Friday, February 28, 2014

Eleven Months

It's that time again...time for another routine baby progression post. Last one before this girl turns one! I can hardly believe it.
 Lydia is just about the sweetest little girl there ever was. She is so even keel most of the time, but she also has the most darling, snuggliest smiles. She is really compliant about getting her diaper changed or her face wiped or her clothes on or her hair washed. While she doesn't love the car, she's usually pretty content once we're driving. She just rolls with life!
Lydia continues to love her older siblings, but with some wariness. Developmentally, she's been pretty close to walking for a while, but still shows no interest in trying. She cruises around things, but walking toys are just not her thing. I think it may have something to do with the chaos that constantly swirls around her. She is content just being the baby, and having Mommy at her constant disposal!
 Lydia has never really been into looking at herself in mirrors, but recently has showed a little more interest when I dress her up or put a bow in her hair. She likes to study her reflection, and even leaves the bow alone for a few minutes. :)
 She loves the novelty of being outside, probably since she's been cooped up for just about all of her cognizant memory. She also LOVES fluffy things. The other day, we passed an Easter display on our way through Target, and she shrieked and screamed with delight, trying to sample all of the fuzzy stuffed animals against her cheeks. I'm sure people around us thought I was torturing her or something.
She entertains herself by exploring and digging and destroying everything in her path. I think this is Nora's biggest frustration with sharing a room with her baby sister right now! She can also be somewhat of a stinker- pulling hair whenever it's available, and sinking her four teeth into any flesh that seems tempting. She loves getting a reaction!
Lydia will eat anything. She's really not too particular. She's still a good nurser too; luckily the biting hasn't been an issue there!
The kids continue to fawn over her and declare her to be the cutest baby in the whole world. Our family just wouldn't be the same without our sweet Lydi Jane!

Wednesday, February 19, 2014


Over the summer of 2001, I had the opportunity of a lifetime. I was selected as one of 40 visual arts students from the state of Virginia to attend Governor's School. There were also students in humanities, drama, dance, and music. It was a month long stay at Richmond University, with classes, field trips, concerts, and dances. We got to choose our courses, and after all these years the one that  sticks with me the most was "Portalogy," or [the made up word for] the study of entryways. We had a lot of fun in that class, and even made matching t-shirts to show our "portal pride."
 Entryways are found everywhere in art and literature. They can mean change, an opportunity, moving forward, an adventure, death, an end. We just replaced our front door today, which I guess got me thinking about all this. In a way, I feel like we just said goodbye to a dear friend.
Six summers after that idyllic month in Richmond, Benjamin and I stepped through the front door of our new home for the first time. Paul and I had just finished signing the zillions of closing papers, and from there he'd headed straight to work. Because of complications with closing, I had about an hour window between the time I first walked into our new home, and the time our moving truck would arrive. So with 14 month old Benjamin in tow, I raced around, removing as much of the garbage as I could that the previous owner left behind (even random stuff like beer in the fridge). There was no time for thoughtful planning and dreaming.
 I feel like that rushed frenzy sort of typified our early years in this house. By today's financial wisdom, we should not have been given a mortgage straight out of college for zero down. But we were excited to be done with school, excited to have a job, and excited to start this new life away from our families in a house of our own.
We made a lot of mistakes. Besides the risky mortgage, the biggest one by far was the gutters. No one told us that the minute you buy a home, salesmen hunt you down like hyenas. Our door saw a lot of them. We hadn't been in our home for more than a few months when we were artfully convinced that our home needed new gutters, and it was urgent. It didn't matter that we had no money saved for said gutters. Honestly, we were like little kids playing house, but with real money (or I suppose credit) instead.
That door was a part of our expanding family. It was the one we left our precious firstborn behind as we headed to the hospital -somewhat terrified- to have our second child. Poor Grandma, who was left behind that door with the two year old terror.
When we came back through that door, we were transformed. Somehow, our love for Benjamin remained the same, but we had found even more room in our hearts for little Peter as well. 
 That door was there when we brought our first little girl home, with a new kind of love that you can only have for a daughter.
That door was there then we brought our fourth child through it, another sweet little girl. We weren't sure how we could all fit, but there seemed to be enough room once we tried.
 That door was my physical protection when Paul would leave on business trips. There was a billboard that I often saw on my way back from the airport after dropping him off, that seriously induced panic. It said something like "Wanted: Bruce Sawhill...wanted for rape, murder..." As soon as I got home, that deadbolt was my best friend! :)
The mail slot of that door saw a weird (borderline creepy) pamphlet about kidnapping and child safety come through it from our paranoid schizophrenic neighbor (who about a year prior had abruptly disavowed any contact with us via text). That was shortly after Nora's birth.
 That door served to welcome family and friends, who became increasingly more important to us as the loneliness of living on our own settled in.
 That door marked the place where excited children and a tired Daddy would reunite after a long day of work.
 That door stood silently by as our family grew and played and fought and hugged.
 That door was integral to our holiday traditions, whether it was a jingly Christmas wreath or a Halloween monster.
 That door finally lost our trust when it nearly severed Nora's finger off. I don't think our relationship with that door has ever quite been the same since. It was too heavy, too old, too dangerous.
 I think the straw that broke the camel's back was when that door started blowing open on really windy days. You literally had to dead bolt it if you wanted it to stay shut. On the upside, carrying in groceries or sleeping babies was a breeze, since all you had to do was push it open. We knew it was time to replace it with something about 65 years younger.
I have to say, this new door is a lot prettier! I think it really accentuates the existing built-ins nicely.
And the black exterior looks great with our shutters.
But I'm sorry door. You're the new kid, and you just don't get it. You had to be there.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Catching Up

