Monday, February 24, 2014

Sightseeing in DC...When to Visit the Holocaust Museum and the Library of Congress

We've been stationed in the DC area for a little over a year now. While I've been able to tour DC a couple of times, my husband hadn't so we've been hitting a lot of the sites and have learned a trick or two along the way. There are so many bases in the DC area: Andrews Air force Base, Anacostia-Bolling, Walter Reed Army Medical Center, Fort Meade, Fort Belvoir, there's the Naval Academy, Marine Corps in Quantico, and so many more... So if you are military, or just someone on their way to the DC area I'll try to add some of the tips we've learned so you can see all there is to see before heading off somewhere else.

On President's Day you either want to go to one of two places, Mount Vernon (George Washington's old estate), or to the Library of Congress. The reason President's Day is a good day to visit Mount Vernon is because it is the only day you can get in free of charge and admission is pretty pricey. You'll want to get there early so you can pick up a ticket to tour the house (they are first come first serve), and you'll also want to dress really warm because it's usually really cold around this time of year. If you have children, bring blankets, coats, and I'd also recommend that you bring a stroller so they don't have to walk too much. Because admission is free, it will be packed, but once you start roaming around it's not too bad. You can look all over the grounds, watch a film, visit George Washington's tomb (they will have a special speech usually sometime in the morning), and they had a certain time when actors pretend to be Martha and George Washington who kept in character and answered all you could ask about our dear first president and his wife. It's a really fun place to visit and if you like Historical Sites it's definitely a must see while you're here.

Since we went to Mount Vernon last year, we opted to visit the Library of Congress. We were surprised to find out that President's Day is only one of two days (I think Veteran's Day is the second day) when the reading room is open to the public. When you arrive you can choose to go on a free tour around the library, but be forewarned you won't be seeing many books. Instead your guide will focus on the ornate decorations and architecture. Kids and families can join a tour, but you can also walk around by yourselves as well. If you don't like crowds, I'd avoid going on President's Day since many schools and tourists come on President's Day to visit the reading room. If you don't mind crowds and are planning to go also be sure to get some pictures in front of the Congress and Senate Buildings since they are right next to the library.

Here's some pictures I snapped on my iPod (hence the poor quality) to give you a look at some of the art/architecture you'll see. By the way, if your child is reading the Percy Jackson series they'll likely enjoy seeing all the Greek mythological figures throughout the building. My oldest daughter sure did.

If you don't like crowds, you should think about going to visit the Holocaust Museum. I'd visited the museum twice. Once during the Spring and then during the Summer. Both times I had to get there early and wait outside before they opened to get tickets to see the displays and upper floor in the museum. However, we learned that because Winter isn't their peak season, tickets aren't required. I believe they said they'll start handing out tickets again around March, but before then you're free to go visit the upper floor as you'd like. Anyhow, Since I'd visited the top level twice I told Daniel to go check it out while I stayed with the children and visited the more kid friendly part of the museum: Daniel's Story--where they walk you through a Jewish boy's life during WWII in a sensitive manner.

It's important to point out that they recommend that children are 14 or older before they go on the top floor since it gives guests a glimpse into the horrors of the Holocaust. Of course, as the parent you're allowed to decide whether you think your child is mature enough to visit this area of the museum. Since our kids weren't ready (and I'd already been), I was more then content visiting the other areas of the museum until Daniel was done. There really weren't many people there at all so my kids were able to watch all the videos, pull, open, and push any of the drawers, windows, and buttons they had for the kids to explore.

As a side note be prepared to go through a metal detector and have your bags scanned when you come to the museum and the library. They do this in all the museums that I've visited in DC so far. We'd heard that the Holocaust Museum doesn't allow food inside, so if you pack a lunch be prepared to eat it before you enter the building. As a side note, the Smithsonian Museums haven't stopped us from bringing a backpack with lunch inside.

As for parking...If you go early to Mount Vernon you should find a spot in one of their parking lots for free. In DC they normally advise you to take the Metro, but if you have a big family like we do, that may not work for you. We visited the Library of Congress first and found 2 hour parking on a side street close by. After we finished, we went drove by the Jefferson Memorial where they have three hour free parking along the River. Usually this area gets filled quickly so we normally arrive early in the morning to ensure we find a spot. However, there weren't many cars there at all on President's Day. From there we walked to the Holocaust Museum which is a bit of a walk, but not too bad. Another option would be to park in one of the garages. If you park in a garage you will still have a bit of a walk to your destination, but you won't have to hurry back before your 2-3 hours are up to avoid a parking ticket.

