Lessons Learned in 2018

We’re only a week into 2018 and already, the future is much brighter and more challenging than ever! In addition to starting a new job next week, here are a few lessons learned in 2018:

1) Grandpa Smith. We found out on New Year’s Eve that Jamie’s 90-year-old Grandpa Smith passed away. He has been steadily declining for some time now and when you’re so advanced in age, death becomes a celebration of life, not a time of mourning. I’ll write a separate post about some of the sweet moments from the funeral but he truly was such a man of honor with a tremendous legacy.

2) President Monson. A few days later, our beloved prophet, President Thomas S. Monson, passed away. He was also 90 years old and there have been so many remarkable tributes flooding the news and my social media channels. His entire ministry was dedicated to the motto “To the Rescue,” a lesson he learned early-on:

 More than half a century before he became the 16th president of the LDS Church, Thomas S. Monson, who died at 10:01 p.m. Tuesday in his Salt Lake City home at age 90, was an inexperienced, 23-year-old Mormon bishop with a distressing problem that would define his life.

He had the distinct spiritual prompting to leave a priesthood leadership meeting as his stake president was speaking and visit an elderly member of his congregation in the hospital. It seemed rude to stand, shuffle over 20 people and exit as his presiding leader spoke. Instead, he sat uncomfortably until the talk ended, then bolted for the door before the closing prayer.

At the hospital, he ran down the corridor. He stopped when he saw commotion outside the room of the man he was to visit. A nurse told him the man had died, calling Bishop Monson’s name as he passed away. Shattered, the fledgling bishop went outside and wept, sobbing. He vowed then, in the parking lot of the old Veterans Hospital in Salt Lake City’s Avenues, that he would never turn a deaf ear to another prompting.

“It’s the most impressive story I know from him about his ministry to the one,” said Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the church’s Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. “As far as I know he kept that promise ever since. It became fundamentally characteristic of his life and what sets him apart from others, that he committed to this idea of following a prompting, and the focus almost always was a single person.” -Deseret News

3) Porter. Our season passes for Park City Mountain have black-out dates during busy times that included Christmas. The first chance we got to hit the slopes also happened to be the last day of winter break so we invited our good friends to join us. Their two children, Porter and Kallie, are around my kids’ same ages and ability levels so it’s a great fit!

We were about 1.5 hours into our ski day racing down Kokopelli when I noticed a child had crashed in a sign. I quickly slowed down and was horrified to realize it was Porter and he was badly injured. He’s a tough kid and an incredible athlete so I knew if he was crying, it had to be serious. His mom Julie and I quickly went into action. I called 911 while she embraced Porter and whispered a prayer in his ear. He immediately calmed down and Park City’s Ski Patrol was there in minutes to administer to him and take him down the mountain in the toboggan. He was raced to Primary Children’s Hospital and they were relieved his femur wasn’t broken and he had a deep muscle contusion diagnosis, which means 1-2 months of healing but no surgery.

During all the chaos following the crash, my kids and I patiently stood by for a long time, unable to do much besides calm Kallie down and steer skiers away. Julie tried to send us home but I refused in case she needed additional help. Later that night, she texted me:

Thank you for saying ‘I am not leaving you.’ That was just what I needed.

My response to her was:

And thank you for making it a sacred moment by fervently praying over your boy and so beautifully showing us how we should all react to hard things.

One crash, two very important life lessons learned.

 

Alta Ski Area to the Max

Do you remember last year when we were maximum interlodged (a.k.a. snowed in) at Alta Ski Area due to avalanche danger? That article is live today!

We are holed away at Alta Ski Area in Utah as the wind and snow howl, the only visibility the distant light of the snowcats grooming the 36 inches of snow from the latest storm…and more is expected the next day. The kids are nervous; they’ve never skied conditions like this. When we arrived, tales were flying from real-life storm chasers of epic powder and the previous day’s “interlodge” where people were required by law to stay indoors as avalanche crews blasted the hanging faces of Little Cottonwood Canyon. One thing is for sure: these kiddos will never forget their first time attempting Alta’s legendary powder.

