The Best Surprises of 2013

New Year’s starts today at our house. We were too busy playing games until midnight, eating chocolates and ignoring all responsibilities last week.

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Last night we pulled out the family resolution book– a red velvet covered notebook my sister gave me where our resolutions have been recorded since 2001 (and wow, Hans has learned to read since then and Xander’s potty trained). This year, on the suggestion of our Stake Relief Society President, we made COMMITMENTS. Stuff we are actually going to do.

I gave my little lecture on our family commitment– DEFAULT: KINDNESS. You can figure it out just by the title. Our factory setting, our first reaction should be kindness, patience, thinking the best of others.

Mary and I made a goal to read the Book of Mormon together by following the Instagram group bofm365. Look it up if you haven’t heard of them. They give a daily assignment and hold a discussion every day. It’s the perfect way for Mary and I to read together.

As we discussed more individual goals, Hans spiced up the conversation by saying, “I have another family goal: pick up your own stinkin’ messes.” he went on, “Actions speak louder than words, and you say you love mom but you leave messes all over the house for her to clean up.”

Really, I could have kissed him. And he insisted Mary write stinkin’ with the apostrophe, no g on the end.

But you’ve read enough of goals, resolutions, commitments. Moving on to one of our new favorite traditions– in no particular order– the best surprises of the past year. None of these can be things we knew about previously like Ben coming home or Stefan going to Russia (though I might find a way to cheat and include those). They have to be surprises– events, objects, people, happenings large and small we could never have predicted at the beginning of 2013. I highly recommend making a list like this of your own. We’d forgotten some of the wonders of the year before making this list.

1. Ben coming home. OK, I told you I was going to cheat. We knew Ben was coming home, we knew it would be fabulous, but we didn’t know an advertising agency in the UK would buy the rights to segments of his video (as soon as I get all the dreaded paperwork filled out).

But truly, I’m only using the video as an excuse to name Ben’s arrival home as the happiest event of the year. You should see the way Gabe rests his head on Ben’s shoulder at any opportunity, the way Hans and Ben laugh together, Mary and Xander’s teasing and playfulness with him, and for Erik and I, talking to Ben as much and as often as we like.

2. Maybe we could have guessed, but certainly we didn’t know we’d be flying to Hungary for Noemi’s baptism in April. She gave us the five star tour and experiences we’ll never forget. In a double surprise, we were able to meet up with Noemi again in Switzerland this summer. Now, we just need to get our sweet girl to Utah…

3. We’d planned out trip to Ben’s mission in Italy from about the time he left, so we can’t count that as a surprise this year, but who’d have guessed we’d stay with our friends, the Bradfords, in Switzerland? And shoot a book preview? We were thoroughly and completely spoiled.

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4. Shall I just lump all the travel surprises together? Erik arranged some business in Italy while we were there (because it’s nice to write off at least one plane ticket). I didn’t think much about it; simply assuming we’d enjoy any experience in Italy. But I was hesitant about letting our Italian friend Davide make hotel reservations because I’m pretty careful about our travel budget. Imagine my delight in staying at the most luxurious, but least expensive little hotel in a tiny Italian hill town. We were in a part of Italy where Americans rarely venture– every hill was once it’s own kingdom with a castle and a cathedral. We visited Davide’s plant where the make giant mixers, his father’s winery, longingly stood outside the Ferrero-Rocher factory (think Nutella and everything else wonderful), ate incredible food and swam in the local pool (Italian public pools require everyone to wear a swim cap. Kind of brilliant, really.) We love Davide’s family and will consider them friends for years to come.

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5.  Back to real life. Exhausted from the long hours required by competitive gymnastics, Mary made it onto the team, quit after the first meet and took up sewing lessons. She still goes to tumbling class twice a week, but back handsprings can’t compete with her love of sewing. We found some old bedroom furniture on, scraped and painted, pulled my sewing machine out of the bottom cupboard and converted part of Mary’s bedroom into a sewing studio. I think I’ll do a whole blog post on this, so I’ll stop talking now.

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6. His voice always rang through the house, but we didn’t know Hans would try out for and love performing with the Skyline Men’s Troubadours. He takes his responsibilities as a lead seriously and can often be found at the piano singing and playing. If he’s accepted into Madrigals this year, it really won’t be a surprise.

7. Perhaps the single factor improving Xander’s happiness this year (besides growing six inches and his voice dropping an octave) has been taking classes at Skyline High. In our area ninth graders stay in Junior High, which is something we love. But Xander’s schedule necessitated taking math at the high school and since they run on an A B schedule (four classes on A days, four different classes on B days), he needed another class at Skyline to even out his schedule. With much finagling and begging we managed to land Xander in AP European History where he’s taught by an incredible teacher and invited to study groups by lots of cute junior girls. Sometimes it’s worth fighting for your kid’s education. Hmm, this subject deserves an entire blog post too.

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8. As fans of everything British, we’d heard of Dr. Who, but never given much thought to watching the series. We made the mistake almost everyone does when first looking up the series: we went to Netflix and watched the first episode they have listed. Don’t do this! The first episode listed, the first season, records some of the worst writing this 50 years series ever endured. Skip to season 2 (2006) or better yet, season 5 (2010 and then work your way back if need be). We’ve laughed, we’ve cried, we’ve eaten Jammie Dodgers and fishsticks with custard.

