Delicious to Me: My Experience Reading The Book of Mormon

Dec 25, 2018

In years to come, I think I will look back on 2018 and remember it as the year my faith was reborn.

And it is only now, as the crisis is fading, that I feel comfortable talking about it. That's the way it is sometimes, right? We can be vulnerable when we are in a safe place, when it no longer feels like the bottom will drop out from under us at any moment. I'm in that safe place now, and I am writing this so I will remember one of the ways I got there.

As you might expect, this rekindling was not the result of just one event. For years, I have held firmly to my habits (scripture study, prayer, church attendance, among others) so that I would always be in a position conducive to feeling the Spirit.  I don't want to de-emphasize the importance of pressing forward in these small and simple things. They have, quite literally, saved me. However, there have been some bigger things this year that helped push that faith forward by leaps and bounds.

One of them began on October 6th and concluded on December 23rd. On that evening two and a half months ago, I was sitting in the Conference Center in downtown Salt Lake City when President Russell M. Nelson, the prophet of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, extended this invitation: "I invite you to read The Book of Mormon between now and the end of the year." 

I heard those words, and my heart sank. I admit it, it did. I didn't feel excited or inspired. In that moment, I felt the magnitude of such a challenge in what seemed to me to be an already full and busy life. 

It wasn't that I wasn't already reading my scriptures. To the contrary, my habit of reading my scriptures is a firmly rooted one, rivaled only by my commitment to write in my journal every night. In fact, I can't remember the last time I missed a day of reading.

But this was different. In order to read the entire Book of Mormon before the end of the year, I knew I would have to significantly increase the amount of time I devoted to scripture study every day. I am not a fast reader, and I am even slower when I'm reading the scriptures.

And so I wavered. I had started The Book of Mormon in January of this year, and I was almost through the book of Alma (which is about two-thirds of the way through). Surely I could just continue where I was and be sure to finish before the end of December. After all, that would still be the whole Book of Mormon this year.

But something about that didn't settle with me. It seemed like there must be a reason why President Nelson would want people to read the entire book in a condensed amount of time. So I had a decision: Was I going to follow the prophet's counsel or not? Was I going to sacrifice something good for something better? And as I considered it, the way opened up. I figured out how many pages I would need to read each day. I observed my schedule and noticed where I could give a few minutes here and there. I realized I didn't need a solid hour, but just ten to fifteen minutes several times a day. Suddenly it seemed possible.

I took out my bookmark at Alma 63 and moved it back to 1 Nephi 1. And as I read the first verse, the burden I had originally felt lifted and never returned. The blessing that came with deciding to obey the prophet was instantaneous, immediate. Of course there were days when time was scarce, distractions were many, or the words themselves were confusing. But. I never felt unhappy or irritated about my decision. I counted it as a blessing and a privilege to read, and I know that attitude did not come from me. 

My boys were all very interested in the challenge and checked in with me to see how my reading was coming along. Whereas before, I usually reserved scripture study for nap time, I could no longer afford that luxury. I had to read any chance I could get, and so they often saw me reading in the car or in the evening after dinner or at the kitchen table. They could see how important reading the scriptures was to me. Aaron finished reading The Book of Mormon about the same time I started, but Maxwell decided he was going to accept the invitation as well, and he began reading with a fierce determination (he is a much faster reader than I am, and, in spite of his late start, he is already in 3 Nephi). Even Ian picked up on my commitment. One afternoon, he carried my scriptures out to me and said, "Scriptures, scriptures," knowing that I often read in the afternoon.

One thing I noticed right away was how comfortably familiar the words in The Book of Mormon were. I have no idea how many times I've read The Book of Mormon during my lifetime, but it's been many. As I read, my mind would often complete a verse or leap ahead to an upcoming phrase. The words felt like they were a part of me.

In contrast, and as often happens when studying the scriptures, there were completely new verses, or so it seemed: words that seemed brand new and lit me up with the thrill of discovery. I also noticed that I was able to keep track of places, people, time frames, and events and how they all related to each other much more easily than before, and I attribute this to my quick pacing. For example, 3 Nephi 8 is about the vast destruction that occurred when the Savior was crucified. Many cities were sunk or buried or burned. It broke my heart because I recognized the names of many of those cities and remembered some of the miracles that had happened in them in earlier chapters. All of the details just fit together better than they ever have before.

When President Nelson extended his invitation, he also made the recommendation to "mark each verse that speaks of or refers to the Savior." I kept a little green pencil tucked between the pages for just this purpose. I have always known that The Book of Mormon is another testament of Jesus Christ, but I was surprised to discover that it is literally saturated with references to and testimonies of Him. Hardly a page went by without at least one green mark, and many of the pages were riddled with dozens of highlights. 

Perhaps this was most meaningful to me in 2 Nephi. This is usually one of the hardest books for me to get through because so much of it is quoting Isaiah's prophecies, which are not the easiest to understand. But this time, armed with my trusty green pencil, I read it with eyes searching for the Savior. And amazingly, He was there. I still didn't understand a lot of it, but one thing came through loud and clear: Isaiah testified of Jesus Christ.

My personal testimony has suffered a great deal in recent years. To put it simply, it just hasn't been easy to believe. I don't think there was any one thing that triggered the doubts, but they slowly built up over time, in spite of my best efforts to stop them. I have many friends who have had their faith shaken over a Church policy or practice, but my questioning went right to the very core of my belief: Is there a God? And many times, the answers seemed unsatisfactory at best and unbelievable at worst. I prayed often, but most of the time, it felt like no one was on the other side. It feels scary to admit that, to type out the words in black and white, but that's what it felt like to me.

I always thought my belief in God needed to come first, and then all of the other beliefs would fall into place. But reading The Book of Mormon this time changed that for me. As I read, the thought that came most often and totally unbidden to my mind was, Joseph Smith did not write this book. I would just be reading along, absorbed in a story or sermon, and suddenly, without warning, Joseph Smith did not write this book. It happened over and over again. It happened so often, I couldn't estimate the number of times if I tried.

The reality of whether or not Joseph Smith really found the gold plates and translated the sacred record that became The Book of Mormon or whether it was something he created out of his own head was not something I had ever really thought (or prayed) much about. In other words, it wasn't really a big issue for me. So I didn't go into this reading of The Book of Mormon with that question in my head. And yet, there was the answer, almost every day: Joseph Smith did not write this book.

