A Little of This and That in May

Jun 15, 2018

May was busy. May is always busy. But it was just the kind of check-off-all-the-boxes and wrap-up-all-the-things busy that I love. Here's just a little peek into our month. We were . . .

Celebrating . . . Mike's grandma's 90th birthday with a big family party. There were lots of aunts and uncles and cousins and second cousins. Mike's immediate family (siblings, etc.) rented a big lodge where we all stayed for two nights. So it was like we had a mini-reunion inside the bigger reunion. Mike's grandma is beautiful and gracious with a strong love of family and a sharp memory for all those great-grandkids. She is exactly what I'd like to be at 90 years old.

Protecting . . . against scary bugs. Last month, I shared the realization that having my kids grow up is not all bad, and this month provided another confirmation. One day, there was a wasp in the house, and Bradley fearlessly smashed it with a shoe. A couple days later, there was a spider, and Aaron came to my rescue. And neither of them even flinched. Having literally called up neighbors in the past to come kill little intruders because I was too frightened to do it myself, this is basically a dream come true for me.

Obsessing . . . over my new phone's camera. I'd had my old phone (an iPhone SE) for two years, and it was time to upgrade. The one thing I really wanted was a better camera, so I went with the iPhone 8-plus. I was hesitant to get that one because of its large size, and it definitely took me a full week to get used to holding it. But man, the camera was so worth it. It is just so nice to have a camera with me at all times that takes pictures that I actually like. I don't think I pulled out our actual camera even once the entire month because it was just so much more convenient to use my phone, and the picture quality was so good.

Recording . . . a new episode of The Book Blab. It had been awhile, and it was great to chat with Suzanne again. (Behind the scenes, I was right in the middle of a head cold at the time, but miraculously, I got a brief reprieve during our discussion, and I didn't have to blow my nose once.)

Taking . . . lots of pictures of flowers. The new camera meant that I could not stop myself from snapping photos of all the beautiful spring flowers. Can you blame me?

Feeling . . . spoiled on Mother's Day. It couldn't quite top the Mother's Day of all Mother's Days from two years ago, but I still felt very loved. And every time I see the snapshot of the eggs benedict Mike made me for breakfast, my mouth waters.

Figuring . . . out how to go from sitting to crawling and back to sitting. These new skills have made Ian so happy. He still prefers scooting on his bum, and he will often sit up if he needs to get somewhere instead of getting down on his stomach. (And he still doesn't know how to crawl on his hands and knees.)

Cheering . . . on Aaron, Maxwell, and Bradley in their school's fun run. They each ran at different times throughout the day, and it was quite the feat for me to get over there for each one. But Bradley ended up winning his age division, so I was glad I made the effort.

Saying . . . more and more words. Ian is becoming a little conversationalist. Most of it is still absolute gibberish, but occasionally he throws in a real word, just to appease us. His favorite word is definitely "hi," said more like "hiiiiyeee!" I love it when he pokes his head around the corner, sees one of us, and enthusiastically says, "Hiiiiiyeee!"

Going . . . to a million (so it seemed) school performances. Most of them were completely impressive: the dance informances for all three grades, the kindergarten program filled with enthusiastic singing, the 4th grade program all about Utah history. The one exception was the band and orchestra concert. Aaron learned how to play the trombone this year, and the beginning band sounded, unsurprisingly, like a bunch of beginners, but it wasn't too bad. The beginning orchestra, however, was pure torture.

Helping . . . out at the 4th grade rendezvous. The rendezvous is a fun day of activities celebrating Utah's heritage since the 4th graders spend the whole year focusing on state history. Mike ran the peach cobbler station with his sister, Sonja.

Showing . . . some of my finished knitted projects to my friend, Joan, who taught me how to knit three years ago. I've given away many of the things I've made, but I packed up the rest and took them to her house for a little show and tell. I don't know why I hadn't done that sooner. It was so much fun.

Playing . . . in the school talent show. Bradley was selected from his class to play a piano solo, and he did played so well (although, I have to admit, I think I was more impressed with the third grader who recited the whole periodic table of the elements from memory in less than a minute).

Saying . . . good-bye to the school year. As we counted down the days, Maxwell told us all to "not remind him." He had the best year out of the three for sure, and he just tends to thrive on the structure and recognition that come with academics in general, so I think he'd go to school year-round if he could. And for all my worries about Bradley's and Aaron's teachers, everything turned out just fine in the end. That said, we are all so excited for this coming year because each one is going to have a rock star of a teacher.

Setting . . . a bunch of summer goals. As has become tradition, we kicked off the summer by writing out all of the things we want to do and accomplish over the next three months. I've written about our summer goals in the past; would you be interested in an update from this year? We also created a summer playlist, which is a tradition we started last year, and we've been listening to it almost nonstop ever since.

Taking . . . Aaron and Maxwell to see the Light of the World exhibit at Thanksgiving Point. Mike and I went for the first time a year ago, and I knew then that I wanted to take each of my kids sometime during the year they were baptized. Well, we missed doing that with Aaron two years ago (the exhibit didn't even exist at the time), so we took both Aaron and Maxwell together. We had the most wonderful time. Mike rented a golf cart, which the boys thought was the most thrilling thing ever, and we cruised around the gardens before parking at the exhibit and walking through. We paused at each statue of the Savior and read the scripture that went along with it. It was just a really special and fun afternoon.

