Time to p-ART-y!!!

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Yes you read that title right – it is time to pARTy, emphasis on the ART – or rather it WAS time to party (months ago) and I’m just now getting around to posting this. Sorry to those who follow me for the blogging hiatus.

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I was on such a roll of posting weekly and then I got hit with the stomach flu, school holidays (with four young kids at home), a trip back home to the states, Netflix ha-ha…, a few other major theme parties and basically just general busy life.

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As you can see Reid turned 6 years old (ha-ha last May) and art was something he was/is very interested in. At the time he would make a half a dozen elaborate cards every day and most of his free time was spent drawing something. I have piles and piles of artwork saved from that stage that I couldn’t bear to part with (and even more that ended up being recycled because seriously there are only so many kid papers a person can keep).

I decorated a MONTH in advance this time, and was grateful all of the decorations held up. I always go to so much effort to decorate and it seems like such a shame to pull them all down just a day or so later. This time I wanted to have time to enjoy them and also not be rushed on the few days before the party. I think it may be one of my best efforts yet. 🙂

As you can see one of my main sources of decorations were paint samples cards from Bunnings. Thank you Bunnings!!!! I feel like I need to have a special sponsor moment to thank them, and yes I felt a little bit sheepish taking so many of these technically free samples. But I loved how it colorful they were and how it fit in perfectly with the art theme. So everyone shop there. 😀


The banners I made by matching making two-hole punch marks at the top and then just stringing them up on yarn. The cards stayed in place really well, though I’d maybe recommend using heavier twine perhaps as the cards got quite heavy. But it was up for weeks without any issue, even with my tall husband bumping into the one that hung over our kitchen counter. Kudos for him being a good sport! The main birthday sign I tried to make it look like an exclamation point/paint brush with paint with a trail of paint. Not quite sure if it got that effect but it was still festive.

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I was also proud of my outdoor decoration results. I have really loved the way crepe paper or balloons will sway in the breeze on our covered patio. I think it makes for a fun backdrop. I collected tin cans for ages before the party and then cleaned them all out and peeled off their labels. I wanted to give the impression of it being a paint can garland with the paint spilling out.

I used a craft twine to tie a knot around each one and then taped it down to be safe (probably overkill). Duct tape would have matched the silver better but at the time my roll had gone on walkabout, as they say here in Australia. (Hmm…now I’m worried that that might sound racist??? I don’t think it is, I’ve always thought of it as a cute Aussie expression when an item has gone missing and referencing/honoring the traditional walkabouts of the people???…please don’t be offended.)

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I was quite pleased with how the cake turned out in the end. I bought this 3-tiered cake pan set and then panicked realizing the day before that I had no cake-supports or dowels and that it might not be able to hold itself up. I cut up drinking straws and put those in the bottom layer (thank you Pinterest), and changed it to a 2 layer cake with three little cans on top to look like overflowing paint cans.

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I love how this turned out and how well it matched the theme of the paint cans and colors. I made the icing a bit thinner so that I would be able to pour it on top and have it run over, but in the end it was too thin and ran a bit too much, but I still loved how it looked, and thought it tied in well with the theme.

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The easel sign with the number 6 kind of evolved. I had initially planned on making a mini banner saying Reid in the green, red, yellow colors and hang them between two matching paintbrushes stuck in the cake. I still think that would have been cute, but I ran out of time and space on the cake to do that or make a new REID sign. So instead I put this easel on top with his age sign that I had already made. I love the look of it with the colored candles (from Woolworths), which tied in nicely to the number SIX sign.

And here’s a picture of our little artist with his cake. Note that the three of us are wearing the three theme colors of the party. 🙂 Also I want to add that we switched my setting on my camera for these and the immediate family shots and the white balance was off and they turned out crazy yellow. I tried to fix it in photo shop but I’m still a novice and hence the color is a bit off still. I’ll get more savvy with time and practice.

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Quick note about the makings of the cake: I had given the garland paint cans a quick wash, but because these little cans were for the cake I wanted to make sure the sticky label goo was all cleaned off. The blog “The Creek Line House”  gave the great tip of mixing equal parts oil and baking soda to make a paste, rub it on and leave it then come back later to do a quick wipe off. It worked great on these stubborn little green chili cans (imported from America by the way).

The Popsicle stick easels were pretty easy to make following this tutorial (Click HERE). I think there is something adorable about miniature things. I may have to make more of these for another project in the future, they just turned out so cute. On other people’s blogs I had seen the idea of making rectangular sugar cookie “canvases” and having guests decorate them like a painting and placing them on these easels. Sadly, I always have to narrow down all the ideas I’d like to do, and there just wasn’t time/energy for that one, so I used these for the party food and activity displays.

I’m pleased with how colorful and “themey” the food all turned out. The paintbrushes were those long rolled wafer sticks with a peanut m&m “glued” on the end with a bit of corn syrup (or glucose syrup as they call it here.) The paint cans are just marshmallows dipped in frosting.

The rest is all pretty self-explanatory: Paint subjects (gummy frogs), paint splatter (Freckles), paint (Jello shots), paint chips (potato chips), drop cloths (napkins), artist snacks (fruit, veggies & cheese), and creative juice (punch).

Usually for my theme parties I organize a lot of group games, but this time I thought I would just set up stations and guests could move at their leisure between them. It made for a very laid back but creative party, and gave lots of time for visiting and hanging out with all the cousins. And now for the activities: Here are the signs I made – as you can see, some took me a few tries to get it right. I kept the bottom left cards in each of these photos. For the sand art sign I painted the 3 colors and then shook Pixy Stix powder on top of the wet paint to make them look more textured.

The WATERCOLOR STATION was easy. I found these awesome painting placemats from Kmart for only a couple of bucks. The colored squares at the top are paint and so all the guests needed were brushes and water. Easy peasy lemony squeasy (another cute Aussie term!)


The “SAND ART” station was fun and pretty easy. I found these adorable glass bottles with cork stops at Bargain City.

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Guests cut off the ends of the different colored Pixy Stixs (or Aussie equivalent) and then poured it in to their bottles to make their own patterns and design.

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These turned out so beautiful really. I wish I would have gotten a few more close up pictures of them. It was an easy arts and crafts activity to do with little kids and then something yummy they could eat, or keep as a decoration.

For the FINGER-PAINTING STATION I put out blank index cards and finger paints for people to make their own designs. If I were to do this again I would have laid out a designated area covered in newspapers for the finished cards to dry, and some baby wipes handy to clean off fingers, and some q-tips and toothpicks for fine details – all of which I ran about doing in the middle of the party.

I thickened up the leftover icing and made the last-minute decision to bring back the COOKIE DECORATING STATION, but the “cheaters way” using arrowroot cookies instead of making my own sugar cookies. (They kind of taste like big animal crackers.) It was simple and the kids loved it.

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Bless my awesome in-laws for being game for all my theme-parties. They come dressed up in theme colors or costumes and will do photos and all the activities. I’ve been making them do party games for years, even when there weren’t any kids around, and they’ve made these celebrations extra sweet. Love you Astons!

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Here are a few extra shots of the birthday boy. Just look at that smile!!!

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(Side-note for memory – he lost that front tooth just after he turned 1. He was drinking out of a hard-topped sippy cup and fell over and goodbye tooth. :{

5 years later and still no sign of a new one. But one of these birthdays it will be there. It sure doesn’t make his smile any less sweet!!!)

