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First Date All Over Again

Cooper was 9 months old the first time we left him with someone other than family. (And since we didn’t live close to family it was pretty much the second time we’d ever left him.) Even though we’ve been blessed with awesome friends who have made it possible for us to get away now and again for special occasions, necessary life events (classes, ER visits, birth of another child, etc), and the occasional trip to the temple, dating has been a little scarce for our tastes. Despite loving each other immensely, we felt our marriage had been dulled in some way. When a friend kindly watched our kids for our anniversary last year we excitedly went to dinner, but spent the entire dinner talking about Cooper’s ASD diagnosis. Then when the meal was over, we literally couldn’t think of anything to do, got into a bit of a spat, and returned home with a proverbial cloud over our heads. The experience concerned us (especially with the 80% divorce rate, myth or not, of parents of a kid on the spectrum being thrown around) and has since been a topic of discussion as we’ve tried harder to make our marriage a top priority. This last month the biggest step in this effort happened: we hired our first ever babysitter.

For the past few years I’ve been eyeing the young ladies in our ward and finally felt comfortable asking one of them to watch our kids for an evening. It was like going on a first date all over again, I was nervous and excited, but for a totally different reason. A few hours before our departure, I told the kids who was coming to babysit and they pulled out some of their favorite books in anticipation. Despite their enthusiasm, I was worried her arrival might be a let down and repeatedly reminded them that a girl, not a pig, would be coming over. The moment finally came that Noel and I walked out the door. We got burgers and went to the Colorado Environmental Film Festival where we enjoyed becoming more educated about dams and Colorado forest fires.

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We were relieved to come home to a house that was still standing, kids sleeping in their beds, and a babysitter who claimed to “love [our] kids.” We’ve decided to make a monthly date night a time and budget priority. It feels like we’re entering a whole new stage of life in a way and it’s quite exciting!

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Recovery Weekend

I’m sure most people feel the same way, but we don’t take it slow very often. Most days, life is like a treadmill set one notch higher than a pace I’m comfortable with. Just like in training, pushing yourself can be empowering, make you stronger, and help you reach your goals faster, but it also can lead to serious injury or burnout, which is why rest is so crucial. This weekend was a much needed recovery weekend.

Discovery ZoneWe decided to make Valentine’s a family affair and used some free tickets Noel got from a co-worker to go the Museum of Nature and Science.

Water works

Masterbuilder

The kids especially enjoyed the hands-on exhibits. It was really nice to let them be so creative in an environment that didn’t involve me wiping up puddles. After wearing ourselves out at the museum we thought we’d try out a well rated hipster pizza place, but despite having open tables, they told us the wait was an hour and a half. As tempting as it was to hang out with guys with waxed mustaches and girls with androgynous haircuts while our two hungry children melted down, we decided to head back to Golden and hit up Woody’s pizza buffet. The kids were clearly starving because they each ate three pieces of pizza without any prodding from us. Generally, it’s a battle to get them to finish anything, even good pizza.

Sole Mates

For the romantic aspect of Valentine’s, Noel and I bought each other running shoes. (We’re totally sole mates.) Then to negate all the calories burned from working out, we made raspberry cobbler with dark chocolate biscuits after the kids were in bed. Sunday was pretty typical other than all evening church activities were cancelled due to a snowstorm that was moving in.

Put some muscle into it!

Just a tasteMonday, we woke up to several inches on the ground and it was still coming down. We were grateful that we didn’t really have anywhere to go. We played in the snow, built a snowman, and had a snowball fight.

Do You Wanna Build a Snowman?Then we warmed up by snuggling and watching The Lego movie and eating posole. Yes, EVERYTHING WAS AWESOME!

Bedtime Story

Things were going so well that we weren’t totally distressed when the kids went to bed 30 minutes later than they should have. (In case you don’t know, 30 kidless minutes is more valuable than gold.) After enjoying the slow life and sleeping in till 7am three days in a row, heading back into a new week didn’t seem quite so ominous.

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Ode to the Honda

The kids practicing their driving.

The kids practicing their driving.

If Noel hadn’t caught the front bumper of the Honda on the fence of our apartment complex, our first date might not have ever happened. Because if he hadn’t been out in the parking lot that April afternoon trying to fix it, I might not have had the opportunity to flirt with him and he probably wouldn’t have asked me if I was doing anything that night and we never would have gone out to dinner. That’s how integral the Honda has been in our lives.

