Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Hope Your Christmas was Merry

Scene:  Getting ready for bed Christmas Eve.

Me:  Buddy, if you don't cooperate, Santa isn't going to bring you any presents.

Buddy:  That's fine.  Because if he brings me coal, I'll use it to make a fire which will burn the house down and then I'll be on the Naughty List next year too.

Me:  Well, fine.  Perhaps you better stay on on his Good List.

* * *

Despite an outbreak of the cold virus and the stomach flu, Santa still came and we had a nice Christmas. Many more exciting details of Christmas vacation to come. 

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Happy Birthday M!

Today is M's birthday.  She is 35, but still looks like she's in her 20s or even teens.  The world is a better place because she was born.  She has touched many lives and is a wonderful, wife, friend, and mother.  Me and the boys have come to realize that we couldn't function without her.  Despite having a nasty cold and spending her birthday in a hotel, we hope that it will be a good one.  We love you. 

Monday, December 19, 2011

M's Christmas Talk

This picture is courtesy of www.lds.org

Despite her arguments to the contrary, M is truly one of the greatest people I have ever known. I wonder many times why she decided to marry me. Amongst her many talents, one of her gifts is to write and deliver moving talks in Church. She spoke last Sunday on the topic of "Keeping Christ at the center of Christmas." Because she did such an amazing job, I think it should be shared. Here is the text of her talk:


Between Thanksgiving and Christmas every year our family has had a lot going on. We have the usual family life responsibilities, our callings, work, and taking care of the kids, and the four of us all have birthdays within that one-month period. Plus this year we hosted my extended family for a big Thanksgiving feast. This year Noah got baptized, we’ve hosted out of town guests, we’ve gone out of town, we’ve had visits with both boys’ birthmoms, and we’ve hosted several parties.

I assume I’m not alone about being spread thin during December. With big families, music concerts, school finals, job responsibilities, travel plans, shopping, making cards, baking, ward parties to plan or attend, getting everyone to doctor because your deductible has been met, decorating, tithing settlements, and I KNOW everyone’s callings are busy at the end of the year… I could go on for hours listing all the things we NEED to do before Christmas. Yet most of them really have nothing to do with Christ.

In Elder Uchtdorf’s Christmas devotional this year, he compared the Christmas season to a game of Jenga. If one part of what we perceive as a piece to the perfect season gets misplaced, the whole holiday falls apart. But we must remember that the season is already perfect. We are celebrating Heavenly Father’s supreme gift to us, that of the birth of our Savior.

So how can we open our hearts to Christ during December? Rather than doing more traditions to invite the Christmas spirit, perhaps we should do fewer.

We can most effectively invite the spirit of Christmas by following the examples of those who saw the baby Jesus with their own eyes. I love the article in this month’s Ensign by Elder Patrick Kearon. He shares lessons we should learn from the shepherds, Simeon, Anna, and the wise men.

Elder Kearon says we must respond with haste, like the shepherds, whenever the spirit speaks to us. Thomas S. Monson said we must, “never, never, never postpone following a prompting.”

Simeon was promised he would not die until he saw Christ. He was prompted to go to the temple the day that Mary and Joseph brought baby Jesus to present him to the Lord at the temple. Elder Kearon says, we should follow the Holy Ghost so our lives can follow the path Heavenly Father has for us. Simeon was in the right place at the right time to receive the blessings the Lord had promised him.

Anna was a “prophetess” who spent a lot of her time in the temple as well. She also held the baby Jesus in the temple. We can follow her example of a lifetime of prayer and fasting and temple attendance.

The Wise Men knew the signs of Jesus’ coming, so when the saw the new star, they prepared their gifts and went to find Him. What gifts are we willing to give the Savior? Are we willing to give our will to Him and to go where He is?

I remember some wonderful Christmases from my childhood. We were a typical middle class family. We never went without, but my parents gifts to us were never extravagant. We had some fantastic traditions though. I remember riding the old train in the top floor of Meier and Frank downtown. I remember Peacock Lane. I remember Santa – in the flesh -- coming to visit to bring us each a small gift to my grandma’s house a week or so before Christmas. I remember my grandma’s cheeseball. And her mouth-watering delicious “snacks,” which was glorified Chex mix.

