Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Heirloom Presents

I can't remember the last time I was so excited about my own Christmas presents. In addition to some sweet things from Mark, here are my favorites:
These are heirlooms from my father, his mother, and my mother's father and mother.

The painting is done by my Grandma Ashurst, who raised nine children, then graduated from college and developed her talents in her later years.

The pen and pencil set is made by my father, who is a skilled woodworker. These I think I will put away. One day I'll have a lovely desk and fewer gremlins to ransack it.

The gold-handled scissors are my Grandma Benac's little embroidery scissors. I love having little objects like that to remember by.

My Grandpa Benac was born in Yugoslavia and became a devoted stamp collector. The frame on the left is all the stamps released in Yugoslavia in the year of my birth.
Aren't they all treasures?

And I've been so excited about this gift from my in-laws.
A beautiful set of new scriptures. My last set is now twenty years old and in pretty bad shambles. Too many of above-mentioned gremlins being naughty during church! This set is better quality and should last even longer. I've decided I'm going to read it. As in, start on page one and read until I get to the end. I've never read the Old Testament straight through before. I told Mark the whole endeavor is so that in another twenty or thirty years I can clutch these scriptures in my wrinkled claws and proclaim, "I've read this book, every page, and I can testify to you young folks..."

So maybe one day, this will be someone else's heirloom Christmas present.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Christmas Presents

Today I conducted the final appropriation and equalization of Christmas gifts, using these:

(You'd think that by now my kids would have learned that my blog is a good source for inside info. But they haven't, so we're safe.)

This year, the kids will each open four presents (one from Mom and Dad, one from grandparents, one from an aunt and uncle (my sibs are on a rotation), and one from a sibling (also a rotation)). We also have several lovely family group gifts from the other grandparents, and I've set aside a little something for each stocking. And yes, Jesse's is a box of tin foil. Which he will be thrilled with.

One way I try to keep the Christmas season Christ-focused is by keeping the gift-buying process simple. Not easy, since in addition to Christmas, we have three birthdays and an anniversary in December. My process starts with this:
Having the kids write wish lists helps them off-load some of their wishful thoughts. You can see that the lists are rather extravagant. (Levi's list includes a laptop and his own room. Dream on, buddy.) Once their desires have been recorded and recognized, they seem to be able to stop thinking about them so much for the rest of the month.

Then I spend some careful time and thought weighing the kids' lists, their needs, reality, parity, money, etc., etc. We try to give gifts that support the kids' talents and interests. And we like to have a new movie or wii game to play with on Christmas day.

I compile it all into a huge Amazon order that I usually place on Cyber Monday. I imagine I could get slightly better deals on some things by shopping around, but Cyber Monday prices are quite good and usually come with free shipping. By Monday night, ninety percent of my work is done. I just sit back and wait for my friendly neighborhood UPS man.

And because the world needs more of Little Miss Piggy Tail:

Love that cheeky smile!

Okay, this is a horrible picture, taken by Betsy's request when I had just gotten back from the gym. But compare our eye colors. She is definitely going green like her daddy.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Twenty Years

Twenty years ago today, I woke in a hotel room I was sharing with my parents in Manti, Utah. My mom helped me curl my hair and lent me a pair of pearl earrings. We drove to the temple, where we met Mark McGee. I changed into the beautiful dress my mom had sewn for me. Mark and I climbed a spiral staircase to a tower sealing room. The huge chandeliers shook as my Grandpa Benac performed the ceremony.

This morning I woke in bed next to my husband. I read the Book of Mormon with our six children. I sent our two teenagers out the door to school, then ushered out our two elementary schoolers. I kissed Mark good-bye as headed out to his job as a historian, a job that for many years we didn't know if he could get. I ran to the gym with our two little ones and came home to bustle around the house staunching at least a bit of the mess and chaos. One the fridge door, the fridge containing six gallons of milk, I found this:

Our marriage is far from perfect, definitely still a work in progress. Here are the lessons I've learned in our first twenty years:

Go to bed angry.
Who on earth keeps telling couples to never let the sun set on their anger? That person should be muzzled. Late at night when tempers flare and patience wane is the worst time to hash out problems. Suddenly people are saying things they don't even really mean, hurt feelings from eons past are being trotted out, and the issue at hand has gotten into a huge tangle. For heaven's sake, go to bed. In the morning, you'll wake with more humility and perspective. You'll say something like, "Hey, sorry things got tense last night. I just was trying to say..." And your spouse will say something like, "I can see what you're saying. I'm just concerned that..." And everything will be fine.

