Monday, January 7, 2019

December 2018

On Saturday, the 1st, we started the Christmas season off right by learning what our elf names were.
Here's the guide.
Jared is Pudding Pointy-Ears
I am Pudding Bitty-Squirt
Jake is Pudding Jingle-Bells
Luke is Pixie Twinkle-Eyes
Karcyn is Sweetie Pickle-Pants
Calvin is Twinkle Pink-Nose
JJ is Pudding Tinsel-Toes. 
But the best of all was Cooper. His name is: Twinkle Glitter-Balls. Jared LOST it when he heard that and could barely tell us that Grandpa Hough would have had a FIELD DAY with that one!!! We all got a good (albeit naughty) laugh out of that one!!

Monday, Dec. 3rd, we set up and decorated our new fake tree. (That sounds so...fake. :) The kids loved putting up their own ornaments we've been collecting over the years or that they've made in school. Luke put up Jake's ornaments. We didn't think he'd mind.
It was Cooper's year to put the star on top of the tree. But again, he graciously gave up his spot and offered it to Luke instead.
Except that our star was TOO heavy for our fake tree!! And it wouldn't stay up!! It was kind of sad and funny all at the same time. So our tree was "star less" for a while. Cooper eventually went to Walmart and bought us a snowflake that lights up. It was actually too heavy too, but Coop was able to rig this one better to stay put.
Part of our Christmas Chain activity was to decorate the tree and drink egg nog. This stuff tastes like gross liquid medicine to me. But Jared loves it and so do Jake and Cooper. So I picked up a quart at the store to see if the little kids wanted to try it. Turns out they like it too! Except JJ. Who doesn't like anything. But the unexpected surprise was that I liked it too! I think the key here is what kind of brand of egg nog you get. This was Southern Comfort and it was, dare I say, delicious!
The final product in our living room.
We have an Elf on the Shelf, but that's one thing I just don't have time for with our daily Christmas chain activities. And personally, I like the Christmas Chain much more because it involves family activities and service opportunities in the community. We've been doing it for nine years now! But there is his tiny elf I inherited somewhere along the line. And JJ has taken it upon himself to hide that elf all around the house in the spirit of his own "Elf on the Shelf." It's funny and I enjoy it because I'm not the one doing it or thinking about it!
On Tuesday, Dec. 4th, we learned how to make tin foil "stained glass" ornaments. That was fun and pretty low key and the kids enjoyed doing them. I love watching them create things.
JJ did two. A snowman and a rainbow snake. Of course.
Luke's star. Maybe that could be our tree topper! ;)
JJ's creations.
We broke out some frozen waffles one day for breakfast. I have a box of GF waffles for Karcyn. JJ actually ate a blueberry waffle, several in fact. The one pictured below was one that we warmed up but he didn't eat. So I stuck it in the fridge in case he wanted it another time. A couple days later, as I was going through the fridge for "MUSTGO" (everything must go!) for dinner, I found the waffle and did a double take. Then I took it to Jared and asked, "How do you know if blueberry waffle has gone bad?" Haha!!
President George Herbert Walker Bush, our 41st president, passed away on November 30th in Houston. His wife, Barbara, died earlier in the year and he was hospitalized just days after her passing. We were all convinced he was going to join her then. They had been married 73 years. But he didn't. I think we were all surprised that he lasted as long as he did. Upon his passing, one of his great-grandchildren commented, "Oh, we're not suprised. He and Grammy have never missed a Christmas together." Such a sweet thought.

