Starts With An “F”… Ends With A “Q”

December 8, 2007

Without even taking his eyes off the board, Brigham, our 4 year old, calmly said, “It starts with an ‘F’”.

And what confidence!  Clearly he knows what he’s talking about.

Still, we stared in wonder and amazement. What?!

A brief moment of silence filled the room as 16 eyeballs stared blankly at the whiteboard in front of them.  “Starts with an ‘F’… humm what is that?”  The board had two sort-of round, swirly, heavily repeated circles where eyes of a face might be, one even bigger one where an open mouth could have been, and that little one could be a nose.

“A face!”

“Nope” And that is when the second set of swirly, whirly, wild circles started on the other side of the whiteboard.

Now the guesses started shooting forth from the children like bullets from a machine gun… “Fan!” “Frog!” “Feet!” “Fence!” “Furniture” “Family!” “Friends!”

But Brigham was totally unfazed… He calmly just kept saying, “Nope”.

After about the sixth circle, he turned around, face beaming with shear joy, body infused with the satisfaction of holding the whole family spellbound.  “AAAANNNDD it ends with a ‘Q’!”

That brought a thundering silence to the room that had been erupting with shouts of joy and peals of laughter.

“What?? Ends with a ‘Q’. Nothing ends with that letter!”

After the shock of the second clue wore off, the guesses continued with (if this is possible) even more enthusiasm and spasms of laughter.  It was a wild ruckus of the best sort – imagine 6 siblings racing around the whiteboard, jumping up and down, shouting at the top of their lungs.

One can be seen crossing their legs, trying not to wet their pants from laughing so hard.

Another can be seen jumping up and down, waving his arms madly.

Another is flopping on the ground, crying out, “An ‘F’ and a ‘Q’… an ‘F’ and a ‘Q’!”

And a fourth – Hyrum, our 6 yr old and newest reader – hysterically questioning, “Faaaquwa?  Faaquwa?  What’s a faaquwa?”

All the while the merry game of pictionary went on, with Brigham happily drawing circles and saying, “Nope” to every guess thrown his way.

Then in a sudden burst of energy and hilarity, Brigham turned to face the family.  Drawing in enough air to practically create a wind tunnel in the living room, he swelled up like a monstrous bloated toad and screamed out, “No!!!!! It’s a hammer!!”

All sense of composure was lost by adult and young ones alike.  A full ten minutes later, we could all still be seen laughing and holding our sides and saying, “The hammer that starts with an ‘F’ and ends with a ‘Q’!”

This night of pictionary on the whiteboard and the game of charades that preceded it, was not planned in advance, didn’t cost a single penny to do, required little  (if any) mental muscle, involved and included even the youngest of the family members, consumed less than an hour, and resulted in more family fun than parents or children should legally be allowed to have.

Family fun time:  It’s at the heart of “The Home Feeling”… give it a try.


After the Technique Comes the Concerto

December 5, 2007

“I’m must concerned that he doesn’t like it.  If he doesn’t like it, he will never be any good and feel pushed his whole life. And that is not what piano lessons are all about.”

Joshua’s piano teacher was right.  He wasn’t enjoying it… and he was doing terrible at it.

The sad part was that he has so much talent.  He can pick out songs, has a great ear for tone and pitch, and has an excellent sense of rhythm (unlike his father).

But what he didn’t have was the passion and all the skill and talent in the world doesn’t amount to a hill of beans without passion.

So, why didn’t he… and how could he get that passion?

That was the question Margie and I asked ourselves over and over during the next few days.  When we talked with him about it, he simply said, “I don’t like those exercises she makes me do – they’re not even songs and it is so boring!”

So, how do we make the technical exercises fun and exciting?

Here is where we articulated an enormously valuable lesson of life that Margie and I had both learned, but not realized it.

The answer is: you don’t make it fun and exciting – you just do it because it’s the right thing to do.

Isn’t so much of life like that?  As a mother, does Margie get all jazzed up and excited about changing a stinky diaper?  How about mopping that floor?  Or do I just fall all over myself to do some of my work projects that take away from family time?  No, none of those things are our “favorite, most exciting things” in the world to do… but they have to be done so that we can enjoy the great thrills of life.

The fact is, much of life is boring, mundane, drab, and flat.

