A whole bunch about us you may have never wanted to know.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Sledding fun

A couple of days after Christmas my kiddies got to go sledding with a bunch of their cousins. Let me tell you how much fun that was! And to have the long-zoom lens? Even more fun! (Or, in my vocab, FUNNER. I'm still bummed that's not a real word.)

Anyway, here is some of the fun we had ...

My nieces Madison and Savannah:

Niece & nephews Kimmie, Cris and Brett. Brett's sled got lost somewhere at the top of the hill:

BIL Mark with son Marcus. I love Marcus' face:

My cute, adorable Tyler showing off his 'lashes:
Nieces Kimmie and Madison:

Becca & Shayla. Look at Shayla's face:


My bro Ryan looking like he doesn't need a sled. (Really it's just hidden in the snow being thrown up.)

What a cute pic of my little guy Zachary:

And a cute one of the intense fun he's having:

Paul & Tyler:

My sis Rachel having a blast:

Shayla loved making snow angels -- both with her back and her front!!! I'm sad Paul didn't get a pic of her doing it on her stomach since I missed it. Let's just say it got her VERY cold!

My niece Katie got too cold and had to go sit in the car:

But when more cousins came she decided to re-join the fun, here with Kimmie:

Tyler feeling accomplished:

Zachary LOVED going again, again and again:

Me and Shayla at the bottom of the hill:

It was a blast! My dad always brings a heater so we can warm our hands and faces at the bottom as we please. Those are the kinds of neat things we get to do now that we live by G&G Palmer!

Then again, if I'm going to mention cool things we do with G&G Palmer, I should mention that the night before sledding we did our annual pinatas. They way it goes is that the youngest in the family has the first try (there's a pinata per family), and once you hit a certain age (8 or so), you are also blindfolded. Here are the pics of my kids trying to get to their loot:
Shayla didn't want to try this year. We're figuring it was because the pinata looked a little too much like Dora ... :)

Friday, December 26, 2008

Christmas was wonderful!

I have thoroughly enjoyed this holiday season, and I've so been looking forward to giving my mom her gift. I couldn't mention it before, because she reads my blog and I didn't want to spoil her surprise.
Remember me talking about going to Vegas and getting pics w/the sunglasses? (If not, go back to the Viva Las Vegas blog in October.)

Well, since we couldn't find the pineapple sunglasses in Vegas, we found them online and bought them. (We bought the Star Trek ones while in Vegas.) Anyway, I coordinated w/all the family members who didn't yet have a picture in them and took pics of EVERYONE -- all the kids and grandkids. This meant mailing them to South Carolina, Southern Utah and New Mexico. I got them back just a few days before Christmas so I could wrap them up and give them to my mom. Here are the pictures:

They may look kind of small, but I figured that was the best way to show 16 pictures of these 32 people who had their pictures taken. What I'm not posting is the two pictures we took of my sisters' dogs w/the glasses on.

I developed these pictures and gave a copy to my youngest sister who started the whole thing, too. I then took the pictures I printed for my mom and scrapbooked them to match her original pages she had done about the sunglasses.

Let's just say that she LOVED it! I gave her the sunglasses first, and she and my sister almost died they were so happy. Then I said there was a second part to my mom's gift, and I opened the scrapbook pages for her to look at while I gave my sister her copies of the prints. They LOVED them. I knew they would, and their reactions didn't disappoint.

In any case, that made my Christmas thoroughly enjoyable. I still can't believe all 32 people kept the secret -- most of them for six weeks now. It was awesome.

My family all loved their gifts as well, but describing them would sound boring in comparison to the fun we had giving my mom hers. Becca wrapped up a gift that said it was to be opened last, and when we opened it there was a card that said, "The greatest gift of all is given to you by Christ: The gift of Eternal life." It was a great reminder to everyone in our family about the meaning of this special season!

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Christmas letter

I got this written in time to e-mail, but I have yet to do it. Oh well, after Christmas people will have more time to read it anyway, right? Here it is a little earlier for those of you who actually read my blog. :) Merry Christmas!

