Thursday, November 28, 2013

Ready.

Week 6, a conversation between me and Odin:

Odin: How big is the baby today mom? 
Me: Oh, about the size of a large ant.
Does it have arms and legs yet?
Yes, they are starting to grow, but they don't really look like arms and legs yet.
How big will it be when it comes out?
Hmmm, about the size of your blue stuffed bear!
But how does it come out of you? Does it just pop out of your belly?
No, it comes out through a tunnel and then out of a hole in my vagina.
But isn't your vagina small?
Yes, but when it's time for the baby to come out it stretches REALLY big.
Whoa. That must hurt, mom...... I'm really glad I'm not a lady!
Well, it does hurt, but someday you might have a wife who has a baby come out of her, and then you can help her and be there for her. 
Okay, Mom. (smiling)

This sweet conversation I had with my five year old (Odin) keeps lingering in my mind. I'm holding it safe within me to remember on the hard days, to remind me how precious and important these little teaching moments are, even when I feeling super yucky and nauseous. After all, they are part of the process; part of the whole learning and growing experience of bringing another baby into our family. The boys will be learning a lot more this time around, as they are much older and can understand it all better. 

I am excited for them to ask all these questions and I'm excited to answer them, step by step, week by week, month by month, until the moment our baby comes into my arms.
We're planning another home-birth. 
I feel most comfortable this way. 
We had our first baby vaginally and naturally in a hospital with a midwife, but after that we couldn't imagine going back there. It just didn't seem to match our vision of how things should have been. Our next child gave us a chance to have the kind of birth we truly wanted; peaceful, empowering, comfortable, in the quiet of our own home. Then our third child came and proved once again how lovely the home-birth experience could be. True it was a hard, painful birth for me, but worth every moment to have that intimate, personal experience of giving birth in the comfort of my living room with the people I love most. 

So, I am excited again for the time of the birth to come, to experience, once again, the raw, natural power within me to give life to a human being. It will be four years since I last pushed a baby out; four years which I've had time to heal and overcome the effects of the last birth, four years to prepare myself for another eventful labor.
 Birth has never been an easy thing for me, but it is something I embrace, look forward to, and am mentally and physically preparing for once again.
The best part being, of course, to be able to hold that squishy, little baby I've been dreaming of.

We've been dreaming of. 

Micah is just as excited as I am. We weren't sure for awhile if we wanted to do this right now, seriously questioning our mental sanity to handle it all so soon after moving here, but it seemed the more we argued against it, the more powerful the feelings came.......The more I thought about enjoying the freedom and mobility of having older children, of not being tied down to a newborn, of being more autonomous in my life as an adult, the more I yearned for that tiny baby in my arms.  
This baby is ready to come to our family, and we couldn't ignore it any longer.

So basically we had sex and got pregnant the first time we tried. 
I am seven weeks along.
I am sick most days, and really queasy. I'm eating like a starving person ,and ballooning up like a Thanksgiving Day parade float.
Sometimes I start to get down on myself. I have to fight hard against the negative mind and push it away fast. The negative mind tells me that I'm going to be fat and miserable my entire pregnancy. The negative mind wants me to feel out-of-control and anxious about my body. It wants me to feel bad about myself and doubt myself, and question my ability to have another baby and be a good mother to four children.
But I won't let it take over. I refuse. I am putting my trust in God.
I know that He will help me, He will guide me, and He will  remind me constantly of my self-worth, my ability, my power, and my confidence in doing the things that are hard. (Even when I am feeling so yucky and sicky and can do nothing but lay there miserably.) The trick is allowing Him in.

So, this summer we will have a fourth child. Whoa! 
I am thankful today for my husband, my family, my life, and the new life on it's way.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!
Wishing you all the happiness in the world.
A sneak peak into 8 months from now: pregnant with Jonah, July 2010.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Wheat Berry Waldorf Salad

This is one of my favorite salads, and one I have been making for about 6 years since I sampled a taste at a Whole Foods Market deli in California. I immediately went home, looked up the recipe, and have been making it on and off ever since! DELICIOUSNESS!
 I actually brought this salad to a church potluck last night. Some people really liked  it and wanted a copy of the recipe, plus wanted to know what those little, brown, chewy things were! Funny that we eat their processed form as wheat flour or pasta, but in their true, natural form they are unrecognizable. Here's my favorite thing to do with those little, brown, chewy things:

WHEAT BERRY WALDORF SALAD

INGREDIENTS:
2 Cups uncooked wheat berries
1 C chopped walnuts
2 medium apples, cored and chopped
1 C seedless raisins
1 C finely chopped fresh parsley

1/4 C apple cider vinegar
1/4 C apple juice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 Cup extra virgin olive oil
2 Tablespoons lemon juice

METHOD:
Put wheat berries into a large bowl, cover with at least 2 inches of water and set aside to let soak for 6 to 8 hours overnight. Drain well.

Put 7 cups clean water into a medium pot and bring to a boil. Add wheat berries, reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, for about 50 minutes, or until cooked through. (Wheat berries retain a firm, chewy texture when cooked) Drain and set aside to let cool.

