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Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Texas State DI tournament and a birthday

 The state Destination ImagiNation tournament was held in Dallas this year. We were so excited to compete and enjoy the fun. We did not have much time to work on polishing their performance after the regional competition because of other commitments, so we had decided we would just go to state with whatever we had prepared from the last round of competition instead of rebuilding things. We were determined to have a great time enjoying the pin trading, parties, and fun without worrying about the scores too much.

We drove to Dallas on a Friday afternoon (the kids skipped school that day) and checked in to our hotel. We picked a hotel with a pool, so the kids really enjoyed taking advantage of that feature Friday afternoon. Friday night was the massive pin trading party, where thousands of kids filled a stadium and bartered collectible pins with each other. It was SUCH fun. Several parents join in the trading fun, and I really enjoyed joining in the fun as well. Sarah's favorite pin this year was a pair of cute blue cowboy boots. 

After staying up late trading pins for hours, we went back the the hotel, where people were so wired up and anxious about tomorrow that sleep was an elusive goal for a long time. 

The competition itself was rather chaotic in the halls and courtyards of the venue. It was a crush of  thousands of people all competing and moving through halls with huge backdrops and props. 

When we went into the instant challenge, my heart instantly fell when I saw two vertical wooden posts on the table. I knew it was a bridge-building challenge....and this is the type of challenge that is our weakest spot. Performance-based challenges were a piece of cake for our team, engineering-based challenges were only so-so.....and I had only practiced ONE bridge-building challenge with them this year. I hadn't really spent time on the architecture concepts to teach them what elements make a strong bridge that can hold weight or span a significant distance. They glanced at me nervously and I felt like we were pretty much already out of the running for placing high on scores. 

They were given two pieces of paper and two mailing labels and they had to build a bridge that arched as high as possible away from the table (the height was a scored element), and spanned the long distance between the two wooden poles. The bridge had to be free-standing, so it couldn't be attached to the poles in any way. It also couldn't touch the table. They were also scored on the creativity of their design and their teamwork. Bridges that fell scored a zero. 

To my surprise, the team pulled together in a remarkable way. They had fantastic teamwork and they successfully completed the challenge. Sarah had a unique idea on how to anchor the bridge without breaking the rules, so their bridge was stable. It was a really creative approach and one judge accidentally gave a verbal slip and mentioned that they hadn't seen any other team use an idea like that. We felt good about our Instant Challenge performance, and felt confident we'd end up overall in the middle of the pack regarding final scores. 

We had a wonderful surprise this day when Nana Kingsley and Grandpa Kingsley arrived to see the team performance. They had driven several hours from Shreveport Louisiana just to watch this 8 minute performance. We were delighted to have them there, and they seems to enjoy the presentation. What a treat it has been living so close to some grandparents. We feel spoiled!

Look what a surprise we discovered in my hotel room after the competition! For the past three years, my birthday has always fallen on the State DI competition, so I've always been away from home.

Sarah and Nana had conspired to sneak away my room key, then Nana and Grandpa had stopped at the hotel to decorate and leave these treats and surprises.  This was such an unexpected gift. we had everything we could possibly need for a birthday party in our room- hats, noisemakers, birthday cake with candles, balloons filled the floor and my bed, and we had plenty of fun treats to enjoy together. 

After hastily putting away a few lunch leftovers in our fridge, we dashed away to get a quick dinner and head to the awards ceremony. We took along the party hats for a fun team  solidarity prop, and a backpack filled with birthday treats. 

Here is our entire group- Eliza with her parents, then our family. Goodness, we spent so much time together this year!  Eliza was more like a family member than a friend.

The doors always open an hour before the ceremony starts, and the stadium is filled with music and dancing while we wait. We were SO excited to continue our team tradition of handing out Mardi Gras beads. 

We had exhausted our supply of beads at the regional competition a month earlier, so Nana Kingsley spent a few days collecting old beads from her friends and neighbors in Louisiana- where there is no short supply for beads.  Nana brought several bags filled with hundreds of beads. 

We'd load our arms with necklaces, then run around the stadium tossing them into the crowds. 

Oh my goodness! It was such fun! We would twirl a bead a string of beads above our head and smile at the crowd. Then the crowd would all rise to their feet and wave their hands in the air and scream to get our attention so they could receive beads. It was like being a celebrity the way we were so enthusiastically received by the crowds.

 The atmosphere at the award ceremony is very much like a party. It's noisy and festive and full of adrenaline. The noise makers we discovered in my hotel room were a perfect addition to the environment.

After spending one hour passing out hundreds of beads and enjoying ourselves thoroughly, it was time for the awards to be given out. I was packing and preparing to move cross country in the month leading up to the competition, so we didn't have time to really practice or polish their performance. We had just planned on enjoying the fun and festivities of the state competition and ending there for the year. 

