Harry Potter's Highest Priority

Nov 20, 2020

Harry Potter has become as much a part of our autumns as crunchy leaves, pumpkin carving, and Halloween costumes. When my boys are grown and think back on their childhoods, I know they will fondly remember the cozy evenings we spent immersed in the wizarding world of Hogwarts. And that makes me happy.

It's quite possible that Aaron and Max will remember this year's installment, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, better than any of the others. It was maybe the most enjoyable readaloud experience we've ever had, and that's saying something. They begged me to read it every night. They folded laundry if it meant I would read a little more. We spent Sunday afternoons reading just one more chapter. And they even woke me up on a Saturday morning to see if I would read before they had to start on chores. 

This was quite the contrast to last year. The fifth Harry Potter took us nearly five months to read, and it was something of a slog--a pleasant slog, but still a slog.

Not so with this sixth book. We blazed through it. The chapters melted away, one by one. There wasn't a moment of pause or drag. The story just flowed in that magical way that sometimes happens.

When we read the final line and closed the book, we felt immense satisfaction but also a keen sense of loss. We experienced withdrawals for several weeks after finishing. Sometimes Aaron would come into my room and open his mouth to start to ask for Harry Potter before remembering that there wasn't anymore left to read.

It was the first time I have been sorely tempted to just jump into the next book. I'm sure I wouldn't have met any resistance from Aaron or Max if I'd suggested it. But these books are as much about the ambiance and feeling of fall as they are about the stories themselves. We've created this experience, and it would be such a shame to break it for the final book. Plus, I know that the anticipation and excitement will only grow between now and next September.

I felt bad for the readaloud that followed this one. It probably didn't matter which book we chose, it wasn't going to be able to compete. The boys were completely unenthusiastic about it. It took us a good eight chapters before we were into it, and even then, it felt like we read aloud out of habit more than for the sheer pleasure of it. 

The one disadvantage of reading a book well after your peers is that many things have accidentally been spoiled for you (and in case you haven't read this book, this is your warning that I will be sharing spoilers here), including the biggest plot twist--that of Professor Dumbledore dying at the hands of Professor Snape. That moment has become a part of culture. Spoilers are unavoidable. 

But somehow, knowing that it was going to happen did not make it any less dramatic or heart-stopping when Snape raised his wand on top of the tower and uttered the fateful words. My eyes had skimmed ahead, and I had seen it before I actually read it aloud. It took my breath away, and I told the boys, "I can't read the next part. I just can't." I decided I was actually grateful many different people had spilled the ending many years ago. I think it might have been too traumatic otherwise.

Even though we knew the way the book would end, there were still many points of the plot that we knew nothing about, including who the Half-Blood Prince was. We discussed possibilities and mounting evidence, but we were still surprised when it was finally revealed.

Besides the pleasure I derived from reading this book, I also had a rather profound, maybe even spiritual, moment while reading.

During one of Harry's lessons with Professor Dumbledore, they visit a memory of Professor Slughorn's. It is incomplete and altered, but Dumbledore is convinced that the true memory will "undoubtedly be [the] most crucial piece of information of all" in understanding Voldemort. Dumbledore gives Harry the charge to find out the real memory from Slughorn. He emphasizes the absolute importance of this in their quest. Nothing else is of higher priority.

Harry doesn't doubt Dumbledore, but he doesn't have any great ideas for how to get Slughorn to trust him. And meanwhile, Draco Malfoy is definitely up to something. Harry can't figure out what it is, but it completely consumes him. He obsessively studies the Marauder's Map to track Malfoy's movements. He thinks about it all the time. He gathers evidence and comes up with all sorts of possibilities.

At their next lesson, Dumbledore asks, "Have you managed the task I set you at the end of our previous lesson?" Harry says that he asked Professor Slughorn about it, but Slughorn refused to give it to him. 

And then, Dumbledore says something that easily cuts down every single excuse: "And you feel that you have exerted your very best efforts in this matter, do you? That you have exercised all of your considerable ingenuity? That you have left no depth of cunning unplumbed in your quest to retrieve the memory?" 

Harry actually had been devoting that kind of effort, ingenuity, and cunning into a task, but it was not the one that Dumbledore had given him. Harry knew what the most important thing was. He even believed it was the most important thing. But something else won his attention because it was the thing that made his own prideful emotions flare up, and he couldn't let go of it.

With a start, I realized how many times I am just like Harry. I know what the important things are. I don't need to be convinced. But I don't give priority to them. I subconsciously know that those things will still be around whether I pay attention to them now or later. So I put them off in favor of more tantalizing endeavors. 

For Harry, it probably also had something to do with the fact that he felt unequal to the task. If he didn't try, then he hadn't failed yet, and that would give him more time. It is the same for me. I am crippled by the worry that I won't fulfill my highest objective, and so I would rather not think about it right now.

