Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Christmastime with Nana and Poppy

Christmas Eve! On to Nana and Poppy's house. Poppy purchased a little car for the smaller kids, and it was a special hit with 2-year-old Charlie. Charlie is obsessed with cars, trucks, space vehicles, anything of the sort and can name whatever you throw at him. Try him. He'll nail the easy ones like cement mixer and tow truck and SUV, and he'll nail the totally obscure ones like Orion multipurpose crew vehicle and articulated hauler and telescopic handler (do you know those?). He can distinguish between a bucket wheel excavator and a dragline excavator, and he can tell you just what kind of fire truck you see ahead of you - airport, pump, ladder, heavy rescue... it is quite the show.

For the bigger kids, we set up 9-square, and aside from being freezing, it was one of the highlights of the trip.

Also a highlight: talking with our family's favorite missionary on Christmas Eve.

Here we are all crowded around the small iPhone just to see her smile. The littler kids were especially excited. Riley and Lexi were not shy about saying how much they missed her, and I agreed. There is something brutal about feeling that particular heart-tug and something beautiful about feeling her absence in the crucial and beloved role she takes in our family gatherings. 

Later that night, Nana and Poppy sat around the Christmas tree and pulled out all of the presents they had purchased. Filling the crevasses under the tree with gifts for all of their children and grandchildren is a labor of love for them that takes weeks and weeks to prepare for and sheet after sheet of organizing paper. And while I'm sure my dad helps some, it's really my mom who spends the hours. She has always been careful at Christmastime to make sure everyone feels included and equal, so if I have 4 presents, so will you. If she spends $50 for this grandchild, she'll spend $50 for that one, and as her family grows, the balance only gets harder.

The kids were grateful, played with all of their presents, and eventually zonked out under the bright, little Christmas tree in the basement. But before sleep, we gathered in a small family circle and talked about Christ. Watching them sleep later that night, I knew that they were excited for the presents that would be coming that night, and I hoped that nestled alongside that excitement, there was deep gratitude and wonder for the baby born two-thousand years ago who makes their happinesses and excitements meaningful and eternal.

When the kids were finally asleep, it was time for the adults to play. At one point, I looked over and saw three of my favorite guys watching a comedian clip, laughing in unison, and I was so grateful for the dynamic that exists within my family. My dad treats his sons-in-law the same as his son, and we all feel so comfortable around each other.

My mom has crocheted stockings for her children, their spouses, and all of her grandkids, and they are beautiful! While Santa does a great job filling the kids' stockings, he tends to forget the adults, so for the second time, we adults came prepared to fill stockings for each other. It's become a favorite tradition of mine.

Christmas Morming!

Awake with the sun, we gathered around each other for a group shot before going upstairs where we found that Santa had, once again, hidden the childrens' stockings and created a scavenger hunt to find them.

Good thing we have such smart kids. 

The excitement of present opening looked much like the excitement of present opening every other year: there were hugs and wide eyes and gasps and squeals...

In the past, our kids have drawn names for each other, but this year our family did things a bit differently in an effort to teach the power that comes from thinking of others and giving. So, we had each person purchase one gift for every other person in the family. All six of us bought 5 gifts, and all six of us received 5 gifts, carefully selected by a sibling or parent. It was fun to see the personalities come out in each gift. 

I would say the star of the entire Christmas was the giant stuffed unicorn that Timothy bought for Eliza. Pictured on the teeter-totter below.

I probably wouldn't have gotten it for her because it's cumbersome... but Timothy wasn't looking at the practical side of things, and Eliza thanks him in her heart every day. It's now been 5 months, and that unicorn (Rose) is still sleeping on Eliza's bed, cuddled up right next to her.

The rest of Christmas included games and books and painting nails, and, for Charlie, trucks.

But I think every day includes trucks for Charlie.

