Saturday, January 19, 2019

Shark Reef

For Timothy's experience gift this year we got him a date night, with me, to Color Me Mine so he could pick out any ceramic piece he wanted, slather it with paint, and display it on the shelf above his bed. He was polite about the gift as he opened it and said all the appropriate thank-yous, but it wasn't hard to see that he was a little underwhelmed.

I was surprised because I was under the assumption that he loved painting. When we went to Aspen Grove over the summer, for example, he wanted to hang out at the art cabin and paint through every spare minute he had.

Well, he grew out of that love, apparently.

Which wasn't a big deal because one of the greatest things about experience gifts is that they are quite returnable. Especially if you never actually purchase the tickets before you give them. Which we don't because we're lazy. So the biggest hassle was throwing away the original piece of paper that promised an evening at Color Me Mine, and then going through a little brainstorm of ideas with him guiding the way.

Easy peasy.

Within two minutes we had landed on Shark Reef.

With mom AND dad.

Though, we ended up losing Dad for little pockets of time here and there because as we walked past the piranha tank he overheard that they were possibly going to be dumping a bucket of ill-fated goldfish into the carnivorous fishs' tank sometime that afternoon, and that was something Brian did not want to miss.

I didn't mind missing that, however, because I didn't want to have to work through sad feelings for the goldfish, so it worked out perfectly that I would follow Timothy around to all the tanks and exhibits while Brian bounced back and forth in his quest. Fortunately, Shark Reef is quite small so it was easy for him to slip away and come back without Timothy noticing much at all. Unfortunately the bucket of goldfish never arrived, so all his bouncing back and forth was for naught (which I suppose was a fortunately for the goldfish).

Shark Reef is basically an aquarium with a heavy emphasis on sharks. And, despite my fear of sharks in the wild, I don't seem to have any fear of sharks behind glass... so that's good.

Timothy had the same reaction to the sea jellies that I have to the sea jellies. (Interesting fact: Jellyfish are not 'fish', which is prompting the recent movement of calling them sea jellies. So I feel rather forward thinking here.) He stood at their tank and watched them glide and float through the water almost as long as he stood at the shark tank, which is saying something since the shark tank was about 4 million times larger.

I asked Timothy at the end of the date which sea creature he would be if he could choose any of them and he said he'd be the saw-tooth shark "because it looked so, so cool." It was also very hard to get a picture of the saw-tooth and the shark. Here's the best one, but it's too bad you can't see the full saw-tooth.

If I were asked the same question about which sea creature I would be (which I wasn't) this angelfish might have been a strong contender:

Though I suppose it would depend on whether those pretty little feathery extensions would get in the way of a comfortable life. Would they snag on all the coral? Would they flap in my face if I swam through a strong current? I did chop all of my hair off... so maybe I wouldn't want to be this angelfish after all.

Once we were done in the aquarium, we got a free pass to check out a new, temporary exhibit called A Polar Journey which ended up being quite the fun, interactive adventure. For example, you could sit in this little pod and watch giant plastic penguins (like 3-feet tall) walk around you while you listened to fun facts about the poles of our earth. I didn't get a picture of the penguins, but I did have to dodge them and watch out for them so they wouldn't run into me while taking this picture.

Next up was a rather clever hallway designed to test our nimble-footedness. The ice blocks moved slowly downstream, and if you jumped onto one it would start to crack and sink underneath your feet (not for reals, of course... it was all done with lights and who knows what else), so it was important to be quick and light while jumping from ice chunk to ice chunk or you would at least, get wet and at most, sink. Timothy and I hopped along this icy stream for the better part of half an hour as Brian held our place in line to see a short film. We were quite good, if I do say so myself.

We also spent some of the waiting-for-our-turn time saying hello to these polar bears who, by the look of them, were saying hello right back to us.

On our way out I asked Timothy to pose for one more picture next to the selfie turtle because I wasn't entirely happy with the way his head was blocking some of the words in the first picture at the beginning of this post. He was happy to oblige, it seemed, but his bored face betrayed him as every picture had the forced smile of someone who was being asked to smile against his will. So this will have to do.

The next phase of our date took us to Timothy's favorite restaurant, Zupas, but before we walked inside and as we walked through the parking lot we found ourselves walking in front of a Smashburger which caught Brian's eye.

