Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Europe Trip Part 2 - Overall Reflections

June 16th

We're on our way back to London for our last day there before getting on the plane home tomorrow and I want to capture some of what we've seen and done and felt before it fades.

This has been an amazing trip - amazingly beautiful, busy, interesting, exciting, and fun and also amazingly stressful, tiring, and difficult.

We have seen and done SO much and have been blessed with great weather and so many things working out just as planned or better than planned. There's always some hard stuff on trips - it's almost certain that you'll experience a flight delay or other travel plans not quite working out as planned, not being able to find food when people are hungry, bad weather, not being able to make it work to visit a place you really hoped to see, disagreements about what to do when, or other stuff like that. On this trip, it seems like rather than frustrating things strewn in along the way, we got the vast majority of our bad stuff all in one dose when Eliza broke both her arms falling out of a tree.

Things were so painful and stressful for Eliza and for me and Jared as we worked to figure out what treatment would be right for Eliza while trying to figure out what to do about our travel plans that would need to be adjusted (SO many issues to work out and a lot of unanticipated expenses involved in Eliza's time in the hospital and in changing our travel plans in a way that would work for everyone and allow for flexibility based on what Eliza was up for).

In the moment, it seemed impossibly stressful - seeing our sweet girl's arms bent in ways that definitely didn't look right and trying to keep calm so she could stay calm, trying to figure out where to take her to be looked at, working with doctors and nurses using unfamiliar terms and suggesting treatment we didn't really understand, staying overnight in a hospital room with 3 other parents and their little children who were waiting for surgery the next morning (apparently in England, you pretty much always need to stay in the hospital if you need surgery the next morning - interesting. There was a lot of crying in the night from these little kids who were in pain and could't really understand what was happening), sending Eliza off to surgery feeling pretty sure things would be totally fine but surgery is just scary, working with Jared to figure out lots of scenarios for how we could make the rest of the trip work given that we'd missed our train to Paris (so much work trying to figure out plane and train options with super slow internet connections...), helping Eliza do everything you usually need arms and hands to do and trying to keep her spirits up and look for the bright side of everything and make things as decent as possible for her.

I held it together. Mostly. But it was hard not to let a few tears slip out here and there - so hard to see Eliza in pain and try to make things as good as possible for her while worrying about the other kids and Jared and wondering how I could salvage the rest of this trip that I'd worked so very hard to plan so very perfectly and how much money all this was going to cost us.

But, as always, things worked out fine. We're so very glad that Eliza wasn't hurt more seriously and that the accident happened while we were staying with some wonderful friends who let the boys and Jared stay an extra night and took such good care of us during this stressful time. We're so grateful that Eliza was very well cared for by wonderful doctors and nurses and we have ever reason to believe she'll heal up perfectly. She's been able to see and do a ton and has had amazing stamina and toughness through all this (lots of things are pretty frustrating when you have two casts on your arms and she was sad to miss out on swimming but she still got to paraglide!). In the end, Eliza's accident caused us to miss out on a day at beautiful Audley End where Eliza broke her arm before we'd had a chance to see much, a train ride through the chunnel to Paris, and an evening and a full day that we'd planned to have in Paris - but the kids didn't really care about Audley End, we got to take the train through the chunnel on the way back from Paris to London, and we were able to do everything we really cared about doing in one day in Paris and really had a perfect day there.

Then the rest of the trip has gone amazingly well. Every day it was forecast to rain but the rain just hasn't come and we've been able to do everything we dearly hoped to do. Yes, there have still been hard things - times when things take longer than planned and we have to recalibrate our schedule or inconvenience people who are waiting for us, times when people are grumpy/tired/hungry/ complainy, times when it's been too hot or too cold, times when we decided to do something that just didn't work out to be as great as we'd envisioned. But those hard things are somehow easier to deal with in comparison with the big fat hard thing of Eliza's injury.

I was worried that two and a half weeks wouldn't be enough - there are just so many wonderful places to visit. But now I see that two and a half weeks is plenty of time to see a ton of stuff, get a real sense for a few different countries, have lots of fun times and a lot of bonding experiences and stressful experiences (sometimes bonding and stressful at the same time - sometimes just plain stressful). I think that a trip any longer would simply need to include more time to just soak in the places we visit, not visit more places. I feel like we maxed out the amount of activities and travel and learning and experiencing that we could take in in a 17 day period. And we'll be ready to go home tomorrow.

