Cramming

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I told Gwen and Parker that this is the last week of the summer reading program. The program ends on Sunday but my cutoff for redeeming prizes is Friday. Whatever they are going to earn would have to be done by Friday. The house seemed extra quiet this morning.

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I came downstairs and saw Parker reading on the couch with two stacks of books in front of him. Gwen was in the other room with her own stack of books. Then I found out they had been reading for an hour already! Color me impressed.

Gwen quit reading after an hour and a half. Parker kept his nose buried in books for three and a half hours. I am not even making that up. He finally quit to eat lunch. He was a man on a mission, cramming in as much reading as if he was about to take his finals.

He wants the prizes and I don’t blame him. He’s just not that interested in reading. Also understandable. Reading doesn’t make the earth shake for everyone. When we read our scriptures together as a family, Parker is an excellent reader. He can read. He just doesn’t really have the attention span for it. He bores easily with chapter books unless it’s literary garbage like Diary of a Wimpy Kid. He enjoys having chapter books read to him. I think he’ll be like his dad and prefer books on CD so he can multitask.

One day I told him he should read the picture books we have. They’re books he enjoyed having me read to him as a kid. Books with wonderful pictures and engaging stories but the reading level is too high for young children. When I catch him reading he’s usually reading a picture book. We have some fun stories with so much text the book can take a decent amount of time to read.

Gwen is the book worm of the family. She devours books. She is also the most well-rounded person I know. She doesn’t seem to obsess over any one thing for long before she moves on to the next thing. I was impressed she would read a pile of books for 90 minutes but there were toys to play with and songs to make up and pictures to draw.

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I tried to get Parker to stop reading. His eyes lit up when I told him how many spaces he could mark on his chart. That number only fueled his fire. He was going to read until he finished his pile of books or his eyes fell out of his head. Whichever came first. I’m sure he would love to earn the grand prize. It’s a free paperback book. It would be bragging rights for him. Gwen wants to earn the book because she has put in the time little by little all summer long. And she would devour the book as soon as she got it home.

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Gavin even got in on the action. He read his picture books out loud. Not loud enough to bug Parker but loud enough I could pick out lines from the stories as I scrapbooked. It was fun listening to him.

After lunch the kids asked if I would read to them. The book we are currently reading is so boring. I can barely get half an hour out before my eyes close out of self defense and I start snoring. It is my least favorite book I have ever agreed to read aloud. The kids are sweet about my narcolepsy. They continue quietly doing what they’re doing while I sleep in a chair for a while. Only 100 more pages to go …

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Eventually the reading spell was broken and the decimated bottom shelf of picture books was restored to order. Friday will be a big day at the library indeed.

Summer Walks

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Summers were never complete without long walks. When my mom had the day off she would take me on a “walk around the world.” That’s what I called those long walks. We would see plenty of cows and horses in pastures along the borders of our town. I loved the cows. Mom and I would talk about anything and everything while we trekked all morning.

I remember my mom taking all three of us on long walks to gather cans on the side of the road. At home we would step on the cans to smash them. When we had several garbage bags full we would recycle them for cash. I’m sure it wasn’t much money but to three young kids it was like winning the lottery.

My mom had taught us how to weave our way through the neighborhoods toward busy 3500 South. We weaved east to catch a bus to the mall. We weaved west to peruse the library or get a free kiddie cone from Arctic Circle. A kitchen cupboard was full of cardboard circles redeemable for free kiddie cones. I remember so many summer days when we would either raid the cupboard, or dump our coins on my sister’s bed to see if we had enough for bus fair and a dollar movie at the mall.

When Heath was a kid he would walk to the 7-11 for Slurpees. The 7-11 was maybe a block away from where he lived. I had to walk at least a mile to get to civilization! Walking and summer treats were just how we grew up.

I have already walked with the kids to Mr. Pickles. On the hottest day ever! My other idea was to walk to 7-11 for Slurpees. Today was the perfect day. Sunny, breezy, and highs in the upper 70’s. I was looking forward to an adventure on the trail behind our house. The best benefit to the trail is we would only have to cross one major intersection. Unfortunately, the trail opening was closed.

The city sent a couple letters about construction on the trail. The latest letter made it sound like construction wouldn’t affect the trail just behind our house. I didn’t think it would affect the entrance we use. Huge piles of cement blocks and equipment were on the other side of the fence along with a couple porta potties. I didn’t know what to think. I hear people walking, biking, and running behind our house every morning. There were no workers in sight but I wasn’t going to hope the entrance was still open to walk past all that construction.

The kids decided to walk through the park instead. Halfway through I decided we picked the right way since we were shaded in the park. Walking on the street was a straighter shot but it was in full sun. We did have to cross the busy street three times at two lights each way. I hated it. It’s a seven lane road. Three lanes each direction with a protected left turn light for the lane in the middle. There was also construction in the right lane a few yards in front of the 7-11. I was afraid the sidewalk would be closed and the whole plan would be a bust. Luckily we were able to walk past all the men working with no problems at all.

I fulfilled the kids predictions by getting a Big Gulp of Diet Coke instead of a Slurpee. We all happily sipped away as we walked back, with the aid of three lights, to the park. Without saying a word Gavin walked toward one of the playgrounds. The other two decided that was a brilliant idea so we all stopped to play. The kids came up with some very creative games and imaginings for over an hour.

On the way home Parker asked me if I would create a bucket list if someone told me I was going to die soon. I told him it would depend. If I was old I wouldn’t. But if someone gave me a year to live from right now maybe I would come up with a bucket list. Then I told him that if we just live each day to its fullest it doesn’t matter when we die. We won’t have any regrets.