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Here’s a few more of the guests and moments of the party.

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How I love my little artist. He is so talented and creative. He has such a big heart, and it was a pleasure to throw this party for him and to celebrate his life and his joining our family. I love you dearly my darling Reid! Happy 6th Birthday!!!

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Home the Basis of a Righteous Life

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Hello again my lovely readers. Normally I would try and mix up the spiritual posts with some of my other themes, but I am scheduled to teach again in church tomorrow and this has been where the majority of my creative time has been spent this week.

As always these chapters from President Gordon B. Hinckley are amazing and chapter 11, Home the Basis of a Righteous Life, is no exception. I printed out a more condensed outline for myself to use for teaching, but have written out all the passages here for your convenience; mingled with a few of our family photos over the years. But click this link to see the printer friendly form: Ch 11 FULL LESSON

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Feel free to use this lesson plan if you are also scheduled to teach this chapter, or just for your own personal study. The lesson is about the importance of family and teaching your children. This is a lesson close to my heart, as I come from a family who always tried to do this, and am in this stage of life where I am desperately trying to be a good mother and raise my children well and to be strong in their testimony of Jesus Christ. Parenting is hard work (!!!!!!!!!) and may the teachings of this lesson help us all in our quest to raise our children in love.

Chapter 11 – Home the Basis of a Righteous Life

Introduction- CTR 5 Class (5-6 year olds) sing I am a Child of God.

I am a child of God,

And He has sent me here.

Has given me an earthly home,

With parents kind and dear.

Lead me, guide me, walk beside me,

Help me find the way.

Teach me all that I must do

To live with him someday.

???Think about these lyrics, how has their teaching benefited your life or could bless the lives of these children???

(I thought having this group of children sing would help get the attention of the sisters, a lot of whom are the mothers, aunties, grannies of these kids. But I came across this lovely mormon channel youtube video of I am a Child of God if you’d like to use instead. )

Section 1: Family relationships are the most sacred of all relationships.

Briefly mention points of paragraph 1: “The family is divine. It was instituted by our Heavenly Father. It encompasses the most sacred of all relationships. Only through its organization can the purposes of the Lord be fulfilled.”


Show a rope- have them picture mountain climbers, using ropes as they travel to protect themselves from danger and slipping. Think of how vulnerable your children are and that as you travel through life there will be many challenges and obstacles. As a parent you would want to bind your family safely together to protect them from harm, or give them stability against the dangers/temptations that will come.


In the following reading, listen for the things that President Hinckley has said are important to use to bind our families together:

Read Section 1: paragraphs 2-3 pg 167

“We are a church which bears testimony of the importance of the family – the father, the mother, the children – and of the fact that we are all children of God our Eternal Father. Parents who bring children into the world have a responsibility to love those children, to nurture them and care for them, to teach them those values which would bless their lives so that they will grow to become good citizens…. I want to emphasize that which is already familiar to you, and that is the importance of binding our families together with love and kindness, with appreciation and respect, and with reaching the ways of the Lord so that your children will grow in righteousness and avoid the tragedies which are overcoming so many families across the world. 

It is imperative that you not neglect your families. Nothing you have is more precious.” 

???What were the things that President Hinckley said here would bind your family together??? (Not a very open ended question- but there’s lots to cover and want to save time for later discussions.)

Use poster board to make a mountain (labeled Life). (Or to be simpler just quickly draw one on the whiteboard.) At the top could be Heaven or Heavenly Parents. Tape/tie the following answers down the rope. You could use poster board strips with the below answers-  taped together to be the rope, or tape the answers to some twine.

  1. Love and kindness
  2. Appreciation and respect
  3. Teaching the ways of the Lord- so children will grow in righteousness and avoid tragedies

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SECTION 7: We strengthen our families as we seek heaven’s help and nurture a spirit of love and respect for each other.

Rock climbers need more than just ropes to climb safely, they also need anchors.

From Wikipedia: In rock climbing, an anchor can be any device or method for attaching a climber, a rope, or a load to the climbing surface – typically rock, ice, steep dirt, or a building – either permanently or temporarily. The intention of an anchor is case-specific but is usually for fall protection, primarily fall arrest and fall restraint. Climbing anchors are also used for hoisting, holding static loads, or redirecting…a rope.


Being a parent is hard. Of course it is also wonderful and rewarding but sometimes it can just. be. so. hard. Let’s read the following paragraphs and listen for some parenting anchors that will help us as we strive to teach our families and bring them back safe and sound to the presence of our Heavenly Parents.

Pg 173 paragraphs 1-3

“[Raising a family] may not be easy. It may be fraught with disappointment and challenge. It will require courage and patience….Love can make the difference – love generously given in childhood and reaching through the awkward years of youth. It will do what money lavished on children will never do. 

-And patience, with a bridling of the tongue and self-mastery over anger….

-And encouragement that is quick to compliment and slow to criticize. 

These, with prayers, will accomplish wonders. You cannot expect to do it alone. You need heaven’s help in raising heaven’s child – your child, who is also the child of his or her Heavenly Father.” 

Make/find something that looks like an anchor and thread the rope through. Could use posterboard, or duct tape folded in on itself.

  • Love – generously given
  • Patience- bridling of the tongue and self-mastery over anger
  • Encouragement- quick to compliment and slow to criticize
  • Prayer- to receive Heaven’s help

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FOLLOW-UP: From Chapter 10’s challenge

Section 7 paragraph 9 – the bottom of pg 174 to the top of 175.

“Let us continually work to strengthen our families. Let husbands and wives cultivate a spirit of absolute loyalty one to another. Let us not take one another for granted, but let us constantly work to nurture a spirit of love and respect for each other.” 

This fits in perfectly with our last challenge from chapter 10. (Click HERE for that post.)

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Remind them of Last Lesson’s Challenge to place this magnet where you could easily see it and strive daily to find ways to seek the comfort, happiness and well-being of your spouse or other loved one.

???Raise hands if you tried to do this challenge???

???Would anyone like to share any positive experience of trying to do this challenge????

Section 2: Fathers and Mothers have the privilege of caring for their children and teaching them the gospel of Jesus Christ.

1st paragraph pg 168

“We call upon parents to devote their best efforts to the teaching and rearing of their children in gospel principles which will keep them close to the Church. The home is the basis of a righteous life, and no other instrumentality can take its place or fulfill its essential functions in carrying forward this God-given responsibility.”

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Paragraph 2 is long but lovely:

“I am satisfied that nothing will assure greater success in the hazardous undertaking of parenthood than a program of family life that comes from the marvelous teaching of the gospel: that the father of the home may be clothed with the priesthood of God; that it is his privilege and obligation as a steward of our Heavenly Father’s children to provide for their needs; that he is to govern in the home in the spirit of the priesthood “by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned” (D&C 121:41-42); that the mother in the home is a daughter of God, a soul of intelligence, devotion, and love who may be clothed with the Spirit of God; that it is her privilege and obligation as a steward of our Heavenly Father’s children to nurture those children in their daily needs; that she, in companionship with her husband, is also to teach her children to “understand the doctrine of repentance, faith in Christ the Son of the living God, and of baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of the hands…[and]to pray, and to walk uprightly before the Lord.” (D&C 68:25, 28)”

Have the sisters reflect on this image of motherhood and how they can better rise to meet it. Could discuss if time.

