Introducing . . .

Apr 26, 2017

Ian Scott Johnson
Born Friday, April 21, 2017, at 4:31 pm
8 lbs. 8 oz., 21 inches long

It was a peaceful, joyous birth. I keep replaying the details of it over and over again in my mind, and I think I become more grateful each time.

This sweet baby has captured our hearts. Everyone adores him. As for myself, I seem incapable of putting him down. He sleeps a lot, and I just spend the time staring at his perfect face, breathing in his sweet scent, and letting his tiny fingers curl around mine. I do try to share him with the rest of the family on occasion, but mostly, I'm just living in the moment and cherishing these fleeting newborn days.

The Gift of Giving Life by Felice Austin and other contributors

Apr 15, 2017

One of my reading goals for 2017 was to read two books about childbirth--a goal that was prompted by the forthcoming birth of our fifth boy (which hasn't happened yet but is literally down to the wire now). The first book I read was Baby Catcher by Peggy Vincent, and upon finishing it, I declared it, "the most interesting, entertaining, and . . . helpful book on childbirth" I'd ever read.

I'll stand by that exuberant praise, but I'm now going to add this book right alongside it. It's different-- so different, amazingly different--from Baby Catcher, but it touched my heart in the profoundest of ways. Where Baby Catcher was entertaining and down-to-earth and at times even bizarre, The Gift of Giving Life was spiritual and reverent and breathtakingly tender. I definitely read these two books in the correct order: Baby Catcher pumped me up, and this one calmed me back down, and I feel like with those two opposite types of adrenaline coursing through me, I'm now ready to journey down this childbirth path again . . . and maybe do things a little differently this time.

Before I go any further, I should mention that this book is a compilation of essays and birth stories written by women of my faith, which is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and because of that, doctrines, beliefs, and spiritual truths specifically related to my faith are interwoven throughout the whole book. As such, it will not be for everyone, but it was definitely for me. I've never read a birthing book that combined the physical, tangible act of birth with the sacred, spiritual side of it, and it felt good and right.

Maybe it was especially good for me because I've struggled so much during this pregnancy with deciding if I should change course with this birth and get my very first epidural or stick with what has worked in the past and decline pain medication. Although this book definitely leaned toward natural labors and deliveries, the ultimate message was to trust your own instincts and the guidance and direction you receive, and with every story, I felt more empowered to do just that.

As I already mentioned, the book is a collection of essays and birth stories written by various women, and at first I thought I was just going to endure reading the essays in order to get back to what I really wanted--the birth stories (give me all the birth stories). But soon I came to really appreciate the essays; it's true, they lacked the drama and emotional intensity of some of the birth stories but were full of philosophical questions and observations instead that really made me think. However, I will say that one of the first essays, about Heavenly Mother, walked a little too close to the speculation line for my tastes, which I think was part of the reason for my initial lack of enthusiasm, but most of the essays were well-grounded in doctrinal truths and provided new insights for my personal growth. There were two essays in particular, "Two Veils" and "Birth in Remembrance of Him,"  that I loved so much, I'm planning to copy them before I return the book to the library.

In my faith, we believe receiving an earthly, physical body is a beautiful, wonderful thing and an essential part of our spiritual progression. But even though I've always believed that, it wasn't until I read this book that I really grasped the magnitude of my role in this vital part of the plan of salvation: As a mother, I'm the one who creates these bodies for my children. I sacrifice my own comfort and health in order to provide something that is absolutely necessary for them if they want to return to Heavenly Father.

One of the mothers in this book took this selfless act to an even deeper level and used pregnancy and childbirth as a type and symbol of the Savior's Atonement. She said:
"I think the most profound parallel to the Atonement that impressed itself upon me was not just suffering, but suffering for the sake of another. When I finally said, 'I will drink this bitter cup. I recognize that it cannot pass from me, and I will drink it to the dregs,' embedded in that comment was the realization that the purpose of this suffering had nothing to do with me. I knew that there was no benefit (beyond insight) that I could possibly derive from this experience. It would not make me healthier, it would not give me any skills, it would not lastingly affect my body in any positive way. But there was one entirely other person that would derive lasting and eternal benefit from my suffering: my child, . . . who was anxiously waiting to receive a body and come into this world. Someone had to do this so that he could receive a body, and he could not do it for himself."
Perhaps it seems a little presumptuous to draw comparisons between pregnancy/childbirth and Jesus Christ's perfect and eternal sacrifice, but it actually made the opposite impression on me. The Old Testament is full of symbols of the Atonement. In fact, the law of Moses was anchored in rituals that helped the Israelites turn their hearts to Jehovah and gradually increased their comprehension of what He would do for them, and it makes sense that we have the same privilege of deepening our understanding through our own experiences today.

