To Fresh Starts

Happy November! I'm writing this from an all-but-empty house here in Australia, where we're capping off the last four weeks of our 51-month adventure. The movers came a month ago and packed all of our earthly belongings into a shipping container to put on a slow boat bound for the US. (It's probably around the horn of Africa right about now, don't you think? I'm kicking myself for not packing a little GPS beacon in with our stuff to check in on it now and then. Wouldn't that be cool?) 

In the meantime we rented a few pieces of furniture to hold us over for the final couple of months--a table, a sofa and loveseat, two beds, and a desk and chair for Sam's studying as he takes his final IB exams this month and finishes high school. (Oh, and a ROWING MACHINE because why not? I've always wanted one. Side note: turns out rowing machines are not magic rides of joy. It's still exercise but it's not bad.) 

I keep reminding myself that while the empty house is a persistent reminder of a bittersweet ending, it also represents a Fresh Start--a capitalized, PART THREE declaration between the chapters of what came before and those that encompass the unknowns ahead.

Light on the Bulbs, Carol Marine

Light on the Bulbs, Carol Marine

In the book of our marriage, PART ONE: dating and giddy early marriage; PART TWO: parent bootcamp years and full time family life; PART THREE: is.....what? (Can we agree it's not a married couple of a certain age holding hands and watching the sunset, each sitting in his/her own (mystifyingly outdoor) bathtubs?) I'm excited about Part Three. We planned our early parenthood start with Part Three in mind. I went to grad school with Part Three in mind. I just don't know how to summarize it yet. And that's the beauty, I guess. We get to make it up. 

With this move we've crafted a new plan of what our next few years (or decades?) will look like, based on a few priorities from a lifetime collection of wishes. We've found a delightful-but-scruffy vintage home to fix up (paging Chip and Joanna, stat) in a charming college town and accepted new jobs that excite us both. It's a Part Three for us as a couple but also for each of us as individuals. We've considered and accepted some unique trade-offs to our new arrangement--working three hours away from each other being the major one--but also feel the sweet assurance of "it's-going-to-be-fine" peace (even if it perplexes some of our onlookers a bit; sorry, worried onlookers, we love you! ). The unknown can be scary. But I feel confident in our trust of each other and in those peaceful, prayerful feelings enough to brave the first steps into this Fresh (but unknown) Start.

I came upon this poem yesterday that lit up my brain. I taped it to my empty wall with some leftover masking tape. It's by the wonderful poet William Stafford, who incidentally didn't publish poetry until he was 46. Maybe that was his Part Three. 

Starting here, what do you want to remember?
How sunlight creeps along a shining floor?
What scent of old wood hovers, what softened
sound from outside fills the air?

Will you ever bring a better gift for the world
than the breathing respect that you carry
wherever you go right now? Are you waiting
for time to show you some better thoughts?

When you turn around, starting here, lift this
new glimpse that you found: carry into evening
all that you want from this day. This interval you spent
reading or hearing this, keep it for life.

What can anyone give you greater than now,
starting here, right in this room, when you turn around?

-William Stafford

Do you have a looming fresh start? How do you feel about your Part Three (or four or six...)?


Big news at our house! Over Thanksgiving weekend my daughter Lauren got engaged! We had a bit of an inkling in advance and they've been kind of pre-engaged for a little while. (Is "kind of pre-engaged" even possible? Or are you either engaged or not? This question has been a topic of conversation around here for a little while. Please advise.)  Early last week Patrick skyped with us to ask for our blessing and let us know it was happening soon, which was much appreciated--maybe even more than is usually the case in these situations, since we feel so very far away at times like this and we were happy to feel a part of it.  We had a good heart-to-heart and feel delighted to welcome Patrick into the family.

Side note: When we moved to Australia I joked with G that maybe we'd have a little Australian surprise addition to the family while we were here. Turns out he came fully grown, ha! And not Australian. Much easier to grow a family this way.

