Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Dear Grandma


Yesterday I was looking for something in my e-mail and a quick search pulled up a list of e-mails. I found one with the subject line "To Grandma," and I was intrigued.
I didn't remember writing it.

Grandma suffered a massive stroke on June 1, 2012, her 89th birthday.
The stroke left her paralyzed, unable to eat or drink.
The doctors said she would only last a few days,
but they didn't know Grandma's spirit of strength and resilience, of pushing through challenges no matter what, of never letting pain stop her from accomplishing what she needed to.
I suppose that is why she lasted 12 DAYS without food or water before she was finally gone.

While her stroke was on her 89th birthday,
she passed away on June 13, 2012, my 23rd birthday.
I felt so happy to have yet another connection with her. Every time my birthday rolls around, I remember my grandma, too.

Once, when I was about 16, it was April Fools' Day. I dipped some cotton balls in chocolate and sprinkled the tops with sugar, ready to prank my family. I don't know what possessed me to do it--why would I trick the most guileless woman on the planet??--but I decided to take a "chocolate" to my grandma.
Grandma loved chocolate, and she was so delighted when I held the plate out to her.
I held back my laughter as she took a chocolate and bit into it, then almost immediately spit it out.
And then she started laughing...and laughing...and laughing!
She was far happier about the prank than she was about the chocolate in the first place!
When my parents came home she came out of her room to ask them if they had seen my funny joke.
"I thought that was the cutest thing!" she exclaimed.
Being good-natured was second-nature to her.

The hospice nurse who came to the house each day told my mom that he wanted to pass away in the environment my grandma had. She was surrounded by family, beautiful music was playing, sunlight streamed through the window, and those who sat at her bedside read her letters and stories from her loved ones.
When I was in High School, my mom and I were cleaning a closet at my grandma's house in preparation for her to come live with us, and we came across a box filled with letters my grandpa had written her during his service in World War 2. I immediately claimed them, wanting to surprise her with a book of the letters, which had been buried in the closet for many years.
My cousin read Grandma the letters at her bedside, along with countless memories my cousins and I posted to a Facebook group where we could share pictures and memories of Grandma during that time.

Evidently my mom also recruited us to write her a letter during her last days on Earth, and I wanted to share my letter here as a way to preserve it.


Grandma's ways were simple.
She never saw the need for philosophical, intellectual debate,
preferring instead to change the world through a listening ear, a homemade chocolate cake, or a genuine compliment.
Hers was a life of doing good no matter the cost
and finding joy in the small things.

I miss you, Grandma.

June 4, 2012
Dear Grandma,

I have been reflecting on the wonderful life you have lived and the many, many legacies you have left your children, grandchildren, and even great-grandchildren. Your influence has been felt in so many ways and will continue to be felt as time goes on.

I think about the legacy of quilting and sewing you have left. I just finished making Sam a quilt for his birthday and kept thinking about how I made my very first blanket at your house. We picked out the fabric together, put it on the frames, tied it, and you finished the edges. That soft blanket with the cute little bears all over it comforted me for years--and taught me a lot about tying quilts. I think of the beautiful red, white, and blue quilt you gave us for our wedding. The incredibly hard work that goes into each quilt carries with it evidence of your love.

I think about the legacy of cooking. So many memories I have of your house revolve around the kitchen. There was always a delicious treat waiting for your eager grandchildren. I cherish the recipes that have been handed down through the years because of the heritage they represent and the delicious foods they produce! I just made Sam's birthday cake using your famous chocolate sheet cake recipe. No matter how uncomfortable life got for you, you were always serving and helping in the kitchen. After you moved in with my family, you made the meat each Sunday. You contributed your special grape salad to family gatherings. Your love of cooking has been handed down to me along with your recipes.

I think about the legacy of canning. I just finished canning 52 quarts of peaches, and I thought of you with almost every peach I sliced.

