Sunday, December 25, 2011

Virtually Home for Christmas

Not everyone could get to Utah to attend our annual Christmas dinner in person this year. God bless us, everyone. And God bless Skype.  We all ate together, anyway.

A Sabbath Christmas

In honor of Christmas, enjoy one of my favorite songs my mom and her sisters used to sing. (Obviously, this isn't a recording of them, but Bing Crosby sang it pretty well, too.)
Many people attend church only for Christmas. In contrast, many of us Mormons attend church every week—or even more often, if you count midweek service projects, socials, educational activities, and church ball. (Personally. I wouldn’t count church ball as church attendance, but technically, it is located at church.)

In fact, we Mormons are probably less likely to attend church on Christmas than any other day of the year. So, what to do when Christmas happens to fall on Sunday, like this year?

Acknowledging that we Mormons just aren’t accustomed to spending Christmas at church, my local stake is abbreviating church on Christmas day to a one-hour service. Additionally, several members of my ward choir are going to visit a local nursing home on Christmas day to sing a few carols for a half hour before the church meeting begins.

This plan brings back warm memories for me. When I was a child, my talented mom and her four equally talented sisters had a little performing group that kept all of us busy during the Christmas season. I loved tagging along with them, both because I enjoyed the performances and because I liked the Christmas festivals where they performed.

But one of my most vivid memories of those days was a performance at a much less festive location. My mom and her sisters arranged to sing at my grandfather’s nursing home one December. The thing is, he wasn’t there. He had died about a month earlier.

I wasn’t thrilled about attending this performance. It brought back memories of the last time I was there. Just before his death, my Granddad seemed to have shrunk. He looked skinny and weak and miserable. I am not sure he recognized me, but he seemed concerned about how sad I was, so with obvious difficulty, he reached out his emaciated arm to hold my hand and comfort me.

When my mom and my aunts sang at that nursing home, I realized that they were also reaching out to those that needed comfort. Now that I was there, I recalled how often the staff at the home had mentioned to us how nice it was that my Granddad had such a steady stream of visitors—commenting that many of their other residents were not so fortunate. My relatives were lucky to inherit my Granddad’s musical talents, but that day, I was more grateful that they shared his compassion.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

How the Grinch Started My Christmas mp3 Collection

With all the inspirational Christmas music playing on the radio in December, should I be concerned that my kids' favorite carol is "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch,"  which is essentially a series of creatively worded insults?  Maybe, but I empathize--I love that song, too.

My kids do not understand how the radio works.  When they hear Christmas music playing, they keep asking me to play the Grinch song.  I tried to explain to them that I had no power over when the DJ plays the Grinch, but finally realized that my kids needed their very own Grinch music to play on demand.

Fortunately, I saw a sign at the library advertising FreeGal, a service in which library card holders can download and keep three mp3s per week.  Awesome!  How long have they been doing this? 

FreeGal is by no means a comprehensive database of all music ever published.  It has serious holes.  But it's free, so what do you expect?  I love the original version of the song with Boris Karloff's voice, but it wasn't in there.  However, there were several other versions of the song.  My kids enthusiastically helped me sample them and we found another version, by Newsong, that we like just as much.

Since I love, love, love Christmas music, but share my kids' tendency to occasionally resent that DJs aren't playing my favorites, I decided to use my December 3/week quota to build my Christmas music library.  Most popular Christmas songs have been covered so many times that there are several options to choose from in FreeGal.  When I pull them up and sample them, I am surprised at how many times I find that my favorite version is by some unknown (to me) artist, over more famous artists and versions.  Of course, lots of extremely famous artists made the cut, too. Here's my collection:

Bring a Torch, Jeanette, IsabellaWorld's Best Praise and Worship album
Carol of the BellsMormon Tabernacle Choir
Do You Hear What I Hear?Destiny's Child
I Wonder as I WanderThe Blenders
The Holly and the IvyRoger Whittaker
Let It SnowHarry Connick, Jr.
O Come O Come EmmanuelMichael Londra
O Holy NightBilly Gilman
The Secret of ChristmasThe Nylons
We Need a Little ChristmasGlee Soundtrack
You're a Mean One, Mr. GrinchNewsong

I can still get one more song.  Any suggestions? I've already tried these below, but FreeGal couldn't help me:

Christmas Children
I like both the Scrooge the Musical version and the SheDaisy version but neither is on FreeGal. It isn't in there at all.  No one else has ever covered this song?  Really?  It's a great song, recording artists!  Put it in your Christmas albums already!

Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas
Plenty of Christmas albums include this one, but I felt like I couldn't settle for anything but the Judy Garland version from Meet Me in St. Louis, which wasn't there.

