A Few Things about Daniel

He serves.
He is a Sterling Scholar.


He knows how to figure things out, whether it’s a robotics, physics, or calculus problem, or the daunting task of finding a good wrist corsage for a date.

This is the robot in progress.

He has a job as a clerk for a company related to construction. He has saved almost enough money for his mission.

He plays the piano in a stream of consciousness, blending melodies from different pieces, without music, late at night.

These are just a few of the things I admire about Daniel.

Memoir Project: Summer of the Toads

Sahuarita, AZ, 2008

Summer of the Toads

During July and August, Arizona enjoys a monsoon season, with thunderstorms almost every day. With the storms came puddles, thunder so loud it would set off our smoke alarms, and flooding on the road. After a storm, the cactus blossoms would erupt in brilliant colors, and the Colorado River toads would make their annual appearance.

Pea soup green, bloated, ground-hugging, with rufous lumps, these toads would emerge from hibernation in the rains. We found them in the roads at night during the rains and sometimes they were flattened like pancakes in front of our house, run over by a passing car. The largest ones were the size of a large man’s fist, and when flattened, were a spectacular 8-10 inches in diameter. We also found them on our front porch at night, attracted by the porch light, hunkered down in corners, waiting for bugs. They have poison glands, so we kept the dog away and didn’t handle them.

The summer of 2008 was an especially good year for toads. We noticed the same toads came out each evening. The kids learned their sizes and markings and named some of them. Camouflage, Jumping Jack, Mongo, Toady, Spot, Camouflage Jr., and Teeny were some of their names. Sometimes the kids would catch insects and place them right in front of the toads. Zap! The ponderous toads’ tongues were quick to capture them.

There was a perpetual puddle on the west side of our house in July which teemed with baby toads, smaller than the size of dimes. We let the kids scoop them up and put them in Timothy’s screened insect carrier. Climbing and hopping with tiny legs, these toads were a delight to all of the neighbor children. One neighbor, however, was not thrilled to have so many poisonous toads near his house, and watched our kids and his daughter collect baby toads one night and convinced the boys to walk up the street with him to release them at the park.

We never saw a summer with toads quite like this one again. We traveled and had other adventures that season, but the simple memories of the little boys with their flashlights playing with their toads are clearer in my mind. It fits the familiar pattern of family memory; the tiny memories rise up over the bigger occasions to mean the most.

Angel’s Landing

Light and shadow, cool and bright, we experienced Angel’s Landing last weekend at Zion National Park. Scrolling through the pictures makes my fingers and toes go numb as I look at the narrow fin of rock on which we hiked. I didn’t watch the kids do this. I stayed ahead or behind, and didn’t make the last few hundred feet of the journey with them. As I walked down the mountain, I thought of our Father in Heaven, who doesn’t shrink from watching over each of us when we are in peril, and felt gratitude for a Parent like that.

Memoir Project: The Weber, Paige, and the Bear

The Weber, 2013

The Weber, Paige, and the Bear

Each summer, my mom’s family has a week at the Spencer family cabin called the “Weber,” about 10 miles east of Oakley, UT. The first Weber cabin was built in the early 1900’s, and was part of a ranch shared by several prominent families in the Salt Lake Valley. Along the length of Pines Ranch runs the Smith-Morehouse River, and the Spencer cabin rests on an especially choice location right above the river. The Spencer bridge is the most permanent and strong bridge over the river at the ranch.

In 2002, the original cabin was knocked down and rebuilt with most of the important details still intact. There is a large, windowed porch room with long tables for big family dinners with a porch bed on the west end which can hold 10 people or more as they read books, gaze down at the river below, or take a nap among ample pillows. The central kitchen remains without a dishwasher so there are long dishwashing sessions to build character and relationships among those who wash and those who dry. Dozens of tiny, ancient hot chocolate mugs and stoneware place settings fill the cabinets. Pitchers and creamers are for wildflowers. There is an attic full of springy mattresses, and four rooms off the living room for senior members of the family, or those with the youngest infants.

Outside, people play volleyball, badminton, and basketball. Little children race around on scooters and toy cars while parents watch from the long porch. Tubing, spending time on the great swing in the pine grove, bike rides, and walks fill the days.

These are just the trappings of the Weber experience. The full picture is incomplete without a strong, dynamic grandmother leading the activities, a steady, fun-loving grandfather, aunts and uncles, and cousins of every age all around. I have lived long enough to see the changing-of-the-guard in these roles. Where my great-grandmother stood, my grandmother took her place, and now my mother lives her own version of matriarch at the Spencer cabin. In my mind, the matriarch is the most important role at the Weber. We don’t realize it, but each woman is in training to lead at the Weber.

