Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Favorite Christmas Memories Installment 4

Daddy holds Lucy, whose life beginnings consisted of orhpanage living, as he cuddles a real-time orphan. These photos of my parents giving tender love and care to the fatherless are truly my favorite photos of them, ever, anywhere.

Molly displays her own shoes, she wanted them off as most of the children at the orphanage went without

The most beautiful photograph of my mother ever taken. She is light-filled, showering a tiny stranger with comfort and grandmotherliness
new shoes sent from my siblings and nieces and nephews all the way to these little feet-who needed them oh so much

little feet wait impatiently, hoping a new pair of shoes will fit their little piggies

We spent Christmas in Johannesburg RSA a few years back. John's company had offered to send us home. We asked instead that they send our parents to us-and they agreed.

It being Christmas, and our extended family tradition being one of pooling present money to do a little service, new shoes were sent with parents to fit the feet of the children at the Ethembeni Orphanage in the Down town district. We visited this orphanage (my 3 big kids and I) 2 times each month for our "school of life" experiences. We loved these little feet-and the children who were attached to them. We were thrilled to see the efforts of those we love so much well spent in providing something useful and appreciated to the little lives who touched ours almost more than any others in our South Africa experience.

We spent the day before Christmas delivering our little gifts. Not in these photos are John and his brother Dean, who were also with us in the efforts. Then on Christmas Day we returned to play with the kids as the workers attended a holiday party. Christmas day's visit was cut short-but-our time spent with these little souls was well spent and life changing for me.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Once upon a time

We were six, 2 boys, 4 girls, 2 parents

Now we are (nearly) twelve, with an extra little brother and those same 2 parents

and we come with all of these (new little brother is sitting first row, next to Porter on the right).

and when Christmas rolls around we all like to be together. Now that younger brother has arrived from California with his beautiful (expectant!) wife and "little cousin Will" the celbrating can begin. Figuring ways to meet up for fun with cousins or games and conversation with each other, the people you see above are a very important part of this season.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Christmas Memories Installment 3

an anniversary celebration, 16 happy years...

Once upon a time....I fell in love. With a fun, smart, athletic, spiritual, popular guy. It happened around Thanksgiving. He wasn't so much "in love" as he was interested, but through the Christmas break from college classes we spent loads of time together. We went together to my sorority party. We went to my sisters' choir concerts. We went to Temple square to see the lights about a hundred times that season.

Christmas came, and I wanted to celebrate all the time we'd spent together in the short month we'd been dating. I listed the places we'd spent our time, purchased some gifts, and set to work. It took all Christmas morning. My mom was mad I wasn't with our family around the tree; but she knew too that I had given my heart away and had to do the subtle things I could to signal my wish that the boy of my dreams would give his heart to me.

John met me at my home and his "scavenger hunt" Christmas began. We went to the high school where he'd endured "hark how the bells" umpteen times in one concert evening. We went to the parking lot of the LDS institute at the University of Utah, the place we most often saw each other during our days at school. We went to Temple Square. Our hunt went on and on.

I have to insert here that most of the time I spent with John was in the company of one or more of his friends. He was kind of "the leader of the pack". And one of his posse was with him basically in every waking hour. He'd pick me up for a date and have two guys in the back seat -sans dates themselves-along for the night. I didn't mind much accept, though I loved this boy already, I rarely had a chance to "visit" with him. Its kind of hard to determine if the one you love is worthy to be "the one" forever without speaking with him candidly and without audience...and we had pretty much always had an audience (doorstep scenes were awkward to say the least).

Christmas day was different. We were alone and together. We were remembering fun times we'd had, and speaking of fun to come. We didn't make plans for our future, but in being alone with John I think we both could see that there was a chance that we could actually have a future; and that a future together could be bright and happy. It was "falling in love personified" as we enjoyed one another without a crowd and realized we could be our own posse even if we were just two. This was the beginning of our courtship for sure; but we could see that this beginning could perhaps have no end.

Months later when my heart was over burdened with love and hope for a future with John I overheard him talking to his parents about our Christmas past. He said "no girl has ever done something that thoughtful for me before". And I wondered if perhaps that painstakingly planned hunt through the early days of dating wasn't just the right beginning to what I'd hoped would be a never ending and ever enduring love with the boy who was the man I wanted to marry.

Friday, December 18, 2009

The Friday Yuletide Round-up

Molly poses in her program costume, just before ringing in the season with Christmas song and dance

We have been to Christmas concerts, delivered gifts to teachers and classmates, decorated the final Christmas tree (only to enjoy it for 14 days or so-I will start earlier next year!) and purchased all but the last few gifts. The kids have partied and partied. Seriously, Madi came home from school yesterday and said;

"mom, we did absolutely NO learning today and it was AWESOME!". I guess sometimes our public education system can serve as full time babysitter while I shop 'til I drop for Christmas trimmings...

Sugar and festive-ness gave way to poor judgment today on the part of one of our children. First, Molly (after party hopping from classroom to classroom at her siblings' elementary school) decided it was time to go home. I walked us into the bathroom so I could be relieved and prepared for the short trek home (shouldn't adults be allowed the dignity of non-child sized bathrooms in the elementary school? seriously my whole head can be seen from the top of the stall when I am SITTING in it. Ugh). In mid bathroom run, Molly left. I figured she had helped herself to more treats in an unknown classroom, and that I'd catch her quickly upon exiting the lou.

