Tasty Cauliflower Rice {and so healthy!}

Looking for a rice substitute? As an ardent rice lover, I don’t look for substitutes. Until I tried this. It’s fantastic!

Cauliflower, you say? Yes, it’s true.

It’s so tasty I predict you’ll be seeing a lot more of it. Why not be a trendsetter and start serving it now? My sister-in-law, Kim, introduced us to this recipe this summer and we are now converts – THANK YOU! All of the darlings loved it – it even looks like white rice.

It’s fine to chop or food process a head of cauliflower yourself, but finding it bagged is even more convenient; you’ll have a side in 15 minutes. I’ve seen chopped cauliflower in the freezer section and at Trader Joe’s. Snatch it and hold on tight! Otherwise, start here:dsc_0023 Cut it up into florets: dsc_0033 Pause and admire the pure whiteness:dsc_0032 Now start choppin’! I was a little lazy and just wanted to eat; chop as fine as you can – like rice! dsc_0042 Now chop some onion and put it in a pan with olive oil until onion is soft.dsc_0053 Add the cauliflower, some garlic powder, salt, and pepper (and anything else you fancy!) When cooked, added some chopped cilantro.dsc_0002 I would have gotten a better photo but we ate it so fast it was almost gone!

I especially love this “faux” rice paired with this Mexican dish: dsc_0008I’ll post that recipe next if you like!

Ready to eat? YES.

Tasty Cauliflower Rice:

INGREDIENTS:

  • Cauliflower florets, chopped fine (pre chopped if possible for time saver!)
  • 2 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/2 onion, chopped fine
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 cup fresh cilantro leaves
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt and pepper (to your preferred taste)

Directions:

  • Heat olive oil on medium heat, add chopped onions, and cook until soft. Add chopped cauliflower, onion, garlic salt, salt, and pepper. Cook about 15-20 minutes until soft. Finish for one minute with chopped cilantro.
  • Variations include cauliflower fried rice – add an egg, soy sauce, and green onion. Add to soups instead of rice or potato. Add a little bacon and you’re golden :)

Enjoy and Happy Weekend!

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Waiting at the Kitchen Table

And…a new school year begins. As always, we are off and running. Are you running, too? Let’s take slow breaths and think calm thoughts. This helps stave off the frazzled, panicky, snapping mama that is so fun to be around. Or is that just me?

Last year I remember thinking, “There is nothing more I can add to my plate. This pace is insane.” Well, there is more this year, including more emotion as my darling Cope is a senior. Oh dear, I need to change the subject now…

So anyway, a new school year always reminds me to sloooow down. Which is the definition of irony, isn’t it?

I have two mantras at the moment:

Remember: If you don’t prioritize your life, someone else will.

Remember: Once your direction is clear, you can give attention to pace.

Priorities became very obvious after this summer. In a crisis, family comes to the forefront every time. Perhaps we needn’t wait for the crisis’ to prioritize.

I’m going to tell you about a very special mother who has taught me a lot about priorities: Ginny B.

Ginny B. has a very wonderful son named Benny B.

If you don’t know Benny B, I’m very sorry. For he’s a good boy to know.

He is one of those boys we point to and say, “Try to be like Benny B.” He is kind and honest and funny and always has a big smile that lights up all the space around him. After high school Benny B. went on to study and play basketball at Brandeis University – and he is still a good boy!

Well, good boys don’t get grown by accident now, do they? Just by knowing Benny B., you have to admire the family behind the scenes.

The Professor and I attended Benny B.’s college graduation a few years ago. I had met his mother, Ginny B. before, but I was very struck of how obviously Benny B. loved her.

I felt  – Envy? Longing? Wishing? When my children flew the nest, would we have  that kind of relationship?

“Benny B., you and your mom seem really close.”

“Oh,” Benny B. said. “She’s my best friend. I tell her everything.”

Say what?

I pounced. “How did you do that?” I asked Ginny B. “Tell me all of your secrets!”

“You know, Amy,” she said. “I just always made sure I was waiting at the kitchen table. No matter how old they were or how late it was, I just always tried to be there when they came home.”

I have a pang of guilt every time I think of Ginny B. because there are few things I like more than climbing into my bed…at like, 8. As my children grow older they are not tucked in at 7:30 every night. Darn it. Hmmm. Could the kitchen table be substituted for say…my bed?

I have decided this is a doable substitute.

I’m waiting, baby! (zzzz….)

Benny B. and the great Ginny: IMG_3712

I don’t know a lot about Ginny B. but I know motherhood hasn’t been all honey dew and butterflies. The family has made a lot of sacrifices for Ginny B. to be able to stay home. They make due on one income. Their home is modest and well cared for. There are touches of Ginny everywhere, from the plethora of hostas lining the front walkway, to the homemade quilts hung over furniture. There’s nothing showy about their lifestyle; only comfortable and welcoming (including a lot of delicious homemade food.)