Each of my children's births have been amazing, and I honestly have never felt closer to heaven than in those moments immediately after being handed my sweet little ones for the first time. And those moments have definitely provided my own unique insights into the sacrifices of my Savior on my behalf. But this book deepened my appreciation for other aspects of pregnancy, birth, and motherhood that I've never before considered, and that's why I said at the beginning that it profoundly changed me.

Another mom said,
"I always felt like I was in the Lord's hands as I labored. I never felt so close to Him as when I was depending on him for every breath I drew to maintain my breathing and focus on my laboring. As the miraculous moment arrived when the baby was born, I always felt like the Lord had mercy on his handmaid, and I basked in the glow of that moment when eternity and mortality are one."
It's so easy to complain during pregnancy, childbirth, and motherhood (and believe me, I do more than my fair share of it), but the truths in this book allowed me to take a step back and look at my life through an eternal lens--one that made all of these sacrifices look small and easy to forgive compared to the life-changing blessings that are the eventual result. I'm not trying to downplay the sacrifices because I am seriously blown away by some of the things mothers endure for their children, but I think it's impossible to read this book and not come away feeling a little more grateful for the privilege of going through something (or, let's be honest, many things) for the sake of another. And then, if you let it, your thoughts will naturally turn to the One who made the most incomprehensible sacrifice of all and loves you and your child with the most perfect kind of love.

Who knew a book about childbirth would be the most beautiful and appropriate thing to read over Easter weekend?

A Little of This and That in March

Apr 6, 2017

Spring is in full swing over here, and I couldn't be happier. Of course, with the green grass and tulips and new leaves comes the rain (or snow!), allergies, and wind, but I'll take it. And did I mention the longer light? That might be my favorite part. I love it. March found us . . . 

Kicking . . . off the month with a brand-new seven-year-old. Maxwell had a great birthday: two parties with families, a few fun presents (including soccer goals), and a BYU cake. And so far, seven has been MUCH better than six. It's like a flip was switched, and all of a sudden Max is kind, helpful, cooperative, and rational. I'll keep him!

Reading . . . the Percy Jackson series (Aaron), the A-Z Mysteries (Maxwell), the Captain Awesome series (Bradley), The Gift of Giving Life (me), and The Great Brain (all of us).

Knitting . . . an adorable little hoodie for our new baby and a pair of mittens for my sister. In case you were wondering, the obsession has not stopped. In fact, I bought enough yarn during the month for four more projects: a baby blanket, which I've already started, a couple of hats, and a necktie.

Taking . . . Pi(e) Day up to the next level. For the third year in a row, we celebrated the arrival of spring, honored the number 3.14(etc.), and commemorated our anniversary in our house by serving pie to friends, family, and neighbors. And, as usual, Mike made all the pies, and my only contribution was to stir one of the pie fillings for fifteen seconds. I was feeling a little guilty about not helping, but one look at Mike's beaming face during the 36-hour marathon and it was obvious he was having the time of his life. He made 41 pies (all from scratch) and nine different kinds (chocolate, key lime, strawberry, pumpkin, cherry, coconut cream, lemon meringue, pecan, and apple). We had great weather and a great turnout and only five pies left at the end, so it was a win all around.

Bending . . . over. Not that there's anything particularly newsworthy in that, but usually bending over doesn't leave me angry and close to tears. But being eight months pregnant has changed all that. Now I just glare at the offending socks or shoes or Legos or alphabet magnets . . . and then call for someone else to pick them up.

Listening . . . to knitting podcasts. It's a problem, I'm telling you. This is one of the main reasons my audiobook count is slowly dropping. My favorites are Very Pink, Fruity Knitting, and Woolful. Maybe it's because I don't have very many friends in real life who knit, so listening to other people talk about knitting makes me feel like I'm interacting with other knitters in some way, even if it's virtually. So if you knit, you should really leave a comment and let me know so I have someone I can talk to about my projects!

