I'm 50.

I’ve been thinking about my life for a while now. This is because I’ve now been alive for half a century. 
50 years. 
I know.
Crazy, right?

It’s funny because I wrote a blog post titled “I'm almost FIFTY” when I turned forty-five. I recently re-read this post and it made me think about what’s changed and what’s stayed the same and how I feel about all of it. I have to say that scrapbooking or blogging or journaling or whatever you do to keep track is brilliant, because these everyday details matter and in reality all kinds of things change, all the time, but if you don't write stuff down, you're simply NOT going to remember and then you're not going to know how far you've come. 


Anyway, I’m learning (still) that just because life transitions are right and good doesn’t mean they will be easy or pain free. The last five years has been one of these good, but difficult transitions. As my 45th year approached, things began to unravel. I was extremely tired. I was unwell, but I didn’t really understand what was wrong or why. I struggled most days to feel optimistic or energetic—two traits that I strongly associated with my value as a person—but self talk was negative much of the time, in spite of my best efforts with proven strategies. A few of my dear friends took me to A&W for a root beer float on my birthday and I remember telling them, “Something is wrong. Maybe I’m depressed? If I am, I just want to know, so that I can figure out what to do about it!” I finally made an appointment with my internist, and she listened as I tried to express what I was experiencing and as I ultimately fell apart and bawled like a baby in her office (mortifying!) She did her routine check up and ordered some blood tests and then assured me I was the picture of health. She also said something like, “You work full-time, you have five children and you are approaching midlife. Perhaps your expectations are unrealistic.” She had scanned me for disease and determined that I was disease free and that was that. When I pushed back, she ordered a hormone panel and referred me to a pharmacist who would discuss the outcome with me and possibly work with her to prescribe bio-identical hormones. She is no longer my doctor, but this was the beginning of a significant journey to a very different way of eating and living. 

The good news is, I feel better at 50 than I did at 45. 

So, in the spirit of birthday lists, I thought it would be fun (mostly for me) to celebrate the milestone of 50 with an updated accounting of things I know, believe, wonder about and do. I've noted which items are updates from 2010 by bolding the original statement, and adding an update in italics. 


My 50th birthday List

1. I believe the ideal temperature is 70 degrees Fahrenheit. This is where the air around you cannot be detected to be warm or cool. It's just air and it's perfect!

2. I hate it when I can’t fall asleep as quickly as I would like to—super frustrating!

3. I adore clouds. And my birthday sky was filled with the MOST beautiful clouds ever—it was like a painting almost.

4. I really love the kale chips from Pacific Superfood Snacks. My favorite flavor is Olive Oil & Sea Salt. I can buy these at Costco, but I've also ordered directly from PSS. They are a bit pricey, but hey, what's better than binging on Kale?!

5. Speaking of food, I now eat a modified Paleo diet. This means lots of fresh, real food, like meat, veggies, good fats and limited fruit. I eat sugar on occasion. I love popcorn and (dark) chocolate. 

6. I love the smell of freshly cut grass, and the smell of sprinklers on a hot day. I'm delighted that summer is headed our way.

7. [2010] I want to buy flowers, transfer them to my colorful pots and “summerize” my front porch on Saturday. This is still true, in fact. I want to do this TODAY or tomorrow. 

8. [2010] I have a favorite water bottle that I fill up every morning and drink from. I would be very sad if I had to use another water bottle. I have lost and replaced this water bottle at least a dozen times, and I drink WAY MORE water than I did five years ago. 

9. When it comes to media and entertainment (songs, TV, movies, podcasts, blogs, etc.) I like uplifting. In fact, if it’s not, I pretty much turn it off. 

10. [2010] Toasted cheese sandwiches and tomato soup makes me happy. I don't eat bread (gluten) anymore and most soups have gluten in them. So, no more toasted cheese sandwiches and tomato soup. It took awhile, but I'm ok with this now. 

11. [2010] I have degenerative arthritis in my big toe. I found out yesterday. I am sad. Still true. My toe is the number one reason I stopped jogging—too painful. 

12. I really miss jogging, but I walk and do aerobics with weights (The Firm.) And I did buy new running shoes that are supposed to help my toe NOT hurt so much. 

