Thursday, December 1, 2016

Cardinals and Cassette Tapes - A Christmas Gift from Dad

Mom and I have been working on compiling memories of Dad for a personal history.  My deepest regret is that I didn't get to ask him my list of questions and record his responses into something meaningful.  I sat down with him one day in June (before his back injury), and he spent 45 minutes sharing a timeline of his life, along with a few stories he wanted to share.  His voice was very weak, and his speech was often slurred.  I had to repeat what he said into the microphone, so it could be understood. He had agreed to my plan that we would work in the yard until noon during the summer, and then he'd come inside and we'd interview during the hot part of the day, but that was as far as we ever got!

For the past week, we've been sifting through his boxes of papers and old photos, and have interviewed the siblings on their memories of Dad when they were growing up.  I've been on a determined hunt to find recordings of his voice to add to the history.  I wanted his voice before Parkinson's weakened his vocal chords, and slowed his quick response and mental sharpness.  My children and even Josh never REALLY knew the man that I knew growing up, and when Dad passed away that was my greatest cause of mourning - that they'd have to wait SO long to really KNOW him.  Sadly, the most I've been able to come up with was a recording of a talk he gave at his mother's funeral, and a few Christmas Eve story readings.  I guessed that was all there was, and that would have to do.


This being our first Christmas without Dad, I've been searching for ways I can help make it special for Mom.  She has such great faith and optimism, but I still wanted to help her somehow feel Dad's love for her, too.  To let her know that he is still mindful of her. Yesterday I read this wonderful article called CARDINALS, which tells a story of a red cardinal's visit to a grieving daughter after the passing of her beloved father.  The cardinal came and inspected a newly-installed front door, and she remembered her grandmother saying,

"Cardinals appear when angels are near."  

Mom had recently been planning to decorate the tree in a gingerbread theme, but today when I went in to visit, she said, "I think I've changed my mind about the tree. I want it all white, with lots of white lights, and I want to make it a FAMILY TREE with photos of you children and of our family members who have passed away.  It's funny how when you lose someone, your perspective changes from Gingerbread trees to Family Trees."  I decided it was the perfect time to share that article about the cardinal.  "Oh, Cardinals were always his favorite bird to spot in Virginia!"  She thought she remembered having a tiny, glass Cardinal ornament, and quickly found it.  We decided to create that white tree she's envisioning, and have the one, red cardinal there to remind us that Dad is near.

We went to the back room to sort through some more boxes, and I came across a bag of cassette tapes. One of them was labeled in Dad's unmistakable print, "Christmas 1983".  Mom said she'd seen it, but was so worried about the player ruining the tape that she'd never listened to it.  We guessed that it must have been something he did for his parents, who were serving an 18-month mission to Cocoa Beach, Florida that year.  "Oh, we're listening to THIS," I said.  I grabbed the CD player, popped in the cassette and pressed PLAY.

What was on that tape was nothing short of a miracle.  The tape began with my Dad greeting his parents and wishing them a Merry Christmas, but as we listened, it was as if his words could be applied to both his present and OUR present simultaneously.  His voice was clear and strong and young and energetic.  He had inflections and personality in his voice!  He said, "This being your first Christmas away from home, and you are likely experiencing your first taste of homesickness, so we thought we would share some news with you, and some music and poetry so that we might not feel so far away."  To my mom, that tape was a Christmas gift to on the FIRST day of Christmas from her true love.  Like "It's a Wonderful Life", it was George Bailey's glimpse into his WONDERFUL life, only this one was a reality, brought back from long ago for her to remember!

So we might not feel so far away.

Each child (Jon, Andrew, me, James and Tim) each took a turn at the tape recorder, telling some news and then singing a song or reading a poem.  It was quite possibly the most adorable thing I've ever heard, and I have NO memory of it!  Dad told how he had recently been called as Cub Scout Committee Chair (this was in addition to ward choir accompanist and High Priest teacher).  The ward choir was performing the Hallelujah Chorus (which he LOVED), but that it was the most difficult piece of music he'd ever learned!  He recited Dickens and read some Christmas stories, and told all the news of the family, from the weather down to his plans to put up the Christmas lights that day!  He shared his testimony and his love of the Savior and of the "important work" he knew they are doing on their mission.

To say Mom and I were amazed is an understatement.  Mom cried through the whole thing the happiest tears I've ever seen. "This is a gift from Dad!"  Our Cardinal had come to visit, and had planted a Christmas gift in a box for us to open on December 1st with his VOICE and words of testimony, love and encouragement!  It was truly one of the most remarkable things I've ever seen.  To think of all the years that that tape was sitting in that storage box, patiently waiting for the very moment we would need it most.  Well, I don't think it's a coincidence.