For the most part, this trip has been really wonderful - all that I dreamed of and more when I thought of how wonderful it would be to take my kids to see so many places I hold dear and experience the places their ancestors came from (England and Switzerland) and the places that are part of the fabric of our society - so many movies and sayings and pictures of London and Paris and the Alps and adorable little fairy tale villages are part of our every-day life and it's so cool to have actually been there in person. I loved seeing the kids' excitement about seeing so many iconic places. It was just so awesome to come around the corner together and boom - there's Big Ben or Tower Bridge or the Eiffel Tower or the Alps!

It's a wonderful thing to visit historic and beautiful places as a tourist but if you can also spend time with people who actually live in the countries you visit, you learn about the culture and you feel like you actually know a country a bit beyond simply seeing and appreciating its landmarks.

I also really hoped that the kids - and Jared - would get a chance to get a sense of what life is like in England as that's a big part of who I am and who Charity and Ian and Moses are right now. Plus I hoped we could all get a sense of what life is like when you live in Switzerland since that will help us understand and appreciate Tal and Anita and Annina more and because it's just cool to understand a bit of what it's like to live somewhere else.

I think everyone did get that - staying right in the homes of friends and family members or in Airbnb apartments in typical neighborhoods/buildings where regular people live, shopping for groceries in each country, and going to church (all three meetings) in England and in Switzerland really helped. Plus our time in the hospital gave us a unique view into an aspect of British life that most visitors don't get to see! We were very impressed with the care Eliza received and learned a lot about how the British National Healthcare system works (very nicely, for the most part). And Eliza and I got to make friends with our hospital roommates - a little boy with a terribly infected baby tooth that needed to be surgically removed (and his mom), a little boy who needed his tonsils out (and his dad), a little girl who got a crayon stuffed so far up her nose that she needed surgery to get it out (and the little girl's mom and grandma). So interesting to get little glimpses into different people's lives and see the loving care of good parents.

I think the kids all absorbed and appreciated a lot plus had a lot of fun. It's sometimes hard to tell - especially with non-communicative teenagers who are slow to express themselves when it comes to thanks and often quick to express themselves when it comes to complaining. There were moments when I felt like Jared and I were "dragging pianos" around (as Saydi describes traveling with her kids and trying to make things really wonderful and exciting and perfect when kids seem intent on finding fault with so many things). But there were so many amazing moments that I hope will become part of our family story and our family culture.

In my next couple posts, I'll share some of my favorite moments from each country we visited. And if you want to see photos of the trip, I documented things pretty well on Instagram. Click here to see photos of the trip.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Europe Trip Part 1 - Headed to London

May 30 - On our first flight - SLC to Dallas

We're on our way to London. It has been a long process over the past couple weeks (in the midst of end-of-school hoopla and some big Power of Moms projects) to plan our our itinerary and find decent deals on rental cars and train tickets and Airbnb places to stay (I get pretty caught up in finding just the right places to visit and stay - it's sort of like a treasure hunt for me and I'm afraid I get sucked in and spend way to long trying to find the most perfect thing). Then this past week, it has been a lot of work getting Power of Moms stuff tied up, laundry done, good walking shoes, hoodies and raincoats found or bought for everyone, travel-size toiletries bought, and everyone packed with all the right things (we hope we got all the right things - you never know about weather!). Then checking in at the airport involved a few more hoops since it turns out that Eliza's name was somehow spelled "Eliva" on her plane ticket - but it all worked out OK. Getting through security is always sort of a circus - getting everyone's shoes and toiletries and computers and phones and wallets and various carry on bags on that conveyer belt and gathering everything up and putting shoes back on afterwards.

But now here we are, on a plane to Dallas followed by a plane to London, and everyone is pleased as punch about it. So far we've only realized we left one thing behind - the neck pillows we will be wishing for on our overnight flight. But we'll survive just fine! Fingers crossed we can all get some sleep on the plane so that that first day (we get in at 9am) won't be too terrible as we try to stay up all day long. Jet lag is just hard no matter what you do but if we can stay up that first day, we should be in pretty good shape.

I am so incredibly excited to share some of my very favorite places in the world with some of my very favorite people - all the sites of London, the little town south of London where I lived when I was 6, 7 and 8 and again when I was 16, favorite castles, beautiful countryside, Paris, Switzerland, Germany.

