Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Christmas Eve and Day 2016

Here's a glimpse at our Christmas Eve and Christmas Day:   

On Christmas Eve we ran errands, did a lot of cleaning around the house, went out to eat at Uncle Julios with AnnaLisa and Tim, then stopped at Barnes and Noble for one last Christmas present.   (no pictures of any of this!) 

After dinner was over we also made our final 12-days delivery--a mailbox filled with letters from people who love them!      

After the delivery was made, we came home and had our Christmas Eve devotional with the Sister missionaries from our ward.   

 They loved having Rocky snuggle time and we loved their beautiful voices joined with ours during all the Christmas songs....

We had little stockings for them....

and them being there made us miss our Sister missionary,  who was spending  Christmas 4000 miles away,  just a tiny bit less.  

Emma is home, which meant that  Christmas morning breakfast was 10 times more amazing than it would have been had it been me in charge.   Homemade English muffins, monkey bread, poached eggs with homemade hollandaise sauce.   Yes, my daughter is quite the chef and it was all delicious!

After breakfast we opened presents, including these gorgeous dishes, which I'm quite excited about!!!!  

 Eventually, this beautiful girl called via FaceTime and we got to talk for about an hour.  The connection wasn't all that great, but it was amazing seeing her face and hearing her stories.   She is working hard and doing a wonderful work there in France.  

We all  really enjoyed our time to talk to her, but we were sure to save her just a little time, so that she also had time to talk to a certain someone who lives far away.   Apparently, we are not the only ones who are missing her like crazy!  

Eventually we got our family Christmas pajama photo, with Cami included via picture!  These might be our favorite pajamas ever.   

We eventually went to church (our church is at 1pm) and enjoyed the Christmas service very much.  The music and messages were outstanding and we really liked that Christmas Day was on Sunday this year.  (no pictures)

  And after that, we threw together some food and went to Aunt Evelyn's house for dinner...

The food was great and we very much enjoyed hanging out with cute little kiddos and the adults while we could.

 One of our kids was acting like a bonehead and embarrassing us thoroughly though, so we didn't want to stay too late.  We hit some tacky Christmas lights on the way home.... 

and the kids watched a movie (the BFG) during which I fell sound asleep.   It was sleep I desperately needed.   

Merry Christmas to all!   

Monday, December 26, 2016

Christmas Surprise

My kids got some weird presents this year....

Can you guess what it all means?   It took them a few minutes to figure it out (the order is important).   Scroll down when you're ready to see the answer....













Ham + L + 2000 lbs. (more commonly known as a "ton")







We're going to see Hamilton in NYC in October!!!!     
And we all  couldn't be more excited about it!   

Before Christmas

What have we been up to this Christmas season?  

We made gingerbread houses (with kits from Wegmans).   

We made homemade cards with residents at the Assisted Living Center and only got threatened with a lawsuit once. A resident told us that it was in her contract that she didn't ever have to see kids and would sue us for being there.    Other than that it was a lovely experience and we enjoyed our time there.   

 I wore my ugly Christmas sweater and Santa hat as often as possible.   I also taught the biology at coop, which meant I ended up with PTC strips in my pocket, so I could go around  testing whether random people have the super taster gene.

We woke up to an ice storm on Saturday, December 17th.  It took us 20 minutes to chip all the ice off of our car.

But it was worth the effort to see this awesome girl (Nicole) get baptized.

 She's Emma's age and has been an awesome addition to our YW.   It's also been fun to have a good excuse to spend more time with the Sister missionaries.   :)

I also tried to put together festive outfits (some more successful than others),

and hit my mid-afternoon slump and collapsed on the floor until someone could help me up (and feed me chocolate)....

The kids enjoyed staying in their pajamas half the day...

 We keep trying to balance out some of the goodies with some wholesome(r) foods, but it's going to be a rough road getting back to healthy eating and exercising once the holidays are over....

Ellie made her own nativity out of cardboard and paper as a gift for her auntie....

Our Elf is losing his zing and would often get stuck in the same place for several days....

We did 12-days of Christmas for someone, but didn't realize until later that they had motion sensored cameras by both of their doors, which meant that our identity wasn't actually a secret.   

They kept playing along though and let us keep delivering despite the fact that we weren't anonymous any longer.   One night they  left a little thank you gift for us, which the kids LOVED.

We hung out with friends!   We made pretzels, played games, and talked!  

And I enjoyed my cute conversations with Briella and Joseph (and their mom, Rachel)! 

Emma returned from England on December 23rd!!!     We are soooooooo happy she's home....

Hope you all had a Merry Christmas!   Stay tuned for a full Christmas recap coming soon!

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Six Easy Steps to the Best White Elephant Gift Ever

Step 1:   Find a present that everyone will fight over.  

