Best Groundhog Day Yet

It’s pretty much universal knowledge at this point that I love Groundhog Day. (For the history, read this post.) But even beloved holidays can grow a bit lackluster and I’d say the last few years have been just that.* This year my enthusiasm was back. It was my turn to teach Joy School and I’d planned an awesome, yet age appropriate, lesson about Groundhog Day history with fun books, art, and shadow activities. I was pretty psyched. Then Groundhog Day rewarded my enthusiasm with something even better: a blizzard that closed school and warranted a late start for all government offices. For the record, I am not snow’s number one fan, but when it comes to this type of precipitation my attitude is go big or go home.

In my opinion, the whole purpose of Groundhog Day is to break out of the rut of winter (cue The Wintry Day) and remember that life is worth not just living, but celebrating. The extra family time made it so we were really able to bring an appropriate level of wackiness to our festivities. We carved a Groundhog Day jack-o-lantern,** properly educated the children on this important holiday with my Joy School lesson, snowshoed through the neighborhood (much to the amusement of many neighbors), ate our traditional Rice Krispies treats, and of course watched Groundhog Day after the kids were asleep. It was my favorite Groundhog Day to date.

*In fact, I looked back through the blog and the last time I blogged about G-hog day was 2013 – and it was a pretty lame post considering it was my 10th anniversary celebration. I’m so ashamed.
**Halloween was atypical last year and our pumpkin never got carved. When the New Year rolled around and the pumpkin was still in great condition we cheered the winter squash on in hopes it would make it to Groundhog Day.

 

New Year

We aren’t big New Year’s people. I’m guessing it has something to do with being non-fancy-non-drinking-morning-people, but at least one of of us is really into New Year’s resolutions. I love the metaphorical clean slate and writing up a slew of goals for how I could be better. Even if I only meet a fraction of them, I still feel like I accomplished more than I would have if I hadn’t set any goals. (Clearly, blogging more was not one of my New Year’s Resolutions.) Noel isn’t quite as big on New Year’s resolutions and all the dreaming that comes with it. He prefers to make what he refers to as “plans.” Plans, resolutions, goals, dreams, or whatever they may be, I’m really excited for the vision we’ve created for 2016 and January is already off to a great start.

Our biggest joint goal is we’re finally going to try a triathlon. In preparation we’re taking swim lessons. Yes, as adults. It has been a somewhat humbling experience, but I think will save us a lot of embarrassment come race day. (And perhaps an emergency rescue.) We’ve also been trying to spend more quality time with family and actually enjoy winter. Check out the pictures for more details on what we’ve been up to.

 

Traditions in the Making

Every time someone would ask us about our Christmas plans we would say, “We’re staying here – and we’re so happy about it!” As much as Noel and I love our families, we truly despise traveling this time of year (see Top Ten Worst Moments of last year’s Christmas) and are also enjoying figuring out our own traditions. Growing up, my family had a lot of Christmas traditions while Noel’s family wasn’t as committed to specific ways of doing things (except for the Santa thing, which we’ve disappointingly shunned – sorry Glenna!). At first these different backgrounds caused us to clash as I insisted we must choose and then instate our amazing traditions immediately and Noel countered that traditions are the things that stick after you’ve tried a bunch of different things. In the end, this combination is turning out to be a great one as I’ve relaxed about “trying on” traditions and Noel has joined my effort to curate our Christmas experiences.

Up until this year, Santa’s “existence” was something our children were surprisingly unexposed to, but this year suddenly everyone was asking the kids, “What is Santa bringing you for Christmas?” which provided me with the opportunity to have several awkward, yet discrete (I promise I’m not trying to blow this for anyone else), conversations about how while we do celebrate Christmas, we don’t do Santa.* People were generally polite, but confused about this news. Their faces were priceless as I could see how puzzled they were. How can you even celebrate Christmas without Santa? I think because it suddenly seemed like there was a huge gap in our Christmas celebrations, I felt a resurgent push to make sure our kids knew what Christmas was all about. Noel and I spent a long time pondering how to make Christmas special, but Christ-centered. When a gift from Noel’s sister, Danielle, arrived at our house with a 25 Days of Christ ornament advent we felt like we’d found our answer. The kids really enjoyed watching the Bible movie videos and putting the ornaments on the tree; I think this will be a tradition that sticks.

