A Little of This and That in June

Jul 17, 2018



June was idyllic summer: warm days, long evenings, structured mornings, lazy afternoons. I would take June over and over again.  We spent our time . . .

Going . . . to the zoo. Early in the month, we had a cool morning that was not great for the pool but was perfect for the zoo. Our zoo recently opened up a new red panda exhibit, which we were very excited to finally get to see.


Fasting . . . from social media for seven days. On June 3rd, the prophet of my church, President Russell M. Nelson, gave a devotional with his wife to all the youth. In his address, he issued five challenges: 1. Take a week-long break from social media, 2. Make a weekly sacrifice of time to the Lord for three weeks, 3. Do a thorough life assessment, 4. Pray daily for all of God's children to receive the blessings of the Gospel, 5. Be a light to the world. The first two challenges were more focused and tangible while the last three are more ongoing and constant. Even though I am long past being a teenager, I knew that accepting those five challenges would bless my life. I stayed off social media (Instagram, blogs, Youtube, Facebook, etc.) for seven days. The results were both expected and surprising. I found that I legitimately missed certain people. I also felt greatly unburdened. I realized that I'm not usually negatively influenced by what other people post, meaning I don't look at other people's perfect lives and feel sad or depressed that my life is not as perfect. However, I realized that my emotions are very tied up in the way other people react to my posts, and when a post or a picture or a caption doesn't get the kind of engagement I was hoping for, I feel disappointed and depressed. Interesting, huh? When I got back on social media, those old feelings started to flare up, and I realized I'd been blissfully free of them for the entire week. Sorry, I probably should have saved all of this for its own post, but needless to say, this is something I'm still trying to find a happy balance with.

Eating . . . doughnuts. We have made it a tradition to celebrate National Doughnut Day on the first Friday in June. Mike was in charge of buying doughnuts from our very favorite doughnut place, Banbury Cross. He came home with two dozen, which I thought was excessive for six people, and he thought was totally justified.


Scorching . . . microwave popcorn. I accidentally put it in for a minute too long, which doesn't sound like it should be that destructive, but it was. The inside of the microwave was completely discolored and every time we used it, it smelled like burnt popcorn. After trying all the Googled tricks to restore it to its original condition, we called it a loss and bought a new microwave, which Mike was only too happy to do. We'd had that microwave since we got married, and we had long outgrown its teeny tiny size. So overall, we're calling it a win.

Teaching . . . my sister how to knit. This might just be my favorite thing from all of June. With my sister's recent graduation, she suddenly has more free time than she's had in the last seven years. So one weekend, she came over, and I taught her the basic knit and purl stitches; then we went out and bought yarn for her first project--a hat. Once she was in a good rhythm with that, we watched Sense and Sensibility while knitting. It was so much fun that we repeated the knitting day three weeks later, right down to watching another adaptation of Sense and Sensibility. I can see this becoming a tradition (although we're going to run out of Sense and Sensibilities . . . ).


Finishing . . . off another soccer season. And for Aaron, this will probably be his last. He has played with the same coaches and group of boys for three years, but at the end of this year, they decided to move to a competitive league. Neither Mike or me or Aaron was willing to take on that kind of commitment, and Aaron wasn't really interested in switching to a team of strangers, so we're going to move onto something else.

Baking . . . chocolate chip cookies. That is to say, Aaron baked chocolate chip cookies. All by himself. From start to finish. Completely from scratch and without any help from me. We're all pretty pleased with this development.


Agonizing . . . over paint colors. Since the day we moved into our home more than four years ago, we have known that we wanted to paint the exterior. We thought the time had finally come last fall, but the cold weather came on fast and thwarted our plans. So this spring, we started over and went about getting estimates and comparing paint colors. But guys, it is hard, soooooo hard, to settle on a paint color when 1) you're not sure what you want, 2) you doubt your own taste, 3) even little decisions tend to cripple you, and 4) you can't afford to second guess your decision (like, you literally can't afford it). So thank you to all of our family and friends and neighbors who weighed in with their opinions because in the end, all that agony led to . . .

