Saturday, April 30, 2016

Scrambled Thoughts Special Edition - Sweden

1) Riding on an airplane with no children is considered a full vacation in my book.

Brian and I could watch movies and listen to podcasts and have entire conversations without interruptions. A favorite memory is sitting side by side, choosing a movie, then counting to three before we hit play on each of our monitors so we could watch it together.

2) Bikes and Trains might be my favorite forms of transportation.

Traveling up to Chris and Mary's house was charming and delightful.

Even if walking through a train station with a different language surrounding me made me feel small and rather uneducated. I don't really know how to navigate a train station in my own language, let alone in Swedish. But Brian was right by my side and used his Traveling Abroad Skills to navigate.

3) Buses, on the other hand, might be one of my least favorite forms of transportation.

Especially in another country. We mostly stayed with Chris and Mary in their home, but we ventured out a couple of times on our own to see some of the Swedish sites and we used the buses to get us around. Turns out we aren't very good at it.

We took the bus down to the cute little island of Marstrand - or, rather, we took the bus to the ferry that would take us to the island - and spent the day roaming around and exploring.

I wondered what it would be like to live on an island like that... no real shopping centers (I think there was a mini-mart of sorts) or hospitals.  Just homes and schools and an old fort that was closed when we got there, but looked like it might hold many interesting stories.

It was quiet and peaceful.

And full of little nooks and crannies to explore.

But when we were done with the island we somehow missed the bus back up to Gothenburg, and then we couldn't figure out where and when to catch the next bus, OR how to pay for the bus anyway. So we began to walk. One of us was getting rather hangry so we found a little food shop and went inside to eat. Solving problems on a full stomach is always more enjoyable.

Eventually we made it back.

The next time we went exploring in Gothenburg we had delightful time. We found chapels and museums.

Of course, they were mostly written in Swedish so we didn't understand all we were looking at, but perhaps that made it even more interesting. We stumbled upon a Viking museum that I found fascinating.

And we stopped in for some delicious chocolate dessert in a small basement-like restaurant that smelled old and full of history.

This time, on our way back, we again couldn't figure out how to pay for the bus. And then couldn't find the bus stop. After asking several people, we finally located it, but when we got there, there was a big sign written in Swedish that looked rather important. And informative. And pertinent. We stared at it for a while and then I decided that it was probably in our best interest to find out what the sign said, so I assumed the role of 'dumb American' and began asking passers-by if they spoke English which, of course, most everyone does. One couple stopped and when I asked them to tell us what the sign said, they informed us that this stop was closed.

Well then.

"Does it say anything else?" I asked. "Like, where we should go instead?"
"Oh, yes, yes, yes," they answered pointing across the street. We made it home and in one piece, but I was glad to not have to solve any more Swedish bus problems.

4) Everyday life in Sweden looks remarkably similar to every day life in America

As I said above, we spent most of our time hanging out with Mary in her home, watching her and helping her do the mom thing with four children. We watched a basketball practice for Samuel, we watched the girls perform their dance routine,

we jumped on the trampoline, and we played rock, paper, scissors (in Swedish, might I add), we lounged around on the couches,

we took Mia on walks to give Mary a break, and we went to IKEA because, well, we were in Sweden and it seemed rather appropriate.

6) And some things are very different.

Like, school, for example.  The first thing I noticed was that there was a place for all of the snow gear... snowpants, hats, gloves, heavy coats, etc... which certainly isn't unheard of in America, but it was new to me anyway. The second thing I noticed was that the teacher came out to shake our hands and introduced himself as Johnny. Just Johnny. Mary informed us that all of the teachers go by their first names, even to the kids. Culturally no one likes to appear better than anyone else, and using a title such as Mr. or Mrs. (even in a school setting) feels awkward. An interesting mentality, for sure, and one I'd like to study a bit... it has great implications to be sure, but could also get in the way with authority and respect, too. Interesting.

5) Wouldn't it be lovely if I could plan every day with chocolate? 

Sitting in a coffee shop with my varm chokolat next to my favorite man, setting our plan for the day.

6) When in Sweden, one must have Swedish meatballs for dinner

Don't you think?

7) Little Girls Turn Seven in Sweden, Too.

One of the biggest highlights of our trip was little Emmy's 7th birthday party. A handful of girls and one boy came bouncing in with presents and looking with excitement for "the Americans" that were going to be celebrating with them (that's us).  One boy with a round, angelic face and thick glasses had anticipated the language barrier and so had practiced his hand gestures and sign language with fervor. He was absolutely delightful to talk with. We went to an indoor water park, and then came back to the house to have taco salad, open presents, and sing to Emmy both in Swedish and English.  I could see that she was having a wonderful time. Especially after I caught on to the fact that she was embarrassed when I kept asking her to translate what her friends were saying to me. After that I just smiled and shrugged my shoulders any time one of them ran up to talk to me - which happened all night long. They just couldn't understand exactly why I couldn't understand them when they were speaking so clearly...

