Sunday, July 24, 2011

The Park Perk

As I have mentioned before, at the end of June we moved into a townhouse that we are now renting, and there are a few perks about living in our new tiny neighborhood. One of the highlights is the playground we have across the way, and the big field that surrounds it. Gigi is still a bit small for most playground equipment, but she is growing into a little monkey girl very, very fast.

Cleaning House

When we arrived home from our two weeks in Utah last month, it was wretched and painful to walk in the door and suddenly feel the weight of having responsibility for the upkeep and cleanliness of our entire 800 square foot apartment. I actually emitted a low groan and asked Marcos, "Can we please get back on the plane and live out of suitcases for the rest of our lives, in someone else's guest room?" In my world, sharing cooking and cleaning duties and striving to be a helpful guest are such a breath of fresh air from the daily war of trying to keep an entire home together.

I don't mind cooking.
I don't mind doing dishes.
I don't mind doing laundry.
I don't even mind doing deep cleaning.

But put all of these independently decent activities together with working and caring for a busy child (even with a husband who is helpful in ways rare among men), and it just turns into a losing battle in a never-ending war. This year I have been feeling like I am always losing the war. If you are reading this and wondering what I am talking about because my home seems just fine when you come over, let me assure you that we knew you were coming and über-exerted ourselves for the sake of upholding an old - and somewhat outdated - reputation of being able to keep it together.

My reputation is like the tight pair of jeans I wore three years ago: I'm trying to hold on to it in case I can fit it again in the future.

Wish me luck.

Monday, July 18, 2011

In Utah, the grass really IS greener

Looking through these photos of what we did the rest of our summer Utah trip (the part that wasn't devoted entirely to the wedding), has really made me miss the feeling of having the most deliciously soft and cool grass in the world entirely enveloping my feet. Utah is known for being the Beehive State, and for its skiing, and for being the headquarters of the Mormon church, but did you know that Utah also has the greatest grass on earth? Who knew.

Amanda and Josh's wedding took place smack dab in the middle of our trip to Utah, so once the festivities were over, we still had a week left of hanging out with our friends and family. In these photos, Gigi gets chummy with Kai, my sister Lindsay's littlest boy. It was the first time Gigi had a chance to play with her cousins.

Lindsay and Amanda's dad Steven, other mom Jodi and other sisters Jack and Lilly were also out from Hawaii for the wedding, so Marcos rearranged his morning golfing plans with the groomsmen so that he could stick around and learn how to make the famous pioneer eggs from Steve. It was a great breakfast, thanks to the guys!

The Plan was for us to spend the better part of our final week with Marcos' brother Danny, our sister-in-law Marie and their little girl Kaitlyn (more cousin time!). Since they live north of Salt Lake City in a town called Roy, and we were in Provo, we stopped in Salt Lake on the way up and had dinner with some amazing friends from our mission. Mike Zeller and I both spent a few months in Shibuya in the center of Tokyo, and became good friends then. Mike and Marcos also knew each other from Tokyo, and we love the beautiful Rui, whom Mike met and married after he finished his mission and started studying at the University of Utah. They also have a little girl just a month or so older than Gigi named Adeline, and I've always wanted the girls to meet and play together. Rui made the most amazing dinner (homemade pita bread and hummus, roasted fish and zucchinis, etc.), and we were left with the impression again that even though we only have a chance to eat dinner together once every few years when our paths briefly cross, we really wish that we lived closer together.

And then we finally made it up to Roy, UT for family time! On our first day with Marcos' brother Danny, his wife Marie (who is expecting a little girl!), and their 4-year old daughter Kaitlyn, we drove to the Gateway Mall in Salt Lake for their sidewalk chalk festival and fair. Marie had organized a great picnic lunch, which was the best way to start off a busy event.

The chalk artists each had a spot of sidewalk to do their work, and the theme of the contest cracked me up: The Utah Department of Social Services was sponsoring some part of the fair, so there was an element of promoting Foster Parenting, and then because of the upcoming release of the final Harry Potter movie, Harry Potter was also thrown in. I love the above "Foster Parents are Magical" - mostly because it is true, of course. There was also a gigantic man walking around dressed as Hagrid, who was such a lookalike to the movie version that I wish I had snapped a photo.

