Thursday, December 18, 2014

All Things Christmas!

Hello, dear neglected blog.

We had Thanksgiving. Christmas celebrations are in full swing. I'm 32 weeks pregnant tomorrow. Life keeps marching on...

All the Highlights: 

Thanksgiving: We had two families in our ward join us for dinner and the afternoon. It was so fun! Lots of great food, laughter, and conversation. The Sister Missionaries stopped by, too. I have to admit that hosting was a lot of fun. I was stressed out (I'm always stressed, though... it's genetic), but the family was awesome to help clean the house the night before to get things ready and Brandon helped me make most of the dinner the next morning. Our guests also brought food and their personalities are just so laid back that it made everything work. We used paper products, too! And all the kids had fun playing in the snow and running all over the house.

The weekend after was incredibly low-key --no black Friday shopping, no trips, no errands, no visiting, no... anything. Just eating lots of leftovers, watching movies, reading books, decorating for Christmas, and sleeping. Just what we all needed!

(It snowed the day before Thanksgiving!)

(Building snowmen in the dark)

(I've been collecting Nativities for a while, and although my collection is small, I love it a lot. In order, starting with the top photo, L to R: Nesting from Deseret Book (DB), Olive wood from Israel, small one from DB, ceramic one that used to be in Brandon's home (his mom gave it to me!!), small one from my paternal Grandmother's collection, another small one from DB, a small olive wood one from Israel, another one from DB, and another nesting one from DB. The bottom photo, L to R: Beautiful picture I love and framed (it had been in a calendar), little pot ones #1 made, the next two are ones I made at different RS activities, and then the first one I ever purchased (the white ceramic ones).)

(The pre-lit tree decided to stop working in the middle. It works now. Because I just put on another string where it wasn't working. Ha!)

(We started our Advent tradition on the first Sunday in December)

Christmas Parties: We went to a Wharton party in downtown Philadelphia (just Brandon and I) and we were late due to protesters blocking downtown traffic (Ferguson protesters). Luckily, there was no violence that we knew of! The views were great and the building is really close to the construction site of the new Philadelphia LDS Temple. It was fun to meet new people and eat fancy finger foods at the top of one of the highest buildings in the city.

Then a few days later, we went to another party for grown-ups at our friend's house. We played hilarious games, had a white elephant exchange, and ate amazing food. It reminded me of our time in CA when several couples would get together quite often for all kinds of fun (good, clean fun, too)!

(The Philadelphia LDS Temple!)

(All dressed up for the Wharton party in Philly!)

(#1 made this for me!)

Violin Recital: I was asked by my friend to accompany her students for their Winter recital (I had helped at their Spring recital. I think I blogged about it here). Although I played most of the songs without ever having rehearsed with the kids (some of the more difficult pieces we rehearsed just before the recital), it turned out awesome. I was accompanying Christmas music for cute kids who are beginning and intermediate violin students --how could I not be in my element? It was so fun!

(The church at night. We didn't use the church for the recital because the boiler wasn't working (i.e. it was cold!) and so we used the building right across the parking lot where the church holds activities and has it's offices and such. The church is called Christ Church Ithan --it's Episcopal.)

Ward Party: The Relief Society plans our ward party each year, and since I'm the RS activity leader, it means there was a lot to do! But it turned out so awesome. We had a Mexican Feast (tamales, enchiladas, rice, beans, and a taco bar), a piñata for the kids, musical numbers by the Bishopric, Christmas carol singing with the youth, a storybook reading, Santa Claus, and the Primary put on the most perfect, short, adorable Nativity Play. It was a fantastic night! Lots of people came; lots of people helped clean up.

(Our music chairperson, Brandon, Bro M, and Bishop!)

(#5 is over there with all the other little Shepherds! #4 was a Wiseman, but I didn't get a photo because I was taking a video at that part. In fact, most of it was in video. Maybe I'll upload them in the next blog post!)

(#2 is on the bottom right --she was one of the narrators. #3 is on the top right! The angels sang a lot)

(#4 isn't sure what he wants...)

