A Vegas Halloween

Our trips to Las Vegas are never what people imagine. When you’re a parent, a Mormon, and you’re visiting family it’s definitely very different from what most people do in Vegas. Our purpose in going to Vegas was to be there for Noel’s grandma’s 80th birthday and because of the way our flights worked out, we were also there for Halloween. Life was a tad bit crazy leading up to our trip. Noel was out of town for work earlier in the week and the day we left was Cooper’s Halloween party at school. The school parade and all the class parties were in the afternoon, which meant the half day kids either had to come back or just stay all day. We decided to give full-day a try mostly because we anticipate that transition next year will be difficult and we figured any exposure he can have to it is good. Because we knew lunch would be the hardest part, both the teacher and I agreed it would be a good idea if I was there. Ellen and I joined him for lunch and then stayed to help the teacher with all the hyper kids until the Halloween party. I also was helping out with the Halloween party, so I helped get kids in costumes, assisted with the parade, ran a game, and officially ruled out kindergarten teacher as a career option.

School Parade

We had a few hours to wrap things up at home before heading to the airport. The kids were so excited to fly on an airplane. Because we were trying to use up the rest of some rewards flights, Noel flew Frontier by himself and I flew Southwest with the kids. Whenever I told anyone about our flight plan people would tell me how sorry they were, but the truth is people are so nice to me when I fly alone with the kids. Cooper and Ellen were the only kids on the flight and got lots of special attention from the flight attendants. They even announced their arrival on the plane over the loudspeaker and everyone cheered.

Flying Kitty

By the time we got our rental car (we had one of those Seinfeld moments when we we discovered the rental car company had ran out of cars) and drove to our rental house it was past midnight our time and the kids were completely zonked. The next day they woke up excited to play with Grandma Glenna and Granda Mike (Noel’s parents were also able to come down from Alaska for the birthday) and check out the pool in the backyard. We stayed in a place we found on VRBO and really enjoyed having a place to call or own, especially with its own private pool and hot tub.


On Halloween we went to Annie’s house (Noel’s cousin), went trick-or-treating in her neighborhood, and enjoyed some time eating good food with family. Cooper wanted to be Emmet from the Lego movie and the rest of us chose costumes that went along with it.

Everything is Awesome

The next day was daylight savings. I highly recommend never traveling with children during the daylight savings change. At 5:30am (it would have normally been 7:30 at home) Ellen exuberantly exclaimed, “It’s morning time!!!” and would not go back to sleep. Ellen was so grumpy and emotional at church that she wouldn’t go to nursery and I ended up sitting in the hall with her for the last two hours. Cooper was apprehensive at first, but stayed in primary without incident. You just can never predict which one of your kids is going to have trouble with change. That night, we had a pool party at our place with all the Vegas relatives just for fun.

Pool Party

Whenever the kids’ grandparents are around we like to take advantage of free babysitting. Monday morning we went for a lovely run by the city dump . . . Then that night we went on a double date with Annie and Greg to a delicious Tapas restaurant and then went to downtown Las Vegas for fried Oreos. It was really fun to hang out with them sans kids even if we saw some things we can never unsee.  The next morning we went to the Las Vegas temple (a sharp contrast to the night before) and did some sealings for the dead. We’d wanted to do an endowment session, but didn’t make it in time. At first I was feeling really bummed about the change of plans because I’d really wanted the clarity doing a session usually gives me, but then I ran into a lady in the dressing room who was also doing sealings. She said her husband usually comes with her, but had a doctor’s appointment that day and because Noel and I were there they would have enough men to still perform the sealings. Additionally, she was a USU alum and had student taught at my elementary school (which was bulldozed shortly after I finished there). It was just little things that could be shaken off as coincidences, but it made me feel looked after.

