Edison’s Taco Twos-Day Birthday Party

Welcome to Edison’s Taco Twos-day party! 
Edison turned two on the 21st, so last Saturday we had a little fiesta for him. My sister-in-law was able to come, and some good friends of ours. My idea was just to have a casual pool party, no stress and no work. But what fun is that? Somehow I ended up with a whole theme, decorations, and special cakes. Thanks Pinterest. 
Overall though, I was able to use a lot of things I already had, kept the purchases to a minimum with a few high impact decorations, and decorating and making those special cakes was super fun. 

In the entryway, I changed my letter board to reflect the theme, and added this very cute cactus light. Over the fireplace, I added this cactus banner. I expected it to be made out of paper, but it’s actually felt! I think it will stay up year-round somewhere in my house.

This giant #2 gold balloon made a big impact everywhere we put it. Apparently, there were several size options on Amazon that I missed, and I bought the 40″ one. Go big or go home!
Although he doesn’t look too excited about it when I made him hold it for photos, Edison calls it “Shiny” and talked to it the whole way home from the grocery store (where they filled it up for free!) and cried when we put it inside before we went to airport to pick up my sister-in-law. It’s still going strong after a week.

Outside on the porch, I brought out all of my blue metal kitchen chairs, and bought a folding table from Target. The aqua plastic tablecloth I already had, leftover from a bridal shower I threw a year ago. I decorated the table with some of my little succulents on tiny cake stands, which I already had also.

I bought an outdoor rug, something I’d wanted for awhile, and this seemed like the perfect occasion for it. I also bought the “Papel Picado” Mexican tissue paper banner and Fiesta fans, and mixed in some of the honeycomb balls from the bridal shower. I used a Mexican blanket for a table cloth on the food table.

The menu: 

  • Walking Tacos. Apparently, this is a Midwesterner thing, because no one in Arizona had heard of this. You take individual bags of Doritos or Fritos, open them, and put a scoop of taco meat and all your usual fixings inside the bag, mix it up, and eat it from the bag. These are the original Doritos Tacos – but deconstructed. I cooked the taco meat in the crock pot to make life even easier. 
  • Guacamole, sour cream, cheese, shredded lettuce, salsa – all purchased and packaged, again, making life easy.
  • Fruit from a handy fruit tray.
  • Peanuts and M&Ms – Conley family tradition. 
  • Fanta, lemonade, and lime La Croix as well as bottled water. I wanted brightly colored, kid-friendly beverages. Although the La Croix was really all for us non-soda drinking adults.
  • Taco Cakes!!! I’m still so thrilled with how these turned out. I made two round cakes, cut them in half, and stacked them to make the taco shape. Then I frosted and decorated them to look like a taco with fillings. Here’s a tutorial that I based my cake on, but instead of using crushed Oreos, I used the star shaped decorating tip and chocolate frosting for the taco meat. I didn’t create the tomatoes and cheese from separate frosting either, I just used the small round tip to pipe them on.

 Decor:

Other Items: 
We did it! High-five!

Life Lately: Birthdays and Braces!

By far, the biggest excitement lately was Edison’s first birthday. We flew back to Iowa for a week to celebrate it with family and friends. I was planning on a low key affair, just grilling in the backyard, but it sort of spiraled into something bigger with a lot more people and decorations. But, the more the merrier! 
Since we weren’t sure how Edison would react to cake, we did a practice run on his actual birthday. He thoroughly enjoyed it!

On the day of the party, of course, Edison refused to nap. That stressed me out considerably, but somehow, he made it through the day. We also narrowly missed being rained out. Instead, the weather was perfect!

 The decorations were a mix of nautical themes, naturally. I bought plain cupcakes, and decorated them myself. I also made Edison’s smash cake!

Unfortunately, Edison was not a big fan of his party hat. 

Once the hat was off, I cheered him up from the trauma we’d put him through by distracting him with his cake. Pro-parenting tip there – sugar rights a multitude of wrongs.

It took him a little bit to get into it, but once he did, he had a blast.

He put on a great show, laughing and giggling for the paparazzi.

Helped unwrap a few presents, but by then, the lack of a nap was starting to kick in.

He preferred to play with his new trucks and his cousin and leave the presents to his parents.

A few more photos from the day: 

Edison and Addyson’s stuffed bunnies are from Cuddle + Kind. Each one provides 10 meals!
All the birthday photos above were taken by friends and family. Thanks so much everyone!
In all the business of getting home, trying to get Edison back on schedule, unpacking (it took me a full week!) and the house appraisal, I almost forgot about my birthday! Thankfully, other people didn’t!
We went out for dinner to Joe’s Farm Grill, one of my favorites.
Then came home for cake and presents!

