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Saturday, January 30, 2010

A Visit with President Uchtdorf

When Matt was a senior, he and three of his best friends worked with the chaplain to officially invite President Uchtdorf to visit the Air Force Academy. President Uchtdorf was a German fighter pilot, a top graduate from a USAF pilot school, the chief pilot for Lufthansa and, most importantly, is now an Apostle and a member of the First Presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The paperwork finally went through, the visit was scheduled for last weekend, and the four Second Lieutenants were invited back to the Academy for the occasion. It was such an incredible experience for everyone involved, but probably especially for Matt, Mike, Chase and Jon. Matt wrote to his family about it and I'll include a little of what he said throughout the post.

"There was a special meeting just for the LDS cadets on Thursday night that the four of us were invited to attend. President Uchtdorf spent about an hour and a half telling us of his flying experience along with various pictured illustrations. He talked a lot about the importance of being humble and being a good example. 'Never underestimate the power of your good example.' He opened it up for questions. The questions that the cadets asked really prompted some amazing instruction. The spirit was incredible, especially while he bore his testimony. He truly is called of God, and it was so neat to have that witness reconfirmed to me while I was sitting 20 feet from him. Afterwards, he went around the room and shook everyone’s hand."

The next day, President Uchtdorf spent the morning with Academy officials and then ate lunch on the staff tower of the infamous Mitchell Hall. Matt, his friends, and a small group of LDS cadets were invited to the lunch. My husband said Mitch's has never tasted so good.

After lunch, everyone went outside to take pictures.

"I told him where I had served my mission and we talked about a few people that we both knew. I then expressed how special it was for me to be serving in Germany and Austria when he was called as a Apostle. I told him that a German missionary stood up during the session when he was called and started dancing around in the aisles! He actually knew the missionary's family and we both got a good laugh.

"He then gathered me, Mike and Jon around him and again expressed his gratitude to us (for inviting him there). This time he included how thankful he was that we were there as an example to all the cadets that they can make it through this place. He said, 'Your being here is an inspiration to all around you.' I thought it interesting that he would say that, considering that was exactly what I was thinking about him!"

That was probably the thing that Matt and I were most impressed by--how sincerely kind President Uchtdorf was to everyone. He complimented every single person he spoke to and made them feel special and loved. Talk about teaching by example!

That evening's events were opened up to guests, which meant I was able to accompany Matt to the Academy (which was as beautiful as ever).

The Academy had sectioned off a portion of Mitchell Hall for the LDS cadets to have dinner before the meeting. Matt and Mike introduced me and Jenna to President Uchtdorf and we were able to have a neat conversation with him. Such a great memory to share!

That night's meeting was held in the Cadet Chapel for LDS cadets, their cadet friends, and their sponsor families. It was incredible! (I wish I could share all of my notes, but you're more than welcome to call if you'd like to hear more.) President Uchtdorf spoke extensively about what an amazing place the Academy is, the quality of people who are involved with it, and the opportunities for good that these men & women will have throughout their time with the Air Force. He said that peace in the world begins with finding an inner peace through God, and told the cadets to never doubt that they are where they're supposed to be.

I've always been so grateful for Matt's experiences at the Air Force Academy and for the path that it has given us, although it's not an easy one. It brought tears to my eyes to receive that validation from an Apostle.
I am so grateful that Matt was led to the Academy and for all of the incredible experiences he was able to have there. I know that it is where the Lord wanted him to be, and that He continues to guide our lives now. I'm so thankful for the opportunity we had to meet President Uchtdorf last weekend. He truly is one of the Lord's Apostles on the earth today and the Light of Christ shines through him. I didn't have to meet him to know that, and yet it was confirmed to me every second that we spent with him. We are so blessed to be members of this church and to have the gospel in our lives. It brings us so much peace and happiness; I don't know what I'd ever do without it.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010


You may not have noticed, but I am about a month behind in blogging. I feel like that's just what happens when you spend about a month on vacation, right? Since I'm sure you're all tired of the Christmas recaps, though, I'll spare you all the details and share just a few snippets from our December trip home for the holidays.

*Andy came home*
Matt's little brother Andy came home from his mission in Slovakia. His flight was almost an hour early and Matt got off work late, so we raced (whilst obeying traffic laws, of course) to Utah to make it in time. Glad we did!

Note: I dare you to find cuter kids than our nieces & nephews (and my baby brothers, of course). Seriously.