Las Vegas Temple

Our last day there was Grandma Virginia’s birthday. We threw a big BBQ party at our rental, with lots of delicious food of course. It was nice to see everyone one last time since we were flying home the next morning. Happy Birthday Virginia

We flew home Wednesday and were thrown back into fall (we had a couple of days in the 80s in Vegas) and the rhythm of regular life. Here are a few more pictures for your enjoyment.

Channeling Frankenstein

This Halloween week I decided to channel Frankenstein* by getting eight stitches in my thumb. Okay, so maybe the whole thing was unintentional, but it’s festive nonetheless.

Sorry if this grosses you out. To be honest it kind of wigs me out a little too.
Sorry if this grosses you out. To be honest, it kind of wigs me out a little too. Just be glad these aren’t pics from day one.

Saturday, the day I sliced my thumb, I handled sharp chicken wire, hammer and chisel, wire cutters, and a pipe cutter without incident. Dinner time is when it got dangerous. I was opening a gigantic can of hominy to add to our posole that had been simmering away all day. Our can opener seems to be designed for standard size cans and was having a problem with the large curves. It didn’t make a clean cut and the lid was still secured by a few slivers of metal. I ignored the thought in my brain that told me it was dangerous and pried the lid up with a butter knife. The lid did indeed come up, but my thumb and the lid engaged in a nice little dance that didn’t end so well for me. (Note: ALWAYS listen to that little voice in your head. Whether it’s the spirit or common sense you’ll be glad you did.) After the bleeding didn’t stop after 15 minutes of pressure we called a friend who just so happened to be at a restaurant about a mile from our house and she kindly agreed to come and watch the kids so Noel could take me to our HMO’s after hours care. Did I mention that at this point in time our plumbing project wasn’t actually finished and all the water was still off in the house? Oh, well it was. Noel scrambled to put a temporary cap on the line so our disaster of a house would at least have running water while we were gone. **

Noel at the beginning of the day pulling out our leaky spigot.
Noel at the beginning of the day pulling out our leaky spigot.

I had hoped this was something they could just glue, but ended up needing eight stitches. I had to psych myself up a little bit for the procedure, but thanks to a local anesthetic the whole thing wasn’t too bad. Life since then has been like one of those quirky party games as I try to do things without too much use of my thumb. Thankfully this wasn’t my dominant hand because amusing would have turned into debilitating really quick. I’d never thought about it much before, but we use our thumbs a lot. If you ever need a little entertainment in your life just try getting dressed using only one thumb.

*Since I was the one being stitched I suppose that would technically make me Frankenstein’s monster in this scenario.

**We did eventually get the plumbing fixed for real, in case you were wondering. That’s a whole other story that you probably don’t want to hear.

The Ebb and Flow

“Making the decision to have a child – it is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.” – Elizabeth Stone

One of my favorite things about Cooper has always been his cheerful disposition, so when he started having crying outbursts at school and fake coughing in the mornings in hopes that I’d keep him home my heart hurt. We have a great team that is working hard with us to help him feel less anxious, but it doesn’t make my heart ache any less on the days his eyes well up at school drop-off. I hug him and over-enthusiastically tell him to “have a great day!” even though I feel like I’ve been emotionally sucker punched. Then I wave feverishly and smile bravely until he disappears into his classroom and pray I can avoid my own crying outburst in front of the other moms.

Then yesterday, when he stood up in front of our entire church congregation and said audible words into the microphone during our annual Primary program I thought my heart might burst with pride. Just one year ago this same program made my heart hurt as the difference between him and the other kids seemed so painfully obvious. This year there was still a difference, but he’s gotten bolder and that made my heart soar.

I didn’t give it much thought before becoming a parent myself (sorry, mom and dad), but being a parent of any child (because they all have their struggles) is brave work. I often find the emotional rollercoaster ride of parenting to be disorienting and some days I think the highs and the lows just might do me in – and we haven’t even had to deal with anything heart wrenchingly difficult. It can be uncomfortable to feel so intensely. Every time I think my heart has been stretched to the breaking point we have a small triumph or a nudge from above that reminds me we’re being watched over.

