Sunday, July 28, 2013

Rainy Sundays Always Get Me Down

Showing off the bracelets they were given today by a member of our branch.

I don't know how long it takes to form a habit of doing something on a weekly basis.  I sure hope it isn't 21 weeks!  But I'm two for two now, so that's only 19 more weeks to go...

Reasons why this picture is crappy:
  1. The girls were not thrilled to have their photo taken after nearly six hours of church meetings today (more on that later).
  2. They were more concerned with what the dog was doing than they were posing for Mommy's camera (the dog that was still not interested in being in the photo herself).
  3. It was totally dark and overcast outside so we had to take the photo indoors (where it was still totally dark and overcast).
  4. The girls didn't give me a chance to up my ISO once I realized 800 wasn't fast enough (and even if I did up my ISO, the photo would have still been crappy and noisy).
But I took the darn Sunday photo because it's my new thing and I will stick with it if it kills me.

So.  Crappy weather.

We had a lovely couple of weeks in which we went to the beach 6 or 7 times and it was pure bliss.  I didn't even care that one night we had to sleep out in the backyard in our tent because it was so flipping hot inside our (non-air-conditioned) house.  After the never-ending winter that we endured I was not about to complain about the heat!

And then Mother Nature took all that heat away and turned it into late October, sans the pretty leaves.  I can see my breath when I go outside, I went to soccer practice yesterday wearing a scarf and boots, and my house is now colder than I keep it in the wintertime.  And the Maestro refuses to let me turn on the heat until it actually is October.

PS:  It's July.

And, the scoop on why we went to so much church today.  No, it's not because we're just that good.

Bria attended a musical theatre camp this past week at a local Lutheran church.  Their final performance was the Sunday service for that congregation.  So, we got up much earlier than we normally do on a Sunday, and because the Stake President was up visiting our branch and stayed the night in our home, the Maestro made a gourmet breakfast of bacon, eggs, gluten-free pancakes, glutinous waffles, and orange juice.  And we were still out of the house by 8:15 to get to the 8:30 service to watch Bria perform in Jonah's Druthers, a western retelling of the Bible story of Jonah. (I'm gonna say we normally roll out of bed around 9:00 on Sunday mornings.)(We like our sleep.)(Don't you?)

Jonah and Nellie
Nellie (Bria) and Jonah (Ann).  Photo courtesy of Ann's mom because I forgot to bring my good camera.  What?

The play was so cute.  And I love that Bria is finally starting to like performing a little bit. 

But then we had to go to our own church, and if you aren't Mormon then maybe you don't know that we attend for three hours each Sunday.  And after that Joel and I had some meetings.  Again, if you aren't a Mormon yourself, then you probably don't know how much we love our meetings, either.  So, six hours of Church, and a nice long nap afterwards.

Except I am not allowed to take a nap in my house.  I am interrupted every five minutes by the girls needing something, or wanting to show me something, or arguing with each other while jumping on the bed on which I am trying to sleep.  And if it isn't them, Puccini decides I am not allowed to sleep and comes and paws at my face and barks at me.  So I played Words With Friends instead.

Obviously, I am tired and cranky.  And it's cold and rainy. 

But at least I have fabulous shoes.

zebra shoes

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Our Epic Vacation: Day 5

The end of Day 4 found us all a little bit (a lot) cranky, and crashing for the night in our tent at Yellowstone after going to bed without dinner.  I thought I'd better take a picture of our palatial tent that was so good to us on this camping trip.  It got us through the crazy thunderstorms the first night and kept us warm, comfy, and dry through it all.  And dare I say, I even enjoyed it.  I don't know if I thought I'd ever enjoy tent camping, but there it is.
Breakfast at Yellowstone

Breakfast at our campground this morning consisted of fruit, pancakes, and cottage cheese.  I am not so sure that the crankiness was slept off, as the girls bickered through all of breakfast.  Do you want to know what they were arguing about?  Who got to hug their cousin Aly the tightest when they saw her.  Yep.  I suppose there are worse arguments in the world, but I still rolled my eyes a lot that morning.
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After breakfast and packing up the car, we got our passports stamped at West Thumb, which was near where we camped, and then headed off to watch Old Faithful erupt in the daylight hours.  Let me again remind you how freaking LARGE Yellowstone is--on the hour drive to Old Faithful, we saw more wildlife and I think we finally began to uncrankify ourselves.  Good thing we had a little bit of protein for breakfast.

