Tuesday, April 30, 2013


When Savannah and Megan were little (Emma was about 6 months old and McKay wasn't even a thought) we surprised them with a trip to Disney World in Orlando.  We lived in Atlanta at the time, and Craig's job required some travel to Florida, so we incorporated a Disney trip into a business trip.  The girls had NO IDEA we were taking them on the trip of their dreams, and they were thrilled when we finally got there.  

A couple of years ago we did something similar on a summer trip to San Antonio.  We had told the kids all month long that Sea World just wasn't going to happen and that we would have to wait until another time to visit Shamu.  And then we pulled into the Sea World parking lot!  Huge surprise!  Huge success!

Craig is a big fan of surprises.   I honestly am not, and would probably never think to surprise my kids with anything.  Besides, I'm terrible at keeping secrets.  

We have another HUGE surprise for them tonight.  They have NO IDEA.  Craig and I have kept this secret for almost 2 whole months, and not only are we about to burst, but we are also about as giddy as we were in November 2000 when we took two little girls to see Minnie Mouse.  I can't tell you where we're taking them because by some crazy twist of fate, today would be the day one of my kids decides to read my blog.  There are no theme parks involved this time.  We're not even traveling outside of Dallas.   But it will be a HUGE, delightful surprise that I'm pretty sure they'll be talking about for years.  

That's it...I can't give you anymore hints!

We'll be back late tonight.  I'll post pictures and details tomorrow morning.  And if you see my kids at school today and you've read this, DON'T TELL THEM!!

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Youth Conference

Oh, I love these kids so much.  This isn't even the entire group.  There were more on the sides who didn't squish in tight enough to get in the shot.  And there were a few straggler-musicians who weren't in the room for this one.  Think 50+ youth...

I am unbelievably grateful to have been associated with these amazing kids for the past few weeks as we've prepared this Youth Conference choir.  They are remarkable, bright lights and I have loved every second I've spent with them.

Way back in September when I started listening to the Stand in Holy Places CD, I had a vision of what this could sound like if we did it on a ward level.  But then when the assignment became a reality, I realized that the number of boys in our ward did not equal the number of SINGING boys, and I wondered if maybe I had been wrong about my little vision.  

During that first week of preparation for this Stake Youth Conference, I blasted out texts to all my friends with boys begging them to encourage their boys to participate.  I tried to lure them with cookies and the promise of many, many young women who would also be participating.  That first rehearsal, there were a handful of kids, mostly from my ward, who sang without a lot of conviction.  I crossed my fingers in the subsequent weeks and prayed my head off that we would have the numbers we needed (especially boy numbers) to pull this off.  They gradually came, and by the final rehearsal last Sunday, we had about 25 kids which was miraculous in my opinion.

In my prayer on Friday morning, I asked to be able to remember all the little things that I might have forgotten.  I asked to be able to field all the potential questions that would come up at 5:30pm when we started rehearsal.  I asked to be calm and freely gushing with compliments for all the kids who would be there.  I asked for magnification of the little choir-directing talent that I currently have.  And I asked for the numbers.  I had not sent out reminder texts or emails.  I hadn't spoken with any of these kids since the previous Sunday, and in teenager-time, a week is an eternity.  I was a little worried...

And then I hopped up to get going with the rest of the day...and was quickly reminded that I hadn't even been still and quiet long enough to listen for any instruction.  When I got back on my knees, here's what I heard.  "Haunani, I did not just give this vision to you.  I gave it to the leaders who have championed this cause for you.  I gave it to the woman who is accompanying for you.  I gave it to the man who wrote the instrumentalist parts.  I gave it to the musicians.  And I gave it to the youth who will be there to sing.  They didn't show up because you made cookies or because you sent out texts to their parents.  Or even because they love you.  They are there because they had a tiny little vision, too.  And you will have everything you need tonight."  

Amazing, huh?

That's a pretty personal thing to write on this blog, and as I wrote it in my journal, I wondered if it would be too much to share in a very public forum like this.  But, last night, as I listened to several of the youth, including Savannah, share their testimonies about the weekend, I thought that this blog post is what I would have shared had I been asked to get up last night. 

When Heavenly Father gives you a vision, He also gives you the means to achieve it.  Why would we have the desire if there was no way to achieve it?  He would never do that.  I know that for sure after this weekend.  I could not have pulled this off on my own.  I could not have brought together all of those kids without some pretty mountainous divine help.