Last week I dropped Cooper off at school on a day that it was pouring rain. The kids got to go in the front door instead of lining up on the basketball court outside. Cooper was thrown off by the change and I left him in the classroom looking a bit bewildered. As I was leaving the building I found myself walking next to one of the other moms in the class and we started talking. After exchanging pleasantries, she asked how Cooper was adjusting to school. Even though I’m pretty open about Cooper’s ASD diagnosis I rarely spring it on people when I first meet them, but today I did. “He has Autism Spectrum Disorder, pretty high-functioning, but it makes being in a class with that many kids kind of rough sometimes.” The words were out of my mouth before I even thought about the possible repercussions. As it turns out she’s an occupational therapist who works with kids like Cooper all the time. We had one of the most comfortable conversations I’ve ever had with another mom about Cooper’s challenges and even though it didn’t change our struggles, I felt like one more person understood us and somehow that made my heart feel a little bit stronger.

Back Up and Running

There was a time when I would have apologized for a lapse in blogging, but just like how I’ve stopped apologizing for the nearly constant pile of dirty dishes in my sink and for my children not being perfect Stepford children, I won’t be apologizing for this either. For no reason, but every reason I’ve been super contemplative lately about everything and nothing at all and lying low on the internet has been refreshing and glorious. We recently switched web hosting companies and as we’ve been transferring everything over I’ve taken several trips down memory lane and remembered how much I actually do love this little log about our lives, so I’m back with some updates. (There’s still some wrinkles we’re ironing out with the transfer, so don’t be too alarmed if something is a little wonky.)

Coop and the fall colors

Cooper – Enjoying kindergarten for the most part. There have been a few bumps in the road (he really dislikes this “brain break” thing they do at school where all the kids get out their wiggles), but we have a good team that is willing to try new things to help him feel more comfortable. Every day he says his favorite thing was, “Playing on the playground and drawing.” He also really likes his homework (it’s a lot of counting and practicing writing) and bringing home books from the library. So far, he has exhibited exceptional taste in book choice. I went to the doctor (somehow I, not the kids, managed to get Strep) a few weeks ago and took the kids with me. I told them we might get flu shots while we were there and Cooper got pretty upset. At some point a huge look of relief came across his face and he said, “Mom, what day is it?” I told him it was Wednesday. He grinned a giant grin and told us factually, “It’s Wednesday, we can’t get shots, sorry.” Can’t argue with that kind of logic. When we did get shots a week later Cooper made such a scene I think we terrified everyone in the entire building. Both Noel and I had to hold him down. After it was over he acted like he had been so brave. Right now he’s practicing for the primary program. He’s been mumbling his part into the microphone which is an improvement from last year. We can’t wait to see how it goes during the actual program this coming Sunday.


Ellen – Ellen has decided she does like Joy School. Her favorite part is show and tell and showing Cooper the projects she does when we pick him up from Kindergarten. She acts like she’s three going on thirteen. When asked to do things she has an eye roll that rivals that of Liz Lemon fame. All of her emotions are extreme. When she’s sweet there’s no one sweeter and when she’s mad everyone better dive for cover. She finally elicited a scratch from the world’s most patient cat when she crawled under the bed and cornered him in an attempt to force snuggles. No one loves Charlie more than Ellen. Despite her rollercoaster emotions she’s actually pretty helpful and if she’s in a mood simply threatening time out and counting to three is surprisingly effective. When we got flu shots she was very stoic about the whole thing and didn’t freak out or cry at all. She’s quite social and talks a lot. The other day while taking a bath she told Noel, “I want to play forever” which we’re pretty sure was the purest desire of her heart.

The boys on swings.

