Tuesday, April 15

Been reading . . .

I think most everyone knows we're expecting baby #5 in September. YAY! We're excited and found it's a girl last week! Morgan is excited to have a sister and the boys are cool either way. Easton's only request is that the baby be cute. "If not, it's your fault!" he stated with a big grin!

Frustrated by aspects of my previous birth experiences and my own naiveté, I have been dipping my toe into books about natural childbirth at the recommendation of trusted friends and family. A new friend here lent me a stack of books I'd heard of and I've been devouring them!

Baby Catcher: Chronicles of a modern midwife by Peggy Vincent
This was so fun! This certified nurse became a midwife after years working in a Berkeley hospital where she was intrigued by the difference in mothers who were able to give birth naturally, observing and working with their bodies in labor.

Ina May Gaskin's Guide to Natural Childbirth
The first half of the book is birth stories of women and the second half is about her philosophy and techniques to support women giving birth. Man, I wish I'd read this ten years ago!!! Ugh. This has been the refrain Ryan has heard for three weeks now between my reading of these two books.

I am glad I read Vincent's book first because it started me on familiar ground - within the typical hospital birth experience. I got to walk with the author gradually into her curiosity and education on  supporting women's work with their bodies through labor. I have a lot more to read but I'm so glad I've got time to then incorporate what I'm learning with Ryan and our health care provider here in Germany.

A book, however, that I think will hijack my current train of thought is this one that was sent to me today. Melissa Dalton-Bradford's "On Loss and Living Onward: Collected Voices for the Grieving and Those Who Would Mourn with Them" grabs you from the first chapter. I wish I had the rest of the day to hide away and absorb it! But parent teacher conferences today, a back up of laundry from our machine being broken for two weeks, and a birthday party and baptism this week are calling me out of my cave.

I've gotten to know the author in the past six months. You can read my Goodreads review of her first book "Global Mom" which I loved. While I am so glad she wrote "Global Mom," I have been anticipating this next book even more!

When Ryan's brother Eric and his family lived in Munich back in 2010ish, we'd often attend church with them when we visited. Sister Bradford was often the Sunday School teacher and her lessons were my favorite kind. Her love and understanding of many languages, the scriptures, and great works of literature from around the world facilicated great discussions and learning for me. She was polished and accomplished and yet there was something that kept her apart from the typical ward bustle of comradery. Then one Sunday, I sat among a small group of women as Melissa taught the Relief Society lesson and shared an intimate poem she'd written about Biblical Hannah's son and Melissa's own son, Parker. I had not known until that moment that the Bradfords were freshly grieving the loss of their eldest son and brother two years prior. Her poem touched me deeply and I hoped she was a writer but I didn't even know her name.

Fast forward to last September when MormonWomen.com interviewed her about her memoir, "Global Mom." I discovered her book and blog, devouring both. But I have been eagerly waiting for this next book because of that poem. I know her walk of loss and grief and her intense study of this path which she calls "avelut" will teach me profound and sacred truths that will carry great meaning for the rest of my life - either for the losses I will undoubtedly experience or to know how to walk with others in their loss.

I know I am not good at mourning with others yet and American culture in general, LDS culture too, does not have ritual ways to help mourners long term. We want them to move on and be happy again because their grief makes us uncomfortable. Some religions and cultures do have rituals of mourning for those in grief and the community who would mourn with them. I'm here to learn!

Friday, March 21

Teaching Our Children Personal Safety

This topic has been on my heart since last October. I'm sharing it here to share what I'm learning and to account for my time. After asking a popular mom blog to feature a post or podcast on this topic, I was asked to write this up. I've been looking for ways to share this information far and wide within my family and communities, so this is just one more avenue. (I apologize for the formatting, I don't have the time to make it flow all snazzy like I want to so there's many run-on paragraphs.)


Teaching Our Children Personal Safety

I grew up as the oldest of ten children from a strong LDS family in a conservative, family-friendly eastern Washington community. Despite my idyllic childhood, hard things affected people I love. When I was in fifth grade, a good friend’s older brother was incarcerated for sexually abusing two little neighbor kids he babysat. As the years have gone by, I have become aware of too many family members and friends who have also been affected by child abuse within their families. The startling common reality was that the abuse was done by a member(s) of their family or within their family’s circle. We must remove "Stranger Danger" from our conversations because kids don't understand it and adults don't practice it. Sadly, no community, religious or otherwise, is immune from these realities.

