Thursday, December 29, 2011

The December we almost went insane

For anyone who cares about their insanity, heed the following counsel: do not take on a "finish the basement" project while planning a wedding that takes place the week before Christmas. There's a pretty good chance that you will lose your mind.

In fact, I'm pretty sure my dad has already lost his mind, and it won't be long until the rest of us join him at the happy place beyond the breaking point.

The aftermath of Christmas is usually enough to make anyone start to get a little panicky: no matter how many times the parents threaten the children, not all presents make it to their owners' rooms; the mounds of chocolate and other goodies from the neighbors overtake all of the pantry and counter space in the kitchen, making us sincerely wish that we weren't so popular; the Christmas decorations start to sag pathetically and the tree becomes nothing but a nuisance; the garbage accumulated from Christmas morning takes several weeks to get rid of; and the oodles of free time afforded those who are "blessed" with a Christmas vacation turns into slothfulness as our brains become hazy, and the most thought we put into anything is when we're trying to figure out what day of the week it is.

Well, Christmas wasn't the event of our December this year; in fact, it was very much an afterthought, something that at times felt like it was just another thing to check off our list. But we've still had to deal with the Christmas aftermath.

We've also had to deal with the aftermath of the basement not being done in time for the newlyweds to move in.

Which means that the downstairs bedrooms became dusty storage facilities for wedding gifts and unending piles of other stuff that is supposed to somehow fit into that tiny apartment. It means that the upstairs accumulates piles of dust every day (we had to dust the sibling Christmas presents several times before we opened them Christmas morning). It means that Kimberly and Jeremy's Christmas presents are still in the corner of the family room, and their stuff from the honeymoon is spread across the upper level of the house. And of course there are the leftovers from the reception—the huge bowl of crab salad that I swear I ate it at some point without feeling like I was punishing myself, the miraculously untempting trays of fudge, and the overflowing bags of pecan logs—stuff that we usually like, but that we have slowly come to disdain as the food diminishes slower than our appetites can handle.

And that's just from my perspective, one of the girls who knows nothing about building stuff and who can try to ignore the chaos around her by reading princess books, and is also comforted by the fact that she can return to her clean and orderly apartment before the madness subsides here.

The newlyweds, on the other hand, returned from a blissful honeymoon in Idaho only to find that they would be homeless for at least another week. Dad works on that apartment every day, but the cursed basement insists on throwing time-wasting problem after time-wasting problem at him. He keeps getting cabinets, only to find that these ones don't fit either and that he'll have to borrow a truck the next day and head back to Home Depot for the tenth time, where the workers are probably making bets on how many more trips it'll take before my dad cracks and tries to bring back cabinets that were mysteriously smashed during a rampage no one wants to talk about. (What they don't know, however, is that my dad has already lost his mind, and that every problem the basement throws at him at this point will simply make him more detached from the life he knew before the basement, his travel schedule, and his bishop duties consumed it.)

I'm pretty sure this family won't be sad to see the world return to its normal pace. A bit of normalcy should do just the trick to cure this insanity—assuming we survive the next few weeks.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The top 10 most annoying Christmas songs of all time

All awesome things have a dark side, most especially Christmas music. While I love Christmas music as much as the next person, there are some songs that trigger my gag reflex and make me a bit of a Scrooge. Such as these songs, for example.

10. The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire). This is one of the Christmas classics (that I like) that I tend to get sick of the fastest. It seems that every artists feels morally obligated to put this song on their Christmas album, and, well, it gets old fast. This is by no means the most-played Christmas song, but it's just not good enough to warrant all the attention it gets.

9. Do You Hear What I Hear? Some artists have too much fun with the echoing effects, making this song incredibly annoying. However, it can be a wonderful song when done right (I rather love Vince Gill's version, for example).

