Monday, April 25, 2011

My Big Idea

Perfectionist tendencies can be both a blessing and a curse. Sure, it's positive to give your best, but perfectionism can also debilitate. It's so easy to procrastinate beginning a project, waiting until everything is just right. Fearing failure, we sidestep the hardest problems instead of embracing messy challenges.

And so it is with my "Big Idea" for service. Even though this idea has been percolating in my brain for a while, I've been hesitant to share it because my plans are so undeveloped. There are so many kinks to work out, so many adjustments to be made, so many concerns to be resolved. In other words, it's not perfect.

While it's tempting to delay taking action until my plans are fleshed out, I'm worried that procrastination will stifle the Idea until it dissipates completely. Over the past weeks, I've felt strongly impressed that I need to do more to serve. I've prayed sincerely and felt a few flashes of divine inspiration. And now, whether I feel prepared or not, it's time to act. I'm hoping that this blog will add an extra measure of accountability. I'm committing, and you're all welcome to follow up with me!

As much as we desire to better the world, it can be very difficult to know where to begin. For most of us, the best place to look is within our own sphere of influence. What needs exist in your own community? What skills and resources can you contribute? What are you passionate about?

While there are many worthy causes in St. George, I have noticed a particularly great need for increased cross-cultural understanding, communication, tolerance, and appreciation. When we moved here, I was ecstatic to learn that St. George had an elementary school with a dual-immersion language program. To me, the educational benefits of learning two languages was unparalleled. Perhaps this was because of my experiences as an international exchange student, perhaps because of our deep attachment to BYU's Foreign Language Student Residence (FLSR), perhaps because of my training as an ESL teacher, perhaps because of our sojourn in France, or perhaps simply because my parents have raised me to value the good in the "other." Up until now, Jason and I have largely been surrounded by those who shared similar values. Obviously our friends from the FLSR adore languages; likewise, in Illinois we were surrounded by very well-educated, broad-minded graduate student families who generally value language learning in a global community.

Here in St. George, many people value linguistic aptitude as well. The dual language school Dixie Sun is excelling, and I see wonderful things happening there every day. However, I have also encountered a great number of people who simply do not view bilingual education as additive education. They consider it a waste of time for their children to learn Spanish, and fear that their children will fall behind if enrolled in such a program. These surface concerns cover deep-rooted issues of prejudice and racism. Immigration issues are red hot, frequently peppering the front page of the local paper. I have been shocked by the open criticism of those opposing Dixie Sun, stating that they don't want their child to associate with those people. Many harbor the attitude that those Mexicans (because they're all Mexican, right?) need to speak English or get out. The dual immersion language program is shunned, not exactly because kids are learning another language, but because they are learning Spanish in particular. When the criticism is boiled down, an English-only attitude prevails. Anything else is pandering to the enemy.

I could spend pages dispelling these arguments, pointing to numerous studies linking bilingual education with higher rates of academic achievement and even increased cognitive ability. I could mention the increased marketability of those speaking multiple languages. I could alleviate fears that unless we stamp out all the foreignness, English will become a minority language in the U.S. Within a generation or two, regardless of what is spoken by parents or grandparents in the home, children invariably learn the host language. The only question that remains is whether or not the children will retain the rich language of their heritage.

In France, this concept was generally accepted, understood, and promoted. Even though the nation is bombarded by different languages on all sides--Spanish, Italian, German, not to mention English--it values the linguistic heritage of its immigrants. As much as we may mock L'Académie Française for its rejection of foreign influence on the French language, the French people in general understand how important it is to communicate in another language. I'll always remember how a government worker openly encouraged me to speak English with my children so they wouldn't lose their mother tongue.

Yes, there are so many reasons to value bilingual education, particularly at an early age. But perhaps the greatest reason of all is the one that is usually glossed over. Instead of learning Spanish to communicate better in the future, what about learning Spanish to better communicate right now? Obviously there are some major concerns that really need to be talked about. No matter what your stance on immigration, these problems aren't going to just disappear and go away. I strongly believe that the dialogue will be much more successful if understanding and communication happens both ways.