Transfer what berries to a large bowl. Add walnuts, apples raisins, parsley, vinegar, apple juice, salt, pepper, cinnamon, evoo, and lemon juice and mix everything together thoroughly.

NUTRITION:
Wheat berries are the mother grain from which pasta, bread, and flour are derived. Little wheat berries pack a nutlike flavor and are pleasantly chewy. 
*Vegetarian, Vegan, Low Sodium, Dairy Free.
*480 calories per 6 oz serving

I got this recipe directly from Whole Foods Market. Click the link to see it. I am recording it here on my blog so that I have easier access to my favorite foods. Thank you Whole Foods for creating amazing recipes for me to enjoy.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Order=Peace=Love

When my kids were babies and toddlers life seemed so chaotic all the time. It was like I never knew what was going to happen in any given hour, nor how the day was going to unfold after we first opened our eyes in the morning. 
Feeding times were sporadic, nap times were sporadic, and getting to bed at night was unpredictable! However, I didn't mind it so much because I really, really enjoyed the spontaneity of it all. I used to tell people, "I THRIVE on chaos! The more the merrier!" 
Because none of it made sense, and within the chaos there was always the knowing that this is just how life is when you have small children.
 I wasn't one of those moms that stayed home with the curtains drawn for nap time. If I had a play date that ran late or was running errands around town, then my toddler would fall asleep in the car or stroller. And I never believed in sleep training or scheduled feeding times. I saw that my children, when left to their own choices, would eat when they were hungry, and sleep when they were tired. It was my job to be flexible and understanding when it came to their needs, and  It all worked out. So, although life seemed chaotic, it was a happy sort of chaos--the kind that gave me a chance to truly enjoy the madness and crazy moments that came with raising small children. 
Micah and I both have fond memories of walking our toddler around the block, (late at night, in the mei-tai, snowflakes falling from the sky onto our heads), because we felt it was better to walk him to sleep than let  him cry to sleep. Yes, it was exhausting at times but the memories are precious. I can still remember the snow sparkling under the street lamps, as I stomped through the streets singing hymns while snuggling his little, pudgy cheeks.

Now that our children are older, however, I am seeing the joy and happiness that comes with having order and structure in our days. 
It all started when my eldest turned 3 and I realized that he needed clear guidelines in what to do in the morning or nothing would ever get accomplished. It would be 11 o'clock in the morning and he would still be in his pajamas, teeth not brushed, asking if he could watch another round of Dinosaur Train. This is not how I wanted our days to turn out.
 Thus, our first chart was born. 
It was called the Important Things Chart, and it listed all the important things we needed to accomplish before we could move on to the rest of our day: 
1. Morning prayers
2. Breakfast
3. Brush Teeth
4. Scripture Study
5. Daily chores
6. Hugs and I love yous

The order of the important things didn't matter so much as getting them done. Sometimes we did scriptures then had breakfast, or sometimes we did our chores first then brushed our teeth. The main thing was having goals set in place that we could follow, so that by 9 o'clock a.m we could feel a sense of accomplishment in our day. 
Four years later, and we are still following this morning routine. It's become such an integral part of our daily lives that our children thrive on knowing it exists and count on it happening each day. I love that I can wake up and know they will be working on these important things without me asking. My eldest will come running to me at the end saying, "Mom, I'm 100%!" with a big smile on his face. His little five year old brother often gets distracted but soon catches up. Our three year old is just now starting this morning routine, and even gets a sticker for completing things.

Sometimes it's really hard to be consistent and to implement programs in your household, because, after all, it does take precious time and energy to get them going at first. It's especially not fun if the kids grumble or complain about having to do their chores. But, I have witnessed firsthand that being consistant and staying with them through the process, pays off in the end. I no longer need to walk my seven year old through how to load the washing machine because he can do it himself now. My five year old can put away laundry. My three year old knows how to wash mirrors. They are learning responsibility  and independence, which is an important part of life, in my opinion.
Furthermore, I love having scripture study with my kids each day. This past year we've studied the Old Testament, read all the stories in the Friend Magazine, and have started the Doctrine and Covenants. Some of our greatest gospel discussions have come from taking the time to read and pray together in the mornings and allowing time for my children to ask those deep and meaningful questions. 

I've had someone say that they don't like the idea of raising little-robot-soldiers, so they avoid the charts and lists. After all, their children didn't ask to be born, so why should they ask them to do things they don't want to do?
I've found that having set rules in our house isn't a way to force control over our children, but rather a way to create peace and love in our household. When everyone helps out and does the things that are important, there is an overall feeling of unity, respect, and happiness in our home.
(I also believe that,yes, our children did ask to be born.)
For instance, In our house you have to put your dish in the sink when you are done eating. You also have to clean up your mess before you start another one. You have to keep your belongings in their proper place, and you have to keep clutter and trash off the floors. These are not hard things to do, nor is there a reward or punishment for doing or not doing them. We've all seen the struggles that come when someone can't find a clean plate to eat from, or is missing their favorite toy, or have misplaced their keys (that's usually me), and through trial and error we've found that having order replaces this frustration and madness. 
**On a side note, I can thank Micah for insisting that I have ONE special place that I always keep my keys, so I'm not always frantically searching for them. This was a huge problem for us when we first got married, but I have learned. Yep, I have learned.

