Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Down in the Valley

Jacob with other FEA team members in March 2009.

This morning Jacob headed down to the Valley to compete in the annual FEA (Future Educators of America) competition at Arizona State University.  This year he submitted a tote bag design and a slide presentation.  Before he left he already knew he isn't a finalist for the slide presentation, but he still has hope for medaling with his design.  I've seen it and I think it is very original and attractive.  Of course, I am his mother!

Last year he took second place for his tee-shirt design (the one being worn by Jacob and the girls in the above photo) and brought home a silver medal.  We're thinking good thoughts for him this year!

March 2009: The team with Ubie, United Blood Services mascot.

The funny thing is, Jacob has no interest at all in becoming a teacher.  He just loves to be involved in clubs.  Besides FEA, he's been a Big Brother in Big Brothers/Big Sisters for 4 years and he's been the president of SADD Club (Students Against Destructive Decisions) for 2 years.  Sometimes he's so busy with club duties that his classwork suffers and I have to get tough on him to rearrange his priorities.  Yet I'm glad he fills his time with worthwhile activities.

Jacob, at right, removes his "Ubie" head.

His biggest role in FEA has to do with their blood drives.  He's the chairman over organizing the drives every few months.  Last year he received an award for collecting so much blood that our school exceeded all their goals.  He also dons the Ubie costume each time they plan a drive, going from classroom to classroom to encourage students, teachers, and administrators to sign up to donate blood.  

Jacob as Ubie on the FEA float for a parade.

He'll be back home tomorrow night.  We can't wait to see how our team does at this year's competition!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Reed and the Music of Life

Not so many years ago, life’s challenges had left me wounded, filled with self-doubt and feelings of inadequacy. Often I lay awake at night, wondering how God could love someone so damaged as I felt myself to be. I prayed desperately to know His love, to gain a sense of worth, and to understand how to lay my burden at Christ’s feet.

One night, after I finally drifted into sleep, I dreamed a parable. I stood at the beginning of a long, winding path. In my hand was a hollow reed stem, green and supple and unblemished, which I had been given to carry with me on my journey. In my heart I vowed to protect the reed and preserve its pristine condition.

I soon found it a challenge to keep my vow. The path was rough and filled with painful hardships. In places it was hard to follow, and I sometimes lost my way. I struggled to maintain my faith and allow the Lord to direct my feet, but I fell repeatedly and made many mistakes. I often found myself on frightening trails before making my way back to the correct path.

Though the reed remained unbroken in my mindful hands, each affliction and every transgression left it punctured and torn. The reed was badly damaged by the time I completed my wanderings.

When I came at last to the end of the path, I found myself on a hill overlooking a broad, tranquil meadow. Vividly-hued flowers nodded in a soothing breeze that rippled through tall grasses. I knew that here I would find absolute peace and healing.

There was one more trial to pass, however, before I could enter this sanctuary. At the crown of the hill stood a music-stand on which rested several pages of sheet music. The purpose of the reed suddenly became clear. In order to pass into the meadow, the music of my life first had to be played upon this slender instrument.

I was overcome by shame as I gazed down on the battered stalk in my hand. It had become hardened and scarred along the way. What horrible sounds would issue from such a misshapen whistle?

When I looked up again, I found I was no longer alone. A young shepherd boy stood before me, compassion in his eyes as he reached out and carefully took the reed from my hand. Putting it to his lips, he proceeded to play the notes on the pages. The tones he coaxed from the wounded pipe rang pure, and the music of my life became a melody of poignant beauty in his capable hands.

Then I understood. Without the scars, the reed would have produced nothing more than the hollow, one-note tune of air across the opening of a milk jug. Instead, in the hands of the Shepherd the wounded reed became an instrument of grace. His fingers gently touched the piercings in the stalk, and by their placement he produced a sweet melody of radiant joy touched by measures of sorrow and inflections of adversity. Through His mercy the suffering in my life was endowed with lyrical purpose and meaning.

In the years since this experience, I have found comfort in the reality of a loving Savior who suffered each pang and felt each wound that left its mark on me.

