Thursday, December 27, 2007

Christmas Traditions

Wow, the kids are at such fun ages this year for Christmas! And it's interesting to see the big kids so attached to the traditions we've developed over the years and adopted from others. They remembered so many of the details of how we've done things in the past and were quite insistent that we do things just so this year. It was so fun to sit with them at bedtime and talk about all the things they were SO looking forward to for Christmas - and most of the things they talked about had to do with traditions. It's fun to throw in some new things and I'm not nearly as attached to traditions as I was as a kid, so I'm all for mixing things up a bit - but I guess a year is a lot longer to a kid so it's more fun and special to do the same thing the same way a different year for them than it is for me. Anyway, here are a few pictures of some of the traditions we did this year.We always visit Santa and the Santa at Tuachan seems to be emerging as the best one around here. The kids said they were pretty sure he was the real one. The twins were somewhat unsure about the whole thing, but were pretty happy to sit on Santa's lap once he promised them candy!
Eli and Julie were in town this year to go with us to see the live Nativity at Tuachan - always fun to see the lights there and experience a nicely done and short Nativity play (perfect - 20 minutes -all the little kids can handle especially in the cold of the outdoor amphitheater). We like that Julie. Eli was here to help a bunch of volunteers make phone calls for Mitt Romney down at the clubhouse here and Jared and I pitched in and made phone calls for a while - nice to be at least a bit involved in the upcoming election and support Eli.

Our gingerbread house this year was MUCH easier and more nice-looking than the one last year. Last year we did the whole thing from scratch and wow - that's quite a process figuring out just the right dimensions for each piece of the house, making the dough, cutting things out, getting it to stick together with homemade frosting that's not quite the right consistency... This year was way easier and the kids thought the Costco kit I bought was the greatest thing. Next year, maybe graham cracker houses will do! This is not my favorite tradition but the kids love it - something about an edible house is just so fun I guess.
Here we are ready to go see the Nutcracker.

The Nutcracker was a new thing we tried out this year - some of our good friends were in it (their son, Blake, is with us in this photo) so we went. The production was really nice - great costumes and good quality performances all around and lots of kids in it. Really impressive for a town this size! Eliza really loved the whole thing. Isaac generally has a hard time whispering and when the first boy ballet dancer leaped onto the stage, he said very loudly, "Hey, why's that guy wearing TIGHTS?!" Isaac fell asleep and Ashton begged to leave towards the end after 15 minutes of the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Prince dancing and seeming like they would keep dancing forever. That part does drag a bit, I agree. Overall it was a great experience and the kids were good and really liked it and were delighted to see people they know on the stage. I'm not sure this needs to be an annual tradition, though!

On the Sunday before Christmas, the kids get some new Christmas clothes and we take pictures. The clothes-getting or picture-taking isn't really a favorite thing for the boys but Eliza loves it - and so do I. I expect that some day the kids will be glad for these pictures!

Christmas Eve morning we had Jo and Aja over for brunch and a gift exchange and playing the chimes together - for the third year running now. We love having them for neighbors! The kids were DELIGHTED by the gift from Jo and Aja this year - a Blue Man Group instrument that they've been playing with non-stop.

Christmas Eve dinner, we transport ourselves back to the time of Christ, dress up like Mary's family seeing her and Joseph off to Bethlehem, and eat Middle Eastern food on special plates from Israel and Bulgaria in the candlelight.

Then Mary gets on the trusty donkey and they go to Bethlehem.

Then we act out the Nativity play. The kids are getting pretty good at it.
The twins got to watch Frosty the Snowman downstairs since they weren't really getting the whole thing - maybe next year. They did show up at the end and were so cute about holding baby Jesus and singing their favorite Christmas songs with us - the "Jesus Birthday" song (In a Little Stable) and the "Manger Song" (Away in a Manger).
Just before going to bed on Christmas Eve, all the kids hang up their stockings and open up a present containing new PJs. Here they are - so excited! They were actually so great about going to bed and going right to sleep, worried Santa could pass us right by if they were still awake.

Looking at all these pictures makes me realize the tiredness I feel is a small price to pay for such great memories represented by all these photos. It's so much work to make all these things happen - but it's so worth it in the end! The kids keep saying "This is the BEST Christmas EVER" and that makes everything worthwhile.

More on Christmas Day later. Got to go re-wrap some presents Ollie just unwrapped that are supposed to go to cousins. These guys sure like unwrapping presents! We couldn't put anything under the tree - everything had to be tucked away until Christmas...