 If you decide you want to use a parking garage, don't rely on your GPS to find one. Our GPS sent us on a wild goose chase when looking for a parking garage. Instead, look up a parking garage on the internet before you leave and type in the address they provide on your GPS or a place right next to it. We've found parking for $11-15 for the day (which is cheaper then paying for everyone to take the metro unless all your kids are younger than six) especially if you have to pay for parking at the Metro Station.

Whether you take the Metro, or drive I know you'll enjoy visiting these sites. There are so many things to do and see while you're in the DC area. Hopefully, you'll enjoy exploring as much as we have!

Sunday, February 16, 2014

When Life Slows Us Down

In case you were curious... I haven't just given up on my couch. Although, I did quit a week or so ago when I was feeling under the weather. Let's just say life slowed me down a bit the last couple of weeks. After I was sick my son got really sick...and then there were a lot of "experiments" to clean up. You cleaning toilet paper out of our spray bottle because my son thought he'd see what would happen. Then there was the trail of bright blue gloop we couldn't quite figure out. Not until I followed the trail to the bathroom and found our soap dispenser had this same blue stuff in it (I apologize for the crappy pictures from my iPod):

It ended up being body wash he'd gotten out of the master bathroom and had carried to the kids bathroom (thus the trail). At first we thought it was toothpaste.

Then later my daughter came up to me crying and screaming. At first I thought Thomas the train had impaled her, but soon realized it was just very very stuck in her hair. I suppose she was giving herself an amazing head massage with the train and was unaware that she was also tangling half of her hair in its' wheels. The crazy thing is... I was with my kids almost all day and they were almost always in my view. I'd turn around for just a second and some other minor disaster would have occurred. After several more disasters happened I started snapping pictures so I could document it all and reconfirm, "Yes, this really did happen." I was repeating the mantra, "This will be funny later. This will be funny later." At the time it kept me somewhat calm and sane.

During "quiet time" I decided I'd put my alone time to good use and would get some household tasks done. I started making  meals to freeze and was just bagging the last bit. I was pleased that I'd used my alone time to be productive and was excited I'd still have a little bit of time to relax for a bit. Just as I turned to reach for a sharpie to write down the date and instructions on my last bag of soup the bag tipped and the contents came spilling out. I had tomato chunks in between the molding under the cabinet and under and in between the stove...

 Then there was the crayon mess. On of the kids dumped a huge freezer bag of old crayons. Some got stuck under a door. So, my little girl decided to open the door so she could grab them. She had great would have been a great idea had the door not been so close to the floor. Instead of opening, it caught on several crayons and scrapped the floor with colored wax. Since a rainbow of color was already visible she decided she'd add her own art soon after. It took a very long time to clean everything up.

So, while I was able to get everything for the couch cut out and ready to sew and staple, I decided to stop for a bit and slow down hoping the mini-disasters would slow down too. Predictably, it is funny to look back on it now that it's all over. It's amazing how such small messes can be so overwhelming at times.

This week was much more productive. Everything is sewn (except one cushion and another cushion I want to re-do). I have a good portion stapled onto the frame of the couch and it's looking amazing! I'll likely add a bit more soon...(said while crossing fingers and silently praying).

Sunday, February 9, 2014

What is Grace?

A couple of months ago I was asked to speak in sacrament meeting (the main Mormon Sunday worship meeting). Since we have a lay congregation--where nobody is paid for their church service, we all take turns giving talks to add to our meeting of worship. It's a great way to learn more and allows every member an opportunity to develop speaking skills, and more importantly helps us develop our knowledge and testimony of the gospel.

Anyhow, I'd never thought of posting a talk I'd given before, but since I'm sure many friends and strangers are curious about what Mormon theology and beliefs are, and since my topic was on one of the most fundamental beliefs we have (on the atonement of Christ and more specifically grace); I decided to share it with you. I do want to point out that I do not directly speak for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. A lot of my talk was taken from the most recent general conference (a meeting that all Mormons look forward to twice a year where we get to hear from our prophet and other leaders). I'll provide links to where I got the quotes so you can look into other scripture and talks if you'd like...

I was asked to discuss the atonement today and to specifically focus on how Christ's atonement allows us to overcome much more than just sin. I will be speaking about grace. I hope I can do so with the help of the Holy Ghost so we can all be edified and uplifted (Doctrine & Covenants 50:22).

