Willie's family has come to our house for thanksgiving for the last four years. I look forward to this tradition every year. It's fun to look back on the last four years and see how things have changed and the things i've learned. The first year, I was fairly new to cooking and it was my first thanksgiving. I used Martha Stewarts thanksgiving 101 issue. I've learned since then to keep it simple. No more peeling chestnuts or cutting up bread to make my own stuffing. The boxed stuffing is still really good. I also have learned that a good plan makes all the difference, it's important to wear supportive shoes while standing around in the kitchen, and use all willing volunteers. I think this year was our best thanksgiving meal yet.

Willie and I stayed up late several nights before everyone got here working on projects. Something I learned from this thanksgiving is to not get sleep deprived before the whole event even starts. Next time I'll go to bed early for a week straight before so I can stay up late talking, and not have to worry about exhaustion.

The day after thanksgiving tradition is to go on a hike. i love this tradition. We went to Colorado National Monument and after a day of rain, it was cool and wet and smelled wonderful. There were clouds at the top of the canyon. When Wyatt saw all the fog he said that when he got out of the car he'd get clouds in his mouth.

Friday night we had another big meal, and some neighbors came over. The 17th street band then gave an intimate concert in our family room. 

Unfortunately, the stomach flu went around and I cleaned up my fair share of throw up from Hank and Willie got it Friday night (thank goodness adults can throw up in the toilet). Willie's sister Sara's family got it Friday night too. I'm just so glad I didn't get it, at least not yet. I didn't get to take many pictures so I had to poach some off Kathy and Sarah's blogs.

A beautiful table is a must for me.  I made this table cloth the first year we hosted thanksgiving to fit our table with all it's leaves in.  I'm so glad we bought this table with our house.  We use it often to have big meals.  It's so long!

I thought it was funny that Wyatt is sitting at the head of the table.  He's so small all the way down there.

Here's the band.  A bonus to my other shirt getting thrown up on by Hank, is that I changed into a nice cowboy shirt for our performance.

Here are the boys at the rim of the monument.  In the back is Willie, his brother Adam, his brother-in-law Tyler, and his dad David.  In the front is Wyatt and his cousin Simon.

Here is wyatt with ellen and Charlotte. Wyatt loves cousins.  He was playing constantly with them.

Sarah took this great picture of the cliff dissolving in to the fog.  What a pretty place.  

Yes, both of these pictures are a stone's throw from our house.  Well, if you had a canon to throw the stone with, but still they are close enough for us to enjoy regularly. I'm not quite sure how it happened, but the desert is part of who I am.  I love it.  I can't leave it.  Maybe it's a collective experience of childhood vacations to Palm Springs, my childhood homes by rock Camp and the back side of the mountain, backpacking trips in Southern Utah, soaking in the hot springs at Pah Tempe and hiking in Zion National Park, etc. 

I think I realized this all when Willie and I lived in Massachusetts for a year. Below is an excerpt from my journal.  It wasn't long after I wrote this that I told Willie I saw the eyes of a coyote glowing in the tunnel of the T on my way to work.  That's when he knew it was time to get me back West.

8/20/01: The other night at dinner we ate overlooking the harbor in Salem.  It was a humid night and I'd already taken a few cold showers.  We got on the subject of Utah.  I told Kim how I missed the desert.  It sounded weird.  I wondered if she pictured a suburb outside of Vegas.  I tried to tell her about the nights in Southern Utah: lying on my back , the silence, the red rocks, and the stars.  Tons of stars.  Layer over layer of brilliant stars.  Anyway, the subject changed to chapped lips or something and I was left with this huge emptiness.  

My sister-in-law Sara, has had a thankfulfest on her blog and inspired me to do the same in honor of one of my favorite holidays, Thanksgiving.  After just finishing playing guitar and singing with Willie for the past few hours, I have to say I'm thankful for music.  My beginnings as a musician were rough.  I remember before my mission trying to practice a song with my sister Amy for Travis's mission farewell.  I ended up breaking down in tears because I was trying to sing harmony and I could not hold a note.  My sweet Aunt Marilyn was trying so hard to encourage me.

I'm thankful that after our trip to the Republic of Georgia, where I was inspired by their folk music, my friend Kakha helped me pick out my first guitar and it stuck.  It was a pretty decent acoustic Ibanez that I sold to my dad.  I'm so glad that soon after I married Willie (such an accomplished musician), we splurged on a handmade Ken Stika (no. 52) guitar for me.  Every time I play it, I'm so happy we bought it becuase I could never justify the expense now.  I don't play guitar much anymore because I'm always playing bass, but I just love sitting down and playing a beautiful guitar with Willie on the fiddle or mandolin and us singing harmony.  It's the good life.  

I don't just love playing music, I love listening to music.  I love live music, especially outdoors.  I love playing on the back porch.  I love the hymns.  I'm so thankful music is part of my everyday life.

This morning Hank and I were in my room listening to Terri Gross interview Bill Ayers on NPR. I was so interested, curious, and a little disturbed and I thought to myself, I should read his book. Just as I thought that, I turned and saw the pile of books I'm currently reading sitting next to my bed. I think I'll start a list of books I might want to read in the future and work on this pile for now. I really only get a little bit of undisturbed reading time before bed, so things are moving pretty slowly.

I have a strong non-fiction addiction but I'm in a book club that's helping with that. This month the book is Freakonomics, but mostly we read fiction.

The Scriptures are a spiritual staple, the words of life. They will always be on the pile.

Your Money or Your Life and Sink Reflections are re-reads.

