Dear Friends & Family,
2020 was quite different from what we had originally planned, but as we all know, life is what happens while we are busy making other plans! During this year of pandemic and sheltering-in-place, we have learned that great things are brought about and burdens are lightened through the efforts of many hands “anxiously engaged in a good cause” (D&C 58:27). Despite the challenging financial, social, emotional, educational, spiritual and physical impacts of this year’s pandemic on humankind, we have witnessed the goodness of others and made our own efforts to uplift those around us.
Keep calm and stay home? For a social family like ours, keeping ourselves happily engaged at home seemed to be quite the challenge, at least initially! Perhaps starting up a new hobby would keep us busy? What better way to focus on the intricacies of communal contributions than becoming beekeepers! Many classes, books, equipment purchases and hours of hands-on practice later, we successfully started, tended and reaped the sweet rewards of keeping bees. These new insect friends of ours generously shared about twenty pounds of their first season’s harvest of delicious Fremont blend honey, which we bottled in jars! We have so much more to learn on our journey and have the pandemic to thank for the extra time we were able to spend immersing ourselves in the fascinating world of beekeeping!
In his talk, Be Anxiously Engaged, Elder M. Russell Ballard said,
"It is estimated that to produce just one pound of honey, the average hive of 20,000 to 60,000 bees must collectively visit millions of flowers and travel the equivalent of two times around the world. Over its short lifetime of just a few weeks to four months, a single honeybee’s contribution of honey to its hive is a mere one-twelfth of one teaspoon.
Though seemingly insignificant when compared to the total, each bee’s one-twelfth of a teaspoon of honey is vital to the life of the hive. The bees depend on each other. Work that would be overwhelming for a few bees to do becomes lighter because all of the bees faithfully do their part."
It is worth considering, “what can we accomplish in the world if we function like a beehive in our focused, concentrated commitment to the teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ--to love God and to love and care for our neighbors as ourselves?”
Inspired by a friend from church who regularly set up a porch snack bar for delivery persons during the holidays, we set out to create a “Thank you for delivering! Please take snacks!” aid station at our house this year. With all of the extra online orders we were placing to avoid going out to the stores, the weary delivery drivers could count on us for some nourishment along their never-ending routes. Our family continues to maintain a “snack shack” to allow for contactless deliveries and the provision of sweet and savory snacks, water, masks and more, to the delivery people we depend on. It is a great feeling to put smiles on the faces of the overwhelmed and hardworking! If you’re ever in the neighborhood and in need of a snack, please stop by!
In January, Janine volunteered to assist with the animal-assisted therapy program for Ohlone Humane Society, and accepted the challenge of becoming the new director! This resulted in her pursuing further training and registration as a therapy animal Team Evaluator for Pet Partners and the establishment of the new Pet Partners @ Ohlone Humane Society Community Group. We are grateful to Kim at Elite Sports Physical Therapy who generously allowed us to utilize her space for our first day of team evaluations in October. Our therapy-animal teams are preparing to resume visits to libraries, schools, assisted living facilities and more, once it is safe to do so. We are actively recruiting local handlers that are interested in sharing their loving animal with those in need. If you have an especially well-socialized animal companion who loves to interact with people, consider registering with Pet Partners and volunteering in the community!
Puppy-raising has now become a lifestyle for our family! It takes on average 251 volunteers to help a single puppy become a guide dog and we are honored to be a part of that group. For twenty months we were blessed with raising Jogger, a confident, strapping, male yellow Labrador Retriever. In August, with tears in our eyes, we dropped him off for his evaluations at Guide Dogs for the Blind in San Rafael and awaited news of his future career. Upon finding out he would be utilized as a breeder, we couldn’t be more proud of Jogger! We then put in an application for our next puppy and waited three painful months. Finally, we got the long-awaited call and in mid-November, we picked up Lettie! Lettie is a Labrador and Golden Retriever cross and has stolen our hearts with her sweet, loving temperament and trainability. She is a rockstar 12-week-old puppy and is making fantastic progress in learning basic commands and housemanners. Just like children, every puppy is different and comes with their own strengths, talents, and quirks, but we love them just the same! We are so blessed to have a puppy in our home again, especially over the holidays and through the most recent shelter-in-place mandate. Lettie is loving us through the hardships of life--we are grateful for the opportunity to raise her to become a stellar service dog!
