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Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Christmas Recap

Christmas this year was spent with family. In my book, that's pretty much a perfect holiday. I absolutely adore spending time in Grandma Kingsley's home. I'm like a sponge, soaking up all the good feelings of love and laughter, storing away these priceless memories to relive later.

Aunt Betsy's room was a favorite hang out for all the little girls. Betsy the Beautician played with everyone's hair and spent an hour curling all the lovely tresses on the girls. Sarah really felt beautiful. Thanks, Betsy Buttons!

Sarah with Auntie Betsy

 Grandma Kingsley directed a bell choir on Christmas Eve. We all held pipe bells and created music by striking the pipes with a spoon. It was so fun and the children all really enjoyed it. We participated in a new tradition this year. Christmas Eve dinner was held as a picnic on blankets spread around the Christmas tree. It was very fun and casual. The children thought it was such a treat to do an indoor picnic.

Grandma Kingsley directing music
Matthew enjoys playing his bell    

Hazel enjoying her picnic under the Christmas tree
 I feel so blessed this year. Spending a week with a family like this rejuvenates my soul.
The cousins on Christmas morning, waiting to see their gifts.
Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Poopberry Club

Matthew made an exclusive club last week. He told Sarah and Daniel that only 'cool' people can belong to it.
(This reminds me  of a Joke Journal entry from Nathan's childhood. One year his brother gave Christmas gifts consisting of a single piece of paper stating, "Merry Christmas! You belong to My Club.")

The name of the Matt's club was carefully planned, calculated to impress even the most dubious observer. It is The Poopberry Club. 

Daniel came up to me imploring, "What cool thing can I do to convince Matthew I'm neat enough to join his club?" 

Sarah walked pass, telling Matthew he could use her bracelets as tokens of club membership-ness if he would let her join. He inspected the colorful glass beads and charms, made concessions that they were indeed girly, but announced grandly that they would do. Sarah was delighted and passed out bracelets to the members. They set to work making a large club sign announcing their coolness. Their adoration of all things "Calvin and Hobbes" was manifest in the sign: 

"G.R.O.S.S. Get Rid Of Slimy girlS. 
Except Sarah. She's cool."

My curiosity was piqued. I asked Matthew to tell me more about his club. In a conspiratorial whisper he exclaimed, "In the Poopberry Club we do cool things, like finding sticks and poking them into old horse poop in the pasture. The poop stays on the stick, then we put berries on the poop. Those are our "poopberry sticks". When intruders try to invade our clubhouse we'll throw our poopberry sticks at them! Isn't that so exciting?! It's the awesomest idea EVER! Our club ROCKS!"

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

New Camera

I'm doing my happy dance this week. My new camera arrived! I've wanted to learn photography for years, so I'm super-excited about this. I still don't know how to use my camera very well yet, but I'm plugging along through the instruction manual steadily. Here are a couple of my favorite pictures from last week.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Value of a Moment

(Editor's warning: This blog post is more of the journaling variety than anything else. You are welcome to read it, but will most likely find it immensely boring. These are just a few thoughts I wanted to put down for my children to read someday. Proceed if you like... but don't say I didn't warn you! )

Yesterday, I read a quote.  It said: 

" will never know the true value of a moment until it becomes a memory."

I am fascinated by which moments a mind decides to hold onto and which ones it lets slip away. What do you remember?

I remember my first conversation with Nathan. He was sitting outside his apartment reading a book. I was interested in a boy who enjoyed reading (because I'm a hopeless bibliophile myself) so I struck up a conversation. It went like this: 

Me- Hi! What are you reading?
Nate- Poetry.
Me (giving brownie points to him mentally, because of all things, he's reading POETRY! He's already winner in my book.)- How neat! Would you read me some?
Nate (reluctantly)- I could, but you wouldn't understand it.  It's in Russian.

I remember thinking, how often would a girl find a man who enjoys cultivating his mind with poetry, and in a foreign language to boot? That's when I knew I wanted to be his sweetheart. 

When I was pregnant with Sarah, I was so sick I couldn't even drink water for several days. It was scary. I was barely surviving.  After a doctor's appointment for IV fluids, Nathan wrapped me in blankets and took me to the park. He spread out a quilt under a huge tree and carried me there. He brought me bottles of bubbles to blow to boost my spirits. We laid on the quilt and watched bubbles dance in the breeze for an hour. This was a pattern he has repeated throughout our entire marriage. He is always helping me find joy in the little things in life. 

