Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The Gift At The End Of The String

One of our favorite Christmas traditions involves string. When the kids wake up Christmas morning, there is string or yarn going all through the house and sometimes even going outside. Attached to each of their Christmas stockings is a piece of string that leads to their main gift that year. They have to follow the string to find the gift. It's a fun part of our Christmas morning to follow each child in turn as they discover their gift.

This year the kids quickly realized that each of their strings were tied together and they all ended up following the same string. After following the string up and down the stairs and through most of the rooms in the house, they ended up outside, through the two vehicles in the garage, then outside again and into the van. The string ended up at a small wrapped box which they opened to find a puzzle. Not very exciting.

When they opened the box, it was obvious there was something written on the back. They spent the next 10 minutes or so putting the puzzle together to solve the mystery. Here's what they found:

Okay, I realize I could have done a much better job writing on the back. I was just putting things down as I thought of them and writing them in random locations, but I kept running into things I'd already written and making little mistakes. Oh well. The kids didn't care. They were just excited to learn that... we are going to Florida for spring break!! Yay!!

We wanted one last big family vacation before Sam leaves on his mission. Because he'll most likely be leaving early this summer, spring break sounded like as good a time as any. So we'll be hitting the parks at Universal Studios in Orlando and spending some good family time together during our 5-day adventure.

I can't wait!

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Merry Christmas: A Gift to the World

It's been a lovely day here in Illinois with a fun Christmas surprise that showed up on Monday night. Grandma and Grandpa came all the way from Nevada to spend the holidays with us. Hooray!!

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has produced a series of Bible videos as a gift to all. They are beautifully and professionally done with many favorite and important stories portrayed. The entire library can be accessed here. There are over 60 videos in all.

Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

I'm Holding You

I saw this video last year at Christmas time. I was so touched by the message and I told several people about it. But when I tried to find it again, it was gone. I couldn't find it anywhere. It was as if it didn't exist.

Today it showed up in my e-mail inbox, like an unexpected Christmas gift. It makes me cry (no surprise there), but it's such a beautiful message, no matter what our trials or difficulties might be. Merry Christmas!


My niece, Taylor, is in kindergarten. She is getting pretty good at writing and spelling. She wrote down her Christmas list and some other Christmasy words.

She was doing pretty well until she got to Santa...

Well, something like that! :)

Friday, December 20, 2013

High School Chorus Concert

One thing the schools in my little corner of the world do well is music. The high school chorus instructor, Mrs. Sharp, is amazing. She puts in so much time for these kids and expects a lot out of them in return. (As a side note, she is also the chorus instructor for 5th and 6th grade which means she works with 5 of my kids this year!) Her students really step up to the plate and deliver some beautiful music under her direction. Here are just a few numbers from the recent high school chorus concert.

The first video is a song that the high school advanced chorus learned so they could perform with the college choir and orchestra at the University Christmas concert a couple of weeks ago. The solo was sung by Mrs. Sharp. She wanted her choir to sing it at their own concert as well so she divided up the solo into three parts and allowed the interested choir girls to audition. Savannah got the last solo which is pretty amazing. Her solo begins at the 4:50 mark.

The next video is the Chamber Choir singing The World For Christmas. Sam is a bass in the choir. There are actually about 16 or so voices in the choir, but Jeff focuses on one side pretty much the whole time because anytime he tried to zoom out, he just had a bunch of heads in the way. I think this is such a beautiful song.

This last song is Spencer singing tenor in a barbershop quartet. Fun stuff!

There were so many great songs from the concert. I wish I could just post them all!! :)

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Fantomen: A Violin Duet

Sterling and Sam played a super fun duet at the violin recital last week. The piece is called Fantomen, by Ost-McLean. Savannah did a great job as their accompanist. In fact, she was the main accompanist for the recital, playing for more than ten students.

Anyway, I love this piece. There were a couple of little boys in the audience who were grinning from ear to ear who obviously loved it, too! :)  Other than a small hiccup as they got started, the boys played so well together. Enjoy!

This is the season for concerts and recitals. I'll post a few numbers from the High School Chorus Concert tomorrow. Good stuff!

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Service With A Smile

On Sunday, one of the speakers at church gave an excellent talk about service. Rather than tell us what service is, the speaker shared many instances throughout his life where he was served or where he had the opportunity to serve others. Just hearing all of the examples of service motivated me to want to get out and serve! Then I had an idea. If hearing stories of service motivates me, maybe my little family can motivate each other by sharing our service opportunities.

I made a poster that I'm going to hang on the wall so we can write down the ways we serve. I'm hoping we fill it right up and get inspired to do even more by realizing the many opportunities to serve that are all around us!

