Guilty Basil

Jan 22, 2021

May 2006 (I basically don't have any photos by myself during this time period)

This morning I woke up before the rest of my family. Even though I had things I needed to get done, I stayed in bed for a few minutes and let my thoughts wander. They landed on a memory that comes up occasionally and never fails to leave me feeling guilty.

When I was a junior in college, I had to take a technical writing class. In spite of its dry-sounding name, I actually enjoyed it a lot. Among other things, we learned how to put together a resume, wrote a long research paper about something in our field (mine was on the composer, Clara Schumann, and I saved my teacher's comment that said mine was "the best of the bunch"), and composed a personal essay. 

We also had to write an article for children that taught a new skill. To help us grasp the format and reading level, our teacher showed us a few articles from Highlights. At the time, I was attempting to grow some herbs in one of the windows of my tiny apartment.  I thought, Why don't I write an article about growing basil from seeds? I called the article, "Pizza's Secret Ingredient," and I thought it came together nicely. 

After the articles had been graded, our teacher asked us to give him a clean copy. He wanted to mail them to the submissions office of Highlights. I protested. I told my teacher that I had some actual basil growing at home, and I wanted to take step-by-step photos to submit with my article.

He said, "Okay, but promise me you'll mail it yourself." I believe he even gave me the Highlights address  so I would have it.

I said, "I promise." 

You know where this is going, right?

That was fourteen and a half years ago. I never mailed "Pizza's Secret Ingredient." And basil has been haunting me ever since.

I can tell you that I honestly had every intention of submitting it. I have the photos to prove it. They were taken over a series of several weeks during May and June in 2006. But they didn't look very professional, and the further I got into growing my own herbs, the more I felt like a total novice who had no business giving growing tips (and nearly fifteen years and many dead plants later, I can confirm this fact). Also, getting the photos printed was a huge hassle (or at least felt like one). I often thought about just mailing in the article without the photos, but I couldn't do that either because the whole reason I had held onto it instead of mailing with all of my classmates was for the photos. 

I'm sure my teacher never gave this another thought after he let me keep my article. He most certainly doesn't wake up early in the morning and think, I wonder if that student kept her promise and sent in her article to Highlights?

But I think about it. Not incessantly. But every once in awhile. And it gnaws at me. I'm a person who keeps my promises. If I say I will do something, then by golly, I'll do it. 

Now that you've heard my confession, what do you think I should do? Try to dig up my old article and submit it (I have a vague memory of maybe attempting to do this several years ago but finding the submission process to be different than it was in 2006)? Try to remember my teacher's name and track him down so that I can apologize for my dishonesty? Let it go because, in the long run, it's really not that big of a deal? Keep attempting to grow basil and gift it to friends and neighbors as penance? What do you think? 

(And hopefully, this post hasn't made you lose all faith in me and my ability to follow through!


One of the infamous photos, demonstrating how to prune basil (you can see why I couldn't possibly submit this)

Plow in Hope: A Look Back at my 2020 Goals

Jan 9, 2021

One year ago I wrote these words: "Hope requires energy . . . If you're plowing in hope, then you're actually up and doing: you're not waiting for your life to be better; you're making it better."

Those words turned out to be prophetic.

When I shared my focus for 2020, plow in hope, I had no idea how much hope the year was going to require of me.  

I think we can all agree that there were many things about 2020 that felt like a cruel joke, and this focus was one of them for me. It was almost as if someone was saying, "Oh, so you want to work on plowing in hope, do you? Here's a seemingly endless pandemic for you. Let's see how well you plow through that."

It felt like real work to face each day and not succumb to the uncertainty of the future, and there was definitely more than one occasion where I wailed to Mike (or a patient friend), "What is to become of us? Will we ever get to see people again? Hug them? Smile at them? Sit next to them?" 

I wish I could say that my mantra to "plow in hope" fortified me to press forward, but the truth is that I am not naturally prone to optimism, and there were some heavy moments in 2020 that felt distinctly hopeless.

However, while I may not have been a shining example of faith-filled hope, it was a word that was on my mind a lot. I paid attention to every scripture, conversation, song, poem, or story where it was mentioned.

Mike and I went to a play at the end of February, two weeks before the world shut down. One of the characters said something that struck me, and so I wrote it down when I got home: "Is it better to know or to hope?" While "knowledge" might seem like the obvious answer, it doesn't have the ability to change things the way that hope does. 

There were a lot of things about the future I didn't know in 2020 and still don't know in 2021. But "hope is the thing with feathers." It can lift us out of even the darkest of times and give us the strength to remedy the future.

One of the things that brought me light and hope in 2020 were my goals. I thrive on routine and structure always, but especially when things feel out of control, as they did in 2020. So it was nice to have these goals to fall back on--something that gave me a little bit of purpose and direction and also that feeling of accomplishment I'm always craving.

However, it wasn't a knockout year for me. I fully completed only a few of my goals, while some of them were left partially complete or weren't even touched at all. I don't like to blame everything on 2020, but in this case, maybe I will.

Here's a complete rundown, broken into the categories I used (spiritual, physical, intellectual, spiritual):

Spiritual

  • Make a master list of hope. I kept a running list of references to hope throughout the year. These mentions of hope filled me up and taught me more about this topic.  One of my favorite scriptures was, "Who against hope believed in hope" (Romans 4:18). Sometimes we have to hope in hope. 
  • Begin a practice of meditation. I took Brooke Snow's 40-day Christian Meditation course with my  friend, Sarah, last January. Then we actually did the whole thing a second time in the middle of the year. During both times through the course, I was very diligent about meditating every day and implementing the different techniques and types taught by Brooke (I highly recommend this course if you're wanting to start meditating). Then after the forty days were done, I tended to gradually slack off. So I wouldn't say that I picked up the habit of meditation as quickly or naturally as some of my other habits. However, even when I am not officially meditating, I have gained a deep appreciation for taking time to be still and quiet every day, and that is something I am planning to continue with in 2021 (perhaps on an even more purposeful scale--hint hint).
  • Visit the Joseph Smith exhibit on Temple Square with Mike and the boys. This was the second time in a row this goal was on my list and also the second time in a row when life made it impossible to complete. Maybe it will eventually happen, but I'm not planning on it for 2021.
  • Find and take at least three names to the temple. If I had known what 2020 would bring, I could have rushed to finish this goal in January and February. However, I thought I had all the time in the world, so I didn't prioritize it the way that I should have. The temples were closed for most of the year or opened only on a very restricted basis. I took the one opportunity I had in September (when my nephew went to the temple for the first time), and I did the work for a family name then, but that was the only one. In the absence of regular time in the temple though, I found myself drawn to stories and information about my ancestors. Going forward, I want to know more about them for my own interest and not because I feel obligated to. 

