Thursday, August 15, 2013

Celebratin' the birth

I LOVE birthdays. Like children love candy. I live for them. I love celebrating my own, and I love being invited to celebrate with others. Anyone who knows me, and is part of my life can attest, I like celebrating others' birthdays as well.  I like to give the gifts, I like making cards; If you have a party, I will get excited about bringing something to eat at the party....I love birthdays.
My birthday dessert at Ruth's Chris.

This year was no exception.  It actually started early with some reflecting about my life, and why I am excited to keep learning more. My FB page contained lessons I've learned along the way, and in a few more years there will be more lessons to add to the list. The reflection began with this memory:

At the young (and very impressionable) age of 20, to fulfill my undergraduate requirements at Westminster Choir College in Princeton, New Jersey, I signed up for psychology and sociology.  This has, and always will be the semester of hell that keeps on giving. In every controversial topic from abortion, to whether AIDS research on monkeys is ethical, I had to write a substantial paper, and there was ample class discussion.

In this class there was a Mennonite, a hippy from Vermont, a Catholic priest's son, a lesbian, myself, the lack luster "I just want to pass this class" soon to be educator, and an agnostic. Just reading this, one may think that this was the recipe for disaster, or a really good episode of Jerry Springer, where the host receives the highest ratings of the season.  

That, however, is not how it was. The professor was in fact a pure genius. A mediator whose thought provocation in our assignments, was not to prove how accurate you are, but to challenge WHY your thoughts exist in the first place.  I grew 50 fold that semester. 

We actually are the result of every one of our thoughts. All of them. In fact, everyone is who they are, because of their surroundings from the moment they are conceived. And none of us did anything right or wrong to deserve that. Period. Sociology exists because of that fact. One of my favorite moments was when the conversation of public funds to those with less money arose to the person who grew up in one of the most elaborate and expensive neighborhoods in America.  It was very hard for this person to even comprehend growing up in the projects with parents who are in and out of jail their entire life, let a lone, that our society may want to make sure they have government money for an education.   

But if you don't talk to your counselor, and accidentally sign up for psychology in the same semester, like myself, you expand your understanding even more! Great thinkers, and psychologists have been studying this very thing and drawing their own conclusions about human behavior....and advocating for a more conscious set of thought processes. Behavior is a choice. Thoughts are sometimes deeply ingrained and must be redirected so that our actions are conscious.

Why so many ramblings before I celebrate my 37th birthday?  Because so many people, and so many experiences have shaped my life.  Speaking of people, I understand that everyone is different. It is my favorite thing about life. I enjoy, and thrive in a well rounded environment. I am fascinated by people, especially what they feel they are.  I also have noticed that people overcome some of the most brutal life circumstances and use their overcoming of challenges to better those around them.

I am surrounded by people who are conscious. I have learned SO much from them.  And this year, I embraced all the things I have had to learn to be happy.  It has been a magnificent year.  In fact, I have celebrated more this year than any other in my life. Not because I have anything really great to celebrate, I have not won anything, or even landed a gig. I don't have a lot of money, and my efforts at what is important to me don't always get a lot of praise.  But, I genuinely know, that all of my actions are conscious.  That although at the very core of my thoughts is a giant "nay sayer" I am in charge of my actions. My inner voice is a silly ninny. Instead of listening to her, I surround myself with the most important ingredients needed for mental health.

Integrity is one of the most important aspects to me, in any relationship. Most importantly to myself.  If I say I am going to do something, I do. I don't make excuses, or blame anyone else.  If I don't do it, I apologize and fix it. 

One of the best examples of this is my very own, dear sister. ( She inspired me this year more than I can adequately express in words. She struggled with an injury that put her down and unable to run. Running is a large part of her life.  She didn't sugar coat how hard that was for her, but she pressed through and committed to doing what it took to get her back in the game.  On June 8th I went to watch her come across the finish line at her first marathon since her injury. I began sobbing before she even came across the line. She is amazing. I stood there, overwhelmed with intense pride. I was insanely proud of her. Her integrity about running is what is amazing. She runs because she loves it, she sets goals, and meets those goals.  She makes those promises to herself and doesn't make excuses. This inspires me, even as I write it. I am very good at keeping my promises to others, but when it comes to making promises to myself and keeping them (especially fitness) I willingly bow away. I am so grateful for this example. Speaking of amazing, she beat her expectation time by over 20 minutes.
My sister's really nice friend took this pic for us. I LOOOOVE it.

