Sunday, December 24, 2017

High School Christmas Concert

The other day, I said I'd share a couple of videos from the High School Choir Christmas concert. I realized today that it's now or never if I want to get this done before Christmas!

Here are three of my favorite numbers.

Sterling had a solo in The First Noel, performed by the school a cappella group, Maximum Forte.

White Winter Hymnal is a song they got from Pentatonix. Maximum Forte learned the hand motions and it's so cool! I wish they were sitting farther back on the stage so we could see the whole group at once. They were sitting on stools really close to the audience so the camera was only able to get so much, but the sound alone makes this worth posting.

This last one is all the choirs combined, singing Variations on Jingle Bells. It's super fun. Soren is tucked behind someone near the front. Sterling is easily seen.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Choose Happiness

Spencer has been doing so well on his mission. He's had 2 great companions so far and he's really been embracing his experiences and learning all he can. But last week was hard and some discouragement and even a little depression started to set in. During a routine interview with his mission president later in the week, Spencer was given some very wise counsel. President Nelson told him that when he's faced with a decision of how to feel, he will always choose happiness. Spencer said, "I really like that, so I wrote on a sticky note and put on my desk: 'I will choose happiness. -President Nelson' so I can always remember that."

The video for Day 19 of the Light the World campaign really touched me. It's the journey of an autistic young man named Aaron Jepson. At the end of the video are the words, "In the face of adversity, Aaron chooses happiness." It's a needed message and one that I've been hearing from many different sources lately.

"Happiness does not depend on what you have or who you are. It solely relies on what you think." I don't know who said it -- it's been attributed to several people including Buddha, Dale Carnegie and Zig Ziglar, but I believe it. It's our thoughts, not our circumstances, that determine our feelings.

Just taking a minute to reframe things may be all it takes to see the blessings and happiness right where we are. Choose happiness. :)

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Opus 23 Concerto in G Major for Violin and Piano by J B Viotti

It's that time of year! Last week was filled with recitals, concerts and parties. It was a great week! I'll post a few of my favorite songs from the high school choir concert in a day or two. For now, here is Sterling's Violin Recital piece. He played it so well! Enjoy. :)

Friday, December 1, 2017

Light the World - Day 1

Today is the start of the Light the World campaign by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. There are challenges each day leading up to Christmas - different ways to Light the World through service. Everyone is welcome and encouraged to join in. Just think of what a difference we can make!

Today's challenge is found in Matthew 10:8 - "Freely ye have received, freely give." 

I love today's video. I wish there were vending machines like this in my little corner of the world!

What am I doing today? I'm going to make a donation to my favorite charity, Educate the Kids. It's run by a friend of mine from Scotland. 100% of donations go to help the children in a small village in Kenya. Educate the Kids has built an orphanage and two schools for these kids. They also provide lunch (and sometimes breakfast) each day for the school children. For some, this is the only food these kids get. I've been feeling so, so grateful for all my blessings and know that a little bit will go a long way to help those in extreme poverty. Educate the Kids is working miracles for these children through education.

Go to to find out more about the campaign and to see all the challenges. Are you in?

Let's do this! We can #LighttheWorld. :)

Thursday, November 30, 2017

A Shrimp Bug Contraption

You've probably never heard of a shrimp bug. That's because we made up the name. Years ago at certain times of the year, we would find these large bugs in our basement that sort of looked like a cricket, but they were brown with super long antennae and really long legs that could jump like 3 feet or more. They were terrifying. Their bodies sort of resembled a shrimp so we named them shrimp bugs and we all hated them. 

We later learned that they are actually called Camel Crickets, but we still call them shrimp bugs. We still get them. We still hate them. Unfortunately, we've had more than usual this year.

