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


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 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


Gabe’s birthday wish list: pajama pants, athletic shorts, a plaid shirt, mittens.

Kind of makes me think I haven’t been looking out for his needs.

Gabriel, my darling, beautiful, almost angelic child. This is the year where everyone who sees him, stops in their tracks and gasps, “You’ve grown!”

He’s getting tired of the constant talk about his height, but I think this may be the the year he surpasses all his brothers– fitting justice for a fifth son.

It’s been a good year. As Mary says, “It’s nice having such a cool, funny older brother at school.”

Gabe’s still our gentle boy,

always ready with a joke,

and our constant peacemaker.

Happy Birthday Gabe! We love you so.

  • January 25, 2017 - 7:49 pm

    Karen - Happy birthday, Gabe! It was a delight to meet you when you came to NYC. Your family is so lucky to have you.ReplyCancel


This has become one of my favorite posts to write every year. Most of our days follow the pattern of the day or week before, but over the course of a year it’s amazing how many happy surprises slip into our lives. 2016 was such a rough year on the national and international front, I feel almost guilty for counting my blessings, but I think it’s good to recognize all the beauty in the world. Even if it’s just a movie that puts a skip in your step.

In roughly chronological order:

1. Stefan and Heather’s wedding on January 15th was undoubtedly the most important event of the year, but it wasn’t a surprise. What did delight us? How absolutely beautifully both Sammie and Heather fit into our family. How they make every tradition brighter and better. The love and kindness they show to every member of the family. The way they’ve wrapped their arms around Mary as a little sister and their arms around each other as travelers in this great journey.

2. Xander’s election as Student Body President was an amazing surprise (and stressful journey). The job itself entails both privilege and challenge, but I’ll write more about that on Xander’s birthday.

Xander & Jesse SBO Pres. & V.P. from Michelle Lehnardt on Vimeo.

3. If you’re Mormon, you see photos and videos of kids opening mission calls several times a week– but it’s an event that’s never mundane, never ordinary. We were lucky enough to host our beloved Lizzy’s mission call opening at our house. It seems SO long ago, but it was just last March. Hasn’t Lizzy been gone a year already? We miss her every day. And I hope you had the opportunity to read the amazing story of Lizzy and Katie’s mission calls. Lizzy Gets A Call from Ben Lehnardt on Vimeo.

4. Creating was a labor of love this year. I could have never imagined all the incredible people who lent their talent and support to this website. With writers all over the world, we’ve given teenage girls a voice and a place to share their talents. The RubyGirl Retreat in August was both amazing and exhausting. The site is still small, but I have faith that if it’s supposed to grow, the right people will step in to help me. For now, even if we help just a few girls, it’s enough.

5. Not a single person of age in our family voted Republican in the presidential election this year and THAT was a surprise.

6. This summer, Erik and I were called as Sunday School Teachers to the 14 and 15 year olds in our ward. We have the BEST class full of smart, fun, interesting, spiritually minded kids. Every Sunday we love hearing their thoughts and getting to know them better. Truly a dream-come-true calling.

7. In late June, Ben started running. In September, Ben and Sammie completed their first marathon with a few half-marathons along the way. Sammie had run a half-marathon before, but Ben never ran more than a few miles at a time until this summer. AMAZING!

8. I know, I know, Hamilton made the list last year. But who could have imagined the musical would actually exceed our sky-high expectations?

9. When I told Xander I’d signed him up for the September ACT test, he was less than thrilled. Who wants to spend an entire summer with a huge standardized test hanging over their head? Still, he studied and took practice tests and seemed absolutely ready the night before the test. But when we went to print out his admission ticket, we couldn’t find any record of signing up for the test. Oops. My bad. S0ooooo, he spent another six weeks studying, while I spent six weeks apologizing. But when the test score arrived, it was well, absolutely perfect.  Xander’s first words when he saw his score? “Thanks mom.”

10. Living SO far away in Provo, we don’t see as much of Stefan and Heather as we’d like. Don’t cry for us. I’m being silly, we actually see them at least once every two weeks. Still, in an effort to stay close to their siblings, Stefan and Heather started “Little Sister Sleepovers” where they invited Mary and Heather’s younger sisters to spend the night, eat pancakes, visit the sights in Provo and just spend time together.

11. If you ask, she’ll probably tell you she hates it, but Mary is actually surviving jr. high. After two years of homeschooling, the jr. high life is rough, but Mary has incredible teachers (esp. Shelah), the nicest counselor in the world and darling friends. It’s still jr. high, which involves a fair amount of misery, but probably the best possible scenario for these middle years.

12. With pretty much no training, I somehow completed the Spudman Triathlon on July 30th. I give pretty much all the credit to the Whole30 which has become my favorite way of eating.

13. No contest, our favorite movie of the year was La La Land. We’re addicted to the music, the dialogue and may take up tap dancing as a family.

14. Ben and Sammie started not one, but two businesses this year: Lionheart Paper and Blue House View. The former creates incredible cards and word art and the latter includes all Ben’s video and photography work.

15. When the cast list for The Little Mermaid, went up at the jr. high in early December, many people were surprised to see Gabe cast as Prince Eric. At our fiercely competitive jr. high, he’s stayed out of the spotlight for the past two years. But he decided early in the summer to try for the coveted part of Prince Eric and worked hard to acquire the voice and acting skills. I’m amazed at how much he’s accomplished and can hardly wait to see him perform March 14-17.

16. It’s no surprise Hans served in Madagascar every day of 2016 but gaining worms, losing his English and gutting a turkey might not have been on his list of expectations.


Reading over this list has been an embarrassment of riches. 2016 was such a hard year in so many ways, but also full of unexpected joys. May the coming year bring you happiness, delight and lovely surprises.