My Birthday Weekend in the Redwoods

So, I had another birthday. It’s always Labor Day weekend. When I was little, I used to hate that because I never got to celebrate my birthday at school and everyone always forgot about it. I’m not exactly sure why it has taken me this long to realize that long weekend birthdays mean I can do more fun things to celebrate!

This year we went glamping in Redwood National Park. We went for the sole purpose of hiking Fern Canyon, one of my bucket list to-dos.

It took fooorreeeeevvveerrr to drive up, but…[read the captions!]

We spent my actual birthday hiking Fern Canyon, hanging on the beach, eating s’mores and watching shooting stars with some of my favorite people in the world.

The next day, we took Boogie on a mini-trail so he could practice hiking with his new toddler-sized pack. Also, we want him to start hiking long distances so we don’t have to carry him any more. Also, redwood trees are amazing.

I say birthdays don’t get much better than this!


Carter Turns Two

The little booger turned two. Time is going too fast. Here are some things I want to remember about him at this fun age:

He loves basketball and will turn anything – or anyone – into a hoop. This is his primary obsession. After watching the Olympics, he started to jump off steps and say “gymnactiks” and do “pinnies” around on the ground like the men on pommel horse. He also started practicing track starts and running off, telling everyone he’s “so fast!” He loves lights, spinning fans, helicopters, trains and pretending to drive my car.

His favorite color is pink. He loves pink colored pencils, pink crayons, pink flowers, pink clothes, pink balloons, pink balls. He always picks out the pink thing and wants that one. Someone asked me if I trained him to like it to defy gender-norms, but no, he loved pink on his own and I hope no amount of peer pressure will change that.

His favorite lullabies are church hymns, “Amazing Grace”, “Lean on Me”, “Swing Low Sweet Chariot”, three random songs I learned at Japanese camp in high school, and songs from the musical, The Color Purple. He either asks for songs by name (“Lean on Me” = Lemolemolemo, “I am a Child of God” = Im a Chango, “Love is Spoken Here” = I See Mamo) He knows a lot of the words and, on my favorite days, will sing-yell along with me.

He loves my muumuus and pajamas. Specifically, he likes to wrap them around himself or use them as blankets. This started one night when I wasn’t home, but has now progressed to him demanding the pajamas straight off my body for snuggling purposes. He also loves to bury himself under a big pillow before he goes to sleep. It’s twice his size, and has become a bedtime necessity.

He is a sponge-parrot. He soaks up everything he hears and remembers it weeks later. He speaks three languages – Chinese, English and Spanish – and knows when and with whom to use which one. He also remembers names and cars. Sometimes he lays in bed and starts saying the names of everyone he’s ever met. If he’s met you once for at least 20 minutes, he’s probably asked to see you again, said your name before bed and practiced saying it during the day. He also probably knows what kind of car you drive. He does not get that from his mama.

His favorite song is “Shut Up and Dance.” He asks to listen to “Shutup Ance” at least one million times every day. This has devolved into just straight up “Shut Up!” and after several heart to heart conversations about using this phrase, has turned into, “Shut Up!…don’t saaaaay thaaaattt.”

He loves to dance. He climbs on top of his toddler table, squats low and waves his butt back and forth. This is what he calls a dance party. He gets it from his mama.

He loves to pray and read the scriptures. He loves to bow his head and say, “So grateful today” and “AMEN!” with real gusto. When he picks up scriptures, he flips the pages and says, “Jesus God. Jesus. God. And. Prophets. And. Jesus. God.” Then he asks to look at pictures of the temple. Heart. Melting.

His face lights up when he sees me and he runs super fast into my arms yelling, “Mommy’s here!!!!” if we’ve been apart for an hour or more. This is the best. I will probably want to remember that he did this once, because I know it won’t last forever.


He has changed my life in more ways than I can count. Andy and I can’t imagine life without our little Boogie. He makes us laugh with real joy. He makes us whole and reminds us what matters most. We love him with a love deeper than anything we thought possible and are so grateful to Heavenly Father for sending us this crazy, goofy, sweet, loving angel into our lives.

We had a little birthday party for Carter, themed “Carter’s Having a Ball!” in honor of his love of all things ball related. And his love of dancing. And his love of generally having fun. It really takes a village and we are blessed to have such a wonderful one supporting our family!

Getting Crafty for Christmas

The holidays bring out the DIY in me. Something about them just makes me want to bust out my hot glue gun, Modge-Podge and construction paper and surf Pinterest to my heart’s content. Judging by this gem that reappeared last year after decades in hiding, this urge is not a new one.

Oh heeeeyyyy, five-year-old Joanna. I can’t tell if you’re mad or sad or happy. Or whatever. But, sweet headband.

