Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Happy Birthday, Dad!

My Dad is celebrating his 60th birthday. Wow! While his life may be barely half over, this marvelous benchmark certainly warranted special acknowledgement. I scoured the interwebs for good gift ideas- A useful household appliance? Eh, I'm pretty sure he doesn't really need to replace any of his. A tie or some classic black socks? I think I remember him mentioning his overflowing sock drawer at least once... A nice cheese-of-the-month subscription? Nah, he may not want the calories; plus weird cheeses can be a hit-or-miss thing. I tried to think of some experience for which I could purchase him tickets, but then got word that he was already planning on doing a historical tour of Raleigh or some such activity this weekend, so I nixed that. I thought of something to do in his honor, like name a star or donate to Manatee conservation. I donated blood, as I know it to be a cause he has supported firmly, and asked my siblings to join in and donate in his honor if they were able to.

 Still, it just didn't feel like "enough". As you get older, I have noticed, you have less and less cause to have a big deal made over you. So, Dad, here's me, saying, "Your birthday is a big deal. YOU are a big deal." Instead of giving you something that might just sit around, crowding the garage, maybe end up in the neighborhood yard sale a few years down the line, I want to acknowledge a few things that YOU have given ME over the years. A few of these are physical, material things. Some are fond memories that still make me laugh, or, at the very, least, grin. Mostly, it's the lessons you've taught me through the interactions that we've had and the example that you have set.

So, without further ado, I present....

60 Things Thomas C. Stoddard Has Given Me

1. Do your best each day and the rest will take care of itself. This is something he would tell us every day as we would leave for school. Putting in a good effort mattered more than getting a good grade, though good efforts often resulted in good grades. In life, I don't get grades now and it's easy to feel like my work doesn't matter, until I remember this. I do my best to be patient and nurturing, and if my 2-year-old still throws spaghettios in my face, what matters most if my effort, not her response. Eventually she'll get her act together. Or not. Either way, it'll take care of itself after I've done my part. When my to-do list seems unconquerable, I just do my best.

2. Run errands in sets of three. My Dad would wait until he had at least 3 errands to run before he would go out, often saving up trips so that he could condense the stop at the post office, the run to home depot and the groceries all in one trip, saving gas.

3. Car and gas money. As a teenager, he gave me pretty free use of his car. I primarily drove to school, seminary, and other church activities, but also to hang out with friends on the weekends. My life would have been significantly different had I not had the freedom to go and enjoy those things.

4. Family chores on Saturday morning. Saturday morning meant spinning the job wheel, which had each of our names in a quadrant and an assortment of household cleaning listed on the wheel As the wheel stop turning, you had to do whatever chore landed on your quadrant. No fun was to be had before your chore was done. We grumbled. We moaned. We whined. But now that I have a household of my own, we do the exact same thing, minus the wheel.

5. Don't expect a reward for doing your duty. We didn't get an "allowance" or any payment for doing our routine chores. If we wanted extra money, Dad could come up with some additional, more challenging tasks that he would pay us to complete, but fulfilling the minimum responsibilities as a member of the household was simply expected.

6. Christmas brunch. Every Christmas morning, my Dad offered an open invitation to folks from church and other friends to join us at our house for brunch. We kids were expected to help prepare the pancakes and sausage, set out the table, etc. Worst of all, we didn't get to open any presents until after all of our guests had gone. As younger kids this seemed like absolute torture after waking up to the sight of all the gifts, but Dad repeated the refrain that it is better to give than to receive and all these years later, I don't care about the Kiss and Giggles Doll that I got when I was 8, but I remember very sweetly visiting with close friends, or at least the missionaries on a thinner year, as we threw back pancakes and orange juice that I had mixed myself.

7. Driving lessons in the church parking lot. Rule #1: Don't hit the bishop's PT Cruiser. It's poor form.

8. You cannot die from embarrassment. Yes, my Dad embarrassed me a few times. Did it kill me? No. Did it socially alienate me? Um... Maybe. But kill me, no. One such occasion we refer to as the "grey squirrel incident". My dad was chaperoning for a field trip when I was 11 and as we were waiting for the bus, lots of squirrels were running around. My Dad took the opportunity to act out a scout song that involved grey squirrels shaking their bushy tails. After the first line of song, I jumped in and joined him, figuring it would be less embarrassing to own it and pretend I was totally okay with my Dad wiggling his rear end in my peers' faces. But, man, kids were sneering at me and poking fun in the hallway for weeks afterwards.

9.Thrift. Not sure I can really capture all of the ways that this man has taught me to value frugality. Some might just call him, "cheap", but his prudence extended beyond just trying not to spend money. He would fix things, when practical, instead of throwing them away to buy new things. He stocked up on useful items when he saw a good sale. He tried to make things last and encouraged us to be good stewards over our belongings; to take good care of hings so that they would last.

