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It has been a long weekend already. One day off from school and I’m exhausted. How about something funny?

Gavin: When I was in third grade I had to digest those owl pellets.
Snickers from Heath and Me.
Gavin: Every time I say that Mom and Dad stop eating. I guess it’s gross.
Heath: You mean dissect, not digest. It would be gross if you had to digest owl pellets.

Me: Did you bring your cell phone?
Gavin: No.
Heath: How will you text your girlfriends?
Gavin: Which one?
We can’t tell if he was serious or just really quick on his feet.

The kids are hilarious. I wish I remembered all the funny things they say. If I think of more I will add to this post.

Birthday Week Continues

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The gifts keep coming! What a great time to be alive!

On Monday Gwen received a card and some cash from Great Grandma Holmes. She also received a package from Aunt Chris. It was a big stack of paper perfect for scrapbooking. Paper is as important as breathing is to this girl, so you can imagine how delighted she was to get more paper! Aunt Chris also sent me some fancy scissors to scrapbook with. Gwen and I had to make a scrapbook page together.

Yesterday a card from my mom came in the mail for Gwen with more cash inside! Gwen almost doesn’t know what to do with herself! I asked her what she wanted to spend her birthday money on. She said she wants a doctor kit. I think that is a great idea.

Birthday Dresses and Other Gifts

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We Skyped with Grandma and Grandpa on Saturday so they could see Gwen open her present.

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It’s an adorable pink dress with a matching doll dress. Gwen was happy to try it on. Then she was upset that we wouldn’t let her use it as a school dress. She’s funny because she loves anything pink and girly. She has been complaining that she doesn’t have enough dresses for church. It’s true. She had a lot but then she grew out of a bunch all at the same time. She has a lot of skirts but she doesn’t like wearing them to church. I think she thinks they are for school and play only.

I love that Gwen gets a birthday dress every year. I was really looking forward to this year in particular because of the dress drought in Gwen’s closet. We also planned on buying her a dress so she could have some choices.

She needed new shoes too. Actually all the kids need new shoes. Gavin has a hiking activity coming up and we decided it would be best for him to have some real shoes to wear for the hike. Parker just showed me the holes inside his shoes. I hope Payless is having a sale because my kids go through shoes so fast.

Gwen picked out some cute silver sandals. They have a bit of a heel which made her feel so grown up. She kept saying she felt tall because she’s 7 now! Yesterday she was dressed and ready for church. Shoes were on her feet and everything. I don’t remember how I figured this out but her shoes didn’t match. One was a size 4 and the other was a size 3. Not this again! The rain boot debacle at Target made sense. The boots were just sitting on a shelf. There was no box. They were never attached to each other. I was the idiot for buying them without checking.

But what happened with the sandals? There was a box. The box said size 3. The shoe she tried on said size 3. Both shoes had paper wadded up in the toe and some cardboard origami attached to the back strap. There was a right and a left shoe. How did no one notice the major size discrepancy? They came from JC Penney! It’s not like we bought the cheap stuff Target sells. We went to a legitimate store with a shoe department and everything. I was baffled.

We did let her wear the shoes to church. What else were we supposed to do? I took the shoes back to JC Penney today. The lady walked me to the shoe department so the shoe people could help me. No one was there though. I found a box that said size 3 and we both double checked that both shoes also said size 3. She took me back to her counter to do the exchange. We double checked the shoes again to make sure I was getting what I needed. She was very nice and I thanked her for her help. Gwen is thrilled to have the same silver sandals she picked out. I was afraid we might not get so lucky.

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Gwen’s dresses are so cute. She loves posing for pictures, can you tell? The dress we bought is fun because the black and white pattern matched the wrapping paper Grandma’s dress was wrapped in. Grandma also made a petticoat. Fancy!

Parker wanted to know what we were getting for Gwen at the mall. Especially since we said there was a surprise for everyone. He started getting a little crazy trying to figure it out. He kept saying he could keep the secret. We kept saying we knew he could not. It was a lot of fun withholding that information!

I thought we would do our secret plans last. Heath wisely chose to do it first. We walked past Build a Bear on our way to the food court. The kids pointed it out and Parker asked if we were going there. All we said was that we couldn’t tell. So he was left to freak out in his mind. Was it the Lego store or Build a Bear? He had no way of knowing.

We walked past Build a Bear after lunch. I think someone asked again if we were going in there. Heath took two more steps past the store. Then he spun around and dove into the store saying “Yes we are!” The kids were ecstatic. I was just as surprised as they were only because I thought we were saving that activity for last. I realize the brilliance of Heath’s plan. He figured the boys would be a lot easier to deal with looking for dresses if they had a cool friend in a box.

I was afraid Gwen might choose a My Little Pony. I don’t understand why that toy from the 80’s has been resurrected into a cult following. Gwen is obsessed with the show. The show makes me question my will to live. Luckily Gwen chose a white teddy bear instead.

She said she liked it because it looked like Elsa from Frozen. That’s another iconic obsession I don’t understand. Wasn’t Elsa the dark, messed up sister with the crazy ice powers? I get that she was the older sister and that she had the beautiful long blonde braid. I get that little girls like powers. Give them a wand and tell them it has magical powers and they will play for hours. But why does Ana get the shaft?

She was the sister that never gave up. She was the brave one. She was the one willing to move heaven and earth to find her angry sister. Ana was the one who broke the ice spell. Elsa was the one that was loved unconditionally by Ana despite being a royal pain in the butt, setting off an eternal winter of a temper tantrum. So tell me, why do all the girls worship Elsa? If you ask me Ana is the real hero of the story.

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At any rate Gwen chose the Elsa bear. It really is an Elsa bear. On one foot it says Frozen and on the other foot it says Elsa. She has large, blue cat eyes and her fur is white with glittery sparkles in it. I have a hard time remembering her name is Elsa because Gwen’s first Build a Bear friend was a pink cat she named Sparkly.

Gavin chose a camouflage bear he named Junior. I think he enjoyed the experience more than he let show. He’s at that awkward in between stage. He’s still a kid but “he’s almost a man” according to Gwen. I thought it was interesting that he told the stuffing girl he was 12. Without even blinking. He won’t be 12 for another five months! I only get five months a year where they are all two years apart. Only five months to say my kids are 7, 9, and 11 years old. He can’t wait to grow up so he tells strangers he’s 12. Crazy kid. He had fun building another bear. He was disappointed we wouldn’t buy him a motorcycle for it but he got over that fast.

