Category Archives: Family

Book Review: Finding Temple Symbols

I just read the most darling book for children about finding and understanding symbols around the temple. It is so simple and sweet and yet has powerful information about the meanings behind everything from flowers below to Angel Moroni up high. Author Cami Evans does a wonderful job presenting ideas for children to think about: flowers remind us of all Heavenly Father created for us; spires remind us to look toward heaven; Angel Moroni reminds us that Christ will come to gather his people; circles remind us of eternity and sealing eternal families; sun, stars, and moons remind us of three kingdoms of glory; white is for purity, pillars are for strength, and the gate reminds us of the first step we must pass by on our covenant path to God, baptism.

I’ve never seen a book that so beautifully lays out for children the meaningful symbols of the temple and invites them to participate in not only discovering them but also understanding them. I plan to read this to my children regularly as they come to appreciate these beautiful places of heaven on earth.

All important voices in the choir

I’ve been thinking lately about how important it will be, as my children grow, for me to embrace each of them for who they are and not who I think they should be. This isn’t always easy. Let’s go back a good 20 years. I was the child that got a special award for being the only person in the elementary school to enter all four categories of the Reflections contest. I was the child who in 5th grade turned down going on Caribbean Cruise because I didn’t want to miss a week of school (I still regret that one). I wanted to get all As, I wanted to be involved. I aspired for greatness, but I guess you could say I was a little high strung.

I have one child in particular who has similar aspirations to achieve, and oh does that make my heart sing when I see her sign up and contribute and try her best. I feel some sort of pride watching her join Math Olympiads and the debate team and strive for excellence in her grades and with her music. I find myself thinking “Yes! You are aiming high and accomplishing! Good for you!”

But here’s the thing. Not all of my children are this way. They are motivated in other ways and get more excited to play and relax than to achieve. Sometimes I feel my younger self worrying. “But you can’t miss a day of school, or be late to class, or not study for a test!” Then I remind myself, “Oh, there are so many good ways to be in this world.”

Today I make a promise to myself to love each of my children for their strengths and their weaknesses, because both make them beautiful. And one of my most favorite scriptures (Ether 12:27) reminds me that it is in our weakness that we find our strength and that it is only through those weaknesses that we learn to rely on grace. Yes, my children are flawed. And that is by design.

For family night this week, we watched a video about a little bird sitting in a wet nest in the rain, waiting for his eggs to finally hatch while watching a beautiful, singing, hatching bird family next to him. The bird rolls his eyes in the drizzle and pulls out his cell phone, scrolling through images of other birds having fun and looking amazing. He tries to sleek his hair back to match one of the more handsome birds he sees, and his hair falls back flat in his face. He slumps down in the wetness. Just then another bird starts gathering a choir of all the birds around. The wet bird in the nest at first shakes his head no. Surely he has nothing to offer. But with a little encouragement from the choir director he finally flies over to join all the different voices. When he finally opens his mouth, he realizes he has a beautiful, deep baritone to contribute, making the music even better than before. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VlB0WoF18V0

I love the reminder that we are all important and valuable exactly the way we are. God’s choir is meant to have many voices. We all have our good stuff and our hard stuff. As a mom, my job will be to keep that in mind as I watch my precious little ones grow. I’ll keep encouraging them to be their best, but I’ll try to remember that their path to happiness and their best self will be different than mine. They will turn into exactly the people they are meant to be, and thank goodness for that.

Son, Mother, Family, Mom, Bubbles

Every day joy

I recently finished a wonderful book called “The Shell Seekers” that captures the story of three generations of family members. Some I fell in love with and some made me cringe. Within the family there are a few characters who prioritize material possessions, money, and status. Other characters find happiness in things like spending time in a garden, at the beach, enjoying a piece of art, or time with people they love. The book got me thinking about how often we chase the wrong things in the name of happiness. A shiny new car, another new outfit, a big promotion, a checked-off to-do list. Usually, though, joy is simpler than that. It’s right there in front of us, waiting to be picked up. Kind of like shells in the sand. Funny how good I used to be at picking up shells with my bucket on the beach. Grownups sometimes forget.