I have decided this year not to kid myself and think I’ll send out Christmas letters via snail mail. So, I’m writing this e-mail update knowing completely well that I probably won’t get to “real” mail until my youngest gets into kindergarten. As of now, that’s three years away … but that is bound to be pushed back at some point …

This year has been a great year for the Brown Family! We have been blessed in so many ways, and we have had a very enjoyable year. We started the year being able to visit Paul’s brother and family in Phoenix. We had never been there before (except for Paul, who was born there), so it was a new, fun adventure. We especially enjoyed visiting with those cute Arizona Browns. A few of us got to enjoy the wonderful Easter Pageant there at the Mesa Tempe. It was awesome. We also got together with all of Paul’s siblings in August when his mom got married, which was a fun whirlwind vacation for us … especially since our kids stayed home. :)

In October we got to go on an awesome trip to Disneyland that was more fun than we can even express. BOTH boys were chosen for Jedi training, and they got to fight against Darth Vader. Seriously, how many young boys actually get to fight the real Darth Vader? I thought it was a total miracle for them both to be picked, and it was only one of the many fun, exciting things we did on our vacation. We can’t wait to do it again one day!

In any case, here are what our family members have been up to this year:

Paul earned his Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer this year, which is something he’s wanted to do for years. We are so happy for him! He found a great “boot camp” program in Phoenix and signed up for one that was during his birthday. He passed all the tests with flying colors – Happy Birthday! Anyway, he came determined to find a better job. Actually, he applied with only two companies, and he had two offers within weeks. He started a new job with TA Instruments in June. (It’s some company that makes microcalorimetry products or something like that I don’t understand.) He is their sole IT guy in Utah, which means he actually has a desk/cube now. We feel very blessed that it happened so quickly and that he really enjoys new things to do. His new job is a lot less stress and a lot more money – not a bad combo!

Denise has been busy doing the same ol’ things: toting kids to plays and soccer (no coaching this year), doing a gazillion loads of laundry, trying out new recipes, and trying to figure out how to best raise these great kids of mine. I am still very much enjoying scrapbooking and writing random nothings (usually) on our blog. This is also a great place to see awesome pics of our kids. :) I also stay busy with cub scouts, PTA, and other random “mom” things.

Becca has been very busy improving her thespian skills this year. She was in the chorus (singing/dancing extras) in her school’s production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. She also earned a spot on her school’s Shakespeare competition team, which enabled her to go down to Southern Utah University for a competition in September. She is very much looking forward to next year’s school play – Mulan, her favorite Disney movie. She enjoyed a short stint in the Mia Maid presidency (14- and 15-year-old girls) at church, which she enjoyed. She also was able to vicariously perform the baptism for her great-, great-grandma for whom she is named. That was an awesome experience for her. She is mature for her age, and we’re very appreciative that we have such a cooperative teenage girl. :)

Tyler LOVES soccer and got to play in both spring and fall. He also lost his first tooth this year, much to his excited surprise. He lost another one this past weekend, so he is in heaven with two teeth out. (Don’t mention to him that most 2nd graders have lost a lot more than that, but they also got their baby teeth sooner than he did!) He is such a sweet boy, and he is loving being able to read his Star Wars books on his own.

Zachary started kindergarten this year and is doing great. I was worried about him being too shy, but he’s being brave and actually talking to his teacher. She is impressed with how much he knows, so we’re glad he paid attention when Tyler was learning. He is still a great little artist, but his imagination is a little too great for his own good – he still has quite a few nightmares and doesn’t like to be on a different level of the house than anyone else. We’re hoping he outgrows this phase soon without growing out of any artistic abilities.

Shayla is as adorable as ever. She isn’t talking much, but we figure it’s because she sees no need to talk. Having five other people in the house to cater to her needs doesn’t require much talking! :) However, to make sure she can talk when she’s ready we have her in a program that is supposed to enhance her speech and pronunciation. She also LOVES to count (she can count to 12 … although it’s only intermittently correct) and trace anything and everything (yes, she’s moved beyond the boring ol’ hand tracing). She still has her adorable red hair (for now), and you can’t believe how many strangers stop us to comment on how beautiful it is. We feel blessed to have such a sweet, easy-going two-year-old. (Knock on wood quickly! :)

As mentioned, we have been blessed beyond measure this year and are very grateful. We always love the Christmas season and how wonderful people are to each other. We are grateful most of all for the precious reason for the season – not only for His birth, but for His life and example, His commitment through great suffering and trial, His resurrection, and His teachings that guide our lives and decisions even now, more than 2,000 years later. Our lives would not be the same without His powerfully wonderful influence and care. Merry Christmas to you. We hope your year has been one of peace and that you have a great 2009.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Oh, Christmas Tree!