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Parker almost couldn’t contain himself he was so excited to be at Build a Bear again! He chose a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle but put it back when he realized that was the character he already has as a stuffed toy. He grabbed a different turtle which I thought had ugly coloring compared to the other turtles. Parker put it back when he saw Toothless from How to Train Your Dragon. He named it Bob.

The black dragon is really cool. I like it a lot. Parker loves it. Parker loves all stuffed toys. And blankets. And Lego mini figures. And anything that is warm and snuggly or is a toy that he can give a personality to. He’s our only kid who really loves toys. That’s kind of why we have been cutting back on toys as gifts lately. The kids don’t spend a lot of time playing with them. They have so many too.

Gwen was a little spoiled at Build a Bear since it was her birthday. We let her get a sound. If you press Elsa’s paw she sings Let it Go. The stuffing girl talked us into getting a scent. I think that was a waste of money because I can’t really smell anything when I sniff her tummy. We also let Gwen pick an outfit. She chose the Elsa dress and clear slippers that remind me of Cinderella’s glass slippers. Gwen loves that they are high heels. So chic.

We saved the other gifts we got for Gwen until Sunday. It seemed like a good idea at the time. I was so exhausted after our big day of celebrations that by Saturday night I couldn’t care less about wrapping gifts. Heath was bummed we forgot to bake the cake. We had to relax first. I could get away with not wrapping presents but that cake wasn’t going to bake itself. So we stayed up really late baking cake.

On Sunday morning I asked Gwen if she wanted me to wrap her presents and let the boys color the butcher paper. We don’t have any wrapping paper and this is how I’ve been wrapping gifts for birthday parties. Or I gave her the choice of me just handing her the gifts unwrapped. She went for that idea. I told her we had to wait for Dad to come home from his meetings first.

That was the best part. I had Pandora playing my Mormon Tabernacle Choir station. There is a lot of church music but sometimes a piano only piece will come through. Cristofori’s Dream by David Lanz came on. The kids know that is my favorite piano piece ever. Parker came running up to let me know my favorite song was on. He was so sweet to tell me and I knew I needed a minute to clear my mind anyway. So I ran downstairs to sit in a chair with my eyes closed to just enjoy the music.

Parker kept shushing his brother and sister because he knows that is my drop everything and be still song. He even ran outside to shush Heath when we heard him pull into the garage. There were only a few seconds left of the song but Parker didn’t want anything spoiling my moment.

The song ended and Gwen got really excited. Daddy was finally home so that meant I needed to give her the unwrapped presents! I kept the jewelry hanger in the JoAnn’s bag. I put the alarm clock under my shirt. Everyone loved that. She pulled the jewelry hanger out of the bag and squealed. I’m not sure she even knew what it was at first. She was less enthused when we told her. Still excited but not as thrilled. She wondered if it would replace her jewelry box. We thought it would be a great place to hang her necklaces. The floor isn’t the best storage place for necklaces.

We birthed my alarm clock baby and her face completely fell. With tears in her eyes she said she thought it would be a doctor kit. Heath was surprised since the doctor kit request was new to him. For about a week or so she has been hoping for a doctor kit like what Doc McStuffins has. Then she will list all of Doc’s toys hoping to get those too. I was never going to get a doctor kit. She doesn’t need any more toys and I didn’t think this was a real want. More like a wish she had every time she watched the show. So I never told Heath.

The alarm clock was something she has been begging for since the Backpack Fairy didn’t give her one. We finally found a simple alarm clock that plays CD’s. Gwen’s stereo is great but it won’t play homemade CD’s which causes a lot of heartache at night. We thought the alarm clock would be a slam dunk. I felt terrible that she was so upset.

It has been growing on her. She loves seeing what time it is. She read to Elsa this afternoon in her bedroom so she would know if she read a full 20 minutes or not. She was concerned that it didn’t wake her up this morning. Sundays are busy days. We only had time to get the clock in her room with the correct time before bed. I did think it was cute that Gwen was concerned that it didn’t wake her up at 7:00. It was 6:58 when she said that.

Gwen still has birthday cards and other gifts to look forward to in the mail. Aunt Chris is even sending her some scrapbooking things. I love that Gwen had a Sunday birthday because it meant that her birthday was celebrated for much longer than just one day. We celebrate the whole month of July for the boys. Gwen enjoyed a similar treatment this year with her birthday. I can’t believe she is 7 years old!

Birthday Food

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I had to get a picture of the menu board because of a new family joke. We were brainstorming meals for the week and somebody (I think it was Parker) pointed out that the meals matched the initials of the week. Sunday – stuffed chicken, Monday – mmm hot dogs, Tuesday – tortellini, Wednesday – Wendy’s. Thursday didn’t quite match. Friday did but not the way I wrote it on the board.

Heath: Faco Friday!
Me: Careful!
Later in the week Gwen mentioned Faco Friday.
Parker: Did you just say a bad word?

I love Faco Friday. I think we may have a lot of tacos on Fridays now because of that great name. Just be careful when you say it.

We normally do soup on Wednesdays because Gavin has Scouts and it’s the fastest and easiest meal to get Heath and Gavin out the door on time. But this time his regular Scout meetings were postponed to have a Court of Honor instead. Wendy’s is just up the street from where the Court of Honor would be held. Yeah, we could have had soup. But why have soup at home when you can scarf Wendy’s down in less than ten minutes?

We did make it to the Court of Honor on time. Yay us! I kind of wish we left right after Gavin was recognized because it got real boring real fast. One of the leaders was being recognized for earning his wood badge. Does that sound right? Anyway they spent more time recognizing one leader than they spent on 40 Scouts achievements. I am not kidding.

I already think the symbolism of Scouts is completely made up folklore that I just don’t get. I am convinced of it after that woman droned on forever. And the song and dance! First he’s this animal, then he’s that animal. What other woodland creature or zoo animal can we throw in next? It was tedious to say the least. I will say I prefer a Court of Honor to the absolute chaos that a Pack Meeting is. I still wished I refilled my Diet Coke from Wendy’s. 