And I realized something. I didn't need that answer to know if The Book of Mormon was really from God. I needed it to know if God Himself was real. And once my testimony of The Book of Mormon was firmly in place, it felt easy, even natural, to extend that belief to Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ. I had never thought the pathway to belief could go in that order, but apparently it can.

You know what it feels like when you finish a really good book and want to immediately reread it, but you know that you can never read it for the first time ever again? That's how I felt as I neared the end of The Book of Mormon. I felt sad. I didn't want it to end. It had been one of the most marvelous, miraculous experiences I had ever had, and I worried I would never get to experience it in quite that way again. Even though this was not my first time through The Book of Mormon, I had never read it at this pace, and that changed it for me. I saw it all with new eyes. Even if I read it again in less than three months, the experience would no longer be new and thrilling. I'm sad that I probably can't duplicate this experience over and over again.

The prophet Moroni offers a challenge at the end of The Book of Mormon: "And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true" (Moroni 10:4).  Missionaries often read this verse to investigators and invite them to ask God for themselves if The Book of Mormon is true. I rather thought that when I read that verse, maybe I would feel a strong answer from the Spirit.

But as I came to it, I realized that I'd already received my answer many pages before when I was in Alma 32. In verse 28, the prophet Alma instructs the people to plant the seed of belief in their hearts and says that they will know if it is a good seed because "it beginneth to enlarge my soul; yea, it beginneth to enlighten my understanding, yea, it beginneth to be delicious unto me."

No scripture could more perfectly describe what The Book of Mormon has done for me over the last three months. It has enlarged my soul, enlightened my understanding, and become so incredibly delicious to me.

P.S. If you read this post and have questions or would like to know more, I would love to talk to you about my beliefs. Nothing would make me happier.

What I Read in October

Nov 23, 2018

It was another slow month of reading for me, but all three of these books were enjoyable, or at least un-put-down-able, in their own way.

1. The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah
There was a point when I was reading this book that I thought, This story has become unmoored. Its downward spiral is completely out of control; it's on a trajectory that can't be stopped.

Up until that point, I had been loving the book: Leni's dad, Ernt, has just lost another job when he receives a letter saying that an old army buddy from his days in Vietnam has left him a tract of land in Alaska. It sounds perfect . . . to Ernt. He will be off the grid, living life his way, in a place where hopefully it won't matter that he has horrible nightmares that won't let go of him.

Leni and her mother are not thrilled by the prospect, but once Ernt has made up his mind, there's no changing it. They pack up their VW bus and drive north. They arrive in late spring, and even though it's the season of the midnight sun, they are completely ill-prepared for life in the Alaskan wilderness. Luckily, they have neighbors (Large Marge, Tom Walker, Mad Earl) who show them the ropes and chip in with help and supplies.

When winter comes, and it always comes early in Alaska, they're at least not going to starve (but everyone is quick to remind them that there are a million ways to die in Alaska). But as the cold and dark settle down over the land, Ernt's flashbacks and nightmares get worse. He becomes obsessed with planning for some future apocalyptic day. The littlest things will trigger him, and Leni's mom, Cora, always gets the worst of his anger. Leni realizes: "Mama could never leave Dad, and Leni would never leave Mama. And Dad could never let them go. In this terrible, toxic knot that was their family, there was no escape for any of them."

And that's when I couldn't handle this story anymore: the situation seemed so bleak and desperate, and then it got worse. Much worse. And there didn't seem to be any end to this chain of bad events. If you've read it, you know exactly what I'm talking about.

But I pushed through, partly because I was desperate for some sort of redemption to bring the story out of the black pit of despair it had fallen into, and partly because I wanted to discuss it with my friends, so I had to finish it.

And for me, the ending helped save it. One of my friends thought it was trite and cliche and wrapped up things a little too neatly. I have certainly thought that same thing about many endings (Before We Were Yours is a recent example), but in this case, I think I was so relieved for something (anything!) good to happen that it was this story's saving grace.

I won't give away any of the details in case you want to take yourself on this complete basket case of a journey, but I will say that one of my favorite parts of the story was Leni's relationship with her mom. There were times when it was frustrating because they stood by each other to a fault (how many times did I internally scream, "Run away! Get out of there!"), but their love was loyal and fierce: "In a breathtaking instant, Cora's life crashed into focus, became small. All of her fears and regrets and disappointments fell away. There was just one thing that mattered. How could she not have known it from the beginning? Why had she spent so much time searching for who she was? She should have known, always, from the very beginning: She was a mother. A mother."

Content note: a lot of swearing, but no F-words; one sexual scene (that I skipped over and that made me angry)

2. In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
This was, without a doubt, a perfect book for October, but I don't think I quite understood what I was signing up for.

It was intensely dark and disturbing, and I made a strict rule for myself that I could not listen to it after 5:00 pm each day because I had to have a few hours to process it and let the details fade away. Even so, there was one night when my brain would not let go of it, and I went to bed with all sorts of irrational fears haunting me.

Part of what makes this story so much worse than other murder mysteries is that it really did happen. In November 1959, Mr. and Mrs. Clutter and their two teenage children were brutally murdered in their home in the middle of the night. With no readily apparent suspects or motives, detectives were puzzled by the complete randomness of the horrific act. And as the details slowly unfolded and the pieces were put together, the chilling aspect of this crime was not lessened but intensified.

There is no question that Truman Capote is a masterful storyteller. This book is something of a classic as it was one of the first true crime novels and set a high standard for the genre. It deserves every accolade it has received.

Once I had started, I couldn't not finish it. It was gripping. But it isn't a book I could stay in for long periods of time, and I breathed a small sigh of relief when it was finally, mercifully, over.

As I was listening to it, I found myself thinking about another book I read earlier this year, Just Mercywhich was about our flawed justice system, particularly in the area of corporal punishment. After reading that book, I became convinced that the death penalty was wrong and inhumane. But oh how quickly my opinion changed when, instead of reading about those who had been falsely condemned under our justice system, I was reading about two men who were so cold and merciless that they couldn't receive their death sentence fast enough for me.

