Thursday, October 30, 2014

Sunshine Lottie

Happy birthday to you!
Happy birthday to you!
Happy birthday Dear Lottie,
Happy birthday to you!

Our sweet Lottie turned four years old on October 18th! Today's post will detail the events of her special day followed by a sappy, albeit honest, emotion filled ("I'm sticking my finger down my throat now, Mom" - Flegal children) love letter. There remains the chance that my words will someday be appreciated by my sweet little yahoos; so while that hope remains alive in my chest, I thus proceed.  

Once more, Lottie's birthday fell over Utah's fall break, a.k.a. U.E.A. weekend; or in husband speak: it was the weekend of the highly anticipated deer hunt! (Run Bambi. RUN!!!) With Andrew's thoughts centered on his upcoming trip, the planning fell entirely to me. But who are we kidding? That's the way all birthdays are at our house. The big difference was he'd be absent for the festivities. :(

Thursday the 16th we went to the zoo with some great friends and then spent the afternoon playing at Nanna Teresa's. Having had such a good time, we decided to completely hijack Nanna Teresa's day by sleeping over. We headed home on Friday to catch up on basic errands and spruce up the place for Lottie's birthday. By this point, Andrew was well on his way out of town.

Keeping things simple, we indulged in Lottie's request by having doughnuts for breakfast. We sang to our birthday girl, ate breakfast, watched her open one gift and then it was time for us to hustle our buns out the door! We had plans to go to Black Island Farms, a pumpkin patch. Word on the street was that Black Island Farms is a happening place. A friend recommended we arrive as it opened. Her suggestion proved to be a very good idea.
A birthday sneeze! 
My birthday girl!
"Do you want to wear a Halloween shirt to the pumpkin patch 
or your Elsa shirt?"
Fish, fish, she got her wish. :)

Black Island Farm Highlights included:
  • Going with Nana Marie and cousin Emilee.
  • The beautiful weather.
  • The tractor ride to the pumpkin patch that included a bold and obnoxious Mother (me) asking all of the other passengers to join me in singing Happy Birthday to Lottie. I don't know who I embarrassed more: my kids or my Mom! 
  • We unexpectedly ran into Cinderella and Merida in the courtyard. Lottie loved meeting them. My guilt for not hiring an "Elsa" to come host a party at our house was lessened slightly.
  • The giant slides. And man, some of them were giant. 
  • The play pit of corn kernels. I'm pretty sure this same pit is the reason some of my kids now have a cold.
  • The darling cow and pig train that drove us through a corn maze. 
  • The food trucks. I loved smelling the delicious food. I hated that I was to cheap to buy anything.
  • The lovely arrangement of out houses. Actually, this was not a highlight either, but I remain grateful they were there.   
  • And finally, there was a variety of spots where we could position the children for a fun Autumn time picture. They did not like this. I loved it.

Later that night, we had a "quiet" party at our home with my parents, brother Mike and cousin Emilee. I knew that she was having a great day, but it made my heart sad when she asked, "Mom? When are all my friends coming over?" Mom fail. 

We still managed to have a fun evening of pizza, cake and presents.
Eliza was so proud of the doll she bought Lottie from the dollar store. She kept the purchase a secret from Lottie and then lovingly wrapped the gift. Seeing as how all of the gifts I had wrapped were void of ribbon, she kindly volunteered to tie them up herself in knots and bows that would make the most capable of Boy Scouts proud. Dealing with said bows extended the unwrapping process by several minutes. :)
Dear Lottie,

You are a dream of a daughter. I'm grateful everyday that I get to spend my day with you and your smile. I love the sound of your laugh; especially when it has joined forces with the combined sound of your sibling's laughter. You are our peacemaker. Like your Mom, you are a "people pleaser." If you see a conflict brewing between myself and an older sibling, you are quick to fall in line with my expectations (I sound like a dictator all of the sudden -- yikes!) and point out that you are being the good listener. Wanting to make others happy, you've discovered that utilizing your quick wit and sense of humor makes you happy as you love to make others laugh.

Sometimes I think you're my performer but your shy nature, at times, steals your courage. Music, dance lessons, preschool and playing pretend are some of your favorite things. I thought every little girl grew up with an obsession with Barbies and "playing house" but I soon learned with Eliza that is not true. Eliza would rather be decorating Barbie's mansion and styling the dolls. You, on the other hand, will spend hours playing with them. When Eliza invites you to be her "doll," the pair of you will disappear to her bedroom (which you LOVE) where she will choose a fancy outfit, style your hair and adorn you with jewelry and ribbon.