It has been almost a month since we finished this book, and I am still thinking about this part. I can't get Dumbledore's question out of my head, "May I hope, then, that you will give this matter higher priority from now on?" He could just as easily be asking that question of me. And I am determined to accept his challenge.

I know that this book is many people's favorite in the series, and it might be mine as well. Certainly a book that can be entertaining, compelling, and thought-provoking should be given the highest praise. I love that J.K. Rowling delivered some of her finest work towards the end of the series, and I couldn't have asked for a better reading experience than sharing it with my boys.

A Little of This and That in October

Nov 8, 2020

"O suns and skies and clouds of June,
And flowers of June together,
Ye cannot rival for one hour
October's bright blue weather."

Gretchen Rubin alerted me to this poem by Helen Hunt Jackson at the beginning of October, and I fell madly in love with it. The above is only the first stanza, but the whole poem captures the feeling of fall so well. And because of this poem, I was aware of just how many "bright blue" days we had in October, and I feel like I appreciated them more than I ever have. One of those was on a family hike in Bryce Canyon. The sky was absolutely clear and just the brightest, most brilliant blue. I gathered my kids around and read this poem aloud as we stood under that most perfect of skies; that's just the kind of nerdy mom I am. That is one of my favorite memories from the month, but here are a few more . . . 

Listening . . . to General Conference. What a treat it was this year. I don't know when it has ever lifted my soul more than it did this time. The messages were full of hope and healing and encouragement. 

Visiting . . . one of the most quirky spots in Salt Lake City. Ian and I have been looking for things to do in the mornings while the boys are at school. One day, we were planning to explore the Salt Lake City cemetery with a friend, but it was closed due to the windstorm last month. So my friend suggested we go to Gilgal Garden instead. I had never heard of it but was game to try something new. It took me two passes down the street to even find it because it was completely tucked away right on the edge of downtown Salt Lake. It was small but filled with an unusual and eclectic mix of statues that had both religious and historical significance. Jill and I stopped at each statue to read about its symbolism, and Ian ran around and climbed on things that he wasn't supposed to. I loved this little oasis hidden in an urban environment.

Replacing . . . the flooring in the living room with carpet. When we bought this house, there was beautiful cherrywood in the living room. I know some people love wood floors, but we didn't like this one for a number of reasons: it didn't match the other flooring in the house, it made the room feel formal rather than cozy, and it showed up every speck of dust or footprint. As the weather began to turn, we started to feel a sense of urgency to put carpet in that room. We couldn't bear the thought of facing winter with that cold, austere floor. So even though we've been working on the office right now, we decided to switch gears for the moment. I expected this to be a long process since Mike and I are both quite terrible at making decisions. But we decided to go to this carpet warehouse on a Friday, and by the following Tuesday afternoon, the cherrywood was gone and the carpet was installed. It was perhaps the slickest, quickest, most pain-free decision of our entire marriage. Plus, because we went the warehouse direction, it was very affordable. The cherrywood was a beast to take up--it was not keen to leave and was only pried free by Mike after much painful splintering. But we have enjoyed the new carpet so much already that I'm glad we didn't wait a moment longer to get it. 

Choosing . . . a pumpkin. It has been several years since we'd been to a favorite family-owned pumpkin patch. But this year we opted for it because we were trying to avoid a bunch of crowded activities like corn mazes or hay rides. It was absolutely lovely. It reminded me of how much I love going to a pumpkin patch that is simply that--a pumpkin patch. The boys ran through the fields searching for the most perfectly round and orange pumpkins and by the end of the evening, we had filled up our wagon with a dozen pumpkins to bring home.

Spending . . . time at the farm. Over the last few weeks, we've had a couple of outings to Wheeler Farm: once with some friends and again with my sister-in-law and niece. The mornings were cool enough that remembering jackets would have been nice, but it warmed up as soon as the sun came out, and then it was perfect. We roamed around without a real plan, always ending up at my kids' favorite tree with the twisty horizontal branches just perfect for scampering over.

Passing . . . the sacrament. This month we started going to church regularly, and now that Aaron has the all-clear on his health, he was finally able to help pass the sacrament. I'm so grateful though for the many times he got to do it at home leading up to this. 

Hiking . . . in Millcreek Canyon. Mike and I went on a short hike for date night, and it was breathtakingly beautiful. I kept stopping to take pictures only to be disappointed again and again that what I was seeing through my lens did not come even close to what I was seeing in real life. The colors were just magnificent: ombre tones creeping up to the tops of trees, bright patches of red, a confetti carpet under our feet. It just felt like a privilege to be out in it, drinking in the cold, spicy air.

Riding . . . my bike. I couldn't let these beautiful fall days pass without going on a bike ride with my mom.  I wish we lived a little closer so that this could be more of a daily activity instead of monthly or quarterly. But still, it was a lovely afternoon of chatting and riding through all of the fall foliage. 