My sisters-in-law know me so well!

Brian got me a necklace from Honeycomb Baby Goods! Edison approves.
After all the birthday festivities, we had a really rough week – Edison got a cold, that turned into a double ear infection, pink-eye, sore throat, cough, really high fever, and then after the fever, a rash. I stayed home from work with him a lot, which meant of course that work that week was really busy, and I started getting sick too. Then on Friday, I had two teeth pulled in preparation for getting braces. And Brian stubbed his toe, and thinks it’s broken. So, not a good week.
Lots of sleepy cuddling though.

But today I got braces! I’ve needed them for a long time, and we finally just bit the bullet. I have three baby teeth still that are wrecking havoc, so the two on the bottom were pulled, and the rest of my super crowded teeth will eventually fill in the space. On the top, that baby tooth will eventually be pulled, and I’ll need an oral surgery to fix a bracket to the permanent canine tooth and pull it down. It’s only two years, but sometimes, two years feels like forever. At least, I have clear braces on the top, so they’re less noticeable. And lots of people get braces as an adult, and everyone I’ve talked to has said that it’s been totally worth it. 
Brace face!
But really, they do blend in pretty well.

That’s life lately! Soon I’ll post about what we’ve been doing in our kitchen, which I’m pretty excited about. Here’s to a better week!

24 Things I’ve Learned in 24 Years

Almost three weeks ago now,  I turned 24! I celebrated with lunch with my friends at work, then leaving early to play my new guitar!

This was Brian’s birthday present to me. He’s a used Fender, and I love him. It’s like they say in Harry Potter – “The wand chooses the wizard,” but in this case, “The guitar choses the girl.” 

My birthday goal was to learn to play “Happy Birthday” before the end of the day, and I succeeded! But boy, I forgot how much it hurts to play until your fingers get calluses. 

Brian also took me out to dinner, and I received a host of birthday wishes and gifts from my family. 
Last year for my 23rd, I made a list of 23 things I’d learned in 23 years. Hopefully, now that I’m a year older, I’ve learned at least one more. 
1. You will never “arrive.” The dream job won’t always be dreamy, new experiences will get old, and when you achieve what you think will make you happy, you find that there’s something you missed. 
2. That’s why you have to choose contentment now.
3. You control you. 
4. You have a lot to learn.
5. Life is too short to not wear glitter shoes.
6. Most of the time, things are not as bad as they seem. 
7. You have to chill out. Seriously. 
8. Confidence is two-thirds of the battle. 
9. Vision will win. 
10. Lead by the force of good ideas. 
11. People will follow those who inspire them. No one wants to follow someone who only complains about the problem.
12. There’s no substitute for genuinely caring about people.
13. Growth and change are hard,  and painful. Especially in marriage, when sometimes it feels like you’re growing in different directions. You’re changing at different rates, and this is ok. 
14. You will make it.
15. If having a puppy prepares you for children, you have a long way to go. 
16. Doing the right thing can be really, really hard. And lonely.
17. God’s design for marriage and family is more beautiful and so much bigger than you ever understood before. 
18. Sometimes, every day is an act of courage. 
19. Keep fighting for what you believe in.
20. You care too much. Don’t stop. 
21. If you don’t time to enjoy right now, in a year or two, you’ll look back and wish you had. 
22. There is no 80’s movie montage, and suddenly you feel brave. You have to just do it in spite of the fear.
23. You are braver than you think. 
24. You are stronger than you know. 

What’s something you’ve learned over the last year? Share it with us in the comments!

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LIFE: Twenty-Three

Sunday, I turned twenty-three. Oddly enough, I’ve wanted to be twenty-three for some time. I think it’s because that’s the age people would always guess that I was when I was in the 18-20 range. I thought I might actually feel like my age and mental age match up, instead of always feeling older than I am. But nope. Now I feel 26. Oh well, I’m still happy to be twenty-three! It has a nice ring to it.

Usually, as you would know if you have followed this blog long, I start writing about and anticipating my birthday anywhere from a month to two weeks out. This year, I honestly forgot all about my birthday until my mother-in-law and my sister-in-law reminded me a few days before. Last week was a crazy emotional rollercoaster for several reasons, and it just wasn’t on my mind.

We were in California for the much anticipated fun trip with the youth group over the weekend, so I celebrated by getting to hang out with my sister-in-law at Knott’s Berry Farm, and Brian surprised me with cake and candles.

