Thursday, June 30, 2016

Remembering Jess

I put the flowers in the center of the table and stood back to admire the way the sun was shining through their colors.  My headphones were in my ears and connected to the phone in my pocket, but all was silent. The podcast had been paused in response to the text I had received a few minutes earlier from my friend, Brandy.

"Hey" it said, "I put a surprise for u by your front door."

I had been cleaning all morning while the kids and Brian were playing at the water park - a Move Fast And Scrub Hard cleaning that felt both refreshing and rejuvenating - but I had put the scrubber down to open the front door, and there the flowers had greeted me.

And now here they were, casting their beauty as a finishing touch to my freshly scrubbed kitchen. And it was quiet.  So quiet.  Even unnaturally quiet because of the silent headphones that plugged out the sounds of a living world.  Quiet enough for me to hear my own thoughts and feel my own heart as I stood and admired.  I re-read the handwritten note tied to the vase and when I reached the last phrase, something inside of me broke.

I thought you might need some cheer today.

Standing there alone in my kitchen the tears started to flow, and I wondered how she knew.  How did she know that I would need a little extra cheer this day?  This day of all days on the anniversary of Jess's birth. My heart stirred with gratitude for the gesture of a friend who cared. This one perfectly timed vase of flowers made me feel loved, and after all these moves and all the little friendships that were promising but simply never had enough time to grow, it meant something beautiful to my heart. I did need some cheer.

And I felt grateful that someone knew.

Eventually the house was clean and Brian and the kids came home from their day at the water park, so we piled into the van and made our way to the grounds of the temple.  An annual tradition that has become a happy part of my life.

"Do you know why we come to the temple on Jess's birthday?" I asked my children.
"To celebrate that he is sealed to us forever," Carson and McKenzie understood.  Miles was confused, however, and it provided a beautiful chance to talk to him and explain exactly what that means.

Teek was uninterested in having any sort of a quiet, spiritual conversation, so he made things a little difficult, but he was so darn cute that we forgave him pretty darn quick.

Halfway through our Taco Bell picnic on the temple lawn, a security officer hiked down the rocks behind us to inform us that, while we were welcome to sit on the lawn and enjoy the spirit of the temple grounds, we were actually not allowed to picnic. He was sorry, he said, about that.  And so sorry, he said, to interrupt our family time. So we packed up the food and set it by a tree next to us.

Fifteen minutes later, the same security guard hiked back down the same hill and, after asking if he could take a family picture for us, told us the exact same thing: we were not allowed to picnic on the lawns.  We explained that we had packed up our food and were not eating anymore, but we could tell that something about us being there with a bag of food and a picnic blanket made him uncomfortable.  So we thanked him for the picture and then packed ourselves up to walk around and enjoy the beauty of the temple from other vantage points.

Notice McKenzie's smile above?  She's rather excited about it. After these pictures, she exclaimed, "Hey mom! I learned a new way to smile that is so easy I don't even have to think about it!  All I have to do is curl my top lip underneath itself... like this... and prop it up on my braces.  So easy!"  I looked back through the pictures on my phone and gently remarked that, while it certainly did look easy, it wasn't a very becoming look and maybe she could muster the strength every once in a while to smile normally?

This next picture is one of my new favorites.  They are getting so big, and I can't even believe how much I love them.  They are wise beyond their years and we have Jess to thank for much of that.  They have learned from a young age what it feels like to have a tie into the heavens - and how lucky they are for that.

I do wonder, occasionally, about how our family would be different if Jess had survived, but I have no doubts that this is the way God intended for him to be in our family. And just like the flowers from Brandy brightened my kitchen with love and color, Jess colors our family with a bright and beautiful love. He is a final touch in my life that brings loose ends together, that whispers to me that I am not alone, that reminds me that I am loved.  And though sometimes I ache to hold him and to know him the way I know my other kids, I see and know that the way I love him now is so extraordinarily beautiful just the way it is.

And someday when I am able to hold him and know him the way I know my other kids, I'm sure I'll not be surprised to find that he is extraordinarily beautiful.  So beautiful that he changed my life - in many beautiful ways - without even taking a breath.

