Press "Alt" and click.

Now you can just paint with the tool. I generally zoom in on my photo quite a bit and choose a pixel size of maybe 100-300, depending on the picture. If you have large areas of background you can go even bigger.

If you accidentally brush over something that's not the background, it generally doesn't make a huge difference since you're burning. But if it does, just undo it and keep going.

Once you have burned your entire background, flatten your layers, and voila! It looks like it was black to begin with!

Now, this doesn't work if you are using a light background. It has to be fairly dark to start out with, so a dark colored blanket or sheet will be fine, but nothing too light.

Here are some examples from today (Since I had to set it all up, might as well get a few shots in, right?). You may not be able to tell a huge difference, but on some monitors it will be really obvious:

This picture has the original background, I did not burn it at all:

This picture was burned using photoshop:

One last piece of advice: I took the above pictures in the early afternoon. Generally, try to stay away from that time as the light is really no good...you can kind of tell that it gives her a washed out look, as compared to Sophia's pictures a few posts down which were taken around 10 am. I like to take portraits with this backdrop either in the morning or late afternoon. It is a north facing window which really gives some nice light if you catch it at the right time.

Hope this answered some questions!

Have fun being resourceful!

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The blahs. Or the blues. Whatever you want to call them.

I have them today.

I haven't been feeling very well...have some sort of sinus crud going on. McCain won Florida last night, which makes me feel a little sick on top of that. So sick, I didn't even scrapbook last night as planned. Joel and I are both feeling a little discouraged with his job search, and overwhelmed with our lives. And last, but certainly not least, I'm freezing to death. We have had so much snow lately, and the forecasts only say there'll be more. Depressing. That about sums it up.

So, I've been shirking all (well, I did do a little bit of cleaning already) my duties and doing some mindless playing around online this morning. Here's a few sort of fun quizzes:


cash advance




Compared to other ice creams, coffee ice cream has a strong flavor, and it's packed with caffeinated sweetness. You're like that, too! You're always busy, and determined to stay focused as you move from one task to the next. You get frustrated when other people slow you down or hold you back, but when you're in control, you can find ways around any obstacle.

Had to laugh at the ice cream one. Even though I don't drink coffee or even eat coffee flavored ice cream, the description has me pretty much pegged. Also thankful that my blog is not elementary school level. Not that it matters. My photography blog came up as genius level, so I am guessing all the html in the pictures fooled it. Because I highly doubt I used many big words on it.

I will email out my layouts to everyone that asked tonight sometime. I need to get a better picture of one of them, and maybe even complete one other. Some of you that asked to see them, I have no idea of your email address. So, if you want to see them, go ahead and email me. (lalakme at gmail). You just have to promise to tell me your true feelings about them, and it's a done deal.

And now I suppose I will go mope a bit more about McCain, and try to get some housework done before I have to go teach this afternoon.

Happy Wednesday.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Simplification: January update

This is just to keep myself accountable.

For January, I focused on simplifying my grocery shopping. Not so much making it easier or having it take less time, but working on saving as much money as I could by joining Grocery Game and sticking to my budget.

While it took me nearly the whole month to get things running smoothly, I am at the point now where I think it is totally doable and I know it will only get easier. Yesterday was the first day that I spent less than 150 dollars for the week ($106.06 for 22 bags of groceries!). Part of it has been the stocking up phase: Picking up items when they are free or dirt cheap, and keeping them in storage. The other part is just really still a learning curve and knowing what is the best deal.

One important lesson I learned is to always take my coupon file with me to the store, even if I'm just running in for milk. Because, my husband might call and tell me we need balsamic vinegar, and I'll be upset to find I had a dollar off coupon for the exact brand I bought that was only $1.12 in the first place! And now, when will we ever need balsamic vinegar again? Probably in 3 years, as that is how long our last bottle lasted us.

All in all, I am happy with what I have done. My pantry and garage shelves are very well stocked, Sophia is drinking less milk and saving us a few bucks there, my fridge isn't empty by Thursday morning and I spent about the same amount of money this month as I usually do without doing the Grocery Game.

Now, simplification in other areas of my life? Not going so well.

