Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Trick or Treat

Halloween is finally here! The kids have been super excited to celebrate it with their friends.

Once we arrived home from school, shortly after 4pm, the kids hurried and finished up their homework before heading over to the Davis' for our traditional chili dinner at 5pm.

We ate and began trick-or-treating just before 6pm. We encountered several people as we went out. I left a bowl of candy and gel pens by the front door for those who came by while I was gone.

Emilia is Evie a character from the Disney show Descendants. Evie is the daughter of the Evil Queen from Snow White. Evie is a  nice character, opposite to her mother.

Andrew was supposed to be Thomas the train but he absolutely refused to put on the costume. He has been wearing it throughout the house for the past few weeks, I am not sure why he chose not to wear it, but I wasn't going to force the issue.

Carson is a Pokemon Catcher. I am not sure what that means, but other people must know because they recognized his costume when they saw him. Stella went the more traditional route and dressed up as Princess Belle from Beauty and the Beast.

The kids were out until 7pm when they stopped knocking on doors and headed home to go over to visit Grandma Humphries and show her their costumes. Our last stop was our next door neighbor's house.

This year their front yard was set up as a murder drive-in theater with several old jeeps parked facing a movie screen where a Halloween movie played. There were a haunted ticket booth and other spooky buildings. Andrew was terrified of the entire thing and did not even want me to pick him up. He was frozen in fear. I finally managed to grab him and take him away, but not before a hidden figure who was pretending to be a mannequin grabbed Ben Tate's leg right in front of us causing Andrew to freak out even more.

The kids were exhausted when we arrived back home at 9pm but so happy to have a bag full of candy each to eat over the next few days.

Kwahara Pumpkin Patch

With Todd in Shanghai for the next week, I've relied on friends to keep with some of our fall and Halloween traditions.

This year we visited Kwahara Pumpkin patch to pick our pumpkins. They offered access to their bounce houses, corn maze and other entertainment for every pumpkin purchased.

We had Claire Eason visiting on Thursday night and Friday since the kids were out of school for parent-teacher conference. Her visit distracted the kids from the fact that Todd was leaving for China.

We first roamed the pumpkin patch to select our pumpkins. A lot of what was left were huge pumpkins that I wouldn't have even been able to lift. They are not as pretty as what you get at the grocery store but we found four that met our approval.

Afterward, the kids spent some time jumping on the inflatables before venturing into the corn maze. Stella even got to meet Cinderella! She is going to dress up as Belle for Halloween, so it Cinderella was giving her pointers on how to stand and hold her hands for a most actual pose.

The corn maze was fun, although there were some creepy parts like Mary Poppins who's head spun around to be replaced by the zombie version of the much loved nanny! The kids didn't even know she did that. They were standing next to a harmless and darling lady holding her umbrella while I snapped a picture when all of a sudden her head spun. Some of them didn't even realize it until after I had snapped the photo!

FHE Lesson - Three sisters: Sad, Mad and Glad

As I have begun re-reading the general conference messages from earlier in the month, I was struck by the message President Uchtdorf shared in the Women's session of Conference.

He tells the story of three sisters: Sad, Mad and Glad. Though they each live different lives, they all face similar trials of rejection, ridicule, and hardship. The fist is often disappointed by circumstances around her, the second is angry at the world. The third finds joy and happiness in singing her song of eternal joy.

I recognize others, but more importantly myself in all three sisters. How do we become more like the third sister?

Just like the Book of Mormon account of the tree of life. We avoid the mist of darkness and the voices from the tall and spacious building that cause us to doubt our testimony, seek the 'easy' way out, or illicit pride in three ways:

1. Stay on the Path: ignore those who, through shame or flattery, try to pull us away.
2. Never forget you are a child of God: You have the spiritual DNA of God and have inherited the strength and gifts to overcome trials. You are in God's very good, loving and caring hands.
3. Find refuge in the Church: the organizations are waypoints along the path, a safe home where you can feel acceptance and encouragement.

For FHE I shared the story and reenacted the Tree of Life in the backyard. First by having the kids walk toward the tree blindfolded but without a rod to hold on to. It was interesting that even with the helpful suggestions of cousins trying to lead them towards the tree, the kids were still pretty lost and veered way off the path.

