Saturday, April 1, 2017

What JT wants for his birthday

JT turns 3 years old next week and we've been getting ready. We had a delightful little conversation with him over some pre-birthday ice cream. It all started when we let him know we had bought his birthday presents.

He asked what they were. We said we wouldn't tell him because they were a surprise.
Then he whispered in my ear, "You can tell me the surprise Daddy."

We wanted to encourage him to enjoy the surprise. I described how, when he opened his presents, he would say "Aaaaaaaaah!" from being happy. This confused him.

JT: "I say Aaaah?"
D: You will be happy and surprised. You won't be sad. You won't be angry. You won't be scared.
JT: "Scared? Daddy, you remember the dinosaur? He said Raaaaaaar!"
D: At the airport in Qatar? Yes, he was very scary, wasn't he?"
JT: "Yeah!"
D: Don't worry, JT. None of your presents are scary.
JT: My presents not scary? Awwww.

He drooped his shoulders and looked utterly depressed, like all the joy of his birthday had deflated!

That's our littlest - someone who loves being scared and then overcoming and embracing his fears.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Moana - the video game I want to see but won't get

I'm envisioning the Moana civilization building/resource management simulation. It takes place in the time of the ancestors... (wavy flashback lines)

Monday, February 27, 2017

My Favorite Child - Superstar

I have to admit it. I have a favorite child. My favorite child is Superstar.

Happily, I get to spend the most 1:1 time with him. I walk him to school most mornings and then we play a game together at night once the other two are in bed. Every day there are new and wonderful things to discuss.

Sometimes Superstar wants to talk to me about math. We're currently playing a game to see how many numbers he can make using only four 4s. For instance, 4+4-4-4 = 0, 4-4 + 4/4 = 1, 4/4 + 4/4 = 2, and so on. Superstar is up to the 70s, regularly calling on factorials, square roots, the gamma function (!), and much more. I love that he comes up with different solutions than I do and can explain them in unique ways that show such a deep understanding of underlying mathematical truths.

Sometimes Superstar wants to talk to me about Fablehaven, by Brandon Mull. He has been studying the first three books since Christmas. I say "studying" because he is rereading each of them multiple times before passing on to the next book to make sure he gets everything out of them he can. And yes, this means he's reading two grade levels above his own. And loving it. He recently explained to Princess about what he does at his gifted and talented (GT) program, and concluded that it was fun, but not as much as independent reading time.

Sometimes I tell him about what I was teaching in seminary, and he gets it. He asks questions that tie in the New Testament truths I'm teaching with what he is reading the Book of Mormon. He has always genuinely wanted to do what is right, even though his young mind and heart don't always know the way to get there.

We play tag as we walk the mile to school (especially when we're running just a little late and I want to hurry him up).

Most video games we play, he is a match for me. I'm holding on to my edge in most games, but it's CLOSE. Especially with me giving up my individual play time, he's going to rapidly get ahead and start trouncing me at everything. He still loves Mario games the most, but he also pulls out board and card games - last night was 7 Wonders.

I took Superstar home teaching with me yesterday. In our lesson, we brought some construction paper hearts and had everyone write or draw some things that helped them feel loved. Everything Superstar drew were things he does with his dad. That means a lot to me!

How could I not love such an engaging, intelligent, shining Superstar? (Realizing that the blog didn't do much for, like, 18 months, below the fold are some pictures of Superstar we missed sharing)

My favorite child - Princess

I have to admit it. I have a favorite child. My favorite child is Princess.

There is nothing so wonderful as having a human kitty cat. Princess is a lap cat, more specifically. Her favorite place to read scriptures or watch movies or eat or anything is in my lap. She squishes herself into the tiniest ball she can manage, complete with pillow and blanket, and just snuggles.

She gives the BEST good night hugs. She throws her arms around my neck and squeezes with all her might. Sometimes I have to tickle her to get out.

Princess loves to cook with us and, when she decides to be, is the best cleaner. I took her with this weekend to help someone move, and she was as diligent and useful as anyone could possibly be. Everyone was duly impressed not only with her dedication, but her strength.

It is no surprise she's reading a full grade ahead of where she would normally be. She still loves sleeping with her books and is eager to read to us or be read to. Her latest art project is cutting out construction paper snowflakes and writing love notes on them. Valentines Day, you can imagine, was a big hit.

A few weeks ago Joy and I were talking about our religious fasting for the month. Princess said, "Fasting is really important to you, isn't it?" We agreed and talked to her about it. I thought nothing more about it until yesterday when she announced she was going to fast with us so that God would bless my dad. She is considerate and tender. She thinks of people who aren't immediately in front of her and misses them greatly.

