A Little of This and That in July and August

Sep 15, 2017


This summer was so, so good to us. I'm wishing it a fond farewell today by sharing a few of the highlights. July and August found us . . .

Walking . . . through the Light of the World garden at Thanksgiving Point. Someone had mentioned this new garden a few months ago and described it as "the best spiritual experience money can buy." Mike and I scoffed a little at that, but I still really wanted to see it, so I planned it for one of our dates in July. It is made up of larger-than-life bronzed statues displaying scenes from the life of Jesus Christ. The setting is beautiful and you're able to walk right among the statues and look into their eyes and touch their hands. I was surprised by how deeply I was touched. It was one of the most sacred, transformative experiences I've had in a long, long time.


Agonizing . . . over whether or not to change Ian's name. Yes, you read that right. At two months old, I came this close to changing my baby's name. I alluded to my lukewarm feelings about his name in this post, and when they still hadn't gone away several weeks after that, I panicked just a little. It just didn't seem right to not be completely in love with my baby's name. Ten days before he was going to be blessed at church, I tentatively mentioned how I was feeling to Mike, and he surprised me by saying, "You know what, I kind of feel the same way." So we looked into what it would take to legally changed his name, we talked about what name we would give him instead, we mentioned it to our kids, we sought advice from a few trusted friends, we called him by a couple of other names to see how they fit, and we did a LOT of praying. I was willing to go through the pain and hassle and stress and embarrassment if that's what we were supposed to do, but I had to know that it was right. It actually brought me a lot of peace to really throw myself completely into the process for ten days and open up my mind and heart to other possibilities because, in the end, it didn't feel right to change it. I think if I hadn't put in all that work, I would have always wondered if we'd made a mistake. But this way, I am confident that we didn't. For whatever reason, his name is supposed to be Ian Scott. And Ian Scott it shall remain.

Blessing . . . sweet little Ian Scott on the first Sunday in July. Although there was a lot of drama leading up to the blessing (see above paragraph), the actual ordinance was quite peaceful and special. We were lucky to have lots of family there (including Mike's parents, who were visiting from Germany at the time). Ian was an angel for the blessing and looked quite dapper in his bow tie and suspenders, but he couldn't abide wearing the hat.



Sending . . . an iPod through the washer. Overall, Mike and I have a pretty conflict-free marriage. But one thing we've disagreed about from the beginning is whether or not you should check the pockets before you toss the clothes into the washer. Mike's of the mind that you waste more time checking pockets and finding nothing than you do cleaning up after a stray tissue once in awhile that goes through and gets stuck all over everything. At least that's what he thought until one day he was doing the laundry and accidentally sent Max's iPod through a cycle. And it never recovered. I may have said, "I told you so." Just once or twice.

Ending . . . the Fourth of July on a scary note. After spending a delightful day at the family cabin, we came back to our neighborhood to set off a few fireworks with neighbors. Clark is not a fan of fireworks, so I almost stayed home with him but then convinced him at the last minute to go. He tolerated a few little fireworks while being distracted by an otter pop. Then Mike set off an aerial firework, and when it did its first pop, the box jumped and tipped over. The firework was designed to have several blasts, and with each one, it spun around and shot off in another sideways direction. One of the sparks landed right on the blanket Clark was sitting on, burning a hole in the blanket and getting Clark on the leg. We doused it in cold water right away, and it ended up being a fairly superficial wound, but it was still so terrifying and just made me sick to my stomach about the what ifs. Needless to say, Clark hates fireworks more than ever (and I do, too).


Listening . . . to a couple of new podcasts: The Daily and Awesome with Alison. When it comes to the news, I am not always the most well informed, and I rely a great deal on Mike to make sure I actually know about the important things. But The Daily is perfect for me because it's only twenty minutes long, it's reported in a more narrative style, and it focuses on just one or two of the really important stories from that day. It probably leans a little more left than me, but I don't mind. As for Awesome with Alison, I'd been hearing about that podcast from everyone, and I was staunchly avoiding it because I had looked at The Alison Show on Instagram and could tell we had nothing in common. But then, my friend Sarah, told me to just give it a try and suggested a good episode to start with (#12: "9 Things We've Learned From Being Married For 9 Years!"). I listened, and just like that, I was hooked. In fact, on our California trip, I binge listened to most of the back episodes. I was right that Alison and I are very different, but she co-hosts the podcast with her husband, Eric, and he's pretty mellow compared to her, and the balance between the two is perfect. It is really a positive and uplifting podcast.