Which reminds me of the question Pres. Uchtdorf posed: why should you surrender your happiness to someone, or a group of someones, who cares very little about you or your happiness? Or, in this case, someone who may care about you but does not have the restored truth of the gospel to help lead you in the right direction?

Afterward, each child got a chance to do it again but holding onto the rod. It was still slow moving as they couldn't see and had to rely completely on the rod but they all made it to the beautifully lit tree.

For our treat, we all ate of the delicious fruit of the tree: caramel apples Stella, Andrew and I had made earlier that day.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Oquirrh Mountain Temple Sealing

What an amazing week it has been! After loving every minute of our trip to Paris we had the incredible blessing of being able to be sealed to Andrew in the South Jordan Oquirrh Mountain LDS Temple on Saturday, October 21, 2017.

Since the day we contacted our attorney to pursue Andrew's adoption, I have visualized our family dressed in white standing outside the doors of the temple. I was picturing spring blossoms instead of fall foliage, but the extra wait did not diminish the beauty of the experience.

During our visit to the Paris temple, we were able to show the kids how a sealing room looks and explain to them that they would be able to sit in the room and witness mom and dad make a covenant with Heavenly Father that would link Andrew to our family eternally just like they are linked to us and each other.

During my time in the temple, I was treated much like brides are treated. I had an escort, and I was able to get ready in the bridal room. Todd and I also had the opportunity to speak with President and Sister Asay, President and Matron of the temple. They spent a few minutes congratulating us on this joyous day.

Vicky accompanied us and the children to the youth center/nursery inside the temple where the kids played and changed out of their street clothes into white temple clothes, provided by the temple, for the ceremony.

We left the kids with Vicky so we could meet with the temple recorder to provide proof of adoption and verify our contact information.

Lastly, we changed into our temple clothes and traveled to the third floor to sealing room 4 to perform the sacred ordinance.

We entered the room where family and friend were already seated. Shortly thereafter the kids entered the room as well. It was so touching to see them all dressed in white. It reminded me of how innocent they are and I imagine that is how Heavenly Father sees them: pure, sweet, joyful.

Prior to the sealing, Brother Ronald N. Henline, the temple sealer who would perform the ordinance counseled those in attendance about the special blessing children sealed to their parents receive:

"The sacred temple sealing ordinance promises children, born in the covenant or sealed to their parents, special blessings in this life and throughout the eternities. President Joseph Fielding Smith said those children "have claims upon the blessings of the gospel beyond what those not so born are entitled to receive. They may receive a greater guidance, a greater protection, a greater inspiration from the Spirit of the Lord; and then there is no power that can take them away from their parents" ("Why Adoption?" Ensign, January 2008).

An ordinance is a sacred, formal act performed by the authority of the priesthood. Our witnesses were Vernon Humphries and Brandon Humphries (Todd's dad and brother). The ordinance itself is no longer than a minute long, but its effects are eternal.

Andrew did all right. He wasn't so keen on standing still for any amount of time. I noticed Bro. Henline picked up speed as he performed the ordinance to account for Andrew's eagerness to do something else.

After it was completed, Bro. Henline reminded us that the temple is a sacred place, not a reception hall and we should save our conversation and celebratory cheers for outside its doors. He concluded, however, by saying that
there is no sweeter sound than the sound of 
a child inside of the temple

I couldn't have agreed more with him.

We were able to hug the guests who attended and then met them outside for photos. Our friend, Jordan Whitney offered to take our pictures. He did an amazing job - as usual!

In attendance were:
Vernon & Vicky Humphries, Kevin & Kieran Humphries, Brandon & Andrea Humphries, Shiree and Breanne Humphries, Jordan & Claudia Whitney, Shalene and Aaron Pacini, Ashley Funk, Nicole and Jimmy Eason (who left before the group picture was taken).

Friday, October 20, 2017

Paris Trip Day 7

Today was the best day of our trip, if you ask the kids. Yesterday we decided to look into the cost of tickets to Disneyland Paris and discover them to be half the price of the tickets in the US so we adjusted our schedule and did all of our souvenir shopping yesterday in order to have a full free day to enjoy the park.

There were no issues getting the kids up this morning. We were out the door on time and arrived at the park by RER train line A without getting on the wrong train (something we’ve done before).
The park is a 40 minutes train ride from Paris and the station is right in front of the gate to Disneyland Paris. We were at the door right as they opened to the public at 10 am.