Our birthday traditions include letting the birthday person pick their favorite restaurant for dinner. Gwen picked her new favorite restaurant Lazy Dog. She was so excited to order a build your own pizza. She couldn’t wait to see what dessert they would bring out when they sang to her. It was going to be the best experience ever!

She ordered the pizza and kept eating the cheese before the waitress came for the built pizza. When her pizza came out all cooked to perfection, minus quite a lot of cheese, Gwen had one bite. She enjoyed a few fries before declaring she was full. French fries and pizza! That’s the first problem!

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Actually, there were a couple problems on Saturday. They weren’t really problems. We just had way too much food. Heath took the kids with him to the doughnut shop for breakfast. Gwen chose a heart doughnut bigger than her head. The kids love doughnuts for breakfast!

We left for the mall to do some more birthday shopping. We left about the time we needed to eat lunch in order to get to dinner early enough to beat the crowds. So we ate at the mall. Heath and Gavin ordered Panda Express while I took the other two to McDonald’s. We all ate together in Panda Express’s dining room. We tried to have a light lunch but I think it was too much food for an early dinner.

Gavin wanted to order ribs for dinner. Heath told him to branch out and try something else on the menu. So he chose a steak. We both said over our dead bodies could he order a $26 steak dinner. We figured out he was feeling very carnivorous and really wanted a lot of meat. Heath suggested the pot roast. Gavin really liked it. The best part was he finished and said he was full! Finally we filled up our teenager in training! Parker ate all his build your own pizza and the watermelon chunk as big as his head. Gwen’s pizza is still sitting in the fridge.

The first waitress went on her 30 minute break soon after getting our drinks. You know, after we told her it was Gwen’s birthday. There was no song. There was no dessert. I was pretty disappointed myself. Not that anyone needed dessert. It was just the principle of the thing. I thought it was kind of lame that Gwen was ignored. The girl is 7 years old for crying out loud! All she wanted was for someone to make a big deal out of her birthday. The first waitress did act all excited and wished Gwen a happy birthday. Not really the same though.

Gwen really wanted a cake. She was very specific. She wanted strawberry so it would be a pink cake with pink frosting. She also wanted only one candle. Maybe just a number 7, she suggested. We bought a number 7 candle because I forgot to check the cupboard to see if we already had one. When we got home I saw that we had a number 7 candle still in the original packaging. *sigh*

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I have permission to share these pictures. Heath was upset with his decorating skills. He kept saying the cake looked like Gwen signed her own name when she was in kindergarten! I think it looks great. The side swoopy things wouldn’t cooperate though.

Gwen was also allowed to choose a Sunday meal. She wanted croissant sandwiches. I love those! I think she picked croissants because the name is French and Gwen is obsessed with anything fancy and French.

The kids kept begging to eat cake. After dinner we sang to Gwen and she blew out the candle. Heath held her hair for her. It was in a ponytail but he held it because she was concerned. I had told her that my hair burned on my 7th birthday. I leaned over to blow out the candles and a piece of my hair got in the way of the candles. I had to get my hair cut. It wasn’t a big deal but Gwen was horrified when I told her! It was a relief to Gwen that she managed to blow out her candle without catching her hair on fire. I don’t know what she wished for but I hope it comes true for her.

Instead of Unique of the Week luncheons, Gwen’s teacher does birthday lunches. They are typically held the last Monday of each month and all the kids with a birthday that month are invited. Parents are invited too but I didn’t go. If I wasn’t tutoring today I may have considered it. It would have been a lot of back and forth to the school and I had a bunch of errands to run today. So I’m a terrible mother but Gwen had fun anyway.

I made sure to buy her a Lunchable since she loves them so much. I was going to send her to school with a sacrificed Diet Coke for Mrs. M. But we had a better idea last night. Gwen’s Primary teachers buy a small Bundt cake from Nothing Bundt Cakes for each of their Primary students to celebrate birthdays. It’s a big Primary class too! I’m very impressed. They are still newlyweds and don’t have any of their own children yet.

Gwen came home with her own Bundt cake. We thought it would be perfect for Gwen to share her cake with Edward and their teacher. Gwen and Edward were the only February birthdays. She was very excited to share. I was afraid she would be upset. But she admitted herself she had sugar overload after her piece of homemade cake. All the kids complained the frosting was too sweet and that their stomachs hurt! I thought the cake was good. It murdered my blood sugar but it was still good.

note1Lunch was eventful today and not because of the cake. Gwen lost a tooth. She will definitely have to get braces. The new tooth has already started to come in behind the tooth Gwen refused to pull out. For weeks we have tried to convince that girl to pull it out. It finally fell out at lunch today. And then she swallowed it.

Gwen was very upset and was about to cry. Mrs. M. did some quick thinking. She made a big deal out of how exciting it was that Gwen lost her tooth. Then she wrote a note for the Tooth Fairy so the Tooth Fairy will believe what happened.

A choice in meals for days, cakes coming out the wazoo, money from the Tooth Fairy! Can you believe Gwen also made off like a bandit with birthday gifts too?

The Things My Hands Can Do

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Seven years ago I was nervous about having my third and final baby. This weekend I was nervous because I was asked to speak in church on that baby’s birthday. 

Normally I love speaking in church or teaching lessons. This time I was nervous because it was so personal. It’s one thing to type something really personal and have Heath announce he hit the publish button. I don’t know who reads things besides family. Not knowing makes it much easier to not care what anyone thinks. Be personal and post away. It’s those personal posts that tend to get the most traction. So in the end I guess it all works out.

But this time I wasn’t posting anything online. I was reading it all in front of a chapel full of people. Some of them know my story, or at least parts of it. Most did not. That’s scary! I was brave. I did it. The response was very positive.

Here it is. And yes, the beginning did come from a blog post I wrote a couple years ago. Actually, this post has been the conscious beginning of a lot of wonderful things. The post was inspired by a talk given by President Thomas S. Monson in his book titled Pathways to Perfection. He wrote about hands and I loved it so I wrote about hands. The post wrote itself and I watched myself type the paragraph about my Grandma Clarke. That was when I decided I was ready to do temple work for my family. It was slow going since I had nothing. I couldn’t even remember enough names to get started. The rest of the story is more or less in my talk.

Of the whole human body, hands are the most interesting feature. Hands are capable of so much. Think of the service and the love hands are responsible for. The hard work and tender caresses. Healing and nourishment.