I have a lot on my plate in the next couple of months. Aside from all of my normal responsibilities, I was asked to participate with the SUU choir in a world premiere on February 21st. The song is in an African language and is not an easy one. I have added 2 rehearsals a week to my life in preparation for that. I was also asked to sing in a benefit concert on March 8. It will probably be 2 or 3 duets with another singer in town. Most of the pieces we have to choose from are very simple, but there is a Rossini that we'll definitely be doing that is a beast. Of course, on top of all that, I added the Hall of Fame contest on my own volition. I'm happy to report I have 5 layouts totally completed (I adore them), and 2 others in various stages of complete...hopefully tonight those will be finished. Then it's just 2 more and the non layout project. I wish I could show you all what I've done, but it's against the rules to post online until after winners have been notified. I could email you if you're interested. Or you could come over to my house and look. Happy to show anyone who cares. :)

So, my life remains quite busy. Nothing changed there. For February I am going to figure out how to simplify my housework. I've made a few good changes this month, but need more ideas. It is just frustrating to me that I can spend hours cleaning only to have it all destroyed in a single moment when the Tasmanian Devils get home. The simplest thing would be to hire a maid, but that is both out of the question and the budget.

But who cares about all that, my grocery process is simpler! And that was all I asked of myself this month.

Here's to a great February!

Monday, January 28, 2008

In Memoriam


President Gordon Bitner Hinckley June 23, 1910-January 27, 2008

I just spent nearly two hours trying to find this photo online. It is my absolute favorite picture of President Hinckley ever and I knew it was the one I wanted to post on my blog. In my breaks from looking I have also read many of your blogs (sorry for the non commenting) detailing your feelings on his passing, and cried as I mourn his loss.

He is the prophet of my adult life. He became prophet in 1995, about a year before I left on my mission. I love him so much, and will miss him terribly. I, like many of you, can only imagine the wonderful reunion that must be taking place today between him and his dear wife, Marjorie, whom he missed so much.

Joel and I were invited to a backstage reception at the Utah Symphony once. President Hinckley and his wife attended the concert that night (we sat directly across from them) and also came to the reception. I remember how when he entered the room, a sort of reverent hush fell upon us and he told us all not to stop talking just for him. He came through and each of us got to shake his hand and say hello. It was amazing to be in his presence.

While he has left us physically, his counsel will be with us forever. There are so many things he has said and taught that have literally changed my way of thinking and living. I especially loved the way he focused so much on our divine roles as parents and spouses. In December, his message in the Ensign (our church's magazine) was not about Christmas, but about how we should treat our children. It was a beautiful article and touched me so much.

Finally, here are some of the words he spoke to us in last April's General Conference:

May there be peace and harmony in your homes. Husbands, love and treasure your wives. They are your most precious possessions. Wives, encourage and pray for your husbands. They need all the help they can get. Parents, treat your children with great kindness. They are the coming generation who will bring honor to your name.

Now, as we separate for a season, God bless you, my beloved associates. I so pray, as I say good-bye, in the name of Jesus Christ, amen

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Sophia at 18 months
(And kind of a lot of photos of her)

Sophie turned 18 months old on Friday, which means she gets to go to nursery today. I can't believe she's so old already. While I'm excited for her to go, as that means my church going experience will be slightly more pleasant, I'm a little sad too. Nursery seems to be the end of the baby stage and the beginning of the toddler stage.

I did a little photoshoot this morning to commemorate the occasion. She is one little busy body, getting magazines to read and pulling them up in front of the backdrop and finding other toys. Anything but looking at the camera. Many aren't in great focus because of her wiggliness, but they are Sophie. Enjoy!











Saturday, January 26, 2008

Joel's contribution to blogging regarding Chloe's honesty

I came home from Tuacahn today and checked my email. I was surprised to find the following email from Joel in my inbox:

Actual conversation with Bria and Chloe at 11:27 a.m. on Saturday, January 26, 2008:

Dad: "OK, girls please report on your chores this morning - you need to tell me what you did before you can go play."

Bria: "Daddy, I cleaned the bathroom, took out the garbage, and helped with the movies."

Chloe: "(pause) .... I whined"

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

In honor of Martin Luther King, Jr.

What with the school holiday on Monday, Bria has been learning a little bit about MLK and what he did as she does every year at this time. While I think that's wonderful, I'm not so sure all the information is really sinking in the way her teachers would like.

I know this because of what she said to me last night. I was getting ready to go to the church for New Beginnings, and I was wearing a black skirt with a black and white polka-dotted blouse and a black sweater vest.

Bria took one look at my outfit and said, "Mom! You're all black and white! If you lived in the sixties you would be integrated!"