I’m a mom who needs reminders like this. The pull of the world is strong, my young padawans. There are opportunities to be snatched, and of course we need jobs and money to live. But there’s a point where we don’t actually need to accumulate more stuff or more status or more.

Ginny B. made the decision to be waiting when her children came home. Let the chips fall where they may. This is how the chips fell: Her children love their mother. They are best friends. They tell her everything. And I just love that.

IMG_3921Ginny B. even loves my children, too.

Now, I’m sure Ginny B. and Benny B. have had many “moments.” Ginny isn’t, shall we say, a timid or docile flower. For goodness sake, her hair is red. She’s opinionated and fiery! But gosh darn it, she waits and she listens and the children talk.

IMG_4079Here is Benny B. and The Professor. They both have great hair. If you need hair product tips, just sit quietly and listen to their conversations. It’s both hilarious and enlightening.

Back to Ginny B. waiting at the kitchen table.

Remember the most important 9 minutes?

Now listen: this is not a post to cause you motherhood guilt! For goodness sake, if you can’t always be home when the kids walk through the door, they’re not ruined. This story was just good for me to witness. It is good to see a boy with good hair turn out so well. It is really good to see Benny B. love his mother so much and to be reminded that mothers can’t be outsourced. Feel special, gosh darn it. You’re NEEDED.

Carole, a friend of mine, lost her mother many many years ago, and I haphazardly scribbled this down when she spoke – “I couldn’t wait to get off the bus and run to her, even in high school. Even when she was gone I found myself wanting to tell her things – and I can’t wait for the day when I can tell her all the things I want to tell her.”

The thing is, if we’re not around, they can’t tell us all the things.

My mother was a mom who waited for us (and she likes sleep even more than I do.) Growing up, she placed above the entrance to the kitchen: The Gathering Place. (Take heart: my mother hates to cook!)

But even when we are all grown, and my parents moved across the country, she insisted on a home that was big enough for us all to come and gather. And she still drives a minivan! (She says it’s for comfort, but I secretly think she likes to pick up stray grandchildren…:) ) Even now that I’m a pretend grown-up I know she’s waiting. #lucky.

Benny B. and my boy:DSC_0961Wait for them. And they’ll keep coming home.

Thank you, Ginny B.

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Summer Reads {including my current obsession with Lin-Manuel}

What I love about summer? More reading time. One day I told Paige we were having a reading hour right in the middle of the morning. We laid on my bed for a whole hour and read. It was quite blissful and I vowed to make a daily habit. It wasn’t, but I encourage you to lay aside tasks and chores and television for more words and books.

Paige finished the 7th Harry Potter book – a huge feat for a 9-year-old, but especially gratifying as this was my child who did not care much for reading; it was too hard! But then she discovered Harry. She was in mourning for days with a beloved Harry book to read, but I pushed Laura Ingalls and she’s enamored with a whole other world once again.

I just love good books. Here are my summer reads: what I loved and what I didn’t.

  1. The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah: Covers WWII in France and serves as a warning of how insidious Hitler’s type of evil can spread. Hard to read at times as it deals with the choices mothers and fathers are forced to make during wartime. Really well written and definitely worth the read! And it will make you cry and pray for peace.

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2. The Book of Mormon: I read this often, almost everyday, and always learn new life insights. It’s changed my life. And it’s free :)

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3. Food Matters by Mark Bittman: Terrific, easy, unprocessed food and recipes.

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4. God Wants a Powerful People by Sheri Dew: Another life-changing book. Empowering.

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5. The Self-Care Solution by Julie Burton: Julie reached out to me and asked if I would read and review her new book. It was terrific, a read mothers should read, study, and heed. I’ve got a copy to give away to the first person who asks! I’d love to send it your way. Congrats, Julie!

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6. Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee: I resisted for months – who dares to complicate or cast a shadow on my favorite of books, TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD? Alas, I opened the book and was quite delighted with Scout, all grown up. There’s so much controversy over the discovery of this manuscript (Google it – fascinating!), but I’m most intrigued by the fact it was the first draft of what would become her great classic. It shows the great power of an editor!

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7. Raymie Nightingale by Kate DiCamillo: I just love that DiCamillo, whatever she writes!

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8. The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman: I loved this. The movie is coming out in September and Cope and I will be first in line! A great love story. How far would you go for the one you loved? Would you let your wife keep a baby that wasn’t really hers – even under serendipitous circumstances? What would you do if someone tried to take away your only child? The writing is tremendous – and you will cry! My favorite type of book :)

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9. Truly, Madly, Guilty by Liane Moriarty: My BFF librarian, Gail, ordered Moriarty’s new book and personally handed it over as soon as it came in. What a gal, right!? As always, Moriarty nails character. She always makes me laugh and think. I didn’t love the plot as much as her other books, but I still enjoyed the read.