She giggles. She laughs. She loves life and all it has to offer. How couldn't I love my pink-loving Princess?

My favorite child - JT

I have to admit it. I have a favorite child. My favorite child is little John-Thomas.

There is nothing so wonderful as having a human puppy dog. I return from seminary or school - or maybe just taking out the trash! - and JT is right there at the door. He screams at the top of his lungs that DADDY IS HOME!!!! He runs across the house announcing to all the world my triumphal arrival.

I mentioned JT has been actively potty training for a few weeks. His big motivator is that he gets to play any game he wants for 10 minutes. He likes spending much of that time flipping through the Wii games, revisiting what each game does before rotating through one of his many favorites. He seems to be much more capable at using the Wii U controller than the Wiimote, so he may be the best of our children at playing video games at this age.

JT is the happiest of our children about going to church. Sacrament meeting he could do without, but he sure loves nursery! He regularly asks me at night if he gets to go to nursery tomorrow. He also regularly asks to go to the park, the beach, or Six Flags, so that's the company nursery keeps.

JT loves superheroes. He appropriated Superstar's enormous Spider-man blanket and at the store the other day couldn't rest until we agreed to get him a Batman pillow that's a bit bigger than he is. (We were buying pillows for Princess and me anyway.)

JT loves to read. He loves to read to us and he loves to have us read. He loves his brother and sister and is delighted when he gets to be with them. He is also the first child by that age who was willing to go to sit in timeout on his own.

Looking at the blog, I realized I skipped 18 months almost completely, so here are some of JT's missing shots:

Sunday, February 26, 2017

A gradual transformation

Not quite two years ago, I started having this feeling that I needed to reach up a lot higher than I was doing. This has turned into a gradual letting go of a lot of things from my life  that I've been relying on a bit too much. I've finally gotten to the point of removing some of them altogether. For the last three months, I haven't had any desserts, sweets, or other treats. And for ten days I haven't played any games by myself - I still play with my kids or Joy, but my personal time with DS or other video games is officially over.

So far the main thing going up to help fill in the time is family history. I've been organizing the people Joy and I have already found to do temple work for and finding additional people along the way. I've counted up about 90 people who need individual ordinance work done; we have 10 couples ready to be sealed and 9 kids ready to be sealed to parents. So now we're trying to figure out how we can get to the temple more often to get their work done.

I can also happily report that I have been doing a stellar job getting my grading done so far this semester. Last year, between illness and a shortened schedule, I was perpetually behind on my grading, so it's a relief as well. The house is a bit cleaner, and something like half a year ago Joy noticed that the kids would come up to me on my computer and ask what I was working on instead of asking what I was playing. Little signs of progress.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Hungry, Hungry, JT

As one of his several rewards for potty training, John-Thomas has been asking to play Hungry, Hungry Hippos with Joy. She recounts:

We'll get all of the marbles and put them in the center. Then he'll say, "Hungry!" and push the levers on the hippo. You only get to push them once before he yells, "STOP!"

He picks up each hippo head, and he'll use a different voice for them and say, "I'm hungry." "I'm hungry." "I'm hungry." "I'm hungry" all the way around.

We have to take all the balls out before we start again. And he insists that the yellow ball should go inside the yellow hippo. I say, "Poor blue and green hippos! There's no food for them."

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Creating a few good excuses

I wrote this post at least 4 years ago, but never posted it for some reason. I stumbled on it today and thought it deserved sharing.

My brother was teaching the priesthood lesson this week from the Pres. George Albert Smith manual. It was the third or so in a row in being member missionaries. I forget the exact words Steve used, but he and the lesson talk about the fact that you cannot "scold" anyone into Heaven, "but I want to tell you that we can love them into the direction of our Father in heaven..."
When Steve quoted the second great commandment, to love our neighbors as ourselves, it got me thinking. The command is NOT to convert a bunch of people, and therefore love them because it's a useful tactic. The command is to love them, and as a happy result of that you will occasionally get the chance to be of service to them.

We had a few too many visits from a friendly, agreeable, thoughtful plumber this summer. When his work was done, I asked if he had ever been given the opportunity to have a Book of Mormon. He confirmed that he had several LDS friends and he knew it was required in many churches to try to win converts. I wasn't sure how to respond. He didn't sound offended, but I could tell the gesture was not received the way I felt.

He was a nice guy. He had made our lives better working harder than was strictly required. I wanted to thank him with more than money. I wanted to form a friendship in the little time we have in the States, and quite frankly the Church is the primary way I socialize.

