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Easter 2017

Easter 2017

I love Easter the same way other people love Christmas. Easter is all about hope and joy and light and so often the outside world reflects that as we turn our back on the long, dark months of winter. Both the plants and our souls are revitalized. This year, Easter was especially tender. Lately, we’ve become more aware of our own mortality and our absolute need for our Savior. As we celebrated Easter our hearts swelled with gratitude for the resurrection that Christ made possible and hope that we will see our loved ones beyond the grave.

This year, we did a little holy week book with the kids. We would read the scriptures or watch the associated Bible videos and the kids would color a picture. The kids looked forward to it every night. It really helped set the tone for Easter. We did our egg hunt on Saturday again this year. After finding all the eggs we went to the park to play with an Easter gift they’d received from my parents: a baking soda and vinegar powered rocket.

Sunday, we went to church. We listened to uplifting lessons about our risen Savior. The kids sang songs in the program. Ellen gave her first talk and talked about how because of Jesus she will see Grandma Glenna again. The rest of the day was spent listening to Easter hymns and eating delicious food. It was a good Easter and just the re-centering we needed.

Groundhog Day 2017

Groundhog Day 2017

Most of you know that Groundhog Day is inarguably my favorite holiday. (You can read about the origins of that love here.)  This year though, I was not feeling like celebrating. Matters nationally (almost every cabinet pick and every executive order has upset me on some level), locally (there was a proposal on the ballot in November to raise money for schools that didn’t pass and the school district is looking at closing schools as early as next school year), and personally (a mix of typical winter blues and minimal progress in my MIL’s health) had left me feeling much like this clip from the movie Groundhog Day, like “every day is exactly the same and nothing [I do] matter[s].”

On Groundhog Day I woke up early and had some quiet time to myself. I was thinking about the movie Groundhog Day and remembered that even though it took a long time, with a lot of repetition, change eventually DID come in Phil Connors’ life. He endured a lot of dark moments, but in the end he was a better person for it. In the day to day it sometimes feels like my contributions don’t amount to much, whether they be letters to my elected officials or helping my kids with their excessive homework (just an opinion), but I’m hopeful, I have to be, that eventually they will make some sort of difference. Yes, there are 6 more weeks of winter, but spring will come. I decided then and there that celebrating Groundhog Day was more essential than ever.

The weather that day was awful. We’d had freezing drizzle the night before and everything was covered in a thin sheet of ice. When I drove Cooper to school we had a small sliding incident (thankfully no people or property were injured). Glenna had an appointment and getting her to the car was a little dicey, but luckily when Noel lost his footing on the ramp he and the wheelchair slid gracefully down to the bottom. When school pick up rolled around I was still carless. I optimistically thought Ellen and I would be able to walk to pick Cooper up. Unfortunately, everything was still slick as snot. It took us 10 minutes to walk two blocks and at some point Ellen fell and I went down too landing on top of her. At the rate we were going we would make it to the school 30 minutes after school was over, assuming no one seriously injured themselves. I didn’t want to admit it, but we were in over our heads.  I texted a few friends and one of them let us hitch a ride to and from the school. Once we were all safely back at home (including Noel and his mom) we made new and improved Groundhog Day flags, ate a Groundhog Day themed dinner, and of course ate rice krispy treats. This Groundhog Day may not have been my favorite, but it sent me back to my Groundhog Day roots. I previously said that celebrating this quirky holiday is a reminder “that it’s the little things in life that are worth living for, that sometimes being a little crazy is the only way to keep your sanity, and that attitude makes all the difference.” This year I would add, it’s also a good reminder that perseverance pays off and not to let life (or ice) keep you down.

What is Normal?

What is Normal?

October was one of those months where I would think, “Life can’t get any crazier than this” and then it would. My job as a middle school freelance educator came to an end at the beginning of the month and our family was ready to get back into a normal groove. Life had other plans though. Two big things happened in October: my mother-in-law was diagnosed with stage four lung cancer and my grandfather died. Those two things were pretty big upsets to regular life all by themselves, but we also threw in a weekend getaway, talking in church, the tail end of Noel’s treatment for his broken arm, helping with meals at parent teacher conference, and preparing our house for family to move in with us just to make sure we didn’t have too much free time on our hands.