Jumping . . . into the pool. Swimming season is here, and we couldn't be happier. I had a feeling this would be Clark's year to become an independent swimmer, and sure enough, he ditched his floaty within the first week and hasn't looked back. Ian spent most of last summer snoozing instead of sleeping, so he is discovering all of the joys of the pool this year.

Listening . . . to my little sister, Angela, give her senior recital. For the past year and a half, ever since my parents moved to Utah, my sister, Anna, has been giving Angela piano lessons, and I have been giving her organ lessons. Her recital was the culmination of all those lessons, and she played very well.

Waiting . . . for Clark's birthday. Every night, he asked me, "How many more days until my birthday?" We slowly counted down throughout the month until finally, the big day arrived. It's too bad you only get to turn four years old one time in your life because I'm pretty sure it's the most exciting age to have a birthday, and Clark enjoyed every minute of it. (And then, a few nights later, he asked how many days it was until his birthday, and I had to break the bad news to him that was 357.)

Whew! I think that's it. What fun did May bring your way?

The World is a Book: How to Help Your Kids Prepare for a Family Trip (Guest Post)

Jun 8, 2018

Some of you might remember a post I wrote several months ago about motherhood. In it, I encouraged all of us to identify the parts of motherhood that bring us joy and focus on those instead of on the things that make us stressed or frustrated. Today I'm pleased to introduce you to one of my dearest friends, Kathy, who has a whole set of mothering strengths that will blow you away.

When I was a brand new mother myself, we lived in a little white duplex; Kathy lived across the street in a little apartment above a dry cleaners. Our days were spent walking back and forth across the busy road, babysitting each other's kids, exercising in the early morning hours, sharing dinner, and talking about absolutely everything. Kathy was my lifeline, a true friend that I could call up at any hour of the day and she would come running to my aid. I can't tell you how many times I've wished we were still neighbors.

Last summer, Kathy and her husband, James, went on a vacation to Italy, Austria, Switzerland, and Germany . . . with three of their young children. Mike and I thought they were crazy! But the great thing about Kathy is that she is a planner. For months leading up to the trip, she did activities and read books and prepared her kids for all of the adventures they were going to have. Today she's sharing a sampling of what they did to get ready for the trip, and it is amazing and inspiring, but I wanted to preface her thoughts with the reminder that we are all different mothers. Kathy LOVES to plan and create. She is extremely talented at both, and these things bring her joy as a mother. My hope with this post is that you won't feel like a trip can only be a success if you do all these things leading up to it, but that you will take away the things that inspire and bring you joy and make them a part of your next vacation.(And if an overseas trip isn't in your immediate future, you can take a virtual trip by reading all of the fantastic books recommended in this post.) And now, here's Kathy . . . 

As a little girl my dad gave my seven siblings and me a national parks passport book. We were fairly poor and had limited vacation days in the summer, but we had a big van, an equally big tent, lots of family and friends scattered across the nation and undying love for adventure.  Before I was 16, I had been to nearly 40 states and had visited everywhere from Mount Rushmore to George Washington Carver’s Farm and Monument. Not only did it teach me a love for people and places, it taught me to cope with my natural anxiety and fears. As an adult I still tend to get a little or a lot nervous before trips, but I have discovered that reading, researching, and preparing mentally before a trip is super therapeutic.  I am not a professional trip planner or a home schooling mom with tons of experience, but I am a mom of 4 great kids, a world traveler, and a former junior high teacher, so that counts for something, right?! I asked Amy if I could share on her site some ways that I have prepared and planned for a family trip we took last summer, in hopes that these books or ideas could help spark some ideas for you and your family on your next great adventures.

Last summer in 2017, we took three of our four kids to Italy, Switzerland, Austria, and Germany. My sister is like a second mom to my kids and convinced us to let her watch our 18 month old. (Yes, she’s a saint and yes, it was a hard choice but it turned out that our 7, 5, and 3 year olds kept us plenty busy!) I lived in Italy for 18 months as a missionary, so we spent most of our time there visiting places and people that I love. I could spend an entire post telling you about all the exciting activities and details, like getting four of our bags stolen from our car parked in Pisa, but since this is a website about books, I’ll share with you my kid’s favorite books that helped them to prepare for the trip. 

The Flying Bed by Nancy Willard has the most incredible illustrations and is so magical! Even if you never plan to visit Florence, you should read this book. Stone Giant by Jane Sutcliffe also is beautifully illustrated but it also teaches so much about the Statue David in such a fun, easy to read story. We all loved this book, and it helped us to focus on the meaning of the statue instead of the nudity…which was good to talk about as well. I,Galileo by Bonnie Christensen was a fantastic biography that made us all marvel at what a scientific genius and determined forward thinking soul he was. Pinocchio by Carlo Callodi was long and way less sugar coated in its original, non-Disney form. But the kids learned a lot from this Italian classic and all ended up purchasing Pinocchio dolls from vendors in Italy. Ciao Bambino  by Danna Leahy is a very simple, cute book that my littlest enjoyed. It gives good exposure to their first Italian words. Who was Leonardo da Vinci by Roberta Edwards was a favorite for my 7 year old. She also read the Magic Tree House book about him, but I’d agree with her that this biography gives you more cool facts about him.