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Continuing my love affair with pretty paper

Ever since I was a kid I have loved paper and art supplies and office supplies and stickers and glue and all that stuff. And photography. Which is why I scrapbook today.

But I've been in a rut. Have hardly scrapbooked in the past several months....just not feeling it. And then Joel asked me when Hall of Fame entries were due. I looked it up and was shocked to see it is February 11th. So, I'm going to try to eke out an entry (certainly this is not simplifying my life), because I always love the pages I do for the contest. Don't really care if I win, although it would be nice, I won't lie.

So, I went shopping online with my money from payperpost and got some up to date supplies. I ordered prints of my favorite pictures. I bought a few more things at my local craft store. I have since done two pages which I adore and which fit two of the assignments quite nicely.

The goal is to get two more done tonight, and then I will be nearly half way there (nine layouts and a non-layout project are required for the entry). I have an idea for the non-layout project that will hopefully not take too much time to carry out. I have wonderful ideas for all the layout assignments that I haven't already finished.

I realize I'm crazy. Any ideas for simplifying a HOF entry? They'd be much appreciated.

Monday, January 21, 2008

A meme about my husband

Hilary tagged me today with this one. I thought I should wait till Valentine's Day, but I figure Civil Rights Day is good enough.

Everything you ever wanted to know about my relationship with Joel. Well, probably not, but maybe some of your questions will be answered!

What’s his name? Joel Benjamin

How long have you been together? In June we will celebrate our 9th anniversary. Before that we dated almost a year and a half. So about ten years in all.

How long did you date? A year and a half. Unless you don't count the times we were in a broken up state. That would take off a couple months, I imagine. Especially since the last time we broke up it lasted more than a month. All the other times only lasted a couple days I think.

How old is he? 33. As am I, but he is a couple months older, for which I am glad.

Who eats more? Usually Joel, but occasionally I will surprise both of us and eat much more. Which I so shouldn't do if I want to keep losing weight (not that it happens very often).

Who said I love you first? I totally don't remember, and neither does Joel. Although we both concur it was probably Joel as he is the more effusive of the two of us.

Who is taller? Definitely Joel. And, as I am a fairly tall girl at 5'9", I appreciate that he is even tall enough that I can wear 4-inch heels and still be shorter than him.

Who is smarter? It totally depends on what's at stake. I am much more logical than Joel, but he is much more creative. And if musical knowledge is in question, he beats me hands down. Makes me wonder if I really majored in music.

Who does laundry? I do, although he will help me fold when it gets out of hand, which it does more often than I'd like to admit.

Who does the dishes? I usually do, although we have started enlisting the girls to help with that a little more. Our rule up till now has been whoever doesn't cook must do the dishes. Which is why I usually do them. Yes, you're reading that right, Joel is the main cook around here.

Who sleeps on the right side of the bed? Joel does. But it changes whenever we move because I need to be on the side that's closest to the door. Currently that is the left side, so Joel is on the right.

Who pays the bills? I do. I get to take care of all the finances. I'm afraid it would be pretty scary if we left that part up to Joel.

Who mows the lawn? Ummm.....the boys down the street. :) I'm sure Joel would be happy to do it if we actually owned a lawn mower.

Who cooks dinner? Joel. I cook about once a week. And it's never as good as what Joel makes.

Who drives when you are together? Joel. I hate driving and will pawn it off whenever I can.

Who is more stubborn? I think we can call this one a draw. We're both quite stubborn, although in different ways.

Who kissed who first? Joel kissed me. And he had just broken up with me for the first time. Of course, it only lasted until he kissed me, so that would be the shortest of our 5 break ups.

Who asked out who first? I did. I was sick of waiting for him to get a clue and ask me out. After that he did most of the asking out.

Who proposed? Joel.

Who has more siblings? Joel. He is one of 9---he has 5 brothers and 3 sisters. I "only" have 3 brothers.

Who wears the pants in the family? Hmmm....this is a tricky question. I think a lot of people would look at our relationship and say that I do. But I feel like we do a pretty good job of sharing them, and Joel would say the same thing. Whatever it is, it works for us and we're happy.

As for tags, let's hear from Deb, Jenn, Queendeni (my mom), Tara, and Misty. And anyone else who wants to is certainly welcome.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Conflicted

Bria is working towards a trophy for violin practice. Her teacher told her that if she practices for 100 days in a row without missing (if she does she has to start all over again) she will get said trophy. Bria is really, really excited about this.

