If I sent Christmas cards, you'd totally be on my list!

With a young, growing family we're always looking for ways to simplify and keep costs down, whether it's Christmas Day or just another ordinary weekday. Unfortunately, Christmas cards are one of those "expendable" expenses. And quite frankly, this bums me out! 

I LOVE Christmas cards. Every year I look forward to seeing pictures of family and friends and pouring over the details of their lives if they are doubly ambitious and including a letter. (I guess I'm kind of nosy like that.) In return, I want to share my own life. (I know I'm an oversharer like that.) Never mind that we do this daily through social media. Isn't it fun seeing it all summed up and packaged up in pretty paper and beautiful photos?

So to all those who were thoughtful enough to include us on their mailing list this year: thank you! It means a lot to me. (And Clayton too though he probably wouldn't gush about it like I do.) And in response, may I send out a virtual Christmas card/end of the year summary to you in the form of a blog post? Tacky? Probably. But tacky with all the best wishes stuck to it.

While every year seems bigger and crazier than the preceding, 2013 really was a rather monumental year for us. After ten years of marriage, our little family is moving on to the next exciting and busy (in a different way) stage of life. We're trading in diapers, strollers, and baby blessings for pierced ears, family hikes, and baptisms.

While we're not trying to rush the youngest member of the family, Lucy (2), we are pretty thrilled to see her developing and changing from a baby to a big girl. It's so bittersweet knowing she is the last little one, but we are relishing each moment and every milestone. This year she graduated from diapers, cribs, sippy cups, and strollers. Now she loves to be the mommy and diapers, feeds, and swaddles anything that will hold still long enough for her to do so.

She will be turning three in January and wants so badly to join the big girls in school and dance. I imagine we'll blink and she'll be doing those things in no time. NO MORE BLINKING! Our "baby" still loves to cuddle as often as she can, sing lullabies at bedtime, and says "I love you!" more than any child I've ever met. Now if she could just learn how to stick with one outfit a day...

Lydia (5) graduated from preschool in May and headed to kindergarten in the fall. I was particularly nervous about sending my little blondie to the "big school", but there was no holding her back. She loves walking with Deacon and Eliza to school every morning. While she plays it pretty cool, she enjoys just about everything about school, even the homework!

It's been especially amazing to watch the non-physical changes in Lydia this year. She is getting braver and more confident in herself. We were so proud of her for dancing on stage this year at her Spring dance recital and December Nutcracker performance.  I marvel (sometimes with fear and surprise, but mostly with awe and amazement) at how this child looks at the world. She is unpredictable and spontaneous and hilarious and artistic. We continue to make progress with her gluten-free diet trying new foods and recipes and I'm thankful she goes along with it so willingly.

Eliza (7) finished 1st grade in a puddle of bittersweet tears, but met 2nd with an eager, happy grin. She loves music, art, helping, chocolate, lip gloss, and playing with cousins and friends. In fact she loves EVERYTHING...except cleaning her room. She embraces life with so much enthusiasm and emotion. It's simultaneously gratifying and terrifying to see your child developing into a mini-version of yourself.

Eliza has grown musically this year. She decided to give dance another go and performed in her dance studio's performance of The Nutcracker. She and I sang our first mommy/daughter duet in our ward talent show. She had zero fear and ate up the limelight while I was, literally, shaking in my boots. Since then we have been asked to sing together a couple of times. Eliza even sang her first public solo in our ward primary program. (We are treated to solos daily here at home.) She has a beautiful voice and it's so fun seeing her love of music in action. She also lost several teeth, got her ears pierced for her birthday, and had to get glasses (which she can never seem to remember to wear). It's fun watching her start these growing pain years and we already admire the beautiful girl she already is.

2013 was especially big for our oldest, Deacon. When he turned eight in January he had the opportunity to be baptized. We enjoyed sharing this very special event with our family and friends. Deacon was excited about joining scouts this year...until he realized it wasn't all camp outs and treats and vowed to not go back until it was. We've "convinced" him to return and he quickly earned his Bobcat badge and will be earning his Wolf in a few weeks (if his mother has anything to do with it).

This year he played soccer again and is also giving basketball a go. While he isn't exactly athletic or aggressive, he has a true love for team sports. He's just happy to be out there, running around with his buddies. And no bird poop on the shoulder or ball to the face (TWO bloody noses in one game!) is going to keep him away. At least not when there are treats at the end. While we question his obsession with Skylanders we see that our son is growing into a fantastic, responsible, little man. He has learned how to clean his room the first time mom asks, that reading is for fun and not just for homework, and that helping others makes him feel good inside. He's just a good kid through and through and we sure appreciate and love him.