In case you're curious (and I always am about these things): They've known each other for four+ years--they met their freshman year at university when their apartments were assigned to the same FHE group. They were good friends and never dated but spent a lot of time together--I remember that Lauren thought he was terrific. They kept in touch on and off over the years and then when Lauren moved back to school after her mission in April, they ended up living right across the street from each other and the friendship picked up again. By the time we came to the states in July they had grown close and Lauren invited him to our family reunions on both sides--so he's had the chance to see what he's getting into, mwahaha. The engagement took place in Logan after several days of Thanksgivinging with G's side of the family. It was just the two of them on the grounds of the temple, lovely words, a ring, and a few tears, she said. Hooray for the kind souls who snapped a picture afterwards:

So bring on the wonderful world of wedding planning! From afar! (Insert emoji that combines joy and anxiety and anticipation and homesickness. With a dash of inherent but contained parental-control-freakery and hopefully twice as much go-with-the-flowness.) 

Although this is definitely not all about me (or even a little), it does feel surreal to be at this stage. I'm a mother of the bride! It's a stamp in my grown-up passport, for sure, to return to this land of weddings as a mother when I was last here as a bride over 25 years ago. Do I need to pass a certification of some kind? Have a badge? 

 The wedding will be fun to plan and I am eager to get any and all hints and recommendations for planning a lovely, hyggelig celebration--I'll pass along as much as I can here, too. Ultimately, though, it's about that marriage relationship and their future. It's about my daughter being happier than I've seen her. And it's about adding Patrick to our family with open arms, expanding even as we are shrinking, gaining even as we lose. I love what my good friend told her son as he was dating and getting close to getting engaged: "all I ask is that you choose someone who will let me love her." I can definitely get behind that sentiment: more people to love.

Applying Season

This weekend Maddy sent her first of what feels like will be 3469 university applications (but is really more like 8-12, which is typical for her friends in the states). She chose one school to submit her application for their early consideration and the rest will be regular decision, due in December/January. 'Tis the season! 

I have to admit that this is a totally different process than with Lauren a few years ago (though not as different as when I applied and typed each application on a typewriter!). This probably stems from their different personalities, our level of experience with the process, and even their ages at application--Lauren was a barely-17 high school senior during the application process and Maddy is almost 19, thanks to the delay brought by our move to Australia. Lauren looked at her scores and GPA, chose a few schools, and was hopeful of her chances (she didn't really choose any long shots) and she ended up just where she wanted to be. However, I think partly because this was all so new to all of us, she also needed a bit more nudging and reminding throughout the process (read: harassing and non-stop nagging). We didn't do any of it for her; she was the train conductor and engineer of the enterprise but I definitely felt like the guy standing on the platform tapping his foot with a stopwatch in hand. The stakes just felt so high and uncertain! 

Maddy's been approaching it a little differently. She's motivated to blaze her own trail and has been looking longingly at a handful of schools for a few years now. (Let's just go ahead and call it the Gilmore Girls Effect, shall we?) She's applying at a range of schools--a mix of public and private, large and small, selective and less so.

Because of the unknowns related to applying from an international school (not to mention no college admissions counselor at her school), she doesn't really have a real sense of her chances. She's worked hard to put herself in the possible zone but who knows what the admissions offices are looking for or what they'll decide? Not me, that's who. 

Along the way, Maddy found a few resources that were really great in helping her to understand how to put together a college application:

General advice:
Yale has some great resources and advice for applicants to any university:
Advice on choosing where to apply
Advice on putting together your college application

Letters of recommendation:
Maddy found MIT's Guide to Writing Letters of Recommendation really helpful for explaining to her teachers and recommenders what the US admissions offices are expecting and how their letters are evaluated. (In Australia, admission to university is based not on extracurriculars or teacher recommendations but on your ATAR score so teachers don't write many recommendations at all.) She just included a little description and linked to it in her note to her recommenders. A nice email like this sample note to recommenders helped update her recommenders, orient them to the process, and refresh their memories about her contributions and achievements.

College admissions essays:
Khan Academy has a great new series on applying to college. Maddy thought their series of articles and videos on  writing a strong college admissions essay was especially helpful. 

Also, the website Medium has a contest called "Extra Credit" that awards scholarship money for excellent college application essays. They've posted a handful of winners and it's great reading to see the diversity of responses and get inspired for your own essay.

