A Birthday Trip to Arizona

Feb 22, 2018

For the third year in a row, we ditched the dreary clutches of Utah's January in favor of warmer climes. This is fast becoming one of my favorite traditions and makes my birthday month not seem half as bad as it once did. In 2016, we went to San Diego. In 2017, we went to Las Vegas. And this year, we went to Arizona.

When Mike and I were first married and still in school, we lived in a small apartment on the third floor of a ten-plex just south of campus. Across the street, there was an old house divided up into several units. And in one of those, even smaller than our small apartment, lived Curtis and Alicia Langstraat.

There is something absolutely incredible when you find another couple that you just click with. It's one thing to form a friendship one-on-one; it's quite another when the friendship has to cross many ways: between the couples and the spouses and the genders. During our nearly thirteen years of marriage, it has only happened a handful of times, but the year we met the Langstraats was one of them.

December 2006 after a failed attempt to see the Mormon Tabernacle Christmas concert

In the years since then, the Langstraats have lived several places--Colorado, Texas, Arizona--but we've managed to see them somewhat regularly because they usually make a trip to Utah to visit family at least once a year (and now that Curtis is a pilot, it's even easier for them to catch a flight up here for a day or two). We've been wanting to visit them for a long time, so when they bought a home last year, it seemed like the right time to finally invite ourselves over for a little vacation.

I've learned with these family vacations that there will be some rough moments, but if I can just relax and ride them out, then the bulk of the trip will be good. And that is why I could laugh on the first night of this vacation when Mike and I were eating lunchables in the hotel bathroom because it was 10:00pm, the kids were finally all asleep so we didn't dare turn on a light or make a sound; we were both starving but had very few options for food. So lunchables in the bathroom it was.

I don't think that could necessarily be called a highlight, but these other things could be:

The Grand Canyon
When we first began planning our route down to Phoenix, Mike said, "And of course we'll make a stop at the Grand Canyon," and I was like, "Over my dead body" Even on the best of days under the best of circumstances, I don't do well with heights. But if it's my kids who are up high, then it's one hundred times worse--like, I feel physically ill and come close to having a panic attack.

So I don't know how Mike ever convinced me that this would be okay, but somehow there we were, standing by the edge (but not too close) and taking in that breathtaking expanse of colors and layers and space. And I'm here to tell you that I'm glad we went. And I'm glad my kids went. We will never forget what it felt like to stand on the south rim, breathe in the crisp wind-blown air, and slowly turn from one side to the other. It was magnificent. (And I was actually far more nervous in the watch tower where the four floors were open to each other than I was when we were outside by the railing.)

As I mentioned before, we read Brighty of the Grand Canyon in preparation for our trip, and we were thrilled to get to hike on Bright Angel Trail, named after Brighty (or vice versa--I honestly don't know which came first) and see the mules coming up the trail. I'm using the term "hike" very loosely because we only made it a few hundred feet before we came to a sign that said, "Steep drop-offs beyond this point," and that was enough for me. However, I was proud of myself for even stepping foot on the trail, and my kids were so good to hug the wall so that I wouldn't be too nervous.

I fell hard and fast for all of the cacti we saw while we were in Arizona. I hadn't really thought about it before, but I guess this was my first time ever seeing that cactus of all cacti, the saguaro (it was also my first time ever hearing the word pronounced out loud--isn't that weird? I'd never really known how to say it before). I think the thing that surprised me more than anything was the sheer number of cacti. I kind of thought you'd see one saguaro standing sentry, but instead there were hundreds (thousands) of them dotting the landscape, each one totally unique. Besides the saguaro, I also loved the jumping cholla, ocotillo, prickly pear, organ pipe, barrel, and palo verde (technically a tree, not a cactus, but always there with the saguaro). I had absolutely zero expectations for the cacti (I definitely wasn't looking forward to them with eager anticipation or anything), so to be totally charmed by them was so fun.

Grapefruit picking
Before we went on this trip, if you'd asked my kids how oranges or lemons grow, they might have guessed on a tree, but they wouldn't have been able to say for sure. I asked our friends if they knew of a pick-your-own-citrus place nearby, and Alicia said they had some friends with a grapefruit orchard who said we could come pick as many grapefruits as we wanted. As we drove into the neighborhood, we saw hundreds of trees heavy laden with orange, yellow, and green fruit. It was a new experience for me, as well as my kids, and I admit, I found it somewhat thrilling. The Langstraats' friends had a couple dozen grapefruit trees, and my kids wasted no time climbing up into them and reaching with the picker to choose the best looking fruit. And it smelled heavenly. (When Maxwell heard that the scorpions came out in droves at night, he wanted to come back after dark, but he didn't get his wish.) Since coming home, we've enjoyed slicing into a cold, juicy grapefruit for breakfast. It's the best souvenir.

