Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Christmas 2008

Christmas 2008 has come and gone. The tree was in the living room this year (and so too, therefore, were the presents), there was a new child in the mix, and the other kids got a bit bigger, but other than that it was much the same as Christmases past: little sleep, uber-excitement, moderate chaos, lots of family time, and an all-round great day.

Oh yeah, and a Wii. (No doubt more on that later.)

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Abby Joins the Emergency Room Club; Pete One-Ups Her

December saw the Willis family mark some medical treatment milestones.

After a pair of scissors that Abby had used at a church activity somehow found their way into her knee, she got to experience her first trip to the emergency room and her first set of stitches. This is especially significant because Abby, to that point, had been the only Willis child (exempting Jacob) entirely unfamiliar with ER life. We even wrote about it in a previous entry. Luckily, Jen was with her when the event transpired, no doubt mitigating the trauma (at least a little) and she is now no worse for the wear (well, except for the scar).

Not to be outdone, Pete this month became the first Willis child to stay overnight at the ER. He came down with a case of croup on a Friday night, rested most of the day on Saturday, but experienced difficulty breathing after waking up from a late afternoon nap. Although his breathing quickly improved once he received a nebulizer steroid treatment at the hospital, the doctors wanted to keep him overnight for monitoring. This was no inconvenience for Pete. Jen and I switched shifts (she had taken him to the ER -- I don't deal with that kind of thing very well) and Pete and I spent the night in a nice big room within the pediatric ER wing (a nice facility) watching movies and cartoons late into the evening and being waited upon by a conscientious medical staff. After he checked out fine in the morning, he still didn't want to leave. Why would he?

To all of you doctors and nurses out there, Thanks.

Abby's Knee -- post-scissor attack

Pete in his "alien mask" that the nurses let him bring home.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

The Name and the Blessing

Last Sunday, Baby Jake was blessed. As with all such events, it was very special. We even took a few pictures after-the-fact.

(The blessing also marked the first Melchizedek Priesthood ordinance participated in by my youngest brother Peter, who received that priesthood just two days before, from our father. This will be significant for anybody who knows Peter.)

Uncle Peter and Baby Jake

Monday, December 1, 2008

If a Tree Falls in the Woods...

Yes, it makes a sound. That sound was heard by our neighbor a couple of weekends ago as one of our trees succumbed to mother nature's not-so-gentle breezes and fell, in part, in our neighbor's yard and on one of his trees. I thought the resulting pictures were kind of neat (although I should have taken some before we started cutting).

My neighbor, surveying the aftermath

Monday, November 24, 2008

Unleashing the Dormant Spirit

I'm not big on motivational speakers, books, posters, or the like. I don't have any framed art in my office featuring sweeping scenes of misty mountain tops and titles such as "Vision" or "Fortitude." I haven't read "The Purpose Driven Life" (although I'm pretty sure I've read "Seven Habits" -- at least the first seven). I had difficulty in my college days sitting through sales meetings in which managers offered impassioned pleas about the apparently trascendent importance of selling more security systems, more cell phones, more extended warranties.

I don't mean to suggest there is anything wrong with these things. But for whatever reason (pride, probably) I've tended to be somewhat dismissive of their ability to really change my life.

So, why the disclaimer? Because a few months ago I came across a YouTube clip from a talk presented by LDS General Authority Elder F. Enzio Busche to students at BYU in 1996 -- and notwithstanding its blatant motivational-tool format, I was deeply moved. The talk itself, entitled "Unleashing the Dormant Spirit," is even better. One gem, from the many:

"In my understanding, maybe the most important principle that came to light in the message of the Restoration is the revelation that man is not a slave, not a victim of circumstances--that he is an agent for himself. When we have learned to understand this principle, we also may become aware of the somewhat frightening understanding of the consequences of this responsibility in our lives. We are no longer able to hide in ignorance or to blame circumstances or other factors that may have influenced us. Through Christ's spirit we are liberated. Understanding this principle is a very important element for our own conversion. Seeing ourselves in our full responsibility means also seeing ourselves in our weaknesses, in our lost opportunities, and in our failures--which makes us humble and meek. We see the necessity to enter into a covenant with the author of life, to activate the atoning blood of Christ to wash us clean, and to embrace, gratefully, the gracious gift of the Holy Ghost for our essential empowerment. Many times in our life it happens that these gifts of the Spirit rest dormant in us."

Plus, what a great title. Take a minute (or six) to watch.

(Note: You will have to pause the streaming blog music at the bottom of the page -- unless of course you want Elder Busche's words to be mixed with the selection of the day.)

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Bilirubin Blues

So, Jacob has thus far presented as a generally healthy baby -- albeit a bit yellow.

Due to bilirubin levels [considerably] higher than our pediatrician wanted to see, Baby Jake spent the better part of 5 days after he came home from the hospital wrapped in a "bili-blanket"and endured having his poor heels pricked for blood tests so many times that even the people in the lab were starting to feel bad for the little guy. Although the blanket was a bit of an inconvenience, we are grateful we were able to treat him at home (the doctor was very close to admitting him) and are even more grateful that his count appears to have dropped into safe territory. The experience also afforded us the opportunity, for several days, to sleep with a big blue glow-worm curled-up in our arms. How many people can say that?

And just so you know that he is looking and doing great...

Foggy Fall Dawn (From the Backyard)

Friday, November 7, 2008

Halloween Haiku 2008

Halloween again.

Customes, candy, kid-parades.

