8.20.2014

How to Plan an International Family Trip

A few weeks ago, a good friend asked me how to plan a trip like the one we took to Thailand or South Africa. I told her that the first step was to pick a date and put it on the calendar, but I've decided that's actually the fourth step. Here's my official list of How to Plan an International Family Trip:

1. Get passports

Get your passports. . . now!

"Regardless of how remote your foreign travel plans seem, with a passport that's valid for ten years for adults and five years for children fifteen and younger, you can be ready to go, without the added delay and expense of having one rushed to you. Your kids will see international travel within their realm of possibility. . . If you can afford a beach vacation, an international trip might actually lie within your reach, too." -Growing Up Global: Raising Children to Be At Home in the World by Homa Sabet Travangar.

Adult passports cost $110 and passports for minors cost $80. You can find more information about getting a passport at the U.S. State Department's website, travel.state.gov. If you are local, I recommend applying for your passport through the Weber County Clerk's Office at 2380 Washington Boulevard (not the post office). In our experience, passports arrive much faster than estimated. (One week instead of four to six.) Get passport photos taken at Costco for $4.99 or take your own. (They will turn out a lot better with the use of  a free website like ePassportPhoto.com.) If you're lucky, you'll end up with sweet pictures like these:


2. Buy a travel book. . . or maybe five! 

I love planning trips, so it probably comes as no surprise that I love travel books. Buying a travel book is an extremely effective way to transform your dream into reality. Travel books are an inexpensive investment and potentially life-changing. If you have a list of places you want to travel to, buy travel books for all of them and watch your family's excitement for those destinations grow. We used two travel books for our trip to Thailand: this one that Steve's employees at Sonora Grill gave him for Christmas and this one that Steve bought because of the pictures. Disclosure: We are currently in possession of travel books for Central America, The Katy Trail State Park, and the National Park-to-Park Highway.

3. Start talking about your trip

This is a sneaky little trick that I've learned over the years. Once you've selected your trip, just start talking about it as if it's a done deal. Pretty soon your kids will start talking about it and then your husband will too. Before you know it, you'll be pinching yourself as you board a plane to Africa.

Thailand was more of a last-minute deal, so things worked out a little differently. . . The idea of a Thailand trip had been tossed around, but our new restaurant was set to open in June, so there was no time for a family trip. Steve knew he needed to go to Thailand, but I told him he wasn't allowed to go without me. When the restaurant opening got bumped to August/September, that created a window of opportunity. I saw a Travelzoo Top 20 email with an offer for a 7-Night Escorted Thailand Vacation w/Air for $1549 per person. Of course the dates didn't end up working out for us, but looking into the deal got the wheels rolling for planning a trip. We found decent priced flights that magically worked with our crazy summer schedules. And then, in a moment of weakness, Steve said yes. . . to a family trip. It might not have been the best financial decision, but it wasn't good timing for us to leave our kids. (I actually prefer to travel with kids. . . more on that another day.)

4. Pick a date and put it on the calendar

It's no secret that I like having trips on my calendar. I am much more careful with my time and money when I am preparing for a trip. And I'm absolutely positive that having a trip on my calendar makes me a better mother too. We actually have a few years worth of trips planned out on our calendar. . . we are down to seven or eight years before our kids start leaving the house, and there are still so many trips we want to fit in. Also, it's good to have a few trips in the queue so if one doesn't work out, there is another one ready to go. (There are a number of trips that we have planned and put on the calendar that didn't pan out: the Bahamas, Mexico, Panama, and three different trips to San Francisco.)

5. Set a budget and start saving money (and time) 

You'll need the support of each member in your family for this step, so be sure to involve them in the planning so they'll be more willing to participate. Rachel wrote up the budget for our Alaska trip (which I classify as an international trip because we traveled through Canada. . . and because it was four weeks long.)


South Africa was a much more expensive trip and required some serious sacrifices, but we also had more time. We set our date on the calendar and started saving money two years before our trip. That meant we had two years worth of tax returns to put towards the cost of our trip. We made a list of ways we could cut $5,000 in expenses and another list of ways we could earn $5,000. We got rid of cable tv and DVR. We skipped out on expensive activities. I sold mattresses for my brother. The kids sold produce at the farmers market.