Deal with your spouse as they are, not as you wish them to be. 
You don't have to be married long to know all the sub-par elements of your souse's personality. But don't kick against the pricks, don't always be pushing your spouse to be what they are not. For example, Mark's pace is slower than mine. He talks slower, walks slower, gets out of the car slower. I've learned not to waste energy wishing him to be faster. It's futile, it's unkind, it leads to frustration--and it's ridiculous, since slowness is an integral part of the man I chose to marry.

Be loyal.
It seems to Mark and me that some couples split because they had been operating with a little escape hatch in the corner of their minds. Don't have even the shadow of an escape hatch. Of course, if things become dire, it'll appear. But until then, be totally committed to your marriage. Make it beyond question that you and your spouse will work out whatever challenges may come your way. Don't bad-mouth your spouse. Don't choose anyone else over your spouse, even in small matters.

Have a unified vision of the big picture...
Share a vision of the purpose of life and family and work together to build that vision. This big-picture vision is what holds you together through the slog of housework, money trouble, sickness, etc.

...but be okay with disagreeing on the little stuff. 
If you agree on the big stuff, you can let your spouse do their own thing on everything else. Don't worry about disagreeing on how to care for the lawn, how to administer time-outs, how to succeed at work. Part of being loyal to your spouse is trusting them to handle their own part of working toward your shared vision.

Go on dates.
We think it's invaluable to make time (and set aside the money) to leave the house together every week or so, to do something fun and indulgent and uninterrupted together. The older our kids get, the harder it is to have private conversations. The quality of our conversations on date is totally different than at home.

Take turns losing it.
Everyone has moments of impatience, pettiness, self-absorption, and freak-out. Things go so much better if you and your spouse don't have those moments at the same time. When you see your spouse losing it, give them space and support, then be the one to walk the high road for a spell. You can have your moment of weakness later.
On our anniversary trip to NYC last spring.

So here's the final installment in my series of 6-word love poems:

 Twenty years together. Eternity to come.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Sibling Gift Rotation

Last night was one of our favorite holiday traditions: Our annual all-family shopping trip to Target. Each year we set up a rotation so each of the kids buys a present for one of their siblings. On one Monday evening, we break into two groups, making sure that no one in each group is giving to another member of the same group. Then Mark takes one group, I take the other, and we go our separate ways in Target. We sneak around corners, avoiding each other in the toy section.

Last night, once my group had finished their shopping, we saw Mark's group from afar. Logan hollered, "We're going to get treats!" Mark's group hollered back, "No! We already got treats!"

Then we all descended on the check-out line. Kids were dumping handfuls of change on the counter, hollering at each other, "No, don't look!" It's a wonderful mayhem.

On the ride home, we listened to Christmas music. Snow was falling as if on cue. The kids were happily thinking about the gifts they had chosen, hoping their sibling would love it.

I don't think anyone was thinking about what they'd receive.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Logan on the Jumbotron

Once or twice a year, Mark comes home with Jazz tickets. (They apparently release unsold tickets to church employees under certain conditions.) He'll call me from work and say, "So what's going on tonight?" (or Wednesday night, or whatever). And I'll say one of two things:

1. "Oh, we have a million things going on. First we have to, and then we have to to, and we have to get back in time to, and then Levi has to, and we have to take Haley..."


2. "Not much. I'm so exhausted, I can't wait to just stay home for once."

In either case, Mark will smugly reply, "I guess I'll just give away these Jazz tickets." Then he'll sit back and enjoy the show while I back-pedal, "Oh no! I'm sure we can work something out!"

Earlier this week he was able to score tickets to last night's game--Jazz versus San Antonio Spurs-- enough for Mark and me, Levi and a buddy, some of our favorite neighbors, and the entire teachers' quorum.

We love the Utah Jazz. The always-a bridesmaid team that's never won a championship but almost always makes the playoffs. The team that's all heart and hustle--no ball-hogging or show-boating. The team that's a team, not a star with sidekicks. And we love to hate the Spurs, in those snooty black jerseys. We even love our de rigeur nose-bleed seats up against the back wall.

The Jazz were behind for most of the game, but they held on. Mark and I (with Levi and our friends) snuck down to better seats while Logan and his buds stayed up in the nose-bleeds. As the famously raucous crowd roared the start of the fourth quarter, I looked up on the Jumbotron to see....Logan! My son shaking it gangman-style  for all the world to see.

I feel can die happy knowing that Logan has fulfilled his destiny by being broadcast, larger-than life, being crazy, in front of thousands.

Then, with one second left, the score tied, this happened:

This video fails to capture the absolute tsunami of sound crashed across the room.

In a Jazz-love side note, Mo Williams had missed a three-point shot just moments earlier. But "Instead of getting grief from his coach, Williams got another green light. "Coach told me don't worry about it. You'll make the next one," Williams said." And he did.

*sigh* We love you, Jazz.