Thursday, January 23, 2020

Newsflash


WE INTERRUPT THESE (CHRISTMAS) PROCEEDINGS WITH A SPECIAL ANNOUNCEMENT:

Last weekend, Sam and I went out on a date.
When I pulled up to the babysitter's house to drop her off afterward, she said,
"There's one more thing I wanted to say...I know it probably doesn't seem like it to you, but I really think your life is perfect. When I look at your family, I think, 'That's exactly what I want.'"
I was totally taken aback.
What could I tell this sweet 15-year-old girl that would encourage her while giving her a realistic picture of my life?
And she was not the first one to make a comment along those lines in recent years.

Newsflash: My life isn't perfect.

I try to make that obvious here on this blog by writing about my discouraging days and my mistakes,
but I fear there is still a picture painted that it's pretty much all just roses and sunshine.
And the last thing I want to do is to feed the monster of discontentment and comparison that abounds on the Internet.
Please, I beg of you, if ANY of you readers feel worse about your life after reading this blog,
stop reading it!
I promise, I won't feel bad!

I write on this blog because I feel happier when I do.
It's that simple.

I love to be able to find the joy in my everyday life and record it for future reference.
I don't write to gain readership, to give tutorials, or to paint a false picture for others to admire.
I like to keep it on a public platform because it's a convenient way to store pictures and words together and because I write more consistently when I know others may be reading.

But I deeply apologize if I have ever caused sorrow with my words.
Please know that I have challenges and frustrations beyond what I share.

If you want to hear about today's challenges
like a 1-year-old who threw up all morning and into the afternoon, 
a 3-year-old with a fever who was angrily screaming for much of the day,
a canker sore the size of Rhode Island in my mouth that has made eating miserable all week,
being awake since 4:45 with my own sickness,
kids who took short naps,
a sweet boy who doesn't stop kicking my chair in the car,
my husband's busy work and church schedule,
bedwetting issues,
customer service frustrations,
accidentally giving one boy a bloody nose,
and about a thousand other problems,
I could give you an earful!
But I don't think it would help anyone...
in fact, just writing that list put a damper on my mood.

When I share challenges, I typically do so with a theme of seeing God's hand in them.
And I never want to be ungrateful for the tremendous blessings I have been given.
So those writings will not stop.
But once again, I ask that anyone who happens upon this little space of the Internet--
whether family, friend, or stranger--
stops coming back if it does not make your life brighter.

And with that, I'll be back later with more Christmas vacation proceedings. :)

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Christmas Morning

It was about 7:00 before we woke up on Christmas morning and could hear the boys' voices upstairs, waiting to come down.
We've simplified Christmas gifts to a stocking, 3 gifts from Sam and I, and a gift from a brother.
We also decided to take our time opening presents this year to let the kids fully appreciate what they had gotten and it worked great!
The older boys got a joint gift of a 6-lane Hot Wheels racing track which has been HUGE hit and has totally rekindled their love of little toy cars! They love memorizing which ones are the fastest and testing out different combinations. And the track collapses almost flat when we want to put it away!
Benson and Maxwell's main gift was a big wooden barn with a set of farm animals.
They have loved playing with it, too. We cut a couple of ponds out of felt and once we set them up with the different fences and all the animals it is quite a fun play set.


I LOVE this picture. The intensity on their faces cracks me up!
And Wesley didn't want to take off his new travel pillow and hat the whole morning.

Eventually we were ready to have Christmas breakfast--our traditional overnight sticky buns, bacon, greek yogurt, Annie's toaster pastries, and Simply Orange.
I think this may have been the first time I've cooked bacon as a dish to eat on its own and the boys were over the moon about it.

We continued opening presents until about noon, and then it was GO time for me to get everything packed and cleaned up for our flight to Utah that evening!
I love the way the boys are all crowded around excitedly every time someone opens a present.
These boys squabble plenty, but they really are the best of friends, and that makes me SO grateful they have each other.

Such a happy Christmas morning!



**Today's Tidbit: What is there to say except that the boys are still sick and now Maxwell and I have been hit with what I suspect is the flu? Really I just want to lay shaking in my bed all day, but I bet you can guess how much of that is happening...
It's really hard sometimes, but at the same time I think it is a beautiful thing to be the one to give comfort to a little one in their time of distress. From changing dirty diapers to wiping goopy faces to rubbing backs during sleepless nights to holding sleeping babies when they're sick, the idea is constantly being reinforced that a parent is there to provide comfort and ease pain, thereby strengthening the bond between parent and child.
Now really, can we all get better?

