Tuesday, September 30, 2014

June Sunset

I posted some June sunset pictures yesterday, but I wanted to give these ones their own post. The sky was amazing and so beautiful on this evening in June. It's really neat how the setting sun can light up the sky when you can't even see the sun itself. Talk about power and influence!


Then the color faded from gold to gold-tinged pink.

It was beautiful. Sights like these make me grateful to be alive. I believe that the beauties of nature are not just scientific occurences, but that they are more importantly evidence of God's love for us and serve as reminders of where we came from and where we're going, and that He's there, watching over it all.

(Deep thoughts inspired by the sunset-lit sky.)

Monday, September 29, 2014

Joyful June

June was a good month. School was out, the weather was nice, the boys got to do some fun camps, and I got a lot of things done that needed to get done before we left for the rest of the summer. June is one of my favorite months because I love the beginning of summer!

I take the news reports and studies that warn about the dangers of iPad use in children with a grain of salt. Yes, don't overdo it, put filters on, and monitor their usage, but that's about it. My boys bond and get along well when they have iPad time. If they were on them all the time, that would be a problem, but they're not, so it's not. iPads are just part of a well-rounded life that includes lots of other activities. And I get some of my best candid photo opps of them when they're both using their iPads because they're peacefully occupied (and therefore they don't stick their tongues (or butts) out at me). :-)

Our good friends the Bodilys moved to Idaho in June, and we took care of their kids on their last evening in Iowa while they were at Chad's graduation from dental school. I've had the pleasure of watching their kids grow up, and my kids have so much fun with them. Our families moved to Iowa the same summer, and Annie and I served in the Primary Presidency together for most of our time here. We've had many fun get-togethers over the years. We were sad to see them go and we miss them a lot!  

It's fun pretending I have daughters when Jane and Maylie are over! 

Sam created quite a picnic for some lucky Angry Birds and a snake and helicopter one day.
The helicopter especially enjoyed it.

Sharpening his cutting skills (get it?), which he's quite good at.
It's funny how different kids in the same family can be. John struggled a lot with his fine motor skills, but they're a breeze for Sam.

I have a soft spot for hamburger cakes. My mom made one for my 9th birthday when we had just moved to Layton, Utah and it was the neatest thing and helped me to feel remembered and special in the midst of a big move. Whenever I see hamburger cakes I think of that, that I mattered enough for my mom to make me a unique cake when we were busy moving to a new part of the country. So when I saw one of these at Wal-Mart I had to get it. And it was actually really, really good--nice and moist and not overly sugary since it's not covered in frosting.  

YUM! I ate the majority of it. :-)

Early summer greeness in and around the yard.

Pretty yellow flowers that popped up in part of the landscaping. They looked tropical!

And since I'm on the subject of nature, here are a few pretty sky shots of sunsets that I took in June from the front yard. The sky is often at its most lovely after the rain, which I find symbolic.

Same tree, different sunsets, 
one pink-hued and the other, golden.

Our cutie pups, Yogi and Boo Boo. 

Brody napping on the porch one day, the epitome of naptime bliss. 

Peaceful cows on the neighborhood farm.
Look at the babies on the left! 

Speaking of animals, John can be quite the animal himself. Any guess as to what type?

John never met a tree or a rope that he didn't want to scale. He has always loved climbing and he's really good at it! 

 Sam and I were driving around one day and I looked back when we got to one of our stops and he looked like this. He'd put the hat on like that himself and everything.
 Homey-G Sam in da house! I mean, da car! (I know, I'm a dork. But at least my son is cool!)

And last but not least, I got a great set of owl bookends on clearance from Kohl's!

Some other notable (to me) things that happened in "joyful June":
  • I randomly noticed one day that I had gotten to 10,000 pins on Pinterest! I love Pinterest (obviously).
  • Best new show discovery: The Bletchley Circle on PBS. Really good. I'm bummed that it didn't get renewed for Season 3.

