Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Trying To Be "The Change"

As the results of the recent presidential election were coming in on the night of November 6, my husband offered his observations along the way: "Well, it looks like it's over", or "The American people have spoken", or "We are now in the minority". I kept about-facing towards him, wagging my finger in his direction, and responding with things like "Don't you dare give up!", and "Just wait, I KNOW the tide is going to turn at any moment!" I even went to bed with the foolish notion that somehow, some way, things would be different when I woke up on November 7.

Well, they weren't, and it caused me to do several days of soul-searching. As I tried to make sense of my country and my place in it, I posted this on my Facebook:

"Be the change you wish to see in the world." Today I'm thinking that it really comes down to these powerful words of Gandhi. I only have control over myself, my choices, and how I will respond in each situation I am placed in. I want to be a builder, not a murmurer, and one who is always looking for ways to make a positive difference in my home, my community, and my country. THIS I can control, THIS I can do."

It made me feel better to put into words what I was feeling, to define how I would move forward in my little corner of the world, and then to post it "out there in Facebookland" for all to see. It committed me. It also helped me to realize that even in the midst of uncertainty, personal disappointment, and living in a country where my views were now not among the most popular, I could and should strive to be a "builder", and not a "murmurer".

At about this time, I had two experiences that further refined my perspective:

Experience #1: My daughter and I had just come down the offramp of the highway and were waiting to turn left at the signal to head toward home. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a woman in a parka with a hood lined with fur, one hand holding onto her small daughter and the other hand holding a cardboard sign. I strained to see what was written on her sign, but couldn't make out the words. At that moment, pure inspiration descended on my heart: "Here is a chance to practice what you preach."

As I quickly fumbled around in my purse for my wallet, my daughter said (most likely echoing what she's heard from me), "You're not going to give her money are you? How can you know where it will go?" My fingers found a five-dollar bill, I pushed it toward my daughter and said, "Here, hand this to the woman." She dutifully rolled down her window, the woman approached our car (leaving her tiny girl on the median by herself), took the money, smiled a little smile, and our eyes connected. I will never forget those eyes. They were desperate and scared.

As she turned back toward her daughter, a car driven by a young woman pulled up on the other side of her. The window rolled down, the woman's face emerged, and she yelled, "Why don't you take some G**d*** responsibility for yourself?! Get a f****** job!!"

I was instantly sick to my stomach at the spewing of such venom. I felt like someone had punched me full-force in the gut. That driver personified pure hatred.

My thoughts driving home: Why would any mother and her tiny daughter be out in the cold begging for money if there was not a real reason to do so? Surely they wouldn't choose to spend the afternoon doing this! Who am I to judge their motives? How can I in good faith turn away and refuse to help?

To be very truthful, though, the sentiment fired from the young woman's twisted, hateful mouth was something I have felt before too, minus the expletives.

In that moment, I made a personal commitment to myself and to my daughter. I decided that when my path crosses with the path of another in need, I will do everything in my power to help. No second-guessing, no wondering if the dollars that pass between us will go straight to a drug dealer, no judging. The words "There but for the grace of God go I" resonated in my mind for the rest of the day.

Experience #2: My friends Julie and Mandy and I were heading home from the Seattle Temple recently, and I had to stop for gas. As I was filling my tank, a dilapidated car coasted up to the pump behind me. I glanced over, and the driver's door opened.

A large, black woman stuck her head out and to me said, "Miss? Excuse me, Miss?" I walked over to her and could see a row of loose change balancing on her sizeable tummy. "Yes?", I said. "Would you have some extra change? I am out of money and have no gas to get home." Our eyes locked, and again within those eyes I could see someone in real need. "Just a second," I said, and hurried back to my car.

"Okay you guys," I said to Julie and Mandy, and explained what just happened, adding, "Do you have any dollars? I think she really does need help." My Christlike friends jumped into their wallets and pulled out several bills, I added a few that I had, and together we came up with $15. I returned to the woman who was still trying to count her change, and handed her the money.

"Oh, that's too much! I don't need that much!", she cried. "Please take it," I said. "We want you to have it, and we hope it will get you where you need to go." The woman looked me in the eye (hers were a lovely shade of blue), and said, "Oh, bless you. I don't know if you're a God-fearing woman, but I pray for blessings upon you."

With tears in both our eyes, we smiled -- really smiled -- at each other. A quiet voice whispered to me, "This woman is your sister."

I feel like I finally understand the words of King Benjamin in the Book of Mormon:

"And also, ye youselves will succor those that stand in need of your succor; ye will administer of your substance unto him that standeth in need; and ye will not suffer that the beggar putteth up his petition to you in vain, and turn him out to perish.

"Perhaps thou shalt say: The man has brought upon himself his misery; therefore I will stay my hand, and will not give unto him of my food, nor impart unto him of my substance that he may not suffer, for his punishments are just --

"But I say unto you, O man, whosoever doeth this the same hath great cause to repent; and except he repenteth of that which he hath done he perisheth forever, and hath no interest in the kingdom of God.

"For behold, are we not all beggars? Do we not all depend upon the same Being, even God, for all the substance which we have, for both food and raiment, and for gold, and for silver, and for all the riches which we have of every kind?" (Mosiah 4: 16-19)

I am a big proponent of "fewer government programs", "teaching a man to fish", "cutting entitlements and hence, taxes", etc. etc. etc. But the fact is, there are so very many poor and needy among us who need help. What is the best way to solve these problems? I still maintain that long-term handouts from the government are absolutely counter-productive, and that each of us needs to take responsibility to work hard and provide for our own. I do not want to be forced by the government to contribute to the welfare state. BUT as a citizen, a neighbor, and yes, a sister of everyone everywhere, I also have a sacred responsibility to CHOOSE TO HELP where and when I can within my sphere of influence and with my limited resources. I cannot solve the country's economic problems, but I CAN help the woman at the intersection, or at the gas station, or at the end of my cul-de-sac.

What if a real movement started where every American made it a priority to help where and when they could, looking at opportunities as privileges to practice loving as the Savior loves them? What if "How can I help you?" replaced "What's in it for me?" What a revolution that would be. Idealistic? Maybe. Probably. But I'm still joining up.

Here are a few of my personal beginning ideas:

*I will try to always carry a few extra dollars in my wallet. When paying by debit card at the store, I can occasionally get $20 cash back, but ask for it in fives, and put it in a special place in my wallet to be used to help others who cross my path.

