Christmas Letter 2014

Merry Christmas everyone!

The Ivan and Rachel Andrus family finds itself back in Utah this year, and it’s been an exciting year. About this time last year, after much painful deliberation, Ivan took a job with Adobe. He started just in time to do orientation and then get a week and a half off for Christmas. He has impeccable timing, no? He had been contracting for Adobe from February of 2013, but now he works there “for real.”

The new job necessitated a move (Rachel was not amused), and since we were tired of moving (really not amused…) we decided to do a super fast house hunt. We searched and bought a house in about 6 weeks. It’s a newer house in Saratoga Springs, Utah, which is just west of Lehi. So far we like it. The kids are thrilled to have a yard and basement to play in. And neighborhood kids to play with in the yard and basement.

The former occupants of the house weren’t excited about moving out that quickly so we spent the first two weeks of March in a hotel. The kids loved the hotel and still ask to go back, because they got to watch cable TV all the time. Ivan and Rachel were much less enthused after the two weeks. We moved into our house March 18th, and began the frantic unpacking, arranging, buying of furniture and yard tools, etc., that comes with being first time home owners and going from a 2 bedroom apartment to a real house.

Avery was sad to leave her friends and school in Colorado, but adjusted quickly here. Evelyn had her fourth Birthday not too long after we moved in and (luckily) before Hazel was born. She was very excited because we made cupcake ice cream cones. They weren’t nearly as pretty as the picture online, but she was happy with them, so we’re not complaining.

Backtracking to Hazel… Hazel Ann Andrus was born April 27th. She was a big baby (8 lb. 13 oz), and while her weight is a little more normal range now, she’s still very long and so little arms and ankles are always sticking out of her clothes. She’s been a really happy baby, for which we’re grateful. She smiles all the time, and already crawls and pulls herself up on things. She also likes to try to eat EVERYTHING, so she keeps us pretty busy pulling things out of her mouth. We think she’s pretty great.

This Summer we went down to LA to visit Rachel’s grandpa and sister for the fourth of July. We went to the beach, and Avery was in heaven. She splashed and played in the sand and collected shells. We also got to see some of Rachel’s family that we don’t see too often and meet an aunt that we had never met before. That was a fun experience, and we’re happy to have Mei Linh as part of our family.

Avery started 1st grade this Fall, which put her in school all day again. (In Colorado she had all-day Kindergarten, but here Kindergarten is half-day.) Her class is ocean themed and she loves her teacher. They have a pet hermit crab that the class named Hermy. Avery gets to read sea life books and tells us all sorts of things about sea animals. She loves to play with her friends and is starting to get very good at reading. She’s even beginning to read for fun.

Evelyn started pre-school again this year. It’s a home-based pre-school, but we’re not using the joy school curriculum this year. There are usually 6 kids or so and she looks forward to it every week. She’s pretty good at her letters and numbers and excited to start Kindergarten next year. Evelyn is our little firecracker. She makes up all sorts of pretend games with her toys and is very, very friendly. She gives everyone hugs and her primary teachers tell us that she loves to give answers in class. Apparently most of her class is pretty shy.

This Fall we got to go camping a couple times, which was fun. The kids hadn’t ever been camping before and they loved it. We went to Arches National Park for Fall Break and camped and hiked around a bit. It was a beautiful place, even if the kids didn’t like the hiking.

We spent Thanksgiving with Ivan’s family up in Montana. It was a fun trip and a nice, quiet few days. Ivan’s whole family was there, so it was nice to spend time together. While we were there Ivan finished up a big project. He participated in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) this year and finished the required 50,000 words in the month of November. He is now officially a NaNoWriMo winner and we’re all pretty darn proud of him. It was a lot of work, and he stuck with it all month (despite negative effects on his sleep). His book is called The Implausible Adventures of Jacqueline and Lonnie, and is based on characters in the stories he tells the kids at bedtime. Unfortunately, none of us has read much of it, because he claims he has too much editing to do on it still it’s really bad.

That’s about it for our year. We feel very lucky to have been able to see family so much this year. We wish you all a Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and a blessed 2015.


Hazel – 4 Months

IMG_8440Our little Hazel is growing fast! She’s still a really happy, content baby. At her checkup she weighed 14 lb. 14.5 oz., and was 26.5 inches long. She’s 99th percentile for length and she shows it. We’ve started moving her into 6-9 month size clothes the last week or so because she’s so long. Luckily it’s getting cooler here because all our 6-9 month clothes are warmer.