My heart is so full of gratitude that we get to do this, that while so many things have been really hard over this past year and continue to be hard, this amazing deal on airfare popped up a couple months back ($500 round trip from SLC to London!) and gave us a chance to get away on this family trip that we need on so many levels.

Sometimes I get all "woe is me" when things I've worked so hard for and prayed so earnestly for just don't seem to come to fruition. But then I realize that where a door doesn't open, God helps open a window. I could make a long list of things that are really really tough in my life right now - but when I look at things with the right perspective, I can make an even longer list of the things that are wonderful. It's easier to notice the things we hoped for that didn't happen than it is to notice the great things that happen that we didn't even think to hope for or that we hoped for or imagined in a different way. But I've made a real point lately of looking for all those "serendipity" things that happen and celebrating them while learning to better accept that many of the things I want and work for may not be right or may not happen the way I'd hope or expect.

May 31 - on our second flight - almost to London

We all slept a fair amount on this packed plane - not an easy task! The young girl behind me kept knocking and seemingly kicking my seat to the point that I had to wonder if she had any idea that her actions could be affecting anyone else. I finally raised myself up in my seat and turned around and asked her to please try to keep from hitting into my seat. She seemed totally surprised that she was affecting anyone and apologized. Glad I mentioned something or that probably would have gone on all night! We are seated near the bathrooms and these two men decided to talk and laugh very loudly for quite some time right nearby - while a whole plane-ful of people tried to sleep. Sometimes people's lack of awareness is pretty confusing. But we all took melatonin and it brought on such pleasant sleepiness and while I kept waking up (like a night of camping), I could generally get back to sleep pretty quickly.

We are over Ireland right now. I loved watching the cloud-dotted Atlantic below give way to the green patchwork quilt of Ireland. We'll touch down in about a half an hour. Oh, how I love England! It's been great hearing all the British accents of the announcements and flight attendants on this British Airways flight - little things like "cheers mate" and "would you like some tea?" make me smile and make me feel like I'm home. England has such a "home" feeling to me - maybe because most of my earliest memories are there.

I like looking down this row of sleepy almost full-grown people eating the rather odd cream cheese filled pretzels they just handed us and feeling so glad they are mine and that we get to go on this trip together. I always dreamed of taking my family to my mission in Bulgaria and Jared's in Italy and we were so blessed to be able to do that 2 years ago and now I get to fulfill this dream I've had for so long of sharing England with my family.

Fingers crossed that the apartment I booked for tonight turns out to be just right (wow, is London ever expensive for accommodations! but i was so excited to finally find a flat that would fit us all and sort of fit our budget). Can't wait to meet up with Charity and Moses and hug that wonderful sister of mine and snuggle that adorable little Mo and have them take us on a walking tour of some of the most iconic spots in London. We'll be tired today and I'm sure things will feel pretty dream-like. But if we can stay awake all day, we should be able to get over jet lag pretty quickly.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Motherhood over this past year

Sunday - Mother's Day - was quite a lovely day - the kids wrote me nice notes, Jared got me lovely flowers and made a delicious breakfast, during church, all the women were relieved of any duties they usually have during third hour by the men and the youth who took over all the primary classes and nursery for the day and enjoyed tasty treats and the chance to just chat and relax together. Then after church, we took our traditional Mother's Day photos (it was so much faster and less painful than in years gone by!). We went to Park City to have a great lunch with my mom and dad. Everyone went around the table sharing their favorite things about me and about my mom and it was great to learn what the kids notice and appreciate. We got on Facetime with a few of my siblings plus my mom showed us old photos and read us some funny and interesting stories and memories written by my great aunt Wanda who wrote all about the life she shared with her sister, my grandmother and my mom's mom. I love how my mom is always making doing all she can to help us stay connected to our forefathers and foremothers.  I love thinking of the sacrifices and joys and work and learning of the mothers who went before me and wondering what kind of legacy I'm leaving for my own children. What will they remember most about me? Anyway, it was such a perfect thing to do on Mother's Day afternoon.

How I love each of these amazing people who call me mom!

Ashton, age 17

Isaac, age 15

Eliza, age 14

Oliver, age 12

Silas, age 12

And how I love this amazing woman who I get to call mom! I realize more and more every day how incredible she is as I try to follow in her footsteps.