For most people, the idea of saving $5,000 is overwhelming, but it's a lot easier to tackle if you break it down into $50 increments. It's much easier to skip out on going to Cherry Days when you know your money is going towards something bigger. I'm willing to wear the same pair of heels to church week after week knowing that the fifty bucks I would spend on a new pair is going towards a trip. It's easy to give up going to the movies, going out to dinner, getting your hair cut, and all sorts of other activities when you are saving for something that's important (and exciting) to you. That being said, on my list of "How to Have a Successful International Family Trip" would be: Be prepared (and willing) to go over your budget.

When I was petitioning Steve to go to Thailand, he was mostly concerned about time. Our South Africa trip was six weeks long, and he spent the rest of the year trying to catch up on things at work. (Remember that it's not just the days you are actually gone, there are also the days before the trip that you need to pack and get the yard ready, the day after after that you need to catch up on sleep and take care of the yard again. . . . ) We had a big list of must-dos for this summer: Rebecca's wedding, Scout camp, Steve's surgery, my high school reunion, the Ogden Temple open house. So we went through our calendar and eliminated some things that we were going to give up to make the Thailand trip work. . . We canceled a canoe trip that we were really looking forward to. We gave up Ballard Family Lagoon Day. We skipped out on tennis lessons. You can't do it all, but if you plan carefully, you will figure out how to do what is most important to you.

6. Watch for airfare

My go-to website for looking for cheap airfare is kayak.com. Keep in mind that Kayak and other sites like Travelocity, Expedia, and Orbitz don't search all of the airlines, so you'll always want to check Southwest and Allegiant separately. Subscribe to the Travelzoo Top 20 emails, but beware of the flights offered through Fly.com. . . I suspect they're running a bit of a bait and hook scheme because I've never been able to book one of their killer airfare deals before they've sold out. Before you book your next flight, you should also check out a fairly new website called routehappy.com. Beware that you can spend hours and hours and hours at this stage of the planning process.

7. Buy airline tickets. . . and travel insurance

This is when you just have to take the plunge and commit. But thanks to affordable travel insurance companies like Travel Guard and Allianz, you can purchase a plan that will provide trip cancellation coverage. Travel insurance also provides a myriad of other benefits covering lost or damaged luggage, flight delay, and medical. Don't delay, most companies require you purchase your plan within 15 days of the payment for your airline tickets to get the best coverage.

8. Look at online itineraries, talk to people, and study travel books

The internet makes trip-planning amazingly thorough. You can find hundreds of suggested itineraries, forums with all sorts of information, and blogs full of beautiful pictures. Talk to people who have been to the same country you are traveling to and ask about their favorite experiences. Study travel books and start making notes of what you want to see and do. Look up pictures on Instagram. I started following Richard Barrow on Twitter because he is the travel expert in Thailand and provided the most reliable and up-to-date travel information in regards to the military coup.

9. Make an itinerary and share with recent travelers

For a couple of years, Steve used a trip planner website called TripIt, but I never got on board. I didn't like the automated trip sharing or that it felt like they were trying to create an entire social media site out of it, but it may work out for you. I prefer Google Drive because I am already familiar with it (and generally so are the people I share my proposed itineraries with). When making itineraries, I rely heavily on Google Maps. Please note that you may not be able to access the same map views when you are on the other side of the world as you can from home, so it is helpful to print out hardcopies of maps.

When booking hotels, I scan through all of the reviews on Tripadvisor and Yelp. When we were in Thailand, I ended up setting up an account with Expedia to book hotels because it saved my credit card information, which simplified the process to book a hotel with our limited internet access. When planning your itinerary, remember to consider the daylight hours of your destination. When we planned our trip to South Africa, we knew that we were traveling during their winter. But we forgot that meant that the sun would be setting before 6:00 pm. (It's not generally safe to be outside in South Africa after dark.) This cut a couple hours out of each day that we hadn't properly planned for.

