Monday, January 31, 2011

Authentic Me: Service

this is me, in Haiti; an orphan on my hip, my soon-to-be-neighbor, and newly adopted son to Susie, in front.
traveling to Haiti; part of being ME

AUTHENTIC: adjective
1. Not false or copied; genuine; real:
2. Having the origin supported by unquestionable evidence:

I'm turning 40 this summer. 2011 begins my 4th decade.

I have really been surprised at how freaked out I feel about this fact.

I am in "mid-life".

And my life is full, and busy and good.

But I am thinking lately about what makes me ME. What is authentic about me? Not copied from a catalog, or borrowed from a buddy? Not adopted because of fad, not incorporated because of philosophy...

I'm going to explore this about myself every once in a while, and take some time to really enjoy the person I have become over the past 40 years.

I was counciled way back when I turned 17 that I had within me "the gift of compassion". That I would be one who would want to serve my fellow man. And that I should look for opportunities to do so.

I have heeded this advice, at some times more than at others.

It is my authentic nature to feel comfortable in service. I am at home, I am happy with a baby in my arms or a friend in need of me. I joy in lifting burdens, because as I lift for others, the weight on my own shoulders becomes lighter.

This is part of who I am. And somehow this year I intend to make serving others a regular, even daily, part of my life. Over the past many years this service has primarily been given to my own children. And that will, of course, continue. But its time for me to show more to my children about what it means to serve outside of family-and in doing this their own service will be employed. Our family needs to serve, just as I need to serve, to be truly, authentically Happy.

When do you feel most 'like YOU'? Think about it, and let me know.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Ready for a Weekend

Friday is TV watching Day. It is the start of the Weekend at our house.

The little girls are fixed in front of the tv in the den.
Porter is held hostage in the Library, his ransom the completion of unfinished school work.
Brynley is on the phone-making arrangements to 'play' with friends as soon as she is able.
Mason, undoubtedly, is at his friend Derek's house, eating his parents food and playing video games 'to unwind'.
Madi is skiing with 15 other 5th grade girls.
I sit at the computer, thinking of projects I must get to (organize the pantry, fold the clean laundry, clean off my desk) but I'd rather avoid.
Because its Friday.
I want a weekend just like my kids do. With freedom to play with my friends or watch a tv show or NOT cook dinner.

But I'm the mom.

So, I'll take a few minutes and write to all of you,
then go clean out the pantry and fold the clothes.
And then I'll watch tv with my kids (or play "Just Dance" with them on the Wii ;)

Happy Friday. Happy Weekend.

I'm thinking of this sermon. I wonder what I need from it today?

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Entering my 4th Decade...

Trying to steer myself into a future I can be proud of

hoping the journey is happy and challenging, fun and full of surprises

It is the beginning of my Fortieth Year. 40th. The B-I-G 4-0.

Before we have January again, in 2012, I will be telling people that I am 39, and I will be LYING.

I have really come to ponder and reflect and kind of freak out about the fact that I am in 'mid-life'.

And I am trying to formulate some words to describe the feelings, and the future, for me.

One of the words that keeps coming to my mind; 'authentic'. I'd like to explore that word in the next few posts and let it help me define how I'd like the next 4 decades to turn out...

What will this year look like for me? I'm not sure. I have set some goals, I have some hopes, and I have some expectations.

It will be a narcissistic week on my blog from now until next Friday-hope y'all don't mind. But many of you who read these words know me pretty well, so you will have good feed-back as I figure myself out publicly in anticipation of this, my fourth, 4th ...decade.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Go Ahead, Feel Sorry for Me

sometimes, no matter how strong you are, you just can't carry the weight of the world

Last night our big MAC computer died.

This morning when I put on my iPod to help me get through my run, it wouldn't turn on.

Then Molly threw the biggest fit EVER (no kidding, EVER). She made Lucy late to ballet and made herself late to school and made me late to the rest of my day.

When I took the computer to the APPLE STORE it started to snow, HARD. Freeway turned into bumper cars. We were late to the apt. (see above).

After I dropped the computer off, I had to park the car. I CRUNCHED our yakima rack (used in winter to haul the skiis) when I tried to park in the parking garage (see reference to above SNOW STORM)

Trying to console myself, I walked over to ANTHROPOLOGIE to use a gift card given to me for Christmat (thanks Mom Graham!). TONS of stuff on sale, none of it was MY SIZE.

I LEFT MY MITTEN in the store. Unknowingly.

Came home. Discovered lost mitten. Started to cry. Texted John. John, trying to console me, threatens to cancel the rest of his day and come home ( he wanted to be sweet, but it kind of came out ' cause you just can't get anything right today...' he was probably worried I was going to accidentally set the house on fire ;).

I cried more. Then I prayed. I remembered that the one thing of all these things that really really matters is Molly and how I reacted to her fit. Because in all this junk that happened today? She is the only PERSON. The rest was just STUFF.