When we got home, I wrote about my motherhood journey over this past year - what I have experienced and learned, that sort of thing. I try to do that every Mother's Day. I won't share all of what I wrote as some is too personal and specific to share. But here are some of my thoughts:

Wow motherhood is some amazingly hard and amazingly beautiful stuff. I think this year as a mother has been by far my hardest. Motherhood felt pretty crazy-hard when I had five preschoolers and everyone was always needing something at the same time and my days (and sometimes nights) were full of simultaneous mutually exclusive needs from so many little people. Plus I was always juggling community involvement and church callings and making healthy made-from-scratch meals and keeping the house pretty darn clean and trying to teach my kids about each of those things while doing them. There were lots of days that were ridiculously full and stressful compounded by the regular needs and constant interruptions (some adorable, some horrible, lots in-between) of five sweet little children who needed diaper changes and stories and intervention as they got into squabbles and help picking up toys and ideas of fun things and who also needed to ask me LOTS of things and tell me LOTS of things almost constantly. (I came across this old blog post that captured one particularly crazy day.)

But in the midst of the busyness there was so much sweetness - they said and did so many cute and funny things, they gave me lots of hugs and kisses, they frequently told me I was the best mom in the world, they thought I knew everything. There were plenty of frustrating and stressful moments and quite a few worries about certain behaviors (a bout of lying, a lot of bickering going on at times, a lack of obedience, etc.) or certain physical and mental things (Should we worry that Isaac isn’t walking or talking as quickly as Ashton did? Is Eliza ever going to get any hair? Do the twins need speech therapy? Should we get surgery to repair their too-short achilles tendons that make them walk on tip-toe which is affecting their foot development or should we go with serial casting? Do we get stitches or just super glue this small gash together? Should we take him in for an x-ray on that hurt arm?...). There sure seemed to be plenty to worry about.

These days, I get some nice quiet time while the kids are at school - something I dreamed of for many years. I can plan out the errands I need to do and the work that I’d like to accomplish and can realistically get those things done in an orderly and productive way while the kids are at school. I sit at my computer most of the day working on Power of Moms stuff and connecting with moms around the world. I often feel lonely and things feel a little too quiet but I still feel happy every day that I can actually get things done in an un-interrupted way after all those years of constant interruptions! And going to the grocery store without kids still feels so nice - especially when I see those valiant moms managing 2 or 3 kids at the store.

From 3pm to 10pm (and often later), my weekdays are crazy-busy with driving places and picking up and making dinner and checking homework and talking kids through various things. After school, there are still times when the simultaneous mutually exclusive needs go on like they did with the kids were small - someone needs help with homework while someone wants to tell me something cool while someone is asking if they can have a snack while someone is asking for a ride. In the midst of all this busyness, I still get some hugs and “you’re the best mom in the world” from the twins but more often, the kid-initiated interactions I have involve requests (sometimes sounding suspiciously like demands), complaints about what we’re having for dinner or about what they aren’t allowed to do with something with the occasional “let me show you something cool” (usually at the most busy moment) thrown in there.

There's still a lot of sweetness as I get to see the kids work hard and achieve in school and in sports and as I see their great personalities emerge more and more. I love how I can now talk to them more as a friend and coach and less as a manager and director. Sometimes motherhood is just so fun these days - we can all play real games together and go on serious hikes together and explore beautiful places together and they show me cool videos and great new music and tell me about interesting and funny things that happen out in their world. And it's heavenly when someone tells me something good that they've observed in my kids - that they are always willing to help, that they are so good with little kids, that they are funny and kind and smart and hard-working. Stuff like that is such music to my ears!

It's so nice that they are able to do so many things on their own now - but it's so frustrating when they don't do the things I know they can do and know they should do - like clean up after themselves or simply close doors and cupboards or not leave clothes and towels on the floor (I can't figure out why that split-second act of closing something or hanging up a towel is so very hard!).

There are a lot less worries about safety and health and managing the needs of so many little people and a lot more worry about character and interests and achievements and decisions. While mothering little kids was physically exhausting, I’m finding that mothering teens is mentally and emotionally challenging in huge ways.

In physical ways (getting dressed, eating, etc.) my kids need me so much less while in emotional and mental ways, they need me a whole lot more - but they don't want to admit they need me very often so it's pretty hard to help in the right ways at the right times.

The teaching moments are fewer and the stakes are higher. The kids aren’t with me that much these days between school and sports and work and friends so it’s hard to find the time to enjoy time together and strengthen bonds and talk through how to handle issues that come up in their lives. And when they are around, sometimes they are so surly! I never know whether they'll walk through the door happy and excited to tell me something cool or whether they’ll walk in and I’ll ask the how things are and they’ll just give me some grumpy one-word answers and act totally bugged by me and totally down on everything about their life.

