Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Reunion! Random Edition

We're deep in the vortex of a McGee Family Reunion. We stay up too late, let the kids watch too many movies, never let the babies nap, and drag ourselves out of bed in the morning for more, more, MORE! We have piles of cousins, mounds of food, and plenty of snow. Here are a few random shots from the HUNDREDS of photos we've taken of each other this week:

Logan catching air.
Haley, not catching air.

A pile of cousins.

Of course, a boardgame, with cousins.

Jesse exiting the huge snow cave where 4 adults can sit.

Friday, December 26, 2008

The 12 Days of Christmas

I've been working on this post all month and still haven't got it right. This is such a simple little story, but it means a lot to me. So from the files of better-late-than-never, enjoy:

"I have nothing to look forward to for two weeks."

I plopped down on the couch in despair. It was Sunday evening in early December, and Mark had just informed me that in order to finish his final papers for his master's degree, he'd have to work round the clock until the last day of the semester. In two weeks, we'd drive home for Christmas and I'd be surrounded by family and decorations and everything festive and fun. But until then, I was in our shabby little apartment, taking care of a baby all by myself. We'd lived in Logan, Utah, for only a few months, and I hadn't been successful in making friends or figuring out what to do with myself as a mother. Sometimes our attic apartment felt like a tower prison. I could look down from above and see everyone else coming and going, but I was isolated, with nowhere to go, no one to talk to. And now not even my husband would be around.

"I have nothing to look forward to for two weeks," I thought as I plopped on the couch. In the grand scheme of global tragedies, I knew this wouldn’t even register. But those two weeks stretched before me like a desert wasteland.

At the very moment--my unspoken words still hanging in the air, Mark still walking from the living room back to his computer--I heard a knock on the door.

I heard Mark open the door, then I heard him chuckle. He walked into the room carrying a tiny Christmas tree and a note. Someone was doing the 12 Days of Christmas for us.

The tree was fake. It was small. But it was covered in bows and balls and lights. When I plugged it in, the room filled with a festive glow. Suddenly I did have something to look forward to--every day. Each night we heard a knock and found something perched on our step. One day, a tape of Christmas music, which I listened to nonstop. Another day, mugs and cocoa mix. Nothing was big or expensive, but enough to let me feel the joy of Christmas. Little Roscoe and I organized our days around those little gifts.

From the moment Mark opened the door, we knew who it was. The Aumans. A family that, charmed by the immeasurable cuteness of little Roscoe, had taken us under their wing. A family with a truly Christian commitment to living the gospel and helping others. The Aumans probably knew that we had no family or money or Christmas tree. Maybe they even suspected I was lonely. But they had no way of knowing that the very moment they knocked on our door was my moment of need.

But as I got to know Sister Auman in the coming years, I learned that she is a person who dedicates her life to identifying and filling others’ needs. Once in a Sunday lesson, I heard her explain that she prays each morning that Heavenly Father will let her know who she can help that day.

Elder Bednar says that the “tender mercies of the Lord” are “personal and timely message of comfort and reassurance.” I believe that the Aumans delivered to me, at the very moment I needed it, a message of comfort from my Heavenly Father.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Christmas in Earnest

Christmas has begun in earnest. This morning I did my annual grocery shopping trip in which I implore myself to splurge and get treats. We now have shrimp and cookies and sausage and strawberries and all sorts of nonessentials. And I've begun the pre-launch cooking countdown by baking our Christmas pogacha. I spent the afternoon offering treats to the children. Grandparents arrived from out of town this afternoon. Tonight Mark and I are doing the final gift review to ensure each child is getting an equivalent haul. Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Just About Perfect

The bottom line is that my life is as perfect as anyone as a right to hope. Every night I tuck into a big bed in a warm house full of healthy, well-fed loved ones. The list of "if onlys" that sometimes runs on loop in the back of my mind doesn't change the fact that I have love, peace, safety, and plenty.

Exhibit A: I finished Christmas shopping for my children, paid all the bills, paid tithing, and filled the gas tank. I never blog about money because it's too depressing and gauche, but I'll tell you that the above is not always the case in our family, and having it taken care of is a huge blessing and relief.

Exhibit B: Our neighbor and friend, a mother of three, died this weekend. On Friday morning she was a normal person sending her kids off to school. Now she's in the cold ground.

So suddenly I see more clearly that everything I don't have is nothing compared with everything I do have.

Saturday, December 20, 2008


So of course Mark and I went out last night, and usually Roscoe would babysit for us, but he got a call to babysit for real money for another family, so he did. Meaning that Logan got to babysit his siblings for a little while before Roscoe got home to take over.

Logan was thrilled with the opportunity to demonstrate his prowess and responsibility. He said excitedly to Mark, "Do you trust me?" And we thought, "Uhhhh."