Many years ago, I worked as the publicist for Snowbird Ski and Summer Resort but here’s my secret: I always preferred skiing its next door neighbor, Alta. Located 45 minutes from Salt Lake City International Airport, Alta is literally a mountain with a skier’s soul and is one of the fewest remaining resorts that bans snowboarders. It’s also one of the oldest ski areas in the country, opening its first lift in 1939 and continuing to evolve while staying true to its roots: deep, unadulterated snow without the fancy bells and whistles. Alta is for purists who don’t care about 5-star accommodations and the nightlife; its magic happens during the day. CLICK TO KEEP READING

 

Two Years Ago Today

Today’s Facebook memory brought me back to when it all began.

Two years ago today, I woke up thinking it was just another day. It was a Saturday and our dear friend Anna, who had been baptized the year prior, was going through the temple for the first time.

Two years ago today, I was standing in the Celestial Room surrounded by dear friends and thought my heart would burst with how much I loved them all…and how perfect our Colorado life was.

Two years ago today, I was sitting at my computer later that afternoon and received the very strong prompting to look for real estate in “Soldier Hollow.”

Two years ago today as I did that preliminary search, I already knew this was to be our new path.

Two years ago today as I sat at our ward Christmas party that night, I sobbed knowing it would be our final one with the dearest friends and congregation I had ever known.

It would take almost another year for this prompting to come to fruition.  What has awaited us in Utah has been an eye-opening, life-altering, trajectory-yanking journey that has been so thoroughly challenging yet filled with faith and miracles as we’ve been launched into a new world with emergent teenagers.

And I can’t help but wonder where we’ll be in 2019, two years from today.

 

November: It’s a wrap (except I have yet to wrap up August, September, or October)

It would appear I’m down to weekly updates these days so I’ll take what I can get, especially with the busy holidays coming up. In 2018, my resolution is to do better! Here’s the ’411.’

Thanksgiving was great despite the fact it’s probably my least favorite holiday. Football. Food I don’t like (except for the pies and rolls). But it’s sure nice to have Jamie’s family in Salt Lake City. We had a nice, leisurely day eating, playing Pictionary and watching movies because nothing says “Happy Thanksgiving” like watching Poltergeist. For Black Friday, Jamie’s mom took Hadley shopping (bless her heart) while Jamie and I hit a few stores. No, we’re not those crazies who get up at dawn to fight the crowds but went to stores like Ross and TJ Maxx that were ghost towns. We need to take full advantage of every opportunity when we’re in the “big city.”

After shopping, I took Jamie’s sister hiking with Jamie, Bode and me. I lived in SLC for five years after college and was a trail-running beast–I knew every single trail along the Wasatch Front during those glory days. I was going to take them up one of my favorite hikes, the Living Room, but Lisa doesn’t hike much so we opted for something a bit more mild behind Red Butte Gardens. Until Jamie and Bode thought it would be a good idea to take a sketchy trail straight down to the base. Lisa did fine; I almost died (worst knee pain ever). I didn’t take any pictures because I was too busy yelling at Jamie but this is a collage Lisa posted.

I’m still actively searching for a part-time job. Business is still going well for Mile High Mamas and I’m loving all the VIP holiday invites and travel gigs I continue to pass up.  I’m not good in this waiting place–I’d rather delve in head-first, particularly when we’re under so many financial strains like needing to buy a new car. We’ve proven we can mostly get by as a one-car family but winter driving and my out-of-commission Pilot will be another story completely. My friend Kelly is a Presidential Diamond doTerra rockstar who is drowning with work and a move next month so I offered to help out in December. It’s a win-win. She needs assistance, I need some extra cash.

Related: Remember that BYU job they assured me was mine? I was curious to see who they hired instead. They were looking for a writing ventriloquist (someone who could write in several voices for different shows/series, be engaging, funny, etc.) so I tracked down some of their material and it was so bland, boring and BLAH that I could’t believe I was beat out by such a terrible writer. I’m not sure if that makes me happy or sad. Mostly sad because it really was the perfect position for me.