I don't know about you, but back in my youth I spent many hours envisioning what my future life would look like. Some of these dreams included seeing myself as a powerful missionary confidently preaching the gospel. I also would dream of my future marriage along with the white picket fence, a blissful life, and of course an amazing husband. When I saw myself as a mother I pictured myself cuddling and playing with little ones.

Of course, I was aware that all of these dreams would come with challenges. I knew babies cried and being a mom was hard work. I knew my spouse and I would have differences, and that we may even have a disagreement, or argue from time to time. I would have told you I was up for the spills and messes that would need to be cleaned. And I also would have agreed that missionary work would be just that work, but I was up for it. Thankfully, I was right in thinking that I'd be up for all the work that came with being a missionary, wife, and mother, but now understand that one can never truly be ready for, or understand just how difficult all these roles are until you're in midst of it.

It wasn't until reality hit, and when I was in the thick of things that I'd realize life is so much harder than I'd anticipated in my perfect dream world. Why? Because you and I are all imperfect. We can't truly be our best at anything if we go at it alone. No, we all need the grace of God.

So what exactly is grace? In the Bible Dictionary it says, "Grace is a divine means of help or strength given through the bounteous mercy and love of Jesus Christ...individuals receive strength and assistance...that they otherwise would not be able to maintain if left to their own means." Why? Because it's a divine assistance. The dictionary goes on to say, "Grace is the enabling lay hold on eternal life and exaltation after they have expanded their best efforts."

The last part of the definition points out where we differ in our definition of grace from many other Christian denominations. Many other Christians believe that accepting Jesus Christ as your savior is all you really need to be saved. We believe that there is more required than just faith alone.
In order to obtain grace we must make and keep covenants (including those made at baptism and ultimately in the temple). We also understand since we are imperfect we need to continue to repent and try to do better, or that we need to endure to the end.

Brad Wilcox gave a great illustration of how grace works in the September issue of the Ensign this year, where he compared grace with piano lessons. Think about it, when a mother decides to allow her child to take piano lessons she pays for them knowing that her child won't be paying her back with money. Instead, the mother and her child usually come up with a different payment plan. The mom pays for the lessons and in return the child devotes part of his/her time to practicing the piano.

Parents often find piano lessons to be a good investment because they have the foresight to see future benefits. They understand that the lessons will not only help them to develop a new talent, but also understand learning to play the piano will allow their child to make a contribution to society later on. Such parents also see that the lessons will help their son or daughter develop as a person.

There seems to come a time when the child taking piano lessons realizes that learning the piano isn't as easy, or as fun as they'd imagined. They may begin to tire of all the practicing required to develop such a skill. This usually happens when they see how much work and effort is necessary in learning the piano. This is when it's challenging for the child to see all the benefits their parents can foresee.

Likewise, many of us struggle understanding why God has asked us to do something whether that be following certain commandments, being asked to fulfill and magnify a certain calling, or whatever else. We need to remember that we also don't have His foresight and knowledge. Sometimes we may feel we're asked to be a one-man-band that's required to balance a heavy load. We're here on earth in part to become like our Heavenly Father. That means we have a lot of "lessons" and "practicing" to do. We're asked to learn how to be good mothers and fathers while balancing work, school, our own personal development, Church callings and responsibilities, home/visiting teaching, and taking care of household duties etc. It's a heavy load! Yet, with grace we're promised divine strength and I can testify when we remember that we can't do it alone and when we turn to Christ we can receive that divine grace and strength.

We often forget that we're not perfect yet. We have the tendency to have what my husband and I like to call, "The Happily Ever After Syndrome." We forget that those white picket fence dreams often aren't realistic. And when reality crushes our dreams, or the life we'd envisioned for ourselves, it can be depressing and we can be very hard on ourselves.

However, if we think about the piano analogy, we'd all agree that the average parent is aware that their son or daughter won't be playing in Carnegie Hall within a year or two of starting lessons. Instead, they expect their new pianist will hit a lot of wrong notes. When their child's timing is off, his/her mother doesn't think their child isn't worthy to keep practicing and trying. No, instead she'll encourage her child to continue to keep trying.

Elder Ucthdorf pointed out that we also "need to avoid feeling so burdened with our failures and shortcomings that we begin to think we will never be able to succeed. No one likes to fail. We want to be champions without effort and discipline and without making mistakes." Success without effort, discipline, and mistakes along the way is impossible. While perfection should be our ultimate goal, we need to be content as we're moving in the right direction.