Lucky for me, I read it for my book club in October, which meant I wasn't left hanging with a bunch of unresolved and complicated feelings but could talk through them with my friends who were feeling just as conflicted as I was. And the truth is that even though part of me wants to say, "Run from this book!," I can't deny that as soon as I finished it, I told Mike that he should read it, too.

Content note: This story is intensely disturbing, and Truman Capote is not really sparse on details, if you get my meaning. 

3. Betsy Was a Junior by Maud Hart Lovelace
I still needed to read one book for my goal to "read three older (pre-1970) young adult novels," and I decided to return to an old favorite of mine. As a teenager, I fell in love with the Betsy-Tacy series. I think many people are familiar with the first couple of books (Betsy-Tacy and Betsy, Tacy, and Tib) and consequently think of this as a children's series because Betsy is so young in the first books. What they don't realize is that by continuing on in the series, Betsy grows up and reaches adolescence and young adulthood, and I remember being deeply invested in Betsy Ray's love life.

I chose this book at random from the later books in the series, and it turns out that it's the book in her high school years where there's very little boy drama: She's moved beyond her childhood crush of Tony Markham and her silly infatuation with Phil Brandish and hasn't yet developed her more mature friendship with Joe Willard (although she'd like to . . . ). Instead, this book holds a different sort of drama: one of inclusion and exclusion and the consequences that go along with such choices.

After hearing about the sororities at the university where Betsy's sister, Julia, is attending her freshman year, Betsy and her friends decide to form their own sorority. At first, the fun all seems innocent, but it doesn't take long before all of the secrecy and special invitations takes their toll on Betsy's other relationships. Later in the book, Betsy realizes, "Perhaps . . . she and Hazel might have had a friendship independent of the Crowd. After all, you couldn't go through life rolling your friendships into one gigantic snowball. You wanted different kinds of friendships, with different kinds of people. She might like someone awfully well whom Tacy wouldn't care for at all. You ought not to go through life, even a small section of life like high school or college, with your friendships fenced in by snobbish artificial barriers."

One thing I had forgotten about with these books is how much I love Mr. Ray. He is very much an involved father and dotes on his three daughters in the sweetest ways. I love this image of him on Christmas Day: "Theoretically each one unwrapped a gift in turn but it didn't work out that way. Mr. Ray always forgot to open his; he cared more about watching other people open theirs and sat with crossed legs, smiling benevolently, or moved about, gathering up the discarded paper and ribbons, folding what was usable and burning what wasn't. He handed out the larger boxes which were piled under the Christmas tree and kept going to the table to replenish breakfast plates."

For being an old book from an earlier, supposedly less complicated time, I found it surprisingly relevant. Part of my desire to return to this series as an adult was to see if it held up to modern scrutiny and would be worth recommending to today's teen. And the answer was unquestionably a yes. I loved it so much, and, maybe I'm naive to think it, but I think teenagers would, too. Upon finishing, I wanted to immediately pick up the next one in the series, but unfortunately, all of my reading time right now is dedicated to finishing up my reading goals.

Have you read any of these books? What did you think?

A Little of This and That in September and October

Nov 16, 2018

So far, this fall has been full of school work, sports, crunchy leaves, pumpkins, crisp air, holiday festivities, and warm sunshine. It has been a good mix of the daily grind and the out of the ordinary. I'm grateful for it.

Now for a little more detail. September and October saw us . . .

Cashing . . . in on the final prize for summer goals with a family trip to the bowling alley. We played two games, which turned out to be too much except for the die-hard bowlers (Aaron and Mike). Ian had only recently learned to walk and tested out his new legs walking all over the arcade. Also, he actually loved sending the ball down the lane and happily took Clark's turn any chance he could.

Starting . . . preschool. It seemed like an eternity between the beginning of school for the older boys and the first day of preschool for Clark. But it finally arrived, and he has been happy ever since. I'm pretty sure he would go to preschool all day every day if that was an option (but I'm guessing Ms. Sara is grateful for the reprieve on the off days!).

Going . . . to a high school football game. We have lived close to Olympus High for almost five years, and all of our neighbors are loyal Titan fans, so I thought it was finally time to go to a home game. I have never been much of a football fan (I still don't understand the rules . . . or the appeal?), but even I thought the evening was pretty perfect. It happened to be the homecoming game, and we were all caught up in the rush of school spirit. It was fun to hear the school band and watch the cheer squad. We saw many neighborhood friends and especially loved seeing one of the teenagers in our ward dressed up as the school mascot.

Missing . . . Autumn Aloft. But lest you think we did everything I wanted to this fall, we didn't. For months, I have had a hot air balloon festival (i.e. Autumn Aloft) marked on the calendar. But as the date approached, the weekend filled up with other activities, and I realized it was going to be a huge hassle to get up early and drive to Park City for the balloon launch. But still, I held tightly to it because it was on the calendar. It had taken up valuable brain space for an entire year, and by golly, we were going to go! It wasn't until Mike said, "I know the Upholder in you doesn't want to let this go, but it really doesn't matter." And he was right. So we didn't go. And then I found out after the fact that it had been too windy for them to launch the balloons anyway, and that made me feel better.

Walking . . . lap after lap after lap during the school Blockwalk. Maxwell and Bradley both walked for the better part of four hours (Bradley took a couple of short breaks to play some carnival games), and ended with 22 and 21 laps respectively, which was about seven miles. Bradley found out later that he walked the most laps for first grade and won a brand new razor scooter. (And if you look closely in the picture above, you can see that he ditched his shoes at some point during the evening. His socks were completely trashed when he finally finished!)

Joining . . . a local women's choir. Actually, I guess you could say I helped found it. Back in the spring, one of my friends approached me and asked if I would be interested in organizing a women's choir with her. It finally all came together in September, and we have been feverishly rehearsing for our first concert in December (I'm on the piano for most of the pieces). It is an amazing and talented group of women, and I feel honored to be a part of it (although it's turning into a bit more of a time commitment than I initially anticipated, so I'm still trying to decide if it's going to work for me to continue with it).

Training . . . for a 5K. My brother convinced almost everyone in my family to sign up for a 5K on Thanksgiving morning. Mike and I are running it, as well as Aaron, Maxwell, and Bradley. I wanted the boys to feel confident and prepared for it, and I didn't want to train for it all alone, so we've been running together for the past eight weeks. It's been so much fun, and they've totally been pushing me to go faster and for longer distances. We're all going to rock it on Thanksgiving!