She was not in the hallway. She was not in Porter's room. She was not with Madi nor with Bryn. I wondered where she had gone. Then I felt a little voice say 'she has walked herself home.' Thinking this a possibility (her confidence is her weakness, and her inability to realize that others are affected by the choices she makes). I informed the school secretary that I was missing a child but felt she may have walked home. The secretary was aghast at my calm nature as she offered to put the school on lock down and search every classroom. I asked instead that if my child turned up she be led to the principal's office and sternly repramanded. Darling Ms. Barb, the school secretary, took down my cel phone number and assured me she'd be on the alert. I place Lucy in our stroller and started to hike up the hill. As I trudged I prayed. I was grateful I felt calm. I was pleading for my little one's safety. I was begging for help to rear her well. My neighbor pulled up in her car mid prayer. I told her I was searching for a missing small person. She offered to go driving the neighborhood to see what she could see. I told her I felt calm. She understood.

I entered the house, I did not see her there. I called her name and instantly heard "yes mom!" and the pitter patter of her feet. She indeed, had walked home, and upon arrival took food from the cupboard and began eating an early lunch in a room where food is not welcome. I expressed (more patiently than I thought I would be able) that many people were worried because of her choice to leave without me. I shared my disappointmemnt. I assured her she was special, and that our worry was out of love. I tried to let her know when she makes a choice that the consequences matter to other people too. She smiled a shy smile.

Then I took her to the neighbor. She rang the bell and said she was sorry that she had caused her worry. Our wonderful neighbor wrapped Molly in her arms and said "I'm just so glad you are safe. You are so important." While Molly was thus occupied I called the school secretary. Would she play an important role? When Molly arrives to apologize, would she explain the value of her keeping by my side when next she comes to the school? A wise secretary indeed, she agreed to be part of the lesson.

We pulled up to the school. I escorted Molly in. She rested her chin on the office counter and squarely faced the secretary. "I'm sorry Ms. Barb" she shyly expressed. Ms. Barb came right to Molly-she met her eyes and spoke softly of the importance of staying safe and being helpful when at school. Would Molly please stay with mom, whenever Molly comes back to the school? Molly agreed she would.

Then there was more hugging, and we left the school much lighter.

How will I raise this daughter? This spirit that needs so much? I adore this little child. And I sometimes fear that I'm not enough for her. But in those moments, like the ones I had today when the whisper assured me she was walking home I have the strongest feeling that I am not alone in the endeavor to rear this soul.

Not only does Molly have a desperately interested and loving Daddy, and siblings who love and care too. She also has a Heavenly Father, who is keenly aware of her needs and who rescued her from dire straights and placed her in our arms. To keep her safe. To teach her well. To turn to Him when we need help to know better.

No, I am not enough alone. But with the help of all those around me, and the interest of heaven as well, I believe we can be made enough to help her walk back to the one home, that heavenly home, where she will be safe for ever after.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Favorite Christmas Memories installment 2

this yearly photo taken with Santa shows smiling me on the right, probably a freshman in Highschool.

My Senior year of High School was a busy one. I carried a part time job, helped on our school's seminary council, sang in our Madrigal choir and took a full load of senior classes too. I was the oldest daughter in a family of 6 children, with parents who worked hard keeping our family business afloat. I kept busy on my own, but had responsibilities at home as well.

At the end of the previous school year two girls from the class ahead of me came to my door. I had been selected, along with my friend Heidi, to be secret ambassadors of compassion and good will for a teacher we all loved and respected. Mrs. Hewlett taught choir and Humanities. She instilled in us (with passion, pure knowledge and a little intimidation) a love for the arts through the ages. From Gregorian chant to post modern music, early sculpture through the Renaissance and far beyond. Her college level course was coveted among seniors. And she was our choral instructor as well. Always expecting the best from us, I had been invited to give my best to her.

Mrs. Hewlett was a widow, who had married late in life and who enjoyed the love of a step family but who never enjoyed children of her very own making. She, being the passionate woman we all loved, wore her loneliness on her sleeve at times (and very especially at Christmas time).

The tradition of being an anonymous emissary of kindness and cheer had gone on for many years. From the time I was a freshman I had seen little notes from Mrs. Hewlett to her secret angels on mornings after they'd visited her doorstep, thanking them for their kindness. Now i was to be one of those angels-it was an honor I did not take lightly.

Heidi and I planned carefully for the 12 days of Christmas to be presented on Mrs. Hewlett's doorstep during our busy Christmas season. Sometimes our visits took place late into the night as we had homework and jobs and concerts (directed at Mrs. Hewlett's hand no less!). Some nights we went alone, some nights we went together. The thrill of ringing the doorbell and taking off as fast as we could is one I looked forward to night after night.

And the notes on the board, all during the season, they were like a stamp of approval from Heaven itself. Showing Heidi and me that we were making a difference.

Heidi, being angel like in her very nature anyways, took it all in stride-it was some of her usual business I daresay. I know it was not the first time she had anonymously made life better for another. But for selfish self centered me, it was new and awakening and wonderful.

I do not remember the gifts we left nor the words in those notes on the board. But I will always remember the thrill and fulfillment as we rang the doorbell and ran.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Lucia Day was Sunday

We stayed up late Saturday making dough for our Swedish rolls (kanelbullar) which we shared with neighbors for the occasion. Our two oldest are feeling less inclined to don the luciakladder (Lucia clothes) these days, and since we don't live in Sweden any more-where 18 year old boys happily put on the white star boy gown or dress up like a pepparkokker boyken (gingerbread boy) it is kind of hard to use peer pressure to encourage them. But our 4 others were happy to tromp through the wet falling snow to deliver goodies to neighbors who we already can call friends.

The Lucia Days we spent in Stockholm were full of wonder for me. Every window glowed with Christmas candle light. Children sang beautiful songs beckoning light into the dark winter days. The smells of the Christmas food-some foreign and pungently strong and some sweet and wafting-was other-worldly for me. I loved the experience then.

And so I perpetuate it now for my own. Not in the ways the Swedes showed it to me, but in a way that brings a taste of this wonderful culture to our family. Thank heaven John has Swedish in his heritage-it gives me further excuse to continue this small piece of the traditions we enjoyed so many winters ago In Stockholm.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Are You Decked?