Step 2:  Concoct an evil plan.

Step 3:   Put the evil plan into action.  

4. Line everything up so it looks just like the original.    

5.  Stand back and watch calmly while everyone fights over it, THEN only when it is declared safe, strongly suggest that the new recipient open it up and share.   

6.   Wait for the hysterical laughter to ensue.      

Light the World

Last week I was asked to give a report on Cami's missionary service in France to our church congregation.  It was a hard message to prepare, but I was grateful for the opportunity it gave to gather my thoughts and put them on paper.    Normally that would be enough for me, but today I am feeling driven to take a huge step outside of my comfort zone to share that message here.   

This Christmas the phrase, “Light the World,” has become somewhat of a catchphrase among church members. People, including many of you, are doing acts of service throughout the Christmas season in an effort to make the world a better and brighter place. You are lighting the world!

In Cami’s most recent letter home, we learned that “Eclairez le monde” is French for “Light the World,” and that church members in France are lighting the world in their own ways too. I’m guessing that members in many other countries around the world are as well.

No matter what language you say it in though, lighting the world is exactly what Cami, and all the missionaries serving throughout the world, are doing every day. They are loving the people, serving with their whole hearts, and making the communities where they live brighter by their service.

As many of you know, Cami’s job through high school was selling cupcakes and over the years she became quite successful at it, catering to weddings, showers, and work parties. She thought that she’d mostly have to stop baking while she was on her mission, but it probably shouldn’t have surprised us too much that her reputation as an outstanding baker has followed her to the mission and she had the opportunity this past week to put her cupcake baking skills to use for a mission event. She was so excited to be able to serve in this uniquely Cami way and when someone posted the pictures of her beautiful cupcake creation on Facebook this weekend, it was hard not to feel a little motherly pride and emotion knowing that she’s lighting the world in a way that only she can.

She even sent us her own spiritual baking analogy. Here is her quote:

“It's so obvious that God has His plan and His own timeline and we just have to do what we can in the moment to be His hands. It's almost like us and God are baking a cake together. He has the recipe and he's telling us what to do one step, one ingredient at a time. He has a picture of the final product, he's tasted it before. But all he gives us is one tiny little step at a time. We cannot even begin to comprehend how beautiful and delicious the cake will be at the end. We just have to trust him when he's telling us to add a 1/2 teaspoon of salt, to talk to a random person on the side of the street, to make cookies for a neighbor. Because if we never did the little things, we would never get to taste the cake.”

So, I can’t bake as well as Cami or sing as well as Emma, but over the years I’ve learned that we each have our own gifts to share. I used to be embarrassed that my gifts aren’t the showy or visible things, but in time I’ve learned that that doesn’t matter to God. He sees the whole beautiful plan and All He asks of us is to serve and to love in our own individual way.

President Monson said that  “ love is the very essence of the gospel, and Jesus Christ is our Exemplar. His life was a legacy of love. The sick He healed; the downtrodden He lifted; the sinner He saved. At the end the angry mob took His life. And yet there rings from Golgotha’s hill the words: “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do”—a crowning expression in mortality of compassion and love.”

Cami’s only been on her mission a few months, but already she’s had some great opportunities to light the world in her own way. One of the most powerful stories that she’s shared was that of visiting a single dad and his two daughters. Her and her companion had struggled to know the lesson they should teach them, but eventually felt the unmistakable impression that they needed to simply teach them that they were loved children of our Heavenly Father. I couldn’t adequately put into coherent words all that followed, but over the course of the lesson it became very clear that that was the exact message that this family needed to hear. Cami had no way of knowing that in advance, but Heavenly Father knew, and because her and her companion had allowed themselves to be instruments in His hands, they were able to provide a small beacon of light in that struggling family’s lives.

I will use her own words as she wrapped up conveying that experience to us:  “This work is so much bigger than us. It's so much bigger than me. God knows his children. He knows every name that has slipped through the cracks on our ward list. He knows every child who thinks they are suffering all alone. And He will guide us to them if all we do is try to listen and not get in the way.”

Yes, her letters are a highlight in our weeks.  :)

Her experience reminded me of this quote from Pres. Uchtdorf: “My dear brothers and sisters, it may be true that man is nothing in comparison to the greatness of the universe. At times we may even feel insignificant, invisible, alone, or forgotten. But always remember—you matter to Him! God sees you not only as a mortal being on a small planet who lives for a brief season—He sees you as His child. He sees you as the being you are capable and designed to become. He wants you to know that you matter to Him.”

It’s humbling to think that God took two young, inexperienced women---one from Virginia, one from Arizona--put them in that small town in France more than an hour away from the more populated parts of their area, so that God could let that little family know that they did matter to Him. That they were not forgotten.

