Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Letter to Marigold, Age 2

Dear Goldie-locks,

When you turned two a few months ago, we got you a tiny shopping cart to push around. We knew you'd like it because you were constantly filling up other things with assorted items and pushing them around the kitchen: things like flour buckets and laundry baskets and cardboard boxes. This shopping cart, we hoped, would curb those other, unauthorized, carting activities just a bit. Abraham put the cart together for you secretly on the back porch, and then since it was too big to wrap, we draped a towel and a blanket over it and told you to find out what was inside. I love the picture of you midway through the reveal. You've got such a happy, anticipatory look on your face, but you've paused to look back at the rest of us for—what, approval? reassurance? or maybe just to make sure we're all watching?—before you get on with your task. Whatever this thing is, your face seems to say, I already know I'm going to love it, and I want to make sure you're all fully invested in loving it with me! 
It seems like such a good depiction of who you are right now: the happy, excited, headlong rush toward what's next—along with the seemingly contradictory desire to make sure you're not doing it all alone. But I don't think it is contradictory. It's part of why I love two-year-olds: for all their famed "let-ME-do-it"-ness, what they really mean is "let-me-do-it-while-YOU-watch-and-marvel." And you, especially, seem to love being part of a group; one of the kids. (Probably a good desire for a sixth child to have.) When you get out the magnetic drawing board from the Church Bag (which you aren't supposed to do, but you do it several times a day anyway)—or when you gleefully draw on some paper, any paper, with the school markers (which you aren't supposed to get out either)—you inevitably hold it up in triumph and proclaim "I drew Baymax!" —or an airplane or a penguin or some other thing you've seen the others draw.
And your pursuit of this "I'm one of the kids" ideal seems to drive many of your decisions. It's not just the markers you get out without authorization. It's…well…everything. You aren't one of those destructive two-year-olds who makes messes just for the wild joy of it, but you very definitely know what you want and where it is, and are willing to persist until you get it. One of the first phrases you learned to say was "up high"—as in, "Put those markers up high so Marigold can't get them!" You've heard that so often that you sometimes walk around the room, pointing up at things and commenting, "Scissors up high." "Birdies up high." (Malachi's ceramic birds.) "Stories up high." (The pop-up books.) And so forth. You don't seem devastated by it or anything. You seem to be just…noting it. And then, when the opportunity arises and no one is around, you'll act. How many times I've found the bathroom stools out by the bookshelves (stacked on top of each other to make them that crucial inch taller)—or a handful of tiny fingerprints in the edge of the cake—or the hair clipper attachments out of their case and lined up end-to-end in the hallway—or a bunch of little nibbling bites out of a peach or a banana or a block of cheese—I can't even count. 
Daddy sent me a text the other day: "This little girl is the monkiest monkey that ever monkied." And I have to admit he's right! You are sweet. You are usually obedient, when a direct order is given. But like a little monkey, you are resourceful and too clever by half! You take it as your absolute, unassailable, God-given right to do everything the other children do, and you feel completely justified in going to any lengths toward that end. "Goldie! Oh DEAR! You're not supposed to poke your fingers into the cake! No, no!" I'll say, shocked (though I don't know why I am, any longer). And you'll look at me with a slightly furrowed brow and say, more in sorrow than in anger, "Yes. Ah DO wanta fingers cake." 
You also don't appear to be aware that you are not authorized to instruct your siblings in the finer points of (your version of) the Family Rule Book. "Ah-ky!" ["Malachi!"] you scolded the other day, when Malachi was howling over a pinched finger. "You don't hafta cry-bout dat!" Or, "Dai-sy! Say AMEN!"—after the prayer. If Teddy burps after nursing, you say "Pardon ME!" in scandalized tones, on his behalf. You dispense your wisdom judiciously, though. You give praise when it's warranted. My favorite thing in the world is when one of your brothers is practicing the piano in the morning, and they finish a song, and you call out from your bed in a loud, sleepy voice, "Dood job, Abey!" or "Niiiice! I yuv-dat song!"
You're sweet with Theodore. Really sweet. You sing to him and leave little toys (many, many lined-up little toys) in his bassinet, and when you're not being sweet to him you're being sweet to some other baby: your elephant, or Daisy's penguin, or your Taggie, or a little car. I guess it doesn't much matter WHAT it is, but if it's something you can carry, you can pretty much bet it's going to end up bundled up and bouncing to the music of the baby bouncy-seat eventually, swaddled with a blanket, being kissed and "shhh-shhh-shhh"-ed while you hold it and rock back and forth. 