Gavin chimed in: In a couple weeks I will be upset that I didn’t live my summer to its fullest!
Me: Whose fault is that?
Gavin: Yours. You never took us anywhere!

Despite my son’s faulty short term memory, it’s been a great summer. I can cross off walking to 7-11 from my bucket list. I would love to do it again when the trail opens. The busy street did make me feel very nervous with my little ducklings. We still need to go on another fairy walk. It’s been a while since we have gone on that walk. Summer isn’t complete without fun walks.

Wakeup Call–Mother Nature Calling

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I finished the first pair of three pajama shorts for Gwen just in time for bed. They are adorably bright pink with sparkly pink polka dots. She also chose a black and white spotted animal print and large ladybugs flying across a pink background.

Gwen: Who knew Hobby Lobby had cute fabric too?

She’s too funny. We looked at the Crayola aisle for a new coloring book. Gwen wanted to spend her money and didn’t find anything great at Target. Once again disappointed with the selection, we continued to browse. Gwen found some books she liked. They were classic stories abridged for young readers. She chose The Secret Garden and The Wind in the Willows.

Reading has taken over this girl’s mind. She reads any second she can. Especially at night. She loves to read herself to sleep. I love it too but it does make it hard to convince her to turn off her light. She has gotten into the habit of “needing” her light on. I have gotten out of the habit of turning it off when I go to bed. Half the time I open her door and she looks up from a book wondering why I’m opening her door.

Her light bulb had burned out so Heath replaced it for her when she went to bed. We want to get her some sort of lamp or other light source she can keep closer to her bed to make things easier. Until then we tried to convince her to turn her light off when she finished reading.

I think her light was off when we went up to bed. We turned in earlier than usual. As we shut off all the house lights Gwen got upset. Her door was opened a crack. This is one way she agrees to a dark room because she finds comfort in the lights from the rest of the house. Darkness was her new companion much sooner than she was ready for. Silently I flipped her light on and shut her door. We could try again another night.

In the wee hours of the morning I awoke to my bed vibrating. We have a Tempur-pedic bed. It came with two remotes that can adjust the head and feet. The remotes also offer a vibrating feature. We never use it because it’s weird. I feel like it’s more noisy than soothing. I don’t know what I’m supposed to get out of the feature. I just think it’s weird.

Once or twice our bed has started vibrating on its own. It shakes the chandelier in the kitchen. When I have gone up to investigate I see that something is pushing on that button on the remote. Kind of strange but what are you going to do?

Waking up at 2:00 am to a vibrating bed was strange indeed. I reached over to Heath to wake him and say something about the remotes. He reached out to me and grabbed my hand. The vibrating stopped and the bed started shaking in waves distinctive to an earthquake. I knew exactly what was happening. My hand squeezed Heath’s hard.

Heath: It’s okay, it’s just an earthquake.
Me: I know but I’m scared for the kids.

As soon as we finished this brief conversation, the earthquake was over. Still I was bracing myself for somebody’s cries. Heath immediately jumped out of bed and went down the hall to the kids’ rooms. He opened Gwen’s door first. She was sitting bolt upright in her bed with a surprised and confused look on her face. Heath asked if she was okay and she said her headboard was hitting the wall. I put on a cheery voice and told her it was an earthquake, exclamation point. As if it was the coolest thing in the world. Then I told her to go back to sleep.

We checked on the boys. Gavin knew it was an earthquake and was fine. Parker continued to sleep. He had no idea this morning! I think he was a little bummed he missed out. Heath and I climbed back into bed our hearts still pounding. Never before have I been so grateful for Gwen having her light on all night. Of all the nights to keep it on, that was a night I believe she deserved to have it on. She never cried but went right back to sleep.

By 7:00 this morning there had been thirteen aftershocks. We only felt two of them. The earthquake was downgraded from a 4.2 to a 4.0 magnitude. Not a big earthquake but enough to be felt. The aftershocks were very small. Mostly 1’s and 2’s. We felt the 2.something magnitude aftershocks. The news reporter said she hadn’t felt anything and she had been on scene at the epicenter since 4:00 am. That’s how small a 1.0 magnitude aftershock is.

It took a while for us to find sleep again. Our parental protective instincts were on full alert. Heath said the second he woke up his first thought was how could he protect his family. My first thought after realizing it wasn’t something wrong with the bed was to comfort my babies.

While it wasn’t a large earthquake at all I had this sense of finality. As if this could be it. The world may end. I found it interesting that many people on the news had the same reaction. There was no reported damage. The people interviewed said it made them want to make sure they had their emergency food in place.

One guy said he ran in to check on his 2 year old grandson. Apparently the toddler slept through the entire thing. Absolutely no idea even though they were near the epicenter. It reminded me of something I said to Heath while we were trying to calm down enough to sleep again.

Me: Curse motherhood for making me a light sleeper and so aware of any sound!

I kept hearing popping sounds as if the alarm clock was about to come on. I even told Heath that it seemed like I could hear things outside even though I knew it was just the constant whir of the fan. We had no windows open. The nighttime low was too high for that. Heath fell asleep before I did. He was comforted by not hearing any sirens.

Nothing happened and earthquakes are common in the Bay Area. It was a very interesting wakeup call. Looking at Gwen’s new pajama shorts reminded me of the night’s adventures. For some reason it affected me to think she wore those new shorts to bed on such a crazy night.

Me: How were your new shorts last night?
Gwen: They were great.
Me: Did they give you sparkly fairy dreams?
Gwen: Yes! Maybe the animal ones will make me dream about pets and the ladybug shorts will make me dream about ladybugs!

