"A (wo)man should hear a little music, read a little poetry, and see a fine picture every day of (her)his life in order that worldly cares may not obliterate the sense of beautiful God has implanted in the human soul."- Goethe

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Oklahoma Aquarium

So, what exactly is there to do in Oklahoma? That's what I asked myself on a recent business trip. Turns out that there's a lot, actually, so when I got an opportunity to travel to Tulsa for work, I made sure to do my research. I did not have a lot of free time, but when I had a few extra hours one afternoon, I took a little trip to the Oklahoma Aquarium, home of the world's largest bull shark exhibit:

So, yes. The sharks. I know that colon before the photos was misleading. I bet you thought you were going to see pictures of them. Sorry, folks. They steal my breath right out of my chest. I was too mesmerized with their elegance to fiddle with my camera. Not ideal photography situation, you know, so there you have it. I got to watch the aquarium workers feed the electric eel, piranhas, and archer fish. Sa-weet! There were a bunch of touch tanks, too, with horseshoe crabs, shrimp, urchins, starfish, and stingrays. Oh. My. Word. Heaven, I tell you!

Nevermind that I was wading through curious children the entire time to get my own turn at all the touch tanks and front row seat for the poison dart frogs. I learned so much, and I love nature and animals, as I'm sure you already know, so I was in heaven. Combine bright colors with living creatures and a learning environment, and I'm a happy camper. So, here's my favorite tidbit of previously unknown information: ribbon eels are all born male. As adolescents, they are black, then as mature males, they are a shocking blue, then right before their time is up, they turn bright yellow, and into females, mate, then die. Nature is amazing!

Please share something new you've learned recently! This is a place that welcomes learning.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Farewell, Young Nielson

It's true. My youngest brother is off on a two-year adventure to Canada. Fare thee well, eh. I loved seeing the excitement grow in him as the day came closer and closer. He accidentally let it burst out every so often. Then, just like that, he was gone. And he's already been gone for a whole month. And he's happy, and he's still excited, and, gosh darnit, he's living out of the country.

You may be interested to know that he had to wait to purchase winter clothing after he arrived because the USA apparently isn't capable of manufacturing clothing that is warm enough. Ha ha! I can't wait to hear how the arctic north treats that skinny little frame of his in the dark winter months.

We miss him, but not enough to make the guy come back for two years, because it's good for him, and it's good for us.

Blessings, and all that, you know. Sometimes I love them more than seeing his goofy, handsome face.

So, yeah. We're down a man around these parts, but we're happy about it too. Wish him luck, would you? He might need it as the weather keeps cooling down.

P.S. Also, don't forget to leave a comment on the previous post for a chance to win!

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

My Coat of Arms and Giveaway

I've been thinking a lot lately about what I value the most. I've read some liberating literature lately, and have been seriously pondering the last several months about what I value most in myself. I've been pondering symbolism. I've been pondering the unquenchable fire in my soul. I've been pondering my female strength. I've been pondering my ambitions.

I wanted to create a piece of art that would explain everything that means a lot to me, and had sketched out a few ideas, but what I was feeling was so big that it was hard for me to portray. Then, the perfect assignment came along that embodied what I was already working on. (Don't you just love it when the universe works out that way?) You may have noticed in my earlier post about Girls' Camp that there was a photo of a coat of arms. (Bonus points if you noticed!) We created one as a group to represent us as a whole, but we also were invited to create our own. We got a little lesson in the development of coats of arms, and what each icon, pattern, color, and element represents, then got to work:

 This is my finished piece (I used a marker to outline and colored pencils to fill in). Sure, it looks cool on its own, but I love it because of what it means to me. Would you like to know? Great, stick around. If not, you have my permission to cease reading this and I won't even be offended. Let's begin with our lesson, starting from the bottom:

The bottom section is called the foundation. It is the piece that the shield rests on. My foundation is an estoile, that 6-pointed wavy star, which means celestial. I personally base everything I value on a celestial and eternal perspective. Guiding my view and consequently my life heavenward is important to me.

Directly above the foundation is the bottom mantle, which often contains a banner with a family name or a motto. The pattern of the fringe along the motto banner is representative of the first born. Boo-yah. I borrowed the motto from the Baxter family crest, vincit veritas (truth conquers). You may be interested to know that while I married into the last name of Baxter, my great-grandma was a also a Baxter (no connection for at least 400 years back, don't worry) so I carry that Baxter legacy in my blood, too.