Just by simply existing.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Seven Looks Good on You, Miles!

Can you even believe how handsome this kid is?!  He fills me with so much happiness! Not only because he's so handsome to look at, but because he is a spunky, kindhearted goofball too.

The gifts portion of the birthday could not have worked out better for him.  The NBA headband, a basketball, a skateboard, and, arguably the best was the packet of Wii games that we got repaired so he could play them again.

This year we took him out to eat at his absolute favorite: Zupas.

I just love the look on his face in the photos above.  The 'It's My Birthday' face is one of my favorite things.

We also went to the movies at the super nice reclining seats theater.

A few days later we had a friend party.

 A friend party complete with friends and presents...

... a birthday cake picked out by the birthday boy himself (I really outdid myself on that one!)...

...and a trip to the laser tag/mini golf hotspot.

We absolutely love you, Miles! And I'll love you even when you wear that headband that I really, really hate. Happy Birthday!

Sunday, June 26, 2016

A Friend's Night Out

One of the things I was worried most about in moving was whether or not I'd be able to find friends.  My time for friend-making feels a little strained right now with raising my family, and because building friendships takes a large bundle of time, I wasn't sure it would come very easily (or at all) for me.

But I landed in a neighborhood full of wonderful women who are fun and spontaneous and inclusive and a little bit crazy.

They welcomed me into their group with open arms and introduced me to their tradition of Birthday Celebrations.

They celebrate birthdays better than anyone I've ever met!

They pick a theme for the night, spend days planning activities all around that theme, kidnap the birthday girl, and then go wild with fun and laughter all night long.

This was Cara's birthday party, and I'll never forget Brandy buying a whole head of hair in the mall that night.

We went to dinner, saw a show, played around in the mall, and then headed over to the Golden Nugget to spend the night.

Where Cara kept everyone up, and I slept in a bed made from two chairs.

In the morning we went swimming in the pool and slid down the waterslide that went through the tank of fish and sharks.

I was nervous about going at first because I wasn't sure how I'd feel spending so much time with brand new friends, but it turned out to be one of the best nights and I was so happy to have logged so many fun hours with these women.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Little Red, Little Red

Did you know I'm a biker?  I didn't know it myself until very recently when a new friend called up and invited me to ride in the Little Red bike ride with a group of ladies up in Logan, UT.

"You can bike for 50 miles, 75 miles, or 100 miles," she said.  "We usually do 75."  I liked the idea of it, but as I said in response to her invitation, "I don't really even know what biking 75 miles means..."  I'd never biked that far before and the closest I'd come to it was when I biked 12 miles in my sprint triathlon.  What would multiplying that by 6 even feel like?

But I had to decide right then because, apparently, the registration for the ride was due.  So I had no time to get on a bike and try it out before committing.  But really, how hard could it be?

I signed up, paid my fee, and started riding my bike - with Timothy strapped inside the trailer in back.  I rode to the schools and around the town. I rode to the grocery store and strapped milk in alongside Timothy.  I rode at night wearing a headlamp because I didn't have a bike light.  I rode alone, and I rode with friends, and by the time the ride came along, I was ready enough. I still hadn't ridden a full 75 miles in one go (who has time for that?!), but I had done a pretty rigorous 30ish miles and I had followed the guideline 'as long as you can bike the full distance of your race within one week then you'll at least be able to finish it.'

So I locked my bike up alongside some friends and hopped in the car to head to Logan.  We wore our Little Red shirts and laughed and talked the whole way up.  Halfway there in Beaver we stopped at a charming little restaurant called Patty's and had the most delicious sandwiches, smoothies and cookies the size of our heads. The menu was handwritten in chalk marker and the turquoise color popped alongside it's black and white decor.  In the bathroom stalls were happy little phrases cut out of vinyl that read you are beautiful!

Then back in the car we went while drinking the last of our smoothies.

That night we slept on mats in a friend of a friend's airplane hangar (really) that was finished and comfortable.  And the next morning:  Race Time!