Your Money or Your Life inspired Willie and I shortly after we got married to not let our life be about the persuit of money but be very wise with what we have. I like to check back in from time to time to get motivated and not mindlessly spend our money. Lately I've wanted to spend more of our money (that Willie and I have traded our life energy for) on healthy food and give away more to good causes. This is such a good book.

To improve my job training for being a homemaker, I'm rereading Sink Reflections. This is a cheesy book, with clip art and such, but the principles are really good. It's about accomplishing things, like a clean, well organized home (without a housekeeper) by little daily routines carried out consistenlty.

Willie bought me The Omnivores Dilemma, after I read Pollan's recent book, In Defense of Food and went bonkers for it.

My sister Amy, lives in Washington DC. She is always asking me to come out and visit. The last time we visited is when I was pregnant with Wyatt. Since we have been throwing all our extra money on to our credit card to get out of all consumer debt by the end of the year (just school loans and mortgage left), we couldn't put the money towards plane tickets. So Amy finally wanted us to come so bad, she and Brian offered to buy our plane tickets. Talk about generous.

So I flew out first with Wyatt and Hank and Willie came a few days later. It was a little stressful and I found myself praying for coping power several times, but we made it. I think the hardest part was when I couldn't have the stroller, like going through security and on the plane. I had to put Hank on the ground to get the stroller through security and he was taking off crawling behind the security desk. It was a little crazy. On the plane I had a hard time getting my seatbelt on with one hand and things like that. I eventually found that I could put Hank on Wyatt's lap and tell him to hold on tight and I could get my seat-belt on or get our luggage from the overhead compartment. Wyatt was a wonderful traveler. He took a nap on our second flight and so did Hank. I couldn't reach my headphones and when both of them were sleeping I thought I would watch TV. I would try to get Wyatt's headphones off and he would stir and pull them back on.

Once we arrived at Amy's house it was only fun from there on out. Our beautiful guest room had little snacks and water by each of our beds. When I went to bed that night I saw that all the snacks were gone and I was afraid Wyatt had eaten them all. I found them all stashed in our suitcase, display plates and all. Wyatt wanted to makes sure we could take them with us. He recently admitted that he wanted to eat them all but couldn't get the packages open.
Amy's house is recently remodeled and beautiful. It's so classy, down to every detail and impeccably clean. Amy and Brian have a nanny from Ethiopia named Genet. She is the nicest lady and part of the family. She gave me some Ethiopian food cooking lessons, helped care for my kids so I could nap or go running. We went to the zoo, the natural history museum, a pumpkin patch and on many walks. I tried to pull my weight by baking for Amy and Brian. I made a batch of sugar cookies, a pear pie, and a pumpkin Pie. When willie arrived, he cooked a few wonderful meals to show our gratitude. Amy has great potential as a cook, but has not blossomed in that area yet. I tried to give some encouragement and guidance. I helped her decide to get new plates instead of a Le Creuset dutch oven and to finally get a food processor.

Amy on the other hand, gave me advice on clothes. She declared that I should never wear another pair of jeans that are low-rise unless my stomach was totally flat. I now see the light and hold a grudge against the Gap and Old Navy for only selling jeans for kids. She put makeup on me and offered some other fashion tips. She offered me a pair of Italian super pointy high high heels. Her feet grew after Vera was born. I haven't worn high heels (if you don't count Danskos) since my mission. I wore them to church and was nauseous because of the pain. That's something I can not do to myself, not even in the name of fashion. After barely making it home from church alive I put them back in her give away pile for someone else that had a higher tolerance for fashion pain. I did come home with a pair of brown high heels that are relatively more comfortable, as far as high heels go.

A major highlight was inheriting a huge amount of great clothes. I had Willie bring my gym bag thinking that would get them home. Oh how narrow was my thinking. I ended up having to borrow a huge suitcase that would easily fit Hank, Wyatt and our cat and maybe vera and Ella too. Full of great clothes. Genet also sent us home with a lot of Ethiopian food. I had plans of sharing the food with neighbors and friends but decided to hoard it once i got home. It's so good.

One thing I really like about Amy is that she enjoys the luxuries of life, which I usually opt out of. So while I was there, she made sure I had an hour massage and a pedicure. The last time I paid for a pedicure was the day Willie accepted his job here in Grand Junction. I was sure we had finally made it and we would be rich from that day forward. I had underestimated the cost of owning a house, paying for utilities, having two kids, and repaying student loans.

The kids had so much fun playing together. Wyatt learned all about princesses and Amy learned how little boys can get into everything. the first day we were there I noticed that Amy had an art easel out with some paints. I wondered how she kept her girls from spreading paint all over the room. It wasn't two minutes after that that I saw Hank get the lid off the paint and put his hand down into it. The first night all four kids took a bath. After that we realized we should bathe in shifts. It was a little much. By the time we left, if you offered Wyatt a curious George fruit snack and a princess one, he definitely preferred the princess one. I couldn't resist putting Hank in a cute tutu I found. Ella's and Vera's girly things are so much fun.
Willie and i got to go out several times by ourselves. We went to a movie and over for dessert at Seth and Christi Lucia's house, some friends from law school. Amy and Brian have a car with a GPS navigator, so it tells you where to go and then helps you get home. Thank goodness for that computer lady. Without her we'd be very lost.
Even though we had a wonderful time and I cried saying goodbye to Amy at the airport, it was great to be home. I had a few days of obsessing about renovations we could do to our house, but I'm kind of over that and back focused on finishing out the year of the debt. It was so fun to be in a city and be with family and have our kids play together. We talked a lot, worked on laptops while watching TV (a Stratford family tradition) and ate our meals together. When we were leaving Wyatt asked if the next time we come back we can stay for 100 days.

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