As members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, our regular weekly in-person attendance at church for meetings and youth activities suddenly moved online! In addition, we are now doing more virtual and phone ministering visits--which has been challenging to say the least! Our organizations have creatively supported our members with outdoor and socially-distanced Seminary graduation, youth games and campfires, women’s get-to-know-you activities, and a family holiday lights viewing caravan. Our ward has even held a virtual Primary program, musical performances, and social events for sharing Christmas memories. We have been busy learning and utilizing new tools for scheduling, organizing, marketing and hosting activities and meetings from a distance!
Working & Studying
We love and care for our co-workers and their families! Abe continues his work in Trust & Safety at Google and enjoys the camaraderie of the members of his “Mobsters” team. He delights in the success of his coworkers and encourages positivity in their teamwork. With many of his team members in Singapore, Abe creatively collaborates online on Singapore Standard Time and enjoys having a flexible work day from home to allow time for family, exercise and hobbies.
This year, on top of supervising a full roster of K-12 students, Janine is overseeing students in Advanced Interior Design and Early Childhood Education and continues mentoring new Education Specialists. In addition, as the Lead Teacher for parent support at Connecting Waters East Bay, she supports many families by facilitating online Parent Advisory Council meetings and coordinating classes at the Union City resource center where we are hiring for a Site Assistant (just in case you are looking for a job)!
Natalie began a new job at Vitality Bowls this year, learning about all of the health benefits of each superfood ingredient in the smoothie bowls, smoothies, juices and other snacks. In the midst of earning straight As in her intense Ohlone College coursework, attending online class meetings, and managing her virtual social life, Natalie submitted applications to transfer in fall of 2021 to complete her undergraduate degree and excitedly awaits to find out where she has been accepted this spring!
Max, Madeline and Janine continue to offer local dog walking and sitting through Rover. Together, they learn about responsibility and dependability while exercising, learning, earning and getting to know our neighbors and their pets! Max completed Driver’s Education, got his permit, and has been polishing his driving skills in preparation for the driving test, when the DMV opens again.
Madeline enrolled in a Career and Technical Education pathway, Culinary Arts, this schoolyear, and is thoroughly enjoying the weekly hands-on cooking and baking projects, from composed salad to cake decorating. She has become a whiz in the kitchen, documents her creations with gorgeous photos, and easily converts any recipe to a vegan, gluten-free version! We all benefit by getting to sample her fabulous creations!
To keep our minds sharp and pursue lifelong education, our whole family has been reading and listening to everything from books on beekeeping, self-help, gripping novels, informational textbooks, memoirs, picture books, compilations, histories, autobiographies, National Geographic magazines and especially the Book of Mormon! More importantly, we are applying what we learn!
Playing & Creating
Play and creativity are essential for staying sane at home, with divergent thinking invigorating us in our work!
While at home this year we planted a garden full of zucchini, basil, butternut squash, cucumbers, sugar pie pumpkins, parsley, tomatoes, sage, rosemary, thyme, oregano, lavender and artichokes. With the added benefit of resident bees, our orchard bore fruit galore--grapefruits, apples, persimmons, apricots, mandarins, pluots, peaches, pears, lemons, limes, kumquats and oranges--which we love to share! We even planted new avocado trees and look forward to reaping the rewards in the future!
Using our art and design skills we’ve created labels for our honey jars, stitched pillow shams, photographed the world around us, designed fliers for work and church activities, and assembled ukuleles, pencil sharpeners, lamps, and pinball games. For entertainment, we’ve been listening to music, singing, playing instruments and board games, telling stories and watching movies--if you have any good recommendations, let us know. The kitchen has been repurposed as the at-home dance floor and karaoke stage as we often have spontaneous sing-offs or dance battles in the midst of our dish-washing duties.