Another tradition we tried was going snowshoeing on Christmas day. We are all outdoors lovers which makes winter a bit depressing and we thought getting outside might make the holidays brighter for us. The actual implementation was a little less than desirable. We thought the kids would do better if we fed them right before, so we grilled hotdogs at a snowy campground. The kids had a great time, but when it came time to snowshoe they were already done. Less than 100 yards into the trail Ellen laid down in the snow and bawled. We returned back to the car shortly thereafter. A few days later we tried snowshoeing again with some changes (early morning after a good breakfast at home) and successfully went an impressive 3/4 of a mile before any significant meltdowns. (Seriously though, this is a snowshoeing record for our family.)

We tried out a couple of other traditions like the kids getting each other gifts (they each independently chose a potato head), singing carols around the piano, making cinnamon rolls for breakfast, and driving around to look at Christmas lights. In the end, we were able to review and discuss things we liked, didn’t like, and would like to try in the future.

*While our kids don’t believe in Santa, they do believe in the mailman: the kind old gentleman that brings packages and whose magical truck can be seen everywhere. We buy a lot of things from Amazon and the kids always give the mailman credit, not us.

 

Getting into the Spirit of the Season

I always have to warm up to Christmas. As much as I want it to be the most wonderful time of the year, sometimes it’s hard for me to be very joyful when the roads are icy and everywhere you turn there’s a barrage of commercialism.

This year it felt like it took extra effort on my part to really get into the Christmas spirit, but in the end I feel like all the work and soul searching has actually helped me get into the true spirit of the season more than I have the last couple of years. One of the best realizations I’ve had is that even though I want to create beloved traditions, the most memorable and special moments have been small ones – moments I might not have had if I didn’t take time to slow down and notice them.

This year, it was the unseasonably warm afternoon we went to the park to fly a kite and all laid down in the grass to look at a ladybug while we soaked up the sun. It was the night we tucked Cooper into bed and he requested the song “Angels We Have Hear on High” and then sang all the lyrics with us. It was the evening Noel and I binge watched some of our church’s Christmas messages with tears in our eyes. And today it was the moment I was leaving the grocery store with the kids and Cooper took Ellen’s hand and the two of them giggled as we crossed the parking lot. I looked at them in their pajamas with their unkempt hair and thought, “I love these kids so much” and said a silent prayer of gratitude. I am so grateful for those small moments that remind me what is most important in this world and especially grateful for the push this time of year  brings to reflect on the birth and life of our Savior.

Black Friday Birthday

I honestly did not expect to feel apprehensive about my 30th birthday. I’ve never considered 30 to be old and after a few decades of people consistently underestimating my abilities because of youthfulness, 30 seemed to represent a legitimacy of adulthood I expected I’d embrace with open arms. But as my birthday drew nearer I felt the dread mounting. Now, I’ll be honest, I’m kind of known for being a bit negative about all of my birthdays, but this year my level of enthusiasm was abysmal. It didn’t help that my birthday fell on Black Friday – it just didn’t seem like a good omen. To try and feel better about it I looked up countless lists about what’s so great about being 30 and came to the conclusion that I am not your typical 30-year-old. It should have made me smug and confident that I apparently have my life more together than the average 30-year-old, but then I mistakenly googled “great things about being 40” and I related much more to those lists. I’ve always been very proud of my general maturity, but suddenly worried it had cost me the carefree youthfulness everyone else my age supposedly spent the last decade enjoying. A few days later when I couldn’t remember my debit card pin at Costco and had to write a check I mentally saw a woman twice my age fumblingly in her purse for a pen. My soul felt old. The only young thing about me was how childishly moody I was being about my birthday.

