March 24, 2014

Maple Weekend

Our family outing to the Arnot Woods to celebrate NYS Maple Weekend was just what my soul needed. Wandering in the woods always fills me and on this day especially it was such a feast for the senses. The gurgling snowy stream, the squelch of mud beneath our boots, the wind that roared through the treetops.
That wind carried the laughter of friends and the delightful smell of wood burning stoves and maple syrup reduction. The maple syrup cotton candy Ellie purchased with her very own money melted on our tongues and left a wonderfully woody, sweet taste in our mouths.
We strolled across bridges and traipsed up wet trails while the sun peeked out at us intermittently. The whole world on the verge of awakening - my spirit hungrily lapping it up. There is such promise in this time of year. Knowing there will yet be snows flurries, it is nonetheless thrilling to see the tiny buds on trees and watch the returning birds fly through the skies.
This weekend I learned that it takes the alternating freezing and thawing weather to swell the trees and let the sap flow. So too, I feel a stirring in myself at this time of year: Content at times to sit and sew but also needing desperately to wander in the woods, to have an adventure - to hear the birds and drink in the breeze. I feel so lucky to share this magical life with Joe and the girls. They are such examples to me of discovery and enjoyment of ordinary pleasures.
On this trip, Wren was the greatest explorer of all. Outfitted with her boots and and hat and binoculars, she wandered to her heart's content. And the sound of her songs (from the Frozen soundtrack of course) rode on the wind; landing in my heart already bursting with gratitude.
Let it go!

March 12, 2014

Colored Pencil Case

Ellie loves to make art - it's one of my favorite things about her. My other favorite thing about her is that when her preschool teacher asked her if she'd like to be an artist one day, she confidently answered, "I'm already an artist." Love that girl and her confidence!

I was so excited to make this colored pencil case for my little artist - and I'm thrilled with how it turned out. I got the instructions from an amazing book called Last-Minute Patchwork and Quilted Gifts. I just knew this book was made for me because "Last-Minute" is right there in the title. It's a beautiful publication with so many great projects in it. I'll be sure to share other projects from this book on the blog - it's really one of my favorite titles on the shelf right now.

If you want to make a colored pencil roll-up case you can also google it and find a lot of great tutorials like this one. It's a simple concept that can be used for crayons, knitting needles or whatever other tools you can think of that you'd like to roll up and take with you. I personally loved working with all these bright fabric scraps in the dull days of winter and even though every single pencil is now scattered around the house, I still get a little thrill each time I match up the colors, roll it up, and stash it away for another day. Happy making little, Ellie - I hope you continue to love creative pursuits as much as I do.

P.S. Don't you dare color on this fancy gift I just finished for you!

March 6, 2014

On Faith

Lord, I believe; help thou my unbelief.
Mark 9:24

There have been a number of times I've wanted to write how the loss of my mother has affected my faith. But this topic is daunting to say the least. My religious tradition is a large part of my life and identity and it's something that's been drastically impacted by the events of the last couple years. My faith journey is difficult to write about because it never seems to be finished. I don't know how to tell the story of my heart - the one that continually shifts. My beliefs that were once a solid bedrock have become something very fluid, and I sense changes in them almost daily. A few months ago I was asked to speak in church - the first talk I had given since Mom's passing. And so, it seemed as good a time as any to try and articulate exactly what my faith looks like. I would apologize for the length of this post, but it is a long story - so it deserves all the space it takes to tell it.

There are a number of General Conference talks referenced in this talk. I've left links to them within the text.

November 2013

Today I'll be speaking on what it means to have a living faith - one that changes with time. That is the only kind of faith I feel qualified to speak on now, because I am currently in a place where my faith looks quite unfamiliar to me. It is shifting and changing and not anything like what it used to be.

My mother was sixteen years old when I was born. She and my father divorced when I was three and life continued to be a succession of moves and marriages and divorce and dysfunction. Growing up, there was never a religion that we stuck with - we attended very few churches with any regularity. I was intensely curious about spiritual matters as a child, and I would often check out books from the religion section of the library to see if I could find the answers I was looking for. When I was eleven I tried to read the bible, but didn't get past the book of Numbers. At twelve I was baptized Lutheran and spent a little while in that church, thought I still had questions that I didn't find answers to even during my Confirmation process. Another move to another state found us church-less once again and I just resolved to try my best to be a good person; to be a Christian - whatever that might mean.