President Bush's presidential library is just up the road from our house and that is his final resting place. Barbara was buried there this spring and his young daughter, Robin, who died from leukemia, is buried there, as well. His funeral procession, we learned was going to be on train. And it would be coming straight through town on Thursday, December 6th, all the way from Houston. The burial train would be in College Station around 3:45pm--right at the end of the school day, so the school district made plans to release the kids early. Plus...everyone wanted to see the train pass and pay their respects. So the kid were all home around 12:35/1pm. I was doing some ministering with my companion, Rebecca, who is a senior in high school. It's hard to make our schedules work because she is really busy in the evenings and I am as well. But with school dismissing early, I thought we might have a window of an opportunity. We were able to minister to one of our sisters with a visit and then I took a meal to another sister who wasn't feeling well. Rebecca was going to join me for that delivery, but she wanted to scope out a good spot for watching the train. As I drove errands earlier that morning, people were already camped out near the tracks around 9:30am. I was a little discouraged by that. I didn't have time to just sit in one spot the entire day. I had things to do and I had kids to be at home for. And I wasn't about to sit in a motion-less car for 2 hours with my kids when they did get home. Then we'd have more than just one funeral to deal with. When Rebecca and I ministered to Patti Davis and were at her house around 11:30, she had the news coverage on her TV that showed aerial views of the burial train making its way to College Station. The crowds near the tracks virtually every bit of the way were so touching. I confirmed again what time we thought the train would be up here by us. Patti said around 3:30. They left at 1:30 and it would take about two hours. The train isn't traveling as fast as it could because they wanted everyone to get a chance to see it. I joked that I should have listened better in math class to the word problems involving times that trains would leave a station and the rates they were moving to figure out when they'd arrive. And then later that day I saw this meme on Facebook. YES!!!! Exactly!!!
I decided that we would leave our house around 3pm and TRY and find a place to park along Wellborn (2154) Road which runs parallel to the tracks over here by our house. The crowds were thick, it was a bit wet earlier that day, but by the time we left, the rain had stopped. Thankfully. I just drove a small way beyond Greens Prairie Trail that leads to some of the kids' schools and there was an open spot (lots of room actually) for me to pull up along side the road. As I was doing so, Cooper yelled, "Look! There's the helicopter!" Which was flying alongside the train to get video footage for the news station. Ahhh!! That means the train isn't far. As I carefully got out of the suburban and walked around to the other side to help the kids out (the burb was leaning to the right on the shoulder), I heard the train horn! Hurry, kids!! They all climbed out and we walked 15-20 feet to the tracks.
BUT...we MADE IT!!!! While we heard the train and even saw it's headlight in the distance, we had time to take some pictures. It was only moving 25 mph.
Um, yeah...this will be the first and the only time we are ever THIS CLOSE to a moving train. Ever. Kind of freaky. But really special, too. This engine was commissioned just for this occasion. Its numbers are 4141 for Bush 41. It's painted like Air Force One and has "George Bush" on the side of it.
As the cars passed with the Bush Family members in it, I caught one window that had a large handwritten "THANK YOU!" on it that someone was holding up for all of us to see. That was touching to me. We came to pay our respects and say thank you to the Bush family and they were thanking us for being there. 
The train car with the American Flag on it has a special door cut out that was a full length window. You can see it in the picture below on the far left side. I didn't know this until I was at Patti's earlier that day, but that is where the casket is and you can see it from either side of the train through that glass wall. Inside, also stands a guard at his post as he accompanies the President to his final resting place. Those are the heads of Calvin and Karcyn. JJ is standing in front of Karcyn.
I tried to get video and pictures and I'm a bit Amish and not very good at doing both. So I was SHOCKED and AMAZED and so GRATEFUL when, back at the car, I saw THIS PICTURE. Cooper saluting President Bush right as his casket passed. :o It's my favorite picture of the entire experience.
Luke took this picture of the engine.
And we did not move until waiting the last of the train had passed. This was a very special and solemn opportunity that we had. I'm so grateful the Lord granted it to us. We couldn't have timed our arrival by the train tracks any better than we did. That alone is a tender mercy. We got out and waited maybe two minutes for the train to get to us. We were able to get incredible shots and paid our respects and took part in a historic event. How neat that Luke could be there for that, too!
This meme totally reminds me of Jake. He can build corner desks, American Ninja warrior courses in the back yard, body armor after Star Wars characters and yet this is what his gift wrapping looks like. Hahaha!!
LOVE this quote from our Prophet, President Nelson.
I made crunchwrap supremes (like Taco Bell) for dinner one night and Luke loved them. Ate two in fact! Which is significant. I thought a teenage boy would eat more than he does. Rarely does he have two helpings of something. Unless it's cookies. :)
Another hysterical meme.
Karcyn has really stepped up and started helping out at home without being asked. It's awesome and I wish her brothers would catch on. She unloaded the dishwasher all on her own one day and when I came home, there was this note. It's so Karcyn. She didn't just leave the dish out on the counter, she didn't know where to put it and asked me if I would show her so she could finish what she started.
On Saturday, Dec. 8th, everyone, except JJ who was too young to attend, went to the Community Christmas concert at the Stake Center. Cooper was singing in the men's choir. Jared and I were up in Bryan at his work party and we left as soon as we could to get to the church in time, but we missed it by two minutes as they were the first group to open the show. Drats. But it was a wonderful concert. Very well done and organized. We had seats in the second row (thanks to Karole and the kids who held them for us). This is the Texas A&M Trombone Choir. I had no idea that choir even existed. This is just half of them. They were awesome!!!
Cooper was snagged to help collect trash while people enjoyed refreshments after the concert. Wow...working AND wearing an apron. We had to document that. :)
The next day, the 9th, I was slated to give a talk as a high council speaking companion in Hearne. The first time I was asked to speak was August 27, 2017. That was the weekend of the hurricane and while church was cancelled for the whole stake, I was contacted by a member of the Hearne branch Saturday night telling me they were taking on water, so they were cancelling church. The second time I was asked to speak in Hearne was May 27, 2018. I had that talk from August that I hadn't given yet and so the branch president invited Jared to speak, too. So we made it a family affair and had Cooper share his testimony and the little kids sing a musical number with Jake on the piano. When we arrived, we were met with a blast of hot air. The air conditioner was broken and church was cancelled as soon as Sacrament meeting was over. So when I got up to speak on the 9th and told them about the previous two times I've been asked to speak I told them I hoped that "a third time is a charm" and that nothing goes wrong that day! When I was going to turn down the street that the church building is on, I literally ran into this tree...right in the middle of the road. ;)
Later that night, we invited Annie and Jeff Hatala over for dinner. Jeff and I spoke in Hearne together that morning while his wife was sustained as our new Relief Society president in our ward!! Three years ago, that was me!! I could totally relate to whatever she was feeling.

For dessert, we had root beer floats because Luke hadn't had root beer before. This is him trying it.
He decided he liked it. But wasn't as excited about the float part. Maybe he doesn't like messing with his vanilla ice cream.
In August, our second recliner in the living room broke. We really needed an extra seat in the living room, but couldn't find a recliner that we liked that "matched" or that we could afford. So using some of the recliner refund money, we ordered a love sac from Amazon. This is what it looks like when it arrives. All compressed down. Once you open it up, they say it takes about 4-5 days to expand to its regular size.
Just 30 minutes later, this is what it looked like. JJ wanted it to "eat" him. 
Going through JJ's weekly papers, I found this. I thought Jared (now working for ENTs) would appreciate the drawing under sound. :)
Doing his elf duty.
On Monday, Dec. 10th, my amazing parents entered the Missionary Training Center for the SIXTH time. They are serving a mission in Iceland. Can't wait to hear about their experiences. Can't wait to visit them this next summer!!
Another meme crack-up!! Bahaha!
Wednesday, Dec. 12th, Karcyn had a second orchestra concert. The first one was on Dec. 1st and involved ALL the orchestras (5th through 12th) feeding into College Station High School. It was great! Especially since you can see and hear the progression from 5th graders just learning how to hold their instruments to the very skilled high schoolers. This concert was fun because it was just Karcyn's school. They did a great job.
Ain't this the truth! It feels true anyway. :)
I wanted to send Luke home with a framed picture of us for his Christmas gift, to open in Brazil. This was it before I wrapped it.
We were very surprised, when on the 12th of December, we received a delicious plate of chocolate chip cookies from our friends the Larkins. They said this is part of their 12 Days of Christmas that they do every year. And this was the first day. As they were leaving they said they'd see us tomorrow with a new plate of cookies. WHAT?? So yeah, we were the recipients of 12 days of cookies...a new cookie each day. Wow!! What a treat. Especially for our Cookie Monster, Luke. 
Well, we almost got to the end of the first semester of fifth grade with Calvin before hearing from one of his teachers about less than desired behavior. I received an email from his social studies teacher where she informed us that even after explaining the expected and appropriate behavior for taking a test, he was talking and messing around during their recent test. What he was doing could be described as cheating (which she doesn't feel he was doing) and the district policy for cheating is to receive a zero for the test grade. She believes he was only trying to engage with other students while they were testing and she wrote to ask for our help in deciding what to do about his test. This was my response. 
This was his teacher's response to us the next morning. So we'll see what his social studies grade turns out to be. Hopefully he learned that rules and rules, no matter who you are.
I got an alert from the Hungary/Romania Mission Facebook page. One of the self-reliance senior missionaries took several pictures of recent meetings and gatherings and she posted them for everyone to take a look. Jake has yet to show up in these pictures, but I scrolled through them anyway. AND FOUND HIM!! Several times in fact!! SO FUN!!!