Introducing . . . our kids to "Charlie Bit Me" on YouTube. Do you remember that viral video from 2007 where the older brother sticks his finger into his baby brother's mouth and suffers the painful consequences? Turns out, it's still funny eleven years later. My kids watched it over and over again and almost passed out, they were laughing so hard.

Competing . . . in his first real swim meet. In August, I wrote about Aaron making the swim team, and in September, he participated in four events in his first real meet. Aside from completely missing one of his races, it was a good first experience. But maybe we should talk about how this first swim meet went for me because it was kind of exciting. Our swim team requires families to provide 36 volunteer hours each year. One way to get those volunteer hours is by helping out at swim meets. So I thought I might as well jump right in and start ticking off a few of those hours. I signed up to be a "runner," which sounded safe enough, but when I got there, the volunteer coordinator said that she actually didn't have enough timers so she was going to put me there. Outwardly, I said, "Okay! Sure!" Inwardly, I freaked out. "Timer" sounded very official, and I didn't want the pressure of potentially messing up someone's race time. But there I was, out on deck, and luckily, after the meet started, I realized it wasn't so bad and definitely not scary at all. They basically have three time checks in place for each lane, and I was the third one (essentially, the backup to the backup), so it didn't really matter if I messed up, and it was so fun being right down with the swimmers and feeling their excitement and anticipation with each race.

Learning . . . to play the ukulele. My dad has played the ukulele for years (among many other instruments) and several of my siblings followed in his footsteps and learned too. I was beginning to feel left out of family gatherings without this vital skill, so I asked my dad for lessons. It's been fun (and humbling) to learn a new instrument. My kids like to make fun of me when I'm practicing because it takes me so long to change from one chord to another that the song comes to a grinding halt. But I'm getting better, and I hope to be able to join the family ukulele band during the Christmas season.

Visiting . . . Bradley's classroom for his birthday celebration. He made a power point all about himself and then shared some show-and-tell items with his class. My favorite moment was when he pulled out a ziploc bag with his three missing baby teeth and proceeded to give the exact date for when he lost each one. It was such a Bradley thing to do.

Taking . . . the boys to the driving range. We didn't have any plans on one early-out Friday, so Mike suggested a trip to the driving range. We endured a little complaining from one unnamed child, but everyone else loved it, and even I hit a few balls.

Celebrating . . . Bradley's seventh birthday. He asked for a hula hoop, a strawberry pie, and an evening at Fat Cats, and we were happy to grant all of his wishes. Bradley is talented, smart, and friendly. His teachers always tell me how much the other kids just love him and flock to him because he has fun ideas and is extremely inclusive. I also joke that everything he touches turns to gold because he seems to have success with almost anything he tries.

Switching  . . . jobs. Mike was asked to temporarily fill a project manager position at work while they went through the process of hiring someone new. His life became full of meetings and answering emails, and I've never seen anyone so happy to go back to his regular job a couple of months later.

Experiencing . . . one of the best concerts of my life. Mike and I made a last minute decision to go to a Leonard Bernstein concert by the Utah Symphony, and, as sometimes happens with spur of the moment choices, Mike found someone selling their very good seats for a very decent price. I knew I liked Bernstein's music before, but this concert increased that love by tenfold. It was amazing. And the soloist was phenomenal. I've been heartbroken ever since that I can't buy a recording of the performance.

Turning . . . the stairs blue. Max almost fell down the stairs one day, but saved himself instead and, in the process, discovered a way to slide down the stairs on his knees. He did this over and over again for several days until one day, as I was walking (not sliding) down the stairs, I noticed that the edges were all tinged blue. Turns out, the repeated rubbing from his jeans over the carpet had dyed it blue.

Going . . . to the women's session of General Conference with two sisters-in-law and three nieces. I felt uplifted and motivated afterwards and completely enjoyed being in the company of some of my favorite people. Afterwards, we went out to eat, and I ate what was possibly the best macaroni and cheese of my life (and I've tried a lot!).

Starting . . . The Book of Mormon. Speaking of General Conference, President Nelson challenged all of the sisters to read The Book of Mormon by the end of the year. At the time, I was almost to the end of Alma, which is about two-thirds of the way through, and at first, I tried to convince myself that I could just continue where I was. But then I realized that there had to be some reason why President Nelson wanted all of the women of the Church to read The Book of Mormon in such a short amount of time. So I went back to 1 Nephi and determined to dedicate a significant portion of each day to reading a certain number of pages. It has been one of the most amazing and rewarding and spiritual experiences I've ever had. I hope to write an entire blog post about all of the blessings that have come into my life as I've studied the word of God. It has been time well spent.

Finishing . . . The Book of Mormon. The same month that I started The Book of Mormon, Aaron finished it. He has been reading a little bit every night for the last two years, and he finally finished! I was so proud of him, and I think he felt quite the sense of accomplishment.

Learning . . . to ride a bike. One day, Clark said, "Dad, take off my training wheels. I'm ready to ride my bike without them." And I thought, Oh dear, this is not going to go as smoothly as your four-year-old confidence seems to think it's going to. But then, much to my surprise, it did. And now he takes his two wheels out for a spin almost every day.

Taking . . . family photos. This might be one of my kids' least favorite things to do, but we only had one complete breakdown moment, which is probably a new record. Much thanks to our amazing photographer (my sister-in-law, Kari).

Growing . . . sixteen pumpkins. Our garden was generous this year, and our one little pumpkin plant produced sixteen pumpkins. It's amazing what a seed can do with consistent water and sunlight.

Going . . . to the pumpkin patch. Even though we grew plenty of pumpkins on our own, we couldn't resist a trip to the pumpkin patch. We didn't buy any pumpkins, but we enjoyed walking through the fields, going on a wagon ride, launching apples, playing in the corn pit, sliding down the hay bale slide, and sampling apple cider.

Driving . . . up the canyon. I always like to take at least one drive in the mountains to look at the fall colors. We don't get very many reds or oranges here, but the yellows were on full display and were so bright they almost seemed to be lit from within.

