Sunday, December 30, 2012

Christmas Eve at the Park

What do you do when the world hands you a slightly chilly, but otherwise gorgeous Christmas Eve? Go to the park! (Read: avoid the mall at all costs!)
This park happened to have large play structure made from artificial boulders, which was fun for the kids to climb, but kind of nerve wracking for me. Yes, that's my two-year-old experimenting with heights.
I wonder what they are staring at so intently.
Love this picture.
Paige helped look after Brandon, but it was still scary.
I climbed up with them at first and found the rocks were a nice and warm contrast to the chilly air. I could have sprawled out and been in heaven.
With everyone safely on the ground, we visited the next hazard... the lake!
Kallie was trying to attract the ducks with the long grass. Didn't work.
Until a nice kid offered the rest of his bag of popcorn to her... duck mania!
And then a dog came by, and that was the end of the feeding frenzy. She couldn't get them to come back, no matter how much food she threw in.
Paige used leaves to try to make the popcorn go toward the ducks, but it was a lost cause.
Kallie told me she was gathering leaves to remind her of fall. Indeed, fall is quite a short season in Chandler... not sure we even had fall this year.
But we are having a divine winter.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Gingerbread Lane

This year I really had to hustle to squeeze in time for a gingerbread house. I followed a pattern to make my own pieces... one piece broke and another one fell over and got damaged, but we made it work anyway.

Paige used the decorating pen to try to make windows.
Brandon was in charge of eating the candy, and he excelled at that.
Kallie made the gumdrop border and the skittle pathway. Do you like the Tootsie Roll wood pile in the back of the house?
Paige had a great idea to use popcorn for smoke coming out of the chimney.
The finished product!

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Utah Revisited

Happy times are here again! Our trip to Utah wasn't all sadness. Since we had to make the trip anyway, we decided to go up a little early and enjoy a little bit of the Christmas season Utah style. When we left Phoenix, the highs had been in the mid-70's, which meant it didn't feel like Christmas time at all... Salt Lake City had highs in the mid-50's, which was unseasonably warm for them, but just cold enough to feel like Christmas to me (without freezing my buns off). Even though we didn't end up really needing hats or gloves, the kids were eager to wear the new winter gear I had just bought for them. Here they are in the window at Macy's downtown.
The Lowell Observatory membership we had bought when we visited Flagstaff got us in free at the Discovery Gateway center. I had never been there before, and it ended up being a pretty cool children's museum. The first room had a giant beehive with all these ways to make balls travel through it.
We managed to eke out a song on the xylophone, although we were totally upstaged later by a couple of guys who worked there.
Even I had fun in the grocery store. "Price check at register 2!"
Brandon would have played at the water works all day if we had let him.
Paige's paper airplane was a success!
Who hasn't dreamed of hosting the evening news? Even I had to take a turn at the anchor desk... thinking of something to say was harder than it seemed! I needed a teleprompter!
They had a camera set up for stop action animation, and the kids and I made a movie about dinosaurs and Mr. Potato Head.
Around the corner was a full on stage with backdrops, curtains, stage lights, and costumes for the kids to wear. We watched several shows where all the characters just ran around in circles.
Their special exhibit was all about Tinker Toys.
This was a collaborative drawing. Paige and I had fun writing secret messages to each other by writing with the same color as the background and then switching the background color to reveal the message.
That evening, we drove up to West Point to visit our old stomping grounds. As we drove through the neighborhood, we pointed at house after house and tried to remember names and stories... sometimes successful, sometimes not. Our old house was up for sale again and there were new trees in the backyard, but all in all everything seemed quite familiar. We said, "Oh yeah, I remember that!" a lot.

After our trip down memory lane, we headed up to Ogden to visit their Christmas Village... in the rain.
Brandon and Kallie were willing to stand in the rain to visit Santa Claus while Russ and Paige went to find shelter.
The rest of my family arrived that night, and the next night after the funeral and dinner were over, we tried to go shopping at the City Creek mall downtown. It was super crowded and hard to keep all the kids together, so we gave up pretty quickly and went over to Temple Square. It was crowded, but beautiful as always.
Everybody got some hot chocolate.
The kids enjoyed the manger scene from the back side... they thought it was so funny that the sheep's rear was facing us.
After walking and walking and wearing out my mom's back, we made a final stop at the reflecting pool. Lori and I were snapping this photo at the same time, and I like how the kids just seem to know whose camera to look at.
The next day, we went to our old ward in West Point and enjoyed a warm welcome. We seemed to fit right back in, and it was almost as if we never left. The only people who changed were the kids! But as a cold winter storm started to blow in that afternoon, I reminded Russ once again (as I had many times on that trip) how glad I am that we moved to Arizona!! The thought of flying out before the weather turned freezing was a beautiful thing.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

The Meaning of Christmas

This weekend was a difficult one for me. My last post explained how it started out... rainy, gloomy, missing Russ, missing Grandpa, feeling sad for Grandma. Then I came home and read an email from Kallie's teacher about the elementary school massacre in Connecticut, and my heart, already suffering, completely broke.

I cried. I sobbed, really. I volunteer in Kallie's class each week, and I thought of all their sweet faces. They are so innocent, they love you even though they don't really know you... they are truly Christlike. I read as many news articles as I could, and the pain just grew as I learned more details. How? Why? Who could be that evil? There are no answers, no words... it's completely incomprehensible. And yet it's real.

