Yes, this is my legacy -- my six children who have totally lost all semblance of normalcy, and I am so very proud! Heck, if anyone was really sane after this week, it would have been a miracle -- but we have ALWAYS been able to put the FUN in dysFUNction (as Brian reminds us)! So what prompted this craziness you ask? Well, take six grown children, their respective spouses, throw in a total of 21 grandchildren, their mom, and her new husband (who had yet to meet #1 son), and understand that only 3 of the 6 actually live in the area -- which meant gracious hosts to the others who came from out of town!
In fact, in order to prepare for this week, I flew into Phoenix from Boise the Friday before Thanksgiving so I could spend some "girl time" with my dearest and longest (can't say oldest) friend, Jenny. We've been friends since before Jana was born, and it's been way too long since we've had time together. She picked me up at the airport and we headed straight to...
I love this "I Am Thankful" tree that contained the leaves of various expressions of gratitude from each member of the family. As Dana described, each time she walked up the stairs (and I know that is multiple times each day), she is reminded of a very grateful heart -- what a perfect way to celebrate the season, and to teach these adorable children how they too can have grateful hearts! There was everything from "Paper & Binkies" (Chelsea), "Rain" (Jacob), "Princess Stories" (Shaelyn), "Chocolate" (Mommy), and "Christ's Atonement" (Daddy) -- and everything in between!
These sweet faces greeted us each morning with such excitement, as if we just arrived, as we came out of the bedroom to join them in their morning routine -- breakfast, scriptures, family prayer, you know, all the "regular" things that young LDS families try to do to maintain that sweet Spirit in their homes. I was amazed at how well Shaelyn is reading, since she just started Kindergarten! Even Jacob is learning the beauty of the language of the Scriptures as he repeats after his father. What a blessing for this darling family!
The events of the week began with all the families meeting Tuesday night at Organ Stop Pizza then on to Nielsen's Frozen Custard in Mesa (both old family favorite when their parents were young) for the next generation's appreciation. Obviously, Organ Stop was a hit, although we were having dinner with Rosanne that night and missed that part, but caught up with everyone for frozen custard.
Wednesday was filled with everyone shopping and making their respective dishes for the Thanksgiving feast. But that night was soup night where each family brought a different kind of soup and awards were promised (although I don't know who won)! We thought...kids...mac & cheese...so we made Cheeseburger Macaroni Soup, and it was a hit! However, Angie's super Potato Soup was amazing, and Jana's Hamburger Soup (my mom's recipe) was as delicious as it was nostalgic, I think Joe and Stephanie voted their own Tomato Bisque (Costco recipe) as the winner -- I think it was rigged! But by all accounts, the Cheeseburger Macaroni Soup was the clear winner -- because that huge pot was GONE!! Kids loved it!! That too was a favorite of their parents...my homemade attempt at the Hamburger Helper style anyway.
Having grown up with a love of movies, and somehow gratefully finding spouses who shared that love, our family looks forward to the favorite holiday movies from which to choose, and either go first thing in the morning, or while the turkey is cooking. This Thanksgiving, we went just as soon as the boys returned from the early morning Turkey Bowl with Brian's Ward, where it was the grandsons who cleaned the clocks of their Arizona respective age groups! Way to represent guys! Then it was on to see...
I can't tell you when I have loved a Disney movie more since Beauty and the Beast! The music was what captivated me, with its intricate melodies and counter-medleys that were astounding -- the quality of a Les Miserables or a Phantom of the Opera!! Of course, Maddie had already downloaded the soundtrack, and knew most of the music and probably the storyline! But since that is her passion (to become an animator), I loved to see her so excited about this facet of what we both love -- so very proud of my eldest granddaughter!
Too soon, Maddie -- you'll be on your way to BYU and Pixar -- of COURSE that's all you!!
Returning from the movies to finish the cooking, as the host of this fine feast, Brian sets his carving skills to work while Angie supervises -- and laughs! Serious pictures in this house are way overrated!
Cortney gets her layered jello masterpiece ready to display...
...and the teenagers are chomping at the bit!
But when all is said and done, as Gramma tries to keep her prayer short enough so we don't have a mutiny on our hands, it's the littlest ones first...or so Stephanie thinks she's helping them...one for you, one for me...
But my favorite is the kids table, and all the food shows and yummy sounds that are plentiful! While we went around the adult table to share what we are thankful for, none of us could ever be who we are without these amazing children in our lives -- they keep us laughing, and they keep us grounded!
Especially when it comes to Grandpa Stephan, who shares his first Thanksgiving with all the grandkids together in one place. We have spent the most time with these children, so they are the most comfortable with him, but he loves them all so very much!
It makes me smile just to see the look on my husband's face...little did he know 4 years ago that he would be spending Thanksgiving with 6 children and their spouses, 21 grandchildren, and a wife!! Well, here we are, and it's in living color!!
With the gorgeous Arizona weather, it was an outside play day on Thanksgiving, whether it was playing house...
