Sunday, November 22, 2009

Would you just hold still and smile?!

This evening we decided we would try to get some family pictures in our desert surrounding, so we grabbed our camera and tripod and headed for the foothills of the Catalina mountains. There is only a small window of time where you get great lighting during the morning and evening hours, and we were hoping to get enough shots during the evening hours to get something worthwhile.

We'll have to rethink that one. Bells and Erik decided not to listen to their parents' warnings to stay away from the cacti, and as a result, we all had a fairly miserable experience. Even if we had taken a photographer with us, we would have been lucky to get them both to smile at the same time. To add to the problems, I didn't use the remote, which meant that we never were positioned quite right. Oh well! At least with some photoshopping, blurring, and sepia-toning, the pictures are somewhat respectable. Now we just have to re-plan a trip to the foothills for another valiant effort--this time with a remote.



When the younger two would have no more of it, at least we were able to get Gabs to look at and smile for the camera.


And when the lighting was gone--which happened much too quickly, at least I could turn the camera on the desert sunset for a moment while Debs and Gabs herded the whining duo to the van!

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Trick-or-Treat

I used to always love dressing up for Halloween and going trick-or-treating. Obviously my children feel the same way. This last week we went to a trunk-or-treat activity a few days before Halloween where a lot of people from our local church parked their cars so all the kids could go around and get candy. Bells and Gabs both dressed up as witches and Erik was a little lion this year.

When we tried Erik's costume on him earlier in the month, he wasn't very fond of it.


He seems to have adjusted over the last few weeks.


Scott Evans put his head on a platter and the kids had to grab the candy surrounding his head. The message was clear, "You better not take more than one or he might bite your fingers!"

One lady had a cannon that she used to shoot out the candy.

The kids would then rush to pick it up. There was just one hitch. The cannon kept shooting the candy into a low-lying mesquite tree, and anyone that has been around a mesquite tree knows that they have sharp thorns that can grow to be several inches long.


I couldn't help but laugh at the little kids that would rush over to the mesquite tree and while repeatedly saying, "Ow!" or "Ouch!" they reached and stretched to get the candy from out of the tree. Anyway, it was fun until the kids started to ask an innocent bystander to fetch the candy for them--I was the bystander. After my hands and arms got more scratches than I cared to count, I started to use my feet to pull the candy out, thinking my jeans would protect me from the thorns. Nope! I was pulling thorns out of my pants the rest of the evening.

So let me explain why the candy kept getting shot into the mesquite. The lady wasn't out to get the children, she just didn't have anywhere else to shoot the cannon without having it hit the surrounding cars. If she pumped just a little air into the cannon, the candy would fall on the ground right in front of the cannon and the kids would be bumping into it. Very rarely was she able to find the happy medium that would make the candy land just in front of the mesquite. Gabs' favorite moment was when the candy flew into the tree, scaring a black cat out like it was a horse breaking out of the gates at the Kentucky Derby.

On Halloween night, Debs and the kids made caramel apples, mummy dogs, and cheese-stick fingers. Although it's hard to remember just how much I enjoyed Halloween growing up, I think I enjoyed watching my kids more than going trick-or-treating myself. I'm looking forward to next year!


Sunday, October 18, 2009

Daddy-Daughter Campout

This last Friday evening our church hosted a daddy-daughter campout at Camp Zion. The camp is a little higher than 7,000 feet above sea level, and considering the exceptionally warm weather in Tucson over the last few days, Gabs, Bells, and I welcomed the chance to get out of Tucson for a while. I especially looked forward to the trip, since it would allow me to leave all my work behind me for a little while and spend time with the girls.

We started the trip on the wrong foot, unable to find the campsite. Luckily we managed to get cell-phone reception and get some directions from Debs. When we finally arrived, we went straight to the lodge and decorated sugar cookies with frosting, candy corn, and licorice.

The weather was great, but Gabs and Bells, having spent the last three years of their lives in Tucson, were a little chilly. It proved to be a long night with potty trips to the nearest latrine and Bells getting cold on numerous occasions after getting outside of her sleeping bag, but morning finally came, and with it, a spectacular sunrise (unfortunately, I didn't have my camera with me when it was at its best). This picture looks out over Tucson after most the color in the sky had already faded.


From the feel of things, I believe it must have warmed up some during the night. That comes as no surprise, however, since temperatures in Tucson for October 17, 2009 climbed up to 99 degrees, which broke the record high for the date by three degrees. If it had climbed one degree higher, it would have set a record in Tucson for reaching 100° at the latest time of the year in recorded history.