Did you know?
  • As many as 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 7 boys will be sexually abused by the age of 18?
  • Approximately three quarters of reported cases are committed by family members of individuals who are considered part of the victim’s “circle of trust.”
  • Twenty three percent of perpetrators were under age 18. 

The four greatest challenges to children’s safety are abduction, bullying, child abuse and neglect, and sexual assault. Did you know that 90% of students in grades 4-8 reported being threatened or bullied in school? And that 85% reported no intervention by adults or peers? Further, the statistics around pornography’s impact on brain development in youth, brain chemistry, relationships, and communities are also quite sobering and have directly impacted my life. More than half of boys and nearly a third of girls see their first pornographic images before they turn 13. Addictions have begun by this age too.

These statistics have been a reality in my life. After reading Elizabeth Smart’s memoir of her abduction from her home at the age of 14, I knew I needed to do something. I have 4 children and one on the way. I was recently given the responsibility of 120 children in my church ages 18 months to 11 years old with a staff of 40 teachers and midweek activity leaders. We are part of an overseas US military community and my children attend an international school. My community’s global nomad children stand at a higher risk because they must integrate into new communities every one to five years due to their parents’ work.

How could I empower these children, their parents and their leaders to face the challenges and realities of today with confidence in their abilities to protect themselves and their families?

How can we create a family culture that loves, guides, and supports a struggling child or adult who may be the bully or perpetrator? Or how can we be a positive, supportive influence on a troubled child or family that comes into our lives while keeping our eyes open to their struggles?

Luckily we live in a day when the resources and liberties to arm ourselves with information, strategies and skills are readily available. I began scouring resources online with three questions guiding me and here are some of the answers I found:

What do my children need to know?
  1. I am special and no one has the right to trick or hurt me.
  2. Everyone else is also special and I do not have the right to hurt or trick anyone else. But if I am uncomfortable or being hurt, I can do whatever it takes to get away.
  3. I should tell someone until they help me. It is not my fault they hurt me.

These three guiding principles coincide with teaching our children that we as their parents love them no matter what. Children need to have a basic understanding of how to keep their bodies safe as well as safety in the home, going to and from or at school, being out and about, and being online.

When do they need to know it?

NOW! Parents automatically begin teaching their children about their bodies and their surroundings as babies when we bath them or ask them to hold our hands as toddlers when we cross the street. Keep those conversations going as they grow. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children has great age appropriate conversation starters on their website Take25.org. Every parent should read the fact sheet provided by the National Child Traumatic Stress Network about what every child as early as three should begin to understand about keeping their body safe. (See link below.)

