Pumpkin Season 2020 is a wrap!

Apparently, the only reason I blog these days is 1) when there are birthdays 2) we are evacuated for wildfires and 3) pumpkin season!

It was a sub-par growing season due to late-spring and early-fall freezes, deer, health issues and lack of time. Our “fun” COVID project was finishing our basement and while it almost put Jamie in the grave, we are mostly finished.  There are still a lot of projects to do like putting up shelves, Hadley’s closet, etc. but when we are done, I’ll share Jamie’s video about it. We have not enjoyed this house because we haven’t had an area where we can entertain friends and family but now, finally, our rec and theater rooms are the perfect place to do so…and now COVID is here and we can’t entertain anyway.

Anyhew, back to our growing season. This is Jamie’s second season growing in a greenhouse and his pumpkin never really took off (see above reasons) but Bode got really lucky with two great plants. We debated canceling the pumpkin party (because, you know, COVID) but we ended up scaling way back and had a smorgasbord of soups and pumpkin bread.

The show must go on…and hopefully next year’s will include our traditional potluck and s’mores bar.

Fancy pics are from our National Geographic photographer friend, Justin Bowen

The others are (obviously) from yours truly.

My Dad arrived the night before the party for a wonderful two-week-long visit.

 

Smashing pumpkins has become a new favorite activity.

The Weigh-off

There are a lot of things we miss about Colorado and a big one is the weigh-off at Jared’s Nursery because they would go all-out with a fun fall festival with games, a spookhouse, food trucks and so much more. Utah’s location, Thanksgiving Point, is a popular venue but they relegated the pumpkin “festival” to the parking lot with a few lackluster booths.

Fortunately, despite COVID, the location in a pavilion was much better than in previous years. We arrived early for the junior division.  Bode was only allowed to enter one of his pumpkins so he entered his smaller pumpkin as an exhibition. He smoked most of the competition with his 516.5-pounder.

His second pumpkin was measuring to be around that same weight so image his delight when it went heavy at 635 pounds!

He took home first place which included a ribbon and tickets to Thanksgiving Point.

But the real prize was his shrewd negotiating and he sold his large pumpkin for $275 to Cornbelly’s.

Jamie was hoping to eek out at least 1,000 pounds. His pumpkin weighed 997 pounds.

Oh, 2020, what an evil temptress you are.

In Denver, Jamie and the pumpkins were quite the celebrities and we’d go on tour to schools, events and festivals. Oh, and not be forgotten is the year Jamie jumped out of a pumpkin!

Since moving here four years ago, that month between the weigh-off and Halloween has been…disappointing. We live in a quiet corner and rarely see anyone stopping by to see the pumpkin. So, last year when Pumpkin Nights offered to buy our pumpkin, we were all-in. We figured we wouldn’t be so lucky with all of the festivals canceled due to COVID this year but Jamie and Bode sold their other pumpkins to Daybreak for their pumpkin display.

And the icing on the cake? Bode landed on the front page of our local newspaper for his big win, just like his dad a couple of years before.

Apparently, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree the pumpkin doesn’t grow far from the plant.

Happy 14th Birthday, Bode!

Dear Bode,

I can’t believe you turn 14 today and will be a freshman next month!  There are lot of great things happening in your life and you’re moving in a wonderful direction.  Finishing middle school (hurray!). Not even one visit to the counselor’s office (double hurray!). Honor roll every term (triple hurray!).

Overall, you describe middle school as an awkward time in your life but you survived the best you could and really, talking to girls is highly overrated. You quit the piano but took up the saxophone, were part of the Student Government, made a great group of friends with whom you’d hang out and play board games every weekend…until COVID hit. The pandemic was an excuse for a consummate introvert to thrive. You’d finish your schoolwork in a few hours…and spend the rest of your time playing video games or watching insipid YouTube videos and memes.  Yep, you’re definitely a teenage boy!

You have started taking more care in your appearance. You have a cool new haircut with buzzed sides and longer hair on top and cool clothes. You have been on the Solider Hollow ski team the past year and all that training has chiseled your body.  You surpassed me in height this year (I’m now the shortest), you have the same size of shoes as Hadley (for now) and I’m not sure you’ll be as tall as Dad because, well you know, Borowski genes. Hadley quit pumpkin growing but you have dutifully soldiered on. You took first place last year with your 299-pound pumpkin which won’t give you bragging rights with the ladies but it sure delights your dad.

You were devastated to lose Fat Kitty a few months ago. Since moving to Utah, he has been your best bud, frequently curling up to you at bedtime. It was a great blessing shortly thereafter to pick up a dog-walking gig with Chewy (a Golden Retriever) and Zelda (an Australian shepherd). You’re so endearingly patient with them, especially Zelda and her “Fris”bee. You’ll make a great dog dad someday if your dad ever gives in and lets us get another pet. After the basement is finished. And the backyard. And the fence. So, pretty much we’ll get a dog when you’ve graduated from college.

You are becoming a great Nordic and downhill skier and had a lot of fun ski days with friends and family at Park City Mountain this year. Favorite trips included Canada last summer, the Grand Canyon (well, before it caught on fire), Brian Head where we had one of our favorite ski days ever, Lake Powell with the Olsens, Anderson and Calderwoods, and plenty of Scout trips. The Church disbanded the Scouting program last year but fortunately, your awesome Scout Leader Rob Sorensen has kept it going with weekly meetings and monthly backcountry adventures.  I have no doubt these will be some of your most treasured childhood memories.

You have always been a strong, quiet leader who leads by example. When you taught a lesson on the Plan of Salvation in your Teacher’s Quorum, your instructors Brother Studdert and Frisby repeatedly texted Dad and me about what a tremendous job you were doing and how engaged the boys were. They even gave you a standing ovation at the end which is a pretty amazing thing considering your audience.

Following our recent trip to Lake Powell where you were a bit ill-at-ease as the cute Aubrey and Maddie taught you to dive, you later admitted but you’re not really one who likes the spotlight….but also don’t want to be forgotten.  There are plenty of flashy people out there but the world definitely needs more substance and you’ve got it, Kid. You’re a thinker, deeply connected to the Spirit, read your scriptures nightly (you’ve read the Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, started on the Old Testament and fall asleep every night to the Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square). The world needs more men who are good, kind, connected and empathetic.