Your favorite book right now is one of my favorites too, Babies by Gyo Fujikawa. Best of all, you love the pages contrasting the babies being naughty with the babies being good. You insist that I read it the same way every time, in appropriately horrified tones, pointing to each picture in turn: "No, no, baby, we don't tear pages from the book! Oh dear, no, we don't fight over the doll! No, no, baby, don't spill the milk! Oh dear, not supposed to eat jam from the jar!" Sometimes I notice you, silent and wide-eyed, mouthing along with me, "No, no, baby!" And then you beam the biggest, most relieved smile in the world when I turn the page and get to: "Oh, yes, yes, we do be careful with books! Yes, yes, baby, good sharing the doll! Yes, yes, we are careful with our milk! Good, good baby; wait for Mommy to give you the jam." You nod and settle yourself down deeper into my lap and sigh that satisfied little-girl sigh. Ah, yes. Babies doing what they're supposed to. Your virtuous soul is content.
You love company, and you love Daddy and me. I can't say it isn't flattering. The minute I set foot on the stairs to go down to the living room and kitchen, you come flying out away from wherever you're playing, like a whirlwind, yelling "WAIT-WAIT-WAIT-WAIT!" And then, "HOLD-HAND-WAIT-I-HOLD-YOUR-HAND!" When you catch up and calm down a bit, you usually correct that to a more polite (one might even say overpolite), "May I PLEASE hold your HAND-please?" (with the "please"s so high in your vocal register, they come out as squeaks). Heaven forbid I have my hands full already, carrying the laundry down or something—though luckily, I can usually get you to be content with just holding on to my shirt in that case. You come flying out the front door to wave goodbye in the same way, whenever anybody leaves. And you come running and yelling "ABEY HOME!" "MOMMY HOME!" "DADDY HOME!"—no matter who it is or how short of a time they were away.
But then…you don't always need an audience. You seem to be content in your own company too, quietly getting out of bed before your sisters are awake and playing (with self-narration, most of the time). You have a cute little serious look of concentration when you're doing something hard, and a sweet little "Did it!" that you say quietly to yourself when you've finally succeeding in stuffing the big bouncy ball into the small cup, or whatever other triumph-that-will-require-us-to-pry-something-out-with-a-screwdriver. 
You love manipulating things, sorting them, lining them up and dealing them out. When I walk into a room and see that all the plates have been gotten out of the cupboard and set onto the carpet and one Jenga block is set carefully in the very middle of each plate…well, I know you've been there, that's all.
You're not wild. Not rambunctious. You've got a very careful, thoughtful side. But…exuberant? Maybe that's the word I'm looking for. Everything you do is so joyful, exuberant, alive. 
Just this morning, Daddy asked me, "Why is this Goldie-girl so BRIGHT and VIBRANT?" You are! You're a bright, happy, vivid little Marigold, bursting with color and happiness, and overflowing with personhood. I don't know how your name could be right-er for you. I love it when you drop something from your highchair: "MY-BREAD-MY-BREAD; Aaaa, my bread!" you exclaim dramatically—or when your shoe comes off on the way to church: "MY-SHOE-MY-SHOE-MY-SHOE-MY-SHOE"—continuing for however long it takes us, as we keep dragging you along by the hand, to realize that you're not just dawdling and prattling on about some random thing, but that you are actually conveying information we need to pay attention to.
I'm sorry about that, and we DO try not to ignore you TOO often, but you just do so much TALKING right now, little Goldie, and much of it is (forgive me…) very repetitive. It is charming, of course, and adorable, but when you're standing by me on a stool while I make dinner, repeating, "Oooo making, Mommy? Ahmgurgurs? Ooo making? Ahmgurgurs? Ooo making, Mommy? Ooo making? Ahmgurgurs?"—well. I have to admit I make the progression from "Yes, sweetie, it's hamburgers" to "Hmm, what do YOU think I'm making?" to "You KNOW it's hamburgers, Goldie" to "Aaaargh, stop ASKING me that!" more quickly than I'd like.
But we can't resist you for long, any of us. You occupy such a happy place in this family right now. There are so many people who dote on you and delight in every little thing you do. Your brothers and sisters have been loving you from literally the very second you were born (and before!), and even more than any of the others before you, you were OUR baby—not just MY baby. 
Because there are so many of us, and baby Theo is still so small, when we go places I sometimes have to assign you out to your big brothers and sisters. We went to a big playground where I couldn't watch you, and Abe and Seb and Ky took you by turns, fifteen minutes at a time. I was afraid I might get some resistance from them, since they couldn't set off doing their brave, adventurous big-kid things while they were watching you, but then I realized that far from being disappointed when their turn came, they were fighting over you, each one hoping to be the one that got you next. Each brother sweetly held your hand and let you around to all the best places, and did everything with an eye to getting you to laugh or squeal with delight, and relished being the one you looked up at so admiringly and so trustingly. 
This is too blurry to even see your face, but you're laughing and clasping your hands with joy—you can see it in every line of your little body
The same thing happened a few days later at the swimming pool while I was nursing baby Theo. Malachi held out his arms to "catch" you while you "jumped" over and over again off the step of the pool to him (that was a sight to see: tiny you bending at the knees, brows furrowed in concentration, and then, with a mighty effort, heaving up your legs, leaving one or the other foot trailing along behind you as you took an awkward, hopping step down into the water—but just as pleased as if you'd plunged from the high dive). Sebastian put you on his back and ferried you into the deep water, saying "Hop like a bunny! Hop like a bunny!" as he bounced you up and down. (You repeated that little phrase to yourself a hundred more times that day after Seb left you in my care, no doubt trying to capture the same excitement you'd felt with him.) Abraham devised some racing, splashing game that had you breathless with laughter and dizzy excitement. I could hear you shrieking and guffawing all the way across the pool.