(#5 was soooo cute with Santa! When he walked in, he went and stood near the children before going to the chair and #5 was standing right next to him. His face was lit up with complete awe and joy as he stared up at Santa (who was Brother M. Shhhh!! Don't tell!!). It was the most wonderful expression and made everyone who saw it so... happy! Yes, happy. Kind of giggly, you know?)

(#6 doesn't speak very clearly so we weren't sure what he wanted, but I was impressed he wasn't afraid of Santa this year!)

(#5 going at it!)

(#6 was pretty good! When the thing finally broke open, the kids were like feral baboons and went crazy. I've never seen such greed. Kids ended up crying and some of us adults had to break up the chaos. We also FIRMLY (okay, I was a total mom at this point) suggested the kids share with the little kids to make sure everyone was happy. Luckily, there was plenty to go around. It reminded me why I actually don't really like piñatas. Ah, well!)

Messiah Sing-along: Brandon and I participated in our Stake's yearly Messiah concert. He sang bass and I sang alto in the choir, and we've been attending rehearsals for about a month. It was held the day after the ward party, and it was wonderful. The power of Handel's music is simply other-worldly! I'm so glad we participated this year. One lady asked me (when she found out I was having my 7th baby and was getting Christmas ready for our family): "How do you have time to come sing in this?" and I said, simply, "Oh, this is my break!" And it's true. Music is my lifeblood!

(Our paper snowflakes made it snow!)

(Rare clean house with a roaring fire! Brandon is getting pretty spectacular at creating long-lasting, very hot fires for our home.)

Sixers vs. Celtics: For FHE this past week, we went to the Philadelphia 76ers game. We took a friend who loves the Celtics and we had a great time! Kind of nice that the Sixers aren't very good, simply because that means the seats aren't all full and traffic isn't super crazy. ;)

(#4, #1, our friend, #3)

(Can't see the guys on the court, but oh, well. #5, #2, and #4 jumped in again)

(#6 fell asleep on the way to the game so he wasn't very happy for a while. It was "too loud!" Brandon just copied him for the photo!)

(I rarely take photos of myself, anymore, but I made sure to document that I was at the game, too!)

Kindergarten Gingerbread Making:
#5 got to invite a special guest to come to his class to make a gingerbread house (you know, with graham crackers). He was excited that his dad got to go! Brandon sent me this photo when they were finished:

UP NEXT:

Christmas Music Evening: Our dear friends do a music evening each year where all we do is sing and play glorious Christmas music and eat food they refuse to let us bring. It has been wonderful and this will be the 2nd time we get to go! I'm grateful for this because my Aunt/Uncle have done a similar FHE every December for forever... and it's like I've never missed it. Oh, the people have changed (I miss my family), but it's wonderful to be able to participate in a similar tradition!

Sacrament Meeting Christmas Program: I was asked to write this year's program. I have to admit I loved every minute of it. I wrote the script and put together all the musical numbers. All the narration comes directly from the scriptures, and on the agenda we have:
4 Congregational hymns (while I play a piano/organ duet with the organist on one of them)
2 Ward Choir numbers
1 female trio singing "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel"
1 male quartet singing "Guard Him, Joseph" with a flute obbligato (I accompany this one)
1 cello/piano duet playing "Away in a Manger"
3 sisters performing, "O Holy Night" with harp and violin accompaniment

I'm really excited and looking forward to it!

BYU Bowl Game: Brandon is taking the girls. The lucky kids are missing the last two days of school next week so they can fly down to Florida with him and their Grandpa. I'm staying with the boys and I have to admit I'm glad. I have too much to do!

Christmas Eve/Day: I already have most of the gifts already wrapped (and everything bought! Finally! All relative gifts are sent, too! And since I'm not sending Christmas cards this year (waiting for baby to be born), that made things a bit easier. I just have to deliver the neighbor/friend gifts, and finish wrapping.

