What I Read in April

Apr 30, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How I Involve My Kids in Helping Out Around the House

Apr 20, 2018

When I wrote that post last month about celebrating our unique mothering strengths, I listed "teaching my kids how to work" as one of the things I like to do.

Today I thought I'd offer a bit more of an explanation.

When I said that, I didn't mean we always have a spotlessly clean house or that I have a perfect system for getting my kids to do chores. Like most things in life, it is a constantly shifting routine that changes with my kids' ages and stages.

However, teaching my kids both the value of work and how to do it is a priority to me, and because of that, I make sure they have daily and weekly opportunities to be contributing members of our family.

Before I share some of the nitty gritty details however, I have to tell you my personal motto. When kids are helping around the house, it is highly probable that THEIR finished task won't look like YOUR finished task, not to mention it will probably take them twice as long. It can be easy to watch their sloppy efforts, throw up your hands in frustration, and say, "Never mind! Go play! I'll do it myself."

But stop. Take a deep breath. And repeat after me: It's better than it was. Really, I promise you it is. If they're vacuuming, they're sucking up something. If they're dusting, it's less dusty than it was. If they're washing the windows, at least some fingerprints are disappearing (and okay, maybe a few streaks are taking their places). Sometimes I spend most of Saturday morning chores turning a blind eye to the things I can still see and instead say to myself, It's better than it was. It's better than it was.

That doesn't mean I never offer correction or instruction, but it is important for me not to get hung up on the tiny little perfections. I let my kids take ownership of the job they've done, and I try be grateful that it's better than it was.

Now I'll share a little bit about how we break down the work in our house, as well as a list of the tasks my kids help with. We have daily responsibilities, family expectations, Saturday chores, and summer jobs.

On a daily basis, each child is expected to:
  • make his bed
  • practice the piano
  • brush his teeth
  • straighten up his bedroom
  • do any assignments he didn't finish at school
You'll notice that there aren't a lot of traditional chores on this list. That hasn't always been the case, but it's what is working for us right now, mainly because those chores that used to be part of the morning routine are now reserved for other times (see below). These are the things that I feel are essential for a productive morning. (However, just this week, I reminded the boys that I expect them to pick up their bedrooms before they leave for school, and I was met with blank stares and protests of, "I have never heard you say that before." Sigh. This is why I sometimes feel like I'm beating my head against a brick wall.)

Part of the reason why I've chosen to keep daily chores to a minimum is because I expect them to just help out when I need it. Being part of a family means contributing to the care and upkeep and cleanliness of the home. So while they don't have very many formal daily chores, they are given "in the moment" jobs multiple times a day. These requests might include:
  • Pick up 20 items in the family room
  • Do a two-minute speed clean up
  • Sweep the floor
  • Put away the laundry
  • Wipe down the kitchen table
  • Put all the toys away in the backyard
  • Clean up a game that a younger sibling left out
  • Play with the baby
  • Wipe down the bathroom counter
  • Take out the trash
And here's a little tip one of my friends shared with me. If I phrase the request as, "Would you be willing to . . ." rather than "I need you to . . . " my kids are much more likely to respond cheerfully. I don't know why. But just changing the phrasing helps a ton.

The daily cleaning is mostly fast and superficial. It keeps the surfaces clean and the living spaces neat. It's reactive (i.e., someone spilled milk so it must be cleaned up). We reserve the heavy duty, deep cleaning for Saturday morning.

I instituted Saturday morning chores over a year ago, and it is still working so well. I think most families do some form of Saturday cleaning, but up until a year ago, ours was definitely more of the casual variety, and consequently, my kids always felt it was negotiable and worth complaining about. Now it's set with clear expectations: the whole family (including Mike and me) will clean for two hours on Saturday morning. It's amazing how much we're able to get done during that time, and many of the odd jobs that were being neglected before are now getting done much more regularly (long before they're a blatant problem).