8) What do you do when you're awake at 3am?

Eat Ice cream of course.

9) This Train and I? We Get Each Other

I'd like to hang that sign in my house somewhere...

10) Every Time I Go To Sweden, I Will Hope to Get Stuck in Denmark

What a charming country!  At least, the extremely small sliver we saw for the couple of hours we were there on our layover.  When we learned that our connecting flight was delayed we wasted no time hopping on the train to tour as much of the city as we could.

We found a little lunch spot down in the basement of some building which was wonderful, but somehow Brian ordered a sandwich full of raw salmon. Translation problems? Or ignorance? Hard to say. He ate it like a champ as we walked through alleyways and wondered about all of the things that were around us.

Next we found an ice cream shop where the line passed right past the man making the fresh waffle cones.  So delicious!  Brian opened my coke for me by hitting it against a wall... turns out the glass breaks. Who would have known? It made the drinking of it a little trickier, but I managed.

We sat alongside a little river to eat our ice cream and talked about how we'd love to come back to Denmark someday to see more of it than what we could in one hour.

Next time we visit Sweden, maybe we'll see more sights and do the touristy thing a little bit better, but this vacation was wonderful.  I loved being with Mary and getting to spend time with her kids without my own demanding my attention. I felt like we got to know them much better than we had before.

War, Wisdom, and Great Grandpa Alder

I-15 stretched before us for miles and miles and the children were quiet in the backseats.  Through the radio the sounds of Christian lyrics and gentle harmonies helped bring about the stillness and reverence that I love and anticipate come each Sabbath.  Our wheels were rolling south, away from the small farm-town of Malad, Idaho where, tucked away in the sleepy streets, we had found the old home of Great Grandpa Alder and had taken our children in to listen to his stories.

Ninety-four years of experience and wisdom hide in this kind, humble man. An air force pilot who flew in World War II, we asked him to tell us some war stories but, smiling at the invisible memories, he flicked his wrist dismissively and said, "Oh... well... that was a long time ago."  We pressed and out came a most humble retelling of a beautifully heroic story in our own family history.

It was a story that took place in a B-24 bomber, in the air, over Nazi Germany.  It was his B-24 bomber, of course, and he, dressed in uniform and sitting in the pilot seat, was working to fulfill the mission he had been sent there to complete.  But they "hit some flak" as he said (which I had to ask about in order to learn that that means 'shot from the ground by Germans with anti-aircraft guns'), and it did enough damage that they found themselves spiraling out of control towards the hard, enemy land.

His co-pilot panicked as they dropped 2,000, 5,000, 10,000 ft. from the sky, "and I had to... to reach over," he demonstrated by reaching his arm out to his side, "and hit him just as hard as I could.  Just... just like this," he slammed his fist into his own chest and relaxed back into his living room chair with an amused laugh. "It worked," he shrugged.  They regained control of the aircraft and hobbled the damaged plane over the Alps to the safety of Switzerland where he spent the last 6 weeks of the war as a POW.

I thought about this story as the mini-van carried us further from the inviting warmth of his living room, and it became more and more real as the miles between us increased.  How remarkable, I thought, that he was able to keep his head clear through that whole thing and save the lives of all the men in his plane...  As the facts replayed in my mind, I saw true heroics in it all.

But his voice had been so quiet as he told the story, and his tone so humble it made me feel as if he might have been recounting what he had eaten for lunch that very afternoon.  No fancy phrasing, no heroic words, just simple facts from a humble heart.  Simple facts that, when strung together and played with a measure of feeling, leave me rather breathless at the suspense and true fear he must have faced in those moments - and so many others - in the war.

There must be millions of stories like this from World War II alone. Beautiful, terrible, hard stories that add depth and meaning to families. Stories told in English, and in German, and Japanese...

Thankfully Great Grandpa Alder's story ended well.  He returned home to his wife and they built a beautiful family in which I am lucky to take part.

He has children, and grandchildren, and great grandchildren who have all played at his feet.  

As I watched Miles play this paper and cardboard basketball game, the same one that Brian played with as a child that has somehow, miraculously, survived the years, I wished that he could just stay there and soak up as much wisdom as he could from the old man sitting only five feet away.

But the time for goodbyes came, and Great Grandpa Alder wrapped each of us up in a hug, squeezed the children tight and said his traditional, "Ohhhhhhh, baby!" in their ears.  We waved as we stepped out on the porch with promises to visit the next time we were in the area.