10. A hot breakfast. Not many parents would wake up and prepare a hot breakfast before taking their kids to 6am seminary, but this man did and I appreciate it.

11. Warmth and affection. My Dad is an odd mix of stern and sentimental. When he was working jobs at crazy hours after he'd been laid off by Westinghouse and before he began working for GE, he would come into my room late at night or early in the morning while I was still sleeping to give me a hug and kiss.

12. Nachos Grande. Tortilla chips topped with cheese, sour cream, beans, olives, and taco meat=fabulous. Always a hit when he made this for dinner or a weekend snack.

13. Screw the lid on ALL THE WAY when you put OJ back. One morning, a loud scream resonated through the house. We kids all rushed to the kitchen to find my Dad in his pajama robe, a carton of orange juice in his hand, juice all over his face, chest, arms, the floor... I had put the juice back without tightening the lid all the way. He had gone to shake up the pulp and gotten an OJ shower to the face. Still, he wasn't too proud to...

14. Laugh it off. A number of times, I remember feeling anxiety over how my Dad would react about something I'd done, because you did NOT want to make him mad. But, sometimes, he would just laugh about it.

14. Respect differences. Speaking of orange juice, I liked it pulpy and Darlene liked it pulp-free. So he would buy both. He let us each be our own person and would cater to our different preferences, even when those opposing preferences were established purely on the principle of wanting to be different from one another.

15. Cigarettes are a NO. When I was in 1st grade, a friend brought me some candy cigarettes. I passed my Dad in the house with one in my mouth and he immediately plucked it out of my mouth and slapped me. I have never, ever found any appeal in trying cigarettes.

16. A Coat. When I was ten, our parents were in the middle of separating and money was scarce and none of us had decent winter coats. Winter in Pennsylvania gets pretty cold, so my Dad took us out and bought us coats. Mine was a black coat with fluff around the collar from the womens' section and I hated it because it didn't look cool, but it kept me warm when I waited for the bus in the snow and it lasted me through college.

 17. His health. My Dad has been extremely overweight for most of my life. He had health problems on top of health problems and I really worried about how the length and quality of his life would be affected. In my third year of college, he committed himself to a weight loss plan and when I next saw him I did not recognize him. He had lost so much weight. He seems younger, his health is much better and I feel greater peace and confidence that he will be around for us and our kids to enjoy for a long, long time.

18. My first razor. It was a Christmas gift when I was twelve. Though, I didn't get a lesson on shaving, like Paco.

19. My Bosch mixer. This was a Christmas gift just a few years ago. I love and use it all the time. It seemed like such a extravagance that I may never have bought one for myself, so I was and continue to be very grateful for it.

20. Giving practical gifts. While we're talking about gifts, my Dad gave me the powerful philosophy of giving people practical gifts. I can't list all of the times I have bought someone a gift for Christmas, a birthday, a baby shower or whatever and they were so grateful because I had thought out something that they would actually use.

21. Plan downtime for yourself. Around new years, I was once asking my Dad about his yearly goals. He said that he wanted to watch more Basketball. I was confused because I thought new year's resolutions are all about constructive goals. He said that to him, having enough downtime to watch basketball meant that he wasn't overly stressed from being too busy.

22. Don't complain. More than once I was told by this man, "quit your bitchin'."

23. Rule #1. When we went out somewhere fancy, like a large department store, my Dad usually took a moment beforehand to review the rules. Rule #1 was to stay with the grown-up. Darlene and I both got lost from wandering off as little kids, so this was an important one. I feel like I can keep my own kids at least safely alive if they will only follow this one rule.

24. Rules #2-5. After rule #1, there were a few other important ones, like "don't make a pig of yourselves" (an important reminder before eating at another family's home) and "don't embarrass mom/dad" (no such protection for the kids, see #8). I guess the main message is that everything important can be condensed into a few main rules that even young children can learn to obey.

25. Books. My Dad was and is a sure source of good books. From Jonathan Livingston Seagull to the Little Prince, my Dad owned many good books and could recommend many, many more. I think I still have your book of essays by Sydney J. Harris that I fully intend to return some day, Dad!

26. Camp. My Dad gave us a lot of opportunities to experience nature. When I was 8-12, my Dad had me and my sister do a 3-5 day session at girl scout camp. He encouraged us to go to our LDS stake girls' camp. One summer, he drove us three kids from Pennsylvania all the way down to Philmont scout ranch, where we spent a week camping, hiking and enjoying other fun outdoor experiences. I have tons of amazing memories of these camp experienc es and am so grateful for the sacrifices of time, money and effort that made them possible.