I am indeed as battered and scarred as the reed in my dream, yet in the hands of Jesus Christ I can become an instrument of greater service. A lifetime untouched by temptations and trials and the possibility of failure would be of little use to our Heavenly Father. Through faith and repentance, these difficult experiences refine our spirits and bring depth to our character. They make us capable of greater love, compassion, and, yes, even joy.

Each of us can access the Atonement and participate in God’s plan of happiness, no matter the nature of our afflictions. The Apostle Paul explained this concept with inspired clarity. Regarding his own afflictions, he offered a beautiful testimony: “And [the Lord] said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me” (2 Corinthians 12:9).

How grateful I am to understand at last! It is true that we are imperfect in our shortcomings, and yet our flaws are the very tools He uses to make us perfect in Christ. If in faith we will place our lives into the Shepherd’s skillful hands, He will make of our weakness and adversity a song of joy for all who hear.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Renaissance Family

At the Festival: Sarah (age 20), Dylan (age 12), Jacob (age 18), and Mary (Mom, age 55)

Our family had a great time at the Renaissance Festival, and we have the pictures to prove it!

Sarah, Dylan, and Jacob with Sarah's best buddy Emmi (age 19)

This little bridge was between two of the many, many small shops lining the village.

Sarah, Emmi, and Dylan with a dragon outside an art shop.

I love to go through these little shops.  I thought the kids would be bored to tears as I dragged them from one to the next, but to my surprise, they really enjoyed it.  I think it's because these little stores sell really unique, interesting items.

This puppet shop sold little dragons, griffins, and other mythical creatures you could wear on your shoulder or hold in your hand.  Their little heads turned and nodded, guaranteed to amaze your friends with their movements.  Here, Dylan and a baby dragon check each other out.

Jacob wasn't too sure about this little guy watching from a perch on his shoulder!  Those rose-colored eyes were a bit creepy...

There were also plenty of gaming booths.  We all toured a dungeon filled with grisly torture devices, but for the most part we left the sporting events to Dylan.  Here he has his first experience with a crossbow.  He did so well he won a ring!  His very first shot went right to the center of a tiny star on the target.

He didn't do quite as well on the "strong man" ring-the-bell-with-the-hammer contest.  Not realizing how heavy and unwieldy that hammer was, he was sure he'd send the ringer straight up to "Kingly Man" level and ring the bell.  He made it past "Pustule," "Plague flea," and "Tit-mouse" to barely reach "Nurse Maid"!

We stopped for lunch around 11:30.  We girls had soup served in bread bowls.  Mine was broccoli-cheddar, yum!  Dylan ate my bread bowl for me, and for himself he opted for a slice of pepperoni pizza. (In Medieval England?  I don't think so!) 

Jacob wasn't feeling well, so we just got him some water.  He perked up and was fine after that.  We were all a little overpowered by the 80+ degrees of sunshine, being unaccustomed as we are to spring temperatures over the low 60s.

After lunch we visited the "privy" and then found a shady spot to sit for a few minutes.  That's when the pretzel man walked by.  Dylan decided his lunch hadn't quite filled his belly, so he chased down the pretzel vendor to make a purchase.

Back in 2001 we had visited this shop where they sell "crystal stix" and Jacob fell in love with them.  He wanted a set of sticks badly, but they were expensive and we were poor, so we weren't able to get him a set.

This time, Jacob made a beeline for the shop as soon as he saw it.  Soon he and Dylan were trying out the practice stix and getting instructions from the elf-gypsy lady in charge (at right).  They were getting pretty good at spinning the baton by using the two control stix.
If you've never seen crystal stix in action, click on this YouTube video.  The guy on this video is pretty good and gives a 2-minute demo:

Before long, Sarah, Emmi, and I got in on the act, too.  It was a lot of fun!  In the end, Jacob bought himself a set of stix and I bought a set for Dylan.  I told them both they'd better get good at using the stix so they can entertain at parties and get paid for it!