Not quite as "Martha Stewart" as I'd hoped, our pots on the porch are full of pinecones, greenery and berries. I randomly placed some "bling" out there, a few mercury glass acorns for show. No lights on the house this year, that will have to be an addition in years to come.

I intend to actually light a fire in this wall-mounted fireplace of ours. Perhaps with the glow of fire-light its funny place in our home will bring it sentimental purpose...

A growing Snowman collection. I like this theme as it works through January as well. Some are painted by hand by John's mom. Others are original works of art by Jeni Gochnor. All are a fun reminder of the truth that now, living in Utah, we can make Snowmen of our very own!

This table cloth was mailed to us in South Africa. It had been on my Grandmother's table for many years, and she shared it with us when we were far away and I was missing Christmas. Grandma passed away 3 days before the mail man delivered this to me. It is a special reminder of Grandma's love, and our kindred feddish for home decor!

I would have blooming bulbs in every corner of my home were my finances to allow. Here they grace the piano room, on the coffee table in front of our manger; pieces of the nativity will be lovingly placed during these next 12 days of Christmas.

the bells have be-decked the front porch of 3 Graham Homes, they work nicely here at the Spruces

We are trying to Deck the new Halls. This is the Third Christmas in a row that we are in a new home. Trying to blend vintage sparkle with traditional Swedish amidst the congestion of our bungalow.

My ideas rarely show beauty in practice. Maybe someday-after we've had a few holidays in the very same place-I'll feel like it looks the way I want.

For now, At least we've made an effort. With a Christmas tree still left to decorate we are still in decorating process at the Spruces-Are you decked yet? How do you like your holiday decor this year?

Monday, December 14, 2009

Favorite Christmas Memories Installment 1

A photo from Christmas past. I am mothering my little sister, with my pink sponge rolled hair tipped down to the camera. The ladies in red pajamas are cousins. My older brother is somehow missing from the scene

When we were growing up we threw newspapers every morning. Christmas morning was especially challenging-to climb out of bed after Santa had come and fold and deliver all the papers, and then put our pajamas back on in order to go in and see what had been left for us under the tree...long ago memories indeed.

But this story did not happen on Christmas morning. It took place a few weeks before. Way back then we had to go to each customer's home and 'collect' their payment for the month. We then handed their money over to the newspaper agency, who handed us back our wage. At Christmas time when we went out "collecting' we often were given a tip for our year's service as the newspaper boy (or girl, in my case). This was the way I remember it most, going to each customer's home on a Saturday morning after breakfast, asking them to write us a check for the month's newspapers. They'd tell us not to throw the paper so loudly, or they'd ask that we leave it in a certain place on the porch, sometimes they didn't say anything but 'thanks' and sometimes they'd tell us they'd paid their bill 'at the office' which meant they'd sent their money into the agency instead of having us collect it.

We always loved collecting at Christmas. Those tips were like a jackpot-a treasure we'd dream of all year. How we'd spend it, what we'd save for, we talked about it endlessly as we folded and threw the papers in the morning hours before the sun was awake, our hands black with newsprint, our eyes still full of sleep.

This year our collection was complete. My brother and I, and I think my little sister, had the tips piled high on the kitchen table. We were literally jingling the change, letting it make a tinkling sound as we swirled it around the kitchen table with our greedy little hands.

Dad entered the room. He looked at the money, and saw the wide whites of our eyes. I remember the radio playing. Christmas tunes on the FM dial, the sound floating from the radio's purch on top of the fridge in the kitchen.

I don't recall how he brought it up, but I do remember a discussion about the money on the table. I'm sure I was telling him what I'd buy for myself with the sweat-earned wages laid out. It was hard work to get up before anyone else I knew. To throw papers even on the weekends, to collect from our customers, and to walk the streets in the mornings alone in the dark and cold (my dad knew how hard this work was, because he did it with us for years. He threw more papers than my brother and I combined and yet never collected a wage for his work. The money that came was used for us to save for missions and college, to buy school clothes and to pay for our own fun and activities. Dad did it so we would have our necesseities and some spare change to boot. A lesson in sacrifice I think of still today).

Dad reminded us of a story we'd read during the Christmas season about a $50 gold piece that was given to someone less fortunate with only the stipulation that he pass it along to another if he found one in more dire straights than his own. As you may guess-the story winds on as each recipient sees that another's need is greater than his or her own-and the lessons in the end you can imagine.

We heard our dad that day in a way that I will not forget. Our hearts were touched. We looked at our pile. We realized there were others who needed more than we.

Then an add came on the radio. It was for "Coats for Christmas" a fundraiser which purchased coats for needy children in our city. The light came into our eyes. The excitement of the sacrifice began.

The rest of my memory is fuzzy, accept that I know there was a deadline of sorts-donations needed to be made by that very day, and only certain places in the city could take our hard earned money. I recall a little drama as we piled in the car, my dad at the wheel and the dollars and change in our pockets. A Speedy drive to down town Salt Lake and some kind of post office looking mail box where we dropped our money to be donated.

I remember the clinking of the change as it was poured into the belly of the box.

The task complete, we turned to walk back to the car. It was cold outside, I could see my breath. But I felt warm and happy. And satisfied with the knowledge that a child somewhere would have a coat for Christmas even though I would not have whatever it was I had hoped to use my money to buy....

not a wonder I don't remember what I would have purchased with my tips. Not a wonder that I do remember the feelings I had that Christmas.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

This Morning...

*Mason walked around the house singing "I Closed My Eyes" from "Joseph and the Amazing..." because he is auditioning today for his Jr. High Musical. I am wondering how he is going to manage play practice and the rest of his life, seeing as he has lost one coat, one text book, numerous novels and 2 calculators since the school year began. How does one teach organization to a teenage boy? Mind you, I've been trying to teach this subject to this person for 14 years...

