Sunday, October 27, 2013

St. George Layers

Eek!  Three more days until moving day.  (Sigh.)  Everybody keeps asking me if I'm happy about the move.  I'm grateful for the job, but pretty sad to be leaving St. George.  It took us a while to adjust initially, but we found our niche--in the neighborhood, at school, at church, in the community at large.  For years I've meant to compose a post about how I love the layers of history in St. George, visible each time you look at the red rocks.  Right in this very spot, you can find dinosaur tracks that are millions of years old and Native American petroglyphs that have been around for a thousand.  More recently, our Mormon Pioneer ancestors labored to settle the area, trying (often futilely) to tame the same Virgin River that carved Zion National Park.  My great-great grandfather Milo Andrus was among those pioneers--we found a plaque marking his home in downtown St. George.  Jason's office at Color Country Community Housing was built by (and is reputedly still haunted by) Milo's son, Moses.  And now, we leave behind a home of our own--the home where our daughter was born and where we all have been blessed.

Over the past years, we've come to appreciate the opportunity to add our own thread to the rich tapestry of St. George.  For now, our thread has run short.  It's time to weave a new blanket in the Midwest, adding to the beauty there.  And who knows?  Perhaps some day we will wind our way back to the desert and add a new layer.

OK, enough of the serious stuff.  It's time to get to work.  Like clearing the white board of funny quotes.
Talia (trying to justify herself after Oreos were discovered in her bed):  Maybe I sleep-walked!
Eli:  I want a little snack before bed.
Mom:  Eli, you just had a piece of cake and ice cream!
Eli:  But that was a big snack.  I want a little snack.
Brooklyn (discussing Halloween costumes):  I'm tired of being a princess.
Talia:  Me too.
Eli:  Not me!

Sure enough, Eli rediscovered a Snow White princess costume in the Halloween bin and spent three days riding his bike around the driveway in it, Batman undies peeking out from underneath.  St. George sure won't be the same without us!

Wednesday, October 23, 2013


In case you doubted the mountain of laundry, may I offer proof.

That's the pile to be folded, not including a load in the washer and another in the dryer.  Oh, and the babe could use washing too.

On the positive side, we found out that the girls we will be able to continue their bilingual education in Omaha.  Enrollment was full at the school we were interested in, but one little girl changed classes and another little girl from the waiting list moved yesterday so...we're in!  While sharing the good news this morning, the principal mentioned that the stars must have been aligned for us. 

We often feel that way.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013


Let's face it.  It's pure chaos around here.  The kids had a couple of days off of school last week, so we threw all caution to the wind and went camping with Charles and Susie (great pictures coming.)  Even though camping is tons of work, I'm so glad that we went.  The weather was perfect, and we managed to snag one of the very last spots at Zion.  Driving home I literally wiped tears from my eyes as I bid farewell to the canyon.

But now?  Holy mackerel, you'd think Hurricane Sandy made her way to St. George.  We got back late Saturday night, just in time to speak in church, teach Primary, give the lesson in Elder's Quorum, and head out to Gunlock to say goodbye to some friends.

Now I am furiously working my way through a mountain of smoky laundry while trying to pack up an entire house.  Jason's back in New York until Friday and we close on the house a week from tomorrow so I'm pretty much on my own.  The house is belching boxes (pardon the imagery), and I think Annika made an entire meal this afternoon out of leftover Cheerios she picked off the floor.  And so, you'll have to forgive me if the blog gets put aside for a bit. 

As a diversion, I thought I'd share some fun photos that I took all the way back at the beginning of September when our neighbors adopted an adorable shimapoo, Sparky.

Karen, Annika, and Sparky.  I think I already pointed out the puppy resemblance.

Would you believe that in the last two weeks I've had two more people tell me how Annika looked like a dog?  I know that dog-lovers consider that a compliment, but I'm never quite sure how to respond.

Eli and Sparky.

Aw, such a sweet puppy.  (And hypoallergenic too!)

Daniel and his new best friend.

Facing the world.

Daniel and Eli enjoy some male bonding time.

A happy day for this high school freshman, now taller than both Jason and his Mom.
Thanks, Karen and Daniel, for sharing Sparky (and everything else) with us.  We sure will miss you!

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Playing in Payson

Internal debate:

Me: Quick! Hurry up! Catch up on the blog before you take another big trip, because you know (spoiler alert) that another adventure is just around the corner.
Me: But fall in St. George is gorgeous! I wanna go outside and play.
Me (in a deep, ominous voice): Too bad.

Well, the voice of reason finally won over my playful demon. At long last, here are some photos from a trip that we took in mid-September to see Justin and Brianna in Payson, Arizona. It was a brief visit, but filled with so much fun that it was *definitely* worth the long drive.

