Christensen Letter 2014 (the expanded version)

christensen2014_tn Howdy and welcome to the Christensen’s 2014 holiday letter and family update.  We’ve had a great year, highlighted with the birth of Claire and the growing up of her three siblings.  If you simply want to read the letter than just click on the image to the right.  If you want to hear from each of the kids individually checkout the YouTube videos embedded below or visit our channel. If you want to see Natalie’s art or house projects click on those links, and if you want to read an article from BYU Insider or the Journal on Best Teaching Practices then click there.

If you want to be super cool and come visit us sometime, click on this link to learn about all the cool things to do in River Falls, WI and the MN Twin Cities area.  Happy Holidays from the Christensens, we think you’re swell.

a good birthday

Today was Eli’s 9th birthday.  It was a good day.

We started the day with a Christensen family tradition where the birthday boy (or girl) chooses any kind of cold cereal they want for breakfast (we went shopping with Eli earlier in the week and got “Krave” and “Lucky Charms”).

After breakfast he opened cards and presents.  Sharon was really sweet, having made him a DSC05012nice card and purchased him (with her own money) a small plastic archery set.  They played with the toys for an hour or so while Clairie slept and we cleaned.  At 10:00 we loaded up the car and drove to MN.  We started with lunch at IKEA and then went to the mall.

IMAG0275We spent the next several hours at Mall of America in Bloomington, MN.  This is Eli’s first birthday in 5+ years where he opted NOT to have a friend party but chose instead to do a family activity.  Sadly, I’m afraid part of that decision is that he hasn’t made a lot of close friends yet here in Wisconsin.  Whatever the case he was excited to spend a day at MOA.  We first went to Nickelodeon Universe (an indoor amusement park) and spend several hours going on rides.  We got a punch pass because the all-day wristbands are quite expensive and our kids don’t last that long anyways.  However, after we had gone on just one ride a stranger approached me and Eli (waiting to go on a crazy roller coaster) and asked if we’d like two wristbands he had received for free but didn’t need.  With those bands the kids were able to go on several more rides and we saved our punch pass for another time.  We had a great time and Clairie was even able to fall asleep in the stroller so we could spend even more time there.

IMAG0281IMAG0279

Mid-afternoon we left the park and headed over to the Sea Life aquarium. We have year passes there so we cruised through but still enjoyed seeing the sharks and other sea creatures and there were very few people there which made it doubly nice.  We headed out and on the way home stopped by Target to see if Eli had anything he wanted to buy with all his birthday money (there wasn’t).  We also stopped by a firework stand and got some great parachuters and rockets.  We then picked up some pizza and went home to eat while we watched Eli’s favorite television show (Psych).

DSC05018After dinner we did cake and were preparing to do fireworks when we had an unexpected but welcome visit from a neighbor down the street.  She brought us “Mittens” (I maintain that the name is still TBD), a cat that was abandoned by another neighbor several weeks ago.  The kids have been working on me (with Natalie’s help) and on Sunday after much deliberation I relented and said we could take in the cat.  We scoured the neighborhood for the next two days but couldn’t find him.  We hadn’t given up, but did accept that he might never show up.  Instead he arrived on Eli’s birthday and the kids went nuts.  DSC05021I’ll admit that even though I’m not a big cat fan “Mitt” has grown on me.  After I got all the kids to bed (Natalie was at a school meeting) and got things cleaned up I sat down to relax for the remainder of the evening.  Mitt had been following me around all evening and as soon as I sat down he hopped up on my lap and within 10 minutes was asleep next to me. I guess it’s his birthday too.  All in all it was a good birthday.

DSC05014

Claire Mae Christensen

2014-03-08 Claire 27Meeting ClaireWe’re please to welcome Claire Mae Christensen to our family.  She was born at 2:17 p.m. on Friday, March 7, 2014 in the River Falls, WI hospital.  She is 20 1/2″ tall and weighs in at a whopping 9 lbs. 5 oz.  While she did come five days past her due date the labor and delivery went very smoothly and both Claire and her mom and doing well.  Her siblings are excited to get to know her and have been busy getting the house ready for their return from the hospital.