Admiring . . . our "new" house. Because really, there's nothing like a fresh coat of paint to breathe new life into an old, ugly house. (And if anyone needs a painter, we can highly recommend ours.)


Before (I cheated a little because I found a photo from two years ago when we still had the old roof)



After

Vowing . . . not to take our kids to the movies ever again. We took the three older boys to see Incredibles 2, and Maxwell and Bradley couldn't handle it. It was just too scary for them, and they begged Mike and me to take them home. We didn't because the rest of us were loving it, but this is at least the third time they have pleaded for us to take them home in the middle of a movie (the other times were with Moana and Coco). I think we've finally learned our lesson. The big screen is just too big. (Side story: see that big tub of popcorn? It was upside down and all over the floor two minutes after this photo was taken.)


Bringing . . . basil back to life. I have a black thumb. I really do. All my plants seem to come to a swift and fast end. Such was the case with a basil plant I purchased recently. I needed basil for a recipe, but then hoped I could keep it alive and enjoy basil all summer. In just a few days, it was drooping and looking stressed, but I went ahead and re-potted it, which only seemed to make matters worse. But I persevered, even when it looked like the most pathetic spindly little thing. And guess what? It survived! And it is getting nice and bushy, and I'm feeling pretty pleased with myself.

Learning . . . new skills. Aaron has wanted to mow the lawn for several years, and Mike decided he was finally tall enough to try it this summer. I hope Aaron enjoys mowing as much when he's sixteen as he does when he's (almost) ten.


Overflowing . . . the toilet. Not our best moment in June, for sure, and maybe a little too much information for all of you. One morning, Clark found me, and said, "Mom, something very bad happened in the bathroom." I was worried he had broken the soap dispenser again and made a big soap mess (which has happened before). If only. I was horrified with what I found. I'll spare you the details, but it was bad. Clark sat on the edge of the bathtub and kept saying, "It's all my fault. It's all my fault." I think he was pretty traumatized, but it will all be worth it if he remembers not to use exorbitant amounts of toilet paper ever again.

Going . . . on a little family hike. We didn't realize how little when we started out, but it ended up being less than half a mile to get to a waterfall after which the only way to go forward was with ropes straight up the cliff face. No thanks. But it was short enough that none of my kids complained, so I think it was perfect for us.


Celebrating . . . Father's Day. The boys made some things for Mike, and we gave him treats and a new game. In the evening, my family came over and we celebrated with my dad. I'm very blessed to have these two good men in my life.



Rekindling . . . our love of The Great British Baking Show. A new season is up on PBS. Have you watched any of it yet?

Hanging . . . out at the pool. We spent a lot of time at the pool in June. Clark and Bradley took swimming lessons; Max and Aaron did swim team. Clark cracked the swimming code and became an independent swimmer. Bradley learned how to do a back flip off the diving board. We were even joined by a few family members on a few occasions.


Knitting . . . a shawl for my Aunt Sheri, which I gifted to her a couple of weeks later, but not before I took some photos in it. I loved planning it; I loved knitting it; I loved finishing it; I loved wearing it; I loved giving it away. The whole process brought me joy.



Spending . . . time together at a family reunion. It's the season of family reunions over here (we have three this summer), and the first one took place with my family at the end of June at Lava Hot Springs. I sometimes complain about going to so many reunions, but the truth is, I really do love it. I only got to go to one family reunion during my entire childhood, so I'm so glad my kids are having a very different experience. This is the stuff of memories.



And that's it for June! How is your summer going so far?


What I Read in June

Jul 2, 2018

It kind of felt like all of my reading was dictated to me for the month of June. Three of the books were for book clubs (not kidding), and the fourth was our readaloud, which, even though I chose it, began to feel like more and more of an obligation as it dragged on for the entire month. Here are a few of my thoughts on each book:

1. The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion
I was in the mood for a sweet, lighthearted read for summer, and this definitely fit the bill.

It's about Don Tillman, a middle-aged genetics professor who decides it's time for him to get married. But he's tired of going on the usual dates and making the usual small talk. It's so inefficient. So he comes up with a comprehensive questionnaire to screen potential candidates, asking everything from what flavor of ice cream she likes to what she does in her free time. He calls this, "The Wife Project." With the questionnaire, he can immediately see if they'd be a compatible match or not.

