The False Prince by Jennifer A. Nielsen

Sep 18, 2020

I used to try to make an effort to read at least some of the same books as my kids. But lately, I haven't had much of an interest in their reading material. For most of fourth grade, Maxwell's favorite series (along with its multiple spinoff series) was Warriors. In case you couldn't guess, action packed drama involving warring cat clans is definitely not my thing. 

Aaron is a much more eclectic reader than Max, but this summer he has either been reading books that I recommended (which I've already read) or long-winded fantasy series (also not my thing).

As part of our summer reading program, the boys could earn a book after twenty hours of reading (ten hours for Clark). For the first two months of summer, Aaron was literally earning at least one book every week. At one point, we kind of ran out of ideas, so I had him look through this excellent list of adventure books from Erica at What Do We Do All Day (seriously, all of her lists are good, but this one is a particular gold mine). He selected The False Prince, and after reading through the summary, I said, "Hey, that actually sounds like a book I might like, too." 

Luckily, knowing that his mom might be interested in the same book as him is not a turnoff for Aaron. Once he was done with it and confirmed that it was very good, I checked out the audio and gave it a listen. 

Although his life is not luxurious in any way, orphan Sage is quick on his feet with an even quicker mouth, so he gets by just fine. But one day, just after stealing a ham, his life makes an abrupt turn when a man named Connor, one of the country's regents, stops by the orphanage and handpicks Sage for a secret project.

After a great struggle with some complaining and insults thrown in, Sage finds himself in the back of a wagon with three other boys: Vladimir, Tobias, and Roden. They exchange what little information they know, but it is soon clear that the four of them were chosen for a role that only one of them will ultimately fill. Connor gives each of them the chance to leave before he reveals the full plan, and when Vladimir accepts the offer, Connor has him shot in the back before he even leaves the campsite. The other boys quickly realize this isn't a game, and Connor will stop at nothing to get what he wants.

And what does he want? To save the kingdom of Carthia from war and destruction. The king, queen, and prince have just been murdered, leaving no heir to the throne. There was a second son, Jaron, who was  supposedly killed by pirates four years before, but his body was never found. Connor has evidence that Jaron actually did die, but he plans to take advantage of the hope the country still has that Jaron is alive. 

And that is where Sage and the other boys come in. Connor takes them to his estate for two weeks where he trains them in all of the arts, graces, knowledge, and traits of Prince Jaron. At the end of the testing period, he will choose one of them to be presented as the long-lost Prince Jaron and ascend the throne as the rightful king of Carthia. 

I listened to an interview with Jennifer Nielsen about writing this book, and she said that once she had the character of Sage firmly in her mind, everything else fell into place. She said that Sage became this living, breathing person for her, and she would think about him constantly and what he would do in various situations in her actual life. 

When I heard the way she talked about Sage, it suddenly made sense why the story worked so well for me. It was because Sage was so convincing--even with his conflicting actions and attitudes. He was 100% believable, and I think a lot of that had to do with Jennifer Nielsen's relationship with him: it was affectionate and personal and very intimate. He wasn't just some character that she dreamed up to execute a certain idea. She took the time to get to know him--his layered complexity that made the story so rich and thrilling.

I'm so glad she took the time to get him right because if Sage hadn't clicked for me, the whole story would have fallen flat. As it was, I enjoyed the whole thing very much and thought it had some good twists and turns.

This one is the first book in the series, but I can't decide if I want to read any of the others or not. I honestly kind of liked it as a standalone novel. I don't want to spoil anything, but I'm worried that Sage won't be as fascinating or exciting of a character in subsequent books, and since he was the reason why I loved this book so much, I just don't want to risk ruining that. 

I would place this book solidly in the 10-14 age range, but a younger child could enjoy it as a readaloud, and I obviously still enjoyed it very much as an adult. 

A Little of This and That in August

Sep 6, 2020

I saw on the the news that this was the hottest August in Utah on record. And I believe it. The heat felt absolutely relentless at times . . . and this is coming from a person who is generally a heat seeker. Add to that the oppressive smoke from the California fires, and there were times when we couldn't bear to be outside. But all in all, it was a good month with some exciting milestones and fun times, such as . . . 

