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Wednesday, December 26, 2012

To Ashley, From Ashville

When I found out I received Ashley, I must admit I laughed a little. The first thing that came to my mind was how the Johnson's use paper plates and plastic utensils for almost every meal (Sorry that I'm making you cringe Ashley). I had absolutely no idea how I was going to find something that was 180 degrees from how we operated. 
Then one day I was trying to teach my boys about the value of money. They do not understand how items compare to the currency that we all work so hard to receive. Cole is so cute with his simple thinking. One day we were out getting groceries and looking at our list comparing it to our budget. Cole interrupts us and says, "You can use my money mommy." There was another time that Cole was wanting something and Brighton said, "I'll buy that for you!" Not one of them knew the value of what they were talking about.
So, thanks to Charise's morning Coke habit, we had a lot of aluminum cans.........BINGO! I explained to the boys, and Savanna (being persistent to be included), about how we should be turning in our cans. They both said, "WHAT?" I taught them how we take our cans into a recycling center and then the cans are taken different places to be used again. Again, with their simple minds, they asked why someone would want to use our cans. After a cute daddy moment, I explained how they melt the metal down and make more cans, jewelry, or anything that is aluminum........(the light bulb goes on)....That is it! I found out what I am going to do for Ashley.
The boys and I, and again Savannah (wanting to help), flattened the cans so that we can take them to be recycled. By the way, when I was younger, I remembered getting paid a whole lot more than we did now.

We were proud of what we did, but it didn't seem fulfilling when we RECEIVED money from our service. So after watching Charise trying to be like Ashley, (i.e. using fresh herbs, organic milk, and reusable grocery bags) I went looking for something that preserved the earth.
I found an organization in Ashville, NC that just started last April that was exactly what I was looking for. It is called Mother Earth Produce and Local Edibles, http://motherearthproduce.com. They bring together local farmers and buyers to market their crops. It is family owned and operated. Most of the farms are ran just by couples. They focus in land erosion through crops and eliminate pesticides by being organically grown. These local products are then brought into the marketplace. This place is PERFECT!
They money that we got for our cans is now handed over to the great efforts of these family farms working together for a common goal. Even though it wasn't a lot, I think the boys realized that it is every one's duty to do their part to preserve what Heavenly Father has given to us. So what started as a lesson of monetary transactions, turned into participation of supporting local businesses and protecting what has been given to us. Thank you Ashley for being that person that always makes me think of how I am living.
I love you, Bill (the drinking roller skater)

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Becoming better by serving Tiffany

Dear Tiffany –

I believe my assignment as your service giver for this year was not a random selection. Considering the state of our relationship in January 2012, I am fairly certain that Charise and Carrie arranged for me to spend twelve months constantly thinking of the Sunshine you bring to my life. I’m sure they conspired to drop me into a swirling pool of emotions, thinking I would find the strength to survive through service and navigate my soul to the safe harbor of love. Whether it was them, or the hand of the Lord, they probably knew I would kick the pricks at first (see Acts 9:5 and Acts 26:14), but that by serving with you in mind, I would ultimately rebuild the bridge between us.

When Our Heavenly Father tragically called our cousin David James Kenney home to heaven on December 9, 2011, we all went through a roller coaster of emotions. One night that week, we both unloaded our pent up frustrations and said things we regretted deeply. I allowed myself to be deeply hurt by that argument and it immediately impacted the way I interacted with our entire family.

My life has changed drastically since that time twelve months ago as a result of a few specific events. Two of them happened on the same day and came to define my service on your behalf. On Tuesday, March 27, I left for work feeling the spirit especially strong having spent a few days preparing myself for an appointment Ashley and I had to meet with the Stake President at his home that evening. I was nervous, but excitedly optimistic of the invitation to serve that I knew he was going to extend.

My emotions turned on a dime when Dad called me shortly after I arrived at the office. He wanted to make me aware of a close friend of ours that had made some extreme decisions to abandon his righteous way of living. My heart immediately went out to you, since you have always been closest to our friend Walter (name changed). As you know, Walter has always been a virtuous and honorable friend to us all and son of Our Heavenly Father, but at that time in his life, he had yielded to temptation to choose another path.

That day, I couldn’t help but think of how I might learn from the differences between David’s last days of his time on earth and the few days before Walter’s uncharacteristic decision. Both men were raised as faithful sons of God who had distinguished themselves with an "eye single to the glory of God." Yet at some point, Walter had made minor changes to his life that are best described by President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, who said “I have learned that the difference between happiness and misery in individuals, in marriages, and families often comes down to an error of only a few degrees.”

When David last left for work on a seemingly normal day, he did so with his soul in a prepared state. On the other hand, Walter had allowed himself to slowly drift from the straight and narrow way (see Joseph B. Wirthlin; The Straight and Narrow Way) such that the slow change was indiscernible to those around him. None of those closest to him saw it coming; not his wife, family, or priesthood leaders.

Service on your behalf

That night, when the Stake President asked me to serve as Elders Quorum President, I realized that I would do so with David and Walter constantly on my mind. And that’s where serving you came in.

In my mind, you became the representative of the women – wives, sisters, daughters, cousins – behind the men I was serving. So, whenever things got tough as President, I would think of you, and remember that there are families and loved ones hoping that I am doing all that I can to make sure that these men have the opportunity to choose the right or to come back to the fold no matter where they have wandered. In effect, I decided never to presume that the men in our quorum are "righteous enough." Instead, we recognize that we "all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23)" must constantly seek to build righteous improvement and change within ourselves.

Together with my counselors and secretary, we started by trying to conduct the weekly business of an Elders Quorum differently than we have ever seen. We outlined how we could ensure that we had spiritual weekly instruction in our quorum meetings. Then, we established a quorum motto – "Become Better." The next month, we began Setting and Achieving Goals (lesson and handout) and, together, we identified quorum goals.

