Monday, November 24, 2014

That Time We Went to Vegas

Last week Scotty had to go to Las Vegas for a software training. Originally he was going to fly, but then he decided that he would have more control over his arrival and departure if he drove. With that decision, the kids and I had to tag along with him.

We've been to Vegas many times before, and it's not somewhere I would ever choose as a family vacation destination, but for an inexpensive trip, I'll take it!

(Just to be clear, all of Scotty's expenses were covered by his work. Having us there did not add to the company's expenditures).

We arrived quite late on Monday night. We stayed at the Stratosphere, and I found it shockingly nice in comparison to what I expected. I've stayed at Circus Circus, the Sahara (which is now something else), and Excalibur on previous trips, and the Stratosphere had nicer rooms than all of those.

The area around the Stratosphere, however, is not so nice. We had our first breakfast at the Jack in the Box around the corner, and I've never seen so many scary looking people talking to themselves inside one tiny building before, and even more hanging out in the parking lot. After that meal, we opted to drive a few miles away rather than dine in the close restaurants. People talking to themselves continued to be a steady theme around our hotel. I didn't come or go from our hotel once without seeing someone on the street talking to himself.

On our first day, after the aforementioned breakfast at Jack in the Box, the kids and I made our first attempt to explore the city. We decided to go to the Red Rock Canyon Conservation Area, which is one place in Vegas I'd never been. I'm going to exclude the part where we got lost... ahem... and skip right to the part where we found a really great park and stopped to play for a while.

When we made it to the canyon, we stopped at the Visitors' Center first. I didn't think my kids would care for the Visitors' Center (because they usually find things like that "boring"), but they actually really enjoyed it. For Zoe, it was her obsession with gravel that won her over. The Visitors' Center is outdoors, and it has a lot of gravel landscaping. Zoe loves walking in gravel and picking it up. For Nicky and Daisy, it was the benches, which were quite artsy. They thought the benches were playground fixtures and spend most of their time in the center climbing and sliding all over them. Never mind the exhibits.

After the Visitors' Center, we drove the 13 mile loop through the canyon. I would have loved to do some of the hikes, but pregnant momma alone with three kids... no thanks. The kids weren't very hip with the drive. And to be honest, we're from Utah, so it takes some pretty awesome red rocks to impress to us. It was worth seeing once, though, and perhaps the hikes would offer some more interesting sights.

Late that afternoon we rode the elevator to the top of the Stratosphere. I was kind of surprised how dead it was up on top. There was hardly anyone up there, and even the rides, which I've always seen all over TV, were pretty empty and had long periods between runs.


The view was pretty cool at 108 stories over Vegas, but it was quite disorienting, and I was reminded that I have a titch of a fear of heights. Also, I have a nasty habit of envisioning my death any time I am up high or in a crowded place, so I just had to accept the fact that I would die in the building if there were an earthquake or fire. It didn't help that the building would shake anytime the rides were going. That's just not cool.

When Scotty's training concluded at 5:00, we went to dinner, and then drove down the strip so the kids could see the lights. We went to the Bellagio to see the conservatory and the fountain. I was a little surprised to see that the conservatory hosted some decor that I have already seen (giant, harvesty, LOTR-looking tree people). I didn't realize that they re-use their decor. C'mon Bellagio! We stayed for two fountain shows, and our kids were totally impressed (bout time!) Daisy said, "I'm so glad we came here! This is amazing!" Nicky was hoping that the water would shoot as high as the Eiffel tower across the street, and from his angle, it appeared to, so he was pleased.

After that, it was back to the hotel for bed.

On our second day, I took the kids to the strip to visit some stores. We went to M&M World, the Coke Store, and the Hershey Store. Then we went to the Fashion Show mall to hit up the Lego store and the Disney store.

Here is where I will tell you one of my favorite things about Las Vegas: the lack of kids.

Everywhere we go in Utah, there are a million children. The Disney store and the Lego store here are always packed with kids. Every museum, every playground, and every free attraction is loaded with them! In Vegas, it was like having the world to ourselves. I LOVED it! (other than the part where we stood out like sore thumbs). My kids were able to pick videos to watch at the Disney store, they were able to color Mickey and Minnie face masks, they were able to build Lego cars and race them, and they were able to play on playgrounds without having to deal with all the politics. It was wonderful!


That night, we went to the top of the Stratosphere because Scotty was given a pass for unlimited rides at his training. We've always seen the Stratosphere rides on TV, and I've always thought they were quite freaky while Scotty has always thought they were awesome. The kids and I watched him ride the X-Scream first. Scotty has never been nervous about a ride, but this one got his heart pumping. He was on the front row, and afterward he said that he was exhausted from the tension in his body. He had never used so many muscles at one time before! I was just glad he didn't plummet to his death.

(If you are not familiar with this ride, you must google it!)