Enjoying . . . Clark's imagination. He is at the most delightful age. He spends all day talking to himself, making up stories and games, becoming different people or animals, and roping all of us into the fun. I know this type of play is not uncommon for an almost three-year-old, but, to be quite honest, none of my other kids have been very imaginative, so this is really new for us, and we all love it. Plus, he's just so affectionate and friendly and sweet. My dad says the best word to describe him is "endearing," and I'm inclined to agree. I'd be tempted to keep him at this age forever if I could.

Remodeling . . . the basement bedroom. With the new baby due to arrive soon, it's time for a little bedroom shuffle. Right now, all of us sleep upstairs, but we have a bedroom downstairs we've been using as a guest room. So a couple of weeks ago, Mike reconfigured the closet (giving half of it to the boys and keeping the other half for general storage), painted, and built a new set of bunk beds. We just have to finish up a few other things, and then Aaron and Bradley can take up residence in their new room. 

Celebrating . . . St. Patrick's Day--if you can call a box of Lucky Charms and green milk "celebrating." My kids seem to think it is though, and far be it from me to tell them otherwise.

Taking . . . a little trip down to southern Utah for spring break. Our main reason for the trip was to visit Mike's grandma, who hasn't been feeling very well, but we did lots of other fun things too, many of which are mentioned below. 

Feeling . . . spoiled by all the relatives on our recent trip down south: Aunt Laurie made the most delectable cream puffs (and I'm usually not even much of a cream puff fan), Aunt Stephanie made a to-die-for coconut cream cake (if you can't tell, Mike's aunts express their love through desserts), Uncle Barry treated us to lunch at his cafe (and gave arrowheads to the boys), Uncle Reid kept Clark laughing with his Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck impersonations, and Grandma gave out a constant stream of hugs (and let Clark give her a roller coaster of a ride in her electric recliner). Basically, we just felt so welcomed and loved. Mike has such an amazing family.

Hiking . . . in Arches National Park. I'll admit, I actually didn't do this because hiking just didn't sound overly fun to me. Instead, I stayed with Mike's grandma and aunt and spent most of the day knitting and reading and chatting (a much better choice!), but Mike and the boys had a wonderful time. They did five different hikes, and scaling rocks all day left all of them feeling quite happy. (And, I should mention, on our last day, they wanted to do one of the hikes again, and I did it, too, so go me!)

Collecting . . . rocks. While we were visiting the Bluff fort in southern Utah, the tour guides sent the boys on a little scavenger hunt. At each cabin or building, they had to look for something and answer a question. When they were all done, they got to pick out two polished rocks as a prize. They loved those little rocks so much that they then begged to visit the rock shop in Moab where they spent a little of their own money to feed their new obsession with more rocks. And I have to say, that rock shop was legit. Basically, it didn't matter what kind of rock you were looking for--they had it.

Walking . . . among the dinosaurs. The last thing we did on our spring break trip was visit the dinosaur museum outside of Moab. It was fantastic. There was a half-mile loop with life-size replicas of dozens of different dinosaurs. Many dinosaurs have been found in southern Utah, so it was pretty fun seeing them in their natural habitat. ;-)

Spending . . . some time with Mike's parents. They came home from Germany for a short visit for General Conference, and, as usual, we tried to squeeze in as much time with them as possible. The days always pass too quickly for us!

What were the highlights of YOUR March?

The Book Blab Episode 12: The Joy of Reading Aloud

Mar 28, 2017

This just might be my favorite episode of the Book Blab yet. Suzanne and I discussed the ins and outs of reading aloud, a subject that I am quite passionate about (I definitely do more than my fair share of talking in the video--sorry, Suzanne!). Enjoy, and please share your own thoughts, tips, and read-aloud recommendations in the comments!

