Thursday, December 31, 2009

The Battle for Middle-Earth


I know you will all be relieved to hear that once again the battle for middle-earth is over and once again Frodo and the Fellowship emerged victorious.

We started watching after lunch on Tuesday and finished late Wednesday afternoon.

We were joined by Ann and her boys and at the very end by my brother Jeremy and his wife Maria. Here is our movie-watching fellowship.

Once again it was a wonderful experience. This year we let the little kids watch the movies with us, with the understanding that when we told them to cover their eyes they'd better do it quick (I still cover my eyes at parts of it!) They were very cooperative, and thankfully no one had any bad dreams afterwards.

I blogged last year about my favorite things about the Lord of the Rings, so I won't repeat that here. (Except to say that I really love Aragorn!) Suffice it to say that I loved it all again--what a fun holiday tradition.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Instead of Blogging

We are...

hanging out with these people

doing strange things with friends

playing this game
(thanks Wells for taking our game play to a new level!)

relaxing a little

and enjoying Russ's time off work!

For the next 36 hours we're going to be spending some quality time with

and
See you later!

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Post-Christmas Thoughts

I had a realization this morning. Another moment when I thought "duh, why did it take me so long to figure this out???" (This happens frequently in my world.)

I sat at the kitchen table with Russ and some of the kids playing a new game, listening to Christmas music in the background, and laughing and talking together. I thought, "this is what I have been wanting. This feeling of peace, and love, and laughter, and togetherness." And then I realized that that moment was incompatible (for the most part) with the preparations for Christmas. They are as different as can be.

So we have two options.

Option #1: Finish all of the Christmas preparations earlier. (hah. I'm not sure that's possible.)
Option #2: Make sure Russ can take off the days after Christmas, so that we can indulge in post-Christmas euphoria like this morning.

I feel a lot better now that I realize that we didn't totally miss out on wonderful family time — we just postponed it.