Another routine we follow, which is valuable to us, is the bed-time routine. Micah has always been very adamant about the kids having a specific bed time, where I, on the other hand always felt that they should be able to go to sleep whenever they're tired. 
However, I've realized that what makes sense when they were babies doesn't work when they're 3, 4, 5, 6, or 7 years old. 
2 year old Zadok, pushing past midnight
Older children will push past their tiredness, force their wired, little eyes open, have a crazy, second wind, then interrupt the evening by needing more food, watching movies past midnight, and talking their parents heads off until they are completely exhausted. Then, the next day they are cranky and unreasonable. (Parents and Children)
Thus, the bed-time routine was born.

At 7:30pm we get ready for bed by doing more Important Things: 
1.Brush teeth
2. Put on clean underwear and pajamas (or clothes--I don't really care if they wear pajamas, just as long as they're clean when they get into bed.)
3. Micah reads them to sleep.
4. Lights off

And that's it. We've been doing this for several years now and it works for us. Sometimes I get lazy and don't wanna get the bedtime routine going, but, the payoff is that our older kids are in bed by 8pm and it has been wonderful. 
**Our toddler is hit and miss on the bedtime routine depending on what kind of nap he's had during the day, or if he's had any nap at all. If no nap, then he can go down easy at 8pm, if he's had a nap then he'll be up late hanging out with Mom and Dad. That's just the way it goes until he gets older and his sleep gets more regulated.
Daytime snooze in the swing for Jonah
Another thing to note is the type of reading material we choose right before bed, really makes a big difference. If my husband reads Harry Potter or Magic Tree House, then falling asleep is out of the question. We tried it a few times and it made them even more wired. So, he always reads scriptures from the Old Testament, New Testament, Book Of Mormon , or Doctrin & Covenants, and it always lulls them right to sleep. In fact now they can't go to bed without scriptures. They always ask for it, and can't fall asleep without the sound of Papa's voice.

All these things we have learned through trial and error, and through envisioning the type of home we want our children to grow up in. Everyone has different ideals and goals for their families-- Our ideal is to have a home where children are happy, parents are at peace, and everyone gets their needs met, and we have seen  how having order in our home meets these needs, fulfills our ideals, and brings an overall feeling of love to our family. This is something we are still working  and is a constant learning process for me. 

I am still grateful for those days of happy chaos and sporadic-ness. I loved nursing my babies at all odd hours, and watching my toddlers drift to sleep in their strollers while running errands around town. That's just the way it is with littler children. I truly enjoyed the spontaneity of it all!
Now I am enjoying the peace of knowing we can still be spontaneous and have fun during the day, but also maintain sanity in our lives. 

(And who knows, maybe my son's future wives will thank me someday for teaching them how to be organized and clean! I really do hope so. ;))

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Flash Floods and Faith

When I was 23 I made a tough decision for myself,  to move away from my hometown of Haleiwa, Hawaii to take a job at a wilderness therapy program for teens based out of Mesa, Arizona. Making this decision to move was a huge deal for me as it was hard for me to leave the ocean, and daunting for me to venture out on my own to live in a strange place I had never been to before. I wrestled with the idea of moving for months before I finally decided that I needed to do this; that in my heart of hearts I knew I was supposed to move my life forward in this  direction. So I went. And goodgolly, it changed my whole life!

Anasazi Foundation, 2002
The Anasazi Foundation hired me in the Summer of 2002. I jumped right into my job responsibilities with the excitement and enthusiasm which I had hoped for!
My job required me to be out in the desert wilderness of Arizona for 6 days at a time, camping, hiking, and living a primitive life-style while guiding teenagers who were struggling with a variety of serious emotional, psychological, and drug abuse issues.
The therapeutic objective is to give these teens meaningful, outdoor experiences which will allow them to gain self-respect, to gain personal responsibility, and to gain powerful healing experiences through the naturally contrived situations mother nature has to offer. As a mentor and a guide, I was able to watch these kids turn their lives around as they learned to rely on nature, on God, and on the love of other people to take precedence in their lives over selfishness, self-loathing, depression, and drug abuse.

Out on the trail, as we called it, I learned a great deal more about what it takes to be compassionate, patient, and tolerant of other people, as working with struggling teenagers isn't very easy. I also learned to trust my instincts and allow my heart to tell me what to do, as I found myself in some very difficult situations out on the trail.
 I learned more powerfully that God has the ultimate power to lead me and guide me through whatever challenges I face, if I trust in Him alone. Lastly, I learned to love and accept my own weaknesses and to overcome past obstacles that were hindering me from moving forward in my own life. All of this I learned, as I was helping these teens hike mountains, cross rivers, pitch tents, and make fires.
Out on the trail in Idaho.We had to go north for a few months because of all the fires in Arizona.
I can't express enough how happy I am that I made the decision to work there (and that they hired me!) I ended up working there for a total of 9 life-changing, powerfully-inspiring months that I will remember forever.
 As I reflect back on that time on the trail, there is one experience among many that has impacted me the most. I am finally writing it down here on my blog, as I remember it from August 2003 and as I recorded it in my journal. Here's the story:

PART ONE: Hiking into the canyon.
It was a beautiful, sunny August day in Arizona! This week we would be hiking through a Native American reservation area, high up in the Tonto Mountains. I was assigned to lead a group of six 15 year old boys who had been hiking in the program for over a month. From a therapeutic perspective I knew I was in for a fun and breezy week, leading a group of boys that were already doing well in the program. I figured with this group I wouldn't have any kids who were eager to escape or who would be whining and cussing at me or my co-leader along the way. I was also paired up with a new employee (or Trailwalker as they called us) whom I would be training that week. Even though this guy was brand new and didn't know what he was doing, he was also about 25 years old, and in great athletic shape. I knew he would be more helpful than anything in leading these boys through the canyon. (Let's call him Todd, since I can't remember his real name) All in all, It was going to be a great, relaxing week of hiking and enjoying nature with these boys. (And I was getting paid to do this!)

By the time Todd and I left Mesa and reached the Tonto Forrest for our Trailwalker switch outs,  it was late into the afternoon. After we handed out the new food rations for the week, we had our boys pack up their large, primitive-style backpacks and head up the canyon to find a grassy place to camp for the night. Several of the other groups also headed up the canyon in our same direction.

I remember looking down at my feet as I hiked and noticing how clear the ankle-high water was below me. It seemed to sparkle like glitter as I splashed against the current with my chunky, hiking sandals. The stream seemed to perfectly reflect the sparkly feelings of peace and happiness I felt inside towards this upcoming week. 

The steep canyon walls shot up like towering cliffs on either sides of us. They were strong, and rather intimidating, and curved on for miles, with the stream flowing between it.
This would be my first time hiking on a Native-American reservation and I could feel the power and beauty of the sacred earth around me. I felt extremely blessed to be there in that moment amongst the majestic cliffs and shining waters, with a great group of people.

We hiked for about two hours up the canyon stream until we started to see hints of shadows arrive with  the setting sun. As the shadows grew darker and darker we knew it was time to think about stopping. According to my map of the area, I could see that we were nearing the end of the widest part of the canyon and needed to find a place to camp  before we hit the narrower slot-canyon-type stuff. 

  Because rivers are volatile, ever-changing, and subject to flash floods, I was duty bound to follow safety protocol and camp up on a grassy hill, as opposed to the slim sides of the narrow canyon.
 After another 15 minutes of walking we found a grassy hill up on the right hand side of the canyon which I deemed safe to settle on. It was about 80 feet away from the flowing stream-- far enough that we'd be free from any possible flooding. However, I laughed at the thought of that actually happening. It was too beautiful of a day to worry about flash floods and rain storms. In fact there was no sign of rain for miles and miles!

It was nearly dark now. I had our group go out and collect wood, then we started a fire using a primitive method called bow-drilling. Before too long we were all huddled around the fire cooking rice and beans, telling stories, laughing, and getting to know each other.

Our small group consisted of one boy from New York City who had never seen the wilderness before, two boys from the Caribbean Islands who's first language was French, and three boys who had been transferred from a group detention home in Utah as a last chance method to help fix their problems. My co-Leader Todd was also from Utah, and had the fortune of growing up camping and hiking in the wilderness his entire life. Then there was me, the surfer girl from Hawaii who wanted this job because I loved the outdoors and loved helping people, although I admit I wasn't perfect at my job at times....
 For instance,  I wasn't very good at reading maps and often got my groups turned around or lost. And one time I accidentally led a group of girls down some dangerous cliffs that I was told to stay away from. (we made it safely, thank goodness!) Then there was the time I got really dehydrated and delusional and couldn't lead my group and had to call for help from backup. And let's not forget the week it rained and rained and we could never start a fire to cook our food so we ended up living on sprouted lentils! But I digress here, because as I looked around at our funny, dynamic little group of hikers that night, I saw people who were full of shortcomings, but who were also trying to be better in their lives. We were all there because there was goodness in our hearts, and a desire to look to God and nature for guidance and clarity-- Me as an imperfect leader who loved my job and the teens I served, and the teenagers with all their struggles and human frailties. It was time for us all to step forward and embrace the coming week, weaknesses and all.

As I got in my homemade shelter that night, I felt light sprinkles of rain on my face. I could still see stars out, and could hear the quiet babble of the talking stream, 80 feet away.  "Goodnight guys!" I yelled out one last time! "Sweet Dreams!"

"Goodnight Sally!" they all yelled back from their individual shelters.
I snuggled up in my sleeping bag, and fell asleep to the unexpected pitter-patter of raindrops dropping onto my tarp. 
Tomorrow was going to be awesome.

I was startled awake just 3 hours later. It was only 11pm, but It sounded like a loud train was barging down the canyon. The
ROARRRRRRRRR of the engine rattled the walls, shook the ground, and woke us all up. I jumped out of my shelter as fast as I could! 
I could hear it as it barrelled towards us, crunching down bushes, uprooting trees, and hurling rocks in front of it with the greatest force. It brought a huge wall of water shooting down the canyon, carrying heavy debris of dislodged logs and branches. The noise was approaching, and it was approaching fast!

