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The Best Kind of Connections Are Family Connections. By Rachael Hutchings

By Comeuntochrist.org
Two little girls looking at deer behind a fence

When I was growing up in Southern California, my family lived about 20 minutes away from Oak Glen, a small mountain town that was known for its orchards. During the hot summer months we would occasionally drive up to Oak Glen to escape the heat and enjoy its wide variety of activities, from you-pick fields of raspberries and cherries to a small zoo of farm animals, deer, and peacocks. I loved those excursions. I confess that many pieces of fruit bypassed my basket and went from the vine or branch straight into my mouth. My brothers and I ran from pen to pen in the zoo, and to this day I’ve never seen a pig bigger than the one that was always lying in the mud in his sty. We used our quarters to buy handfuls of food to feed the deer, giggling as their velvety noses nuzzled our hands to get every last crumb of feed. We spent what seemed like hours wandering through a shop that was crammed so full of taxidermied animals that it felt more like a natural history museum than a store.

Each trip was a bit different, depending on what everyone felt like doing, but we almost always stopped to eat at a diner that made great breakfasts and served the world’s best apple pie. One of the reasons that I loved those Saturday trips so much was that a visit to the diner meant that we could order anything we wanted to eat, and I always ordered the same thing, a slice of warm apple pie a la mode. This was the only time I remember my health-conscious mom letting me eat dessert as a meal, and I loved her for it.

Last summer my family took a trip to California to visit my parents, and we decided to give our two little girls a taste of my childhood by taking them to Oak Glen. I was a little worried that the passage of time had exaggerated my memories and that reality wouldn’t quite measure up. But as I re-experienced the past through the eyes of my children, it was even better than I remembered. We picked berries, went to the petting zoo, fed the deer, walked around the shops, and then made a final stop at the diner. I hadn’t been back since I was a teenager, but it hadn’t changed one bit, and sliding onto the old leather benches and digging into a slice of apple pie a la mode made it seem like that last visit wasn’t that long ago. And yes, we all had pie for lunch.

As I think about those summer trips, I realize that the reason I loved them so much wasn’t necessarily because the things we did were my absolute favorite things to do. To be honest, I remember being uncomfortable and sweaty in the sun as we picked fruit, usually finishing with sticky hands, scratched arms, and a few thorns in our fingertips. Visiting the zoo was fun, but it was small and really not all that impressive. (That apple pie, however, really was good.) I realize now that what made those trips so special was the time I got to spend with my family. Those excursions were unstructured and relaxing, a time to just enjoy being together. I loved my dad oinking at the pig and trying to imitate a turkey’s gobble, and my mom pointing out a cloud that was shaped like a bunny or a duck. It was fun running all over with my brothers, undistracted by other friends and activities. I loved listening to my parents tell stories about their childhood summers. I loved that those trips were times when we forgot about everything that needed to get done. We left behind the normal stresses of life and just focused on being together. Those simple summer outings helped me to know that my parents loved me and my brothers. I saw how their focus on our family impacted my life. I felt important. I felt valued. I had a place where I felt safe and where I knew I belonged. No matter what happened when I was at school or elsewhere, I always knew that my family was my refuge. Now that I am a mother myself, I want to make some of those same memories with my own children, and I hope they too will find love and refuge in our family.

A little girl picking raspberries

We share and create memories as families in so many ways—through traditions, storytelling, photo albums, blogs, family activities, and family meals. The sharing of memories and creation of new memories is a powerful way to build stronger family relationships. These collective memories give us something that can help us feel closer to each other, something to think about when times are hard, and they make us look forward to more time together. Summertime is a great time to make memories. Nature is practically begging us to get outdoors and share some quality family time. Whether it be a picnic in the backyard, a hike up in the mountains, a visit to a local ice cream shop, or a car trip to explore someplace new, we can strengthen our family relationships while we create new memories together.

The wonderful children's television personality Fred Rogers once said, "The connections we make in the course of a life—maybe that's what heaven is." The best kind of connections are family connections. I don't want to pass up the opportunity to create a little piece of heaven on earth.

Rachael Hutchings is a food blogger at lafujimama.com. She loves bringing flavors from her travels back to the family dinner table. She lives with her husband and children in Lehi, Utah.

Find Rachael on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram.