Tuesday, August 31, 2010

How to Go Letterboxing

How to go Letterboxing

I've had several people ask me what letterboxing is, and so I'm finally getting around to answering that question.  We've done quite a bit of it this summer, and the girls have really loved it for the most part. (The only time they don't really like it is when we look and look but can't find the box.)(It's happened a few times.) Letterboxing is  a wonderful way to learn more about the area where you live, get a little exercise and have some good, free fun!

So, here is everything you need to do to start letterboxing yourself:

  •   Go to letterboxing.org and click on your state, and then your region to find clues.
  •   Print out the clues, and make a plan.
  •   Find some sort of notebook to be your letterboxing log. We use a small moleskine notebook like this one.
  •   Find a stamp that represents your family. We use a pineapple stamp (like this one) because of Joel's Hawaiian heritage, and because I don't have a lot of stamps so that seemed to work best.
  •   Bring your stamp, an ink pad, your log book and a pen, and go discover your first letterbox!
Letterboxes are usually plastic containers which contain another log book and a (usually handmade) stamp.  Once you have found the letterbox by following your clues, you stamp your personal stamp into the letterbox log, write your name and the date, where you are from and any other message you want to leave.  Then, stamp the letterbox stamp into your personal log book, write down where you found it and date it or whatever you want.  One of my friends has a binder for letterboxing.  She prints out the clues, and they stamp right onto the clue sheets.  I use a small notebook.  Do whatever you like.

My favorite part about letterboxing is it gives us a good reason to see some pretty cool places that I wouldn't have otherwise known about.  The picture above is our stamp into the logbook of the letterbox we found in Canyon Falls.  We did that one in July, when my mom was here visiting, and discovered a wonderful little hidden gem.  Very kid-friendly, and just all around beautiful.  And now that we know about it, we'll definitely go back.

You want more pictures?

I'm more than happy to oblige!

Taking a rest


Stepping Stones

My pictures aren't great because regardless of the beautiful day, it was pretty dark on the hike (walk) to the falls.  I've used a lot of creative editing to make them decent, but in real life, things were just gorgeous.  This picture here shows just how dark it was under all those trees!

Looking Up

Chloe and Mamah...


Once we got to the actual falls, it was pretty surprising to me that they look like root beer!  I think it must be because of minerals in the water (copper, maybe?  We do live in the Copper Country!) but don't quote me on that or anything.

Root Beer Falls

Canyon Falls

We Love Mamah

And proof that I was there, taken by Chloe. (Didn't she do a marvelous job?)


See what a beautiful little walk that was?  And we never would have done it if it weren't for our new little letterboxing hobby!

Monday, August 30, 2010

An Answer to Prayer


On Wednesday, I got a phone call at about 10:00 in the morning from my friend down the street.  She had just been down to the elementary school to pick up her girls' teacher assignments and wanted to know if we had gone yet.  We hadn't, because it wasn't something that was eagerly awaited in my household.  At least, not by Bria.

She was so worried about who she might get for a teacher and who may or may not be in her class that she had been having many a crying session over it this summer.   The closer the first day of school loomed, the more anxious and worried she became.  It's tough as a mother to watch your child worry so much over something that you can't do much about.  She has to go to school, and I can't control who is in her class or even which teacher she is assigned to.

After I hung up the phone, I told Bria that we would be heading down to the school after lunch to find out teacher assignments.  She turned a little white at the news.  Then I mentioned which teacher Ann had been assigned to, and she worried even more, because that was the teacher she was sure she didn't want (because she has a reputation for giving lots of homework and for putting on a class musical which is way worse than lots of homework).  I also know that she was really, really hoping to be in Ann's class.  Ann is her best friend, and Bria needs to have a good friend in class with her.

Last year, the first day of school was not easy for Bria.  She tried to be stoic about it, but I know it was one of the most difficult days of her life.  Walking into a new classroom, in a new school, in a new city, in a new state isn't easy for any kid just starting the 4th grade, but for Bria, who already has a hard time coping with change and who is on the introverted side, it was pure torture.  When I heard how her day had gone, I cried for her.

