Sunday, May 1, 2016

Amazing Grace

Weather has been crazy here.  Taken during a hail storm this week from inside the car.  Esther is joyous regardless.
According to my unofficial (and possibly unwitting!) blog advisor, the talented Brittany Watson Jepsen of The House that Lars Built, I'm not suppose to write more than one faith-related post a month.

I might just have to lay aside that advice for just this post, as my last post was also on faith. My mind and heart (and therefore creative energies that would otherwise allow me to write something else in my once-a-week-alottment) have been spinning on a concept shared in my faiths' General Conference: that small acts of grace spark tender feelings of charity.  It was a passing comment in this talk, but it is fathoms deep.

Grace to me means receiving something I don't deserve - something more than I have earned.  In an eternal calculus, I can never truly earn blessings or salvation because I am frail and fail daily, hourly, and even minute-ly.  (As a missionary, I taught that one needs to repent every time they fall short of the example Christ set...that bar is pretty high, so it necessitates ever-constant repentance, doubly meaning that I never deserve anything, really.)  Thus, though blessings are predicated on obedience, each and every blessing inheres grace because I have *not* earned it.  Obedience is part of the equation, but it certainly doesn't entitle me to the blessing.  It is necessary, but not sufficient.  Thus grace.

To undergird the point, I believe the equation for blessings is roughly equivalent to the equation for salvation: "it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do." We've got to do all within our power, but that power will never get us close to the finish line.  It is grace that saves, every time.  And, similarly, it is grace that blesses, every time.

But grace saves even when we haven't done all in our power.  When I sin, I can be forgiven through the Lord's grace.  The Lord grants me grace, another word for mercy here, in such an instance.  I am made clean and whole and restored the companionship of the Holy Ghost not because I deserve it, but because He does.

As I thought about the General Conference quote on grace above within this doctrinal context, it resonated - when I am forgiven or receive a blessing I don't deserve (by definition), love for God and his Son is sparked within my soul.  It comes sua sponte, of its own accord.  I have not created it, but it is a natural offspring of the grace that he proffers me.

But the General Conference speaker (Elder Uchtdorf, to be precise) was talking about our interpersonal and family relationships.  Offering grace to each other - or granting favors and acceptance and mercy beyond that which we deserve - also sparks charity for one another.  Seeds of love are born when we encounter a human who treats us not with justice, but with mercy.  They are kind when we are not, offers that other cheek, and blesses us when they ought to curse us.  In this way, I think what Elder Uchtdorf was saying in that 10 second sound bite, is that love begets love.  More, he promises that charity (or grace) will not fail us, ever.

How wonderful.  Perhaps this is the delightful doctrine behind being merciful to receive mercy, but applied laterally rather than vertically - our grace-filled actions towards our loved ones (or not-so-loved-ones in that moment!) means that God can spark the heart and fill it with love.

So many in my life have overlooked my selfish disposition and treated me with grace I didn't deserve, sparking love for them and others in my heart.  Perhaps I can now start practicing such grace.  So much to learn!

Small Wonders

* At night, Esther has learned how to say "I love you": she'll say "I" and I'll saw "love", than she responds with "ewe."  Gets me every time.
* Esther has become verbal all of a sudden.  She verbalizes one-word (sometimes two!) thoughts and requests often.  Unfortunately, some of it is "MINE!," "No no no" and "uh-oh."  Other times, it's clear "thank yous," "night-night," and the like.
*I've finally gotten Esther to fold her arms for .1 seconds maybe two or three times.  Prayer - sitting still, saying anything - is another matter.  She'll usually say "amen" before I can get anything in, and squirm to get down.  Tonight, however, she even came up with something she was thankful for on her own - gratifyingly, it was "mamma." Let's not start talking about reverence in church...
* G has gotten into the adorable habit of cocking his head to one side and asking, "Should we [suggestion of whatever he wants to do - read a book, go outside, play with toys, watch a show]"?  Hard to refuse.  This morning it was "So...Daddy, should we go on a walk or something?"
* G can now recognize the Spirit on his own.  I'm thrilled.  If I am prompted to ask him if he feels anything while we are talking about the scriptures, in church or while watching General Conference, he'll respond "I feel the Spirit." I'll sometimes press him to make sure he is not just saying that, and he certainly does.  I'm so thrilled he's gotten to this crucial milestone.  Now it's on to helping him think through an appropriate prayer to verbalize on his own.  We are starting with identifying, before we start the prayer, 3 things he is grateful for from the day and 2 things he would like (coached to help him recognize the things Heavenly Father can certainly grant/say "yes" to).  Hope this prayer project works.  Now that he can recognize the Spirit, he needs the tools to build his faith on his own.
* G has started shrugging his shoulders, mostly at appropriate times.  Usually when he doesn't know something, but often for emphasis.  Kills me.