My favorite episode: The Doctor, The Widow and The Wardrobe and if I haven’t convinced you to ‘give it a go’ yet, watch this excerpt from ‘Vincent and the Doctor’ (Season 5, Episode 10) where the Doctor takes Vincent Van Gogh forward in time to see his art hanging on the wall of the Musee D’ Orsay. You will cry. And then you’ll probably get a sonic screw driver of your own and start saying, “Bow ties are cool.”


9. No one was more surprised than me to hear I was chosen Utah’s Young Mother of the Year. C’mon, who would have thought? I’ll write about this in more detail later but it’s been a delight to represent mothers and humbling to examine my own mothering. As a bonus, I made dozens of new friends in the American Mothering sphere.

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10.  We knew Stefan was headed to Russia, but we couldn’t have known he’d love everything about the country. Buckwheat for breakfast, seventeen ways to express “that’s beautiful,” drunks on the street and grandmas who pinch his cheeks. Everything about Russia thrills him and he now finds English infinitely inferior to beautiful, expressive Russian (I could use a few more words to describe ‘beautiful’ myself).
(I’m still waiting for a photo of Stefan in a Russian hat to place here.)
11. One of the great perks of photography, for me, lies in meeting new people. I generally fall in love with every family, every couple, every missionary, every senior girl, every baby and every about-to-be-baptized eight year old I photograph. Sadly, I have to say ‘no’ to most jobs because I’m easily overwhelmed, but I’m always grateful for the people I do meet. Although I take on very few weddings each year (because they take about a month of my life), I spend so much time with the couple and their families I feel completely invested in their future and happiness. And somehow I get the loveliest people, the best brides and grooms. It’s uncanny.

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12. Gabe and Xander thought I’d forgotten their fabulous Christmas gift in my post the other day. Not true. I was simply saving their work of art for the year’s best surprises. Words are my love language and an entire book of poetry dedicated to me was the nicest, sweetest surprise. The dedication reads: To Mom, We wouldn’t be here without you. Literally.     

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I can’t pick a favorite poem from the batch, but this one will give you an idea of their masterful writing:

The plans for today are never unchanging.  
She goes with the flow and her interests are ranging.  
She takes our suggestions without condescending, 
and makes our life fun without any pretending.  

See what I mean? 

13. I said this list reads in no particular order, but perhaps the first and the last are the most important. We were surprised with so many new friends this year. I started a list and stopped because I’ll surely leave someone out. People from Ben’s mission, from Stefan’s mission, from Switzerland and Italy and just down the street; mothers, readers, writers, people we’ve met before but didn’t really know. People, people, people. Isn’t a delight to know every year will bring more people to love into our lives? I can scarcely wait for the surprises of 2014.
Happy New Year!
Just for fun:

Favorite new movie: FROZEN our hands-down, all-family favorite. In fact, Hans has a new favorite movie line, “Let’s go kiss Hans!”

Favorite new (to us) restaurant: Pizza Limone. If you ask where I want to go to dinner or lunch, this has been my answer. We took so many friends to Pizza Limone this summer; the walls are filled with happy memories.

Favorite colors of the year: turquoise and red

Favorite song: We can’t choose. But I can tell you we played Gone Gone Gone by Phillip Phillips, Classic by MKTO, Let It Go from FROZEN, Best Day of My Life by American Authors, 93 Millions Miles from the Sun by Jason Mraz, Counting Stars by One Republic, Story of My Life from One Direction, Our Song my Matchbox Twenty, The Giving Tree by Plain White Ts, Icarus from Bastille, Young and Beautiful from Lana Del Rey and everything from Imagine Dragons about a thousand times.

Favorite book: Global Mom: Eight Countries, Sixteen Addresses, Five Languages, One Family I’m not just saying this because I love Melissa. It was one of the few book our entire family read and our unanimous favorite.

Favorite new pet: Bunnies!! And I predict more a few more hopping through our lives in 2014. “Bunnies can have 60 babies a year. Which makes us 60 times happier!”

January 5, 2014



  1. Grandma Honey

    January 7, 2014

    LOVE this post! I got so many great ideas from it…especially the Book of Mormon online group. I’m starting that tonight. I had no idea.

  2. ellen

    January 8, 2014

    A wonderful post. 🙂

  3. Jeanelle

    January 8, 2014

    I loved this post. I love the idea of a factory standard and a family commitment to kindness. I loved seeing more pictures from your trip. I love the list of favorite songs because I’m always on the lookout for new ones. And finally, your films are beautiful…like you.

  4. Jordan

    January 9, 2014

    Mary’s sewing space is lovely! I loved this post and I can’t wait to see all the wonderful things and people 2014 brings.

  5. Julie

    January 9, 2014

    So wonderful. Thanks for letting us peek in on your life.

  6. Deneal

    January 10, 2014

    Would you mind sharing where in Italy you stayed? I’m trying to plan an Italy trip for our family this year and would love to go there!

  7. Unknown

    January 11, 2014

    Oh, Michelle how I have missed your blog! With 3 little kids I haven’t found enough time in the day to check in. Lucky me I am nursing surprise baby #4 and I can catch up. I literally cried over Ben’s video. I can FEEL your joy in him coming home.
    Looking forward to catching all the way back!
    Kira P.

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