Category Archives: Family

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.

 

Book Review: Unlocking Parental Intelligence

I like getting my hands on a good parenting book now and then because it helps me step outside my own perspective long enough to get some helpful nuggets of wisdom. I found that I read these kinds of books a lot more when I was overwhelmed with the prospect of becoming a parent and when I was trying to figure out for the first time what to do with a tiny newborn who never wanted to be out of my arms. Now my kids are in different phases–but I still find myself occasionally perplexed about their behavior and the best way for me to respond. Kids don’t come with instruction manuals for their unique make and model (though wouldn’t that be nice?). But we do have a few excellent resources to turn to for answers. One of them is the book Unlocking Parental Intelligence: Finding Meaning in Your Child’s Behavior by psychoanalyst Laurie Hollman, Ph.D.

In her book, Dr. Hollman offers parents a five-step process for approaching their children’s undesirable behavior. She helps the reader see that rather than reacting to a temper tantrum, for example, it’s important to step out of the immediate scene and attempt to understand the bigger picture. She encourages parents who are faced with a situation of unwanted behavior to ask “What does it mean?” not “What do I do?”

Dr. Hollman’s five steps toward gaining “parental intelligence” are:

  1. Stepping back. Try not to react in the moment. This may prove difficult if, say, your two year old is wailing in the checkout line that he wants a pack of gum. The idea is that we shouldn’t yell and snatch it away. Rather, take a deep breath and look at your little one without becoming emotional. Why is he acting this way? This step allows us to get into a mindset of seeking understanding. But it does require “tolerating frustration–a skill we are also hoping to teach our children.”
  2. Self-reflecting. Dr. Hollman says we need to look at how our own past and emotions may be affecting how we respond to our children. If I can realize that I am feeling embarrassed that my son is throwing a tantrum, that might change what I do in response. Our own emotions, past experiences, and relationships with our own parents may be complicating what is happening with our children. By self-reflecting, we can adjust our approach as needed.
  3. Understanding Your Child’s Mind. “Understanding your child’s mind is central to knowing your child,” says Dr. Hollman. I need to ask myself “What is he going through right now? Is he tired? Is he sick? Did he have different expectations that might be causing the breakdown?” This is the stage where instead of asking “What do I do?” I should ask “Why is he upset?” That takes some patience, yes. But it is a wonderful road to understanding the deeper layers.
  4. Understanding Your Child’s Development. It’s important to understand that children go through different stages at different ages. Dr. Hollman says it’s important to ask two questions: What is expected at my child’s stage of development? and How far apart is my child’s chronological age from my child’s developmental age? So, this is where we can break out the books on child development and see what we should be expecting. Temper-tantruming 2-year-old? Yep, right on target. If my 9 year old is doing this, on the other hand, we may need to have a conversation about what happened earlier that day.
  5. Problem solving. Once we’ve stepped back and tried to understand the bigger picture about what is going on with ourselves and what our child is experiencing, we can begin to work toward a solution.

After introducing her five steps, Dr. Hollman discusses examples of 8 different parent/child dynamics and how the parents were able to work through difficult issues by seeking understanding and problem solving together. The approach is a refreshing reminder that as a family, we are an interactive system, constantly affecting and being affected by each other. As Dr. Hollman put it, “Parental Intelligence is a relationship-based approach to rearing children as opposed to solving problems by punishment. Parents don’t lose their say about their children’s behaviors, but rather they understand the reasons behind the behavior, its context, and workable approaches that help their children and themselves to change the behavior or their view of the behavior.”

I appreciated using this new approach as I’ve interacted with my own children in the past few weeks. When my son got upset about my insisting that he wear his helmet when riding his bike, I tried harder to step back and ask what he might be experiencing at this pre-teen age and all it’s peer pressure to be cool and live dangerously. (That doesn’t mean he gets to ride without a helmet. We still have to problem solve this one!) When my 7-year-old got upset about her big sister leaving her out during a playdate with friends, I tried harder to look at what her emotional experience must be and invited her to be my special shopping helper at the store. Or when my 9 year old cried about cello not being fun anymore, I tried hard not to lecture, but rather search with her about what might be causing the extra frustration (we discovered that her new teacher simply hasn’t realized how much Ellie loves learning new pieces even when she hasn’t mastered the technique of older pieces).

