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.


I like Father’s Day

Some holiday/remembrance days get a bad rap.  I know many women dislike Mother’s day and/or Valentines Day because it reminds them of things they don’t have.  Memorial Day is definitely under-celebrated by the general public and cool holidays like Groundhogs Day and St. Patrick’s Day also go under-utilized by many.  I think for many Father’s day is completely forgotten or simply a footnote.  Not in the TyandNat household.

Now I’ll admit, I’m really bad about doing nice things to honor my own Father who is an incredible man.  I usually write him a short note or call on the phone but that’s about it.  With this post I’m pledging to do better in the future.  Dad–you are awesome.  So much of who I am is thanks to you.  Thank you for being humble, for having an incredible work ethic, and for giving 100% of yourself to us (your family) and the Lord.  I hope that one day I can be half the man you are.

So back to the matter at hand… why do I love Father’s day?  Mostly because I have an amazing wife, and partly because being a “TyandNat” means that you find and participate in really cool traditions for all sorts of things.  We engage in the normal Father’s Day traditions–we spend the day together as a family, I eat good meat, I don’t have to do anything (no cooking, cleaning, diaper changing, etc.) if I don’t want to, and usually there is a present or two thrown in for good measure.  But in addition to all that Natalie started two rockin’ traditions that she still pulls off every year: the Father’s Day t-shirts, and the Father’s Day letter poses.

The Father’s day t-shirts.  I don’t know where Natalie got the idea for this (she’s been doing it since before Pinterest), but it is awesome.  Each year she creates t-shirts for the kids that have some sort of message about how cool their dad is.  I love these because they are clever, cute, and worn year round.  They are a continual reminder of how cool my kids are and how sweet my wife is.  Here is a compilation of all the t-shirts from over the last five years…

[Put pictures here].

The Father’s Day letter poses.  The other cool tradition (against I don’t know the inpetus for this) is to have the kids go to places that have some significance to me and take pictures posing with the letters “D-A-D”.  I have a frame up in my office that holds these pictures and occasionally I pull out prior years to see how the kids have aged.  I’ll post the compilations below so you can see how the kids (and locations) have changes over the last few years.


So father’s day is awesome because I have such a great wife.  I love you Natalie, thank you for being so creative and sweet.  And thanks for the orange chicken last night, it was amazing.

The Great Pumpkin Launch

Every year Bloomington has a small festival that follows Halloween, designed to dispose of all of those extra pumpkins lying around.  This year we attended the pumpkin launch and had a lot of fun.  The event centers on throwing pumpkins very far (like 907 feet), but there are a lot of other cool things going on as well.  Eli liked the pumpkin seed spitting contest and Sharon liked being able to make her own scarecrow.  Here’s a video of the event showing some of the highlights.

4th of July with the TyandNats

I like the 4th of July.  I wish I could say that it is one of my favorite holidays because I am a true patriot and I love my country, but the truth is, I just like to play and we have a lot of fun traditions for the 4th.  (Note:  I still do love my country, appreciate all those who are serving in the military, and try to teach my children about our history and privilege).  I was not a huge 4th of July guy until I met Natalie and the Barlow family.  They do it up right: huge bar-be-que, fireworks, candy canon, etc.  We’ve started small since we are not usually around extended family for the holiday, but we have started some traditions of our own.  Here’s what we did this year…

We started the day off with our church’s bishopric breakfast.  I am a clerk for the ward so I don’t know how I get roped into this each year, but I am one of the ones who gets there early to set up, do the cooking, etc.  So I was up early to get things going.  The family arrived around 8:30 and we ate and the kids sang a song about the flag and the scouts posted the colors.  We visited with friends until 9:30 and then hurried across town for the parade.

The parade. The Bloomington fourth of July parade is an interesting one.  It is like most local parades… lots of people throwing candy, lots of high school bands and cheerleaders, lots of government and military types driving by in big cars and trucks.  There aren’t a lot of the “floats” I grew accustomed to seeing in my childhood.  Instead, in Bloomington those themed entries have been replaced by really random groups of sometimes scary people (i.e. anime, roller derby girls, Miss Gay IU, the circus, and the God of Pointless behavior).  The kids, of course, don’t care about the scary people because they are still bringing them candy.  They love the parade because it provides as much candy as what they collect at Halloween.  In fact, many of the passer-bys now simply dump candy into the kids bags just like at Halloween.  The only difference is that instead of just saying “trick-or-treat” the parade entrants usually are the ones doing tricks, and they come to us instead of us having to walk to them.  Natalie found us a great spot this year that was near the beginning, had good parking for a quick get-away, and wasn’t too crowded.