I think about the legacy of simple pleasures. There was the people feeder on the microwave full of M&Ms, the toy drawer in the bathroom, the tire swing hanging from the best climbing tree in the world, good ol' Harry Barker who would greet us for so many years, the pop-bottle hurricane toy, the balancing fisherman, the playhouse out back, a whole farm of neat things to explore, and countless other simple things that delighted us as we visited. One of my very most favorite things was the candy bar game we played at the family birthday party. These things helped teach me that life doesn't have to be extravagant to be fun.

I think about the legacy of loving to play games. When I was young and had a holiday from school, that was often the way my mom helped make the day fun for us--we would sit down and play a whole bunch of games. Sam and I have many games already, and playing games is one of our favorite things to do together. You were always there to play dominoes, rummikub, and more.

I think about the legacy of loving to read. So much of my reading material in high school came from you, because you were always reading a good book!

I think about the legacy of "making do." We don't have much money as we live the student life, but your example has helped us to make do with what we do have. From patching jeans to saving pennies, you somehow created a wonderfully happy life even when money was tight. I remember when I was graduating from high school and you gave me a bank shaped like a little boy you had had sitting on your bookshelf for many years. You had dropped spare change in that bank over the years, and you gave it all to me. Those pennies, nickels, dimes, and quarters added up to a substantial amount of money!

I think about the legacy of cultivating a strong marriage. Uncle Gary's song sums it up perfectly: "We come from a long line of love. When times get hard, we don't give up." You were always loyal to Grandpa, even when times were tough, and I truly admire your example. When I interviewed you for a paper I was writing in college, you said, "Make your husband the most important person in your life...You grow more together when you're doing things together." The challenges you and Grandpa faced were overcome with your determination to keep your marriage strong. One of the most meaningful things I got to do was type up Grandpa's letters to you from the war and learn from your example. I am so grateful for the way your example has helped me build a strong marriage.

I think about the legacy of selflessness. Selflessness is one of your most prominent qualities, Grandma. I remember the story of when you were run over by the potato combine, I believe, and even though you were injured horribly you were in the kitchen making sandwiches. No matter how much pain you were in, how hard it was to breathe, or how bad your arthritis got, you were always helping my family. You would weed in the garden or help clean the house or come into the kitchen when you heard the clang of pots and pans asking, "How can I help?" You told me the most difficult thing about growing old is that you have to become dependent on others--you never wanted to inconvenience anyone and were always more comfortable on the serving end of things.

And then I think of the legacies that matter most of all--legacies of kindness, of service, of staying true to the Gospel, of keeping high standards. Legacies of temple work, missionary service, and always accepting Church callings. Legacies of sacrifice, of family love, of true charity. You have been such a Christ-like example to me, Grandma. I could write for a long, long time about the legacies you are leaving behind. These are just a few of the many that come to my mind. I will always cherish the memories I have of you and your life. I am blessed every single day because of the sacrifices you have made. I am so grateful for the influence you have had in my life.

I love you, Grandma!

Love,
Kaitlyn

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Odds and Ends

A few more random bits of life around here that I want to remember:

Lincoln completely took off with his reading a few months ago. He is now zooming through chapter books. He has been very bored this year and wishing for school lots (while my school kids are ironically begging for homeschool) but hopefully he is not too bored when he gets there too! It can be hard to keep this energetic boy busy. One of the best parts of teaching my kids to read happens when they start reading books to their younger siblings. All the heart eyes right here!

My sister made these fun flannel construction vehicles with building blocks years ago. They are still going strong! We pulled them out a while back and Maxwell and Lincoln were enamored with them.