After that, he went on the Big Shot, which is still freaky, but a lot less so. He opted not to ride Insanity because he gets sick on rides that spin (he's no fun when he has motion sickness). Poor Daisy wanted to go on the Big Shot so bad, but she was too short. Nicky was content to stay on the ground (err... floor?) with me.

On our third day, we took advantage of one of the McDonald's play places in the morning. Then we went to Ethel M's Chocolate Factory. We went there about five years ago, but the factory wasn't running, so we didn't get to see anything on the tour. This time, one small section was in use, but nothing cool was happening. A bunch of men in beard nets were lifting a sheet of wax paper off some caramel/nut thing. We enjoyed our itty bitty samples of chocolate and scoffed at the prices (12 chocolates for $28!!) Then we wandered around the cactus gardens for a while. I think this outing used up approximately twenty minutes of our day.

Our next stop was the Las Vegas temple. When I was five years old, I went to the Las Vegas temple open house with my grandparents. Even though I've been to Vegas several times since then, I hadn't seen the temple again, so I drove there with the kids and took a few pictures. At that point, Zoe had fallen asleep, and Nicky was throwing a tantrum over Coke (judge me if you want, but I let him have a Vanilla Coke from the Coke store. He kept shaking the bottle in the car, and I ended up having to take it away after asking him several times not to shake it. On top of the shaking, he repeatedly pretended to pour it on his sister's head, and when I took it away, he told me he was going to kick me). This particular tantrum lasted about an hour, so we had to spend some time pulled over so Nicky could get out of the van and "cool down." Our time on the temple grounds was anything but reverent. I had to keep the windows rolled up tight so the patrons wouldn't be disturbed by Nicky's screaming.


After Nicky finally calmed down, we went to Town Square, which is a huge outdoor mall. They have a little playground in the middle that we wanted to check out. It was really cute but smaller than I expected. Nevertheless, the kids were entertained for two hours. It helped that, as usual, the playground was significantly less crowded than any Utah playground. The parents there were also very different from Utah parents - not better or worse, just different. It was interesting to see the cultural differences.

We splurged a little and rode the mall train. I didn't realize that they would make me ride with the kids - boy did I feel attractive as I attempted to squeeze myself into the caboose! The girls loved watching the birds at the mall. They aren't afraid of people at all and will perch right on your lunch table and beg for food. Daisy and Zoe love birds!

After our mall adventure, we went back to the Stratosphere to get Scotty. Then we headed home, but not without cruising past the Pawn Stars shop.


It was a long, exhausting ride, but we made it safely, and the kids were pretty good.

As we talked to our kids about our vacation, they all expressed what a great time they had. Daisy said she wants to stay in Las Vegas forever. At first I thought she was overrating it, but then I remembered how much I loved Las Vegas as a child. My grandparents used to go there for conferences, and they took my family with them a few times. We stayed at Circus Circus, and I thought it was the best place in the world. "Lost Vegas," I called it. I remember being so excited to do the littlest things, like fill the ice bucket at our hotel. Those are the same little things my kids fell in love with - using the key to open the hotel room door, getting to push the button on the elevator, riding escalators, and seeing lights. Not to mention having cable.. Nick Jr? That's big time!

Even though Las Vegas isn't the perfect "family" destination, we were able to find a lot of things to enjoy with our kids. It was really fun, and we're all really glad we went!

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Getting My Gratitude On

Since today is Sunday, I can officially say that Thanksgiving is "next week." I am very excited about that! I've been thinking a lot about gratitude this month (as I think we all have), and I've been focusing daily on the little blessings that Heavenly Father has given me that easily go unnoticed.

Like the other day when I was feeling completely overwhelmed by one of my school assignments. Not only did I not know how to do it, I also felt like it was a really pointless assignment. When I sat down at the computer to start working, I suddenly recalled an article I saw linked to on facebook a month or so ago, so I searched until I found it. I read the article and, as a result, was able to do some additional online research that led me to a contact person. I communicated with this individual all week and was able to get the information I needed to complete my assignment, and it turned out to be something I became very excited about. I know that Heavenly Father directed me in that assignment and helped me turn it into something relevant in my life rather than just "busy work." I am so grateful!

Also, this week was pay day, and money has been really tight for us for the past few months. I always create our budget about three months in advance and then make adjustments as things change (like when my son has to get stitches in his face, and oops! There goes our Christmas savings). I made our grocery list for this week and estimated how much the list would cost (I'm pretty savvy at this because I'm very aware of what we spend - I always calculate within $5). Then I had to tweak it because it was more than we could spend (Can we go one more week without breakfast syrup? No. Can we go one more week without napkins? Yes, but only if that stash from Cafe Rio is still in the glove box). I ended up being able to cut it down just enough to come in right on budget. I prayed for self-control and for help spending our money well. When I left my house to go shopping, I had a feeling I should go to a different store than I was planning on (a store where most items are slightly more expensive than the stores I usually shop at and where I can't calculate the cost of everything from memory). I ended up getting all of the things I needed, and a little bit more, and I came in $30 under budget. This is one of those amazing tender mercies of our God. I am so grateful!

