A Little of This and That in July

Aug 9, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As Bright as Heaven by Susan Meissner

Jul 31, 2020

When the coronavirus swept across the country at the beginning of March, I became fascinated with the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918. I learned that schools and campuses shut down just like they did here (although the closures didn't last as long--generally one to three months). I learned that the disease was violently fast: you could be fine when you woke up one morning and be dead by the next. I learned that the young were hit much harder than the older population; apparently, there had been a less severe strain that had passed through several decades before, which made many older people immune to the more virulent strain. I learned that the flu hit in three waves and wasn't officially over until 1920. I learned that the Spanish flu was one of the deadliest diseases in world history and killed an estimated fifty million people.

But most importantly, I learned that life eventually returned to normal. I clung to this fact during the first couple of months of the pandemic. It was very reassuring to know that even though it might take years, the virus would eventually run its course and let us move on with our lives.

When I found out As Bright as Heaven takes place in 1918, I immediately ordered a copy of it (our library wasn't open at the time, but even if it had been, my impatience to read it might have forced me to buy it).

One of the book club questions at the back of the book said, "What do you think it would be like to live in a city experiencing a pandemic, as Philadelphia did with the flu?" Little did the author know that in just a couple of years, she would be having first-hand experiences that would have helped her write a more emotionally accurate novel. And indeed, for me as a reader, I felt a deep commiseration with the Bright family as so many of their thoughts and feelings paralleled my own. There was a kinship there that made me instantly connect with the novel.

The story opens at the beginning of 1918. The Bright family is mourning the death of their beloved baby son/brother whose heart wasn't strong enough to carry him through life. An offer comes from Uncle Fred: he runs a mortuary in Philadelphia and wants to know if Thomas wants to learn the trade and eventually inherit the business.

The new start is just what the family needs to ease their grief; Thomas and Pauline pack up their belongings and embark on a different life with their three daughters: Evelyn, Maggie, and Willa. Life in the city is an adjustment, as is being in a home that houses and cares for the deceased, but overall it seems like a good change.

Pauline is immediately drawn to the embalming room. She has felt a closeness with Death ever since she lost her son, and she is soon in charge of all of the cosmetic tasks as the bodies are prepared for burial.

Evelyn, at fifteen, is studious and mature. She works hard at school and spends much of her time in Uncle Fred's extensive library.

Thirteen-year-old Maggie is drawn to the neighbor boys across the street: Jamie, who is about to head off to war (and who Maggie has a not-so-secret crush on, even though he is seven years older than her), and his younger brother, Charlie, who is mentally slow but so kind and sweet.

And then there's Willa. She is only six years old and is forbidden inside the embalming room. She is at once both innocent and selfish.

The story is told from the perspectives of these four characters. The point of view was somewhat random as the author often chose to tell about an event from a secondary, rather than the primary, person. This often provided a more objective, well-rounded view of things, which I liked.

The Spanish flu hit Philadelphia in October 1918, just after Thomas Bright left to serve in the war. The disease ripped through the city and quickly overwhelmed Uncle Fred as bodies filled up the embalming room and mortuary and were illegally dropped off on his doorstep in the middle of the night. The flu was unpredictable, taking some family members and leaving others. Maggie said,
"It's as if Philadelphia has been cut in two like an apple, and one side looks just the way the inside of an apple should and the other side is dark and wormy and makes you gasp when you see it. That side isn't an apple at all anymore but something sinister and wrong. And the worst thing is, no one's sure which side of the apple they're going to get." 
The Bright family is not spared, but just before the illness sneaks its way into their house, Maggie and Pauline are out delivering soup to the many souls who are suffering. Pauline leaves Maggie outside while she goes inside one of the infected homes, and Maggie's attention is drawn to the sound of a baby in deep distress. She ventures inside a nearby row house, and finds a baby soiled and starving and screaming. She peaks into a bedroom and sees the baby's mother, who is obviously dead. A little girl, the boy's sister, is also in the home, and her glassy eyes tell Maggie that she is also near death. Maggie picks up the baby, locks eyes with the girl, and whispers, "He's safe with me" before rushing out of the house.