Joseph F. Smith said: '"Charity, or love, is the greatest principle in existence. If we can lend a helping hand to the oppressed, if we can aid those who are despondent and in sorrow, if we can uplift and ameliorate the condition of mankind, it is our mission to do it, it is an essential part of our religion to do it'. When we feel love for God's children, we are given opportunities to help them in their journey back to His presence" 

Knowing that a broken little family in France feels a little more hope because Cami and her companion allowed God to lead the way has inspired our family to be more cognizant of those around us that may feel broken. And knowing that a humble African man named Cani now has the light of the gospel and the gift of the Holy Ghost in his life because Cami and her companion were in the right place, at the right time, so they could teach him the beautiful truths of salvation helps us to want to be more aware of people in our paths who may be waiting for us to share the truths we know.

Our efforts don’t need to be grand. We simply need to act. We need to light the world in whatever way we can.

Most of us can easily recite the words to, “I Am a Child of God”, yet do we really believe the words? President Packer said, that “No idea has been more destructive of happiness, no philosophy has produced more sorrow, more heartbreak and mischief; no idea has done more to destroy the family than the idea that we are not the offspring of God” 

When we keep in our hearts a remembrance that not only are we children of God, but also all those around us, even those that may be hard to love, it will change us. We can let our actions be a little gentler, a little kinder, a little more understanding, and in the process love a little more like Christ would love.

“Wherefore, ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God AND of all men. Wherefore, if ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, behold, thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life.” 2 Nephi 31:20

I will close with one more quote from one of Cami’s letters:
“The moral of the story is that there is always hope. Sometimes politics, war, evil, and depression feel really big. Sometimes these things fill our vision. But if we turn our vision to Christ, we cannot fall. Peter COULD walk on water UNTIL he looked away from Christ. As soon as he turned away and took in the winds and the waves all around him he started to sink. Let’s keep our sights on what's important. Let's all try to focus on the little white flowers of hope instead of the waves and the storms. Let’s keep our vision on Christ.” 

You all are an inspiration to me!  Thank you for lighting our world this Christmas season and helping us to remember the real reason for the season--a tiny baby born in a humble manger.  A baby who would grow to save the world from darkness.  

Merry Christmas! 


Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Finishing Up in Portugal

It's taking me forever to get through the posts about our trip, but I'm motivated to document them here before we start to  forget some of the details of it.  This is the last of the posts on Portugal!

November 1-2, 2016 
(these pictures were taken at two different beaches--Praia Grande and some other I'm not sure the name of)

The weather was so warm and pleasant while we were there, that we decided to visit the beach!  
Although a lovely day, it was November and a tad too cold for full blown swimming, so the kids mostly played in the sand...

and just dipped their toes into the water.    We figured out that we were pretty close to directly across the Atlantic Ocean from home there on the beach in Portugal, so we made sure to wave to our friends across the way! 

Spence found some cool rocks to climb and believe me when I say that these were some very sharp rocks.    I won't lie and say that I didn't feel a tad nervous about him scaling to his precarious position  across the jagged rocks, but he made it up and down without incident, so all's well that ends well!

After exploring the beach for a while, we discovered a steep set of stairs that  beckoned for us to climb them!

We climbed and discovered along the way that there was some well preserved fossilized dinosaur footprints along the cliff wall. Apparently about 60 of them.   (Click here if you want to read more details

We admired those for a bit and pondered on how there were footprints on the side of a sheer vertical cliff, but really just couldn't wait to get to the top, so we could take advantage of these amazing views overlooking the beach!   

Wow, wow, wow!    

It was worth every step of the steep climb!

Hiking and exploring are two of my favorite things to do in any circumstance, but  doing them in a beautiful foreign land alongside people I love is pretty much what Lara dreams are made of!  

My only disappointment with it all....

was that I couldn't make my camera capture the full measure of the beauty we experienced there.  

That little hike was not all that strenuous, but it was like a salve to my soul.  I wanted to absorb that serene beauty right into my body and take it home with me.   

We'd loved so much of our time in Portugal and this day hiking and exploring at the beach, was a perfect capstone to a perfect  week!   This is exactly why I love to travel!

Eventually the time came to say goodbye to the beach and head back to the villa.  On our way home, we stopped in a cute little port town called, Cascais.

We didn't really have a plan while we were there, but enjoyed wandering around for a while....

and especially loved this little town square with its patterned cobblestone.

The next day, we just packed up our belongings...

practiced our braiding....

loved on baby Ben (even though he pickpocketed Spence earlier in the week)   😂...   

took a few more group pictures...

and got another picture with my Emma girl...

And then headed to the airport...

where Matt's family and Emma headed back to England  and Spence, Adam, Kristina, and I took off for Spain!    

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