Now that I’m almost caught up on sleep, I celebrated today by dressing up, opening my presents and cards, eating pancakes, and writing a list.

I got this idea from Joy the Baker. The premise is that each year brings with it increased wisdom, so each year I can create a longer list of things I’ve learned. So for this year, here’s a non-comprehensive list of 23 things I’ve learned in 23 years:

1. Saying “Yes” to something means saying “No” to something else. Even if it’s just your free time, every time you agree to something, you’re making a sacrifice somewhere, so choose wisely.

2. If you feel any hesitation, don’t hit “Send.” If it gives you a tingly feeling in the pit of your stomach, you probably shouldn’t say it. Even if you don’t think you’re mad anymore, just hold off until you can feel good about sending it.

3. Simple is best. This applies to design, decor, style, art, writing, problem solutions, etc.

4. Use good pens. They make writing so much better.

5. This too shall pass. Remind yourself of that often.

6. No one can make you feel inferior without your consent. Thanks, Eleanor Roosevelt.

7. Smile. It really does help.

8. Dress the way you want to feel. If you want to feel put together, add some accessories and real shoes. If you want to feel powerful, put on your blazer. If you want to feel comfortable, put on your slouchy sequined sweatshirt.

9. Smart is beautiful. Kind is beautiful.

10. People are more important than things. Spend your money and time where it matters!

11. An apology fixes many things. As hard as it is, an “I’m sorry,” can really turn things around.

12. A soft answer really does turn away wrath. Proverbs 15:1.

13. Forgiveness sets the forgiver free.

14. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

15. Quality is usually worth paying for. In the case of shoes, shoes that cost more are almost always more comfortable, better for your feet, and longer-lasting.

16. Don’t hesitate to take lots of photos. Those will be memories preserved, so don’t feel bad about it.

17. The only way out is through. In other words, you have to face your fears in order to conquer them.

18. Don’t save things for a special occasion. Every day you’re alive is a special occasion!

19. You are and always will be an introvert, and it’s ok. Take a book with you.

20. Real growth sometimes looks a lot like being lost.

21. Failure isn’t final. Quitting is, so don’t quit.

22. Life doesn’t turn out the way you want. You’ll have to learn to deal with this.

23. Even when it all comes crashing down around you, you are still loved, chosen, and have a purpose.

Happy birthday to me!

Birthdays and Cornbread

My dad turned fifty last week. It’s a day I knew was coming, but it surprised me all the same. Fifty? For some reason I think he should be eternally forty-five.
When I think about my dad, the first memories that come to mind involve food. In our family, there were certain foods that only dad made. Cheese sandwiches, pancakes, and cornbread. 
Cheese sandwiches were a staple on Monday afternoons while Mom taught music classes at the Christian school. Since we were homeschooled and dad was a pastor, he oversaw our education on Mondays. That usually meant a trip to the library, and cheese sandwiches. This delicacy consisted of two slices of bread spread with mayo, or my favorite, miracle whip, with two slices of American cheese inside. 
Pancakes were a much bigger affair. This was not a breakfast food as you might suppose, in fact, I don’t remember ever having pancakes for breakfast. Dad usually made pancakes for dinner, and I always got to help. 
Donning aprons and wielding spatulas, we’d get creative with cloves, cinnamon, bananas, or chocolate chips. And the spatulas were perfect for practicing our racket ball serves. 

Pancakes were, and still are, my favorite food.

But a close second would be cornbread. Dad would make cornbread and baked beans, and with the addition of syrup, we had a balanced meal.

When I first began stocking my pantry as a newlywed, I bought a big bag of cornmeal, intending to continue the mealtime traditions. But then, every time I started craving the golden bread soaked in syrup, I chickened out. I’d tried to make cornbread once before when I still lived at home, and it was a colossal failure- full of tunnels, salty, and gross.

But last week, I made a second attempt. I used this basic recipe from culinaryarts.about.com:

1 cup all-purpose flour, sifted
1 cup yellow cornmeal
1 Tbsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
2 eggs, beaten
1 cup half and half
¼ cup melted butter or shortening
¼ cup honey
¼ cup sugar
Preparation:
Preheat oven to 400° F.
Sift together the flour, cornmeal, baking powder and salt.
Combine the half and half, eggs, fat, honey and sugar.
Thoroughly grease and flour a 9″ × 9″ baking pan (or use a nonstick baking pan or a flexible silicone pan).
Add the liquid ingredients to the dry ones and mix just until the flour is moistened, no more than ten seconds. The batter should be visibly lumpy — leave it that way! It’s extremely important not to overmix the batter.
Once the liquid and dry ingredients have been combined, pan and bake the cornbread immediately.
TIP: The dry and wet ingredients, respectively, can be mixed in advance, but as soon as the wet and dry ingredients have been combined with each other, the liquid will activate the baking powder and the batter must be baked right away.
Bake 25-30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cornbread comes out clean and the edge of the bread starts to separate from the pan.