I'm sure there will be moments of frustration with all these siblings of yours, but I hope you also know how lucky you are to have them; your cheering section, your adoring public. You enchant them just by being YOU, and I hope as you grow up, you will keep loving them back as joyfully as they love you now.
A few days ago we were at the swimming pool again and I was sitting with Theo, watching you reel and stagger through the water…bumble around…fall down…stumble to your feet again, coughing and blinking but smiling, smiling, smiling. The sun was coming sideways and lighting your eyes up blue-green, and your whole face was shining with excitement. I wanted to take picture after picture of you, preserve the I-still-think-it-might-be-the-tiniest-bit-red glint of your hair, catch every single flash of life coming through your expressive little face. But since we were in the water and my arms were full of wet baby, I just tried to remember everything, willing myself to see it all so I could write a picture of it later.
I know I'm really writing this to an older You: you when you can read this and understand and maybe catch a glimpse of who you were, back before you can remember. I just wish that future you could be there, sitting next to me as I watched you in the pool. You scooted through the water, saying so many things: there were other people at the pool playing "Marco Polo," and I heard you murmuring "Mar-co!" to yourself as you spun around for a while. Then you got a couple of your siblings' discarded pool noodles and made a sort of plow with them and chanted "DAN-ger! DAN-ger! DAN-ger!" in a completely un-scary sing-song voice as you pushed them through the water and crawled along behind. Then you were trying to go down the steps to the deeper water, and when I told you to come back, you matter-of-factly told me, "No. Hafta go down dare. Go down by Daisy'n'Zhoonie." But you complied pleasantly enough when I hauled you back by one arm, and then you were off on your own again, singing some little song that I almost thought I recognized. There you were: falling down over and over, thrashing around a bit, coming up with the water streaming off your face and those shining eyes and that smile, Goldie, and I felt so full up with love for you I didn't know how to even hold it in. Like all two-year-olds, you love to sing that Jesus wants you for a sunbeam, but as I watched you it was like you were the whole entire sun, bubbling down and then bobbing up, beaming, and all the while light streaming off of you like a crown. I did try to take pictures once I was dry, of course. But the pictures don't capture it. Video doesn't even capture it. You'd have to just…well, you'd have to BE here with me, watching every little thing you do, to truly appreciate who you are at age two. You're here. But you're too busy BEING you to ADMIRE you, and by the time you can read this, you won't be two anymore.
Here's the thing, though. As cute as all your little mannerisms are, and as much as we all adore sitting around the dinner table and telling each other about the funny things you've been saying, while you sit and take it all in and smile shy, knowing smiles, and giggle with the rest of us even though you have no idea what's so funny—in spite of all that, it's not being a two-year-old that makes you so bright and vibrant and delightful. It's not the way you shout "Iiiiiii do! Iiiiii do!" before you even know what we're offering when we start to say "Does anyone want more…" at dinner. It's not the way you insist that "Goldie say-da prayer!" and then you twinkle your eyes and bite your little lip and look around sideways, silent as the grave, until Daddy calls on someone else. It's not that, but instead it's the fact that we can tell you're someone, someone we don't quite know yet, someone we remain a bit mystified by, but someone we're all going to love and marvel at someday even more than we do now. And someday when you do astonishing things in this world, beautiful and vibrant and important things—well, you might observe that all of us, your adoring fans, are not-so-astonished after all. Because we knew you when you were two, Goldie-locks, and that was all the giveaway we needed.