As Gabs and Bells went to play with some friends, I spent the next twenty to thirty minutes packing things up and taking the tent down. As I was folding up the tent I saw numerous crickets and bugs that had decided to bed down underneath us. The last critter I saw as I was brushing off the bottom of the tent made me a little more wary than the others. Since moving to Tucson, this small scorpion is the first I have seen in the wild. Apparently I don't get out enough, because I've only seen one tarantula too.


We I enjoyed the breakfast burritos and fruit that was provided for breakfast, and then we traipsed around the mountain playing tetherball and horseshoes. Gabs, who has seen a lot of pictures of my childhood, immediately recognized tetherball as the game I used to play when I was younger. Now when she is older, her kids will be able to say the same thing about her. It's too bad tetherball isn't more popular!

Before heading down the mountain, we hiked to Inspiration Rock and found a little tunnel in it that we could crawl through. As you can see from the girls' faces, it was quite the adventure!

The winding road down the mountain made Bells sick, so we made several stops to enjoy the scenery.
All in all, we had a great time and we're looking forward to our next grand adventure!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Valued Friends

A little over three years ago we moved to Arizona so I could attend graduate school at the University of Arizona. Previously, my wife and I had been attending Brigham Young University. During that time we met the Yancey family, and I even participated in the production of a play that Jason Yancey directed. He was a year ahead of me in school and ended up going to the University of Arizona a year ahead of me. So, for the last three years I have been the beneficiary of someone who figuratively took me under his wing, helping me prepare for deadlines and deal with the stresses of graduate school. Since he was a year ahead of me, I could always go to him if I had questions about classes I was taking, paperwork that I needed to turn in, or to learn about deadlines that were occasionally so "transparent" that you would never know about them unless someone told you about them. Now that Jason has graduated and the Yanceys have moved on, we are left wondering how we ever would have managed without them. Hopefully, we can be the same type of friend to others as they were to us. So, thanks, Jason and Aleece, for being such good friends. Thanks also to our many other friends. We hope you're all doing well!!!

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Fairy Magic

Fawndear has enchanted our daughters with her fairy adventures. Things went into high gear when they watched Tinkerbell just before our trip to Disneyland back in May. They were delighted to meet Tinkerbell and Rosetta while at Disneyland, and since then they have made fairy traps, fairies, and tickets to fairy land--which they plan on redeeming as soon as Gabs loses a tooth. This is how it works: The tickets aren't any good unless they can get them to a fairy. So Gabs plans on putting them in an envelope with her soon-to-be lost tooth. The Tooth Fairy will then see them, read them, and then take them to visit the fairies.

During the last month or two, they have created fairies at pixiehollow.com, where they can choose the color of eyes, skin complexion, dress color, leg and arm position, etc., etc. etc. They have given their fairies names like Emerald Twinkletoes, Flora Flutterflower, Sunflower Prettyshimmer, Twilight Candleglow, and Windy Roseflower.

When they put up a fairy trap (a doll's bed and doll dinnerware) it took a fairy nearly a month to come sleep in the bed and leave behind pixie dust (glitter). The girls were so excited you would have thought it was Christmas.

In addition to all this, they are always drawing fairies or making wands of light like those in Barbie and the Magic of Pegasus. This last July Gabs had a fairy birthday party where she and her friends all got fairy wings, which they decorated with glitter and plastic jewels. It's great to see the girls' imagination at work!

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Look out!

The last few weeks our son has begun to do a lot of new things. Perhaps his favorite thing to do is imitate others. After Gabs went around the house spraying everyone with a spray bottle, he found the bottle, and pointing it at us, he used his mouth to imitate the sound of the bottle when it sprays.

In a similar scenario, the girls like to throw me kisses after I put them to bed at night or when I'm about to leave to work and school. I act like they are throwing things at me and dodge out of the way. Erik was always "safe," so if I was holding him, their kisses wouldn't affect me. Well, now he has followed suit by throwing kisses of his own. Now I can't even turn to him for help; however, I'm not the only one that has to be careful with the kid. The girls have always loved to dress him up and continue to do so whenever they can.


And even though he doesn't have a whole lot of say in it still, I don't think it will be long before he can hold his own.

video

Sunday, August 16, 2009

A Piece of History

This summer Debs and I read all nine of Laura Ingalls' Little House books to our kids. It was fascinating even for us as parents. I ended up going through my grandparents' picture book, their life history, and some license plates from the farm where my paternal grandpa grew up (I was also raised there).
Years ago, right before I went to what was then Ricks College, I went into an old wood shed behind our house (at one time the homestead used before the main farmhouse was built) and grabbed three license plates from a collection of about forty or fifty--two of which are pictured above. The third, and perhaps my favorite comes from 1928. Unfortunately, I don't have it with me. It's still packed away with my things at my parents' place in Idaho, but it looks like the following plate with numbers imprinted over a large potato--yep Idaho was even famous for potatoes back then.