And I’d give this cornbread a four out of five star rating. It’s a little overcooked. But look dad, no tunnels!

Happy Birthday Dad! I love you!

Best Blog Award, Beach, and Birthday

…are all included in this post, as well as too much alliteration. 
My Birthday
Brian had to leave on a business trip the week of my birthday, and wasn’t going to get back until the day of, so Brian talked me into opening my presents before he left, on Sunday afternoon. I agreed, on the condition that we got cupcakes. 

Brian insisted I open his present first. Earbuds! Oh wait, there’s more…

It’s an ipod touch! In the picture, I’m marveling over how thin it is.

The morning of my birthday, I volunteered at the church as usual. Then I met my friend Tara for lunch at my favorite sit down restaurant, Bucca Di Beppo!

Tara and I had a blast talking! 

Since it was my birthday, I got a free birthday brownie sundae! And the waiters sang Happy Birthday to me!

The Beach
Brian was supposed to arrive at 8 p.m, and then we’d make the six hour drive to LA. Unfortunately, his plane was delayed two hours. Being the stubborn (and crazy) person he is, Brian insisted we drive all night to get there. We ended up pulling up in front of my sister in law’s house at around 5 am.! 
We slept for several hours, and then we were ready to start celebrating. 
First stop: brunch at Schooner or Later. I love this restaurant! Great food, and great location- right by the pier. 
 

My present from Andrea, a Disney bag!

 We spent most of Friday at the beach.

Farmer’s tan

Running to the water

And running away from the water…it was cold!

That night, we went to Downtown Disney.

A bad picture of the entrance to California Adventure
Saturday, we went to The Getty Center, and an Angels baseball game. 
The Getty Center Garden

Van Gogh’s Irisis

We were at the very top!

I thought it was so cute that this little girl made a sign to cheer on the Angels!

Heavenly Nachos. They have chicken, salsa, cheese, and jalapenos on top!

There was a Ludicris concert after the game. I didn’t know any of his songs, and I couldn’t understand the words because of the way the speakers were set up, but it was very entertaining watching everyone else!
On Sunday, we didn’t do much besides watch Harry Potter movies. We watched 2 through some of 4 while we were there, and Andrea sent me home with the first three books!

A few souvenirs
And, now we’re back. Classes start in a week and a day for me, so I’m scrambling getting ready. I’m not ready for summer to be over!
Blog Award
On another topic, Tara from Haute Lunch awarded me the Best Blog Award! Thank you so much Tara!
As with most awards, I get to tell you some things about myself before I pass it on. 
7 Things About Me
1. If I could have any hair color, I’d want to have red hair. I love red hair and freckles! 
2. I’d choose fruit over vegetables any day. 
3. My sister in law has addicted me to Harry Potter. I finished the first book, and I’m working on the second one. And now I’ve seen the movies 1-6. They get progressively darker and scarier, and I’m going to need a break for awhile so I can sleep without nightmares again! 
4. Pearls are my jewelry of choice. 
5. This year I’ll be a senior in college! 
6. When I tell people I’m going to college, they usually ask, “Oh, grad school?” Nope, I’ve got to survive four years first!
7. Along that same line, most people guess that I’m 23, when I on my birthday, I just turned 21. I don’t know if that’s a good thing…hopefully it’s not so much that I look old as it is that I’m mature for my age!
This award has another requirement, answering a Q and A.
Q and A
Favorite Color? Blues, sky blue, navy blue, and aqua. 
Favorite Song? Wow, that’s a hard one! “You Picked Me” by A Fine Frenzy ranks pretty high up there.

Biggest Pet Peeve? Facebook drama. Seriously people, facebook is not the place for your debate/fight/name calling.

When Upset, I: Well, that depends. Sometimes when I’m angry I cry, other times I get sarcastic. Usually it ends with me crying, though. 
Favorite Pet: Hmmm, we had a crazy Persian cat growing up named Mysti. I really loved our dog Sadie too, who died of bone cancer. The dog we’re taking care of now is by far one of my favorites. I’ll tell you more stories about him soon!
Black or White: Black.
Biggest Fear: Failure, or spiders usually. But lately, Voldemort. 
Best Feature: Hmm…I’ve got great legs! And a good sense of humor. 
Everyday Attitude: Well, Brian would say “ticked off.” I’ve been really stressed out. I am working on it though!
What is Perfection? The ocean, coffee, and no worries. 
Guilty Pleasure: Starbucks caramel lite frappuccino with whipped cream! 
And now it’s time to…
Pass it On
For this award, I’m supposed to choose 15 bloggers to pass it on to! 