One day recently with this book on my mind, I was on a run with my dog. It was a sunny day and he was just leaping around in front of me, exploring the trail and bushes, stopping to look back at me periodically with his tongue flopping out the side of his mouth. I swear he can smile. I was listening to an NPR podcast about research on joy. Scientists, the host explained, had discovered something interesting about joy in a recent study. They had asked hundreds of people what brought them joy. The results were surprising. Joy, they found, wasn’t anything grand or complicated. People reported finding joy in little moments when time just dissolved. Maybe it was watching a child play with bubbles, or seeing hot air balloons in the sky, or sipping a cup of hot chocolate, or meeting a friend for lunch. I slowed down and thought about that for a minute. How easy it might be to miss those moments.

For me, as a stay-at-home mom, I probably have hundreds of moments in a day where I could pick up a little joy. Yes, at any given time, I might have laundry to fold, dinner to cook, bills to pay, a carpool to drive, dishes to do, a doctor’s appointment to make, a leaking fridge to address, and a toilet to unclog. But when my little four year old son came up to me recently and said, “Mom, would you snuggle me?” and gave me that look with his big brown eyes, I had a choice to make. I could think about what I wouldn’t be getting done, or I could pick him up, and lay down with him in the sunny spot in our window alcove and just snuggle together. Which is what I did. I enjoyed. En-JOY-ed. I wonder how many of those moments I miss.

For today, and hopefully tomorrow, I am recommitting myself to joy. When I have a minute to sit and listen to Ellie tell me about school, or when Addie asks me to brush her hair or play Uno, or when Zach wants to show me the latest dog meme that made him laugh, or when Sam asks for just one more bedtime story, I am going to say yes. I am going to pick up that tiny shell in the sand and know that this is what life is all about anyway. The lengthy to-do list can wait a few more minutes.

beach shell

Family adventuring in the Caribbean

A few months before Christmas we warned our children that we did not want presents to be the focus of the season. We were going to think about what we wanted to give. No lengthy lists of all the items they wanted for Christmas. This season was going to be about the Savior and what we could do to be more like him. Shocking us, one of our children actually said, “I think that will help us all be happier.” Wise little souls they can be.

What we didn’t tell them was that our family Christmas present was going to be a surprise trip to Mexico, leaving the day after Christmas. On Christmas morning, they unwrapped a few little gifts they had gotten for each other and opened their stockings with treats from Santa. Then they each got one gift bag from Mom and Dad. As they looked inside and found a swimming suit, flip flops, and snorkel set, they got a little suspicious and all looked our way, waiting. We sat there and just said “Merry Christmas!” They stared. We giggled and then said, “OK, we have one more thing.” Then we gave them each an envelope with a bow. Inside the envelope, each child found a copy of a plane ticket to Cancun and a few photographs of the white sand, turquoise beaches we’d be enjoying for the next week. They jumped and screamed and Ellie even said “I knew you were going to do something like that!!” She’s very perceptive. So we packed our bags that day and took off the next morning for the Yucatan.

We had lived in Mexico when our oldest was just a year and a half and spent a month enjoying one of the most beautiful, geologically diverse places I’d ever been. Underground rivers, cenotes, tropical forests, beautiful beaches, Mayan ruins…it’s an adventure paradise. So I couldn’t wait to bring the kids back to explore. We decided to do our lodging on the cheap through Air BNB, which worked out great. Nothing fancy (as in, our place was on the fourth floor and the elevator only worked about 1 out of every 5 trips and when it stormed one day we had water leaking through window onto the bedroom floor). Still, we had a great view of the ocean from our balcony window, an infinity pool pool to enjoy, and awesome boogie boarding waves just steps away. The kids were in heaven.

Because we felt great about the money we were saving on our accommodations, we decided to splurge a bit on a couple of day-long excursions. Our first big outing took us an hour and a half south to an eco-adventure park called Xel-ha. The first thing I loved after we walked in was knowing we could go to any restaurant and eat whatever we wanted–and not have to worry about dishes. (I’m a mom cooking and cleaning for 6 daily so you see the draw.) Now we were on vacation! Zach got the biggest kick out of the soda stations where he could just stop, get a drink of whatever he wanted, leave his cup, and carry on to whatever cool activity was next on the agenda.