No lasting mental damage from the night’s events. When you’re 7 years old you should be able to have sparkly fairy dreams and a short memory for the scary events in the world.

Say What

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While driving we stopped in front of a crosswalk to let two women pushing baby strollers cross the street.

Heath: It’s always good to stop for pedestrians.
Gwen: Don’t call the babies pedestrians!
Heath: You’re right. The babies are passengers. The women are pedestrians.
Gwen: Don’t call people pedestrians.
Heath: Anytime you walk you’re a pedestrian.
Gwen: Even on the sidewalk??????

Gwen: What did we learn from this story?
Family lists several things, including silly ideas.
Gwen: No, being thankful is the only thing we learned from that story!

Rules

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“I’m sorry, Frog.”

This was Parker’s apology to me for making me read a tearjerker of a book out loud. Rules was an excellent book. I kept the tears at bay for much longer when I finished reading it to the kids. Yesterday was a different story. I wanted to keep reading even if our hour was over. While the kids played I sobbed through the rest of the book. Rinse, lather, repeat today.

Rules is a book about a 12 year old girl who babysits her younger brother with autism. The author wrote the book because she has a son with autism. When her daughter asked why there weren’t any stories about families like theirs, she knew she needed to just write one. It was her first novel and it deserved the literary awards it received.

It wasn’t the aspect of children with special needs that touched me as much as Catherine needing her parents too. That was what turned on the water works for me. She was trying so hard to fit in but felt caught between two worlds, not really fitting into either. It ripped my heart out.

Ever since I finished the book, the first time, I keep thinking about my own experiences with children who have special needs. As an elementary student, I had the unique opportunity to be asked to work with younger students who were struggling academically. Maybe that was the beginning. I have always rooted for the underdog. And I love unlocking someone’s potential by simply having faith in them.

I remember sitting in my required Intro to Special Ed class in college and feeling the hair on my arms raise. It was as if I had found my mission in life. That was when I decided I was majoring in Special Education. I would feel bad that I didn’t do much with that degree. I only taught one year as a mild/moderate Resource teacher. My entire teaching career lasted three years before I chose to stay home to have children. My Special Education degree was best put to use when I was a Regular Ed teacher. There are of course plenty of memories of times in my life when my Christlike love for everyone, disability or otherwise, has blessed both our lives.

I have had other people tell me that they know someone who has quit, or is thinking of quitting a job with troubled youth. It angers me. How can anyone be afraid of someone who clearly is in need of love? Look past the rough exterior to see the needs underneath. That’s all it takes. Are we not all beggars?

I have seen people hold those with special needs to a higher standard. It’s noble and I understand where their heart is. But it’s also completely unfair. In an effort to treat everyone the same and overlook the challenges some face, what people are actually doing is giving the able minded a free pass to do whatever they want while expecting those with special needs to follow the rules to a T. It’s unfair and it angers me. The spirit of the law is just as important as the letter of the law. I would give an example but it’s best I keep it to myself right now.

It’s not even a case of unfairly treating those with a medical diagnosis of imperfectness. We do this to people we consider “normal” who may be struggling mentally for one reason or another. Just because someone is taking things harder than we have in a similar situation does not mean they are wrong. It doesn’t mean we should hold them to that higher standard thinking they just need to buck up and getter over it. Having a hard time is having a hard time. Treat others with love and compassion.

I try not to judge others. I have seen students pass standardized tests because I have asked them to show me what they know rather than join the list of adults who expect them to fail. I go out of my way to love the prickly people of the world. I try not to judge. I do though. I’m judging those who can’t appreciate the gifts the “ungifted” can offer. I’m judging those who have pretended all was well with me, forcing me to work that much harder, when they knew not all was well. I need to move past it but I am holding onto the hurt which inevitably only hurts me more.

Rules has brought up so many feelings.

My heart reaches out to families touched by special needs. At the same time I don’t understand why it’s becoming en vogue to want a child with special needs. I will never forget the day my principal quietly chastised me for telling a mother her daughter may not be pulled for Resource. Wasn’t it great! was my attitude. This mother didn’t care that her daughter was more academically advanced than any first grader, possibly even an incoming second grader. All she cared about was that her daughter had autism and she expected special treatment for her daughter. I don’t get that but I also don’t have the challenge of parenting such a child.

I can’t save the world but I believe we all can make a small difference. I also believe we have moments when we see clearly how to do that. I believe Catherine found her purpose in life through her brother David and her unlikely friendship with Jason. Stories about special needs or underdogs light a fire in me. Loving the unloved is my calling in life.

In the meantime Parker has a strange fascination with books that make me cry. When I asked which book I should read next he sheepishly said, “A sad one? Maybe Where the Red Fern Grows?” That would be a good one. I will probably blubber again if I read it out loud. It’s fine though. Some of these books hold many important lessons like “no toys in the fish tank” and “if you need to borrow words, Arnold Lobel wrote some good ones.”

“What are you laughing at, Frog?”
“I am laughing at you, Toad,” said Frog, “because you do look funny in your bathing suit.”
“Of course I do,” said Toad. Then he picked up his clothes and went home.”
The end.

Best Birthday Ever!

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Excitement had been building for days. Eleven days to be exact. The day before Parker’s birthday his heart nearly exploded. The positive anxiety was killing him! I love that about Parker. His emotions run so high. It makes birthday and Christmas celebrations so much fun.

