Category Archives: Children

Heartbreak and hope in Sandy

This is hard to write about. But my head and heart are swimming with so many emotions that sometimes the only thing that I can do is write everything down.

Last Tuesday, my girls came home from school after their usual half-mile walk up the hill on Alta Canyon Drive. But their knock when they arrived home was more urgent. I opened the door to see their white faces and heard them say that they had just seen a car accident and a man with a gun who started shooting at the bottom of the hill. Then they had run. Over the next several hours, we learned what had happened to our neighbors.

Memorez Rackley, and her 6-year-old son Jace along with her 11-year-old son Myles had been walking home from school when a crazy, obsessive man started harassing them. They tried to get help from a woman who pulled over her car. Then the man started shooting. Memorez and Jace were killed and Myles was shot through the shoulder, neck, and jaw.  Another girl was shot in the leg. Dozens of children and parents were right there in the chaos. Our neighborhood was broken apart in a way I had never thought possible.

Some tragedies are the result of forces of nature or sickness beyond our ability to control. But some happen because there is evil in this world. I don’t have words to express the sadness I have grappled with as I have thought of the Rackley family, or the children and parents who watched these events unfold, or my own children who were so close to it all. I don’t have words to explain how a man could use this kind of violence here. I don’t know why this all happened. My heart breaks for this family every time I picture their faces, or look outside my front window, across our quiet cul de sac, to their lovely suburban home.

There is evil in this world. But the days following the incident have shown me how much goodness is here alongside it.  I saw it in the “Good Samaritan” who pulled over to help this scared mother and her children. I saw it in my neighbor who pulled over just behind the scene and screamed for my son and his friends to get in her car so she could drive them to safety. I saw it in the police officers and first responders who were so quick to arrive at the scene, but who have expressed their grief that they were too late to stop it.

I saw goodness in the woman who let a bleeding girl into her home and cared for her while they waited for paramedics. I saw it in the church leaders who immediately went to the hospital to be with the Rackley family, and then spent hours working on a plan for how to help them and the community heal. I saw it in my husband’s willingness to stay up until 4 a.m. organizing and communicating a plan to help our neighborhood. I saw it in the makeshift memorial on the sidewalk, full of teddy bears, flowers, and balloons and in the vigil at the school where floating lanterns were lit and counselors were available for anyone in need. I saw it in the Interfaith meeting held two days later to help us all learn how to grieve and heal together.

I saw goodness in the phone calls and texts and meals and gifts brought to my family, with notes and words of comfort. I saw it in the community gathering held to release blue balloons into the sky (Myles and Jace’s favorite color) and to tie hundreds of blue ribbons on every tree and post in sight. I see more goodness every day as I drive through our neighborhood, past those ribbons signifying our unity, our heartbreak, and our love.

There is a form of Japanese pottery called kintsugi where a broken pot is sealed back together with gold adhesive. Potters cherish the end result for its unique beauty. The pot, after its cracking and subsequent sealing, is stronger than before. I suppose our neighborhood has been through a sort of kintsugi–broken and sealed back together in a way that quiet possibly makes us stronger than we were. I know that after this experience, beyond the grief and fear and pain, I feel grateful for an incredible community of heroes.

I have seen darkness this week beyond anything I have ever experienced.  I have seen the destruction that one person is capable of.  I will continue to pray and ache for the Rackley family. But I will also feel the incredible power of the goodness and love that has taken place here. I feel hope. For now, the words from Sunday’s congregational hymn will remain as an echo in my heart:

Be still, my soul: The Lord is on thy side;

With patience bear thy cross of grief or pain.

Leave to thy God to order and provide;

In every change he faithful will remain.

Be still, my soul: Thy best, thy heav’nly Friend

Thru thorny ways leads to a joyful end. 

Twelve Fun Places to Take Your Kids This Summer in Salt Lake Valley

Summer is coming. I sense it with a mix of excitement and dread. I love having my kids home and getting to see their cute faces all day. But ALL DAY is a long time when we are talking about 2 and a 1/2 months. We need a plan. They have a few things going on that I can count on–sports and art camps and a few daily must do’s, like chores, music, math, and reading. But I find that having one day a week where we plan a fun outing together gives us all something to really look forward to. Call it “Take-a-Trip Tuesday” or “Field-Trip Friday” or just “Let’s-Get-Out-of-the-House-Before-Mom-Goes-Crazy Day.”  Whatever you call it, you’ll feel armed and ready to experience plenty of adventures with your kids this summer if you have a list in your back pocket. Here are some of our favorite stops in the Salt Lake Valley:

  1. Hogle Zoo in Salt Lake City. I’m a grown woman who has never tired of watching orangutans, gorillas, giraffes, lions, tigers, and bears (oh my!). All of these and so many more amazing creatures you’ll find at the zoo, along with a great little water play area for cooling down when it gets hot. Admission: $16.95 (adults), $12.95 (children 3-12). Annual family membership: $149 
  2. Clark Planetarium in downtown Salt Lake. We love the free interactive exhibits at the planetarium, where kids can learn about Earth, our solar system, and outer space. Cool educational IMAX and Dome Theater shows about the sun, black holes, the Amazon, extreme weather, the moon and more play daily. Show tickets for ages 3 and up are $7. Make it extra fun by riding TRAX downtown.

