Positive Associations

This is kind of old news as we have been back home for almost a week, but it should be recorded anyway because we had such a good time. We had a Mergenthaler family reunion in Park City and got to visit with Rick’s parents and siblings and their families. We also got to squeeze in some visiting with my parents on the way there and back and a half of a day at Lagoon with the Henstrom family and my brother. 

The drive there was pretty nice without much more drama than the usual car fussiness and fighting. 

We saw some beautiful landscapes and breathtaking skies throughout the trip. As much as I tried to capture the beauty on my little phone camera, the pictures really don’t do justice to the scale of the mountains or the intensity of color in the skies. 

Maybe I’m just getting old, but one thing I don’t like about traveling is the food. Even though we try to pack our ice chest with healthy options and a few treats we enjoy, it seems that we still eat too many disgusting, greasy fast food options. It’s fun to be all together as a family and I do find myself grateful for less dishes and cleanup. 

We liked spending an afternoon and evening at Lagoon with the Henstrom’s. We haven’t been to an amusement park with the kids for a couple of years, so it was fun to see who was excited about which rides. Brooklyn and Sean are pretty fearless.  Makayla too. 

This is our view from the Ferris wheel:

Brooklyn loved going on a ton of rides with her friend, Caroline. 

Sometimes Gavin got in on the fun, but he always got a little nervous when the workers buckled him up and walked away. He liked the rides, but wanted me with him. 

He cried all the way through this car ride with Brooklyn even though he kept trying to cut in line to get on the ride. 

The actual reunion was lots of fun. Our first big event was traveling the Utah Olympic Park with the hopes that we would see Olympic athletes practicing ski jumps into the giant bubbling pool. We actually only saw some amateurs slide down the hill and hop into the water, but it was fun hanging with the kids. 

There was a shopping trip:

I don’t actually like shopping and haven’t bought very many clothes or shoes for myself in a few years (excluding a few secondhand finds) but it’s still fun to hang out. And Emily found items worthy of purchase (she almost always does). 

I loved playing Handball. And just visiting. I don’t have a lot of pictures because I was content to leave my phone in the house and not check it much. 

I read scriptures out on the hammock on the last day and have a few pics from when the kids invaded my peace. Brooklyn looks up to her cousin, Kelsey even though Kelsey rather play with Sean. They look cute in their matching shirts. 

Sean rocking the hammock:

I have a  picture of the grandkids with Grandma and Grandpa:

The kids also got to quickly see the Belts. Our kids just love those kids and wished for more time to play and visit with them. 

We had a nice Sunday evening in Moab on our way home. 

As I said, it was a very nice trip. My life is enriched by all the good people we were able to visit. I was especially happy for the kids to be able to visit and play with their cousins–not just because they are family but because they are genuinely good kids who are also a lot of fun to be around. On the way home, I reflected on the influence all of these good people have on me and felt blessed by the many positive associations. 

Some of the Fun Stuff

Even though we feel like we are working a lot and making slow progress on our house, there are times here and there when I can take a break for some fun. 

Andrew caught a lizard and tried to keep it as a pet. I would only allow it as a “pet” on the porch outside. 

He gathered supplies–water and grass to make a home. But when it came to gathering bugs for lizard food, he decided he would let it go hunt for its own food because finding bugs is scary. 

We have had a few fun night time swims after dinner clean up–at least the kids have. Rick and I haven’t actually gotten in the pool since our first week here except to dig out giant desert toads from the pool cover casing. 

Brooklyn had a great time turning Gavin into a blue tiger yesterday while Rick and I were distracted with finishing up the painting in our room. 

We unpacked some boxes enough that we were able to find Brooklyn’s glasses and she’s actually consistently wearing them!  The girls say she is wearing the glasses because they convinced her how very cute she looks in them. I think she also likes to see more clearly. 

We really have moved to a beautiful place. We have breathtaking views from almost every window in the house. I caught this view of the sunset from the window above the stairwell that made me forget the work and reflect on our blessings. 