Physical 
  • Make a meal plan every week. This goal was a covid casualty. I attacked this goal with a vengeance in January. I planned out meals for the week and made a grocery list every Saturday or Monday morning. I picked up my groceries. I no longer had the 4:30 panic attack of "what's for dinner?" I made dinner at least four times a week, letting Mike handle Wednesdays and the weekend. I felt like I was rockin' at life and being a true adult. And then, the world fell apart, and since cooking is something that brings, rather than relieves, stress for me, I dropped it like a rock. And thankfully, it's the opposite for Mike, so he was happy to once again pick up my slack. But one thing I added in 2020 that wasn't planned but is somewhat related was my weekly baking sessions with Ian. So maybe I can get a few points for that?
  • Try out grocery pickup. I used (and loved) this service for the first ten weeks of the year and then stopped the third week in March and never resumed it after that. However, we started getting our dairy delivered and also participated in a weekly produce co-op, and both of those things have continued into the new year. 
  • Learn how to parallel park. Mike and I had one date night in May where he set up boxes in the church parking lot to create a little parallel parking learning station. I didn't have a chance to put my skills into practice in the real world since I hardly drove anywhere during the entire year, and now I'd probably be too chicken to try if I got the opportunity. So although I made an attempt at this goal, it was maybe a little half-hearted.
  • Learn how to fold a fitted sheet. Done! My friend showed me how, and it was like the lightbulb went on, and I finally understood the puzzle of the fitted sheet. Easiest goal to check off. And now folding fitted sheets brings me all sorts of pleasure.
  • Go on four new hikes. I actually forgot that this was a goal. Now I'm trying to think back. We went on quite a few hikes, but I'm trying to remember how many of them were ones we hadn't done before: We did two new ones by the cabin, one by the salt flats, the suspension bridge hike (still one of my favorites!), and a bunch of new ones in Bryce and Goblin Valley during fall break. So yes, I think I can give this goal a firm check mark. 

  • Continue habit of exercising four times a week. I think it's safe to say that this has become a lifestyle for me. I hardly even think about it anymore. I just do it. When the weather is nice (and the mornings aren't dark), I run outside. Otherwise, I run on the treadmill or do a Maggie Binkley video. It's only for about twenty minutes each time, but I'm very consistent.
Intellectual
  • Write one poem every week. I went through spurts with this goal, writing for several weeks in a row before taking unplanned breaks. It taught me one thing: I am better at reading (and appreciating) poetry than writing it. However, as I looked back over the poems I wrote, I was actually surprised with how they captured certain feelings and details that I think would have been lost otherwise. Here is one I wrote on February 10th:
Hopeful Green

Today I spied a spot of bright green
Poking through a crack in the driveway.

It was vibrant and vivid and oh so very fresh.
There was nothing old about it.

And I had to wonder . . . 

How does it know that spring
Is just around the corner?

Snow is still on the ground.
The temperature is well below freezing.
Icicles adorn the gutters.

But it wasn't there last week.
And now it is.

Is it the changing light?
The lengthening days?
The call of birdsong?

Somehow, without a calendar,
It senses that winter can't last
Much longer.

And even though I do have a calendar
And am watching the days inch by, 
Those tiny green shoots bring me 
More hope
Than any arbitrary date ever could.

  • Write one book review each month. This was a much more realistic goal for me than trying to review every single book I read. Even with it being more manageable though, I still didn't write a review in October or December.
  • Read a book about writing and/or participate in some sort of writing challenge. I must confess to a big, fat no on this one. I never found anything that excited or motivated me, and so I just let it go. My relationship with writing has been rather rocky these past few years, and I'm still trying to figure out how to get back the joy it once brought me.
  • Knit something out of linen. I had an idea for this goal. I wanted to make this shawl out of this yarn. I'm pretty sure I even had it in my online cart one day before I decided it wasn't in the budget right then. I ended up making this sweater from a linen blend, so I felt like I could count it for my goal. However, it wasn't at all what I had in mind when I made the goal, so I kind of feel like I settled for something that wasn't the real thing. 

  • Sew something with serger. I checked off this goal in January and then checked it off again and again in the months that followed. I'm dubbing 2020 "the year I fell back in love with sewing." My serger (and sewing machine) have been putting in many hours of work and, for the most part, they have been treating me well (but I am always wary of machines--they are unpredictable creatures).
  •  
  • Spend more time in books and less time on phone. I think it would have helped if I had been a little more specific with this goal. I read a total of 38 books in 2020, which was more than I read in 2019 (26) but not like 2016 when I read 70. Basically, there is always room to improve when it comes to cutting down time on my phone.
Social
  • Edit family videos. I took an online class about making family videos (this one). I just wanted a quick and easy way to capture important moments or events in a way that my kids would actually be able to revisit and enjoy. I made a practice video in March. Then I helped Aaron learn how to do it over the summer. And finally, I made videos of our fall break trip and Christmas. I like that it's fast and uncomplicated but still turns out something really meaningful. (P.S. I really wish I had been making videos before I lost all of my footage between August and November 2019. I'm still so sad anytime I think about that.)
  • Teach someone to knit and/or start a knitting group. The knitting group obviously didn't happen, thanks to covid, but amazingly, I actually taught three different people how to knit, as well as consulted quite a bit. I've said it before and I'll say it again, I am happy to pass on this skill to anyone who wants to learn. (Also, I'm still really hoping for that knitting group--fingers crossed it can happen later this year!)
  • Weekly communication with siblings. Did I communicate with my siblings in 2020? Yes. Did I talk or text with all seven of them every week? No. If I'm being honest, two of my brothers did a better job with this than I did, and I don't think it was even a goal for either of them.
  • Give hugs to Mike and boys every day. I think physical touch is so important and probably more so in 2020 than ever before because we've all been forced to keep our hugs to ourselves. Luckily, I can hug my boys, and I did (and will continue to do so).
  • Take Aaron on a trip to celebrate his 12th birthday. It will come as no surprise that we didn't get to do this one. But maybe in 2021? 
  • Find a way to store journals safely. I write in my journal every day, which means that I've accumulated quite the collection. I really love being able to look back through them for certain information or just to reminisce, so I felt like I should find a way to keep them safe in case of a fire. But then I realized that they wouldn't really be easily accessible, and I decided I would rather use them than protect them. So they're just on a shelf in my closet, and that's probably where they will stay.
Even though some of my efforts were less than stellar on these goals, I feel like 2020 was still a year of good progress where I tackled some things I'd wanted to do for a long time. I'm not quite ready to share my plans for 2021. I like to take the first month to brainstorm and try out some ideas before I commit to anything. But they're coming, I promise.