Children for Children and Joy School Program

This is the only decent photo I got, darn it, but on the 11th, after lots of cleaning and baking goodies and practicing and setting up every chair and stool downstairs plus adding in some from Jo and Aja's house, we had our first annual Children for Children Concert. We had about 60 people come, had about 20 kids perform and raised a grand total of $880 at the concert. We watched all the kids do their performances, then watched the tear-jerker videoThe kids were SO excited as they counted the money - "another $20!" "here's a $50 bill!" "no way, a check for $200!" They couldn't possibly be more excited on Christmas morning than they were that Tuesday night, totaling up all the donations and thinking of all the nice warm clothes and blankets and Christmas parties and medical care and good food the orphans would get thanks to their efforts. And Ashton immediately worked on doubling our total to include the Eyrealm matching funds and when he said "hey that's like $1700 or something - the orphans are going to be rich!" all the kids sat there speechless, smiling with glee for a moment. Now that was a real CHRISTmas moment for me. And when I tucked Ashton into bed that night, he said "Mommy, this was the best day of my whole entire life!" That brought tears to my eyes. As the song says and the kids' experienced, "the very best part of Christmas time are the presents you give away." What a night we had! It was crazy getting it all together, but so worth it! This will definitely be a Christmas tradition for us every year.

And then the next week, we had our Joy School Christmas program and I have to say it was by far the best one my kids have been a part of. Maybe it's because the kids were a little older than past groups I've worked with, maybe it's because I've done this enough times now that it works out better with experience, maybe it's because we had kids who were just really into it - but it was all very cute and Eliza was a great angel, standing on a chair and announcing to Mary "You're going to have a very special baby who will teach everyone how to love." And then to the shepherds "Don't be scared, I'm here to tell you about a wonderful thing! A new baby has been born and he will save the world. If you follow the star you will find him!" She got rid of her feigned shyness long enough to announce everything loud and clear.
Cam was a great innkeeper, Grayce was a very devoted and serious Mary, Olivia had a great time pretending to be scared of the angel as a shepherd and Heath decided that Joseph should hop like a bunny on the whole route to Bethlehem but was very attentive to Mary and the baby once they got to the stable. So cute! And they all totally sang their hearts out on "In a Little Stable" and "Away in a Manger." We have the greatest little Joy School group this year.

Sunday, December 09, 2007


I just got the twins to sleep. After trying routines involving songs and prayers and gentle tucking in, then finding ourselves resorting to pleading, threatening, and spanking after they get out of bed like 20 times, we've finally realized the only way to get Oliver and Silas to sleep is to lie down with them. I tried this for a nap last week and after laying by them for 5 minutes to ensure they stayed still, they were sound a sleep. And now they're finally napping again and going to sleep at night without hours of putting them back to bed with increasing frustration every time. They'd be so cute with saying their prayers and singing several songs with us (their favorites are "Gentle Shepherd," the "horsie song" which is really Hushabye, "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star" and "Winken Blinken and Nod"), then we'd kiss them goodnight (they always want butterfly kisses and nose kisses and on and on), then we'd say goodnight - and then they'd be jumping around 1 minute later. They are always so tired but they just CAN'T go to sleep with the temptation of playing together ever-present. So they jump on their beds and throw diapers around their room and squeal and sing and pretty much go crazy in there as soon as we leave them alone in their room. While it's hard to find 5 minutes to 1/2 hour - never know how long to expect - to lay down with them, it's become one of my favorite times of day.

