"Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to let you in."

-- Robert Frost

Friday, January 23, 2015

into the new year

“O ye that embark in the service of God
see that ye serve him with 
all your heart, might, mind and strength, 
that ye may stand blameless before God at the last day” 
(D&C 4:2).

It is my absolute privilege to serve in the youth program of our church. I love getting to spend time with beautiful young women while listening and learning about all they face, fear, and overcome so gracefully. They give me strength.

In the first week of this month, our Stake held a fireside to kick-off our church-wide theme for the youth this year.

I know that word "embark" is pretty mighty. It means to be engaged and committed and it's a biggie.

I like "stand" too, because it's an action word.

But the word that stood out to me the most was ALL. Not just some or when I feel like it. Followed by those facets of commitment ... the heart, might, mind and strength,  I jotted down a few thoughts.
  • With all my HEART:  "Taking something to heart" means to make an internal change and let it become second nature.
  • With all my MIGHT: Talents and spiritual gifts are the making of a person and using them wisely takes will power.
  • With all my MIND:  Strive for continual learning and use that knowledge for good. God cannot inspire an empty mind.
  • With all my STRENGTH: A physical best is required, only then can strength be counted upon.

I left that meeting with lofty thoughts of all that I was going to change and commit to for myself and my family in the year ahead. My list was long and brimming with ways to make internal changes, use will power, develop talents, increase knowledge, eat healthier, exercise and get more sleep. 

The following Sunday, I had an insightful discussion with a group of young women about what the world expects of women today.

The general consensus in the room was that there is an expectation to be ALL things and that unrealistic view could lead to feelings of inadequacy and depression.

No wonder week #1 had left me just a little frustrated and overwhelmed with failure! Much as I'd like, I can't do it all.

Not the answer I was expecting, I had to ask what they thought could be done since, after all, there is a directive to be perfect even as the Savior is perfect.

Together we determined that maybe giving our all to just one character flaw to perfect would lead to the indirect improvement of other changes we'd like to see within ourselves.  Then if we allowed the purifying power of our Savior's atonement to work as we continually and inevitably recommit and start again each time we fall short, we'll move forward more than we think we are.

It was a lot to chew on before our own family home evening on setting goals for the new year, in which I set only one very well thought out commitment for myself. (Then posted it over the treadmill in my unfinished basement where I could hammer it into my head with each hammering footstep in prep for the day ahead.)

It's hard to be heard in this super boisterous family. I admit to feeling like a raised voice is sometimes the answer. Truthfully, it's not. In all ways, a soft answer really does turn away wrath. It also teaches my patience to stretch. My soul feels more at peace. Being at peace gives me grace even in tough situations. My grandmother used to say that she who could hold her tongue would have less to apologize for later. That's true. Who doesn't want to walk away with nothing to apologize for? And self control lends to mental control and an all around environment filled with more love, more optimism, more compassion.

So I set for myself one goal for 2015 in the hopes of ALL that could follow if I use ALL of my heart, might, mind and strength.

In other completely non-related new year's news, I missed having kids around for New Year's Eve. This crew took off and younger kids crashed so early, it was quiet. Too quiet.

I could sit all day and listen to them banter and laugh about what is going on in their outside world.

We just love the missionaries who come and go in our area. We'd adopt all of them. New Year's Day we were lucky enough to adopt these two and hold them captive for a start to finish game of Monopoly ... Christian's dream.

Little girls not into Monopoly, held me captive with round after round of Shoots and Ladders.

During the break, we made a Natural History Museum trip. It's one of our favorite places.

We watched plenty of skits by "Anna and Elsa". Guess which one always gets to be Anna?

Following a really long wait at the DMV, this happened. That estimated wait time was. not. lying.

We were served tons of Easy-bake oven cooking.

And then one morning this gal and I sent reluctant kids back to school.