The Little Drummer Boy/Peace on Earth
with Bing Crosby and David Bowie. Not there, either.

Fortunately, I already own Carpenters Christmas album.  It is a shame that they don't have it on FreeGal, though, since it is arguably the best Christmas album ever, or at least, until the 2010 Glee Christmas album, which is available on FreeGal.  The song choices on the Glee album are amazing, except for the unfortunate inclusion of Last Christmas, I Gave You My Heart, which is an okay song, but really has nothing to do with Christmas.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Power Problem Solver

After an extremely unproductive morning at work today, where the power kept going out due to severe winds, everyone was sent home early.  I explained to my three-year-old that I got to come home early because the power went out and it was too dark to work. 

He apparently put some thought into the situation in my office, because about an hour later he told me, "Mom, if the power is out, you need to turn on the light switch.  Then power will go to the light and you can see."

Wednesday, November 23, 2011


This photo is the only evidence that my toddler ever wore a Halloween costume.  He is not a fan of dress-up, so it didn't last long. I dressed as Tahitian; I didn't plan in advance and had to come up with something 10 minutes before leaving the house.  My husband's grandma had given us some lava lavas and shell leis from her mission in Tahiti.  One of my cousins totally impressed me by noticing that I was Tahitian, not Hawaiian.  I had forgotten that her college education was in Hawaii.

Town Halloween Party
My town (okay, its more of a suburb) sponsored a wonderful Halloween party, complete with face painting, crafts and food.  We brought our kids and one of my nieces.

My toddler won the cake walk.

First Haircut
The kid-friendly salon where I get my kids' hair cut was in the midst of the town Haloween party, so we stopped for haircuts.  This was my youngest's first haircut. Unlike his older brother before him, my youngest was not impressed with the haircut experience, in spite of the car shaped chair and the cartoons.  If it weren't for the candy, Halloween would have been a complete flop to my toddler.

Mom's Side Halloween Party
My Mom's side of the family used to have an annual Halloween party but lapsed for about five years.  I am so glad we started it up again this year!

It became obvious that we hadn't gotten the family together in too long when several people mistook one of my cousins for me.  She's adorable, even in nerdy Halloween glasses, so I was flattered.

My dad has a history of scaring my kids with his Halloween masks. Last year, my middle child would start to quake if he saw my dad's mask, even if it wasn't on.  My youngest had a different reaction.  He pointed and laughed whenever my dad put on the mask.


Costume Contest

5 Sisters plus 1 Great Niece
Family Group Photos

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Maybe we should send her to a Mexican boarding school?

We were a little concerned about how well our daughter would learn the subjects, like math, that are taught to her in Spanish as part of the Spanish Immersion program at her school, but the literature assured us that while kids may fall behind in these subjects at the beginning, they catch up over time as their fluency improves.

We just had our first report card and parent teacher conference since she started the program.  As it turns out, she is excelling in all the subjects she is learning in Spanish, but during the English half of the day, she goofs off and doesn't complete any of her work.  Hmm.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Close Call

Last night, while I was reading bedtime stories to my three kids, my one-year-old climbed up the ladder to the top bunk of his older siblings' bed and dived off.  Instead of landing on the hardwood floor, he landed right on top of a pillow that happened to be in the middle of the room instead of on the bed where it belonged.  Tonight, story time moved into the living room.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Rapping the Scriptures

My three-year-old was recently assigned to recite a scripture as part of the annual children's program at church. I conquered the daunting task of teaching such a tiny kid a scripture by getting him to say it with rhythm like a nursery rhyme--or an unusually spiritual rap song. And I added a couple hand gestures.

While practicing at home, he frequently sang the scripture with the enthusiasm of a young rap star.  I wasn't sure how this would go over--I hoped his extreme cuteness would compensate for his lack of reverence and the fact that he had absolutely no idea what the scripture meant.  But at church, he recited the scripture brilliantly and with an unusual dose of dignity.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Building Patios: Not Recommended

We made a lot of patios this summer.  We're pretty much patio experts now, since we have made one of almost every kind of patio in our yard.

There is a flagstone patio, surrounding a firepit:

A square paver patio:

An enormous brick patio, now covering a vast area that the previous owner had covered with asphalt which had long since decayed, making a cracked mess that would be hard to remove and leaving the ground unlikely to successfully grow anything:

And a recycled concrete patio (that isn’t quite finished.  We will paint the pieces to look like flagstones and plant thyme in between them in the spring.):

Why the great hodge podge of outdoor flooring options in one yard?  Well, we have tried to keep these projects inexpensive by salvaging whatever free or super-cheap materials we could encounter but we just couldn't conjure up enough free/cheap products of any one specific kind to cover a yard so unreasonably huge as ours.  We took whatever we could get. 

