Seeking the Quiet: Weed the Vacant Lot

Some thoughts are just worth reposting again. I was going through my previous site and came across this post from last year. Last year was really busy!  We did a lot of traveling, met many new people, and had to stay organized to keep one step ahead of everything.

At one point, in the midst of settling in from one trip and preparing for another, I started to feel overwhelmed. I was worrying unnecessarily about events that hadn’t happened.

Fortunately, I found a talk by Boyd K. Packer that put things into perspective, at which point I wrote the post below.


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Parts of our minds are like vacant lots. Are we keeping the weeds out?

From July 5, 2015

Recently I heard this:  “Worrying is negatively anticipating that something bad will happen” Or the humorous version, “You can’t tell me worrying doesn’t help. The things I worry about never happen.”

That last quote came from a 1977 talk by Pres. Boyd K. Packer called Balm of Gilead.  A talk I listened to this morning for the very first time and haven’t stopped thinking about. I’m adding a link because I recommend that you watch it. After you’re done reading this post, of course.

Anyone who knows about Pres. Packer, who just passed away 2 days ago, knows that he did not mince words. He was very direct and often forced the listener to hold a mirror up in front of him/herself.

What happens when we do that? Sometimes we like what we see and sometimes we don’t.

He talks about the “vacant lot” we all have in our minds. You know…that part of ourselves where the uncertainties, the rationalizations, the doubts, and the “gray” areas live like little weeds. We can pick them and throw them out. We can put up a mental “No Dumping” sign. Or we can let those weeds fester.

(If I want to get really metaphorical, I could talk about those weeds that start springing little flowers and try convincing us that they shouldn’t be picked.  I’ve had those too. Haven’t we all?)

I wouldn’t say I’d reached a big festering point in my vacant lot, but I was definitely letting weeds grow there. Most of those weeds were just unimportant things that I was allowing to become too important.

One way I’ve been trying to combat the weeds is by reading the Scriptures more often, more fervently, and with more thought.

The Scriptures are a great “weed killer.”

Another way is by eliminating, or cutting back, on things that don’t matter. For me, a lot of this is device, media, and social-media based. Wow, those things are powerful and time-consuming!

I have come to 2 conclusions: 1. I control my phone, not the other way around. 2. The media and social media don’t get to decide what’s important and what’s true.

I must tell you…Reminding myself of these things and taking some personal steps to implement them has really made a difference these last few days.  The noise of the world has lessened and inner peace has grown. When I start to get worked up or negatively anticipate something that hasn’t happened yet I find my saner side saying “It doesn’t matter,” or “It’s only…”

There was a time when the world was quieter. Now it seems like the only way we can have quiet is to actively seek it.

Psalms 107:30  

Then are they glad because they be quiet; so he bringeth them unto their desired haven. 

Life as a haven full of gladness. Doesn’t that sound wonderful?  How often have I allowed weeds to grow and prevented this?

Seeking the quiet. This is my new goal. To remind myself what really matters, and to put my energies there.

The Mercy Dilemma

Sunday’s Relief Society lesson was based on a talk called Always Remember Him, by Elder Gerrit W. Gong. As I admitted to the sisters while conducting the meeting, I did not pay a lot of attention to this talk when it was given during April General Conference. But I read it closely last Saturday and was struck by its poignancy.

“Him,” of course, is the Savior. These are ways Elder Gong says we can remember Him:

  1. By having confidence in His covenants, promises, and assurances.
  2. By gratefully acknowledging His hand throughout our lives.
  3. By trusting when the Lord assures us, “He who has repented of his sins, the same is forgiven, and I, the Lord, remember them no more.”
  4. He invites us to remember that He is always welcoming us home.
  5.  We can always remember Him on the Sabbath through the sacrament.

I’m sure different people were affected by different things in the list, but the one that struck me the most was number 3.

forgiveness
“…shew mercy and compassions every man to his brother…” Zechariah 7:9

We can always remember Him by trusting when the Lord assures us, “He who has repented of his sins, the same is forgiven, and I, the Lord, remember them no more.”

