Monday, June 29, 2009

Little Entomologists

I was cleaning out my freezer the other day and realized that quite a significant area of one of the shelves was being taken by jars and bags of frozen insects. Yep - bugs in the freezer. It's not that I didn't know they were there. But I decided it was time to reoccupy my freezer space with food. So we gathered the supplies together for a pinning session.

I recognize that this may gross some people out. But I have been exposed to these kinds of things my entire life. I have early memories of my brother's insect collection in our "science closet." For those of you that have visited my childhood home - you know that we had a long hallway lined with closets. The decorating closet, the art closet, the desk closet, the toy closet, the fabric closet and the science closet. This last closet smelled like moth balls and formaldehyde and was filled with birds nests, rocks, shells, collecting jars with frogs and fishes, insect nets, identification charts and a shelf full of National Geographic magazines. This was one of my favorite places when I was kid - so much to explore and so much to discover!

My personal introduction to insect collecting began in high school when in preparation for Mr. Webb's zoology class (check out other Mr. Webb posts HERE) - Rachel and I spent a summer hunting June beetles after dark at the BYU bell tower and driving along the fields by Utah lake with our nets out the car window. I even had a couple of specimens that I brought back from France! I meticulously pinned each insect making sure that each antennae, wing and leg were in place exactly. And we had to identify each insect with its scientific name and the location where it was found - like this:

I loved this zoology class and always took pride in my insect collection. We had to collect something like 150 insects - do you remember how many exactly Rachel? Since Weston took this same class a few years before me - he also had an insect collection and when we got married - we combined the two. As our kids have grown older we have encouraged them to start their own. So here we go!

Now we just have to identify them! Now where did I put that dichotomous key?...

Thursday, June 25, 2009

A Summers Day

Since the warm weather finally decided to join us for summer - it was nice to spend a day at home with the family. Having some "summer" fun. It seems like forever since we have had a day like today!
SJ enjoyed the sprinklers

Wes and the kids worked on the treehouse

More waterplay for the girls

Dinner on the deck

An evening stroll and a stop to feed the horses Now it's starting to feel like summer!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

A B0wie Blast From the Eighties

Last weekend I introduced my kids to the movie, Labyrinth. I liked this movie when I was kid. Not sure why. Now it kind of freaks me out. The same thing happened when I watched The Dark Crystal as an adult. Yikes! I'm not sure about those muppets...

Anyway, my kids have really gotten into it and have even asked for the soundtrack. Uh - I don't think so. Let's just leave David B0wie where he belongs - in the eighties!
I realized we needed a serious break from this movie after I had this conversation with Cate:
We were walking along a dirt road when she asked me, "Where does this road lead?"
I said, "I don't know."
Cate replied, "Probably certain death."

Monday, June 22, 2009

Looking Back...June 2006

Looking back to June 2006. It was a month before we moved back to Utah and the kids were just getting out of school. It was the year end dance festival!

We miss our California friends!

Cute kids!

We have such wonderful memories of our time in California. Sniff, sniff.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The Trek

Well we made it. It rained. It hailed! It was muddy. There were cow pies. It was cold. There were ticks. There were mosquitoes. We were filthy. We smelled like smoke. The kids were noisy. We didn't sleep (until an angel gave me some ear plugs). We got sunburned. Kids got sick.

And we would do it all again in a heartbeat!!!

This was a great experience for us and for the kids. We had an awesome family that rarely complained, worked hard and came together to support each other. Wes and I were not supposed to pull the handcart (although Wes ended up pulling it by himself at one point just to give the kids a break and I pulled during the women's pull). But it didn't matter because these kids didn't need us. They worked out a system and all pitched in to do the work. We laughed together and cried together. We danced and sang together. We shared in amazing spiritual experiences together. We learned that in serving and sacrificing for one another - we developed a genuine love for each member of our pioneer trek family. And an appreciation for what the real pioneers had to endure.

Day 1 included about 10 miles of walking with the excitement of a major hailstorm and 4 inch deep mud. Here are our kids with smiles on their faces getting ready to hit the trail on day 2.

Loved my girls!
Loved my boys!

We were exhausted but felt very empowered after the "women's pull." I wish I would have taken a picture of the hill we had to climb with the handcart. It was pretty intense!
Ma and Pa Spencer
Wes became a Stake celebrity overnight after his performance as the superhero:

"For the Strength of Youth Man!"
The "FSY-Man" (as he signed in autographs) in action...
Our family on the last day. The sun is finally shining (on the only day I forgot to wear sunscreen).
Our buckets
A Bucket Pyramid on the last day
Our ward group

Before we left I asked Addie to help me remember a quote from Joseph Smith that I heard in Stake Conference. As I was packing I noticed the she had pinned this slip of paper to my shirt sleeve. I kept it in my apron pocket through the entire trek and quoted it to my kids often. It states, "A long pull, a strong pull, and a pull all together." Isn't that what it's all about anyway?

