Marilla of Green Gables by Sarah McCoy

May 16, 2020

If I had seen this book on a library display stand, I would have passed it by without so much as a second glance. I have never been drawn to fan fiction. I prefer to just stick with the real thing and leave the rest of the story up to my own, not someone else's, imagination.

And in the case of my beloved Anne Shirley, that is even more true. How could anyone possibly try to get inside L.M. Montgomery's creativity and flesh out a backstory? The very idea seemed impossible, not to mention almost sacrilegious.

But it was my friend who read it first. Her love of Anne runs deep as well, so I felt like I could trust her when she said, "It was actually really well done. I think you would like it."

So I decided to take a chance. And I was pleasantly surprised.

The story was anchored in familiarity while still standing uniquely on its own. It was delightful to have Marilla introduced to "the White's daughter" and realize with a start that it was none other than Rachel Lynde. Or watch Marilla head the fundraising of the Ladies' Aid Society's by selling bottles of homemade raspberry cordial. Or notice a certain lovely amethyst brooch pinned on Marilla's dress.

But then there were new things never before considered: unconventional Aunt Izzy who chose to remain a spinster in order to pursue a career and a life outside Avonlea; the death of Marilla's mother, which forced Marilla to grow up early; an underground abolitionist organization to help protect runaway slaves. These things propelled the story forward in its own way without being tied to events and details from the future.

In spite of all of these good things however, the story was actually quite painful.  This had nothing to do with the writing (which was really quite lovely and, thankfully, did not attempt to mimic L.M. Montgomery's lavish descriptions) or the pacing (which surprised me with an intense climax at the end).

No, it was painful because, at its center, there was John Blythe with his self-assured smile and strong opinions, and he was just so gosh darn likeable. It broke my heart over and over again because I knew how it was going to end before it even began. I couldn't enjoy his tutoring of Marilla or his slow clap after her speech at the town debate (reminiscent of another slow clap after a striking performance of "The Highwayman") or his sweet kiss after falling into the stream. Each tender moment was like a jab to my heart. I wanted to will the story to go one way, all while knowing there was absolutely no way for it to work out.

And that begged the question, Did I actually want their romance to be reconciled? If there had been a Marilla and John, then there would never have been an Anne and Gilbert, and that would have been even more tragic.

In the end, it was Marilla's fierce loyalty to her father and brother that kept her from John, but the sad irony was that they would have given her their blessing over and over again. Matthew as a young man was just as you might imagine him to be--quiet but very kind and mostly keeping his opinions to himself.

At one point, he was in a bit of a political argument with John. Marilla, who was listening in on their conversation, couldn't stand the way John seemed to be pushing Matthew around. She rushed in to defend Matthew and put John in his place.

Matthew was not one to reprimand Marilla or tell her what to do, but after John left, he said, "I have a voice just as much as you do. It's a choice we make every minute--what truths are important enough to say aloud and what ones are important just to know." It was that quiet knowing that really defined Matthew's character--both in this book and later on with Anne, and the author captured it so well.

I kind of thought Anne might show up at the very end in an epilogue, but she didn't. Instead, Sarah McCoy chose to end it twelve years before Anne's arrival at Green Gables when Marilla's hope for a child was still just a wish in the grass.

But even though Marilla didn't know what was on her horizon, I did. And knowing that Anne would be coming in just a few years made me happy--and made me want to reread the books and rewatch the movies because of course that's the only possible logical next step after reading a book like this.

A Little of This and That in April

May 10, 2020

April still held its magic, even with the quarantine--maybe even more so since we had the time to enjoy every new blade of grass and unfolding blossom. Some days still felt impossibly long, but for the most part, our days slid into a new routine, and the month was filled with pleasant activities, such as . . .

Watching . . . a General Conference to remember. When I think of General Conference, images of a bustling Temple Square and packed Conference Center come to mind, but this year was completely different. It was filmed in a small auditorium with only the speakers for that session in attendance. There was no choir or congregation (and the flower arrangements looked rather pitiful, if I'm being honest). But the messages were still so good and offered a lot of hope during this uncertain time.

Saying . . . hello from a distance. Our nephew, James, came home from his mission in Australia due to Covid-19. We drove by his house to welcome him home. He has since been reassigned to North Carolina.

Celebrating . . . Easter. It was different this year. We didn't get to host our neighborhood egg hunt, nor did we get to worship at church with all of our neighbors and friends. But we still focused on the symbols of the Resurrection, enjoyed Easter baskets, dyed Easter eggs,  talked about the Savior and His priceless gift, had a couple of family eggs hunts, and sang songs in praise and celebration. This year I made up a playlist of songs about Jesus; music is always such a big part of the way I celebrate Christmas, and I decided I wanted it to be the same for Easter. It made me happy to listen to the songs throughout the month.

Rebuilding . . . LEGO sets. When Aaron was still quite small, maybe three years old, Mike bought a random assortment of Lego in an ebay auction. I remember being disappointed because there were only a couple of mini-figures included. Now we have a whole drawer of mini-figures as well as more Lego than we know what to do with. For years, I have held onto the instruction booklets from each set in the hopes that my kids would actually rebuild some of their sets after they'd been taken apart and swallowed up in the hundreds of other pieces filling our basement. But anytime I suggested it, they said it was too hard to rake through all of the pieces in order to find the ones they needed. So the booklets sat in a bin, neglected and forgotten. But turns out, if you get stuck inside your house for over a month, you eventually get bored enough to think that searching for a single piece for fifteen minutes is actually a pretty good use of time. And so, my kids began rebuilding many of their old sets, and they've been having the best time with it. And I don't have to buy more sets! Win-win.

