Wednesday, September 24, 2014


"Where in Utah are you from?" they ask.
I have answered this question hundreds of times.  Most of the Mormons I meet have spent some time in Utah - whether it's been to live there, go to school there, visit relatives there, or just simply vacation there - and so Utah is a often a common point of interest for us.

My answer to their simple question has morphed throughout the years... which is funny because the root of the answer is, of course, always the same.

Ten years ago my answer went something like this:
"From a tiny little town up in the mountains of northern Utah called Midway." When their blank stares told me that they'd never heard of the tiny little town up in the mountains of northern Utah called Midway, I'd start expanding until I noticed some sort of recognition from them.  "It's in Heber valley ... which is between Provo and Park City ..." here, sometimes people would start to hesitantly nod because I said Provo... "About 45 minutes outside of Salt Lake."

Fast forward ten years and now my answer goes something like this:

"I'm from Midway."
And instead of blank stares, I hear, "Oh! Midway! I love Midway!"

The 2002 Olympics introduced the world to our tiny town, so now many people have not only heard of Midway, but they have stories about this quaint, quiet town.  And I love to hear them.  As an adult, I see Midway through different eyes... and I wish I would have appreciated the beauty and uniqueness of it a bit more as a youth.  But, you know, I was a youth... so...

Thankfully, my parents still live there and like it when we come to their beautiful home.  We only stayed with my parents for a total of four and a half days on our way across the country... but we packed in four parties, a musical, and a trip to the new aquarium in Salt Lake. 

I never feel like I have enough time in Utah to see everyone I love, but I try to do my best.  The first night we were there, a couple of old high school friends came to party.  It's unreal to me to see how our lives have progressed since those fun teenage days.

The next day, Germany played Argentina in the World Cup. So, another party... naturally.

Amber knows how to help.

After the game, we migrated outside to play our own soccer games (and badminton and Frisbee).

And to sit on the soft grass and enjoy the beautiful weather

while cheering on the players.

And showing off our elephant sounds.

Such a great night.

Kind of random... but you know that people make fun of Utah for their Jell-O, right?  I about died laughing when I saw this giant bin in my mothers pantry dedicated to Jell-O!  The funniest thing about it is that my parents don't even really make Jell-O all that often.  Endearing.
When in Utah, I guess.

Then we hopped into the car and traveled down to Salt Lake to see my beautiful sister and her then boyfriend (now fiance!) perform in Children of Eden. The kids' favorite part was watching Jake do a backflip across the stage.

The next morning Brian and I packed our bags and headed to San Francisco for a few days (amazing) and then came back to grab the kids and go up north to hang out with Brian's family for a week (also amazing).  But those pictures and stories are not for now because I already titled this post Midway and neither of those things happened in or around Midway, you see.  But, don't worry.  I'll get to those, too.  After all that amazingness, we had days number three and four with my family.

One of those days happened to be the 24th of July, which is kind of a big deal in Utah.  So... party!

This time there was dry ice.  And root beer extract.
Also there were water balloons.  And towels.  And a net.  You know what you do when you have those three things, right?

Then we all caravaned down to 'the spot' and sat in and around the back of my dad's pick-up truck to watch the big fireworks over the lake (okay, there's not really 'a spot'... it just sounds cool to say it that way.  But we were in a spot. Technically).

I may never, never tire of fireworks.

Don't tell the Sequarium in Miami, but we went to the aquarium in Salt Lake and it was waaaaaaaaaaaaaaay better. You'd think Miami might have the upper hand in something like this.  Then again, Miami's mantra might have been 'just go jump in the ocean and see for yourself' which wouldn't be a very good mantra for Salt Lake City at all.

I feel lucky now to be living closer to Midway.  It's a happy place for me.  It's amazingly beautiful and holds so many wonderful memories.  But, best of all, it keeps creating more. Unfortunately, we didn't have all the time in the world, and eventually it ran out.  So we packed up and said goodbye.  Even the 'ninja cat' came out to say goodbye.  (I learned that my kids had nicknamed him that because he was so good at evading them.  Always.  I don't blame him.) 

