A Little of This and That in June

Jul 7, 2019

June was bliss. Pure bliss. I wouldn't have changed a thing about it. Now we're into July, which is crazy busy and packed full of trips and reunions and activities, and I'm just so glad we had June to really soak in what summer is all about. You might have found us . . .

Creating . . . giant bubbles. We've tried giant bubbles before, but this formula was the golden ticket. The boys stuck their sticks and string into the solution, and then held them in the right direction of the breeze, and the bubbles grew and expanded and gently floated away. It was amazing. It entertained us for a good hour, and we didn't stop until we ran out of the solution.

Reading . . . a ton! Our family summer reading program is in full swing, and so far the boys have been raking in the prizes. The first week, Maxwell read 22 hours, and the second week Aaron read 24. Popular prizes this year have been iTunes songs, popsicle coupons for the pool, and extra minutes of screen time. Aaron burned through the Series of Unfortunate Events, and Max is still plugging away on the many Warriors series. Even Clark has been logging away the hours, and consequently, his reading has been rapidly improving.

Eating . . . doughnuts. The first Friday of the month brought National Doughnut Day, and we celebrated with a box of melt-in-your-mouth glazed doughnuts. This is not the only day of the year that we eat doughnuts (are you kidding??), but it's funny how my kids look forward to this day with great anticipation. This year also brought a well-timed lesson for Clark. We picked up enough doughnuts for everyone in the family to have two each. Clark took his first one, and then ran off to the neighbors' to invite his two friends over for a doughnut . . . except that we hadn't bought enough to feed all of the neighborhood kids as well. When they showed up, we told Clark that he would need to split his second doughnut in half to give to them. Well, that wasn't his plan at all, and he went crazy at the realization that he was going to miss his other doughnut. I was actually so glad it happened exactly as it did because it was a perfect real-life lesson. Clark is often very rash and spontaneous and doesn't think through consequences. Of course I want him to be generous, but in this situation, he just expected someone else to give up their doughnut for his friends instead of him. I hope next time he will talk through his plans with us instead of heedlessly making promises he doesn't actually want to keep.

Suffering . . . through a case of swimmer's ear. It's kind of surprising that with all of our swimming, this was our first time dealing with this infamous side effect. And I think Aaron (the unlucky victim) hopes he never has to deal with it again. Even though we took him to the doctor and got him on antibiotics pretty quickly after the initial onset of pain, it still took him a good five days to recover. If anyone has any great tips for guarding against it in the future, we are all ears (wink, wink).

Reaching . . . the terrible twos. We thought we might get past this phase unscathed, but apparently Ian was just a late bloomer. In June, he turned into the most contrary, obstinate, bossy child I ever did see, and it's taking a toll on all of us. But he makes up for it when I put him down for a nap and he says, "I love you soooooo much."

Writing . . . for the Johnson Times. At the beginning of summer break, Aaron and Maxwell decided to start a newspaper. They each created a comic strip (Aaron: Hobo Joe; Maxwell: Monsters) and took turns writing a couple of articles for each issue. They kept up a daily circulation for about a week before it fizzled, but I quite enjoyed it while it lasted.

Going . . . to see Matilda at our favorite local theater. A year ago, we took Aaron, Maxwell, and Bradley to see Newsies there as one of the rewards for making progress on their summer goals, and at that time, the 2019 schedule was already out. They saw that Matilda would be performing this summer, and they were wild to see it. Out of all of the books they've ever read, Matilda is quite possibly their very favorite. They have listened to it probably at least one hundred times. So we decided it could be their first goals reward of the summer. But as our ticket date got closer, I began to feel less enthusiastic about it because my sister-in-law had seen it with her girls and given it a less-than-glowing review. She said it hadn't kept the Roald Dahl feel, and I knew if that was true, it was the one thing I wouldn't be able to look past. But the opening song didn't give that impression at all. And as the play progressed, the more I loved it: the vibrant, whimsical sets, the surprising dissonant notes in the songs, and the highly stylized acting all contributed to bring Matilda to life. But best of all, it exuded that dark and twisty, but in the end triumphant atmosphere I've come to expect (and love) from Roald Dahl. The cast was full of children, and I was so impressed by all of them that when the play was over, I jumped to my feet because I wanted to make sure my standing ovation was for them, too. Maybe my expectations were just low, but it far surpassed them in every way. I love when that happens.

Shaving . . . five seconds off his breast stroke. Aaron had a swim meet and competed in the 100 freestyle, 50 breast stroke, and 50 backstroke. He did well in all three, but he was especially excited to take five seconds off his old 50 breast stroke time.

Chancing . . . a thunderstorm in favor of a hike. We had planned to go on a hike one evening, but as we were getting ready to leave, our valley was surrounded by dark clouds. So we ditched our planned hike and headed for the one bright patch of sky on the horizon, which turned out to be the Mueller Park Trail. We were able to get in a decent hike before the clouds caught up to us, and we reached our car just as the first rain drops began to fall, which meant we timed it just about perfectly.

Gaining . . . new swimming skills. Clark did two weeks of swimming lessons at the beginning of June and learned how to push off from the wall in a back float, move his arms in a big way, and take side breaths.

Celebrating . . . Father's Day. Ever since Aaron and Maxwell were small, we have filled out little questionnaires for Father's Day. I come up with different questions every year and then interview the boys to find out their answers (I do this even after they are perfectly capable of reading and writing on their own). Then we add a photo and drawing on the other side and I laminate the whole thing. My kids love reading back through their answers from years ago, and it's become a fun little keepsake. This year was Ian's first time to participate, and his answers were . . . unique. The evening of Father's Day, we went over to my parents' house for dinner, so I got to celebrate my own dad as well.

Tasting . . . chocolate ice cream. Just for fun, we did a blind taste test of six different brands of chocolate ice cream and then ranked them. The contestants were Kroger, Cheap, Häagen-Dazs, Graeters, Bryers, and Howdy Homemade (a local ice cream shop). The clear winner was Howdy Homemade, but it was surprisingly difficult to differentiate between quality once your palette was saturated by chocolate, and I'm embarrassed to admit that the Kroger was equally delicious to me.