13.  I ‘d like to be thinner—as in get rid of the extra layer of fat around my midsection, but at the same time, I can honestly say that healthy is now more important than thin (this is huge!)

14. I’m doing my best to become proficient with the new Photos software for Mac, so that I can prepare myself to teach Finding Photo Freedom again. 

15. Sometimes I can’t believe all of the cool experiences I’ve been blessed to enjoy, because of scrapbooking—especially the travel that has allowed me to meet so many people across the world. 

16. I’ve learned that wherever you go—even online, it’s remarkable how similar we are. 

17. [2010] I need to eat more vegetables. I eat a TON of vegetables. In fact, I often eat veggies for breakfast, with fish! I make whipped "fauxtatoes" with cauliflower and try to always have baked sweet potatoes and/or roasted carrots, Brussel sprouts or zucchini in my fridge. 

18. I still LOVE to create a traditional scrapbook page. I pull out a blank sheet of cardstock, a few photos I love and then I play. Seriously makes me happy and (honestly) this surprises me a little. 

19. I take lots of photos, primarily using my iPhone 6, and …

20. I use this app, and this app and this app to help me tell stories. It all counts!

21. [2010] I want to learn how to bake really yummy, homemade bread. I’ve always thought that by now (age 45) I would know how to bake bread. Since I no longer eat bread, I no longer want to learn how to make it, ha! What's surprising to me is that I don't even miss it. I feel so much better on a gluten-free diet that it's 100% worth giving it up!

22. I’m in the process of purging my basement studio.

23. I want a fresh coat of paint in a new color and a feeling of more open space.

24. I bought this picture of Bessie the cow to hang in my refreshed creative space.

25. [2010] With the exception of expensive Chanel foundation and lipstick from Laura Mercier I buy my makeup at Walgreens. I now use this as a foundation (love it!) I still use Laura Mercier lipstick and blush, but everything else comes from Walgreens. 

26. [2010] I believe what matters most is what lasts the longest. Foremost in my mind, faith in God, an eternal family and the freedom that comes from making wise choices and being prepared. Still absolutely true!

27. I want to tell more connection stories.

28. I especially want to tell stories that connect my children to my grandparents and great-grandparents. This family-history aspect of scrapbooking is what I'm most excited about right now! 

29. I have dozens of unfinished scrapbook albums that I am sorting through and deciding what to do with. 

30. I'm so grateful I have started School of Life albums for all of my boys. By the way, School of Life albums are something I invented a LONG time ago. I wrote about them in my book, The Big Picture. 

31.  I want to design a Project Life version of my School of Life album and make it for Addie. 

32. I’m still afraid of big trucks (think dump trucks, cement trucks and semis.) Even as a grown woman they freak me out and I hate passing them on the freeway. 

33. I love trees and I love waking up to the trees outside my bedroom window!

34. I really love flowers.

35. I wish I would spend more time outside. 

36. Maybe I will this summer. In fact, this will be the first summer in 15 years that I won't have to work. I want to hike, bike and explore with my kids. 

37. I totally dig technology. I can’t keep up with it, but it excites me and I love following it’s evolution. Hello Amazon Dash!

38. I love reading the scriptures. I read nearly every morning. I especially love reading The Book of Mormon. You can read it with this app

39. I try really hard to live the teachings of Jesus Christ.

40. My church has blessed my life beyond measure, especially as a parent. 

41. I love being a mom of teenagers. really!

42. I can barely remember what it was like to be a mom of babies and little children. It's ok though, I have photos!

43. I cannot wait for my missionary son, Chase to get home on July 27th!

44. My whole family will be together again at the end of this summer. We will take a new family photo. Just thinking of this makes me giddy. 

45. [2010] I really like milk. I always have. I like the idea of milk and think of it as the ultimate comfort food. When I travel I buy steamed milk from Starbucks. I also think chocolate milk is surprisingly satisfying. I still like the idea of milk, but I don't drink it much anymore. I do make chocolate pudding with ripe avocados, and it is definitely falls into the comfort food category!