We met up with Justin and Brianna at the cabin Brianna's parents acquired shortly before leaving to preside over the New Hampshire Manchester Mission. Talia immediately commented, "Wow! This doesn't look like a cabin to me!" They were thoroughly impressed with the beautiful home.

Annika was delighted to see her Arizona aunt once more, of course.

Justin and Brianna spoiled us, as always, with their mad cooking skills.  Here's Justin displaying his talent as the Grill Meister.

When the Camelbaks come out, you can be sure that a hike is soon to follow.  Where are we headed, Sir Eli?

To Tonto Natural Bridge State Park!  While a few critics may find the name to be a bit, well, dumb, the park itself is absolutely amazing.  This natural bridge forms an incredible tunnel that is 400 feet long and 180 feet high.  The park's history is pretty fun too.  Apparently a man named David Gowan discovered the place while running from Apaches, hiding in one of the caves for three days.  He liked it so much that he claimed squatter's rights and invited his nephew, David Goodfellow to come over from Scotland to live there with his family.  According to the website, they "lowered their possessions down the 500 foot slopes into the valley by ropes and burros."  I'm assuming they didn't lower the burros on the ropes, but that makes a pretty entertaining picture to imagine.

Water seeping through from the top.

Pausing for a family photo.  Eli was too distracted by all of the raindrops to pay attention to the camera.

Hiking along the riverbed.  The kids absolutely love this kind of scrambling.

Brianna teaches Annika to become a future hiker.

And the gorgeous valley around.

As if that weren't fun enough for a day, we then took another short hike to this fantastic swimming hole (or as Brianna likes to call it, watering hole.)  The water was frigid, but Eli didn't mind!

Here's Justin, just about to flip into the Ellison Creek Cacades.  The man is fearless!

Annika, Brianna, and I were the only ones with sense enough to stay warm and dry.  Annika thought that riding on her Daddy's shoulders was plenty thrilling.

Trotting home, side by side.  I love this photo because we have another one just like it where Jason and Justin are hiking side by side with a much younger Brooklyn and Talia on their shoulders.  Time passes, but some things stay the same.

Brianna and Justin, thanks again for the wonderful weekend!  Wish we lived closer to do it more often.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Zion National Park--Hard Rock and Soft Hearts

As the government shutdown drags on, I thought I'd post some pictures of happier days from our last trip to Zion National Park. During this trip, the kids finished up their "Desert Ranger Program," which involved visiting Zion, Snow Canyon, the Coral Pink Sand Dunes, and Sand Hollow Parks. The ranger couldn't immediately locate the award patches, so she took our name and address instead. The day after the shutdown, a package arrived in the mail, filled with patches, stickers, post cards, and a handwritten note of congratulations from the ranger who is now unable to work.

I think my friend Marilee's Facebook post said it best: Pray for Congress. Pray for the President. Even if you don't like them. No. . .especially if you don't like them.

And now, on to Zion.

Perhaps Congress and the President need to step away and contemplate vistas like this one.  Clarity and humility come easily when dwarfed by magnificence and grandeur.

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Solar Decathlon 2013

Well, we made it to California and home again. Grandma Susie drove in early Thursday from Logan, then accompanied us as we pulled the girls out of school a few hours early. They were pretty curious about where we were headed in a car packed full of stuff, but guessed camping since there were sleeping bags. We waited until after Las Vegas before revealing the full surprise. As you can see from the picture, they were *super* excited.

The trip was a pretty momentous one for our minivan too, who hit 200,000 miles on the way down.  We decided it was time to finally give her a name--the christening was a conglomeration of everyone's vote: Sophie Emily Juniper. 

So Talia Lily, where are you headed?

Why, to the 2013 Solar Decathlon, held in Orange County Great Park, Irvine, California!  She got several compliments on her "I'm a Wild Child" outfit, particularly from a set of grandparents who thought the shirt would be just be perfect for their own grandchild.

In case you didn't notice, Talia is now sporting a mighty holey grin.  Apparently she got bored during recess and wiggled the other front tooth until it finally came out.  No signs of either coming in soon!

Anyway, back to Solar Decathlon, the event was amazing--just like we expected.  As this is the third Solar Decathlon event we've attended, we noticed some new trends.  In general, the homes were more mainstream in their architectural appearance than the homes we saw in 2011, appealing to a wider audience than the concrete and "outsulation" homes that we saw last time.  Here are a few exterior shots:

Stanford University

Stevens Institute of Technology

The Czech Republic

And of course, my personal favorite, Team Austria.  (After a year-long exchange in Salzburg, I'm naturally biased.)
As you can tell from the photos, wood was really big this year, particularly reclaimed wood from old buildings.  As this sign explains, Team DC's wood came from a barn, church, and old historic building.  The Czech Republic's home was constructed entirely of wood, including the load-bearing structure, and Team Austria themed their house around the concept of a tree as well.