8. Patapan. I wouldn't be surprised if only choir nerds recognized this song. It is a rather popular choral song, though I think the musical advancedness, rather than the nonsense lyrics, is the reason why acapella groups always sing it. It's one of those songs that latches itself in your brain and forces you to hum it for months at a time. However, its slight redeeming quality is its pure mockability. My family regularly adds to our made-up lyrics, most of which center on farm animals. (Think "cock-a-doodle-do" instead of "tu-la-ru-la-ru," and "pat a pat a pig" instead of "pat a pat a pan" and it'll be effortless to find more ways to slaughter this song.)

7. We Need a Little Christmas Now. I've sung this song in a couple of choirs, and it always ends up being the one the choir hates the most.

6. Christmas Time is Here. Yes, "Where Are You Christmas?" is one of my favorite Christmas songs, but the movie from which it stems has produced some equally bad songs. All it takes is the first screeching phrase of this song and my hand will shoot to the radio dial to change the station.

5. Angels We Have Heard on High. I would be prepared to bet that Relief Society sisters throughout the world sing this song every stinkin' year for their ward Christmas programs. My home ward may have started this tradition, and I hate it more every time we sing it, mostly for picky musical reasons: (1) no one can ever do the eternal "Gloria" in one breath, and (2) no matter how many times we relearn it, a majority of the sisters pronounce "in excelsis deo" wrong, which grates me the same way fingernails on a chalkboard does. For the record, it's "een egg shell sees day oh" everyone, and yes, that means you too, Josh Groban.

4. The 12 Days of Christmas. Who came up with this song, anyway? Every remake of this song (with the exception of the Vocal Point version) is long, annoying, and tedious.

3. I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas. The first time I heard this song, it intrigued me. However, by the second verse I was so sick of the baby voice that I forever denied it the honor of my listening to it.

2. Merry Christmas, Darling, by the Carpenters. I love the old-time Christmas classics like Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby, but I hate, hate the Carpenters. I may have broken a few nails in my efforts to change the radio station every time Karen Carpenter's warbly voice airs. I'm not even sure if this song is the one that annoys me the most, but there's not way I'm going to listen to it to find out.

1. Santa Baby. Sultryness and Santa should not go together. 'Nuff said.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Glimpses of eternity

It's been a special/insane/exhausting/awesome December, one full of both stress-related sleep loss and excitement-related sleep loss.

The headaches, constant pounding in the basement, frantic planning, and frustrations of the past few months have already dimmed though, being brightly overshadowed by the tender mercies given to us over the past few weeks. Despite living in an imperfect world, God does grant us small glimpses into eternity throughout our lives; this month I saw three of those glimpses.

First was when I held Jaxson for the first time. Even though he was so small (about 4 1/2 pounds), I couldn't help but marvel at how perfect he was. I held in my arms a precious gift sent straight from heaven, a little miracle who just hours before was in the presence of God.

The second glimpse came when we accompanied Kimberly when she went through the temple for the first time. The line between this life and the next is thinner in the temple, and I felt that difference more poignantly as one more member of our family received the blessings of the endowment.

The third, and perhaps most powerful, glimpse came when I watched Kimberly be sealed to her eternal companion for time and all eternity. It was hard not to feel a bit of that "fullness of joy" that we are told we'll have all the time in exaltation. It was probably the most perfect half hour I have ever experienced.

These three experiences serve as a great reminder to me that God didn't just dump us here on Earth and leave us to figure out our own way to get back to him; we have been given so many opportunities to feel his presence on a more-than-Telestial level, whether it be in celebrating new life or in performing sacred ordinances. Even if these glimpses are fleeting, they're powerful enough to sustain us as we strive to live worthy of exaltation.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Disney movies and viewer perception: Part 2

I had so much fun talking about Disney movies a few months back that I decided to do a part 2. I may even do a part 3, and just keep going until I've talked about every Disney movie there is.

It would be so easy to write an entire dissertation on Disney movies. As I watched my next batch, Sleeping Beauty, Mulan, and The Lion King, I may have gotten a little carried away with my newfound scholarly perspectives and neglected to ponder on my childhood memories.

