December 18, 2011

All I want for Christmas...

Every year at this time, my thoughts turn inevitably to my Grandma Collins.  This week marked the 7th anniversary of her death, although, truthfully, I lost her several years before that, erased entirely from her memory – but hopefully not her heart – by Alzheimer’s.  

Christmas was probably my Grandma’s favorite holiday.  She loved its music, its excitement, and the joy of giving – she relished finding the perfect gifts for everyone she loved.  She also loved getting Christmas cards and letters in the mail.  Each night after my grandpa would get home from tuning pianos, I would sit down and read them all the cards, letters, and personal notes from their myriad of friends across the U.S.  Each letter would bring a minute or two of reminiscing about that particular family.   

In addition, she and Grandpa both loved to give of themselves as well.  Grandpa was the president of the Idaho Council of the Blind, and so every Christmas season was filled with Christmas parties and caroling, and making sure that those who didn’t have much were taken care of.  I remember one year we sang for inmates in the jail, and another where we sang carols for mentally under-developed adults who lived in a group home.  After the singing, we handed out toys our group had bought.  Never have I seen more excitement and appreciation as I did that day from those adult “kids”! The fact that my grandparents couldn’t see those excited faces didn’t matter.  They could feel it…

Being blind, my grandparents didn’t have the luxury we take for granted of going shopping whenever they wanted, so Grandma would pick a day, and off we’d go to conquer the stores!  

Probably my least favorite activity at that time was that annual Christmas shopping spree. 

Someone, usually grandpa and his driver, would drop us off around 9:00 a.m. when the mall opened, and they’d pick us up again after dark, where we waited out on the curb, surrounded by "gobs and heaps" of packages, breath steaming in the cold air. 

Feet throbbing in tempo to the piped-in Christmas tunes over the mall sound system, both of us carrying bag after bulky bag, grandma and I would trudge along, me in front and she at my elbow, through the vast halls of the Yellowstone Mall in Idaho Falls.  Well, I should say I trudged – she was always still sickeningly chipper and practically floated along in her white tennis shoes. We’d been at it for at least 8 hours, but to me it felt more like days at that point… 

We would hit Every.Single.Store in that mall, walking up and down Every.Single.Aisle as I described all the things we were passing.  Toy stores were her favorite, and we always had to listen to the Tuneyville Choo-Choo train – a battery operated toy that played records as it chugged along – until the year my grandpa bought her very own as a surprise present. I don’t think it ever failed to produce her laughter. 

After we’d combed every inch of that mall and exhausted all its treasures, we’d dash across the busy North Yellowstone Highway, playing a real-life version of Frogger, to hit the other mall - whose name I’ve long ago forgotten - where we’d repeat the entire process. 

Finally arriving back at their home – Mad Manor my grandparents affectionately called it – she and I would lock ourselves in her bedroom and wrap and label presents for what seemed like an eternity, occasionally opening the door so my cousin Kenny and brother Forrest could haul out the latest batch to pile under the tree.  


Today is December 18th, exactly one week until Christmas.  Even though I’ve spent countless hours wandering aimlessly through stores, alone, as of now I still have not finished my Christmas shopping, written the family letter, addressed Christmas cards, done any baking or candy making, or even begun to think of what to do for neighbor gifts.  At the rate I’m going, I may have everything finished around March, IF I really push it! 

Both malls are gone now, as is she, but I’d give anything to have Grandma back beside me, hand on my elbow, scouring stores.  I wish I’d known then and appreciated more what was really the perfect gift…

Merry Christmas, Grandma!  <3

November 29, 2011

Introducing: Lucy

Meet Miss Lucy... the newest member of the family.

After losing our sweet little Fiona, the house just seemed too forlorn so we made the decision to adopt another dog.  Tom has always had a soft spot for Cocker Spaniels, so we found this little girl.  She's almost 5 months old, and really needed a good home with people who would do more than just leave her in her crate all day.  Don't even get me started...

Needless to say, she's already made herself part of the family.

She loves the cats, especially Morris, another new addition who adopted Tom at work.  Unfortunately, kitties and automotive shops don't mix well (floor-dry is not good kitty litter!), so he brought him home.  He's also the sweetest little thing.  Plus, we like to color-code our animals! How could we turn him away?