Share your itinerary with recent travelers and ask for feedback. Is there anything big that you are missing? Does the itinerary seem doable? When someone is looking at an actual itinerary with details, it's easier for them to provide feedback and suggestions for your trip. When I showed my sister's wedding planner our Thailand itinerary, she told me we were going to have to be very aggressive and had probably overestimated what we could do. That was good to keep in mind, but it didn't deter us from tackling everything!

10. Get required and recommended travel vaccinations, stock up on medication


Some foreign governments require specific vaccinations before you are allowed to enter their country. You'll need to wait until you have your itinerary planned out because the doses for your vaccines will be timed based on when you will be traveling to specific areas.

Preparing for international travel provides an excellent opportunity to update routine immunizations such as Tdap, Polio, MMR, Rotavirus, Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, etc.

There are other vaccinations and medications that the CDC has recommendations for, depending on your health status, age, and destination including Typhoid, Malaria, Rabies, etc. Plan on spending a few hundred bucks at the health department.


If you will be gone on your international trip for an extended amount of time, you will also want to stock up on over-the-counter and prescription medications. If you are traveling to an underdeveloped part of the world, you may be able to get your physician to write you some prescriptions for antibiotics that you can take with you in preparation for illnesses. And as long as we're talking about pills. . .  there is little scientific evidence to back this up, but I can personally vouch that taking niacinamide tablets keeps the mosquitos away.

11. Pack and prepare

There are quite a few steps within this step. . .

Luggage: Steve dedicated a lot of time to researching luggage before our South Africa trip and purchased the Eagle Creek Load Warrior 22-inch Wheeled Duffel for a carryon, the Eagle Creek Gear Warrior 36-inch Wheeled Duffel to check, and the Patagonia Fuego 32L backpack. I was opposed to spending that kind of money on luggage and bought a $100 wheeled duffel from Kohl's that completely fell apart on our trip. Now I am completely sold on the Eagle Creek luggage and would love to purchase a second set for me. (Steve's fifteen-year old Eagle Creek carryon from his mission has now traveled to seven countries and is still going strong.) The kids used their Pottery Barn luggage for Alaska and South Africa, but we had them mostly packed in backpacking packs for Thailand. We also purchased REI Flash Packs for the kids to use as their personal carryon items. They worked out incredibly well and will be coming with us on many future trips.

Steve is in love with all of the Eagle Creek packing accessories including the folders (they sound strange, but are awesome), compression bags, packing cubes, etc. They are all pricey, so whenever we go to REI, we check to see if any of them happen to be on clearance. We have used the Ziploc Space Bags. They are inexpensive, but will not hold up to rigorous use. Steve really is the master packer and the next time we go on a big trip, I need to take more pictures to document his skills.


Clothing: Before you select your outfits, you'll want to have a good idea what the weather will be like. And then, don't be too surprised when you experience unexpected temperatures. Alaska and South Africa were both unseasonably cold; Thailand was nothing but hot. We actually had to go to REI in Alaska and purchase more warm clothing (for me). Halfway through our trip to Thailand, we ended up packing away a suitcase full of all of the jackets and other warm clothes we weren't going to use on the trip. Remember that when you are traveling, you are likely to spend long hours outside in the elements. So if it's hot, you are going to be really hot. If it's cold, you are going to be really cold. And if it rains, you are going to be really, really wet. Remember to pack lots of layers; breathable fabric is best. (And easiest to hand wash in your hotel bathroom.) Choose loose clothing with lots of pockets. And whatever you do, make sure you have good rain jackets.

We packed somewhere around six outfits each for Thailand. I started with four, but then decided it didn't take up that much room to add a few more. . . big mistake. The problem wasn't so much the overall volume that they added, but just having more clothes to deal with during unpacking and repacking each day. We usually don't pack that many clothes for a trip, but I knew we weren't going to have any down days and didn't want laundry to become a burden. I also worried that we would be going through more clothes than normal because we would be hot and sweaty. . . and then I was also concerned that it would be too humid for any handwashed clothes to dry out. If I were to do it over again, I would have only packed three outfits per person. It turns out that if you go to Thailand in June, you are always hot and sweaty, so you're not nearly as concerned about changing into something clean. We stayed at hotels, and it would have been perfectly fine to handwash our clothes in the bathroom sink at night (and then use the hairdryer to help finish drying them). The only time I was ever cold on our entire trip to Thailand was on the airplane.