You are a tremendous helper, too. You have helped finish the basement and with the landscaping without complaint and, though you’re every bit as miserable doing it as the rest of us, you frequently ask, “What else?” You will be a tremendous blessing to the world, just as you have been in our lives and I can’t wait to see the many ways that you will never be forgotten.

Thank you for being such a tremendous example to us all.

Love,

Mom

P.S. For a stroll down memory lane, see birthday letters 1, 234 5,  6, and 78 910, 1112 and 13.

(Teacher’s Quorum)

(Luminaria at Thanksgiving Point)

 

(DEVO Ski Practice, Solider Hollow)

Playing hooky with the Kuches

(First place pumpkin)

(Backpacking with the Scouts)

(Lake Powell 2020)

 

A wildfire, an evacuation and a Grand Canyon adventure up in flames

COVID-19 has not been fun for anyone.

A few of our highlights: I commemorated the one-year passing of my mother’s death, my dad was diagnosed with lung cancer (and I’m unable to cross the Canadian border to aid in his recovery from surgery), our beloved pet of over a decade passed away, economic stress, homeschool nightmares, ongoing health challenges, an earthquake, the stress of finishing our basement and now we’re adding our only vacation that (literally) went up in flames.

Does anyone else feel as though you have lived a lifetime in just a few months?

Overall, we’ve been blessed. We have a roof over our heads. Food on the table. Enough money to pay the bills. And, most importantly, each other.

The Grandest of Canyons

What we haven’t had the last several months is travel so when some friends invited us to camp on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon last month, we were all in. My husband and kids had never been to the Grand Canyon and a socially-distanced, relaxing getaway was desperately needed.

Our excitement grew as we ventured along Highway 89A, a 5,000-foot climb over 40 miles to the Kaibab National Forest. We stopped at the Jacob Lake Inn, a charming outpost curiously devoid of a lake, but renowned as the “The Gateway to the North Rim.” The inn offers cabins and motel rooms, a restaurant, gas station, small grocery store, gift shop and they are most famous for their palate-pleasing milkshakes, pies and assortment of cookies (lemon zucchini and Cookie in a Cloud are among the favorites).

Little did we know that just 10 hours later, our memories of Jacob Lake would be much less sweet.

We drove south along Highway 67 past verdant meadows, quaking aspen and ponderosa pine toward the Grand Canyon North Rim. We made an hour-long detour on a backcountry road and set-up camp a few miles from the Rainbow Rim Trail where we planned to mountain bike the next day. The next few hours were spent setting up camp, hammocking and exploring our remote little plot before driving into Grand Canyon National Park.

The North Rim’s seasonal opening had been delayed due to the COVID-related shut-downs. During the time of our visit, the Grand Canyon Lodge North Rim, Visitor Center, Dining Room and campground were still closed. For a world-famous national park that gets four million annual visitors, it was surreal to have the North Rim mostly to ourselves. “How can we be so lucky?” we marveled as we cooked dinner in the deserted campground, freely explored the gift shop and took heaps of photos along the North Rim. The mile-high crimson walls revealed a cross-section of the Earth’s crust dating back to nearly two billion years and in awed silence, we felt like we were discovering this red rock nation for the first time.

Between a [Red] Rock and a Hard Place

At dusk, we melted into the Adirondack chairs on the deck of the lodge, our only cares in the world were if that evening’s sunset would match the bold reds, oranges and pinks of the canyon’s promontories. We were just starting an animated game of Head’s Up when our evening was interrupted by a park ranger. His nose and mouth were masked but there was urgency in his eyes. “You need to evacuate the Grand Canyon. NOW.”

Dumbfounded, we listened as he told us they were closing down the North Rim due to the escalating Mangum Fire which was burning near the park.  We scrambled to locate my daughter who had wandered off taking photographs, jumped in our vehicles and made the hour-long slog back to break camp in the dark as our friends blasted the best of the 80s from their truck (sidenote: Flashdance‘s “What a Feeling” was the No. 1 song in America which was a befitting soundtrack).

We navigated that lengthy backcountry road for the fourth time that day, straining for visibility through the dust and darkness. When we finally reached Highway 89A, a police car was navigating traffic. Yes, the highway is still open for now and yes, we should hurry. 

I honestly wasn’t too worried at that point because there were several factors working in our favor. The park had just barely closed and we were incredibly lucky to have been among the few people in the park at the time of the notification; who knows when we would have received word of the closure if we had stayed at our secluded campsite that evening.

We curiously watched as the black plumes of smoke rose into large pyrocumulus clouds in the distance. We were the caboose of our caravan and about 30 minutes into our drive, we encountered a truck heading south in the opposite direction. They were urgently trying to get our attention so we eased to a stop. “Turn around now,” they shouted at us.  “The fire has jumped on both sides of the highway. We just drove through it and didn’t know if we would make it out because the smoke made it impossible to see the road.”

I frenziedly called our friends but when I couldn’t reach them, we reluctantly kept driving toward Jacob Lake. As we rounded a bend, we were very alarmingly in the middle of a ring of fire. Our friends’ vehicle was pulled over and they had jumped out of the car to marvel at this scene straight from Armageddon.  Bone-dry air and combustible vegetation were the perfect formulae for disaster as we had a front-row seat to this smoke show.  The flames leaped from tree-to-tree, moving rapidly along the trunk and up to the crown, decimating branches as they spread. Our senses were bombarded with the penetrating colors–brilliant pumpkin orange, eerie green and blood red. Next came the whiffs of burning pine and embers in this high kingdom of cloud and smoke. And finally, the heat. We were close enough to the inferno to feel the hot cinders lapping against our skin.

We were in hell and yet somehow, it was mesmerizingly beautiful, just like those final moments in Raiders of the Lost Ark when the spirits emerge from the ark, eventually revealing themselves to be angels of death before vaporizing the remains of the doomed assembly in a whirlwind of fire.

I snapped out of my reverie to a sense of urgency. “GET BACK IN THE CAR!!!” I shouted at my husband. He spent a few more minutes photographing the wildfire, telling me upon reentering the car that I needed to calm down. Pro-tip for husbands everywhere: Don’t tell your wife to calm down. Ever. The result will be quite the opposite.