Overall, I think this is a wonderful parenting book with an important reminder that our children need us to seek understanding about who they are and what they need as they grow and experience all the newness of each stage. They need patience and love and trust and a guiding hand as they figure out how to be their best selves.

Here’s to Mother Eve

I was on a walk today at a park, pushing my son in his stroller and listening to a podcast that mentioned something about Eve. I don’t remember what was said specifically, but my thoughts started to wander as I thought more about Eve and the example she set for the rest of us mothers.

Eve had it pretty good, in the beginning. She was in a beautiful garden. She didn’t need to worry about cooking or folding laundry or shopping or making sure her children did their homework on time. She didn’t need to vacuum or clean toilets or break up sibling squabbles or pay the mortgage. She just had her husband and a lovely place to dwell. Paradise, you might say.

So what was the problem? We don’t know how long it took, but at some point Eve looked at the fruit she had been forbidden to eat, and she thought, “What if there is more to life than this?” She somehow came to the conclusion that it would actually be better to know good from evil, to feel sorrow so she could truly know joy. So she transgressed the law, meaning she crossed over the limits God had set. She did it because she knew that happiness was more than endless, frictionless sunny days.

I like frictionless, sunny days. But I like them especially after a storm. I feel so happy when my children are playing nicely together, because I have seen them fight. I love having a clean house, because I have seen it torn apart. I relish a delicious dinner, because I shopped and chopped and cooked and got it on the table for my family to enjoy. And I feel gratitude when I hug my healthy kids, because I have cared for them when they’ve been sick.

Here’s to Mother Eve who understood. She knew that there was more to life than a beautiful garden. She knew that hard times and work and children would bring frustration and sacrifice, but that they would also be the means to indescribable joy.

Here’s to the mothers out there, including the incredible women in my life. Thank you for your sacrifice. Thank you for your love and your work and your patience. Thank you for seeing the bigger picture and for helping us all grow. Thank you for everything you do to make the world (with all its thorns and thistles) a better place.

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.

How to use technology and stay happily married

Even the technology that promises to unite us, divides us. Each of us is now electronically connected to the globe, and yet we feel utterly alone.

― Dan Brown, Angels & Demons

There is no getting around it—we live in a technological age. Everywhere we look we see some kind of screen: on the wall, on the dresser, on the desk, on the table, at our work, in our homes, in our hands. Many incredible advances and opportunities come with this age. More information is at our fingertips than ever before. Connecting with our loved ones—even when they are on the other side of the world—has never been easier. We can capture our own experiences and share them in seconds with the people who matter most to us. At the same time, we have to be careful. Being more “connected” than ever has its drawbacks. Suddenly, as we fiddle with our phones and surf the waves of social media, we are more disconnected than ever to the people we love the most—maybe even the person sitting right next to us. Thus, with great technology comes great responsibility. So how do we use technology to strengthen our marriage while avoiding the drawbacks that can cause so much damage? 

The Good

My husband, Scott, works a lot. Not as much as he used to as a lawyer, but still. He leaves the house most days before 8 a.m. and doesn’t get home until just before 7. Then, because of church responsibilities, he is away two or three evenings a week and most of the day on Sunday serving our neighborhood. He is engaged in wonderful things, and I am happy to support him. What makes it easier is our ability to connect through technology, even though we are apart. Cell phones and email are awesome tools–and we use them to our advantage. We generally try to talk for a few minutes at some point during the day simply to share how the day is going. During our conversations, I might share with him something I did with the kids, or about a writing project I’m working on, or a funny thing that happened while I was volunteering at the school. Sometimes we send pictures to each other that capture something interesting or beautiful we saw or we’ll send a video clip sure to crack the other up. Or, I might text him to say, “Hey honey, I hope you are having a great day. Thanks for all you do.” I know it doesn’t sound like much, but he says that means a lot to him. That little gesture shows that I am thinking about him. I know I feel the same when he sends me a little digital love note.

It doesn’t take long to make the connection. Use technology to connect with your spouse during the day and to share your love. Whether through a phone call, an email, a text, sending a photo, leaving a voice message, or having a FaceTime chat when you are apart, take the opportunity to love your spouse digitally. Watching a television show or playing video games together can also boost the loving feelings in your relationship, provided you are both excited about the prospect. Researchers at Brigham Young University recently surveyed married couples and found that when both people were excited about playing, 76 percent said that gaming has a positive effect on their marital relationship. The number of hours of play time didn’t necessarily make a difference. The important factor to consider is “whether or not it creates conflict and quarreling over the game,” Recreation Management Professor Neil Lundberg of the study. For Scott and me, watching an episode of Frasier, Friends, or Modern Family at the end of the day is a fun way for us to relax and laugh together. Do what works for you.

There are plenty of ways to use your digital savvy to bless your relationship. If you find a way to use technology to make your spouse smile, to feel closer, or to simply help your spouse know that he or she is on your mind, then go for it. The trouble comes when you use that same technology to connect with the oh-so-many others who are available and waiting for your attention.

The Bad

Using technology to connect with our spouse in positive ways can strengthen marriage. However, connecting with our Facebook friends or posting pictures on Instagram needs moderation if we’re going to keep our number one feeling like number one. This modern-era addiction is becoming increasingly difficult to drop. In fact, according to a recent study reported by The New York Times, women now spend 12 hours more per week on their smartphones than with their partner! (http://nytlive.nytimes.com/womenintheworld/2016/10/14/women-spend-more-time-on-their-smartphones-than-with-their-partners-research-shows/). Sure, social media sites are a fun way to share and connect. The trick is to make sure we aren’t doing it so much that we are sacrificing time with our most important person. As marriage therapist Dr. Kent Griffiths put it, “Young couples, in particular, have so little time with one another with the demands of children, career, and maintaining home and lifestyle. To spend scarce free time on social media removes precious opportunity when they could otherwise be connecting. Social media is our way of joining with the world, but needs be managed in terms of its time and importance.”

Especially at night, screens are simply bad company. Dr. Alicia Clark, a Washington DC psychologist, reported to The Huffington Post that being on a screen at night surfing social media can be damaging to your relationship for many reasons. “Not only are you on your computer screen when your partner might be interested in relationship-enhancing conversation, physical intimacy, or a cuddle, you are likely tinkering with your natural sleep cues that could leave you sleep deprived,” she said. “As I’ve told clients, avoid social media (and screens) at least one hour before bed in order to help you get the best sleep possible and so you can engage with your partner instead. Keep the bedroom a screen-free zone” (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/7-ways-facebook-can-ruin-your-relationship_us_56706867e4b0e292150f80b6).

Don’t let your gadgets interfere with your ability to have a happy and fulfilling partnership with the person right there next to you. Here are a few questions to ask yourself: Am I spending more time posting on social media than I am spending with my spouse? Am I on my phone or computer at night or in bed when I otherwise might be meaningfully engaged with my partner? Has my partner expressed frustration with the amount of time I spend on social media sites? Am I more concerned about what is happening on Facebook than about what my spouse is doing right next to me? If the answer to any of these questions is “yes,” then it’s time to make a change.

The Ugly

Connecting through technology can move beyond being a simple distraction and become a serious threat to the happiness of your marriage. This is the dark side of technology, home to two of the worst culprits of emotional infidelity: social media sites and pornography. 

As of January 2014, 74 percent of adults had a Facebook account (http://www.pewinternet.org/fact-sheets/social-networking-fact-sheet/). According to Amanda Lenhart, a senior researcher with Pew Internet and American Life Project at Pew Research Center, while 89 percent of adults said they used their online profiles to “stay in touch with friends,” 20 percent said they used it “to flirt.” If you think that seems innocent enough, consider that one-third of divorce cases cited social-media as part of the problem (http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2015/jan/21/facebook-cited-in-a-third-of-all-divorce-cases-its/).

Flirting of any kind, old flame or new friend, can be potentially harmful to your marriage. What starts innocently enough can all too easily become something it was never meant to be. According to Psychologist John Grohol, the CEO and founder of Psych Central, “Readily available communication on Facebook leads people to pursue temptation or engage in risky behaviors. Facebook makes it easy to engage in less inhibited communication — which can lead to taking risks we wouldn’t ordinarily take in our everyday life.” (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/7-ways-facebook-can-ruin-your-relationship_us_56706867e4b0e292150f80b6).

One couple, marriage educators K. Jason and Kelli Krafsky, authors of The Social Media Couple, gained personal experience when Kelli started catching up via Facebook with her first love. She was having a rush of happy memories and emotions, while her husband started feeling pangs of anxiety and jealousy. The couple started talking about what was happening and reversed course before any more damage was done. “We came to the conclusion that having Facebook friendships with exes wasn’t good for our marriage,” says Jason.

Keep in mind that you can be emotionally unfaithful to your spouse just as much as you can be physically unfaithful. Even becoming emotionally involved with someone of the opposite sex puts a hurtful wedge between you and your spouse. Talk to your spouse about what you are both comfortable with and consider ruling out connecting with old flames.

Beyond connecting on social media, the Internet also provides access to the other ugly technological weapon that is destroying marriages by the minute: pornography. Husbands and wives alike can be drastically hurt by the effects of pornography. One 2004 study found that its use is so rampant that 56 percent of divorce cases involved one party being obsessed with pornographic websites (Manning J., Senate Testimony 2004, referencing: Dedmon, J., “Is the Internet bad for your marriage? Online affairs, pornographic sites playing greater role in divorces,” 2002, press release from The Dilenschneider Group, Inc.). In another study, the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, polled 350 divorce attorneys in 2003 and found that two-thirds of them reported that the Internet played a significant role in the divorces, with interest in online pornography contributing to more than half of the cases.

According to Dr. Peter Kleponis, a licensed cinical therapist in Conshohocken, PA, the use of pornography is a violation of marital trust to love and honor each other. He explains, “Viewing pornography is akin to breaking these vows because they are in no way a sign of a man’s love, honor and respect for his wife. For these women, the men they married all of a sudden seem like strangers. Many feel like a fool for ever having trusted their husbands. For some women, the violation of trust is so deep that they question if they can go on with their marriage. . . . Pornography invading the home can also lead a wife to feel old, unattractive and sexually undesirable.”

To avoid the kind of serious damage that can come along with pornography, the simplest, safest plan of action is to avoid it all together. Consider using Internet filtering methods to limit the kinds of images that can come into your home and keep an open dialogue with each other about how you will safeguard your marriage.

What to Do

Absolutely use technology in your marriage! But use it to connect when you are apart, to share moments from your day, and even to enjoy a good show or video game together. In other words, use technology to enrich and strengthen your relationship.

But be aware of how you are using technology, and consider whether you are distracted by it. Are you spending more time connecting with others through your gadgets than with the person sitting right next to you? Remind yourself how important this person is to you, and be sure to invest in that relationship first and foremost.

For the health of your marriage, avoid using technology in any way that will damage the trust between you or cause feelings of jealousy, irritation, lack of respect, or unfaithfulness. Have an open discussion about who you will connect with online and agree on reasonable amounts of screen time. Above all, remember that the person you love is right there waiting for, and needing, your attention. Don’t let the little screen take anything away from you.

Easy action steps:

  • Think about how you use technology in positive ways to connect with your spouse. How do you regularly reach out with phone calls, emails, and texts when you are apart? The next time your spouse has been away for more than an hour, send a photo or a message that communicates your love.
  • Think about how much you use technology in the evening when your spouse is home. Are you spending more time on your phone than you are interacting with your partner? Tonight, make a goal to have your bedroom be technology-free.
  • Consider whether you have ever used a social media site to flirt with an old flame or used the Internet to view something that would make your spouse uncomfortable. Make a date to talk to your spouse about rules for using the Internet and commit to only doing what will benefit your marriage.