Speaking of airplanes. . . one difference between a long, international flight and a short, domestic flight is footwear. If you have ever had smelly feet in your life, you do not want to wear sandals or shoes without socks on an international flight. You want to wear comfortable shoes with socks. And cross your fingers that the person sitting next to you wears socks too.

Electronics: You will mostly likely need an adapter or converter to use your electronics abroad. And if you have kids with multiple electronics, you will need more than one. Steve is responsible for charging our electronics when we travel, and this adapter is his favorite. Another one of our favorite travel items is our Mophie external battery. There are all sorts of different external battery chargers these days; since we bought ours, they've come out with some much smaller versions. Before traveling out of the country, call your cell phone provider to purchase international plans. Text messaging plans are affordable, but plan to pay an arm and a leg for minutes and data.

First aid: You can purchase these over-the-counter medications in most parts of the world, but it's good to be prepared because it's not always convenient or practical to find a pharmacy. Steve is also responsible for packing first aid supplies for our family, and this is his suggested list: Benadryl, Sudafed, Claritin, eyedrops, Rolaids, Pepto-Bismol, Ibuprophen, Tylenol, Vicks, chapstick, sunscreen, mosquito repellent, baby wipes, bandaids, rubbing alcohol (in a small spray bottle), tweezers, Neosporin, Hydrocortisone, and lots and lots of hand sanitizer. 

Passports and other important documents: In addition to your passports and immunization cards, I recommend printing out hard copies of maps, itineraries, boarding passes, hotel confirmations, and any other applicable documents. You shouldn't depend on internet access. And your phone might run out of batteries right when you need directions to your hotel.

Currency: There is no need to take cash on an international trip. Once you arrive in the country you are visiting, you can withdraw currency from an ATM. (You will pay a couple bucks in fees, so withdraw as much as you can/feel safe with at a time.) It is much, much easier to use an ATM than go to a bank and transfer USD to another currency. Of all the places we have traveled, Shanghai was the most difficult place to find an ATM. Credit cards are always our preferred method of payment because it makes it easier to track expenses. We continue to be shocked by the remote places that accept credit cards. There are advantages and disadvantages to different cards. Capitol One credit cards have no foreign transaction fees. American Express credit cards are the most reliable. (Our Visas were denied time and time again in South Africa for no apparent reason.)

You will need to prepare your house before you leave. Set your thermostat and water heater to vacation mode. Contact your alarm company. Talk to your postman/postwoman and UPS delivery person to let them know you will be out of town. Eat all of the food in your fridge or give it away. Empty your trash and flush all of your toilets. Start the dishes in the dishwasher and make sure the clothes in the drier are completely clean. Make plans for someone to take care of your mail, newspapers, lawn, and garden. Have multiple people involved in checking in on your house, and don't just ask a family member who might get busy or forget. When we were in Thailand, we hired our neighbors (ages 11 and 13) to take care of our mail and garden. They did a great job, and this system of payment kept them motivated: 


As you can see, packing for a trip is more than just the actual packing. Much like this post, it seems to go on and on and on. . . The last few days before leaving are absolutely crazy. There's always so much to do and not nearly enough time. This list kept growing faster than we could cross things off:


I'm really good at procrastinating things, but I am all sorts of motivated to get things done before going out of town. Sometimes I feel like Steve likes traveling because it gives him an excuse to buy cool gear. Well, then I like traveling because it gives me a deadline. And with that in mind. . . I should probably plan another trip so I have a deadline to catch up on my blog. 