Lucy is a busy little soul who is happiest when she is shredding paper.  Newspapers, Reader's Digest magazines, and paper towels are high on her list of favorites, although she will stoop to toilet paper rolls and Savannah's homework in a pinch.  

We're working hard on breaking that lovely habit.  In the meantime, I vacuum my floor more regularly than I've done in a while, so it's not all bad. 

Luckily, she loves to play with her toys and is easily distracted from the paper mess.  She has tons, and empties her toy box about 27 times a day.  Now if only she'd learn to pick up after herself!

She already thinks of herself as the guard dog of the family.  Every. Single. Night. when Braden comes home from work she barks at him, asking us: "Who is this stranger who keeps breaking in?!"

It's okay Lucy, we think he's pretty strange too!

We've got our eyes on you, Braden! ;o)

November 12, 2011

For Fiona...

My little dog - a heartbeat at my feet. 
~Edith Wharton

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Oh, my sweet, fuzzy, feisty Fiona. It’s been 3 days since you left us, and still I can’t quit crying… We all loved you passionately, and I know there’ll never be another quite like you.

We brought you home just over a year ago after you were bought completely on a whim. I was browsing the pet ads on KSL, surely a whisper from God, and ran across your picture which I showed to Daddy.

“Call them now!” he said, so I did. That was the best call I ever made.

Braden and I jumped in the car and drove over an hour to meet you. Completely smitten, we brought you home. The people we bought you from were your second owners, and we became your fourth. Apparently they had sold you to someone else who returned you after a few days, saying “this dog won’t ever socialize.” They warned us about this, afraid we would do the same.

You’re the same mix as our beloved Annie – part Cavalier Spaniel and part Shih-tzu, but you looked and acted completely different. Feisty from the get-go, you were never a cuddler. Life held too many adventures for you to stay in one spot for too long! Totally a people lover, you’d make sure to spend your time with one of us at all times, pausing occasionally to perch against a leg, gazing at us with those big chocolate eyes, your saucy grin, getting a quick love, and then romping off to the next great adventure.

I miss the way you pretended you couldn’t get up on the couch or the bed. You’d act all pitiful and helpless until one of us would finally give you a hand, only to jump down again two seconds later to go check out something else. 

If doggies have ADD, I’m sure you had it! 

Imagine my surprise when I saw you jump up on our bed the first time when you thought no one was around. After we got the new mattress pad, it really was too high, so from then on I had to always lift you up. You’d sleep with Savannah every night until about 5:30 a.m., then you’d come in to be with us. You had the funniest little way of “talking” to us – not really a whine or a bark – so you’d come around to my side of the bed and let me know what you wanted. I’d lift you up and wait for you to finish your little ritual: find an open spot somewhere near me, twirl in circles roughly 27 times, then BAM! You’d throw yourself against me. Sometimes that didn’t seem to work, so you’d start all over again – circle, circle, circle, THROW! – finally ending the process with a satisfied sigh.

I could go on and on with many memories and things I love about you, but honestly, my heart (and poor, weepy eyes) can’t take any more of this walk down memory lane at the moment. You may not have fit with the other families you were placed with, but for us, you were the world.

Love always,
Your people mommy

September 20, 2011

The Traveling Memorial

"It doesn't require any particular bravery to stand 
on the floor of the Senate and urge our boys in Vietnam 
to fight harder, and if this war mushrooms into 
a major conflict and a hundred thousand young 
Americans are killed, it won't be U.S. Senators who die.  
It will be American soldiers who are too young 
to qualify for the Senate."  

~George McGovern
My first try at "Texture Tuesday."  I used the Life is Good texture, and then added a watercolor effect.

Last week, our valley was privileged to have the Traveling Vietnam Veteran's Memorial brought to the local fairgrounds, an 80% sized replica of the original. 

My dad served in Vietnam, and I remember looking at yellowing black and white photos of him and the friends he served with, shirts off, cigarettes in hand, hamming it up for the camera.  Even though you could tell they were goofing around in the photos, every pair of eyes still held a haunted look, one that I imagine hasn't changed for our troops in the field today.  