Spending . . . a lot of time in the bathroom. Perhaps too much information for this little blog, so skip this paragraph if you can't handle talking about bodily functions, but potty training Ian has not been a smooth or easy process. When it came to peeing, he figured it out right away. But he came up against a mental block with pooping, and he could not seem to break through it. We offered him every incentive imaginable, which seemed to do little in terms of motivation except to ramp up the pressure in an unhealthy sort of way. I kind of felt like maybe we should just let go of all expectations and try again in a few months, but it seemed like that might mess him up, too. Basically, I was sure we had ruined him at less than three years old, and he was destined to a life of counseling to help overcome the emotional trauma of potty training. Finally, after talking with my sister-in-law about it, we decided that maybe if he just sat on the toilet for long enough, it would eventually happen, and then he would realize that it wasn't so scary after all. He was happy to oblige if a show was involved, and many hours were spent just waiting and hoping and praying that it would finally happen. The whole family was invested in this, and when it finally happened one night, everyone gathered round to clap and cheer, and Ian ran around in absolute elation. It was the cutest thing. (Unfortunately, one successful time did not take away all of his anxiety or resistance. It has continued to be an almost daily struggle, poor guy.)

Finding . . . out that Clark was on the waiting list for the gifted program at his school. This was disappointing since I knew it would be a good fit for him and that he was capable of doing the work and keeping up with the pace. We were in contact with the district several times during the month to see if there was any recourse for him but found out that they don't really budge from the results of that one 45-minute test. They just told us to wait and see if he would get moved from the waiting list.

Wishing . . . Mike and Ian a very happy birthday! Their birthdays are just six days apart, and it made for a fun week of celebrating. On Ian's birthday, each of the older boys took a turn playing with him, and he soaked up all of the one-on-one attention. Aaron jumped on the tramp, Maxwell built a long car track and raced Hot Wheels, Bradley read stories, and Clark took a Playmobil family on a trip to the beach. Ian has got to be one of the luckiest kids around to have so many fun brothers. (He doesn't mind quarantine one bit.) We sang to Mike over apple crisp (made by his dad), and Ian had a cake shaped like a big doughnut (his request).

Walking . . . around the capitol. On Mike's birthday, I wanted to do something to break up the day so it would feel a little bit special. We left the boys at home (presumably doing their school work), and we drove up to the capitol building. The cherry trees were still in blossom, and we spent a very pleasant half hour walking under their canopy. Because it was a Wednesday morning and cool and rainy and in the middle of a pandemic, we had the path almost entirely to ourselves, and it was quite lovely.

Covering . . . our ears. Ian's favorite birthday gift was a bugle given by his grandma and grandpa. They apologized profusely when he opened it, but I didn't think he would actually be able to get any sound out of it, so I wasn't too worried about it. Except that . . . within just a few seconds of trying, he figured out just the right combination of pursing his lips and blowing to produce maximum sound. He thought it was awesome, and I thought it was  . . . not awesome. Unfortunately, as much as he liked it, we had to confiscate it because it was disrupting the peace of our entire neighborhood.

Saying . . . goodbye from a distance. In the midst of this whole pandemic craziness, our next door neighbors moved. They had a little boy who was Clark's age, and before they were separated by social distancing, the two of them used to play together every single afternoon, rain or shine. Even after social distancing, they found creative ways to play--Jackson would perch up on top of the fence and close his eyes, and Clark would run and hide; then Jackson would call out possible hiding places, and Clark would have to reveal if he was right or not. I feel sad that these two didn't get to spend their last few weeks together running around like normal with light sabers and action figures. Instead Clark made a goodbye card, stuck it in Jackson's mailbox, and then they were gone without a proper farewell.

Visiting . . . Antelope Island. On a whim one morning, Mike decided to take the day off so we could go on a family adventure. We packed some snacks and headed out just like old times. When we arrived at the state park, there was a sign informing visitors that the biting gnats had hatched and that "no refunds would be given for insects." The bugs are infamous on Antelope Island, so we weren't surprised, but it still made us a little nervous. Luckily though, it was a cool, windy day with a little bit of rain, and that seemed to hold the biting gnats at bay. Mike's sister, Sonja, and her girls came too. We maybe didn't stay quite as socially distant as we were supposed to, but I figured the wind probably carried away any conniving germs, and it was so good to spend some time with them. We went on a couple of short hikes, tried to catch some brine shrimp in the Great Salt Lake (for science!), and named the seagulls. About halfway through the second hike, the wind died down and the sun came out, and then we were literally engulfed by those aforementioned biting gnats. We ran screaming down the mountain and decided a driving tour might be best for the rest of the day. We were so happy to get out and do something different though, so even the biting gnats couldn't ruin that.

Using . . . Marco Polo. The isolation prompted me to finally begin communicating through Marco Polo. For someone who avoids talking on the phone at all costs, it has proved to be the perfect way to stay in touch with friends and family. I should have starting using it years ago.