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10. Hamilton, The Revolution by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jeremy McCarter: This book is the score, with footnotes on how each original Broadway cast member was cast, and the long road of writing such a brilliant work of art. Hamilton, the Musical is now an 11-times Tony-award winning hip-hop musical on broadway. Don’t like musicals? Put that aside. This is unlike anything you’ve ever heard or listened to.

Have you ever wondered how a tiny band of scholars and mercenaries defeated the greatest superpower in the world? And then went on to write a Bill of Rights and Constitution, something never before seen or heard in the world?

Do you know anything about Alexander Hamilton? “Every other founding father’s story gets told. Every other founding father gets to grow old.” Lin-Manuel has put Hamilton’s extraordinary life to music in the form of a rap: “How does a rag tag volunteer army in need of a shower, somehow defeat a global superpower?”

I’m OBSESSED with the genius of it all. Back story: Lin-Manuel Miranda was on vacation reading ALEXANDER HAMILTON by Rob Chernow. He was struck by the brilliant, young, ambitious founding father and told his wife, “I think this could be a hip-hop musical.” She didn’t laugh. Instead: “That would be cool.” And so it began. Chernow’s book is on my list. The girls and I don’t drive anywhere without blasting and rapping Hamilton lyrics (to Nelson’s great embarrassment). There are a few expletives…beware. It will make you grateful for America, it will make you want to “rise up!”, and it will make you cry. It’s SO GOOD!

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Bestsellers I read and didn’t like:

The Swans of 5th Avenue by Melanie Benjamin (was there even one redeeming character? Maybe one.), and Firefly Lane by Kristin Hannah.

What I didn’t like and didn’t bother finishing:

The Nest by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney.

It’s been a whirlwind of a summer, but reading was a priority…and now we are plunging into the fall. But wait, what did you read and love? Do tell!

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19 Years

This past week The Professor and I celebrated 19 years of marriage by going to a basketball game. Ha. It just goes to show that I’d follow my love boy anywhere :) For the record, we also got away to Maine last weekend and ate a lot of cheese. Which just goes to show he’d follow me anywhere…especially if cheese is involved.

NINETEEN YEARS. It was yesterday and a million years ago. Today I’m feeling thankful. No matter what else we do in this life, my marriage and family will rank as my most important and joyful accomplishments.

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Because he loves public displays of affection: 19 years ago we married, drove across the country to this place called New Hampshire, landing somewhere called a boarding school. I had a broken neck (from a trampoline mishap, but never mind :) and a head full of dreams. You made them all come true. Love is patient, kind, and putting up with my floss on the bedside table. It’s four beautiful children, constant dishes, and mortgage payments. Life is hard and sometimes cloudy. Your love is the sun. And I love your forever ❤️.

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How to Stay in Touch After You All Leave Home

Last summer my mom said: “We need to stay in touch better. I’ve been feeling disconnected.”

Remember when you and your siblings all lived at home under the same roof? Remember how you knew everything about each other? I never really thought there would come a day when I didn’t know all the details of my sibling’s lives.

IMG_7889_2I mean, we spent a lot of time together. Oink.

But it happened. We five siblings left for college, missionary service, and marriage.

Including my parents, we are now in four different states across the country.

The Professor’s family is in five different states and not all in the same country!

We read each other’s blogs and Facebook updates, but it isn’t quite the same as a nitty gritty written update about kitchen appliances and how potty training is really going.

And so, last summer, we began a family newsletter.

This happened around the same time I was listening to a Gretchen Rubin podcast. Apparently, her family has been doing this for years. And if Gretchen says it’s a good habit, it is!

We have two rules:

  1. It’s okay to be boring
  2. It’s okay to be short

We’ve been going strong for a year.

Every Sunday we write a little update of what happened during the week, and while no one is actually in charge of kicking off the weekly email, it always gets started by someone.

I tell you what, it’s been even more fantastic than I thought it would be. Surprisingly, family updates are never boring, and they’re rarely short. Once you start writing, you keep writing. And what’s boring to you (grocery shopping with twins), is fascinating to your siblings and parents.

There have been no downsides. On the contrary, we look forward to it every week. We know what’s going on with each other. We are as close as we’ve ever been. That is due, in large part, because we have made a conscious effort to stay in touch. We still text and call, but the weekly newsletter has been even more bonding.

Letter writing art. And while we don’t use a quill and scroll (maybe we should?), I save all the emails in an email file entitled “Journal.” Personalities come through in a different way when writing. Funny stories are shared, and sad ones too. With two deaths in the family this year, it was actually painful to start writing again. But it was also the best shared therapy we could have had.

