Thursday, March 28, 2013

Logan

My brother-in-law Logan is wicked smart.  I mean, truly brilliant.  I would throw out his MCAT score to prove it, but he would be embarrassed.  (Let's just say it was higher than 40.)  He went to one of the top medical schools in the nation and is in training to become a surgeon.  He is quite possibly the smartest person I have ever known (and I have known some smart people).

But you know what I love about Logan?  He is so humble and down-to-earth.  You would never know that he is brilliant (unless someone like me bragged for him) because he is so approachable, kind, and unassuming.  Surgeons are known to be egomaniacs (which is obviously a gross stereotype, but I hear it's kind of true).  Not Logan.  I don't think there is a shred of ego in that sweet man.

And you know what I admire most about him?  It's not all of his intellectual prowess or his academic achievements.  It's the fact that he is an incredible father.  He is so hands-on, creative, and engaged.  He could play with his kids for hours and hours and hours--and he does, even after 24-hour rotations and 80-hour weeks at the hospital.  Pretty much every free moment he has goes toward playing with his kiddos.

I recently watched in awe as he put my nephew Callum to bed.  They have an entire play routine based on the children's book Where the Whild Things Are.  They roar their terrible roars, roll their terrible eyes, and gnash their terrible teeth.  They yell, "Let the wild rumpus start!" and act out all of the pictures from the book--dancing wildly, howling at the moon, and swinging from vines (Logan grabs Cal by the ankles and swings him).  Finally, Callum shouts, "BE STILL!" and tames Logan by staring deeply and menacingly into his eyes.  It was just about the cutest thing I have ever witnessed.


And as for Logan's interactions with his "Lady Girl," as he lovingly calls my niece Jade...well, I will let the photos speak for themselves:



He is one sweet daddy!  (And when she gets a little bigger, I have no doubt she will be joining the wild rumpus as well!)

Happy birthday to a man whom I greatly admire for so many reasons.  Though I will never be as smart as Logan, I do aspire to be more like him as a parent--to be more creative, more fun, more engaged, and more energetic with my children, no matter how tired I am or how hard I am working.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Derek

A few years ago, when we were in Idaho for Christmas break, the Nielson family all decided to go bowling.  The evening was going along quite normally—with Ryan throwing strikes, me throwing gutter-balls, and everyone else putting in a decent performance—when Ryan’s older brother, Derek, got up to take his turn. 

We all watched him ready himself for his next bowl.  With his back to us, he raised his ball up to his chin and stared at the pins down the lane, seemingly very focused and serious. But then suddenly, we noticed a subtle movement in his feet.   He was lightly stepping from one foot to the other to the beat of the Latin music in the background of the bowling alley. 

As we watched in amusement, his dance moves became increasingly pronounced.  He continued to hold his bowler’s pose, crouched with his ball up at his chin, ready to throw it down the lane at any moment, but he started prancing from foot to foot, shaking his booty dramatically to the incessant beeping of the song. (Seriously, it's the most annoying song in history.  Take a listen, and you will agree.)  

By this time, Ashley’s husband Nate couldn’t help but join in the fun, and he got up beside Derek and started doing Russian high-kicks.  Sensing the building energy, Derek threw his ball down the lane, got a strike, and turned around pumping his fists and doing a victory dance.

Everyone in the bowling alley was watching and laughing, and some kids went back to the jukebox and paid for the same irritating song to play over and over.  Apparently they wanted to watch Derek do his dance all night long. 

He gladly obliged.

By the end of the evening, the entire Nielson family was dancing and singing loudly to the chorus, “Un, dos, tres, cuatro!!” When we were about to leave the bowling alley, the same kids put the song on the jukebox one final time, and we did a family congo line up the ramp and out the door.

This is one of my favorite memories with the Nielsons, and, as usual, all of the fun started with Derek.  “D,” as he is often called by his brothers, is the comedian of the Nielson family.  You wouldn’t necessarily know it when you first meet him, because he is calm, intelligent, and a little reserved, but get him around his family and closest friends, and he turns into a total goofball.  Don’t believe me?  Check out the photos:

I love how amused Tanner is by Derek in this pic.
Derek's wife, Alli, is a good sport with his antics.
Classy, Derek. 
The photographer wanted us to be "candid" in this photo.  Derek's ridiculous corniness got us all laughing.
In addition to being the life of the party, Derek has a serious side that I love too.  He knows something about nearly every topic because reading non-fiction books and current events is one of his hobbies.  He is very smart and well-informed, and I look up to him and really value his opinions on life and the world.