Making . . . friends. I tried to be a little more proactive with texting people to go to the park or on a walk. I also enjoyed going to a Relief Society activity and attending church meetings over zoom. I am naturally quite introverted, so it is hard for me to take the first step in introducing myself or inviting someone to hang out. However, deep down I really do love people, so I know that in the end it will be worth the discomfort and vulnerability I feel in putting myself out there. 

Taking . . . family photos. We avoided turning this into the usual ordeal by not deciding until the day before that we were going to do family pictures and not deciding until an hour before what we were going to wear. Mike only had to make one emergency trip to the store for an item of clothing. Mike's sister, Sonja, was kind enough to be our impromtu photographer. All in all, it was quick, painless, and successful.

Eating . . . dinner in the canyon. Following family pictures, we stayed in the canyon with Sonja's family for dutch oven lasagna, woofies, and gourmet s'mores. We had avoided campfires all spring and summer to protect Aaron's lungs, so it was quite a treat to be able to sit around and roast marshmallows and watch the fire crackle and pop. We all came home reeking of smoke, which seemed just about perfect.

Receiving . . . a calling as organist. I finally have a calling in my new ward; I'm one of the organists for sacrament meeting. It has been a long time since I've had this calling, and I feel mostly happy about it. Mike also received a calling; he is now a deacon's quorum advisor, which means he gets to go to lessons and activities with Aaron. I'm glad we can serve and get more involved with our ward. 

Going . . . on a real family vacation for fall break. We've done a handful of day trips during the pandemic, but we hadn't been on a real vacation since our Lake Tahoe trip right before Aaron was diagnosed. As we looked at all of those empty days of fall break, we decided it was finally time. There are many spots in southern Utah that we haven't explored, so we settled on Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef, and Goblin Valley. And it was just a fantastic trip in every possible way. The weather was perfect, the scenery was breathtaking, the children were agreeable (for the most part), and we got to see so many new things. My parents and three of my siblings joined us for the second half of the trip, which was a fun addition. We went on hikes and beautiful drives, did a stargazing tour, caught lizards, and even ate some delicious food (a bit of a surprise since most places had already closed for the season). 

But the best part of the trip was . . . 

Climbing . . . all over hoodoos. The goblins of Goblin Valley were definitely my kids' favorite part of the trip. It was like an epic playground and climbing gym--hundreds of rock formations, each one of them different, just begging to be climbed and scampered over. There isn't anything manmade that could compare to it. It was a literal paradise for my kids. We spent a couple of hours there, and as we were getting ready to leave, Bradley said, "Can I just run over and climb one last one?" It was almost too much for him to think of leaving before he had personally climbed over every single one (but that would have taken days). In this modern age of conservation, I recognize the importance of preserving our national monuments and parks, but it was so refreshing in this one place to have the rules removed and just be able to have a really tactile, physical experience. We loved it.

Watching . . . the falling snow. We got home from our trip just in time for the first snowfall. The boys ran out in it with no shoes. As they jumped and ran and bounced around, they looked like they were doing some kind of ritualistic dance. Maybe that's what it was--a way to welcome the first snow of the season.

Enjoying . . . Aaron's first jazz band concert. I wrote many sappy details on this post

Making . . . something old, new again. A couple of months ago, I ripped out the very first sweater that I made for myself almost three years ago. I just wasn't wearing it very much anymore, so I decided to turn it into something else. It was so liberating to take it back down to a few skeins of yarn and knit it into something completely different. Plus, this was one of the most enjoyable shawls I've ever knit. It was constructed sideways, so on every row, I did just a little bit of the lace border. With other shawls I've done, the border comes at the very end, but I loved having the border happen at the same time as the rest of the shawl. It was both engaging and meditative, and that is pretty much an ideal project for me. 

Poisoning . . . aspen trees. When we bought our home six months ago, we knew the aspen trees in the front yard would have to go. There were at least eighty of them, and we knew that number would continue to grow exponentially over the years. The previous owners had let the aspens spread on purpose. They loved them and had a bench nestled in the middle of them. The irony is that no one else in the neighborhood liked them, and this subject has been the number one thing that people want to talk about when we meet them for the first time: "Hi, I'm _______. What do you think of the aspens????" Mike read up on how to kill them, and, because of their connected root system, it is a long process. Some people have told us to expect it to take at least three years. The general recommendation was to poison them in the fall so that the sap would carry the poison throughout the roots, so that is what Mike did. Now we'll wait out the winter before we chop them all down in the spring. I read this quote from author Kaya McLaren and thought it a fitting tribute: "Go spend time with the aspen trees. They'll tell you how it works. They'll tell you to look to your roots for energy. They'll tell you there's warmth below the surface." I agree, but I think I'll connect with the aspens in the mountains instead of my front yard.