And Heavenly Father helped me not yell at her when she yelled at me. And He helped me not spank her even though in my mind the idea was seriously forming. And He helped me get her to school-and she even dressed herself to do it after threatening to stay in her pajamas all day...

Now the kids are home. Nothing new has broken. I called the store and they are holding on to my mitten. I have learned the computer repair will cost, but won't cost an arm and a leg. I can get dinner on. We will make it to Pack Meeting. Molly has already done her kindergarten homework and is acting, for all intents and purposes, like a perfect angel.

but you can feel sorry for me, still, if you want to. I'm almost done feeling sorry for myself. Better get back on my knees so I can throw that feeling out with the luggage rack...

Monday, January 24, 2011

2010 for JOHN and KATIE

John: Spent The winter learning how to snowboard with his older kids. Now he boards better than they. Spent spring coaching lots of soccer! Turned 40 this summer. Spent a weekend celebrating by playing board games with guy friends at a condo in the mountains, then came home to a surprise ice cream fest in honor of his big b-day. Went to Singapore and Sydney, in a one week whirlwind trip (no pictures, apparently). Spent ALL of the autumn on the road, and none of the winter (whew!). Currently gives each Wednesday night to a bunch of teenage boys (ours included) growing them into fine men through eagle scout projects, camp outs and a little mid-week basketball.

Favorite Date with Katie in 2010: Napa Valley. The whole weekend was spent like one long date. He did get a kiss (or a few of them...) before he had to drop me off at the door.

Katie: learned the meaning of the word "frenetic" when it was discovered that John would be traveling ALL of Autumn and we had children who had to be in multiple places at one time. Spent the spring and summer trying to train for a triathlon. Finished said triathlon (I have the scars to prove it!). Enjoyed planning for and executing large gathering at the Spruces (see above Ice Cream Fest). Spent a great deal of time in the car, driving children from one place to another. Enjoyed Napa so much-I hope he asks me out again! Visited NYC on the coattails of John's business trip.

Favorite Date with John in 2010: Frisbee Golf. Spent the better part of a Saturday afternoon learning how to get my disc right into the appropriate "hole". John planned it, I loved it.

Together we have had a very full year. Still calling the Spruces home, even though John has come up on the two years in the same career mark. Maybe this is home for good, after all?

Happy end to 2010. It has been a good one for the Grahams.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Why You Walk To School

Dear Kids,

Many years ago, you began walking to school. We had just moved to Boise. Mason was our only student. We were lucky, the neighbor kids walked too-just across the park to the school yard. Every morning a flock of children made their way into the halls of learning, with parents watching from their windows or walking along with. It was "Leave it to Beaver" nostalgic for me. I loved sending you off each morning.

Then, we moved. And when we moved I looked for a house that wasn't too far from school. You walking yourselves became something more than a happy idea that we lived in Safeville America, where kids wouldn't be crossed by stranger danger and drivers looked out for pedestrians. It became a social experience for YOU. For you as sisters and brothers, to watch out for each other.

Walking to school was a 20 minute a day exercise in sticking together, watching out for each other and learning how to put up with, enjoy, and love one another. You against the world. You without your parents....a band of brother (and sister) hood.

You didn't like this so much. Sometimes I walked half way to meet you. Sometimes you came home hollering that so-and-so wasn't at the tree where you met one another. Or whose-a-ma-callit made fun of you in front of their friends on the sidewalk.

sometimes you didn't stick like glue to each other. But you knew it was expected that you'd help one another arrive safely home.

We moved again. The next time we went to public school, you had your most difficult walks to make. Not because it was so far away, but because NO ONE ELSE walked to school. Sometimes the neighbors just couldn't understand why a mother would allow her children out the door unattended for any length of time. Sometimes they picked you up in the golf cart-well meaning darling neighbors who wanted you delivered safely to school, and sometimes even safely home.

I learned to endure the criticism, the looks from mothers who didn't understand. And I tried to go out and watch you come and go-and even walk up to meet you. But it was as important then to me as it had been when we had started that you took care of each other. That for a few precious minutes of each school day you had to rely on each other.

That has continued at the Spruces. The walk is shorter than ever. Some of you who started our walking tradition are now walking yourself home from high school. The ones who walk now tend to linger, to wander. Those who are the shepherds have straying sheep to herd. But the lessons for you younger ones are as valuable as they were for the older.

You need to stick together.
Sometimes it will be just you-your family-against the world.
You've got to look out for each other.
Stay safe, and head for home. And try to arrive there TOGETHER.

And that is why you walk to school.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

2010 for LUCY

sparkling eyes and a princess like smile are the trademarks of Lucy's beauty

Lucy's giggles and excitement are unmatched in our home; she jumps and twirls and laughs and plays, and helps us all to be happy

This is Lucy's favorite school mate. Vera comes to our house, or Lucy goes to hers, nearly every week. Together they play house, play dolls, play fairies or do elaborate crafts. I am so happy she has this friend, a darling companion for a darling daughter

Lucy poses at Madi's class simulation. Lucy has to attend numerous events to support her older siblings. She is starting to enjoy the celebrity she experiences when she walks into a classroom.