Each week over the summer, we worked on a project or craft that helped us learn more about the places we were going to visit and celebrate their unique culture and history. We presented what we did each Monday at our family night. The kids made research posters,  acrylic paintings, clay sculptures, dioramas, power point presentations, ancient looking maps, gondolas out of tinfoil, venetian masks out of plaster & paint, and short stories. They also colored information cards about each major landmark that we’d see. I love to sew and I couldn’t resist sewing matching Sound of Music play clothes for the kids out of this fabric. We went on a few hikes over the summer to practice hiking and walking long distances. I also rubbed relaxing scented lotion on their feet every night for a month as they laid down to fall asleep in hopes that it would help program them to relax and fall asleep on the airplane and in unfamiliar beds. I’m not sure if it was purely the lotion trick or running laps around the airport during our 6 hour layover, but they all slept the entire flight from Toronto to Rome. So maybe it’s worth a try.

I wanted to make a book for this trip so that the kids could get more out of each day but once I pondered binding costs and the time and effort, I decided to just buy this darling travel journal made by Lonely Planet. It has lots of cute activity pages and prompts that my kids loved! I bought one for my 7 year old and one for my 6 year old. It was a hit and hopefully something they can look back on when their memory fades away.

The journal, however, was missing some personalized pages and elements that I really wanted so I made these pages above.  I borrowed my friends Polaroid Zip Wireless printer  and let the kids print off a picture of their favorite moment each day and stick it in the square I had made for each day. It helped them know what was happening next, as well as documenting the silver lining in each day. I also made a page for what they ate and watched on the airplane, a page for each of our homes or apartments we stayed at with lots of pictures so they knew before what to expect, a Gelato score card, and a job chart with a spinning wheel so each person got a special job and responsibility each day.

When the aforementioned stolen luggage incident happened in Pisa, my husband and I pondered cutting our trip short and flying home early. We counseled with our kids and asked what they thought. My seven year old was still heart broken over the loss of her favorite toy and soft baby blankie, but she emphatically said, “No way mom! There is still so much beautiful stuff we haven’t seen yet. We’ve got to keep going.” She was right. Just look at those Austrian Alps! So if after all your planning and hard work, things don’t turn out just how you hoped, just remember that there is still so much beauty waiting for you to discover! You’ll find it if you just keep exploring and trying!

Kathy and her family are headed to Mexico later this summer, and she has agreed to come back to the blog and share some of the books they've read and activities they've done to prepare for that trip. If you have any specific questions for her, feel free to ask them in the comments!

And finally, here are a few more book recommendations from Kathy:

More Books About Italy and Austria that We Read :
o    Agatha, Girl of Mystery by Steve Stevenson
o   Austria by Sean Sheehan
o   Beethoven for Kids by Helen Bauer
o   Best Book of Ancient Rome by Deborah Jane Murrell
o   Carnival at Candlelight (Magic Tree House) by Mary Pope Osborne
o   Columbus by Demi
o   Count Silvernose by Eric Kimmel
o   Hero On a Bicycle by Shirley Hughes
o   I, Vivaldi by Janice Jordan Shefelman
o   Kids in Ancient Rome by Lisa Wroble
o   Michelangelo for Kids by Simonetta Carr
o   Mira’s Diary: Home Sweet Rome by Melissa Moss
o   Monday with a Mad Genius (Magic Tree House) by Mary Pope Osborne
o   Roman Colosseum by Elizabeth Mann
o   Soldier Bear by Bibi Dumon Tak
o   Sound of Music Story by Tom Santopietro
o   T is for Toscana by Gary Kelley
o   The Airport Book by Lisa Brown
o   The Diary of Melanie Martin by Carol Weston 
o   The Italian Riviera by Fabrizio Ardito
o   The Mystery in Venice by Geronimo Stilton
o   The Tower of Pisa by James Barter
o   The All Powerful Ring: A Primo Story by John Marciano
o   Venice by Rossi Renzo

What I Read in May

May 31, 2018

I enjoyed everything I read in May, but there's only one book I wish I could gift to every parent in the whole, entire world. Read on to find out which one that was:

1. The One-in-a-Million Boy by Monica Wood
This book was on Anne Bogel's 2016 Summer Reading Guide, and I've heard her mention it many, many times since then. (It's a book she says she never would have read if not for a bookseller's insistence.) When the audio was on sale a few months ago, I purchased it, and I very much enjoyed listening to it. And even though I didn't read it in the summer, I can wholeheartedly get behind it as a perfect summer read.

Ona Vitcus, a 104-year-old Lithuanian woman, has grown quite fond of the odd little Boy Scout who comes over to help with jobs around her house when his father shows up in his place one Saturday. She doesn't know he is the boy's father at first and goes off about how she thought she finally had a Boy Scout who was reliable and responsible, but now she sees that he was just the same as the others. But then it comes out that the boy passed away suddenly and Quinn, the boy's father, who was never close to the boy when he was alive, is now there to fulfill the last few weeks of his son's obligation.

As the story progresses, we learn more about the boy, who was obsessed with the Guinness Book of World Records and was convinced that Ona Vitcus had a chance at being the oldest living person (if she can hold out for another thirteen years or so and get proof of her birth date . . . ). He asks Ona if he can record her life story. It's for a merit badge for scouts, but as Ona talks, she shares things she hasn't thought about in a couple of lifetimes. Meanwhile, the story moves forward in the present where Quinn develops his own friendship with Ona and confronts some of the issues of his past and the guilt he feels at not having been the father he should have.