Thus, that is what I propose for my "Big Idea." I intend to start an adult education class at Dixie Sun elementary school that simultaneously teaches both English and Spanish. Even at Dixie Sun, I've noticed a gulf between the language-speaking communities. Each group tends to stick to its own because hey, those are the people they can talk to! Yet I know there are many Spanish-speakers who are desperately trying to improve their English, just as there are English-speakers who would like to learn more Spanish so that they can better support their children through school.

Instead of dividing into two separate groups, I am intentionally keeping all language learners together to promote ties of friendship. Everybody in the class will be a teacher; everybody will be a a learner. In a sense we will all be on equal ground as both experts and novices.

Logistically, there are all sorts of problems to work out, ranging from child care to a curriculum. But, I've talked to the principal and have his support, as well as a place to meet.

A language class won't solve world hunger. Still, I hope that my "Big Idea" can make a small contribution by fostering cultural understanding and appreciation, right within our own neighborhood.

The word is out--now it's time for me to get moving!

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Making Easter Memories

Anyone who has ever taught Primary (Youth Sunday School) likely has wondered whether or not kids listen to a single word. As a parent, I'm always surprised by how much my children actually absorb. It may not be the take-home message you hoped to send, but trust me, they listen.

Brooklyn, for example, came home last week positively raving about an Easter tradition that her Primary teacher talked about. She pestered us so much about it that we finally decided that our family would adopt the tradition too--at least for this year.

On Friday morning, Brooklyn and Talia woke up to find a cute little bunny sitting on the kitchen table along with the following note. (Heaven help the poor soul who composed such cheesy poetry! It's rather embarrassing to post it, but this blog doubles as our family journal, so here it is for the record.)
Good morning Wheeler children!
I'm Polly and I'll be your guide.
I'll lead you to your Easter baskets
Where ever they may hide.

Just read each clue
And hunt with care.
When you find the spot,
I'll be there!

First of all,
Look for the place
Where planes take off
And land with grace.

Drive south two hours,
It's not that far.
But don't dilly dally--
Hop in the car!

We finally found Polly at the Las Vegas airport, perched on a stool by the slot machines adjacent to the baggage claim. Naughty bunny!

The good news is that our trip to Sin City wasn't a complete loss. We picked up Papa Kay while we were at it. :)

Polly's next note read as follows:
Great job, kids!
I'm proud of you.
Now it's time for clue number two.

Drive to a place
Where the water won't flow.
They've blocked a big lake
To make power go.

Look for a reservoir
With the whole fam.
Fill in the blank.
It's the Hoover _ _ _.

Yup, you guessed it! After stopping for pancakes and a playplace, we headed straight for the Hoover Dam. We enjoyed crossing the newly completed Mike O'Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge--the second highest in the U.S. It provided a stunning view of the dam below.

Papa Kay explains the dam history. (No smirking, please.)

Even the kids were intrigued by the high-quality exhibits.

Brooklyn steps one foot in Nevada and the other in Arizona.

Papa Kay snaps a family photo.

And of course, we found Polly waiting. Here are the girls reading the next clue:

There's a place you enjoy
At the top of the hills.
Made of red rock
With tiny "hotels."

Named after our ancestors,
The brave pioneers.
Search this great park
For my cute bunny ears.

And so, on Saturday we visited a St. George gem, Pioneer Park. The kids love scaling the red rock and hiding in the thousands of "hotels"--hollowed out pockets in the sandstone. Here's Billy-goat Brooklyn.

Eli naturally wants to do everything his sisters do.

The hunt continues.

It took a lot of searching, but eventually Polly was recovered.

Our bunny had the following to say:
My two little girls,
So sweet and so smart,
I hope you'll find me
At the Festival of Art!

To spy my pink nose
I ask that you please
Go to the booth
Selling Girl Scout cookies!

We forgot to snap a picture of Polly at the cookie booth, perhaps because we were so blissfully delirious following our stop at the cupcakery. Eli sure seemed to enjoy his snack!

The Art Festival itself was fantastic with a great section set up for kids. We designed with packing peanuts...

Made sock puppets...

And even got our hair braided!

Our own tangled Rapunzel.

The Utah Music Educators Association even invited us to drum around on their pots and pans.