So, where am I going with this? Well, I served a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Spain for two years shortly after that and somehow never thought to go back and grab the rest of the plates before the farm was sold. I thought each of my siblings might like to have an old, framed license plate from the farm where they grew up, so I resolved to contact the current owner to see if I could purchase some of them. However, when I talked with my mom about my idea, she indicated that they had been sold along with numerous other antiques, tools, and odds and ends; the proceeds of which were to be divided equally between my father and his siblings. Although I'm glad to have the three that I grabbed years ago, I'm disappointed that my brother and sisters won't enjoy the same fortune. I guess those things happen with inheritance.

If I'm not mistaken, the first plates issued in Idaho came out in 1913. I'll probably never know if there was one from that year in my grandpa's collection of plates. My grandpa, who passed away while I was serving my mission in Spain, turned eight years old right after the 1916 plate pictured here came out. In my grandpa's life history, he talks about his "eighth year" and of harrowing in the fields behind a pair of horses, while his father built their house (the house in which I grew up). I've since thought of all the other license plates and the stories from my grandpa's life history that are associated with the years they came out. While it is unfortunate that they will not stay in the family, there is a comical side to all this.

Last Sunday I showed the 1916 license plate to my kids and told them that it was almost 100 years old. Gabs, who just turned six this summer, querried, "From when you were little?" She seems bound and determined to make me out as being older than I really am.

Earlier in the summer, just after we had read Little House in the Big Woods we enjoyed a night together as a family discussing how journals and photo albums help us know our ancestors better. I showed Debs and the kids some pictures taken when my parents were younger with just two or three kids. One of the pictures shows a deer that my dad shot one year during hunting season. That of course led to an explanation about how I used to go hunting each year with my family during the deer hunt, which provided our family with meat for the following year. Gabs seemed to be quite fascinated with the concept, and, more as a comment than a question, she said, "Just like Laura's [Ingalls] dad from Little House in the Big Woods." Both Debra and I confirmed her statement, and with her eyes opening wide, she said, "Whoa! You lived a long time ago!"

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Tucson is the top go-to place for simpler living . . . or so they say

About a week ago I was reading in USA Today when I stumbled across an article that caught my eye. The article mentioned that according to the AARP Tucson is the top place to go for simpler living. Apparently the AARP came up with the top twenty-five cities and then picked out some from all the different regions of the U.S. to make sure all areas were represented. They created a "stress index" based on crimes, depression, proximity to a university, affordability, and the multi-cultural feel. They interviewed the mayor, who says he is the mayor of paradise. According to him, Tucson has the highest quality of life of any city in the country, thanks in part to its temperate climate and low crime rate.

"Wow! You've got to be kidding!" I thought. Is this the same Tucson where I live? It had to be. Along with the article it had a picture of the Catalina mountains covered with snow (something that you don't see much here). Thought after thought passed through my mind such as a quote that I have heard attributed to J. Golden Kimball, "If I had a summer home in Tucson and one in Hell, I'd sell the home in Tucson and move to Hell." William Tecumseh Sherman, who succeeded Ulysses S. Grant as the Commanding General of the army, having a similar perception of the region, said, "We had one war with Mexico to take Arizona, and we should have another to make her take it back."

Today I heard someone quote a song that reflected our thoughts about the weather, "Spring has sprung / Fall has fell / Summer is here / and it's hotter than . . . usuel." With the 108° weather we had in Tucson today, combined with the fact that the air conditioner at the church didn't work, you might understand how it was almost hot enough to make a saint swear (but not quite)!

In the last month, we have only had nine days at or above 107° according to the historical weather data on kold.com. That's accompanied by seventeen days of balmy weather between 100° and 106°. We even had one day top out at a frigid 95°--but that's the exception. On February 23rd of this year we had already topped the ninety degree plateau at 91°, so yes, if you compare us to Phoenix or Death Valley, which usually top us by about five or six degrees, we have quite the temperate climate.