  • Another good TV discovery was The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon. He's hilarious! Clean-cut, nice, and really, really funny. His thank-you notes crack me up every time. I'm usually not up late enough to watch this show, but when I am, it never fails to make me smile.
  • One more great thing I saw on TV was The Making of a Lady on PBS. This movie was fascinating, creepy, and unlike any period piece I've ever seen before. I couldn't stop thinking about it for days. I watched it in the morning while I worked out and then I watched it again that night. I NEVER do that! Now I want to read the book that it's based on, The Making of a Marchioness by Frances Hodgson Burnett. Meanwhile, the movie is stored away safe and sound in the DVR for my future viewing pleasure.

  • Best movies I saw (in the theater): Maleficent; X-Men: Days of Future Past
  • Worst movie I saw: The Lone Ranger. It was an odd mix of funny and sad. It didn't quite work. The one truly enjoyable part was the final climactic scene with the classic William Tell overture playing.
  • Best book I read: The Fault in Our Stars  by John Green
  • One of my favorite authors, Gretchen Rubin of The Happiness Project, e-mailed me back in response to a quick e-mail comment I sent to a blog post of hers! The more I read of her writing in her books and on her blog, the more I realize that she and I are like kindred spirits in a lot of ways.
  • Another good discovery: Orchard Green restaurant in Iowa City. Peter and I had dinner there to celebrate our 12th anniversary. It was in a historic, elegant building and the food was delicious. It's one of my new favorite downtown restaurants. 
  • June reminded me of how much I love nectarines because it's the month that they're in season and are at their sweetest, juiciest, and most delicious. I ate lots of nectarines in June. :-)
And those are the random makings of a joyful June 2014!

Friday, September 26, 2014

Five Things for Friday

I wasn't going to do a "Five Things" today, but I had enough things to write about, so here it is!

1. Last week a lot of my friends were posting a link on Facebook to a new Mormon Messages video called "You Never Know," so I took the time to watch it since it was popular and involved a mom of young kids, something I obviously can relate to. It's good and worth watching.

However, I was surprised to find as I watched that some things in the video bugged me. I don't usually feel that way with Mormon Messages because I think they're really well done. Don't get me wrong; I could totally relate to a lot of what was in the video and I appreciate its main message very much. I will even admit that my eyes filled up with tears at the end when President Hinckley's voice came on and he said those wonderful words of wisdom, words that I agree with. I realize that the whole point of the video is "You never know how much good you do," especially when you have a bad day and are tired and dejected by the end of it, and the details shown in the video are really secondary to that. But some of those details bugged me, and I think they point to a bigger problem that many people have, especially women, both in and out of the Mormon church.

The mom (I'll refer to her as "the mom" for simplicity's sake) doesn't say "no" to some of the things requested of her, and I think she should have. There's nothing wrong with that--it's not always selfish to say "no." I very much believe that you have to take care of yourself so that you can be happy and healthy and therefore able to take the best care that you can of your family. That's what's most important. This is something I've really been working on in my own life, and I KNOW that it makes a difference and I'm a better and happier mother, wife, and woman for it. It's about trying to live a well-balanced life. It's not about saying no to service opportunities; it's about saying yes to them when it's something you can handle and/or want to handle. This video did not portray that well. Again, that's not the main point of this message, but I still think it matters and is worth talking about.

Specifically, there were two things in the video that drove me nuts. The first was the friend who showed up at the mom's doorstep asking last-minute if she could watch her daughter, right then and there. First of all, who does that? Secondly, the friend could clearly see that the mom was on her way out the door and that it wasn't a good time for her, but she left her daughter with her anyway, and only said "Thank you" when she picked her up later and quickly left. I found the whole scenario to not be very believable. The mom should have said, "I'm sorry, I can't do it," or she could have taken the girl along on her errands, since she had her own daughter with her anyway, instead of staying home and not going out to do what she was planning on doing. I thought it was rude of the woman to just show up and put her on the spot like that. Later in the video you see that it was an important doctor's appointment that may have been a last-minute emergency, and it really did help her to be able to have that time with her doctor and husband, but I'm not sure that it dismisses being so inconsiderate without much explanation. So that whole scene bothered me. 