It was not an easy conversation for either of us, but before the next piano lesson, I sat down with Joshua, “I know you don’t like those technical exercises, but you know what?  If you don’t do those today, you’ll never be able to play the songs you love tomorrow.  Without the drab and boring stuff, there can never, ever be exciting stuff.  Plus, if you only ever do the ‘fun’ stuff, you’ll never really enjoyit, never really be good at it, and eventually despise it – and I don’t think that is what you want.  It’s your choice, but I think you should hang in there, master the basic technical stuff and see what happens.”

He thought about it for a while and finally decided to drag and drudge his way through.

And he did.

It is now a few months later and the house rings with music.  There is a piano upstairs and one downstairs.  Stop by on any given moment and you just may find his fingers flying across the keys, filling the air with a catchy tune here, or a sweet melody there.

What a satisfying feeling to see that he has learned that life is not all bells, whistles, flash, and fun… sometimes it is just plain hard work, dull, and boring… but well worth it.

The Black Eye

November 29, 2007

By the second day, the large goose egg just above Esther’s eyebrow was hardly noticeable.

It kinda surprised me considering the hammer end of a large claw hammer had hit her pretty hard.  Esther was excited to see the swelling go down and the tenderness go away… and thought the worst of it was over.  But having seen a few black eyes in my day, I knew it had just begun.

The “attack of the claw hammer” happened on one of our Thursday Service Nights.  You see, about 3 months ago, we decided that a weekly service project would help all of us get out of the house, spend some quality family time, and reap the rewards of giving freely to others.  It has been a blast!

On this particular night, we were at a friend’s new house, helping them remodel.  It is an old house – built around the 50’s or so.  The walls were all lathe and plaster, reinforced with chicken wire.

Esther, with dust mask on, was going after the living room wall with a vengeance, when she got in a tug-of-war match with a section of wire.  In the end she won.  With a mighty wrench, the wire suddenly gave up its grasp on the wall, causing the hammer to jerk back and even more suddenly connect with her eyebrow.

Well, by the fourth day, the draining started… the large pool of black and blue blood that had collected above her lovely brow, began to ooze down… first into her eyelid… then taking her eye hostage… and then finally running in streaks of violet down her cheek.

The colorful display stayed for almost 2 weeks, standing as a monument to her willingness to serve selflessly and at the cost of personal injury.  Because, you know what?  The next Thursday, she was right back at that wall, hammering, pulling, and tearing with the rest of us.

Family service… give it a try… just watch out for the hammer.

The Great Pumpkin Caper

October 18, 2007

Looking in the rear-view mirror, I could see the grin splitting his face underneath eyes that were firm, determined, and dancing with excitement all at the same time.

Our big brown van – a 15 passenger Ford Clubwagon – is hardly what you would call “inconspicuous”, but that only added to the fun challenge that we had given ourselves. My son Joshua had the “package” – a orange, jack-o-lantern shaped goodie bag filled with licorice and bags of popcorn – in his hand and was standing by the double-wide side door, with one hand on the handle, ready to leap out at a moment’s notice.

Driving casually, as if nothing was happening, we passed right by the house. Giggles erupted from the back seats as I said, “We’ll just drive right by, like nothing is happening… they’ll never even notice us!” “Never notice us! Right dad!” I could hear Esther saying. That made everyone laugh all the more.

Once past the house, I stopped and looked back… only to see the lady of the house looking out the big, massive windows on the south side of the house. Hehe.. Sure, they’d never see us or suspect us. After all, we were the only ones in the neighborhood that had a big brown 15 passenger van! Humm, maybe I should have pulled forward out of eye sight of those windows!

And Margie told me as much, “Pull forward, honey – at least TRY to be secretive about this!” More laughter – except from Joshua. He’d been given a mission and was determined to fulfill it.

Of course it would be Joshua – my 9-year-old. Everyone knew it. He is by far the fasted runner of our children. Plus, he is clever about things and would know just how and where to put the secret package so as to get away the fastest.

I pulled forward out of line of sight. Turning around, I gave Joshua the “signal.” In a flash he was out of the car, running low along the fence line, creeping along side our victim’s car, pausing to assess the situation. “Hum – front door or back door? Dog at the front door – he’s sure to bark and blow my cover. Back door is only a few feet from their car – the car will be good cover for me on the get-away.”

