Sunday, December 30, 2012

Twas the Sunday before Christmas

The Sunday prior to Christmas, we gussied up our geese for Church. It marked the first time in Lottie's 2+ years of life that I put her in a dress that matched her sister. When it comes to giant glitter bows and over sized floral headbands, this Mom fails epically in her efforts. Identical outfits likewise falls onto the list of 'try harder' which is why I felt so dearly rewarded to see them walking around in matching clothes. What a silly thing to say, but it's true. I was 'tickled pink'...  

 Lottie says, "It's okay friends. Her jokes make us gag too!" ;)

Note to self:

Photo shoots prior to Church are never a good idea, especially when you have to conduct in Relief Society that morning.

 (18 weeks)

Don't worry Henry. Mom's learned her lesson. You'll have a matchy-matchy buddy in the Spring.
The picture in which Mom's face reads, "This is great, really, but I needed to be at Church two minutes ago!"

Sacrament meeting was filled with music. The kids participated in a musical number first. Eliza obediently stationed herself and Henry in the front, near the center, per her Mom's order request. Then it was my turn to join the sisters in Relief Society to sing, 'Mary's Lullaby.' All the while, Lottie was pleading to have a turn to go up and sing (testimony meeting produces similar results... Lottie faithfully asks to have a turn up at the pulpit). When it was her Dad's turn to go up with the brethren, he generously took Lottie with him. Surrounded by the male choir, her brown eyes grew wide as she took in their rich, masculine sound. Even so, she didn't fret. Instead, she sat through the song patiently, kept eye contact with the older kids and me and offered a few cute waves to us as she "performed."

"You did such a great job, Lottie!" I praised upon her return.

"I know!" She replied happily.

That night we enjoyed a festive gathering with families from our neighborhood. Having bonked his nose while playing with friends, Henry appeared with a serious nosebleed. As Andrew took control of cleaning him up and stopping the blood, I walked through this gorgeous home, searching for blood spills on the carpet. Enter the choir of heavenly angels singing Hallelujah: after a thorough investigation, it was determined that not a single drop had spilled onto their carpet. That was sure lucky.

Our prelude to Christmas day was lovely and we attribute much of that to the spirit of that Sunday.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Cookies To Go

 "Cookie, anyone?"

If there were any Christmas traditions that I'd be willing to swap for something more simple, cutting out and decorating sugar cookies might be it. Yes. The pregnant grinch Mom resurfaces. Eliza, who has been asking to have this event calendared since Thanksgiving passed, would never allow it.With my grinchy head hung in shame, I have to thank Eliza for ensuring this happy memory was made. The piles of flour dust (eventually) clear and the aching feet that are born of a stubborn resistant to wearing shoes inside whilst cutting six dozen cookies (eventually) heal. The memory of sneaking a taste of batter, hearing your sibling praise your latest frosting/sprinkle design and the eventual tummy ache born of gleeful cookie consumption is what I hope they remember. Oh yes, and the happy faces of friends and primary teachers who are on the receiving end of our yearly delivery.

 Massage that dough. Love that dough. Nibble that dough.
 "Look Mom. No hands!"
 "Carry on kids. I've got a yogurt to eat."
 Breaking up the activity into two different days also helped.
 What a delicious mess! Until next year.

Merry Making

A few weeks back, we gathered at my Mom's for a family Christmas party. The evening's festivities included 'gingerbread' house decorating, watching the children perform the nativity, dinner and cheesecake! (!!!!!!)

 Two bites into my dinner, Eliza appeared at my side. Urgently she whispers,

"Is it time to decorate our houses yet?" Shaking my head, 'No,' I acknowledge the adults full dinner plates and suggest that we finish dinner first. She was eager to get going on this most delicious of holiday projects.

The big kids were up first. It was a happy sight and sound as the got busy with their creations.
Her diligent effort paid off.
Although I'm certain he enjoyed putting his house together, Henry was most interested in sampling it. Wanting to keep his hands clean, Henry dino chomped his way through his masterpiece. In his mind, a sticky face is more tolerable than sticky hands. He makes me laugh.

 The Lottie Elf was thrilled to have access to the candy bowls. She kindly agreed to each of her Mom's decorating choices. We're a good team that way.

Nana excused herself to dress the performers. Thinking back, I feel awful that I didn't assist her in that huge task of outfitting the bouncing group of hopped up on sugar kids in the basement.
The Flegal girls joined Brynn and Sara as the angels. Eliza took her part seriously as she was the only one to repeat what the narrators read that pertained to her role.
Bring on the shepherds.