Finishing . . . a new sweater. I started it way back in January and have been slowly plugging away at it ever since. My first major hurdle was choosing which two colors to pair together. I sometimes feel paralyzed by even very inconsequential decisions, such as this one. So I enlisted the help of my sister, a friend, and a patient employee and finally decided on this Fossil/Hayloft color combo, and I love it. This sweater was knit in pieces, which meant I knit the front, back, and sleeves all separately and then seamed them up at the end. This made it feel a little like I kept knitting the same thing over and over, but only having one piece at a time made the whole project feel less bulky. This also meant I didn't get to try on the sweater until it was completely done, and that was a little nerve wracking, but all of my math paid off.

Deciding . . . to embrace my wavy hair. I thought quarantine might be the perfect time to stop straightening my hair every day and just see what would happen. Ever since I was a teenager, my hair has had some wave to it (as well as copious amounts of frizz), and it has only increased with each of my babies. It seemed kind of ridiculous to have to straighten it every morning instead of just working with what was already there. My sister-in-law (who has gorgeous curly hair) has become my curly-hair mentor and cheerleader, and I'm grateful that she's taken on the challenge. There have been some rough days (and one rough week in particular). I caved and straightened my hair one day because I couldn't stand the way it was looking. But there have also been some days where I look at myself in the mirror, and I think, "Hey! I like that natural curl!" (And in case you're curious, here are a few of the things I've been doing to encourage more curl: I stopped using shampoo that contained sulfates, I started using conditioner, I stopped using a towel or blow dryer to dry my hair, and I began using a product in it that didn't build up or make it crunchy.) There has been a lot of experimenting and trying different things, but I told myself I needed to keep going until at least the end of May before calling it quits.

Hanging . . . out with friends the socially distant way. We brought our camp chairs and blankets, spaced them apart, and spent a lovely two hours talking about whatever we wanted to. And then the sprinklers came on and the lights in the park all went out for an exciting finish.

Suffering . . . from seasonal allergies. It is really such a tragedy that my enjoyment of my favorite season has to be tempered by hay fever. And I'm telling you, this is not a good year to have sneezing fits. I almost didn't take Ian to his 3-year check-up because I thought they'd kick me out due to sneezing. It doesn't seem to help if I stay inside either. In fact, one of the worst times of day for me is right when I wake up in the morning. I'm also worried that my allergies are just getting progressively worse with each year. Up until this spring, I had never had a cough associated with it, but now if I try to run outside, I feel like I have asthma (which I've never had before), and it takes me an hour or more to recover.

Enjoying . . . Clark's daily costumes. This kid lives in his own world, and he always has some sort of adventure going on. He is also very particular about things and concerned about every single little detail. He sorts his clothes by color and now selects items that match to create his costumes every day. This was one of my favorites: the Green Granger.

Writing . . .  a story with friends. Maxwell and his friends have coped with not being able to see each other by writing a story together. They have a shared google doc, and every day they each log on and add a little bit more to the adventures of the Chicken Nugget Sandwich Boys. It's about what you might expect from six fourth-grade boys, and I pretty much love it.

Finding . . . a house to buy! This is our biggest news for this month. After much thoughtful consideration and many prayers, we decided to leave our beloved neighborhood and move to one that was closer to the boys' schools. We thought we found a home last month but came in as the second-place offer (this was the disappointment I alluded to . . . ). We thought it was probably best to hold off on our house hunt for awhile with the wildly dipping economy and uncertain virus, but then we found one that we had to at least try for. And now we're under contract on it! I will share more details next month.

Making . . . stop motion videos. I saw an offer for this free stop-motion class on Instagram, so I got it for my kids. They've had so much fun with it (Aaron, especially), and I've loved some of their resulting videos.

Marking . . . the passing of another year of marriage. We're up to fifteen years now! We celebrated by ordering takeout (which we haven't done since quarantine started because . . . paranoid). We took it to a park, found a secluded spot, set up a table, and enjoyed a scrumptious feast. It was heavenly! I'm grateful for a marriage I like more and more each year.

Watching . . . a lot of home improvement shows. It just comes with the territory when you buy a house, am I right? Plus, our evenings are usually quite empty, so what else are we supposed to do?

Remembering . . . two blissfully perfect evenings. Sometimes when something just feels incredibly right, I like to consciously acknowledge it and take a mental (and sometimes an actual) picture of it so that in years to come, I can still go back to it with vivid clarity. April held two of those moments for me. One of them was on a cool, cloudy evening when we all put on our roller blades and rode up and down our street. No one else was out in the neighborhood, and time slowed down and stilled. The other one happened when I called the boys inside to read to them and they asked me to read on the tramp instead. The temperature was perfect, and I loved looking up at our big maple tree arching over the sky. It made me wonder why I hadn't made this a regular occurrence in the spring and summer months. (Plus, we're reading a really good book right now: Sweep: the Story of a Girl and Her Monster by Jonathan Auxier.)

That's a wrap for this month. What quiet joys did you find in April?

Fifteen Years: A Poem

Apr 29, 2020

Mike and I celebrated our fifteenth wedding anniversary yesterday. Since we were not able to go on a trip or get tickets to a concert, I decided to take the sentimental route and write a poem (which was especially out of the ordinary since Mike has always been the poet in our relationship, not me). It ended up being fairly epic because I wrote one stanza for each year of marriage, and, it turns out, fifteen years is longer than I realized.

I decided to publish it here for safekeeping and easy finding and also on the off chance that you'd like to read a lengthy poem about a rather ordinary life.

Fifteen Years

April 28, 2005
Fifteen years ago today
A boy and girl were wed, hooray!
Low on cash but rich in love,
Heaven smiled from above
When those two, in joyful bliss,
Shared their first devoted kiss.