After attending the final joust, we decided to get a dessert from the chocolate shoppe.  We had been pretty good all day about our food choices, since it was our first day to eat regular food after completing our second cycle of the hCG diet.  For dinner Sarah had a taco salad while the boys and I had giant, smoked turkey legs (the kind large Kings are so fond of chowing on).  They were very meaty and tasty.

For dessert we intended to get chocolate-dipped strawberries or bananas.  That didn't seem like too bad of a cheat.  And then we saw these frozen, chocolate-dipped slices of cheesecake...  I'd never heard of such a thing, and I just couldn't resist.  In fact, all 5 of us bought one.  I have to say, it was the most decadently delicious thing I've ever tasted!

The Juliet-style headdress was one of my souvenirs.  I've wanted one since I was a little girl.  Better late than never?  I also bought myself a coin-scarf, the kind bellydancers wear around their waists that jingle loudly while they dance.  Most people don't know this about me, but I used to be a pretty good bellydancer back in my teens and twenties.  It's great exercise.  Maybe with the coin-scarf I'll be inspired to give my newly-shrunken belly a good workout!

As we headed out at the end of the day, we passed a booth where they did French braids.  I debated whether to spend more money, but the kids encouraged me to do it.  I thought it came out great!  It's supposed to last up to 4 days.  It's been 2 days now and the braids are still going strong!

We all had a fantastic time.  Even my easily-bored, I'm-too-cool-for-this-stuff 12-year-old is telling all his friends what a cool place the Renaissance Festival is, and trying to convince me we should return next year.  You know what?  Maybe we will!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Renaissance Festival 2010

The King and Queen and their court greet us as we enter the festival grounds at 10:00.

We had a wonderful time at the Renaissance Festival yesterday!  I took tons of pictures, too many for one post, so I selected the best of them and separated them into two categories: The Festival and My Family at the Festival.

In today's post I'm sharing scenes from the festival itself to provide a feel for the fun atmosphere we enjoyed so much.  Tomorrow I'll post the pictures of us and our activities, so stay tuned!

The village has really grown and become more permanent in nature.  Although it's basically laid out in a circle, we still kept getting lost and needed to consult our map often.  The wooden fences and small structures have been replaced by stuccoed walls and large buildings like these.

Members of the court showed up here and there to perform their royal activities for our entertainment.  Here, the queen (middle lady) and a noblewoman (on left) play a medieval game called "King of the Log."  A lady-in-waiting supported the queen from behind, while a harrassed page found himself caught in the middle as the queen and noblewoman tried to knock each other off the log with stuffed sacks. 

It was humorous, especially when the noblewoman found herself on her back in the hay, with her feet and petticoats in the air.

This young man was a wandering entertainer who did something called "contact juggling."  He rolled this ball all over his body, up and down his arms, across his neck and back, over the tips of his fingers.  It was like a ball of liquid flowing effortlessly at his command.

Dylan was quite taken with this performing art.  We'll be looking it up online and ordering the acrylic ball so he can learn contact juggling himself.

The joust is clearly the most popular event of the day, packing the stadium for performances at 11:00, 2:30, and 5:00.  We attended the 2:30 and 5:00 events.  Here, the King and Queen greet their royal subjects and officially begin the joust. 

My friend Wyndie, her husband, and their three sons decided to attend the festival the same day we did.  Although our families arrived at the festival within 10 minutes of each other, we never ran into each other until the 2:30 joust.  My sharp-eyed sons saw them in the front row of this section of the stadium, so we got to visit briefly.  (They are sitting in roughly the center of the front row in this photo.)

We did run into them two more times that afternoon.  We also ran into the Harlan family, whom we know from church, 3 or 4 times that day!

The knights enter the arena.

The jousting begins!

We sat in the same section as we did 9 years ago and once again we cheered for our champion, the villain Sir Moric.  Yes, he was evil, but egads, he was gorgeous!

