Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Christmas Morning

So much going on between Thanksgiving and Christmas, so little time to blog about it. But we won't be accused of leaving out the important stuff. Here are some pix of Christmas morning at the Willis household.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Living Room/Dining Room Transformation

Since moving into our home in the Fall of 2004, we have wanted to do something with our living room and dining room. Both rooms had great wood floors, but they needed refinishing. Also, the living room walls had a certain, um, "dated" texture that we felt had to go. Lastly, there was an arch between the rooms that, although unique, was not necessarily to our liking.

After much talking, Jen eventually took matters into her own hands and demolished the arch (while I was away on business -- I saw the initial pictures from a hotel room in Huntsville, Alabama). Jen then ripped out all of the drywall in the living room (the drywall in the dining room was not afflicted with the same texturing). Our friend, Jeff Shaw, then replaced the drywall and put in some of the moldings (particularly the crown moldings, with which, unlike other moldings, we had no previous installation experience). After Jeff's excellent work, we (almost all Jen) painted and then had the floors redone. We thought the result was overall quite an improvement.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Thanksgiving Traditions

I thought it would be fun to make a list of some of the things that we do during the Thanksgiving holiday. Some of them are traditions on purpose, others somehow became that way.

  • Thanksgiving feasts and programs at preschool and elementary schools. Link to Alex's kindergarten program:
  • Grant participates in a "Turkey Bowl" with his brothers (and usually re-injures his knee) Thanksgiving morning.
  • Jen makes a whole lot of something yummy for dinner.
  • Thanksgiving dinner at Grandma and Grandpa Willis's home.
  • Many, many pies.
  • Full bellies, warmth, and friendship.
  • Football games (now in HD).
  • Early morning "Black Friday" shopping trip for the ladies, ending with a "Happy Birthday" lunch for sis.-in-law Andra.
  • Turkey sandwiches for dinner Friday night.
  • Saturday morning "Turkey Burnoff" 5 miler for Jen and and sisters-in-law (Crystal, Andra and Jessica). For results see:
  • Having fun just being together.
  • Sad realization on Sunday night that it is all over and we must get back to the routine Monday morning.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Halloween 2007

Peter as "Woody" (stirrups not pictured).

Abbigail as a Renaissance Princess.

Alex as "Superman" . . . being charming . . .

. . . and doing disco.

Ben as a wounded giraffe (see entry below).

The entire crew, before the sugar rush.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Thank Heaven for Little Girls

Sunday night I made my 3rd trip to the ER in the last 10 months. One time for each boy. Alex poked his eye with a pencil early last December -- thankfully his eyelid took the brunt of the damage and he only had minor scratches on his cornea. Though the laceration should have been stitched, the ER doc and the plastics specialist decided that trying to stitch the eyelid of a 4 1/2 year old would likely cause more damage than he already had. We left the ER with only a butterfly bandage and a little bit of tape to hold the eyelid together and an appointment with an opthalmologist.

Pete made his first trip a few months later, barely past his 3rd birthday. We have a raised brick hearth on our fireplace, and as one might imagine we have told those boys countless times "Someone is going to crack their head open if you boys wrestle near the fireplace!" Those words proved to be true. I was preparing dinner and was unaware of the wresting match going on in the family room. I heard the scream and ran to see what the trouble was. The shirtless Pete had, sure enough, hit his head on the brick hearth and split it open. The split wasn't very big and he only needed 1 staple. They didn't even numb him for it because then he would have had two pokes instead of just one. He said only, "Ouch, that hurt."

Which brings us to Ben. Ben turned 18 months on the 12th of this month, an important milestone for any LDS child and his parents, as this is the age the child is allowed to enter the nursery for the last 2 hours of our (3 hour) Sunday meetings. As our fourth child and third boy, Ben has two speeds: run and sleep. On Sunday night, Ben, running of course, tripped and smacked his forehead into the same brick hearth. This one is going to leave a visible scar. (I keep hearing that scars are ok for boys!?) His injury is about an inch below his hairline right in the middle of his forehead. The ER doc thought she could glue it until she cleaned the wound up a little bit and saw that it was deeper and more jagged than she had first thought. They numbed him up with some numbing gel and then velcroed him flat on his back, arms at his sides, onto a board intended to keep him from moving while the doctor sewed up his head. He needed two stitches.