Hiking . . . the "Y." Later in the month, we went down to Provo to hike our beloved Y Mountain. The boys had seen the Y many times, but this was their first time hiking the trail. We chose a day when the temperature had dropped by twenty degrees, which was a good thing since that trail is in full sun the entire time. It is a relatively short hike but very steep, and I wondered if Clark was going to be able to handle it. But he did amazing! In fact, the only child that we had any trouble with at all was Ian (who shouldn't have complained since he was getting a free ride on Mike's back). We hiked to both the bottom of the Y and the top. I think all of my kids were surprised that going back down the trail was actually harder (or at least more painful) than going up. Mike and I both had achy knees by the time we reached the bottom. We're getting old. Afterwards we went to Brick Oven (a popular Provo pizza joint), and we all agreed that ice cold root beer never tasted so good.

Seeing . . . my first manuscript published! Okay, not my manuscript. Do you remember that I read and review manuscripts for a small publishing company? Well one of the first manuscripts I read (which was about 18 months ago) was published this month! It is called Dreams as Revelation, and it was so fun to page through it and see what it grew up to be! Even though I only had a very small part in it, it still gave me a little thrill to hold the hard copy in my hands.

Touring . . . a few homes. My mom had tickets to Parade of Homes this year. I had never been before, so I went to see a few houses with her. We picked the biggest ones, as one does, one of which was over 22,000 square feet and came with an indoor racket ball court, two swimming pools, a huge gym, a theater, and an indoor tennis court. And all of that, but only the tiniest little loft with a few measly bookshelves. I know! Definitely not the house for me.

Taking . . . a knitting class with my sister, Anna. I had been wanting to learn the brioche technique but it seemed really difficult and intimidating. So when I saw that my local yarn shop was offering a class teaching this technique, I jumped on it. And then I convinced my sister to take it with me so that I would have some company. We practiced the technique by making a simple hat (which incorporated both one-color and two-color brioche). True to the rumors, it was a little bit tricky at first (it kind of breaks some of the most basic knitting rules, which requires a bit of a mind shift), but once I got the hang of it, it wasn't difficult at all. And it creates a very bouncy fabric that is a delight to squish! I'm so glad I could take the class with Anna. It was so great to spend time with her, and I loved working on the same project and being able to check in with her. It makes me think we should choose another pattern to work on together.

Switching . . . bedrooms. For the last two and a half years, Maxwell has been sharing a bedroom with Clark, and he was ready for a change. So we did a little bedroom switcheroo, and now Aaron and Maxwell are together, and Bradley and Clark are together. (Ian is still in his own room.) I was a little nervous about how it would all go down, but so far, I think it's been a positive change. I can remember rearranging my room when I was kid, and it always seemed to breathe new life into a tired old space. This had the same effect.

Catching . . . a fish. We don't have the greatest luck with fishing, but the boys are always eager to give it another try. Mike sometimes checks to see if any of the lakes have been recently restocked, so when he saw Silver Lake on the list, we decided to head up there for the evening. It's one of our favorite spots anyway, but it was an added bonus when Bradley caught a lovely rainbow trout. And that led to Maxwell finally fulfilling his dream to gut a fish.

Watching . . . the miraculous metamorphosis process. We bought a cup of five caterpillars and had so much fun watching them transform throughout the month. They started out as the tiniest, itty-bitty caterpillars and got noticeably bigger every day. Then, one by one, they spun silk and hung from the lid in a J-shape. We were fortunate to catch all five of the caterpillars turn into chrysalides, which was kind of unbelievable since it only takes about ninety seconds from start to finish. Two of the chrysalides formed at exactly the same time. It was one of the most amazing things I've ever seen. Then, exactly a week later, all five emerged as pretty painted lady butterflies. We watched them for a few hours, and even kept one of them overnight, and then let all of them fly away into the wide blue sky. We loved watching the whole process so much. I'm sure we'll do it again.

Enduring . . . Ian's antics. Just to give you a sampling of the kind of mischief we're dealing with, one day I went into the bathroom to put in my contacts only to find my contact case already open and my contacts missing, supposedly rinsed down the drain. Another day, Ian was playing in the car, and I was doing things in the house. I heard him come inside, push a chair over to the dryer, grab a set of keys from the basket, go back outside, and by the time I chased him out there, he had inserted the CORRECT key into the ignition. He's up to no good these days.

Reaping . . . a harvest. Our garden has been quite successful so far. The spinach, peas, basil, rhubarb, and raspberries have already been producing, and we've been trying to keep up with everything as well as we can. It looks like we will also have a crop of zucchini, tomatoes, blackberries, green beans, carrots, beets, onions, watermelon, squash,and possibly peppers (they're still looking a little weak). It is so fun to go out to the garden and check up on the progress of everything.

Overcoming . . . his fear of the water. Ian had a rough entry into the pool this year. The big boys were a little overzealous when he wore his floaty for the first time. They yanked him away from the step to try to show him how well he could float and instead he felt super insecure and unsafe. For the next few weeks, whether he had his floaty on or not, he refused to leave the top step of the pool. Sometimes I would take him out with me, but he just screamed the entire time until I put him back on the step. But little by little, I coaxed him out, and he is finally happily bobbing around in the water.

There's more. Of course there's more. But I can't mention everything, and that's a pretty good recap for now.

How's your summer going so far?

Upstairs at the White House: My Life With the First Ladies by J.B. West

Jul 3, 2019

When I was growing up, my mom always tuned into Paul Harvey on the radio while she was making lunch. Besides the news and interesting stories, he also had a segment called The Rest of the Story where he revealed the little known history behind famous and well-known events.

This book was a little like that radio segment, giving a backdoor view of some of America's First Families.