But then, he meets Rosie, and she basically fails the entire questionnaire, and yet, upon reflection, he realizes that he would place his time with her among his happiest moments (right after his three visits to the Natural History Museum). Luckily, Rosie is searching for her biological father and so Don agrees to help her with "The Father Project" and doesn't have to worry about their incompatible interests.

The thing that is never explicitly mentioned but is obvious from the beginning is that Don has Asperger's Syndrome, and this makes this search for the perfect wife even more hilarious and endearing because Don tries to go about it all in just the right way, but everything is just a little more awkward than it needs to be.

I honestly could have loved this book if not for two things: the excessive swearing (including the f-word) and the behavior of Don's best friend, Gene, who is married but sleeps around in the name of research and science. I almost put down the book several times because of this content, and, in spite of how much I loved Don, I wouldn't be able to recommend it.

2. The Wolves at the Door: the True Story of America's Greatest Female Spy by Judith L. Pearson
This story could have been so good, so good, in the hands of another author. It is the true story of Virginia Hall who worked as a spy for the SOE and OSS during World War II. Right from the beginning, when she accidentally shoots herself in the leg during a hunting expedition and has to have it amputated, you know that she is an extraordinary lady. But the writing was so dull and dry that it was a struggle for that spunk and fearlessness to come through.

For example, at one point Virginia has to escape from France by way of the Pyrenees into Spain. This would have been an arduous journey under any circumstances, but with an artificial leg to contend with, it was absolutely torturous. And yet, I felt virtually no emotion when I was reading it because the writing was so bland.

This was my book club book for June, and our discussion was as much about how bad the writing was and lamenting about what the story could have been as it was about Virginia and her noble heroics.

Look her up on Wikipedia, but skip this book.

3. Tom's Midnight Garden by Philippa Pearce
A few weeks ago, I was flipping through Honey for a Child's Heart, looking for something that sounded interesting for our next readaloud. I wasn't looking because I didn't have any ideas (I always have ideas) but because one of the goals I made at the beginning of the year was to read three books recommended in that resource. The problem was that many of the books that caught my attention did so because I'd already heard of them, and the point of the goal was to discover new-to-me books.

So when I happened upon Tom's Midnight Garden, I jumped on it because it was a completely never-before-heard-of title and it was described as "timeless" and the type of story that "will probably be reaching out to children in 2102 on both sides of the Atlantic." Perfect. I put it on hold that very moment.

Tom has the whole summer to look forward to when his younger brother, Peter, unfortunately contracts a bad case of the measles. Tom is immediately whisked off to his aunt and uncle's flat to avoid any exposure to the disease, and he can't think of any place that would be more boring. But then, on one of his first nights there, the clock wakes him up, and he opens the back door and steps into a beautiful garden that was nothing more than a few trash bins and an old car in the daylight. Night after night, Tom returns to this garden, and slowly he realizes that he isn't just stepping into another place, but another time entirely.

When we were two or three chapters into the story, I enthusiastically posted about it on Instagram. We loved it! It was so fun to discover an old classic. Etc., etc. But with each chapter, my enthusiasm seemed to wane just a bit more. The story unfolded slowly, so slooooowly, and some nights I couldn't even muster up the interest to read a chapter. Consequently, it took us more than a month to read, and maybe we should have abandoned it.

The problem was, it did have its enjoyable moments and we all had a bunch of unanswered questions. So we plowed on. And by the last five chapters or so, it had picked back up again, and we didn't have any trouble finishing. So, was it worth it to keep reading for ten good chapters out of twenty-seven? In this particular case, I'm going to say yes. (But I'm really glad we get to read something else now.)

4. The Four Tendencies by Gretchen Rubin
My whole family read this book for our family reunion book club (which was this past weekend). Even though the official discussion took place during the family reunion, we've been informally talking about it for weeks. We couldn't help ourselves.

Gretchen Rubin first introduced the Four Tendencies in her book, Better than Before. She came up with the framework to better understand why some people are able to form good habits so easily and others really struggle. This book honed in on the four tendencies specifically (Upholder, Obliger, Questioner, Rebel), exploring each one thoroughly (strengths and weaknesses, how it interacts with the other tendencies, what it looks like in different situations, different leanings, etc.).