Sometimes Brynne, my 12-year-old writes the newsletter. Here’s one of my favorites:

Makechnie Newsletter by Brynne

     The Makechnie family had a great week. Cope was made student leader, Nelson is enjoying lacrosse, and Brynne and Paige both recited poems at their school for poetry night. Both of them did a great job and now have this coming week off from school. They are going to do many “fun” things, such as orthodontist appointments, cleaning, yard work, walking the dog, going through clothes, and taking out the garbage. 

       Up in NH we are enjoying the weather! Although some of the weather has been bad, most of it has been warm and sunny, and this week the weather is going to be lovely. Today J-A-Y came to church with the Makechnie family! We think he enjoyed it, but if he didn’t he was too polite to tell us that. Cope had other drama this week too. In Vocal Ensemble she fainted. Amy thinks she was just tired. It was quite dramatic, and Cope narrowly avoided throwing up on Jay’s shoes! That would have been terrible! Happy Passover!

Donations are what keep this newsletter running!!!

Ha. Brynne will give you the real dirt!

The day will come, when the darlings leave us.

It could be by boat:IMG_2400

Or a Ford truck:IMG_7009

Someday, my fab four won’t live under the same roof or swim in the same ocean:IMG_2052So. We must stay in touch!

Write to one another. Every week. Because you can. I can guarantee, you won’t regret it!

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The Great New Hampshire, Vermont Food Tour

The idea of eating our way across New Hampshire was all Glenn’s fault, who knows the way to The Professors heart: food. More specifically, after reading an article about the best doughnuts in every single state, he decided we needed to do our duty and find out.

You know, some people visit every state to run marathons. Apparently, doughnut tasting is more up our ally. I’ll have you know, I’m still running! In fact, doughnut-tasting family reunions is why I HAVE to run!

While Glenn, Kim, and darling children were visiting from Saudi Arabia (yes, it’s true. they really live there) we decided to make a day of it: find the best doughnuts in New Hampshire AND taste test across state lines.

Of course we didn’t hit all the hot spots, but we did taste test at EIGHT establishments. For heavens sakes, is this what your family vacations look like?

Are you ready to visit New England yet? Here goes: the great New Hampshire, Vermont Food Tour of Summer 2016. Courtesy of us. The piggies.

  1. Muriel’s Donuts in Lebanon, NH. This was the establishment that started it all. Rated as “#1 donut of New Hampshire,” the donuts were only 40 minutes up the road. Muriel is a cute, elderly woman working out of a tiny, but tidy, hovel, serving up warm, buttery, fluffy, melt-in-your mouth donuts (how the heck do you really spell “donut”?) Recommendation: Cinnamon sugar donut. Were they good? They were pretty darn good.

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    Before the cinnamon sugar…

2. King Arthur Flour Company. After the donuts we were ready for lunch! Oh man, for the love of all things baking – this store and cafe is a DREAM. Due to the large amount of flour I already had, I limited myself to one purchase: Amy’s Recommendation: a bag of Crystalized Ginger Bits ($15) for scones. Can’t wait!

The Professor's Lunch: Brie and Apple Sandwich on Homemade King Arthur Flour Bread for $7-8.

The Professor’s Lunch: Brie and Apple Sandwich on Homemade King Arthur Flour Bread for $7-8.

3. Ben and Jerry’s! This is a serious operation that includes a tour of the facility, complete with holstein cows in the pasture and an earth conscious message. It’s like a tiny amusement park that hosts hundreds and hundreds of people a day. This is because, well, the ice-cream is fantastic and the tour is fun! And the gift center is full of earthy tie-die hats and shirts. Amy’s Recommendation: Chocolate Therapy! ahhhhh, prepare to get wrecked.

4. Chocolate made us want more chocolate. It was off to Lake Champlain Chocolates in Waterbury, VT.  Featuring a “full selection of chocolates, a hot chocolate café, award-winning house made ice cream, hand-whipped fudge, Vermont souvenirs, and plenty of factory seconds.” Amy’s Recommendation: Dark Chocolate Hot Chocolate, 54% Cacao, topped with Whipped Cream.

5. Next door? The Cabot Cheese Company in Waterbury, VT. Here we sampled no less than thirty cheeses. Amy’s Cheese Recommendation: Lamberton. I have no idea what that is exactly, but it was gooooood. Satisfyingly stuffed, we drove up the road to…

6. Cold Hollow Cider Mill in Waterbury-Stowe, VT. Oh my goodness, what a charming country store and mill, complete with free cider samples, gallon jugs to purchase, 50 cent apple cider donuts, and more Vermont cheese. Here is where my heart truly melted. I have to say, these were the best donuts of the day! Amy’s Recommendation: Fresh Pressed Cider and Apple Cider Donuts.

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Cope: “This is like, low-key, the best cheese I’ve ever had”

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Arthur-approved cider so you know it’s good!