Lucy poses at a Sugar Plum Fairy Tea hostessed by her ballet instructor. Lucy lives in that enchanting time of life when imagination is vibrant and beautiful. A little cotton candy can truly be fairy dust, a lemonade in a tea cup the most wonderful tea.

Lucy is like the brightest star, twinkling and sparkling in a heavenly sense. She is adored by family, friends, strangers and teachers. She is enjoyed by her mother immensely.

Lucy, during 2010, went to preschool, began dance class, enjoyed play dates and learned how to be a cheerleader. Not in a "Go TEAM!" kind of sense, but in a "I go wherever my mom needs to be to support my brothers and sisters" kind of sense. Lucy has cheered at Rugby games, clapped and dance performances, hollered "bravo" at school musicals, cheered at Football games and soccer games alike, and has learned to sit still until piano pieces are completed at piano recitals too. She loves being the 'little one' but sees, with all this cheering, the fun it is to grow up; and as she grows she shines.

One of my favorite moments with Lucy this year was in December. The little ballet class she attends showers parents with a "Sugar Plum Fairy" performance. Lucy, in her fancy tutu and her shiny ballet crown, sparkled with excitement as she pointed her toes and showed us ballet's toe positions. She dazzled the group with her ability to keep the beat of the nutcracker music as she executed her part with ease and precision. But the real shining moment for Lucy? It was the appearance of a nutcracker's sugar plum fairy; an older ballerina who came in with dazzling costume and dripping grace. Lucy's breath was taken away as she watched this lovely girl act like a ballerina. After the little performance, Lucy was changed just a little. Wanting to become a ballerina princess herself, she began walking taller, with a deeper bow and a gentler grace. She had a fairy's expectations to live up to!

While Lucy is with me in the house this last year, she and I try to make the most of our days together. Lucy has to follow me around on errands, and come into classrooms to volunteer with me. The children in these classrooms are always happy to see her and treat her as an honored guest. I think Lucy's entry into the world of public school will be made easier by the confidence she feels as she walks the halls with me, saying hello to teachers and students as they pass her on their way.

Lucy's most endearing times for me, as her mother, are in the early mornings. Though I wish she would sleep later than 5:30 a.m. I love to hear her little feet on the floors as they patter their way to my bedroom. Often I am in the slow process of early rising when I hear her coming our way-so I turn out my light and lay down just in time to have her climb up next to me. Our quiet cuddling doesn't last very long before my day must begin, but I know these early moments will come to an end soon, so right now they are treasured times.

Lucy's recently been very interested in the land where she was born. She asks me about the orphanage, and we read a book of Vietnemese folk tales before she sleeps each night. The other day she told me she wished we could go back and visit the 'people who loved me', the nurses and caregivers in her room at the orphanage who gave her such love and attention. It has caused me to reflect on the goodness of all that transpired for her to belong to us. When I see her jump with joy on the trampoline, or play and giggle with her friends and cousins, I feel a deep and motherly gratitude for the goodness of God and all He did to whisper to my heart to go find her. I know it was her-not just any little soul, but THIS little soul-that was meant to be a Graham. I'm so happy he spoke to us. I will always be so happy I heard him.

Monday, January 17, 2011

2010 for MOLLY

Smart, Spunky and Happy. Molly is a power packed 6 year old dynamo.

Molly LOVED Disneyland; and was more brave than the older among us. She went on the "Tower of Terror" three times! Yes! I said three times! But, as all little girls, one of her favorite memories was meeting the princesses

Up in the canyon last summer. Molly enjoys walking, hiking, skiing and swimming. Just like a Graham really should...

ready for 'crazy hair' day at preschool; Molly and Lucy are rarely apart. Moll is learning, with time and practice, to be a compassionate and empathetic big sister

The Star of her School's "Spring Sing"; Molly does everything with amazing enthusiasm. The teachers had to ask her to "sing more quiet ;)". She gives it 110% whether its in throwing a tantrum or making her bed.

Molly is really 'growing into' being Molly, and the experiences of the past year show that she is growing to be an incredible person. Passion and exuberance are a large part of her nature, as well as intelligence, goodness and sincerity. This girl is really beginning to bloom.

2010 was a chapter closed for this little girl; the end of preschool and the start of "all day school". She has welcomed the invitation to become 'big' and really enjoys the academic challenges she is given through both her half day private kindergarten and her half day public school. No where does she BLOSSOM the way she does at school. Molly is a delight to her teachers, a student full of respect and interest, a kind and caring classmate. Her teachers ADORE her and are so pleased with her progress and her personality.