I don’t know if everyone could sense my dread (they probably could, I’m not great at hiding my emotions), but my family really pulled through to make 30 be a celebration. My mom made some of my favorite foods for breakfast and then watched the kids so Noel and I could go to the Brigham City temple with my sister, Hope, and her husband, Joe. My dad grilled salmon on cedar planks for dinner and Noel made a delicious S’mores cheesecake for dessert. Everyone’s gifts gave me a good laugh. My parents gave me 30 gifts, some serious and thoughtful (new running clothes) and some weird and hilarious (care bear folders and a wristband proclaiming, “Band against porn”), and Hope and Joe gave me a bunch of things in quantities of 30 (pennies, lbs of flour, cough drops, etc). To cap off the day, Noel whisked me away on a surprise getaway to the inn in Cache Valley where we spent the first night of our honeymoon almost nine years ago (if that doesn’t make me feel dated). I’m still feeling a little ambivalent about turning 30 and thus far have not been overly impressed with what this new decade has dealt me (an awful cough and my first real job rejection), but I’m glad that I have a good support network around me that will stick by me and love me unconditionally until I come to terms with my age, real or perceived.

A Vegas Halloween

Our trips to Las Vegas are never what people imagine. When you’re a parent, a Mormon, and you’re visiting family it’s definitely very different from what most people do in Vegas. Our purpose in going to Vegas was to be there for Noel’s grandma’s 80th birthday and because of the way our flights worked out, we were also there for Halloween. Life was a tad bit crazy leading up to our trip. Noel was out of town for work earlier in the week and the day we left was Cooper’s Halloween party at school. The school parade and all the class parties were in the afternoon, which meant the half day kids either had to come back or just stay all day. We decided to give full-day a try mostly because we anticipate that transition next year will be difficult and we figured any exposure he can have to it is good. Because we knew lunch would be the hardest part, both the teacher and I agreed it would be a good idea if I was there. Ellen and I joined him for lunch and then stayed to help the teacher with all the hyper kids until the Halloween party. I also was helping out with the Halloween party, so I helped get kids in costumes, assisted with the parade, ran a game, and officially ruled out kindergarten teacher as a career option.

School Parade

We had a few hours to wrap things up at home before heading to the airport. The kids were so excited to fly on an airplane. Because we were trying to use up the rest of some rewards flights, Noel flew Frontier by himself and I flew Southwest with the kids. Whenever I told anyone about our flight plan people would tell me how sorry they were, but the truth is people are so nice to me when I fly alone with the kids. Cooper and Ellen were the only kids on the flight and got lots of special attention from the flight attendants. They even announced their arrival on the plane over the loudspeaker and everyone cheered.

Flying Kitty

By the time we got our rental car (we had one of those Seinfeld moments when we we discovered the rental car company had ran out of cars) and drove to our rental house it was past midnight our time and the kids were completely zonked. The next day they woke up excited to play with Grandma Glenna and Granda Mike (Noel’s parents were also able to come down from Alaska for the birthday) and check out the pool in the backyard. We stayed in a place we found on VRBO and really enjoyed having a place to call or own, especially with its own private pool and hot tub.

Pool!

On Halloween we went to Annie’s house (Noel’s cousin), went trick-or-treating in her neighborhood, and enjoyed some time eating good food with family. Cooper wanted to be Emmet from the Lego movie and the rest of us chose costumes that went along with it.

Everything is Awesome

The next day was daylight savings. I highly recommend never traveling with children during the daylight savings change. At 5:30am (it would have normally been 7:30 at home) Ellen exuberantly exclaimed, “It’s morning time!!!” and would not go back to sleep. Ellen was so grumpy and emotional at church that she wouldn’t go to nursery and I ended up sitting in the hall with her for the last two hours. Cooper was apprehensive at first, but stayed in primary without incident. You just can never predict which one of your kids is going to have trouble with change. That night, we had a pool party at our place with all the Vegas relatives just for fun.