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  • If time: paragraphs 3-4. Could recap/highlight to save time

“In such a home, parents are loved and not dreaded; they are appreciated and not feared. And children are regarded as gifts of the Lord, to be cared for, nurtured, encouraged, and directed.

There may be an occasional disagreement; there may be small quarrels. But if there is prayer in the family, and love, and consideration, there will be a residue of affection that will bind forever and a loyalty that will always guide.” 

Section 3: Through family prayer, children grow with faith in the living God.

Sometimes when climbing, one needs to stop and take some breaks on a ledge or secure spot to rest and regather energy and strength. One of these ledges can be family prayer.

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  • 3 Nephi 18:21 “Pray in your families unto the Father, always in my name, that your wives and your children may be blessed.”

Paragraph 1 pg 169

“Behold your little ones. Pray with them. Pray for them and bless them. The world into which they are moving is a complex and difficult world. They will run into heavy seas of adversity. They will need all the strength and all the faith you can give them while they are yet near you. And they also will need a greater strength which comes of a higher power. They must do more than go along with what they find. They must lift the world, and the only levers they will have are the example of their own lives and the powers of persuasion that will come of their testimonies and their knowledge of the things of God. They will need to the help of the Lord. While they are young, pray with them that they may come to know that source of strength which shall then always be available. in every hour of need.”

??? Advice on making family prayer more successful, what’s worked for others in figuring out how to make time for it and teach reverence..etc.???

Section 4: Family home evening can draw parents and children together in learning the ways of the Lord.

The practice of a weekly Family Home evening was requested by the First Presidency in 1915, and in 1970 President Joseph Fielding Smith designated Monday nights as the preferred night to do so. In the October 2002 General Priesthood Meeting, President Hinckley encouraged public school officials and community leaders to keep Monday nights free of other activities and events to better help families use this as FHE.

He said, “We are fearful that this very important program is fading in too many areas. Brethren, there is nothing more important than your families. You know that…I am satisfied that this program came under the revelations of the Lord in response to a need among the families of the Church.

If there was a need 87 years ago, that need is certainly much greater today…And we urge, in the strongest terms possible, that fathers and mothers regard most seriously this opportunity and challenge to make of Monday evening a time sacred to the family.”


Read Paragraphs 3-4. Page 170-171

“I am grateful that we as a Church have as a basic part of our program the practice of a weekly family home evening. It is a significant thing that in these busy days thousands of families across the world are making an earnest effort to consecrate one evening a week to sing together, to instruct one another in the ways of the Lord, to kneel together in prayer, there to thank the Lord for his mercies and to invoke his blessings upon our lives, our homes, our labors, our land. I think we little estimate the vast good that will come of this program. 

If you have any doubt about the virtue of family home evening, try it. Gather your children about you, teach them, bear testimony to them, read the scriptures together and have a good time together.” 

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In groups of 3-4, have sisters plan a FHE lesson plan with song, scriptures/lesson, activity and treat (Pass out FHE blank outlines). Have topics written on poster board for them to choose from, or they can think of their own.

REPORT if time – Collect and post their plans on the Relief Society Facebook page and in the ward newsletter.

Here is the blank FHE lesson plan to print out: Ch 11 FHE blank lesson plan

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(To clarify I don’t mean you should discipline if you have time for it, more-so I mean cover this section if there is still time in the lesson. 🙂 )

Pg 174 Section 7 paragraphs 5, 7-8

“I speak to fathers and mothers everywhere with a plea to put harshness behind us, to bridle our anger, to lower our voices, and to deal with mercy and love and respect one toward another in our homes. 

Of course, there is need for discipline with families. But discipline with severity, discipline with cruelty inevitably leads not to correction bur rather to resentment and bitterness. It cures nothing and only aggravates the problem. It is self-defeating. 

There is no discipline in all the world like the discipline of love. It has a magic all its own.”

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Example of a blog post I read where the mom would draw pictures of video cameras on sticky notes and place them around her house. When she would see them she would imagine herself being recorded as she interacted and had to discipline her children and doing so helped her to curb her temper, stay calm, and be more loving and patience with her children. Heavenly Father

Hymn 96: Dearest Children, God is near you (Verse 2):

2. Dearest children, holy angels
Watch your actions night and day,
And they keep a faithful record
Of the good and bad you say.
Cherish virtue! Cherish virtue!
God will bless the pure in heart.

Colossians 3:14-17 “And above all these things put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness. And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to the which also ye are called in one body; and be ye thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him.”

If time: ???What strategies have worked for your family when trying to discipline with love???

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Pg 168 Section 2 Paragraph 5

“Now a word to the single parents…. [You] carry exhausting burdens in fighting the daily battles that go with rearing children and seeing that their needs are met. This is a lonely duty. But you need not be entirely alone. There are many, ever so many in this Church who would reach out to you with sensitivity and understanding. They do not wish to intrude where they are not wanted. But their interest is genuine and sincere, and they bless their own lives as they bless your lives and those of your children. Welcome their help. They need to give it for their own sakes as well as for your sake.”

???Ask/discuss/brainstorm with the group what things they can do to help other people with children. How to cross that barrier of awkwardness? What help is helpful and what isn’t?..etc. ????


30 Day Challenge- pick one or both
  1. Twice daily Family prayers (Sticker Chart) 
  2. Weekly FHE

Here is the link to the Family Prayer Chart: Ch 11 Family prayer handout


In closing – a prophet’s prayer for our families: pg 175 last paragraph of chapter.

“O God, our Eternal Father, bless the parents to teach with love and patience and encouragement those who are most precious, the children who have come from Thee, that together they might be safeguarded and directed for good and, in the process of growth, bring blessings to the world of which they will be a part.” 

Bear my testimony of the sacredness of family and the importance of teaching our children to know and love the scriptures, to follow the commandments of Jesus Christ, to pray to our Heavenly Father and live the gospel; and that by doing so our families can be eternal and return to live with our Heavenly Parents.

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  • Questions at end of chapter: What do we lose if we neglect family prayer? How can parents improve in their efforts to help their children live the gospel?
  • My sister-in-law Felicity’s example of daily devotional with her kids and how this has blessed us as we’ve tried to do it over the years. Ring a bell and the kids know it’s time to come to the front room for devotional and when they get there if they’re sitting reverently they’re allowed to ring the bell. We have an opening prayer and song. Read a chapter or so from the children scriptures. Then each child takes turns standing up and reciting the Articles of Faith that they have memorized. End with another song and prayer and occasionally a treat for those who were reverent and participated. Hoping that by doing this the kids will learn the scripture stories and doctrines of the gospel, learn the hymns or primary songs, practice praying and reverence and sitting still, practice memorizing and public speaking, learn their Articles of Faith, spend time together as a family. 
  • Section 5 and the story of the tree / application to teaching our children while they are young.
  • Section 6 Rebellious children.

PS: I don’t know what the blogging etiquette is for downloading free images off the Internet. I googled a few of the climbing pictures and family prayer and copied and pasted from there, those are not my originals, and the FHE book and President Hinckley book from lds.org

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A lot of the family shots are done by my 3 lovely sister and sisters-in-law.