9 By Design

Back in 2010, a show came out called 9 By Design. I only saw one episode–maybe it was only a trailer. Basically, it’s about a family of 9 that designs, builds, and flips houses for a profit.   We only had 5 kids back then, but we were still in the midst of a 9 year remodeling project at our last house. I was intrigued at the two designer parents and their focus on family while also dealing with the chaos of rebuilding and redesigning.

Our Iowa house was a project–and not really in a good way. Most of the work we did on it was because it started as a low quality builder-grade house that wasn’t maintained. It was a money pit. We were happy there and we did a lot of great things to update the house, but when we began planning our move to Arizona we determined we would NOT make the mistake of buying a fixer-upper. 

Now, we find ourselves in a similar situation–planning, designing, remodeling, and updating. And we have 7 kids at home. The difference now is that we are starting with a quality product. I am often so impressed by the thoughtfulness of the builder and designer of this house. There are so many lovely surprises. All it needs from us is updating and maintenance. 

Here was one of our projects this week: updating the family room built-ins. 

The floors and all the wood in the house started light brown. We had the floors refinished right before we moved in but we had decided to budget time and money later for the cabinets. But then I had an idea–

A guy was coming to help us get our flat screen TV’s hung and set up. I didn’t want to have to take the TV down to paint so thought we might just try to paint the shelves by ourselves just in this room to see how it went.

We bought a gel stain kit and gave it a try. This is the result:

It’s not professional work. And we need to touch up the white shelving where Rick got a little crazy with the paint brush. We also have plans to replace the brass knobs on the lower cabinets, but I think it looks better if you don’t look to closely at the quality. 

I promised some pictures of the chaos. We have projects going everywhere. But we are making progress. For about a week, the girls’ bed was in the hallway while we repainted their room and bathroom. We are just finishing their bathroom today–hanging new towel racks and repainting the medicine cabinet, so I will have finished pictures soon. For now it’s a mess. This is the hallway outside their room:

It’s cool that we have these built in desks in the hallway/landing. We haven’t gotten to unpacking and organizing yet because I hope to paint them white. 

This is inside their room. 

Here’s a peek into Sean and Brooklyn’s room. They can hardly get in the door because part of the girls’ bed is in the way. They also have their furniture in the middle so we could tape in preparation for painting the trim and walls. 

The hallway outside of Ricky and Andrew’s room was quite ghastly for a while while we painted in there. They also didn’t have a bed until just the other day. 

Rick finished putting their new bed together yesterday and we finishing tidying the hallway and putting up their BYU fatheads. They are happy with how things look. 

Their room is kind of tricky to get pictures of because of the L shape, and I normally like their extra blankets put away and cute pillows out, but since our house isn’t on the market we can let them decorate their beds how they want as long as it’s tidy. 

Gavin’s cheesey face is his new “camera smile.”  Notice the same expression in both pics. 

We are making progress. Rick has been staying home this week to help push through some of the big painting projects. 

Next rooms–the master bedroom and Sean and Brooklyn’s room. 

Right now our room looks like this:

We started painting one wall so that we could get the TV hung and decided to just finish the can. Hence, the spotty paint job.

I hope we can make enough progress tonight so that we can have our bed back to sleep in. Unfortunately, I just remembered a contractor is coming to meet with us about our inefficient AC units, so we will have yet another interruption to our progress. But it’s still progress.  

A Whole New World

We are s.l.o.w.l.y.  settling in to our new home in Tucson. I write the word that way because it seems there are constant interruptions and demands on our time and resources and I think at this rate we will be settled in a couple of years.

We have had a steep learning curve over the past few weeks with yet more to learn. We are blessed to have purchased a really cool house that we know nothing about. Our first few days, we learned how to turn off the Christmas lights that were timed to light up every evening. It’s possible that these lights are part of the outdoor ambience of the place, but we decided to save them for Christmas. We still haven’t figured out how to turn off the light on the mailbox which glows Night and day. We also haven’t figured out how to repair a section of lights that don’t turn on at all. 

The kids were pretty excited about a special thing to be found in the master bathroom:

Ricky said, “Hey!  Dad has a urinal in his bathroom!” Nope–not a urinal. Sean asked, “Why do you guys have a little sink in your bathroom when it’s a grown-up bathroom?” Nope–not a sink. We have a bidet!!  I have had to lock the door to the bathroom because Gavin thinks it’s the perfect place to wash his hands, face, hair, binky, or stuffed animals. Yuck!

