Sunday, December 31, 2017

Cedar Hill Christmas Tree Farm


In early December,
we made good on the promise we made to the kids before we moved here that we would visit a Christmas tree farm in northern Mississippi. It's only about a 45 minute drive from our house, and it is the cutest place!
They have fun activities year round, from berry picking to a civil war reenactment to a pumpkin patch to Christmas trees and lots of fun things in between. I think it's a place our family will visit several times each year.

We were amazed by the individual attention we were given-when we arrived we were instructed to hop into a trailer lined with hay bales, and an employee got in the tractor and began pulling us to the trees, though just our family was in the trailer. They didn't make us wait for a bigger group.
Then they showed us around the trees, told us to take our time, and hung out with the tractor while we scouted out our perfect tree.

They helped the boys cut it down, loaded it up, and then drove us around the farm to show us the pirate ship in the midst of the berry bushes. Sam and I felt a need to hurry the kids along so the tractor could get back, but the employee kept insisting they try out more things and that we take one more picture. Let me tell you, he made 4 little boys very, very happy.
Eventually we made it back to the front where the most amazing play area was...the boys had a blast on tire swings, a zip line, big tube slides, and much more.

We topped it all off with hot chocolate and the most amazing farm-fresh apple cinnamon donuts I have ever tasted and headed home with smiles on our faces...
great big smiles.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Welcome to Tennessee



Well, here we are.
I'm breaking my 2-month silence on this blog from our new home in Tennessee.

The week before Thanksgiving, we loaded up our moving truck and the movers took it away
while we stayed with my parents for the week before our move.
(Also of note: chasing down the truck to do a ridiculous dive through boxes to find a needed document. I'm pretty sure my crazy flexibility was intended solely for that purpose, but we emerged victorious!)
Sam finished his job in Utah on Friday, flew to Memphis to begin work the Saturday before Thanksgiving, worked Monday-Wednesday there, flew into Utah on Thanksgiving morning, enjoyed a quick Thanksgiving dinner with my family, and then we piled into the car to begin our 3-day journey.

We arrived at our hotels after midnight both days,
Maxwell transformed into a wild, hilarious monkey who pranced around the bed in the dark while giggling hysterically and then would feign sleep until he would suddenly throw his arms onto me, dig his little fingers into my neck, and yell, "Tickle, tickle, tickle!" as we tried to get everyone to sleep.
Lincoln threw up in the middle of nowhere in southern Utah, many miles from any kind of civilization...thank goodness for baby wipes!
We passed The Big Texan Steak Ranch in Amarillo on Friday night--home of the free 72 oz. steak! (Only in Texas would you have an eating challenge featuring a whopping 4 1/2 lb. steak and all the fixin's!)
The older boys stayed relatively content thanks to Liberty's Kids and The Complete Series of The Magic School Bus while munching on fruit leather, granola bars, goldfish, and applesauce. Maxwell was a different story but I tried my hardest to keep his crying to a minimum!

At last, around 6:00 on Saturday evening, we pulled up to our new home.
And believe me, "Your destination is on the right," never sounded so good.
We opted to stay in our house rather than a hotel, although our belongings wouldn't arrive until Monday, and the kids were BEYOND thrilled to spend the next hour running insanely through the empty house. There is something about a big, empty space that just delights my boys and they thought it was the greatest.
Since then we've been settling in, celebrating the Christmas season, making lots of new friends, and getting to know this land of Tennessee. I'll be doing lots of updating on this little blog in coming days,
but in the meantime here are a few highlights!


1-Kids Are Innovators-I was rather trepidatious about spending a day and a half in our house with nothing but what we brought in our car, camping out on the floor, but I needn't have worried; the kids viewed it as a grand adventure! On Sunday after Church, we got Maxwell and Lincoln settled down for naps and I came out to find Wesley and Talmage making lots of "emoji masks" out of paper plates and colored pencils. Kids are the best innovators and entertainers!