27. Freedom to Explore. When I was about 10, I loved going out into the woods by myself. I would hike and climb trees, maybe take a book to read or just sit outside and think. Sometimes I would go to the park a few blocks away. Sometimes I would just walk around our own block. Nowadays, this would probably be considered felony child endangerment. Even at the time, my Mother was upset when she learned that my Dad was letting me do this. But I really enjoyed having that peaceful time to myself.

28. A large vocabulary. My Dad never shied away from using large words, even when we were young. He would explain what words meant and even occasionally offer a new "word of the day" to enhance our familial deipnosophy.

29. If you leave the table hungry it's your own darn fault. Of course, he didn't say "darn"...

30. Life's not fair. Get used to it. I certainly did NOT appreciate hearing this refrain repeated as a chronically slighted middle child. I've only appreciated this lesson now that I can see the continual life crises experienced by those who have failed to learn this lesson.

31. An x chromosome. Ok, yeah, so he may not have VOLUNTARILY given me this specific chromosome, but I sure am glad that I scored this instead of one of those measly little "Y"s

32. Public Speaking. My Dad is a phenomenal speaker. I like to believe that I followed his example a little. I'm no great orator, but I like to think that I can put together a pretty good presentation when called upon. I always felt like speaking in front of a crowd was a strength of mine, something that helped avoid a lot of anxiety that my peers suffered when I was going through the art education program at BYU.

33. Charity. My Dad was always generous towards those in need. My brother Paco told me a story about his Eagle Scout service project. As they were at a baseball field doing some work, a man came up to them and explained that he had no money for gas to get home and wondered if they had any work that he could do for money. So, they had him help with some benches and then my Dad gave him $60. When Paco related the story, it just seemed like an unsurprising, very Tom Stoddardly thing to do.

34. La Lengua Celestial. How different would my life be now if I had not followed the influence of my father and studied Spanish! No puedo medir la riqueza que se me ha traido a la vida por el idioma espanol.

35.  Mail. When we were jealous that he got all the mail (eve though it was mostly junkmail and bills), he would tell us, "You gotta send 'em to get 'em". My Dad always sent us mail when we were away- sometimes mailing a letter several days before we would leave for girl scout camp so that it would arrive on our first or second evening there. I think that I was the only one on my study abroad program to actually receive physical mail. Still today, I occasionally get mail from my Dad and because of his example I send more mail than most of my peers.

36. Be entertained by my kids. When we kids were being ridiculous, my Dad would say, "If I didn't have kids, I would rent them for entertainment purposes." Through this example, I feel like this man has given me permission to laugh at my kids when they're being crazy.

37. Musical Theater. Since I was young, my Dad took us to go see musicals, beginning with Annie when I was a young elementary schooler, and eventually maturing to shows like 1776, Phantom of the Opera, Cats and so on. His CD collection was full of CD's of broadway cast recordings that I loved to listen to.

38. Naming all 5 members of N*Sync. My Dad tried so very, very hard to be cool and well liked by our friends. He certainly made efforts, like when he memorized the names of all 5 N*Sync members. Sure, N*Sync was no longer cool by the time he'd learned their names, but he tried!

39. No work is beneath you. When my Dad was laid off from Westinghouse, it took a while for him to find a new job. But, determined to provide for his family, he took what work he could find while he continued searching for other opportunities. At first, this nuclear engineer with a masters degree started working for USPS. He worked transcribing addresses on pieces of mail that the computers couldn't read well enough to sort for delivery. His shift was in the middle of the night. He finally was able to stop doing that and began delivering for FedEx, not a huge step up, but certainly the hours were better. It was a relief when he found a new job, but I'll never forget his example of working whatever job he could find to take care of us.

40. Gumballs. My Dad serviced gumball machines in his spare time for a stint. Sometimes we would get to join him as he would collect the quarters and restock the gum. Once in a while, he would have to rotate a stale stock of gumballs and we kids would get gallon-sized ziplock bags of stale gumballs to share with our friends. I was the most popular person on the school bus exactly one time thanks to those gumballs.

41. Don't skip school. When we were kids, we had to throw up or have a fever over 100* to stay home from school. This was hard, as there were periods when I reeeeeeeaally hated school. But my uptight attitude towards school attendance helped me through college, where I rarely missed a class. It was easy to stay on top of things when I was there to catch each announcement, lecture or hint about upcoming exams.

42. The best part about winter. You know what the best part about winter is? The water is nice and cold for drinking straight from the tap.

43. Don't yell. As teenagers, my Dad would sometimes call us on our cellphones when we were both at home, just in the other room. We said it was dumb, he should just call for us to come into his room if he needed to talk to us. He insisted that not yelling helped maintain a peaceful home atmosphere.

44. Tell the truth. Not only did my Dad drive home the whole honesty thing when we were young. He reacted with measured patience when we got to be teenagers so that telling the truth about hard things wasn't too hard.