Giving . . . Clark the nickname of The Town Crier. In our family, Clark is the one who loves to spread information. It doesn't really matter what it is--dinner is ready, there's a package by the front door, we are going to grandma's--it brings him a great amount of joy to tell others about it. One evening, we bought some bar stools from the classifieds. By the time Clark saw them, almost everyone else already knew about them. But he said, "Does Bradley know yet?" And when we said no, he raced off, yelling, "Bradley! Bradley! Did you hear?! We got new bar stools!" Too bad a town crier is a career of the past because I'm pretty sure Clark would be an excellent one.

Finishing . . . an online class. Aaron decided to take an online class this summer (Digital Literacy) in order to free up a credit in his school schedule so he could take another elective. He worked on it almost every day for the full two months, and even then, there was still a mad rush at the end to get everything finished and turned in on time (including a proctored test that he didn't realize he'd missed until two days before the end of the term). He definitely didn't love it, but I think he really will be glad not to have to take it during the school year.

Sleeping . . . on the trampoline. The boys had been begging to do this all summer, and we finally relented. I have to admit that I'm a little nervous at night; I like being able to go into their rooms and check on them and hear them if they need me. So even though it wasn't like they were off camping in the mountains, they still felt farther away than normal. Ian started out with them, but as soon as it got dark, he came inside. The others knew that they could come inside at anytime, and I fully expected at least one or two of them to be in their beds in the morning. But they were actually all still sound asleep on the tramp when I woke up and also, as we discovered a little bit later, covered in mosquito bites. That put a bit of a damper on the adventure, but they still loved it. 

Watching . . . American Idol . . . from 2008. In search of something to do, the pandemic forced us to dredge up reality shows from the past where the outcomes were determined long ago and contestants have long since moved forward with their lives. No, we're not that desperate. The real reason is that our kids have been fans of David Archuleta for a long time, and Mike and I realized that they didn't know anything about him, nor did they know anything about the show that gave him his start. We thought they might think it was fun to watch him move up the ranks and also get this little slice of reality TV history. And they have actually loved it and are all so into it. It's pretty nostalgic for me to watch as well because I have a lot of memories of watching that season while being very pregnant with Aaron. The one downside to watching it twelve years after the fact is that they can't actually vote for David, and I know they want to. 

Passing . . . up Bamboo. Aaron reached his first height milestone this month. He is officially taller than my mom. Of course, that's not a huge accomplishment since she's only five feet exactly, but I know she's just the first one, and he's probably going to shoot up in the next couple of years. I'm already mentally preparing myself to be the next casualty. 

Tasting . . . chicken sandwiches. For one of our dates this month, we did a little taste test with Mike's sister and brother-in-law. We went to four different fast food places (Arby's, Popeye's, Chick-fil-a, and Shake Shack) and ordered the deluxe chicken sandwich at each one. As we ate it, we ranked it in terms of taste, texture, and a number of other factors (Mike had, of course, made up a detailed score sheet for each person). It might surprise you to know that Arby's bun won by a landslide while the chicken patty from Popeye's was the crowd favorite. However, Chick-fil-a won the competition overall because there's just no way to compete with their customer service and general experience. 

Relaxing . . . at the beach. One Thursday night, my mom Marco Poloed me and said, "If you don't have any plans tomorrow, you should come to the pond with us!" We actually did, in fact, have plans (a tough hike in 100-degree temperatures and smoke-filled air), but we scrapped them because her plans sounded a lot more fun. And they were! We had the pond almost to ourselves, and we spent the morning floating in tubes, swimming, digging in sand, kayaking, and eating treats and snacks. The boys connected the tubes and kayaks to form a train and circled the perimeter of the small pond. My mom and I paddled back and forth across the length of the pond, chatting and watching the activities on the shore. When the beach started to fill up with other people, we headed over to my parents' where we picked raspberries and peaches and made the most delicious shakes. It was a nice way to say goodbye to summer. 

Playing . . . many, many rounds of Memory. This is Ian's game of choice right now. It's lucky there are six other people in this family because if he can convince each person to play it once with him every day (which, he often can), then that's six rounds for him. He has improved immensely since he first started playing it, and sometimes he wins fair and square. 

Cheering . . . on the Jazz once more. Aaron was so excited to have the NBA start playing again. It had been too long without his beloved sports. 

