Life now

Other random life things… So we started having family night Monday pretty soon after marriage, seems like a good habit to set from the get go. Usually it just consists of reading an Ensign article or two. We first started with the Eternal Family and Marriage manual lessons. Mostly it seemed like pretty obvious stuff. Communicate, show love, show gratitude, manage finances, etc… an interesting memory was a chapter about anger. It said something to the effect of “right after getting married you’ll learn a lot of things about your spouse you didn’t know, and some of them will really irk you” and we paused and asked essentially “irking aside, have you learned anything new about me since we got married?” and neither of us could think of anything. We did date for 2.5 years, so I guess we knew each other pretty well. This isn’t to say we haven’t changed a bit since marriage, but there was nothing like “I had no idea you took such long showers” or “I hate how you gargle mouthwash in the mornings” or anything, it seems like we knew each other pretty well.

That being said, our lives have of course shifted a lot. For example, Tess used to regularly go to bed around 2AM, and I’d get in bed at 9PM. She’s not a morning person, and the late late evenings were the only time she could get productive peace and quiet at her home. However, in our home, I’m gone by 7:00AM, and the most disturbing thing in the house is possibly the neighbor kids running around upstairs, but even that isn’t terribly loud, and it’s easy to tune out and work since said upstairs kids will never need your attention. So it’s not necessary for Tess to stay up late in order to find productive time anymore. I have the angels that come help me with bedtime come at 9:30 PM so it’s a little later, and I have them start me laying on my side. This is important because I sit on my butt all day, and lay on my back most of the night, so if I didn’t have this time on my side my butt would almost never get a breather. I like to lay on my side for at least an hour, but can usually go for a few before my shoulder starts to hurt. So Tess usually comes back and lays with me after whoever gets me in bed. Her and I will chat for a bit, say prayer together, and then she’ll go back out and have some late night productivity. Sometimes she comes back in an hour, sometimes in three, it just depends on what she’s doing. But whenever she comes she rolls me on my back, and we cuddle to sleep. It’s wonderful.

Other minor shifts are I watch less movies in theaters, which is not a big deal because it’s just entertainment, and the time has been upgraded to time with my wife. Tess finishes crafts slower because we usually play together when we’re both home rather than be productive. I eat less Mexican food, Tess makes more meals.

We do a lot of different things together, but rarely does either of us like to pick what we will do haha. But we frequently play board games, work on our Minecraft world, watch Doctor Who or documentaries, watch movies (usually mine so far…), play other video games like Heroes of the Storm, Terraria, rollercoaster Tycoon, Pacman 256, etc. A recent discovery is I can actually give her a good back rub in bed if we sit my bed up, so we’ll do that and play a game where one comes up with a verb, replacing the chosen verb with the word smurf, and the other asks yes or no questions till they figure out what smurfing is. We love building Legos when the budget allows, and all of this still feels just like a glimpse into our time together.

Now for a deeper dive into board games. One of my favorite things about my wife that I didn’t think I’d find in my someday spouse is that she enjoys strategic board games almost as much as I do. The main difference is I love three and four player matches, and she prefers two player, but two player has really grown on me! I used to dislike two because it always seemed so obvious who was winning, and it wasn’t fun to be obviously losing OR obviously winning, but Tess and I are so evenly matched that probably only 15-20% of our games have an obvious winner for most of it. And that obvious winner still shifts between the two of us. The rest are intense duels and super fun. Also, with no distractions, we can play a full game in 30-45 minutes, and get 2-3 in a row in before bed. I love telling people “yeah, my wife beats me” and when they look confused I add “at board games”.

So I’m a little old, and a sociable fellow. As result, I tend to know a good handful of people, and most the time when Tess and I go to a public area we’ll run into someone I know. My favorite example of this is our honeymoon. We were in Cedar city, hours away from home, but we still ran into 4 people I knew, like a friend from theater in a high school, or a friend from Ventana days. The best was at the Tuacahn Tess and I were moving through the crowd and some older gentlemen steps out in front of us with a big smile, clearly expecting us to recognize him, but sadly we didn’t. He asked Tess to identify him, but she couldn’t, so he turned to me and said “you tell her” and I was like “uhhhh...” so he says “I sealed you guys like 3 days ago!”. Tess and I both were surprised and a little embarrassed haha. He took our ignorance with good grace though. But he didn’t even give us a long speech at our sealing, he just invited our parents up and dove straight into the ordinance! So there wasn’t a lot for us to remember haha.

The temple is another example of familiar people, I average about 3 different sets of people I know (and anyone who’s a regular doesn’t count). Also I like to point out when I run into a girl I did date or used to date, always followed with how happy I am I got Tess instead of them, as another means of telling Tess how much I love her. But I think she’s mostly a little… annoyed? Not quite the right word… something along those lines… anyway the point is I don’t think she likes to hear how many girls I dated before her haha.  (Tess has read this now, and she says the right word is “skeptical”, she doesn’t believe I dated this many people I guess haha)

So shortly before marriage we went furniture shopping together to furnish the empty house. Since Tess never lived outside her house, and I always lived at a pre-furnished apartment, or home, neither of us had anything in the vein of furniture or kitchen supplies. So we went around on Memorial day (sales!) shopping for a couch and a table. But it took a long while haha. I’m kind of excited for the next time we go furniture shopping. Neither of us are super decisive with stuff like this. Tess is crafty, and cares more how things look, but the problem was we couldn’t think in terms of “what would look good in the living room?” because the answer was “depends on all the other decisions we also haven’t finalized on yet”. We eventually found a great couch and counter height table. But NEXT time we shop, even if it’s because we’re moving to a new house, we’ll be able to say things like “this would go well with our table” so I expect it’ll go a little easier, but probably not tons easier.