"Well, don't wait too long!" he called with wink and a smile, 

He said the same thing to us the last time we saw him, I remembered, the side of my head resting against the glass of the passenger side window, just a few months ago.  The trees outside moved so quickly across my view, each individual tree blurring so completely with the next, that my eyes didn't even try bringing them into focus.  Instead, they rested in the blur while my mind analyzed how wonderful it would be if we all could live in a large family community - great grandparents and great grandchildren, parents and grandparents, children and grandchildren, all mixing together and sharing, as only families can, the walks of their daily grind. The young sharing energy.  The old sharing life.

But the car traveled on,
putting miles
and miles
and miles between
the kids in the car
and ninety-four years of wisdom.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

A New Kind of Beauty

We used to live on the beach, you know.  A real beach with soft sand and crystal clear water.  With dolphins and sting rays and manatees visible from our back porch.  With gentle, rolling waves and soft breezes.  With rainfalls so hard they made you laugh and winds so strong they made you fear.  My big camera lived on my shoulder that year and never felt like a burden because wherever I went there was something incredible and beautiful to capture.

This is not that place. 

I knew it wouldn't be, of course.  

The colors here feel a bit muted and noticeably lacking in green.

But I'm starting to see it.  I kind of feel like a newborn puppy - born to this desert home with my eyes tightly shut to the beauty around me.  Did you know that puppies are born with their eyelids closed because their eyes are not developed yet?  And even when their eyelids do start to open, their eyes are still developing and will not see well for several weeks to come.

I get that.

I've accepted that the desert will never be the ocean, a lizard will never be a dolphin, a desert shrub will never be a sand dune, and orange will never be green.

But that's okay.  There is beauty here, too.  The sunsets alone can carry me for days.

We have rose gardens in our yard exploding with hundreds of silky bright roses in stunning colors, we have a pomegranate tree speckled with fluorescent red flowers that shine through its gentle green leaves, we have lavender and basil and oregano and mint adding sweet fragrance to the air.  This is not their natural habitat, but their beauty can thrive here and add itself to the unique beauty of the desert.

I think I get that.

Maybe I can, too.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Scrambled Thoughts XV

*Teeth Glasses.  It's a thing.

Maybe you can't tell from the photo above, but this girl got braces. (Also pictured in the photo, she got her Daddy's face.)  There was a lot of excitement and anticipation in our home in the weeks leading up to the event - and the morning of the appointment she came down the stairs to breakfast and confessed, "I am so nervous.  My stomach feels all weird - like butterflies."  She handled the appointment like a champ, even though there were a few tense moments that were rather uncomfortable.

Teek didn't know what to think about the whole situation.
"Hey, Ken-zee, what is doze sings on yohw teese?" (*What are those things on your teeth?*)
"Hmmmm.... I don't know, buddy.  Can you guess?"
"Is dey gasses?  Gasses on yohw teese?" (*Are they glasses?  Glasses on your teeth?*)

*Well, why not play cards in costume on a Wednesday?

This kid kills me.  He is such a character.

And so fun to have in this house.

*Feed them and they will come

I may have mentioned this before, but this table full of kids is one of the reasons I LOVE living where I do.  This was just a regular night, and when the neighbor kids found out we were having waffles, they stayed.  It made me want to make waffles every. single. night. (Who are we kidding?  I want to make waffles every single night anyway.)  A table full of happiness.

*Guess who has two thumbs and signed up for a 70 mile bike race.

This girl!  Here I am after my first bike ride - that's how you know I'm telling the truth.  The girls in the neighborhood took me out on a 20 mile ride one Saturday morning and I fell in love with it.  Here's to hoping that I actually have 70 miles of leg power in my legs. Go legs!

*Guess who has two thumbs and knows how to open up a bottle full of sprinkles.

"Can I has a cookie?!"
"No, not this morning."
"Can I has a jelly bean?!"
"No, buddy.  No candy this morning."
"Can I has some sprinkles?"
"I know you want some, Teek, but no sugar this morning."
It was the morning after McKenzie's birthday, and all the sugar was still just sitting around.  What's a boy to do when his mom turns her back for a minute?
"TK, did you get into the sprinkles?"
That Face. The one up there. That melts my heart every time I look at it. Staring back at me. Hoping he's not in trouble.  Slowly nodding his head, truthfully responding to my question.  What's a mom to do?  Hug him and kiss him and praise him for his honesty, then tell him about the importance of obedience while cutting him a giant piece of cake, that's what.

Friday, April 8, 2016

May I have this... dance?

"Is McKenzie going to the dance tonight?"  It was an innocent question posed by my neighbor, a question that was intended to provide just a small bit of information, a simple question that required nothing more than a 'yes' or 'no'.  But my answer froze in my throat as the gravity of that question hit me.