These little guys are typically so busy making messes and chasing each other and coming up with wild plots that they don't like to bother much with hugs and snuggles from me. But get them laying down on their beds in a quiet, darkened room and they're total little snugglers. I trade off who I lay down next to and they're always so sweet and excited when it's their turn. Oliver likes to snuggle his head into my neck and have me hold his hand - "Hode hand pees, mommy." He does these little pulse squeezes to my hand as he gradually falls asleep. And while I lay there with Ollie, I watch Si on the bunk above, trying so hard to keep his ever-heavier eye lids open until he just can't. When I lay down by Silas, he likes to lay on his stomach and I'm usually laying there on my side, looking down at Oliver with my head about at Si's stomach. Usually at some point, Si throws his little arm around my neck. Tonight he did that and said, "Mommy, I yuv you." I told him I loved him too and he said, "I weeyee weeyee yuv you." Way to melt my heart! Oh, these are the best little guys! I guess I really need these great little lay-down moments with them to remind myself how very much I love them after the hassles they put me through so very often. It's so beautiful to watch them fall asleep. There's nothing like it. And even more beautiful to be snuggled up to them, to feel their little hand in mine or little arm around my neck, to feel their breath against my neck, to caress their silky platinum hair and soft necks, to take time out to lay there and ponder and relax for a few minutes, to feel needed and loved by these precious little wild ones of mine.
I tend to get too caught up in the wo-is-me of motherhood - so many of the basic tasks of motherhood from diapers to dishes so discipline seem so mundane and repetitive and annoying and mind-numbingly boring. But the hard stuff buys the good stuff - the beautiful moments (like snuggling the twins to sleep), the teaching opportunities (me teaching them, them teaching me), the fun moments (when you get to be a kid again thanks to your kids' exuberance). And some of the hard stuff gets transformed into good stuff with the right attitude (learning moments can fit into doing dishes together, diaper time can be a great time for one-on-one interaction, etc.). And besides the immediate good stuff, I have the satisfaction of knowing that I'm impacting the world in a uniquely meaningful way. That I'm helping to solve the world's problems one teaching moment at a time, one day at a time, one baby at a time.

Here's a new favorite quote I just found in the Ensign that has been helping me find increased joy and purpose in motherhood in the last couple days:

“When God wants a great work done in the world or a great wrong righted, he goes about it in a very unusual way. He doesn’t stir up his earthquakes or send forth his thunderbolts. Instead, he has a helpless baby born, perhaps in a simple home and of some obscure mother. And then God puts the idea into the mother’s heart, and she puts it into the baby’s mind. And then God waits. The greatest forces in the world are not the earthquakes and the thunderbolts. The greatest forces in the world are babies.”
- E. T. Sullivan

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Striving for Contentment

I've been feeling totally overwhelmed and sort of depressed lately - so many people who seem to need too much from me, so many things I really want to do and do well that just don't get done (visiting teaching, cleaning the house, doing things I committed to do for PTA, doing as much as I should do for the young women - and my primary concern - being the sort of mom and wife that I want to be), so many of my hopes and expectations of myself and others unfulfilled every day. I've had so many days lately when I feel like I've accomplished so little from my long to-do list and that I haven't done anything meaningful in the serendipity category either - I've just dealt with messes, thrown something together for dinner, done the bare minimum of cleaning and laundry, barely got homework done, yelled a lot at the kids, ignored their pleas for attention while dealing with in-your-face type needs (food spilled, water all over the bathroom, invitations that had to be printed out for the neighborhood party, a cake that had to be made for the ward party...) and been overly critical of Jared.

I thought I'd come up with a great solution to giving myself a mood-lift and work out and doing something fun with the kids by taking them on envigorating walks (uphill walks with the twins in their double stroller and Liza on her bike setting a fast pace are a really serious workout). And it has helped keep me away from the brink this last week to get a walk in most days. But my walks weren't exactly a cure-all - time for walking takes away time for other things and I feel extra overwhelmed by the piles of mail and laundry and long to-do lists that await me when I get home. I'm realizing a lot of sort of hard things about myself and about life in general lately. Life is good and I have so very very much to be grateful for. But life is hard - mostly because I've made it that way- I've chosen so many of the things that overwhelm me. I can't seem to help but keep choosing to do things that someone ought to do and no one else seems to feel like doing. I keep trying to weed out the things that aren't important so I can do a better job of a few things. But what can I really give up? I'm always so glad that I did things when the craziness is over and I think I'd feel worse about myself and more isolated and depressed if I wasn't using my abilities and talents to do quite a few things.

I've realized this week that I really need to learn how to be content - content with what I can get done, content with my imperfect kids and husband, content with my imperfect attempts to do good things, content with walking away from some things that I don't have time for (and not giving myself a huge guilt trip about everything I just don't do well or don't do at all), content with all that is good and nice in my life. I need to love all that is good and nice rather than sort of shrugging it off because it isn't fabulous or extraordinary. This is hard for me. I've been brought up to NOT be content - to always be striving for more, to be always expecting the best of myself and others ("good is the enemy of best"), to be reaching for ever-higher goals.