Pool Party

Whenever the kids’ grandparents are around we like to take advantage of free babysitting. Monday morning we went for a lovely run by the city dump . . . Then that night we went on a double date with Annie and Greg to a delicious Tapas restaurant and then went to downtown Las Vegas for fried Oreos. It was really fun to hang out with them sans kids even if we saw some things we can never unsee.  The next morning we went to the Las Vegas temple (a sharp contrast to the night before) and did some sealings for the dead. We’d wanted to do an endowment session, but didn’t make it in time. At first I was feeling really bummed about the change of plans because I’d really wanted the clarity doing a session usually gives me, but then I ran into a lady in the dressing room who was also doing sealings. She said her husband usually comes with her, but had a doctor’s appointment that day and because Noel and I were there they would have enough men to still perform the sealings. Additionally, she was a USU alum and had student taught at my elementary school (which was bulldozed shortly after I finished there). It was just little things that could be shaken off as coincidences, but it made me feel looked after.

Las Vegas Temple

Our last day there was Grandma Virginia’s birthday. We threw a big BBQ party at our rental, with lots of delicious food of course. It was nice to see everyone one last time since we were flying home the next morning. Happy Birthday Virginia

We flew home Wednesday and were thrown back into fall (we had a couple of days in the 80s in Vegas) and the rhythm of regular life. Here are a few more pictures for your enjoyment.

Channeling Frankenstein

This Halloween week I decided to channel Frankenstein* by getting eight stitches in my thumb. Okay, so maybe the whole thing was unintentional, but it’s festive nonetheless.

Sorry if this grosses you out. To be honest it kind of wigs me out a little too.
Sorry if this grosses you out. To be honest, it kind of wigs me out a little too. Just be glad these aren’t pics from day one.

Saturday, the day I sliced my thumb, I handled sharp chicken wire, hammer and chisel, wire cutters, and a pipe cutter without incident. Dinner time is when it got dangerous. I was opening a gigantic can of hominy to add to our posole that had been simmering away all day. Our can opener seems to be designed for standard size cans and was having a problem with the large curves. It didn’t make a clean cut and the lid was still secured by a few slivers of metal. I ignored the thought in my brain that told me it was dangerous and pried the lid up with a butter knife. The lid did indeed come up, but my thumb and the lid engaged in a nice little dance that didn’t end so well for me. (Note: ALWAYS listen to that little voice in your head. Whether it’s the spirit or common sense you’ll be glad you did.) After the bleeding didn’t stop after 15 minutes of pressure we called a friend who just so happened to be at a restaurant about a mile from our house and she kindly agreed to come and watch the kids so Noel could take me to our HMO’s after hours care. Did I mention that at this point in time our plumbing project wasn’t actually finished and all the water was still off in the house? Oh, well it was. Noel scrambled to put a temporary cap on the line so our disaster of a house would at least have running water while we were gone. **

Noel at the beginning of the day pulling out our leaky spigot.
Noel at the beginning of the day pulling out our leaky spigot.

I had hoped this was something they could just glue, but ended up needing eight stitches. I had to psych myself up a little bit for the procedure, but thanks to a local anesthetic the whole thing wasn’t too bad. Life since then has been like one of those quirky party games as I try to do things without too much use of my thumb. Thankfully this wasn’t my dominant hand because amusing would have turned into debilitating really quick. I’d never thought about it much before, but we use our thumbs a lot. If you ever need a little entertainment in your life just try getting dressed using only one thumb.

*Since I was the one being stitched I suppose that would technically make me Frankenstein’s monster in this scenario.

**We did eventually get the plumbing fixed for real, in case you were wondering. That’s a whole other story that you probably don’t want to hear.