I can’t provide too many details on specific successes, but I have thought of you very often as I have pushed myself further than I thought I could in the past nine months. Here are a few examples I can provide:
  • When a missionary from our ward came home earlier than expected, I pushed myself to go further to make sure we embraced him and loved him. When he returned to the mission field a few months later, I knew the brothers in our quorum played a small role.
  • When my counselors urged me to start doing personal priesthood interviews, I thought, "I’ve survived without ever having PPIs from my quorum president." Then, I thought of you and began my goal of doing one a week. 
  • When we were asked to help a family move out of a place of squalor, I shuddered. Then, I stepped beyond my comfort zone, asked the Bishop to join me in a visit, and we had a frank discussion with the family where we talked about expectations of cleanliness and how we could help. Then, we recruited a small army, outfitted them with painting masks, and helped them move to a beautiful apartment. Finally, we worked with the Relief Society to make sure the family understood how to keep it clean. 
  • When I was talking with a brother during a PPI and the spirit told me to talk plainly about the destructive temptations of pornography, I hesitated out of discomfort. Then, I thought of you, and talked about the need to surround ourselves with good friends and good influences and I testified about the power of good media to overcome the bad. 
  • When the Ward Council was asked for our opinions on plans for a ward activity primarily focused on fun, I deferred for a few days, then I yielded to the promptings of the spirit and encouraged us to plan a fun ward activity focused on the spirit.

Direct Service

In addition to my service as Elders Quorum President, I went out of my way to change the way I interact with you.

I came to the family reunion a day earlier just to be with you. I came with a different mindset, and I thought you and I made great improvement in our personal relationship. (Bonus, you and I weren’t the only ones who played the bad guys this year! What? Too early to joke?)

I went out of my way to call more and to comment on your Facebook more often. I also tried to do so in a more positive way (except for Santa visits before Thanksgiving, which was more temptation than I could handle). I even tried to tone down my East Coast propaganda when dealing with Mom and Dad!

It has been a great year getting to serve on your behalf. I have enjoyed it so much because it has made me change. This year has made me a more loving brother, a better son, a stronger instrument of the Lord, and a more understanding friend to those in need. It’s been a pleasure serving as a part of your life this year.

I love you so much!

Fridays for Ryan

I love my little brother Ryan. There are lots of things about Ryan that are amazing. One is that he is a great father. He adores his little girls and he is so cute when he takes them to Disneyland to play. I have always loved how he spends his day off from work playing with his girls.

Another thing that Ryan has always been my example of is truly making other people feel important. For years, when Ryan was in High School I saw him interact with his friends. He always had so many people around him because he knows how to make others feel warm and welcome. He brought out the light in my little sister every time he was around. He is amazing!

For my service to Ryan, I wanted to "play with my kids" better. Especially Cole. Cole LOVES it when you spend time on him, making him feel special. He thrives on being the center of the action, the focus of a conversation. He has really been struggling with "self worth" and happiness this year. So my goal for my gift of service for Ryan was to be a friend to my child like Ryan is with Brooklyn.

I explained my concerns and ideas with Cole's teacher and asked if I could come in to her class on a weekly basis, and help with anything she needed. She was delighted. I go in every Friday morning for an hour. I read to the students, I grade all the homework, and I do interactive activities with the kids. But mostly, I get to help Cole feel special. I try to look out for the students who might need extra love or attention that day also. It has been a really neat experience. I have gotten to know lots of the special kids in Cole's class, and I have been able to help Cole get to feel important.

The other extra effort I really wanted to make on Ryan's behalf was the awesome interactive computer scavenger hunt experience at Disney World. #1 Disney... Totally Ryan! #2 Computer... Totally Ryan!! #3 Spending time making my son feel like he is number 1... Totally Ryan!!! So on our last day at Disney World, I spent 4 hours with just Cole and I playing the Agent P Adventure Game. It was Cole's favorite part of the trip and I must say, it was my favorite part also. What a great experience it was. I totally kept thinking, "Man, Ryan would totally LOVE this! I REALLY wish he was here."

Ryan, you are wonderful and I love you. I want to be like you in so many ways. You have a determination so see things through that is such an example to me. I am really proud of you little brother!

Sorry, my pictures on on my camera that I can't find. I will update it as soon as I find Cole and my cute pictures!

Light up the Neighborhood!

I really wanted to make my service for Wayne special. I struggled to find the best service for him. I talked to Amy and Darcy for ideas.

Since Darcy isn't an official part of our service exchange, I decided to make her my deputy in serving her dad. While talking to her in early December, she mentioned that they had not yet gotten their Christmas tree because Wayne had been so busy with work and out of town.

A few days earlier, my next door neighbor, Sue, had mentioned how bummed she was that she hadn't had time to put Christmas lights on her house because she had been so busy with work and out of town. I realized that since I could not go help the Dittbrenners decorate for Christmas, I could help my neighbor.

Sue really loves having lights on the house especially for her young daughter, Sarah, who is a year older than Leland. Sue and Sarah have done many wonderful acts of service for our family, such as defending Leland from a bully on the bus or cooking dinner for us after Eddie's birth.

I decided I wanted to figure out a way to decorate their house as a surprise. I devised a plan with Sue's friend, Julie, that she would get me the Christmas lights and keep Sue away from the house in order for me to put the lights up. Julie brought over all the lights and let me know that at 2:00 p.m. that afternoon they had an appointment to get Christmas pictures taken.

The Hocks were visiting, so I enlisted their help, too. We also got Chuck to take the day off work. Lani watched the babies in the house while Hock and Chuck helped me get the lights up.

(Disclaimer: I had great pictures. Hock even took them. But my crazy new phone deleted them all and I can only find the one below. Bummer.)

At 1:55pm, her car was gone, so I thought we were good to start a few minutes early. But just as we got the ladders up on the side of the house, up rolls Sue! The surprise was ruined. She was coming home really quick to change before her pictures and she was running late. We quickly told her what we were doing and she was so grateful. She left for her pictures and we got to work. It was too bad the surprise didn't totally work out, but it was nice not to be rushed to finish in an hour.

We strung icicle lights along the front of the house and snowflake lights in one of her trees. We had some extra timers, so we set up her lights to an automatic timer so that she wouldn't have to remember to plug/unplug them each night.

While Chuck had the ladders out he decided to get up on the roof and clean out her rain gutters too. There was pine needles galore in the gutters, even though she cut down most of her pine trees a few years ago.