0:24 - The topic of this episode: How to make reading aloud a part of your family
0:58 - Reading aloud can be enjoyed by anyone of any age
1:58 - Why is reading aloud so important?
  • 3:38 - Great relationship builder
  • 4:51 - Navigate difficult topics
  • 5:30 - Physical closeness
7:15 - Tips and tricks for making reading aloud work in your family
  • 7:25 - How to make time/fit in reading aloud
  • 10:50 - How to manage different ages/levels/interests
  • 13:25 - How to pick interesting books to read aloud
  • 17:00 - How to keep kids engaged while reading aloud (quiet activities)
20:35 - When is an appropriate age to begin reading aloud chapter books?
23:42 - A few fun read-aloud recommendations
31:50 - Two favorite read-alouds from our own childhoods:
  • 32:15 - Suzanne's recommendation
  • 34:30 - Amy's recommendation
37:15 - Conclusion and reminder: Mini-book club next episode: The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill

Links and books talked about during the show:

The Read-Aloud Revival with Sarah MacKenzie (podcast and website)
All-of-a-Kind Family by Sydney Taylor (Amy's review)
The Mouse and the Motorcycle by Beverly Cleary (Suzanne's review)
Henry Huggins series by Beverly Cleary (Amy's review)
Ramona Quimby series by Beverly Cleary (Amy's review)
The Chocolate Touch by Patrick Skene Catling (Amy's review)
Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren (Amy's review)
By the Great Horn Spoon by Sid Fleischman (Amy's review
Owls in the Family by Farley Mowat (Amy's review)
Flat Stanley series by Jeff Brown (Suzanne's review)
Rascal by Sterling North (Amy's review)
Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls
Summer of the Monkeys by Wilson Rawls
Little Britches series by Ralph Moody

Review x 3: The Railway Children, Ereth's Birthday, Cal and the Amazing Anti-Gravity Machine

Mar 20, 2017

I'm a little behind on some reviews again, so I'm keeping my thoughts a little briefer than usual in order to get through several at once (not an easy task for me--I particularly had more I would have liked to say about The Railway Children). All three of these books are ones I read to or with my kids.

1. The Railway Children by E. Nesbit

I didn't grow up reading anything by E. Nesbit. In fact, I don't think I'd ever even heard of her until a couple of years ago. But she's definitely the type of author who told the types of stories my mom loved, so I know she would have been a favorite.

I originally thought I'd start with Five Children and It and even had it checked out from the library last summer, but then I found this pretty edition of The Railway Children <---- at my local bookstore and made an impulsive purchase (rare for me since I usually only buy books I've already read).

I read it aloud to my kids, and we all loved it. Truly loved it.

It's about three siblings, Bobbie, Peter, and Phyllis, and when the story opens, something is seriously amiss with their father. They don't know what it is, but one minute, everything is fine, and the next, he is being whisked away without explanation. Their mother takes them to live in a small cottage in the country where she manages to eek out a living by writing stories and poems for magazines. Despite the abrupt interruption to their normal lives, the children are happy overall (although Bobbie is acutely aware of their mother's sacrifices and also that all is not well with their father). They grow quite attached to the nearby railroad and make friends with the stationmaster and porter and even a regular traveler on one of the trains.

The language in this book is a bit detailed and old-fashioned (it was originally published in 1906), but my kids didn't even seem to notice (we occasionally paused so I could define a word for them or look up something we weren't familiar with, but that was it). I love that all of our consistent reading aloud over the years has made stories such as this one very accessible and not the least intimidating to them.

And in spite of the older writing style, there is no shortage of adventure in this book: The children help alert a train before it plows into a rock/landslide; they save a baby from a houseboat fire; they rescue a boy from a tunnel after he falls and breaks his leg. You can imagine that, with stories such as those, my kids were enthralled, old language or not.

I really think E. Nesbit might have been the Beverly Cleary of the early 20th century. I've always been amazed with how in tune Beverly Cleary is with the actions, worries, and dreams of children, and E. Nesbit struck me in the same way. Bobbie, Peter, and Phyllis are not perfect children by any means. They fight and bicker, they get dirty, and they make poor choices, but they're also selfless and brave and kind.

And of course it has a happy ending--the kind of ending that made me cry and made my kids roll their eyes at me while jumping off the couch in excitement themselves.

P.S. Soon after we finished this book, I noticed that I could get the audio for just $2.99. It looks like it's still that price, in case you'd like to listen to it!

2. Ereth's Birthday by Avi

Sometimes when we're trying to decide what our next readaloud should be, we have to take a vote. And this time, the next installment in the Poppy series won.