Thanks Mom and Dad (Mom).  I don't know how you do it.  Even just typing this all out and putting it all on one page... I can't believe how good you were to keep buying food and inviting friends and keeping the fun alive while we were there.  (Not to mention watching our kids for three days while Brian and I shirked those responsibilities to play in San Francisco.) I bet you went and took a good, long nap once we drove away. 

I love you!

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Country Travels - Part 3

12 - We like to reward good car behavior with bad hotel behavior.

But seriously... two beds so close to each other?  It's an open invitation for jumping games.

Day 4
From Chattanooga, TN to St. Louis, Missouri
438 miles, 6 hours 31 minutes driving time

13 - Willie Wonka would have loved to travel up the Gateway Arch

Though the elevator wasn't glass, it sure felt like something he would want in his chocolate factory.  Small, white, roundish... Like a giant egg.  At first we weren't sure we wanted to take the time to go up at all (would the kids like it (would TK behave (do we want to wait in that line?)?)?) but shoving those kids in that egg elevator was definitely the right decision. 

Day 5
St. Louis, Missouri to Kansas City, Kansas
251 miles; 3 hours 50 minutes driving time

14 - Sometimes your kids make up jokes that aren't funny. You have to laugh anyway.

Other times they surprise you with something genuinely witty that makes you laugh without trying.  I had a For Real laugh when, in an effort to make her doughnut seem more like a breakfast food, Kenz decided to call it a 'frosted bagel'.

15 - Another temple pit stop - this time the grounds were open.

The Kansas City, Missouri temple.

16 - It's Great.  It's got Wolves.  It's a Lodge.  It's Great Wolf Lodge.

According to the kids, this would be the highlight of the trip.  The other activities didn't stand a chance, actually. In the planning phase, it was McKenzie's idea to just 'check and see' if there was a Great Wolf Lodge somewhere close to where we would be going.  I didn't think that was a very good Road Trip Across The Country Thing to do because... culture.  But I felt certain that all of the Great Wolf Lodges were in the eastern states so we wouldn't be passing by one of them anyway.  So I checked for the sole purpose of being able to say, 'well, darn!  I guess we'll have to get to know our country while we travel across it then.'   But then, there was one.  And then there was no hiding that fact because I checked right in the presence of those children.  And so the hounding began.

"Mom, have you decided yet?" became the hourly question. 
"So have you thought more about Great Wolf Lodge?" became the half hourly question. 
And then one morning, after two weeks of this, McKenzie asked,  "Mom, on a scale of 1 to 10, what do you think the chance is that we will end up stopping at Great Wolf Lodge?"  I still had not decided and opened my mouth to say so when the hope in her eyes caught me.
"Uh.  Well..." I started. "I guess I just have to figure out if this cross country trip is more for you or for me." I finally said.
I guess it ended up being more for them.

It was the right decision.  Timothy was a mad-man the whole time - running from one pool to the next.  Jumping, floating, splashing, and oblivious to the fact that he was, several times, close to drowning.  I've never had to watch a child so closely before... he has no fear.  But do you see the picture in the above left corner?  That smile is worth every stressful minute.

The front desk gave us some wolf ears when we registered and they were quite the highlight.  My favorite moment was seeing Miles come out of the bathroom freshly showered with a towel around his waist and wolf ears on his head.  Clearly he was much too busy to put on his pajamas, but he had plenty of time to find the wolf ears (that were under the pajamas).

We spent two days and one night playing in the lodge, with two relatively short driving days on either end.

Day 6
Kansas City, KS to Nebraska City, NE
141 miles; 2 hours 10 minutes driving time

17 - There is nothing after Kansas City.  Nothing.

Day 7
Nebraska City, NE to Laramie WY
539 miles; 7 hours 56 minutes driving time

18 - There is nothing after Kansas City.  Nothing.  
                Wait... did I already say that?

Except for wide open spaces and beautiful skies.

18 -  And Laramie, Wyoming.  Laramie is after Kansas City.

Not that that's saying much... but we did have a lovely evening there.  The kids were stir crazy after our longest day of driving, so we found a park and let them play until it was too dark to see the frisbee or the potholes in the grass anymore. 

Day 8
Laramie, WY to Midway, UT
380 miles; 5 hours 28 minutes driving time

19 - Apparently we need to teach Carson that in order to catch the frisbee, he will need it to be in front of him.