The energy was palpable and so, so fun.

And once the ride started I couldn't help but keep clicking my phone out of it's home on my handlebars to snap pictures.  It was so, so beautiful.

There were little pit stops along the way for us to get some food and water, and each time I stopped it got harder and harder to get moving again.

But I did it!  I had so much fun and I would love to do it again. 75 miles ended up being the perfect length. My legs were so, so tired by the end that I'm not sure I could have ridden another mile. My body was completely exhausted - which was actually quite a new feeling for me.

And it felt so great.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Memorial Day - Cedar Breaks

Before driving all the way back home on Monday, we drove out to Cedar Breaks because we'd heard that it was a thing, and we'd never been there. Well, it is a thing, and it's incredibly beautiful.

I don't usually get in many photos myself, so when Brian offered to take one of me and the kids, I tried to gather as many as I could.  Two of four was all I got. Miles was grumbly and completely uninterested in the whole idea of a picture, and Timothy, while excited at first, stepped into a patch of soft snow right at the base of the wooden post and slammed right into it - hard - while sinking in the snow to his waist. He was obviously upset, so I gathered my other two children and said, "pretend we're all happy!" even though Timothy was screaming in the background and Miles was sulking about being offered the chance to be in a photo.

Eventually everyone calmed down and we tried again.

With much greater success.

The rain and rainclouds in the distance were my favorite. I couldn't stop staring at them.

We explored around the rim of the canyon and found a few hiking trails that were covered in snow. We didn't get very far along them because of said snow but that didn't seem to hamper any of the fun and gave us a good reason to want to come back in the summer.

Snow is so magical. Even when it's old and crusty and dirty, if you're one of my kids.

The rainstorms chased us and we watched them come before finally piling back into the van to drive back home.

I think this is going to have to be a frequent vacation spot for us.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Memorial Day - Visiting Jess

On the way home from the Valley of Fire, we decided we'd stop into the mountains of Brian Head for a little extra family time. Two and a half hours in the exact opposite direction of Home. Because, why not?

We arrived on Saturday night and stayed in a little cabin where we cuddled under blankets and watched the relatively new Cinderella movie. The kids were thrilled to see that there was snow outside and when they went to pick it up they didn't even mind that it was all one giant mass of ice and dirt.

On Sunday morning in the parking lot after church, my phone buzzed with a text from my mother-in-law who had sent a picture of Jess's grave and headstone. She had cleaned it and decorated it with little blue and yellow flowers and had taken a picture to send to me. It's one of my favorite things about Jean.

Something about that picture pulled at me and minutes later we found ourselves driving three more hours in the exact opposite direction of Home just to sit by his headstone.

We were all still dressed in our church clothes, we had no food, no entertainment, and Brian didn't even have his wallet. Yet there we were. And the kids were on board with the only request being that we made sure to stop to gather flowers along our way.

So we pulled over on the side of the road when we got close and gathered our favorites.

When we arrived we were met with the peace that lives there among those headstones.

And especially among the headstones marking the tiniest plots of land for the babies and children.

I found myself feeling very grateful for the caretakers of the land... the grass is always so thick and beautiful, and although that might have very little to do with the eternal nature of our family, it sure makes it pleasant to sit near Jess's resting place and remember.

Timothy traced his fingers through Jess's name as we told him the story of his brother.

We are generally not very spontaneous people.  I like to plan ahead and feel a bit stressed when my plans change or get interrupted.  But it felt good this time to throw our plans to the wind and take a seven hour detour to 'stop in' and remember how blessed we are to have Jess in our lives.

And when we had done what we'd come to do, we gathered back into the car and drove back down to Brian Head to continue the rest of our vacation.

A little happier.
A little sadder.
A little more rich in love and family.
And a little more splintered as we left him behind.

But, of course, we didn't really leave him behind. I suppose, in a way, you could say that Heavenly Father asked him to leave us behind. To make us better people, and to give us even more of a reason to keep our covenants. To disrupt our vacation plans - and life plans - every so often to give us something better.