Knitting . . . up a storm. In the course of two months, I knitted a hat for my mom, two baby bonnets, a cowl (which is still in progress), and a little cardigan (my favorite). Oh, and I swatched for a cardigan for me, but I've been too intimidated to actually cast it on. I'm not worried about the actual knitting or construction, just about the fit after it's done. I just want to want to wear it.


Making . . . guesses about where my brother, Blaine, was going to go on his mission. He received the call at the end of August and was assigned to the Kentucky Louisville Mission. He's been preparing for many years for this, and I'm really proud of him.

Cutting . . . Ian's hair. Not me. Mike. Without my permission. I was upstairs recording Episode 14 of The Book Blab with Suzanne, and he was downstairs making Ian look like a shorn sheep. It's probably true that Ian was looking a bit scraggly (and Mike can't stand hair hanging over the ears), but it aged him really quickly.


Going . . . to family reunions and spending time with family. That really defined our summer, and although I'm not going to take the time to detail every event and get together here, we absolutely loved it.


Celebrating . . . Aaron's ninth birthday. He asked for pecan pie instead of cake, which was just one of the signs that he's growing up. Another one? He had woefully outgrown his bike, so he got a bigger one for his birthday and has been cruising all around the neighborhood on it.
 

Hosting . . . a friend birthday party for Aaron. This is worth mentioning because it was the first friend birthday party I've done for any of my kids. And before you get too excited and think I've completely lost my identity, it was only two friends, and it consisted of the pool, cake and nerf guns. (And I didn't even provide the nerf guns.)

Taking . . . a road trip to California and the redwoods. I wrote about all of the details here, but it really was a pretty perfect trip for our family at this stage of life.


Reading . . . so many fun books. Our summer reading program was a huge success (I think Max read something like 170 hours), and we discovered many new books to love. Our favorite readaloud was Summer of the Monkeys, which I still need to review.

Being . . . in totality for the solar eclipse. For eighteen months, Mike had been talking up the solar eclipse. He had ordered eclipse glasses, a nice set of binoculars, solar filters (for the binoculars), a tripod (to hold the binoculars), and extra gas cans for the drive home. He had also reserved a spot for us at his brother's house in Rexburg, Idaho. And I was kind of like, What's the big deal? He would tell people, "You have to see the solar eclipse," and I would whisper behind his back, "No, you don't." Salt Lake was going to get 91% coverage, so I wondered if the hassle of driving to and from Rexburg and making the boys miss their first day of school would be worth it. But then I saw the eclipse, and I was like, Oh my goodness, why didn't I force all my family and friends to come see it?!?! Because it was amazing. Not 9% more amazing but 1000% more amazing. The things that happened in the final seconds leading up to it and then the couple of minutes in totality itself cannot be described. But it was absolutely incredible. And being there with the two biggest nerds on the planet (Mike and his brother, Jon) made it that much more spectacular. (Oh, and did I mention that we didn't have Clark with us? We traded him for our two teenage nephews, who appreciated the eclipse so much more than he would have and who didn't complain on the EIGHT hour drive home.)


Finishing . . . up our summer goals. We still have a couple more to check off (we had to hold off hiking Mt. Grandeur because it got too hot), but overall, the boys did really well. My personal favorite was helping them memorize several paragraphs of The Living Christ.

Sending . . . the boys off to the first day of school. Aaron is in fourth grade, Maxwell is in second grade, and Bradley is (FINALLY!) in kindergarten.


Swimming . . . as much as possible. We love our little neighborhood pool, and we took full advantage of it all summer. Ian even took a little dip in it for the first time at the end of the season.


Tell me about the highlights of your summer!

Eight Months Into 2017

Aug 31, 2017


Here we are at the end of August, eight months into the year with four months left to go. I've managed to not forget about the goals I made at the beginning of the year, which is a small victory in and of itself, and I have even made slow, incremental progress on each one.

Back in March, I talked about my overarching theme for the year (based on a quote by Marjorie Pay Hinckley), my five project goals, and my smaller weekly goals.

As a refresher, Sister Hinckley's quote can be summed up as follows: live simply and fully, always think of others, and don't be pretentious.