I was fourteen years old when the missionaries knocked on our door. Mom had been brought to her knees, praying for a miracle - for her life was again in complete disarray. Mormon missionaries were not the answer she was looking for and so she sent them away. She returned to her prayer only to realize what just transpired. She chased the Elders down the street, made an appointment, and we had our first discussion that very night.

I remember the moment I gained my first testimony of the restored gospel. The missionaries had just presented the Plan of Salvation and for the first time in my life I felt peace about where my life was going and what would happen after I die. I felt the Spirit testify to me that I had just heard Truth. When Elder Racey looked at me and asked what I thought about the Plan of Salvation I said, "I've never head anything like it, but it seems so familiar."

I remember the feelings I had at my baptism - the overwhelming sense that I had just embarked upon an epic journey. I felt a sort of emptiness, a strange sadness as I said goodbye to my former self. And then a might rushing wind filled me. My cheeks burned hot all that night as I greeted those who had attended my baptism. I truly felt a fire throughout my body and I realized that this choice I had made to be baptized was a real turning point in my life.

At that point I entered the phase of my life I like to call "the years of prosperity." I fit into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints like a perfect little cog. My life was centered around Young Women's activities, seminary, fulfilling callings. My family life continued to disintegrate in many painful ways, but being a part of the Church gave me the stability and safety I had always craved. I thrived with the loving support of so many kind people and the very structure inherent in the church setting. Throughout high school my mother's mental illness and addiction continued to increase in intensity, so when I graduated I high tailed it to BYU as fast as I could. I continued to fulfill callings that stretched me in new ways and my life revolved around church activity. Family heartache was always a trying part of life, but during that time I felt that every struggle had meaning. I was in a constant state of growth and development. There was purpose to my trials and I felt very connected to my faith and my God. It was during these years that I met Joe. We were married and Ellie was born to us while living in Provo, UT. We moved to New York City for work and welcomed our second daughter, Wren, at the very end of 2011.

On the evening of April 2, 2012, I received a phone call that my mother had died of an overdose. I knew immediately that it was suicide. It's hard for me to even express the feelings I experienced at that time. Crumpled to the floor in the kitchen, it literally felt as though my world came crashing to a halt. In the hours following that phone call, my heart was wracked with the most intense grief and sorrow I ever could have imagined. In the days and weeks that followed, there were moments of clarity and tenderness and whisperings of the Spirit within my heart. Even amid my pain I felt an exquisite sense of meaning and purpose. There was intense sorrow, but there was also sacredness in the suffering.

In the months following Mom's death, however, there was nothing.

A huge, crushing nothingness.

I fell into a depression so deep that it threatened to consume me. The sudden death of my mother pulled the rug out from under me, and the floor along with it. I was free-falling into an abyss and though I flailed in every direction, I could not seem to grasp anything to slow my descent. "Where was God?" I wondered. Why did He abandon me in my time of greatest need? My prayers felt unanswered, my heart felt unhealed, and a I began to feel that my previous faith was unfounded.

I spent a long time (many months) feeling abandoned and angry. I was out of touch with my faith and utterly lost - and not for lack of trying. How I prayed to know if God was there! And yet, I felt nothing. No revelation, no calming confirmation of the Spirit; none of the things I had believed would come to me in my time of need. I always thought that if I did what God wanted, He would protect me. Not that He would keep bad things from happening, but that it wouldn't hurt so badly when the very worst thing happened. To find myself in this time of grief feeling totally alone and unsure was very upsetting to say the least.

I began to feel anxious. Do I still belong here in this church? Can I continue doing all that is required of me when I don't feel a thing? Do I fit in amongst all the believers surrounding me? I started to feel pressure within myself to get my testimony back - to arrive at the same answers I had once known. Why wasn't it coming back? What does it mean if God doesn't answer my prayers? What can I believe about this Father who seems absent when I need Him most?

Around this time we moved to Ithaca. There's nothing like birthing a baby, losing your mother, and moving to a new town all in a matter of months to throw these questions and anxieties into hyper-drive. I was not coping well. And while I learned to function in a physical sense and began the journey to finding my emotional health, my spiritual life remained a giant question mark - an empty place inside me.

