Yesterday I looked up bird calls in the morning, and in the evening the kids and I spent an hour “birding.” It was so much fun! I have it on our schedule to bird every Thursday. I can’t wait for next week.

Mary thought that a rolled up picture of her imaginary friend, Elizabeth, would make a good sightseeing tool.

Mary thought that a rolled up picture of her imaginary friend, Elizabeth, would make a good sightseeing tool.

Lydia brought her some alternative binoculars.

Lydia brought her some alternative binoculars.

Lydia loved looking through her opera glasses at all of the trees.

Lydia loved looking through her opera glasses at all of the trees.

Ammon happily chewed cud while we birded.

Ammon happily chewed cud while we birded.


Can you spot the bird? You can't see it, but this bird was bright yellow. I couldn't figure out if it was a yellow finch or not.

Can you spot the bird? You can’t see it, but this bird was bright yellow. I couldn’t figure out if it was a yellow finch or not.

Our neighbors let us peek in their yard. They have a whole family of quail living back there and a lot of other birds besides.

Our neighbors let us peek in their yard. They have a whole family of quail living back there and a lot of other birds besides.

I made a new friend

I went for a walk in the wee hours of the morning with a friend from the ward. Well, really she has been an acquaintance, but now I hope we are better friends. I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know her better, and it was nice to have my steps in before 7 am!

I took the girls to the park before Lydia’s harp lesson while Abe and Ammon dropped off Abe’s car for more repairs.

IMG_3294 IMG_3295I remember last summer we had an absurd number of for-no-reason ice cream outings. At least tonight we had FHE. We talked about Joseph Smith’s lecture on what faith is. Afterward, Mary stared at the Wasatch Mountains and said, “Move, mountain, move!” She was not deflated when it stayed put, declaring that one day she would be big and strong like Moses and that the mountain would move then. Our socks took a walk–they were so thoroughly charmed.

IMG_5907When we got home, Abe took some great photos of Lydia and Ammon cuddling. They have the sweetest relationship.

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Dinner at the Marchants’

Tonight we had dinner with our friends, the Marchants. Todd and Ashley invited us over and we had so much fun talking with them. I am a little afraid we talked their ears off, but I always get freaked out after any social interaction. Abe has to build me up from scratch after even the best evenings with friends. But we sure love them, and I hope they still love us after having to listen to us chatter for so long!

I also read the most amazing book today. Jessi came over on Friday morning and lent me Teaching from Rest: A Homeschooler’s Guide to Unshakeable Peace by Sarah Mackenzie. I am going to buy myself a copy and read it three times a year. It is THAT good. I learned many things, but one thing I am especially excited to apply this week is the use of aspirations. My favorite from her list of potentials is: “God, come to my aid. Lord, make haste to help me.” I will have plenty of chances to use this, I’m sure.

Lydia took some pictures of Ammon today. She was enchanted by the fact that he played with a food container. 🙂

Lydia took this.

Lydia took this.

And this.

And this.

I took this.

I took this.

She sonnet

When I was at the temple this morning, I had a poem come to me. Abe was so sweet and let me go to lunch after and write it out.

She Sonnet

She is the sonnet, dust of the divine
Infinity incarnate, bipedal spirit.
Her garden walled in weakness, flesh and fat,
She: The great molecular paradox.
Daughter, mother, wife, she-friend of the Friend,
Acting on the messy-hued backdrop
Of mixed intentions. Healing, hurt, wounded, whole,
Begotten Maker–her rest, sweet repose.
Sifter of messages, media, words;
Speaking, hunting, searching, skimming, hearing
Static noise and still spiritual thunder
Sorting seas of verbiage to find the Word.
The grinding search summed up in one sentence:
She–with the ears–hears God in her own mouth.

Learning circle

Yesterday was another great day. I can’t even believe how smoothly everything has gone–especially considering Abe has been out of town all week! We miss him and are so excited to see him today. I keep thinking Abe must be praying for us at home because normally I get scared alone in the house with the kids at night, but I haven’t had that problem at all this trip.