Counter height table! This is the greatest thing! I originally discovered how nice it was when living with Bryla, but even more so now. What’s magical is my chair actually fits under the table (for reference most tables are more like the height of my knees. My joystick apparatus is like 3 inches taller than my knees though, and as result I don’t fit under most tables). This makes tons of thing easier like eating noodles and soup way, building Legos or puzzles, or the best one, playing board games. Rarely do I have to say “I’ll go there. No there. Left of that. Your other left of that. Yes there.” anymore, now I can reach to pick up and place my own pieces, and collect my own currency. I’m sure my occupational therapists from a decade ago would be proud :D

So Tess consistently told me how much she hated cooking, but also anytime someone made it sound like she couldn’t cook she defended herself and pointed out all the holiday meals she made at her grandma’s and such. She also used to talk about how when she moved out she planned to make soups or other easy meals to make in bulk and then use for the next 5 meals in a row. So getting married I didn’t really know what to expect from her. Gratefully, she hates the idea of spending money on pre-made food every night more than the idea of cooking so she started making meals almost right out of the marriage gate. And she’s a fantastic cook! It’s still not her favorite thing, but she doesn’t HATE it anymore. I’ve loved it though haha. Her biggest hang up was that her mom’s recipes are too much food, often even we cut them down to 25%.

I had a few month phase at the turn of the year where I was working late a lot, this is less directly marriage related, but work was rough. I’ve worked for Vivint since April 1st 2014 (yeah I started on April Fools. I was a little worried I’d show up and not really have a job haha) and while software isn’t Vivint’s export directly, they’re definitely a company that understands the important role of Software in modern business success. They had a pretty good understanding of a healthy software development environment. Somehow starting back in December though it seems like they forgot a major axiom, “if you need to pull a new item of work into the sprint, you have to push something of equal size out”. Somehow stuff kept getting pulled in and nothing got pushed out, and we were just expected to deliver all of it. With the exception of Christmas and the Mexico trip, I worked 8AM-9PM pretty almost every workday (luckily weekends were still mostly sacred :P) from early December all the way through late January, and from there we started slowly tapering off to less and less late days. By the end of March I probably averaged one 8-9 workday a sprint, and it by April we finally got approval to slow down enough to make things robust rather than frantically adding features in and abandoning them to work on the next feature even though the alpha version we shipped needs work still. So slowing was great news! But it was really hard. Even through March when I only worked a handful of late nights, it still felt like any night MIGHT need to be a late night, I never really knew until like 4:30. Made it hard to tell Tess I’d be home, or make dinner plans with friends. I’ve learned a lot about what processes I can help support to prevent us from getting that deep though. And I’ve definitely re-affirmed from this that I am NOT a workaholic. I need to go home. However work did pay me a meaningful amount in bonuses and gave me an unexpectedly large raise! So it’s paid off monetarily, and hasn’t seemed to permanently alienate my wife. But it was rough, ugh.

So I’ve wanted to work in the temple for like four years. I don’t have a strong testimony of the temple, and serving there seems like a good thing to do regardless. So I first tried to do so four years ago, but the Bishop turned me down because he was about to call me as the Elders Quorum President and they didn’t want me to be overloaded. So that delayed it 18 or so months until I moved in with Bryla. First thing in my new ward there I tried to work in the temple too, but the new Provo City Center temple was almost built and they wanted to save temple workers for that, so I couldn’t start then either. Before it opened I ended up moving home, at which point I was far enough along dating Tess that I thought marriage soon might be possible, and didn’t look into being a temple worker. Finally after Tess and I were married, we talked about it and she agreed to join me, and we started working in the Oquirrh Mountain Temple in September, and we’ve worked there every Saturday it’s open from 1:45PM-6PM since. It’s been a great experience.

I love seeing different people I know every week. The job we’re doing rotates every 45 minutes so you never get super bored. I can help with basically everything but initiatory and endowments. I do baptism confirmations with one hand. When I’m doing the reception desk every once in a while when someone pulls out their wallet I kindly tell them we don’t accept bribes. I can’t effectively tell stories right now apparently. It has definitely been a sacrifice, and I’m not sure either of us feel like our testimony has been strengthened (as much as i’d like to claim it has). But I’m sure we’re being blessed by our service, and I always am in a good mood in there and come out in a good mood, and we can still sleep in on Saturdays.