For parents:
Let it go, let it go. (Easier said than done, I know. I should have absorbed this four years ago!) Tufts's excellent admissions blog offers this advice:
"Often our concern, suggestions, insights, and shared wisdom are seen as an intrusion, or provide added stress.  Your daughter needs the independence and the knowledge that you believe she can do this on her own.  Your son will thrive knowing you trust him to succeed. Our job as parents is to support and provide a safe haven for our children in the midst of a crazy, pressure filled senior year.  Encourage your son or daughter to establish an earlier deadline in order to complete the application(s) in a timely fashion so the process doesn’t hijack the entire family parents we need to let our children sink or swim.  The application process is theirs and they will feel a wonderful sense of accomplishment once they have completed the applications and have met the deadline."

More Resources:

  • Most universities use the Common Application, which is a great time saver for the applicant and the recommenders. Still, many colleges either do not use the Common App or add on extra essays or elements. Even if your student won't be applying for a year or two, it's not a bad idea to glance at the applications now to see what's expected. Here are the essay questions for this year
  • NACAC (National Association for College Admission Counseling) has extensive information and advice on the college application process
  • The US Department of Education's College Navigator is a one-stop resource for information about universities and colleges.

Now that I've spent a whole post on college applications, I need to add that I'm actually a big believer in de-escalating the craziness around this process. I remind my kids (and myself) that there are many great places to go and learn and that while we'd be happy for them if they land at one of the places toward the top of their list, what we really celebrate is the work they've put into their education so far and their continued quest for learning--not where they go. I think the philosophy of "fix it and forget it" fits here: Sure, do your best on tests/applications but don't obsess or worry. This application is just a blip in your life. Do it and then move on!

Do you have a child applying for college this year or in past years? What's the experience been? Any advice?

Guest post: Flying to the trees

I'm happy to introduce you to today's guest writer, Jennifer Blaylock. Jenny lives with her family in Maryland, where she is the mother of five children--four sons and a daughter. We happen to share a great grandmother (remember the one who said "go easy on the oldest"?) but even if we weren't related, I hope I would be lucky enough to still number her among my wise and true friends. She's currently in the throes of launching her second son, which prompted today's post. 

The spring of 2014 finds me with the second of my children getting ready to graduate from high school. Honestly, it is still a little surreal to me that these babies of mine have reached such a milestone. “The days are long, but the years are short” is no joke, I’m telling you.

Brock senior pic.jpg

As we get ready for all the busyness that surrounds the end of a senior year, I am making a more conscious effort to savor this time without becoming annoyingly morose and melancholic (you’re welcome, children)—to be joyful in celebrating this launch of my second baby (all 6’4” of him), while making sure he knows how much I have loved the ride. The good, the bad, the ugly, the sweet, the hard, the…well, if you’re a parent, you know. As I think back on my firstborn’s graduation, I am reminded of a little side story that accompanied and paralleled our whirlwind weeks before graduation, and how it poignantly nudged its way into the forefront of that whole experience of graduating a child from high school. I think of it to remind myself that it’s going to be okay.  Life is constantly moving. For everyone. And life is good.

May 22

One day, while we were sprucing up our gazebo attached to the deck with a little spring-cleaning and some new cushions, we found a nest.  The most perfect little bird’s nest you’ve ever seen. Inside were three gorgeous blue eggs.

The mama bird was quite put out when the weather turned nice and she found her secluded spot inhabited by a family wanting to enjoy their outdoor spaces.  The nest lies in a perfect spot, nestled between the outside of the gazebo screen and the tall evergreen bush that rests against it. We have an incredible view, and the nest, mama, and eggs are well protected from accidental touches from the humans. Yesterday our babies hatched! They may not be much to look at now. But they will be.

May 28

Birdie Update

Our little birdies’ rate of growth is amazing. Often, we check on them in the morning and by the evening they have changed. They are getting so big—and even a little fluffy now! Quite a difference from the squirmy, weak, naked-bald babies that came out of those gorgeous blue eggs.

June 6

Today after church I went out to the gazebo to check on our baby birds.  As I opened the door, I immediately froze. One of our baby birds was perched on the ledge next to, but out of the nest. He turned his head all the way around to look at me and then nervously took a few steps—hops really—back and forth; a few inches away from the nest, a few inches back. Time was frozen: me standing there, he making his decision. I watched silently, mesmerized. 