And, of course, one of my favorite moments of the day was spending lots and lots of time on the phone with McKenzie. My parents spent some time with her, too, and seeing this picture just makes me treasure the preciousness of that time.

Because my parents have been mission leaders themselves, they have a unique perspective on her stories and struggles, and she is so wise to value their advice and guidance.

At one point while Brian and I were talking with her, Grandma called in on Brian's phone. He answered it with, "Guess who we're talking to right now!"
"YOU'RE KIDDING!" she said. "McKenzie?!?!?"
We put the two phones up next to each other so they could say hello, but something about simply hearing Grandma's voice on Christmas morning was enough to cause the lump in McKenzie's throat to swell and render her quite incapable of talking. She laughed as a few tears fell, and Grandma sensed the emotion. "Kenz, did I make you cry?!?!" she said.
Kenz laughed again and squeaked out, "A little bit..."
At this point, Brian and I looked at each other and realized that we were both crying, too, but thankfully Grandma carried the conversation for another minute, telling Kenzie how proud she was of her and wishing her a Merry Christmas. 

The next morning, against our desires, it was time to go home- so we wrestled all the new gifts into our Sequoia and promptly spent half an hour taking pictures instead of leaving. (Sad that Amber and Davey had already left.)

In our stockings, Michelle and Jake had given us temporary tattoos... of my dad's face on a knight in shining armor. The men came prepared for their photo shoot.

With McKenzie gone, there's a giant hole in the lives of the littles where she used to play. Timothy has effortlessly stepped in, and the little girls love him dearly.

My parents have created such a beautiful feeling in their family. I don't know many other people who gather like we do. When we come from Vegas, the rest of my siblings - who all live in Utah only about an hour away from my parents - pack their vacation bags and move into my parents house alongside us. It's like a big Airbnb. It works partly because their house is conducive to it, 

but mostly it's because we love each other dearly and all want to be together for as many earthly minutes as possible.

Monday, May 13, 2024

Christmastime with Grandma and Grandpa

Ahh. BFFs. Can we all agree that whispering 6-year-olds and sleepover to-do lists are quite the cutest? Their friendship has blossomed and Christmas in Utah this year was delightful with their camaraderie. 

Con quietly steps into the kitchen to clean the dishes after every meal. Even though it doesn't seem like anything to brag about, it's one of my favorite things about him. He has such a gentle, calm demeanor, and never wants any recognition or praise, but I hope he knows he's seen and appreciated.

Jean is a master at feeding a crowd and makes it seem like it's hardly any work at all. One moment we're sitting around a clean table chatting and laughing about nothing in particular, and the next there's a hot meal being pulled from the oven and set out for an entire extended family. Afterwards, there's hardly a mess to clean except for dishes, and I've really started to believe that Jean must be hiding the fact that she has been schooled at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. It's the only place I know of where grand meals appear from nowhere... 

Everything about Grandma and Grandpa's house is calm and peaceful. 

There is always someone to play a game with,

and there is always someone to hug. 

Even Maisy loves Grandma and Grandpa's house. And, thankfully, although far from dog people, Grandma and Grandpa love Maisy, too.

Now, let's not confuse a calm and peaceful house with 'boring'... because visiting Grandma and Grandpa is anything but boring. They spend a lot of time thinking of activities for all ages, and there is always something coming up on the schedule.  This year we went to see the lights at Temple Square, caroling to all the widows in Con and Jean's ward, and to an epic Christmas party at Heidi's house.

1. Temple Square.

There is a lot of construction happening on Temple Square right now because the temple is being renovated, so there weren't many lights.

Hold on- I just heard what I said... not many lights... there were HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS of lights! Rumor has it that there were 75,000 lights on this tree alone! 

But in comparison to what they generally have, there were a lot less, so it only took us a few minutes to walk through and see them all.

This is me, attempting to get a selfie so you would know that I was there, but people kept jumping into the frame. (I like it better that way, anyway.)