Monday, January 20, 2020

Christmas Eve and a Shepherd's Feast

On Christmas Eve, the weather was warm and sunny.
Some of the boys played with a friend in the morning while I took the others to run a bunch of errands in preparation for our Christmas Eve dinner and our trip to Utah, as we would be leaving Christmas evening!
When we came home, they rode bikes and played outside in the sunshine.
I worked on some preparations for our trip in the afternoon and got things together for our Christmas Eve shepherds' dinner.
Last year my sisters and my mom put together a shepherd's feast in Utah with a wide array of Middle Eastern food for us to eat and we had so much fun I decided I wanted to carry on the tradition with adaptations suited to my own family!

When I went to pick up Sam, I was confused by a text message he sent asking me to please try to intercept the bus at his usual stop and get his backpack off of it because he was not on the bus.
What could have happened??
Why was his backpack on the bus but he wasn't?
I had a million questions in my mind as I sat in the car with the boys, waiting at the bus stop.

A quick phone call from Sam yielded a few answers--there had been a car accident and someone at the scene of the accident had said he would give Sam a ride home.
It wasn't until I had flagged down the bus, retrieved Sam's backpack, and drove across town to where Sam had been dropped off that I got the whole story.
Apparently a car accident had occurred on the freeway right in front of the bus.
Sam, being the Good Samaritan that he is, jumped off the bus and ran to help at the accident, calling 911 as he went. One man was pinned in his car and appeared to be drunk, so Sam stayed with him until emergency responders arrived and could cut him out of the car.
He had jumped off the bus in such a hurry that he left his backpack behind and, although the driver yelled to him to ask about it before he left the scene of the accident, Sam didn't want to cross lanes of traffic on the freeway and leave the man in the car to get his backpack, so he assumed I would be able to connect with it later on.

It was all such a strange story, but I have come to be mostly unsurprised by such tales in Sam's life.
I have decided that because he is so willing to "first observe, then serve," he is put in the path of people CONSTANTLY that need help. I am amazed when I think back on the unusual circumstances we have been in so frequently, but I now recognize it as his spiritual gift in action, and I am grateful to have learned from him and to be along for the ride!

After all of that excitement, we headed back to our house for our Christmas Eve celebration.
We had made plans with our friend Elizabeth, a recent convert in our ward (also a widow), to have her over for dinner, a small program, and presents. She was so excited to give the boys their presents and she definitely spoiled them with a whole car trunk full!
She always says she is their Tennessee grandma and she definitely loves the boys like they are her own kin.


We then started our simple feast. We threw our denim blanket on the floor, pulled out scarves (some authentic Middle Eastern scarves!), and ate by the tree.
I decided against authentic regional food and instead chose simple foods that may be in the same class(ish) shepherds would have eaten so the boys would actually eat the dinner.
We had:
-warm naan
-sliced french bread
-sliced cheeses
-Babybel cheeses (why are these so good??)
-goat cheese
-pomegranates
-rotisserie chicken
-dates
-cashew clusters


As the boys ate, we dimmed the lights and had them imagine they were shepherds while I read the Christmas story in Luke 2. We then discussed lessons we could learn from the shepherds and how we can emulate their example.
We finished out the evening with some musical performances by the boys and singing this arrangement of "Silent Night" (my favorite!).

Next year maybe I'll have things together enough to dress the boys in festive clothing for the event,
but I think this year was a success...even with a car accident, chasing down a backpack on a bus, and shorts and T-shirts on our little Memphis boys. :D



**Today's Tidbit: All the boys except Maxwell are sick, sick, sick. Throw-up, coughs, copious amounts of discharge from eyes, stuffy noses, and other nasty symptoms have led to a low-key holiday weekend. In fact, Benson just threw up again in bed while I was writing this blog post!
Yesterday Sam stayed home with all the boys except Maxwell and had a little Primary at home (all the boys prepared little talks) and later helped them with a few scenes of the Book of Mormon movie they are making. After I got home from Church, we made collages of Lehi's vision of the Tree of Life and had dinner and then Family Home Evening. We ended the night with our first "Saints and Snacks," where we read to the boys a chapter out of Saints in preparation for the special General Conference in April while they enjoyed a special snack.
Today I started reading Holes aloud to them and made a grocery store run for rice cakes, apple juice, and vitamin water and the like whereas Sam picked up a bike light, researched treatment protocols for a woman in the ward who has cancer, and dashed off to a hospital downtown to give a blessing. The boys lay around the house reading this afternoon, and after dinner we had a Hot Wheels car racing tournament Sam organized. They had a few PBS shows sprinkled in there, too. It has felt like a rough few days, but I guess in hindsight we've been able to do some happy things together.
I have to say, as I have taken care of the piles of dirty laundry that have resulted from all that sickness, I have been SO so SO grateful for a washing machine. How did mothers of sick children manage it back in the day???

