Monday, July 23, 2012

In Which I Turn Into a "Dog Person"

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The location of our most recent Branch* activity.  I live in a truly gorgeous area.  Come visit me!
You guys.  I have totally turned into one of THOSE people.   I am now one of those people who is so in love with my dog that I take her everywhere with me.  I seriously take her to the bank, to the recycling center, to shuttle the girls around, to take Joel to work...everywhere I can.  I hate leaving her.  Kind of pathetic.

And I am not even one bit embarrassed about it. 

I had a tough winter this last year.  I was in a pretty dark place mentally and it was really difficult for me to even haul myself out of bed and function.  I don't want to belabor the point, but it was hard.  At one point, the Maestro gave me a priesthood blessing, and in it he said that I should get a dog.  Even though I'd been wanting one for some time, I'd held off because the Maestro himself wasn't totally on board.  But, after that blessing, things came together pretty quickly and within a month or so, I had Puccini.

And she truly has been a gift sent from God directly to me.  It's amazing how she has lightened my life, as corny as that is.  And not just mine--the girls' lives and Joel's are happier because of her, too.  The joy she has brought to our family amazes me every day.  She's so smart and full of personality, and even though that means that she steals my glasses and has now ruined them (it's okay, I was up for a new pair, and she knows better now) or that she turns into crazy dog as soon as the sun sets, she fits perfectly into our family dynamic.

All of that to say that, yes, I'm now a freaky dog lady and I brought my puppy to our branch* activity the other day.  And now I am about to flood my blog with pictures of her.  Along with some ducks.  I like taking pictures of ducks.  And I suppose I'll throw in a few of my offspring for good measure.
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This is Puccini's first swim!  We have taken her out to the Lake Superior beaches, but she has been terrified of the waves and won't go in.  This lake (which is the backyard of a couple in our branch) is much calmer, and when she saw the girls were in there, she decided to go in after them.
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And now she's swimming back to me, because, as it turns out, she isn't a huge fan of swimming.  But it's so amazing to me how dogs just know how to do it.
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She swam a few more times, but mostly she just watched the girls like a hawk from the shore.

And there were ducks.  This momma and her ducklings hung around all afternoon/evening.  They weren't scared of people at all.  They tried to stay clear of the dogs, though.
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Meanwhile, Puccini's sister (remember how our friend got her littermate?) came, and those two ADORE each other.  It is so fun to watch them play together. (Puccini is the lighter colored one, her sister's name is Daisy.)
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I also love watching these three little sweeties play (plus one of their friends).
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Life is good.
*Branch-A small congregation of the LDS church, used when there aren't enough members in an area to make up an entire ward, which is the standard congregation.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Aurora Borealis

Do you have a bucket list?

I do.

I've never actually written it down, but it includes things like learn to play the bagpipes (much to the chagrin of my bagpipe-hating husband), visit every country in Europe (I think he's pretty cool with this one, though, just as long as I take him with me), play the role of Mimi in La Boheme (any production will do--at this point, I can't be too picky and may need to start my own backyard opera series), and see the Northern Lights.

IMG_3791 Northern Lights web_edited-1
Lucky for me, living as far north as I do, The Lights are often visible where I live. I saw them once this past fall (I think that's when it was...don't make me search through Facebook to verify). But I only saw them from my front porch, and there was too much light pollution to really appreciate their beauty.

Don't get me wrong. They were pretty cool. It was just when I saw the pictures taken by friends who had actually gone out to Lake Superior to watch them that I realized what I had missed. So, I didn't cross that item off of the bucket list that exists only in my mind after all. I needed to see them for real, over Lake Superior.