In the meantime, please tell me about some of the things you did in 2020, as well as what your dreams are for 2021. If we put in our plow and hope, I have confidence we can do great things.


A Little of This and That in December

Jan 3, 2021

Oh, Christmas. I love it so much, and I am always so sad when it is over. This year was cozy and simple, and I embraced the pure hygge-ness of it all. We were able to spend little bits of time with small groups of extended family, and I'm grateful we could find safe ways to do so. But most of the time, it was just us, and I treasured it. This month found us . . . 

Realizing . . . that I can't be trusted around any sort of gummy candies. Mike and I went to Trader Joe's (our first time since the pandemic started!), and they had out their seasonal gummies, so of course I had to buy some. Unfortunately, almost no one else in my family likes them, so I ended up eating the entire bag over the course of just two days. Good thing I only bought one.

Celebrating . . . our engagement anniversary. Mike and I got engaged sixteen years ago on December 4th. We always mark the passing of another year by going to Panda Express because that is what we ate on that evening so many years ago before Mike popped the question. This year, we stopped by the Utah Art Market first, which features art from local artists, including two of my friends. It was all so beautiful, and I definitely would have bought many pieces if I'd had unlimited funds. Then we got takeout at Panda Express, brought it home, and reminisced about the last sixteen years, which have gone by so fast.

Giving . . . my mom an early Christmas present. In my family, we draw names for Christmas presents, and my parents are included in the exchange. This means that there are some years when I don't give to them and some years when they don't give to me. I drew the names of both of my sisters this year, but then I thought about my mom's aprons that were so well-used they were basically falling apart. So I decided to make her an apron as a surprise. I knew she wouldn't be expecting it since I didn't have her for Christmas, and nothing makes me happier than thinking up the perfect gift. I gave it to her early since it wasn't a "real" Christmas present, and I wanted her to have it for all of her holiday baking. It wasn't quite as good as my brother's surprise gift of grandchild #11, but she was still very happy to get it.

Writing . . . haiku. Maxwell is really into writing poems, especially haiku. He puts together little booklets of them on various themes. As someone who has always struggled with how to fit the essence of what I want to say in such a limited meter, I am so impressed with what he creates. 

Making . . . Christmas ornaments. One of our traditions is to make a new set of ornaments every year. Sometimes they are quite time intensive, but this year's was quick and easy. I bought a set of glass balls. We took the tops off of them, and the boys put in a few bits of crayon. Then we used a hair dryer to heat up the glass and melt the crayons. The melted crayons were then swirled around the inside of the ball to create a marbled effect. They're really very pretty, and we only had two casualties of broken glass while we did it. 


Baking . . . with Ian. Ever since school started, Ian and I have had a little ritual of baking a treat or snack on Wednesdays. This started because Wednesdays are my big piano teaching days (I have seven lessons in the afternoon), and so I thought it would be nice if the boys had something yummy to come home to since I am always so preoccupied and busy. It has become a fun little activity that both Ian and I look forward to. Baking is not one of my big loves, but when it is planned into my schedule, it is much more enjoyable. Plus, I've had fun choosing things that are very seasonal and help get us in the mood for the various holidays. (For example, in October we made these delicious pumpkin snickerdoodle bars. In November, we made cranberry bread from the picture book Cranberry Thanksgiving. And this month, we made my favorite Gingerbread Cookie Bars.) We crank up some tunes while measuring out ingredients, and it is a delightful time. We usually can't wait for the boys to get home before having a sneak taste ourselves. When we made these Christmas Crackers, we both found them so addicting that Ian even said, "I know I should stop eating these. But I just can't."

Devouring . . . chocolates from an advent calendar. And not just his own. On the 19th, Ian hid under a couch and ate up every last chocolate from his own calendar as well as his four brothers (and both Bradley and Aaron had not been eating theirs regularly, so I know they had more than six chocolates left). I'm rather impressed with his clandestine plan executed so perfectly, his thoroughness in methodically cleaning out each calendar, and his ability to consume so much chocolate in one sitting.


 

Going . . . to Aaron's Christmas band concert. Mike and I enjoyed Aaron's second concert just as much as the first. My only regret was that, because of continued Covid restrictions, his brothers and grandparents couldn't come, too. He loved performing and was flying higher than a kite when it was done. 

Playing . . . the trombone with Grandpa Paul. Mike's parents decided to invite families over one at a time to limit the risk of spreading Covid. When it was our turn, they made waffle cones filled with raspberry cream for dessert (a Norwegian tradition), and Aaron inhaled four of them in under five minutes (I'm seeing hints of a teenage appetite). After dinner, Aaron got out his trombone and played Christmas hymns with Mike's dad. They really sounded pretty good together, and it was a lot of fun for both of them. Mike's dad also showed me a beautiful stranded colorwork cardigan that was knitted for him while he was on his mission in Norway in the 1970's. That was a highlight of the night for me. 