Trying . . . to write blog posts. I started several posts this month but only published one of them. But I had a little lightning bolt moment when I realized my phone is inhibiting my ability to write because it distracts me during the key moments of the day--not necessarily during moments when I might be writing but during moments when I would be thinking, which is the kindling needed for writing. 

Painting . . . and carving pumpkins. If I'm being honest, these activities feel somewhat obligatory, but they're important to my kids, so I guess they're worth the hassle and mess. Ian is really the only one who still needs help. He had Mike carve his pumpkin to look like Pumpkin Jack from a favorite picture book. All of the other pumpkins have since been thrown away, but Pumpkin Jack is still kicking because Ian is fascinated by his slow sagging and deterioration. 

Making . . . Halloween costumes. Our kids have been talking about and planning their costumes since last November. They really wanted to go as characters from BYUtv's sketch comedy show, Studio C. It's not like you can go out and just buy a Captain Literally costume, so we knew this theme was going to require time and creativity. I am a big fan of homemade costumes, but they do take a lot more work, and there were a few stressful points when I thought we weren't going to be able to track down the pieces we needed (much thanks to my friend, Abby, who came through with green polyester pants for me at the last minute). In the end, everything came together, and we were all super pleased with the results. Mike was Scott Sterling, I was Ann Withers, Aaron was Jeremy, Maxwell was Lobster Bisque, Bradley was the Love Janitor, Clark was Captain Literally, and Ian was Awkward Avoidance Viking. (I've included links to a skit of each of these characters so you can watch if you've never seen them.) Most people had no idea who we were, but for those who did, the recognition was immediate. My kids had me cracking up all night with their impressions, and even I couldn't help getting into Ann Withers' character. 


Buying . . . so much fabric. I don't know what got into me, but my love of sewing was suddenly rekindled in one, swift burst. And I coped by buying enough fabric for eight different garments. A Halloween sewing project (Maxwell's gold vest) detained me from diving into it, but I felt a little thrill every time I looked at that towering pile of potential. 

Listening . . . to Dreamsicle. My dear friend, Sarah, and her friend, Megan (who I also know and love, but only virtually) recently started a podcast about dreams, spiritual gifts, personal revelation, and feeling the love of our Heavenly Parents and Jesus Christ. It is just fantastic in every way--from the quality of the production to the natural dynamic Megan and Sarah have to the deep spiritual insights they share. It has already enriched my life in so many ways, and I highly recommend it if your life could use a spiritual boost, too. I kind of feel like both of these women are my spiritual mentors, and I'm happy to share them with you. (Bonus: Aaron gets a mention in Episode 8!)

Celebrating . . . Halloween all. day. long. Don't get me wrong--having Halloween on a Saturday definitely has its perks, but an open schedule meant that we filled it up with all the things. We put on our costumes around noon and decided to go show them off to my parents . . . and then my brother . . . and then Mike's sister . . . and then Mike's parents. By the time we were done driving all over the valley, it was almost time for our old neighborhood's Halloween parade. This was a very well-coordinated event with everyone setting up a table or bowl or even a slide on their driveways, and then all of the families walking down the streets and trick-or-treating but in a safe way. It was great that it was in the late afternoon so everyone could see each other and it was still nice and warm. I hope it becomes a tradition. After the parade, we went home for a dinner of fruits and veggies, and then we went trick-or-treating in our new neighborhood. In contrast to the parade, it was not at all clear or obvious what we were supposed to do. Every house kind of did their own thing: some were set up outside, some wanted kids to ring their doorbells, some had their porch lights on but didn't want trick-or-treaters. Because of covid, it felt like everyone needed to be on the same page with clear expectations, but they weren't. We still had a fun evening though and were very impressed with the creativity of people in making things fun and safe. Even though it was long, it was one of the best Halloweens we've ever had. 

Whew. I hadn't realized October was so busy until I wrote it all down. November is already proving to be much more subdued. How was your month?

All the Sentimental Musings as They Relate to Junior High Band

Oct 29, 2020

Last night, Mike and I went to Aaron's band concert. Per covid restrictions, he was only allowed to have two guests, and, as his parents, we felt that the privilege was rightfully ours.

It was one of those times that will probably remain sharp and crystal clear in my memory with very little effort on my part. Without even quite realizing it, several things had built up in my subconscious over the last few years, and they came to a head during that little band concert. It was one of those glorious, serendipitous moments where everything feels just right, and because of that rightness, you know that it's something that will stay with you forever. It's amazing that a group of 6th-8th graders could have this sort of effect on me, but it's true.

Five years ago, I sat in that same auditorium for a very similar fall concert, but instead of Aaron on the stage, it was my nephew, Steven. It was his first time performing as the pianist for the jazz band, and I wanted to be there for it since I had been his piano teacher for several years. Contrary to my rather low expectations of a junior high band concert, I was pleasantly surprised. They actually sounded really good.