"Oh, that looks good," he said out loud but mostly to himself, and then turning to Timothy he said, "Hey TK... are you sure you don't want a burger bud?! Burgers are so awesome, and this place looks reeeeeeeally good."

"Yep, I'm sure. I want the white soup."

"Okay, cool. Yep. Your date. Your choice. Zupas is great," he said out loud but mostly to himself.

I raised my eyebrow and smiled a half smile at Brian as we continued walking past the burger place, its vents pumping burger smell straight into his nostrils, and I watched his head turn as we passed its door.  "Bri," I said, "why don't you go on into Smashburger, get yourself something there and then meet us at Zupas in a few minutes." Happiness.

As Timothy and I left Brian walking through the Smashburger door and opened Zupas for ourselves Timothy turned to me and said, "Hey mom, great job thinking win-win!"

Well, thank you.

Ice cream was last, and we found this charming little place right next to Zupas (and Smash burger) who served the most delightful mint-chocolate concrete, and who was more than happy to smother Timothy's vanilla ice cream cone in rainbow sprinkles.

Timothy was right... sharks, soups, and sprinkles were way better than ceramics.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

We are Doers

We Are Doers has been our family motto for years and years now. I can't honestly remember how long ago I read the scripture that sparked the idea in the first place, nor do I remember the actual event, but somehow and at sometime, James 1:22 became our family scripture and We Are Doers clicked in as the Alder family motto.

The scripture says: But be ye therefore doers of the word and not hearers only...

It still clicks every time I read it. Maybe because my personality yields itself to wanting to progress in all the things in all my whole life (much to my husband's (and my) chagrin sometimes), and it makes sense to me that doing things would be a great way to make some progress.

And so, all those years ago, I read that scripture and realized that we had a bit of a problem. Every Sunday we'd sit in our Sunday School classes and practice being good hearers, and then we'd come home and sit around the dinner table and talk about things we learned while being hearers, and then we'd... do nothing.

Well, nothing focused on what we'd heard in our Sunday School classes anyway.

So the motto was born and now things are different. Now we sit around and discuss all the things we heard in Sunday School, and at the end of the discussion everyone picks a Doers for his or herself that they will focus on for the rest of the week. That they will focus on doing.

It has worked for us (as much as anything 'works' for a family full of kids I suppose) for years and years and years.

But recently it's kind of gone a bit stagnant. We still go through the motions, sitting, discussing, picking a doer, but then we often find ourselves sitting back around the same dinner table seven days later with hardly a memory about what we had chosen the week before.

So, it's not really working at the moment. This isn't unusual, we've gone though pockets like this before, but this time as our family motto was losing a bit of resolve I was simultaneously reading a new-to-me parenting book called The Entitlement Trap (because it was 2018 and it seemed rather appropriate). In it the author, Richard Eyre (who, fun fact, is the father of one of our Durham friends), spends a whole chapter talking about the importance of children feeling ownership in their families and suggests that a great way to do this is to pick a family motto.

Pick a family motto, he suggests, but let them be a part of creating it. Then they will feel invested in it, feel ownership over it and it will mean something real to them. This struck a cord in all the parts of me so I brought it up over our Shake Shack burgers with the big kids.

(I don't know why I'm the only one in focus in this picture...
but it illustrates why I've been falling out of love with my phone camera for quite some time now. 
I'm rather grumpy about it, so maybe don't bring it up.)

"You guys," I began, "how do you feel about our family motto?"

"Um..." There was a moment of whiplash as they redirected their brains from The Best Burgers in the World to The Family Motto, but once they recovered they lit on fire. They insisted that they loved our family motto, and by the way they talked about it, it seemed to be actually attached to and intertwined with their personalities. Parent payday for the parent all about progress.

"I love it," McKenzie said earnestly.

"Yeah, me too," Carson agreed.

"Okay, well that's good," I shrugged. "Do you guys want to adapt it at all? Maybe expand it a bit?" I went on to explain that we had historically only used it in a spiritual sense - We Are Doers of all those things we hear in church - "but in addition to that, we really do so much more. So, who do you guys think we are? Who are the Alders? What do we do?"