Today is Day 13. It is also Saturday. That means it is generally Joel's responsibility to practice with her in the morning because I am down at Tuacahn. Except today, he had to go judge the entrants in the Young Artist's competition. Then it was our nephew's birthday party. Then I came home and we did chores and stuff. Then we had dinner and went out for ice cream with some friends. Then we came home and put the girls to bed.

And Bria just got up 20 minutes ago, got her violin out and started playing. On the one hand, I feel really bad that I forgot, but on the other hand, I am thrilled that she remembered and actually got out of her warm and comfortable bed to do it.

As she was putting her violin back in its case after playing a few songs, she said this:

"Mom, I really hate the violin but I just LOVE to play it."

I'm just going to zero in on the last part of that sentence.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

A realization

Conversation with Chloe yesterday:

Chloe: Mom? Is Jesus your brother?

Me: Yes, he is. He's your brother, too.

Chloe: (very excited) I know! Bria just told me that! She said that he's EVERYBODY'S brother!

Me: That's right, he is.

Chloe: Even the CHINESE!!!!??!!!

Me: Even the Chinese.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Back in the saddle again

Well folks, it's Wednesday today. And we all know what that means. SUU lessons.

I love to teach them and once I'm there all is well, it's just the dread and anticipation leading up to 3:00 on Wednesday afternoons that gets me. Last semester was easy because I had only 2 students and one of them needed a morning lesson. But this semester will not be so easy.

The one thing that is good is that Chloe does not have M/W preschool this year like she did last year. That made my Wednesdays almost unbearable. Since she has T/Th preschool, I can get a lot more done on Wednesday morning, and I can already tell that this will be mucho better.

So, just an hour before I pick up Bria (early out day) and then I have an hour to prepare, and then it's off to the races!

Wish me luck!

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

The internet rocks!

The greatest thing about blogging, is that you can get answers and opinions to questions so quickly. From people I know in real life (and several of them I miss so much because I left them in Phoenix), to people I know online from message boards and such to people I don't even know at all who were kind enough to provide advice. Thanks all, for your input on yesterday's post, I really appreciate it.

So, just a couple things regarding the feedback I got yesterday:

Milk for Sophie. Apparently, she should be getting only 24 ounces maximum and 16 ounces minimum. Very good to know. I must sound like the most clueless mom ever, especially since I actually have two other children. In my defense, both of them were extended breastfeeders who developed a milk allergy early. Bria is also allergic to soy, so soy milk was out, she hated goat's milk, and at that time rice milk wasn't at all easy to find, so we just kind of didn't give her milk once she was weaned at 16 months. Chloe breastfed until she was nearly two, and she just drank rice milk after that, but she didn't seem to want it for the comfort as much as Sophie does. Sophie weaned herself before she was a year old and also has a dairy allergy. I have her drink rice milk because I'm pretty sure she is also allergic to soy since her cheeks turn bright red if she has any. So, anyway, the point of all that: we will be limiting her. Hope she doesn't freak out. Yesterday she only had 2 bottles, probably 8 oz each, so that's great. We'll try and continue the trend.

Coupons. Many of you have mentioned websites you go to and things you do to match up your coupons with the ads. Some of them include: Coupon Mom, Pinching your Pennies, and Grocery Guide. I know that several of my Arizona friends have participated in Coupon Sense, and I also did for a while when I lived down there.

So, I have used Pinching your Pennies and Grocery Guide in the past, and I checked out Coupon Mom today. They all have their pros and cons, and are all great sites that help you get the best deal with your ads and your coupons. I actually really liked Coupon Mom, except that she only has one grocery store listed in my state and it is the one that doesn't usually have the best deals. However, she does have Walgreens on there and there is one being built in my town now, so I'll for sure use her then. All of them are free sites, you just have to find your store's ad and then find the coupons listed. Some of them will tell you where to get the coupon, and others will just tell you the amount of any coupons that are available. Coupon Sense, on the other hand, is a paid service, but is relatively cheap when you consider your savings.