Exercise & Exploring New Territory
From playing ping pong in our own garage to exploring new vistas at Lake Tahoe, we have tried to keep active to help burn off Madeline’s divine culinary arts projects! Twice a day we walk the dogs in the neighborhood and socialize with our neighbors from a safe distance. We have made new friendships and strengthened connections while out and about with our pups. Every other day we hike or cycle for cardio, varying the length and intensity of our routes. With many working from home, we’ve enjoyed the much-needed blessing of less traffic in Fremont and safer riding conditions. For balance, strength and flexibility, after all that aerobic activity, free daily Yoga with Kassandra videos keep us limber and toned! What started out as a ten-minute morning yoga challenge by a friend, has turned into a daily addiction.
While making a weekend trip in February to see Abe’s dad, Tim, we hiked the gorgeous new Pismo Preserve open space on the Central Coast. We never tire of the beauty of the California coastline and feel blessed to live within a few hours of Tim and his sweet Great Dane, Daphne. Most importantly, Tim’s health has taken a turn for the better--his energy is up and his zest for life is renewed! We enjoy chatting over the phone and emailing regularly. We must not take family visits for granted--there will always be a sense of urgency in spending time with our loved ones!
Fortunately, just prior to the first shelter-in-place mandate in March, we were able to spend part of spring break in Albuquerque, New Mexico with Janine’s sister’s family for Max’s sixteenth birthday. In our precious time together, we did escape rooms, mini golfed, baked a carrot cake from scratch, played at the park, went for walks, saw the Albuquerque LDS Temple, and attended a fitness boot camp! Looking back, we are so grateful we got together when we had the chance and can’t wait to see each other in the future!
Over the summer, instead of camping at Wente, cruising to Alaska and visiting Grandma Laurie, we made a plan B. We purchased inflatable paddle boards and explored the Central Coast bays, lakes and rivers, Lake Tahoe coves and bays, Donner Lake tributaries, Lake Shasta houseboat docking sites and Discovery Bay neighborhoods. Lake Tahoe is a new favorite for us with its clean mountain air, endless hiking trails, scenic bike paths, gorgeous views, beaches, rafting and paddle boarding opportunities. It was great to meet up with Abe’s siblings and their families there for a few days. We’ll be back for sure!
We can hardly believe that a whole year has gone by that we haven’t visited Janine’s mom, Laurie; however, we have been meeting online every other week, talking on the phone almost daily, celebrating the holidays together virtually and planning trips for the future. Despite the circumstances, Laurie’s determination to keep healthy and stay positive through many uplifting activities is much to be admired! In place of her regular activities, she has had more time for reading, taking online classes, self-reflection, exercise and writing. She benefits from the unwavering companionship and delights in the antics of her chocolate Labrador Retriever, Sophie. If only our dogs knew how valuable they are in supporting our mental, physical and emotional health!
Last, but not least, with vacations cancelled, we re-routed funding towards a major home improvement. After nine years with our original 1948 steel-frame, single-pane, hand crank windows, we got them replaced in October with retrofit fiberglass casements by Quality Windows and Doors in Pleasanton. It has made all the difference in temperature this winter and we are enjoying a lower utility bill--hallelujah!
Another improvement we are making inside our home, in an attempt to relieve stress and strengthen relationships, is utilizing a weekly family council format we learned about at a church fireside by LDS Family Services. Our agenda includes expressing appreciation, offering apologies, modeling/sharing a range of emotions (peace, sadness, stress, anxiety, anger, fear, worry, joy, relief, etc.), discussing anything not going well that we need to fine-tune and aligning calendaring and service needs. This family council process is definitely a work in progress for our family, but has been helpful in boosting the morale inside our home.
We know that all have been impacted by the pandemic, some for better and many for worse! Elder Ballard proposes, “Imagine what good we can do in the world if we all join together...anxiously and busily responding to the needs of others and serving those around us... These simple, daily acts of service may not seem like much in and of themselves, but when considered collectively they become just like the one-twelfth teaspoon of honey contributed by a single bee to the hive. There is power in our love for God and for His children, and when that love is tangibly manifest in millions of acts of Christian kindness, it will sweeten and nourish the world with the life-sustaining nectar of faith, hope, and charity.
Here’s to faith and hope that we may all join together in many charitable acts of selfless service in 2021!
“Bee” Blessed and Happy Holidays!
Abe, Janine, Natalie (18), Max (16), Madeline (14), Sammy (12), Lucy (3), Lettie (12 wks) & Catniss (8)