At home Molly is pruning some less than desirable tendencies, like not punching her little sister or sabotaging her roommates belongings. It has been a struggle for Molly to learn boundaries and practice compassion at home, but here she grows as well. As time goes on we see not only Molly's increasing successes, but we see her deep sincerity and the absolute amazing ability she has to remember things (for good and for ill! Don't cross her! She won't forget it!). One of the sweetest times with Molly this year has been when she has talked about the things she learns and thinks about at Church. She has a deep interest in the doctrines we employ; that God knows her and loves her completely. That He has a plan for her and for her happiness. That part of that plan is being part of our family. That she can learn more and be more if she listens to Him, in the quietness of her heart. Molly is bringing this into her life. And because of that the little weeds and rough places that creep in to her home life will become fewer and fewer over time.

Molly has grown to be a great swimmer, a great skier, and an earnest soccer player. She is begging to follow in her sister Madi's footprints and join the swim team, and we really enjoy her weekly improvements on the ski hill. One of our favorite gifts to Molly this Christmas was a HELMET, because she hits the slopes with the same passion that Pollack's paint drops hit the canvas.

Molly's world has grown larger because now she can READ. She points out words as we drive in the car, she picks out sentences and phrases from the newspaper, and every night we sit down to hear the chapter length books sent home from school. Her next academic challenge will be the piano, something she is eager to tackle!

As we have watched Molly grow this year I have held in my heart the picture of the little baby that was placed in my arms at Christmas time in 2004. a frail little body with big eyes and a weary smile, one who had inner strength and determination that we could feel and see as we loved her so much. I know as we continue to love and love and love her that she will continue to blossom and bloom in many new and happy ways.

Friday, January 14, 2011

2010 for PORTER

Even through the glasses, Porter's eyes shine! He looks you in the eye, his confidence and sincerity are sure.

A very significant day for Porter this past year, his baptism into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. He looked forward to this day all year long, and once he had been baptized, he spoke about the event with excitement and accomplishment.

Always ready to have some fun. And always ready to ham it up!

Being a Cub Scout means a lot to Porter. Now, if only we can help him embody that scout motto...a scout is helpful...

Porter and mom on a field trip last Spring. This kid needs hugs from his mama every day to be happy; and his mama is happy to oblige!

This has been a year of decision for Porter, and he has worked hard to make great choices. In winter of this year he decided to become a skiier (and then he decided he would be GOOD at skiing). Then came a decision to play soccer in the spring. He decided he would do that as long as his dad would help coach. As school wound to a close Porter made some decisions about being a good hardworking student; these were in contrast to earlier decisions to avoid school work and take numerous trips to the bathroom or to the desks of other classmates during school instruction - that decision has proven to be one Porter has stuck with, stepping up during the current school year and becomming not just a good student, but a great one. We've seen multiple "good notes" come home with anecdotes of great class participation and finishing work when assigned. As you can imagine, mom and dad are so proud of these choices.

As summer came along Porter made a huge decision to be baptized a member of our church. I think Porter realized, as much as a child can, that this was the most significant decision in his life so far. He was prayerful about it, inquisitive about its meaning, and confident in its correctness.

As summer came to an end, another choice needed to be made. Porter had the chance to switch sports from soccer to football. Leaving soccer would mean leaving his dad as a coach, going to football would be working with boys who Porter did not know. Porter chose football, and that choice was the start of a fantastic season for Porter. He learned from fantastic coaches the lessons that football provides; hard work brings results, being part of a team is a great thing, having heart and courage means (almost) as much as having skill. Porter's team took the championship, and he was SO HAPPY he had chosen football.

Another of Porter's favorite decisions has been to participate in Cub Scouts. And he has been especially happy this school year with a choice that his mother made; to be his cub scout leader. It is nice for your child to be 'proud of you' because you show him what it means to be a good citizen, how to be resourceful and how to pound nails into boards with hammers. And its nice for this mom to be proud of Porter because he wants to hold true to the ideals and ethics of scouting; honesty, service to other, duty to God and country.

Now, as the year ends, Porter continues to make choices every day; most of them good, some of them not; like the choice to loose his glasses? not a good choice. That choice to sneak food into his bedroom and hide it under the bed? Not such an awesome choice either. And then there was the choice togo and play the neighbor's video games one day after school without permission...not every choice is 'choice'. But most of them are great.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

2010 for MADISON

Is she not completely beautiful? That smile says "you don't REALLY know what I am thinking..."

Madi has a friend or 3 to play with at any given time. Her compassion and outright FUN personality make her very very likeable

Madi's costume for a "Nacho Libre" party; can her outfit exude any more confidence? I don't think so

Meeting a cast member from "Wicked" in San Fransisco. Madi carefully purchased the outfit she is wearing, she donned the fidora every day for weeks!

two girls born only months apart. Madi's long legs put her a full head above her cousin and best buddy Grace, but they are kindred in spirit and have so much fun together

First, a resolution. This year, I must take more photos of Madi. In all her joy. In all her glory

This year, Madi has grown in oh so many ways. Her legs have gotten longer, her heart even bigger, her mind expanded, her spirit strong. She has learned so many things it is hard to know where to start!