A rose hitching a ride back to Logan, UT following our "babymoon" to Monterey, CA.

A rose hitching a ride back to Logan, UT following our “babymoon” to Monterey, CA.

When we bought our Volkswagen a year ago, the Honda mostly sat out on the curb. When it stopped working in October and we didn’t do anything about it for three months, we realized having two cars definitely isn’t a necessity for us. Then when we had a buyer almost literally fall into our laps who legitimately needed the car and would be able to give it the care it needs in its old age, we knew it was time to say goodbye.

Getaway Car

The Honda spent nine of its twenty years with us. While part of our family, it bore the plates of three states, was the getaway car for our honeymoon, safely carried both our babies home from the hospital, moved us to Colorado, and accompanied us on countless adventures all over Utah, Nevada, California, Arizona, Wyoming, Idaho, and Colorado.

Baby Cooper riding in style.

Baby Cooper riding in style.

The Honda proudly displayed the badges of some of our greatest running accomplishments and quietly bore the shame of being booted, ticketed, high centered, and left running with the keys locked inside. (In case you were wondering ALL of those things happened the year we were dating. Sometimes it seemed there were powerful forces trying to keep us from getting together.)

Running Badges

The Honda proved that we didn’t need a truck and we strapped everything imaginable on it. Mattresses, kayaks, ladders, jogging strollers, buggies, lumber, christmas trees, furniture, and so much more.

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We also tetrised as many things in it as possible. Dining room sets, mulch, plants, rafting gear, and kids to name a few.

Moving to 20th Place

Sure it had it’s quirks (you had to pop the hood and manually turn it from heating to cooling and there were separate keys for the doors and the ignition), but we loved it. Thanks for all the memories Honda!

The day we sold it.

The day we sold it.

Growing Something Beautiful

We recently attended a kindergarten info session. We were in the 5% minority of people in attendance who brought children. As other parents dragged the meeting on past its scheduled end time by interrogating the teachers and asking lengthy questions about the tenure of the faculty and the extracurricular activities available to kindergartners (yes, kindergartners) our children grew restless. When my attempts to occupy Ellen with my phone failed and she announced “I’m not being quiet right now!” in a high pitched voice, I took her to the back of the room. I suddenly felt guilty for bringing my offspring (to a school for children) and suspected there were several people giving me the stink-eye for not leaving our kids home with our nonexistent nanny.  Maybe I’m imagining it, but I feel like other parents watch me a lot. It makes me feel self-conscious about my daughter who doesn’t have an inkling what an inside voice is and my son who is stubbornly particular. But maybe it isn’t just me. Maybe we’re all just watching each other and hoping no one suspects the truth: that most of the time we don’t have a clue what we’re doing.
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For the most part, I avoid anything that might be categorized as parenting advice, mostly for anger management issues, but every once in awhile something makes its way to me. The other day Noel emailed me a link to an article titled “Six Tips on Disciplining Children from an Experienced Teacher,” prefacing it with the remark, “I’m not sure if this is good advice or if it angers me.” Noel is not as well acquainted with the world of parenting articles where there is an overabundance of advice and general judginess and I was curious what had upset him. I clicked through and quickly saw what he meant. The tips were good and made me think of ways I could improve as a parent, but the author’s matter of fact examples of how she implemented them with her Stepford children was maddening. The calm interactions they had that always ended in the kids doing exactly what she wanted were almost incomprehensible to me and probably any other person who’s ever spent anytime with children or teens. Maybe this woman really has the magic touch or her children are genetically engineered, but it just felt like there was something missing or that there was a truth that hadn’t been fully told. 
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Cooper’s preschool sent home a flier for a parenting class put on by a community organization. It had a picture of a boy with crazed eyes riding a Hobby Horse and read, “A Parenting Manual: Because kids don’t come with instructions” and promised that the class would answer your toughest parenting questions. I rolled my eyes and decided it was best I not go and poison all the optimistic parents who were so earnestly looking for the clear cut answers to how to raise children. In the Ted Talk “For Parents Happiness is a High Bar,” Jennifer Senior asks, “Why is it that raising our children is associated with so much anguish and so much confusion? Why is it that we are at sixes and sevens about the one thing human beings have been doing successfully for millennia, long before parenting message boards and peer-reviewed studies came along?”  I think about that sometimes and vow to relax and just parent from the heart, but before the thought is hardly finished my brain starts to panic asking, “What exactly does that mean?” I’m still working on figuring it out, but the words Senior spoke to her son the day he was born have at least given me a mantra I think I can live by. As she held him in her arms for the first time she whispered in his ear, “I will try so hard not to hurt you.”
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I always hesitate to give parenting advice and have no intentions of ever calling myself an expert. When my sister calls me in hopes of gleaning some wisdom from me on how to raise her growing son my heart always breaks because I know I probably don’t have the answers. I hardly know what to do to make her son sleep anymore than I knew how to make my son sleep, so I blather out suggestions of things I tried or read about or heard other people did and then tell her the only thing on the subject I know with certainty, “I know this hard, but you’re doing a good job, really.”
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One time I was talking to my mom about gardening. My mother is a Master Gardener and I was trying to express to her how unknowledgeable I felt about our yard. “It just feels like this huge experiment,” I said, “I just keep throwing things out there and hoping something works.” I waited, expecting her to give advice about what I should do differently, but instead she simply reassured me, “That’s gardening.” I think parenting is a lot like that; a huge experiment that even the “experts” haven’t completely figured out. We’re all just out there working hard and wiping the sweat off our brows as we tend what’s growing on our plots of land. Despite our best efforts though, there will always be a neighbor that doesn’t like our methods of landscaping and maybe we won’t like theirs, but we can’t let that drag us down because the truth is we’re all just trying our best to make something beautiful.
Our pajamas this year, made by me.