46. I’m listening to this book about Abraham Lincoln in my car. 

47. I’m reading this book, and this book. 

48. I’m in charge of the Hall family reunion this summer. I have lots to do to prepare. 

49. This is my favorite Netflix series so far. 

50. I try to be aware of my innumerable blessings and I am very grateful for these fifty years that have taught me so much and allowed me to experience the joy, heartache, happiness and excitement of being alive. 

She Put the Music in Me (2 Mom Stories)

I'm posting from Provo, Utah, where I am attending an annual Women's Conference at BYU. I attended years ago (1999?) with my Mom, sisters and sisters-in-law and have such happy memories, but I've never made it back again, until now. My dear friend, Allison Barnes texted me about six weeks ago and asked if I wanted to meet her here. I hesitated for a moment or two, then checked the dates and realized that I could purchase a one-way ticket down and then drive back to Spokane with Clark. So, stay in the BYU dorms, reconnect with my wonderful friend and then enjoy 11 hours of alone time with my boy? Count me in!

Last night we were treated to an evening of entertainment, where we listened to several singers and musical groups. It was outstanding. I was introduced to Calee Reed and her song, She Put the Music in Me. Calee lost her mother to cancer when she was in her early twenties and this video is a tribute to her. It along with the lyrics tell her story and with actual video and images from their life together. Watch it. It will stir strong emotion for anyone who loves photos and story. 

I wrote a story for my Mom in my last post and mentioned there and on social media that I am helping StoryWorth.com promote a cool Mother's Day contest. This week I have the privilege of reading several mom stories and selecting my favorite, as a weekly winner in this "Queen for a Day" contest. All of the stories were fascinating and touching, and it was HARD to choose one over the others, but when we returned to our dorm room last night I read (again) each story, I experienced one of those moments of synchronicity. One of the stories, like the video above is about a mom who loved music and instilled that love in her daughter. As you read it, think about the things that trigger memories of your mom and then WRITE THEM DOWN! There is great power in our memories, we need to share them.

My mother inspired me with her music since I can remember. As a matter of fact, her mother was her own inspiration, and she got the musical ball rolling for my mother when she was a young girl. Growing up in the Depression era wasn't easy, but my grandmother went without anything but the bare necessities to scrape together enough money to pay for her daughter to take piano lessons through her teenage years. My mother would announce after each evening meal (and before the dishes were to be washed) that she was going to do her practicing. She knew full well that her mother would be pleased and would enjoy listening to her from the kitchen while she did dish duty in place of my practicing mother.

When I reached the first grade, it was my mother's turn to nurture the musical side of me. She would have me sit beside her on the piano bench as she lovingly played and sang "Sweet Little Buttercup.” My first exposure to music was accompanied by warmth, love and sharing. I would also hear her singing as she worked around the house. If, during a conversation with family or friend, the topic reminded her of a song, my mother would begin singing it, and everyone would listen and wait until she stopped before finishing the conversation.

I was very moved when I noticed the same thing happening when she was playing bridge in the assisted living home during her final year of life. The circumstances were tough, and in spite of not being able to play her game as skillfully as she once had, and in spite of her health issues, she would often break out in song during the middle of the game when the conversation inspired her. The other players would quietly sit and listen, and then resume playing when she finished her song. If you spent much time around my mother, you would get used to her singing interludes, as if that were what everyone did as a part of daily routines.

After she took a fall and was in the hospital for hip surgery, and was being wheeled to the operating room, the doctor complimented her on her beautiful blue eyes. Upon hearing that, her foot began tapping under the sheet, and she sang "Five Foot Two, Eyes of Blue" as they wheeled her in for surgery.

That was that last time anyone ever heard her. She passed away a couple of hours later while in the recovery room and those beautiful blue eyes would be closed forever.

I miss you Mom. Thanks for all those songs!

Story written by: Susan Bright Nguyen


If you write a story for your mother, or simply share some memories of her, I hope you'll let me know. Send me a link to a blog or Facebook post or just email me. I want to champion this effort to pay tribute to mothers everywhere!