Then there is Abbigail. She is approaching 7 1/2 and has thus far managed to avoid the emergency room. I am grateful for her for many reasons, and her cautious nature is just one of them. Abby is a doting big sister, and a wonderful helper for Grant and me. She is funny and smart, beautiful both inside and out. Her bright eyes and lovely smile cause me everyday (especially days I am taking a brother to the emergency room) to "thank heaven for little girls."

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Soccer and Such

Some pix of Abby and Alex at their after-school soccer clinic a couple of weeks ago (you can't see any balls, but I assure you it was a soccer clinic), whilst Pete and Ben played on the schoolyard playground.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Mormon Night at the Washington Nationals

Mormons make it a point to get together. On the family level, we get together for regular "Family Home Evenings," family dinners, and the occasional family reunion (including three, four, and sometimes five generations). As a church, we get together at least once a week on the local level, and usually more frequently. On the global level, we reunite every six month (albeit via satellite feed for most of us). Of course, Mormons have been gathering throughout their history: from New York, to Ohio, to Missouri, to Illinois, and ultimately to Utah, the church has sought to bring together its adherents. Notably, however, there has never been absolute geographic unity in Mormondom; indeed, as soon as many 19th century LDS immigrants arrived in Utah, Brigham Young sent them on their way to found or join the various Mormon colonies that came to dot the West. Somewhere along the way, the church made it clear that its members needn't gather anymore; instead, church membership was encouraged to stay where it was -- to "bloom where it had been planted." Hence, Mormons in Ghana are not required to trek across the world to be with other Latter-day Saints. They can stay where they are, attend their local congregation (a "ward" or "branch"), and fellowship with other local members of the church. (In Ghana, they can even attend a temple within their nation's borders.)

I'm unsure about the popularity of baseball in Ghana, but it's fairly popular in the United States. Despite chirping from some quarters that "America's Pastime" is no longer America's "favorite" sport, there continues to be something unique about going to the ballpark for a summer baseball outing. And apparently I am not the only person -- nor the only Mormon -- who thinks so. Thus, last month, our family participated in what has become an annual "gathering" event -- "Mormon Night at the Washington Nationals." Technically, the event was sponsored by the local chapter of the BYU alumni association, but as there are very few degrees of separation between any Mormon in the area and BYU, a "BYU" event such as this becomes a de facto LDS event. As such, food was required, and it was abundantly supplied in the form of pizza, cookies, and assorted beverages, served on a grassy patch at the back of the one of the stadium's parking lots. After getting our fill, we headed to the game.

The Nationals were playing the Philadelphia Phillies. I am a Phillies fan, and I have been since I can remember (I grew up in South Jersey). My brothers (most of whom were at the game) are Phillies fans. My parents (who were at the game) are Phillies fans. I think even Jen is a Phillies fan (because she loves me) and that my kids are Phillies fans (except when they want to be Nationals fans). In fact, I dare say that 40% of those in attendance that evening were Phillies fans (although the great majority of "Mormon Night" participants appeared to be faithful to the home team). The large percentage of Philly folk was due, at least in part, to the fact that the Phillies were in the midst of a multi-team battle (which did not include the Nationals, except indirectly) to make the playoffs and were entering the final week of the season. (Note: The Phillies would end up miraculously winning the National League East Division on the final day of the season and making the playoffs for the first time since I was in high school, only to be swept by the Colorado Rockies in the National League Division Series. There's a lot of pain to being a Philadelphia sports fan. I wish it upon none of my children.) As a result, we were able to cheer on our team with some of the most, um, "passionate" fans in sports. I'm just glad for my kids' sakes that certain words are made somewhat more difficult to understand when chanted by thousands of inebriated Philadelphians.

As it turns out, we didn't actually see a whole lot of the game. You see, it takes a certain amount of patience and an intensity of interest to sit through an entire baseball game without it turning into background noise to the conversation you're having with the person in the next seat. Four small kids and seats far enough away to make the action appear as if it were occurring in miniature didn't help matters. So, happy that we made the trip but with very tired children, we left somewhere in the mid-late innings. The Phillies won the game, I vowed -- as I do every year -- to take the kids to more games next season, and we all slept well, dreaming of the those famous "Philadelphia Filthies" of 1993. Mormon Night at the Washington Nationals was a success.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

To School We Go!