This one stars Ereth, Poppy's grumpy porcupine friend. It's his birthday, and he's expecting Poppy to remember it and do something about it. After all, she's that kind of mouse. But when there's no sign of her, he leaves in a huff and goes in search of some salt as a birthday present to himself.

Things quickly go awry when he comes upon a dying fox in a hunter's trap, and she makes him promise to go find her three kits and tell them what happened. Ereth prefers to be a loner, but he doesn't know what else to do, so he finds the fox's den, and one thing leads to another until he's caring for the three fox kits--something he never would have imagined. Meanwhile, he's being stalked by a very sneaky, very patient fisher (an animal similar to a marten--we had to look it up, even though Max was already well aware what it was) who is hungry for some porcupine.

Personally, I think I prefer Ereth as more of a secondary character than the main character. In the other books we've read, I've enjoyed his sour attitude and creative swearing, but it started to wear on me a little in this one. Everything he says is an expletive: "Bouncing bear burps!" "Phooey on all children with a squashed boll weevil on top." "Pulsating puppy pimples. He can start by chewing my tail!" My kids still thought he was absolutely hilarious, and many of his ridiculous exclamations made them giggle uncontrollably so that I had to stop reading until they'd calmed down, but for me personally, it got to be a bit much.

I think my favorite in the series is still Ragweed, but this one was still enjoyable and definitely different than the books that came before it.

3. Cal and the Amazing Anti-Gravity Machine by Richard Hamilton

It has been so much fun reading some of the same books as Aaron, so one of my reading goals for 2017 was to do the same thing with Maxwell. I knew it would be a harder sell with him, and this book confirmed my apprehensions.

A couple weeks ago, I approached him with the idea, and he was all enthusiastic about it until I started actually suggesting possible books, this being one of them. Then he was completely uninterested (now that's the Max I know...). But Bradley overheard our conversation and said, "That gravity one sounds good to me. I'll read it with you!" (And that's the Bradley I know...)

It was actually so much fun to read the same book as Bradley. He was always very careful not to get too far ahead of me. He would read a couple of chapters and then wait for me to catch up.

The book itself was fine; it's not going to be something I rave about to all my friends (and you know I do that with some children's novels), but I'd be happy to recommend it to those same friends' kids.

It's about a boy named Cal and his grumpy old dog, Frankie, who live next to an introverted, eccentric inventor. Everyone else in the neighborhood is super annoyed by all the noise and the mess created by Mr. Frout, but Cal is fascinated by it. Mr. Frout usually doesn't like children, but Cal is different (quieter, less invasive), so Mr. Frout lets him hang around. Cal knows that Mr. Frout is experimenting with gravity, and one morning he crosses the fence early, before Mr. Frout is out, and pulls the lever on Mr. Frout's new machine (so much for being less invasive...). Suddenly, he's floating, and it's the most wonderful feeling in the world. But things get a little crazy when he tries to bring back gravity and moves the knob to "anti-gravity" instead. Things aren't so fun anymore, and Cal has to think quickly before they all get pulled into space.

I was glad I was reading it with Bradley because there were a few words and technical things I wanted to check and see if he understood. For example, Frankie (the dog) can talk, but only Cal can understand him. At first, Cal thinks it must be some trick of their friend who is giving Frankie to them. He thinks she must be a ventriloquist. I asked Bradley, "Do you know what a ventriloquist is?" He didn't, and we spent the next half hour looking up videos of Shari Lewis and Lampchop so he could see a ventriloquist in action (and Aaron and Max were very interested as well). (Incidentally, ventriloquism has virtually nothing to do with this book, aside from that one passing statement, but it still sparked a really fun conversation.)

So I'm not exactly sure what I'm going to do about my goal to read a few books with Max--I'll keep trying (and hopefully he'll come up with a book himself, and I can just tag along), but in the meantime, I'm happy to read some books with Bradley.

What have you been reading with your kids lately?

The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart

Mar 15, 2017

This book has been on my personal to-read list for several years, and I waited long enough to pick it up that by the time I finally did, I had a child who was old enough to read it, too. Procrastination for the win.

I gave it to Aaron for Christmas but told him to let me know when he was ready to read it because I wanted to read it, too. It ended up being a great book to read along with someone else because the whole story is a little like one giant puzzle, and it was nice to have someone to discuss and speculate with.