My favorite Henry moment was watching him reverently clasp his hands when meeting the baby Jesus. Joey who played this most important part, was darling as he calmly laid in the laundry basket full of blankets that Eliza had thoughtfully compiled.

 And last but not least, the nativity wouldn't have been complete without the donkey who dutifully carried Mary to Bethlehem. What do you know? I knew the perfect 'jackass' for the job.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Backyard Adventures - The Igloo Edition

Last Saturday morning (Dec. 15), Andrew was out the door in a hurry. He had a job to do. Having recently attached the snow plow to the John Deere lawn mower, he was eager to plow our driveway before the sun had a chance to melt it. :) One of these days, Andrew and his plow are truly going to serve as heroes because the threat of the sun doing its job won't be a real one.

The children weren't far behind him. When his job plowing was through, he joined the kids in the backyard where the lot of them went to work building an igloo. 

Using an empty plastic storage bin, Andrew went to work filling it up - snow brick by snow brick - to construct a pretty fun space for the kids. 

As expected, the kids took on a supervisory role.
 At last, their home outside of their home was ready.
 A few construction notes on behalf of the builder:
  •  The wood used at the opening of the igloo didn't serve as the entire roof. It was positioned at the entrance only. 
  • Despite being seated for the pictures, the kids could actually stand in and move around their igloo.
  • The credit for the beach toy decor also goes to said builder.
The morning concluded with a spin around the yard on the sled (or maybe that's how it began?) before the kids were at the door informing Mom that they were indeed ready for their hot chocolate.
 Here's hoping for a white Christmas.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Holiday Lights

Last Thursday, Andrew returned home from a business trip. Unlike last year's marathon visit to Florida, this year his trip to Florida lasted three days. Exhausted from his early morning departure, he came home and crashed. The good news was, he wasn't at work which allowed us a headstart up to Willard Bay to see Christmas lights.

For nine dollars per vehicle, you can drive through a beautifully lit Christmas display. For any car that's occupied with a small child or Christmas enthusiast, payiing for the ten minute drive is entirely worth it. Even better, for those who choose it, you can park your car and climb aboard a horse drawn wagon instead for the same price.

Being there on a weekday and arriving soon after they opened, we didn't have to wait long at all for the wagon ride. The horses were adorned with bells that "jingled all the way." The children were mesmerized. Lottie's eyes began to water. It was probably from the dust that the horses who we were seated directly behind kicked up, but for the sake of cheesy merriment, let's pretend it's because she was so fascinated that she didn't remember to blink.  

While some light displays honored the birth of Christ, others celebrated the joy of Santa Claus. We saw some Disney magic sprinkled in too. The kids were snuggly, there was caroling and a bonfire to greet our return. My family was centered in the middle of a Hallmark card. I loved it.

The cherry on top was discovering that Santa was stationed there that night as well. Warming ourselves right up, we went into his inn. With one family ahead of us and  no one behind us (weekdays rock), our kids were able to take their time with their visit.

Lottie surprised us by her willingness to run straight to his lap. Once she was there, however, she went mute. Her wide eyes didn't move from my face as we encouraged her to interact. There wasn't any sign of tears, but she seemed to silently yell at me,

"Mom, why am I on this man's lap? Can I please get my candy cane now?!"
Santa asked Eliza if he could bring her just one toy, what would it be? Surprising us all she easily said,

"A needle and a thread." Santa's expression mirrored mine.

"What the heck?!" Eliza, our artistic craft enthusiast, wants to learn to sew. That's pefect Eliza. We just need someone to re-teach your Mom for the 10th time first.
Henry's list changes dependning on the latest t.v. commercial he has seen. With that being said, he'll be so easy to please Christmas morning.
It was a happy night spent with the Christmas kids we love so much.

I took a few photos of the light display, but didn't bother to post them as they don't do the scene justice. Here's an article from the SL Tribune that has better ones for anyone considering a visit.

In the news

Yesterday a dear friend of mine was volunteering at Eliza's school. She texted me that Eliza wasn't feeling well. Knowing that a stomach virus has been plaguing the area for a few weeks now, I went ahead and told the office that they had my permission to send Eliza home with my friend who would kindly drop her off at my house. Lottie was napping and my friend was on her way home anyway.

Yes, I was concerned that Eliza's stomach was upset. Before they pulled in the driveway, I had her pillow, a barf bowl, the hand sanitizer and other comfort items ready for my patient. I shamelessly confess, however, that I was deeply relieved that her school day was over. That pit in my stomach that I felt when I dropped her off that morning would momentarily be reprieved until the following day when I'd hug and kiss her 'goodbye' again.