A little bit about Claire…  We named her after her great-great grandmother Lattie Mae Moose (more about that in the last post). Actually, we came up with Claire because 1) we thought it was a beautiful name, 2) it rhymes with “Share” (Sharon’s nickname), 3) Claire-bear–like Share-bear–is an awesome nickname, and 4) the kids like it.  The middle name “Mae” came from Lattie Mae, who was a remarkable woman.  We learned quite a bit about her when we visited extended family in Columbus, Georgia a few years ago as part of a family vacation.  Her daughter, Doris Booth (my middle name namesake) just recently passed away.  Both women were incredible and the name seems to fit.  Obviously we don’t know too much about our Claire yet.  She seems pretty good-natured, but has cried more than our other children, perhaps because the delivery was so quick (three minutes of pushing… her face was pretty swollen as a result).

Other things about our new baby weekend…  On Friday we saw the kids off to school and a friend cameFamily 2 over to watch Spencer while we went to the hospital to have Claire.  By late afternoon I was in a position to go pick up the kids to meet their sister (see picture on right).  They were thrilled we went with the name Claire and excited to meet her.  We also have the tradition that the new baby comes bearing gifts, so they were also excited to open up their “birthday presents.”  After an hour or so we packed up and I went home with the kids.  I was a little sad to do this as we have no extended family nearby and there was no one to stay with Natalie.  Fortunately, Nat has got this baby making thing down pretty well by now and enjoyed having the evening to bond with Claire and to get a little rest.

On Saturday we (the kids and I) went shopping for groceries and treats.  When we arrived at the hospital Sharon–true to form–handed out Swedish fish to all the nurses that we passed (as well as a few hugs).  She also gave a sticker to one of the security guards and when we saw him again later that evening he remembered Sharon and mentioned to her that he had been thinking all day about his sticker and where he might put it.  Sharon is so good to think of others.  Her greatest contribution of the weekend was being the chief architect on the “welcome home” sign (see below).  She spent hours working on it and included several small pictures and short messages within the larger picture framework.

2014-03-08 Claire 12After we attended church this morning (Sunday) we picked the girls up and brought them home.  Claire has been a joy, with almost no crying today.  She has slept most the time, but when she isn’t sleeping she’s looking around trying to soak everything in.  We are so thrilled to have her in our home and look forward to getting to know her better.


Open letter to “to be named” daughter

2014-02-21 Family pictures 04Dear Little Girl (to be named shortly),

We are ready.  Not that we’re actually ready, but we’re as ready as we will ever be so we are recommending that you come to us NOW.  We know you like it in heaven and that it is fairly comfortable in the womb but let me let you in on a few things in hopes of persuading you to leave that comfort and joining us ASAP.

REASON #1: You are loved. You are coming to a good family that loves each other and that loves you.  You were created on purpose and will be coming to a family that really wants you.  You have two parents who love each other and are doing their best to provide for you and your siblings.  You are fortunate to have two older brothers as well as an older sister.  They are all excited to meet you, play with you, and look after you.  There is a lot they can teach you so when you come please pay attention.  You also have an extended family of over 50 cousins, dozens of aunts and uncles, four grandparents, and even a couple of great-grandparents.  They and their friends are all excited to welcome you into the world.

REASON #2: We are semi-prepared.  We have been preparing for your arrival for some time.  About two years ago daddy took a job in River Falls, Wisconsin as a teacher.  It is his dream job and allows him to spend quality time with his children while earning enough money to provide for the family.  We aren’t wealthy (i.e. have lots of money) but mom and dad work hard and will always take care of you.