Rest stops were quite handy on these long driving days.  So was that frisbee (I love finding those Take On A Road Trip secrets that take up relatively  little space, but pack in so much fun.  Individual lunch boxes packed with snacks was another one of those things. And books on CD).

Days 9-21
So Much Fun Family Time

20 - There is way too much to say about two weeks of family time for me to dive into it tonight.

Also, there are way too many pictures for me to add to this already picture-filled post.  But I'll just say that I'm a lucky lady to be moving closer to all those awesome people.  There will be posts to follow about that.

Day 22
Midway, UT to Enoch, UT
228 miles; 3 hours 21 minutes driving time

21 - Friends

It was so fun to stop by the Tessems on our way through Provo, and then to stay the night in Enoch with the Christians.  I love these families.  I also love the way TK is looking at Kathleen in the above picture.

Day 23
Enoch, UT to Henderson, NV
194 miles; 2 hours 55 minutes driving time

22 - A good book, water bottles, and gasoline.  Three things that kept us moving. (Not pictured - hordes and hordes of snack food.)

Have you ever read the book Wonder?  If not, I highly recommend it.  After I read it the first time, I knew I had to buy it... so I did.  And read it out loud to the whole family on our long drive.  We finished it by the time we got to Vegas and had so many great conversations about kindness and friendship along the way.

23 -After 23 days on the road, we were exhausted, but happy to meet our new home.  But mostly exhausted.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Country Travels - Part 2

Day 3
From Atlanta, Georgia to Chattanooga, Tennessee
118 miles; 1 hour 46 minutes driving time 

8 - Pardon me, boy, is that the Chattanooga choo-choo?

I had never been to Chattanooga before, but there's no place like it if you want to have a catchy song stuck in your head all day long. Except that, no one else in my family had ever heard it... so I cultured them real quick with a YouTube clip. 

Chattanooga was my favorite part of the whole drive.  We hiked walked through a cave to see an underground waterfall, rode a train down a terribly steep mountain, and spent the better part of our time climbing and hiking around the most beautiful thing ever: Rock City.

9 - I'm glad there are people in this world who think crawling through tiny crevices in giant mountains sounds like fun.

Because then those people tell other people about the cool things they find and those other people tell other people who tell other people and eventually they start blowing up big crevices in giant mountains so that the rest of us rather sane people can walk through on our own two feet and see what there is to see for ourselves. 

Like this giant underground waterfall.  It's pretty cool... but not cool enough to squeeze through a tiny tunnel on my belly for a mile through pitch blackness with only a headlamp and a compass to guide me (which is what the original crazy explorer had to do).  I'm not really claustrophobic... but, that makes me feel as if I might be. The downside to having someone else find places of natural beauty, though, is that they might try to enhance the natural beauty of it by turning it into a giant lava lamp experience. Lights of changing colors... movie music playing surround sound... I might have liked it better if they had just let nature be beautiful on her own... but whatever brings the money, I guess.
10 - Traveling down a 72.7% downhill grade in an old train car attached to the mountain with nothing but a cable felt like something we should do.  With our children.

It's hard to see just how steep the mountain is in these pictures, but if you ever get the chance to see it for yourself, you'll understand. Turns out that 72.7% is a pretty steep grade...

11 - Rock City- I want to go back to there.

This was my very favorite thing of all, and the kids really loved it, too. 

All you can climb rocks... rickety bridges... fairy lands... what is not to love if you're a kid? 

Or an adult, for that matter.

The scenery was gorgeous, and all of our kids were happy. Minus TK who doesn't seem to ever be entirely happy when he has to follow a set of rules (like, no jumping off cliffs (or even walking along the ledges of the cliffs)).

In fact, we tried very hard to keep Timothy from jumping off the edges.  Thankfully we succeeded.  All day.

McKenzie and Carson decided to try a little mountain climbing, and both of them did an awesome job.  Brian rediscovered his new anxiety about tight spaces (after his long MRI a year and a half ago, he wasn't entirely comfortable following Miles through the Needles Eye pictured below.  But that was the only way out, so, now we call him brave).

Loved it all!