How do I teach personal safety?
  1. Be a safe confidante and understand how we as parents message this. When a child comes running to us crying, do we say, “What happened . . . oh you hit him so you probably deserved it.” Or do we seek to calm their wounded heart by saying, “I’m so sorry you are hurt/upset. What can we do right now to make things better? What could you/we do different in the future so this doesn’t happen again?” Rather than blame and shame our children for being in the wrong place and perhaps with the wrong temperament, we should seek to communicate empathy first and then mentor them into finding strategies and attributes they want in themselves. In communicating this way, we prove ourselves safe to communicate with as life’s choices and challenges get bigger. Our children will also be watching to see how we comment on other people’s choices and mistakes? Do we routinely judge others or do we reserve judgment with grace for what we do and don’t know, asking what we can learn from the situation?
  2. Be deliberate in making teaching moments a part of everyday life. As you go about your routine moments of the day getting ready, driving together, out on walks, cooking together, doing chores side by side, at bedtime and on outings – play “what if” and role play scenarios to get a conversation going. Hold special family meetings on subjects that need more in depth focus and perhaps ask older children to present on the topic so you know they understand it. Always be sure to let them know there are many adults around them who would drop everything to help a child asking for help and protect them. A good rule of thumb for my little ones is go to a mom with a child if you can’t find Mom or Dad. Reinforce family rules and guidelines as often as possible when encountering times of the day your children may not be right by your side – entering a store, riding the bus, playing in the neighborhood or park, play dates and sleepovers, community events or activities and so forth. Watch media together and discuss what you see. Ask family members how they felt and what messages were conveyed about relationships and personal character. What made it good or bad? Do we want this in our life, does it help us become who we want to be? Was it a good use of our time?
  3. Be their most regular, trusted source of information. From the time they are born you can make them aware of their bodies during bath time and getting dressed. Celebrate what our bodies can do and who is allowed to see and touch the parts of their body covered by swimsuits. Share children’s books to explore physical development and relationships. Two of me and my children’s favorite books for kids under ten are “Who Has What” and “It’s So Amazing,” both by Robie H. Harris. They are well illustrated to facilitate good discussions, provide accurate information, and do not push any particular social agenda. Regularly ask about your children’s day, their friendships, and their friend’s lives. Decide on an incremental approach or designate a special occasion for the puberty and sex talk and subsequent topics. Decide if you will provide them with a sexual education beyond the basics and how you will prepare them for a healthy transition into sexual activity, married or otherwise. If not you, whom do you trust to do so? Look into your children’s school’s biology and sexuality curriculum from 5th grade on up so you will be ready to discuss what they’ve learned. This will also enable you as the parent to share your values which may not have been part of the curriculum or peer interactions.
  4. Reinforce that life is a lifelong learning process and that learning to “fail well” is key to becoming who they want to be. Whether our child becomes a victim, perpetrator, or a friend of someone who is - they need this understanding as do we as parents! Utilize role models in biographies and stories who exemplify resilience, perseverance, and effort. Focus praise of children on their demonstration of strong effort and determination rather than on their performance outcome. For instance, when a child comes home with a spelling test score of 5/10, say, “Tell me how you came up with those spellings” so they can demonstrate the strategies they used, how they approached the challenge, and then help them build new strategies for success. Characteristics of one that fails well are these: They acknowledge the failure; take responsibility for their own actions; they work out what was done wrong and make changes; and have another go. Characteristics of failing badly are: blaming someone, something, or the system; pretending they never get or do anything wrong; adding drama to failures to avoid dealing with them; and avoiding any activity that could possibly result in failure.
So where to start? Here are some resources I have found very helpful.
  • Complete a Child ID kit complete with fingerprints and DNA sample. (See Take25.org)
  • If you are a smartphone user, download the free app “FBI Child ID.” Create and easily update a profile and picture of each family member, spouse included, that can be used when a child is lost in a store or goes missing and needs an Amber Alert blasted. Having all this information in one place simplifies a chaotic and anxious situation.
  • Explore the Take25.org website for safety tips and age appropriate conversation starters.
  • Every parent should read the following fact sheet for understanding and teaching body safety to our children. The National Child Traumatic Stress Network nctsn.org/nctsn_assets/pdfs/caring/ChildSexualAbuseFactSheet.pdf
  • Every parent should read why the term "Stranger Danger" is not a helpful tool in teaching kids about safety.  http://www.missingkids.com/en_US/publications/PDF10A.pdf
  • Netsmartz.org is a great resource for children, youth and parents to learn about how to stay safe online and what to do when you encounter unsavory things.
  • Fightthenewdrug.org is a savvy site for youth and adults about pornography that promotes a rather empowering outlook on the problems and what can be done.
  • Radkids.org is a children’s personal safety program that can be brought to communities and has some helpful statistics and resources that show how teaching our kids empowers better outcomes when children encounter difficult or scary situations.





Tuesday, February 11

Them Migrants and the 1 Cent Challenge

The deep breath didn't last long. Calendaring and keeping up with our life took over as usual but it's happy and full for the most part!

Yesterday I began my German class for migrant women. Do you know how odd it is to identify with calling myself a migrant woman?!d And yet it fits as I was seated around a table with 12 women, a few children playing nearby on the floor supervised by a couple of the facilitators of this program.

I grew up in Eastern Washington where every spring and summer brought waves of Hispanic migrant workers into my neighborhood to work in the cherry, apple and peach orchards. They seemed to keep to themselves as far as I can recall. There were incidents of bikes being stolen from our yard, blamed on these migrant workers. For all I know, they could have just been easy scapegoats. As a camp counselor for the YMCA summer day camps in my teen years, I worked with some of the migrant workers' children. One family's mother would sometimes send the best breakfast burritos for her son to share with me. Yum! I had a hard time imagining what it must have been like to be a migrant worker, always feeling on the outside of the communities you moved through.