As the oldest cousin, Paige had a following of little girls at the Spencer family cabin each summer. One afternoon in 2013, as some children began tubing down the river, sixteen-year-old Paige accompanied a line of younger girls and a dog named Sadie on a walk down the hill, across the bridge, and through the pine grove toward the spring. The flagstones of the path led them through the tall grass, buttercups, and monkshood toward the spring at the base of the mountain. The happy sounds of chattering voices and laughter were suddenly overshadowed by feelings of fear from the sound of movement nearby, and some growling from the dog, Sadie. Paige wrote, “Despite the heat of the day, I felt goosebumps rise on my arms. Something was wrong. I heard a rustling sound not far from where we were standing. I looked ahead to the left side of the path, and suddenly I knew. A dark shape emerged from the trees and stood up on its hind legs. I felt myself go tense as I realized it was a bear watching us from a short twenty feet away… I looked at the sweet, scared faces which had all automatically turned to me for instruction and reassurance. Not knowing what else to do, I desperately gestured to the girls to stand close to me. Ruby, still slightly ahead of the group, slowly crept backwards. Kaitlyn and Anna huddled in fear on either side of me, their small hands gripping mine tightly. Charlotte stood still and silent behind us. As I met their wide eyes, I took a deep breath and knew I had to be brave. I had to do something. I prayed silently: Please help us. As I stood, trying to choose a course of action, Sadie started growling even more intensely and began moving slowly back and forth… Even though my mind was full of questions, fear, and disbelief, I suddenly felt surprisingly calm. Sadie barked, and … time started speeding forward again as we watched the bear start climbing up a nearby tree. As I hesitated, wondering if it was okay to move forward, my mind suddenly became clear, and I knew that we were safe to do so. ‘Let’s go!’ I hissed, and we were off, reaching for each other’s hands, rushing along the path. We didn’t look back.” (Paige’s Narrative, 2016)

This could be a story about many things: the protection of our girls, gratitude for Sadie the dog, or the adventures of childhood in the mountains. To me, the story tells what it takes to be a strong woman. Most of all, a strong woman acts in faith. For Paige that day, it was faith to trust God’s help to escape from a bear. My Grandma Stewart’s acts of faith were to reach out to the grandchildren and children who couldn’t come to the Spencer cabin because of divorce or other challenges. She never gave up traditions she knew would draw the family together someday. For my mom, her acts of faith include her hospitality to everyone. The first Spencer grandmother at the cabin, who was known for her hospitality, placed a plaque on the cabin which reads, “Come in the evening or come in the morning. Come when you’re looked for, or come without warning. A thousand welcomes you’ll find here before you, and the oftener you come here, the more we’ll adore you.”

I have seen many faces welcomed at the Weber. The bear was the only exception.

December photo drop

We attended the ward Christmas breakfast without children, much to everyone’s dismay at the party. We left early when we got tired of explaining why our kids couldn’t make it. 😉 photo by Susan
Daniel’s new melodica, photo by Heather
Tim’s candy house
Mark’s candy house
My parents gave us gift certificates for Pioneer Book and we went on a shopping spree together.
We loved our trips to Temple Square.
Timothy turned 15! To celebrate, we went to the premier of The Last Jedi and ate doughnuts.
The holiday feels longer because we have a birthday boy around Christmas time.
One dozen for Timothy, and another dozen for the rest of us.
Our newest nephew was a very accommodating baby Jesus for the Christmas pageant.
Notice the little guy giving a kiss to the baby Jesus.
Playing Angels We Have Heard on High, photo by Richard J
Cantina Band duet, photo by Richard J
For goodness sake, Mark made this rendition of Artist’s Point in Yellowstone for me.

Senior Christmas Performances

We have heard a lot of beautiful music at Temple Square and the high school in the past seven days. Here is a sample of Daniel playing piano at the Joseph Smith Memorial Building today.

I love these concerts because they give us time to sit and reflect at Christmas time.

We stopped at the vending machines where you can donate livestock, food, water, and first aid supplies last week. Today my mom came, too. The vending machine had to be restocked as we stood in line. Chickens and goats are very popular items.


Memoir Project: Little Daniel

Austin, TX 2002-2004

What was Daniel Like as a Child?

Daniel had a sparkly, verbose, and outgoing personality as a young child. He made friends everywhere we went. Newly-met playground friends were mourned by him in the car as we drove away. We would probably never see this-or-this friend again. He spoke to be heard and to share his thoughts and designs, and inward scenarios. He found order in talking. He could enchant adults by his precocial and erudite vocabulary and clear, precise pronunciation. He could talk for a long time about things that interested him.

When he was three, he loved to dress up as a firefighter and the vacuum hose was his favorite accessory. Sounds of toy firetrucks and sirens were common at our house. There were two large firetrucks, and a line of smaller firetrucks, like a family, which he would line up in descending order of size. Common book choices were about fires and firetrucks.

His Spiderman costume was his favorite costume the next year, and he would wear it to climb up door jams. He would walk his way up a door jam, with one foot on either side. At the top, he took away both hands from the sides of the door while his feet supported him. Next, he held the sides with his arms while he clapped his feet. In a dramatic finish, he dropped to the soft carpet below, triumphant, the stuffed muscles of his costume bulging at the arms and chest.

