Friday, August 26, 2011

Where is a Girl Scout when you need one?

Our new window decor!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Summer Visitors and Activities

It's hard to believe that summer has come to an end! As I've been looking through photos from this summer I decided to condense a whole bunch of activities into one post, lest you get bored.

Here goes...

Early in June my good friend Kim came to visit for a bit from Indiana. We met Patrice for lunch and had a great visit. We missed Loretta who was our other pal in high school but didn't come to visit until later in the summer. It is so fun that we still see each other (usually at least once a year) and still consider each other our best friends. These ladies are wonderful!

Ryan's sister Traci and her family came to visit in June, so we had a Harper BBQ. It was so fun to get all of the Harper cousins together (of course we missed Mikkie!), they don't get to be together very often and they have such a great time together. I love the picture of Ryan and his brothers and sister.

We went to the zoo! It was HOT and we were dismayed to find out that our zoo no longer "carries" lions or hippos. Some of the new exhibits are neat though. I love the photo of Sophia consulting the zoo map as if she would be our tour guide (top left).

Olivia got to be in the Steel Days parade with her soccer club (Xtreme). Sophia and Coleman enjoyed the parade (and all the free candy) but were especially excited to see Liv.

Loretta and her cute kids came to visit from Alabama!  Patrice and her kids live in Davis County and we met at Loretta's parents house for a yummy lunch and let the kids play. Each of us has an oldest daughter (and they all wear glasses, they thought that was cool). The girls swapped Cinderella stories about all they had to do to help with the younger kids and around the house, so they wanted a picture with the babies on their hips (see bottom left). It was so fun to see them all! This day we missed Kim, who had returned to Indiana with her three kids. Between the four of us there are 14 children... amazing!

Our good friends the Reis' came from California to visit... we spent as much time as possible with them and went to the Scera pool and Discovery Park. Olivia and Madi and Brandon and Coleman would move in together if they could (and often plot how one of our families can move so we can live by each other). They are finally starting to grasp the concept of needing a job in order to live in a certain place, but we enjoy whatever visiting time we can with them.

Matt and his family came out from Connecticut for a couple of days and we met them and Lindsey and her boys and my mom at the This is The Place Heritage Park. I am sad that I didn't take any pictures of Matt's cute boys! They have a ton of activities there including pony rides, gold mining, a train ride, a barber shop (complete with a free shave) and a bunch of other "working" shops with people in period dress there to explain it all. My kids liked the mountain man and I liked the pharmacy full of natural remedies. We all liked the "saloon" that sold ice cream. One of my kids asked if all saloons sold ice cream back then :).

This year some of the descendants of Sophia Mason Crook (who my Sophia was named after) decided to add a marker in the Payson City Cemetery for her. She is buried somewhere in Davis County (where she died) but as most of her descendants settled in Payson they felt it appropriate to put it there. She was a remarkable woman of great faith and determination. We went down with Grandma Cole to see the marker and after wandering the cemetery for what seemed like hours, we found it! Maps and coordinates in that cemetery seemed to be helpful at the entry gate, but when we got into the cemetery we got all turned around. It was still fun to be with Grandma and enjoy a cold ice cream cone with her after we were done at the cemetery. She is a great lady and I feel blessed to have such a close relationship with her.

We had a full, fun summer... but alas, it is time to get back into the groove of school.

**What are your summer highlights?

First Day of School 2011

Coleman and Olivia started school today! The summer seems to have gone way too quickly, but I think both of them were excited to get back. I felt a lot more busy this summer than I wanted to be... so I am hoping that the transition back to school and our fall schedule will prove to be a good one. Maybe I'll even be able to tackle a few of the organizational projects I wanted to do over the summer.

But ready or not, we have a second grader and a fifth grader... it's hard to believe!

Coleman wasn't feeling good at all yesterday or today, he kept saying he was fine so he could go to school, but then he'd get dizzy when he stood up and wouldn't eat because it was too hard to swallow. I made him stay home this morning so we could go to the doctor to make sure he didn't have strep (his symptoms seemed to point that direction). He didn't. He was so worried that he wasn't going to get to eat lunch at school today (it was pizza day).... but he made it and he loves his new teacher. I asked what he was most excited about and he said, "It's too hard to pick! The store my teacher will have (for good behavior)... recess and all the new recess things (they just put up ball walls and badminton/volleyball nets)... everything!" Then he said there are things he isn't excited about, namely the changes to the menu (they are trying to offer more healthful foods). Funny kid. He will do great in second grade!