I can't walk around Temple Square on a night like that and not think about "the Light that shineth in darkness, and the darkness comprehendeth it not." 

There is so much I can't comprehend about Christ and God and the eternities, but that doesn't mean I can't appreciate the Light I do see. Eternities aside, I can't even comprehend wrapping a tree in this many lights ( I can barely wrap my own Christmas tree like a burrito). Yet here it is. And, comprehending it not, I can still stand in awe of the effect the light has on the darkness around me. 

Eliza did not join us on this adventure- it was a little late for her and she had Grandma to play with. So it was me and all of my boys. How did I get so lucky to be surrounded with such great men? 

Steve and April came along with Jonah, too, and all of those boys get along so well.

It was kind of cool that we didn't have a whole lot to see on Temple Square, because after all the lights were seen we still felt like we had a lot of time. So we walked to the Tabernacle and went inside. This picture stopped me for several, several minutes. The whole picture extends out to both sides, this is only about a quarter of it, but there was something about that mother reaching her whole body forward to help her daughter come closer to Christ that was particularly moving to me. 

I would do anything to help my own kids get closer to Christ.

We had the place largely to ourselves, and it was a beautiful experience to walk the halls and see all the art.

2. Caroling to the widows in the ward

Jean has always been an incredible example of caring for the widows in her ward. And she often includes us in her service. The women love Jean and are always delighted to see her. Caroling is a funny thing for me... I always feel like I don't want to go (because I don't want to disturb people), but I always come home happy that I went. 

3. An epic Christmas party at Heidi's house.

Grandma and Grandpa both have a deep love for music, and one of the things Jean asks for every Christmas is for a family talent show. There were two highlights this year... one was Livvy and Eliza, back for the second year in a row to perform a Christmas song. 

We always hold our breath while they sing because if we breathed normally we would buckle in laughter. Eliza is musical, precise, and quiet as she hits every note dead center, while Livvy is musical, loud, and untethered in her note selection. Eliza doesn't know how to process the sound much of the time, as you can see here - she can't understand why Livvy doesn't just sing the right note.

The second highlight was these boys: 

They performed a hilarious rendition of ... something ... I can't even remember what the song was. But I remember Carson jumping out and rapping in his sunglasses with full energy in a way that shocked right through me. He's generally so quiet and steady. The entire room erupted in laughter!

Next up at the party was a white elephant exchange. 

Followed by games for as long as anyone wanted to last. 

And I will leave you with the star of the white elephant exchange: 

It tasted just like a pickle. 
Or so I was told. 
I was unwilling to try it.

Monday, May 6, 2024

Scattered December

1. Do You Think a Murder-Scene-Gingerbread-House Could Someday be Used to Create Reasonable Suspicion?

Asking for a friend.

This year the pre-cut, pre-assembled, candy-and-frosting-included gingerbread house kits called to me like never before. For over a decade I have spent one night every December gingerly cutting graham crackers into tiny roofs and tiny walls and hot-gluing them together into little houses.

I'd never even been tempted to buy a pre-assembled kit because the prices of them seem so ridiculous. But as I passed the kits in the Target aisles this year, I found myself wrestling. The prices are still ridiculous, and eventually the moral reasoning behind spending that much on something I could make myself eventually tipped the decision, and I passed them up to continue my shopping. 

I mean, granted, my homemade houses aren't going to win any beauty contests, but the kids don't care.

A while later I passed them again (oh Target, how good you are at cultivating the wandering feet) and the wrestle resumed.

Hours, my brain said. You will save hours if you just pick up the boxes and put them in your cart.
I did pick them up. I studied the boxes and scrutinized the piddly amount of candy that was promised inside. I mean, I could just buy a few bags of extra candy to supplement. But that would make the whole project even more expensive. Plus, how could I ensure that the houses wouldn't be broken inside?
No, I decided for the second time putting the boxes back on the shelves. It's not worth it.