He's smack dab in the middle. His companion Peery Elder is the one closest to us.
Don't know what he's doing here, but I don't care.
The rest of the missionaries watching Jake at the computer. Interestingly enough, the two sister missionaries on the left are Jake's sister companions from the MTC--Reynolds and Christensen!
Yay!!! There's that face I miss!
Okay, that's just goofy, Jake.
On Friday, Dec. 14th, Cooper had his holiday choir concert. They were also doing a silent auction. Bids opened at $10. This face cream was valued at $80. I was the only one who placed a bid so I won it for 10 doll-ahs!!!! Yeah. Go me!! ;)
Saturday, Dec. 16th, there was a heavy knock on our door. It was a man I didn't know but he knew my name. Turns out he's the dad of Alex's girlfriend. Alex is our "adopted son/brother" from across the street, who we took in right as Jake left and have fed and loved and supported as best we knew how as he lived alone while working on his PhD. This man delivered a card to us with money to pay Cooper for a recent dog watching job and came to ask for the house key back. Apparently, Alex was moving back to LA with his girlfriend. They both got jobs out there. We were shocked by this news. And so sad. After the man left, I read Alex's sweet card and cried. We will miss him VERY VERY much. But we wish him the best. He wants a family and I hope he finds what he's looking for. He is an amazing young man. He just barely turned 25 after Thanksgiving, but possesses the wisdom of someone much older and more experienced.
On Friday, the 15th, I noticed some water by the dishwasher, but it's a common occurrence for some random ice cubes to slip to the floor and then melt. But next day, I noticed water closer to the dishwasher and seeping out from under the side panel. Noooo!!! Our dishwasher was leaking water. I immediately turned it off, but there was water still in it. So I spun the dial near the end of the cycle so it would drain the water out. That's when more water started escaping. All we could do was mop it up--and hand wash our dishes. I also noticed that the trim at the bottom of the floor was protruding out and warped. Great. Now we'd have to get that fixed, too, somehow.
One of our favorite Christmas Chain activities is to get some candy bars and go around looking for our favorite Christmas light displays. Then we take the treat and a card that says, "We love your lights!" and sign our name on it. The people we give them to are so surprised and then so grateful somebody noticed and appreciated their hard work. JJ still needed a home to select. We found one, in another neighborhood for him that was totally decked out--reminding us of National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation..."25,000 individually imported Italian twinkle lights!"

But JJ's response was, "Meh." Whatever dude. To his credit, the one HE wanted was cool too. Especially because he knew exactly which house it was.
On Sunday, Dec. 16th, after church, we participated in Blessings in Bags. I was so excited for this--way more than the kids, because it would fulfill a mommy dream of mine. To provide service through a community organization with my whole family--especially the little people--during the holidays. I've been waiting many, many years for this. We helped fill or load/unload completed bags of food (donated by others) to deliver to members of the community in need.

There was a truck offering free shaved ice before our shift started, so they did partake, while I filled out the release forms. It was actually a pretty mild day temperature wise.

All the kids did great and happily served! JJ, who couldn't even see over the top of the bags, was a rock star. He said thank you to everyone behind the tables putting out food and hauled that heavy bag to the quality control table like a boss. And then he would run back to the end of the line to do it all over again. He melted many hearts of the coordinating adults and even some of the other kids who thought his excitement was so cute.
After doing it once, JJ said he didn't need anyone telling him what to put in the bags. He knew. And he did!!
These were the cute guys behind me in the assembly line.
After filling his first bag, Calvin exclaimed, "This is so much fun!"
Karcyn had a good time too and quietly did her duty. 
Cooper and Luke were used for their muscles. They loaded for a bit and then Cooper went to help unload. 
Calvin taking his mandatory "15 minute" union break. Haha!
Over the two days, the organization and helpers completed a total of 3800 bags of food to help 1900 people in need.
Our group for the very last shift!
This was a super successful, holiday family service opportunity!! I love how it was the Sabbath day, too. The family that serves together, stays together!
I was subbing at Greens Prairie in third grade on Monday, the 17th. Before I left for the day, I went online to Aggieland Appliance and signed up for a repair appointment. They texted me while I was subbing to ask what brand dishwasher it was. GE. They said that GE is not American owned anymore and they can't fix it. But said the dishwasher isn't reliable and will likely continue to have problems. His suggestion was to just replace it. So at 8:30pm Monday night, Jared and I went to Lowes (cause they're open til 10pm) to get a new dishwasher. Something we've been wanting to do for a long time. We've had the same dishwasher, in two different houses/states, for 11 years!! When we got to Lowes at 8:45, we learned they actually close at 9pm. Lovely. We hurried to the dishwasher display and you know how I decided which one I wanted? Appearance and price were definitely factors. But I narrowed it down by how smoothly the top rack rolled out. And we had a winner. Normally $850--on sale for $699. Add taxes, delivery, installation, new power cord and water hose and we topped off at $1010. Merry Christmas to me. We were anxious to know when it would be installed, but an outside contractor does that so the guy couldn't tell us. We'd get a phone call.

