1936 Tangled Vine Drive, Wesley Chapel, Florida 33543

IMG_3527When I was roughly eight or nine years old my family sort of adopted an elderly man in our ward. He was the sweetest guy, that Brother Dorough – when I picture him I think of soft white hair and deep creases around shining eyes. Basically the epitome of a jolly grandpa complete with a cane he liked to shake at people. He had sass, so we got along just swell.

One evening after dinner he pointed at the house numbers on our home and said “1936…that’s the year I lost my thumb!” and commenced to scar me for life by waving his mangled hand in my face. After that I always pictured blood and guts whenever I told people where I lived. Slightly morbid, no? But a surprisingly effective way to memorize my address. It was pretty much burned into the back of my eyelids.

IMG_3530This past spring my family decided that we had better take one last vacation with the whole clan before my brother leaves on his mission. (Speaking of his departure date…it’s two weeks from today. Don’t mention it if you see me. I am pretty much a chasm of ugly emotions about it right now. My eyes seem to be constantly springing leaks.)

When planning a destination, it seemed appropriate that we would venture back to the good ol’ South and visit 1936 Tangled Vine Drive. Florida kind of raised me, you know? My memories consist of throwing rocks at lazy alligators, swimming for the Meadow Pointe Manta Rays and dancing with my mom and siblings in the afternoon downpours. Humidity, yellow sun and chlorinated water combined to produce a freckle-faced, wild-eyed girl with an overly healthy imagination and an intense love for books. The Sunshine State did well by me.

So one saturday in the heat of July my family all departed from various airports around the U.S. and flew into Orlando. We spent a wonderful week at Summer Bay Resort where we slept-in, barbecued, swigged pool-side pina coladas and played intense rounds of catch-phrase.

IMG_3818 IMG_3837 IMG_3583We made it down to Tampa one day and managed to take a few pictures outside of our old home and visit some dear family friends. That afternoon we all stood and looked at the pond where the alligator we affectionally nick-named “Bubbles” used to hang out. I remembered that one time I broke my arm flipping a Razor scooter and laughed about how bad-a I thought my cast was. I’m pretty sure I always picked blue so it would match my middle school pep rally t-shirt. Apparently I have always been a little OCD.

IMG_3616One of the absolute highlights of the trip was visiting  Harry Potter World at Universal Studios. From the Hogwarts castle, to the Hogsmeade shops (think Dervish and Bangs, Ollivander’s, Honeydukes and more!!) to trying cornish pasties and butterbeer at The Three Broomsticks, I was quite literally in nerd nirvana. If you know me at all you are well aware that I am secretly a little distraught that I will never actually be a legit Hogwarts-trained witch. I should probably be ashamed that I am admitting this to the vast internet, but I most definitely bought a wand at Ollivander’s. I mean really, can you blame me? Afterwards I may have spent the rest of the night trying to “accio” various items from across the room. Ryan was appalled, I was delighted.

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On the whole it was a little bittersweet to realize that this was our last family vacation with just “us”. Babies and spouses and crazies will all more than likely be added in the two years that Brent is away; I’m so glad we got the chance to go together before everything changes. While I was certainly excited to go back, I didn’t anticipate just how much like home Florida would feel. Those moss-draped trees and slow ponds sure rooted themselves pretty deep in this wanna-be southern girl’s heart.

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Independence Day and a Zombie Apocalypse

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I would be lying if I said the 4th of July is my favorite holiday. That doesn’t mean that my heart doesn’t swell when I hear a brass band play “God Bless America” or that my eyes don’t prick over with embarrassingly hot, ugly tears every single time I watch fireworks. Literally every. single. time.

But there is just something about Christmas and warm fireplaces and jingle bells and holly…you know? December, you have my heart.

Anyhow.

Our 4th was actually pretty uneventful this year. The morning started out with the gym (my favorite kind of morning) and then alongside a few friends we soaked in the Piedmont Parade. Holy freaking cow Piedmont is gorgeous. Like drool over all the art-deco houses and bemoan having a bank account that will never let you live there kind of beautiful. Interesting fact: Ryan told me that Piedmont once boasted more millionaires per capita than any other city in the US. Fact or fiction? I’m not actually positive but this I know for sure: those old homes were stunners.

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We decided to play lazy and spend the afternoon at the movies. Here is an absolutely true fact for you: going to the movies while in Northern California will wipe out your date fund for the next six months in 10 seconds flat. Two hours, two small bags of fresh popped kettle corn and World War Z later we were $60 poorer and discussing the probability of a zombie apocalypse. My conclusion: If Brad Pitt does indeed save the world and manages to look that good while doing it, you can bring on the walking dead anytime.