Noel – Took the scouts on a campout where he enjoyed it more than he hated it. He discovered that Geocaching was a great hiking motivator that resulted in more hiking and less whining than usual. He had a nasty cold over Labor Day weekend, but has probably been the healthiest overall. During the week I had and recovered from Strep he took care of dinner pretty much every night and was up in the night with the kids on a few different occasions while I slept like the dead.


Audrey  – Since my Utah teaching license expired, I’ve periodically wondered what it would take to get back into the teaching game. This summer I felt a push to do more than just wonder. The Colorado Department of Education (CDE) instructed me to apply for a license with the expectation that it would be denied, but would come back with a list of classes, requirements, etc that I would need to take care of. I took care of the fingerprinting and various other paperwork and waited. I expected CDE would require me to go back to school and considering the demands of my current day job it would take several years for me to become license eligible. Imagine my shock when I received an email telling me I’m now a licensed teacher in the state of Colorado. (Just search here using my name for proof.) I feel like things have really come together with this, but I’m not entirely sure for what purpose. (Am I being led to a job? An epiphany? Is Noel going to be unable to work for some unknown reason?) I’m not even sure what I’m going to do with the license, if anything, but am taking things one day at a time and keeping my options open. For the most part I’m at peace about not knowing and am embracing the line from the hymn “Lead Kindly Light” that says, “Keep thou my feet; I do not ask to see / The distant scene – one step enough for me.” The same week I was granted a license I was asked to be a Youth Sunday School teacher for the 14-18-year-olds at our church. (One of my biggest worries about getting back into the teaching game was whether I even wanted to work with teenagers anymore, so this did not seem coincidental.) Accepting this new position meant the end of my service in the Relief Society Presidency. I’d been a counselor for almost three years and even though the position was initially extremely intimidating and I still have doubts about whether I did enough, I grew a lot as a person and very much felt God’s hand in my life over my three years of service.

To sum up this update, here are a bunch of pictures from the last two months.

Our New Addition

It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what brought us to this point. Was it the desperate bribe I offered Ellen when she was potty training? The fact that all my friends are having babies and I was feeling left out on the nurturing front? The recent trauma of bludgeoning two mice to death in the backyard? The blogpost I’d read about how getting a dog was so beneficial in the life of a little boy with autism? Truthfully it was probably a little of all of that. After many discussions, a few weeks of scrutinizing the local shelter’s website, and a few visits to meet animals we finally decided on this guy. Meet Charlie.*

Lovin' on Charlie

The kids LOVE him. Anytime he appears they squeal, chase him around, and hurl toys at him. Not surprisingly, he hides under furniture. Sometimes I feel like doing that too when the kids are following me around, so I really can’t blame him. He’s really good natured though and never swats at that the kids or hisses, which was ultimately why he made the final cut. Well, that and I have a soft spot in my heart for black cats. We’re all warming up to each other and hoping we have many good years together.


*His shelter name was actually Cooper, but that wasn’t going to work.

First Week of School

Whenever the word “kindergarten” was mentioned over the summer, Cooper would light up and I would try not to hyperventilate. Back in the spring, we met with the special ed team from the preschool and the elementary school to talk about his transition. After the meeting, the two teams collaborated to make him a book that would hopefully help him adjust easier to his new school. I also took Cooper on a tour of the school and then during the summer we read the book and talked often, through nervous smiles, about his new school. I know kindergarten is a hard transition for most parents, but I was especially nervous.

When Cooper was first diagnosed with ASD, I read a lot about how early intervention is so important – that the earlier you start therapy, the better it works. I felt like we were doing just that and for some inexplicable reason I told myself that by the time he reached kindergarten no one would even know the difference between him and the next kid. I don’t know why I choose kindergarten as my “deadline.” I never read anything that indicated this and no therapist ever even close to insinuated it, but for some reason it helped me sleep better at night to tell myself that everything would be “fine” by the time elementary school rolled around. When preschool ended and Cooper was still using a communication book (his teacher would jot notes of what they did that day) to tell me what happened at school and we were adding on more therapies, my heart sunk. It was clear, even to me, that my arbitrary deadline was a farce. Over the summer, we kept up our therapies, played hard, and for the most part I didn’t think about kindergarten (denial), but every now and again it would come up and I’d feel the panic start to rise.

