Tuesday, May 31, 2016

First Camping Trip of the Season!

Last week, I said to Grig, "Let's go camping this weekend." 

He thought about it, and once we checked the calendar to make sure it was free, said, "Sure."

So, Friday night, we drove up to our favorite free place to go camping and went to our regular place. It was covered in RV's. We had forgotten it was Memorial Day weekend. (That happens when you don't have any kids in school.)

So, we drove around the lake until we found a pretty secluded place (still nearby the restrooms) and camped there. Kevin fell asleep while we were looking for a place, which was okay since it was raining, so he stayed in the car while we unloaded. The dogs were pretty excited about the water. 
 As we set up our tent and stirred up the dying embers that someone else had left, we spotted a bird out on the water. Grig wondered if it was a loon. I wasn't sure. Later we found out it was a grebe. I think it's a western grebe, though it could be a Clark's grebe. Anyway, we were pretty excited to see them.
 The sunset on the lake was beautiful, and though it was a little chilly, once the rain stopped, it wasn't too bad.
 Right after it stopped raining, Kevin woke up. His first word as he got out of the car was, "Wow!"

He was pretty excited. He clambered over the rocks to get to his father, and the dogs were right behind him. Half way through this trip, we discovered that Siff is well-camouflaged. Can you find her in the picture below? It took me a second when I was flipping through pictures.
 Arkhon was pretty happy to be back at this lake. I took a similar picture of him and Dakota last year. It made me a little sad to return to this lake, just because it was the last time I saw Dakota REALLY happy.
Dakota and Arkhon last year, before she died.
She loved it here. Being back to the lake made me remember how I was swimming, and my old, fifteen-year-old dog swam out to me, even though I was pretty far out. She was so happy while we were camping. Seeing Arkhon sitting alone by the lake made me really aware of her loss again. He's really grown up since she left us.
Arkhon, now leading a new generation.
 As it got darker, we tied the dogs up so they wouldn't wander off and get lost. We sat around the campfire and cooked hot dogs and marshmallows.
Suddenly, Siff started woofing; very quietly and softly. We heard a twig snap, and I whipped my camera in the direction of the sound. An eye gleamed green in the light of the camera, and I got the impression of a large animal (at least as big as a large dog). It wasn't too far away, but we lost sight of it pretty quickly in the darkness. Kevin got a little scared, but the dogs were calm so it was probably a deer or a dog. It's hard to know. I would really like to know what it was, but it left us alone, so we didn't chase it either.

We went to bed soon after. Siff slept against the outside of our tent all night. She loved being outside and with us. I don't think we ever saw her too hot the whole trip. Arkhon curled up nearby as well, and we slept, protected by our hounds.

The next morning we woke up early. Grig already had a fire going, so we ate our breakfast of muffins and doughnuts and then played for a while.
In this picture, Kevin is using the fire-poking stick as a weapon. He is shooting his "gun."
After a couple of hours, Grig got tired and took a nap while Kevin and I explored the surrounding area. We were excited to see a different kind of bird, which was correctly identified as a cormorant (though the actual species is a double-crested cormorant.) We actually caught one on video eating a fish. That was pretty cool.

We realized again how different Siff and Arkhon are. When Arkhon was a puppy, and we came camping, it took him two days to finally be exhausted. Siff was tired after the first night. She was really happy though, and even off the leash stuck around. Arkhon disappeared one time (which really surprised and worried us). He didn't come when he was called, which is nearly unheard of for him, and so we started worrying that he had been hit by a car or stolen. In all actuality, he had found the dumpster, and his nose had turned off his ears. After that, he listened a lot better, and didn't wander anymore, but we were a bit upset with him.
Kevin and I found a neat place by a couple of trees where we found some nice round rocks. Those rocks became dinosaur eggs, and the t-rex Kevin protected them from the dogs and me. They eventually hatched, though when I tried to pick one up that I thought had wandered from the nest, he told me that they were all still with the eggs. It turns out, I don't always imagine the same things as my son.
We were pretty close to the boat dock, so after a while, our peace was broken by people unloading their boats. Grig woke up about then, and we did some climbing and exploring.
 This was a particularly fun fallen tree. You could balance on it and bounce up and down. It made me feel like a kid again.
 These are the boys running down the boat ramp. Siff and I enjoyed watching them. Right after this picture was taken, Arkhon cut in front of Kevin and made him trip. It was an accident, but Kevin skinned his knee a bit. A few minutes later, they were right back to it.
 I found a cozy tree to climb into, and Kevin joined me. It was so nice to be out in nature. About this time, I found a really good stick and threw it into the water. Up to this point, Arkhon and Siff had been wading, but not really swimming. Arkhon finally remembered that he knew how to swim. After that, he fetched the stick nearly a dozen times.

