Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Memorial Day Weekend Road Trip

Have I mentioned that Craig is slightly more adventurous than I am?  All he needs to spark a road trip inspiration is a couple of blank days on the calendar, a functioning vehicle, and some hotel points...and poof! the opportunities are endless.  A couple of weeks ago, when he looked at the calendar and realized that there was nothing scheduled for Memorial Day weekend, he suggested we go on a road trip.  My initial reaction to those kinds of ideas is always to think up some legitimate reason to say no.  I have no idea why I do that...  
But I have also lived with this man long enough to know that I've never been disappointed when I've followed his madness adventurous spirit.

This weekend, we drove 1526 miles, stopped in 10 cities, visited 4 church history sites, slept in 3 hotels, and listened to 5 million songs on satellite radio.  We definitely maximized this three day weekend.

Friday after school, we packed everything, rented a minivan (ours is no longer trustworthy on long trips,) and made a quick stop at the Freshman Center talent show to hear Megan sing before heading to Tulsa, OK (modified first stop since we weren't able to leave right after school...four hours closer to our REAL first stop...Independence, MO.)    

Oh, did I mention that we didn't tell the kids where we were taking them?  Craig gave them four days'  advance notice, told them to pack both casual and churchy clothes, to bring a pillow, and that we would be back on Monday night.  Oh, the faith of those kids...there is NO way I would have let him talk me into that.  

The catalyst for this impromptu road trip was the girls' upcoming Pioneer Trek in June.  They will spend three days re-creating the Mormon Pioneer Trek from Illinois to the Salt Lake Valley.  Our entire stake has been preparing for this trek for quite a few months.  All the youth have been assigned to a Ma and Pa so that they can travel with a handcart in a family group.  We've gathered authentic (well, as close to authentic as Goodwill makes possible) pioneer skirts and bonnets (or they might wear cowboy hats) for the girls so they can feel like real pioneers.  They're taking family ancestor names with them so they can think about someone who was an actual pioneer (not necessarily one who walked across the plains, but who may have blazed a trail significant to our family.)  Craig really wanted them to be prepared not just physically, but spiritually, too.  

Saturday:  Independence and Kansas City, MO 
We stopped at the Visitor's Center in Independence and learned a little bit about the history of the church and the circumstances that brought the original Mormon pioneers from New York to Ohio and then into the Missouri territory in the 1830s.  We also stopped at the Kansas City Temple to add to Savannah's temple tour, and then ended our day at Liberty Jail.  I loved all the sister missionaries we got to talk to on Saturday.  It had been a busy day for them, but we managed to time our visits between the crowds so we had a little extra time to ask them questions.  Amazing girls.  Amazing spirit in both visitors centers.  
This is the international headquarters for the Community of Christ church.  I know very little about their church, but we sure were intrigued by the interesting architecture of this building.

Kansas City, MO Temple
Sunday: Nauvoo and Carthage, IL 
We stayed in a hotel in Keokuk, IA on Saturday night and then got up on Sunday morning to attend church just across the Mississippi River in Nauvoo, IL.  There is an 8:00 sacrament meeting for visitors and the full time missionaries, but we knew we would never make that, so we opted for the 10:00 Nauvoo 1st Ward meeting.  What an interesting ward that must be with their constant influx of visitors every week.  We talked to a few of the residents and they said that during the summer months it's typical to have the overflow filled to capacity every week.  How on earth do you prepare for a congregation that triples in size three months out of the year?  Everyone we talked to in that ward was warm and friendly, though, as if it wasn't a common thing to have new visitors every week.  We spent some time after church taking pictures in front of the Nauvoo Temple and visiting some of the restored buildings in that historic little city.  After Nauvoo, we drove a few miles to Carthage, IL to visit the jail where Joseph and Hyrum Smith were martyred in 1844.

We had such a great day in Illinois.  I could have stayed there another couple of days, I'm sure.  Every time I leave that place I think that there never seems to be enough time to tour all the homes and buildings and talk to all the missionaries.  

On Sunday evening, we started our drive back toward Texas.  We drove through beautiful stretches of farms and rolling hills.  I tried to take quick pictures with my phone out the window as we were driving, but if I could have stopped at every single old barn and taken more time, I would have loved it.  There really are remarkably beautiful places in the United States.  

On Monday, we continued our long drive home and took a slight detour through Branson, MO, just to see if we might want to come back someday.  

Um...YES...gorgeous mountains, tons of family friendly activities, shopping, and music THE OSMONDS!  Yep, even without the giant chicken, I'm pretty sure Branson would be an absolute YES for me.  Maybe for our next holiday weekend??    

It was a crazy, whirlwind trip, but it was surprisingly unrushed.  We just did what we could and saw as much as we were able to see.  There were no high highs or low lows.  It was uneventful but extremely memorable.  I always resist these road trips, but I realized when I was in the middle of this one that I really LOVE them.  I love having my whole family cooped up in a van or a hotel room for three whole days.  I love seeing places I've never seen.  And I love that there are no lists or demands or chores when you are captive in a moving vehicle for miles and miles and miles.  All there is to do is talk, and think, and take pictures.  What a perfect way to spend three days.  