A Merry Christmas Whirlwind

This year Christmas sprawled across two weeks which in some ways was lovely, but in other ways was exhausting. We celebrated Christmas at home on the 20th then travelled to Utah to celebrate Christmas with my family. By the time we made it back to Colorado more gifts had accumulated on our front porch and so we had what felt like third Christmas. Even now that we’re in the first week of January, I keep coming across bits of wrapping paper strewn about the house. It was a jam-packed holiday that we’re still recovering from. I could probably write a book, albeit a boring one to most, about everything we did, but I’ll leave you with the highlights.

Top 10 Worst Moments

10. Ellen spilling multiple times on my parents’ new rugs.
9. Driving to my grandparents’ houses in a snowstorm.
8. Our car not being able to make it up my grandparents’ driveway in a snowstorm because it was so slick.
7. Sharing beds with the kids at a motel in Rawlins, WY.
6. Staying in Rawlins. Even the best rated motel was questionable.
5. Having our trip home delayed by two days due to weather.
4. Driving through 70 mph winds and past an overturned semi to get home.
3. Driving down I-70’s icy roads that frighteningly resembled a luge track in order to get home.
2. Kids getting sick.
1. Cooper vomiting all over the car only an hour into our drive to Utah.

Top 10 Best Moments

10. Waking up in the night to a crying baby and realizing it’s not ours so we can go back to sleep. (Sorry, Hope and Joe!)
9. Family mustache and lipstick kiss pajamas.
8. Ellen being a not so angelic angel for the church nursery nativity.
7. Snuggling baby Porter.
6. Our car starting up when it was time to leave Rawlins even though we’d forgotten to put anti-gel additive in our diesel tank.
5. Beating the storm to get to Utah in time for Christmas.
4. Going on a double date with Hope and Joe while my parents watched all the kids.
3. Visiting with Vanessa Joy and Chris (Noel’s sister and her husband) since our return trip was delayed and they were back in town.
2. Going to the temple and doing proxy baptisms for my great grandparents.
1. Seeing my entire family, including skyping with my brother who is on an LDS mission.
Bonus: Surviving all our travel and making it home in one piece!

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Eight Years Ago

Eight years ago, all I wanted for Christmas was an engagement ring. And I didn’t care if it came out of a gum ball machine, I just wanted the question behind it to be asked. Noel and I had known each other for close to a year and I was anxious, impatient really. Marriage was something we had discussed, but Noel gallantly wanted to tie up a few financial loose ends before we made anything official. Several couples we knew had met and married during the period of our courtship (we did live in Utah after all) and the jealousy was poisoning me. I tried my best to be supportive as Noel paid down his debt (an amount that seems almost laughable now), but I knew that even after it was gone it would take a good long while before he had enough money to buy a ring. I told him it didn’t have to be anything fancy, even just a twist tie around my finger would do the job, but he insisted he wanted to “do things right.” As Christmas neared, I was irritable since I knew I wasn’t going to get the gift I really wanted. As we shopped for gifts for family and made plans for our Christmas break I was unhelpful and snappy. Noel’s patience was admirable. It was a miracle we didn’t break up.