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A few days ago, someone posted on Facebook about a sun flare that had happened, and that The Lights would be visible over the weekend. I liked the post, and tucked the information away in my mind, but mostly forgot about it. The show opened on Friday night and I was tuckered out. Then, on Saturday night (which was a day off of rehearsals and performances), after writing a stack of thank-you notes to the cast and crew, I checked Facebook one last time before I hit the proverbial sack. It was already 1:30 in the morning, but I saw a post about The Lights being out, so I put on some clothes and went out to my front porch to check it out. And just above the ski hill I could see the green tinge that meant The Lights were definitely out and strong!
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I went in the house and shook Joel awake and told him I wanted to drive out to McLain State Park and see The Lights over Lake Superior. He knows how important this is to me, so he got up and got dressed and then we woke up the girls and put them in the car. The poor darlings were so confused and had no idea what was happening. Chloe, who is a very grumpy girl when awoken from sleep, had unfortunately fallen asleep already, even though it wasn't beyond the realm of possibility that she should be awake at 1:30 in the morning. It was a drama on the ride out to Lake Superior, even though I was trying to show them The Lights and how amazing they were. But they were difficult to see while driving and nobody could understand what was so important that they had to be dragged out of bed in the middle of the night to see it.

A little bit before we got to the lake, we came to a clearing where you could see The Lights pretty well. Joel stopped the car and we all got out to look. The girls could finally understand why we had made them get out of bed to see this. It's a once in a lifetime experience for most people, and how lucky we are that they will have many other chances as long as we are living here.

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We all got back into the car and finished the drive out to Lake Superior. And it was just spectacular there. The Lights reflected in the lake, the millions of stars, the quiet of nature. Every bit of the experience was just exquisite.

The girls were a little scared because it was pretty dark out there, even with The Lights on, and Puccini cried for a long time until Joel just held her. She apparently isn't a fan of being in strange places in the dark.

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Bria, in particular, was enthralled. Sophia is perhaps too young to really understand, and Chloe was still pretty grumpy. But Bria really appreciated the amazing gift she was given to see this natural phenomenon. While I took pictures, she and Joel laid on the hood of the car and watched the light undulate. They even saw a few falling stars, which was just the icing on the cake.

I had trouble at first figuring out how the heck to photograph the lights. The shutter had to be open for quite a while, and I didn't think to bring a tripod. I also didn't think to grab my f/1.8 lens, either, which would have been so much better. And they turned out blurry because I didn't have the presence of mind to change to manual focus and focus to infinity. Sigh. But who can be expected to think of these things at 2:30 in the morning?

Northern Lights over Lake Superior
Happy as I am to have actually seen such a beautiful display of the Northern Lights, I now have a new item on my bucket list:

Get a perfect photograph of the Northern Lights.

I guess I'll just have to see them again before I can die.

Saturday, July 14, 2012


spar·kle, noun

1.  a little spark or fiery particle.

2.  a sparkling appearance, luster, or play of light: the sparkle of a diamond.

3.  brilliance, liveliness, or vivacity.

'Twas opening night last night.

 Whilst I showed my sparkle onstage and The Maestro watched from the audience,
Photo stolen from the costume designer's web page. I played Malla, a mute maid.
we left our three little sparkles home alone.  Bria has been very wonderful to babysit a lot this past week as I have been in dress rehearsals and Joel has been search committee chair for the new band director position.  I am so proud of the responsibility she has taken when she is put in charge of her sisters.

And I was never prouder than when I came home to find the sparkle of a clean kitchen. 
Sparkling kitchen
I took this picture this morning, after a breakfast of oatmeal had been made.  The sink was totally empty last night.
It may not seem a huge deal, but you don't understand.  With the way this week has gone--with both Joel and I being so busy--the kitchen was about as awful as it has ever been.  Blech.  And Bria convinced her sisters to clean it with her, and it was indeed sparkling.  The girls were sparkling, too, because they were so excited to surprise us with it when we got home.

The office also had quite a bit of sparkle.
Sparkling office
This picture does not even begin to capture the copious amounts of glitter that have taken over my once-clean office.
Just maybe not the kind of sparkle I would prefer in there.  There is glitter all over the floor, table, chairs, walls.  Even my computer keyboard has a bit of green sparkle to it.  But the glitter explosion happened because they were making some thank-you cards for their grandparents, so all is forgiven.  Besides, what are vacuums for, anyway?