It was fun to help spread some Christmas joy. Sue was extremely grateful for our family service exchange.

Wayne, I know that your family is so grateful for how hard you work even if it takes you away from them for an extended time.

I had challenged Darcy to find a way to serve her dad. After they got their tree, she took on the responsibility of ensuring that it was decorated with lights and ornaments... All 17 feet of it! I am sure that was a HUGE task!

To Mike, Love Charise, A Year Late and A Dollar Short!

Okay, so yes, last year is where I mixed it up and accidentally had Bill do Mitzi instead of Mike. MY BAD!!! I felt terrible! So this year I get to do double duty and serve two of my brothers! (That is a hint for my future post to come!)

Michael, you have been reading to Connor since he was born. I remember calling Mitzi once and asking what you were doing and she said, "He is reading to Connor". I remember thinking, "Ummmm, Connor is 4 days old... What do you mean her is reading to Connor." I remember many more times that year my asking if you were still reading to him and Mitzi telling me, "Of course, Mike reads to him from the Book of Mormon every day." It was such an example to me. Brighton was barely two and we were only reading every once in a while with him! Bill and I decided that we wanted to read to our kids every night like McBride does.

Now that Bill has gone to working at a job that he leaves early in the morning, I have taken over the "morning routine" and as it was nearing the holidays and Mike has been on my mind with my gift of service, I have started reading the scriptures every morning with my kids. The Book of Mormon is always on the McBrides breakfast table, and I know that they read it every day with their kids. We use the "readers" that are geared to kids. It is such a special feeling in the morning when we gather and read together. I love the sweet peace that it brings into our home each morning. I have also been so excited to see my son Cole learning to read big scripture words. Cole really struggles with reading, but with our scripture mornings Cole tries really hard, and does a great job.  

I have taken MANY nights this year to read stories with my kids in bed. It is such a special time. Thank you Mike for teaching me the value of reading with my children.

Amy Dittbrenner, Come on down!

Amy Dittbrenner, Come on down!

That’s right folks, I am doing service in the name of Game Show Great, Amy Dittbrenner.

So I thought to myself, what kind of service can I do for Amy that I can somehow tie into a game? And then I thought, what kind of service can I make others do, so that I can take credit for doing service, which is somehow tied into a game? Voila, born is the November Challenge.

So I sent out a “test” a couple of months ago. Thank you all for participating in the service challenge. I thoroughly enjoyed serving my fellow man vicariously through each one of you. I have to say, some of you answered the test weakly, but that is ok. I know you were busy doing your own service project. And some of you were busy taking BMW drivers down a notch or two.

Just a reminder, I did give a full month to participate, no complaints.

The November test questions were weighted and I did accept bribes. Winners are announced below.

I have explained the intent of the questions below. I also copied some of the best answers. I apologize for the length of this but it is about you guys so I am sure you won’t mind reading it. And Amy will enjoy it because it is all service in her name.

1.Do you have a log-in for familytree.org?

Well, the intent here was to have everyone sign up on the new church web site. However, this question got flagged from the get go. Does anyone know what Mitzi’s calling is in our ward? She is the genealogy specialist but you wouldn’t know it by this question she wrote…apparently there is no familytree.org associated with the church. Char realized this and was convinced the rest of the test was all trick questions. Everyone got a point. Moving on.

2. Between Oct 28th 2012 and now, did you do an unexpected service for your spouse? If so, what?

You should have read this and said to yourself, “self, I should do an unexpected service.”

The best answer goes to Lani and Hock with this sickly sweet service: I put love notes in his lunch each day, took bath duty, ironed shirts…..awwwwww

And Kriss and Ed (bonus point to Tiff and Ryan): He hung my medicine cabinets & I got all the Christmas decorating down from the attic and decorated with Ryan’s help.

3. Did you give out a pass along card or do any missionary work?

As we know, the field is white, already to harvest, so thrust in your sickle. Kriss and Tiffany need to duke it out on who can really claim Hector.

4. Out of college, Grandpa's first boss in construction was very kind to him. Why?

First, for those of you who said “trick question, Grandpa didn’t go to college.” Well, he did not graduate from college but he did complete 2 years before starting a job in construction. Now, had you picked up your phone and dialed 801.472.3545, and posed this question to the gentleman who answered, you may have come up with the right answer. Big Bucks, no whammies to those who answered that Grandpa’s mother nursed his boss when he was an infant.

5. How many FHEs have you held since Oct 28th?

Well, the intent here was to give you just a little more encouragement to have FHE.

6. Who was Canada's first prime minster? What was his formal name?

Alex, I’ll take “Former leaders of the greatest countries in the world” for $1000. Who is “Sir John A MacDonald.”

7. How many days did you hold family scripture study since Oct 28th?

See #5.

8. For the Dads--did you do a one on one date with one of your children since Oct 28th?

Easy, you could have claimed a trip to McDonalds if you needed to. Too late to revise your answers.

9. How did you magnify your calling this month?

Absolutely, the number one best answer goes to Bill Johnson who answered, “got to know more of my scout’s names.” Magnification of calling by at least 100X.

Runners up Chuck and Ashley answered with: Chuck went grocery shopping for a family. Having done this yesterday, I really admire a man who can shop for a whole family.

Other runners up, Lani and Hock answered with: Stalked a less active YW despite risking my life because she has a crazy untrained dog that wanted to eat me alive... But at least I got her cell number out of it ;)

10. Did you sing to someone outside of family and church members since Oct 28th?

Char and Bill really needed a gimme at this point because Char thought every question was a trick question. What is interesting is that neither one of them mentioned Kids Are Music. Char gets points for the following: I volunteer in Cole's school class and I go in to read a story about a special characteristic every month. Last month it was commitment and follow through. The book was Horton Hears a Who. Thanks to Seussical, I SANG THE ENTIRE BOOK! It was a hit!

11. Do your neighbors enjoy warm out of the oven treats? How do you know?

Hmmm, I don’t know. Well, how about I bake some brownies, take ‘em to the neighbors and kick some butt on this test by signing off on #3 (missionary work), #9 (magnify your calling—aren’t we all member missionaries), #11 and why not throw in #10 for good measure (because you sing the warm brownie song).