The Ebb and Flow

“Making the decision to have a child – it is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.” – Elizabeth Stone

One of my favorite things about Cooper has always been his cheerful disposition, so when he started having crying outbursts at school and fake coughing in the mornings in hopes that I’d keep him home my heart hurt. We have a great team that is working hard with us to help him feel less anxious, but it doesn’t make my heart ache any less on the days his eyes well up at school drop-off. I hug him and over-enthusiastically tell him to “have a great day!” even though I feel like I’ve been emotionally sucker punched. Then I wave feverishly and smile bravely until he disappears into his classroom and pray I can avoid my own crying outburst in front of the other moms.

Then yesterday, when he stood up in front of our entire church congregation and said audible words into the microphone during our annual Primary program I thought my heart might burst with pride. Just one year ago this same program made my heart hurt as the difference between him and the other kids seemed so painfully obvious. This year there was still a difference, but he’s gotten bolder and that made my heart soar.

I didn’t give it much thought before becoming a parent myself (sorry, mom and dad), but being a parent of any child (because they all have their struggles) is brave work. I often find the emotional rollercoaster ride of parenting to be disorienting and some days I think the highs and the lows just might do me in – and we haven’t even had to deal with anything heart wrenchingly difficult. It can be uncomfortable to feel so intensely. Every time I think my heart has been stretched to the breaking point we have a small triumph or a nudge from above that reminds me we’re being watched over.

Last week I dropped Cooper off at school on a day that it was pouring rain. The kids got to go in the front door instead of lining up on the basketball court outside. Cooper was thrown off by the change and I left him in the classroom looking a bit bewildered. As I was leaving the building I found myself walking next to one of the other moms in the class and we started talking. After exchanging pleasantries, she asked how Cooper was adjusting to school. Even though I’m pretty open about Cooper’s ASD diagnosis I rarely spring it on people when I first meet them, but today I did. “He has Autism Spectrum Disorder, pretty high-functioning, but it makes being in a class with that many kids kind of rough sometimes.” The words were out of my mouth before I even thought about the possible repercussions. As it turns out she’s an occupational therapist who works with kids like Cooper all the time. We had one of the most comfortable conversations I’ve ever had with another mom about Cooper’s challenges and even though it didn’t change our struggles, I felt like one more person understood us and somehow that made my heart feel a little bit stronger.

Back Up and Running

There was a time when I would have apologized for a lapse in blogging, but just like how I’ve stopped apologizing for the nearly constant pile of dirty dishes in my sink and for my children not being perfect Stepford children, I won’t be apologizing for this either. For no reason, but every reason I’ve been super contemplative lately about everything and nothing at all and lying low on the internet has been refreshing and glorious. We recently switched web hosting companies and as we’ve been transferring everything over I’ve taken several trips down memory lane and remembered how much I actually do love this little log about our lives, so I’m back with some updates. (There’s still some wrinkles we’re ironing out with the transfer, so don’t be too alarmed if something is a little wonky.)

Coop and the fall colors

Cooper – Enjoying kindergarten for the most part. There have been a few bumps in the road (he really dislikes this “brain break” thing they do at school where all the kids get out their wiggles), but we have a good team that is willing to try new things to help him feel more comfortable. Every day he says his favorite thing was, “Playing on the playground and drawing.” He also really likes his homework (it’s a lot of counting and practicing writing) and bringing home books from the library. So far, he has exhibited exceptional taste in book choice. I went to the doctor (somehow I, not the kids, managed to get Strep) a few weeks ago and took the kids with me. I told them we might get flu shots while we were there and Cooper got pretty upset. At some point a huge look of relief came across his face and he said, “Mom, what day is it?” I told him it was Wednesday. He grinned a giant grin and told us factually, “It’s Wednesday, we can’t get shots, sorry.” Can’t argue with that kind of logic. When we did get shots a week later Cooper made such a scene I think we terrified everyone in the entire building. Both Noel and I had to hold him down. After it was over he acted like he had been so brave. Right now he’s practicing for the primary program. He’s been mumbling his part into the microphone which is an improvement from last year. We can’t wait to see how it goes during the actual program this coming Sunday.