We walked all the way back to the park and spent the morning in Fantasyland where the most original rides reside (Mad Hatter teacup, Pinocchio, Peter Pan, Snow White, and It’s a Small World). Out of those the kids really enjoyed Peter Pan and It’s a Small World.

The rides are duplicates of what you would find in the US except all of the dialog is in French, making it hard to understand what’s happening.

After Fantasyland we headed to Discoveryland for some lunch and to ride Buzz Lightyear laser blast, and to drive in Autopia. The kids loved driving! Emilia was a bit apprehensive about being in the car by herself. I was riding with Stella in the car right in front of her. At first I let go of the gas pedal so I could check on Emilia, who was far behind me. Stella, who was steering, did not like how slow we were going so she shifted her body so her little leg could reach the pedal and pushed it all the way down. She was so far down she could barely see through the glass, but she was elated to be driving. She told me she was ready to drive the family car when we got home. We’ll see about that!

Carson was riding with Todd on a different track. We crossed paths a couple of times during the ride. He gave up the pedal to Todd because he couldn’t quite reach the pedal and see where he was going. I am pretty certain that was all of the kids’ most favorite ride ‘til that point.
We decided to get a fast pass ticket to Star Tours and headed over to Adventureland to ride the Pirates of the Caribbean. There were two drops on this water ride. They were nothing big, but the first rollercoaster-type drop the kids had experience that day. Carson rubbed his stomach after the first drop, leaned over and told me he didn’t really like the ride. I think more out of surprise that anything else, but by the end of the ride they were ready to go back and do it all over again.
After Pirates we visited Robinson Crusoe’s treehouse and Aladin. We skipped the major ride “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Peri” because Carson and Stella did not meet the minimum height requirement.
We walked over to Frontierland for Phantom Manor. The kids were pretty spooked by it and glad when it was over. I don’t believe it was any scarier than our neighbor’s display, but it was unfamiliar to them, and therefore spooky.
After that, it was time for us to catch the Star Tour ride with our fast pass tickets. We just walked to the front of the 25 minute wait time line and were let right in. This is probably the ride where we wished we understood French the most. There was a lot of dialogue in the storyline that we missed. The ride was fun nonetheless. We were buckled in our individual seats and given 3d glasses to wear. We were in a cabin that held five long rows of seats all facing a large screen up front. The floor of the cabin would shift and tilt to give the illusion of flying through space while avoiding obstacles in our path. It was quite fun, but Carson thought it too short.
Each ride has an average wait time of 30 minutes, except for a very few that were popular and lasted up to an hour. We decided to wrap up our day by riding Big Thunder Mountain, which Stella was tall enough to do. While in line I had to leave to take Stella to the bathroom. When I returned with her Todd was quite a ways ahead in line. Instead of cutting in front of the cue for all those people, I was able to hoist Stella up to reach him and the other two kids and I opted to not go.
They loved the ride and thought it was the best one out of the whole park. They called it the fastest most terrifying ride they had done. Stella’s hands were frozen gripping onto the lap bar and Emilia closed her eyes during the drops.

After the ride we decided to call it a night and leave the park at 7:30pm after 9 ½ hours of fun. We got some crepes at the train station and rode the train back into town.
To celebrate our last night, we decided to walk a few blocks from our apartment to the Jewish quarters for some falafel. It was delicious! The service was excellent, the food plenty and the price reasonable. After a week, I was tired of the same French food at every café we ate. This was just what I needed.
And with that, the Paris leg of our trip end. Au revoir Paris! ‘Til next time.

Paris Trip Day 6

Today was the last day of our Paris museum pass so we wrapped up our visits by going to the last few spots we wanted to see.
We began our day by checking out one of the largest outdoor markets in Paris: the Bastille market. It is a short walk from our apartment and it is the length of a city block with three lanes of vendors selling their products. There we saw a lot of sea food and fresh produce. We also saw butchers, flower shops, cheese vendors, bakeries, some apparel, souvenirs and even a chair restoration booth.
Stella didn’t care for the smell of the seafood places and held her nose as we walked by each of them. The place was really crowded and we had to hold hands to keep together. It was good for the kids to see how Parisians regularly shop for their groceries. There isn’t really a grocery store near where we are staying. There are a couple of small markets that sell packaged foods, and several small produce vendors and bakeries along the road. The locals must stop at each of the shops to purchase the various ingredients for their meals.