I had left Mike home with the boys, but as I sat there enjoying each song, I suddenly pictured Aaron, who was seven-years-old at the time. I had the distinct thought, In a few years, when Aaron is Steven's age, could he possibly have the necessary skills to play an instrument, create intentional music,  and follow a director? It honestly felt so far beyond our current reality that I couldn't fathom it.

Flash forward to school last year. Aaron was in the sixth grade in the same junior high Steven had attended. When he registered for classes, band was an easy choice. He had learned to play the trombone during his last two years of elementary school, and he had suffered (yes, literally suffered) through the most excruciating and unproductive rehearsals just so he could bypass foundations band in junior high and jump up to the next level.

It was by far his favorite class. He loved the teacher, and for the first time, he was playing music with kids who actually wanted to be there. No more "Row, Row, Row Your Boat;" they were playing real stuff now.

His sixth grade year was short-lived though. It ended just eight days after it began. As I picked him up on that last day, he told me excitedly, "We started the best song in band today! It sounds so cool!" He was well aware that he wasn't going back to school, but he was still so pumped for this song, and I thought my heart would break.

And finally, just a few weeks ago, with Aaron healthy again and school back in session, he came home from school one afternoon and informed me that he was going to try out for jazz band. His practicing had been very sporadic during his recovery, and I was skeptical about his abilities. I didn't discourage him from it, but I stayed on the sidelines and let him take ownership of it.

He ended up making it, and that one extracurricular class has brought him so much joy. He doesn't care that he has to get up at 6:00 and leave when it is still dark and cold, nor does he mind that he has to wear a mask when he plays or put a piece of fabric over the bell of his instrument. It is all worth it.

All of these thoughts and memories were going through my head as Mike and I sat in the darkened auditorium last night, spaced far away from everyone else, and watched him play. He was looking sharp in concert black with his hair slicked back. His shiny brass trombone glinted beneath the stage lights. In unison with the other performers he slipped his mouthpiece underneath the flap in his mask. His eyes were fixed on his teacher who tapped out a measure before the opening notes sounded. His black dress shoe kept the beat, and his slide moved in synchronization with the other trombonists. It was like watching a dance, their instruments moving in time with the notes.

My eyes filled with tears. I couldn't help it. Unbidden, I remembered my disbelief from five years before and stared wonderingly at the reality before me. There he was--mature, self-assured, completely in his element, doing exactly what he wanted to do last year but couldn't. 

Mike is generally not overly sentimental. I am enough of that for both of us, as the above musings will confirm. But as the jazz band finished their final piece last night, and the sparse audience enthusiastically applauded, he leaned over to me and said, "That was the best concert I've ever been to!" I turned to him in surprise. I mean, it was good, but we've been to our fair share of concerts with world-class musicians, and this was still, after all, just junior high. 

He amended, "I've never enjoyed a concert more than that one."

And suddenly, it was clear to me. He had fallen under the same spell I had, that of being a witness to Aaron fulfilling his own purpose, completely independent of our interests or passions. And absolutely beaming while doing it.

For once, our sentimentalities were in perfect alignment, and I couldn't have agreed more. 

A Little of This and That in September

Oct 4, 2020

I was going to say that September was divine in terms of weather. Then I remembered the record-breaking windstorm (see below) . . . and the fires . . . and the lack of rain, and I decided that maybe it wasn't so perfect after all. But there were days scattered throughout that felt perfect, so we'll take those! The ups and downs of the month included . . . 

Running . . . from a swarm of angry wasps. One evening, we were picking up all of the fallen apples from our tree. It is a large tree with thousands of mediocre apples, and we're ready for them all to fall so we can be done with them. In an attempt to hurry things along, Mike climbed up in the tree to give the branches a vigorous shake. All of a sudden, I heard him say, "Ow!" and then watched as twigs and branches broke in his quick descent out of the tree. He scrambled to his feet and then yelled to the boys, "Run! RUUUUUUNNNN!" He raced out of the backyard, looking half-crazed and slapping himself. The boys were confused but followed him to the front yard where Aaron and Max also started yelping, "Ow! Ow!" Then Mike charged into the house, and that's when we finally saw some of the culprits fall from their clothes to the floor. Realizing they had just brought them into the house, they ran back outside where they continued to wage battle for a few more minutes. While Mike had been up in the apple tree, he had inadvertently put his foot right into a wasps' nest. The wasps crawled up inside his pants and shirt before he realized what had happened. All told, Mike got about ten stings, Aaron got two, and Maxwell got one. It felt like a scene out of a movie watching them all race from the backyard with the wasps in hot pursuit. When Mike went back to the tree fifteen minutes later with a can of wasp spray, they had posted a sentry and were getting ready to swarm him again. It was an adventure.