Reynard Muldoon (Reynie for short) is something of a genius, or at the very least, extremely gifted. Sadly, this natural intelligence does not help him relate to or make friends with the other children in the orphanage, so he is a bit of a loner. The only person he can really talk to is Miss Perumal--his tutor, friend, and surrogate mother all rolled into one.

One day, he and Miss Perumal are reading the morning newspaper (a favorite ritual of theirs) and come across this advertisement: "Are you a gifted child looking for special opportunities?" Even though Reynie has no idea what those "special opportunities" might be, he figures he might as well give it a shot. The test is broken up into three parts (with a couple of secret tests masquerading as normal events thrown in), and Reynie excels at all of them. Only three other children besides himself make it to the final round , and when they've all made it through to the other side (literally--the last test is a maze), they find out that they've been carefully selected by Mr. Benedict for a secret mission.

Strange things have been happening over the last few years. Government officials have given it the rather blanket title, "the Emergency," but basically there's just a lot of chaos and confusion, and it grows by the day and no one can seem to make sense of it.

Mr. Benedict has been studying the Emergency for years, and he knows it has something to do with messages being secretly broadcast to the citizens and that these messages are somehow coming from the Institute--a mysterious school on Nomansan Island. Mr. Benedict knows time is running out and that children are his last hope of infiltrating the system.

Besides Reynie, there's George "Sticky" Washington, who has a photographic memory and can regurgitate information at will; Kate Wetherall, whose physical prowess can't be matched, especially when she has her trusty bucket of supplies belted to her waist; and Constance Contraire, a mere slip of a girl who has the most unyielding stubborn streak. Together, those four make up the Mysterious Benedict Society, and Mr. Benedict warns them that they are all necessary to the team and they must rely on each other in order to succeed.

This need for teamwork was one of my favorite parts of the book, particularly because it's fairly obvious from the beginning why Reynie, Sticky and Kate were chosen, but it's not at all evident why Constance made the cut. She complains about everything, she's tired all the time, she doesn't do well on any of the tests, she has to be carried everywhere because she's too short to keep up, and she's always grumpy. The other three are tempted more than once to leave her behind because she definitely seems like more of a hindrance than an asset. But they remember Mr. Benedict's counsel, and the whole time I kept thinking, There has to be more to Constance than anyone else is seeing. Somehow she's going to end up doing something very important. And sure enough, Constance's talents are indeed needed at a very critical moment in the story, but I liked that the reader had to have a little bit of faith, along with Reynie, Sticky, and Kate, for the majority of the book before that confidence in Constance paid off.

As much as I liked the whole book, I will say that the first third was actually the most interesting part for me. I really loved seeing the formation of the team, but once they were actually in the Institute, it lost a little of its drive for me--I think because I could never quite figure out how these "messages" were going to overtake the world, so the threat didn't carry as much impact as it probably should have. I understood that the citizens were going to be brainwashed, or, even worse, "brainswept" (memories erased), but the logistics and actual method were a little lost on me.

But I thoroughly loved the characters and loved seeing their trust and friendship for one another develop and deepen throughout the book. These thoughts from Sticky were echoed by all of the Mysterious Benedict Society: "And yet, in these last days, he'd become friends with people who cared about him, quite above and beyond what was expected of him. With perfect clarity he remembered Reynie saying, 'I need you here as a friend.'"

In many ways, it reminded me of Escape From Mr. Lemoncello's Library, which Aaron and I read last year. The stakes aren't nearly so high (it's just a game rather than a possible take-over-the-world threat), but the puzzles and the teamwork and the friendship and the importance of knowing who to trust are all there. But if I'm really comparing the two books, I have to be honest and say that The Mysterious Benedict Society surpasses Escape From Mr. Lemoncello's Library on all counts.

Sometimes it's so hard for me to tell if Aaron likes a book or not (this spills over to all other parts of his life as well). He never complained about reading it, but it wasn't like he couldn't put it down. But then I overheard him telling Max about the plot and the characters, and I knew we'd found a winner. Only some books are worth sharing with your younger brother.

A Little of This and That in February

Mar 10, 2017

I was going to begin this post by saying, "February eased us out of winter," but then I thought, Who am I kidding? I don't need to be "eased out of winter." I would be perfectly happy waking up to a permanent sixty or seventy degrees with nary a backwards glance to those winter temps. Still though, February was good to us with lots of decent weather and only a couple of snowstorms, so I'll take it. As far as our family was concerned, February found us . . .