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Sunday, January 18, 2015

Christmas 2014 -- forever ago

We've been busily de-junking and organizing our home for a new year fresh start. It's liberating but leaves little time for anything else ... like finishing documenting a December I didn't want to forget.

Newel had a fantastic idea for us to do a service stay-cation over Christmas. We tried to work in a service a day from our very own "backyard" for the twelve days leading up to the big day.

It was a wonderful way to open the eyes of our children to seeing all that can be done right within our own community.

We had to pepper in some simpler opportunities with some bigger experiences to make way for all the festivities that come with the holiday (not to mention the constant coming and going of teens).

We made cookies for families we know.

This helper was over eager.

And we kept all the cookies she touched for ourselves.

We spent an evening purchasing full Christmas dinners to leave on porches for those we knew in need.

And of course had to pause to check out eggnog I never buy.

There were plenty of excited helpers for that little activity.

We also spent evenings gathering donations to a local shelter, creating care kits for missionaries we know, writing letters to OUR KIDS in foreign lands, and caroling to some of our neighbors who don't have many visitors.

My heart was swollen to bursting over how many organizations turned our efforts away simply because they had so much help already.

It gave me such hope. We hear a lot of bad in the world today but let me tell you, there really is a lot of good going on out there.

One highlight was getting to assist with the Special Olympics Christmas party where we made some new friends who we adore.

Our SECRET ELF EXCHANGE was a real hit. Everyone waited daily for opportunities to do a little something to bring a smile to a face.

Then the secret service gift exchange presents started showing up under the tree.

Let's get a closer look at that adorable writing on the box to a much loved sister:

The secret service reveal was fun. I had Celia and spent my nights sewing her a warm quilt so she'd have a piece of home to wrap up in if ever things seem lonely off at college.

I just love how excited they all are to give their carefully thought out gifts on behalf of the one they'd spent the month serving in secret.

I love that I still have kids willing to produce a nativity even though they are too big for the costumes.

We made our traditional visit to the local retirement home to visit the residents there before the opening of Christmas morning presents.

I have no pictures of that because we were so busy in conversation, but it simply makes our Christmas morning feel amazing. It was the perfect ending to our "service stay-cation".

Here's the aftermath of the gift unwrapping on our return home.

With the help of THIS BOOK given by a friend last year, we used the days leading up to have a nightly devotional that studied the characteristics of each participant from the nativity. We delved just a little deeper into their traits and how we can use them in our daily lives to come closer to the Savior.

With each character study, we added that member to our manger.

It was perhaps, my favorite addition to the entire season.

There's no gift like being wrapped all up in the true meaning of the season with those I love. It made things warmer, closer, and with just a little more sparkle.

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Saturday, January 3, 2015

remember december (part 2)

Between work parties, church parties, school parties, youth activities, final exams ...

Newel and I stole away to soak in the ambience of downtown Denver, which at Christmastime is stunning.

We stayed at the Crawford Hotel over the Union Station which has been remodeled and feels like walking back in the 1920's.

Not to mention, the lighting in the grand hall terminal was magnificent.

Being non-drinkers, we had a good laugh at the "booze milkshakes". A little something for the entire family. If you bring the kids to the ice cream parlor, you should probably designate a driver to get home ... or maybe take the light rail ;)

We spent houuuuurrrrs, in the silence of a bookshop :)

And each bought a cache of books, resolving to read more in the upcoming new year.

Eliza's little country ballet school had a Nutcracker performance of the most home-grown variety. Truly Americana.

It was the perfect amount of fun on the stage.

Her class performed in an assembly for the little country school. Those school kids just ate it up and being a former dancer myself, I loved the idea of a "Nutcracker Outreach" to inspire the arts.

Our plans to attend a gingerbread house making party with friends were thwarted by a really terrible snow storm.

So we held our own with just us.

Though we missed the annual gathering and friendships, our house building was every bit as inspiring and merry.

Because how can so much colorful candy NOT inspire merriment.

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