Heavenly Father doesn't mind our weaknesses as much as we may think. Elder Scott said, "When the Lord speaks of weaknesses it is always with mercy." We should rejoice as we master each new piano piece that had been difficult to play when we first began. There aren't just two options: 1. Perfection or: 2. Give up. Really our only option is to keep trying, keep practicing, and to continue to invite the Lord to help make up where we lack. As Elder Ucthdorf stated, "Destiny is not determined by how many times we stumble, but by the number of times we rise up, dust ourselves off, and move forward."

Playing those flat notes, or seeing our imperfections can be uncomfortable, but is necessary so we can be humble. In Jacob 4:7 we read that God shows us our weaknesses that we may know that it is by His grace that we have the power to do these things.

These imperfections and weaknesses aren't always just sins, or temptations we struggle with. For some it may include emotional weaknesses. I can personally attest like Elder Holland, that "We may feel like we are a broken vessel." Anxiety, clinical depression are a couple of examples of such weaknesses. People who suffer from such trials will find hope as "We...remember the vessel is in the hands of the Divine Potter."

There was a time when I felt like I was in my own deep dark abyss of depression when it was all that I could do to put one foot in front of the other. I felt ashamed and worthless, but because I still had a testimony of the gospel, I knew I should continue to read my scriptures and pray. It was all I could do to read a verse and say a route memorized prayer. At that time that was "my best effort." Looking back now I can see that those actions enabled me to keep pressing forward and while I felt broken, I can now see I wasn't alone. My life was in the Potter's hands.

It was a time in my life when I felt gutted, much like the Provo tabernacle was after the fire had devastated it's interior. Yet, as Sister Reeves mentioned, we know that had the fire not occurred, we might not have had the beautiful Provo temple today. The Lord had more in mind for that tabernacle. He foresaw it becoming a sacred and beautiful temple. Likewise, He had (and still has) more in mind for me and for you. That dark period of time was God's way of refining and sanctifying me.

Elder Funk described this process somewhat when he said, "Think of the good that comes from broken things: Soil is broken to plant wheat. Wheat is broken to make bread. Bread is broken to become the emblems of the sacrament. When one who is repentant partakes of the sacrament with a broken heart and a contrite spirit, he/she becomes whole."

So, whatever it is you're struggling with and whatever has you feeling inadequate keep placing your life in the Master's hands so He can refine you. I can testify that as broken as we may feel, as we turn to God and give Him all we can--even if all we have to give isn't much, we will in time see that He is refining us and making us whole. I testify that with God all things are possible and that "Nothing can keep us from the love of God which is Jesus our Lord." As Elder Nelson said, "There is only one way. True change—permanent change—can come only through the healing, cleansing, and enabling power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ." We only need to turn to Him and his grace shall enable and strengthen us.

Brothers and Sisters, I don't completely understand how the atonement works, but I can testify that I do know it's real. I know that because Christ suffered for us in Gethsemane He suffered every pain and trial we've had to bear. That is how He perfectly knows how to "succor us according to our infirmities" whatever those trials and infirmities may be. He knows because He too endured our individual sufferings. The atonement helps us overcome so much more than sin. It helps us to become whole. I say these things in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

DIY Reupholstering a European/Victorian Style Couch-Taking Notes as I Tear it Apart

So this is part two of Reupholstering a couch... I decided I was going to finally buy some fabric for the couch several months ago. Sometime around Thanksgiving I had the swatches and had finally decided on which fabric I wanted. I knew I could either go for it and finally be happy with the color and look of the couch, or be content with wishing it looked a little different. I used the yardage chart from Restoration Fabrics to figure out how much fabric I'd need. Then, I dove right in and bought the fabric (ambrosia mist) from Warehouse Fabrics Inc.

The fabric was already priced under $10 per yard. And that's a great price for home decorating fabrics, but I was pleasantly surprised when I learned they also had a military discount which furthered my savings allowing me to buy a couple extra yards for a little more wiggle room. I just had to e-mail them before I made my purchase and they added the discount to my account. After all the other fees it only cost around $85 for 18 yards! That's a good deal for reupholstering a couch. And since the couch is relatively new I likely won't have to replace any cushions or other odds and ends. 

So the fabric arrived sometime in December and then it sat. I was pretty good at finding reasons to not start on my project. Let's face it, once you start pulling fabric off a couch there is no going back. Luckily, a friend asked about it and offered to help along with several other people. Had Audrey, Doorly, and Lois not shown up I may have just let that fabric sit in my basement as I found more excuses to not get around to using it. Thanks for helping me rip apart my couch ladies!

Seriously, it took forever! There more staples on top of staples and then some! There were 4 and a half of us (my husband came and helped a bit as well later on) and we weren't even done digging those staples out after three or so hours! 