Clearly, I was some kind of ornament-making prodigy. Look at the perfectly rounded cutting and the painstakingly aligned doily-thing. Observe the intentional fade of my fingerprint. Notice the perfect centering of my photograph. Either I was a DIY genius or I had a very very very patient teacher. I’m inclined toward the former.

I think the Christmas-time DIY urge is born from a blend of a) being eh…frugal, b) trying to be more environmentally-conscious and c) a real genuine urge to create stuff because it makes me happy. I’m not sure DIY-ing everything actually saves me money, because even though I try to be thrifty, I sure am a sucker at Michael’s. Plus everything takes forever. But, it really does make me happy!

Gift wrapping is a good example. I don’t buy wrapping paper and bows because it seems so wasteful. I wrap gifts in brown grocery bags and try to use whatever I find around the house to decorate the boxes. Except when I discover some hideous wrapping paper in my garage and have to use it so it’s not wasted (see ugly-paper wrapping in pictures below).

Our Christmas tree star is made out of twine, old plastic bags, cardboard, glitter spray and tons of hot glue. I found the directions here.


Last year, after Carter’s birth, I decided I was going to learn how to use my sewing machine so I could make our family some stockings. I found my inspiration here and got a lot of help with sewing and patterns from my crafty pal, Katie. They turned out a little lumpy, but that’s just personality, right?

And, of course, the ornaments.

Bonus: Here are Andy’s contributions to our Christmas DIY decor: An awesome pinecone Christmas tree that he made with students years ago, and his version of a homemade bow. Note the tape straight down the middle. He’s got mad skills, that one.

Here is Carter’s DIY contribution from last year.  

 I love Christmas time!

Hosting Our First Thanksgiving

Andy and I hosted our first Thanksgiving dinner this year. Preparing included quite a few steps:

DIY crafts:
Something about the fall and winter holidays puts me in a crafting mood. Pinterest is my friend. Everything takes ten times longer than I think it will for a questionably small impact on the overall atmosphere in our home. Nevertheless, I love DIY home decor.

A last minute pit-stop at Michael’s for supplies:
Baby was not impressed.

Shamelessly walking the neighborhood with a pair of scissors and gathering fall decorations for our apartment. Free last minute decor!


And of course cooking:
Here is the first turkey I’ve ever made, slathered in mayo and about to go in the oven. Andy and I splurged on an on-sale-but-still-too-expensive roasting pan at Marshall’s because I figured I could use all the extra help I could get.


Our Thanksgiving Feast:

Turkey shaped cheeseball – Our Pinterest inspired appetizer.

Cider-brined and glazed turkey – WINNER! WINNER!! YAY!

Bubble Top Brioches – Usually a winner. I over baked them this time, but at least they looked cool!

Garlic Parmesan Rosemary Mashed Potatoes – Andy’s add stuff until it tastes good specialty

Green Beans with Miso Butter – Mine did not turn out like the ones pictured in the recipe. They got a little soggy. Darn. Good flavor, will try again!

Stove Top Stuffing – Andy doesn’t think it gets better than Stove Top and I challenge someone to send me a recipe that compares!

Pecan Crusted Sweet Potato Casserole – Also a winner!

Cranberry Sauce with Dates and Orange – This is the recipe that I’ve used for the last three years. Nom nom nom.

Beet Salad with Watercress and Apples – Andy semi-freestyled this one and created a homemade dressing and it was delicious! Another winner!

Sweet Potato Pie – Tried a new crust recipe too. Still working on perfecting this pie, but I love the flavors more than pumpkin. Determined to get this perfect eventually. Have to shout out my friend and co-worker, Khalid, who makes the best sweet potato pie I’ve ever eaten. Hopefully mine will taste as good as his one day!

Apple Pie with Crumble Top – This is the first recipe that I’ve ever asked for. I got it from the wife of my bishop during my freshman year of college. Ten thousand years ago.

Chocolate Mousse Cheesecake – Total experiment. And complete fail. Well, the chocolate mousse layer and the graham cracker crust were winners. However, the new cheesecake recipe I tried was a lumpy disaster.

I’m grateful that even though our dinner had some lumpy fails, at least the turkey was a success! This year, I’m especially grateful my brother, David, could fly home from New York to be with us during this holiday. I’m grateful for my family. I’m grateful for a home that feels like a sanctuary from the world. It is a place of love and shelter that uplifts me and protects me from the storms that sometimes rage outside. I’m grateful for a husband and son who maintain our sanctuary and create a warm and sacred place for me to remember who I am.

The day after Thanksgiving, we were all exhausted but happy and full of love.