But here I am in Germany five years, not a true migrant although Ryan and I often like to dream that we will be able to live here for a very long time because we love it so much. I have come to a greater sense of kinship with families in various places I lived in the US who were migrants or immigrants. Most of them were from Central or South America. How could I have been more supportive to them? There had been a Spanish speaking congregation set up in our Leesburg ward for a couple years before we moved to Germany. I'd thought then how overwhelming it must have been for them to learn a language and navigate a new country! And now I've gotten to experience that for myself to an extent. I've been so spoiled here not having to fully immerse myself in learning and navigating in German because our ward, military base, and int'l school communities all speak English. Even my neighbors like to practice their English on us.

But it's time to learn a bit more than the random words and phrases I know here and there.

In my class, there are two instructors. One is from Poland, the other is German. Then there's my Italian friend from church/int'l school, two ladies from Japan, two ladies from Sri Lanka, one from the Ivory Coast, another from Serbia, and then three Americans including myself. All of them are mothers, ages ranging from 49 to 29. I know this because we had to line up according to our ages as one of the exercises. We had to introduce ourselves, the members of our families, where we were from, how long we've lived here, and what our hobbies and least favorite chores to do were. I liked the kinship I felt among them pretty quickly.

Please pray for my brain to absorb and retain what I learn and practice! I asked McKay what a certain word meant last night. He didn't understand me and said, "Mom, sometimes I can't help you because you don't say it right so I don't know what you're saying." True. Like the word for married - such a long word that trips me up every time. Verheritat. Oi!

Speaking of being married, I'm loving Ryan's new calling as early morning Seminary Teacher! He's doing such a great job thoughtfully preparing, making it meaningful and challenging for the kids, and having fun! I love him! And I love that it makes pulling a good FHE so much easier! Last night he gave a great lesson to the kids about prayer. He made up our Prayer Plan on the white board and issued the 1 Cent Challenge to the kids. As Morgan told us at breakfast she'd remembered to say her morning prayer and McKay reminded me to give the kids each their 1 cent for their shoe today, I was thanking my Heavenly Father giving me this great husband and father of my children! The 1 Cent Challenge was to put a 1 euro cent in their shoe to remind them to have at least one meaningful prayer today.

Other stuff on my mind and heart lately:
- Handbook 2: Administering the Church, Chapter 3 - Leadership in the Church of Jesus Christ. So inspiring in my calling right now!
- Randy Pausch's "The Last Lecture." Really great. After I finished listening to it, Ryan and I watched his lecture on youtube on Saturday.
- A conference "Women and the LDS Church: Historical and Contempory Perspectives." Interesting.
- Rootstech family history sessions! YAHOO!
- October 2013 General Conference - this week is Elder Bednar's "The Windows of Heaven." Just what I needed to hear, answered a hope I'd had going into Conference, and I loved being touched by his humility and love during the second half.
- On Netflix, I watched "Forks over Knives" and "Vegucation." Lots of food for thought! I've got some friends who have been going vegan for the past year for their own or family's health and I've been intrigued. Also some friends here are very knowledgeable about essential oils and hold classes so I've been dabbling a little in that.

Thursday, January 30

Reprieve

Today there was quiet. After what feels like a distance runner's steady pace since last March, I feel like I can take a deep breath for a couple days.

My day began early. I got my Mom to the airport at 4am, took a nap until getting the kids to school, got chores done to celebrate Mom's efforts, played and read with Jake, had a fun phone chat with Ryan to catch up on family business, and then after lunch settled in with a good book to take a much needed nap. Just as I was drifting off, Jake needed a diaper change in the worst way and the phone rang. 

I'm enrolling in a German class. 

Five years here and now it's time. I'm anxious. I sure hope our new contract will help us eventually stay another five more. The contractor world is a roller coaster for sure. But we're personally invested in staying at this point so we shall see what God has in store for us.

We took the kids and Mom to Israel over President's day weekend for five days. We kept up quite the pace to fit as much in as we could. I had to pinch myself many times as I now saw my children and mom walking all over the Holy Land with Ryan and I as their guides! Ryan is my hero and throughout the trip I felt great peace about what we are doing in our family. 


It's been 17 years since I was a BYU Jerusalem student! Time flies! Everyone did remarkably well but we did bring a stomach bug home with us. That pretty much zapped us of entertaining Mom properly but she and I were pretty content to chat and work on odds and ends. I was often reminded how fortunate I am to have Mom as my mother!!!


One downside of traveling on Ryan's holidays vs. the kids' international school/German holiday schedule is the catchup homework for the boys. One of them got so overwhelmed it made him ill one day and then he refused to go to school another morning this week. It was rather traumatic for the two of us to navigate but we pulled through and all is right again with the world. I'm so grateful for these kids that are daily teaching me, stretching me to become a better person. As I was praying all day for this son to have a successful day, my mind kept running through these four statements. 