Hands have always held a certain fascination for me. As a result, people’s hands have been burned into my memory. It’s comforting to recall the details of many of those hands that have blessed my life.

Gnarled and twisted, my grandmother’s hands remind me of paws. With the limitation of painful arthritis, those hands have blessed so many lives. Her hands are quick to comfort the sick and the weary. I will never forget the image of my grandma sitting in a dirty gutter wearing her Sunday best, talking and comforting a man who had bounced into the gutter after being struck by a car. She was probably carefully stroking his hair as she spoke calmly to him.

Her knobby hands held the steering wheel at a perfect ten and two as she drove my sister and me to and from school the year our parents divorced. That car driven by her capable hands was the means of so much service in the church.

Some of my earliest memories of my grandma’s hands include her passion for handiwork. Seldom is she found sitting without a bag of yarn by her side, her hands deftly clicking knitting needles or guiding a crochet hook through an intricate dance to reveal a beautiful afghan. She made a gorgeous white afghan for my oldest when he was born. It has been used for every baby blessing of my children. She has made blankets for each of my other children as well. My heart swells to think her love made such a wonderful gift for her great grandchildren.

And her baking … oh my grandma is famous for her baking! She wasn’t the best cook but her baking rivaled all. I think neighbors prayed for illness in the hopes that she might bake them a loaf of bread! Her German bread was my favorite, although the name of it escapes me now.

My grandfather’s hands were a weathered leathery brown. They were large but never clumsy. He has delighted many a child with his elegant make believe sewing. I can still imagine him carefully threading an imaginary needle with his fingers flexed in a proper tea party way.

His hands have taught countless men and women to drive large semi-trucks. When I first bought my car he would take me out driving every day. We would drive a big circle up Parley’s Canyon, around Heber City, through Provo Canyon, and up 1-15 back home. I remember his gentle hands softly taking my left hand off the wheel while he instructed me to loosely rest my elbow on the arm rest. He also told me to relax my right hand and slide it down the wheel a little. Such a subtle lesson on how not to drive so tensely but it has made a lasting impression.

His capable hands have been placed on the heads of many a faithful person in the act of precious priesthood blessings, including countless patriarchal blessings. His hands have performed many acts of service like shoveling walks, home improvement, and auto mechanics, just to name a few. His hands have safely held onto many a novice water skier, and wildly gestured to punctuate great stories and jokes.

I remember a picture of my grandpa holding a tiny infant in his arms. His huge hands were wrapped awkwardly around the tiny sleeping body. His sturdy arms were an envelope of safety while a goofy smile couldn’t help but spread across his face. I have never felt comfortable holding an infant. I love recalling how happy and secure he appeared in the task.

My Grandma Clarke was missing a thumb on one hand. The result of a heroic act of love as one of her sons tried to take his life with a gun. He was missing his arm but his life was spared due to her determined love.

A large crescent shaped scar on my husband’s finger reminds me of his commitment to his family. He cut his finger while making dinner. He was out of work and I was the only one insured at the time. Chances are I wouldn’t have been able to talk him into getting stitches even if it was feasible. His hands toil tirelessly for those he loves, with no thought of himself.

One day as I was cutting my second son’s fingernails I realized his hands looked familiar. He has his daddy’s hands. Short, stubby fingers full of love. The other two have my hands with long, graceful fingers. Not my hands as much as my mother’s hands.

When I was a child I was fascinated with my mom’s hands. They truly are elegant and beautiful. Long, slender fingers capable of the most intricate of crafts as well as the roughest home improvement or gardening projects. My mom’s hands do it all.

Her hands taught my brother and me to play the piano. Our stubborn minds refused to learn much beyond the basics! I love watching her hands perform a ballet across the piano keyboard while the most soothing sounds fill the house.

My mom’s hands are now wrapped in thinner skin exposing more veins and bones hidden in younger hands. They may be a lot more chapped from her years of nursing service, but they are still the most beautiful sight to me – her hands. Her hands that have always been at the end of every hug, at the heart of every meal, and the pride of all her creations.

I think of his hands pierced and bleeding to pay the debt.
Such mercy, such love and devotion can I forget?
No no I will praise and adore at the mercy seat
Until at the glorified throne I kneel at his feet.
(I Stand All Amazed Hymn #193)

President Dieter F. Uchtdorf told a story about the bombing of a city in World War II. A large statue of Jesus Christ was severely damaged. When the townspeople found the statue among the rubble, they mourned because it had been a beloved symbol of their faith and of God’s presence in their lives.

Experts were able to repair most of the statue, but its hands had been damaged so severely that they could not be restored. Some suggested that they hire a sculptor to make new hands, but others wanted to leave it as it was—a permanent reminder of the tragedy of war. Ultimately, the statue remained without hands. However, the people of the city added on the base of the statue a sign with the words: “You are my hands.” (You Are My Hands Dieter F. Uchtdorf April 2010 General Conference)

As disciples of Jesus Christ, we are instruments in His hands. He relies on us to do the work He would do if He were here. Our hands are paramount in this task. Imagine what your hands can do for your ancestors as well as your descendants. Through family history, our hands are capable of binding hearts together for eternity.

Our hands are an integral part of the service we can provide our ancestors in the temple. I know that Heavenly Father loves all His children. Which is why He has provided a way for everyone to learn of the gospel and have the opportunity to choose whether or not to accept it. Even for those who have passed from this life without those opportunities. It is up to us to do this work for them.

In Obadiah 1:21 we read, And saviours shall come up on mount Zion to judge the mount of Esau; and the kingdom shall be the Lord’s.

The Prophet Joseph Smith gave clarity to this scripture when he said, “But how are they to become saviors on Mount Zion? By building their temples … and going forth and receiving all the ordinances … in behalf of their progenitors who are dead … and herein is the chain that binds the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the children to the fathers.”

Several years ago Elder Howard W. Hunter said: “Does it seem reasonable that persons who have lived upon the earth and died without the opportunity of baptism should be deprived throughout eternity? Is there anything unreasonable about the living performing the baptisms for the dead? Perhaps the greatest example of vicarious work for the dead is the Master himself. He gave his life as a vicarious atonement, that all who die shall live again and have life everlasting. He did for us what we could not do for ourselves. In a similar way we can perform ordinances for those who did not have the opportunity to do them in lifetime.”