When there are worries, knowing just how to address a sensitive topic with a somewhat surly teen is sometimes like walking through a minefield.

I love that the kids are all becoming quite self-reliant - but as they become more and more self-reliant and get more chances to be autonomous, they often want more freedom than they’re ready for (or than we’re ready for) and that can cause quite a bit of conflict. It’s so hard to know when to hand a choice over to a person whose brain and reasoning is not fully developed but who needs to learn how to make their own choices!

It’s so important but so hard to figure out which choices should belong to them and which choices we need to keep for a while longer. And it sucks having to be the bad guy and say no and feel that anger and hear those hurtful words. But then it’s beautiful when they choose good things and you realize a lot of what you’ve taught has sunken in and that they are becoming remarkable people in many ways. (I did a podcast episode recently about giving our kids choices - check it out here if you want.)

This past year has been a year of serious mothering angst and worry and fear - that's probably one of the biggest reasons I haven't blogged much - I've been too busy working through some stuff that's not really blog-able. The hard stuff has spurred a lot of self-reflection and learning and growth and humility for me - but also a lot of heartache. I've been stretched in ways that I've never been stretched before - and sometimes that stretching is so painful! 

I think this quote by C.S. Lewis reflects how I feel about my motherhood experience over this past year:

“Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of - throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.”

I don't think I'm becoming much of a palace. For much of this past year, I've felt like I'm not even a "decent little cottage." But I'm starting to see where my mothering has been strengthened and important foundations have been built so I can understand more and do better moving forward and really be the mom my children need. 

I have hopes that one day, if I keep trying and praying and learning and loving with all my heart, my mothering can be something of true beauty to myself and my children. It'll surely be beautiful in different ways that I might have envisioned going in. But it will be beautiful just the same. As my sister Saydi says, "It doesn't have to be perfect to be perfect."

Here are a few of the main things I've learned this year about mothering (there are probably a lot more but these are the first ones that come to mind):
  • No matter what I do, I cannot protect my children from all the things that can hurt them and keep them from making all choices that may cause problems for themselves and others. They have to learn some things the hard way. And taking away too many choices just feels wrong to them and to us as parents. I can advise and warn in simple and logical ways - repeatedly if that feels right. But in the end, control is not the answer. Loving acceptance and gentle persuasion and prayer are the answers.
  • My children need to recognize me as someone who will always fight for them, love them fiercely, and make sacrifices for them. But they also need to see me as someone who loves them too much to condone behaviors that have clearly led to problems for so many people and loves them too much to let them treat me or anyone else with disrespect. I will always love them unconditionally and open-heartedly. I will always accept them with open arms. But I will continually remind them that respect and love really need to go both ways and will stand up for my feelings and those of others around them.
  • Certain areas of the brain (cause and effect, empathy, etc) are not very developed for many people until they are into their twenties. Teenagers need a lot of patience and gentle nudges while those areas of their brain develop more fully.
  • Children are seedlings, not lumps of clay. I've always known that it's our job as mothers to work to figure out who our children really are and help nurture them to become the best apple tree or azalea bush they can be. They come who they are. We are here to water and fertilize and sometimes prune them. We are not here to mold them or try to make them into something they are not. This year, I've come to understand and accept this truth all the more.
  • The Lord cares about these children even more than I do. He's there to guide me and help them. I need to remember to turn to him and trust him more.
  • When the going gets tough, love harder. Expressing and truly feeling unconditional love is always a huge part of the answer.
As part of a Mother's Day note, one of my children told me that they felt like they could talk to me about anything, that I was really good at understanding, and that they knew I loved them no matter what. Hearing that was the best part of my Mother's Day. I guess I am living the principles I spelled out above enough that my children are feeling what I earnestly want them to feel.

Motherhood sure is a wild ride. And there have been times this year when I've wanted to get off the ride for a bit, give my heart a rest, re-center myself. But I've kept my heart and my mind and my soul in the game. I've thought hard. I've cried hard. I've loved hard. I've worked hard. I've been guided to the right words at the right time in amazing ways. I've been sent beautiful answers to prayers. And the hard stuff makes the beautiful stuff all the more glistening, There have been so very many good moments and memories this year.
I'm so deeply grateful that I get to mother the amazing children God sent to me.