I find that one of the best ways I connect with my kids is by going on outings with them. I struggle to keep everyone happily engaged in the same activity when we are at home. The baby tries to rip books apart when I read (and the kids are interested in different kinds/levels of books), cooking together gets tricky when you have 10 hands trying to participate, art projects can sometimes be fun but I have to be ready for a big mess, and game boards are quickly destroyed by two adorable little people we all love.
I remember my mom saying, before I even had kids, that when she left the house she was better able to focus on her kids because she left all the chores behind. I find that to be the case for me as well.
So we resort to outings.
But I've struggled to find many fun things to do here through the cold winter months. Our default zoo visits and bike rides become more challenging when it's frigidly cold outside and there aren't a lot of great options that I've found for indoor activities with the kids here.
Suggestions, anyone?
I try to plan one "field trip" each week. On this day we went to the International Farmer's Market and I let Lincoln pick out some fruit he had never tasted before. He chose star fruit and lychees and he and Talmage were big fans of both!

Maxwell still has an amazing cheesy face.

There is a HUGE Baptist church not far from where we live. Like, Wikipedia says the membership is approximately 30,000. Earlier this year they opened their indoor playground and it is amazing! The pictures really don't do it justice, but it's kind of like a MASSIVE fast-food restaurant play place with slides, bridges, giant balls, punching bags, and obstacles throughout. There is a separate toddler play area as well, and they generously welcome the public to come play! We were super excited about it in light of my above comments about winter activities.

We took a trip to the fire station with some friends. Poor Lincoln...his friends are just about all in Kindergarten already so he is always the oldest one of the group when we get together with friends on school days. This picture cracks me up and does a good job of illustrating why he is so bored!


Thankfully Maxwell has finally gotten to be old enough to be somewhat of a playmate for Lincoln. This cute little delivery truck set-up they made had me smiling!

Monday, March 18, 2019

Valentine's Week and Beyond

We had such a fun Valentine's celebration this year!
We started out the weekend before Valentine's Day at a chocolate tour in a tiny town not too far away from us. They have a darling town square and over two dozen of the businesses around the square participate in an annual "chocolate tour," in which they hand out chocolate desserts and then those attending can vote on their favorites!
We had so much fun sampling different chocolate concoctions and just experiencing something new together. Thankfully they gave us goodie bags to bring the samples home in, because that was a lot of chocolate!
We discovered a cute little community theater while we were there and learned that they would be performing The Secret Garden the following weekend...so we made plans to come back and watch!



The next day was Sunday.
I take care of the big meal after Church, but Sam likes to make a fun little evening meal for everyone on Sundays and this time he surprised us with a heart dinner. He made heart shaped pancakes, used red dishes, and asked that everyone wear red. Then he taught us a Family Home Evening lesson and for part of his lesson we made valentines to hand out.

Valentine's Day came on Tuesday, of course, and the boys woke up to cheesy hand-drawn valentines I had made them to go along with their Clif bars and orange juice. We rounded out breakfast with more heart-shaped pancakes, and then the kids were off to school.



They had early out due to parent-teacher conferences, and they came home with overflowing Valentine boxes and stuffed copious amounts of candy into their "pots of gold" to save for later.
Then we tackled the cookies.
We worked together to make sugar cookies (okay, let's be honest...I made the sugar cookies and the boys helped cut them out for about 5 minutes). Maxwell threw a tantrum when I would only let him eat a pinch of dough instead of the huge handful he desired (check out those crocodile tears!), and then we drove around delivering the valentines.






I made Guru's quesadillas for dinner (always sentimental for Sam and I!),
and then we tucked the boys into bed.
Finally, we enjoyed warm molten lava cakes with ice cream and exchanged our valentines to each other.
Sam wrote me a very creative letter as if he had been stranded on a desert island in the 1600s
(seriously, guys, that man can take on a unique character's voice more effortlessly than I can believe).
I gave him a framed mosaic made from 2,352 pictures of our life together thus far!
I can't really take credit--I used EasyMoza and all I had to do was upload pictures and my design.
It is so fun to look at though, and I am totally amazed by how their algorithm can detect the dominant colors in the pictures to form the mosaic! The boys loved studying it the next morning as well.