*I will pray daily to be able to see the needs of others.

*I will listen more closely to those I associate with. Instead of the trite, totally useless, obligatory "Let me know if I can do anything to help", I will listen for clues or signals to what is needed, and then act immediately.

*I will try to see these opportunities to serve as blessings and as ways to become more like the Savior, and will be thankful for them.

*I will teach my daughter more by example than by hollow words, and will include her as often as possible in my efforts.

Can the efforts of ONE PERSON really make a difference amongst all the suffering? Can ONE PERSON change the world?

I think it's like the story of the man walking along the coastline amongst dozens of beached starfish. Every few steps he bends down, picks up a starfish, and tosses it back into the ocean. His companion asks, "Do you really think you are making a difference?", to which the man, bending down again, picking up another starfish, and throwing it into the waves says, "Well, I made a difference to THAT one."

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The Bedside Notebook (with Guest Post)

I loved snuggly bedtime with my little daughters. With nine years between them, I had the luxury of being able to devote lots of time at the end of the day to each girl when she was tiny. We would always read a story or two, "talk about the day", say prayers, and sing a song while laying on our backs with pillows behind our heads. My girls' favorite bedtime ritual, though, was always the "Favorites" game.

I would lead by saying, "Okay, what's your favoriiiittttte..." and then fill in the blank with things like: Disney movie, cookie flavor, friend on the playground, thing about Daddy, pair of shoes, baby animal... The list was endless, and those precious moments when my little brown-eyed girl would furrow her brow in concentration and twirl her hair around her finger, trying to come up with her perfect answer, will forever be memories that I treasure.

As my younger daughter has charged full-force into teenagehood, I was missing those counted-on nights on her bed when we'd sing and talk and read, side-by-side. I started praying about what I could do to help facilitate regular, deeper conversations.

Enter Julie. (You might remember this lovely friend of mine from a post last year about healthful eating.) Julie is the kind of person who is just plain INSPIRING. We connect on a spiritual level nearly every time we talk, and her brilliant / compassionate nature never fails to leave me wanting to reach higher in every area of my life.

I was telling Julie about my desire with my daughter, and she immediately said, "Let me tell you about the notebook idea. It's working beautifully with my girls." As she started describing this idea, I KNEW I needed to start this with my daughter. Here, I'll let Julie tell you about it in her own words:

"The idea hit me on a Sunday afternoon as I held the remnants of a note, colored in five neon shades, folded into an octagon with the words "I like Carson. Which boy do you like? ____________ (write answer here)" I was instantly transported decades back to days where passed notes under the noses of teachers and posted in lockers were the chosen form of communication. I looked at my four daughtrs. Teetering on the brink of young womanhood, I know some of what the next few years will hold. New discoveries. Self-discovery. Happiness. Despair. Drama. Questions. In that moment, holding the note, I wanted to be a part of it all. I wanted to journey with my girls through their own uncharted waters. I wanted to be the recipient of notes that articulate in writing what i too scary ever to say face to face. I wanted to be the one on the end of the conversations too embarrassing to have with anyone else.

"As these thoughts crossed my mind, so did the solution. A notebook. I purchased four notebooks, put one on the bed of each of my daughters. I took them aside individually and explained that this notebook was to be a tool for each of them to communicate with me. It would be a place where they could write any question, concern or feeling to me without worry about embarrassment or repercussions. I told them the things in the book would stay there. I would answer in writing, but would not bring it up, unless they initiated the conversation. I would check their books every few days to see if there were entries.

"What a treasure these notebooks have become. They have become a ground for compliments, questions, apologies, and explanations. They have covered topics as diverse as religion, the "facts of life", repentance, dinner and stuffed animals. Most of all, they have been a way for me to insure that I get needed downtime to ponder, pray and respond to the needs of my daughters without any knee jerk reaction. The expressions of love and admiration for one another have flowed freely. I hope some day, my daughters will keep these notebooks, and as they thumb through the pages will find answers to questions, tender memories, and mostly, a clear understanding of how much they were loved by their mother."

Isn't this a fabulous idea?? (and so beautifully described by my friend) The flowered notebook that you see above on my daughter's bedside table is the little volume of written conversation that she and I are developing. It is nothing short of a revelation for us, and my heart leaps each time I flip through the pages to find a new note, written to me, with her own insights, questions, and kind words.

Friday, October 26, 2012

How To Be a Soccer Mom

Last night marked the final game for our daughter's high school JV soccer season. Their team was undefeated, despite being made up of girls of different ages who play for different club teams. Huge Kudos to each of the skilled players!!! A Major Nod to their able coach!!! And let's not forget THE PARENTS who are, at this age, the stability and the glue (and the funds, and the transportation...) that allow these young ladies to be successful! Great job to all!!!

Starting immediately, we go our separate ways as the U-15 club season gets underway. I will miss the mothers who now will be cheering on the opposite side of the 50-yard-line from me! All are devoted to their girls, all brought talents to the parents' bleachers ... which got me thinking, what makes a good "soccer mom"?? Last night, I looked around me as the time clock was winding down, and had these thoughts:

Mia's Mom comes with apples and sandwiches and Toblerone and blankets to share in the stands, as well as lots of hugs and compliments for girls and parents alike. Her daughter played on the Varsity team, yet she still attended nearly every JV game to support her daughter's club friends.

Kate's Mom really loves each of the players, and is the first one to volunteer to drive girls anywhere. Her enthusiastic "Good job ______!" flows freely throughout games, and she also hosts team dinners extraordinaire, complete with games and really, really awesome prizes.

Mariah's Mom is always smiling. She has three daughters who each play a variety of sports, and I will occasionally "pick her brain" for advice on "soccer mom-ing" or "basketball mom-ing" or "volleyball mom-ing". She puts her daughters' desires first and is able to work with coaches to ensure that her girls get the life experiences that they want. I really admire this gal and how she seems to effortlessly coordinate a busy family's schedule.

Kaitlyn's Mom uses her bounteous creative talents for the benefit of the team. We parents and players cherish our scarves and hats knit in team colors, and our girls' bedrooms display gorgeous soccer bracelets, teddy bears with knit hats/scarves, and other cool stuff that this mom lovingly creates for the cause.

Lauren's Mom is also the principal of our high school, and brings with her a gift of diplomatic and soothing problem-solving skills. When her daughter was at a crossroads in soccer last year, this mom / daughter had a life-changing conversation that allowed the player to catapult herself to the next skill-level and become one of the secret weapons of her team. This mom is always positive her comments relating to soccer, and is able to easily find the good in even sticky situations.