It also makes Parker so easy to tease. My kids know the standard answer to any questions regarding gifts is big purple underwear. We all have fun with that inside joke. The other standard answer is that we have canceled all celebrations this year. The kids know it’s not true but they still react and it’s so much fun!

My mom used to tell us we couldn’t celebrate our birthdays until the time of day we were born. I use that line on my kids too. They are obsessed with the time of day they were born.

Gavin: 8:31 pm
Parker: 8:46 pm
Gwen: 8:03 am

I was thrilled to see the time when my doctor and I decided to give up and just do the surgery already to get Parker out. I would have loved for him to be born at the same time as Gavin. They were both born on Saturdays, two years, eleven days, and fifteen minutes apart!

And the anticipation was killing Parker. His birthday can never come fast enough. For years we would do a lot of combined gifts and celebrations. July turned into birthday month. Parker was insistent this year that his birthday be separate from Gavin’s. I can respect his wishes. They are not twins and should not be treated as such. This isn’t to say that the wait was any easier. Those eleven days can be torturous to an excited young man.

Parker asked if his dad could work from home on his birthday. I pretended like I wished that was a great idea but wasn’t it so sad that it may not happen. Heath got home from work a little late on Wednesday. He managed to get Gavin to Scouts on time but he was rushed.

Just before Heath walked in the door Parker said he couldn’t wait to open his presents. He couldn’t wait to see what toys he got. I teased him that maybe he wasn’t getting any toys. Maybe he was getting cleaning supplies. His wild eyes relaxed then narrowed to angry eyes. Heath walked in and Parker grumped that he was no longer looking forward to his birthday. You may think I’m mean but it was hysterical. I love that boy! He is so fun to tease!

Heath looked at me and whispered, “When should we tell him?”
Me: Not now.

Parker knew something special was up but he also knew he couldn’t find out yet. I wasn’t going to blow the best surprise to cheer him up after he thought he might get cleaning supplies! Please.

The next morning Parker walked in my room at 6:30. His patience must have given out since he let us sleep in for a whole twenty minutes! He had announced the night before that he would not be sleeping. He was too excited. Heath pretended like he was late for work and then quickly sighed that he should just work from home. The announcement didn’t bring the punch I was expecting but Parker was thrilled. We told him he could open his presents as soon as Gavin was up. Gwen had already followed on Parker’s heels and was chilling on our bed with him.

Parker-birthday-2015-008Luckily all the happy talking and the electric buzz of energy in the air woke Gavin up a few minutes later. Heath brought all the gifts upstairs and Parker opened them on our bedroom floor.

I love how thoughtful Gwen was with this gift. She really wanted to buy Parker a Doctor Who Sonic Screwdriver from the mall. It’s hard to buy stuff with only a couple bucks. Her next idea was to make Parker a bracelet that said Doctor Who and Parker. She also filled it with tons of charms I get from Fitness Finders.

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I love this picture. I pray this boy never loses his enthusiasm for life.

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Parker was hoping he would get one Doctor Who action figure. Imagine Parker’s uncontainable joy when the biggest present, the one that had been tempting him for hours, was full of the first eleven doctors.

Gwen and Gavin started a couple squabbles in the morning because they were jealous of Parker and the attention he was getting. It didn’t last long before all three of them found a way to happily play together all day. They ran around the house from activity to activity. Parker was in heaven.

This morning I went to shut the sliding glass door. Gwen and Parker were outside playing with action figures in the grass. It was one of those proud mother moments. It warms my heart so much to catch my kids lost in their own imaginations together. Those are my favorite mental snapshots and memories of my kids.

We went to a late afternoon showing of Minions. When the movie was over Parker turned to me and said, “Best movie ever!” I’m glad he liked it. That’s what he wanted and lucky for him we watched on his birthday and not two days later. After dinner we had dinner at OTB our favorite Mexican restaurant. Then we picked up an ice cream cake from Cold Stone.

It’s a good thing it’s summer because we all hung out watching Boom, a new game show, before we got around to eating cake at 9:00. We were full from dinner and needed some time for it all to settle.

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It was the perfect end to “the best birthday ever!” I love that Parker had a great day. I feel ten years older and can’t believe Parker is in the double digits now. But it was a great day.

Camp Stories

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As told by Gavin himself. I added my own commentary after the video. The line break isn’t very clear.

I had to wake up at 4:00 and be very quiet. We drove to the church and then we drove to Camp Wente. It took a few hours to drive there. We got up and we had our first flag ceremony. Then the first day was just learning first aid over and over again. Then my friend was scared of wasps. Especially at night. He claimed he had anxiety stuff. He woke up in the middle of the night a lot calling for his dad to help him. I tried to calm him down.

The next day we started learning stuff that had to do with the badge and then the third day we started getting homework. One night I stayed up until like 11:00 working on my environmental science homework so I could turn it in early.

There was always time after lunch to be at camp and be with friends. We had like an hour or two to do that. One night I had fingerprinting with a counselor named Stass. A few hours later he came to our campsite to teach us salesmanship. It was great because he was able to apply it to missionary work and teaching as a missionary.

Then after that it was like 10:00 and we had like a time for sharing our testimonies. He shared his about coming to America and learning about the gospel. Then other people shared and it was a unique experience. I didn’t share my testimony. I didn’t really think I had much to share compared to everybody else. They talked about having single parents and stuff and learning the gospel later in life and stuff.

The last day of camp was mostly catching up on all the requirements we hadn’t done yet. I didn’t really have much to do. I ended up getting environmental science, wilderness survival, orienteering, weather, photography, fingerprinting, and salesmanship. I ended up getting an extra one. That’s pretty much it.