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Once at Old Faithful, it was fun to call our parents and our friend MaryFran to have them find us on the live webcam--though it took us a few minutes to figure out where it was!  Watching it erupt was definitely much more exciting when we could see it, and very worth the wait.
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After watching the geyser, we got our passports stamped at the Old Faithful Visitor's Center, and did some souvenir shopping.  Sophia bought a bison that makes some crazy noise, so we were treated to that while stuck with her in the car for the rest of the day.  But at least she kept herself amused.
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Before we left the area, we also watched the Beehive geyser erupt, which is just near Old Faithful.  I don't know how "faithful" that one is, but it was certainly cool to see it.
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We then drove out of the West Entrance to Yellowstone and stopped for a while to look at the paint pots and the hot springs.  I wish we had had more time in the park, but we really loved what we saw while we were there.
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We said good-bye to Yellowstone and were on our way to Utah. Excitement ensued.
All our tickets and stickers
I love love love all of the national park passes, campground stickers, and various other ephemera.

Joel is always so good to drive most of the way on our road trips, but he does sometimes get a little stubborn about continuing to drive when he is way too tired.  He knows I dislike driving, so he's really wonderful to not make me do it much. But this day I had to practically force him to let me drive after we stopped for gas in Rexburg, ID.  I only drove until Malad, but it was enough for him to get a nice power nap.
Somewhere in IdahoWelcome to Utah

And before we knew it, we crossed the border into our homeland!  Utah at last!  We arrived at Joel's parents' house and had time to unload and clean up a bit before we headed to the restaurant to celebrate Mimi's (that's Joels' mom) birthday with the rest of the family.  Or, at least, a lot of them.
Buca di Beppo

We ate at Buca di Beppo, a really fun Italian restaurant that I'm sure all of you have heard of before, but I hadn't.  Because I live in the middle of nowhere that has no restaurants.  It was good.  And the best part was being reunited with cousins and aunts and uncles and Mimi and Papa!

After dinner, we stayed up talking with Joel's parents.  Our niece Aly and her husband Josh came by to visit as well.  And don't worry, tight hugs were given to ALL the girls by Aly, they were thrilled to see her and forgot all about their silly argument!  A lovely night--and the best part was we didn't have to camp!

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Something New

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Dear Readers,

I have been a derelict blogger lately.  Slowly, but surely, I have just stopped caring about my little space on the interwebs.  Except when I have committed to do a book review or decide to vomit a few pictures of my life all in one post, I have been MIA.  And I'm not saying that you all care, because I certainly haven't been inundated with emails wondering why I haven't blogged.  I could pretty easily fade into the ether and nobody would miss this Overstuffed blog.

But I would.

Always at the back of my mind is the thought that I should blog because I'm forgetting things.  It's weird that a very public space on the internet (even if only ten people ever actually read it) has become my sole journal.  But that IS why I started it, and why I should continue it.  I don't scrapbook anymore, I certainly don't write in my actual journal anymore, and blogging is faster even if I do get overwhelmed by it.

There is a blogger that I enjoy reading who posts a photo of her children every Sunday.  They are always dressed for church and she comes up with creative ways of taking and presenting the weekly photo.  I've been reading her blog for a long time, and it's really cool to watch her children grow up this way (and some of them have been born since I've been reading her blog).

So, on this twenty-first day of July, 2013,  I hereby announce that I am going to (try to) copy her.  If nothing else, it will remind me to blog every week and nudge me to tell a little bit of what's been going on the past week.

I know, I know.  You are all rolling your eyes and reminding me how I never stick to ANYTHING  I start on this blog.  Remember Project Walking Into a Hug?  Yeah.  How about your vacations, Lara?  You start blogging about them and you NEVER finish.  We've been dying to know about the rest of your Epic Vacation last summer.  Not to mention all the other vacations you've taken.


Baby steps.

But if it makes you (okay, ME) feel any better, my other big blogging goal is to actually finish blogging the Epic Vacay before school starts.  I actually have more time this summer, and though I'm spending a good portion of it catching up on my sleep from working full-time during the school year, I have a list of things I'm hoping to finish.  So look forward to Sunday photos of the girls and sporadic Epic Vacation posts.
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Anyway, back to the issue at hand.


Bria spent all of last week at Girls Camp--her first time--and she has been so delightful ever since she came home.  As soon as she got into the car she declared her love for being surrounded by Mormon girls, and even gave her sisters real (as in "not fake") hugs as soon as she saw them.  I think I love Girls Camp.  In the photo she is wearing a necklace that she made at camp that says "Stand Ye in Holy Places and Be Not Moved" and also has a charm of the Salt Lake City Temple.