Bahama Bucks
I probably wouldn't mention this one except for the fact that, when the whole trip was said and done,  it vied for the top spot on Bradley's list of favorite activities. Bahama Bucks is a shaved ice place. Alicia's parents own several of them in Arizona, and my kids only had to hear the Langstraat kids mention it once before they were begging to go. And while I'm not going to say it was better than any shaved ice I've ever had, it was definitely yummy. More than that though, it was just so fun to stop for a cold treat in January and have it taste refreshing.

The Rooster Cogburn Ostrich Ranch
If we had to choose one activity from the trip that was equally enjoyed by every member of the family, it would probably be this. I thought it was going to be like a gimmicky petting zoo, and I guess it kind of was, but nonetheless we had so much fun. As part of your ticket, you get enough food to feed all the animals at the ranch (whoever thought up this marketing idea was a genius--get the people to pay for the food AND have them do the work for you). It was all very organized: large pellets for the donkeys, deer, sheep, and goats, small pellets for the ostriches, a bird seed stick for the parakeets, a little container with nectar for the lorikeets, and tokens to buy the food for the ducks, rabbits, and stingrays later on. The animals were so accustomed to people feeding them that they crowded to the fence and eagerly took the food offered to them (to be honest, I was a little freaked out by the ostriches who seemed to have a crazed look in their eyes). The sign by the goats said you could stick a pellet between your lips, and the goat would pluck it right out with a wet "kiss." I didn't think any of my kids would do it, but Mike paved the way, and then they were all willing to give it a try (except for me . . . no, thank you!). Aaron felt the need to really prove his bravery, and ended up doing the goat kiss fifteen times. But I think they all would say that feeding the lorikeets was their favorite. I even did that one, and it was pretty magical to walk into the enclosure and have these beautiful rainbow birds eagerly hop onto your hand (or head!) and sip out of a little cup. All in all, it was just a really fun experience we all enjoyed.

We had the most gorgeous weather on our trip, which led me to say many times, "I can totally see why wintering in Arizona is a thing." We took full advantage of the perfect temperatures and spent most of our time outside. We went on a couple of hikes. The first one was in Picacho Peak State Park, and we actually spent most of our time at a little playground with the most unusual swings that all of our kids were obsessed with. The other hike was the Hieroglyphics Trail. We turned around about two-thirds of the way to the top because everyone was getting hot and tired (Mike kept reminding them, "But isn't it amazing that you're hot in January?!"), but I loved soaking up the sun and getting better acquainted with all of the aforementioned cacti.

Of course the best part of the trip was spending it with people we love. We actually met up with our friends, the Gardners, at the Grand Canyon, and then of course, we spent the remainder of our trip with the Langstraats. Remember how I said it's hard to find another couple that you really mesh with because the relationship is no longer just two personalities but four? Well, imagine how complex things become when there are also ten kids thrown into the mix. But everyone got along so well (which is doubly amazing considering the fact that we were also imposing on the Langstraat's hospitality, and they had to share everything--toys, food, bedrooms, bathrooms--with us). In fact, when we weren't out exploring, we hardly saw the kids because they were so busy playing games. Sometimes they would all play together, and sometimes they paired off with the child they were closest in age to. Aaron and Nathan spent a lot of time outside jumping around on pogo sticks (which led to Aaron purchasing his own soon after we returned home). Ryan was a perfect match for Clark's intense imagination. And as for the adults? We stayed up late after the kids went to bed, chatting and playing games just like in the olden days. And we even managed to hire a babysitter and sneak out for a double date one night (where we had some seriously yummy Mexican food). Sharing memories with others is just the best, and we're already plotting ways to get together again soon.

Now we're home, and the only thing left to do is decide where we're going to go next January!

How I Hygge

Feb 15, 2018

We have had an extremely mild winter this year:
  • Average high temperatures in the upper 40's, low 50's (with even a couple of days last week in the 60's)
  • Only one big snowstorm (which all melted in a week)
  • No icy roads
  • No yucky slush
  • Relatively clear air 
  • Sending my kids to school in jackets (which they often leave in their backpacks)
To be honest, I'm feeling a little peeved. Spring is my very favorite season, but it is directly correlated with how much I hate winter. Without any winter to hate, I'm worried I won't love spring as much. Plus, my kids (especially Aaron) are really missing the snow. And all the plants and trees are getting seriously confused.