The park is nestled on the edge of the ocean where a giant, clear lagoon works its way to the coast from a ways inland. We rode bikes to the top of the lagoon, then snorkeled down. We floated in tubes, we zip-lined, we cliff jumped, we rode a giant waterslide down from the top of a lighthouse, and we zip biked through a rainforest (basically riding a bike in the air attached to a cable above so you can soar over cenotes, through caves, beside waterfalls). The girls and Scott even got to do a dolphin interactive experience, which they loved. We kept all our stuff in lockers so we could just walk around in swimsuits, playing, swimming, and stopping in restaurants when we got hungry. The weather was lovely, and after a short afternoon shower we even looked up to find a rainbow arching over the place. Heavenly.

We left Xel-ha wet, happy, and full of delicious Mexican food then spent the next day relaxing back at our condo. Then we were ready for another adventure. We had heard about a tour company called Alma’s LDS Tours, which offered a specific Book of Mormon emphasis to some of the Mayan ruins. We decided that sounded just right for us. The tour bus picked us up at 7 a.m. and we headed back down south to explore the ruins of Tulum and Coba. Tulum was a gorgeous civilization built between the 13th and 15th centuries right on the Caribbean coast. Our wonderful tour guide Arnie shared the history of the area and then pointed out interesting LDS tidbits, like the many carvings of what has been dubbed the “descending God,” a figure that looks like it is coming down from heaven to live among the people. Book of Mormon scholars think that the Nephite civilization could have been just south of this area so the story of a God coming down from heaven sounds a lot like 3 Nephi, when Christ comes down to heal and teach the Nephites.

In the ruins of Coba, first settled around 100 A.D., we found more Book of Mormon similarities, such as a carving of a tree with two men that looked rather unhappy and turned away from the tree, and another two men walking toward it. Lehi’s Tree of Life perhaps? Our tour guide also asked Zach to read from the Book of Mormon where we learned about raised roads that paved the way between cities (see 3 Nephi 6:8).

We read this scripture standing in an area where there is evidence of an ancient road raised off the ground (or “cast up” as it reads in the Book of Mormon). How cool is that? The Book of Mormon is a record of an ancient civilization that would have been near the ancient people of the Yucatan. I loved thinking about these histories and the way the people lived and loved and worshiped many hundreds of years ago. Plus, it’s significant to remember that Joseph Smith hadn’t been on vacation recently to the Yucatan when he was translating the plates. He just wrote down what he saw. Coba wasn’t officially discovered in modern times until 1926, 82 years after Joseph Smith died.

Our last stop was at a beautiful cenote (or pool of water in a cave fed by the underground rivers that run through the Yucatan) where my kids completely peer pressured me into jumping off the highest platform I ever have into the water below. I think it was Eleanor Roosevelt who said “Do one thing every day that scares you.” Check. We drove home, first stopping to drop off another family at an all-inclusive place that we were told cost $800 per person per day. The kids asked if we could do that next time. We laughed. “Um, probably not.”

All in all, the trip was an incredible success. We got everything we were looking for: family time, warm weather, the beach, culture and history, and lots of adventure. It wasn’t easy getting on the plane and realizing that in four hours the temperature outside was going to go from 80 degrees to 20. Luckily, these sorts of experiences don’t completely get left behind with the weather. We keep them in our minds and hearts and remember them forever. I have a feeling that this December we might just give our children the same warning that we will not be honoring wish lists for toys and clothes. We want to give something more–something that last a lifetime.

We are priceless

I recently was in a teacher training meeting where we saw an object lesson that I couldn’t help but go straight home and replicate for family home evening. It’s a message that I think will stick with me for years to come, and one I hope my children will remember too.

The message required a crisp $100 bill, which I picked up from the bank. We gathered our children around the dining table and asked them, “How much is this worth?” They ooh-ed and ah-ed for a moment, as I’m not sure any of them have actually seen one. Then they said “100 dollars.” Yep! “OK, now let’s pretend this bill is you. What things have you accomplished that you are proud of?” I asked. They said things like this: “I’m good at piano, lacrosse, soccer, dance. I am kind. I got 100 percent on my spelling test. I am a good big sister or brother. I am a happy person. I got three merit badges last month.” For each of the things they said, I put a little sticker on the bill.