My mom is making me tell more stories! The bouldering was my first time rock climbing. When they finally heard that it was my first time they said I did good for my first time. I learned that it is important to spot people so they don’t fall and break their necks like I would have if someone wasn’t there to spot me.

The first time I fell I scraped my knee. It was the first time I ever needed first aid. The second time I just scraped my back but nothing bled. In the future I would like to try it again. Bouldering is where you go across instead of up the rock and you don’t go higher than six feet.

The food was great and the store was always crowded. I bought a t-shirt and couldn’t find it when I got home. It was packed with my laundry. My mom and dad tease me because it was too big. I got an adult large instead of an adult small! I also bought some candy. I still had Skittles when I got home. I bought a Diet Coke and a Sprite. My mom thinks that’s funny.

Gavin: The only reason I like Sprite is because you force me to drink it.
Me: You should check the menu to see if they have rootbeer or something.
Gavin: I like Sprite better than rootbeer. The only reason why I like Diet Coke is because you never let me have it!

Wilderness survival was cold. It rained and luckily I was armed with two trash bags. (He had a rain poncho that apparently he never used. It was still sealed in the original packaging.) Hey! I wouldn’t have a rain poncho in the wilderness. I would have sticks and trash bags. And big wooden poles that you can cut off trees and get big branches and stuff. There was a night activity going on at the same time and I could hear them playing Frozen.

There was something interesting about camp. There were inside jokes at the flag ceremonies. There were like two places. Scout craft and handicraft. Scout craft was a place of learning stuff like wilderness survival and camping and all the outdoor stuff. Handicraft was a place like learning instruments and wood carving and art and all that other hands on stuff. They were always hinting that they were at war in our classes and they always talked about it in the flag ceremonies. It was funny. On the final flag ceremony they talked about a peace treaty and some scouts didn’t like that. They were booing against it!

Alright, that’s all I have to say. Here is my photography project as a video. We were supposed to tell as story. We came up with a story about Rockie. My friend drew most of the pictures and came up with most of the story. I named the place and took the pictures.


Gavin was annoyed that I would type exactly what he said! He’s a funny kid. And of course I had to throw in some of our conversations as we were having them while trying to type this post. I love it.

One story that needs to be told is about the spider he came home with. Heath wisely told Gavin to take all his equipment out to the gazebo. Gavin was clearing things out and putting stuff away. We looked for several minutes for his camp shirt he bought. Gavin didn’t think it was with his laundry since he didn’t wear it. We could not find it anywhere. It was either with the laundry or he had left it at camp. I hoped it was with the laundry.

It turns out the only thing he forgot at camp was his scout shirt and neckerchief. A leader in the other ward brought it to church and gave it to Heath. I’m glad we have everything. Forgetting stuff is easy to do but considering how he came home early, things could have been much worse.

A traveling tip we have learned is space saver bags. It’s nice to pack clothes in those bags and suck out all the air. It makes things fit much easier. Then while you’re traveling you use the bags as laundry bags. Since access to a vacuum is usually unlikely, you sit on the bag to let out the extra air. It works great. Try it!

So we taught Gavin about the space saver bags and gave him some advice on how to keep his stuff organized. It sounds like Scout Camp has more tent checks than Girls Camp ever did. Organization is key. Anyway, Gavin came home with one full space saver bag and one kind of full bag. That one only had his beach towel and swimming suit. He claimed he didn’t use either but I washed everything anyway.

Scout-Camp-2015-041The full bag had a stowaway. Sealed inside with all the dirt caked laundry was a rather large spider. Contrary to popular belief, or even anything Heath may have said, I was not scared. Why would I be scared of something that clearly could not get out of a clear plastic bag? Gwen was upset about it. I just knew that thing would have to be carefully dealt with. We would need to be smart about how we opened that bag of laundry.

Heath had the idea to put the bag in the freezer. Slow the spider down a little with a little chill out session in our chest freezer. I was all for it.

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I mean, look how big that sucker was! I joke that spiders are as big as my head. This was a spider unlike any I had ever seen before. Gavin is still a boy but you can see how big that thing was in comparison to his hand.

Heath put the entire bag in the chest freezer and we went about our day. I don’t think he meant to keep the spider in the freezer for so long but he kind of forgot about it. Hours later he pulled the bag out and dumped the contents on the back patio. Heath ran his foot over the spider and the whole thing shattered into a million little spider bits on the concrete. Heath felt bad. It felt like a cruel way to kill a spider.

However we have never seen a huge yet slender brown spider like that ever before. All day Heath kept thinking brown recluse. The thought crossed my mind as well. Neither of us talked about our suspicions until after the spider was shattered. We don’t know what it was. Quite possibly it was a brown recluse. And if so, that is the scariest spider I can think of. I have seen firsthand the incredible damage that one spider can cause in a human being.

I have probably written this story before but it’s worth saying again. It had such a profound effect on me. A girl in my 7th grade Utah Studies class was bitten by a brown recluse on her ankle. It happened a weekend or two after school started. That girl was on crutches until at least Christmas. Months and months of surgery and rehabilitation. She had several skin graft surgeries. Even then she still had a deep hole in her ankle. All from one spider bite.

Arachnophobia is an irrational fear of spiders and I have it. I am irrationally afraid of tiny little creatures. But I have also seen the effects of poisonous spiders, which feeds my fear. All I know is I am so glad that Gavin was not bitten by anything at camp and I am so glad that spider was destroyed.

I had it in mind that we would open the bag in the same place but just be ready to stomp on the spider when it fell out. Chances are my plan would have resulted in that thing running into the grass to wait until it could crawl into my house later and eat my children.