12. Where was Grandpa first stationed overseas? What was the first car he owned?

Survey says: Dial 801.472.3545. New Guinea was the number one answer. Model T.

13. Did you vote? Who did you vote for? Warning: This is a pass/fail question.

Well of course, the intent here was to encourage you to do your civic duty and vote. Bill failed this question because he pled the 5th on who he voted for. Almost threw out his test. And the rest of the country failed as well. Oh well.

14. Where did Grandpa and Grandma go on their first date?

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

“ Pat, I’d like to buy a vowel please.”


“There is one I”.

_ _ _ _ I _ _ _ _ _ _.


Brilliant, you must be related to Game Show Amy.

Note: The following 5 questions are from a Ken Jennings quiz. He is perhaps the only other Mormon Game Show Great on par with Amy.

15. Beethoven's Eroica was his third and Haydn's Surprise was his 94th of what type of musical composition?

Survey says: Symphony

16. What Nevada county, home to the city of Las Vegas, shares its name with a famous Western explorer?

Alex, What is “Clark?”

Game Show Great showing why she is great with this extended answer:

More info: Due to the large amount of gold mining in Arizona and Nevada, Senator William A. Clark built a railroad line in the area. With this he also brought a large amount of money to the area. One of the stops along his rail line was the Small village of Las Vegas. Because of his improvements and money he was bestowed with the honor of having the soon to be county named after him. And that is how Clark county Nevada was named.

17. Last month, where did the Curiosity rover gather soil samples near the foothills of Mount Sharp?

Big Bucks, no whammies….Mars

18. What's the feline name of the club where Liza Minnelli performs in the movie Cabaret?

Survey says: Kit Kat club

19. The fourth chapter of what classic novel is titled "The Shoulder of Athos, the Baldric of Pathos, and the Handkerchief of Aramis"?

Three Musketeers.

I am sorry, that is incorrect. The correct answer needs to be phrased in a question, What is “Three Musketeers”

And you killed yourself on the daily double.

20. What do the answers to the questions 15-19 have in common?

They are all chocolate bars but half points to Char and Kriss for these answers:

Char: Wikipedia / 15 and 19, both "take place" in the 1700's—so that takes care of what half the answers have in common—unfortunately, you did not get half points.

Kriss: Shows that I have lots to learn and can find most everything on the internet.

21. What is the favorite dessert of the youngest member of your home teaching family?

The intent here was that you would say to yourself, “self, I don’t know what the answer to this is. I should go do my home teaching and find out.”

22. What is the favorite dessert of the youngest member of your visiting teaching family?

See 21.

23. Who really owned Radar?

Ok, we have it writing, never to be disputed again. This really proves how good Game Show Amy is and what sacrifices she is willing to make to be Game Show Amy.

Amy answered: “Mitzi”...you can tell if I am admitting this that I really want to win!

So it is settled. But no, Char leaves some doubt with this answer: Amy owned Radar the original, short lived bunny. Mitzi owned the more popular 2.0 version that we had for a long time

24. Favorite flavor of Ice cream for Ryan, Hock, Ashley, Mike, Wayne, Bill, Ed?

Ryan- PB cup or cookie dough

Hock- strawberry

Ash- mint chocolate chip

Mike- chocolate

Wayne- vanilla

Bill- rocky road

Dad- mint moose tracks

Tiffany gets bonus points for guessing and getting the majority correct. She guessed Moose Tracks for me due to my Canadian heritage…I let this one slide…”A” for effort. Others went to the source and got the correct answers.

I admire Amy Dittbrenner. She is an extremely hard worker, great mother and always seems to be encouraging others. In fact, she would have done a much better job at getting everyone to participate in this challenge than I did.

Several years ago, we took a family cruise together. This was just after the big win on Deal or No Deal and Amy and Wayne generously donated some funds to the family’s shore excursions. I wanted to repay that and this service challenge gave me the opportunity. Here is how the families ranked in the service challenge:

1. Hocks (10 points)

2. Dittbrenners (8 points)

3. Johnsons (7 points)

4. Eddie Gates (6 points)

5. Tie--Conley and Chuck Gates (4 points each)

I will be sending out a link to the GE rewards site. You have the amount of points listed beside your family name to spend at the store. Merry Christmas.

Amy, you are the Game Show Great and it really is just a reflection of the way you live. Thanks for being a great example.

Love ya


To Mom From Wayne

This Christmas Season has been a bit different for me.  I really enjoy the days leading up to the actual day of Christmas.  I really love my time at my home.  This year has been a bit different as I came and worked with Dad on and off since Thanksgiving. 

Mom this year my gift to you is my flight time to and from Southern Cal to help Dad.  We could tell that Dad was a bit stressed about his two jobs getting behind.  It may sound I feel a bit selfish because I did get paid, but as this is my favorite time of the year to be home, I was happy to come and help out.

I thought that I was really helping as I was told by a few subs that Eddie was in a better mood but
I don't know if I ended up relieving his stress because on my last day there he got out 2 bowls for cereal and poured OJ in one of them.

This is a photo of where the hit Dads head.  This is the 3rd time that he bloodied his head while I was there.  I can't be everywhere. 

I know it seems that I was helping Dad but I know that Mom is happy when Dad is able to come home at a decent time and enjoy an evening train game to one of your candlelight dinner. 

Merry Christmas Wayne from 2011: The Wayne Dittbrenner Football Camp

For my 2011 Christmas gift to Wayne, I gave him the gift of football immortality, by creating the Wayne Dittbrenner Football Camp.  As a follow up to last year's blog post I wanted to write about the experience we had hosting the 1st Wayne Dittbrenner Football Camp.