Luckily, I had just met the lady down the street.  It turned out she had three daughters--the oldest and the youngest are the same age as my oldest and youngest, and the middle two are a year apart.  They have all become the best of friends and I KNOW that they were an answer to my prayers for my children.  And for myself.  I feel pretty strongly that they are one of the reasons we needed to buy our house.

Ann has really taken Bria under her wing.  She seems to inherently sense Bria's unique set of fears, and she really helps her.  She brought her right into a cute group of friends and inspired her to join Girl Scouts and the school choir.  And the two of them get along really well, to boot.

So, on our way down to the school on Wednesday, Bria began to say that maybe she wouldn't mind having Ann's teacher, after all.  I knew she was weighing her options and had decided it would be much better to have a hard teacher with her best friend in the class than it would to have any other teacher without her.  When we got to the school and I received the teacher assignment, I handed it to Bria to open with a prayer in my heart that she would feel good about whatever it said.

I think we both held our breath until we saw that Bria and Ann are in the same class.  And then we both sighed with great relief.

And, if I'm not mistaken, I think Bria is actually a little excited for school to start now.  We haven't had a single crying episode or conversation about why she doesn't want to go to 5th grade since the day she found out she will be in her best friend's class.

And that does this mother's heart good.

Saturday, August 28, 2010


Those of you familiar with blogs and message boards know the difference between "online friends" and "IRL (in real life) friends."  I have actually found that my online friends are every bit my real friends as the ones I have actually seen face-to-face, so it's just icing on the cake every time I get to meet one of those "imaginary" friends and put them into the category of IRL.

Last week, I got to meet a friend I've known online for a really long time.  I used to be big into scrapbooking (I still like to do it, really!  For instance, I went to a crop last night, but mostly I don't do it much anymore) and submitting pages for publication in scrap magazines and hanging out at scrapbooking message boards and stuff.  Sharyn, who is still big into scrapbooking, was on all the same message boards as I was.  She was (is) known as Torm, and everybody loves her.  Read her blog, and you'll see why.

As it turns out, she grew up here.  Right in this little place we have learned to love. Her mom still lives here, along with plenty of other family and friends, so she comes up to visit.  And we got to meet in real life last week.

Torm and me

She's just as I had imagined her to be.  Except shorter (I always think people will be as tall as I am, which is kind of silly since I am on the tall side).  We met (on a VERY windy day) at the Chutes and Ladders park and the kids played while we visited.  Bria and Wendy are only four days apart in age, and I think they hit it off pretty well.  At least, Bria keeps talking about her and asking when she'll get to see her again.

New friends

Bria is on the tall side, too, apparently.

And that is how it goes, folks.  Slowly, but surely, all my online friends are moving to the side of IRL.  I love that.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Lessons Learned During the Summer of No Paycheck

Tomorrow The Maestro starts getting paychecks again. (Cue the Hallelujah Chorus now!) We've managed to scrape by, pay all of our bills and put very little on the credit card. And amazingly enough, we still have money in the bank. An itsy-bitsy, teeny-weeny, yellow-polka-dotted amount of money, but still, it's there, and it is actual money.

Maybe you remember how I felt that God wanted us to learn something different this summer? Well, I think we did just that.  In fact, we learned a lot more than just one lesson. Some were new lessons, others were reviews, so to speak, but all were important.

I learned that Heavenly Father always takes care of us 

He takes care of us when we are doing our part, and maybe even when we're not. I've already written about our little lawn mower miracle, but we had so many of these types of tender mercies this summer I can't even remember them all.  We've had friends drop by food that would have gone bad while they were on vacation several times when our fridge and pantry were rather Mother Hubbard-ish. We've been invited to countless parties and potlucks where our children were able to eat lots of food that we wouldn't otherwise have been able to provide. All in exchange for a plate of brownies made from food storage. Our parents have visited and helped to alleviate the burden of groceries and other things during their visits. I've even won an uncanny amount of blog giveaways this summer, which meant I didn't have to buy Sophia a birthday present because I won something for her.

