Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Christmas Memories

Last Sunday we had our Choir Christmas Program. I am the music director and Brandon is the choir director so we were in charge of coming up with said program. We themed it "Christmas Memories" A few people from various ages from primary kids to grandmas  took turns sharing their special Christmas traditions, a favorite gift, or what Christmas was like when they were a kid. These were intermingled with musical numbers. It turned out really great, as they always miraculously do,  and I was reminded how much I enjoyed hearing about how other people celebrate this joyous holiday. I decided to come home and free associate my own:

We always had different people living in my home from  year to year, relatives or exchange students or whatever. Also my mom's health wasn't too stable and neither was my parents financial situation  so our Christmases were a little different each year depending on the situation. Some things were for sure: a fire in the fireplace, roasted pine nuts, and lots of people.
My first Christmas memory was my brother and I running up the steep stairs of our little brick Tudor style house and seeing the Christmas tree with 2 dolls under it--a Raggedy Ann and a Raggedy Andy.
We always bought a real tree from a tree lot and decorated it with a mishmash of decorations from things we had made in school or at church over the years. The coolest part were the lights. We had bubble lights that I've never seen on anyone else's tree before or since. They had a bulb at the bottom and a glass stem filled with red, yellow, or green liquid. When the lights were plugged in, bubbles would flow up the glass stem--like a little lava lamp. They were quite mesmerizing to look at and after they had been on for awhile they were warm to hold. We didn't have a lot of presents under the tree beforehand so it was extra spectacular to wake up on Christmas morning and see what seemed like such a huge pile there. Some years there would be unwrapped stuffed animals on top of the presents for each of us and I really loved getting those. We weren't allowed to open presents until after everyone had eaten breakfast which was usually oatmeal (sometimes my mom made it festive by putting red food coloring in it and cinnamon flavor) We were allowed to go through our stockings, though, and those were always the best part. We always got an orange, sometimes a watch,  a ring or necklace for the girls, and tons of gourmet candy. Secretly, I wished I could just get some regular Hersheys or Hubba Bubba instead of Belgian truffles but my parents owned a gourmet chocolate store and were therefore chocolate snobs. Nothing less than Cadbury was allowed in our house. For a joke one time my brother and I bought the largest box of cheap grocery store chocolates we could find. We thought we were so funny. When my mom opened it she tried to act pleased until we let her in on our joke. The most memorable stocking stuffer I got was when I was a teenager. I opened an envelope to find 2 tickets to see Yo-Yo-Ma in concert at Symphony Hall.

We usually drew names in our family. My siblings were all quite a bit older than me so most of them had families of their own. If my brother Allen had your name you were in for a real treat because he always went way over budget and always got something from his work, Nordstroms. I got a really nice warm pink coat from him one year. But my favorite was when I was eight. My parents opened the front door and there on our porch was a brand new yellow banana seat bike--my first bike ever!
Every year Allen brought a bunch of nice outfits from--you guessed it--Nordstroms. The ladies in the family would go hog wild with excitement picking out dresses and sometimes fighting over them. When he married his second wife--who worked in the cosmetic department--makeup and perfumes were added to the loot.
I worked really hard one year in 5th grade to make a present for everybody in my family.  I put together a book of "holiday poems" that I wrote, complete with illustrations, on colored paper. With the $10 to my name I bought a 24-pack of drinks and gave one with each of my poem packets. I gave one to my teacher too. Like Ralphie presenting the fruit basket to his teacher, I thought I had given the best present ever!!

A couple of Christmases my mom was in the hospital. She had a few health problems. I was around 16 during one of these. My mom was not able to do the Christmas shopping so my Dad took me to the mall and gave me $100 with the charge to buy everyone's present. I was the youngest and my siblings all lived far away with families of their own except for my oldest sister. She moved back home after a divorce and I mostly grew up with her around and her four kids who were just barely younger than me. I remember going to ZCMI and finding a little $10 gift in the clearance section for each person with the money my dad gave me. I really felt at the time that it was a tender mercy that ZCMI had that clearance sale.  One of those gifts I remember was a little glass nativity set.

A couple of years we were were the "sub for santa" family of our neighborhood. Those were the most exciting Christmases of all because we got way nicer gifts than we were used to! We opened the door one Christmas Eve to find our porch heaped with beautiful packages. I got my first cabbage patch doll from that experience. He was a boy with curly brown hair and his name was Lester. I would have preferred a girl but I was so elated just to have any cabbage patch doll at all. Another Christmas when I was very young we opened the door to find a box with a very exquisitely handcrafted doll inside just for me!