So, I needed to do even less work than that (all in the name of simplification), so I went ahead and joined Grocery Game. It, like Coupon Sense, is something you pay for, but I'm currently using the 4 week introductory trial which only cost me one dollar. After that it's 15 dollars every 8 weeks for two store lists. I figure a couple dollars a week is worth it. Not only do the Grocery Game lists tell you what is on sale, match up coupons for you, and tell you exactly where to get them, they also keep track of what is the best deal so you don't have to. If something is in green, it's free (obviously a great deal), if it's in blue, it's dirt cheap, but if it's in black it isn't the greatest deal, even if it is in the ad. I desperately need this information, because I am never sure what is a good price, especially for meat and produce.

So far, I don't always have the coupons needed to get the great deals because, after all, I've only received one Sunday paper since I've started. I do print coupons online, but stores are becoming more and more reluctant to accept them. I used to think that coupons weren't totally worth it because if you bought the name brand at x amount off, it was still costing more than if you just went ahead and bought the store brand. This is true, which is why it is so helpful to use one of the above websites. The coupon doesn't do you a ton of good until you also have a great sale to use it with. Yesterday I got ten boxes of Quaker products (life cereal, granola bars, organic oatmeal, etc.) for under $1.00 a box. This wouldn't have happened if I had used those coupons when the merchandise was regularly priced.

Finally, even if it seems like coupons are always for stuff you would never buy, you can still save quite a bit on healthcare items, cleaning supplies and paper goods. But, I understand if you don't want to do it. I've always gone in spurts and just shopped at WalMart, since they generally have the lowest prices. Couponing is a lot of work. Again, why I joined Grocery Game. With that list there isn't nearly as much time involved in prepping for the grocery store.

Finally, someone mentioned buying grains and spices in bulk. Not like Costco bulk, but like serve yourself from the bins kind of bulk. This is an excellent idea. I will have to see if our local health store offers this, otherwise I'm probably out of luck since I live in such a tiny town. See, I don't even have a Costco or a Sam's Club either. I let my Costco membership lapse since it is an hour away and I was only getting there once every three months or so. Didn't make it worth it to me.

So, that was a novel. And since you're all fast asleep now, I'll just quietly tiptoe on out of here!

Sweet dreams, and happy couponing (if you dare)!

Monday, January 14, 2008

Living Simple: my update

Because I know that you're all waiting on pins and needles to hear how my shopping trip went today, I am going to be kind enough to let you know.

First of all, it was only 2 hours instead of three. That's improvement right there, folks.

Unfortunately, I spent a lot more than I was hoping to. A lot. I spent $163.00 and only saved $102.00. I am trying to look at my receipts and figure out what the culprit was, and I am just not sure. I do know it was at WalMart, because I spent double there this week from what I did last week.

So, I include laundry stuff and toothpaste and paper goods and all that kind of stuff in my grocery bill, and I did have to buy a lot of that today, so that's part of it. We were out of a lot of spices we use often, and even though I had a coupon for them, spices can be expensive. The biggest issue is our milk, though. Our entire house is either lactose intolerant or just plain allergic to milk. Bria is also allergic to soy, so we get rice milk for the kids and me and LactAid for Joel. So freaking expensive.

I need to cut down on the amount of milk the baby drinks...some days she can drink an entire 1/2 gallon because she asks for it so often. Does anybody know how much milk a 17 month old baby (toddler, I guess) should be drinking a day? I don't. Anyway, if I limit her milk (within reason and healthy limits, of course), that should make a huge difference. Well, not a huge difference, but at nearly 8 bucks a gallon, saving a little will go a long way.

Still, I spent about as much as I normally do and got quite a bit more than usual. So it's all good. And things will get easier as I really get the hang of what's a good deal and what isn't, and have enough on hand that I can actually wait for the sale prices.

In other simplification news, I have found the single biggest factor in helping my life run more smoothly and giving me more time, is making sure that the kitchen is sparkling clean before I go to bed. It is something that I often left until the morning, and I am finding that nothing ruins your day like a sink full of dirty dishes right when you wake up.

I am working to declutter many things, and it feels good to get rid of so much stuff that's occupying unecessary space in my life. I am spending my time a little bit more wisely, and not wasting as much of it as I have in the past.

All in all, things are going well. By the end of the year, I will be the guru of simple.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Sophie in the snow

Not to be confused with Cipher in the Snow, of course. And, there's also Bria in the snow and Chloe in the snow, but neither choice sounds quite as catchy, or as much like a guilt-inducing church film from the 70's. Besides, the pictures are rather Sophia heavy anyway, mostly because she stood in one place almost the entire time.