My sister sporting her swag....she also took second place in her division and won a metal.

Resilience is key. To ANYTHING.  I have a friend of 22 years. Resilience is her middle name. Heidi Resilience Campbell. Watching her bounce back from negativity, set backs, deployments, weight gain, disappointments, is like watching a stand up comedian in their very best on caffeine. One might say it is her sense of humor that keeps her resilient, but I disagree.  I think she has a sense of humor because she is resilient.  Because she knows in a very short time, that it will be a belly ache for the two of us, because we laughed so hard!  I am a better person every time I watch this resilience in action. Her mind is alive, alert, smart, and quick to recover from negativity. It is awe inspiring. I have always taken so long to recover from negativity, I am so grateful for her ability to show me through her greatest strength just how to do it.  The bumps in my life have demanded that I get back up and keep trying. 
Here we are dancing in the street of Jackson Hole Wyoming.

More dancing.

Or rather, what you can't control. Control what IS in your control, and politely let go of anything that isn't. One of the most assured, calm, and happy people I know happened to marry my husband's brother.  She is the queen, and should write a book about how to gracefully handle what is not in your control. I was blown away by watching this...when we were new mothers and both of our husbands were in school.  I have no doubt that her ability to love others, and be happy is because she recognizes what is not in her control.  I have always thought that if I treat others well, and have good intentions others will treat me well in return.  She has been my guiding light, and helped me to love, and understand God's love more clearly.  God does not have expectations attached to his love,  and those who understand that, don't desire to control others. They allow others to be who they are, and love them. I have been blessed by this, in ways I can't express. I now understand, by watching her do this (others preach it) of just exactly how this works. I control the issues at hand in my own life, and supply love and support to those around me.  If they chose to love me in return, that is their choice.  I can't only control how they react or perceive me.
Here she is with her family. 

Here is where I toot my own horn.  My friend of 22 years gave me a quote, that read: ".....There's nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us, it's in everyone......"-Marriane Williamson.  I speak of my talent for tolerance only to celebrate the very tool that has brought me peace.  Tolerance has been a crucial part of my forward momentum in many relationships and conflicts in work.  I don't get bent out of shape because of someone else's beliefs, or how they spend their time, or what they spend their money on, or how they talk about food, or whether their love language is right for me. I consider all love languages effort and effort is all it takes.  There is peace in accepting others. Understanding that they are the product of a series of events in their life, and that their personality, actions, strong opinions, what they spend their money on, how they dress their kids, whether they shop at Walmart, what church they belong to,  etc. is not personal.This tolerance guides how I react to differences, or obvious issues I see preventing them from being their best.  This tolerance then gives me peace in how I address them when honesty is needed.  I have always yearned for a more tolerant world.  What is wonderful, is the kind of peace that lives inside a heart that is tolerant. My most unhappy moments in life, were the years I lacked tolerance for others. I pray I never go back.

Integrity, resilience, understanding of control, and tolerance are what comprise my life support tool box.  They are by no means tools that I use efficiently, consistently, or with ease, they are however, the tools I have recognized to being happy and there are excellent examples around me.  As I learned in psychology, we can't always control our thoughts, but we can make choices in how we react. Actions are behaviors. Behaviors are a choice. I am thrilled to have this knowledge and to delve into another wonderful year of life.