Monday, May 08, 2017

Important food for thought on screen time

I listened to these two episodes of TED radio hour while on a long hike last week and they were full of some powerful food for thought - all the ramifications of the screen time that we and our kids are experiencing these days. Really made me think and wonder...

We walk around with these mini-computers in our pockets that give us miraculous connections to people that we love and information that we need. But it's so easy to get caught up in what is happening elsewhere and connections with people who aren't near us at the cost of being fully present and enjoying what is actually happening to us in real time and interacting in a non-distracted way with the people who are physically with us.

Most of us have two realities - the one we are living and the one we are sharing. What does that do to us? And to those who see what we post? No matter how "real" we may earnestly try to be on social media, it is natural for us to want to capture and share the great things in our lives. Plus, because of the shear magnitude of what we all experience internally and externally every day, we could never present the full picture of our lives on social media.

There's some interesting stuff on how passive screen time (watching TV) affects us and our children differently than active screen time (using an ap or playing a game where our actions affect what the screen shows us). There's some thought-provoking stuff about how virtual reality can change our thoughts and feelings beyond what film can do. There's stuff about how we're essentially all "cyborgs" these days - people who have enhanced abilities due to technological gadgets we attach to ourselves (our phones) that affect our abilities and actions (we can remember things in a super-human way when we record things with our phones using text or photos, we can find out information and shop and do so much more without even moving from our chairs...). 

No one knows how the screen time that is such an integral part of our lives will affect us long-term. We are all guinea pigs. Scientists are trying to figure it out but they have a long long way to go. They have done studies on mice who are exposed to tons of flashing screens and noisy TV shows and have found that those exposed to a certain number of hours of this every day loose their ability to retain information (i.e. groups of mice who were not exposed to all the TV were able to learn and remember how to get through a maze much more quickly than those who were exposed to all the screen time). I see my teenagers so glued to their phones, feeling they simply must see what is on Snapchat or reply to a text, during dinner or while I'm trying to talk to them about something. It's like I'm cutting off their arm or something when I tell them to hand over the phone so they can more fully be present - but it's important and I do make them put phones in their pockets or put them away. We have lots of talks about how we need to be with who we're with while we're with them - that the present person needs to be prioritized over the person or material in cyberspace. But it's hard. That little device is so tempting...

There's a lot more involved in these two episodes but I thought I'd put down a few of the things I remember off the top of my head.

Screen Time I: It's become pretty normal for us to always be glued to our screens. So how are they changing us, and how will they shape our future? This hour, TED speakers explore our ambivalent relationships with our screens. Screen Time II: When we go online, we present a digital version of ourselves. How do we transform when we interact inside our screens? In this episode, TED speakers explore the expanding role of our "second selves."

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Spring Break 2017

I've realized I'm never going to catch up on this blog and I'm likely not going to be blogging all that regularly - but I have been keeping a journal and I may as well share some of the less personal parts here as part of my family history.

Last year the kids' schools had spring break at different times so we couldn't really go anywhere together. This year the schools had the same spring break so we decided to grab the opportunity and go visit the Bay Area - the place where our family started, where all our kids were born, and where a part of our hearts will always be. We haven't been back there for like 4 years plus Jared now has 2 sisters living there and my sister Saydi is there now as well. So many good reasons to head to the Bay Area!

We had an easy drive across the flat wide open stark beauty then through the still-snowy pass and onto the green of CA. So nice to break things up with 4 drivers and have no crying in the car, everyone happy to be in their own little world with a book or an electronic device when we weren’t listening to conference together (it was General Conference weekend). Loved that we had that dedicated time to get through all of conference. So many powerful messages. Main messages to me were to focus on helping our children learn to get their own revelation and to learn to better access the Holy Ghost myself as I seek more peace and guidance. Nothing earth-shattering but so many important messages that spoke to my heart.

We enjoyed such pleasant and kind hospitality with Jared's sister Sara and family - nice to see their lovely rental home in Piedmont and explore their great neighborhood, enjoy Sara’s tasty beautiful breakfasts, and have good talks with them. Spent a very nice evening with Kathryn, MJ, Will, Lori and the Kimballs - Zackary’s pizza favorites and delicious salad and desserts. Flashbacks as we talked with Will and Lori about their baby due in a couple weeks and remembered when we were living right by where they are now living and were expecting Ashton - serious fond nostalgia. Loved getting to visit Kathryn and MJ's home also - perched up in the hills with great architecture and perfect views in every direction.