We quickly turned around, driving into the blackest of black abyss, frequently startled (and devasted) over the wild eyes of the minefield of terrified deer that lined the road.

We were among the lucky ones. Unlike the thousands of people who have lost their homes and their lives to wildfires over the years, we had an escape route, an alternate way off the mountain that took us several hours south to Page, Arizona where we stumbled into our hotel room’s beds at 2 a.m., exhausted yet grateful.

The whole experience, particularly after months of anxiety and unknowns, continues to be overwhelming.  I almost vowed I wasn’t going anywhere ever again until I remembered that’s what we’ve been doing these past several months so I’m basically between a [Grand Canyon] of rock and a [burning] hard place.

Oh, 2020, the tales we’ll have to tell about you someday.

==========

Video footage taken by Bo Pousima Afeaki Inukihaangana around the same time we encountered the Mangum Fire.

Church in 2020

When closures were announced on March 13, 2020, church was among them. There have been so many inspired things leading up to this including a home-based Sunday School curriculum “Come Follow Me” last year. I remember thinking, “This is awesome…but it’s not like we’ll ever have to have church at home. It’s not like we live in some war-torn country or something.”

Enter: 2020. And we’re getting ravaged with pandemics, wildfires, earthquakes, you name it.

Overall, holding Sacrament in our home has been edifying and uplifting. Some weeks are better than others but I really miss the fellowship with everyone and have honestly been a bit frustrated over the lack of contact from the kids’ leaders at church. I feel like we’ve been in a silo for months so it was nice when they announced they were slowly and cautiously resuming church depending upon our area.

Things I want to remember about returning to church for the first time since March:

  • Held in 3 different 45-minutes sessions to keep numbers under 100.
  • Sanitization between meetings,
  • Most everyone was wearing masks, (I wish everyone who was able could have done it).
  • We were seated every-other-row for social distancing and for a walkway to pass the Sacrament.
  • Deacons used sanitizer before passing the Sacrament (it was strange seeing Bode passing in a mask) and no one else touched the trays. There was a tray for the Sacrament cups and a separate one for disposing of them.
  • No hymn books and singing was muted with all the masks and smaller numbers.

It all felt so stilted and strange….

Except it wasn’t.

One of our favorites Kaden Webb was called to serve in the Santiago, Chile East mission and he gave a powerful talk about his home MTC experience and how people are turning their hearts to God without ever having stepped into a church building. How this time of uncertainty is also an opportunity for seeking..and answers.

And I loved the story Steven L Nichols shared about recording a football game to watch later but he inadvertently found out the score. Knowing his team won, he decided to watch the game anyway. What he didn’t know was there was a lot of drama. Comebacks. Highs and lows. When he’d start to get stressed out, he would remind himself, “You know how it all ends. It will all be OK.”

And so it is now. I am so glad to have been given that reminder today.

“I love you, dear brothers and sisters, and assure you that wonderful days are ahead.” President Russell M. Nelson.

Happy 16th Birthday to Hurricane Hadley!

Dear Prin,

I never thought we would see this day! Sweet 16 in Quarantine! Just as we’ve always dreamed! This past year has been a return to light after a few very dark years as you’re starting to figure out who you are (or maybe, return to who you always were). You’re a hilarious, smart, beautiful, creative creature who has a bright future and you’re just starting to figure out how capable you are.

For your sophomore year of high school, you have started carving out your place here. In Colorado, you had a built-in friend group since birth and rebuilding has been a slow process. Friends have come and gone but this year, you started to attend high school football games with friends, Homecoming with a group from our ward and a new friend group on the other side of town.

You were accepted into the Kimball Art Center’s Young Artist Academy. Though it was a bit of a pain to drive to Park City every Tuesday night, it became your safehaven. No matter your mood going in, you always came out rejuvenated and refreshed as you were given the freedom to create and just be. My favorite part was our chats when we drove home when you would talk freely about the many things on your mind, a reminder of when you were an unfiltered little girl and would chat about anything and everything.

You have loved make-up since seventh grade but this year, you’ve taken it to the next level. Your face has become your palette for the whimsical, fun, weird and grotesque (yes, I’m talking about those bloody horror movie makeovers). I never know what you’re going to come up with next and it’s so fun to see your creativity shine in different ways.

We are in the process of finishing our basement and it has been a lot of work for all of us but most especially your father. You will finally get the larger room and closet at the back of the house you’ve coveted since we moved here…and we can’t wait to finally have a home theater room and rec area for you to hang out with your friends. After almost four years of living here, we finally put up our trampoline a couple of days ago after a looooong series of missteps of your dad buying a cheap, used trampoline that needed a mat upgrade, only to order the wrong one three times in a row. But! We finally have a trampoline and you’ve spent more time on it than any of us.

Quarantine has been…quarantine. As I’m writing this, we’re been over 2 months isolated as a family. Online schooling has been rough because it’s just not your out-of-the-book, experiential learning style but you’ve managed to crank out mostly As and a couple of Bs. In some ways, you have thrived as an introvert. You’ve taken up puzzles.  You’ll spend hours on Tik Tok and YouTube while blasting your heater. You don’t feel pressured to go out. But in other ways, you were just starting to spread your wings so two months with your parents feel stifling at times.

You and Bode have bonded and have reestablished a strong relationship. You both picked up a dog-walking gig and your jaunts with Chewy and Zelda have been a highlight, especially after the passing of your beloved Fat Kitty last month. When we first brought Fat Kitty home 10+ years ago, you were obsessed with him and his passing was devastating for you. But now, you’re obsessed with getting a dog which Dad says will happen after we finally finish the basement and fence in the yard. If the timeline is anything like the trampoline, that means…20 years from now.

Last year for your 15th birthday, we were at our glorious Broadmoor which had been our standing tradition for a number of years. Sadly, my PR contact retired and those beloved trips have come to an end (hopefully not forever) so we’ll be creating new traditions now. We will be going to Salt Lake City today to shop for your new room and have a backyard Cafe Zupas dinner with the Johnson clan. Hopefully when the basement is finished and social distancing is a thing of the past, we can have a nice, big soiree to truly celebrate you!