With cat-like stealth he was gone, passing like a shadow from the car to the backdoor, always keeping a tight grip on the large treat bag – the “package” – that he held in his hands. Victory was in sight.. .here came the drop… now the doorbell… reaching, reaching… and then… CRISIS! RED ALERT! RETREAT!

Just at that moment, the lady of the house had decided to come to the back hallway to hang up a sweater. With a shock of thrill, Joshua realized that if he rang that bell, she would be sure to look straight at him. The better part of reason took over and his hand withdrew – they’d find it when they came out to the car… no bell needed.

The small shadow crossed down the stairs again and with the speed of lighting he shot across the driveway, back behind the car and then retraced his steps down the fence line where the get-away car waited with door open, ready to flee into the night!

As we sped away and rounded the corner, the entire interior of the car erupted with screams of glee and cries of laughter! The feeling of pure thrill and excitement filled each heart as we thought of the little deed of secret service we had just pulled off. To think of the happiness that goodie bag would bring the children in that home and the fun they would have guessing, “Who dunit??!!” was more than we could bear!

In the 90 seconds it took to get home and out of the car, I realizee something… there it was again – that feeling. The feeling of family. The feeling of unrestrained joy. The feeling of happiness and excitement. The feeling of enthusiasm. The feeling of unity and love with everyone in the family.

It was the “Home Feeling.”

Oh! How I LOVE that feeling. It just sends tingles up and down my spine. It melts away all the stress and struggle and turmoil of life. It brings out the sunshine and dispels clouds of doom. It makes life worth-while. It makes everything OK.

Yep… we had the “Home Feeling” something strong that night… the night of the great pumpkin caper.

Family Night Makes Family Might

October 4, 2007

The room was so richly and exquisitely decorated that you almost had to make a conscious effort to not focus on it.

Rich tapestries, ornately carved oak mantle piece, fine leather and upholstered furniture, gorgeous armoire, rich family photos, fine paintings, costly vases and a myriad of other things reached out and grabbed for my attention.

But, their attempts were in vain. Despite my love of fine things, this night the artifacts and decorations were powerless to rob my energies or divert my gaze. No, tonight there was a different kind of magic in the room that was far more appealing, far more enticing, far more compelling.

My eyes were riveted to a nine-year-old boy standing shyly, but straight and tall and confidently in front of the mantle piece. Compared to the this stripling boy, the finery of the mantle and walls around were like dross – plain and wholly unremarkable.

The boy, of course, was my son Joshua. “I’d like to welcome all of you to family home evening,” he began. It was family night – just like every Monday night is set aside as a family night. We gather together, almost always with just our family, but, on rare occasions, with friends, as we did tonight.

The program, as he announced it, included an opening song, a prayer, a lesson to be given by yours truly, and then an activity and root beer floats to wash it all down.

For my lesson that night, I decided to discuss the ideas of war – not the physical wars that we are and have been engaged in with various nations around the globe – but a much more dangerous and impacting war that each of us wages each day. It is a war that demand strong and powerful soldiers. It is a war of wills and choices… choices that will lead to happiness, prosperity, and joy on the one hand, and choices that lead to misery, slavery, and frustrations on the other.

It was the solider aspect of the battle that I focused on during this lesson. In front of me there were 13 children ranging from 12-years-old down to 2 weeks old. My wife and our friend (an early widow that lost her husband in a tragic airplane accident), both women of immense valor, unmovable values, impenetrable armor, and tireless strength in fighting this battle.

And good thing, it is their strength – the strength of a mother – that has always and will always be the very deciding factor in this merciless battle. It is their hand that rocks the cradle. It is their hand that feeds the nations. It is their hand that nurtures the soul. It is their hand that fashions the attitudes and opinions of man. It is their hand that passes on traditions and ideals. And so, it is their hand that, in the end, almost exclusively defines the courses and paths of nations.

Nothing truer was ever said than this, “If the mother fails in the home, the world fails in all its noble pursuits.”

Than night, as we discussed the battle before us, I could not help but think of the enormous power for good that sat in that room. Among those 13 children five of them are women – or at least one day would be. These sweet daughters of God would grow up, marry, and try their own hand at defining nations and writing history. And those boys in the room, the men-to-be, would become fathers, providers and protectors.