Canceling . . . the family reunion. Most of our family reunions were canceled before summer even started, but everyone was holding out for Mike's family reunion, which was to be held at a large cabin in Hobble Creek Canyon. Unfortunately, the Covid cases refused to drop and it was kind of stressing everyone out, and so a couple of weeks before it was set to happen, Mike's dad decided to cancel the reservation. But even though we couldn't all get together under one roof, we still decided to spend some time in the mountains together. On two separate occasions, we gathered in the canyon for yummy food and fun with the cousins. On the first time, Mike showed the kids how to make a trap with a box, a little bit of bait, and a string. It was quite the hit, and all of the kids caught squirrels and chipmunks all afternoon, letting them go each time. They had grand plans to do the same thing the second time, but I was pretty sure it was illegal to catch wild animals, so I told them they couldn't. They resigned themselves to games instead, which they liked just as much.

Going . . . to the park. We basically haven't been to a park since the start of Covid. But when some new friends in our neighborhood invited us to go with them, I just couldn't say no--we have been so starved for friendships since we moved. We had the best time. They took us to a park that we had never been to before: it had tons of play equipment and a stream and was encircled by paths and bridges. The boys got along great with the five kids in the other family, and Ian was the only one who was actually ready to go when it was time to leave. Clark and six-year-old Evie had so much fun that the two of them had a little playdate at our house the following week. 

Changing . . . wishes. Because of all of his medical adventures over the past year, Aaron was nominated to  be a recipient of the Make-a-Wish foundation. He declared his wish last fall (a trip to New Zealand). The wish was accepted, and we got passports for everyone in the family. The wish was supposed to be fulfilled in February of 2021. But then, covid happened, and all trip wishes were canceled. Not just postponed, but canceled. I called the wish director and told him Aaron would be fine to wait as long as needed for travel to be safe, but he said they were required to schedule the wish no more than a year after they received Aaron's application. It was very disappointing for Aaron, and I felt so sad for him, but we know we are in good company with many other people who have had something taken away because of covid. Anyway, he met with his wish granters this month to brainstorm a new wish idea, and I think he's still going to end up happy (although I don't think anything will be able to compare to New Zealand . . . ). 

Enjoying . . . junior high. Out of all of the boys, Aaron was the least excited about the start of school, which surprised a lot of people. Having missed pretty much all of last year, I think they expected him to be eagerly anticipating the return to a classroom and friends. However, you have to remember that last year was technically his first year of junior high, but since he hardly got to go, it meant that he was facing the newness of it all over again. Plus, he had no idea what the state of all of his friendships that took a break would be . . . would he still have those friends, or would he have to make new ones? People (especially kids reaching adolescence) can change a lot in just a few months. And then of course, we can't forget that Aaron basically hadn't woken up before 8:30am for an entire year, so the 6:30am alarm was not looking great. All of those reasons made me totally understand why he was dreading going back to school. So imagine my surprise when he came home on the afternoon of the first day with a wide smile on his face and practically bursting with things to tell me. He followed me around the house for a good forty-five minutes talking about each of his classes, all of his friends, the lunch schedule, and his favorite teachers. Aaron is usually my kid that I have to pry information out of, so I was kind of stunned, but also so so happy, that he was so willing to share. (Also, having him walk to and from school is pretty much the stuff dreams are made of.)

Sewing . . . masks. After months of having absolutely no interest in making masks, I finally surrendered. Three things provided the necessary motivation: 1. After trying various styles and types, we finally found one that we all really liked. And wouldn't you know, it was pretty much the simplest style out there. I was no longer afraid of making something that wouldn't fit because I had a perfect template to copy. 2. Maxwell and Bradley begged to make masks as one final sewing project using their leftover scraps. 3. My sister-in-law gave me several yards of thin elastic, so I didn't have to go through the hassle of trying to track some down online or in stores. Max, Bradley, and I made masks until the elastic ran out, and the homemade masks, combined with the store-bought ones, gave us a pretty good stash.

Riding . . . the bus. Although the bus has always been an option for my kids, it never made very much sense to take it because I would have had to drive to the bus stop, and it would have only taken me a minute more just to drive them to school. But now, we live within easy walking distance of the bus stop, and it also happens to be the final stop before it heads to school, which means the boys only have to ride it for five minutes, and they don't have to be get ready any earlier than they normally would. So it's really the perfect situation. This means that instead of being in the car five times a day like I was last year to transport my kids to and from school, I literally don't have to drive at all. Plus, it feels so old school to walk to the bus stop, and I love that.

