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38 . . . Here I Come!

I haven’t talked much about Chris’s new ‘love’ of minimalism, but our lives have completely changed in the last couple months since my sister, Eliza, gave him the book Everything That Remains.  There was so much in the book that struck a chord with him.  Since then, he’s read other books along the same theme and continues to get more passionate about it.  The main premise?  We just have too much ‘stuff’ that is taking control of our lives.  In essence, we need ‘simplification.’  This, in turn, is where we find more time, peace, and happiness.

What does all this have to do with my birthday?  Well, everything!  Since we have gone through most of our house, purging everything and anything that we possibly don’t need anymore, gifts of the material sense weren’t on the top of the list.  Instead, Chris thought of giving me ‘experiences’.  The memories from these experiences are longer lasting.

So, experience #1:

Chris took the day off of work on Friday, the day before my birthday.  His plans didn’t start until the afternoon, but we walked up to the high street for breakfast – why not?!  In the afternoon, we took the train into Central London for our booking at one of the restaurants in the Shard, the tallest building in London (currently in the EU, as well).

the shard

Looking up at the Shard

Our late lunch / early dinner at the Oblix, on the 32nd floor, was great.  We had an amazing view of the city from our table and thoroughly enjoyed the food.  As you can only book a table for 2 hours, our time was up around 4:30 p.m., which was perfect for the next phase of Chris’s plans.  We had tickets to go up to the observation floors (floors 68, 69 and 72) at 5:00 p.m.  At this time of year, that coincides perfectly with sunset.  We also lucked out with a perfectly clear day so we got to see everything at dusk and then enjoyed watching the city lights come on along the Thames River.   

west view from shard

Westward View (London Eye, St. Paul’s Cathedral)

east view from shard

Eastward View (Tower Bridge, Tower of London)

It was truly magical and made you fall in love with London all over again!

Experience #2:

 On Saturday, we got up and headed into North London for a cooking class!  Chris had done a lot of research to find some of the best cooking classes in London and then tried to find availability that could work for us and my birthday.  He found Waitrose Cookery School had an Italian Cooking class on my actual birthday, so it was perfect!

cookery school

Chef Martin Demonstrating Before Setting Us Free

I was so glad Chris and I got to do this class together.  Not only was it a great way to spend the day together, but it was a lot of fun!

chris cooking school

Chris Preparing Osso Bucco

Not only did we cook the food, but we ate it during the day as well.  It was a 3 course meal with some extras.  Needless to say, we didn’t leave hungry!

Our menu for the day consisted of:

  • Tiramisu
  • Osso Bucco with Risotto alla Milanese
  • Spinach & Ricotta Tortellini
  • Fresh Basil Pesto
  • Pizza Margherita
  • Linguine with Crab, Chilli, & Garlic

Wow!  We actually got to make the tortellini pasta from scratch.  I always imagined making noodles quite difficult, involving pasta laying around to dry, but it was quite simple.  I would even try to do it at home, if I got a pasta machine.

pasta making

Rolling Pasta / Completion Certificate

The kids were good troopers and waited patiently to celebrate my birthday with me on Sunday.  Chris and Caleb made me a manicotti dinner, complete with salad and breadsticks.  Then we enjoyed a delicious cheesecake from Hummingbird Bakery and a few gifts.

It was the perfect birthday celebration and made me excited about what this next year has in store for me and my family!

bday celebration

Perfect End to a Perfect Birthday Weekend

Our “same place, same time” statement from our last retreat wasn’t 100% accurate this year, but at least we got the same place!  With others things happening in October, we just couldn’t make it work until this February.  That’s okay, we still wholeheartedly looked forward to it!

Anticipating the 2+ hour drive to Somerset, we brought along a new audio book Caleb got for Christmas, Focused by Noelle Pikus Pace.  The kids listened now and again but Chris and I were engrossed.  Each chapter, in and of itself, could have been a talk given in Sacrament meeting.  There are so many amazing people in this world, doing amazing things, and being amazing examples.  It was the perfect lead into our retreat.