What else have we learned about our house?  I have figured out how to reprogram the sprinklers, but the plants in the front yard still seem a little parched–still working on that. We have been learning a lot about painting trim and walls and tricks to make it look professional. 

We are learning about how to care for our pool and are not so sure about how to care for the plants and trees in our yard. Actually, I think I could figure out the plants but I am still scared of the crittters and bugs that live in the overgrown landscaping, like pack rats and snakes. We have taken a live rat out of our pool and found our pool heater had a rat’s nest which we cleared out–only to find this a few days later:

Looks like the rat is successfully rebuilding thanks to our peanut butter snack in the trap. 

We have some large, scary bugs. 

This is the underside of a pepsis wasp or “tarantula hawk.” Their sting is notorious for extreme, electrifying pain. They’re not especially aggressive but we have a decent infestation on one of our plants by the porch where the kids play.

We kill a few spiders each evening. I don’t have pictures because I hate spiders and don’t want to accidentally touch the screen when the spider picture is up. 

We pulled Turd the Toad out of the pool:

That picture doesn’t really do justice to his size. He (or she) was probably 3 pounds and the size of a football. 

The kids were not impressed by the deer because we used to live on Brown Deer Road and we saw them almost every day. 

But they were quite shocked by the bobcat that used our shady yard as a refuge last Sunday. See if you can see him/her camouflaged in the grass:

We found a park nearby with lots of shady mesquite trees and some really cool turtles. If you look closely at the water, you can see 20 or 30. There are different kinds–big and small. Andrew knew the name of one variety,  but I can’t remember it. He stores these random facts in his head about all kinds of things and told me all about that species. 

We have learned the importance of staying hydrated and wearing sunscreen. 

We have learned that when the weather is just too hot, we like to drive up into the mountains about 20-40 minutes for good exploring and a decent drop in temperature. We have also learned that many of our kids lack that element of fear which would protect them falling off the mountain.

There is so much work to do that we feel a little like we are drowning, but we also know this is the place for us and we are going to eventually get settled.  The most difficult thing for me is that simply living life and taking care of every day tasks with a family this large is exhausting–especially in the summer. It seems there is just no extra time for me to be painting or unpacking. At the end of the work day, I often feel like I have run myself ragged with little to show for it but another load of dishes ready to be unloaded (which I am grateful for after a week of a broken dishwasher).   Some days I don’t get any unpacking, organizing, or painting done at all, but I have mothered all day which is exactly what I should be doing. Many of you know that a lot of the work of mothering is time intensive and difficult to recognize or measure, so I shouldn’t feel unsuccessful when I “don’t get anything done.”  We want all the painting complete so we can actually unpack and organize the rooms instead of keeping things stacked in the middle of the rooms or in hallways. The kids, especially want us to be settled so that we will have less reasons why we are not getting a dog–you wouldn’t believe the pressure I’m under there.  But I have a feeling the kids will look back on this summer and all the fun new discoveries fondly–even with all the chaos. Maybe on my next post I’ll include some pictures of the chaos I speak of. 

On the Road and First Week in Tucson

The 22 hour drive to Tucson was long and difficult,  but not the worst ever.  My headaches continued through the day the movers delivered our things. This may have been a blessing in disguise because Excedrin kept me awake. I am usually a drowsy driver on long distances but I only got sleepy once on the evening of our first 10 hour day of driving. The kids did pretty well for the long drive. It was nice to be able to split them between two cars, but Gavin and Brooklyn still cried a decent amount. This is understandable because they didn’t get many breaks. We drove 10 hours each of the first two days so that we could arrive in Tucson around lunch time on the third day. 

The kids were so excited to see the new house. I was impressed too. It was a lot different without all the furniture inside and there were a lot of cool things about the house I hadn’t noticed on our walk through way back in March. 

The kids think our attic space above the master closet is pretty cool. 

The big truck arrived early Tuesday morning.  Even with the help of movers, it was incredibly hectic. I was worried about the little ones by the pool while I was stuck in the front of the driveway checking of box  numbers and directing where things should go. 