We had a few great trips that included Canada and a detour to Jasper en route from the B.C. Lakehouse to Calgary.  You had a blast attending OFY (Outdoors for Youth) in Idaho, as well as Heber Valley Girl’s Camp (where you were beyond thrilled to have me as your camp director!) Our friends the Olsens and Andersons, invited us on their Lake Powell houseboat last summer which was a glorious, hot week of wakesurfing, cliff jumping, playing games and late nights.  Last winter was your return to the slopes after your ski accident a couple of years ago where you worked through your PTSD and did some pretty impressive feats out there (including skiing double-black diamond McConkie’s Bowl).

You have developed a wicked sense of humor. You got your wisdom teeth out earlier in the year. I pulled Bode out of school to record what we hoped were some epic drug-induced hilarities but nothing. You snapped out of it very quickly, much to our disappointment and our inability to submit your blackmail video to America’s Funniest Videos and snag the $10,000 prize. All we got were two days of sleepless nights and lots of bloody gauzes.

You have wanted to get a job but few places were hiring at 15 (and honestly, we didn’t want you working while you were in school). You and Bode made some money by starting a business selling giant pumpkin seeds but a couple of weeks ago you landed your first real job at Dairy Keen, the local burger hotspot.  Jobs during quarantine look a lot different: they take your temperature when you arrive at work, you wear a mask and gloves, everything is deep-cleaned and partitioned off in the restaurant. They threw you right into the mix by making shakes and you’re adapting quickly and are enjoying it (with the exception of those many hours on your feet after many lackadaisical days homeschooling from our bed in quarantine).

You’re not known for saving money but when I told you if you carefully save your earnings and pay your tithing, you’d have enough money to buy a car by the end of the summer, which has fueled your fire for working. A car = independence. You’ve had a lot of anxiety about driving and the cancellation of school has forced me to become your instructor with some perilous moments (remember when you thought the gas was the brake and you lurched us forward and later said, “Wrong Pedal?” Good times.  And there was the time when you drove for the first time and kept repeating, “I am a responsible citizen,” enough times to almost make me believe it.

A couple of weeks ago, we had a breakthrough when we took the leap to have you drive into Heber for your beloved Crumbl cookies…and then get COVID tested at the outdoor testing station. You did a great and though you are still figuring out how to go in reverse (and I shudder at the thought of parallel parking), you’re making a lot of progress. You delayed getting your Learner’s Permit until last February so can’t get your license until August but I have no doubt you’ll be ready.

But will I?

As the story goes, the night before you were born (10 days before my due date), your dad was stressed out at work and told you, “Hadley, if you’re born tomorrow, I’ll buy you a car on your 16th birthday.” Of course, we can’t exactly afford that but working your butt off all summer to buy your own is almost as good, right?

I have been writing for Ski Utah this year and they hosted us at Brian Head Resort. On your first run down the tubing hill, you flew off your tube (not realizing you were supposed to HOLD ON). You sat out recovering from your face plant for a while, but on the final run, you were ALL IN…and the guy next to you serendipitously recorded our little crash dummy slam into the crash pads at the bottom.  As you limped off the course, a staffer (who had witnessed her previous incident), commented, “Wow, way to finish strong.”
.
Here’s to hoping that is in all of our futures, maimed and all. Your junior and senior years are ahead of you with the potential for a lot of fun times. Remember who you are, the love of your Heavenly Father and your parents.

Now, go out and wreak havoc on the world, my little hurricane.

Love,

Mom

 

P.S. For a stroll down memory lane, read letters for your  15th birthday, 14th,  13th12th11th10th, 9th 8th7th6th5th4th3rd2nd and your birth story.

(Easter 2020)

(Fat Kitty good-byes)

(Last snuggle)

(Homecoming: Ammon, Wally, Stockton, Hunter, Will, Preston, Hanna, Boston, Hadley, Kallie, Edyn)

(Salt Flats)

(Aunt Lisa’s 1980s Party)

 

(Lake Powell)

The New Now

Remember: This pandemic is not the “new normal,” this is just the “new now.” Thirteen-year-old Bode has always been a deeply intuitive child. On Friday, he taught us an important lesson on perspective during our little graveside service for our beloved pet.

Bode was 3 when we adopted Fat Kitty and it was his earliest memory. “I remember when we were driving home with him for the first time that it was Dark outside,” he shared. “But then today when we were driving home with him for the last time after putting him down, it was Light.”

I was struck. During one of the saddest moments of his young life—when that car felt silent and dark—all he saw was light.

A month ago, I listened to a podcast by Boyd Matheson about perspective and this “New Now” we’re all living. It’s so easy to overreact but we don’t necessarily know if something is good or bad in the beginning. We just know it’s hard, discouraging or frustrating.

Boyd shared the story of an incident in high school that altered his course as a collegiate athlete…and the wise community member who shared the powerful Sufti tale. A certain farmer had a series of potentially devastating events to which his friends empathized about the unfairness of each tragedy but the farmer’s response was always the same, “This isn’t so awful, we just don’t know.” The outcome at the end of a series of unfortunate events was a miraculous, life-saving one. (It’s a short but wonderful lesson and worth a listen: https://omny.fm/shows/inside-sources-with-boyd-matheson/this-is-not-the-new-normal-just-the-new-now?fbclid=IwAR2RLG-nrBec1SE5uoS_vKUlOyE8tciCNFIWFF8xE0HvE7_8oFrR9U5-U-E

The Farmer’s Judgment .. A Sufi tale

Once upon a time there was a farmer who had some land a ways outside the village.
He had a son to help him and one good horse. Indeed, it was a magnificent horse.
So magnificent, that when the King passed through the village, he heard about the
horse and asked to see it.

The King was so impressed that he offered the farmer a considerable amount of
gold for the horse. But the farmer would not part with his horse, and the King went away.

The next day, the horse ran away!

The villagers rushed to the farmer and exclaimed, “Oh, how awful. Your horse
is gone and you don’t have the gold! What a bad thing has happened to you!”

The Farmer replied, “Well, I don’t know that it’s a bad thing, but I do know
my horse is gone and that I don’t have the gold.”

A few days later, the Farmer’s horse returned. And, not only did the horse come back,
he brought six wild and beautiful horses with him. Each would be worth a great
sum once they were broken and trained.

When the villagers heard, they rushed out to see the horses and to say to the
Farmer, “Oh, you were right! It was not a bad thing that your horse ran away.
Now he has returned and brought you six more fine horses. It is a good thing!”

