Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The Rest of the Story

Last summer I submitted an article to The Ensign (the Church's official magazine for adults) and was ecstatic to hear back several weeks later that they were planning on publishing it this spring with a few edits.  While the shortened and re-worded version works well in its context as part of a larger article on Ward Councils, what appeared in print does differ some from what was originally submitted. Obviously the magazine editors are in the best position to appreciate the overall needs of the publication, but since I've had a few people ask about the unabridged version I thought perhaps I would share it here. 

As a little bit of background to put the article in context: the sacred experiences associated with attending the temple are some of the most important, beautiful, opportunities available to members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and are an important goal for members of the church to work toward.  While ward councils (which are made up of members who have accepted assignments to serve in various responsibilities in the local congregation) serve many functions, one of them is of course trying to help members of the church progress spiritually, including preparing to attend the temple.  I love the Church's council system and am grateful for the opportunities I have had to be involved with it over the years: the ward councils I have worked with have inevitably been filled with sincere, kind, people, who, despite all the other demands of life, are anxious to find ways to love and serve those around them however they can.  This article highlights just one of the many wonderful experiences I had associating with the ward council while responsible for the children's Primary organization in the ward here.

I'm also including a link to the published version at the bottom of this post, as well as links for a couple of other random essays I've had appear in LDS magazines over the years.  (You know... in case you're feeling really really desperate for some reading material... ;-)

Wasp Attacks and Ward Councils

                “We have a temple trip coming up in a few weeks.”  Our Bishop glanced around the room as ward council agendas were passed from person to person.  “Especially with ward conference scheduled that same week, it would be great to have as many members attend as possible.”
                “There will be a baptism session that evening too,” the High Priest Group leader chimed in, flipping through pages in a large three-ring binder.  “What can we do to help some of the new members be involved?”  While the High Priest Group Leader began listing who he hoped might participate, I reached for my notebook.  As I shifted things in my bag, I found myself staring at the edge of a photograph I’d hastily shoved in a folder while taking down a Primary bulletin board a few weeks earlier.
                Quietly I shuffled talk assignments, presidency meeting notes, and sharing time outlines until I could see the whole picture—an 8 ½ by 11 shot of 28 Primary children sitting on the steps of the Palmyra temple.  While the colors had faded slightly after spending more than a year hanging in the Primary room, the memories of that day remained vivid enough that I still wasn’t sure whether to smile or grimace as I stared at the children’s faces.
                With the recent mention in General Conference by President Monson that even children could sense the sacredness of the temple as they visit the grounds and touch the temples, we had enthusiastically planned a trip for the Primary children and their families to visit the Palmyra temple about an hour away from where we live.  After getting the Bishop’s permission and coordinating with the temple, we had planned what we were sure was going to be a memorable morning, including a message from a member of the temple presidency.
                Even though it was still early September, a fine drizzle made the day seem damp and chilly as we arrived in Palmyra.  While Primary children and their families clambered out of cars in the parking lot I offered a quick prayer of gratitude: at least the actual rain seemed to be holding off.  It wasn’t the sunshine-filled morning I had imagined, but the overcast grayness did make the bright red and yellow flowers on the grounds seem even more vibrant.  
                Soon the hustle of spreading blankets on a promising patch of grass near the temple and the craziness of corralling children together settled down and we began singing, “I Love to See the Temple.”  One of the Valiant girls came forward to offer an opening prayer, but just as I bowed my head there was a flurry of movement off to the side.
                “Wasps!” someone shouted.  An angry cloud of yellow jackets suddenly swirled up from around the edges of one of the blankets.  We had unwittingly set up right on top of a nest! 
All at once, peaceful silence was replaced with the whir of outraged insects and cries of panic from the Primary.  Parents raced to grab children, furiously trying to outpace the swarm of angry insects.  In some cases shirts and other clothing were wrestled off in an attempt to free yellow jackets that had become trapped underneath.  Scriptures, bags, and blankets were abandoned as the persistent insects kept pace with our group nearly to the parking lot. 
In shock, we regrouped near one of the member’s vehicles.  Almost everyone seemed to be sporting at least one scarlet sting; some children were peppered with an alarming number of them. 
Before long a temple worker joined us to help evaluate the children with the worst stings and to provide soothing creams for everyone.  The temple president also came over and we began tackling the question “what now?”  Some of the families were already packing up, ready to go home.  Did we still want to try and have the children hear a message and touch the temple?
Sitting safely on the curb, far from flowers and grass, most of the children were happy to listen to the temple president as he spoke about the sacred nature of temples and the blessing of forever families.  However, when the President invited the children to come touch the temple, they balked.  What if there were still wasps?  What if they were attacked again?  When gentle coaxing coupled with explanations that we would go on a different side of the temple from the yellow jackets failed to calm the children’s fears, someone came up with a new idea.  What if parents and leaders lined the way back up to the temple, each promising to stand guard watching for any sign of wasps?  After a moment of consideration the children agreed and the adults quickly took position along the path, each watching carefully for anything that might deter the children on their short journey; each a loving and familiar face offering encouragement as the children trustingly made their way to the temple.
The photograph now sitting sandwiched between all my other Primary paperwork was taken shortly after the children finished touching the temple, hopefully sensing the strength found within its walls.  I remember at the time holding the camera and marveling at the experience the children had just had of being so tenderly protected and shepherded on their way to touch the temple.  If only there were a way for everyone to be surrounded by such vigilant, loving friends and leaders as they progressed towards the temple, a journey often fraught with challenges significantly more perilous than pesky yellow jackets. 
With a sigh and one last peek at the picture, I closed the folder, turning my attention back to the conversation going on around me.
“She wasn’t at church last Sunday.  I’ll make sure her visiting teachers let her know about the upcoming temple trip…”
“I know they’ve got some really hard things going on right now.  I’ll follow-up with their home teacher and see if there’s anything we can do…”
“What if we arranged some sort of childcare during the session so they didn’t need to worry about that...?”
“Is there any way the Young Women could help with babysitting…?”
Looking around at the other members of the ward council, each anxiously discussing different struggles and possible solutions, I was struck by the expressions of genuine affection and concern.  Suddenly I stopped, a smile spreading across my face.
The Lord had prepared ways for each of His children to be protected and loved as they wended towards the temple, and I was participating in one of them right now: the wonderful watch-care of an effective ward council.