It took many years for that look to leave my dad's face, and I still have never heard him personally talk about it.  Everything I know of his time there comes from my mom, the story told in a hushed voice how many of the men he served with, his brothers in arms, died in a shot-down helicopter the day after he was discharged and sent home. 

I also grew up hearing stories of how Vietnam veterans were treated when they came home - truly despicable.  My husband is a veteran of the conflict with Ferdinand Marcos in the Phillipines back in the 80's.  My uncle served in Iraq in the ongoing war there, and our son Josh previously served a stint in Iraq and is now in Afghanistan.  I have seen that same look on all their faces... I try to imagine them being treated like the Vietnam vets were, and it literally breaks my heart.  

This was a beautiful tribute, and I'm so glad that I got the chance to see it.  I still long to see the original in Washington, D.C., but until then, I have this memory...

Photos of the "Utah Fallen."

Gold dog tags for every U.S. troop member who has died in the War on Terror. 

July 23, 2011

It's a Natural High

I am a child of simple pleasures:  A good book to read, a glass of iced tea with lemon, watching the sun set over the Wellsville Mountains... They never get old.  And garage sales... I LOVE me a good garage sale.

This morning my husband and I were sitting quietly in our room, reading our respective sections of the newspaper (meaning: I was stuck with the classifieds and the sports section because my DH takes foreverrrrr to read the first section).  Flipping through the classifieds, my eyes immediately were drawn to the bold "Garage Sales" heading. 

"Do you know what?!"  I asked him in astonishment, knowing he was probably only half-listening, and not expecting an answer.  "I haven't been to a single garage sale this summer..."

"Well, why not?" he responded - this was big news - lifting his face from page 3. 

I quietly ponder this for a moment.  Why haven't I been to any?  Is it the lack of money since the cost of everything has skyrocketed?  Is it because I've run out of rooms to stash my treasures?  Is it my newly-found resolve to de-clutter and simplify life (or at least my surroundings)? 

Well, yes... those are all valid reasons.  But wait!  I know what it really boils down to: 

"To get any of the good stuff, you have to get up wayyyy  too flippin' early, and sleep is a precious commodity!"

My younger son had just wandered in and plopped himself down in a chair.

"It sounds like you're talking about where to get your drugs!"

Not far off the mark, son, not far off the mark...  =)

June 22, 2011

Just for Fun

Monday, I took the day off to hang out with the kids.  Since Evan leaves early next week for AIT training for the National Guard, he, Braden, and their best buddy Vince (our honorary son) wanted some pictures of the three of them together before life scatters them to the four corners... I was happy to do it because a) I know the time I get to spend with all of them is dwindling rapidly away, b) I love to get more practice time in, and c) it beat staying home and doing more of the yard and house work that never ends!  Unfortunately, Braden had to work so he only was around for the first stop of the day, so he gets to be tortured some other time!

Here are some of my favorites from the day, including my lovely assistant, Savannah :o)

(Click on the photos to see them in a larger size).

June 13, 2011

Photography Class - Week 4

This is the final week of my photography class, and I am seriously depressed... :o( 

I have learned so much, but more than that, I have absolutely loved seeing the photos and takes on each lesson from my fellow students.  Even though we've never met, I feel like you have all become friends through sharing your photos each week!  You are all so talented and I hope that you'll keep posting to your blogs.  I stand in awe...  :o)

This week we were to post only one photo for each part of the lesson.  Part One was to take a "thematic" or conceptual shot.  This is the "theme" of your photographic story, and it should sum up in one picture what you are trying to portray.  Let me tell you, this is not an easy task!  (at least it wasn't for me...)  I had many ideas, but capturing them with my camera was much different than what I had pictured in my head.  It didn't help that this past week was particularly hectic, so I didn't have quite as much time to devote and play around with.

Here's my shot:

These are my parents, and my theme that I was trying to capture has many names:  devotion, perseverance, vows kept, heroism... the list could go on and on.  More than anything I think that this picture portrays 1 Corinthians 13, what is often referred to as the "Love chapter" of the Bible.

My parents have been married for about 35 years, and have faced their fair share of ups-and-downs.  My dad is a diabetic whose kidneys have been shut down for many years now, so he has had to rely on dialysis to do the work his body refuses.  My mom works a very stressful full-time job, then comes home to perform the hours-long process of dialysis on my dad, diligently babysitting the temperamental machine while it performs its precious job while also cooking dinner, feeding him, and scratching the ever-elusive itch as well.  