IMG_20150916_125529772

Ellen – Ellen has decided she does like Joy School. Her favorite part is show and tell and showing Cooper the projects she does when we pick him up from Kindergarten. She acts like she’s three going on thirteen. When asked to do things she has an eye roll that rivals that of Liz Lemon fame. All of her emotions are extreme. When she’s sweet there’s no one sweeter and when she’s mad everyone better dive for cover. She finally elicited a scratch from the world’s most patient cat when she crawled under the bed and cornered him in an attempt to force snuggles. No one loves Charlie more than Ellen. Despite her rollercoaster emotions she’s actually pretty helpful and if she’s in a mood simply threatening time out and counting to three is surprisingly effective. When we got flu shots she was very stoic about the whole thing and didn’t freak out or cry at all. She’s quite social and talks a lot. The other day while taking a bath she told Noel, “I want to play forever” which we’re pretty sure was the purest desire of her heart.

The boys on swings.

Noel – Took the scouts on a campout where he enjoyed it more than he hated it. He discovered that Geocaching was a great hiking motivator that resulted in more hiking and less whining than usual. He had a nasty cold over Labor Day weekend, but has probably been the healthiest overall. During the week I had and recovered from Strep he took care of dinner pretty much every night and was up in the night with the kids on a few different occasions while I slept like the dead.

Hiking.

Audrey  – Since my Utah teaching license expired, I’ve periodically wondered what it would take to get back into the teaching game. This summer I felt a push to do more than just wonder. The Colorado Department of Education (CDE) instructed me to apply for a license with the expectation that it would be denied, but would come back with a list of classes, requirements, etc that I would need to take care of. I took care of the fingerprinting and various other paperwork and waited. I expected CDE would require me to go back to school and considering the demands of my current day job it would take several years for me to become license eligible. Imagine my shock when I received an email telling me I’m now a licensed teacher in the state of Colorado. (Just search here using my name for proof.) I feel like things have really come together with this, but I’m not entirely sure for what purpose. (Am I being led to a job? An epiphany? Is Noel going to be unable to work for some unknown reason?) I’m not even sure what I’m going to do with the license, if anything, but am taking things one day at a time and keeping my options open. For the most part I’m at peace about not knowing and am embracing the line from the hymn “Lead Kindly Light” that says, “Keep thou my feet; I do not ask to see / The distant scene – one step enough for me.” The same week I was granted a license I was asked to be a Youth Sunday School teacher for the 14-18-year-olds at our church. (One of my biggest worries about getting back into the teaching game was whether I even wanted to work with teenagers anymore, so this did not seem coincidental.) Accepting this new position meant the end of my service in the Relief Society Presidency. I’d been a counselor for almost three years and even though the position was initially extremely intimidating and I still have doubts about whether I did enough, I grew a lot as a person and very much felt God’s hand in my life over my three years of service.

To sum up this update, here are a bunch of pictures from the last two months.

Our New Addition

It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what brought us to this point. Was it the desperate bribe I offered Ellen when she was potty training? The fact that all my friends are having babies and I was feeling left out on the nurturing front? The recent trauma of bludgeoning two mice to death in the backyard? The blogpost I’d read about how getting a dog was so beneficial in the life of a little boy with autism? Truthfully it was probably a little of all of that. After many discussions, a few weeks of scrutinizing the local shelter’s website, and a few visits to meet animals we finally decided on this guy. Meet Charlie.*

Lovin' on Charlie

The kids LOVE him. Anytime he appears they squeal, chase him around, and hurl toys at him. Not surprisingly, he hides under furniture. Sometimes I feel like doing that too when the kids are following me around, so I really can’t blame him. He’s really good natured though and never swats at that the kids or hisses, which was ultimately why he made the final cut. Well, that and I have a soft spot in my heart for black cats. We’re all warming up to each other and hoping we have many good years together.

 

*His shelter name was actually Cooper, but that wasn’t going to work.