Usually, for Christmas we were allowed to pick out one $25 gift.  My mom was solely in charge of all the Christmas festivities.  She made things fun and exciting. We attended lots of Christmas concerts, the festival of trees, and any other event that was happening in town. My mom was maybe not the most organized person. She hid gifts throughout the year somewhere in her dank closet which I never dared go in. Sometimes she couldn't find a present and she would use her favorite cuss word, "Oh spit, where is that present for so and so?!"  One year, when I was a teenager, all the presents were gone under the tree and I still hadn't opened one. When my mom realized this she said, "Oh spit. Somebody find something for Lar."  She ended up pulling a tiny package out from the back of the tree. It was a watch that I had wanted earlier that year at the State Fair. I was grateful that I wasn't totally forgotten.

When I was really young we had a Christmas Eve party with my Dad's only brother and his family. We had a big potluck dinner. My mom always made her famous fudge. When it was at our house, Santa would show up. What was awesome was that even the adults had to sit on Santa's lap. Everyone got a unique present. I think my mom helped him by gathering stuff all throughout the year.When it was at my uncle's house in Provo we had a white elephant gift exchange. I still remember the laughs that Uncle Terry's gift brought--a used toilet seat. The drive home from Provo felt like an eternity to me when I was young. I remember looking up into the night sky on Christmas eve and being sure that I saw the lights from Santa's sleigh twinkling in the sky.
 A couple of years probably the ones when my mom was sick we had to eat Christmas dinner at a restaurant. It was a real challenge to find a restaurant that was open on Christmas day. My brothers ended up getting some takeout from Alberto's Mexican Restaurant on 33rd south in Salt Lake.
My dad loved Christmas. It was the only time of year that I really saw him in a lighthearted mood. When I was newly married my Dad had a stroke just before Christmas and was in the hospital recovering during the whole holiday. We went with my sister and her kids and sang Christmas songs to him. Christmas music was his favorite and our singing made him a little emotional.

Now that I have my own little family we are creating our own memories and traditions. One of those is to read "The Night Before Christmas." So, with that said, Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night!!

Friday, October 25, 2013

Adventures Aboard: Caribbean Cruise

It's always a good idea to have your passport handy,  in case, say, your sister who works for a cruise line calls and needs someone to go with at the last minute. Call on the neighbor friends, rearrange a few things, beg the husband, and yep, I was good to go.
All I have to say is prayers are answered and wishes come true in the most wonderfully unexpected ways. Mine were something like this: Please let me be able to explore the world and learn from all the people in them. This trip was just exactly that!  I loved it and I have to believe my parents have a little pull on the other side. 
Thus began our pinch-me-I-must-be-dreaming 11-day free exotic Southern Caribbean Cruise! 

Day 1: New York City
My sister and I flew in from our various locations. Both our flights were delayed putting us into NYC very late at night. We spent the rest of the time in the airport and that was just the beginning of our adventure.  Do you know everything is hysterically funny in the wee hours of the morning? 

Central Park

We took a taxi from the airport to the cruise port where we dropped of our luggage and then before embarkation we had a couple of hours to speed walk zombie fashion due to our sleep-deprived state, through this exciting city. We walked through Times Square, Central Park, 5th Avenue savored a slice of famous NY pizza.

Settling into life once on board the ship wasn't hard at all-- Room service, all you can eat everything anytime, and every kind of entertainment imaginable from karaoke to comedy?  We met our assigned dinner mates and enjoyed the view of the Statue of Liberty at nightfall as we dined on 3 delicious courses. 

Day 2 at Sea: The rough waters may have made others queasy but it put my sister and I to sleep instantly. After a great night's sleep we breakfasted and took our books to have a relaxing read on the sun deck (these are the things vacations are made of) I took my book about Australia and who should we run into but a family of Australians? We got to chatting--for like hours! and learned about life down under from politics to healthcare education. Fascinating. It seems Australia has many the same political and immigration problems we do? 

Day 3 at Sea: More dining, reading. We went to the evening entertainment in the garrish theatre, went to a comedy show and sat in on the most pathetic karaoke you have ever seen. Not to worry-- we livened it up with our rendition of Bohemian Rhapsody. We soon found out that our cabin was directly under the karaoke bar. Wouldn't you know it but someone had to belt out "New York, New York," every stinkin' night!!! Oh the hardships of being on a cruise. 