The shield is the main portion of the coat of arms. The shield to the arms is broken into compartments, and filled with icons called charges. The way the shield is broken into compartments has various meanings as well as the decoration around the edges. I just used a plain edge and broke mine up into four because I had approximately one million things that I wanted to include in my coat of arms and wanted to fit as much in as possible and still keep things aesthetically pleasing. The shape of the shield can also mean different things. My charges are a crescent (enlightenment), a peacock (beauty, soul, power, and knowledge), a bell (ritual), a tree (connection between heaven and earth/ life and death) and a cinquefoil (the 5-leafed icon representing hope and joy).

Next, are the supporters. There are usually two grand creatures, one on either side of the shield, that support the charges. My supporters are foxes (wit and self-defense) and they each support the shield while protecting a bee (industry) and a lamp (light, life, spirituality).

Above the shield is the top mantle, which contains a helmet and other decorative elements. My helmet is crowned with laurel leaves (my name means 'lady of victory' so I try and live up to it), and is flanked by antlers (strength and fortitude), feathers (freedom), and a serpent (female sagacity).

Lastly, the top portion of a coat of arms is called the crest, which is the pinnacle and crowning glory of the other elements. My crest contains heavenly rays as well as an owl (wisdom).

Colors also have meanings, so I used ample amounts of orange (ambition), green (joy), and gold (elevated mind).

Cool, huh! I was fascinated with this project, and it still intrigues me. I've hung mine up in a prominent place to remind myself of my goals and natural abilities. I find myself completely energized when I look at it. I've also wondered what other people would have picked for me, or what other people's strengths are that could be shown this way. This would be a great art series that I could find myself really getting into. I love symbolism!

So, I'd love to create a one-of-a-kind coat of arms for someone. Leave a comment by 10 pm on the 27th, and I'll randomly pick a commenter to win a lovely drawing similar to mine.

Now, be honest. Doesn't it make you want to create your own? If you made your own, what attribute would you be sure was represented? Don't be shy!

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Values Photo Book

At Girls' Camp, I spearheaded this fun craft project:


At the beginning of the fall last year, we told the girls and leaders to take photos of nature in our 8 value colors. Each person sent in their top 2 photos for each color, and we printed up a bunch of wallet-sized photos. Then, we made value photo books, to remind us the importance of each of our values (Faith, Divine Nature, Individual Worth, Knowledge, Choice & Accountability, Good Works, Integrity, and Virtue) and the way our heavenly parents remind us through nature by showing us all of the gorgeous colors (white, blue, red, green, orange, yellow, purple, and gold, respectively).

Each person's book is as individual as she is, and everyone chose different photos and methods of decorating their books. I chose to create a spine and bind my book. I also put my value colors in rainbow order because I'm CDO like that (which is like being OCD, but in alphabetical order, like it should be) and doodled around some of my favorite pictures. I used the cutout windows to highlight my favorite photo from each color book, and also doodled a quick icon that could represent each value. The book is made of 8 6x6 cards, and I used tiny velcro dots to keep the card flaps closed. I loved how mine turned out, and it was rewarding to see others happily working on theirs throughout the week. Big success.

Out of these 8 values, Divine Nature is probably the one that sits in my heart the most often. Out of these 8 values, which one touches your soul the most often? I'd love to hear!

P.S. Look for the next post, where I'll have a giveaway to share!

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Being B.R.A.V.E.

Girls' Camp this year was phenomenal as our favorite raucous teens and leaders considered what it meant to be B.R.A.V.E. Being brave can mean lots of things, but for us, it means (ready? acronym time!):


Us lassies filled our days with worthwhile activities and fun experiences. There was a great mix of unifying group activities and environments conducive to personal growth. From late nights full of giggles to quiet mornings set aside for introspection, loads of delicious eats and silly surprises, our fearless leaders arranged an incredible week! Thanks, McLassies!

And of course, I was in my element in the mountains, so I was in heaven the whole time. There's nothing quite like Girls' Camp to boost self- confidence and grow more love for others. I think being brave is an important attribute to develop, especially for young women, and I'm glad I got to work on it alongside my fun little bunches of girlies.