Esther loves to get up in this chair by herself and "read"

Bedtime shenanigans.  She put this on her head and walked around, sometimes into walls, as she couldn't see anything but her feet. Ignore the bedtime mess!

Esther and I took a quick trip out to Utah last weekend.  She became BFF with the stewardesses in no time.

The purpose of the Utah trip was to surprise my dad IN the temple for his 70th.  First time all of us were there together.  Pretty special.  

We ate lots of meat and then had ice-cream afterwards - things my dad loves, all in one day.  That and we each hand-wrote our testimonies for him and bound it together for him. (Can you tell I got up at 3:00 a.m.?)

Esther found an audience.
Esther bonded with my cousin and an all-time-favorite human, Jordan Toone.
And my brother Paul, whom she gave kisses on demand.  Not even I get that!


Parking lot of Maplin, a luxury shop in town.  Totally normal, right? 
Feeding a pup wood chips. My kids need a dog so badly sometimes it is embarrassing.

Tuned up the bike!  I can fly again!

Clean up Hopkinton Day.  Kids were champs and both pitched in.

Sunday walks.


Sunday, April 17, 2016

Cause Thee to Stand

Our little chunky monkey has lots of reasons to stand.
Today has been hard.  Why are Sundays some of the hardest days?  Granted, I have little kids and three hour afternoon church with toddlers is always a struggle.  But today was particularly rough, and I didn't partake of two of the three hours of Church due to meetings, and missed the spiritual nourishment. (Lesson learned: go to class even when I feel like that's the last thing I want to do.)

However, I was moved by the last hymn in the first meeting where we take the Lord's Supper.  It's a mainstay hymn, How Firm a Foundation.  I needed to hear the last line:

Fear not, I am with thee; oh, be not dismayed,
For I am they God, and will still give thee aid.
I'll strengthen thee, help thee, and cause thee to stand,
Upheld by my righteous,
Upheld by my righteous,
Upheld by my righteous,
Omnipotent hand.

I have pled with the Lord for years for a certain blessing.  I feel like I am heard in all other cases and readily see and feel answers, but this one is particularly sticky and the blessing won't budge, it seems.

As I sang today - or didn't, prevented by naughty tears catching me off guard, it was comforting to know that God is still with me - if He can only help me to stand by the strength of his righteous, omnipotent hand, perhaps I can be patient a little while longer.

Small Wonders: [Haven't done these for a bit, so pardon my catch up.]

* Esther now sleeps in G's old sleep tent, and G sleeps in a toddler bed.  G will now regularly get Esther up upon waking.  Usually, this is a good thing and the two of them will simply play in the nursery together.  When G thinks he has napped but hasn't, it's a bad thing.  I'll often ask him if Esther was up before he got her.  His response the other morning: "Esther got up three minutes ago; I work up a quarter till ten." (spoken at about 7:15 in the morning)
* "I want a bite of the monster poop!" (wha?!)
* "It's breakfast time, daddy.  Sit down in your chair to the right."  G will also often tell Lance that it is breakfast/dinner time, and that he needs to stop reading the paper or whatever he is doing and join G at the table.
* Also said at the table: "Read the prophets of the Lord!"
* One of G's new jobs harkens back to his first chore as an eighteen month year old: that of putting the silverware away (although this time in the right slots).  The other day he saw Lance putting the silverware away, to which he responded emphatically, "Leave it right there!  I'm going to help you!"
* "Esther is my friend.  She loves me."
* After hitting Esther, I asked Gideon if that is what Jesus would do.  He responded "No. [Pausing.] I give her a hug and a kiss. [Doing so.] I love Jesus!"
* I have been taking the kids out in the pram now that things are warming up.  We have a few hills around, and G is very encouraging when he sees me struggling.  He has said "One last little push!" and "You can do it!"  It helps tremendously.
*"Dad, I pooped in my pjammies. [Shrug] It happens sometimes."
* Esther will often bring me her coat to put on her, then walk to the back to door so she can see the bunny.  She is very determined, driven, and resourceful in getting her way (is anyone who knows me surprised?).  She will lead any adult by the hand where she wants to go, and then manipulate their hands in doing what she wants them to do, whether it be read a book, to open something, or to put something on her person.
*E's vocab has expanded dramatically.  She remembers "bow," "apple," "applesauce," "pickle," "please," and a host more.  She is so proud she can say "applesauce" and repeats it incessantly.