That weekend we went back to the same tiny town to watch the performance of The Secret Garden, and it was such a fun production. The theater's claim to fame is that Elvis performed there back in the day. It's small and quaint and really just right up our alley.
(You know it's a small town when the ticket lady stands at the front of the theater before it begins and says, "I'm the janitor too, so if you have any garbage I'll be coming around during intermission with a bag to collect it.")
We typically find ourselves seeking out quaint country scenes over the flashy lights of Beale Street.
It's a different side of Memphis than most people know,
but it's one we've come to love.

Since then we've celebrated Pi Day (I made an assortment of sweet and savory pies, including this recipe made into a pie...if you're looking for an awesome lemon crumble pie, look no further!) and St. Patrick's Day (with 5 sick boys and an array of Irish food).
I'm thinking I really ought to plan a celebration for the first day of Spring too, because
I am SO HAPPY Spring is here.

SO HAPPY.

Friday, March 15, 2019

Maxwell+Benson

These snapshots from the past 7 or 8 months pretty much sum up the relationship Maxwell and Benson have with each other:


(He got on him like this and then told me, "I ride Benson a horse! Yee-haw!")


When Sam and I brought Benson home from the hospital, we came walking through the door and Maxwell ran over to the couch, plunked down beside me, and immediately wanted to hold Benson. He threw a big fit when I took him back and wanted to hold him constantly over the course of the next few months.
He would grin at him with delight and his expression seemed to say, "I missed you so much!"
It truly was as if he was reunited with his best friend,
and I like to think that's true.

Happy Weekend!

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Ruining Everything

While we were in Utah, my parents hired a photographer to take pictures of the entire family.
It's rare to have a time when all 25 of us are in one place!
My parents kept the wardrobe guidelines very simple--solid colors, business casual.
They worked hard to make things as non-stressful as possible for everyone.
But a couple of days before the scheduled photo shoot, the forecast was predicting temperatures in the low 20s and the location was still undecided. The photographer was trying to figure out a place where we would all fit that had good light and wouldn't be muddy.
Eventually my sister suggested the park adjacent to her backyard. Everyone could stay in her house until it was time for pictures and then we could quickly run out, snap a few photos, and get the kids back inside to the warmth.
It was the perfect solution.
Or so we thought.

The day before pictures were scheduled, while we were still at Bear Lake, a little tummy bug began circulating through some of the kids. The next morning, as we were packing everything up and getting the vacation house cleaned up, Maxwell began throwing up. I alternated between packing our things, finding missing shoes and socks, and trying to catch throw up and then cleaning up whatever I missed while Sam loaded up cars.

We got everyone and everything loaded into the minivan and almost didn't make it up the steep, ice-covered driveway to the road. Maxwell continued to throw up through the first portion of our drive and the kids were squabbling non-stop in the backseat.
At one point the squabbling increased to the point that Sam pulled over the car and turned around to lay down the law. My heart sank when he put the car in gear again and, as he pushed on the gas, it slid further off the road into the snowbank. Every attempt to extract ourselves made the situation worse.
And so we sat.
In a tiny town in Northern Utah.
And we said a prayer.
And I called my parents, knowing they were a few minutes behind us in their truck and would be able to pull us out of the snow.
As I was on the phone with my mom, two older men in a big truck stopped to see if we needed help.
Sam jumped out of the car and they worked together to hook up the tow rope, dig snow away from the minivan, and pull us out with the assistance of my dad and my brother who had pulled up partway through the rescue effort.

We were grateful and a little bit sheepish.
The events of the morning played through my mind and as we drove I told Sam that whenever we get together with my family I feel like our family is a liability and not a help! We have five little boys to keep track of, which limits our ability to provide a lot of extra help to everyone in our big family events. When we were in school, we didn't have the resources to contribute a lot of supplies at things like camping trips, and now we live across the country so we can't haul many supplies with us. Often I feel like our family is the one causing problems while contributing very little.