I've wanted to post for a while, but it's just been one of those weeks where I couldn't spare the brain cells. February has been pretty good so far though. We've filled in the hole where frigid air was blowing into our basement (and straight onto our pipes) and we've re-drywalled that spot, so things are feeling somewhat normal down there again. The only problem is, we still have issues with freezing pipes, so we've learned our lesson and keep a small stream of water running constantly when the temperatures really drop. Old houses - charming and all - can really be a pain.

Earlier in the month during a snowy day, I convinced the kids (Peter is less impressed these day, and needed convincing) to go to the butterfly house. It was a lovely escape to a tropical climate, even if for just an hour or so.  
 I got invited to a "Favorite Things" party, which was a lot of fun! The idea was that each person would bring five things that are their favorite valued at or around $6 (all five had to be the same). We drew names, exchanged our gifts, and came away with some great ideas and new friends. I am not much of a nail polish or hair product kind of girl, so I brought five postcard sized paintings that I just duplicated.  
 I felt they were a fair representation of my favorite things. :) And I came home with fun new beauty products and gift certificates and even a cute milk jar.
 Lydia figured out how to climb up the stairs this week. I happened to capture her moment of triumph as she surprised us with this new trick for the first time. She doesn't go down, and is amazing at just waiting at the top of the stairs for someone to carry her. Somehow with four kids, we've managed to never need a baby gate. Knock on wood!
 We've had snow on the ground for weeks, but it isn't great packing snow at all. And, it is way too cold to play usually, so we've been cooped up inside a lot. One morning, I gave the kids some spray bottles full of colored water so they could play in the snow. There really isn't much more you can do with it!
 I had been meaning to get  a Valentine's Day wreath made for years now, and finally crossed that off my list. I used a pool noodle, yarn and a few fat quarters of fabric for the flowers. I'm pretty pleased with how it turned out!
 Benjamin's class had to bring Valentine's boxes this year. His teachers in past years have never asked them to do these, so I was all over it. We came up with a hobbit hole, and made it with some cardboard, fabric scraps and Modge Podge. I wanted it to be something they could play with even after Valentine's day was over, and I think we achieved that.
For a preschool Valentine craft, I had the kids do "pricking work," something that I learned from my kids old Montessori classroom.
 The idea is that you draw out a simple shape, lay the sheet on something soft like a rug, and let them poke holes to trace the image.
Once they've finished, you can tear it out. Nora was so proud of the hart she made!
And finally, just a cute picture of my baby bear. Her hair is getting so long now! I'm not sure what to do with it.
So that's what we've been up to. Lots of crafting, staying warm, and hanging out. Can I just say- SPRING IS IN JUST ONE MORE MONTH!!!