After a fat and delicious late afternoon nap we joined some friends for Greek and yet another movie because we obviously aren’t financially savvy and thus didn’t learn our lesson the first go around. Oh well. Here’s a free tip: The Lone Ranger wasn’t exactly the most riveting flick on the planet. But the Joneses sure are fantastic company!

And that in a nutshell was our Independence Day: zombies, FOOD, parades and missing the fireworks. Apparently tradition isn’t our strong suit.

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In Which I Learn to Enjoy Roughin’ It

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Growing up, my family would go camping once or twice a year max. Generally our version of camping included staying by a lake in a rented trailer, eating peanut M&Ms and playing Skip-Bo until someone else (grandpa) prepares a legit BBQ dinner. Also, there was always enough Shasta Cream Soda floating around to hydrate a tiny nation. We aren’t exactly hard-core.

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Don’t get me wrong, I have definitely spent more than one night in a tent. It’s just that some of those nights the tent was in my backyard. And I may or may not have spent the time watching a movie on a TV hooked up to the house with a fifty foot extension cord. And crawled back into my bed at 3 am.

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Basically this all boils down to me not exactly married to the idea that a tent is my best friend and that an air mattress is just as good as the real thing. I’d rather spend my nights away in a hotel. One with a fancy tub and cable so I can indulge in my Grey’s Anatomy obsession. Please and Thanks.

(In order to save face I will say that the rest of my family is actually pretty into camping. It’s just me that struggles. Go figure.)

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However, last week that all changed. Our friends talked us into a legit two night camping trip at the Union Valley Reservoir campgrounds in the Eldorado National Forest. We are talking tents, cooking our own food, outhouses…the whole shebang. Although I was a little skeptical we headed up Friday night right after work. Four hours of traffic-induced mania later, we made it. Crisp cool air, stars that weren’t covered by San Francisco pollution, a gleaming lake…I was sold.

IMG_3409 IMG_3424The next two days were filled with all sorts of camping goodies.  Tubing in the lake and managing to get mega-sunburned. A cute baby with dirt stained cheeks. Dutch-oven dinners compliments of the Beards, who rock outdoor cooking. Seriously. They are basically camping wizards.

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Saturday afternoon we hiked to Bassi Falls. Ashley and I dance-partied along the way, while the guys imitated The Office Parkour episode and 360-ed from rock to rock. Once there they braved the icy-cold water; I on the other hand was content to save my limbs from frostbite, thank you very much.

IMG_3602 IMG_3666Not to be forgotten was the keys-locked-in-the-truck episode. A few broken sticks, prayers, manipulated tent poles and a package of bandaids later we broke into that car ninja style.

Good food, good friends, lake water and pine trees all contributed to change my mind about camping. I am basically ready to head out into the middle of nowhere with only a moment’s notice. As long as there aren’t spiders. That changes everything.

#holthawaii13 Part III: North Shore

It’s 3:42 AM and I can’t sleep. I’ve tried online shopping, paying bills, organizing iPhoto…the whole nine yards and ain’t nothing working. So blogging about our last few days in Hawaii seemed like a pretty valid option. Bear with me.IMG_3042

Due to a nurse strike while we were in Hawaii I had a few extra days off of work (not so good for the paycheck, excellent for vacation-extending). So we did  the only reasonable thing we could think of…said screw it to real-life and stayed for two whole days longer than originally planned! I mean you always dream of staying on vacation, but to have the opportunity to make it happen…priceless, I tell you.IMG_3212North Shore is Ryan’s favorite destination on Oahu, so it seemed like the only obvious place to spend those precious last 48 hours. We quickly booked a room at theTurtle Bay Resort, hopped in our rented Sebring convertible (true tourists, let me tell ya. Also, high rollers. NOT.) and jetted over to the famous surfing beaches.

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Along the way I absolutely insisted we stop at the Dole Plantation for a whip. Tell me you have basked in the luxury that is pineapple frozen yogurt. I mean I will wait in line for an hour at Disneyland for one, let alone an authentic whip on an actual pineapple farm. DO NOT MISS OUT ON LIFE!IMG_3027

A few items of note:

  1. Waimea Falls: After a short, but gorgeous, hike we found ourselves in the company of this natural wonder. The water was way too cold for me, but that guy of mine hopped right in. As Ryan put it, ‘colder than a witch’s tit in a brass bra’ (too far? definitely). IMG_3190 IMG_3241
  2. Sunset Beach: My absolute favorite beach on the island. The sand is just the right balance of soft and warm, the water brisk but refreshing. And it goes without saying that the sunset views are coma-inducing amazing.IMG_3169 IMG_3113
  3. The Laie temple grounds were closed when we visited, but peeking through the gate was a treat. There is something so special about knowing the gospel is world-wide. Feels like home. IMG_3159 IMG_3162
  4. Ted’s Bakery: Pie. Breakfast. Teriyaki. Rolls. Enough said.IMG_3292
  5. Matsumoto’s Shaved Ice: We may have gone twice in one afternoon. Ask for the condensed milk. It’s a game changer.IMG_3288
  6. Morning runs in the banyan trees that made me relive my love for Lost. And also kind of freaked me out. True story.IMG_3179
  7. It has always been my life’s ambition to drink from an actual coconut. High goals and dreams right here, my friends. Well, I found the perfect little roadside stand where I got that coconut. I may or may not have had a nasty stomach ache right after, but that is beside the point. Also: Ryan made me put a flower in my hair because he said it was really cute. Which may have made my heart flutter a little. IMG_3151

And with the burst of hot air #holthawaii13 comes to a bittersweet end. I only took almost 2 months to drag it out. But it really was such a special week in my life. I’m so grateful for the opportunity we had to spend some much-needed time together on that perfect island. It’s something I will always treasure.

23-24

-118Dear 23,

Oh twenty-three. You weren’t my favorite year ever. But you turned out alright.

When you came knocking at my door last June, I had no idea the company you would bring. With you came good, bad, ugly, beautiful, exquisite, tender, sappy, lame, exciting, intimidating, stressful, glorious, pitiful, angry, calm, exuberant, low, facetious, greedy, giving, peaceful and my personal favorite, surprise.

You were the year I learned what it really means to work hard, especially when it seems like nobody notices. You taught me that faith quite literally precedes the miracle. That everything works out alright (and normally better than that) in the end. That Heavenly Father absolutely know what is actually best for me, even when I am pretty confident that I do.

Remember the patients at the hospital that tried our patience and made us bite our tongue? Sometimes we did, and other times we didn’t. Oops. I’ll try harder during 24. You were the year of electrifying feelings and realizing that I am doing what I love. And getting paid for it. Finally.

Remember those ten million times we looked over at Ryan and thought to ourselves “how is he ours?”. Those were perfect-life moments. Remember how he likes to pinch our bum and say he is the luckiest? Remember how we really wanted to make him a daddy and we are starting to not be so scared about that idea? Maybe 24 will make us more brave.

You and I, we shopped a lot. And were kinda greedy. Let’s be a little less worldly and a lot more satisfied this next year. What do you say? (But then again, we bought some pretty nifty shoes, that’s for certain. So it wasn’t a total loss.)

You were the year I conquered my belief that teaching Relief Society would surely result in my untimely death. I even surprised myself and found out that I actually rather like it. Those ladies sure are special.

Speaking of special, I developed some pretty important friendships while you were in town. Girlfriends that make me happy. Older folks in the ward who’s wisdom pretty much blows me away. Not to mention their desire to party.

Family took center-stage this year. Thanks to you I have learned that they are the very most celestial part of my life. How lucky am I?

I could go on and on about you, but it’s time to move on.

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Dear 24,

Let’s do this.

Pake Lowell

Let’s take a break from Hawaii, shall we?

IMG_3339Back in the stone ages, Ryan was a high school senior. 10 years ago next summer, if you can believe it! Because they were bad-a, hard-core 18 year-olds, Ryan and his buddies liked to switch the first few letters of the names of places, people, random items, etc., just for kicks. For example “Ryan Holt” was Hyan Rolt. “Tony Christensen” was Cony Thristensen. “Sand Hollow” was Hand Sollow. Super mature, huh. But I guess I married the kid partly for his goofy, “keep me young” attitude, so all’s well that ends well. Fortunately, the only name that really stuck was Pake Lowell. To this day Ryan rarely calls that grand old Lake Powell anything else.

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Lake Powell was, and is, one of the places nearest and dearest to Ryan’s big, shiny heart. I think he has a secret plan to retire to a houseboat and live out our eighties clad in neon swimsuits, chugging along the nooks and crannies at 5 MPH. Not a bad idea, really. I mean, have you ever star-gazed from the top of a houseboat? I am convinced you can see right through to heaven.