*Brynley was caught reading in bed instead of doing her morning chores. Once her novel was taken from her she burst into tears, telling me she "never gets time to read for recreation." This coming from a child who finishes around 3 novels a week (500+pages per week!). My first thought was "welcome to real life" but my action was to compassionately take the novel away, promising its return to her as soon as she finished her chores and practiced all of her piano...she left for school literally in tears, telling me her life is too busy for the things she loves (I can so relate)...

*Porter announced that he did not finish last nights' homework. He had been told to join the family in decorating the Christmas tree when his work was done, and he decided to join us in decorating the tree before finishing. This has happened before, and before I told him to turn it in unfinished, stating that natural consequences would be that he would fail the assignment and learn from his miss step. Porter doesn't really CARE about failing assignments as he feels he is brilliant and doesn't need to prove that to anyone else, including his teacher or me, so that tactic proved ineffective. Instead this time he sat at the kitchen counter until 30 minutes after the bell rang and finished the assignment (perhaps the embarrassment of being late will be a catalyst for change?). When I relayed to John parenting he laughed compassionately and said "how ironic, you just got mad at me last week for not checking the kids' homework before he went to bed". He is right, hypocrite I must be. The true irony was the little skip in Porter's step as he zipped down to his classroom. I don't think being late to school on purpose fulfilled the purpose I intended...

*Porter's tardiness dominoed into tardies for both preschool girls and a very tardy me to a hair appointment. Then late to pick up the girls, late in running errands and on and on and get the picture.

All the while I'm thinking "I can't wait for them to be out of school so I don't have to deal the schedule while I get ready for the impending holiday" followed by this thought;

"oh my gosh, what am I going to do when they are with me all day instead of in school?!?"

Merry Hectic Holidays

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

This Year's Stab at Tradition


My sister has great ideas. This year she decided to make an advent out of these darling hand crafted (by her no less) christmas flags. I thought I would re-purpose the flags I made (with help) in South Africa. After 10 minutes of effort I was not willing to try any more (no time this year for being crafty at Christmas) but Mandy didn't let me give up. She suggested I take all the galvanized buckets I own (and a few of hers, thanks!) and make those work. So I did. And she also suggested I use these darling stickers to note each day of the month. And I did that too. With a late night brainstorming and a trip to Target for treats to add to the buckets I had a full blown Advent going on. The buckets are displayed on the Library book shelf so the packages can be opened at Scriptures in the early morning (a deliberate bribe to get Porter out of bed in the mornings. Who wouldn't rise for a bite of chocolate before Breakfast?)

The ideas are all from others, save the activities for each day. Today's activity was to "Help a friend or teacher at school". Pretty simple way to honor the "reason for the season".

We'll see if this tradition sticks. Some of them do, and some of the go the way of all the Earth. Still, it is a fun effort, and thanks to all the people whose creativity I could lean on.

Monday, December 07, 2009

New York Was a Blast...

with rain and snow waiting at the top, we skipped the trip up at the Empire State Building, but standing at the top of the Rockefeller late at night was a memory I will keep
close to my heart for a long time to come

You cannot see it all in one long weekend. We had a great time. I walked the city alone on Friday and enjoyed the shops and atmosphere of the upper east and west side. Walking in Central park on a beautiful balmy day was something I will always remember.

John and I were hit with awful rain and frigid cold. It made our time together less "productive" but no less memorable. Eating out with John-my foodie lover-and discussing textures and flavors with him was my favorite (he was so excited to make the reservation). I also loved being alone with him at the "top of the Rock". No one wanted to go up because the weather was so bad, but we did. And I'm happy to say I've seen New York late on a snowy winter's night from high above the ground with my sweetheart holding me tight.

Come back this week to see more pics of NYC, the advent buckets and how the Spruces looks be-decked with holly bright and springs of mistletoe!

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Today is the day before Tomorrow...

cabinest, washers and dryers were actually moved in the other day, this was the site on Thanksgiving-we were without the washer and dryer for 3 weeks straight. Thanks to my mom and two fun date nights at the laundry-mat we made it through just fine...

These silver shelves will line the wall of the new laundry room, housing food storage and dry goods like toilet paper and paper towells. A peek at the finished room will have to wait until next week-look for pics come Monday!

And tomorrow I get to fly with my love to New York City. And this is what my basement looks like. And I have babysitters coming (baby sister Jen and her lovely husband Josh) to care for the big graham 6 while I meander times square. And Baby sis just shouldn't have to live in a mess like that. So in the next 12 hours I've got to transform that mess into an organized laundry room (the paint is drying as I write-it will be move-in ready in 3 hours or less! Yippee for Jeff Shaw Construction! You did it by the deadline!) and a cleaned out basement.

Is it possible? With lots of deadline adrenaline and three little girls glued to PBS, I say it is! Wish me luck and have a great day!

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Healthy Holidays to Us All...

these have been the crux of this month's work outs; a bosu ball, some free weights, resistance bands in various shapes and sizes, and a few exercise videos from Itunes. I've also been running a little, and have tried some Yoga too.

4 weeks of effort has lost me 4 lbs. (mostly in my bust to John's dismay) and 1 inch of gurth around my middle. Seems a small start, but it is indeed a start to what I hope is a healthy holiday season for me and for my family. As an aside, John has begun "dieting" and has lost 10 lbs. in 2 weeks. Doesn't seem real fair, but I'm happy for him and proud of his efforts to be healthy and sexy for his adoring wife.