2-Hilarious Movers-St. Jude covered the cost of transporting our belongings and having a company come unload them, which was pretty convenient. Sam was at work when they came, so I stood on the driveway and directed the movers on where to put things for several hours while the boys were troopers, being banished to the backyard. The movers made many amusing comments to me--like when they unloaded our large barrel for water storage and one said, "You guys make your own beer??" Or when they were watching me with Maxwell and one said, "I gotta stop lookin' at him...he's gonna make me baby hungry!" Or when the sound system in the house glitched and randomly turned on and began blasting Jenny Phillips Christmas Music and a mover came out of the house singing, "Hallelujah! You've got some GOSPEL music goin' in there! You're gonna put us all to sleep!" Or when one commented that they were nearly done and they would be "finished by Miller time!" and then said that he prefers Bud Light-I responded by saying, "Well, we don't even drink beer so I just don't know!" "No?? You guys wine people??" he replied. "No, we don't even drink alcohol!" I continued with a laugh. "Well, that's good! You don't ever start...don't ever start!" he advised me.

3-Brrrr!!!-I knew Memphis wouldn't be as warm as Houston, but I definitely was not prepared for the cold, cold weather we've had over the past couple of weeks. The cold feels so much different than Utah cold...I know people attribute it to the humidity, but really, when it's in the 30s here it feels like single-digit temperatures in Utah. It is a cold that immediately seeps into your bones and freezes you on the inside. Even Sam, who usually wears shorts through the winter, has been struggling-and 12-foot ceilings and hardwood/tile floors don't help matters any. We've both been wearing winter coats inside, bundling up with blankets, blasting the space heater, and dreading anything that takes us outside.

4-Yes, Ma'am-The schools here have required a bit of an adjustment--more for me than for the kids. Not only is it full-day Kindergarten here (Utah was half-day) and there is one recess (compared the three they used to have), but they are SUPER strict about just about everything, from how to drop kids off at school to bus rules (no talking on the bus until the bus driver raises her hand after a few minutes!) to locking all school doors and requiring visitors to ring a special doorbell to enter the building which will take them directly into the office. One morning I came in the front door with the boys to help them carry about $70 of school supplies down to their classrooms and was told I wasn't allowed to go back to the classrooms with them. So I loaded them up and they had to do their best to carry many bags down the hall with all their usual gear! It can be a little frustrating sometimes, but I can see that academically they are being pushed harder and once I got used to all the rules, I've been really pleased with their school. One of the results of their strict school is that now our kids have taken to replying, "Yes, Sir," and "Yes, Ma'am," to Sam and I. I think it's the cutest little Southern thing.

5-We Live in the Woods-This area is set up in such a unique way. There are clumps of shopping areas and neighborhoods spread out, but then in between the developed areas it has been left wild, and in Tennessee that means huge masses of towering trees. That means we get to see all kinds of wildlife on a regular basis! I nearly hit a group of deer on my way home from Kroger one night, we love watching the squirrels play in our backyard, and watching a little bunny hop across the road in front of me was the cutest thing. We've also seen raccoons, possums, blue jays, cardinals, and even a bald eagle.

Finally, I asked the kids to each share something about Tennessee.
Here are their responses:
Talmage: "There is a lot of diversity here and barely any snow."
Wesley: "It's really green."
Lincoln: "We have neighbors and people keep giving us treats!"

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Pumpkin Patch

I feel like we have been running from morning until night just about every day for the past few weeks.
We are mostly finished making logistical preparations for our move
(we'll go see our house we signed a lease on this weekend!),
all the boys' birthdays have come and gone,
we've checked off most of our "Utah activities,"
and we've been soaking up the perfect Utah autumn with all that entails.