I love you, sweet girl!


Sunday, August 23, 2015

Visit to Canyonlands

Because Canyonlands National Park is near Arches National Park, and I love Arches, I've never given Canyonlands a second thought. It's sad, really. My friend Rachael even went there on her honeymoon (didn't you, Rach?) and I still assumed it was just one of…the lesser parks. But we had a free day in Southern Utah during our family reunion, and since we had the baby and no baby backpack, we wanted to do something that was less hiking, more driving. The Canyonlands "Island in the Sky" area sounded ideal for that, so off we went!

And it was stunning, of course. I should have known it would be. When we set out it was rainy and the farthest views were obscured by cloud. It was beautiful. And then the sun came out, and that was beautiful too!
We did take the short hike to Mesa Arch, which was totally worth carrying a baby to in one's arms. As we walked along the trail, people kept saying, "Be careful!" to us, which was strange as the trail wasn't steep or dangerous-seeming at all. But the drop-off right by the arch is sudden and vast, so I suppose that's what everyone was warning us about. It was a bit alarming to stand there and look over. Abe and Seb kept Goldie well away from the edge. I could barely get them to let go of her while I took this picture. You can see Abe is sort of poised for action, ready to grab her if she moves.
That heart-stopping drop is partly what makes it so beautiful and awe-inspiring, though. To see that gorgeous, panoramic view through the arch!
We took several other short walks to overlooks. Here's the obligatory Juniper-by-a-Juniper tree shot. They are such lovely, strong, graceful trees. Just like my girl.
Look at all the pretty blue Juniper berries on the ground!
I always like these bare, polished trees too, for contrast.
Ky, standing very…straight.
Abe and Seb are such great helpers, and Abe especially took such good care of the little ones. He was more worried about them falling over the edge than even I was! He always has been a very cautious, responsible person.
I can't imagine what people thought when they first discovered this place. It is so vast and vivid and startling. How could anyone dare set off alone into those canyons?
One of my friends pointed out that this looks like a huge dinosaur footprint, and now I can't see it any other way.
What is most striking about it, to me, is how suddenly the ground drops away on those edges. Like it was cut out with a huge utility knife or something.
Theo had a grand time. (Here, his suit gets an airing after an unfortunate diaper incident.)
The river looks so brown next to the green foliage around it! Good job, EPA! (Just kidding. Different river. This one's always that color…I think.) Still beautiful.
The drive to and from our lodge was amazingly beautiful as well. Everything was so green! I was surprised. I thought it would mostly be brown and dry, in mid-August. I don't know if this year is unusually verdant, or if it's always this way, but we loved the scenery.
Canyonlands! I apologize for underestimating you. Now I would like to return someday, and explore the other areas!

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Welcome to the Future

As I get older and amass more Life Experience, there are some things I've done before and like doing, and other things I've never done and hope never TO do. And until recently, this latter category included planning Family Reunions. But then, somewhat inexplicably, last year I felt that I ought to volunteer to plan one for Sam's side of the family. It just…seemed like one of those things where if you're going to do it, you might as well be in charge so you can tailor it to your tastes and delegate much of it out (which was much my feeling about being president of the Young Women's organization at church some years ago, come to think of it).