"Let's get to higher ground, NOW!" I shouted to my group. 
Todd and I pulled our 6 boys out of their shelters to run further up the side of the hill until we reached the cliff walls. There was no time to grab food or personal belongings. 

"What the hell is that?" one of our boys cried out.
"It is a herd of wild bears!" yelled back one of the Caribbean boys.
Oh Lord, help us, I thought incredulously. 
"It's not a herd of bears," I yelled over the noise, "it's a gigantic flash flood!" I said.

We stayed right where we were in the pitch dark and listened as the monstrous flash flood stormed and throttled past our camp sight. Past our camp sight. Phew! Our shelters were safe up on the grassy hill, and our boys were safe and sound. 
  I got on the radio immediately and called our backup emergency support to report the incident. I was panicking and shaking a bit when he answered.
"There was just a huge flash flood in the canyon! "HUGE!", I cried.
 "Yep, it happens," our backup guy responded nonchalantly, yawning in mid-sentence. "Is everyone safe?" he asked.
"Yes, we're all fine." I said
"Good." he said. 
"You guys have food and water?"he asked.
"Yes, we have food and water."I said.
"Allrighty then," he started to hang up, "Bye Sally."
"BUT, WAIT!", I shouted back, panicking some more. "So what are we supposed to do? We're literally going to be stuck in this canyon with rushing water all around us!"
"Yep, it happens" he said again. "You'll figure it out. Now I need to go call and check on the other groups. Bye Sally. Good luck."
Oh jeez, Trevor. That's all you have to say, is good luck?
I hung up the radio feeling angry and abandoned. I needed help here, not a useless, good luck.
There was nothing we could do but go back to sleep at this point. We walked back to our shelters and said goodnight, again. This time as I snuggled up in my sleeping bag I could no longer hear the quiet, babbling stream, but instead the loud,  roaring rapids of a raging river. 
Tomorrow was going to be insane.

PART TWO: Hiking out of the canyon.
The next morning was insane. Our group stood on the grassy hill overlooking the river, mouths wide open, wondering how such chaos could take over in such a short time. It looked like a tornado had come through and wiped everything out. The entire landscape of the canyon had changed. The little stream had grown from about 15 feet wide to 60 feet wide! Where there were once thriving willows and cattails happily growing near the water's edge, was now a wide, turbulent river of brown muck.  The logs from the uprooted trees were piled up against muddy embankments along the river, with tumultuous waves of water crashing over them. And It was very loud. The rushing river overwhelmed my ears and made me cringe. 

Where was my peace? I wondered desperately. Where was the calm, happy, sparkly place I had looked forward to this week? 

I took Todd aside for a private
Trailwalker meeting so we could decide the best plan of action for the day. I knew that the most important thing was to keep calm and not show our Youngwalkers that we were afraid. We had 4 miles to go until the canyon widened and we could hike out again. I asked Todd what he thought we should do and he surprised me by responding blankly,"I don't know. I wasn't expecting this to happen. I thought this week would be mellow."
"Me, too," I said back. "But it's not. And now we have to figure out how to lead these guys out of here." I waited for his response, hoping he had a brilliant scheme up his sleeves, but he had nothing. He turned to me and mumbled sheepishly, "Well, you're the boss out here. I'll let you be in charge and show us where to go"
Crap. I tried not to show that I was scared, but I was. I was absolutely terrified. I was terrified that at any moment another flash flood would come. I was terrified that I would lead our group into a dangerous trap that we couldn't get out of. I was scared of losing or injuring our boys, and I was scared of failing miserably at my job. I was also deathly afraid of the brown, muddy water rushing down the canyon.

I walked away from the group so I could cry to myself. Yet, after a moment I pulled my emotions together and did what I knew would help me the most, and I prayed.  I prayed to my Father in Heaven and asked Him to please help me--to give me the strength to be brave, to lead my group out of this canyon safely. I prayed that angels could watch over us and protect us from harm, and that another flood would not come. I prayed for all these things, then I went back to my group, looking ready to hike. 



I thought for a second about turning back the other direction, but I knew that nobody would be there to meet us in the end. We could only move forward to our final destination, which was about 15 miles North, up and out of the canyon. We had no choice but to continue up-stream  until it was safe enough to get out of this death trap. After looking at the map again, the 4 more miles til the canyon started to widen again didn't seem too bad. Sure the canyon walls were narrow and steep, and water was gushing at us from every angle, but I reasoned that we could hike 4 miles in 4 hours if we pushed ourselves hard enough. 

At 8am, our adventure up the canyon began. First we filled up our water canteens with brown muddy water, because that's all we had. We tried to strain out as much debris as possible but it was thick. (This was actually my first time drinking mud, by the way. It goes down pretty easy, and keeps you somewhat hydrated, but I wouldn't do it again.)
With canteens filled, boot laces tied, backpacks secured on our backs, and mud in our tummies, I led our group into the belly of the beast.