Finishing . . . the dining room. I alluded to this progress in last month's update, but everything finally came together this month, and I am in love with the results. Of course we might still change or add some things to it, but it feels complete as is. What was once a room that I hated being in has now become somewhere that we gather often as a family. I love the dining table that we bought--it is simple and sophisticated and so easy to clean. I also love the rug, which helped anchor the furniture in the room and tie everything together. But my favorite thing is probably the framed black and white photos, which are all pictures that I took on various trips and adventures. It just feels so good to have one room finished, and I'm so excited to start tackling the next project (and I'm so lucky to be married to a person who loves to build, make, and fix things). Here's a little before and after:

Scoring . . . the yarn deal of a lifetime. One of my favorite yarn companies is Brooklyn Tweed. They had a tent sale in August where they sold seconds and overstocked yarn at a steal of a price. The sale began at 10:00 on a Friday morning, and I decided to set my alarm and see if there was anything worth getting. I had a pretty good idea of what I was hoping for--I had a certain sweater in mind and knew the number of skeins I needed for it. So when the sale started, I was extremely quick with selecting the yarn I wanted and paying for it. It kind of gave me a rush, to be honest. After I was done, I kind of kept expecting to get a notification that said there had been a mistake and someone else had purchased it before me, or something like that. It just seemed too good to be true. The yarn I purchased was normally $34.50 per skein, and I got it for just $7.00 a skein. After it was all said and done, I found out that they literally sold 10,000 skeins in less than thirty minutes. So it was good that I was so quick and didn't waste any time browsing. And now I have eight beautiful skeins to make a sweater and a hat with! I'm so excited.

Squeezing . . .  in a few more times at the pool before it closes for the season. This was definitely not our year for the pool, but we finished it off with a bang. Ian and I went multiple times together during the first two weeks of school, and all seven of us went one final time on a Saturday morning. 

Usually I mourn the end of summer because I love having my kids at home. But since we basically had five months of summer instead of ten weeks, I was ready for a change of pace. I've loved having Ian be my little buddy during the day, and the structure and responsibility that comes with school has been a good change for all of us. I'm even, dare I say, ready for some cooler weather. Fall is welcome here!

Observations From the First Week of School

Aug 28, 2020

Up until the moment I was hugging my kids goodbye and telling them to have a good day!, I half expected  the school district to say, "We're sorry, but school will not be able to begin in-person this term." 

But then, the school doors were closing behind them,  and I was walking back to my car with a somewhat bewildered expression on my face. I may have been experiencing a mild case of shock. It had been over five months since they had set foot inside a school, but by the looks of it, they were going to get at least one day before anything drastic happened.

And now, here we are at the end of the week, having completed four very successful in-person days and one semi-successful virtual day, and I couldn't be happier with the way things have gone so far.

Things feel both familiar and wildly different, and consequently my awareness of everything (mostly good) seems to be heightened.

A few observations:

  • There is no quiet like that of an almost-empty house on a weekday afternoon.
  • Junior high can make a person happy. 

  • Paper bag lunches are the only way to go. 
  • A 6-year-old cannot be expected to close the house or garage doors if he has to run back for his water bottle. Don't trust his assurances.
  • It is fun to walk to the bus stop on a summer morning.

  • A three-year-old misses his "kids."
  • Trying new things builds confidence.
  • Not chauffeuring kids to and from school feels amazing.
  • Living close to the junior high and bus stop is magical.
  • Masks are stifling at recess but not so bad otherwise.
  • Friendships are resilient and outlast a pandemic.

  • A backpack is very heavy if you forget your mask and then have to run back home and then back to school before the bell rings.
  • Teachers who have the foresight to plan ahead for an uncertain future are true heroes.
  • Spying a certain 7th-grader walking home from school is delightful.

  • The wonder of a popsicle at the end of a long, hot day cannot be overstated. 
  • Game after game of Memory makes for a looooooong morning.
  • Playing a trombone with a mask on is actually not impossible. 
  • A bowtie does not automatically make you a fun teacher.
  • It is possible for an elementary school bathroom to stay clean.
  • Seeing one of your favorite cousins while you wait for the school bus is fun. 

  • People are very smily and friendly if you're holding the hand of a three-year-old.
  • It feels good to relinquish responsibility to a 12-year-old.
  • Teachers will resist telling you that certain work is "not required."
  • Virtual Fridays probably work better with only one student at home instead of four.
  • When your first grader puts his hands on the computer keyboard in the "home position" like a total natural, you might not be able to contain your glee that he is already learning something.
  • Getting the "dream team" of teachers for another year feels like an exquisite blessing.
  • A difficult three-year-old turns on all the charm when he is no longer competing with older brothers.
  • It is good to put a spare mask in your backpack . . . just in case.
  • You can smile with your eyes.

