Sunday, May 7, 2017

Mormon Prom 2017

A little rain, a bit of mud, lots of pink, a beautiful backdrop, thousands of twinkly lights, and incredible kids were just a few parts that made this year's Mormon Prom memorable.

First of all, the dress. Oh this was a challenge! Back in February, Madi and I spent a couple weeks pouring over pictures and prices on the internet. There were late-nights of frustration when we decided there was just NO POSSIBLE way we were going to ever find a modest, pale-pink, reasonably-priced dress. We settled on trying one of those "made-to-order" sites where we entered measurements for a custom fit. I think I closed my eyes when I finally clicked "submit" hoping that the Chinese company would actually come through and deliver a dress that looked like the picture. Miraculously, the dress arrived a nail-biting 14 days later. Thankfully, the dress was perfect!



The date. Madi was asked by Josh Holtom, a wonderful young man in our stake. They doubled with Mara Berringer (one of Madi's closest friends) and Spencer (one of Josh's closest friends). It was a true date with a special dinner at Lightfoots in Leesburg. I love that it all worked out! The picture of Josh and Madi with the boutonniere are one of my favorites from the night - I had just mentioned something about the huge amount of trust shown during the pinning of a boutonniere. Madi laughed and I think Josh tried to laugh.



Friends. We are so blessed to have an incredible ward with wonderful youth. The Hamilton Ward youth and their friends met at the dramatically picturesque Morvan Park for pictures. We applauded the color coordination of the beautiful ladies.

The theme of the dance was "Enchanted Evening." Antique mirrors, garlands, bottle-lights, and paned glass windows decorated the lodge-like setting.
The food was Pinterest-worthy. I mean, really?! 4000 cake pops in a woodland setting, s'mores bar, and Italian Sodas were some of the highlights.
The personal highlight - besides seeing my daughter and friends enjoying themselves - was a tiny celebration that passed almost unnoticed. My husband ended his year-long, night-time work schedule Friday night. Which meant that for the first time in a year, we attended an evening event together. We chaperoned the dance. We talked with our friends from the ward and stake, peeked in at Madi (only a couple times), sampled the yummy food many times, and celebrated. 

Sunday, April 30, 2017

200 Miles

Last year my girls and I signed up for craziness: running 200 miles as a relay team from Charlottesville to Williamsburg. When my girls rated their most favorite experiences from 2016, this race was at the top of their list. So, we did it again! This year, we added another Abbe girl.
As I ran my miles, I found myself contemplating the ridiculousness of putting ourselves in this "artificial" extreme situation - very little sleep (if any), long miles, and long car rides in between. I'm guessing my pioneer ancestors would scratch their heads in confusion about this activity. But in the middle of the extremes we found laughter, courage, teamwork, and more laughter. And that's why I love it. It's a break from the normal. It's a goal achieved by relying on each other. 
The night time runs included an extra adventure when Elise was startled by barking dogs. I bolted from the car in Mama-bear fashion when I heard her scream, ready to take on the vicious dogs myself. Thankfully, they were fenced. In an act of dedication, Elise decided to finish her leg even after the scary encounter.  
More courage was shown by Jess (AKA bandit runner) who completed her legs in spite of terrible allergies and asthma. That girl pulled out her inhaler, medicated herself, donned the scarf (to the envy of all!) and ran!
There is something beautiful about watching my girls work together and accomplish hard things. One of my favorite moments of the race was catching sight of Amelia, who ran the last leg of the race. Amelia had been in the other van with her best friend, Melanie, for the duration of the race. When I saw her emerge from the woods with a quarter mile left, I felt so proud of her. I was equally proud and touched to see Melanie at her side. They finished the race together. 
Some more memorable moments:
The gratitude I felt as my head hit the pillow, even if the sleep was only for two hours. 
The incredibly rejuvenating feeling of a shower.
Representing OMF again..."See A Cure!"
Sweet Frog before second set of legs.
Enjoying the witty banter of Jess and Joseph.
Crazy man riding a bike past the window of the Iron Horse restaurant (those beads and the bonnet).
Elise's joy at finding a blinkie light during her leg. 
The failure to find breakfast...and the glory of finally eating an omelet and pancakes (post race). Sleeping while waiting for our food to arrive.  
Marci's comment: "I feel so blessed to do this!"
Pumpkin chocolate chip cookies. 
High-fiving preschool kids at the end of my first leg.
"Exchange Zone Ahead" signs.  
Cat-fact questions from Van 2. 
Having Luke Sauter drive down in the middle of the night to run 13 miles with our team.  
Peanut Butter M&Ms. 
Madi saying, "You know you're tired when the asphalt feels comfortable."
Here's the dream team (from left to right): Jess, Joseph, Jenny, Luke, Melanie, Amelia, Madi, me, Elise, Cori, and Kyle. Way to go! Let's do it again!