Memories of Mom, for StoryWorth.com

Storyworth.com is hosting a Queen for a Day contest and they asked me to help them celebrate Moms and stories. You can get all the details at the end of my post, but all you have to do is share a story about your mom. Here's mine ...

My whole life, whenever I ask my mom how she has managed to learn or do something, she says, “Oh I don't know. You just think you can do it, so you do it.” I’ve never seen Connie Hall shy away from a project or challenge of any kind. She has a quiet confidence and sense of self-trust that seems to subconsciously drive her interests and creative pursuits. She doesn’t talk about plans or necessary preparation. She just dives in. She isn’t limited by a lack of resources, or discouraged by mistakes. In fact, if something goes wrong, it seems to ignite more passion in her and she works with even more determination. She knows instinctively that things will work out and work out in a beautiful way. 

Since girlhood Mom has had an artistic flair with a sure grasp of what belongs and what doesn’t belong, at least visually. She spent hours with a dollhouse that her father built for her. She painted and decorated and built and arranged furniture and then she did it over and over again.  She attended high school in the 1950s and her favorite subject was home economics, where she especially took to sewing. She often designed her own clothes and even sewed dresses for formal dances. For Christmas one year, her mother bought her a longed-for Jantzen sweater with cut outs in the collar. She also began making Connie a surprise circular skirt from white felt to go with this sweater. One day, she left the skirt at the sewing machine to answer a phone call and while she was away, the light bulb in her machine burned a hole in the skirt. She did not have the time or the money to begin again, so she asked Connie to draw her a shape or flower of some kind that she could use for a “project” she was working on. My mother assumed this project was for her volunteer work at church, and she drew her a clover shape. Grandma cut dozens of these clover shapes from her scraps of felt and then set rhinestones in the center of each. She used one to cover up the hole and attached several others to the body of the skirt. She then scalloped the edge of the skirt and sewed a clover into each scallop. When Mom opened her gifts on Christmas morning, she was delighted and amazed. Her skirt was the prettiest she had ever seen and so unique, featuring the shape she had designed herself! When she wore this outfit, people would always stop to compliment her. She and her mother kept the secret—that in covering up the mistake, they had created something far better than originally planned. As I have thought about my mom’s ability to boldly share her talents and design and create without hesitation, I believe this experience with her mother undoubtedly shaped her. It was one of those ordinary moments that over the years has become extraordinary in it’s influence. 

There's no photo of the skirt in my story, but this is my mother, her little sister and my grandmother around the same time. 

There's no photo of the skirt in my story, but this is my mother, her little sister and my grandmother around the same time. 

When I was just a little girl, my father built a small-animal veterinary clinic. He didn’t want to spend money on artwork for the walls of the cat and dog waiting areas, so he commissioned my mother to create something. In college, she had majored in dance (her favorite form of creative expression), but she also took an art class where she learned the basics of mosaic. Mom decided to create two murals, one of lions and the other of penguins. This was not a small undertaking. As I remember it, each glass mosaic was huge—probably in the neighborhood of 5 feet long by 3 feet tall—featuring thousands of pieces of glass. Each picture took up the full space above the chairs on either side of the check-in desk. At about this same time, we moved into a new, but older house—somewhat of a fixer upper. My mom immediately set out to freshen things up. Because my dad’s practice was so new, money was tight. There was no budget for home improvement, but that didn't stop my mom. I remember sitting in the parked car behind the carpet store, with my younger brother. We waited for what seemed to be forever as Mom dug through the large garbage bins for scraps. She again employed her mosaic skills, this time with shag carpeting and a bucket of tar, to create a colorful patchwork rug that covered the floor in our large living room. She fashioned a TV shelf from an old door, which she hung from the wall with a big, black chain purchased at the hardware store, and she made her own drapes, sewing in small weights, so that they would hang properly. Keep in mind that all this repurposing was done without the help of Pinterest or DIY shows! 