I have a vision of myself in my 90's....and I see that vision a lot. I wear a lot of color, and I talk a lot. Neighbors come to visit me and I am still mobile. I have had almost every joint in my body replaced....:-)  I bustle about in the kitchen (slowly) as I make tea and listen to the exciting world that is changing around me.  Young mothers come to speak with me about their current challenges and I listen and share the amazing experiences I have had in my life; challenges that prepared me for a better, more full life. They are all very diverse and loved........ I hope to keep the forward momentum going and keep myself healthy so I may see that day.  I am pretty sure that there will be many challenges this year, but I am so grateful for the lessons I have learned thus far. In
Ryan and I at my surprise b-day cake festivity.

“Birth is the sudden opening of a window, through which you look out upon a stupendous prospect. For what has happened? A miracle. You have exchanged nothing for the possibility of everything.”

Tuesday, August 6, 2013


It happened. I was considered for a lead role with an Opera company this year.  So, naturally, I brought the kids with me to sing for them...and their granny. I sang for them, and it went well.  The conductor flew in from New York and played for me.  While I was there I also sang for the conductor of the local symphony to be considered for the Verdi Requiem.  Both auditions were full of surprises, and went the best they could.

At the young age of 22, singing for opera directors was far more intimidating. Now, it is just what I do, but it is far more rewarding, and I have the skills to prepare for them.  The feedback I received was wonderful.

When the audition was over, the party commenced: at the science museum, Zoo, and aquarium. Lynn McMillan is one of my favorite people, we had so much fun, and the sloth bear is a must see!!

Monday, August 5, 2013

Bear Lake and the absence of Ego

Bear Lake is gorgeous. The water is blue, and the sand is perfect. At the end of June, we packed up our things and headed north, through one of Utah's most beautiful of canyons, and spent a weekend at Bear Lake. It was perfect. And by perfect I mean perfect. In my entire life, I can count how many times I have said those words on one hand.  Not because I don't have a great life, but rarely do I get the best of every aspect of my life simultaneously at one time.  Perhaps it is because the kids didn't fight once. OR because we brought our bicycles, (my new favorite thing) and rode every morning, and I rode about 40 miles the entire weekend.  Maybe it was because I prepared great food at each meal and the clean up was easy....or because Oliver fell in love with cycling, FINALLY.  I am not sure.  Ryan and I just get a long. 99.9% of the time. This particular weekend it was so perfect between us.  I am so in love with Ryan.  His ability to get up, day after day and go to work when, frankly, the challenges are beyond his control, is constantly keeping me in awe. His ability to stay present with our kids, and focus on their greatest strengths keeps me grounded.  And maybe, it was a perfect weekend, because he is my husband, and I know he is committed to me and our family.


Maybe it's because I have finally divorced the idea of ever really looking amazing.  I recently read a blog post about a mother and a daughter.  The daughter heard her mother talk about her disgust for her own body and her constant dieting...and the mother always feeling like less of a person because she was a little over weight. OR maybe it's because I have started taking a really close friend to Chemo therapy once a week.  Talk about priorities. My health and my body have been at the center of my life since I was 8 years old.  I can't really remember EVER feeling proud of my body. Not once. Not ever. And because of that, every photo of me since motherhood, which has been particularly hard on my body, has been absent...there are in fact, hardly any pictures of me actively playing with my kids. All of them are of me simply posing, going through the motions of motherhood.  I don't just go through the motions of motherhood, I actually LOVE being a mother, and on the inside, I am alive, and I am thin.  But photos have always been a completely different reflection of how I feel and what I do with my body.  

One day at the doctors office, waiting for my friend to begin Chemo I looked down and saw on the cover of US News: "the hottest bods of 2013."
I became so furious. Please tell me that a woman who has had a double mastectomy, and fighting for her dear life does not have to look at this. Or that a man who may loose the very thing that makes him a man will have to peruse the greatest abs of 2013. Surely there must be some reverence in the world!!!  Without thinking things through, I grabbed the magazine, and made sure NO ONE fighting for their life would ever have to see this magazine.

And in that very moment, I realized....I too shouldn't have to look at this. Nor will I. Nor will I spend another moment not celebrating what is inside of me. It has been very hard being a plus size person. In fact, at my very smallest, I am a size 12. That, is not a size that is offered everywhere. But, at a size 12 I can do anything I set my mind to.  