J.B. West served as Assistant to the Chief Usher and then later as Chief Usher of the White House from 1941 to 1969. I have to admit, before I read this book, I didn't even know there was such a position as "Chief Usher," but basically Mr. West's job was to work directly with the First Ladies, helping each one make the White House her home, ensuring that social events ran smoothly, overseeing the staff, and generally helping with all of the ins and outs of daily life. As such, he had a unique view of the President of the United States and his family, one that was often more personal than was portrayed by the media.

During his time at the White House, he served Eleanor Roosevelt, Bess Truman, Mamie Eisenhower, Jacqueline Kennedy, Lady Bird Johnson, and Pat Nixon. As each presidency turned over, Mr. West introduced the reader to the new First Lady and immediately shared little anecdotal stories that helped create a clear impression of this woman that contrasted sharply with all of the others. These women did not run together in a blur of First Ladies. Each one was uniquely her own person.

As I neared the end of the book, I wrote down the name of each First Lady and any words that came to mind that would help me remember her. These are merely my own observations and as such are not necessarily an accurate or complete representation of these women:

Eleanor Roosevelt: somewhat aloof, very busy, boundless energy, politically active, more interested in things outside of the White House than in it, distant relationship with the President

Bess Truman: simple, practical, not flashy, well-informed, adviser, private, very much in love with her husband and daughter

Mamie Eisenhower: vivacious, spunky, sparkly, opinionated, formal, elegant, high-class, openly affectionate

Jackie Kennedy: quiet, unassuming, sophisticated, witty, ambitious, educated, dedicated to history and the fine arts, unemotional 

Lady Bird Johnson: selfless, people-pleaser, social but private, loyal, friendly, hands off but particular 

Pat Nixon: reserved, decisive, warm (J.B. West only worked for her for six weeks, so she was the least well-known.)

One of the things that surprised me was how much freedom the First Ladies had to change around the White House and make it work for their families: bedrooms into dining rooms, the swimming pool into a press room (J.B.West's biggest regret), walls torn down and new ones built, a schoolroom designed for Caroline Kennedy and later transformed into a teenager hangout for Lucy Johnson, trees planted for privacy, furniture swapped in and out, a whole network of phone lines added, and the plumbing completely reworked to get strong enough water pressure for Lyndon Johnson (they were never able to actually please him).

I also appreciated how respectful J.B. West was of the privacy of the First Families. If you want a book that is full of scandalous details, this isn't it. And I felt like that was as it should be. Mr. West had a very personal relationship with each of the First Ladies, and trust was an integral part of that relationship. Even though the relationship technically ended once the President left office, I think it shows the kind of man that Mr. West was that he would still hold that trust sacred even once there wouldn't have been any negative repercussions.

And finally, there was just something so comforting in seeing the orderly way in which the Presidency was transferred each time. It was methodical and unemotional. At exactly 12:00 noon on the day of inauguration, the staff unpacked the new President's belongings with crisp efficiency so that by the time the First Family arrived, it was as if they had always lived there. In a world where emotions run high and people have strong opinions and biases, it is nice to know that some things continue to run the same no matter who is in office.

When I started reading this book, I didn't know that it would end up feeling like just the right lead-up for Independence Day. It was a hearkening back to the past while giving hope for the future, and its subtle undertone of patriotism was just perfect.

Four Things That Make It Feel Like Summer

Jun 28, 2019

I may claim that April is my favorite month of the year, but June runs a very close second behind it.

I adore summer, and June tends to have just the right summer vibe. July is too hot and gets filled up with vacations and reunions, and August is slowly being overtaken by back-to-school activities. But June! June feels just right.

And that is why we didn't waste a moment before launching ourselves headfirst into that summer life with these four things:

Summer Goals

We have been setting summer goals for the last six years. We usually sit down and map out everyone's the week before school gets out so that we can immediately begin working on them. We set goals that are fun, educational, and practical (as explained in these previous posts).

People often ask me how I get my kids to do their goals. The simplest answer is that most of them are a lot like me and actually love the thrill of working on something and checking it off, so it actually isn't very difficult. But also, our summer goals provide the structure and routine that we so desperately need in order to stay happy. Our goals have become as much a part of summer as sunshine or the pool. It probably sounds crazy, but working on goals makes it feel like summer.

Our morning routine almost always looks like this: My kids wake up, eat breakfast, and get dressed. They take turns practicing the piano. When they're not practicing, they are cleaning up their rooms and working on an extra job (assigned by me). As the final part of their morning checklist, they work on one of their goals. It's just built into the schedule, and so they make little bits of progress every day.

I have talked extensively about our summer goals in the past. In fact, I've think I have written about them every summer since 2014. I don't feel the need to do that this year because so many of the boys' goals are borrowed from past years, but I will mention a few of the ones that are new this time:

--Learn to sing the four basic parts in a hymn (soprano, alto, tenor, bass)
--Use the weed wacker (this one already failed--it was too heavy for Aaron to lift, much less control!)
--Make waffles
--Go grocery shopping (find items on a list, pay at the cash register)
--Clean refrigerator
--Algebra workbook
--Make banana bread
--Learn conducting patterns (3/4, 4/4, etc.)
--Take care of a garden plot
--Improve drop kick
--Make scrambled eggs
--Write three essays
--Family taste test

If the boys are demonstrating consistent progress on their goals, we get to go on a family outing at the end of each month. We already cashed in June's prize (seeing Matilda at Hale Center Theater). We will also go to a water park and rollerskating.

Summer Playlist

Two years ago, I decided we needed a soundtrack for our summer. We all pitched in with recommendations and suggestions and then we compiled all of the songs into a playlist, which we then listened to ad nauseam for the entire summer.

We loved it so much that we made a new playlist last year. And then this year, I was so excited about it that I began collecting ideas for our 2019 playlist well before it was time.

The cool thing about these playlists is they get played so much that they literally become the background music of our summers. This means that if we hear them again months later, they instantly transport us back to redwood forests or lazy summer mornings or hikes or whatever else we were doing when we were listening to them.