Elder Hunter added: “Not only may baptisms be performed for the dead, but endowments; also sealings, by which wives become eternal companions to husbands and their children sealed to them as a family. The sealing of family units can be continued until the family of God is made perfect. This is the great work of the dispensation of the fulness of times. … The uniting and redemption of the family of God was the divine plan before the foundations of the earth were laid.”

What a beautiful thought. I will be honest. The spirit of Elijah has only recently touched my heart. Genealogy may as well have been a four letter word when I was a kid. I heard that word and immediately fell asleep snoring.

Although when I think back on my life experiences I realize the spirit of Elijah has slowly penetrated my soul. My favorite Primary song was always Families Can Be Together Forever. My favorite family activities were listening to family stories. I mentioned earlier that my grandpa was a storyteller. My dad was also a great storyteller. My mom is a closet writer. I don’t think she realizes her talent for writing. Maybe my passion for storytelling is genetic. I love writing. And I hoard stories.

Most of you know I am an avid blogger. Come on, I couldn’t give a talk without mentioning my blog! I started out as a scrapbooker, which I still enjoy, but I found blogging to be a much faster way for me to record stories. Typing is very cathartic for me too. Heath likes to tease me because I have a tendency to rub the letters off the keyboard from my excessive typing. My blog posts are my way of recording family history for future generations. Preserving my family’s everyday life has become my obsession since getting married.

Recently Heath and I have videotaped our grandparents in order to capture their stories. Just a few months after we filmed my grandparents, my grandpa was called home from this life. The footage was already very special to us. It became that much more important. Heath worked hard to edit and produce as many of the stories as he could into a DVD for my family as a Christmas gift that year.

We decided to do the same thing for Heath’s family. They were so excited to participate. My mother in law is the only member of the church in her family. Her siblings all belong to different faiths. They don’t always agree and family discussions can get heated. No one was sure what to expect but they were all so anxious to participate.

It was the most incredible experience. We were impressed that we got over an hour of footage of my grandparents. Heath’s family talked for at least four hours. They would have talked all night if we let them. Two wives planned to meet at the cabana where we were filming and then go shopping together. They stayed for a minute to watch and got sucked in. They sat and watched the entire time. An ex-wife even showed up and found herself unable to leave. She was crying and said, “Is this what it’s like in families without divorce?” It was a bonding experience for that family that no one could have anticipated.

I have had my own family miracle recently. My childhood was not ideal. I have had a complicated relationship with my dad and his family. My parents divorced over 20 years ago when my mom had had enough of the abuse and she found the courage to leave. Not too many years after that my dad mutually parted ways with his children. He stopped reaching out to us and we didn’t feel a need to reach out to him. He suffered a heart attack in June that took his life. It has been the hardest experience I have ever had to go through.

The amazing thing was the Lord may have taken my dad home but he put the family back together. I really believe that He looked at this broken, shattered, and stubborn family and knew if He didn’t intervene we would never come back together. Over the years I have wanted to learn my Clarke family history. I thought that if I could learn their stories maybe I could appreciate why they made the choices they did. Maybe I would feel a connection to them. After all, they were my family. I am who I am because I am a Clarke and a Swain and married into the Westover family. Families aren’t perfect but they are very important. Even with my strained relationship with my Clarke roots, I have always understood that family is important.

After my dad passed I was terrified to see my aunts and uncles. There was no telling how they might react to my siblings and me after all these years of estrangement. All my aunts and uncles were so welcoming. It sounds weird to say it was like going home because I did go home. I don’t know how to describe the immediate love we all felt for one another. It was a beautiful experience. I looked into my uncle’s eyes and saw my dad. Those eyes were so apologetic and it was as if my dad also accepted my forgiveness.

At the graveside service my aunt Cathy had a large white binder. She tried to give it to my sister in law. She said it was Clarke family history and since my brother was the oldest his family should have the binder. Deanna told her no. “Give it to Tristan,” she said. “She’s the one that wants that!” Cathy said she hoped I wasn’t disappointed since all the temple work had already been done. Deanna said it didn’t matter. She knew I wanted it anyway.

It’s a three inch binder completely full of pedigree charts, family trees, photographs, and family stories. I wish there were more stories with more detail because I hoard stories and I just want more. What I have is precious to me. I have to read between the lines a little but I am starting to understand my family a little more.

I finally have everything I needed when I first decided I was ready to do temple work for my family. Even though I can’t do the temple work I can still put the names into my fan chart. For years my fan was completely lopsided. My dad’s name wasn’t even connected to me until he passed away! Which is strange since my parents are still sealed together.

There was an article in this month’s Ensign about finding cousins. I look forward to searching out if any other family members need ordinance work done for them. I am so grateful to my distant cousin, a grandson of my great grandparents, for using his hands to put the Clarke family history together. He wrote that he did it so the newer members of the ever growing family would be able to love and appreciate their roots, even if it was only through the pages in that history. My Grandpa Clarke was number 14 of 14 children. The history begins with my great grandparents and follows each child in order with all their descendants. I have a wealth of information about my family. All because of the hands that compiled the information into one place.

Hands are truly amazing instruments. They provide service, they preserve family history, they search out ancestors and bless the lives of descendants yet to come. Elder Bednar talks about the youth’s hands. “It is no coincidence that FamilySearch and other tools have come forth at a time when young people are so familiar with a wide range of information and communication technologies. Your fingers have been trained to text and tweet to accelerate and advance the work of the Lord—not just to communicate quickly with your friends. The skills and aptitude evident among many young people today are a preparation to contribute to the work of salvation.”

In Moses chapter 1 verses 37 and 39 we read And the Lord God spake unto Moses, saying: The heavens, they are many, and they cannot be numbered unto man; but they are numbered unto me, for they are mine.
For behold, this is my work and my glory—to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.

He relies on us to be His hands. I testify that the gospel is true. Jesus Christ is our Savior. His infinite atonement provides the means for family relationships to perpetuate beyond the grave. The plan of salvation is truly a plan of happiness. Our hands are the means for sacred ordinances, not only for ourselves but for those who have passed on from this life without the opportunity to participate in these saving ordinances. It is my hope and prayer that we use our hands to become saviors on Mount Zion.

Good enough won’t make the time go any faster

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It’s hard being 6. It’s hard waiting for birthdays. Countdown paper chains barely take the edge off of waiting. Knowing that most of the birthday celebration will happen a day early only makes things that much more exciting. Tomorrow cannot come soon enough!