Sadie found one on the stairs last week after everyone had gone to bed. It was pretty late, but she was determined to make sure it wouldn't crawl (or jump!) into her room during the night. Here's the contraption she came up with:

You can see a few purple and pink ponytail holders on the stair behind the black folder. Sadie initially fired those at the bug to see if she could just annihilate it outright. It never moved so she thought maybe it was dead. See the markers and highlighters under the tub against the wall? She tried those next, throwing them at the shrimp bug which annoyed it enough that it crawled up the wall. She trapped it against the wall with the plastic tub, but then she was stuck. She couldn't let go or the tub would fall. She reached as far as she could and was barely able to grab Sterling's music folder which she propped against the bucket while she ran for tape. Once she secured the bucket to the wall, she kept the folder there for extra support then put her trash can next to that for added peace of mind. 

When I went downstairs the next morning, this note was on top of the bucket:

"Caution Massive Shrimp Bug!!! (caught by me so give me a medal of bravery)... or a blizzard  -Sadie Stowell
What a funny girl. :)

Fortunately for us all, camel crickets aren't invasive. They don't bite or get into food or otherwise cause trouble. They are just really big and ugly and terrifying. Sadie is the only one who sleeps in the basement and that's the only place we've found them, but I'm not worried about her. She's obviously got it under control.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Too Many Ducks

I know, I know. It's been forever. Life is good, it really is. I just haven't taken time to document the good stuff. But tonight I realized that there have been several things lately that have made me laugh or smile and I need to share! This one is definitely good for a laugh. I've watched it four times so far and I crack up every time!

Gotta love it! :)

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Sterling at ReMix

In August, I mentioned that Sterling attended ReMix Vocal Academy at BYU during the summer. It's a pretty intense and amazing A Cappella camp, run by the director of BYU's Vocal Point. There were about 120 kids at ReMix that week (session B). They were all divided into 8 different groups. Sterling was on the Blue Team.

The final concert was pretty cool! It started off with all 120 kids for the intro "Unpack Your Heart." You can't see Sterling in this video, but he was there and he was a beatboxer during this number.

That was great, but it wasn't my favorite. After the opener, each group did their own number. Sterling's group sang "There's A Place For Us," by Carrie Underwood. Again, Sterling was the beatboxer. I think he sounds pretty good!!

That was great, but it wasn't my favorite. During the concert, they had a few beatboxers come out for a demo. Sterling (in blue) was selected to participate along with a Red Team member and one of the counselors (in green).

Okay, that was awesome and was definitely one of my favorites! We all loved it and the audience was going crazy. It was pretty cool! :)

The final number was a Mashup and Sterling was the second soloist.

That piece was a favorite as well. There was so much energy and you could tell these kids had worked hard and were having a great time out there!

Sterling loved his experience at ReMix and can't wait to return - along with Soren - next summer. We're all looking forward to it! :)

Friday, October 6, 2017

Paint Louis

The city of St. Louis has a graffiti event every year, cleverly called Paint Louis. Graffiti artists paint sections of the flood wall south of the gateway arch.

Having previously studied this art form, a missionary serving in the St. Louis area decided last year that he wanted to be a part of the event. He was accepted to participate, received permission from his mission president and he and his companion got to work. The event was held a few weeks ago. I love how they were able to share their message in such a unique way. And I love the final result, right down to their graffiti "tag" in the top right corner.

Click here to read the whole story. It's pretty cool!

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Saying Goodbye: It Doesn't Get Any Easier

Spencer reported to the Missionary Training Center in Provo, Utah this afternoon. His two-years of missionary service has officially begun.

I'm so happy for him! We've wanted him to have this opportunity and experience, literally, since he was born. That's what makes the pain of separation so ironic. We wanted him to go, but wish he could stay here forever. Yeah, it doesn't really make sense. But I felt the same way when Sam left for his mission and again when I dropped Savannah, then Sam, off at college. It's hard to let go, but it's in the going that they learn and grow and become.

Spencer flew out yesterday, but before we left for the airport he had to get in just a little more of his favorite game...

We've played a ton of badminton over the last 5 months as is evident by the dirt patches on the court. Spencer is the man to beat. Even in their suits, Spencer and Jeff couldn't resist one last opportunity to play. Now we all have two years to get good enough to beat Spencer when he gets home. ;)

One last picture of the gang. It's sad to see these good friends separated.

Still smiling on the way to the airport.