I am a child of God.
He has a plan for me.
I can do hard things 
with Him.
Be still, and know.

If I do nothing else as a mother than instill this in my children, I will be at peace. And so when the day did turn out well, I took him aside and we talked and then prayed together to thank Heavenly Father for answering a mother's prayers for her son that day. I want him to know I believe in him and God and me.

Monday, December 23

Grinch be gone!


As I lay in bed this morning, feeling overwhelmed by the thought of getting up and facing the day, I tried to unravel why I am struggling so hard to find the Christmas spirit in my heart and hands, and to provide it in my home. When Ryan asked me last night what I was thinking, all I could say was, "I am the Grinch." Conversation over, I killed it.

Earlier this morning, Jake came in and snuggled close for a minute, all smiles seeing me here. Morgan bounded in here after a bath, waving and smiling joyfully! McKay came into to announce he can't believe how fast the days are going by toward Christmas Eve and to tell me what happens in "Czech Land" to those who are naughty. They get a tomato in their shoe on Christmas morning and then the devil comes with three angels to sing to them. If they're still bad the devil will spank them! Easton sat on the bed next to me to just be near and chat.

What will I do when no little faces greet me each morning, telling me I am enough just for being here? All my family wants of me is for me to be present, preferably not as the Grinch. And so often, that is just so hard, especially at Christmas!

Ryan loves everything about the Christmas season – the ambiance of the lit tree, the smells and tastes of favorite foods, the mountain of wrapped gifts, music wafting through our apartment, the heart swells to watching favorite movies, the outings to Christmas markets. The children have been eagerly counting down the days until they can tear open presents and treats. Every year I feel like I am riding their coat tails into the season, merely surviving it all.

So when Jake's smile initially began melting my heart this morning, it hit me. 
I often allow the Christmas season to tell me I am not enough. I am the opposite of being Pinterest-worthy in the realms of cooking, baking, decorating, gift giving, DIY, crafting, cleaning, organizing, dressing, hair-doing – all the ambiance-creating that my husband, children, and community love so much. If I can’t do something well, I often shrug my shoulders and want to hibernate in the pillowed fetal position with a good book. Or I busy myself with tasks around the house as I did on Saturday, listening to some interesting podcasts. When I don’t feel I am enough, I struggle to be present for my family.

The pace of the season with all the school projects and celebrations, church assignments and celebrations, and community events blew my regular to do list out of the water and sank my ship faster than the Titanic! I feel like I've been sprinting through the year since March. I'm worn out and behind in everything around the house. And yet, I'm wanting to dive into a meaty calling and study some things I am loving. Then Christmas came knocking and I let it tell me I am not enough of what I want to be and what I perceive other people expect me to be. I have become the Grinch at home.

I have been pondering Christ’s words this past month – his invitation to the source of what I see as true happiness and peace in my life. Matthew 22:36-39

36 Master, which is the great commandment in the law?
37 Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.
38 This is the first and great commandment.

Check. Got it, I feel secure on this one.

39 And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.

I love others – my family, my communities. It is often so easy for me to love others. But when it comes to Christmas and all that it asks of me, I am very hard pressed to love myself. (Don’t get me wrong, I am very happy with my life, my family, and our communities here in Stuttgart.) 

Last night we were blessed to welcome not one, but two groups of carolers into our home. We welcomed God’s gift of friendship into our home. We welcomed them in our ratty pjs, untidy apartment with remnants of dinner still on the table, kids bouncing off the walls with excitement and totally misbehaving. We enjoyed the gift our carolers gave of themselves, the carols they sang of our Savior’s birth, plates of goodies, and the joyful conversations. Sometimes, it is our turn to be loved in our humbled circumstances. To simply be present and receive like the Shepherds seeing the angel announce the birth of the Savior of the world and the hope his mission provides us.

Our Savior in his earthly ministry went about showing love, extending kindness to all, irrespective of their rank or situation. Just as I was finishing this post, my sweet German neighbor, Karin, rang our bell. She had a beautifully wrapped big gift for me. She told me that she found it at a flea market and just knew it was for me. I began crying. I thanked her for melting my Grinch heart a bit more. I love her, we just get each other - even if our lives rarely intersect. Inside, I gathered the kids around to open it.