To be worthy does not mean to be perfect. Heavenly Father’s plan of happiness invites us to be humbly at peace on our life’s journey to someday become perfected in Christ, not constantly worried, frustrated, or unhappy in our imperfections today. Remember, He knows all the things we don’t want anyone else to know about us—and loves us still. (Elder Gong)

I’ve put in bold the phrases that meant the most to me in this paragraph. They made me think of two things:

First, how incredibly fortunate I am to be married to a man who has refined the action of quickly letting go of negative feelings. He (Hubby) knows everything about me and loves me still. I wish I were more like that. I try to be, but I’m not always successful, so it is nice to have such a good example of this quality in my home. I sometimes fall in the trap of thinking, “If I forget, does that mean I don’t care? Does it mean I don’t want to learn from my mistake?”

It’s a foolish trap, of course, and an easy lie to tell ourselves. You can learn from your mistakes without constantly revisiting them and letting them define you. Dr. S. Michael Wilcox, my favorite BYU Education Week instructor, talks about “Pink People.” These are the people who are not quite scarlet in their sins, but haven’t quite forgiven themselves either.  As someone who is unduly hard on myself, I admit–sometimes I’m pink.

We need to forgive ourselves.

Second, I thought of the double standard that exists in the world. The idea of “mercy for me, but not for thee.”

In a recent talk I attended, Brother Wilcox said, “Somewhere in history, it became more important to be right than to be good.”

Oh, how very true!  We see this so much on social media. The lack of mercy for people in headlines is staggering. In today’s society where everyone is judge and jury, one comment can become a runaway train. But isn’t stating an opinion our right? Doesn’t that person or company deserve it? The comments continue in a downward spiral until everyone is exhausted. What purpose did it serve?  None. Who is the victor? No one.

The popular double standard has then emerged. In the same way we don’t want others to define us by our mistakes, we should try not to do the same thing to others, including people we don’t know personally. And, even though mistakes and bad choices are not the same thing, I’m going to combine them here because the principle applies to both.

“The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is attributed to the strong.” –Mahatma Gandhi

What an exceptional quote, and what great gifts forgiveness and mercy are to both the recipient and the giver. Guilt and grudges act like terrible weights shackled to us, when the keys are there in front of us. A little more humility, a little less pride.

There are times it can be so very hard, I know, especially when we feel we have been deeply wronged. Still, forgiveness should always be the goal.

As Gordon B. Hinckley said: Try a little harder to be a little better.

Let’s try harder to let go of that double-standard of forgiveness and not create our own mercy dilemma. Let’s remember that everyone is fighting their own battle, many of them invisible, and just doing their best.

Let’s apply the Golden Rule of doing unto others as we would have others do unto us.

Try a little harder. It is something within everyone’s power, including mine.

Some Beauty for Your Day

Enya’s music is very special to me. Her poetic lyrics often focus on love, nature, or storytelling. She captures a very unique calmness in her songs, each with a pulse that is both driving and relaxing. Enjoy her song,  Amarantine. Better still, close your eyes and listen.

You know when you give your love away
It opens your heart, everything is new
And you know time will always find a way
To let your heart believe it’s true

You know love is everything you say
A whisper, a word, promises you give
You feel it in the heartbeat of the day
You know this is the way love is

Amarantine
Amarantine
Amarantine
Love is, love is, love…

Amarantine
Amarantine
Amarantine
Love is, love is, love…

You know love may sometimes make you cry
So let the tears go, they will flow away
For you know love will always let you fly
How far a heart can fly away

Amarantine
Amarantine
Amarantine
Love is, love is, love…

Amarantine
Amarantine
Amarantine
Love is, love is, love….

Amarantine
Amarantine
Amarantine
Love is, love is, love….

You know when love’s shining in your eyes
It may be the stars falling from above.
And you know love is with you when you rise,
For night and day belong to love

____________

Make the day yours. Open your heart and embrace what is good.

I’m Not Famous, but My Relatives Are

When I was younger, I never thought much about genealogy. It seemed very complicated and overwhelming. Charts, charts, and more charts. There were other people to do the work. Plus, as a child, I was the fourth generation of living relatives. (Now I’m the second.)

I felt–and still feel–pretty lucky that those productive, motivated people were on both sides of my family.