Sunday, January 19, 2020

Toddler-Taught Lessons in Giving and Receiving


Shortly before Christmas, I had to make a rare trip to the mall to pick something up.
After being delighted when Santa caught Maxwell's eye from the level below us and waved to him for a solid minute while Maxwell excitedly waved back,
we continued on our way and passed the children's play area.

We had a little extra time, so I told the boys they could play and they excitedly ran in, where one other girl, probably 2 or 3 years old, was already playing.
As soon as we walked in, she joyfully ran up to Benson with a small purple teddy bear and handed it to him.
His face lit up and he instantly wrapped his arms around the teddy bear, engulfing it in a tight hug.
The smile stayed on his face as he climbed into toy cars and played on slides with the teddy bear tucked firmly beneath his arm.
The sweet exchange between the two toddlers gave me pause.
I was obviously touched by the young girl's generosity and kindness,
but I was also struck by Benson's joyful response.

One thing I have been working on over the past few years is receiving gratefully rather than apologetically.
Like most people, I hate to think that someone was inconvenienced because of me.
So, until recently, when someone would render service to me, I would apologize or insist that they didn't have to do it.
I finally realized that I much prefer giving service to someone who says something like,
"Thank you SO much!! This is so helpful. You really saved me!"
and that showing gratitude was a far better response than being apologetic or embarrassed.

Benson's pre-Christmas exchange with the little girl was a timely reminder to me to be gracious and grateful instead of guilty when kindness is shown to me.
That smile is priceless!

Friday, January 17, 2020

Chocolate Making 2019

I love making chocolates at Christmas time.
This year I think I overdid it, though...
I'm not sure how many hundreds of chocolates I made, but I was feeling a bit over it by the end.
We just made maple cream nut balls, chocolate dipped peanut butter balls, Oreo truffles, and Rolo turtles this time, but we did lots of each one.
After serving about half of them at our Christmas music party,
I packaged up boxes for 15 or so of Sam's co-workers.
I'm thinking next year we will reduce our chocolate making a bit and let his co-workers have cookies or something. :)
My favorite one to let little hands help me with is the Rolo turtles--the boys always love making these!


They like to help dip a few, too.

Over the past few months, I've been thinking a lot about how serving and learning to be selfless bring us joy. For me, at least, the joy often doesn't come in the moment of sacrifice. Sometimes it's downright difficult and unpleasant. Sometimes I am giving up something I really want more at the time for something I feel I "should" do, and sometimes I don't have the best attitude about it.

But I recently realized that the promised joy comes later, as a result of the person I become and the relationships I build through selflessness. Dipping chocolates reminded me of this, and I wrote about it on Facebook:

I love making chocolates with my kids every year at Christmas time. It fills me with nostalgia as I remember making chocolates with my mom and my grandma, sitting next to the wood-burning stove in my grandma's tiny farmhouse in rural Idaho, watching her wrinkled hands carefully dip each ball in chocolate. More recently, I think of the few years we spent living close to family when we would gather at my parents' house and work for hours with the kids to make an assortment of treats that we would deliver and enjoy throughout all the holiday festivities.

It wasn't until a year or two ago that my mom mentioned in passing that she really didn't enjoy making chocolates. I was really surprised--all those years we had made chocolates together and she didn't like doing it? She had only been doing it because her mother wanted to and I wanted to. Since that comment, I have been filled with another kind of appreciation every time Christmas time rolls around...an appreciation for the many, many selfless acts of service I have witnessed in my life, including so many from my parents.
I've realized that so often the promised joy associated with selfless service doesn't come in the moment. Sometimes we don't like making the chocolates, so to speak. But as we give of ourselves selflessly, joy eventually comes as a natural by-product of the relationships built and the person we become as a result of that service. Whether we see the full fruits of our labors in this life or not, joy will eventually come to the faithful!
Thank you to all who have rendered such thoughtful acts of service in my life. And a special thank you to those who have given that service when it hasn't been easy, when you've felt burnt out, when it wasn't convenient, or when you've had great needs yourself.



**Today's Tidbit: Yesterday Talmage gave a copy of The Book of Mormon to his school teacher! He had the idea himself and wrote his testimony in the front for her. He is such an example to us of sharing his beliefs freely and fearlessly, from caroling Primary Christmas songs on the bus to educating his whole class about our beliefs when they learn about the "Mormon Trail."