Seeing Paige learn to play the piano first, Daniel matched her songs by composing one of his own. His first composition was meant to be scary. He played the same notes in a minor key beginning at the bottom of the keyboard, moving up the octaves all the way to the top. When Paige performed her songs for others, he made sure to play his song, too. Here was our first glimpse of him as a showy piano performer.

We gave him some PVC pipe, cut in short sections, complete with T and L-shaped connectors so he could build “machines” with them when he was three-years-old. Sometimes he would choose our largest room and set up an intricate machine spanning the length of the room. He incorporated not only pipes, but vacuum hoses in his designs. Everything was connected and had a purpose. I remember sitting down with him at his desk and teaching him about basic machines when he was about four-years-old and he memorized everything, with his blue eyes wide open. Levers, wheels and axles, pulleys, inclined planes, and screws were incorporated in his creations from then on. He was a natural engineer. Coming into his room was like walking into a cluttered laboratory, full of his inventions. We bought an 8-foot long banquet table for school work, which we ended up giving to him for his projects. At any time, this table would have dozens of Lego buildings, piles of collections, trains, and puzzles mixed together. He liked to listen to music as he worked on his projects, and his tastes ranged from kid CD’s to Mariachi band music.

Daniel was Daniel from the start: temperament, interests, intellect, and abilities all showed themselves when he was very young. We marveled that he could do so much.

My current tool kit

My current tool kit for life includes:

Tissues: I sense over time that there is a correlation between trust and the number of tears I witness as a Relief Society president. When I hand a sister a tissue, I know her tears are precious, and I am honored to share the moment with her.

Chartreuse, Olive, Purple, Tan, and Silver Thread: These are the colors needed to sew on Scout patches. Recently, I transferred Mark’s patches to Daniel’s old shirt and moved Daniel’s old patches to a larger shirt. Timothy needed me to sew on about 15 merit badges. I do this sewing so they are prepared for big evenings like we had this week. Daniel completed his board of review for Eagle Scout rank, and I was asked to give a few words about his scouting experience. I shared a little of what it is like to send my 11 or 12-year-old to Scout camp for the first time, and to hear later from a leader that he did well. I shared what it feels like to let go, and see a son grow in leadership and ability because I allowed him some danger and adventure.  I didn’t earn Daniel’s Eagle for him. What I did was watch, wait, and encourage. This was the longer and more difficult path, but better. Later, I noticed this was the shirt I was wearing beneath my sweater for the Eagle board of review. Perfect.

One, Three-ring Binder for Each Child: When a child comes home with a certificate, report card, recital program, or blue card for a Scout merit badge, it goes in a sheet protector in this binder. When college and scholarship applications are due, this is a great reference for what they have done during high school. To keep merit badge blue cards organized, I use plastic sheets made for baseball trading cards. I can’t emphasize enough how important it was for me to keep track of these, through a move and changes in leaders.

Small notebooks: I carry these around with me so I can keep track of ideas, which swirl around me and are fickle about staying in my head very long.

Sugar free Ice Breakers Wintergreen Mints: because I talk to many people.

Small fabric bags with zippers in my purse: I have one for keys, and one for pens. They keep me organized.

A great phone plan for texting: for teens and church work

Laser printer: I am learning that writing a book means endless drafts.

Paper scriptures: Lately, I gravitate toward paper over electronic, because I have 20 years worth of notes in the margins of these scriptures. They have been steady friends during times of change.

Yearly tasks written on a calendar: In January, when I put up a new calendar, I took some time to write in the margins some hints about what needed to happen each month. For November, I wrote that during the first week I needed to go to a certain store for the best selection of Christmas cards. Another week we needed to do the Christmas picture. This has been so helpful! (And I realize probably everyone does this already.)

Less: Our family doesn’t need as much as it used to. Toys, art supplies, curriculum, and smaller clothing need to make steady exits from our house… as I have the courage to part with them.

If I think of you, I will make some effort to contact you: This isn’t a tangible thing in my tool kit, just an idea that I have recommitted to this month. Basically, I trust there are reasons I think of random people in a day, and make efforts to find out why.

Odds and Ends

October is coming to an end, and I found a few photos on my camera from this month that I want to remember. First, we have Daniel at the school district meeting being honored as a National Merit Semifinalist.

Our tree in the corner of the backyard gains its color quickly and loses its leaves even more quickly. I captured it one day as the sun hit it just right.

Mark’s school project to make a Teddy Roosevelt doll was a success. I only had one burn from the glue gun.

We both liked the little guy a lot.


I went to the Israelite Tabernacle exhibit at BYU with a friend and her daughters. Paige met me on campus after church to walk through it with me. There were no tour guides on Sunday, but we lucked out because there was a professor of ancient scripture there with his family, leading them through the exhibit. I snickered when this reverent grandfather had to ask the guard for something to fish out one of his grandson’s shoes from the brazen altar.

And no way was I touching this replica of the Ark of the Covenant, but the fingerprints don’t lie. Somebody did.