After leaving the market we stopped at Victor Hugo’s home on Place the Vosges. He was 30 years old when he moved to the house with his wife and children after completing the novel The Hunchback of Notre Dame. It was during his 16 years stay at the residence that he completed Le Miserables. Victor Hugo was politically active during his life and objected to the rule by Napoleon Bonaparte III.  In 1855 his family and residence became under attack and they had to flee first to Brussells and later to the Channel Islands between England and France where they lived in exile until 1870.  He passed away in 1885.

Our last museum visit was the Arc du Triumph. We climbed 284 steps to the top of the arc from where we could see the entire downtown spreading around out from 12 roads that converge at the arc like the spokes of a wheel. At the bottom of the monument, there is an eternal flame dedicated to the unknown soldier. It was lit for the first time at the end of WW1 and has remained lit ever since.
We walked a long way along the Champs-Elysees. There were many posh stores and even a few Ferraris and Lamborghinis for rent.
I gave in and allowed the kids to have an ice-cream at McDonalds (apparently the most profitable McDonald in the world). We had to pass a security bag check and order from self-serve touch screen machines to get our food.
From there we walked a couple of miles to the Carousel Mall attached to the Louvre to purchase some of the best chocolates in Paris.

To reach it we traveled across the Tuileries Garden where the locals gather to enjoy a sunny day and walked next to the Place de la Concorde where a 3,300 year old obelisk of Luxor engraved in hieroglyphics stands marking the spot where Luis the XVI and 1,200 other were beheaded during the reign of terror (a.k.a. the revolution).

We wrapped up our day with souvenir shopping and some yummy treats prior to trekking back to our apartment a long a now well familiar path.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Paris Trip Day 5

Today we set up the alarm to make sure we would be up in the morning. We left the house at 9:30 am to walk to Notre Dame where we had 10 am tickets to climb the bell tower.

It was quite the hike up nearly 400 steps along a narrow spiral stone staircase. Half way up we stopped at the base of the bell tower to admire the beautiful views of the city below, to see the gargoyles up close and go inside the south bell tower where two very large and heavy bells hang. The construction on the inside was made of large wood beams.

After exiting the bell towers we continued up another 100 stairs to the very top of the church where we had an aerial view of the church and the sprawling city below.
The descent was challenging for me. I can see why people with vertigo are discourage from entering. We just span around and around in circles 200 feet for what seemed like 5 minutes non stop. Our hands were all orange from hanging on to the rusty railing on our way down.
I am glad we waited until after the spinning ascent to have breakfast. We sat down at a café next to Notre Dame and enjoyed crepes and gaufres (waffles) for a few minutes.

Beneath the square in the front of Notre Dame is an archeological dig site and museum that explains the history of the Isle de Cite from Roman to medival times. The kids enjoyed seeing the ancient coins on display and the 3D interactive multimedia display of Notre Dame phases of construction.
From there we visited Saint Chapelle a church originally built by the king to store sacred religious relicts and famous for its stain glass windows. The painted walls and windows were really a sight to behold.
We left the Isle de Cite and walked quite a ways to the Orsay Museum which is dedicated to French Impressionist art. On the way, we stopped at Point Neuff where the railing were covered with thousands of locks glimmering in the sun light.
Once inside the museum, the kids got an information guide and a map which had pictures of 20 famous pieces of art found in the museum. The kids had fun walking the halls trying to spot each one.
We also followed a guided tour of the museum educating us about the various types of impressionist art and notable pieces. We saw several Manet, Monet, VanGogh, and many other famous artists’ works.
The kids were so hooked on finding all of the art on their map that we ended up retracing over half of the museum to find the remaining four or five pieces.

We rewarded ourselves with macaroons on the way to the Museum of Arms to visit Napoleon’s tomb and mausoleum. It was quite the large stone crypt for such a small man in stature. We didn’t spend much time there, besides snapping a few photos of the memorial.

We decided to take the metro back to Marais (the neighborhood where we were staying) and had dinner outside the Poimpodou center before walking the final stretch home. On our way to dinner, and throughout our walks around town we have been able to enjoy the talent of many street performers who entertain the public with musical instruments, dance, puppets and their other work.