While my mom was visiting I told her a spider story from when I was at Diabetic Camp. She was visibly disturbed by it. I don’t know how I could have never told her this story before.

My first experience at Camp Utada was when I met all my cabin mates and counselors in our cabin. We were all spreading sleeping bags on our beds and unpacking for the week. I was sitting on my bed feeling extremely nervous about being away from home for the first time. I was 10. Suddenly I felt something tickling my arm. I looked down and saw this small, fat, black, fuzzy legged spider crawl across my arm.

Fear of what others may think is a powerful thing. I did not want my first impression to come off as me being a baby. I did not scream. I did not cry. I never mentioned it. I very calmly brushed the spider off and prayed like crazy that night that the spider would not come back! As far as I know it did not.

The good news besides the spider puree on our back patio, was that we found Gavin’s camp shirt. It meant a lot to him and I’m glad he really had it with him all along.

Gavin’s first week of scout camp was a success. I’m actually looking forward to his next court of honor. I believe he not only earned seven merit badges but he also made two rank advancements.

Welcome Home Adventures

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Gwen and Parker really wanted to decorate a welcome home banner for Gavin. They asked me every day. After everyone had left I pulled out a long section of butcher paper. They colored and colored all day long.

The picture was too much of an afterthought. I should have taken it while the paper was still on the wall. There are of course many cartoon characters like Phineas and Ferb and other cute drawings. It says “HI! (BRO)” According to Parker bro apparently stands for big rockin’ donut. Don’t ask.

Gwen had written “6 days of forever!” I thought that was adorable. To Gwen and Parker it was six days of forever without their big brother. One of them wrote that we have chocolate and the other one added “in the kitchen.” You know, just in case Gavin couldn’t figure out where the alleged chocolate was. The sign was cute. They did a good job and Gavin was properly impressed.

As Friday wore on Heath and I became more anxious to see Gavin. We were both a little unsettled with the idea that he could be coming home in the middle of the night or Saturday afternoon. We really had no way of knowing.

We had dinner plans in San Jose with Heath’s parents who were spending the night near the airport. We hung out until late in the evening. As we drove home Heath told me he was worried that Gavin would be sitting on our doorstep when we got home. He thought Gavin would be dropped off earlier than we were told. Really it made sense for Gavin to come home early. The more we thought about it the more anxious we were that some leaders were planning to drive home so late at night with scouts.

There was no Gavin sitting on the front porch when we got home sometime after 10:00. There was a voicemail message however. Gavin had called from a leader’s phone to let us know he was on his way home and should be home around 11:00. Worry and relief flooded me at the same time. I was grateful to know a time! I had less than an hour to worry about all the worst case scenarios that could play out before his expected arrival time. And I put my worrier to good use. I’m a mom. It’s what I do.

Heath tried to distract me with Last Man Standing reruns on Netflix. My attention span was short. It may have been an effort to escape me and my inability to sit still and just watch a show, but Heath announced he was going to drive to the church in case Gavin was actually being dropped off there instead of our house. We had been given the most minimal of information regarding this need to get a couple leaders home for Saturday. I was told to stay home and wait for Gavin there.

As Heath walked out the door I told him to be careful. That I couldn’t scrape both him and Gavin off the road! I know, I’m crazy. I used to worry so much when Heath would ref church basketball or volleyball games all night. If he was one whole minute late I was ready to leave my sleeping babies and drive to find him. Luckily he came home every time before I could execute on that stupid plan.

I paced for a minute and got a drink of water. Then I started another episode. Almost as soon as I did I heard doors. My heart started pounding. Gavin and Heath walked in. I guess Heath started driving up the street and saw a car headed toward our house. So he turned around and was grateful to see that he was right. It was Gavin. I ran over to Gavin and gave him a big hug. I was so happy he was home. I was even more happy that I didn’t have to claim him at some hospital. He was safe.

Gavin told us a little bit about his experience. We cut him off pretty early on and encouraged him to shower before heading to bed. It was very late and while none of us felt tired then it just made sense to go to bed. The laundry could wait as could the stories.

Until then . . .

A New Man

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Gavin has changed almost as if overnight. He has a quiet confidence about him. You should have seen him pass the sacrament yesterday. He bravely puts himself out there for the good of the team. During Priesthood Opening Exercises the deacons were asked to have a spokesperson talk about Scout Camp. Gavin and Matt were the only ones who went. Matt asked Gavin if he wanted to do it. He didn’t do it to pass the buck or anything. He was giving Gavin the opportunity if he wanted it. Gavin took it. He stood up and boldly told stories of camp.

He wasn’t able to help set up the Primary room since he was learning the passing routes. After church was over he came into the Primary room asking how he could help.

Gavin: I am ready to help. What can I do?

We tried to ask the Primary President’s husband if we could carry things out to his car. He kept blowing us off. I was confused until his wife walked in the room. We asked her if we could help carry her decorations to her car. Her husband said he didn’t even recognize any of the stuff as theirs. We were willing to help but between the two of them they gathered it all up and walked out.

Throughout the day Gavin will ask if he can help me in any way. Without asking he grabbed the large outdoor garbage can yesterday.

Me: What are you doing?
Gavin: I’m going to throw away the fruit that’s on the ground.
Me: That’s nice but we’re going to church in an hour. Can’t you do this tomorrow?