Sleeping Beauty

Younger self: This movie always has been, and always will be.
Older self: Wow this movie is old. Just look at that animation! And I'm watching the DVD version that's 12,000 times clearer than the beat-up VHS back home.

Younger self: King Stephen--my sister has a friend named Stephen! He's famous!
Older self: "Good king Stephen and his queen--" wait a minute. Why doesn't the queen get a name? Now you've gone and pushed my "annoyance twitch" button.

Younger self:  . . .
Older self: You know, this movie isn't very original. Tangled, Enchanted, and Snow White all have similar storylines, the witch (whose name, apparently, is Maleficent, which is news to me) has minions that look exactly like the emporer's guard in The Emporer's New Groove (after they get turned into cows and stuff), the prince looks like Peter Pan, and his dad looks exactly like the king in Cinderella.

Younger self: The fairies must get their powers from Outer Space because it shows Outer Space when they give the princess her gifts.
Older self: Of course they give her the gifts of beauty and song first. It's not like she'll need anything like, I don't know, intelligence.

Younger self: What is a spinning wheel?
Older self: My 90s upbringing fails to understand how anyone could accidentally prick their finger on a spinning wheel. Who uses those, anyway?

Younger self: Why did the fairies kidnap the princess?
Older self: The king and queen actually agreed to letting three strange fairies raise their child? How--what--I don't understand how that solves the problem.

Younger self: You're supposed to crack the eggs first, silly!
Older self: How is it that the fairies still don't know how to cook? Am I really supposed to believe that they haven't used magic in 16 years?

Younger self: Maybe if I wish it hard enough, the mop and broom will come to life and do my jobs for me.
Older self: Maybe if I sit here long enough, someone else will do my jobs for me.

Younger self: Aurora's voice is too operatic (or whatever the 5-year-old word equivalent of "operatic" is. Vibrate-y?)
Older self: Aurora does have a lovely voice. Better than Snow White's, for sure.

Younger self: "Once Upon a Dream"--this song is the reason I love this movie.
Older self: Classic Disney courtship: prince and princess sing to each other, dance, and fall in love. Then the prince says, "Who are you? What's your name?" AWESOME. Apparently the fairies forgot to give the prince brains too.

Younger self: Why isn't Aurora happy to be a princess?
Older self: Stupid boys. They ruin everything.

Younger self: I want to drink juice out of a guitar!
Older self: There sure is a lot of drinking in this movie.

Younger self: Why can't the kings stop talking? I want to get back to the good stuff.
Older self: Apparently my parents aren't the only ones who talk about their grandchildren before they're even born . . .

Older self: Of course I didn't recognize this when I was little, but it's interesting that the fairies give the prince a shield of righteousness and a sword of truth.

Younger self: I want a dress that changes colors.
Older self: Actually, I would still love to have a dress that changes colors. Only if I can control it, though.


Older self: Hmm, for some reason I don't remember the very beginning of this movie at all.

Younger self: Who the heck is Little Brother? Why doesn't she ever find her little brother?
Older self: Easy way to confuse a 4th grader--just name your dog Little Brother.

Younger self: "Reflection"--this song is the story of my life.
Older self: Actually, my problem isn't that the real me is unacceptable--my problem is letting the real me out.

Younger self: Climbing on the roof to spy on people . . . what a great idea!
Older self: If I thought I could do this inconspicuously, I would totally do it.

Younger self: Now Mulan's just being a bully. There was no reason for her to slap Mushu.
Older self: "My eyes can see straight through your armor." Now I understand why Mulan slaps Mushu.

Younger self: I sure hope Mulan never has to take her shirt off . . .
Older self: Forget that--my biggest problem would be hiding my attraction to Shang . . .

Younger self: I don't care how dirty I am or how late at night it is; I would not go bathing in the lake in the middle of a camp full of dirty men.
Older self: Ditto.

Younger self: Guys are gross.
Older self: The whole lake scene is just . . . awkward.

