Monthly Archives: March 2015

Five Favorite Poems

My eleven-year-old came home the other day telling me that her English teacher is starting a really boring unit. For the next few weeks they are going to be studying poetry. She said the word poetry in the same tone she says the words clean the bathroom.

And this is my child?

I, the lover of all types of poetry? I, collector of great books of poems? I, the woman who hosted wild, ruckus Poetry Nights with my friends for years when my daughters were wee babes?  This is my child?

I wanted to explain to her that poetry is how people put love and hate and fear and hope into words we can feel. I wanted her to understand that good poetry, really good poetry is like a secret code that you have to decipher, and the best poems have a last line that hits you straight in the heart. I wanted her to know that reading good poetry outloud is like having your mouth filled with chocolate.  Poetry is about passion, child! Passion!

But all I could muster up at the moment was a flabbergasted, “But poetry is so cool!”

My daughter shrugged. “If you say so.”

Okay, so it will take some time for me to convert her. In the meantime, April is National Poetry Month so let’s get the party started! Here are some of my favorite poems:

1. I Stop Writing the Poem by Tess Gallagher

I once told a very wise woman that I had a dream to write books but that I planned to dutifully wait until all my children were in school. She laughed at me and said that if I did that I would loose all my inspiration. She was right. Since then I have tried to weave my writing in with my mothering and wifer-ing and it has worked out better than I had hoped. There are plenty of times I have to stop writing to fold shirts. Or do laundry. Or listen. It is all part of what women do. But without those children tugging at our sleeves and asking questions, what would there be to write about?

I Stop Writing the Poem

to fold the clothes. No matter who lives
or who dies, I’m still a woman.
I’ll always have plenty to do.
I bring the arms of his shirt
together. Nothing can stop
our tenderness. I’ll get back
to the poem. I’ll get back to being
a woman. But for now
there’s a shirt, a giant shirt
in my hands, and somewhere a small girl
standing next to her mother
watching to see how it’s done.

 

2. Master Speed by Robert Frost

I think about this poem when I think about the power of marriage.

Master Speed

No speed of wind or water rushing by
But you have speed far greater. You can climb
Back up a stream of radiance to the sky,
And back through history up the stream of time.
And you were given this swiftness, not for haste
Nor chiefly that you may go where you will,
But in the rush of everything to waste,
That you may have the power of standing still-
Off any still or moving thing you say.
Two such as you with such a master speed
Cannot be parted nor be swept away
From one another once you are agreed
That life is only life forevermore
Together wing to wing and oar to oar.

 

3. When I Heard the Learn’d Astronomer by Walt Whitman

I read this poem when Facebook gets too much for me to handle.

When I heard the learn’d astronomer;

When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me;

When I was shown the charts and the diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them;

When I, sitting, heard the astronomer, where he lectured with much applause in the lecture room,

How soon, unaccountable, I became tired and sick;

Till rising and gliding out, I wander’d off by myself,

In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,

Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars.

 

4. Phenomenal Woman by Maya Angelou

Every poem by this woman is phenomenal. This one is my favorite.

Phenomenal Woman

Pretty women wonder where my secret lies.

I’m not cute or built to suit a fashion model’s size
But when I start to tell them,
They think I’m telling lies.
I say,
It’s in the reach of my arms,
The span of my hips,
The stride of my step,
The curl of my lips.
I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.
I walk into a room
Just as cool as you please,
And to a man,
The fellows stand or
Fall down on their knees.
Then they swarm around me,
A hive of honey bees.
I say,
It’s the fire in my eyes,
And the flash of my teeth,
The swing in my waist,
And the joy in my feet.
I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.
Men themselves have wondered
What they see in me.
They try so much
But they can’t touch
My inner mystery.
When I try to show them,
They say they still can’t see.
I say,
It’s in the arch of my back,
The sun of my smile,
The ride of my breasts,
The grace of my style.
I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.
Now you understand
Just why my head’s not bowed.
I don’t shout or jump about
Or have to talk real loud.
When you see me passing,
It ought to make you proud.
I say,
It’s in the click of my heels,
The bend of my hair,
the palm of my hand,
The need for my care.
’Cause I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

 

5. Ode on Imitations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood by William Wordsworth

This is just a bite of a much longer poem (but it is the best bite).  I taped this (and other poems) to the kitchen cupboard while my daughter Naomi had colic and memorized them while I held her and walked back and forth, back and forth. Can’t remember them now, though, so that is why I have to keep reading them…

Ode on Imitations of Immortality

 Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting;
The soul that rises with us, our life’s Star,
Hath had elsewhere its setting 
And cometh from afar;
Not in entire forgetfulness,
And not in utter nakedness,
But trailing clouds of glory do we come 
From God, who is our home.