My life sparkles in so many ways.  I am incredibly blessed.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

The Kindling

Full disclosure:  I don't normally think of fantasy as a genre I enjoy reading.  Of course I loved Harry Potter, but in general, fantasy isn't my first thought when I want to pick up something to read.  So, when Braden asked me to review his latest book, I really hoped I would like it.

Because I absolutely loved Braden's first book, The Road Show.  It was one of those soul-changers.  I knew The Kindlng would be a different ball game, being written for and about middle-schoolers and also being in that fantasy genre, but Braden is such a good writer I knew I didn't have to worry too much.

So, I read it, and I loved it, and I'm already waiting for the sequel.  I have started reading it to my kids, and had hoped to have it finished with them by the time my review was due, but life has been too insane and we're only a third of the way through.  However, my kids love the story.  Chloe especially is dying to know what happens and talks about it fairly often.

The best thing about this book is that Braden manages to write a fun book that is very appealing to the age group  it is written for while still including poignant lessons about good vs. evil and light vs. darkness.  The second best thing about this book is the fight between the good guys and the bad guys that takes place in Disneyland on the Small World ride.  So much fun!  And really?  When the first sentence of a book is, "Conner Dell didn't mean to set anyone's gym shorts on fire," you know it's going to pull you right in, magic or no.

A quick sum-up: Conner Dell, his twin sister, Lexa, and their friend Melanie have discovered they have special powers.  And, a scary stalker guy that nobody else can see is following them.  Then all of their middle school teachers are out to get them.  What are three middle-schoolers to do?

You'll have to read it and find out.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Snobbery or Spiritual Sensitivity?

I am a music snob.  I totally own that.  For this reason I am dreading the release of the Les Misérables film.  I saw the trailer, you know.  And Anne Hathaway simply does not cut it as Fantine, and I am angry with Hollywood for what will just become another travesty of a musical film a la Sweeney Todd and Phantom of the Opera. End of discussion.


End. of. Discussion.

Because I tried to have a discussion about it on Facebook and it just turned into a kind of a Facebook brawl: Music Snobs vs. Not Music Snobs.

My name is Lara and I am a music snob.

Now that we've gotten that out of the way, I want to share a little story with you about how the Lord used my music snobbishness for good.  At least, that's what my Stake Relief Society President*(SRSP) thinks.

Last July, while we were vacationing in Chicago, my cell phone rang at 6:00 in the morning.  I am not a morning person in normal life, and especially not while I am on vacation, but for some reason I answered that phone call.  Probably because I wasn't awake enough to think through it all logically.

It was the SRSP on the other end of the line.  Why on earth was she calling me at 6:00 in the morning!?  I realize that I live in the time zone that is one hour later than Chicago, but, SRSP actually lives in the same time zone as Chicago, all because I live in the nether regions of our stake boundaries.

She was calling to ask me to sing at a Stake Relief Society function to be held in October.  She specifically asked me to sing a song by the name of I Heard Him Come.

Now, even at 6:00 in the morning, when I am too groggy to be aware of most things, I am still painfully aware that I Heard Him Come is perhaps the most awful song in the history of "Mormon Pop," which, by the way, is the most awful genre of music in the history of, well, ever.  Except maybe rap.

(If you don't agree with me, that's fine.  Probably you aren't a music snob.  We can still be friends.  I'll even go see Les Misérables with you and pretend to like it.)

I totally understand that this music has a place, and hey--if it's going to help some 16-year-old girl at EFY* to understand Christ better, then more power to it.  I just don't want to hear it.

Or sing it.  I thought I got that song all out of my system when I was 16.

So when the SRSP asked me to sing this particular song at a moment when I was still lying in bed, barely awake, barely able to process, the only thing I could think to say was, "Could I sing something else?"