Ward Councils at Work  (Version published in April 2012 Ensign.  Since it's a larger article about ward councils, this story is kind of buried in the middle somewhere.  If you read the whole thing, though, it's actually a great overview of how effective ward councils can be!)

Firm in the Fire (Winner of the George H. Brimhall Essay Homecoming Contest and published in the Fall 2005 BYU Magazine.  Homecoming that year will always be special for me: not because of the essay but because that weekend I met Bryan. :)

Ordinary Forks and Ordinary Folks (Bizarrely enough, I don't remember this one.  I went looking for the Firm in Fire article and was surprised to pull this one up in the BYU Magazine archives.  It's definitely mine, but I don't have any memories of writing/submitting it.  Apparently it won 2nd place in the student essay contest that year though.  Huh.)

Out of Power  (First Place Article, 1998 New Era Contest.  I actually kind of cringe when I read this one: it's interesting to get back inside my teenage brain and try to remember what was so consuming back them.  Things that felt incredibly overwhelming as a youth look a little different with a couple decades of perspective.  Still, despite seeming slightly over-dramatic at points, the article's message is one that continues to resonate in my life as an adult.)

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Sunshine and Satin: Easter Dresses 2012

While the weather was on the chilly side most of my parents' visit, Sunday morning dawned with the sort of bright sunlight that makes the whole world seem new and springlike, perfectly capturing the spirit of Easter.  And there's something about little girls in fresh dresses, a sort of blend of happiness, innocence, and hope for good things to come, that seems to similarly complement the occasion.

Unfortunately, our particular blend of happiness, innocence, and hope, is occasionally fused with a healthy dose of chaos and craziness.

In all the hubbub, I didn't end up capturing as many pictures Easter morning as I was hoping to.  Still, we did manage to get a few that I really liked, especially of my mother helping to do the girls' hair.  Growing up with three sisters, making sure everyone had their hair done when we were little must have involved quite the process week after week.  (And some of us were...umm...less cooperative...about the whole hair thing than others as I recall.  Sorry about that! :)  I'm glad we were able to lock away at least a few images of Grandma patiently doing the same things for my girls.

One of our little princesses.
So pretty!

Look!  Ruffly socks from Grandma!

Amber playing with a balloon and watching while her sisters get their hair done.

We also tried to get a few pictures outside just before leaving for church.  It wasn't super organized and we never did manage to get one of the whole family (or even of all the girls smiling at the same time) but I suppose we'll survive.

Oh well...time to abandon photo-hope at this point: the group picture just isn't going to happen! :)

I'm actually fairly happy with how the dresses turned out, even if the pictures left something to be desired.  I started Robyn's with several weeks to spare, but Amber, our future seamstress extraordinaire, found my sewing sheers and helpfully cut the bodice to shreds.  While brainstorming how to proceed with what remained of Robyn's, I started on Amber's...and goofed up her sleeves miserably.  Suddenly it was just over a week before Easter and I was at ground-zero for Katie's dress and in *negative* territory for the other two.  It wasn't the most fun I've ever had sewing, and I think at this point I have thoroughly dulled my seam ripper repairing all the mistakes I made along the way, but in the end things worked out.  