The baby helps pull the Bright family through more tragedy. He is a distraction for them as they put all of their energy into caring for him. Evelyn said,
"The world doesn't stop. It just keeps spinning, with all its troubles, yanking us into its wild revolutions. There is no stepping into mourning, all secluded with nothing but much-warranted sorrow for company. Instead it's as if the train we're all on switched tracks at full speed and now we are racing forward in a completely new direction with no time to think about the destination we'd been headed toward before and now will never see." 
This description resonated with me. Even though we haven't experienced the same kind of loss as Evelyn and her family, there has been the rush of primal life--basic needs that must still be met, even as we struggle to catch our breath with the many changes that are constantly being thrown in our path. This story resonated with me in a way that it wouldn't have six months ago. I know what it feels like to have life come screeching to a halt all while it incessantly keeps pushing forward.

The story eventually jumps ahead seven years to 1925, but I can't share any more of it without giving away big things: moments that were beautiful and heartbreaking and brought me to tears.

As an interesting side note, my dad comes from a family of morticians. His great-grandpa and grandpa owned a furniture store that doubled as a funeral home. My dad's mom went to college and received a degree in English, but she had also always had a dream of following in the path of her father and getting her embalming license. So in 1944, at the age of 29, she enrolled in the College of Mortuary Science and did just that. Even though she only used her license for a few years, she was very proud of it. I can still remember visiting her in the nursing home during the last years of her life and seeing it prominently displayed above her bed.

Because of my grandma's deep interest in serving as a stepping stone between the living and the dead, this book held a different kind of appeal for me. In reading about the Bright family's experience caring for the dead, I felt a little closer to my own heritage.

I read the last fourth of the book on a beautiful summer's day when my family and I had gone to the cabin for the day. With my kids all occupied in various activities, I sneaked away to the hammock hanging between the trees. I read (and then reread) what ended up being my favorite scenes in the book, and I think I'll always associate this book with happy memories, which is one of the best ways to enjoy a story.

I have since given my mom a copy of this book for her birthday and convinced my sister to read it as well. It could not have been a more perfect book to read at this crazy time, and it gets all the praise from me.

A Look at Our Goals for Summer 2020

Jul 26, 2020

Last year, I wrote a post about the four things that make it feel like summer for our family. I find it so interesting that even though our world has been turned upside down in the months since then, and it feels like there are so many things we can't do, our basic summer routine has stayed largely intact. No, we aren't going on a long family vacation. And no, we don't have four family reunions this year.

But our day to day activities have remained mostly the same this year as in summers past: we are doing our summer reading program (and family book club), we have a new summer playlist, we've traded out daily trips to the pool with a splash pad and otter pops in the front yard, and we have our summer goals.

It's difficult to explain why we like setting summer goals so much. When I post about them, I feel like it makes us look nerdy and kind of intense. But the reality is, these goals are actually A) fun things we already want to do,  B) a way for us to intentionally connect as a family, C) a chance to learn and improve skills, D) an opportunity to help out around the house, and E) an easy way to keep academics fresh and sharp. (And yes, I really did just give you a lettered list of reasons because I actually am nerdy and intense.)

The lack of other plans has actually given my kids quite a bit more time to work on goals than they usually have, and they are consequently flying through them. We pretty much never finish everything on their lists, but I think we're going to come close this time.

From youngest to oldest, here are the things we're working on (and even though I don't personally have any goals, I always include myself when I talk about them because they often require quite a bit of time and effort from me as well).

Ian, age 3
  • Learn to pump a swing (I didn't take into account that this would be a difficult goal to achieve since we left our swingset behind at the old house and we aren't going to any playgrounds . . . )
  • Put together a 48-piece puzzle (he's making progress, but it's not clicking as fast as it did with the other boys)
  • Learn solfeggio (this one is going surprisingly well; Bradley and Clark do it with us, and it's been really fun. I'm using these videos to guide me with the order to teach the syllables/pitches and which songs to use)
  • Learn the letters and sounds (he's pretty good at this one despite very little help from me)
  • Learn to write name (he has one of the easiest names to write, especially if using all uppercase letters, so I'm feeling confident he can do this one)
  • Make bed (he moved to a regular-sized twin when we moved, and I'm embarrassed to say I still haven't purchased a twin-size comforter for him, so that makes "making a bed" a bit difficult)
  • Get dressed independently (this has been the cause of some truly epic tantrums, but I'm happy to say, he's doing it very well now)