-------

We were listening to the Relient K Christmas cd this morning while we played our game. And we all agreed that their original song, "I Celebrate the Day" is beautifully tender and needs to be listened to often. I just installed a playlist so that you can hear it, but to get the full effect you need to listen to the Silent Night/Away in a Manger song that's right before it. I also noticed that it's available for download for FREE at Amazon right now. (Although if you enjoy their sound $5 is a great price for a whole Christmas cd!) Anyway, you can see it/download it here.

~~~
And the first time
That You opened Your eyes did You realize that You would be my Savior?
And the first breath that left Your lips
Did You know that it would change this world forever?

And I, I celebrate the day
That You were born to die
So I could one day pray for You to save my life...

Friday, December 25, 2009

The Reason for the Season



One year when we lived in Idaho I was out shopping on the Saturday before Christmas. Imagine my surprise when I pulled out of the store parking lot and saw a donkey walking on the other side of the street, carrying a young woman. As I looked more closely I realized that this must be some kind of Nativity re-enactment, and I drove home quickly to pick up Cindy Lynn and bring her to see Mary and the donkey. I don't remember much about Cindy Lynn's reaction; she was probably only 4-5 at the time. What I do remember is the feeling that I first had when I saw the woman on the donkey — it made the idea of the Nativity story real for me in a new way.

Several years ago our ward started putting on a Live Nativity one weekend in December. I wasn't sure what I thought about the idea, though I willingly sewed a couple of shepherds costumes. But I was unprepared for the feelings I had when I came and looked. We drove through first, and then came back around, parked, and got out and stood and watched.

There was something about seeing real people, even if they were “just” actors, even if they were people that I knew, that caught at my heart and filled me with the spirit of Christmas. The shepherds, the wise men, Mary & Joseph; suddenly I could see them as real people caught up in the most important moment of all time. All hushed and reverent, filled with silent awe at the magnificence of the event.

Each year I wish that there was a way that I could just stand and watch for just a few minutes with no one else around. No one talking, no children wanting to get closer, no cars driving past. Just a few quiet minutes to think about the tableau in front of me.

Each year in the few minutes I do get, I think to myself,

This is Christmas.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

The One True Christmas Song

I know that most of you probably have a favorite Christmas Song. My favorite Christmas song is also one of my favorite anytime songs. Anyone who's ever spent any time around me in December (and heard me begging the chorister or choir director to sing my song just one more time!!) already knows what it is. But for those of you who don't know, I'll tell you. It's

Angels We Have Heard on High.

(you can listen to two of my favorite versions here
while you read more about my song!)
video

I just love, love, love this song.

The words are great. But what I really love is the music — especially the music of the chorus. I love the moving parts and the way the harmonies work together to make such a rich sound. I really love it.

If you're not persuaded yet, I will tell you about one of my favorite Christmas CD's. It's a compilation cd. Twenty different versions of "Angels We Have Heard on High." Seriously. It's got classical guitar Angels, harpsichord Angels, calypso Angels, MoTab Angels, and acapella Angels. All different versions, all excellent.

One thing that is great about having a favorite Christmas song is that it really becomes a part of your life. I have so many memories wrapped up in this song now that hearing it brings not only the auditory pleasure of the moment, but also all of the warm & fuzzy feelings of times gone by.

Here (in chronological order) are some of my favorite Angels memories:

—Caroling with the church youth group and "singing" Angels using kazoos.

—Caroling with the Rogersons and using kazoos, and singing Angels at every house.

—Going to homemaking/enrichment on my birthday, and hearing the string quartet that played during dinner play Angels, and then segue into a rousing rendition of Happy Birthday. (Talk about being surprised!)

—Singing Angels in the hot tub late one night at the beach — in four part harmony.

—Ending the choir program last year with an amazing arrangement; the organ, two people on piano, congregation, and the choir singing a descant. It just about raised the roof.
And made me cry. (from happiness.)


—Listening to an acapella version 6 times in a row last week while I was alone in the car. Singing along with a different part each time.

—Listening to the new Christmas CD that Ken just gave me because it had Christina Aguilera singing Angels on it. Watching Russ pretend to sing like Christina Aguilera.

—Decorating the tree this morning (we're not usually this late!) and realizing that in the background Angels was playing — my own version, arranged for me by a talented friend.


Tonight as we finish up our Christmas Eve celebration (a big deal at our house) we will end with a rousing rendition of Angels. And then we'll sing it again this weekend when Cindy Lynn and Mahon get here. And probably a few more times after that. And I will love it every time.