Monday, December 16, 2013

Two Babes In A Manger

I love Christmas stories. I have a binder that contains all my favorite Christmas stories, carefully selected from a large file of stories that I've gathered over the years. If I had to pick my all-time favorite, this one would definitely be in the running. (I dare you to read it without crying. I know I can't!)

Two Babes in a Manger

In 1994, two Americans answered an invitation from the Russian Department of Education to teach morals and ethics, based on biblical principles, in the Russian public schools. They were invited to teach at prisons, businesses, the fire and police departments and a large orphanage. About 100 boys and girls who had been abandoned, abused, and left in the care of a government-run program were in the orphanage. They relate the following story in their own words:

It was nearing the holiday season, 1994, time for our orphans to hear, for the first time, the traditional story of Christmas. We told them about Mary and Joseph arriving in Bethlehem. Finding no room in the inn, the couple went to a stable, where the baby Jesus was born and placed in a manger. Throughout the story, the children and orphanage staff sat in amazement as they listened. Some sat on the edges of their stools, trying to grasp every word.

Completing the story, we gave the children three small pieces of cardboard to make a crude manger. Each child was given a small paper square cut from yellow napkins I had brought with me. No colored paper was available in the city. Following instructions, the children tore the paper and carefully laid strips in the manger for straw. Small squares of flannel, cut from a worn-out nightgown an American lady was throwing away as she left Russia, were used for the baby’s blanket. A doll-like baby was cut from tan felt we had brought from the United States. The orphans were busy assembling their manger as I walked among them to see if they needed any help. 

All went well until I got to one table where little Misha sat. He looked to be about 6-years-old and had finished his project. As I looked at the little boy’s manger, I was startled to see not one, but two babies in the manger. Quickly, I called for the translator to ask the lad why there were two babies in the manger. Crossing his arms in front of him and looking at this completed manger scene, the child began to repeat the story very seriously. For such a young boy, who had only heard the Christmas story once, he related the happenings accurately — until he came to the part where Mary put the baby Jesus in the manger. Then Misha started to ad-lib. 

He made up his own ending to the story as he said, “And when Mary laid the baby in the manger, Jesus looked at me and asked me if I had a place to stay. I told him I have no mamma and I have no papa, so I don’t have any place to stay. Then Jesus told me I could stay with him. But I told him I couldn’t, because I didn’t have a gift to give him like everybody else did. But I wanted to stay with Jesus so much, so I thought about what I had that maybe I could use for a gift. I thought maybe if I kept him warm, that would be a good gift.” So I asked Jesus, ‘If I keep you warm, will that be a good enough gift?’ And Jesus told me, ‘If you keep me warm, that will be the best gift anybody ever gave me.’ So I got into the manger, and then Jesus looked at me and he told me I could stay with him — for always.” 

As little Misha finished his story, his eyes brimmed full of tears that splashed down his little cheeks. Putting his hand over his face, his head dropped to the table and his shoulders shook as he sobbed and sobbed. The little orphan had found someone who would never abandon nor abuse him, someone who would stay with him — for always.

Author Unknown

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Before and After: Kitchen Backsplash

Jeff has done it again. I was more than tired of the wallpaper border along the backsplash of my kitchen. I really liked it at one time, but having served its purpose, it was time to go. I decided a while ago that I wanted to simplify and go with white subway tile in its place. After thinking about it for a long time and throwing some other ideas around, I always came back to that idea so we decided to just go for it. Once Jeff was on board, all it took was a few day off. Thanksgiving Break was the perfect time and Jeff got right to work. The entire project only took him a few days. Now my kitchen looks light and bright and clean and, well, it looks as if it was meant to have white subway tile all along! I love it!



It only took me about 2 hours to strip off the border. Equal parts white vinegar and water worked like magic!


Friday, December 13, 2013

True Blue

I'm loving this video made by BYU in response to a challenge from Hyundai to prove that Cougars are the most loyal fans. Pretty cool and even heartwarming in the end. Go Cougars!!

Monday, December 9, 2013

Snow Day

While we don't have much snow, it's usually ice that slows things down around here. The kids went to bed last night with their pajamas inside out hoping and literally praying for a snow day. Well, it worked. We received the good news around 10:00 last night that, due to icy roads, there would be no school today. Yes!!

When I tried to take a photo of our completely ice covered deck, the picture made it look like it was just wet but that thing was a danger zone. Just stepping out far enough to try for a picture reminded me of a cartoon character with their legs going every which way. I'm sure I looked pretty funny! (I hope none of the neighbors were watching...)

