Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Our Greatest Accomplishments of 2014

Here is a recap of our family's greatest (sort of) accomplishments of 2014 and our goals for 2015.  

Lara--
accomplishment:  creating a chore system that actually lasted longer than a couple of weeks.

goal:   dye my hair more often (and exercise more and eat healthier and try to be better).     Seriously though,  I either need to embrace the gray or dye it more often, because my hair looks horrible 98% of the time right now.

Glen--
accomplishment:   getting a promotion at work which included a car allowance.   After driving the old junker minivan to work for 3+ years, he couldn't be more excited about the decidedly unembarrassing red car he drives now.

goal:  to successfully complete a century bike ride (100 miles) this summer.  That's only zero to a hundred miles in six months.

Spencer--
accomplishment:  making it through Organic Chemistry 241 with his brain {mostly} still intact.

goal:  to do his part to keep stress levels in his and his parents' lives to a nice normal level.    

Cami--
accomplishment:  not only surviving her junior year and 3 AP classes at once (AP Calculus, AP Lang, and AP Human Geography), but kicking butt on them and getting 5, 4, and 5 on them respectively.

goal:  to graduate HS with over a 4.0 GPA, to get into BYU-Provo, and go on a few hot dates in the meantime!

Emma --
accomplishment:   officially became the best cook in the family when she beat Cami in a cupcake baking contest.  I lost that title several years ago.

goal:  to not eat any artificial food colorings or flavorings, gluten, sugar, or any food besides dark chocolate really.

Adam--
accomplishment: learning how to program a robot.  

goal:  to beat everyone (especially daddy) at every board game we own.

Ellie--
accomplishment:  reading the first three Harry Potter books all by herself!

goal:  to finish reading the Harry Potter series and to finally convince her mother to serve her anti-seizure medication on ice cream or pudding all the time, instead of boring old yogurt.


Monday, December 29, 2014

Christmas Week Traditions

I started writing this blogpost with the goal of telling a little about the Christmas traditions our family does and some of the reasons why we do them.  It ended up being a little lengthier than I originally anticipated, but it is my hope that by sharing them that they will not only be a record to my own family, but also provide inspiration and ideas for others who are looking for ways to add to their own traditions.   I've listed these in order by date, which is why our anniversary is listed first despite it not being as much a part of our traditional Christmas as just a recap of what we did to celebrate this year. 

Anniversary: (these aren't really traditions as much as they are just a recap of what we did for our anniversary this year) 
1.  Dinner at Hard Rock Cafe--we chose this restaurant because of its proximity to the theater and didn't really have high expectations for it, however the service was fantastic, and the food ended up tasting excellent.   Other than the really loud music they play, which made conversing a little difficult,  it was a surprisingly enjoyable place to eat and we would definitely go back there sometime.
2.  Watched "Pippin" at the National Theater--Glen was familiar with the music, but neither one of us knew the story at all.   The performance itself was amazing, the music and the acrobatics, but we were a little bothered by how risqué some of the costumes and dances were.   Half-way through we were not sure we were going to like it, but in the end we loved the story and the message.  Now we both are huge fans of the music and have yet another Broadway CD to add to our collection.  Someone recently asked me what kind of music we liked, and I had to laugh when I realized that we are total Broadway fans.   We do listen to other music (classical, a cappella, and easy listening) sometimes, but day in and day out, we mostly listen to soundtracks from Wicked, Les Mis, Fiddler on the Roof, Phantom, Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat, etc.  I've got a  station on Pandora that we listen to every day, that plays a great mix of these kinds of songs.

Sunday before Christmas:
Christmas program at church--our ward always does a beautiful job of performing music and sharing messages that really help bring the spirit of Christ into Christmas.  It's one of my favorite parts of the season!
Christmas in Bethlehem dinner--I already mentioned this in a previous post, but it's something that we really enjoy doing sometime during the Christmas season.   It's a dinner that helps us reflect on the life of Jesus Christ.