~In Excelsis Deo~


P.S. In case you've ever wondered, "In excelsis Deo" actually means "Glory to God in the highest." So it's like you're singing "Far, Far Away on Judea's Plains." Only better. ;)

P.P.S. The first version that you've listened to is my friend's arrangement. If you haven't gotten to the acapella version yet, you need to keep listening. It's from the group Voice Male, and it is really amazing!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

It Is a Wonderful Life

This week I multi-tasked: as I sewed the little kids and I watched Christmas movies together. Over a couple of days we watched one of my favorites, "It's a Wonderful Life." I love this movie and I want my kids to love it too.

At book club this week the topic of conversation came around to movies. (Let's face it, the book discussion itself occupies only a small part of the evening!) Several people said that they really don't enjoy "It's a Wonderful Life" all that much. I was thinking about this as I watched the movie, wondering what it is that appeals to me. It was interesting to watch from this perspective.

The first thing I realized was that this is not an easy movie to watch. It's black and white, which is never a big selling point. And it has a pretty detailed plot line, which required pausing every few minutes to explain and re-explain what had just happened and why it mattered. The kids were all clustered around the space heater when we started watching. (The playroom, where the sewing machine is, is a very cold room.) At some point I noticed that Rachel had gone to the other end of the room and was huddled on the day bed. As I asked her what was wrong I realized that she was stressed by the tension in the movie and so was distancing herself from it. I held her on my lap for a while and talked about how the movie was going to change and start feeling a lot better in a few minutes, and that made her happier. But much of it really is stressful. I almost cannot watch the scene where Uncle Billy goes into the bank and loses the money--it makes me sick to my stomach.

[On a only slightly related note, I've only seen "Mr Smith Goes to Washington" once. I had to see it for a class at BYU, and I was really looking forward to it. I love Jimmy Stewart and I'd heard such good things about the movie. I thought the movie was amazing, but at the same time I found it so painful to watch that I've never seen it again. So I do understand why Rachel moved away from the tv!]

So--why do I love "It's a Wonderful Life"? It’s not just because it’s a Christmas movie. In fact I don’t think that it is really a Christmas movie, even though it is set in the Christmas season.

What I love that is that it is a story of human goodness. It's a story in which the hero sacrifices his own desires and ambitions for the greater good, over and over again. He makes a life that is beautiful and happy despite the fact that it is not what he had planned. And when he finally reaches his breaking point and wishes that he had never been born, he's shown in explicit detail how much different the world would have been had he never been born. How important his presence in the world had been, even though he had never been able to do the amazing things that he had always dreamed of.

I love this reminder; that even when life doesn’t turn out like we’d imagined it can still be beautiful. And that we are all interconnected and bless each other in ways that we may never understand.

This movie reminds me that I, too, am living a Wonderful Life.

------

What is your favorite Christmas movie, and why?


Friday, December 18, 2009

I'm Dreaming of a White (pre)Christmas

In this part of North Carolina snow is never a given. Some years we get lucky and have a nice storm or two, but three of the last four years have been completely snowless. Sometimes snow is predicted and then at the last minute the situation changes and we get nothing. So when the weather forecasters started talking about snow yesterday we were afraid to actually hope that we'd see snow.

Imagine our happiness when we walked out of Kroger this afternoon and saw a few flakes drifting towards the ground. As we drove home the snowfall increased, and by the time we drove into our neighborhood we could see snow sticking to the grass.

No, it's not enough to go sledding on. And it's supposed to change to rain later tonight. But for the afternoon we had beautiful snow. Enough to catch snowflakes on our tongues, enough to need to put on mittens, enough to want to drink hot chocolate after playing outside for a while.

What a lovely early Christmas present!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Un-Grinching Mom (part 2)

Yesterday, after the cleaning and decorating, we started my part of the "Un-Grinching Mom" plan.

We went up to the playroom, my cute kids and I.


There we watched a lovely old movie called "The Bishop's Wife." Anything with Cary Grant is always enjoyable to watch, and this was no exception. We watched the movie and they made little ornaments and I sewed and all was well in my world. (Much better than a long car ride with whiny kids!!)

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Un-Grinching Mom

My children have either taken pity on me or gotten tired of waiting for me. Either way, it's working for me.