Thursday, March 9, 2017

What it Takes Sometimes

First, we tackled the Duty to God goal: make a well balanced meal for the family. Truman worked next to me in the kitchen, chopping, mixing, and reading a recipe. We learned an important lesson about not using the same cutting board for raw chicken and broccoli. The end result tasted delicious, "Chicken, snap pea, pineapple stir fry in black bean sauce." But the best learning moment occurred when Truman said, "Cooking dinner takes a lot of multitasking." Yes. Yes it does! This validation was wonderful.
Next we pursued the last minute passing-off of merit badges for the upcoming Board of Review. We drove to two different leader's homes and got things signed off on those blue, rectangle cards.

Of course everything took longer than expected. I had left the kitchen in a state of crazy - the cooked-from-scratch kind of crazy. I had left the other kids to fend for themselves for the evening with their homework and instrument practicing. 

And somewhere along the dark, gravel road on the drive back home, I realized that sometimes this is what it takes. Sometimes I have to leave the mess behind. Sometimes I have to leave four other children behind to help one. And I know when my husband is finished with this upheaval of a job, we'll share these jobs and less people in our family will feel left behind. But on this night, it was the best I could do. 

I came home to a mostly clean kitchen (yes, angels live in my house!) and a monumental herd of stuffed animals at the top of the stairs where Charlotte had entertained herself. It was a soul-stirring moment when I realized my children also know what it takes: it takes a family. It takes everyone pulling together, working together, pressing forward together. Sometimes we're the ones in the car being helped. And sometimes we're the ones left behind at home to face the mess. Either way, we need each other. 

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Two Days with My Daughter

We cross the street, empty but for the parked cars and a few yellow cabs. The city is strangely quiet for a city that never sleeps. We enter Central Park from the west side near a group of runners who stretch and chat. We pass the arbor made from twisted vines thick as a broomstick handles, a whimsical landmark. We join the Saturday morning runners and begin Madi's birthday run along the paved path. She talks with me, and I cannot now recall our topics. But the sun shines. The sky opens above us like a huge blue umbrella. The city skyline marks the permitter. We marvel at the rooftop luxury apartments with their terraces and trees growing in pots. She tolerates my requests for selfies, and do-over selfies. And six miles later, we find ourselves where we started. The street is a little more crowded. The park holds more runners, dog-walkers, and vendors.
I took Madi to NYC for the first time in March 2008. She was eight years old. The highlights of that trip were lunch at the American Girl Store and playing the floor piano at FAO Swartz. It snowed our first night there, large quarter-sized flakes filled the sky soft and white. We purchased "I love NYC" hats because it was colder than we expected.

Nine years later.

We consider going back to FAO Swartz to recreate our first NYC memory. Google informs us the iconic toy store on 5th Ave. has closed.  We look at each across our slices of perfectly thin pizza in disbelief. It is really closed? There is no more FAO Swartz? And there it is. An ending. A symbolic hint of the changes to come over the next four years.  Childhood gone.

I love this girl of mine. I love her sense of adventure, her love of literature, her gift of words, and her companionship. I love her so much that it aches to think of the coming changes. Sad for me. Happy for her.

Which, of course, makes this day all the more significant. It turns our morning run into a snatch of perfection. It turns our pizza eating, cookie munching, and restaurant hunting into treasures. They are memories in the making that will linger longer than a toy store, longer than a trip, and certainly longer than a cookie lasts in my tummy.




Thursday, February 9, 2017

Bunnies Bunnies Everywhere!