I got an unexpected friend request on Facebook named Lala. I knew instantly that he is living in Hungary! Jake had mentioned him a couple times in his letters. I accepted his request and not too long after that, I got a message from him. He said, "Hello, my name is Lala from Hungary Tatabanya! On Christmas your son is going to talk to yall through my Facebook messenger it will be around 8-10am American Texas time! Be on the lookout!"

Well that answered our question!! We didn't get an email from Jake that day because it was transfers and we didn't know if he was staying or leaving. He is obviously staying in Tatabanya. Super exciting!! He's done a lot of great work there--I wanted him to be able to stay a little bit longer. Wish granted! He was not only made a trainer (after 3 months in the field) but a district leader too!! And not by default this time because he was surrounded by all sister missionaries. :)

I wrote Lala back and told him it was so wonderful to be connected with a friend from Hungary. I told him we missed Hough Elder very much and loved him even more. And that he's spoken very highly of Lala and how much we appreciate him making our Christmas conversation possible.

JJ strikes again! Haha!!
Caught in the act!!
Later that night, Luke had a bridge he had to construct out of dry spaghetti noodles for physics. We rarely see him do homework. We asked him when it was due and he said, "tomorrow." :) He was at this table for HOURS.
It was challenging and he had to scrap his first attempt. We actually went to bed before he did.
Before turning out the light, I got another message from Lala. (He's 7 hours ahead of us). He said, "You're welcome, Jenn! Hough Elder is my good friend! He is a wonderful missionary! I love him so much! See you soon!" Then the next message right after that was: "Yesterday we were together with the missionaries! I made them a delicious soup for dinner. And they got a little Christmas gift from me!"

My jaw dropped to the ground when I saw this picture! That is NOT a little gift, Lala! That is HUGE. Adorable stockings, awesome ties, nuts, chocolate, fruit. My goodness!!! Jake and his companions were so blessed. 

A picture of the tri-panionship in Lala's living room. So sweet!!
Peery Elder, Baer Elder, Hough Elder and Lala front and center. :)
I gushed a response to Lala and told him how immensely grateful we were for his incredible generosity and watching out for our boys. He told me it's a difficult missionary life, especially at Christmas and without a family! He doesn't want them to be sad. I learned that Lala has two sons who live in France, but sadly, his relationship is not good because of their mother. His life is empty without his sons, but knows that God's gifts to him are the missionaries. Because he can take care of them he gets a little feeling like they're his boys, too. I was so touched and inspired by this and told him I thought it was beautiful the way he finds joy and purpose amidst his pain by lifting and loving others. Lala responded that he feels it's important to do this or he'd die spiritually. He says it's really hard but with God everything is possible. Wow. Faith is a choice and it's very clear what Lala chooses. He loves the elders so much and we love Lala so much because of it!! Truly remarkable!

When I woke up Tuesday morning, I found this on the table. 
And this on the counter. Haha! :) Those were Samoa cookies (a homemade version of the kind the girl scouts made. These were the bomb and the Larkins' first attempt at making them. Incredible on all counts!)
Tuesday, Dec. 18th was also Luke's HALF BIRTHDAY. He didn't know we were celebrating it until he came home from school and saw the sign on the door wishing him a happy HALF birthday. :) I had asked my friend who served a mission in Brazil if I could get her beans and rice recipe. Apparently that's what Luke eats practically every day and he missed it. I attempted to make it and added sausage because Luke likes sausage. :) I also made some Brazilian lemonade (made out of limes) from another friend who served a mission in Brazil and then I made the last package of cheese bread that Luke's mom had mailed to us. I think it made Luke happy. I don't know how authentic it tasted, but that was as close as we were going to get. 
Then we moved on to gifts. That really surprised Luke. Karole got him a journal with some of her favorite sayings and verses in it.
Oh and a bag of candy! ;)
Karcyn gave him the book "I Spy in the Texas Sky" with Texas specific animals and plants. 
Jared, Coop and I and Jake in spirit, got him this BYU t-shirt. He said he'd always wanted one of those.
We also got him a wooden ornament with the Texas flag on it and we all signed our names on the back of it.
My sweet parents, who were already in Iceland, sent a package for him before going to the MTC. It was a pin with the American flag and the Brazilian flag on it. Really cool.
Calvin and JJ got him the game Five Crowns that they liked to play together. And Luke was really good at it. We hope he has fun playing it with his family and friends back home.
And now time for dessert. I happened to hear from Luke when we were at Fazoli's last month, that his favorite treat was brownies and vanilla ice cream. So that's what he got!
Luke was out of school early on Wednesday the 19th because of finals. So I went and picked him up and then we had to go to the post office to get some things squared away for when his transcript comes to our house. I have mail it to the state for authentication and then they send it back and I have to mail it to Luke. On the way home, he fell asleep in the car. I think the late night bridge making was catching up to him. :)
When JJ got home from school, he said he had a family gift to give me. But he was going to give it to Luke to keep. Ohhkay. He must have made something in class. I thought that was a really cute bag.
JJ gave it to Luke and he opened it up. Inside was THE CUTEST, MOST ADORABLE, HIGH QUALITY ornament any of my kids have ever made in school. Those little snowmen were made from JJ's three little middle fingers. And painted on a piece of wood.
On the back was his school picture and his name that he wrote and the year. And inside my heart was breaking. I WANTED that ornament. 
I took a picture of them together and tried to be lighthearted about the situation. But as the afternoon went on, the more sad and resentful I got. I don't know who I was more upset with...JJ for giving it to Luke or Luke for accepting it. I'm the mommy. This is one of the few mommy pay-days that I get. Little trinkets that my babies make. I told Jared that Luke didn't need the ornament. Would he even appreciate it like I would?? Jared gave me a "I'm surprised at you" look. I knew I was being petty. So I prayed that the Lord would take that feeling out of my heart. It's *just* an ornament. Despite my selfish feelings, I was touched that JJ wanted his new big brother to have something to remember him by when he was back in Brazil. That's important. And yes, I was reminded that Luke has no younger siblings. So maybe...just maybe...Luke needed that ornament more than I did. 