Last night I attended my mom group learning circle. My friend, Ashley, started a learning circle for moms two months ago, and this is the second time I’ve gone. Last night was wonderful. I learned so much and felt so inspired by the faith and love of the other moms.

Here are some of yesterday’s pictures:

Cute Ammon playing with his toys while I read in bed.

Cute Ammon playing with his toys while I read in bed.

While I was tidying the girls' room, Mary started singing "Do You Want to Build a Snowman?" to herself. I took a picture and a video.

While I was tidying the girls’ room, Mary started singing “Do You Want to Build a Snowman?” to herself. I took a picture and a video.


Behold the sweet heart of my Lydia:

IMG_3243 (1)She did the dishes for me without being asked. We had a lot of lovely bonding time today, and I am so, so grateful for that. Sometimes her sweet, pure heart is masked by the neurological constraints of childhood. I’m talking under-developed executive function, a hazy grasp of social norms, inappropriate vocal decibels, etc.. But these difficulties are exquisitely minimalized whenever I get a peek into Lydia’s soul. There is so much goodness, intelligence, affection, industriousness and compassion there. The clean dishes didn’t tell me all of that, but they reminded me that I am lucky to be this girl’s mama.

We also had a long mommy-daughter bonding session after the other two kids had gone to bed. Lydia had a nightmare that there were bugs in her ear. We solved that by cleaning her ears. It’s my favorite thing to do, and we got to talk and tell each other how much we loved each other.

Today was the best day in a string of pretty great days. I feel lucky. Blessed. Happy. These feelings make me suspect trials must be around the corner because life really isn’t supposed to be this good.

I am a sonnet

Today my friend Jessi sent me a great blog link. I read it and repeated to myself all day, “I am a sonnet, I am a sonnet, I am a sonnet.” It was a great reminder that there is something beautiful about knowing my limitations and acting within them. For example, today I was sick. We all had a pajama day and did almost nothing. But guess what? It was beautiful! The kids played a lot and enjoyed their lives, I enjoyed my life, and I did not feel guilty for all we did not get done because I felt so proud of everything that I did get done considering my physical constraints. I am a sonnet, not a free form poem.

Below are pictures of Ammon and Lydia enjoying their lives. Also, Ammon had his first big boy poop today. Someday he will appreciate that I noted this moment. 🙂

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And we almost lost Mary

We don’t have pictures because both of our phones died today. We spent most of the day gardening in the glorious weather. Abe made the most beautiful redwood boxes for our garden, and he also made some awesome barrel herb gardens. He was so excited that he stayed up until midnight working on everything and cleaning the house for Sunday. He is, in short, the best.

What was not the best was that we almost lost Mary today. It was the worst five minutes of my life. We went to Liberty Park in Salt Lake to have a picnic with the Maudsleys and the Deans, and while I was chatting away with Katie and Jen, Mary wandered halfway down the park. Tonight was a huge festival and so the park was packed. I ran around calling Mary’s name everywhere until Abe found her talking to some concerned adults.

When I told Mary that she couldn’t wander because strangers could take her, she responded brightly, “Those grown-ups weren’t strangers! They were helping me. Strangers hide behind houses. I was fine!” I hugged her a lot tonight. She is so precious.

Oh, wait! We DO have pictures. Lydia had her Let’s Play Music recital this morning, but since our phones are dead, I can’t upload the photos. She reminded me so much of myself in the recital. Because I am spacey, I didn’t put her in the official LPM t-shirt, and so she was the only child in stage out of costume. Oops. And then she absentmindedly drifted (during the recital) away from her spot. Her friend, Olivia, smilingly repositioned Lydia back into the right spot. The only way I ever survived school was making friends with responsible people who could remind me about events and deadlines. Watching Olivia reposition Lydia opened of flood of flashbacks.

I am so happy to have all of my children safe and sound and near tonight.


Today Abe took the day off of work so he could recover from the newest virus to make the Darais household rounds. Also, we readied the yard for a garden.