Picture a warehouse full of long tables, wire cages, and thousands of rabbits. Thousands. There are big rabbits like Flemish Giants that look like medium sized dogs only more fleshy, loppy, and lazy. A young girl lugs one around. Its legs dangle almost to the floor, and its head bobs like a large Raggedy Ann doll. There are the tiny rabbits. The dwarf hotots that look like fancy Guinea pigs wearing eyeliner. And then there are the medium sized rabbits. This is where we fit in, amongst the mini lops with their long wide ears, the dutch with their clean fur lines (like oreos), and the mini rex with their velvety coats. Soon the long tables are filled with waterbottles, towels, hay, grooming kits, and breed standard books.

It is the PASRBA rabbit show. And it is our first year to come as more than spectators and buyers, but as participants in the youth show.

We watch the judging begin...all senior buck dutch rabbits are brought to the judging table. The distinguished, white-haired judge looks with a critical eye over the judging stock. Seriously, he looks as though he's walked out of a masterpiece theater episode with his expression of proper distain. All he needs is a pipe and a tweed jacket. The mini lop judge looks like a California beach girl, down to the sunkissed, straight hair and the sunglasses with blue lenses that perch on her head for the entire six hours of judging.
The rabbits are judged by a "Standard of Perfection." We experience the gamut of results: one disqualification (poor Snoopy!), a third place, a fourth place, and a winner for variety. Amelia's Tetrus, shown below, is awarded first place in Otter category.
The true joy comes in selecting new rabbit purchases. We are so grateful for kind, experienced breeders who take the time to teach and train when we purchase a rabbit. These nationally ranked breeders are willing to invest in the 4H-ers. They lower their prices by more than $100/per rabbit.

We come home with six new rabbits...and a new breed (Netherland Dwarfs for Elise). We also bring home a new set of cages, because, well, SIX new rabbits on top of our somewhat large brood already at home. I have a shocking moment of "What have we done?" when I see our new line up of cages. But then I remind myself that life is short. And bunnies are joy. So the more bunnies, the more joy!

We stop for dinner because everyone is starving. You get really hungry when the day starts at 4AM. We ride the high of the event; everyone has something to celebrate whether a win or a new rabbit. We splurge and purchase a bakery item for everyone!
When we return home, it is late. But even though it has been a long day, everyone rallies to clean the garage to make room for the new set of cages. We sweep, organize, rearrange, and install plastic sheeting. 

Why do we do this? Why do we turn our garage into a barn? Why do we invest time and money into rabbits? Why do we spend an entire Saturday at a rabbit show? Well number one, it's a family activity. Rabbits are the only activity, besides church, that every member of the family can do together. My teenagers are as engaged as my eight year old. Number two, cuteness!! Oh we love these fluffy sweet creatures. Holding rabbits is like holding handfulls of joy, laughter, and comfort.

Meet Lucy. She is my rabbit. Yes, I bought her at the show. And yes, she is as sweet, floppy, soft, and cuddly as she looks.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

A Non-January

This January has been a non-January. A non-winter. The days have felt like a trick with almost spring-warm mornings and rain that should have been snow.

Even minus the cold and the snow, I feel the need to hibernate during January. It is a planning month for me where I hunker down and try to write, catch up on organizing, and procrastinate taking down the Christmas decorations (one tree is down...two to go).

My greatest source of joy in this troublesome month is snippets with my family. With teenagers and their schedules and O's night work schedule, time together is precious. We spent a couple hours in the National Botanical Garden a couple weekends ago. We were drawn to the tropical plants, the ones that reminded us of Indonesia and Bali. The blossoms were a reminder of warmth and fun and freedoms that we may never experience in the same way again.

I find joy in the snippets with Madi on long runs. My favorite request is, "Mom, will you run with me?" She tolerates my slower pace, my music choice, and usually even lets me pick the running route. It is there on the trail or on a gravel road, our shoes striking a familiar rhythm, that my self-doubt is quietest, and I feel like everything is going better than okay.

I long for a hearty snow. A snow so deep we are stuck in the house together. A snow so deep that time stops, and all we have to do is enjoy each other.

Sometimes it is difficult for me to feel like I'm making much progress on anything during January. I feel like I'm in a flight holding pattern, circling a destination without actually landing. Making plans without making progress. But maybe that's just my hibernating mind speaking.