He was a great swimmer. Eventually, he was tired out, and then he didn't want to swim anymore. Siff would get chest-deep, but she wasn't motivated enough to really try.
 Then, around noon, we put on our swimming suits and got into the water. The water was cold, but after a few minutes of moving, it felt warm to me. Grig said it never felt warm to him, but we all had a great time. Kevin plunged right in, and would walk through the water while moving his arms and call it "swimming." I made Siff swim one time too, but that was enough for her. I think as summer gains heat, they'll be more excited about it.

After a while, Kevin started to shiver, but after eating a doughnut, he wanted to get back into the water. I really enjoyed swimming too, though at one point, I was pretty far out, and a truck pulled up and began to back its boat down the dock. I had to rush back to shore to get out of the way, and after that I was tired.

After a while, Grig made us lunch of ham sandwiches, and we warmed up and ate. Here, Kevin is hiding under his towel. I think he's pretty hilarious.
 Here's our tent hidden in the trees. We'd found a spot with great cover, but it was pretty lumpy.
 Everyone felt really rejuvenated. It was hard to leave, but we had to get back home. We had some things we needed to get done before the Sabbath.
It really made us grateful for this world that our Heavenly Father has given us. Things worked out really well, and we were so grateful that we found a place away from most of the Memorial Day campers. It got a little loud after a while with all the boats blaring music on the lake, but we still were pretty far away from most of the craziness. We didn't fish this time, because I need to renew my license, but we still had a really good time and enjoyed spending time together as a family.

Hopefully we'll be going again soon!

Friday, May 27, 2016

They Grow Up so Fast

Last night, I stayed up way too late looking at family pictures from the last five years. It was really fun to watch the progression of our family.

It's hard to believe that Kevin used to look like this:

And now he is so grown up!

The other day, I left Kevin alone for a minute while I finished a project. It was nearly lunchtime, so I asked him if he wanted to come with me, but he said, "No." I turned on a show for a minute and then I went to work. When I came back ten minutes later, Kevin had pulled out some (previously cooked) pancakes, slathered butter on them, and then was eating them with leftover syrup from breakfast. I was pretty amazed that he had made himself lunch. I couldn't believe he was old enough to do that. 

Someone has told me that if you painted red rocks to look like strawberries before your actual strawberries ripen, the birds will peck at the rocks and leave the strawberries alone later. So, I decided to try it. Kevin and I gathered some rocks from outside and he helped me. He did really well. We'd paint most of the rock red, and then put green on the part that we didn't paint. Kevin did really well at being careful and trying to keep the paint in the right place. Then he helped me dot the strawberry with little yellow dots. 
 I think they turned out great! Those birds are going to be fooled for sure!
Don't they look real?

It was also amazing to realize that Arkhon isn't even two yet. He turns two this year. It's crazy to believe that he used to look like this:
He's such a handsome, lean animal. He used to be this chubby little puppy, but now he's super-fast and strong. 

People always comment on how obedient he is as well. He and Kevin are such good friends. Arkhon is a very expressive fellow. His face speaks volumes, and I nearly always know exactly what he's saying. 

It was also crazy to realize that Siff is nearly six months old. I haven't been as good at blogging lately, but it's been really neat to see how fast she's progressed. 

She's changed quite a bit to, from this: 
To this:

She weighs more than Kevin now. He hasn't been able to pick her up in a couple of months. 

I'm convinced we have the best dogs in the world. 

They listen really well, and though their training isn't complete, they are doing really well. Arkhon's about 90% where I'd like him, and Siff is about 75%. It's fun to seen how much mental development has been occurring with her. Before the last couple weeks, when I'd be trying to express my disapproval with her actions, she would continue to have the goofy puppy look on her face. Then, within the last couple of weeks, she suddenly has come to recognize my body language. Now she responds to it, and it's been great to see that progression. 

