My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She's Sorry by Fredrik Backman

Sep 29, 2017

I read A Man Called Ove last year, and my feelings toward that book have only grown fonder with time. So I was excited to dive into another of Backman's novels, especially one with a title as endearing as this one (although, I really think it should have been My Granny . . .  since Elsa never refers to her as Grandmother, but nobody asked my opinion).

The story starts out charming enough. Seven-year-old Elsa and her granny are sitting in the police station after breaking into a zoo and then dodging the police. Oh, and Elsa's granny had to actually break out of the hospital in order to break in to the zoo. With an opening scene like that, you realize pretty quickly that this is not your sit-on-the-porch-and-knit kind of granny.

She and Elsa have a strong bond, made only stronger by their secret language and the fantasy world of Miamas, a magical kingdom that they travel to almost every night. But the whole reason Granny is in the hospital is because she has cancer. It's terminal, and when she passes away (soon after the zoo incident), Elsa is devastated. Granny is her only friend, and she feels the void like only a seven-year-old can.

But before she dies, Granny gives Elsa the first in a series of letters to be delivered to various neighbors and friends. In each letter, she apologizes for something, and along the way, Elsa learns about her granny's past, the mistakes her granny made, and how the people in her world fit together.

Even though I loved the opening scene, the story soon bogged down for me because of the aforementioned fantasy world. The line between fantasy and reality is quite blurred for Elsa, which made it quite confusing for me: Was that really a wurse Elsa was feeding cookies to or just a really big dog?

I found myself desperate to get through the stories from Miamas so I could get back to the real world and try to make sense of what was going on.

And finally, finally, things did begin to come together; the two worlds lined up and came into focus, and when they did, well, then I started to think Fredrik Backman might be something of a genius. Because isn't that how seven-year-olds see the world? As a mix of truth and fiction? So even though Elsa is an extremely bright, precocious seven-year-old, she's still at a very impressionable age, and it was pretty amazing to see the world through her eyes and make the connections right along with her.

That said, the characters maybe all fit together a little too perfectly for my tastes. In a turn of events rivaling a Dickens novel, everyone was related to or in love with or enemies with everyone else. It was both brilliant and totally unbelievable, and yet, there again, from a seven-year-old's perspective, sometimes everything really does connect in rapid succession just like that.

I know some reviewers have criticized this book, saying that Elsa acts too mature for her age. But actually, for me, it was just the opposite. Elsa saved the book. Because she was only seven years old, she could get away with so many things and made the unbelievable much more believable.

Even though I didn't love it as much as A Man Called Ove, I can't deny that Fredrik Backman knows how to tell a darn good story.

Content note: There's some strong language in this one, especially from Granny and Alf. 

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!
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