Younger self: "A girl worth fighting--" Come on, just finish the phrase!
Older self: Please?

Younger self: Poor doll--it will never be reunited with its mommy.
Older self: Who the heck cares about the freakin' doll? It's the little girl and her family we should be worried about.

Younger self: Wow. The fat guy's really strong.
Older self: It's not at all unrealistic that the fat guy can pick up 4 soldiers, and by extension a horse, 2 more people, a lizard (I mean, dragon), and a cricket without making that arrow snap in half.

The Lion King

Younger self: Brace yourself for the opening song . . . AAUGH!!! That first note scares me every time.
Older self: Yep, still takes me by surprise. And I still have to make up gibberish if I want to sing along. (That is, until the English starts.)

Younger self: "Didn't your mother ever teach you not to play with your food?" I thought my mom made that up.
Older self: That part still reminds me of my mom.

Younger self: Mufasa's voice is probably what God's voice sounds like.
Older self: "Remember who you are."

Younger self: Why does Rafiki have a blue butt?
Older self: That is a bit distracting.

Younger self: Circle of Life--pretty song. In fact, all the music is great in this movie.
Older self: So, I read an article awhile back written by some overprotective Christian that talked about the evils of The Lion King (particularly the circle of life and Hakuna Matata concepts) and that if you let your kids watch this atrocious movie, be sure to explain these delicate issues so that they won't turn into demons later in life. See the next comment . . .

Younger self: It's so sad that Simba's dad dies.
Older self: And this is the part the scarred me, not the anti-Christian stuff. I haven't watched The Lion King for probably a decade because Mufasa's death is just too upsetting. In a lot of ways, this movie is geared toward a more mature audience than the princess movies. It's not about overcoming female stereotypes or finding your one true love; it's about learning from your mistakes and accepting responsibilities.

Younger self: Do bugs really taste like chicken? Maybe I'll try it . . .
Older self: I am 99.9% sure that this is a lie.

Younger self: "Hyenas. I hate hyenas." --Timon. Why doesn't Timon like hyenas? Isn't he like a baby hyena?
Older self: I'm still not sure what sort of animal Timon is.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

For a season

During the early 1800s when the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was just beginning to get its bearings, the Saints were commanded to move to Kirtland, Ohio, "for a season." Many of the Saints had come from far away just to get to Palmyra, only to be commanded to leave again. This became an unfortunate pattern for the Saints during the early days of the church, even after they made the trek west to Utah.

Despite knowing that they would have to leave everything behind and start over again somewhere else, the Saints were fruitful. They planted trees and gardens, built homes and churches, started businesses, even sacrificed everything they could to build temples. It would have all too easy to simply lay low for a few years and not waste any sweat, blood, and tears over something they knew was only temporary, but instead they turned swamps into beautiful cities and made the desert bloom as a rose.

One of the greatest blessings/cursings of this life is that everything is temporary, both the good and the bad. Knowing that some things are more temporary than others often prevents me from giving 100 percent to a certain project or even chunk of time. At times I live more in the future than I do in the present; I know I'll have certain things later in life, so I'll just scrimp by on certain things until I turn another page. When life starts to get uncomfortable, I tend to take on the following philosophy: be content with what you have until you can get something better. Not exactly a bad philosophy to have--it's certainly better than wallowing in misery and cursing the world until life magically fixes itself--but it's still not the "best" philosophy to abide by.

Someone in my ward recently said that, speaking specifically about our time as young single adults, we will be held accountable for what we do with this time of our lives. It's a good thought to pen in a pretty font and tape to your bathroom mirror, no matter what situation of life you are in. The Saints understood that, and so have many people throughout time.

I, however, am still trying to wrap my mind around the concept of something fleeting being worth my time and effort. The problem is, those fleeting moments tend to become more permanent, and if we don't invest in those fleeting moments, we may find ourselves 10 years down the road wondering why we wasted so much time.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

"I'm an uncle!"