  • Mandie Wood Harris – Illumine Photography
  • Alana Aston – Sunlit Studios
  • Felicity Aston  – Felicity Aston Photography

Well these lessons are quite the novel-posts. I’d promise to make my next one a small one, but there’s no guarantee. 🙂

To end things off and tie into our lesson’s metaphor – here’s one of my all time favorite climbing shots:



Nurturing the Eternal Partnership of Marriage

Every month I teach a lesson to a group of women ages 18 to as old as they come. If picketing for assignments was acceptable, this is the job I would be happy to beg for. I love it. I only teach once a month, so really it’s not that demanding. I don’t have any meetings to go to or scheduling to worry about around my busy family. I get to have adult time and discussions and bask in the spirit, and I spend so much time studying the gospel and scriptures and really getting to know my topic. I love it.

I had hoped to get this post out BEFORE I had to give it 2 Sundays ago, for those who maybe wanted a study guide, but it’s been a busy few weeks and I didn’t manage it. However, the material is still valid even if your stake has already taught it and I’ll still post it for anyone interested in learning more, or preparing to teach this lesson themselves.

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My lesson comes out of the book Teachings of Presidents of the Church; Gordon B. Hinckley and my topic was chapter 10: Nurturing the Eternal Partnership of Marriage. (Click HERE to see the full text)

Let me say first of all that President Hinckley was amazing, and will always hold a special place in my heart. He was the prophet of my youth, the one who signed my mission call, the prophet with so much energy and humor and love. I really miss him, and all of these chapters are so edifying.

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I like to give some sort of challenge after each of my lessons. It’s not enough to just come to church and sit there and hear nice things, I think we need to go home and try and apply them. Step by step, we can improve ourselves and come closer to God. So at the beginning of each lesson I like to follow up and see which sisters did the previous challenge and get any feedback. (One time one of our sisters said that she contacted her son and told him she loved him for the first time in years and how it opened up better communication between them. I was so pleased, and it gave me goosebumps to hear her testimony. I thought, even if that was the only person who benefited from my lesson, it was all worth it.)

My last lesson’s challenge was on cultivating gratitude and optimism and I gave the President Erying’s challenge to take time to reflect every day to recognize the Lord’s hand in your life or the life of your family. (Click HERE for a Youtube clip of that talk.)

Notebooks challenge

I pasted a quote from President Hinckley on the inside of  little flip flop notebooks that I found at a junk store. It said,

“Cultivate an attitude of happiness. Cultivate a spirit of optimism. WALK WITH FAITH Rejoicing in the beauties of nature, in the goodness of those you love, in the testimony which you carry in your heart.” – President Hinckley

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The other thing I really like to do in my lessons is to have some sort of fun, engaging introduction activity to get their attention. It’s the school teacher training in me. Initially I had planned on doing a couple’s personality matching/clashing game to show how we all have our pros and cons and should try and accept our spouse rather than change them..etc. I ended up scrapping that for fear of it taking too much time and decided to open up with a lovely Youtube video that I found on President and Sister Hinckley’s courtship, marriage and his thoughts on her passing. I knew that I would struggle making time for it otherwise and hoped it would help bring in a lovely spirit to the room. (See those introduction games at the bottom of this post.)

Without further ado below is my lesson. I hope you too can learn from it as I have. I am married to a wonderful man who I love dearly, but there is plenty of room for us to improve our marriage and I hope that all of this study and application can make our marriage even stronger.


OPEN with Youtube video: A Great Marriage: President Gordon and Marjorie Hinckley


Discuss the sweetness of their marriage and their love. Because they were married in the temple President Hinckley was comforted by knowing his marriage with Marjorie had been sealed for eternity.

  • PG 155 las paragraph of intro section:

“To loose one’s much loved partner with whom one has long walked through sunshine and shadow is absolutely devastating,” he said. “There is a consuming loneliness which increases in intensity. It painfully gnaws at one’s very soul. But in the quiet of the night a silent whisper is heard that says, ‘All is well. All is well.’ And that voice from out of the unknown brings peace, and certainty, and unwavering assurance that death is not the end, that life goes on, with work to do and victories to be gained. That voice quietly, even unheard with mortal ears, brings the assurance that, as surely as there has been a separation, there will be a joyful reuniting.”

Today’s lesson is on Nurturing the Eternal Partnership of Marriage. (Hope that this lesson can apply to ALL sisters regardless of marital status, and note that 6+ months ago when I taught the Hunter marriage lesson we used so much time discussing how to prepare for marriage and life being a single adult or divorced that we never got to the section on nurturing marriage and so we’ll start there today. Acknowledge that I know this topic can be sensitive but that it also can apply to each one of us, regardless of our marital status.)

(Close eyes?) and picture a spouse or someone you love. Think of something that you don’t like about this person or could change if you were able. You can even picture a few things. Now picture something you love about them and admire. (Open eyes) Which came more easily to your mind? Sometimes it’s easier to get focused on the things we would change about our spouse or loved ones, or what things drive us crazy than their strengths and good qualities.

Point out that we all have pros and cons that we bring into a marriage as do our spouses, and sometimes those personality traits, or backgrounds complement each other and other times they add friction and challenges. The trick is being able to be flexible and accepting of our differences. We can seek to improve ourselves, and accept our spouse rather than change them. Even Sister Hinckley. who was married to the Prophet, still had things she had to get used to about her spouse.

  • Pg154 Section: From the Life of Hinckley paragraphs 4 and 5

Sister Hinckley:

“Money was scarce, but we were full of hope and optimism. Those early days were not all blissful, but they were filled with determination and a great desire to establish a happy home. We loved each other, there was no doubt about that. But we also had to get used to each other. I think every couple has to get used to each other.

Early on I realized it would be better if we worked harder at getting accustomed to one another than constantly trying to change each other – which I discovered was impossible….There must be a little give and take, and great deal of flexibility, to make a happy home.”

President Hinckley:

In section 5 instructs us to “look for and recognize the divine nature in one another” and that we can succeed in marriage if we will “exercise DISCIPLINE of SELF and REFRAIN from trying to DISCIPLINE our COMPANION.”

  • Pg 162 Section 5 3rd to last paragraph:

“Many of us need to stop looking for faults and begin to look for virtues…. Unfortunately, some women want to remake their husbands after their own design. Some husbands regard it as their prerogative to compel their wives to fit their standards of what they think to be the ideal. It never works. It only leads to contention, misunderstanding, and sorrow.”

My own example of preparing for this lesson, trying to find ways to become more accustomed to Varian and my differences. A small thing, but one example is when he’d do something that would irritate me I would try to think of something positive to counterbalance that frustration. If for example I had to pick up after 3 of his things and felt put out about it, I would then think of 3 nice things he had done recently or that I was grateful for. Even though this was just a little thing, I could feel my attitude towards him shifting from one of annoyance to gratitude and appreciation.

???What has helped you to grow accustomed to your companion, or be more flexible with your differences???

(If there’s time and it feels right share the story of getting the handout when I was a teacher with a little slinky attached that said, “Blessed are the flexible, for they shall not be bent out of shape.” Like Sister Hinckley mentioned, “There must be a little give and take, and great deal of flexibility, to make a happy home.”)

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  • Section 5 last paragraph on page 161

“Every marriage is subject to occasional stormy weather. But with patience, mutual respect, and a spirit of forbearance, we can weather these storms. Where mistakes have been made, there can be apology, repentance, and forgiveness. But there must be willingness to do so on the part of both parties.”


  • pg 162 2nd to last paragraph in section 5

“There must be respect for the interests of one another. There must be opportunities and encouragement for the development and expression of individual talent.”