And, of course, I knew Sam would help and I flatter myself, based on other projects we've tackled jointly, that when we do something together it can't help but be a success! :)

So. Last year right after Christmas (which was really leaving it too late; I ought to have done it in the Fall) I scoured VRBO and airbnb for places not-too-far from here that would hold about 50 of us. (The official count is, I believe, 58. Thirty-three of whom are under the age of 18.) It was not a very large pool to choose from! But we found one that looked good, and booked it, and then the real planning could begin.
Sam and I brainstormed ideas during many, many walks around the neighborhood. We lean toward the laid-back in our vacation style, but we knew we had to have SOME kind of structure around which to hang ideas, or we'd never get anywhere. And as we get older, we have also gained appreciation for the intentional, spiritual side of family life: things that we may not have prioritized ten or fifteen years ago. :)

We kept coming back to the idea of what we wished for our own family: the ability to integrate current technology and the pace of modern life into the simple, fundamental values of faith and family that our parents and grandparents have taught us.

And then it dawned on us that it was 2015. 2015! The "Future" visited by Marty McFly and Co. in the Back to the Future movies! And so our theme became obvious. "Welcome to the Future."
We didn't spend all that much time talking explicitly about this theme during the reunion itself, but it was cause for a lot of conversation between Sam and me as we planned activities. For one thing, we thought it was really interesting to think about how quickly and inevitably "the future" becomes "the present." When we first got married, we looked wonderingly at Sam's siblings that had toddlers and school-age kids. We felt like they were so wise and experienced. And Sam's younger siblings looked at us, newlyweds, and dreamed of when they too would get married. Now, we're watching the older siblings send their kids out on church missions, off to college, and into marriage, and thinking about how we'll be in that stage ourselves soon. The younger siblings are married with families of their own. And Sam's parents are looking at their aging parents and wondering what the next ten years will hold for them. It's not that profound of a sentiment, perhaps, this "Time Marches On!" business—but it certainly feels relevant.

"Welcome to the Future" also prompted us to look back at 1985 (which as you know is the year the Back to the Future movies are set in) and what we were doing then. We had all the adults send in stories about what their lives were like in 1985 (Sam's youngest sister was born that year!) and we posted those stories up for everyone to read at the reunion. It was so interesting to see that glimpse of how we were very literally living in "the future" of those selves we were back then!
And we also thought it was kind of a funny juxtaposition, to be talking about "the Future" while staying out in the middle of nowhere at this rustic old lodge out in the woods. To highlight our theme, I spent considerable effort trying to replicate the kind of banner I used to make in "PrintShop" on our old IBM computer, complete with dot-matrix printing and fancy "graphics." :) Those were the days!
Before the reunion we sent out a schedule and meal assignments and so forth (each family was basically just in charge of one meal, which worked well—cooking for 50 isn't easy, but only having to do it once felt doable, and there were always lots of helping hands), and included a cover page (Sam made it, and it was perfect, of course) and a short explanation of the theme, so people could be thinking about it.

I'm probably including way more here than anyone will be interested in, but I'm sure we'll be doing this again someday ("Welcome to the future," you know) and I want to remember how we did it and what worked!

So, onto the reunion itself. Here are some of my favorite moments it included, and how they transpired.

We talked about making T-shirts, but we ended up getting everyone these watches instead:
(Also awesome would have been these sunglasses.)

We forgot to give them out at the beginning of the reunion (Gaaa!) but at least I had the opportunity to tell people, when we finally remembered to distribute them, that when they looked at their watches or someone asked what time it was, they were to say "now is the time and the day of my salvation" (from Alma 31:34). Oddly, I didn't hear anyone actually saying this. :)
Sam and I had talked a lot about our "family stories," things that could help connect the generations and make them feel closer to each other. Taking that idea quite literally, we invited each family to bring some children's books, and every night before bed we had Story Time for the little ones (though plenty of older kids were lingering around the edges, too). It was awesome. We had the best readers ever (primarily Uncle Abe* and Aunt Liz, and we must not forget Aunt Jane's supremely creepy rendition of Love you Forever) and the little kids were totally absorbed—gasping with surprise, and giggling, and just generally having the best time ever. I loved watching it.