The next twenty minutes passed in a brainstorm as we ate the rest of our cheese fries and the end result was this list (in no particular order except the order that they came to our brains):

We do family
We do respect
We do obedience
We do gratitude
We do refuge
We do hard things
We do fun
We do happiness
We do the Word
We do progress
We do love
We do active
We do strength
We do scholarship
We do try


Each of these has bullet points of examples, and it was a pretty beautiful thing to see inside my kids' brains and watch all these things tumble out and listen to all the reasons why they felt these fit as definitions for our family. The list still needs a bit of pruning and tweaking, but this first draft makes me feel happy all the way through.

With this list tucked away in a file on my phone (do things really get tucked away in a phone?) we continued our day of adventure by hitting an escape room.

It was their experience gift this year for Christmas, and it was a big, big hit.

We should have known it was going to be awesome when they gave us heavy duty knee pads and told us we'd need them to crawl through the tunnels.



We donned our vests and put ear pieces in our ears and embarked on a highly important mission to steal a vile of some very important liquid from a highly secured safe. We had real dart guns and drills and wires and cables and solved all the problems with ease. Pay no attention to the fact that everyone else in the picture below drew their guns for the photo while I drew my drill. I might not last very long in a real situation...

Here we are crawling under lasers.

And stealing the vile of liquid.

We had one hour to complete the mission before something terribly terrible was going to happen (I missed that part of the story), and we emerged after having cleaned up all of our mess with over 18 minutes to spare. The worker running our session seemed genuinely impressed and commended our ability to listen to directions (my specialty in life - I'm much better at doing what other people tell me to do rather than thinking for myself).

I think we need to add to our list:

We do escape rooms

Because that was fun - and it was awesome to watch my kids work together with us to solve puzzles.

Also awesome, backing into the garage with this staring me in the face.

I love it when clouds become part of our desert world.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Bringing in the new year

It's a fuzzy one, I know. But just look at that smile! This little girl brings energy into everything she does and can you just imagine what a New Year's Eve party would be like without an extra spark of energy? We let that little ball of energy stay up alllllllll the way until 8:00pm - an hour past her usual bedtime - and then we kissed that little spunk and put her to bed so we could all enjoy a little less Eliza energy.

You can't have Eliza energy around, for example, when you're trying to play a game of Exploding Kittens.

And we played lots and lots (and lots) of games of Exploding Kittens during the last hours of 2018.

But first up on our list of games was Mario Kart.

We had 10 people bouncing up and down for two hours, shouting and cheering for their little colorful racers on the screen. I was impressed that everyone had such a great time for so long given that we only have two remotes.

Three of the children pictured above are from the Yates family... and can we actually pause for a minute here to talk about the Yates family? I adore every one of them. Melissa and Tony moved in over the summer with their eight children and we have become fast friends. Melissa and I speak the same heart language - a language of ideas and feelings and doctrine and philosophy (a language many are not comfortable speaking as I have discovered through much embarrassment over the years) - and she has sunk into my heart like a magnet. Carson and Porter are the same age and fell into fast friendship, and Ellie and Miles are the same age and I could write a whole post about their tender, beautiful friendship. So as New Years Eve evening was approaching it was no surprise that Carson and Miles asked if the Yates could come over.

Somewhere in the shuffling of children, I realized that their teenage son, Kimball, might have nowhere to go for the night, so I mentioned that he was more than welcome to come hang out with McKenzie and the rest of the family as well, if that didn't feel too awkward for him (I'm still new to this whole teenage boy/girl thing).

He jumped at the chance and it was delightful for me to watch McKenzie slide into a completely comfortable friendship at his side.

As the night wore on, we ate pizza, played games, lost the teenagers to a different party, put Eliza and eventually Timothy to bed, and were left with these four who were more than enough to help bring our new year in with laughter and fun.

We played more games, watched a movie (Black Panther) and then had just enough time as the credits rolled on the screen to get our noise makers and poppers ready to go and count down from 10.

2018 was a year of ups and downs (as are all years, of course), and much of my year was spent wrestling demons in my head. At most points throughout the year, if you got me to a place of pure honesty, I probably would have told you that "things are a little rough right now". But you probably wouldn't have seen it on the surface. Isn't life funny that way?

I've spent a whole lot of time with pen and paper analyzing my year, pulling hundreds of isolated emotions, thoughts, and single events from the days of the calendar and working them together like puzzle pieces to reveal a greater picture of what my 2018 was really like. When I started this work, I worried I would find that the finished picture would be one of discouragement and loneliness and failure because all of my pieces seemed to be filled with negative emotions. But as I worked through the hours I found quite the opposite and ended up in tears because all of those hard pieces, when pieced together and looked at as a whole, ended up creating something beautiful.