Happy birthday to a great brother-in-law who makes everything fun and exciting.  We love you, D!

Saturday, March 23, 2013

The Latest on Rach and Ry

I feel like I've had writer's block for the past year or so.  I remember when I used to sit down with my laptop and start tapping the keys, and a blog post just came pouring out. I remember when this blog was heartfelt and even slightly humorous.  Now when I sit down with my laptop, nothing seems to come out of my brain, so I usually just dump a bunch of photos into the post and call it good.  Sorry about that.  It hasn't been for a lack of trying.

The truth is, anyone who reads this blog is probably more interested in cute photos of Noah than in my deep thoughts anyway--so I don't know why I am apologizing.  But tonight, I am just going to write.  I will update about Noah with lots of cute photos sometime in the next few days.  For this post, you lucky readers get a full update on the not-so-exciting lives of Rach and Ry!  (How often are we the featured subject of a blog post anymore??)

First off, Mr. Ry.  (And I have to include this photo because it's just so darn cute.)


Ry has been so busy.  He is busier than I ever remember him being in dental school. His residency program is incredibly demanding, and his boss is not very nice, but he is hanging in there.  On top of all of the day-to-day requirements for the program, he is finishing up his major research project (which he has to present at a national conference in May), studying for his Boards (also in May), and serving as the president of the men's group at our church.  Oh, and did I mention he is looking for a job? Yeah, he's looking for a job.  We have one really promising prospect, but they are considering some other applicants too, so I don't want to get my hopes up.  I am starting to panic a little bit that he doesn't have a job lined up yet and his graduation is three months away, but I know it will all work out--somehow, life has a way of doing that.

Ry went to lunch with some buddies at Panda Express today, and his fortune cookie said, "You will enjoy full contentment by summer's end."  I certainly hope that is true!

Ryan was also filmed today modeling emergency procedures for his dental clinic.  His program does emergency simulations, and apparently Ryan is the best in his program at handling these high-stress scenarios.  They even wanted to capture him on film to show future residents.  I think this is kind of hilarious, so I asked him what he does that's so impressive, and he said, "I just yell orders at everyone in the room."  Really??  Ryan is the quietest person in his residency by far (they all tease him for never saying a word), and yet he is the best at yelling out orders in an emergency?  When I pointed out this irony to him, he responded, "I am silent but deadly."  Hahaha!  Love that man!


As for me, I am keeping busy at home.  I hang out with Noah all day, and though 12 hours with a toddler can feel a bit mind-numbing at times, for the most part, I am really happy and content.  Sometimes I feel guilty that Ryan's life is so stressful right now because mine is pretty darn easy.  As I've mentioned on this blog before, Noah was a really fussy baby, and the first year of his life was quite difficult, but the last few months have been kind of a breeze.  I hesitate to admit that, since I don't want to jinx myself, but he is the best little toddler and so fun to be around.  He talks really well for his age, so I think that is preventing him from having too many tantrums because he can pretty much tell me what he wants and needs.  Of course he has his days, and I'm sure we'll have tantrum phases in the months ahead, but I have been savoring these past few awesome months with him.

One thing that has been hard for me to get used to is all of the housework.  I don't enjoy it much.  Sometimes I feel like my life is Groundhog's Day, with never-ending dishes to be washed and laundry to be folded and vacuuming to be done and meals to be made.  But I figure I better get used to it if we want a big family (which we do), and I have been trying to come up with "systems" and techniques for making it all easier and more enjoyable.  (I welcome suggestions.)  I'm also trying to remember that I am not just a housekeeper--I am a homemaker.  I know that's an old-fashioned term, but I like the idea of working hard to make a home.  It's not the most glamorous job in the world, but I know it's worthwhile.  I also know that Ryan appreciates all of my efforts, and I would do anything for that delightful husband of mine.

