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!!