3. Hiking in Big Cottonwood Canyon. We love getting up in the mountains to explore rocks, trees, water, animals and all the other beauties of nature. And guess what? If you live in Salt Lake Valley,you are only minutes away from some amazing options. A few of our favorite fairly easy hikes are Mill B South Trail, Bells Canyon Reservoir, and Donut Falls Trail. I have a two year old, so he would normally ride in a backpack (on my husband’s back!) when we hike. But he can meander for a ways on his own, and I can get a great workout if I decide to haul him on my shoulders. Win-win!
4. Red Butte Gardens in Salt Lake City. This is a fun way to explore the outdoors (without as much hiking as you’ll get in the canyons). You’ll find over 100 acres of display and natural gardens, walking paths and hiking trails. The whole family can enjoy activities year-round including concerts, classes, festivals, events, and exhibits. Admission: $12 (adults), $7 (children 3-17).5. The Natural History Museum in Salt Lake City is a fun and fascinating look at natural history subjects, with an emphasis on Utah and the Intermountain West. Kids will enjoy the many interactive exhibits (mine especially love the dinosaurs). Admission: $14.95 (adults), $9.95 (children 3-12). 6. Tracy Aviary and Liberty Park in downtown Salt Lake. If you love birds, this is the stop for you. With 8 acres that feature our colorful feathered friends, you might just feel like you’ve entered the Amazon. Admission: $11.95 (adults), $7.95 (children 3-12). Also in central Liberty Park are a few fun carnival rides that my kids love to hit (the ferris wheel especially). Before you head home, consider stopping by the pond to see the ducks and maybe rent a paddle boat! 7. Discovery Gateway in downtown Salt Lake is a hands-on, interactive children’s museum with dozens of fun options for kids of all ages, including obstacle courses, a pretend grocery store and gardens, a fun gravity exhibit, and a life-flight helicopter to explore. Admission: $9.508. Treehouse Museum in Ogden offers interactive, hands-on exhibits and experiences with a focus on literacy and creating a lifelong love of reading. I haven’t been here yet but hope to take my kids this summer. Admission: $5 (adults), $7 (children 1-12).9. The Loveland Living Planet Aquarium in Draper is a beautiful hands-on aquarium, home to 4,500 animals representing 550 species. Our favorite part is the underwater shark tunnel that makes us feel like scuba divers in the Caribbean. Admission: $19.95 (adults), $14.95 (children). Family membership for up to four children: $189. 10. Lagoon in Farmington offers spinning, soaring, flying, and falling for all ages.  If theme parks are your thing, look no further. Admission: $39.95 (48 inches and under) and $55.95 (over 48 inches).11. Thanksgiving Point in Lehi. You truly could spend your whole summer here. You’ll find Farm Country, the Museum of Natural Curiosity, the Museum of Ancient Life, and the Thanksgiving Point Gardens along with concerts, summer camps, cooking classes, restaurants, gift shops, and a farmers market. Annual family membership: $220. Museum admissions: $15 (adults), $12 (children), .

12. Seven Peaks in Salt Lake City and Provo. After receiving 17 emails from Groupon and KSL about this deal, I finally caved and bought the Pass of All Passes for $20 a person. But guess what? We’ve been to these waterparks twice already and it isn’t even summer yet! My kids have had a blast. Tubes, slides, waves, and rivers…this may very well be our favorite stop all summer (and we’ll go again, and again, and again…because we can).

So, yes. Summer is coming, ready or not. Don’t worry. Aside from the daily bouts of sibling squabbles and occasional boredom, you’ll have a wonderful time together. Especially if you have a few fun plans along the way. And before you know it, those favorite people of yours are going to be back in school all day, and you’ll miss them like crazy. It happens to me every summer. Let’s make every day count.

8 Reasons to Take Your Kids Camping This Summer

I like a nice hotel as much as the next gal. You know . . . jacuzzi, swimming pool, soft king-sized bed, fluffy pillows, crisp white sheets, and cushy slippers. What’s not to love? But every summer from the time our first child was 6 months old, we have taken our kids camping. We’ve been to dozens of beautiful places filled with natural wonders that you just can’t experience the same way unless you are sleeping right there in it. With the stars above, songs around the campfire, and sleeping with now 6 of us in one tent, it’s a tradition that I now treasure. Here are five reasons you might want to consider pitching your own tent this summer too:

  1. It fosters a break from technology. Technology is running rampant in our fast-paced, plugged-in, high-tech world and it is stealing the attention of our little ones. Don’t get me wrong–I like a good movie and I appreciate my iPhone with all it’s cool gizmos and gadgets. It’s how I listen to podcasts on my morning jog or audio books while I’m folding laundry. And it is a perfect tool for capturing photos and videos of our life. BUT recent research says that kids ages 8-18 are spending an average of SEVEN HOURS a day in front of screens. That’s a lot of time that kids aren’t having experiences in the real world–spending time with family, exploring, playing with friends, and problem solving. Which brings me to my next reason:
  2. Being in nature makes you better at problem solving. According to cognitive psychologist Dr. David Strayer at the University of Utah, being in nature (away from technology) for three days actually made people 50 percent better at solving problems! I read about this research in National Geographic and called Dr. Strayer to ask for more details. What is it about getting away that makes our brains function better? As he said, “The technology actually makes us pretty distracted. Our brains can only process so much.”
  3. Being in nature makes you healthier physically. I don’t know about you, but when we go camping, we are not sitting around our tent all day drawing in the dirt with sticks. Yes, we do that for some of the day, but mostly we are out and about. We have picked a place to explore for some reason or another (maybe because of its beauty or its history or its cool hiking challenges) and we spend our days exploring. The childhood obesity epidemic is real enough, and the problem is linked to inactivity. It is impossible to be stationary when you are hiking to see beautiful waterfalls in Yosemite or biking a path with dozens of geysers on either side of you in Yellowstone or swimming in the luke warm waters of Lake Powell (all things I highly recommend).
  4. Being in nature makes you healthier mentally. Think about it–how do you feel when you are sitting in a park, green and blue surrounding you? Or lying down in the grass, watching the clouds go by? Or walking a trail surrounded by the brilliant colors of flowers? Stress goes down, relaxation goes up. Researchers who study this have found that people who simply live near parks are less likely to have 15 diseases, including depression, anxiety, ADHD, and asthma. In one study, even being able to see trees through a window helped people perform better in school, recover faster in hospitals, and get along better with others! What surrounds you when you are camping? Usually–trees. Lots, and lots, of trees.
  5. You connect more as a family. Our kids LOVE playing with their friends. Our oldest son especially is asking almost constantly to have friends over to our house or to go hang out at his friends’ houses. I thought this phase wouldn’t happen until he was a teenager. He’s eleven! Still, friends are healthy and good, so I support it (within limits). BUT I love getting so much of his attention when we steal away together as a family. You know who else loves it? His sisters! They don’t get a lot of his time when we’re at home. But when we are hanging out together camping–with no screens or friends to be seen–our three older kids can’t seem to get enough of each other. (I mean, we go through the normal family spats too, but overall, they discover how much they like each other). Yay for family time!
  6. You get to see beautiful places. Truly–some of the most incredible places I have ever seen I experienced camping. Some of my favorites are Yosemite National Park, Yellowstone National Park, Grand Teton National Park, Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon, and the Grand Canyon. Over spring break we took our kids on a beach trip to San Diego and stayed at an amazing campground called Campland By the Bay, complete with hot tubs and swimming pools (seriously, if you like California, you should check it out). This summer we are taking our kids to explore the San Juan Islands and two other national parks in Washington. And for my husband’s 40th birthday, we are backpacking in Kauai. These are adventures of a lifetime, and they are doable!
  7. You get to work together as a family. I don’t know about you, but our regular life doesn’t consist of a whole lot of working all together as a family (especially when Dad works all day at an office). Sure, everyone has their individual chores–but it’s not like living on a farm where EVERYONE was involved in working hard toward the same end goal. Camping gives us that opportunity. There is a tent to set up and sleeping bags to unroll and mats to lay out and food to cook and dishes to clean and we are all right there doing the work together. It’s a very bonding experience.
  8. It’s cheap. Think you can’t afford to travel? Think again. Once you have your tent, sleeping bags, and maybe a little camping stove, you’re set. It only typically costs around $15-$20 for a campsite through the National Parks Service at www.recreation.gov.

So, yes, I like hotels. And I like the creature comforts of home. But camping has so many awesome benefits that it’s hard to find an excuse not to go. If you think you aren’t a camping sort of person, I dare you to try it. I bet you’ll be surprised.

 

Raising resilient kids

I love the story of a pioneer woman who worked all day making jam, then left the jars out a little too long in the sun. She realized the jam had fermented and was no longer good to eat. She figured she could at least give the jam to her chickens, who devoured it happily. A few hours later she came back to find her chickens lying motionless all over the yard. “I killed my chickens!” she moaned. She sat for a minute and then figured she couldn’t just leave them like that. She did the only thing that made sense. She plucked out all the feathers so she could cook the chickens. After hours of plucking, the woman went to tend to something else and came back to find the chickens back on their feet, running around the yard again–naked. (Apparently the chickens had not actually died but had only passed out temporarily from the fermentation). Naked chickens would get too cold with winter coming on. So she did the only thing that made sense. She knitted a sweater for each and every one.

I can’t think of a better example of resilience. This woman didn’t let a setback (or two or three) get her down. She didn’t fester on what a failure she was or give up entirely because it was too hard–although it would have been easy and understandable to do either one. Those early settlers were made of some tough stuff, and I, for one, would love to gain more of whatever it was. What makes the difference between someone who responds to adversity with courage and optimism and someone who feels incapable of going on?

We live in an era where mental fatigue in the form of depression and anxiety is growing rapidly around the country, especially for young people. According to a 2016 American College Health Association survey, nearly 37 percent of college students reported feeling so depressed at some point during the previous year that they found it difficult to function. That’s a 40 percent increase from 2008. Kids are having a hard time facing the challenges of life. Some of these challenges come in the form of chemical imbalances that can only be addressed with counseling and medication. But some of these challenges are just life’s way of pushing us ahead in our journey. We can get passed them if we have developed a resilient soul.

“Resilience,” is a word that can be used to describe a material that bounces back quickly when it is stretched. Defined another way by renowned psychologist Adam Grant, “resilience is the strength and speed of our response to adversity.” As he explains in his and Sheryl Sandberg’s new book Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy, “It isn’t about having a backbone. It’s about strengthening the muscles around our backbone.”