Olivia was thrilled when our class lists came out that two of her best friends, J.D. and Anna, are in her class this year. She was grinning from ear to ear. She said she was most excited about her teacher that is so nice. I hope she has a great year--I remember fifth grade being full of so many fun activities.

I think this little girl is the only one NOT excited that school has started... she was already bored today with the kids gone. She has loved having them around all of the time to play with her and get snacks for her. She is going to get into some trouble, I can already tell. We did enjoy our time together though and got to read several books and play together, uninterrupted. I loved nap-time too! Today there was too much to do to snooze with her, but I might have to make a habit of getting a quick power nap each afternoon.

**What is your favorite school memory?
**Are you looking forward to the new fall schedule?
**How often do you nap?

Ryan's a Star!

Every year Ryan's company has a convention where their consultants gather to get new ideas and get excited about new products. As a programmer, Ryan doesn't get many chances to be a superstar, but this is a time that he gets to present his department's work for the people that are using (and selling) the software. His work this year included changes that consultants have been asking for  for a long, long time. His announcement brought the crowd to their feet:

My favorite comments on their facebook site said: "Ryan Harper, Director of Technology, HM, you now have a whole room full of BFF's!! Thank you so much for all of the studio enhancements coming our way!!"

and "I think we need to start a Ryan Harper fan club! He had no idea how just one specific change could cause a group of grown women to cry! Lynda said we would freak out and we did! Wow! What an exciting day!"

Ryan has groupies! Fun for him.

They also have a fancy banquet to end the convention, and they invited me to come along. It was a fun chance to dress up and get my hair done (by my ultra-talented friend Raylyn).

Doesn't the back of my head look cool? I should have her come over and do my hair more often!

The thing I loved best about the banquet was seeing how much Ryan is valued at work. His coworkers the consultants couldn't say enough good things about him, and it was fun for me to see that everyone else sees how great he is. Way to go Ry!

Bear Lake 2011

Ryan's family has been going to Bear Lake every August since he was a baby. It is something our little family has grown to love and cherish--the activities are fun and exciting, and it's relaxing to be away from the pressures of home and work, but we love, love, love being with our family and spending time with them. One of Ryan's wonderful aunts mentioned in a Family Home Evening that we had last year that Bear Lake for her was like a sanctuary--a safe place she could go where she knew she was loved and accepted.

After Mikayla's accident last year, we honestly didn't know if we would ever be able to go back and still enjoy being there. That day was traumatic and horribly difficult, and the days and weeks and months following have been equally hard. There were several family members with us that day, and many of them decided that they wouldn't be going back to Bear Lake. I can understand and appreciate that, and in many ways I felt the same thing. At the same time, I felt drawn to go back. I felt like if we returned we would be able to continue on our journey of healing. Ryan and I discussed it at length with each other and with our older children, and decided that for our family, it would be a good step for us to go back there and continue building good memories.

We made our traditional stop at USU for delicious Aggie ice cream. I believe their ice cream is the best... and Ryan claims that BYU Creamery's ice cream tops it. We are convinced that the only way to determine for sure would be a side by side comparison, but the location of the creameries and the nature of ice cream makes that difficult. My conclusion is that whichever ice cream we are eating at the moment is the best! This day it was Aggie Ice Cream--lemon custard and raspberry sherbet for me, cookies and cream for Coleman, lemon custard for Olivia, and a triple for Ryan--pralines and cream, caramel cashew, and cookie dough. Sophia just kept her mouth open the whole time and waited for someone to fill it with a bite of deliciousness.

As we pulled into Garden City and drove toward the condos where we were staying (and have stayed for the past several years, thanks to the generosity of Ryan's parents and grandparents) we were all flooded with memories of the day that Mikkie left. It was particularly hard to drive by the pool house and get out and hear helicopters flying overhead (they were there this year for Raspberry Days as part of the fair). The last time we were there, we sat on the lawn and watched and prayed as the helicopter came and took Mikkie away. Her sweet older sister Faith said that the helicopter was taking Mikkie to Jesus. The weekend ended up being full of bittersweet moments--hard memories from the day of the accident, but also great memories with Mikayla and all of our other family members.

While we were in Sacrament Meeting on Sunday Ryan's cousin Jen shared her testimony--and while she was speaking I felt strongly that Bear Lake is a sacred place for our family. I don't know if that sounds crazy, but we have spent so much time with our family members there, and it's the last place that we were with Mikayla before she left her earthly existence, and to me it feels sacred.  It was Ryan's grandma Lucille's favorite place... she passed away in 2005, and Bear Lake hasn't quite been the same without her, but when we are there, I can feel of the love that she has for us. I can imagine Lucille and Mikkie, taking an afternoon off from whatever they are doing and sitting together, eating a raspberry shake, and checking in on us, making sure we are being good to each other and having fun.   I felt very blessed to be there again.