“I don’t know if it’s a good thing or not,” the Farmer said. “I just
know that my horse has come back and brought me six more horses.”

The following day the Farmer’s son was trying to break one of the wild horses and
he fell off and broke both his legs. Again the Villagers visited the Farmer and
they exclaimed, “Oh, you were right! It was a bad thing that your horse came
back with six more horses. Now, your son has broken both legs and cannot help you
with your crops. Surely you will suffer great losses. Oh, what a bad thing!”

And the Farmer said, “Well, I don’t know whether it’s a bad thing or not. I only
know that my son was thrown from a horse and that both his legs are broken.”

The next day the King returned to the village. He was leading his soldiers to the
border where the kingdom was engaged in a terrible battle with a neighboring country
The enemy was fierce and most of the young soldiers were marching to their death.

As the King passed through the village he rounded up all the young men to join in
the fighting. Of course, the Farmer’s son, with his broken legs, did not have to go.

After the King and his men left, the Villagers rushed to the Farmer and exclaimed,
“Oh, you were right! It was a good thing that your son fell off the horse and
broke his legs. Now he will certainly not die in this war as will so many other young men.

The Farmer replied, “Well, I don’t know if it’s a good thing, or not. But I
know that my son did not have to go with the King to fight this battle.

And so the story goes….

All these things that are seemingly crumbling around us? We don’t know if this is so awful. I’m trying really hard to resist the urge to host my own pity party, remember that perspective matters and always look for the Light.

Quarantine Day 1,254

OK, I’ve lost track. Maybe it’s week six? Everything is blurring together but thankfully, the weather is finally warming up after a moody spring with snow and rain.  I went on a socially distanced bike ride with a couple of friends yesterday and today, I hope to take the kids hiking. We can still go outside and to the store. Restrictions are being cautiously lifted but I hope they take it slow. They’re talking about reopening gyms and that seems like the worst place to start. I can’t think of anything more germ-infested.

Last week was brutal. Between Fat Kitty’s passing, hanging insulation, Jamie’s health and oh yeah, after I brought up some issues to my boss, her response was to demote me to less than half my hours and for less pay. Three people have quit in the last few months…and we only had four staff members so that should tell you a bit about where we’re at.  Good times. But honestly, working less hours there has been better on my mental health; I didn’t realize how much it was weighing me down. Now, I just need to make up that money somewhere else and I’m turning my attention back to my long-neglected Mile High Mamas. We’re at the mudding stage of our basement so getting my hours slashed has added an extra measure of economic stress because we feel like we’re still supposed to move forward but there’s just a lot of uncertainty.

A bright spot from last week is we were also flooded with love, texts, food, thoughtful visits and on Sunday, I was on my way out the door after telling my humans they were lame because they wouldn’t give me any attention and I was going to bike to the grocery store to return our movie “It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood.”

As I opened the garage door, I saw this crazy crew singing and dancing. For me. And I marveled at these women who, in the last couple of weeks, lost a father, had a cancer diagnosis, job insecurity…really, we covered the gambit of Hard Things. And yet, still there they were showing up and dancing. And tomorrow, we will show up and dance for a beautiful birthday girl who needs an uplift and gosh darn it if seeing this strange new world of simplicity, beauty and connection doesn’t bring tears to my eyes.

The kids are doing about as well as can be expected. Hadley’s school work (and boy crush Josh) keeps her busy and Bode is breezing through online schooling and usually finishes his work early which leaves waaaaay too much video game time. (Intervention needed). Our neighbor’s dog Chewy was on the lam a few weeks ago and when the kids returned him, they picked up a dog-walking gig a couple of times a week with Chewy and Zelda. It has been a nice diversion for both of them. They have also been helping me cook dinner most days and our dishwasher died last week, leaving lots of nice family bonding time washing dishes.

As hard as quarantine has been on an extrovert like me, it isn’t great for introverts either because it is making Hadley even more anti-social. Not only is she doing PUZZLES now but we did a drive-by birthday party for our favorite girl Hanna and some of Hadley’s friends were there.

“Hey, Hadley. Go say ‘hi’ to them.”
Hadley: “I’ve forgotten how.”

But she apparently hasn’t forgotten her quick wit. Before riding over to our friends’ house, I grabbed a cowbell and asked, “What else can we bring that’s loud?”
Hadley: “We have you.”

Something fun that is happening is we are hosting an exchange student for the next school year. Of course, so much is still up in the world with COVID-19 but for now, everything is moving forward. We were contacted about hosting back in December. The liaison from the agency had posted a message on my Swiss mission reunion page that they were looking to place a young man last year….and I helped her put the word out locally. But this time when the agency reached out to me in December about a new placement–Maelle from French-speaking Switzerland–something stirred. We were planning to finish our basement (an issue before because we simply didn’t have room) and I was almost immediately struck by her profile.  It just felt right. I had never envisioned us as the kind of people who would host an exchange student but here’s the thing: you’re not really any type of person until you just do it.

We had an at-home interview with the agency on December 30, submitted a lot of materials and we finally heard back yesterday that everything was moving forward with Maelle. We’re supposed to hear from her in the next few days so that’s exciting! And strange. And makes me a bit nervous because we are at a wonderful place in our family dynamic right now–everyone is doing well (despite the challenges of quarantine) and our family bond has grown stronger this past month. How will adding someone else to the mix impact that? Regardless, Jamie and I both feel like she is supposed to come to our family so, good or bad, this is supposed to happen. We’re just hoping it’s all good. Maelle will be a junior like Hadley, is from Geneva (where I served my mission) and loves skiing, ballet, badminton and academics. Hadley will be the most impacted by all of this so we’re hoping it’s a positive, learning experience for her as she adapts to a sister for the first time. Bode is so easy-going and kind but has an inability to talk to girls–especially pretty ones–so this will be an interesting case study in our home.  Will Bode ever talk to Maelle? Time shall tell.

And, that’s about it. I miss Fat Kitty all day long. Being quarantined doesn’t help because he was my snuggle buddy. We’d eventually like to get a dog but the timing just isn’t right so we’re just prodding long trying to make the best of these final weeks of school before summer “break” hits. Whatever the heck that looks like! I’m personally REALLY tired of breaks…

 

In Memory of Remy “Fat Kitty” Tiger Johnson

We said good-bye to Fat Kitty today.  Since his colon cancer diagnosis on Monday, we were prayerful about when to put him down. We selfishly wanted more time with him but we didn’t want him to be in pain so as we saw his rapid decline, we knew Friday would be the day.

