Thursday, January 31, 2013

Christmas (part 3) in Provo

For as long as I can remember, the Ashworths have taken an unconventional approach to gift giving.  Non-traditional has become the tradition.  And most Christmases that I can remember also had some sort of self-imposed theme.  "Natural Christmas" was the year we gave gifts that came from the earth.  "Homemade Christmas" was, well, just like it sounds.    The year my brother passed an excruciatingly painful kidney stone (is there any other kind?) we had a "Keep It Clear Christmas"--that was a tricky year for gift giving. One year all our gifts had to be Christmacycled--reused, repurposed, recycled, upcycled, etc  (my sister and I made up that I just need to find me a decent lawyer to trademark it...) The year I was on my mission my niece Hannah was two years old and apparently was going through a naked stage.  I'm not entirely sure what gifts people gave the year of the "Naked Christmas," and I'll forever be sad about missing out on that one. 

In recent years the themes have slowly disappeared, and the tradition has shifted in a less clever but more meaningful direction.  The idea of "giving on behalf of" has become the new norm. This year, as we all gathered around and had our belated Christmas morning, we were all in tears as we read the cards we'd received explaining what donation or act of service had been done in our name.  We cried as we read about the donated scholarship money for the children at Sandy Hook, books being provided to children in need, families having presents under their otherwise empty trees, and entire poverty-stricken villages receiving chickens, goats, llamas and other gifts to help them on their way to self reliance.  It was so fun and rewarding and uplifting to see how our little Provo Christmas reached so far around the world.  

I know ours is not the only family who's adopted this tradition.  And wouldn't it be wonderful if this was how the whole world celebrated Christmas?  But if that ever happens, let's just keep it on the down low, 'cause that would also inevitably be the end of the Ashworths celebrating it this way.  There are downsides to being so deeply unconventional. 

Traditional or not, I love my family.  And we had such a great time with them.  We acted out the Nativity the evening before we opened gifts, doing our best to pretend that the 27th-28th were actually the 24th-25th :)  We played a billion games--including our newest tradition of Trivial PurSkype with Cynthia and Tom. We ate a billion calories--mostly in the form of cheeseball, salami and English toffee--all recipes that our mom made each Christmas and passed down to us.

Grace, Eliza and Abby in their adorable skirts that Seamstress Aunt Kristie made for them.
James must have been cutting a tooth or fighting an earache, cause he was not his usual self. Luckily Hannah was there to provide the necessary snuggle time.

We missed Kevin, who had rehearsals for his big play at the Laguna Playhouse--which apparently he rocked!

And we missed our mom.  She is everywhere at Christmas time.  The costumes we wear for the Nativity, the decorations, the food, the songs, the pianos, the games--she's everywhere.  Which, in contrast to other years, felt really nice.  

The girls got to stay up until 10pm on New Year's Eve. Conveniently that's exactly when the ball drops in NYC, and we found a live version of it.  They felt pretty special staying up so late, and playing Uno with the adults.  And at the real midnight, while the rest of us banged pots and pans on the porch, Jared carried on his self-inflicted tradition of running barefoot in the snow.

The only tragedy of the entire vacation was that Reid lost his wedding ring.  Compared to the accidents and ailments of Christmases past, this is pretty minor.  But it still makes me sad to think about it.  When we went to Hawaii, he left his ring here.  People had warned him that surfing and ring-wearing don't mix.  In fact, the cheapo ring that he did wear to Hawaii was, indeed, swallowed up during our surf lesson.  But this information was not fresh in his mind when his buddy invited him to go to the Flow Rider--an indoor surfing pool.  And alas, his white gold ring was swallowed up by the simulated waves, never to be seen again.  

There was an inscription on the ring that took me forever to choose.  I debated for hours what to put on this ring that he would have for the rest of his life!  I went with the most eternal, meaningful 20-characters-or-less I could think of, from a Pablo Neruda poem that I'd fallen in love with when I visited his beach house in my last days as a missionary in Chile.  The inscription read: Seré, Serás, Seremos.  Translated (but not sounding nearly as cool) it means: I will be, you will be, we will be.

Years ago Reid lost this ring in the middle of a snowy parking lot in New Hampshire, where we'd spent the weekend with some friends.  We were sure it was gone forever.  Weeks later, the ring miraculously was discovered by a grieving young widow who knew that her late husband had sent it as a sign of his love for her.  When I told her what the inscription meant she wept and wept. Finding the ring meant even more to her than it did to us.