Photographs below.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

The End of Soccer ... for Now

When I was in Brazil, I tried to convince people that a huge percentage of American kids grow up playing soccer. Most of my Brazilian friends met the claim with laughter. (American soccer, at the time, was considered something of a joke -- kind of like non-American basketball.) But it was true then, and it appears to be true now. When I was a kid, soccer was an integral part of Fall (perhaps the difference is that for Brazilians soccer is an integral part of every day of every week of every season). For my kids, it has been the same. But the season has now come to a close, and I can confidently say that they didn't lose a single game. Some parting pictures below.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

The Philadelphian Redemption

I have previously written in this space that "[t]here's a lot of pain to being a Philadelphia sports fan. I wish it upon none of my children." Two weeks ago, even as the Phillies completed their manhandling of Manny Ramirez and the rest of the Dodgers en route to Philly's first World Series berth since I was a senior in High School, I still endorsed that sentiment. Shoot, I felt the same way a week ago, when the Phillies were just a few innings from their first World Series Championship since 1980. Why such pessimism? Because Philadelphia sports fans know disappointment. We know it well. It's the air we breathe.

But all of that changed last Wednesday night, at the conclusion of the final three innings of a game that began two days before, until rain, wind, and near-freezing temperatures forced a 46-hour suspension -- a World Series first. The Phillies were up 3-1. They had their best starter on the mound. They were in a position to clinch the title at home. And what? Mother Nature strikes. I mean, how can one city compete against that kind of karma! Phillies fans felt doomed.

Then, something miraculous happened. On Wednesday night, the fans came back -- and so did the team. We started with a double, we scored a run ("Now all we have to do is keep them from scoring and we win!" I said, probably out loud.) Then the Rays scored a run in the top of the Seventh (the second inning of the night). I fell into a mini-depression. But the Phillies kept coming. Another run scored! Now, if we could just hold them... Next thing I knew, Brad Lidge -- the Phillies closer who hadn't blown a save all year -- was on the mound. It was the top of the Ninth already?! One batter up, one batter down. One out. Then, a single and a stolen base. Man in scoring position with only one out. Stink, stink, stink, stink, stink, stink... Then, a line drive to right field that was ... caught for the second out -- no time for the runner on second base to tag to third. One out away, one out away, one out away... (At this point, I was pacing the floor like a mental patient, half-afraid to watch.) Strike one! Two more strikes, two more strikes, two more strikes... Strike two! Could this be really happening??? Swing and a miss! Strike three! Game over! Lidge collapses to his knees and is rushed by the team! The Phillies defeat the Rays 4 games to 1 and win their first World Series in 28 years! Exclamation points abound!!!!!!!

My mother-in-law, who was holding my newborn son, watched the whole thing transpire, including when I ran outside and screamed at the top of my lungs. She can testify that I'm making none of this up. "People that aren't from Philadelphia don't understand," I explained. She figured that must be the case.

Now, my kids will be Philadelphia sports fans ... if they want.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Jacob Bertram Willis

And then, there were five.

Baby Jake joined our family at 1:30 am, October 25, weighing in at 8 lbs. 14 oz. and measuring some 22.5 inches. Jen did great and appears to be recovering as well and rapidly as usual. The other kids, for their part, have been showering love on their newest sibling and future partner in crime. Grant has had perhaps the easiest job of all, and feels much gratitude for such supportive parents/grandparents, other family members, and friends. (Although he did manage to compose this post using one hand -- the other occupied by a sweet, sleeping, baby boy.)

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Conference Weekend

Here is a smattering of pictures from last week's General Conference weekend (which, except for Priesthood Session on Saturday night, we watched from the comfort of our family room).

These first few were taken between sessions.

This last one was taken during conference.

(It was, however, a wonderful conference.)

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Picking for Ourselves

There was a great article last year in Slate about how, in purely economic terms, apple picking is a "wasteful scam." History has shown that we don't really care.

Seven years ago -- in our second year in the area -- we first went apple picking as a family, along with our good friends the Wilhelms. We drove to a beautiful patch in the Virginia countryside called Hartland Orchard. At Hartland, apples are sold by the bushel (and they are very liberal about what constitutes a bushel). The orchard has apparently been around for a while, and the trees are large and mature enough to climb up and in. In fact, much of the fun was seeing just how high we could scale in order to reach the really, really big apples. We continued the annual rite with the Wilhelms for as long as they were in the area (before moving to the other Washington). We also went once or twice alone and/or with my brother Tim's family.

In most ways, Hartland is the perfect apple-picking venue. The only problem is that it takes a while to get there. As our family has grown, and the kids' activities have increased, we no longer have the "luxury" of spending the better part of Saturday traveling to and from hill-country Virginia to pick apples. So now, we pick a bit closer to home. The last two seasons that we've picked (we didn't get around to it last year, a fact the children reminded us of often) we have gone to Larriland Farm in Woodbine, Maryland. It's a bit more expensive than Hartland and not quite as "out of the way," but it's a neat place nonetheless. We continued the economically irrational tradition today, after soccer games and in between rain drops, leaving with about 30 pounds of red delicious, golden delicious, gala, and empire varieties. Give me two weeks, and I'll have had my fill until next season.

Some pictures of picking throughout the years:

2002 (Abby was younger then than Ben is now). We don't have any pix from 2001.

2005, with Tim, Crystal and Co. (no pix in 2004, although I know we went). Jen has occasionally made caramel dip for consumption on site.

2006 (first time at Larriland Farm)

2008 (a little earlier in the season than normal, and a little warmer/wetter)

(Pete trying not to think about getting stung by any of the inhabitants of the bee boxes to his rear)

(on-site experimentation is an essential aspect of the apple-picking experience)