Another tender mercy I experienced recently was when I had to renew my drivers' license last Friday. Something a little emotionally traumatic happened to me the night before, and I woke up that morning feeling really sensitive, but I had an appointment at the Drivers Licence Division and child care, so I wasn't going to not get my drivers license! I cried a lot on the way to the DLD, and when I got there, just the idea of going inside made me want to cry more. When I got in, there was no one at the desk to check me in for my appointment, so I stood there... and stood there... and stood there... and fought back tears because feeling ignored was not what I needed right then! But then things changed. I went and got in a line, had my picture taken, and was immediately called up to the desk. There I met the most wonderful woman named Lilleth. She was so cheerful and wonderful. She smiled at me and told me how beautiful my new divers license photo was. She hummed while she stamped the date all over my paperwork and did the "sign here... and here" thing. Throughout my entire exchange with her, she was so unbelievably kind - kind beyond what I would ever expect for a person who issues hundreds of drivers licenses each day. She radiated with joy, and it was contagious! I wanted to tell her thank you for being so nice, but I couldn't say the words or I would bawl. So instead, I did the usual, "Thank you! Have a nice day" thing, and then I went out to the car and cried. I needed Lilleth so much that day! I am so grateful!

This week I've been blessed to be more patient and loving with my children than I am naturally capable of. During situations where I would normally get fired up and upset, I've been able to remain calm and composed. I dealt with hard things this week - a lot of which involve poop - and deep, down, I wanted to scream and pull my hair out and yell in my loudest, angriest Mom voice, "You are too old to be finger-painting with your feces on the couch!!!" but instead, I've dealt with these issues with patience beyond my own ability. This has come through so much prayer (so much!!!) and I am so grateful!

Friday, November 14, 2014


...I have been finding so much joy and peace in studying the November Ensign, a magazine from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. The November issue has all of the talks from October's General Conference of the Church. I've been waking up between 5:30-6:30 every morning and starting my day by reading a talk or two. My margins are full of notes and personal insights. I love these messages!

...I've been experiencing quite the roller coaster of emotions about school. One day I will feel completely immobilized by stress or fear, and the next day, I am bouncing off the walls and bursting with enthusiasm because I love my field of study so much. Then I remember that I have to take a very difficult statistics class in the future, and I return to feeling overwhelmed... until I geek out over an article on the history of family life education (which should bore me to no end but, instead, returns me to that wall-bouncing state of bliss).

...Zoe, who just turned two, has been sneaking things in the shopping cart whenever we go to the store. Usually I find her treasures in time to take them out of the cart before we check out, but sometimes, when the kids help load stuff on the conveyor belt, I don't see them until we get home. One week she got away with a package of sippy cups and a bag of goldfish crackers (there are always goldfish involved!) At least she was somewhat practical. We needed the sippy cups.

...I've been feeling a little anti-social in group settings. I haven't been able to convince myself to attend anything involving a group in months. No Relief Society events, no baby showers, no parties, or the like. On the rare occasion I've gone to something, I've hidden in a corner or near the food and left as soon as possible.

...I've spent a significant amount of time and money trying to satisfy my intense cravings. I don't have weird cravings, like pickles and ice cream, or any crazy combinations like that, but when I get a particular food in my mind, I can't function until I have it. For example, a few weeks ago, I needed root beer, and it needed to be on crushed ice (bonus points if I could have fries and fry sauce as well). So I drove across town to a restaurant that I knew had crushed ice only to find out that they switched machines and now have cubed ice. This, of course, caused me to be an emotional wreck for the rest of the day because A) I didn't get the "right" root beer, and B) I wasted time and money to do it.

...I've considered keeping a food diary of my cravings so I can laugh about it later.

...I've been experiencing a bit of writer's block, except I'd like to diagnose it more formally as "writer's impatience." I have plenty of things to write about, I just don't have the fortitude to form coherent sentences to say what I want to say.

...Daisy, age 5, has been waiting and waiting for snow. She looks out the window every day (even last week when it was still in the 60's) and says, "Mom! I think it's going to snow!" I wish I looked forward to snow with that same enthusiasm.

...I've been beating myself up over my character flaws. I'd already been getting down on myself about my habits and my weaknesses, and then I had to do a character strengths assessment for school, and the results really crushed my resolve. Through some prayer and communication with God, I'm starting to see myself a little more positively, and I know now that I didn't properly evaluate myself in the assessment. I'm now trying to give myself the pep talks that I would give someone else if I knew they felt like this - because I don't think anyone else should feel this way. Why should I allow myself to be an exception?