I have had only a handful of vocal students this summer, most of which pay me in cash at the beginning of each lesson. That money was our grocery and incidental money. Since it's summer, I couldn't always count on students being there, so I never really knew what my grocery budget would be like from week to week. Sometimes when I was despairing that we wouldn't be able to afford this or that because too many students were gone in a week,  I would get a random phone call and have a student to teach just for a couple weeks while they were in town visiting (who does that?) or to help them get ready for a quick audition or something. This happened at least four times. I've even started teaching Romanian lessons to a girl who was in the opera chorus with me because she wants to learn an Eastern European language. And no matter what, I've always had enough money for at least a few groceries each week.

I learned that prayers are answered

And they are sometimes answered so immediately that it makes your head spin.  A couple months ago I was going through the finances, trying to figure out how to make everything work, and it wasn't working. So I bowed my head right then, and I told Heavenly Father that it would be awfully helpful if I could get just one more student. That was all. And I am not even exaggerating when I say the phone rang as soon as I said "amen." It was an older lady who wanted lessons and told me she'd pay me well. Turns out she wants to sing in her church choir every Sunday and wants me to help her learn the music beforehand. She always pays me for an hour but we're done long before that (that is to say, she decides when she's done) and she won't hear of paying me any less.

I learned that the best things in life really are free

We've had one of the best summers ever and have spent very little money on entertainment. We head to the beach, we go letterboxing, we have family movie nights from our own DVD library, we go to the park, we go on walks, we spend time at the library, we go to the free concerts downtown, and we just hang out at home together. Sure, we've spent a bit on gas and a few library fines (why can I never get books turned in on time?) but it's peanuts compared to what we've spent to entertain ourselves in years past.

I learned that we can live on a lot less and still be happy

If not happier. Stuff is cumbersome, and it feels so good to simplify. It also feels really good to score a wonderful deal on groceries or find something great at a yard sale or Goodwill. And eating out is completely unnecessary. (Except, of course, when it is necessary.)(Which is hardly ever.) We, who ate out at least once a week in times past, have eaten out only a few times this summer. Most of which were during opera performances in other cities.

I learned to be patient

Lots of things that seem like needs really aren't.  Things like haircuts can wait (let's just say I can wear a ponytail now and Joel had quite the afro going on for a while this summer). Things that I want for the house, like bedspreads and curtains, can wait. Even paper towels can wait for a few days. We always have rags.

I learned to make do with what I have

When I finished painting the dining room (yes, pictures are really forthcoming!), I also ended up stealing stuff from all over the house to put the room together. It turned out better than I ever imagined just by stretching my creativity and thinking about what I already had. Every time a need came up, I tried to be as creative as possible to meet it before I spent any money. I must say, sometimes I amazed even myself!

I learned that we can build up our food storage

By shopping the sales this summer, I was able to stock the pantry and even get quite a bit of food storage going. I've always said it's too hard or too expensive and never really tried to get it much beyond a couple months' supply. But if I was able to do what I did this summer, I can certainly do more during the school year. It's one of those commandments that I have always kind of ignored, but I will be better from now on.

I learned that we need to be a team

The finances have never been something we're really on the same page about, for many reasons. But this summer has brought us together in that department more than anything else ever has. I'm pretty sure we're finally on the same page, and we have plans now to get out of debt, increase savings, and for how to generally use our resources. That feels good.

I learned that when you have money problems, you don't really have problems

I don't mean to sound flip, because it's not as if Joel and I have ever been rolling in the dough, and we're very aware that it's hard to stretch a salary further than it's meant to stretch. But I just have really realized this summer that there are so many worse trials out there to be dealing with. Our financial difficulties are nothing in comparison, and I'll take them. To those of you dealing with harder stuff, my heart hurts for you and I pray for you daily and think of you often. Your courage and strength are inspiring to me.