While Clayton would prefer I not even mention him in this letter, we would never be complete without him. "Incomplete" is how we often feel since he continues to travel often for work. He has been with Komatsu Equipment Company as an instructor for three years. While he doesn't seem to get to go anywhere too exciting (mostly tiny mining towns in Nevada and other sites in Arizona, Wyoming, Georgia, and Michigan), he continues to impress his coworkers with his knowledge of power generation and electric trucks. He even had the opportunity to help in some training classes with Spanish translation for some Peruvian classmates.

He's actually had the opportunity to use his Spanish a lot this year as we have gained a new Chilean sister-in-law (my brother Colin married Massiel in June this year). He used it again when we traveled to the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico where he served his mission to celebrate our tenth wedding anniversary. With all that work traveling Clayton has done he was able to accrue enough air and hotel points to cover our trip!

Our little "honeymoon" was incredible! We visited several ancient Mayan ruins, sweated our brains out, drove all over the peninsula, swam in both the Gulf of Mexico and the Carribean Sea, missed our kids too much, went snorkeling for the first time, ate lots of local food, drank lots of Mexican Coke, unsuccessfully tried to avoid the pushy peddlers, and reunited with several wonderful people he had known on the mission. It was an amazing experience that helped us to appreciate even more all the little and big things we are blessed with. And what a way to celebrate ten years of wedded bliss!

Returning to his mission has been a dream of Clayton's for years. Actually we've seen several of our dreams come true this year. When our minivan's slow decline began to look fatal, we had to go shopping for a new family vehicle. Now Clayton finally has that pickup truck he has been fantasizing about for who knows how long. We're still a one-car family, but now we have somewhere to load all these kids and their stuff and four-wheel drive to get us there.

Singing in a "real" performance with my children has always been a dream of mine. I'm grateful Eliza was up for it. Running with my kids was another. This fall, Deacon and Eliza joined me for their very first 5K race! We had a blast running through the Color Me Rad course and the kids were still smiling by the end. I was very proud of both of them!

Seeing my children and their talents, personalities, and senses of responsibility growing is a dream come true too. I find myself almost daily saying aloud how awesome it is to be starting this stage of life. It was really hard to let that baby stage go, but it's a huge relief as well. It's liberating to have everyone walking, talking, dressing, pottying, and feeding themselves. While they may not do it well sometimes I'm just happy we're making progress. The future is looking pretty bright!

I've made a bit of progress this year too. Lo and behold, I've actually stuck with this little running hobby of mine. This year I celebrated my 32nd birthday by running from my doorstep to my sister Erin's doorstep, a total of 24 miles. A friend joined me for the second half and we were met with a banner and balloons at the "finish line" of Erin's driveway. A month later I completed my first full marathon, a harrowing experience as I had been so ill the week of and the freezing spring rain poured through the entire race. By the time I reached the finish line it was with incredible pride, pain, and relief that it was over. I vowed to never do that again. Unfortunately I had already registered and paid for two more races. So in August I ran a second (terrible, terrible) marathon and in October a third (slower, but so much more pleasant!) marathon, making three full marathons in five months' time. I've since sworn off full marathons, but am already signed up for my first triathlon, my first Ragnar relay race, and a half marathon next year. Stupid or ambitious, even I'm not sure some days.

As painful and lonely as long distance running is, it doesn't really compare to having to be a "single married" all the time. In fact I run to deal with being "on duty" all the time. It's gotten a lot easier to have Clayton gone so much, but we sure do miss him when he is. I continue to serve in the primary presidency in our ward and Clayton is the assistant pack leader. And when we're together we try to squeeze in a few family adventures whether it be going for mountain drives and hikes or trying new recipes in the kitchen. This year we made some traditional Yucatacan food, homemade corn dogs, canned applesauce, and homemade vanilla.

Right now our life is homework, Tooth Fairy visits, Saturday ball games, being lucky to get through only ten verses of scripture a night, coloring books, hanging up coats for the hundredth time, hotel rooms, phone calls goodnight, sticky fingers, and animated movies. But we love it. It's funny how one second it feels like everything is broken and a mess when the next second I find myself thinking "Life is good" and meaning it.

Life IS good. And we appreciate the friends and family that help make it that way. Along with our Heavenly Father and Savior who bless us more than we deserve. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you and yours from us! Much love and well wishes!