All this rushing is hard for me.
I am by nature a slow-paced, introverted person
with a tendency toward quiet time, reflection, and savoring each moment.
Sometimes the rushed nature of things sucks away the joy I find in these precious life experiences.
But then, on occasion, I am gifted with a fleeting moment when time stands still
and my eyes are opened to the intense beauty that surrounds me.


**********


Of all the photos from the pumpkin patch,
I think this one is my favorite.
There is a lot of talk about how social media captures only the best moments of our lives
and how discontentment arises as a result.
(I even wrote a post about it here when struggling with such feelings years ago!)

But I hope that this blog is real.
I hope that it is not seen as an attempt to depict my love of a perfect life,
but rather a depiction of the joy we find even in the moments like these.
Because these moments are pretty constant,
but so is our joy.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

On to the Next Adventure

Shortly after we moved to this home a few months ago,
it became apparent that it was time for Sam to take the next step in his career.
After completing his post-doctoral fellowship, his boss wanted him to stay for a while, so she hired him on,
but it was never intended to be a permanent job.

And so we embarked on a whirlwind journey of
applying,
interviewing,
considering,
praying,
agonizing,
number-crunching,
researching,
and praying some more
to figure out what the next step for our family should be.

After thinking long and hard about all of our options,
Sam accepted a job at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Tennessee!

We are so excited.
We are thrilled for him to have such an incredible research opportunity at the best pediatric cancer hospital in the world.
We are excited for our family to grow through this process.
We are looking forward to being surrounded by delightful accents and southern hospitality.
We are I am anxious to get my hands on Blue Bell ice cream again.

We will miss living in Utah.
We will miss monthly family dinners,
lots of cousin time,
babysitting swaps with my sister,
hikes in the mountains,
snow in the winter,
visits to Temple Square,
and the blessing of continually interacting with our families.

But this is right.
And it feels so right.

We found the most delightful, charming, All-American town where we will likely live.
The schools are top-notch and the town is filled with stately homes, sprawling yards with lots of trees, big southern porches, and extremely kind people.
Exhibit A: I was speaking to someone from one of the LDS congregations in the area, and he talked to me for a good 30 minutes, telling me all about the area. At the end of our conversation he said, "If you guys come out here, me and my wife would love to have you stay with us, we'll take you out to dinner and show you the sites!"
Wow. Talk about Southern Hospitality!
Exhibit B: I had a question about activities in the area for children so I posted it on a local Facebook page and within 2 hours I had 20 comments on the post giving suggestions and welcoming me to the area, as well as a message from someone telling me how much they love the area and offering to help us in any way.
We hear over and over again what a great place it will be for our children.
(And check out this gorgeous house in the town...Sam and I just about died when we saw it...it's the stuff our dreams are made of and a totally reasonable price, too! The inside is just as gorgeous.
One day we will settle down and buy a house but all these short-term positions make it hard!
In the meantime I will just drool longingly.)


When it was time to break the news to the children we gathered them into the living room,
cups of comforting hot cocoa in hand,
and had a family council together.
We explained that their daddy had gotten a new job and that we would be moving and we were met with a range of responses...
not all totally pleasant.
(My favorite was when Wesley, with complete seriousness and concern, asked, "But won't we have a hard time understanding everyone, because we'll have to learn to speak Tennessee-an?")
There was quite a bit of anxiety about missing major family events, but we reassured them that we would come back regularly to visit and then took them down to the computer to introduce them to beautiful Tennessee.
We hopped on Google Maps and got on street view to show them the gorgeous town.
We showed them the Mississippi River and made plans to have a family bike ride along the river shortly after our move.
We talked to them about an amazing Christmas Tree farm and petting zoo that we'll visit after our move and explained that we would get them each a new Lego set when we arrived to help them with the move.
By the time we were done talking things up, everyone was mostly satisfied about the move.