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Summer Goals

Well, the list is up!  That means we're one step closer to summer. 

I LOVE the unscheduled, lazier days of summer, sleeping in a little, and mostly playing all day, but I also like a little structure and some plans, too.  Craig and I started helping the kids with Summer Goals years ago when they were little.  We encouraged them to have a few things they wanted to accomplish during their break as well as some fun things to look forward to.  The kids have made homemade popsicles, hosted a movie premiere party, and opened a lemonade stand in past summers with the help of those little lists.  Planning is a good thing.  Lists are good things.  And combined with a little flexibility and some spontaneous fun thrown in, a few goals make the summer so much better.  I think it's a good thing to be able to look back at the end of a summer and see that's it's been fun...and productive.  The kids still have their individual lists, but we've added a FAMILY SUMMER GOALS list to the kitchen also, mostly to keep us motivated when the summer seems endless and everyone starts to get bored.  (Although with our schedule this year, I'm not sure we've left much time for boredom...)  We sat the kids down earlier this week and asked them what they wanted our summer to look like.  We let them toss out anything and everything, and we mostly included it all on the list.  We may not do all of those things (like Lagoon...blah...I'm kinda hoping we don't have time to fit that in) but it's nice to have some direction to the lazy days and weeks ahead.  

Have I mentioned that I'm REALLY looking forward to the end of the school year?  

smoothies for breakfast...visits to the pool...early morning walks instead of early morning seminary...lots of picture taking opportunities...family vacations...

Hurry up, summer.  I wish you'd just get here already.  

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Quiet Spaces

These are the things I've heard this week...

"I have rehearsal until 6:30 and then my concert starts at 7:00, so can you just bring my dress and my bass to the school with you when you get me?  Oh, and I might need some dinner..."

"We wrote the wrong amount on the check for my letter jacket.  Can you get online and make the remaining payment?...it's due today."

"Can you pick up Megan for me?  I have to be at work earlier than I thought."

"I can't take the cookies with me to RS because I'm going there straight from work.  They'll be sitting in the car for 2 hours!"

"Can you come to the school and take pictures of our choir rehearsal from 4:00-6:00 today?  I need more pictures for the slideshow."  
"I brought the wrong flashdrive to school.  There are no pictures on this one!!"
"Can you help me download a song off of iTunes for the choir slideshow?"
"Do you know how to put music with pictures and make a slideshow out of it?"

This morning, as I was driving two kids to school and receiving a text from another one that she had left her textbooks at home and could I please bring them because they need to be turned in today, I felt a little bit like this...

It's only Wednesday and already I feel like we've crammed a week's worth of stuff into the past two days.  This is the time of the school year that always seems to sneak up on me.  Things need to be signed and returned, dry cleaned and paid for.  Projects need to be completed.  Pictures need to be turned into slideshows.  Field trips and parties need chaperones.  And talents need to be shared with family members and friends.  And all the other things that occur in a normal week still have to happen...like dinner, and Cub Scouts.  Thankfully Craig is home which means an additional driver, a calm demeanor, and a technology expert. 

It is a priority for me to try to keep our regular lives as uncluttered and minimally scheduled as possible, but inevitably this time of the year is filled with chaos, to do lists, and a lot of rushing around.  Today it is making my head spin.

There is too much to do to have the luxury of being quiet for very long, but I made myself carve out a tiny little quiet space today anyway.  And here's what I heard...

"Therefore continue your journey and let your heart rejoice; for behold, and lo, I am with you even unto the end."  D&C 100:12

Sometimes I think that means He's with us until the end of our mortal journey.  Today I'm pretty sure it means that He's just with me...in the chaos, managing the requests, keeping me mindful of things like dinner and sleep, and reminding me that the end of this school year will not necessarily be the end of my mortal journey...hopefully.  It was a brief thought, but just enough to get me out of my head and happily back on the journey, which today will mostly be spent in my car getting a few more things checked off of that never-ending May To Do list.   

I'm grateful for tiny little spaces of quiet amid the chaos.  I'm grateful for this stay-at-home mom career that I chose.  I'm grateful for kids who are engaged and involved.  And I'm really grateful that June is just around the corner...

Tuesday, May 20, 2014


Do you know what I really, really love?  Taking pictures.  

But as much as I love photography, I haven't quite mastered the skill of it yet, which is frustrating.  You'd think, as often as I carry my camera around with me, and as much effort as I put into taking pictures, that I would be great at it by now.  But I'm disappointingly not.  

A few weeks ago, I realized I hadn't taken any pictures of McKay's football season, so I grabbed my camera and decided I would just shoot everything. Instead of taking my usual handful of pictures, I opted for the Quantity Method and took hundreds.  The more pictures you take, the more likely you are to get a good one, right?  (I borrowed that method from someone else, but I'm pretty sure he isn't the first to use it.)  I left that day with about 200 pictures of little boys in yellow shirts running around after a football.  And after about 2 hours of editing and deleting, I ended up with a handful that weren't terrible.  