I’d love to help my children strengthen those muscles so that when they face obstacles in this crazy, complicated world, they’ll know what to do. In the next 10 years, my kids are going to be stretched by school, jobs, relationships, technology, social media, sickness, peers, temptations, and all sorts of other challenges. If I have a child that at some point faces a mental health challenge, then I will do my best to help them find the resources to get through it. But even the healthiest of children will need to know what to do when their best friend moves away, or they fail a test, or they lose a job, or they trip on stage, or they miss the game-winning goal, or they just flat-out mess up. Is there anything I can do to prepare my kids to walk away from these challenges successfully? Experts say yes. Here’s how:

  1. Let them fail. This sounds counterintuitive. I don’t want my kids to fail! At least, not big failures, or long-term failures. Yet small failures help us to grow. We all have to fail at some point. If our little ones can figure out how to work through some of the smaller challenges now and see that they can come out on top, then they will know what to do when bigger failures come down the road. As David Bush, Director of Utah State University’s Counseling and Psychological Services, put it in an interview with BYU Magazine: “If you do too much for the child, you actually cripple them and undermine their confidence and ability to be self-reliant.” We can’t always stop our kids from falling down when they are small or they won’t know that they can pick themselves up when they are grown. We want our kids to believe in their ability to succeed after they fail. I mean, where would we be without Thomas Edison’s failures? He just chose to look at things differently. “I have not failed 10,000 times,” he said. “I have just found 10,000 ways that it won’t work.” Let’s reframe the concept of failure.
  2. Let them feel. Have you ever been in the middle of a really painful experience and had someone say to you: “You’ll be fine.” Trying to push someone past their feeling doesn’t allow them to work out the emotion of the moment or let them know you are their to share the pain. Sheryl Sandburg, whose husband recently passed away unexpectedly, said in an interview on the podcast On Being that hearing people say “You’ll get through this” wasn’t helpful because it didn’t acknowledge her experience. She didn’t know whether she’d get through it so how could they? What did feel supportive and helpful was when people could say, “I don’t know if you’ll get through this, but you won’t go through it alone. I’m here with you.” That’s a helpful reminder to me that when one of my kids gets hurt I shouldn’t be too fast to tell them they’ll be fine. Sometimes all they need us to say is: “I know it hurts, but I’m here with you.” Then, when they are ready, they can move on.
  3. Teach them about grace. Matthew 5:48 says we should “Be ye therefore perfect” but we have to understand that perfection comes only with the saving grace of Jesus Christ. We do our best, and He fills in the gaps–every time, no matter how big the gaps. Apparently kids who understand this concept have an easier time with adversity. According to a recent survey of 574 BYU students, ancient scripture professor and psychologist Daniel K. Judd found that students who believed their salvation was primarily up to them had dramatically higher levels of anxiety and depression than the students who embraced the principle of grace (that Christ already has our salvation covered, as long as we try our best). It’s a reminder to me that I need to help my kids understand they can make as many mistakes as they need. Christ has already taken care of it.
  4. Praise the effort, not the outcome. As much as I want to jump up and down and clap when my son finally plays (almost) perfectly the piano piece he has been working on for weeks, I have to remind myself to praise his struggle along the way. Rather than saying “That piece sounds awesome” I try to say while he’s learning “Great job working out that tricky part. I love seeing you try that over and over again.” Then he learns that I am proud of him for working through something hard, not just performing it well. That’s something I learned from a conversation with a neighbor who has been involved in educating children for decades. As she said, “We have a hard time with the perfectionists who only receive praise when something is finished well. It makes them afraid to try new and hard things because they think they might not be able to succeed.” Let’s praise their effort instead.
  5. Teach mindfulness. Mindfulness is the exercise of being aware of what is happening with your own internal experience, free of judgment. According to the American Psychological Association, people who regularly practice mindfulness have lower levels of depression and anxiety, have more positive feelings, healthier relationships, and have an easier time focusing. Teaching kids to be still and listen to their own body can help them notice when they are feeling anxious about something in the future or keep them from ruminating on something in the past. When they can sense emotional turmoil coming on, they can take steps to acknowledge and then resolve it in a healthy way (say listening to music, going for a walk, or talking to a friend) rather than in a destructive way (such as extensive video gaming, pornography, or binge eating), which only leads to more stress.
  6. Teach and model healthy habits. We can’t feel well emotionally if we don’t feel well physically. After all, the brain (which processes all our thoughts, emotions, and reactions) is just an organ. Have you ever noticed that your kids fight more when they are hungry or tired? I have. Everything seems better after a snack and good rest. Talk with them regularly about how this works. Let them know–sleep, exercise, and healthy eating is a trifecta that can make us strong for our whole life. Oh, and guess what works better than telling them? Show them how it’s done!
  7. Make their voice important. As Adam Grant said in an interview with On Being, “They need to know they matter. They need to have a say.” If we are always telling our children what to do and what to think and how things should be done, then they won’t learn to trust their own voice. It’s as simple as asking them around the dinner table, “How do you feel about this idea?” Or when they have a problem, starting with “What do you think you should do?” The more practice they have trusting their abilities now when they are young, the more capable they will feel later in life.
  8. Encourage them, but don’t push. We want our kids to feel strong and capable. Being there to support and love and answer questions is great. Pushing them, shaming them, or causing guilt over things they didn’t do right will probably backfire. Kids need to know we believe in them. That’s not to say we can’t insist on follow-through. I love the way my tennis teacher once put it when I asked her how her son became such a great tennis player. “Did you ever push him?” I asked. “No,” she said. “I didn’t push. But as he moved ahead, if he ever wanted to quit or go backwards, I was always standing right there behind him.” I like that visual. I’m far from perfect but I hope to be the cheerleader my kids need in this life–letting them know I believe in their endless possibilities.