Clark, age 6
  • Complete four units in piano books (Clark has really taken to piano this summer, and he's been making great progress)
  • Learn solfeggio
  • Write in journal (His journal entries are the cutest things--I will love looking back on these someday)
  • Family book club (I selected Alvin Ho for our book club this year, specifically because I knew it was a book Clark would be able to read, and I wanted him to be able to participate with us)
  • First grade math workbook (For some reason, Maxwell has taken it upon himself to be Clark's math tutor; I'm not complaining)
  • Science experiment kit (I bought this kit over a year ago and then promptly forgot about it; Clark found it one day and begged to do it for one of his summer goals; it came with twelve experiments, and he and Bradley have been doing it together with practically no help from me)
  • Throw and catch a frisbee
  • Make phone calls (I keep forgetting to have him work on this one; it feels like we're in an age where we don't use the phone as an actual phone very often)
  • Identify 50 states (He loves this one, mostly because we practice with chocolate chips)
  • Clean bathroom counter, toilet, and mirror
  • Memorize address and Dad's phone number (we moved, so he needed to learn our new address)
  • Memorize three scriptures
  • Creative Kids Art Camp (I bought this class for Bradley and Clark to do together; it includes 35 lessons, so it's a really great value, but unfortunately, they haven't loved it so far)
  • Learn rules of chess (if chess club ever starts up again, I know Clark's going to want to join, so I want him to know the basics)
  • Three family hikes

Bradley, age 8.5
  • Complete four units in piano books (I use this method for my students, in case you're interested)
  • Science experiment kit
  • Learn solfeggio 
  • Third grade math workbook (Bradley tells me this is the most boring math book ever, but I only have him do one page at a time, so I don't think he's suffering too badly)
  • Sewing lessons (We chose three projects from this book; so far he has made a drawstring bag and a picture frame; Max is doing it too, and we've been having so much fun with it)
  • Family 5K (We've been running multiple times a week; at the end of the summer, we'll map out our own course and run it as a family)
  • Memorize three scriptures
  • Load/unload the dishwasher
  • Learn solfeggio
  • Family book club
  • Bake cookies (I like this goal a little too much; I am more than happy to let him bake cookies anytime he wants to)
  • Online coding (He has been using this free program)
  • Three family hikes
  • Complete one unit from Mystery Science (I used Mystery Science with Aaron this past school year, and since I still owned a subscription to it, I decided I might as well take advantage of it by having Max and Bradley complete a unit of their choosing; I really love this science curriculum)
  • Creative Kids Art Camp
  • Walk/run to Sonja's house (Bradley really wanted to see if he could walk to his aunt's from our house; she lives about two miles away, so it wasn't hard, but we hadn't ever done it before)

Maxwell, age 10
  • Complete three units in piano books
  • Family 5K
  • Sewing lessons
  • Learn conducting patterns (3/4, 4/4, etc.) (He has been able to put his new skills to use since we are still having church at home)
  • Family book club
  • Memorize three scriptures
  • Sweep and mop
  • Snack camp (When I heard that Emily of One Lovely Life was putting together an online snack camp, I thought it would be just the thing for Max. While it turned out not to be as much actual instructions for kids as I thought it would be, he has still enjoyed making the recipes)
  • Online coding
  • Document summer through creative writing (This can be a poem, comic strip, essay, fictionalized story, etc. The idea is just that he is making a record of his summer in a creative way)
  • Read through a world atlas (I like this one from National Geographic. He probably won't make it all the way through it this summer, and that's okay)
  • Fifth grade math workbook
  • Make dinner (He has been making dinner about once a week with help from Mike)
  • Three family hikes
  • Complete one unit from Mystery Science