Yesterday while I was at physical therapy (where I learned that if you don't do your exercises, your pain will come back) Rachel called to ask if they could put the garlands/lights on the porch railings in front. I of course said yes.

This morning they cleaned all of the surfaces that they could, and started putting out Christmas decorations.



Hallelujah indeed!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Grinch Who Stole My Kids' Christmas

Our drive last night to the kids' art show was miserable. I was tired and overwhelmed. My kids were tired and overstimulated. Much kicking of the back of my seat occurred, as well as loud animated chatter that made me think they need to start sitting in the back row of the van again.

But the real kicker was the complaining. From the first decorated house we passed until we arrived at the art show, the questions and complaints came.

"Mom, why don't we put Christmas lights on our house like that one?"

"Mom, why can't we have a bunch of big Christmas decorations like those?"

"Mom, why do those lucky people get to have so many decorations and we don't???"

Well here is the truth, my dear children.

I don't like decorating for Christmas. (Other than decorating the Christmas tree--that's a different thing entirely.) I don't like the mess that it adds to my already messy house. I don't like trying to find the time to do the decorating. Nothing about it makes me feel warm and fuzzy inside.

I do like making you cute Christmas clothes, but apparently decorating your bodies doesn't make you as happy as decorating the house would.

Maybe next year I'll find someone who likes decorating houses, and offer to swap with them...

PS--All of the house pictures are from the internet. They are merely representative of the houses we saw last night.

PPS--I might feel entirely different if my thyroid medicine ever starts working again.

PPPS--This is one of those posts that's supposed to make you feel lots better about your own life!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

The Windows of Heaven

There is one gospel principle that I have never questioned--the law of tithing. I grew up hearing my mother talk her tithing in a way that left no doubt in my young mind that this was a commandment I must obey.

Last week the missionaries taught a discussion at our house and the topic of tithing came up. I tried to be quiet, I really did. I think that perhaps steam was coming out of my ears with the effort to not talk. But finally I gave in and begged to be able to tell my tithing story.

(If I make any mistakes, please forgive me. It has been many years now since I have been able to hear my mom tell her story...)


My maternal grandmother died when my mother was still a teenager, the second child in a family of seven children. Within a couple of years of my grandmother's death, one of her young sons began talking to the Mormon missionaries. My mom was concerned about her brother and so she went with him to meet these missionaries. The rest, as they say, is history; my mother believed what they taught and was baptized.


Several years later my mom decided that she wanted to go to BYU. She had been working and saving money so that she could do this. Before she left, however, she and one of her brothers decided that it would be best for the well-being of their younger siblings if the two of them bought the mortgage on their family home. So off to Utah she went, full of hopes and dreams, but carrying an unusual financial burden.

My mom's Utah experience was not all she had hoped it would be. She had to find a job to pay her own expenses and her half of the mortgage at home. She applied for many jobs only to be told that those jobs were saved for the children of the people who worked there. She ended up working a full time job that was far from campus, and only being able to go to school part time. At one point her good shoes wore out and she had to walk back and forth to work in high-heeled shoes because they were all she had.

My mom was lonely in Utah. She came not knowing anyone, and missed her family in South Carolina. As the end of the first semester approached she wanted desperately to go home to South Carolina for Christmas. A round trip ticket on the bus would cost eighty dollars.

My mom had exactly (and only) eighty dollars. There was just one problem — that eighty dollars was her tithing.

She went to her bishop on campus and explained her situation, looking for advice. He told her that he couldn't give her any; whether or not she paid her tithing was between her and the Lord.

My mom went back to her apartment, got her money, and paid her tithing. I cannot imagine her thoughts and emotions in that moment. Realizing that her decision to obey God's law to tithe meant that she would spend the Christmas sad and alone instead of with her family. Throughout my life as I have imagined this part of her story it has always seemed like a dark and somber time for her.

A day or two later there was an unexpected letter in the mail. It was from my mom's aunt; her mother's sister. Her aunt wrote that she had managed to save away a little money and she was sending it to my mom, hoping that it would be enough to help her travel from Utah to South Carolina for Christmas.

The letter contained a check for fifty dollars.

Can you imagine my mom's feelings at this gift of love? She told us as we were growing up that her uncle was very mean to her aunt, and that her aunt would have had to hide away money for months in order to send her so much money. She must have been amazed at her aunt's love and caring. But fifty dollars was still not enough to buy a bus ticket, and she didn't have any more money.