In a house not even theirs,
They passed the summer without cares.
But one thing they did not suppose,
A dishwasher they’d never close
Again, in all their married life,
For now they’d wash each plate and knife.

In Year Two, they were divided:
The Y and U, now collided.
But Provo still remained their home,
And to the duck pond they would roam
On weekends and on summer nights,
A book and blanket seemed just right.

Next spring brought a graduation—
Cap and gown and adulation.
They packed their stuff into a car,
Headed north, but not too far.
Their new place had two bedrooms, sweet!
And bright orange carpet for their feet.

After many months of maybe,
They found out they’d have a baby!
Born on a hot day in July,
A little boy who didn’t cry—
At least not much, that is until
A brick flew past their window sill.

Another place was called for quick.
They thought Salt Lake might do the trick:
Commute was faster on a bike,
And there were parks for little tykes.
But just when they were used to three,
Max joined the little family.

They took a break from work and school
To see Niagara, wet and cool.
But Max was not the least impressed;
He closed his eyes and took a rest.
Aaron, too, thought it a bore
But could be bribed with fruit snacks more.

Another year, another boy:
This pattern seemed to bring them joy.
Now outnumbered, two to three,
Their home was full of mess and glee.
They tried a van that wasn’t right;
The duplex started feeling tight.

The PhD was getting long.
“Just one more year”—their constant song.
They came up with a desperate plan
To help him end what he began:
A week or three of isolation
To write the dreaded dissertation.

But at last he got it done
And found a real job, which was fun.
The longed for time had come at last
To put a shared wall in their past.
They found the perfect home to buy
And kissed their rental house goodbye.

They didn’t have much time to spare.
Boy number four arrived with flair.
A fussy baby, he worked hard
To be the thrilling wild card.
An Aussie trip redeemed him some
When he slept ev’ry hour but one.

Their life was filled with much to do:
Soccer games, two kids in school,
Church and work, a new roof (cool!)
And don’t forget their local pool.
They started Pie Day for a treat
So all their neighbors they could greet.

The next year all their dreams came true:
A trip to France and Norway, too.
Eiffel Tower, River Rhine,
A hundred tunnels in a line.
And when they were back home and done,
They thought they’d plan another one.

Still they felt someone was missing—
One more boy who needed kissing.
They all adored him from the start.
He captured ev’ry person’s heart
And took each treat and ice cream cone
From his royal baby throne.

Their home was such a busy hive
With two adults and children five.
They thought they knew just what to do
To beat the cold and winter blues.
They packed the van and left the house
And said hello to Mickey Mouse.

But all their smiles turned to frowns
When Aaron’s blood counts dropped way down.
The hospital became their home
And many nights were spent alone.
But even with this toil and strife,
They still were quite fond of their life.

April 28, 2020
Now we’re back up to the present.
Fifteen years, and each one pleasant,
Have flown past with lightning speed,
But still on this they’re both agreed:
They’d do it all again today.
“I love you,” they will always say.

What is My Errand?

Apr 19, 2020

Quarantine life has been good to us so far.

Mike has been working exclusively from home for over a month. It was a struggle at first, and he will still be grateful when he finally gets to be back in a real work environment, but we've fallen into a certain rhythm where it's perfectly normal to have him come up the stairs mid-morning, and I've taken advantage of his close proximity to ask him questions or have him help with potty training. 

The boys are doing well with their schoolwork. They know what is expected of them each day, and they do it. For the most part, I am pretty hands off, except for Clark. Their teachers have been involved and organized, and although we sincerely hope they will all (even Aaron) get to go back to school in the fall, we are making this work.

Our home is a safe, happy place. We are able to do almost all of our favorite activities. We love reading aloud in the mornings before school, rollerblading down the street in the evenings, watching movies, doing puzzles, singing songs around the piano, playing games, worshiping together, baking (and eating), and going on walks. Home has become the haven I always wanted it to be.

Our experience, although not unique, has not been the reality for many people. The immense suffering around the world is vast and agonizing. It is emotional, physical, financial, spiritual, and mental. Some of it is related to the current pandemic, but much of it was already there. The heartache created by this virus has not given the world a free pass on other suffering. It has simply added another layer--the straw that just might break the proverbial camel's back. 

During the first few days, as the virus spread across the nation with alarming speed, I inhaled the news at a feverish pace. I held my breath as things I had never even considered became a stark new reality. I watched the security of everyday life crumble around me. The pain and suffering of others was brought to the forefront of my mind. It was suffocating and unbearable. 

I did not know how I, in my very small sphere, could help with problems that seemed insurmountable.  I felt myself pulling inward because I couldn't handle all of this pain that I couldn't do anything about.

But one day I was reading the Book of Enos, and I was struck by the progression of Enos' prayer. First, he cried in "mighty prayer and supplication for [his] own soul." Following this, he "began to feel a desire for the welfare of [his] brethren." And finally after this, he prayed "with many long strugglings" for his enemies, the Lamanites. 

Applied to my own life, this model of concern for others might look like this: attention to myself and my family, followed by friends, neighbors, and extended family, and finally strangers around the world. The circle begins small but is able to expand outward organically as immediate needs are seen and met.

I had been frozen in indecision because I didn't know where to expend my energies or resources when there were limitless options; and what I could do seemed so small and inconsequential anyway that it seemed rather futile. Although this blueprint didn't do anything to change the collective and individual suffering all around me, it lifted my own paralyzation so I could once more move forward with purpose and genuine intent.

