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Monday, January 19, 2015

Snow days on Muir farm and skiing for the first time

Christmas Day was a blessed one. The children surprisingly slept in until after 7:00, so Nathan and I were not nearly as sleep-deprived as we expected to be.

We enjoyed giving gifts to each other and delighted in the thoughtfulness of each gift. Matthew LOVED his first K'nex set, and spent several happy hours building neat contraptions with Nathan. What a cozy way to spend Christmas Day!

He was so excited to show me each new creation.

Sarah and Daniel were both ecstatic with the books they received- these two little book worms were so eager to hide away with their new treasures. Several times I found Sarah hiding in the van, reading in the isolated quiet. Nathan created several homemade body scrubs for me and packaged them in pretty glass containers. The essential oils he picked to scent them with smelled delightful, and he was so excited to pamper me with foot scrubs and spa treatment. It smelled so heavenly!

Here is Sarah with the beensy needle book I made for her. This girl loves to sew and embroider cute creations, so this was such a fitting gift.

That afternoon, we packed the van and left for a grueling 24-hour drive to reach my parents' house in Idaho. We don't usually travel over mountain ranges in the winter, but my sister, Rachael, was coming home from her 18-month mission in Fort Worth, so the extended family was gathering for a reunion. It is such a rare treat to have all of us gathered together, especially when one considers that we are spread to the four corners of the county: Washington, Texas, North Carolina, and North Dakota are the places we call home. Family gatherings are such a big deal!

The winter weather treated us to scary road conditions several times as we crossed the Rockies. It sure was adventurous and my adrenaline was pretty high as we crept along icy roads dusted with powdery snow- the perfect recipe for sliding out of control. We like to cut our way in a mostly-direct path acoss the country, instead of staying on major interstates. In northern New Mexico, we cut through the Navajo reservation. The roads were pretty scary there- the whirling snow reduced visibility by quite a bit. Then we reached our turn-off onto a beensy dirt path that cut through the wilderness for several miles before rejoining a paved road. I remember questioning whether we'd regret taking this path, but the icy roads were so bad we thought it might be safer to be on the empty dirt road as the lone car sliding around, rather than being surrounded by the other cars sliding out of control on the main road. Of course there were no houses in sight and no cell phone reception during this stretch of the journey, making it a memorable experience with super-slippery road, no traction, and white knuckles on the steering wheel. The steep mountain passes were rather scary, but we were blessed with a safe drive and were so relieved to arrive on the Muir farm without any serious mishaps. (But we did unanimously agree we're never doing winter travel like this again!)

The little cousins loved playing together for days and became such good friends.

Pictured here are (left to right): Spencer, Cody, Matthew, and Gabe.

Pictured here (left to right) are Crystal, Grace, Sarah, and Abigail.
Sarah had spent months designing and hand-sewing little dress-up dolls made of felt, fabric, and lace for her little cousins. She sewed while we listened to General Conference in October, after school, and during the long drive up from Texas. She was so excited to give them this gift, and delighted in teaching them how to play with dress-up dolls.

It was such a joyous occassion to reunite with my cousins, aunts, uncles, and grandma at a cousin's wedding reception the first night we were in Idaho. It was so delightful to see each other again and share the stories of our goings-on. Family is such a treasure indeed, and we spent hours chatting with relatives while outside a blizzard buried our cars in the sub-zero Rexburg winters that I don't miss one bit.

Me with my Grandma Nelson
The snow DOES look very magical, and feels rather exotic to me after being away from a northern winter for so many years. The snow was crisp and sparkled in the street lights in such a gorgeous way.

Sarah is in heaven. This little Texas Penguin has been absolutely in ecstacy to play in so much snow. The first day we were here, she exclaimed to me, "Grandma Muir let me do the most fun thing ever! She let me take a big plastic shovel and remove the snow from the patio and the sidewalk! I even cleared a path to the barn! It's SO much fun! I love it!" How delightful! I'm sure Grandma was very happy to let Sarah do all the shoveling chores, and Sarah is content to believe it's all a grand game. She has been playing in the snow without mittens, hat, scarf, or boots. She'll happily play for hours in just thin leggings and a thin top while everyone else is bundled in several layers.