So we sat down with Logan to lay down some ground rules, and he chimed in, "You know what my number 1 rule is? HAVE FUN!" And we thought, "Uhhhhh."

I mean fun is great, but fun includes swinging from chandeliers and spooning brown sugar from its container and luging down the stairs.

In the minds of Logan's first-born parents, contenders for Rule Number 1 would be:

  • Be safe.
  • Follow the rules.
  • Be nice.
  • Keep an eagle eye on Jesse.
  • Don't make a mess.
  • Stay out of the kitchen.
"Have fun" probably wouldn't hit our top ten. Mark and I know how to have fun, but lots of our fun is had along the way of filling responsibilities. And we're pretty dyed-in-the-wool proponents of work-first-play-later. And yet poor Logan's Number 1 directing principle in life is HAVE FUN. More specifically, it's HAVE FUN RIGHT NOW. In the Color Code personality test that's all the rage here in Utah, Logan is pure yellow.

So we told Logan all about how this was an opportunity for him to build trust that would lead to greater freedom and responsibility. And how if we came home to happy, unscathed children in a tidy house, then he'd get more such opportunities in the future.

And, man, did that kid deliver.

When we came home, Roscoe and Logan were enjoying a movie together in a very tidy house indeed. They kind of looked like parents enjoying kid-free evening time. The kids were all tucked into their beds. Both boys were pleased with their night's earnings and their own maturity.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Anniversary Morning

Today is my 16th wedding anniversary, and I woke up to Roscoe standing over my bed asking me to print a school assignment for him. (His computer isn't connected to a printer.) While I watched his document print, I heard a crash from upstairs. Jesse had thrown his juice to the floor, scattering glass and ice everywhere. Also his bowl of cereal. The he wanted to eat the ice--never mind that half of it was really glass--while Roscoe had a little stress meltdown over homework issues and lost shoes.

Meanwhile I noticed that Mark had replaced my Christmas CD in the kitchen CD player with one of his own making. When finally Roscoe was out the door and the floor was sticky but safe, I sat down in a kitchen chair to listen to long list of songs Mark feels reflect our relationship.

Gray wind scraped the frozen fingers of our willow tree against the kitchen window. Squeals and wails occasionally wafted downstairs. Various people hollered, "Mooomm!" I certainly wasn't personifying Mark's childhood dreams of the ideal wife as I sat in that sticky kitchen in my XXL polka-dot pajamas. But I floated on the island of Mark's love while everything else washed past, insignificant.

There are many things to love about Mark. Many reasons that I love him. But our love is so much more than the sum of its parts. It just is, beyond any why. As Mark says, "I love you because I met you."

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Logan Turns 11

Logan's birthday cake.
What it looked like after Jesse reached it:
For those of you not keyed into the mind of a tweenaged boy, a clue to what the cake represents:
A moment of awed silence as the kids gaze upon Logan's largest present.

Against our better judgement, it's a high-powered, long-range nerf gun. But it won us huge hugs from Logan, who immediately shot his brother in the eye.
The man himself. Now 11 years old.

Monday, December 15, 2008

What's Next?

My friend Brenda says she's "prone to mood swings and over-scheduling," which sums me up pretty well. What kind of crazy puts her parents on a plane, stashes party leftovers in the pantry, then turns to tell her recently emerged husband, "I think we should move up our availability date for a new foster child"?

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Party Weekend

This weekend my parents flew into town to celebrate Mark's graduation and 40th birthday.

My brother Josh came too.

It was a snowy day.

But many people cheerfully braved the elements...
... to come to our party.
It was a treat to see some of our all-time favorite people from college, work, family, and the neighborhood.
Josh said he's no good at taking pictures...

But he caught this gem of three generations: Earl, Mark, and Roko.

We feel very grateful for the support and love of our friends and family. Congratulations Dr. Mark!

Friday, December 12, 2008

Get Lost with Annie Poon

You know I love Coldplay and cousins. This combines both.

My talented and delightful cousin Annie Poon created this dreamy animation for Coldplay's video contest for their song "Lost." Watch it once. Then watch it a second time for maximum enjoyment.

Then if you're so inclined, go rate it here on YouTube.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Another stab at redemption

Remember when Jesse desecrated his crib? And remember when Jesse violated the wool rug with sticks of margarine, and in the end Mom, Jesse, and the rug all found redemption? This is a story like that.

I knew Jesse wasn't napping yesterday. I knew he'd trash his room. But I wanted to clean the basement bathroom (I know, dream big) and there's no good way to do that unless Jesse is contained. So when I came upstairs to set him free, I expected a modicum of mess.