We've had a lot of snow lately, and the girls have been dying to go out and play in it. I always bow out of that job and defer to Joel (who really doesn't mind) because I can't stand being out in the stuff. Living in Arizona obviously spoiled me and I haven't gotten over it yet and seriously doubt I ever will. So much for being Utah born and bred.

I was content to stand at the sliding glass door and take pictures from the warmth of inside the house. And honestly, can you even tell that I wasn't out in the snow?

Sophia was especially adorable. She's been fascinated with all the white stuff that is on the ground lately and whenever we go outside she points at it and says "oooh! oooooh! oooh!" with her cute little puckered mouth. She had a lot of fun discovering what it was really like today.

Do you think I can touch it, Mom?
I guess it doesn't hurt to try.
Hmmmm...looks like it might be good to eat.
On second thought, I don't think I'll eat anymore!
Bria and her hunks of ice/snowballs:
Chloe with her own hunk of ice (and yes, she is still in her pajamas...she's on a kick lately of refusing to get out of them unless it's absolutely necessary.):
My cute little family:

Friday, January 11, 2008

Counting my Blessings
(2007, a tad late)

I received my class load for SUU today. 4 students, 2 of which are taking hour long lessons, so it's really like having 6 students. And it was like I could breathe a great big sigh of relief.

Last semester, SUU lowered Joel's pay and almost cut me because they had hired a few other adjuncts with more advanced degrees. In the end, they gave me two 1/2 hours to teach, but it wasn't much money and I was terrified that they really would cut me this semester. As you can see, they didn't and I am incredibly blessed. My pay this semester will be triple from what it was last semester. And that means it's easier to simplify because I don't need to be hunting for other students from whom I have to demand money or wonder if they'll quit after one month. The one nice thing about teaching at the University is my paychecks are consistent, whether or not the students show up.

You all know we are not rich. A school teacher's salary in Utah is not much. We supplement as best we can with my students and Joel's extra SUU class, but the problem with my students is they can't totally be counted on. People quit here and there, especially in January when money is tight. People forget to pay, and although I'm learning, I have a hard time demanding a check. So, budgeting is a tiny bit difficult because I never know exactly how much I'll be making from month to month.

But here's where the blessings of paying our tithing come in. It's almost as if it doesn't really matter what happens because we're always taken care of. If I lose a student, the money either doesn't seem to be needed, shows up some other way (like through an unexpected photo shoot), or Joel will get a private trumpet student.

Around Thanksgiving time Joel got a really large check due to a couple extra bonuses that were on it. We were up north, so I didn't pay the tithing that very Sunday and of course I forgot after I got home, until I was balancing the account and realized my omission. Because it was such a huge check, the tithing amount was also bigger than normal and I didn't really have enough money to cover it and still buy groceries (we used most of that bonus check to pay for car repairs, you'll recall). But, I knew I wasn't going to have the money at all if I waited any longer, so I wrote out the check and said a little prayer. Not a minute later my mom IM'd me and said she'd felt prompted to put some money in my bank account and it just happened to be enough to pay for groceries that week. Talk about the Lord saying "thank you for keeping this commandment" instantly!

So I find myself being incredibly grateful today for the blessings that paying tithing can bring us. I seriously don't know how we make it sometimes. If you looked at the state of our bank account, or worse, the cash flow forecast in Microsoft Money you would probably laugh at the absurdity of it all. Tithing often seems like a huge sacrifice, but honestly, I don't think we can afford not to pay it.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Housekeeping

My fridge is sparkling, thanks to Joel. He's a rockin' refrigerator cleaner outer.

The living room, kitchen and bedrooms are all clean.

I have kept up reasonably well the past week, instead of playing catch up all the time (unless you count my laundry).

Even the bathrooms are clean.

Absolutely amazing, considering I was hopelessly behind on Monday because of the epic shopping trip and then doing more errands, going to violin lessons, starting to teach lessons again myself, and taking Bria to the dentist (no cavities!) and Chloe to the doctor between yesterday and today.

While I've done infinitely better at keeping my house clean, I noticed that the blog desperately needed some housekeeping of its own. And since I had time, I cleaned it up.

First, you've probably noticed the new banner. I think I love this one almost as much as, if not more than, February's banner that stayed up for 8 months. I'll try to bring myself to take it down when it comes time.