My Brain is Back

This week I had the assignment to speak in church, and any brain cells not being used to take care of my kids were used in preparing for it (or just worrying about it). I thought I'd share it here, if for no other purpose than to keep for my posterity, and for my angel mother who continues to inspire me.

I was born into the church, and generations of my ancestors on each line have been members their whole lives. I grew up in Northern Virginia, where the church was strong, but still somewhat obscure. I was the fourth of eight children, which really made me an oddity in that particular region, where two-income and two-child families were predominant.

There are many things that you don’t understand until you get older, and I feel like I’m still learning from my parents and their examples. My mother is and always has been an extremely anxiously engaged person. She fills her life to overflowing with good things to do, which admittedly left me feeling a little resentful when I was young. If there was ever someone in our ward who was new or didn’t fit in, she was by their side, visiting them, inviting them over for dinner, cleaning their apartments, and giving them rides. She even infamously lent our eleven-seater van to an older gentleman, who in turn totaled it. But she didn’t mind. Instead she insisted that the money we got from the insurance company was a blessing. That is just the kind of person she is.

Bishop Causse, in the last General Conference Priesthood Session gave a talk entitled, “Ye Are No More Strangers.” For me, my mother exemplifies what Bishop Causse described when he said,

“Unity is not achieved by ignoring and isolating members who seem to be different or weaker and only associating with people who are like us. On the contrary, unity is gained by welcoming and serving those who are new and who have particular needs. These members are a blessing for the Church and provide us with opportunities to serve our neighbors and thus purify our own hearts.”

In the church, we have countless opportunities to serve but limited capacity to do so. I think the key for all of us is living worthily of the Spirit, asking in faith, then acting on the promptings we receive. Elder Bednar has spoken on several occasions, and one during a recent Stake Conference, about the Atonement, and how it can help us become more like Christ. He says,

“The enabling power of the Atonement strengthens us to do and be good and to serve beyond our own individual desire and natural capacity.”

I’m often guilty of comparison, especially when I feel I’m not doing enough. I know I am not my mother, but I sometimes feel like my efforts seem inadequate when compared to hers. I think this is exactly where Satan wants me, and he is pretty successful at it.

Still, I have also had times when I have felt exactly what Elder Bednar calls this enabling power. When I was newly pregnant with my fourth child and had not yet made that knowledge public, I also came down with the flu. I was miserable and exhausted, and felt completely inadequate to even take care of my own kids. I remember feeling especially overwhelmed because I had also committed to help someone out by watching her child for a few days. Not wanting to back out, I prayed for help. Through the enabling power of the Atonement, I believe I was not only given the desire and the ability to serve, but I was also blessed with strength beyond my own. On that morning when I was to start babysitting, I was back to full health, and even morning sickness didn’t seem to be an issue. I was grateful to have the opportunity to serve, and I was also grateful to have full use of my body for the first time in about a week. The enabling power of the Atonement is real.

None of us is perfect. There are times when I feel like I’m doing alright at listening and acting on promptings, but there are other times when I know that I’m not.

President David O. McKay said, “The purpose of the gospel is … to make bad men good and good men better, and to change human nature.” Thus, the journey of mortality is to progress from bad to good to better and to experience the mighty change of heart—to have our fallen natures changed.”