At this same time, a question came into my mind that has since become my daily mantra: What is my errand? It is based on something the prophet Jacob said when he began his ministry to his people: "Wherefore I, Jacob, gave unto them these words as I taught them in the temple, having first obtained mine errand from the Lord."

I decided that I would try to be like Jacob and obtain my errand from the Lord every day. Once again, this narrowed my focus to a single day, even a single hour, which made it so much more manageable for me.

When I wake up and begin my day, I ask, "What is my errand?" And then I listen. I pay attention to the thoughts that come into my head. Interestingly, they are most often about someone in my family or neighborhood, thus following the pattern set forth by Enos. Once I have one or two impressions, I work on accomplishing those before I ask the question again. It feels very much like I am reporting to my commanding officer for duty each day, asking for my orders, and then returning after they are completed.

These errands are small things, easily accomplished in a day. For example, one day I had the thought that I should do something for my sister, Angela. She is currently serving a mission in Pennsylvania. The work has ground to a halt because she and her companion have to stay inside all of the time. They have found creative ways to serve and teach and share their message, but for a very social person like my sister, the confinement is taking a serious toll on her morale. I wondered what I could do for her. I got the idea to cut up strips of paper, write inspirational quotes on them, and then mail them to her. Each day she could pull out one piece of paper, read the quote, and then loop it through the previous one, forming a paper chain.

Another day, I sat down to order some sheet music. I went to Amazon as usual, but then I had the impression, Why don't you order from Day Murray Music [my local music store] instead? It ended up costing me more, but the service was excellent, and it arrived at my house in two days.

When we participated in the worldwide fast on Good Friday last week, I felt like I should pay a fast offering, even though I had just done so a couple of weeks before. I realized that the Church can do things with its resources that I can't do alone with mine.

One morning I approached the Lord with my question, and my sweet elderly neighbor's name came into my mind. I knew I needed to call and check in with her that day.

This is just a sampling of some of the things Heavenly Father has asked me to do in the last few weeks. I feel almost silly writing them down because I know they sound small and insignificant. But I feel strongly that as we each do our small bit in our individual spheres, great things can happen.

I want to tell you about one other small thing I've added to my days. This one is also inspired by Enos. Like me, Enos realized that there were some things beyond his scope of influence. About the Lamanites, he said, "For at the present our strugglings were vain in restoring them to the true faith." In fact, at that point, the Lamanites were threatening to destroy the records and traditions of Enos and his people if they got the chance.

There was only one thing Enos could do for them, and so he did that one thing: he prayed. And the Lord said, "I will grant unto thee according to they desires." That simple prayer of faith made a difference.

Like Enos, there are many things right now outside of my control. I don't have the medical skills to answer the call for help in the NYC hospitals; I don't have the connections to organize big drives for supplies; I don't have the knowledge to study this virus and develop a vaccine against it.

Instead, I have to do exactly what Enos did: see a need and pray for it.

I have made it a habit to pay attention to the seemingly random thoughts I have throughout the day. If a person pops into my memory, even if I haven't had any contact with them for years, I say a prayer for them right then. This is one way I'm expanding my circle. I have found that as my thoughts turn outward to others, my generosity and love expands as well.

I hope this quarantine won't last forever. In fact, I hope it's over before too long. But I also hope to take this simpler, slower pace with me and continue this daily habit of asking the Lord how He can use me. As I narrow my focus on these small things, my love for others is actually widening in a most miraculous way.

Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a World of Specialization by David Epstein

Apr 11, 2020

My father-in-law and I were swapping book recommendations one evening a few months ago. Although we both read quite a bit, it isn't too often that our book tastes cross paths. (We both love history, but he wants it dense with facts while I prefer it laced with emotion and drama.)

But one of the books he mentioned caught my attention. He said it was about why the world needs people who haven't limited themselves to one area but have developed broadly across a wide range of disciplines. As a parent who is always wondering if it's "too late" for one of my kids to try something or if we've made a lifetime commitment to something just because we've done it for six months, I was totally intrigued by this idea.

I also knew immediately, without even reading it, why my father-in-law loved it.

Because he raised nine generalists.

Mike and each of his eight siblings grew up trying a variety of sports, instruments, clubs, and activities. Their parents pushed them very little. If they wanted to try something, it was up to them to figure out a way to get there and sometimes they were responsible for paying for it too. If they wanted to quit and move onto something else, that was seen as both acceptable and normal.

Although some of Mike's siblings have been to known to complain about the lack of visible support or encouragement, it cannot be denied that every single one of them is talented, diverse, and not in the least afraid to try new things. Because of that, I would want any of them on my team, no matter the subject. There is not a better representation of a well-rounded individual than Mike and his brothers and sisters.

While I was in the middle of this book, Mike heard about a problem that one of my friends was having with the diapers for her daughter. Mike said, "The engineer in me says someone needs to design a better diaper." Before I even knew what was happening, boxes of diaper-making supplies started showing up on our porch.

I laughed and teased Mike for thinking he could design something that people who have diaper design as their job had failed at.

But then I read about InnoCentive, an organization that "facilitates entities in any field acting as 'seekers,' paying to post challenges, and rewards for outside 'solvers.'" Basically the idea is that if you have an unsolvable problem, you can post the challenge to this website, and then solvers across all disciplines and demographics can bring their own expertise to the table to come up with solutions.