The doctor prescribed Prednisone to shrink the tumor and anti-diarrheal and anti-nausea meds but trying to get him to take them was moderately traumatic for him and us (he hid under Bode’s bed and was afraid of us). We made the difficult decision to not continue his meds so he could live his final few days in peace. And that they were. His little body was slowly shutting down. His once robust appetite was replaced by barely eating a few morsels a day, he strained to go to the bathroom and he withered away before our eyes, considerably lighter when we picked him up. I always proclaimed he was just big-boned and that he was…when most of his fat gone, Jamie estimated he was still 1 foot across when laying down.

Fat Kitty has prepared us for his departure all week, slowly pulling away and occasionally seeking privacy and refuge under Bode’s bed, something he hasn’t done in the 10 years since we brought him home. Jamie told us it was like an elephant graveyard…our sweet boy just knew the end was near. Jamie and Bode built him a little coffin made of wood and Hadley drew flowers and a sweet message. My wonderful friend Sarah came over on Tuesday to do a family photoshoot with him. He hated every minute but I’ll treasure those pictures forever. 

Last night was hard knowing it was his final night on earth. He fell asleep by my side but I awoke at 1 a.m., stressed about him and work. I looked around and he had disappeared. I surmised he had retreated under Bode’s bed again and I worked for a couple more hours. As I started to return to try to sleep again, I heard something in the laundry room: he was trying to go to the bathroom in his litter box. We met out in the living room and connected in a beautiful, tender way. As I looked into those magnificent green eyes, he told me he was ready. It was time. I brought my beautiful boy back to bed with me, in tears, and savoring every last minute with him. I only got two hours of sleep that night but it was a sweet night I’ll never forget.

He has been struggling all week but today, he was a bit more energetic. The weather was finally warm and sunny enough to go outside. He and Hadley explored his beloved fields and our neighbor’s yard. He sat on the porch cushion for an hour basking in the sunshine. When he came back inside, he retreated to Bode’s dark room for some privacy but Bode, Hadley and I surrounded him with snuggles on the bed. Poor cat was probably like, “Just leave me alone!” But we wouldn’t. That afternoon, I dimmed the lights to my bedroom, played some calming music as Hadley and I massaged and snuggled him for his final few hours on earth.  We said a tearful family prayer with him one last time.

(Final touch and a smile)

Due to COVID-19, the vet clinic no longer does home visits so we had no choice but to take him back to the clinic. We waited on the back lawn as he anxiously sniffed the air and watched the birds. Every night before bed, Bode falls asleep to the Mormon Tabernacle Choir’s “God Be With You ‘Til We Meet Again,” and gosh darn if that kid didn’t play the song and make us cry all over again.

The vet tech came out to us, took Fat Kitty inside the hospital to shave his paw and insert an intravenous cannula. She returned with the veterinarian who was so gentle, sensitive and kind with him and us. We placed him in the middle of us, touching his back as the injection traveled through the tube and a matter of seconds, he slowly bowed his head and fell asleep. It was fast. It was heartbreaking. It was peaceful. 

Jamie placed him in his little casket and wrapped him with Aunt Lisa’s beloved blankie. I held him the drive home, just as I did the first time we brought him to our house 10 1/2 years ago.

We gathered around the little grave the kids and I dug this week. I asked if anyone had anything to say. Filled with emotion, Bode spoke up. He was 3 when we brought Fat Kitty home and he doesn’t remember life without him.

“I still remember when we brought him home to our house in Arvada, it was dark outside,” he reminisced as he looked up at the bluebird sky. “But today as we drove him back home for the last time, we were going toward the light.”

I read a eulogy I wrote (below) about our sweet boy, Jamie did a beautiful dedicatory prayer of the grave and we said good-bye to our boy forever. How blessed we were to have such a sweet, loyal and kind pet in our lives.

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 Jamie’s Facebook post:

To our dear pet of more than 10 years, Fat Kitty. To say our relationship was complicated, would be an understatement. I would explain my dissatisfaction at times for your early wake-up calls and you would show your dissatisfaction with a poop surprise.

Although our relationship was mutually love/hate, I loved you because you loved my family. There is no cat that has ever been more adored by two children and a wife. You brought them constant joy and for that I love you.

I will miss you hunting voles in the backyard. I will miss seeing you curled up with Amber on the bed. I will miss your strange but wonderful conversations with Hadley. I will miss the strange way you would lean yourself up against the wall so you could lick your Buddha belly. And I will miss your absolute zest and passion for food.

Sleep well, Sweet Kitty.

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My eulogy:

Remy “Fat Kitty” Tiger Johnson (October 2006ish – April 17, 2020) 

Our beloved pet, son, brother, mentor and best friend passed away from Colon Cancer on April 17, 2020. Fat Kitty lived a full life (or rather, spent much of his life full) in the company of his dad Jamie, mom Amber, sister Hadley and fraternal twin brother Bode.

Fat Kitty was rescued when he was about three years old and went on to spend 10 ½  wonderful years with the Johnsons. His talents included catching mice and then sitting on them for fun, doing backflips off window sills after slamming into the blinds, getting attacked by mama magpies for attempting to stalk her babies, eating copious amounts of TUNA, finding the softest place to sleep and using poop as a weapon when he was mad.

Fat Kitty always had to be near his humans, snuggling, purring and loving them hard. He was loyal and protective and would see his children off to school every morning and greet them when they arrived home. His “meow of death” made an appearance during his three memorable baths–two baths were the result of a muddy life on the lam, the other after his brother finger-painted him with chocolate pudding. Fat Kitty would quizzically look at his humans anytime they tried to (what’s that word again?) do a thing called playwith him…but they would occasionally see bouts of whimsy when his beloved Mr. Fluffles made an appearance.