As Bishop Causse reminds us, it is also important to recognize whose work this is. He says,

“In this Church our wards and our quorums do not belong to us. They belong to Jesus Christ. Whoever enters our meetinghouses should feel at home. The responsibility to welcome everyone has growing importance. The world in which we live is going through a period of great upheaval…[it] is becoming one large village where people and nations meet, connect, and intermingle like never before.”

He then shares an excerpt from the famous novel, Les Miserables. In the story, Jean Valjean has just been released as a prisoner, and is seeking refuge. But as news of his past spreads through the town, he is completely shut out and left to wander. Jean Valjean finally comes to the door of the town bishop, who welcomes him in, knowing full well his colored past. This disciple says to Valjean,

“’This is not my house; it is the house of Jesus Christ. The door does not demand of him who enters whether he has a name, but whether he has a grief. You suffer, you are hungry and thirsty; you are welcome…What have I to know your name? Besides, before you told me [your name], you had one which I knew.’
[Valjean] opened his eyes in astonishment. “Really? You knew what I was called?’
‘Yes,’ replied the Bishop, ‘you are called my brother.’”

As members of the Church of Jesus Christ of latter-day Saints, we enjoy a unity that is real and tangible. We have each entered into a covenant to become His people, to always remember Him, and to keep His commandments. We also share the burden of being outsiders in an increasingly secular world. We know what it feels like to be strangers, so we can empathize with those new converts who come into this gospel as strangers. We can help them continue fighting their battles with sin and turning to Christ, because it is a battle we are all familiar with.

In Mosiah chapter 4, we read the familiar words of King Benjamin, who said,

19 For behold, are we not all beggars? Do we not all depend upon the same Being, even God, for all the substance which we have…?
20 And behold, even at this time, ye have been calling on his name, and begging for a remission of your sins. And has he suffered that ye have begged in vain? Nay; he has poured out his Spirit upon you, and has caused that your hearts should be filled with joy…
21 And now, if God, who has created you, on whom you are dependent for your lives and for all that ye have and are, doth grant unto you whatsoever ye ask that is right…O then, how ye ought to impart of the substance that ye have one to another.”

We are all partakers of God’s great gift, which unifies us in humility and faith. Bishop Causse shares an example of perfect unity from the Book of Mormon, after Christ’s ascension into Heaven. “The record observes that there were no “Lamanites, nor any manner if –ites; but they were in one, the children of Christ, and heirs to the kingdom of God.”

Another powerful example of unity that I was reminded of was the people of Ammon. Alma the younger, who could have been king, chose instead a life of missionary service with his brothers and friends. As a result, they brought thousands of their Lamanite brothers and sisters into the gospel.

Once these Lamanites were converted and had fully repented of their sins, they needed to completely separate themselves from their past and be joined with their fellow saints. The Nephites, who had endured countless offenses from the Lamanites could have easily left them to fend for themselves, but they didn’t. They gave them part of their land, and they gave them protection. They did not harbor any feelings of resentment or judgment.

As we heed the call to “Hasten the Work,” we will see the membership of the Lord’s kingdom grow in numbers and diversity. Bishop Causse says,

“It is very likely that the next person converted to the gospel in your ward will be someone who does not come from your usual circle of friends and acquaintances. You may note this by his or her appearance, language, manner of dress, or color of skin. This person may have grown up in another religion, with a different background or a different lifestyle.”

These are exciting times! Like those Nephites who had the gospel for generations, we have been given much. Whether we are recent converts or lifetime converts, all of us here have the scriptures and access to all the words spoken by our modern day prophets. We each have the gift of the Holy Ghost to be our constant companion and guide. And because of this gift of light and knowledge, we have a responsibility to share, because, “unto whom much is given much is required.”  (D&C 83:2)

My husband and I have lived in this ward for six and a half years now, and have been privileged to witness several conversions to the gospel and full fellowship into this ward. What I said about my mother, I could easily say about so many of you. This ward has so much warmth and love. Just yesterday, I was honored to be in attendance at Soucha’s baptism, and I’m grateful for the spirit she brings to Young Women’s, and for her righteous desires. It is thrilling to welcome each new member into the fold. They add so much, and we need them just as they need us.