The joy is there...even if it comes in snippets. Even in this non-wintery month. I just have to look a little harder to see it.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

The Twins Turn 13

I supposed someday I will need to stop referring to Truman and Amelia as "the twins." But so far, they tolerate (and still celebrate) their constant "twin" status and the reminder that they come into the world together.

Amelia (first by 15 minutes - she likes to gloat). Wow this girl. Beautiful strawberry blond hair (more strawberry than blond) and a personality to match. She bucked the Abbe children trend and chose Oboe as her school instrument instead of strings. Her tone and regular practicing earned her a spot as first chair in the woodwind section in her band class.

Sewing is still a passion for her. She received a sewing table and chair for her room from Santa which allowed her to move her sewing machine out of Truman's room - they were both thrilled. It is not uncommon for Amelia to disappear during the weekend only to emerge from her bedroom a couple hours later with sewing project completed. She made everyone Christmas pillowcases as gifts this year.



She serves as president in her Beehive class which has been a good learning experience for her. It has been fun to watch her develop skills and come into her own in Young Women's.

We definitely recognized signs of the approaching teenage-hood. Amelia has some spunk to her. She is not a push-over and speaks her mind regularly.  She is a second mother to Charlotte and Truman, taking any opportunity to keep them on task and on time. It is not rare to hear her remind Truman "Time to catch the bus...do you have your lunch?" in the mornings. She is fully aware of the pecking order in Middle School, and we've had some good conversations about friendships. Although sometimes there are tears, Amelia has a way of picking herself back up and pressing forward. I admire her for this.

Amelia ran with NOVA Acers last spring and fall...joining the ranks of Abbe runners. She has a beautiful stride and a competitor's heart.

Truman (who gloats about his "birthright" status - which drives his sisters crazy!). Wow this boy. We had a rough patch with some depression and anxiety at the end of 6th grade, but you would never know now. He is a happy boy who takes care of his chickens and does crazy things like make up a game of bamboo surfing using the tree-tall stalks down by the creek.

Truman joined a travel soccer team this year. Soccer is his love - he'd play it everyday if he could. When the weather cooperates, he takes a soccer ball in the yard and practices.

He discovered gel this year - and man is this kid cute. Amelia says he's gotten a bit wild at school and has lots of friends. For the first time in my parenting life, I had a call from a teacher at school about some behavior issues. We nipped that in the bud, FAST.  At home, Truman is a HUGE helper. He still says "Yes Mom, I love you" when I ask him to do an extra chore around the house. He and Charlotte get along the best and they can play games for long stretches.



This boy loves his chickens. He invested in a second flock after our tragic encounter with a fox last summer. He feeds them, cleans out the coop, and thoroughly enjoys carrying them around.

Music, music, music. Truman learned the Maple Leaf Rag (original version) this year and keeps working hard with piano lessons. He played his viola in a trio with Madi and Elise during the Christmas season. That was a dream come true...for me.

I love my twins. I love their energy and contribution. I love their optimism and hard work. I love watching them develop their uniqueness while still relishing their togetherness...their twin status.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Highlight #10

It's taken me a week to catch up. But I've saved my favorite highlight for last.

Highlight #10 - My family!
This crazy, talented, sweet, chaotic, independent, amazing, chicken-loving group of people is my tribe. They keep me busy as I drive them to music lessons, make meals, attend races, and get them to church activities. But I love that kind of of busy!

They also keep me busy with laundry (it is never-ending) which is NOT my favorite activity. Thankfully, they are dish-doers/kitchen-cleaners...even if they do have to be reminded. I also stay busy as I ride the emotional roller-coaster nearly everyday with these teenagers and an eight-going-on-sixteen child. But we're making progress. "I'm sorry" is a common phrase in our house...most often used by me.

These people are my favorite travel companions. They cheer for spontaneous stops on road trips. They support adventurous treat finding. Our favorite treats (besides the Dream Cones) were Schmakary's cookies in NYC and the all-you-can-eat buffet in Dutch county Pennsylvania. Truman ate the equivalent of five meals in two hours, plus three whoopee pies to top it off. He said, "I stopped eating when I started sweating." :) Madi and Elise are my Shakespeare-partners, joining me anytime I have a craving for theatre.