At the school open house, we met Cooper’s teacher for the first time. While we were talking to her, the principal started to talk over the PA system and Cooper began to look around confused and agitated, twisting his ears with his fingers. The teacher got down on one knee and calmly tried to show him where the speaker was in the classroom and explain that it was the voice of the principal. As I watched the two of them, I started to relax a tiny bit. The first day of school the elementary school does a unique thing called “Getting to Know You” where the kinders get to bring their parents to school, the idea being that it eases the transition for everyone. In our case, it really did ease the transition, probably mostly for me. On the first “real” day of school I dropped Cooper off and then nervously waited for the next three hours to pass. When I picked him up he bounded out the door beaming. Then he told me that he went down the slide and across the blue bridge and that they went to the library, but didn’t get any books. He also showed me a picture he drew of the public library. I was speechless. If I added up all the things he voluntarily told me during his two years at preschool it wouldn’t be that much. Later, he also added that his favorite part of kindergarten was the playground, lunch (snack time), and drawing. Also, he felt it was important to tell me that his teacher has two garbage cans. He hasn’t been that talkative every day, and I’m not counting on this year being a cake walk, but he’s progressing and that makes my momma heart over the moon.

As Summer Draws to an End

Joy is measured through that we touch daily.

golden light stripes the wall in morning

as apparition appearing

(though no false god this!)

to silently nudge slumber with a most gentle alarm of holiday dream.

was it a dream? — no matter.

to heat, to water!

to the green depths of lake that curtain summer stage.

a dive, then first breath, the slow blurring of edges,

the lack of form between things.

soon a plot unfolds.

cloud and shadow scheme,

draw plans on distant hills

while breeze, waiting in the wing,

rehearse with wave their entrance and exit,

the tricky part,

all the while whistling vaguely

in the manner of summer.

ah yes, summer.

the season meant to remind,

in the final act and measure,

that a clarity lies just out of sight

(on the lakebed perhaps)

awaiting the memory of future days.

– Ken Blackburn

Every time I ask a mom of older kids if they’re ready for school to start they emphatically answer, “Yes!!” Maybe it’s because this is the big year when Cooper’s life becomes ruled by the school system and it feels like some carefree chapter of his boyhood is being closed, but I’m not so sure I’m ready for school to start. This summer slipped through my fingers like sand and the harder I tried to hold onto it the faster it went. Even though it’s over sooner than I’d like, it was one of those wonderful memory building summers. Here are some pictures from the smaller moments of summer that didn’t get their own blog post.

Personal Best

In high school I could run a sub six minute mile. In college, I ran two Boston qualifying marathons.* I have a box in my basement full of ribbons, medals, and trophies, but as proud as I am of those accomplishments, the miles I’m proudest of these days are much slower. They’re long lasting miles fueled by patience and full of silliness, lack of focus, and creative endeavors at motivation. They’re the miles I do with my children. These miles require calculated self-control to keep my temper in check when Ellen stops to inspect the millionth rock and an endless resilience against discouragement as senior citizens with trekking poles pass us. In some ways, running fast was easier; holding back can be so much harder than giving it all you’ve got. These miles aren’t always as instantly gratifying. There aren’t any finishing medals or prize drawings at the end. But in the midst of the trudge Cooper will announce “I like hiking!” or Ellen will engage in the most ridiculously hilarious conversation about chipmunks and I’ll get a little taste of parenting flow. When we arrive at our destination and realize that our kids are the youngest to get there on their own two feet I can’t help but puff up with pride. These aren’t even close to being my fastest personal records, but they may be some of my most important ones.

*For the record, current me is slightly flabbergasted by and jealous of those PRs.