When I was shopping for fabric I realized early on I really wanted to do dresses with over-skirts.  Every spring I see the gorgeous sheer fabrics and absolutely fall in love, so I finally gave in.  It might all be rationalization (that happens a lot standing in Joann's surrounded by pretty things...) but I decided I better just do it now before the kids get any more grown-up, so I went ahead and bought an embroidered organza with little pink flowers on it.  Since I wasn't willing to do three pink dresses (too much pink even for me!) I picked out crepe-back satin in every other pastel color I could find to go with it: olive, lavender, and butter.

Pattern-wise, for the big girls I used McCalls M6238.  It's a pattern I've sewn before (so the mistakes I made this time were all the more maddening!) and I've always really liked the results.   I especially like the underskirt with tulle ruffles that gives the dress a little bounce.  A little bit of trim around the waist and tie ribbons on the sides and we were able to sneak in a little more pink without feeling too pepto-bismo-y. 

I had to be a hair more creative with Katie's pattern since the sizing on the McCalls one didn't go low enough for her.  I ended up using a basic circle dress pattern I had on hand from a few years ago when Robyn and Amber were little (B4434) , then added sleeves, replaced the zipper with a placket and buttons, and added the overskirt and underskirt.  Actually, I prefer how her sleeves turned out to those on the big girls' dresses: Katie's are just a smidge closer to puffy-perfection. :) 

Anyhow, here are three more really random pictures from Easter morning:

Mom and I decided to coordinate too, at least a little, with black/pink floral skirts and light pink tops.  We might be squinting, but at least we're still smiling!

Dah-Dee-Doh helping Amber down the little hill after pictures.
Have to admit: even when she's sad she's pretty cute.

Hope you all had a wonderful Easter!

Monday, April 9, 2012

Colorful Cakes

It's happens that all of the "Grandpa Birthdays" in our family fall around the same time of year, so we were amazed and delighted that we were actually able celebrate special days in person with Grandpa Gordon and then with Dah-Dee-Doh within just a couple weeks of each other this spring. 

Since birthday cakes are a big deal around here, I thought I'd post a couple pictures just for fun.  First we did a Honeybee Cake for Grandpa Gordon who raises bees...and generously keeps us stocked with the type of amazing honey that has ruined grocery-store-honey for us forever!  (Seriously, it's good enough to just eat with a spoon!)

Watch out for the stinger!

I was planning on using a similar approach to do a Bunny Cake for Dah-Dee-Doh (since their visit would coincide with Easter), but the girls quickly suggested a "Game Cake" would be more appropriate, considering that, as far as they're concerned, the ONLY reason he traveled across country was to play games (including a much-simplified version of Life) with them.  It took a little more brain-scratching, but this is what we finally came up with:

The little red car sliding off into a ditch is supposed to be there: it's the red station wagon, aka the Catmobile, that we learned to drive on as teenagers.

And since it's safe to assume we measure affection around here in terms of caloric-content and dye-density, hopefully these great men grasped (or perhaps tasted?) just how much they are loved.  Happy Birthday, Grandpas!

Dealing with Dah-Dee-Doh Deprivation

My parents (Grandma and Dah-Dee-Doh to the girls) came to spend the week and celebrate Easter with us.  They left this morning and I think we’re now all suffering withdrawal. 

So what to do?  Maybe intense picture-posting therapy will help…right??  It’s not exactly an FDA-approved treatment, but on the off-chance that it works I think we’ll play it safe and post lots and lots and lots of pictures…

To start, since my parents were driving from Minnesota, we met them in Palmyra, NY and spent the first afternoon visiting the church history sites in the area.  This of course meant lots of chances to take pictures of the girls all together.


In case anyone is still on the fence about the level of craziness one family can contain...
Talking about the "Eight Witnesses" of the Book of Mormon.  (And showing off Mommy's big old baby bump.)
A footbridge in the Sacred Grove.  (Where Joseph Smith had his remarkable first vision of the Father and the Son.)
Robyn stepping out on a limb.
Ah, yes.  Time to play with this season's hot item again: sticks!
Family photo in front of the Whitmer Farm where the Church was formally organized on April 6, 1830. 

The rest of the week involved a lot of playing at home.

The girls especially liked monopolizing Dah-Dee-Doh who they alternated between calling "The Gamish Boy" (because he was willing to play board games with them almost nonstop) and "The Nail Polish Guy" (because he somehow got talked into letting them paint his nails).