The most amazing part is that through all of it, they still laugh and enjoy each other - no small feat when you see the size of the needles my mom sticks him with!!!

I can't resist adding this picture, which also fits in with the "love" theme: this is Tiny.  I'm not sure if you should say that Tiny belongs to my dad, or that my dad belongs to Tiny.  Regardless, where you find one, you also find the other...

Part Two of this week's lesson was the importance of including yourself in the family photos.  I have often "joked," even before this class, that when I die my children won't remember what I look like because I am ALWAYS the one holding the camera.  Unfortunately, there's a little too much truth to that.  I don't know of anyone who really enjoys having their picture taken, but I know that I am doing my family a disservice by having this attitude.  All I can do is try to do better from this point forth, starting here:

Happy Monday all...

Love always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. 

Love never fails.

June 6, 2011

Photography Homework - Week 3

The first part of this week's assignment was to look for "conceptual contrast," juxtaposing contrasts such as big vs. small, light vs. dark, man vs. nature, etc.

I thought going into this week that this would be an easy assignment, but it actually seemed harder to find once I was actively trying to find it.  Anyhoo, for what it's worth - here are my "contrast" photos...

I liked the contrast of Savannah's fancy silvery sandals to the barnyard setting with the goat (which we both want to kidnap from our friends' Cliff and Chong!).  Later that day, Savannah and I took a drive up the canyon to see what treasures we could find.  Interestingly enough, two of my least-favorite things ended up being two of my favorite photos.

I'm not sure if this counts, but I liked the contrasting light from the cat tail and the spider (which I almost accidentally kissed at first!  I was originally trying to catch the spider web and came a little too close to its inhabitant, whom I hadn't seen.  Ewww...!)

This little guy made me do a pretty fancy dance for a second, but then he posed pretty, so he was forgiven :0)  I liked how he was in the reeds, trying to blend in, but really contrasted with them as well...

Bonus shot: we've had flooding in our area, so earlier this week I took a drive and found the run-off had completely eroded away the side of the road. 

The second part of our homework this week was to "be intentional" with our photo taking.  Especially in this day and age of digital cameras, it is too easy to just click click click away, not taking the time to compose our shot, so we were to take "ONLY" 3 shots, then choose the best of the three...  Much harder than I thought!  I had originally planned on taking a photo of my dog Annie poking her head out through the tall grass, but much like the kids, she just wouldn't cooperate with me.  Instead, I was able to get this picture of Fiona.  She is usually such a whirling little dervish, so it's rare to actually get one where she's relaxing, before taking off again!

Feedback always appreciated!

June 1, 2011

In the Blink of an Eye

How did we manage to get from here: 

to here:

to here:

and now to here: 

so quickly???

It truly seems like just yesterday that it was me walking across that stage, receiving my own diploma, dreaming of marriage and the children to come... 

I cried when you were born, the first of many tears shed for you - both of joy and sorrow.

Then sleepless nights as you cried and cried through your first six weeks, and again after Braden was born...  When he'd cry, you'd cry.  And then, overwhelmed, so would I... :o)  We made a fine picture, I'm sure!

Cleaning up after your unending messes, as you were curious from the start, and helpful too!  When Braden came along, you often "helped" me by making a bottle for him: one bottle, half-full of water (most likely out of the toilet)?  Got it.  Scooper from the formula can? Check. 27 scoops, both in the bottle, in your hair, and on the floor?  Yep! 

There were many tears shed (by you) at the untimely death of your Big Bird Radio, a trauma that I'm not sure you've ever recovered from! 

Over the years, you have made me laugh, made me cry, and given me more than my fair share of gray hairs.  Through all the ups-and-downs you have still captured my heart.  I hope you know that I will always be your biggest fan and champion.  

And in the words of one of your favorite authors, back in the day: 

You have brains in your head.
You have feet in your shoes.
You can steer yourself in any direction you choose.
You're on your own.
And you know what you know.
You are the guy who'll decide where to go.

~Dr. Seuss

Love forever and always,
your Momster ;o)