We prepped for a "Hiking Babes" class I signed up for with the kids by doing a family hike a week ago Saturday.  Kids were great.

I carried E most of the way, and she liked to hold on to my walking stick and help me plant it in the ground with each stride.

Lance teaching colors by trail markers.

Our new $25 chair.  I'm a little in love - just need to recover the sides and back with burlap, I think.

terrorizing the bunny is becoming a favorite pastime for E.

I stopped through DC for a slew of whirlwind meetings...

And to retrieve my long-lost piano!

breakfasting with this cutie.

Esther seemed nearly as thrilled with the piano (and antique couch in the background) as I am.

Visiting a nearby nursery was a little like going to Disneyland.  We will back for all the wild rides soon!

Monday, April 11, 2016

Baby Guide to London: Hyde Park, Kensington & Chelsea

Following on from the last Baby Guide to London post for Camden, here is the second in the series on things to do, places to eat, and places to shop with and for your babes (both the younger and older types) in this city of wonder. All researched by locals with a savvy eye to saving pennies and pounds (so that you can spend them on children's clothes...).

Special thanks goes to Rachel Lamborne for guest-authoring, researching, and photographing this post (all but the top and bottom bits). If you are anything like me, you'll find her thoughtful, witty, prescient and refreshingly honest.  And those kids...

Things to Do

1. Natural History Museum - free

Come for the dinosaurs, stay for the rest.

First thing to know, there will be a queue [Lorianne here: which is why you use the side entrance by the Science Museum, then wend your way back to the dinosaurs.]  I've been perhaps twice when it has not felt like half of London has the same idea to visit the museum at the same time.  There are two entrances: the main one on Cromwell Road with the iconic steps and the Exhibition Road entrance.  Especially with a pram (or wheeled vehicle of any name) take the Exhibition Road entrance.  It's designed to be step-free and the line is sometimes shorter.  While waiting in the queue, enjoy the street performers--often bubbles!--and play eye spy with the sculptures on the exterior of ht remarkable edifice.

Once inside, especially at opening (and I recommend this of any museum to be in at the 10:00 opening on a weekend, or afternoons on weekdays) make that proverbial beeline for the dinosaurs.  Don't get distracted!  You can admire all the rest of the sights after.  To see most of the dins you'll need to go up stairs to a walkway.  Buggies are not allowed up there and will be removed to security if left below (yes, I speak from experience).  If you have push chair/stroller you'll want to check the stroller into the cloakroom.  You can always pick it up for the rest of the museum if you need it.  Be prepared for the "real" T-Rex at the end of the line.  It is scary in a perfect way.  My kids--at various ages--have never cried in fright but have always--at all ages --stared in rapt fascination.  I have to tear them away.

My girl and I love sparkly pretty rocks (ha!) so we enjoy a visit to the mineral gallery.  The room and the specimen are gorgeous and we play "find the rainbow rocks" or match patterns in our clothes to patterns in the rocks (stripes, polka dots, etc.)  My older boys beg to go to the volcano and earthquake galleries, up the "spooky" (dramatic, thematic) escalator.   

2. V&A Museum - free

Like London in general, I have a hard time picking a favorite museum.  The V&A is way, way up there.  I love this place deep in my soul.

My girl loves spotting the belly buttons and "nakey bums" of statues, my boys are fascinated by the samurai weapons, I adore the dresses from bygone eras.

Art museums sometimes seem intimidating for a casual visit with very young children.  The V&A is a grown-up museum that can be enjoyed by the whole family.  If you like to have a little help making the museum more approachable and fun for the little ones (or my go-to spontaneous museum games have been exhausted) visit the Learning Centre to check out backpacks.  These packs are incredible resources to make an adventure in the museum meaningful and memorable.