On my dad’s side, my grandma had an uncle who compiled hundreds of pages of family history and genealogical information. He self-published a book in 1928, of which my grandma had one of only a handful of copies.

When I bought my first house in 2005, my grandma gave me an unusual box for Christmas. Inside it was the special book her uncle had published, which he gave to my grandmother’s aunt in 1938. She passed it down to my grandma, who gave it to me. In my mind, it is a sacred record. And, since I don’t have children of my own, I hope that my niece or nephew regard it with the same esteem as I do. One day, I too, will need to pass it on.

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Title page of what we affectionately call “The Bunn Book.”  I love that Uncle Romanzo Bunn inserted his actual signature on the title page. What a cool guy.

My mom’s dad, my grandpa, took great pains to research his family. He encountered more than a few obstacles, especially because his own father was an orphan in Mexico, and finding records on his history was very difficult. It took years, but eventually my grandpa’s determination was rewarded. He found the necessary information on his father. While visiting Utah in 1994 to attend my BYU graduation, he even visited the genealogical library in Salt Lake City. That’s tenacity, folks.

When my grandpa died in March 2008, I took the family tree he constructed, which always had a place of honor over his desk. Now it has a place of honor over mine. I see it every day and am reminded of those who came before me.

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“Our Family Tree,” constructed by my beloved grandpa, Gilberto Arturo Viramontes

A year before, on my maternal grandma’s side, an ambitious cousin also published a book of genealogy. He made it available to anyone who wanted to purchase a copy.

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Since this book is all in Spanish, I have painstakingly traced my direct line through my great-grandmother using notes and Post-its. (Hooray for high school language classes and a bilingual mother.)

Incredibly, all of these things became available to me within only 3 years. That sounds like more than a coincidence to me.

When I moved up north with my husband in 2010, I began exploring Family Search and doing more genealogy. It was fun, but time-consuming, and I eventually abandoned it…until now…

What’s a great way to light a fire under someone to do family history? Match them up with FAMOUS PEOPLE. Naturally.

A few days ago I was introduced to a website called Relative Finder, which is attached to Family Search. Using existing genealogical data that you or someone else has entered, Relative Finder tells you if you share common ancestors with any well-known people. You need to have an account with Family Search (it’s FREE) and you need to input at least a few names, but it isn’t difficult. And you can always find a local Family History Center where someone will help you if you need it. (Also FREE.)

The cynic might be thinking, “What?” And I hear you. I was thinking the same thing, except…that the site also shows you how you’re related through that common ancestor.

Example: According to Relative Finder, I am 14th cousin, once removed, to Elvis Presley. That’s right, The King of Rock n Roll himself. Let’s see how:

Screen Shot 2016-08-30 at 9.11.53 PM

Yes, that common ancestor was a few hundred years back, but the proof is right there. Elvis and I are cousins. Distant cousins, but still cousins.

Others in my list include Susan B. Anthony, Emily Dickinson, Harry Truman, Henry David Thoreau, Samuel Morse, Abigail Adams, Philo T. Farnsworth, Walt Disney and several others.

Besides the fun of seeing such names, it is also a reminder that we, all of us, are connected. I don’t know about you, but that makes me view the entire human race differently. That person you cut off in traffic? The lady whose groceries you helped pick up? The person online whose comment made you mad? The teenager who handed you your drive-through order?

They might be your relatives.

 Something to ponder.

These Things I Seek: Seeds of Bliss and Balance

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“All the flowers of tomorrow are in the seeds of today.” -Indian proverb

Oh, Creativity.

It can be exhilarating. It can be frustrating.

I suppose one of the hardest aspects of creativity is not knowing what your creative outlet is, but even when you find it, there can be setbacks. Experience has shown me what my creative outlets are not: quilting, sewing, cooking (beyond the basics,) and gardening.

Gardening. It is probably the one hobby I truly wish I was better at, but, alas. I end up in an inevitable power struggle with the plant and it dies. I’m not sure who ends up the winner, probably the withered, neglected plant.

Having found your creative outlet, do you ever have days when the ideas just FLOW?

Me too! It’s great, isn’t it?

I, personally, love the process of beginning a new blog. The ideas begin and, once I make the decision to commit to its birth and design, it is fun to see them evolve into something tangible.

