Saturday, November 29, 2014

A Little Christmas Miracle

After having Spencer at home for a whole wonderful week, the kids and I drove him back to Harrisonburg this afternoon.   Before dropping him off at his apartment, we stopped by the Harrisonburg Walmart that is right by campus, so we could get his cupboards and fridge restocked.   It had been a long drive there and by the time we got to Walmart, I was more than a little antsy to get back on the road, so we could be home by dark.

We filled the cart with all sorts of overpriced convenience foods that I only rarely buy for our family, but are ideal for a busy college student who doesn't have time to cook.   Half an hour later we wheeled our way to the long lines at the front of the store.   We  eventually found a checkout stand where it appeared that an order was just finishing up and we started unloading our cart onto the belt.   It didn't take long to realize though, that there was some sort of dispute going on with the cashier and the customer.  It was a young hispanic couple with a brand new baby.  The tiny infant didn't look like he was more than a few weeks old.  The young parents, speaking in barely understandable English, were trying to explain to the cashier that they thought that the cost of the baby swing they were purchasing was $40 cheaper than what it was ringing up for.   I, in my haste to get home, quickly removed my items from the belt and moved to the next register over.

A few minutes later,  as we were finishing checking out,  I got to witness a little Christmas miracle…right there in the checkout stands of a small-town Walmart.    By this time, the cashier had gotten louder and more argumentative with the young couple and was quite rudely telling them that there was no way that Walmart would ever mismark a price that drastically.  Then when a manager came back and confirmed that the price was indeed $149 (and not the $109 that they thought), the cashier only a little too gleefully started in on an "I-told-you-so" retort to the family.   The couple looked stricken and told the cashier, "Never mind," on buying the swing and started to walk dejectedly away.

That's when a ponytailed woman in sweats, three kids in tow, swooped in and paid for the swing with her own money.  She did it quickly, gave the young mom a quick hug, wished them "Merry Christmas," and walked out just like that.

It was a beautiful scene that I will remember always.


Friday, November 28, 2014

Bosom of My Family

"...the happiest moments of my life have been the few which I 
                  have {spent} at home in the bosom of my family."

Thomas Jefferson  penned these words in a letter to a friend over two hundred years ago, but they still ring true to me today.   With Spence at college and the kids growing older,  it seems like the days of our family all being together are fleeting and  much fewer and further between than I would prefer.  That's why I cling to days like today, when our entire family is together.  I feel an overarching sense of warmth and peace when we are all together under the same roof again.  

Our Thanksgiving this year was quiet…in a good way.  We spent the morning listening to Christmas music on Pandora, while we all cooked and cleaned and prepared for our Thanksgiving feast.  Every person made their own contribution to the meal and it seriously warmed my heart  this afternoon to look up and see almost my entire family working together in the kitchen.  

Glen made and carved our bacon-wrapped turkey and then made delicious gravy out of the drippings! It was our favorite turkey recipe yet and I have a feeling that this will be making a repeat on our Thanksgiving menus in the future! 

Emma made the fresh cranberry sauce that ended up the perfect balance of tart and sweet.

Cami made the stuffing from scratch, including using homemade bread. Then her and Adam also worked together and made the lemon meringue pie.   Cami may be a cupcake baker extraordinaire, but it was cute to see how darn proud she was of that pie! 

Emma made the mashed potatoes, chocolate pie, and cranberry sauce.   AnnaLisa brought the sweet potato rolls, peanut butter pie, and roasted brussel sprouts.   Cami made the stuffing and lemon meringue pie. Adam helped peel the potatoes and was general kitchen assistant.  Glen made the turkey and gravy.   Ellie made the pumpkin pie.  And I made the apple pie (and cleaned….a lot).    Spence was the only one who didn't do any cooking, but lucky for us he brought his charm and appetite to the table.   

I felt kind of dumb when I glanced at Glen's Facebook page this afternoon and saw all the fancy place settings, complete with nametags and napkin rings, that most people do for Thanksgiving, but what can I say?   We are about as UNfancy people as you get and the fact that we actually used {mostly} matching table settings instead of paper plates was a huge step up from normal for us.
…and I should probably stop peeking at Glen's FB!  

We celebrated an early Thanksgiving (blogpost is coming) this past weekend with my local siblings and their families, so AnnaLisa and her roommate, Sandi, were our only two guests this year.   They were delightful company and with all the delicious made-with-love food, it really was the kind of day that memories are made of.  My heart is overflowing and I wish you the same sense of contentment and peace that we felt today.  

Happy Thanksgiving!     

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

He's Got Platelets!

At every single appointment since Spencer's treatment for acute myeloid leukemia ended in June 2012, he has been found to be low on platelets.  The doctor never seemed overly worried about the low levels,  but we sometimes wondered if it was a sign of there being some underlying problem or something.   

Today we officially got to stop worrying about it!  This afternoon he went in for his oncology appointment (two months overdue) and he had the best blood levels we've ever seen!   Of course we never knew what his blood levels were pre-leukemia, but I imagine they probably looked a lot like today's results…totally normal in every way!   :)   


WBC:  7.49, RBC:  4.56,  HGB:  15.3, PLT:  204


Here are some pictures from the day:  

As per usual, Spence was quiet and a bit worried before his appointment.    
Me?   I just look tired and old, with freakishly white teeth.   

I love that they still give him fun bandages after drawing his blood! 

And here he is with a thumb's up for another awesome appointment!  