One of my sweetest memories is the first time we saw Matthew on the ultrasound monitor during my pregnancy. The first thing I saw were his little fingers, shaped with the exact characteristics of Nathan's fingers. I was surprised at the way my heart swelled with love for this little person that I hadn't even met face-to-face yet. I'm surprised I recall this so well, because much of his actual birth is a blur. I don't remember holding him at all that day.
Another memory I have is playing in the empty farmer's field next to my house as a child. My sisters and I thought it was so fun to collect the old bleached animal bones in this field. We were so dismayed when my mother wouldn't let us keep the bone collection in our room.  We used to explore for hours in this field, looking for similar 'treasures', like stray golf balls from the adjacent golf course. It was like pirate's gold to us, isn't that silly?
I remember taking Sarah to get her first  immunizations as a baby. I remember the doctor's office perfectly. I could even tell you the picture on the wall (An embroidered picture of a mother rocking a looked like it was made in the 70's). I cried harder than she did. I thought it was a cruel thing to ask a mother to hold down her baby while it's being inflicted with pain.  I cried with all of my babies when they were given shots, but with Sarah it was the hardest for me. After it was done, I rocked her and sobbed with her all alone in the room. 
In second grade my mother told me she just couldn't bring cupcakes to school on my birthday. I don't remember the reason why she wouldn't be able to make the cupcakes. Was she sick, or too sleep-deprived, or too busy, or out of baking supplies? I don't know. I just remember I was so sad. My teacher felt bad for me and gave me some little suckers to hand out on the desks during recess. Just as I finished placing the suckers on the vacant desks, my mother walked into the room with decorated cupcakes. I remember feeling so relieved and happy. It meant so much to me. I'll never  know what she sacrificed in order to make those treats.  I wonder what little things like this my children will remember from me. 
Every time I smell apple butter, I remember my grandmother's house. She would bake bread and spread it with either apple butter or honey butter. I loved her bread. It was so comforting to sit in her kitchen (where the decor seemed to never change) and eat her bread. I hear her voice and see her smile in my mind each time I taste apple butter. 
My sister and I shared rooms for most of our childhood. We used to lay next to each other at night and pretend to 'draw' with our fingers on each other's backs. It was very soothing. We would talk while we made these imaginary pictures. I missed this after we moved into separate rooms as quarreling teens. I'm so immensely grateful we are good friends again. 
I loved all the pets we kept in my childhood. It seemed like our house was teeming with a miniature zoo: gerbils, rats, mice, hamsters, hedgehogs, turtles, cats, dogs, parakeets, and the occasional stray wildlife we took in (like ducklings or snakes). My mother must have been driven crazy with the chaos of so many animals. I loved it and pitied anyone who was so deprived as to live without pets.  We used to make colossal mazes for the rodents by taping together a hodge-podge creation built with toilet paper rolls and empty tissue boxes. I remember thinking this was the coolest way to spend a Friday night.
I remember visiting my dad in the hospital when I was seven. I seem to have more memories of my dad in the hospital rather than at home. In his closet was a box of candies. We were allowed to choose one at the end of our visit. I picked Lifesavers one week and was saving them so I could bring them along on a school field trip that was happening soon. My little sister ate my candies one day before the trip and I was devastated. After my mother came home from visiting my dad that night, she gave me a new roll of Lifesavers. It overwhelmed me that she did this. She had such heavy burdens to carry of her own, but she remembered my distress over a few paltry pieces of candy.
I remember my insecurities my first night in my new apartment in college. I felt so incredibly lonely and was just wishing someone would ask me to join their activity. I sat alone in my room, not knowing what to do with myself. I learned that I can't sit back and wait forever for someone else to take the first step.  As soon as I plucked up the courage to introduce myself to someone new, I had a great time. 
I remember being bullied in middle school. It was so heartrendingly difficult to just get through each school day.  I dreaded interacting with anyone, so I walked to school instead of riding the bus. Even in winter. I think this is when I grew to love books so much. Books were never cruel to my heart. There were two classmates out of the entire school who stood up for me in the face of bullies. I'll never forget them or their names. They were my heroes. The value of courage was imprinted deeply on my mind from this. I also learned the meaning of true friendship.
The first time Nathan's mother met me, she swept me into a sincere hug where she held me tightly and whispered, "Welcome to our family! We are so happy to have a new daughter!" His little brothers and sister swarmed me with hugs and excitement. His littlest sister was seven at the time, and she had spent all her allowance money on little gifts for me. I felt so incredibly welcomed...they actually were eager to love me, little me!
I remember the way Daniel loved feathers. Instead of picking me blossoms like most children do, he would lovingly select the prettiest feathers from our yard. He'd bring a chubby little fistful of feathers and give them to me like it was the greatest treasure on Earth. I kept a tiny vase on my kitchen windowsill where I kept his feathers just like a bouquet. 
I remember the night I gained my own testimony of the gospel for the first time. I had been reading one of my mom's books about the Book of Mormon. I felt so strongly that I should pray and ask if it was true. The answer came so unexpectedly strong and I was overwhelmed with love. I recall crying in joy for a long time in my room that night. 
I wish I remembered more. 
I wish I  could remember the words Nathan said to me the first time we attended the temple together.
I wish I remembered my last conversation with my dad when he knew he was going to die.
I wish I could remember holding each of my babies for the first time.
I wish I remembered  every special moment of my children's lives.
I wish I remembered every bit of advice my mother gave me.
I can remember times when I had to stick up for what was right.
I can remember being offered my first cigarette and beer, and turning it down. 
I can remember my baptism day.
I remember learning the pain of sin, and the shame I felt when I admitted my wrongs. 
I also remember the clean feeling of repentance, and the pure joy found through Christ's Atonement. 
I remember laughing so hard with my brothers and sisters that tears streamed down our faces.
I remember a million positive things- Christmases, family trips, family games, service projects, feeling loved. 
I don't remember how clean (or not) our house was. I remember the interactions I had, not the decor.
I am so thankful for our memories. They make me who I am- the mistakes I made and subsequent lessons learned. Aren't we each essentially a collection of past choices and memories? 
I wish I knew what magical event occurs that turns a moment into a memory. There are so many important moments that I can't remember, even when I read the words I wrote about it in my journal. There are other memories of events that seem pretty trivial, but they are rendered in surprising detail in my mind, like when I cared for stray cats in college and bought them cat food even when I didn't have enough money for my own groceries.
 I wish I could know which interactions with me are being recorded in my children's minds. I doubt my mother knew I would always remember the day she brought cupcakes to my class. I try hard to 'create' special moments that will linger with my children as they grow- like having a tea party with their favorite stuffed animals with teeny loaves of bread made into doll-sized Nutella sandwiches. I don't know if they will remember that party or if it is already erased in their minds.
I realized today that I feel such a close bond with my siblings because of my memories that are shared with them. Memories are what build our relationships with each other. I think it's crucial to our identity. 
I'm hoping each time I create a unique moment, perhaps one of my children will record it mentally. Perhaps it adds just a little drop of glue to our family unity. That lasting value makes my efforts worth while. 
I'm so thankful for each day we are blessed with, and I am thankful for each fleeting moment with our families. I hope I can use my time wisely.