I still love that quote, and I'm still inspired by it, but here's the thing: I am not Marjorie Pay Hinckley. I wish I was, but I'm not. And perhaps, when she was thirty-two years old, she wasn't that person either. I have to hope that age and experience and perspective really are all they're cracked up to be.

This quote has been a good way for me to acknowledge some things about myself, such as: I will probably never be the house in the neighborhood that welcomes all children into my kitchen for a snack and a chat; I am uncomfortable talking to family and friends about hard things because I'm afraid of saying the wrong thing; I have a hard time being flexible, which means I like giving service on a schedule rather than on a whim.

Marjorie Hinckley's words have made me take a good, hard look at myself and celebrate my strengths and accept my weaknesses. More than anything, this quote has made me try to become a better me rather than a different me. I have more to say on this, but it'll keep for another post. The short answer is I think about these words often, and I'm attempting to internalize them while still being true to myself.

It's easier to see progress with my project goals because they're much more physical and tangible. So far, I haven't completed any of them, but I've made headway on all of them. So that's a win, right?

Here they are again:
  • Improve my photo editing skills by learning to use a new program. I purchased the class, "The Essential Guide to Lightroom" on Craftsy. Mike and I have been watching the lessons together. It's been fun. Have I edited a single photo yet? No, but it will come.
  • Set up a filing system and file the last fifteen years of papers. I'm chipping away at this one. It's something I can easily work on for a half hour here and a half hour there. I've found some fun things (I forgot I wrote my own personal history for a college class!), and I'm also amazed at all the things I thought were worth saving (letters from "friends" I can't even remember). I probably still have at least fifteen hours' worth of work, but I'm just happy to have the end in sight.
  • Submit an article to a magazine. I have three drafts sitting on my computer. It's just a short article for one of our church magazines. I should just submit it already, but I just don't feel happy with it yet. I'm trying to decide if I'm going to have Mike read it first or just send it in. I'm feeling a little bit like a closet writer (even though I'm telling all of you about it here).
  • Complete my reading goals. I already did my mid-year report here. I'm feeling good about all of them except the housecleaning book. I've done the math, and it would take me 40+ hours to finish it, and honestly, I don't think it's worth my time. I'll skip around and read some of the relevant sections and call it good.
  • Take a knitting class. I bought the "Modern Stranded Knitting" class on Craftsy. I'm about halfway through the cowl sampler, and it's been so much fun learning how to do two-color knitting. I was so scared to use my left hand, but it's been a piece of cake (I am left handed, so I guess it shouldn't be too surprising). I still would love to take a class at one of my local yarn stores, but this has been fun in the meantime, and it's so convenient. 

But I think my smaller weekly goals are probably my favorite thing I've implemented in 2017. Every Sunday evening, I write down a few goals (usually between five and ten) for the upcoming week. These goals seem to run the gamut--anything from character improvements to house projects to using my free time more productively.

One of my favorite goals has been to "memorize a hymn," so it gets added fairly regularly to my weekly lists. In some ways, it doesn't seem like it really belongs on a to-do list, but I'll tell you, it has done wonders to improve my mood, fill up my soul, and make me actually want to accomplish other things.

A sampling of some of my other recent goals:
  • Be in bed by 10:30 one night
  • Read two Mercy Watsons with Clark (I realized some of my favorite children's books were being woefully overlooked with my fourth child, plus sometimes it's really liberating for me to have to sit down and do something with him because I let other things take precedence otherwise.)
  • Exercise one day (it's rather pitiful that I was exercising so infrequently that one day was actually an accomplishment) 
  • Do thirty minutes of filing
  • Have a heart-to-heart with Aaron, Max, and Bradley
  • Buy new flour/sugar containers
  • Reply to all blog comments (have you noticed I'm often very tardy in my replies?!)
  • Decide on a theme for the 2017-2018 school year

I've always been a checklist type of gal, but for my current stage of life, a weekly, rather than a daily, checklist seems to be much more effective. These lists have helped me tackle some things I've been avoiding for a long time, but they've also given me permission to do the things that really bring me joy. And they've helped me make more meaningful connections with the people I love. They're effective because I keep the list short enough to be manageable, and it's always a good mix of fun and work.

So that's where I'm at right now. I still have a long way to go, but it feels good to look back and realize I'm moving in a general forward direction.

