This Christmas break was not the most relaxing I remember. The kids only settled on New Years Eve into a comfortable, school vacation mode, but I think this was probably the cleanest Christmas break I remember.

It was Penelope’s job to hand out each gift to be unwrapped this year, and of her own initiative, she waited to collect the wrappings, which she brought to me and the waiting garbage bag, before picking up the next gift to be unwrapped. Also, everyone’s gifts were gathered and carted off to individual rooms by dinner.

The kids were not calming down during evening scriptures like I thought they would as soon as school was out and we could do it at our old time again. Linus was the worst—so grouchy and constantly talking! I thought he’d gotten stuck himself in a bad habit. But really everyone was off.

I had all the kids pray about it and I also did and realized that it was time to change things up again. We had read five verses each for many years, then in preparation to move here, we each read in Portuguese and translated our verses to English. About a year and a half ago we realized that wasn’t working for us anymore. After a family council we decided to read very slowly, one verse at a time and discuss it (discussion having been missing from our reading before... ) 

Anyway, after another family council, we’re having one person read straight for about 10 minutes while the rest of us take notes, looking for what those verses teach us about a very specific question (announced ahead of time—Woo has been picking the question each night from a list he and I made).

Then we each discuss one answer we got and talk about what we’re going to do differently because of it.

On the same evening I also decided it was time to revamp the housework and by next lunch had a new chart, specific requirements for reorganized chores (for example, some smaller chores that were getting overlooked are now grouped into bundles) ... everything, posted on the kitchen wall.

One of the biggest changes I made is that everyone washes their own dishes immediately after using them. We now have a clean sink all day! I didn’t know this was possible with 6 kids and no dishwasher!

But most importantly (and the motivation behind the change), the burden on the kid with the dishes chore is much, much less. Now they’re only washing the dishes used to make and serve dinner (and I’m quite economical in that area).

Also, each kid is doing their own laundry—Archie is no longer a baby and has the same chores as everyone else!

Another big help has been two five minute cleaning blitzes, one in the morning and one before dinner. The kids can move very fast and these have been really, really effective. This one earns a bean in a jar for every 10 things picked up—working towards a family reward like eating out or a special dessert.

Most importantly, the changes breathed new hope in everyone. Ruby said thank you in her evening prayer that things could change and not always be the same. And really, isn’t change a wonderful blessing that keeps us all sane?

Other things were good. Ruby and Penelope read the Extraordinary Education of Nicholas Benedict out loud to each other for hours (thanks Williams!). Linus worked on crocheting his scarf, listening to Archie and I read every other page out loud in Mouse on a Motorcycle. Herbie and Moses tried to read the entire Fablehaven series and they all break for car races. (Almost all the kids got each other matchbox cars for Christmas so there are many new, untested cars... )

Only one gift never came... the David Attenborough collection Woo had ordered. He briefly considered getting a month of Disney Plus, but in the end we watched The Cokeville Miracle and then assorted astronomy (a recent hobby interest of Woo’s) documentaries with lots of input from Astro and Experimental Physicists. (Some of whom were clearly physicists, but one show appeared to have actors with fancy labeling under their profiles. They were all too good looking and expressive to be a sampling of everyday people.)

They had fun, documentaries that met everyone’s needs: accurate and technical for Woo, exciting explosions and nice pictures for the kids.

The kids might all know what quasars are now! Black holes continue to be a perennial favorite.

Herbie burned through his spiced biscuits and created several uneasy situations with the other kids as he tried to get more out of them. I think most survived by yelling at him loudly, but Moses gave up a few to get some things he wanted out of Herbie.

For some reason Archie’s teacher assigned a bunch of homework...

And... Archie was baptized today and received the Gift of the Holy Ghost!! (Also, he turned eight :)

He was baptized in the ocean because we couldn’t drive to Caldas (where the font is) under holiday covid restrictions. (We also had to be in the house by 1pm, but that didn’t really effect us. We had plenty of time.) Luckily, Archie had gotten over his fear of being dunked under water, even cold ocean water, ages ago.

He was not disappointed at all when we told him what his options were and he opted for the ocean with a smile.

It was a sunny, clear day, much warmer than expected. Archie was baptized in a picturesque spot under the fortelaza. I believe the water was cold, but he did not complain, only patiently listened to Woo and went under without any hesitation.

Penelope and Linus were witnesses. Ruby and Herbie gave prayers. Moses and I gave short talks, and Woo did the baptizing and conferring of the Holy Ghost. Also, Archie bore a cute testimony just before the closing prayer.

We’re all baptized now! No more sentences like: and because we all (except Archie) have the gift of the Holy Ghost...

And that’s our week. Hope yours was great!

Testimony Below:

This morning I read President Nelson’s message in the January Liahona.

He said: In this new year, I encourage you to take the necessary steps to hear the Lord better and more often so that you can receive the enlightenment He wants to give you.

As I read, I paused to pray and ask how I could hear the voice of the Lord more clearly and more frequently.

First I learned that I should have less fear in not receiving an answer. Then I learned that I should slow down. Listen longer.

These may not be your individual recommendations for improvement. I encourage each of us to read President Nelson’s message in the Liahona and ask our Heavenly Father what we need to do to hear the voice of the Lord more frequently and more clearly.

In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.