I love what we came up with this year:

1. "What Time Is It" from High School Musical 2
2. "First Day of Summer" by Jesse Ruben
3. "Pinch Me" by Barenaked Ladies
4. "Jump, Jive, n' Wail by Vocal Point
5. "You are the Sunshine of My Life" by Stevie Wonder
6. "Sunburn" by Owl City
7. "I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles)" by The Proclaimers
8. "Zero" by Imagine Dragons
9. "Beyond the Sea" by Bobby Darin
10. "Waka, Waka (This Time For Africa)" by Shakira
11. "Good Day Sunshine" by the Beatles
12. "Better Place" by Rachel Platten
13. "Summer Wind" by Michael Bublé
14. "Butterflies" by Kacey Musgraves
15. "A Head Full of Dreams" by Coldplay
16. "The Camp Song" by Peter Katz

We had it blasting all over the whole house by the first weekend of summer.

Summer Reading Program

It wouldn't be summer without summer reading, am I right? Our library summer reading program doesn't really encourage or incentivize reading (I know, so crazy), so three years ago, I decided to just create my own at home. We love it so much that even if the library decided to bring back a more traditional reading program, we wouldn't abandon ours.

This is how it works: For every two hours of reading (one hour for Clark), they earn a prize, and after twenty hours (ten hours for Clark), they earn a book. Besides that, they can earn extra prizes by reading outside their comfort zone (new genres, longer books, more sophisticated reads, etc.). (You can find out more details here.) This year, I chose to use Janssen's new summer reading chart to track their hours, and I highly recommend it. I love that it's customizable so that I was able to change some of the extra-credit items to something that worked better for our family.

Friday is usually the day that the boys cash in their prizes, and so far, Maxwell and Aaron have been cleaning house with 20+ hours most weeks. This is also the first year that Clark is actually doing his own reading for his prizes, so that is pretty exciting. The most popular prizes this year have been song downloads, extra screen time, and popsicles from the pool.

Also, in case you were wondering, we are doing another family book club this year. The book we're all reading is Escape! The Story of the Great Houdini by Sid Fleischman. We'll discuss it in a few weeks after we all finish it.

The Pool

I am a creature of habit, and so we go to our little neighborhood pool almost every day. We get all of our work done in the morning, then we pack a lunch and head to the pool. We stay for an hour or two and then head home for naps and quiet time. There isn't a single thing I would change about this schedule. It is perfect for us.

Our neighborhood pool is small and not fancy, but we love it so much. We almost always have friends there (without any planning ahead on our part). There is a diving board for Bradley to do back flips and cartwheels off of. There are wide, shallow steps for Ian to hang out on (he hasn't been overly brave about going in the water yet). It is the perfect distance from our house, giving us a chance to get nice and hot on the walk there and dried off on the walk home. It has a casual, retro feel--like something straight out of the 1960's.

I'm making it sound really idyllic, but for me, it is. My kids get a little sick of it partway through the summer, but we keep going because we're just so lucky to have it.

I don't know what things my kids will remember about their summers when they're all grown up, but I have a feeling we're creating memories right now. These are the very things I will look back on fondly one day, but for now, I'm just enjoying it being my reality. And I think they are, too.

Tell me about the things that make summer feel like summer for YOU!

That We May Be One: A Gay Mormon's Perspective on Faith and Family by Tom Christofferson

Jun 20, 2019

Please note: this book (and consequently, this review) reflects some of my beliefs on a sensitive topic. I know not everyone will hold the same view, and that's okay. I believe that discussing different viewpoints in a mutually respectful way brings greater compassion and empathy. I was grateful for the way this book expanded my heart just a little bit more.

Tom Christofferson grew up as the youngest of five boys. His parents were devout members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and so was he. He had a strong testimony of the Gospel, served a faithful mission, and even got married in the temple. But he was also gay. And the more he tried to fit into this preconceived idea of a "good" member of the Church, the more it didn't work for him. He couldn't get the two sides of himself (his faith and his sexual identity) to line up, and eventually, he left the Church.

He stayed away from the Church for over twenty-five years. During that time, his mother and father and four older brothers remained a constant source of strength and support in his life. Even though the rest of the them stayed strong in their religious convictions and standards (his oldest brother, Todd, was even called as an Apostle), they didn't let that stop them from loving Tom unconditionally.

And eventually, he came back. This book describes that process, but it is also a reflection on how we can be inclusive of all of our brothers and sisters, regardless of their beliefs and actions, and it is also Tom's own opinions on how he now fits into the Church as someone who is still gay but also faithfully keeping his covenants.

I really loved Tom's warm and kind personality, which came through so beautifully in this book.  But I also loved the way he was so candid and honest with his experience. After he decided to make a full return to the Church, he broke off his relationship with his partner of more than twenty years. That was extremely difficult for him (understandably so!), and one friend asked him why he couldn't find a way to be with his partner again. Tom answered, "The way I feel now, the way I experience the influence of the Holy Ghost, is powerful and delicious to me, and I don't ever want to live without it again." I thought that was a really interesting perspective from someone who had always lived a good life with high standards but who saw a noticeable difference in his ability to feel the Spirit when he resumed keeping the commandments. I know that this idea will be hard for some outside of my faith to understand and that Tom's decision might even rub them the wrong way. It might seem unfair or even wrong for Tom to have to hold back one part of himself in order to gain something else.

But his example of moving forward with faith through the questions and the doubts inspired me. This quote is a long one, but I still want to include it here to help me remember it in the future:
"I draw a parallel between my situation and that of the people of King Benjamin, who lived 120 years before the Savior was born. As they listened to their prophet-king, and through the power of the Spirit, they were converted to the gospel of Jesus Christ. They likely understood that Jesus embodied the higher law of the gospel, which would subsume and replace the law of Moses. And yet, for the rest of their lives, while being converted to Christ they continued to live the Mosaic law. I feel similarly, that more fulsome and more expansive ways to understand all our relationships and connections may be forthcoming, but meanwhile it is my determination to live the law I have.
Even though my challenges and questions may be different from Tom's, I have them just the same, and this is the kind of attitude and perspective I want to have--one of faith and trust: that God loves me perfectly and that His plan is grander and more expansive than my limited vision. There are many things that don't make sense to me, and sometimes these things pull me back and impede my progress because I don't know how to move forward without answers. But this is the answer: trust that there is more; trust that my knowledge isn't complete; trust that God loves all of His children.