I mentioned that we used to do real trees before inheriting a fake one from my older sister. However, what I didn't mention is our year that we WISHED we had a fake tree. I figure you can all use a humorous story right about now ... (This from an e-mail I sent out back in 2001)

All~ I'm thinking by now that you may have heard our horror Christmas-tree story. For those of you who haven't, here is the short version:

Paul's family has a tradition of cutting down their own tree (there are a lot of places here in Seattle to do that) and drinking hot chocolate. Well, we planned to go with them Saturday morning to cut our own.

Friday night we received a call from Olan Mills saying the pictures we had taken of Tyler had something wrong with the film, so we needed to come back in. We wanted them in time for Christmas, so we had to go in Saturday morning for re-takes. That meant we had to trust Paul's family to pick out our Christmas tree.

Now, Paul was a little worried since he said his mom likes to get them too tall, and his dad always picks ones with holes. I saw their two trees last year, and they seemed fine enough. However, he told his dad to make sure to get one no taller than Paul's mom. He also said to look around for holes. The next morning when I talked to Paul's mom, I said the same things. I even threw in a pitch about how we really wished we could come since this would be our FIRST Christmas tree, but that we had to get these pictures taken.

Well, when they delivered the tree on Saturday night, let's just say it was NOT what we were expecting. I'm not sure if you could say there are any holes, because that's pretty much all the tree is. (We're still trying to decide if we should water it or just let it die ....) Anyway, I haven't seen Paul's mom in a few days, but apparently she's had a growth spurt: We had to cut off five feet to fit it into our house.

Paul keeps saying we're not related to Charlie Brown, so I'm not sure why we had to get a Charlie Brown Christmas tree. When I told my dad, he said, "Well, at least you won't have to try to improve on this year's tree since ANY tree will be an improvement." So true!

Here are two of the pics I attached:

On this one you can see that we tried to place ONE ornament on the branch, and it was too much. So, we were sans ornaments with this tree:

My co-workers had a heyday and made sure to forward this e-mail to everyone on our team and even our client back East. Here are some responses I got from the pictures:

- "Think of it this way Denise, at least it won't shed pine needles all over your floor. At least Tyler isn't old enough to realize your tree is a little sparse."

- "Oh my gosh, Denise! I can't quit laughing! That is way worse than anything I could possibly have even begun to think of. Yuck!! H ow can you even call that a tree? I'm SO sorry, but this will make for a great personal history story!!! :)"

- "So was that the Christmas tree in the pics? If it was, I liked it. I guess his family was feeling a bit lazy and did not want to carry the thing. Either that or they pulled a heavy dose of sarcastic humor. I noticed that the thing did not have any ornaments -- looked too frail for any."

Mid-January I got an e-mail marked urgent from our client. It said, "I have an important project for you ... I was told you have a very interesting Christmas tree story with photos. I was told I must see this project!" Her response upon seeing the pictures? "Oh my! I can't believe that! I can only imagine what your first impression was ... to laugh or cry. Hey at least you were able to capture the moment. And as your father said, you will only have room to improve. Were you able to decorate the tree or would it fall with ornaments?"

Here's hoping your tree is better than ours was in 2001. :)

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Mom facts

I made quite a mistake today that I seem to repeat once in a while: I tried to take a nap. What is it about laying down on your bed that beckons all of the kids to your side? Shayla was up a lot the night before last, so I actually went and got in bed with her. And then last night I didn't sleep well because I was worried about needing to finish preparing my lesson for Relief Society today. So, I decided I deserved a nap.

Now, the second I put my head on the pillow Zachary came and asked for help finding his pants. I told him to find Becca or Paul and ask them to help him. Then when I was just falling asleep Paul came in and informed me there was someone at the door for me. Becca also came in to tell me since she was the one who had answered the door. I went and received a gift from a neighbor, and after a short chat went back to my bed.

Once again I was about asleep when I heard Paul come and lay down beside me. I was happy about that until I realized he had left the door open and I could hear every word/yell of the kids. Of course, Paul was sleeping soundly no matter how loud they got. He's got a talent for that. Then his breathing started to sound loud to me. Sigh. I also then started thinking that if he slept too much he wouldn't sleep well at night and therefore would make me not sleep well. So I woke him up to kick him out. Needless to say, I had to wake him up four times before I convinced him to get out of bed.