Kendall's Mom works full-time, has two daughters who play both school and club ball, and somehow manages to make it to nearly every game. Her laugh can be heard down the bleachers and she is just plain fun to be around.

Corina's Mom ... I have noticed that sometimes Corina will leave her group of soccer friends to sit by her mother during the Varsity games. They talk and laugh, sharing snacks and big blankets. This is really something sweet to see, as mother and 14 year-old daughter truly enjoy one another's company.

Casey's Mom willingly jumped in to keep us updated with regular team emails and weekly schedules. She included directions to away games, reminders that most of us would have forgotten, and headed up team dinners and the gift for our team's senior member. I looked forward to her enthusiastic ringing of the cow bell after each of our team's goals!

And me,Camille's Mom?? I asked my daughter last night what makes a good Soccer Mom. She told me to include "trips to Dairy Queen after hot summer practices", "coming to games", "washing (her) uniform", and "be(ing) a 'fly on the wall' while driving the carpool'!" Well, check, check, check, and (hopefully) check on those things. (Truth is, just LISTENING to the girls gab in the car on the way to practice is a GREAT way to find out what's going on in their lives!)

I love being a Soccer Mom! I guess the secret to being a "good one" has less to do with ringing bells and knitting scarves and treating for ice cream than it does with simply being there, being willing to give of your talents -- whatever they are -- to the soccer family, and sharing in the fun (and even defining) moments in a daughter's life. Go Team!!

Tuesday, October 16, 2012


After my shower this morning, I came downstairs to begin my day. I had done some soul-searching last night after a wonderful talk with my husband, and I felt like I had once again pushed "course correction" on my life's dashboard.

Already written on my legal yellow pad were some notes for the day: lots of To Dos, menus for meals, and ideas / things to think about. Despite all my good intentions, though, I felt myself being pulled magnet-like toward my laptop ("just" to check email and facebook), my TV news channel of choice (what happened in politics overnight??), my cell phone (any texts yet?), and even my Bose radio (local talk radio...).

I had to consciously about-face myself away from these things so I could try to listen to the promptings of the Holy Ghost guide my day's beginning efforts. What was needful this morning? How could I put "first things first" and not be bombarded by the world before the clock even struck 7:00am?

After a quick but heartfelt prayer while I stood in my family room, and a remembering of what I was to be about this day, I squashed that addictive pull to all things plugged-in, and returned my list. Oh yeah, here's where I wanted to start:

* I ran back upstairs and hopped on the scale for the first time in a long time. I confronted the dial square-on, no excuses. Another starting point in my continual effort to gain control over this physical body of mine, and then recorded on my yellow pad.

* Next, to the kitchen sink to wash, tear, and salad-spin some wonderful greens for the next few days: a perfect head of Boston lettuce, beautiful red-leaf lettuce, a handful of fresh, chopped parsley and green onions. Spun, into a big Ziploc bag, into the fridge, and ready for future quick salads.

* Beautiful instrumental CD on to welcome the family downstairs for breakfast. Today, slow-simmering Snoqualmie Falls oatmeal with vanilla soymilk, chopped pecans and bananas, and a sprinkle of brown sugar.

* A beginning load of whites into the washing machine.

Thirty minutes of perfect and productive little tasks got my morning off on the right foot ... today! (Yesterday was a completely different story, but happy to say, I'm now moving forward again!!)


I read an article recently about most churches' falling attendance, and how some are restructuring their Sunday meetings. They are trying to reappeal to families who feel they don't have time to devote an hour to church on Sundays, or feel like it has lost its relevance, or that it's just plain boring. In order to win back members, some churches are offering shorter, thirty-minute services, or a meeting comprised largely of live rock band music, or of interactive activities for children built-in to the service. According to this article, these things are slowly working and pews are beginning to fill up again.

This really got me thinking: ANY amount of church is a wonderful thing, but are we and our children so busy and plugged-in and entertainment-driven that we are no longer willing to, or capable of, devote(ing) Sunday to the Lord? How have we gone from living the commandment of "keeping the Sabbath day holy" as many of our grandparents did, to an hour of regular Sunday worship, to a quick in-and-out service so that we can get back to our weekend? What are we teaching our children about the value and beauty in worshipping the Lord, of learning to be still for real periods of time so that the Spirit can speak to us, and of sacrificing our immediate wants for something greater? Has our need to be entertained first hurt our abilities to be introspective and quiet and open to being led by a Higher Power?

This is something that all modern families struggle with, I think. I've had many conversations with friends over the years about how to push back the world and remember family togetherness and personal spirituality: family prayer, reading out-loud, playing board games, working on projects, and just plain old talking and laughing together are ideas we have discussed. When my little family makes the effort to do these things, there is a joy that permeates the walls of our home that is nearly tangible, we remember why we love each other so much, and are more cognizant of the blessings of God in our lives. When we don't, stress overtakes, tempers can flare, and we can feel like we're on parallel paths with our loved ones...heading the same general direction, but seperately and uninspired.

Our fourteen year-old daughter is a terrific young lady with many talents and strengths, and she is also, in some ways, a very typical teenager. She loves staying up on friends' lives via Instagram, texting, and Facebook, she's familiar with many of the latest youtube videos, she DVRs her favorite TV shows for future watching, and she loves updating her music playlist on her phone. Her nimble fingers can find her favorite radio station on the car stereo before I have even closed my door. Does this sound familiar to anyone?

It takes a constant and sometimes firm hand, with lots of behind-the-scenes prayers of her father and I, to teach her to embrace the good things in our technology-based world without forgetting the simple things that bring true happiness. Our daughter and her peers get figuratively thrown to the wolves in the public high school every day, and it is vital that they each know who they are, what they stand for, and from where they draw their inner strength, so they can navigate those school halls with confidence and success. This is undoubtedly one of my husband's and my greatest focuses right now.

Things that help keep our family headed in the right direction:

**daily family scripture study
**daily family AND one-on-one conversations
**daily family meals (breakfast AND dinner when possible)
**daily family prayer, morning and evening
**daily homework sessions
**daily household or yard jobs
**regular family FUN!

Obviously, the operative words in the little list above are the words "daily" and "family". The trick is to not let life get too busy that we run out of time to do the important things. And our rule is that cell phones are off-limits for all of us during these sacred family times. We are EACH slowly learning to become more disciplined and selective in our plugging-in to the world, to be more in-tune spiritually, and to better value and safeguard our time together. Some days are better than others, but WE ARE TRYING.