We had so much fun crafting, watching the dancers, and playing in the water that it was hard to leave. Fortunately, we knew that a fun evening of Easter egg dying was waiting at home. (Sorry, no pictures!) Before we left, though, Polly had this to say:
You're getting close now,
Not too much more.
Snow Canyon's the place
You'll want to explore.

You'll get there fast
If you sing a few tunes.
Go look on the top of
The Petrified Dunes.

Now, at this point things got a little hairy. During stake conference Brooklyn thought that she spied Polly stashed away in my purse. In the end, we decided that it must have been her twin sister Molly.

With the drama settled, we took a walk in Snow Canyon after church.

Guess what we found?

And guess who we found?

Polly's last message was as follows:
Great job, my dear friends!
I’m so proud to say
That you’ve found your reward
On this bright Easter day.

Enjoy your baskets!
Play and have fun!
Savor your treats
In the hot Dixie sun.

But please remember
On this day of our Lord
That there’s much more to Easter
Than chocolate to hoard.

Our Lord Jesus Christ
Gave his life for us all,
Making it possible
To repent when we fall.

He died on the cross
But rose three days later,
Making it so we can
All live together.

I’m so glad I can tell you
That these things are true.
For now and forever—
Jesus loves you!

Grandma Susie and Grandpa Charles had sent a wonderful package containing twelve plastic eggs filled with twelve remembrances of Christ's life and resurrection. So as the kids ate their candy, we sat down and learned of the Savior.

At one point Brooklyn commented on how she never knew that the Easter bunny taught about Jesus. Well, perhaps he doesn't in most places, but in our home it makes for a nice balance between the sacred and secular.

In some ways, I scaled back this Easter season. I only put up a few decorations, never even opening the big box. Instead of filling Easter baskets myself, I purchased them ready-made. The candy was minimal, the sugar cookies never got baked, I didn't even touch a Peep. But in the end, I'm glad that I put the energy into this hunt instead. There were lots of places that we wanted to visit with my Dad, and the search made it easy to motivate the kids to come along. It also made Easter special, filling it with sweet memories instead of sweet candy. So Dad, thank you so much for coming, and Mom, we miss you and wish you were here!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Running Into Big Ideas

I'm suffering from a touch of blogger's block at the moment. Sorting through pictures seems positively overwhelming--there are so many photos that I have no idea where to begin. I'm sure that the kids have done tons of cute things that I could write about, but I have mess-induced amnesia. (I quickly forget the adorable moments in the process of cleaning up their constant messes. By the way, does anybody else have children that concoct "soup" in their play kitchen with water, salt, pepper, jelly beans, and massive amounts of turmeric? AHHH! I still feel so lucky that it didn't spill all over the carpet.)

And so, I'll give a brief marathon training update, since training seems to be consuming my life anyway. I'm 8 weeks into training, with 7 weeks left to go. Each week I complete three smaller mid-week runs, followed by a long run on Saturday. So for example, during the first week I ran 3 miles on Tuesday, 4 miles Wednesday, 3 miles Thursday, and 9 miles on Saturday. Predictably, the distances increase each week.

So far, I've been quite diligent in adhering to my training schedule. As important as this preparation is for me physically, it's equally important mentally. Whenever someone starts to question whether I have any business running a marathon, I can answer wholeheartedly, "Absolutely." Tough as it may be, I'm committing the sweat, pain, and tears to be ready.

Even so, I'm starting to feel the accumulative weight of the miles wracking up. This morning, my "short" training run was 8 miles. Marathoner or not, I still think that's a long way! It's hard to imagine running double that distance on Saturday. I just have to keep reminding myself that I ran 15 miles last week. Whenever I start to doubt, I fall back on the training schedule to reassure myself that I really am capable.

All in all, this journey truly has been very positive. It's been wonderful to get out into nature and truly feel the desert bloom in spring. Running has allowed me to explore so many new paths and places. I love the colors and smells--jet-black lava rock, rusty red cliffs, white-capped mountains, green sage, cascading rosemary with lavender blooms, the bright fuschia of a cactus rose.