The following  ten hours in the canyon were some of the most difficult hours of my life. What I had hoped would be 4 hours of tough hiking turned into 10 hours of extreme sludging, climbing, crawling, bouldering, swimming, and navigating our way through pure chaos. As we continued to hike throughout the day we were met with obstacle after obstacle....i.e. right when we would complete one obstacle, another one would be waiting for us around the corner. It was almost like one of those extreme wilderness challenges on TV, where the host comes out and says enthusiastically to the TV viewing audience,


"For our next challenge we will see if Sally's group can successfully get across a raging, rushing river full of trees and logs!" In this scenario I would gather my group together and tell them the game plan: I'd say,"We're going to  sludge through thick mud until we get to the rushing river. Everyone take off your shoes now, hold hands to create a chain, and don't let go until we reach the other side!"
The cameras are rolling and our team is working hard to complete the obstacle! Then suddenly we stop when one team member won't cooperate:
"Why do we have to take off our shoes?" one boy asks angrily. He stops in his tracks and won't move. It was the kid from New York. He really liked wearing his shoes and rarely ever took them off. I could tell he wasn't excited about this plan. 
"So you don't lose a shoe in the deep mud and slow the group down by getting stuck!," I reply.
He reluctantly takes off his shoes and we continue onward.
Then, once the group overcomes that obstacle, completely exhausted and depleted of energy, the host comes back and announces the next obstacle: 
"Now we'll see if Sally's group can swim across a deep water-hole with their huge backpacks on their heads! Then after that we'll see if they can boulder across a rocky incline without slipping and falling into a raging river below! Then we'll test their endurance by skipping lunch and seeing if they can climb up a giant tree with their heavy backpacks on their backs, to reach a deer trail! The grand finale will be reaching a safe place to camp before sundown so they're not stuck in the canyon overnight! Can they do it? The clock is ticking..."
And on and on it goes until ten hours have passed and we're still pushing hard through this canyon, fighting tirelessly against the obstacles before us. 
Unfortunately, this was no reality TV show. There were no hidden cameras, no lunch tables full of chips and deli sandwiches, nor was there a break for this exhausted Trailwalker! These were real-life, wilderness challenges, naturally contrived by mother nature herself. I had no choice but to keep going, keep pushing, and keep praying that we'd get out before dark.

As it was nearing sundown we passed by another group of Trailwalkers and Youngwalkers. It turns out we were far more luckier than they were, as they had camped too close to the stream. When their leaders heard the flash flood coming down the canyon they only had enough time to get their group to safety. Everything else was washed away--clothes, food, sleeping bags, tarps, shoes, fire equipment, personal belongings--were all swept down the river. All they had left were a few canteens filled with mud water. They looked pretty pitiful.  And hungry. We stopped briefly to share some snacks with them then continued onward. Their leaders were optimistic that they'd get out of the canyon by dark, which gave me some positive encouragement that our group would, too. 

The last hour of our hike out of the canyon was exhilarating! We were all extremely exhausted, yet also on a manic high to keep hiking until we were out of harms way. The boys were still pushing themselves hard, despite being burnt out and tired of me telling them what to do all day. Todd was quiet most of the day, and a little shook up, but hiked hard and did great for his first time out. The boy from New York didn't like that his shoes were wet, but he eventually got over it.  I could see on the map that we were almost there. Just on the other side of a steep incline, a deer trail would lead us up into a f
orest of pine trees. I could see those pine trees in the distance and could envision every step it wold take to get there. It was heaven to me. 
As we hiked towards the heavenly pine forest, I remembered that the sun had never stopped shining down on us all throughout the day. Even the river turtles who got dislodged from their homes had been out basking on rocks in the sunshine, instead of worrying about the flood. I also decided that despite the fear associated with the flash flood, the hike itself could be considered one of the most adventurous things I've ever done in my entire life. I mean, if you're the kind of person that likes pushing yourself through gnarly, outdoor, wilderness challenges such as these, this week would've been something to boast about. 
When we finally reached the top of the pine forest mountain, far above the canyon, I collapsed onto the ground in tears and gratitude. We had made it out safely. Eleven hours later, but we made it. 

PART THREE: Reflection
I feel that I needed to have this experience in my life. I obviously  didn't feel this way when it happened, during it, or right after it happened, yet as I've reflected back on this day over and over again, I feel that God gave me this experience to strengthen me in my life. 

Sure there were some negative side affects of having gone through this flash flood: For instance, I am now too scared to hike through most canyons. The last few times my husband and I have hiked through a narrow-ish canyon full of stream water, I could feel my heart-rate sky-rocket, my palms get sweaty, and then I start to imagine that I hear the roar of a flash flood coming. I start to panic, then search around frantically for the nearest escape routes. It takes a moment for my husband to calm me down and help me remember that we are safe. Also, when I take my kids down to any river to play, my ears are constantly perked up, and my eyes are constantly searching for changes in the water, that might indicate a flood is approaching. Even on the brightest, sunniest days. 
Overall, I think it is good to be alert and prepared for a disaster, but I'm afraid that my preparedness is backed by fear, and not by a healthy awareness of general safety precautions.