Gwen’s room barely passes as clean. The closet is stuffed full. Don’t open the doors or you may be buried alive. I read Junie B. Jones books to keep her moving. It didn’t really help today. She is too excited.

The latest book was about monsters under the bed. At one point Gwen lifted her blankets to check under her bed. Only there are no monsters under her bed. Not because monsters don’t exist but because even if they did, there is no room for a monster under her bed. She dropped the blanket back in place, satisfied with my logic.

If you ignore the paper scraps scattered on the floor you can see floor. That’s how low my standards have sunk. At one point she picked her way through the landmine of toys to tidy up the explosion otherwise known as her bookshelf. I told her not to worry about the bookshelf. I just wanted the room clean. Clean meaning I just wanted to see the floor. Minus the paper scraps the floor is visible. Seven years ago I went through surgery to get this kid out of me and all I want in return is to sort of see floor.

It’s hard raising myself and even harder to wait for birthdays. Seven colorful years of Miss Gwen. Man I love that little booger!

Good, Better, Best, and Epic Fails

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My tutoring student has been more and more difficult to work with. I have never been a stickler for him finger pointing while he reads. But it seemed that he wasn’t even doing the bare minimum of what the reading program required of him. Some days he was impossible to reach. It felt like the real him was locked away under layers of poor behavior.

Anytime there was a substitute teacher his behavior was at its worst. Then there were days with nothing out of the ordinary going on and I still couldn’t get him to focus for any length of time. Feeling exasperated I told him I would time him for two minutes. The only timer I had on my phone was a stopwatch timer. So I just kept my eye on the time. He seemed extra motivated and had no idea I spotted him an extra minute or two. At least he was working.

When I got home I scoured the office for a sand timer. I found one in a game before I found the one I was looking for. No matter. The game timer was about two minutes and the other timer was well over three. I could adjust with Edward as needed.

The next time I tutored we went out in the hall as usual and I told him about the timers. He was really excited. At first. Then the timer ran out before he finished. Even though I had it hidden out of sight he knew. The timer became the focus. He could barely read, follow directions, or exist without worrying about that timer. Then the end of the world happened.

Out of nowhere he put his head in his hands.

He wouldn’t answer me.
He wouldn’t look at me.
He had completely melted down.

I have never seen a student melt down so quickly and completely. Tell me I didn’t feel like the Wicked Witch of the West. Me and my stupid timer. How did I think that was such a good idea? Why didn’t it work? What was I thinking? I told the teacher how I broke her student. She said she would find other ways for me to help him with his reading.

A few days later I came back in for another tutoring session. The fragile relationship we had was shattered. I was acutely aware of the loss of trust he had for me. Even with reading games the spell was broken. He had locked himself back inside his own head, never to venture out again.

I love tutoring. I really do. But some days I would rather be selfish with my time and just stay home. Today was one of those days. I knew I owed it to Edward to at least show up and hope for the best. I considered taking some books with me to read to him. The pain of the last great idea gone wrong kept me from grabbing any books.

If only I had. A substitute greeted me, which meant there were no alternative materials to work with. I grabbed the box by the door and Edward bluntly said, “I’m not doing that.” I tried to tell him we would do something else. Only there really is nothing in that box to do but the reading program he now flatly refuses to do.

He wouldn’t do the sight word cards. So I grabbed the white board and let him draw while I thought. The assistant principal walked by as he often does on Thursdays. He smiled at me on his way out and thanked me for helping. Hot coals on my head could not have made me feel worse.

I knew I couldn’t sit there and let Edward draw for 30 minutes. He would be better off in the classroom. But I know how eager he is to leave the classroom when there’s a sub. Besides that, he exchanged my tiny chair for a full sized chair! The little gentleman was returning.

I told him to go back and get two books to read. He came back with two science picture books, well above any first grader’s reading level. He didn’t let me read much, and I learned to skim first and spit out words that made sense rather than read the paragraph captions. We learned all kinds of fun things about bats, snakes, and spiders. The sparkle was back in his eyes. I hesitate to say the magic is back. It was a good day for rebuilding trust.

I’m still a little gun-shy about bringing in books. I may just pull the trigger and do it. This is a sweet little boy who loves to learn. He is fascinated by animals. He spent almost an entire tutoring session telling me all about the animals he saw at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. I would stop him and tell him he had to finish the next section of the lesson before he could tell another story. It worked that day.

His teacher is right. He’s behind and he’s not having fun. We have to try something else to reach him. I figure my job is just to help him love reading. Whether that’s through games or books it doesn’t matter. 

The program is good. Recognizing that it’s not working for Edward is better. I don’t know what the best is. I do know that timers were the failure of all fails. I don’t expect this kid to be reading Shakespeare by the end of the year. I just want him to find joy in reading. I couldn’t care less about what is expected of me as a trained Sound Partners reading tutor. All I care about is keeping the sparkle in this little boy’s eyes.

Call me when you get there!

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Communication has changed so much in my lifetime. The fact that we had two rotary telephones hanging on walls in my house was pretty impressive. We only had one television!

It was a small black and white box with bunny ear antennae. Not only did someone have to perform yoga to get the antennae to work, we had to get up to change the channel! True story. We had a black and white TV and we walked to school uphill in the snow with no shoes. TV’s back in the day required viewers to physically cross the room and twist the large knobs. With only a handful of channels to choose from it didn’t take long to realize it was time to go outside and play.

We didn’t get on the phone first. Back in the day kids knocked on doors. Then we would screw our face into a combination of pathetic pleading and wistful hope as we asked if our friends could play. Phones! Phones were for adults, teenagers, and the grounded child who couldn’t play.

My friend across the street called every single day of my one week grounding when I was in kindergarten. I had left the house to walk to school with some friends. My mom was in the shower or something and I didn’t figure she would mind if I just left early. Like a couple hours early! When she found me she hid her relief in measured anger as she grounded me for a week. I deserved it.

Anyway, Jodi called every day. We would look at the calendars on our respective walls and count down the days until my release.

Somewhere along the lines we picked up a touchtone phone for the kitchen. It was great to say goodbye to the avocado green rotary wall phone. The black rotary phone still hung on the wall downstairs. It was just inside the doorway at the base of the stairs. I found that comforting in case any monsters grabbed me when I was down there. Given the condition of our basement, grabby monsters were a real possibility.