  • 1st paragraph of chapter on pg 153

“One evening when President and Sister Hinckley were sitting quietly together, Sister Hinckley said, “You have always given me wings to fly, and I have loved you for it.” Commenting on that expression from his wife, President Hinckley said, “I’ve tried to recognize [her] individuality, her personality, her desires, her background, her ambitions. Let her fly. Yes, let her fly! Let her develop her own talents. Let her do things her way. Get out of her way, and marvel at what she does.” Sister Hinckley was likewise supportive of her husband- as a father, in his personal interest, and in his extensive Church service.”


???Can you think of a time when your spouse gave you wings to fly, or vice versa, and how did that support benefit your marriage???


  • Section 5 pg 160 paragraphs 1-4
  • “Nurture and cultivate your marriage. Guard it and work to keep it solid and beautiful….Marriage is a contract, it is a compact, it is a union between a man and a woman under the plan of the Almighty. It can be fragile. It requires nurture and very much effort.
  • After dealing with hundreds of divorce situations throughout the years, I am satisfied that the application of a single practice would do more than all else to solve this grievous problem.”

“If every husband and every wife would constantly do whatever might be possible to ensure the comfort and happiness of his or her companion, there would be very little, if any, divorce. Argument would never be heard. Accusations would never be leveled. Angry explosions would not occur. Rather, love and concern would replace abuse and meanness….

The CURE for most marital troubles does not lie in divorce. It lies in repentance and forgiveness, in expressions of kindness and concern. It is to be found in application of the Golden Rule.”

**I have learned that the real essence of happiness in marriage lies…in an anxious concern for the comfort and well-being of one’s companion.**

Thinking of self alone and of the gratification of personal desires will build neither trust, love, nor happiness. Only when there is unselfishness will love, with its concomitant [or associated] qualities, flourish and blossom.”

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This is the MAIN CONCEPT that I want people to take out of this lesson. This is what I will CHALLENGE each of us to go home and put into practice. For those who are unmarried they can apply this to a friend, a son or daughter, a family member…etc. Let me read it again: (REPEAT the following excerpts).

“Every husband and every wife [should] constantly do whatever might be possible to ensure the comfort and happiness of his or her companion….The real essence of happiness in marriage lies…in an anxious concern for the comfort and well-being of one’s companion… Only when there is unselfishness will love…flourish and blossom.”

???What are practical ways in which we can follow President Hinckley’s counsel to “constantly do whatever might be possible to ensure the comfort and happiness of our companion and be anxiously concerned for their comfort and well-being???

(Possibly write on the board the brief bullet points of people’s answers.)

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  • Section 3 paragraph 1-4 pg 157

“In His grand design, when God first created man, He created a duality of the sexes. The ennobling expression of that duality is found in marriage. One individual is complementary to the other.

In the marriage companionship there is neither inferiority nor superiority. The woman does not walk ahead of the man; neither does the man walk ahead of the woman. They walk side by side as a son and daughter of God on an eternal journey.

Marriage, in its truest sense, is a partnership of equals, with neither exercising dominion over the other, but, rather, with each encouraging and assisting the other in whatever responsibilities and aspirations he or she might have.

Wives, look upon your husbands as your precious companions, and live worthy of that association. Husbands, see in your wives your most valued asset in time or eternity, each a daughter of God, a partner with whom you can walk hand in hand, through sunshine and storm, through all the perils and triumphs of life.”

Ask someone to read the following:

Elder L. Whitney Clayton of the presidency of the Seventy, in the April 2013 Conference gave a talk on marriage. One of the principles he talked about was Respect. He said, “I have observed that in wonderful, happy marriages, husbands and wives treat each other as equal partners. Practices from any place or any time in which husbands have dominated wives or treated them in any way as second-class partners in marriage are not in keeping with divine law and should be replaced by correct principles and patterns of behavior. Husbands and wives in great marriages make decisions unanimously, with each of them acting as a full participant and entitled to an equal voice and vote.”

??? What have you done (or could you do) to resolve a conflict in marriage where both people wanted different things???

???How do you maintain a feeling of equality and partnership in disagreements???


Read the handout (laminated cards with magnet backing to be put on fridge or somewhere easily seen in the home):

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“Every husband and every wife [should] constantly do whatever might be possible to ensure the comfort and happiness of his or her companion…. The real essence of happiness in marriage lies…in an anxious concern for the comfort and well-being of one’s companion… Only when there is unselfishness will love…flourish and blossom.”

-From the teachings of President Gordon B. Hinckley


Put this magnet on your fridge and over the next two weeks, daily search for opportunities to anxiously seek the comfort and well-being of your spouse (or another loved one if unmarried.) Seek their comfort and happiness. Accustom yourself to your differences and strive to be unselfish. I will follow up on this challenge in two weeks when I teach next.

  • Last Paragraph of section 5 (end of the chapter) pg 162

“Be absolutely true and faithful to your chosen companion. In terms of time and eternity, she or he will be the greatest asset you will ever have. She or he will be deserving of the very best that is within you.”



First teach SECTION 4 (Addressing people who have never been married or are divorced.)


“Because you do not happen to be married does not make you essentially different from others. All of us are very much alike in appearance and emotional responses, in our capacity to think, to reason, to be miserable, to be happy, to love and be loved.

You are just as important as any others in the scheme of our Father in Heaven, and under His mercy no blessing to which you otherwise might be entitled will forever be withheld from you.”

“…I assure you that we are sensitive to the loneliness that many of you feel. Loneliness is a bitter and painful thing. I suppose all people have felt it at one time or another. Our hearts reach out to you with understanding and love…”

“This season of your lives can be wonderful. You have maturity. You have judgment. Most of you have training and experience. You have the physical, mental, and spiritual strength to life and help and encourage.

There are so many out there who need you…. Keep your spiritual batteries at full charge and light the lamps of others.”

“To those of you who are divorced, please know that we do not look down upon you as failures because a marriage failed…. Ours is the obligation not to condemn, but to forgive and to forget, to lift and to help. In your hours of desolation turn to the Lord, who said; “come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest…. for my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matt. 11:28-30)

  • Keep your spiritual batteries charged
  • Serve others in need
  • Refine your mind and skills
  • Take advantage of opportunities
  • Be prayerful and do not lose hope
  • Live the very best life of which you are capable
  • Turn to the Lord

Write the above points on a poster board to show.


If there STILL is additional time go over the key points from Section 1 & 2 that were skipped.

  1. Heavenly Father designed marriage from the beginning.
  2. In the temple, a husband and wife can be sealed together for all eternity.

President Howard W. Hunter said this about marriage: “Being happily and successfully married is generally not so much a matter of marrying the right person as it is being the right person.” I like that. “The conscious effort to do one’s part fully is the greatest element contributing to success.” (Click HERE for the full text of that chapter.)


  • Introduction Activity Game

Make 3 girls and 3 boys out of poster paper and attach to whiteboard.

Pass out 2 papers of different colors for each person (yellow/blue)

Have them list one character strength (yellow paper) and one character flaw/weakness (blue). It could be one of their own strengths or weakness, or one of their spouses or someone they know. Collect all of these in a bag and at random pull out a few pros and cons for the poster people, writing the descriptions on the cut outs.

Then have 3 volunteers come up to help match the couples and try to find the best fit. Discuss any characteristics that will help this couple, and what characteristics will be a challenge.