Enjoying . . . some uncharacteristically warm weather. Although February ended with a couple of snowstorms, overall it was a fairly pleasant month. My kids even went without coats on a couple of days (I did not). February made me hopeful that spring is on its way (and I am ecstatic about the light lasting a little longer each day).

Finding . . . a solution for our spice cupboard. Ever since we moved into our home (three years ago), Mike and I have felt disgruntled about the spice cupboard. It seemed like every time we needed a spice, it was at the back of the shelf, and we had to take every other spice out in order to get to it. We finally found some plastic containers at The Container Store that fit those three shelves perfectly. We labeled the tops of the spices, and now all we have to do is pull out the container to find what we need and then push the whole thing back onto the shelf. I'll admit, I felt a little miffed that it took us so long when the solution was so simple, but mostly, I just feel happy that finding a spice jar is no longer a ten-minute endeavor.

Trying . . . to go on a little family hike, only to turn around after ten minutes because the trail was one gigantic sheet of ice. Sorry, winter, I tried.

Listening . . . to Maxwell give a presentation about himself at school. To celebrate his birthday, his teacher sent him home with a power point outline he could fill in about himself and bring back to class. He also got to fill a bag with a bunch of show-and-tell items. Then, for forty-five minutes, his entire class celebrated him. His classmates gave him compliments and pictures and notes and asked him questions, and he got to talk all about the things he loves, which include bugs, math, science podcasts, and facts. I remember when Aaron got to do the same thing a couple of years ago, and he went through his presentation as fast as he possibly could. But not Maxwell. He milked it for all it was worth, and it was so entertaining to watch. 

Building . . . a replica of the Vatican out of pasta. Every February, our friends, James and Kathy, host a fabulous adult-only dinner in celebration of James' birthday. This year, the evening had an Italian flair, and Kathy wowed us all with focaccia, arancini, and tiramisu. Dinner was followed by a pasta building competition where each team had to try to replicate a famous Italian landmark. I can't take any of the credit for our model as I mostly just watched and provided moral support, but we ended up winning. I felt a little like I was a college student again on a group date (except for my ginormous belly).

Refereeing . . . computer time. I have always been very strict about my kids' screen time. We go through periods of no TV, and when we do watch it, I try to keep it to an hour or less (although there are those days when I'm just getting so much done without interruptions . . .). We don't own a video game system (unless you count Mike's vintage atari, which he pulls out about once every two months). We don't own an iPad. And I only have one little boring addition/multiplication game on my phone. These have all been very purposeful decisions on my part because it's easier to just not even have the temptations there rather than have all the begging, bribing, and managing that would naturally come with additional screens. But my kids are sneaky. Aaron has math homework that he has to print off, and one day, he casually asked if he could play a "math game" that he sometimes plays at school. "Sure," I said. Several months later, and this math game (Prodigy) has become something of an addiction for him and Max. So here I am managing screen time against my will. It was bound to happen one way or another, I guess.

Holding . . . a new baby cousin. Clark can't get enough of babies lately, and Mike's sister was nice enough to let Clark hold her brand-new, two-day-old baby girl not just once, but twice. Clark can't wait for our own baby to get here, and I'm inclined to agree with him. A few days ago, I was putting Clark down for a nap, and he kept slipping off my lap. "Sorry," I said, "This baby is just getting too big!" Bradley said, "When the baby comes out, then you'll have room to hold Clark again." "But then I'll be holding the baby," I said. "NO!" Clark yelled. And I thought, Uh-oh. Here comes the jealousy. But I had misread him. "No!" he yelled again. "I will be holding the baby." I guess I'm the one who's going to have some competition.

Watching . . . the third season of The Great British Baking Show. Big new, guys! The first three seasons of The Great British Baking Show are now on Netflix! So take advantage of it while you can. You won't regret it.

Taking . . . my knitting obsession to a whole new level. I've been enjoying knitting for the last almost-two years, but I mainly did it when I was traveling in the car for a long time or watching a show, which meant that sometimes a week or two would go by without me picking it up at all. But something happened in the last month, and now I can't seem to stop. I think it's that I've done several short projects in a row, and, just like reading a fast-paced book can rekindle my love of reading, these shorter projects have spurred me on to want to knit more, more, more. I've been poring over patterns and different yarn types and knitting every spare chance, sometimes at the sacrifice of other things. It's been fun, but I'm wondering if it's going to taper off after awhile or if this is just the beginning of a life-long hobby. (Check out the hat I made for myself! My first project with cables!)