I thought that was it, and that I would then get some sleep. Once again right as I was falling asleep Tyler came in and asked if he could eat one of the goodies we had made. I also heard Shayla playing and laughing instead of taking her nap, so I figured it was useless to try to sleep beyond that. Yes, I took more than two hours trying to get a nap and probably got a total of about 15 minutes of sleep. That's the life of a mom.

Another funny "mommy" moment I had this week: When I was on the phone with Paul's brother getting the news about their baby and her delivery and complications, Zachary kept trying to get my attention. Repeatedly I shook my head and pointed to Paul for Zachary to realize he needed to talk to Paul. He kept trying to get me, though. Paul would say, "Zachary, she's on the phone. What do you need?" Finally when I got off the phone (45 minutes later) I explained to Zachary about the baby being in the hospital and that he couldn't interrupt phone calls and expect me to always be available. Then I asked him what was so important that he needed me. He asked, "Mom, are you thirsty" Paul and I laughed and laughed about that. I wasn't sure how to answer, so I said, "Sure." He said, "Then go downstairs." I thought maybe he had a surprise for me, so I went downstairs and got a drink. Then he joined me and said, "I'm really thirsty!" Turns out he was thirsty that whole time, and instead of asking someone to go down to the kitchen with him (since he's too scared to be on any level of the house alone), he kept asking Paul and Tyler if they were thirsty. When they said no, he kept coming back to me on the phone to get my attention. Kids!

Oh, and then there are boys. I "caught" my boys this morning making all kinds of signs that say, "I love you club" and "I love you, I love you, I love you, I love you." These signs were meant to trick people into coming into the room, and then the boys were going to scare them by jumping out yelling (Zachary) and waving their arms under a blanket (Tyler). Makes a mom so proud ...!!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Busy, busy, busy December

I love this season because of all the giving and Christian attitudes that seem to prevail nationwide. Every year I hear wonderful stories of miracles and service that just touch my heart. However, there is one thing about Christmastime that always bugs me -- people are TOO BUSY!

I was reminded of how "busy" people are when talking to my brother-in-law on the phone yesterday. He and his wife were blessed this week with a new little girl. Unfortunately, there were a couple of complications, so the baby now has an infection and is in the hospital, probably until Christmas Eve. Since they have three other children (ages 3, 2, and 1), they obviously need some help so Rob can go back and forth between the hospital and home. Jennifer's family (their only family nearby) couldn't get the time off of work, so Rob called friends and church members for help.

As he was looking for someone to watch the kids for two shifts (3 hours in the morning and 3 hours in the afternoon), he realized people were too busy to help. Two people actually told him that they had plans to go to the temple, and therefore couldn't watch the kids so Rob could go spend some time at the hospital with his wife and newborn. What?!? I told him they obviously needed to stand on the chairs from now on, because obviously the messages are going over their heads! (Fortunately my MIL hopped on a plane and went down to help, so now they've got it covered.)

Anyway, what is it with people getting so busy that they can't do what the season is all about? I'd like to think this is an isolated case, but unfortunately I know it isn't. We moved into our house in December, and I was shocked by the lack of response from neighbors and church members. Mind you, I now LOVE my ward, but we didn't have anyone offer to help us move in, nobody stopped by to welcome us, and I thought we had made the biggest mistake of our lives moving here! :) Okay, it wasn't quite that bad, but it was a little lonely and strange.

In any case, my plea is this: Don't get so busy that you don't enjoy the season and aren't aware of those around you in need. Think of how many times the Savior was heading somewhere and in being interrupted taught a lesson instead of being too busy on His way. Just remember (to quote Marilee), service is probably never convenient!

Friday, December 19, 2008

Economy isn't the problem ...

Is it me, or is anyone else tired of hearing about the problem with the economy? Don't people realize that the economy is NOT the problem? The problem is the lack of ethics and morals in the businesspeople of America and a lot of greed among everyone.

I'm not saying the economy isn't bad. However, the bad economy is a side-effect of the immoral, unethical and sometimes illegal practices of business people in American businesses, and of people being greedy and trying to buy more than they can afford. (Mind you, I realize this behavior isn't exclusive to our wonderful country, but that's my focus here.) If it weren't for people being greedy and "bending" the rules, sub-prime loans would not have taken off like they had. Then again, if people hadn't been trying to afford more than they could, then they wouldn't have been so willing to settle for a sub-prime mortgage. (Again, I know there are cases where they really are best, but they are the minimal.)