Believe it or not, I am very grateful for the last three and a half months and their paycheck-less state. I am a better person for them. But I'm not gonna lie--I am also extremely grateful for payday tomorrow. I'm going to sleep a lot easier knowing how I'm going to pay the mortgage and all those other bills sitting on my desk!

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Wednesday, August 25, 2010

What We Have


It's an ugly word, and an even uglier reality.

Nobody likes to think about it, but for some people, like Amy Boesky, it is never far from their thoughts.  Amy, her two sisters, her mother, her aunt, her grandmother--all of the female members of her family lived in fear of cancer, and with good reason.  Most of them lost their battles with ovarian cancer in their early 40's.  They always knew it was just a matter of time before another one of them would be diagnosed with it, too.

What We Have is an inspiring memoir about Amy's family and her personal experience as a previvor of cancer.  Long before the BRCA1 gene was ever discovered, Amy's family knew that they were genetically predisposed to ovarian cancer.  They all took care to have their children before the age of 35 so that they could have their ovaries removed before the cancer inevitably hit.  Amy had just had her first child when her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer, despite having had her ovaries removed years earlier.  Soon enough, they learned that the two cancers were linked and Amy and her sisters had yet another type of cancer to worry about.

Amy is a professor of English at Boston College, and one of her specialties is timepieces from the 17th century.  I absolutely loved how she incorporated her vast knowledge of the subject into the book, and juxtaposed it against the literal race against time that she and her family had run for as long as she could remember.

Then, of course, there is the time they actually had.  That's what makes this book so wonderful.  The way Amy realizes what time she does have, and the way she uses that time to live life to its fullest is truly inspiring.

I loved this book.  Memoirs aren't usually my favorite, but this story was truly engaging and I honestly couldn't put it down.  When I did put it down, I was crying (a lot), and I definitely had much to think about.  We really never know when we'll leave this life, or when our loved ones will leave this life, and Amy's unique experience of actually having an inkling about how things might end up was thought-provoking and even reassuring.

Want to read it?  The publisher is offering a copy to one of my readers (US/Canada only; no PO boxes). Leave a comment on this post (normally I like to have a discussion in the comment box that is apropos to the book, but I can't think of anything this time)(because "tell me how much you hate cancer" or "what would you do if you only had a year to live?" just don't seem like uplifting discussion topics)(so any comment will suffice)(that is, if you want to win this book). I will announce the winner on Wednesday, September 1.

Thank you to TLC book tours for the opportunity to review this book.

And speaking of good books, and book giveaways, and people named Amy...Amy of Involuntary Smiles won the book Write the Right Words!  Congratulations, Amy!  Send me your contact info and we'll get it to you ASAP so you can get to writing some wonderful cards.  :)

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Winding Down

As I watch all of my friends in other states get their children off to school, I am clutching to the last weeks of summer with white knuckles.  While I can't wait for school to start in some ways (less bickering at home, anyone?), I don't look forward to the early mornings and the busy afternoons.  I am not thrilled about packing lunches for the kids before the sun is even up, and I really don't want to deal with fights about homework.

But I still have two weeks before my kids have to go back.  Unfortunately, Joel started back yesterday, so family activities will be a bit limited from this point on.  And yet, we've really lived it up this summer with all of our sleeping in, beach days and movie nights, parties and potlucks galore, grandparent visits and even a few road trips.  We probably need the discipline and focus that school will bring.

I'm trying to work on my schedule for the next semester, and I admit, it's a bit overwhelming.  I am taking a few more students than I have in the past just to help make up for the summer of no paycheck.  Sophia will be in preschool three days a week, and I am lucky that all but one of my students can be taught during school hours.  Which leaves my afternoons free for the insanity that is three children and their homework, practicing, music lessons, church activities and whatever else comes up in their schedules.

I know that I will fall into bed each night absolutely exhausted and get up in the wee hours of the morning wishing I could sleep for just another ten minutes, please?  Again, I know it's good for me, but I'm not sure I want to give up the wonderful summer we've just had for schedule and order.