Yes, depression and anxiety are rising, possibly because life has never been quite so complicated. My kids are still young, and I have no idea what kind of physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual difficulties they will face. But I’m a big believer that I can help them have a few tools ready for the oncoming battle. I can teach them to make mistakes, take a deep breath, shake it off, and try again–when they are ready. After all, we all have mountains to climb. Sometimes we rise and sometimes we slip. My goal is to help myself and my kids keep moving ahead.  And every once in a while, we can look back, enjoy the view, and be darn proud of how far we’ve come.

What is my success story?

As a mom, it’s hard to know how to define success. I am in charge of four beautiful, smart, spirited little children, whose decisions I don’t control. I love these people and consider them my greatest treasures. But I’m not going to lie–there are some hard times, and I occasionally find myself asking: Am I succeeding?

On Thursday, my two year old, Sam, had a neighbor friend over to play. Literally (I kid you not) every toy this little neighbor touched was received with “That’s mine!” I spent an hour and a half trying to keep my son from making our neighbor cry.

On Friday, I had to ask my daughters three separate times to take space from each other because my 9 year old, Ellie, kept making my 7 year old, Addie, cry with her “mean look.”

On Saturday, we were running late to get to Addie’s soccer pictures so I pulled up at the red-painted curb, turned off the car and ran her over to her team. I got back four minutes later to move the car and found a police officer pulled up, writing me a lovely parking ticket. Apparently, someone had called earlier to complain about all the cars parking in the red area. I tried to plead my case. “Are you a mom?” I asked. She chomped her gum and handed me the white paper. “Consider this a learning opportunity,” she responded. Gee, thanks.

On Sunday night while Ellie was trying to teach her well-prepared family home evening lesson about “seeing the best,” my 11-year-old son Zach couldn’t keep from flailing his arms around to make Sam laugh, despite our repeated requests that he stop so Ellie could finish her lesson.  We ended up asking him to go upstairs. We finally wrapped up around 9:00–half an hour past everyone’s bedtimes–and past the time when Mom’s patient energy disappears.

I finally got everyone into their beds and found my husband asleep on our bed, breathing deeply after a full day of serving our neighborhood as a member of the bishopric and wrapping up preparations to leave town for work. That’s when I laid down, closed my eyes, and asked myself–“Am I doing this right?”

I have a quote on my fridge by Ralph Waldo Emerson about what it means to succeed. It ends with this line: “Whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition. To know that even one life has breathed easier because you have lived, that is to have succeeded.”

I like that last phrase. One life. I got up off the bed after a few minutes and went into my children’s rooms to kiss them one by one as they slept. That is one of my favorite parts of the day. My last stop was at little Sam’s mattress on the floor (where he’s been sleeping since he started climbing out of his crib at 18 months). He lay there snuggling his favorite blue bear, sucking his thumb. Peace etched on his face.

It’s easy as mothers to see what we are not doing right, and to see what others are doing well. It’s easy for me to find my anxiety level rising just a bit when I get to church on Sunday and see another mom with daughters in matching dresses and lovely bouncing curls. Some days I have that going for me. Some days I don’t. Either way, I don’t think that’s how I want to define success.

For me, success isn’t about the size of my house, the make of my car, or the price tag on any of my family’s clothes. It isn’t about whether my kitchen is remodeled (it’s not) or how many Facebook likes I received for my last update. For me, success is that I made dinner last night when what I really wanted to do was keep reading my novel on the couch. Success is that when my daughter yelled this morning that she would NOT do her cello scale one more time without the blanket covering her fingers, I rolled with it and opened her music book. Success is snuggling up at night and reading two pages of our current chapter book, even though it was past bedtime. It’s going out to throw the football with Zach when he asks me to, and it’s taking Sam for a walk around the park to pet the dogs we see (his favorite thing), even when I have a long to-do list. Success is laying next to my tired husband at night and reflecting on our 17 years of doing this amazing adventure together.

I’m not afraid of failure. Those hiccups are how we all learn. And when I am in charge of four imperfect people who are learning a whole lot every day, I’m not going to set perfection in any area of life as my daily target. I just want to know that, because I was here, these favorite people of mine can say they breathed a bit easier. That, as Mr. Emerson would say, is to have succeeded. I’m going with it.

Summer in Yosemite

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Vernal Falls, Yosemite National Park

After experiencing gorgeous waterfalls, blue skies, granite cliffs, and colorful meadows, Yosemite is now one of my favorite places on the planet. Our family visited at the end of July, and I just couldn’t get enough of the cool hiking experiences and breath-taking views. I think I said “Wow” more times in one day than ever in my life. If you haven’t been here, please go.