Yesterday I happened to see her outside the kitchen window, frolicing in the snow. She was laughing in pure joy, running and leaping through the snow drifts and kicking the powdery snow high into the air with her bare feet. I've never seen her quite so joyful. She was completely by herself, just reveling in the fresh snow. Her legs were coated with snow, and white powder topped her bare head as she ran circles over and over around the backyard. She reminded me very much of an energetic puppy or frisky filly the way she pranced around. What a magical moment it was!

Sarah is the older girl cousin, so the younger girls adore her and try to be like her. Crystal just idolizes Sarah and tries so hard to copy her. Sarah stays outside as much as possible to enjoy the frigid temperatures (Even taking her food outside during dinner to eat in the cold air!) so Crystal has been trying to do the same. It's so funny- Crystal is a bit more hesitant to remain so long in the cold but she really really wants to be like Sarah, so she good-naturedly forces herself to do it. Here Sarah was reading stories to the cousins on Grandma Muir's porch. This was the warmest day of our visit, pegging out in the high 20s. Many days stayed stubbornly below zero all day, which bothered Sarah not a bit.

Grandpa Austin attached a sled to the back of his four-wheeler, then took grandchildren for rides around their large pasture. The boys LOVED riding through thte snow! Matthew begged him to go faster than anyone else, and he flew through the powder on his sled. His face caught the snow that was flying in the air, filling his nose and mouth completely. Even though he couldn't breathe anymore, he loved every bit of it and was reluctant to stop and clear his face.

We were blessed with the unique opportunity to go skiing for free one day at Kelly Canyon Ski Resort, so I was able to cross off another item on my bucket list. Here we are, riding in the same Suburban of my childhood summer vacations, headed to the ski resort. (The sunglasses were stuck in my hair, which is why I'm holding them that slightly-awkward way.)

Pictured (left to right): Robert, Rachael, Nathan, and me
Becky took along her camera (I left my bulky camera at home!) so we have a couple of pictures of the day.

I had never skiied before and was always rather afraid of such an idea. I am terrified of going downhill at high speeds. (Indeed, my kids tease me constantly any time we do a family bike ride. We have a very gradual but very long slope on our neighborhood bike route, and I ride my bike brakes the entire way down, inching my way super-slowly down the road while everyone else flies by to the bottom in a quick dash.)

It felt so surprisingly foreign to have the unwieldy skis strapped to my feet. I was rather dismayed how difficult they were to manuever. Becky and Robert were such patient teachers, helping me learn the basic techniques on the beginner's bunny hill. I felt so uncoordinated and awkward, but was able to graduate to the Skiier's Lane (although in hindsight I think they convinced me to try the Skiier's Lane long before I was really capable of handling it- I still struggled with very basic movement). Oh heavens, I have always been terrified at the thought of riding a ski lift- it's my two worst irrational fears combined- heights and the possibility of falling.

Skiing on a mountain was a whole different ball game, and I couldn't control myself at all! I was so afraid the entire ride down the mountain! I did more falling than anything as we worked our way down the slope and I'm sure it took me about an hour to eventually read the bottom. If I didn't have Becky and Robert there coaching me and helping me get up each time I was trapped on the ground, I definitely would have taken off my boots and hiked down while carrying my skiis. I was so scared (remember my crazy fear of downhill speed?) I was so tempted to cry several times. But the tears would have just frozen on my cheeks and wouldn't have changed anything, so there was no point in crying. It was the hardest thing to force myself to keep trying and not give up, since I was so scared each time I lost control and couldn't slow down. Nathan was so patient and encouraging, staying by my side the entire day, no matter how slowly I went anywhere.

After successfully reaching the bottom of the mountain, I was content to stick to the bunny hill. It was so much easier to maneuver in comparison to the steep slopes of the mountain, and I had such a fun time! My confidence and ability really grew. I didn't mind at all that I was having such thrills from the beginner slope, and spent the rest of our time there. Nathan was such fun company and stuck with me through all my 'cheap thrills'. Any time I encouraged him to leave and play on the more exciting slopes, he'd laugh and remind me that he only came along to spend time with me and he didn't care where we went as long as we were together.