Point out that we all have pros and cons that we bring into a marriage as do our spouses, and sometimes those personality traits, or backgrounds complement each other and other times they add friction and challenges. The trick is being able to be flexible and accepting of our differences. We can seek to improve ourselves, and accept our spouse rather than change them. Segway into Marjorie Hinckley’s quote in introduction that she found early on in marriage that there was no use trying to change each other but that they had to become accustomed to each other, and President Hinckley’s thoughts from Section 5 how trying to change your spouse never works, but leads to contention, misunderstanding and sorrow and that we should exercise discipline of self and refrain from trying to discipline our companion…etc.

  • Alternate version of intro game:

Divide in groups based off seating. Give them dice, the picture of the girl and boy, tape, and a baggie of the pros and con’s. Odd doubles get a con, even doubles get a pro. See which in their group can create the healthiest seeming companionship combination.


  • Prelude Option- as I didn’t leave time to cover the section on how marriages in temples are eternal, could play this video of temples around the world with background hymns playing.


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I hope this lesson can help you strengthen your marriage and other close relationships. God bless!

Take a look, It’s in a Book…

I am a reader, and have always been a reader. One of my favorite things to do is to stay up late reading into the night, and then get to where I can barely keep my eyes open, enough to set the book down and turn off the light and fall straight to sleep.

Other times when I am enraptured in the middle of a book I’ll surreptitiously glance over at the advancing clock and promise myself, “OK –  in such and such a time, I’ll stop reading and go to bed.” But as I get closer to the designated time I think, “oh maybe another 20 minutes” and so on and so forth until I’ve finished the book and it’s the middle of the night and I’m exhausted – but satisfied.Granted this habit worked a lot better when I didn’t have little kids who could wake me up at any given hour of the night  or early morning wanting my full attention. But I still can’t help myself.

At bedtime when we were little kids, our parents would tell us we had to go to bed or we could stay up for an extra 1/2 an hour reading. Maybe this is where it started. Who wouldn’t choose an extra 1/2 hour?! Then as we got older, we didn’t have as strict of a bedtime but I remember reading late into the night and if I heard my mom come up the stairs to check on us then I would quickly turn off the light and flip on my side and pretend to be asleep. My heart would be racing and I’d try to slow down my breathing. Sometimes she fell for it (or pretended to), sometimes she was too light-footed and would catch me in the act. She used to tease me that most parents had to try to get their kids to read and here she was trying to get me to stop.

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I just loved reading. And I still do. It is one of my favorite pastimes. I love getting lost in the stories. I internalize the settings, I see the characters. I feel their pain, their excitement, their grief. Reading is such an emotional experience for me. Books stay with me and bits of them flip through my consciousness throughout the day, shaping my ideas and my perceptions of things.

Whenever I read a particularly intense book, or a series of books, I feel such a sense of loss at its completion. I feel as if these people are my family, that I am one of them and that I’ve walked their path for so long and now all of a sudden they’re gone. Finished. It makes me feel gutted. It’s like I make a space for them in my life and with that final page they’ve abandoned me, or rather moved on without me.

Now I admit some of you may totally be relating to how I’m feeling, you may be nodding your heads and remembering your favorite stories that have left you feeling this way as well. Others may think this all sounds a bit too attached or dramatic. 🙂 I admit that not every book I’ve ever read imprints on my heart, and changes my psyche, but they all do still leave their impression – their fingerprints on my mind.

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One of my favorite things as a parent is to see my children reading, it makes my (retired) teacher heart so proud! We go to the library often, though at times we are a bit of a spectacle. I sometimes wonder if the librarians see us coming and think, oh no, here comes that lady with her four little kids again. We try to go every week or two, and I’m determined despite the pressure of having to tell toddlers to “use your library voice” over and over again, that making it a regular part of their lives will help expose them to literature and develop a love of reading.


The downside of taking FOUR little kids (initially with the eldest just being over the age of 5) to the library, is that it doesn’t leave you a lot of adult browsing time. (Just to clarify when I say adult I don’t mean “adult,” obviously.) I just mean it would be nice to meander through the aisles looking for my favorite authors, reading the dust jackets of new books to see if they tickle my fancy. But with four kids the only thing getting tickled is kid number 3 screaming because kid number 2 is bugging her or vice versa…you get the picture.

So the last few years my library visits have been me, rushing up and down the aisles, pulling books at random off the shelves and placing them into my pram (oh my – I really had to search to think of the American word stroller), and then getting us as quickly as possible to the kid area, where we do story time, or draw pictures, or make insanely large piles of books and movies to check out.

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This has been an interesting system for me, doing the blind pick – It’s like those wrapped gifts at the souvenir shops that just say girl or boy and the mystery behind what they might be is almost compelling enough to have you buy it just to see if you get something magical. And some of these lucky dip books have been amazing, and others have just been a waste of time, or too full of bad language to even bother with. I used to never not finish a book. It seemed unethical somehow. But with a few years of randomly picking off the shelves, I’ve definitely given myself permission to do so.

Recently I took some initiative and “ordered” books from online to be put on hold and transferred to my library. “Oooohhhhh” I know, it’s impressive. I googled those sites that list the top 100 books you should read before you die or some such declaration, and picked out a few that I haven’t read yet.

One of those was: The Five People You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom.

5 people you meet in heaven cover

This story begins introducing an 83-year-old veteran named Eddie who works as a maintenance man at an amusement park by a pier on the ocean. It’s his birthday, and he’s going to die. Now don’t panic this is not a spoiler at all. In fact the first sentence of the book tells you he is about to die, and by the end of the 2nd paragraph you learn that he’ll be killed in an accident from a ride called Freddy’s Free Fall.

You begin to get attached to this gruff old man, who looks after the rides, and who children flock to. You feel bad for him when he is inevitably killed as promised in chapter 1, and yet this is where the novel takes off. He is suddenly free of the emotions of dying, curious as to where he is and whether or not he saved a little girl from being crushed by the falling amusement ride, but mostly he wonders, “Where……is my worry? Where is my pain?” He travels through brilliant colors and space and oceans until he wakes up back at the amusement park feeling young and nimble and full of wonder at having his body restored.


It is here that he meets his “first person” in Heaven.

Throughout the novel Albom writes flashbacks of previous birthdays and you see what events happened to shape Eddie into the man he became. He also introduces 5 people who come to Eddie each to teach him a lesson of how their lives were intertwined. With each subsequent visit his body becomes older and more “decayed” as he puts it, and the deep-rooted emotional and physical pain returns for Eddie to experience and understand.

But this book is not a downer. It’s rather one of understanding. Of empathy. Of recognizing that each of us truly affects the lives of those around us, whether we realize it at the time or not. None of us are alone, and our actions matter, and Heaven can be a place to get those answers and clarity.


I especially liked how in this book, the characters were able to choose their own type of heaven, the place or surroundings that would bring them the most joy and peace. It reminded me a bit of the Lovely Bones, concept of Heaven as well. Here it wasn’t all one glorious placed filled with mansions and streets of gold, rather each character chose places from their lives and experiences that made them feel at home and at peace.

When I finished this book (very late one night), I wondered what my place in this kind of Heaven would look like. I have traveled a lot of the world and of course there are so many beautiful places out there. Of course I would love a beautiful ocean scape, or brilliant flowers or waterfalls, I even considered a cabin up near Hebgin Lake in West Yellowstone where we used to vacation growing up.