However, despite the negative affects of fear(which is getting better over time), there has developed within me, an even bigger result of faith in God. I believe with all my heart that He heard my prayers that morning and gave me the power I needed to lead my group out of the canyon. There were moments that day when I made decisions and used strength that completely surprised myself. I could feel Him guiding me, and I could hear the sweet, quiet  whisperings of the Holy Spirit helping me to know what to do. This was one of the the most powerful experiences in my life, witnessing to me that God is indeed, real. 

I've only shared this part with a few people, because it is so sacred to me, but I feel that it's okay to share it now. There was a moment where I had to climb up a giant cottonwood tree, to see if the trail ahead was safe enough to continue on. 
I'm not great at pull-ups, nor do I have a lot of upper-body strength, so it was hard for me to climb this tree. Yet, I remember looking down at my group and feeling determined that I needed to do this for them. Then, as  I tried exasperatingly to pull myself up to the next branch, I suddenly felt someone lift me from the top. It was a gentle, loving lift--one that gave me just enough boost to hoist my tired body up onto the next branch. I could feel that it wasn't me, that it came from somewhere deep, and lovely, and angelical. I thanked God again in my heart that He would stay with me all day, even sending his angels to hoist me.

One of the purposes of wilderness therapy is to offer people meaningful experiences of strength and growth that they can then transfer to their real lives. This is something I witnessed out on the trail over and again with my Young walkers. They would accomplish these incredible feats, such as hiking to the top of a steep mountain, or making a fire from sticks, or surviving through some of the worst boot-blisters of their lives, only to realize that they can do hard things. The empowerment it gives them on the trail helps them to see that they can overcome hard things at home. They realize that they can graduate from high school, they can mend the broken relationships with their parents, or they can stop abusing marijuana. These naturally contrived experiences out in the wilderness are some of the most powerful teaching tools in the world.

It was the same with this flash flood for me. 
I learned in my life that I can get through nearly anything after getting through that canyon. I learned that God never leaves me, even when things are harder than I ever imagined. I learned that life can be peaceful, calm, and sparkling with glitter one minute, only to be turned into a raging, muddy mess the next. It is in these moments that I've learned to rely completely on my faith in God to push me through, til I find that peaceful place again. I've learned to be strong, to be brave, and to use the strength and power that He gives me in my daily life.
After all, nobody can really save me from the storms I go through. I might get an optimistic "good luck",  but then it's up to me to push through to the end.
 I know for a fact that God is always with me, and his son Jesus Christ died for me so that He could save me and heal me from the storms of life.
He was with me on that day on the trail, and He is with me everyday as I push through the unexpected tough times as a wife, mother, and adult, in this ever-changing  world. 

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Beautiful Zion

Through my eyes there aren't many places more beautiful than Zion National Park. I am reminded of it's unique beauty every time we visit, not only because it is absolutely breathtakingly beautiful, but also because of the hundreds of other visitors who have traveled from all over the world just to see it! 

I try to identify the many foreign languages as we ride the shuttle through the park, and smile at the look of awe in the travelers eyes. I often imagine what they'll say when they return home to their home country (perhaps Germany, or Australia, or Columbia, or Japan...)
 "We had a great time in America, but the best part of the entire trip was Zion National Park!," they'd say. Then they'd pull out all their photos to prove to the world that Utah is as gorgeous as they just experienced. Only the photos won't do it the justification it deserves, because Zion is one of those places you have to see with your own eyes.
We are lucky to live just an hour 1/2 from here. This is our sacred haven. Our relief from the world. Our place of absolute peace and serenity. It's a special place for our family and one that will continue to impact our lives for years to come. My pictures don't do Zion justice, either, but they will always remind me of the memorable times we spend there as a family. 

These photos below are  from our most recent camping trip over fall break, where we camped in the park, hiked Emerald Pool Trail, skipped stones in the Virgin river, built mud castles, climbed rocks, rode the shuttle for fun,  and got cold for the first time since we moved back from Hawaii. 
(I almost didn't want to go camping because of the cold factor, but of course I was glad we went. Carpe Diem, I reminded myself. These days are too precious to miss!)

Come visit Zion. I promise, it's as good as they say. 

Monday, November 4, 2013

When Homeschooling isn't really the issue

This seems to happen more than I'd like and I'm not yet sure how to remedy the problem, however, sometimes writing things out brings new perspective and clarity to my mind. So that's what I am attempting here: I am attempting to understand why when I get so completely mentally and physically burnt out, my thoughts linger obsessively on sending my children away to school....
First I start to fantasize about all the wonderful things I could get done during the day; I start to envision myself organizing, cleaning, and feeling completely relaxed and rejuvenated in the quiet of my home. I envision the long, peaceful hours I would spend doing things that I love such as sewing, writing, reading, zumba classes, trail running, planning my Primary singing time, prepping delicious meals and snacks for my family, and maybe even a trip to a local cafe where I would sip on some herbal tea and chat with other adults. 
In having the freedom to do these things I would feel more like myself, feel more on top of things, be more healthy and fit, and overall feel more fulfilled as a mother and person.  All these things start to sound so wonderful as I look around at the reality of the chaos around me. 