Earlier this week, the Carter phone networks were inundated with exclamations of "I'm an uncle!" followed by virtual fainting actions. (If you have no idea what I'm talking about, go watch 7 Brides for 7 Brothers. And then practice fainting on the couch and in the swimming pool for good measure.)

On December 5, two of the most perfect little boys made their entrance into this world, Jaxson and Bronx. (I guessed one of the names right! Even though I spelled it wrong . . . )

It used to annoy me just a tad when my friends, cousins, and Facebook acquaintances would brag about how cute their nieces and nephews were. Yes, I get that babies are cute and all, but I'm pretty sure all of these braggers would be saying the same thing even if the babies looked like trolls. A little biased, yes?

However, I won't be rolling my eyes at those proud aunts and uncles anymore. As a newly inducted aunt myself, it is impossible for me to not boast a bit. Every aunt and uncle has a divine right to be biased about their nieces and nephews; we simply cannot help ourselves. So yeah, I get it now.

For the record, though, my nephews really are the most precious human beings I have ever laid eyes on. Just sayin'.

I'm not sure how I feel about the title "aunt" though. I kind of feel like I have to sprout batty gray hair and start hobbling around with a cane. Not sure why I feel that way, seeing as none of my aunts are like that and becoming an aunt isn't an indicator of age (heck, some girls are aunts before they're even born). It's a title I'm proud to have, but I think I'd rather it not be included with my name for the time being . . . Kind of like how older women don't like to be called "Mam" because it makes them feel older than 25, you know?

Friday, December 2, 2011

Two-week crushes

I recognized early on in life that life, in general, is more exciting when you have a crush on someone. It means you'll always have someone to sigh over when girl talk is going on and that you'll always have something to make your heart flutter a bit, whether it be from daydreaming for hours on end or seeing the person in the actual flesh. Even if nothing real materializes out of your little crush, at least you had something fun to think about every day.

So I've made it an effort throughout my life to make sure that there was always a guy to plant my thoughts on. I've had crushes that have spanned years, and I've had crushes that took me by surprise, consumed my thoughts for two weeks nonstop, and then evaporated without warning. And I have to say, those two-week crushes are the most fun. They allow you to indulge yourself in ridiculous fantasies for a few days without the risk of being disappointed or getting hurt.

Of course, two-week crushes are good, innocent fun if you're single, but I don't imagine they are particularly healthy when you're already in a real relationship.

However, we're all human, and I highly doubt that even those with strong marriages don't stop to admire a delicious human specimen every now and then. Or even to casually stalk their celebrity crushes on the internet (that's how I found out that Chris Pine was an English major and has the same birthdate as Harry Potter).

This crush-seeking habit I've got is probably going to be a hard one to break once I find my ultimate crush, but you can't make me stop having fun with it while I'm still wild and free.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

The top 10 Christmas songs of all time according to . . . me

Basically, Christmas songs are awesome. Especially the 10 I've listed here.

10. "Santa Claus Is Comin' to Town," by the Chipmunks. You probably weren't expecting the Chipmunks to make this list, but let me explain. These little dudes were an important part of my childhood. We watched The Chipmunk Adventure on a regular basis, and every year we would torture my dad as we listened to the Chipmunk Christmas songs over and over again. I distinctly remember listening to this particular song one year on Christmas Eve and almost exploding with excitement and impatience as I envisioned Santa making his rounds on the snow-covered streets of West Mountain. Childlike excitement is one of the best things about Christmas, and the Chipmunks capture some of that magic.

9. "White Christmas," by Bing Crosby. Christmas just wouldn't be the same without Bing Crosby.

8. "Grown-up Christmas List," by Michael Buble. This song tends to be overplayed on the radio, but Michael Buble's version is my favorite. His warm, sultry voice is perfect for Christmas music.

7. "The Christmas Shoes," by NewSong. For some reason, I like songs that make me cry. Especially if they share a good message.