Tom's mom seems like she must have been quite an amazing lady. When Tom was still just a baby, his mother was diagnosed with cancer. She underwent many radiation treatments, and one day, she said to her mother, "I can't stand having 16 more of those treatments." Her mother said, "Can you go today?" She replied, "Yes," and then her mother said, "Well, honey, that's all you have to do today." Tom applied that advice to his own life, and I like to think I can use it in my life as well. I just have to do the best that I can today. I don't have all of the answers, but I do have some answers, and so I can take one day at a time, trusting that with each step, I will gain a little more ground.

Tom quoted Joseph Smith, who said, "When you climb up a ladder, you must begin with the first, and go on until you learn all the principles of exaltation. But it will be a great while after you have passed through the veil before you will have learned them. It is not all to be comprehended in this world; it will be a great work to learn our salvation and exaltation even beyond the grave." I liked the idea that this progression will continue beyond this life and into the next. Little by little, the picture will gradually become more complete.

I was so glad to have read this book. I'm sure it took a certain amount of courage and bravery for Tom to be vulnerable and write about his experiences, but I'm so grateful he did. I know I have room to be more inclusive and kind, and I am working on it. In a world where it is so easy to say the wrong thing or have it be interpreted the wrong way, this book gave me hope that reaching out in love and compassion is always the right answer.

A Little of This and That in May

Jun 10, 2019

As it so often is, May was a whirlwind, ending with the culmination of the school year and the sweet start of summer. This month found us . . .

Discovering . . . Neff's Canyon. We are so fortunate to live so close to the mountains, and I know we don't take the opportunity to explore them as much as we could. On a recent date night, Mike and I went on a little hike in Neff's Canyon. Mike took the boys sledding there this past winter, but this was the first time I had been in it, and I was completely charmed. It is nestled in the shadow of my beloved Mt. Olympus, and the trails are easy but interesting. I can't believe I didn't know about it until this year. It makes me wonder what other undiscovered things are right outside my front door.

Going . . . to two book clubs in one week. My neighborhood book club meets on the second Tuesday, and my serious book club meets on the third Thursday. This usually puts them more than a week apart. But the way the dates fell this month meant that they both occurred during the same week. Both books were excellent: Salt to the Sea by Ruth Sepetys and The Hired Girl by Laura Amy Schlitz. I highly recommend them both.

Attending . . . lots of end-of-the-year performances. We had Maxwell's and Bradley's dance informances, Aaron's band concert, Bradley's opera, Aaron's class play, and Maxwell's musical concert. I loved each one. I particularly want to mention Bradley's opera and Aaron's play. Every year, Bradley's teacher helps her class create their own opera. They come up with the plot and the characters, compose the melodies and rhythms, write the lyrics, and design the costumes and set. From start to finish, it takes them several months. Because this is the third time we've had this teacher, this is also the third time we've been to one of these operas. Each one has been completely unique and creative. This year, it was about a baby koala who was given a balloon by an emu and then floated away. It was entitled "The Balloon That Caused Chaos." His teacher forwarded the piano music to me, so we have continued to enjoy it in the weeks since. Aaron's class play was equally impressive. Although it was not their own creation, it was completely seamless and polished. It was about the explorers of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries; Aaron was Sir Francis Drake. The kids all sang with enthusiasm.. They knew their lines down pat and delivered them with expression. More importantly, you could hear every word they said. It was a pleasure to be there and see these kids do so well. After it was over, Aaron said, "I'm so sad we'll never get to perform our play again." I think all of the kids felt the same way. His teacher really has such a gift for encouraging each student to do his/her best and enjoy the process.

Wincing . . . at Maxwell's talk. Max was assigned to give the talk in Primary on Mother's Day, and he decided to write the whole thing himself. Although I was proud of him for taking the initiative, the end product was offensive. In short, it was an attempt at humor gone horribly wrong, and there was no way I was going to let him share it at church! Luckily, Mike helped him rewrite it so it was still authentically Max but thankfully no longer sexist.

Spending . . . a quiet Mother's Day as a family. Neither of our moms were around for Mother's Day, so we stayed close to home for most of the day, only venturing out for church in the morning and a little walk in the evening. It was very nice. Mike made the yummiest dinner, and my kids spoiled me with lots of obedience and quiet time (my two favorite things).

Enduring . . . nightly book summaries from Maxwell. Every night, he likes to come into my room and bring me up to speed with the happenings and plot twists from his latest reads. Lately, he has been fully immersed in Warriors, a series about four competing clans of cats. For the life of me, I can't seem to follow what is actually going on, but that doesn't deter Max from reliving every detail. Mike's mom has told me that Mike was exactly the same at nine years old, following her all around the house recapping the books he was reading, so I guess I know where Max gets it. There isn't any end in sight either since there are several parallel series. Max and his friends even created a whole complex recess game based on these books, which I love so much because it just felt so third grade to me.

Winning . . . the first grade fun run. The fun run is supposed to be a casual, entertaining event at school. This year the kids were even allowed to wear costumes. But Bradley would have none of that. The week before the event, he identified his biggest competitors. He even did a final cram session on the treadmill the night before. And when the whistle blew, he kept his eyes ahead of him and his feet racing along the ground. When he crossed the finish line first, he finally cracked a smile. Aaron and Maxwell both had respectable finishes in their grades also, but it definitely wasn't as big of a deal to them.