So I distinctly remember once a time being excited to be married because people in my life were drama at that time, and I felt like my family were the only friends I needed, so if I found a wife I wouldn’t need to keep socializing with other people. This was of course silly, no question I’d miss Micah and Bryla and Neal and other people who I don’t see nearly as often as I’d like (I know this with certainty now based on empirical evidence), but the weird part is that my family is actually kinda boring now! *gasp!* I’ve got to clarify, I still love my siblings, and my siblings in isolation are still fun to be around. But now that my parents are up to 15 grandkids, family parties are pretty crazy, and no one can play with us anymore, and for the most part everyone just wants to hear about how we’re doing and then talk about kids. The kids can be fun, if we bust out a jackbox game or something we can have a jolly ol’ time. And the grandkids are of course super cute, so going to the second Sunday family dinner is generally worth it (seeing as fun isn’t the only reason to go). But what’s MORE fun is going to Tessa’s family every Sunday (except the 2nd Sunday Campbell dinner). Tessa’s siblings are 8F 14M 16M 18F and 21F, and we can even coax her mom and/or dad into playing certain games with us sometimes. The boys are getting into strategic games, so we can play things like Thunderstone with them (usually co-op). And while playing jackbox games with all the Campbell grandkids can be fun in a silly way, Tessa’s family is old enough for it to be witty, and more of a competition. So, Tess and I have had a tradition of going over there basically any Sunday night we don’t have plans for months (which usually means every Sunday except the 2nd Sunday) and it’s been great. Maybe once we get pregnant the Campbell family dinner will light up a bit again. But that’s not in the near term plans.

Well, there's a bunch of random stuff for ya. Actually I wrote most of this months ago and never got around to posting it, so some of it even feels outdated already (ie: work has changed like 30 times, but it's in a great place, and I don't feel like writing details now :P), but I figured I'd post it anyway. If you're reading this and your curious about any specific aspect of our lives, feel free to comment or ping me somehow, and I'll be more likely to blog about it knowing someone is interested :)

In conclusion of this post though, basically this only touches on 1% of all the stories I've shared with Tess, and being married is my favorite! I feel like we're really spoiled with how often we get to play together, and how healthy we usually are, and how we have so many awesome people in our life that we can't make time to see them all, and how financially stable we feel, and so on. It's probably a blessing of serving in 3 callings (ward, stake, temple).

