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.
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!
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!!!
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.
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.
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!!
Another hysterical meme.
For dessert, we had root beer floats because Luke hadn't had root beer before. This is him trying it.
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.
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.
He's smack dab in the middle. His companion Peery Elder is the one closest to us.
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.
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!
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!!
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.
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.
Karcyn gave him the book "I Spy in the Texas Sky" with Texas specific animals and plants.
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. :)
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.
This device take's the ear pressure or something that checks to see if there's fluid behind the ears. JJ was good.
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.
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. :)
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. :)
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.
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.
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.
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.
As the kid kept adding another element of difficulty, the kids couldn't believe what they were seeing!
Here is that same kid balancing a wine glass on a ball on a sword that's in his mouth.
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. PLUS...you 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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
Karcyn built her second lego creation from her three-in-one set.
Happy New Year!!