However, having such a mild winter has made me realize (yet again) that it isn't just the cold and the snow I hate. It's the dark. And the dark doesn't go away even when the temperature is warm enough to turn the grass green.

And so, I have found myself employing a whole regimen of hygge techniques to help me endure these dark nights (plus, today it snowed, so we're definitely not out of winter's hold yet).

Here are seven of the things I'm doing that are working especially well:

1. Dress for warmth and comfort
I've had at least two people tell me that the reason I don't like winter is because I don't own a pair of wool socks from Costco. While that may or may not be true, I know for a fact that my mood improves as soon as I put on a cardigan or a scarf or, yes, a pair of socks. Sometimes I even wear a hat around the house. At the beginning of the season, I bought a couple of inexpensive sweatshirts from H&M, and I don't think a week has gone by without me wearing at least one of them. I stay warm and comfortable in them all day. Bradley is always complaining about being cold but that's because he prefers to wear athletic shorts and a t-shirt. If you want to feel cozy, you have to dress cozy.

2. String up a few strands of twinkle lights
As December wound to a close, I found myself ready to take down all of the Christmas decorations but not ready to lose the cozy light given off by the Christmas tree. So when Mike took down the tree, I asked him to keep out the lights and put them up on the mantle instead. It made our living room look a little like a college dorm room, but it held off the January blues and created an ambiance that I love. I may end up getting some different lights eventually (I've been looking at these and these), but for right now, my strand of Christmas lights is working just fine.

3. Sip on a warm drink
This is one thing that probably many people can stand behind. A warm drink heats you up from the inside out. But for a long time, I couldn't find anything that I wanted to drink on a daily basis. Sure, I would drink hot chocolate after a day outside in the snow, but it was too rich and heavy for every day. I don't drink coffee. And all of the herbal tea varieties just seemed a little bland and bitter, even if I sweetened them up with sugar or honey. But then last year, I discovered Trader Joe's wassail, and I was instantly a fan. I'm the only one in my family who likes it, but in my opinion, it's liquid hygge. I drink a cup of it almost every night, and the fragrant blend of spices makes me content and happy. It's a seasonal drink, and so I stock up in December so it will last me through February.

4. Knit all the things
It's no surprise that this is on the list, right? But seriously, this newfound hobby of mine has made me actually enjoy winter. Not only is it the coziest thing to pull out my project on a cold, dark night and let the woolly yarn slip methodically through my fingers, but at the end of the project, I have something warm to wear--a hat for my head, mittens for my hands, a scarf for my neck. I'm actually happy when it's a bit nippy outside so I can pull on my hand knits. One of my goals for this year is to learn how to knit socks. Then I can keep my feet warm, too (and I'm sure they'll be infinitely better than the ones from Costco--see above).

5. Sit in front of the heater
What do you think I have going as I write this? My little portable heater. I basically live in front of it all winter. It's the happiest kind of instant gratification. Flip the switch, and I'm warm and toasty. I also love sitting in front of the heater vent; blow drying my hair is nice, too. I basically just love warm air. And I have to admit that hearing the heater come on in the middle of the night is one of coziest, most comforting sounds I can think of.

6. Snuggle up with a great readaloud
I love reading to my kids any time of the year, but it has a different feel during the cold, dark months of winter. I pull my kids in close, tuck a blanket around us, and let myself get swept up in a story. I've said before that, even though I don't particularly love fantasy, it tends to suit my winter mood very well. This month we've been reading The Silver Chair by C.S. Lewis, and the fight against the darkness of the Underworld feels very relevant as we make our own way through these dark months.

7. Put it all together for the ultimate hygge routine
My evenings almost always go something like this: After dinner, I turn on the twinkle lights in the living room. I don a pair of socks and my favorite cardigan (if I'm not already wearing them) and sit in my favorite chair. We have family prayer and read the scriptures. Then one of the boys brings over a blanket and curls up in the chair beside me. I pull out our current readaloud and we read until 8:30. I kiss them good night and then make my way to the kitchen to heat up a mug of wassail. I carry it, steaming, to my bedroom where I turn on my space heater and climb under my covers. I knit or read in bed until Mike begins brushing his teeth. That's my signal that it's getting late. I write in my journal, say my prayers, and check on my sleeping kids before climbing into bed for good. If the heater turns on just before I drift off to sleep, I know it's going to be a good night.