The structure was fascinating because even though the book is about the boy, he stays somewhat concealed behind the recording of Ona Vitcus' life story, so even when we're in the past, we're only catching snippets of him. We never even learn his name. Everything about him is pieced together by the way he interacted with and influenced others, even after he had passed away.

There were some really humorous moments (Ona Vitcus is a real firecracker), and my favorite one was when Ona takes Quinn and his twice-ex-wife, Belle, on a road trip to visit her son to see if he has her birth certificate. Ona gave up this son for adoption when he was a brand-new baby, so she never had much of a relationship with him, and she was quite irritated at finding him a ninety-year-old man in a nursing home with a wandering memory.

I loved this quote: "Can memory be revisited to allow us to see now what we didn't see then?" If I had to distill the point of this story into one sentence, it would be that. Remembering events from the past enables the characters to see things in a new light and move forward with renewed hope.

Content note: Some bad language, including heavy use of the f-word in one scene; some offstage immorality.

2. Ramona's World by Beverly Cleary
We knew this day would come, but that doesn't mean we weren't sad when it finally did. We finished the last book in the Ramona Quimby series, and it felt like the end of an era. For the last five (six?) years, we've been slowly working our way through both the Henry Huggins and Ramona Quimby series (which I kind of think of as one big series since there is some overlap between characters). We finished the last Henry book over a year ago, but we held off on the last Ramona book because we've been pacing ourselves so that Ramona's age matched with Aaron's age. But with the end of Aaron's 4th grade year fast approaching, we knew we couldn't hold out any longer.

So we read it. And it was a sweet end to the series. The slow maturing of Ramona through each book is masterfully done. By the time she's in fourth grade, she has cast off a lot of her childish habits while maintaining her spunky creativity, which still leads to some embarrassing accidents (I think the scene where Ramona falls through her friend's dining room ceiling will remain on my kids' favorite list forever).

The blow of having these two beloved series come to an end can only be softened by one thing: Start over. (And, incidentally, that's exactly what Bradley and I have been doing. Beezus and Ramona, we love you.)

P.S. In writing this review, I was shocked to discover that I never wrote up a review of the seventh book in this series, Ramona Forever. I don't know how this happened. One of those unintentional oversights.

3. McBroom's Wonderful One-Acre Farm by Sid Fleischman
When I was in probably the fourth or fifth grade, I had to write a tall tale. To learn the key elements and style of a tall tale, I read stories about Paul Bunyan and Pecos Bill. If I'd known about Josh McBroom, I could have added him to the list, and I think I would have enjoyed his story most of all. I mean, how could you not like a tale about a farmer with eleven children who buys an eighty-acre farm, only to find out he's been hoodwinked and seventy-nine of those acres lie below ground. But then he finds out that the soil on his one-acre is the most fertile he has ever known. It can grow beautifully ripe vegetables in under an hour and a forest overnight. Perhaps McBroom didn't get taken after all.

The story is rich with the exaggerated language of tall tales:
". . . when I poked the gun barrel out the window, well, the wind bent it like an angle iron. The buckshot flew due south. I found out later it brought down a brace of ducks over Mexico."
"The air got so thick with hoppers you could swing a bucket once and fill it twice."
"Those infernal dinner guests had eaten the socks right out of my shoes . . . All they left were the holes in the toes." 
Anytime McBroom needs his family, he calls all eleven of his children in one long breath. Of course we had to try it out for ourselves, and the boys and I each took a turn trying to remember all eleven names and stringing them together just like McBroom: "Willjillhesterchesterpeterpollytimtommarylarryandlittleclarinda!"

My one complaint is that this book was much, much too short, but luckily there are more McBroom adventures, which I'm sure we'll read this summer. I can't recommend this enough as a great summer readaloud.

4. Refugee by Alan Gratz
I think this book has been quite popular on some school reading lists, but I hadn't heard anything about it until it was chosen as the middle grade novel for our May book club.

It follows three refugees: Joseph escaping Nazi Germany in 1938; Isabel leaving Cuba in 1994; and Mahmoud fleeing Syria in 2015. For the time periods and cultures and circumstances being so different, it was amazing to see the similarities between their stories.

Maybe too similar . . .

The book was presented in a way that really showcased the parallel nature of their journeys, and I'll admit that at times it seemed a little too contrived or formulaic. For example, first we had the set of chapters where a character fell into the ocean; next came the chapters where each main character did something brave and heroic to help his family survive; those were followed by the chapters where a loved one was lost. Subtle, this book was not.

I understand that it was written for children, but I don't believe the similarities needed to be so overt in order for kids to pick up on them.

However, in spite of the less-than-subtle parallels, I still ended up learning a great deal about these three events, one of which is, sadly, not finished. I appreciated the author's note at the end, which shared a little bit more about the historical accuracy of each story. And I loved the connections between all three characters at the end, even if it was a little contrived.

So I would definitely recommend this book, and I plan on having Aaron and Maxwell listen to it over the summer.

5. The Read-Aloud Family by Sarah Mackenzie
I saved my favorite for last. Oh, this book. I loved every part of it. I spent the whole time nodding my head and fist pumping the air and shouting, "Yes, Yes, YES!!!!" Everything I love and believe in about reading aloud as a family was validated among these pages.

For those who may not know, Sarah Mackenzie is the host of the fabulous podcast, The Read-Aloud Revival, which, as the title suggests, is all about igniting, or rekindling, as the case might be, a love of literature and stories as a family and in the process building lasting connections with one another.