In the last few months there have been moments of light. I've had small realizations and brief moments of spirituality that have helped me to remain here at church. The first of which was Elder Bowen's talk in the October 2012 General Conference. His story of the heartache of losing his son was the first time I remember any general authority really discussing what life was like before the faithful resolution of a trial. Sometimes conference talks seem to fast forward through the suffering, which gave me the impression that suffering was not an acceptable part of the process. Somehow I had internalized the belief that a faithful person experiences a trial, quickly feels the spirit comfort them, and then everything is OK. Elder Bowen's discussion of the anger, guilt, and loneliness he battled after his son's death helped me to feel less anxiety about the fact that I haven't yet reached a happy ending to my great trial.

I've also been thinking a lot about the parable of the sheep. For the first time in my life, I find myself really relating to the lost sheep. I understand now what it feels like to wander in the wilderness and not feel the love of the shepherd who searches for me. Perhaps Christ has been searching for me, but as a lost sheep, it's not possible for me to know or feel that while I wander. Along these lines, President Monson's address to the Relief Society in October of 2013 comforted me greatly when he said:

"There will be times when you will walk a path strewn with thorns and marked by struggle. There may be times when you feel detached—even isolated—from the Giver of every good gift. You worry that you walk alone. Fear replaces faith."

"My dear sisters, your Heavenly Father loves you—each of you. That love never changes... It is there for you when you are sad or happy, discouraged or hopeful. God’s love is there for you whether or not you feel you deserve love. It is simply always there."

Small and simple experiences like these helped me to feel peace about the unsettled nature of my faith. And the more acceptance I had for my situation, the more things began to improve, bit by bit. Still, this is not a linear process. There are small forward steps and backward slides. In fact, this faith journey feels more like a sideways spiral motion - I'm often revisiting the same issues from a different perspective. It's not the line upon line simple gathering of knowledge I experienced when first joining the Church.

It's not as though one day I woke up to find my prayers answered and my belief restored. It's not as though the darkness completely dispersed the day I started taking an anti-depressant. But I made a conscious choice to keep showing up to life, to keep my heart open to feeling anything good that may come and to allow myself the time to work through this difficult process, without any pressure to arrive at "the end."

My faith has been tested in the most extreme sense in recent years. At times it has felt I have no faith at all.

Yet, as I reflected on the story of my conversion and baptism for this talk, I was able to feel for the first time in a long while that Someone truly was watching over me. I know that my life is better now than it was before I was introduced to the gospel of Jesus Christ and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I know Someone answered my prayers then. I remember feeling loved and guided and blessed.

And if I cannot always feel a connection to the Savior today - well then, that is when I hope for things which are not seen which are true. (Hebrews 11:1, Alma 32:21)

Today I cannot stand in testimony meeting and say that I KNOW things - not in the way that I could before. The list of things I know is very short. But there are a few things that I believe and many more that I hope for.

I know that the world is a beautiful place and I'm grateful for every day I have.
I know that we all have divinity within us.
I know that grief has made my heart tender and humbled me in ways I couldn't have guessed.
I know that charity never faileth.
I know that my life has been blessed for following the principles of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

I believe that keeping covenants brings peace to my life.
I believe that grace is a real power in my life - that I am just beginning to understand how to live with grace each day; how to truly rely on it.
I believe in prophecy and in personal revelation - that the Spirit can touch our hearts and guide us.

Oh, and the list of things I hope for - it is long indeed.

I hope to one day feel a personal relationship with Jesus Christ again - to really KNOW that He is my savior.
I hope that this church is led by living prophets, and that as a living, breathing organization it will continue to grow and change in a direction that brings all of us closer to God.
I hope there will be a day when all wrongs will be made right, when the sorrows of this world will be washed away.
Most of all, I hope that my offering of a sincere and questioning heart will be acceptable to my Heavenly Parents.

This is my current testimony, in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

March 5, 2014

You Make My Heart Glow Valentines

Even though we were sick on Valentine's Day, we had a stroke of luck when freezing temps and ice canceled Ellie's school on the day of the Valentine's party. We used our winter break to recoup and then had a chance to make some awesome cards for her class party. This was the greatest project for she and I to work on together: just enough structure for me and plenty of freedom for her. I thought I'd share the process for anyone else interested in making valentines like these.

Materials Needed:
- construction paper
- oil pastels
- scissors
-washi tape
- glow sticks

Draw hearts on sheets of construction paper.
Color in the hearts with different designs (this was Ellie's job - that girl LOVES oil pastels).
Cut out the hearts and cut two slits for the glow sticks to slide into.
Write a message and attach it to the heart with washi tape.

