I started this draft on March 13th, uploaded the photos, wrote a sentence or two and then the play started at Wasatch, and then Mary was running for office and then we left town for 10 days… (I promise I’ll catch up on all those later!)

Stefan’s birthday always seems to fall during busy weeks. There’s a sad, sad story from his elementary years when I said, “We can’t have a party for you right on your birthday, but we’ll do one later.”

My heart almost broke in late May when he quietly asked, “Do you think I could have a birthday party now?”

Poor kid. BUT. We have celebrated his actual day beautifully ever since, even if his party does compete with Gabe practicing his solos and Xander running off to an orchestra concert that night (not to mention New Beginnings for Mary at church that evening). Kind of the same way that Sammie with a September 21st birthday knows the day will almost always be sunny, Stefan knows his birthday will almost always be BUSY (case in point, Hans opening his mission call on Stefan’s birthday two years ago).

Stefan’s always been the sweet kid who doesn’t ask for much, who can’t wait to pound holes in the wall with his new hammer (Heather isn’t so sure); who requests a dinner of soup and bread and can’t wait to read all the books we bought him in Russian for his birthday.

I love the way Stefan and Heather make time to visit even when they’re exhausted with school and work and even when they know their visits will be punctuated with the comings and goings of a busy family. We’ll miss them this summer when they head to Tallinn, Estonia for internships, but we’ll text and Skype and share in their adventures.

We love you Stefan. You are so brave and strong and good. Happy happy birthday!

p.s. What defines your birthday? I’d love to know.

  • April 5, 2017 - 3:47 pm

    Sarah - My birthday (December 8th) almost always lands on some sort of Christmas party. A ward party, a company party, a neighborhood party. As a kid, there always seemed to be a choir concert or orchestra performance on the same day, and I’m sure those will resurface as my own kids get older and more involved.ReplyCancel

  • April 5, 2017 - 6:30 pm

    Adri - Cute Stefan! I think if you can find a boy who has a busy birthday but never throws a fit about it, he’s a keeper! 😊 (I have a brother-in-law who has a Dec 26 birthday and we NEVER hear the end of how unjust that is!) My birthday, June 17, is often on Father’s Day (which is actually my favorite) but the real defining trait of that day is that it falls during the most popular travel week (in my observation). School gets out, everyone waits a week, then they all take off. I remember that my violin-playing cousins were ALWAYS at a fiddle competition on my birthday and my mom almost always spent my birthday on tour with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir during her 20-year tenure. And now that I have teens and scouts, I’m guaranteed that someone will be at camp on my birthday. This year, it falls on a Saturday. My daughter will be coming home from camp, my Cub Scout has an activity that day, the youth have one of their only 3-per-year temple trips and we just got word that my niece is getting married that day. I think it will be pretty easy to let my 40th birthday fly pretty low under the radar this year. 👍🏻ReplyCancel

  • April 5, 2017 - 11:00 pm

    Kate - I was always a bit jealous growing up because my brother and mother had birthdays that fell on minor holidays that had a long weekend attached, and my dad’s was usually during spring break so we’d be on vacation. Mine is in May which wasn’t too bad when I was young, but once in high school or college I’d be taking AP tests or final exams on my birthday. What fun! Now it’s not uncommon that I have to travel for work on my birthday or right after. Last year I celebrated it by waking up at 4:30 to catch a 7 am flight but at least I made it home 10 hours later in time for dinner with my family. Which is what really matters.ReplyCancel

  • April 7, 2017 - 9:09 am

    Ashley - Mine is July 22. When I was younger it was always swimming. Now it seems we are always traveling or visiting family for my birthday which is always fun! I never thought about what defines your birthday, that is a fun question!ReplyCancel

  • April 7, 2017 - 4:31 pm

    Jane - Sometimes my birthday falls on Thanksgiving, but sometimes it’s the getting older part that defines my birthday.ReplyCancel

  • April 12, 2017 - 1:28 pm

    Naomi - I Remember it
    Thank youReplyCancel


For fourteen months, we’ve heard the concerto over and over– early in the morning, late at night, Sunday afternoons for hours at a time. The hours increased dramatically in the last six months and even more in the last few weeks.

Xander started playing the violin at age 4, when I was an ambitious Suzuki mom, eager and ready to practice with a preschooler. His first teacher told us she preferred first and second children since parents were usually burned out by the fourth child. She had a point.

After a year and a half of her strict instruction, Mary joining the family (our darling baby girl who cried for 18 months straight) and a move across town we realized we were those parents who just couldn’t maintain that standard of perfection.

Then started almost comical (but not quite) episodes of finding a teacher just to have them move or decide to quit teaching just as Xander started making progress. He went through Suzuki Book 4 three times with three different teachers; every teacher found a slew of flaws to fix and bad habits to break .