  • Eating a picnic lunch on the school grounds is refreshingly different.
  • Teachers are the best of the best and deserve all of the gold stars. 

Although we don't know how long traditional school will last, we are going to soak up every day we are given. If things change, we will cross that bridge when we come to it. For now, we are just going to bask in the wonder of being among friends, sitting at a desk, and learning from a teacher. We will never take it for granted again.

Alvin Ho: Allergic to Girls, School, and Other Scary Things by Lenore Look

Aug 15, 2020

When we wrote up our plans and goals for this summer, all of the boys agreed that they definitely wanted to have a family book club again. As usual, the book selection was left up to me, and it was particularly tricky this year since we had a new member of the club (Clark!!). 

I needed something that wouldn't be too long or daunting for him but also not completely juvenile for the rest of us. Something with slightly larger text and pictures while still having some substance. After digging around for a bit, I finally settled on the first book in the Alvin Ho series. These books have been around for more than a decade, but amazingly, none of my kids had read them. 

Alvin lives in Concord, Massachusetts (a city that could only be improved if it had a volcano) with his mom, dad, older brother, and younger sister. He is, in his own words, "afraid of many things." Heading into second grade fills him with the severest kind of dread. In preparation for the big first day, he makes sure his PDK (Personal Disaster Kit) is fully stocked with all of the necessities: you know, things like band-aids, garlic, dental floss and escape routes. Just in case. 

On his first day, all ability to speak evaporates, so when a girl named Flea offers to be his desk buddy, he can't say no . . . or yes. Flea is cool because she wears an eye patch and one of her legs is shorter than the other, but she is still a girl, and girls are one of the things that Alvin is most afraid of. 

Clark was quite anxious about finishing this book "on time" even though I assured him over and over again that he could take all the time he needed, and we wouldn't have book club until he was finished. He took his commitment to book club quite seriously. As it was, it ended up being Mike who was the last one to finish, which thrilled Clark. 

We kicked off our book club with popcorn and cinnamon bears and the invitation for everyone to share a favorite moment from the book. There were many to choose from:
  • the time that Alvin's older brother, Calvin, encourages him to try getting a little taller by hanging from a tree branch . . . but then accidentally forgets about him, and Alvin is, of course, afraid of heights.
  • the chapter where someone in Alvin's class gets the chicken pox, and Alvin goes over to his house to infect himself with it (you might think that Alvin would be afraid of getting sick, but he is more afraid of going to school, so getting sick provides the perfect out). 
  • the moment where Alvin takes his dad's beloved Johnny Astro retro toy (it's a real thing--check it out!) to school and accidentally breaks it ("if you break it, you might as well plan your funeral").
  • the silent psychotherapy session that ends abruptly when Alvin starts yelling Shakespearean curses at his therapist.
But my personal favorite was a rather tender part. It happened right after the unfortunate incident mentioned just above. His dad picks him up from the therapy appointment, and Alvin fully expects to get into trouble. But instead, his dad takes him out for ice cream. Alvin says, "Usually we go to Brigham's to celebrate a birthday or a good report card, but never before for cursing a grown-up." But when Alvin questions the choice, his dad simply says, "Therapy is rough, right?" Then he admits, "I had a rough day too. So we need to stick together, and we need some ice cream." Alvin totally breaks down, but his dad is patient and understanding. They have a good heart-to-heart on what it means to be a gentleman, and Alvin's dad tells him that Rule No. 2 involves never cursing or insulting others. Alvin's dad takes the time to listen and teach, and as they leave the ice cream store, Alvin says, "It was the best time I ever had with my dad." 

I didn't know it when I chose this book, but there ended up being so many memorable parts and quotable lines--things that will probably end up becoming inside jokes for our family, such as, "I'm sorry that it's a weird book and that you're a weird girl." When Mike was reading it, I often heard him chuckling, and since I'd already read it myself, I always had to ask what he was laughing at so I could laugh about it, too.