"No.  Sister Smith (not her real name) has asked for YOU to sing THIS song in particular.  She has the program all planned and feels very strongly about it."

I've been taught to help where I'm needed, and if they needed me to sing this particular song, well, then I guess I had to do it.  So, I agreed and hung up the phone and went back to sleep.

I tried. I really did.  I bought the sheet music.  I sat at the piano and sang it.  And I just couldn't do it.

So, I emailed Sister Smith, who by now was the new SRSP, and said the following:

Hi Sister Smith,

I told Sister Former SRSP that I would sing "I Heard Him Come" for the October RS conference, as you know.  I am having reservations about the song, though.  I have sung it many times (mostly when I was a young woman), but it is just not really the right genre of music for my voice and I am not very comfortable singing it.  I have been thinking and have come up with a couple other suggestions that are more suitable for my voice type. They have a similar message to "I Heard Him Come" and I am wondering if you would think over them.  I would, however,  be happy to sing "I Heard Him Come" if you feel that is best.

Here are my other suggestions:

1.  O Divine Redeemer by Charles Gounod 
2.  Weepin' Mary by David Fletcher 
3.  Wondrous Love by David Fletcher

Like I said, I'm willing to do whatever you feel is best, but I thought I'd throw these out there.

I sent along some sound clips and copies of the lyrics and awaited her reply.

And what do you know?  She emailed me back and said that she herself had been having reservations about that particular song, but didn't know of anything else that had the message she was hoping for.  She thanked me for being so sensitive to the Spirit and asked me to sing Weepin' Mary instead.

First I breathed a sigh of relief, but then I had to laugh.  I didn't think I was being very sensitive to the Spirit at all.  I was just being a music snob who could not handle singing a song that was beneath my musical sensibilities.  I actually felt really bad about sending the email in the first place instead of just graciously doing what I was asked to do.

But, maybe Sister Smith was right. Maybe my musical snobbery was used for good.  I mean, the song I ended up singing was definitely way better than the original selection.  And I am probably one of the only sisters in the entire stake who even knew of its existence.  I know the Lord works in mysterious ways, so if that was the case, I am happy to have been his vehicle.

However, I learned another important lesson at the same time.  I probably should have actually prayed about it instead of letting my prejudices drive my decision to email Sister Smith.  I may have come up with the same answer, but then at least I would have known that I was following the Spirit instead of being a snob.

But I'm still a music snob.  Just so we keep that straight.

Stake - a geographical unit made up of several smaller LDS congregations.  Because of where we live, our particular stake is geographically very large and covers area in two state and hundreds of square miles.  When we lived in Utah, our stake only covered a couple square miles.

Relief Society - The Church's Women's Organization.  Each smaller congregation has a sister who serves as Relief Society President, and each Stake has a Stake Relief Society President - a sister who oversees those Presidents.  There is also a General Relief Society President who oversees the Relief Society of the entire Church, worldwide.

EFY - Especially For Youth.

Monday, July 09, 2012

Cluttered, but not Empty

I like this quote, and I couldn't find a sign that I liked so I figured I would just make me own.  Feel free to steal.
I am probably the most disorganized girl on the planet.  Every year, I resolve that this will finally be the year that I get organized.  And, truth be known, it's not the getting organized that's the problem--I've done that a million times over--it's the actually staying organized that I can't seem to manage.

A few months ago, my mom called about our summer vacation.  She wanted me to set up some frequent flyer accounts for all of my girls.  Great!  No problem.  Except, apparently you need Social Security Numbers in order to sign them up.  Fine, they were around my mess of an office somewhere.  I looked everywhere, though, and I never could find the cards.  I did find Bria's and Chloe's vaccination records, which also contained their SS#, but I couldn't find anything with Sophia's.  One would think that past tax records might help, but I couldn't find those, either.