She’s a happy baby and she’s learned to hold her head up, smile at us, hold on to toys and get them to her mouth and roll from her tummy to her back. We got her a play gym with dangling toys a month or so ago and she loves that. She swings at the toys and tries to pull them off the arches they hang from so she can stick them in her mouth. Her eyes are definitely blue now and she loves it when people talk to her. Her sisters are great for this and Avery in particular likes to sit next to her and talk to her and give her kisses.

Lately, it seems, she’s discovered her tongue. Especially after she’s eaten sometimes she sits and sucks on her tongue, her lips, her mouth, whatever she can suck on. It makes that funniest slurping noises and her tongue and lips stick out and the suck back into her mouth. Sometimes she gets her tongue folded on itself while she’s sucking it back into her mouth. It’s pretty hilarious to watch.

IMG_7394In case you missed it… we have a new baby! Little Hazel was born about a month ago, so I suppose it’s time to take up blogging again. Maybe one of these days I’ll go back and fill you all in on our very exciting last year, but for now, I’m gonna stick to updating on little Hazel. Hazel has been a fun baby. She’s quite a bit calmer than her sisters were at this age and it’s been fun to just sit and hold her and enjoy that she isn’t crying. At one month she’s working hard at holding her little head up. She eats about every two hours, more often in the morning and evening when she’s gearing up for a nap and less often in the afternoons when we sometimes get 3 or 4 hours without her needing to eat. She sometimes will sleep 5 hours at night. Once she even did 6 hours I think, but most nights she does 3 1/2 or 4 hours her first sleep, and then 2-3 hours at a time after that. At two and a half weeks she was 8 lb 10 oz, almost her birth weight, but I have no idea how much she weighs now. I hope it’s a lot more with how much she eats! She started cooing last week and she’s been grinning at me when she sees me or thinks she’s about to be fed for about two weeks now. So far she is not such a fan of baths. Out of the three we’ve given her she has only calmly endured one, but hopefully that will change soon. She is also extremely adored by her older sisters. Especially Avery.


Our lives have been a little hectic lately. In June we decided to go visit Grandma and Grandpa in Texas. It ended up being about a month trip when everything was worked out and the working out seemed to happen through the whole trip.  So here it is.

First we headed out to Idaho to visit cousins. We were so excited because we were really close with Ivan’s Aunt and Uncle before we left Utah and we’ve wanted to visit them since we got back to the US in February. The best part is they have two kids kind of the same ages as our kids so the kids had a blast too.


Playing with cousins


Relaxing with cousins

While in Idaho we got to see the Snake River and Shoshone Falls. It was a beautiful area. We even saw some base jumpers jumping off a bridge over the river!


After a fun stay in Idaho we headed down to the Salt Lake area. Because Ivan works remotely, he has to head down to Salt Lake every 3 or 4 months to check in and go to meetings so everyone down there is on the same page and everything. So we stuck that into our trip and that way we were able to expense some of the gas!

We went to This is the Place Park with my aunt while we were in Salt Lake. The story goes that when Brigham Young first came over the mountains, he looked down into the Salt Lake Valley and said “This is the right place.” and so they settled in Salt Lake. Now there’s a park there where you can see old buildings and replicas of buildings and old trades. There was a blacksmith shop and a petting zoo. It’s a great place for kids.


Petting a horse


There was a Native American area with teepees and hogans. We got to see some Native American dancers too!

We had an awesome visit with some friends from when we still lived in Utah. We had some BBQ and tried to go swimming in their pool, but the wind was so cold we all froze in about 10 minutes and had to all go inside in the end. It was a fun evening anyway.


Then we headed down to Texas via Arizona where we visited another of my aunts, and got sick. Avery threw up first in the middle of the night and Evelyn followed the next night. So we stayed an extra day with Barbara and Barry, which we didn’t mind at all, and I hope we didn’t put them out too much.


More cousins!

Finally we made it to Texas. In Texas we went through all our stuff we’d left at Grandma and Grandpa’s over the last 3 1/2 years of being back and forth between Europe and the US, swam a bunch, cooked tasty food and mostly just hung out. It was really nice to see family again.


Color coordinating with Grandma


Water balloon fight!


Relaxing in the pool

We went to see a museum about the history of Dallas while we were there and ate lots of ice cream. Then it was time to come home. We did the whole 21 hour trip home in one go. It was a long day, and after we’d stopped twice and played a little bit it actually took nearly 24 hours to get back, but we had a fun dinner and even found an 1880s era town in South Dakota to visit. Hopefully I’ll get to blogging about that another day.

