Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Christmas Morning

We have other pictures to share, but in a nutshell:

*Mason woke the kids at 5 a.m. (he'd been waiting since 4:30 but just couldn't hold out any longer)
*We opened the "first gift of Christmas" our baby Jesus piece of the African nativity set.
*All enjoyed a lovely morning of gold, frankenscence and myrrh (gifts representing those the wisemen brought the baby Jesus).
*John (and his elves) graced me with amazing computer gear; look for the blog to take on a new look as soon as my personal tutor shows me how to operate my new stuff :)
*Santa brought the kids a Wii which will have to be trucked across the ocean to wait for 120Volt electricity sockets in order to be Christened. The GPS santa brought is also lacking crucial software so, darn, no geocashing before we leave Africa (sigh...)
*Grandma and Grandpa along with mom and dad were back in bed by 8 a.m.
*the highlight of the morning was Dean's trip to the garage to fetch his gift from our family; a Zulu cantine (African artifact). You'll have to ask my dad why this was the highlight :)

Merry Christmas morning!

Christmas Eve errands

We had the very great pleasure of running a special "Christmas Eve Errand" this year. Living in South Africa, we've come to know and work with Ethembeni Children's Orphanage. The older three of our children and I have visited there several times, and for Christmas this year we enjoyed organizing a large family project for the children in this place; new shoes for every child. Our family in Salt Lake (and even some of their fmaily; a ripple effect) donated means and time to purchase new shoes for each of the 31 toddlers who live in Ethembeni. We went out on a warm summer's afternoon and purchased some of the shoes; nephews and nieces (along with their parents and aunts and uncles) made a special trip out in the Utah Winter snows to purchase the rest. Additional funds were available, which were used to buy diapers and forthcoming formula for the tiny infants who also live and are cared for in this facility.

The Managers of the orphanage had hoped for each child to open their new shoes on Christmas day, so we dropped into the orphanage Christmas Eve to make our delivery. What a great way to begin our Christmas celebrations; hugging and holding small little people who need to feel the love of Him whose birth we celebrate at Christmas.

A Happy Landing!

Mom and Dad arrived safe and sound on Sunday December 23rd. As kids jumped all over Uncle Dean at home, John and I sped to the airport to await the glad appearance of my parents out the customs doors...hugs ensued. A Chance meeting with dear friends the Koellikers as they too were picking up family (daughter Amy) to celebrate the holidays made the airport excursion that much more enjoyable-

Home we came for kids to jump all over their grandparents as John and I prepared a "proper Brai" in South African style; boerwerst, gingerbeer and all. Grandma was in the house 10 minutes before she'd begun to read stories to the kids, Grandpa "courted" Lucy from his first step through the door, his efforts successful by the end of the evening as Lucy sat happily on his knee.

this Christmas season is shaping up quite well indeed. Welcome to Africa Mom and Dad!

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Not Roasting Chestnuts...

Lest you believe we are actually revelling in Christmas cheer let me steer you right; We are riding elephants and flying over the wonders of the world. John, Mason and Dean (that handsome guy with the dark hair is available by the way...) have been to the Zimbabwe side of Victoria Falls this week. They rode elephants, witnessed the amazing site of the falls, rode in a helicopter and watched out for alligators. Their return on Thursday was only a pit stop between incredible African sites; We all left Friday afternoon to see a bit of the Drakensburg (pics to come).

Having guests for Christmas is always exciting. Having guests in Africa for Christmas, its down right dizzying (with fun, mind you!).

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Anxiously Waiting

Our first house guest for the holidays arrived on Sunday night! Uncle Dean was flying through the air as we flew home by car from Swaziland. All of us wanted to greet him (the kids have been SO eager to "hang" with cool Uncle Dean...) too bad the plane was delayed by 45 minutes or more. Riding around in the luggage cart was fun for about 30 minutes, but that last stretch of waiting almost killed the kids. At last, Dean came smiling through the arrival doors and we were a family of 9 enjoying the ride home with someone who is a blood relative sitting in the car with us. Board games, of course, came flying out of Dean's luggage, and John and Dean stayed up late into the night "getting to know" the latest new game. First thing Monday morning the brothers were off, with Mason in tow, to see Victoria Falls.

So happy to have family with us. Welcome Uncle Dean!

The Day...