The TyandNat party. We decided to throw a small party this year so after the parade we hurried home to finish preparations.  After cleaning the house, watching the coney island hot dog eating contest, and preparing the food we started moving everything outside.  We borrowed a big canopy for shade and set it up with a few card tables and lawn chairs.  Natalie made English Trifle and firework cupcakes to go with our fried chicken and pigs-in-a-blanket.  All who came to the party brought side dishes. The party started at 3:30 but things didn’t really get rolling until about an hour later when we started eating.  After some good grub (but no grill) we had a water balloon throwing contest, with the target being a pirate ship drawn in chalk on our fence.  The distance you had to throw from the fence was dictated by age (one pace for each year).  From thirty two paces back I didn’t even hit the fence, but my five-year-old Eli was able to hit it dead on.  Good work buddy!  After that, the real men who had gathered had a watermelon eating contest.   The goal was to eat as many slices as possible in a single minute.  It was close but I squeaked out a final slice (my fifth) in the last five seconds to take the win.  I think the separation started happening at about 45 seconds, so maybe next time we’ll go 90 seconds instead of 60.  After the watermelon we did fireworks.  It was still broad daylight but we didn’t want to wait for the dark because many of us would have kids in bed by then.  We did mostly small fountains, tanks, hens, etc.  Nothing too fancy, but we did have a lot and the kids enjoyed watching them.  We had so much, in fact, that after a while I got tired of lighting them and simply packed up the remaining third and hid them while the kids weren’t looking so they wouldn’t know we stopped short.  After the fireworks things started winding down and by 7:30 everyone had left.   That gave us about an hour and a half of hard-core picking up and cleaning.  We made good time and the house was spotless by 9:00.

Fireworks.  We told our kids that this year we would let them stay up to watch the big fireworks.  I don’t think they knew what we were talking about since we’ve never done this before, so Eli was happily surprised to watch a big show (Sharon slept through it).  Rather than driving across town for the city fireworks we decided to walk around the block to watch the show put on by the large Christian church on the corner.  We stayed in our neighborhood, setting up lawn chairs on the grass about a block up the street.  Eli thought the fireworks were amazing, Sharon slept peacefully, and Spencer didn’t seem at all phases by the loud noises and bright lights.  We had a great time.  Walking home wasn’t as enjoyable… Sharon may not be heavy, but carrying a sleeping three-year-old will wear anyone out after about ten minutes.   We got in around 11:00 and no one had a hard time falling asleep.

Mother’s day

Mother’s day is one of my all-time favorite holidays.  This is partly because I have the best mom in the universe, partly because my wife is also the best mom in the universe (tied with my mom), and partly because I like to eat candy and buy toys.

I have occasionally been asked to give talks at church on Mother’s day, however, this year they asked Natalie to talk instead.  She spent hours preparing for her talk by soliciting ideas from other moms, reading scriptures and other literature about motherhood, and pondering and praying about the topic.  Her preparation paid off and she was able to deliver a beautiful discourse on the “Joys and Challenges of Motherhood.”  For me, the highlight of the talk was the reminder that when the Savior hung on the cross the last matter of business he attended to during his mortal ministry was to ensure that his mother would be taken care of.  I think that experience nicely illustrates the value of mothers. Natalie also reminded us that Mother’s day is not a day to be frustrated with your own inadequacies as a mother or frustration in not being a mother (I assure you that I am plagued by neither of those frustrations), but rather, a day to appreciate your own mother.  I’m glad that she mentioned this because one of my biggest peeves is hearing women complain about this holiday, expressing how horrible a day it is.  I just don’t understand this… even if you had a poor childhood, your mother did bring you into the world, care for you (even if it was inadequately), and as Natalie nicely put it– “potty trained you” (no small feat). I don’t think anyone has the right to not celebrate mothers day.  (Now I’ll step off my soapbox).

In an article at I found the following quote by Joseph F. Smith:

“A mother that is successful in raising a good boy, or girl, to imitate her example and to follow her precepts through life, sows the seeds of virtue, honor and integrity and of righteousness in their hearts that will be felt through all their career in life; and wherever that boy or girl goes, as man or woman, in whatever society they mingle, the good effects of the example of that mother upon them will be felt; and it will never die, because it will extend from them to their children from generation to generation.”