The cafe has really yummy food.  The garden area allows children to splash in the fountain in the summer (shirts and undies must be kept on, though bottoms can be removed) and in late summer the border of rhododendron bloom in a heavenly way.

3) Science Museum - free

[for this section of the post, please visit the *wandering but not lost* Lambornes and check out the toddlers play area in the basement - Gideon can spend hours there alone!]

4) Hyde Park: Princess Diana Memorial Fountain - free

Hyde Park is so huge, you just can't do it all in one day.  Or you could, but you'd be walked off your feet!  I agree with Lorianne that Regent's Park rivals-even-to-surpass Hyde Park for sheer loveliness.  The fact that we can walk to Regent's Park from our flat tips it over the top, but Hyde Park is still a major draw.  I'd say it's equivalent to visiting NYC, you must go to Central Park.

In summer the Princess Diana Memorial Fountain is the place for wading children to be.  It's a gorgeous memorial and I believe the original intent was for it to be a serene, solemn thinking place.  I personally think Princess Di would have fully approved of its design now, as a joyously noisy area for children to be children.

The water flows around and down hill in a large ring.  Grass and trees surround the water wreath and if you get in early and get lucky you'll be able to claim some shade.  The floor of the water falls have been carved for traction but there are a few areas that are patrolled by guards who remind children to walk and even not climb on a certain spot.  They are not lifeguards--you supervise your own children. But Health and Safety do have a presence.  There are very shallow and quite deep areas, often with very little warning between.  Older children will navigate with ease very happily.  Younger, even sitting or crawling babies will still find a place to splash.

5) Hyde Park: Peter Pan Statue - free

I love this statue.  It is iconic but somewhat easy to miss if you're not looking for it.  It's in the center of the park, near the Long Water portion of the Serpentine waterway.  My lost boys have climbed the statue and (never yet) been told off for doing so.  You can listen to a recorded narration with a scan app on your phone.

Just a few steps away are the formal Italian Gardens, not to be missed.

6)  Hyde Park:  Kensington Palace - 16.90 GBP (online rate), children free

Besides the hope that you may actually see Kate or the royal babies, this palace is a fun one to visit.  It seems surprisingly approachable, as far as the palaces and grand estates I've visited.  You can pay a one time fee to go in the palace, or with a membership also enter the Tower of London and Hampton Court.  I've found this membership to be well worth it.  The children loved the children's room/nursery in the Queen Victoria exhibit.  In addition to seeing how royal children lived with incredible artifacts of clothing and toys, there is a chest of classic toys for the visiting children to enjoy.  I loved the fashion exhibit but my kids were bored beyond tears at that section.  I recommend leaving the children with another adult (dad) and enjoying the dresses alone.  Ha!  The palace is surprisingly stroller-friendly.  We were escorted specially by guards to access areas via a different route but were able to see everything we wanted to with ease.

The grounds immediately surrounding the palace are free to enjoy and feel kind of like a hidden secret.  My kids love making a menace of themselves through the long vine-covered archways.  

I've never been, but I hear that tea at the Orangery is lovely.  [Lorianne's note: I have, and it is!  One of the best-priced afternoon teas in London.)

7)  Hyde Park:  Princess Diana Memorial Playground (aka Peter Pan's playground) - free

A playground right out of any Neverland fantasy.  It truly is a magical place.  A potentially extremely crowded magical place, but one nonetheless.  The playground is quite large and sprawling, with different "lands" tucked away.  There is the pirate ship and mermaid island--complete with rock croc--right off the bat.  Venture in a bit further and you'll find the Lost Boys' tree house.  When you hear chimes on the wind you'll want to explore more, wandering back through the Indian teepees and a mini-wilderness to find fairy land where the magical chime sounds originated.