Our tiny little visions are only a small glimpse of what Heavenly Father has in mind when He sends them.  I saw in my vision, a ward youth choir singing this song for a Sacrament meeting at the very most.  What He intended and what actually happened FAR surpassed anything that my limited experience could conjure up.  How exciting is that?  

I expected 20 kids.  I got 50+.  I hoped to have enough kids to fill the center section of the choir seats in the chapel.  They filled EVERY SINGLE SEAT.  I heard a piano accompanist.  What we performed with was a piano, two flutes, a bassoon, and two basses.  We also had a sweet little Casey who did a sign language interpretation as the choir sang.  And on the final day of Youth Conference, not only did the choir sing, but the ENTIRE congregation of youth sang with us.  500 voices singing this song.  I had no idea it could be this amazing!  

I was not the only person in that building to LAUNCH something great over the weekend.  One little musical number (which became so much more than little) LAUNCHED a whole handful of kids, brought the Spirit to the meeting, and united an entire Stake full of youth. 

I cannot tell you how amazingly humbled I feel to have been allowed to be a part of something so magnificent.  Heavenly Father is totally aware of each one of us.  He knows our needs.  He knows our potential.  And when He brings a few of us together, we are capable of miracles.  

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Baseball Season

It's baseball season again, which means there are cleats, gloves and socks spread from one end of my house to the other.  It means little boys are camped out in the front yard playing catch until all hours of the night.  And it means our weekends are pretty much committed to the ball field from now until June.

But McKay LOVES baseball season.  

He's playing 2nd base this year which is exciting.  He has been an aspiring pitcher for the last two seasons, but just a move from outfield to infield is pretty satisfying right now.  

I decided last week that since I will be spending so much time at that ballpark, since I desperately need the photography practice, and since there aren't any other self-appointed team photographers, I would drag my camera with me and get some practice taking action shots.  It's hard, guys!  I can't get the white balance, the shutter speed, and the aperture all coordinated with the cloud cover, direct sunlight, and moving subjects in time to catch the shot.  (sigh...)  So, after missing the first two innings, I relented and set my camera back on AUTO (I know, don't tell Vernetta, ok?)  BUT...I did try that little tip from my friend, Chad...you know, the one about taking a bazillion pictures because the odds are good that you'll get at least a handful of shots that are great.  I also set my camera on continuous shooting mode so that I could take multiple pictures really quickly.  
Here's what that does...

Instead of just getting one shot per second, you get three to five shots per second.  Awesome for capturing things like batting...

sliding into home..

or pitching...
Pretty cool, huh?  

We're all very excited about this season.  The team is mostly made up of kids who are brand new to baseball, so that makes McKay feel pretty confident since he's already played for two seasons.  They are great boys who are all working really hard together.  And I LOVE the red jerseys!  McKay has already had lots of opportunity to get better at his batting and fielding skills.  He's so enthusiastic about trying everything he learns.  And he's made some pretty great new friends.

I love this place where we live that has so many opportunities for my kids to grow and launch and find their super powers.  We are grateful everyday to live in Allen.  

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Super Powers

When my husband was a little boy, my mother-in-law made a super hero cape for him.  It was  reversible, with an S on one side and a bat on the other, so just by turning the cape from the blue side to the red, one could transform from Batman to Superman.  It was a pretty big hit with Craig and his brothers.  Eventually, when the boys grew up and had sons of their own, the cape was passed down to them.  We inherited the cape from an older cousin, just after we had McKay.  But, as you can see, the desire to be a super hero is not necessarily limited to boys.  McKay rarely wore that cape in 2006 because Emma LIVED in it.  
She loved having super powers.  She flew up and down mountainous terrain in it.  She leapt over tall bushes.  She could do amazing things when she had the cape on...and so she never took it off.

Do you have super powers?  Never mind, I'll answer that for you.  Of course you do!  We all have at least a small handful of them.  

Emma doesn't fly around the house as much today as she did when she was 6, and the cape has long since been passed down to younger cousins.  But she still has super powers.  Some of hers are fearlessness, invincibility, resilience, and determination.  

The other kids have them, too.  Savannah has leadership and charisma.  Megan has empathy, compassion and a photographic memory.  McKay has a built-in GPS and natural athletic ability.  