John as a Swazi patriarch
Songs of the Kingdom with Jim
A new friend in Lisa
lovingly prepared Nigerian feast
An adventurous day Mbabane, Swaziland

Swaziland Weekend

A not so pleasant traveling companion
Road signs that read "Crime alert. Do not Stop your vehicle"
Many people looking in our automobile at the border
The beginning of a trip to Swaziland

Honoring Grandma

When Grandma passed away I spent a lot of time trying to determine whether or not I should make the journey to Utah for her Funeral. As we saw the date that was chosen for the event (the Monday my John and Mason were leaving for Victoria Falls with John's brother Dean) and the expense of the plane ticket ($3000.00 or so) we saw it was not wise for me to make the trip. I didn't feel that Grandma would be disappointed in me for remaining at my "post" beside my little crew in Joburg. But still, I wanted to find some way to honor her and let her know that I would take time from my life to think of hers.

I felt it pure inspiration as the names of Brother and Sister Hooks came into my mind. They are dear friends of my grandparents; having traveled with them and known them as neighbors for many years in Tucson. The Hooks are serving as missionaries for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints here in Johannesburg. My grandma had sent me emails asking me to meet them, but my efforts had reached a dead end as they travel outside the city for their mission at times and I had no phone number to reach them. At Grandma's passing it came to me that the best thing I could do to honor her was to meet with them. Not only could I have some time to learn more about Grandma by visiting with them, I could also honor one of Grandma's greatest passions and talents; knowing people and putting them together. My grandma could speak to you for two minutes and know someone you were related to and know them well. If you belong to our church it would only take her one minute. Not only could she connect you to a friend or relative of hers, she would then proceed to let you know how that person was doing; and she would further encourage you to contact that person and let them know how you were doing. That was the woman she was. It was downright embarrassing at times, but it was her thing. And it was a thing she was very, very good at.

It took me some time and maturity to realize that these people Grandma could connect you to weren't just acquaintances to her. They were FRIENDS. Grandma and Grandpa have SO MANY FRIENDS. And they, all of them, love my grandparents. My Grandma was so good at having and being a friend. And that gift, over all the travels and moves and changes I have experienced in my life, has come to mean the world to me.

Meeting Grandma's friends and connecting them with me was the best way on earth, save being at Grandma's funeral in the flesh, that I could honor her.

So I combed my kids' hair, and ran around town finding licorice and chocolate (Grandma had told me the Hooks' loved these treats) and met with Brother and Sister Hooks. It was delightful for me, even though I was late and my kids were less than perfect (isn't that the way it goes? You want to "show them off" and then act like little terrors, sigh...). I learned about my Grandma, I cried about her, and they cried with me. Their love for her and Grandpa is so true, so real, so much what the love of friends ought to be.

Being, I think, the only grandchild who was not present at my Grandmother's funeral was a very hard and sad experience for me. But it was hard and sad because I missed being with my family, I missed not hearing the stories and not hugging my Grandpa. But I feel in every way I've pleased Grandma by meeting her friends. And isn't that what mourning and honoring those who've passed is all about? Maybe some day I'll remember a friend who lives in the town of an acquaintance I'm speaking with and I'll suggest that acquaintance look them up; and in that I'll be honoring and pleasing my Grandma too. But, for now, listening to fun stories of my Grandparents' and connecting to them through their friends will be honor enough to make Grandma smile. I love you Grandma, I miss you (and Brother Hooks likes black licorice, not red :)

Our Lucia Day

Johannesburg hasn't been our first experience living abroad. We loved our time living in Stockholm Sweden from 2000-2001. John's ancestry includes amazing men and women from that fascinating country, and we embraced many of the cultures and traditions of that Nordic land (God Jul to all our lovely friends in the cold dark north!).

One of the traditions we brought home is St. Lucia day. December 13 marks the day when Swedes celebrate light; Lucia being the Saint of light. On this day throughout Sweden lovely maids dress in tradition Lucia cladder and all of the country rises early to see her usher in the Christ child's coming and celebrate the lengthening of the short days soon to come as the winter equinox approaches. Special songs are sung and the Lucia bullar (lucia bun) is made and shared with family and friends. The eldest daughter in every household rises very early (accompanied by her mother I'm sure) and prepares the lucia buns and a bit of coffee (in our house its hot chocolate) and brings her parents breakfast in bed. The songs Lucia and her kvel sing are full of lovely references to light and Christmas, and entire stadiums are filled for night after night to hear these songs performed in concert every year.

