Monday, June 27, 2016

Summer Fun, Something's begun!

Our first week of summer was filled with fun and excitement on all fronts.

Around the house, it was fun to watch American Home Renewal work hard replacing all our windows and our sliding patio door!
 Scaffolding had to be used to reach the upstairs window and trim. Jade was particularly tempted by the low bars and potential for climbing...
Goodbye old door!
Fun to see one by one the old windows go and the new slick windows go in!
And now there are bedroom windows that my kids can actually open! And they're up to code and fire safe and all that jazz...
But as any homeowner knows, one home improvement project begets another... so yes, as you can see, we now have a painting job to consider... yay...


For our Cub Scout, the first week of summer was filled with loads of learning and crafting and shooting at Cub Scout Day camp!
 Lawrence's den performing the classic "JC Penny" skit ("Where'd you get that jacket? ...shoes? ... watch?" etc. "From JC Penny." Last scout runs by wrapped in a towel. "Who are you?" "JC Penny!" haha...)
In spite of a rough beginning to the week with the scout trailer being burglarized, the leaders pulled off a great camp for the boys.  Lawrence was particularly proud of a wooden box that he made and the gold bead that he earned for making a bulls eye on the archery range! On the last day, I treated the kids to McDonalds for lunch and had a picnic lunch at the park before watching each den perform their skit. 

Back at home in our garden, we thinned out the carrots and enjoyed nibbling on the little ones, making room for bigger ones to grow.  We're trying some multi-colored fun this summer in the garden, including purple/white/yellow/orange carrots, green and gold beans, and yellow/red/purple beets. 
The only big downside to the week was that daddy was gone at Zion's camp all week.  He had a great time helping the boys do some climbing and serving with the youth, which is a good thing, but the evenings are always harder when daddy's not home... and clearly, my photography is not very good when daddy's not home... 

Week one of summer fun: done. 

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Wednesday, June 08, 2016

Three Through and Through!

 My baby is three. Yikes. (pause for a few deep cleansing breaths...)

Jade loves to sing, loves to chat, really hates her curly hair (probably because so many people like to tug on her curls...), loves "Nastics-for-day" (gymnastic s day), and climbs like the craziest little monkey you've ever seen! She scales the outside of the stairs, tries to climb up door jambs, and loves to traverse around the low hand holds while Dawna and Lawrence are at climbing class.  And lately, she's been into My Little Ponies like crazy. Every day after the big kids go to school, she asks, "Wanna play ponies with me?" On one particularly busy day, I hadn't found time to play with her yet, and she informed me, "Mom, Jesus knows how to play ponies," in an accusatory tone.  Ok, Jade, I'll try to be more like Jesus.  ;)

We did most of the celebrating the day after her birthday... because on her birthday, a couple friends and I dragged the poor little thing into the city for...

The Hunger Game Exhibition!
 But really, what three-year-old wouldn't want to sit on the set and pretend to get interviewed by Caesar Flickerman for the third Quarter Quell??? Yeah, I know... all of them... I think she mostly had fun though. There were quite a few interactive exhibits. to play with...

Anyway, after school, it was crazy as usual getting homework done and getting to climbing and gymnastics, and in the middle of all that, I took Jade to Costco to pick out a birthday cake. She picked a cheesecake (yesssssss!!!) and enjoyed putting her very own candles in it!
 The next day, she actually got to open all her presents and have her favorite dinner--pepperoni pizza with the pepperonis taken off--NOT cheese pizza, mind you... and as a bonus, Alex came over to play!
All in all, a successful little birthday for my sweet little one! Can't wait to see what this new year brings to you, Jade!

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Friday, June 03, 2016

Pinewood Derby!