On another occasion, I remember my mother wanting a stained glass lamp for our newly remodeled kitchen, as they were all the rage in 1975. Rather than spend her money on one lamp, she used it to sign up for a stained glass course from a master artisan and she then worked diligently to become gifted herself. She set up a small corner in our often chilly garage and spent hours there, cutting and soldering with all kinds of colored and textured glass and yards of lead came. She first created lamps and windows for our home and then ultimately designed and sold dozens of windows to people in our community. I remember getting off the bus at a friend’s house, to play after school one day and realizing that my mother had made the window by her front door. I remember thinking, “My mom is really cool!” A few years later, Mom read a book about a system of color analysis for complementing skin tone and dressing for success. She agreed with most of the concepts she studied, but had additional ideas of her own that would help make these concepts more understandable and useful for women, so she signed up to teach classes at a local community college and subsequently started a business to do color draping and personal shopping for the clients she met in class. To this day, she has people who call her up, and beg and plead with her to take them shopping. 

Now might be a good time to mention that while she was pursuing these interests and developing these many talents, Mom was quite busy at home with five children, ranging in age from high school to pre-school. In addition to keeping up with all of our activities, she often volunteered to teach ballroom dance or sew costumes for school and community productions both large and small. Birthday cakes and Halloween costumes were always homemade and she spent hours in the summer, canning and preserving the harvest of Dad’s big garden. She was mastering the balance of motherhood and personal fulfillment long before it was a topic in the media, and she was happiest when she was doing both. After I left for college and once all my siblings were in secondary schools, Mom decided she wanted to go back to school, so she began working on a degree in interior design. She eventually graduated and again went to work helping people, this time to beautify and personalize their homes. Her special niche was working within a limited budget. She helped clients honor the sage advice to, “Use it Up, Wear it Out, Make Do, or Do Without” in that she encouraged them to see through needless extravagance, make do with items they already had and loved and save for quality purchases that would make the biggest impact in the outcome of their combined efforts. She did not need to affiliate her services with a store or product of any kind, because happy clients kept the referrals coming. 

As empty nesters, my parents were able to finally build their dream home on a quiet little lake northeast of Seattle, Washington. Dad set the budget and Mom worked within it to compose her crowning work, which perfectly melds her love of color and design, with my Dad’s love of nature and animals. In this home Mom has been able to furnish and decorate to her heart’s content, and you’ll be glad to know that there is a wood floor for dancing and really nice carpeting that she did not have to lay herself! The walls showcase several pieces of meaningful art mixed with a lifetime of photographs that celebrate an ever growing family which now includes twenty two grandchildren. I know if someone were to ask her today how she has nurtured such a large, happy family and managed to pursue her interests, enjoying so many rich experiences, she would say, “You just think you can do it, so you do it!” 

Note: I'm still tinkering with my story, and I'm looking for a few additional photos, but I'm anxious to publish this post so that I can officially invite you to join with me in a fun campaign for Mother's Day. StoryWorth.com is hosting a Queen for a Day contest.

What are some stories from your mother’s life that inspire you?

Storyworth wants to hear about extraordinary moments, acts of everyday bravery, and the stories about your mom that you’ll just never forget. This is your chance to celebrate the woman that made you who you are - and if that woman happened to be your mother, grandmother, aunt, or someone else, we welcome you to honor them by telling their stories too! The winning entry will receive a $150 spa certificate. But, as of last week, they’re also going to post one of their favorite stories each week on their blog, and award that storyteller a $50 certificate to the restaurant or business of their choice. Send your stories and photos to our Community Lead, Hope, at hope@storyworth.com. She’ll work with you to edit your story before it is shared publicly.

Once I get my story finished I'll be uploading it to my page at StoryWorth and attaching it to my family tree at familysearch.org. It's interesting, because just now, as I'm writing this paragraph, I received a phone call from my Dad. My mom is in the emergency room, because she was experiencing symptoms that suggest she may have had a small stroke. Everything will be ok, but this is a reminder to me that my beloved mother is not going to be available to me forever. The very BEST gift we can give our moms for Mother's Day is to set aside some time to write or help her write some of her story. You can use a solution like StoryWorth, or not, but in the end, it is these stories that we will treasure and it is these stories that we will be able to pass down to the next generation.

Do it, this year!

I'm excited to invite you to give StoryWorth.com a try. Because I'm a HUGE fan, they've given me a special 20% off code to share with my friends. All you have to do is click HERE to learn more and subscribe.