Blessedly, Maxwell fell asleep and his vomiting came to an end.
By the time we pulled up to my parents' house, I was ready to tackle the job of getting everyone ready for pictures. We hurriedly unloaded the car and I ran to the store to pick up a few clothing items for the kids. When I got home we began showering everyone and attempted to find shoes and belts in our enormous mountain of suitcases and Christmas gifts. Wesley's belt was nowhere to be found, but other than that everything was gathered, everyone was clean, Maxwell was still not throwing up and was rather cheerful, and aside from Benson screaming for about 20 minutes straight as we finished preparations because he needed to nap, we were golden.
We loaded into the car and pulled up to my sister's house just as the photographer arrived.
Maybe everything would work out this time!
Maybe, for once, we wouldn't cause all the problems!
Wrong.

The family filed out to the trail around the park where the photographer was set up and immediately Benson started fussing about the cold. We wrapped him in a blanket to keep him warm until we were all in place, but as soon as we took off the blanket, he began crying.
His short nap in the car hadn't exactly "filled his happy bucket" and throwing him into the cold was just too much for him to handle. Maxwell soon joined in the crying, his residual sickness and exhaustion joining with the cold to quickly render him inconsolable.

The photographer worked as quickly as she could to capture a few good shots of the entire family before starting in on individual sibling groups.
I watched as my siblings' children behaved perfectly and ours continued to cry, the irony not lost on me.
Hadn't I JUST told Sam how frustrated I was with always being the one to cause problems?
And here we were, yet again, ruining things.

We tried valiantly to make Maxwell happy, but despite the toy cars clutched in his hands, he would not stop crying. After about 2 minutes we gave it up and walked into my sister's house with defeat.

When we got the pictures back, it was just as I feared--not a single picture of our family had turned out:
This one is pretty cute, though. Lincoln has the best big grins.

We were close on this one! Too bad Lincoln realized he would be much warmer if he tucked his arms inside his sweater for warmth.

And this one pretty much sums up the role of a mom, don't you think?? The huge grin on my face as I try to stop Maxwell's crying cracks me up. Fake it 'til you make it, right?

Finally I asked the photographer if we could just do a more candid style and huddle together for warmth. She agreed, (and someone realized Lincoln's arms needed to poke into his sleeves!) but for some reason told Sam and I to kiss. I wasn't shooting for quite that candid for my mom to put on her wall! Little did she know how much Sam dislikes PDA...

Maxwell was clearly DONE at this point, and no amount of kissing from Sam and I was going to negate his tantrum, so we called it quits.

Everyone else's pictures turned out beautifully and my mom was disappointed that our family's picture on the wall wouldn't match the others, so I mustered up my best photoshop abilities and cobbled this version together. There's nothing to be done about Maxwell's mad face and toy cars, Benson's goofy-eyed grimace, or Wesley's missing belt, but it's our family and we love it, chaos and all!

And somehow all these wonderful people tolerate our craziness. Maybe someday we'll contribute more.
But in the meantime, thanks for your patience, y'all.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

10 Years

December 27 was our 10 year anniversary!
Ready to watch us grow up??


I've lost my baby face and we've got a few new lines around our eyes,
but I think our appearances haven't changed too drastically.
BUT after 5 kids and 10 years, we've changed a lot more than our appearances may let on.
We've grown in our faith, our parenting, our love, and our perspective.

A while back I told Sam that falling in love was like riding a roller coaster blindfolded.
It was super exciting and thrilling and I didn't know what was ahead and there were jolts in my stomach and rushes of emotion I'd never before felt.
But more seasoned love is like sitting in the warm glow of a Christmas tree, wrapped in a fuzzy blanket, sipping hot chocolate.
It's comforting, it's reassuring, it's steady, it's sentimental, and it feels just like home.
The roller coaster ride was a good ride--a fun ride.
But the kind of happiness, contentment, and unity I feel now is like none other.
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