Watching . . . so many Christmas movies. Having most of our traditional festivities cancelled, we filled the evenings with Christmas movies. The kids had never seen such classics as Home Alone and The Santa Claus, and we also watched many of our old favorites. One new one that we really liked was Jingle Jangle. It was filled with good music and wasn't as blatantly Christmas as some of the others ones. On the night that we watched Home Alone, we immediately followed it with family scripture study. Completely by coincidence, our reading was from Luke 2:42-46, which tells about when Mary and Joseph accidentally left 12-year-old Jesus in Jerusalem. Having just finished a movie all about a child being left behind, the words took on new meaning: "But they, supposing him to have been in the company, went a day's journey; and they sought him among their kinsfolk and acquaintance." We all busted up; we couldn't help ourselves. The application was just too perfect.

Participating . . . in my family's Christmas piano party. This is a highlight of the season for my kids. Each year my parents host a family party where everyone performs a Christmas song, usually on the piano, although other instruments are definitely allowed. We didn't know if it would happen this year because of Covid, but we decided we could make it safely work by wearing masks, sitting apart from each other, and sanitizing after performing. My dad and Aaron played a duet on the baritone and trombone, and it was the first time they'd ever played together.


Wrapping . . . Christmas presents. Mike and I were so on top of things this year and wrapped all of the presents several days before Christmas. Usually, we are totally a wrap-everything-at-10:00pm-on-Christmas-Eve kind of couple, but not this year. We enjoyed the evening and were in bed by 11:30 (which is pretty typical for us on a normal day). 

Going . . . to the movie theater. On the afternoon of Christmas Eve, we went to see a movie. This has been a tradition of ours for several years, and it is such a nice way to pass the time on Christmas Eve. There have been very few new releases because of the pandemic, but some of the theaters were showing old classics. We decided to see Muppet Christmas Carol. I thought it was great fun to see one of our favorite Christmas movies on the big screen. In my opinion, going to see a movie is one of the safest activities you can do during the pandemic. We sat at the back of the theater and had an entire row to ourselves. You don't have any other contact with other people and you just sit quietly in a darkened theater for a couple of hours (unless you have a three-year-old, in which case there's a little more squirming). I was remembering last year when we went to the movie theater with Aaron and his compromised immune system. We wiped down all of the seats with Clorox wipes and Aaron was wearing an N95 masks. We thought we probably looked like paranoid, germ-freak parents. Oh, how things change in a year. Now Clorox wipes and masks are not only totally normal but required. 


Acting . . . out the nativity. We spent Christmas Eve with Mike's sister and her family. After dinner, which included prime roast, au gratin sweet potatoes, rolls, salad, and corn, the kids divided up the parts and acted out the nativity with Sonja and Rob playing Mary and Joseph. They were inventive with cobbling together costumes for the various parts, and I loved it.


Waiting . . . to wake up until 7:00am on Christmas morning. I could hear the boys out in the hallway at 6:58--"Okay, guys, only two more minutes."

Meeting . . . Bodie. Clark desperately wanted a pet for Christmas. His top choice was a rabbit (a friend in his class has one, and she brought it to school one day). When I told him even if Santa brought him one, he wouldn't get to keep it, he then moved onto a kitten (I think he somehow thought he had a better chance with this since we already have a cat). I promptly shut down that idea as well since even one cat is one too many for me. In frustration he said, "What pet can I have then?!" I said, "Clark, basically the only pet you could ask for is a fish." He latched onto that idea immediately: "Really? You would let me keep a fish? If Santa gave me a fish, you wouldn't make me give it away?" I pretty much had to sign a verbal contract, giving him my word of honor that a fish would be welcome in this house. He thought about it all month long, and on Christmas morning, he was thrilled to meet his little blue beta fish. He promptly named it "Bodie." (Apparently, he had two names picked out: "Goldie," if it was a goldfish and "Bodie" if it was a beta fish.) I have no doubt that the appeal will wear off after a little while as a fish only has so much to give, but for right now, Clark is quite content.

Working . . . on a Paint-by-Sticker book. Early in the month, I pulled out a Christmas-themed Paint-by-Sticker book and divided up the pages among the boys. Ian had never done one before, and he surprised me by being able to do it by himself. I thought it was going to be too complicated with the geometric shapes and the high numbers. But he loved it. He ended up adding a sticker book to his letter to Santa, and he was thrilled to receive one on Christmas morning. He paid only minimal attention to his other presents because he was so consumed with his sticker book. He was determined to do the whole thing all on Christmas, and he worked diligently on it throughout the day. He almost reached his goal. He did nine pictures and had just one left that he did the following day. I feel like I need to keep a stock of these as each picture takes him about 25-30 minutes to complete, which can be like gold depending on what I'm trying to get done.

Knitting . . . a Christmas ornament. I continued my tradition of knitting a new Christmas ornament on Christmas Day. This year, I decided to make a star. It was a slow start for me as I had some difficulty understanding the instructions, but I eventually figured it out and enjoyed the process. I watched White Christmas in the afternoon while working on it. Ian was doing his sticker book (see above) at the same time and happened to glance at the movie just as Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye were doing their "Sisters" number. He was quite impressed with their "dressing up." I finished the star that evening and hung it on the tree. My collection of hand-knitted ornaments is growing, and I love them.

Playing . . . a not very Covid-friendly game. Don't worry, it only involved our family. Our family got a ping-pong table for Christmas, and Mike introduced the boys to the game where you have to keep the ping pong ball on the table by blowing on it. I'm not sure if it has a real name or not, but my kids call it "Hurricane." We all played it on Christmas, and it made us fall on the floor from laughing so much (or maybe we were just completely winded from so much blowing). My parents gave us a couple of new games that were in frequent circulation during the break as well: Tiki Topple and Gonuts for Donuts.

Drinking . . . lots of wassail. 'Tis the season. It's my favorite warm drink, and my kids were so nice to give me a smart mug for Christmas. I had no idea these things existed, but basically, I can set my phone to whatever temperature I want (I prefer 140 degrees F), and then the mug will keep my drink at that temperature. It's pretty awesome (I happen to be sipping on some right now as I write this post). 

