Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Super Trip Part 4 -- Hilton Reunion in Vegas

On August 12 we hit the road for Las Vegas. My parents had rented out a nice house and we were the first to arrive after them. Soon all my siblings, their spouses and my nephews Dean and Reid were there. We swam in the pool, had a nice FHE and did “seminars.” “Seminars” are when different people (at this reunion it was my parents and each of my siblings) speak on a topic of interest to them for 45 minutes. I spoke on Book of Mormon intertextuality and Janet did a hands-on lesson of how to make Cheese balls. Guess which was the bigger hit? We seminars every night and it was a highlight of the week.

Tuesday was a super day! My parents rented a boat and we spent several hours on Lake Mead. It was amazing. The water was really warm, and because the boat could seat 10 (and there were 18 of us) there were constant opportunities to be on the water, and when we weren’t, it was time to eat and relax. I had the best time tubing I’ve had in years, maybe ever. Did crazy tube hopping with my brothers and enjoyed riding with each of my kids. On the first ride of the day, Katrina and I were leaning too far forward and the tube sank –I had to hold Katrina up to keep her above the water. But she wasn’t too scarred and we all had an awesome time.My parents aren't "water people" and they were great sports to go tubing with their grandkids (Katrina and I went down about 3 minutes after this picture was taken).

Wednesday was more low-key – a little hike in Red Rocks and a trip to the park. We all enjoyed swimming in the pool and socializing. Thursday was another great day … we went to a magic show and a magic store. I enjoyed watching all the magic. I love magic! While I didn’t think the Mac King show was quite as clean as it had been billed, he was a great magician. I volunteered Lani and I to participate in a trick...while our version wasn't recorded, another version of it is online and you can check it out and be mystified!

A surprise highlight was finding scorpions (Jeffrey took everyone on a scorpion hunt. It was awesome!)  

On Friday we packed out and made the drive home. We had been gone for 20 days and all in all the trip was really good. I think it’s great for us to get away, and always good to be back.


Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Super Trip Part 3 -- San Diego Parks

After Lani picked us up from Mexico, we went straight to the San Diego zoo, thus kicking off five days in a row of fun at San Diego parks. The zoo was emptying out at 5 PM, and so we were able to spend 3 hours doing the sky ride, taking the bus tour, and enjoying a couple of things, knowing we would be back. 

Tuesday we got up early and went to Sea World. One thing about me is that I don’t like crowds, and when it comes to theme parks, I’m pretty neurotic about planning things so that we minimize crowds. We got to the park 30 minutes before it opened (thus gaining a sweet parking spot) and saw Shamu swim. Then we (as planned) hit the two popular rides before the crowds came, and the started watching the shows, it was a busy and full day, with more to do than we had time for. We had fun going to all the stuff, my favorite part was the dolphin encounter, where all the kids got to touch a dolphin. 

 We did not heed the “splash zone” warning and got soaked by Shamu at his show. That show was the least favorite of my kids, especially Katrina who did not want to get splashed.

Wednesday was the Wild Animal Safari. Honestly, this was my least favorite of the parks it was way too big and you had to walk really far to get to the different places. The shows there were really piddly and honestly, I would rather go to SLC’s Hogle zoo instead. On the upside, the kids did get to feed some birds.


Thursday we went back to the Zoo and realized how smart we had been to come at 5:00 PM the previous time. People had fun, but again, it was lot of walking and some of the exhibits were just so-so. Everyone voted to leave early to come home and watch a movie. It was good to have a little down time after we've been running so hard.

Friday was back to Sea World, which I think is 100x better than the zoo and safari park put together. We rode the 3 best rides 10 times before 10:30. I really liked the wet ride until I rode it for the 4th time and got soaked.

 We re-watched some of our favorite shows. The Cirque de la Mer was awesome, and we also loved the night time sea lion show.

We had determined to save the best for last, and so on Saturday we went to Torrey Pines again and had a wonderful time there again. I love that beach! We did lots of great boogey boarding…Lani and I even did a double boogie board kiss (that might have been the best part of the whole trip!) We did the awesome hike again and loved walking on the beach and enjoying the sunset.


After enjoying two sets of church (Dale and Kathy’s and Lani’s old ward) we went to the Mormon Battalion Center (awesome!) and came home to get ready for an early start the next day. Part 4 of the vacation was about to begin!

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Super Trip Part 2 -- Mexico

For the past few years I have wanted to take my children to Mexico and do some volunteer work. Part of this stems from a recent realization of a scriptural emphasis on the importance of caring for the poor. For example, "It is not given that one man should possess that which is above another, wherefore the world lieth in sin" (Doctrine and Covenants 49:20 -- maybe I'll share more about those scripture ruminations in another post).

In any event, our efforts to go to Mexico have been stymied, primarily out of concerns about the safety of going to Tijuana (the most accessible part of Mexico for us). We did service trips to St. George in 2011 and 2012,  but still wanted to go to Mexico. We decided that this year I would take our two oldest children (Levi is 12 and Annemarie is 10) and test out the waters. It was an amazing experience.

Gordon Carter at Charity Anywhere, arranged everything, and on the morning of August 2 we crossed the border.

An incredibly kind man named Rick picked us up 1/4 of a mile later and began showing us around. He lives in Mexico and is a full-time humanitarian. He took us to a few different places, and eventually we arrived at the house of a woman named Abril. Abril is a teacher at the community center Rick sponsors and when Rick was asking about possible houses to paint Abril suggested hers as a candidate.