Working . . . on Halloween costumes. The boys decided what they were going to be for Halloween way back in January, but we still waited until the weekend right before to pull them all together. Mike put in a lot of time, especially on Aaron's helmet, which you'll see later looked very authentic.

Knitting . . . a very special gift. I found out in September that my dear friend who taught me how to knit has lung cancer. I immediately knew that I had to knit something for her and that time was of the essence. I pored over patterns, trying to find one that would complement her graceful style but that also wouldn't take me two years to knit. I finally settled on a half-pi shawl in a beautiful shade of dusky pink, and then I went to work. I knitted at a feverish pace, dedicating every spare minute to it and finished it almost exactly a month to the day of when I started it. It turned out exactly like I wanted it to, and when I presented it to my friend, she was extremely surprised and delighted. I hope it will keep her cozy all winter long!

Watching . . . my little sister, Angela, open up her mission call. She's going to the Maryland Baltimore Mission! She leaves in February 2019. My kids will be soooooooo sad to lose their favorite aunt for eighteen months, but we're all so excited and happy for her.

Taking . . . in the sights of San Francisco. Mike and I went on a weekend trip to San Francisco with our friends, Tim and Ashley, and we had the best time. We ate delicious food, enjoyed beyond perfect weather, and experienced a host of new things. My very favorite thing we did was biking across the Golden Gate Bridge, but the whole vacation was amazing, and I don't think I would change a thing about it.

Hosting . . . cousins overnight. My kids were thrilled to get to have Josh, Will, and Charlotte stay with us for the weekend while their parents and baby sister were at a conference. In fact, I hardly saw my kids at all the entire time because they were so busy playing. An outing to the park and a game of Flimsee was a solid ending to the fun.

Eating . . . too many doughnuts at our neighbors' annual spudnut festival. Every year, they make hundreds of doughtnuts and invite the entire neighborhood over for the event. My kids literally eat themselves sick, going over and eat a couple, then back home to let it settle before heading back over for round two (and three . . . and four). But in my opinion, the star of this year's festival was  the homemade apple cider made by our neighbors' son. Oh my word. Scrumptious.

Doing . . . a trial run of our Halloween costumes. With nowhere to go, we dressed up on the Sunday evening before Halloween just to make sure we had all of the needed pieces and to snap a few preliminary photos. I always knew my kids would insist on a Star Wars theme at some point, and this turned out to be the year for it. We had a Han Solo, Rey, Luke Skywalker, C3PO, BB8, Darth Vader, and Yoda, and, unlike last year, there was no doubt in anyone's mind about who we were.

Tricking . . . and treating. And finally, October ended with its usual bang of knocking on doors and coming home with too much candy. It was fairly chilly this year (although, thankfully, no rain), so Ian and I opted to go home before the rest of the family, but still, it was a very pleasant night.

 If you made it to the end of this epic post, you earn the award of "Most Faithful Blog Reader." Your prize is to tell me about one of the highlights from your fall!

How I Started Having Weekly Special Time With My Kids

Oct 26, 2018

I've written before about the lightning bolt of habit change. It's where a new idea sparks an instantaneous habit without any real effort. You just think it, do it once, and the habit is there, "without preparation, without small steps, without wavering," as Gretchen Rubin puts it.

Lightning bolts are rare, but one of them happened to me last December. 

I was gearing up for the start of 2018 and trying to decide what my focus should be. I hadn't yet stumbled upon the quote that would be my guiding light for the year, but I knew one thing: I wanted to make sure I was putting my time and energy into the Most Important Things, and my kids were sitting right at the top of the list.

A couple of weeks before that, Ralphie of Simply on Purpose had talked about doing special time with her daughters--essentially, fifteen minutes of one-on-one time every day. 

I was intrigued. Of course, the idea of spending individual time with my kids wasn't new, but somehow this sounded more doable. It wouldn't require going out for ice cream or spending a couple of hours at the zoo on an official Mommy-Son date. Ralphie talked about setting a timer for fifteen minutes and then fully engaging with that one child in whatever activity he wanted to do. 

That same December, our family was participating in the Light the World campaign, which consisted of 25 service-oriented activities over 25 days that helped (in small ways) increase the light and hope and goodness in the world. One of the daily scripture prompts was "suffer the little children to come unto me," and I knew that this was my chance to try out special time.

And so that morning, I told the boys, "Today I'm going to have special time with each of you. For fifteen minutes, I am yours. You choose the activity, and I'll do it with you."

And just like that, the Lightning Bolt struck. 

Thereafter, special time became a regular part of our weekly schedule. 

I think it stuck so easily for two reasons. First, my kids fell in love with it immediately. They understood what it was, how it worked, and thought it was so fun (except Maxwell, who, as usual, took a little more convincing). They propelled it forward because they were quick to ask me, "When are we going to do special time again?" It was obvious that we craved and needed that one-on-one time together. 

And second, it was actually a lot easier than I thought it would be. It doesn't require any preparation, or even any thought, from me. My kids are the ones who decide what to do, and, for the most part, I always agree to it. That's part of what has made special time such a success: they know that this is their chance to get me to jump on the trampoline or play chess or do any number of activities I would normally avoid. (There have been some really bizarre ones, too, like the time Maxwell had me watch him slide down the stairs on his knees, and every time he came back up to the top, I had to read him a Shel Silverstein poem. What??????)

Ralphie advocates doing special time every day, but I knew if I did that, it would become a burden rather than a joy. I would constantly feel like I was falling short because, let's be honest, even fifteen minutes can be difficult to find on some days, and when you multiply that by several times, it becomes close to impossible. And I don't think it would just feel that way for me. I think my kids would get burned out if we attempted to squeeze it into every day. It also would lose some of its intrigue and specialness if it was happening so often.

The other thing is, even though we're only having that dedicated one-on-one time once a week, we spend time together in many other ways: reading aloud at night, working on piano pieces, having conversations in the car, working on homework, running, watching a movie, or going on adventures as a family. We might only do special time once during the week, but that doesn't mean we aren't spending other quality time together.