Christmas Eve:
1. Last minute shopping--as hard as we try, we always still have shopping to do on Christmas Eve.  With Glen's long hours at work lately, it was an even greater necessity than usual this year.  
2. Dinner at Cheesecake Factory--a couple years ago I got fed up with trying to prepare a fancy dinner in the midst of all the other Christmas festivities,  so we threw cooking out the window and now go out every Christmas Eve.  The restaurant is always  a step up in cost and niceness from where we'd normally ever take our family and everyone gets really excited about it.    It's usually Olive Garden or Cheesecake Factory.
3. Open pajamas--  This tradition is one that carried down from Glen's family.  It started out as just everyone just opening any old random pajamas we found at the store, but over the years it's become this     epic--find everyone in the family awesome matching pajamas that outdo last year's pajamas-- kind of quest.  The tradition means a lot to me and despite the fact that one of my kids completely hates it (you probably don't have to wonder very hard who it is), this is a tradition that will continue for a long time…even to when we have grandkids someday.  
4. Christmas devotional-- We use these booklets and sing Christmas songs and read scriptures that help us remember the true meaning of Christmas.
Christmas Day:
1.  Wake up / pillage stockings / make breakfast--  We are not super early risers at our house, so little ones usually start rolling out of bed around 7:00am, while the rest of us usually make an appearance around 8:00am.
2. Eat  breakfast (see picture below)--Emma woke up extra early this year and made our  breakfast of homemade croissants, eggs, and bacon.  The croissants took two whole days to make and were perfectly flaky and delicious.
3.  Official Christmas morning pajama photo -- We are probably the only family in America that forces our children outside in their pajamas every Christmas morning,  so we can get  a decent shot of us in the natural light.  I'm pretty sure our neighbors think we're quite weird and we have an oldest son who thinks that this tradition is akin to torture of the worst kind. (see picture below)
4. Open presents -- We take turns opening presents, going around in a circle, youngest to oldest.  This year was the year of the socks, with everyone in the family receiving at least a couple packs of socks!  Weirdly, no one was disappointed by receiving socks in the slightest.   Only one child got mad / jealous  this year {same child as usual}, but luckily after an afternoon nap they composed themselves well and at least feigned gratitude from then on.
5.  Enjoy presents and intermittently snooze throughout the afternoon--With one of the kids up until 2:30am working on a treat order (caramel popcorn), then Glen had to go with her to deliver it at about 3:00am, we were all extra tired.  Snoozing came easily to all.
6.  Eat a very simple dinner-- Once again, I decided that I don't really love to bog down my Christmas with lots of cooking, so we opt for very simple food on Christmas day.   This year we had tomato/mozzarella paninis that we all helped make.   Someone chopped the tomatoes, another child spread the pesto, I sliced the bread, another one sliced the fresh mozzarella into smaller slices, another added the balsamic glaze, and another manned the panini press cooking them to golden perfection.   It was no stress for anyone and still completely delicious!
6.   Go to a movie--We don't really go to full-price movie theaters very often, so when a couple of years ago, we decided to make going to a movie together a new  Christmas night tradition for us, the whole family approved.  This year we watched  Hobbit 3.  It was a little intense in parts for Adam and Ellie, but we considered it a little prep time for Spencer's upcoming Make-a-Wish trip, which randomly looks like it's finally going to happen in a couple of months.   We're still not holding our breaths, but the process has progressed further than it ever has before and we are all VERY EXCITED about it!
The year of the sock!

Day after Christmas:
Family dinner--It's not always the day after Christmas, but sometime in the day or two around Christmas we gather all together for a family dinner with the East coast Crains.   We were sad not to have Matt and Karey this year, since they recently moved to England, but, as always, it was a blast to gather all together with those of us that do live out here.   All of my kids except Ellie  are significantly older than the rest of the cousins, so I thought it was a little odd (and pretty funny) that two of my kids came home from the day with injuries inflicted by one of their  cousins!   Adam got  a fat lip when five-year-old Davin head-butted him in the chin and Emma got a bloody nose when the same cousin accidentally  whacked her in the face with his foot while doing a somersault.   Davin is an energetic little peanut who would never hurt anyone on purpose,  which is why the injuries struck me as extra funny.