Aaron, age 12
  • Complete three units in piano books
  • Learn three hymns (He has been playing them for our home church, which is so nice)
  • Sew on a button (He wasn't as interested in the sewing lessons as Max and Bradley, but I still felt like this was an important skills for him to have)
  • Family 5K
  • Check fluids in car (I could use a lesson in this myself)
  • Practice trombone (He basically took this last year off, but he would really like to participate in band when it's possible again, so he's trying to revive his skills)
  • Make dinner
  • Digital literacy online class (He wanted to free up a couple of credits in his fall schedule for another elective, so he decided to do one of the required classes over the summer so he could just get it over with; it has taken up a lot of the time that he would normally be spending on other goals)
  • Algebra workbook
  • Memorize three scriptures
  • Build shelves with Dad (they did this one at the beginning of the summer when they made shelves for literally every closet in this house)
  • Use iMovie to make a summer video (I bought this course for some basic video editing help; it's a good one, but I only recommend it if you have an Apple computer)
  • Family book club
  • Three family hikes
  • Listen to news podcast one time each week (We've been doing this one together; we choose an episode from The Daily and then discuss it after we're done; it has been a great way for him to keep up with current events over the summer)
  • First aid and CPR class (I don't know if this one is going to happen, honestly. I wasn't able to find a good online class, and I don't know if he's going to have time for it anyway after he finishes his digital literacy class)
  • Sort, wash, dry, fold laundry

As usual, these goals fit into three broad categories of fun, academic, and practical. At the end of each month, we will celebrate their progress with a family prize. Last month, we went to the geode beds, and this month, we'll either do a backyard camping trip or get a new lawn game.

These goals are very much about the process and not the end results. Little by little, we chip away at them, and at the end of the summer, we're always amazed at what we accomplished.

If you have any questions, I'll do my best to answer them. For more ideas, check out these posts from the past.

An Ode to Two Houses

Jul 19, 2020

When you move, it is always a tradeoff. You never leave behind everything you didn't like about your old house in exchange for perfection in your new house. Even people who design and build their own house (as my parents did in the late 90's) usually find things they would have changed or not done or added in retrospect.

Such has been the case with this house. There are, obviously, a lot of things to love about it. That's why we bought it. But there are also so many good parts of our old house that I am fiercely missing as we adjust to a new space. We knew this would be the case. When we first looked at this house and deliberated if we should make an offer on it, Mike and I listed out the pros and cons of each space and weighed them against each other.

You already know how the debate ended. Here we are in our new house and finding so many things to love about it. But Mike and I have both been guilty of saying, "Wouldn't it be so nice if our house had [some aspect of the old house]?" Or, "I sure do miss [fill in the blank from the old house]."

The thing I'm realizing is that it's nice to miss an old space and feel some longing to go back--it means we were happy there. It would be so sad if we were relieved to put a house and a neighborhood behind us, which is thankfully not the case at all.

I'm also realizing that it's nice to grow into a new space. It feels good to have to struggle with it a bit because you really come to know it in the process. That's right where we are with this new house. We're trying to figure out where and how to arrange our furniture. We're adding shelves and buying new pieces to make the space work better for our family. We're dreaming of bigger changes down the road.

As we transition from our old house to this one, I wanted to take a minute to record a few favorite things from each house.

First, I am really missing these things from our old house:

1. My flowering cherry tree (better known as, the princess in my front yard). It seems like every spring I have to talk about my cherry tree at least once because I am so completely charmed by her. I had always wanted a flowering cherry tree, and we planted it within the first two months of buying our house. She was just a little thing to start with. I was sure the kids were going to snap her skinny, twig-like trunk right in half. But every year she grew by leaps and bounds until this year she was more like a regal queen than a delicate princess. She was even big enough to accommodate a child in her branches. Knowing that it would be our last spring with her was so bittersweet. I soaked up her beauty. (And don't worry, we already cleared a spot in our new front yard and planted another cherry tree.)

2. The peach tree. Yes, another tree. I'm sorry, I just love trees. We planted this one, too, and this was actually the first year that we were going to get a good peach harvest. I've tried to take good care of it (with help from my expert gardening friend), and it has grown so much in the last two years. I pruned and thinned it this spring, even while knowing we weren't going to be around by the time the peaches were plump and juicy. I hope David and Emilee thoroughly enjoy it, and maybe we can even beg a peach or two from them.