Haha!! Tis the Season!!
This is my own Calvin's plight.
Poor JJ woke up the next day (Thursday) crying. Said his throat hurt. Jared looked at it and it didn't appear to  have the beginnings of strep. But maybe his ears were the problem. So I drove JJ to Jared's office before lunch and Jared took a peek.
This device take's the ear pressure or something that checks to see if there's fluid behind the ears. JJ was good. 
On the way home from Jared's office. Poor kid.
Reading scriptures that night. Luke and Calvin reading together. JJ on the new love sac following along really well.
That night we all made glittery popsicle stick ornaments. I have a lot of pictures of Luke so I could send them to his mom. I kind of forgot to take pictures of my own children. Whoops! Sorry kids!! ;) They did a good job though!
Luke sitting in the love sac for the first time when no one else was around. Yay for exempting finals and getting out of school early!
On Friday, the 21st, we did the most beloved Christmas Chain activity. We went Bo-ho-holing!
What was SO awesome about this time was when we arrived in our Santa hats and said we needed to games and two lanes, Cooper had come up behind us and the gal, Alexa, at the counter asked him, "Is this your family?" He said yes. And she said, "in that case, I'm just going to charge you for shoes." What?? So generous!! It was only $33. Before I could run my card, we were short a pair of shoes and that's when I told her that Will Donovan (Jake's friend from school and now Cooper's bud :) pictured below with JJ, was already bowling and would be joining us. Alexa told me that he was there under the A&M student discount of $1 shoes and $1 games. So she said she was going to give us THAT discount instead. So we were charged EIGHT DOLLARS for two lanes and two games of bowling for 8 people!! Holy cow! I couldn't believe it. When the option for adding a tip came up, I put $20. She saw it and thought it was a mistake. I smiled and said, "It was no mistake. Thank you so much and Merry Christmas!!"
We asked Cooper to take a picture of us and this is what we got. He didn't want anyone else photo bombing us, but to avoid that, he zoomed in REALLY close. Brother.
Cooper and Will--air soft and bowling buddies. Jared got off from work early and it was the last day of school and early out for the kids, so we went bowling at 3:00. Cooper had to work at 4:30 at the bowling alley (haha!) so he wore his uniform and it worked out perfectly.
Will curling JJ.
Will, Calvin and Karcyn dancing to some song I'd never heard before.
Will has a new iphone X of some kind and it takes portrait quality pictures. I love this one!!
I spied Cooper while he was working!
Saturday, the 22nd, was Luke's last day with us. And also church cleaning. I drove down to the "Trackside Bakery" about a mile from our house and picked up some kolaches. This is usually what we get after we clean the church (Karcyn has a GF donut) and Luke has never had one before. 

The kids worked really hard that morning! For some reason, we always get the bathrooms, but the kids like it actually.
Especially the mopping.
The roommates walking to the car together.
Then deciding to play some frisbee in the parking lot.
Luke selected a cream cheese kolache (excellent choice) and I got him a savory sausage one, as well, to try. He loved them both.
Before leaving for good, Luke wanted to make that Brazilian chocolate treat and give it to the Daren Graham family. Daren was the YM's president when Luke came to College Station and they invited Luke over to their house every Sunday until we came into the picture. So they were his first special family. This was the first time Luke made it and then rolled it and put it in a paper cup and put sprinkles on top.
This is Luke in front of our house before hopping in the suburban to go to the Graham's first, then the Bush Library and then the airport.
Some of the Grahams. We're missing two. Amber is our Primary President.
On our way to the Bush Library, Cooper texted and requested that we bring Luke by Grand Station (his place of employment) so they could say a proper good bye. Before Cooper left for work, Luke was just getting out of the shower and had a towel around him. Haha. So that hug good bye was kind of awkward. This good bye was better. At least involved more clothes!! So funny. Cooper looked like he was tearing up a bit.
In front of the Bush Library.
The resting place--which I had never been to myself. It was a very special and sacred spot. I definitely felt the spirit there.
The airport was seriously, and thankfully, less than 5 minutes from the Bush Library because we were running a tad behind. Only Luke and I jumped out to go see the Bush burial site. When we got back in the car, all the kids were sleeping. So when Jared pulled up to the airport, it wasn't exactly the final good bye or send off I had envisioned in mind. Luke was leaning over the back seats to give hugs. I missed his good bye with Karcyn and just managed to get him hugging Calvin.
And JJ.
And then Jared. I love this picture.
When we got Luke's bags at the check in, one of them weighed too much and contrary to what we thought, he couldn't just pay a fee to let it pass. We had to get it under 50 lbs. or it wasn't going to Brazil. Fortunately, everyone else was already through security, so we put his bags on the ground and start figuring out how to make things work. I noticed he was using a different backpack and asked if he had another one. He did and it was fairly close to the top of one suitcase. He could take one personal item and one carry on. Two backpacks would work. We found his old laptop and other electronic things and shoes that were heavy and those ended up being 13 lbs. We did it--with room to spare. Phew!! Surely Luke must have been a little stressed. But he didn't show it. And honestly, considering how crazy it was those last few minutes, I was so pleased at how quickly we got things figured out for him.