At our house we spread around Lucia's responsibilities as best we can among the girls. Lucia buns, which are flavored with saffron, are not well loved in our home so we instead make the standard Swedish Kanelbullar (cinnamon bun) and enjoy lovely singing and buns and hot cocoa brought to dad in bed with the children dressed in their luciakladder (Lucia clothes) and candles lit to honor the sentiment of the day. Not a year has passed by that we haven't celebrated the day with pepparkoker (ginger cookies) brought to school and most years the kids' teachers have asked that we enjoy sharing our tradition with their classes. It is a lovely reminder of our time in Sweden and a holiday I cherish and enjoy very much.

This year things were quite a bit different. Without a key ingredient for our kanelbullar, making our buns was a little challenging. No lucia costumes could be found for the day, and there were no schoolmates to share our tradition with; we are the school. Still, our Brynley brightly rose first thing, and delivered to our bedside a delicious breakfast. Her lovely smile and cheerful countenance matched or exceeded and wreath of candles she could have worn in her hair, the brightness of her spirit was whiter than any lovely gown she could have worn. We made our buns, sharing the recipe and our time with Evie, who lives here with us and enjoyed trying to "tie" the dough in just the right fashion so as to have them shaped just right. We blasted Lucia's music through the house thanks to Itunes (downloading music has become a natural part of my life this Christmas season...) and we worked to keep the tradition living, even if limping, along.

I'm sure we'll pull out the costumes for next year's Lucia Day. And the pearl sugar that is not available in Johannesburg will be lovingly sprinkled all over our kanelbullar. Kids will take cookies to school and teachers will invite our children to explain their Swedish heritage and ex-pat experience. But I'm not sure any Lucia will be as memorable as this has been, thanks to the light of our Brynley and the love of Evie shared in the tying of the dough into little knots of tradition.

Monday, December 17, 2007


Johannesburg hosts a pretty decent Science Museum, and our kids took every advantage of it a couple of weeks ago. They constructed a lovely building made of sturdy styraphome blocks, used sound waves to make things move and we learned that Brynley carries some serious electricity in her hands...It was a fun morning and the kids are dying to return, mostly to build the building again. I feel happy we could have some "hands on school" for a change and that the exhibits and activities could take my turn as the teacher! Yea for Sci Bono!

flags are flying

Thanks to the generous help of my friend Jan Basset, and the kind gift of Victoria White,our home is filled with Christmas flags. John has made some comments about Santa's used car lot, but I've skillfully ignored them (after giving him a significant punch in the arm) and have gone gleefully about stringing these flags throughout the house.

I look forward to many years of Christmas flags, and as I string them in future Yules I will think of the many friends who made a gift of them to me...

Thinking of Jenna

Right about this time one year ago John and I received an exciting phone call. It was time for us to sign the papers that would Make Eowyn Celeste McCardell our Molly Elizabeth Eowyn Graham. We were happily hosting one of our favorites, Jenna, who had come from Boise to “help me” at Christmas time. With Lucy still a new baby to us, John working long hours in the retail cookie sales business (we are missing those lovely ginger snap cookies this holiday season I must admit) and lots to do before Christmas, Jenna was a gift from heaven to our family that week (and any other time she is with us). She wrapped most of the Christmas gifts, helped me run errands and even helped me and my mom-in-law complete John’s Christmas gift. Because of Jenna’s presence, I could safely leave the little girls home with her, meet John at the downtown office for LDS Family services and sign those blessed papers.

Our best, most favorite and most special Christmas gift had come a little early in the way of our Molly’s adoption; though it would take a minor battle with her birthfather before our court-date could be set, we were on the road to officially having 6 kids by putting our John Hancock on the dotted lines in the office that day.

And Jenna was a big part of that.

Not only was Jenna available to save the day as our last minute babysitter on signing day, but she and her family (hello Boise neighbors who I love and miss!) were a big part of Molly’s well-being and happiness for the two years that led up to the signing of those papers that day. When Molly arrived in our home, 8 lbs. and still very new to this world, Jenna and her mom were there. Once a week for at least six months; on Thursday nights to be exact, Molly had a standing date in the Johnson home. Cuddled, loved, talked to, bathed, fed, played with; you name it, the Johnsons did it. They brought a little struggling infant to life. Their love and affection brought Molly (then called Winnie) out of a dark beginning and into a light filled life of love and warmth. Molly’s face lit up whenever a Johnson was present, and in our close little neighborhood that was a frequent occurrence!