Miscellaneous Christmas:
Service--We often adopt a family for the 12-days of Christmas.  This year, though, we decided to do it a little differently and do 12 separate acts of service for others.   We are not done yet, but we hope to have completed our 12 acts before the end of Christmas break (next weekend).
Christmas cards/letters--  It really is one of my favorite parts of the season.  I love hearing from old friends, I love decorating with the cards, and I even love the process of creating the cards and writing the letters.
Treats--We usually bring plates of goodies to at least a few people and then end up eating the rest of them ourselves.
Trip to the temple lights--We usually watch a performance, visit the nativity exhibit,  and walk around outside for a while.   WE actually haven't done it yet this year, so we need to go this week.

Emma's delicious Christmas morning breakfast.  It took her two days to make those beautiful croissants!

Right before eating Christmas breakfast!


Ellie snuggling up with AnnaLisa during our Christmas Eve devotional. 

Without any living room furniture yet, we were forced to be pretty casual  during our devotional this year. 


Some kids do not like our Christmas morning pajama photo shoot very well.  Can you tell who? 

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Delph on the Shelf

Once upon a time there was a little girl who dreamed about having her own Elf on the Shelf.   She had heard exciting tales of friends' elves who went on daily adventures while doing their work for Santa and she longed for an elf to call her own.    Too bad the girl's parents were a bit prejudiced against elves and the thought of a spy in their midst (even a stuffed one) just gave them the heebie jeebies.   

But the little girl couldn't be swayed.  With a twinkle in her eyes she gleefully drew pictures of elves and wrote letters to Santa about his apparent oversight in not sending an elf to their house.   The parents heard breathless reports excitedly recounting the escapades that her friends' elves seemed to have on a regular basis.   

Ziplining, skiing, treat making, note writing, etc.   

What the what?!?!
  
They couldn't even keep up with folding the laundry regularly,  how the heck were they supposed to  exert that kind direct (and creative) parental intervention on a nightly basis?!  
Adopting an elf was simply too much work, and as such they were determined that there was no way a little elf was going to join their Christmas tradition list. 

Then, one day, in a moment of weakness compassion, they allowed one to  show up last year.   

The little girl was beyond thrilled and immediately dubbed "Delph the Shelf Elf"! 

Weirdly...the parents discovered quickly that elf ownership suited them...
and soon their elf was going on the kind of crazy adventures that the parents had  mocked mightily before they had one of their own.  


The dad, in particular, really embraced his role as elf mentor and made sure that their elf did not live a boring life...

Grocery shopping...

dates with girls….

popping out of cereal boxes and swinging from the chandelier...


and even getting kidnapped by aliens ...

their elf has had a great year...

and there is more than one excited child/adult  in their house that is already looking forward to his return next year.  


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Thursday, December 25, 2014

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

A Peek at Christmas

Christmas is finally here and everyone at our house is giddy with excitement!     

Even our furniture-less living room is bursting forth with twinkling Christmas lights, paper snowflakes, and looped chains across the ceiling.  


Our front door is thrilled to be blanketed with warm Christmas greetings from friends and family from far and near.   It's actually filled up even more since this picture was taken and we are now figuring out where to put the overflow!


Our table was shocked with happy surprise when we actually had our annual Christmas in Bethlehem dinner by candlelight BEFORE Christmas this year instead of after.   We had falafel, flat bread, lentil soup, greek salad, hummus, and baklava.  It was all absolutely delicious and the kids made it completely by themselves this year.  {yay, for me for teaching the kids how to cook!}

Even the kids' playdates have taken on a Christmasy vibe.  Here are Ellie and Hannah dressed as a Pilgrim and an Indian playing an old-fashioned Christmas.  They were sooooooo excited when I allowed them to light the candles long enough to take the picture of them! 

The Christmas joy spread into the neighborhoods when we took our Young Women Christmas caroling!   We played a little joke on them in the name of teaching a lesson, but it was thrilling experience nonetheless to gather with them in songs of praise! 