And I was crying again. The scripture above the angel says:
"For He will command His Angels concerning you . . . To guard you in all your ways. Psalm 91:11"

God loves me and gives me sisters everywhere I live because He knows I need them. And these sisters are supported by wonderful husbands and children, all making their way together through this mortal journey’s ups and downs. We become each others' Angels which join those unseen Angels working on our behalf too. 


As much as I enjoyed these visits last night and this morning, I found myself wishing I/we were the ones out spreading love and Christmas cheer. I wish I’d been organized and present enough to have baked goodies, packaged them beautifully with love, thriftily shopping and gifting. I wish I’d been energized enough to take my family out to spread Christmas spirit to those we love and consider our family here. But instead I felt humbled. My Grinch heart and hands felt humbled. 

When I am not accepting myself, it's often easier for me to show love outside my apartment walls than to those that reside within these walls with me. My family's mirrored reflection of me is often not my best side, the light often harsh rather than warm. This year I haven't mustered the energy to do those outward shows/gifts of love to friends and teachers and I've felt guilty. But guiltier still for my Grinch-ness at home.
 
I love to ponder the Christmas story and think of each person’s circumstances. What did it require of their heart and hands to welcome the Christ-child and the circumstances of his birth? And how is it any different than being present for each of my beautiful children and dear husband? They are some of God's greatest gifts to me.

So today I will join my family and be present. We will work together to bring Christmas into my hands. With God’s love in my heart and hands, I will be enough if I show up. Hopefully, the light I see reflected from them will have come from me and it will be warm and loving.

The tree decorating might get finished, goodies might get baked, presents to ship honestly won't get finished or shipped, cards may be mailed, bathroom/kitchen/random piles might get cleaned, etc. But those sweet faces, at least those sweet faces will be kissed, laughed with, and hugs will happen!

Grinch be gone!


Monday, December 16

An update

This morning the kids all climbed into our bed to snuggle and giggle with us. I hated to be the one to get everyone moving, it was one of those fleeting moments where we were so happy to be a young family enjoying each other. Half an hour later as I was hustling kids through breakfast, lunch making, brushing teeth and hair, and finding shoes - Ryan was scrolling through old pictures, strolling down memory lane with a wistful look on his face. He posted an adorable picture of the kids from five years ago when we spent our first Christmas here in Stuttgart still in the hotel. All day long I've been thinking about this little golden time our family is in and how I need to do better at writing it up. They are my treasures!

Easton turns ten this week. 10!!! WHAT?!?!?! He knows about Santa and the Tooth Fairy. He's made it a study over the past year he told me. I asked him if he'd wished we'd told him earlier and he said he thought it was a good secret to keep. He's such a good egg. Tonight he gave me a hug and thanked me for a good lunch box although nothing in it was new or interesting in my opinion. He will be playing "Silent Night" on the guitar at his school's Christmas concert this week. I am amazed at how quickly his fingering is developing for both hands! YAY! He's so close to earning his Bear in Cub Scouts. I'm a Cub Scout flunk. I've got to jump into this more, it's such a great program and he enjoys it.

We're starting to see a bit of tween attitude and stubbornness in Easton which startles us each time. He and his two buddies, Henrique (from Brazil) and Jay (Chinese but grew up mostly in the US til now), formed what they called the "Mischievous Club." They made a circuitous maze map of boys and girls in their class by observing who they think likes who. Each of the boys has a secret crush so Easton got a little worried when I picked the map up before he could get to it one day. I didn't intend to snoop, I was just picking up stuff. It did recently accidentally go through the wash in his pocket and he was really frustrated with all that lost work. We had a fun chat about what one does with all that reconnaissance.

McKay will be a prince at his medieval market at school tomorrow. It is the end of their research unit on medieval times. He has really enjoyed looking at the different social strata, available technologies, and the class visit to a castle to be given a tour and eat lunch with a knight. Bonus of living in Europe where there are castles and palaces every 10 miles or so! When I was helping him come up with a costume for the market tomorrow (I am NOT a costume lover), he was in tears because I was starting to make him into a modern prince, not a medieval one. Ugh. But he was so right!

McKay is always surprising us with his observations. As we were reviewing some of the early Old Testament stories, he ran through a rather detailed account of Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, the Tower of Babel, Noah, and Abraham and Sarah. His reading is coming along really well, still gaining confidence in his own abilities.

