Christmas Card 2020

Dear Family and Friends,

What do I even say about 2020 … What a year, right?

It started off with us finding out I was pregnant on New Year’s Day. We were excited, but also a little freaked out. We had just moved to a foreign country. Life was a little crazy at the moment. And little did we know that the world was on the cusp of a global pandemic. 

That’s pretty much how I’d summarize 2020: seesawing from one extreme to the other. Lots of tears and fears mixed with uncertainty, anxiety, anger, isolation and boredom — AND lots of joy, excitement, love, adventure, friendship, laughter and peace. 

We had income loss, visits from family and friends cancelled, unmet expectations, and lonely months in government-mandated lockdown. We mourned the death of a dear friend. We watched from far away as parts of our home country burned because of racism.

But we also bonded like never before as our family of five spent hours upon hours together in a 900 square foot flat. Our home became a workplace, a school, a church, a playground, a yoga studio, a refuge. We held Easter egg races in our garden and went Trick-or-Treating door-to-door in our flat. We watched A LOT of movies and ate maybe too much Ben & Jerry’s.

When possible, we explored London and its varied neighborhoods, museums, canals and parks. Lance picked up city mountain biking and the kids mastered their scooters. We took day trips to the English countryside and then the coast, visiting castle after castle. We snuck in trips to Disneyland Paris, Scotland and Turkey. And we sadly sent our firstborn off to school (and she can feign a cute British accent because of it).

In August we welcomed Wesley C Stevens into our family. We’re not actually sure he’s ours, since neither of us were present for his birth. (Lance wasn’t allowed in the room and I was under anesthesia.) But he’s great so for now we’ll assume he’s ours.

See what I mean? A weird but wonderful year.

I love the analogy that we’re all in the same storm, but not in the same boat. Circumstances make this year look different for all of us. No matter if you’ve weathered the worst year of your life or happen to be unexpectedly benefiting from “The Year of the ‘Rona,” we wish the very best for you and your family. If you’re getting this card, we see you, we miss you, we love you. 

God bless 2021!!

Scotland Road Trip

*Written late November*

In so many ways, our Scotland road trip was the road trip of my dreams.

I’m not someone who usually enjoys road trips. In theory, I’m all about them. In reality, I usually complain about an hour in. My butt hurts. I need to pee. The kids are loud and crying and won’t let me talk to Lance. (I love talking to Lance in the car. He can’t get away.)

Also, driving feels like such an ineffective use of time! I’m always willing to spend more money (on a flight) if it means we’ll have more time in a location vs. saving money and losing time at our destination.

Anyway, I digress. The point is I don’t usually enjoy road trips. But I did this one.

We planned this trip on no sleep in between many long hours of me working (editing for ClearVoice), managing logistics (passport appointments, doctor visits etc), and surviving with a newborn + 2. Lance was there to research and offer feedback, but I’m the one who plans our itineraries, picks our accommodations etc so the bulk of the responsibility fell on my shoulders.

It was so last minute (one week before — and over a holiday weekend!) I’m surprised we even pulled it off. When booking our accommodation on the Isle of Skye, there were literally two options within our price range (and they were in the same complex, so I was worried that they were literally the bottom of the barrel).

And yet it all worked out. Here’s the itinerary and what I remember:

  • Aug. 23/Day 1. Drive 3 hours – Arrive in (Peak District)
  • Aug. 24/Day 2. Drive 4 hours – Arrive in Edinburgh – Walk Royal Mile and eat in Old Towne
  • Aug. 25/Day 3. Tour Edinburgh Castle and scale Calton Hill (Edinburgh)
  • Aug. 26/Day 4. Drive 3 hours – Visit Loch Lomond en route to Glencoe (Fort Williams)
  • Aug. 27/Day 5. Explore Glencoe Valley (Fort Williams)
  • Aug. 28/Day 6. Drive 3 hours – Enjoy scenic stopover at Glenfinnan Viaduct en route to Portree
  • Aug. 29/Day 7. Isle of Skye (Portree)
  • Aug. 30/Day 8. Isle of Skye (Portree)
  • Aug. 31/Day 9. Drive 7.5 hours – break in Glasgow – Lake District (Buttermere)
  • Sept. 1/Day 10. Hike Catbells, visit Surprise View & Ashness Bridge – Drive 1 hour Ambleside
  • Sept. 2/Day 11. Visit Stock Ghyll Waterfall and Rydal Cave then drive 4.5 hours home