We have a good place to put you when you come to us.  We knew we would not have sufficient room in the townhouse we were renting last year, so around this time last year we bought a new (but older) house.  It is in a great neighborhood, within walking distance of the elementary school, the middle school, and four city parks.  We’re also close enough to the university that daddy can walk to work (meaning he has more time in the morning to eat breakfast with you).  The house was a bit of a fixer-upper but we’ve worked really hard this last year and have completely redone the kitchen, dining room, and pantry, cleaned up and improved the yard (complete with tree house), and have made great head-way on another bedroom downstairs so that you’ll have more space in your room.  We’re going to keep working hard so that our home will be comfortable for you.

REASON #3: Timing. We are a family that loves traditions.  To that end we have worked hard to space birthdays so that each family member has their own time.  Eli’s birthday is in August, Mom and Dad’s anniversary is in September, Daddy’s birthday is in October, Sharon’s birthday is in November, we celebrate the birth of Christ in December (and again in April), Spencer’s birthday is in January, and Mommy’s birthday is in March.  So, you see, during the school year each month is covered except for February.  You’ll need to come soon to get your own month.

Also, it’s cool to have memorable events surround your birth.  Eli was born during the first day of Hurricane Katrina, a devastating storm.  We just went through the longest and coldest winter I’ve ever experienced and a big storm hit this last week.  Sounds like a good welcome to Wisconsin, right?

Daddy has arranged his schedule this semester so he can be home with you for a little while but that is contingent on you coming soon.  I have guest speakers coming today and tomorrow and my students will be in schools (without my supervision) next week, so there’s your window.  Take longer and you’ll have less dad time (I know that might be a disincentive, but pretend you like me, o.k.?).

Finally, Mom is uncomfortable.  If you come soon she will still be uncomfortable because she will be taking care of you and sleeping little. We all know about this and have been mentally preparing ourselves.  However, the anxiety of waiting and not knowing you outweighs our concern for the future, so please come.

A few other housekeeping items…

We have high expectations for you.  In addition to being cute we expect you to learn quickly (especially about the eating and sleeping stuff) and to play well with us. When you get older we will teach you how to care for others, be responsible, and work hard.  We value education in our family and believe that God gave us talents so that we can make a positive difference in the world.

Your name. You will be named after Lattie Mae Booth, your great-great grandmother.  She made a real impact on our family as a “pioneer” who left her Texas roots to raise a family in Georgia, as a convert to the LDS faith, and as a mother to five children as well as her military community.  You’ll take her middle name but we’re still undecided about your first name.  As a “Booth” (like Daddy) you have an important heritage to pass on and a great responsibility to live up to your name.  You are also a “Christensen” which carries even greater weight.  You come from an amazing extended family (both Christensen and Barlow lines) and have Christ’s name in your name.  FYI, front-runners for your first name are: Claire, Gracie, Emma, Julia, and Alice.  If you have red hair you might be named Sarah and if by some miracle you are actually a boy then daddy gets his wish and you will be named Hyrum.

Daughter, we are so excited to meet you and want you to come soon (like today).  Sincerely,

Mom, Dad, Eli, Sharon, Spencer and others

A good day

It’s been a long cold winter in our new life here in Wisconsin.  We’ve had a lot happen in the last six months and it hasn’t all been peaches and cream.  Indeed, I’ve been due a good day… and I got it yesterday.

I woke up early and went on a five mile jog.  It was nicer running conditions than we’ve had for a while–mid-twenties and nothing falling (we did get two fresh inches of powder the day before).  I ran over to the new house we will close on in two weeks and thought about all our plans to finish the basement, landscape the yard, and enjoy the wonderfulness of living in our first-ever real house.  While I ran I listened to the newest John Grisham (The Racketeer) which isn’t amazing (i.e. The Firm) but isn’t half bad either.  It was a great little jog.

When I got home Natalie headed out to the gym which gave me plenty of time to cool down, pick up around the house, and hang out with the kids while they watched their favorite t.v. show of all time–Wild Kratts, a PBS cartoon about two adventures who learn about cool animals (definitely worth seeing if you haven’t already).  I got the kids ready so that when Natalie got home we’d be ready to head out the door.