Overall the camp was a great success and all of the kids had a lot of fun. It was fun to see each of the kids and learn more about their personalities.  I was very pleased with how the cousins interacted and especially impressed with how encouraging Brighton was with the younger kids.  He really made an effort to be encouraging especially to Houston.  Connor is a natural born Quarterback.  He likes being in charge and calling the plays.  Cole demonstrated a lot of fight and a willingness to keep trying.  If he didn't catch the first pass, he didn't get discouraged, instead he kept trying until he caught one.  This makes sense when you look at the challenges he has faced in his life.  I think a kid with less fight would have thrown in the towel by now. But instead Cole keeps fighting through all the doctors appointments and health problems.  Tara is a natural athlete and was clearly conflicted with whether to keep playing football or to go play on the playground with her friends.  She was definitely having fun and playing well, but seemed to feel a little out of place as the only girl.  Houston had a great time, and is learning how to hold his own as the youngest of the bunch, and all of the other kids were great to include him.

Favorite shot here is the team huddle (bottom center).
It was also a lot of fun to see Bill out there on the field with the kids showing off his moves.  I learned that old Billy is more athletic than he lets on.

Top Left: Billy showing off his skills
Bottom Right: Connor taking charge in the huddle
I wish that I would have been able to host the camp on a day when all of the kids were out here so that more of the cousins could participate, but I think that the kids that were able to attend had a good time.

Merry Christmas Wayne.  The camp was a great success. The kids and I all thought of you and wished you were there.  Love Hock

How do I love thee...To Billy- Love Lani

To my Big Brother Billy...  Love, Lani

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways...

Many time throughout this year since receiving our assignments I've tried to really think about Bill; to ponder on what types of things matter to him, to think about things he enjoys (I even watched like 30 minutes of a Nascar race to channel my inner-Bill!), to think about my first impressions of Billy over a decade ago, and of course, to try to be a little more like him by doing service that he would do.

Here are some of the highlights of my year O' Bill.

I have been so impressed with Bill and his willingness to give up Saturdays to join the Elder's Quorum to drive 2 hours to help do Hurricane Clean up relief all day- then drive 2 hours back home. I think they need like 4 guys to go each time and are supposed to rotate but I feel like Bill has gone almost every time. When Sandy hit, I was inspired by Bill to try to help. I didn't feel right about going to do manual labor all day on a Saturday when very pregnant or with a newborn- so service #1- I made a small donation in Bill's name to New York Cares', to their Hurricane Sandy assistance program.

Next, I enjoy getting to see Bill's smiling face on most mutual nights while he is Cub Master. I reached out to the parents of Bill's cub scouts to find out why they like Master Bill or Cub Scouts since Master Bill has been in charge. Here are the responses I received:
  • "He's great! He puts all his work and effort in putting on these fun things in scouts."
  • Ethan really enjoyed discovering how to create and write secret codes. He really enjoys scouts because he likes playing with his friends, learning new things and working on new projects. His favorite part of scouts was getting new badges. 
  • Jonathan said,"I loved the pack meeting with the campfire. That was my favorite! I liked the pinewood derby too, but roasting marshmallows was much cooler!"
  • Brother Bill has always been very kind and loving to John.  One thing in particular this year, he took John to cub scout camp every day.  John says he is willing to do anything with the scouts and is always fun, happy, and patient.  As John's mom, I really appreciate everything that Bill has done for him, not only through Cub Scouts but also through Kids Are Music.  Bill would give you the shirt off his back if you asked!  We love him and are so grateful that he is in our lives!
These are fine and dandy... but I still could not think of the perfect service for Bill. So... I had to take it old school and try to remember the Billy of old- I had to get my head back to 1997 when I first met Bill.

I was a young 15 year old when my big sister Charise invited me to come with her post-college friends to a Halloween party. While at the party- Charise pointed out her roommate at the time- Bill. Although we didn't talk long- we hit it off right away. :)

Looking back at that night, 2 things stand out at my first encounter with Bill. His big endearing smile... and of course... the mustache. Ahhhh- now we are talking... INSPIRATION! The perfect place to tap into service.

I researched Mustache charities (I know- I was surprised that there were so many- mostly dedicated to men's skin issues- but that didn't feel like something I wanted to really participate in). Then I found the perfect place- I made a small donation to "Mustache for Memory"- a charity that uses facial hair to raise awareness about Alzheimer's. The guy who runs it, started it in honor of his father, Richard, who he describes as someone who "may hesitate to ask for help but was the first in line to offer it" which I think explains Billy as well. I thought this was also a good chance to donate to a cause that had so much meaning to our family this year with Grandma's passing due to Alzheimers.

As a thank you for the donation made in Billy's name- they sent me a thank you card with this.
..a little creepy, I know but so stinkin' cute!

I traveled once again back to my memories of Bill in 1997. The next thing I remembered learning about Bill was that he was a new member that loved Missionaries. He was grateful to have found the Gospel but sad that he "missed the cut off" for going to serve a mission. Often while out on my mission I would think of Billy, and think, "Take advantage of this time- Billy would love to be in my shoes- so make him proud!" To be honest, I have lost a lot of that since returning home from my mission. It has been harder to be a member missionary. This year I was better. I tried to make more non-member friends so that I even have people to talk about the Gospel with. I reached out harder and more confident to my less active Young Women including surprise visits even if it meant getting nasty looks of "stop bugging me" or being attacked by dogs. I've already started to see the success from 2 of my YW.

Another thing I remember learning about Billy in the early days was how much he LOVED our family. There were times growing up that I felt like people thought our family was a little cheesy, and didn't really "GET" us. Well, right off I felt like Bill not only "got" us- but wanted to be one of us- and I am so glad he is. In fact, I think he "gets" it better than me sometimes. I don't think there is anything that Bill wouldn't do for one of us. His "sure thing" attitude when asked for help is something I wanted to try to emulate. Bill never makes me feel like he is too busy to help. Whether I need a last minute babysitter or my car is dead and I need a jump- Bill is often my first call.

I wanted to adopt his "sure thing" attitude instead of my regular disposition of "let me check my schedule" or worry of what that might impose on me or my family. This year I tried to be better that when someone asked for a favor- I followed my gut and said yes if there was any way for it to work... I adopted Bill's open door policy for kids at my house. Whenever someone- a sister, a friend, or new person in the ward would be looking for someone to watch their kids for a couple hours- I tried to have an immediate "sure thing" response. This one has helped me be not only a better aunt and sister I feel, but a better person that is responsibly willing to help instead of stressing and worrying- if it is within my power. Seriously- life changing to have this new attitude in life. Thank you Billy.

