Monday, September 23, 2013

Aunt Jackie

In the weeks before my mom passed away, she and I would often have serious talks about the future.  In one such discussion, she mentioned to me that she hoped my sisters and I would rely on my aunts after she was gone.  She said, "I know Beth and Dana live out of town and won't be able to be here for you at a moment's notice...but you know who would be?  Aunt Jackie.  She lives nearby, and she would do anything for you girls."

My mom had two sisters by birth--Beth and Dana--and she gained one more when she married my dad: my Aunt Jackie.

I recently found an amazing gift that Jackie put together for my mom for Christmas in 1991.  That had been a long year for my mom, with her cancer diagnosis, surgery, chemotherapy, bone marrow transplant, and three-month hospital stay.  Jackie put together a beautiful binder filled with letters from family and friends expressing their admiration and love for my mom, sharing favorite memories, and encouraging her in her battle.  It is a treasure to read the letters (it has had me close to tears tonight as I've flipped through it), and I'm sure it meant the world to my mom.  That was back in the days before email, so getting in touch with all of those people and compiling a gift like that must have taken my aunt a lot of time and effort.

I loved reading the memories of my mom that Jackie shared in her letter in the binder.  Here is just an excerpt: "After we were both married, it was great to live just three doors from you and Mike in Provo.  I remember all the fun we had playing UNO, going to ball games, and canning peaches when I had morning sickness so bad that I kept excusing myself.  One of the funniest things I remember was when I was in labor with Amber, and you appointed yourself official timer of the contractions.  We went to the Wilkinson Center for an ice cream cone, and you even followed me to the ladies room just in case I had another one because 'we have to get them all down on paper.'

I have so many special memories of you and your family that I could probably write pages about it all.   I am so glad that we live close so that my kids get a chance to know you and your kids.  I think Mike is very lucky and very smart to have married such a special person.  I feel very fortunate that he did because I think of you as one of the best friends I have ever had.  It seems that everyone who knows you thinks of you as a dear friend, and it is easy to see why.

As I have watched you struggle through this past year, my admiration for you has increased even more.  It has been amazing to see your strength and to see you still thinking of others.  I couldn't believe that you spent time baking cookies for my birthday the day before you went into the hospital for your bone marrow transplant.  I think that meant more to me than any present I have ever received."

I am grateful to Aunt Jackie for capturing such wonderful memories of my mom--not just her own memories, but also those of dozens of family members and friends.  What a gift to my mom and what a gift to my mom's posterity!  I can't wait to read through every letter in the binder and learn more about the amazing woman that my mom was.  I miss her, and reading the letters makes me feel like she is just a little bit closer.

Unfortunately, my mom's battle with cancer wasn't over in 1991, and over the twelve years that she continued to fight, Jackie supported my mom in countless ways--I'm sure we will never know all of the little things she did for my mom and for us in those years.  Her last gift to my mother was that she bound the baby quilts that my mom made for us to give to our children.  Mom didn't have the energy to finish them, so Jackie did.  The blanket that my mom made for me (a colorful little quilt with monsters all over it) is, without a doubt, Noah's most prized possession.  It is precious to see him snuggled up to it every night.

Jackie's gifts to my mom actually haven't stopped--because my mom was right when she told me that Aunt Jackie would be there for us whenever we needed her in the years after my mom passed away.  She helped with my little sister's costumes for high school musical productions; she taught me how to make a baby blanket for my best friend's baby shower (the same pattern that my mom used for our baby blankets); she made my older sister an amazing pioneer dress for her performing church mission in Nauvoo, Illinois.  She has helped with countless events--bridal showers, weddings, baby showers.  She has celebrated with us in our triumphs and prayed for us in our trials.  She has been an amazing aunt and friend.

Happy birthday, Aunt Jackie!  Thank you for everything you did for my mom and continue to do for me.  I love you and am so grateful for you in my life!

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Why I Haven't Been Blogging

I have been a little quiet on the blog front lately.  This is mostly due to the fact that I get consumed by whatever project I am working on, and in the past six weeks, I've been working on getting our new home unpacked, organized, and decorated.  I wish I were a more temperate person who methodically worked on projects bit by bit, a little each day or week, until they are done--but that's just not my nature.  I get obsessed and can't relax until the job is FINISHED and off my list.  I always tell myself that as soon as this project is done, I will start being a more balanced and temperate person...but the problem is, as soon as one project ends, another begins, so I find myself constantly in a state of obsession over some project or another.  Is anyone else like this?  Does anyone have any advice for me on how to temper this tendency?