The company was founded by Alph Bingham, a chemist who used to work for Eli Lilly. In 2001, as VP of research and development strategy, he "collected twenty-one problems that had stymied Eli Lilly scientists." He asked if he could post them on a website for anyone to see. Some of the scientists thought the problems were too confidential and also wondered at Bingham's audacity in proposing that just your average Joe could solve a problem that had evaded the most highly-trained and highly-specialized chemists. And yet, after Bingham launched the problems, answers started rolling in: "Strangers were creating substances that had befuddled Eli Lilly chemists. As Bingham had guessed, outside knowledge was the key." He said, "It validated the hypothesis we had going in, but it still surprised me how these knowledge pockets were hidden under other degrees. I wasn't really expecting submissions from attorneys."

I found this chapter, "The Outsider Advantage," so fascinating. And after reading it, I went to Mike and said, "You know what, on second thought, you might be the perfect person for fixing this diaper conundrum. You go for it."

The author made a point that I've thought about again and again since finishing this book. He said, "The bigger the picture, the more unique the potential human contribution. Our greatest strength is the exact opposite of narrow specialization. It is the ability to integrate broadly."  In other words, if we put all of our time and energy into becoming highly specialized, then robots are going to put us out of a job. We can develop a machine to analyze data and solve problems with a narrow focus. It is our ability to gather and integrate information and think outside the box that makes us valuable. Gary Marcus (a psychology and neuroscience professor) said, "In narrow enough worlds, humans may not have much to contribute much longer."

One of the things I really loved about this book was the way that David Epstein approached this topic from many different angles. The book began with two prominent sports figures (Tiger Woods and Roger Federer), who represented opposite sides of the specialist to generalist spectrum. Knowing that David Epstein was a sports writer, I was a little worried that with an opening like that, this book would have a high concentration of sports examples.

But that was not the case at all. Epstein brought in stories from all walks of life (chess, music, science, sports, academics, medicine) and across cultures and history (18th-century Venice to Japan at the turn of the 21st century to Hungary right after World War II). It felt like Epstein took his own advice and didn't limit his analyzation of this topic to his own area of interest and expertise.

I had to laugh when I was at book club talking about this book. First of all, I was one of only two people who had finished it. Everyone said it was a little slow or too technical. They were interested in the general premise, but when it came right down to actually reading it, they preferred a summary. (This was not my "serious" book club, in case you were wondering.) I didn't feel that way about this book at all, but maybe that's because I listened to it (and at double speed, too).

Anyway, one of the women (the one who had actually read the whole thing) said, "It was interesting, but . . . it's just that he kept talking about chess. And I don't care anything about chess!" I maybe shouldn't have, but I actually retorted, "Isn't that the whole point of the book? That we don't limit ourselves to just our pet interests but read and learn about other areas? That we have range?" In fact, the author quoted someone who said that exact thing--that every day we should challenge ourselves to read about or explore a topic that isn't in our preferred genre. I found my book club to be an interesting social experiment. Much as we might like the idea of developing a broad range of skills, it is challenging to actually break out of our comfort zones. I will be the first to admit that I like what I like and would often like to just continue what I'm doing and not rock the boat.

That said, I felt somewhat empowered after reading this book. I often feel guilty that I got my bachelor's degree in something that I don't feel particularly passionate about. I mean, I thought I was passionate about it at the time, but I realized pretty quickly into it that my interest level did not match those of my peers. Maybe I should have switched majors at that point. But I actually quite enjoyed my time . . . I just wouldn't go back into the same field. This book validated and normalized those feelings. I am not tethered to that area just because I chose it once, and those skills will go with me in whatever  I want to try next.

The author quoted psychologist Dan Gilbert, who said, "We are works in progress claiming to be finished." This book helped me realize that who I am now doesn't have to be who I am tomorrow. I am a fluid being, a work in progress, taking in information and transforming it into something else.

When Maxwell was in third grade, I was complaining because I had a little cold. I said something like, "Why do I have to have this cold?" And Max, taking my question seriously, said, "I don't know. I haven't studied biology very much." I replied, "Maybe someday you'll want to be a doctor and help with these kinds of things." Max quickly said, "Oh I don't think so. You see, I've already devoted a lot of time to becoming an entomologist."

At eight years old, Max had already decided that he was well on the path to becoming an entomologist. But the beauty of life is that if he changes his mind at 12 or 21 or 35, he can do that. And you never know, maybe his knowledge of goliath beetles will help him find a cure for cancer.

Because that's what range can do.

A Little of This and That in March

Apr 5, 2020

March was a doozy, am I right? We began the month going to school, church, the library, and work, planning vacations, hanging out with family and friends, playing at the park, and shopping at the store. We ended the month in a very different state, not doing any of those things, which is something I hadn't even considered as a possibility a month ago. Life is strange, and the unpredictability of it sometimes makes me want to curl up and hide my head. But if we've learned anything in the past year, it is that life continues on, and there is still beauty and happiness to be found. We spent the month . . .

Celebrating . . . a decade of Maxwell. On his birthday, he stayed in bed reading before opening presents. He asked for salmon and asparagus for dinner instead of pizza. And he made his own birthday cake. All of these things made me realize that he's growing up before my very eyes. He still has a fiery temper and can give a steely glare like no one else I know, but when he's in a good mood, he's the best of the best.

Weaning . . . tacrolimus. Aaron reached Day +175, which meant it was time to begin weaning him off of the immunosuppressive drug he’s been on for the past six months. His dose will be decreased by half a milligram every two weeks. If all goes well and he doesn’t demonstrate any signs of GVHD, he should be completely off of it by the middle of June.

