A Little of This and That in October

Nov 17, 2017

You know I'm not as enamored with October as the rest of the world seems to be, but even I have to admit that we had a lovely, beautiful month. Some highlights were . . .

Driving . . . the Alpine Loop. The last time I remember driving this mountain loop in the fall was before we had kids, but now I think it needs to be a new tradition. Seriously, it was jaw droppingly gorgeous. Nature amazes me.

Watching . . . General Conference. Our kids managed to let Mike and me listen to about half the talks, and I've been relistening in the weeks since. Two of my favorite talks are "Turn on Your Light" by Sharon Eubank and "The Eternal Everyday" by Quentin L. Cook.

Hiking . . . Grandeur Peak. This actually happened at the end of September, and I can't believe I forgot to write about it in my September recap because it was kind of a big deal. We can see this mountain from our house, and so it was one of the boys' summer goals to hike to the top of it (because how cool is that to look at the same mountain every day and know that you've been at the very top?). They had to wait for the summer heat to retreat, and then they settled on a Friday when Mike had the day off work and the boys didn't have school. I kept Ian and Clark at home, but the rest of the boys went, and they happened to go on a day when they could be joined by a few cousins, a couple of aunts, and an uncle. They completed the entire hike but only just. Maxwell got altitude sickness and was pretty miserable for the majority of the hike and then spent the rest of the day in bed or on the couch. It was kind of like he had the flu. Poor kid.

Winning . . . the Reflections contest in the photography category. The funny thing about the above hike is that Max had been planning to take a photo from the mountain that he could then use for the school Reflections contest. But by the time he reached the top, he was deep in the throes of altitude sickness. His head hurt, his legs were weak, and the last thing he wanted to do was take a picture. But Mike got it pointed in the right direction and then had him come push the button, all while Max was whining and complaining and crying. And then, his photo won. Personally, I think it had more to do with his description than the actual photo because he wrote about all he had to overcome in order to take it.

Taking . . . a knitting class. One of my goals this year was to take a knitting class. I bought a Craftsy class on stranded knitting a few months ago, but I kept thinking about how much fun it would be to take a class at my local yarn store also. So when a class came up to learn how to make a pair of colorwork mittens, I jumped on it. Even better, one of my good friends took the class with me. Those two evenings were an absolute delight. I was surrounded by beautiful yarn and other knitters doing an activity that I love and improving my skills. Plus, I was so happy to become friends with the instructor. I had been following her on Instagram for several months, but she was even nicer in real life. Here's the thing I realized though after completing the class: I loved it for the camaraderie and conversations and trouble shooting, but I think I actually prefer learning from a video because I can watch it as many times as I need to and not feel self-conscious. So what I really need is a knitting group. But first, I need to find other friends who knit.

Visiting . . . the pumpkin patch. Our kids loved searching for just the right pumpkin, running through the corn maze, rolling around in the corn bin, and going down the long slide. I think we picked the perfect day weather-wise for it. Last year, we went to Chick-fil-a after going to the pumpkin patch, and so this year, everyone assumed we'd do the same thing. So we did. I guess it's kind of a tradition now.

Losing . . . two teeth in ten minutes. Aaron finally, finally lost his two front teeth. They were so worn down, there was hardly any tooth left to lose, but he still managed it--first one, and then, a few minutes later, the other one. At nine years old and in the fourth grade, he's the last one in his class to lose his front teeth, so I think he's glad to finally join the ranks. (Maxwell seems to be following in Aaron's footsteps since he has yet to lose his first tooth.)

Practicing . . . the piano. I've been getting all of my piano students ready for my annual recital, and I always like to play a piece as well. This year, I chose to play Chopin's minute waltz, and it's been so fun to have a reason to sit down and practice, (However, my rendition takes considerably longer than one minute to play.)

Going . . . to This is the Place park. Our friends have a pass that allowed us to get in too, so we went with them. We probably picked the craziest day to go because not only was it fall break (which we knew), but it was also Little Haunts (an annual Halloween event which we didn't know about). Luckily, most people were there for the Halloween activities, so we were able to avoid most of the crowds doing the things no one else was interested in. I think once our zoo membership expires, I'm going to get a membership at This is the Place because my kids loved it so much, and we didn't even get to do half of the activities.

Walking . . . through the zoo. But in the meantime, we're using our zoo pass and loving it.

Volunteering . . . in the boys' classrooms. My goal is to help in Aaron's and Maxwell's classrooms once a month, but in October, I was able to help in Bradley's as well. I love seeing what they're working on and learning and how their teachers interact with them.

Attending . . . Homecoming Spectacular at BYU. Kristin Chenoweth was the guest performer, and she meshed so well with BYU's performing groups. She had some stunning solos, and she was just so complimentary to BYU and its professors and students that I couldn't help but love her. After the performance, we walked around campus a bit, and I basked in all the good memories I have from my time there.