Focused by Noelle Pikus Pace

Even better . . . this time we got to bring Keira, our puppy, along.  It was her first long car ride with us and she did great!

keira car

Keira’s Car Accommodations

There is something to be said for pulling up to a familiar place, even if you haven’t been in over a year.  The farm was just as we remembered and we were so excited to be back!

holt farm

There’s Nothing like Holt Farm

We got to stay in the Old Barn (a renovated barn) again and it was comforting knowing what to expect, where things were, and we were even able to pre-assign bedrooms before we arrived.

the old barn

The Old Barn

Chris was really good about planning out our schedule for the few days of the retreat, making sure our time was spent on what we wanted to focus on.


Stephenson Family Retreat Schedule

Our ‘seminars’ this year included:

  • Media & Technology (and their addictive natures)
  • Five Love Languages
  • Minimalism
  • Budgeting, Compound Interest, & Investing
  • New Chore Chart System Introduction
  • Rising Star Outreach Introduction (a service organization we will be helping as a family)
  • Finding Happiness Now / Enjoying the Journey
  • Testimony
  • Giving

Our audience wasn’t the uptight, captive audience you’d find in a board room, but rather the relaxed, at ease audience you’d have at Family Home Evening.  Except, with having the whole weekend centered around this event, there were no cries that it was taking too long or that they had to be somewhere else.  All we had was . . . time!


Note-taking & Relaxing During Seminars

It wasn’t all note-taking and listening, though.  We did have some great hands-on object lessons for most of the seminars and the kids were always so positive about them.

testimony lesson

Learning about the “Pieces” of a Testimony

We also factored in time for fun games, like:

Airplane making & throwing contests -


Learning the Art of Airplane Making

Wrapped candy bar game -

candy bar game

Frozen Candy Bar Game

Of course, we still had time for un-scheduled games and fun . . .


Kid-favourite:  Clue



During break times, the adjacent game room was a big treat (ping pong, foosball, and snooker table).


Caleb Playing Snooker

Of course, there were high aspirations for a large puzzle, but we just had so much else going on, we didn’t get too far.

puzzle fail

Failed Puzzle Attempt

Having Keira with us helped get us out of the house for at least 30-45 minutes every morning for a big walk and then randomly throughout the day.  On our first evening, I took Keira out and noticed the cows were ‘coming home’ so I tried to get closer to them for a good picture.  Keira was not a fan and actually couldn’t get far enough away.  The cows weren’t big on our presence either and actually started to get a bit aggressive with us.  It’s a good thing there was a fence between us!

charging cows

Aggressive Cows

When the cows were in their feeding barn, the scene was a lot more serene.

back of farm

Rear of Holt Farm

Of course, everything always looks better in the broad daylight . . .

backyard cows

Cows Peacefully Eating

caged cows

Safely Inside Gate

We enjoyed exploring more of Holt Farm during our walks.  The girls mastered the art of ‘stile hopping’ . . .

farm walk

Hannah’s Stile-Hopping Form

. . . while, Keira tried to master the art of ‘fence dodging’.  There is a reason stiles are only made for people and fences are made to keep animals out.

stile digging

Keira’s Attempt at Fence Dodging

Being winter, there was no end to the mud.  Even with wellies, we never failed to come home with dirty trousers.  But, it’s all about the experience!

muddy walk

Marks of Country-Traipsing

There is something to be said for walking along tractor tire marks and walking in the sheep fields.

hightailing sheep

Keira = Fox (in Eyes of Sheep)

We think Keira enjoyed her time in the countryside.  She loved tagging along on the walks.  Even without her lead, she stayed right with us and was concerned we all stay together.


Faithful Companion

Back at the house, Keira was a big fan of the heated floors.  Add that into a ray of sunshine coming in the window and you have pure bliss!

heated floor

Soaking in the Rays

Of course, nap time isn’t complete without a little bit of cuddle time.


Cuddling up to Caleb

With any holiday, we had amazing food – even if we had to cook it ourselves.  But, we chose some of our favorite easy meals for our few days there.


Favorite Home-Cooked Meals

Of course, you can’t forget the treats!


Emma’s Giant Chocolate Chip Cookies


Jelly Bellies Win Every Time

Waking up early Sunday morning to head back to London was a little sad, but knowing we will be back soon makes it that much easier!

early morning

Sunrise in Somerset

Caleb Turns 14!