Naming the blog, however, is completely different. I dread it, go around in circles, then dread it some more.

For some time I have wanted to give my personal blog a new name. “Keeping Up With Kristie” seemed like I was saying that my life was something more exciting than the norm and needed “keeping up with.” (Not true!)

Then, a certain reality show family began using a similar name. That did it.

How does one name a blog? I’m still not sure. But one helpful site suggested brainstorming favorite words and ideas.

These are a few of my favorite words:

Purposeful     Bliss     Meaningful     Possibilities     Delight     Spiritual     Simplicity

Contentment     Balance     Thoughtful     Wisdom     Value     Gratitude     Unique    

Witty     Enchanted     Intentional     Choice

Then I began to think about why I liked those words.  And I thought I about the purpose of a personal blog.

Many of them are attributes I seek to acquire or ways in which I want to acquire them.

A personal blog is a place to share my thoughts and, hopefully, share ways I am striving to better myself. Since I have not had success as an actual gardener, perhaps I can plant other seeds–internal seeds. (I know, being me can be exhausting sometimes, i.e., “Simplicity” on the list.)

But, in the end, Bliss and Balance won. They are all-encompassing. They are quiet, yet strong.

The Parable of the Sower

This parable’s powerful message has followed me around lately. When Christ taught this parable, He was referring to the Word of God (seeds) and the hearts of men (different types of soil the seeds fell upon.) The full parable is HERE.

The symbols in this parable can be applied to other things too. I seek also to plant seeds of Bliss and Balance in my life. I want them to fall on good soil that I have nourished. I want them to take root and blossom into beautiful flowers which produce new seeds of their own. Seeds of inspiration. Seeds of personal revelation. Seeds that don’t even have names yet but are all about goodness.

I’m also aware that in this world of extremes, Bliss and Balance are becoming more and more elusive.

Balance means incorporating many good activities into our lives, but also remembering to be flexible when things do not go as planned or when others’ needs come before our own.

Bliss is not apathy or laziness, but calm contentment. In my opinion, it is a step beyond happiness. Happiness may be the cake, but Bliss is the recipe.

And so, as this writer and her site evolve, I hope to plant these seeds in my days. I do not expect perfection. There will be times when the seeds fall upon rocky ground or get devoured by birds, but they are what I seek and I will keep trying.

It is amazing how, with Man’s many admirable creations, the best Life lessons still come from He who created at the very beginning.

Prayer: Ritualizing the Routine

 

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Art by Nicole De Clerck

When I was a child I kept diaries. In them I would write the secrets of my innermost heart. There was safety in those pages. They were discreet. They didn’t judge. They didn’t rush me to write faster. They never critiqued the length. They never forgot what I said.

Over time my journal writing changed to “journal typing” on the computer. This transitioned to keeping a personal blog, and that changed everything. Although I have never experienced any negativity in that medium, I censor myself in a way I didn’t in private journals. It’s only natural. On rare occasions I’ve encountered bloggers who write anything and everything, despite the risk of being criticized on their own page, but I think most bloggers write through the filter of wondering how their writing will be received.

People like myself, who call ourselves “writers,” do so not because we are published or renowned, but because we are compelled to write. I write poetry, but I am not a storyteller. I do not create plots, characters, and settings. I am a “life interpreter,” always trying to find a deeper meaning in the day-to-day, seeking to better myself through the written word. Comments and followers are wonderful, but they are not my ultimate goal.

And my history of journal writing? It will become more relevant as you read on.

Rituals vs. Routines

A week ago today at BYU Education Week, I attended a class on acquiring the Holy Spirit taught by Jennifer Brinkerhoff Platt. She described the difference between rituals and routines.

Rituals

  • are symbolic in nature
  • are made sacred
  • have emotional outcomes

I suppose you could say I have ritualized the routine of writing. No matter who reads it, it is sacred to me.

Routines

  • are viewed as tasks
  • are part of To Do lists
  • limited to time

Which begs the question: Am I turning rituals into routines? Are things we claim to value (reading the scriptures, praying, attending church, interacting with our families) becoming tasks?