Now maybe we'll have enough steam to get through the next 8 school days until Christmas break. I hope it hurries!! :)

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Male Bonding

I'm not sure the boys are being very productive here - most likely they are watching Sam play a game on his phone - but I love the togetherness and camaraderie. It made me smile to walk into the living room and see them like this. I'm glad they're friends...most of the time!

Monday, December 2, 2013

Sterling's Doodle

Another in the "crazy things Sterling thinks up" series... (Like this, this and this).

Do you get it? "I throw up my hands..." instead of "I throw my hands up..."

Seriously? It makes me a little nervous for what he'll think up next!!

Friday, November 29, 2013

Would You Rather...

We are loving Studio C this season! There have been so many good sketches. Check out Savannah's favorite - Love From Afar, or the super clever International Relations, Inventors and Teddy's Story Joint. But the following sketch is one of my favorites. Seriously cracks me up!

Thursday, November 28, 2013

My Biggest Blessing

When I look at all the things I'm grateful for, these guys top my list!

Happy Thanksgiving.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Princess Suite

Sadie has a birthday party this afternoon. The birthday girl, Emma, shares a room with her two younger sisters. I didn't think they'd appreciate something that said "Emma's Room," so here's what I came up with instead:

I glued sparkly gems onto the tiara and letters. The color is the birthday girl's favorite. I think it turned out cute! Don't worry, we have a few treats for the birthday girl alone so she doesn't have to share her entire present if she doesn't want to.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

A Broken Heart: Letting Go Is Hard

Sadie loves ladybugs. We've called her our "Sadie-bug" pretty much since she was born and, probably as a result, she feels a connection with the spotted creatures. As the weather began to cool off earlier this fall, we started seeing ladybugs in the house. Sadie decided it would be a great idea to keep them as pets. She made them their own little habitat in an old cashew container complete with leaves, grass and water. She poked holes for air and happily kept them down in her room.

I forgot all about her little pets until yesterday. I went downstairs to help Savannah with something and I came across a basket with a tissue laying across the top. The tissue had writing on it and it was draped over Sadie's beloved ladybug home.

I love you Rosie
I love you Dasiy
I miss you giys!
You-ved moved on!
It's time to let go
and it's hard!

See the broken heart at the top? That's exactly what my heart did when I read this. My sweet, tender little Sadie. Just picturing her grief when she realized they were dead chokes me up a little. Can you imagine if it was a dog?

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Faith and the Storm

We had some pretty wild weather in the forecast on Sunday: An unseasonably warm 68ยบ, high winds, heavy rains and tornadoes. There are few things that Sterling hates more than bad weather.

We attended church as usual. It was a special day with Sterling being ordained a Deacon in the Aaronic Priesthood. A few times during our meeting block, I could hear the rain coming in angry spurts, pounding down hard on the roof. After church, choir practice was canceled and we were encouraged to head home. Most members live 15-20 minutes away from the meetinghouse and there were several tornado sightings being reported in surrounding areas. The worst was apparently on its way.

Three kids went back to our house with Grandma and Grandpa Stowell who were visiting for Sterling's ordination. The other three came with me because Sam needed to stop on the way home to get a signature for a completed merit badge. We were in the car waiting for Sam and the wind was picking up. I wasn't worried, but I could see that Sterling was starting to fret. Sam was quick with his errand and we were on our way home. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Sterling fold his arms and bow his head, obviously praying.

Within seconds the wind died down. It stopped raining and we started to see patches of blue peeking through the ominous clouds. A glance to the left revealed a rainbow. Through the remainder of our quiet drive, we were amazed by the awesome cloud formations. Sam snapped dozens of pictures with my iPod attempting to preserve the beautiful display. Here's just a sample (click on the photos to view larger):

Look close and you can see a faint rainbow to the left

By the time we arrived home, there were larger patches of blue sky. The winds picked up here and there over the next hour or so and we had a little more rain, but eventually the clouds cleared out completely and it was a gorgeous sunny afternoon.

If you followed the news, you know that there were several locations in Illinois that were hit by powerful, unmerciful tornadoes that day from this same storm system. The devastation in some areas is sobering. I don't know why the storm didn't hit us. We consider ourselves very blessed and we are thankful we didn't lose power or possessions or worse. I am especially grateful for a sweet boy who had the faith to pray and ask Heavenly Father to calm the storm.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Raking Leaves

Because our ginkgo tree shed all its leaves, there was plenty of raking to do! I sent the kids out the door this morning to start on the task and here's what we ended up with--

I think they all started out helping. However, as soon as there was a pile big enough to play in, only one stayed on task. The rest dove right in and buried themselves in the leaves. There were lots of giggles and even singing - at one point they were singing four-part harmony with leaves up to their necks - but the task was eventually finished with smiles all around!