You can imagine what happens when a family reads this book. Everyone starts identifying everyone else, and no one can say anything without everyone else jumping in and saying, "Questioner, right there!" or "Definitely an Obliger." For example, at the reunion, all the girls went out for pedicures on the last morning. We had an appointment scheduled for 9:30, so we said we would leave at 9:00. But then, as the time approached, we thought if people were ready earlier, we could leave earlier, and then maybe the salon could get us in sooner (we were a little worried about checking out of our VRBO on time). Anyway, we failed to tell my sister the new plan, and at 8:50, we were all in the car waiting for Anna. She finally came and was quite put out because we had said 9:00, and it was not 9:00 yet, and if we were going to change the plans, then she needed to be informed. We all laughed and said, "Typical Upholder" (and I felt some empathy because I'm also an Upholder, so if the situation had been reversed, I would have reacted the same way).

My brother took it a little too far and would label any activity with a tendency: "She's eating peanut M&M's. Isn't that just like an Upholder?" Or, "He fell asleep on the couch. What a Rebel." Or, "She's reading a book. Typical Obliger behavior." He was just saying it to be funny, but Gretchen Rubin was quick to point out that "the Tendency describes only how a person responds to an expectation, not what the person's talents, personality, intelligence, or interests are." I think this is an important distinction to keep in mind. This framework analyzes just one small part of a person's personality, and it's up to you to figure out how it fits with everything as a whole.

I will say that just as a general reading experience, I enjoyed Better Than Before quite a bit more. The Four Tendencies is fairly repetitive, and, while it's interesting and I liked all of the examples, I feel like you could get the gist of the system by reading just the first chapter or listening to Gretchen Rubin's podcast episodes on each Tendency.

In fact, one family member didn't read the entire book but stopped after he thought he had it figured out. Questioner, no doubt.

What did you read last month? Anything I should put on my TBR?

What We're Listening to Right Now #8

Jun 22, 2018


I kind of can't believe it, but I think it's been nearly two years since I last shared a roundup of what my family is currently listening to. Maybe some of you don't even remember that this used to be a somewhat regular feature. But I've got some good ones to share with you today, and I hope you'll share your recent favorites in the comments.


1. The Greatest Showman soundtrack
First up, it's the soundtrack that everyone is listening to. In fact, it seems silly to even include it because is there even anyone out there who hasn't heard of it? Nope, no one. But seriously, I couldn't make a list of our current favorites and not include this one because we have listened to it countless times in the last four months. In fact, sometimes we even have it going in two different locations at the same time. We're hard core fans here. Mike and I saw the movie first; then we bought the soundtrack and our kids fell in love with the music; and then after they'd memorized all of the lyrics, they finally saw the movie. They liked it, but in the words of Aaron, "It was different than I was expecting." Having grown up on the musicals of the 40's and 50's, I'm pretty happy that musicals seem to be making a comeback. There's just nothing like getting up and dancing in the middle of a movie because you just can't help yourself.

Favorite song: A Million Dreams (but it's an almost impossible choice)


2. Tour Guide by Cheri Magill*
This is a new-to-me artist, but it turns out she lives just a hop, skip, and a jump down the road from me, which means we could theoretically be best friends, right? And after listening to each one of these songs, which is dedicated to a different aspect of motherhood, I'm convinced that Cheri Magill has been to my house, met my kids, seen the way I mother, and wrote these songs just for me. I mean, one of the lines is even, "If I had a dime for every Lego I've picked up," and if that doesn't describe my situation in this house full of boys, I don't know what does. Some of the songs (like "Crazy") are about the funny or exasperating moments of motherhood, but others (like "Unconditionally") will just make you weep and pull your kids in close and smother them with kisses because you'll just feel so lucky and blessed to be their mom . Cheri Magill's style is light and sweet and very simply adorned, exactly like sun-kissed wildflowers. She actually reminds me a lot of Mindy Gledhill, which you know is high praise from me. I know Mother's Day is eleven months away, but bookmark this one for next year because I can't think of a better soundtrack to celebrate the joys of motherhood with. And in the meantime, just listen to it.