*I'm not sure what to call people here. They aren't MY uncles and aunts. But we do have some repeated names, and when I say "siblings" I could mean either generation…so, we're going with Aunt and Uncle for Sam's siblings and their spouses. And Grandma and Grandpa for his parents.
Abe leads the music for Family Home Evening
Grandma and Grandpa's Family Home Evening lesson: "How we met"
I told Sam he should be in charge of games, and in a stroke of total genius, he came up with the idea of doing "game stations" which could be visited independently and entirely optionally. Neither he nor I enjoy making people do things they don't want to do, and we knew some people would just want to sit around and talk and not worry about anything during this reunion. But others would want something to do. Sam thought of a bunch of games, with various commitment and activity levels, and posted the instructions for them around the lodge and cabins. You could earn stars for participating, and we had a few prizes at the end for people with the most stars. (We also gave stars for people who were helping out in the kitchen, etc., and took away stars for fights and bad sportsmanship.) Some people got really into it and did everything several times. Others, like me, preferred to just relax, and only did a few activities here and there. It was perfect.
One of the most popular games was this "Lasers and Indians," which was sort of a drawn-out game of tag with a bow and arrow. You had to hunt other people on the list (you could only shoot those who added their names to the list) and hit them with an arrow without them seeing you coming. This was going on throughout most of the four days we were there. There was always someone creeping around the corner, bow in hand, ready to strike. It was great. (Also, my name was never on the list.)
Another popular game was composing futuristic music on the iPads (we had a couple older iPads there for people to use). 
And there was this add-a-chapter story game, with three stories to choose from (a cyborg romance, a children's story about a Space Fish, and a western-style Space Frontier story. Sam wrote the opening paragraphs of all of them. They were brilliant). 

There were a bunch of other stations: one of my favorites was a place where you could write a letter to yourself in 10 years. I think almost everyone did that one at some point. We collected the letters and we'll mail them to people in 2025 (I put a reminder in my phone!).
There was also horseshoes, and a sort of leapfrog/tag game for the little kids, and a guessing game where you had to read stories from the lives of family members and guess who it happened to. And people could get points for playing foosball, ping-pong, board and card games too. Really, the game situation was ideal. Good work, Sam.

Oh! And, for the most points of all, we had a station with two laptops set up, and you could find names for FamilySearch or do Indexing. (You could also earn stars for teaching someone else how to use those programs.) It was a popular station. Uncle Mike did a ton of indexing and won the Grand Prize because of it. Which was fitting, since indexing and family history have definite and lasting real-world value as well as being fun to do. :) Wondering what the Grand Prize was? This:
And the second prize, which our Abe ended up winning (and deserved, because he did everything, and so enthusiastically!) was this shirt:
So…pretty awesome.

Besides the games, we had a couple of whole-family activities. And these were actually my favorite times of all. First, I really wanted to have a Family School time where we could learn something together. I have discovered in the last few years homeschooling that there's nothing I like more than learning something new and interesting with my kids. So, again making attendance optional, I asked a few people to prepare presentations about cool technologies of the future. I tried to ask people who would be interested in that sort of thing anyway, because I didn't want it to be a burden for them. And the presentations turned out amazing. SO good.
We had Family School time in four half-hour sessions on two different days. Not everyone attended, but everyone who did loved it. Uncle Dave talked about Gadgets of the Future, Uncle Abe talked about The Future of Communication, Uncle John did Interactivity in the Future, and Sam covered The Future of Artificial Intelligence.
Uncle John worked on developing the Xbox Kinect when he was at Microsoft, so he talked about that during his school presentation, and then brought a game for the kids (and any willing adults) to try. They loved that and got really into it. We all enjoyed watching them. :)

The other thing we did that I really loved was our Family devotional on the final night. We had considered having a testimony meeting, and it sort of was that, but I read a quote from this talk by President Russell M. Nelson that says, "All that the future holds in store for each sacred child of God will be shaped by his or her parents, family, friends, and teachers. Thus, our faith now becomes part of our posterity’s faith later." And I also read this scripture I love: "Ye cannot behold with your natural eyes, for the present time, the design of your God concerning those things which shall come hereafter, and the glory which shall follow after much tribulation. For after much tribulation come the blessings. Wherefore the day cometh that ye shall be crowned with much glory; the hour is not yet, but is nigh at hand."