My Wonderful Tess

Blog time! And what I’d really love to do is write a bunch about my wonderful wife Tess. Honestly it’s embarrassing looking back at my journals and seeing how little I wrote about her. We dated for 2.5 years! But there is hardly anything. Note It was a low journaling time frame anyway, but I still wrote enough and on days when Tess was definitely in the picture that you’d think I would have mentioned Tess more. Especially because I discussed her at length with all sorts of people in my life on many many occasions.
Tess journals about almost every day consistently (usually 3 days or so at a time, but still). So if I’m dead and you’re reading this to figure out what more of my dating experience with Tess was like, you’ll have to get the nitty gritties from Tessa’s journal. Hopefully she’ll let you read it. Or if she’s dead too and she can’t stop you. If we’re both dead you totally have my permission to read her journal, she’ll doubtless be embarrassed about stuff but I’ll make it up to her up here.
Anyway, when she pointed out my low mention of her I thought about and I realized why. There are two major reasons. First, we didn’t get married until I was 30. As result, I had dated A LOT. You can go back through my journals and find all sorts of details about various other people I dated in the past. And even I got tired of reading about these two great dates I had with so-and-so in one entry, and then my entry two weeks later was just the whole thing didn’t work out and I didn’t have anything more to add. So I all but officially decided not to write about dating stuff unless I was officially dating the girl.
Second, Tess and I weren’t officially dating for most of our our 2.5 year courtship. Which is silly to say, because I called her every night (even after either of us went on a date with someone else), and we went out at least once a week almost the entire duration. So, are these valid reasons for not writing more? Probably not, but that’s what happened haha.
However, now we’ve been married for 7 months! And I want to give a deeper glimpse into our relationship. I’ll probably jump all over with this, sorry in advance.
One big thing that has shaped our relationship both pre and post marriage is each of our disabilities. Mine is obvious, being in a wheelchair makes it harder to go dancing (which Tess loves, and we do at times anyway) or travel, or visit our friends in their homes (which is fine because they’re all happy to come to ours). Tessa’s was alluded lightly to in our dating story posters I posted last August, but it explains a lot of her preferences.
During the six weeks of silence Tess struggled a lot and eventually saw a therapist who diagnosed Tess with a sensory disorder. Basically my understanding of this is that bright lights, loud noises, and physical touch all just impact Tess exponentially more than most people. Everyone’s first instinct (including mine) is just to disregard this and is basically to assume she can shrug it off, it’s just lights or noise, she’ll get over it. And really this approach is probably what Tess would tell you, she doesn’t like special attention, and technically she’ll get over it. Apparently the best she can explain it is when her body gets all this sensory input and she doesn’t know what to do with it, it tenses her up, and shuts her brain down. If Tess and I go to a movie at the movie theater, it tenses her up so much that she comes home and literally shakes for hours at times.
The movie aspect has been particularly interesting because I used to go to the theaters and see pretty much every appropriate movie that came out that interested me, but Tess never wanted to go. Note that she was only diagnosed a year before we were married, so even she didn’t really understand why she didn’t like movie theaters (or more accurately, she didn’t understand why anyone else did) so during most of our dating we didn’t have this base knowledge to frame our understand of experiences on. Even her family doesn’t really seem to grasp this, but they’re learning.
There’s two ways I can think to relate to it. Everyone can relate to whatever noise going on being too loud, like standing right in front of a speaker at a party, or the shock of the sound level in a movie when it first starts. For me, I quickly acclimate to the volume at a movie so easily that the first shocking burst of sound isn’t even a big deal anymore. But I still wouldn’t park in front of a speaker at a dance party. Imagine if our regular noise level feels more like standing in front of a speaker for Tess? If you had to do that for 3 hours straight, it’d leave you tense too.
The other analogy I can think of is sometimes when I’m sick, usually with some sort of fever, my whole body feels sensitive. Or how aware you are of even light touch when you have a bad sunburn. Now, this isn’t to say Tess feels pain at any light touch, you don’t have to treat her like glass, but a lot of touch just seems to have this level of unpleasantness to it. That being said, expectation does seem to mitigate this a lot, to the point where if she’s expecting to hug you it’s not unpleasant, and somehow any touch from me seems ok now (more on this later), but one of her biggest pet peeves is still when old ladies have to hold her arm the whole time they’re speaking to her. Physical touch from strangers is super uncomfortable still.
Oh, one more thing, she apparently has a hard time interpreting what people’s facial expressions mean. It’s probably genetic, at least one of her sisters says she’s the same way. But it makes it a little awkward for her in social circumstances with people you don’t know well when it’s hard to understand their facial cues. Another factor in her being more introverted than me.
That foundation being set, it explains a lot of Tessa’s preferences. She prefers to listen to a show more than watch it because their facial expressions confuse her a bit the first time, she likes shows much more once she knows the whole story because it’s easier to understand their expressions when she knows the full context. She dislikes movie theaters because of the assault of noise and color. She didn’t like hugs because of the surprise touch. She didn’t like being in groups of people over like 4 because the awkwardness of reading faces, plus the likely risk of noise and stranger touch. Etc.
One super interesting exception to all of this though is dance. Apparently people with a sensory disorder benefit greatly from some sort of physically taxing outlet they enjoy. For Tess that is dance, preferably Lindy Hop swing dancing. “But that includes loud noises! And touching strangers! That doesn’t make sense!” Yeah maybe, apparently is it’s the expectation, but she loves it. At dance she knows what to do with all this intense sensory input, that loud beat coming in is the rhythm to dance to. That pressure on the small of your back means they want you to spin, and so on. She loves it, and it’s beautiful to watch her dance.
I’ve known I wanted Tess for a long time. Our first date she gave me a hug, and she sat on my lap and rode to the car, and at the time she seemed totally comfortable with it. Angels must have been there holding back her anxieties on the first date, because it took us around a year after that before I could even lightly put my arm around the back of her chair. I’m grateful I had that experience of what it was like physically if she was comfortable around me, because it helped give the patience to work back up to it.
In dating various different potential concerns popped up and left, but the two biggest most consistent ones I remember talking about a lot was physical touch, and feeling loved. I know physical touch is my number one language of love. And I don’t just mean intimate touch. I mean even with a friend, an excited wave from across the room just seems to carry way less weight for me as a greeting than a hug, or even a hand on the shoulder as they pass by wordlessly without making eye contact. Also, in the hospital they explained that for people who lose sensation in most of their body, touch in the places they can feel tends to become more important than usual. So I double knew I needed touch. Understanding at least that touch was hard for Tess for some reason was a big concern for me.
Feeling loved was the other big one. My number one language of love was already off the table, but even though I was willing to accept that, her not being willing to be a couple didn’t inspire confidence. And her not being ready to be official also meant that I couldn’t regularly express how much I cared about her, or it made her feel bad. I had a handful of people who wanted me to move on from Tess primarily due to this aspect. I just always thought there would be some breakthrough where touch would be completely ok like the first date, and she’d be able to show love for me like I wanted to show for her.
Sorry this blog has been a bit of a drag so far, but here’s where we start ramping up to happier stuff! For the most part I’d say we never made any all at once breakthroughs. We just slowly progressed. This is silly to look back on, but I think the first big step in touch was playing a board game, she let me put my hand between on her knee between her crossed legs and leave it there. Handholding v0.3!  But over time she got used to my hugs, a year or so in she let me put my arm around the back of her chair, then progressively more on her shoulders. Eventually she’d let me kiss her cheek good night if I asked (and I always had to ask), or hold her hands for short bursts if I asked. Then she’d start doing these things even if I didn’t ask, but I could tell it took effort, she was just doing it for me because she understood it meant a lot to me.
At the point we got married, holding hands everywhere felt natural to me. I guess there’s a good chance she’s just super good at faking it now, but it feels to me like she actually enjoys holding hands, or my arm around her, or snuggles in general. Seven months into marriage, our regular morning routine is after whoever gets me out of bed around 6:50ish I remove an armrest on my chair, go back into the bedroom, park next to the bed, and quietly say “I love you” to Tess. If she’s awake enough to hear me (most days) she crawls over and into my lap, places her head on my chest, and we just snuggle silently for 5-10 minutes before i go off to work. I can’t express how grateful I am for little things like this. I’m sure one day we won’t be able to maintain this routine for whatever reason, but this time is very special to me.
Tess also curls up on my lap when I get home from work, when either of us is unhappy or uncomfortable for any reason, or any other number of times. We hold hands on and off as appropriate through church or symphonies or whatever. She kisses me goodbye and kisses me hello.
One of the most common questions we get asked, or our friends get asked if people are afraid to ask us, is “can you have sex?” And the answer is yes. I won’t go into detail on marriage only level intimacy, but even here we are doing wonderfully. Anyone who could see the frequency or depth of our physical intimacy now wouldn’t worry about us at all :).
As for feeling loved. For the longest time the only real indicator I had that she liked me was that she’d answer every night when I’d call, resist ending the call, and she’d let me take her out every week. She’s a strong woman, and I knew she wouldn’t keep doing something she didn’t want to. Earlier on I heard through her sister and mom how much Tess liked me, that she was somehow able to tell them, but unable to verbally express to me haha. Eventually we worked up to her saying cute things like “it’s not as terrible to be around you” or “i guess it’s more ok now”. At some point during our courting we were at a point where it was clear we were only seeing each other, but we weren’t official enough to say “i love you” and her be comfortable. But i needed to say it somehow, so in a conversation we somehow ended on the random word “platypus” as our code word for “I love you”. We used it all the time for quite a while until we could just say I love you for real, and now it’s just a cute rare use word. I got her a stuffed platypus for Valentines day 2016, and we both had the plan to get these Lego platypus’ for each other, so we did that for date night in March sometime. Now she tells me she loves me almost as often as I tell her, and I tell her multiple times a day.
Also now she makes meals she knows I love, watches movies with me she knows I love, tries out video games she’s not sure she’ll like, she tells me she misses me when I stay late at work, and in short does all sorts of things to let me know I’m appreciated and loved, including saying it straight out. I’ve never been so happy!
I could go on about specific stories but this post is already huge so I think I'll leave it here for now. But here's some pics of our Platypodes.