Tomorrow is December 2nd.  Our church has a Christmas initiative this month to LIGHT the WORLD each day, and tomorrow's theme just happens to be "JESUS HONORED HIS PARENTS AND SO CAN YOU"

So today, I honor you, Dad.  Thank you for your love towards your family both then and now.  Angels are among us both here on earth and beyond.  They are mindful of me, they are mindful of you - be they the shape of Cardinals or Cassette tapes.  Thank you for being an example of a loving, faithful, giving father.

Thank you, Dad, for lighting our world! 
Merry Christmas!

Monday, February 29, 2016

February Fun

 I'm the Bear Den leader.  We only have two boys, and Monkey only has one more month until he's in Webelos!  The other boy, J is a doll.  I love working with him, and will be sad when he turns 11.  We learned about cooking and made an Apple Crisp!  It was really fun, and delicious!

 Boo and Monkey do this hilarious pretend play that reminds me a bit of the Concert of Nenis growing up.  They arrange two desks, complete with quills for writing, ledgers (scriptures), lots of paper with lists and receipts, comfy stools to sit upon, and some serious imagination.  It's called Money Lenders and Bureaucrats.  I think they got the title from a board game called Dominion.  When I asked them one day what the game consisted of, they said, "  Well, we write rules and lend money to people who are trying to do different things.  Sometimes we give it to them, sometimes we don't.  If they don't pay, then we sent the Bureaucrats after them to collect."  They get a bit embarrassed when I catch them playing it, but I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE that they are still doing pretend play - as Scrooge-like as it is.

Bad handwriting is a must!
"Dear Chancellor, the festival is on, we just need your sign of approval."  
 In February, we had a little getaway to Park City, thanks to Josh's work.  They hosted an alumni event up there called Aggie Snowcase, and we got to stay in a hotel, try out show shoeing, watch an Aggie game on a big screen, hang out with Big Blue, and play around in the Swaner Center doing rock climbing, crafts, etc.  Our hotel had our own hot tub!

 Nana, Papa, Abby and Oaklee joined us for the afternoon and tried out some show shoes.  We had to call our weekend quits early when all three kids came down with the stomach flu!  Miserable.  Diddles never wants to sleep in a hotel again.  She's convinced it made her sick.  :(

 Valentine's was such a joy for this little girl!  She loved making these little Animal Huggers for her friends.  I loved how she carefully chose an animal and flavor of Starburst for each of her friends.  I'm so glad she got a kind, sweet, calm class this year!

 On Valentine's they had a Tea Party.  They all dressed up in their fanciest clothes.  Isn't that so sweet?

 Lots of snow this winter.  One Sunday Josh went outside with Diddles and built her the "Perfect Snowman".

 We finally used our Groupon pass for ice skating at the Galivan Center.  Diddles wanted to skate SO badly.  She stayed out there for hours going around and around, trying to get the hang of it.  She was frustrated that she wasn't "fast like dos other kids."  Persistence.

 I've been reading Little House in the Big Woods out loud to her in the evenings.  I'm amazed how long it holds her attention!  She was fascinated with Laura's corncob doll, and made one of her own all by herself.  I don't even want to know where she found that cob.  Probably the chicken yard!

 She loves her chickens!  They love her too, I think.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

January Jumbles

We just kind of "get through" January, don't we?  It's so long, cold, dark and disappointing.

After all those years in Young Women's, planning and preparing meaningful New Beginnings programs for upcoming Beehives, it was finally my turn to just sit back and be a Mom to a wonderful incoming Beehive.  

This cute Laurel Class President came over and interviewed Jane for her spotlight.  The whole program was pretty simple, from the invitation to the program.  I missed my Terre View ladies and the girls, especially when she said, "Jane's favorite book is the Harry Potter Series." Our TV girls would have all nodded and quietly cheered.  They are a tough act to top.

We did lots of service to keep Grandma and Grandpa company through the long, cold month.  It's hard for Dad to not be outside and busy in his yard.  One afternoon we all helped polish the silver.  Diddles thought this was the best activity ever, and wanted to rush straight home and polish ours (we only have stainless steel)!  I'm so glad we live so close that we can do service like this.

With morning church, Monkey and I started filling our long evenings with making tasty desserts from our favorite show, Great British Baking Show.  This, coupled with Sunday game nights kept us going!  

Marie, Roy and Ash came for a visit with an exciting gender reveal that they're having a GIRL!  Due in May.  How exciting. 

Losing teeth left and right!
"Mom, I pushed my tooth wiff my tongue, and it just popped out!  Are you SO beprised?"

Boo went to Beaver Mountain for 5th Grade ski day!  I only tried skiing once, and it was up at Beaver.  It was one of the physically hardest things I've ever done.  Trying to get up from a fall, gather your gear and get going again was so challenging!  Needless to say, it was my first and last time.  Talk about feeling uncoordinated.  She had a fun time!