Listening . . . to the most amazing music at a David Archuleta concert. I mentioned last month that our family was watching the seventh season of American Idol. It was so much fun, and we all thoroughly enjoyed it. So when Mike and I found out that David Archuleta was doing a drive-in concert in Idaho Falls, we jumped on it. It just seemed like the most fitting culmination to our summer. We looked forward to it for weeks, and I have to admit that I maybe said a few prayers pleading that we would actually get to go and that this would be one thing in 2020 that would not be cancelled. And it was just the most fantastic evening. Yes, all seven of us were crammed into our minivan, and we didn't all have the best view, but it didn't matter--the music streaming in through the open windows was glorious. And really, the thing I was most worried about was that Clark or Ian would get bored or restless and make it miserable for the rest of us. But they pretty much stayed in their seats the entire time. At one point, David A. was talking, and Ian yelled as loudly as he could, "Hey, David Archuleta! START SINGING!!!" It was the first concert David Archuleta had been able to do in 2020, and it was also his first time performing any of the songs from his new album, so it just felt really special to be there. He also shared a lot of really candid, beautiful thoughts about recognizing your own worth as an individual and holding firmly to your own values and ideas, and I thought it was really inspiring.

Getting . . . pulled over. After the David Archuleta concert, we had to drive the three hours back to Salt Lake. At about 11:45pm, a state patrolman turned on his flashing lights and pulled Mike over. It got all of our hearts racing a little bit, especially since it was so late at night . . . and also because I had just read a chapter in Talking to Strangers that was all about how policemen pull drivers over for something small if they suspect there might be something more serious worth finding. It turned out that one of our headlights was out (which we didn't know) and also our license plate light (which we also didn't know). He let us go on our way, but then of course we were worried that we were going to get pulled over again for the same thing. 

Making . . . a midnight visit to the emergency room. I'm still not done talking about the wasps, just fyi. Apparently I could have written an entire post about our wasp escapades. A few weeks after the first encounter, Mike got stung again. One of those stings was right below his right ear. It gradually became more swollen during the course of the day. His ear was so taut, it looked like rubber. This happened to be the same day we went to the David Archuleta concert. After we got home (around 1:00 in the morning), Mike couldn't get to sleep. He could feel the swelling traveling down his neck and into his throat. He didn't think he was having an allergic reaction, but since he'd never had one before, he didn't know for sure. He first tried calling and talking to a doctor, but that proved to be completely useless. So he just took himself to the emergency room instead where they confirmed that it was not an allergic reaction but just a result of the swelling having nowhere else to go. They told him to take some Benadryl when he got home and just wait it out. I was asleep for this entire ordeal and woke up to find a string of texts I had missed in the middle of the night, which Mike had sent just so I wouldn't worry if I woke up to find him gone (but even with the texts, I know I still would have panicked so maybe the deep sleep was a blessing). Can you say, "Good riddance, wasps"?!

Removing . . . the offending apple tree. After trying for a couple of weeks to exterminate the wasps (including vacuuming up hundreds of them), Mike finally decided to just take down the entire tree (but he wised up and wore a beekeeper's suit while doing it). There was really no reason to keep it: it was partially dead, it housed murderous wasps, it was ugly, and it was loaded with about a bazillion apples that we had absolutely no use for. I recently saw the wife of one of Mike's cousins put up a post on Facebook that said, "You know what's better than owning fruit trees? Having great neighbors who own fruit trees." I tend to agree with her. Unless you are someone who finds a lot of joy in harvesting and preserving fruit in a variety of ways (which I am not), fruit trees tend to just create a huge mess. So we decided we'd rather plant something we loved instead of hanging onto the bane of our existence. 

Looking . . . for salamanders at Cecret Lake. We went on a fun family hike over the Labor Day weekend. We reached the beautiful little lake just as the sun was cresting the mountain, and the light glinting off the clear water was just breathtaking. We found some salamanders swimming around, and Maxwell was delighted to find a dragonfly nymph (seriously, the joy this brought him was almost comical). Aaron accidentally dropped one of his shoes in the water. It floated away too quickly for him to retrieve it with a stick, so he had to go in after it, and let's just say that a lake of melted snow is not the warmest thing, even at the end of summer. Even with that though, it was still such a pleasant day, and I'm always grateful we live so close to the mountains.

Getting . . . two root canals. I went to the dentist for a normal cleaning. They took x-rays--no cavities. They cleaned my teeth. They were about to send me on my way for another six months when I asked what I could do about some discoloration on my eye teeth. I expected them to recommend some bleach strips, which they did at first. But then the doctor and the hygienist consulted with one another and said, "You know, it's actually pretty strange that it's just those two teeth. Maybe we better do a sensitivity test." When the dentist pressed it to my tooth, I felt absolutely nothing--not a twinge or a prick. I knew then that whitening strips weren't going to do anything to fix this problem. The dentist asked me if I had experienced any trauma to my mouth, even many years ago. When I said no, he asked if I'd had braces as a teenager and if any teeth had been pulled next to those two. I confirmed that I had. They then delivered the bad news that the nerves were dead in both of those teeth and I would need a root canal in each one before it turned into a bigger problem. I was so disappointed and kind of wished I had never asked about the whiteness of my teeth in the first place. But I feel better now that it's just been taken care of. And the good news is that they were able to internally bleach the teeth, which means I was able to avoid getting crowns, at least for now. 