When 2010 began Madi was dying for new adventures and activities. It wasn't that she didn't have anything to do, its that Madi does things so well and so FAST she could handle more than we had put on her plate. Now, a year later, she is experiencing almost the opposite. We are so happy on afternoons when she gets to be with us at home! Madi has enjoyed swim team this year, and went from an uncommitted swimmer to a real competitor on her team. She is trying to qualify to compete in our local Junior Olympics, and has a fighting chance even though she has the challenge of swimming with the kids who are a year older than she is (her birthday falls the day before the qualifier, so she has to 'swim up' and race the faster times).

While still in 4th grade Madi's academics were absolutely stellar, but her curriculum not so challenging. This school year Madi has been placed in class with a truly gifted and passionate teacher who requires a lot of academic committment from each of her students-and Madi rises to this challenge with tenacity and grace. She is the first kid in the family to crack the books after school, and is often the last one to close them at night. With her swim team schedule she has had to really use her time wisely both at home and at school, and she does this independent of her parents. Her teachers and coaches RAVE about her, and her parents, of course, adore her.

Madi's talents don't end with the pool or at school, but they extend to the music world as well. Madi enjoys (and is GOOD at) the piano, and we often hear her practicing of her own free will and choice. She is willing and eager to learn new pieces and has performed at church on more than one occasion. Madi also has a beautiful singing voice, and used it to join in the high school's production of the Music Man last fall. She has sung in church with some friends and also in a quartet with John, Mason and me as her back up. It was fun to sing in the congregation's choir with her-after practice each Sunday Madi would beautifully sing the songs at home, again and again, and we loved it.

One of the most enjoyable things this year for Madi has been having her friendships expand. Madi is so FUN and so FUNNY that others want to be around her. She is willing to giggle; never at another's expense and often at her own. Putting on her brother's glasses, dressing up as Nacho Libre, making silly faces or telling funny jokes, Madi is usually working to put a smile on someone's face. She is a light-and she is also light-hearted, which is a wonderful, blissful breath of fresh air with the older teenagers in the house who make things kind of heavy sometimes.

One of the highlights of this year for Madi was a trip to San Fransisco to see "Wicked". It was a great road trip, full of the musical and some shopping. Going shopping with Madi is such a fun adventure. She wants to wear things that are colorful, and bright. She isn't interested in fashion or trend, but in showing the world that she is happy! Her bright blue pea coat and smart black fedora were a favorite outfit for months. Pink jeans and striped shirts, and brightly mis-matched socks all scream "I am Creative, I am fun and I don't take life too seriously"!

This past week or two has been difficult for our Madi, as she has thought about a classmate whose mother tragically and suddenly passed away. Madi has cried crocodile tears for this boy's loss; she is sad for his mother's passing, but she is devistated for him. Madi's compassion has always been her greatest strength. Her empathy and her depth of feeling for others the thing that makes her most beautiful. I am learning from her daily how to think of others instead of myself, and how to bring joy and laughter into this world we live in.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

2010 for BRYNLEY

From a girl to an older girl; oh, I guess I have to call her a teenager these days!

Spring Dance concert with two of Bryn's great friends. These are the same girls Bryn auditioned for Nutcracker with when we lived in Utah the first time. Having these girls to come back to this move has made all the difference in Brynley's world. Indeed, Brynley's world IS her friends; all 30 or 40 of them!

Make no mistake; this girl has loads of personality. Bryn wore the Batman costume around the house for a week before Halloween. She was protesting her parents tradition that once in Junior High, the family funding of costumes ends. She wasn't about to miss out on trick-or-treating, so she had to scramble through the dress up clothes to find a costume that would fit. Voi Laa!

Our trip to Chicago included a tour of the campus where Bryn was born. This spring day was nothing like the frigid February morning we walked into the UofC Hospital to bring this amazing soul into the world

Bryn got a camera for her birthday and carries it wherever she goes. She documents herself, her friends, and her family as well as trips and every day life. Seeing life through the lens of a camera has become second nature for her.

Bryn had an extremely eventful and action packed year. Several travel experiences and lots of new friends as well as entering a new school and looking for new privileges in the tweenage world. Here are some of the high lights...

In March Bryn went to San Fransisco to see 'Wicked' with sister Madi, Auntie Jess and chauffer mom. We shopped and ate and watched a fantastic performance. It was such a fun girls' weekend, mom (at least) has wished for another just like it ever since.

Just a few weeks after San Fran Bryn hopped a plane with mom and dad to see the place of her birth. The Windy city was beautiful; and made more beautiful by Bryn's presence in it. I learned so much about Bryn on this trip, it was very insightful. She was as interested in her book as she was in the shopping; in fact, the only thing she bought on the miracle mile was a stack of novels. We also learned that Bryn really enjoys learning; we spent more time in the Museum of Science and Industry in one day with her than I had ever spent in the the two years we spent living around the corner from that fantastic institution. She ventured through the Natural History museum and the Shedd Aquarium with equal interest and detail. It was a fantastic time spent with a really fantastic kid.