I took Chloe and Sophia shopping for some school clothes this week and Chloe loved the shirt she is wearing so much, she bought it herself.  The other clothes have to wait for school, but since she bought this with her own money, I guess I don't have the authority to tell her she can't wear it.  And boy, I am not a fan of her hair right now.  She can't decide whether or not she wants to grow out her bangs, but she DOES love to have her hair in her eyes.  Why is it so hard to let your children have free agency?  I want to force her to cut her bangs how they used to be.  But I won't.

Sophia is turning 7 in just four days.  I can't even believe it.  And she has been such a great helper lately--seriously delightful.  She gets up earlier than her sisters (hoo boy, my early riser Bria has definitely become a teenager--she got up at noon yesterday.) and gets her practicing, reading, and jobs done with a mostly good attitude.  Sometimes she doesn't understand the difference between 15 minutes and an hour, but we're working on it.

Puccini wasn't a fan of having her picture taken today.  Bad hair day, I guess.
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I love my girlies.

And I love blogging about them.

And I love the people who read my blog, especially if you still read it after this last school year, which shall heretofore be known as "The Year of No Blogging."  But, you know, if you care to see what I am up to, I do better at Instagram.  You know, since I can do it from my phone from wherever I happen to be.  You can follow me here

Have a great week, and I will definitely see you next Sunday (if not before)!


Tuesday, July 16, 2013


Almost exactly one year ago, I reviewed The Kindling, which is the first book in Braden Bell's Middle School Magic series.  I had been unsure if I would like it, since fantasy is not my favorite genre and I generally don't read it.

I was wrong--I really liked it.  And I have been waiting on pins and needles for this second installment because I was dying to know what would happen and have some questions answered.

So I was actually kind of bummed that Braden sent me the digital copy in the middle of my whirlwind last couple of months, because I had to wait to read it.  But as soon as I started the book, I couldn't put it down and finished in a matter of hours.

The adventures of Conner and Lexa Dell and their friend Melanie Stephens continued--this time the book begins with Conner blowing up a school bus (but he didn't mean to!) and the excitement only gets better.  Questions from the last book are indeed answered, and the fight between Light and Dark continues with some surprising twists and turns.

I love the way Braden has explored the light and dark, good and evil that exist within ourselves.  The fight between light and dark isn't ever as clear cut as the bad guys vs. the good ones.  We all have the potential to choose either light or darkness, and I love the way this book teaches that.  (And, I may be wrong, but I'm guessing the third book is going to further that theme by teaching us that even if we initially choose darkness, we can always come back to the light.)

My Chloe loved the first book so much that I ended up buying her hard copies of both books last week.  She was so excited to hear that there was a second installment.  I love the fact that it is an exciting book that keeps her entertained, but that leads to some gospel-centered conversations every time we discuss it.

I highly recommend this series--both for you and your children!  It's absolutely delightful.  And, of course, I am waiting with great anticipation for the next installment.  I'd even be willing to stand in line at a bookstore at midnight dressed up as Dr. Timberi if it meant I could read it faster.

You can buy The Kindling here--only $2.99 for the Kindle edition--and you can buy Penumbras here. 

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

My Musical Month

This is our fourth--FOURTH!--summer up here in Michigan.  Sometimes I find that difficult to believe, but that is neither here nor there and certainly not what this post is about.  Each summer Joel and I have been blessed to be involved with opera productions through the Pine Mountain Music Festival.  But this summer I was particularly honored to be invited to be a guest artist with them.

Due to budgetary difficulties rampant in arts organizations across the entire country and not just our music festival (support your local arts or they will go away!), there was no opera produced this year.  Instead, the main operatic production was a concert of Verdi arias called Viva Verdi!

My role in the festival was to perform in the opening galas, the Broadway Revue, and the Verdi concert along with the four young artists who came up for the festival.  We also ended up singing Sibelius' Finlandia with the "Finnharmonic" orchestra conducted by none other than my very own Maestro (the music festival took place during the same time as the International FinnFest, which was held in our area this year).

For the galas I was asked to sing an opera aria (O Mio Fernando!), a Broadway song (Someone Like You from Jekyll and Hyde), and an opera duet with one of the other singers (The Flower Duet from Lakme).  I received a huge pile of music to learn for the Broadway Revue which included numbers such as My Funny Valentine, What'll I Do?, My Romance, and a whole bunch more. And for the Verdi concert I was asked to sing Desdemona's Salce, Salce/Ave Maria from Otello, a very cool Verdi song that isn't from an opera, and Alice's part in the women's quartet from Act I of Falstaff.