Anyway, where were the underwriters during these processes? And why were so many people able to make so much money off of such immoral behaviors? You know, where were the whistle-blowers? It's sad, really. And why did companies think these extreme amounts of spending would continue? What happened to saving for a rainy day?

So, now companies are anticipating worse years for 2009, and therefore are making layoffs early. Won't that create self-fulfilling prophesy? You know, so many people are laid off "in anticipation" that there really is less money to be spent, and therefore there really is less spending?

And don't even get me started on the American car makers. Remember just recently we had to pay $150 to get our blinker to work? Well, we now need another repair that will cost around $750. And this is on a 2005 vehicle!!! That is more than we've paid for ANY repair on Paul's 2001 Toyota, which we bought back in 2001. I'm sorry, but they shouldn't be bailed out for making junk. It's what's supposed to motivate companies to make quality products -- then people actually want to buy them. Yet the American car companies were more concerned about how much they could put in their pockets. Sigh ... (I'll also mention here that I've discovered through my experiences that foreign-made cars guarantee their seatbelts for life. American-made cars don't.)

Paul wants to know why nobody bailed out the .com companies that all went under. That was a bust for the economy, and I personally know many people who lost jobs and weren't able to find new ones during that whole fallout. Yet somehow the country survived ...

We're actually glad spending is down. Not because it helps the economy, but because people (as a whole) were overspending way too much, and credit was too easy to get. I've been predicting for more than a year that this would happen, because I heard last year that the national savings amount was negative 1 percent. That meant people were spending more than they were making. I knew it couldn't continue.

Anyway, I'm annoyed about all the talk about the economy and nobody pointing to what brought about this economy. Maybe America as a whole should re-commit to living within their means, and companies should focus on ethics/morals training as much as they do about diversity training. Just a thought.

Monday, December 15, 2008

The Windows of Heaven

If you're LDS, then you know what December brings -- tithing settlement. :) This annual meeting with the bishop is generally pretty quick for my family. We say whether or not we have paid a full tithe (10 percent), and then he asks if there is anything we're in need of. We're usually good, so we're in and out pretty quickly.

Yesterday's meeting was a little longer. Apparently our wonderful bishop decided to be a little inspiring. (I also think he was late for a meeting and didn't mind missing a little more. :) Anyway, he started talking about the prophet Elijah in the Old Testament. He mentioned the story of Elijah approaching the poor widow to ask for food. She had so little she mentioned that she was going to fix the last meal for herself and her son, and that they would eat it and then wait to die.

The bishop asked why this woman, who was obviously one of the most in need, would be asked to sacrifice some of her food for Elijah. Was it to test her heart? He doesn't believe so. He believes that the Lord knew her heart, and that He knew she was the most in need of being blessed. We are taught in Doctrine and Covenants (130:21) that every blessing we obtain from God is by obedience to the law upon which that blessing is predicated. This poor widow had to do something to show obedience for the Lord to bless her, and that's why Elijah was led to her to ask for a part of her meager food. Of course, she was tremendously blessed for her obedience. "And the barrel of meal wasted not, neither did the cruse of oil fail, according to the word of the Lord, which he spake by Elijah." (1 Kings 17:16)

He said, however, that this a difficult principle to follow. He said as a bishop, if a woman came to him and said she could either pay tithing or feed her children, he would wonder what to tell her. However, in a recent meeting with other bishops in the stake, the bishops were posed this question. One bishop raised his hand and said, "I would tell my members to pay their tithing so they can be blessed." He then went on to explain his own experiences with tithing.

He was living in Ecuador and had a good job that paid $5 per week. When he joined the church and learned about tithing, he realized that paying 50 cents per week (10 percent) wouldn't be possible -- unless his family sacrificed food one day a week.

So, what did they do? Every Sunday as they took the sacrament they prayed that the bread would provide the nourishment they needed for that day and would help their tummies feel full. They went without food on Sundays for two full years. Then they were given a totally unexpected blessing and opportunity -- the chance to emigrate to the United States. Here they have a home, a car and a good job; but their greatest blessing of all is that their children have never had to be without food for even one day. This family feels their opportunity to be blessed in such a way came directly from their obedience of paying tithing.