This project was super simple and we were both thrilled with the results. I've started a Pinterest board called My Hands Made where I'll pin photos of the various projects I complete. I hope you'll follow along! I love Pinterest and the creativity it has allowed me to tap into daily. I'm quite proud of my boards and welcome you to follow them if you'd like. (search Whitney Hardie under pinners)

I'm excited for this new venture on my blog. Hopefully it will help me document my projects more and who knows - it may even lead to more blogging!

February 28, 2014

Wren turns 2

Wren! It's a super late, but very photo-heavy summary of your second birthday. I hope that someday you will treasure these photos. I already see a couple family classics as I glance through all the pictures of your adorable face.

For your second birthday we decided to have a shin-dig with all of your favorite things (brought to you by the number 2) You invited 2 friends, Della and Theo, Dad made you a cake with a sprinkle number 2 on top, there were balloons and sweet treats and you were in heaven.
This photo is a great representation of you at two years old. I dressed you in your party outfit, but you felt it was lacking something. Of course you added a skirt - rarely are you without one these days. The picture below shows your temporary tattoo. You and Ellie are really into those right now. Once you learned where the gummy bears were you just helped yourself (though you hadn't nearly the appetite for sweets that Theo displayed). There were also blueberries on the menu and those are always a hit with you.
Silly girl, I'm glad to see your love of cake has not diminished since last year. You still take cake eating very seriously. In fact, you take all eating very seriously. I love how much you love to eat.
You really understood presents this year, and in true two year old fashion, greeted every gift with a resounding, "Present! Mine!" It was fun to watch you get excited over your favorite gifts - the puzzles that Dad and I got you and the mouse puppet from Great Grandma.
Wren, you are such a delightful little girl! I still call you my baby, though it is clear to everyone else that you are growing so much each day. The photos below really capture the magic that is you at this age. You have stolen Pink Kitty from Ellie and sleep with it every night. You are an absolute bookworm and love to be read to. But you also like to slip away to your room throughout the day to read stacks of books by yourself. You are the girliest of my girls - insisting on fancy skirts and dresses and "helping" me with my make-up. You still give the sweetest hugs and kisses in the world, you can draw circles and you have amazing balance on our indoor swing. You also love band-aids and nail polish and watching Curious George. You remind me a bit of that adorable monkey, with all of your chattering and antics. Your singing voice is about the cutest thing in the world - second only to your amazing dance moves. Seriously girl, you really cut a rug.

I love how you can sign "I love you," but still struggle to show me two fingers when I ask how old you are. At least you've stopped introducing yourself as Ellie and telling everyone you're three - that was really confusing for people.
I'm so glad that you have taken a liking to the animal figurines in the bowl. Dad was accusing me of collecting them for myself (which is only halfway true). I had hopes they'd become the classic toys of your childhood.
This view from behind epitomizes your toddlerhood to me. This is how I always find you: sitting cross-legged, working intently on a project. I love your passion and your humor. I love your gaped-tooth smile and the single freckle on your forehead. I love the sweet way you hold my hand and the total adorable-ness that is you in your winter hat.

You are magic, Wren-dear, and I hope you always know that. Love, Mom.

February 15, 2014

The Love of the Century

Before Spotify and Angry Birds,
Before Kate and William were even a thing,
Before Katie and Tom weren't a thing anymore,
Before bundled toxic assests ruined the world,
Before greek yogurt was cool,
Before dish detergent came in pods, 
Before anyone cared about the Kardashians,
Before Instagram and Pinterest,
Even before cat memes and Sherlock...

I met this handsome man and we fell in love.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'd like to make out with this burrito.

 Happy Valentine's Day, everyone!

February 13, 2014

This week is not my favorite

It's February.

Our car broke down in PA and cost $750 to fix.

The cold/flu struck out house. Fever, chills, coughs, disgusting fluids from the nose.

I didn't get to make our annual Valentine's cards because of said illnesses.

Ellie had an earache last night at 11pm
I let her sleep in my bed.
Gave her a warm compress and some Tylenol.
Stroked her back and talked to her soothingly while she fell asleep.
She kicked me for 20min while she slept fitfully.
She woke up and we started the whole she-bang again.
2 hrs later she cried that she wanted to sleep in her own bed.
We made the switch.
She got up two or three more times. (need to potty, need a cough drop, just can't sleep)
At 3:45 she got up AGAIN needing a drink of water.
I called out to her that she should climb up on the toilet and get a drink out of the sink.
Splash! Wailing!
She fell into the toilet that she hadn't flushed earlier.
Soaking wet pajamas, crying girl, pee and toilet paper all over the bathroom.