Fourteen years have literally flown by!  Caleb came into the world as an upset infant, but as soon as he was mobile, he was the happiest child – and has stayed that way (for the most part).  We are so grateful for his lovable and humorous attitude that helps him interact well with each of his sisters differently.

birthday breakfast

Birthday Breakfast

Having a birthday during the week usually means we get to celebrate over a number of days, trying to fit everything in.  We got up early on the actual day to have a special M&M pancake breakfast and open gifts before school.

caleb's birthday

Styling with His Gifts

The following day, Friday, when everyone was home for dinner, we had Caleb’s requested birthday meal – shish kabobs, rice, and spinach salad.  Saturday, we pulled Caleb out of his gym training early and took him out to lunch at a local Tex-Mex restaurant, Chiquitos, before going to the theater to watch “Big Hero 6″.  Caleb decided he didn’t want a cake for his birthday, but would rather have root beer floats.  We had those Sunday for our Family Home Evening treat.  Nothing like making your birthday last for days!


birthday dinner

Chiquitos’ Lunch

This year has been a memorable one for Caleb as he started attending school.  He was really liking his homeschooled life – pushing through each morning to finish his school work by noon so he could have a few hours to himself before going off to gym training.  The thought of changing that comfortable life was hard for Caleb to accept, but we encouraged him to try school for a year to see how it went and how he could handle his other responsibilities.

first day of school

Caleb’s First Day of School

Every so often after school, I’d ask Caleb, “If you had to choose at this moment whether you came back home to homeschool or stayed at school, what would you choose?”  In the beginning the answer was always ‘come home to homeschool’ then eventually the answer became ‘undecided.’  Now, the answer is ‘definitely stay in school; I love it!’  I was so happy to hear that answer, thinking he was loving what he was learning and really starting to grasp how great an education can be.  When I asked him what his favorite parts of school are, the answer came, ‘my friends.’  He explained that he always thought he had enough friends through gym and church, but it wasn’t until he started school that he realized how important having other friends – that are different than you – can be.

We are grateful for this amazing guy.  He is a hard worker in everything he does.  He is a perfectionist in the gym and his own worst critic.

caleb high bar

High Bar – Elite Nationals 2014

Caleb is also a great teammate and a good example to all those around him.

Regional Qualifier

Heathrow Boys’ Sr. & Jr. Teams

We can’t wait to see what the next few years bring into his life!  Happy birthday, Caleb!!

It is no secret that winters in England are long and dreary.  Last year seemed particularly long so we decided to try to break this winter up with a sunny holiday over the New Year.  Our travel friends, the Ashton’s, had the same thought so we narrowed down some possibilities of warm destinations and settled on Crete, a small island of Greece.

As the trip came closer, the weather reports weren’t very promising, but we kept our fingers crossed.  It was no use; our “sunny” holiday was destined to be a ‘wash-out’, but you can’t win ‘em all so we made the best of it.

We decided to plan our days according to the weather, so site-seeing was saved for those days that looked less menacing.  Looking at the sites in the surrounding area, we decided we really needed three days out.

Outing 1:  Knossos

Knossos, which was over an hour and a half drive from the villa, is considered the oldest European city.  It was the capital of Minoan Crete.  According to Greek mythology, the palace at Knossos was commissioned by King Minos and designed by the architect Dedalos.  Both these men have their own stories in Greek mythology.

cami knossos

Cami Braving the Rain

After Dedalos designed the labyrinth palace, King Minos imprisoned him so he wouldn’t give away the palace’s secrets.  But, Dedalos was a great inventor so he built two sets of wings for he and his son (Ikaros) to fly off the island.  Dedalos warned his son not to fly too close to the sun because the wax on the wings would melt.  Dedalos didn’t listen and fell to his death in the sea.


Caleb & Dallin

The Palace of Knossos is also associated with the legend of Theseus and the Minotaur.  According to legend, King Minos required 7 young men and 7 young women to be delivered to him every 9 years.  They became the sacrifices of the people to the Minotaur who lived in the Labyrinth.  This continued until Theseus killed the Minotaur and made his way back out of the Labyrinth, using a ball of yarn one of the young women had given him.

ruins in the rain

Theseus was so excited to sail back home to his father, Aegean, that he forgot to change the color of the sails (which was the pre-arranged signal of whether Theseus had survived or died).  When Aegean saw the black sails, instead of the white, he assumed Theseus had died, so threw himself into the sea.  This is why the sea is named the Aegean Sea.