The lake has risen EIGHT feet this year! We used to walk at least a mile down to the water's edge from the condos (and we started driving down a few years ago), but this year, the "beach" wasn't far away at all. Unfortunately, a lot of the good sand to play in is buried under the water 100 yards out. The kids still found enough to build a sand castle with and we had fun in the water. Cheri brought the fun jet skis and we all got to take a few rides, even Sophia (where was her mother during this?!?).

We always have fun in the condos--eating yummy food, talking, playing games (this year the new favorite game was "Telestrations"--check it out, you won't be sorry!), eating more food, and just being together. Cousins Brian and Richard played some tunes on their ukeleles and sang to us too. I love watching Ryan's "cool cousins" play with our kids. The aunts told me that when Ryan was a teenager and young adult, he and his siblings were the cool cousins that played with them. In turn, they now entertain our kids--give them endless piggy back rides, take them to the park, and generally make them feel like they are a part of  things. I loved watching them all take such good care of my children.

Sophia was tuckered out after a day in the water and snoozed with Ryan. I love the picture of her with the camera and my flip flops. She's growing up way too fast. We were so glad that Denver and Jan came up! It is always so good to be with them.

When it was all said and done, we were very grateful to have spent a few days at Bear Lake. It will of course never be the same after last year's accident. The heartache that we feel because Mikayla isn't with us will never go away, but I am convinced that because of her, we can choose to be better. We will remember and cherish her always, especially her cute little smile as she dug into Laura's purse one more time for gum and lip gloss, or her giggle as she hopped from person to person in the wagon to get one more bite of a famous raspberry shake from whomever would share with her.

Bear Lake is a part of us, and will continue to be.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Oh, the places you'll go!

At the end of July I got to spend several days with our Young Women at Heber Valley Camp. It has been said that HVC is a temple without a roof, and I can see that after spending time there. Our YW were there Monday to Friday... and because Sophia is still up at night I didn't stay the whole week, but drove up and back each day. Ryan was great to take some time off to spend with the kids while I was gone. If you read his posts from those days, you'll already know that they survived without me and had a fabulous time (and even asked me when I was home for good if I could please go for a "Spa Day" so they could hang out with Dad some more!). Sophia did great (and was glad to have me home during the night). I loved being with the girls as much as I could, and despite getting pulled over for speeding on the way there one day, I didn't mind the driving too much. Luckily the officer was kind and let me go with a warning.  Anyway, it was wonderful and it was exhausting. 

Our theme was "Oh, the places you'll go... write your own story" and had a strong Dr. Seuss influence. I loved talking all week about the ways we can direct our life's path by the choices we make. 

Here are a few little highlights from my camp experience:

We had heard stories of bears wandering through the camp. Just after we pulled through the gate and turned around a bend, I spotted the bears! They were so still they looked fake, but I was still sure I spotted them. I told my friend that was driving about them, and she did a quick U-turn so we could take a picture. We quickly realized that they were in fact FAKE--made of wood. We still took a picture, and a cute missionary couple stopped on their golf-cart. They were laughing at us and saying, "They aren't real!" We didn't feel very smart, but that's okay. If you look really hard you can see a black bear, right in the center of the picture... also there are two little bears climbing on the trees.

Humanitarian bears... our girls paired up with one of the sewing inclined ladies in the ward to do the sewing of these cute bears before camp, and while at camp they stuffed and finished them. By the end of the week the pavilion was full of bears to donate to our local police department and fire station.

Our class was in charge of a little activity and we did some Minute To Win It games. We stacked cans and paper plates...

 ... we stacked blocks on our heads...

...and the favorite was trying to eat move Oreos from the forehead to the mouth, using only facial muscles.

One of the mornings we spent several hours at the High Ropes Course. When I was 15 or 16 our youth group went to a high adventure camp in Beaver ("B is for the B in Beaver High School..."). I have strong, negative memories of not being able to climb up over a wall and being pushed over by some of the young men. It was humiliating and painful. This Ropes Course brought back some of those same feelings, but now as a YW leader I was able to see the lessons that could be applied to each activity. The leaders were invited to participate in the zip line, which required climbing up a pole and walking across a wire before getting to the jumping off point. I was afraid, but wanted to appear confident and able in front of the girls. I think I was trying to fake myself out into believing I wasn't afraid.