 

Thanks for reading. I feel much better now.cropped-vitamin-c-nicole2.jpg

 

 

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Successful Church Choirs

Here are some thoughts I’ve had about directing church choir. We’ll start with the hardest thing first.

How to get people to come (Hint: it is not by bringing cookies)

This is probably the biggest hurtle for choir directors. After all, why should people come to your choir? It is not a required meeting. Only you and your pianist have to be there, and few are the souls kind enough to sit through three (or more) hours of meetings and cheerfully submit to a tedious choir rehearsal, too.  As the choir director you must recognize that you are not doing them a favor by directing the choir, they are doing you a favor by coming.  Do not waste their time. You must engage your choir at every moment.  And you must be prepared: have sharpened pencils ready for them. Have music for every member with a folder that they can write their name on. Know the music. Know where you want them to breathe, when to swell, when to diminish. If you show them you are dedicated and ready to work, they will come.

Another way to think of it is to imagine you are a sports team trying to recruit all-stars into your program. One blanket email out to the ward does nothing to bring people to choir. Zero. You need to create loyalty. A fan base. A following. You do this the old-fashioned way: by asking them individually if they will come. Calling them on the phone, sending a personal invitation through email telling them how much you need their help, and thanking them individually afterward.

How to keep their attention

More people will come to your choir if your rehearsal is fast-paced and there is some sense of urgency. I always have performance-driven choirs. That means we never rehearse just to rehearse: we have a date set to perform and it is only two weeks away. If you have too many rehearsals people will pick and choose which ones they attend and you’ll never have a full choir till the last rehearsal. You need to have one less rehearsal than you think you need. That way there will be a sense of urgency.

Time management

This is so important! I have seen so many directors that rehearse the sopranos for 10 minutes the rest of the choir sits there, vegetating. While you are rehearsing the sopranos, tell everyone else to hum their own part. Or have them sing the soprano line too, that way the sopranos can have more support. Tell the tenors, “watch your music while I rehearse these sopranos so by the time I get to you your part will be perfect” and hold them to it. And if you keep rehearsing a part and it isn’t working, send that section into a room by themselves with a capable musician to plunk out the notes so they don’t take time away from the rest of the choir.  Always try to make sure everyone is engaged, somehow.

Most importantly:  At least 85% of the time in rehearsal people should be singing, not listening to you talk They don’t want to hear you talk. They have been listening to people talk all day. They came to sing! So keep your comments and directions to 15% of the rehearsal time. Or less.  Also, never let your rehearsal go over an hour, because if you do they will never come back.

How to make them sound good

This takes a college degree. Seriously. People get their college degrees in choral conducting. It is a serious gig, folks. And people who do this know all the techniques to get people to sing as one: dynamics, diction, placement, diphthongs. Most of us don’t know all that stuff and never will. The average ward choir director can help the choir learn their notes and put in a few dynamics and that is about it. So what do you do if you know nothing about directing choirs? Be a leader. Decide how you want the song to sound and tell them what to do. You don’t have to know all the right musical jargon. A choir director who knows little about music but is a good leader is ten times better than a choir director who knows a lot about music and is not a good leader.

One common mistake I see a lot of choir directors make is that they ask their choir for advice. “What do you think we should do here?” “Do you guys want to do it this way or that way?” No. Stop. You decide what you want them to do. You are their leader. Being in a choir with a wishy-washy leader is like following a blind man through a desert. If you are prepared, and you know the song and what you want to do with it, than you will be able to lead with confidence.

Tone-deaf people

Because this is a church choir we don’t exclude anyone based on race, creed, sex or . . . tone deafness. If you have a tone-deaf person come to your choir do not spend a lot of time hashing through notes that they will never be able to match. That will waste the choir’s time and it may make that person feel embarrassed. Welcome tone-deaf people into the choir with open arms, and whenever you hear that low (or high) droning just be glad they are there and they have the heart and willingness to sing.

Last but not least!

Treat your accompanist like a king or queen that he/she is. You would be nowhere without them. Make sure they have the music in advance, make sure they know about the rehearsals. Praise them. Give them credit. And when it is all over make sure you thank them. They are your most loyal ally in this terrifying yet extremely rewarding calling.

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Camping With Kids

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Ferron Reservoir, Utah

When I say the words “camping with kids” what images come to mind?