And I thought about how one of the things that lets us look toward the future with faith is when we remember how the Lord has blessed us in the past. The more we remember these things, the more we can be confident that they will happen again. And it can help to hear about how God has blessed others, too. So, I asked everyone to come prepared to tell stories of some experience where, in the present they didn't feel they were being blessed, but once they reached "the future", they could look back and see how that thing had blessed them. It was a way for us to talk about how the promise God gives us that "all things shall work together for our good" is fulfilled.

And it was amazing. Powerful. I loved hearing everyone's stories about the hard things, scary things, painful things they've faced—and then how those very things have turned out to be blessings from a loving Heavenly Father. Some stories were deeply spiritual, and others funny and lighter, but hearing them gave me a greater appreciation of our family members, as well as a brighter hope for my own future. It was inspiring.
We were in Southern Utah close to a lot of cool National Parks and so forth, so we allowed one of the days for each family just to explore on their own (we went to Canyonlands), but we didn't organize anything specifically. That actually worked out quite nicely, I think, since it gave the families time to themselves if they wanted it.

Other than the more organized things I've mentioned, the days were just filled with little moments of connection. I liked seeing my kids make friends with their cousins, but even more I liked watching them with their aunts and uncles, talking and having fun. It made me happy to see the generations mixing like that. 

Daisy and Junie were totally in love with Uncle Michael. He did magic tricks for them…
(Oh my goodness, I LOVE Daisy's face in these pictures. She is so overjoyed!)
And he hopped them up into the air…
They were in heaven.
And then there was Goldie with Aunt Kari and Aunt Pam. She adopted them as her Very Own People. They were so sweet and patient with her, putting up with endless prattling conversation and lap-climbing and asking for drinks and so forth. It was the cutest.

We were in the most beautiful place. Near Monticello, Utah. Who would have thought? I never knew it was so gorgeous there, but the cabin was up in the mountains, and the clouds and the view were amazing.
The weather was gorgeous while we were there—rainy and cool some of the time, with sun through most of the days and cool misty clouds in the mornings.
Goldie and Esther
There was a big wrap-around deck where we could sit and look out over the forest.
There were also two VERY friendly dogs (they belonged to the property owners, who lived nearby) who were always wanting to hang around the kids. The owners told us to feel free to yell at the dogs and send them home, but we didn't want to because they were so sweet. My kids don't even like dogs very much, but I knew these dogs were special when I looked out the door and saw this:
Goldie's precious Taggie draped lovingly over the dog's back
A random picture of Esther. She is so darling!
Teddy slept in a little closet. He seemed quite content there.

Looking up toward Blue Mountain from the barn. I think this barn actually has a little apartment you can stay in, but it wasn't part of our rental. We did have three smaller cabins as well as the big lodge.
Aunt Liz brought her face-painting stuff, which made the kids very, very happy.
Little Sunshine Goldie. She loved it all so much.
Spaghetti sauce for 50!
I always like seeing vast quantities of food being enjoyed.
Sam and I put ourselves in charge of all the breakfasts, since we like breakfast so much. They were all delicious (if I do say so myself).
We had a campfire one night, which was of course a big hit, but the best part was watching the stars! We were lucky enough to be there during the Perseids, so we saw lots of meteors, and the Milky Way was so bright and beautiful! I've always wanted to be out in a dark place during a meteor shower. Sam and I went to bed after the campfire and then woke up at 2:30 a.m. and dragged chairs and a blanket outside, and between 2:30 and 3:30 we saw 107 meteors!! It was wonderful. Everything I've always dreamed of. :)
So. All in all, it was such a lovely time. I think everyone got along as well as could be expected, and if people weren't having fun they at least did good approximations of people having fun! :) People kept asking if we were exhausted when it was all over, but honestly, it never felt overwhelming. It took quite a lot of preparation, but it was mostly fun or at least satisfying preparation, and Sam and I were doing it together, so neither of us got too burned out.
Eating in Moab on our way home—the universally adored Baby Theodore is the center of attention, as usual
We were sad to say goodbye!