The touchtone keypad was on the bottom of a large, white, country duck. The phone even quacked when it rang. My dad had a long winded conversation with his boss one night. When he got off the phone he said something to the effect of, “I just finished talking to a horse’s butt on a duck’s butt!” Or something a little more colorful.

Novelty phones. My parents also had a pink Cadillac phone in their bedroom. I can’t remember if it was ever hooked up or if it was just displayed in there. My sister found that phone in the back of some closet in my dad’s house. Our eyes lit up at the memory.

I was in college before I had Caller ID. My roommates decided it was worth paying a little extra on the bill so we didn’t have to take messages for each other. A few years later Heath and I learned that Caller ID had an expiration date. The phone would ring and names would show up that didn’t make any sense.

Heath called the phone company to figure out what was going on. They didn’t believe him at first. So he just said with the straightest face, “Unless my mother in law is hiding in a closet with my cell phone calling my home number, there is a problem with the Caller ID!” My sister and I were laughing so hard we had to leave the room. The tears flowing down our cheeks kept us from wetting our pants.

Cell phones were game changers weren’t they? The first project I was a telemarketer for in college was for Houston Cellular. The script was peppered with the word cellular. It’s a word I was not good at saying. The two L’s in the middle of the word were hard for me to say correctly!

With cell phones becoming more mainstream, the word cellular hadn’t been shortened to cell yet. I tripped over my tongue every night trying to convince retired couples they needed a cell phone in case they were ever stranded in the mountains. Ha! As if there would be any reliable service up there! It was a scripted rebuttal I was expected to use though.

Heath bought me my first cell phone. I used it to accept text messages from him that his plane had landed. That was the signal for me to pack up Baby Gavin in his car seat and leave my mom’s house to pick up Heath.

He would upgrade my phone every so often and I wouldn’t use it. I used my T Mobile phone the most. Every time the commercial came on I thought my phone was ringing. Then when we moved to California I had to practically sit in the window in the master bedroom to get enough of a signal to carry on a conversation. I really hated that. Especially since my friends would rather call my cell number. It was a local number and therefore free to them.

zach morris cell phoneCell phones have taken over the world now. Everyone has a cell phone. What I find interesting is how size matters in cell phones. There were the old 80’s bricks that a fraction of the population had access to. Bricks are worthy of ridicule.

zoolander phoneThen we went through a phase where phones were getting smaller and smaller. Think of Zoolander and Ben Stiller holding a tiny little phone shaped button to his ear. Smaller is better right?

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These are Heath’s phones. Guess which one he upgraded to? Actually it was the one on the left. The one that is the size of a house. The one that you can watch your favorite sitcom or drama on and the actor’s faces are lifesize. The one that is almost as big as the silver screen otherwise known as IMAX movie theaters!

It’s called a phablet. The name for the love child of a phone and a tablet. As if anyone needs this monstrosity in their back pocket! It’s a total guy thing anyway. Women can barely fit their large smart phones in their skinny jeans as it is. I joke that I’m a tiny little woman. I’m really not. And I can’t fit this thing in my back pocket. Not even close. I have seen women’s purses smaller than this phone. I imagine any woman who carries this phone around does so in a large backpack and even then she needs a back brace.

That’s the problem with cell phones. Everyone has one. They have become indispensible. I used to find my cell phone in some remote corner of the house completely out of battery. Why charge a device that allows people to reach me at all times! Now I can’t imagine even going to the park without my phone. What if someone tries to text me and I’m not there to respond! That would be tragic. My phone is now permanently connected to my hip.

As much as my family makes fun of me for becoming a purse person there is no purse that is appropriate for playing at the park. Or bike riding. In the back pocket the phone goes then. My only alternative is a fanny pack and let’s face it, that is not an option.

The cell phone has changed communication forever. Texting, tweeting, Facebook status updating, Skyping, and the occasional phone call. We cannot live without this technology that entertains in the waiting room at the doctor’s office or keeps kids quiet in the grocery store. Which is why we bought one for Gavin.

I know. I can’t believe we did it either. But the world has changed. Kids no longer walk to other people’s houses to communicate. They now text that dinner is ready to other family members in the same house. How could I let my kid not get in on that action? I’m joking of course. I got it because I am a mother. Worrying comes with the territory.

Gone are the days when parents could send their kids out for the day, not caring where they went so long as they came home in time for dinner. I am the cab driver, the bus driver, the personal assistant, and the tutor. I am the mother. The other two never leave my sight. Until they get out of my car. With society’s careful training to not let kids take more than ten steps alone, I figure they’re okay when I’m not around.

Gavin is another story. He takes the actual bus. The city bus. By himself. I don’t worry about that as much as the fact that the bus has proven to be completely unreliable. It feels like I had to get my kid a phone. Not getting him a phone is the equivalent of sending him scuba diving in just a bathing suit. He has to be prepared for life. In today’s terms that means he needs a cell phone. Or I need him to have a cell phone so I can do the micromanaging mom thing discreetly. “Call me when you get there!”

C’est L’amore

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Tucked away in plain sight on a shelf stands a mini scrapbook I made ten years ago. I had one and a half kids and was four years into marriage. The way I journaled about my life with Heath, you would think we had been married forever.

I remember making that scrapbook. Mini scrapbooks were all the rage in the magazines I read. This was my first attempt. I also remember trying new techniques like hidden journaling. What I remember most was making such a big deal out of a gift for my fourth wedding anniversary. Not my first. Not my fifth. But a random fourth anniversary.

A couple days ago we celebrated our fourteenth wedding anniversary. It felt like a big deal. Bigger than the first, the fifth, or the tenth. Not that we did anything special. It’s just a feeling I had ten years ago that came back.

I think what really encouraged that feeling was finding a hidden treasure. While the scrapbook has been proudly displayed in my room for years, the book I found was tucked away in a box. It’s been years since I opened the book and I almost forgot I ever had it.

It’s a small journal wrapped in textured handmade paper. A little off white with the occasional vermilion leaf buried in a thin layer of paper. A creamy white ribbon lovingly tied in a bow holds the book closed.

Inside the book is filled with blank pages. A few of the first pages have been written on. My mom’s handwriting is on the cover page. It says “Tristan & Heath’s wedding day Feb 10th, 2001.” Turning that page leads to advice written by friends and family.