But the memories and traditions I really treasure was the service my family would provide to others. The two best things my parents exemplified was a life of hard work and daily service. I remember when it was time to bring gifts to the “giving tree” at school, the other kids would bring a gift each and I would bring a sack of presents to give away, all lovingly purchased by my mom. When I was really young I would look around and compare my sack of gifts and wonder why my mom bought so much. I learned over the years that she always gave so much. She always gives away her Christmas bonuses. Any money saved in her change jar was given away. All her spare time was given away too.

John A. Widstoe said, “How can we give to the Lord? What shall we give to him? Every kind word to our own, every help given them, is as a gift to God, whose chief concern is the welfare of his children. Every gentle deed to our neighbor, every kindness to the poor and suffering, is a gift to the Lord, before whom all mankind are equal. Every conformity to the Lord’s plan of salvation—and this is of first importance—is a direct gift to God, for thereby we fit ourselves more nearly for our divinely planned destiny…Do we stand ready to sacrifice for the cause of the Lord in the unpaid services of the Church? That is, are our time, talents, and means at the disposal of those who administer the Lord’s work? Great is the gift from such a hand.”

I have enjoyed this topic and the chance it’s given me to notice the wonderful giving going on around me. 135 Blessing Bags for the homeless, well over 300 children helped by Helping Hands in Sherwood this year, our ward’s Giving Tree, Blankets made for a women’s shelter, to name a few. Last year my brother and his in-laws dressed up like Santa Claus and his elves and hand delivered donated Christmas gifts to families on Christmas day. Have you heard about the anonymous donors paying off layaways at Kmarts around the country? According to a news article 100 layways have been paid off by donors at the Kmarts around the Portland area.

Yesterday Greg and I went to the temple with my parents and my brother and his wife to do sealings for some close relatives. I had never done that before. As we sat in the sealing room, I felt like there was nothing better I could be doing during the Christmas season than giving my relatives the gift of being sealed and all the rights of the gospel that go with that covenant. My grandma Hazel died two months ago and was the source of many of my happy childhood Christmas memories. While her death was too recent to do her temple work this time, it seemed so fitting to seal her parents and all her siblings together during the time of year that reminds me of her most.

For many of us we have spent a Christmas or two in less than ideal circumstances. No children, no spouse, no parents, no money, no home, no time.

I have spent the past few months thinking about the source of my own happiness. I have thought and studied and prayed about how to have joy even during hard times. I have come to know that the source of happiness and peace is the Savior. I know that if we use Him as our source of strength and give to others even when we feel we don’t have anything to give, we will be blessed with abundance.

3 Nephi 12:3 says, “Yea, blessed are the poor in spirit who come until me, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

How do we come unto the Savior? Elder Holland says, “[Jesus] is saying to us, “Trust me, learn of me, do what I do. Then, when you walk where I am going,” He says, “we can talk about where you are going, and the problems you face and the troubles you have. If you will follow me, I will lead you out of darkness,” He promises. “I will give you answers to your prayers. I will give you rest to your souls.”

At Christmas-time we increase our focus on giving, love, family, peace, and Jesus Christ. For many of us we feel the Savior’s love more during December because of all we receive. The anonymous gift of cash or treats on the porch helps us feel that the Lord knows our struggles and loves us enough to inspire someone to reach out and help. But whether we feel the Lord’s love or not, his love is there. It is real. He loves us whether we seek his love. He loves us whether we see His love. He has atoned for us already whether we are ready to accept that gift or not. Jesus Christ does not withhold any of his gifts because we aren’t ready or willing. They are there all the time. We must give up our fears, doubts, and anger -- and when we do, we become aware of the love of God that was there all the time.

One of the most powerful stories of faith in the Book of Mormon is the story of the Brother of Jared. He trusted that the Lord in all his power could illuminate the stones to provide light for their barges. Jesus put forth his finger to light the stones and the brother of Jared was able to see him. Now, Jesus would have been there whether the brother of Jared had enough faith to see him or not. In other words, our faith or lack of faith doesn’t change the behavior of Jesus. But the brother of Jared’s faith – and our faith – allows us to see the miracles the Lord performs. Ether 3:9 says, “And the Lord said unto him; Because of thy faith thou has seen that I shall take upon me flesh and blood; and never has man come before me with such exceeding faith as thou hast.”