Volunteering . . . in Aaron's classroom. At the beginning of the school year, my sister-in-law made me an amazing offer. She said she would watch Ian and Clark one afternoon each week so I could help out in Aaron's classroom. Being able to volunteer on a regular basis has been something I've wanted to do since Aaron was in kindergarten, and although I've had many opportunities to be involved over the years, I've never been able to do it with quite this regularity, so this really was a dream come true for me. It was so fun to go in every Tuesday afternoon and grade homework or glue artwork, all while listening in on science lessons, laughing at Aaron's teacher's quick wit, and getting to know the kids' personalities. I loved it so much.

Watching . . . our local high school's production of Newsies. We took Aaron and Maxwell because they love the music and the story. It was shockingly good. I honestly can't believe that teenagers have that much talent. Because we've also seen the movie and another stage production, both boys found lots of things to compare. Surprisingly, the high school production had the highest number of swear words (according to Max, who kept diligent track of every single one). I love doing things with just one or two of my kids at a time, so this was a fun night.

Participating . . . in a knitalong. A few months ago, one of the knitwear designers that I follow announced that she was releasing a pattern that was going to be similar to an online class. The pattern would be divided into four parts with a new part being released every two weeks. The pattern would include video and written tutorials that would help with some of the trickier parts of the pattern. And there would be an online forum where people could show their progress and ask questions. I decided to buy the pattern and join the knitalong, and I learned so much! I'm still not quite done with it (it's a short sleeve lace sweater), but the end is in sight, and I'm pretty pleased with all of the new skills I've picked up along the way.

Learning . . . new tricks. For the last couple of years, Bradley has been asking to sign up for a session of gymnastics, and I finally caught registration before the deadline had passed. He learned so much and can now go into a back bend from a standing position, kick over from a back bend, stand on his head, and do ten perfect cartwheels in a row.

Saying . . . goodbye to the dream team. For the first time in our entire school career, I was genuinely heartbroken to see this school year come to the end. Over the last six years, we've had some ups and downs with teachers, but this year was a perfect match for each one of my boys. Every day I sent them to school knowing they were going to be encouraged and challenged and supported and, most of all, loved. Yes, loved. I haven't a single doubt that each teacher not only loved teaching but loved all of their students. It was evident in the way they spoke to them and interacted with them. Not only that, they were all so fun and made learning an exciting adventure. It is always so hard for me to see my kids' teachers with a new class at the beginning of the next school year. I always feel like they're somehow being disloyal to their old students by loving a new group of kids. It's irrational, I know, but I can't help it, and I must not be alone in this because I found this paragraph in a recent read, and it summed up my thoughts perfectly: "It seems to me that teachers are a little bit heartless. They greet each new wave of pupils and choose which ones they'll like best, and then, when the students grow up and leave school, they forget all about them and turn to the next wave." But then Aaron's teacher expressed a similar sentiment, explaining how difficult it is to see "her" kids with a new teacher. She says she used to walk past the sixth grade classroom and hear the kids laughing and think, "How dare you laugh at her jokes?" That made me feel better. And the good news is, we will have the dream team again in two years, so I'm looking forward to that.

Moving . . . on from elementary school. The end of the school year brought 5th grade promotion for Aaron. His elementary school career is officially over. I've been feeling rather miserable about it for the whole school year, so it didn't help when a friend told me, "Things will never be the same again." Thanks for rubbing it in! He spent the last two weeks of school in basically one long party which culminated on the last day with promotion. It was a very long and drawn out event, but it wasn't quite as boring as we thought it was going to be because Aaron ended up receiving a ton of awards, including a gold pin from Math Olympiads, which placed him in the top two percent of competing students around the world. He really excelled this year, in large part because of the high expectations of his teacher, and it was exciting to watch him come out of his shell and be so successful.

Making . . . summer goals. The boys finished school, and the very next day we had our summer goals posted on the kitchen wall. That's the way we like to do it around here. Bradley was especially excited and hung his up before anyone else. Is he my child or what???

Counting . . . down to Clark's birthday. Last year, less than a week after his birthday, Clark came into my room and asked, "Mom? How many more days until my birthday?" And I had to break it to him that his birthday was 351 days away. I thought that might discourage him, and he would forget about his birthday for awhile, but he didn't. Night after night for weeks and then months, Clark asked me for the current status of his birthday countdown. We passed into the 200's, and then the 100's, and finally, we were down to less than 20. It was actually kind of magical to watch the final days melt away until his birthday was literally the very next day. As you can imagine, the level of anticipation was out of this world.

Celebrating . . . Clark's 5th birthday! And then, the day was finally here! And Clark was giddy and ecstatic and bouncing off the walls. He woke up, looked at his birthday bucket by his bed, and shrieked, "An electric toothbrush?!?!?! Dad! Dad! I got an electric toothbrush!!!!!" It was that kind of excitement level for the whole day. He was thrilled with doughnuts for breakfast. He thought ramen noodles for lunch was such a treat. And an outing to the park was perfect. He had his cousin Rosie over to spend the night, and Mike made him a Star Wars cake. It was a good day in all respects . . . except that he had a little bit of "birthday entitlement," and some of his siblings couldn't handle him getting so much attention, and he couldn't handle any of them wanting to share in his bounty. To be honest, I was kind of relieved when the day was over and we could go back to just our regular Clarky Jo (who, I'm not kidding, asked me on the following day how many more days there were until his birthday . . . ).

Casting . . . a broken arm. Up until this month, no one in our family had ever broken a bone. But that is no longer the case. One Friday, Ian was bouncing on the trampoline (by himself, I might add) when he started crying uncontrollably. We didn't notice anything obviously wrong, but for the rest of the weekend, he seemed a little off. Then on Monday, he wouldn't let me even touch the side of his left arm without freaking out. I tested it a few times, waiting for him to be happily distracted with something else, and then I would gently rub my finger against it. Each time, he immediately got agitated and started to cry. So Mike took him to the doctor, and sure enough, he had a buckle fracture on his radius. When Mike brought him home with a bright green cast, the older boys acted like he was a celebrity: "What! Ian broke his arm?! Wow! This is the first broken bone in our family!" And then they proceeded to show him off to all of the neighbors. He started out with a short cast that covered his forearm, but the next morning he woke up and called out from his crib, "I took off my bandaid, Daddy!" So I had to take him back in and have the doctor recast it above the elbow. Luckily, he only has to have it for three weeks, so it isn't slowing him down too much (but I'm devastated because it was his left arm, which basically means we forced him to be right-handed, and he was the only chance I still had of having a left-handed child!).