It turns out he had slipped in the fruit and his pants were covered in red sludge. Why he was playing outside just before church was a moment of mental relapse I suppose. I do appreciate his willingness to correct the problem. Today I told the kids to do it. Gavin wanted to do it all himself. While he is definitely different he is still the same old Gavin. A chip off his mom’s block. I don’t always like help either. I made all three of them work on the fruit together.

My favorite Gavin story happened at dinner last night. Out of the blue he said that he felt the Spirit at camp. I guess he was talking with some boys and they were telling personal spiritual stories. Gavin said he had felt the Holy Ghost before but this time he definitely felt it. I thought that was pretty cool. Even his prayers seem more thoughtful.

He doesn’t seem to be going through the motions. He is very present and aware in his life as a new priesthood holder.

I noticed a positive change in him when he started middle school. It was as if he decided that he was going to do this school thing and that he would do it well. I saw him step outside of himself and try new things. He had the same attitude with Scouts. I love how he set goals for himself and got to work to accomplish those goals. He earned seven merit badges at camp this last week!

I see him have the same determined mindset as a new youth in church. After he learned the passing routes he practiced singing with the youth who had a musical number planned for the Sacrament Meeting program. He passed the sacrament for the first time ever and later in the meeting he walked up with the rest of the 12-17 year olds and sang.

He’s still the same Gavin. He still fights with his brother and sister and he still makes silly mistakes. Somehow he has changed though. He is a little bit different. More mature and certainly much taller. It’s nice that he is different. He’s my size which makes him feel like more of a peer than my child I need to yell at! He’s a great kid. We’re all happy to have him home.

Day on the Bay

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My mom loves to visit San Francisco. We try to fit in a visit to the city with her as often as we can. San Francisco was on the agenda for Monday. We didn’t know what we wanted to do but we had a lot of fun ideas.

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Heath and I decided that we could do an Alcatraz tour. In all the time we have lived here we have never gone on an Alcatraz tour. Our kids were too little and then when they got big enough to handle walking on their own we completely forgot about it. It was the perfect plan to go now. Well, all the way until Heath looked online for ticket information.

Tickets were completely sold out for months. Can you say tourist season? It has been a very long time since we took a day trip into the city and we forgot about tourist season. Heath goes into the city every day to work. But his building is no longer on the Embarcadero in Fisherman’s Wharf. It’s amazing how often he has relocated to a building in that same area.

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He’s in the financial district now and hasn’t changed.

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We could see his building at various times throughout our day. As we drove in he would point it out. He says his building looks like the tweezers in the skyline. Then he would describe it as the building that separates into two towers at the top. I thought I knew which one was his. He would try to point out the correct building and I would get nervous and tell him to just drive! Nerves may always accompany me into the city.

This time wasn’t too bad. It’s the city driving that always gets to me. It is good for me to go back occasionally. My heart races and I hate being in the thick of it all. As we come off the Bay Bridge and I look up at the massive buildings, I have the same thought. I can’t believe we lived here for six weeks! It’s a reminder that I am stronger than I think. But I digress.

Our potential plans included a myriad of tours. I loved the Duck Tour we went on in Seattle. I have seen Duck Tours driving around in San Francisco. Nearly every morning that I would walk my two babies to the park I would see a Duck Tour. The people on board seemed so happy even though most pedestrians were very vocal with their taunts and jeers. Jealousy. Heath has been on bus tours of San Francisco and said it was really fun. A few weeks before Gwen was born Grandma and Grandpa took Heath and the boys into the city for a Bay Tour. I stayed home with a pregnancy headache and have been jealous of them ever since!

One thing I have always wanted to do was get a family picture in front of the Golden Gate Bridge. With Gavin freshly at Scout Camp it would have made for a sad picture without him. We didn’t make it to the park anyway.

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This is a great family picture in front of the Golden Gate Bridge.

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The first plan we looked into ended up being the activity for the day. We asked about a Bay Tour. The lady told us one was leaving in 10 minutes. It was perfect! We paid for tickets and headed straight onto the boat. The tour that we went on was a longer boat ride. It was scheduled to last 90 minutes. I was so excited.

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Gwen wasn’t so sure. I hate how much anxiety has touched my kids. I hate to think they have learned these reactions from me. Gwen doesn’t hide her feelings. Whatever she is feeling she lets everyone know. And she was not interested in climbing onto a boat.

Part of the problem was the fact that we boarded so late compared to others. There were no seats inside and there wasn’t much standing room left in front of the windows. In order to see we kept climbing until we made it to the top deck. Unfortunately every seat up there was also taken. We stood in front of a hand rail and I hugged and hugged my Little Miss hoping to calm her nerves.

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Parker was a good big brother as he tried to help Gwen stop being nervous. My mom and I talked to her. We all wanted her to have fun but she was determined to let Fear run the controls in her mind. She kept telling me she wanted to go downstairs. I wasn’t interested in trying not to fall on our heads as I took her down the stairs on a rocking boat. I hadn’t gotten my sea legs yet. When she kept insisting she needed to use the bathroom I finally took her down.

We somehow managed to move through the static crowd and made it to the stairs. I told Gwen to hold on tight. My mom asked if we were coming back up and I told her I sure hoped so. Gwen and I walked down to the restrooms. She walked in and did her thing. As soon as she came out she grabbed my hand and took the lead. I had not said one word to her but she led me all the way back up to the top deck. Her nerves were gone as soon as her nervous bladder was taken care of. She was fine for the rest of the trip.

There was a lady sitting on the last bench right in front of where we were standing. She kept getting up to take pictures. She was away from her seat for longer periods each time she got up. Gwen watched carefully and when the lady got up again Gwen swooped in to take her seat. It didn’t take long for the man sitting next to the lady to get up and join her.