Free Stuff
  • Flagstones, from a vendor who gave away the specimens unworthy of sale for free
  • Concrete slabs, from a new house down the street where the construction crew installed a new driveway and then determined that the driveway was too steep and ripped the whole thing out a few days later.  They were happy to bring the pieces to our house instead of having to haul them to the dump. I have no idea how they fixed the steepness problem, since they had to connect the garage on the hill to the street somehow.  Their new driveway looks exactly the same as the mistake driveway to me.
Cheap Stuff
  • Previously used brick pavers, from various people who tore out their patios and sold the bricks on We had to be sure to mix up the batches, since they were all different colors, to give the patio a look of intentional mixed tone instead of a look of "oops, we ran out of this color brick and finished the patio with this color."
  • Used railroad ties, from a real railroad. Using real railroad ties is controversial, because of their creosote content.  Most of the sources we researched considered exposure problems as most likely to occur when you are cutting and handling the ties, not after you have them in place, so we used gloves when we worked with the ties.
Full Price Stuff (Even we aren't resourceful enough to get everything at a discount.)
  • The gravel and sand layered under the patios
  • The square pavers  (If we had tried hard enough, we could probably have bought these pavers used from ksl, too, but we wanted to make a patio that could be used as a chess board, so we needed two different colors, exactly 12"x12", so buying used was more complicated.)
So, now that we have suffered the torture of paving our land in so many ways, do I have any lessons learned for the unlucky Googler who lands at this blog when they are really trying to find a legitimate do-it-yourself website? Sure. I am happy to throw out some advice.
  • My first bit of patio-building advice is the similar to the advice I give to anyone who asks me about remodeling*: Don't build a patio.  Seriously, there are big advantages to paying someone to pour a concrete patio instead of doing it yourself.  Yes, doing it yourself is cheaper, but still, probably not as cheap as you expected.  Also, concrete makes a smooth surface that is useful for all kinds of activities.  Flagstone and recycled concrete won’t come out perfectly smooth and even our brick patio has some very subtle waviness to it.  If you want concrete to be prettier, you can buy a stamp for $15 and a can of cement die for about $25.  (We stamped and stained the walkway to our front porch.)
  • Verify that your assistant is at least two years of age.  (Check birth certificate documentation, if necessary.)  My assistant did not meet this important age guideline, resulting in a variety of inefficiencies. He enjoyed working on the brick patio with me because up until the moment I finished laying all the brick, it was the world's largest sandbox. I was smoothing and laying brick in small 4 foot x 4 foot sections at a time, leaving the rest of this vast area for him to play in.  He did not want to play in sand that clearly was of no interest to me.  He only wanted to dig in whatever little square of sand I had recently smoothed.  Also, he interrupted me every few minutes demanding to be held, fed, or diapered.
  • We followed the rules and layered gravel and sand under our paver and brick patios, but found that this was not a good method for the recycled concrete patio.  The huge, heavy concrete slabs had to be moved with a rented bobcat, and they slid all over the place when my husband dropped them on the gravel.  He ended up having to remove all of the gravel before he could place the slabs.  (During this process, he tipped over the bobcat and broke our fence.  Fortunately, he was fine and so was that expensive machine, and we found some spare pieces of fence left over from when it was installed to replace the broken parts of the fence.)

*Don't remodel.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Family Photos at the Great Salt Lake

The Great Big Group Photo

Just My Little(r) Family

My Parents
(See where we got our good looks?)

My Siblings (Plus Sibs-in-Law)
Nieces and Nephews

Sunday, October 30, 2011

First Time Repelling

I am surrounded by rocks. I live in a valley of the Rocky Mountains, just north of red rock desert.  A co-worker pointed out once that personality tests measuring impulsivity, based on questions like whether you had tried so-called “extreme sports” don’t work too well in Utah because everyone here does those things. With so many rocks and mountains around, almost everyone here has thrust themselves off of one or two in a few different ways.

But there are exceptions.  I have met people who have lived here their whole lives without ever even skiing. Fortunately, I have had many opportunities to ski.  Still, I had never tried repelling—at least, not on a real mountain instead of a gym climbing wall.

I recently remedied that. We went to Pete’s Rock, a 110 foot cliff located right where urban Salt Lake City meets Mount Olympus. Since I like to stay alive, we went with professional trainers.

It actually wasn’t too scary, because you repel down with your back toward the ground, so you can’t see exactly how high up you are. 

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Kindergarten: The Year in Pictures

My daughter's kindergarten teacher sent all the parents a CD of pictures from class. How cool is that?

















Kind of flattering that she made a picture of me--most of the kids made toys and animals and flowers