Inconsolable babies? Thunderstorms? Full diapers, mysterious rashes, tick bites? Mosquitoes, bats, burned food, no food, rustic latrines with no toilet paper, snakes, mountains of laundry . . . shall I go on? Would you rather not talk about it?

For parents, camping with kids can be one of the most pointless, frustrating and miserable things you may ever do in your lifetime. Why would you take your entire family out of their normal schedule and air-conditioned environment and purposely put them in a situation where they are cold, wet, dirty, hungry and as uncomfortable as possible?

Scott and I have taken our kids camping in Idaho, Wyoming, Utah, Colorado, Virginia, South Carolina and North Carolina.

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Sinks Canyon, Wyoming

We’ve camped in bitter cold, pounding rain, merciless wind and catastrophic thunderstorms. We’ve camped in the mountains, on beaches and in the swamp.  And we still go out for more. We can’t get enough of it. We love it.

Perhaps we are insane.

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Hurricane Campground, Virginia

I understand if you say that camping with kids is not for you. It is a lot of work. When we go camping we only take the things we know we will use and it still looks like we are planning a three-week vacation to the moon.  You’ll have to bring diapers and bikes and pack-and-plays and books and sleeping bags and tents and extra clothes and food and stoves and dutch ovens and coolers and propane tanks . . . you get the idea.  And remember, you will need at least an entire day to prepare for your camping trip and two entire days to clean up when you get back!

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And then there are the nights! Oh, the agony!

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Hurricane Campground, Virginia

It will most likely be one of the Top Three Most Horrible Nights of Your Life, right up there with the other two times you went camping with kids. You will either be freezing cold, sweltering hot or getting eaten alive by invisible bugs. You will hear strange noises, have weird neighbors, and there will almost always be someone who needs help finding the outhouse (hopefully it will be one of your own children and not someone from the next camp). And if you bring a baby, even one that regularly sleeps through the night, expect that just when you finally drift off to sleep he will wake up with a 4-alarm cry. If you expect to sleep through the night, you are in trouble.

Better instead to expect to have a great story to tell everyone else at breakfast.

And speaking of breakfast, did you know camping has a magical effect on food? There is something about not having an option for food for miles and miles that makes any scrap of food taste unbelievable. Dirt and charcoal become flavor enhancers instead of reasons to throw food away. It is miraculous how the outdoors changes your perception of “tasty.”

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Ferron Reservoir, Utah

And when food does turn out perfectly, well, you eat like kings. Grateful, ravenous kings.

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Merchant’s Millpond, North Carolina

If the above scenarios seem unappealing to you, than camping with kids is not for you. But then, isn’t that the point? It isn’t for you, right?

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Merchant’s Millpond, North Carolina

What you see as a world of work, your children will see as a world of discovery.

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Eastatoe Falls, North Carolina

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Grayson Highlands, Virginia

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Merchants Millpond, North Carolina

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Stone Mountain, North Carolina

Camping gives kids the opportunity to do a lot of things that are normally off-limits. They can get as dirty as they want. There is no schedule to adhere to, no clocks, no lessons, no school.   Boys can swing from trees and girls can find their inner Amazon. They can revert to their carnal nature that their parents are always trying to suppress.  They get to sleep outside, pee outside, eat with dirty hands. They howl at the moon. They worship fire.

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Camping builds character exponentially and fosters gratitude. Little things become big things: a zipper that zips up–a miracle! A warm sleeping bag–a luxury!  A spoon–incredible! Dry socks–to die for!! A flashlight with batteries–heaven!!

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Eno River, North Carolina

Camping makes work meaningful and concentrates the big, grand, hard-to-fathom Law of the Harvest into a small period of time that they can comprehend. Would you like a fire to get warm? Gather fire wood. Would you like a tent to sleep in? Set it up. Want to get across the lake? Paddle.

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Ferron Reservoir, Utah

 

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Merchant’s Millpond, North Carolina

But getting kids to do that stuff is easy. The hard part is getting everyone to fold up the tents when we are done, because seriously, who wants to go home?

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Merchant’s Millpond, North Carolina

Have I convinced you yet? No? Well then I know what you are thinking . . . the cost!  Surely it must cost a lot of money to get all the camping paraphernalia you need to go out in the wild, especially for kids. But I guarantee that it will cost you less to take your family camping, even if you had to buy all the gear from scratch, than it would take to get your family to Disneyworld. And you can use your camping stuff over and over and over again.