After finals were over, we loaded our stuff in Noel’s car and headed to Southern Utah where his parents currently resided. Noel really wanted to stop and go on a hike in Canyonlands National Park.  We’re pretty outdoorsy, so this wasn’t unusual, even for December. I had resolved, once again, to have a better attitude and not ruin Christmas, so I humored him. We headed out on the Grand View Point trailhead laughing and talking. When we got to the overlook, Noel bent down to tie his shoe and started rummaging in his pockets. I was about to ask him what he was doing when he pulled out a box and said, “Well, while I’m down here, about your Christmas present . . .  I was wondering if you would like it now; will you marry me?” I ecstatically said “yes” and got swept up in the joy of the moment and the sparkle of the diamond ring for several minutes. After my brain stopped swimming I turned to him and demanded to know where the ring came from. He told me about how his grandma, whom I had not yet met, but Noel described as having the personality of 60 grit sandpaper and a heart of gold, had heard through the family grapevine that we were considering marriage. Completely unaware of the financial obstacle standing in our way and not even knowing if she would like me, she sent Noel her wedding ring saying she would like him to have it so he could give it to me. Noel had it in his possession for three weeks as he dealt with my moodiness, studied for finals, and plotted how to get my parent’s blessing before he proposed. The night before our trip to Southern Utah, he told me he and his roommate were going to install a roof rack he’d recently bought off a friend, but instead travelled to my parents’ house in a bundle of nerves to ask for my hand. Afterward, he and his roommate stayed up past midnight installing the roof rack with fingers frozen beyond feeling so I wouldn’t be suspicious.

I have a lot of fond memories of Christmas, but I will always remember the love fueled miracles that happened that year to make it possible for me to answer the most important question I’ve ever been asked.

Being us, we don't have any pictures of the actual engagement, but this photo was taken a few days later and pretty much sums up my glee.

Being us, we don’t have any pictures of the actual engagement, but this photo was taken a few days later and pretty much sums up my glee.

Full Moon

Moonlit Birthday

Full MoonEven though this time of year can be a bit hectic, I do my best to be intentional about the ways we celebrate and that includes birthdays. A dear friend offered to watch our kids so Noel and I could go do something. When I was pondering what to do, I looked at the calendar and noticed that the Saturday before Noel’s birthday was going to be a full moon and I began planning a moonlight snowshoeing trip. While I generally do not consider the sun setting before 5pm to be a positive, on this occasion it certainly was. We snowshoed, got burgers, and were still home before 10pm. (Can you tell we aren’t big night owls?) We’re always amazed at how much ground we can cover when we aren’t carrying or herding kids.

Noel's BirthdayOn Noel’s actual birthday, we had homemade Indian food (the best Indian food we’ve found around here so far ;), walked around the neighborhood to look at Christmas lights, ate chocolate peanut butter cheesecake, and put the kids to bed while we enjoyed a night in with a new movie – an introvert’s dream birthday. Hopefully he felt loved in the midst of all the hullabaloo of the season.

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Training for Life

I read through countless bios of OBGYNs when I found out I was pregnant with Ellen. I wanted to make a choice that would be a good fit the second time around, but wading through academic histories, detailed resumes, and generic healthcare philosophies didn’t bring me any closer to knowing who to choose. In the end, my decision wasn’t based on shared viewpoints or prestigious degrees (although she has those too), but because she “start[s] every day with a thirty minute run along the trails below the nearby mesa.”  When I read that, I thought: There’s a woman cut from the same fabric as my own soul; we’ll be able to figure this thing out. 

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Photo by Cindy McConkie

I’ll take a run anytime I can squeeze it in, but my preference is running with the sunrise. My current profession doesn’t offer a lot of alone time, so I cherish the quiet moments where I’m alone with my thoughts while the rest of the world nurses cups of coffee or lounges in bed. Everything feels fresh and hopeful in the dawn hours. Maybe it’s because, as Glennon Doyle Melton points out, “[The] sun shows up every morning, no matter how bad you’ve been the night before. It shines without judgement, it never withholds . . . The sunrise [is our] daily invitation from God to come back to life.” Days that I miss this ritual I almost always forget to pray.