...jumping on the trampoline...
...or just trying to figure out who all these people were!
Then, there's the aftermath, and what to do when that turkey really begins to settle in...into the movie chairs for a little football or movie?
Or on the couch snuggling with dad?
Or holding up the wall with all your new found strength?
Playing games is always a fun time, especially at Brian's house where they have an entire closet dedicated to all their fun games. Jax and Jacob (Joe and John mini-me's) have their own kind of fun...
...while the big girls have their own game table...
and the little girls have theirs.
Braden is not intimidated by all the girls around, and dives into the Lego buckets for all the fun he can build! I don't know how much more we could have fit into a Thanksgiving dinner, but by the time the last piece of pie and the last movie ended, everyone agreed it was a great day!
Besides, they needed to rest up for picture day! Friday afternoon we all gathered at a beautiful spot in Mesa where Angie's sister came to shoot our various individual family pictures, as well as a group shot. As you can see, Jana's family started us off, even though Hallie was not quite ready, nor was Charlee, but we did the best we could and everyone looked incredible!
Then came Joe's family -- everyone filled with the giggles...
...a little brotherly love...
...and a lot of crazy, funny faces. Wonder where they got that from???
We not only shared smiles, but some had to share shoes! Braden was kind enough to lend Van his sneakers so the bright colors of his own would not overpower the pictures...but then again, I never saw his shoes in the pictures I took!
I don't think the kids were the only ones "full of it!"
John's family were so patient -- at least at first!
These three little cherubic faces kept us all smiling!
As did these adorable girls!
Bill's family was impressive!
As was the "coolness" of the boys, Trent and Kole!
But try to put all 21 grandchildren in one picture? That was just too much for Charlee...and Hallee and Jacob would have absolutely NOTHING to do with it! Tears flowed, hair was pulled out, and we finally just threw in all the adults...
...starting with their parents -- all six of my incredible children together once again!
All the moms and dads in one place, smiling for their children to see how it's done! After the parents, we threw in everybody, even Gramma and Grandpa Stephan! But we'll have to wait for that photo, because all these were my own candid shots -- not the professional ones that Sandy will no doubt present...I just hope one turns out with everybody! Thanks for doing this Sandy!!
You see, the whole purpose of my family being so special to me is right here -- this particular Gilbert Arizona Temple represents 26+ years in the Gilbert/Chandler area, where we grew in faith individually and as a family.
We learned from our experiences, and we gave our talents to our community, both in and outside of the Church, so that our little town of Gilbert (which contained only 8500 people when we arrived in 1982) could one day grow in faith and prepare to have a Temple in our midst.
After our pictures, Stephan and I drove around this miracle, feeling such gratitude for the many lives who have intertwined with me and my family throughout the years, as I recall so many spiritual events and projects that raised the hopes and dreams that one day we would be worthy for such a blessing.
To place bookends on our week of Thanksgiving, we returned to Sedona so Stephan could meet Denny, and spend more time with Jenny in their home. Since she has been such an integral part of my life for over 35 years, it only makes sense to integrate those lives -- and what better place than in Sedona!
The day was spectacular, the sun shining, and the Vortex very much in tune with our hearts, as we visited so many beautiful creations of our loving Father in Heaven.
Every tree, every rock is pure testimony of the majesty of such a kind Father and His only begotten son, Jesus Christ, who has assured us that "Adam fell that men might be; and men are, that they might have Joy." (2 Nephi 2:25)
Pure joy comes from these creations, joy that settles the soul, calms the heart, and bears witness that He lives and loves us, and knows us and our individual needs.
As the rings are reflected on these hills, it took time to create such beauty, just as it takes time for us to become more like Him -- more kind, more loving towards each other, more accepting of each other as individual members of the entire family -- but together we can move mountains and have the strength to overcome all things.
Although at times we may feel like the empty branch of the tree, there are enough living and growing branches to keep the entire tree alive and growing, until eventually the branch is vibrant and filled with life. This too represents our family, as we try to support each other through the highs as well as the lows of our lives.
As the years go by, I find the leaves on my Thanksgiving tree grow by the bushel as I consider the many ways that I see the hand of the Lord reach out daily and bless the lives of me and my family. I find joy in the little things as well as the huge accomplishments -- this joy is compounded by having someone with whom I can share these daily miracles, and who teaches me along the way.
We appreciate the diversity in our family, as "Heavenly Father has made each unique. No two of us have exactly the same experiences. No two families are alike...The miracle of becoming one requires the help of heaven, and it takes time. Life in families will test us. That is one of God's purposes in giving us the gift of mortality -- to strengthen us by passing through tests. That will be especially true in family life, where we will find great joy and great sorrow and challenges which may at times seem beyond our power to endure them. We are the children of God, and He has actually given His angels -- invisible beings of power and might -- charge concerning us, and they watch over us and have us in their keeping." (excerpts from President Henry B. Eyring, "To My Grandchildren" October 2013 General Conference)
I am so grateful for our family's angels!