On Monday when Emma needed pictures for her choir slide show, I tried the same thing.  Quantity.  I spent 2 hours at the school and took almost 300 pictures in a gym full of kids I didn't know, most of whom didn't even want their pictures taken, in an effort to get an adequate representation of each one in the slide show.  Hours of editing, an impatient Emma watching over my shoulder, and two flash drives later, we ended up with a pretty comprehensive slide show presentation.  But she only ended up using about 10% of the pictures I took.  

Before, that would have been mildly discouraging.  90% is a pretty miserable failure rate.  

But now, I am more sure of a few things:

  • Taking pictures in a gym is ridiculously hard.  
  • Moving children are ridiculously hard to photograph.
  • People who don't want to be photographed are ridiculously hard to photograph.
  • Editing is a magical thing.
  • Nobody cares about the failure rate.  Nobody ever looks through my iPhoto trash nor do they even know it exists.  And if I delete all the bad pictures, that makes my failure rate 0%, right?
  • Not one of the photographers I admire and want to be like someday woke up one morning and magically started taking great pictures.  Everyone has a trash pile.  

I love wandering around with my camera.  I love capturing moments and then writing about them here.  I love looking at the world as if it were a photo opportunity.  And I love accidentally getting an amazing shot of something.  

Eventually I hope to be a better photographer.  Eventually I hope to have my end results match my intentions.  Eventually I hope that there is more skill involved in the good shots instead of luck.  Eventually I hope that I'll have to take fewer pictures because I'll be better at this little hobby and I'll have a higher percentage of good ones. 

The good thing is that life is long.  The future will be filled with lots of opportunities to take pictures, and if I keep carrying my camera around and keep shooting stuff, the Quantity Method at least ensures that I'll keep getting a few good shots.  

Friday, May 16, 2014

Perot Museum

The entire 5th grade at McKay's school visited the Perot Museum of Nature and Science today.  It's been awhile since I've been on a field trip with him, and I've never been to the Perot Museum, so this was the perfect opportunity to fit in both.   
I remember watching this building when it was under construction a couple of years ago, thinking it was the oddest thing I had ever seen.  That glass protrusion on the side of the building, we found out today, is an escalator.
"...designed for visitors who enjoy heights and aerial views..."  Yep, that sounds just like something I would enjoy.  No wonder McKay thought this would be the perfect thing to do!

The escalator ride was pretty manageable actually, and I didn't even mind looking out the window, until McKay dragged me over to this one and dared me to lean right up against it and look straight down...eek!  Amazing, but scary.  The boys loved it!

They also loved all the exhibits.  This museum is vast!  We could have easily spent another couple of hours taking more time with some of their favorites.  The remote control vehicles were, by far, McKay's favorite. He got to build one, connect it to the power source, and then try it out on several different tracks.  If the other boys hadn't been anxious to move on, I think McKay would have been content to stay there the entire day.

We fit as much as we could into the brief time we had in the museum.  We will definitely have to visit this place again over the summer.  

Hanging out with a bunch of fifth graders at a science museum is a pretty great way to spend a spring day.  

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Community Helpers

We finished our Citizenship requirements in Webelos this week with the help of these two awesome community helpers.  

Shawn - Jr Volunteer Fire Fighter
I left several messages earlier in the week with the Allen Police Department, but started to panic when I still hadn't heard from anyone by late Tuesday night.  Shawn is Megan's friend and I vaguely remembered her telling me some time ago that he went on frequent "ride alongs" as a student fireman.  So in a desperate attempt to secure a guest speaker for our den meeting, I asked Megan to text him and invite him to come talk to the boys.  And guess what!  He was not just willing, but thrilled to do it.  He packed a bag of equipment for them to look at.  He went through his Firefighter Academy manual with them.  And he had pages and pages of notes that he had jotted down sometime between Megan's text at 9:00 last night and his appearance at 4:30 this afternoon.  The boys loved talking to him and he was a wealth of information.  I made sure to send him home with a big bag of chocolate chip cookies as a thank you!

...and Officer Mike - Allen Police Dept
Late this morning, I got an email from one of the officers I had contacted, saying that he would be able to come to our den meeting, but not until after 5:00pm.  Perfect!  I could have Shawn talk for the first half, and Officer Mike cover the second half.  An over abundance of community helpers is never a bad thing.

I can't even say enough how impressed I was with Officer Mike.  He was personable and related to the boys.  He answered all of their questions and even brought stickers to pass out to everyone.  After he talked about road safety and car safety for a little while, he showed the boys some of the things he carries on his very cool motorcycle, including his speed gun.  He showed them how it worked and then one of them asked if he could clock their running speed with it.  And he said, "Sure!" as if he had nothing better to do on a Wednesday evening than watch 6 little boys run the 50 yd dash.  What a nice man!  (Incidentally, 10-yr-old boys apparently run about 12 mph.)

I'm so grateful for the things these boys are learning about life and career options and people who are generous with their time.  I'm grateful for two community helpers that make me feel a little safer in my neighborhood at night.  And I'm really grateful for a den meeting that came together better than I pictured it in my head.