First Fireworks Show

Cooper excitedly waiting for the fireworks.
Cooper excitedly waiting for the fireworks.

There has been a dearth of fireworks in our lives since having kids. Something has always prevented us from venturing out with our kids to one of the big shows on the 4th of July (rain, fire bans, a deep love for bedtime, etc). We decided this year was the year we finally introduced our children to the great American tradition of pyrotechnics. (Technically, we did take Cooper to see an impressive Cherry Blossom festival fireworks show on the Mall during our month in Washington DC, but he doesn’t remember that and we were also somewhat far away.) Every year the fancy golf course excuse me, country club in the neighborhood has a fireworks display for their members. The great thing about fireworks though, is it’s hard to keep them private. Our church building happens to be right across the street from the course which made for a perfect viewing area.

Ellen running SO fast.
Ellen running SO fast.

The kids were so excited, talking non-stop about the fireworks as we set up our chairs. Ellen carried on long conversations with perfect strangers and Cooper snarfed all of his friend’s popcorn. It was a fairly windy night so they kept sending up test fireworks with 10-15 minute waits in between. We were starting to wonder if they were going to just cancel the entire show when they lit up a ton of fireworks. (I think they accelerated the show to try and get as much lit as they could during a calm stretch.) We’d tried to prep the kids for what the fireworks would be like (telling them they’d be loud, showing them youtube videos of fireworks), but when the real thing happened they were terrified. Ellen buried her head into Noel’s shoulder and I literally thought Cooper might break me in half with how tight his thighs were squeezing me. We tried to calm them down, but Cooper was especially frantic and we ended up taking both kids to the car. Once they were safe in their carseats they actually didn’t mind the fireworks as much. Introducing them to fireworks in a slightly more low-key environment was a good move with our sensitive kids. I’m just glad we didn’t take them to the city fireworks were there would have been a lot more people and our car would have been much farther away.

Chutes & Ladders: An Epic Road Trip

When we initially planned this trip months ago, it started out as just a little family road trip, but then more and more fun things came up that got added on. I usually like to come up with a story to share or a thread to follow when talking about our adventures, but there is so much I want to share about the last two weeks. Forgive me for this being a little bit journal-y. I’ve highlighted each day with just one picture, but there’s a big gallery at the end if you’re interested in more. 


Our fancy Father’s Day tinfoil dinners. Recipe to come on the food blog.

Day One – Telluride, CO

Our big summer trip began on Father’s Day. We went to church before heading out and Cooper gave Noel the best gift: joining all the kids when they sang a medley of songs about dads. Previously, whenever the kids sing special numbers in church, no matter how much we’ve tried to prep him for it, Cooper would get really tense, refuse to go up on the stage with the other kids, and then burrow his head in the pew the rest of the meeting. This time he went right up with the other kids without a problem. Noel and I both had tears in our eyes to see him take such a big step. The rest of the day was spent driving to Telluride and setting up camp. We had extra fancy tinfoil dinners with fish and asparagus and chocolate cherry cobbler for dessert.

The kids loved riding the gondolas in Telluride.

Day Two – Telluride, CO

We had really high expectations for Telluride, maybe too high. The town was really cute, but most of the really cool hikes were beyond the capabilities of some of our crew members. There was a 1/4 mile hike to a waterfall that was recommended as “family friendly” by someone at an info kiosk, but what the hike lacked in distance it made up for in washed out trails with steep slopes. After almost tumbling to our death a couple of times, we turned around. There also seemed to be a bit of a lack of signage in the town, but thanks to our data plans we were able to figure things out like the location of Carhenge (the giant free parking lot). The highlight of Telluride was the free gondola rides and eating Detroit Style Pizza at Brown Dog. (Our neighbor is a co-owner of Blue Pan, the sister restaurant to Brown Dog that just opened here in Denver.) We’ll probably visit Telluride again, but maybe when the kids are able to hike 5+ miles of difficult terrain.