The other thing that bugged me was when someone called to see if the mom could bring dinner over that night to a family who had a new baby. The mom had plans that evening to see a cousin who was in town just for a short while. She should have just said "no." It was a last-minute request, she had her own kids to feed and care for, she needed to get ready to go out, and she would have been perfectly justified in saying that she couldn't do it that night.  
OR, she could have ordered the family a pizza instead of making them a homecooked meal, which resulted in her missing getting together with her cousin that night and caused her to be frustrated with the kids and discouraged with everything at the end of the day. That is not healthy self-care. Granted, it was partly her own fault for forgetting that she had agreed to provide the dinner until the last minute. But if she'd been better organized that probably wouldn't have happened. Lack of organization like that can be another sign of lack of self-care.
OR she could have put the meatloaf or casserole or whatever it was together and brought it over uncooked and they could have easily popped it in the oven themselves. Nothing wrong with that! 
OR (and this is my feminist streak talking), the new dad could have taken care of dinner himself for a night--men can do that, after all. I'm going a little overboard now, but you get my point--I disagree with the mom doing what she did because of how it impacted her and her family. She should have put herself and her kids first. It's OKAY to do that. (And obviously I'm not judging the mom, since clearly she is an actress and this isn't real; I'm judging the video's content.)

A friend of mine posted this quote on Facebook in regards to the video this week, and I found that it was the perfect antidote to my discontented feelings about the video. This is a quote from Sister Cheiko Okazaki, who served on the Relief Society General Presidency years ago. She expresses my feelings in an articulate and succinct way:   

"Many Mormon women do not have clear boundaries for themselves. They feel a sense of confusion about who they are, because many competing voices lay claim to them and they try to accommodate them all. For example, when I became a member of the Relief Society general presidency, I was appalled at how many women were tormented by guilt about their responsibilities as mothers. . . . .It is a strength for women to be able to cross their own boundaries easily when they are meeting the needs of their children and serving others, but it is a great disadvantage when they feel every call for service as an imperative which they are obligated to meet. Remember, a boundary has “yes” on one side and “no” on the other. A woman who never feels that she can say “no” is lacking an important element of personal identity and, hence, personal safety.”

The last sentence of that quote is unfortunately what was portrayed and personified by the mom in the video. That's a potentially harmful message to put out there. I wish they had shown instead that it's good to take care of yourself and your family first, that it's important and not selfish and is still conducive to a service-oriented life in which you never know the good you've done for someone else. I'm glad that the video shows the real struggles of mothers, that life and their homes don't have to be perfect, that they themselves aren't perfect, that the father isn't always in the picture very much, if at all. Now the next step is for one of these videos to show that self-care is an empowering, essential service to one's own self and to her (or his) family. I think a more effective message would have gone along the lines of something like this:  
You can still have a bad day even when you do take care of yourself and your family's needs first, you can still feel like a failure at the end of the day and be short-tempered with your family, your efforts at giving service might not go very well, but you still don't know the good that you may have done that day.

Having said all that, I want to reiterate that I really do like the main message that the video sends. I wouldn't have teared up at the end if it hadn't touched me and spoken to me in some way. 

2. Speaking of self-care...I started blow-drying and styling my hair this week, after years of not doing it because of the tragic (seriously, tragic) damage that my hair has been dealing with after those botched highlights I got four years ago. Heat styling was just making it even more dry and damaged, so I've hardly done it over the past four years. But my hair seems to have finally gotten over it and is a lot healthier now. It's ready to move on to the next step. Yeah!! It desperately needs the volume and style that blow-drying gives it. I don't think it's ever going to grow any longer than my shoulders again, but that's okay. I can live with that, and I like shorter hair anyway. I can also live without highlights and hair dye. I'm happy with my natural blond color, especially in summer when it lightens up and gets some nice sun-kissed highlights. I can be happy with healthy hair that looks good enough. It doesn't have to be the best hair in the room (it's never been the best hair in the room!). Anyway, I'm not going to blow-dry every day because I don't want to over-do it and my hair air-dries quickly anyway because it's so thin, but on the days that I do blow-dry, I use this Pantene Overnight Miracle serum at night, and it seems to really help repair or prevent damage.