Celebrating . . . Mike's weight loss victory. He's been in a weight loss competition with his friend at work for the past three months. When they started, they decided that the reward (for both of them) would be going out to a nice restaurant at the end of it. The catch was that the loser would have to foot (most of) the bill. Oh, and both wives were invited as well, which suited me just fine. Mike ended up winning (he's nothing if not competitive), so it was not only delicious but inexpensive (and dark--the lighting was perfect for ambiance but not photos).

Dressing . . .up as pirates. Our neighborhood did an adult progressive dinner, and each house had a theme. Everyone rotated to each house, but you dressed up according to which house you'd been assigned in the planning stages. We were in the pirate group, and I was happy to get to resurrect our costumes from a few years ago. (And even though it was only for adults, Ian got to come too because babies don't count as kids, right?)

Taking . . . family pictures. Always an ordeal, but thanks to Mike's talented sister, it was a very pleasant one. And she got some great shots.

Jumping . . . in the leaves, painting and carving pumpkins, and going trick-or-treating. All of the things that make October, October.

How was your October? I'm still interested in hearing about it even though we're more than halfway through November. :-)

Review x 2: Rose in Bloom and The Blue Castle

Nov 10, 2017

About half of my reading goals this year were loosely defined, giving me plenty of wiggle room and opportunities to change my mind, and the other half were very specific. Number Three was one of the latter: "Read Rose in Bloom by Louisa May Alcott and The Blue Castle by L.M. Montgomery."

I read Eight Cousins last year, and I knew if I didn't put a high priority on reading the sequel, Rose in Bloom, it would be years before it happened, which would make me think I had to reread Eight Cousins before I could pick it up, and . . . you can see how that could turn into a vicious cycle for me.

By contrast, The Blue Castle has been on my to-read list for years and years and years. And every year, I thought I would get to it, and every year, I didn't. Except for this year. I knew making a goal would force it to happen.

Because the two books were grouped together in my goals, it only makes sense to review them together, although they're actually not very similar at all.

Rose in Bloom was a slow read for me. I listened to it, and, as you might remember, this is not the year of the audiobook. It probably took me four months to listen to, and the only reason I ended up getting through it was because I made weekly goals along the lines of, "Listen to an hour of Rose in Bloom."

All of Louisa May Alcott's books have a strong moral undertone (I'm making assumptions here since I haven't read all of her books, but my sample size would indicate that this is the case), but this one was especially heavy handed. Rose was a little too much of a goody two shoes for me (and when the girl who has always been a bit of a goody two shoes herself admits that, then you know it must be pretty blatant).

I grew tired of Rose continually chiding and preaching to her cousins, giving up certain things because they were giving her too much pleasure (as noble as that is), and sacrificing all of her time for the good of others. It was just too much, and I couldn't seem to muster up the same feelings of adoration that everyone else seemed to feel about her. She was too good and too saintly, made all the more aggravating because she was always bemoaning how she was not good and not saintly and must therefore try a little harder.

One of the reasons I really wanted to read this book was because when I reviewed Eight Cousins, I mentioned that I was so curious about Uncle Alec and what made him stay a bachelor. One of my friends commented and said that all of my questions would be answered in Rose in Bloom. And so I kept waiting to hear more about Uncle Alec's past and what I was sure would be a failed love interest, but I guess I was looking for the wrong thing because that kind of story wasn't there. (Then again, maybe I just missed it because I was reading the book so sloooowwwllly.)

I will say that the ending redeemed the book a bit for me because it was so sweet and exactly what I wanted to happen. So there's that.

The Blue Castle was a completely different ride--one that was quirky and completely unbelievable and just so much fun.

Valancy Stirling has always lived under the oppressive thumb of her mother and various relations. She wears what they want her to wear, spends her time doing what they except her to do, and laughs appropriately at all of Uncle Benjamin's insufferable jokes. But after she finds out she has an incurable heart condition and has less than a year left to live, she throws all cares to the wind and finally lives her life the way she wants to. It's thrilling and exhilarating, and she takes the reader right along with her.

When Valancy first learns about her diagnosis, she is naturally upset, but I loved this line: "Rebellion flamed up in her soul as the dark hours passed by--not because she had no future but because she had no past." This rebellion makes her bold and brazen in a way that is completely endearing--like, she buys herself a green dress (shocking!) because she's always been made to wear brown, and she goes to the Presbyterian church even though the entire Stirling clan has always gone to the Anglican church. She creates a past for herself, something that she can fondly look back on and that other people will remember her by.