That may or may not sound boring to you, but it is absolutely heavenly to me. And I always kind of resent the nights when I have to go somewhere because I would much rather be doing what I just described above.

Now it's your turn. Please share your best hygge tips! And for a little bit more on this topic, here's my book review of The Year of Living Danishly

A Little of This and That in December and January

Feb 6, 2018

I was almost going to leave out December in this monthly update post (because really, who needs to hear anymore about Christmas?), but some good things happened in it, so I'm including it for my own memory's sake.

December and January found us . . . 

Listening . . . to my dad play in Tuba Christmas. I think it's so funny that Tuba Christmas is a real thing with real concerts all across the country, but it is, and I love it. My dad attended BYU's Tuba Christmas last year and then practiced all year so he could participate in it this time. Having so many tubas together is really loud, but they create a surprisingly warm and mellow sound. It was so soothing that Ian fell asleep during the second half.

Buying . . . a wet vacuum. Oh yes, we started out the month of December with something suuuuuuper exciting. But after hearing Janssen rave about hers, I was convinced that we needed one. And . . . I've been using it for over a month now, and my feelings are pretty lukewarm about it. I don't think it's as life changing as I was hoping it would be. For one, it's kind of a hassle to use. I don't really mind getting it out on Saturdays because we do a lot of concentrated cleaning on that day, but I probably wouldn't use it on a weekday (I haven't yet). I also don't love it on our kitchen floor (which is fake wood), mostly because I feel like it's a faster, easier job when I just use my little microfiber mop. However, I have loved using it on carpet and in the bathrooms, so it's definitely getting use, just not undying love.

Knocking . . . down a wall. Mike tends to get a little antsy if he doesn't have a home improvement project to work on. And that discontent leads to wanting to do drastic things, like knock down walls. He had been begging me to take out one of the walls in the basement storage room and expand the room by a few feet into an unused hallway. I was skeptical (as I am when any sort of destruction is involved), but it was either that or something more intense, so I relented. I wish you could have heard all the boys as they broke through the wall. They were giggling and laughing and cheering. It appears they might have some of the same genes as their dad. And you know what? I actually love the change. It's a much better use of space.

Playing . . . the piano. I was asked to provide some background music for a dinner on Temple Square that was for religious and educational leaders in the community. Since it was December, I played Christmas music, and I don't think there's anything I love playing more than Christmas music, so to get to do it for an hour and a half was a treat. Plus, in exchange for playing, Mike and I were given tickets to the Mormon Tabernacle Choir Christmas concert (which was immediately following the dinner and was the reason for the dinner in the first place), and the guest performer was Sutton Foster (a longtime favorite of ours), so we loved every minute of it.

Making . . . paper stars. The boys like to make new ornaments every year, and this time we found these fun paper stars that we scaled down to fit on the tree. Aaron, Maxwell, and Bradley could make them almost entirely on their own (with me stepping in to wield the hot glue gun), and I love the way they looked on the tree.

Introducing . . . old movie classics to our kids. We watched Meet Me in St. Louis, Holiday Inn, and White Christmas--all favorites from my own childhood. I thought (worried?) my kids would find them boring or silly, but they loved them. They were curious if Bing was Bing Crosby's real name, so we looked it up. Turns out, it was a childhood nickname. He was born Harry Crosby, Jr., but a 15-year-old neighbor kid started calling him Bingo from Bingville (based on a series he liked to read in the Sunday paper), and the nickname never went away. 

Seeing . . . the lights on Temple Square. I know many Utahns make this an annual tradition, but we tend to only go once every three years or so. Consequently, our kids loved it because they couldn't remember it very well from the past. We went on a Tuesday evening right as it was getting dark, and we beat the crowds, so we were pretty proud of ourselves.

Starting . . . a laundry routine that actually works. Maybe not the most interesting news to most of you, but I feel like I'm finally not drowning anymore, so it's a pretty big deal to me. It's not anything special (I just do all of the laundry on Tuesday and Friday), but for some reason, it clicked this time, and it's so nice to not be tripping over baskets of clean and dirty clothes all the time.