Quantity vs. Quality of Our Prayers

I believe the quantity and frequency of our prayers is more important to He who listens than the quality. But their quality still has value, mostly for us, and that is what I really began to contemplate.  Sister Platt shared the following quote. Its effect on me was profound.

“I prayed, reviewing with the Lord what I thought I had been taught by the Spirit.  When a feeling of peace came, I thanked Him for the guidance given. I was then impressed to ask, “Was there yet more to be given?”

I received further impressions, and the process of writing down the impressions, pondering, and praying for confirmation was repeated. Again I was prompted to ask, “Is there more I should know?”

And there was.

When the last, most sacred experience was concluded, I had received some of the most precious, specific, personal direction one could hope to obtain in this life. Had I not responded to the first impressions and recorded them, I would not have received the last, most precious guidance.”

–Elder Richard G. Scott

The words of Elder Scott, a late church leader and beloved apostle, have always spoken to me on a very personal level. So it is no surprise that of all the quotes Sister Platt shared, this one impacted me the most. In pondering them, I began to think about changes I could make.

The Prayer Journal

There are two quotes by Elder Scott on the wall near my computer:

“We become what we want to be by consistently being what we want to become each day.”

and

“To reach a goal you have never before attained, you must do things you have never before done.”

Admittedly, I printed and taped up those quotes a few years ago when I was trying to change my diet and exercise habits, but they are just as applicable to prayer or anything else we are trying to improve.

I began wanting to improve the quality of my prayers. In doing so, I needed to do something I had “never before done.” For me, it meant writing them down. Something so basic and simple.

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My very first prayer journal

The day before we drove home, I bought the journal you see above. It sits by the bed. I write in it before going to sleep at night and when I arise in the morning. The process of writing my prayers has humbled me and helped me to focus. I’ve imposed no rules except to just do it. And yes, I’ve already noticed a difference.

Again, it is a process.

I write what I am grateful for and the blessings I hope to receive. I write what blessings I pray for others. The length varies, as do the details. I know Heavenly Father knows me, my challenges, and the wishes of my heart. I know written prayers don’t receive more attention from Him than prayers offered silently or prayers said aloud. But I will say it again: I’ve already noticed a difference. My day is better.

What I haven’t done yet, as Elder Scott did, is write my spiritual impressions. That is my next step. But I can testify that the clarity brought by writing my prayers has helped me visualize the day better when I write in the morning and create a more peaceful ending when I write at night. The focus I feel also makes me feel more focused upon. I feel the Spirit more strongly. I feel the love of our Father in Heaven even more. All good things. Very, very good things.

“Weary the Lord until He blesses you.”

This quote was also shared in class. It was the first time I heard it. It followed the theme of asking for more, not worrying about bending God’s ear for too long, wondering if He would tire of your prayers and pleadings.

He won’t.

And so, coming full circle, I suppose that is what keeping a prayer journal and “ritualizing” the routine of prayer has done for me. Prayer wasn’t a daily “routine” like the definition I shared at the beginning of this post, but, once in a while, it could be.

Good, Better, Best

Elder Dallin H. Oaks used the phrase “Good, Better, Best” in a talk while referring to forgoing good things in favor of better things, ultimately striving for the best things. I will apply that principle here:

GOOD is knowing the difference prayer can make in your life.

BETTER is praying regularly and developing a personal relationship with our Father in Heaven.

BEST is feeling the effect of that relationship though the impressions of the Spirit.

Are we always at the “Best?” If you’re like me, probably not. Impatience, pride, and laziness can sometimes rear their ugly heads. But the more we try, the more we focus and humble ourselves, the more often we experience it. That experience motivates us to strive for it.

And “Best” is definitely worth the effort.

Lady of the Lake

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Art by Jean Beauduin

If you Google “Lady of the Lake” artwork, your search will yield some interesting pieces.

My Lady of the Lake was one of those people whose name I will never know. A middle-aged woman with shoulder-length hair who would park by our neighborhood lake. She would arrive in the morning–seven days a week, rain or shine– and stay all day. Six hours. Eight hours.

She never got out of her car to walk around the lake, which most people do when they go there. I never saw her interact with anyone. She never talked on the phone, ate, or read.  Sometimes she would close her eyes, tilt her head, and take a snooze. Mostly she just sat in solitude.