8.19.2014

Back to School 2014

We started our back to school shopping early this year because I knew there was no way we were going to be able to get everything in one trip. Rachel and Lucy have eight classes each this year, and they needed nine binders, fifty dividers. . . after four trips to Staples, we finally had everything. This is Lucy's pile of school supplies for fifth grade: 


Back-to-School Night was a little crazy. I met with twelve teachers. . . who each asked me to sign up to volunteer in their classroom. After I got talked into being "room parent" for one class, I felt okay about limiting my responsibilities in the others. 

And here are three cute kids, ready for their first day of school: 


After they were gone, I pulled up first day of school pictures from 2013 and 2012 to compare: 


And then I realized we clearly needed to retake pictures with Lucy and Rachel on opposite sides. (Yes, their Pottery Barn backpacks have lasted a long time!) 

When they got home from school, they ran inside the door yelling: 

"Mr. Martin is SUPER nice!" (Adam) 

"Fifth grade is AWESOME!" (Lucy) 

"I forgot everything!" (Rachel. . . poor girl lost her schedule and ended up going to the wrong class. Twice.) 

We hurried off to go swimming. It was Steve's first time ever at North Shore. We sure like seeing more of him these days. Rachel and Lucy raced me back and forth across the pool (Lucy legitimately beat me in the butterfly.) And then the Phipps challenged us to a diving competition: 


Ummmmmm, we lost. 

Kids (and moms) conquered their fears of the high dive, and David Phipps put on quite the show: 


The lifeguard was not impressed and told him gainers were against the rules:


Adam can finally swim well enough to use the diving board: 


He jumped off over and over again: 


We ate pizza and watched the kids do gymnastics on the lawn as the sun set:


And that's when the Phipps' kids true personalities came out: 


The Bowshers and Petersons were there too, but Rachel had my camera. (So now I have some forty-five pictures of Charlotte doing cartwheels and backbends.) The "golden hour" was as perfect as could be; I could have sat around and visited all night. But the pool closed and we had to hurry those kids home to bed. 

The next morning, it was back to school again. And more back to school pictures: 


I think they nailed it: 


These kids of mine are looking old, especially with their long legs:


And big teeth:  


Adam's goals for 2nd grade: 

1. Finish RAZ Kids. 
2. Get to outstanding 4 days each week. 
3. Get to school on time. 
4. Be my best. 

It's still painful to go into Kaleigh's room and see her backpack, school clothes, and school supplies, all ready for kindergarten. We haven't seen her for two weeks, and communication with Derrick has been disagreeable. We miss her. I catch comforting phrases here and there and feel like they are just for me. Most recently was this one during a movie at the Egyptian Theater: 

"He knows His children and He will provide for them." 

In the meantime. . . we are back to school with three kids. 

8.15.2014

Inside (and Outside) the Ogden Temple

I made this handout last week for the YM/YW from our ward who went to the Ogden Temple open house: 


You can access the pdf file through Google Drive HERE. I printed them on cream colored cover stock. 

My advice to anyone going to the temple open house is to SLOW DOWN. If you are going through with kids, keep them close so you can explain things to them. After I went through a "speed tour" with our stake's Primary, I realized how incredibly special the VIP tour was. I wish that all of the visitors were able to enjoy that type of experience.

If you want me to come take your picture outside of the temple, just let me know. I've had a decent amount of practice: 


Also. . . be sure to say hello to the nice volunteers in the bright green shirts: 

8.10.2014

The Wreck, Why We Love Vernal, and How to Plan a High School Class Reunion

Last week, we went to Vernal. 


I posted this on Instagram, but I seriously regret not jumping off the Starvation Reservoir bridge in my younger years. Although I appreciate the encouragement to jump now, there are just some things that you don't do when you are a mother. . . encumbered with responsibilities and a body that bruises easily. And if Nat Holfeltz got hurt when he jumped, I can't imagine what would happen to me. 


We stopped at a gas station in Duchesne and met up with Bridgett, who recently moved to Arizona. She drove up to Vernal for the reunion alone with her three kids. If you know her children, then you understand that this was a significant display of loyalty. (Possibly more so to our friendship than Uintah High School Class of 1999?)