Gardens were also quite emphasized, whether edible or simply decorative.  I wondered why so many teams selected plants native to southern California until I remembered that California's regulations are extremely restrictive when it comes to importing plants.  Many of the teams had systems for harvesting rainwater to use in watering these gardens.  One of my favorite gardens was simply a collection of plantings in milk crates, arranged to be a very simple, affordable, and transportable square-foot garden.

Vertical and rooftop gardens were likewise very popular.  This garden came from Stevens Institute of Technology.

Brooklyn checks out a "vertical" garden from Missouri's "Chameleon House."

This planting seemed simple and practical enough to replicate.

The Missouri University of Science and Technology is unique because they are the only team to have competed in all five US Solar Decathlon events.  They have a "solar village" on campus where professors and alumni reside.  In walking through the Chameleon house, you could tell that design decisions were influenced by more than just the competition.  The team constantly asked themselves--is this the kind of home I might someday choose to live in?
An enthusiastic tour guide from Missouri's "Chameleon House."
And here's another energetic tour guide from Norwich University, located in Vermont.  This "delta T-90" home has 16 inch thick walls designed to keep the home a comfortable 70 degrees fahrenheit, even when the Vermont winter reaches negative 20.  Brrr!
Vermont's house was also unique in that instead of using a traditional solar array, it used "sticker" panels that adhere to a flat roof and work in low levels of sunlight.  In the past, most of the solar systems have been pretty much identical (with the exception of Germany, who covered the entire surface of their home in solar panels back in 2007).  As a potential consumer, it's more interesting to see how different products perform in competition. 

Stevens' solar array was also different in that it used solar shingles now widely available on the market.  Those in favor of shingles argue that you don't have to pay for both a roof and the solar array.  Another one of Stevens' market-ready innovations?  Bio-phase-change-material as insulation.  This insulation uses the latent energy produced by material changing from a liquid to a solid around room temperature to release or absorb heat as needed, resulting in a 25-30% savings in energy costs. 

Team Capitol DC capitalized on this same idea by using Flexinol wire to automatically open or shut the green louvers at different temperatures.  The wire expands or contracts depending on the temperature, causing the louvers to either let in more or less direct light as needed to keep the home comfortable.  Simple, yet ingenious.
Another great thing about DC's Harvest Home?  It was designed to be a peaceful refuge where US military veterans suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder can  heal and adjust to civilian life.  Very cool.

This artistic panel from Stanford intrigued me.  The wooden slats actually expand or contract to show how efficiently your home is using energy, with the top portion correlating to energy production and the bottom correlating to energy expenditures.  As a humanities major, I was excited by this intersection of art and engineering.
The girl in this picture actually designed the piece.  Well done!
 And here is Stanford's interior.  Capitalizing on southern California's temperate climate, most of the homes chose to expand their interior space by opening up onto large deck spaces outdoors.

California dreaming.

A gorgeous sunset was the fitting conclusion to an afternoon of harvesting the power of the sun.

Final Thoughts:

In the six years since Jason project managed the University of Illinois's 2007 elementhouse, solar power has gone from a rather revolutionary, far-fetched idea to a much more practical, attainable reality.  As a consumer, it's nice to know that there are things that we can do right now to "go green" besides covering your home in solar panels. However, it's even nicer to realize that not too far in the future, those solar panels may become efficient and affordable enough to reach the mainstream consumer.  In general, I think this trend is reflected in the architecture.  As solar power is no longer on the fringe, neither is the design.

I noticed that the competition made a very concerted effort to involve children and make their exhibits kid-friendly.  In addition, the communication materials educating the public seemed more engaging and informative than before.  (My kids loved the origami crowns--I personally was amused by the custom-designed poker chip featuring Las Vegas's DesertSol home.)  I believe this focus on involving the public, particularly the younger generation, is well-placed.  After all, solar power is more than just a buzz phrase.  We're ultimately shaping the world we pass on to our children...

...and to our children's children.

And so, if I may be brazen enough to put a few words in my daughter's mouth, if you happen to know anyone who lives close to Irvine, California, encourage them to visit the Solar Decathlon before October 13th.  While the venue is great, it doesn't attract visitors passing by in the same way that it did when located on the National Mall in DC.

Annika says, "Solar Decathlon is totally worth it!"