When they announced that we placed high enough to advance to Global Finals we couldn't believe it. Ironically we wanted to go to globals so badly in years past and this was the first year that it wasn't something I wanted to do. We had so many huge obligations coming up as we prepared our house for sale and finished Nathan's job hunt and packed for a move. But when they announced us we all flew out of our seats, screaming and ecstatic. 

We were so shocked and pleased that finally we were going to advance to the Global Finals. Advancing to Global Finals from Texas is extremely difficult in Destination ImagiNation because this state is the most competitive place in the world for this program. The bar is set so ridiculously high in Texas competitions. Last year my elementary team designed their own circuit board, built it themselves, and wrote their own software to control it. We still missed advancing to Global Finals, just barely. 

The bar is is set so high at each competition here that the types of creations/performances that win in the regional competition from Texas are on par with a type the things that would be sent to global finals other states or countries. I couldn't believe our little team which was only half the size  (most teams have 7 members) beat the other teams that had more funding and more resources than we did.

We were on cloud nine all night and couldn't stop squealing and jumping and hugging each other as we went for the winning portraits backstage. There was a photographer there to take official portraits but I snapped my own portrait in the hall on our way back to the stadium. Sarah's face says it all. I'm not sure what Matthew was thinking, maybe he was disappointed that there is still more Destination ImagiNation work to be done for the year?

It's kind of funny that we were in the middle of moving this year because our other teammate Eliza was also moving the same weekend we were. I looked at Erin, Eliza's mother, and we weren't sure how we were going to make things happen and how we were going to raise enough money for this trip. I did know that I was not going to let this opportunity slip through our fingers without trying my very best to get us there. As far as I knew this would be a once in a lifetime event.

And so we began the long process of fundraising for a Global Finals trip to Tennessee. The registration fee was $1000 per student and that didn't count any of our travel costs. Sarah and Matthew worked very hard for weeks doing lawn care in our neighborhood and babysitting to raise money.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Easter Fun with Kingsley Grandparents

After the Savior of the World performance, we had the pleasure of having Nana and Grandpa Kingsley stay for another day during Easter weekend. What a delightful treat! 

Here are some glimpses of our Spring Egg hunt on our property, and the Spring Baskets the kids discovered. 

I like to fill the 'baskets' (I say that in quotes since we had downsized aggressively for our upcoming move, and the Easter baskets had been given away) with lots of cascarone eggs instead of all candy-filled eggs. We learned about cascarone eggs after moving to Texas- I wonder if it's only a Southern thing (or only a Mexican-border-state thing). Cascarone eggs are hollow, dyed eggs filled with colorful confetti. The tradition is to smash them over someone's head. It is such fun. 

Armed with nearly a dozen cascarone eggs each, we had a colorful egg fight outside amidst giggles, people were laughing and running all over ambushing each other. 

Joseph was so short he couldn't get his eggs onto anyone's head, so Nathan happily obliged Joseph's request to 'bring his head over here'. 

(Nathan was still sporting his biblical beard from the performance the night before....)

We let our goats out of the pasture to join the fun, and Dad seemed to really enjoy hand-feeding them. I loved this- watching one of the top Air Force officials in the nation playing with goats. 

It was fun to connect with nature and animals and enjoy the beautiful weather. It was so bittersweet since we knew we'd be moving in a few months, and we knew the goats couldn't come with us. 

No visit from Nana is complete without her reading some of her special books- she always brings her collection of pop-up books. This tradition is so memorable to the children, and they always look forward to it. It's been a tradition for so many years, now we think of Nana when we see or read pop-up books in the bookstore. What a neat memory to have together!

(Note- see Dad in the background carrying out suitcases? They were about to hit the road to head home, and Nana realized they hadn't read together yet. She said they just couldn't leave until she shared her books with the kids. So Dad packed the car while the kids cuddled up with Nana. I love it!)

After grandparents left, we spent the afternoon at our neighborhood Easter Egg hunt. 

Joseph was positive this was the real Easter Bunny, and he was pleased as punch to walk all over the park holding hands and chatting. 

Our neighborhood is home to a petting zoo business, so the kids were delighted to play with a variety of animals. This was definitely the highlight of the event. 

It was such a memorable weekend full of family and fun. I tried to just soak up all the positive images and tuck these precious moments away in my heart.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Spring glimpses

Oh too many things have been falling under my radar this year! Some things from our spring that I don't want to forget:

The boys had their first orchestra concert at school. They were so excited, and it's been fun hearing them learn new things this year. It was a worthwhile experiment, but I think they're ready to explore something slightly different this year. 

Before the concert we caught a group shot of Matthew's perfectly-normal friends. 

One of my dear friends, Elizabeth Loderup, was dealing with brain cancer. Her husband planned a surprise party before she left for radiation treatments in Arizona. What a tender, loving night it was! Her house was filled to overflowing with good friends from church, work, and the neighborhood. My heart was filled as I watched two friends sing traditional Irish farewell songs to her. (One of the singers was Sarah's history teacher from school- she positively worshiped Mr. Lyon!) It was so wonderful to see Elizabeth surrounded with love so thoroughly- she is the type of woman who is a friend to everyone and just radiates happiness every day. 