The three jousting events are part of an unfolding tale.  In the morning event (which we did not attend), there is some insult to the queen's honor, which leads to the 2:30 joust.  I'd planned to see just the one performance, but when it ended in treachery and the promise of a "joust to the death" at 5:00, Sarah and Emmi insisted we had to attend the final event so they could see who emerged victorious.  They both were a little bit in love with Sir Moric, I think!

We found this fellow on our way out.  He stood on this pedestal, still as a statue while people gathered around him.  Then he would suddenly begin to move like a mechanical doll, making a high-pitched whine like gears moving.  The children were especially fascinated by him, but we were all transfixed for at least 10 minutes!

The festival was supposed to end at 6:00, but it was 6:45 when we finally left the grounds.  The crowds had thinned by then, but everything was still open.  We were tired but happy when we finally returned home at 9:45 last night.  We all agreed: the Renaissance Festival is a good time!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Foolish Virgin

Last night we attended the annual birthday dinner commemorating the founding of Relief Society in 1842 in Nauvoo, Illinois.

It was the best dinner program I've ever had the pleasure of attending!

The evening began with a one-hour musical play based on the Parable of the Ten Virgins and the book The Ten Virgins by Emily Freeman.  My daughter Sarah portrayed Adi, one of the foolish virgins.

Adi suffered from low self-esteem and tried to make herself feel better by spending her money on fashionable clothes and jewels rather than buying oil for her lamp.

In the end, she was unable to follow the bridegroom into the wedding feast becasue she hadn't prepared wisely.

Part of Sarah's performance required her to sing a solo.  She was very nervous because, although she is talented musically, she does not have a soloist voice.  I was impressed that she accepted the invitation to participate in the play despite her fear, but she has always been one to take on a difficult challenge and do her best.

She did an excellent job!  She had all her lines and the words to the songs memorized, and she performed without any hesitation or visible nervousness.  Her voice was sweet and on-key.

At the end of her solo, she and her friend Emmi (as wise virgin Gabriella) joined their songs in a lovely duet of the song "More."  By this time, most eyes in the room were a bit misty and the sounds of sniffling abounded!

Behind the performance, a wall of cloths were draped across the center of the cultural hall, blocking the other side from our view.  Scenes of Israel were painted on the cloths, and on the center cloth was painted a wide, wooden door. 

When the play ended, the two halves of the "door" were pulled open and we were bade to enter.  On the other side we found decorated dinner tables and a full wedding feast!

Wedding cake and hand-dipped strawberries.

A fountain of white grape juice and ginger ale punch.
We were served an amazing wedding feast by the men of our ward, although of course Sarah and I had to decline and instead eat the chicken salad we had brought to keep us true to our diet.  It was an amazing evening!

And here I am with my angel Sarah at the dinner.  She is no foolish virgin!  I believe that when the Bridegroom finally comes, Sarah will be found with her lamp filled to the brim, with oil aplenty to spare, and she will joyfully enter into the wedding feast!

The YouTube videos below are from a performance of this musical in New Zealand last September.  They will give you a taste of the music we enjoyed.  Thanks to Jill for teaching me how to embed YouTube videos in my blog!

If you'd like to enjoy these videos, you can turn off my blog music by scrolling down to my playlist at the very bottom of the page and clicking on the "stop/play" symbol.

In our program, my friend Wyndie sang "The Shopkeeper on the Hill."  Wyndie has an incredible voice!

This is the song "More," which was sung by Sarah and Emmi in our program, as Adi and Gabriella.  Gabriella sings first.

My favorite has to be this song at the end of the play, "When He Comes for Me."  If fills me with hope and a desire to try harder to fill my lamp with the oil He provides.  May we all find our lamps full when He comes for us!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Renaissance Festival 2001

16 Feb 2001 - Dylan (age 3), Jacob (age 9), and Sarah (age 11) in Salt River Canyon.
Way out in the desert, far outside the Phoenix metropolitan area, the Renaissance Festival has been held every February and March since 1989 (the year Sarah was born).  It began small, but is now comprised of an entire fenced city featuring medieval clothing, music, plays, shows, games, rides, foods, services, souvenirs, and even an entire jousting field.