Kids at Knossos

“Clustering” Children

However many of the legends are true to this area, the ruins and restorations still being done, are awe-inspiring.

storage jugs

HUGE Clay Storage Pots


“Upside Down” Columns

Arthur Evans, a British Archaeologist, is the one who bought the site and began excavating it in 1900 before beginning the restoration. 

sir arthur evans

Sir Arthur Evans

The on-and-off again rain didn’t damper the kids’ spirits.  Even though the younger kids weren’t too enthralled with the ruins and other artifacts, they were quite interested in the roaming peacocks, the big rain puddles, and finding ‘crystal rocks.’


“Crystal Rocks”

We also couldn’t leave Knossos without adding another picture to Caleb’s “Handstands Around the World” book.


Caleb’s Cretan Handstand

We began to discover on this first outing just how difficult it would be to find places to eat in the non-tourist season.  Many restaurants close down during the winter and you can’t depend on TripAdvisor to lead you to a good one. Chances are, by the time you get there, you will discover it’s closed.

We did find a great review in the nearby city and called ahead to make sure they were open and could take our party of 11.  We had an interesting time trying to weave our cars through narrow streets and then find parking, but we finally arrived at the waterfront, just in time for some blue skies

traveling kids waterfront

“Stephash” Buddies

We did enjoy the restaurant and the personal experience we had.  The Greeks love their food and the experience.  We were also pleasantly surprised to be given free dessert of fruit and then native baklava.

hole in the wall eats

The Best Restaurants are “Holes in the Wall”

Outing 2:  Chania

Chania was touted as a quaint town with a lighthouse so we thought it sounded like a great outing.  Surely, it would have lived up to its ‘quaint’ description in drier and warmer weather.  We began finding ourselves consistently say, “This would be really neat in the summer.”

google maps

What did we do before SmartPhones?

We arrived in town as soon as the rain hit.  We wandered around some cute alleyways, trying to navigate to the town centre.

back alleys

Back Alleyways

The alleyway walks were fun, as we tried to keep the younger kids from jumping in puddles or getting too wet.  In the end, we realized there was no hope for it, so we did a few ‘puddle jumping’ shots in front of Chania’s most recognizable landmark, the Church of the Trimartyri.

jumping in puddles

Puddle Jumping in Chania’s Square

Wet and cold, we wandered around to find a place for lunch.  As many restaurants, the Green Eye, had primarily outdoor seating.  The food and menu were amazing, but we will probably remember our experience of sitting under the heat lamps and trying to avoid the torrential downpour, more than the food.

Sadly, the weather didn’t improve any after lunch.  We decided to try to go out to tour the lighthouse on our way to the car, but walking along the harbour, we quickly realized that was not going to happen.

waterfront walk

Storm in the Harbour

Our tour of the lighthouse and the fort opposite were definitely ones to be done from afar.


 Braving the Elements


Outing 3:  Arkadi Monastery/Driving Tour

The owner of the villa we were staying in, had told us about a great driving tour around parts of the island, but with all the rain, we knew the roads wouldn’t be the best for that drive.  So, on our last outing, we did a shortened part of the driving tour, starting with the Arkadi Monastery.


Holy Monastery of Arkadi

The Arkadi Monastery is considered a national symbol in Greek history.  In 1866, there was a Cretan Revolt as the Greeks tried to fight off the Turks.  During that time, 943 Greeks (mostly women and children), sought refuge in the monastery.  As the Turks attacked the monastery, those hiding inside the magazine room were instructed to light a fire.  This caused an explosion that killed all the Greeks inside, as well as those Turks who were invading.  It is claimed to be a self-sacrificing act that caught the attention of the world.  A bullet from this 1866 revolt is still visible in one of the trees inside the fortress.

winter bare
Winter Months at the Monastery

girls monastery

Trying to Stay Warm

The highlight of the monastery for the kids was the many cats they befriended.  They named each of them and could tell you about their temperament.  It will be funny if the cats are what sticks out the most for the kids about this trip.