I’m missing you Johnsons, I love you Jenna (And Susie, and Dave and Nate and Ridge and Carrine!!!). On Molly’s “paper signing anniversary” I’m thinking of you, and the huge part you played in the beginning of our life with Molly.

Wish you could help us wrap the Christmas presents this year Jenna. Might be a little more fun here as we could fit in a safari and a shopping trip to the flea market in between scissors, ribbon and tape. Maybe next year, huh?

(darling photo of Jenna and Molly to follow, as soon as John is able to help me pull it off of his computer :)

Making a Merry Christmas

We spent a Sunday baking and “decking” the halls of our cement home, trying our darndest to create holiday mood. It was a stretch for John and I, but happily the kids seemed to be thrilled with the result; delicious gingerbread dough, all the fixings for home made fudge on hand, zucchini bread with frosting (another batch is definitely in order) and a special holiday surprise to be revealed after Grandma and Grandpa arrive. We have elaborate plans to keep our yearly lemon curd tradition and the favorite holiday bark tradition as well.

Funny how attached I am to the typical winter weather and the general atmosphere of the holiday season. Here in South Africa Christmas comes during Summer Vacation; kids have just finished their year of school, many if not most families are going on Holiday. Decorations seem out of place, people dress in their summer wardrobe (pink tank tops and khaki Bermuda shorts) and for the most part families don’t really deck their halls (why decorate when you’ll be spending most of December at a resort or camping on the coast?). The holiday seems out of place here, not because people aren’t kind or giving or lovely, but because it seems so strange to buy the kids a popsicle on the way to greet Santa, or to see beach towels and bikinis for sale in the shop windows instead of sweaters and parkas.

Being a Christian, and being one who has a deep love and appreciation for Jesus Christ, my sincere desire is that the holiday be about Him; I shouldn’t need trimmings and treats to “set a mood” that allows me to reverence his birth or life. I spent many many years of my life singing in choirs and the words of Christmas songs in my memory ring out as I deal with this contradiction:

What Can I give Him?
Poor as I am…If I were a shepherd I would bring a lamb.
If I were a wise man….I would do my part
Yet, what I have I give Him
Give my Heart
Give my Heart

It has been a hard lesson for me to realize, that I really do depend a lot on those outward things to prepare my heart for the season. I hope once the day is upon me I will have felt a change, and Christmas will be truly in me, and not in the trimmings around me.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Grandma Read

We've heard the very sad news today that Grandma Read is gone. She was diagnosed with cancer about 4 months ago, and that dreaded disease took her "home" today.

Losing someone you love is never easy. Our place across the ocean at this time makes it just a little more of a sting, I must admit. The kids upon hearing the news were moved to tears at the reality of loss. Mason set about making a little memorial to "GGR" (Great Grandma Read), and Madi wrote her a letter. We all moved a little bit slower, and hugged a little bit more.

My memories of Grandma Read are full of her laughter and her talents. As a girl I recall visiting her home in Arizona. I remember gifts she and Grandpa brought from their many travels abroad; a porcelain creamer from Holland, an Apron from Europe. I recall falling on her back porch and landing in the emergency room (I must have been only 4 or 5?) and upon showing her the stitches I earned from the event, She showered me with her hugs as we sat on the sofa in her home. I remember vaguely swimming in the swimming pool of their ranch house in Tucson, and I have even stronger memories of their other home – the one without the pool, which I visited several times as an older girl and teenager. While in their home it seemed Grandma was always in the middle of planning a huge event. Catering a wedding, organizing a women's conference or preparing for a party, the phone was constantly ringing for Grandma's advice or direction; she was the ultimate party planner of her day.

Grandma and Grandpa it seemed were regular roadsters, making their way from Arizona to Utah two or three times a year. It was a welcome site to see their car pull up into our driveway; my aunt Rosemary usually entering the house first to announce their grand arrival.