I had to laugh because about six weeks ago, we asked Luke if he wanted/needed to get a hair cut and he kept saying no, it was fine. Well, it's grown considerably long since then. In fact, after Luke went through the security checkpoint, they had him step aside for a further pat down. The first place they checked was his hair and they pushed it down because it was so poofy. Hahaha!!! I got such a kick out of that. We made him promise to tell his parents that we asked a few times if he wanted it cut. We didn't want them thinking we had neglected him. :)
Good bye, Luke! Safe travels!!
As soon as we got home from dropping off Luke, Jared and I jumped out of the burb and drove to the Woodlands--just north of Houston, about an hour and 15 minutes away--to go to the Apple Store to get the batteries in our iphones replaced for $30 each instead of $80 after the new year. We almost wrecked twice--from other drivers of course--while going there. Such a stressful drive. But we made it for our 5:15 appointment time...just a few minutes past, but despite the intense crowd in that store, they clipped right along and were done around 7:10pm. Jared and I grabbed some dinner and walked around the mall while we waited.

Sunday, Dec. 23rd was Sacrament Meeting only. Calvin wanted to help make dinner, so he's slicing onions. :)
Later, we wanted to preview what the new Come Follow Me program with the kids. When praying and pondering about how to make this work for our family, I felt prompted to order a CFM manual for each member of the family. If we're going to do this, we need to be all in. And the kids are definitely going to feel more invested and engaged if they have their own manual to follow along in. I also got each of us a small notebook for a study journal if there were other thoughts and impressions they wanted to record beyond the manual--like when they're at church. Jared and I decided to take each week in the manual and divide it into 6 or 7 sections. And then we'd assign a section for each day of the week. This is how we will do our FAMILY SCRIPTURE STUDY. We had been reading the Book of Mormon, but mostly it was reading, not much discussion. And we wanted that to change. We are still responsible for reading the Book of Mormon in our PERSONAL scripture time. And to bring up any verses or stories that relate to what we're discussing in the New Testament. On Saturdays, we'll have our Family Home Evening and do one of the activities (or another one) that are listed in the manual. On Sunday mornings, around 10am (we don't meet til noon), we will have a Sabbath recap of what we discussed during the week to prepare us for going to church to share insights there with our classes. Then Sunday afternoon or evening, we'll read the introduction to the topic for the next week. We feel good about what we've come up with, with the Lord's help and hope we can maximize on this time together.
Monday, Christmas Eve, at 3pm, we no longer had to wash dishes by hand!!! Such a 1st world problem. But still. If I have one, I should be able to use it. Out with the "old" (read: broken).
Good riddance!
In with the new!!
This was our Christmas Eve spread. We missed Jake, but welcomed Karole.
For our Christmas Eve program, Karole had us divide into two sections and we split up the songs "Away in a Manger" and "Once in Royal David's City" by verse. Singing one verse from one song at a time. It was a really cool way to tell the story of the Nativity.
JJ told some Christmas jokes--that Karcyn helped write and think of for him.
Karcyn played "Hark the Herald Angels Sing."
Cooper tried to find a Christmas song to play, but he taught himself how to play "Natural" by Imagine Dragons a couple months ago--and sounds like Jake does on the piano. So he shared that. And the music on the piano is for a different song he's learning. He has "Natural" memorized.
Calvin played "Joy to the World" with one hand that he just plunked out by ear. :o
And then sang "When He Comes Again" from the Primary song book.
Calvin's creation.

I woke up at 5am and went for a jog and did some exercises (because I have been falling behind). It was really warm out--65 degrees. Then I showered and got dressed so I would be ready for Jake's phone call at 8am!!

Calvin and JJ sharing the love sac and waiting to open gifts. The kids didn't start waking up until 6:30.

We didn't buy the kids anything just for them this year. "Santa" brought us the gift of a trip to Branson, Missouri--with us leaving at 5am the NEXT morning!! There was also the gift of seeing a show, "The Amazing Acrobats" like Jared and I did and the last gift from Santa was to spend the day playing at an indoor adventure gym. Ropes courses, warped walls, underground tunnels, rock wall climbing, a laser room, an airplane suspended in the air, etc.

Jared and I did get the family a couple of new games and Christmas DVDs to watch on our way to Branson.
This was the highlight of the day!! Talking to Jake! He called at 8am SHARP using Lala's phone and Facebook Messenger. Apparently the people over there don't really own or use computers like we do. They use their phones! As soon as Jake's picture appeared on the screen, we all cheered and clapped. He just lit up and laughed and then cried. I cried, too. Happy, excited tears. We wanted to make sure we maximized our time with him, so we had the kids talk to him for about 5 minutes each (Cooper got 10 minutes) just by themselves. Calvin got to talk to him first because he didn't get a chance to talk to Jake when he called from the SLC airport--but I didn't get a picture, of course. When the kids were done, Jared and I went in to the study and talked to Jake together.
When Cooper's time was just about up, and it was our turn to talk to Jake, Jared came into the study, playfully pushed Cooper aside, put his face RIGHT UP ON THE CAMERA and said in is best Edna Mode voice (the fashion designer from "The Incredibles") "My GOSH you've gotten fat!!" It was SO hysterical!! I'm mad that Jared didn't tell me so I could have recorded it. Jake just fell off the screen and out of sight. Likely laughing on the couch or floor. That was timed and executed FLAWLESSLY!!! We laughed for a while after that one.

We had a wonderful, though much too short, conversation with Jake. Before it ended, we asked him to have Lala and Beck Elder come into the room so we could say hello. We all gathered around one more time and said good bye. *sigh* Until Mother's Day....