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7. Simon Pearce Glassblowing and Restaurant, in Queechee VT. Needing a reprieve from food, we stopped to see the glassblowing and drool over the handmade pieces we’ll never be able to afford :) Also cool, is the water mill that provides the power for the entire Simon Pearce operation. The restaurant is upscale and pricey, but well worth a visit for special occasions.

8. Dinner? The Skinny Pancake in Hanover, NH. The Skinny Pancake specializes in a plethora of savory and sweet crepes priced between $9-$12. Atmosphere is intimate and family friendly. Amy’s Recommendation: for sweet, The Lovemaker, featuring strawberries, nutella, and whipped cream (do you like the name? :). Can’t go wrong. For savory, The Pizza Crepe. Huge kid hit. And guess what? Any crepe can be made with their gluten-free batter!

9. It was a good thing Morano’s Gelato in Hanover, NH was closed, but I’ve got to include it here because it’s hands-down the best gelato I’ve ever eaten, including my samples in Europe – it’s THAT GOOD. Amy’s Recommendation: Dark Chocolate and Sweet Milk or Hazelnut. The combination is unbelievably swoon-worthy.

Dark Chocolate and Sweet Milk Gelato for $3.89

Dark Chocolate and Sweet Milk Gelato for $3.89

We rolled ourselves home and collapsed into bed after a full day of gluttony. If you need Boston recommendations, I could do that too :) But this is a bit more off the beaten path and a way to experience authentic New England in New Hampshire and Vermont.

We’ve been swimming and running ever since – I swear! But I’m considering a change of profession to food critic.

Enjoy! Questions? I’ll attempt to answer. Hope your summer is as tasty as ours!

xoxo

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Scenes From the Wild Wild West

19 years ago, for our honeymoon, The Professor and I drove a couple thousand miles from Salt Lake City and put down roots at a boarding school in a teeny tiny town in New Hampshire.

“We’ll stay 2-3 years and than fly away to a new adventure.”

Turns out boarding school life in rural New Hampshire was adventure enough. It’s become my home and the best place I could dream of to raise a family next door to hay fields, show donkeys, and holsteins. moo.

It’s also true that I left part of my heart out west. This year our family reunion was in Idaho and Utah, a blessing given the circumstances with Eric, Cassie and Scout. I took almost a 1000 photos and boy howdy, what a hard task it was to choose my favorites.

If you’ve never been out west, may these images inspire you to explore this beautiful world, especially with the ones you love.IMG_6338Flying over the midwest

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IMG_6357   The Professor is somehow always in the mix of flying and leaping children. He starts it.

DSC_0056 Bear Lake, Idaho. Home of my childhood summers.

IMG_6436 Vast amounts of food was served to small, and often screaming, children. Love them :)

DSC_0169 Family photos taken

DSC_0387  My sister, Andrea. The darling.

DSC_0463  My fab four

DSC_0632 Cope and Savannah. Bestie cousins, born 1 month, 1 week, and 1 day apart.

IMG_6574 Bear Lake is not complete without a cemetery tour given by my father. Here we are told the stories of our ancestors. Some kiddies find it more riveting than others :)

IMG_6579 DSC_0667 The farm where my father grew up and where I roamed as a kid.

DSC_0668 The milking parlor that used to be our clubhouse

DSC_0689 This cow wasn’t interested in my photo shoot

IMG_6608 The Professor in his element. We ate. A lot.

IMG_8613 The three beauty queen cousins born within months of each other. All going into their senior year.

DSC_0716 My dad. The Grandpa.

DSC_0791   Brynne and The Professor went flying.

20160629_094513  The cool kids

IMG_6650 Grandma brought a treasure chest filled with magic and goodies. The teens made a treasure map for the wee ones to follow. Fun times.

IMG_6636 Sweet Scout likes peas

IMG_6672The teens left us in Bear Lake for a day while they traveled to BYU-Idaho in Rexburg for a college admission tour. See Nate, of East Idaho News, driving? He assures me they didn’t really travel like this! RIGHT?

IMG_6668  DSC_0840 The rest of us hiked in Tony Grove, Idaho. There was snow!

DSC_0842 And beautiful flowersDSC_0845 And the surly Professor who wasn’t actually surly except for the camera :)

DSC_0846 And my TWIN brother! Do you like his hair? I too could be a silver fox. But I’m not so brave. Oh, the issues we women have.

DSC_0862 Back to flowers

DSC_0863  And meadows and reflections of lifeDSC_0876 IMG_6692 Beautiful Bear Lake close to sunsetIMG_7009 After Bear Lake, it was back to Utah where the teens left me standing in the street as they drove off into the sunset. It’s a whole new world, isn’t it?

IMG_6743 There are so many LDS churches in Utah you can walk to church with your hand in your dad’s. I like that.