“Now how much is it worth?” I asked. Zach, calculating the price of the added stickers said, “100 dollars and 25 cents?” We laughed, and then I said, “It’s still $100.” No matter all the accomplishments and amazing things we do in our life, we are still ultimately worth the same.

“OK,” I said. “Now let’s talk about our mistakes.” I put the $100 bill into a plastic bag and grabbed a cup of dirt. “What mistakes have you made?” Their answers included things like, “I’ve been mean. I’ve forgotten to do my jobs. I’ve lied. I’ve been whiny.” For each answer, I poured a little dirt on the $100 bill. The kids were a bit flummoxed, thinking surely I had protected the bill in another bag. Nope. The bill was getting filthy. I topped it off by pouring water into the bag with the dirt and shaking it up.

“Now how much is the bill worth?” I asked.

The kids looked at each other. They looked at me. “Still $100?”

Yep. They got the idea. I pulled out the bill and rinsed it off. (Thankfully, it has dried just fine and will be returned to the bank pronto.)

We ended the night be giving them a paper that says “25 things I appreciate about me.” We handed out pencils and asked them to write down things they liked about themselves. It took us all a few minutes to do. And some of us needed some help and ideas from each other. I was so happy to see that each one of us was able to come up with 25 things we liked or appreciated about ourselves. I don’t think we usually let ourselves spend much time considering the neat qualities about ourselves. I did notice that our 13 year old seemed a little more cheerful after doing the exercise. Sometimes we just need to remind ourselves of what we have to offer the world.

Here’s what touched me most about our evening together, as a bit of an A-type overachiever. Ultimately, our accomplishments don’t change our value. Our mistakes don’t either. Our Heavenly Father finds us absolutely priceless no matter what we do. Isn’t that incredibly comforting to remember? Even if we have done every stupid thing imaginable, our Father still loves us and sees who we really are and who we can become. And it doesn’t matter so much to Him whether we make the dean’s list at Harvard or the cheer team in high school or become President of the United States. I wanted our kids to know that. Sure, we like them to learn new things and do their best and find joy in their accomplishments. And we expect them to make mistakes. They will probably end up with a few ribbons, and a few scars. But at the end of the day, I hope they know that they are priceless, no matter what. I hope I remember that too.

D&C 18:10 Remember the worth of souls is great in the sight of God.

My privilege

It was one of those days where things weren’t going super well at home. I can’t remember the specifics, but I think one of the kids wasn’t remembering to turn assignments in at school, two of them were fighting all the time, and one of them was peeing on the floor for the 19th time, despite all my best potty training tricks.

After that blessed hour where all four were finally asleep, I crawled into bed exhausted and discouraged. I started saying a prayer with some level of complaining. “Why is this so hard?” I remember asking. I asked for help knowing what to do and how I could help these precious kids find their strength and happiness. That’s when a thought came into my mind, and I’m quite sure it wasn’t just from me. It said clearly: “This is your privilege.”

I thought back to the night before, when we held a family home evening on the topic of becoming like Christ. We watched a great video about some of the attributes of Christ: He was kind, selfless, forgiving. Then we emphasized this message to our children: We aren’t perfect now, and that’s OK. No one expects us to be perfect now. We are simply trying our best to become more like our Savior, and we get to make as many mistakes as we need to on our journey. He is the North Star, guiding us to where we want to be.

These thoughts swam around in my mind until I saw exactly what my job is as a mother. I am here to help my children through all the weakness and struggle and all the failure and challenge. I am here to help them learn to become like Christ.

Over the past few weeks that message has popped up again and again in my mind through the hard parts of mothering: the temper tantrums over not getting ice cream after lunch at Chick-fil-a because the line was too long. The fighting pre-teen girls who seem to only see the other person at fault. The repeated conversations about why it is actually important to wash your hair when you shower. The struggles are how they learn to be patient, how they learn to work hard, how they learn to forgive. The weakness is how they learn to depend on and become like Christ. My job is to love them and be there alongside them, reminding them that this is all part of the plan. And sometimes, reminding myself too.