I felt like there was one more thing that I was missing and at least needed to try to tap into... his performance background in Roller Skating. :)

I called the local Roller Skating Rink to ask if I could come volunteer and I explained our Christmas tradition. The owner called me back a few days later and explained how touched their staff was by this wonderful Christmas tradition and he was so sad to tell me that as much as he wished I could- his lawyers wouldn't let him even though he begged them. So no roller skating service... bummer... I would just have to dream about my Billy Roller skating service...
I agree with the Cub Scouts- Bill rocks and I am so grateful for him and that I get to be one of his sisters! I'd like to hope/think that I would have done these things without doing them "as a service for Bill" but I know I wouldn't have done them with as great as an attitude.I know it sounds simple, but as I have done this throughout the year, it has honestly changed my life. It has helped me be better at doing things I knew I wanted to be doing but for some reason just wasn't. Thank you Bill for your "sure thing" attitude, love for missionary work and the Gospel, love for others, and love for me and my little family. We love you! Merry Christmas. Love, Lani

To Hock - Love Amy

One thing that I love about my brother Hock is how great of a Dad he is.  He is always up for playing with his kids.  I will never forget playing kick ball with him last year at the family reunion (and not just because he knocked his son out of his shoes).

I know that Hock is the kind of guy that will get down on Christmas morning and play with his kids toys.  With that in mind, this year I wanted to do something related to toys.  I chose to help with the "Toy 'n' Joy" program from the Salvation Army.  When people donate toys to the Salvation Army they are sorted and put out for those that are less fortunate to come and "Shop" for their kids.  This may sound simple but think of 1000's of toys.  Someone needs to sort them.  Alaska Airlines is a sponsor of the Salvation Army.  They were asking for volunteers to come and help.  I was on it!

It was a fun experience that had me teared up from the beginning.  We went to the Seahawks Stadium because they needed a space large enough for all the toys.  Trucks kept coming for 4 hours and dropping of huge amounts of toys.  It was so neat.  My job was to tally what was coming in and sort into age and gender groups.  I loved it!

Another note: this year on our employee website they asked if anyone wanted to share a family traditon.  I shared ours and it was chosen as one of the top and featured on our homepage. 

Love you Hock...play on!

Merry Christmas Chuck from Hock

Since moving to North Carolina I've had the opportunity to get to know Chuck a lot better and have really enjoyed the time we've been able to spend with him and his family.  While thinking about Chuck there were a couple of obvious ways that I could think of in which to serve.

Anyone who has gone to visit Chuck or traveled with him can attest to the fact that Chuck was born to be a tour guide.  I can't recall a trip I've ever taken with Chuck, in which he was not prepared with all of the key facts about the area we were visiting.  I've also seen firsthand the enjoyment he receives from taking visitors around Richmond to see all of the important sights of that historic city.
Here are a few of our favorite pictures from different trips to Richmond to visit Ashley and Chuck.
With this in mind I looked into volunteering with the U.S. National Park Service or joining a local historical society in the Triangle.  This would help me to learn more about the area in which I live, and enable me to give our guests a "Chuck Gates Caliber Tour" when they come to town.  Unfortunately, there are not any volunteer positions with the National Parks Service available nor any worthwhile historical societies in the area that I can join.

Another obvious way to serve Chuck is to do something related to politics.  However, I didn't feel good about that because being politically active is something I would do anyway.  I felt like doing that would be a bit of a copout.  I really wanted to do something that would help me to better understand/appreciate Chuck, and stretch myself beyond something I would ordinarily do.

I was feeling a bit stumped as to the best way to serve Chuck, until Lani, the kids, and I recently took a trip to Richmond to visit Chuck, Ashley, and their family.  While visiting with Chuck and Ashley one night we began to talk about their neighborhood.  I was amazed and quite impressed at how well Chuck knew each of his neighbors.  Not only did he know their names, but he knew details about them.  While listening to him talk, I was embarrassed to realize that I only knew the names of three of my neighbors, and could only speak in detail about one of them on a personal level.  Lani and I have been talking for awhile about how we need to be better neighbors, and after talking with Chuck it became clear that now is the time to act.

Through the inspiration of Chuck and in honor of him this Christmas Season, I have become a better neighbor.  This week I made plates of fudge and cookies to take to nine of my neighbors.  I then took Lani and the kids around the neighborhood to introduce our family and deliver our treats.

The kids and I had a lot of fun making fudge and cookies.  The fudge eventually got hard to stir, so we took the opportunity to play "Sword in the Stone" which is what the bottom right is a picture of.

We had a great experience.  Houston and Hadley helped me knock on each door and to explain that we wanted to introduce ourselves and deliver them some Christmas treats.  It was funny to watch the faces of each neighbor change.  Each one had a puzzled/suspicious look when they answered the door (the kind of look you give a door-to-door salesmen), but after hearing why were there, their faces changed and each of them were clearly touched.  It was a neat feeling to see their expression change, when they realized we were only there to introduce ourselves and to be friends.  Several of them suggested that we get together for dinner or a couples outing, and some of them even expressed an interest in babysitting.  Lani and I are excited to further develop these relationships, and are grateful to Chuck for the example that he and Ashley have set within their neighborhood.

Houston and Hadley were both really excited to make new friends.   One of our neighbors invited us in to chat, and Houston made himself right at home, opening up their fridge and helping himself to some milk (which was actually coffee creamer), we used that as an opportunity to discuss manners in other people's homes.  Both Houst and Hadley were real troopers until about 8:00pm, when they both had meltdows. 
Chuck, the more I have gotten to know you the more I have grown to respect you.  You are a good man, a great father, and a terrific priesthood holder.  I am grateful to be a member of your family and for the fine example you set.  Merry Christmas.  Love Hock

To Char, With Love From Mitzi

To Charise From Mitzi

La, la, la long long long long long long! My hair was way long! I was really enjoying it being so long. It was the longest it had ever been in my life. When I heard that I had Char, for Christmas this year, I knew it had to go! I found out I had Char in the middle of the “breast cancer scare.” I knew that I needed to cut my hair and give it to Char. So Char, I haven’t donated it...It is here under my tree waiting for you to pick it up today in case you need a wig someday. You can choose to donate it if you feel secure with your hair.