Bingeing . . . The Office. Mike and I are usually about ten years late to any party. Such was the case with The Office. While the rest of you have loved it since 2005, we didn't start watching it until May of this year. Once we started, we couldn't stop, and it was a rare evening when we didn't watch at least one episode. It felt so good to end each day by laughing, and I was surprised with how deeply invested I became in the characters--so much so that sometimes I would bring one of them up to Mike in just a normal conversation, and he would say something like, "It's kind of funny that you're so worried [irritated] [excited] about that." When we found out The Office would be leaving Netflix at the end of the month, we tried our best to watch as many episodes as possible. We only made it to the end of Season 7, but that's when Michael leaves, so it felt like a fitting place to stop. I'm already missing it so much though. Nothing else feels the same. (P.S. There were times when the dialogue was a little crass and/or uncomfortable for me (which I know is kind of the point), so we actually watched it through VidAngel, and this helped to temper it a bit.)

Seeing . . . a lot of Mike. Mike was lucky to be able to take off most of the two-week break along with the boys, and we were all so glad to have him home. He baked sour dough bread and perfected his attempts at kouign-amann pastries. He played many rounds of snooker, pool, and ping pong. He also helped the boys work on their STEM projects that were due when they returned to school. I think he enjoyed the time off as much as the kids did. 

Spending . . . lots of time in the kitchen. Max is his father's son and couldn't seem to stay out of the kitchen during the break. He just wanted to be baking or cooking something all of the time. He loved making breakfast in the mornings, and his brothers were the happy recipients. There was one morning when he wanted to make French toast, but Mike was at work and I was still reading a manuscript. I told him he could do it but I wouldn't be available to help him. I was quite surprised when I came downstairs thirty minutes later and found that not only had he made French toast, but the kids had set the table and were all eating together. When I returned to the kitchen a little later, he had cleaned up his entire mess, including wiping down the table and counters. He's the real deal, that Maxwell. One day we told him he couldn't make anything. We didn't really have a good reason, except that he'd been doing so much of it. We found this letter on our bed later in the day: 

Dear Mom + Dad,

This is my petition for why I should be allowed to bake/make breakfast on non-school days:

  • These days have extra jobs/chore lists so you can easily have us "sweep and wipe table," "mop," or "clear kitchen." Besides I am usually willing to clean up by myself.
  • Letting me make breakfast saves you trouble because you can stay in your bed while I "slave away at the stove" (Aaron reference), made all the easier because I can print off a recipe from the office.
Sincerely,

Max

P.S. Present other points and problems to me and I will resolve your worries. 


Sending . . . off 2020. This year was unlike anything I could have dreamed of. If you told me last January that we'd spend most of the year quarantined from the rest of the world and that a face mask would be the most popular accessory, I would have laughed in disbelief. I sometimes look back fondly at my naive pre-Covid self in early March when I optimistically told my friend that "Of course you'll still be able to go to Paris in April!" I never guessed at the worldwide impact of this virus. It makes me a little scared of the future, but I also learned that life keeps going, and there is still so much joy to be found. We spent the last day of the year watching the 2019 Little Women with my sister (that movie is pure perfection), eating Muddy Buddies, playing games, massaging a headache (me), creating a calendar for 2021, and making as much noise as possible at midnight. Even Ian and Clark made it to midnight--the first time for both of them. 

And with that, let's do this, 2021! We're ready for you! I'd love to hear about all of the ways that you celebrated during this unusual holiday season. I'm grateful for each one of you that still sits down and reads my occasional posts on this blog. Take care, and happy new year!

What I Thought About All of the Books I Read for Book Club This Year

Dec 19, 2020

You all know how much I love my book club. I joined it back when Aaron was just a toddle, and I have only missed a handful of meetings since then (even a scheduled induction the very next day couldn't keep me away). 

Four years ago, our book club was struggling to stay afloat. Although many people were on the list and received the emails about the meetings, only four of us read and discussed the book with any regularity. In a bold move, we decided the book club could use a revamp. 

We curated a group of women who were avid and dedicated readers, came up with a yearly outline of genres, and even drew up a list of rules like the true nerds we were.

And thus, the "scary" book club was born.

It has been so good for my soul. I love these smart, classy women so much. I love that no matter what we choose, people will actually read it and come to the meeting with sticky notes, tabs, background insights, and underlined sections ready to dive deep and discuss. It is everything I could have asked for in a book club.

Like most things this year, our little book club suffered because of the pandemic. We did our first zoom meeting in March during the week that everything shut down. (I can still remember when my friend sent out the group text that said, "Should we zoom this week instead?" And I said, "What's zoom?" Oh, my poor little naive self.)

At the time, we thought a virtual meeting would be a one, possibly two, time exception. But month after month, the texts continued to say the same thing, "See you on zoom on Thursday!"

I'm not going to say that virtual meetings were an acceptable replacement to the real thing. Please. Half the fun is getting together and snacking on delicious treats. Without this element, it felt much more like work or an assignment than in the past. Besides that, the stress of daily life caused many members to lose their reading mojo, especially if the book involved a difficult subject. 

But we did it. As we had our final meeting of the year last week, I looked over the thirteen squares on my computer screen, and I felt this sense of extreme pride. My book club can survive a pandemic! 

I thought it might be fun to look back over everything we read this year and reminisce just a little. I'd love to know if you've read any of these, either with a book club or solo. 

January: Lovely War by Julie Berry (Fiction) 5/5

Out of everything I read this year, this one is my top pick for 2020. So either everything went downhill from there, or it just kicked off a really great year of reading. I choose to think the latter. The best part was that I really had no idea I would like it so much. I knew very little about it going into it, except that Greek gods were somehow involved. Having never really enjoyed Greek mythology that much, I can't say that was a very big selling point for me. But somehow, that ended up being one of my favorite parts and elevated the story from just another World War I/II story to something really special. I wrote a whole review of it here, but basically it gets all of the praise, gold stars, and highest recommendations from me. 


February: Cold Sassy Tree by Olive Ann Burns (Relationship) 4/5

In February, we like to choose a book that focuses on relationships. It's kind of our nod to Valentine's Day without being overly sappy. We've read quite the variety of books, from nonfiction to fiction, over the years, and I always like examining them through the lens of relationships, which puts a slightly different spin on things from a typical discussion. Cold Sassy Tree was rich in relationships--romantic, familial, and friendship. I had never read it before and knew pretty much nothing about the plot. I loved the voice of the 14-year-old narrator, which was accurate and uncomfortable at the same time. The story unfolded in the most surprising way, and there was so much to discuss when we all gathered together (our last "real" gathering of the year). Full review is linked here.