Mexico Trip 2016

Oh MAN is it blog time! First of all I want to say that married life is the greatest thing, Tess is the greatest person. I love her beyond words. Christmas we got each other some board games and puzzles and the Lego Big Ben set and it was brief but wonderful. We serve at the Oquirrh temple Saturday afternoons, we play board games and watch shows and have people over to do double dates on weeknights, and life is all around great.

But! I wanted to write this post to document our adventures in Mexico recently! Note that neither Tess nor I are big picture takers, so sometimes we thought to get pictures, but most of the trip we totally spaced it. Uh, sorry.

So Mom knew that most of the family would be gone this Christmas, and presents alone with Mason wouldn’t be fun for any involved parties, so she looked for a vacation to do to make it more memorable. What she found instead was a service trip opportunity called Builders Without Borders of Utah. Around October she ran into one of my original therapists there, Jason Terry, and he told her the trip is wheelchair accessible enough (since most of the stuff I might help with is based out of the LDS stake center). So mom told me I should try it some year. And i was like “SOME year? If you’re going and can help with bed and bowel needs, Tess and I would probably come THIS year! We don’t even have kids yet!” so Tess and I discussed a little and let it set for a few days, but decided to do it!

We met a few times the end of the year leading up to it. Jason, who came last year, told me at a meeting “yeah, it feels really disorganized now. And it will be really disorganized when we leave. And when we get there it will feel really disorganized the whole time. But at the end of the week we’ll look back and be amazed at what got accomplished!” It might even have been worse this year because one of the two main people leading this, Chris, had his mom die the week before Christmas, and the viewing on the 26th, so him and his wife Angie (the other leader) didn’t even caravan down or cross the border with everyone.

We left Christmas day around 3 (which was sad, I really like hanging out with Tessa’s siblings, and I had all these new games I haven’t even read the rulebooks for yet…) and we drove to Las Vegas where the whole service group stayed overnight, taking over 70 rooms (some of which house more than the allowed occupancy). Apparently we had around 260 people in total.

Monday morning we woke up, met at a Target near the border, lost two trailer tires in transit (and one AT Target!) waited forever in line at the border, and finally crossed like 3 hours later than planned. We tried to be all organized and get number stickers for the order we’d go through, but it didn’t seem to matter haha. And unless people were having discussions I don’t know about then it was a pretty painless process, just a long wait is all. We had pre-packed 10 trailers earlier in the month and gave the border an exhaustive list of what was in them ahead of time, so it was pretty smooth.

Related side note: they hardly checked anything on the way in or out, if we had been wanting to sneak illegal stuff in or out of Mexico it would have been stupid easy. Although honestly it is actually refreshing to find that trust still exists at places like this.

This is us driving up to the border. On this street everyone got a text from their carrier letting us know we weren't in Kansas anymore. Er, California.

Here's a picture of some of our cars and trailers. You can see the bridge in the background of people crossing the border on foot.
Our Caravan was something like 70 cars, we lined up in 3 lines and sat around so long that people were getting out of the cars and chatting with other cars. In the top right you can see where people were actually crossing.