Kevin was playing with the dogs in the backyard the other day, and I asked him what he was doing. He told me he was fighting zombies. I asked him who the zombies were. He told me that Siff was the zombie. I asked if Arkhon was a zombie to. 

"No," he said, "Arkhon's my dog." Evidently Arkhon and Kevin were ganging up on Siff. That was kind of funny, but I told them to be nice to her. Sometimes they act so much like siblings. 

Stop picking on your baby sister! ;)

Things have been pretty awesome. Part of the reason that I haven't been blogging as well lately is because I've been working on my book more. I'm really close to finishing the second draft. I'm really liking how it is turning out and should be ready for some beta readers soon. (I think that's the right term for it, I'm still new to the whole writer's slang thing.)

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Helping Refugees

I want to take an opportunity to brag about my son.

Yesterday night, the young women in our congregation had a donation drive for refugees in Utah. They were asking for things like coats, school supplies, diapers, wipes, and birthday presents for children.

We had been planning on donating, but when they knocked on our door at 7:30, we realized that we hadn't gotten the things ready. We quickly answered the door and asked them if they could come back in 1/2 an hour after we'd collected the items.

The next few minutes were spent running around the house and collecting things for the list that we could spare. We found a few things for each part, but when we came to the last item, the birthday presents for children, we hesitated.

The toys weren't ours, they were Kevin's. So, we decided to talk to him about it. We brought him in his bedroom and told him that there were some people who had lost everything and we were trying to collect things to give them. We told him that there were children that didn't have any toys, and we asked him to consider giving them some of his toys.

A very serious expression came over Kevin's face, and he solemnly nodded his head. Then, he went over to his toy box, and began to select toys to give the other children. He completely understood what we were asking him to do. He knew that he would never see his toys again, and he accepted that. What really impressed me, was which toys he selected.

He didn't pick toys he never played with. Instead he offered some of his favorites. He gave up one of his treasured dinosaur toys (though he couldn't quite bring him to give up one of his raptors, though he did think about it), and some of his cars. He offered one of his "kingdoms," which are little featureless, wooden people from his train track. We told him that was very sweet, but that the children might not appreciate that particular toy. He also tried to give a singing t-rex, which he loves, but both of its arms were missing, so we didn't want to send a broken toy.

I don't know that I've ever been more proud of my son. He was so selfless, and he was very serious about wanting to help those children. He gave up somethings that he loved, and I was really proud of him.

We compiled our box just as the girls returned. They took our box and drove away. Suddenly I remembered we had some phonics books. It took me a few minutes to find them, but when I asked Kevin if he wanted to give them up, he said no. Instead, he picked another favorite book, a pop-up book that made animal sounds, and said he wanted to give that instead. Again, I swelled with love for my son. Grig decided he wanted to give the kite that he had gotten for Christmas. Now I know where Kevin gets it from.

Grig quickly put on his shoes and tried to chase them down, but he couldn't find them.

We ended up keeping those last two items, but I still was really grateful that I have such a giving and loving family. I am also grateful for the opportunity we had to help our some people in need. We've been really wanting to help the refugees, and it was nice to know that we could contribute.

I'm so proud of my boy and my husband.

Monday, May 16, 2016

The Story of the New Car

A few months ago, we started feeling like maybe the Lord wanted us to purchase a new car. Our car was beginning to act up, and we couldn't fit all the people and animals that lived in our house in our current vehicle.

So, in February, we started looking. We went to a dealer. We were trying to find something that would last us for a long time, and it had been recommended to us that Hondas and Toyotas were usually high quality, even if they had a few more miles.

We found a couple that we were interested in, but we wanted to get a loan from a bank before we decided on anything for sure.

Then, almost the next week, insurance started at Grig's work and we ended up back-paying for insurance in February. Due to this, we didn't know for sure how much we were going to be making after insurance, and so we didn't know how much we could put into car payments.

So, for a while we didn't worry about it. Our car began to have pretty serious issues. Sometimes it wouldn't start. One day, it went completely dead. We took it to our mechanic and they told us our battery was dead, so we bought a new one and put it in. However, that didn't fix our problem. During April things began to get worse. Our blinkers stopped working consistently. Often, they were fine (especially during long trips when we'd been saying prayers), but often we'd just hear a mechanical buzzing or they wouldn't work at all.