We went over to the kids soon-to-be new Elementary school (Greenwood), which was holding its annual Spring carnival.  We went from room to room playing games, winning tokens, and enjoying being together as a family.  We also bid on and won a few items in the silent auction (a one month gym membership (Natalie is trying out all the different gyms in town), and a home furnishings gift card.

Image

Image

Image

Image

After the carnival we drove home and I dropped off Natalie and Spencer (so he could take a nap) and took the two older kids to an UWRF women’s hockey playoff game.  On the way in–rushing so we wouldn’t be late–Sharon took a spill in the parking lot and scraped her knee.  It threw off her groove so at the end of the first period (and with us leading 2-1) I rushed her home.  Fortunately we only live a few blocks from the arena so Eli and I were able to get back before the second period even started.  And that’s when the fun really started… I had been talking the game up for a few days and Eli knew I was very excited to be there with him “on a date.”  Rather than being bored and wanting to go home (like has been the case every other time I’ve taken one of the kids to a sporting event) Eli was interested and got into the cheering with me… which was especially fun since hardly anyone else from UWRF was really cheering.  Eli started a few “Let’s go, Falcons!” (clap, clap, clap clap clap) that others joined in on, which reminded me of my younger years when I was the annoying kid starting all those cheers (Note: Eli wasn’t annoying, it was very cute to have a seven-year-old get the crowd going).  We split an ice cream sandwich and then Eli discovered something that really got me laughing… any time the announcer would play popular music that Eli recognized he would hop down from the benches and rush to the front (the glass) and face me and the rest of the home crowd.  He would then do a crazy little dance where he simply turned his hands and feet to the beat of the music.  I’m kicking myself that I didn’t film it… especially since I was trying out my brand spanking new Canon Rebel t4i camera that I just got for my classroom from a classroom improvement grant.  Anyhow, Eli’s dance was great, it cracked me up every time and the rest of the crowd really enjoyed it as well.  Eli later told me that he was quite embarrassed about doing it but when he saw how much I was enjoying it he decided to keep it up.  We had a ball, I about lost my voice, and the girls won 5-2 advancing to the next round.

Image

We came home and hung out with some friends and watched the movie UP and then put the kids to bed.  Natalie watched a health documentary and had a great discussion on healthy habits.  And thus ended a very good day.

Ultramarathon boy

Over the last several years I have done some (but not too much) prodding to get my children to go running with me.  While they’re happy to go if it means getting outRunning with Eli of doing something less desirable, I rarely hear that they want to go simply because they want to run with dad.

Inexplicably that changed a few weeks ago.  While I was preparing for my Saturday run Eli asked if he could go with me.  Knowing that he had never run more than a mile I told him that he could run the warm-up with me and we proceeded to run a one miler together (in about 14 minutes).  I let him decide where we’d go and he chose to take us down to the river bottoms to do a little exploring.  It was about a half-mile there so we jogged for a few minutes, explored for a few minutes, and then jogged home.  It was quite enjoyable and Eli surprised me by running the entire way there (1/2 mile) and only having to walk up a couple of the hills on the way home.

Fast forward to this past weekend.  Eli again spoke up as I was preparing for my long run that he would like to go.  I said sure and planned on doing something comparable to what we did a couple of weeks ago.  Natalie had just run 3-4 miles with a friend (the most she’s ever run) so apparently the “running bug” was in the air.  We started out to the river bottoms and at the 1/2 mile mark Eli was going strong so we decided to keep going.  Eli talked my ear off cover topics as diverse as Ninjago, what we should do when/if we go to China, how he’s going to create a sword that converts into a jet, how pretty the river is, etc.  However, the bulk of our conversation centered on being able to run long distances.  Eli made up his mind that he would be able to run four miles, which he claimed was double the distance any of his peers had ever run.  I bought into this and told him we could try two today and then up our mileage next weekend.  Once we hit the one mile mark we did a little exploring but Eli insisted he wanted to keep running so rather than turning around we kept running up the river banks.  Eli showed no signs of slowing so I took him a full mile hoping we’d find another river crossing so we could get home.  Well, no such crossing came so at two miles we turned around and headed home.  We only had to stop one more time… a thirty second break at the bridge to look at the fish and catch our breath.  From there we completed the four mile run.  Eli completed the first 3.1 miles (his first 5k) in 48:22 and we did the four mile course in 1:00:33.  I was amazed as he never seemed to slow and did not once complain of being tired, cold, or bored.  We talked the whole time and had a great time being out in beautiful Wisconsin together.  Next week he wants to go for eight… we’ll see how long this enthusiasm lasts.