Grandma was a vibrant soul. A strong individual with a love for people and a memory of who they are and who they are related to. I found this a tad embarrassing as a teenager when she could "connect" any of my high school friends to someone I'd never heard of that she'd been in sorority with or known through their many moves over the years. When Grandma traveled to Utah for a diagnosis of her cancer it overwhelmed me how many people phoned my mom to find out how Audrey was faring. Only then did it come to me that all those people Grandma had spoken about for all those years weren't just names, but they were friends, and they were good friends who loved and cherished this jolly and talented woman. I thought of our own Christmas card list, 300 addresses strong for all the adventures in all the places we've lived, and I felt akin to my Grandma in a new way as she heard from old neighbors and dear friends who were most certainly atop her Christmas card list, and had been for many many years gone by.

At her passing Grandma, I'm confident, enjoyed a lovely reunion with her mom, my Great Grandma Carter; and a tender and sweet meeting of her father who passed away when Grandma was only a tiny girl. While my sorrow is real for her passing, I truly could imagine her joy at seeing her parents again, and re-acquainting herself with the many friends and family who I'm sure were waiting to welcome her home. We will feel her absence in our lives and are sad to see her leave us. But, I must be clear, I know I will see her again, and when I do I hope I can make a good report of what I've done with the legacy of talent, friendship and faith she's left me and all her posterity. I miss you already Grandma. I love you.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Driving Home...

Small church congregation meets to share their devotion to Jesus Christ.
Large family drives many hours through beautiful country with sleeping daughters.
A lovely Sunday spent.
The end of our Durban Holiday.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Beach combing

Very warm ocean water.
Very Bright sunshine.
Very fine sand to dig in.
Very red sun-kissed faces.
A fabulous day at the Beach.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Friday in Durban

Ushaka Sea World on a Cloudy day. The man in the fish tank who was feeding the mammoth sting rays thought Lucy so adorable that he came over to the huge display window and clanked and knocked for her, as if she were the fish and he the googling spectator. Malasia the Sea World biologist thought our family so novel that she gave us a private tour, explaining the intricacies of marine ecosystems and helping the girls feel a little better about leaving the shells on the beach for those poor little hermit crabs who need a place to call home...

The clouds made swimming in the ocean not so appealing. We gave the hotel pool a go instead. FREEZING. I win mother of the day because I got in that water with my children.

We win parents of the year for take-out pizza in the hotel room and a double dose of cartoon network on the hotel TV. Like a shot of something illegal, our kids are addicted to cable cartoons...John and I surfed the internet for homes in Dallas while our kids silently drank in some show about a child genius who has an accent and lots of ugly red hair. I've never understood cartoons...

a lovely day spent on the coast of Africa.

Driving to Durban

John behind the wheel with me at his side, distracting the crowds.
Little girls who need distracting
Big kids who can either flip through the ipod tunes or draw to their hearts content; what marvelous travelers!
the African countryside, my photography completely can't do it justice, the clouds rolling in, the hills rolling on...
we are on our way to the beach...


We got away from the classroom for a little "hands on" learning this last week,visiting the Maropeng center in the Cradle of Humankind. The "cradle" is so named because it is the place where "humanity can be traced back to its beginnings". Human remains have been found there which support the theory of the evolution of man, and it is quite interesting to see the scientific research that has been done to prove this theory. I found it enlightening to talk with my kids about the idea of evolution, and I truly feel there is great truth to it in animal species. I can't say that I believe I evolved from a monkey-so I think human evolution is a big jump for me, but that is a different blog post entirely.

Some of the most profound information presented at this museum is the abilities of man in comparison to other species. The ability to communicate, to walk on two legs and to express feelings/creativity are truly the distinguishing differences between us and the rest of the animal kingdom. The last section of the museum poses a lot of questions to the visitor such as "just because we can talk, does this mean we communicate?" The statements were helpful in promoting a thought process that could lead us, as visitors, to think of how well we are using these abilities we've been given as men and women. The final thoughts left by the museum have to do with how we are using our abilities to improve or destroy the planet we live on. I was truly brought to consider the impact that I, one person, makes to the environment, and to think of how my actions really do effect the use of the world's resources. I have always thought of myself as being thoughtful when it comes to the environment, but I guess in the end what I've really thought of is how savvy a consumer I am (of course I'll turn the lights off, I don't want to pay for unnecessary electricity!). In reality it is useful to think of how my choices actually affect others, and their ability to enjoy some of what this world has to offer. It made an impact, and I hope with a few pointers from my "green" sister Jessa, I can become better in my own way of safeguarding the resources we've been blessed with.