Her car, a newer-model sedan, was very cluttered with miscellaneous items. In fact, it was so full that the only space in it was where she sat each day.

Over the months and years I began to wonder about this lady. Did she have anyone? Did she have anywhere to go? Did she have anything else to do?

Last year I was driving early to the grocery store when I saw that familiar car parked in a driveway on a street I frequent often. The driveway belonged to a house that was in great disrepair. Suddenly things became clear why the beauty of the neighborhood lake attracted my lady so much.

And then she disappeared.

A few days later there was a huge Dumpster in front of her house.

The car was cleaned out. Then the car disappeared.

The house got a new roof. Then the house was cleaned out.

This afternoon I went to buy groceries and saw the house for the first time in two weeks.

The siding has been removed, the windows have been removed. It is gutted into a shell on its foundation.

I think it is safe to say that my nameless Lady of the Lake has died.

Of course, she wasn’t nameless.

I’m sorry I never knew her name.

I think it is also safe to say that this lonely lady was connected to someone, and that this someone has taken the initiative to revive her house. After all, under the layers of disrepair, it has value.

Was Lady of the Lake unaware of her value? Did she fall into disrepair?

It is odd to drive by the lake these days and not see her. I wonder how many other people noticed her. I wonder if she is at peace.  I wonder if she feels loved.

I hope so.

Thoughts on BYU Education Week

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I love being on BYU campus! I took this photo on August 19, walking to the Marriott Center.

Somewhere, in the suitcase I still haven’t opened yet, is the notebook I carried throughout Education Week. Three quarters full, packed with ideas and insights, are the things I want to remember in the coming year. In all the years I’ve attended, there may be more “take away” ideas this time than ever before. I plan to devote individual blog posts to those ideas in the future.

The ones that immediately come to mind:

  • Our Heavenly Father is like the conductor of an orchestra. His music can be heard through different instruments. (S. Michael Wilcox)
  • Am I making myself an exception? Is it preventing me from receiving personal revelation? (Stephen Hunsaker)
  • Ritualize your routines, improve the quality of your prayers. (Jennifer Brinkerhoff Platt)
  • Write down the music that’s most important to you. It may be a necessary tool of communication one day. (Michael Ballam)
  • The Savior said “Come unto me,” but He also went unto the people. (Susan Easton Black)
  • Being aware of the different ways/reasons husbands and wives communicate, helps you communicate better. (John Bytheway)

Even in these short phrases, I can feel my memory of these great talks’ profundity and their details are fading.  All the more reason to go through my notes and write my impressions. My favorite speakers have such a talent for interpreting the scriptures and displaying their own humanity and humility. I so admire these qualities.

The best part of Education Week (aside from the high-quality lectures and the opportunity to travel with my cute hubby) is that I have arrived home motivated to be better. I suppose that speaks to the success of the week. That’s not the same as feeling guilty for not being good enough in the past. Nobody likes that. But we can–all of us–always use “tweaking.” I’m inspired to tweak. I’m inspired to go forward a polished-up version of my previous self.

I’m inspired.

A Night in Meridian

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Photo credit: Mike Putnam Photography

This post is brought to you from our hotel room in Meridian, Idaho, as we make our way to beautiful Utah.

This morning we left a little later than we would’ve liked, but both of us were very tired and had a tough time getting up early. I am very thankful that our prayers were answered in that we had a very easy drive across Oregon and into Idaho.

Last year, with only 100 miles left on this leg of the trip, we encountered wildfires. The consequence was an additional 4-5 hours of driving to go around them. We hobbled into the hotel at about 10pm. That memory is still very fresh in our minds, which made us extra grateful for the ease of today’s travel.  Hopefully, tomorrow is the same.

Music, conversation, and laughter carried us through the day. (Along with Chex Mix, water, and gum.) Our driving was sponsored by the stylings of Michael Buble, Bette Midler, the Bee Gees, BJ Thomas, Amy Grant, and a mix from our wedding reception. The time flew!

The picture above? Up on the hill is the Vista House, which we were able to visit last year. It’s view is amazing. We saw everything in this photo.

Today was a great start to our trip!