 A perfect way to start off the week of Thanksgiving!  

Monday, November 24, 2014

First Lego League

The FIRST LEGO League (also known by the acronym FLL) is an international lego robotics competition organized for elementary and middle school students (ages 9–14). I heard about FLL through one of my homeschooling email groups and after researching a little about it, decided that I would love for my kids to be able to participate on a team. I looked into joining a specific team, but the dynamics of when and where that particular team met were not right for our family. Then I thought of starting my own team, but got overwhelmed with all the details it entailed. Finally, I found out that my friend Rachel was starting a team and still had room for my kids to join. Yay!

We thought that being on an FLL team was going to be all about Legos, engineering, and programming, but once we got into it we realized that those aspects were only a small portion of the experience. It's also about team-building, problem solving, community outreach, creative thinking, and a whole lot of practice. We met for 3-6 hours a week and at the end of the season we barely felt like we were scratching the surface of what we needed to know. The other two families' kids had all had previous experience with Lego robotics, so we felt like we started the season several steps behind everyone else.

The other team members were patient with our inexperience and Rachel was an extraordinary coach who taught us and helped everyone to have a good experience. This past Saturday, the season came to an end with an all-day tournament and we finally got to see our season of work pay off.

During the tournament they had a few different match-ups against other teams for the robot to complete the assigned tasks. Each round was only 2-1/2 minutes long and each team's score was based on how many tasks were accurately completed by the robot in that period of time. Our team's philosophy was short programs that did just a task or two at a time. It wasn't as time efficient, but it increased the likelihood of the robot not getting off task. Each member of the team contributed to the programming and helped with the competition table dynamics.

But the robotics aspect only constituted a third of their potential points.

The competition also included a team-building activity and several interviews with the team members. They were given the opportunity to show how they worked together as a team and were asked in-depth questions about how their team incorporated the FLL Core Values into their practices and competition.

The final aspect of the competition was their team's presentation. They presented a play about music appreciation, which may seem a little funny in a lego robotics competition, but it went along with the theme of learning, which was the overall theme of this year's competition. They also got to tell a little about the community outreach they did at the preschool a couple of weeks ago. Their presentation was a cute little play that involved a retelling of the Good Samaritan and Ellie singing the song from the Lego Movie, "Everything is Awesome!"

Even with the interviews, presentations, and head-to-head robot competitions, there was still a lot of sitting around between events for the day. In the meantime there was lots of giggling, practicing their robot transitions….

and even some snuggling!

Our team (the Orange Oranges) was not even close to winning the tournament, but with the wide variety of ages and experience levels of our team members, they did pretty darn awesome. Their robot scored over 100 points and that was with every single team member being able to participate in every single aspect of the competition.

It turned out to be a whole lot more work than we expected it to be, but in the end it was one of those challenging experiences where everyone learned a ton, made new friends, and stretched themselves academically and socially.

In other words, it was worth every second of it!

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Sibling Love

Other than the extremely unflattering cut of the shirt I am wearing, I absolutely love this picture of Pete, Nate, AnnaLisa, and me.   This was taken a few weeks ago when my brother Nate came to town.  He's a world-traveler, always zipping around to somewhere crazy on the globe.   That day he was on his way to Cape Breton, Nova Scotia and right now he is at Torres del Paine in Chile. He is only 13-months younger than me and although he is living a much different lifestyle than me (in that he's never-married), I am always happy when he finds time in his busy schedule to come visit his Virginia siblings.  

Although my family is scattered all across the country, I love how close we still are.  
It's one of the joys in my life and it makes me sad to hear of families that don't have the same kind of tight-knit connections that we do.   I consider all of my siblings (and parents) to be among my best friends, and I love that every single one of them makes visiting and connecting with their siblings a priority.  

My family is not perfect, but I am proud to be a Crain and pray that my own children will one day find the same joy and comfort in the relationships they have with their siblings as I have had with mine.  


Sunday, November 16, 2014

Counting the Ways

How much do I love working with the Young Women at church?

Let me count the ways...

                                              1.  Anna  B.                                     2.  Allie

                                    3.  Morgan                                           4.  Anna W.

                                         5.  Emma                                             6.  Elena

                                         7.  Maeve                                                 8.  McKenzie

                                         9.  Aubrey                                               10.  Ana

                                      11.  Sidney                                                  12.  Marina

                                       13.  Katy                                           14.  Cami

                                        15.  Annika                                               16.  Mikayla

                                  17.  Rachel                                                 18.  Miko

                                   19.  Lola                                                  20.  Kelly

                                         21.  Ashley                                                22.  Alexia

                                 23.  Courtney                                             24.  Maria

25.  Kate 

The girls are hard-working and faithful young women who inspire me on a daily basis.

And I love the wonderful ladies I work with as well….

                               1.   Sister M.                                                  2.  Sister W.

                              3.  Sister D.                                                  4.  Sister M.

5.  Sister W.  

6.  Sister H (no picture)                        7.  Sister G (no picture) 

  I am blessed to be able to spend time with them each week...
   …even when that requires wearing a hairnet and a lunch lady uniform! 
Dressed as lunch ladies for YW in Excellence
The menu for YW in Excellence
19 of the 25 Young Women in our ward
Mikayla, Ashley, Courtney, Annika, and Alexia
Rachel, Miko, and Anna at YW in Excellence
Kelly, Annika, Cami, and Katy

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