So now the whirlwind of job searching is over and the whirlwind of moving (again!!) begins.
We'll leave around Thanksgiving Day and in the meantime we're cramming in
a house hunting trip,
extended family events,
Talmage's baptism,
last trips to the doctor and dentist,
family activities selected by the kids,
school activities,
birthdays,
Halloween,
and get-togethers with friends.
.
And so, off we go, on to the next adventure!

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

He Will Use Us


What a feast General Conference is!
By the time each Conference rolls around, I feel like a parched soul
and the speakers' words fill me with water,
refreshing and rejuvenating me while giving me fresh perspective on life.

I have felt a lot of discouragement lately about not being "enough."
Enough of anything, really...
So I felt particularly uplifted by a segment of President Uchtdorf's talk about how God will use us, even with all of our imperfections, to do a great work if we are willing.

"How encouraging it is to know, though we are imperfect, if our hearts are turned to God, He will be generous and kind and use us for His purposes...God will use you, if you are willing. He will magnify your righteous desires and turn the compassionate actions you sow into a bountiful harvest of goodness."

I am reminded of a story a neighbor recently shared with me.
Years ago, she was a busy working mother with young children and she received a phone call asking her to make a dessert for a family who needed a meal that day.
A couple of weeks prior, cake mixes had been on sale at the store and she felt an urge to stock up.
She loaded one of each flavor into the cart--even lemon, which her family all hated.
"Why am I getting lemon?" she asked herself. "No one will eat this!"
But she felt an odd need to get the lemon cake mix, too, so she purchased one, brought it home, and put it on the shelf to collect dust.

And now she had a very short time to put together a dessert.
"Cake mix cookies!" she thought. "I'll use the lemon cake mix...no one here will eat it."
She had the brief thought that it was rude to give away a dessert her family thought was disgusting, but she brushed it away and quickly made and delivered the cookies to the woman who was putting together the meal.

She left town the following day, so it wasn't until she returned that she learned that the family who needed a meal had lost their little girl in a car accident.
She was immediately filled with guilt and regret.
"I should have given them my best!" she thought, appalled that in their time of crisis she had given them yucky lemon cake mix cookies.

A while later, though, the mother of this family stopped her in the hallway at Church.
"How did you know??" she asked.
My neighbor was confused, so the woman explained.
"Every time my family needs comfort, we make lemon cake mix cookies. I had been trying to work up the strength to make the cookies for my family all day, but I just didn't have it in me. Your cookies brought us so much comfort."

This busy mother, in trying to do something kind, however imperfect it may have seemed,
was an instrument in God's Hand to do a great work.

Thus may it be for all of us if we just keep trying.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Refresher


 This boy...he keeps me on my toes all day long.
He is adventurous and inquisitive and hilarious and exhausting and cuddly and a bit high-maintenance
all rolled into one adorable package.
I admit, this stage, as darling as it is, is the hardest for me to feel contentment as a mother.
Especially since Maxwell started waking up all through the night again a few months ago and has yet to consistently sleep through the night again (*sob*).

One minute he is charming me with a spontaneous hug
and the next he has emptied cupboards and is screaming at my feet.
One minute I am gushing over a new word he learned
and the next I am hearing the telltale sound of books being ripped to bits.

It's all a bit of a roller coaster and it's hard to feel like I can give my other children sufficient time
when he demands so much of it.
A few weeks ago we decided to go to a favorite park on a Saturday morning for a picnic.
The boys gleefully spun around on the merry-go-round and stretched their legs to the sky on the swing.
They pranced around with pure joy, climbing trees, throwing balls, and rejoicing in childhood.
The brisk autumn breeze ushered in the new season
and Sam and I sat and observed with satisfaction.
Eventually I took Maxwell over to the duck pond
and there watched intently as he toddled after the ducks, reaching out to touch them as they quickly waddled away from his chubby hand.
His interest and enthusiasm were palpable.
The wind whipped my hair and I walked peacefully beside him, delighting in his wonder.

It was the perfect refresher I needed
to remind me of how precious this busy, exhausting, rushed time with my babies is.

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