Did this really just happen?!?!?
Why is this the worst week ever?

No working out - sickness.
No groceries - car.
No sleep - toilet drama.

Well, we still have water and heat - so I guess it could be worse.

Things I'm looking forward to:
February being over
Birds returning to my feeder
Training for the Tri at the Y
Hosting a "February Sucks" party at my house
Blogging about Wren's birthday
Blogging about projects I've finished
Blogging photos I've done in the last year
Blogging instead of feeling like a giant waste of time and talent
Getting a massage - just putting it out there to the universe
Breathing through my nose at night
Painting fingernails for Valentine's Day 
Musical rehearsal - we bemoan our fates for a while and then we sing!

February is the worst! The End.

February 5, 2014

Ellie turns 4

Well, Eleanor, you did it! You turned four years old. We had such a fun time on your birthday I just thought I'd jot down a few details so we can remember them together in years to come. Look at that birthday cake! Your dad always claims cake making duty and this year we had conflicting visions about the cowgirl cake. I wanted a cheerful looking corral scene and he preferred the drama of a hopeless quagmire. We compromised and it was delicious of course.

You are soooo into cowboy things right now. Toy Story is your favorite movie and you love to wear your jeans, "cowgirl" shirt and boots every chance you get. So this theme seemed perfect for a fourth birthday party.
You had friends from church and school, plus two of your favorite babysitters (Caitlin and Lara) in attendance. We all munched on chips and salsa, fruit and pigs in a blanket.
Jessie was easily the favorite gift you received - thanks Marshall family! As I write this, two months after the fact, she continues to be your preferred companion everywhere you go. You also loved the piggy bank we gave you, the real cowgirl hat, and the stuffed horse you received. You insist on wearing the horseshoe necklace Lara gifted you every day - we've finally convinced you not to sleep with it at night. And while the gifts were very exciting, I think the highlight of everyone's party experience was that crazy pinata.
The thing seriously would not break! Even after every kid had a chance at it. We gave you and Ella (your friend with most damaging swing) two chances at it - barely a dent. Finally, the hook just came out of the ceiling and the pinata fell intact to the floor. You gave it a couple good whacks, but your heart wasn't in it. I mean, who wants to beat a dead horse? So Dad and I pulled it apart in a tug of war and all the kids collected the prizes. 

I always want to remember the way you rushed in - so excited for candy. Immediately you grabbed a pink bouncy ball and took a sizable and disappointing bite out of it. I was laughing so hard! Everyone left with stickers, tattoos, candy and erasers.
It was a very fun party for a fun-loving girl. I'm so glad we could celebrate this day together.
I love you so much, little darlin'.

January 13, 2014

Ellie Update

It was an exciting 24hrs for Ellie. First CT scan, first ambulance ride, first staple to the the head. Truly, she thought this whole skull fracture thing was one big vacation. It's not an exaggeration that Joe and I were way more traumatized by this whole event than she was. Just look at her smiling face.
Ellie was disappointed there were no lights and sirens to accompany her ride.
She mostly dozed on the way there - waking to ask the occasional question.
It looks like a spiritual moment, but really it's Joe applying numbing cream to her wound while they both watch cartoons in the Emergency Room.
Happily tucked into bed, with her best buds and a cup of apple juice (at 11pm - why not?)
Check-out time found her lazily playing on Dad's iphone - a luxury if ever there was one.

After writing my cathartic essay and wandering the hospital halls for a little longer, I was finally able to sleep on the convenient (though highly uncomfortable) pull out couch in her room. Early in the morning I heard her voice as she woke up, "This whole TV is for me!" She was totally digging the big screen and would have liked to stay in her cozy hospital bed all day, but wouldn't you know it, less than 24hrs after checking in, we were on our way home!

Thank you to everyone for your thoughts and prayers on Ellie's behalf. We've appreciated so much the phone calls and emails and dinners brought to our house. We're so grateful that everything turned out as well as it did. Her recovery has been nothing short of miraculous. She doesn't suffer from any lingering concussion symptoms and hopefully a follow up x-ray will show that her little bones are going back together just the way they should. Truly, we are very blessed and have been enjoying quiet time as a family even more now that we've had a glimpse of what might have been.

I'll be back blogging soon - I've got lots of posts planned that don't involve any sort of trauma at all. Won't that be a nice change around here?