Knitting . . . a whole bunch of Christmas gifts. I had forgotten how fun it is to actually make gifts for others. There's so much more happy anticipation involved when you spend the whole month thinking about them as you work on their presents. I made a hat for Mike, a hat for my sister, and a heart garland and a cowl for my mom (and a hat for Aaron right after Christmas). I managed to keep the hat a complete secret from Mike, and it was so exciting to work on it in little batches and then sneakily hide it away. I finished up the cowl for my mom just two days before Christmas (Mike let me skip out on my Saturday cleaning chores so I could work on it), and a little frenzied knitting added further to the anticipation.

Celebrating . . . Christmas and ringing in 2018. We had a wonderful, low-key holiday break filled with Lego sets, a 1000-piece puzzle, books, knitting, yummy food, and family time. I wouldn't have changed a thing.

Setting . . . goals. This year, my guiding quote is by Elder Richard G. Scott, and it is this: "Be wise and don't let good things crowd out those that are essential." As such, my goals have a lot to do with prioritizing those things that are the most important and letting the other things go. Hopefully I'll have a chance to share more about the specifics in a future post.

Turning . . . thirty-three. I honestly feel totally disconnected from that age. Like I say, "I'm thirty-three," and then I think, That can't possibly be true. Thirty-three sounds like you should be fully comfortable as an adult, but most of the time, it just seems like I'm faking it. (For instance, Mike and I went to a financial planner this month, and she was talking about assets and retirement and investments, and I was sitting there nodding my head like I knew what was going on, and all the time, I was thinking, I'm not enough of an adult to be making these decisions!!!)

Traveling . . . to Arizona for our January getaway. We made a stop at the Grand Canyon and then spent the rest of our time with our dear friends, the Langstraats, from our newly-wed days. We did all kinds of fun things in the warm Arizona sun and weren't really ready to come home (although I'm sure the Langstraats were happy to have their house back!).

Finding . . . out that Brian Mathias, my friend from my undergraduate days, is the new Tabernacle organist! The last time a Tabernacle organist was hired was in 2007, and I am so thrilled that he got the spot because it has been a long-time dream of his. I've been telling people for years that he would be the next Tabernacle organist because he is extremely talented and seems to have the perfect skill set for that job. I can't wait to hear him soon and for many years to come.

Building . . . a snowman. After weeks of the tiniest little snowfalls, we finally got a big one on January 20th. It came on a Saturday when we didn't have anything else going on, and the kids (especially Aaron) loved it.

Watching . . . a bunch of knitting-related video podcasts. My very favorite is Kristy Glass Knits because she is so entertaining and has a good mix of interviews, personal updates, and behind the scenes. I also love Little Skein and the Big Stash because I like the conversations between the two hosts and hearing about their micro-businesses and A Wooden Nest because it's very calm and peaceful and I think it's interesting to hear about her hand-dyeing process. I wish both podcasts put up new videos more frequently. And, I've mentioned this one before, but I still love the Fruity Knitting podcast.

Rolling . . . and rolling and rolling. Ian has absolutely no desire to crawl because he has perfected the art of rolling. He can traverse an entire room in a matter of seconds. And, while it's true that sometimes it takes several attempts back and forth before his rolling turns him enough to reach a wanted toy, he gets there eventually. We have never had a baby like this. With the other boys, rolling was simply a stepping stone on the road to crawling and walking. But Ian doesn't seem to be in any hurry to learn a new skill, and I haven't really encouraged him either because the constant rolling is so entertaining to watch.

Reading . . . for a job. I recently began working as a manuscript reviewer for Deseret Book. That means when someone submits a manuscript to consider for publication, I'm one of the first people to set eyes on it and give an opinion as to whether or not it should go on through the process. Because of that, I'm sure I'll see a lot of things that are raw and unpolished, maybe even to the point of being painful, but it hasn't been bad yet.

Finishing . . . a cardigan. This was the first garment that I knit for myself, and I was extremely nervous that I would finish it, and it wouldn't fit the way I wanted it to, but that isn't the case at all. I had a near disaster at the end when I was picking up stitches for the collar and found an open loop (not something you want to be surprised by in your knitting). I spent a couple of days mulling over how to fix and finally found a solution that I'm quite pleased with. And then I immediately bought yarn for another (very different) cardigan.

Playing . . . basketball. Aaron and Maxwell both played basketball on recreation teams for the first time this winter. It wasn't really ideal in that they didn't know most (or any) of the other kids on their teams. That was especially hard on Max. But just last night, Aaron was saying that he wants to be a professional basketball player when he grows up, so I guess it has given him big dreams!

Of course that doesn't cover everything, but I'd say it's enough for this time. What have you been up to the last couple of months?

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