Day 4: Grand Turk
 We booked a "power snorkeling" excursion, which is like regular snorkeling except with jet packs. Our driver told us all about the island on our way but with his thick accent (he was from Haiti) so we couldn't understand a word! Something about the salt industry and wild horses roaming the island which we did see, although they were small and thin and maybe more like donkeys. Locals rode them anyway.
Our snorkeling excursion took us on a small boat to a spot in the ocean where the sea floor dropped 7000 feet. We snorkeled along the edge of it and saw myriad fish including Dori from Nemo and coral formations that could rival any earthly garden. Coolest thing I saw was brain coral, a squid and some jelly fish. Not so cool was that my sister got stung by those jellyfish. But, we didn't find that out until the next day!

Day 5 at Sea: We both woke up with major sunburns. All the sunscreen in the world could not prevent these white girls from the effects of intense tropical sun glare. To our great surprise, our very black friends were also sunburned.  Aloe was the word of the day here--and I'll tell you the cruise gift shop  makes a killing on the stuff.  To boot, my sister's ankle was swollen and purpley red, so much so that it made walking difficult and painful. It could only have been those jellyfish! The other word of the day? Vinegar. That, folks, is the only way to neutralize a sting we learned and luckily she got a bottle free from our waiter. The smell of it will wake you up like a punch in the face.   After many generous applications, she went straight to bed and well, I snuck out for fresh air as well as take in a show and dance with my Aussie friends at the club.

Day 6: Aruba
 Beach day all day. Need I say more?
We took the public bus to this beach and plopped ourselves right on some resort chairs. Happy as clams.

Day 7: Curacao (pronounced Ker-uh-sow) or Karakwa if you're my sister. 
We walked around town through an old fort turned shopping mall, walked to the floating market where we bought fresh off-the-boat tangerines. More than 100 different ethnic groups reside here but they are subject to the Dutch King, hence the quaint well-kept painted buildings.   We were just off the coast of South America at this point so I shouldn't have been surprised my Spanish came in handy when asking for directions. Dutch is also spoken as well as a unique language called Papiamento which is a mix of all the above.
 You could pay for a $50 excursion from the ship and arrive at Mambo Beach and drink some margaritas--OR as we found out after talking to the locals you could take the mini bus for $2 and go to the same beach for free. We ain't no fools.
This beach was my heaven--a reef enclosed it like a private swimming pool and had the added benefit of providing great snorkeling! We were glad we brought our own gear.

Day 8 at Sea
Besides the Aussie's we made a few other fun friends. That is the great thing about cruising is that you can meet nice people from all over the world! We had Louie the master diver, Vinny the family man from Brooklyn, and Frank from Florida who was enjoying his 72nd cruise. His advice to us was that if you want someone to remember you "kick them in the shins." (He somehow became successful anyway). There were our three table mates who lived in New York but were originally from Grenada, St. Thomas, and Jamaica.We had our South Carolina friends, our Canadian friends, and the most charming gay couple from England who also lived half the year in France. They were fascinated to find out about our Scottish ancestry and told us more about our family history than we ever knew. Finding out we were Mormons was equally fascinating to them. They wanted to know all about it and after we took turns explaining they agreed, "We love Jesus too!"

Life on the boat was grand. We got dressed up for fine dining every night, sat on the front-row of the evening shows, and came back to a tidied up cabin with chocolates on our pillow and towel figurines. The staff was great. 

Day 9:  Jamaica
80% of the country is lush green rolling hills and although it looks beautiful,  I have to admit I was not looking forward to this particular stop.  My last memory of being here was of being yelled at and harassed for not tipping enough and again for not buying more local wares. After this new experience however, I  turned an about face. Our Canadian friends had wisely arranged for a private driver to take them all over and kindly invited us to join them! We had a lovely time driving through the fern gully, where the road was lined with natives selling their handicrafts from wood carvings to painted shells, to Bob Marley t-shirts. Beyond them loomed steamy hills of lush vegetation. We stopped at Dunn's River Falls which is spectacular to view and thrilling to climb. Here you can scale up waterfall after waterfall that spills into a beautiful beach below. 
  We were introduced to Jamaican ginger beer which is like ginger ale with non-alcoholic kick. The spicy soda turned out to have a nice medicinal effect, settling my stomach through those windy jungle roads.

Our driver is what really made Jamaica fantastic. He said "ya mon" a lot which we found very charming. Also, he taught us how to bargain with the locals. It goes like this:  whatever price they give reduce it 60% and that's the fair price. We had our first chance to put this into action when a guy walked over to our van selling handmade motorcycle figurines from wood. "$25," he declared. "How about 10" I said? "15", he countered. "$12 no more" and with exact change in my hand the exchange was made. Everyone is happy! That is how it's done gringos.  