In short, it is today that we, as parents, must fashion the armor and weave the cloth of their lives. Those of us with young children in our homes are not just parents of today, we are the makers of tomorrow. And, perhaps more importantly, we do not just fashion the society tomorrow with the homes we build today, but we enable the present and future joys of our little ones.

Looking around, I suspect that there never has been a time in history that more fully hinged on the competence and passion and determination of young parents. We stand on the brink of catastrophic change and wrestle with the most complex questions of all the ages. So, like it or not, the burden of raising these children to greatness and winning the victory lays squarely on our shoulders.

It is for each of us to question, “Am I up to the task?” Of one thing I am more sure of than anything else in my life: We have the capacity. But of another thing I am still wondering: Do we have the commitment?

Actually, that is what this habitual family night is all about. It is as much for Margie and I, as it is for our children. By coming together each week and setting aside the hustle and bustle of the world around us, we can refocus on our role as parents. It energizes us and renews our commitment as we look into our children’s eyes and feel of their immeasurable trust and love. The experience is not always roses and buttercups, but it always serves as a strong reminder that we hold present day happiness and future progress in our hands. The strength we receive is wonderful and vitally needed.

So, if you are not currently doing it, why not give it a try? Once a week for a couple of hours, just set everything aside and spend nice quality time with your family.

I’m sure you’ll find, as we have, that family night makes family might.

Good Night Home…

September 22, 2007

The small cuckoo clock in the front living room rings every hour and half hour.

Actually, its not a cuckoo clock at all – it is an old Dutch sanse clock that I got from a flea market just outside of Nijmegen, Netherlands. It has the mystical god Atlas mounted atop a chime – and of course, Atlas is holding up the world.

The chime is small, but clear and beautiful. The truth is we have gotten so used to it, that I’m not sure anyone in the house really notices it anymore. But, I do… at least I try to around 7pm.

Seven chimes are important around our house. They tell us that the afternoon is spent, the working hours are past and it is time to “put the house to bed.”

The chimes are almost always heard while we are sitting at the dinner table, finishing up our evening meal together. “Hurry guys! We’ve got to get this house put to bed!” Everyone knows that is the call to arms.

Esther snaps to attention and grabs the broom and begins sweeping the floor.

Joshua slowly but surely takes command of the sink and dishwasher.

Jared – when he finally stops playing around and making everyone laugh – starts heading out to do the evening chores with Hyrum.

Hyrum grabs a half gallon pitcher and goes with Jared to do chores… that would be milking the goat for Hyrum and feeding the animals for Jared.

Isaac and Brigham pick up the floor and clear the table.

Mary gets a bottle and heads down to bed.

Sariah and Margie quietly sit in the rocking chair singing lullabies and nursing.

When it is all said and done, the hustle, bustle and clutter of the day are swept aside. The dishes are done, the floor clean, and the table cleared. The cushions on the couches (always in a state of disarray from pillow fights, tickle time, naps, and fort making) are fluffed and put back in their proper place. The bathroom is straightened up and the library floor is cleared of the countless books that have been pulled off shelves by little hands and eager minds.

In short, our little home is ready for another day of chaos, fun, learning, eating, playing, and resting.

Pajamas are on and everyone goes down the staisr to start the bedtime ritual. With the upstairs empty, I make the rounds, turning out lights and inspecting the night’s work. More often than not, I find myself pausing at the light switch between the dining room and hallway. From there I can see into the kitchen, the dining room, the living room, down to the bathroom and a small glimpse of my office. Call me a romantic, nostalgic fool, but in my mind I can see the little feet pattering over the tile floor… I see the older children learning, reading, writing, and learning at the table… I hear the voices of laughter, and yes, sometimes frustration and anger, as my children learn to get along together… I see the bright eyes of home and the mess of living with 8 children.

A sense of awe and wonder always fills me in those reflective moments. “How can life be so rich, so full, so exciting, so wonderful?” I wonder. It’s times like this when the goodness and greatness of God simply overwhelm me.

With that, I sigh, reach out and turn out the last light. In the darkness, peals of laughter and the sounds of bedtime come drifting up the stairs, beckoning to me like an irresistible siren’s song.