Anyhow, we did some shuffling at the gas station. We moved Ruby to our car (so Rachel and Lucy could entertain her for the last hour of the drive), we moved Adam to Bridgett's car (so he could talk Minecraft or whatever game he was playing with Darwin), and then I jumped in with Bridgett (so we could discuss an article I'd just read.) That sounded scholarly, so let me clarify. It was an article on Facebook about "selfies", narcissism, addiction, and mental illness. It wasn't at all scientific, but it was entertaining. We were so engrossed with our enlightening conversation that I missed two phone calls from Steve and text messages from Steve and Rachel.

They had gotten into a wreck.
Everyone was okay; the Pilot was not. 

By the time we finally made contact, Bridgett and I were clear down by the high school. We turned around and met back up with them, just past the cemetery. Here's what happened: Steve was cruising east on Highway 40 (at highway speeds) in the left lane with a large truck in the right lane, just in front of him. He thinks the truck might have put on its turn signal or it might have just been blocking the view. Either way, a woman, stopped at the intersection on his right, tried to shoot out across the highway heading west in a small little sports car. 

Luckily, Steve saw her. He swerved as hard as he could into the westbound lanes to avoid hitting her straight on. Thankfully, there was no oncoming traffic. So instead of smashing into her directly on her driver side, she hit into the rear passenger side of our Pilot. 

The woman accepted full responsibility for the accident and kept thanking Steve for seeing her. We sent Lucy with Bridgett and her kids to drive the rest of the way to Vernal. I called our insurance agent, but it was just past 5:30, and they were closed. I called GarffCare, but they only provide service on the Wasatch Front. I called Allstate and had a frustrating conversation with a woman who did not speak English very well. She recommended towing our car to the Harley Davidson in Vernal because they did work on Hondas? Our policy covered $50 towards towing and we would need to pay the other $200 out of pocket? None of that sounded right. We went and talked to the policemen, who called a local tow company and arranged for them to come pick up the Pilot. Then I started calling around for rental cars. There are no rental car companies in Roosevelt. So I called Debra back and accepted her offer to send Aaron to drive from Vernal and pick us up. We aren't sure what we would have done without a friend who would come rescue us. 

We unloaded everything from our car. Everything. At that point, we thought we would be bidding farewell to our Pilot, but now it appears that we will get it back. As we were emptying out our vehicle, the policeman jokingly asked us if we were moving. Nope.


Rachel set up the obstacle course and she and Adam took turns running through it.

video

Steve and I set up our lawn chairs, and just hung out on the side of the noisy highway.

Until it started to rain. Then we stacked all of our belongings up into a giant pile and covered everything with a blankets. The tow truck finally came. The guy was actually really nice and offered to give us a ride to a store.


Bridgett texted me this picture of Lucy: 


Aaron came and picked us up. He had gone and borrowed Don and Elga's truck so he could haul us and all of our stuff back to Vernal. We met up with everyone else at the Meier's house for dinner and swimming. It was fun to visit with everyone, but I was feeling a little disjointed. Aaron was awesome and drove us out to the Dart's house and helped us unload all of our things. 

By the way, we canceled our Motor Club policy (which included $1500 worth of coverage for Trip Interruption) back in 2011. Otherwise, we would have been staying at the Marriott. But the Marriott can't compete with Susan Dart's cooking: pancakes with fresh whipped cream and strawberries, eggs and sausage. It was amazing. 

I called Enterprise Rent-A-Car in Vernal and was told "You are one of fifty people who got in an accident over the weekend. I don't have any vehicles available now, but I can get you a car by Tuesday." Great. . . now what? There is a used car dealership in Vernal that rents cars on the side, so we called them. They had two vehicles available: a Nissan Versa and a truck. I told them to save me the truck.  

We borrowed Susan's car and drove to the airport, but nobody was at the car rental desk. The sign gave a number to call for service, so we called. But the phone at the desk just rang and rang. We waited for about twenty minutes, and then a lady finally returned. This picture doesn't show it very well, but Rachel took a pencil and crossed out the "S" on Rentals since they were down to one rental. 