Loving...naps. At nearly three years old, Ian still loves to take an afternoon nap. He will often tell me, “I’m ready for my nap” after he eats lunch. Sometimes I will give him the choice of going down for his nap before or after I take Clark to school (back when I used to take Clark to school). He almost always chooses to have me put him to bed before, which I find highly unusual since most kids will do anything to prolong nap (or bed) time. He is just as easy to put down at night as he is in the afternoon. He just really seems to love curling up under his blankets with a book or a mountain of toys. He is so easy to put to bed that Aaron, Max, and Bradley can all do it if occasion requires, and even my mom commented on what a dream he is to put down for a nap. I’m not sure how much longer we can count on these amazing sleep habits, but I am soaking them up for all that they’re worth, and I don’t take them for granted in the least. (But potty training? Please don't ask about that.)

Canceling...a scientific trip to San Francisco. Mike’s dad and uncle are both diagnosed short sleepers, and so a group of scientists wanted to study any of their children who were willing to participate. Mike and his brother were planning to go the third week of March. They were going to be gone for five days, and they planned to have a fine time of it together (in between being forced to stay awake for 36 hours). But when Mike mentioned the upcoming trip to Aaron’s doctor, he was quite blunt in telling him that he shouldn’t go because of the uncertainty surrounding Covid-19. I believe his exact words were something like, “A free trip to California is like a free sky diving session into a dump.” So Mike canceled the trip, and then a week later, the entire country shut down in response to the pandemic, including the sleep study. So he wouldn’t have been able to go anyway. 

Going . . . to see our niece perform in her junior high's production of The Wizard of Oz. Clark and Bradley liked it so much, they actually saw it twice. (Look at that auditorium! And all of the people filing in! It feels surreal that such a thing was normal just a few weeks ago.)

Watching . . . our nephew open his mission call to the Baltic, Russian-speaking. It turned out to be the last real event we got to be a part of. Little did we know that in just a few short days, everything would be shutting down, and thousands of missionaries from around the world would be returning home. We didn't even take the time to be grateful for that joyous time with grandparents, cousins, aunts, and uncles. We didn't realize that those types of gatherings wouldn't be happening again for a long time.

Passing . . . the sacrament for the first time. In January, Aaron received the Aaronic Priesthood and was ordained a deacon. One of the duties of a deacon is to pass the sacrament to members of the congregation. However, Aaron had not been able to serve in this way because of the amount of germs that a tray accumulates as it is passed from hand to hand. But then church meetings were canceled across the world, and suddenly we were holding church in our own home. Our bishop authorized all priesthood holders to bless and administer the sacrament in their own homes, which meant that Aaron was finally able to pass the sacrament. I loved that his first time was in his own home to his own family. He'll always remember it.

Holding . . . church at home. Speaking of church, it has been a joy to worship as a family. I didn't expect to love it so much. But everyone has stepped up to the responsibility of preparing talks and lessons, conducting music, saying prayers, and singing together. Bradley even decided to make a number holder for the hymns, just like we have in the chapel at church. It has been sweet to share testimony and gospel truths with each other. It is one of the silver linings in all of this.

Feeling . . . disappointed about something. This isn't meant to be vague so people will ask me about it. I'm simply mentioning it because these monthly posts are one of the ways I document the life of our family, and this something took up a lot of mental and emotional energy in March, so I want to remember it, even though it didn't work out.

Escaping . . . to the cabin. We decided to take a couple of days and get away to Mike's parents' cabin. The cabin is up in a canyon and has no cell service. It was glorious. The constant barrage of news and everyone's opinions had been taking a toll on all of us, and it was wonderful to shut it all out, even if for just a little bit. We played outside, sat around the fire, went on a hike, played games, and ate doughnuts. (And I spent a lot of time knitting, too.) I didn't want to come home. Now it's up to me to manage my intake of what's going on in the world, and I think I prefer not even having the option.

Waking . . . up to an earthquake. Actually, I was already awake and working in the living room when the house began to rumble and shake. I instantly knew what it was. I've felt one other earthquake before, and this one was similar to that except that it lasted significantly longer. The magnitude was 5.7, and we felt aftershocks throughout the day. There was quite a bit of damage in some parts of the state, but our neighborhood was fine. It was just a little unnerving to have an earthquake thrown on top of a pandemic and economic collapse. I think the only good thing about it was that people stopped talking about the virus for a day. 

Picking . . . up school supplies. Our elementary school closed down and moved to a digital platform mid-March. I had to go to the school to pick up the boys' books and computers. They didn't want anyone in the building, so instead we went to each teacher's window, and they handed the folders and books through it, almost like a drive-through. It was one of those experiences I had never even considered, and then I was doing it like it was the most normal thing in the world. So surreal.

Watching . . . LEGO Masters. Our whole family has been obsessed with this reality series. Each week, the contestants are given a challenge. This can range from building an amusement park ride, a bridge that can actually support weight, or a kid-created fairy tale. The creations that come out of these builders' heads are truly amazing. Although we kind of wish we could binge-watch the whole season, it gives us something to look forward to each week. Even Ian doesn't want to miss out on it. One evening he had a little stomach bug and so was watching a show in his room. The rest of us went downstairs to watch the latest episode, and when he heard it going, he called out, "Hey! I want to watch LEGO Masters!"