Ladies and gentlemen, take your seats! The race is about to begin! But before the cars are lined up and the lever is pulled, let's journey back in time a bit to see how we got here...
As any scout mom knows, a pinewood derby event begins long before race day--in our case, months before. Lawrence got his car kit back in March, but there was no date for the race set. Even so, we took initiative and started to get to work on his car. Back in April, the same weekend as the quarry climbing in Sacramento, we brought that pinewood derby car kit to Uncle Weston's house... for he is endowed with many woodworking tools, yea, saws of all kinds hath he in the garage. 
 Lawrence sanding his axles on the drill press! Perfectly safe, I assure you.
 And here's Lawrence cutting his car shape out on the band saw, which is a significantly scarier instrument...
But don't worry, daddy's fingers are there to take the fall if something should go wrong...

The sisters of the cub scout hanging around that day could not resist trying to tell Larry what he should do to make his car fancy and awesome! Larry was not particularly interested in their wild ideas. But thanks again to Uncle Weston, he found scraps around the garage and helped each of my girls design and cut their own cars. 

Dawna made an awesome pickup truck. Xochitl designed a classic race car with fins going up the back and everything. Jade wanted a little truck, and so she got a little half-sized flat bed to call her own. The cars got painted; we ordered extra pinewood derby car wheels for the girls' cars, and waited for a date to be set for the big day!

Finally, June 3 was date decided upon. But there was just one minor problem... our troop had no pinewood derby track. 

Somehow, I volunteered myself to find out what track the other troops around the stake had used and where they were stored and figure out how to get one.  My phone scavenger hunt led from Becca S. to Jeff A. to this guy named Larry S. 

Larry S. was an electrical parts store owner in Fremont, getting ready to retire and downsize his shop. Way back when, he was involved in cub scouts and had stored in his shop for many years a pinewood derby track.  
And as it just so happens, our troop was on the hunt for one at the same time that he was trying to get rid of it. Perfect! And so it was that literally one week before our pinewood derby, I went to pick up a very fine hand-crafted track, along with loads of other goodies such as a winner's podium, cones, signs, and all manner of decorations. 
All in all, thanks to Larry, S., we actually had a very nice pinewood derby. Had it not been for this fortuitous meeting, our derby would have been much less fancy... or may not have happened at all... Our little troop of ten boys was delighted by the event. The following Sunday, one of the boys even gave the event a "five star" rating.

So, was this meeting Larry S. and finding a track at just the right moment a miracle? Well, that might be too strong a word to use. I sometimes like to call it a stroke of "guk," (rhymes with luck) meaning God Understands and Knows. He understood what we needed and understood how the parents and leaders of the troop were doing their best. And He knew how to align the timing to fill the needs of both parties. God indeed Understands and Knows what we need.  As we are obedient, He'll nudge, align, and arrange things to make our life just a little easier. And that's what happened with this pinewood derby track thing...
So in the end, Troop 197 got to have their pinewood derby. Lawrence, with some assistance from dad's YouTube research on how to weight cars and bend axles, got second place for speed out of the ten boys!
And after the event, many many races were carried on late into the night! Fun times on the race track! Can't wait for next year's derby... and this time, we won't have to go on a wild hunt for a track :)


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Wednesday, June 01, 2016

Terrifically Ten!

 Our darling daughter Dawna is a full decade old now! As a mom, it feels almost surreal to have a kid so big! She is an incredible girl, as anybody who has met her knows--far more than I could ever have imagined she would be!

Dawna is always so aware of having healthy, yet still special and fancy, treats for her birthday. This year, she wanted to make apple swans for her class. Jon and I made these a month ago for the Mormon prom dinner based on this YouTube Video. We were all up late Tuesday night carving 18 of these babies (I insisted that the kids in her class could share them...).
 All the kids in Mrs. Chapman's class were impressed and enjoyed their swans! Especially when they  dipped the wing slices in caramel and peanut butter! Mmmmm....
Dawna also loves naturally beautiful things! She asked for fresh flowers and an exotic fruit--so we found this Santa Claus melon! It was quite delicious! Very light green flesh with a good sweet taste--though I couldn't tell you if it was ripe or not...but we loved it! 
 And since Dawna's mom couldn't get her head on straight enough to figure out a birthday party, the primary presidency did it for her :) Sis. Ringlein invited the activity day girls plus a couple extra to come over after school to escape the heat in her pool!
I made this watermelon "cake." It's literally a cylinder of watermelon frosted with heavy whipping cream--whipped almost to butter status to make it thick enough to stay on the wet melon--and then topped with fruit and coconut cookies. 
 Just for proof--once it was cut through, you can see that it's just solid watermelon! (you can tell that I didn't exactly get a straight cut... so I filled it in with some whipping cream...) It was refreshing and delicious on a hot summery afternoon! And MAYBE healthier than cake... definitely
Hard to keep a candle lit in the afternoon breeze... 
Happy Birthday, my dearest Dawna! Lover of good books, fruits and vegetables, and all things musical! I can hardly believe she's TEN!!!