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Parker took his seat. The two of them played and giggled and enjoyed hanging out with each other for the rest of the trip.

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These collapsible binoculars came with the price of the kids tickets. Gwen and Parker looked out at the water with them once or twice. They had more fun turning them backwards and looking at each other exclaiming how small they looked! It was so cute watching them play together. They have their moments when they argue and fight. They have more moments where they so obviously love each other as a brother and sister. 

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It was awesome going underneath the Golden Gate Bridge.

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Look at the Golden Gate Bridge! An icon of San Francisco. It was a beautiful day too. So beautiful and sunny that Heath and Barry fried their faces. Gwen and Parker were a little pink. We were pretty well protected from the sun with our jackets on. It was a typical windy day in the city.

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So we didn’t get to go to Alcatraz for a tour. The Bay Tour we took circled the island very slowly. We learned so much about the island and its prison history with our audio tour. It was fascinating to hear so many facts and stories. Most of the stories were told by prison guards who used to work there.

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The island started out as a literal rock in the middle of the bay. Soil and plants were imported. Water and electricity were also imported. There was not a drop of fresh water on the entire island except for what was brought in from the mainland. They never said why the prison was shut down. My assumption is because it was too expensive to maintain. There were never more than 300 prisoners at one time. That’s still a lot of men to take care of.

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A few prisoners tried to escape. Nobody made it without being caught or drowning first. It must have been excruciating to realize you were stuck on an island a mere mile and a half from freedom. The place was heavily guarded and the water was icy cold with boats patrolling the area.

One man spent ten whole years carefully stealing a prison guard uniform, one piece at a time, including dog tags, out of the laundry he was in charge of. Ten whole years! It was half his sentence. He made it into a boat before someone realized he didn’t belong there and was hauled back to Alcatraz. The patience and ingenuity of the prisoners was amazing. Some stories were chilling like the prisoner who got into a fight with a barber and used the scissors as a weapon. Blood was splattered everywhere. That story was told by a prison guard. It was his recollection of his very first day on the job! Holy cow!

The prisoners were well fed. It was a heavy carb, protein, and fat laden diet with decadent desserts. If the prisoners didn’t finish all their food they were not allowed to eat anything the next day! I didn’t understand the thought process behind that other than the theory of keeping the men happy. Maybe they hoped the prisoners would eat themselves into a heart attack or gout.

For Christmas one year the prisoners formed a band playing a variety of instruments. The man telling the story said they butchered every song they played but they were happy doing something different.

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I still want to go on the Alcatraz tour but I feel satisfied for now with the amazing stories we were told as our boat circled the island. Maybe in the fall we can take the kids out of school for a day and go on a tour. The weather will be much warmer in the fall too.

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We didn’t see many seals or se lions even though the audio made it sound like there would be a lot. It’s been in the news lately that there just aren’t that many animals on the docks by Fisherman’s Wharf anymore. Nobody really knows why. It could be the warmer water temperatures with the unpredictable weather we have had. The animals arrived soon after the Loma Prieta earthquake but now they have mysteriously left.

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Another fun tour we thought about for a few seconds was this Rocket Boat Tour. It looks like a large ski boat that shows the riders a good time on the bay. I think both Gwen and Parker would have peed their pants if we did that! It looks fun though.

After our tour we went to lunch at Wipeout Grill. It’s been years since we ate there. Gwen was a little tike in a stroller the last time we ate there. The food was pretty good. We all got burritos. Parker loved the bathrooms the best.

Parker: Everyone goes into the bathroom together. Then you go into a little room with a ROOF on top! (You had to hear him say it to really appreciate the emphasis he put on the words) Then everyone washes their hands together outside.

It was a pretty accurate description. The restrooms were designed to fit the surfer theme of the restaurant. It was a coed line that led to maybe six separate water closets. As soon as one was vacant you could go in. Parker did say it was important to lock the door so the dial just under the door handle outside switched from vacant to occupied.

Each water closet was just a room with a door and a toilet. Adjacent to the line of people was a trough style sink with maybe four faucets for hand washing. The whole are had a striped canopy on the ceiling as if it was a roof at the beach. There were flip flops strung along the top of the wall for decoration. That was Gwen’s favorite part.

We walked around Fisherman’s Wharf a little after lunch. We popped into a couple stores that looked interesting. The best store was a puzzle store. They had tons of wooden puzzles that would blow anyone’s mind. We bought a matchstick game that I need to learn how to play. Gwen watched that demonstration. We also got a triangle puzzle. There are balls connected in different shapes and you have to figure out how to put them all back together on the triangle. It’s harder than it looks. There are about 25 solutions too. You can also use the balls to create a 3D triangle. The final game we bought is 3D Tic Tac Toe. That was a really fun place and we found some really fun games and puzzles.

An ice cream shop along the pier had the most delicious smells wafting around. They were making fresh waffle cones. Everyone really wanted one. I’m not much of an ice cream person. Most of it doesn’t tempt me at all. The Ben and Jerry’s kiosk had my attention though. I guess I’m an ice cream snob. If I’m going to eat it I want it to be the good stuff. So we got Ben and Jerry’s cones.

Parker grumpily chose not to have any ice cream. He was mad that we didn’t buy him a stuffed toy to remember the trip. He insisted he would forget the entire experience unless we bought another family pet. Gwen agreed. Mom and Dad stood their ground and no pets were purchased. The games from the puzzle store were enough.

Ice cream dripped as we licked and walked our way back to the parking garage. We piled back into the van and drove home. It was a great day and we all had so much fun.

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