He almost quit so many times. I almost quit so many times. But Xander left a post script at the bottom of a Mother’s Day card that I clung to, “I know I act like I hate viola, but I really love it. Thanks for helping me.”

The auditions for Concerto Night at our school are brutal. Years of preparation can be defeated by a head cold or a fit of nerves. So many brilliant kids compete for ten slots– kids with more preparation and awards and music scholarships don’t make it onto the roster.

So we’re grateful for the seven teachers who taught Xander, for the thousands of hours of practice, for a beautiful audition piece and a fair amount of luck that placed him on the program. I’m grateful for his growth as a musician in the past three months since the audition as he’s worked harder than ever before to perfect every note, to play with power and musicality.

The night before the performance, our beloved friends the Garffs brought over cupcakes and a note from Katie Garff– the last violist on the Concerto Night program who is serving a mission in Cochabamba, Bolivia right now. Katie said, “I understand how you must be feeling. Be sure your dress is one you can breathe in, but not so loose it falls down. You’ve earned this, so go out and love every second of it.” She also requested violas on the cupcakes, not violins, mind you.

I don’t know if you could say he loved every minute of it. He looked pretty anxious during the concertos leading up to his and absolutely terrified when he took the stage.

But he was much happier when he finished and went back to play with his friends in the orchestra. And his dress does look nice, yes?

Ever since watching ‘La La Land,’ Xander thinks it’s really funny to bite his lip when I take a photo.

Let’s be honest, there aren’t a lot of celebratory nights for musicians. This was a grand one.

Xander wrote his own bio for the program (just in case you can’t tell).

Happy, happy, happy.

  • March 9, 2017 - 11:26 am

    Anne Marie - Bravo! Years and years of hard work and dedication went into this moment. Truly awesomeReplyCancel

  • March 10, 2017 - 8:44 pm

    Heidi - Wow! What a great accomplishment for everyone involved! I loved the BioReplyCancel

  • March 20, 2017 - 5:01 am

    Karen - Congratulations, Xander! WOW!ReplyCancel

  • April 10, 2017 - 6:02 pm

    Jane - You may have heard the concerto time and time again, but I haven’t. Is there a video out there? Or is the title of the concerto something I can look up on YouTube? How do concertos work?ReplyCancel


Is it fair that Ben always has to share his birthday post with Valentine’s Day? I think it is, since the entire world decorates and sprouts hearts and love just for him. Since we don’t have enough celebrations this time of year, we had a party for Ben on both the 12th and 14th. Cake and dinner on Sunday and all our Valentine traditions on Tuesday.

I’m always sad when I hear someone doesn’t like Valentine’s Day and kind of annoyed by the whole “Single Awareness Day” trend. Valentine’s Day was ALWAYS meant to be celebrated the way you did in elementary school with paper cards for everyone, so much candy and doorbell ditching at night. In the spirit of elementary school (and German tradition), Ben took treats into his work at the LDS Church History Department. He works there gathering stories from around the world and still makes time for photography and videography while studying for the LSAT and applying to law schools all over the country.

Although we’ve collected (and repeated) lawyer jokes for years, we’re excited about Ben’s decision to attend law school. He may take his J.D. into academia, or international business or art law or immigration law. Who knows? It’s perfect for our boy who loves to try everything.

When Ben came home from his mission, he made a goal to be a great brother. Not a quasi-parent– as oldest siblings tend to dabble in– but simply a good brother. He’s someone to play with, complain to, work on projects with or ask for advice and he’s succeeded beautifully (he’s a fantastic son too0. And that’s what Valentine’s Day is all about– spreading love where we can to those who need it.

Join with us! Ban S.A.D. (single awareness day) and create sweet notes for your family and friends. Bake cupcakes, frost cookies and doorbell ditch your neighbors. It’s just a happier way to live.

the only picture of Xander was on my phone

just a few of our favorites…

a beautiful mess

Happy Birthday Ben! Thanks for all the love and joy you bring to the world.

  • February 22, 2017 - 5:24 pm

    Jane Tallmadge - I’ve never understood the Singles Awareness either, haha. I’ve never met Ben, but let him know that I’m sure he’d be great at law school.ReplyCancel

  • February 23, 2017 - 11:52 am

    ellen patton - It’s like a love explosion! And I hope Ben is applying to law schools in Boston. 🙂ReplyCancel

  • March 10, 2017 - 8:45 pm

    Heidi - When I think of Valentines day, I think of your family! You guys truly have it just right: everyone should celebrate the holiday by spreading the love!ReplyCancel


Xander’s birthday wish list:

  • a recurve bow
  • a plastic trombone
  • a skateboard
  • a snare drum
  • a new unicycle

As you can see, he’s in no danger of taking life too seriously. We bought him the recurve bow and my sister indulged him with a plastic trombone which is a real, actual instrument occasionally used in marching bands. As you’d expect, Xander immediately downloaded trombone scale charts, watched YouTube videos and now walks around the house at odd hours playing popular songs on his shiny red trombone. And he shoots arrows too.