Friday's tragedy left me reeling. In no way can I compare the impact its had on me to the unimaginable level of grief and horror of those who are actually living through that dark hell. With that clarification being made, I feel terrible sadness for the families of the victims. As the events unfolded, I couldn't pull away from the updates. I soothed my worry by telling myself that those children weren't targeted. There was a mistake clearly. Elementary schools and the teachers who selflessly love and serve our babies are exempt (the same way movie theaters, grocery store corners and shopping malls ought to be)... please God.

Having distracted Lottie, I made my way into the front room so I could pray. I completely broke down. I wanted to go get Eliza from school that minute. I didn't. I'm still not sure why. I suppose I needed the time to get it together or perhaps prove to myself that I believed her to be safe. Lottie soon found me in the front room. Concerned why her Mother was upset, I quickly told her that I was all better and offered up a big smile. She still insisted that I needed to get myself a bandaid. :)

My soul felt sick. I soon learned via Facebook of the Parker/Cottle family connection to Utah. That connection was tightened one step further when my brother in law, Mark, shared his grief that his cousin, Robbie Parker, had lost his daughter Emilie in the shooting.

As Andrew and I talked about it, he asked if we were going to tell Eliza what happened. My immediate answer was, "No." I wondered if that was really in her best interest or if it was my selfish desire to keep her protected from the mental horror and fear awhile longer. I want her to feel safe at school. They practice lock downs already. I think it was the right thing. Reading this article on KSL, reaffirmed my initial instinct that I didn't need to tell her. Other parents of young children may feel differently and that's totally fine. I also know that there's a chance she'll hear about it through the grapevine but I guess that's just a risk we decided to take.

Days later, that lump in your throat that is triggered by sadness, easily rises. Tears continue to fall freely. Fear accompanies me on the way to taking my kids to school and I wish that it wouldn't. I wish society had a perfect solution to cure mental illness. I wish that Parenthood didn't leave you so incredibly vulnerable. Hearing a separate piece of bad news this morning, I felt flattened. It isn't even my piece of bad news! A stanza from the song, 'I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day" began playing through my head.

And in despair I bowed my head;
"There is no peace on earth," I said;
"For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!"

I hurried to look up the entire song because I realized I was focusing on the wrong verse. In the final verse, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow had to choose faith over his grief ... and believe me; he had every reason in the world not to choose faith I discovered after reading the story behind the song  here

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
"God is not dead; nor doth he sleep!
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men!"

I pray that these families are privy to a level of Heavenly comfort that we as a public can not see or fathom. That comfort is is something that I hope extends to those who have their own personal heartaches that aren't related to this event as well. It's a hope that I have for my future self when we're confronted with despair. I hope that comfort can lead to peace until that time with the Savior comes again and all of the wrongs in the world fail completely and healing and happiness is perfectly restored to the brokenhearted through His grace. 

Thursday, December 13, 2012

A brother for Henry!

Like Henry, we're pretty enthused over the news that baby four is a boy!! With each pregnancy, I have found myself in a new doctor's office for different reasons. Each experience has been unique with their own list of pros and cons. It would be interesting to share those details, but I'll leave that post for another day.

What I enjoy very much about the office I'm (or should I say 'we're'?) currently at, is that at each appointment there is an ultrasound. That is standard for their practice and yes, insurance covers it. They also provided a DVD that I am to bring to each appointment so they can record the latest developments in one place as a keepsake to the Mother. With that being said, I have never (until now) had an ultrasound at 12 weeks.

November 7th, I went in per usual for my appointment. My Doctor, who is a very upbeat person by nature, suddenly grew quiet. The smirk on his face, however, stayed put. In a tone that was suspiciously casual he asks,

"Are you and your husband planning to find out the gender?" He knew. I could tell that he knew. Before I answer I assume right then that if he can tell then he MUST be seeing BOY!! I had to confirm.

"YES! Yes we want to know. Can you already tell?" His smile grows bigger.

"I think so."

And then I saw it for myself... a boy... another BOY!

"What if he's tricking us?" He confessed to being tricked before, but didn't think that would happen this time. Skipping out of his office (not really), I went to the store, purchased a blue balloon and a candy bar (I thought I'd keep this record honest... I was hungry and to happy to resist), picked up Lottie and drove straight to Andrew's office.

Feigning a small amount of concern, I told him that the baby was fine but that I was actually just outside, needing to talk to him. Out he came. As he directed me where to park, his worried face caught sight of the blue balloon. On cue, that smile that I drove all the way there to see in person, broke through. We went up to his desk so that he could watch the DVD himself. The balloon, however, stayed in the car

(It turns out, Andrew isn't a huge fan of attention.)