Plus, when you are outside and you don’t have electronics and time commitments, strange things start happening. Kids talk to each other. Kids talk to you. They play games with real, live people.

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Ferron Reservoir, Utah

They get to use things like knives and axes; tools that were used for hundreds of years before computers. Tools every child knew how to use by the time they were twelve. Tools that built civilizations.

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Ferron Reservoir, Utah

Then, if you really want to see something cool, give your kid a camera and tell them to go far a way. Then see what they bring back.

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Ferron Reservoir in Utah, taken by Sophie

For me it is worth it just to see how excited they are to sleep in hammocks or see the light on my son’s face when he says, “You mean I can go to the bathroom in the WOODS?! Awesome!” (Granted, my daughters’ reaction is quite different.)

When they are 75 years old they may not remember the video game or the toy or the book you gave them, but they will remember the tree that almost hit your car (true story!) and the time you fell in the creek, and they will remember listening to the coyotes howl and they will remember the way that trout wriggled when they touched it. And every miserable act of suffering will become a legend in the grand hallways of your family history.

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Duck Fork, Utah

But when it all comes down to it, the reason I go camping with kids is for the adventure. There are not enough adventures in our current lifestyle. Why? Because all we do is push buttons.  We push buttons for work, for fun, for social needs, for school. Believe me, unless you are breaking the code of the Enigma, it is hard to have an adventure pushing buttons.

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Some place in North Carolina

So go on. Get out there. Suffer. Be miserable.

And make adventure happen.

 

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Talking to a Child Who Does Not Want to Talk to You

Several years ago I was in a quaint, small-town bookstore. As I chatted with the sixties-something bookstore owner she noticed my three daughters. “Are those girls yours?” she asked.

“Yes,” I said proudly.

“Hmmm . . . ” she said, stroking her chin. “Come with me.” She beckoned me to an obscure corner of her store, and, glancing furtively at my girls, she leaned in close to my ear.  “Let me give you some advice,” she said in a low voice. “Someday, when your girls get older they will want nothing to do with you. They will not even want to talk to you.”

“No,” I reassured her, “Not my gir–”

“Listen closely,” she interrupted, “and I will tell you what to do when that happens.”

Then she whispered to me her secret. It was truly brilliant. I tucked her advice away in my mind so that I would be able to use it someday “when my daughters want nothing to do with me” (which of course will never happen). I will share her secret with you.

But first I am going to tell you another story.

I was that child once.

I was that child that didn’t want to have anything to do with her parents. My rebellion hit when I was in my second year of college; the year I fell in love with Trouble.

My parents were frightened for me. My brothers were disappointed in me. My sisters prayed for me. Everyone did all they could to persuade me and admonish me and warn me that I was dating Bagley Family Enemy #1, but I wouldn’t listen. Why? Because when you are 19, very few things matter more than a 6’4″ green-eyed boy who also happens to be an excellent kisser.

Around the time all of this was happening I went to Wal-Mart with my dad. Just before we checked out he grabbed a stuffed bear from the shelf.

“Why are you buying that?” I asked him.

My dad shrugged mysteriously. “Just in the mood.”

In the mood to buy stuffed animals? I thought. Dad, you are weird.  I eyed him suspiciously as he paid for his purchases and we left the store, the bear tucked under his arm.

“So . . . are you going to name him?” I asked as we walked to his truck, wondering what my mom was going to think that night when my dad cuddled up with his bear.

“Who?” he said.

“The bear,” I said. “What are you going to name him?”

“Oh, yes.” Thoughtful pause. “Him.”

Him?”

“Yes. His name is Him.”

On that bewildering note my dad put the bear down in the backseat, drove me to my apartment and dropped me off.

A few weeks went by. Awesome weeks. Trouble and I went on long drives, we ate out a lot, we laughed a lot, we kissed . . . a lot.  All the while I knew I was creating quite a panic on the home front.  And as I desired to be with Trouble more and more, I visited home less and less. After all, why would I want to go home only to get reprimanded? Trouble made me happy. Trouble was all that mattered.  Me + Trouble = True Love.

Then, early one morning, I opened the apartment door to leave for my campus job. There on the doorstep sat a vaguely familiar stuffed animal.

It was Him.

Under his paw there was an envelope with my name on it.

I brought the bear inside the apartment, sat down and opened the letter. “Dear Chelsea,” it read. “This is a letter to Him. Since Him cannot read, I was hoping you could read it out loud to Him.”