I mentioned above that it's a rather unbelievable story, and it is, and I suppose some readers would fault it for that, but I didn't. I loved every unbelievable moment. There have been times in L.M. Montgomery's books where I've wanted more (who can read Anne of Windy Poplars without thinking, That's all sweet and charming, but what about Anne and Gilbert?!), but there are no passionate feelings lacking in this one (and of course, it's all innocent and perfectly appropriate (even if Valancy thinks she's being scandalous), which made me love it even more).

After I was done with it, I pushed it into my sister's hands, and she in turn pushed it into my mom's hands. So within about a month of each other, we all had read it, and we all loved it.

I think part of the reason I loved it so much was because it was so different from what I was expecting. For some reason, I had the impression that it was going to be dark and moody, so when it ended up being spunky and sassy and even at times a bit silly, it delighted me to no end. Valancy's mother is too awful, Barney is too perfect, and Valancy is too adorably clueless for real life, but they're all just the right amount of those things to make a really good story.

I can see this one turning into a comfort book--one that I return to when I just want to escape into a happy place.

I know many of you count Rose in Bloom as your favorite Alcott novel, and even though it won't be mine, I'm interested to hear why you love it so much. And what is your opinion of The Blue Castle: is it endearing or ridiculous?

The Year of Living Danishly: Uncovering the Secrets of the World's Happiest Country by Helen Russell

Nov 7, 2017

It begins in October. Those gorgeous fall colors that everyone else is raving about are taunting me. A blazing, brilliant disguise, but I know better.

And then in November, it hits: Bleak. Dark. Cold. And the promise of four more months of the same.

It's almost more than I can bear.

But something changed last winter. Or, at least, I discovered something that helped.

That thing is Hygge.

Hygge (pronounced "hoo-guh") was kind of a buzz word last winter. Everyone was talking about it and trying to figure out how to make their homes and environment a little more hygge.

It was a concept I understood and embraced immediately. Hygge is a cozy feeling of comfort, peace, and security. I have long said that if I could just hibernate, winter wouldn't be so bad. And essentially, that's exactly what hygge is.

When I made my goal to "read a book about slow, conscientious living," it was the idea of hygge that I really wanted to learn more about.

I immediately thought of The Year of Living Danishly, which seemed to be one of the sources that really kicked off the whole hygge obsession. Although I was interested in learning about what makes the Danes the happiest people in the world, it was really the promise of hygge that made me pick up this book.

Helen Russell is a journalist living in the UK when her husband is offered a job working for Lego in Denmark. They move to a rural part of the country (Jutland) and arrive in January. Anxious to get to know their new home, they go out, only to discover that the place is a ghost town. Apparently, everyone else is staying in--hunkering down, if you will, to wait out the worst of winter.

But the thing Helen Russell soon realizes is that they're not just gritting their teeth and muscling their way through winter. They're actually enjoying it.

And it's due in large part to hygge.

Early on, Helen Russell talks to cultural integration coach, Pernille Chaggar, about hygge, who says, "It's hard to explain, it's just something that all Danes know about. It's like having a cosy time."

But then she elaborates:
"Staying home and having a cosy, candlelit time is hygge. But really, hygge is more of a concept. Bakeries are hygge, and dinner with friends is hygge. You can have a 'hygge' time . . . Hygge is also linked to the weather and food. When it's bad weather outside you get cosy indoors with good food and good lighting and good drinks. In the UK, you have pubs where you can meet and socialise. In Denmark, we do it at home with friends and family."
Although some would argue that you can experience hygge outside (and I'm not saying you can't--"you," meaning, "someone other than me"), when Helen Russell asks other Danes how to survive winter and mentions some of the things she's already tried, one person responds, "Well that's where you've been going wrong! The secret to getting through winter in Denmark is to stay inside!"

Danish happiness is linked to more than just hygge (The UN World Happiness Report gave many reasons: "a large gross domestic product per capita, high life expectancy, a lack of corruption, a heightened sense of social support, freedom to make life choices, and a culture of generosity"), but I'll be honest that hygge ended up being one of the only things about this book that truly interested me.

In fact, I found myself organizing everything I liked into the hygge category and discounting the rest.

For example, the Danes love great design, and so, consequently, they really invest in making their homes beautiful (Helen Russell cited one study which confirmed that "looking at something beautiful really can make us happier, by stimulating dopamine in our brains"). That definitely seems to be true for me since the one room of our house that really makes me happy is our living room, which happens to be the only room in our home that actually has some sort of design feature (those gorgeous shelves and cabinets Mike built last fall). The rest of our home is undecorated and is really just a random hodge podge of stuff with very little thought about its aesthetic value.

This idea of beautiful design goes right along with hygge since you want the space you're spending the majority of your time in to feel cozy and inviting. (Now I'm trying to figure out how to get the laundry out of my bedroom since a mountain of clean and dirty clothes is definitely cramping my hygge style.)