He'd been with me the other times I found out the gender... today's news had been unexpected and I didn't have the willpower to refuse the information. I wanted to be there in person to see his face when he found out that he was having another a son, Henry would have a brother... that he was actually going to get his F.. um... let's try that again. In May, our new baby Forr... (* coughing loudly). Andrew will finally hold our new baby Fo-rre...

Ah man. I just can't make myself type it.

If you're confused, click here.

As the children colored their pictures of baby Jesus in the manger last Monday for family night, Andrew doodled on piece of paper of his own during the activity. I couldn't help but smile when I discovered that he had written the name, "Forrest Flegal" 20 times, in various fonts and crayon color all over his paper. I just wanted you to know that particular discussion is ALIVE and WELL (heavy on the sarcasm) at our house.

Anyway, back to November 7th... it was a very fun morning. I wanted to wait to share the news until it was confirmed at my 16 week appointment: Great news, he's still a boy! 

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Temple Square with Michael

Before heading to Salt Lake to pick up Michael, we attended our ward's Christmas breakfast. Having a tendency to get times wrong, we showed up quite early. Happy to be able to help, we got busy filling in where we could. The morning was enjoyed by each of us as we visited with neighbors, ate delicious food, sang Christmas songs and welcomed Santa and his jolly lady love.

Eliza was second in line to greet him. Momentarily horrified that she'd left the list she'd made him that morning at home on the counter, she quickly composed herself. After sitting herself on his lap she articulately and professionally rattled off her Christmas wish list. It was so efficient that if you had told me that she had it memorized in alphabetical order, I would have believed you. Per my request, she loosened up for a quick picture.
Suggesting we ought to be sensitive of his time (and the other kids waiting in line) I quickly added two more Flegals to his lap for a picture.
Lottie was unimpressed, but considering last year's reaction I would say it was a step up!  Henry was up next. Unlike his sister, he went blank. Lucky for him, Mom was there to whisper his Christmas wishes. 'Coincidentally,' each thing he repeated to Santa, matched the same list that I've been working on for him this year.

Off topic:

I give Andrew grief about the dishes on a regular basis. It would seem that he's allergic to the sink and I'm pretty sure we were in agreement before this pregnancy started that he'd tackle this duty as a favor to the wife who gags and coughs whenever she encounters scents of an awful nature. And while I could fill pages of all that he does do to contribute to the welfare of our family, doing the dishes does not top the list. 

So... when Eliza found her Daddy doing the dishes following the breakfast in the kitchen of the Church, she found me in the hall and hollered,

"Hey Mom!! You have got to see this! Dad really DOES know how to do the dishes. Come look!" It provided laughs for everyone in range of Eliza's declaration. I couldn't help myself. I replied,

"It's a Christmas miracle!"

Following said miracle, we were off to Salt Lake to find our friend Michael. Now, if you had one chance to treat a foreign friend in Salt Lake to lunch, where would you go?

Did I just hear someone say, Cafe Rio? Because that's where we went. We headed to Nanna and Bubba's where we enjoyed lunch together. After that, Andrew and Michael (per Michael's request) headed back downtown to do a session at the temple. Later that evening, Bubba, Nanna and I bundled up the kids to meet them. It was surprisingly warm considering it is December. Unsurprisingly, it was super crowded. That's okay, though.

I was so happy to see that the candy windows are back! A friend of mine helped her daughter to build/create the green ornament. Due to the crowd, it was difficult to take a picture of it, but it was still fun to see a name of an artist that we recognized.
 I was happy to have Nanna and Bubba there to help me while we waited for Andrew and Michael. Not only that, but they always make outings more special and memorable (water, anyone?!) when they're with us.
 That cute blob of orange is Henry up on his Dad's shoulders.
 And finally, we paused for a family photo. If Eliza looks a little dazed, it's because she was. A few minutes prior to having this picture taken, Eliza walked straight into a rod iron fence that had been propped open. She's lucky not to have bled, but she had a nasty bump. Poor girl. Considering that on our prior holiday outing she was the one who 'got lost,' I'd say she's due for some festive fun minus any emotional and physical injury.

After dropping Michael off at his hotel that night, it was Andrew who began spewing/verbalizing his sadness.

"And just like that it's over."

Don't worry, I gave him a hug.

To Michael: it was a treat spending the day with you. Thanks again for the German chocolate goodies and treats. You're the best. We miss you and your family and hope to see you soon!!