This is just one (very egregious) example of the chaotic state my office was in.  The "inbox" on my desk was overflowing with so many papers, it couldn't serve a purpose anymore.  I missed filling out important forms because they were quickly buried in the avalanche.  My children didn't get their school class pictures this past year for that very reason, and I still feel guilty every time I think of that one (give me the freakin' Mother of the Year Award right now).

You probably don't remember, but my word (phrase, actually) for this year is Lighten Up!  I chose it to remind me to quit carrying around so much baggage in my life: Debt, weight, schedule, attitude, and yes, clutter.

If I had to make an accounting of the first half of the year, I'd say that I'm doing okay on getting rid of the debt.  There's still a long road ahead, but it feels good to kick some of it out of our lives.  I was doing really well on weight, until the dreaded Achilles Tendinitis hit.  But, I graduated from physical therapy today, and hopefully my gym going will start again as soon as the play I'm in closes this weekend.  I think I'm doing better on the whole attitude thing, but I am making an effort to further improve.  Schedule?  Ugh.  Well, that's a total failure, and frankly, because of the schedule, the clutter hasn't improved much, either.

That said, I was absolutely resolved this summer to get my office clean and organized and functioning.  The first order of business was to buy a freaking filing cabinet.  I mean, who doesn't have a filing cabinet, anyway?  Me, that's who.  In my defense, I used to have one, but it was kind of destroyed in the move from Arizona to Utah, and I just got rid of it before moving here.  And in almost three years of living in Michigan I have not bothered to buy a filing cabinet.  I have reorganized and rearranged my office more than any other room in the house, but it never actually occurred to me to buy a filing cabinet.

So off I went to purchase a filing cabinet. And, just my luck, my friend was having a yard sale down the street and I thought I'd check it out before heading to Office Max to pick out a filing cabinet.  And guess what she was selling for cheap?  An oak (or maybe not, but nice wood, nonetheless), four-drawer, FILING CABINET!  I bought it faster than you can say designer file folders, headed to the store to arm myself with pretty filing supplies, and thus began Operation Organize Lara's Office.
Organized At Last
I know.  Operation Redecorate Lara's Office should happen sooner than later.  That wallpaper and paneling really must go, but one thing at a time, my friends.
Three days, five garbage bags, and about one hundred file folders later, every last paper in my office had a home.  I found all the social security cards, passports, tax files, birth certificates, and other missing papers amongst the debris.  And yes, I have one file named "to be filed" but in my defense, I ran out of folders.  And I've even kept up on filing all the papers (where do they all come from, anyway?) for the most part.  I am so proud.

However, even though my desk was really, super, amazingly clean once Operation Organize Lara's Office was complete, it has since morphed back to its usual slovenly habits.  I'm so disappointed in it.
The Clutter Hath REturned
But hey, at least it isn't empty.  Right, Einstein?

Friday, July 06, 2012

Leading the Glamorous Life, La La!

Today I pranced around the stage at rehearsal wearing a corset, petticoats, and my brand-new character shoes.

If that's not glamorous, I don't know what is.

For all my local friends, come see me move scenery in my corset and mutely serve confections and drinks to all the people who are actually singing in this show - Sondheim's A Little Night Music - July 13 & 15 at the Rozsa. It'll be really good, but maybe don't bring your kids.

Ticketing/Show information.

See you there!

Monday, July 02, 2012

Going, Going, Gone.
Doing, Doing, Done.

I will go and do
Our family theme for this year was (is) I will Go & Do.  We also have a sub-theme of I Can Do Hard Things.

Since summer started, I have given extra effort into remembering the reasons why I chose this theme for our family and doing what it takes to stay joyful despite the many directions I am currently being pulled.

Today is just a small example:

8:07 Wake up to a phone call from the dentist asking if we were on our way to the 8:00 appointment. Oh crap! I thought the appointment was at 8:30, so I pulled Chloe out of bed, threw her in the car and sped to the office.

8:21 Arrive at dentist's office, wait a few minutes until we are ushered back where Chloe's teeth are numbed up for her extraction. She had to have two teeth pulled on the orthodontist's orders. Fun times.