I have a little handful of super powers.  It's taken awhile to figure out what they are, but I have them.  When I took that photography class back in January, I discovered the first few.  I felt nervous, insecure, not very knowledgeable, and way out of my league when I first walked into that room.  I sat in the back, didn't say anything, and slipped quietly out when class was over without making eye contact with anyone else in the room.  But the next week, I thought about the things I could contribute to that group.  I wasn't the best photographer, but I was willing to learn.  I knew that I could smile, engage people in conversation, and freely gush out compliments.  So that's what I brought to class the next week.  And it worked.  I made a handful of friends and I learned to take much better pictures.  Goals accomplished.  Super powers discovered.  It was a good experience.  

Recently I started hanging out with another group of people who I feel completely inadequate around most of the time.  It's been about three months, and I almost always leave those meetings wondering, doubting, and worrying about someone or something.  I replay conversations.  I don't feel like I'm at my best in that space.  I've tried on a number of occasions to take my little handful of super powers and launch them into the group.  But so far, nothing.  I have gained neither friends nor enemies.  Three months of investment and the group remains almost entirely neutral.  It's the strangest thing I've ever been a part of.  

When I'm at my best and those super powers are effective, I'm a connector, a blender, a magnifier.  I have a genuine interest in other people, and I can connect with almost anyone.  I have learned that a few strategically placed, heartfelt compliments will break down almost any barrier.  And that everyone loves having someone else in the room light up when they walk in.  I have not managed to break down any barriers.  I am woefully disconnected.  And no one lights up when I walk in.  

What is it about this group?  How are these 13 people completely immune to my super powers?  And if they are, then why am I still in it?  

I'm still in the decision making process, but I'm leaning heavily toward backing gracefully, gratefully and happily out of this experience.  I've gotten pretty good in the past few years, at distinguishing between friendships and experiences that are uplifting and those that aren't.  This one isn't.  Maybe that's another super power?  Discernment. 

I'm extremely grateful for the opportunity to have my super powers revealed to me.  It is a huge blessing to know what I have to contribute to the world and how, when used to serve and uplift, those little super powers can be as meaningful and powerful as anything Superman and Batman had to offer.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Hallway Gallery Update

I feel like I've been working on this project forEVER!  It's still not finished, but last week, I added a few more pictures and a giant T that I am currently in love with, so I thought I'd share.  

Here was my original inspiration...

I loved that she used all black and white pictures.  I loved the large white mats.  And I loved the intentional, haphazard way that she put everything up.  That's me...intentionally haphazard.  :)

Here's the progress on my stairway wall...

It was agonizing to put up those first two giant pictures.  I was so worried that they would be "wrong" and I would be stuck looking at them in the wrong place for the rest of my life in this house.  (I know, sometimes I'm a little dramatic.)  We put them up anyway even though it was scary.  And then we put up a few more.  And then I found that cute "FAMILY" thing in the middle, and added it.

And last week, I found this awesome T for next to nothing at Hobby Lobby.
This one was actually gold, which I didn't love.  And if you look closely you can tell what a giant short-cut-taker I am.  I didn't want to spray paint it because I didn't want it to be flat or shiny black.  I wanted a little of the rustic goldish look to still be there.  So, I pulled out my handy, fat, black Sharpie marker (which has become my new best friend lately) and colored the gold parts.  Tada!  Black, but not shiny.  Rustic, but not gold.  Intentionally haphazard.  

And here's my new favorite frame that I added last week...
This frame used to be white.  It used to hang vertically.  And it used to have four pictures of Savannah at a lighthouse in North Carolina in 1997.  I repurposed the frame, spray painted it black (and used my favorite Sharpie to color in the parts I missed.)  I printed black and white prints of each of the kids at four years old.  (I'm not entirely happy with that picture of Savannah because all the others were taken outside, so I might have to change hers when I find a better one.)  I hung it at the bottom of all those vertical pictures.  And I LOVE it!

My intentionally haphazard wall is coming along pretty nicely, I think.  There's more to do, but I can never wait for the finished product before I report about things.  And now I keep looking at all the other blank white walls in my house thinking that I might need to cover all of them with black and white photo collages of my family.  I love looking at all these memories, and I love hearing the kids tell their friends about all the pictures. 