Rules of Civility by Amor Towles

Aug 28, 2017

I had kind of been wanting to read this book ever since Anne Bogel recommended it to several guests on her podcast. Yes, I'd been wanting to read it . . . but I didn't really expect to like it. It was being touted as a Great Gatsby knock off (even though the two stories are set a decade apart), and that comparison told me three things: there would be loose morals, lots of drinking, and a bunch of bad decisions.

And yes, yes, and yes, it was all of those things. But . . . I found myself really loving the characters and the story and being drawn into an intricate web of choices and consequences that was much more compelling to me than anything in The Great Gatsby.

When the story opens, Katey and her husband are at a ritzy art show, viewing a photographic montage of the normal, average people who traveled on the subway over the last three decades. Suddenly she locks eyes with one portrait. She knows that man. It's Tinker Grey. In an instant, she is propelled back to New York City in 1938. She is young and single and very determined. She remembers her tiny room in a boarding house and her irrepressible best friend and roommate, Eve. She remembers that fateful New Year's Eve when the two of them meet the dashing Tinker Grey. She remembers the complicated way their lives get entangled even as she scales the social and professional ladders that will eventually land her at a ritzy art show thirty years later:

The story is full of strong, independent women who all get what they want but go about it in a variety of ways. There's Katey, of course, who basically talks herself into a job which leads to another, better job which leads to another, better job after that. There's Eve who can manipulate a conversation or an outing just the way she wants so she ends up with the guy and the diamond earrings. There's also Anne Grandyn, a sophisticated middle aged woman who has no shortage of money and is not afraid to use it for her own selfish wants. At one point, Anne says to Katey:
"You see that thirty-year-old blonde next to Jake? That's his fiancee, Carrie Clapboard. Carrie moved all manner of heaven and earth to get into that chair. And soon she will happily oversee scullery maids and table settings and the reupholstering of antique chairs at three different houses; which is all well and good. But if I were your age, I wouldn't be trying to figure out how to get into Carrie's shoes--I'd be trying to figure out how to get into Jake's."
But the general idea, and the one that all of these women seem to subscribe to, is that nothing is out of their reach and that with a little ingenuity and execution of their natural talents and abilities, they can have whatever they want. And I have to admit, it was rather thrilling (and terrifying) to see these women do their thing.

Another theme in the book was that simple choices and actions can have far reaching consequences. Towards the end of the book, Katey makes this observation:
"It is a bit of a cliche to characterize life as a rambling journey on which we can alter our course at any given time--by the slightest turn of the wheel, the wisdom goes, we influence the chain of events and thus recast our destiny with new cohorts, circumstances, and discoveries. But for most of us, life is nothing like that. Instead, we have a few brief periods when we are offered a handful of discrete options. Do I take this job or that job? In Chicago or New York? Do I join this circle of friends or that one, and with whom do I go home at the end of the night? And does one make time for children now? Or later? Or later still?
"In that sense, life is less like a journey than it is a game of honeymoon bridge. In our twenties, when there is still so much time ahead of us, time that seems ample for a hundred indecisions, for a hundred visions and revisions --we draw a card, and we must decide right then and there whether to keep that card and discard the next, or discard the first card and keep the second. And before we know it, the deck has been played out and the decisions we have just made will shape our lives for decades to come."
I have seen this in my own life, and it's sometimes why I feel a little panicked because I can see how being in the right place at the right time with the right people can make all the difference in the world. And in this book, it does. (And I kind of love it that the man Katey ends up marrying is really just a very minor character in her life in 1938 (he's there, but you have to watch very carefully for him), but their interaction ends up being just enough when they reconnect later on.) I'm always worried that I'll say no to something when I should have said yes or vice verse and tha,t because of that, I'll miss out on a treasured friendship or an awesome job or the experience of a lifetime.

But then I also really loved this thought from Katey's father, which basically says that if you make time every day for the simple things that bring you joy, you'll live a happy, fulfilled life no matter what else you're doing:
"Whatever setbacks he had faced in his life, he said, however daunting or dispiriting the unfolding of events, he always knew that he would make it through, as long as when he woke in the morning he was looking forward to his first cup of coffee. . . One must be prepared to fight for one's simple pleasures and to defend them against elegance and erudition and all manner of glamorous enticements."
This review is starting to feel like it's getting a little deep, but the book never felt that way. In fact, it wasn't until I was going back through my bookmarked pages that I realized just how many life lessons were tucked among the other happenings.