I'm trying to strike a balance between hoping for and working towards a better world and understanding and accepting that things won't always work out how I envision - that "best" may not be what I envision it to be, that "best" might actually look like "good" to me a lot of the time. I don't know if this makes sense - I'm still trying to figure it out myself. I fully acknowledge that I have a wonderful life. I just need to learn to love what is while hoping for and patiently working towards what might be. And if anyone has any hints for me, I'd welcome them!

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Getting in the Christmas Spirit

Last Saturday we devoted the day to cutting down a Christmas tree up in the mountains above Cedar City. We cut our own tree last year in a place nearer here and had to settle for a rather unusual species of tree with yellow-gray-green needles - more a big bush than a tree really. So this year we decided to do a little more research on where the good trees might be and found ourselves driving through gorgeous fresh-fallen snow in a winter wonderland. Wow, it was pretty. But then there was a big snowstorm moving in and we drove through a series of white outs and the road got closed in front of us. We decided to just find a tree on our way out of the forest. But it's really hard to find a decent tree in a snowstorm when every tree is layered in tons of snow you really can't tell what it looks like.

Jared ended up trekking through waist-deep snow in his old holey jeans and sweatshirt in search of a decent tree while the rest of us sat in the car and the kids complained that we wouldn't let them out of the car because we didn't bring snow clothes for them. That huge amount of powderly snow did look like a lot of fun but it didn't feel so good inside your shoes and pants. It was a nice 50 degrees or so when we left St George and we were worried that the recent rain would make it a bit muddy up in the mountains - 4 feet of snow just didn't enter our minds as a possiblity. Jared finally found a tree and dragged this huge tall tree through the snow for a long ways, over a creek, up a steep hill, you name it. I tried to help with the end part while the kids went wild in the car. That tree was outrageously heavy being pulled through the snow! I have no idea how Jared got it all that way by himself.

Jared tied it on the car and we made it back home by nightfall, got the tree cut down to a size that would fit in our house, and got it put up in the living room - only to find that what looked like a pretty good tree out there on the mountain looks like a pretty scraggly tall skinny tree once the bushy bottom part had to be cut off to fit in into our house. But I'm sure it will look fine once we get it decorated and it's skinniness means it takes up a very modest amount of room! Maybe NEXT year will be the year we find and cut down a really great Christmas tree!
We've been working hard on planning our big Children for Children concert for the 11th - the kids and their friends are performing and displaying their artwork and each participant is inviting several people to come watch and make a donation to help One Heart Bulgaria. The BBC did a documentary on the deplorable state of so many Bulgarian orphanages and there are new statistics saying Bulgaria has more than 2% of all its children in institutions. So I'm extra glad we're doing this. I'm so excited Saydi's doing it also and we should be able to make a nice donation to One Heart. I just watched the BBC documentary and it was hard to watch - kids rocking themselves in beat-up old cribs, kids with basic disabilities that would have been fixed at birth in this country, kids who are severely malnourished, kids who run to hug and hang onto a stranger, yearning for any affection, kids who shy away from any affection, scared of something they've never really had... It looks like One Heart has found a good training organization that has the funding and know-how necessary to help set up the sort of program I wish I could do myself. I'll probably go over there in the next year to help set this up.

Anyway, Thanksgiving was great. It was nice to be able to help mom and dad with the house in person rather than over the phone for a bit and great to see how much it's come together. Thanksgiving dinner was delicious and beautiful and it was fun to catch up with the Carvers and have some good time with Mom and Dad and Char and Eli.

When Mom and Dad and Char and Eli took off for Phoenix, we spent a great day downtown at the Children's Museum, visiting Temple Square's exhibits, seeing them turn the lights on there for the first time, and eating dinner at a great little Mexican restaurant where the twins delightedly danced in their chairs to nice live music. They were really excited when the musicians came and serenaded us at our table. We're feeling like we've turned a corner with this unwieldly family of ours - it was actually fun to go out to eat as a family. Saturday we went to Bee Movie (which we thought was pretty dumb but the kids enjoyed it) with Barb and Joel and family and did a little shopping at Ikea. Then we headed home.

It was so great to have a lot of time together as a family and really get into the holiday spirit. It was so fun walking all over downtown SLC in the crisp winter air, the kids belting out Jingle Bells and so fun seeing them explore and enjoy at the Children's Museum. It was fun being in the hustle and bustle of holiday shoppers and great to see the kids dancing around in the lights by the big Christmas tree at Gateway. All the kids are big enough to "get" Christmas this year so it should really be fun.


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