Oh the things people will do for a tip.

 We may have gotten a little carried away with the ginger beer.
We spent the afternoon being well looked under a cabana at a private beach. Kayaks were begging to be used so we once again used our bargaining powers and got 2 for less than the price of one...and honestly we had no more cash to give! Our day in Jamaica was wonderful. If you ever go there, ask for Richard. He is the magic word around here.

Day 10:  Grand Cayman
When we got to port we didn't have a plan except to get to the famous 7-mile beach with snorkel gear in tow. But, after some browsing around in the shops, we came across a tour offering a visit to Stingray City as well as snorkeling a pristine coral reef! My sister doesn't much like to share her swimming quarters with living things, especially after the jellyfish episode.  But my excitement convinced her to take the adventure of a lifetime and swim with sting rays!! It was an unforgettable experience and I loved every minute of it! Apparently you can bargain here too because we got a great deal. There were no excuses now. I think this picture says it all...

Snorkeling was awesome. I saw and dodged lots--o-jellyfish which our guide assured us were the harmless kind but big sister wasn't takin' no chances. She stayed cozy in the boat. I went off on my own a bit so I could see more than Japanese tourist legs.   The reefs were amazing with purple fan coral, large brain coral  and again fish in all their color and variety. A gentle spotted eagle ray glided past. Deep down in a crevice I spotted something very creepy looking and began to feel like I had wandered maybe a tad too far out on my own. I swam back and asked the guides about the strange creature. They knew exactly what I described--a moray eel!  Our guide dove in and brought me up big beautiful Conch shell. So cool! I have been working to de-stinkify ever since. (there is something to be said for buying them at the gift shop)

Can you believe this water??? An afternoon downpour forced us back to port and on the ship, otherwise I may never have left the Cayman Islands!

Day 11:  Last Day at Sea
Had a read-a-thon on deck while soaking up our last chance for tropical sun. Enjoyed a wonderful chocolate buffet and participated in the Thriller dance lesson on the Lido deck. Ow! 

Day 12: Debarkation in Tampa, Florida
With our trip ending on the Gulf side of Florida and a few hours before our flights took us home, we decided to end with a bang and visit the Top Rated Beach in the Sunshine State!... rented a car for the day and drove here:

As the sign says, this beach had it all--fun shops, warm water, shells for collecting, and you could see the fish swimming around you. Most remarkable of all  was the sand. It was like walking in powdered sugar!!
 There's nothing like being on the same boat for 11 days to mend a relationship. My sister and I did have a rough patch when our mom died last year but we have forgiven and moved on and that is life. You don't have to spend a vacation together but you do have to forgive. In our case it's a good thing too because we make excellent travel buddies. 

Back home I spoiled the family with t-shirts, dolls, and nick-knacks. Of course I've been sharing ginger beer with anyone willing to try. The time has come to retire the suitcases for awhile.  I've exhausted my friend equity for one lifetime and anyway the best place of all is in the loving arms of my husband and kids. Awwww. They missed me and I missed them!

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Conference at Our House

When you are a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints it is a special occasion when you can stay home on Sunday, wear your PJ's and watch church on TV! It deserves special celebrating with family and treats--lots of them.
 I realized when I took all the kids to the candy store with instructions to pick out their favorite goodie that I have totally turned into my mom!
The veggie tray is my own contribution to the tradition. Surprisingly they got eaten!  Besides good food, we cherished this conference as a time to spend with family and enjoy inspiring messages from men and women and our Prophet. I have to agree with President Monson that this was a most inspiring Conference!

Be meek and lowly of heart  control your temper  Doubt your doubts before you doubt your faith  Member and missionaries must work together  Slow down, rest up, replenish and refill (or you'll get sick) 15 million members strong For those with emotional or mental illness: God expects you to get a Priesthood blessing AND the best medical help available. For those who know or care for those with mental/emotional illness--be merciful, non -judgmental and kind.  Be bold in sharing the Gospel--pray not to be afraid.  It is impossible to fail when we do our best.  80,000 missionaries
Take someone by the hand and introduce them to Jesus Christ. ASK, SEEK, KNOCK.  Know the desires and dreams of your spouse's heart--be ONE.  Courage not Compromise  Man's laws cannot make moral what God has declared immoral.   Lay aside the things of this world and seek for a better.   Then don't stand idly looking on, the fight with sin is real. Come help the good work move along put your shoulder to the wheel.  To be in spiritual shape, like physical shape, takes DEDICATION, PERSEVERANCE and SELF-DISCIPLINE.
Live a life of selfless service. Patience is required.  Were it not for challenges to overcome and problems to solve we would remain as we are, never progressing.  The stronger the wind the taller the trees. How we preserve TIME for FAMILY is vital issue--Let's be on the forefront.    Attend all three church meetings wherever you are.  10 Commandments. Look up
 I am a Child of God  Chastity before marriage, complete fidelity in marriage.   Marriage protects the powers of procreation. 41% of births in U.S. are outside of marriage.  LOVE.  The Savior is always near, especially in sacred places and especially in times of need.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Sister's Weekend