Recently he was talking with Ryan about different movies and he said, "Well, this movie's better because it actually has 88 tomatoes and that one only had 54 tomatoes." At first Ryan was stumped but then got it. He was referring to the Rotten Tomato ratings :)

McKay's ball handling skills are quite good I've been noticing. He and Morgan are participating in a little indoor practice group this winter. He loves any chance he gets to kick the ball around hard! He's got a solid one touch shot on goal that really surprised me a couple weeks ago! How fun! We hope we can get him on a German soccer team in town this spring because it will challenge him more than the garrison teams.

On Thursday, Morgan's class began making gingerbread men to bake. Well, those gingerbread men escaped from the oven somehow! Luckily, they left a note - a clue! Morgan spent the entire evening at our Relief Society night for all women of all ages telling anyone who would look her direction about this crazy escape of the gingerbread man and what the note said: "Run, Run, as fast as you can. You can't catch me, I'm the gingerbread man!" Her eyes were big and incredulous, her mouth grinning wide, eyebrows raised. She just couldn't believe it!!! It was the cutest, most adorable thing! Her joy was infectious! We've had many discussions about how they might have escaped. The next day her class got to go searching for the escapees all over the school following clues. Man, she's just so cute! Her primary teacher recently told me, "She's exuberant!" She sings herself to sleep and demands songs or music in the van. I love hearing her sing for no one but herself. While she loves having McKay as her favorite playmate, she also retreats to play on her own with her "aminals." And she loves eating "matatoes" (tomatoes) any time of day. She's a creative little gal, loves to paint and draw. If I weren't such a scheduling miser, I'd get her in classes of some sort but her school day is too long to demand much else of her and us.

Jake is still our baby but loves to be with the big kids. He loves to wake up early which is not our favorite. He is a Lego Ninjago warrior in training, much to Ryan's delight and my chagrin. Always fun to be the mother of "that kid" who whacks someone as a way to say hello. And he hates naps but I got him to take one today for the first time in forever! I've gotten into many bad habits with him - meals on the go, naps in the van between errands or picking up kids, allowing him to point and grunt rather than enunciate words, discipline . . . but he's such a cute little man and snuggler! I'm working on all of those, but habits die hard and we're having growing pains. His favorite books right now are Winnie the Pooh, 5 Monkeys on the Bed, and Goodnight Gorilla. He squeals over his favorite parts which is just so adorable!!! I have struck up a close friendship with my Primary secretary who is a recent empty nester. She loves on him as if he were her own grandchild and he laps it up! He does things for her he won't do for me - like walking to the bakery holding her hand the whole way to and from. She speaks to him in the most loving, kind voice you've ever heard. All my kids love her and have dubbed her their favorite babysitter!

Ryan and I took a quick trip to Köln last weekend to take in the famed Christmas markets there. We have been able to enjoy quite a few markets this year closer to home and it's been so much fun, largely because we were without kids! Ryan has just been called as the early morning Seminary Teacher. I am so excited for him and the kids he'll be teaching, I know he'll do a great job! It'll be quite a shift for our mornings since now I'll have to drive them to school AND we're going to a 9am church schedule. Shoot me now!

I tell ya, life has felt like a sprint since last March! Good heavens! But I was so glad Ryan and I took the quick trip to Köln without the kids and on the train this weekend! We had such a fun time traipsing all over Köln and eating just about anything we deemed delectable. Ryan declared a strategy after we'd checked into the hotel. We must only order one of whatever we want to eat at the markets so we have more room to try more things! I think we had potatoes in every shape and form! The goulash was really good but there was some substandard fare too - like a mazipan nutella crepe that was just bad. Meh. It certainly was one of the more charming markets we've been to in Europe but we both weren't sure we'd have thought it worth the trip without the markets. My Rick Steves guide wouldn't load back onto my phone so I can't argue that point yet with any certainty. We loved the river front!

The trip was actually a blessing in disguise for me. I was uptight about getting the kids taken care of and all that I needed to get done this weekend. But on the way there and back I got to hammer out details for an in-service meeting our presidency was doing on Sunday. I was able to accomplish more in those two days than I had been able to manage all week with the demands of motherhood. And I got to enjoy Ryan rather than be anxious and frustrated with our family while I got my things done. The kids stayed with our Primary secretary I mentioned before. I am loving my new calling and learning so much! And I have grown rather attached to the ease of the smartphone, digital world!

Now time for bed! Too many late nights recently!