Braving . . . the pool for the first time. We had a cold, rainy start to the summer, but that didn't stop the pool from opening or my kids from jumping into the water. (But it did me! I can't stand being cold!) They have since been to the pool almost every day, and the temperature finally got the hint and decided to join the party.

And that's a wrap on another month! What fun things have been going on in your part of the world?

The Hired Girl by Laura Amy Schlitz

Jun 7, 2019

Sometimes I put off reviewing books I loved because it feels to daunting to try to condense all of my overflowing gushing into one little post.

And that is precisely why it has taken me over three weeks to write about this book.

It cannot be denied that even though 2019 has not been a huge reading year for me so far in terms of quantity, it definitely has been in quality. I have loved almost everything I've read.

But at this point, this book probably tops the list for me. It just checked every single one of my boxes: it was historical (just after the turn of the century--one of my very favorite time periods); it was written as a journal (my favorite way to read a first-person narrative); the story was sweet and innocent (a true young adult novel--although I'd probably still hold off giving it to a young teenager (I'll explain why in a minute)); the ending did not disappoint me (and I was so scared that it would!).

But most of all, it made me want to keep reading. I found myself sneaking in a few pages here and another few pages there. Any chance I could get, I was back with Joan, unfolding another bit of her story. And even though I've read so many good books this year, none of them have compelled me to keep reading the way this one did.

I loved it so much.

Joan Skraggs is a bright, intelligent young woman, but her potential is literally being snuffed out by her belligerent, hard-hearted father. He pulls her out of school and relegates her to the life of a chore woman on the farm. In a panic, Jane envisions her life stretching before her and realizes that she is trapped. Nothing will ever change. This will be her life forever.

But then by chance, she sees an advertisement in the newspaper for a hired girl. It promises six dollars a week, and that sounds like a fortune to Joan. She knows she has to at least try. It is what her mother would have wanted for her. Donning a (hideous) new dress, adding a few years to her age (from 14 to 18), and giving herself a new name (Janet Lovelace), she takes the train to Baltimore, burning her tracks behind her.

Baltimore is big and noisy and crowded, and Joan is completely overwhelmed when she arrives late at night without a single reference. She has all but resigned herself to sleeping on a bench in what appears to be a well-to-do, safe neighborhood when Solomon Rosenbach happens upon her and insists that she follow him home to meet his mother.

And that is how she ends up as a hired girl for the Rosenbachs--a Jewish family made up of Mr. and Mrs. Rosenbach, married daughter Anna, sons Solomon and David, young daughter Mimi, and long-time housekeeper Malka.

Joan's voice is vibrant and authentic, and she is impossible not to love. She has a little bit of Anne Shirley in her but is still very much her own self. She is dramatic and emotional. Her entries sway wildly between ecstatic and despairing, and, for the most part, it is completely endearing.

One of the really brilliant aspects of the writing is the conflict between Joan's pretended age of eighteen and her real age of fourteen. Sometimes I forgot she wasn't really eighteen. After all, she had left home, was earning her own wages, and was very responsible. But then I'd think, "Why is she acting like a lovesick teenager?? Oh yeah, because she is only fourteen, and this is literally the first crush she has ever had on a boy!" It really would have been so easy to just make her grow up really fast or not at all, but both ages were very much a part of who Joan was as she came into her own self.

On that subject, I'll just add one word of caution. The story is very mild and innocent (refreshingly so!), but there was one scene towards the end where Joan's emotions overcome her better judgment and she makes a rash offer. Nothing comes of it, and for an older teenager, I think it would actually be somewhat enlightening because you can see how quickly you can lose all sense of reality when you think you're in love. But personally, I don't know if I would be totally comfortable with a younger teenager (say, under fourteen) being confronted with this mature situation. But then, you know I usually fall on the very conservative side of things.

One of the things I loved about this story was the juxtaposition of two very different religions. The Rosenbachs are orthodox Jews while Joan tries to be a devout Catholic. Being a part of the Rosenbach household, Joan learns very quickly about kashrut (which foods are acceptable and the appropriate ways to prepare and clean up after them), the rituals surrounding Shabbos, and the inexcusable condition of anti-Semitism. As Joan studies Catholism with Father Horst and prepares to be confirmed, she has deep conversations with Mr. Rosenbach about the differences in their religions, and I loved these discussions. At one point, Joan says, "Mr. Rosenbach, have you ever gone off by yourself and tried to feel that Jesus Christ is your Savior? Maybe if you were to go somewhere quiet, and sit still and open your heart to Him, you might be saved from damnation. Don't you think it might be a good idea to try?" And Mr. Rosenbach (kindly but with laughter behind his eyes) counters with, ""Miss Lovelace, have you ever gone off to a quiet place, and sat very still, and tried to imagine that Jesus Christ is not your Savior?" Joan is at once horrified at the very idea, and I thought it was the perfect way to demonstrate that we all try to follow the feelings in our hearts as best we can, and that is going to look different for everyone.

I began recommending this book before I'd even finished it, but I did it with a caveat: "It's so good, I'm loving it so far, but the ending might ruin it." And indeed, as I got closer and closer to the end, I was convinced it really was going to all come crashing down, and I was going to hate it. But I'm happy to say that the ending was perfect, and I have no need to retract any of my premature recommendations. In fact, now I would give it my wholehearted stamp of approval.