Peak District: 

The Peak District was beautiful. I worked it into the itinerary as a way to break up the long drive to Edinburgh, and I’m so glad I did. We found parking near a scenic area we wanted to visit and literally stayed in the car for an hour+ afterward as I fed Wesley, changed his blowout(s), waited out the pouring rain, got everyone dressed in their rain gear, and then sorted out payment for parking (a man gave us money when he saw how pathetic we were with 3 young kids and no coins, ha!).

By the time we made it to Cave Dale (a 10 minute walk from the parking lot) it of course stopped raining. Good thing we had all our rain gear on! *(sarcasm, obviously)*

We walked through a valley that was green and rocky with a view of castle ruins above (Peveril Castle). There were sheep and not too many people — it was very idyllic. The kids were happy to be out exploring, and Lance and I were happy to be out of the car. I wore Wesley (yes 2 weeks after a C-section) so we didn’t make it too far before tiring out and needing to turn back. But it was lovely.

Next we drove to Bamford Edge, a landmark with sweeping views of fields of green and purple below us. Lila and Lucas were excellent little hikers on this trail as we enjoyed the sunset. I remember thinking then, and multiple times throughout the trip, that I wished I wasn’t 2 weeks postpartum so I could hike and have more energy to truly experience these trails (instead of walk and then turn back). Also so I could fit into normal clothes! (My warm clothes didn’t fit so I had a weird mix of layers, mostly Lance’s.)

That night we stayed at a very traditional inn (Innkeeper’s Collection) in the middle of nowhere. It was literally the only building around. We ate dinner at the inn’s pub (Sunday roast!) and felt so British. Then we walked upstairs to our room. It smelled like a grandma’s musty old house, but was cute with beautiful exposed wood beams and modern furniture. Unfortunately though the beds were THE HARDEST we’ve ever encountered, and we slept on a board in China for a year! I can’t adequately explain how terrible this bed was other than to say Lila cried because it was so uncomfortable and the whole experience was notable enough for me to write about, ha. Throw in a newborn who ate every 1-2 hours and I’ll call that the worst night ever. It really had us a bit scared for the next 10 nights on the road ..

Edinburgh:

Because of Covid the inn didn’t have an in-person morning meal but instead sent us on the road with sack breakfasts. Inside we found cans of water, two pears and a muffin. So obviously when we got into the next biggest town we stopped for a McDonald’s breakfast.

At this point we’d been on the trip for exactly two days and Wesley was already almost out of clothes. The boy loves his car seat and slept like a champ, but also pooped like one! He had a blowout almost every time we changed him. So Lance dropped me at Sainsbury’s to get some baby clothes while he and the kids went through the drive-through.

Long tangent: Something I really miss about America is the experience and ease of shopping in person. I rarely go into a store (besides the Tesco across the street). I do most of my shopping online, and while that can be convenient, it also sucks. I miss going into Target and tangibly picking up items before choosing to buy them! I could theoretically do this in London, if I wanted to walk a few miles to Oxford Street (and if lockdown hadn’t have closed all of the department stores!). But even if the stores were open, I’m never alone. I have 3 kids and live in a foreign country during a pandemic. Shopping in solace is impossible.

Does that make sense now why this Sainsbury trip was so amazing?

I thorough enjoyed picking out new clothes for Wesley (the first I bought for him since he has all of Lucas’s hand-me-downs). I chose a cute brown bear onesie and several covered in dinosaurs. Again, might seem silly to write about, but it was a notable experience for me.