Noel’s mom’s diagnosis was a shock, partially because she’s a non-smoker and partially because none of us realized how sick she was. There were lots of tears and phone conversations as the family made plans for how to help her. Noel made plans to go to Alaska to help for awhile during her radiation therapy and then to travel with her to the lower 48 where she would live with us to receive additional treatment and support. My grandfather passed away in the midst  of making all those preparations.  We added in plans to travel to Utah and had to make changes to Noel’s flights so he could make it to the services. (As it turns out, telling an airline you need to change your ticket to visit your mother with stage four lung cancer to go to your wife’s grandpa’s funeral is a pretty good story and they kindly waived the change fee.) My grandfather was a truly great man so there were many good things to reminisce about. Although we will miss him, it is an honor to not only know, but be a descendant of such a great man. His services were lovely and the second they were over Noel, Alaska bound, headed to the airport. I stuck around a few more days to spend time with family and then drove the kids back home the day before Halloween.

A few days after Halloween, Noel and his mom made the trip to Colorado. Her oxygen levels plummeted on the flight despite having access to oxygen and when the plane landed at DIA they rushed her to the ER. She stayed at the hospital for a few days until they got her pain and breathing under control. (That first day they drained 1.6 liters of fluid off her lungs!) Since then, she and my father-in-law have moved in with us. Her oncologist has a lot of accolades and has been very positive. She just started a drug that has been successful at shrinking cancer in 80% of patients and extending their lives. We are optimistic.

Life has been absolutely bananas, but it has also been so very good. We’ve seen so many miracles big and small and had so many friends offer love and support – they’ve watched the kids, helped me clean the house, and listened to us. We’ve refocused on what’s important and grown closer to our families. It’s been a hard time in some ways, but it’s also been a beautiful time. (Except for the election, but I’m not going to talk about that.)

This is not one of my most eloquent posts, but I just wanted to get some pictures up and let you all know we’re alive.

Easter 2016

Easter 2016

This year, Easter kind of snuck up on me. I’d spent all of March studying the Atonement and trying to figure out how to teach my Sunday school lesson on Easter Sunday, but hadn’t given hardly any thought (other than to purchase a ham) to celebrating Easter with our family. Literally, the day before Easter Noel and I talked about what we wanted to do. We decided we wanted to try splitting up the secular celebration of Easter (gifts and egg hunt) from the spiritual celebrations, which meant we would be doing our egg hunt that day. We swung by Target to pick up Easter shoes and buckets (deftly dodging the Zombie parents pushing around carts full of candy) and then mixed up some homemade egg dye at home.

Kids checking our the eggs.
Kids checking our the eggs.
Kids dying our eggs.
Kids dying our eggs.

While the kids watched a movie, Noel and I stuffed a few plastic eggs with candy family members had sent and some homemade peanut butter eggs.

The day before our "spring" egg hunt.
The day before our “spring” egg hunt.

Since the ground was still covered in snow, we hid the eggs inside, which allowed for a certain level of creativity.

Egg in a dump truck.
Egg in a dump truck.
A sweet ride for an egg.
A sweet ride for an egg.

The kids had a lot of fun finding the eggs and opening the gifts in their buckets (warm weather pajamas, Annie’s bunny crackers, and some things from their grandparents).

Cooper finding an egg in Olaf.
Cooper finding an egg in Olaf.
Easter buckets.
Easter buckets.

Then on Sunday we tried to focus on the spiritual aspects of Easter. Noel sang a beautiful rendition of “This is the Christ” in a double quartet and my Sunday School lesson was at the very least, meaningful to me. I of course didn’t take any pictures of anybody in their Easter clothes since we rushed out the door to get to church and people were already starting to undress by the time we made it back home. Plus, picture taking has never been my strong suit.

Our Easter dinner.
Our Easter dinner.

After a fancy dinner of ham, potatoes, croissants, and asparagus, we had a little lesson about Easter (aided by this lesson from Behold Your Little Ones and our church’s Bible Videos). The kids really impressed us with how much they were able to tell us about Christ’s death and resurrection.

Little Almond Cake.
Little Almond Cake.

We finished off the day with a little almond cream cake. At this point, Ellen realized we were winding down and started to whine about how we hadn’t done Easter yet. I asked her what Easter was about and she said, “Jesus.” We repeated the conversation a couple of times before she exasperatedly said, “Mom, but we haven’t found eggs!” When I reminded her we’d done our egg hunt the day before she was a little disappointed, but didn’t put up too much more of a fight. I really liked putting the egg hunt on a completely different day and will probably do it again in the future; the kids will get used to it eventually.

February: Two Different Perspectives

February: Two Different Perspectives

When I downloaded my photos from this month I found two very interesting stories. First, the tale of our February (minus our awesome Groundhog Day) according to my photos.

Then, some amazing gems from the kids’ documentation of our February. Their gallery opening is in the works, stay tuned.

Best Groundhog Day Yet

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

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

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

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.

A Vegas Halloween

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.