As I reach the stairs, that old Dutch clock in the living room peals its own quiet note of laughter – 7:30pm and all is well. As the sweet sound reaches my ears I whisper, “Good night home,” and I eagerly head down to join the fun.

A Mighty Rush of Wind

September 14, 2007

Abruptly, and without any warning, Isaac stopped in the middle of the trail. “Dad, I’m going to tell you this… I never give up, but I’m just going to walk a minute.”

I couldn’t really blame him. The hill we were on up Hobble Creek Canyon was tough for just about anyone, let alone a 5 year old on a regular little MX dirt bike without gears. So, I geared up, and slowly pedaled beside him for a while.

The other three children were well ahead of us. The trail was quiet and we had it all to ourselves. Right about then, I was sure glad that I had listened to him when he begged to come with us on the ride. We were all a little hesitant, but I just could not say no to that pleading, longing, hopeful look in his sweet young eyes. So, I said in the heartiest voice I could muster, “Sure, Isaac! Of course you can come along! We were hoping you’d ask.”

Well, if the joy that leaped into his eyes right them was not enough reward for me – and his three older siblings… because they sure got a kick out of it as well – then this moment on the hill was paying me back 100 fold.

“Daddy, I’m going to tell you this… today, my teacher learned me this song… ‘One, two, buckle my shoe – three, four, shut the door – five, six, pick up sticks… ah what’s the next part dad?”

I had to smile. When he started the song, his pudgy little fingers on his right hand began shooting up. But now, needing to use the other hand, he was having a little trouble managing the bike. Plus, the whole song recital had distracted him from walking in a straight line and he was zigzagging wildly around the trail. What, with my laughing so hard, and trying to keep my balance while riding VERY slow, and trying to avoid his sudden zigs here and zags there, it was just about all I could do to avoid crashing into the poor boy.

“Well, dad, what’s next?”

Oh, right.

“Seven, eight, laa…”

“No, dad! I know the rest, don’t say it! Seven, eight lay them straight – nine, ten… oh, and dad, this is the funniest part. Everyone laughed so hard when we said this last part – dad, you are going to laugh too. Ok, listen to this… nine, ten, A BIG FAT HEN!”

The hilarity and humor and fun of shouting “A BIG FAT HEN!” at the top of his voice and hearing it echo through the canyon was too much for him. He stopped and laughed and laughed. I did the same.

We spent the next 45 minutes in conversations like this. Every now and then we would catch up to the others and ride with them a while, but for the most part, it was Isaac and I riding along and talking.

At the end of the ride stood a huge, steep hill, that rolled upward and went on and on. We all were together then and set a point about three-quarters of the way up that we dubbed the “stopping point”. There we would turn around and head back to the car. Up we went, slowly, sweating, panting, pushing, pedaling…. but we made it.

Turning around, we faced that long stretch of vertical excitement.

“Ok, guys… ready? Remember, hit the back brakes first if you need to stop or slow down… and be CAREFUL. Ok, ready, set… LET’S GO!!”

Isaac, to my sheer delight, bolted out of the starting gate first and got a jump-start on Esther, Joshua and Jared. I trailed behind watching them fly down the hill. The wind was pushing so hard against our eyes that it squeezed out tears. And our hair – oh, what a mess! And our hearts were beating wildly – half with the sheer thrill and excitement of the ride – half out of fear that the plummeting hill would reach out and drag any one of us down into a careening mass of metal and flesh.

In the end, we all made it down the hill – and down the mountain for that matter – safe and sound. We took away from that canyon the thrills of family time and the joys of exerting ourselves.

But, there were other things we took away. You see, this was just two days after we brought Margie and Sariah home from the hospital. We were out on the trail because Margie needed a break. So I took the children out on a ride.

They learned to ride in the canyon, and that they have a father that loves their mother.

They learned the importance of staying in shape physically, and they learned how to care for a new mother.

They learned how to use their gear bikes, and they learned how to be real men, fathers and daddies.

They learned the thrills of feeling a mighty rush of wind as they race down the trail, and they learned the greater joy – the real thrill of life – in serving others… first, in letting their little brother tag along, and second in serving their mother and new little sister.

A mighty rush of wind… it’s an experience I’d recommend to anyone.