Our Anti-Black Friday tradition

(Editor's note- This was a post I wanted to write a couple weeks ago. How lame is that? Tough luck. I've been too busy with my family. Now you're thinking sarcastically: "Great! A post about old news!" That's okay, I'm not at all offended if you skip this one. In fact, I won't even know.)

How do you spend Black Friday?

I have a confession: I have never attended a Black Friday sale. Ever. My friends know that I am very anti-Black Friday.

Why? There are a few reasons.

1. They never have sales on the type of toys or things I would buy anyway. I don't care how cheap the sale is; if I don't need it, I'm not buying it. I also don't 'do' electronic toys that flash, beep, play music, whatever. If it requires batteries, it's not welcome in my house (with the notable exception of the Wii). Have you ever noticed there is NEVER a great sale on classic toys, like...say, wooden blocks? Legos? Magic sets? Chemistry sets? The loss leader toys are always either A- electronic in nature or B- stupid name brands that I refuse to support (Barbie, anyone? How about Elmo? Or even better, Bratz brand. Ug, I cringe.)

2. Even IF there is a sale that interests me (everyone could use new clothes, right? Especially at the rate my kids wear theirs out!) I still don't go. The entire spirit of the thing bothers me. I am a competitive person, but I try very hard to keep that competitiveness friendly and under control. Black Friday is competitive by its very nature, and I don't want to be around people acting competitive, frantic and greedy.....those feelings are all too contagious.  I don't want to feel greedy or care so much about 'stuff', so I avoid stores like the plague on Black Friday. I don't like any of that bad karma saturating the stores to touch me.

Usually we just stay at home on Black Friday, enjoying games and puzzles while enjoying Thanksgiving left-overs (I feel terrible referring to Nate's cooking as 'left-overs' because the very word inspires images of gross food past its prime.....his cooking is too good for that and needs a new name.... perhaps Thanksgiving abundances? Nah.) It's usually a quiet day to rest (and recover from hosting the large group we invite every year for the Thanksgiving feast.)