Here’s a funny story–the mower didn’t have enough gas to drive off the ramp and into the garage, so Rick got to ride while the movers pushed him. 

Since I was stuck in the driveway, and Rick was busy, Emily and Makayla kept a close eye on the kids who pretty much swam all day. They all got sunburns except Gavin who took a decent nap amidst the commotion. 

Now that it’s two weeks later, we still have quite a lot of work ahead of us. We are learning how to care for the beautiful landscaping, fight off unwanted critters and bugs, repaint almost everywhere, care for our pool, and unpack. Just keeping up with day-to-day living in the summer can be difficult with the kids home.  I find that I am unpacking at about 1 box a day.  I haven’t been able to sit down to figure out school registration, car registration, piano teachers, summer activities, or really much of anything. There’s just so much to do, but we are happy here and enjoying the new experience.

Goodbye, Iowa

The last few days before we left Iowa were very busy. Emily graduated from high school. She’s so cute wearing a dress she made for herself under that graduation gown. 

Rick headed to Montana for his grandma’s funeral and didn’t make it home until the truck was at our house and they had the boxes halfway packed. 

It was a little tricky finding a place to rest. Gavin had naps in my closet and in the basement to avoid the chaos. 

Keeping the kids out of the way, but safe was one of the most stressful parts of the move. Here they are playing in the trunk of the little van as we prepared it to be towed to AZ. 

Emily engaged them in a game of Ninja. 

They are ice cream at the mall. 

On the evening before we left town, Emily had her grad party with 4 other friends. I had been battling severe migraines for 3 days so felt kind of yucky for most of the move and the drive to Arizona. The grad party was a nice opportunity to say goodbye to some good friends, but I’m afraid I wasn’t quite myself. 

We also said goodbye to Brooklyn’s good friend, Jones, the neighbor dog who walks by our house multiple times a day. Our neighbors have watched our family grow and the kids get older. We have had great neighbors, so it was sad to say goodbye to them. 

The next day we got on the road and began the 3 day trek to Tucson. 

More Green

I said few weeks ago that May is one of the most beautiful months to live in Iowa. I still believe that. With the exception of some chilly, rainy days this month, the weather has been perfect. We are trying to be outside when we can to soak in more of that lovely Midwestern green. ​

Gavin found he loves to ride Brooklyn’s little Minnie Mouse bike–especially downhill with his legs in the air and breeze in his face. He’s a daredevil with a sweet ride. 

Rick and I went on a walk for a date. We passed a sign that Emily goes by often on her runs. I sent her this picture:

Brooklyn and Gavin are eating popsicles on the back porch while I desperately try to get the kitchen clean before the kids get home from school and mess it up again. 

Not only is Gavin a daredevil on his bike, he loves to swing high on the swings. He’s always asking for Underdogs. 

He recently figured out how to safely climb to the top of the playset all by himself to go down the slide. It’s so nice that he can play out there now without me constantly making sure somebody is there to catch him if he misses the last step up. 

Another fun outdoor activity is washing his car. 

He loves playin in water. Sometimes his ability to climb and love for water can cause problems for me. 

There’s more green to share besides the lush greenery outside our window. Emily graduated from West High this week!  I liked that the event was held in the Carver Hawkeye Arena where The University of Iowa basketball and volleyball games are played. I didn’t like the ridiculous amount of political platforming and dumping on the current U.S. Presidency. I don’t love our President but I know bad mouthing isn’t an effective strategy for change. I found the school principal to be immature and hard to respect. But, it was fun to cheer for Emily and her friends and remember the games our family has gone to in the arena. 

And not everybody can make those graduation caps look good. Emily is a cutie!

Ready or Not

We have some changes creeping up on us very soon. The biggest and most imminent is our move to Tucson. Moving is difficult in so many ways.  The planning, decluttering, announcing, organizing, cleaning, thinking, and wondering begin many months before the actual move. It seems like it’s the only thing we talk about within our family and to others. As the day gets closer, things get a little more awkward because you’re excited about the new place and new people, but don’t really want to say goodbye to all the wonderful people you love. For me, the actual “goodbye” is the most difficult (unpacking and reorganizing a new house would be a close second).  It’s hard to tell people how much they have meant to you and your family without getting sappy or weepy. Also, goodbye seems so final. I like to imagine our friends visiting us in Tucson. I like to think we will cross paths with many of our friends in the future in one way or another. 