How my husband surprised me with Hamilton

I just had the most amazing weekend with Scott. For our birthdays he planned a trip to New York City with 15 surprises (including all sorts of amazing restaurants, activities, people, and even a new set of carry-on luggage because ours was always too big to fit in the overhead bins). I knew this guy was good, but this trip was beyond my wildest imagination. It will never be beat, I’m pretty sure.

Let me preface everything by saying I am obsessed with the Broadway hit Hamilton (as is much of America, evidenced by the fact that the show is sold out for about a decade, or something close to that). My kids and I know all the songs and listen to the music repeatedly. I now have a hard time listening to anything that doesn’t have an amazing, dramatic storyline that will keep me engaged, laughing, crying and basically spellbound throughout the duration of my listening session. When I found out we were going to New York, my first thoughts went to Hamilton, but I had no idea how he would get us in. And he would not spill the beans, no matter how hard I tried. He wouldn’t even say if he was trying (though he did ask permission to possibly spend a ridiculous amount of money on something we would never forget, IF he could make it work. I, of course, said yes. But then a few hours later he said he wasn’t sure if HE could. That of course made me bonkers, because I thought, “Well then why did you even ask??”). More on that later.

We got to the city via Uber and met up with cousins Megan and Preston, who live in upper Manhattan. We caught up over dinner at a yummy Indian restaurant Thursday night and slept on a blow-up mattress in the middle of their darling little apartment. On Friday our first stop was at a quaint bakery that created the now-famous “Cronut,” which is basically a croissant donut with banana cream. Super yummy–though I don’t know that I’d stand in line for 2 hours for one. I don’t think any food is worth that sacrifice.  We next img_1561walked in the rain to the 9/11 Museum, which I’ve wanted to see. It was sad but powerful walking through and reliving the events of that awful day and seeing some of the artifacts left behind, like twisted steel and a ruined fire truck. There was a beautiful wall of 3,000 blue watercolor squares and a quote from Virgil about time not erasing you from our memory and a room full of photographs of the people who were lost. Outside we visited the large square waterfall memorial. Beautiful. Touching. Amazing.

Next we went to lunch at a restaurant called Max Brenner, which specializes in chocolate and has a menu that says on the cover “Chocolate is Good for You.” Ha! I liked this place instantly. I shared a bit of Scott’s chicken salad but wanted to save room for my chocolate cake with vanilla ice cream and shot of cold chocolate. Yum!!! Keep in mind, at this point there himg_1566as been no mention of the musical I am dying to see, in New York. And we’re IN New York, 2200 miles from home. But I wait . . .

After lunch we went to 30 Rockefeller Center and saw the view of the city from the top of the building. They actually warned us that their was no visibility but we had no time to come back so we pressed our luck and ascended in a musical, colorfully lit elevator ride to the top. When we stepped out we saw the clouds clearing away for us to see beautiful views in all directions. It was perfect! We saw the leaves changing colors in Central Park, the Empire State Building, the Statue of Liberty and thoimg_1576usands of other buildings (with, apparently, more than 30 million windows in sight). I loved it.

Afterwards we went downstairs to a tour of NBC Studios, where we got to see the sets for Saturday Night Live, the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, and the Seth Meyers Show. So cool.

Next we went to dinner at a darling restaurant called Bea with brick walls covered in theater photographs and a lighted tree growing inside. We shared a delicious pear salad, shredded pork appetizer, and a pizza. So good! Great company. Scott then relayed the secret of our next adventure. We were going to see… the Broadway hit…. Something Rotten! My heart about stopped with anticipation, but I had heard great things about this show, so I was immediately excited. The show is about a writer in the Renaissance who is trying to beat out Shakespeare and learns that in the future musicals are the next big thing, so he sees a fortune teller who mentions something about Shakespeare’s next big hit, “Omelet could it be?” and tries to beat Shakespeare to it. The best part was the portrayal of Shakespeare as a David Bowie-like, black leather clad, self-absorbed pop star. He had us cracking up the whole time.

Then we went back to sleep at Megan and Preston’s where I tried not to think about the impossible–actually getting tickets to Hamilton. I wasn’t sure if Scott could make it happen. And he, of course, wasn’t saying a word.