Overall, it was a positive experience- I learned new things and was able to spend the day with my sweetheart doing something I saw as adventurous and difficult.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Christmas Eve

It was midnight on Christmas Eve, and I had been awake for hours cleaning the kitchen alone, scrubbing dishes, sewing the last of the Christmas gifts, and placing presents under the tree. One would think I'd be exhausted and angry, working alone in the kitchen. But I wasn't. I was filled with joy and gratitude.

Earlier that week, I had been struck with a terrible illness that ravaged my strength. I was essentially a prisoner in my own bed, since the high fevers sapped my energy and left me exhausted. It hurt to move any muscles, and my body ached nonstop. After two days trapped in bed, I was ecstatic to be feeling well enough to do something, anything. I felt it was a precious gift to be healthy enough to work again, and returned to life's daily demands with eagerness. Nathan had been taking care of the children,meals, cleanup, family routines, etc by himself for days, and I was so grateful for his attentive care while I was ill.

We seized the day and made a family field trip we had intended to do for some time. In Austin the eclectic culture is fascinating and fun. It's an Austin tradition to decorate random trees along the roadsides, so it's not unusual to see bright and happy colors at any given point in the county. But the festive spirit gets particularly thick along the 360 Highway that cuts through Austin. Instead of one or two decorated trees, it appears that every tree is dressed for the holidays for miles and miles. It's a forest of Christmas trees.

It was so delightful to drive along this road and enjoy the decorations! The trees are decorated not just along the road, even trees mounting the hillsides are blessed with careful attention. It's so fun to walk through the area and admire each tree up close.

It was common to discover stray ornaments that had fallen off trees during storms, and the children enjoyed hunting for and re-hanging these runaway bits. 


Oh man, am I lucky to be married to this man! I adore him!

This smiley-face tree was one of the boys' favorites. So fun. 

Even the teensiest bits of tree weren't overlooked. There were a few tiny trees only 6 inches tall, and they were each graced with festive decor as well. 

Some trees had a message or theme. Different clubs would decorate a tree to fit with the artists' hobby. We found a tree prominantly displaying a "Will you marry me?" sign. Such fun. We let the little boys take pictures with their favorite trees. 

After we returned home, we played family games and enjoyed a 'dinner' of finger foods such as Tex-Mex queso with chips, lil' smokies in BBQ sauce, festive cheeses and fruits. Our "Christmas Feast" had been enjoyed earlier in the week on Sunday:

Nathan was feeling quite ill, and went to bed quite early at 5:00, so we did our Christmas Eve traditions slightly differently this year. We read the Christmas Story from Luke together and tucked everyone in bed. While the boys cuddled in their triple bunk bed, I read them a tall stack of our favorite Christmas stories. I love the sentimental Christmas stories recounting true experiences of past years. I never can read "A Christmas Dress for Ellen" without tearing up. We also love "The Carpenter's Gift" and "The Christmas Oranges". Love, love, love these stories of humanity reaching out and lifting each other up. 

I kissed them all goodnight, then finished the preparations for the night. Nathan had a raging fever causing him fitful sleep, so I quietly flitted about the house finishing everything (and feeling SO thankful that I was  healthy again and could do this!). I had fallen far behind on my 'to-do' list when I was sick, so I whipped out the sewing machine and spent a couple of hours finishing the homemade gifts we had planned (bow ties for the boys, a needle book for Sarah, reading pillows for everyone, and car organizers for everyone {since we were leaving on a cross-country road trip the next day, and because we spend over 7 hours each week in our car commuting for school and church}). 

I enjoyed working in the dark, quiet house with just Christmas lights and sacred Christmas music for company. It was such fun laying out each person's gifts and stockings. The anticipation was thrilling, waiting to see the eager faces morning would bring. I felt deep gratitude for our Lord and the generous blessings He has poured on our family this year. I pondered the gift of our Savior's birth, teachings, and sacrifice and felt renewed hope and joy. It was a deliciously peaceful night, and when I looked out our parlor windows into the night sky, the stars were brilliant and breathtaking. (I can't say enough how much I LOVE the night sky here in the middle of nowhere.)  This quote came to my mind, by one of my favorite Apostles, Elder Neal A Maxwell:

The same God that placed that star in a precise orbit millennia before it appeared over Bethlehem in celebration of the birth of the Babe has given at least equal attention to placement of each of us in precise human orbits so that we may, if we will, illuminate the landscape of our individual lives, so that our light may not only lead others but warm them as well.