The book is a continuation of this topic. The first part looks at the why behind reading aloud, the second part shares strategies for how to make reading aloud successful, and the third part shares
lists of potential read-alouds that will be enjoyed by all ages.

I obviously didn't need to be convinced that reading aloud is a great use of my time as a mother, so some might wonder if I actually found this book to be all that helpful. But I did! It fired up my passion just in time for summer vacation; it inspired me to make reading to Ian more of a priority (I admit that I find reading to one-year-olds a little bit exasperating); it helped me know how to start up conversations with my kids about what we're reading together and what they're reading on their own (seriously, the chapters on mastering the art of conversation and how to ask compelling questions were a goldmine of information); and the book lists at the end brought out my nerdy side--I read them straight through while simultaneously putting at least a dozen of the recommendations on hold at the library. They weren't just a rehashed version of other book lists; they included very new and current books and were highly curated to be the most beneficial in a read-aloud setting.

I plan to make this one of my go-to gifts for new moms because honestly, what better tradition could you start than one of reading aloud as a family?

What did you read in May? I'd love to hear!

A Little of This and That in April

May 21, 2018

April might just be my favorite month of the year. I love the warm weather and the flowering trees and the rain. I love the memories of Aprils past: the end of the college semester, graduation, my wedding day, Ian's birth. I relish the added minutes of sunlight each day. And . . . I'm always super annoyed when it snows. But it always does. So at least now I just expect it.

Our April was filled with . . .

Going . . . to General Conference on Temple Square. It was Maxwell's first time to go to the Conference Center, and the look of wonder and excitement on his face when we walked into that majestic hall was priceless.

Working . . . in the mornings. I mentioned a few months ago that I got a job as a manuscript reviewer with Deseret Book. Now that I'm several months into it, I can tell you that I am enjoying it so much, and it has fit into my day just exactly like I wanted it to. I get up at 5:30 in the morning and read/write for about an hour. This translates to about three manuscripts a month. I have only read a couple of things that were truly painful or tedious to get through, and a few have been quite exceptional. It's been a great way to start my days, and I'm grateful that I'm able to work just the amount of time that I wanted.

Getting . . . in a few more hugs from Mike's parents before they flew back to Germany.  Their visits are never long enough, but we sure try to pack in as much time with them as possible.

Spending . . . time with Mike's cousin, Laura, and her ten (yes, ten!) kids. We went to his family's cabin and spent the day roaming the woods, roasting hot dogs, and talking. Most of the time, I feel like I have a pretty big family with five boys, but that day, I felt like a total slacker! But really, it was so much fun to spend time with them, and all of my kids had a friend (or two!).

Being . . . released from my church calling. For the past three-and-a-half years, I have been serving as a counselor in my ward's Relief Society presidency. It was a wonderful, stretching experience for me. By far, my favorite part about it was getting to know all of the dear women in my neighborhood. I will treasure those relationships forever. But, I'm not going to lie, I'm feeling pretty free now without so many responsibilities!

Losing . . . a first tooth . . . and a second tooth . . . and a third tooth. Actually, the third tooth didn't come out until the beginning of May, but Bradley lost all three within a period of ten days. That's a pretty fast way to make money for a six-year-old. Two interesting and related facts: Maxwell has still not lost any teeth (and so Bradley lords it over him just a bit); Ian has exactly the same three teeth Bradley does not have (which we all find incredibly funny).

Listening . . . to audiobooks. Last year was not a great audiobook year for me, but this year, I'm back on the bandwagon and loving it. I find myself justifying knitting for an hour if I can get through an hour of an audiobook at the same time (actually, two hours, since I listen at double speed). That's a suuuuuuper productive way to maximize my hobbies, don't you think?

Dyeing . . . Easter eggs, one week after the fact. This was a lesson to me about not forcing activities into some preconceived time slot. We didn't have time to dye Easter eggs on Easter weekend, and rather than trying to cram it into a fifteen-minute window or just giving up on it all together, we just decided to wait until things had calmed down. And it was so great. We dyed them on a quiet evening with no other plans, and the kids literally worked on them for two hours.

Hosting . . . our 4th Annual Pie Party. In the past, we've tried to hold it as close to March 14th as possible, but every Saturday in March was either rainy or snowy or booked with another activity. So it didn't happen until April 21st, which also happened to be Ian's first birthday. He took a nap through most of it, but it was quite a party: 44 pies and over 180 guests. And the most beautiful sunshiny weather we could have asked for that was well worth the postponement.

Realizing . . . that having older kids is not half bad. In fact, it's pretty awesome. One day Aaron needed a book from the library, and the library closest to our house didn't have it, but another branch did. I was out with all the kids, and I really didn't want to get all of them out of their seats for just one book, so I sent Aaron in alone. And even though he had never been in that library before, he found the correct section of the library, located the book, and checked it out all by himself. That's just one small example, but it totally made my day.

Celebrating . . . our two April birthdays. Mike got a cherry pie (that he made for himself), and Ian got a chocolate kitty cake (because his first word was "kitty").

Starting . . . a couple of new knitting projects: a little dress for a new niece (which I've already finished) and a shawl for one of my aunts. Oh, and buying yarn for three more projects.

Attending . . . my sister's graduation at BYU. She received her masters in piano performance, and I am so proud of her (and also a little sad that there will not be any more concerts or recitals to go to).