Speaking . . . in church. Mike, Aaron, and I had the opportunity to speak in our new ward on our first Sunday back at church. It had been more than six months since we had been to church, and even though we have loved having church at home as a family, it felt so good to be with our new neighbors. It wasn't the same, of course, with all of us wearing masks and no singing and being spaced apart from each other throughout the chapel, but we didn't mind. 

Losing . . . electricity. Northern Utah was hit by a violent windstorm early in the month. It knocked down beautiful, old trees all around the city and left a wide path of destruction in its wake. I woke up around 3:00am on the Tuesday morning when the storm hit. The wind was howling around the house, rattling the windows so hard I was worried they would shatter. I couldn't get back to sleep for a couple of hours. When I woke up for the day a little before 6:00, I realized that the power was off (and probably had been since I first woke up). The boys all went to school, but Aaron's school didn't have power for the whole day, and so they did all of their work in the dark (they cancelled for the rest of the week because I think they realized how ridiculous and impossible that was!). So many people lost power that we did not have high hopes of it being restored quickly. We ended up borrowing a generator from Mike's sister, and it saved us. We could preserve all of the food in our fridge and freezer, wash one load of laundry per day, charge up our phones, and plug in a few lamps at night. We shared it with our neighbors, and Mike transported it back and forth every morning and afternoon in a wheelbarrow. It wasn't convenient but it was definitely manageable. Our power was finally restored Friday evening, 86 hours after it went out. We ran through the house turning on lights and rejoicing. There were other parts of the city that didn't get power for another 72 hours after us, so we were grateful we got it back when we did.

Auditioning . . . for jazz band. Aaron has been playing the trombone since he was in fourth grade, but his level of commitment has been pretty casual.  But this year, in addition to being in cadet band, he decided he wanted to try out for jazz band. When he expressed this interest, I was supportive, but I didn't take over. I realized this was something I didn't have to become personally invested in; it didn't matter to me whether he did jazz band or not, so I could give him full responsibility for it. There was something so freeing about this. I didn't have to stress if he didn't adequately prepare for the audition or sign up for a time. If he wanted it enough, he would put forth the effort, and if he didn't, he would miss the chance. I listened from a distance as he struggled through the audition piece. He asked for my help a couple of times, which I was more than happy to give, and after a few days, the song was actually recognizable. He signed up for a time and went to the audition by himself. The next week, he came home absolutely beaming because the results had been posted, and he had made it in. So far, he loves it. I don't think I've ever seen him so happy about any activity. He cheerfully gets up forty-five minutes earlier in order to be out the door on time, and he practices every afternoon when he comes home. I realize this enthusiasm might not last forever, but I'm so glad he has found something he loves that I don't have to nag him about. It's a good development for both of us.

Celebrating . . . one year post transplant! I cannot believe it has been one whole year since Maxwell donated his life-giving bone marrow to Aaron. Some of the days were agonizingly long, but now that we're on the other side of it, it seems like the time flew by. It has been a year of miraculous healing, and we celebrated as best we could for it being a busy Wednesday in the middle of the week. It actually felt rather symbolic to have it come on a day that was so packed with all kinds of normal activities. We wouldn't have had a day like that a year ago, and we feel so blessed to have our lives come so full circle in such a short time. I plan to write up some introspective thoughts after Aaron does all of his baseline tests again next month. 

Worshipping . . . in the temple. All of the Utah temples are still closed except for live ordinances. This means you can only go if you know someone who is going through the temple for themselves. We were used to going to the temple on a regular basis before the pandemic, so it has been hard to not be able to go for so long. But then, we caught a lucky break. Our nephew, Steven, began his missionary service in July and was finally able to secure a temple appointment for this month. He was allowed sixteen guests, and Mike and I were among the privileged few who got to go. It felt wonderful to be back in the temple, especially since we got to be there with Steven and a few other family members. 

Meeting . . . virtually with the boys' teachers. SEP conferences were different this year because we couldn't meet with the boys' teachers in-person. But you know what? I kind of liked it. It was super convenient, and Mike could even just join in from work. The one thing I kind of dropped the ball with was Aaron. Now that he's in junior high, he has seven teachers instead of just one. I wasn't sure I wanted to meet with all seven, and by the time I decided it would be a good idea, all but two were already full. I'll do better next time. We sure are grateful for each and every one of these teachers!