Things are DIFFERENT across the border. The road system in Tijuana (where we were staying and helping) is so convoluted. There are just rocks on the road at random. People walk carelessly into the street if they feel like it. There was even a magazine rack in the middle of the median for jaywalkers! Even though Tess and I have the same phone plan she got Internet service everywhere and I didn't, but we all got to the Stake Center and unpacked material. Then we went 10 minutes up the street to a smaller church where we unpacked computers and cloth. Usually we'd have unloaded everything at the Stake Center and used it as home base, but the power transformer went out at the Stake Center like 3 days before. So for most of the week we used it only as a building supplies storage. (I saw the power out at various places like 4 times in the short time we were there!)

Here's a picture at the Stake Center the last night we were there. Notice the purple lights of the night club next door

Ok, crazy road thing. Most of the roads we frequented had 4 directional traffic. That is to say they had a lane going North (Blue) and a lane going South (Red), than another lane going North and another lane going South. It was terrible! The result of this is that you couldn't just go through an intersection and turn right, or you'd be cutting across traffic going the other way (plus the medians just didn't allow it) So instead, if you need to turn right after an intersection, you instead turn right AT the intersection, go half a mile the wrong way, flip a U-turn, come back a half mile to the intersection you just left, then make a right turn. This way you're in the rightmost Northbound lane rather than the middlemost Northbound lane, and you can turn right without cutting across any traffic. Here's 1000 words about it.

This also meant no left turn when leaving the hotel. So to get to our church, we'd right turn out of the hotel, flip a U-turn, go down PAST our church, flip a U-turn again, then make a right turn into the church. It was silly! Note: I do realize not all of Mexico is like this, Utah has a bunch of pretty weird intersections too honestly. But the whole mandatory U-turns to get anywhere system was the worst. Maybe I could make a killing selling "U-turns are life!" T-shirts though?

Our hotel was actually kinda nice, nicer than the one we stayed at in Vegas, and it was less than $50 a night in American dollars! This was the hotel

This was our room

View from the foot of the bed

Bathroom (I showered in that chair, probably wouldn't have included a bathroom photo otherwise)

Beautiful window view.
Yes, that's a pile of tires.

But we only hardly did anything at the hotel but sleep. So it's a little silly I have this many pictures of it. Congratulations on viewing them.

From this point on Mom Dad and Mason had a very different trip from Tess and I. Dad was one of 15 project site leaders, each site was building a house or adding to an existing house. Apparently Chris and Angie work with the local LDS Stake President to figure out who to help (not everyone helped were members). So of the 260ish people probably 240ish were assigned to a job site. The rest of us stayed at the church and taught classes, but I'll come back to that later.

My Dad's job site was to add a room to this guy's house. Adding a room sounds like a small thing, but since this guy's house was one room with no stove and no bathroom, adding a room literally doubled his house space! I won't go into the details of how they got rained on and only had tarps with holes, and how this guy would just sell broken furniture on the corner where this was, and cool solutions my Dad's group had to come up with and such. But here's a few pictures.


Above is the final shot from us. They didn't get it to a fully finished project before they left, but it was firm and waterproofed and half wired for electricity. Builders of Utah has been coming to this same area for 9 years in a row now, and the locals have learned how to finish the projects themselves, with our donations still buying the supplies (we don't just give them money). So they finish up.

For us not on a job site, we helped out at the church. My goal was computer classes. It was a little bumpy at first for a few reasons. #1 computer classes isn't a standard part of these trips, so it's not as structured as job sites or sewing classes. We were doing it because #2 a kid on the trip was doing the classes for his Eagle project. And all of that combines with #3 I don't speak Spanish and #4 I don't know what the people want to learn so it was hard to prepare anything in advance.

Really for me the biggest bump was #2 though, the Eagle scout. Apparently his original project was just to make monitor stands for these 9 machines that had been donated, but only 1 actually needed a manually made stand. I get the impression teaching computer classes for his project wasn't his idea at all, because he totally was not involved. The first day I tried not to takeover but he was doing nothing to address the problems. I talked to his parents day 2 and got permission to make things happen on my own haha.

So! 9 desktop computers had been donated for us to use. They all had Linux (since it's free), there wasn't much to be done about that, but they all had openoffice and chrome so they do mostly everything the average user would want anyway. The problem was everyone thought "oh, the church has internet access, so it'll be fine!" However, church internet is wireless, which the desktops couldn't receive. Even if they did, when all the Builders people with their 300 mobile devices were at the church at night the wireless network was as good as not existing anyway. So we needed to hard wire in, but we didn't have the devices, and the router was in the top corner of the clerks office behind a locked door AND a locked gate.

So, Tess and I had an adventure going to Office Max and buying some Ethernet cables and a switch, Chris got someone with keys to come unlock the office, and we moved all the computers to a small classroom across the hall from the router. I was trying to figure out how to wire them up when a helpful kid named Gentry showed up and did all the manual labor I couldn't. He strung the wire through the ceiling across the hallway and down into the little classroom and got everything hooked up. We could only fit 5 computers, snugly, but it worked. This kid was the best though, an Austin Hone type, just super friendly and helpful and "what next" asking and such. I wish it had been his Eagle project haha.