March: Nothing to See Here by Kevin Wilson (Memoir) 3/5

Okay, let's get one thing straight from the beginning. This book is not a memoir (unless children who spontaneously go up in flames is part of someone's reality). But we read it for what was supposed to be a memoir month. The book that was originally slated for March was H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald (which is indeed a memoir). However, in the weeks leading up to it, no one could dredge up any enthusiasm for it (even though we had all voted for it). We decided to make a last minute change--because sometimes that just feels right, and it's our book club so we get to make the rules. I felt like we should go with one of the other memoir choices for the month (because even if we make our own rules, I am still a rule follower at heart, and this was our memoir month). However, the majority of the members wanted to read Nothing to See Here by Kevin Wilson, which was a runner-up for July, our wild card month. And now, looking back, I find it eerily appropriate that we decided to read about a combustible set of twins during this month that set off our dumpster fire of a year.

 

April: The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett (Classic) 5/5

This was the only book on this year's list that I had read before, but it was an absolute pleasure to return to it. I read it aloud to my kids, and we enjoyed every page. They loved Dickon (who doesn't?), and I loved Mrs. Sowerby (a worthy mentor if ever there was one). After we finished, we watched the 1993 movie, which was equally delightful. I was so grateful for the chance to reread this beloved classic and share it with my kids. Also, in my humble opinion, April is, and always will be, the best month in which to read this book. 



May: Raymie Nightingale by Kate DiCamillo (Middle Grade/Juvenile) 4/5

This happened to be the month that I was in charge of. The three books I originally recommended were The Bridge Home by Padma Venkatraman, Front Desk by Kelly Yang, and Raymie Nightingale by Kate DiCamillo. I think any of those would have made for a great discussion, but you just can't go wrong with Kate DiCamillo. Her tight prose and deep themes just never disappoint. I quite enjoyed jotting down potential questions while I was reading this book and considering different angles. But ask me how much I like leading a discussion over zoom. (Answer: not so much.) I have since read the second book in this trilogy, Louisiana's Way Home and enjoyed it just as much or even more. The third one, Beverly Right Here, has been checked out from the library twice, and I hope to make it a priority soon. 


June: Red Notice: A True Story of High Finance, Murder, and One Man's Fight for Justice by Bill Browder (Nonfiction) 3/5

As much as everyone at book club thought this story was fascinating, one of the things we couldn't seem to get past was the author's rather egotistical voice as well as some of his sexist comments. We spent a good ten minutes bashing him before moving onto the actual events that made this story so compelling. The funny thing is when I mentioned this indignation to Mike (who I had convinced to read the book), he was surprised by our reaction. He hadn't picked up on it at all, probably because he's a man. Regardless, this was a book that connected a lot of dots in the world news for me, and I've recommended it to my father-in-law, brother-in-law, and brother, so obviously I was able to overcome my personal grievances.


July: Maybe You Should Talk to Someone: A Therapist, Her Therapist, and Our Lives Revealed by Lori Gottlieb (Wild Card) 4/5

"Wild Card" is not an actual genre but we always dedicate one month out of the year to catch any books that don't fit into another category or that are just about something a bit unusual. Although this book definitely could have fit into our "memoir" or "nonfiction" months, its format was out of the ordinary. It was a mix of the author's own experiences in therapy, insights and techniques from being a therapist, and the contrasting experiences of her clients. I really loved the narrative style and the way the stories intertwined with one another. And it was really helpful to get the perspective of both client and therapist from one voice. Book club consisted of people swapping their own therapist stories alongside comments about the actual book. I felt like I didn't have much to contribute since I've never been to a therapist. But this book convinced me that I probably should. 


August: When Crickets Cry by Charles Martin (Fiction) 2.5/5

This was a bit of an uncomfortable read for me. I found it over the top in so many ways: too saccharine, too predictable, too sentimental, too preachy, too lofty, too dramatic. But the whole time I was reading it, I was thinking about the person who was leading the discussion in August; she had put in a major plug for this book when she said it was one of her favorites. Books are so personal, and I didn't know how I was going to be able to share my honest opinion without sounding offensive. But in the end, I didn't need to worry. This woman reread it in preparation for leading the discussion, and it didn't hold up for her on a second reading. She came to many of the same feelings as the rest of us, so we were able to just all briefly agree on that and then get down to discussing the intricacies of the plot. Sometimes the best discussions end up being for the books I didn't love.


September: Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know About the People We Don't Know by Malcolm Gladwell (Nonfiction) 3.5/5

I always love Malcolm Gladwell, and this book was absolutely fascinating, as I expected. Unfortunately, it depressed me quite a bit. The basic premise was that we, as humans, are not the best judges of character. We give credibility to certain cues, attributes, and characteristics that often actually lead us astray. Most of the stories Gladwell chose to illustrate these scenarios were intense and graphic and really disturbing. I already have a skeptical personality, but this book made me distrust even my closest friends and family members. This was not Gladwell's intent, but that was the effect it had on me. Still, it made for a really good book club discussion, and I've mostly recovered from reading it, haha. 


October: Beloved by Toni Morrison (Mystery/Suspense) 4/5

I know this is on many high school reading lists, but I somehow missed it until now. I'm not going to lie--it was a slow start for me. And even once it got going and I really started loving it, there were still moments when a description was a bit cryptic or the setting changed abruptly or the writing style moved into free verse, and I felt a little like I was floundering again before I regained my footing. The story was intense and heartbreaking and vacillated between the real and imagined. During our discussion, there were many questions of, "Do you think this really happened?" and "Was this person real?" It was a bit mystical, which made the harder subject slightly easier to cope with, and I almost had a sense of floating through this story, which was quite lovely. 


November: Star of the North by D.B. John (Historical Fiction) 4/5

I almost didn't read this book because I honestly didn't know if I could handle a book about North Korea right now. Plus, I had been really diligent about reading everything else this year, so I thought I could take a pass if I wanted to. But man, my upholder personality runs strong, and since I didn't have a good reason not to, I felt like I should at least give it a chance. I'm so glad I did. Although reading about North Korea did not exactly make me feel warm and fuzzy inside, the premise of a young woman being kidnapped off the coast of South Korea and her twin sister then sacrificing everything to find her was so captivating. Even though much of the book is based on real information about North Korea (I was shocked to find out that the seed bearing program referenced in the book was a real thing), the tone of the book felt more like a thriller than something that could actually happen. Because of that, it was more escapist than I was anticipating, and that ended up being a good thing.  