That's because this book is so well written--not in a flowery, over the top way, but in a snappy, vivid, to-the-point way.

Like this:
"On the morning of Friday, July first, I had a low-paying job at a waning publisher and a dwindling circle of semi-acquaintances. On Friday, July eighth, I had one foot in the door of Conde Nast and the other in the door of the Knickerbocker Club--the professional and social circles that would define the next thirty years of my life. That's how quickly New York City comes about--like a weather vane--or the head of a cobra. Time tells which."
But it was the dialogue, oh the dialogue!, that really got me. In fact, after I finished it, I told people that I would recommend it for the dialogue alone.

Here's a taste:
[From a conversation between Wallace and Katey]:
"You've got a . . . lot of books," he said at last.
"It's a sickness."
"Are you . . . seeing anyone for it?"
"I'm afraid it's untreatable."
Which, speaking of Wallace, he's a top-notch guy and one of my favorite characters in the book.

Or this:
[From a conversation between Katey and Anne]:
"You're very good with the closing remark, Anne.
"Yes," she said. "It's one of my specialties."
I specifically remember when I read that one because, as it turns out, Amor Towles is actually very good at the closing remark; almost every chapter ends with just the right little punch or jab to hit its mark.

Amor Towles' most recent novel, A Gentleman in Moscow, has received a lot of attention this year, but I had very little interest in it because I thought the title sounded boring. However, after reading this book, I'm pretty sure I'll read anything Amor Towles writes. I'm convinced he can make just about any subject absolutely compelling.

Content note: immorality (most of it off stage; there was one brief scene I skimmed over), some language (including the f-word by one character), and an absurd amount of drinking

A Vacation in the Redwoods

Aug 19, 2017


As we made plans at the beginning of the summer, one of the things that was high on my priority list was a family vacation. A few months before, Mike's sister had tossed around the idea of a possible road trip to California, but when it didn't work out for them, we decided to go anyway and invite my brother and his family along instead.

Mike made at least three different plans/routes for the trip, but he always kept the redwoods in northern California as our central focus. Mike and I had driven through them when we were first married, and we knew we wanted to show them to our kids.


We knew from the get go that this trip would require a LOT of driving. It was a road trip, so almost every day would be spent traveling to somewhere new. Much of the driving would be through really beautiful country, but we dreaded the long stretches through Nevada. So because of that, a few weeks before the trip, Mike installed a DVD player into our van. I have always prided myself somewhat on not being dependent on a DVD player (and the last few shorter trips we'd been on, we hadn't even brought the little portable player because it caused more fights and frustration than it was worth). But somehow, I had a sense that on this trip, being able to turn on a show would be our salvation, and it was.


Mike wrangled with the logistics of the itinerary, trying out both northern and southern routes, before finally settling on something that looked like this:

Day 1: Drive to Lake Tahoe
Day 2: Drive to Livermore, California
Day 3: Drive through San Francisco, end up in Fort Bragg, California
Day 4: Drive to Eureka, California
Day 5: Stay in Eureka
Day 6: Stay in Eureka
Day 7: Drive to Winnemucca, Nevada
Day 8: Drive home


Overall, our kids did amazingly well in the car. Of course we had moments where the baby was crying inconsolably or the older ones couldn't keep their hands away from each other, but on the whole, it was far better than I expected. My kids literally had to be dragged away from everything we did because they were having so much fun (except for the Chinese restaurant in Chinatown, which they were only too happy to leave).

Here are a few of the highlights from the trip:

Cousin (and sibling) time
This deserves mention first because it really colored the whole trip and made it so much better. My brother (Gordy), his wife (Brooke), and their three kids (Charlie (almost 5), Rose (3), and Lyda (1)) came with us, and we had the best time with them. (If you follow me on Instagram, you might recognize Rosie as Flit of #flitandbarrel fame.) It's always nice to have other adults to talk to, other kids to play with, and other people to share the memories with. They were always up for an adventure and stayed positive even when things were not what we expected (the motel in Fort Bragg was something special. . .). My brother always makes a music video when his family goes on a vacation, so we were excited to get to be in this one and have it to remember the trip by.