What does your family do to stay focused on things of greatest importance? How do you set guidelines for technology in your home?? If you could offer one or two of your best tips, what would they be???

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Simple Applesauce

I was just thumbing through the November 2012 "Runner's World" magazine, and came across a list of the Top 10 fall superfoods. Number one? Apples!

"They're high in cholesterol-lowering soluble fiber. A Japanese study found apples also contain an antioxidant that may protect against muscle injuries -- particularly those caused by downhill running."

Well, I'm not doing a lot of downhill running these days, but I've always felt that the old adage "an apple a day keeps the doctor away" may have some truth to it. I just feel like I'm doing something good for my body when I'm munching on an apple.

Years ago I read that eating a small apple a half-hour before dinner is an easy and healthy diet tip. The fiber-rich fruit fills you up and makes it easier to be satisfied with smaller portions of your regular meal. I think I'm going to give this a try again!

My daughter and I made a big batch of homemade applesauce the other night, and ate it warm from the stove. It was so delicious, easy, and nourishing that I had to share the recipe. This is from our old warped and splattered cookbook called "Kids Cooking" from the Williams-Sonoma Kitchen Library. Give it a try! It's impossible to goof up and your family will love you for it.
Simple Applesauce

4 large apples (any variety - we like to use a couple different kinds)
1 T. fresh lemon juice
1/2 c. water
1/3 c. sugar
1/2 t. cinnamon
a sprinkle of ground cloves

Peel and core apples and chop into large chunks. Put in medium saucepan with remainder of ingredients. Bring to a low boil, then cover with lid and reduce to simmer for 15 minutes. Mash with potato masher to desired consistency. (We like ours a little chunky.) Serve warm, or chill in the refrigerator.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Twenty Words

During our years in San Francisco, I had the opportunity to babysit my friend Marion's children one morning a week for a couple of hours. She was a busy stay-at-home mother and homemaker by choice, but craved a little window of time just for herself. I was happy to oblige, as she lived in a cute duplex on the Presidio army base, and had a real backyard. We were in the middle of our apartment-dwelling years, and a morning for my little daughter in the sunshine and turtle-shaped sandbox, with two darling friends, was such a luxury.

There was another big draw to Marion's home for me: she had a medium-sized round table off to the side of her little living room, which was covered in a beautiful, floor-length tablecloth, and if I remember correctly, a round glass top. This table was Marion's collecting spot for everything she came across that was interesting: mounds of books, articles ripped from magazines, recipes to try, gorgeous photos, lists of things to do in the city, and letters she had received from friends ... an absolute delicious piling of inspiration.

Often when I would arrive at Marion's to babysit, she would throw open the front screen door, pull me into her home and up to the table with words like, "I just have to show you what I found...!" or "I saw this in a magazine and cut it out just for you!" We would stand and rifle through her week's discoveries and I would literally salivate. This was one fascinating, intelligent, creative woman.

Marion's table held one other mysteriously wonderful thing: a three-ring binder which she called her "life's creed". Within those covers held the best-of-the-best from her years of combing through resources and from her voracious reading. She had collected in that one place her most cherished snippings and personal writings that defined who she was, and who she wanted to become.

I never got to see what that binder held, but I have never forgotten Marion's idea of having a life's creed.

Years later, I was reading Alexandra Stoddard's book called "Choosing Happiness" (2002, HarperCollins Publishers), and I came across a little exercise that reminded me of Marion's deliberate sifting and extracting of things that spoke to her soul. In Alexandra's words:

"I have often invited my audiences to write down their (twenty) defining words. What began as a fun exercise eventually led to a huge body of research. I now have collected thousands of examples. By staying mindful of what we love, of what we cherish and hold dear, we can cultivate our words in tangible ways, watering the seeds of our consciousness with every step we take, every thought we have, in all the wonderfully creative ways we express our love of life.

"I urge you to write down your (twenty) defining words. It's a happy exercise that is extremely revealing. I've shown you mine. Now it is your turn to write yours down. Light a candle, sit in a favorite spot, and let your intuition identify "Who am I?" "

This is an exercise that I have played with over the years, and which can change even from day to day as life takes different twists and turns. Above, you can see my current 20 defining words, pinned to the ribbon board that hangs next to my side of the bed. I will switch the words around and even add or subtract words as the mood strikes me. The point is to have "my words" greet me each morning, reminding me what my life's focus is.

Below are five of those 20 words that I have pinned seperately for this week. These are things that I am specifically focusing on as the most important, right now:

Alexandra also suggests choosing one of your words, and then coming up with a quick stream-of-consciousness brainstorm list of 20 words that better define that word for you.

For example, her word is "home", and she quickly jotted the following: "love, hearth, private, cheerful, pretty, friends, intimate, flowers, happy, children, tenderness, sweet, sacred, grounded, sensuous, welcoming, colorful, beautiful, comfortable, family, light, friendly, art, collections, changing" (pages 40-41).

What would be included in your twenty defining words? As Alexandra suggests, find a quiet place, grab a pen and notebook, add a bit of soft, instrumental music and perhaps the glow of a candle, and write!!

Friday, September 21, 2012

Open My Eyes and SEE

I set out on my first real walk in months (more about that later) this morning. As an afterthought, I grabbed my little camera, just in case I came across something inspiring along my five-mile route. Boy, did I. Check this out:

I have seen this woman walking ALL OVER town for years and years. My friends and I actually talk about her and the places we have seen her power-walking: along the country roads, down the highway, in-town, in blistering heat or in snow flurries or in a torrential downpour. No matter, she is OUT THERE. But I'd never been this close to our pretty-much-local-celebrity until today. Here's what happened:

As I was walking with my Doodle down the trail that is parallel to the highway, I first spied her trademark purple running shorts then her characteristically-tight swivel-walk coming toward me. I think I quickly glanced heavenward and said "thank you", knowing for sure that Heavenly Father HAD hand-picked something super-duper inspirational just for me today.

As we approached one another, we made eye contact and I was just WISHING for an excuse to stop this amazing woman and talk to her. Imagine my surprise when she smiled, stopped, glanced at her watch, and started small-talking to ME.

She: "Isn't it a perfect morning to be out walking?" (with a big, huge smile on her face)

I: "Oh, it is, and IknowthissoundsweirdbutwouldtherebeanywayIcouldsnapyourpicture?Youhavebeensoinspiringtomeforsomanyyears...?!"