Monastery Cats with Hannah

The shortened drive we took after the monastery wasn’t as windy as the full drive would have been, but we still had some kids feel a little ill.  As we drove over the mountain, there was a different feel to it – we actually saw a little bit of blue skies!

other side of the mountain

The “Other” Side of the Mountain

We had hoped to use the other side of the mountain as our lunch stop, but, true to the rest of the island, it was really hard to find anything open.  This side must be more of the touristy side, as it literally was a ghost town.  The kids wanted to get out of the car for awhile and try to skip stones even though it was super windy and cold.


skipping rocks

Skipping Stones


Even though the weather was less than ideal, we were really grateful to be with friends.  We had a great week, playing things by ear, and just hanging out.

villa doors

Our Villa

The kids were not deterred from enjoying all the amenities of the villa.  Any moment of sun or letting up of the rain, and they wanted to be in the villa’s pool.  The water was heated to an extent, so they were constantly checking it to see if it was suitable.

cold swim

Pool in the Villa

chattering teeth

Teeth-Chattering Cold

At other times, as we hung out in the villa, we had plenty of games, a puzzle we whipped out in 1 day (!), and plenty of movies to entertain us.


1,000 Piece Puzzle + 11 People = 1 Day to Complete

One evening, the adults even went out into the little village to get a sense of where we were staying.  We were able to see the bells that woke us up our first morning there (as it was Sunday) and rang in the New Year as well.  Being right next door, it felt like they were just above our bedroom windows.

village bell

Village Church Bells

We continued to follow the path up the village slopes, and came to a pedestrian gate.

uphill path

Pedestrian Path

We had a great view of the little village set into the hill, with the sea just beyond.  It was amazing to see how little one village can be to house 300 people.

village view

Panoramic Village

This definitely wasn’t the holiday that we had planned, but we still got to see Crete and spend some down-time with friends.  Sometimes you just need something out of the ‘norm’ to be a success.

Christmas in London 2015

After having a delayed Thanksgiving, we always feel like we’re in a rush to get our Christmas things up so we can maximize the entirety of December to feel festive.  This year we started from the outside and worked our way in.

The kids’ school often has craft days.  I usually make note of them and find something better to do with my time.  However, when I saw one of the upcoming crafts was making a real Christmas wreath, I made note, and made sure I was one of the first to respond!  This was definitely something I could use!  The process was a bit slow, starting with one wire wreath form, creating the shape with moss, and then building on top with the branches.  Then it was time to decorate it all!  Wow!  I definitely have more of an appreciation for the time and effort it takes to make just one of these.

Becca's Wreath

The Finished Product

I couldn’t wait to come home and hang it on my door – my first ever Christmas wreath.  It will be a sad day when it starts to fall apart and it needs to come down.

wreathed door

Looking Festive

We ended up putting our Christmas tree up on the same day we celebrated Hannah’s birthday.  We were happy to do it another day, but Hannah used her ‘executive birthday powers’ and decreed that was what she wanted to do with her day.  So, we happily obliged.

building tree

Building the Tree

One of my favorite parts of getting all the Christmas boxes out are sorting through the ornaments.  Each holds a special memory – either for the person who gave it or from the country we visited when we bought it.  I also love that between a couple aunts’ giving each child an ornament each year, the kids will each have quite a collection of their own ornaments to take with them when they leave home . . . carrying those fond memories with them wherever they are.


Sorting the Ornaments

I love that as years go by, putting up the Christmas tree becomes faster as the kids are more involved and know the ‘routine.’  If only we could ever get to that point when taking down the tree and other decorations!


All Decked Out

The rest of December was full of more Christmas preparations.  I have officially decided that I will always feel like I’m rushing around for Christmas gifts, trying to beat international shipping dates, or feeling pressured to get our Christmas cards/letters out no matter what date it is in December.  To avoid those feelings, I am convinced I need to be done BEFORE Thanksgiving!  Someday . . .   What would it be like to have a relaxing December?