You wouldn't think that getting our little home organized and decorated would take six weeks, but we have never lived in a house before, so we had some furniture to buy and work spaces to figure out...and everything takes so stinkin' long.  You get a couch, and then you need to find an area get an area rug, and then you need to find throw pillows to tie it all together.  You get some frames for a gallery wall, and then you need to get some photos get the photos printed, and then you need to hang the frames.  (Why does hanging pictures take so long??)  All of the decorating and organizing feels rather superficial at times, but it needs to be done.  I am decorationally challenged, so this has not been an easy task for me, but we are almost done with it all (just a few more pictures to get up on the walls!), and it feels good.  I cannot tell you how much we LOVE living in a house, and the home we are renting is perfect for us.  At least five times a day, I think about how grateful I am that we found this place and that we are lucky enough to have a home.  Perhaps I will post a few photos of our little home soon...if I can convince myself to take the time to upload photos.

Which leads to my next rant/question.  Another reason why I've been quiet on the blog front lately is that blogging takes a lot of time.  First you have to write the posts, and then you have to upload all of the photos from your camera or phone, edit them, add them to the post...what seems like it should take twenty minutes ends up taking an hour (or longer).  And if you want to turn your blog into a book for your family and future posterity to enjoy, that takes even more time.  I have been working on my second blog book, and I am amazed by how much time it takes.  I did the book for 2011 last year, I am working on the book for 2008 and 2009 this year--but I still have 2010, 2012, and 2013 to go!  Has anyone else run into this problem?  I've noticed that a lot of my friends have stopped blogging in recent months and years, and I wonder if this is why.  It's just a lot to keep up with!  Do people even read blogs anymore with all of the other options of social media that are, in a lot of ways, much quicker and easier?  (Speaking of, if you have Instagram and want to see far too many photos of Noah, let me know--I update there every couple of days because it's quick and easy.)  Sometimes I wonder if I should stop blogging all together, but I think I would miss the writing aspect of it, and I know our families like to know the details of what's going on with I'm not sure what to do.  Friends, do you have any advice on this?

And speaking of Noah, there's another reason why I haven't been blogging this summer: Being a mom is really busy!  I am constantly surprised by the energy it takes to care for a toddler and run a say nothing of the additional responsibilities of editing for Power of Moms and volunteering at our church and in our community.  I just got asked to help with the teenage girls at our church, and I really love it (I have the opportunity to teach again!), but I can already tell it's going to be busy with weekly lessons and activities.  I feel like I am always tired these days, which makes me feel like a sissy because I only have one kid for crying out loud, and I am a stay-at-home-mom, and I actually get more sleep now than I ever did while I was teaching.  So why am I so tired??  Can someone explain this to me?  How do women with lots of children function??  As I've mentioned on this blog a few times, Ryan and I are hoping to add another baby to our family in the near future, and I've started fertility treatments again, and I constantly wonder how I will keep up when there is another little one (and hopefully several more eventually!) running around the house.  There is nothing I want more, and yet it's a bit mind-boggling to consider it happening.

And finally, full admission, another reason why this blog has been pretty quiet lately is that Ryan and I have gotten a tad addicted to an old BBC show called "Larkrise to Candleford."  We don't have TV, so throughout our marriage, we've never had any "shows" that we  consistently watch together like a lot of couples do. But a friend recommended "Larkrise" to us because we like Downton Abbey, and we've been watching an episode several nights a week on the internet, and it is really fun.  I think it is more the relaxation and togetherness that we crave than the show itself.  There is something so nice about crashing at the end of the day and snuggling up together to watch something completely mindless.  In the past, my idea of togetherness was to clean the kitchen or work on one of my projects.  (Fun, right??)  I have a hard time sitting down to do something like watch TV, but now I totally understand why people love it.  I've realized that it is probably really healthy and good for couples to have a favorite show that they share. (Ryan is in full support of this realization, as he would much prefer to snuggle and watch something fun than clean the house! That poor man puts up with a lot from his worker wife!)