Lydia was so excited about the garden that she drew, colored and cut her dream garden plan. She took it to the garden center with us as a buying guide. :)

Lydia was so excited about the garden that she drew, colored and cut her dream garden plan. She took it to the garden center with us as a buying guide. 🙂

We ate dinner outside and watched Ammon enjoy the grass.

We ate dinner outside and watched Ammon enjoy the grass.

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Lydia was an incredible helper. We were so proud of the way she weeded and threw away debris with gusto.

Lydia was an incredible helper. We were so proud of the way she weeded and threw away debris with gusto.

A eulogy for my darling Grandma

Thoughts of Grandma are sure to bring to mind a warm flood of memories and sweet experiences. These memories form the basis for many of my own deepest aspirations and values, making it difficult to articulate what my grandmother meant to me. But I believe she is here in spirit today and because of that I hope to pay tribute to the depth of difference this remarkable woman made not only in my life but in the lives of all who had the privilege of knowing her.

To begin with, a brief outline of her life is in order. Clarissa Anna Milligan was born on June 2, 1918, in St. John’s Hospital in Springfield, Illinois to Clarence Wilbur Milligan and Katherine Becker. When she was a little girl just learning to speak, Grandma had difficulty saying her own name and found it easier to call herself “Tiss.” Thereafter her family and friends knew her as Tiss or Tissie.

Grandma attended Blessed Sacrament Elementary school as a girl. She recalled those primary years as ones filled with joyful physical activity. She took tap dance, toe dance and, her favorite, gymnastics. One of her keenest childhood memories consisted of swinging upside down on the hanging bars outside of Blessed Sacrament and being embarrassed when someone told her her underpants were showing.

As a child, Grandma also enjoyed beautiful clothes and good fabrics. Some of her strongest memories are of the clothes she wore on different occasions. For example, when she was six, a dressmaker made her a smocked dress out of pink crepe material that Grandma never forgot. She remembered the long blue gown her mother bought her for her first dance, and she also remembered the tapestry material used on another long dress gown. Grandma’s mother also loved beautiful clothes perhaps passed on that interest to Grandma.

In her senior year of high school, Grandma transferred to Springfield High School and enjoyed having classes with boys in them. Thus began her dating period. Grandma enjoyed dating lots of different boys. A classmate of hers once commented that Clarissa was the only girl she knew who had pictures of two men on her wall and who married them both.

After Grandma graduated from National College with a Bachelors in Education specializing in kindergarten education and art, she married Ralph Colby on July 20. By that point, Ralph Colby was a West Point graduate and a lieutenant in the army. Together the couple moved around from Springfield to Nebraska to Alabama and to Georgia and then to Florida. During this period, they had two daughters, Katherine Ann Colby and Dell Siscine Colby.

In August of 1943 Grandma received the devastating news that Ralph had been killed in action as a Darby’s Ranger over Palermo, Italy. Later in a small ceremony, Grandma was presented with a silver star honoring Ralph’s heroism.

Soon thereafter, George William Cullen sent Grandma a letter of condolence. They began to correspond, and George proposed over letter. Grandma wrote back her acceptance, and they were married on July 20, 1944. In the next five years Grandma gave birth to three more children: Georgia Anne Cullen, Mary Cullen (who died the same day she was born), and Stephen Cullen. After Steve was born in December, he was placed under the Christmas tree along with all of the other gifts that year.

Grandma’s child raising years were busy ones. Aside from school, swimming lessons, and dance lessons, there were cub scouts and girl scouts. Grandma gained some notoriety when she kicked her own daughter, Dee, out of girl scouts. Grandma also made all of her children’s clothes and cooked delicious, often gourmet meals. She also was a member of the Junior League of America, Supper Club, the Stitch and Bitch Club, the president of the Ceramics and Craft Club and assisted in the publication of the Junior League Cook Book­­the one we all like with Abraham Lincoln on the cover. She was also active in Community Chest, Red Cross and was the Vice President of the Sangamon County Lawyers Wives. In the midst of all of this, she managed to also win prizes at the Illinois Sate Fair for her silver jewelry and a leather dress that she made.