To my utmost shame I totally forgot to take pictures of the computer room or any of this!. Most of the pictures on this blog were from the first day or the last day, because this wasn't really a vacation and as such I wasn't really thinking of stuff like pictures haha. Just imagine in your minds eye a tiny classroom with 5 computers on TV tray size tables, with a space in the middle small enough that my chair can't turn around. Now imagine me in the middle of that room, jumping up on top of my wheelchair and doing a little tap dance. There ya go, that's even better than pictures, right?

Throughout the week I only taught computer classes to about 8 people. The first 3 I asked what they wanted to learn, they spoke a bit of English, and they asked for Excel and PowerPoint. I did my best to teach them about formula fields and slide transitions, not sure any of it stuck though. One of the other guys who wanted to help with computer classes told me about though, which has all sorts of tutorials, even in Spanish, and that helped a TON. So with a few of the remaining people I got them started on those. The other big breakthrough was using Google Translate on my computer. One day a Spanish kid (Eriberto!) came in when I was dinking around on the desktops and was trying to talk to me, so I busted out Google Translate on my phone, and we'd talk back and forth. It worked passably but for some reason it would stop listening mid sentence a bunch, and I'd have to manually type the rest slowly on my phone. However, on my computer I type fast, so for classes I'd park where we could see each others screen, and we'd type in our respective translates back and forth. It was kinda odd to get to the end of an hour after a long conversation with the person next to you but realizing you hadn't spoken aloud anything more complicated than "yeah!" or "no" haha.

There was one guy who wanted to email his son who was on a mission, but he didn't know how! But to me the most interesting story was this guy who owned a construction business, and had an email address, but didn't know how to reply to emails! We logged in and I showed him where the reply button was. And then he was like "ok I understand that now. The other thing that confuses me is when they want symbols in the email, like dollar signs and stuff" So I explained that some keys have 2 symbols on them, and when you hold the shift key it does the top symbol. The sad?/crazy?/interesting? part was he came with his 16 year old son (the son spoke great English and was mostly raised in Cali by his mom), and the son was doing Javascript tutorials effectively on another computer, so I know the son knew how the shift key worked, the Dad just never asked I guess!

The last big part of the trip I saw was the sewing classes, which is what Tess did most of the trip. In the church gym they set up a bunch of folding tables in a Ū shape (including that accent mark) and set up 20+ brand new donated sewing machines. The stage at the back of the gym was massively full with all sorts of donated cloths of mostly bright or otherwise garish cloth, but the locals loved it! This picture is a good representation of what pretty much every day looked like, it's the viewpoint from the bottom of the Ū.

Or a rare more orderly shot.

For the Builders ladies there, and a few adept sewing locals, they had these blue aprons that said cosiendo chicas (sewing girls) so people who came to learn knew who to ask questions. Each day from like 11-5 the room was open to just whoever showed up (which was a bunch of peope, as you can see). Our group had a specific type of thing they planned to teach each day (pajama pants day, blanket day, etc) but if someone showed up and already had something in mind they wanted to make, the cosiendo chicas would help with whatever project they wanted.

At first Tess helped out in the big room most of the day, but it was pretty loud in there and left her extra tense by the evenings, so as the week went on she ended up spending progressively more time in side rooms with just a few ladies teaching them how to knit or crochet or the like. Tess had 3 favorite ladies, here is on of her favorites, Becky. We don't know why she had an eye patch, Tess never asked haha.

Some of the stories Tess tells about the whole thing are how the ladies just loved putting together what Tess thought were funny combinations of colors and patterns, like this orange and purple blanket.

To make blankets, it's essentially three pieces, a front, a back, and the batting in the middle. And they wen't through SO MUCH batting! To start our group bought six rolls of the stuff. I wish I'd taken a picture, but the rolls are basically 6 feet in diameter. A single roll takes up an entire truck bed, and sticks a few feet over the top of the truck. They had to buy and bring them one at a time. They used so much we ended up buying a seventh one the last day. And even with that, Tess got this shot of a girl gathering scraps from other peoples projects to make one more blanket.

Also, Tess gave up on trying to get the ladies to pin the edges of the blankets together before sewing them together, so the edges of the blankets were all sorts of skeewampus. A lot of the participants seemed to care more about quantity than quality haha. Even with that though, this is a shot of the amount of LEFTOVER cloth we had at the very end! (which we left behind still)

I felt like the whole sewing thing was great. I'd roll in every once in a while and kiss mi esposa (my wife!) and all the teenage girls thought we were the cutest couple ever. I loved seeing some of the ladies adore my wife though. I adore Tess and know she's absolutely wonderful, but since I'm the more outgoing one I tend to overshadow her and people don't know her as well. It was fun having something where they got to know Tess more than me, and see them find her as wonderful as I know she is too.

So! Those were the main events going on. The rest of this blog will be random stories.