Perfect sunny warm weather for our three days in SF - amazing!

The first day we did the Golden Gate Bridge - sweeping views from way above then closer and closer and a picnic lunch at a favorite new look-out spot, Ashton flying his drone and so excited about all the great footage he got there and along the coast and at the farm - nice that he’s extra excited about things if his drone can be involved and he captures some beautiful stuff and gets great feedback from family and strangers alike (everyone asked him about it while he was flying it and he was excited to tell them all about it and even let a random little kid catch it for him which thrilled that kid immensely). Stopped at Palace of Fine Arts for a pleasant stroll and pictures and tree climbing and reminiscing. Drove up and down some crazy steep roller coaster hills and checked out Nob Hill “snob hill” before heading back to the East Bay.

At Berkeley, had a great time touring the campus with a self-guided phone tour and wandering up and down Telegraph Avenue (cookie ice cream sandwiches were a huge hit). At Berkeley, we saw the most complete t-rex skeleton in the world, saw some interesting student engineering projects, saw the beautiful main bell tower and the very impressive Mining building. Such a conglomeration of different architecture styles and periods. Interesting to see the birthplace of so much free speech stuff. Beautiful river and nature areas mixed in. Fun hodge-podge of architecture styles and so many diverse people all around us.

Hearst Memorial Mining Building

Sather Tower
on telegraph avenue

Next day we walked up and down huge hills - Coit Tower with it’s history of California murals and beautiful views, Chinatown where we felt like we were literally in China with the sounds and smells and sights and crowds. Looked back and saw the kids towering above the crowds of Chinese people swarming around them. Tried some delicious pot stickers and “Chinese tamales” at a little hole-in-the-wall and saw so many crazy different fruits and veggies plus lots of crazy fish and ducks hanging from the ceiling and whole stores full of smelly and not-too-appetizing-looking dried fish. So fun to spend an hour in China without having to go to the other side of the world!


Walked through little Italy and up Lombard Street and found a tennis court right above it with the best 360 views of the city on all sites - Ashton did some drone flying and got some really cool footage of the city. Walked down to Pier 39 to see those ever-entertaining sea lions and make Oliver feel really special at the store there just for leftys. Walked all the way along the Embarcadero to the Ferry Building for some tasty Emanadas and fresh crusty bread with dip then headed on back to Kimballs for some tasty soup.

at the base of Lombard Street

Spent day 3 in the South Bay where we had a wonderful lunch at Sprout in Palo Alto (forgot how much I LOVE Palo Alto - still think that would be my #1 place to raise a family but Ogden’s great!) then went to see Stanford. They’d said tours were full when I checked in advance but when we showed up at the visitor’s center to get a map they said there was a tour starting in 1 minute and we could join it if we wanted. Awesome, inspiring tour by an excellent student tour guide - we were all impressed and it was so good for all the kids to hear about all the exciting possiblities that Stanford and college in general can offer. Felt like a really really good thing for the kids and we talked about how even if it didn’t work out for them to go to a school like Stanford or Berkeley for undergrad, it could totally work for grad school (like Uncle Ian).  Fell in love with that campus all over again - especially the chapel with its glorious mosaics and stained glass windows and when the organ started playing while we were in there it was simply heavenly.


After Stanford, went to visit our old neighborhood in San Jose and worked up the courage to knock on the door of our old house there. Nicest young Indian couple who bought it a year ago and were overjoyed to have us come in and see everything and wanted to hear all about renovations we did on the house, etc. Filled with joy remembering the good days in that precious little house. It looked so much the same but so much smaller! So happy to see it in such good hands and we came away with lots of lemons and oranges from our old trees and really happy hearts. Such a family bonding and precious half hour we spent there! Went past the cemetery where we always went on walks and where all the kids learned to ride their bikes and the hospital right down the street where all the kids were born.

Then we wandered Santana Row and used the huge chess set and checked out the fancy shops -especially Tesla for Ashton. So many great memories there with little kids running around in such a beautifully done open-air mall that we could walk to from our old house.

Next morning we packed up at the Kimballs and spent a few minutes enjoying the Oakland Temple grounds.