Not sure if we had the money for a new car, we tried to take our car in to get it fixed. The mechanic couldn't find anything wrong with it, and it worked perfectly for them. However, only the next day, the troubles came back. We tried this two more times. Each time, the car would be having issues, but as soon as we brought it to the mechanic it worked fine.

We finally decided we needed to put our efforts toward purchasing a vehicle. Obviously the Lord didn't want us to spend any more money on the impala. A short time after that, the air conditioning and heating stopped working.
Old Car

Then came the final nail in our car's coffin: We received a notice in the mail telling us that our car's registration was due by the end of May and we needed to have a safety and emission check.

We now had a deadline. There was no way that our car was going to pass safety, and we would rather put our money toward a new vehicle than pour money into our current one.

May began, and during the first Sunday, Grig and I fasted and prayed that he would finally get his raise and that we would be able to find the right car. We were still waiting for our first paycheck in May, which would show us how much we were making after taxes and insurance. As of the first week of May, Grig had now been working at his current job for over 6 months, which is usually how long banks want you to be working somewhere before they give you a loan.

Then, last Wednesday, the long awaited day finally arrived. Grig received his check, and we looked to see what our actual workable income was. At lunch he called me and asked, "Wasn't I making this much when I started?" I told him, I didn't know, but then I went and looked. It turned out that Grig had received a raise a month ago, but we hadn't noticed because of all the back-paying we were doing for insurance. We were amazed! Our fast had been answered, and even before we had asked for it. Grig thanked his supervisor, who was surprised that he had just noticed. Wednesday, we plugged the paycheck into our budgeting system and found that we could spend at least $200 on car payments a month.

Thursday, we went and talked to a bank that had been recommended to us by the first dealership we had gone to. They seemed okay, but while we were applying for a loan and setting up an account, I couldn't help but feel heavy. I wondered if it was just worry about borrowing money, but the feeling persisted, even after we had left the bank. Grig and I prayed about it, and Friday morning, while he was at work, I got on the computer and began to compare bank rates for auto insurance. It turned out that a different bank, that we had been wanting to get an account at for a long time anyway, had much better rates. Grig and I talked about it when he got home, and we decided to apply at this bank instead and cancel our other account.

So, Friday night we did just that. We went in, got everything set up, and then decided to go to the dealership to "just look around." We didn't expect to find the car yet, but we wanted to get an idea of what was available. We had been told that this dealership was incredibly honest, and so they were our first choice.

We found a couple of cars that we were interested in. One was a Toyota Sienna, and the other was a Honda Pilot. We test drove the Sienna first. It was less money and had fewer miles on it. However, it also didn't feel right. It didn't help that as the dealer got in to drive it over to us, it began to make a loud squeaky noise.

However, when we got in the Pilot, everything felt right. It handled beautifully and had all sorts of features that we didn't even know that we wanted. It had eight seats, which is something that I really wanted. It also had four wheel drive and a place for a trailer hitch, which are two things that Grig wanted. We both felt really good about it, and after praying about it, decided that this was the vehicle that we were supposed to get.

So, when we drove back in, we went in with the agent and began to fill out paperwork. Our loan hadn't been approved yet, but we were supposed to hear about it the next morning. We asked the agent if they would hold it for us, and he hesitated. He said, "If tomorrow wasn't Saturday, I'd say yes. However, since tomorrow is Saturday, we ask that you put down at least $300, just so we know for sure you're serious."

He left the room for a minutes so we could talk about it, and we prayed again. Feeling very light and good, we put the $300 down, with the expectation that we would return the next day and buy the car. We agreed to a down-payment amount, and had them appraise our Impala for a trade-in value. It was only priced at $200, which was better than nothing. We printed off all the things we would need for the bank and drove away.

As we drove away, we both felt really good about our decision, but we also felt a little overwhelmed. "This is happening really fast," I told Grig.

He replied, "I was feeling the same way."

The next morning, Grig was working a few extra hours. About mid-morning, the bank called me and told me that our loan was accepted. We had been praying that our Impala would keep going until we could get the new car, and it had been working pretty well for the past couple of weeks.

However, I was having second thoughts. Not so much about the car, but about the amount we had agreed on for the down-payment. It would use up a lot of our buffer, and I was a bit worried about making such a large purchase. The thought of waiting until Monday crossed my mind several times.