There are SO many blogs I love that I try to spread the awards around and not always pick the same people, but if I’ve missed you, I’m really sorry! Chances are, I love your blog!

Whew, thanks for bearing with me through this long post! Just for fun, even if I didn’t pass on the award to you, answer the Q and A in the comments! I’d love to learn more about you! To leave a comment, click “links to this post” below.

Brian’s Birthday Trip

For the first time in my life, I went to Disneyland, “the happiest place on earth” over Presidents’ Day weekend. I have my family to thank, because for his birthday, Brian asked for money to take me to Disney since I’d never been before. Is that sweet or what?!

Day 1: Disneyland
It was rainy, which meant short lines! It helped immensely that my sister in law Andrea is a Disney guru, and knew when to get fast passed for rides we’d ride later, and where to go next, since I was lost most of the day. It all was overwhelming, so much to see! I took a lot of pictures, but don’t worry, I won’t post them all in this post. I”ll just share the good ones.

What’s a road trip without Starbucks? We had a safe trip over, although we were both falling asleep in the car before we got to Andrea’s. And yes, Brian’s birthday pin says “3rd,” not “23rd.” Everywhere we went people wished Brian a happy birthday.

I loved the Storybook ride (bottom left). I love miniatures, and these were so detailed, down to the little tiny plants. And then there was the occasional full sized duck in the midst, and other boats with real sized people.

The Small World ride was really neat too with all the animated figures, but the song did get kinda old after a few rooms! I think I had it stuck in my head the rest of the day.

The sun came out for a little while when we rode the tea cups. This is one of my favorite pictures from the weekend.

We watched the retiring of the flag ceremony in the square. They honored every branch of the military by playing their song, and members of the branches came forward and stood around the flag. A barbershop quartet sang and everyone joined on the “Star Spangled Banner.”
I’m not a big fan of roller coasters, and after riding the mountain one with my eyes closed the whole time, I was really nervous about Space Mountain. So of course, Brian and I got front row seats! If you’ve never ridden Space Mountain, it’s like riding a roller coaster inside a planetarium. Stars are spinning all around you, and you’re shooting and swerving through the dark. I got dizzy, but it was still really fun! We got fast passes again and rode on it a second time  because I loved it so much!
Notice how I’m squeezing Brian’s hand.
The rain did have it’s perks, but because of it, the fireworks were canceled and they didn’t do the Fantasmic show. But we did get to enjoy the stores, the bakery, and even short lines to the Peter Pan ride. 
I got to see several princesses, and Minnie!
That’s Belle in the middle, if you couldn’t tell.
I loved the castle. 
And the carousel. 
The steamboat by night.
And since I always like to take pictures of food:

Day 2: California Adventure
 Before we got to go to California Adventure, I had to finish two papers. So it was right around lunch time when we got there. The sun was shining and the weather was beautiful, so it was packed! We’d been spoiled by all the short lines the day before, but we weren’t so lucky today. Somehow, we still managed to squeeze in plenty of rides.

The bear mountain
Bug’s Life
Soaring Over California was one of my favorite rides. You go in and sit in rows that are similar to those for those roller coasters where the tracks are over your head and your feet are dangling. When the ride starts, the rows lift up and move forward, towards the huge screen, which shows footage of flying over California. It tricks your eyes into thinking that you’re actually moving, and it’s pretty crazy. Breezes blow on you, and it’s even scented like oranges or pine depending on where you’re flying. Sometimes it almost looks like you’re going to crash or turn sideways.  
Silly Symphony Swings
This is us on the Tower of Terror. After you go through all the spooky stuff, you get into the service elevator and put on your seat belt. The bad thing about it being a service elevator is that you can see through the sides and see how fast you’re going. The it goes way up to a big window where you can look out over the park, and drops. And drops. And goes up, and drops. 
I might look like I’m smiling, but I’m just imagining my life ending differently. Seriously, I thought I wasn’t going to survive it! I couldn’t breathe the whole time we were on it, and afterwards Brian had to pry my hands off the seat and practically carry me out as I hyperventilated and clung to his arm.
I had another near death experience on the Screamer roller coaster. I didn’t want to ride it, and so of course we got the front row again.