At bear lake, I let the camera shoot. And I didn't shy away from it. 
I am so grateful to have been given a physical body.  I will continue to work at keeping it healthy and strong. 

And perfection, is sometimes just allowing oneself to enjoy what IS.

8 year olds like to photo bomb. And this 8 year old is my favorite.

Never say "smile" to an 8 year old photo bomber

And little brothers like to follow suit 

Unfortunately, a rogue 2 year old destroyed their work of Sand art...

getting dirty in the sand...complete therapy!

Sunday, July 14, 2013

"Joy" and the epic Kindergarten Graduation

Oliver graduated from Kindergarten this year!! It truly feels surreal to be typing this on our blog.  Of course there has been a natural succession leading up to this moment, but it still feels like yesterday when they put his perfect little dimpled face up to me to see him.  Oliver's teacher told me, that Oliver is the child that everyone gets along with.  He is the constant peace maker at school, and does everything he can to be friends with everyone.  She also told me that he is reading at a third grade level.  I went in and read with the children in his class once a week.  I grew close to each of his classmates.  Some of them had challenges in reading...I took it upon myself to bring every teaching tool I had with me to help harness the desire to learn to read.  When the puzzle pieces came together for each child, as the year progressed, I would leave feeling so proud of each student.  Oliver was on the high honer roll for achievement in every subject.  Kindergarten was no different for Oliver than it was for Aiden, it was in the fact the hardest transition for both of our boys.  I have heard that when children have a stay at home mom, Kindergarten is a tough transition.  Simply because they have less exposure to so much going on, and so many people.  Kindergarten was tough for them.  The transition was the same, but how they manifested their frustrations were completely different.  As a mother, it is always so hard to know what to do, and how to provide the perfect balance of love and discipline.  Fortunately, Oliver had an older brother there comforting him and reminding him that it would all be okay.  "Ollie, trust me, you are gonna be glad you went to Kindergarten, I promise."  Because Oliver is a peace maker, he often finds himself frustrated because his needs are not getting met.  I completely understand this frustration.  I am a peace maker.  I would rather eat dirt that get my way.  But along the way, in order to survive, get two degrees and be in a competitive industry, I have learned how to meet my needs and remain true to my integrity.  that is what we worked on this year.  How to be nice, get your needs met, and walk away when people aren't kind.  It has been a good refresher course for yours truly. Ryan and Oliver have been so close all along.  Ryan gets me, and he gets Oliver.  Recently, Oliver told me how to effectively interpret one of the songs from Mama Mia.  It was priceless.  Oliver prays for everyone.  Our prayers take forever at night, because he doesn't leave anyone out.  Oliver this year was voted as having "Joy" as his special trait.  He does in fact bring so much joy to our home.  And I have said this since he was a tiny 8 month old baby; Oliver's hugs should be world famous, and they still should.  Typing these very words my heart is a flutter and I can feel his honest love when I think of his hugs.  Oliver also committed to taking piano for most of the year, but needed  a break at the end.  He is almost reading music and his little touch on the piano is so sensitive, and very musically inclined.  He has a natural ear for phrasing when he sings and plays his little piano songs.  Oliver found himself with Legos this year and loves building things out of them.  I think Legos are the coolest invention ever. He also LOVES riding his scooter.

Kindergarten had some turbulent moments for Oliver, but he has proven to be a person of character and strength.  To love others even in adversity, to work hard at something that frustrates him, and most important, he loves his creator.  If you have a conversation with Oliver, it is very clear that he is an old soul and very smart.  I can't wait for him to enjoy first grade!