That night, I slept with my three children in bed with me... I told them we were having a huddle... I wished I could keep them there forever and protect them from the world. My sleep was troubled, and the next day was more of the same. I kept reading and crying while my sweet kids tried to make me smile... I felt sorry for them. We had a Christmas party that night where we were supposed to go look at some lights, but it was raining, and it didn't really feel like Christmas anyway. To top it off, I needed Russ to watch the kids so I could go to Costco, but he was going to arrive later than I thought, so I was forced to skip nap time for Brandon and venture out in the rain with all the kids. If anything can kill the spirit of Christmas, it's Costco on a Saturday in December. One car seriously cut me off in order to beat me to a parking place... surely, he didn't know I had three kids in tow and could really use a convenient spot. I hoped he needed it as much as I did. Everything affected me that way... it just piled on top of me like a heavy, rain-soaked pile of sorrow. I felt like the emotional strain I was feeling must have been plain on my face... but no one seemed to take notice.

This morning before church, I read a couple more headlines. One person commented, "Christmas is canceled this year." Indeed, I felt I knew exactly what he meant. I didn't feel like going to church, and I sure didn't want anyone looking at my face or smiling at me. I just wanted to curl up in a warm little ball and feel sad. We sat in the very back row to avoid having anyone see us. There was the usual routine of speakers on the agenda, but as one man started speaking, I realized the piano had started playing... and suddenly he burst into song. It was about the innkeeper who turned Mary and Joseph away... and these words sank deep into my heart:

He never would condemn me,
I did that all on my own,
He offered His forgiveness,
And ever since then I've known,
He lets us choose each hour of each day,
If we'll let Him in to stay,

Let Him in, Let Him in,
Let the joy and the hope begin,
Let Him in, Let Him in,
Let the peace on earth begin,

And whether it be in your world today,
Or a crowded Bethlehem Inn,
Find a way, make Him room,
Let Him in, Let Him in

I hadn't been paying any attention to Kallie on my lap, but right then I realized that she had noticed my tears and was forming my hand into a thumbs up position and pushing up the corners of my mouth into a smile. And suddenly the cold, sad casing around my heart was smashed open. I so wanted to let Christ in. And I realized Christmas is not canceled this year. No, in fact the reason for the season had burst into plain view. Jesus modeled forgiveness for us... He died that we may receive it... and that was the answer to the questions that I thought had no answer... that is how we can have peace on Earth.

My thoughts turned back to my grandpa. I have had several moments of intense sadness... I only have one grandparent still on this earth, and it just seems so terrible that we love people only to have to say goodbye. To have it happen right before Christmas put a damper on the whole season for everybody in my family, it seems. We have tried to make the best of it, to pick ourselves up, to put smiles on, to say, "Merry Christmas!" But it's been hard. Today, I am going to change all that. The message of Christmas is the glorious news that our Savior was born in Bethlehem long ago, He lived that we might look to Him for an example for our lives, and He died that we might live again and be with our families eternally. That is a reason to rejoice!

The sun was out when we left the church building today. My friend made me laugh. My children ran around excitedly. I'm like Ebenezer Scrooge on Christmas morning... like the Grinch when his heart grew two sizes... dare I say, like Mary Magdalene when she saw the resurrected Savior. I decided today that I'm going to stop worrying about Christmas being ruined by tragic events and all the things I haven't gotten done this year. I'm just going to do my best and let the rest be what it is because the true spirit of Christmas can burn just as bright this year as any... indeed, even brighter. May we all celebrate and share the good news of our Savior's birth, find meaning in His life, and take comfort in His resurrection this Christmas season.

I feel like I should say amen, but I'll just say Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 15, 2012

A Farewell to Grandpa

I couldn't decide whether this post should be happy or sad. We had a nice visit to Utah, and it was so wonderful to gather with family and strengthen our bonds. But of course, the occasion of our gathering was a sad one, so there were plenty of tears to go with. Finally, I decided I needed to write two posts to give proper attention to both aspects.

I'll get the sad one over with... but ironically, I'll start it with a happy picture. Paige and Natalie were so happy to be together.
The kids were so cute the way they walked around the cemetery and studied the headstones together. This is one of many cute pictures.
It was hard to see my grandma mourning for her husband. They were quite the pair... never a cross word. Never a negative comment. Not when anyone was there, and she claims never.
The grandsons and spouses of the granddaughters served as pall bearers.
Uncle Craig spoke at the graveside in true Craig fashion... lighthearted, amusing memories about the kind of person my grandpa was.
I don't think any song could be more somber than "Taps."
My grandpa was a world war II veteran... just three months before at his 90th birthday party, he was telling us stories about his time in the service.
The pall bearers laid their flowers on the coffin.
A farewell scene.
After the service, we had a luncheon and opened a time capsule that we had made at a family reunion 11 years ago. My dad read a 4-page letter from my grandpa, detailing his undying love for my grandma, exalting her to the level of Eve and Mary, and recounting sweet memories of each of his children. It was a poignant end to an already emotional day, and I think we were all grateful for that experience.

A couple of days ago, I picked my grandma up and we had a wonderful day together. She spent the night here, and then I took her home the next day. She showed me where she found grandpa slumped over on the day he died, and she showed me some of the pictures she was sorting through. I looked through her book of remembrance, too, and what I saw was a lifetime packed full of dedication to family and the Lord. But being there in the place where my grandpa spent so much time brought back some of the sadness, and it was raining that day, so that didn't help. I felt sad for my grandma once again, but I hope that with our help and the Lord's, she'll be buoyed up and carried through this difficult time. She's a good person.

The happy post will be next, but since I cried through this one, I'll need to take a break before then to let the gloom dissipate a little.