She: (chuckle) "Sure!"

And so I did indeed snap her photo -- and the Doodle's, but I hadn't even noticed him in the frame. Then I started firing questions at her. Here is what I learned:

*Her name is Diana.
*She walks five days a week. Every week.
*She especially loves to walk in the rain, and never lets weather of any kind stop her.
*Today she is walking 20 miles because she is training for the speed-walking division of the Portland Marathon. (Her third marathon.)
*Her husband dropped her off, will go get coffee and run errands, go home and work in the yard, then see her in a few hours.
*Her husband likes to walk on the treadmill. ("Can you believe it? I love the fresh air!")
*She likes this particular route because there are lots of places to take water breaks.
*She started power-walking when she was 40. (My guess is that she is now 80+)
*She carries something in a little zipped pouch attached to her shoelaces. (keys? money? treats?!)
*She has a can of mace strapped next to the bandana at her waist.
*Her visor keeps the rain and sun off her face.
*She wears lipstick when she walks. (How much do I LOVE this??)
*She has a day's water in her backpack.

Diana is a rockstar. Seriously.

Which leads me to THIS sign that I passed this morning, just minutes before I met her:

Yep, I'm telling you, when I open my eyes and actually see, God has placed inspiration all around me. No excuses!

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Oh, May I?

My mother takes one trip a year. She visits her sister in San Diego for the week of her birthday, and it is one of her life's highlights. She plans and prepares carefully for those delightful days in the southern California sunshine. This year, with temperatures on the rise here in Seattle, she had arranged for her neighbor to water her lawn and flowers daily while she was gone.

I was surprised when she called me a few days into her trip, and after telling me what a wonderful time she was having, asked me to drive up to her house, check on her yard, and spend some time giving it an extra watering. To my discredit, the thoughts that immediately came started with such phrases as "Why didn't you...", "I don't have...", and "This is so...".

The drive to her home from mine is thirty minutes each way, and I had a busy afternoon scheduled. But I gritted my teeth, told Mom "of course", and then grumbled out the door and most of the way up the highway. Somehow, though, the Spirit was able to shimmy a two-word message in between my free-flowing gripes:

"Remember Connie."

Remember Connie? My mind raced back to a phone conversation I had had with my friend Connie nearly twenty years ago, one that had been long-since filed away in the dusty annals of my brain. You see, I was a young mother and had somewhere important to be one morning. I had called Connie to see if I might be able to drop my little four year-old off at her home for a couple of hours. I hated to ask last minute, but no sooner did I do so, Connie quickly jumped in:

"YES! Thank you! I would love to have her today."

I breathed a hugh sigh, and then realized what she had said. "Thank you?", I questioned.

She explained: "I wanted to be of service to someone today, and now here you are calling! Thanks for giving me the opportunity!"

Silence. My lips may have mouthed the word "wow". Then profuse thanks by me, a happy two hours for my daughter with other children and a coveted dress-up collection, then life moved on and I quickly forgot the lesson Connie taught me. Until four days ago.

Heavenly Father doesn't usually check our calendars for our availability when He asks us to help another. If fact, if anything, I'm betting He sends us a prompting at the most inconvenient time, to test our willingness to make good on the prayers we routinely offer: "help me heed the Spirit's promptings today" or "may I know when I might make a difference for someone" or "please give me the opportunity to serve".

When we purport to be willing, and even covenant to be so, we must be ever-ready to go with haste when called upon. This can be frustrating and difficult, but perhaps it is much of the true essence of living a Christlike life.

Many years ago, I read a poem written by Carol Lynn Pearson that my spirit continues to remember when I need its message. It is called "The Forgiving" and is about forgiveness, but I think it also applies perfectly to the proper mindset we must strive to have if we are to be of the most help to our Father.

The words are simple, but the cadence is irregular and the rhyme sporadic. Read it slowly, then try reading it again. Absorb the message and let it change you, the way it has me:

Will I forgive,
You cry.
What is the gift,
The favor?
You would lift
Me from
My poor place
To stand beside
The Savior.
You would have
Me see with
His eyes,
And with Him
Reach out to
A sorrowing heart --
For one small
To share in
Christ's great art.
Will I forgive,
You cry.
May I --
May I?

Did you feel that? I shed a couple of tears every time I read this poem, and even typing it just now had to stop to grab a Kleenex. Such profound doctrine, such new meaning to everyday "ordinary" opportunities, and such a caution for scheduling ourselves too rigidly.

I would like to be known as someone who practices what she preaches, who walks the talk. I would like to be more like Connie when faced with a chance to help another, by saying "thank you!" and then inwardly pleading "Oh, may I?"

Monday, September 17, 2012

Grammy's Book-of-the-Month Club

Oh, I remember those special afternoons like they were yesterday: Mom and I would find a brown cardboard box from Random House leaning up against our apartment door, and it was addressed to me! I would be so excited to see my new offering from the children's Book-of-the-Month Club that I'd dance in circles around my mother. When she would finally free it from it's packaging, I would grab the colorful hardback, hug it, smell it, and escape to a quiet place to slowly turn through each of its beautifully illustrated pages. Then, to mom's lap I would go, and settle in for the brand-new story.

I was only three or four years old, but I remember the carefully-chosen, award-winning titles so well: "Grandmother Lucy and Her Hats", "The Griffin and the Minor Canon", "Harvey's Hideout", and my all-time favorite, "Old Black Witch".

"Old Black Witch" was an at first scary, then wonderful book about a mother and daughter who buy an old, dilapidated, cobwebby house with the idea of turning it into a tea room and restaurant. As they move in and start banging around, clearing out, and cleaning up, they wake up Old Black Witch from her nesting place in the dark, batty attic.

She is a crotchety sort, and tries to sabotage the mother and daughters' efforts as they begin to transform the house. But the mother CAN COOK, and the aromas that waft from kitchen make Old Black Witch salivate! Gradually she is lured out of her dark hiding place and into a lovely little friendship with the mother and daughter.

Soon, OBW has donned a red kerchief and is sweeping and polishing alongside her new friends. The tea room opens, and guess who's the most popular waitress? You got it, Old Black Witch! And the BEST PART? There was a recipe for the menu's most-ordered item, Old Black Witch's Blueberry Pancakes, on the last page. Needless to say, those became a favorite breakfast for Mom and me during my nursery school days.