(Mr. Fluffles)

Fat Kitty is preceded in death by Amber’s mom “Grandma B” who passed away almost exactly one year ago. The night before her passing in a midnight interchange with her son, she quietly told him, “I’m ready to go home.” At 3 a.m., just 12 hours before Fat Kitty’s untimely death, he and Amber had a similar encounter as he gently told her it was time.  He passed away peacefully the next day on the lawn of the Wasatch Animal Clinic surrounded by his loving family and the veterinarian who poked and prodded him his final weeks….but who provided the ultimate healing in the end.

Fat Kitty was buried in his backyard near the gate he used to sneak out of, overlooking the fields where he spent some of the happiest days of his life catching his “mouse friends.” He was laid to rest in the (kind of) little wood coffin his dad and brother built that was painted with roses by his sister. He is forever wrapped in the loving embrace of his favorite blankie and sealed with love.

May we all live our fullest lives like Fat Kitty by eating a lot, slumbering in splendor, crapping on the stuff you hate and, most importantly, always staying physically connected to the ones you love.

Our Sweet Boy

Fat Kitty has colon cancer.

His health has been failing him this week and I thank God a thousand times our spring break plans to Sea Island were canceled due to COVID-19 because he would have been all alone.

There have been signs the past couple of months that something was wrong but we didn’t pick up on them. He was throwing up a lot more…which we just attributed to binging and purging grass (which he tends to do). And then there is the trauma of the basement being finished. We’ve had a lot of loud noises pounding away, we completely filled our storage room with furniture which is where his kitty litter and food are located and he has refused to go down there. We thought he was just being anxious and his stubborn self. And of course, there’s the pooping. Since he wasn’t using his kitty litter box, he has been having accidents everywhere.

But it was when his vomiting came to the point where he couldn’t keep any of his food down last week, we took him to Wasatch Animal Clinic. Due to the Coronavirus, we weren’t able to take him inside so it was drive-thru service where we dropped him off and someone did the check-up while we waited in the car. They took his blood and treated him for deworming.  His levels from the blood test came back normal except for high white blood cells which generally means an infection. The vet thought he might have a UTI so we took him back on Friday. He should have gotten better but he was worse all weekend. Lethargic. Vomiting. Diarrhea. Even with the Easter commotion yesterday, he made a brief appearance before weakly going back to my bed, the place where he loves the most–curled up at my feet or by my side every night on the softest blanket. 

We took him back to the vet again today (Monday). It had been a week since this all started and they did an ultrasound this time and found a tumor. Colon cancer.  The four of us were crying as we listened to the vet tell us our options. 1) Chemotherapy. Expensive and painful treatments. And with an old kitty, it really wouldn’t add that much time to his life. 2) Prednisone. The same drug that gave Jamie life during his cancer treatments. It can’t cure Fat Kitty but it could possibly shrink the tumor and give us a few more weeks to say good-bye. 3) The vet could put him down at his office right there. WHAT?!

Jamie suggested we say a prayer to figure out our course of action and we ultimately decided to treat him with prednisone. He’s in a lot of pain right now so we’ll see if we can stabilize him and if not, we’ll say good-bye sooner than later. We don’t really have any pictures with him so our friend Sarah is going to come and take some for us.

As Hadley and I were sobbing on the drive home from our appointment today, I suggested we sing a song to make us feel better from my favorite movie “The Sound of Music.” Except when we got to the second line of “My Favorite Things” and it said, “Raindrops on roses, WHISKERS ON KITTENS,” we decided that maybe singing isn’t such a good idea right now.

So, we’re just going to enjoy these final hours or days we have with our beloved pet of more than a decade, unapologetically feeling the pain of this loss while honoring the world’s collective trauma of grief, panic over livelihoods, panic over loss of lives of loved ones, the anxiety of uncertainty and missed milestones, no matter how big or small because right now, it all feels big.

COVID-19: A Family Update

March 10, 2020 is when it all started unraveling. I have been doing bootcamp in my friend Sarah’s basement the past year and I met with her, our friend Jenn and Jamie, an ER doc from our ward. On all of our minds: COVID-19. I had been casually watching what was happening in China but it seemed so far away and non-applicable but things in the U.S. had slowly started heating up. We peppered Jamie with questions and she had answers.

No, the hospital and staff are not prepared.

We have only 30 test kits in all of Utah and no labs to perform tests.

This is going to explode. Soon.

Little did we know just how soon. Things would start unraveling fast later that day when church was canceled and moved to home-based, an NBA player tested positive causing the league to be canceled and Disneyland closed. Those were the big three that night.

When I arrived home from bootcamp, I told Jamie, “We’re going to Costco. NOW.” I was admittedly panicked because I knew we weren’t prepared. We had dumped most of our food storage when we moved to Utah. At Christmas, I had thrown out our expired canned food in our storage room with the promise to replenish ASAP…but hadn’t. We had some items but not nearly enough. There was an accident in Provo Canyon, causing an hour of delays. Jamie wanted to turn back but I knew this might be our only chance to go for a while. While we waited, I read to him the latest medical reports, solidifying to both of us that this was no flu. We had both undermined the severity.

The parking lot and store were packed but fortunately, we were able to navigate the store fairly seamlessly without waiting too long in line (the next week, Costco would only allow a certain amount of people in the store, resulting in huge lines around the block). We were able to stock up on most of our items with the exception of the staples that have been scarce in this pandemic: toilet paper, flour, sugar, sanitizers and yeast. We had two overflowing carts and spent $800; a personal record at Costco.

That was Tuesday. By Friday, school was canceled and the reality of homeschooling our kids set in.  Everyone was directed to self-isolate (only leave the house when absolutely necessary for food) but Hadley was placed under strict quarantine for two weeks; a student at her school tested positive for COVID-19 and was the first in Wasatch County.

The following week was one of nightmares. Trying to work while navigating an endless stream of emails from teachers. It was the end of third time (traditionally the most challenging of the terms) and Hadley was behind. Really behind. She was nearly failing physics and math and we had no way to help her. A friend’s son stepped in to give her virtual tutoring and we had a series of 10-hour days. I had my first panic attack that Monday, prompting Jamie to step in and provide more assistance (he has been a star, truly).

On Thursday, we were in bed watching the news at 7 a.m. when the bed started shaking. Really shaking. WHAT THE? ARE WE HAVING AN EARTHQUAKE? What fresh hell is this? A 5.7 magnitude earthquake, to be exact. We were 30 miles from Magna’s epicenter so were spared the worst of it but our nerves were frayed.