Culture Shock

It’s true what they say about Montana’s skies. They are big. The clouds go on so far you almost feel yourself tipping with them over the horizon and they float in a nearly perfect blue most days. The sky here is beautiful and comforting and somehow foreign.
I look at the stretching skies of this state of Montana that is my home, and yet so isn’t and feel my soul divided between all the places I call home. Somehow I feel myself walking among epic European apartment buildings above tiny European shops while buying fruit at the fabulous orchard stand in Utah Valley and driving through the scrubby trees of the plains of Eastern Texas all at the same time, and I wonder with more than a little melancholy where I belong. And this is what month three of culture shock looks like. Gloriously, I am home. Ungloriously it is a home where I’ve never lived before, and I’m lonely. And I feel like my life is a Montana sky. Beautiful, comforting, and somehow foreign.

The house we live in was Ivan’s Grandma’s and Grandpa’s and before he died, Ivan’s Grandpa asked that the two black walnut trees in the backyard be cut down and sawn into usable wood to be distributed to any family members that want to use it. Black walnut is fairly valuable wood and he felt that the next owners of the house wouldn’t really appreciate the wood anyway, so he’d rather his family have it. So last week we began the process of cutting down two 50 year old black walnut trees.

Monday morning:


First we (by we I mean mostly Ivan’s mom, who did all the organizing) had someone come in with a chainsaw and truck with a people lifter (?) to cut the trees down in ways that wouldn’t require our neighbors to build a new home. We asked him to leave the limbs and pieces as big as possible to be sawn into boards later.

By Monday afternoon we were left with two 10 foot (or so) stumps


Then we rented a trailer and rolled, hauled, jacked up, levered, come-alonged and I swear at one point we pretty much just levitated the stinking 4-12 foot limb pieces that came from the tree onto it to be taken to the saw mill. We took two trailers of logs to the mill and had them cut to various widths. When they came back they looked like this:


At this point you may be asking yourselves why we left the stumps so tall. Well, I’ll tell you. Apparently some of the prettiest wood in a tree is in the stump and roots of the tree. When a tree removal company removes a stump they cut it down close to the ground and then bring in a stump grinder to grind out all the wood and roots. Ivan’s grandpa and family wanted the pretty stump and root wood un-mulched, so we left the stumps about 10 ft so that we would have something to grab onto with… drum roll please…

IMG_4339The backhoe! This is actually the second backhoe. We rented one on Tuesday afternoon and dug big moats around the trees and poked the stumps a bit before realizing it was not anywhere near powerful enough to pull those suckers out. So Wednesday morning we called in a bigger backhoe. At this point I would like to say thanks to the two guys from church that came and drove the backhoe. They’re not exactly intuitive to drive. Thanks Jack and Preston!

IMG_4352At this point we were really beginning to question our sanity in thinking we could get these stumps out of the ground. They were NOT coming out. Finally Wednesday night, after pushing and pulling the bigger stump this way and that all day we chained the stump to the backhoe, the backhoe to a pick-up truck and that pick-up truck to a second pick up truck.

Unfortunately I was inside cooking when this happened, so I quickly took a less than awesome picture through the window, but I don’t think I could have gotten the whole chain of three vehicles plus tree in one picture anyway, so you’ll have to use your imagination a little bit. Those trucks revved and spun and finally got that stump out of the ground it clung to so tightly.

With the big one out they called it a day and got up early the next morning to pull the second stump out. It came a lot easier.


Then we called the chain saw man back to come saw the ten feet off the stump, which left us with just the root ball at the bottom. The above picture is the smaller stump. Below is the bigger one.IMG_4366

After hauling the stumps and a few leftover logs to the sawyer, we’re now left with two piles of drying boards in the garage, a really torn up yard, and two huge root balls sitting in our backyard. The job is now to pull all the dirt and clay out of the root balls to get them cleaned up to go to the saw mill.

So there you go. If you ever wanted to know how to chop down a tree properly, now you know. We had some fun along the way:


Jumping off stumps…


Sitting on stumps


Watching stumps fall down…


Climbing on dirt…


Helping to dig in the dirt…


Helping to brush dirt off stumps…


Moving Back

So for anyone that hasn’t heard already, we’re moving back to the US! It was rather sudden; we thought we had some long distance work figured out for Ivan, but just before Christmas they told us that they would not let us work from Hungary and we would need to be back in the US. So, two weeks from today, we will be in Montana, moving into Ivan’s grandparents’ house, which is currently empty. Hopefully we can help clean up a little and get that house ready to sell and Ivan will start looking for jobs at Universities and such.
Ivan at least will have to return to Hungary this Spring to defend his dissertation in order to finish school and complete his Ph. D. We’re hoping we can make it a family trip for a few weeks and come back to see friends, but we’ll see.