As for the crime rate. Well, last Monday at least four vehicles had their windows smashed in just a block to the north of us. While that may sound pretty bad, it's been a full three months since four vehicles on our street had their windows smashed out. Also on Monday, a friend of mine had his bike stolen after someone cut his bike lock, and it's been over a year since I've had a bike stolen from me. Debs just finished serving on the jury in a first-degree murder trial, but that doesn't happen often--there were only 73 murders in Tucson last year. Per capita that's quite mild, compared with . . . say, Ciudad Jaurez. If you look at the per capita rate of crime compared with other cities in the U.S. you will see that Tucson is quite comparable. Compared with the number four city on AARP's list; Logan, Utah, you can see that Tucson holds its own. There are only five times as many murders per capita. If you live in Tucson, you're only 28 times more likely to have your car stolen, 25.4 times more likely to be the victim of a robbery, or 8.99 times more likely to be the victim of aggravated assault. Take a look for yourself. I've also included El Paso--once again, you are only five times more likely to be murdered in Tucson and just 2.4 times more likely to have your car stolen in Tucson.


Logan/Tucson crime rates El Paso/Tucson Crime
Rates

If you take a look at the map showing the crimes/activity reported in Tucson on July 27, you'll see that it's a rather quiet city. If you take a look at the last fourteen days, you'll see an artistic canvas with a few unpainted spots (largely gated communities). These maps only show the crimes that the Tucson City Police dealt with--they don't include the University Police, the South Tucson Police, or even the County Police. Having said that, however, I bet you still can't locate the University on the two week crime map. I've removed the "suspicious activity" from the two week map to remove a layer of paint that would cover everything else.


So, congratulations to us, we live in the city of simpler living where you don't have to wait long before someone knocks out your car windows or steals your bike. If you want to get rid of all that excess in your life, come to Tucson, there seem to be plenty of people that will gladly take it off your hands.

Ok, so maybe I've been overly sarcastic and negative about Tucson, but when a mayor blindly overlooks some things in his community (i.e. crime), it kind of gets your gander up, particularly when we have been the victim of it several times--whereas before, I cannot recall ever being the victim of such crimes.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Family Home Evening at the Drive-in Theater

This last Monday we went to the one drive-in theater in Tucson--the De Anza. In nearly three years in Tucson, it was just the second time our family has gone to the drive-in theater. As long as you have a moderately good movie at the drive-in, the ambiance will make up for the rest. In our case, we watched Up and Earth. With the back of our van facing the big screen, we took the back seat out and placed it behind the van. While Debs and I sat on the seat, our two girls sat in their car seats or lay in the back of the van with their pillows and blankets. Erik slept for a good part of the first movie, which allowed us to actually watch and enjoy it. With our four pound tub of Redvines licorice, a few bags of microwave popcorn, and some water, we had a very enjoyable evening.

On the downside, the battery to our vehicle died halfway through the second feature, and we had to wait until it was over for another viewer to come help us jump start it. In the past I have recommended using earplugs when going to watch a NASCAR, now I'm going to make a few suggestions about going to a drive-in theater. Take jumper cables--almost nobody has them in their cars these days and good luck finding an employee at the drive-in theater after they close concessions. Also, you might want to turn your vehicle on for a few minutes between features. Or you could just take a radio or walkman powered by batteries.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Rolling with the Punches

Well, I have held this post for a few weeks trying to decide if I should publish it to the Internet or not, due to its somewhat pessimistic tone, but I finally decided to do it anyway. So here goes!

The last three years that our family has lived in Tucson has been a learning experience for our family. During our first couple years we had a window broken out of our car and a bike stolen. Since March of this year, the crime and vandalism on our street and neighborhood, which generally seems to be very quiet, has shot through the roof. When I returned from a conference held in El Paso, Texas, I found our car had been egged. A little while later someone came during the night and smashed the windows on four cars parked along our street. Fortunately, our car was passed over this time. Graffiti has also become much more visible in the area. The stop sign at the end of the street was recently sprayed over, as were some telephone and electrical boxes. Some brick walls to a nearby church and a house were also tagged. Fortunately, those were cleaned by the church and resident almost immediately. While my wife and I have always been cognizant of the high crime rate in Tucson--made abundantly clear by the regular flyovers made over the surrounding neighborhoods by the police helicopter with its spotlight on, we are clearly concerned with how quickly it has grown in our neighborhood. To make matters worse, Debs discovered this last week that one of her little-used credit cards was stolen and used. Most people we speak to in Tucson have been victims of one crime or another over the last couple of years. Those that seem to escape them generally are in the more affluent areas to the north and east.

So what's the solution. Do you have to live in a gated community with cameras and a security guard to escape the stupidity of some teenager that was raised poorly? Do you have to lock everything not bolted down to keep drug addicts or "opportunists" from walking away with it to make a quick buck?