The difficulties of moving are multiplied by the number of people in our family.  Just like each of our children are blessings to us as parents, they have been blessed by the association of good teachers, church leaders, coaches, friends, and parents of friends. How do you properly tell each person you love them and properly thank them without leaving anybody out?  I also worry that there just isn’t enough time to share with each person the fond memories I have of them. There have been so many kind words, thoughtful prayers, rides for the kids, service hours for our family, testimonies born, and on and on. There’s just so much goodness we are leaving behind. At the same time, we know we are joining another community of goodness in Tucson. We are so excited to develop friendships through service and community and church involvement there. 

We are all a little nervous about the critters that are to be found at our new house in the foothills. Iowa is nice because there aren’t really any poisonous spiders or snakes and definitely no scorpions. Our biggest wildlife fears in Iowa involve poison ivy and Lyme Disease–both of which we have had extensive experience  with in our tenure here.  Just this week, I pulled a tick off Brooklyn and Andrew has some nasty poison ivy rashes on this legs, arms, and face.  Frost bite could also be considered a winter fear in Iowa. 

Arizona, however, poses a few new challenges. We already have proof of more formidable creatures at our new house. Just this week, the pool guy sent us this picture from the vegetation near the hot tub:

Look closely at the blackish thing slithering into the rocks. The pool guy called it a “friendly yard snake–great for eating rodents.”  Well, that’s just great!  I did some research and found that he was correct. This is a common King snake. Not poisonous and likes to eat rodents and rattlesnakes. Good. But still a little creepy. 

On the day of our inspection, the inspector pointed out a Gila monster in the driveway. 

Ewww!  They’re usually not aggressive, but like the 13 species of rattlesnakes in the area, they are venomous and will attack when threatened. 

We have also been warned about scorpions and that it’s important to always check your shoes and wear shoes outside.

The area where we will be living in the foothills also experiences frequent visits from coyotes, bobcats, and sometimes mountain lions. 

You can imagine that I’m a little nervous about letting our little ones just play outside. 

I find that I might be rambling a little too much about the scary things when there are going to be so many good things about our move. And it happens in less than a week, ready or not!

Mother’s Day

On Mothers’ Day, I had a lot of “deep thoughts” about motherhood, parenting, being married, etc. I wanted to be able to share them in writing, but a few things stopped me: 1) a headache, 2) kids kept coming to talk to me, 3) I didn’t want to sound preachy to those who are struggling with their role as a woman. 

I have spent the last few days continuing with those mom-thoughts as I have gone about the mundane tasks of every day life. I find myself reflecting more and more on my purpose as a wife and mother as Emily prepares to leave home and has gone on a few friendly dates. Emily wrote me a nice letter that personified how I feel about being a woman. I want to share what she wrote–not because I’m bragging that my daughter wrote me a nice letter or because I want you all to know how great I am, but because her letter and the other cards from the kids give undertones about my feelings about being a righteous woman and the kind of person I hope I am becoming.  She’s very complimentary in her writing and I know I don’t quite live up to everything she wrote, but it’s the kind of person I want to become with lots of practice. 

Here’s the letter:

Dear Mom,

I am sitting here in AP English doing nothing and I thought I’d write down my Mother’s Day note to you and fill it with my favorite memories and things about you. It may get a little cheesey, so you better cook some noodles to go with it (ba-dum-ch…). You are my biggest role model. You are the woman I hope to become someday, though it’s a very lofty goal. I notice you serve everyone in our family daily and often get no reward or appreciation for your work. You wash dishes, fold laundry, chauffeur everyone places, read to us, cook us food, talk to us about our days, hug us, clean up after us all with the most selfless and loving attitude. I would not be who I am today if I didn’t have a strong, caring mother to guide me. I will forever be grateful for the service you offer for our family. You not only take care of us physically but spiritually and emotionally. I never feel like I can’t tell you something (unless it’s about me eating your chocolate or watching TV when I’m not supposed to) and the first person I think to tell when funny or embarrassing things happen is you. You make me laugh every day and you always know when I need cheering up. I really like making you laugh because it makes me happy inside. Remember that time in church when we were sitting in the back row and couldn’t stop laughing? These times when we are talking, I get sad that I won’t be able to see you every day and crack potty jokes (get it? muhahahahaha). I will just have to call you and swap adventure stories.  Not only are you selfless and have a great sense of humor, you have taught me the importance of the gospel.  You never stray from righteous standards and have taught me to follow those.  This is the biggest impact you’ve made on me and all the kids.  By raising us in the Gospel you’ve saved us from endless heartache, uncertainty, and sadness.  My life is wonderful because you chose to stick with the gospel and embed those values in me.  I’m so thankful for your righteous decisions.  I’m also thankful that you chose a good husband.  As I’m getting older, I’m realizing just what an enormous decision that is (it scares me a little bit).  But, good job because you and dad made some cute babies! *cough, me, cough*.  Anyhow, I love you a whole lot.  You are very smart, beautiful, caring, selfless, Christlike, and absolutely hilar giiiiiirl.  When I grow up, I don’t want to be a fashion designer, or a mechanical engineer, or an economist.  I want to be a Bonni Mergenthaler!  I LOVE YOU!!! Happy Mother’s Day.

That’s a lot to live up to, huh?  Here are some more sweet notes: 

My portrait in that last one looks a little serious. I hope I don’t make that face very often. I think it’s cute that Sean considers me to be magical. I’m also glad that my kids think I’m funny. I do love to laugh with them. 

Again, I am rambling and I’m finding it hard to express exactly how I feel about my roles as a woman. My feelings are intertwined with my testimony of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, my love for my children and husband, and the weight and responsibility that come with fulfilling my potential and becoming what God knows I can become. 

I don’t think I fully realized the challenges that I would face when Rick and I got married. Being a selfless, kind, loving, and supportive wife is so hard sometimes. The difficulty increases as you add children and you become sleep-deprived, or pregnant-sick, or become distracted with worry, or deal with dumb fights (why are siblings so mean to each other sometimes?).   Being married and raising children challenge me mentally, physically, spiritually, and emotionally. When I find myself dwelling on the difficulty of it all, I also remember what the Gospel of Jesus Christ teaches me:  I can change, become better, and in the challenges (or because of the challenges) find great joy. It’s true that as much as I am sometimes surprised with the difficulty of it all, I am also surprised by my capacity for happiness and joy. I love being married to a good man who loves me right back. I love to laugh with him and spend time with him. We are a great team and I think I am beginning to understand what people mean when they say their love deepens over time. It does, but it would not if either of us were neglecting those things that help is to feel the influence of the Spirit on a daily basis.  I feel the same way about our children. I love them like crazy–each of them–individually and deeply. 

I feel so blessed to live this life with these good people. I am glad God knows me well enough to give me the challenges that I do have so that I can become the kind of person He knows I can be. I am grateful for the moments of joy and peace that are interspersed with the heartache and disappointment. It’s a great life. 

An Honor and A Blessing

I had a halfway hope that I could get everybody ready for church and make Rick take a picture of me and the kids for Mothers’ Day. It would be nice, wouldn’t it? I say, “halfway hope” because I am a realist and a very good predictor of time. I knew that in order for me to sleep in and have the relaxing Mothers’ Day morning that I knew my sweet husband wanted to give me, I would have to let some other things slide. So, I don’t have a cute mom pic of me and all the kids. I looked through my phone pictures and see that I don’t even really have an individual pic with most of them. There are a few pictures of me with some of the kids which I will share.

First a drawing from Emily on the back of a very sweet letter she wrote me. 

Me and Gavin:

A little selfie during prom pics. 

At Brooklyn’s preschool for Muffins with Mom–except they had donuts!  I look happy and relaxed here but it was stressful and messy having Gavin there. Right before his picture, Gavin spilled lemonade and wiped chocolate frosting on me. He wanted to run everywhere.

I had a great day today and feel so blessed to be a mother to our children. I’m not sure words can express how blessed I feel to have these people in my life. It is an honor and a blessing to say the least.