We moved into our house a little over a year ago and I still miss our Colorado friends like crazy. We have friends, even some good friends, but they just don’t socialize like we did in Colorado. I’m not sure if it’s because people have larger families or are busier here but I’ve struggled that we don’t have adventure buddies. Ninety-nine percent of the time, I’m the one doing the inviting and I’m burned out from always being That Person. So, I was thrilled when my friend Sarah invited us and another family to her Uncle Brandt’s cabin overlooking the Tetons in Idaho. That trip deserves a separate post unto itself but it has been one of my favorite adventures since moving here.

BYU has had one of its worst seasons in their football history so we didn’t buy tickets (and really, who could top last year’s AMAZING EXPERIENCE?) However, my friend Julie called me at the last minute and offered up her tickets. The conversation went like this:

Me: “Jamie, how busy are you today?” Him: “Really busy.” Me: “That’s too bad because Julie just called and wants to know if we can use her BYU football tickets. The game starts in an hour.” Him: “EVERYONE GET READY. WE HAVE TO GO NOWWW!!!”

 

Fortunately, BYU’s basketball team is doing much better. Jamie’s dad has season passes so we recently enjoyed a nice date night. I really like this guy despite the fact I’m a sports widow when both football and basketball are in season. And that he takes me down precipitous cliffs. 

Utah has no snow. I won’t expound any further upon my displeasure. A few weeks ago, we attended the Winter Kick-off Party at Park City Mountain. The free eats and alpine coasters confirmed we’re THOSE people who scream at anyone ahead of us who dares to brake. 

I’m trying to make lemonade despite my lack of lemons. Jamie and I did a lunchtime hike at Soldier Hollow this week (where Bode is supposed to start ski lessons in a few weeks). It’s lookin’…BROWN.

This photo was taken moments before the wipeout of a lifetime and a sprained arm from playing Pokémon Go a.k.a. Blood Sport.

Some of my favorite hikes are the ones no one knows about and my friend Mindi is the Queen of Off the Beaten Path! I was so happy to hike Sid’s Canyon with these fellow Colorado-turned-Utah gals…even if the steep climbs kicked my butt.

And today, I went mountain biking. I have a map that says there is a perimeter trail around Jordanelle Reservoir but my explorations navigating broken bridges, streams, mud pits and ice in the Rock Cliffs area testified otherwise.

 

“That Amber, she sure is a smart girl.” #saidnoonever .

P.S. I’m totally bringing my kids back there.

Stanley B. Visits Utah!

On October 8, we celebrated our 1-year anniversary for moving into our house. It was also Canadian Thanksgiving so nothing says “Happy Thanksgiving/1-Year Housewarming quite like our favorite dish from our local Mexican restaurant: The mighty Molcajete.

My mom is no longer able to travel and my dad has been her full-time caregiver for quite some time. My brother Jade, his boys and his new bride moved back home while Jade looks for a job so there was a small window of opportunity for Dad to come visit. My sister-in-law Jane helped in the evenings after work and I’m super grateful to everyone who pitched in because we had a really wonderful visit. My dad spends so much of his life taking care of everyone else so it was nice to give him a break.

The great thing about my dad is he’s super low-maintenance and we both love the outdoors so he was easily entertained. The colors were peaking in the mountains so he witnessed some serious fall splendor.

Day 1

Arrival, tour of Midway and drive up Memorial Hill.

Day 2

The weather forecast was iffy for the first several days so when we saw a window of opportunity, we took it to bike Provo Canyon Parkway to Bridal Veil Falls. Some of my favorite memories with Dad are of biking Calgary’s extensive network of bike paths so it was fun to share with him one of mine. That night, he treated us to dinner at Tucanos Brazilian Grill in Orem. 

 

Day 3

The Pumpkin Party!!!!!!!!!!

Day 4

The pumpkin weigh-off. Jamie took us to dinner at Tarahumara Mexican Restaurant to celebrate. And yes, that’s a giant pear. Pumpkins aren’t the only things that can be grown BIG!

Day 5

Church and SNOW?! This put a damper on our plans to see the Kokanee salmon run that afternoon but believe me when I say it worked out for the best.