After all of that, I can't believe it got lost again.  Reid is more bummed than I am.  I try to keep my thoughts to myself, what with silence being golden and all.  Maybe all my unmuttered thoughts will spin into another beautiful ring--preferably one that already has the perfect inscription.

Truthfully, my mind doesn't allow my heart to be as sad as it could be.  I'm reminded that at least I still have the guy who wore it.  And that we don't depend on the wool of llamas or the milk of goats to provide for our families.  And that our kids had gifts under the tree.  And that they're safe.  And they're alive.  And that, as much as that ring meant to me, it's nothing compared to the people in my life who I got to spend 12 awesome days with over Christmas break.

Christmas in Wyoming (part 2)

I'm not gonna lie.  I was not happy about having to travel for Christmas this year.  We were spoiled last year. Completely ruined by spending Christmas is our very own home, with nearly all of my family! And once I've had my cake and eaten it too, it's not pretty trying to pry that cake out of my hands, or dig it out of my mouth. 

I whined and complained about the whole thing.  Then I seriously looked into the cost of flying all of Reid's family out here.  I was desperate to do anything to avoid that potentially treacherous drive on our nation's Worst Stretch of Freeway 

Luckily my pity party ended soon after our drive began. To my surprise, I thoroughly enjoyed my shifts at the wheel! Reid got to deal with the kids, whilst I listened to the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.  And honestly, the record should show that this year getting to WY was perfectly uneventful (unless you consider the passenger's window falling out of its tracks, and having to stop in Rawlins to duct tape it up "eventful"--which i don't.  Not after Christmas 2008). 

And the weather cooperated perfectly.  The only snow we saw was exactly where we wanted it--in Star Valley, at which point the world around us transformed into a winter wonderland. The smoke pouring out of wood-burning chimneys was graciously making its way through our heat vents.  The street lamps held in place thousands of white lights that criss-crossed above us on Main Street. The kids were singing "Over the River and Through the Woods" at the top of their lungs. 

Why in the world had I complained about this?  What a fool I'd been thinking that my cake was being ripped from my grasp!  We were about to spend the best holiday of the year in the place that, if towns could mate, would be the offspring of Bedford Falls and the North Pole!!

This year at the Allred home was quieter than years past (well, as quiet as any place where we are can possibly be).  Reid's two sisters were greatly missed as they were both back east with their families/future in-laws.  So it was just our crew of six, Tom and Jana and their two kids, and Mr. and Mrs. Claus.

At first Grace was lost without her bestie, Ella.  Abby was lost without Christopher.  Then they remembered that they had each other, and they got along perfectly the whole time.  Eliza and Gabe were inseperable.  And James and Winnie just toddled around, being cute.  Winnie rubbed off on James, and over the 6 days we were there he officially chose walking as his main mode of transportation.  I plan to tell him that he started walking on Christmas, 2012...though his first steps were 3-4 weeks before that.  Who needs to walk when three sisters fight over who gets to carry you wherever you need to go?

The adults enjoyed playing games, putting puzzles together, creating culinary masterpieces, and late night conversations about what miracles would need to occur to get us geographically closer to each other.  

Grandpa spent the entire 6 days with any number of grandkids on his back.  If ever he tried to do anything else he'd hear,  "C'mon Grammpa, the horsie can't be tired!" Grandma had crafts and treats and cookies galore.  She has the best toys, the best movies, the best food, and the best lap for book-reading and story-telling. They truly have perfected the art of being Grandparents.

Between playing in the snow, cutting down the Christmas tree, sledding down the snow pile, warming up to hot cocoa, decorating gingerbread men, watching movies in "Grandma's room," acting out the Nativity, playing "school house" in the basement, or singing Christmas songs in the front room--there was never a moment that wouldn't have made the cut for a Hallmark movie.  