Ellen looking down at Cliff Palace.

Day Three – Mesa Verde, CO

After packing up in Telluride, we headed straight to Mesa Verde National Park. We got to explore two cliff dwellings (Spruce Tree House on a hike and Cliff Palace on a tour). The cliff dwellings were probably the coolest thing we saw on our trip. Our tour of Cliff Palace  ended up being at 5pm, which wasn’t ideal, but despite the heat and it being the time of day the kids really start to be monsters everyone did really well. When we went to purchase our tour tickets the Ranger asked if we thought our kids could climb 10 foot tall ladders. We did our best not to laugh. (The tours are pretty inexpensive by the way, $4/person, and totally worth it.)

The view under Sipapu Bridge.

Day Four – Natural Bridges, UT

We crossed into Utah and headed to Natural Bridges National Monument. The kids were hot and tired so when we first started out on a hike to Sipapu Bridge everyone was super ornery, but once we got through the first three minutes of whining the kids gave up and decided to enjoy themselves. The trail is slightly technical (it’s steep and you climb three ladders) which was a little scary, but I think made it more exciting for the kids. A lot of the trail was in the shade which was also nice. Ellen hit another meltdown when we got back to the car (she was a wee bit sleep deprived since she was now only sleeping when the sun was down) so we just did overlooks for the rest of the trip. That night we stayed in some quirky cabins in Blanding, UT. It was a nice change of pace to sleep in a bed and have our own bathroom for a night.

Petroglyphs at Cave Springs.

Day Five – Canyonlands, Needles District

The last time we went to Canyonlands we took the kids to the Island in the Sky District, so this time we went to the Needles District. We hit up Newspaper rock and then headed into the park. Once again, Ellen was super ornery. She yelled and cried the whole .3 miles of the Roadside Ruin trail. (All the childless people were running the opposite direction). We let her take a nap in the car while we drove the loop to look at some of the landscape and then hiked Cave Springs. The caves were a nice respite from the heat, but we didn’t stay there too long because apparently Cooper hates caves. After having a nice picnic lunch, we headed into Moab to do some much needed laundry and grocery shopping. Somehow, we weren’t the stinkiest people at the laundromat.

Cooper cruising through the shoot the chutes.

Day Six – Moab, UT

The main reason we were in Moab was for a big “Dirty Thirty” bash/cousin reunion with Noel’s side of the family. Overnight a couple of siblings and cousins had arrived, so we all went to breakfast at Jailhouse Cafe. After that, we planned to hike Delicate Arch with the kids, but some plans got changed around and Ellen fell off a picnic table and cut her head. Instead, we hung out at the campsite doctoring her and monitoring her for signs of concussion. While we were doing this, Cooper was messing around in the car, fell out of the trunk and hit his head and got a nasty goose-egg. (Note: We did a lot of semi-dangerous stuff on this trip and hanging out at the campsite is when people got injured.) Morale was low; we were all very hot and annoyed. Everyone else had spent the morning at Mill Creek (or the shoot the chutes as my dad calls them) and we were a little jealous, so after some lunch we headed there ourselves. It was so hot that everyone ended up joining us even though they’d already been there. While we were all sliding down the “natural waterslides” Noel said, “If I were to name this trip I’d call it ‘Chutes and Ladders.'”That night even more family arrived and we had a big dutch oven dinner and Dirty Thirty Mud Cake (AKA Mississippi Mud Cake).

Ellen, the raft’s captain.

Day Seven – Moab, UT

Once upon a time, a few of the members in our group used to be river guides in Moab and the main reason we’d met up there was so we could all go down the Colorado River. When we went to pick up our boats, the rental company freaked us out about taking the kids down the section of the river we were planning on (the river is really high and fast right now) so our trusty guides refigured the trip so we’d be on a safer part. The part we rafted was so safe it was almost boring. We hopped out halfway down so all the kid-less people could enjoy the exciting stuff (also we had some more traveling to do). We think the rental company may have been a little overly cautious in their recommendations, but better safe than sorry. And really, it was pretty daring of us to take our little people rafting at all. After we had an interesting lunch of mexicones (see the gallery at the end of this post) we hugged everyone and headed to Northern Utah.