If that's the answer, I'm not sure what we would decide to do. Yes, we would like to escape as much as possible the dishonest and immoral practices of a growing segment of society, but at the same time, at what point are you overdoing it? At what point do you become so isolationist that you are no longer an influence for good in society?

Sunday, May 31, 2009

A Week in Anaheim

This last week we went to Anaheim to go to Disneyland and California Adventure Land. For family members that receive a weekly e-mail from me, much of what I write here will sound a lot like our weekly family e-mail. For those who don't receive our weekly e-mails, I'll try to spare you some of the details.

With a five-year-old daughter, a three-year-old daughter, and a fourteen-month-old son, you can imagine some of the challenges the trip posed for us. Fortunately, we were able to play Disney movies in our van as we made the seven-and-a-half-hour trip (it was actually a couple hours longer due to some stops we had to make and some heavy traffic as we neared our destination). Additionally, we had to walk about a mile to get to the park. Two of the kids generally rode in our double stroller, while the other often rode on my shoulders.

After checking into our hotel on the afternoon of Memorial Day, we made the walk to Disneyland, where we finally revealed the destination to our children. While it was a great surprise for them, we aren't sure what is better--the surprise or letting them know well in advance so the anticipation builds up. What do you think?

We had a great time meeting Disney characters throughout the week and getting their signatures and pictures. The longest line we waited in all week was the one to meet different Disney princesses (An hour and a half). While Debs waited in line, I took the kids to the It's a Small World ride and then I switched places with her. We were fortunate to be in the right place at the right time. We were visiting with Mulan when Princess Aurora came to take her place, so the girls got to see four princesses instead of three.




Since Gabs was the only one tall enough of our kids to go on several of the rides, we used Bells' ticket to get an extra Fastpass to allow us to skip the long lines. That way either Debs or I could go with her on some of the rides while the other took Bells and Erik to more suitable rides for their age. Gabs would literally skip from one ride to the next, and was constantly talking. Both Debs and I were glad to finally get the chance to give our children some one-on-one quality time. It was like Christmas every day for an entire week.

There was one ride at Disneyland that Gabs couldn't ride, since she didn't meet the height requirements. It was the Indiana Jones Adventure ride. Debs rode it by herself, while I took the kids to another ride, and then I rode on it. Halfway into the ride, the truck in front of use broke down. Consequently, we sat in our truck, unable to unbuckle, for half an hour. They finally escorted us out on foot, giving us a Fastpass good for any ride in the park for up to six people. While I enjoyed the part of the ride that I was able to do, I realized that it was not nearly as fun as when I rode with my daughter or family. Both Debs and I enjoyed seeing our kids' excitement much more than the rides themselves.




As for how we afforded to make such a trip on such a small budget, Debs found a great five-day deal for a hotel and park-hopper passes that included a $50 gift card. In addition to the things we bought with the gift card, she also brought Disney games and toys that she had found on clearance during the last year. To further help a budget strapped family, she started experimenting with recipes she found online for our rice cooker. Yes, rice cookers can cook a lot more than just rice.

On Saturday, after checking out of our hotel, we went to Huntington Beach for a little more than an hour, so our children could see the ocean for the first time and collect seashells.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Kindergarten Graduation

This week Gabs graduated from Kindergarten. Her class put on a great program with several songs and dances that were absolutely adorable. Afterward we got to watch a slide show of the year in review. It's amazing how much she has grown in the last eight or nine months. It's also amazing how much she has grown since she was born nearly six years ago. It seems that from here on out, our lives will be marked by a series of milestones leading to the day that our kids will be all grown up and moving out of the house . . ., but we're going to enjoy experiencing each of those milestones with our children! We are grateful to be so blessed!

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Developing Our Talents

Anyone that knows our oldest daughter, Gabs, knows that she loves to make cards for other people. Often she will make drawings for them, or she will cut the paper out in some shape and write something on it. In the past that has meant that our envelopes or colored paper have mysteriously disappeared whenever she got the urge to make cards.

This last week Gabs decided she wanted to cut out heart shapes.
Bells, her younger sister, naturally wants to do everything her big sister does, so she also wielded a pair of scissors and started cutting. The result...well, anyone that remembers being young knows that for some reason or other it just seems impossible to learn how to cut out or draw a perfectly-shaped heart or star. Completely frustrated with her attempts to make a heart, Bells burst into tears and sought solace in her mother's shoulder. After receiving the much-needed comfort, she went back to the drawing board and devised a new design. A little while later she had a card for Debs and myself, which she hand delivered. She proudly announced that she had made us each a pair of panties. She had found a design that she could master.