I can't imagine that kind of sacrifice since we are really so blessed in this country. Paul and I could go without food once a week, even though we'd be hungry and cranky. We could even have Becca and Tyler do it, and they'd understand. However, how do you explain to kids like Zachary and Shayla why you won't give them any food to eat? And yet this family did it and testifies to others that tithing is worth any sacrifice. This makes me realize that there really is no such thing as sacrifice -- anything we do for the Lord that feels like a sacrifice comes back to bless us so much greater that we are once again indebted to Him for all He's done on our behalf.

Paul and I have not had to make such large sacrifices. We have made much smaller sacrifices, and as a result of these have seen the windows of heaven pour us out blessings (Malachi 3:10). When we decided that we would start being a one-income family so I could stay home with the kids full time, we knew our current income was not sufficient for our bills. However, we saved up in anticipation and had enough in our savings to supplement for several months after I quit.

We weren't too worried since Paul had been promised a big raise to accompany his huge promotion. However, that pay increase never happened. And yet we were blessed to be able to pay all of our bills for more than two years. Not all of the circumstances and extra monetary blessings were pleasant (four car accidents in one year -- all other drivers' faults!), but we felt blessed beyond measure to be able to pay all of our bills throughout these years. We know that paying tithing during this time was critical to our financial security, not to mention the other blessings that surely came into our lives during this time.

In any case, next time I am asked to make a sacrifice or feel like I'm being stretched a little too thin on the Lord's errand, I will try to think of the story of Elijah and the widow and realize that maybe the Lord is just trying to give me extra blessings for my efforts.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Funny little girl ...

Something funny is happening at our house. Can you tell what it is?

I walked downstairs to find this:

And a bit later I saw this:

Shayla has decided it is fun to trace everything, including people's heads. She's liked having her hand traced for months, and she loves to try to trace our hands. However now that has extended into other body parts and various items around the house.

Next she wanted Becca to trace her, so she laid across the paper:

Then she had Paul and Becca take turns tracing tree branches:

That is one funny little girl!

She started speech therapy this week. The lady said she re-calculated the numbers since she'd done them so quickly, so Shayla was actually 6th percentile and therefore qualified for the program. In any case, the lady came to our house this morning. Every time she showed Shayla a picture and asked her what it was, Shayla attempted to count the items. Sometimes she was right and sometimes she was not. She can incorrectly count up to 10. I'm so proud! ;) Anyway, it was hilarious. Maybe she misunderstood what the company's purpose is since its name is Kids Who Count. And count she did!

Oh, and Shayla's FINALLY happy again! I also am very grateful for modern medicine. She has been very cranky the past two to three weeks (including having a fever for about four days), and my mom finally convinced me to take her to the doctor even though the fever was gone. Turns out she had two ear infections and strep. Those are some serious reasons to be cranky! Now that she's being medicated, she's one happy camper, which makes us happy as well. :)

p.s. Zachary has strep as well, but at least we're no longer contagious!

Monday, December 8, 2008

Dilbert way of drawing for prizes ...

Do you know why so many people find Dilbert hilarious? It's because there is truth to so much of it!!! If you have worked in an office, especially a cubicle-filled, high-tech office, you know EXACTLY all too well what I'm talking about. I don't read it daily like that hubby of mine, but I do peruse it once in a while, and am reminded why it is that I'm glad not to be working anymore! (At least not working out of the home for a paycheck.)

Anyway, we had a Dilbert experience this weekend at Paul's company party. When we came in they gave us tickets to put into a drawing. They asked us to write our name on one half and to keep the other half (you know, the one that says, "Keep this ticket"). So, we got our names in the drawing for prizes. We saw the prizes, and there was definitely a plethora -- a LCD TV, a nice tool set, a digital picture frame, a couple $50 gift certificates to Outback, a bunch of $15 gift certificates for iTunes, some 1-lb Kara chocolates, and a few boxes of orange sticks. Yes, those yucky jelly-covered orange sticks.

We didn't want the orange sticks, so we got to work in the games. For "mingling" and answering questions from other people, we got more tickets. So we made the rounds and got lots of names. We were one of only a few to get an additional 6 tickets from our names. Yes! Then Paul and I both participated in other games and got probably another 4 tickets each. So, we were building up our number of tickets. We had a chance for a really good prize ... or so we thought ...