Needless to say, the wreck added some complications to our weekend. Steve didn't get insurance information from the other driver and we had to make at least five calls to the police department before we got all of the information we needed to pass onto our insurance company. It took all week to make contact with the insurance adjuster and get our Pilot towed out to Salt Lake for repair. The used car dealership we rented the truck from does not offer one-way rentals. . . so that means we'll have to take another trip out to Vernal when it's time to return the truck.

I'll admit that I was a little frustrated. It was a really busy weekend for us to leave Ogden, and I was already feeling like I had a lot on my plate. Before we left our home, we had prayed for safety during our trip. . . so why did we have to get into an accident? A few seconds later and we would have avoided all of this hassle.

But then there was one point that it really hit me. We had been watched over and protected. We had been kept safe. We weren't dealing with a fatality. We weren't hurt. Nobody had been traumatized. All of this was an inconvenience, but we were okay. And for that, I am greatly thankful.

Steve drove Susan's car back to the Darts and I took the girls to get snowcones:


If you get snowcones in Vernal, walk over to the temple and enjoy them in the shade:


Then it was back to the Darts for a highly-anticipated Ranger ride. After Steve took them for a ride, Ralph said he thought those girls could probably take it for a drive by themselves. This is why we love Vernal.


Five years ago, at my ten-year high school reunion, I volunteered to be in charge of the next reunion. Not all classes have a fifteen-year reunion, but we voted to have one because there were so many people who hadn't come to the ten-year reunion and we thought we needed to keep them connected so they wouldn't all disappear by the twentieth.

I recruited a committee:


I talked Jason Dilworth into making a graphic: 


I spent hours and hours and hours gathering addresses and inputing into a file on Google Drive. It felt like I was begging people for their contact info. So if someone from your high school class ever asks for your info, you should promptly give it to them. 

A few people on the planning committee bailed. 

A few people really stepped up. 

We ordered the food, the decorations, the DJ. 

And then most of the people from our class forgot to come to the reunion. . . but that's okay, we went for quality over quantity. 


If anyone hears about a contest for having the longest neck, please let me know. I think I could win.


People walked around and looked at the silent auction items, the tribute tables honoring classmates who had passed away, old dance pictures, and old uniforms. I found these quotes from our old yearbook and turned them into a game:


We ate dinner from Cafe Rio and then gave out our awards, which was definitely the funnest part of the reunion. 

Joni was the emcee and she was perfect: entertaining and personable. The first award was for Traveling the Farthest. She started out asking anyone who had been out of the country to raise their hand. But the award was supposed to go to the person who traveled the farthest to get to the reunion. . . not whoever had traveled the farthest since high school. I interrupted her to clarify, but then she said she'd thought a lot about this and wanted to see who would win. I said that I'd probably win. . . and I really didn't plan the first contest to be one that I was going to win. 

Bridgett won a Red Bull: 


I'm not going to post all of the awards, just some of my favorites. Tari Fletcher won for Longest Marriage (16 years) and Most Kids (5): 


Brooke Merrill won Newest Newlywed:


Jen Farnsworth won Most Eligible Bachelorette. We were really hoping to hook her up with the Most Eligible Bachelor, but there were no single guys at the reunion. There weren't a lot of guys from our class at all. . .  


The funniest part of the night was when Joni stumbled over her words with The Sugar Daddy award. It was supposed to go to the girl in our class who married the oldest man. (The website I found these ideas on said it was more acceptable to give an award for the girl marrying the oldest guy than the guy marrying the youngest girl.) Anyhow, Joni announced that it was for the girl with the biggest spread. . . and then got embarrassed. . . and then ended up saying something about her left armpit sweating. The award was given to Dylon Algood and his cute wife, Alyson, who is 9 years younger than him. I was laughing too hard to say anything. 


Because of the confusion in that award, Steve told Joni to skip The Cougar Award. . . that was supposed to go to the girl in our class who married the youngest guy. (We later awarded it to Becky in the parking lot.)

Then we just started making up awards. . . Jade Witbeck had her appendix out the previous Saturday and won for Most Recent Surgery:


Becky won the Strongest Husband award. . . Steve made that category up because he wanted to see an arm wrestle, but nobody would take him on. 