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But the Heaven that I would pick, the place that by far fills me with the most joy and peace, would be my childhood home in Huntsville, Utah where I grew up. Particularly my backyard.

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It would be that golden time of the late afternoon when the sun is getting ready to set and when the light just takes your breath away, and creates long warm shadows across the grass. The fields would be stretched out before me waving gently in the breeze, leading all the way up to the foot of the mountains.

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My loved ones would be there swinging on the swing set, jumping on the trampoline, visiting on plastic chairs or sitting around the fire pit.

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It would be simple and beautiful.

It would be home.

It would be Heaven.

With that I will end this post. I had initially intended to write summaries/reviews of the 5 books that I’ve recently finished, but this post has evolved a different way and I’ll save the rest for another time. I definitely recommend reading this book. It was interesting and engaging. It was tender and sad.

It is well worth your time and goes on the list of books that could change your life for the better. Happy reading!

ps: A year or so ago I read The Timekeeper by Mitch Albom as well and really enjoyed it and would recommend it to your list as well!

pps: I can’t end this post without completing the rest of the song that has been playing in my head since writing the title:

“Take a look. It’s in a book.
The Reading Rainbow…….”


You Are My Sunshine – Rachelle’s Birthday Party


Well “the time has come” to post again, and for those following my blogging journey can I tell you this has been quite an educational experience for me. I have THOUSANDS of photos that I have spent days culling back (I’ve only made a dent) and my desktop storage space was nearly about to burst and so I’ve transfered a lot of it onto a separate hard drive – all of this before I downloaded the photos from Rachelle’s party.

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Then as I started to work on this post I realized my file sizes were way too big and so I relearned how to resize them, which led me to reload my Adobe Photoshop program, which led to me to learn how to crop and brighten and edit the photos as well.

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Phew! So after many youtube tutorials and practicing, and learning more about how to use wordpress itself, I am ready to “start” this post. 🙂 Forgive the long intro, I just feel like it’s already been such a growing experience for me! And again learning how to photoshop has been on my personal “to-do list” for years….so it feels really good to be getting to it now, and am pleased that this blog will help be the means to get me there!

(Quick sidenote I did reduce the file size to 500 X 333 pixels and if that ends up too pixilated I’ll adjust that for future posts.)

And now for the main show:

Rachelle’s YOU ARE MY SUNSHINE birthday party! March 2017- 2 years old!!

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The first birthday party for my first baby was pretty lame – presentation wise. In my defense we had house guests staying with us and had been traveling until just the day or so before, and I had yet broken down persuaded Varian into supporting my drive for theme parties and spending time and money on kid birthdays…he-he. Technically speaking, I’m still trying to convince him that it’s worthwhile.

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So for Jaren’s first party- I had run to the store and quickly grabbed some paper pirate hats and some chocolate gold coins and snake lollies. I printed out miniature pirate flags and stuck them to toothpicks on cupcakes I had shaped into the number one.

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It wasn’t terrible, but it wasn’t much of a production. No games, no decorations, no pirate outfits as you can see. It’s not that it wasn’t fun, but it could have been so much more! 🙂 So from then on our parties have all been much more coordinated and themed (and awesome!)

I think I owe a lot of my birthday party drive to my sister Katie who likes to pick themes and make a lot of decorations and theme cakes and games for her girls. I have loved talking over party planning with her and getting cake decorating tips and ideas!

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Also I owe a shout out to my best friends: “The Katies” and Liz. Those who know me well, will know who I’m talking about. Those girls and I loved throwing theme parties in college and we have many fun and crazy memories from all our attempts.

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So I have really found planning and throwing these theme parties to be a nice outlet for my creative side, and a fun way for said child and I to get excited over their birthdays. I should put out the disclaimer now that my parties are on a budget and are for the most part “homemade.” I admit I sometimes feel a little discouraged at all the productions out there and money spent to make a party spectacular [curse you pinterest (and bless you)] but in the end I’ve always been pleased with how our parties have turned out and it’s been a special bonding for my kids and I to plan their upcoming party (or the next 2 or 3) and I hope it makes them feel loved and important.

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Okay, I can already feel this post getting long (I’m sorry being concise has never been my strong point- thorough and detailed…now those are words that better describe me 🙂 )

On to the party.

I picked this theme because months before when I would tuck little 1 year old Rachelle into bed I would start to sing her whatever lullaby had come to mind and she would stop me and ask for You are My Sunshine. She only wanted that one each night and got really good at singing it for a one year old if I say so myself! 🙂 It was adorable her little voice singing along to those words and as I’m always on the look out for the next idea, thought this would work perfectly for her next party.

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I may or may not have encouraged that to continue to be her favorite song. By the time her party came and went we were all getting a bit sick of it and ready to move on to another bedtime song!

“You are my sunshine, my only sunshine…”

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Some theme parties come together quickly for me and games are more obvious, this one took a little more effort but in the end came together well. We started having everyone sing “You Are My Sunshine.” This helped highlight the lyrics for the rest of the games to follow.

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“You make me happy when skies are grey…”

There were two games the guests could do at any time throughout the party. The first one – guests were to write a note to Rachelle to let her know how she made them happy. I would have used something else to write on (perhaps have them write the notes on little suns and stick them on our grey walls…) but for her 1st birthday we had done a butterfly theme and people had written to her in this sparkly notebook, so I thought we’d carry it on to this birthday as well.

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“You’ll never know dear, how much I love you…” 

I bought these love heart sour peach lollies at Kmart for a buck a bag. I think I got about 143 of them in this container. Guests had to write down what their guesses would be and whoever came the closest won them all. We never snapped a picture of the winner, but congrats to Cameron for a guess of 140. I decorated the top of the container with a happy sunshine face (which as you’ll notice matched the wall decoration sunshine and the birthday cake.) I made a little smiling grey cloud and taped it to the bottom so people couldn’t count the hearts and get a better guess.

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“Please don’t take my sunshine away…” 

Up until the night before I had planned on making little clothespin smiley faces and having guests clip them to their clothes and if they crossed their arms or touched their faces or said Rachelle, then they would have to loose the clip to the person who caught them, like you play at baby shower games. It got vetoed. That game can be fun, but also a little annoying and probably works better when you’re trying to help guests who don’t know each other mingle and get talking.

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Instead, for this part of the theme, I bought these smiley face balls and blue-tacked grey poster board in the shape of a cloud to some wooden shields that my kids already had. (For my Aussie interested readers, I bought a huge stack of poster board from a Modern Teaching Aide outlet and it has lasted me for years and works out so much better than buying individual sheets!)



Three people had to stand in the middle line of our patio, and try to “take away” the “sunshine,” a.k.a. smiley balls, from the rest of the guests passing them back and forth. Kind of like a big keep away/monkey in the middle game. If they could catch the sunshine balls or block them with their grey clouds, the person who threw it had to switch them places. It was fun and family friendly (luckily no one got hit in the face) and we played until the joviality started to peak.

“The other night dear, while I lay sleeping, I dreamed I held you in my arms. When I awoke dear, I was mistaken, and I hung my head, and cried.”  