Running provides me with solitude and a much-needed chance for reflection. During my Saturday runs, I usually head up a dirt road in Snow Canyon State Park. Beautiful yet secluded, I commonly run for miles on end without passing another person. (Although on the way back down, I usually pass hikers from the nearby Biggest Loser resort. It always feel silly when they cheer, but I smile and wave anyway.) :)

With so much time for reflection, I've really had to work hard at controlling my Stinkin' Thinkin'. Trust me, if you have to run for 2 1/2 hours, it's much better if you think about something besides how much your feet ache. During last Saturday's 15 miler, I kept dwelling on the fact that if this were the marathon, I'd still have another 11 miles to go. A depressing thought. I suddenly was filled with the realization that I needed to deliberately focus on the positive--how far I've come instead of how far I have left to go. While 15 miles may not be 26, last week I ran farther than I'd ever run before. Even better, I wasn't hobbling around afterward. And come Saturday, I'll break that record yet again. That's progress!

Best of all, when I really release myself and find my own rhythm, my mind clears and makes room for inspiration. While running a couple of Saturday ago, I found my personal Big Idea for meaningful service. I'm looking forward to sharing it soon!

Thursday, April 14, 2011


Last weekend, Great-Grandpa and Grandma Hansen came to visit with Grandma Susie. It was absolutely marvelous having them here. The kids were so sweet helping their extra-great grandparents, and the wise ones were so very patient with the noisy and chaotic youngsters.

I wish had time to post all of the pictures now, but since I only have a moment, I'll just share one of my favorites:

In case you are wondering, those are Talia's feet, dyed red by the St. George dirt. Speaking of Talia, her preschool teacher shared a cute story with me today. Apparently Talia asked her, "Do you go to church?" When her teacher replied that she didn't, Talia told her, "Well, you should. Because Jesus LOVES you!" Her teacher smiled for the rest of the day.

I know there are times when we all get worn out and wonder why drag our families to church every Sunday. Duty? Obligation? A chance to socialize? Fear of punishment? I suppose it's better to be there for these reasons than not at all. But once again, I've learned wisdom from my babes. Love is surely the purest motivator. And how wonderful that this love is returned!

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Bursting the Bubble

One of my favorite parts of married life is having a soulmate with whom I can share my dreams. When the morning light pours in, I love to groggily recount the crazy adventures that filled my sleep. In general, these conversations are fairly one-sided. Jason rarely remembers his dreams, or if perchance he does, he's certainly not telling. Recently, however, I've discovered a fellow dream-sharer. As of late, Talia can usually be found hogging my pillow instead of her own early in the morning. While I don't love having her sneak into bed with us (she's a thrasher), I do love how she'll suddenly start rambling as she starts to wake. Watching Talia mumble with her eyes half-shut, one might think that she's simply talking in her sleep. Listen carefully, and you'll realize that she's actually sharing her dreams.

While I find dreams fun and interesting, I generally don't take them particularly seriously. In contrast, last night's dream was troubling. I was traveling with a companion, walking a small distance behind, when this acquaintance was suddenly attacked by a large dog. Instead of intervening to help, I ran away and yelled for someone else to come and save her. In the critical moments when she most needed my rescue, I called 911 instead of becoming personally involved. Doubting my ability to help and fearful of being drawn into the battle, I stood back and watched from a safe distance. Even as I dreamed, I remember feeling ashamed of my cowardice.

When I woke up, I knew it was time to change. Regardless of whether this dream was a direct message or merely the byproduct of subconscious worry, I hope I will use it as a divine wake-up call.

It's time to burst the bubble.

In general, life in the Wheeler household is quite sheltered from the outside world. We don't pay for television, so we never watch the news. Only recently have we subscribed to a newspaper, and that only comes on the weekends. Major world events can and occasionally do happen while we remain completely unaware. While life in this protective bubble of ignorance can be quite idyllic, it is admittedly self-centered. The truth is, when we take the time to look beyond ourselves, we see people being attacked from all directions. Earthquakes, tsunamis, nuclear meltdown, war, famine, disease, unemployment, foreclosures, pornography, drugs, divorce--disasters strike both near and far. So the question is, what are we, what am I, going to do about it?