I also updated my sidebar. The books on the list are what I'm actually reading (some are not changed because they're the type of books you just read forever) instead of what I was reading 6 months ago. The pictures of the kids reflect what they're doing now instead of what they were doing in October when I last updated that part. I've added several new "blogging buddies," but if I missed you and you'd like to be added please let me know. Lastly, I added a link to see all the past headers. If you care to, that is. I just wanted to have a place to store them online that was somehow connected to the blog.

While I was at it, I even updated my photography blog with a recent photoshoot. I think these are some of my favorite pictures yet. You can see them here and here.

And finally, since I promised a couple weeks ago (was Christmas really that recent?) a picture of the Christmas PJ's for 2007, here it is:

The girls opened them on Christmas Eve at Matt and Ashley's house after a wonderful Christmas Eve dinner. Sophie and Chloe got matching nightgowns, which they love. Chloe wants to wear hers every night. Nothing like that was available in Bria's size, so she got some cute snowman PJ's. Thanks to my mom for picking them out since I couldn't find anything here in Cedar.

And now I'm off to catch up on laundry. If I never blog again, you'll know it was because I was buried in an avalanche of clothing.

Wish me luck!

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Who's the boss here?

Chloe is a bossy child, and that's putting it mildly. The main reason she finds herself in time out is because she was ordering me around. Many times she realizes what she's doing when I ask her (or just plain tell her) who's the boss, but often she refuses to back down and lands herself on the chair. She is definitely a natural leader who must always be right, which can be both a good thing and a bad thing.

And sometimes it is just a funny thing.

Today, she wanted to watch a movie after preschool. I told her that was fine and asked her which movie she had in mind, and this is the conversation that ensued:

Chloe: I don't know which movie I want to watch. I just want you to pick it mom.

Me: How about "Ratatouille?"

Chloe: No Mom! I wanted to watch a Princess movie!

Me: Oh, okay. Do you want to watch "The 12 Dancing Princesses?"

Chloe: Noooooo! You didn't let me finish what I was going to say! I want to pick some Princess movies and then you can tell me which one I should watch.

Me: All right.

Chloe: Okay, I picked three movies. Should I watch "The Island Princess,"
"The 12 Dancing Princesses"or "Ella Enchanted?"


Me: I think you should watch "Ella Enchanted."

Chloe: (begins to cry) No! I didn't want you to pick that one! It has to be a movie with A LOT of princesses in it.

Me: (taking the hint) Okaaaaay.....so do you want to watch "The 12 Dancing Princesses?"

Chloe: (now bright and cheery) Okay! Let's go put it on Mommy!

That's Chloe for you...she absolutely refuses to admit that something could be anything but her idea. I mean, how dare I suggest the movie she wanted to watch before she put me through the rigamarolle of figuring out her desires? Totally unforgivable in her mind.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Overcomplicating simple

Since school started today it was my first try at really implementing some of my ideas for simplification. Things like getting up early enough to have a relaxing morning, grocery shopping without spending a million dollars, and having my household chores done early so I could spend more time with the kids. And I failed miserably....kind of.

Getting up early was a bust because Miss Sophia decided she wanted to play around midnight. I brought her to bed with us, since she made it abundantly clear that she would only scream for hours if I left her in the crib. Mostly she was quiet and I got snatches of rest, but then she would start kissing me or babbling at me. When she finally did settle down (around 3:00 am), she inisisted on nuzzling herself right in the crook of my neck, making it very uncomfortable for me. And now I know what happens when she doesn't get her nap due to the new Sunday meeting schedule and ends up going to sleep an hour before bedtime.

Needless to say, I didn't get up at 6:30 when my alarm went off. Nor did I get up at 7:15 when Joel left the house to go shovel the walks of the elderly couple he home teaches (we got almost a foot of snow last night). I finally got myself out of bed at 7:45 and got the process started. Bria was barely on time to school because she wasn't so easy to get out of bed herself and dilly-dallied around quite a bit (as usual).

I got a few chores done after Bria was at school, got Sophia ready, showered, paid a few bills and began getting my "stuff" together for the big shopping trip while I waited for Sleeping Beauty to wake up (Chloe is my night owl and loves to sleep in). When she finally graced the world with her presence, I rushed her out of her nightgown, into some jeans and a t-shirt and out of the house with a granola bar to eat in the car.