Day 6

This was my favorite day! Due to our weather delay, we decided to drive up to Strawberry Reservoir on Monday to catch a glimpse of the Kokanee salmon run. If we had gone at any other time, we would have seen some of the salmon in the Strawberry River next to the visitor center (pretty cool) but because we went at this exact time, we got an in-depth look at the process in the Catch House (really cool).

There are only two mornings open for the public to access their fish trap station and it was FASCINATING to see the hundreds of bright red fish. We piggy-backed on an elementary school’s tour and listened as DWR biologists talked about the peculiar life cycle of the fish and how the Kokanee usually spawn when they are four years old and die quickly thereafter. As the fish instinctively swim up the river, they are caught in the trapping station and the male and females are separated until they’re ready to spawn. Since the females are going to die anyway, they are cut open and the eggs are squeezed out. They then take the males and squeeze the milt out of their bellies and fertilize the eggs.  In the wild, the average female has 1,200 eggs but only two survive in the wild. Through this process, there is a 98 percent survival rate that helps guarantee the survival species in Strawberry Reservoir.

eggs

One of Dad’s must-do activities was a leisurely soak in the Homestead Carter, a geothermal spring hidden in a 55-foot tall beehive-shaped limestone rock formation so the kids joined us after school.

To top off the day, we participated in the final Monday Midway Cruiser Cruise of the season. Every Monday night May through September, people in our quirky town gather for a casual bike ride on the beautiful country roads. For the final ride of the season, organizers christened it “The Bike Prom” and it was so fun to see all the awesome costumes. Jamie called me a flamingo but Hadley’s friend Zoe said I looked like a 1980s princess with this ugly outfit I found at the local thrift store.

Day 7

For Dad’s final full day, we did the Park City tour! We drove up Guardsman Pass with the oaks and maples positively on fire, cutting over to Park City where we strolled along the Poison Creek Trail past Shoe Tree Park and cutting over to historic Main Street. We had a late lunch at Cafe Zupas before heading back to Midway.

I love love love showing off our beautiful cut of paradise and I’m so grateful my dad was able to catch a glimpse.

 

iFLY Utah: Indoor Skydiving at its Best

In early June, I planned to surprise the kids with iFLY Utah: Indoor Skydiving but then Hadley broke her arm. I held onto the secret and finally surprised them a couple of weeks ago. We played 20 questions leading up to our visit.

“Is it outdoors?” No.

“Is it adventurous?” Yes.

“Does it involve heights?” Well, kind of but I said “no” because heights were minimal compared to the real thing.

On the 1.5-hour drive to the iFLY Utah location in Ogden, I finally told them so they could take that time to mentally prepare. They were both enthused. “I’ve always wanted to try that,” Hadley raved as we watched a YouTube video of kids in flight.

iFLY indoor skydiving is the perfect way to experience the freedom of flight without jumping from a plane. This indoor flight facility in Ogden offers the simulation of true freefall conditions in a vertical wind tunnel, with room for parties, meetings and even lessons. Upon checking in, we went through a brief training session where we were tutored on two important things: 1) Keep your chin up and 2) Hold still, which is no small feat in a flight chamber with up to 150 mph winds. We learned four hand signals our instructor would be using to communicate and got outfitted in our flight suit, goggles, helmet and earplugs.

Prior to our session, we watched experienced indoor skydivers flip, twist and spin and I was excited to make my own attempts…until I realized as a rookie, my challenge was just to learn to simply fly on the wall-to-wall cushion of air. Our group entered our “wind tunnel” waiting area and one-by-one, we were given a 1-minute turn in the flight chamber. As I stood at the open door to the flight chamber, I suddenly felt anxious but my fears were assuaged when my instructor motioned for me to lean forward…and I was immediately flying as he closely monitored my every move.

A traditional freefall out of a plane lasts anywhere from 45-60 seconds and we had that amount of time to make our own attempt. Initially, I felt like a failed superhero as my arms and legs flailed in the wind but I quickly remembered to keep my chin up and relax…and I was able to fly on my own. It was one of the most exhilarating feelings in the world to give up control and just trust the wind.

