Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Christmas 2014

Christmas is several days behind us at this point. It’s such a big holiday that even a delay of a few days can make it seem overwhelming to try to write about it and remember all the details. I’ll do my best, but I’ll let photos do a lot of the talking when it comes to Christmas Day itself.

For several years now, we’ve had a tradition of having “Rudolph pancakes” at some point during the Christmas season. Melanie wanted to have them for dinner a few days before Christmas, but we never did. And so, Melanie whipped them up for breakfast on Christmas Eve. (Pancakes for breakfast??? Whaaaaaat!?!) We don’t have pictures of this, so you’ll just have to imagine it: a larger pancake topped with a smaller pancake (down low on the first pancake), Hershey’s kisses for eyes, broken pieces of bacon arranged into antlers, and a maraschino cherry nose. Then you drown Rudolph in syrup, slice up his face, and eat it. It’s fun for the whole family!

Despite the fact that we currently live with Melanie’s parents, our Christmas Eve traditions remained intact. For dinner, we had soup in bread bowls. Melanie’s mom got in on the action by ordering the bread bowls and cooking one of the soups—a blend of broccoli cheese and cream of potato. Melanie made hers from scratch, a creamy rice and chicken soup with artichoke hearts and mushrooms. It ended up being rather thick, more like a risotto than anything. (I would have guessed it were a risotto and not a soup had I not been in on the secret.) I very much enjoyed both soups and ate a ton. I was super stuffed and failed to realize that Melanie’s brother Mark had brought pie. Fortunately, we waited on that. In the meantime, we opened some gifts. Melanie, the boys, and I opened our gifts from Mark and Trina. They gave Melanie and me a gift card to the movie theater chain we most frequently patron here in Utah—an excellent choice for us. Melanie and I then let Eddie, Peter, and Creegan open a select gift from us. (Disclosure: I think we actually did this first.) They received light-up swords that make noises as you swing them around. The boys were even more pleased with their swords than I would’ve imagined, which was fantastic. To top off our Christmas Eve festivities, we drove around looking at Christmas lights. Due to the mild weather, it wasn’t that different from Florida. There was no snow to be seen, and it was an easy-going drive. Along the way, we needed to stop and fill up the car with gas. With the tiniest hint of guilt for putting the convenience store cashier to work on Christmas Eve, we chose to purchase fountain drinks. We then fa-la-la’d all the way home. Literally. But not literally literally.

Putting the kids to bed and putting out presents seemed easier this year than any other year. I think there are a few reasons for this. First, we didn’t have nearly as much to give this year. Financially, this is the most strapped Christmas of our married lives, and that was reflected in the gift-giving. Second, we’re in a much bigger house than we’re used to. We sleep upstairs, but the Christmas tree the gifts were meant to go under was downstairs. That meant there was ample distance between the kids’ bedroom and the placement of presents. It makes you feel less paranoid that they’re suddenly going to open their door and just see everything right then and there. And finally, I believe this was the first Christmas that I didn’t have to build or construct anything whatsoever, nor did I do any of the wrapping. (Thanks, Mel, for taking care of that several days in advance!) It was easy breezy.

The kids went to sleep fairly easily, considering it was Christmas Eve. With each and every year, I wonder if it’s going to be the year that it finally gets extremely difficult for them. I remember one Christmas Eve when I as a child was so riddled with excitement that I could barely cope. In my memory, I slept little to none. It was actually very torturous and made me somewhat fearful of Christmas Eves in the future. Anyway, we did get just a tiny bit closer to this type of experience this year. Eddie woke up at 3:45 a.m., came into our room seeming very alert, and announced that Santa had already come. He had looked downstairs and seen two “canoes” that were barely in his line of vision. We sent him back to bed, but I don’t know how much he slept after that. He was asleep when Melanie escorted an awoken Beegy back to bed at 6:45 a.m. However, Eddie then immediately woke up and scolded Melanie for not waking him up herself. And that’s how Christmas morning began. I soon joined them in their room, where Eddie said he was dying to go see if Santa had eaten the cookies we’d left out for him. I nearly panicked. After setting out the cookies the night before, Melanie and I had totally forgotten about them. I hurried away to check on them. Oh so many of them. To make a long story short, by the time the boys came out to check on things, there was no doubt that Santa had gotten to the cookies. They were very pleased.

We always start with our stockings. Thereafter, we move to the main gifts under the tree. The setup was such that our stockings were upstairs, despite the main gifts being downstairs. That was kind of nice, really. It helped us not to get distracted and to enjoy the stockings to their fullest. Not that the boys took long to go through their stockings and be ready to move on. But it was nice that stockings felt very much like their own thing.

At this point, I’ll let photos do most of the work. Spoiler alert: the “canoes” were actually sleds.

Christmas Eve

Eddie and Peter kept their swords tucked into the back of their shirts.  Beegy wanted to do the same.

Eddie wrote up a plan for us, to make sure Christmas would go according to his wants.  The plan reads as follows:
1. Set alarm clock for 6:45
2. Wake up and get dressed, grab camera
3. Wake me up
4. Wake Peter, and Creegan
5. Tear open presents like saws

Because there was both an upstairs and a downstairs tree where we live this year, Eddie made sure Santa knew that we wanted the presents left under the downstairs tree.

Christmas Day

Santa found the cookies.  Phewf!

Spy glasses from Peter's stocking.  The glasses allow you to see behind you!