So I guess what I'm trying to say is, we'd better cram as much fun as we can into the next two weeks and then maybe I'll be ready to go back.


Oh, and if you haven't entered to win the book Write the Right Words yet, go here to enter.  I'll be announcing the winner tomorrow.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Fit for a Princess

We have been neck-deep in home improvement projects for the last month or so.  After the opera was over, I was bound and determined to finish my dining room.  And then once that was done, the momentum pushed me forward to do Sophia's room.  I can't tell you how wonderful it feels to have these two rooms done, because I'm pretty sure once school starts I won't be able to find that kind of time in my schedule.

Both rooms aren't completely the way I'd like them.  But that takes more money and more time, so I'm happy with how they are for now.  And I guess I'll stop waiting on the curtains or the bedspreads to show you how they turned out.  Consider it phase one.  And for that matter, I suppose I'll finally show you the kitchen we did nearly a year ago, too!  So, hopefully you don't mind seeing a lot of room redos on this blog in the near future!

Starting right now.

So here is what Sophia's bedroom looked like before.  Or, actually, kind of in between.  After we'd tried stripping the wallpaper without a steamer, and before my amazing friend Trisha came over with her steamer and her elbow grease to help me.


And this is what it looks like now!

Sophia has been begging for a pink room forever.  So we went with kind of a candy pink that I really like.  (It's called Panache Pink by Sherwin Williams, if you care.)  As I said before, I need new quilts on the bed.  I have a pretty specific idea in my head, so I imagine I'll make some quilts and just tie them, since I'm hopeless at the quilting part.


I found the table at Goodwill for $5.99.  It was originally Disney Princesses, and in pretty bad shape.  So, I repainted it to match the room.


The room already had blinds (the only room in my house that did), so I just made these valances.  They just might be my favorite part of the whole thing.  I had the idea to just do the curtains like I made their Halloween tutus a few years back and just cut strips of tulle and tied them right onto the curtain rod.  Turned out so cute! (At least, I think so.)


This rocking chair is the same one I was rocked to sleep in by my mother as a baby.  And all my brothers.  And now, all of my children.  It was stained a really dark brown before, so I painted it white.  I'm still debating on whether or not to sand and distress it.  We'll see.  The shelf was purchased at Goodwill for a couple bucks and then painted white.  The frames were also purchased at Goodwill for cheap.  I like the darker coral (which I also used in the tutu curtains) as a contrast to the candy pink.  I already had the rose in my crafty stash and the little Good Night hook has been hanging in her room forever.  I just tied a piece of ric-rac to it to tie it in.


The mirror came from--you guessed it--Goodwill.  I painted and sanded it.  The lamp came from a garage sale for a dollar, and was green to begin with.  I sprayed it pink and bought a new shade at WalMart.  Then I glued the ric-rac trim on.  Sophia painted the little cat.  She got it for her birthday.


Sophia loves, loves, LOVES the room.  It is so fun to see her so excited and to feel so special.

Now we'll see if it will actually help her to sleep in her room!

Friday, August 20, 2010

Just Beachy
(photos and photos and more photos)

Flip Flops

Joel's parents are here visiting and the weather has been awfully rainy, cold and windy for them.  Our basement even flooded it's been so rainy, but that's another story for another day.  The weather actually cleared up yesterday and left us with a wonderfully perfect day, though not super warm.  So, we headed to the beach.

This time we went to Little Traverse Bay, and we pretty much had the place to ourselves.  It's a secret little beach that our friends showed us a few weeks back and we love it.  It's about a half hour from our house, so we can't go there on a whim, but if we have a free afternoon, we head out.

Little Traverse Bay





Joel and his dad played Frisbee while the girls played in the water and built their sand castles, or whatever it is they build.  I didn't even get my suit on this time and preferred to just sit on the blanket and watch.  It was warmer that way.


Joel's mom did the same thing I did.  We're the smart ones.

Mimi and Papa

 Because Bria got pretty cold eventually and needed her hoodie and three towels to stay warm.

And some granola bars.  Those always help, too.