IMG_6409There’s also A LOT of ice-cream! Iceberg was a huge win!

IMG_6747 My boy, Nellie Mak, has decided he wants to be a barber. His first willing victim: a cousin!

IMG_6986 I have FAR TOO MANY selfies on my phone!

IMG_7011 Another college tour: BYU in Provo, Utah. This is Cope’s first choice school and an extremely competitive one. The average GPA: 3.8. The average ACT: 28. Application process: this fall.

IMG_7014 My girl.

IMG_7027 My college apartment, in front of the window that The Professor once broke with a snowball.  It was true love from the start :)

IMG_7099 A trip to Salt Lake City, isn’t complete without a tour of temple square. I love The Christus.

IMG_7070  The conference center where the prophet and twelve apostles speak twice a year for General Conference. Also home to theater, musical events, and The Mormon Tabernacle Choir. These organ pipes are the largest in the world. It is a tremendous building.

IMG_7091 The Salt Lake City temple where we were married – for free! Swoon.

IMG_7112 Atop a mountain in Draper, Utah, where my brother, Patrick, and wife, Natalie, recently moved.

DSC_0942 DSC_0947 DSC_0954 DSC_0964 DSC_0967 DSC_0978 Siblings. My sister, brother, and me.

DSC_0987 My boy and his Uncle Patrick

DSC_0989     Beautiful Utah skies

IMG_7151 And back to Idaho

IMG_7154 And more beautiful western skies

DSC_0173 DSC_0177 DSC_0178Be still my heart.IMG_6517It was very difficult to think we could have a “fun” reunion, with the loss of Cassie. But it was also comforting to feel that with every hike and lake swim, she was with us. I imagine she always will be. We tried to stay “up” and provide an unforgettable experience for our children, as they gathered, laughed, and sometimes cried, with their cousins, aunts, uncles, and grandparents. What a blessing it was to be together, surrounded by the great beauty of the earth, and to remember the creator of it all.

Happy summer.

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We’ll Be Glad, For All the Love We Had

First, thank you for all of the emails, Facebook messages, Gofundme donations, texts, calls, and prayers this month. We have felt so loved and are so appreciative.

This month we unexpectedly lost my mother-in-law, Heather, and sister-in-law, Cassie. The loss of Cass was exceptionally hard because it was SO unexpected. She was young and healthy. And man, we had plans! She leaves behind a loving family, including her husband and my brother, Eric, and their little girl, Scout, age 3.

I feel like I’m just coming out of a fog. I realize from listening to the news that I’m not the only one suffering these days. Shootings in Baton Rouge, Minneapolis, Dallas, another terrorist attack in Paris – this life is sometimes so hard.

Questions of life and death swirl in my brain. Like, where is Heather? Where is Cassie? What comes next? How can we go on with two empty chairs? It has left me feeling very vulnerable; stuff happens. There have also been silver linings. Even as we feel broken, our family is tighter and stronger. We know we love each other. We know time is short. This is our one chance to make this life mean something – everything. I have felt peace and comfort as I pray – it’s there and it’s real.

The first law of thermodynamics popped into my head this morning: energy cannot be created or destroyed. It made me think about our physical body versus our spirit. There is comfort for even for the most scientifically minded.

I always go to two coping skills: writing and running. But this time it was hard to muster. I was just so tired. Thankfully my husband and running buddies have pulled me outside to run. Writing? Would I ever blog again? I didn’t want to write. I just wanted to skip over Cassie’s death. It was too hard to capture. Too much.  Avoidance and an abundance of ice-cream helped stave off the inner nagging (did you know Utah has the BEST ice-cream? There is an overabundance of creamy deliciousness from a variety of vendors on every corner! It’s as common as their churches!)

If I was ever going to blog again, I knew I had to face the computer screen and say something. This is what happened. Write it down. 

So.

My brother, Patrick, started a gofundme page for our brother, Eric, and his daughter, Scout. Rather than write it out here, you can read the full story there. In 20 days, over $27,000 was raised for the funeral and medical expenses. We are so overwhelmed by your generosity. So grateful. Thank you, thank you.

Burying Cassie wasn’t exactly the yearly family reunion we were expecting or wanting, but it was pretty miraculous that we were already gathering when her accident occurred in Boise. It was incredible that I was able to be with my brother and sit in the hospital for days with him. It was terrible and sad and emotional. But it was also bonding, spiritual; we had moments that will forever connect us.

I will never forget watching my brother lose the love of his life. I’ll never be so proud of him as I watched him pull himself together to make heartbreaking decisions and put a smile on his face for his little girl, Scout. The love was palpable.

IMG_6399Sweet Scout and Eric.