I have pondered in the last few months why the housework has felt so all-consuming.  Shouldn't I have felt more overwhelmed by housework when I was a busy teacher who didn't have time to get this work done?  I think when I was teaching, I didn't care as much if our house was a mess.  We were rarely in our house.  Now, this is my workplace--it's where I spend the majority of my time--and I need it to be clean or else I lose my mind.  I also recognize that the 19-month-old who lives here adds a significant amount of mess to my life that did not exist while I was a teacher (wouldn't trade it for the world),  and Ryan hasn't had as much time to help around the house this year as he has in previous years.  He is always willing to help; he just doesn't always have the time nowadays.  But hopefully that will change once he starts a 9-5 job...you know, the one that he is going to secure any day now so his wife doesn't have a panic attack. :)

When I'm not taking care of Noah or doing the dishes for the 300th time that day, I manage to squeeze in a few projects and hobbies.  During my years as a teacher, I kept a list of projects that I would complete once I was a stay-at-home mom with "lots of time on my hands."  I think I conveniently forgot that mothering a child was going to take up the bulk of my time.  Getting my list of projects accomplished has taken a lot longer than my naive, pre-baby self thought it would, but I keep reminding myself that I essentially have no deadlines anymore--all of the projects on my list are worthwhile, but they aren't time-sensitive, and I can just continue to work on them over the months and years.  I am grateful that Noah finally takes a good nap once a day (he has never been a good napper, but in the past six weeks, he's started sleeping for two hours in the afternoon--hallelujah!) because now I have a bit of time every day to work on my own stuff.  I try not to spend much time on my computer when Noah is awake, so I use naptime to do my editing for The Power of Moms, recruit for the Hogar, journal, work on my projects, catch up on emails, etc.  I must admit, and I'm sure most mothers in the world agree with me, those two hours of peace and quiet are blissful.  Nothing like a little break to "recharge" me for the rest of the day with my crazy boy!

In other good news, I have found some really kindred spirits here in Denver.  I love having girlfriends.  The first year of Noah's life, I spent a lot of time at home trying to figure out how to be a mom and how to calm him down, and though I had fun friends at church, I didn't spend a lot of time with them outside of Sundays.  I will admit, I was lonely and ached for Buffalo a lot of the time.  Though I still miss Buffalo more than is probably normal, things are different now that Noah is a happy boy.  We love getting together with friends and going on outings, and I have a girlfriend whom I run with three mornings a week at 6 a.m. (yes, 6 a.m.--never thought I'd see the day), and another girlfriend whom I get dessert with on occasion (you know, just to counteract the running), and a group of women from church who get together for Girls' Nights and Book Clubs.  I feel at home here.  It's kind of a bummer that just when I am feeling so happy and comfortable here, we are probably going to move in three months--but I am just grateful that the last six months have been so good, and the next three will probably be even better.  From this experience, I've learned that there may be periods of time in my life when I don't have close friends, or my babies need almost all of my attention, or I feel lonely and out of place in a new environment...but those times won't last forever.  I truly believe there are kindred spirits to be found everywhere--it might just take a little bit of time to discover them.

So, overall, as you can see, life is good.  Even for poor Ryan who is busier and more stressed than he's probably ever been in his life.  He is getting excellent training and is going to be an awesome pediatric dentist (who handles all emergencies with ease as he shouts orders at people) when all of this is over.  I feel like I am getting great training too--as a mother and a homemaker and a balanced human being who is less stressed than I used to be and more able to enjoy my friends and my life.  The last seven months have been really wonderful--and I can't wait to see what the next seven months will bring.

Update on this Little Guy in the next few days (with lots more cute photos, I promise)!

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Family Photos

We had family photos taken with the Nielsons when we were all together for Christmas.  Sally just recently got them back, so even though these are three months old, here are a few of my favorites:

Our little fam!



The whole fam!




The grandparents!




Sunday, March 10, 2013

Aunt Dana

Today is my Aunt Dana's birthday (yes, lots of birthdays in March!)

Dana is my mom's older sister, and my mom deeply loved and admired her.

Aunt Dana and Mom at a 50s Skating Party
Yesterday, I wrote about how much I've always looked up to my older sister, and I know the same was true for my mom with Dana.  In fact, Dana was the last person my mom asked for on the day she passed away.  My mom thought of Dana as a "mother figure" after my Grandma Barbara's passing, and she leaned on her for support, advice, and love.

In the almost ten years since my mom's death, Dana has become a "mother figure" to us girls as well.  She has gone out of her way to support and love us in everything we do.  She drove to Utah each year that I ran the Moab Half Marathon and cheered me on at the finish line; she went and helped Sarah for a week after she had Callum and was struggling with postpartum depression; and she traveled to see Laura perform as a chorus girl in "Thoroughly Modern Millie" at BYU.  She still calls and emails frequently--never long messages, just quick little check-ins to see how we are and to let us know that she is thinking of us.