Mercifully, Spencer flew out of a small airport.
We were given extra time together because security was taking a break.

Spencer had a one-hour layover in Chicago which turned into a 4-hour layover. I, of course, was worried about him because...well, because I'm his mother. Mercifully, a member of the church from Utah who happened to be at the same gate as Spencer texted me and we were able to communicate briefly so Spencer knew we were all aware of his delay (especially those waiting for him in Utah) and I knew he was doing well. We were all super happy when he finally reached the ground in Utah.

He stayed with my brother, Rob, last night and they went to lunch with Sam and Savannah before reporting to the MTC. He called me for one last tearful goodbye after lunch. The tears were mostly mine. Spencer didn't break down until he said goodbye.

Within thirty minutes of his arrival at the MTC, Spencer sent me a super quick e-mail. He said, "I know I'm doing the right thing," and also mentioned that his district (the other missionaries he would be in classes with) was "crazy awesome." Those are words to calm a mother's heart.

Spencer is ready. He knows how to work, and he's easy to get along with. He has a strong testimony of the Savior and His Atoning Sacrifice.

He's going to be just fine.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Where in the World? Savannah Edition


And here we go again! :)

If it feels like we just did this, we did. Now Savannah's mission papers have been submitted and we're gathering guesses. No one accurately guessed that Spencer would be called to the Idaho Idaho Falls Mission. He's been making the necessary preparations and is getting excited and a little nervous. (He'll be a great missionary!) He reports to the Missionary Training Center on October 4.

We can't wait to learn where Savannah will serve!

Here's are the guesses so far:

1. Senegal
2. Netherlands
3. Austria
4. Salt Lake City Temple Square
5. Tahiti
6. California
7. Guatemala
8. Washington D.C.
9. Texas
10. Puerto Rico
11. Spain
12. Vanuatu
13. Scotland
14. Kenya
15. Oklahoma
16. Australia
17. East Coast
18. Greenland
19. Costa Rica
20. China
21. Baltic States
22. Japan

Where do YOU think Savannah will go?

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Lessons Learned From the Total Solar Eclipse

I know I already blogged about our eclipse experience on August 21, but I can't stop thinking about it. I learned a couple of things that are noteworthy and I wanted to record them while they are still meaningful.

Lesson one (and fairly obvious) is that, even when the sun is completely covered up by the moon, you can still see the sun's aura. The sun never completely disappears. Its power still radiates from behind the darkness. For me, this drove home the fact that no matter how dark our circumstances, God is always there. Nothing is too devastating or bleak for God to make His presence known. If we look for Him, we will find Him. This is a beautiful message and one I hope I never forget.

But Lesson two is the one I've really been pondering for the past week or so. It is this: When we are fully committed, we open ourselves up to blessings and experiences we can't even imagine.

Bear with me as I try to articulate my thoughts.

We live only two hours from the totality zone. That means that our maximum eclipse was pretty close to totality. The graphic illustrates what it would have looked like from our home. Not bad. Our initial plan was to stay home and view it through our special glasses as it approached the maximum for our area. Our experience would be good enough without having to go out of our way, right?


Fortunately, I was talking with a friend a few days before the eclipse. She'd read some thoughts by an eclipse chaser and he noted that the difference between 99% totality and 100% totality is huge! No comparison. The experience is completely different. Well, that got me thinking and wondering if it might be worth the drive after all. It didn't take much to get the kids on board; after all, they'd get to miss a good chunk of the school day.

Because I've already shared our eclipse experience, I won't go into all the details again. I'll just focus on a few things that illustrate what I mean by lesson two.

For starters, unless you are viewing totality, you must wear solar glasses which literally block out everything except the sun. We had our glasses on while watching the moon slide into totality. When only the tiniest sliver of sun was still visible, I peeked over the rim of my glasses to see what it really looked like and, to my surprise, the sun still appeared so bright that it looked like the full sun was shining. It was only when the eclipse reached totality that we could remove the glasses and that made all the difference. It revealed a different world. From the significant dimming of the sky to the visible stars and the evening sounds, it was really stunning. Back home, none of that was part of the limited experience. They couldn't remove the glasses, yet they didn't know what they had missed. They just didn't see what all the fuss was about. And that's the problem. When we give a half-hearted effort, we may never realize that we compromised the outcome. It took more effort and time to see the eclipse in its totality, but as a result, our experience was worlds away from the one back home.

