Thursday, January 22, 2009

Christmas Morning

Declan is still just like a little kid. He set his alarm and woke us all up at 5:00 Christmas Morning. It always seems like Christmas morning is so anticipated, and then over so quickly, so Santa wised up this year and wrapped EVERYTHING! ( I mean eve the underwear!) It took us a couple hours to open it all up, and we took time to enjoy everything as we went. It was so much fun! (I think Santa's wrap job made everyone feel like they got so much more this year.)
Declan's big present from Santa was a Klipsch I-Home that he loves to blare as he goes to bed at night.

Decota was so excited to get her own digital camera. She is having a blast snapping pictures of everything. What can I say, like mother like daughter. Now maybe I can give her fake smiles and look at her like "Are you ever going to stop taking pictures". Ha, ha- This could be fun!

Cambria got an I-Pod Nano from Santa. She is rarely without it and is always singing. She LOVES to sing, and Rodney and I are constantly smiling at each other as we listen to her from the other room. The first order of business for her was to download Zoolander to it so she could watch it right away (some weird dream she has had this year about having an I-Pod with Zoolander).

Camryn loved his rope with the pigs hooves. He immediately tried to bury it in the house by finding things to pile on top of it. It was so funny, at first, when we would find it in random places, but then it got annoying when he started taking all of my folded laundry and moving it to cover his rope, or taking all of the pillows off of the bed and stuffing it between the mattress and the wall. Finally I had to put it up and tell him he could have it again when we go camping so he can really bury it.

After all of the gifts were opened, Rodney and I laid back down and fell asleep. I usually make a big breakfast, but this year I fell into a deep, long sleep. Luckily I had made a ton of yummy homemade cinnamon rolls, and they just helped themselves. They played all day with their gifts, and were so sweet and grateful. It was such a pleasant, relaxing day!

Christmas Eve

I love Christmas Trees and Christmas Lights. It makes everything seem so happy and alive. When you take them all down, the house just does not feel as warm.

The kids LOVED their Christmas PJ's this year!

I had a little bit of a creative bug, and so I decided to paint these hat boxes to look like peppermints and warp the kids Christmas Eve PJ's in them. The kids loved them so much that they were more excited about the packages than what was in them. They made me promise to keep them and use them again next year, plus think of another cool idea for another package. Any Ideas?

Our good friends, The Anderson's, spent Christmas Eve with us. It was so nice to have someone to share Christmas soups and sweets with. Lucky Amy received the famous "Black lay in the Tub" white elephant gift. It is sitting by their kitchen sink for the year, but don't worry, it will be back in the rotation next year!

I had to include a picture of the house in our neighborhood that won the Clark Griswold award. You just had to laugh every time you saw it. I love it!

Monday, January 19, 2009

Our Christmas Gift

All of the presents we were able to buy for our secret family!
(Things like an MP3 player, PJ's, Clothes, Shoes, and fun things to do)

The kids loved helping with all of the wrapping.

We made tags for each present, each on with a different encouraging message.

The jackpot of presents all wrapped and ready to deliver!

This year we had an incredible Christmas experience. Decota has been deeply touched by the hard life of a boy at her school. His story has made all of us evaluate our lives, and truly realize how fortunate and blessed we are.

This little boy had been placed in foster care last year along with his 16 year old and 8 year old sisters. They were removed from the home after CPS found out that the older sister had been caring for the children on her own for awhile. The mom had found the "love of her life" and had moved him in to their house. The boyfriend apparently abused all of the children, badly. When the police became involved he was given a restraining order to stay away from the house. The mom could not be without her true love, so she moved him back in and told the kids they had to stay in one part of the house to avoid him. They all stayed in one room, and the 16 year old slept sitting up against the door to try to block him from coming in. When the police found out he was back, he went on the run. The mom told the kids that they would one day leave her and so she needed to go with him because he would always be there for her- and then she left. The older sister was able to get a job at a local college's cafeteria so that she could bring in money and try to pay the bills. This also enabled her to bring home food for the kids. They tried to keep it quite and deal with it so that they would not be split up, but of course something had to be done when CPS found out. They were then placed in foster care with a Jehovah's Witness family (they are Jehovah's Witness). CPS later found out that the family was keeping the three kids in the garage, and that they were only allowed to come in to go to the bathroom. The police came by and told the family they could not keep them out there, so they were simply moved inside. The oldest sister is supposed to be an excellent student (she even received the award of Student of the Month while all of this was going on), she is a mentor to other kids with a program through the school, and is working to help pay her part for the family. She is working very hard to graduate early so that she can get emancipated, get a better job, and get custody of the kids. Teachers are trying to encourage her to find a way to go to college, but she is so devoted to trying to make a more stable life for her siblings that she can't see how it would be possible right now. The oldest sister gives all that she has to her younger siblings. The kids wear clothes that are too big or too small. They wear shoes that are 5 sizes big, or have holes in the soles. They have never been to a movie. They have never done most things that normal kids do. When we heard their story we knew we had to do something to lift their spirits and help them out.
I was very concerned as to how we were going to be able to do anything for this family, but we all knew we needed to. Because it was a very tight Christmas for us this year, the kids all decided that they would give up quite a bit of their presents in order to free up the funds to shop for this family. My parents and my sisters were sooooo sweet and pitched in, too. It seemed like everywhere I went I was able to get so much more for my money than I had imagined. There were deals to be found everywhere, local stores graciously giving me so much more than I had paid for, and blessings all around.
The pile of presents quickly piled up. These kids had never received a present in their lives, so we wanted it to be a big deal and wrapped everything individually. Because they are Jehovah's Witnesses I felt strongly that we should not make it all Christmasey, so I decided to wrap each kids gifts in their own brightly colored paper and make a special tag for each gift. On each tag I recognized some unique quality in them, or gave them words of encouragement. The gifts turned out wonderfully, and we all had such a great time preparing them.
When the presents were all ready, Rodney and I loaded up the car and snuck them into the councilor's office. She was overcome with emotion as we brought them in, and later called Declan and Decota in and cried as she thanked them for their participation. The little boy was brought in later and was shown the gifts. We were told that his eyes got huge as he saw the stack of presents, and that he kept saying it was a dream come true. He told the councilor that his sisters had made him homemade gifts before, and that his mom had given him her leftovers from a restaurant as a gift before, but that he had never had a real present. The councilor then had him read a couple of the tags and he started to cry. He was so touched that someone felt that way about him. He was then told that the next day after school he and his sisters would meet at the councilor's office and open the presents. Talk about a Christmas Eve- 12 years worth of anticipation all in one night. Decota said he was just beaming for the rest of that day and the next. She said by the end of the next day he was bouncing in his seat, hardly able to stand it any longer. I guess there were lots of smiles and tears as their Christmas surprises were opened.
The whole process was such a touching experience for our family. There was not a whole lot of "I want this" and "I want that" at our house this year. The day we dropped off the presents we were talking with the kids and they said that Christmas for them was already over, everything else was just icing on the cake. On Christmas morning the kids kept commenting on how this was the best Christmas ever. They kept commenting on how they thought they had received more than ever, even though in reality it was cut back to about 1/2. We all had such a happy, calm, peaceful feeling about us over the Christmas break. I feel so blessed by this experience. I am so grateful to my parents and Rodney's parents for teaching us about the benefits and blessings of service by showing us through their actions. I am so grateful for my children's sweet, tender spirits. I am so grateful for the support of my parents and sisters in helping us to achieve more. I am grateful for the Christmas holiday and for the wonderful spirit it brings into the people of the world. Mostly I am grateful to my Heavenly Father for prompting Decota to befriend this boy, for prompting me to talk to the right teacher to get it done, and for allowing us to be blessed by having this opportunity in our lives. This was truly our family's BEST CHRISTMAS EVER!!!!