I cried a little bit. Just a little.
Both Toy Story rides were fun, but Toy Story Mania was my favorite.
The pier was so beautiful at night.
We got to see the World of Color show, and booked it back to Disneyland in time for Fantasmic! It was… absolutely incredible. Especially World of Color. If you ever get a chance to see it, do. You won’t be sorry.

It’s pretty unbelievable!

Well, that was our trip!

Have you been to Disneyland? What’s your favorite ride? 

For My Sister on Her Birthday

Dear Evi,
This is a letter I wrote to you during my senior year of high school. I’ve added some to it since then, and so I’m giving it to you now for your 18th birthday. 
Four score and eighteen years ago…
 Our relationship has evolved so much over the years! Almost from the time mom and dad brought you home from the hospital, I was jealous of you. I felt robbed of my position, and all the love and attention that was due me. I allowed that bitterness to grow and shape my whole perspective of you. I thought everyone babied you, and gave you special treatment because you were younger and cuter. As a result, I was over-bearing and insensitive; although… you did provoke me frequently and sometimes deserved it a little, maybe? For six or seven years, our relationship consisted of constant bickering, sometimes resulting in fist-fights, and making each other’s lives as miserable as possible.

Sisters and our Snowman
As the years passed, I started to enjoy playing with you. I’ll never forget our doll adventures! Those were good times. But as I got too old for dolls, I mostly ignored you, unless you bothered me. Then I informed you that you were an immature annoying copy-cat, a huge show-off, whose jokes were dumb and whose stories drier than the Sahara.  This stage of relative indifference lasted three or four years, about to my sophomore year of high school.
 Then one day, you began wearing make-up, mascara and foundation, and lip gloss. I couldn’t believe my eyes; the immature little tag-a-long had morphed into a tall, slender, attractive teenager. Not only had you gone through metamorphosis physically, but you developed talents for drawing, singing, and dancing, with a sparkling wit and keen sense of humor.

 But you are also beautiful where it counts; you are compassionate, loyal, and selfless. (What teenager do you know has a ministry of visiting the older ladies without nearby family on a regular basis?!) How did you grow up so fast without me knowing? I must have been far too focused on myself to appreciate the beautiful person that was emerging in you.

I loved taking you to high school and back, jamming out in the car, dancing to our Toby Mac song. I loved making you laugh, because you always brightened my day. I could always go to you for fashion advice, and I still do! I’ll never forget the time I told that boy I’d kick his butt if he ever bothered you again!

 You became my companion, my comic relief, my ally, and my fellow schemer. Most importantly, Evi, you became my friend. 

Model posing with our sort of matching hats

Caught in the rain soon before I left for college

And of course, this post wouldn’t be complete without the song!

I love you Evi! 🙂 Have a wonderful 18th birthday!!!

A Love Filled Day

What a perfect day!

It didn’t go like I planned. I figured: my birthday, my plan, my favorite food, I do what I want. But when I tried to talk to Brian about what I wanted to do for my birthday, it didn’t go so well.
“I’m going to plan it for you!” He insisted.
“But it’s my birthday, shouldn’t I get to do what I want?!”
“No!”
Oh. Great.
“We’re going to do something cool for your birthday, not something lame like going to a mall.”
Ouch. That’s what I had wanted to do.
“Don’t you trust me to plan something you’ll really like?”
Ummm…

Waiting to find out what he planned for me was a good exercise in letting go of some of my selfish desires. My birthday really isn’t all about me, I realized, because now I’m one with someone else. After I stopped trying to control my birthday, I found I anticipated it even more.

It’s been a long time since I’ve felt so loved on my birthday. I’m loving this whole second-family package that came with marrying Brian.

I slept in later than I had wanted to, but I woke up feeling fully refreshed. I dressed up in my favorite dress, a little blue and white pinstripe cotton confection of cuteness. I put a bow in my hair, and fixed coffee for myself in my fancy mug. I put out a new tablecloth and added a centerpiece. Soon after I finished my morning Bible reading and prayer, my mother-in-law sent me a text wishing me a happy birthday, and so did my older sister. My older sister also texted me a picture of my niece, who is growing up fast!

My big plan for the day was to check out the stores on the fancy strip mall a block or two away. Thanks to our cell phone rebates, I had $50 that Brian said I could spend on whatever I wanted. As I was about to leave, my mother-in-law called me to wish me a happy birthday in person. We talked while I finished my coffee, got my purse, walked to mail boxes and checked the mail, and walked all the way to the first store. At some point my phone started beeping, and after hanging up I discovered a text from my father-in-law waiting, also wishing me a happy birthday.