So, the goals for the last 4 weeks have been;

*work out every day according to the "plan" laid out by the boy trainer at John's office gym. Kind of crazy to realize the kid graduated from Highschool like 18 years after I did and yet he is my authority on all things related to a tight core and a strong lean backside. I have not missed a work out excepting last Saturday-which I then made up for by doing a double work out yesterday. Pretty good progress on this one. The goal stays the same for December. I will take a rest day on Christmas, and I will walk my fanny off in New York but probably not get in full work outs while I'm there.

*Make half my plate full of vegatables at each meal, cut out refined foods like crackers chips etc. and no sugar (including cookies and brownies) accept for one day a week. Also, I've learned from "Mr. Zone" aka John, that it is important to pair proteins with good carbs (veggies mainly) so I've added that to the list. Also, eat all meals before 7 p.m. This has gone pretty well. I have had some hard days when it simply wasn't humanly possible to eat before 7 p.m., and on one or two occasions I have had a bite of treats when at a party etc., but I've found it surprisingly manageable. For December I'll continue to work on these, and I'll add the general concept that the one day a week that is "free" for sugar is not a license to binge on any sweet/savory/fatty treat I lay my eyes on. That alone will probably lose me an extra pound in December. To be frank, for this month I will be thrilled and satisfied to lose one more inch and just NOT GAIN ANYTHING - its' December people, and Ms. Minnie's (our new wonderful neighbor) home made caramels are already sitting on our counter :0) At least they aren't sitting on my hips!

*Drink 8 huge glasses of water each day. I measured the cup I've been drinking out of. It is 26 oz. or so, which means more than the recommended 64 oz. per day; but I am sticking with this goal because tho I have to use the powder room like a million times a day, I do think my skin, and my brain are more clear and happy. The more water the better they say.

New goals for December (Dare I add?)

* One "extra" work out a week. This will be a cardio work out in addition to the stuff Mr. Fitness boy has me doing. That's because I'd like to see myself training for triathlon again this summer, and in order to do that my heart needs to handle a lot of cardio. Better start getting it ready for long rides and underwater work outs.

*join a gym so I can spin and swim sometimes. I've been holding off on this, but the running in freezing cold weather is kind of the encouragement I need to want to mix it up and take a class or two. I've also done some yoga this month, and I'd really like to have an instructor give me pointers on my form so I can improve and enjoy the benefits of that "practice".

For January? Going to bed by 10 p.m.; I figure I better wait until the busy holidays are over to plant that one in my life. But it really needs to come; for the sake of my sanity, my sleepy driving, and my exasperated husband (who is good at shutting the world down before 10 and leaving it 'til the next morning)

what is one thing you'll do to keep the holidays healthy at your house? let me know, I could use as many ideas as I can get to keep the squishy off and put the healthy ON this year.

Monday, November 30, 2009

How Was Yours?

Our kitchen has a fireplace, right on the wall. No way to sit around it, with a massive mantle like its a centerpiece when it isn't even centered in the room...this is what I've taken to using it for; holiday decorating

Hope you enjoyed a Happy and Thanks-filled weekend! Here is what we did in a nutshell;

-John takes oldest 2 on their first snowboarding trip. Mason, brave as he is, cried as he fell for the hundredth time. He came home and told me it was awesome. Then the next morning when I made him go running with me he said he couldn't because "everything hurts". I told him to lace up the runners or forget playing rugby because one day with those Highland boys will be a heck of a lot harder than a morning on the board. He ran 4 miles, no complaint ;)

-John cooks the turkey (for a little while) on his brand new TEXAS SMOKER. Our resident chef has wanted a TEXAS SMOKER for a very long time. New house calls for new toys I say (bring on the Madsen bike ;) so he's got an awesome black barrel looking thing out on the covered porch. Unfortunately, said TEXAS SMOKER blew a fuse due to a faulty fan in hour 4 of the 12 hour cooking process, so we ate oven roasted/smoke fusion turkey for dinner. VERY YUMMY. the candied yams and Brussels sprouts were delicious and my rolls were phenomenal.

-We played games with cousins til midnight at my mom and dad's house. It was awesome. John and I ate like pigs (at least I ate like a pig) since this was the only day off we were taking from our new healthy eating lifestyle (you could call it a diet, by why?).

-We worked on our basement, tons. The construction is so close to finished, and our basement is a wreck. Because of an upcoming trip to NYC (can't wait, please comment and tell me what to do while John goes to his fancy big meetings and I have a DAY to MYSELF in the city!) we felt we should kick it into gear and try to make order out of chaos. It didn't work. Still living in Chaos (which I think has very little to do with the basement being under construction)...

-We enjoyed a great dinner with the Malens. Love you guys. Please come often. We kept the Malen boys out late; which Pete and Annette I'm sure did not appreciate. This is a family that shuts down at 9 p.m. and starts up again at 5. Annette and I used to run together when we lived in Utah before, and often when we met at 5.30a.m. she had already cleaned all the bathrooms in her house. Wish being around them made me an early to bed early to rise type of person, it mostly just makes me jealous ;)

-John went to the BYU/UTAH football game on Saturday. Hope he had fun even though he sat with the BYU fans and the team of choice (can you say UTAH RED RUNNIN' UTES?) lost in overtime. Hope it counts for something that he got to hang out doing "guy stuff" for an entire day. He felt sheepishly guilty. Guess he doesn't know that I"m going to ask him to let me take lots more than one day away "girl weekend" away from home with my sisters this February (don't feel guilty any more, k honey?)

-Took the big 3 to see "the BLINDSIDE". Great film. PG13, and that means the previews before the film began were not for young eyes (especially not MY eyes). Scary movies are coming out soon, that's all I can say. But the movie itself was great. Wishing I could get away with the strong southern woman persona, but I just seem bossy when I try to pour it on. Wanting to be a more giving, less judgemental person after seeing the redemption of a child all because he was given love and support in a family. See the film, you'll be glad you did (just close your eyes for the previews)

-We (mostly) decked our halls at the Spruces. Still sans Christmas trees, and we need some garland and stuff here and there, but all the nick naks are out. wow, surprised at how fast that goes when you have as many helpers as I did (2 items broke in the move, thanks super glue for coming to our rescue!)