I’m not sure if the increase in ‘mom taxi’ miles in December is very relaxing, as Christmas displays and performances were prepared for.  However, it was very fun to be able to watch the gym’s Christmas Display and see Caleb’s team in action.  This was the first year that their performance time only entailed dancing and tumbling – no apparatus (rings, high bar, etc.).  Aside from the Disney themed Tarzan costumes for the opening number, the boys had a great time in their hip-hop dance (even though they performed it 10 times over one week’s time), decked in black sweats and hoodies.  Having a young, ‘hip’ coach has been really fun for these guys . . . and it’s always a crowd-pleaser as well.

caleb's gym diplay

Boys’ Squad in Opening Number

Cami had her turn in the spotlight as her ballet company performed for a Russian group at an all-day event.  They broke their performances into two blocks throughout the day, so we attended the first block.  The girls did a great job and, having done these dances for years, they are quite polished and can help out the younger girls as they come into the group.  The only drawback in these performances is that the announcing and other events are done solely in Russian.  But, Cami enjoys the dancing and that’s what it’s all about anyway.

Cami's Dance


Back on the home front, we still had our traditional gingerbread house to decorate.  The concept of building one gingerbread house as a family sounds quite ideal, but by the time we get done, we wonder why we tried to do it in the first place.  “Someone” always wants the icing when “someone else” has it.  The candy “someone” wanted to use is now gone because “someone else” used too much of it.

gingerbread house

Perhaps next year we should all do our own (if we can find graham crackers in the UK).  But, in the moments that everyone was happy and had what they wanted, we had a great time.

many hands

Many Hands Make Light Work

It did take a friend to get us out of the house and try something new this holiday season – a true British tradition:  attending a carol sing-a-long.  We attended one in the Royal Albert Hall with Anton Du Beke and Erin Boag, ballroom dance stars (also known for their show ‘Strictly Come Dancing’).

royal albert hall

Outside Royal Albert Hall

The dancing and music were a lot of fun, but the carol sing-a-long was pretty amazing to me.  Christmas is still a very respected holiday here in Great Britain.  As any carol that spoke of Christ was announced, everyone automatically stood up to sing it.  I was amazed, and frankly, brought to tears on a number of songs.  There is nothing like an auditorium (with amazing acoustics) filled with people singing about Christ’s birth.  Truly memorable!

inside royal albert

Final Number of Sing-a-long

After our sing-a-long concert concluded, we walked down the street to eat dinner in a Lebanese restaurant, before heading back up the same street to the chapel for a special Family Home Evening in the Visitor’s Centre.  Sometimes it is pretty surreal to live where we do.

family nativity

Stephenson Family Nativity

Our amazing missionaries shared their talents telling stories, dressing us in costumes, woodwork, dancing, music, baking, etc. for a great evening.

christmas eve game


Our Christmas Eve was pretty quiet and is definitely one of my favorite days of the year.  As our big Christmas Eve meal was prepping, we had time to play Risk for the first time as a family.  Emma and Caleb pretty much obliterated all of us, but now we know how to play and will do better next time.

christmas dinner

Our traditional English dinner of roast beef, roasted potatoes, and Yorkshire pudding was delicious!  No, we didn’t have brussel sprouts, but enjoyed asparagus (which most of us eat) instead.

christmas pjs

Christmas Eve PJ’s

Christmas Eve isn’t complete without the telling and acting out of the Nativity story, opening up new pajamas, and watching a Christmas movie together.  Cami, our die-hard Santa believer, had to check on NORAD to see where Santa was before we went to bed.

tracking santa

Checking on Santa

santa's goodies

Treats for Santa and the Reindeer

With older kids, we enjoy a little bit of a lie-in on Christmas morning.  We all decided 8:00 a.m. was a good time to get up and start our day.  Thank goodness those 4:00 a.m. wake-up calls are behind us!

morning tree

Tree on Christmas Morning

I’m still not very good about taking pictures during our gift-opening as I’m just relishing it all.  But, I made sure to get a shot of the ‘before’ scene, with everyone’s stockings spread over the room, surrounded by their wrapped stocking gifts and one unwrapped gift from Santa.

christmas morning scene

Living Room Scene

As the kids get older I’m sure Santa has a hard time knowing what they want, even with their notes they write him.  But, overall, they were all pleased and surprised with their gifts.  Emma got a small Polaroid camera; Caleb got Beats headphones; Hannah got a new soccer ball, goals, and ball pump; and Cami got a Boogie Board.