I think I adored "Old Black Witch" because it combined some of my future favorite things: mysteries, cooking, moms / daughters, homemaking, friendship, and yes, blueberry pancakes. This book now rests on my own daughter's shelf, an "autograph" by three year-old me (and a "1968" in my mother's handwriting) inside its front cover.

Do you remember your favorite childhood stories?

My sweet little granddaughter Addie lives 800 miles away, and though the modern technologies of texting photos and FaceTime help to "shorten" the distance, it is still hard to be so far away from her. What to do??

An idea come to me while Addie was still in her mommy's tummy: start a Grammy's Book-of-the-Month Club right away!! I didn't need to think twice about that fabulous little bit of inspiration!! Before Addie was born, she already had a few grandmother-chosen titles on her little shelf: "Chicka Chicka Boom Boom" (both my daughters' favorite) was one of the first, followed by "The Butterfly Girl and Bingo", and one of the Carl books by Seattle author Alexandra Day, one in a delightful series about an adventurous little girl and her faithful dog.

Making a plan to choose, buy, wrap, address, and mail something special to Addie each month has made me feel a little bit closer to her! Imagine my delight when my daughter posted some photos of Addie receiving her latest delivery, siting up like a big girl, and playing with the bow!

You could do something similar with your grandchild or favorite little person. Let your gifts reflect whatever it is you are passionate about! For me, it's obviously books, but it would be equally wonderful to send a tiny toy, or art supply, or hair bow, or recipe, or yummy treat, or baseball card, or funky socks, or anything! What we all really want to enclose in our monthly packages is the warm feeling of "I love you, I'm thinking about you, and I chose this JUST for you!"

Monday, September 10, 2012

One Frog Down

Last night we had a really great Bishop's Youth Fireside in our family room. The speaker was assigned the topic of "Time Management", which is important (especially at back-to-school time), but could also be a bit dry (boring?) for teenagers. Happily, I felt that our speaker nailed it! Here is one great example that he shared ... see if you can guess what it might have to do with managing time, and with the photo above.

A friend of the speaker's works in an office. As soon as the friend gets to work each morning, he checks to see if there is a frog (or frogs) on his desk. If there is (are), he gobbles it (them) down as quickly as possible. They may be squirmy, slimy, leggy, and gross, but down-the-hatch they go without a second thought.

Our speaker's reply when his friend shared this was, "Ooooo--kay, that's a little weird. What in the world does that have to do with managing your day?"

The friend explained that every day he has unpleasant or large or complicated or pesky things that are on his To Do list. By approaching these "frogs" head on and tackling them FIRST THING without procrastinating, he is free to continue through his day with the satisfaction of knowing that the most important tasks were already accomplished.

I loved that silly little analogy, and realized that my husband and I had approached last Saturday in the same way. After we got our daughter off to the Bishops' Storehouse to work for the morning with some young women from the ward, we put on our "grubbies", clipped the Doodle to his extra-long leash, and trudged out to the front yard. After a wonderful but busy summer, our yard was overgrown and screaming for attention.

I do not enjoy the thought of doing yard work, and last Saturday was no exception. I may have even grumbled as I was gathering tools from the garage. But once we hit our gardening groove, it, of course, started to feel good. Before long, trees were trimmed, bushes had long overdue haircuts, the beds were weeded, all the debris was shoved into recycling bins, and the walks were blown clean. In an hour and a half we had powered through our little front yard, and it looked like respectable people lived there again.

One of the fun parts of being out in the yard on a sunny Saturday morning is being neighborly:

1. One man pulled his shiny truck over to our curb and chatted us up, asking about our day ahead and our opinions on the upcoming presidential election. The three of us laughed like old friends. When he pulled away, I asked my husband who (in the heck) that was. He laughed and told me, and I was embarrassed to realize that I had shared the same street with that man for ten years, and I had never before seen him. My husband is obviously more neighborly than I am!

2. Barb from next door returned from a walk and offered us her empty recycling bin ... she could see that we had many more clippings than we had planned! So thoughtful, and much appreciated! Barb had obviously forgiven me for nearly running over her husband Bob as I was backing out of my driveway a few weeks ago. Thanks, Barb!

3. Wonderful Fred, a recently retired Presbyterian minister, zipped past on his bike with a "Hullo!" and a big friendly wave. It's fun to be a neighbor, I thought! Cheesey? Yes! But also true.

Later that afternoon, after a couple of Advil for my pathetically sore muscles, my husband and I admired our work from inside the house, and then again as we were driving off to our daughter's soccer game. Getting the yard ship-shape in the early morning made us feel accomplished for the rest of the day. Yep, gobbling a frog ... mmmm, delicious!

Friday, September 7, 2012

Why Blog?

Someone recently asked me why I like to blog. I was mulling this over the other night after I had hopped into bed, then flipped the light back on and started scribbling down some answers on my trusty yellow legal pad.

Here's what flew out of my pen:

1. I blog because I feel compelled by the Spirit to do so. Do you ever get those promptings that sound something like, "I really need to ________", or "Now would be a really good time to __________"? I find that when I open my mind and heart up to these nudges (or shoves?) and begin to act, ideas start to flow and I know exactly what to do next.

A few of my outlets-of-choice are writing, reading, and cooking. Yours may be decorating or creating or composing or researching or styling or serving or loving or exercising. I find that the same principle described above can apply in any of these areas. When I stop procrasinating and bravely JUMP IN, a whole new world opens up and I've got inspiration to spare.

2. I want to do everything I can to be an influence for good and to make a little difference in this world. The 13th Article of Faith of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has long been my guiding mantra:

"We believe in being honest, true, chaste, benevolent, virtuous, and in doing good to all men; indeed, we may say that we follow the admonition of Paul -- We believe all things, we hope all things, we have endured many things and hope to be able to endure all things. If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things." (Joseph Smith)

I love to read things that are uplifting and make we want to be a better person, and it naturally follows that these are the things that I want to write about. I am fascinated with the subject of LIVING, and am always hungry to know how others are able to do it beautifully and in a fulfilling way. In my "next life" I want to be a professional interviewer! What is more fascinating than finding out why someone is the way they are, how they became good at whatever they are good at, and what their greatest tips for living are?!

You may read blogs (this one included) and wonder, "Is her life really that continually wonderful / beautiful / inspiring / perfect that there is a spiritual lesson that leaps forth from every experience or activity that she engages in?"