2018 was a year of incredible personal growth for me. According to my own memory, it's been the largest personal growth spurt I've ever had within a 12 month period of time. Compared to myself at the beginning of this year I feel so much stronger - but I had to swim through some pretty murky rivers of my own weaknesses to get here. I am so much more confident in my gifts and talents - but had to climb over some pretty craggy mountains of my own insecurities to get here. I am more grateful for my home and my city and my state - but had to cut through some pretty dense forests of jealousy to get here. I've learned just how powerful my thoughts are, that they are creating all of the feelings and actions in my life and I'm learning how to harness them and use their power for good. And all within one year. One hard, beautiful year. (Though, let's be honest... I didn't recognize it was beautiful until the end of it.)

Also, I think it's important for me to point out that reaching this point of recognition and understanding happened to correlate right along with Brian's new bishopric calling. If you had been reading my journal in early November you would know that I was quite terrified when he received the call because I knew I wasn't in a very healthy emotional place (I was still navigating through those rivers, mountains and forests, you see (without knowing where I was going (or how much further I had to go (or whether I had gotten stuck and was going around in circles)))). Either Heavenly Father knew that I was almost here and would arrive before the weight of Brian's calling started feeling heavier, or He opened up a shortcut and showed me the way out. Either way I'm grateful to have Him on my team, sculpting me and looking out for me, cheering for me, and helping me take another step closer to who He knows I can be.

Anyway - all that rambling just to say that someday when I'm old and grey and looking back on the course of my life, this year is going to stand apart from the rest as a year of transition. And I love that I can see that right now... generally I haven't recognized those years of transition until they are long gone and I'm looking at them through a lens of perspective. But this time I know it now. I knew it through the middle of it even. My life has changed this year. I don't know exactly where I'm going, but I know God has a plan for me and that He has used this year to get me pointed in the right direction.

So welcome, welcome, welcome 2019. I can't wait to see what you have in store for us!

Monday, November 19, 2018

The Man In The Suit

Brian has been called into the bishopric.

With every righteous sacrifice there comes a blessing. I believe that, and even so, the tears have come. I'm not surprised at them, really. After all, a sacrifice isn't really a sacrifice unless it hurts a little.
Or a lot.

He said that he needs a new suit.
He's right.
Truthfully, he probably needs more than one. I'm not sure why that's one of the things that has stuck out to me in all of this. A suit. It just feels a little strange I guess because he doesn't actually wear suits.

Or rather, he didn't.

But he wore one last week.
And when his name was read by the stake president over the pulpit, he rose to his feet right next to me and dang if he didn't look amazing in that suit. The congregation rose their hands to sustain him as the first counselor to the new bishop, and then I watched him gather his things, walk down the aisle, and sit in a seat up front; and the whole time that suit went with him. It looked more like a companion than a crafted piece of fabric, and when he stood to speak it spoke with him, held him up, gave him a quiet power.

He is going to be good at this. I know he is.
Because dang he looked amazing in that suit.

It filled his eyes with humility, and turned his voice soft and gentle. It poured itself out in words of gratitude from his lips and gave his testimony a gentle power.
How could a suit do it? Fabric and thread, tailored to the exact dimensions of Brian by a pair of skilled Thai hands in a tiny suit shop in downtown Bangkok.

It gave courage to his heart and trust to mine.
And power to us both.
Power to trust. Power to try. Power to be what the Lord needs us to be. Power to support. Power to love. Power to carry the heavy loads coming our way.

And as I sat pondering how a suit could be all of that, the eyes of my soul were opened and I saw that he was wearing more than one suit that day. A second suit made from sacred priesthood threads hung from his shoulders and infused him with its power.

The power of the priesthood.

It too was tailored to the exact dimensions of Brian, but by the hands of God himself and was given to him as a gift to wear as a representative of Jesus Christ. A suit that he wore in righteousness that wrapped him in the Divine and made him a man of God.

And dang if he didn't look amazing in that suit.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Scrambled Thoughts XXVIII (Catch Up Post)

1. How come when they're nervous it makes me nervous? 

Miles competed in his very first swim meet and I'm pretty sure he felt like he was going to vomit all over the place before he jumped into that pool.

But you know what? He did it anyway.