There is a quote that I came across 25 years ago by William Hutchison Murray. I've thought about it so many times. It says,

"Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one's favour all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamt would have come his way."

Elder Gary B. Sabin summed this up well in a talk given last April:
"We don’t hold back to see what the minimum is we can get by with.... When we are fully committed and “all in,” heaven shakes for our good. When we are lukewarm or only partially committed, we lose out on some of heaven’s choicest blessings."
I believe this because I've seen it happen. When I am fully committed, my experiences are significantly different. "Heaven shakes for [my] good" and "Providence moves, too." Who wouldn't want that? 

Don't be afraid to be all in. It's worth it!

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Spencer's Week

We've had a great week! Sam and Savannah were home from BYU for a few days (they haven't been home since January!) and it was so good having the whole family together. It's going to be a while before that happens again. With Spencer leaving for the Idaho Idaho Falls Mission next month, December 2019 is the next logical time we'll be together. That made it pretty hard to say goodbye to Sam and Savannah yesterday, but all the good things we have to look forward to made it a little more bearable.

Spencer's had quite a week and it was so nice that Sam and Savannah could be a part of it. On Tuesday night, Spencer received his Eagle Scout award. Many friends and ward members attended the Court of Honor and it was a nice event to celebrate Spencer's long-awaited achievement. He's really enjoyed his time in Scouting and has been a great mentor to his younger brothers and the other boys in the troop. He'll definitely be missed!

An Eagle Court of Honor wouldn't be complete without eagle cookies.

I forgot to take pictures at the Court of Honor so the kitchen will do in a pinch. ;)

On Thursday, Spencer went through the temple for the first time. We headed out super early that morning to head to St. Louis. It was a beautiful drive and a beautiful day. I was so happy that Sam and Savannah were able to be there, too.

The grounds of the temple were gorgeous with flowers blooming everywhere.

BYU starts on Tuesday. Spencer reports for his mission on October 4. Onward and upward!

Monday, August 28, 2017

Be the One

This video really speaks for itself. We love Gentri and the positive messages they so beautifully articulate through their music. Enjoy!

Friday, August 25, 2017

End of Summer

Oh, why do I procrastinate my blog?? Well, late is better than never so here is a quick recap of our summer.

We started off with four weeks of no major obligations. Those weeks seemed to last forever and we just enjoyed the time together. There was plenty of badminton, progress toward goals (we got a LOT of things accomplished this summer!), and just time together. It was a needed break from the typical demands.

I already blogged about our end-of-June activities, High Adventure and the youth Pioneer Trek.

July was pretty steady with several week-long activities. Jeff and the boys attended a hot and sweaty Scout camp and Sadie attended her first Girls' Camp during the hottest week of the summer. Ugh! We picked her up a day early to head to Utah where we spent the last week of July so Sterling could attend an A Cappella camp - ReMix Vocal Academy - at BYU. I'll post more about that once the videos of the final concert are up on YouTube. It was amazing!! He had a great week and we all loved the final concert.

Sterling and the bros after his awesome concert!

Sterling with Adam, former beatboxer for Vocal Point
(Sterling looks really short here, but Adam is 6'10.)

While in Utah, we were also able to spend time in the temple as a family and we were there when Savannah went through the temple for the first time.

Draper Temple with the cousins! This was Sadie's first time to do baptisms for the dead.

Somehow I didn't get any photos after Savannah went through the temple (rats!!) but here's the whole crew at the Provo City Center Temple after our family did baptisms for the dead.

My mom and all of my siblings were in town so we spent time with cousins as well. We stayed with friends who made us feel like part of the family and, despite our vow NOT to go to Utah this summer, it was definitely worth the drive.

We didn't make it to Idaho this year, but Idaho came to us! Sadie and cousin Ana are BFF's. Little Sawyer is a cutie!