For our second attempt, our instructor had a surprise for us–the first 30 seconds we flew on our own but for the second half, he grabbed onto us and we soared up, down and around the chamber with giant sweeping motions. I felt like a bird in flight dive-bombing for my food and just as we were about the hit the bottom net, we effortlessly soared to new heights again.

My kids had very different experiences. From the moment my 13-year-old daughter entered the chamber, she felt empowered and electrified as she quickly learned to surf the wind (and is now begging me to take lessons). Eleven-year-old Bode, traditionally more cautious, struggled to fly on his own and the instructor was constantly tweaking his position (which happened with most of the younger kids).  He was fighting off tears as he waited for his second session and he divulged his frustration: he couldn’t understand what his instructor was telling him to do. I advised him to just relax and let the wind do all the work. On his second attempt, he did much better and finally caught a glimpse of what it felt like to soar.

We were not able to take bring our camera into the wind tunnel so be sure to bring someone who can take pictures for you or buy the $15 DVD of your experience (so worth it). Really, the only downside to our adventure is we did the introductory 2-flight package for $59.98, which sounds like enough until you realize each “flight” is only one minute long.

But rest assured, it was two minutes we’ll never forget.

The Climb

My entire life has been spent barreling forward without much of a plan but pouncing on each new opportunity as it came. Hard work was always rewarded with open doors and I expected the same revelatory experience that brought us to Utah to also determine my new direction.

But here I am, making an unholy mess with my clumsiness and am trying to practice forgiveness for not having it all figured out.

Talking to my dear friend Lisa last weekend was a reminder to not settle for the quick fix and that the rebuilding process will take much longer without any guaranteed rewards but the risk is worth it…because that is who I am. A year ago we were living on a wing and a lot of prayers as we prepared to leave a life we loved without knowing why. And now I’m back to to trusting that it won’t always feel this way and to just keep moving forward, even if that summit is still out of reach.

“Our Father in Heaven is concerned not just about our comfort but even more about our upward progress.” -Henry B. Eyring

My return to rollerblading glory

I’ve lived in Midway almost eight months and had yet to go rollerblading in my favorite place: Provo Canyon. When I was at BYU, I fell in love with the Provo River Parkway and would park at the base of the canyon and rollerblade up about 10 miles past Bridal Veil Falls to Vivian Park and then race back down the canyon. There is a slight incline the entire way making it a great workout but the ride down was sheer bliss.

Since moving to Colorado almost 15 years ago, I would occasionally come back and rollerblade it so I’ve been chomping at the bit since our move but between unpacking, two feet of snow and trail closures and flooding all spring, the timing wasn’t right.

I decided to make the timing work for me so I woke up one morning last week to go. I grabbed my helmet (something I never wore before), wrist guards and thought I was set. Turns out I should have brought full body armor as well. I made some mistakes on my triumphant return and they included:

1) I forgot I’m not 20 anymore. This covers all subsequent observations.

2) What goes down must come up. When I was in Provo, I started at the base of the canyon and went up. This is how I prefer to do everything–there’s nothing more miserable to me than starting a hike going downhill, only to save the climb for the end. The problem is Midway is at the top of the canyon and I really didn’t want to drive all the way down, rollerblade up and then back down and then have to drive back up. Make sense? It sure did to me. At the time.

2) My rollerblades are about 20 years old and are dire need of being replaced. The wheels are so worn it made climbing the hills really tough. Being out of shape didn’t help either.

3) The cruise down vacillated between being empowering “I LOOOOVE THIS!” and moderately terrifying in places. If you’re never rollerbladed before, there’s really no great way to stop on steep terrain. I used to know every curve and bend so would just go with the flow but I was rusty so had to inch down a few sections like a baby learning to walk.

4) I somehow made it down the canyon without falling and then came the moment of truth: going back up. That’s usually my favorite part and I love the burn of the climb! Rollerblading that 20 miles has never been an issue but between being rusty, out-of-shape and having old roller-blades, it was a tough go. I even debated calling Jamie at one point but powered through it (albeit on a low battery).

A few things I learned before going next time:

I need to buy new rollerblades. Period. I should have replaced mine years ago but I never really went in Denver but now that I live next door to an amazing place, I want back in.