He swam his little heart out and I was so dang proud!

2) Brandy is the sparkliest!

Another birthday celebration down in the books. This time for Brandy. She's been going through a terribly tough time with a divorce and wanted a quieter night of love and friendship. So we took her to Charlies to get her something sparkly, to a restaurant named The Sparklings,

and to the sparkly drive through Christmas lights show at the race track.

It was a good evening and we sure love our Brandy.

3. Everyone loves McKenzie 

She was invited by her teachers to attend a leadership conference in California where she went and had fabulous time. I love that her teachers are seeing what I know her to be... she is a leader through and through. When they got back we had a special luncheon with the kids who went and they all got to thank the Rotary Club for sponsoring their trip. She is amazing.

4. Also amazing, Carson.

Look at that bright smile up there! He is such a good kid and won a Cobra Kid award for being an outstanding leader. I love to see him shine - and I love that his teachers are seeing him, too.

5. Aaaaaand he won a giant stocking.

On pajama day, no less.  Honestly it was full of a bunch of junk, but the big teddy bear down at the bottom seemed to be a hit. *shrug*

6. You can call us international

Because Miles and I had a terrific international lunch with the third graders. He brought Brazilian brigadeiros and they were a smashing hit. Of course, sweetened condensed milk with chocolate in them? How could they not be a favorite?

7. And now you can REALLY call us international.

Because sitting around our dinner table are kids from Colombia, Japan, Italy, Spain, Norway, Brazil, and America, all enjoying burgers and hot dogs fresh off the grill, and speaking English to each other in their various accents. It was one of the best nights... I love that Dani has thrown us into this world.

Foreign exchange students rock!

Monday, December 25, 2017

Christmas Day (Catch Up Post)

Anyone else feel like this on Christmas morning?

Remember those years when waking up on Christmas morning was a delight? And you couldn't sleep in even when you tried?

I remember one Christmas morning I woke at 3am and started jumping on the beds. I woke all of my siblings up (who were sleeping in the same room as I was), and we partied hard until my mom came into the room haggard and upset that we were not only awake, but that we were making so much noise. She told us to go back to sleep, and we tried. But it was CHRISTMAS MORNING!

That didn't really happen for me this year.

It might have had something to do with the trampoline that we had to set up in the middle of the night, that we set up wrong the first time, so had to take it all apart and set it up again, keeping Brian and I awake far later than we were hoping for. But, thankfully, the night was warm and the stars were out and the whole night felt wonderful.

It was just the morning, right when I opened my eyes and realized that I had to get out of bed that felt a little... less-than-wonderful.

But then I saw these lovely faces and decided that I was excited about Christmas after all.

They were very good and patient about waiting until I sprayed some water on my hair to calm the bedhead, and then they raced downstairs and started tearing into their stockings.


At one point, farther into the Christmas morning than I would have expected, McKenzie looked through the windows and spotted the trampoline that Nana and Poppy had given to them this Christmas. All the sudden there was a mad dash outside with squeals of delight.

And they played and played and played before remembering that there were still other presents to be opened.

So we went back inside to finish, and oh how I wish I'd been sitting at a different angle to capture this picture below - just look at Carson's face as he discovered that Santa brought a hover board in response to his request for one!

We spent the rest of the day in our pajamas, playing with all the new toys and spending time together. This is one of my new favorite pictures of Miles and Brian ever.

Surprisingly, there weren't very many arguments over the hover board. They all shared so well and gave each other plenty of turns. I was so proud of them. McKenzie picked it up really fast, even though she is so tall. She figured out that it was easier for her to bend down low for a little while, but eventually she was zipping around on that thing like it was no big deal.

Eventually Eliza woke up and wanted to join the party. She has been fighting with a cold lately, so she's been a bit grumpy. But she still shared her smiles and love through it all.

Carson has the softest spot in his little heart for that baby and spent a lot of time playing on the trampoline with her.

He also spent a lot of time up in the air without her.

And my little Timothy... what a sweetheart - he looks at me with those eyes and I can't help but melt.

Dani felt a little down, which was to be expected since she was so far away from family. But the kids surrounded her with love and she powered through it and kept looking at all the blessings in her life.

And Miles! Oh my goodness his little toothless smile just kills me!

Whenever he feels full of joy and happiness I just eat it up.

Another Christmas success full of all the things I love most in this life.