Monday, December 10, 2012

A Cherished Friendship

Today's post is brought to you by Hallmark...and Tums (for when I make you feel nauseous).

Okay, not really but considering how emotional I feel at the moment, I thought a warning might be fair. It's not everyday that you get to write about being reunited with a dear friend from Germany. My inner-dialogue is running swift at the moment as it pulls memory after special memory into focus.
 For those fair few who have followed our family blog since its inception, I was confident (a day or two ago) that if I typed the name, Michael Auras, you'd know who I was referring to in a flash.

However, after perusing through the first four months of my blog, I was let down by how little I mentioned this special friend of ours. In an attempt to make restitution, I would like to take a moment to catch up on our shared history. If I want Heaven to take our request seriously that we want to build next door to the Auras family in our next life, I think a few specifics might help our cause. ;)  

This blog began when Andrew, Eliza and I moved to Germany in May 2007. It provided a way to keep our families updated on our happenings as phone calls were difficult and finding times to skype with the time difference was likewise challenging. It also gave me something to do when we weren't out exploring.

Andrew had landed an internship with BMW in Landshut, Germany but because he was attached to a wife and child, it was his responsibility to find his own housing. Late one night, we made contact with the Branch President of the area where he'd be working. His name was Michael.

Their conversation began in German, but as Andrew learned that Michael himself was proficient in English, it shifted for my benefit. After explaining our situation, we were astonished to hear Michael say, in a surprisingly casual tone, that we could live in the empty duplex next door to his family's home.

Say what?

The landlord of the home was a member of the branch. After speaking with him, he'd confirm with us. As we ended our first communication with him, I distinctly remember feeling peace as well as astonishment. This was actually going to happen!

Under Michael's direction, his wife and our soon-to-be neighbors stocked our summer home with beds, toys for Eliza, kitchenware, patio furniture for our living room among other necessities. They shared their stroller, sandbox, dinner table, car (at times) and bikes. Their hospitality was unreal. I soon learned that when you try to graciously thank them, they accept it while expressing clearly that it was no trouble at all.

Michael, in his big yellow VW van, picked up our exhausted family from the airport. I immediately went into "make a friend" mode which means that I didn't stop talking for the duration of our drive to Ermlandweg. In between my ramblings, I remember being intrigued by the red roof tops, the rain and green rolling hills. My (poor) tendency to talk (and talk) when meeting someone for the first time came to a screeching halt when I realized that everyone else I would soon meet didn't speak English.

Other fond memories include:
  • The Auras family, along with the missionaries, celebrating Eliza's first birthday with us. 
  • I remember the night Michael stopped by our house after work to surprise us with gelato. It was my first gelato experience... and I will never forget it... feffermintz! That night we played board games with Michael and his wife Johanna. 
  • Michael (and sometimes his family) accompanied us to Vienna, Munich, RegensburgKoenigsee, Neuschwanstein, etc.  
  • Neighborhood BBQ's 
  • Date nights with Michael and Johanna; some were embarrassing, others were very fun.
  • Michael and Johanna were with us when Eliza took her first steps.
  • After disregarding Andrew's request that I wait before purchasing a pregnancy test, I bravely (shopping in Germany was always an act of bravery for me) bought one myself. Johanna was outside watering the garden that morning. Needing someone to confirm what "schwanger" meant, I went to her. In her thick German accent she smiled and said, "Congratualtions Ellie! You're pregnant!" She was the first to know about Henry. 
  • Their six darling kids played, cared and loved Eliza so well. They were fun, mischievous and bright.They were also my best teachers in helping me to speak and understand German.
They treated us like family and when we left, we were saying 'Goodbye' to family. You'll be shocked to discover I wrote in great detail about those sad feelings. ;) I also wrote this poem.

Feeling a small speck of redemption, you can understand how excited Andrew and I were to learn that Michael would be traveling to SLC for business. All I can say is that I hope he'll forgive my crazy American self for crying with happiness when I jumped out of the car to give him a hug. Then again, he lived next door to us for four months. My behavior couldn't have been that big of a surprise, eh?

As for Andrew, I'd like to make one observation. When Andrew meets someone new (a recent meeting with a new home teacher comes to mind), he is very reserved and serious. It still surprises me to see him become introverted when we're in public. However, in Germany... I don't know why it worked like this, he was much more himself. It was easy for a friendship between Michael and Andrew to develop because he was able to quickly access that confident, easy going, witty version of himself that he found on his mission... the same guy who I live with everyday.
More on our day with Michael later. I'll conclude by saying that to have a few hours to visit with Michael and remember how special life for our family was that summer was a real treat.