How fun to go back and reread the advice and well wishes of people who care about us.

It’s interesting to read these love notes now. Nothing has changed. In fourteen years of marriage we have only fallen deeper in love, added a couple more kids, and weathered every storm with as much faith as we could.

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We didn’t know what we were doing then and we still don’t know what we’re doing now. The journey is an adventure because we’re in it together.

Let it rain, I’ll ride anyway!

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For the first Saturday in months we actually had nothing to do. Nothing but hang out together as a family. The kids had a long weekend with no school on Monday. The possibilities were endless. How in the world would we appreciate this wonderful gift of time?

Every Saturday morning I ask the same question. What are we going to do today? Heath said he wanted to buy Gavin a bike. We went to a bike shop we hadn’t browsed at yet. I had forgotten about it even though it was the birthplace of my bike.

Prices were high but not as high as some of the other places we had been. Gavin is a big kid now. We can’t just find him some adequate cheap piece of steel at Toys R Us anymore. We were going to have to drop more than the $100 Santa left for a bike.

I like the salesmen at this bike shop. They are knowledgeable without being too hung up on selling bikes. We told the guy what we were looking for based on the type of riding Gavin would be doing. He would mostly be riding around the neighborhood but mountain bike capabilities would be nice. The guy pointed us toward the Trek mountain bikes. He even helped us find the best priced bike for what we needed. The total cost with tax was just under $400. I was impressed since I was expecting a bike to cost at least $400 without tax.

The salesman had Gavin test drive it outside. He stayed on the sidewalk in front of the different shops. It was a gray and wet day so the covered sidewalk was probably the safest place to do the test drive. Heath stayed by Gavin’s side talking to him. When Gavin got to the end of the parking lot he got off. Heath adjusted the seat as high as it would go and hopped on to ride the bike back to where we stood in front of the bike shop.

His reasoning was that Gavin is 11 years old and about 5 feet tall. He has lots more growing to do. If we never get him another bike could he still ride this one when he is 6’2” like his dad? The answer is yes. The bike was small for Heath but certainly doable. It should last for about 10 years being handed down to Parker when Gavin goes on his mission. We were happy with the solid purchase we were making.

Sprinkles were intermittently falling as Heath and the boys put the bike rack on the back of the van. As soon as they were done and the doors were closed, the deluge began. We drove home in the drenching rain.

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What a day to buy a new bike!

The rain slowed and then stopped by the time we got home. So Heath decided Gavin should at least have an opportunity to ride his new bike. The other two were excited to get in on the action.

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The rain was anywhere from heavy to non-existent and everything in between. Smiles never wavered. It was the best day of their lives! They had never ridden bikes in the rain before. Temperatures were in the low 60’s so it was a warm rain. It was a Pineapple Express Storm with the weather coming from Hawaii. If you’re going to play in the rain this was certainly the day to do it.

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We let the boys ride to the park as long as they came home if the rain got too heavy.

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Heavy rain is subjective. I felt more at ease knowing the boys were riding around the closed park than when they were driving around the circle. I hate that I can’t see our kids when they play outside. Heath and I were sitting in camp chairs in the garage right where the driveway starts.

It was quite peaceful watching the rain. But when all three kids were riding around I was pretty anxious. I can’t see too far on one side of the street before it curves around and is blocked by houses. We don’t get a lot of traffic on our street but enough that I worry about where the kids might be when a car suddenly appears.

Gwen rode around singing at the top of her lungs. The boys were safe in the park. Heath and I were enjoying the rain from the shelter of our garage. It was such a great afternoon. Eventually the boys came back home and we decided it was time to come in. We helped all the kids wipe down their bikes before hanging them up on the bike rack.

bike-rackI don’t think I have used this photo yet. My mom got us this bike rack for Christmas. It’s the best. This picture was taken the day we set it up. The little green bike on the bottom right has been donated. That used to be Gavin’s bike! He has not been interested in bike riding until now.

We need to get rid of Parker’s old bike. It’s the one on the top left. The bike rack only holds four bikes but even that makes a huge difference in our garage. Gwen’s bike tucks away nicely in front of the bike rack.

We live in California where garages are used as basements since basements are rare here. I just think it’s cool that we can fit two large vehicles, five bikes (six right now), and lots of other storage in our garage.

It was a very wet weekend. The weather people couldn’t really agree on the rain forecast. Saturday was actually supposed to be fairly dry all day with the bulk of the rain coming Friday and Sunday. Surprise! I wasn’t sure what to expect on Monday. Of course we need the rain and I hoped we would receive more rain on Monday. But I felt bad that Gavin finally discovered the joy of bike riding and couldn’t ride his new bike.

A thunderstorm rolled through on Sunday night. The rain was very heavy. Monday dawned gray. I was ready to pop popcorn and watch movies or play games with the kids on their day off. The sun came out and it was a beautiful day.

We spent the morning cleaning the house. We spent the afternoon riding bikes. We rode around the parking lot of the park for a while. Gwen said she wanted to play at the playground. So we rode up to the playground at the top of the park. The kids ran around playing and climbing and giggling for over an hour. I loved watching them play when they were little. This was fun because they are bigger and capable of so much more physicality on the playground. They had so much fun making up games and challenges for themselves.

They got tired and hungry so we decided to go back home. We took our time riding back through the parking lots. There was no rain but the kids went home just as soaked as they were on Saturday. They found every single puddle and rode through. They all had dirty rainwater splatters up their backs. Parker’s pants had a couple dry spots on them. They were pretty well drenched with leftover puddles from the rain.

One puddle was deep and long. Gwen called it the ocean. Which was a pretty accurate description since that thing really did look like a lake! It was super deep and spanned at least five parking spaces. I didn’t really see Gavin go through that puddle. Gwen and Parker did though. They rode straight down the middle where it was deepest. They steered for all the other puddles too. If they missed one they would circle back around.

When we got home they had to wipe down their bikes again! I thought it was nice of us to let them ride in the rain on Saturday. I swore we would never do it again though since it was such a pain trying to wipe down the bikes. Then I got to do it again on a dry day since the kids went out of their way to find every single puddle. You’re only young once!

As we were detouring our way through the park on our way home, Parker enthusiastically yelled out, “This is the best bike ride ever!” It really was.

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