McKenzie had JUST turned twelve less than a week earlier, and the very first YW activity she was invited to happened to be a stake dance.  Usually (in fact, before this event I would have said always), the youth dances are held for all youth 14 years of age or older.  So even though McKenzie had just aged into YW, I hadn't even started to process the idea of her going to the dances quite yet.

"Uh, yes... she is," I finally croaked out.

A week before, McKenzie had come to me as I was working in the kitchen and asked, "Mom, what do I do if a boy asks me to dance?"  My eyebrows shot up in a look of You-Caught-Me-A-Little-Off-Guard surprise before I recovered and answered her question.

"Well," I began, turning to her with a smile.  "You say 'yes'.  You always say yes if a nice boy asks you to dance.  Think about how much courage it would take for you to ask a boy to dance!  So, if a boy has enough courage to come up and ask you to dance, make sure you respect his courage.  And then, you just kind of slowly spin in a little circle, like this, and you try to make him feel very comfortable and happy that he asked you in the first place.  Ask him questions and listen to his answers, and then at the end of the dance make sure to thank him."  I put a calm smile on my face even though my insides were screaming at the injustice of Growing Up and continued, "but... I really don't think you have to worry about that right now. Those twelve year old boys are just as scared of you as you are of them and I doubt any of them will be asking girls to dance.  So, the best part of the dance is just hanging out and being silly with your girlfriends."

"Yeah..." she laughed in response.

She came f.l.o.a.t.i.n.g. in the door at 8:30pm the night after the dance.  She had had a wonderful time.  "So, you were wrong, Mom," she said with a smile on her face.  "I got asked to dance twice."

"Wait, you did?!" I asked, a little too surprised.  "You said, 'no, I'm way too young,' right?!"
"Nope," she replied with a little teasing lilt. "I did what my mother told me... always say yes."

We lay in her bed that night, side by side, and talked about the whole evening. About her girlfriends. About Cute Boy.  About the three slow songs, and about the awkwardness she felt in being the only girl in her circle to be asked to dance.

Anyway, the point of this post is really that I fell asleep that night, and many nights following, not sure that I had made all of the right parenting decisions.  I kind of think I maybe should have said no to the dance altogether? She's so young, and while dances and flirty feelings are fun and appropriate at times, I'd rather her not have been introduced to them quite this early.  Or, instead of saying 'always say yes' to a boy who asks you to dance, I maybe should have added the disclaimer that you should never say yes if you feel truly uncomfortable.  During our debriefing of the night maybe I should have given a little more attention to the topic of Cute Boy. Or maybe less.

They were right, all those people who told me that parenting gets harder.

Valentines day was a few days later, and McKenzie came home from school cradling a paper and plastic rose from the 99 cent store that had been given to her by Cute Boy.  We put it in a vase and stuck it by the window for a couple of days and I wondered, again, about my role in all of this.  

I think my role is to teach her to be wise.  Teach her to be kind.  Teach her to be joyful.  Teach her to listen for, to follow, and to obey the quiet promptings of the spirit.

The Spirit.

That's the answer.  Isn't it. Because he will teach her what I can't.  He will see the dangers more clearly than I ever will.  And he will be there, warning and guiding and confirming and comforting her all along the way.


I think my role is to remember to be wise.  Remember to be kind.  Remember to be joyful. Remember to listen for, to follow and to obey the quiet promptings of the Spirit.  The Spirit is always the answer. Because I know he will teach me what I need to know.  He will see the dangers more clearly than I ever will.  And he will be there, warning and guiding and confirming and comforting me all along the way.

One thing's for sure - I'm so grateful I have McKenzie to teach me about this.  I have a feeling this will not be the last time I lie awake wondering if I made the right parenting choices.  Seeing my own flaws and mistakes affect the life of one of my children has always been a terribly humbling and painful experience - but I have faith that McKenzie will be able to succeed in spite of all of my flaws, and I have faith that I can be helped to overcome those flaws, all through the atonement of Jesus Christ.

The further I get along in this parenting gig, the more I start to wonder whether parenting is more for the children, or for the parents.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Lake Mead

The Lake Mead Marina has become one of our favorite spots.

We took Grandma and Grandpa there on their last visit to feed the fish and the ducks and the seagulls, and it was a most beautiful day.

I couldn't get over the shadows that the sun was casting.

Something about watching Timothy's shadow get longer and longer throughout the afternoon pricked my heart.  I could almost see it growing... and I realized that he was growing almost as fast.  

The light was beautiful that afternoon.

And my kids were happy.

The lake was a beautiful blue and I kind of love this selfie that came out of it.

It was an afternoon of Beauty.

It was an afternoon of Happy.