December: Annual planning and book exchange

Our meeting in December is used to plan out the schedule of books for the following year. Everyone claims a genre and then comes to the meeting with three choices. A summary of each book is given, and then we all vote on which one we'd like to read for that month. It is like Christmas for book lovers because not only do we get the eleven books for the year but also the twenty-two runners-up. After each spot has been filled, we have a little book exchange where we each give and receive a new book. This year, I brought As Bright as Heaven (but if I hadn't read it for this book club, I probably would have brought Lovely War). It makes me happy looking over our list of picks for 2021. No matter what the year brings, I have a feeling it's going to be a good year of reading. 

A Little of This and That in November

Dec 6, 2020

My photo taking always seems to take a nosedive in November, and this year was no exception. With very few activities, and most of them indoors, I just didn't think to pull out the camera and record the mundane. Even though we're entering my least favorite season, the pull to cozy up for the winter feels good. My space heater and I have reconnected, my knitted slippers are my favorite thing to wear, and a mug of steaming wassail is the perfect ending to a day. This month found us . . . 

Falling . . . during a run. I was running early one morning when my toe caught the lip of the sidewalk, and I fell hard and fast . . . although it didn't feel fast at the time. You know how people always say they felt like they were falling in slow motion? That's exactly what it felt like for me. Time was suspended as I watched the ground get closer and closer even as I tried to force myself to stay upright. My knees bore the brunt of the fall, and they were torn up bad enough that walking, sitting, bending, straightening, or touching was quite painful for nearly two weeks. That was my first injury related to running, and I must admit, it kind of made me feel like a real runner. 

Going . . . to the zoo. Ian and I took advantage of gorgeous weather and half-price tickets and went to the zoo. We were going to go with some friends, but it ended up not working out, and I think I liked it better that way. I could devote all of my attention to Ian and go at his pace, and it was just a delightful, happy way to spend the morning. We got to the elephants while they were still eating their breakfast (my favorite), the otters were perky and swimming around, and there were monkey, gorilla, and leopard babies. Ian asked to go back the next day, but unfortunately by that point, the weather had turned and a zoo trip didn't sound nearly as appealing.  



Working . . . from home . . . again. With covid cases escalating quickly in November, Mike's company asked for all "non-essential" employees to work from home as much as possible. So Mike has been doing one or two days from home each week, and I don't mind one bit.

Learning . . . to color. Ian had a breakthrough this month and finally recognized the magic of coloring a picture to completion. Up to this point, his attention span was approximately fifteen seconds (not exaggerating) or the equivalent of four small scribbles on a page. But then one day, he found an extra chameleon coloring page of Clark's, and without anyone even realizing what he was doing, he took it up to the art table and meticulously labored over it for close to an hour. And when he was done, we were all amazed to see that he had traversed the whole page with several different colors and stayed in the lines. We sent it off to our favorite missionary, Steven, and coloring has continued to be Ian's new favorite hobby.  

Anticipating . . . each new episode of the Mandalorian. The new season of the Mandalorian helped fill the long, dark evenings this month. Mike always previews the latest episode on Friday, and then all of the boys watch together on Saturday. I've tried to do Star Wars, but I just find it so boring, so I tend to skip. One time Ian told me to "go relax in your room" so that they could start watching.

Sewing . . . a dress. Remember that big pile of fabric from last month? I used one of the cuts of fabric to make myself a dress. In the past, sewing has been a volatile hobby for me, bringing great satisfaction and great frustration. But this time, it was pretty much 100% enjoyable, and I loved every step of the process. I think a number of things contributed to this outlier. First, neither my sewing machine or my serger had any mechanical or tension problems during the project. This is usually the number one cause of my frustration because it is the thing I have the least control over. Second, this is the first big project I've done in my new little sewing room, and it was a game changer. It was so nice to be able to leave my project as it was and come back to it the next day. It meant that I could literally just work for twenty minutes, complete one step, and then stop. I think I sew better in short increments than long stretches. And third, it was just a really enjoyable pattern with very clear and easy-to-follow instructions. The result? A dress that I love. It fits me perfectly and is so comfortable. Also, it is very versatile and can be worn with so many of my hand knits! I love it.


Doing . . . all of his one year tests. Because of covid, Aaron's one year post-transplant tests were a bit delayed, but he finally got scheduled for his pulmonary function test, echocardiogram, and a million labs. Everything looks so good, and it's hard to believe that he's on the other side of all of this.

Taking . . . away the binky. Out of my five kids, Ian is the only one who has liked a binky. And he doesn't just like it. One afternoon I asked him why his binky was in his mouth and he said, "Oh, just because I love it." I kept hoping he would just kind of lose interest in it, but at three-and-a-half and still going strong, it didn't look like the end was in sight. Eventually all but one of the binkies had been lost or broken, and I didn't want to go completely cold turkey when that last one finally bit the dust. So I finally had the motivation to only let Ian have it when he was taking a nap or going to bed (I had been attempting to do this for several months but always caved). So the next morning, I took it from him as soon as he woke up and put it in a place that was out of reach. And man, that day was rough. It was obvious that he was addicted and experiencing some type of withdrawal. He raged and tantrumed all morning, but I held firm, and that was the worst of it. 

Auctioning . . . off a couple of knitted items. Last month, my cousin and her husband lost their two-week-old baby boy, who had been born very prematurely. Her sister organized an auction to help alleviate some of the financial stress and support them in their grief. I knitted two things (a toy cat and a set of Christmas tree ornaments) and donated them for the auction. It was kind of exciting to watch people bid on them and then mail them off to the winners. 

Watching . . . The Chosen. If you know me in real life, I've probably been very bossy and told you that you must watch this drama about Jesus. The first season (8 episodes) is currently out, and the second season is in production. This isn't just a show that you should watch because it's about Jesus. It's a show that will pull you in like any other drama and make you want to binge all eight episodes in one weekend. The acting, screenplay, and filming are all phenomenal. It has made Jesus real to me in a way I've never quite felt before. 