And then, he flew away to the trees.

I walked slowly to the nest. The other two birds were snugly inside and showed no signs of unrest. There they sat, perfectly content, looking up at me. I went around to the side of the gazebo where the nest was secured in the tall evergreen bush and I searched the ground next to the elevated structure and then all around a large nearby tree in our yard. I breathed a sigh of relief. He was not there. He was in the trees.

I had mixed emotions of sadness and pride that our little birdie was ready to fly so fast (only sixteen days!), and felt a strange comfort that the other two remained tucked safely in the nest. I wasn't ready to see them go just yet.

At lunch I told the kids I had been able to witness the little bird flying away. "It was exciting," I said, re-telling the story of his back and forth hopping before his decision to fly away. "But the others are still there." I said.

After lunch we all went out to look.

The nest was empty. 

I thought about it for the rest of the day.
And couldn't help thinking of my own emptying nest. 

Graduation night, a few days ago, was very unemotional for me.

This surprised me a little.

Maybe it was the after effects of such a busy swirl of events that was the month of May. (I am still reeling!) Maybe it was the 400+ graduating class sardined into a high school gymnasium with moms, dads, grandparents, and siblings. Maybe it was the woman sitting next to us who had maybe started celebrating a little early and stumbled and fell every one of the many times she trekked up and down the bleachers during the ceremony (or maybe the fact that she kept yelling for her daughter to turn around through the entire thing). Or maybe it was the heat.

Maybe it was because of the impersonality of it all or the quickened pace of names read and seniors parading across the stage.

A name called; applause, a yell.


I thought maybe I would be more emotional at home during our own little "after party." Seeing all of my children together. Watching Jameson read the sweet cards his brothers and sister had made for him. Fun, yes. Emotional? Not really. “What’s wrong with me?” I thought.

And then there were things to take care of. A summer job in a different state meant a flurry of last minute things: packing, flight check-in, good-byes to friends.

The mucking out of his bedroom. (Yes, son, I'm sorry, it is no longer yours. Twenty-four hours gone has found another's sleepy head in "your" space. Being the oldest, it happened to me as well, and is often the way in large families.)

And then, due to a planning oversight and major error, Bruce and I attended seminary (four-year scripture study) graduation ceremony alone tonight, with our graduate settling in far away on the other side of the country.

The chapel.
The quiet.
The peace.

The images of my son as a baby flashed on the large screen as part of a slide show honoring the seniors. The "awwww" from the crowd.

It hit me then. My son had flown away to the trees.

I was filled with that same strange mix of emotion I had felt for our baby birds: happy-sadness (is there such a thing?), and I no longer held back my tears.

I thought about the empty nest from earlier that day. I thought about how this is the beginning of the emptying of my own little nest.

My little nest that I have carefully, and painstakingly labored over. My little nest that I have kept tidy and nourished my babes in. My little nest that I have kept watch over and made valiant and vigilant attempts to keep predators at bay. And that image of the empty nest filled me with great sadness at what will inevitably come. Until…I had another thought. 

The nest at the gazebo's edge was empty. Completely empty. That mother and father had flown to the trees, too. They did not wait and fret over an empty nest. They had joined their children in a chapter of new adventures high in the trees.

And they sang.

Brace yourself, son. Twice.

Today I'm going to tell you the heartbreaking saga of two sets of braces and one boy--a story of betrayal, triumph, disappointment, and hope five years in the making.

First, let me take you back to 17 December 2008. Let's see...Obama had just been elected in November. A journalist had just thrown his shoe at President Bush at a press conference in Baghdad days before, remember that? Congress was considering a bailout of the auto industry in Detroit and Bernie Madoff had just been arrested.  Here's where we find our boy Sam, age 10, enjoying life without a care. And here's what I recorded for the purposes of Sam's future therapy:

17 December 2008
Today was not one of my finest mothering moments. Sam had an orthodontist appointment, a follow-up to his getting spacers last week. We knew braces were in the future eventually and that there were a series of appointments leading up to it. The office said something, in passing, about bands and a headgear (remember headgears? I can't believe we haven't progressed orthodontically enough to come up with a better solution than those torture devices). I was a bit fuzzy about the details--and, honestly, so was the orthodontist staff--but told Sam I thought he was getting bands around his back teeth where the headgear would be attached. I reassured him that he was definitely NOT getting braces that day.