My New Favorite Christmas Tradition: Tell Me the Stories of Jesus

Ever since I became a mother and realized that the duty of ushering in the (true) Spirit of Christmas had fallen upon my shoulders I have struggled to do anything that really made an impact. I tried to implement many old and new traditions, many of them fairly elaborate or expensive, all with little or no impact.

Maybe it was my delivery. Maybe it was the young age of my children. But all my efforts were met with great frustration and perceived failure.

Back in November of this year I decided to try something a little different and follow the mantra of "Let there be peace on earth at home and let it begin with me" by acting upon a Facebook challenge of reading The Book of Mormon in forty days. I figured what better way to bring the Spirit into my own heart and my home than by drawing close to my Savior through His words. This would be my gift to the Christ Child.

For almost two weeks I followed the reading schedule strictly and marched my way through over 250 pages of scripture. But did I feel an overwhelming closeness to my Savior? Not really. Instead I felt stressed and guilty as I cruised by passages I wanted to study more closely all in the sake of completing the daily reading assignment on time. Enter more stress and guilt for devoting so much time to rushed reading when my children were watching TV, mindlessly, or inciting my anger and frustration with unattended messes and sibling arguments. Once Thanksgiving week hit, I began to fall behind and just never could seem to get caught up.

I felt terrible on top of all that stress and guilt. I had failed at even this.

I beat myself up about it for a few days, feeling like once again my efforts to make Christmas mean something for my family was a flop. I toyed with the idea of just giving up. (But c'mon. We moms never truly give up, right?)

Over Thanksgiving we had traveled to Idaho to visit my family and while there attended church at my parents' ward. It seems to be common practice in the LDS religion to send home lots of little papers with their primary children. I confess, I recycle most of these with hardly a glance. While meaningful, they're often scribbled, wrinkled, and quickly forgotten.

But for some reason, one paper that came home that post-Thanksgiving Sunday caught my eye. It even made it all the way from that church building in Home Town, Idaho to Current Town, Utah, (a veritable miracle in a car packed to the brim with four young children and loads of other stuff).

This paper somehow escaped the car clean-out after our trip and the recycling bin. It just kept resurfacing in my house and eventually I found myself studying it and realizing that this simple little activity might be worth a try.

Each night, through the month of December, I pulled out the corresponding picture from our Gospel Art Kit and we read the related scriptures. This replaced our nightly scripture study. We fell behind a few times, but were able to quickly catch up by reading a couple of stories at a time. Sometimes if we were crunched on time we would simply read the summary on the back of the picture instead of diving into all of the scripture verses. After each reading we would say our family prayers. Then after putting everyone to bed I would tape the picture on the dining room wall so we could look at it throughout the month.

It all took very little time and even less effort.

But "by small and simple things are great things brought to pass" (Alma 37:6).

Let me be totally honest here. There were several nights where I was practically yelling by the end and our prayers were said with more than one child goofing off or sulkily saying "Amen". But there were also several nights when the Spirit poured into our home. As we learned about Jesus from the foretelling of his birth, to his childhood, to the miracles he performed, to his suffering in Gethsemane and his Crucifixion, the Resurrection, and his visitation to the Nephites, He became very real to all of us. Even I learned a few things I didn't know or remember. We were no longer celebrating the birth of a strange and distant God, but our beloved brother and Savior. The kids would ask questions and we were able to have several conversations, some kind of silly, but some very sincere and spiritual in nature. It gave me the natural opportunity to bear my testimony to my family and share my love of Jesus Christ and the gospel with them.

Every year I feel kind of sad and melancholy when I take the tree and decorations down, but it will be these pictures that will be the most difficult to see go this year. Maybe we will just leave them up...

This is such a small, simple Christmas activity, definitely easier and less time consuming than that monumental 40 day challenge I totally bonked out on. Instead of feeling stressed and guilty, I felt peace and comfort that I was spending time and energy doing what Jesus would have me do. While reading the Book of Mormon in forty days is not a bad thing, it wasn't the best thing I personally could have done at this season of my life. I officially declare this as our new family Christmas tradition and I can't wait to do it again next year. Hopefully, I can stay out of my own way and not complicate it and just let the Spirit guide.

A couple of notes: I'm not exactly sure where this activity originated from; I just saw the paper that came home with my daughter. But from what little research I've done it's possible it came from the December 2008 issue of the LDS monthly publication, The Friend.

Also, while I am of the LDS faith and appreciate that these stories include the Savior's visitation to the Nephites on the American continent, this could very easily be tweaked for someone of a different faith. Most of the scriptures are in the New Testament and Gospel Art Books are very easy to order online (and only $3.50!), no matter what faith you are.


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