It was so neat to see the girls cheer each other on. I got teary-eyed with several of the girls that were very, very scared, yet did it anyway. I was grateful that all of our girls were willing to cheer me on... they believed in me! That is a great feeling.
 Ryan is sure the pole is only 40 feet high, but it felt like it was at least 100 feet off the ground.

We were safely and securely fastened with a harness and a rope attached to a missionary at the bottom. It was still terrifying. I actually slipped once, and didn't fall far because the missionary stabilized me and helped me gain back my footing, but it shook me up and scared me. There were many moments that I didn't think I could finish. I was sure they would have to help me off or scrape me off of the ground.

I just wanted to make it safely to the Eagle's Nest so I tried to go as steadily and quickly as I could. I felt so relieved when she clipped me in there.

Then came another terrifying realization, that I needed to let go to go down the zip line. I have done lots of zip lines before, and I love them, I feel like they are such a rush, but for some reason this time I was scared.

I probably should have asked her to push me, it would have taken less time, and probably would have decreased the fear I felt.

But I did it! I jumped! And as soon as I let go, it felt like my stomach muscles ripped away from my insides. It hurt so bad! I didn't even really enjoy the ride because it hurt so much, and after I got off I wanted to throw up and cry and double over in pain.

I have tried to learn some life lesson from climbing the pole, walking the wire, and going down the zip line. There are all sorts of parallels to the gospel that I can make... I wasn't really excited about doing it, but I knew I wanted to conquer it. I didn't want to stay afraid. Many times in life there are challenges that can hold us back if we let them. I ran into some small challenges along the way. We always encounter things that are hard or hinder us in our progress. I loved that I was never alone. Particularly during the hardest and scariest time, I was safely anchored in and the missionary was there to save me from really falling when I slipped. I had to make some course corrections and get back on track. Even when it was over, I was in pain, and it lasted for several weeks (I'm still a little sore). Why is that? I survived the challenge! Many trials in life leave us different than when we started, sometimes that pain is lingering, but when it's all said and done, we can be stronger for having done it.  My attitude about this particular course... I've done it. No need to repeat, thank you very much! (Hopefully the hardest of life's trials are like that too... one time only!)

We hiked and sang and and laughed and spent some time on the lake. There were canoes (Fast Eddies and Stable Mabels) for the girls, and these awesome paddle boats for the leaders to ensure safety and order. Honestly, I'm not sure we would have been able to do anything if the need had arisen because our boats were very slow and hard to maneuver. However, I did really appreciate the few minutes of silence that we had on the lake. It was beautiful there!
Camp awards were given out each night... I always left before they did this, but they made an award for me anyway:

I got the "Most Primped-Up Award" (I guess showering each day and applying make-up usually doesn't happen when you stay at camp all week, and you aren't supposed to wear anything besides t-shirts. So noted for next year). Last week we had a post-camp activity and they awarded me the "Life Saver" award, so I got this cool helicopter. It was because of all the things that I was able to bring back to camp during my trips back and forth... I think they included a new air mattress, contacts, craft supplies, citronella candles, breakfast foods, homemade cookies, ziploc bags, and birthday cupcakes and surprises.

I loved being a part of camp! We have a great group of leaders and girls, and it was a privilege to be with them. I spent many weeks at girls camp as a teenager, and some things are still the same. A few (big) things have changed... namely the cabins and bunks instead of tents or sleeping outside... and it seemed to be a lot more scheduled than when I went... but the basic idea of camp is still the same. It's a place where we can build relationships with each other, have a great time, enjoy nature and appreciate God's creations. During the course of our time at camp, there are many opportunities to learn and grow and develop our testimonies of Jesus Christ. No wonder everyone loves it!

**Do you have any experience with Girls Camp?
**Would you have done the zip line?

Sunday, August 14, 2011

In Memory of Mikayla

It's hard to believe that it's been one year since this sweet girl left us. I know that for our family it's been a hard year, seeking to understand and trying to heal. I've thought a lot this week about the covenant that I made when I was baptized to mourn with those that mourn (see Mosiah 18:9). Through this experience with Mikayla we have had many opportunities to mourn and grieve, but also to be comforted by people who are willing to mourn with us. I am convinced that one of the great blessings through all of this is the strengthened relationships that we have with Mikkie's parents and the rest of our family. 

Mikkie's parents wanted to spend some time today together with family members remembering some of the wonderful things about Mikkie. 