My favorite hike was on Mist Trail, where we hiked the few miles and hundreds of stone steps to this incredible waterfall. You could actually see a rainbow in the sunshine and mist at the bottom of the falls. This was a great hike for our kids–challenging but doable, with a great reward at the end. We thought the end of our journey would be the falls, but to our surprise, just past the falls was a giant pool of water, complete with natural rock waterslide!

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Natural waterslide at Emerald Pools.

Despite none of us having swimsuits, most of us somehow ended up in the water. My son was the first to throw his shirt and shoes to the side and jump in. Then my daughter joined. My husband and his brother got in and swam over to the waterslide. Then my sister-in-law (more adventurous than I ever realized) said she was going for it, fully clothed. I started to realize this was not an opportunity to miss, so I counted down (my perennial weakness) and jumped in the frigid water alongside her. We swam over to the waterslide, hiked up the smooth rock surface where it was dry, then slid down into the water. Super fun!

If that wasn’t enough of a surprise, we also saw a bear (the only bear I’ve ever seen in the wild) traipse across the rock surface not 50 yards from where we had just slid down the rock. A bunch of teenagers who were on the same side of the pool started screaming and running toward the water. Luckily, the bear took no interest in them and just kept walking along until it disappeared back into the brush.

At night we camped just outside the park’s south entrance at Summerdale Campground. As we were setting up our camp, our camp neighbor shouted, “Scott, look!!” We looked up in the sky and there was a huge orange and pink meteor streaming across the sky, with tiny pieces breaking off so it looked like a dozen blazing shooting stars all together. It was the most incredible thing I’ve ever seen in the night sky. Our kids were enthralled. Amazing! Come to find out, it was apparently some kind of Chinese satellite junk. Not quite as cool, but still.

The other neat and unexpected experience at camp was crawdad fishing. I haven’t done this since I was a kid, but our camp host said we had to try it. So we put a hotdog on a string and literally, within minutes, we could see the crawdads in the water creeping toward it and climbing on. It took us a few tries to get the things out of the water and into a bucket, but eventually we caught 8 or so. We kept 6 to cook because, well, why not? We are all about new experiences. We boiled them and cracked them open. They tasted fine. A lot of work for the two bites out of each one, but it was fun.

Our little family miracle of the trip happened to our 10-year-old son Zach. He had just picked out a souvenir from the trip that day, a neat wooden pocketknife with his name etched in. While we were fishing (pretty much in the dark) his pocket knife fell out of his pocket. We all looked around but couldn’t find it anywhere. After all, it was wood colored. We said we’d try again in the morning. We suggested to Zach that he say a prayer, and went to bed. The next morning, Zach and Scott went for a walk and I said a quick prayer that, if it be God’s will for him to find this little treasure, he would find it. I understood that God may want Zach to have the lesson about taking care of his things, and I was open to that result. But that lesson is of course much less fun. The other lesson would be that prayer works, and sometimes you even get the answer you are hoping for. Well, right after I said my prayer, Zach and Scott came back with big smiles. Zach said he remembered walking by a particular poky bush that made him jump the night before, so they went there. Lo and behold, they looked down, in the wood and grass and dirt, and there was his pocket knife. Yay for little miracles!

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Playing at the bottom of Lower Yosemite Falls.

Another adventure was, when we went for a hike to Lower Yosemite Falls, which had another little surprise waiting for us: fun pools of water and lots of rocks for the kids the play in. We hadn’t learned our lesson about wearing swimsuits in this water haven, but we got in, again, in our clothes. The kids climbed and swam and splashed for hours. Too much fun.

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Granite Point

For a view of the valley, we drove out to Glacier Point, where we did a short walk to a lookout point. From there, we could see two waterfalls and 360 degrees of rocks, trees, meadows, and mountains. Beautiful.

On our way out of California, we decided to stop at Kings Canyon National Park and Sequoia National Park, mostly because we wanted more stamps for our National Parks passport books. OK, not really. Well, partly. We of course were excited to see what made those places so special, especially as we considered the 100-year anniversary of the National Parks system. Both parks were incredible. I especially loved the Congress trail with the huge groups of sequoia trees–the biggest trees in the world. It was incredible to be so dwarfed by nature.IMG_1308

Overall–an amazing, wonderful incredible trip with some of my favorite people. We will definitely do this again.

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Happy kids, enjoying the outdoors at Sequoia National Park.

Temple Walk

A few month ago, the Young Women in our neighborhood ward went on a walk from the Draper Temple to the Salt Lake Temple in honor of stone mason John Rowe Moyle. Moyle walked those 22 miles every day, every week for years to work on the Salt Lake Temple. He even did it with a wooden leg for several years after an accident with a cow necessitated an amputation. The man’s spirit, courage, and dedication is unmatched in my mind.

After their journey, the Young Women’s president Jen Wilhite shared her testimony about the experience in church. Our 10-year-old son Zach was listening. Afterward, he said to Scott, “I want to do that too.”

My husband is not one who says no, especially not to amazing and challenging opportunities. So, he told Zach they would plan for it. Before we knew it, Zach was recruiting his friends to join him. Not many wanted to take on the challenge, but Zach found two friends who would.