Chores are begun immediately after breakfast. I usually write up a list for each boy so he can check off each task when it's completed. This list of jobs is meant to take about two hours to finish (although they've been known to stretch it out much longer . . . ). Occasionally, to change things up, we'll forego the lists and Mike will direct the cleaning, giving them one task at a time and having them come to him when it's completed to get another one. (Notice I said Mike will do that. I prefer the lists so they're not coming to me every two minutes. He prefers to just work hard and fast together.)

Here is a sampling of Saturday morning jobs:
  • Clean bedroom (this is different from the daily task; it's much more thorough)
  • Clean under bed
  • Organize closet
  • Vacuum couches
  • Dust living room
  • Clean baseboards
  • Scrub down kitchen chairs and benches
  • Wipe down light switches and door knobs
  • Wipe down kitchen cupboards
  • Organize pantry
  • Vacuum around edges
  • Clean windows
  • Fold laundry
  • Sweep out car port
  • Clean out van
  • Vacuum van
  • Vacuum family room/living room/bedrooms/etc.
  • Vacuum under couches
  • Sweep and straighten shoe closet
  • Organize game closet
  • Straighten book shelves in library
  • Clean out fridge
  • Wipe down microwave
  • Mop kitchen floor
  • Clean mirrors
  • Clean toilets
I know someone will ask what chores three-year-old Clark does, and the truth is, we let him do whatever will keep him busy and occupied while the rest of us are working. Sometimes he's doing little odd jobs, sometimes he's shadowing an older brother, and sometimes he's playing. Most of the time, he's begging for a snack. Because he's Clark. I think one of the best ways to teach a younger child to work is just to let them see everyone else working and incorporate them into the mix as much as possible. There's a certain camaraderie that comes from working together and the younger ones will feel that and want to be a part of it.

The final component in our cleaning regimen is summer jobs. I use the summer months as a time to teach my kids new skills. Each child learns how to do several new household tasks over the summer. Last summer, Aaron learned how to thoroughly clean the bathroom (toilet, sink, floor, etc.) and do the laundry from start to finish. Maxwell learned how to wash the dishes and weed the garden. Bradley learned how wipe down the kitchen table and sweep.

They also get a longer list of daily jobs in the summer because they have more time and the house seems to get messier since they're all home all day. Their new skills are usually a part of their daily routine, and this gives them lots of additional practice as well.

That's a pretty good rundown of how things go at our house. It's not a perfect system. Just last week, I realized I haven't been having my kids help with cleanup after dinner, and I feel like that would be a good idea. My kids don't always help willingly and cheerfully. And sometimes I send them all to the backyard because it's so much easier to just do it myself.

But most of the time, I stick with it because I feel like instilling a strong work ethic in kids is so important to their future success as adults. And also because now that I've invested the time to train them, they actually can be quite helpful.

And on days when chores are not completed the way I want them to, I remind myself, "It's better than it was." 

Do you have some "cleaning with kids" tips? Share them in the comments!

A Little of This and That in March

Apr 13, 2018

Sometimes when I sit down to write these monthly update posts, I suddenly realize I don't have any photos to go along with our activities. That . . . is not the case with March. It was a busy month, and I didn't forget my camera for any of it.

In light of that, this is going to be a picture-heavy update. March's activities included . . .

Celebrating . . . Maxwell's eighth birthday. I went on a field trip with his class, Mike made him an iridescent beetle cake (because bugs are still his love language), and he got to eat salmon and roasted asparagus for dinner (his choice).

Attending . . . my sister's graduate piano recital. Oh man, she was sooooooo good. Max and Aaron came with us, and afterwards Max declared that it "felt like it was only ten minutes long," which was the highest compliment he could think of. Later in the month, she also rocked her oral exams, so I'm pretty proud of her (and I'm dreaming of the day when, maybe, I can take piano lessons from her!).

Going . . . to Music and the Spoken Word with my parents and siblings, specifically to hear Brian Mathias in his debut performance with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. I mentioned a couple of months ago that Brian, one of my friends from my college days, was hired as a new Tabernacle organist. It was amazing to hear him play with the Choir. I even teared up a little. It's just pretty thrilling to see someone catch their dream, you know?