You and Henry remain close friends. Sharing a room, you two have settled into your own routine and rituals. Just this morning I learned that you alternate who gets to use the toilet first when you take your morning visit to the bathroom.. Ha ha ha! You will not leave your bedroom without him. Realizing that it's impolite to wake him up yourself, you'll wait quietly in your bed until he wakes up...most days. I've also caught him laying in your bed, reading you a story, after you both have been tucked in. Secretly, this makes me very happy. You play well together, most of the time, but usually find something to argue about whenever it's time to team up and clean your room. Frustrated, Henry will request that he finish on his own. This breaks your heart. 

You adore Forrest. You love to kiss him and say, "He's just so cute!" like he's a giant piece of chocolate that you simply can not resist. He is a lucky boy that so much of his day is spent playing with you. You are generous in fulfilling Forrest related favors for me. Thank you for being such a fantastic big and little sister. 

Watching you at dance has been a fun experience. You listen attentively and remain super quiet. While the other girls will goof off, laugh and blurt out questions, you do not dare step a toe out of line. It reminds me of your Dad who is so silly and relaxed at home. And then, when we are out in the "real world," he becomes so serious! However, that smile of yours, that I love so much, often betrays you when I am able to catch your eye in a setting like this. You love school and seeing how fast you pick up on things is very exciting. You are very, very smart.

Recently you have decided that you are ready to say your prayers on your own. This delights us all! You are thoughtful and funny in what you choose to pray for. When it's the other kids to pray, you plead and cry and beg for it to be your turn instead. You melt under praise and attention. Your hands come quickly to the rescue as they cover your face and eyes from the attention that to you, seems palpable.

Sometimes you're my quiet mouse. I told Daddy the other day that I feel like you and I communicate well without words. Knowing how much I love and use words, this is kind of a new thing for me! We understand each other. I know what your expressions mean and feel your moods. You're the same way.Your big, expressive eyes communicate much. I'm so thankful that you let me know when you want to be held. Sometimes, after I've been gone on an errand, I return home and suddenly find that I have a little shadow. You don't say much, you're just there with me. I love this. I love you!

Each night, you choose a song for me to sing while I tickle your back. For the past year, you have faithfully selected: "You are my sunshine." And so, night after night, I sing to you: 

You are my sunshine, my only sunshine. 
You make me happy, when skies are gray. 
You'll never know dear, how much I love you. 
Please don't take my sunshine away.

I love you darling girl. I feel such contentment, with a healthy sprinkling of heartache, as I watch you grow. You love life. Being like the big kids makes you proud and happy As for me, I'm happiest when you are being my little Lottie girl. Please take your time. Enjoy each day. We love you so much.


Flegal fall memories

When it comes to cousins, grandparents, aunts and uncles, our children struck the lottery. I know. I've said that before. It's still true. Andrew and I feel very blessed that our kids are growing up with regular contact. Sometimes regular contact turns into super frequent. Welcome to today's blog post.

Fall break, we slept at Nanna's and Bubba's after a fun trip to the zoo with friends. Andrew woke up early the next morning to meet Bubba at the cabin for the deer hunt; where I'm sure they bonded in the most manly of fashions.  
Snuggling my babies

Conference weekend was an even bigger party as we slept over with the Taylor family. Sunday morning we enjoyed crepes, conference, cousins and sewing (sorry to kill the alliteration spree). 
Andrew and his sister Sara make crepes
Sewing with Syrelle
The boys play in Nanna's toy closet
Nanna gives Lottie a  mani/pedi

Another weekend the Jensen crew, along with Nanna and Bubba, came up to our house for an evening of fondue. It was delicious. Katie recently won a high quality fondue pot courtesy of my all time favorite, Mel's Kitchen Cafe (Hi Mel!!) which taught me that I really should enter contests. I actually won a princess dress from Getaway Today (score!) but have to confess that it's because my awesome friend entered me. Dinner was delicious but I think my most favorite thing of all might have been snuggling baby Harley. And, I would like to also recommend the recipe Mel has for fondue. It was brilliantly delicious. 
Bun bun made an appearance after dinner

Look how big Forrest is getting! 
While he was busy with the bunny, I was snuggling this cutie pie.
Harley Grace, I love your face!
The night just evolved into a great big cuddle-fest. 
While my arms were full of this sweet baby,
Brent and Katie took advantage of having their children well occupied!
Why yes. 
A trip to the Flegal funny farm wouldn't be complete without a red neck train ride.

And last but not least, last Saturday Eliza and I met Nanna and the Taylor girls at Olympus High where we watched the musical, "Cinderella." It was really well done. I was so impressed. It was also my first time in the new school building; which was absolutely amazing.

"Eliza, this is where I went to high school. Except it's not."