Spring also brought some new personal adventures for Bryn. She decided, after a very successful effort, to leave gymnastics and switch back to dance. We are pretty sure her interest in friends had a part to play in her decision to switch. When we asked her to list her goals and the pros and cons of dance and gymnastics as a way to help her make her decision, our eyes were really open to the ability Bryn has to look into her future. I had expected to see her goals be something like "get good at dancing and make really good friends." Instead her first goal was "get a scholarship to BYU and get great grades in High School." She can see farther than the spring recital and well beyond last year's tumbling meets, and into the good things that sooner than later will come.

Summer meant lots of dance class, a trip to girls camp with neighborhood friends, and another trip to the beach and Disneyland. Bryn also spent LOTS of time with her friends, and started asking repeatedly for her own personal connection to the girls who are her world, a cel phone. It was toward the end of summer that Bryn's intense 12 year old maturity began to give way to that inevitable teenage girl brain freeze that takes over all darling and wonderful girls and turns them into super emotional very sensitive and highly unreasonable teeagers. She struggles to remain with us in the land of the rational, and does pretty well most of the time.

Autumn meant (finally!) entrance into Jr. High School. She took to the new routines like a fish takes to water. Dozens of girls to hang out with at lunch and connect to at home through her favorite new past time, facebook. Her grades have not been a struggle at all, its the facebook and email time that are the challenge for this budding teenager. More than once these privileges have been suspended, only to see the contrite darling Brynly quick to comply with family computer rules so she can get back on line and friend friend friend!

As Winter continues We see Bryn head back to the slopes with her wicked cool snowboard (as long as her parents drag her out of bed, feed her a warm breakfast, and promise to get her home in time for the evening's social event). She is happy in the moment and looks forward to every moment ahead of her. Just like the slippery speed of her snowboard, life is coming fast for Brynley and that is just how she likes it.

Some of the most impressive events of Brynley's last year have very little to do with her accomplishments and her many -names- long list of acquired friends. They have been in the mornings when I still find her curled up with her sister Lucy, having helped her roommate through a sleepless night. They come on evenings when she has tackled a difficult dinner recipe, all by herself. And in days when I see her knit hats for cancer patients or send a note to a girl in the neighborhood who struggles with this or that. Though her body is plagued with the woes of teenagerhood, her spirit is fighting strong. She shows her true colors more and more these days, and they are happy, clear, clean colors; bright with her hopes for the future and her sheer ability to make those hopes into her very reality.

Monday, January 10, 2011

2010 for MASON

Mason's a regular 'manchild' these days; taller than his mom, eating like a horse, mouth full of braces and head full of curly hair. He is smart, creative, thoughtful and GOOD. What more could a mother ask for?

Mason's laugh is still the most contagious in our family; and thankfully we get to hear it pretty often around our house.

Mason and John have had a lot of fun scouting together this year. John has been lucky to be Mason's youth leader, and Mason has been lucky to have his dad be his guide.

too bad the blue suede shoes had to be returned with the costume, with the sideburns and Mason's deep southern drawl he made for a pretty good Elvis.

The Rugby team takes a bow after a fantastic performance

We failed to produce a family 'newsletter' this year updating friends and bragging about our kids. So i thought I'd use this forum to share with you the privileges and blessings I enjoy as the mother of the Graham 6. Oldest to kid each day all week long.

MASON had an amazing 2010 if I do say so myself. This year he experienced 9th grade, which in our neck of the woods is still part of Jr. High. He was selected to play the part of Pharoah in the school's production of "Joseph" and did a great job (we still hear him break into the Elvis sometimes even though Joseph ended clear last March!). Mason piggybacked his musical debut with his rugby debut as well, playing scrum half for Highland. We took his commitment lightly, which was a mistake; Mason showed a willingness to finish the season strong and is looking forward to next season, dreaming that somehow he will grow 5 inches and gain 50 lbs. before the first Monday in March....

A busy spring was followed by an even busier summer; Mason worked for his PARENTS for the month of June, converting the back yard's 30 year old pond into a gravel patio for our outdoor dining table. It was grueling work for Mason, and very challenging work for his mother-who expects her oldest son to work hard (VERY hard) if he is to be paid from the family coffers. Mason also enjoyed a summer rugby camp, a week long experience at BYU attending their "Especially for Youth" program and had a blast at a two week leadership camp called Quick Water Ranch. Quick Water high- lights included stitches in his finger, rounding up pigs, sleeping out on the mountain side and doing community service.

Quickwater ended and so did summer. After a short family vacation Mason was registered for HIGH SCHOOL and now attends Olympus High as a Sophomore (10th Grade). His schedule is impressive with Physics, Honors English,Intermediate Algebra and, his least favorite, Men's Chorus. His grades are pretty good (I disclosed to John recently that though I constantly ride Mason about doing better and raising his GPA he currently has grades that were higher than his mother's ever had been in High School; my only excuse is that I held part time jobs all through my High School career. And plus, I'm not as smart as my posterity). We are proud of Mason and all he does to achieve in his academic career.