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Monday, May 30, 2016

Burney Falls: The Happiest Place on Earth!

Burney Falls could well be the happiest place on earth. Kids are happy with the abundance of rocks, dirt, water, and critters; parents are happy hanging around the campfire swapping stories and taking turns cooking; grandparents are happy watching the energy and giggles of the grandkids...see for yourself...

This year at Burney...


...Jade got to catch a fish with Grandpa Severson!

...Lawrence hiked/scrambled ALL the way to the base of the falls pool and felt some of the small trickling waterfalls, proudly exclaiming, "I touched the Burney Falls!"

...we went on a night hike along the rim trail and up the falls trail!

...Uncle Matt and cousin Ezra caught the most enormous tadpoles I've ever seen!

...we all felt a little nostalgic thinking that next year, Nana and Papa will be missing the Falls at memorial day...the mission calls!

...everyone was relaxed and happy and in heaven in the happiest place on earth!

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Sunday, May 15, 2016

Biology is Life... and Death...

The words of Dr. Gary Booth have been echoing in my head this week... "Behold, Biology IS life!"
Unfortunately, we have learned this week that biology is also death...

On the exploration of life, our little Wolf Cub Scout went on a delightful nature walk with dad in order to identify four different animals that live in our area. The two of them had a great time! ...

Well, a mostly great time... as long as the pokey weeds stayed out of their socks. But the boys were very successful in finding some beautiful bird life out on the wetlands, including...

Male Mallard duck taking flight.

A Snowy egret striking a pose in the mud.

A blue heron striking almost exactly the same pose.

Lots... and I mean LOTS and LOTS... of these little snails peppering the mudflats.

This little Marbled Godwit spells death for those little snails... watch out for that beak!


After coming home, Larry named these four birds and told me how to identify them--by their color, size, and length of leg or beak. It was very helpful that dad had taken pictures :) Call of the Wild, Requirement 3: COMPLETE!!

During our research we learned that the Bar tailed Godwit (the species on the Asian side of the Pacific) have been known to fly over 7000 miles non stop. One named E7 flew from Alaska to New Zealand in one flight! That such a small bird is the record holder for longest single flight is amazing.
I really should have learned how to swim!



**Fair warning: this rest of this post is kind of a downer...because biology is Also... Death...**

For Xochitl's birthday, we took on a month-long science project: trying to incubate and hatch quail and chicken eggs. We tried this about a year ago with four little chicken eggs... none of them hatched and only one had developed at all. This time, we had 12 chicken eggs and four quail eggs. None of the quail eggs made much progress, but as for the chickens, we were able to witness a lot of growth and learn a lot about the hatching process.

We tucked our little eggs into incubators like this on April 20, to await a hatch on May 11. We turned our chicken eggs twice each day at 8am and 8pm (I know there's a lot of different ideas about how often and when to turn the eggs... that's just what we did) and monitored their temperature closely, just as the incubator instructions said we should...