I’ve been running since before I can remember. My parents are both runners, so when I was young I figured running is just what people do. I was as fast as the boys on the playground, always the one to beat on the timed mile in PE, and ran four years of Cross-Country and Track in spite of my parents being coaches. When Noel agreed to run a midnight 5K with me when we first started dating I knew he had serious potential and now running is a major contributing factor to why my children are still alive. I’m not one of those runners that never misses a day. I cross-train, get caught up in life, and sometimes am downright lazy, but it’s always there for me, waiting when I need it. It takes me as I am: fast, slow, and even jog-walking through pregnancy.

Noel and I halfway through our second marathon.

Noel and I halfway through our second marathon.

Running helps me purge the negative thoughts I have about myself and about others and helps me get one tiny step closer to seeing all of us the way God does. I’m unsure how this works. Whether the negativity oozes out of my pores as I perspire, gets expelled with my breaths, or pounded out through my feet, but I’m just happy it works. As I run I get to sift out my thoughts and emotions. I breathe, I pray, I count my blessings, and I sweat. Running makes me nicer, more patient, more grateful. Sometimes I think of nothing except the fact that I am; the thud of my feet and the labor of my breathing. Certainly running doesn’t solve all my problems, but it keeps me from reaching toxic levels. It strips me down to my barest, strongest self and leaves me to take on the world with the call “I am Woman; hear me roar!” reverberating through my soul.

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I often am asked if I’m training for anything. These days racing is sparse. There’s just not time or money or energy for it, but I’m still training, not for a race, but for life.

November 2014

Thanksgiving 2014

Aunt Danielle!

The kids warmed right up to Danielle, even before she whipped out her candy stash.

Danielle (Noel’s sister) joined us for Thanksgiving this year. The kids were so excited and it wasn’t just because she works for a chocolate factory.

Do we have to leave the car?

We decided to treat her to a beautiful tour of the Colorado outdoors and took her on a very windy snowshoeing trip. The pictures make it look still, but Ellen seriously got picked up by the wind at one point.

Cooper the Trooper

Cooper thought the whole thing was awesome.

Ellen thought we were torturing her.

Ellen thought we were torturing her.

Thanksgiving morning we went to our church’s Turkey Trot.

Winners!

Noel and I took the coveted first place, i.e. first dibs on donuts.

Runners in training.Cooper and Ellen also set PRs.

November 2014The highlight of course was Thanksgiving dinner. I guess we aren’t very good Americans because we did not participate in any type of event involving a football, but we enjoyed one another’s company nonetheless. All too soon, Danielle boarded a plane and headed back home. Hope you enjoyed your Thanksgiving at least as much as we did!

Birthday Turkey

Twenty-Something

Birthday Turkey

This year’s “birthday turkey.”

My birthday and Thanksgiving have always been synonymous to some degree and this year they fell on the same day. The last time my birthday was on Thanksgiving, a family fun run went awry when we took a wrong turn. We ran miles further than planned and found ourselves trespassing in a construction zone as we deliriously tried to shortcut to our car. I remember miserably singing “happy birthday to me” under my breath while everyone argued about whose fault it was that we’d missed our turn. (There is a strong contingent that still maintain I was the reason . . . ) It was a memorable birthday and probably the only Thanksgiving where I netted negative calories.

Actual Fun Run

This year, Noel decided it was a good idea to celebrate my birthday on it’s own special day (as birthdays were intended ;). I told him all I wanted was to go on a trail run to the rock that overlooks Golden and eat lunch without any kids touching me. A good friend kindly watched our kids so we could do just that and it was marvelous.

CheesecakeWe had Chinese takeout for dinner (one of my guilty pleasures) and stayed true to tradition by having birthday cheesecake instead of regular cake. We made a variation of this chocolate peanut butter cheesecake and it was absolutely delicious. After the kids were tucked into bed we watched Much Ado About Nothing on a projector Noel borrowed from work and went to bed at a delightfully reasonable hour. Clearly I’m still a twenty-something that knows how to party . . . or at least I can claim to be for one more year.