At some point she remembered that on the BYU campus was a "ride board." It was a map with messages telling of people looking for rides from BYU to somewhere else, or drivers looking for riders to help share their travel costs. My mom went to campus and looked to see if anyone was driving to South Carolina for Christmas that year. She was so happy to find a message from someone driving from BYU to South Carolina, offering to take people with them for fifty dollars.

That someone was my dad.

I have never for a moment in my life, even when it has been hard to pay tithing, forgotten that it was only through my mom's faith and willingness to sacrifice all that she had to be obedient to the Lord, that she met my father.

Each time I pay my tithing, I honor her courage. I want to be like my mother. I hope that when all is said and done, my children have similarly been blessed by my resolve to obey the Lord — even (or especially) when it is difficult.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

HamsterDance

I made a little music video for those of you not lucky enough to have two cute rodents in your house to watch.

video

If you're wondering if the hamster's wheel looks different, yet it does. I returned the first one because it was very bent/squeaky, and the nice salesman persuaded me to buy the Silent Wheel.

It is awesome!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Better Late Than Never


I know that we were slackers in our non-observance of "Talk Like a Pirate" day, which occurs each year on September 19th. (Only 284 more days to go till next year's Pirate day, according to one swashbucklin' website.)

We made up for it yesterday, when we donned our pirate hats and accessories and drank grog while doing school.


Avast, ye landblubbers!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Jenna's Craft Project

I love that my 9 year olds can do craft projects by themselves. I love it that they can get out the craft books, read the directions, assemble (most of) the materials, and make the craft — all without my help. I am not a crafty person, and the combination of crafts and children has been known to give me hives. (Emotional hives, anyway!)

I didn't realize that while I was busy yesterday Jenna was working on a new craft project, but it was on the fridge last night.

At first I was startled, and then I laughed and laughed.



Apparently the googly-eye fun was not over when they took the pictures of each other that I used in my post yesterday.

Here's a closer look at the pictures now on our fridge. (They even have magnets on the back!)

First, two of Josh when he was a baby:


And one that might be Jared but I think is probably Jason:



Finally, a picture of one of my sister's kids, proving that all of her kids really do look alike!


Tuesday, December 8, 2009

How to Guarantee Insanity: a Photo Essay

Take these people



and two younger friends to

So that they can buy a rodent with their own money.
("We promise, mommy, it won't cost you anything!)

Try to be patient as they pet every dog that walks by
and examine every rodent available
while speaking in high squeaky animated voices.

Assure store employees that all of these children
will not play with the poor rodent every day.
Promise store employees that only one child per day
will be allowed to touch rodent.
Heave a sigh of relief when store employee reluctantly
agrees to sell you rodent.

Learn that the rodent is a communal animal
and must be purcha$ed with his $ibling.

Buy some

And a
As well some exercise equipment.


And a "hide" to sleep in. Or to "hide" in.

Lastly but not leastly, a heat lamp so that the rodents
will not go into hibernation
when the heat goes off every night.


(Cheaper than keeping the house warm at night, right?)

Let them pay for one rodent.

Pay for the re$t yourself.

Listen to 5 excited children argue about
who's turn it is to hold the rodents in the box.

Cancel all other errands.

Play deaf for the rest of the drive home.


Let children place rodents in their new home.
Give thanks that the one who makes a dash for freedom
and jumps off the table doesn't
A)escape or
B)die.


Finally admit (late one night while alone) that twin rodents are pretty cute!


The End

Monday, December 7, 2009

So That's the Problem!

I realized, while driving home this morning, that I was in an Exceedingly Cranky Mood. I felt angry towards every person I thought of. (Except you, of course!) It was not a good feeling.

I turned on the Christmas music hoping that it would bring a little calm to my brain. It did nothing. Cranky, cranky, cranky.

I arrived at home and found myself irritated with my kids. After lunch I sent them up to their rooms to rest, wishing that I could be the one to take a nap.

It wasn't until I found myself scrounging through the kitchen looking desperately for chocolate — any chocolate, that I figured it out.

Ah ha...I was experiencing a Psychotic Mood Shift day...

By the time it was afternoon my need for chocolate had escalated to the near-frantic stage. I stopped at the grocery store to buy:



I am slightly embarrassed to report that I ate 4 mini-cruellers and 1 dove chocolate between the grocery store and home. But boy did I feel better!

P.S. Everyone agrees that the chocolate-cookies & cream ice cream gets 2 thumbs up!