My answer to this is no! And then, yes!! I was taught at an early age to search my soul for silver linings, to try to see the good in everything. I have come to know that to the Lord "all things are spiritual" and that if we dig deeply enough, our difficult times can teach and shape and build us even more than our "good days". And when I figure something out or see something wonderful, my driving impulse is to share it! And, my most favorite people are the ones who do this with me.

My daughter Claire is a beautiful and inspiring writer. She wrote recently about one's blog being a journey, that our first post is usually dramatically different from our most recent and that we evolve as writers. When I first started blogging a year and a half ago, I would spend an entire afternoon - even day - working on a single post: writing, re-writing, and editing, editing, editing. It was thrilling to finally push "publish", but also exhausting! I took a break for many months, and now I am back at it again with the promise to myself that I will spend 45 minutes tops, from beginning to end, on a blog post.

My camera is a marvelous creature, and I utilize about .5% of its capabilities. However, I am trying to keep it close by each day so that when that little voice whispers, "Capture this! There's a story here!", I am ready. This new focus, with the next step being writing about my little awkward photos, has helped me see my ordinary life with brand-new eyes. Instead of waiting for inspiration to hit, I go looking for it. There is beauty in every-day-ness!

My "rewards" for blogging about my life and feelings and ideas? Well, there is nothing like clicking "publish" and knowing that my words are out there, accessible to anyone who may be half-interested in what I have to say. And there is definitely a rush (and a peace) that comes from actually following through with what I feel I am supposed to be doing at this point in my life. But the BEST PART, the absolute BEST, is when YOU leave a comment, or pull me aside at church, or grab me at the grocery store to tell me that something that I have written has made a difference to you. That we have connected heart-to-heart in some way is the icing on this blogger's cake.

These, my friends, are the reasons why I blog. :)

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Wonderful Wednesdays

It's wonderful to grow up and realize that age doesn't matter when it comes to friendship.

I am blessed to be able to spend every Wednesday afternoon from 1:30 to 3:00 with these two beautiful women, among others. Several months ago, we started a Relief Society study group for anyone who felt like they would like a little more gospel discussion between Sundays ... kind of like a bridge to facilitate friendships and testimony-strengthening until we could meet back together again with our ward family.

Our Relief Society president extraordinaire organized this little group to meet at my home, and after three months of faithful Wednesdays, we all make sure to schedule everything else around this sacred little block of time.

The two women pictured above hardly knew each other when we started. Now, they are fast friends, trading varieties of oatmeal, teasing each other, and carpooling to our meeting. I love the sunshine behind them in the photo ... or is it sunshine??! I think they each may be masquerading angels.

The full-time missionaries come too, prepared with a little lesson from the Gospel Principles book. They present just enough so that we all feel comfortable asking questions, sharing personal experiences, and bearing our testimonies to each other of the different things we're learning about. Let me tell you, my family room has become holy ground on Wednesday afternoons. The Spirit is present without a doubt.

Today, we had a sweet older woman who is investigating the Church attend. She knocked at my door at 1:30 on the dot, armed with her new Book of Mormon, a paper of handwritten questions, and a big smile. The rest of us were converts as adults, and it was heart-warming to see each person take our new friend under her / his wings and help teach from the stories of their own conversions.

We have one elderly man attend! I had to get down on my belly and fish his hearing aid out from under his chair, but don't let that fool you. He seemed to be talking directly to Heavenly Father when he opened our meeting with a prayer, and he always senses the perfect moment to raise his index finger and bring the gospel message home.

A tender mercy for me: a lovely friendship with both of these sweet and feisty gals in the photo above. We now throw our arms around one another when we see each other, and they never leave me without a solid kiss on my cheek and an "I love you!"

Wednesdays have become my favorite day of the week.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Filling My Shelves

Confession: I am a little bit obsessed with Amazon books. Now that Lindon Bookstore (our town's cozy little gathering place for bibliophiles) is a distant memory, and the next closest Borders has closed its doors for good, I have been forced to do my book shopping on-line. I dragged my feet for a couple of years, not wanting to contribute in any way to the difficulties small bookstores were having. But finally my conclusion: a girl's got to read!

I have discovered, perhaps ten years after most, that within a New York minute I can hop on to Amazon, throw a couple of already-thought-about books into my virtual "cart", click-click-click as a returning customer, and those wonderful reads are on their way to my doorstep. No gas to drive 30 minutes to a shopping area, free shipping if I spend $25 (I always wait to order until I qualify for this), and my desired titles are always in-stock.

(Sidenote: what about the library, you ask?? I am a card-carrying member, and LOVE our local library -- I have been known to go there just to kill time between carpools by perusing the shelves -- but there are certain books that I just know I want to own.)

My last Amazon delivery is shown above. Do you ever suddenly start hearing about something new from several sources, and it gets you wondering if there's a purpose behind it, if you're supposed to investigate that thing? That's what happened with Joanna Brooks' new memoir, "The Book of Mormon Girl".

I never watch late night TV, but happened to have it on recently while I was working on a project, and Joanna was a guest on the talk show. I listened and simultaneously rolled my eyes thinking, "Great, another Mormon feminist with funky ideas", and dismissed it. Then the next night, Joanna was spotlighted on Rock Center's special on Mormonism, my ears perked up, and I paid a little more attention. When I saw an article online about her the next day, I took it as a sign and penciled her book onto my To Buy list. I'm glad I did, and I'll tell you why soon.

Then, my friend Logan shook us all by our virtual shoulders on Facebook a couple of weeks ago, touting Clayton Christensen's (of Harvard Business School) new book "How Will You Measure Your Life?" as one we must absolutely read. That was enough for me! I love a book recommendation from a trusted source. I added it to my list, bought both books at 30% of retail, got the super saver shipping, and it was a done deal.

I closed the back cover on "The BOM Girl" at midnight last night, and dove into "HWYMYL?" today. I'm already underlining like crazy and seeing perfectly-timed parallels with some things going on in my life. Oh, good stuff it is. Some people like to indulge in clothes or trips or gear or home decor. Me, I love to add a new great book to our living room library.

Yes, when those tight little boxes from Amazon show up on my porch, it is more exciting than an unexpected delivery of flowers or even a plate of cupcakes. (!) Book reviews to follow!

Monday, September 3, 2012

Write it Down!

It has been said that writing down a goal or an aspiration -- committing it to paper -- greatly increases one's chance of achieving that goal. I believe this!