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Christmas Festivities


The month of December was filled with happy times for our family.
I love holiday traditions and celebrations so much!
So as not to still be writing about Christmas in June,
I'll just dump all of these pictures here together.

St. Jude has several nights during Zoo Lights when the entire zoo is reserved for employees and their families!
We missed the first two years we were here for various reasons,
so this year was the first time we went and it was AMAZING!

There was fake snow blowing and festive music playing right as we walked in and it put us all in such a happy place.
They had free ice skating, and it was the first time for all the boys.
They did a pretty good job and made quick progress!

They also had unlimited carousel rides...I think we rode it about 8 times in a row.

And there was free food EVERYWHERE.
Right when we walked in there were stations set up with a kids' snack mix, popcorn bags, and hot chocolate,
and there were also nice big boxed dinners available in a couple of different locations. We enjoyed our sandwiches, chips, pasta salad, fruit, and cookies as big as our faces!
Later in the evening, we stopped at the s'more making station which was SO cute and fun!

We also watched a magic show, which the boys loved by I really hated as usual.
It drives me CRAZY to not know how those tricks work! I mean, WHERE did the dog go?? I was watching so closely for any flicker or distraction! I hate thinking I am so easily deceived.

We hosted our 2nd annual Christmas music party and it was a hit! It's basically a potluck of Christmas music performances. We had about 30 people in the house and I wasn't sure how it would work to do performances with a crowd like that, but it all went really well! We had a spread of delicious appetizers and desserts and the kids had such a good time playing with so many friends.
(And here is the tree I got off my neighbor's curb--I actually put it out with the trash this week because it really was falling apart, but it was beautiful for one season!)

Sam was out of town at a conference for a few days so I braved taking the boys to the city Christmas parade on my own. I didn't think it would be a big deal, as I planned to park at the library, throw a blanket on the curb to stake out our spot, go inside to check out books, and then spend the remainder of the wait time reading together.
BUT when we got to the library, it was closed! (I guess for the parade?)
I had brought essentially nothing to occupy the boys and we had an hour and a half to wait on the busiest street in town...definitely not my ideal situation.
But in the end it all worked out with minimal complaints from the boys as we drew pictures on each other's backs, played "find the sock," threw rocks into the little stream behind us, and looked at the few books I scrounged up from the car.
Once the parade started, everyone was so happy. It was so fun for the boys to see several of their friends and teachers in the parade!

Their school float was Elvis themed. The PTO put it together and it was pretty impressive!

Maxwell was so excited about all the candy he got. He didn't want me to set any of it aside for him, so he just clutched more and more until his hands were totally full.

Someone was handing out sidewalk chalk, so Lincoln and Maxwell sat down right then and started coloring with it as the parade continued.

This hot air balloon company had such a cool float that would shoot fire up into the air every few seconds!

Immediately after the parade we went to our ward party. Maxwell tolerated Santa for a minute but Benson was having none of it.

The next day we watched the Christmas Devotional together. Lincoln fell asleep in the middle of it and I thought he looked so peaceful laying there in the glow of the Christmas lights!
(The other $30 tree I got off Craigslist while Sam was in grad school is still going strong.)

Once again we loved our tradition of unwrapping and reading a Christmas picture book each night by the tree. It is one of my favorite Christmas traditions--everything seems to slow down and magic settles over our whole family.

Sam and I went on a date to see the Christmas display at the Pink Palace after going to a Mediterranean restaurant called Casablanca. It couldn't compare to the Festival of Trees in Utah, but it was still fun to see. This Harry Potter tree display had so many fun elements from the books!

There were several trees covered in decorations pre-schools in the area had made.

And the gingerbread houses were pretty impressive. You probably can't see it very well, but that Jabba the hut is CRAZY realistic.

And of course we enjoyed the boys' Christmas programs at school!
It is one of my favorite things to watch them come in and immediately start scanning the crowd to find me and then visibly light up when our eyes meet and they start waving like crazy while Benson and Maxwell shout "HI!" and wave back, eliciting chuckles from the people within about 30 feet of us.

We also enjoyed a Christmas light scavenger hunt as we drove around to different houses that participated in a city-wide Christmas light tour. We loved the houses that had their lights choreographed to their own radio stations!

I also made dozens and dozens of orange rolls and we made deliveries for 4 hours!
It was a LOT of work, but every time I think about nixing our tradition of deliveries, I remember touching responses we've received from people who are alone for Christmas or who say it is the only Christmas card they have gotten and I know that it is one of the most meaningful traditions we can continue. The parades and parties and scavenger hunts and such can all go on the back burner if necessary, but this one is here to stay.
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