Here he is receiving all of his awards. His kindergarten teacher taught me so much. And the confidence she instilled in Oliver can't be measured.
 Although moving to the third grade is a big deal there was not an official graduation ceremony for Aiden.  This year was a blossoming year for Aiden McMillan.  He loves science.  He is an awesome reader, loves to solve problems, but hates penmanship, in fact he would be on the honor roll as well if he didn't hate it.  But ironically, his cursive is absolutely beautiful.  He is a wonderful little artist and takes great pride in his art projects at school.  In fact I have saved most of them.  It may sound like something only a mother would say, but every little part of his personality comes through in his art. It is remarkable.  Aiden is a very good friend, and became one of the classes favorites, simply because he cares.  He genuinely cares about people.  If you look at the photo below, you can absolutely see it.  Aiden wasn't as keen on the idea of learning about the bible at school.  But recently, he told me that he could never be alone, because he always has the lord.  Aiden has a rough transition this year when he had to get a new teacher mid year because the original teacher had some family issues that needed to be attended to. Being a mother, I understood first hand and supported her fully.  His new teacher however, was patient with him and understood that he and his previous teacher had a fierce connection.  In fact, he cried several times throughout the day, and at night when he said his prayers.  He is a tender little soul, but not so tender that he can't stand up for himself.  He reminds me more of Ryan every day.  He sings from the top of his lungs, and doesn't care if it's pretty or who is listening.  He is earnest, content, and loves science.  His favorite show is Myth busters, and when he speaks about the show his eyes light up.  He recently tried out for the West Jordan swim team and made it!!  His free style is amazing and his love for swimming even more so.  He committed to a full year of Piano and was able to Mary had a little lamb in several keys, and is now reading music quite well.  When he received his end of school rewards, he also was given the award for JOY!!!  I hope that he continues down this road of faith, joy and hard work.  He constantly reminds me that he loves me, and is proud of me.  He is a gem to our family.

Although fuzzy, this is Aiden receiving his awards For science, reading and Joy.

Easter 2013

Easter is always a very blessed time of year for us. Simply because of the blessing we receive, and are reminded of because of the king of the Jews, who was willing to sacrifice his life for us. For everyone. For every person, not just the believers, or the ones who belong in a special club. For everyone. During Holy week, I participate in several services, to mark the days before the Crucifixion, and celebrate with lots of music on the day of Easter.  This year we took Granny Pat with us to the Easter service that I sang in and looked for eggs around the church grounds.  We then came home to see if the Easter bunny hid eggs, and then surprise!!! The Easter bunny had hid eggs and Granny and Grandpa McMillan's.  We celebrated with a beautiful Easter meal, and I made a traditional braided Easter bread.  IT was so delicious.  Definitely going to the top of my "New TRADITIONS" list!   I recently decided to start creating traditions of my own.  Not only was the bread delicious, it was so beautiful to look at.  Here is the recipe if you would like to try it out!

Trying to find eggs.....The bunny was sneaky this year!!

Oliver's excitement was very hard to contain!

Our gorgeous, kind Aiden.  He is such a sweet boy.

sweet little Sam. We love her so much.

I live for purchasing Easter outfits. NOTE TO SELF: Get a proper Photo of the coordinating ensembles.  The boys had Fedoras, even Ryan.  

Papa Ron is so sweet to our boys. 

Lynn always does such a great job making celebrations so wonderful!

Sam was having a very good time messing with Oliver's basket.
My parents also came to the Easter celebration at the McMIllans, and brought treats for all of the grand kids.  It was very sweet!

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Optimism and the power of the present: being conscious.

This year I was selected as one of 12 national finalists in a very competitive competition. The competition was in Portland Oregon. Without hesitation, I agreed to compete, and decided to make a family vacation out of it. So while I sang for my future, my family went to the zoo. 
I felt like that was a fair trade off; while I sing under high stress situations, they can go observe animals that may or may not be stressed by being in captivity. 

The kind of advice I get in my career field sometimes makes me question a lot of things.  Many people feel that if you can imagine yourself winning, somewhat like "The Secret" you cannot fail, or be turned down for first prize.  Others feel that one must slave away, constantly berating one's self until every single second is perfection. Therefore, perfection will present itself when you sing and of course perfection beats out all of the competition. I tend to think that one must practice until close to perfection and then send the commands and get out of the way, so the artist and inspired human being can emerge through the sound.  All these opinions and no real strategy, can sometimes leave someone entering a competition feeling a bit frantic.  One is optimistic, one is a realist or perfectionist and mine is a culmination of both(sort of)  I have somewhat learned along the way that if I want to perform well I must be very prepared, and also a dreamer...I have never studied this, just come to it from learning in the present moment. 