(The eggs are marked with X on one side and O on the other so it's easy to tell if they've been turned)

About 12 days after starting the incubation, we "candled" the chicken eggs, meaning that we held a bright light underneath them to see if any embryos were forming. It's really amazing!
We took this egg from the fridge to get a "control" and set the camera settings to get pictures of the eggs. This perfectly clear, one color egg is unfertilized...
...but in a fertilized egg, you see shadows, dark splotches, and spidery veins throughout (if you zoom in on this egg, you'll see the vein patterns on the right side of the egg.) What's really fun about candling is that you can actually see the embryos responding to the light and movement... the little chicks actually wiggle around in there! At least four of our eggs had strong veins and movement when we candled them on day 12. We were feeling excited for our little eggs and were hopeful for a few healthy chicks to arrive!
On May 8 (day 18), Jade helped me set up the brooder with some shavings, food and water dish, and heating lamp for the chicks. After that day, we turned the eggs for the last time and set the incubators into "lockdown." At this point, the chicks are getting ready to hatch and they have to find their way to the air pocket at one of the egg to prepare to pip and unzip and hatch!

So we waited. Waited for the little chirps we were supposed to hear from inside the shells. Waited for the eggs to wiggle to and fro as the chicks positioned themselves correctly. Waited and watched for any little pip or crack to appear. Nothing. Day 21 (normal hatch day) came and went... as did days 22, 23, 24, and 25. Our eggs were just as still and quiet as they had always been.

Finally, at the end of day 25, it was time to call it quits. I put on my Biology teacher hat and prepped for the "egg-topsy" to find out if anything had developed.

I'll spare you any nasty details... suffice it to say that most of the eggs had not developed and some appeared unfertilized.

But then there were four... four beautiful fully formed chicks, dead in the shell, who had made it all the way to the last week, but for one reason or another, didn't make the hatch. Was the temperature wrong? Humidity too high? Too low? Not enough air flow? Not positioned correctly? I'll never know...

It was very interesting to examine the first little lifeless chick...but as the second and then the third appeared, I felt that Biology teacher hat falling off as I saw the sad faces of my kids and felt myself get teary-eyed for these little chicks that didn't make it. I knew from the beginning it was a long shot... it's a very delicate and intricate process to get eggs to hatch, but I couldn't help soaring up on the wings of anticipation, hoping for darling little fluffy chicks to appear... I felt invested in their survival, and felt that I had failed them to somehow.

But such is life. Sometimes, the circle of life is very small. Such are the ups and downs of the study of life...and death.

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Saturday, April 30, 2016

Beautiful + Functional = Fun For All

Last weekend, our family took a short trip up to visit Uncle Weston and Aunt Myra in Sacramento. After accomplishing the task for which we came (utilizing Weston's variety of woodworking tools) we spent the rest of the day CLIMBING!!!....I know that may come as a shock to those of you who know our family ;)

The Auburn Quarry is an amazing place for family climbing! It was a bit of a hike in--1.5 miles on a nice level, wide trail. Next time, we considered biking in with the bike trailer carrying all the heavy climbing gear. 

The Quarry opens up in a V shape with the trail entering at the wide top of the V. When we arrived at 2pm on a Saturday, there were climbers EVERYWHERE! It was difficult to find a route to climb on, but after a little exploration and patience, we all got our fill of climbing. 

The area is perfectly suited to our smaller kids. Between the walls of the V, the area is wide and flat, filled with all kinds of goodies like rocks, dirt, grass, and bugs for the kids to enjoy. Plus, no high cliffs for them to fall off! Between climbs, the kids really had a good time with the natural surroundings making cricket houses, playing wolf, making nests, etc... And as an added bonus: a porta-potty :) 

We were all happy :)
Dawna was happy, which is a major accomplishment for an outdoor climbing day.  She generally prefers the indoor climbing scene, but the Quarry even made Dawna happy with plenty of routes suited to her level. 
Xochitl was happy, which isn't too surprising, since she got to use her brand new chalk bag for a real outdoor climb! This girl is all about the adventure! Nothing gets her down when we're out and about.