The view from atop the stairs.  There are the "canoes" Eddie spied in the night.

All three of my kids received kid-sized but real acoustic guitars from Santa.  You'll see Peter's and Beegy's in a moment.

Peter asked Santa for Spot, one of the electronic Zoomer Zuppies, and Santa delivered.  Spot has easily been Peter's favorite gift.  He loves it like you wouldn't believe.  You'll see Spot in another photo or two below.

Eddie with Uncle Kaleb and the Minecraft Enderman from Eddie's stocking.

A Nintendo 2DS was the main (and pretty much only) gift from Melanie and me to the boys.  Santa and extended family were responsible for nearly everything else.

Creegan opens a remote-controlled VTech Switch and Go Dino from Santa.  On the left side of the pic, behind Beegy, you can see the Switch and Go Dino that Santa gave to Peter, a yellow digger that converts into a not-so-woolly mammoth.

All three boys received wall calendars.  Here's Eddie with his.

You can see the love!

Uncle Tom gets in on the Switch and Go Dino excitement.  This is the remote-controlled car that Creegan was opening in an earlier photo, transformed into dinosaur form as a triceratops.

Despite the lack of snow on Christmas Eve, this is the view out the back window on Christmas morning.

And from the front door.

Melanie and I didn't even bother opening our stockings until things had pretty much wrapped up—or should I say, unwrapped?—with the kids. 

Eddie prepares to be dragged behind Grandpa's four-wheeler on a new canoe.

We stuck with our traditional Christmas breakfast—egg nog French toast, egg nog to drink, and a sausage/hash brown/egg medley, cooked and served midday by yours truly.

Dishing up the French toast.  I just ooze Christmas cheer, don't I?

In the afternoon, we visited my parents (and thereby also saw two of my sisters and my brother-in-law).  We gave my parents tree ornaments with photos of our children inside.  Here is my mom, wearing one of them like an earring at the request of my brother-in-law, Saeed.

Saeed, sitting on his wife, my sister Khrystine, and looking none-too-pleased about me taking this photo.

Merry Christmas!!!

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Teaching Elders Quorum

Today was my first time teaching Elders Quorum since moving back to Utah. (I also taught EQ in Tallahasee, but it’s been a while.) The lesson was on the birth of Christ. I asked the class how the birth story specifically—not what happens later in Jesus’ life—can be applied to their lives. What do they learn about themselves from it? A couple of people said they wondered if they would be like the shepherds who learned of Christ’s birth. Would they be prepared to recognize and acknowledge Christ when he shows up?

This led perfectly into where I wanted to take the lesson. I had us read a few scriptures (John 1:4–9; D&C 84:45–46; Moroni 7:16) that speak to the idea of the light of Christ being in everyone. I asked if we’re prepared to recognize and acknowledge the light of Christ that is in every person with whom we interact. I asked how different our lives would be if we truly did this. One person said it would make him feel “optimistic.” That seems right to me. I think the gospel should make us optimistic, but I don’t know that we always live it or teach it in such a way promotes optimism. I think this is something I want to emphasize in my life and as I personally interact with others, especially in ecclesiastical-type settings—the optimism of the gospel.

I read Matthew 25:40, which states, “And the King shall answer and say unto them, 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.” I said I think Christ really meant it when he said that. I said that when we dismiss people because of their political views, or because they left the LDS Church, or because they do this or that, we are basically being about as anti-Christian as we can be. The pinnacle of Christ’s mortal sojourn was the atonement, a supremely and sublimely empathetic endeavor. He came here to understand us as completely and fully as possible. When we don’t even want to bother with certain people, when we discount them for any reason, we oppose Christ, the very one whose name we are supposed to claim and have covenanted to take upon ourselves.

I said there have been times when I’ve wanted more Christ in my life. I said that often times, we look up when we’re trying to find Christ. But I think God sometimes needs us to look at each other to see more of Christ. “If you love me, feed my sheep.” I said that if we keep in mind that the light of Christ is in everyone, then every time a person is born, in some small way, it is the nativity scene all over again. That beauty and perfection and inherent divinity is there. But of course, we all mess up. We don’t live Christlike lives. We all screw up somewhere along the way. Thankfully, God continues to recognize the light of Christ in us. He continues to see our worth and potential. And the message is that, even if Christ’s story isn’t ours because we’ve already mucked it up, it yet can be. That’s the promise held out to us, a promise that never disappears. No matter where we are at or what we’ve done, Christ’s story can yet be ours. We can yet be one with him as he is one with the Father, which is the purpose of it all. We can yet be joint-heirs. I challenged the class to “have the audacity” to liken the story of the birth of Christ to themselves, because I think God wants us to, and also to liken it to everyone with whom they interact. I asked the class to recognize the light of Christ in themselves and in each other.

I’m hopeful that the lesson went well and impacted a few people. The subtle looks on a couple of faces suggested that something struck a chord and was causing them to see things perhaps a little bit differently than they have before. When class was over, I felt humbled and peaceful, which I think is a witness of the Spirit. I went to my car (leaving early because Melanie is home sick and the boys stayed home, too) and sat in the stillness for a few moments. I offered a silent prayer of gratitude to Heavenly Father. I found myself thinking, “These are my people. I want to serve them.” It’s that blasted call to be a part of the LDS Church that sometimes I wish I didn’t feel. But I do feel it. Again and again, it seems. And so I carry on.