In case you're curious about the process, here's what I've done so far...After taking tons of pictures before so I could have a reference to look at. I also took plenty more during the demolition couch phase. Here's the pictures I took and my notes as I tear the couch apart... Of course, every couch will be different, but you can get a general idea. We'll see if I needed to take more photos or not after I finish...

There our couch is. There's no going back...she's completely vulnerable and uncovered. We'll see if I can do this!

Okay, so....we started at the bottom of the couch. We just undid the top row of staples:

Underneath the black fabric was floral fabric (from the bottom of the front) stapled on the wood: 

The paneling had fabric folded under and stapled (trim was glued over that to cover staples):

Hmmm. I think this was along the side? Ladies? Good thing I wasn't the only one there...Wish I'd have taken notes about what part of the couch this was... I'm thinking it's the side?

Under batting was white felt stapled on side:

The bottom side had fabric with piping rolled and sewn on top (not in bias tape) and was stapled on top of side piece:

trim was directly over bottom...

Here's side again...

Inside the arm of the sofa looking in from the side. There was a layer of fabric, gray, and white... These pictures show that the white was in the middle with the fabric which they put together on the wrong side about 1/2 an inch and then flipped over after they stapled it on the grey. There are several pictures of this because it was pretty hard to see what went where...

The curve along the side arm

Side arm

Piping along side arm

Top piece on arm tucked under and stapled first, before side paneling goes on:

Bottom of the couch had a lot of slack on the side

Where the seating fabric was. Under the fabric was batting

Top of the couch between side and seat back:

 There's a lot of slack of fabric:

The fabric along seating area is connected to side fabric and was then all flipped over. It was stiched on the top:

This is what it loos like flipped over:

Another look into the side of the couch:

and another:

The batting goes over foam on the front:

The backside...You can see where the additional fabric sticks out which was attached the the fabric on the front. It was tucked under...

Like so...

Here's a look in between the arm...

Not quite sure about this one...Notes people...Take notes!

If you made it this far I'm truly impressed. After the couch was uncovered, I had to take a moment to keep myself from hyperventilating. There really was NO going back. It was all off. Next step, ripping seams to use old pieces of fabric as a pattern. Cutting the fabric is almost just as intimidating. Here's hoping they make sense as I put everything back together again...

DIY About to Reupholster a European Style Couch...

Before we made our last move we found this beautiful couch on KSL classified ads (it's a glorified Craigslist). When you look for used furniture, you usually should look for something study. You can tell it is by picking it up and lifting it up higher and one end and then doing the same on the other side. If it isn't wobbly and feels solid, it's a great piece.  This couch really doesn't fit that. It's not an antique and isn't made to last like couches used to be. However, it's a "new" old couch. It was not really used much at all. We also were looking for a piece to go in our parlor/living room where we invite guests (and where the kids don't go). So, after we saw the price we dived in and bought it along with two other Victorian style chairs. Our first real purchase of furniture.

We love this couch. We just aren't too crazy about the fabric. It's not ugly. It is just a little too floral for my taste and I wanted something lighter so....

Here I go I'm about to rip apart this beautiful couch to make it even more gorgeous...I hope. Since the first step in reupholstering is to take a lot of pictures (so you can see how it's put together) if you're curious about the process here's the before pictures...I have yet to find out if I took enough...Be forewarned, I started getting sloppy with my camera. I soon switched from manual to auto to get done quicker. Honestly, I wasn't planning on posting any of these, but I needed to have a lot of space on my camera so I could take some pictures of a couple of adorable newborns. I figured why not back up the photos on my blog and use it as a reference in case my computer completely crashes. If these help you as well, great! If they won't go ahead and stop reading now. I won't be offended.

Above: Here she is in her floral glory. You can see a swatch of the fabric I chose in it.

I'm in love with the wood by the way...Anyhow, here's a view of the arm and front of the couch.

 Here's the side of the couch. Notice the piping and trim...

Still trying to capture every detail so I'll know how to piece it all back together again. 

And the backside...there isn't any trim along the bottom except on the legs... 

Right here:

We'll see if these pictures come in handy:

Here's how the fabric was tucked in along the curves in the back along the top:

See how piping all lines up on bottom and the seat back...

Without the cushions:

Some of the trim faces up along the top on the front:

Fabric tucked in on the top

And a couple more shots...

Backside of cushion

Notice the side cushions pop out on one side...

Seam on back:

Fabric? Check. Pictures documenting what it should look like? Check. Guts to start ripping the couch apart? .... We'll see!