Forgetting . . . about St. Patrick's Day. I mean, it's not like I was planning a big celebration or anything, but we usually pull out the green tablecloth and candlesticks and let the boys eat a couple of bowls of authentic Lucky Charms. So at 7:30 am (when we realized our oversight), Mike rushed to the grocery store, we scattered some gold eggs (the store was out of gold coins) on the table, put a few drops of food coloring in the milk, and called it a win. Plus, that night, Mike actually made corned beef, cabbage, and soda bread, so I guess we did more than I realized.

Steeking . . . my cardigan. In knitting, a steek is used when you knit something in the round and then cut down the center of a column of stitches to open it up--essentially turning a sweater into a cardigan. Most of the time you reinforce the stitches around the steek (I definitely did with mine), but even with that, I was terrified (and almost physically ill) at the prospect of cutting up my many hours of hard work. Two things gave me the courage to finally do it: 1) I kept repeating this mantra in my head: Knitting doesn't like to unravel sideways, Knitting doesn't like to unravel sideways and 2) I wasn't going to be able to wear it without cutting it, so it was worthless to me whether I cut it and ruined it or just left it alone. So I gritted my teeth and did it, and it all worked out (see below).

Finishing . . . my cardigan. After the dreaded steek was over, all I had to do was knit the collar, and it was finished! This was the Watkins Cardigan by Whitney Hayward, and the yarn I used was Quince and Co. Puffin. I love the way it turned out. It's big and squishy and so, so warm. Since we've been having such a cold spring, I've actually been wearing it quite a bit, and it makes me happy every time I put it on.

Racing . . . in the pinewood derby. Both Maxwell and Aaron made cars this year, and Aaron came in 6th overall, which was an improvement over last year. Basically, they're happy if they win at least one race, which they both did, so it was a good night.

Going . . .  to one of BYU's family concerts. Every year, BYU puts together a series of several concerts that are designed for children. They are shorter than normal performances (under an hour) with lots of interaction and opportunities to move. There is no age restriction, and they are absolutely free. We decided to go to the one by Men's Chorus and Women's Chorus since my sister sings with Women's Chorus. It was a fantastic program, and all of my kids loved it.

Showing . . . off BYU to our kids. Mike and I always have the BEST time being back on campus, and it's even better when we have our kids with us and we can relive the glory days, as it were. This time, we went to the Eyring Science Center, where Mike lived for most of his college career. The foyer is filled with a bunch of hands-on exhibits, and we spent a good hour playing with them. The boys especially loved the vortex cannon.

Being . . . tourists in our own state. The boys were on spring break at the same time Mike's parents were here from Germany. This had many advantages, of course, because we had the freedom to see them as often as their schedules would allow. But it meant that we couldn't exactly go anywhere for spring break because we wanted to stay close to where the action was. So we decided to go on a day trip and see some "Utah" things we'd never seen before, namely the Hill Aerospace Museum (before we even got out of the car, Max declared, "This is way cooler than I thought it was going to be!"), Promontory Point (which involved a history lesson as well), and the Spiral Jetty (a large-scale art piece on the salt flats of the Great Salt Lake). It turned into such a fun day, and it was pretty obvious that we weren't hitting the usual spring break attractions because we didn't fight a single crowd.

Spending . . . time with Grandpa Paul and Grandma Jill. As I already mentioned, Mike's parents were here for the couple of weeks surrounding General Conference. Even though they have a lot of kids (nine) and even more grandkids (thirty-four), they are always so good to give each family some one-on-one time, not to mention packing in the family parties. Always a treat.

Being . . . baptized. That would be Maxwell, but the rest of us were all there to support him, including aunts, uncles, cousins, grandmas, and grandpas. Max happened to be the only child being baptized in our entire stake in March, so we got to plan the whole program, which made it even more special. Aaron and Grandma Jill gave the opening and closing prayers. Cousin Steven played the piano; Uncle Gordy led the music. Grandma B and Aunt Sonja gave the talks. Aunt Angela and Aunt Anna played a piano duet. And of course, Mike baptized him. It was a beautiful, special day, and Maxwell beamed with happiness.