"Eliza, I was in an Olympus high school musical. I sang solos, danced and spoke in a New York accent; except it wasn't this auditorium or that stage."
We were excited to share with Cinderella our distant connection with her. Cinderella's Mom, Melissa, babysat Andrew growing up (all the time). They were next door neighbors. We felt a little bit cool because of that. Ha ha ha! 

With a cousin's baptism and a baby blessing coming up this weekend, I see a lot more family time on the horizon. Huzzah!

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

In Loving Memory of Simon Martin Auras

 In Loving Memory: Simon Martin Auras
April 10, 2003 - October 9, 2014
Click HERE to help the Auras family with funeral expenses

(written Tuesday: October 14)

Dear Michael and Johanna,

Since receiving word of your beloved son's passing, my broken heart and disbelieving thoughts have been centered on your family. It would be easy to write paragraphs detailing my grief, but my personal feelings would pale in both depth and understanding in comparison to the horrifying heartache that is suddenly yours to carry. With that being said, it is my great hope that the heavenly peace and comfort that surrounds your family likewise surpasses my understanding. Per Michael's request, I want to share with you the memories and love I have for Simon and your family with the hope it will bring you a smile.

First of all, I apologize that I can not articulate my thoughts in German. As I said so often that summer we shared together, "Ich spreche kein Deutch!" (I speak zero German!). One of my favorite memories, that I suddenly want to share, involves Johanna because one thing is for certain: Simon would not have been the amazing person that he is without the love of his incredible Mother.

Johanna's kindness was immediate as she included me in her circle of friends despite my inability to communicate. I remember being hit with jet lag the first time we went out with her friends. My second post on this blog offers a few details from that night. Johanna said from day one that she didn't speak English. However, it soon became clear that wasn't entirely true! Michael, Andrew and I would be having a funny conversation in English and suddenly, Johanna would join in laughing! Her laughter was a signal that she understood us well. It gave me confidence that I could ask her questions and go to her for help, which I did a lot.

In fact, I'm jumping ahead completely, it was Johanna who confirmed the news that I was pregnant with Henry. The pregnancy test I took simply read: "schwanger." There was no plus or minus sign or a pair of pink lines to clearly indicate I was expecting. So there I sat, staring at the word "schwanger," completely clueless! Was this even a pregnancy test? I'll never forget that morning, or her smile, when I burst outside to the front garden we shared. She was watering her plants as the hopeful and obnoxious excited foreigner (me), who was still in her pajamas mind you, approached with the pregnancy test in hand. Andrew was at work. In fact, I had bought the test behind his back. I hadn't had the patience to wait "a few more days" as he'd requested. Her face lit up with a smile. She nodded her head and happily said,

"Good job Ellie!" Her crazy American friend proceeded to jump up and down like a small child discovering their prized wish on Christmas morning.

 Andrew and I weren't hoping to expand our family while we were in Germany. That had not been in our plans originally. Things changed when we met the Auras family and their six children; specifically four year old twins: Simon and Jakob.
Simon and Jakob, May 2007

At that time Eliza was our, cherished beyond words, only child. In our eyes, she was perfect in every way. Sigh! Watching her interact with Simon and Jakob brought about a sudden change in my heart.

If I remember correctly, in the summer of 2007, the six Auras children ranged in age from four to ten. They were a tight knit, energetic bunch comprised of five boys and one {darling} girl. Eliza soon took to the twins. They became her daily playmates. At our house we have a giant sandbox. This is because the Auras family had a giant sandbox in their yard. We soon learned (and loved) that their sandbox was a regular gathering place for their children and neighbors. They lovingly welcomed Eliza into the mix. Their yard, or garden, was always a bright and happy place. I have fond memories of their tree house, hammock, sandbox, playing bad mitten and taking Eliza for a dip in their inflatable swimming pool. It was also in their garden where Eliza would learn to walk.

In addition to being their next door neighbors, we traveled with the Auras family frequently. They guided us to spectacular sights like Neuschwanstein and Koenigsee. They also showed us quiet, yet equally beautiful, hillsides where we'd take our families for a Sunday afternoon walk. Spending that much time together, we had the opportunity to watch the Auras children, and their parents, interact often.
 Our visit to Berchtesgaden and Koenigsee - click here
Simon and I chill in the back seat while on a road trip

It would be fair to assume that there would be loud, crazy and chaotic moments. Children don't always get along. They throw tantrums and get hurt. There are tears; an endless supply at times. We saw all these things. However, if you look at the size of our family now, you'd see that the positives we saw of having a big, close family had the greater influence!
 Familien Auras 2007