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IMG_3288 IMG_3383Last week we took a quick trip to Utah to visit Ryan’s family, see a few dear friends and renew our acquaintances with the Lake. We set out pretty early (for us) and made our way from St. George to Kanab and on through the red desert to the prettiest shade of blue you ever did see. Soon the water was set out before us; quite like a never-ending dessert buffet. All you can think about is partaking until you pop.IMG_3365IMG_3417

We spent the first day with Ryan’s sisters, Crystal and Katie, and my awesome in-laws, Norm and Laurene. We buzzed around the Main Channel and spent the afternoon drifting (and wakeboarding) through Last Chance. Unfortunately, all I have are i-phone pics. It made my teeth hurt to think about bringing my camera on board the Cobalt. I’m kind of selfish like that. On the way in for the evening we stopped at Antelope Marina for dinner. If you are smart you will say yes to the pizza and skip the fish tacos. Take my word for it.IMG_3321 IMG_3318Saturday morning we met up with Norm’s daughter, Lindsay, and our niece and nephew A and M. Just when I think I am over the baby bug they pop up out of nowhere. It’s a plot, I tell you.

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We spent the afternoon in my favorite crevice of Lake Powell, Navajo Canyon. The sagebrush dusted cliffs literally seem to grow right out of the warm green water and juxtapose themselves perfectly against the bluest sky you’ve ever met. (See how I did that? I have always wanted to incorporate ‘juxtapose’ into a sentence, and now I have. Big fat dream come true, right there.)

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That man of mine is sure going to make a great papa one day. My heart was a warm melty puddle of hormones hanging out on the floor of the boat watching him with interact with the kiddos. He’s a natural. Basically a kid-whisperer.

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LP, you treated us right. But then again, you always do. I mean we even managed to avoid blistering sunburns for the first time, ever. Thanks for that. In the wise words of yearbook-lingo, “stay awesome” Pake Lowell. We sure do love ya. IMG_3432

#holthawaii13 Part II: Pearl Harbor

IMG_2850IMG_2904If you know me at all, you know I am quite the history buff. My fiendish love affair began clear back in the 1st grade when I eagerly devoured the American Girl stories. I would stay up way past bedtime using one of those little clip-on book lights (nerd alert!) and hide under the covers so my parents wouldn’t catch on to my blatant rule breaking. I literally spent hours daydreaming of everything from the American Revolution to growing a Victory Garden of my own. My whole life’s ambition was to own an American Girl doll that I could dress up in her very own bonnet and corset. Sadly, my dreams were never realized. I am still trying to recover.

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Thus it will come as no surprise to you that I absolutely HAD to go to Pearl Harbor while we were in Hawaii. Being the scatter-brained soul I am, I totally forgot to reserve tickets to the USS Arizona Memorial. I was devastated. I owe my life to a pretty helpful concierge who found out that there are a few tickets reserved for walk-ins…but we would have to be in line at 6:30 AM if we were going to have a shot at it. So Sunday morning we woke up early, grabbed a little breakfast to go and headed over to what felt like my destiny.IMG_2908I’ll have you know that getting there was quite the battle. First our GPS led us straight to the active military base in Pearl Harbor. You would have thought the barbed wire for miles would have tipped us off, but alas, we ended up at these intimidating guarded gates only to be turned away. Oops. Then at 6:45 AM we found ourselves on a highway that was abruptly closed for a triathlon. Needless to say, I may or may not have uttered a few choice words. My history love runs deep so thinking that we might not make it in time set my blood boiling. What more can I say?IMG_2890IMG_3032

At 6:45 we pulled up to the memorial, only to see a line the length of a football field wrapped around the buildings and down the street. I about cried. The angels of mercy must have been looking out for us, because we somehow still got tickets.

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The next few hours were spent in a haze of stories, audio tours, and the building of my appreciation for the men and women who serve us and our homeland. Really, I thought my beating American heart might burst from the pure pride and gratitude I felt as story after story of heroism and valor poured out of the audio headsets and into my soul.

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A few hours into the day, it was time for us to catch the ferry boat to the USS Arizona. I have to tell you, it was kind of eerie. And also reverent. I really don’t remember a single person calling out or causing a distraction the whole trip. The need to pay tribute to such hallowed ground seemed to permeate each and every tourist on that boat. The names of those still entombed in the Arizona stand quietly etched into a white marble wall, surrounded by leis from visitors and the bright ocean air. You could almost feel their presence wafting in through the entrance. Apparently a few quarts of oil escape from the sunken battleship every day, streaking the water. Those who survived call them “black tears”. Fitting, I think.

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Later that day we toured a submarine and rode a shuttle through the tropical rain to visit the airfields. All I can tell you is that I had the movie Pearl Harbor heavy on my mind and I kept envisioning Ryan in a pilot’s uniform. He was pretty much my very own Ben Affleck that afternoon. It was pretty sexy.

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The USS Missouri is a fitting place to end this drawn out description of one of my favorite Hawaiian days. Standing on the very spot the Japanese army unconditionally surrendered was, in a word, humbling. May we never forget the lives that were so freely given to bring an end to the most devastating war our world has ever seen.

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