Larry (unfortunately unpictured) was happy, which is a big deal for him on an outdoorsy trip. Although the hike in wasn't his favorite, he happily climbed a couple routes between bug hunting and rock smashing, and even committed to coming back and climbing again at the Quarry. Hiking out he was much happier :)

Weston (also unpictured) was happy to be with us. He belayed Jon on some of the more difficult routes and even climbed a few himself. He also helped get Jade to the climb site happily by allowing her to ride on his shoulders. 
Jon was happy! The Quarry offered a wide range of climbs at all different skill levels. Top ropes could be easily set and retrieved by walking up the back, there were all kinds of climbs in the same area, and everyone got to feel successful and challenged. I think even Jon would want to return to tackle some of the other climbs.  I feel like we just scratched the surface...
And I was happy :) After finally settling on a climbing route, Jon halfway joking asked if I wanted to try to lead and set the rope for my top-rope climbing kids to follow. I said, "Sure!" not really knowing what I was getting into... I had attempted lead climbing at the gym, but never outside. Makes me nervous just belaying Jon on lead because when he falls, I take a short flight up the wall... 

But, the route was rated well below my level, and everyone was doing so well, so I went ahead with the idea. Jon gave me a Reader's Digest version of what to do and I stared at the wall for a good 15 minutes and practiced the first few moves while the kids were finishing up another climb. It was not a long route, only three clips, bolted, with two chains already in place for the anchor at the top. Sure, why not? I could do this... What could possibly go wrong?

So I tied in, collected my quick-draws (device that attaches the rope to the wall), being sure to take a couple extra in case I dropped some in my nervous state, attached my personal anchor to use at the top, and said, "On belay?"

And then I was off.  From the ground to the first clip was the most intense. The first clip was about 10 feet off the ground, and if you fall before clipping in, there's nothing at all to catch you except your own two feet and the uneven rocky ground below... and hopefully your belayer is there to make sure you don't hit your head on something (as you can see in the picture, I forgot a helmet--NOT recommended...)

So I made it to the first clip and got it on the wall and got my rope in, and then I was feeling a little more confident. The next two clips went well also as I took my careful time and tested out each hand and foothold before committing my weight to it. And then I was nearing the top...

Before the anchor at the top, there was an edge that opened up to a crack over the top. When I got to that point, I really wanted to climb into the crack. It looked so much more comforting and stable than hanging out over the ledge. The only problem was that the crack did not necessarily lead up to the anchor I had to reach. Plus, climbing into the crack would put me way off to the left of my clips, which would result in a much more frightening swinging fall if I missed a hold... I had watched and talked to a climber before me on the route. He told me when I got to that point to hold the edge and lean away for balance in order to reach the top. It made sense when I was at the bottom, but looking at it up close, and thirty feet off the ground, was another story. Was that really the best and surest way to get to the anchor? Despite my fast beating heart, I trusted that it was. I braced my right foot, held tightly to the edge, and straightened my arms to relax into the leaning hold. Then bit by bit I inched my hands up the edge of the crack to the top, where there was a delightfully deep jug to hang onto while securing my personal anchor, then anchoring the rope for my family to climb on after me. Whew! 

And that was that. I finished my first lead climb! GO ME!

Finishing a climb like that (even one rated as low as that one) gives you a real sense of ownership of the route. I didn't want to let anyone else belay on "my" climb. I felt that I knew the route better than anyone and could guide them up the wall. Dawna, Larry, Xochitl, Weston, and Jon all climbed after me, and my rope kept them all safe-yay! 

I know this sounds cheesy, but a primary song came to mind: "Lead me, guide me, walk beside me..." and this climbing gospel metaphor unfolded in my head. Looking up at the rope I had anchored in, I asked myself: am I anchored spiritually to the surest bolts (Jesus and His gospel)?  Thinking of the conversation I had with our fellow climber, I asked myself: do I trust that the advice from prophets will help me reach my goal, even when I can't see how in the moment? Watching my kids follow me up the climb, I pondered: if those I wish to teach follow my actions, will they also reach that sure anchor? Feeling the rope slide through my hands as I belayed, I wondered, is my testimony (like the rope) strong enough to catch me/them if something should go wrong?  All these things were running through my head for the rest of the day and into fast and testimony meeting the next day... where the whole ward had to hear about it :) Being outdoors has always been a place of reflection and pondering for me as I surround myself in God's creations. So grateful to have a husband that will take me on adventures and a family that will happily come along! 

So, who wants to go climbing???

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