We have a new tradition in this family....
The Sister's Getaway

 Kicking off this year's festivities, in Sunny St. George---dinner, game night, and enough treats to kill a horse.
The next day we headed to beautiful Zion's National Park, where everyone could pick their pleasure when it came to hiking.
Some of us ignored the warning signs--the current death toll--the sign of a stick figure falling off a cliff. We called ourselves the Navy Seals of the family and pressed onward to Angel's Landing.
 Refrigerator Canyon was a welcome relief from the blazing sun and steep switchbacks.
 Made it to the top...

 Or so we thought....
We still had THIS to climb.  
 Clutching onto chain railing, and dodging dozens of Europeans, we scaled "The Fin"   Now we were really on top of the world.  It's no wonder that was a strenuous hike. See the dude hitching a ride in my backpack?!

It was all worth it for this view.
  I talked this chipmunk out of suicide.  He actually sat in my hand for a few seconds!
Mission accomplished.  We joined the others, who had done Emerald Pools and the Riverwalk. Concluded the day with a fantastic dinner at Texas Roadhouse, and had a movie night.
Our last day we cleaned up, packed up, and got a VIP tour of the soon to be Children's Museum in Ancestor Square. Can't wait to bring our kids back for that!  But for this weekend we sure enjoyed our woman bonding. If you haven't laughed until you've cried, you need a Sister's Getaway. Love these Ladies!

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Gooseberry Shenanigans

Cheers for another eventful week...

Our driveway hosted our annual block party. Lots of shoes, socks, and jackets were left behind, but luckily no kids.  The people that rear-ended our white car called to say they actually didn't have insurance. Our whole-house speaker system got fried in an electrical storm. Crazy weather we've been having, right? The house has been eerily devoid of news, music, and all my favorite talk shows.  I accompanied our third grader on her epic overnight field trip to Gooseberry . Cannon has been home through it all, sick with a cough and fever. And the grand finale of the the week--We celebrated 16 years of marriage with a trip to the temple, a restaurant dinner, and uninterrupted conversation. (see last week's post)

A little more detail about the field trip:
Gooseberry (n) A rite of passage for all 3rd grade residents of this county that consists of 2 days and one night of outdoor classes about things like fire safety, wildlife, stream ecology, and what to do if you get lost.  The children have dinner and sing campy songs around a fire. Then when it gets dark they hear a story from a veteran storyteller about "Annie Bangs," the ghost girl that haunts the campground.

 ....It was a hard winter back in 1800-something and the Bangs family never made it out of the canyon. Later that Spring, explorers found their cabin, the parents frozen dead in their beds but little Annie's cradle?  Empty. What had become of her? No one knew until hunters and campers began to notice their food or clothing would come up missing, especially RED things. There were sightings but Annie Bangs was elusive and remained  legend.

Suddenly, there she appears in the flesh running through the woods, like a man-teacher dressed in red with a crazy white wig.  To their utter horror, she runs through the crowds grabbing kids and threatening to haul them off into the forest. The kids,who have parents there cling to them and scream. The kids who can't find their parents cling to me and scream-- and those who do not have parents there? -- heaven help them. After a good amount of terrorizing and children bawling, everyone is sent to bed in their assigned cabins with warnings that Annie Bangs may come scratching at the windows.  No one sleeps except those who are snoring.
The next day the teachers cook breakfast, there is a flag ceremony and more hands-on learning from the forest rangers. It ends with lunch and clean-up.  Everyone returns home smelly, exhausted, and with a t-shirt "I SURVIVED" (not really but they should)  You may wonder, especially if you have city roots, Is this humane? and why is this program allowed to continue year after year? The answer: This ain't the city. Those 3rd graders come home a little older and a lot wiser. Like the running of the bulls or the polar bear plunge they know they have joined another generation to have survived an epic tradition-- Gooseberry.

 In search of Annie Bangs...Oh yes, we dare.