Anthropologie was the first store on my list to explore. If you’ve never been to an Anthropologie, you need to go. Even if you don’t buy anything. It’s expensive, but it’s SO fascinating! In addition to fabulous clothes, they sell cosmetics, kitchen decor and utensils, wall decor, furniture, dishes, bedding, curtains, towels, tablecloths, jewelry, accessories, purses, stationary, books…all kinds of unique treasures. I had to look at everything- it was all artsy, indie, exotic, or charming, and it all had a special handmade or hand-designed feel. You just have to go yourself; I’m running out of adjectives to describe it! I snagged a couple steal-of-a-deals: a beautiful soft and flowy sweater originally $88 for $20, and a beautiful turquoise flower pot. I can’t decide were to put it; in the kitchen window, on the front porch, on the patio, or above the fireplace nook. It has a lot of potential!

After spending almost three hours in Anthropologie, I moved on, past beauty shops, Chico’s, and White House Black Market, to Barnes and Noble. There was a reason for this; I hydrated myself amply before leaving my apartment as a cautionary measure in this heat, but by the time I got to Anthropologie, I already had to go. Unfortunately, they didn’t have any bathrooms! They had beautiful dressing rooms with pretty candles burning and comfy couches, but nowhere to pee. I don’t know when I’ve been so happy to use a public restroom as when I arrived at Barnes and Noble!

I perused the sale bins, shelves, and piles, but nothing really jumped out at me until I found my way to the journals and sketch books and decided on a journal with a striking bright blue butterfly on the cover. If you know me, you know how obsessed I am with butterflies! And, as an extra bonus, it was on sale 🙂 My lovely sister-in-law texted me and told me she’d call me tomorrow to find out how my whole day went. About that time, I got another phone call, this time from my father-in-law! He took time while he was working to give me a call and wish me happy birthday. While we were talking, I got that call-waiting beep in my ear again, and discovered after the call ended that it was Brian. He picked me up at the bookstore so that I didn’t have to walk back in the heat.

Then, I made my birthday cake while he took a nap. Ok, not this cake, but I wish!

 Nati’s Cakes

I LOVE cupcakes!!! I made myself a dozen pink roses! The pink frosting is strawberry flavored. Brian didn’t want to eat pink cupcakes, so I frosted some with white confetti frosting just for him. 
Then, it was time for the Big Birthday Surprise! Brian packed a cooler and tote with food he’d bought on the way home from work and paper products, and off we went! 
We drove and drove, out of Phoenix and into cowboy country. No seriously, we passed several Man on Horseback Crossing signs! 
Finally the secret came out: I saw a sign that read “Canyon Lake.” We twisted and turned up the mountain, and I tried to snap pictures along the way. 
Our first glimpse of the lake.
This surprise picnic was reminiscent of the surprise picnic Brian planned for me after he proposed! I never would have dreamed that we’d be having another picnic in Arizona almost a year later! 
The spot we picked was picturesque, but we were pretty sure we could hear a couple rattlesnakes close by! 
After the picnic, we came back to the apartment to eat the cupcakes and open presents. Brian sang “Happy Birthday” me; it was so sweet! 
I had two presents to open, both from my mother-in-law. Brian’s present to me was all the thoughtful planning and preparation he put into our lovely picnic. My grandmother-in-law also sent me a card with a present in it!
In case you were wondering, I do have a biological family too, with a mom and dad, two sisters and three brothers.  I assumed they’d forgotten about my birthday, since I didn’t hear anything from them all day, even though I got text messages from acquaintances, and a facebook wall full of birthday wishes, many from people I hadn’t seen or talked to in a long time. I finally did talk to my family, but I cheated. I texted my dad a picture of the cupcakes, and he then texted me “Happy Birthday.” When I replied that I thought they’d forgotten it was my birthday, he decided to call me after all. He wished me a happy birthday, and I told him about my day, and caught up on goings ons at home. He eventually gave the phone to mom. 
“What do you want to talk to me about?” she almost snapped. 
I wanted to say, Uh, it’s my birthday! I’m twenty! All grown up! Are you…glad? Proud? Do you care? But instead I stuttered, “Well, I just, um, figured I hadn’t talked to you for a little while…”
“Yeah, I was starting to wonder because I hadn’t heard from you in a while, and I heard about those inmates that got out.”
“Huh? Inmates? In Phoenix?” 
“They got one in Colorado, but they think the others are hanging out there in Phoenix. You better get a newspaper.”
Ok, mom. I listened as she told me all about how the boys were doing, especially Ethan, my middle brother who suffers from epilepsy, how they were installing a security system, and redecorating the basement bedroom. She told me she mailed a car for me the day before (Birthday shopping happens the day before in my family!). Finally, I had to go, because it was much past Brian’s bedtime, and he really needed his rest before getting up at 4:30 for work. 
She never said “Happy Birthday.” 
But before she hung up, she did say, “I love you.” 
And that was the best birthday present she could have given me. 