Fall has fallen (even though our autumn has averaged about 83 degrees) and a new school year has begun. We now are officially the proud parents of two elementary-schoolers, one preschooler, and one pre-preschooler. Abby, our Stonegate Elementary School (home of the Sharks) veteran began second grade in late August, with her teacher, Ms. Dantzler. Alex, our rookie Shark, began kindergarten on the same day, with Ms. Ha. Peter -- after a year of pleading with his mother to let him go to school (so, among other perceived perks, he could take a "school lunch") -- began his formal education a couple of weeks after Abby and Alex, at Ashton Christian Preschool. His teachers are Ms. Missy and Ms. Vicky (why teachers go from Ms. [first name] in preschool to Ms. [last name] in kindergarten, I don't know).

Abby is becoming reacquainted with friends from previous years and making new ones as well (with all of the drama that attends the navigation of a young girl's social landscape). Alex also is apparently meeting new kids and building relationships, although his conversations about school typically focus on his soccer playing exploits at recess. For his part, Peter already had one preschool friend (in his cousin Sam) but he has taken a noticeable shine to another little classmate as well. Her name is Cheyenne, and she is, according to Peter, "very, very beautiful." (Whenever I think that he's too young to hold such an opinion, I distinctly remember a girl in my preschool class to which I paid particular attention.) Needless to say, we're already looking into local all-boy school options.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Family Picture

A recent picture of our family, taken while at Oglebay in August.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Summer '07 in Review

Regrettably, I don't get summers off. (Of course, neither does Jen, although she would add that she doesn't get "vacations" off either.) But the kids do. So, soon after the close of Abby's first-grade year, we embarked for Utah. With four small children, "getting there" is always an adventure in its own right. Our voyage to Salt Lake was made all the more interesting by a plane delayed approximately 7 hours, our arriving in Salt Lake just before 1 am MDT (3 am EDT), and an obnoxious Dollar Rental Car employee refusing to get our car because she (erroneously) asserted that I hadn't reached the counter on time (after I had literally sprinted through the airport to ensure I had). The upside was that Abby and Alex got to sit (sleep) in first class with me, so they're now ruined for life. Jen got to sit in coach with a sleeping Peter and a vomitous Ben. (See above re Jen's "vacations.")

Happily, things improved. The reason for, and highlight of, our Utah trip was spending time with Jen's folks and siblings in Bountiful, all of whom were there for at least some of the time that we were. With various members of Jen's family, we took several small daytrips to such places as This is the Place Heritage Park and Liberty Park in Salt Lake. (Jen and Abby also took a trip to the local salon, where they both got their hair chopped.) We also visited Yellowstone, where Jen and I had not been in years, and which the kids had never seen. We toured the park for about two days, taking in all of the wildlife, geology, and scenery that only Yellowstone can offer. We left the park through the south entrance, passing through Grand Teton National Park, Jackson, Star Valley, and (drumroll please) Evanston, on our way back to Utah. It's during such drives, through apparently endless expanses of space, that I remember coming to Utah as a New Jersey kid and thinking that no one back home would believe that there ever could be so much land -- much of it stunningly beautiful, much of it depressingly barren -- with so few people.

Summer Trip No. 2 was to Oglebay Park Resort in Wheeling, West Virginia, where, for the third time since 2002, we participated in the Bertram & Christine Willis family reunion. As with our trip to Utah, it was a wonderful opportunity to spend time with family, which, at this reunion, included some 14 kids 10 and under. This statistic made sleeping arrangements (everybody was in a single cabin -- the largest Oglebay offers) and the traditional family picture interesting affairs, although both worked out as well if not better than in past years. There were plenty of attractions to keep the crew occupied, including golf (real, par-3, and miniature varieties), swimming, paddleboating, horse-back riding, hiking, a zoo (with a train), and a nature center. I can truthfully report that we went to bed tired every night, and that we look forward to going back.

We marked the end of the summer by camping -- in our backyard -- on the Friday before Labor Day and then hiking to the top of Sugarloaf Mountain the next day. The kids did great on Sugarloaf as we opted to travel what appeared on the map to the be the shortest route to the top (which it was). As it turns out, it was also the steepest route to the top (which makes sense). Abby, Alex and Pete scrambled up, through, over, and around the rocky terrain (of course, they also went out of their way to find rocky terrain) on their way to summitting what is surely one of the tallest peaks, if not the tallest peak, in all of Montgomery County, Maryland. Ben did great too, although we didn't let him scramble quite as much as he would have liked. The hike was part of our master plan to prepare the kids for the many family backpacking trips planned for the not-too-distant future.