She also supports our husbands, constantly asking about their school and work and genuinely wanting to know how they are doing.  I honestly think she considers them her nephews, just as we are her nieces.  Ryan has often remarked how good this makes him feel.  Both of my mom's sisters have always made sure Ryan feels totally included and loved within our extended family.

Aunt Dana also loves our children.  She sends them gifts and always wants to know how they are and what milestones they are reaching.  It was so fun to go and visit her and Uncle Mark in Boise this fall and to watch them interact with Noah.


While I was in Boise, Dana and I had long talks about the ups and downs of motherhood, and I just love hearing her advice.  She is so real and down-to-earth, and essentially tells me that I don't have to be perfect and to just hang in there through the tough days.  She is someone I can be 100% honest and comfortable with.

I know that my mom knew that after she was gone, Dana would support us as she had always supported her.  I know that my mom is so grateful to her--and to all of the other "mother figures" in our lives who have really gone above and beyond in the way that they love us.

I feel so blessed to have Aunt Dana in my life.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Sary

Today is my older sister's birthday.  I love her.  She has always been my role model.  When we were kids, whatever she did, I wanted to do.  Today, I am going to focus on just one way that following her example has blessed my life (though I could write an entire book about it).

When Sarah was in fourth grade, she volunteered to work with the students with disabilities during recess and when they needed extra help in the classroom.  In this role, she got to know a fellow fourth-grader named Brandee who had Spina bifida.  The two became fast friends.  Though Brandee was in a wheelchair, Sarah was adament that she get to do everything that the other fourth graders did.  Sarah would push Brandee around the playground at recess so she could participate in girl talk or play four square with the other kids.  When Sarah's best friends planned a dance for the elementary school talent show, Sarah invited Brandee to join them and choreographed some moves that Brandee could do from her chair.


That summer, Brandee asked Sarah if she would attend a week of summer camp with her, and Sarah excitedly agreed.  She spent a week at Easter Seals Rocky Mountain Village helping Brandee with fishing, horseback riding, and zipline, and she loved every minute of it.  A photographer from the Denver Post captured a candid interaction between Brandee and Sarah at camp, and I think their faces say it all:


When Sarah got home, she asked my mom if she could go back to RMV as a volunteer the following summer, and my mom agreed.  In the meantime, Sarah had an idea.  Could she invite Brandee to sleep over at our house?  Mom was hesitant because of Brandee's level of care, but Sarah assured her that she knew what to do to care for Brandee--she had watched her camp counselor take care of her for a week, and it was nothing that Sarah couldn't handle.

So my mom talked to Brandee's mom, and it was decided: Brandee would get to have her first sleepover at a friend's house.  With a little training from Brandee's mom and a little help from our mom, Sarah was able to help Brandee with anything she needed while she stayed overnight at our home.


At the time, I didn't realize how remarkable it was that my eleven year old sister was helping her friend use the toilet and transfer out of her wheelchair into bed.  It seemed totally normal to me because Sarah never acted like it was a big deal.  She never treated Brandee any differently than she did her other friends.  It didn't bother Sarah that Brandee needed help with a catheter in order to go to the bathroom or that she was more child-like than the rest of Sarah's peers.  Sarah just loved Brandee and made her feel so included and important.

In the next ten years, Sarah returned to the Rocky Mountain Village Camp year after year--first as a volunteer then as a full-time counselor.  Sarah was fiercely devoted to her campers.  No matter the intensity of their medical and physical needs, she was undaunted in her efforts to make sure that they had a perfect week.  I know she blessed many children and their families in her years at camp.

Because of Sarah's example, I volunteered and worked at camp too, as did my little sister.  Because of Sarah's example, I got involved at the Hogar in El Salvador.  Sarah's passion became my passion. Working with persons with disabilities has became one of my greatest sources of joy in life, and I never would've discovered this passion if it weren't for my older sister's example.  I am so grateful that, from such a young age, she's always had such a huge heart and such a determination to make the lives around her better and happier.

Happy birthday to a woman who has made the world a much better place in her 31 years of life.  I love you and look up to you!