I need to start at the bottom of the canyon and work my way up. I bit off waaaaaay more than I could chew so next time I’ll start mid-way up the canyon and slowly make my rides longer.

My before shot as I exuberantly started out:

My after shot:

 

x

 

Yep, that about tells the story.

That time we were featured in the Wall Street Journal

A few weeks ago my friend Eileen Ogintz, founder of Taking The Kids and a syndicated columnist, emailed to ask if I could put the word out to my friends that a reporter from the Wall Street Journal was looking to interview families who let their kids help plan the vacation. I put the word out on Facebook but nobody responded so I acquiesced to be interviewed by Sue Shellenbarger. I really didn’t think much would come of it–maybe she’d include a quote in her article–until she emailed me again in a panic saying her editor wanted her to interview my kids as well. So on Friday after school, Bode and Hadley casually talked to the a reporter from the biggest newspaper in the United States. No biggie.

If you are questioning the reliability of journalism in this day and age, rest assured the Wall Street Journal is the most fact-checked newspaper I’ve ever seen. For our small quotes in the article, Sue emailed me several times.

Anyway, here’s the link to Dare to Let the Children Plan Your Vacation and I’ll include screenshots and our quotes below.

And yes, Bode totally talks like a 40-year-old man.

 

 

The Johnson family of Denver is planning a car trip to western Colorado this summer. Amber Johnson says her daughter Hadley, 12, persuaded the family to go jet-boating, racing over the Colorado River at speeds of up to 40 miles an hour in boats driven by professionals.

It’s a plan Ms. Johnson and her husband Jamie would never have chosen for the family. But Hadley sees children’s museums as cheesy. “I’m kind of growing up and everything,” Hadley says. “I’m a little more crazy and adventurous than museums.”

Bode, 10, says he was nervous at first about jet-boating. But Ms. Johnson reassured him that the boats have seat belts and life jackets. Now he’s on board with the plan. “I think I might actually learn something, including having a positive attitude and being willing to do new things,” he says.

Giving the children a voice keeps them excited and interested, Ms. Johnson says. It also means suffering through their mistakes. Bode and Hadley picked a hotel online for a road trip last summer because it had a big pool, says Ms. Johnson, editor of Mile High Mamas, an online community. She suggested they might want to do more research, but “they jumped on it because it looked really fun,” Ms. Johnson says.

When they arrived, the pool was closed for renovation. Ms. Johnson sees such “soft failures,” or missteps with minor consequences, as learning experiences. “We would call ahead and do more research” next time, Hadley says.

 


Utah’s culture club

From the draft folder, October 27, 2016.

I’ll admit that moving back to Utah was never in my game plan. Ever. Though I loved my college experience at BYU and living in Salt Lake City for five years, I’ve never been a huge fan of the culture here. The “are you or aren’t you (Mormon)” issue. This come from both sides. When I started my job at Snowbird, the anti-Mormon marketing staff vetted me to see if I was. And I’ve heard some saddening stories about Mormons not being inclusive to those not of our faith. Frankly, I don’t care what what you are. Can’t we all just get along?!

Utah County is home to many of the orthodox Mormons who live in a “Happy Valley” bubble, Salt Lake City is a mix of those in and not of our faith with a liberal streak, Park City is known to have many anti-Mormons and “Jack Mormons”–those no longer practicing. The high school’s drug problem is exponentially higher than anywhere in Utah.

I wasn’t sure what to expect about the Heber Valley but thus far, I’ve been pleasantly surprised. Small-town kindness rules over any religions affiliations. You know, the way it should be. I don’t feel like I’m in Utah, just that I’m in a a friendly place where people go above-and-beyond to help one another. We’ll see if/how that opinion chances once we’re more settled.

Before we had even moved into our ward, I randomly had the Teachers (boys ages 14 and 15) call to see if our family was in need of service that night? “Check back in a few weeks for our move, Dude.”

And then the older girls (Mia Maids ages 14 and 15) thoughtfully left this for Hadley. Jamie was offended by its size.

But I’m just grateful for the warm welcome of our beautiful community.