Anyway, back to Edinburgh. We arrived in the city an hour or two before dusk. As we entered the old town I literally had one of those jaw-drop experiences from the movies as I stared out the window in excitement.

Wikipedia does a better job at describing the scenery than me: “Edinburgh is Scotland’s compact, hilly capital. It has a medieval Old Town and elegant Georgian New Town with gardens and neoclassical buildings. Looming over the city is Edinburgh Castle, home to Scotland’s crown jewels and the Stone of Destiny, used in the coronation of Scottish rulers. Arthur’s Seat is an imposing peak in Holyrood Park with sweeping views, and Calton Hill is topped with monuments and memorials.”

From now on when someone asks me for UK recommendations, I’ll say Edinburgh for sure. London is a great city in many ways, but the medieval, Harry Potter-esque beauty of Edinburgh wins hands down!

We checked into our hotel (Hilton Edinburgh Carlton) which was right in the center of Old Town. It did not disappoint. Because of Covid we got such a deal and only paid 248 pound total for three nights! Then we wandered around the Royal Mile, saw the castle and even saw a short, colorful airshow by some fighter jets!

I had big plans for Edinburgh but they were foiled. Starting the next morning, it rained the whole time we were there, and I was just. so. tired. I had overdone it at the Peak District and my incision was hurting. That combined with the weather meant I spent much of our time there in bed snuggling Wesley. Lance ventured out with the older two a few times and they had fun. And the five of us walked around some gardens and to Mums Great Comfort Food (a tiny hole-in-the-wall diner) twice because it was so good. (I want to eat there right now.) But mostly we hunkered down and promised “next time” to all of the sights we had wanted to see (Arthur’s Seat, Calton Hill, Edinburgh Castle, Dean Village).

West Scotland

Our drive from Edinburgh to Glencoe might’ve been the best day (scenery wise) of the trip. We stopped in Loch Lomond for an hour or two and as the kids played at a playground beside the loch, I could not get over the surreal feeling of WE’RE HERE! We’re in Scotland, at a loch, and it’s more beautiful than I could’ve hoped!

I thought the beauty and serenity of the loch would be the pinnacle, but as we drove to and through the valley of Glencoe, the views kept getting better and better. This route is meant to be a road trip. It converted me to the joy of sitting in a car and staring out the window.

We stayed at a super cute AirBNB in Fort Williams near Glencoe. It was probably my favourite accommodation of the trip (despite our food options being limited because we were in the boonies!). It was a two bedroom cottage (grandmother suite) right next to the main house. There was a washing machine and a fireplace, and bunk bed for the kids. The host left us a welcome basket (“hamper”) with fresh butter and bread, milk, cereal, juice etc. All around lovely. But the best part was the simple view of the field across the street. Long after the kids were asleep, Lance and I sat on the couch, warmed by the fire, watching the sheep and horses roam. It was perfect.

On day two we drove back up the canyon to see the valley in different weather. We stopped at a side-of-the-road waterfall and mused about how the weather could change so quickly. (The day before had been so sunny; the day after so stormy.)

As we made our way to the Isle of Skye, we stopped off to see Glenfinnan Viaduct Viewpoint — an observation point on a trail overlooking a sweeping steam railway viaduct with a highland backdrop, which was a big bucket list item for me. A short scene from Harry Potter was filmed here (Hogwart’s Express travels on this route!) and I’d always wanted to see it in person! The views of the loch below were also stunning, and we lucked out with beautiful sunny weather for the 45 minutes or so we were there!

Isle of Skye

UK ‘Staycations’ have been a major thing this year because of Covid. Maybe I’m projecting, but I’d say many American expats in our position spend much of their vacation time in Europe — not the UK. I’m not sure what it is. It’s like how we lived in Arizona but never visited the Grand Canyon, though it attracts 6 million visitors a year. There’s something about having access to something that makes it less appealing, I guess?