My Target shopping continued and eventually swung me past the houses a third time.

Hourssssssssss. My brain said. How can you put a price on saved hours in December?!
I picked them up again.
You do NOT have to buy more candy. This is enough. Just do it. See how it goes.
And all at once the decision was made and I softly dropped four boxes for my four children into the basket of my cart and didn't look back. 

Bless Target's marketing and product placement for giving me three solid chances.
Because it was absolutely the right decision.

We started the evening talking about the animals that lived in the stable where baby Jesus was born and about how, just like they did, we can give parts of ourselves and our homes to make room for Jesus, too. We talked about how the stable was just a stable until Jesus entered, and upon His arrival it became holy. About how our homes and our lives also become holy when we let Jesus enter. 

After the lesson, Miles had to go to basketball practice, but the rest of us (and Eliza's friend Everly) unpacked the pre-assembled gingerbread homes and began to create our own 'stables.' I thought it was evident after our lesson that the idea was to make them fit for Jesus, but I guess murder scenes worked, too.

2. Teenagers are Weird

Just a normal Tuesday around here, watching the teenagers waddle around the kitchen like ducks.

3. It Looks Like They're Just Sitting There Next to Each Other on the Couch

And honestly, they are. Except there's just a feeling that exists between these two that you can't describe or capture in a picture. It's love and respect and delight and care- it's beautiful.

4. Our neighborhood feels like a little family.

I remember the first time we walked around our neighborhood. Though, it wasn't our neighborhood at the time. We had come to Boulder City to have dinner with one of Brian's practice partners who lived there, and after dinner we strolled along the sidewalk and he pointed to every single house we passed. "So-and-so lives here," he'd say. "You would love them. They have this many kids and have this role in society and have personalities like this..." Every. Single. House. 

I was surprised because I'd never lived in a neighborhood where people were such good friends with each other. The most I knew about my current neighbors in Henderson was what the back of their cars looked like as their garages shut behind them. 

I wasn't sure I wanted to live in Boulder City at that moment, but I knew I wanted to live in a neighborhood like that. 

And now here we are, nine year later, knowing and loving and dropping Christmas gifts off to almost every family in those 33 homes. 

5. Christmas Recitals

The house is filled with music at the fingers of these two. I'm grateful for them to have a chance to share their talents with others a couple of times a year.

6. Be Patient and Know That the Lord is Mindful of the Things That You Have. 

That's a line in my patriarchal blessing, and it's the one that has worn the deepest groove in my mind. He knows me so much better than I know myself, and I have been astounded over and over with what he is able to do with my messy life. Somehow in the middle of me dropping balls and crying in overwhelm and forgetting to shower and snarking at my husband and hiding from my kids, he reaches inside of me and pulls out the most enchanting and beautiful stones. He is my biggest cheerleader and has more confidence in me than anyone.

I would hate to direct a choir without him, but with him it's one of the greatest joys of my life. 

7. If You Get Famous By Mopping Sweat Off The Floors, You're Still Famous

Look at that handsome boy wield that mop! On ESPN, nonetheless!

8. She is the Highlight of my Week

My heart feels so confused sometimes because I miss McKenzie dearly AND am so excited and thrilled for all the experiences she's having in Chile. 

Every Monday we get to hear about her week and see her beautiful face. What would this have been like a few years ago when missionaries only called home a couple times a year? I'm not sure my heart could have handled it! 

Today, there's a part of me that feels like I'm experiencing her mission with her because I get to hear the updates so regularly. I know the names of the people she's teaching. I know when her week is tough, and I know when her week is fun. I can see her smile and watch her interact with the Chilean people while I'm FaceTiming, and it all feels so amazing. 

It's crazy how much happiness and joy she's still able to bring into our home while being away.

9. A True Friend Would Never Make Fun of your Headphones.

 And Everly is a true friend. Now, if only they'd make the buzzers at the basketball games a little quieter.