Cleaning . . . on Saturday mornings. I mentioned this in my recent cleaning post, but we're now five weeks into our Saturday morning cleaning routine, and it is going so well. It's not that different from what we were doing before. It's just that the expectations are a little clearer for our kids: they know we will all be cleaning from 8:00-10:00am on Saturday morning, and we will share the jobs and the work load. Even though it still doesn't take our kids long to mess up everything again after we're done, I am noticing that some things really have stayed cleaner, like the microwave or the fridge, because I'm making sure they get cleaned every week rather than waiting until they're so dirty I can't take it anymore. Plus, this last Saturday, and I'm not kidding when I tell you this, I didn't hear one word of complaint from any of my kids for the entire two hours. Miraculous.

Making . . . Valentines. We started a new family tradition last year where we put out a mailbox on February 1st and delivered valentines and love notes (and an occasional treat) to each other during the two weeks leading up to Valentine's Day. Maxwell definitely wins the prize for leaving the most notes for everyone. That kid is a valentine-making machine. For the boys' classmates, we went with a very simple homemade Valentine: paper Jedi robes that said, "The Force is Strong With You" or "Be My Jedi" with attached glow sticks (light sabers). I got the idea from Miranda at Live Free Creative, and it was just crafty enough for my kids without being overwhelming or tedious.

Blogging . . . less. You've maybe noticed the decrease in posts. I could blame a variety of things, but I'm pretty sure the biggest culprit is that I'd rather spend my free time knitting than blogging. And yet, I'm always happy when I blog, so I'm not giving up yet.

Skiing . . . for the first time. No, no, not me. But Aaron has been dying to learn. And even though Mike grew up in Utah, he'd never been skiing either, so he decided to take Aaron, and they could both learn together. He picked up some second=hand equipment, and they went to the bunny slopes that had a free tow rope, and he and Aaron skied down over and over again and had a blast. And then they went back three days later and did it again.

Trashing . . . a knitting project. After searching through a bunch of baby hat patterns, I finally settled on one that used seed stitch. I loved the texture, and the whole time I was knitting it, I thought it was going to be so cute. I finished it, washed and blocked it, and then I basically couldn't stand the sight of it. I don't know if my yarn weight was just a little too fine for the size of needles I was using or if my tension was off or what, but every time I looked at it, I thought, That looks like a first knitting project. And I know I'm still an amateur knitter, but I think I'm beyond first projects. Anyway, I unraveled the whole thing, and I'll save the yarn for something else.

Celebrating . . . Valentine's Day. We actually postponed our family's celebration of it by one day because the 14th was extremely packed with other things. Taking Gretchen Rubin's advice, I've tried to make this holiday a little more special for my kids by setting the table with a tablecloth (!), candlesticks and festive (but still plastic and paper) cups and plates. It works. It feels like a holiday for them, and it's hardly any extra work for me. We also gave them a few little gifts: a book, new watercolors (this set is awesome), LEGO mini-figures, and a 1000-piece puzzle for everyone.

Competing . . . in a backgammon tournament. That would be my dad and Maxwell. My dad taught Max how to play a few weeks ago, and now every time they see each other, they have to pull it out and play at least one game. Max won the first few, so he was feeling pretty confident, but now my dad is evening up the score. I love watching them play because it brings back fond memories of my own childhood.

Snoozing . . . at church. At the beginning of the year, our church schedule changed from 9-12 to 11-2. I knew it was going to be rough on Clark, who loves an afternoon nap (and I didn't want to wait until after church for him to take one because that's just too late in the day). So Mike suggested just taking him out to the foyer during the first hour and seeing if he would just fall asleep in his arms. It seemed like a long shot, especially since Clark is almost three, but wonder of wonders, it totally worked. Now Clark just expects it and brings along his blanket. He takes a 45 minute nap, which makes him bright-eyed and happy for nursery during the second and third hours. (Interestingly, Aaron was exactly the same at this age.)

What fun, normal, everyday things were you up to in February?
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