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Country Travels - Part 1

"Well," I said to Brian as we pulled out of our little Miami parking garage for the last time.  We had spent the morning rolling up air mattresses and folding up blankets, pulling what was left from the fridge and the cupboards and stuffing it all into coolers and lunchboxes, checking and re-checking corners and closets and drawers to make sure we had left them empty, standing on the balcony to breathe the ocean air and listen to the calm wind one last time, handing keys and garage gate openers to our landlord... "Let's go then."

Our minivan rolled forward through the crowds along Collins Avenue as we headed north - the ocean to my right, our future to my left - and I took a deep breath.  "You know," I said.  I often say this when I have something to say, but am unsure how to say it.  A way of alerting my husband that I would like to speak, but that I need a moment to collect my thoughts.  He waited patiently for me to form the words, probably expecting me to re-dive into our well worn conversations of how my heart hurt to leave the east... how nervous I was about the future... how grateful I was to have had that year in Miami.  I found the words.

"I kind of feel like we're just leaving a really great vacation."
"...really?" he answered.
"Yeah.  It's so weird.  I thought I would be all emotional... but instead I just kind of feel like 'that was so fun, we'll have to come back again.' And now I feel like we're on our way home."
"...really?" he repeated.
"Yeah. I know it doesn't even make sense because I don't even know what home is."  Brian smiled a tender smile.
"I know what you mean," he said. "I feel that way, too."

And so our journey across the country began.

Day 1
From Miami, Florida to Valdosta, Georgia
434 miles; 6 hours 44 minutes driving time

1 - It turns out that I have a hard time remembering things without writing them down these days.

We had plans to stop at all the temples along the route... but since I forgot to write them all down, we forgot several of them along the way.  But we did remember to stop at the Orlando, Florida temple.  Unfortunately, it was closed for maintenance, and even the parking lot was gated.  So, we pulled our car up to the gate and let the kids walk around the outside of the gates for a few minutes.  Just seconds after we pulled in, another van - same make, model, and color as ours - pulled next to us.  Their doors opened wide and four children came sprawling out onto the pavement, shoving crayons and coloring books and snacks back in the door behind them.  Turns out they were a Mormon family from Utah, making a cross-country drive themselves.  We laughed at the parallel lives we were living that happened to intersect for a moment - - - I love that about our church.  Strangers, yes.  But I knew them so well.  God loving, covenant respecting people, teaching their children the same things we are teaching ours. 

2 - When McKenzie sits in the car all day she gets really hungry.

Sixth taco.  Sixth.  After a whole lunchbox full of snacks.  Must be all the calories she's burning.  From sitting.

3 - When Carson puts his mind to it, he can make a mean rubber band chain.

But he cannot check both ways for cars.  Ever.  Sending him out into the parking lot to extend his chain was a little bit of a risk.

4 - TK doesn't let being strapped into his carseat stop his groove.

These are dance hands and feet, in case you were wondering.  Whenever we turned the music up, he would bop along happily.

5 - Never expect TK to sleep in a pack-n-play if he can see his Daddy.

In fact, it's probably best to just not even hope that he will.  Because he probably will just scream and yell "DA-DA" over and over and over until you finally give up and take him to the car at four in the morning.  Thankfully Valdosta, GA is a beautiful place to drive around at that early hour.  And also, thankfully, I felt relatively safe sleeping in my car once the little munchkin fell asleep.  It was a rather... restless night.  At least he's cute.

Day 2
From Valdosta, Georgia to Atlanta, Georgia
228 miles; 3 hours 25 minutes driving time

6 - Apparently, it was a popular time for the temples to be closed

Because the same thing happened in Atlanta.  The kids didn't mind too much, though.  They were just happy to get out and stretch their legs.  In fact, who are we kidding?  They would have been happy in a muddy field.  (Well, that just sounds awful on a road trip)

7 - Fun cousins are even more fun when you grow up to be adults.

Gunda was always a favorite cousin as I was growing up.  But at 10 years older than me, she always felt a bit more like a babysitter than a friend.  Now, adulthood has stripped away that filter, and it was so fun to stay in her house for a night, chat about our grandmother (and our great-grandmother whom she remembers but was gone by the time I came around) and get to know her family. 

Also, she has a southern porch. And giant trees. And lightning bugs. be continued...