camis reaction

Surprised and Happy

As it was our first Christmas with Keira, we were a little unsure with how she’d do.  She did okay with having the tree out, as long as ornaments were above her line of sight.  We didn’t put any gifts under the tree until Christmas Eve, just in case.  Overall, she did really well.  She was a little questioning of the gifts on her bed, but was excited for new toys.  The only Christmas mishap we had was when Keira found Caleb’s Beats case on Caleb’s desk.  That was quickly chewed up, but it could have been worse . . . and Caleb quickly replaced the case with some of his Christmas money.

keiras gifts

Keira’s 1st Christmas

It was a great Christmas in London.  We are always conscious of not having family around during these holidays, but we are very grateful for each of them.  We are also very grateful to get to spend Christmas as a family.  We realize the years of having ‘just us’ is coming to a close in a few years.  Kids will be going on missions and starting on their own life adventures.  We hope our home will always be full of our children, their families, and happy memories as each Christmas comes.

Merry Christmas!

Christmas Card

Seasons greetings and happy holidays from the Stephenson family. This month we celebrate our fifth anniversary in London and continue to enjoy this wonderful city, as well as its accessibility to the rest of the world.  During 2014 we returned to the United States to see family, hiked the Great Wall in China, camped in a ger (tent) in rural Mongolia, relaxed on a beach in Portugal, and retraced Dracula’s footsteps in Transylvania (Romania).  If that wasn’t enough, we also took advantage of the cultural events in London, including musicals, plays, sports, and concerts.  Above all, we were delighted to have friends and family visit!

cami card

Cami turned eight in April and was baptized a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  She started school in January and enjoys the extra curricular activities, such as cooking club and piano.  She continues to dance and won first place in the school talent show.

hannah card

Hannah just turned 12 and advanced into the Young Women organization at church.  She loves school, and like Cami, all of the extra activities.  This year she played soccer, basketball, and track.

caleb card

Caleb started school in September and ended Becca’s 16 years of homeschooling.  He’s constantly training as a competitive gymnast, including the week he spent in Pennsylvania at gym camp.  Chris, Becca, and Caleb toured Greece together to celebrate his 13th birthday and enjoyed the sites of Athens, as well as hiking Mount Olympus.

emma card

Emma turned 16 this year.  In addition to regular classes, voice lessons, and guitar, she participated in a field trip to France and Belgium, an EFY youth camp, and a solo trip to see Grandpa and Grandma in California – where she received her driver’s permit.  Now we just need to find a time to practice on the right side of the road.

keira card

This year we succumbed to relentless kid pressure and “finally” have a dog.  Keira is a poogle (cross between poodle and beagle) and we love her.  Becca and Keira have become close through long walks and time alone at home.  Becca has also had various callings in the Relief Society at church and currently is the primary chorister.  She joined her parents for a short trip to Paris during their visit this year.

chris becca card

Chris continues to travel through Europe for real estate development work and serve in the stake presidency at church.  Becca planned a wonderful surprise party to celebrate his 40th birthday this year. It’s amazing how quickly time marches on.

Catch-ups are Due

Somehow life has continued to move forward without slowing down to catch up.  Posts on the following are up and coming, ASAP:

  • 1st Annual Nevin Reunion
  • Stephenson Reunion
  • Mongolia
  • Beijing
  • Tour of Big Ben
  • Kids “Month” in the West End
  • Family Pictures
  • 1st Day of School
  • Chris’s 40th Surprise Party
  • Romania
  • Emma Turns 16
  • Halloween
  • Thanksgiving
  • Gymnastics Competitions
  • School Plays
  • School Sports


I got to go to IGC (International Gymnastics Camp) again this year.  It was as awesome as it was last year and almost nothing had changed.

Dad and I left on the Saturday before camp started.  We flew into New Jersey and drove to visit my former coach and see his new gym, but we only got to see his wife.  We drove over to Aunt Wendy’s house in Pennsylvania to stay for a night before we drove to camp.  It was really good to see Aunt Wendy and Uncle Dave again.

With (Great-)Uncle Dave & (Great-)Aunt Wendy

On Sunday morning, we said goodbye and left for camp.  Their house is really close to camp, so it didn’t take very long.  As soon as we drove in, I felt so happy to be back, but I also felt a tiny bit nervous.