Saturday, June 6, 2009

The Price They Paid

In just a few days we will leave our little family to be the "Ma" and "Pa" for our "pioneer" family - 10 teenagers - on a 30 mile trek. I have no doubt this will be a great experience - physically, mentally and most of all spiritually - even though it will be difficult. However, I can honestly say at this point that even if I didn't have the trek to look forward to - what I have learned in preparation for this journey has made it worth it. Reading the pioneer stories has made such an impact on me - it makes me grateful that I accepted the call and finally took the time to learn about these amazing people.
I am referring specifically to the tragic story of the Willie and Martin handcart companies. I have heard these stories so many times throughout my life in Sunday school lessons or conference talks that they seemed to just blend together and would go in one ear and out the other. Sad but true. But for the first time I can say that I have truly internalized these stories. And I have been changed by them.
For those who are as unfamiliar as I was with their story. Let me give some brief, brief background. In the year 1856 - there were 5 handcart companies that traveled from Iowa City to the Salt Lake Valley. The first three left in good time and made it to their destination with minimal difficulty. The last two emigrant companies - made up of many children and elderly - arrived late to America from Europe and after a hasty preparation, left Iowa City weeks after the time that was considered to be safe. The many reasons for the decision for them to continue are too complex for me to address here. But they turned their faces Westward and with great determination - walked hundreds of miles to Utah. However, along with many other difficulties - the October temperatures and terrible snowstorms brought disaster upon these two groups. They were left starving and freezing to death and would have most likely perished entirely if rescue teams sent from Salt Lake City had not arrived. Some say it was a matter of about 48 hours before they would have all died and that the rescue could not have been more timely. There ended up being about 200 dead total from the two groups of about 500 each. After the rescue the emigrants were able to ride in wagons the rest of the way to the Valley. Unfortunately their lives didn't get much easier after their arrival but most of these people stayed true to their faith and never regretted making that tragic trek.

So now let me share with you the books I have read - and I hope that someday you also will take the time to learn about these groups of people and what they sacrificed for their families, their faith in God and for their religion. Or perhaps you are lucky enough to already be familiar with them!

The book that I found most intriguing and well-written was, The Price We Paid by Andrew D. Olsen. I want to share with you the story behind the title of this book. Francis Webster was a survivor of the Martin Company who settled in Cedar City. Decades after the terrible events of the Fall of 1856 - Francis was an old man sitting in a Sunday school class when the conversation turned to the stories of these two late handcart companies. People started to criticize the leaders of the Church in allowing this to happen. Francis listened as long as he could stand it and then spoke up. "I ask you to stop this criticism. You are discussing a matter you know nothing about....We suffered beyond anything you can imagine, and many died of exposure and starvation...Was I sorry that I chose to come by handcart? No. Neither then nor any minute of my life since. The price we paid to become acquainted with God was a privilege to pay, and I am thankful that I was privileged to come in the Martin handcart company" (pg. 424).

This is non-fiction. It is very well-researched and presents the stories as they truly happened - separately. It is a common mistake to believe that the Willie company and the Martin Company were together on the trail. They were actually days if not weeks apart from each other even though their experiences were very similar. I was fascinated by the stories of these people! I loved that Olsen told their story all the way from when they left their native lands of England and Denmark to after they arrived the Salt Lake. It was remarkable to read what happened to these Saints after their horrific experience - how a few became bitter and resentful towards the Church. However, most of these trekkers remained faithful in the gospel and settled many different parts of Utah. I also liked how Olsen was not afraid to address controversial questions that arise from possible mistakes that might have been made by Church leaders and emigrant leaders.

Fire of the Covenant by Gerald Lund was the first book I read and was a nice introduction to the events of the story. It is historical fiction. There are both fictional and non-fictional characters in the novel. I liked how at the end of each chapter the author writes about the actual events and gives journal excerpts. Even though the novel is about 3 inches thick - it is a quick and easy read. Great for young adults. The same author as The Work and the Glory series.

Sweetwater Rescue - The Willie and Martin Handcart Story by Heidi Swinton and Lee Groberg is more of a coffee-table book. Beautiful illustrations with some photographs accompany vignettes of the trek and rescue experience. This book is lovely and covers the major events and people in the story. It does not have the detail and insight of The Price We Paid, however. This book has an accompanying DVD/documentary (sold separately). I am sad to say that I was a little disappointed with the DVD. I have become pretty passionate about these stories and it just didn't have the impact that I was hoping for. But it is still worth watching for sure!

Last of all - I need to put in a plug for Wallace Stegner's The Gathering of Zion: The Story of the Mormon Trail. I read this years ago and it is not specific to the Willie and Martin handcart experience. However, it is excellent and a very interesting perspective from a non-Mormon point of view.

I have come to know and love some of the people that traveled in these companies. Sarah James who lost her husband on the trail. Elizabeth Jackson who lost her husband on the trail. 13 year old Reuben James who paced over his dying father's body so as not to freeze to death. Eliza Gadd who was not a member of the church and who, even after losing her husband and child on the trail, was baptized a week after arriving in Salt Lake. 5 year old Joseph Kirkwood whose 11 year old brother carried Joseph on his back up Rocky Ridge and then sat down and died. Just to name a few. I am not related to them - they are not my ancestors by blood. But they are in spirit. I feel a connection to them because like them I am a mother, a daughter, a sister and most of all, a believer. Their stories of faith and determination make me want to show more gratitude for my many blessings, work harder to live the gospel, to think of others more than myself, to cherish my husband and children and to see the hand of God in my life daily.