Anywho, because we were forced to stay local, lots of people were asking about Scotland and Wales in the travel forum I’m a part of (a WhatsAPP group of people within the Hyde Park Stake). And every time someone asked about Scotland, people raved about the Isle of Skye. My friend Skye told me it was AMAZING and the most beautiful place she’d ever been, yada yada. So we knew we had to go.

Well, turns out that kind of review made us set some unrealistic expectations. Ha. Overall, the Isle of Skye was .. meh, fine. We really enjoyed looking for dinosaur tracks at An Corran Beach (it took us two days and lots of Internet searches to find them!) and meandering around The Fairy Glen (which was much more mystical than we expected). But after our road trip through Glencoe, the scenery out the window was subpar. And most beautiful place in the world? No, didn’t even broach my top 10. (Note to self, I should make a top 10 list.)

Anyway, that’s really all of my musings from the Isle of Skye. Our accommodation was surprisingly decent. It had these super huge and ugly leather couches that fully reclined — which was amazing. With perfectly positioned pillows, I could easily feed Wesley and rest comfortably to take pressure off of my incision. I slept on them all three nights!

Lake District

Finally, the Lake District. Awwwe. Now this is a place that deserves praise (and possibly a place on “the list”!). I’d return there in a heartbeat, and hope we stay in England long enough to do so. This area of England was just so .. English. I grew up in the country, but not one like this. Green EVERYWHERE. Rolling hills. Trees. Lakes EVERYWHERE. It felt whimsical and like we were stepping into a painting. I wonder how much better my mental health would be if every couple of weeks we could unplug and go out to the countryside.

I had researched and desperately hoped to hike Catbells, one of the notable hikes in the area. But alas, my incision just wasn’t as healed as I’d hoped it to be. And hello, we have three little kids. The season of hiking uphill for 6 miles has probably passed for now.

So instead we found a beautiful road that led us up to several stopovers with scenic views. “Surprise View” was my favorite with views of lakes and Catbells mountain. We also stopped at Rashness Bridge and played.

Buttermere was the perfect, secluded place to stay with literally only 3 or 4 buildings. Our hotel was nestled at the bottom of several mountains and beside a lake. We could’ve walked right out the front door into the beautiful outdoors if we’d had time!

On the way to Ambleside we hiked to a Rydal Cave. Another gloriously beautiful area! God is good!

Our stay in Ambleside was short. It was a cute village and I would’ve loved to wander. We stayed at an inn with a pub below (same brand as the hotel in the Peak District — but a much better bed). My memory from this place is that a group of servers (3 or 4 girls and one guy) saw Lance carrying Wesley and congratulated us. Then the guy looked at me, with my still swollen belly, and said “And another on the way! Congratulation!”

I was SO mad and still am. What the?! Do you know how the human body works? Do you realize that I just had a baby and my body won’t shrink back to normal in 3 weeks time? Also do you know that getting pregnant that soon after having a baby is nearly impossible? AND do you know that even if I did happen to get pregnant 3 weeks after having a baby, I wouldn’t ALREADY be showing?! Idiot.

That’s all. What a wonderful trip!!!

Christmas Card 2019

Happys:

  • Leaving the kids behind and spending our anniversary in San Francisco #9years
  • Moving into our dream (rental) home
  • Reconnecting with our college besties (at Disneyland of course) after nearly 10 years
  • Camping at Carlsbad, Big Sur and with friends at Big Bear
  • Lance adventuring alone with the kids in Sequoia
  • Keri having a kids-free girls weekend with her mom and sisters (yes, at Disneyland)
  • Enjoying book club, girls/guys nights, family days, and couples parties with our BFFs
  • Vacationing in Hawaii (well Lance was working but Keri and the kids were having fun!)
  • Lance’s work moving us to London*

Crappys:

  • Losing Tom Henry (an Irish man Lance baptized on his mission) in a fatal car crash
  • Parting ways on not-so-good terms with our apartment complex after discovering the place wasn’t up to code
  • Experiencing fear like never before (will it ever end??) when the whole family got lice**
  • Struggling through 6 months of testing, doctor appointments, hospital visits after Lucas was diagnosed with failure to thrive and global hypotonia
  • Feeling like God and others abandoned and betrayed us; working through fear, doubt and anger during Lucas’s health issues***
  • Leaving friends, family and all things familiar when we moved to London