I received all of these assignments about six weeks before rehearsals were to start.

You all know my penchant for being stressed about these things.  I've been working really hard to NOT get so stressed over it, and to remember why on earth I enjoy singing and performing in the first place, but I was still a little tiny bit overwhelmed.

Okay, so I was a lot overwhelmed.

But I made it through, and I didn't freak out like I did the last time.  I really did learn something from that experience!  And I had an amazing month in which I grew more as an artist in four weeks than I probably have in the 15 years since I graduated from college.

While my intense allergies to tree pollen and the intense tree pollen in my area hindered my singing for the galas and the revue, I was incredibly blessed and I made it through.  I was upset that it wasn't my best singing--there's nothing quite like opening your mouth to sing words but having a coughing fit instead!--but I know it was the best I could do with what I had right then.  And boy, you should have seen the pharmacy I lugged everywhere with me!  Antihistamines, neti-pots, zinc lozenges, mucinex, prescription cough suppressants, two kinds of asthma inhalers, essential oils, and more!

My mom came for the busiest week and brought with her a tree pollen antigen, and I think that made all the difference.  By the Verdi concerts I was back to my normal singing self.  Thank goodness.  Because I don't think I could have faked Verdi like I had to fake Cole Porter.

And the Verdi concerts were some of the best singing I have ever done.  I was by no means perfect--I'll shout it from the rooftops if I ever have a perfect performance--but I was really pleased with the outcome.

And now we will abruptly segue into some photos...not one of which was taken with my nice camera.  It's pretty much all iPhone all the time nowadays.  Sigh.

Oh, but these first ones were taken with somebody's nice camera, so there's that.

Singing O mio Fernando! at the third opening gala.  Two of the galas were held in amazing homes with amazing views.

Eagle Harbor Gala Lara Julie
Singing the Flower duet from Lakme with J--an incredibly talented soprano.

Eagle Harbor Gala Josh
This is a photo of the artistic director of the festival.  He is an opera director, and I am so thankful for how hard he pushed me this summer.  It wasn't easy, but I grew immensely and I am excited to continue to push myself in future performances.  Lucy--sitting next to the accompanist--was also a great inspiration to me this summer.  Love them both!

Eagle Harbor Gala Bows
Taking our final bows together.  I have no idea why I am including this photo because I look like a total dork.

All of the young artists and me after the first gala, also held in a home.  Yes, I often felt like a giant with these two petite girls, but maybe I shouldn't wear 5-inch heels, either.  When Joel first saw this photo he called me "Lara Bunyan."

The opening number to our "Revue of Revues" featuring From This Moment On by Cole Porter.

Me singing My Funny Valentine.  That's Jerry at the piano and he was another person who was so amazing to work with.  I am just so lucky!

The format of the show was to be in a diner like atmosphere as we performed.  If we weren't singing, we were usually sitting at the table watching those who were.  It was fun to have Lucy join us for the last part of the show.

Florence Revue
All of us after one of the four performances of the revue.

Me and Jerry
One of the songs I sang in the revue was Always True to You from Kiss Me, Kate!  The way it was staged had Jerry cast as the one I always stayed true to (in my fashion).  I love Jerry.  I AM always true to him.  :)

Viva Verdi!
After our final Viva Verdi! concert in Marquette.  I love how we all chose purple/black gowns.  I think Bob Ross would call that a "happy little accident."  The man in the middle was our accompanist and vocal coach for the Verdi.  An amazing musician who gave me a lot to think about musicianship in my singing.

This summer included a lot of late night partying after concerts were over.  I have eaten dinner after 10 pm so much this month that I don't know if I'll ever recover!  I so enjoyed getting to know and performing with these four young artists.  They all inspired me and taught me how to be a better performer myself.  Have I mentioned how lucky I am?  Well, just in case I haven't, I am super lucky!
I have many other stories to tell, and I have suddenly found my schedule rather free after last night's final concert!  I'm not even teaching very many lessons this summer.  So perhaps I will return to a more regular blogging schedule and actually finish blogging about last year's summer vacation!

Oh wait, I probably won't.  But don't be surprised if I do!

And also, if you want to win a CD of beautiful violin music, hop down to the next post and enter.  I will be choosing a winner this week and so far the odds look pretty good.

Here's to music and to summer and to a summer full of good music!