When Moses and the Israelites were in the wilderness the Lord sent fiery serpents to humble them. When the Israelites got bit Moses told them to look at a brass serpent on a pole. If they did, they would live. Alma 33:20 says, “But few understood the meaning of those things, and this because of the hardness of their hearts. But there were many who were so hardened that they would not look, therefore they perished. Now the reason they would not look is because they did not believe that it would heal them.”

Like the Israelites, Jesus’ atonement has already bought us eternal life. All we must do is look to Him. John 3:14-15 says, “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten son that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”

We can still feel the spirit of Christmas while suffering. In fact, your humility during hard times will bring you even closer to Him. Jesus Christ has already paid the price for your happiness. I know he has for me. Jesus Christ is there. If we learn more about him through scripture study, fasting, and prayer; seek Him out through worship at church and the temple; and focus our energies on service – His love will sink deep into our hearts. And no matter the ups and downs of life, we will always have peace and joy.

Jesus Christ knew his eternal destiny. He knew he would suffer and die for us, yet he didn’t waste his few mortal years worrying, but spent them serving those around him. During this Christmas-time we can ask, if Jesus were on the earth, what gifts would he give. Those are the gifts we can give.

In the year 2000 the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve published the “Living Christ: The Testimony of the Apostles.” I love the final paragraph. It says, “We bear testimony, as His duly ordained Apostles—that Jesus is the Living Christ, the immortal Son of God. He is the great King Immanuel, who stands today on the right hand of His Father. He is the light, the life, and the hope of the world. His way is the path that leads to happiness in this life and eternal life in the world to come. God be thanked for the matchless gift of His divine Son.”

This is also my testimony. In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011


The family in front of the fire at the Great Wolf Lodge

Last year we surprised the kids and took them to the Great Wolf Lodge on Sambo's birthday. When Buddy and I were waiting in line for one of the waterslides, Buddy said, "If you ever want to surprise me again, do this."  I kept that in mind and decided to plan another surprise.  We went again on Sambo's birthday this year and invited my parents, G's parents who were in town for Buddy's baptism, and my brother and his family.  Obviously, it was a rip roarin' good time.

Buddy has been eating like a champ for a year hoping he'd grow tall enough to ride the biggest slide.  When the nurse measured him at 48 inches at his pediatrician check-up a few weeks ago he shouted, "YES!  I can ride the Tornado at Great Wolf Lodge!!!!!"  The nurse said he wasn't the first kid to be excited to arrive at 48 inches tall.

However, when the girl at the entrance at GWL measured him, he was probably 1/2 inch too short by their measuring stick.  Thank goodness the girl had mercy on him and gave him the "all clear."  I have never been so relieved and Buddy was completely overjoyed.  We never would have heard the end of the weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth had she stuck to the sign's warning that they make "no exceptions" for not meeting height requirements.

Buddy spent the next two days riding slides without stopping.  The Lodge was practically empty since we were there on a Monday and Tuesday, which meant there was no waiting in any lines for the slides.  Which then meant Buddy climbed the steps repeatedly without stopping the entire time.  We all tried to estimate how many steps he climbed or how many slides he rid, but it was too many to count.  It was totally unreal how excited he was -- and his stamina for the climbing and the slides was mind-boggling.  (Literally.  We all got super dizzy trying to keep up with him.)  I probably did 25 slides with him and that was plenty.  G and his dad and my brother each probably did twice that each.  And my dad probably did 3 times that with him.  I really regret not putting a pedometer on him.  That kid is crazy, I tell you.

A few interesting experiences.  G had the whistle blown at him at least 10 times and I had it blown at me once.  Then one time Buddy was swimming in the wave pool and the lifeguard thought he was struggling in the water (he wasn't) and jumped in to rescue him.  The supervising lifeguard filled out an "incident report" about the whole ordeal.  Buddy was mortified and was really shaken up about it.  The lifeguards reassured him "they jump in after kids all the time."  Then the next day Buddy slipped while running and cracked his head on the ground pretty bad.  My brother did a check on him for a concussion and the lifeguards all gathered around with worried looks and ice packs.  He turned out to be fine, despite a pretty big lump and bruise.  By some miracle, they didn't write another incident report.  Thank goodness because I don't think Buddy would have recovered from the humiliation and I don't think I would have recovered from the anxiety of having such a crazy kid.