*Playing with friends*
We always have such limited time when we come home that it's hard to squeeze in seeing friends! This time, we planned ahead and had a great time catching up with everyone.

*Music and the Spoken Word*
One of my family's Christmas traditions is to attend Music and the Spoken Word the Sunday before Christmas. No one can sing Christmas carols quite like the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, and it's such a great way to start the home stretch into the holiday. We even caught a sunrise over the mountains on our way to Salt Lake! (That is an extremely rare phenomenon for me.)

*Lights at Temple Square*
Is anyone's Christmas ever complete without seeing them? I think not.

*Caroling at the Huntsman*
My best guy friend from high school, Jason Long, passed away from leukemia two years ago. He was treated so well at the Huntsman Cancer Institute that HCI holds a special place in all our hearts. The Longs go caroling to the patients there every Christmas Eve, and we're lucky to be invited along. It's always such a neat experience.

*The Nativity*
My family experiences the story of Christ's birth three ways at Christmas time: reading Luke 2, watching the Luke 2 video that our church produced, and acting out the preschool version of the nativity--costumes, props, set and all. This year, Matt & I were Joseph & Mary and my Gabey Baby was the cutest little shepherd you've ever seen.

We Grafs have an elf, and his name is Pixie. He peaks in our front window each of the three nights before Christmas and lets Santa know whether we were good or not. And if we were good, Pixie leaves presents on our doorstep before heading back to the North Pole on Christmas Eve. It's the most fantastic Christmas tradition ever, dating back generations of Grafs, and the kids eat it up like candy. Observe their reactions to seeing him peek and you'll know what I mean.

*Christmas Morning*
I'm so glad my parents kept having kids because honestly, how boring would Christmas morning be without them? This year, my brothers even let us sleep in until 5:30.
Oh yeah, and Santa came for me & Matt, too.

My big gift to Matt was the trip out to Colorado that we made last weekend. I'll blog about that next. And you'll want to see it. Promise.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Back to the Springs

Hello from Colorado! Yes, we're back again after we were just here last month. What can I say? Old habits die hard. Actually, we're here for a special event this weekend that I'm way excited to tell you about! But in the meantime, I figured I should probably document our last visit that I never got around to blogging.

It was just a regular ol' weekend in Colorado--meet up with some friends, pop over to the Air Force Academy, stay & play with the Hendricks family... just the way we like it. I flew in a day before Matt, which meant I got to go to USAFA's mechanical engineering department's family Christmas party (Steve was one of Matt's instructors). The real Santa was too busy to make it, so Steve suited up in a pinch. Naturally, this led to our camera catching Jodie kissing Santa Claus.
Matt was there in spirit... and on the wall with all the other 2009 EngrMech grads.
He was looking mighty fine, if I may say so myself.

Once Matt was in town, we made sure to head over to the Broadmoor to see the Gingerbread houses and Christmas lights around the grounds. (Nevermind the fact that this first picture was taken before the lights came on.... so just imagine the entrance full of twinkling lights, mmmk?)

The Broadmoor is so beautiful in the winter time with the lakes frozen over, snow on the ground, and lights in the (real!) trees. You can't help but love it.

Sunday included a trip to the Single's Ward to catch up with old friends. One of Matt's best friends, Jon, was in town for pilot training and taught Sunday School just like the good ol' days.

On Monday, Matt and I meandered over to the elementary school to have lunch with Preston and Taylor.

Matt fit right in.

Then we had a second lunch at the Academy with our buddy Caleb, who played football with Matt.

Oh, and see that bag in my hand? Yes, it's full of Air Force Falcons baby clothes. No, we're not pregnant. Yes, we like to plan ahead. And yes, Caleb thought I was crazy. But whatever.
And the moral of the story is that the mountains were so pretty and the trip was so lovely that we came back a month later. (I wonder if we'll ever wean ourselves of this place...)

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Wife Business

Tonight, I met Matt in the driveway just as he pulled up from work and informed him that we needed to go to the grocery store. So he smiled and kissed me, then opened my door, put the car in reverse, and drove the four blocks to our destination without asking questions. Once inside, he grabbed a cart and then looked curiously at me as I stared aimlessly at the aisles of food.

"So, um, what do you want for dinner?" I finally asked him, as my gaze moved toward the microwavable dinners we'd grown so tired fond of during our homeless months. It'd been a long day of painting and cleaning, and they were calling my name. Matt laughed, undoubtedly thinking about all the must-be-prepared-and-cooked food we already had back home in our nice, warm kitchen.