Other keys to Danish happiness include an emphasis on family at the expense of time at work, hobbies and learning, and good food (make that, good pastries). All of these thing contribute to the feeling of hygge and therefore, I paid attention to them.

But in spite of its high happiness marks, Denmark isn't all sunshine and roses. Apparently, Danes "have the highest levels of antidepressant use in Europe according to the OECD" and Scandinavians "hold the gold standard for SAD [Seasonal Affective Disorder]," which begs the question of whether they're really the happiest people in the world or just the most medicated.

They're also "among the highest drinkers in Europe, according to the World Health Organization," are physically violent, and have no problem with sleeping around and being unfaithful (I'm speaking in general terms, of course). Their taxes are extremely high, but the government then takes care of most of their health, social, and educational needs. And it's very common to send their children to full-time daycare from the time they're babies.

These were the things I refused to acknowledge in my quest to understand what makes the Danes the happiest people in the world. Hygge? Yes. Excessive drinking? No.

But back to the imminent winter, which seems to be looming much closer after this weekend when the temperature dropped and the evenings instantly became dark an hour earlier. When Helen Russell questions meteorologist, John Cappelen, about winter, he enthusiastically says,
"Winter weather in Denmark is special. It brings people together. It forces us to be inside and brings families and friends closer. In southern Europe everyone's still going out and spending time in restaurants and cafes, but in Denmark, we pull together at home and get hygge! In the olden days, you wouldn't have been able to survive winter here without gathering wood and food beforehand, so you had to help out neighbors, your family and friends to survive. Then when the cold weather came, you could hide away inside."
 When she hears that, Helen Russell questions, "Like hibernation?"

And I answer, "Yes, exactly like hibernation." Bring it on, Winter. Hygge and I are ready for you.

What do you think? How do you hygge? And is it essential for your winter survival?

A Calvin and Hobbes Halloween

Nov 3, 2017

Last Halloween, almost everyone recognized that our costumes went together. It wasn't difficult. The red and white stripes of a half dozen Waldos was quite striking.

This Halloween, almost no one noticed our theme. Even those who knew we were supposed to go together couldn't figure out who we were or what connected us.

But the few who got it (the nerds!!!) loved it. And we loved it, too. In fact, these might go down as our favorite Halloween costumes ever.

My boys have long been obsessed with the comic strip, Calvin and Hobbes. I think they've read every single collection (many of them several times), and yet rarely leave the library without one in hand. They can spout off a dozen lines with the least provocation, and they laugh themselves silly recollecting Calvin's antics.

Mike is right there with them. He has loved Calvin and Hobbes since he was a kid, and I think he relishes the chance to enjoy them all over again.

One night, probably six months ago, the boys were talking about what we should go as for Halloween (you can never begin too early . . . ). One of them suggested Calvin and Hobbes.

I was just about to regretfully tell them we would need seven costumes, not just two, when they all jumped in with suggestions:

"Bradley can be Calvin because he looks the most like him."
"Maybe Aaron and Max can go as Calvin's alter egos."
"Yeah! Max can be Spaceman Spiff!"
"And Aaron can be Stupendous Man."
"Mom and Dad can be Calvin's mom and dad, of course."
"Clark can be Hobbes."
"And the baby . . . what about the baby?"
"How about the snowman?"

And just like that, they had it all planned out.

Mike did most of the costume planning and constructing, but I made one important contribution. We decided Bradley needed a Hobbes doll he could carry around. Even though Clark was going as the real Hobbes, he wasn't going to be right next to Bradley all the time, and without him, Bradley didn't look all that dressed up.

But you can't buy a Hobbes doll (unless you go to Etsy and pay someone to make one for you) because Bill Watterson never released the copyright to commercialize any of the characters. So I decided I'd have to make one.

It was a labor of love for sure. I was reminded why I haven't sewn much in the last eight years--it just requires so much work to get out everything and then put it all away an hour or two later. It took several sessions to complete the doll, but I was so pleased with it. It added just the right touch to Bradley's costume.

As the mom and dad, Mike and I also struggled with how to look any different than we look in real life. Turns out, we both bear a striking resemblance to Calvin's parents. However, Calvin's mom has a bit more of a mullet than I do, so a mullet wig was in order. Unfortunately, just donning a wig didn't make me instantly recognizable, but I at least felt like I was wearing a costume. (And I will say, I received more false compliments on that wig than almost anything I've ever worn.)

The first time the boys put on their costumes, they became the characters. Maxwell especially, as Spaceman Spiff, literally seemed to transform every time he put on his blue suit and darted around the house yelling, "Kiss your protons good-bye!"

And that's why, even though we may not have made much of an impression on most of our neighbors (no one pointed to us and exclaimed, "Look! They're Calvin and Hobbes!"), I'm so glad we made these our costumes this year. My kids will always remember the year they transformed into their favorite comic strip characters.

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