Then we headed for the Shumway Farm - raining, of course, always rain when I go to the Shumway Farm. Loved sharing the wonders of that place with Isaac and Ashton and Jared who didn’t go with us when I took the younger kids for President’s Day. So fun to have Oliver and Silas so excitedly point out every little thing as we got closer and rave about all the cool things they were going to show everyone who hadn’t been there before - clearly a place they have made their own in their hearts.

the road to the farm

When we got there, we ignored the drizzling rain and explored and wandered and talked and ate and worked really hard alongside Noah and Kristi who were there for their last day on the farm. Lots of digging and planting and lifting and moving plus time to just enjoy the beauty of the place and visit the magical bridge area. So wonderful seeing all the cousins together.

Lyla decorated Jared's beard for him
somehow Mila felt perfectly comfortable riding this way with Liza

We all had so much fun taking turns with baby Faith

Great dinner all together after our hard work then we had a great birthday party for Jesus since it was April 6th (the day Joseph Smith said was Jesus's actual birthday plus the birthday of our church). Everyone shared something they really love about Jesus, a favorite teaching, etc. and we had cake and ice cream. Such a spirit-filled and beautiful evening!

The next morning, we did some crazy-comical photos with all the kids and chickens and goats and a guinea pig and said our goodbyes to Noah and Kristi.


the chickens lay these beautifully colored "Easter eggs"

Then we headed off to go see the amazing elephant seals at Ano Nuevo - gorgeous misty walk along the coast and guides there who almost reverently told us wonderous facts about these creatures while we watched piles of pups sunning themselves and occasionally getting up to move, their blubber rippling as they inched their way along. God must have had a lot of fun creating so many different creatures!

On the way home from Ano Nuevo, we stopped at a beach so the kids could run around on the sand. Of course, a little running around on the sand turned into some totally submerged and sandy and freezing kids by the end (good thing we always keep a couple blankets in the van).

Lots more farm work the next day - sometimes in some pretty heavy rain. We transplanted lots of baby plants from the greenhouse into the big hoop house, putting them into the gopher baskets we made and buried and amending that heavy clay soil and hoping for the best - poor soil and so many deer and bugs and gophers - I hope those little plants make it! We did our very best to give them the best possible chance! Jared and the boys cut down and chipped up tons of wood and we used that to cover the garden. Oliver, Silas and Charlie worked on building a new chicken coop. Proud of how hard all the kids worked and Saydi and Jeff were most impressed and thankful.

cutting back weeds the old fashioned way

Then we went to the tide pools up by Moss Beach - such wonder and beauty - looking and looking and being rewarded by finding so many little fascinating things.

Then walked through a lovely cypress grove above the tide pools before heading to what is now my very favorite look-out point - an old bunker on a hill near Devils Slide where you can get the very best views up and down the ragged-cliffed coast.  Then we went on to Taco Bell with the best views ever at Pacifica Beach where the kids ate and Oliver and Silas and Isaac actually ran into the ocean and submerged themselves - crazy crazy people that they are! It was so cold I couldn’t even keep my camera still to take photos because of shivering. The sunset was spectacular and it was fun to see it dotted with the sillouettes of the kids freaking out in the cold cold water against that pastel sky.

Ashton took the shivering heroes and all the kids home in our van and Saydi, Jeff, Jared and I went to dinner at Half Moon Bay - tasty Himalayan food and great deep conversation about kids and life and so many good things. Love talking with those guys.

Sunday morning - Palm Sunday - said goodbye to Saydi and Jeff as they took off for church then hiked up to the platform on the ridge for our own little Palm Sunday service before the long drive back home. Such beauty - and a sweet warm spirit thinking of Christ and the joy plus somewhat fearful anticipation that Palm Sunday must have brought to His heart. More drone flying for Ashton to capture the last of the farm then cleaned up and left the farm to head home. Stopped to take the sacrament when we realized we were right by the Shumway’s ward building right when the sacrament would be happening (it was exactly on our route home). Stood in the lobby in our non-Sunday clothes and reverently took the sacrament which was so very nice as I’d really missed it the last week when it was General Conference. It really does make a difference for me to take the sacrament every week.

Long drive home but fine with switching off drivers and listening to more conference and some interesting podcasts plus time to just read and think. Annoyed sometimes with the kids having ear buds in their ears and not being able to hear when I wanted to tell them something but got to a pretty good balance between doing things together and being in our own little worlds during the drive.

SUCH a great trip - such needed family bonding time, beauty, family, fun, memories, inspiration. So grateful. And came home so tired!


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