So this is how it works for us: Sometime during the week, when I have an open chunk of time, I ask one of my kids if he wants to do special time. Nine times out of ten, we seem to do it on Sunday because we're just less scheduled and busy on that day. I ask him what he wants to do and almost always agree to his request. There really are only two rules when it comes to the chosen activities: it can't involve any kind of screen, and it has to fit into the fifteen-minute time frame (so, no climbing Mt. Olympus). I then set a timer for fifteen minutes, and we begin. (The timer, I discovered, is a very important component of special time. One time I didn't set it with Clark because I had a lot of free time and didn't think there was any reason to cut us off at fifteen minutes. He got very upset and said it couldn't be special time if I didn't set the timer. I guess having it timed actually makes it feel more special, not less. It's one more way I'm showing them that this is their time. I'm carving it out just for them and setting a timer so the whole world (or at least the whole family) will know that this time is off limits for anyone else.)

The two most popular choices for special time are playing a game or reading a book, but we have done all of the following:

1. Go on a walk
2. Jump on the trampoline
3. Color a picture
4. Cut out snowflakes
5. Fold origami
6. Get a back rub
7. Play duets on the piano
8. Have a dance party
9. Play a game (Yahtzee, Labyrinth, Tenzies, Skip Bo, and Hoot Owl Hoot are favorites)
10. Put together a puzzle
11. Read: a picture book, poetry, one chapter, or a magazine
12. Make slime
13. Sculpt play dough or silly putty
14. Bake a treat
15. Make a free-form craft (see photo below)
16. Pretend play with playmobil or other little figures
17. Relax in the hammock
18. Build Legos
19. Play laser tag
20. Go on a bike ride
21. Play basketball
22. Listen to music
23. Draw a picture
24. Swing
25. Do perler beads

Special time has produced moments I never would have had with my kids otherwise. One time, Maxwell got out a stack of paper and explained that we would give each other drawing prompts, and then we would both have to draw it. I can't even draw a decent stick figure, so I was immediately out of my comfort zone, but I did it. I think Max might have come up with it specifically to test me: was I willing to do something I didn't like to do? For him?

Another time, special time came a day after a big argument with Aaron. He requested a back rub, and that provided a quiet moment where I could apologize and we could discuss the situation that had initiated the argument, but this time in a calm and safe way. We ended our fifteen minutes with good feelings restored and better communication in place.

One afternoon, Clark asked to jump on the trampoline. This is not my favorite activity (read: I've had five babies). But as we jumped around, I saw his little creative spirit in full light and I just basked in it. He is so fun-loving, and we laughed and laughed while showing off our cool moves. It was one time where I distinctly remember thinking, I would have missed this if not for special time.

The quote that has most impacted my 2018 and been a guiding force in all of my decisions has been this one by Elder Richard G. Scott: "In quiet moments when you think about it, you recognize what is critically important and what isn't. Be wise and don't let good things crowd out those that are essential." I have had many inward conflicts about how to best use my time and how to know which things are the most essential, but my dedication to special time has been a clear choice: those fifteen minutes are precious, even sacred, to me, and I won't let anything else take their place. 

What I Read in September

Oct 5, 2018

September reading consisted of starting multiple audiobooks and finishing almost none of them. The hold lists at the library are killing me right now. My books all come in at the same time. Most of them I've been waiting on for weeks, if not months, and feel compelled to listen to them so I don't have to go back in the hold line. But some of them are particularly time sensitive because I need to finish them before a specific date (i.e., when book club meets). Anyway, it's a difficult shuffle of prioritizing and choosing what to abandon (for now) in order to finish what is most pressing. Also, unrelated, the boys and I started Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, and that thing is massive. And I also decided to screen four parenting books to decide which one I actually wanted to read for my parenting book goal. So what this all comes down to was that I started a lot of books in September but finished only three of them.

1. Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate
You've probably seen the cover of this book floating around on the Costco table or being displayed in a bookstore's front window. It's a popular one right now (a fact that is attested by both of my book clubs, who happened to choose it for September and November).

I jumped in knowing almost nothing about the book (except that many called it a "hard" read), and I liked it that way. It's one of those stories, not unlike a Kate Morton novel, that begins with a lot of questions and moves back and forth between two time periods, slowly answering them and filling in the details. Oh, and there's a twist (not to the level of The Secret Keeper, but startling nonetheless).

I'll keep the particulars brief so you can enjoy fitting the pieces of the puzzle together for yourself. The two key players are Rill Foss in 1939 and Avery Stafford in the present day, and both of them are intimately affected by Georgia Tann, a real woman who stole children, hid them away in the Tennessee Children's Home Society, and then marketed them to wealthy people who adopted them. And this is where you say, "Truth is stranger than fiction." Because it is.

This is just the kind of book I love getting lost in. And overall, in spite of the heavy content, it's a clean book, too.

I felt like the ending wrapped up things a little too neatly and happily to match the rest of the story. Don't get me wrong: I love a happy ending. But at one point, Rill said, "I want a pain I understand instead of the one I don't. I want a pain that has a beginning and an end, not one that goes on forever and cuts all the way to the bone. This pain is changing me into a girl I don't even know. It's changing me into them. I see it in my sister's face. That hurts worst of all." And I kind of felt like there was a certain point in the story where that pain kind of disappeared, and I just didn't quite believe it.

But, taking the other side,  I also loved this bit of wisdom, and I think it makes a case for how one can move on past hard things: "Life is not unlike cinema. Each scene has its own music, and the music is created for the scene, woven to it in ways we do not understand. No matter how much we may love the melody of a bygone day or imagine the song of a future one, we must dance within the music of today, or we will always be out of step, stumbling around in something that doesn't suit the moment." So good, right?

2. A Stash of One's Own: Knitters on Loving, Living With, and Letting Go of Yarn by Clara Parkes
For me, knitting has been kind of a lonely hobby. I have very few friends who know how to knit, and of those who do, none of them love it the way I do. Most of the time, I don't mind. I can be, after all, a rather solitary creature and so knitting suits my need for quiet time alone.

But there are times when I would really love to talk to a friend about a new pattern or a favorite yarn or a cool technique. And not just a friend who will nod politely and say, "That's nice" but someone who will actually match my enthusiasm with some of their own.

But since that's not currently possible, this book was an acceptable substitute. It's a collection of essays from knitters, and I felt a little like I'd found my people (granted, on just one level, but a level where none of my real friends reside). The essays spoke specifically to the topic of a yarn stash, a collection that all knitters have, although the size of said stash can be wildly different.