The prize for most diligent goes to Spencer. He raked enough to cover everyone else. :)

Not a care in the world for this boy!

That's a lot of leaves!

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

11-12-13: A Golden Birthday

Sterling up in our ginkgo tree 11-8-13

Sterling is twelve today! Twelve on the 12th and it just happens to be 11-12-13 for his special day. Just look at this handsome guy. In October he auditioned for the Illinois Music Educators Association Junior Orchestra. As a 6th grader, this is his first year of eligibility. He had a great audition which qualified him to play in the Junior Orchestra in Decatur this past Saturday. Sterling was the only one from our county to attend. He and I drove up together and were surprised to find out that Sterling had been chosen as concert master! Wow!! That was especially surprising because Sterling was one of the youngest players. He did very well, but if it were up to him, they would have picked up the pace a bit on a couple of songs. They played them much slower than the music indicated and Sterling loves to play fast! Overall, it was a good and worthwhile experience. (Sadly, I forgot the video camera. Rats!)
When Sterling was in 4th grade, he played the violin while jumping on his pogo stick for his school talent show. In 5th grade, he played while riding his Ripstik. This year he decided that it would be cool to play violin while riding on a unicycle so Sterling was pretty happy to get a unicycle for his birthday (Jeff's idea). If I know Sterling, he'll figure that thing out and be zipping around our garage in no time. I am, however, going to insist that he use his old 3/4 violin for the talent show. I know, mean mom. :) I'm anxious to see if he can pull this one off. If anyone can, it's Sterling!

Happy Birthday, Sterling. You are a great young man. I love your kindness and your patience. Thanks for putting up with school even though you'd much rather be home. You are a great friend and a terrific buddy and brother. I'm excited for you to receive the priesthood. I know you'll take your responsibilities seriously and be a blessing to so many. Your musical ability astounds me and I can't wait to see where it takes you. I love that you like having me around and I hope you never grow out of that. I think you're pretty awesome and I'm so glad you're mine!

I hope twelve is your best year so far!! 


Before and After: Our Ginkgo Tree

Our ginkgo tree is my favorite tree in our yard. It's tall and straight and has cool leaves. It doesn't drop seeds or helicopters or poky balls. One of the best parts is that, with a ginkgo, you rake once and you're done. That's because it loses all of its leaves in one day after the first hard frost. That day was today.

<<<Yesterday    ~    Today>>>

Friday, November 8, 2013

Easy Peasy - Treat Box From a Paper Cup

I love cute and fun ways to package gifts. There's something cheerful about a little package containing a small treat to say "Thank You," "Get Well," or "I'm thinking about you!" I saw a picture of these adorable treat boxes and knew I had to try. These would make fun favors for a party. They would look so cute at each place setting for Thanksgiving or another memorable occasion. Bonus: They are super easy to make! Here's how...

I used paper cups from the dollar store. They came 12 cups to a package. Any paper cup should work. If you like, use cups with a pre-printed design or put on a fun sticker or something to fit the occasion. I added a "Y" sticker to mine because we're crazy about BYU around here. (Go Cougars!!)

Start by cutting the top white rim off the cup. Then cut slits down from the top, evenly spaced, all the way around. I cut mine just over an inch deep and I cut 8 slits. You can have as many tabs as you like, just make sure they are evenly spaced. Fill it with your treat then fold each tab down in order around the cup, tucking the last tab under the first. That's it. Super cute!

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Sunset Reflected on the Clouds

We had a stunning sunset this evening and the sky on the other horizon was so full of clouds that the light reflected off them as well as the trees and made for a beautiful soft glow. It's been a brilliant fall!

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Preserving Fall

We are in the thick of the most beautiful display of Autumn! Every single time I am in the car, I find myself wishing I had my camera because the trees are so amazing this year. So today, I loaded up a couple of kids and we drove around town taking pictures. Then we headed to a nearby state park and took a bunch more. So pretty! The pictures really don't do it justice at all, but there are a few that come close. Just picture these 10X more vibrant than they look here. I wish you could really see how the trees look like they are on fire as the sun hits them. I just want to preserve the memory. It's not every year that we get a fall like this!

I think this one is my favorite!

This is a close-up of the tree in the previous photo. Look at all the colors in that one tree!! So pretty!

This is a sunset from a few days ago. It was beautiful and looked like the horizon was on fire.