Karcyn worked on her new lego set from Grandma and Grandpa Lee. It's a three-in-one. She had so much fun putting it together.
These are pictures of Jake and Beck Elder opening gifts at at member's house on Christmas Eve. Lala sent them to me.
Jake actually wasn't feeling very well, but we sure couldn't tell when we talked to him.
This is the Christmas Day feast at Lala's house. Mmmm. Delish. Chicken breast cake, mashed potatoes, pasta salad and cucumber salad. My goodness!! The decor and tablescape is super impressive, too!!
Merry Christmas from Hungary!!
Beck Elder getting a stocking. Jake already got his a couple weeks ago before transfers with his tri-panionship.
As is Hough tradition, we went to go see a movie later that afternoon. We invited Karole and the Higbees with us. We saw "Mary Poppins" and we all enjoyed it! We took up almost a whole theater row! This is one end (Rebecca Higbee--friend to us all and my new ministering companion).
And this is the other. :)
The rest of Christmas was spent getting packed and ready to go. I had already packed up the little kids when they were out a couple days before. But it's still a lot of work to get everything ready. Especially because we were taking our own food.

We left a little after 5am on Wednesday, Dec. 26th for Branson. We packed food for breakfast and lunch to minimize the number of stops we had to make. I think we went a good 4 hours or so before we had to make a potty break. And then gas and then one last potty stop. Not too bad. The last couple of hours getting to Branson are twisty and turny and took a long time when we were there in Sept. So Jared decided to try another way. Fortunately, the weather was dry and clear. But we still had to take some winding roads and going up into the mountains. About 90 minutes out of Branson, Calvin said he his stomach hurt. And his head. I was in the middle seat. I told him to shut his eyes and try to sleep. In the meantime, I got a portable throw up bag and had it waiting for him, but he said he didn't feel like he was going to be sick. But he sure didn't feel good and kept asking how much longer.

Finally, after about 10 hours, we arrived and we got our assigned condo. We told Calvin he'd feel better once he got out of the car. We LOVED the condo. It was so nice (for us). The kitchen was HUGE.
Washer and dryer by the kitchen window, across from the pantry.
At the kitchen bar looking at the dining room and living room beyond that.
A different angle so you can see more of the living room...with a full patio and tables/chairs out on the back deck (except it was too cold for that).
The second bedroom with a king-sized bed for three littles and their own TV.
The second bathroom.
The master bedroom with a king-sized bed.
The master bathroom...
And more...with a big jetted tub.
The Jareds bringing in our stuff from the car. We were on the bottom floor.
JJ using his new art kit he got from Grandma Hough.
Turns out College Station was under a Tornado Watch while we were in Branson...and we missed it! Fortunately, it didn't get any worse than that.
At 6am on Thursday, 12/27, there was a loud knock on our door. Jared opened it. Calvin was standing there, holding up a garbage can and said, "I don't feel good." And then proceeded to throw up. *sigh* I went to the bathroom to get him a towel to wipe off his face. I heard the vomiting but didn't see it. We had to leave at 8am for our appointment/orientation with Bluegreen vacations. There wasn't anywhere to really put Calvin, so I made a bed for him in the corner of our room. I actually had a zofran in our bag of meds and we gave that to him and told him no food or drink until after we get home and can assess. And gave him the garbage can. We left with a prayer and fingers crossed. Jared said he questioned that he had the stomach bug. Because...Calvin didn't throw up anything. It was just dry heaving basically. When you have a stomach flu/virus, you throw up everything you ate last because part of the bug is that you can't digest it. So you vomit until it's gone. And sometimes beyond. Regardless, we quarantined him and planned to swing by Walmart to get some lysol and saltines for him just in case.
What we thought might just be an hour meeting, took more like 2 1/2 hours. But it was great info and we decided to go ahead and pull the trigger on our ownership with bluegreen vacations. Now we get another free stay at the end of May, so back we'll come after school is out.
Because we were becoming owners, it took a little big longer for that paperwork to be processed. We didn't get out of there til 12:30. We had said we'd probably be back around 11. Whoops. But they were find and getting lunch--except Calvin. Plus we had to swing by Walmart for a few things. One of which was a sweatshirt for Cooper because he didn't pack anything to keep him warm. When we got home, Calvin was dying to come out of our room. He said he didn't get sick at all after that one time and was feeling much better. The only thing we can figure is that he was still reeling from carsickness the day before. ?? We had picked him up some Dramamine for the drive home and would move him up from the very back to the middle row to see if that helped. Though...all the twists and turns would be at 5am when they are sleeping...but still...we'll do whatever we can to help him feel good.

Soon it was time to leave for the show! It was fun taking the kids down the main strip so they could see all the fun buildings and things to do there.
The kids LOVED the acrobats. It was the same EXACT show Jared and I saw. This time we were on row 3 instead of row 1, which was nice. I loved that it was the same show because we knew what was coming and could focus on the kids' reactions.
Our favorite unicyclist---wearing a Santa dress this time. The kids' minds were blown!! Just as we knew they would be!! :)
Just when you think she's done all her tricks...there are more!
Then, the kid who was balancing a flat piece of wood on several stacked pipes, was next. These were their reactions to his act. JJ couldn't even look.
As the kid kept adding another element of difficulty, the kids couldn't believe what they were seeing!
He did it!! It looked as if he might lose his balance there at the end, but he pulled it out in the end!