It was rather fascinating to read about all of the emotions and feelings and turmoil that can be tied up in yarn--and to relate to a good deal of it.

Of course, I didn't relate to every single knitter, but I thought each essay was interesting nonetheless. My favorites were "Triptych" (about the careful balance between a stash that feeds creative energy and one that burdens it), "Without a Stash" (which most closely aligned to my personal philosophy), "Yarn: a Love Story" (the sweetest story about turning yarn into a career), and "The Comfort Yarn" (about how knitting navigated the dark waters of grief).

I debated sharing the very last paragraph from this book because I thought it was so hilarious, but I decided it probably wouldn't improve the general population's opinion of knitters, so you'll just have to wonder about it . . .

3. Heartwood Hotel: A True Home by Kallie George
At the beginning of the school year, I thought it might be a good time to try out a chapter book with Clark. Up until then, he hadn't really listened in on any of our readalouds, usually opting to go off with Mike and read a picture book or two instead.

I was pretty sure he was ready to handle a longer, more complex story though because he loved listening to slightly longer picture books/early chapter books, such as Mercy Watson or The Princess in Black.

In retrospect, I probably should have chosen a tried and true favorite of ours, one that I'd already tested out with my older kids. But instead, I went with a recommendation from Janssen for the Heartwood Hotel series because she and her five-year-old daughter had loved the first book. It looked so cute, but I knew my older kids were well past it, so it seemed like the perfect book for Clark and me to read together in the afternoons.

Except . . . we just didn't love it. It wasn't so much that there was anything wrong with it as that it just didn't hold our interests. The protagonist, Mona (a mouse), loses her home in a storm and gets carried away down the river. When she finally scrambles out, she finds herself at a large, beautiful tree, which turns out to be the Heartwood Hotel, where the motto is, "We live by 'Protect and Respect,' not by 'Tooth and Claw.'" She doesn't have any money, but Mr. Heartwood hires her as a temporary maid. But Mona quickly falls in love with the other members of the staff (except for standoffish Tilly) and the guests, and she longs to have a real home of her own.

I think part of the problem, for Clark at least, was that there were just a lot of characters to keep track of. Even with reviewing them before we started reading each day, he still was always asking, "Who's Ms. Prickles? Which one is Lord Sudsbury?" And then, the story was just a little too gentle and quiet to keep him engaged. Luckily, in the last half, Mona stands up to a bear and a pack of wolves, and that helped perk up his interest considerably.

All in all, it was a cute story, but not the right one for us. We still finished it, but I don't think we'll read any of the others, and now I feel like I need to redeem myself a little with our next choice so he actually likes longer readalouds. Recommendations?

Have you read any of theses (I'm guessing not the knitting book . . . )? What did you read in September?

A Little of This and That in July and August

Sep 21, 2018

Well, here we are, nearing the end of September, but this monthly update is actually for July and August. Those were busy months for us, but also so much fun, I wish I could do them all over again. I love the weather of spring and fall, but the laid-back structure of summer is my favorite. We spent our time . . .

Cracking . . . the pumping code. One of Clark's summer goals was to learn how to pump. We spent many park dates practicing. I would give him a starting push and then coach him, "In, out! Push, pull!" Sometimes he would keep the swing going for a couple of minutes before throwing off the rhythm and coming to a halt. But then, one day, it finally clicked. He got it. And for any of you who have ever been near a child who finally understands what pumping a swing is supposed to feel like, well, it's pretty magical. Now he's swinging any chance he gets, and I'm sitting on the sidelines and cheering.

Swimming . . . as much as possible. By the end of August, I was feeling a little bit sick of the pool but not enough to stop going. Somehow it seems like if we go enough, it will sustain us through the cold, dark months of winter. However, on our very last day, it was just Bradley, Clark, and me because everyone else was all swimmed out.

Attending . . . numerous family reunions. Okay, really just one in June and two in July, but with activities going over many days, it somehow felt like much more. But as someone who only had the opportunity to go to one family reunion during my entire childhood, I count it a great privilege that my summers are now filled to the brim with family I love so much. (But, I'm going to be totally honest: the location for Mike's family's reunion was close to our house, so we opted to go home to sleep in our own beds. I may have been a spoil sport, but at least I was a well-rested spoil sport!)

Celebrating . . . a new ten-year-old. Those ten years zipped by, and Aaron's birthday had me feeling a little sad. I guess I'm probably moving out of the young motherhood phase. I don't think you can have a ten-year-old and still be a "young" mother. But I can't actually feel that sad about it because you know what? Having a ten-year-old is awesome. He's helpful and interesting and actually funny (as opposed to obnoxious six- and eight-year-old humor, which is decidedly not). He can bounce around like a maniac on his pogo-stick, play complicated piano pieces, and solve harder math problems than I can. In short, ten-year-olds are cool, and I'm happy to have one living with me. (Also, he loves BYU but not cake, so Mike made him a Y key lime pie, and it was pretty one-of-a-kind.)

Vacationing . . . in the Midwest. I already wrote extensively about our summer vacation here, but hey, it's another chance to share one more picture. And it was definitely one of the highlights of our entire summer.

Kayaking . . . with my family. My parents live very close to a little pond. They spend many early summer mornings kayaking there, but we only managed to go one time this year. Aaron, Maxwell, and Bradley can all go out by themselves now, which is pretty great.

Stopping . . . at Arches National Park for a quick hike. On our way down to Monticello for one of the family reunions, we took a little detour to Arches. It was a really hot day, but the short hike to Sand Dune Arch is almost completely shaded, and, as the name gives away, there is a lot of dry, soft sand to play in (although the tourists would have really appreciated it if our large family hadn't hung around for quite so long and messed up all of their photos, ha!). This was one more example of why we loved having the 4th Grade National Parks pass this year. Because we didn't pay to get into Arches, we didn't feel like we had to stay all day but we could just do what we wanted and then leave. It was great.

Making . . . friends with bugs. Max seemed to have a bug or two in his possession all summer long. Sometimes he kept them in vented containers or carried them around in his hands. One notable time, a grasshopper stayed on his hat for a couple of hours, going to a parade and on a long walk and even into Maverick for a slurpee. Max always names his bugs and gives them lots of love and friendship before sending them on their way.