Another Grandma and Dah-Dee-Doh tradition the girls love: knowing they can come snuggle with them in bed as early as they want.  This led to lots of early morning hang-out sessions in Grandma's room.
Wait!  Don't adjust your time machine settings: you haven't actually been sent back to the 1980's!  Mom found the dresses Karin and I got when we turned 4 and 5 and brought them out for our girls.  And while I was always jealous that Karin got the bright pink one, Robyn loved the blue one.  She wore it as a dress-up several days in a row, along with Sunday shoes and a parasol, and insisted upon being called Mary Poppins.
Another big project for the week was Dah-Dee-Doh and Bryan putting together a wooden playground in the backyard. 

Hard at work "building a park" as the girls described the venture.
Friday was the big day for construction on this project and the girls set up their blankets and pillows in the backyard, eagerly watching for hours.  This was a great picture Robyn snapped on the camera: Look!  They're all in the wagon!
Everyone enjoying the finished results, regardless of the chilly weather.  The girls love it: we've literally had to drag Katie away kicking and crying each time we go inside.

And then on Saturday it was time for the Easter festivities to begin.

Katie at the Easter egg hunt Saturday morning.
Robyn busy looking for eggs.
Amber conceding that her basket is probably as full as it's going to get.
2012-04-07 17.02.42
With the hunt out of the way, it was time to move on to decorating Easter eggs.  Here is Amber carefully inspecting her handiwork before proceeding to the dye cups.
2012-04-07 17.10.23
My parents also brought out a funny egg-holding contraption that the girls used to further decorate their eggs with tiny paint brushes.
2012-04-07 17.16.43
Faberge, watch out!
2012-04-07 17.27.00
Daddy's eggs were low in number, but high in innovation.
A close-up of Bryan's fancy rainbow egg.

I think Katie and the boys had the right idea: by the end of the week we all felt about ready to drop.


In fact, maybe that should be added as a secondary treatment to help with the withdrawal: doctor's orders for EVERYONE to take nice long naps this afternoon... :)

Sunday, April 1, 2012


Guessing time:

It's sweet.  It's super sappy.  It looks awfully sticky.  It involves copious references to "Amber."

Did you guess?

It's a blog post about a family outing!  (Oh...and it's maple syrup too.)  

For the second year in a row we were lucky enough to have Bryan's folks join us on our annual drive to Critz Farms in Cazenovia during their maple celebration.  Purportedly we do this over and over because it's a great way to learn about where our food comes from (they have tours of the sugar house and the sugar bush) and about local agriculture (if you're going to live in the northeast you ought to know about maple syrup, right??), but we've done it enough years now it's probably time to be honest: we do it for the breakfast.

Part of the maple celebration is an all-you-can-eat breakfast with blueberry pancakes, french toast, eggs, maple-soaked ham, hash browns, juice, cocoa, and limitless real maple syrup, with as many ingredients (flour, eggs, ham, etc.) coming from local farms as possible.  The breakfast costs a few dollars, but we talk about it all year long.  Especially about the syrup.  I'm sure we eat more than our admission in syrup alone within minutes.  The rest of the year we settle for the thick gloppy brown concoction  found at Aldi, but for one wonderful Saturday morning we drown our pancakes in runny rivers of real syrup squeezed from amber-colored squirt bottles at each table.  The breakfast is served in some sort of old out-building, but I have to admit, sitting there all together as a family, tummies full, fingers sticky, and cool country air blowing around us, it feels kind of like heaven. 

Katie hard at work on her breakfast.  Bryan's sister, along with her 3-year-old daughter and brand-new baby, were also able to join us this year.  You can see the super cute car seat cover she pieced for her little baby in the background.

I spy syrup eaters!  Amber loved how all the different colors of syrup were labeled with her name: "dark amber" "medium amber" and "light amber." 

Robyn and Grandpa Gordon.  Not sure why Robyn has two spoons...all the easier to shovel it in perhaps?
Playing with sticks while waiting for the tractor out to the sugar bush.  Think it's time to take back the birthday presents and start shopping at the Stick Emporium for this one: I think she could have played like this for hours!

Picture of the girls with their cousin and Daddy/Uncle Bryan.  It was so fun to have another little girl come along!

Last year we nearly froze to death riding out to see how they tap the trees.  This year the early spring hurt the farm (they only had FIVE days of sap flow!) but it sure made it pleasant for us. 

They also have a nice set of playgrounds at the farm.  Grandpa Gordon indulged Katie in pushes long after the rest of the girls had run off to check out the crazy slides at the other end of the park.

I remember one of the first times we came here Amber was younger than Katie and we tried to send her down one of these long slides on her own.  I was pretty sure we'd scarred her for life: glad I was wrong.

Katie deciding maybe this slide is a little TOO ambitious for her...

Robyn just being Robyn.

And, last of all, a cute picture Robyn took of her cousin on the ride home.  Maybe we can convince them to come play again next year: I'm already craving more syrup!