He came out of the appointment just under an hour later with a betrayed look in his eyes. He opened his mouth and showed me the source of his displeasure: braces! What?! Somehow I had missed the idea that he would have brackets across his top teeth. Worse, I hadn't prepared Sam AT ALL for the possibility. He managed to make it through the little braces indoctrination session with the dental assistant (what not to eat, how to brush, the scared-straight pictures of gross mouths who didn't take the hygiene advice) but the minute his feet hit the blacktop of the parking lot, the tears came.

Have you ever heard of a worse surprise? Ever? What a spacey Mom. Oy.

So, of course, he took the rest of the day off from school. To go to lunch. To choose books at the library. To look in the mirror and adjust to a mouth of silver.

Personally, I think he rocks the braces and looks very handsome. And after a bit of talking through it, he's on board for the whole braces thing.



This is one of those sagas that was not expected to have a sequel. One and done was our motto. Sure, the early braces concept was never a guarantee but the hope was that they would make room for his future teeth, which would then slip cooperatively into place. Well, apparently someone forgot to tell his rebellious pearly whites that plan! And so today, five years later, we have the next episode we're calling Braces 2: The Return of the Silver Smile. This time around we knew exactly what we were getting into and I didn't make any false guesses.  The staff here were very clear and even used the actual word braces in the appointments leading up to B day.  It didn't mean he was excited about them but he's been a good sport. 

And, yes, he took the rest of the day off of school, got a new book and chose his selection of braces-friendly treats. Mini tradition alert! 



My mom always recited this poem, just as her parents had before her, on the first day of braces for each of us. So here's the traditional first-day-of-braces poem, now on its third generation:

Children with braces
Should wear happy faces
Because it is easy to see
That sooner or later
When their teeth are straighter
What good-looking people they'll be!

(Yeah, it didn't make me feel better when I got braces and it probably didn't help Sam much--since he already IS good looking and all--but it's part of the circle of life, that poem. The tradition continues.)

Did you have braces? Did/do your kids?  Or--help a gal out--what's your best flaky-mother-of-the-year story?

To remember

Each year on my kids' birthdays I try to write a note reminding us of what that time in space feels like. Why I love the fact that my kids probably won't remember all the nights I fed them cereal for dinner, I also hate the thought that we will forget many of the details of our lives as a growing-up family.

Becca02 web.jpg

Dear Becca,

Happy birthday to my sweet sixteen-year-old. I know by now that I should gulp and shudder at 16, that sooner than I'd like I'll be driving YOU to college. I know all about the slippery slope of high school -- here one minute sleeping in, studying, out with friends, learning about being a grown up . . . and then graduation . . . and then . . . POOF!  So I'm doing my best to enjoy every moment with you, even when you lose your focus while driving and I clutch the dashboard like a drowning woman. Even then, I like being with you.

This year must be strange for you. You've spent your entire life with sisters -- older sisters to watch and emulate and laugh with and borrow their clothes. And now you are the oldest -- our household of girls is dwindling. Dad and Parker have pulled even. Two boys. Two girls. (And no, we are not going to count the dog.)

If we are looking for the good, then I'd say that we are back to a 2 and 2 parent/child ratio, which hasn't existed in these parts since 1997. You are the grand prize winner of a whole barrel-full of parental supervision and commitment. Like today? When we practiced parallel parking for two hours? I was thinking there was no way I could have done that with four kids at home -- needing rides, and supervision, and school help. Lucky you! Interminable parallel parking -- just what every girl wants.

I know you, as smart and calm and collected as you are, actually don't require a ton of diligent supervision. You've always had a level head and a strong desire to choose the right. I have silently watched you course-correct yourself at times, surveying your options, testing the waters, and then pulling in your growing limbs to the warmth and safety of home. You are a strong girl. You are almost there -- almost grown. But wait a while longer. Play little girl for just a few more moments.