However, as I read scriptures and talked to Grig (after he got home), we decided to just go for it. We felt that this is what the Lord was telling us to do, so He would provide for us. We were trying to stay carefully in our budget.

We cleaned out our car and got in to go get the loan from the bank. We all got in the car and tried to turn it on.

Nothing happened.

We tried again.


After a few minutes, Grig ran over to the neighbors and he came to jump us. It took a while, but eventually the car started. Then, as we were about to drive off, Grig received a call from the dealer. They asked us if we still wanted the car. We told them that we were on the way to the bank right then. They told us that it was a good thing we had put down the $300. A man was there saying he would buy the Pilot right then if we weren't going to take it. If we had waited even a day, we wouldn't have gotten this car.

As we drove away, our blinkers stopped working again, and lights were flashing all over. The Impala, which had served us faithfully for nearly four years, was dying.

We left the car running while we went into the bank. The amount of our monthly car payment came to the perfect amount, and everything else went smoothly. We withdrew our down-payment and got the check from the bank. As we drove to the dealer, the low fuel light came on.

We handed all of our paper work to the dealer, and within a few short minutes, drove away in our new vehicle. It was amazing.

It was a little sad to say good-bye to the Impala, but we were so grateful to have a car that we wouldn't have to worry about whether it would start every time or not.

We are so grateful for the many miracles, both large and small, that led to us being able to purchase this new car. We're also grateful for the Impala. We bought it from some wonderful friends and it was a great car to the very end.
New Car
It was such a great weekend. As we drove away from the dealer, I had the distinct impression that we were exactly where we were supposed to be and we had done exactly what we were supposed to do. I felt the Lord's love for us, and the He was pleased with us.

That night we went to the temple and felt the wonderful Spirit that is there.

I had a really great weekend.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Lessons from Loss

Last week, we had a death in the family. My cousin's four month old baby, who was diagnosed with a congenital diaphragmatic hernia when she was born, passed away on April 22. 

It's been an emotional week for them, and for me. I felt prompted to ask them if I could make them a gift, and my offer was accepted. So for the past week, I've been working on that. 

As I've browsed through pictures and videos of this beautiful and amazing soul, I have really come to know her and to love her. Even though I was never able to meet her in person, she has really affected me. She had such strength and joy, and her expressions spoke volumes. 

On Saturday, we had the funeral, and her mother and father spoke. Her father gave an incredible life sketch which filled in the gaps that the pictures hadn't told me. Her mother talked about lessons that she had learned from her daughter, and I wanted to share a couple of things that she taught me that day. 

One of the things I loved the most, was when my cousin talked about being happy. She said that for the first while, she was very sad. Not just that, but she felt like she was expected to be sad because things were very difficult. Her daughter had never left the hospital and her entire life had been uprooted as they lived hours away from their home, not knowing if her baby would survive each day. However, at one point my cousin decided that, if her daughter didn't have very long to live, she didn't want her to live her life "surrounded by sorry saps." She wanted her daughter to know happy people. So, she chose to be happy, despite her circumstances, and she said that this decision changed everything. 

The other thing I really liked that they kept bringing up was miracles. We had quite a few fasts for their baby in our home, and we had a few family fasts with everyone else. Every time, something miraculous happened that helped this baby stay until her time on earth was completed. Miracles are real, and they do happen today. I have seen so many in our lives, and I'm so grateful for the reminder that this incredible little girl gave to us. 

It has been a difficult, but wonderful week. I have felt the Spirit so many times, and I have felt a lot of love for family and friends. I'm grateful for my cousin and her family. They have helped me grow and come closer to my Savior.

John 11:1–44, Mary of Bethany and others mourn for Lazarus
A couple weeks ago, I was feeling a bit directionless. However, when we visited the temple the day after this sweet baby girl passed away, I received some important counsel for myself. The Lord basically told me that I can be stronger than I am; I can have more patience and faith. If I'm struggling with faith and hope, I need to pray to Him and He will sustain me. I need to quit giving up so easily and I need to do better, because I'm capable of so much more. 

Since then, I've been trying to have more faith and hope. I'm learning to trust in the Lord's timing and in His plan for me and my family. 

Loss is very difficult, but I am so grateful for the things I have learned from this experience. I do feel that I have become a better person because of it.