Mason worked this fall to complete his Eagle Scout award, and participated in the school's Musical "Curtains". His greatest accomplishment this year, though, has been his ability to take out the trash without complaint. This is something that endears Mason most to his mother these days!

Mason still dreams of drawing comics, and is really a boy at heart. He would be very happy if we could turn back the clock and give him 4 more years to 'grow up'. Even in the face of that peter pan scenario, he is maturing and growing very nicely. His height has made it so I've had to look up to him for the past year or so, but these days I'd say I look up to him in more ways than one. He is a boy who is willing to become a good man; and those kinds of boys are hard to come by.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Out with the Old...

a new pair of warm winter boots were under the Christmas tree with my name on them this year...

Once upon a time I was a newlywed. Way back then we had little extra income (kind of like NOW). One Christmas, somehow, my darling husband purchased for me a pair of warm winter boots. They were clunky and manly looking but, heh, I had cold feet ALL the time and he thought I looked hot in them so it was a 'happily ever after' kind of gift.

As we moved the boots were used in some locations (Chicago, Boise, Sweden, Utah) and stored in others (namely, TEXAS and also AFRICA). They were reliable. I could wear them without my socks on and my feet were still warm. I learned how to drive in them. I loved those boots.

On our finally move to Texas, the boots were put in a box. Then one day, in Texas, there was an ice storm. A snowy ice storm. I went looking for the boots.

I found them, only guess what? one of my children, way back in Utah (before AFRICA) one of my children (aka MOLLY) who loved to sneak butter out of the fridge and eat it by the stick, apparantley put a stick of butter, wrapped in its wax packaging, in my boot. It had been stored in the box that way. When I pulled my boots out of the box, the stick of butter was still in tact.

But my boot was the wrong color. Oiled over time. and it was gross.

This year, thankfully, my darling scraped together the means to replace the oily, buttery boots. And it is another 'happily ever after' kind of gift. I've worn them with pencil skirts and wool tights. I've worn them barefoot in my jammies to go out and shovel the walks. I love my new boots. And I hide them in a special location so they will remain untouched by sneaky toddlers who eat butter in the closet...Merry Christmas to me!

(no butter was used in the making of this blog post.)

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Our Version of Home made this Christmas

I felt a real joy in how willing our kids were to make their 'gifts of the heart' this year

I used to make gifts for Christmas. They were most always for John and involved a very heart felt desire that my total love and devotion were present in the process and the presentation.

Then, our kids got older. And life got busier. And we started this little tradition.

So, now, most of the time that used to be spent hand crafting a gift for my beloved is poured out in an effort for our kids to be creative, use their talents and their time, and use their energy to think about one of their brothers or sisters.

We call it "gift of the heart".

Each child draws a name around Thanksgiving. They stew and think about what they could MAKE for their sibling. Mom stews too, and goes to each child to check in and see how they need support to craft their creation. The little ones, of course, need the most help and direction. The older ones have become more savvy at thinking about what they would want to present as a gift to their chosen sibling.

This year's gifts were particularly enjoyable. Mason made a sweet 'on the go' bag for Lucy; with fabrics chosen by mom and the actual sewing of the bag done under the watchful tutelage of aunt Mandy, Mason's crowning achievement in this gift was the sewing on of the bag's handles. It took him (I lie NOT) 2 hours to sew on the 8 buttons necessary for the handle to be securely fastened. He was frustrated, I was too. But in the end the bag is beautiful and his sister absolutely adores it (thanks Mandy for all that help!). Brynley made a new wallet for Mason, who will be needing a place for I.D. this year; particularly a Drivers License come summer. She used duct tape to create this gift and made it look like a wallet any true Ute fan would envy.

Speaking of Ute fans; Porter is a big one, so Madi used the UofU colors to create a final resting place for one of Porter's prized possessions; his team football picture. The frame is larger than life, and sits proudly on his dresser displaying his football team spirit.

Porter, for Molly, made (with lots of help from John) a treasure hunt game for Molly to play at our house. With different changeable stops on the treasure map made from photos taken all over our house-this game has been played and replayed and replayed since Christmas when it was opened. Molly loves finding the 'treasure' which is a gaudy giant ruby ring purchased in the costume jewelry section of the local Target. Porter picked it out himself.

Molly (and I) complied a cook book for Brynley, filled with the recipes she has mastered and with room for her to add others as her cooking repertoire expands. Just last night, as Bryn proudly served her home made (and very fancy) spaghetti with turkey and pork meatballs she announced that this new recipe deserved a place in her "Brynley cooks" book which she intends to take with her to college.

And Lucy? Lu was watched over by Brynley in the making of an 'on the go homework station' for Madi (consisting of a modge-podged clip board and a carry-all file which Madi can stash in her swim bag and take with her to and from practice. Madi has by far the most homework of our kids this year (and one of our kids is a sophomore in high school, go figure!) and she also has the busiest schedule. This little 'homework station' was designed so she could do some work going to and from swim team, or while waiting for a ride home or while riding in the car while I drop off or pick up others of her siblings. She has already used it a bit and I think she liked it a lot. Thanks to Bryn for really making that gift happen while John and I were overseeing the heart-felt gift making of others of the young ones.