At least it feels like chaos all around me when I have reached this state of complete mental and physical burnout. I am on edge. I am grumpy. I am yelling at my kids for all the little things that annoy me. My family is starting to feel like a huge blockade; something I have to push against and break down in order to find my happy center again. 
The boys seem to be whining and arguing more than normal, the dishes are piling up faster than normal, the weight of my responsibilities are feeling heavier than normal, and I then I  start to feel old. And maybe even fat. And this suffocating feeling starts to consume me until I am sobbing desperately and helplessly to my husband, yelling about everything that is wrong in my life, the most crucial problem being homeschooling. "It is sucking the life out of me!" I sob.

It's in this moment of darkness and desperation that I forget about all the other factors affecting my life:
 I forget that I am really tired. My three year old has been skipping his naps during the day, throwing tantrums, and then waking me up a lot lately in the night wanting milk-milk.  It's hard for both of us. And I forget that I am exhausted. We've had something social to attend every single night this week, and  I am tired of getting people ready and hustling the kids out the door. I am more than ready for quiet nights at home. And I forget that I am overwhelmed. It seems I've put too much on my plate (again) and it's time to rethink and re prioritize my priorities. And I forget that we've just adopted 2 puppies and 2 abandoned kitties in the last 2 months. They are a lot of work and have required more of my attention and  energy than I realized. 
With all this running around and busy-ness, it's no wonder I am feeling burnt out!
 Last and most importantly, I forget that the master destroyer doesn't want me to be happy. Satan will take any chance he gets to instill fear and desperation into my heart, in his efforts to bring me down to his own level of misery.

The next morning after my meltdown it is a Saturday. I get up early with the kids and make waffles, and let my husband sleep in. However, several minutes into the waffles he appears upstairs, telling me that I should  go exercise. 
"But I'm in the middle of cooking breakfast," I start to argue.
"Just go exercise," he says again. "You need to."

Suddenly I am running fast towards the mountains, our house quickly fading into the distance. The crisp, Autumn air is kissing my nose, and the wind is pushing gently behind me. The red rock trails are a ten minute walk away so I run faster. I can't wait to be all alone with nothing but the silence of the sandstone canyon and Juniper trees. When I reach the canyon, I run fiercely up my favorite hillside trail until I reach the top, totally out of breath, totally exhilarated, and totally FREE. I can see the entire valley below. The sun is starting to illuminate the city. I can feel my sad and tired soul filling with energy and light.

I come home smiling to an empty house because my husband has taken the boys grocery shopping. As I'm still feeling the endorphin rush from my run, I take this opportunity to clean and organize the house. It is quiet, and peaceful, and I am happy with the end results. I also have a little time leftover to read, so I catch up on some articles I'd been saving. 
I read:
The Lazy Girls Guide to Home Education by Kari Patterson
The Road Less Traveled By, by Jamie Martin
The Moral Force of Women, by Elder Todd. D. Christofferson
We are going to homeschool our kids...because we hate education, by Matt Walsh
On Toddlers and Tantrums, by (my beautiful friend)  Arianne Cope

I am suddenly filled with inspiration, hope, happiness, and even excitement to start the next homeschooling week with my children. 
I love homeschooling. My mind is filled with all these great ideas I'd like to implement, and books I'd like to check out, and with all these wonderful things I know my children will love to learn! I want to provide access to resources, create more order in my home, and allow my children the freedom to learn! I want to keep traveling on the road less traveled and find the beauty ahead! I want to be the powerful, moral force my children need in their lives! I want to provide opportunities for my children to have the freedom to learn, to follow their passions, and to be free from the demands of an overly-structured, forced, government education! I want to be more patient with the growing needs of my toddler and spend more time  with him at home.
I believe in homeschooling. God has told me again and again in my heart that this is the best decision for my children's mental, physical, and spiritual growth in life. I believe that it will not only benefit them, but can also bring fulfillment and happiness to me as their mother. I love my children with all my heart and despite the whiny, argumentative days, they are a joy to be around!
That draining, desperate feeling is now completely gone. I kneel down and pray and ask God to keep filling me up with His light. I need Him to remind me that everytime I get burnt out like this I need to take an entire morning to myself to spiritually, mentally, and physically recharge.
 I know in my heart that it isn't homeschooling that is sucking the life out of me, it is the overwhelming demands of life that is sucking the life out of me. 
Because, when I am fully charged up with goodness and hope, I can effectively organize and plan my life to be balanced and to include all the things I love (zumba, running, writing, sewing, food prep, planning time, husband time, adult chatting time) in small, reasonable quantities, without feeling suffocated and blaming it all on my kids.

Furthermore, I think homeschooling itself gets the blame because it is uncharted territory for me. I am doing something that nobody in my family or my husband's family has ever done before and it is often scary and lonely to follow that road less traveled. But I know it is the right road, especially when I am feeling right in the head. I also know that I need a community of supportive homeschooling families around me. I need their insights, knowledge, and nurturing in my life. I feel like we are still searching for our niche here. I am praying daily that we can surround ourselves with the people we need and who might even need us, too.

Thank you my dear, thoughtful husband for pushing me out the door to take time for myself....literally. You were right, I sure needed it.
And thank you God for always pushing me to stretch myself, even when it is really hard. I know that He sees the growth inside me and knows what the outcome will be. I just need to keep trusting Him to guide me and fill me with His light.