Last Friday, Zach and these two other boys along with their dads did the walk. They started at 6 a.m. and walked all day. They had a few scheduled stops, three of which included a little parent presentation on an inspiring person. We figured that the boys would have a lot of time to think, and might need some pep talks, so we tried to inspire them with people who had succeeded in getting through their life challenges. I shared the story of Nelson Mandela, my friend Mariah shared the story of Mariatu Kamara who lost her hands in the civil war in Sierra Leone, and another friend, Anthony, taught about Mother Teresa. 13418736_10154239159024254_6126387665414988282_n

My other kids and I planned to arrive at the temple a little before the boys, but they made such good time we were caught off guard.  We were riding ponies at This is the Place Heritage Park when I got the text that they would arrive between 4 and 4:30 p.m. I expected them there at 6! So we packed up and booked it downtown, hoping to beat them. 13435496_10154239159399254_8006715581788676638_nWe actually passed them walking on South Temple so we hooted and honked and hollered, then looked for a quick place to park. I found a 5-minute spot and we spilled out of the car with our “You Did It!” poster in tow right as they walked up to the temple gates. They had made it! The boys collapsed on the grass, exhausted.

I hoped the lesson of perseverance had sunk in, hoped that the boys would remember this the next time they had a challenge. I didn’t have to wonder long. The next morning, our family was one of the families assigned to clean the church building at 8 a.m. I woke Zach up and he resisted, saying “I can barely walk!” I finally was able to motivate him to get his shoes on and make his way to the car, saying something like, “I bet John Rowe Moyle didn’t wake up thinking, ‘Yes, I get to walk 22 miles on my wooden leg today!.'” Zach paused for a minute and then said, “You’re right. He probably didn’t want to all of the time. But he knIMG_0815ew it was important. So he did it.” Then Zach got in the car.

We all have challenges in our life, whether that’s trying to heal after losing a loved one, fighting depression, staying awake all night for weeks with a colicky baby, being stuck in a job we despise, or inescapable physical pain. I suppose part of life is simply the struggle to overcome the hard stuff. I don’t think those experiences are meant to make us miserable. They are meant to make uIMG_0812s strong. The next time I am faced with something hard, I’m going to think of John Rowe Moyle, and of my 10-year-old son who wanted the challenge so he could see how strong he really is.

Camping in Beautiful Sedona

For spring break last month we took our kids to the beautiful Arizona city of Sedona. I wasn’t sure how camping was going to go with Sam, being still so small, but we figured we’d give it a shot. When looking for our destination this year, we had three important criteria: 1) warm enough at night to camp without being miserable and 2) close to cool National parks or monuments that would give us a stamp or two in our kids’ passport books. 3) Close enough to drive to from our home in Sandy, UT. Sedona fit the bill.

IMG_1569Well, mostly. The temperature was great during the day and was supposed to only get to the 40s at night, but with a few nights stretching into the 30s it was less comfortable than I would have liked. Everyone was fine in their mummy bags except for Sam, who didn’t have one. I bundled him as much as I could but he would still wake up in the middle of the night crying (unheard of for this angel baby). That at least gave me my co-sleeping opportunity, something I’ve never really taken advantage of with any of my kids, with good reason. I mean, I just don’t sleep very well with a little person next to me. But I have to admit I did love snuggling this sweet little boy every night.

What I love about camping is getting so close to nature and so far from the typical distractions of our modern-day world. No cell phones to use, no televisions to watch, no Kindles to fight over. We literally were just IMG_1552outside all day, enjoying peace. (Until it came time to doing all the work that camping requires–then there was a little less peace. But the kids got the hang of it fairly quickly.)

I loved seeing the National monuments near Sedona. First we went to explore Montezuma Castle, an ancient cliff dwelling thousands of years old. It was fun to watch my kids think through what it might have been like to live so close to the earth (and even in the earth) every day. We also checked out a similar nearby monument that let us get a little closer to the ruins of an ancient people. Our last experience with ancient life was on the way home when we stopped at Canyon de Chelly, another site from the lives of ancient Pueblo people. First things first: we got our passport books stamped. Check! Then we did a hike down into the canyon, saw the ruins in the cliffside along with some cool wall art, and then hiked back out. This was our IMG_1556first hiking experience where all three of our older kids beat us to the finish line by a long shot. Scott and I were impressed.

Other favorites from this trip included a beautiful hike in Sedona, playing in the river by our campsite, visiting Slide Rock state park (with it’s 80-foot super cold natural waterslide) and my perennial campfire favorite: s’mores! After five nights of camping, luckily we were smart enough to check the weather and realize it was going to rain right at the time we needed to pack up our campsite. So we got on Priceline and booked a hotel in Chinle. Everyone was beyond excited to see actual beds. The kids slept for 13 hours straight, and I slept for most of that too. There’s nothing like appreciating simple pleasures after ruffing it for a few days!IMG_1625

All in all, a successful, beautiful, super fun adventure! I highly recommend this area as a wonderful trip for families.

15 things I love about being a Mom

Last night after a wonderful fun-filled night of family bowling, a very kind stranger gave my three kids one giant, green bouncy ball. They all had fun with it for a few minutes, and then it happened. Somebody started whining that they hadn’t gotten a turn. Then someone else wasn’t sharing. Before we knew it, our three older kids were in a full-out brawl. Tears were shed. I ended up taking the ball and giving it to some other unsuspecting family. All my children were mad at me.