Even though we discussed very deep, book-clubby questions, such as, "Why do you think it was so hard for Alvin to apologize to Flea?" and "Have you ever overcome one of your fears?" we mostly just sat around and relived all of our favorite parts, quoting and laughing about them all together. It was one of those perfect moments where I looked around and had the thought, This turned out exactly like I wanted it to. The camaraderie, the shared laughter, the tasty snacks, the unity of coming to a discussion with the same amount of preparation--6-year-old and 38-year-old alike. It was just delightful. 

After we were done, I checked out several of the other books in the series because I have a feeling that even if we don't have a formal discussion about it, our family needs more Alvin Ho in our lives.

(Oh, and just a PSA, if you read it, be sure to not skip over Alvin's glossary at the end. That thing is gold.)

A Little of This and That in July

Aug 9, 2020

July was hot and dry . . . and hot and dry again. I am a big fan of summer, but it got a little stifling, even for me. There was still plenty of fun to be had though. I have a feeling that the transition to school is going to be hard this year for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that we've grown quite accustomed to a lazy, very open schedule, and I think we're going to miss that. This month found us . . . 

Kayaking . . . on my mom's birthday. We woke up very early so that we could get to the little pond by my parent's house before sunrise. My parents brought over their kayaks, and we spent a delightful hour paddling around. The water was still and peaceful. There were a few people fishing along the sides, but we had the water to ourselves. Afterwards, we went to my parents' backyard for a birthday breakfast.
Watching . . . Hamilton. Although Mike and I have tried to get tickets to Hamilton twice (once here in Utah and the other time in NYC), we've never been successful. So we were thrilled when a recording of the production was released on Disney+. It wasn't the same as watching a live performance (not even close), but since there was no hope of seeing it in the near, or even distant, future, I was grateful for the chance to see it. And I really, really loved it. The music is absolutely genius, and I feel like there are more layers that unfold every time you listen to it.

Sitting . . . on the sidelines of a parade. I thought we were going to miss out on a parade this year due to the virus. But then our old neighborhood organized a little bike parade that was just perfect. The route was circular, so you could start and end at any place on it. We chose to watch it from the grass rather than ride or walk, and it was so delightful to see all of our friends. And bonus for Clark: a few people even threw candy.
Admiring . . . fireworks from afar. We discovered that our house was perfectly situated to give us a great view of all of the fireworks going off in the neighborhood and across the valley. On the Fourth of July, we sat outside on our balcony and watched as fireworks lit up the dark sky. It didn't seem to matter where we looked because they were going off all around us. It was one of the most pleasant Independence Days we've ever had because we just enjoyed other people's shows instead of lighting them off ourselves. (To be honest, the boys would have preferred our own fireworks (we only did a few smoke bombs and flowers), but fireworks make me more nervous every year, so I was quite content to watch them with a little more distance.)

Getting . . . blinds. When we moved into our home, there were no window coverings at all on the second floor. So the very first thing we did when we moved in was order blinds for every room. Unfortunately, they didn't arrive for six weeks. So every night, I felt like we were on display for the entire neighborhood as it got dark and we turned on the lights. Mike's and my bedroom has five windows in it, which is great for natural light, but not so awesome if you want some privacy. When the blinds finally arrived, it was so nice to be able to shut out the hot afternoon sun and then go about our evening without an audience.

Chatting . . . with friends from a distance. Mike's and my weekly dates have not stopped during the pandemic, but many of our dates have been slightly modified. With the weather being nice, we've been enjoying backyard dates with other couples wherein we each get takeout, sit apart from each other, and spend the evening eating and chatting. It's really been quite enjoyable.
Having . . . an unfortunate accident. Maxwell has continued to have his weekly porch dates with his friend. A couple of weeks ago, they decided to do a little whittling with their pocket knives. The night before his friend came over, Mike reviewed all of the safety rules with Max (this wasn't the first time), but after he was done, he made the prediction (to me, not to Max), "He's going to cut himself." I'm sure you know where this is going. About thirty minutes into their porch date, Max decided to try to hollow out the stick in a way that was definitely counter to the instruction he received the night before. The knife slipped and sliced open his hand between his thumb and index finger. Clark rushed in to tell me that Max had cut himself. When I came out, I found Max cradling his hand as blood streamed onto the grass. It was a fairly gruesome sight, and I was glad Mike was home to come to the rescue. One look at the deep cut, and it was obvious he needed stitches. Mike and Max drove away, leaving the other boys to entertain Max's poor friend. Mike decided to stop in at our pediatrician's on their way to the instacare, just to see if he might be available to do the stitches. The waiting room was empty, and the doctor was actually just in the front office. He said he would be happy to sew Max up. Six stitches and less than an hour later, Max was as good as new. In fact, he got back home before his friend had left! (And this experience taught him a valuable lesson. Sometimes you can go over the rules a dozen times, but they just don't stick until you actually have to put them into practice.)
Going . . . back to work. After more than four months of working exclusively from home, Mike finally stepped across the threshold of his building once more. It was only for one day for a few hours, but he was still glad to be able to be back with his coworkers and actually work with his hands instead of just sit at a computer. His company doesn't want more than 20 percent of the employees there at any one time, so Mike will still be primarily working from home for the next while, but it was still a nice change of pace.