Reid, Grace and Abby singing Christmas songs around the piano
James with the mini bible that he toted around with him the entire trip
If his cousin Winnie was around, he would sit in this chair for 20+ minutes just to make sure she didn't get it
James looked so handsome in his Christmas outfit! 
Cutting down the tree
Hot cocoa in the car, fresh tree on top
Getting ready to play in the snow
Snowball fight!
(I totally think that Grace looks like me in this picture, btw)
Sledding down the man-made snow hill
I wish this picture weren't so fuzzy--i'd blow it up and put it above my fireplace! I love the way my little guy is looking at my big guy!
Decorating gingerbread cookies
Abby, desperately trying to lose her tooth on Christmas Eve so that Santa and the Tooth Fairy would bump into each other
My camera gets jaundiced sometimes...
Grandma and Abby playing dress-ups

Abby as Mary for the nativity
Gabe was Joseph.  Or the donkey.  I can't remember now.
Abby with her Barbie and Pet Shops that Santa left her
Eliza opening her stocking and her camera from Santa
Grace was shocked that Santa actually brought her a real violin. 
James loved nothing more on Christmas morning than tearing apart his mini post-it notes, one by one
His pet monkey that Grace gave him came in a close second

Again with the chair!  

Grace loved her dolphin blanket...

And the dolphin bulletin board that I made for her.  We didn't bring this with us, just showed her photos of it.  She really loved this gift and told me it turned out exactly how she'd hoped it would.  Sweet girl.

 I made the girls these cute necklaces out of old scrabble tiles. The tutorials told me that super glue would do the trick....
They lied

Abby loved the snuggy I made for her.  It really was the perfect gift for this girl who's always cold in the morning and brings her bedspread downstairs to eat breakfast!
 The blanket i made for Eliza wasn't (isn't!) finished...maybe i'll get a picture of it when I regive it to her this Christmas :)

It was such a wonderful Christmas.  The only thing that eased the pain of leaving was knowing that 6 more days of family time awaited us in Provo.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Christmas Part 1

It's 6 degrees outside right now.  The high today was 13.  I can hear my furnace chugging and see the ice build-up on the inside of my front door.  The elementary school pipes froze and burst open, causing several classrooms to shut down.  My front door also burst open after school with Abby following behind, proudly exclaiming that she "had class in the Library today!!!"  I immediately served my two little icicles some hot cocoa--mostly to appease the guilt I felt at making them walk home today.  

In other words?  It's cold.  The kind of cold you welcome before Christmas.  The kind of cold that we didn't have before Christmas.  

When we took our kids to go see Santa (around December 1st) people were in shorts.  The grass was green.  Santa was sweating.  A lot.  It felt wrong.  For so many reasons.  But I figured that kids in AZ do this every year, we can tough it out just this once!

The kids made their requests--a violin for Grace, a barbie and pet shop for Abby, and a camera for Eliza.  Santa also made his request--that they go to bed early on Christmas Eve.  Thank you, Santa!

We also managed to squeeze a few other things into the month.  Like a haircut for this cute girl.  I tried to get some good pictures of this silly girl....
 and I dare say I did.

We also found time one morning to make Gingerbread houses.

And, amazingly enough, my dad and sister came out for a quick early December visit!  It was so wonderful having them here!!

The kids love Julia.  But the luuuurve her Ipod.  She uses that power wisely

James with his favorite things: His grandpa, his books, and his fingers

Making our retro ornaments

Reid in front of the fire he lit for an evening of marshmallow-roasting, carol-singing and cinnamon-stick burning

Julia and Zhaameyes
(Julia's nickname for James.  She had just returned from a trip to Paris and taught us all the worst fake French you've ever heard.  It stuck)

But most of the month was spent doing what i do best--tackling a service project that is bigger than I am, and feeling guilty the whole month because we aren't ice skating, caroling to neighbors, visiting live nativities, and making plates of cookies for our friends!  I am truly torn over this issue.  I love helping people out at Christmastime. I love turning my children's focus away from their own wishlists and toward the needs of others.  I love teaching them that one of the ways we can honor Christ this time of year is caring for the poor and needy, like He always did.  But honestly, I feel quite guilty about the things that we don't make time for...and the fact that I'm a frantic crazy person for weeks on end as I try to save as much of the world as possible! What do I do?  Or perhaps the better question is, What do you do?  How do you balance these two apparently conflicting desires?  Do you make your Christmas cookies in October?  'cause as of right now, that's the best I can come up with.

Luckily for everyone in this household, all of my Christmas Crazies were gone by the 20th, when the last packages were shipped off.  And we made it to Wyoming for a wonderful, peaceful, relaxing, just-what-I-needed glorious 6 days.

More on that later!!