In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved god, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. (1 John 5:9-11)

I can’t tell you how overwhelmed I was Wednesday and Thursday with all the love and thoughtfulness behind all the text and facebook messages, phone calls, and cards. You showed me God’s love through your actions! I know that I’m not alone, and He will continue to supply my needs. 

Whatever is True

Well, the second half of my week did not go as anticipated. On Thursday I suddenly realized that this Sunday was August 1st. I mean, I’d known July was almost gone, and I’d known for a long time that all the units for my two online Astronomy classes were due August 1st, but I didn’t really get the connection with THIS SUNDAY. Until yesterday. I had six units for one class and five for the other to complete. I’ve knocked it down to three and a half total left as of right now, but it hasn’t been fun. So, instead of researching all the fun things I wanted to write about yesterday, I’ve been staring blankly at my computer screen, trying to match the orbit of a baseball with either Orbit 2: Semi-major axis 3189km, highly eccentric, or Orbit 4. Semi-major axis 22,000 miles (35,000 km), eccentricity 0. And I don’t even know what a “Semi-major axis” is.

The last two days have been discouraging for me; I feel like I’m not doing well in my classes, so I think I’m a bad student. I feel like I’m not doing well at fixing meals, or unpacking the guest room, or cleaning the apartment, so I think I’m a failure at housekeeping. I’m SO grouchy and touchy every morning when I fix Brian’s lunch, and I’m always frustrated by my lack of productivity by the time he comes home, that I must not be doing a job as a wife either. Plus, I’m worried about the state of our finances, because I don’t know exactly how we’re doing with our budget, and I feel like since Brian isn’t worried, he must not care, and since he isn’t interested in making plans for my birthday, he must not care about that either, which means the he must not care about me, right? 

God reminded me of the sermon I heard last Sunday morning. Pastor Joel explained “Thoughts lead to Actions which lead to Feelings which leads to more Thoughts.” So wrong thinking leads to wrong doing, which leads to wrong feeling, and more wrong thinking, and so on. This is the cycle anyone who has suffered from anxiety or depression will recognize. It’s how fears, worry, and despair get started and soon become so ingrained that they are second nature.

That’s what I’ve been doing the last two days, wrong thinking about myself and about Brian, leading to wrong doing and wrong feeling and more wrong thinking. I need to renew my mind, start thinking true thoughts, and then doing what is right, and wait for the right feelings to follow. I need to realize that I made a mistake with my class, but I need to do all I can to rectify it and get it finished. I need to recognize that the housekeeping can go by the wayside for this week, until I get these classes finished, and that I don’t have to do it all. I need to remember that Brian is not the enemy, and it’s not fair to take out my frustration or exhaustion on him. And I need to get enough sleep. I need realize that Brian’s lack of concern over our finances probably means that my worry is unnecessary, and I can trust him to take care of me. I need to remember that Brian loves me deeply, and he does care about me, and my birthday, and I just need a little patience. 

I’ve been listening to the Christian radio a lot lately, and there’s a Dr. with a talk show who always talks about “The Power of One Thing,” or focusing on one thing at a time, growing in one area, fighting one temptation, parenting one situation, completing one essay, doing one good deed, at a time. I read this blog post by Simple Mom, and it totally reinforced the idea of doing one thing, even if it’s for only 15 minutes. Often we are perfectionists and think that if we can’t do it ALL just right, right now, then why even start? That kind of wrong thinking keeps us from right doing, and we don’t do anything. Go read the article, it’s worth the two minutes, and I know it will be a blessing to you as it was for me. 

When you find yourself feeling discouraged or dissatisfied, what are your thinking patterns like? Are your thoughts true? Are they noble? Right? Pure? Lovely? Admirable? Praiseworthy? Excellent? If you are at all like me, you know your thoughts are often quite different. How does the way you think affect the way you feel, or vise versa? What do you do to change that unhealthy cycle? 

Philippians 4:8 (New International Version)

 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

Let’s remember these criteria for our thoughts this weekend! See you next week!