Building . . . a snowman. We had a pretty snowy week early in the month with snow falling on and off for several days. There wasn't much accumulation, but it was enough to build a snowman.

Wishing . . . I could be at my brother's wedding. Yep, my little brother, Steve, got married, and I wasn't at his wedding. In fact, no one from my family was able to go, and it just felt strange and so wrong. He was supposed to get married in Philadelphia on December 12th. I had held off buying a plane ticket because of all of the uncertainty with Covid. And it's a good thing I did because, with rumors of Philadelphia going under lockdown, Steve and his fiancé suddenly moved up the date to November 24th. Again, I was making plans to go when they found out that the Philadelphia temple would be closing on November 20th. At this point, Steve was still in Utah, but they decided to see if he could make it out in time for them to get married on November 19th. Luckily, he made it, but sadly, no one else did. All day, I did all of my little daily, menial tasks and kept remembering with a start that my brother was getting married. It still feels a little unreal to me.

Sewing . . . a sweatshirt, cardigan, and table runner. Maybe the dress wasn't such an anomaly after all. After having so much success with it, I couldn't seem to stay out of the sewing room, and I completed three more things before the end of the month. I'm especially proud of the cardigan. I spent a lot of time practicing certain steps and adjusting the fit so it would be just right, and I'm so pleased with the finished product. 


Mailing . . . Christmas cards. I was determined to get my Christmas cards in the mail before Thanksgiving. Since we moved this year, I wanted to make sure people knew our new address before they sent out their Christmas cards. I would be so sad if I missed out on anyone's Christmas cards because it's one of my favorite parts of the holidays. In past years, creating our Christmas card has been a time-consuming ordeal, and Mike tends to dread it. But this year was super slick and quick. We chose the photo, formatted it, and wrote a little update in under an hour. We were kind of impressed with ourselves. The cards arrived in plenty of time for me to meet my goal, but we ran into a slight problem when we realized that we had only been sent 84 cards per pack instead of 100. That seemed so random and strange to me, but Mike called Costco, and they had another pack of 50 at our house by the very next day.

Having . . . a low-key Thanksgiving. A large family gathering was not really practical or safe this year with Covid still running rampant, so we only celebrated with Mike's sister and her family. They seemed like a good choice since we live in the same general area, associate with the same circles, and our kids go to the same schools. Also, we ate at separate tables and wore masks at all other times, so we tried our best to be responsible. We were so glad to be with family. Clark was bouncing around on the driveway for a solid half hour before they arrived because he was just so excited. We decided to eat in courses so that we weren't at all rushed and could fully enjoy all of the food. I loved doing it this way. Sonja and I took a little walk between a couple of the courses, and the kids used all breaks to play games. It just felt like we got to savor the day a little bit more than usual. Also, incidentally, this was our first big dinner in our new house, and Mike commented that all of the challenge of cooking and baking was gone: he had a double oven, two fridges, plenty of workspace, a dishwasher, and room to seat everyone. It felt like such a blessing. We ended the day with pie and a video call from our nephew, Steven, on his mission. It was just perfect in every way. Between last year with just our own family and this year with just one other family, I don't know if I'll ever be able to go back to the big gatherings. I like these smaller ones so much. 




Building . . . a desk. Our latest home project has been the office/music room. We knew we wanted a desk that could be used by the boys for their homework. After looking at many, many options online, we couldn't find what we wanted. We realized it was because we actually wanted a built-in desk--something that would be a focal point of the room and fit the space perfectly. So Mike did what he always does and decided to build it instead. We based the design off of a few inspiration photos I found online and then customized those to fit our needs. Mike found an old bathroom vanity on the classifieds that was the perfect height. He used this as a structural base and then built everything else himself: desktop, drawers, shelves, cupboards, etc. It came together beautifully, and now that it's almost done, I'm just so pleased. We went with a dark navy blue for the color because I wanted the space to feel cozy and studious, and I think it works really well. The room isn't finished yet, but here's a peek at the progress so far. 



Participating . . . in a gratitude challenge. A week before Thanksgiving, President Nelson gave a brief worldwide message. It was simple and beautiful and full of truth. At the end of it, he offered a prayer that was unlike anything I've ever heard. It lifted me up and helped me feel God's love. He also extended an invitation to express gratitude often through prayer and share daily messages of gratitude through social media. I must admit that I was not initially enthusiastic about the second half of this challenge. I really don't like feeling social pressure to do something, and being swept along in a movement often feels fake or disingenuous to me. But I decided since the prophet asked me to do it, I would. And something kind of miraculous happened. As I sincerely thought about my own blessings, they seemed to become more and more abundant. They flooded into my mind, and I had a hard time narrowing it down to one thing each day. (I found myself still trying to push back against the trend though and warned Mike that I would not be doing the Day 2 "I'm grateful for my husband" post, haha.) For months, social media has seemed like a rather toxic place to hang out, and I have tried to be very selective with who I follow. But for the week leading up to Thanksgiving, Instagram and Facebook because a source of joy and inspiration. It was an uplifting place to be. I saw posts from people who hadn't shown their faces in years, and I loved it. I was grateful I had put aside my personal prejudices and feelings and opened my heart to the goodness all around me.

Putting . . . up Christmas lights. Mike threw out his back the day after Thanksgiving while moving the air compressor he was using for the desk build. He had been planning on putting up the Christmas lights over the weekend, but he was no longer able to move. Luckily, Aaron stepped up to the task. He knows I like the lights nice and straight, and he did a careful, meticulous job. Getting to spend an hour on the roof was also not a downside for him. (And thankfully, Mike's back seems to be making a full recovery.)

Spending . . . a little bit of time with cousins. We went to the cemetery with Mike's family to decorate his sister's grave. It was cold, but there was hot chocolate and hot dogs to warm us up. Clark was overjoyed to see his cousins since he hadn't been around them in months. Ian, on the other hand, was overcome with shyness and spent most of the time hiding behind Mike's legs.


And that wraps up another month. I can't believe 2020 is almost over. It's nothing like I expected it to be, but some parts of it are better than I imagined, and I'm grateful for that!

Proudly designed by Mlekoshi playground