Cooper and Uncle Mitchell chilling.

Day Eight- Brigham City, UT

The main purpose of the trip to my hometown was to hear the address my brother, Spencer, gave about the two-year-mission he just served for our church in Oregon and my brother, Mitchell, give an address about the two-year-mission he’s about to serve for our church in Belgium and the Netherlands. (As well as spend some quality time with family while we’re all in the same country.) Both brothers gave mature and touching addresses that were followed by a big lunch party at my parents house. We enjoyed multiple flavors of cheesecake and chatting with old and new friends.

Cooper’s Mike and Sully Drawing.

Day Nine – Northern Utah

I took Noel to the airport so he could get back to work then spent the day with my sister and her toddler (what?!). We did super fancy things like shop at Target and the DI and chat with my sister-in-law, Danielle, before she flew back East. That evening I swung by my grandparents to say hello and pick up my brother, Spencer, who had helped them make it to a doctor’s appointment. The kids stayed with my parents and a had a grand time with Grandma Cindy and Grandpa Wayne. Cooper drew the picture above while I was gone. It’s Sully and Mike from Monster’s Inc. For the longest time drawing has been such a frustration to him. The only thing he would draw was the same stick figure. (I literally have 100 of them from preschool.) When he’d try to draw anything else he’d get mad that he couldn’t draw what he wanted and would yell and surround himself with piles of crumpled starts of drawings. In the last few weeks he’s suddenly blossomed in this area.

Me, Mitchell, Spencer, and Hope after our trip to the temple.

Day Ten – Brigham City, UT

During the day, my dad rigged up a waterslide in the backyard. It was pretty warm so we all joined in the fun. That night  we went to the Brigham City LDS temple with all of my siblings, this was one of the things I was really looking forward to. What made it even more special is that we (along with my parents, aunts, uncle, and grandfather) were able to perform some temple sealings for my grandmother, her parents, and many other ancestors. Getting all the paperwork and foundational ordinances completed is something several of us had been working on for months, so this was a much anticipated trip. Sometimes it’s hard to explain how we “do work for the dead,” but it’s one of my favorite parts about our church – that even after death God still gives you a chance.

My parents and Cooper walking back from the jetty.

Day Eleven – Promontory, UT

On our last day, we took the kids to see some of the most notable sites near my hometown. First was the Golden Spike National Monument. The rangers there were super nice. Noel flew home with our parks pass and they kindly let me in with a scanned copy of it and my name in my checkbook since I’d left my ID at my parents’ house. (I looked super together.) Though Cooper loves trains, he was really rattled by the loud sounds the trains made during the demonstration. Both he and Ellen tried to climb my legs like a monkey climbs a tree. After a picnic, we headed out to the Spiral Jetty. I’ve only been to the jetty a handful of times, but it’s always different which is part of the allure of this earthwork. The jetty always reminds me of this braided essay I wrote in college, which in turn always gets me thinking about how I should write more.

There are benefits to going home when everyone else is just leaving to go out of town.

Day Twelve – UT/WY/CO

After eleven days of fun, it was time to head home. This was the first time I’d made the trip by myself. For the most part it wasn’t too bad, but we did have several emergency potty stops, a close encounter with several busloads of pioneer trek reenactors, and the privilege of driving through a terrifying hail storm followed by a torrential downpour. (Driver of the car in front of me that drove slowly and confidently with your hazards on, I wish I could hug you for being my anchor through the storm!) When we finally arrived home we were happy to have all our traveling behind us, but sad to no longer be on vacation.