What important attribute (or acronym, if that's how you float your boat) have you been working on lately?

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

The Life of Pi

I've been meaning to read this little gem of a book for several years now, and put off seeing the movie so that I could enjoy the book first. (Still haven't seen it yet. First things first.) We recently read this as part of our literary discussion group.

While it fell short technically, the story was so fascinating on its own that it carried the novel to a good place. There were several discourses I found interesting, like the religious explorations and nature of animals as evidenced by zoo life. (This book totally gave me a new perspective on the lives of zoo creatures, which I found surprisingly enlightening.)

Other themes I found interesting were:
  • the cycle of life, the drive to remain alive, self-preservation, survival
  • hierarchy, alpha and omega citizens
  • territory, environment, habitats, and the adaptation thereof
  • the interconnectedness of religions with one another and with nature
  • humans placement with other animals or as part of the animal world
  • "The measure of madness that moves life in strange but saving ways."
  • individual survival vs. empathy for others' suffering
  • the importance of family relationships
  • pain, suffering, discomfort as seen relatively
  • storytelling, passing time, imagination vs. perception
  • humans' preference for stories of animals with human traits instead of animalistic humans
There was a lot of good material to sift through. I'm sure I'll read this book again. I appreciated the ending the most, though. Stroke of genius, that.

Have you read this one yet? What were your ponderings on the ending?

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Family Reunion

So. My dear mama was in charge of a family reunion. Crazy and chaotic? Yes. Worth it? Totally. She does a great job at keeping us going, and we had a blast. It was awesome to get together with my cuz's that I haven't seen for years. Some of my favorite childhood memories involve spending time with them, so it was great to get together and relive those fun summers.

Our days were packed with activities for all ages, including minute-to-win-it shenanigans, fairy hunts, pirate treasure hunts, canoeing/ paddle boating, a ropes course and zipline, photo booth, crafts galore, fireside hooplas, singing, bunk beds, delish eats, hikes and nature.

Seriously, I love nature. And this filled my soul up to the brim with wonderment. We had 3 bucks (as in deer, not dollars) chilling around our campsite every day. Plus, there was a mama and gentle fawn that graced us with their presence as well. The stars! Can I just say? I could drink them in for hours (it turns out google has an awesome app for that). The weather was fresh and the scenery lush. And, the mating butterflies are super easy for even toddlers to catch, but it is what it is. Don't ask questions, kids. Just catch them in your little nets because they're not going anywhere anytime soon.

And, I saved the best for last. We stayed in yurts! I know! I've been dying to stay in one for years, and got to enjoy the virgin yurt voyage with my best pals. It couldn't have been any better.

So many people went out of their way to make this a good experience. I don't know a single person who didn't put in hours of preparation work.

Dear family,

You are crazy. But you are also lovely, and I heart you forever.


Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Provo Cemetery

As you may or may not know, we are ancestor hunters. (The kind armed with knowledge and curiosity, not with guns and violence, lest you be confused.) One of our favorite spontaneous pastimes is to go cemetery traipsing, searching for interesting stories carved in stone and long-lost relatives.

We recently took a trip to the Provo Cemetery to search for some of Kirk's and my ancestors. We totally found all the people we were looking for, plus a couple bonus stories told only by dates and epitaphs on a couple interesting headstones:

When we found these folks, we were filled with a great feeling of accomplishment. Something we'd been searching for finally came to fruition. I hope this is a worthwhile habit we can eventually instill in our little offspring. Meanwhile, she's perfectly content to join us and gather pine cones.

What worthwhile searches have ended nicely for you lately?

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Dandelion Wine


At the beginning of the summer, we read Dandelion Wine for our monthly literary gathering to help start our summers the right way. The writing style is easy and natural, and the vignettes of individual characters are poignant and brightly painted. Not only is this an entertaining read, but the content is meaningful as well.

Some of the themes in this book that we discussed were:
  • youth vs. age, coming of age, living and dying
  • preserving time and happiness
  • record-keeping, memory-keeping, memorabilia
  • technology vs. nature
  • human nature vs. mother nature
  • reincarnation
We found so many interesting characters that we wanted to study from this novel but didn't have time to cover even a handful. I love this book so much that I would marry it if I weren't already married.

Thoughts? Have you read this delightful piece?