**Click here to read Sarah's birthday tribute from two years ago.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Callum

Four years ago, I became an aunt.  From the first moment that I laid eyes on little Callum Michael (via a text message in the middle of the night), I was in love!


In the years since that photo was taken, I have grown to love him more and more.  He has the sweetest temperament of any little boy I've ever known.  He is just a good boy.

Since Noah was about five months old, he's been following Callum around everywhere, stealing his toys, drooling on his beloved cars, and generally getting all up in his grill pretty much all the time.  Though Cal sometimes gets frustrated with Noah, he never pushes or hits him.  I can only think of one time--one!--when Callum gave Noah a little shove to get out of his personal space.  I didn't realize how unusual that was until we started going to playgroups and hanging out with other kids.  I think it's very normal for toddlers to get territorial and possessive and to lash out when someone takes their toys (and my son is doing that himself now on occasion).  Yet Callum has never been a hitter.  He's always been remarkably willing to share and is always very concerned when babies and other children are crying.  He has a sweet and tender heart.

Cal is also hilarious and creative.  His newest obsession is the movie "How to Train Your Dragon" (which, coincidentally, I gave him for Christmas!).  He has taken to wearing clunky snow boots around the house because they are his "dragon-hunting boots."  He usually only wears one boot because the main character in the movie ends up with a peg-leg at the end.  :)  It is hysterical to watch him, totally in his own world, pretending to fight dragons around the house--he waves a styrofoam sword wildly and makes dramatic sound effects with his mouth.

I treated "Hiccup" (as he likes to be called, thanks to the movie) to some chocolate chip pancakes for his birthday this morning.  Funnest!

Wearing his dragon-hunting boots (on the wrong feet, no less)
Holding a new stuffed dragon
Making dragon sound effects, even as this photo was taken :)
I love this little boy so much, and I am so grateful that Noah will have Callum to look up to and play with throughout his life.

Happy Birthday, Cal!

Saturday, March 2, 2013

A Surprise for Katie and Drew


When we decided last-minute to go to Baby Kate's blessing, I realized that we would have an opportunity to see Katie and Drew when we were passing through Salt Lake City.  I was about to email them and ask about their schedules when I got an even better idea...

What if we surprised them?

I absolutely love surprises, and this idea was just too much to resist.  I knew it was a long shot that, with such short notice, they would both have the day off of work, but I contacted their mothers, and, lo and behold, their schedules were open!  What are the chances?  So we did a little scheming and made a plan for them to meet us at a local restaurant at a specified time.

We got to the restaurant a little early, and I was so nervous and excited that I couldn't stop pacing around. I bet all of the other diners thought I was nuts, pacing back and forth as I watched intently out the front window for their car to pull up.

When they finally arrived and started walking up to the restaurant, I thought for sure Katie knew: she was adjusting her jacket, giggling a little, and fiddling with her hair in a way that seemed a little nervous to me.  "Oh well," I thought.  "So the surprise didn't work out, but it will still be fun to see them."

The minute that they walked into the restaurant and spotted us, however, I knew that Katie was definitely surprised.  I was holding Noah in my lap, raising his little hand in the air and waving it at her. She did a double take for a second, then gasped, then covered her mouth in shock, and then ran over and threw her arms around us in a hug.  Her eyes welled with tears, and when I asked, "How are you??" she said, "Awesome, now!  I think I'm gonna cry!" So priceless!

Drew wasn't surprised (though his mom swore on her eternal marriage that we weren't in town when he asked her, he apparently wasn't convinced--hahaha!), but he was just as excited to see us as Katie was.  We had a lovely lunch together, and we all admired Noah as usual and talked about how perfect, brilliant, and handsome he is.   He takes a little while to warm up, but by the end of the meal he was playing trucks with Drew and charming everyone with his darling personality.  Love him.

And love seeing him having fun with his birthparents!

 

Friday, March 1, 2013

Baby Kate's Blessing Day

We decided to take a last-minute trip to Idaho over Presidents' Day weekend to be there for our niece Kate's baby blessing.  We were so glad to be there with family on this special day.

Love this sweet baby girl!



And love her wonderful parents!



And love her wonderful grandparents!



Speaking of Baby Kate, I just saw these photos last night for the first time (they were taken when Kate was a week and a half old), and they almost brought tears to my eyes.  I just love the delight on Ashley's and Nate's faces when they look at Kate.  This baby girl is so loved!