Then in August we went on the cruise to Alaska. They had a 5K on the ship called “On Deck for the Cure.” Now even though we had found out at this point that Char was clear for now, I know this is something that will always be watching. So I decided to walk for the cure. Carrie and Mom joined me. It ended up being lots of fun. Char came and joined us for the last lap. She even said, “if on of you has me, you can use this as your service.” Um YA!!! You betcha!!

Char I am glad you don’t have cancer, and still have boobs and still have your hair. I am so glad you live here by me so we can share our daily wo’s together. I love you big sister. Merry Christmas!


Let Your Light Shine...

...or put up some Christmas lights for someone to shine for you!!!  This year I had the unique opportunity to do some direct service my recipient.  With Ed being really busy with all his recent Pei Wei jobs I knew that he would not want to or wouldn't have time to put up the Christmas lights on the house or the Christmas tree.  I knew if I was that busy I would really appreciate this service.  So I worked with Kriss to purchase some new Christmas lights for the outside as we were unable to find the old ones.  I had to conquer a little bit of fear of heights as I climbed to the tippy top of the roof and leaned over the edge to put up some of the lights higher up.  I put up the Lights outside and when they got their Christmas Tree I helped dress it with garland and lights. Marry Christmas Ed!

The Gates house was one of the first to have their lights up and boy do they look great!

you never know...

Well here we are again, a new yr. and new names that we are to somehow give a meaningful service for and in behalf of. This has become a wonderful tradition and at the same time a challenge to some of us. should I just speak for myself and say that this yr was very rewarding and at the same time a challenge.
I have been very blessed this yr. and I could not help but think back to when I was growing up with all my brothers and sisters and the kind of Christmas's we had. My mother would give everything she had to make sure we all had some kind of present and a wonderful  Christmas time.
That being said, I decided that if I could, I would try to give to a family that may be in the same situation that my family was in.   

I know that some time in this service rendering, that I have a cows butt in my name out there, feeding some needy people.   Right. Michael MacBride?   So, I feel it is ok, to not have done physical labor in my service.
I do not have any pictures, so I will try to paint a picture in your minds as to what this was like. A picture is worth a 1000 words, so picture this:

I make some phone calls and make some arrangements to put things into motion.
As you all know I have been busy with the work that I took on.  I am in the Beverly Hills city offices trying to get a permit and I get a return phone call from one of my sources. (I had just hung up from talking to mom about our next mission, and where we might want to serve, and I was kind of emotional at the end of that call.)   Now I get this call and I explain what we as a family have done for a couple of years now, for Christmas.   I can't help but think how blessed I am to be the parent of such great, great kids and as many of you may know, the water faucet springs a leak. Yes folks, I am sitting waiting for my name to be called.  I am on  the phone, which is a no no.  I am trying to explain to this person  what I need from him. Now on the other end, he becomes caught up in the spirit  of what I would like to do, and I can now tell that he, too, has developed a small leak. I get control of myself and get across to him how he may be able to help me fulfill my service in behalf of the person I have been given. He said he would get back to me.
My next contact is a phone call while I am in the middle of a work day.  (Now any of you that have had that pleasure of making that kind of call to me know just how pleasant I can be).  I make myself very, very congenial as he starts to explain the options, that he has for me. I am once again overcome, even as I walk back and forth on the job. I am so touched by what he has told me, that a couple of workers ask me if everything is ok. "Yes,  I am ok" I say, ... "just some good news".

Now I would like to print the note that was sent along with the gift that I had agreed to send. (Thank you dear companion for writing this for me.)
"Dear 'Special Family'

I grew up in a family with 13 children... and our father left home when I was very young.  My Sweet mother struggled, working very hard to provide for us, along with the help from the church.
I will never forget the magic of Christmas... as we all came into the living room and saw all the gifts around the tree each year. The first thing we did before any packages were opened, was kneel down and thank our Father In Heaven for the gospel and for the kind  and wonderful people who Shared the  Christmas  spirit with us. I knew that my mom would not have been able to do this without help.

This year I want to share with you this special Christmas Spirit, and dedicate this to my marvelous mother  'Ione.'  Someday you can pass this on." 
 Have a Heavenly Christmas "

In this note, I dedicated the service to my mother, because I did not want the family, to whom this gift was given,  to know that this was really done for Mitzi McBride.  There is a family in Mitzi's ward, the same size as Mitzi's family, that will have now have a Christmas.
Mitzi, I received a phone call from your Bishop to give me a little report. When he met with the family and gave them the note and gift, they just sat on the sofa and wept and wept. The Bishop said "Brother Gates, You have given them a life line".

Thank you Mitzi for letting me share this with my Mom as this all transpired on December 12th, My Mother's birthday. I love you Mitt...


Oh, my little Lani, what an inspiration you are...

My recipiant is our sweet Lani... At first I thought that I would try to do something for the Young Women in our ward... or tend for a young family... or work in the laundry at the temple. But then I realized these were things that I already am doing. I decided that I wanted to do something out of my regular comfort zone, and make a special effort to do something that I wouldn't normally do. So I started "searching" and found something special. Lani taught Dad and I to love Africa. When Grandma and Grandpa went to Liberia, they returned with tons of souvenirs and lots of stories, but I was too immature to appreciate what they had experienced. When Lani went to Africa, we were able to really experience the emotions behind Africa. As we all know, one of the biggest problems in Africa is AIDS.

        When I first learned about AIDS, and what it was and how it was usually spread, I was naive and absolutely disgusted. I remember thinking something like "Well, I guess they get what they deserve, if that's the way they choose to live." What a fool I was. I have grown immensely in the last 3 years. I am disgusted with myself, for being so judgemental. I have learned to love the people of Africa and have discovered that many innocent people are affected, and infected, with this terrible disease. I have also discovered that there are many wonderful gay men and women, who are God's children. I could write forever on what I have discovered.

