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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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…….”

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You Are My Sunshine – Rachelle’s Birthday Party

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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!)

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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.)

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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!

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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.

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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!

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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 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! 🙂

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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.

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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.

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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!

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