Dates with Dad

As I reviewed my yearly goals this past December and January I realized that one area that really needs improvement (and hence a new goal for 2012) is the one-on-one attention I give to the individual members of my family.  I have had high hopes of getting into the habit of doing “Fathers interviews”, at least periodically with the kids; and in having a semi-regular “date night” with Natalie.  I also want to go on periodic dates with each of the kids so that they have special one-on-one time with each parent.   I did go on several dates with both Natalie and the kids in 2011 but there was no regularity to “date night” and I would like to pick up the slack in 2012.

So I created a rough calendar of “dates with dad” and presented it to the family during FHE a few weeks ago.  We determined that it would be reasonable for each kid to go on a date with mom or dad once eight times a year (or once per quarter with each parent).  The goal for a TyandNat date night is ten times per year (monthly never seems to work).  We set our first round of dates at that meeting and executed them this weekend.  The goal moving forward will be to have a date planned at all times.  The hope is that by having something on the calendar this will become a more regular occurrence. So we started this weekend.  I will give brief details to illustrate how I am the king of blown dates.

On Friday I took Eli to the opening of “Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace” in 3D.  I am not a huge fan of the Star Wars movies, and Episode one is probably the weakest of the lot, but Eli does like Star Wars, and I have to admit that the Star Wars movies are an important part of our American culture.  So, we scheduled the date for as close to opening as we could.  Nat responsibly shot down going to the midnight screening and I presented some campus workshops in the afternoon, so the earliest we could get there was 7:00.  To make an evening of it we left around 5:30 so Eli could eat at his favorite restaurant.  Conveniently, the Happy Meal included a star wars toy (a top of some sort), so Eli was really excited.  We then went and bought junk food and went early to the movie (6:20ish).  We arrived to see a line of about 50 or so other hard corers and were thrilled to get special Star Wars 3-D glasses as well as two miniature star wars toy characters. There were even two “real life” star wars characters there to greet us in the lobby.  One storm trooper gave Eli his autographed trading card, which made his night.  It was fun watching the movie with Eli, but the 3D effects were not nearly as cool as I had expected (more like Toy Story 3 than Avatar) and we were both pretty tired.  After the pod race about midway through the movie Eli suggested we go home and go to bed.  I was happy to oblige.

On Saturday I gave in to years of requests and took Natalie country dancing at Mike’s Dance barn in Nashville (Indiana)… or at least that was the plan.  We had a sitter come over and were on the road by 7:00 arriving to an empty parking lot at 7:30.  There was supposed to be instruction fro 6-8 and then a live band from 8-10.  Instead it was just us and the parking lot.  Too bad, I had even bought a new “country” shirt for the occasion.  Rather than hanging our heads in defeat we made some calls and learned that “The Players Pub” in B-town often has dancing so we headed there.  Well, there were four people dancing but neither of us wanted to step on the toes of 80 year-olds so we just sat back, didn’t order anything, and chatted while we listed to a really good blues band.  It wasn’t what we planned for but we still had a great time.  On the way home we bought a treat at the grocery store and then went home and watched the BYU/Pepperdine basketball game.

So, not everything went as planned this weekend.  The good news?  We scheduled and went on dates, thereby growing closer as a family.  Tonight we will schedule the next round, yee-haw!