PqJE924QRhxluvUJH6AqGICmd8mcnBLnkl9NsT_33VA,LWZ90wXtYvxWYoqOIvLAFWmn2D0CillNxCWddhe7ILI,EQKsOLdoRwq3oLLroek3z-hB9lNdIfDLLJfk52vUN0MEric is an amazing father. Photography by Cassie. And Cass loved being a mother.

IMG_7176How blessed we were to have Cassie. Here is her beloved Idaho.

DSC_0130Cassie grew up in teeny tiny, Emmett Idaho. Because of her grace, beauty, kindness, she was jokingly teased as “the rose of Emmett.”

Everything she touched was better. She was kind, graceful, and elegant. In March, when we were on our “sister’s cruise,” Cass was reading Brene Brown’s, “The Gifts of Imperfection.” She said she was trying to let go of her need and angst for perfection. Ironically, her perfectionistic tendencies were great strengths and part of what I admired most about her. I always wanted to be more like her, to be a little more classy, to not be so sloppy. I suppose I can still try :)

Cassie was always helping me get better at design, creativity, and photography. She designed this blog and put up with my endless tech questions about pull-down menus, subscribe and share buttons. I feel a bit adrift without her at the helm. She did countless mock-ups of book covers as we discussed book ideas and concepts. We talked at length about photography and editing. Cass had recently launched her own photography business, Linen and Lace Photography. Isn’t she incredible?

We shared an affinity for hair products and woefully recounted how to best tame naturally curly hair. When I saw the bottles of shampoo and conditioner lined up on her bathtub I felt like laughing and bursting into tears. Obviously, she had mastered the tame: :)IMG_6431

DSC_0102 IMG_7114 IMG_7128Grief is the price we pay for loving her so much.

DSC_1006This picture is so sweet. It also makes me laugh – Scout found those two paper clips and refused to take them off her fingers.

IMG_6392 Eric and Scout have some hard times ahead of them, but I have every faith in him as a father.

And I believe the words he said in his eulogy for Cass: “Our hearts are broken as we say goodbye, but we are thankful we had Cassie for 35 incredible, adventurous, and beautiful years. We hold out hope that our journeys in life will sail us back to her.” Amen.

Love you forever, Cass.

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To Heather, With Love

I often joke that marrying into my husband’s family was the best decision I ever made for my writing career.

But don’t think that that hasn’t been painful.

The reason is this: the Makechnies are hyper-critical. Excuse me, I mean, master wordsmiths.

You make one misstep and The Professor and his posse will pounce like a snake on a mouse and swallow you whole.

The biggest disagreements between my dear husband, and me, is when I ask him to “quickly look something over.” What I’m really looking for is, “Looks great, honey. Brilliant, in fact!”

I’m still waiting for that utterance.

It took me a long time to accept the fact that proofreading my work is not something we, as a couple, can share.

And yet, I still test the waters occasionally. He now begins by asking, “Do you want me to edit this or just tell you I like it?”

Except he just can’t do that.  And my sensitive feelers cannot handle it.

The Professor comes by the super-critical eye honestly. Both parents are superb readers, writers, and storytellers. As a child, The Professor remembers his mother, Heather, a precise grammarian, becoming incensed over poor sentence structure.

Grandma Heather has even taught my children well. When she asks a question like, “Who wants to go with Grandma to the beach?” Not one child in this house answers, “ME!!!!” Oh no. The correct answer is, “I do!” (not “Me want to go to the beach!”) You see the difference? Believe me, after almost twenty years in this family I know the difference.

IMG_3644All of my children have sat at Grandma’s feet as she taught with her stories and love of language. She dedicated her entire life to raising good children, and she loved her grandchildren with her whole heart. I marveled at the way she was able to reach into the soul of each child and fill them so completely.

IMG_1934 Last summer Grandma Heather gathered the grandchildren by the ocean, pointing out to sea, at the Isles of Shoal off the coast of New Hampshire, telling stories of our ancestors. The woman could hold the attention of even the most squirrely child.

21690705952_af26eef8e3_k-1Here Grandma Heather used her words to comfort my boy, as he watched his sister sail away on a boat called Ocean Classroom.

When I started this blog, Heather was delighted! Mostly because her grandchildren were prominently featured. She laughed and commented at the pictures of baby poop and lipstick smears. But she also liked and encouraged this new hobby I was obsessing over: writing. Over time, I found I had procured an editor.

I would sometimes receive emails like this : “Wonderful! I could not be more proud!”

Other times: “This is not ready to publish. Go back and do some editing.”

Perhaps my favorite: “If you write the word YUM one more time I will throw myself out the window.”

I resisted using the word YUM for at least eight months.

Writers are often told to, “Imagine your perfect reader. Don’t worry about writing for the world. Write for your one person.” I have many perfect readers in mind when I write, but provided with such blunt and persistent feedback, Heather was always on my mind before I hit “Publish.” Would she think it was funny? Would my imperfect sentences drive her mad?