Without even trying, Johanna dispelled the myth that a Mother doesn't have enough time or energy to love and pay attention to so many small children. Big brother Jeremiah is only a year (or so) older than the twins. I'd observe as Johanna loved and supported each one of her kids. Its true, however, that her work never ended. Johanna was never idle. From sun up to sun down she was serving her family; never complaining. She showed me that you can have incredible work ethic and still take time to have fun! When it was time to relax and socialize, she would laugh and make jokes. She made time to be with her husband and friends. She is down to earth, spiritually in tune, loves her children fiercely and doesn't pay attention to the frivolous things of the world. I grew to admire her quickly. I admired how she worked with great energy and how she loved her busy, growing family. It wasn't long before I realized that I wanted Eliza to have a sibling to squabble, tease and play with. And I hoped that someday I'd achieve the same balance she beautifully demonstrated.
 Johanna and her twins picking strawberries
Jakob and Simon, June 2014

I didn't understand much German, but Simon had two little phrases that I repeatedly heard and therefore understood. The first was, "Vo ist Eliza?!" Forever in my brain, Simon and Jakob are four years old. In my minds eye, I see them on our front porch asking, "Where is Eliza?" It tickled me that they wanted her for a playmate. She was only one year old. And let's be honest, she didn't have much to bring to the table at that point; but they loved her anyway. I was looking through photos the other day and noticed that on that sad, dark day when we returned to the Munich airport for our flight home, it was Simon who pushed Eliza through the airport. My thoughts on leaving Germany can be found here and here.
Eliza loved Simon

Remembering how the twins would sometimes walk in our home without knocking, I have to say that it wasn't a huge problem other than it would sometimes scare me! I remember being upstairs one morning and hearing someone using the bathroom downstairs. Andrew was at work and Eliza wore diapers.

"Who is in my house?!" I wondered. Freaked out, I walked down the stairs. Turning toward the bathroom, I see Simon flushing the toilet! Noticing me, he waved, offered a friendly, "Hello!" and then headed back outside to play.

The second phrase or question that will forever tie Simon to my heart is, "Ich will ein eis haben!" which means, I think, "I want an ice cream (or Popsicle)!" Whether we were  away on an outing or Simon was finished helping his Mama in the yard, a sweet ice cream treat was always on his mind! He would ask for his treat over and over again... determined to win that Popsicle. All children like ice cream and Popsicles, but Simon LOVED them. At least his four year old self did!

Since that time, we've watched our beloved neighbors grow up through pictures. Thank you social media! I've loved interacting with the older children on Facebook and often wonder how much of that summer they remember. It truly was a lifetime highlight for both Andrew and me. Michael travels to Utah for work which has provided my children with the opportunity to get to know and love him. What a blessing this is! In fact, whenever Lottie sees his picture, she calls him the "Candy Man" because he brings us treats from Germany! We have enjoyed hearing about his family during these visits and long to take a return trip back to visit and know them again.

When the news came of Simon's passing, my heart broke and frustration grew as circumstances would not permit us to physically be there with our friends. We explained to our children what happened and they are sharing in our sadness and in praying and fasting for them. Saturday night, after putting the kids to bed, Andrew and I sat together on our couch. At that moment, I became unglued. I started to sob as I spoke out loud the feelings of my heart to Andrew. I was upset, confused and sad. Eliza could hear my words and my sobs from her bedroom upstairs. It's because of her that I share this experience.

In the middle of my ugly Mom cry, she tip-toed to where we sat and delivered a sweet note to me that I want to share with Michael and Johanna in hopes that it will bring them a piece of comfort as it did for me.
"Dear Mom, I'm so sorry
you are sad. I feel the same exact way. 
I said a prayer to help you feel better.
Simon was so kind, sweet, and nice that 
God just had to send him to tell him good job.
We will all be resurrected so Michael can see
Simon again. I love you! Love, Eliza"
The promise of the resurrection is real. I have a testimony of the sealing power that binds families together on earth for time and all eternity in God's holy temples. I find solace in knowing that the Auras family shares these same convictions. Michael, who was the branch president while we lived there, now serves as the Stake President for the entire Munich area. That is a big responsibility and takes a tremendous amount of his time and energy.

I have wondered time and time again why the Lord calls home these precious children when they are so beloved and cherished, needed and wanted, here on Earth. I don't understand it at all. Why, when Michael is giving so much to the Lord was Simon called away? Michael's faith, I know, is stronger than mine but the thought that has recently come into my head is that these members of his Stake, his flock that he presides over, know and love him and his family. His family will have the attention, love and prayers of all those members whom he serves. My heart isn't the only one that is broken. We only shared one summer with Simon. Why were so lucky to come to know this family, Andrew and I have often wondered aloud. We don't know why we were blessed with such a great and lasting bond of friendship, but hope that it continues to last and grow.

Michael and Johanna, we love you. We ache for you and your children. You are in our thoughts and prayers.

With love,

Ali, Andrew and family