So as we “hasten the work,” how are we, as members of the church, preparing ourselves to welcome strangers in?

During His mortal ministry, Christ gave us the perfect example as He went about doing good, especially to those were excluded from society. Asking us to follow Him, Christ said,

“For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? Do not even the publicans the same? And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? Do not even the publicans so? Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.”

By extending ourselves through love, by doing our visiting and home teaching, and by acting on promptings we receive, we can become more like our Savior, and make His church open to all who come.

Bishop Causse closes by saying,

‘I pray that when the Lord gathers His sheep at the last day, he may say to each one of us, “I was a stranger, and ye took me in.
Then will we say unto Him “When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in?”
And He will answer us, “Verily I say unto you, inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.”

Sunday, February 02, 2014

My Eldest

It's been a while since I've posted anything about Benjamin, who's now seven and a half. When I look back at baby pictures of him, it seems like an eternity ago. I have a hard time not expecting a lot from him, mostly because he's so far removed from that chubby, grumpy baby that introduced me to motherhood.
Paul and I took him to a fireside (an evening program at the church) to learn about baptism a few weeks ago. It was a really nice evening, but what struck me most was how tiny all those seven year olds were- including mine! It was a good reality check for me, that yes, he isn't a baby anymore, but he is still small. And for a few more years at least, he'll still think that I'm pretty great.
 Benjamin wanted to teach the lesson last week for Family Home Evening. He told the story of Ammon, and built Lego sets especially for his lesson.
 Here's King Lamoni with the net full of arms...
...and Ammon taking care of Lamoni's horses.
Benjamin still loves Legos, but not nearly as much as he used to. His most recent obsession of course was the Rainbow loom bracelets, which kind of tapered off after his teacher banned them from her classroom. I think the thrill for him was mostly in trading and comparing them with his friends.
Recently he wanted to use his rubber band looming skills and move on to crocheting. Unfortunately, the kit he picked out had a bunch of patterns for pretty advanced (though cute) stuffed animals. Paul, who is the only member of the family with any crocheting skills, patiently sat with him and tried to teach him. I think we'll have to find an easier project to start him on though.
What Benjamin lacks in artistic ability, he makes up for in confidence. He's never really cared too much about writing perfectly neat letters or drawing an exact likeness.
It was interesting meeting with his teacher a few weeks ago, and getting a glimpse into his life at school. For all my efforts trying to connect with him about what goes on at school, there's always a lot that's left out. He's a good kid, and she really likes him. She has worked really hard as his advocate to find challenging work, since his math and reading skills are years ahead of where he's supposed to be. She mentioned that our school's gifted program won't admit him because he has a very logical way of thinking, and wasn't creative enough. To me, that seems like it would include a very narrow set of thinkers, but I'm actually not that bothered by it. He's finding ways to challenge himself at home, like Khan Academy and reading through the I Survived series.
Benjamin is an extremely determined boy when he puts his mind to something. The other night, he bit into a chicken bone, and noted that his top front tooth was loose. Later that evening, he was in the bathroom with an onlooking grossed-out Peter, twisting his own tooth out. Gives me shivers just thinking about it.
He was so proud to have a hole in his smile again. This is his third tooth he's lost.
Another example of his resoluteness was a few weeks ago when his hearing was especially bad. I mentioned to him that it might be worth a try to go off dairy to see if things would improve. He took that as his personal challenge, and stuck to it for two weeks- until his surgery date when he got new ear tubes put in. Then it was back to ice cream and cereal with real milk! Eventually, I think it might be worth going off dairy altogether, but we'll see. He's a kid who isn't going to be pushed into anything. (So, going off milk may have worked, but there's no way to really tell. The ear surgeon noticed a lot of hard buildup which he removed, and a lot of fluid that was drained with the tubes.)
I am proud of this little boy and who he is becoming. I'm really am grateful to be called his mother.