[And I have to admit: I love having Christmas with just my small little family. I'm not against visitors or family in general (trust me!! Come visit us!!), but there is just something truly intimate and magical about spending Christmas with just our little family, no stress for me with guests coming, no anxiety for me about keeping them entertained or feeling obligated to take care of them as well as the children. Yes, it is all about me, dear reader! Didn't you know!? Is that wrong? Oh, well, then I don't wanna be right!] 

The plan for Christmas Eve will be thusly:
*If we haven't done it, yet, make gingerbread houses (i.e. graham cracker houses)
*Watch White Christmas, It's a Wonderful Life, The Christmas Story, Elf, and any others I've forgotten (or maybe we'll start watching them the day before!)
*Eat dinner (ham, funeral potatoes, beans, rolls, sparkling cider, shortbread cookies, pie)
*Sing everyone's favorite Christmas Carols
*Act out the Nativity
*Fill the Jesus stocking
*Open one gift (very specific gift I've chosen... hint... it's probably what everyone opens on Christmas Eve!)
*Do Advent! (scripture, song, story, and probably a video on the Nativity, too)

Christmas Day:
*Wake up after 7AM (seriously. SERIOUSLY)
*Gifts
*Cinnamon roll breakfast
*Music
*Laziness
*Eat and sleep, etc.

PHEW! (And I didn't even mention all the small things and tithing settlement and crazy scheduling and visiting teaching!)

I still have to think about all the household chores and day-to-day living (and dr appointments and homework and, and, and...), but I am LOVING this time of year. I know it's been very hard and stressful (especially since I'm slower and have to take care of baby more, and that means the house feels like constant chaos), but it's taught me a few things:
1. I love music so much. Everything I've had to do that has to do with music, I have loved. Adored. It is not stressful to me --even when I'm earnestly practicing difficult parts, it is a joy to me.
2. I love Jesus Christ, and any chance I have to teach my kids about how important and wonderful He is, and how wonderful it was that He was born is worth it to me.
3. I love giving gifts to my children. And my in-laws and siblings and parents and neighbors.

MERRY CHRISTMAS, DEAR READER! I hope your holidays are full of joy and love and peace! Here are some videos that will bring you happiness. Or lots of sobbing. They made me cry a lot, but then again, I'm incredibly pregnant right now... xoxoxo








Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The Not-So-Parable of the Stuck Van

It's way too soon to laugh about this (although the rest of the family already has, and Brandon has been laughing about it within an hour after it had happened), but I learned some hard lessons last night about my ridiculous reactions to things.

Yesterday was a half-day of school for the older boys. When they came home, they ate lunch, and then asked if they could play with some friends. I knew the friends they were going to play with, although I didn't know (by memory) the house they would be playing. I didn't tell them when to be home, but we have a family rule: when it gets dark, get your butt home.

The girls came home from school, I cleaned the kitchen, it was getting darker. No sign of the boys. I waited. I waited. I called the house where they were supposed to be --no answer. I called another friend who had gone with them --he was already home and said the boys had stayed at this other house.

Grrrrrr.

I called that other house again. This time, the friend answered and said the boys had already left for home. So, I waited. And waited. And started looking out the windows and pacing. By now, it's pitch black outside, it's almost 6PM (sunset is around 4:45PM), and I'm really worried. Not only were they coming home in the dark, but our streets are not safe for pedestrians even in the light, let alone the dark! #3 had taken his bike, too...

Finally, exasperated, frustrated, I told the girls I'm going to look for them. I went in my stocking feet, got in the van (our Bison. Our 12 passenger van. Because Brandon wasn't quite home from work, although I knew he was on his way home), and pulled out of the driveway. I went down to the edge of our property and that's when my headlights saw the boys, so I pulled over to the left. Brandon, who happened to be driving down our street, had seen me pull out of the driveway and go down the street, and in his confusion as to what I was doing, had followed me. He also pulled over. I rolled down the window, told the boys they are in SO MUCH TROUBLE!!! (and I probably yelled other things, too. I don't remember...) and told them to go inside.