The entire play area is fenced in and guarded by security personnel at the one entrance/exit.  Older children can wander and find you again if you settle in one central place.  The younger ones will be highly entertained with water and sand near the pirate ship for hours.  The toilets are near and quite clean, considering!  There is a food stand adjacent but I find it rather expensive.  We bring a picnic.  Once I did splurge for ice creams but that was a special one-time thing.  :)  A certain number of people are allowed at a time in the play area, so arrive early--especially during school breaks or an especially fine day.  If you come later there will be a queue that moves only as quickly as other people decide to leave.  The playground is worth it, but again, I recommend avoiding the crowds and simply getting out the door earlier than later.  Or going dead of winter when Winter Wonderland is open on the other end of the park.  Then you will have the place completely to yourselves!

8)  Hyde Park:  Holocaust Memorial Gardens - free  

A truly beautiful little garden.  The fountain in the center is lovely, as are the flower beds and vine-covered arches.    

9)  Apsley House and Wellington Arch  - Adults 8.80 GBB, Children 5.50 GBP

Part of the English Heritage properties we visited on our membership.  Of course you can pay a one-time entrance fee.  My boys loved Apsley House, home of the Duke of Wellington and war hero, so much they begged to go back before our membership expired.  Did they love the history, the china collection, the views from the windows, or the remarkable early-pedal piano?  No.  But they did adore the personal tour device apps.  The app was impressive.  I did the adult version one visit and the children's the second time around.  I learned a lot with both, but the games and information on the children's tour were super.

The Arch is okay.  I wouldn't say a must-do, but if you're in the area anyway you might as well.  The view from the top is nothing extraordinary as far as London views go, but if you're lucky enough to have the royal horseguards march underneath when you're there you may just think you've won the prize.   

Quick Bites for the Little Ones

Rocca for pizza--affordable and delish.  Quite family friendly.  Fills up quickly, make reservations.

Maitre Choux for exquisite eclairs--your jaw will drop at the price (5 quid a pop) but boy will your taste buds thank you.  The taste and texture of these are ah-maz-ing.  

Ben's Cookies for cookies (sorry, duh)--I like English biscuits fine.  But boy, if you want a cookie and don't feel like making (and sacrificially-to-save-the-children-from-too-much-sugar eating (if you're like me)) a whole batch yourself then go for a cookie at Ben's.  It's a nice small treat after a museum and before the tube, if you need a little something to carry a little one through. 

The Kensington Creperie for sweet and savoury crepes--though I'd have to say the stand up in Hampstead may be better, the fun cafe atmosphere and yummy crepes make this a valid place to fill a tummy.


Creative Childcare: Maggie & Rose Family Club

I took Gideon (this is Lorianne writing now) to a family club in Chelsea once for a birthday party, and wanted to go back ever since.  Shy of signing up for a full membership, it seems that of this writing, they have ad-hoc drop-in 2.5-6 year old classes where you can potentially leave your tot for three-hour classes at 30 GBP per pop (about average for three hours of childcare in London).  Call the Chelsea club for more details and to check the current calendar.  Sounds like a win-win for momma - I get to shop, they get to play!


London baby couture

Why go to Paris when you can shop for your child at the same stores (plus a few more) in London, right??  (No, please still go to Paris...)  Chelsea is known for it's fab restaurants and shopping (as well as for the once-yearly incomparable flower show and pensioners at the Royal Chelsea Hospital), so if you are in the mood for high-end shopping for you little one, this is an it-place to shop.

There are a tempting assortment of baby coutre, boutique, and one thrift/consignment store (that I know of) in Kensington & Chelsea, many of them also frequented by the Duchess of Cambridge herself, including the following, clumped by location:

Amaia on Cale Street

Caramel Baby & Child (DARLING clothes) on Brompton Road and Blue Almonds (just off Brompton Road) for furniture - where Kate went for the royal cradle.

Marie Chantal, Bon Point, Ovale  all on Sloane Street (try spotting resident "Sloany" mums here by their fitted jeans, blazers, and riding boots, including Kate Middleton)

Mary's Living and Giving, Ralph Lauren Kids on Fulham Rd (Mary's Living and Giving was started by a friend in Primrose Hill and is the only charity shop in Chelsea that I believe sells children's clothes, though I haven't checked it out myself, though you could also try the much-shopped Red Cross Foundation shop for kid's clothes where the well-heeled doff last season's treasures.) 

Jacadi on the King's Road

Rachel Riley on Trot St (often worn by the royal cubs, and quintessentially English and quintessentially priced)

Trotters - very cute things (Liberty of London prints), more reasonably priced on Kensington High Street