Alexis Monsen won the Best Friend Award for dragging Tari Fletcher to the reunion: 


And Meagan Brady won the Best Architect Award:


Good times. .  .




If Casey Mullins was in this picture instead of Brooke, it would have been the perfect repose of a picture we took on graduation night:


This was the after party:


The next morning, Susan cooked us another homestyle breakfast; it's a shame I don't have any pictures of the food. Except for what ended up on Ruby's face. 


The kids found a gigantic butterfly: 


Lucy posed for a picture in her new pajamas: 


Every time we stay with the Darts, they are watching Justin and Katrina's kids (which works out perfectly because my kids love playing with them). And every time we stay with the Darts, they have new baby kittens. 


Ralph loaded up the trailer and took everyone for a hay ride. This is why we love Vernal.


The kids loved this sandbox/tower and Steve told me to take a picture of it for my parents:


And then we said goodbye to the Darts:


At the end of our trip, I asked Steve if he understood why Bridgett needed my help earlier this summer when she drove back to Utah with her kids. "I don't know how she does it," he said. "I don't even know how she gets up in the morning!" Bridgett's cute kids are right at that stage where they require constant attention. Steve went on about how we stayed out late both nights in Vernal. . . but Bridgett had to get up in the middle of the night with kids and had to wake up early with them too. 


So good job, Bridgett. And I feel bad. Next time I should help Darwin get dressed, instead of just taking a picture. . . 


I only took a few photos at the poorly-attended Family Picnic on Saturday. Most of the people there had driven out from Salt Lake, so I vote that our next class reunion takes place somewhere along the Wasatch Front. I wanted to get a picture of Bart Murray and his five boys, but he just rolled his eyes at me. So here's Meagan and her three girls: 


And here's my advice how to plan a high school reunion. Some of these things we did well, and some I would do completely differently. 

1. Start early. We picked the date for this reunion a year ago. 
2. Use Google Drive to store contact info. Whoever is in charge of the next reunion will love me. 
3. Use MailChimp to send out emails to large groups of people. (We initially used a gmail address, but about half of the emails were bounced back as undeliverable.) 
4. Limit communication. . . keep messages simple and positive. 
5. Make a Facebook group and use it to contact people about the reunion. There are almost 100 people from my class who we have no contact information for, but they are part of our class Facebook group. (I still don't understand why they won't provide contact info. . . I promise I'm not going to stalk you!)
6. Put an ad in the local newspaper. (We forgot to do this until it was too late.)
7. Ask twice as many people to help as you realistically need. About half of them will not end up being available to help. And the more people you involve, the more people will come. 
8. Keep prices low so cost is not prohibitive for anyone to attend; even a small silent auction will help supplement costs. 
9. You don't actually need a DJ. 
10. Have Tribute Tables to honor classmates who had passed away. (There are ten classmates who have passed away from my class.)
11. Find old quotes from yearbooks, old poetry from literary publications, anything old is fun. 
12. There are companies that will actually blow up pictures from your yearbook into oversized posters to hang on walls. We didn't have enough people attending to validate this expense, but would have been fun. 
13. There are also really cool ways to make name tags. Wish I would have seen this idea earlier: 
14. Remember that there are two main goals of a high school reunion. #1 is to get people to come. #2 is to facilitate an environment where people can visit. 
15. People who still live in Vernal aren't the ones who are interested in reconnecting/staying in contact with classmates. So next time we should have the reunion somewhere on the Wasatch Front since that's closer to many of the people who actually go to the reunions. . . and then maybe some of the classmates who still live in Vernal would think it was cool to attend. 
16. Plan a reunion that does not require people to commit or pay in advance. (We ordered our food as a catering from Cafe Rio, but next time I would have it take place at a restaurant where people can order their own food so I'm not responsible for paying upfront/ending up with extra food and the associated costs.)
17. If you want good attendance, the Adult Social needs to have adult beverages. 

I will continue to add to this list. . . 

Even though attendance was low, I really did have a great time visiting with people. There's something about Vernal that I love. . . 


I think it might be the snowcones :)