Showering . . . the birthday boy with lots of attention, well wishes, presents, many happy returns of the day, treats, pie, and all that jazz. Bradley turned nine years old. His birthday came right in the middle of the week. I thought he might not like that because it was a busy day with school and work, but he actually loved it. He said it was the best birthday he ever had. Bless this child who is so easy to please! I think he liked going to school because all of his friends wished him a happy birthday, and he is all about recognition. He received a subscription to Kiwi Crate, which he was thrilled about because he loves projects. In the evening, we sang to him over key lime pie and then played his new card game--basically all of his favorite things.

Spending . . . a day at the cabin. Because of SEPs, the boys had Friday off of school, so we went up to the cabin for the afternoon and evening with Mike's sister's family. It was just the most gorgeous day: the temperature was perfect, the canyon was bursting with color, and the sky was crystal clear. The kids found two snakes (which were promptly christened "Pretzel" and "Curly Fry"), a praying mantis ("Johnny John John"), and some slime berries (i.e., buckeyes). When it was time to go, no one wanted to leave. It's hard to say goodbye to a perfect day.

Reading . . . a book with my cousin. Ever since the pandemic started, my cousin, Erin, and I have been Marco Poloing on a regular basis. It's been so fun. We've swapped book and show recommendations, and she's given me lots of tips for doing my hair curly (which is currently not going very well, by the way). One day, she mentioned a book she'd checked out from the library, and it was one that I'd been wanting to read as well, so we decided to both read it and then discuss. It was an enjoyable read all on its own, but that enjoyment was elevated because I had someone to talk to about it. 

Relenting . . . to a pool table. Mike has wanted a pool table ever since we moved into this house. I kept finding excuses (too big, too expensive, no space for it, etc.), but when a friend of his offered to give him one for free . . . well, it was just too good to pass up. Everyone has been having a lot of fun with it. Part of the problem for me was that we couldn't have both a pool table and an entertainment center in the basement, but I've been doing some rearranging in my head so that the living room can accommodate the TV instead. So who knows . . . maybe we will just completely embrace the idea of teenage hangout in the basement and give up the family room completely.

Resuming . . . Harry Potter. The arrival of fall means Harry Potter for us. Aaron, Maxwell, and I are on the sixth one this year, which feels a little crazy to me. I'm not ready to think about this series being over. Reading one book each fall has been one of our favorite traditions, and I'm not sure we'll be able to give it up when we finish the last one next year. We are actually flying through this one (well, as fast as one can fly through a 600+ page book . . . ). Mike is reading the third book to the younger boys.

Welcoming . . . Angela home! My sister is back from her eighteen-month church mission, and we are all thrilled about it. I checked the boys out of school for about an hour so that they could say hi when she stopped at our house briefly on her way home from the airport. We've seen her several more times since then, and the boys are just so happy to have their favorite aunt back. 

Finishing . . . a few knitting projects, namely a cardigan, a cowl, and a little stuffed Mary. The cardigan had the most unusual construction; it was basically knit as a geometric shape (composed of a vertical rectangle, a horizontal rectangle, and another vertical rectangle) and then seamed up to create the most beautiful back and sleeves. I'm quite smitten with it actually, and it was so exciting to watch it come together. The cowl was one of the most enjoyable objects I've ever knitted. I started it back in April but forced myself to put it aside a few times so that I could stretch out the process. The yarn was scrumptious and the colorwork was addictive, and it is just the perfect size to wear around my neck. The stuffed Mary is part of a little nativity I'm making for Christmas.

Cutting . . . my hair. Between Aaron's illness and the pandemic, I hadn't prioritized a haircut in a very long time. I finally made an appointment (and ironically, it was the week that covid cases spiked higher than they ever have). I was just going to get a trim, but then I decided I'd rather get my money's worth and chop off a bunch. Plus, I needed a change. I'm not totally in love with it, but hair always grows back, right?

Teaching . . . my friend, Kathy, how to knit. It was Kathy's birthday in September, and I gave her the gift of knitting! She came over on a Saturday morning, and I taught her how to do the basic stitches. Then on the following Saturday, she came back, and I helped her get started on a hat. Kathy is very creative and crafty, and she took to it easily and improved quickly. I think she might be hooked, and nothing makes me happier. I love passing on this skill to other people. 

Flying . . . a kite. My parents gave Bradley a kite for his birthday, and he loves it. Before this, he'd only ever had kites from the dollar store or of his own making. I think it was something of a shock to him to have the kite lift off of the ground and stay airborne, climbing higher and higher in the sky. We've been having some gorgeous weather lately, so hopefully he gets to fly it a bunch this fall.

Kicking . . . off the newest season of The Great British Baking Show. Oh man, it feels so good to have this show back. It's just what 2020 needed.

There's always more to tell, but I guess I'll cut things off there. Hope you all are staying safe and healthy as we continue to soldier on! 

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