Favorite song: "Tour Guide" (mostly because I already mentioned two of my other favorites above, and the idea of a mom being a tour guide through life is just so clever)


3. Newsies soundtrack
I can't remember what made us decide to show Newsies to our kids, but we did, and they loved it. Well, truthfully, the story went a little over some of their heads, but not the music. The music resonated deep in their souls and made them all want to go out and join a cause. Haha, not really. But it at least makes them attack their chores with a vengeance on Saturday mornings. Aaron, Maxwell, and Bradley loved the music so much that they purchased the soundtrack with their own money and split the cost three ways. Our favorite local theater is putting on Newsies this summer, and so we're taking the three older boys to see it as a reward for working on their summer goals. They're already counting down the days.

Favorite song: "Once and For All" (although, as I'm writing this, Clark literally has "Seize the Day" on repeat)


4. Circle Round podcast
I know I've shared at least two other stories podcasts here before (one was the Stories podcast, the other was Sailaway Stories (which is no longer producing new episodes)). But one can never have too many stories (especially on road trips), so this one should definitely be added to your queue. It focuses on folk tales and legends from all around the world. The narration is excellent and the episode always includes some music. It is a professional, high-quality program in every way, and I am happy to put it on when we need a little motivation to go out and run errands.

Favorite episode: "The Hat, the Horn, and the Purse"


5. The Piano Guys
Okay, I'm old. I can still remember when "The Piano Guys" was literally just one piano guy--Jon Schmidt. That was long before Steven Sharp Nelson brought in his cello or they started traveling all over the world and playing their instruments against dramatic backdrops. I bought his first collection of piano solos when I was probably fourteen and memorized "All of Me," mostly because it was the first piece I'd ever played that gave me permission to smash my arm onto the keys. Recently though, probably in the last year or so, my kids have become die-hard fans of the current group. They love to watch all of their YouTube videos, and we own a couple of their albums (and Aaron has requested another one for his birthday). It's just the perfect mix of classic sophistication and upbeat fun.

Favorite song: "Cello Wars" (at least, that is my kids' favorite, but maybe not mine)



6. Summer 2018 Playlist
Last year, we compiled a summer playlist for the first time, and it was one of the highlights of the summer. We burned it onto a couple of CDs, and we listened to it almost constantly for three solid months. Sure, we were a little sick of it by the end, but it was the soundtrack of our summer, and even now, if I hear a song that was on it, it takes me right back to some of our adventures. So of course, we had to do it again this year. Each member of the family got to choose one song, and then I filled in the rest (because I'm the mom, and I can only listen to Imagine Dragons so much). I have to say, I'm pretty much in love with it. It's fun and diverse and just captures where we're at in life right now. Here are the songs that are included on it (and if someone personally selected it, I've put their name in parentheses).
  1. "Ride" from Cars 3
  2. "Everything Everything" from Born in China
  3. "Thunder" by Imagine Dragons (Bradley)
  4. "Up and Up" by Cold Play (Mike)
  5. "Hot Air Balloon" by Owl City
  6. "Seize the Day" from Newsies
  7. "Believer" by Imagine Dragons (Maxwell)
  8. "Son of Man" from Tarzan (Clark)
  9. "Paradise" by Cold Play
  10. "Whatever It Takes" by Imagine Dragons (Aaron)
  11. "Cruisin'" by Colbie Caillat
  12. "Better Together" by Jack Johnson
  13. "Whole Wide World" by Mindy Gledhill
  14. "Someday" by Michael Buble
  15. "Sunshine on My Shoulders" by John Denver (Amy)
Favorite song: Well, obviously, they're all favorites because we hand selected each one.

And that's what's playing at our house lately. How about at yours? (Hopefully I won't let another two years go by before I share again!)

*I received a copy of Tour Guide, but all thoughts and opinions are my own.

A Little of This and That in May

Jun 15, 2018


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

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


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

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


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

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


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


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


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


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


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

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


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

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


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


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

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


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


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


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


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


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

Jun 8, 2018

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

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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

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

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

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

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