Abril lives in an area where there are no paved roads, and there are few painted houses. Here's the view from her front door (keep in mind that this is only 40 minutes from the US border). 


So we set to work on painting the house.They had recently patched several holes in the cement in preparation for the painting and we spent some time wiping down the cement, making sure it was ready to be painted. Then the fun began!

 After a few hours it was starting to look much better. Abril's mother made us a tasty lunch and we ate together with her family. We needed to get some green paint for the trim before we could continue, and that was across town, so we told Abril's family we would come back on Monday to finish the job.

We were staying at a retirement center, and one of the directors was also the primary president. As luck would have it, there was a primary activity that night -- going to see the Smurfs 2 (at the theater, in Spanish). So we went to the activity and everybody had a blast. I think my favorite part was how 25 kids and 7 adult leaders crowded into the 12 passenger van (which had seats removed to making squishing together easier) so we could all travel together. It wouldn't have passed US safety standards, but it was a lot of fun!

Saturday morning began with Rick taking us to an orphanage. A group in Bountiful, UT had made quilts for the children. While the children were happy to see us, there was a sick baby who was not cheered up by the quilts!

Overall, the orphanage was quite a discouraging place. There were about 30 children there with extremely poor facilities. I felt like I could take the entire resources of my little family (both time and financial) and pour them into the program and not even make a dent into helping their needs. 

We went to Rick's school and were amazed at the efforts he is making to provide a good education to his students. Then we arrived at the community center, which has been the target of a lot of vandalism (many buildings in the area were). We set to work on repainting the building.

It was a big task, one that we could not have completed alone. Fortunately, a group of teenage Mexican volunteers happened to be wandering through our area and volunteered to help. With their assistance we will able to paint all four sides of the building in just a couple of hours.

Rick had to go to work, so we next teamed up with Gordon and his nephew to build some bunk beds for some families in need. The process of building the bunk beds was pretty straightforward. I'll let the pictures tell the story:

We started at 1:30 and it took us about four hours to finish building two sets of bunk beds. We couldn't completely finish them because they then wouldn't fit through the doors when we delivered them.  When we made the deliveries, the recipients helped assemble the beds.

We went to the first home in which there are 5 kids and 2 parents (plus additional kids not at home). A son had just returned from a mission and my heart hurt as I thought of him being a VIP in Chile (on the mission) and having a better standard of living as a missionary than at home. Their home was about 600 square feet. Concrete walls and floor, no paint on the outside or inside. Some kids were sleeping on be concrete floor. We had not been able to locate mattresses and as we were leaving I said to the father, "I'm so sorry we find could not locate mattresses" and he said, tapping on the slats and plywood, "don't worry, this will be plenty comfortable." That did not make me feel better.

We had to stop off at the retirement center and I decided to ask if we could buy two of their vacant beds and replace them later. Thanks to the incredible hearts of the workers we were able to get the beds. After delivering the 2nd bunk bed to a family (who also lived in really poor conditions) we returned with the mattresses to the first family. They were very glad to see them. I felt like it had all been worth it. We visited with the family for a little while. I learned that the kids had been baptized in 2008 and the father in 2010 . Within 1 year after being baptized, the oldest was off on a mission to Chihuahua. He's been home for a few years working and helping his family, now he's hoping to go back to school (he never completed high school).

Gordon sang a song that everyone enjoyed and we stopped by a store and a taco stand before finally getting home at 10 PM -- totally wiped out. We had a family prayer and debriefing and arranged blankets on the floor. Levi and Annemarie both wanted to sleep on the floor (one of the mattresses we had given to the other family came from our room) but ultimately Levi did and we finally got to sleep. We slept better because we shut the window and it was harder to hear the roosters (thankfully!)

Sunday morning we were blessed with hot water for showers (there had been none on Saturday). We went to church and the testimony meeting was awesome! People were getting up to bear testimony the moment the sacrament ended. Many powerful testimonies were shared that touched my heart. One came from a 21 year old who spoke of his efforts to fulfill the stake presidents challenge to read the Book of Mormon in 1 month!  He would wake up at 4, read 7 chapters, and then work/go to school until 10 PM and read 7 more chapters. His was an amazing example of faith. It was so inspiring to hear the wonderful testimonies of the saints there. 

That afternoon we went to the community center and played Uno with six children who were learning English. We played Uno to practice English with them and we also told stories to each other. It was a good time. These young people were amazing! I was so impressed with their desire and drive to learn.

Monday was our last day in Mexico. We got an early start and went to go and finish the house we had started on Friday. When we got there, la Senora told us that she wanted the house painted green and not white! So we painted over the white we had done and it looked pretty good. We didn’t have time to finish everything (we had thought we were just doing the trim) but we left the paint with her to finish with her kids, which I think she will enjoy.


We did a little tourist shopping in downtown Tijuana, the kids enjoyed using their limited Spanish to buy presents for their siblings.

Overall, the trip was a great experience. My hopes were to contribute in small ways to people's lives in Mexico and to help broaden my children's horizons. I know that the trip instilled in me a greater desire to serve the poor and I hope it did the same for my children. We are planning to return and hope you will come with us. We're so grateful to Charity Anywhere ... without Gordon and Rick (who was so kind and drove us all around, including to the border) we could have never done it. Learn more about Charity Anywhere.