This is Xander. He constantly chases new skills and somehow keeps up on his 37 (and counting hobbies). Every day he visits khanacademy.org for the math challenge of the day and watches science and history videos for fun. And since he’s eighteen and next year we won’t have him home for his birthday (sniff, sob) I’m writing a little more about him today.

Xander’s Birthday 2017 from Michelle Lehnardt on Vimeo.

Sometime, most of the time, life with Xander feels like stepping into a comic strip. He’s Calvin, and the super-smart kid from Foxtrot and Pigpen from Peanuts rolled into one. Actually, Pigpen looks like a neat freak next to Xander.

He’s had a spectacular year and a hard year. There’s a funny phenomenon when you have a string of successes– a few people take it upon themselves to ‘humble’ you and they’ll flat out tell you they are intent on bringing you down a notch. Poor Xander. He’s doing the best he can with a lot of responsibility and there’s always someone ready to tell him he’s not quite good enough.

The primary tasks of the Student Body President at Skyline are to help with every activity and befriend every student. It’s a vague description and impossible to fully accomplish. But Xander runs to and fro painting signs, judging talent shows, cheering at swim meets. Even though Xander is a true introvert, getting to know every student remains his favorite part of the job. Talking to people one on one feels easy.  But he knows no matter how many people he talks to at lunch or waves to in the halls there will always be someone he misses, someone he offends when his head is turned. Still, hopefully he makes a difference. People really matter to Xander (even if he does need to come home and hide from everyone occasionally).

Now for the questions everyone asks: After graduation (and it looks like he’ll graduate!), Xander plans on spending the summer at home, welcoming Hans home on July 5th (!!!) and leaving on his own mission in mid-August. His call should arrive near the beginning of May so stay tuned. After his mission he plans to study engineering at the University of Utah. Yes, his brothers have all gone to BYU but Xander loves home and what dorm room could hold all his instruments and hobbies?

Xander’s birthday weekend included dancing in an assembly, the Sweetheart’s Dance where he ripped a 12″ hole in his pants (good thing we were chaperoning and Erik had extra pants in his car), playing his viola in the youth session of Stake Conference on his birthday and our annual dry ice/pellet gun/diet coke fountain/sparkler extravaganza. Xander’s birthday was Super Bowl Sunday and you can spy Erik watching the game in the video.

As the evening wound up, Mary and I began baking cupcakes. As you may recall, we’re kind of good at churning out hundreds of cupcakes on short notice. We planned to deliver the treats to Skyline at lunchtime on Monday the 6th just like we’d done for Hansie’s 18th birthday.

But the next morning as I was just starting to frost the 485 little cakes, Xander said, “Please don’t bring those to school.” I guess he hadn’t noticed the trays lining the counter before then?

For a moment I thought about getting mad, but I simply said, “OK, I won’t.”

And then he left his sack lunch on the counter and I had to deliver it to the school at lunch anyway.

After school, Mary set up a table in front of the house and painted a sign reading, “FREE cupcakes.” I frosted cupcakes as quickly as I could and she handed them out to the junior high kids walking home, all the preschool moms lined up in front of our house and finally, the elementary kids walking home. People took them one in each fist, by the plateful, by the trayful. Mary said many of the moms cried and couldn’t believe she wouldn’t accept payment. When they asked, “Why are you giving these away?” she replied, “Because we think you’re pretty great.”

Loading up several plates for his friends, Xander watched from a distance, simply enjoying the happy chaos in front of our house. It was better this way, Xander never wanted to be the center of attention for his birthday.

And next year, when we’re missing Xander on his birthday and his larger-than-life personality, we’ll do exactly the same thing. But maybe we’ll bump it up to 600 cupcakes.


  • February 16, 2017 - 10:48 am

    ellen patton - I think every day at your house is a great day!!ReplyCancel

  • February 20, 2017 - 1:57 am

    Karen - Happy birthday, Xander! I’m so happy I got to meet you in October. Your school is lucky to have you!ReplyCancel


You can call her a teenager, but I’d leave the stereotypes aside. At 13, she’s simply, wonderfully, delightfully Mary.

My little girl can’t handle crowds, so when the stress of narrowing down her guest list became too great, she simply decided to hold a party for the little Linkouses. The cake, the games, the food, the Cinderella decor… all her.

Cinderella Bingo.Buttons as decor.
And her own ruffly cake.

She pulled out the bingo game again the next day for her actual birthday and her obliging brothers (and Heather) played along.

She’s delighted with her baby mouse in a high chair,

one last American Girl doll and a promise to help paint her room.

Happy Birthday darling girl.

  • January 25, 2017 - 7:47 pm

    Karen - Happy birthday, Mary! May you go from strength to strength. Thank you for being someone I am proud to have Rose look up to.ReplyCancel