3. Built-in shelves. You might remember that a few years ago, Mike took out the brick wall that was in our front room and completely redid it with a new mantle, fireplace, and built-in shelves. I loved that space so much. It brought character and beauty to the room, not to mention extra storage for books, games, and puzzles. I'm really feeling the loss of it in our new place since there is nothing like it and not even really potential for something similar.

4. A bathtub. Four bathrooms in our new house and not a single bathtub. It's kind of ridiculous actually. I am not really a bath taker myself, but I love a bathtub for my kids. So yes, I'm really missing being able to put Ian in the bathtub and have him be completely entertained for a good half hour. Not to mention that it's much easier to wash a child's hair in a bathtub instead of a shower.

5. Air conditioning. This is something Mike is missing more than me. It's not that our new house doesn't have an air conditioner, but just that it is almost completely ineffective on the second floor. The thermostat is on the main level, so it stays nice and cool there, along with the basement. But the second floor (where all of the bedrooms are) gets unbearably hot in the late afternoon and evening. Maybe someday we'll get a second air conditioner installed, but for now, Mike just has to reminisce about the pleasure of going to sleep in a nice, cool room (although, I admit, that I often felt like I needed to bundle up in those circumstances).

6. A view from the kitchen window. I used to be able to stand at the kitchen sink washing dishes and watch the comings and goings of the entire street. I could recognize on sight each neighbor's car, including boyfriends and relatives. I knew the dog walking schedules of each family. I was entertained by the frequent drama of the group of fourth grade girls. Sometimes, if I was lucky, a horse and rider would even canter by. Now I just look out at our dilapidated back fence. It is probably the most boring window in our entire house, which is too bad because I actually spend a lot of time at the kitchen sink.

7. Flat, quiet street. Speaking of the street, I miss it sooooooo much. In fact, it might be the thing I miss the very most. I don't know if we will ever be able to match that street. It was just the best. It was wide and flat--perfect for rollerblading and riding bikes and playing games. And it wasn't connected to any through streets, so pretty much the only traffic we got was from people who actually lived on the street. Our kids played in it a lot. Since moving, they have hardly been in the street at all . . . partly because it is too sloped to be able to rollerblade safely and partly because I've forbidden it due to it being a busier street. I'm still trying to figure out if there's anything we can do to make street activities more accessible again.

8. A big backyard. This was a hard thing to give up. In fact, when we made our list of pros and cons, it was probably the biggest con for the new house. Our old backyard contained a shed, swingset, trampoline, garden, pumpkin patch, raspberry patch, giant maple tree, two smaller maple trees, and three fruit trees, and it still had plenty of room to run around and play. In our new backyard, we had to cut down an apple tree just so we'd have room to squeeze in the trampoline. It's a downgrade, for sure (not to mention that we lost the best backyard neighbors ever).

9. Front porch. The front porch was one of my favorite things about the old house. Mike built a swing  for it, and in the evenings, we would sit there with a beautiful view of Mt. Olympus and chat with all of our neighbors. Luckily, I didn't actually have to give it up because . . .

. . .  our new house also has a wonderful front porch!

Here are the things I love about our new house (and I apologize that I don't have very many photos--we're not quite there yet).

9. Front porch. The porch is slightly bigger than the one at our old house. For now, we just have a few patio chairs on it, but we have plans to install a swing (or two). It has a great view of the mountains as well, and we've met a large percentage of the neighborhood just by sitting outside in the evenings. I love big porches, and I'm so grateful that both of our homes have had one.

8. A big master bedroom. In our old house, there were two places that really felt cramped: the kitchen and Mike's and my bedroom. Our bedroom had a tiny closet where we tried to cram our clothes, shoes, a drying rack, the vacuum, temple bags, knitting supplies, hats, and scarves. It was ridiculous. Our room usually looked more like a laundry room than a bedroom because it's where all of the clean and dirty laundry passed through. It technically had a "master bathroom," although I use that term very loosely since it was not any bigger than the bathrooms on airplanes, and it opened out into our room like another tiny closet. Basically, our bedroom was not much of a haven. But now, it is! It's large and spacious. It has plenty of room for a desk and a couple of chairs in addition to our bed and dresser. It has a large closet that doesn't feel one bit cramped. The bathroom, although not huge, has its own shower with a dressing room leading into it. The dressing room actually functions perfectly as a craft room for me, which means I can leave my sewing machine set up all the time and don't have to put away my project before I'm done. The bedroom has a ton of natural light, amazing views, and is so peaceful and quiet. Basically, I love it so much. There have been several times when Mike has been working on a project in the room and has a bunch of parts and tools laid out all over the carpet, and we ask each other, "Can you imagine all of this in our old room?" and we just laugh because it wouldn't have even been possible, let alone so completely convenient.