The highlight of the fair for the kids was the fountain in the middle of the outdoor Mall. Some kiddos were wearing swimming suits, and some were soaking wet in their play clothes, but it was a blast watching them run through the water spouts. There were patterns to the shooting water, but as it was a fairly intricate design, it was difficult to tell when the next blast would be. The biggest shock to us was just how enthralled and unafraid Gigi was to run through the water spouts among all of the bigger kiddos, to get shot directly in the face as she leaned over a spout, and to completely love it. She wouldn't let us take her out until we finally put our foot down after a half hour or so, when she was so cold from the water that she was shivering.

Bar-b-que-ing in the backyard at Danny and Marie's beautiful house. As you can tell, high-quality eating was a grand theme of our vacation. Below, this is us at the high ridge of the indentation in the mountains that surrounds Bear Lake, which is up North on the Idaho border. Marie's family owns a time share at Bear Lake, and they were kind enough to let us stay there for two days of the week that had been assigned to them this summer. It worked perfectly with our timing, and we have always wanted to go to Bear Lake.

The time share was at a resort called "Ideal Beach" and it reminded me of a lot of the Hawaii Beach homes where I spent Thanksgivings with my family: old enough to have great personality, and perfectly useful in that there was a kitchen with dishes and a kitchenette, and all we needed to make good food and eat well. Danny even brought his portable fire pit, and for lunch one day we roasted hotdogs and marshmallows.

The Ideal Beach resort had a spot of ideal beach, which was a new experience for Gigi. We took her to the beach twice last year when she was a little baby, but we haven't been yet this year and her being a toddler made for a whole new experience. After sampling the sand, she wasn't very impressed, but in case she had made a mistake, she tried it at least two more times.

Isn't this beautiful? Family, the firepit, Bear Lake with the mountains in the background, and that grass... Below, Gigi finds the Oreos. Much better than sand!

Ideal Beach also had two swimming pools, complete with slides and a kiddie pool. Gigi the mermaid loved the water, as always.

And before we knew it the time had come to pack up from Bear Lake, to pack up from our Utah trip, and to brave two more flights home with Gigi. How did that go, you ask? Relatively well. Things we have learned from traveling with her at this stage are that 1) if there is an empty row on the plane, it is very worth it to ask the stewardess to rearrange ours or our neighbors seating so that we have an extra seat for Gigi to sleep in, and 2) in the future we should not arrange for such early morning flights because waking her up five hours early from her usual nightly rest really put us at a disadvantage before we had even shown up at the airport! We had an entire bag of new small toys for her, and snacks, and yes the ice cubes in a cup trick worked great Jocelyn, so thank you all for your suggestions that you sent in a while back! They were greatly appreciated and made our travels so much more comfortable.

And here I am, at the end of this post, wondering how to summarize our two weeks in Utah, and thank all of you - our friends and family - who let us take up your space, fill your homes and eat your food. We did not step on a plane once last year because of our new addition to the family and because of our finances, and this was the perfect reminder for us of how important it is to keep our ties with our family and friends, and to sometimes splurge on vacations that seem to do little to advance us in the world of material possessions, but do everything to advance us in our relationships.

Because seriously, what better investment is there?

Sunday, July 10, 2011

The Heldings

After a whirlwind of being on vacation for two weeks, having my mom move here indefinitely, moving house last week and then five days without internet we are back in action! I feel like I have a lot to catch up on, but one thing at a time...

First things first: the wedding. The reason we went to Utah for two weeks was for the wedding of my sister-friend Amanda and her fiancée Josh. The trip was a perfect time for us to fall back in love with visiting Utah, to reconnect with a lot of people we love, and introduce Gigi to important players in our lives. It was such a great, great trip.

Amanda and Josh Helding were married on June 15th in the Salt Lake City, Utah Temple. After the sealing, we all waited outside for them to get dolled up, and I had the chance to take a lot of photos. You'll notice that these photos look distinctly lovely compared to my usual collection: it's because I borrowed Amanda's camera for the wedding day. Knowing that she would be busy and not taking photos at her own wedding (and that she owned a D-SLR), I asked her if I could borrow her camera for the day.

It was love at first click.

Amanda and Josh met serving a mission together for our church in the Rome, Italy mission. If you skip back two years, you'll actually see photos of us together with Mams in Rome on our Grand European Tour. Sometimes marvelous surprises come out of putting fame and fortune on hold to dedicate a few years of service to God and others.