What I found was a boy who had taken it upon himself to do something about his stinky diaper. He couldn't remove the diaper (wearing a onesie!), so he helped himself to wet wipes and dabbed them inside the diaper, removing and smearing clumps.... That's all you need to know: removing and smearing.

You can imagine my response. No, not screaming. But an immediate big, bubbly bath for Jess. A wide open window. Liberal use of the carpet cleaner and Lysol. At length, that bedroom carpet was cleaner than it has ever been--and free from 99.9% of household germs. Soon I plopped down on the couch for a breather--tired, perhaps somewhat emotionally scarred, but the proud owner of a very clean room.

So seriously, is this not like the gospel? Tribulation besets us--either because of our own sins, mistakes and immaturity or simply because of our mortal condition. And it sucks. But we gird up and rise to the challenge and grab that shampoo and laundry soap. We clean house, figuratively; we work to achieve a pure heart and clean hands. And then, at some point, we look back and see the progress we've made. How now we're better. And though we would never, ever, have chosen this experience, we realize that we needed it, that without it we wouldn't have done the requisite work and purification.

So maybe Jesse-the-Hellion is a blessing sent from the gods of housekeeping?

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Conflict Escalation

Growing Hostility
I have a habit of making little piles of shoes in the corners of my bedroom like drifted leaves. Apparently, now that my husband lives here, this bothers him. He mentioned it a few times and I ignored him.

Then one day when he left for work, I realized that next to each pile of my shoes was a pair of his shoes.

"Silly man," I thought. "Two can play this game."

When Mark came home from work, every pair of shoes I own was scattered across the room. A pair sat on the mat in front of the bathroom sink; another on the mat in front of the toilet. Two pairs in front of the couch where he sits to take off his shoes after work. A couple outside the bedroom door for good measure.

Frankly, it was a pain to maneuver around them all day. But my only real regret was that I would be on chauffeur duty when Mark arrived home and miss his response.

When I arrived home, the entire kitchen and hallway were covered in shoes. Poor Mark, who for nearly two decades has worn only Chuck Taylors and leather brogues, had to even dig out a strange pair of rubber temple overshoes that hasn't seen the light of day...ever. Levi was thrilled that his usual habit of flinging his own shoes on the floor was now contributing to a grander plan.

After dinner I went to Enrichment, and when I returned, every pair of Mark's shoes was put away. And every pair of mine was not.

And there they still sit.

Mark comes home in 5 hours. I wonder what I'll do.


Since it is his birthday, and since he almost never commands me to "stand down," and since I'm madly in love with him, the shoes are all neatly put away--in the super cool built-in shoe organizer in my closet.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Day of Sickness and Snow

So yesterday while I was doing things like frosting pink birthday cupcakes for Haley and tying ribbons in her hair so she would look like a present, I was also dealing with this:

Our night had been punctuated--repeatedly--by little visitors come to inform us of various explosions from various ends. And in the morning, we had these three toasted oats. I walked by and said, "Which of you boys has a fever?" And Levi said morosely, "We all do."

Then they got to feeling better and so they were whiney and bored and did things like intercept a package delivery and open it and distribute its contents. Which led their mother to pronounce, "You're doing all the right things for boys who don't want any Christmas presents!"
Meanwhile, snow fell softly outside.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Haley Turns 5

Queen of Preschool

FINALLY -- a princess movie for the girl who has spent her life watching Nacho Libre and Ironman and Star Wars.

Talking on the phone to Grandma and Grandpa.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Advent Sunday Readings

So this weekend it was nice to have Mark around--but today it was essential. Jesse did a sleep strike last night and was up at least a dozen times. So today he was a disaster. An exhausted disaster who refused to take a nap. The kids were all hyper about our plans to decorate the Christmas tree tonight. So while I'm doing things like trying to make a delicious dinner and brew wassail and make cookies they're barraging me with, "So, Mom, can you tell me what time we're decorating the tree?"

At one point we finally decided to wrestle screaming Jesse down for an early bedtime. I'm trying to guide Logan through the process of rolling Russian teacakes in powdered sugar, which he is threatening to turn into a sugar blizzard. Levi chooses this moment to blow chunks across the upstairs hallway. If I had been on my own, things wouldn't have been pretty.

As it was, I ignored the puke situation and finished the cookies. Then while Mark scrubbed the carpet, I hog-tied Jesse, got him into jammies, and stuck a washcloth in his bedroom door so he couldn't escape. Then the kids and I (or at least the kids who were neither puking nor screaming) decorated the tree while Mark cleaned the kitchen.

In no time, we sat at a clean table to enjoy wassail and cookies in the light of our pretty tree. And there was enough peace remaining to do our first Sunday's Advent Reading.