I also like John Frieda's Luxurious Volume Fine to Full Blow-Out Spray.

I hope this fascinating hair news added something special to your day in some way. Ha ha.

3. I couldn't resist getting this cute Halloween shirt that I saw on Zulily this week. It's a good thing I got it when I did because it ended up completely selling out!

 Now isn't that just the cutest? I mean, cu-hootest?
Ha ha!
I mean...hoo-hoo!

4. We're having a beautiful Iowa fall! Summer will always be my favorite, but when the temperatures are mild and the foliage is turning colors and the sky is a beautiful blue, it helps ease the transition between seasons beautifully (literally). I picked out the first pumpkin for the front stoop yesterday and I'm looking forward to filling the porch steps with them in the weeks to come. It really is a nice time of year!

5. Wow, I've been being much more wordy on my blog than I usually am. It must be the three months that I took off from it. It's kind of funny that I can't seem to shut up. I should probably try to "keep it pithy" more often in the future. (Bonus points for you if you know where that phrase comes from!) 

Have a great weekend!  

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Why I Still Blog

In the past year I've been seeking to simplify my life. I've taken a good look at just about everything I do and have evaluated what's worth keeping and what needs to go. Blogging has fallen under this scrutiny for me many times over the past seven years that I've been doing it. For awhile in the past year I was thinking of stopping because of the time it can take, but after much thought, I decided not to because I found that it serves many purposes and overall, it makes me happy.
My blog serves as an effective creative outlet for my writing, analysis and thought/opinion processing, and photo-taking.
It helps me keep my writing, editing, and photography skills up while I'm not working professionally.
It helps me stay connected with my family and friends. The family connection is especially important because we live halfway across the country from all of them.
It serves as a journal and a family history record.
It enables me to share things with the world.
It helps me connect with wonderful people who I wouldn't have "met" otherwise; I've made some great friends through blogging. One of them, Sharon, even rented our Cape house for a week this past summer (we still haven't met in person, but we've texted and e-mailed and are friends on Facebook and of course we've read each other's blogs for years and I feel like I know her well!). The human connection of blogging is very real, even though it takes place on a computer/tablet/phone screen. I find that I write better and am much more motivated to write well when I'm doing it for an audience. Technically, I don't blog for an audience because I write about whatever I want to write about and it mostly concerns my life, but I do often write with an audience in mind because it makes me a better writer and editor.    

Speaking of audience, the blogging community is much different now than it was when I started my blog at my good friend Alyson's encouragement in 2007. Back then there were many more people (specifically, moms) blogging and it was common to seek for a community of fellow bloggers whose blogs you'd read and comment on and they'd do the same for yours. This blog never got super-popular or anything, but for a few years there was a really good community of us and I'd get many comments on a lot of my posts from people all over the country, sometimes the world. It was nothing compared with a lot of the big blogs out there, but it was certainly something, and it's definitely more than I get now. But now, almost every single one of those women from our fun little community no longer blogs, or has chosen to make their blog completely private. Only a few friends remain from that original group who still write on their blogs. I'm not seeking after more, and in the effort of simplifying I'm cutting a number of the blogs I read from off my list--the blogs that really don't do anything for me anymore and aren't worth my time. It's not anything personal against their authors, it's just that it's not the right fit for me now. I enjoy getting a glimpse into other people's lives because I'm curious/nosy like that, and I truly enjoy the way that some people write and take pictures, and that is one of the reasons blogging is such fun. It's like reading--it opens up new worlds and windows into other people's lives, and it's not fiction! But I'm no longer trying to make more "blog friends" or open up more windows. So in that way, blogging has changed a lot in the last several years. Many of the smaller, personal blogs like mine no longer exist or are no longer open to the public. There are several bigger blogs and fewer smaller ones. 