He was one of many people whose lives I would like to bless with the thing that has given me the greatest joy. The thing is, most of those people I'm going to see again, so I can comfortably keep putting off that invitation - mostly in the fear that it and I will be rejected and taken in one of many wrong ways. But I cared for someone and wanted to share.


Before we moved to Nigeria, I was an assistant clerk keeping track of membership records and then executive secretary. Among the things I did was track attendance. I didn't feel that was enough. I wanted to know if someone was missing. I not only counted heads, but learned to recognize everyone by the back of their head so I could tell if someone was missing for a few weeks and make sure the proper people had noticed and were taking care of them.

When new people moved in - a frequent occurrence in student areas - I ran over to greet them. This was a very new phenomenon for me. I'd always been content (as music chair or choir director) to find out if someone had musical talents and rush over once someone told me they sang. Now it was my job to get the information of new members so I could request their records into the area. But more than that, I wanted them to feel welcomed and appreciated. I wanted them to stay.

Being membership clerk gave me a script to follow, and that was the support/crutch I needed to be able to get over my awkwardness and try saying hello. Home and visiting teaching is not just a duty to visit once a month, but an opportunity both to come to love and serve someone and to open our homes and hearts to someone we might not otherwise have socialized with. I'm not comfortable in a lot of social interactions, but being a home teacher, a clerk, a choir director, whoever, gives me a role to fill and helps me start reaching out.

Callings and assignments - and even missionary duties - are opportunities to get to know people, to befriend them, to learn even to love them.

They were all excuses. An excuse to love someone.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Vortrekker needlework

Far more impressive to me than the view were the arts and crafts stored in the basement of the Vortrekker Monument. A fellow named Coetzer was commissioned to create a series of needlepoint tapestries in commemoration of the trek. They are beautiful! They are impressive! As a fellow needle-worker, I was really impressed.

Here are three of my favorites, with more below the fold.

I LOVED this.

This sculpture is made out of icing. It was made out of icing in 1984 and it is still here.

Toys for vortrekker children to play with.

Things I want to know:
Did Vortrekker children sing as they walked and walked?
Did little Vortrekker children gather berries for food and chips for wood?
Do I have to walk a thousand miles or more to be a Vortrekker?

Part painting, part stichery.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Voortrekker Monument - the pioneers

On a hill overlooking Pretoria stands the Vortrekker Monument - a tower to remember the Boer pioneers. As I studied their history, I was shocked at the parallels with my own, Utah Mormon pioneer history.

At about the same time my ancestors were being chased by mobs from Ohio to Missouri to Illinois to Utah (1830s-1860s) the Boer settlers from Cape Town fled what they saw as British oppression to the northeast (such as Pretoria). They saw themselves as religious refugees, God's chosen people. They traveled in covered wagons across the veld to seek Zion where they could worship in peace. Many of the same themes are shared in each group's diaries and speeches. It was deeply moving for me and helped a little Mormon boy from California feel right at home.

Not that there aren't some very important differences. Mormon pioneers got along remarkably well with the natives in the region, particularly in historical context. Vortrekkers left their homes in part (point #3 in their manifesto) because they were angry their African slaves had been freed and they wanted the liberty to "maintain proper relations between master and servant" (point #5). One of the great moments in their history was the Battle of Blood River in Dec 1838. 470 Vortrekkers (led by Pretorius - gee, where did Pretoria get its name?) with muskets defeated 21,000 Zulu warriors armed with spears.

A Vortrekker mother (left) prepares to flee with her children. She is protected on the four corners by leaders like Pretorias and Piet Retief (right) from the dangers of the trails (the famished cattle around here, below).

We took the elevator up (small children), but there are plenty of stairs if you would prefer. The view from the top is impressive.

There are also a few more steps to climb up a dome and then you can look ALL the WAY DOWWW..., um, how about if I don't look down there, k? I'll just stick my camera over the edge - I'm getting dizzy remembering it - and take a shot of the entry hall and the basement below...

Let's go back down, shall we, Superstar? Thanks!

The sub-basement has a collection of memorabilia, including a covered wagon and this view of a night on the veld. Another post will show some of the arts we found. I got really excited about it.

The entry hall has a giant stone mural all around the walls depicting the Vortrekkers' trek. This is one of the videos I took of it. It depicts them leaving Cape Colony in 1835, a Zulu attack in 1836 and another in 1837, Retief is sworn in as their leader, and his negotiations with some Zulu leaders.