Building . . . Rameumptoms. Although our ward started going back to church at the end of June and now meets once every three weeks, we still haven't gone, which means that home church is still going strong. One Sunday, Bradley gave the lesson about the Zoramites praying on top of the Rameumptom. He brought out all of our building blocks and told us to build our own representations of the tower. I was impressed with the wide range of designs. Even though I have missed the fellowship that happens at church, I'm grateful for the time I've had to study with Gospel with my family.  
Teaching . . . Max and Bradley to sew. At the beginning of the summer, they both expressed an interest in learning how to sew. I checked out the book, Creative Kids Complete Photo Guide from the library and used it as a starting point. We selected three projects that looked fun and simple: a drawstring bag, a pieced together picture frame, and a pair of shorts. So far, it has been a lot of fun. I think I mentioned before that there is a little dressing room off of Mike's and my bedroom that I turned into a sewing room. This has made all of the difference in the success of these sewing lessons. At our old house, I would have had to set up everything in the kitchen, and all of the other kids would have been in and out the whole time we were trying to work. But now, the room is tucked far away from everything else in the house. I can give all of my concentration to the project at hand. And if we don't finish in one afternoon, it's not a big deal at all. Both Max and Bradley have improved so much already, and their projects have been turning out so great.

Making . . . it to the pool--finally! It took us over a month to get there, but we finally went to our little neighborhood pool. It made us all so happy. The thought of going had been stressing me out because we wanted to go when it wasn't crowded. The pool management capped the number of people allowed at fifty, but we wanted to go when there were far fewer than that. We had asked Aaron's doctors if he could go to the pool, and they said that they weren't worried about the pool itself at all, just the people in it. So anyway, we tried to strategically plan a time when there have traditionally not been very many people, and it worked! We had the pool mostly to ourselves, and it felt like summer. We've been a few more times since then.
Decorating . . . the front room. Our house basically has two living rooms: If you turn to the right from the entryway, you get to one, and if you turn left, you go to the other. I spent a good part of the month mulling over what to do with the one to the left (I decided in order to save my sanity I had to focus on one, and only one, room at a time). I was unhappy with the dining room, which was at the back of the house and felt isolated and cut off from the kitchen and the rest of the house. I wondered if the front room (which had great access to the kitchen) could be turned into a dual purpose dining/sitting room. I had a completely blank slate to work with, which might be exciting for some people but struck me with fear. I didn't have a single piece of furniture for that room--not even our dining table because, since we had benches at our old house, we only had four matching chairs for it. I consulted with friends and family members about the best arrangement for the room and finally decided on a mid-century modern style; I knew the furniture needed to be sleek and minimalist so that the room wouldn't feel overwhelmed by having so much going on in it. It was stressful to buy things for it. I'm an underbuyer to begin with, but then we were also working with a pretty tight budget because there was so much we had to get for the house (not just this room). I am not ready to reveal the room yet, but I'm getting close, so hopefully next month. It is coming together, and overall, I'm quite pleased with the result. 