Hosting . . . our third annual neighborhood Easter egg hunt. We invite anyone (12 and under) who wants to participate to bring over a dozen filled eggs the day before. Then we hide them in our yard plus three other neighbors' on Saturday morning. Everyone comes over, we divide the kids by ages, and they have a great time finding twelve eggs. It doesn't have the frenzied, greedy feeling that so many egg hunts seem to have, and everyone hangs out afterwards playing and chatting.

And that's a wrap for March! Tell me about your month in the comments!

What I Read in March

Apr 2, 2018

March was a good reading month for me, especially considering the fact that one of the books I read will probably be one of my top five reads in 2018. Keep reading to find out which one it was . . .

1. Zinnia and the Bees by Danielle Davis
Most books ask the reader to suspend their disbelief on some level., but I'm going to be perfectly frank and say that I just couldn't do it with this one. I wanted to like it because Zinnia, the protagonist, is a knitter, which I found immediately endearing. But when a truck filled with beehives crashes and the hundreds of liberated bees choose to collectively land in Zinnia's unruly curly hair, I was skeptical. But then the bees proceed to stay on top of her head for something like the next three weeks. She hates it (understandably) but just pulls up a hood and carries on with the other traumas in her life (her brother's abrupt departure, an emotionally distant mother, and friend problems). One has to wonder why a) no one else notices the buzzing bees, b) Zinnia doesn't ask someone to drive her outside the city or at least to a park where the bees could find an appropriate home, or c) Zinnia's new friend, a brilliant naturalist, doesn't come up with any ideas himself (even though he says he'll help her). If the events in the book took place during a single day, maybe this would work, but over several weeks, no way.

The other thing I couldn't handle, and this is actually a big pet peeve of mine in general, is that Zinnia's mother is an austere, insensitive, unloving mother (and always has been from the sounds of it), but then one day, she flips things around and begins to invest in their relationship. Of course, a big event triggers this, so maybe it isn't completely unbelievable, but I still have a really hard time with someone being painted as completely awful and then expecting me to just go along with this miraculous change in attitude and temperament. If this is going to be asked of me, then you have to give me at least a little glimmer that such a change could be possible before it actually takes place.

I can appreciate the fact that there are different books for different tastes, and this one just wasn't for me

2. Ellen Tebbits by Beverly Cleary
We're not quite ready to read the last book in the Ramona series. She and Aaron have grown up together, matching year for year, and now they're both in fourth grade, which is when the final book takes place. We'll read it in the next couple of months, but it will be bittersweet for sure.

In the meantime, we read Ellen Tebbits, which was new to me as well as to my kids. Ellen has a quieter personality than Ramona, but that doesn't mean she avoids childhood drama. In fact, the fight between her and her best friend, Austine, is probably one of the most realistic squabbles turned serious that I've ever read.

I always love Beverly Cleary's books for their strong time stamp. For example, at one point, Ellen and her mother go to the department store to pick out a pattern and material for a new dress. Can you imagine going to Nordstrom's to shop for fabric?! But I guess in an era when sewing for your entire family was in vogue, it would make sense to sell what the mothers would buy.

I gave Maxwell Otis Spofford for his birthday, which is the followup to this book. I thought I would read it aloud as well, but at the time, we were still in the middle of Ellen Tebbits, and by the time we finished, he and Aaron had both already read it on their own.

This was my book club's pick for March, and I'll be surprised if it doesn't make it into my top five books of 2018. It was so good, but it's not for the faint of heart.

It was one of those books that left me pacing around the house, shouting, "This is happening in MY country?! During MY lifetime?!" "And also, "Our justice system is broken. BROKEN. And so corrupt." Mike's probably glad I'm done with it and that I processed all my feelings at book club so he doesn't have to hear about it anymore.

The book is by Bryan Stevenson, a lawyer who founded the Equal Justice Initiative, a nonprofit organization that strives to provide fair trials and secure humane sentences for all prisoners . In the book, he exposed many of the holes in our justice system--things like bribery, insufficient evidence, dishonesty, corrupt officials, and racial prejudices. He also shared many stories, which opened my eyes to the truth in painful ways.