My heart is simply breaking for the people of Japan. I've literally shed tears thinking about the children whose parents didn't survive to pick them up from school. Yet what have I done besides yell for someone else to go and help?

It's time to burst the bubble.

In church yesterday we watched a video about the parable of the Good Samaritan. As the Levite stopped and gazed upon the wounded man, his eyes were filled with pity. Not wanting to walk by without doing anything at all, he tossed a coin in the man's direction. I'm tired of being the Levite. Instead of offering periodic tokens of sympathy, I want to be moved with compassion--moved to action.

I call myself Christian, but am I really following the injunction of my Savior to serve? "For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me. " (Matthew 25:35-36)

Surely I can do more. This is what the Gospel of Jesus Christ is truly about. When the Savior comes again, I not only want to recognize His hands, but I want Him to recognize mine among those that cared. For He has promised, "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me." (vs. 40)

Parenting has been particularly challenging lately. The children are really struggling to combat some damaging behaviors. Every time the girls resume fighting, it feels like we're losing the battle. During this past General Conference, I had two strong impressions: selfishness is the cause, and service is the answer.

But the kids aren't the only ones struggling: I likewise am guilty of self-defeating behavior. Every time I look around this chaotic house and covet those with a simpler life, I feel like I'm losing the battle. Yet the diagnosis is the same: selfishness is the disease, and service the antidote.

How can I complain that my kids are too loud while bombshells break the silence in Libya elsewhere? How dare I whine about my messy house when so many have lost their homes in Japan? After living in Zimbabwe, how could I ever feel that my life here is hard?

How quick we are to forget our blessings! Service will help us remember.

And so, now I am appealing for ideas. How can we answer the cries of those who need help? What meaningful service opportunities have you found? How have you helped your young children engage in service? And what do you hope to do next?

Please help me burst the bubble.

Saturday, April 09, 2011

A Barbie Birthday

It was just an ugly plastic Barbie. Cheaply made with a lolling head and garish clothes that were already falling apart, the Barbie princess package cost a whopping $12, including a separate tiara, necklace, wand, shoes, earrings, doll furniture, and five packages of candy.

As Talia held the Barbie out for her Grandma Susie, I knew that the doll was practically worthless in the eyes of the world. So why were my eyes wet?

"Happy Birthday, Grandma! You need a present. You can take this."

In that moment of sweet generosity, I understood Isaiah's words: a little child shall lead them.

You see, this doll was special. After many long months of trying, Talia successfully stopped sucking her thumb at the beginning of March, thanks to some unbelievably bitter Mavala fingernail polish. (This also put an end to the companion habit of putting the other hand down her shirt--hooray!) Anyway, as a reward Talia got to choose a very special toy. Even though the princess basket was obviously lacking in quality, she loved the Barbie so much that we were happy to indulge.

But, I guess she must love Grandma even more. Out of all the many toys she could have chosen, she selected her special Barbie to give.

Talia Lily, thank you so much for your generous spirit. And Grandma Susie, Happy Birthday!

P.S. The girls painted my pens with the nasty nail polish this evening. I guess they've figured out they're not the only ones with bad habits to break!

Friday, April 08, 2011

Moab Travelogue--Read at Your Own Risk

**Warning. This post contains approximately one and a half bajillion pictures. But hey, it's my blog and I'll post what I want to. Nevertheless, reader discretion is advised.

It hasn't even been a week since we took our mini-family vacation to sunny Moab and Arches National Park, yet it feels like so much longer given today's cold, gray skies and rainy weather. But, I suppose there's no better time to throw a log on the fire and recollect sunnier days.

Our trip was a rather last minute, impromptu excursion. Shortly after getting back from his conference in Chicago, Jason learned that he needed to take a trip to Blanding in the southeastern corner of Utah. Rather than face the unpleasant prospect of telling me that he was leaving me alone with the kids again, he invited us all along.

Since Blanding is nearly a 7 hour drive from St. George, we decided to rent a car and spare our mini-van the extra miles. When we got to the rental car company, they didn't have any mid-size cars available so they offered to upgrade us to a Jeep Wrangler instead. While the gas mileage wasn't stupendous, it was admittedly awesome to splurge for the weekend.