8:37 The extraction itself lasted about 15 seconds--for both teeth! We received care instructions and were off for home within minutes.

8:42 Stopped at the recycling center to dump off about a month's worth of recycling (I am so bad at doing this on a regular basis). It wasn't open yet. I thought we could wait the 15 minutes, but Chloe was antsy to get home and lie down, and who could blame her?

8:50 Back at home. Helped Bria practice violin. Caught up on some emails regarding the benefit concert I am helping to organize for the end of the month.  Caught up on emails for voice lessons.  Maybe I looked at Facebook for a few minutes, too. Folded some laundry. Helped Sophia clean her room. Attended to Chloe who was freaking out about all of the blood her mouth was producing. Did some dishes. Ate breakfast.

10:45 Headed to rehearsal for the musical I'm currently in. I am having reservations about it, because I'm just a supernumerary (this is for the music festival, and leads are always played by professionals and young artists--locals get chorus and supernumerary roles) and I hardly have anything to do, yet my scenes are spread out enough that I feel like I am at rehearsal all day sometimes. I'm feeling like I'm neglecting other duties for this show, but I'm getting paid and our upcoming vacation needs the money, so I'm considering it a blessing, trying to learn as much as I can from the professionals I'm working with, and finding joy in the process.

12:50 Lunch break from rehearsal, and thankfully I didn't have to come back after lunch today.

1:00 Taught a voice lesson, while simultaneously directing my children in their chores. So unprofessional, I know.

2:00 Physical therapy for my heel. I've had to go three times a week for a while now, and today was my ninth visit.  I really, really, REALLY hate this therapy, though I do know it's helping with the pain a lot.  In fact, as I was walking out of the office today, a cute older gentleman who is subjected to the same awful therapy machine as I am, said, "Look how well you're walking now!"  And I am.  So it's good.  But it is 45 minutes of pure torture.  No pain, no gain, I guess.  And, also, I can do hard things.

3:03 Tried the recycling center again. This time it was just closing! Augh! I begged the guy closing the gates to please let me in, and thankfully, he did. Only because there were still a couple procrastinators in there dumping theirs off, though. At least I got that done!

Yes, I know I should really start remembering the fact that I have a nice camera.
3:30  Haircut appointments for all three girls.  Of course, the salon was running behind, so I caught up on all of my celebrity gossip while we waited.  The girls all have such exact ideas of what they want their hair to be--love how independent and strong they are.  And when it comes to hair, I don't really care too much as long as they don't get mohawks or dye it pink (even though I'm still sad about the loss of Sophia's curls when she wanted to chop it off).  Bria wants hers really super long, and was resentful of the hair appointment.  She even went so far as to say her life would be ruined if they cut off more than 1/2 inch.  So, they cut off 1/2 inch.  Sophia got bangs, and Chloe got an adorable bob and a lot of thinning.  They're adorable, don't you think?  And the stylist even curled Sophia's hair out of pity for the mom who misses her curls.

4:50  Dairy Queen!  None for me, but Chloe had been promised a huge Blizzard because of her teeth.  The other two got smaller treats.

5:15  Home for dinner, dishes, helping Joel with his own music festival obligations, more cleaning.  And blogging.  I'm blogging now, while simultaneously helping the kids and eating my dinner, which is different from everyone else's dinner on account of my gluten free lifestyle.

So now I've gone and done all the livelong day.  And Bria is calling me to help her with a puzzle.  And I really should clean some more.  And I need to read the book for book club.  And I need to figure out how to clean the dog without bathing her, since she is filthy and isn't allowed a bath since she was just spayed.  And, And, And.

There's always something.  Which is why I'm really working on my attitude.  Rather than feel the stress, I'm working on feeling the joy.

And I must say, it's making a difference.

I really can do hard things.

Want to download my Go & Do sign? Go and do it! (Click here)