-Katie got to sing the Messiah along with a thousand other people and the Utah Symphony last night to usher in the holiday season and make me wildly happy I can read music and keep a melody line. Thanks Mom Graham for bringing me along, it is always a pleasure spending time with you and especially fun to sing with you the words of scripture which prophecy, lament and rejoice in the reality of Jesus Christ, whose birth we now celebrate all the rest of the year!

Thanks to all those who have responded to the holiday cards. We are glad you now know where we live and so thankful our lives are filled with memories of you all and the times we have shared with you!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Not to be Trite, but What are you Thankful For?

Lucy and I pause and overlook downtown Boise. One of 4 states we've lived in and loved

I saw this little clip Thursday night and it really made me think. So many thankful thoughts I was smiling as I sat alone, late at night at the computer (John has been away and it is so hard for me to go to bed on time when he's not waiting for me there...)

So, what ARE you thankful for? Me? Shall I do it by the numbers? Or with the ABC's? Not to be trite, but here goes:

8 grahams (yes, including me, I'm thankful I'm one of them) who I live with, fret over and love every day
13 permanent addresses, which have brought me wonderful relationships and experiences (a few of those addresses were from my childhood, and some addresses John and I have shared are not listed because they were only months long internships...)
8 hadfields, who made me the person I was when I became a Graham
4 parents, 2 who raised me, and 2 who raised my love. All of whom I am grateful for, and humbled to call my family.
31 A's on smart kids' report cards
4 States in which we've lived and made friends who feel like family
3 countries where we've called home, and 1 we adopt because it is the mother country of one of our own Grahams; these with their cultures, differences and people have helped make us more than we'd be with just one...
1 John. With infinite number of reasons why I can be thankful for him
1 healthy body
1 set of standards, commandments and expectations to live up to-which help us as a family see that everything good in the life of this family comes from a loving God.
5 bedrooms, nestled inside one ample cottage, whose windows today glow with the reflection of the sun on the new fallen snow.

Of course, I could go on. And I will, hopefully through out this week of Gratitude and beyond. I challenge you on turkey day to find yourself on your knees before your day begins. Offer thanks, and thanks alone-and see what the Lord has done for you. Thanksgiving is only a really good meal unless accompanied with a reflective sense of blessings granted.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Go Here...


once upon a time a handsome college boy gave a smitten college girl a ride from the Institute building on campus to her class in President's circle.

She fell in love with him on the short drive, and as he dropped her off to class she thought
"oh my gosh, I love that guy"

(It was the Monday before Thanksgiving by the way, 17 years ago next week)

He didn't know it for months and months
but she thought about him every time she walked up the steps to that building
where he drove her to class.

We took our family to the place where it began.
Logan from Sprout photo came along
She captured the Grahams years after that little drive
look what we've become!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Giving the sign of the Scout

self portrait, taken Saturday Afternoon when Porter just couldn't help but get into uniform

Nothing in Porter's boy(!) life is organized or kept tidy, save the uniform

Porter has been waiting for this day for about 4 years. Back then his mom was asked to be a den leader for a bunch of darling 8 year old boys. They came to our house every week, and I struggled to teach them to tie knots and "do a good turn daily". I loved those boys through 2 years of cub scouting-having never appreciated before then all that other den mothers had done for my then Boy Scout Mason. Porter was right at my side every single week, asking when he would be a scout from the very first den meeting.

And now the time has come. He has learned the scout motto, and the scout law. He knows what it means to follow Akela and he literally needled me incessantly until I put his pack number on the side of his shirt, so he would be "official".

His big brother is coming to the end of the trail to Eagle, just as he sets his foot on the same path. This time, I will be stronger and better and helping my son appreciate the values espoused in Scouting (How could you not want your kid to internalize "I , Porter Graham promise to do my best to do my duty to God and my Country, to help other people and obey ...."?).

Welcome to the pack Porter Graham. I hope you will become one who does do a good turn daily, who honors God and those who represent him, and who will fulfill the duty we all have to the country in which we live.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Once Upon a Time

We fed them University of Utah Pizza from the Pie, just so they'd know where our loyalties are...

A heated game, just like those of long ago, between good men and boys at our house on Friday night.

These boyish men were once little boys, 12 and 13 years old to be exact. And John (along with some other amazing men)was their scout leader. He led them in lessons on Sunday about honoring God and placing trust in the atonement in Jesus Christ. He led them on weekends, in snow caves in winter and sliding on ice blocks in summer. He led them 50 miles into the Idaho Wilderness, twice, and led them back home again.

And he loved them.

And they, in turn, loved him back. Game nights in Boise when these boys were 12 was like a planned tornado. I lost a screen door due to their running through it. Our kids were kept awake late into the night for their screaming and shouting at each other (and at John) in the middle of exciting games.

And I loved them too.

They grew up. And now they all attend BYU, just south of the Spruces by less than an hour. So on Friday they came. They ate our food and made loud noises and played games ALL NIGHT LONG (John came to bed around 2:30 a.m., and they guys had only left because some of them had sporting events to participate in the next morning...)

And John and I loved it. Every single minute. We will invite them again and again. Because, thanks to their parents (and maybe a tiny tiny bit thanks to John too) these men are good men. Strong men. Happy men. Who are preparing to become missionaries and who live the lessons John led them in many years ago.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Memories which surfaced at Craft Night

the fulfillment of revelation; I stand with our children and the man who interviewed me for marriage; Paul Koelliker. He and is amazing wife Ann are now serving as missionaries and church leaders in Southern Africa. My own amazing companion is snapping our photograph.