I love the romance of that era and always wanted to go to the festival.  Finally, in 2001, Mark and I packed up the kids and drove down to the Valley to spend a day at the Renaissance Festival.  The photo above was taken on the road to Mesa the day before we attended the festival.

17 Feb 2001 - Mark with the kids as we enter the festival grounds.
We spent an evening visiting with family in Mesa, then the next morning drove back toward home since the festival grounds are along the highway we take back to our mountain. 

We had a great time and spent the entire day exploring the festival.  We were exhausted by the time we started the almost-3-hour drive back home.

Mary with the kids in front of a fountain.
You may notice in these first couple of pictures that Dylan is wearing a harness and a leash.  We actually bought them when Jacob was a toddler.  Back then, Jacob thought it was funny to hide from us, plus he thought every stranger he met was a new best friend, so he gave us many scares before we got the leash.  Then Dylan as a toddler was simply impulsive and often suddenly disappeared, sometimes even scaring himself when he couldn't find us afterward, but he hated the restriction of always having his hand held.  We only used the harness for places like Disneyland, where they could be easily lost in a crowd, but the leash was a blessing.  The boys usually didn't mind it, either, because it gave them freedom to stray a few feet from Mom and Dad.

Jacob, Dylan, and Sarah play in a medieval-style playground.
Why am I dusting off all these old Renaissance Festival memories?  Because, about 6 weeks ago, the kids and I decided it would be fun to go to the festival again this year!  It's been 9 years since our last experience and it has grown a lot more in that time.  Sarah's friend, Emmi, has never been there at all, so she's very excited to go along with us.  The kids have been saving up their money for this trip for weeks.

Sarah and Jacob enjoy a camel ride at the Festival.  At least, I think they're enjoying it!
We plan to go next Saturday, to kick off our week-long Spring Break.  We've been praying for warm, dry weather (when it rains, the festival becomes a mass of mud), and our prayers have been answered!  The forecast, after today's storm passes, is a spring-like week, warm and dry.  Right now they're saying it will be about 57 degrees here at home next Saturday, which means it should be in the high 70's in the Valley.  I'll be keeping my eye on that forecast all week!

Jacob (age 9) and Sarah (age 11) on their camel steed.

Dylan gets to ride a llama.

Dylan (age 3) and his smaller steed, the llama.  He seems more relaxed than his siblings!

Before the joust begins.  Notice the King above, in the covered stand at right.
The kids really enjoyed the jousting match, especially Jacob.  Our portion of the arena was instructed to cheer for Sir Eric, the villain on the horse facing us (purple diamonds on white).  Jacob was quite taken with Sir Eric, and we stayed after the joust so Jacob could meet him and his horse.  It was serious hero-worship!

Jacob and Sarah as Robin Hood and Maid Marion.
Before we left, we had to have some fun with these photo opportunities!  Whoever took the shot below managed to cut out their dad's head in the Robin Hood wanted poster.

Mom as Maid Marion.

Queen Sarah and King Jacob.  Jacob could barely reach the head slot back then!

Queen Mary and King Mark.  Did you ever see a medieval king in sunglasses and a baseball cap?
That was our first and only visit to the Renaissance Festival as a family.  The only one of us who ever went back was Sarah, the following year.  Traditionally, the 6th graders took a field trip to the Renaissance Festival every year, and Sarah went with her 6th grade class in 2002. 

Sarah (age 12, at right) with her best friends Kristen and Brandy and a festival actress.
Unfortunately, Jacob missed out on his 6th grade trip because he didn't keep his end of a bargain with his teacher regarding his grades.  As it turned out, that was a rainy, muddy trip and his teacher said he was lucky to have missed the mess.  Dylan is in 6th grade now, but with last year's budget cuts the field trips were the first thing to go.

Kristen, Brandy, and Sarah with a festival actor.  Very cute!
Sarah, Dylan, Emmi, and I had a great time looking through these old pictures and getting excited for next weekend's outing.  Stay posted for updated photos of the new and improved Renaissance Festival!