Okay . . . I thought. My dad truly is the King of Weirdness. But, I sighed, if he took the time to bring this bear to my apartment in the middle of the night I decided to at lease humor him. I read the note (out loud, as directed) to the bear. It wasn’t anything ground breaking. Just a letter about life and working through tough decisions.

I wasn’t stupid. I knew what he was trying to do. A few days later there was another letter on the doorstep addressed to Him, presumably for me to read out loud.  Then letters started coming in the mail, too. It was happening so often that my roommates were getting thrills every time a “Him letter” showed up. And even though I stopped reading them out loud (too many ears in those apartments!) I secretly began to look forward to the letters because a.) my dad was a funny man who did unpredictable things, and  b.) I wasn’t as happy with Trouble as I wished I was.  Trouble was a good kisser . . . and that was about it.

My dad wrote to Him about everything: decision making, being wise, having an eternal perspective, and even techniques on how to get to sleep.  He drew diagrams and pictures so Him (who had a small brain) could understand.

I did finally break up with Trouble. And then we got back together. Then we broke up again.  Finally Trouble went on a mission, but it wasn’t until he came home two years later that I finally pounded the last nail in the coffin of our love. Believe me, Trouble is hard to shake off.

The letters to Him weren’t what saved me from getting into serious problems with this young man. But the letters to Him kept me connected with my dad in a unique and vital way. The fact that my dad took the time to make his messages creative told me that he loved me but did not want to offend me. And because his method was so strangely endearing I didn’t have the heart to get defensive about the advice I was getting. Each letter was a gentle reminder that I was loved and I was being prayed for, and most of all, that I was being trusted to make the right choice on my own.
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Now, back to the bookstore owner who had me cornered in her store.

This is what she told me:

You will need a bag of mini marshmallows, some tooth picks and a little candle. Late at night (when people are most willing to share their deepest dreams and fears) invite one of your girls to the kitchen table. (You must only do this with one child at a time.) Light the candle. Turn off the lights. Stick the little marshmallows on the toothpicks. Roast your marshmallows. Because the candle is so small you will have to sit very close to each other. Because you are doing something edible she will not leave. And because you are doing something unpredictable she will know that you care. Then let her talk, and you listen.

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I’ve already done this with two of my kids, with magical results. (I am starting this method early, as a preventative measure.)

It is our job as parents to remind, correct, discipline and warn. But it is worth remembering that kids may not always listen to words, but they always listen to love.

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“If a man’s heart is rankling with discord and ill feeling toward you, you can’t win him to your way of thinking with all the logic in Christendom. Scolding parents and domineering bosses and husbands, and nagging wives ought to realize that people don’t want to change their minds. They can’t be forced or driven to agree with you or me. But they may possibly be led to if we are gentle and friendly, ever so gentle and ever so friendly.”   –Dale Carnegie, How to Win Friends and Influence People

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Shovel Your Way To Washington, D.C.

Usually when we have a snow day it is really exciting and there is cheering, cartwheels and confetti throwing. But when you have snow day after snow day after snow day . . .

By the eighth snow day my kids’ brains were beginning to atrophy. They were counting bricks in the dining room (there aren’t any) and chasing each other with kitchen utensils, while I was curled up in a little ball in my closet nibbling frantically on chocolate.

We had planned a trip to DC planned this weekend, but because of the snow we didn’t think we’d even be able to get our mini van out of our cul-de-sac. You see, we live at the bottom of a hill where even snowplows dare not go (at least for the fist two days after a storm . . . sometimes more) and we were stuck. Scott would still be going to DC (because he was going for business) in his 4×4 truck, but we would be stuck at home.

Stuck. At. Home.

To humor us Scott tried four times to get the van up the hill to prove that it was hopeless. “There is just too much ice on the road,” he said.

But Sophie was determined. She rounded up her sisters and they all took shovels to the top of the hill. And for the better part of an hour they cleared two tire tracks in the snow.

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Five hours later we arrived in Washington, D.C.

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We saw the White House. (Free)

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The Museum of Natural Science. (Free)

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The Library of Congress (Free)

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We surreptitiously ended up at Ford’s Theater. Not part of the original plan, but a great bonus. (Also free) IMG_4873IMG_4868

The International Spy Museum (A great hit, but not free.)

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And The Red Velvet Cupcakery (Not free but worth it.)

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To end our whirlwind 2-day trip we stopped off at the temple.

We saw the model:

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And the real thing:

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“Did you learn as much as you would have if you had gone to school for those two weeks?” I asked the kids as we drove home.

“More!” They said.

All because a girl and her sisters were willing to shovel.

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Thanks, Sophie!

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