Turns out the way they did the drawing was a bit backwards. So, this is how they did the drawing: They drew out a ticket, and the first person they drew could say whether they wanted to pass or take the prize. There was only one prize allowed per couple. Then the second person drawn HAD to take the prize. This would work great if they started with the TV and went down from there. They didn't. They started with the small dumb prizes, so you can guess what the people with the most tickets in the drawing ended up with. No, we didn't get orange sticks. But don't be too relived for us yet -- we got raspberry sticks instead. I was SO BUMMED! Had we known how they were going to do it, we would not have entered our extra tickets. So, those who got involved like they wanted were "rewarded" with orange and raspberry sticks. One couple got to "pass" four times, while we were stuck with raspberry sticks.

The Dilbert-ness of this was emphasized when they came and took away your remaining tickets when you won a prize. What good did that do? They still drew out our names for several more prizes and then just threw them away. In fact, towards the end they were taking out handfuls of tickets and trying to find someone who hadn't won a prize. In the end they had to have the five prizeless people come sit at a table, picked the five best prizes left (there were more prizes than people there), and enter a new drawing. Sigh.

Mind you, if they had started with the TV and big prizes and we hadn't been chosen, we would have taken the raspberry sticks as a consolation prize. But to be stuck with them and not have a choice? I was annoyed. Definitely a Dilbert way to do it -- reward the person with the fewest tickets in the drawing. (It really happened that way -- the guy who won the TV had come alone, so he had half as many tickets as everyone else who came with a spouse/date.) Sigh. I guess my prize is having a spouse to go with, and to actually have a Christmas party to attend. Paul's previous company canceled their Christmas party this year right before announcing the CEO is leaving and the "cut-back" guy who is a horrible manager is taking over as CEO. Merry Christmas, DirectPointe employees!

On that note, we'll take our disgusting raspberry sticks and be grateful for Paul's wonderful job. (I told Paul he should stick a bow on the box of raspberry sticks and give it to his president as a Christmas gift. :)

Oh, and thanks to Marilee for the pilates recommendation. I was beginning to feel unloved in my comment-less posts! :) Good news for me, though. Bob from the Biggest Loser is coming out with a weight-loss yoga DVD. I've been asking for more than a year when he's going to do this since he is always touting the benefits of yoga. Apparently Hilary or Paul got sick of me asking and contacted the network to make it happen. Now I just hope it's good!

Friday, December 5, 2008

A little exercise advice ...

So, I've spent the year trying to get to the gym. However, it hasn't always been successful since I have to schedule babysitting (they have limited capacity for that), and my little Shayla seems to get colds a little too often!

On the days I don't go to the gym I try to exercise at home. I LOVE the Biggest Loser Power Sculpt DVD since it uses weights, and it lets you customize what you want to do. However, I'm getting sick of it (and the Cardio Max one as well), so I need to know what your favorite workout tapes are?

Someone last night mentioned to me that they love Jillian's complete workout dvds. I'm not a big fan of her on the show (Biggest Loser), but maybe they're good anyway. Any others you just really like? Help me out here, ladies!

Thursday, December 4, 2008

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas

Actually, it is only partially beginning to look like Christmas. :) People are putting up lights, the stores have holiday themes and music, but we're missing one important element for it to look like Christmas: SNOW! This isn't a complaint, though. I'm loving the "warm" weather.