Adjusting . . . to doing school at home. Many people are referring to this as "home schooling," but I prefer to use my sister-in-law's term, "crisis schooling," instead because, as someone who was home schooled for ten years, I can tell you that what we're doing is not home schooling. But semantics aside, my kids are learning at home, and it's going really well--not because of anything I'm doing but because their teachers are absolutely amazing. They're extremely quick to respond to emails or messages. Both Bradley and Maxwell's teachers have really embraced the online platform and are putting out a lot of video content to help explain new concepts (Maxwell's teacher even continued with their class readaloud, which pretty much melted my heart). They're also doing virtual group meetings, so they're still getting to interact with their classmates quite a bit (Bradley's teacher has been doing optional bingo nights, which also melts my heart). I'm definitely noticing anew how different my kids are. Max is so much like me. He shuts himself in a room with his list of assignments and stays on task until everything is completely done. Bradley doesn't need much help from me. He likes a break every hour or so, but he gets right back to his work when he is done. Clark needs lots of help, of course, but doesn't complain. And Aaron . . . perhaps surprisingly, Aaron is the one who has the hardest time staying on task--and he should be the most used to this since we've been doing it the whole school year! The hardest part of this "crisis schooling" for me is that I am not the in-house teacher but the in-house problem solver, and I don't like solving problems all day.

Clearing . . . up my acne. A couple of months ago, I started breaking out more than I ever have before in my life. I had no idea what had brought it on since I hadn't made any changes to my diet or skin care, and my life wasn't unusually stressful (this was pre-pandemic, obviously). I asked a few of my friends for tips, as well as my sister. I started using a facial scrub, which made my skin feel nice but didn't actually help with the breakout. I finally decided I better go see a dermatologist. I found a clinic and checked to make sure it was in network for our insurance, but then the world fell apart, and there were more important things to worry about than zits on my face. I have never worn a ton of makeup, but once we were confined to our house and I wasn't seeing anyone, I just stopped wearing it entirely. And wouldn't you know it, but my acne completely cleared up.  I guess when this is all over I'll be looking for a new brand of makeup, but in the meantime, I'm enjoying going au natural.

Learning . . . from Mo Willems. You've probably already seen this, but Mo Willems (author of the Elephant and Piggie series) has been putting out daily Lunch Doodles--short videos where he shows kids around his studio, teaches them how to draw one of his characters, and encourages their creativity. We've watched a couple of them so far and found them quite enjoyable. 

Switching . . . to virtual piano lessons. As with everything else, social distancing put an abrupt end to my piano students coming over to my house. Now we meet over FaceTime. It's not ideal because there's almost always a slight delay or a break in the connection, and I can't easily demonstrate or point to things, but we're making it work. And I'm very grateful to get to keep this part of my weekly routine.

Learning . . . how to fold a fitted sheet. I have long felt frustrated that this supposedly "easy" domestic skill had somehow evaded me. I finally decided to make it a goal for 2020, and I was determined to keep trying for as long as necessary until I mastered it. Turns out . . . it didn't take that long at all. One of my friends offered to show me over Marco Polo, and within thirty seconds I could do it! In my defense, I had tried two other "tutorials" before this, and they both left me feeling so confused and disheartened. But then when my friend showed me, everything suddenly clicked. So now I can check off that goal, which of course makes me really happy.

Meeting . . . with my book club virtually. The pandemic hit Utah the week before my book club was scheduled to meet for the month. At first, we just canceled. But then we decided we might as well hold a virtual meeting over Zoom. It was my first time using (or even hearing about) that platform, but ever since then, we've used it multiple times a week. We discussed the book Nothing to See Here (which I thoroughly enjoyed reading but probably wouldn't recommend because of the excessive swearing). It was so good to see the faces of my fellow bookies even if there weren't yummy treats to go along with it.

Knitting . . . a couple of cute friends. As you might guess, knitting has proven to be a great comfort to me during this unsettling time. I've been spending most of my time on a sweater (it's fingering weight on small needles, so it's taking me a long time), but to break it up a little, I knitted a couple of toys for new babies in the family--a little rabbit and duckling. I enjoyed seeing them sitting together on my dresser for a couple of weeks before I gave them away.

Working . . . from home. Mike has been working exclusively from home since mid-March. I am so grateful that he has a job that allows him this kind of flexibility. It's been a sacrifice for him since the stuff that he can do at home is fairly boring and would probably be the things he would be avoiding if he were actually at work. He has to be closeted away in a little room in our basement most of the day, sitting in an uncomfortable chair. But it gives us all so much peace of mind to not have him in a work space with other people all day, and I realize that it's such a privilege to have this as an option.

Buying . . . six pairs of rollerblades. Yes, six--one for every member of the family except for Ian. Mike decided that as long as we didn't have anywhere to go or anything to do, we might as well learn how to rollerblade. The rollerblades arrived one by one over a period of about a week, and with each new arrival, another person learned to rollerblade until we all had a pair and did it together! It was great fun, and I'm sure it will provide many more hours of entertainment in the coming weeks. It's also probably going to be one of the things my kids remember the most from this scary time.

Managing . . . a busy virtual schedule. The first week of quarantine, our calendar was completely wiped out of all activities and events. But by the second week, it began to fill back up, but with virtual things instead--play dates, class meetings, book club, family hangouts, game nights, etc. It's kind of amazing that our lives can still feel somewhat busy, even while not leaving our house.

I have no expectations for April. We will take it one day at a time. That's all we can do, right? How are all of you doing, friends?

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