I’ve worked and reworked sentence structures and subject-verb agreement with Heather in mind, on consistent tenses, on pronoun agreement, and just the write blend of somber and humor.

Heather played the critic for me: an essential role for any writer. Oh, we sensitive writers need many things from many people. We need the constant and consistent praisers, but we also need the critical eye. Be wary if your critique group only loves your work – they’re not doing their job. You need someone to knock you down a few times if you hope to survive.

Heather’s praise was often glowing, but her criticism could sting. My skin has grown tougher. She was reading and I was learning.

A week ago today I sat in a church pew as Heather Hope Makechnie was laid to rest. Her death was a shock and has left us all bereft. It is words I am having a hard time coming up with. I hear her in my head, but I miss her voice.

I have turned to the words she wrote to me. Last summer:

How I miss my Cope, Nelson, Brynne, and Paige.
I hear the echoes of their voices in the house. (Tennyson does, too.)
I see their books and clothes and toys. I see the empty swing and slide. I watch the carrots and sunflowers grow toward the sun. But they are not here, and there is a tinny sound in the echoes. FORTUNATELY they are deeply seated in my heart, and the eternal love-light glows.
I pray that you are SEEING, HEARING, TASTING, TOUCHING everything around you.
I know you will come home with many memories, but I predict that the most powerful and lasting memory you will have is of each other.
Semper commone.

I have not felt like writing anything at all. The void feels so big and vast I just want to lie down.

Avoidance came in the form of eating way too many brownies, spending too much money at Target, running miles, and cleaning the refrigerator (yes, avoidance takes extreme forms.) And yet, as always, I was drawn back to the computer. To make an attempt at words.

She was more than our storyteller, she was our family’s heart. And though she will not comment, email, or stop by for a visit to discuss the latest blog post, I like to think she’s still keeping tabs. I like to think she’s still my perfect reader – and making sure I haven’t resorted to using the word, “yum.”

Heather’s last comment on this blog was this: “OH, my heart! so much to love all in one place!”

Indeed. So much love.

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What Are You Going to Do With All Those Kid Papers?

It is the bane of every parent’s existence: ALL THOSE PIECES OF PAPER. What do you do with it all? Especially if you are trying to keep clutter to a minimum and have More of Less?

I’ve decided one must be ruthless to survive. A couple of years ago, I got serious. In our family, each child gets one color-coded file folder. This file lives in my yellow, spray-painted filing cabinet next to my desk on the main floor.

At the beginning of each school year, I write the name and school year on the top of the file folder. Throughout the year, I save only the most meaningful pieces of paper. If it doesn’t fit in the file folder? Sorry, it has to go :( DSC_0077  What about all of that artwork? We hang art on the wall for awhile, sometimes take a picture, and then wave good-bye (correction: I wave good-bye. Under no circumstances do you ask permission to throw something away!)

At the end of every school year, the yearly file gets plucked from the yellow filing cabinet and goes downstairs to live in a plastic, portable filing cabinet. Each child has one. The plan is that when our children leave the house, they can take their personal plastic filing cabinet with them: unnamed-1What about important documents, medical records, and glasses RX you need to access every once in awhile? Who wants to go down to the basement and try to find it? What I’ve done, is use those same colored file folders (for instance, Cope is always yellow) and write the name and “Records” on the top. This file lives permanently in my yellow filing cabinet upstairs so I can access it easily.DSC_0083

DSC_0079This was one of those pieces of paper I wanted to keep: Nelson’s Adidas shoe design he drew in 8th grade. It went in Nelson’s blue “2014-15” file folder.

This system has simplified life SO much. I’m keeping a record, but it’s simple and automatic. I used to turn all these papers into homemade photo books, but after baby #2 was born, I quickly discovered that paper and photos would literally turn into a full-time job. I just couldn’t keep up. The feeling that I wasn’t remembering my child’s life in a clear and organized fashion hung over me like a storm cloud. This system? No stress.

Would it be nicer to have it all in nice, 3-ringed binders? Perhaps. But this is what I can do.

The kids also have a bin in the basement where I’ve saved a few items like baby blankets, a special toy, or Nelson’s cowboy boots he wore for three years. Some items are keepers; but remember: you must be ruthless to survive in a world that loves STUFF!

When the darlings leave home, they’ll take their one filing cabinet and one bin. That’s it! Cope will probably also steal my shoes, but that’s another battle…

Speaking of organizing files, I have a lot of them.

All of my personal files live in my yellow filing cabinet. Here’s a look at my writing section:DSC_0087

I recently discovered the beauty of the label maker (how can this bring me such giddy joy? I don’t know but it does!!!)IMG_8793You’ll notice the color-coded children’s section up front.

That’s how I do. How do you do?

And happy weekend!

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