Watch this:

Fascinating right?  A mere optimist fails to have the information and facts, and a realist becomes depressed!! But an optimist who takes information and continues to make choices based on data....are a bit happier. Fascinating.  By sheer life experience, and perhaps my attention to stay in the present moment, I have been capable of achieving my goals as a mother and singer/teacher.  In fact, it is the one thing I stress continually with my private students.  To get the information, do the work, remain optimistic, and stay in the PRESENT moment.  The present mind has far less to analyze and work through than the one that is constantly pining over the past or worrying about the future.
As a singer, thinking too much about the past clouds judgment and the ability to send the proper commands from the a mother, it complicates every situation. A simple tantrum becomes a giant one that combines the past three, and suddenly I worry about them breaking the law.  It does not serve the mind.

 When I have found my moments of "flow" it has always been when I remained optimistic while knowing facts that affect my choices, and STAYING present. Since the NOA competition, (which was a huge moment for me where a room full of teachers stood and screamed and applauded me,) I have received 3 standing ovations. I wish I could say that I remembered any of those performances. In fact I just remember being in sheer bliss and then looking up to see an entire concert hall full of standing people. Moments later, I step into my great reality which is motherhood, or professor or wife, and the present is then about the flow of that awesome moment. (I HAVE MY MOMENTS OF BEING NOT SO GREAT AT THIS)

If my students, or children could take from me one simple thing, it would be the culmination of these three things.  Always searching for truth and facts relieves the mind of wrongful optimism, and assures the reality not to be pessimistic.

I don't believe that we can 100% control outcomes. I made the top 5 but did not win...was it that I am too much of a realist?  Should I have imagined it happening over and over for months?  I am not sure. What I do know, is that I am in control of what dimension I put my conscious mind in.  The present moment is far easier to enjoy, and navigate choices and reactions.  When I sang for the NOA, I sobbed in the bathroom afterwards because it was a transforming experience. I was in a state of complete flow. What was in my control was easy to access.  And that is not very stressful.

 Just look at all these faces, you decide if they look stressed? Children are often the greatest teachers of the present moment and their optimistic attitude is often strengthened by knowledge...and so, are animals.

My kids bounced up the stairs after having gone to the zoo and told me all about their experience. They Noticed my present dissapointment and continued to comfort me.  Being loved by them made it all okay. The other realization about optimism, and a real awareness, is that I knew the facts going into the competition; my chances of winning were slim, but my ability to do my best and take things up a notch was not slim.  The information softened the blow a bit.  But nothing comforted me like the sweet serenity of my family.


Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Aiden is 8

Luckily, both of our boys wanted a Minecraft I stated in Oliver's birthday post, there are, in fact, no stores that sell birthday Minecraft parties. So I went to work and made all of the supplies for their party.  I found ideas on line and asked my computer savvy husband to make them. Then we just printed them. I actually had a fun time making them.  While I was making them, both of our boys recognized that I had put a lot of time into it, and they were both so genuinely grateful.  I didn't get a picture of Aiden's  His birthday was a really great day. Being 8 is awesome, and I am so grateful for him.

Every year I wonder if throwing them a party is spoiling them...and I get all weird in my head about it...but every year I ask them if they would rather have a party or a big gift,  and every year they both want a party with their friends.  I make their favorite food, and a home made cake...and then on their actual birthday I make them their favorite breakfast.  I think if they expected it and weren't grateful, I would change my mind about it. But they are always so grateful and good to their friends.  They Have their moments of being terrible and a bit spoiled...and that is when I make sure to check with my good friends at "love an logic"...

More of the invitation

goody bags and juice up close

the take home treat table

Creeper cupcakes

Push up/father son dolphin contest.