Sunday, January 18, 2009

All that Jazz!

Decota dances at a Christian dance studio called A Time To Dance where she takes Ballet, Jazz and Tap and LOVES to dance. She spends about 3 1/2 hours a week at the Dance Studio, and loves being there. Parents are not allowed to watch their kids during practice, so during Christmas they have "Parent Watch Week" where we are invited into their class to see their weekly warm ups, how a practice runs, and then watch a quick dance that they learned that month. I did not have my camera during her Ballet class, but I was able to catch her Jazz class and Tap class. The parent watch day is total informal, the room is very crowded, and the girls are pretty sloppy, but it is fun to watch them interact with each other during class. Decota bought all of the cute socks for the girls in her Jazz class. She is the oldest in her tap class this year, so she can get a bit annoyed in there at times, but they are advancing and have a great group of girls so e stick it out. Her and another girl are the youngest in her ballet class. All of the other girls are in High school and one is even in college. I just continue to remind her to be as patient with the little Jazz girls as the big ballet girls are with her. She really enjoys the friendships she makes in dance. Oh, by the way, Decota was going through a phase where she refused to smile for us because she does not have braces yet, so that is why she has the cheesy face.

A Night in Bethlehem

************** For our ward Christmas Party this year we had A Night in Bethlehem. When I told people what we were doing I had many people, from many different religions, tell me what a neat experience this kind of night is. They were right. I went up to the church that afternoon to help decorate, and was amazed at the transformation. The cultural center no longer looked like a gym, but like a market place in Jerusalem. My kids really enjoyed getting dressed up that night, and playing the role of ancient Jews. Decota had invited a non-member friend to go with us, and the girls were so cute as they made their rags look more "fashionable". When we walked in we were given a bag of money and were told to keep our family close as we made our way through the crowded marketplace. There were many things for us to buy, dreidels, pitas, cookies, hummus, honey; but the tax man was always close buy trying to collect taxes. Rodney would not let the kids spend a lot of the money because he was afraid there would be some repercussion if he did not have enough to pay the taxes, but he was wrong and we ended the night with a lot of extra coins (of course, the one time Rodney wants to save his money it is fake!) Declan decided he needed more money than Rodney was giving him, so he walked around with a can chanting "Money for the blind". Thanks to the gracious spirit of the people, he wound up with more money than he could spend. Suddenly music started, families gathered on blankets on the floor, and Mary, Joseph and Jesus appeared. For the remainder of the evening we enjoyed listening to, and singing carols. It was a WONDERFUL way to get into the spirit of Christmas. We all thoroughly enjoyed our night out. I look forward to doing this again one day, maybe as a family next Christmas!

The Oboe Concert

The first event to kick off the Christmas Season was a Beginning Band Preview for the parents of the 6th grade band students. This year Decota plays the oboe. She loves it. It is fun to see how quickly she has learned to play. Band is a big thing here in Texas, so they spend a lot of specialized time with the students to help them learn. Decota is in a class with bassoons, oboes, and flutes. There are only 3 oboe players. I am always amazed the 1st time I here the Beginning Bands play. (Also, because a mom is supposed to brag, Decota has been 1st chair most of the year! Way to go Decota!)

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Vacation is OVER!

OK, I have been horrible at posting over the holidays. They are just so hectic, and there is so much to do. Unfortunately, there are also so many memorable, blog worthy post during the holidays. I have made an executive decision and have decided to go back and post things I want to remember. I am sorry if you are sick of the holidays and all of their splendor, but this is my journal, so skip it if you want, or read and grin and bear it! The next few posts are all about what made Christmas, CHRISTMAS for me this year.