Right now I can hear the strumming of your guitar from upstairs. I think that's one of the things I miss (and will miss) most about having a house full of kids -- the music. I remember well the afternoons when the piano was going full throttle, and the phone was ringing, and Parker was eeking out his first (loud) notes on the cello. I thought my head would split in two. I fervently called for Calgon to take me away. But that fervor has quieted now. How grateful I am for your guitar and your beautiful voice. I hope you'll sing me all the way through the next two and half years . . . and even some after that. 

I think all of my kids are pretty witty, but Becca, you just might take the cake. Your one-liners, delivered at the perfect moment, in the perfect accent, generally catch me off guard. I laugh quickly and often with you around. I hope you'll remember that a sense of humor can get you through some tough and uncomfortable situations. When in doubt, crack a joke. Unless it's in a job interview, or a very important exam, or in church. Well, sometimes in church. I've never been especially adept at being serious and humorous in just the right moments. So I'll leave those distinctions up to you.


Becca, you are a good sister and a good friend. You forgive easily. You are always up for a party, a late-night trip to Target, an after-dinner run to Walgreens for CANDY. And stylish? Forget about it. You have more style in your little finger than I have in my entire body. You bounce back from disappointments with panache. You are a surprisingly good skier, a full-blooded Texan who took to the slopes like a natural. Who knew? You are a hard worker. You even made the salad for your very own birthday dinner without a peep of complaint. You are always the first to pitch in and help out when there is a party or a project or a deadline. And you know what else? You're a little bit of a slave driver -- often creating the parties and projects and deadlines. But that's okay, because you make things happen. Otherwise your old momma might just eat microwave popcorn and watch Breaking Bad reruns all day long. So, thanks for that.

When it comes right down to it, it's a privilege to walk this road with you -- to be your Momma. Watching you grow up into the girl you are? the woman you are becoming? It's the best seat in the house.

Love you Becs. 


Sweet Sixteen

My Rebecca Kate is turning 16 in a few weeks. She's madly trying to finish her online driver's ed course, and, at the same time, she's working her parental magic on Sterling and I towards a Sweet 16 celebration.  

When my kids were younger I was a birthday party maniac. We had artist parties, dress up parties, American Girl parties, mad scientist parties, snake parties (with a real-life snake handler and real-life snakes). But as the kids hit their teens I thought they might be done with birthday parties. 

Not so much. 

Still, if my big kids want a birthday party, they have to drive the process. They are management; I work in party support.  But don't fret, I'm really uber supportive (which means that I do pretty much everything, I just make sure they really, really want it.)

Apparently Becca really, really wants a Sweet 16 party. (Yay! Yay?) 

She has eschewed the teen-favored Facebook group in favor of the printed invitation. [Don't tell, but the invite design is a mash up of some invites Becca found online. I hope I'm not violating any copyright laws. I don't plan on selling them. I'm just APPRECIATING the talents of real graphic designers.] Here's what we have so far: 

Obviously, some of the details are omitted. Not to keep things from you. Just from stalkers.

Obviously, some of the details are omitted. Not to keep things from you. Just from stalkers.

Currently, we are percolating some ideas for the party itself. That means 94% Pinterest, 6% our own brain power. That's how we roll. 

This is probably too juvenile for a Sweet 16, but I do love this Pinterest party. I'd at least like the big camera. 

My other idea is to do a big outdoor movie. Our tiny backyard is pretty much all pool, but if I could swing it, I'd rig up a big white sheet, set up a projector, and have a cool popcorn bar like this


An Italian soda bar could be fun. (I'm really into 'bars' -- popcorn bars, soda bars, omelette bars, smores bars. It's a theme with me.) 

For decor I'm thinking lots and lots of balloons. If you scroll to the bottom of this post, you'll see a bank of blue, helium filled balloons. I'm also quite taken with the simple, pastel-colored cakes. We've talked about cupcakes . . . but multiple cakes could be cool. Different even. 

Or . . . even though the rainbow cake has seen its day, I still think this version could be really fun. 


Just as a side note: Could someone please plan this party? And invite me? Pretty please? 

Any suggestions for Becca's party would be greatly appreciated. Also, real-life, working volunteers. I'll be passing around a sign-up sheet shortly. . .