We found a new family tradition to celebrate Black Friday this year. We attended a Homesteading Fair and celebrated the 'Simple Life' of self-sustainability. I can't tell you enough how much FUN we had! I was actually was more fulfilling than I expected. It was so...what's the word?.....REFRESHING and INVIGORATING to be so removed from the rampant materialism in my world. It felt a lot like a state fair, except without sponsors/advertising/sales pitch guys.It felt like a good, old-fashioned idyllic state fair full of good food, handmade crafts, and a deeply agrarian base to everything.

This fair is hosted by a religious community who operates a self-sustaining village. They don't buy's all made at home. It's very similar to the Amish, but it is a different group. I was so impressed with the entire village.

There are residential master craftsmen who create the necessary supplies for EVERYTHING a family needs: farmers provide food, blacksmiths make all the tools needed for a home/garden, women spin wool and weave their own fabric for all the clothing, potters make all the kitchenware, leather shops even make all the shoes for the village, etc. Isn't this so fun?! I ADORE visiting Amish shops, so this was even more fun.

There were educational demonstrations all day. Our favorite demo was watching the sheepdogs herd the sheep through an obstacle course. Other highlights included casting aluminum in the blacksmith shop (Nate has been wanting to build a blacksmith shop in one of our barns, so this was a great class to attend), shearing sheep, milking goats, building brooms, making soap, distilling essential oils, and weaving fabric. Of course our kids adored all the livestock, poultry, and petting zoo. We spent a LOT of time playing with animals. (You'd think we didn't already have several dozen animals of our own.)

Our children made several souvenirs to remember the day. Daniel learned how to make a leather bookmark punched with his name.

Matthew made scented soap balls and used a printing press to make his name on a bookmark. Sarah stitched a purse and made soap. Their favorite activity was hammering brass spoons and punching their initials into the handles. At each of these activities, village members (I guess I should say church members) taught the children how to create the project themselves, so it was very hands-on.

We brought a picnic for our lunch. Can I just say this was the BEST picnic I've ever had? Thanksgiving leftovers (er..."abundances") worked so well as a picnic- the boys each had turkey legs (isn't that a staple in state fairs?), and we all feasted on rolls, turkey breast meat, fresh veggies, fruits, sweet potato ambrosia, and strawberry/rhubarb pie with whipped cream. Oh, it makes me salivate just to remember it.

Nathan and I were surprised to discover we kind of wished we could move to this village. I always thought the perfect place to live would be next to Amish neighbors, and this place was so similar in principle. I learned so much and felt so empowered to go home and get to work on our own property.  Luckily we have several friends from church and work who are gung-ho on self-sustainability the way I am, so there are lots of resources for us to learn from.

Just tonight we went to a Christmas party at one of these homes. The owners built their own house (even down to extruding their own electrical wiring- just to see if they could do it) and cleared some of the forest to plant a large vineyard. Now they make their own wine and beer (sweetened with honey from their own beehives). The vineyards are watered from rain water collected from their home and barn. They make their own cheeses (amazing kinds we've never tried before, like smoked gouda and Shropshire) and process their own deer that are shot on his property. Actually, the way they harvest deer is interesting. He sets up a night vision camera at his deer-feeder so he can monitor which animals are patronizing his property. He simply picks out what animals he wants to 'harvest' whenever he wants to stock up on more venison.

Doesn't this all sound so amazing? Who wouldn't want to be friends with people like this? I feel so blessed to be surrounded by interesting people.

Friday, December 2, 2011

The day my life changed forever

Yesterday I aged 5 years in one day. 

Daniel was missing.

He didn't come when I rang the bell for dinner, which is unusual. I realized I hadn't seen him for a long time, so I began searching the house to discover where he might be curled up with a book or asleep under a pile of blankets. A cursory glance of the house didn't yield any results, so we all began searching deeper and calling for him loudly. I checked under every bed, under every couch, in every closet, inside the dryer, even in baskets of clean laundry to see if he burrowed under the clothing. There was nothing...but it was likely he was playing outside in a far corner of the property. I checked all the barns, sheds, and chicken coop and turned up no sign of him. I had been looking for him for almost an hour. This is when I began to feel worried.

Nervously I called my neighbor on the phone. "Did Daniel by chance come over to your house to play without my permission?"

She replied, "He tried to earlier but I asked him to go home and get permission first."

He had never came to me to ask permission. The conversation between Daniel and my neighbor had happend much earlier in the afternoon. That was the last time anyone had seen him.

Our property is completely fenced in, so Daniel would have to walk along the road for a long distance before he could reach our gate and enter the yard. It would be so easy for a passer-by to pause and kidnap him. Usually I go outside and watch my children walk along the road until they reach the safety of our gate, but this time I didn't know he was out there. He was gone. Every parent thinks this will never happen to them, but suddenly it was happening to me. My mind was racing with all the terrible possibilties and I began to tremble as I dialed 911. Darkness was falling rapidly, making it hard to search outside.