Beach time
All told, we went to five different beaches (Lake Tahoe, Crissy Fields, Bodega Bay, Glass Beach, and Trinidad Bay). Each one was unique, from the water to the sand to the coastline to the view to the temperature, but we enjoyed all of them (and my kids always needed a thorough washing afterwards, which is a sign of a good time). Our time at Lake Tahoe was much too short, and we vowed to return next summer and spend our whole vacation there rather than just have it be a stop along the way.




Glass Beach
This one deserves its own mention because, when the whole trip was said and done, this was my kids' very favorite thing we did. It's called Glass Beach because, rather than traditional sand, its beach is made up of little bits of smooth glass (washed up from a bottle dump site from many years ago). I thought it was cool to look for unique shapes of colored glass, but my kids loved it for the tide pools, where they found crabs and minnows and anemones. We went in the evening at sunset, but then the next morning, they begged and pleaded to go again before hitting the road. I think they would have stayed all day if we'd let them. When we were there in the morning, there were two couples who were diving for abalone. We waited around until they came back in, and they showed them to the boys and let them hold them.




Visiting my grandparents
My mom's dad and stepmom live in Livermore, California. When I was growing up, we only visited them twice, but they came to see us almost every summer in their motor home. In recent years though, they haven't been able to make the trip, so it had been probably twelve years since I'd seen my grandpa, and six years since I'd seen my grandma (she came to Salt Lake for a convention when Max was a baby). As such, my grandpa had never met any of my kids or Gordy's kids, and so we knew we wanted to stop in to see them. Luckily, they weren't busy the evening we were available, and we had a lovely time eating dinner, chatting, and just generally catching up on life. (My Uncle Doug, and his daughter, Halia (whom I had never met) were also there.) Although, I will say, descending on anyone with eight children generally makes me a bit of a stress case, and that I was.



San Francisco
San Francisco was less of a destination and more of just a stop along the way, but it was still fun to catch a glimpse of the city. It was really the only thing we did on the trip that was not entirely kid-friendly. We went to Chinatown one afternoon (where we ate at the aforementioned Chinese restaurant) and then drove to, and then across, the Golden Gate bridge the next morning. Mainly what San Francisco did was make me want to go back someday with Mike . . . without kids.



Big trees
We planned the whole trip around the redwoods, and they did not disappoint. It's hard to really fathom how big they truly are until you're right up next to them, and then they're pretty jaw dropping. We drove through the Avenue of the Giants, making stops along the way, and everywhere we went, our kids found trees to climb on and through and in. We drove through Chandelier Tree (one of the few drive through trees left), and even though it was totally a tourist trap, it was so much fun to drive through a tree. (Later in the trip, we happened to drive through another one, not because we wanted to (it was more expensive and less cool) but because our kids needed to use the bathroom in the gift shop, and so we felt a little obligated). But really, these trees were the stars of the show, and we didn't get tired of them.




Sequoia Park
This was my favorite spot on the trip, partly because it was drop dead gorgeous, but also because it was so unexpected. We stayed for three nights in Eureka, California--not because Eureka itself is any great city, but after packing and unpacking and packing for several days in a row, we were ready to stop in one spot for more than one night. Plus, it was relatively close to some of the other things we wanted to see so it made sense to just stay there. One of Gordy's good friends grew up in Eureka, and so he asked him what we should do while we were there. He told us not to miss Sequoia Park. And he was right. It's something we never would have known about otherwise, but it was so amazing. We started out at the playground, which was pretty cool in and of itself because the play equipment is built right into the giant trees, but then we went into the forest part of the park, and it seemed like we'd been transported to another world. The one mile loop showcased ferns and flowers, a small waterfall, a little pond, and, of course, trees. It was quiet and uncrowded, and more than any other place on the trip, I felt like I was in an outdoor cathedral.




Finding creatures
No matter where we went, beach or forest, my kids were on the lookout for bugs or reptiles or animals. They were both patient and thorough, and their efforts were often, but not always, rewarded. (Max was quite disappointed when we were in Fern Canyon (a beautiful hike through little streams with ferns covering the canyon walls) because he'd heard mention that there might be red tree frogs, and he was determined not to leave until he found one--but he never did.) This trip seemed to be designed for boys just like mine because there was never any shortage of things to explore.