"You know, you should really think about embracing this wife business," he teased.

To which, of course, I reminded him that I'll be more than happy to cook again once we've finished getting the house together. Also, that many a husband cooks--my brother-in-law Alex, Matt's home teaching companion, the dad of the family I nannied for...

And then we skipped merrily down the frozen food aisle and lived happily ever after.

Friday, January 15, 2010


This is me and my mom. Isn't she beautiful? Once upon a time, we went to New York together and packed separately. Then it rained so we took out our jackets... and we'd brought the exact same one. So we got to be twinners in NYC for a day.

This is my mom's house. The picture was obviously taken during Christmastime, but it looks the exact same now (minus the tree). No, that is not a sorry attempt at modern art. It's just a girl trying to find the perfect paint color for her home.

This is my house. The pictures were taken today and it still looks exactly the same :-)

Apparently, the apple doesn't fall very far from the tree.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

121st Rose Parade

As I was saying... the Rose Parade was incredible! Originally started as part of a floral festival in 1890, the Rose Parade is now televised and viewed by 40 million Americans and many millions more in 200 territories around the world. I've watched it on TV basically every year of my life and have always been so impressed. And would you have guessed? It's even more impressive when you're up close and personal. And by up close and personal, I mean so stinking close the floats could have run over our toes. See?

I love our little serene square in the middle of the craziness (I also love that everyone is cheering at the camera in this picture). Since we were right next to the intersection where the floats turned, we could see the floats from every single angle AND they had to slow down by us to make the turn. Best seats in the house, kids. Anyway, back to the parade.

The Grand Marshal is always someone famous and the list of previous honorees includes people like Bob Hope, Walt Disney and Shirley Temple. You may recognize this year's Grand Marshal--Captain Chelsey Sullenberger, the pilot from the Miracle on the Hudson (a fellow Air Force Academy grad, by the way).

The Rose Parade's uniqueness comes largely from the float regulations--the entire surface of every single float must be covered with natural elements such as leaves, bark, seeds and flowers. The design and workmanship of the floats is unbelievable! And in addition to the amazing floats, the Rose Parade boasts some of the best equestrian riders in the West as well as top marching bands from around the country.

The neatest band in the entire parade--by far--was the Ohio State School for the Blind. If you haven't heard about this band, you need to. I saw this special about them on CBS Evening News a few months back and was touched to see them perform in person.

Mixed among the bands were the equestrian riders...

...who were followed closely by the
pooper scoopers.

There were also the princesses (called the Rose Queen and the Royal Court)...

... as well as the cheerleaders from Oregon and Ohio State, who would face off in the Rose Bowl later that afternoon.

And, of course, the floats--with lots and lots of roses.

Quite a few of the floats had famous people on them. Some notables include the
Tuskegee Airmen...

...the Anaheim Angels...

...and Jackie Chan himself, who was recording the crowd with his iPhone as he passed by. Right after I took this picture, a lady ran through the crowd to shake his hand and was almost run over by a body guard on a
Vespa. Awesome.

I know boy scouts aren't exactly "famous" but we'll pretend for a minute because their float was really cool! The best part was that it was surrounded in front & back by dozens upon dozens of boy scouts carrying
over-sized merit badges. (We couldn't help but wonder how many of them were LDS.)

Le Pew also made an appearance, and there was endless entertainment as float after float after float came by--each once so intricate and unique. I highly encourage clicking on the picture below to see some of my favorites a little better. Keep in mind that everything on the floats has to be grown (see the leaves making up the scales on the dragon below).

My absolute favorite, however, was the Sweepstakes Trophy Winner. It was made by a sprinkler company called "Rain Bird," whose floats have taken home the top prize nine of the past fourteen years. This time, it used 1500 gallons of recycled water in numerous little waterfalls as a family of gorillas--made with buffalo hair--
traipsed around a mountain jungle. It was, quite simply, amazing.

After the parade, we took a picture with the Hendrickses for Vons to use as an advertisement (kidding) and then packed up our bags and that was it!

Matt and I ended up catching the Rose & Sugar Bowls at ESPNZone in Downtown Disney to finish out the holiday and continue our Jan. 1 football watching tradition.
And for the record: Yes, I was still wearing the same shirt as the night before. No, we hadn't showered yet after spending the past 24 hours on the street. Yes, I am fully aware of how disgusting that is. And yes, I think everyone should have that same Rose Parade experience at least once in their lives.
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