Granola Bar in Blue

 Meanwhile, Sophia was trying to build a tower of buckets and walk with them on her head.  It didn't work so well, but it was entertaining.

Buckethead Three
Working Hard
Buckethead Two

 The sky was a beautiful shade of blue, and so was the water.


 Sadly, we eventually had to leave and go eat something besides granola bars and Capri Suns.


It's been fun having Joel's parents with us.  This is their first visit to the UP and we think they like it.  

When are YOU coming?  ;)

Have a wonderful weekend!  We sure will.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Write the Right Words

On closing night, I found myself staring at a stack of thank you cards waiting to be written to all of the wonderful people I got to work with while doing La Traviata last month.  The director, the maestro, the resident opera artists, the stage managers, the costumers and so on and so forth.  I was definitely grateful for all they did and for the honor of sharing the stage with them, but I have a hard time writing just the right thing in these sorts of notes.  And when I am faced with such a large stack, it's even more difficult to make the message personal and heartfelt instead of canned and repetitive.  Of course, this stack was nothing compared to what I faced after my wedding, but still.  I wanted the recipients of these thank you notes to really know how sincerely grateful I was.

Unfortunately for me, I had not yet received Write the Right Words: Messages From the Heart for Every Occasion by Sandra E. Lamb.  It came the very next day and I cursed my bad luck when I began to read it.  My thank you notes would have been amazing if only the mailman had brought the book the day before!

This book is truly ingenious.  Lamb emphasizes how much every greeting card needs personal, heartfelt and handwritten message to make it complete.  The art of the handwritten note or card is slowly being lost as we rely on the ease of shooting off an e-mail or a text message to someone.  But nothing makes me happier than opening up my mailbox and finding a real card that is addressed to me.  I love getting thank you cards, birthday cards, Christmas cards....you name it, I love it.  But the ones I love best are not the ones that rely on Hallmark's poets and a signature.  I love the real, handwritten messages the very most.  They make my day and I read them over and over.

Ms. Lamb shares infinite (okay, maybe not infinite, but almost!) ideas about how to write the kinds of cards that people will read again and again.  There are quotes and sample notes for every occasion you can think of.  When I turned to the section for thank you cards, I was overwhelmed with the possibilities.  I was also inspired to write notes of appreciation to people I may not have thought to write before.

Everyone needs this book.  You need this book.  This book and a very large stash of note cards and stationery to go with it.  Because as soon as you read it you'll want to start writing notes to everyone in your life.

The good news for you is that the author is giving away an autographed copy to one of my readers!  (US/Canada only, no PO Boxes) Just leave a comment here and tell me about your favorite handwritten note you've ever received.  I'll draw for the winner on Wednesday, August 25th.

Thank you to TLC book tours for the opportunity to review this book.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Summer and Spun Sugar

Cotton Candy Face

Every summer, my friend does a big! huge! party! (it's called The Hoo Haa) in her yard.  We got to go to our first Hoo Haa this past Saturday, which was, incidentally, the one year anniversary of our moving here.  So it was obviously for us, right?

Anyway.  This is the party to end all parties.  There are numerous water games and water slides and fun stuff for the kids.  There's croquet and frisbee golf and billiards and pinatas.  There's plenty of food and soda and friends.

And there is a cotton candy machine.

And it turned Sophia purple.  Or maybe it's blue?


No, she did not have three spools of the stuff.  But she did hijack her sisters' before they were quite done.  Just to be as blue as possible and all.

Sophia with spun sugar

I know it feels like I only take pictures of Sophia.  Two reasons for that: 1) Sophia is constantly begging me to take pictures of her.  She's definitely a camera hog and 2) the other girls are off and going and events like these, and I rarely see them.

But I do have photographic proof of their presence this time, and the fact that they ate some cotton candy, too.


Well, cotton candy and snow cones, that is.

Sno Cone

And then I went home and painted Sophia's bedroom a color that is oddly reminiscent of pink cotton candy.  Someday I'll show you. Soon.

Happy Monday!