We met at Mikayla's grave this afternoon. It was a beautiful and sunny day, and although it was sad and hard, it was also so good to be with each other and draw on each other's strength. Laura's dad and Tim shared their thoughts and testimonies. We sang some primary songs (and finished with Mikkie's favorite: "I Am Like A Star Shining Brightly"). Tim also sang a beautiful song that he wrote to Mikayla. I was overcome by the evident love that Tim has for his daughter. I feel grateful that their family can be together again. My respect and admiration for Tim and Laura has grown a lot this year. They are strong and faithful and continue to lift others around them.  

Laura wrote a beautiful blog post (read it here) and encouraged people to do something productive with the sadness and grief that we feel, and forgive someone today. She suggested letting go a white balloon. 

Sophia didn't want to let her balloon go... but Ryan finally helped her release it.

Aren't the white balloons beautiful against the blue sky? I love what Laura wrote about why she chose white: "White symbolizes purity, cleanliness, truth...I also think of heaven and angels, reminding me of Mikkie."

Laura's sister found some live butterflies online and had them shipped to her overnight. Mikkie loved butterflies! Tammy made the correlation too that butterflies are a symbol of change... we are all changed because Mikkie was a part of our lives, and we are certainly changed with her death. I would like to work on using this experience to be different, in a better way. We opened up the envelopes (that had a little butterfly food in them--although I'm not sure what butterlies eat when housed in a wax paper envelope?) and let the butterflies go.  Some of them needed a little coaxing. We sort of expected them to all fly away quickly, but I think they were all still waking up. Many of them stuck around for awhile and landed on the flowers near Mikayla's headstone, sort of like they wanted to be around her for just a bit longer too.

Sophia's been making this funny face lately.... so Ryan had to make one too.

Mikayla also loved bubbles, so they had big bubbles for the kids to blow. I loved the determination on Faithy's face!

Everyone was fascinated with the butterflies.

Sophia loved the bubbles. Ryan said he could hear them popping when they hit her in the face.

Here is their sweet family... Laura, Tim, and Faith. We love them and continue to mourn the loss of sweet little Mikkie.  Laura's sister put together some little favor bags for the kids, full of things that Mikayla loved. Lip gloss and bubble gum for the girls and bubbles and bubble gum for the boys. Everyone worked really hard to make a really hard day good too.

These suckers were made by a friend of Laura's parents. It was just another example to me of the many ways that people have shown their love and concern for our family during this hard time.

This year has brought many opportunities to reflect again on the things that I know to be true... families can be together forever--Jesus Christ made that possible. The atonement is not just for forgiveness from sins, but also to help our hearts heal. We need to take time for the most important things--particularly cherishing the moments and experiences we have with our loved ones.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Horseshoe Bend and Lake Powell

On our last day we went home by way of Lake Powell and met Mike there who took his boat. We stopped for a "short" hike to Horseshoe Bend, which is just outside of Page, Arizona. Yes, it is as hot as it looks. I think it was 105 degrees that day.

The kids complained a lot on the way there. Both of them thought they were going to melt. (I thought the same thing!) But, we tried to teach them the lesson that good things come after hard work and perseverance. There would be a pay-off for all they were doing to get there.

Sophia was a good sport... she got carried, of course. We plastered her fair little head and body with sunscreen... we still couldn't get her to keep her hat on.

Isn't it cool? I think so.  I thought it was amazing... the kids were underwhelmed. Coleman said, "That wasn't really worth it." Bah!
Olivia kept pausing on the way back and acting like she was going to die. My patience was running thin... but we finally made it back to our (hot) car.

The best part of Page was finding Sonic for some cool drinks!

When we got to Lake Powell we met up with Mike.  Ryan, Liv, and Coleman went for a boat ride with Lindsey and her boys. Coleman did some tubing...

...and he  even got to drive the boat. They all went for a swim in the lake and had fun!

While they were out on the boat Sophia and I went to the "swim beach" a ways down the shore. It was so hot... we couldn't stay on the towel or play in the sand... and going in the water (also hot!) was a joke. There were prickly things and floating things and rocks that hurt our feet, so we lasted there for only a short while. I tried to call Ryan and got this message when I tried to turn on my phone:

The only thing it would let me do is call 911 to ask for assistance! I'm no dummy... it didn't take long for me to come to the conclusion that if it was too hot for my phone to work, it was too hot for a one year old and her mama to sit out in the sun. We promptly high-tailed it to the car and sat with the air conditioner on full blast until Ryan and the kids were done.

Overall it was a fun and exhausting trip... I'm not sure if you can call five days, four national parks (and recreation area), and 1,000 miles in the car a vacation, but we did have good times and saw lots and lots of beautiful sites. We especially loved being together and being with our extended family!