Thursday, December 31, 2015

December Dealings

It's the Christmas season!  The kids had a great time decorating and re-decorating the tree.  We got our first taste of some real snow, and the harsh reality that they have to go to school in it.  We kept things pretty simple this season, trying not to over-extend or have too many commitments.

We went tree shopping to help Mom and Dad find a tree, and Boo and Monkey
helped them set up their Nativity collection..

Mags and Dad snuggling by the tree.

Diddles' teacher served her mission in Holland, and she had the kids make paper shoes to leave out in the hallway, and learn a Sinterklaaus song.  They were so excited to get chocolate letters in their shoes!  Her teacher is amazing!

We went to this amazing stake Christmas party and Stewart and Annette's ward building.  It was A Country Christmas, complete with hay rides, a band, cinnamon rolls, huevos rancheros, hot cocoa bar, photo booth, and so much more.  We had so much fun!

Fun Christmas find:  Marie and Emily never had matching stockings with the rest of us.  I decided to search on Ebay and see if I could possibly find one with the old pattern, and found them!  Mom worked on it during the long days in the hospital, and it was fun to see all the stockings hanging in a row.

We had a cookie exchange and our traditional Nativity Pageant.  It was fun to be there for that! We usually had to miss it.

Quite possibly the funnest time was Christmas Day, after all the presents had been opened, and the toys had been played with, and the boredom set in.  We all converged on Mom and Dad's house for games and puzzles.

 Ryan made a seafood feast with delicious pasta dishes.  Dad was in heaven!

 It was great having Uncle James with us.  He's a great time, and the kids had fun reconnecting with him.  I'm thankful for the Christmas season.  We really tried to focus on Christ and service and giving gifts of service to others, instead of focusing so much on buying and Santa.  I'm glad that kids who are older are really getting into the Spirit of that kind of season.  It's wonderful!

Monday, November 30, 2015

November News

November was a blur.  Dad had major surgery on his back in early November.  They basically reconstructed it - straightened his spine front to back and side to side.  It was involved, lasting two days.  Recovery was difficult and long, and it was taxing on mom as well.  He was in the hospital for several weeks, and took months at home to get somewhat "back to normal".  The siblings were wonderful - coming up to spend time visiting and helping ease the boredom and sometimes even taking charge and ordering Dad to take his medicine.  I'm so grateful for them.  Watching siblings who I always consider "kids" (myself included) move into roles of adults is such an amazing sight.  We love our parents so much, and it was an honor to serve them in their time of need.  After all they've done for us, you know? We've been so blessed.

Josh got a second calling, and one he's secretly always wanted - Cub Master.  He's done an amazing job, and is implementing all the great things he's learned through his years of Scouting and at Woodbadge.  It's fun to see the contagious enthusiasm he's started!  It's really great for all the boys and leaders. 

Uniform Inspection

Stomp Rockets at the Space Derby

Yummy snack of apple slices and the most delicious fruit dip!
Isn't that so clever?
Eliza has really been working hard at school.  It doesn't some easy for her, but I'm so proud of her persistence and her tenacity to keep trying. She's a big fan of rewards, and one of her favorites has been a Pizza Hut pizza coupons as a reward for reading her take-home readers.  
Cheese pizza, please!
 Eliza had been attending a resource class (Little Class) before school since September for a half hour before school.  It was rough.  She didn't click with the teacher, and wasn't responding to directions.  The teacher would then reward the entire rest of the group with cookies and would skip her.  Then she'd go to her regular class in a total funk.  I got very little communication from her, except a little post-it note, sent home with Eliza saying that she was pretending not to know her numbers.  Eliza was mad and embarrassed, knowing the note was a "bad note".  Yikes.  It just wasn't working.  I called a meeting with her teacher, the resource teacher and her speech teacher.  We came up with a plan (without pointing fingers or being confrontational) that would put her on a monitor and see how she did without resource services.  I'm so grateful she was able to do okay without them, even perhaps do a little better, feeling a boost of confidence that she didn't need to go to Little Class anymore.
Beautiful handwriting:  Her Thankful Turkey feathers included
"School, grilled cheese, Amy, Christmas, Pretend, Chickens".  

One of the Friday centers was Face Painting like the Native Americans,
and she took it upon herself to do a version at home...with Sharpies!
We hosted Thanksgiving dinner at our home.  We were going to have it at Mom and Dad's, but Dad wasn't feeling well.  I am so glad that we were able to be so close that we could relocate the entire thing to our home in a matter of hours!
The kids helped get all the tables set and were delighted to have
the cousins come spend the day!  I'm grateful they are all good friends. 

Andy and cute Easton

I love these people!

Ryan made the turkey, Catherine did the rolls, Jill made a bunch of sides.  It was so wonderful to see everyone pitch in and help make it a great day.  The boys piled up plates and took them over to sit with Dad and gave Mom a break to eat with us. I love how selfless and flexible they all are.  I'm thankful for family.