Monday, April 22, 2013


Saturday was a BIG day for us!  First, the Connemara Eagle project in the morning, then a baseball game scheduled for McKay's team at 4:00pm.  We also had a little friend of his over for a few hours before the game.  And right in the middle of all of that, I blasted out a text to my sister-in-law, Nance, who was expecting her missionary son to come home from his two-year service in the Cuernavaca Mexico Mission.  We knew he would be arriving in SLC sometime Saturday night, and I knew that she had so much to do that I thought I'd just quickly send out a little love via iPhone.  

Here's the response she sent back...
We had to move a couple of small mountains to get all 6 of us to the airport on time, but we did it!  The Customs line took a little longer than any of us expected, which was a huge blessing actually because we had no way of getting in touch with him to let him know we were there.  So, we waited...mostly patiently...
...some of the elderly and bored in our crowd found ways to pass the time...

and finally...after about an hour, Elder Thunell finally appeared through the doors...
I'm so sorry it's blurry, but we were all jumping up and down...
Tyler was shocked to see us, and we were all so excited, I'm sure we caused quite a scene.  I don't know how many missionary almost-homecomings the people in the DFW airport get to witness.  

We took Tyler to the closest place with food that we could find, and we sat in a giant circle around him peppering him with questions about Mexico.

He was pretty excited about the food, though, so we slowed our questions long enough for him to take a few bites.  He was so cute raving about how beautiful everything was and how good American food tasted after being in a foreign country for two years.  He also went on and on about how big our kids have gotten since he left.  

He had the most adorable Spanish accent and had trouble sometimes remembering the English words for things.  He told us some great mission stories and shared his sweet testimony, and left us with these little facts... 

Fun Facts about Mexico
1.  They DO NOT use utensils there.  They just use their hands and tortillas to scoop everything up.    
2.  Instead of a Tooth Fairy, they have a Tooth Rat.  (hmmm...I can't really picture that in my very-American head) 
3.  There are NO speed limits in Mexico.  
4.  Iguanas are food there. 
and this was my favorite... 
5.  "You get used to eating eyeballs."
After an amazing, leisurely dinner, we took Tyler back through security and sent him off to his  REAL homecoming in SLC, and texted his parents about how awesome our hour with him had been.  

What an unexpected delight it was to be able to catch Tyler halfway between his mission and his final destination.  He had that glow-y, humble, happy demeanor that comes only after serving for two years as a missionary of the Lord.  I am so grateful that the kids all got to experience that glow and hear his love of the gospel, his love for the people of Mexico, and his love for our Savior.  There is nothing better than hanging out with a returned missionary for an hour!

Welcome home, Tyler!

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Connemara Eagle Project

This morning, the Scout Master took Megan and McKay to Connemara to help with an Eagle Project for one of the boys in our ward.  

McKay went because he loves hanging out with the older boys and his dad, and because he will jump at any chance to use a hatchet.  

Megan went because she LOVES Connemara and she might also love that boy who was working on his Eagle project.  (Not like LOVEY DOVEY kind of love, but like SUPER good friends kind of love, you know?)

Really, how can you NOT love this gorgeous little piece of nature right in the middle of all of our Allen civilization??

OK, here was the project.  (This makes me get a little weepy, it's such a great thing to do.)  So there were all these little stray trees on the property that were in the wrong locations...like those little saplings that just spring up in wrong places.  
photo courtesy of Chad King
photo courtesy of Chad King
photo courtesy of Chad King

So all the boys (and Megan) dug them up, cut them down, and dragged them over to big piles like these...

Eventually when the leaves die and wither away, the piles will look like these little huts...
There is a large population of coyotes in the area and at night the bunnies are pretty vulnerable prey for them, so these little "bunny huts" provide shelter.  They're large enough for bunnies to sneak into, but too small for coyotes.  And all the thorny branches are not very appealing for those coyotes either, so they keep moving, and the bunnies are safe for another night.  Isn't that awesome?? The boy scouts spent the day clearing debris AND saving bunnies from coyotes.  I love that!  And I'm sure the bunnies will, too.

There was a great turn out for this activity, lots of future Eagle scouts and a handful of leaders helping, so they finished the projected 3 hour job in less than 2 hours!  And now all he has left to do is the paperwork...hooray!  One more Eagle about to leave the nest.  Craig is so proud of all these boys.  (Can you see the glowing pride?)

What a great service project to be a part of.  I'm so proud of my little environmentalist Megan who couldn't keep herself away from an opportunity to work at Connemara.  I see lots of GREEN greatness in her future...
photo courtesy of Chad King