When her children were grown up, Grandma still stayed busy, swimming regularly, baking bread, hosting grandchildren, meeting with friends, and volunteering regularly at St. John’s Breadline and Minnie O’Brien’s nursery.

Somehow Grandma managed to do all of this despite significant setbacks to her health. Between 1951 and her death in 2016, Grandma survived twenty surgical procedures. In the face of those trials, Grandma always stayed positive and upbeat. After the death of her second husband, Grandma lived as a widow for almost thirty years and constantly maintained her positivity and optimism.

My own personal memories of Grandma are so numerous and personal that it would be impossible for me to convey them all here. But even so I will try to share a couple recollections that are especially sweet to me. For a long time, experiencing Grandma also meant experiencing her house and the warm, regular routines that governed her existence there. The smell of yeasted bread always seemed to linger in the air of her home, and I always knew that a stay at Grandma’s house included toasted homemade bread and newspaper cartoons for breakfast. I remember staring at the glinting sunlight that filtered into the sleeping porch through the brawny branches of the trees outside, and I remember how cold the floor of the porch was when I finally ventured out of her clean, crispy sheets.

It was only at Grandma’s house that I could do puzzles, read, craft and watch cable television to my heart’s content. When I grew older, I would spend a week or two at her house each summer, and in memory, each of those stays felt like a long stretch of sunlight and leisure. It was Grandma who taught me how to embroider flowers with stem stitches and French knots. It was Grandma who taught me how to bake bread, pie crusts, and profiteroles. It was Grandma who introduced me to quilting stores as we searched for the perfect fabric for a quilt I wanted to make. Almost ten years after my interest in that quilt waned, Grandma presented me with the glorious, finished quilt as a present when I graduated from school. I think of her every time I look at it.

I remember that on one stay I determined to finally get Grandma’s story out of her, and she would indulge my questions as we took long walks around the neighborhood. I remember her answering my questions, but it always seemed like no matter how determined I felt to hear her story, the walks would always end with her listening to mine. She was a perfect listener.

I could go on and on, but I will conclude with how I felt connected to Grandma in the final years of her life. After Grandma got sick two and half years ago, I took up blogging again, this time knowing that Grandma would read and care about stories that probably wouldn’t interest anyone else. Every time I posted pictures of my children, I knew Grandma would look at them and actually love them. One of my life’s dreams was to have the lives of my children and grandmother intersect, and I count myself blessed beyond measure to have had that dream come true.

In closing, I feel certain that Grandma would not have wanted any remembrance of her to take place without also honoring those who cared for her in the last years of her life. As her own ability to care for herself declined, the goodness and love she emanated for so many years returned to her in the form of attentive, dedicated service from all of her own children. In particular, I would like to mention the way, my mother, Georgia, has lived with and lovingly looked after my grandmother for the past two and a half years. Along with my mother’s near constant attention, Grandma also enjoyed especially close relationships with my cousin Suzi, who would stay nights with her in the hospital and looked after her every Sunday while my mom was at church. Barbara was also an invaluable, constant source of help and love.

I also know that every time Dee and Bill or Steve and Pam visited, my mom called me with noticeably uplifted spirits. Their love, support, wisdom, and help have sustained not only Grandma in the last chapter of her life, but have provided needed support to my mother as she fulfilled her role as a caretaker. Finally, the lifelong friendship Grandma enjoyed with Lois and Eleanor continued to enliven and delight my Grandmother to the very end.

We need look no further than the abundance of goodness evident in Kay, Dee, Georgia and Steve to glimpse the meaning of Grandma’s beautiful life. She has passed on to her children, grandchildren, great­ grandchildren, and future posterity a legacy of love, service, health, kindness, friendship, and beauty. The incalculable effects of her well­ lived life will certainly be felt for generations to come.

I will hold her memory forever in love, as I know she will be held in love by everyone who had the great privilege of knowing this extraordinary woman. That we may collectively remember in joy often with each other and to our children is my great hope.

I love you, Grandma.