I was so angry. I had been so worried, I was frustrated that Brandon followed me, upset that I hadn't had more patience (seriously, 2 minutes and they would have been home), and I took it out on the van. I started a 5 gazillion point turn (our street is narrow), and in my flustered emotions, I backed one wheel over the edge of the road and onto the grass (we have no sidewalks). Well, dear reader, it was 68 degrees last night. And we have a lot of water in our ground, here. Wanna take a guess at what happened?

I was totally stuck.

I figured I could maneuver it out, but it kept getting worse. Then, in panic, I reversed again, and both back wheels went over the edge. Lovely. I was so stuck, and upset, and crying, and angry, and Brandon, watching me do all of this, just walked over to the van. I jumped out and went to his car and drove it into the garage, while he tried to grapple with the van.

It stayed on the front lawn all night long.

During dinner (making dinner, too), I was so upset. Upset with the boys, upset with the situation, but mostly upset with myself. I was snippy, and cried a bit, and yelled, and pouted (I could blame pregnant hormones, and my mental illness, but it's all of that combined with my weakness of a generally short fuse). FHE made things a bit less tense in the family, and we all felt the tension (i.e. MY tension) release. The boys had felt horrible. Just horrible. #4 had lost a football at their friend's house and they had been looking for it; #3 knew I was worried and he could sense my frustration from three blocks away! They knew they were going to be in trouble. And I made them feel worse.

This morning, Brandon tried to get the van out again (using boards under the wheels, etc.) and had no luck (it's only 55 degrees, now). Since I had to have the van today (I have three parent-teacher conferences and an eye appointment for #1), he called AAA. The tow truck had the van out in seconds.

How I wish last night had gone down:

*I waited for the boys.
*I calmly grounded the boys from playing with friends tomorrow for breaking the rule (I did, in fact, ground them, but the operative word of how I wish I had done it is "calmly.")
*The End.

But that's not what happened, so I just have to admit that I was wrong. I was justified in my worry and the punishment. But the anger? No justification there. My embarrassment, my pride, my impatience? It was so awesome to see all my weaknesses on display for the whole neighborhood and all of my family. And by awesome, I mean, "horrifyingly humiliating."

Thank goodness for repentance. And forgiveness.

And I'll laugh about it later.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Grateful for Brandon

Today, my husband turns 38 years old! I know it's not a significant type of birthday; we're still pretty young, but I find that each year we spend together means something significant --each year we get older is rather miraculous. Not because we're dying (although I guess we could get into the philosophical discussion that we all begin to die once we are born, but who wants to dwell on that!?), but because life is so fragile and we're blessed to have so much of it!

Last year, I wrote about 37 reasons why I love him. The year before that, I wrote 36 random facts about him. This year, I've decided to just share a few photos and anecdotes about his awesomeness. 

He is a handsome man! 

And can be a bit nerdy, too. Cute nerdy! 

See!? Look at that face?! Handsomest guy in the world!

He's a great public speaker and presenter.

And he loves to travel and see new things (like me!):
The Great Wall of China near Beijing, 2010

Island of St. John, 2014

Buckingham Palace in London, 2009

Being goofy by the Shrimp Shack on the highway from Honolulu to Laie, Hawaii, 2011

Waterton National Park in Alberta, Canada, 2008

Catching Fish in the Bay of Banderas in Puerto Vallarta, 2004 

He's a wonderful date!



And he has a brilliant mind:
Wharton Graduation (Executive MBA) 2011

He loves his kids a lot:
Nearby Arboretum 

Fishing in Connecticut

Hiking Battle Creek Falls 

Niagara Falls

Playing a game at FHE

Arches National Park

Avila Beach, California

The "Y" trailhead

Hiking to Stewart Falls

Raymond Parade (Canada)

Riding horses in 2004

Playing catch at the park in September 2014

All in all, Brandon is a very good man. He works hard to provide for our family, and he is always more than willing to serve the Lord. He's a complicated and talented and beautiful soul, and I'm so grateful for our life together. I dearly love him.

Happy Birthday, Brandon. Here's to many more!