I continued to search the house, the garage, the vehicles, everything I could think of where he might be while I talked with the dispatcher. They dispatched 6 deputies out to our home, but it would take a long time for them to arrive. They also said a helicopter with infrared cameras was on its way to help search in the dark. The dispatcher told me I shouldn't have waited so long to call 911....the longer Dan was missing the farther away a kidnapper could get, reducing the chances of finding him. My neighbors searched their property with flashlights in case Daniel had stayed to play in the groves of trees. When they found nothing, they volunteered to begin driving along the country roads looking for him in case he wandered off and became lost.

Inside my house was utter chaos. Children were alternating between praying for help and searching in more hiding places for Daniel. Diego was hungry and crying for food, but there was no way on earth I could handle sitting still and feeding him, so I asked Sarah to feed him pinches of bread. We knelt for a quick (but very heartfelt) prayer begging the Lord to protect Daniel and help us find him.

I called our bishop, asking him to contact local ward members to come help in the search-and-rescue efforts. A calling tree began to notify friends that we needed help, but our friends are all scattered across the countryside so they wouldn't begin arriving for another 15 minutes. I also called my mother-in-law with this quick message, "Please pray for our family! Daniel's missing and the police are looking for him, he may have been kidnapped- we don't know. Just pray for him, we need all the prayers we can!" Left with that unnerving message, she began to call all our extended family to ask for immediate prayers for Daniel. I also called Nathan on his cell phone and told him what was going on. He wouldn't arrive home for another 30 minutes.It was a living nightmare to be dealing with this situation alone...without my other half, my strength, my dear husband.

I couldn't leave my house and help search for him because officers were calling me on the phone, asking his description so it could be posted to police departments across the state. Weeping quietly I took his photo out of a frame so they could use it in identifying him. I felt actions were strangely mechanical. Daniel had been missing for several hours. My heart was full of silent prayer the entire time, begging the Lord to watch over my son.

While I updated an officer, my sister called to chat. It went something like this: "Hi Renae! Is this a good time to talk?" I spoke quickly, "Actually no. I have to go, Daniel's missing and the police are here." What a great conversation, right? She began calling more extended family to update them.

This was all happening so quickly, but it seemed to take an eternity. In this moment, I learned a powerful lesson. I realized that I would happily trade anything for my son's safety: my possessions had absolutely no value compared to him. I didn't care if I had to sell everything (even our home) and live in a tiny apartment for the rest of my life. Family matters more than anything. It's strange how crystal-clear this thought was in my mind.

Another strange occurrence was the 'movie' playing in in my mind. People speak of seeing their life flash before their eyes. Oddly I was seeing Daniel's life flashing through my mind. His fistfuls of feathers, his love of animals, his cherished rock collection, his passion for music, his gusto for life.

I was talking with an officer outside when Sarah and Matthew came running out of our home shouting, "Daniel's here! We found him! We found Daniel!" Words can't possibly describe the relief and joy that washed over me. Maybe 'washed' is too gentle of a word. It's more like I was hit by a tidal wave of relief.

We ran inside and found him inside the tiniest cupboard on one of our bookcases. I never would have thought he could possibly fit more than half of his body in there. He evidently had crammed his body in this cubby and closed the door on himself, then fallen asleep. I believe the wood muffled our calls when we were looking for him.

I learned several things in this experience. Most importantly, I was given a powerful eternal perspective. My life seemed crystal clear, with all threads of doubt or indecision wiped away. I knew that God would lift me up if this burden was too heavy for me to bear alone. Event though my heart was breaking when I thought Daniel was stolen, I knew I could rely on our Savior's atonement to heal my pain. I realized that Christ doesn't only heal the affliction resulting from sin, He has power to heal any anguish from any infliction.

I realized on a deeper level how important my children are to me. The 'stuff' we own is all icing on the cake of life, but it's all worth absolutely nothing eternally.

I also was taught a powerful lesson of peace from my sweet husband. After he arrived home, he held me close and spoke soothingly. He pointed out that even if Daniel had been kidnapped and died, our family was sealed for eternity in God's holy temple. We know we would have been with Daniel again. It's amazing how much this comforted my heart.

God lives. He hears our prayers and knows our hearts. Surprisingly, I'm thankful for this harrowing experience. The Lord has taught me so much. Most of what I learned cannot be framed in was a spiritual schooling.

Your family matters. Make sure you let them know.

Cherish every moment with your loved ones. You never know when your time with them will be gone.