Sambo taking a little snooze.  

Sambo also had a ball.  He could only go on the smaller two slides, but he had fun doing those and playing in the wave pool and the kiddie area.  He loves playing in the water, so he was in heaven too.  And unlike his brother, he actually got tired and fell asleep at one point in G's arms.  And he didn't do anything to warrant any incident reports.

It was really fun being there with family and we decided that going with friends or family is the only way to go.  There is no way G and I could have kept up with Buddy alone.  As for me, I finally got up the courage to ride the Tornado with Buddy.  He had been begging me since last year and I finally sucked it up in exchange for him returning to the wave pool (the location of the embarrassing "save" from the lifeguard).  I was terrified, but I decided to go twice in a row to try to really overcome my fear.  It didn't work!  In fact, when we got done Buddy asked me, "Where you really crying, mom?"  No I wasn't, but almost.  I don't need to fall off cliffs in an inner-tube to give myself that rush everybody likes.  I have enough anxiety, stress, and adrenaline in my life.  Thank you very much.

Saturday, December 10, 2011


My baby is Four!  Sambo hasn't been a baby in a long time, but I still pretend.

We celebrated at Great Wolf Lodge (more details coming).  We also threw him his first "friend" birthday party today.  He and his brother share the same friends, so it was especially fun.  We had an alien and rocket theme because he loves stuff that flies and is super into aliens.  I suggested we invite some "real" aliens and his eyes got especially big and he said, "That's feepy" (creepy).  He said the kids would all cry and would want to go home.  So we scrapped that idea.

The kids with their rockets.

Instead we encouraged the kids to be creative and build rockets out of craft supplies we provided.  The kids did such a great job, especially with G as our creative director.  G and I made a good party planning team.  I know how to handle kids and he knows how to help kids have a good time.  Next we hunted for hidden stars around the house.  The kid that won got a starburst.  And the kid that found the special "moon" got a starburst.  (Get it?  starburst?)  Then G showed the kids several youtube videos of real rocket launches and landings.  They were totally impressed.  I don't think Sambo broke his stare at the TV for a solid 10 minutes.  He was totally spellbound.  Next up was balloon rockets.  We filled balloons with some pinto beans, blew the balloons up slightly, taped some streamers to the bottom and we had us some rockets.  Then we burned a bit of energy with a few minutes of freeze dance.  It's our family's party trademark.  We play this at every kid party and I usually play it when I teach preschool.  It's so hilarious to watch a pack of kids cut some serious rug.  This year the song was the clean version of "E.T." by Katy Perry.  So awesome!

Then it was time for presents and then cupcakes.  I've said it before and I'll say it again, I abhor making fancy cakes and cupcakes.  Why I continue to make an effort is beyond me.  I'm pretty sure I will not be doing it again.  (Maybe making cupcakes is like giving birth, though.  By the time next year rolls around I will have forgotten the pain, agony, and sacrifice involved and I'll agree to do it again.  Please someone stop me before I agree to do it again!)  This year I attempted alien cupcakes.  I did a horrible job, although they still turned out cute, only because the design was awesome and not because of my handiwork.

Then it was pinata time.  Sambo has been wanting a birthday party with a pinata for a long time.  We got a star pinata because I wasn't on the ball enough to get a cooler alien one online.  Amazingly, no one got smacked in the face.  I thought for sure it would happen and was relieved it didn't.  The parents came just as we were finishing the pinata.  We still had a few more activities in reserve if we needed to fill time, including a paper airplane contest (we have the best spot to launch them from upstairs) and making a cratered moon out of paper plates and foil.  All in all, it was a super simple party but the kids were busy the whole time and G and I never lost control.  Sambo LOVES crafts, so we went heavy on the crafts.

Now for the part of the post where I brag about my totally awesome son.  Sambo is the type of kid that makes infertile women grieve.  He is a mother's dream.  Honestly, he is so easy to parent and is an absolute delight.  We love him so much!  G and I say he wakes up cuter every day.  His very best talent is being cute.  He is darling, he talks cute and he has cute interests.  