So, after many long hours of driving, we finally made it to our Blanding destination. Pretty, um,... spacious.

Actually, these empty lots have been purchased for development by Color Country Community Housing (CCCH). Jason needed a chance to see the layout of the land and meet with some of the bigwigs about the project.

In the meantime, the kids and I explored downtown Blanding where we watched the gusty wind blow a huge construction barrier right into the middle of Main Street. Fortunately, there's not a lot of traffic.

The kids really enjoyed visiting Edge of the Cedars State Park where they got to tour some ancient Pueblo Indian ruins. I wish I'd had my camera to take a picture of them climbing the wooden ladder down inside the kiva. I did, however, get a picture of this adorable home. Too bad CCCH doesn't have the budget for more dwellings like this!

After Jason's work commitments were over, we continued up the road for an hour and a half to our hotel in Moab. This is such an amazingly beautiful corner of the world! The more we saw, the more we were filled with Wanderlust to explore the amazing wonders right within our own State and beyond.

All in all, the kids traveled remarkably well. I felt a bit guilty about pulling Brooklyn out of school for a couple days, but in the end, I'm certain that exploring our National Parks is about as educational and enriching as it gets. She and Talia were so proud to become Junior Rangers!

Here we are driving past Balanced Rock.

Balanced Rock is quite the optical illusion, appearing spherical from a distance but revealing itself as rather flat once you round the corner.

One of the two thousand arches in Arches.

Tired hikers trudge along the trail. Where will it lead?

Landscape Arch!

Spanning over a football field in length, Landscape Arch is clear evidence of how the park is constantly evolving. In 1991, a 70 foot slab fell from the thinnest part of the arch, with two more slabs falling since then. While it is currently the second longest free-standing arch in the world, who knows how much longer it will remain standing?

No matter what direction you turn, the sandstone sculptures in Arches are truly amazing. Jason and I both feel that Arches must be Antoni Gaudi's dreamland.

Jason sure looks stylish, don't you think?

Hat or no, gotta love him anyway.

So, the craziest part of our adventure was undoubtedly our four-wheeling side trip. While this road-less-traveled was clearly marked on the National Parks guide, we were rather shocked by the intensity of the terrain, particularly at the beginning.

Fortunately, our Jeep climbed right over the boulders without so much as a scrape.

Despite the fact that we really were quite safe, Brooklyn was terrified. She was convinced that we were going to tip over and she would scrape her face on a cactus!

Eli, on the other hand, thought all the bumps and rolls were positively hilarious.

The views from this lesser known section of Arches were truly phenomenal.

In many ways, it felt as if we had the entire park to ourselves.

That said, given the isolation, I'm quite grateful we didn't get stuck or break down. My only complaint is the sunburn I got from taking the roof off. What can I say? Pride comes before the fall.

While I'm not sure that we'll ever have the chance to go Jeeping again, it certainly was a fabulous way to explore the back country of Arches.

Before tackling the long drive home, we hiked up to the archetypical arch of all arches, Delicate Arch. Armed with plenty of snacks, gap-toothed Brooklyn was excited and motivated for the journey.

Every good hiker needs a backpack!

Or at least a fun hat.

That is, of course, until Daddy steals it. :)

Talia certainly likes the downhill sections best.

Pausing for a rest.

Time for a family photo. Poor Eli! I promise that he really was there.

Following the stone markers. Brooklyn was so excited to be our trailblazer.

Hiking with Talia tends to take a while since she's quite easily distracted.

Almost there! Boy was it windy!

Delicate Arch at last.

Brooklyn wasn't much of a fan of the gusts.

Sisters make great protection.

The men of the house.

And another, just 'cause they're so cute.

What the hey, why stop now?

The tiny black dots in this picture are Jason, Talia, and Eli making their way to stand underneath the arch. Brooklyn preferred to stay a bit more sheltered.

The classic been-there-done-that photo.

And, a close-up.

Peering down the other side--beautiful, yet slightly terrifying!

Less than a week since we've been to Arches, and already I can't wait to go back.

Any takers on sharing some trail mix and sunshine?