My dad's headstone was installed while we were in Utah.
I'm glad I got to see it. We visited dad a few times.

We hiked the Bonneville Shoreline Trail one morning with our friends and hosts, the Afflecks.
It was a beautiful hike and morning!

The cool, new suspension bridge on the Bonneville Shoreline Trail.

Bridal Veil Falls

A motley crew. :)

A rare photo of Jeff and me.

We saw a full rainbow in Wyoming on the drive home. So pretty!

Monday, August 21, 2017

Eclipse 2017: Worth the Drive

I took my kids out of school today so we could head south to see the total solar eclipse. We were only about a 2-hour drive from the path of totality. We were lucky; for the most part, traffic was light and quick and we made it to West Frankfort, Illinois with five minutes to spare. We pulled into a gas station and had some fun seeing the crescent sun shining through the grid we made with our fingers. 

Then we donned our eclipse glasses and watched as the tiny crescent got smaller and smaller. When it disappeared, we removed our glasses.

I've heard a total eclipse and people's reactions to it described different ways. For us, there was no screaming or crying just a feeling of awe. The darkened sky had a hint of yellowish green, kind of like a pending tornado but without the storm. A bright star appeared and there was a smaller star (planet?) lower in the sky that flashed and twinkled. Clouds hung low in the sky across the horizon and they took on a slightly pinkish hue, almost like a subtle sunset. The cicadas were buzzing loudly like they do in the evening. And the moon, looking more like a black hole, was surrounded with a bright white light. Yes, it was awesome.

The whole thing lasted less than 2 minutes and then the sun peeked out again as the moon slowly slid away. We were back on the road within 15 minutes of our arrival for the 2-hour drive home.

Four hours of driving for a 2 minute experience. Was it worth it? Yes, we all agreed it definitely was. Given the chance, we'd do it again. It's something we won't soon forget.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

First Day

We're getting smaller over here with only three starting school today. Sadie is a 7th grader, our big middle schooler this year! No more elementary school for us. Soren is braving the high school as a Freshman and Sterling is a Sophomore. It's shaping up to be a great year! 

Spencer has a different kind of first day. He starts working the night shift tonight at Jimmy John's, store #00001. :) I'm sure he'll gain some good work experience and put a little money away for school. Just six weeks until we say goodbye to him for 2 years! I hope time drags on until then...

Life is good!

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Peach Perfect

Or maybe I should title this post "Peach Plenty." Either way, we have beautiful, sweet, ripe peaches coming out of our ears.

The peach tree at our rental home next door has exceeded all expectations. Jeff pruned it pretty heavily last fall. This spring, when we saw that it was producing more peaches than it could possibly support, Spencer thinned it, completely filling a five-gallon bucket with nickel-sized peaches. He thinned it a little more after the bucket was full then decided that was good enough. 

Fast forward a couple of months and several of the branches are dragging on the ground. This picture is the underside of just one branch. Isn't that crazy!! I've never seen anything like it.

It's kind of fun. We've been giving away peaches left and right. I've been eating them for breakfast every morning. I'm making a peach crisp tonight and peaches-and-cream cheesecake tomorrow. Between me and my friends, we've picked well over 400 peaches and still, the tree looks untouched. 

Good thing we like peaches! :)

Friday, July 14, 2017

Hens and Chicks

A couple of summers ago, while visiting my brother, Steve, and his family, Spencer was admiring their backyard landscaping. He was intrigued by their hens and chicks that were planted in various locations around their yard. When he asked his Aunt Jenny about them, she easily pulled several little offshoots or babies from the masses and put them in a box for Spencer to grow at home. 

Those babies have multiplied! They have filled in the area under our tree house and I love them! 

This is just one small grouping of the hens and chicks that started from one offshoot two years ago.

This one is larger than the rest and, like a protective mother hen,
you can see the little babies growing under her "wings." It reminds me of the scriptures
about how Christ will gather his people just like a hen gathers her chicks under her wings. :)

I'm thinking about bringing some in the house to plant in small pots. They are so easy to grow, they require very little effort, and they make me happy!