45. Sunday morning comics. When we were little, we would gather together in his bed on Sunday morning and Dad would read us the comics from the newspaper. He would make funny sound effects and animate the stories for us to understand them more easily.

46. Family prayer. With appropriate accommodations when we were out late at activities, we held family prayer together almost every night. When we were younger, Paco (like 8 years old) would climb up on Dad's shoulders while we prayed. Sometimes his prayers were a little loooooooong, but the routine stuck.

47. He knew my friends. He may have had his own opinions about some of them, but he at least knew who I was hanging out with and my friends were always welcome at his house. He also sacrificed a lot of time driving me around to spend time with friends before I had my license. I know you didn't want to stay out at King's family restaurant until 12:30 am after the football game on Friday nights so that I could hang out with my band friends, but I sure appreciated it!

48. We ate meals together. I didn't realize that there was a way other than sitting down and having dinner as a family, but I'm now starting to understand that not everybody has that privilege. Again, we accommodated when kids extracurriculars or parents' work or church activities got in the way, but the norm was for us to sit down and eat, even if it was just hamburger helper served.

49. Patriarchal blessings. I once found yours in your scriptures and you let me read it. I was a tween and just starting to understand what patriarchal blessing were, but I was grateful that you would let me in on something so personal.

50. Personal prayer. I can't count the number of times we would be looking for my Dad all over the house, calling out his name, needing something or having a question, only to find him kneeling in prayer by his bed. He never let us interrupt his prayers- we would have to wait quietly until he was done.

51. A college degree is all about getting a job. It's been kind of interesting talking with my siblings about what counsel Dad gave each of us as we were looking at colleges. For example, my Dad advised my sister to look for something close to family members, whereas I received no such counsel. Guessing he was ready to put a few states between us by the time I finished high school! At any rate, he told me that college was all about paying for a qualification that would eventually get you the job that you wanted. Keeping the end in mind while I was in college miraculously saved me from strong, naive yearnings to major in sociology. Now I've got a degree I can do something with.

52. Parents need hobbies. It's easy to pour all of your energy and time into your kids. My dad always had his own interest- participating in community theater, playing on the work softball team, and participating with boy scouts were just a few things my father did even when we were very young.

53. Games. We enjoyed spending time together playing games. Clue was a popular one. I remember playing Hi Ho Cherrio with Dad when I was maybe 5. Word games like Taboo and boggle were always big.

54. Teaching me to swim. His methodology may have traumatized me a bit, but hey, I have managed to not drown!

55. Not being shy about girly things. When I told my Dad I needed tampons, he returned from the store, dancing around waving the box singing, "I would do anything for love".

56. Creativity. Whether it was stealing office supplies from his desk or using the family cam-corder to make a cooking show or stop-action video of a towel folding itself, my Dad gave us the freedom to experiment. He bought me all the art supplies I ever asked for. He also would give us feedback on our work, critiquing our videos or telling me bluntly that my latest painting did not have the complexity of the previous one.

57. Politics. When I was about 10, I asked my Dad The Big Question- what does it mean to be a democrat or republican? He gave me an explanation that I now recognize as very fair and unbiased. While he's certainly not shy about his political opinions, his greatest message was that we should be active and educated, informed and involved, in politics. Yes, it's very important to go out and vote, but be sure you fully understand who and what you are voting for.

58. Love comes in different forms. My Dad is a very complex guy, one moment stern, another soft. He has a very sentimental side but can also be sort of gruff in day-to-day living. Love can be expressed in quiet, sensitive ways, but it can also be shown in

59. What a husband and father should be. Within a month of marrying Micah, I found myself suddenly realizing, "you're like my father!" I guess my subconscious saw in him many of the things I learned to expect from you.

60. Suck it up. Life isn't cupcakes with sprinkles and rainbows. If I can push through and deal with challenges without giving up or giving in, I can do anything.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Brooklynn Visit + Our Visit

We have had an exciting few weeks, first with the visit of our #1 female 7-year-old-cousin Brooklynn!

 Poor Angela had to work hard to keep up with the big girls.

Happy Hour slurpies after returning from roller skating on a hot Saturday afternoon

Natalie got to go to her first 2 days of preschool before we headed up to Raleigh for my brother Paco's wedding

Mmm, Naked Juice moustache

Brooklynn, always ready to keep the young-uns in line. Here, she leads them around on leash.

The kids were the life of the party at the reception!

And the benevolent bride and groom, hearing that Natalie wanted to see them open presents (a la 5-year-old birthday party), swung by the following evening and let us oogle their spoils.

How many kids can you fit in a bath? Well....

Movie time!

Unwrapping presents from the grocery fairy!

The awesome science museum in Durham that I wish I lived near!


Homemade pinatas!!

The girls' first time bowling!

We had so much fun! Now, all of us are sorta like...