Drinking . . . Bubly. Mike went on a sparkling water kick (he's still on it, actually), and always has a stash in the fridge. His favorite brand is Bubly (mine, too), so that seems to be the one he purchases the most. Sparkling water is something of an acquired taste (my sister made the most awful face when she tried some, and my uncle has always referred to it as "battery acid"), but I like it. However, I'm not a huge carbonation fan, so I can never drink an entire can by myself. Luckily, each time Mike cracks one open (which is usually four to five times a day), he pores a little bit into my cup. Just one more reason why we make a good team.

Finishing . . . the perfect basic sweater. I wanted to knit myself a comfortable, neutral sweater I could wear all fall and winter, and it turned out exactly like I wanted it to. It's long enough, has just the right amount of positive ease, and is a great color. Now if the weather would only cool down enough to wear it!

Feeding . . . hummingbirds. We noticed a couple of hummingbirds zipping and darting around our house, so we decided to get a hummingbird feeder and hang it on the tree in our front yard. Those little hummingbirds took to it right away and visited it several times each hour. We loved sitting out on the front porch and watching them. Now the weather is cooling down, so we haven't seen them in a couple of weeks, which probably means they've flown south and we won't see them again until spring.

Hiking . . . with cousins. We went on several hikes this summer. The longest and hottest was to Cecret Lake, but luckily we had cousins with us, and that made it all worth it.

Holding . . . a family book club. At the beginning of the summer, I decided it would be fun to have a family book club. My kids have seen me go to book clubs for years, and I wanted them to get to experience what one is like. We all read Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick, and then we met on a Saturday afternoon to discuss it. I hosted it just like I would have if it had been my regular book club: there were treats, we spent some time eating and talking, and then we dived into some discussion questions. My kids were surprisingly talkative and brought up some good points. I'm sure we'll do it again next summer.

Watching . . . Newsies at Hale Center Theater. We introduced the boys to the classic Disney movie, Newsies, early in the summer. They loved it so much and then all chipped in to purchase the soundtrack, which they listened to over and over again. Our favorite local theater was putting it on in August, so we decided to take the three oldest boys as one of their summer goals prizes. It was fantastic.

Going . . . camping. Not just Mike and the boys, but the whole family. Yes, even me. I haven't been camping since before Aaron was born, but Mike convinced me we could do it, even with Ian. And we actually had a great time (and Ian slept like the dream baby he is and always has been). I still can't really figure out why people choose to sleep in a tent and use a pit toilet and cook all of their food over a campfire for fun, but my kids seem to get it.

Treating . . . Ian for low iron. When I took Ian to the doctor for his one-year check-up, we discovered that his iron level was low. So we began giving him an iron supplement every day. He hated it (the taste was pretty strong, even when hidden in other foods), and it was a struggle. When I took him in for his 15-month check-up, his iron was still low (even slightly lower than it had been before), so our pediatrician decided to just give him a shot of iron instead. It was kind of an ordeal (I didn't know it was going to be until I noticed how much prep work they were doing to get ready for it and saw that the doctor was actually going to do it himself instead of the nurse), but after we were a few hours past it, I decided it was well worth it. And it seems to have done the trick. 

Starting . . . school. I wasn't tired of summer yet, but the first day of school came anyway. My one consolation is that we have the dream team of teachers this year, and my kids are really happy and thriving. Aaron is in fifth grade (last year of elementary school!), Maxwell is in third, and Bradley is in first.

Sleeping . . . on the trampoline. One night, just a few days before school started, I said something about how some kids like to sleep outside on the trampoline. Of course, my kids immediately latched onto it and wanted to do it right then, that very night. And we didn't have any reason to say no, so we said yes. I didn't think they would make it the entire night, but they did, and I think we may have started a new tradition. Somehow, it felt like just the right thing to do before summer ended.

Socializing . . . with all the neighbors. Clark is by far the most social of any of my kids. He lives for time with friends. I don't see much of him between the hours of 3:00 pm and 6:00 pm, and I usually have to go looking at several homes before I finally track him down. His friendship knows no age boundaries. Sometimes he's running around in full superhero regalia with the 4-5-year-old crowd, and other times he's helping our fifty-year-old neighbor weed her flowerbed. He is interested in everyone. We've had to have many conversations about how to be polite because he knows exactly which neighbors are likely to offer him an otter pop or a Sunny D or a mint, and it takes all of his self control to wait to be offered one instead of asking for it himself. Parenting an extrovert is a whole new world, I tell you what.

Having . . . the TALK (yes, that talk) with Aaron. This was a big step for Mike and me as parents. First, the two of us read Growing Up by Brad Wilcox so we would have some sort of outline to guide us (and I highly recommend it, especially if you're approaching this subject from a religious background; I far preferred it to How to Talk to Your Child About Sex by Richard and Linda Eyre, which we also read portions of). Mike holds monthly interviews with the boys, so he just slowly started to incorporate some of this information in his chats with Aaron. He laid a strong foundation before getting to what most people would consider the actual "talk." But we are both adamant that these chats continue for clarification and questions and more information as he continues to grow and mature.

Walking . . . on his own two feet. Ian finally started taking a few tentative steps in mid-August and then mastered it quite rapidly from there. He was nearly sixteen months old. He was so proud of himself, but his older brothers were even more proud. I'd take a late walker any day.

Trying . . . out for swim team. Over the summer, Aaron swam with Sea Monkeys (a non-competitive swim team). He really liked it, so he decided to try out for the regular swim team this fall. It was a tough, week-long process of going to the practices and being evaluated every day, but he made it! And now he's swimming a LOT, and I'm kind of wondering what we got ourselves into...

Spending . . . a morning at the zoo with my family. We went after school had started, which meant we had the place almost to ourselves. Just the way I like it.

Becoming . . . a crossing guard. Now that he's in fifth grade, Aaron had the opportunity to become a crossing guard. He helps man the school entrances and holds traffic so students can cross safely. He has been taking this responsibility very seriously, and I think it's pretty cute to see him in his safety vest and holding his flag (don't tell him I said that!).

And that's a wrap for the summer. Tell me about your favorite summer memories in the comments!

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