Santa has been visited….

at least by two of our kids….

and now we're running some last minute Christmas errands, gearing up for our traditional Christmas Eve dinner out at a restaurant, our Christmas Eve devotional that helps us remember the true meaning of Christmas, and then snuggling up and waiting for Santa to come! 


Merry Christmas!!!  

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Sunday, December 21, 2014

12-inches….3-years later

Almost three years ago, shortly after Spencer started chemo for his treatment of AML (leukemia), people started cutting off their hair  to show support for him.     The boys  shaved their heads and the girls cut off at least 10-inches and donated it to Locks of Love, a place which makes wigs for children with serious illnesses (like cancer).    In a small way I think it helped people to feel more connected to him and that, in their own way, they were doing something meaningful to support him.  Looking at those pictures still makes my heart smile and I can't help but be overwhelmed when thinking of all the people who loved and supported us through those difficult days.

Back when everyone else was cutting their hair, Cami was 100% not interested.   She loved her thick long hair and I think she was already so traumatized by Spencer being sick that she really struggled with the thought of cutting off, what to her,  was a huge part of her identity.    We never pushed it even a tiny bit.   We figured that making someone feel guilty in order to do something, pretty much defeated the message it was meant to convey.  She showed her love and support to Spencer in a gazillion other ways and not cutting her hair then was a non-issue.

Since then she hasn't even trimmed her hair and lately it's gotten so long that I even poked a little fun at it in our Christmas letter this year.    Although her hair is beautiful and thick, lately Glen and I had started wondering if she'd ever  cut it, especially since she realized that she's allergic to almost every shampoo and conditioner made.   She's been using either straight baking soda or an all-natural carrot based shampoo for several months and only uses apple cider vinegar for conditioner.  Somehow though, her hair still looks great and she felt no compulsion to even trim it.  

Then a couple of months ago she landed a new babysitting gig for a beautician who offered to cut her hair in exchange for babysitting!  It got Cami to thinking and  finally, this past week, with her employer's  encouragement,  Cami consented to giving it a trim.      

Here's her "trim" of 12-whole-inches…all going to Locks of Love!  


Before and after….

Happily, she loves the new easier and shorter 'do and we are proud of her decision to donate it!

Way to go, Cam! 

Thursday, December 18, 2014

21 Years!

21-years ago today, on a beautiful sunny and cold Colorado morning,  Glen and I were married in the Denver temple.  We were young, but very much in love and so excited to be starting our new lives together.   
December 18, 1993

In those 21-years we've...

earned 3 college degrees
(Lara {BS}, Glen {BS, MAcc})

had 5 kids
(Spencer, Cami, Emma, Adam, Ellie)

lived at 6 different addresses
 (1 in Utah, 3 in Baltimore, 2 in Virginia)

owned 1 house
(where we currently live)

been in 4 different wards 
(C H 1st--3-years, Tow./Luth.--2-years, Hamp.--1-year, Vi.--15-years)

owned or leased 8 cars 
(some of them better than others)
(Dodge Shadow [93-96], Ford Taurus [96-98], Toyota Camry [98-02], Toyota Sienna #1 [02-14], 
Toyota Corolla [03-11], Toyota Sienna #2 [11-?], Lexus [14-?], Honda Accord [14-?])

totaled 2 of those cars
(Glen x1, Cami x1) 

owned 1 Christmas tree
(bought it at a Black Friday sale when we were first married)

lost 6 grandparents
(only my paternal grandmother is left)

had 1 kid diagnosed with a life-threatening illness
(He's 2-1/2 years in remission now!!!!) 

had 1 kid diagnosed with a chronic, life-affecting illness
(Ellie told Cami just yesterday that she was glad she didn't have to worry about driving 
when she was older, because the thought of driving made her nervous.  I hope she feels the same in 7-years.)

had 4 surgeries performed
(Spencer x3 {central line placement and removal, appendix removal}, Emma x1 {eye surgery})

homeschooled each one of the kids for at least one year
(actually we're in the middle of Emma's year right now)

had 5 broken bones
(Spencer x2 {finger + toe}, Adam x1 {foot}, Ellie x1 {ankle}, Lara x1 {toe}) 

had 6+ pets
(2 hermit crabs, 2 gerbils, an assortment of fish, 1 dog

been on countless road trips together 
(as a family we're up to 42 states, we only have SC, GA, FL, MS, AL, LA, AK, and HI left)

changed approximately 22,812 diapers
(averaging 5 per day, 2-1/2-years per kid)


21-years later…
we're older, grayer, heavier…

and more in love than ever!