Scooting . . . in an unusual way. Ian decided it was too difficult to go from sitting to crawling, so he decided to just scoot around on his bum instead. He wiggles his hips from side to side and gets around pretty quickly if he's on a smooth surface.

Going . . . on some fun dates, including to a performance of Riverdance and out to dinner for some Aussie barbeque with Mike's brother and sister-in-law. Making weekly dates a priority is one of the best things we've done for our marriage.

Suffering . . . through one of the worst colds of my life. I thought it was just going to be a mild spring cold, but then it moved into my sinuses, and it felt like they were filled up with concrete. I was so miserable, I actually went to the doctor for an antibiotic (which I hadn't done since I was pregnant with Bradley).

Getting . . . away for the weekend to celebrate our thirteenth wedding anniversary (and the successful end of our diet!). Dates are great, but mini-vacations are even better. This one was just to Park City and only for one night, but it didn't matter. We weren't on anyone's timetable except our own. We ate like kings. And we slept in until 7:30! (Our kids have us trained, and we couldn't stay asleep longer than that.) Our friends met us for dinner, and then we wandered the nearly empty streets because we timed our trip perfectly for the off-season (bad if you like skiing, good if you don't like crowds). Oh, and did I mention the weather was perfect?

Playing . . . with friends: Clark, all day, every day. He never has had enough of friends, and this introvert is having a hard time understanding it.

Watching . . . the boys in their Hamilton performances. The drama teacher at the boys' elementary school taught each class a song from Hamilton, which they then performed during Art Night. The performances themselves were very well done, but Art Night was so packed and chaotic and crazy that we almost missed both Maxwell and Aaron.

Hearing . . . Ian say "bye-bye." He might not be walking (or crawling), but we're hearing a new word every few days, and I love it. One of my favorites from April was when Mike was leaving for work, and I said, "Bye," and then Ian waved and said, "bye-bye" like he had been saying it his whole life.

Reliving . . . some of my happiest days. When I was down in Provo for my sister's graduation, I had a glorious walk across campus all by myself. Mike dropped me off on the south side of campus at the base of the long flight of stairs I must have climbed a thousand times over my college career. As I started walking up them, I experienced this overwhelming rush of happiness. It was as if every single happy memory converged in that moment and instilled itself into my soul. That sounds extremely dramatic, I know, but I can't think of any other way to describe it.  Even though I can't take a good selfie to save my life, I had to document the moment. I was simply elated.

I think that's a wrap on April. And now May is far enough gone, I might as well get started writing it up, too!

What did you do in April?

The Book Blab Episode 17: All Things Book Clubs Plus Two of Our Favorite Books for Mother's Day

May 10, 2018

Well, that was kind of a long hiatus, but Suzanne and I are finally back with another episode of The Book Blab! This one was worth the wait though, I promise.

Long-time readers will know that I have been a dedicated member of my book club (actually, several) for many years. Suzanne, it turns out, is the same, and between the two of us, we have quite the array of experiences. We had fun reminiscing about the various book clubs we've participated in, and we also shared a few tips and tricks for how to make a book club work no matter your situation.

The time flew, as it always does, and so we never got around to actually talking about the kinds of books that work well in a book club, so stay tuned for part two of this discussion!

As always, we'd love to hear about what your experience in a book club has been like, what some of your favorite book club reads have been, and why you think book clubs are so amazing (because you do think they're amazing, right?!).

Enjoy! (Oh, and p.s., please excuse the little technical glitches in this episode. We had a bit of a slow connection.)

1:00 - Life updates
1:50 - Today's topic: book clubs
2:40 - Why would you want to be in a book club?
  • 3:20 - A book club lets you discuss those books that beg to be discussed
  • 4:08 - A book club helps you see a certain book in a new way
  • 4:16 - It's fun to socialize with other readers
  • 5:10 - A succinct answer to that question
5:58 - A few descriptions of some of the book clubs we've been in
  • 6:17 - Suzanne's traditional book club in Chicago
  • 7:50 - Suzanne's casual book club in Houston
  • 8:03 - Suzanne's Learning Circle through the Power of Moms organization
  • 9:22 - Amy's education group
  • 10:15 - Suzanne's brand new book club in Kansas City
  • 10:33 - Suzanne's virtual book club with former college roommates
  • 11:57 - Amy's neighborhood book club
  • 12:58 - Amy's very traditional, very serious book club
  • 15:55 - Amy's family reunion book club
  • 17:00 - Suzanne's family book club (and surprising confession!)
  • 17:53 - Amy's plans for a book club with her kids this summer
  • 19:30 - The Book Blab mini-book clubs
20:18 - Helpful tips for making a book club work well
25:36 - A few ideas for how to start a book club
29:26 - Two of our favorite books about motherhood
  • 30:05 - Suzanne's recommendation
  • 31:20 - Amy's recommendation
33:47 - Conclusion

Books and links talked about during the show:

The Read-Aloud Family by Sarah Mackenzie
Power of Moms Learning Circles
Till We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis
Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner
The Four Tendencies by Gretchen Rubin
Mini-book clubs on The Book Blab (Episode 6 on A Man Called Ove and Episode 13 on The Girl Who Drank the Moon)
Educated by Tara Westover (Suzanne's review)
The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey (Amy's review // Suzanne's review)
The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio by Terry Ryan (Amy's review)

Deep Thoughts on Having a One-Year-Old

May 4, 2018

I had always wanted an April baby. I guess the fifth time's the charm.