Eureka boat tour
We went on a 75-minute tour on a hundred year old boat around the harbor. It was fairly cold and windy, and it wasn't all that beautiful (but it did help explain some of the things we'd been noticing about the city of Eureka, which has a distinctly hippie/redneck vibe to it), but it was very different from anything else we did on the trip, and for that reason alone, it was a highlight (and we also really enjoyed the all-female crew).

 

A night out
While we were in Eureka, Gordy/Brooke and Mike/I swapped babysitting so each couple could go on a date. Gordy and Brooke went out the first night, and when they got home, Gordy asked, "How much could we pay you to let us go out again tomorrow night?" But no amount of money would have been enough because there's just something about being on vacation with your kids but going out and doing something without them. It's absolutely rejuvenating. When it was our turn, we did a bit of restaurant hopping, ending with ice cream and hot chocolate, which would have made our kids insanely jealous.


 Horseback riding
Before we even left on our trip, we knew that Day 7 was going to be the worst. It was tied with another day for the longest driving time (10+ hours), but it was at the end of the trip when we were all getting a little tired of the car. Luckily though, it had a bright spot at the end of it. Mike's cousin, Katie, lives on a ranch outside of Winnemucca, Nevada with her husband and four sons, and throughout the whole miserable day of driving, we kept saying, "But you'll get to run around and play and ride horses at the end of it!" And it was truly a sweet reward. Katie has always been one of my favorite people because she is so kind and makes you feel like you're her favorite person. We loved spending a couple of hours with them and my boys were a little in awe of her boys who are true cowboys (but not so in awe that they didn't get in some good running and wrestling).



Before we left on this trip, I wondered if it would be worth it (and indeed, the day before we left, I threatened to call the whole thing off because I was getting a lot more complaining from my kids than helping). But it totally was. And out of all the places we could have gone, I somehow think this was the most perfect place we could have gone for the stage of life we're in right now. 

Review x 3: The Adventures of Nanny Piggins, Jack, and Meet the Austins

Aug 5, 2017

Earlier this week, I wrote a few brief thoughts about each of the books I've read so far this year. It irritated me to not be able to link to some of the reviews (because they hadn't been written yet), so I'm remedying that this week.

1. The Adventures of Nanny Piggins by R.A. Spratt
First up, the silliest book out of the three. In my one-sentence summary, I described Nanny Piggins as "the most unorthodox of nannies," and she is that. For one, she's a pig babysitting human children, so there's the mayhem you might expect from crossing over cultures and, um, species. She enjoys eating (especially chocolate), getting dirty, and skipping school to go on adventures. She has absolutely zero regard for money, and, oh, did I mention she used to be part of a circus?

As you might expect, the children (Derrick, Samantha, and Michael Green) think she is the best nanny ever; their father (if you can even call him that--he never demonstrates even a smidge of parental affection) can't stand her, but she's cheap, the cheapest nanny he's ever had, so he keeps her.

The story is wildly funny and entertaining. I bookmarked a few of my favorite lines so I could give you a little taste of the humor:
After being disqualified from a self-portrait competition: "'But that's pigism,' bellowed Nanny Piggins. She was really cross now. 'How dare you stand up there and be piggist? In front of children too. You should be ashamed of yourself.'"

After getting stranded in a boat in the middle of a downpour: "'Ahnyong,' Nanny Piggins called up to the two men. (This is how you say 'hello' in Korean.) Nanny Piggins may never have been to the seaside but she had spent many long nights playing backgammon with two Korean trapeze artists. And they had taught her enough Korean to buy a chicken, rent a motorbike, tell someone to be quiet in the cinema, and all the other things essential for day-to-day life."

While trying to come up with a plan so Nanny Piggins won't have to return to the circus: "'I once had myself fired through an open window at the cinema just so I wouldn't have to pay for the ticket,' confessed Nanny Piggins.
'Oh gosh!' said Samantha.
'I know. I'm not proud of it,' admitted Nanny Piggins. 'Although I am proud of my landing. I did a perfect somersault into an empty seat in the middle of the back row. I didn't disturb anyone, unlike those people who actually walk in front of people to get to their seats.'
'What are we going to do about the Ringmaster?' asked Derrick.
'Don't worry,' said Nanny Piggins. 'I have a plan.'
'Already?' exclaimed Michael, deeply impressed.
'Oh yes,' said Nanny Piggins. 'I can regale people with anecdotes from my sordid past and think at the same time.'"
The author also occasionally breaks the fourth wall and addresses the reader directly, which I am always a fan of and which instantly increases the humor for me. The only negative thing about the book is that Nanny Piggins is downright naughty at times, and, well, if you don't appreciate the "responsible" adult being the naughtiest one in the book, this story might not be for you. For all others, it's quite the ride.