Arriving at Camp with Dad

I got checked in and went to my cabin that I was going to be staying in for the week.  I was put into cabin 11, the oldest boys’ cabin.  So I had age 14 and up cabin-mates.  It was really cool because both of my counselors were Australian.  After I got settled in, I played cards with one of my counselors and cabin-mates.

Cabin-mates / Counselors / Celebrities

On check-in day, we always have cabin cheers and the theme of camp for my week was ‘Space Week.’  Our cabin cheer was singing “Here Come the Men in Black” and then one of my couselors shot a screaming monkey toy into the air.  It  was a really funny cabin cheer.

Men in Black

Cabin Cheer


After that, we went to screening which is how we get put into groups.  We only get tested on High Bar, Floor, and Pommel.  I got 10 on Pommel and on floor I was remembered  so I didn’t have to do anything to get a 9+, but on high bar I only got an 8+.  I still made it into the 1st training group and enjoyed training with the boys.


Getting Instruction from John Orozco

When we were warming up before we started the screening, one of the coaches (Mischa) came over to me and I recognized him from when we used to train together in New Jersey.  It was really cool to see him again after we moved 4 1/2 years ago.

Get-to-know-you Activity

The whole week, I really wanted to work on my ‘under sumi’s’, but on Wednesday, my back gave out so the only thing I could do from Wednesday to Friday was pommel.  It was really disappointing, but next year, my back will hopefully be better.

Chilling with My Training Group

Overseeing Training

Since I was having problems with my back, I knew I wouldn’t get the ‘Most Dedicated Gymnast’ award for my group this year like I did last year.  So I was really surprised when they called my name for the award.  I think it must be because I went to the gym during every recreation period and did conditioning.  Each day I took one of the other boys with me, but no one wanted to condition with me every day.

Most Dedicated Gymnast

The celebrities that week were Oksana Chusovitina, Svetlana Boguinskaia, Paul Ruggeri, Josh Dixon, John Orozco, and Jana Bieger.  It was s0 cool to meet them and take  some pictures with them.

Oksana competes for Uzbekastan and her son was in my cabin which was a really cool experience.

My Cabin-mates

I can’t wait to go again next year.  I hope I have a lot of new skills to work on by then.  I also really want to see all the coaches again.  IGC is always fun.

We started the school year with two girls going to school – a high schooler and a middle schooler.  We ended the year with three girls in school – one in high school,  one in middle school, and one in lower school.

“Before and After” – First Day/Last Day

Next year brings even more changes as all four kids will be in school!  Can’t wait to see the fun they’ll all have!

In January, I started going to the international school that my sisters were going to.  I was really excited and loved my new teacher, Ms. Babb.

Me & Ms. Babb

I made lots of new friends.

Shonali, Me, Sofia, & Eliza

One of our fun activities for the school year was a Family Fun Day.  We were able to go to the school and do lots of outdoor carnival things.

Me on the Climbing Wall

Me on the Trampoline

One of my favorite classes was art with Ms. Kiratz.

Showing Off My Chalk Drawing

I was excited to bring all my art projects home at the end of the year to show my family.

My Art Portfolio

We also went on some fun field trips.  We went to Central London, a Victorian School, to Black Park, and the Natural History Museum.

Ms. Harrison Giving Us the Rules for Black Park

Hanging Out with My Friends

The UFO Swing

Building a Troll House

Tree Forts

Me, Saffa, & Hannah

For our end-of-school party, we had a scavenger hunt to find clues for us to figure out what our treat would be.  I was on a team with Beatrix, Yuma, & Kai.

Finding Our First Clue

Even with following the rules of not running, we were the first team back and found that we were having Banana Splits!

Unscrambling the Clues

Ms. Babb and Ms. Harrison had a little ‘graduation ceremony’ from 2nd grade and gave us treats.  I’m excited that both teachers are moving up to 3rd grade next year so I will still recognize the teachers.

Our Graduation Treats

I had fun getting to know new friends and finding out where things are at the school.  It’s a lot different from homeschooling, but now I think I’m ready to show others around the school as a ‘buddy’ when new kids come.

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