The day was warm and sunny and smelled of cherry blossoms. The birth was relaxed and easy and filled with laughter. Both were perfect in their own way.

So maybe I can be forgiven for idealizing Ian's life just a little bit. Some of my dreams came true that day.

As this past year rushed by (at the speed of light, so it seemed), I found myself clinging to Ian's babyness: those squishy thighs, those soft cheeks, those baby blue eyes. As he reached each milestone, part of me wept, even while cheering him on.

Fortunately, he has taken his time with the milestones--at least the ones that involved movement--and that has helped ease the pain. He rolled pretty much exclusively until he was about ten months old. Then he learned how to army crawl. And just recently, he has begun scooting on his bum. That's because he still doesn't know how to get from a sitting to a crawling position or vice versa. Which means that if I sit him down,  he pretty much stays where he is, especially if he's on something that's difficult to scoot around on, like grass.

Before I had Ian, I knew slow movers existed. I just didn't know how wonderful they were. To be able to hold Ian on my lap and not have him constantly wriggling to get down is such a joy.

Because here's the other thing: in every other way, he's just like a one-year-old. He carries on "conversations" with us, says a few words, copies noises we make, laughs at our funny expressions and jokes, eats like a champ, delights in new toys, claps his little hands, and gives the best snuggles. It is so magical to have all of the personality of a one-year-old without all of the stress.

But I know these days are numbered. In fact, last week I took him to the doctor's for his one year check-up, and although Dr. VanDenBergh wasn't concerned per se about Ian's lack of crawling, it did make him think that Ian's hemoglobin level might be low. So he tested it, and sure enough, it was. We started giving him an iron supplement, and I'm not kidding when I tell you that the very next day (the very next day!) Ian got up on his hands and knees and then pushed up to his feet to get into a downward dog position. So maybe the iron is just the oomph he needed to get himself up off the ground. Either way, he's not going to be content with his current transportation options for much longer.

I've tried to enjoy each of my babies fully, completely, and not wish away the fleeting time. But it has felt more desperate with Ian. Is this how it feels with your last baby?

Because I don't know. There haven't been any flashing lights or loud proclamations, metaphorically speaking. Maybe there never will be. I think a part of me will always yearn for a baby but maybe not because I actually want another baby but rather I just want my own babies back.

I feel all this pressure, but I think it's pressure I've brought upon myself. If Ian really is our last, I want to feel like we're ending on a high note. I want him to be the most perfect baby that ever was and complete our family like the candle on his birthday cake. Because of that I've been quick to identify the good (he takes a binky!!!) and slow to find the bad (he gagged on all solid food for three months!).

When you think about it, this isn't really a bad way of looking at life. But it's also not really fair to Ian if it means I'm putting impossibly high expectations on him, nor is it fair to another possible child in our future who would undoubtedly be compared to our perfect "last" baby.

And so I'm realizing, once again, how important it is to just live in the present. And not just with one-year-old Ian. But with three-year-old Clark and six-year-old Bradley and eight-year-old Maxwell and nine-year-old Aaron.

I don't know what the future holds, but at this very moment, everything feels exactly right. Not that everything is perfect but that I think our family is exactly what it's supposed to be like right now. And that feels good.

What I Read in April

Apr 30, 2018

Technically, April isn't quite over, but it's close enough that I know I'm not going to finish any more books before midnight tonight. So here's what I read this month:

1. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle
I decided I wanted to read this book to my kids (even though Aaron had already read it himself) since the movie was coming out. But then, everything I've heard about the movie has been incredibly lame, so we have not rushed out to see it, but I'm still glad we read the book.

I know I read this book when I was a child, but I only remembered two things from it: Charles Wallace fixing his mom and Meg a midnight snack and all of the children bouncing their balls in synchronization with each other. Now that I've read it again, I can't believe I had no recollection of Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who, or Mrs. Which; or zapping through time and space; or Charles Wallace being hypnotized and turning into a shell; or a living brain pulsing on a pedestal. It's funny what the mind latches onto and remembers.

This book might have been a little too scary for Max and Bradley. I don't think it gave either of them nightmares, but at one point, Max shrieked at me to stop reading, and that's usually a pretty good indication that it has crossed the line into the "too intense" category. But we asked Aaron to spoil the ending for us, and then he allowed me to continue.

I know this book won a Newbery, helped establish a genre, and is beloved by many, but it just isn't my favorite. I have nothing against the book itself; I just can't ever seem to fully invest in science fiction.

Even though we haven't seen the movie yet, my hold for the graphic novel adaptation came in literally the day after we finished this book, and my boys devoured it one, two, three, as soon as I brought it home. I didn't get a chance to read it before it had to go back to the library, but they said it stayed pretty true to the original.

2. Brideshead Revisited: the Sacred and Profane Memories of Captain Charles Ryder by Evelyn Waugh
April was classics month for my book club, and this was the selected read. It had actually been on my to-read list for awhile, so I was grateful for the incentive to finally read it.

And I needed it. The knowledge that I would have someone to discuss it with when I was done was maybe the only thing that helped me get through the first couple of hours of listening. It was rough: it begins with Charles Ryder in the army in World War II. When he finds out his division is going to be staying at a large manor called Brideshead, his mind flashes back to twenty years before when he spent a great deal of time there with the Marchmain family. But first, you have to get through his first year at Oxford, during which part I spent the whole time wondering what was real and what was only perceived because they were all too drunk to see straight.