Don't get me wrong, we've had our share of heartaches this year. The fox attack on the chickens was devastating: bloody, terrifying, and tearful. Keeping up with school work and a stressful xcountry schedule nearly did us all in. Dad's new work schedule in April meant that after 4pm (the busiest part of the day) I was a single parent everyday. The strain on the high schoolers (who didn't see their Dad on school days) had a bigger impact than we anticipated. But we've managed. Together.

The biggest blessing of my life is spending time with these people. I feel joy in seeing their progression. They keep me from getting lonely.

And we couldn't have managed half a well as we did this year, without the help from these people:



Grandparents are the best! Their love, support, and hardwork not only bless us, but inspire us to strive to do and be a little better.

Someone said, "Family isn't an important things. It's everything." Yep. That's true.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Highlight #9 - Love

This year I learned about love. It all started on a snowy day in February. I was participating in a training meeting for leadership in the stake, and part of my responsibility was to organize a musical number for the opening session. I asked Jess to play her violin...because well, it's Jess, only the most musically talented person I know.

On the morning of the event, I arrived at 7:30 thinking I was very early and prepared. I was surprised to see people rushing around and seeming stressed when we still had an hour and a half before the event started. By 7:40, I casually asked, "Why are we all hurrying?" My friend Cheryl said, "Because we only have twenty minutes till start time." WHAT!? Yes, it started at 8. And yes, I had told my dear friend, Jess, to be at the chapel at 9AM. Not 8.

My stomach dropped.

I called Jess's cell, and it went right to voice mail. I called her husband's number. He answered. "Hi," I said with a a shaky voice. "Ummm, so I made a big mistake. So you know how Jess is playing for the stake training meeting today? Well...I told her the wrong time. I told her to be here at 9, but actually it starts at 8." Joseph said, "You mean in 15 minutes?" When I confirmed the time, he said something like, "Oh boy. I'll go tell her."

Now it must be recorded that #1, Jess lives 20 minutes away from the building where she was supposed to play. #2 It had snowed that morning. #3 Jess loves her sleep, and I'm pretty sure she might not have even been awake when I called.

I confessed my mistake to Robyn, the YW Stake President, and the Stake President. Then I sat on the stand while the people arrived for the meeting. Robyn used a little stalling tactic and postponed the beginning of the meeting five minutes due "to the weather." I sat there feeling so sick that I had put my friend in that horrible position. I sat there feeling sick that most likely she wouldn't make it in time...and it was all my fault.

During the opening song, the chapel door opened and in walked Jess. She was wearing a long skirt...and snow boots. Her beautiful blond hair was pinned up in a messy bun. And she was wearing her glasses. She hadn't even taken the extra time to put in her contacts. Not a stitch of makeup on her face. All because of my mistake. When Jess walked up on the stand to do her musical number in front of all the stake leadership...in snow boots and her glasses...I whispered, "I love you." And she whispered back, "I love you more."

In that moment I learned more about love and service than any church lesson ever taught.

Love is selfless. Love is service. Love is without vanity or guile. Love is forgiving even when you have every right to hold a grudge.  Love is friendship. Love is coming late to a stake meeting in snow boots and glasses and playing the violin even when your friend messed up.

Love is road trip partners! Love is running 200 miles together over 36 hours. Laughter and sleep deprivation and lots of chocolate definitely strengthens a friendship. Love is coming to the Miami EANA conference with a 3AM pickup time and return flight on 9/11 - whoa! Love is when two friends accompanied me when I went to get a mammogram because my doctor had found a lump. And then love is when one of those friends stormed back into the office to demand better service for me when the radiologist was rude. Love is invitations to enjoy a backyard fire pit, company on the trail, and phone calls while I drive home from teaching. Love is inviting my girls and I to watch Poldark and Dr. Thorn on a big screen TV. Love is sharing Thanksgiving dinner and Christmas dinner.

I'm so far from being a good friend or knowing how to show love in a perfect way. But for some reason I have been blessed with people in my life who are and who do.




Monday, January 2, 2017

2016 Highlights #6-8

And the highlights continue...