However, since it is officially Christmas-time we put up our tree Monday night. This year (thanks to Hilary who braved Thanksgiving-day crowds) we have a train to go around our tree. The kids are SO excited about this, especially since Paul put up the train a few days before we got around to the tree:
Now, growing up I think I vowed to never get a fake tree. I love the pine smell of real trees, and they just seem to be a lot more fun -- I mean, we have a tree in the house! However, now that I'm one of the ones responsible for getting the tree, we're all about fake! Here the fam is starting to put the pieces together:
If we had a real tree, though, would we have gotten such an adorable smile from a girl who is giddy about her daddy putting together a Christmas tree?
And what would the kids have done for entertainment while waiting for the tree to be set up? With fake branches, they acted like they were light sabers and swords and "fought" until the branches were needed:
Anyway, the kids always have a blast putting on the ornaments. We've been fortunate to inherit some very cute ornaments from my mom (thanks for getting a smaller house, mom :). These are in addition to the ones they bought us when we moved into our new house three years ago and thought we were too busy to put up a tree. So, we're set for a while. Look at how happy Zachary is to help:
Shayla, Tyler and Becca had an assembly line going to get ornaments to the top of the tree. It was cute:
And in the middle of tree decorating, I guess it's mandatory to take a Star Wars break:
We have two Santa hats from forever ago when I had just moved to Seattle and Hilary and I needed a Christmas picture, and the kids love them every year:
Right after putting it on, Shayla sat down to talk to our Santa figure. It was adorable:
We also have two very cheap nativities that we let the kids play with. Yes, they're both made of glass, but we figure if they break they break. Oh well. In any case, Shayla pulled them out and was so excited to see Mommy, Daddy and "ME!" It was funny. I think we have plenty of time to teach her the true meaning of Christmas and that the baby in the nativities is in fact not her ...
Oh, and a little sidenote here. In case you're wondering what the deal is with Shayla's hair in these pictures, it is a post-nap version of this:
I don't know why I love this look so much, but I happen to think it's adorable. I'm thinking we've gotta start getting her the tangle-free shampoo or go for a cut!
Hope you all have a blast getting ready for Christmas yourselves. Remember what a precious season this is. Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 1, 2008

Internet safety

I am really happy, because Paul just installed a filter on our computer. I know that no filter is completely fool-proof, but let's face it -- without one sites we don't want our kids and husbands to see can pop up in a second. (I guess we really don't want to see them, either!) In any case, I feel a lot safer having a filter to catch many sites that concern me.

I am what you may call paranoid about pornography. However, in my opinion it is the worst addiction anyone can have. You can get nicotine or drugs out of your system, but you can never get images out of your head. I know, because I've been unwillingly exposed to it several times.

So, on that note, I feel a need to STRONGLY advise all of you parents to get your own filters, to have discussions with your children and to do anything you can to protect your children (especially your sons) from this horrible addiction. We have a family member who was exposed and addicted at age 7. AGE 7!!! That is how old Tyler is. I wouldn't even think twice about Tyler thinking about those types of things if it hadn't been for this family member. Let's just say this person's addiction ruined his marriage and a lot of other things in his life.

I came across a children's book at Deseret Book that I would recommend to all parents. It's called "The Trap," and it discusses a boy who saw inappropriate material at a friend's house. He talks to his dad about it, and his dad explains why we aren't supposed to see images like that. (He compares it to a hornet trap.) I think we'll read it as a family at least quarterly. This book also reiterates our very strict rule that kids aren't allowed on computers at friends' houses NO MATTER WHAT.

We are very open explaining to our children about "red zones" and why nobody is allowed to touch their red zones, just as they are not supposed to touch anyone else's red zones. This is also an easy way to explain pornography -- that they are not supposed to see anyone's red zones without clothing. I've heard other people say to their sons that they shouldn't see mommies without clothes on. It's a hard thing to explain to children, but it's a MUST in this world. We also explain to our children that if they ever do come across porn to let us know immediately so we can work together to make sure it doesn't happen again and to help them know what they can do to get it out of their mind as much as possible.

I have a friend who said her bishop recommends every couple have a discussion about pornography every month. EVERY MONTH! This helps them open up the lines of communication, and hopefully if someone is tempted their spouse can help them overcome the temptation before they act on it. Nobody is immune, so I hope you realize why I take this so seriously. (A different addiction, but someone at church yesterday mentioned a family friend who was curious and tried crack at age 60. Six months later he had lost his home, his job, his family and everything he had ever lived for because he was so addicted. It just confirms to me that Satan never gives up! That means we have to be as vigilant as ever -- probably until we die. :)

Another friend mentioned to me that priesthood leaders in our church no longer ask men and boys if they have witnessed pornography, but they ask when was the last time they were exposed to pornography. It's a sad world that we can't completely protect them from it. I know, because I've taken every precaution to protect myself, and I've been exposed by other people's bad choices and by mistakes online. Unfortunately it can take just one mistake for someone to get addicted.

Anyway, don't be surprised if this topic pops up again and again from me since I am vigilant about making sure my sons and husband are safe. I know women are susceptible as well, but for the most part pornography seems to be more addictive for boys and men. Please let me know if you have come across any good tips or tricks on protecting your children, or if you're interested in more of what I have learned.