It picked up, or at least became more interesting to me, after he started spending more time with the whole Marchmain family, and not just Sebastian. But I can't say I ever liked the story. Each character was complex and incredibly flawed, and I had more sympathy for some (Julia) than for others (Charles). It reminded me a lot of Rules of Civility, probably because of the time period (the two novels are about fifteen years apart, but still felt similar) but also because all of the characters make such stupid choices. However, I adored the writing in Rules of Civility, and I found it a little tedious and at times cryptic in Brideshead Revisited.

But I think the main reason for my distaste is that I despised, absolutely despised, Charles Ryder. And it's hard to like a book when you dislike the main character so much. I know most people at my book club didn't agree with me, but I found his selfishness to be quite sickening.

Speaking of book club though, if I had read this book on my own, I probably would have hated it. Chances are, I might have even abandoned it partway through. But getting the chance to discuss it with other readers who felt just as baffled and confused as I did at times (what was the deal with Sebastian's teddy bear anyway?) made all the painful moments worth it. In fact, the discussion was so good that I would be quick to recommend this as an excellent choice for others looking for good book club material (although, fair warning, I feel like you'd need a group of fairly serious readers to tackle this one).

Mature content: infidelity (off-stage) and lots of drinking

3. Pie by Sarah Weeks
I checked out this book from the library because I thought it would make the perfect readaloud for March since we like to go all out for Pi(e) Day. But then, other books pushed their way ahead, and we didn't get to it. As it turned out, we didn't get to Pie Day either because of the cold, snowy weather in March, which meant that both the book and the party got pushed back to April. Coincidence? I think not.

This book was a happy surprise. We chose it because of its subject matter, and while there are certainly many tantalizing descriptions of pies, we ended up loving it for its story. When Aunt Polly, world-famous pie maker, dies unexpectedly, she leaves her beloved pie shop to Reverend Flowers, her grumpy cat, Lardo, to Alice, and her top secret pie crust recipe to . . . Lardo. That's right. She leaves her recipe to a cat, and a most unlikeable cat at that. Many people are desperate for that recipe, and after Aunt Polly's apartment is found ransacked, Alice knows this is serious and she has to get to the bottom of it.

I feel a little guilty for liking this book so much because last month I talked about a book called Zinnia and the Bees, and one of the main things that bugged me about it was that Zinnia's mother has a complete personality shift at the end. Well, the same thing happened in this book. Alice's mother is selfish and bratty, and then, all of a sudden, she's not. It's ridiculously convenient, and yet, it didn't bother me in this story the way it did with Zinnia. Maybe it was because I was reading it to my kids, and my ability to suspend my disbelief is naturally extended when I'm with them. But really, I think it was just because we were having so much fun with this story, so I was willing to overlook little pet peeves. Plus, I really loved Sarah Weeks' writing style, especially the way she so easily and naturally filled in the back story. You didn't even realize a flashback was happening until it was over.

And of course, this book fulfilled its main purpose, which was to get all of us hyped up and excited for forty-four pies and one hundred and eighty friends and neighbors at our annual pie party.

P.S. Deal alert: the paperback is less than $3 on Amazon right now, so you might want to snag one if it sounds good.

4. And Both Were Young by Madeleine L'Engle
Yes. YES. YESSSSSSS. My search for a clean, well-written, interesting young adult novel was finally rewarded. I would feel comfortable recommending this to any teenager (and plenty of adults as well).

This is one of Madeleine L'Engle's early, early novels. Published in 1949, it takes place right after WWII in a boarding school in the Swiss Alps. The setting is breathtaking (as you might imagine), and there is plenty of skiing to go around (this would be a perfect winter read). Philippa, or Flip as she is usually called, has been enrolled at the boarding school because her mother died and her father is an artist and must travel for work. She . . . does not have the best attitude about it. She feels like she doesn't relate to any of the other girls and consequently spends most of her free time seeking out places to be alone.

One day she is out exploring and comes upon a little chateau nestled among the trees. There is a dog that she immediately recognizes because she'd been pummeled over by him when she and her father had been staying at the beach right before they took the train to Switzerland. But more interesting than the dog is the dog's owner--a boy named Paul who is as nice as he is handsome. Flip starts sneaking out on Sunday afternoons to spend time with Paul, and having a real friend gives Flip the confidence to overcome some of her shyness at school.

There's more, too: a dark, troubling side of Paul, a creepy hobo who wanders the hills, secret ski lessons, and an art teacher who mentors Flip when she needs it most. And even though Flip and Paul spend all that time alone together, they never do more than hold hands. Madeleine L'Engle nailed the innocent, clean romance.

My one issue (observation? complaint?) was that as the story progressed, Paul seemed younger and younger to me. I'm sure this had to do with the fact that as you learn more about his past, he seems more vulnerable because of all that he's been through.

Although the book was published in 1949, it was revised and reissued in 1983. I originally started with the 1983 edition from the library, but when that copy had to go back, I switched to the 1949 edition on my kindle. It sounds like there are differences between the two, but for my part, I couldn't see what those were.

I can't tell you how good it felt to read a young adult novel that I actually enjoyed and would eagerly recommend to others. This book was a major win for me.

P.S. And right now, the kindle edition is only $4.

What books did you read this month? Anything worth recommending? Share in the comments!
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