In one of the emails from the group organizers with a packing list for Mexico she said bring rain protective gear because "the rain in Mexico is SO wet!" Tess and I laughed about that a bit, because isn't wet wet, and dry dry? What's "SO wet" mean? But we got to see! It did rain while we were there, and the air is a lot more humid so the effects seem to penetrate and linger a bit more. What particularly stood out to me though was the rain gutters. I'm so grateful for our roads here, I know it has to be hard to put big enough gutters and level or sloped streets in all the right places so even if it rains really hard its barely a problem. The part of Tijuana we were in did not do this very well. There were so many dips that retained water forever, and a few places driving through the water that I was pretty sure it was going to soak in to my fully submerged lowered floor.

Also, they made a funny token effort at wheelchair accessibility. I went to go get Little Ceaser's pizza one day, and the only sidewalk in I could see was one from the street, which meant I had to drive my chair completely around the building. Half way around the building was the street corner, with a ramp from the street to the sidewalk and a wheelchair painted on it, so I know they're trying. But the angle the street and the curb met was like a V shape, there's no way my chair would make it haha. Luckily I was already on the sidewalk and didn't have to get up that curb, but I went 8 more feet and there was a lamp post coming right out of the dead center of the sidewalk! I couldn't have fit around it on a scooter! Nice try Tijuana, but not quite the full effort haha. Luckily RJ had come with me, so he just went inside alone and got the pizza. I'm grateful how well planned and maintained Utah streets and sidewalks are though.

Ordering food! I definitely don't speak Spanish... It's really not that big of a deal though because if you go into KFC, point at the giant menu, and say "numero quatro, no combo" they figure it out easily enough. So I thought I had this figured out pretty good, and decided to take Tess through the McDonalds drive through to show off my manly ability to provide for my wife! We pull up, they say something I presume was a welcome, and i respond "uno momento" so I can consult Tess on what she wants. We decide on just two big macs, so I get their attention again and say as clearly but natively as I can "dos big macs, no combo", they said a question sounding phrase which I guessed meant "will that be everything?", so I said "si" then sat back feeling pretty proud of myself. But then they said something else that ALSO sounded like a question, and I had no idea what it was, so I doubled down and echoed my original statement, "dos big macs, no combo" with a tone of finality. More gibberish. So pleading I say "no habla espanol. Dos big macs, no combo?" They sounded a little exasperated, but in their response I thought I heard "ocho", and in my mind I was like "HAH! Eight! That's a number! That must be the total! I'll pull forward now!" We got the right food and the receipt looked right, so I guess technically I succeeded. But in retrospect, I'll bet when I replied "si" they had just asked "would you like anything else?" or "would you like a drink with that?", so I said yes, and ordered two big macs as my drink. Super smooth...

Temple time! The Tijuana LDS Temple was barely dedicated a year before we got there (Dec 2015 by President Uchtdorf). Tess and I decided to go do a session I think Wednesday morning? We took it slow and walked the grounds (the weather was beautiful sunny and not too warm) before and after. I again didn't think to take a picture, but my parents did when they went!

The temple was back a bit from the street, with a huge parking lot, and was so clean and orderly compared to the chaotic streets. Truly just driving through the front gates you could already feel the difference.

On the inside, I felt like the temple had extra tall roofs! I come pre-dressed in my whites, so I waited in a big center room while Tess went to change. A local temple worker come up and started talking in Spanish, and I told her I didn't speak Spanish, so in English she asked "where are you from?", I told her Utah, and she said "Oh! President Hinckley is from Utah!" and I was like "yeah!" but I was thinking "what a random thing to say! She know President Hinckley passed away like 9 years ago, right?" but gratefully before I said anything stupid, a matronly American looking temple worker came up to talk to me too, and I noticed her name tag said "Temple Matron Hinckley" and my mind went "OOOOOOoooo the TEMPLE president is also named Hinckley! That makes so much more sense!" but I thought it was funny.

Anyway, it was the first time I ever used a translation headset, and it worked flawlessly, and I kept wanting to study how the headset worked, but I resisted the urge haha. Anyway here's my dad's picture of the temple.

The last three short random notes I feel like sharing are #1 no matter where I was, it felt like every five minutes somewhere a car alarm went off within ear shot, I don't know why this is haha. #2 we were there on New Years Eve, a great time to celebrate with fireworks, but it seemed like the only fireworks they sold were glorified bombs. Massively loud, never saw a sparkle myself. #3 on the way to the stake center, there was this one street light that was forever long, and always took like 15 minutes minimum to get through. So! Enterprising individuals apparently saw the opportunity, and hired people to walk between the cars and try to sell all sorts of random stuff. Flowers, candy, blankets, "fireworks", food, you name it, I thought it was interesting haha.

Anyway, all things told it was a fantastic experience! I admittedly was very unsettled the first night and felt super out of my element, but by the end I felt pretty comfortable! I was definitely ready for home though. It's something I'd love to do again some day, but it's also not something I'd want to do every year. Maybe that's just 'cuz I was already working overtime at work the weeks leading up to it, and needed a vacation.

I'm so infinitely grateful for my wonderful wife who was willing to come on this adventure with me though, even though she hates Mexican food, and a loud huggy culture is the exact opposite of her ideal circumstances haha.