One of these was about Walter, a man who was falsely accused of murder and sentenced to death row. The only evidence against him was a shaky testimony given by a man who later admitted he had been bribed by police in exchange for a lesser sentence for a crime he had committed. It was frightening to see how easily Walter was convicted of murder and how difficult it was to reverse that decision (even with plenty of evidence supporting his innocence).

But ultimately, the book was about mercy. Bryan was adamant that "Each of us is more than the worst thing we've ever done." I believe that, and that was something I tried to stress during our book club discussion. In this book, the criminals are the "good guys," the ones being wronged, and the ones the readers end up rooting for. But I was kind of amused how quickly we started pointing our fingers and condemning some of the other people in the stories: the prison guard, the judge, the white police officer, and the nosy neighbor. It was as if we needed a target for all of the anger and indignation we were feeling. But those people were also "more than the worst thing they've ever done." It was hard to admit, but they needed mercy, too.

Anyway, you can probably tell that this is a book for which I could easily have written a whole review. Maybe I should have. But I highly recommend it nonetheless.

4. Seek This Jesus by Neill Marriott
I became a fan of Neill Marriott the moment I first heard her endearing southern accent during General Conference. Her talks have been some of the most memorable of my life, and I think about them often, in all sorts of situations. (Side note: she was released from the Young Women General Presidency this past weekend during General Conference, and it made me want to cry. I feel so sad that I won't get to hear any more talks from her.)

This is a slim book, but I loved every word of it. Turns out, Sister Marriott has a way with words on paper just as much as she does when she is speaking. In fact, there were times when her voice seemed to leap off of the page as she shared her experiences.

This was a good mix of personal stories and bold insights. One of the most impactful stories for me was about one of her daughters when she was in elementary school. She didn't have any friends and felt so lonely at school. Sister Marriott said she found out the times her daughter's class went to recess. She said, "Each day at 10:10 am, I dropped to my knees wherever I was in the house. The kitchen floor, the family room rug, the bathroom tiles, all became prayer places as I petitioned the Lord on behalf of my lonely daughter." But the thing that made my eyes prick up instantly with tears was this: "That was when she needed me, and that was when she would have me."  I loved the way she accessed the power of prayer on her daughter's behalf.

I also loved this thought, which actually goes along perfectly with my theme for 2018 (which I still haven't written about . . .): "The temporal world rushes into any space in our lives that we will give it, filling our spiritual needs with good but mostly temporary activities."

This is a book I'm sure I'll revisit frequently, probably even later this year as part of my rereading goal. But first, I have to loan it to my mom.

5. Hello, Universe by Erin Entranda Kelly
This was the winner of the 2018 Newbery Medal. I had never even heard of it beforehand, which either shows that I was not great about following Newbery news ahead of time (which is true) or that it wasn't a favorite to win. Regardless, I put the audio on hold as soon as the winners were announced, and then I flew through it as soon as I got it.

It follows four characters: Virgil (a shy boy who is being bullied by Chet and is secretly smitten with Valencia), Valencia (a deaf girl who loves nature, is tormented by a recurring bad dream, and doesn't realize Virgil exists), Chet (the aforementioned bully), and Kaori (a self-proclaimed psychic who happens to have both Virgil and Valencia as (her only) clients). The bulk of the story takes place on a single Saturday when all four characters happen to cross paths and interact in a rather uncanny way. It begins when Chet meets Virgil in the woods and drops Virgil's backpack (which happens to be holding his pet guinea pig, Gulliver) down a deep, dark well.

I had mixed feelings with this one. I liked the story and the characters, and I absolutely adored the ending, but my overall reaction was surprise that it had won the Newbery. The writing was good, but I wasn't blown away by it (although Kaori did get me to laugh out loud several times). The plot line was interesting but not super intricate. And it was just a little bit on the short side. I had a difficult time seeing what set it apart from other beautifully executed middle-grade novels. I liked it for sure (much more than Zinnia and the Bees--see above) and would recommend it, but it's not one I'm rushing out to buy for our personal shelves.

What did you read in March? I'm always up for new recommendations!
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