I got this list from someone in one of our old wards and we've done it ever since. Keeping Christ in Christmas doesn't have to mean scrimping on the fun stuff like cookies and presents and jingle bells; it just means making sure to talk and think about Christ more often. These are beautiful, short little doses of Christ you can snuggle up and enjoy under the tree each Sunday (or Monday) in December:

Advent Readings

First Advent Sunday
John 1:1-5, 12-14
Isaiah 7:14; 9:6-7

Second Advent Sunday
1 Nephi 10:4; 11:13-21; 19:8
2 Nephi 25:19
Alma 7:10

Third Advent Sunday
Helaman 13:4-5; 14:1-6

Fourth Advent Sunday
Luke 1:5-48, 56-64

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Our Friday

Yesterday was a great day. First, our favorite fix-it guy showed up and fixed the washer. Just in the nick of time, since the kids had all whined that they had no clean clothes that morning. Haley, Jesse, and I did a dance of joy in the kitchen.

Then I ended up with 45 minutes--after Haley was at preschool, Jesse was at a friend's, but before the Primary presidency meeting--when no one but me was home. I grabbed the chance to paint the stairway walls, which were all smudged and ugly. Really, I do can a lot when no one's here.

Then Mark came home at around 2:00. Church employees were all sent home during Elder Wirthlin's funeral. So he got a head-start on our weekend to-do list--which is long since we haven't worked together on any list for weeks and weeks. He worked on tucking in the yard for the winter while I did a solo trip to Target for all sorts of birthday and Christmas goodies. I made two big online orders last week, and now I'm done with everything for Christmas and Haley and Logan's birthdays.

When I got home, Mark and I loaded up for a dinner out to our favorite Indian place. Who knows when was the last time we had a date? On our way home, we picked up a little but pretty and good-smelling Christmas tree, which we set up in the front room while the kids finished their Friday night movie. Once we finally wrestled the kids to bed, we split a Twix bar and watched a Jazz game.

You know, I can cope without Mark. But it is so much nicer to have him around!

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Counting Minutes

This article in BYU Magazine outlines research that quantifies how much less time second children get from their parents than first children do. Answer: 20-30 minutes a day. That's 3,000 hours between the ages of 4 and 13. The authors hypothesize that the time differential explains why first-borns are generally higher achievers than second borns. (My take on that: Any extra achievement from first-borns is due to their hyper-developed sense of duty and guilt.)

The sad, brutal truth is that my second-born gets a lot less attention than my first-born. And El Segundo knows it and is bitterly unhappy about it. I spend so much time helping Roscoe forge new territory with each new age, and then I let Logan trundle along in Roscoe's trough.

(On the other hand, Logan was the baby for 4 1/2 years, longer than any other child, and we adored every move he made the whole time.)

Here's what I feel is never accounted for in studies of how poorly successive children fare. Maybe number 2 got 20-30 minutes less attention from me. But how many minutes of interaction did he get from his siblings? Hours and hours and hours.

So let's do the math: Subtract less meaningful interactions, like watching TV together or parallel play. Let's guess--very conservatively--that leaves 90 minutes of a day of high-quality conversation, playing, problem-solving, and sharing between siblings. And then let's rate the quality of sibling-to-sibling interaction as only 50% of that of parent-to-child interaction. In that scenario, child number 2 gets 15-25 more minutes of quality interaction each day than child number 1.

Maybe I'm deluding myself, but I think older siblings are a great gift to a child.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Sweet Moment

Jesse (barging in on Mom in the bathroom): Hey, Mommy!

Me (from behind a soapy face): Hey, sweetheart.

Jesse: Hey, Sweet Mommy!


Monday, December 1, 2008

What I learned from NaBloPoMo

I did it--a post for every day of November. And frankly I'm sick of myself. And yet what I learned is that I have plenty to say. There's what happened that day, and then there's what I was thinking about during that day.

Things that didn't get blogged about:

~ The coming out party for the long-awaited first volume of the Joseph Smith Papers, of which Mark is a volume editor. People such as Elder Holland, Elder Jensen, Elder Coleman, Larry Miller, and Sheri Dew were there to pat backs. Mark sat at a table and signed people's copies.

~ Levi saying, "I can't wait for Christmas. You wanna know why? Egg nog. We're not gonna drink water! Just egg nog."

~ How Mark was out of town for a week and how during that time the kids didn't sleep. This always happens. It's the same evil curse that makes them wake up especially early on Saturdays.

~ The first snow.

~ Most of the 200 pictures I took this month.

~ How said Joseph Smith Papers volume sold out its first printing in ten days.

Isn't there some quote about how the contemplated life is the only life worth living? Well, blogging is teaching me that the life contemplated, then shared, is even a bit better.