Sambo is very active and runs all around all the time, but he has a very easygoing personality.  He rides his bike amazingly well and is a whiz on his scooter.  He learned to swim this summer and if we were more on the ball as parents and took him swimming more through the winter, he would probably be really awesome by next summer.  His other major talent is the roundhouse he can do while perched in his carseat.  I feel really bad for Buddy, but Buddy has yet to learn to move his face away from the range of Sambo's foot.  The range on his kick is really impressive, though, so there is probably little Buddy can do to get away from him. 

Sambo spends his entire life trying to keep up with his very smart and very active older brother, and he does pretty well.  He gets worn out much quicker than Buddy, but he makes a valiant effort.  He loves to be treated like the "big kids" and he actually started hyperventilating at the gym this week when he realized he is old enough to be in the "big kid" room.  He begged his brother stay with him so they could play together in that room.  He was paralyzed by joy and wouldn't even walk into the room.  He just stood there and repeated over and over again, "I play with Yoah?  I play with my brother?  Me old enough?!!!!!" over and over again.

 Sambo with his new alien lego set. 

Sambo is very artistic and makes the best drawings and hangs them all over the house.  I love this part of motherhood.  I love having a gallery of kid drawings taped above my bed and handmade kid ornaments all over the Christmas tree.  A month or so ago Sambolegos amazingly well.  And his attention span is better than most children twice his age.  Last night he sat and quietly built legos with his birthmom for an hour and a half. He would sit and do "homework" with me on the couch all day if I had time to sit with him.

 Sambo playing legos with his birthmom.

He is very eager to please and cries really hard when he gets in trouble, especially in public.  When he is disciplined he fixes his behavior immediately.  He goes days without getting a timeout.  I can take him anywhere because he is the rare child that actually cooperates in the store, falls asleep in the car but wakes up happy, rarely gets cranky, and falls asleep every week during church so we don't have to bother to entertain him.  We often say that if he had come first (which remember, if he had not been placed for adoption, he would have been...) his parent(s) would have assumed they were the bomb.  He makes us feel like we are doing things right!  And trust me, that's a good feeling.  

Oh, how we love him.  It's not right to love somebody because they are good.  But we do.  And lucky for us, he also is lovable for about a million other reasons.  He is such a wonderful son.  I have no idea where life will take him, but I hope life treats him good and never sucks the simple joy from him.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Exhaustion -- Part 2

Photo not taken today.  I wish!  Taken a few weeks ago.  Should I be embarrassed about such awkward photos of myself on the Internet?  I'm not. 

I'm taking a much-earned break from all my hard work this week to update you on my "to do" list.  You would be so proud!  I have accomplished many items on my list.  Unfortunately, I thought of a bunch more critical items I should have listed, but don't worry, they got done too.  This happened mostly because of the fantastic help of friends and family.  G is a workhorse and has happily complied with the list, helping a ton.  One benefit of having hyper children is they are very good to help.  Buddy has always been a great worker and did a great job of vacuuming the garage and the car, cleaning his rooms and doing tons of other odds and ends jobs.  Sambo did his fair share too, including being cooperative while I was busy every day.  And then my friends. One friend watched Sambo today.  A friend went to the store to pick out Buddy's suit.  A friend came into my house and folded my laundry pile.  A friend sent an email offering support.  A friend got all of Buddy's supplies at the Scout store so he would be properly outfitted for his first Pack Meeting.  A friend took charge of typing and printing the program for Buddy's baptism.  And friends have offered to help make treats for the party after the baptism.  I HATE asking for help, and ABHOR taking help.  But my tasks this week were non-negotiable and there was no possible way to get everything done without losing my mind.  It's yet another lesson that I/you don't need to be a martyr.  People are willing to help.  They want to!  And the reason I know they want to help is because most of these acts of service were taken care of before I even had a chance to ask.  Our family has wonderful friends. 

And here's something else kind of funny concerning exhaustion.  G mentioned yesterday that he's literally never been so tired in all his life.  At first we assumed it was because we're busy and our weights class at the gym was particularly hard yesterday. But then we realized we've had turkey for dinner and lunch in one form or another since Thanksgiving.  I made a 26.6 pound turkey and we had a lot of leftovers.  Tryptophan is catching up to us apparently.