Here is that same kid balancing a wine glass on a ball on a sword that's in his mouth.
And now he's sitting down and moving with this precarious pile of glasses.
Karcyn's reaction! Haha!!
We had SUCH A BLAST!! And even got a chance to get our picture taken with some of the performers.
The show was two hours, from 3-5pm. After it was over, we decided to go swimming at the property pool. It felt great inside the pool area. The water however left much to be desired. It was not very heated. I didn't get in all the way, but everyone else did! :)
Back at the condo, I made some potato soup for dinner (Calvin had a light chicken noodle soup, just in case) and we played games.
Before the day was over, we each got a class of HEB chocolate milk that we brought up with us (Jake's favorite beverage) and took a selfie of us toasting Jake on his 19th birthday! We sent the picture to Lala, who then said that they were planning a surprise birthday party for the elders (Beck Elder's is only 6 days after Jake's) on Jan. 1st. Soooooooooooo sweet!!!!
Friday, 12/28, Jared made French Toast for breakfast, as requested by the kids. If I remember correctly, this was the first thing Jared taught himself how to make when he was a kid around age 9. It was awesome and a fun treat. Karcyn's was on GF bread and then he made ours.
Calvin remained healthy and fine moving forward. We wouldn't let him drink his chocolate milk though until Friday. So here he is excited to finally have that and his french toast.
The agenda for Friday--Fritz's Adventure. Check it out here. We'd never been, but it looked awesome and the prices were SO reasonable for the types of activities you were getting access to. could come and go. So after 2 1/2 hours of playing hard in the morning, we could leave and go home for a gluten-free and homemade lunch, play some games, take a nap and then we went back for another hour and a half.

All the boys LOVED the warped walls. JJ spent most of him time on these. There were 3 or 4 and they were several different heights.

This is JJ running.
That's a picture of one of the tree houses that you could climb up and then across to another tree house. There was a tall, twisty slide attached to the one on the right.
It's hard to see, but that is the three or four levels of rope courses. They have 51 different courses to choose from AND a zip line!
This was another fun thing you could climb on, up and then slide down or climb up and keep climbing to the plane suspended in the air.
There were box cars from trains, though I never went in them, but I think they were mazes inside.
Calvin and Cooper did the laser room. I was watching from the observation room. Calvin is trying to go under and not touch the lasers in his Mission Impossible style. :) He did really good!
And then it was Cooper's turn. He went really fast.
He was doing somersaults and all sorts of fancy moves.
I caught JJ going "underground." ;) I went down with him at one point.
Cooper, Calvin and I did the ropes course together. They give you 20 minutes up there. You can do whatever level you want. We went to the level with the zip line, which I thought was the very top. It wasn't. I was super proud of Calvin. He's never done anything like that before. Then it was time to zip line and I wasn't so sure about that. But I did it! Calvin did it twice and Cooper did it 5 times!! After our turn our hands and fingers were really hurting from "swinging" from rope to rope through those courses.

There's the plane from the upper deck.
Karcyn is piloting it here and she's waving! I actually couldn't find her. This was after we had lunch and came back. Jared dropped us off so he could get the tires on the car looked at before we left the next morning. So I had four kids I was trying to keep track of. I will say, that is probably the only downfall to this place. Trying to find kids who could be down in the warped wall areas, in the laser room, completely underground in the tunnel system, in a box car, or up in the ropes course or in the tree house or a plane!! I found all the boys, but couldn't find Karcyn. I was trying not to panic and went to the upper deck to get a different perspective on the place and there she the plane!
JJ climbing the treehouse.
And going down the slide.
JJ trying the climbing wall.
Those bricks were really spread out and hard for him to reach. Tougher than a traditional rock wall in that sense.
So he moved to the tall climbing tower. Once the sun had set, they turned on some different lighting.
Calvin is giving the climbing wall a try. JJ is still on the tower.
This is a fuzzy picture of the climbing wall.
I did the climbing wall first thing that morning and I made it ALL THE WAY TO THE TOP and rung that bell. Before I fell back for my descent, I was looking for Jared. I thought he was there documenting my climb. Nope. He was nowhere to be found. :( I was so bummed. I didn't think I'd be able to do that at all and then I did. The bricks were easier in some ways than rock climbing and harder in some ways.

But I decided I'd try one more time before we left. Of course the main lights were turned off so it's hard to see, but that is me!
Still climbing. And wouldn't you know...I made it all the way to the top AGAIN!!! Yay!!!
JJ getting ready to warp up another wall again before we left to go have dinner at Steak and Shake. And then it was time to pack up for our drive home. Cooper said he wished we had one more day and I told him "Me, too." The condo adds a whole other level of enjoyment and relaxation that a hotel room does not. The kids were already starting to plan our next trip up in May and the things they want to do. Which makes me feel good about our choice to invest in our future vacations by owning property. Even if we only go to Branson and nowhere else with our kids, it will be worth it. One day we'll get the cabins at Big Cedar.
The kids slept a lot longer on Saturday morning. We left at 5am and it was after 10am when they all started stirring. Must have been all that playing at Fritz's the day before. But they honestly slept almost half the drive--that's the way to do it!!

Beautiful sunrise.
When we got back to College Station, around 3:30pm, we unpacked the car, unpacked our bags, and tried to organize ourselves. Later, Cooper and I had a Stake New Year's Eve dance to attend at the Institute. I had just enough time to shower and dress before we left. Cooper drove himself though, so I could leave early. I was exhausted. 

This Cooper playing ping pong with President Hull. 
I believe President Hull won. :)
A year ago, we were on a cruise to the Caribbean and our friends, the Millers from the CS2 ward, just happened to be on the same cruise as us. But now they're moving and the dance was the last night they were in town. This is Chance and Emma Miller. They are good friends of Jake's and Cooper's and we're sad to see them go. But hopefully we'll see them in the future. Lehi, Utah is a pretty sweet spot to be sitting in when it comes to the Latter-day Saint world (between the MTC and BYU :).
On Sunday, Dec. 30th, Jared gave the LAST talk of Sacrament Meeting and the LAST of 2018 and the LAST of the 3 hour block of church as we know it. He did a great job, of course, but I wish he would have asked for a rain check because we were on vacation for the four days leading up to Sunday, with Christmas Eve and Christmas Day being the two before that.

Karcyn built her second lego creation from her three-in-one set.
And this was Karcyn's thank you note for her grandparents.
Monday, December 31st...the last day of 2018, brought an incredible sunset.
Every one of us stayed awake until 11pm to watch the ball drop on the east coast.
Happy New Year!!

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