I certainly agree with this.  Even ten years or so removed from living at home I feel my mothers influence every day in the things I do, see, and say.  Even the cheesy catch phrases like “2-4-6-8, Christensen’s are never late” and “I can do hard things”, while not usually expressed out loud, are still going through my head all the time.  I feel as Abraham Lincoln did when he said “All that I am, or hope to be, I owe to my angel mother.”  My mother did things growing up the drove me crazy like insisting I come home at 5:00 for dinner (while my friends all stayed and played much later), spending every Monday night at home with the family, and she had planning meetings to prepare for planning meetings to prepare for holiday celebrations months away.  I laugh about these things now because I’m usually one of the first ones to leave my favorite hobby (ultimate Frisbee) so I can go home and spend time with the family, I am always home on Monday nights and we even have a family policy of not answering the phone after 6:00 pm on Monday, and I love planning and preparing for vacations and other holidays, often starting preparations months in advance.  I’m grateful that my mother has rubbed off on me in so many positive ways.

I should also note that Natalie is an amazing mother.  I think the most refreshing quality she has is that she is constantly looking for ways to help our children develop and dedicates so much of her time and energy to them, but she never seeks the spotlight for herself.  I get very annoyed that often “Mother-of-the-year” mothers are usually recognized for all the things that matter least in mothering (having a successful career, developing personal skills that don’t necessarily benefit children, etc).  Mothers who are truly doing their best as mothers don’t get recognition.  For example, no one knows (until I write it in this blog) that Natalie helped Sharon clean up after her five or so “accidents” yesterday without complaint.  I think Natalie is a hero for not giving up on potty training but instead lovingly doing her best to help Share improve a little each day.  She also helped Eli with a few of his inventions, did some grocery shopping, laundry, held preschool for all the neighborhood children (while their parents are away on a cruise) and covered carpool for the remaining children.  And that’s just what she did in the morning.  In the afternoon she did some more cleaning, took Share to swimming and Eli to soccer (which is a sacrifice for her because she doesn’t want the kids to be too involved with extra curriculars), came home and helped whip up dinner, and, oh yeah, she did all of this with a three-month-old attached to her wanting her constant attention.  Nat deserves mom-of-the-year based solely on a single days work.

Mom, I love you.  Natalie, I love you.  I am grateful that the two most amazing women I know are related to me.

P.S. On a somewhat related side note… on Monday Wal-mart had all of their easter candy 75% off so we went crazy and bought easter baskets, easter eggs filled with candy, chocolate bunnies, etc.  We ended up spending about $5 for an Easter avalanche.  We then went to a public park, hid some eggs while we ate dinner and then gave Sharon and Eli each a new easter basket and they raced to pick up as many eggs as they could.  It was a blast.  Celebrating holidays two weeks after the fact is always a lot of fun.

Four things I love about Natalie

I could list hundreds of things that I love about Natalie–I love almost everything about her–but today I’ll simply list four things that I think my favorite person uniquely Natta.

1. Modesty.  I mentioned to my institute class this past week that the thing that most impressed me when I courted Natalie was her modesty.  I’m not talking about wearing appropriate clothing, although that is part of it, but more about one’s ability to escape unnecessary attention.  Natalie is modest by doing, saying,  and wearing things that don’t draw attention to her awesomeness, but help her blend in so that she can point out the awesomeness in others.  This is a weakness of mine so I especially appreciate Natalie’s example.  One of the greatest benefits of this attribute is that people are very comfortable around Natalie.  This has made my life much easier/better because people have a positive perception of me and the rest of us Christensens because of the things that Natalie does.

2. Excitement in trying new things. We have a ton of fun and productive traditions in our family.  These include traveling often to new places, trying out new foods, and attempting new activities. Natalie is always positive about things and gives things, events, and people the benefit of the doubt.  There are many benefits to this attribute as well.  Our children are more comfortable in standardly uncomfortable situations (new places and things).  We have been culturally enriched by the places we’ve visited and the things we’ve done.  As a family we love going back over our pictures and videos to remember all the neat things we’ve experienced.

3. Way of cultivating important relationships.  Because of her awesomeness Natalie has many people who like to be around her.  At times I get a little frustrated by her popularity because it means less time for me :). I think part of the reason Natalie has so many real friends (as opposed to mere acquaintances) is because she actively works on improve each relationship she has in her life.  I’ve been impressed as she has gone out of her way to serve and befriend others, often making it a matter of prayer.  She knows the needs of others long people most other people do and she actively seeks to serve those needs.  I especially appreciate this in our own relationship.  Natalie knows me well and she does little things to help me enjoy life more and feel of her love and concern.  Also, Natalie is an amazing mother.  The level to which she knows our children is unlike any other relationship I’ve ever observed.  She makes sure they each get individual attention often, and does the parenting things that will help them grow, which often require much more effort on her part.