Okay, this song is a bit depressing, I admit, and it’s one that Varian’s never really liked; but I grew up singing it around campfires and have always loved it and have loved singing it to my kids. For a game – I liked the idea of having a person close their eyes and have to “hold someone in their arms” and maybe guess who it was. But I thought that might get a bit invasive and pictured people getting uncomfortably groped…not so family friendly. 🙂 I settled then on just hand holding and not full body hugs.

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Each guest took turns putting on the sleeping mask and picking out two names from the bowl (if you’ll notice I wrote the names on little yellow suns). Quietly I would show the names of who was picked and they would come forward and give the person their hand. The guest would then have to feel the two hands and guess which two people they belonged to. If they got at least one of them right they could have a bag of sunshine (cheese and bacon balls) and if they lost they would get a tissue to “hang their head and cry.”

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Our first contestant was Reid who took this game literally and when he didn’t guess the right people (it was harder than you would expect) he ran off and cried and had to be soothed back into the game to get a second chance to earn his sunshine snack. It was a quiet game, but one with lots of suppressed giggles and laughter once the sleeping mask was taken off.

A quick little note about these adorable outfits. I had found clothes for the boys, but I was having such a hard time finding a sunshine-y outfit for Rachelle. I had left it too late and checked at so many places trying to find a puffy yellow dress or a cute sunshine shirt and found nothing that would work. Luckily just the week before, I came across these at Target and they were perfect!

We served a brunch and although I had come up with various yellow themed foods I thankfully gave over this part of the party to my sweet hubby who put together a delicious assortment for us.

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I should mention a special thanks to my parents who were staying with us at the time. Bless their hearts, they helped me get the house all set up and helped with the food, and my mom, despite her jet lag, stayed up late with me the night before helping me with the decorations including cutting all these little clouds out for the sunshine straws.

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I’ve discovered a treasury of party supplies at Bargain City which I don’t think I even knew existed until this year, and it has already come in handy for a few of our parties. From there I bought this banner with these little tissue paper balls that were so pretty for our sunshine and cloud theme.

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A piece of cake! 

The cake was truly a piece of cake, comparatively speaking, and was sooooo delicious. I had pinterested so many awesome but intense looking lemon cakes with lemon glazes or curd (which despite it’s name looks so amazing). I don’t remember why we had been so busy other than getting ready for my parents who flew in the day before to stay with us for a month of festivities and travel. Oh and did I mention I have four little kids so life is always busy (they may or may not be watching a show as I try to finish this post.)


Anyway, I settled on a recipe that I found online (click HERE) though the cake mix I bought was a coconut lemon cake which made it a bit tropical in a good way, and I of course added all the lemon zest to the batter to make it extra tasty!


I had planned on making two circle cakes and using one for the sun and one to chop up into triangle rays. But the batter was CRAZY runny and I was worried that it would just drip out through my spring loaded cake pans. So I ended up cooking it in two 9 X 13 pans which worked fine, and then let them set in the fridge overnight. It was perhaps a bit tricky to get it out of the pan because you poke holes in the hot cake and fill it with a lemon glaze making it so juicy and delicious, but it’s not really intended to be removed and sculpted into shapes.

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But I got the first cake out of the pan without too much cracking, cut a circle out of it and leveled that, and then used the remaining section to cut “rays.” I did use toothpicks to keep them in place just to be safe. I had doubled the recipe, but ended up using only the one pan. I then just whipped up some cream with some vanilla, a little powdered sugar and some yellow food coloring and spread that on top. This was the easy part. I will one day learn how to make/use fondant (sigh- still on the to-do list). This cake was so moist, a butter cream or other frosting would have been a disaster, but the cream was super easy to apply and looked and tasted great!

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I then used two extra heart lollies from the guessing game stash for the eyes, the ends of a marshmallow sliced off for the cheeks, and black piped icing for the smile. The face of the cake and the sign kind of came together at the end and I was so pleased that they matched and were so bright and happy.  It ended up tasting so moist and lemony, I loved it! I don’t think it’s the prettiest cake I’ve ever made, but it was fine and matching and was so lemonylicious!

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We had a lovely party. Bless my Aston Family for always being so willing to come and participate in all of my ideas. We’ve made a lot of good memories over the years, and I’m so grateful for them. They are great sports and wonderful people and I love them dearly.


Also what a special treat to have my parents here for one of our parties! What a huge effort and cost it is for them to come over to Australia to visit us and I will forever be grateful that they do! My heart aches that my family can’t be with us for all of our celebrations. They mean the world to me and I love them so much!



To end I do want to say how much I love my dear little Rachelle. She truly is a ray of sunshine in our lives! We are so grateful she came to our family. She’s our miracle baby, and truly God wanted her in our family, and we love her so much! Happy birthday my darling! You’ll never know dear, how much I love you!!!

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"The time has come,"

The Walrus said, 

"To talk of many things: 

Of shoes - and ships - and sealing wax -

Of cabbages - and kings -

And why the sea is boiling hot -

And whether pigs have wings."

-   Lewis Carroll

This is a segment of a poem that I recite to myself any time I’ve been putting something off and am trying to motivate myself to start – to be ready – to roll up my sleeves and get to work.

Well – the time has come!

I have wanted to get back into blogging for a very – very long time. But at the same time I am a very – very busy mother of four. Okay, enough with the very-s. But it’s true. “My hands are full” – as random strangers say to me as they see me wrestling my 4 little children around (between the ages of 7 and 2.) Oh, yes life is a never-ending party at our house! 🙂


I had a blog back in the day ( lotsofleah.blogspot.com ) but just got really back logged on it and what not and let it fall behind. I am keeping the same name – Memoirs of  a Leah, but have switched to wordpress and here we go.

I know it sounds a bit silly, but I have been very intimidated to do the “VERY FIRST POST” on this new site. It sounded so pressure-y to have it be something spectacular but yet still somewhat of an introduction. That self-imposed pressure has held me back from writing for nearly a year. But today my sweet husband, as part of my 37th birthday present, is giving me a kid-free day to myself. I thought setting up this blog would be a good use of my alone/creative time.


My main goals for this blog are to

  • keep a family journal/photo record
  • share my party ideas. I am a sucker for theme parties and have had fun developing games and decorations and food based off our various theme parties. I love traditions and celebrating, and the holidays and my kids’ birthdays give me lots of opportunities to do so!
  • share my church talks and lessons and spiritual insights for those who might be interested / benefited
  • save and get my creative writing juices flowing. I’ve taken a few writing classes in college and being an English major and a teacher and just a huge reader, I find a lot of joy in writing and hope this can be a talent I develop more through this blog
  • share parenting insights, and particularly learn and share more about Autism or other things that apply to my kiddies
  • share and develop my photography skills
  • share and motivate myself to do more art – I was minoring in art in college and am inspired by an incredibly talented artist in my Mom and artistic Grandmother. I have experimented a bit in the past with watercolor, acrylics, charcoal and pencils. I’ve done a bit of mixed media sculptures. I dream of one day doing oil painting. I dream of a lot things….
  • and whatever else might strike my fancy. I love cooking, I read all the time and might start reviewing, we love to travel and have lots of crazy stories and photos from all over the world….the possibilities will hopefully be endless.


I think the thing that I’ve come to learn is that being any type of artist does take courage. You become so vulnerable as you create and put your efforts on display for others to observe/judge/criticize/love/hate…etc. It’s frightening. But it also makes the world a more beautiful place, and frees your soul.

So feel free to join me on this journey as I develop these talents and creativity and record these moments of my life and my family’s.

The time has come!