So that was the very long explanation of some of the reasons why I have not been blogging this summer!  I hope to catch up a bit over the next week or so.  Who knows if I will keep up this blog long-term, but I will at least finish 2013 (so I can have a complete blog book, right?  Ahhh!).

Thanks for reading my rant.  I know all of this is totally "first-world problems," and I feel a little sheepish even asking for advice--but all of you wise women out there, I would REALLY appreciate if you could leave a comment and give me some input on balancing projects, running a household, volunteering, blogging, motherhood, and life.  xoxo

Wednesday, September 11, 2013


I will never forget the first time that I met my brother-in-law, Cole.  I was already married into the Nielson family at that time, but Cole had been away on a two-year church mission in Brazil when Ryan and I started dating seriously, got engaged, and got married--so walking off the plane, Cole was seeing his family for the first time in two years AND meeting his new sister-in-law for the first time ever.

As he walked down the escalator at the airport, he was radiating happiness.  I could tell that he had loved his mission and was filled with confidence and faith, and I could also tell that he was so excited to see his family again.  He threw his arms around his parents and siblings, and then he turned to me and said "Sister!" and threw his arms around me too.

In the years since that first meeting, I have grown to love and respect Cole so much.  During Cole's first year at BYU, he came to Ryan's and my tiny attic apartment every Sunday for dinner.  He would ask for our advice on life, school, and dating, and it was fun to feel involved in his life.  I was in the midst of my busy first year of teaching, but when Cole asked for help on his first college research paper, how could I say no?  We spent many hours working on his writing together, and in exchange, he occasionally came to help out in my classroom.  He and Ryan dressed up as Julius Caesar and Brutus for a murder mystery I put on when my students were reading Shakespeare.  At the end of the year, a few of my female students wrote on their course evaluations that the highlight of the class was "Mrs. Nielson's brother-in-law."  Hahaha.  I must admit, Cole is a pretty handsome guy--I don't blame those girls for noticing. :)

A special girl named Sara caught his eye a few years ago, and it was really fun to be able to give him relationship advice throughout their courtship.  Though we were living in different states at the time, he would sometimes call and say, "Rach, what do you think about this..."  I loved feeling involved even though I was far away.  Sara is amazing, and I am so glad that they got married and are now expecting a little boy in November.  Can't wait.

I love that Cole comes up with nicknames for every family member, and I love that he calls his siblings AND his friends "Brother" and "Sister" as a term of endearment.  That is a total Cole-ism, and it's my favorite.  It makes everyone feel like family.  Sometimes when I am going off on a rant about something, Cole will say, "Sis-ter..." in this certain warning tone of voice like "Whoa, simmer down," and it's really funny.  I can hear it in my head right now as I write this.

One thing I really admire about Cole is his devotion to God.  Whenever the whole family is home for holidays, I often find Cole in some quiet corner studying the scriptures.  He is 100% committed to his faith, and it is inspiring to see him live what he believes.  For example, he has decided that he is not going to study on Sundays during medical school so that the Sabbath can truly be a day of rest for him and his family--but that means he often gets up at 3 or 4 a.m. on Monday morning to finish preparing for a test.  I think that is awesome, and I know the Lord will bless him for his diligence.

I have written before about how good it makes me feel when Cole and Sara ask for our advice on life.  It also makes me feel great how much they love Noah.  They try to Skype with us every couple of weeks so they can see Noah, and they always seem as amused by his antics as we are.  Just last night, we talked to them on Skype and Noah sang "Nuncle Cole" a little happy birthday song, and Cole and Sara cheered and clapped.  They say he is the smartest, cutest two year old around. :)  It feels wonderful to know that Noah is so loved.  What a lucky boy he is.

Happy birthday, Cole!  I love and admire you, Brother, and I am grateful for the good example that you are to me in my life.


Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Aunt Beth

Today is my Aunt Beth's birthday.  She is my mom's little sister and has always been one of my kindred spirits.  She "gets" me, probably because I am a lot like her.  She is very sentimental and enjoys discussing life and connecting with others.  She is really into figuring out people's personalities, and she and I are both melancholy/blue personalities through and through.  The rest of the family laughs at us because of our sentimentality, but hey, at least we have each other!  Also, she's a walking contradiction because she's very competent and organized and yet totally scattered and absent minded, just like me.  She has been known to misplace her cell phone for days, lock her keys in the car everywhere she goes, leave the refrigerator door open when they leave for vacation, and cook spoons into pans of brownies because she gets distracted by something else while she is cooking.  Hahaha!  I have never done things like that. ;)

As similar as we are, there is one thing that I really admire about my Aunt Beth that I know I am not very good at, and I strive every day to change and be more like her: She is so good at being fully present for the people she loves.  Though she has a crazy busy life as a mother of four and a pediatric physical therapist, she is never too busy for anyone.  You could call her day or night--literally--and she would be there for you.  If you needed her to come help you through a hard time, she would drop everything and hop in the car to come visit (and she'd probably forget her bag on her way out the door, but "oh well!" she'd say).  
I am someone who often gets consumed by my to-do list, and I fear that I sometimes make the people that I Iove most feel like I am "too busy" for them, and this is something that I am constantly working on.  I often think of my Aunt Beth when I am feeling stressed and too busy, and I remind myself to relax, enjoy life, and be present for the people I love.  I am grateful for her example.

When Ryan and I got married in 2005, I wrote a letter of gratitude and love to each of the family members and dear friends who came to our rehearsal dinner. (Hello, melancholy/blue personality!!) I thought I would include a portion of the letter that I wrote to Aunt Beth below because it captures some of my most special memories with her:

"I remember how your family came to be with us every Thanksgiving and/or Christmas
.  I looked forward to it.  I didn’t know anyone (and still don’t!) who was as close to their cousins as we were.  I craved my LaBonde time.  We would play Knock Out in the drive way (and laugh hysterically at your waddle run), eat Marie Calendar pies, and just enjoy each other.  I grew to love your kids like my own brothers and sisters.  You and I would sit up late and talk.  I remember one night when everyone else went downstairs to watch a movie, and the two of us stayed on the upstairs couch and talked and talked.

I remember one particular day in my junior year of high school when your family was in town for a visit.  I was on a medication that was making me very depressed, and you noticed that I wasn’t myself.  We lay in the guest room bed, just the two of us, and talked about depression.  You told me about your own struggles with depression and anxiety throughout your life.  I felt understood.  For the first time in a long while, I felt hope that I could get over it. (And I am so grateful that I did!)

And then there was the trip to the beach after Carrie’s wedding.  I had just experienced my first taste of love and heartbreak when the boy I was dating at camp had to go back home to Scotland at the end of the summer.  I was devastated and lonely, knowing I would probably never see him again.  I was only seventeen, and most people didn’t take my heartbreak seriously, but you did.  We sat on a bench on the beach, and you told me about when you had had to leave your college boyfriend who had loved you and how you cried and cried.  You assured me that I would be okay in the end, and that I would love again.  (You were right!)  Again, I felt understood.  I felt like someone
was finally taking me seriously.

I remember trips to your home, when we would all climb into your bed in the mornings and giggle and tell stories.  Laughing with the LaBondes—there is nothing better. And of course there were the late nights.  Every time we drove home from Provo in college, we would stop in Grand Junction for the night, and we'd stay up until all hours laughing with your family, even the little kids, about some immature or outrageous story.

And of course, there was the afternoon that you and I shared with my mom, her last day on this earth.  How can I ever describe that afternoon to anyone else?  It was so sacred, just taking care of her and snuggling with her and talking to her about God.  I am so grateful that you were by my side in the moment that she slipped away.  I don't know what I would've done if I had been alone with her when she lost consciousness for the last time.  Thank you for being beside me until my dad and my sisters could get home.

Now you are the person I talk to about my mom.  You are the person I talk to about anything serious in my life.  Our lives are so busy, so we don’t get to talk often, but I know that I could call you at any moment, day or night, and you would be willing to talk to me.

Thank you for the constant love, support, and understanding you’ve given me throughout my life.  I cannot tell you in words how much it has meant to me."

Happy Birthday, to an amazing role model, mentor, aunt, and kindred spirit.  I love you so much, Aunt Beth!