First thing Saturday morning, we went to a little French bakery. It was so cool because we had just been walking along this beautiful tree-lined street that reminded me of Paris. Then we sat down in this cafe for another Cronut (and hot chocolate. I was on vacation, ok?) and the couple at the table next to us was speaking French! Were we in Paris? Wormhole? Too funny. We sat and talked about how inflation works and our feelings about the coming election as it drizzled outside. “Bubble effect” we call it.

We finally left the restaurant and headed for the Museum of Natural History, where we saw the outside but didn’t have time to go in because of our long and lovely conversation at the cafe. We were taking a stroll through a wet and beautiful Central Park when Scott got a phone call. He said something about “ok” and “Marriott Marquis.” After he hung up I said “who was that?” And Scott said “no one” and then said we needed to go to the Marriott for a minute. So we high tailed it out of the park and back into the city. When we got to the Marriott, he sat me down and said “I’ll be right back.” I was so curious!! When he came back 10 minutes later I couldn’t exactly read his face but something was going on in that head. Good or bad, I couldn’t tell, but he wouldn’t look at me. I asked if everything was OK and he said “it will work out.” Ah!! I was dying to know if he had been able to get tickets!

Next stop was a little Italian restaurant called Cielo in the theater district. I went to the restroom and then joined Scott at this adorable table up in a little nook by a window. I said “so when do I get to know about the next surprise??” He said “as soon as you find it!” I looked around and saw nothing and he said “look under your seat.” I lifted the cushion on the bench and there, sitting on the dark wood, were. . . get ready. . .  two tickets to Hamilton!! I couldn’t believe it! I jumped up and down and hugged Scott and said I was so excited! This was the impossible, and Scott had achieved it! I asked himg_1595ow he did it and he told me about the process. He had read about ten ways to get tickets. He tried one through eight with no luck. The ninth option was to wait until the hype died down–which would not work for a scheduled birthday trip that we were already ON. Last option: pay a line sitter. He ended up figuring out the best group to do that (Same Old Line Dudes) and paying for two guys (it had to be two because of the particular rules of Broadway line sitting) to stay out all night in sleeping bags. Good at their job, they were the first two in line when the theater released the small batch of daily available tickets (which sometimes don’t get released at all depending on whether the actors have special guests attending). It had worked and we had our tickets! Unreal. I was so full of emotion and excitement I felt like I was going to pop right out of my skin. I held it together enough to avoid making a scene, but just barely.

The show started at 2:00 so we made our way down the street to get in line at the theater. Where Hamilton was playing!!!! What a dream.
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We sat down in our amazing seats (we had to buy premium seats–or enough tickets for our line sitters to attend, which would have been just a few dollars less expensive. Again, line sitter rules! Whatever–it worked.). Our seats were close enough to see all the incredible emotion and expression on the actors’ faces. Wow. I mean, I already loved the music, but to hear the music AND see the actors and the expression and movement and dancing and lighting–it was even more brilliant and amazing and wonderful than I could have imagined. I loved every single minute of it (and those were some expensive minutes–but worth it). By the end I was so emotional from the beautiful story and performance and the fact that I was even there that I started to cry right there in my seat. The theater staff finally had to kick us out so they could prepare for the next show. Outside I just stood there and let tears drip on to Scott’s jacket. It was an experience I will never forget and that will surely never be replicated. I am so grateful to Scott for the incredible effort and thought and time he put into giving me this gift.

We ended the trip with a wonderful reunion dinner with Josh, Mike and Lex and their family, who had taken a bus down from Boston. We ate pizza and then walked out by the water and looked over the Manhatten skyline. Then kids got ice cream and I got yet another hot chocolate (I’d be concerned by now but we calculated that we walked something like 35,000 steps in the last two days so I figured “Why not?” Still on vacation).
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We said our goodbyes and went back to end the evening at Megan and Preston’s place. As I write, I’m sitting on an airplane headed for home, with Scott asleep beside me. I don’t know if I’m quite ready to wake up from this dream but I guess real life needed to come back at some point. It always does. Thankfully, I have a pretty darn good life back at home. And a pretty darn good man going there with me–dream giver, Scott Poelman.

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.