Footnotes:
*We’re on a 2 to 5 year assignment in London with Gallup. We’re excited to experience city living, travel throughout Europe, and have a “once in a lifetime” adventure. We’re not excited about the weather, British school system or distance from our kids’ grandparents. We’d love visitors!
**We don’t have lice anymore and no I won’t tell you when we did so you can check the dates to see if you gave it to or got it from us.
***I can’t say we got through the struggle and now see all of the hidden blessings etc etc that come from trial. It sucked and some days I’m still bitter. But I can say that I believe in a God who understands the journey — who knows who we can become but loves us as we are. We hope this season you’ll feel that love, understanding and acceptance too.

Happy Christmas! 2019 | Love, Lance, Keri, Lila (4) & Lucas (2)

Christmas Card 2018

In 2018, we entered adulthood. Two kids, a career, a car payment — we’re responsible now for more than we’ve ever been, and we feel it. Our son Lucas was born on Dec. 24th last year (A month early! While we were out of state! It was crazy!) and it still feels like we’re in survival mode. As 2019 approaches, we’re hoping to slow down, simplify and start fresh.

Lance

Highs: Improving at his job, swimming with sharks in Hawaii, becoming a dad of two, paying off our car, hosting a former student from our teaching days in China, reuniting with friends at a mission companion’s wedding, and continually beating his PRs on the local biking trails. Lows: Always working at his job, sleep deprivation because of those two kids, getting audited by the IRS, and always falling off of his bike because he doesn’t have enough spare time to ride those biking trails.

Keri

Highs: Losing 50 pounds, making new friends at MOPS, growing her freelance editing client base, welcoming our niece Brittany to Irvine, camping with family and friends, and roadtripping down the California coast during the week of Thanksgiving. Lows: Having two children who don’t consistently nap, struggling to balance responsibilities with selfcare, losing an uncle to cancer, saying goodbye to a dear friend who moved away, and feeling disconnected from far away loved ones.

Lila

Highs: Having a new baby brother, becoming potty trained, attending preschool, eating candy, playing at Chick-fil-A, and growing up at Disneyland. Lows: Having a new baby brother, falling down the stairs and getting stitches, having to occasionally take off her Elsa dress, and sharing Daddy (especially with Mommy).

Lucas

Highs: Being near, looked at or held by Mom, being rocked every night by Dad, eating table foods (especially meat), and saying his first word: Lila. Lows: Naptime, bedtime, and anytime someone wasn’t giving him attention.

As you can see, our highs and lows are intertwined. Isn’t that how life goes? It’s easy to get caught in the daily grind and forget that overall, we have a good life. We’re grateful for our Savior Jesus Christ who lifts and strengthens. This season we pray you’ll feel the peace He brings and grace he offers. We love you. Merry Christmas!!

Lila’s life motto right now

I saw this poem the other day and it made me laugh out loud. I’m pretty sure this is what goes on inside of Lila’s head every day.
A TODDLER’S CREED
If I like it, it’s mine.
If I want it, it’s mine.
If I think it’s mine, it’s mine.
If I have it in my hand, it’s mine.
If I give it to you and change my mind later, it’s mine.
If I can take it away from you, it’s mine.
If I had it a little while ago, it’s mine.
If it’s mine, it will never belong to anybody else, no matter what.
If we are building something together, all the pieces are mine.
If it looks just like mine, it is mine.
If you really think it belongs to you, it is most definitely mine.

Lucas is 4 months

Time is passing us by. I sometimes have to stop and remind myself to enjoy it! There are bits of wonderful moments mixed into every day, as well as terrible ones but mostly we just live. Parenthood. It’s hard and tiring and overwhelming and underwhelming and infuriating and beautiful and simple and special and sacred. You know?