6. "Mary, Did You Know?" arr. by Mac Huff. This was the first song we started to learn back when I was in Trouveres at PHS, and it was the song that made Mr. D. cry when we, the group he spent two years training before he retired, sang it to him. It was also the first song the Carter girls sang together and which basically was the springboard for our a capella singing habits. I associate a lot of good memories with the choral version of this song, and it carries such a beautiful message. (If you've only heard the radio versions, though, just know that they don't do the song justice at all.)

5. "Were You There?" by a massive choir of priesthood holders. Every year my home ward does a Christmas program the sacrament meeting before Christmas, and everyone gets a chance to participate. By far the best part though is when every male over the age of 12 fills the entire area behind the pulpit and sings this song with vigor and power. It is probably the best three minutes of my entire year.

4. "Infant Holy, Infant Lowly," by Vocal Point. Vocal Point takes its role as a singing band of entertainers/missionaries very seriously, and this song is pure testimony. (If you haven't heard them sing it, be sure to tune in to the Sing-Off next Monday at 7:00 on channel 5 . . .) I can't think of a better song that reminds us of what Christmas is supposed to be about.

3. "Let There Be Peace on Earth," by Vince Gill. Listening to Vince Gill's Christmas CD always brings back precious memories of my childhood. We listened to it all the time when I was growing up, until it mysteriously disappeared or exploded or something. About 8-10 years later, the first year I lived away from home during Christmas time, I found the CD on Amazon for 3 cents. Best investment I ever made. I cannot listen to this song without remembering Christmases passed, and it is one of my favorite sings to sing to when I'm all alone in my car.

2. "Where Are You, Christmas?" by Faith Hill. I'm not a big fan of the original Grinch movie, and most especially not the Jim Carrey version, but I absolutely love this song. During the two months I listen to it on my iPod it rapidly rises in play counts, and it usually isn't bumped off my "Top 25 Most Played" playlist until September. One of the hardest things about growing up is losing your childhood. I remember the tugs at my heartstrings I felt when I hit Jr. high and it seemed that the magic of Christmas had disappeared forever. However, I eventually found the magic again, and pacing my bedroom early Christmas mornings while I impatiently wait out the "no earlier than 6 a.m. rule" my parents insist on imposing year after year is still a tradition I hold on to, even though I should have outgrown that years ago.

1. "O Holy Night," by Josh Groban. Oh, Josh. If you only knew the effect you had on me when you sing this song. It's somewhat dangerous to listen to this song while I'm driving because I get locked in a sort of paradise-like trance as Josh Groban's gorgeous voice fills every fiber of my being. Such a beautiful song, finally done justice by a man with a beautiful, beautiful voice.

Better late than never?

I never got around to writing a Thanksgiving post because I was too busy making the most of my four days off, doing everything I could to drain my brain of any usage. And I was reluctant to do an "I'm thankful for . . ." post anyway because being grateful is a daily thing for me, not a once-a-year thing.

However, there are a few things I am grateful for this holiday season that I thought I'd share with the class. Both have to do with having what others lack. I don't mean that in a boastful way, but rather a more humble way. (Though it's not completely humble, I guess, because I just used the word "humble" in a sentence about, um, myself.)

First, I am grateful to have a job, a job that I enjoy and that's full of awesome people. I am also grateful that the rest of my family is employed. This recession has hit a lot of families hard, but thankfully, my family has been spared this time.

And second, I'm grateful that I get to spend the holidays with the people I love the most. Not everyone gets that blessing, whether it be because of work, distance, or some other circumstance. My roommate's dad died on Halloween, and her family is going through that painful first holiday season without him there. Even though this was something they knew was coming, it can't be easy trying to celebrate when that gaping hole is there, even if you're doing something as simple as scouring the neighborhood for the best display of Christmas lights or handing out the presents to scores of impatient children. I, on the other hand, know that my dad will be there when we barge into his room at 5:59 on Christmas morning, and that's better than anything that might be under the Christmas tree.