Several days before the start of the new school year, my husband and I invited our daughter to go out for a nice dinner at her restaurant-of-choice. She chose Bahama Breeze, based solely on the fact that they offer a tropical smoothie that she adores. We told our daughter that the purpose of the dinner was to talk about her upcoming semester (her first in high school), to understand what she wanted to achieve in the different areas of her life, and to help her capture those dreams on paper.

Over house salads with pineapple vinaigrette and toasted pumpkin seeds, we asked her to brainstorm with us as to her different roles that she feels are important in her life. She came up with things like "student", "athlete", "daughter", and "sister". We suggested that she also fills a role at church as "first counselor in the MiaMaid class presidency", as a "friend", as an "individual", and as a "daughter of God".

After she decided on her specific roles that she wants to focus on, we suggested she list them in order of importance. We asked questions like, "Is being a soccer player as important as being a friend?", "Is being a friend as important as being a sister?" and "What do you think is the most important role you have?" We explained that with a very busy schedule, there would often be times when she would have to choose between "good, better, and best", and that it might be helpful to have already decided what her "non-negotiables" were, or what was "best" if she only had a small amount of time.

As she savored her main course, we encouraged her to set a goal or two under each role, something that she would love to be able to accomplish by Christmas. We talked with her about goals that were specific and attainable (a certain grade point average, a weekly letter to her sister), versus others that were too broad or difficult to quantify ("work on Personal Progress", or "get in great shape"). She reworded some things so that her own goals were measurable.

The idea of creating her semester in her head and heart in advance is that it encourages her to be constantly working toward excellence within a balanced life. Rather than just succeeding in soccer at the expense of everything else, wouldn't it be amazing to be able to have success in each of the important areas of her life??!

Tonight, she is going to type up her goals and print them out, and then we will encourage her to hang them on her bedroom wall where she will see them each day. Here's hoping that her first high school semester is memorable and is a great success!

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

For the Love of Addie

Here are eight things I'm loving about my five month-old granddaughter, Addie:

1. Her wide-open, gummy (except for two adorable bottom "toofers") smiles that come one right after the other.

2. Her bright eyes that are constantly taking in EVERYTHING around her. We laughingly and constantly say that she is "verrry advanced" and oh, so smart!

3. Her swoop of red hair that her mommy clips up girl-style with grosgrain ribbon clips.

4. Her soft little body in my kitchen sink, constantly in motion as I bathe her. She is learning to feel comfortable in her skin and seems fascinated and thrilled with the things she's learning to make it do.

5. Her intent focus on my eyes as she jibber-jabbers what I'm sure is very important stuff. Her changing facial expressions make us think she knows exactly what she's saying.

6. Her sweet little face, complete with respectable double chin, extra-long eyelashes, and red eyebrows ... perfect in every way.

7. The way she gets completely and utterly still when I hold her and whisper long secrets into her little ears.

8. Her chubby bare feet, always pushing, kicking, lifting to her hands, and sometimes even crossing at the ankles in ladylike fashion. (see photo above)

Monday, August 27, 2012

I Know the Scriptures are True

Our family is engaged in a full-court-press to finish reading the Book of Mormon together by our upcoming Stake Conference on September 23. We will have had six months to complete this challenge issued by our stake presidency, and we are really pushing to get 'er done, to wit, ten chapters out loud tonight.

We "lived" the first chapters of Third Nephi, collectively recoiling as we read about the evil Gadianton robbers going to battle (in blood-dyed lamb-skin about their loins, shorn heads etc.), and rejoicing as the righteous Nephites and Lamanites banded together to defend themselves, victorious because they turned to the Lord for the ultimate protection. The account of the earth's convulsions at the time of the crucufixion of Jesus Christ was particularly vivid tonight and led to a little discussion with a couple of personal "lightbulb" moments.

We pounded out our chapters with each of us reading five verses at a time. Our oldest daughter is home with her little Sweet Pea for a day, and her grown-up, educated insights made me sit up and listen. Our fourteen year-old earned a gold star for simply staying awake on the heels of last week's soccer tryouts.

We each have our preferred form of scripture, as is evidenced above: two ipads, the Book of Mormon for Latter-day Families (complete with pictures and definitions), and my old-school, hammered, marked-up, large-type, rained on, beloved copy. Whatever our individual copies of the Book of Mormon look like, we as a family testify of the following:

"I feel certain that if, in our homes, parents will read from the Book of Mormon prayerfully and regularly, both by themselves and with their children, the spirit of that great book will come to permeate our homes and all who dwell therein. The spirit of reverence will increase; mutual respect and consideration for each other will grow. The spirit of contention will depart. Parents will counsel their children in greater love and wisdom. Children will be more responsive and submissive to the counsel of their parents. Righteousness will increase. Faith, hope, and charity—the pure love of Christ—will abound in our homes and lives, bringing in their wake peace, joy, and happiness." (Ezra Taft Benson, Ensign, May 1980, p. 67)

We most definitely feel the promised influence of this great book when we make the time to read from its pages. After a summer of hit-and-miss scripture study, we are down to 100 pages with one month to go ... we can do it!

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Do This More Often

Last night I did something really crazy: I invited a few of my favorite friends for dinner. My husband was overnighting it with the Scouts, tomatoes and basil were "on", and we girls had things piling up that needed to be talked about. Miracle of miracles, schedules cleared and at 7:00 we sat down at my dining room table, looked at each other increduously, and I, for one, started giggling inside.

As we passed bowls of salad and spaghetti Pomodoro, and ice-cold Izzes, we started catching up on a blossoming cupcake business, back-to-school supply deals, high school soccer try-outs, family vacations, and youth symphony. Dipping our garlic Pugliese led to dipping into deeper topics: family challenges, teenagers, where we each would like to be in a few years' time, and dream jobs. We soon side-stepped the deeper topics to share some of our most embarrassing moments EVER. This had me confessing aloud, hands pressed to my cheeks, while my friends roared.

After Natalie's homemade blueberry compote over vanilla ice cream, we watched the pre-recorded Brian Williams' Rock Center special on Mormonism. Having brilliant friends is really great, thought I, as we hashed through our likes and dislikes of the show.

Things I learned last night: women appreciate a pretty table and real napkins, girl talk is so necessary, Julie still makes the best salad around, women need to get together more often, and nothing is more cleansing than laughing really, really hard. Most importantly: with the unexpected twists and turns that life inevitably takes, having caring friends who believe in one another and champion one another is one of life's richest blessings.

Next time, your house???!