A few things, though. I don't like my blog name. I'm not sure that I ever really did. It's so corny! "The Doll Sweet Journal" is a tongue-in-cheek mirror for The Wall Street Journal, which I enjoy reading. My thinking was that the blog was my form of a newspaper, with "business stuff" (like commenting on politics and current events) and fun stuff (a lot more fun stuff these days), like The WSJ does. I guess it served as my model for what I wanted the blog to be. When I created my blog I was trying to come up with something clever in a matter of minutes because I wanted to get the blog set up quickly, and "The Doll Sweet Journal" (sadly) is the most clever thing I was able to come up with. (You can read my very first post where I talk about my silly thought process here.) Since then I've thought of some better ideas for a blog name, and there's one title in particular that I really like right now, but I'm not sure how to go about changing the name--particularly the domain name, since I bought the URL of thedollsweetjournal.com. I need to look into how I can get that changed and have traffic re-directed to the new name. Then I have to make a new header, something I never figured out how to do well, and it all starts feeling like too much work! I'm looking for ease and simplicity these days, so I'm not sure that the blog name will change anytime soon, but it's something that I have on my mind and To-Do List.

Related to that, one of the things I dislike about blogging are the tedious technical aspects of it. For the past several months I've been getting e-mails when I publish a post that my posts aren't sending to some of the people who subscribe to my blog because of some new weird rules that Yahoo has imposed, or at least that's what I gleaned from the archaic explanation. Then yesterday I was commenting on other people's blogs and I got e-mails saying that they wouldn't send, probably because of the same issue, although I've never had that happen before. It seems to be a problem with Yahoo but I'm not totally sure and I don't know how to fix it. I don't know if Google has anything to do with it and if it's their way of trying to make me finally get a gmail address (Google owns this blog domain, or rather I do, but I buy it from them), but if it is, it may work because I'm thinking of switching to Gmail now. So that's a whole bundle of technical junk that I really don't feel like dealing with, but I should because I like commenting on people's blogs and they probably won't know that I've been there if I don't. This is a hold-over from the old-school blogging days when visiting/commenting on other blogs was very important. In any case, the technical details of blogging are not something that I enjoy. 

Something that helps me keep blogging are the kind compliments I get about it. Just today I was walking with my friend and she told me on her own that I do a really good job with it and that she enjoys reading it. Other people who I had no idea were reading it have come up to me or e-mailed me and told me how much they liked it, which has made my day. It's nice to be read when you write. It's nice to influence someone for good. I include my blog in my email signature because I saw someone's email years ago who did that and I thought it was cute and a fun, easy way of sharing. I often delete the URL when I'm e-mailing teachers at school and things like that, but otherwise I usually leave it. I've debated about doing that, and have asked Peter several times if I should, but he thinks it's just fine. So I guess I'll keep it. Don't sweat the small stuff, right?

Well, I've written long enough now, and I'm starting to ramble. Nobody likes an overly long blog post, myself included, and this one has definitely exceeded my usual length, and there aren't even any pictures yet! So I'm going to include a few now. Here's another reason why I still blog. This past year I started getting my blog made into books, and they are so much fun to have and to look through. So many little details of things that I would have forgotten, that bring me right back to a certain place or event, are recorded in these books, and it really is precious. 

This is my first blog book. Yes, that's a crib on the cover! It's a weird cover picture. It's the very first picture I ever posted on my blog, when John was only three years old. It was too cumbersome to select another picture for the cover of the book, so this one got the place of honor. 

The back cover:

Some of the interior pages:

This "Skirts 'n Dresses" post that I did back in April 2008 is one of the most popular posts I've ever written. It's gotten about 1800 hits over the years. I had no idea it would be anything like that when I put it together. I just wanted to wear a different skirt or dress every day because I liked them so much and it was a fun way of organizing my shopping options.

Two of my other blog books:

I forgot to include the year on the cover of this one. Dang it!

Blog books lined up on the bookcase.

I'm going to make the next book a combined one for 2013 and 2014 in January. The website I use to make the books is blog2print.com. I tried Blurb but it was too complicated and time-consuming. Blog2Print is easy, the price is reasonable, and the quality is very good. I recommend it if you ever want to get your blog published into a book (or several books). This is just another reason why I still blog--it has turned me into a published author! Ha ha.

And for all of those reasons, my dear readers, I still blog!