My sisters and mom and I were gathered last night to create and craft. We chatted about Thanksgiving plans, our husbands hobbies and other interesting topics while we worked on our individual projects. My sister, Amanda, mentioned that she had wished she had served a full time mission.

I listened and nodded as the women who mean the most to me worked the ideas over...I had nothing I could really contribute. I was remembering long ago.

When I was 21 years old I wanted to be a missionary. I prayed with fervency and asked the Lord to confirm that I should go. I was busy with college. Serving as president of my LDS sorority, and dating a lot of boys. I lived at home and still had the busy obligations of parents and brothers and sisters around me all the time. I was ready to see my life transform into some bigger and more than it was.

The answer was no.

I prayed more earnestly and asked for permission to do this service for the Lord. I wanted to be independent in my testimony and to give my every waking hour in the service of my God.

The answer was no again. And there was another answer too;

"you need to prepare now to meet your husband."

I kept that part of the answer a very very tight lipped secret. I'm not sure I've EVER shared this revelation before. I FELT TERRIFIED (this part is a post for another day).

I didn't try to "find a husband". I tried to do exactly what I was told to do. I tried to prepare to meet him. I studied harder in school. I was more friendly, more reliable, more thoughtful of others than before. I tried to save my money. I tried to look nice and eat right and exercise. I tried to read my scriptures. I tried to prepare to be someone who would be noticed by the kind of guy that I wanted to be married to. It was hard work, but my own expectations for an eternal companion were pretty dang darn high, so I had to measure up myself.

Boys started crawling out of the wood work. I dated every guy I knew at least once and did more lip smacking in the next month or two than I had ever done in the 21 years prior to that. And with very little effort on my part. It was as if I was all of a sudden noticed and noticeable. I enjoyed the attention. None of them knew of my deep buried secret. If they had they would never have paid me the attention (at least not the most interesting ones!).

One month after this frightening revelation I saw John's face for the first time. Three months after that I was flirting with him in my sorority office and fell in love with him on the spot.

He was the last guy on the planet who would have stuck around an hour had he known about the answer to my prayer.

We dated. I loved him. He goofed around. He was inattentive. I was in love. I tried not to let my deep feelings show. And I definitely tried not to seem as though I was looking for a husband.

Time passed. Our story wound on. And as John and I realized our feelings for one another were mutual he begged me to serve a mission. 18 more months for him to not be a husband. 18 more months for me to prepare to be a wife, the kind of wife he wanted (because he wanted to marry a return the way).

I could not tell him everything, I could only tell him that I knew I was not to go. And, gratefully, I could tell him that I honestly wanted to go and that the experience for me would be welcome.

He persisted. I declined. I never revealed what had been revealed to me. By then I wanted John to be the subject and object of that revelation so badly that my insides ached with hope. But the last thing on the planet for me to do was tell him.

the summer came. Events transpired. We became engaged. And that is kind of the end of my little Friday story.

Accept for one thing. I kind of made a deal with God when he told me no(not that God is a deal maker, just that He helped me accept His answer a little better this way). I asked Him if maybe I could just take a rain check for later.

And He said Yes.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

The Family Crest (upon request)

The Crest hangs over the mantle in our Texas home, Christmas 2008

Now it finds its place here, over our Swedish bench in the kitchen, at the Spruces

painted with love for John's Christmas gift 2006

*Every symbol and phrase is something I want our family to remember.
*The words you do not recognize are foreign languages; all the ones in which we have experienced God's love (English, Spanish, Swedish, Vietnamese. We had not yet felt loved in the tongue from Zimbabwe or Evie's native Xhosa when this piece was created).
*The black and white border symbolizes our symbol of integrity; like a railroad track, what we know is right must line up with what we do-we've asked our kids countless times if they are "on track", and the border reminds them of that train of integrity that means so much to us.
*John's mother is the reason the images have depth, warmth and dimension. I designed and painted the canvas, but before her help it was a one dimensional idea-her artistry and talent is the reason it looks like a painting instead of a child's drawing. Forever thank you Mom Graham!

* John and I have imagined where it would hang
in the homes we've purchased since this piece was gifted on Northwood Road. I think it will have its permanent home right where it is, in our kitchen at the Spruces.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

As the Dust Settles

We are in the midst of some very small improvements here at the Spruces. Making the "breakfast nook" more of a nook, and creating a laundry room where there was once a basement storage space. Making the existing laundry area (off the back entry to our home) into a "message center" complete with a place for kids' papers, my files, a doc station for phones and cameras and little spots here and there for stuff like re-usable grocery bags and dog leashes and such.

We are excited and grateful to be able to enjoy these little additions. Now we just have to live through the few weeks of mess and inconvenience in order to make them happen.

Thanks to Jeff Shaw Construction and Justin Rametta our cabinet craftsman, we should see completion just in time for Thanksgiving (I hope ;)

We'll keep you posted as these ideas become reality. For now I'm trying to smile and think happy endings as I watch the dust settle!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Two Years Ago...

waiting for the bird show at the Monte Carlo bird preserve, Johannesburg, RSA

We've spent some of our weekend looking through photographs of our family-particularly of Porter as he has grown up for a project he gets to do at school. It has made me think of all the people and places we have enjoyed.

Truly, the greatest treasures of this life have nothing to do with stuff. Most valuable are the relationships we have been blessed to have; and most of you who read this blog are my life's treasures indeed.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Friday was terrific

John and I meet for a date, Salt Lake 2009

*I got to remember the sweet kindness of a friend, who sent me a note telling me she knew I was loved by the Lord. She had no idea that the very day she had sent me that note I had been on my knees pleading that I might feel the love and approval of my Father in Heaven. A tender mercy for me.

*I got to spend time with my dad. He helped me create a light fixture for our home. It was fun being with him-watching him use his talents. I appreciated that he respected my ideas, and that he helped me make them become reality. Thanks Daddy, you are fantastic.