Sometimes being a mom is hard. My days are filled with washing, drying, shopping, cleaning, cooking, carpooling, wiping up spills. They sometimes include breaking up brawls, motivating for the umpteenth time, and less sleep and personal time than I’d like.  And little people don’t always remember to say “thank you.” However, today I wanted to take a moment to think about the good side. The really good side. Because as hard as being a mom can be, I wouldn’t trade it for the world. Here are some of my favorite things about being a mom:

  1. When my kids make me laugh out loud, either by singing a silly song, dancing, telling me a joke they heard during the day, or quoting a line from a favorite movie.
  2. IMG_1671When my kids love each other, like this morning when Addie spilled her cereal and Ellie helped her clean it up (without my asking), or when Addie came down to sit at the table and  when Zach finally looked up and noticed he said, “Oh! Good morning Addie!” Or when Addie writes one of her precious love notes. Or when they all hear Sam waking up and they ask, “Can I go get him Mom?”
  3. When my kids have worked really hard on something, like a piano or cello piece, and I get to watch the look on their face when they finally nail it with pride.
  4. When they surprise me with the things they want to do, like Zach asking to wake up at 6 a.m. for the past two weeks so he can exercise with us. “Really? Are you sure?” I still ask.
  5. Cuddling with them before they go to bed.IMG_0466
  6. When they mess up and then own it, as evidenced by the note I found on Ellie’s cello yesterday morning that said: “Thank you for teaching me cello Mom. I love it. Sorry I yelled.”
  7. Reading stories in bed together, either laughing at something funny or learning about something interesting, like last night when we read that in high school Barack Obama was dubbed “Barry O’Bomber” because of his jump shot. My kids loved that. Who knew?
  8. Having Sam snuggle up and rest his head on my shoulder while he holds his bear and sucks his thumb when he is sleepy.
  9. IMG_2289When my kids make each other laugh.
  10. When they can’t wait to show me something like a new fun game or a new trick they learned.
  11. Seeing them snuggled up at night with their Dad, who is known for letting them jump in our bed to watch an interesting 60 Minutes clip instead of getting them in bed when I’m away.
  12. Watching Sam copy everyone at the dinner table, like blinking his eyes tight or nodding his head or putting his hands up in the air or clapping when someone else does and having everyone else crack up at the cuteness.
  13. Watching them sleep, peacefully, quietly, in their beds.
  14. Getting to show them new beautiful or interesting things.IMG_1634
  15. Hearing them say “I love you Mom” even on the days when I haven’t been patient or I haven’t made the dinner they like or I haven’t let them go play with their friends when they wanted to. Like yesterday when I asked my son to turn off the computer for the third time. I lost patience and he got frustrated, but then he quickly said, “I love you Mom, you’re the best.” That’s love you can’t put a price on.

Sure, motherhood is hard. But it is also the greatest blessing in the world getting to be with these little people every day as we help each other grow. I’m sure glad to be the Mom.

House on wheels!

Last week our family did something we’ve wanted to do for a long time–we rented a motorhome! I was too scared to drive this 38-foot mammoth other than for one hour on the freeway, but Scott was amazing at maneuvering the thing. The kids absolutely loved having the space to play, and I loved getting to enjoy my favorite parts about camping–being outside in beautiful places–along with the comforts of home. Yay for beds, electricity, toilets, showers, and an easy place to cook! We took the kids around to Zion National Park, the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, Lake Powell, and Bryce Canyon National Park. We picked up a cool Passport book for each of the kids that they get to fill up with stamps from every National Park or Monument we visit (they are so excited, I think this will be a lifelong quest to fill up the book!).

The motorhome was so fun to hang out in. For a few of the mornings, we got out of bed slowly and hung around the table, just playing Life, Monopoly, Uno, and Go Fish. Sometimes we sat for hours doing it. When in real life does anyone have time to do that? IMG_0102

The national parks were beautiful. In Zion we did the Emerald Pools hike, which I just loved for how many cool crooks and crevices the kids got to explore, including a path that went under a waterfall. IMG_0188

The Grand Canyon is jaw-dropping. I loved seeing the kids see something so, literally, grand. It’s huge! After spending a couple of days hiking around, we packed up the RV (easy!) and headed to our next adventure. A favorite day for everyone was spent just floating in our life jackets at Lake Powell (the downside of this day was getting our RV stuck in the sand at Lone Rock beach–but luckily an angel named Alan had the gear to tow us out and point us in the right direction). IMG_0151The kids loved the water and came up with a challenge for us all to swim out to the buoys and back (Sam came too in his little life jacket!). They all loved playing in the sand, building sand castles, and playing a good old fashioned game of keep away. Sam thought he might enjoy eating the sand–as he does everything–but I think soon realized this delicacy is not for him. Good learning experience.

IMG_0153We wrapped up at Bryce where hoodoos and cool rock walls juiced up our kids’ imaginations. We spent the hike out of the canyon keeping the their minds off the hard stuff. They spent the hot, hard part of the hike creating elaborate stories about any random set of objects we gave them. My little five year old probably went on for 20 minutes creating a story about a pirate, a mermaid, and an octopus, all while hiking uphill in the heat. I don’t think she even noticed. Another favorite moment was lying outside one night on a picnic table by our RV, looking up at the stars together. We pointed out the Milky Way and used an app to find cooIMG_0167l constellations. There is nothing quite like the night sky in southern Utah. All in all, an awesome and memorable trip!