Saturday, December 13, 2014

A Week in the Life

A few of the snippets from this week 


I spent 6 hours helping Ellie and Adam clean out their room--including the deepest darkest corners of their closet.

Ellie is so excited about her newly cleaned room that she's spending hours a day in there and  bragging about it to every person she sees.

I thought I was wildly hilarious when writing our Christmas letter this year and I am hoping that it comes off as at least slightly funny and not totally stupid.  Because I was worried that  my attempt at humor may be a little too goofy for  some people, I'm sending edited versions  or letterless cards to some people.  My goal is to have them all out by the end of the weekend.

I fell sacked-out, sound asleep at Cami's orchestra concert, totally missing the grand finale. 

Our (Ellie's) Elf on the Shelf is back on the prowl.   Stay tuned for a blogpost coming soon!

I have a new favorite cookbook and it has reignited my excitement for trying new recipes again!   I've made out-of-this-world rugelach (pastries), the best meatballs ever, and spaghetti squash tacos that we've made three times already and I still daydream about the next time (tomorrow)!  

We went to a couple's white elephant gift exchange tonight and one of our two shabbily wrapped gifts ended up being the very first one chosen of the night and the other ended up being the very last one chosen.

Another picture of the 4 east coast siblings from our weekend trip to Massanutten
    

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

A Weekend Away!

When we moved out East almost eighteen years ago, no one from my side of the family lived within 1000 miles of us.   It didn't take long though, before they started realizing how fun it was to be near their favorite oldest sister (and what a fantastic area Washington DC is), and we had regular visits from them through the year.   Before long, my siblings realized that merely visiting us wasn't enough, and one-by-one they started moving here.   Over the course of the last couple of decades, all of my siblings except one has done a stint living in our area for at least a year or two.   

And for the last several years, I have been very blessed to have three of my seven siblings live within an hour of us.   I enjoy being able to share special occasions with them and I absolutely love that my kids consider their cousins to be their friends!  Their proximity to us has been an incalculable blessing to our family and I  love  having them nearby. 


And that is why we are so sad about Matt and Karey (and Jack and Lincoln) picking up and moving to England last week.  While I'm thrilled for them to have that kind of an opportunity, I am sad because we will miss them dearly for the three years they'll be gone.   Jack and Lincoln are like the younger siblings Ellie never had and all of us enjoy their snuggles and youthful energy!



Before they left the country, they decided that in order to maximize the time they spent with family, that we needed a little family weekend away.    Since none of us have houses big enough to host all of our families at once (7 adults and 11 children), they decided to rent a house in Massanutten where we could spend an entire weekend together under the same roof!  

The house had beds for every single person and although too short of a time, it was a very fun weekend with lots of laughing, games, and giggles!

Everyone ate up their Uncle Matt time….

and their time with this little cutie!  He's a sweet little guy who melted our hearts with his narrative of all that was going on around him.  You could literally see the wheels of his brain turning as patched together very advanced and deliberate sentences.  We will miss Jack!  


The kids also really enjoyed the time they spent with Lincoln.  He's quite a bit younger than our kids, but has similar interests (Legos and nature) that make him a fun guy to hang out with! 

Spence and Cami got caught up on some sleep!

It was a fun weekend  and we really enjoyed the time we got to spend together before Matt and Karey left.   




We saw them again one more time before they left, then we dropped them off at the airport on Thursday night.

We will miss them dearly!  

In the meantime, we hope maybe to make a little trip to visit them sometime while they are there
 and we are strongly rooting for them to move back this way when they return! 


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