*My kids played with their friends. The house was full of children, it was clean before they came and I was relaxed and enjoyed the noises and messes they made. What a gift to have a house full.

* Sometimes when he travels, John quietly meets me by the trampoline before the children know he is home. If he is discovered, I have to compete with 6 other bodies and one dog for his attention and affection, so ours is a secret meeting-a tender hello after his absence. Its like the balm of Gilead for me. I'm like a giddy teenager, butterflies dancing as I tiptoe out the door unnoticed and fly into his arms to hear that he missed me and that he's glad to be home with me again.

*Board games galore on Friday night. I watched movies and cuddled with my little ones while John lit up the Power Grid and saved the Kingdom with Cities and Knights. I felt so happy to hear him laugh and spurt rules left and right. It's a new tradition; First Friday night of the month is game night from now on.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

At the Dinner Table Last Evening

Mine was not this beautiful, but it was yummy just the same. image found here

We tried a new recipe. I made it up myself. Chicken vegetable soup (no, not chicken noodle soup.)

The kids moaned.

“This is NOT chicken noodle soup” they said.

“Does this have ZUCCHINI? AWW I hate zucchini!” they said

“looks like the noodles are not the right shape” they said

I thought to myself “I just made this darn soup and it looks good to me, and I want to eat it in peace without your complaints”

Molly was asked to say the prayer over the food. With sarcasm, I asked her to please ask Heaven to give us strength to eat the soup even though there are things in the soup that we don’t like to eat.

Molly’s prayer was like this;

“Heavenly Father. Please Bless that we will ….eat….this….soup. And Thank thee that we have this….soup. And Thank thee that we love each other SOO much that we can be a happy family.”

Zucchini never tasted so good.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Ready to Read

Molly's crown announces her achievements, that she is ready to 'blast off" into reading...

Molly announced to us yesterday that she is "ready to read". I was happy to hear the news, though not quite sure why she was so positively decided. Today I understand.

Molly jumped in the car from preschool with this crown on her head and this chart in her hands. "SEE!! I TOLD YOU! I'm all ready to read now!" she bubbled.

Molly's ability to recognize every letter and sound in the alphabet, not to mention knowing numbers from 1-10 makes me bubble too. Hearing her giggle the letters and sounds (cowboy "Y" says yyy. Apple "a" says aaa.) was the absolute highlight of a very tiresome week.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

A Late Afternoon Post for a Day that is slipping away too quickly.

I am trying to be focused in my efforts to keep house, to keep my spiritual and physical house in order. To keep the house where we live in order. To keep my mental house in order. Lists each day which include a little box to check for "pray, exercise read (meaning read scriptures) and blog (because this is the best intellectual exercise I have time for right now).

Very few of those things have happened.

Sick kids. Two of them. Busy toddlers. Two others. Doctor visits that were not scheduled. Running for popsicles and jello and anything to con my little boy into letting clear liquids into his body.


sometimes in the mothering the house feels like its more made of cards than stone.

And yet. At least I can say that my house is built upon a rock.
So that when these crazy days come. And the wind and the rain and the floods come up, my house can at least

stand still.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Their Favorite Part

This is what Sunday morning brought to our house this year...

The kids like to create their costumes (or at least they like to see how their designs have turned out of my creating...). The kids like trick-or-treating. But what the kids like most of all is the trading.

"One big candy bar for all of your licorices?"
"Two bit-o-honey and a lollypop for your reece's peanut butter cup?"

It goes on for hours.

This year, they called their cousins. Dinner at Grandma's consisted of children trading treats while parents conversed above the rustle of wrappers and the loud-ish negotiations.

Now that the trades have been made, we can almost throw the candy away (almost!). Though they like to eat it (definitely!) they like to trade it even more.

Friday, October 30, 2009

scattered thoughts for Friday...

*I think this will be the only pumpkin that gets carved this year. No worries, the kids have opted to play with friends instead of make a pumpkin mess in the kitchen; how can I complain?

*I will be at John's side this evening attending the Governor's Ball. Lest you think this is a Cinderella night, we got the invitation late yesterday-I've nothing to wear and always feel underdressed and overly practical at events like this. But it will be a fairytale just to have a date with John-be it at the Governor's Ball or the drive-thru at McDonald's. Wish me luck in the land of high heels and floor length dresses...

*I went to see a personal trainer today. One of the perks of John's current job; an on-site gym and personal training for $10 bucks a month to employees and their spouses. He "walked me through" a work out routine he has designed for me. Just the walk-through made me sore. So pathetic my lack of strength and tone. The next 3 months we'll see if I can transform this lump of clay into a more chiseled, more healthy me.

*Right now Lucy and Molly are sorting Halloween candy from last night's trunk or treat. They have organized it by color, by likeness, and by "type" (chocolate vs. sugar). It could be a long few weeks as the sugar escalates and then ebbs.

*Have a great weekend.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Halloween preview

A jellyfish, Two Princesses, A SPELLING Bee, a Jedi Knight and a hugry dog

I love this photo. Madi's face, the lighting, everything!

Molly was the hit of her program, She can mash with the best of the Monsters. I was so proud!

Lucy was unsure about the whole Halloween program, her teachers all dressed up, A guest "witch" and even Witch's brew. She was reticent and cautious-just as a little princess should be.

Mason will be the only boy at his first 9th grade party who is actually dressed up. Charlie Brown, complete with a bald head...John will be sporting facial hair and I will be in Witch's garb so our kids will think we're cool.

School programs and parades today, trunk or treat tonight. Pumpkin carving tomorrow, parties and trick or treat on Saturday. How will you spend your weekend?

Happy Halloween.

p.s. read here for some encouraging words about all we do to provide what's right and good for our children.