Lucas is a big growing boy and has such a tender soul. He’s sensitive and attentive and loooooves his Mama. He has special eyes for me, loves to laugh for his Daddy and watch his sister.

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Lucas will not take a pacifier but regularly wants to pacify .. using me. It can make our nights rough. Last night specifically he spent the entire night in my arms (minus two hours that Lance took him). He usually needs to eat once a night, where he’ll actually eat a half or full feeding. Sometimes he’ll only wake up then. But other times he’ll wake up every hour or so and won’t be happy until he latches on me — and then falls asleep within minutes. Blah.

Lucas has yet to nap in his bassinet and instead sleeps in his swing (if I can keep Lila quiet enough) and in his car seat or carrier when we’re out and about. He eats every 2-4 hours during the day. How much he sleeps/eats at night varies, but he has given us up to 6 hours a few times.

Lance and I regularly talk about how different Lucas is from Lila when she was his age. He’s teaching us that he is his own person, even now. We sure do love him.

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At his four month appointment, Lucas’ stats were:

Height: 28 inches tall – 40% (80% adjusted)

Weight: 13 lbs – 7% (20% adjusted)

Head circumference: 16.5 inches – 60% (85% adjusted)

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For the record, I weigh in at 137 lbs. That’s 9 lbs away from my pre-pregnancy weight! Most of my clothes fit, just not very well. #muffintop Still — the human body is so amazing!

EASTER

Halloween 2017 was our introduction to celebrating holidays with kids, and it’s just gotten better since then. Easter was, not surprisingly, a big hit. It seems like every holiday is based around showering our kids with candy and gifts. What’s not to love? This year Lila participated in five Easter egg hunts: One with our MOPS group, one with our ward friends, one with the Stevens’ family, and two with just me and Lance.

At first she didn’t really understand, and would pick up an egg, open it and either eat the candy immediately or decide she didn’t want it and put the egg back down. Ha. I guess I have some unresolved Easter egg hunt anxiety, because I anxiously followed her everywhere encouraging her to just get as many eggs as she could before they were all gone! HA! By the end, she knew exactly what to do.

After the final session of General Conference on Easter Sunday we drove to Newport Beach and raced our colored boiled eggs down a course we made in the sand. In the Stevens’ family, it’s tradition to decorate and race eggs in the snow outside the cabin. I’m excited to make and adapt our traditions as the years go on!

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Thoughts on General Conference

I love General Conference! Having only been the prophet for three months, President Nelson sure came out swinging. He announced that the Elders Quorums and High Priests Groups will now be combined into a single, unified quorum. He also announced that Home and Visiting Teaching will be replaced by a coordinated effort called Ministering, which will welcome the contribution of young women.

I’m excited about the changes to Visiting Teaching. When talking about it with friends, one described it as giving us the higher law. Essentially nothing has changed other than the language of “home” teaching and the accountability of “what counts.” I think this change will encourage us to have more natural, flexible relationships with those we are invited to look out for. For months I’ve felt like I want and need to be a better visiting teacher, but don’t know how. Looking back, I used to serve my sisters diligently (and monthly!) while we lived in Phoenix. But ever since then I’ve struggled to even contact my sisters more than once or twice a year. What’s changed? I’ve done a lot of reflecting and “repenting,” and am excited that this new change will be a fresh start.

Also, President Nelson announced temples in India and Russia! Russia?! I don’t think the Church is even allowed to proselyte there right now, so what an announcement of hope for the Russian members! God lives! I’m so grateful for his prophets and knowledge of His love and plan for me!

Disneyland in March

Mid February we realized Lance’s annual pass only had a few Saturdays left before they were blacked out until August. So we went every weekend until then. So much fun! It’s harder now for me to go alone with an opinionated toddler and little baby. I’m so glad we made the plunge and bought the expensive passes that include most Saturdays so we can all go together. Disneyland is definitely our happy place — we make so many fun memories as a family every time we go.

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