7. A dishwasher. Yes, after fifteen years of marriage, we actually have a dishwasher!!! And as much as I said I didn't mind washing dishes by hand, it is actually SO nice to be able to just load all of the dishes into the dishwasher after a meal. It has made cleanup so much faster, and we use far fewer paper products than we used to. A dishwasher is kind of magical.

6. A laundry room. Equally magical is having a real, honest-to-goodness laundry room. I mean, it's just incredible. I'm no longer tripping over laundry baskets in the kitchen, nor do we have the constant hum of the washer or drying accompanying almost every meal. Something surprising also happened when we moved: our dryer all of a sudden started working much more efficiently! In our old house, the dryer usually took two full cycles to get the clothes completely dry. Now it only takes one. I guess the new house must be vented better or something. I am able to get a couple more loads in per day now that I'm not waiting around for the dryer.

5. The view. This might be my very favorite thing about this house. I love natural light, and I love being able to see in all directions, and this house has both. Plus, since it has a second story and is situated on a bit of a hill, it means that we can see even more. I love to watch the sun rise over the mountains from my bedroom window and the sun set over the valley from Bradley and Ian's bedroom. It's true that I don't have much to look at from the kitchen window (see above), but on the whole, I can actually see so much more from this house.

4. Garage. We haven't reaped the full benefits of this yet since Mike is still building shelves so we can organize all of the tools and yard equipment that got dumped in there when we moved. But eventually, we are looking forward to parking our van in a garage like real adults.

3. Fireplace. Our last house had two fireplaces, but neither of them worked. This one has a gas fireplace in the living room, and it works beautifully. We moved in at the end of May, so we haven't had a ton of opportunities to use it, but during a brief, rainy cold snap, we turned it on, and I was like, "Okay, you're my new best friend." I anticipate lots of cozy evenings by the fire this winter. (We also hope to eventually give the fireplace a bit of a makeover since right now it is surrounded by ugly tile and doesn't have a mantle.)

2. Large kitchen island. I haven't mentioned the kitchen much because, to be honest, there are a lot of things we don't love about it. The large island in the middle of it was originally one of those things. We felt like it was too big at first, but in the weeks since we moved in we, mostly Mike, have changed our tune. It's just so nice to have such a big workspace for making pies or multiple dishes at once. Gone are the days of feeling like the kitchen couldn't handle a second chef at the same time. And if we ever get to have people over again, I'm sure it will be great for buffet-style entertaining. (But in spite of falling in love with the size of the island, I despise the pattern and color of the countertops.)

1. Easy access to the backyard. Even though the backyard is pitifully small, it does have a couple of things going for it: it's accessible from both the kitchen and living room; and it has a large covered patio (as well as a balcony). Both of these things make it great for outdoor dining and entertaining. There are many things we want to do to make it more aesthetically pleasing and inviting, but the potential is there.

All of these things are really nice, but I didn't even mention the main reason for our move. Last year, we decided we really wanted to be closer to the boys' schools. They have been going to an out-of-boundary elementary school, which consequently funneled them into a different junior high and eventually a different high school. We could have moved them to the boundary schools when the time came, but we decided we didn't want to. We felt really good about their school situation. We also could have stayed where we were and still had them go to the out-of-boundary schools, but we thought it would be nice to be by families that loved and supported and went to the same schools we did.

So we started looking for a home within a very small perimeter. There was basically only one neighborhood I was willing to leave my beloved street for. As you might guess, looking within such a narrow boundary meant that homes for sale were few and far between. When this one came up, we jumped on it--not because it was perfect per se, but it was located just where we wanted it. We feel fortunate that we actually really love our home in addition to it being in the perfect place.

And we sincerely hope that we will eventually get to reap the benefits of being closer to the kids' schools, even if this will not be the year for it.

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