Discovering . . . one of the best hikes we've ever been on. I was talking to the mom of one of Max's friends a few weeks ago, and she mentioned a hike that their family had recently enjoyed. She said that partway through the hike, you crossed a suspension bridge. Those types of hikes might be common in other parts of the country, but not here in Utah, so I was intrigued. Plus, she said that it was a fairly easy hike and not overly crowded if you went early. We decided to go on a Thursday morning to hopefully minimize the people even more and also avoid the heat since it was not a shaded trail. It ended up being absolutely delightful. We got to the trailhead by 7:30 am. The majority of the trail was flat and easy to navigate. In fact, Ian ended up walking the entire 2.2 mile loop by himself. The boys and I played a rhyming game for almost the entire time, which meant there was no fighting or complaining. We were all surprised when the bridge came into view; it was longer than we expected, and it was quite fun to cross. The sun stayed behind the mountain until the last ten minutes of our hike, and it was just such a pleasant way to spend a morning. 
Thinking . . . constantly about the start of school. Isn't everybody? Our district has decided to only give two options: in-person or online. I've discussed many other options with my friends, but there isn't a single one that stands out as being the "perfect" choice to me. Aaron's doctors gave him the green light to start school face-to-face, so we'll see if that actually gets to happen in a few weeks. It seems like information (and my personal feelings) change daily. 

Cutting . . .  down an apple tree and setting up the trampoline. I've mentioned before the small size of our backyard. We didn't have room for our trampoline without cutting down one of the apple trees. The tree was in bad shape anyway with many dead and dying branches, so I didn't feel bad about letting it go. We ordered a natural waste dumpster, and Mike spent a weekend taking the whole thing down (plus removing a bunch of other bushes and plants around the house). The weekend after, he went back over to the old house and disassembled the tramp and brought it over to the new house. The boys all helped put it together, and they have been so thrilled to have it again. There have been many hours of happy jumping (including a raucous game of Duck, Duck, Goose that involved the whole family).
Enjoying . . . a water fight and a bike ride on Pioneer Day. We went to my parents to celebrate the holiday. The kids ran around with squirt guns and buckets, except for Ian who played in the wading pool as if there wasn't any chaos going on around him. In the afternoon, my mom and I went on a bike ride. I am so jealous of all of the bike trails that are accessible from my parents' house, so I have to take advantage of them when we're there for the day.
Spending . . . summer evenings reading to the boys on the front porch. This has been one of my favorite parts of this summer. Aaron and Bradley take a football to the front yard, Max looks for bugs or rides a scooter up and down the sidewalk, and I read to them. Right now, we're reading Moon Over Manifest, which is a perfect book for summer, in case you were wondering.  

Celebrating . . . Aaron's twelfth birthday. This birthday felt especially tender since it was just two days after his eleventh birthday that we found out his bone marrow had stopped working. With his birthday this year, it seemed like things had come full circle. Here he was vibrant and healthy, active and busy, with a full head of hair and a dashing smile. And we celebrated to the max. Mike bought two dozen doughnuts for breakfast (overkill for a family of seven, but the boys were happy to get to keep munching on them throughout the day). Aaron received a bunch of presents that he loved, including an electric scooter, which he helped pay for with his own money since it was out of our normal budget for birthday presents. We went to the cabin and spent the day with Mike's parents. About halfway through the day, he said, "This is the best birthday I've ever had." In true Aaron-form, he was easy to please and just so grateful for everything. We finished off the day with peach cobbler instead of birthday cake, and I had to agree with Aaron: it was a pretty magical day.
Having . . . family over for lunch. We invited my brother and his family over for lunch one Saturday. Aside from a few backyard get-togethers, this was the first time we'd had anyone over and inside our house since March. It felt both strange and wonderful. Our kids didn't quite know what to do with themselves having other kids to play with. Gordy and Mike made chicken wings while Brooke and I kept them company and chatted. One thing I've realized with this pandemic is that everything is a risk on some level, and you have to decide when the benefit outweighs the risk. On this Saturday, we took the risk of spending some in-person time with my brother's family, and it fed our souls. 

Knitting . . . at a steady pace. I finished another sweater and a hat in July, but it was just too hot to take any photos of either item, so the only thing I can show is this little floppy-eared bunny that I made for my friend's new baby.
Spending . . . time at the cabin. I think one of the things my kids will remember the most from this summer is how much time we spent at the cabin. We did two day trips in July, and the boys filled up those days with all sorts of activities. Mike's parents were there both times, and that only added to the fun. Among other things, they shot BB guns and bows and arrows, played card games and horseshoes, made paper boats and crafts, swung in hammocks and giant swings and zip lines, went on hikes and walks, ate s'mores and ice cream, played in the water and trees, and caught snakes, butterflies, and grasshoppers. This is the stuff of memories, and I hope they get to keep and hold every pleasant feeling.

Holding . . . family book club. I'm going to save details about this for a future post, but it happened, and it was our best one yet!

That's about it for this month. How is your summer going? What are the things you'll remember most? 
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