Joseph has loved attending preschool at the local Baptist church this year. His teacher, Ms. Yodi, was such a treasure! She was a perfect Abuelita- so loving and so passionate about her job. He adored her. She was always so patient and encouraging with the children. We'll definitely miss her! 

Here are some rare glimpses of my art studio this spring. My Mixed Media class was such a delight to teach! I'll really miss these sweet girls!

I have several projects stewing in my mind, just waiting for some down time when I can create again. This year has been far too busy to allow me creative time for my own projects, but I look forward to setting up my studio again in Utah and jumping into art with a passion. 

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Savior of the World Performance

Earlier this year Nathan and I had the opportunity to volunteer with our stake performance of "Savior of the World" during Easter. It was a performance filled with music, retelling the Easter story from the Bible. 

Nathan and I are good friends with the director, and she called Nathan one day, asking him to be one of the characters. He had never performed in a play before, and thought she was asking him to be a very minor character with only two lines. (The character names on the script were slightly confusing. We mixed up Caiphus and Cleopas.) After several weeks had passed, I pointed out to him that his character was actually a person onstage for a third of the play. Oh what anxiety there was then! He was so doubtful of his abilities. 

Nathan spent 3 months attending rehearsals twice a week and practiced music at home as well. We had 'date nights' working on his lines together. I gave suggestions on his voice inflections and acting styles, and reassured him that he'd do a fine job. (And secretly wished I had thought of auditioning for a female part- ooooo how I wished I could be onstage as well!) H also grew out his beard for 5 months so his character would look authentic. No fake hair was happening here!

The week of the performance I contacted Sheryl Wardell, the director, and asked if she needed any last minute help. She did not have a make-up artist lined up, and asked me to head that up. Oh my- the cast was nearly 50 people. Even if I could be super-efficient and finish a face in only 5 minutes, that was still going to be over 4 hours of work each  night before the performance. And I knew each face would take longer than 5 minutes. (Seriously- have you ever applied eye liner on men? It takes a while, with all the twitching and blinking they do.)

I was able to recruit a helper or two from my art students- two sweet teenage girls who enjoyed applying make up. I made charts showing how to contour male or female faces, and we got to work. I was delighted with their willingness to help- especially since they were Catholic and would be helping with an LDS performance. (Side note: I love the friendly way Texan churches help each other. Right before we moved, the LDS youth in our stake helped cater a fundraiser meal hosted in a Catholic church to benefit a Baptist charity group. I love it! Surely the Lord smiles on us when we can work together and find common ground like that!)

We were able to get everyone prepped for stage in about 2.5 hours. It was rather tricky working with donated supplies- they weren't the high quality stuff you'd normally use on stage. We were basically working with cheap eye shadows and foundations. I think it still worked tolerably well. 

I was also asked to take cast and orchestra pictures before the show, so I made a quick dash to the stage for some hurried pictures.  I think these turned out pretty well. 

The performance was absolutely amazing. Sheryl had received permission to rewrite the play, adding several scenes to enrich the story line. The music director also wrote several new scores, adding transitional music to every scene and adding such depth with the background music. These talented women spent months re-working and improving this performance. The dedication of these women was inspiring. 

The show was powerful. The spirit was felt strongly and I was touched every single time I watched it. These performers really put their soul and testimony into their performance. They effectively shared their love of Jesus Christ through their talents. 

Every night the audience was packed. This performance was a free gift to the community, and had been advertised through several venues. We were blessed with attendees from several different churches and walks of life, and we hoped this show would share our testimony of Christ's divinity. 

We were floored when Nathan's parents decided to drive 5 hours from Louisiana to come see the performance. We felt so incredibly spoiled to have them there, and Nathan's Dad recorded the show. (Now if only I can get access to those recordings......)

I am amazed at their dedication in supporting our activities. We felt so loved! They are mind-mindbogglingly busy people, and very rarely have any bits of spare time. 

(Even so, a couple weeks later they drove 3 hours to Dallas just to watch my kids compete at the state DI tournament. That's a total of 6 hours of driving to watch an 8-minute performance! They seriously need an award! We adore them.)

Here are a few glimpses backstage of cast members...

And some glimpses onstage during the performance...

It was such a pleasure to work with this production! It was wonderful to see Nathan's confidence grow as well- we heard several people exclaim in surprise when they discovered it was his first time onstage. He did a fantastic job of bringing his character to life, and his musical numbers were just beautiful. I could listen to him sing all day.

Once again, I was surprised at the powerful way music can touch my heart. I felt the Spirit testify again that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. I felt renewed awe and reverence for His resurrection, renewed hope in His invitation to be like Him, and renewed dedication to follow His teachings.