I found a special service project to honor Lani. When I worked, I dedicated my service to Lani and to "Ren". Ren was my special little African Angel that was stricken with Malaria, from the bad water in Pointe Noire. When they took her to the hospital for malaria she was given either a dirty needle or infected blood, because my little sweetheart contracted AIDS. Her family adored her. She had 4 big brothers, and a great Mom and Dad (who Dad actually baptized.) Because she was behind in school, she missed learning how to read and do basic math facts. For a year, I worked with her and taught her to read and to do her math.
She was thrilled with little things that I gave her. Little books... and little head bands and bows from Mitzi and some of the rest of you.
I became way too attached to her, and when I held her last December and told her good-bye, she cried and cried. 2 months ago I received word that Ren had passed away from AIDS. It broke my heart, because she was so very young and innocent.
It seemed so preventable, yet in Africa, it happens all the time.

  3 years ago I wouldn't have touched anyone or anything that was connected in any way to AIDS. Last week I had the honor of working with the "AIDS
Services Foundation Orange County." I served in the food pantry with some wonderful women who volunteer once a week. There were also several men working there. The food pantry is for people who are too sick with AIDS to lead normal lives, and the orders are prepared... similiar to our church's bishops' storehouses. I met many of the "patients" and visited and laughed with them about the holiday season, as I stocked shelved and refrigerators with the incoming food orders. It was a very special day.
Lani, my love... thanks for introducing us to Africa and understanding a little bit about the world outside the bubbles of Salt Lake City and Irvine. Words cannot express what you have done for us in understanding how much our Father in Heaven loves us all. Merry Christmas to all of you! We love you so much. Mom

Running for many wonderful reasons...

What do you do when you get Mike Mcbride for the Christmas Service? The guy who has such great post write ups, and has that great sense of humor. Talk about the pressure! So Mike McBride, MERRY CHRISTMAS, from Tiff! This year, I decided to follow in my big brother's footsteps and become a runner. I know others in the family started this also this year for David, and I did do it for him also. I had decided to do this for my service for both David and Mike. Back in August I started training and running. I was running 4 days a week, anywhere from 2-5 miles each time, usually about 12-15 miles total a week. I enjoyed it so much, and I am so grateful that I had that time to myself 4 times a week to better myself. I know to some this might seem a pretty selfish service, and I know that it might be, but I decided that myself a healthier person was a good service to others, including my own children and family.

I started off small and did a 5k race on October 20th, (the same day the others were doing their big half marathon on the East Coast). It was a very laid back "Color dash" race where every km you were doused with colored corn starch. This race was a race for "Heart Disease". I ran it under 35 minutes, and I was very proud of myself!
Then 2 weeks later, I ran my 10k on November 3rd! Now, this was the longest I have ever ran in my whole life at one time. 6.2 miles! This race was amazing. When I was looking for races, I looked in Irvine, and this race happened to be going on. It is a race that earned money for an African Orphanage in Kenya. I loved that I was able to support something that is also so close to our family at this time, with mom and dad returning from their mission. I tried to convince Ryan to switch people with me so that I could have dad for my service recipient this year. That was a no go. :)

This race was so special to me. I have written about it already, and some of you might have already seen it. 2 of my best friends ran it with me, and I really could not have done it without them. They pushed me the whole time and kept me going. As I ran my last few hundred feet and then crossed the finish line, I became so emotional. I was so proud of myself. I finished the race in record time! 1:07:45! My personal record. And I really couldn't have done it without these girls. I ran a 5k two weeks ago by myself, and I missed having someone there to do it with. This race was amazing. As I crossed the finish line with these 2 ladies, my eyes welled up with tears as I was so emotional with accomplishing this goal and also with the love I felt for my sweet cousin David. Here is my post write up that was on David's Return With Honor Blog:
My service to David this year is similar to many others. I started running again, but this time, a lot, and for a goal and a cause. I started training for a 10k back in september. I ran a 5 k on October 20th, and then a 10k on November 3rd. I crossed the finish line for the 10k at a time of 1:07. I couldn't belive it! I was training, and was doing 12.5 minute miles. This was 11.5 miles per hour under! I crossed that finish line and tears swelled up in my eyes. I felt so spiritual, so happy, so overwhelmed with happiness. The spirit was so strong in me. I know David was there telling me good job. I enjoyed every second of training and of that race. It was harder than I have ever ran before, but I did it, and I loved it.  I love you David. Thank you for inspiring us all!

This is a picture of the orphanage in Kenya that the proceeds of the race went to. It was taken on December 20th.

Then later that week, on November 8th, Ryan's company was having a 5k. November 8th happened to also be David's birthday. I felt very special to be running for this game company's 5k (and the 5k was to inspire health wellness within the company), a guy who loved computer games, on his birthday. It was another very special run.

My next running goal is to run a half marathon in 2013. I will start training for next starting January and will hopefully do it with Dad before they leave on another mission.

And then lastly, in honor of my big brother Mike, who is a wonderful runner, and is a wonderful member of the church, I will be volunteering to help with the Disneyland Half Marathon on January 17th and January 19th. I saw something about volunteering for the half marathon, and decided that since I choose not to run it (because it was on a Sunday) that I could volunteer to help on the days leading up to it. I will be putting together the runner packets on Thursday and then passing them out on the Saturday. Yay for running! And thank you mike for inspiring me to become a runner and become a healthier person. I love you!

2012 Season of Service

The family of Ed and Kriss Gates are continuing their family tradition of performing service for, or on behalf of, each other in lieu of giving gifts.

In 2009, with families spread across five state throughout the country, we decided our traditional gift exchange was too costly and difficult. Amy suggested that instead of the commercialized practice of buying small gifts only to pay high shipping costs, we each perform acts of service in the name of the sibling whose name we were assigned at random.

Just as in the past, our good friend Carrie Collins drew the names and notified each of us privately to keep secret who was doing good in your name. On Christmas Day, we reveal who we had and how we chose to celebrate the new tradition of the Gates Family Season of Service.

This tradition has helped us focus on serving our communities and one another during the annual celebration of the birth of our Savior Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

The 2012 Gates Family Season of Service
(click on each to read individually, or go here for full blog.)