4. Putting others first.  I guess this is kind of a accumulation of the first three points.  Natalie rarely thinks about her own needs and even less about her wants.  Each day is spent in serving others.  She knows when to call people, when to drop by, when to send cards, etc.  With our kids she knows when they’re feeling lonely, or need to get out energy, or want to feel helpful.  She makes time for others at great sacrifice to her own wants and needs, but we sure appreciate it.

Natalie, you are the best companion I could ever hope for.  I love you four times,


Happy Valentines Day!


Sharon’s birthday

We’re not done partying yet, but I thought I’d at least get started in documenting the fun.  Sharon turned three yesterday.  We celebrated with me staying home for an extra hour in the morning for breakfast… she requested oatmeal :).  After work we went home and Sharon opened her presents.  She (and we) was especially impressed and please with the magic wand that Eli made for her.  He has been working on it for several weeks and sewed the star by hand.  She was very happy to be able to open presents.  After the present opening we had a little dance in the front room.  Sharon showed us some pretty fancy dance moves and we all got pretty worn out.  After that she played with her new toys while we had pizza and pineapple and watched a movie. We let the kids stay up late to talk to grandma and grandpa Christensen (and McKay) on skype and then it was time for stories, songs, and bed. Here are a few pictures.


This is a collage that I made for Sharon... we do one of these for each of the kids birthdays.
Eli made Sharon a magic wand for her birthday. He actually spent several weeks working on this, sewing the star by hand and painting the handle. She loves it.


Trick or treating

I like Halloween.  Natalie and I try to dress up every year and often we’ll do costumes some other random times during the year as well… just for kicks.  This year we didn’t have a unifying theme, but we still had fun trying to be creative and dressing up.  Our goal is always to make our own costumes and spend very little money on materials.  I think we did o.k. this year.  We had a great time going to our church party, trick-or-treating with the kids, and tonight we’re doing caramel apples.  If you’re viewing this site, there is a good chance that you are grandma… so I’ll quit wasting my time typing and post some pictures.

Here's a picture of us at our church's trunk-or-treat.
Here's my Mr. T. Oh, and to answer your questions... yes, I did shave my head just for Halloween. However, this answer is misleading... I shave my head all the time anyways. The sacrifice was in growing my hair out long enough to be able to shave a mohawk into it. I went a whole month without cutting my hair. :). And as far as the bling goes... surprisingly I don't own a lot of bling, so I completed my Mr. T. ensemble by throwing random "metal" stuff around my neck... marathon necklaces, pins for seminary, high school sports and ballroom dancing, etc. It was also a convenient location for my key ring.
Mr. T. (back side)
It was hilarious to watch people trying to make sense of Natalie's costume. They'd stare at her for a few minutes and then either give up in frustration or get a huge smile on their face as the revelation came to fruition "I get it!"

Eli’s 5th birthday party

Eli had a “Peter Pan” themed party this year.  He isn’t particularly into Peter Pan, but Natalie came up with the idea for a theme, and Eli loved the idea of dressing up, having a treasure hunt, etc.  We were pleased when all of the guests (except Steve and Erika) decided to dress up as well.  When they arrived they just played around the house for a while.  Then they played “Pin the clock on the Crock” (a variation on Pin the tail on the donkey).  Mysteriously several of them “without peeking” got their clocks exactly in the middle of the crocodile’s belly.  From there the kids went on a hunt around the house to find all the clues that made up the treasure map (which took them down the street to where we’d stashed fireworks and party favors).

The kids then ate cake and Eli opened presents and then we went and did fireworks.  The highlight was a rocket that actually went pretty high and exploded into several colors just like the kinds you see at shows.  The kids ate popsicles and then we walked some of them home and their parents drove home the rest.

This picture is of some of our new neighbors.  Steve is Eli’s new hero because he is into Star Wars.  Eli will call him up occasionally to see if he will come over and lightsaber duel.  The result is that when we asked Eli who he wanted to come to his party, Steve was at the top of the list.

Here is Sharon in her Wendy costume.

Eli’s bday collage

Every year on their birthdays I make and print a collage for the kids.  I love doing this because Eli especially gets really excited about this each year and shows his pictures with pride to his friends as they come over to visit.  The theme for the collage each year is whatever Eli (or Sharon) is into.  So for this year there is a heavy Star Wars theme, with a guest appearance by LIttlefoot (from the Land Before Time) and I’m still thinking of a way to work legos in.  Here’s what I’ve got so far….