We somehow survived the week, Hadley squeaked out all As and Bs (a miracle), Bode got straight As (BLESS HIM) and we started our first week of fourth term on March 23. She is somehow two weeks behind…only one week into it, confirming what I have long suspected: she is not an ideal candidate for homeschooling. Bode is really self-directed and just cranks it out. She is easily distracted (a new boy in her life isn’t helping her focus) and when she gets overwhelmed, she just shuts down. She is already behind in every class and Jamie and I have been so busy ourselves we have done a poor job staying on top of it. I don’t know how working parents are managing everything.

The Monday before everything started crashing, our refinance came through to finish our basement. Last fall, Jamie strongly felt we should start on the process and I agreed. We haven’t liked this house–at all– because we just don’t have the space to entertain. Our home in Arvada was THE social hotspot for kids and they never bring anyone over here. Our basement will be the perfect refuge for teens with a home theatre and game room but we keep asking ourselves are we being foolish to continue with it with everything that is happening in the world? Maybe. But it is also something that has come together in a miraculous way. The building marketing was bustling a month ago and it would have been difficult to find contractors but now, so many are out of work that we are able to find contractors who are willing to work within the confines of our budget. We found a team that framed our basement in one day on Wednesday.

Last week was very chaotic with contractors in and out to give bids and the constant pounding with the framers. We are having them enter through the basement window to avoid contact with our family. This week, we have the plumber and electrician, after which we will hopefully get our permit and then move onto drywall and mudding after we hang all of the insulation. The good news is everyone is home now to help. Or bad news for the kids!

Some other things:

    • My friend Stacey was supposed to fly here from Canada on Wednesday (it was to be her first visit since our move). Our family was then supposed to fly to Sea Island, GA next Monday for Spring Break. Jamie’s best friend Stan has a condo there and this was a trip we had already rescheduled when a hurricane last fall forced us to postpone. This has probably been my biggest disappointment of the whole thing.
    • I’m so sad for all of the graduation ceremonies and milestones that have been canceled. My niece was supposed to get married in St. Lucia in a month. We’re lucky that didn’t have a ton planned for spring. Bode’s Nordic ski team ended a week early but they don’t train during mud season and Hadley isn’t enrolled in anything besides her Young Artist Academy which has gone remote. However, the kids both have weekly church meetings, Scouts, workouts and Bode is part of a board game group that hangs out regularly (they’re now doing online Risk tournaments). It has been strange to have everything wiped from our schedule. but also kind of nice to not be racing around all the time.
    • There has been a flurry of changes in church policies this past year and the inspiration is downright staggering. We have shifted to more home-centered church and it was actually been very memorable to have our own Sacrament meetings and classes in our living room. Except for when Fat Kitty started puking on me in the middle of it last week.
    • The first week was such a frenzy with zero self-care that I was a wreck. Last Monday, I let the kids sleep in until 9 a.m. so I could workout and having that time to myself has made all the difference. I started a GroupMe with friends “Quarantine Queens” to help motivate each other to stay active. I was much better–I even went for a ski up Snake Creek with Kristine and Donna–but I could still do better. I need to carve out an hour to myself every day for my sanity.
    • I’m grateful for our family relationships.  Of course, we’re only on Week 3 but overall, it has brought us together. Hadley and Bode were really close before we moved to Utah and while they have never fought, they have been on different planets the last few years. Quarantine has brought them back together. They have a blast playing Settlers of Catan as a family or Minecraft. It warms my mama heart to see their bond deepening. Jamie has been a complete rockstar with juggling work, all of the basement construction, Hadley’s homeschooling and everything else…all while he continues to struggle with his health.
    • Meanwhile, Fat Kitty is a mess (see previous puking reference). He hates change and there has been a lot of chaos and commotion. The Saturday before the contractors started coming, we spent an exhausting day moving everything out of the basement. Thankfully, we spent a week during our Christmas break organizing and pillaging everything in preparation but it was still a lot of work to move everything out. The most impacted was our storage area where we keep his littler box and food.  He voices his displeasure by pooping and he has voiced his displeasure loud and clear. The night after the framers left, he went down to the basement, desperate to let us know how mad he was. He always has to poop ON something (because pooping directly on the floor is not an option) but all he could find was a board so that’s what he pooped on. How you know you’ve hit rock bottom…. :-)
    • This quarantine has confirmed one thing: We are the Addams Family and Hadley is Wednesday. Last night, I shared my friend Jenn’s darling ideas for daily themed adventures at home for spring break with her kids. On Wacky WEDNESDAY, they’re going to wear silly clothes, take an outing in the car and roll a dice at each intersection to see which way to go, eat mixed-up meals, and have a funny utensil night. Hadley looked at me and morosely declared, “We shall eat soup with our sharpest kitchen knives.” It’s gonna be a spring break to remember.
    • We went for a hike last week to a cool tunnel with graffiti that felt like we were plopped in a dystopian movie. Maybe we are. 
    • Self-isolation is HARD (especially for an extrovert like me). Yesterday, I was moping ALL DAY. I refused to work because I just needed a break but there’s nothing on TV I want to watch. So, I whined until Jamie and Bode took me for a walk up Dutch Hollow. It works for dogs…and me!
    • So many are suffering and that has weighed heavily on me. I had a conference call with the Health Department for work last week and domestic abuse calls have gone up significantly and it breaks my heart so many feel unsafe in their own homes. My dear friend Julie took Bode skiing with her son last month and got in a really bad ski accident and has been navigating a concussion. Yesterday, all the crap hit the fan: her dad has pancreatic cancer and collapsed (they don’t expect him to make it), their family of seven moved out of their house into a small apartment yesterday..and it was her birthday.

It has all been so much but there are silver linings. We went to Julie’s house (she obviously wasn’t there) and her husband recorded us singing a silly birthday song in our costumes. I joined friends to serenade a neighbor for her 30th birthday on Thursday. We left a note for a neighbor who lives alone of Hadley’s cool Quarantine Man” drawing. Last week,  Julie and Jenn brought me yeast because they knew we were running low. Yesterday someone ding-dong ditched us with Charmin toilet paper.

There is so much fear and pain but there is so much good and we’re praying and fasting today for healing and hope for this crazy world of ours.