2. Jack: the True Story of Jack and the Beanstalk by Liesl Shurtliff
A few years ago, Aaron and I met Liesl Shurtliff when she was in Salt Lake City for a book signing (for this book). At the time, we were in the middle of her first book, Rump, and so we bought Jack so we could read it when we were done. And we just now finally got to it.

Jack is not an easy child to parent. He's not bad per se, but he still gets into a fair amount of trouble and likes to mercilessly tease his little sister. His mother doesn't know what to do with him. Then one day, his entire village, including his father, is swept up into the sky. Jack witnesses the whole thing: great booms coming from the sky, dirt falling from the clouds, and giants dropping down to earth. But his mother doesn't see it and thinks it is just another one of his far-fetched stories, which she doesn't appreciate at a tragic time like this. But Jack knows better, and he is desperate to get up to the land of the giants and save his father.

My kids absolutely loved this book. Jack is adventurous and brave and loyal, and, as I said with Rump, it was nice to read a fairy tale retelling with a boy protagonist.

For my part, for whatever reason, the book felt long. I'm not sure what it was exactly because I thought the characters were great and the retelling was clever, but it felt tedious to read out loud. Instead of being anxious to return to it each day and willingly agreeing to read "just one more chapter," I found myself looking for excuses to cut our reading time a little short.

I think what it comes down to is that my kids love a good story, and I love good writing. I love to read aloud books where it is a pleasure to say the sentences out loud because they're so well-crafted. That makes it sound like this one isn't well written, which isn't true. The writing is perfectly fine; it doesn't draw attention to itself in a bad way; it just doesn't sparkle. And I think I noticed it more in this book because it was a little bit longer than some of the books we've read recently, and I was ready to move on before it was over.

But enough of that. My kids had no such reservations about it. They loved it from beginning to end, and after it was over, Max asked me to get the third one for him (the true story of Little Red Riding Hood) as a summer reading program prize. Which I happily did. 

3. Meet the Austins by Madeleine L'Engle
It's dangerous for me to listen to the What Should I Read Next podcast because even when I'm not  asking that question, I almost always come away with books I feel compelled to read right that second. A few months ago, one of her guests, Carolyn McCready, listed A Ring of Endless Light by Madeleine L'Engle as one of the books she loves. She and Anne talked about how much they love Madeleine L'Engle and about how she was such a prolific writer but readers don't always go beyond the Wrinkle in Time series. I certainly never did (in fact, I think I never read more than the first one in that series because, you know, sci-fi). But A Ring of Endless Light sounded different--like it was about a typical girl in a typical family, which was exactly the kind of series I would have loved as a teenager. I really wanted to read A Ring of Endless Light, but it's the fourth in the series, and I thought I better start with the first one.

It's narrated by 12-year-old Vicky Austin. First-person novels can be a bit hit and miss for me because sometimes the narrator is just a touch too witty or clever, and I just can't buy it that anyone would talk or think like that in real life (unless they're British--I'll believe anything if they're British). But in this case, Vicky's voice was natural and authentic (read: not always eloquent but charming in its own right . . . and very convincing).

Her family lives in a small town where her father is the community doctor and her mother is a homemaker. She has one older brother and also a younger sister and brother. Early on in the story, her parents take in 10-year-old Maggie after her father is tragically killed in a plane crash. Maggie has been spoiled all her life, a trait which, compounded with grief, makes her extremely difficult to live with. At first everyone in the family grits their teeth while silently hoping Maggie's grandfather will take her away soon, but after awhile other events, both happy and sad, bring them all together and make Maggie feel like a real part of the family.

It had a very similar feel to some of my other favorite books when I was a teenager: the Melendy quartet by Elizabeth Enright, the Beany Malone series by Lenora Mattingly Weber, and the Betsy-Tacy series by Maud Hart Lovelace. Just a sweet, functional family with normal ups and downs, a few sibling squabbles, and a general feeling of contentment. Now my only problem is going to be finding time for the second and third in this series so I can actually read the book I set out to in the first place.
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