I love this scripture: And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them (Ether 12:27).

Our children have weakness for a reason. How blessed I am as a mother to be there while they struggle and learn to turn those weaknesses into strengths. That is my privilege.

Image result for mom and child on porch

Finding Family Love for Valentine’s Day

I used to think Valentine’s Day was all about mushy love notes, chocolate, and flowers. I actually got upset the first Valentine’s Day Scott and I were married because he didn’t give me anything. I feel pretty silly about that now. Those things don’t matter so much to me these days. Don’t get me wrong–I like all of those things. But after 17 years of marriage and a family of two that’s turned into six, I’ve learned a thing or two about love.

First off, love is hard sometimes. And it’s not always about having good feelings toward someone. I have to remind my children about this regularly. Loving my husband is pretty easy. I don’t have a hard time seeing the good stuff in him–because there is so much of it. And at our age we’ve learned to talk through our disagreements without calling each other names (though we may still need to take a break sometimes when we aren’t getting our way!).

My kids are still learning about love. They didn’t get to choose each other the way I got to choose my roommate. They fight. They say mean things. Their personalities sometimes clash. They ask regularly why they can’t have their own room. Sigh. Those times are hard. They are heart-breaking for a mom who’s maybe a little oversensitive. I know they always love each other. Sometimes it’s just really, really deep down there.

Ah, but then there are those other times. The times when, like last night, my two older kids were up talking and laughing at the dining table way past their bed time. I didn’t have the heart to interrupt them, even though I knew they’d be tired in the morning. These are the moments when they are putting deposits into their sibling bank accounts. My job is to just take a breather when they decide to pull out some of those deposits–because tomorrow there is a very good chance one of those kids is going to tell me they’d prefer their sibling move to a different planet. We’ll get past it.

But for Valentine’s Day, I wanted to see if we could focus for a little bit on what it means to be a family. I sat them all down and said, “I know it’s hard having siblings sometimes. And it’s hard having parents sometimes” [this was particularly directed to the 12 year old who was mad at me for not buying him the $70 Vans his friends have!]. “But the great thing about this family is that we will be together forever, no matter what. And the people around this table are going to love you forever, no matter what. How great is that?” They looked around at each other. One person rolled her eyes but the rest sort of smiled and nodded. (I guess 5 out of 6 ain’t bad!)

Addie, my 7 year old, then passed a big paper heart to everyone at the table. On each heart was the name of someone in the family. “Here is the plan,” I said. “On this heart is someone’s name. You have one minute to write everything you love about that person. Go.” Addie set the timer and we started writing. When the timer went off, we passed the hearts to the right. It was cute to see them want more time. After everyone had a turn writing on every heart, Addie passed the hearts to their owners. I loved seeing everyone take a look at what their siblings and parents had written. Siblings who had fought earlier were writing things like “You’re a great sister!” and “You are so funny!” and “I love you. You are a great big brother.” I think everyone enjoyed taking a minute to realize how much they are loved–no matter what.

Today, the hearts still sitting on the dining table made me think of a book I wrote that came out a few months ago called “I Can Love Like Jesus.” I always thought it looked more like a Valentine’s book, but I hadn’t picked it up and actually read it for a couple of months. Today while I was snuggling up with Sam for his nap time, we read the book. It reminded me of why I wrote this book. It’s all about Christ’s love.

I wanted to capture the idea that we say “we should love like Jesus” but we don’t often talk about what that actually means. I loved cuddling Sam while we read about service, and forgiveness and thinking of others before ourselves. That’s what love is really all about, and we have the perfect example to learn from. [Side note–I love how this author captured how we live in the world today but can still love others the way Christ did 2,000 years ago. And I love that the kids are fighting on the couch–perfect! Thanks Chase Jensen!]

My plan for Valentine’s Day is to focus on what love really is all about. Not so much the chocolate (though I will be enjoying some of that) or the paper valentines (though I will be helping my kids make those) but real, no-matter-what, so-glad-you’re-part-of-my-life, you-couldn’t-get-rid-of-me-if-you-tried love. That’s the kind of love I want to celebrate.

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.