#6 - Loudoun County Fair. When the kids were in elementary school, the county fair was the highlight of our summer. With a four year break because of Indonesia, coming back to the fair grounds was nostalgic and exciting. It was definitely a family affair - a week of baking, competitions, rodeos, demolition derby, fried food, animal responsibilities, and interacting with the club members and the general public.

This year, the girls entered the Miss Loudoun County competition...and Madi won! She spent most of the week handing out ribbons at the various animal competitions. 
#7 - Trip to Cape Cod. I took my children back to the place I called home for five years. I moved to Sandwich, MA my sophomore year and graduated from high school there.  Elise, Madi, and I ran my old route through the quaint Sandwich village, around the old grist mill, and past Heritage plantation. Memories surfaced with every corner and twist in the road.

If I had to name a single favorite moment of 2016, it would be jumping off the Sandwich boardwalk with Madi after a morning run. 
If I had to name a single favorite food from 2016 it would be the "Dream Cones." Three scoops of homemade ice cream are the epitome of summer.
And if I had to name a favorite day of the entire year, it would be the day Shelley and Nelson took us on their boat to a private beach for a BBQ with their family. Toes in the sand. Hamburgers grilled on the beach. A swim to cool off. Buying ice cream from the Ice Cream truck boat. Talking books and comparing teacher and mothering experiences with my dear friend. Best. Day. Ever.
 #8 Running! Besides running from activity to activity, we are definitely a family of racing runners. This fact became even more clear this year when Truman and Amelia joined the ranks of our runners. Truman won the middle school bulldog mile (pictured below with the fastest high schooler in the US Drew Hunter), and Amelia joined the NOVA Acer track and xcountry teams. 

Elise and Madi became teammates as they ran on varsity together. I love to cheer them on. But mostly, I love to watch them cheer on each other. 



Sunday, January 1, 2017

2016 Highlights #1-5

With my poorest record of posts this year (a paltry 8 posts), I hardly know where to start. But Elise encouraged me to list the highlights and then press forward with renewed commitment for 2017. Our lives have been full. Full of events, activities, challenges, tears, laughter, homework, deadlines, meals, and celebrations. They've also been full of very mundane moments...moments hardly worth recording. A brief snuggle on the couch, Saturday morning chores, Redbox rentals, sick days, Sunday afternoon walks, daily dish jobs, runs on the trail, and instrument practicing before school. Yet, it seems strange to record the large, rare moments when really our lives are made up much more of the small and mundane.

But pressing forward...our 2016 Highlights #1-5:

1. Madi turned 16, and to celebrate, we went to NYC! From the two Broadway musicals (Lion King and Neverland) to the corner suite upgrade at the Marriott Marquis, the entire weekend was magical.

2. St. Thomas vacation! We cashed in our miles and Marriott points and flew to St. Thomas for my husband's birthday. The snorkelling, kayaking, blue sky, and turquoise water was balm to our souls. My favorite memory is beach hopping from Magen's Bay to Coki beach where my husband snorkelled to his heart's content! Shortly after this trip, our lives changed significantly with my husband's night shift work. The memories of this trip seem very dreamlike...like a lifetime away.
3. Bunnies and Chickens. After a year of no animals because of our move and house building, we finally got bunnies and chickens again. We went from zero pets to over 20! The rabbits took over the garage (a fact I'm not thrilled with but have resigned to). Truman helped his dad build a coop for the chickens. We experienced the full array of emotions with exciting baby bunny births and tragic fox attacks. 
 4. A new driver, dating, and prom. With Madi's 16th birthday, all of our lives changed. The biggest change was adding a driver to our family. Madi drives to early morning seminary on some mornings and with some pretty amazing car drop-off-choreography, she often has a car to drive home after school. Oh the joy of having an extra driver! Also, Madi was asked to Mormon prom by Jared Schoeny...a landmark occasion for her as well as me. How can my first baby be old enough to go to prom?
5. Youth Conference at Kirtland, OH. I was called to serve in the stake Young Women's earlier this year. And so far, the most thrilling part of this calling was getting to accompany the youth to Kirtland. It was a whirlwind weekend of spiritual experiences with friends and my girls. We were asked to participate in a reenactment, I taught one of the sessions at the Johnson farm, and Madi and Elise sang with the youth choir. The meeting in the Kirtland temple was what Madi called, "this year's highlight."