And dun, dun-dun-duuuun! I feel that people look the best on their wedding day and graduation day (and worst at singing concerts and while they are eating), and Amanda and Josh were beautiful in every way. They came out of the temple holding hands and looking thrilled to be married to each other.

The above photo of Josh with his dad and step mom is one of my favorites. Every time I look at it a little platinum blond voice starts singing "Pa-pa-Paparazzi". And below at the reception for set-up... another of my favorites, because it is the quintessential Lindsay. Lindsay is my best friend, my sister and my mentor in pretty much every way. She is Amanda's older sister and since they have been planning this wedding for months together, Lindsay was the Boss at the reception because she had the vision of what it was supposed to look like. This photo of her in her set-up clothes, multi tasking and on the phone with the caterer/DJ/etc., and holding together the pieces of a big operation... that's her in a nutshell. She was incredible.

And then... the party. In the evening, after a few hours of relatively unhurried set-up, we gathered for family photos, a ring ceremony in the small chapel on site, and the wedding reception. The location of the reception was Wadley Farms in Lindon, UT, which was Amanda's pick to go along with their Italian themed wedding reception. We literally could have showed up and called it good without a single decoration because of the beauty of the setting. Below is the "grooms" room.

I took these photos before the reception started, so they are free of people, but I wanted to capture the vision Amanda and Lindsay had dreamed, and how pretty it was in real life. The weather was dreamy, which was a sigh of relief after a surprisingly cold and rainy first few weeks of June.

An hour or so before the start of the ring ceremony, the ladies dolled up in the "Brides" chamber for family photos.

Above is Amanda's side of the family: the Gibson, Maero, and Fetzer clans. Both the bride and the groom have parents who are divorced and remarried, so the married couple were lucky enough to have four sets of parents who all attended their union to shower the people they loved with love. Below is our line of Bridesmaids and Groomsmen. The black sheep is Francesco, the Italian favorite mission companion of Josh's who showed up the day before the wedding as a surprise, and didn't quite procure a gray suit in time. For the look of pure shock and happiness on Josh's face when his dear friend Francesco showed up the morning of the day before the wedding, all ready to join the guys on their golfing excursion, Francesco could have worn a dress for all we cared. The most important thing was that he was there.

After the ring ceremony, we went outside to greet our arriving guests. The table in the background was bartended by a man making Italian Sodas, who served people as they arrived.

Could there be a prettier backdrop than the Wasatch Mountains? It was such a stunning, pastoral view. Amanda's true love is desserts, so dinner was delicious but light and dessert was extravagant.

Just how I like it.

For dessert, Amanda had a unique plan: she made a "brides" dessert table, which was covered with Italian canolli, raspberry and lemon bars, chocolate dipped strawberries and glazed donuts, with lemonade on a neighboring table, and the "grooms" table featured brownies, all kinds of cookies, blondies and milk. Those two tables overflowed with dessert platters, and with all shapes of apothecary jars filled with white candies. Along with the gelato that was wheeled out on a cart into the grass, and the three layered cake, I think that the "dessert" area was thoroughly covered.

In the week preceding the wedding, as each of us family members showed up for the festivities, we were each given a DIY project from Amanda. I wish I had photos of everything everyone had made for the reception (homemade throw pillow covers, ribbon wands, banners, ribbon boards, etc.), but I've only got a photo of my project: paint it yourself wooden wedding cake toppers, which I painted to look like Amanda and Josh. Trying to paint a plaid tie with the tip of a toothpick was borderline insane, but it was really fun to contribute to the wedding, even in such a small way.

Throughout the evening there were many things to do and see: traditional things like the bouquet toss and the first dance, the Italian tradition of breaking a glass vase (the number of pieces represents the number of years they will be happy - it was pulverized, whew!), and the wedding favors were flip books, which was fun to no end. A small company had come with their equipment and props, and set up shop in the groom's room, where guests could record 6 seconds of themselves and friends doing whatever they wanted. Ten minutes later, the flip books were printed, cut and stapled, and we all went home with very personalized, very fun souvenirs. The groomsmen came up with some very hilarious ideas. And then, after all of the eating and dancing and having fun, the sky darkened and we all went out to the road with sparklers and saw them off on their Vespa scooter. I just hope that they had as much fun as everyone else did.

And that was the wedding and just a few photos from the day. We couldn't be more happy for Amanda and Josh, and the next chapter of their life together! Congratulations you two on your decision to join forces, and grow together and as individuals through your mutual love!