My first stop was the Post Office where I found I did not bring the package I was intending to mail (sorry Hilary...I promise it'll get to you someday!). Second stop was my sister-in-law's house to pick up the coupons from yesterday's paper that she so kindly saved for me. I decided to join Grocery Game in an effort to curb our spending and my Sunday newspaper subscription does not kick in until next week.

So, around noon I left Ashley's house and headed off to the first of four grocery stores. Go ahead. Tell me I'm insane, because I won't disagree with you. My grocery trip turned into nearly 3 hours...not really simplified. It will get better, though. Our cupboards were bare and I did what I had to do to fill them. Part of the reason it took so long was because I hadn't found and cut out many of the coupons beforehand and had to do it in the parking lot before each stop. The bad news is I spent 125 dollars. The good news is I saved 112 dollars. The better news is that I usually spend upwards of 150 dollars each week and get half of what I was able to get today. I have to keep telling myself that time is something I do have, money is not. Therefore, it is all worth it.

I got home just in time to put perishables away and go pick up Bria from school. Then I tried to supervise homework, put the rest of the groceries away, talk to my mom on the phone, referee arguments and get the house in some kind of order. I was frustrated, but oh well. Things will get better, I will figure all of this out and get my priorities in line. While perhaps I didn't accomplish all I wanted to do today, I did manage to take a few baby steps forward, and that's a good thing.

It's also a good thing I have an entire year to figure this whole simplification thing out.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Simply resolute

Last year, I decided that I wasn't going to make a ton of specific resolutions at the New Year. Mainly because I always feel that I can only ever really focus on just one of the eight or ten goals I was in the habit of making, and that didn't help me feel very successful. So, last year, I decided to focus on one word, and let that govern the way I lived.

The word I chose for 2007 was care.

And, as the year has passed, I think I definitely was able to get rid of much of the apathy I had been feeling before. I did (do) care much more about my family, my health, my home and my happiness. Certainly, I had many overwhelming moments in which I retreated back to my hole of indifference, but I was able to emerge more quickly and more ready to care again. All in all, I really like the way this one word helped me to live.

I have been thinking quite a bit about what I want my goal to be for 2008. At first I thought it should be an action word: do. Now that I have learned to care a bit more, I thought I should work on getting off my duff and doing. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that I don't necessarily have a problem with doing. In fact, I probably do too much. Not always the right things, mind you, but I am always doing something.

With that in mind, I decided that this year I need to focus on simplifying my life. My life is full to overflowing, and I need to find a way to give myself the opportunity to focus on the correct priorities instead of running around like a chicken with my head cut off trying to get everything done, and then completely shutting down after a particularly difficult day. So often, in my rush to finish everything and then some, my children and my husband get pushed off to the side, and I don't like that.

You may have noticed that I haven't blogged in a while, and by now you've probably realized why. I am not sure if I will blog as much as I did last year, or if I will go back to the twice a week posts I did for the two years before that. I enjoyed the way that blogging helped me to care more, but I am not certain it will help me to simplify. So we shall see.

I have already begun to do many things necessary to simplify. Joel and I spent several hours revamping our family goals in such a way that the kids will be our first priority. It isn't easy to work around the crazy schedules we both have, but we will find a way to do it. We have also committed to being much more wise with the little bit of money we have. We did a pretty good job last year, but this year as the grocery and gas bills only rise higher and higher, we need to make a much more conscientious effort to tighten our belts and live more simply.

As for me personally, I know that the simplification I so desperately need includes going to bed earlier and getting up earlier. It includes spending less time on the not so important things and more time on studying the Gospel and with my children and husband. It includes making sure I have time to recharge myself and truly enjoy life.

While I wish my new simplicity could include cutting the amount of voice students I have in half, it can't. In fact, I may need to add more in order for us to make it. Hopefully, by simplifying in other areas, this particular part of my life will not bring as much stress and dread to my weeks.

Finally, we are making a huge effort to pray and fast for a new job for Joel. We both know we will not be able to live like this for another entire year. Joel has already started the application process and we are moving forward with faith that there is something better out there for him this year. The single best way to simplify our lives is to be in a situation where I will not be required to work and Joel will be able to support our family by working only one job instead of three.

I have already felt more peaceful and more able to cope with the curve balls that life is constantly throwing at us (like Chloe breaking her wrist yesterday). I have felt a renewed energy and zest for life as I declutter both my home and my mind. Of course, school doesn't start until tomorrow, so we'll see how I do then, but less has definitely been more this past week.