This tradition takes hours and hours of the season, and is one of the best parts of Christmas for me. I am sad to have given away precious hours and opportunity to shower love over John in the form of handmade gifting, but I think the chance to spend time with our children and watch them think about others is a very good trade off.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

The Gift of This Day

Some very poignant moments have passed today. A phone call from a friend informing me that the mother of my children's' classmates has been unexpectedly killed in a car accident this morning.

I am safe at home.

Last summer Brynley went to girl's camp for the first time. She was brought home early because another girl at camp unexpectedly died from unknown causes while hiking at the camp.

Bryn came home safe to me.

This morning when I woke up, it was the same as most mornings have been this school year. Filled with dread and frustration. Why don't my kids "step up" and get ready for school the way I've taught them? Why are my magnificent plans for teaching our kids to be independent and self sufficient completely thwarted when they actually have to BE independent and self sufficient some mornings before school? Why isn't it fun to be a mom any more? When will I feel I'm doing something I'm actually good at instead of failing over and over as a mother and nurturer (these are the thoughts that stream through my mind most mornings from 6:40-9 a.m., and then again from about 4 p.m. til I fall into bed at night...)

This morning was just like the rest.

But right now, as I am safe in my house, alive and thinking, I realize something valuable. I HAVE TODAY. I'm not done yet. I can try to make the end of this day better than the beginning. Because how can we know which day is our last? Will our time on this earth end unexpectedly? Early? Will it be 'untimely'?

I don't know.

So today I will be grateful that I have been given TODAY. And try to make the best of it, and end it well, for my sake and the sake of my kids.

Maybe if I can string this resolve through the demeaning thoughts of my early mornings those mornings will be a little happier, and little better and a little more meaningful. Maybe there is hope, because of the sad and devastating circumstances that face the families who have lost those they love, for me to become more happy, more fulfilled, more grateful for those difficult demanding mornings. And more eager and happy to face the challenging evenings as well.

For this moment, I'm thankful for the gift of this day.

p.s. As you kneel tonight, would you mention the Burg Family in your prayers? Comfort for the children, peace for their father, solace for grandmothers and grandfathers, perspective and hope and guidance for all of them in the challenging confusing tomorrows they face. Faith in prayer is powerful, please add your faith to mine.

Monday, January 03, 2011

On Wrappings

the trimmings left scattered after a gift wrapping marathon. Those funny stick on bows? a tradition in John's family when he was growing up...he brought them back this year with a vengeance and the kids loved sticking them on every package!

When John was a graduate student we lived far from family. Resources were tight. The Christmas gifts we sent home were meager, but we wanted our parents and siblings to know we really cared, that we thought about them with each penny we had spent.

So I wrapped the gifts beautifully.

I made the paper, using fabric, an ironing board and some brown butcher paper. Satin ribbon (found cheap at an outlet shop) was tied with sprigs of berries and special love notes. I was proud of the presentation, sure that when my family opened the mailman's parcel, they would take in a breath and remember us far away from them. The first impression of the things inside the packages would be so profound that the meagerness of what was within would be made less, well, meager.

Other kinds of wrappings have been important to me. Birthday packages wrapped in perfectly colored paper, with confetti or tinsel or something that sparkles setting a tone of excitement for the opener; with a gift tucked inside that I thought about endlessly or, less often, made by hand. Satin ribbons, coordinated papers and note cards. All these things are part of the gift, at least they are to me.

This year things have been so different. The kids have done the wrapping. John, who knows that "the package" is a vital part of my gifting experience bought his own bows and trimming. Where I usually make sure all paper is of a coordinating patter and color, this year the old paper was found and used, along with the new-and the two did not go together. One Sunday evening the house was a frenzy of scissors, tape, paper and multiple rooms of the house things of value; things thought through and carefully selected, were being wrapped up in one way or another.

And I thought about my own wrapping. How I try to present what is inside of me by how I look on the outside. Even if the insides don't add up to a wealth of value I try to present it all with bows, or bracelets or just the right lip gloss.

And I thought about the wrappings of the baby whose birthday we were anticipating. The simple wrappings He came in. And how He was magnificent. And how He never worried or cared about the things that we wrap ourselves up in.

His presentation was authentic. Perfect. Pure and purely wonderful. The beauty of His teachings, the power of His presence was more than any wrapping could have made Him.

So as the gifts were wrapped and left in their places under the Christmas tree, I thought about how I could become one who wasn't worried so about the wrapping. One who would see beyond it, or through it, to the value of what is inside. Not just what is inside a package or present, but what is inside a person. No matter their wrapping (or mine, for that matter) I want to see the majesty and beauty of what lies beneath the wrappings.