I leave you with a little taste of Joan: "[Mrs. Rosenbach] said, 'I'm sure you don't mean to be rude, Janet, but I'm afraid you're rather impetuous.' I nodded agreement and tried to look penitent--though I like the idea of being impetuous. It sounds like a heroine. I'd rather be impetuous than placid any day."

An Anniversary Trip to New York

May 26, 2019

One of Mike's and my favorite pastimes is dreaming about all of the places we want to visit. Me: Prince Edward Island. Mike: Zambia. Me: Hawaii. Mike: Caribbean islands. Me: England; Mike: Italy. Back and forth, back and forth, each of us vying for our favorite. But one place that never seemed to compete for a top spot was New York City. For some reason, it just didn't tempt either one of us.

But a few months ago we decided we wanted to go somewhere for our anniversary, and somehow, in the early stages, there was New York. And then we talked about a few other possibilities. But then, there it was again. We just kept coming back around to it. Maybe it just seemed wrong that with all the traveling we've done, we still hadn't ever been to America's most famous city.

So it was decided: we would fly across the country and spend a few days in the Big Apple. And we were determined to use those days to their full potential and do and see and eat as many things as humanly possible. We quickly learned that New York waits for no one. When we were getting on the boat to see the Statue of Liberty, the boat crew kept shouting, "Don't stop or hesitate!" And we decided this was a pretty good motto for New York City in general.

We adopted it as our own personal goal for this trip, and our efforts were not too shabby. In fact, on our last day, as we squeezed in a little walk on the High Line before catching an uber to the airport, I said, "Maybe next time we should go on a trip where we actually relax." Because by that point, we were dead tired.

Tired, but so happy. New York might have not been at the top of our list of places to visit, but it is now at the top of our list of places to return to. We loved every minute we spent in this beautiful, vibrant city.

Here are the highlights:

Central Park
I'll start with Central Park, and not just because it was one of the first things we did in New York. If I could go back to one, and only one, moment during our vacation, it would be this one. We walked to the park early in the morning, stopping at a nearby bakery to pick up breakfast along the way. We beat the tourists and arrived with the locals--the ones running and riding their bikes and walking their dogs. That morning in Central Park was the best weather we had during the trip, and it was heavenly. The trees were all in blossom and the grass was already green. I shed my jacket early on and basked in the sunlight. Central Park is one of those places I had heard about all of my life. I had this vision of what it would be like, and the crazy thing is, it was exactly as I imagined! We rented bikes and took our time riding around the perimeter of the park, stopping here and there for a photo or to explore a little side path. I loved the feeling of being away from the city and right in its heart at the same time. There's nothing else like it. After we got home, I realized we had only scratched the surface of all of Central Park's little secrets and beauties and hidden attractions.

Between ubers, walking, and the subway we got around the city without any problems. We decided to take an uber from and then back to the airport and also used one to visit an out-of-the-way yarn shop. It was worth it to us because it allowed us to really maximize our time and do a couple of things that we wouldn't have been able to otherwise. But most of the time, we walked. At first I was slightly terrified to step foot onto New York streets because I had seen the way our first uber driver paid no attention to whether or not pedestrians had the right of way. Instead he would just inch his nose into a sea of people, and they would gradually part to make room. I thought for sure he was going to hit someone. But it didn't take me long to realize you just have to make the decision and then go (also, jaywalking on one-way streets is apparently what you do). Walking gave us the best view of the city--close up and personal. There was so much to see, and it was always changing. But we definitely used the subway a ton as well, which helped to shorten the distances when necessary. We got a seven-day metro card, and I think we used the subway enough that it was worth it. One thing I loved about the subway is that it really highlighted how varied the landscape and architecture of New York is. When we were walking, the changes were more gradual and subtle, but when we took the subway, we dropped down in one neighborhood and popped back up in another, and it often looked like we were in a completely different city.

Rachel and Micah
When we decided to go to New York, we called up Mike's cousin, Rachel, and her husband, Micah, to see if they wanted to meet us in the city for a day or two. We don't get to see them nearly as often as we would like since they live in Pennsylvania, so we couldn't get so close to them and not at least attempt to get in a visit. Luckily, they had time to drive up on Friday, and we spent the entire day with them. We loved having the chance to make some memories together and catch up on life. Rachel and I are always up for a good bookish discussion, and we had fun discussing and debating a recent controversial read as we walked among the skyscrapers. We're so grateful we got to be with them.

New York lured us in with promises of delicious food. We came with a list of recommendations a mile long and did our very best to eat our way through the city. After checking into our hotel, we literally ran to Levain Bakery to buy a cookie, and we maintained that sort of focused intensity for the entire trip. Want to know what we ate?

--Levain: chocolate chip cookies are always my dessert of choice, but these! I thought I had died and gone to heaven. I love it that this was my first taste of New York.
--Jacob's Pickle: I asked the waiter if the fish tacos were good. He said, "Well, let me put it this way. The fish tacos are the healthiest item on the menu, and we're not exactly known for our healthy food." I got them anyway, and they were delicious. Mike got the more traditional fried chicken, which was also good. But the street corn stole the show. We ate outside and enjoyed watching the sun go down on the city.

--Stopped at a bakery in the morning. I can't remember the name of it. It wasn't anything special.
--The Great American Bagel: We only got one bagel to split because we didn't think it was going to be very good (we had our eye on a couple of other bagel places to try), but then we bit into it, and we were like, "Is this a bagel?!" It was like biting into a cloud. It was the biggest shocker of the trip.
--Grimaldi's: a cross between American and Italian pizza. It's popular for a reason.
--Natsumi: We had reservations here after The Lion King, and we felt like true New Yorkers going out for sushi at 10:30 at night (except that we didn't drink).

--Levain: Again. Don't judge. This time besides cookies, we also got the brioche (my mouth is watering just thinking about it), lemon bread (dense and crumby without being dry), and a scone. It's good I don't actually live near one of these in real life.
--Ipuddos: a ramen place that I would recommend in a heartbeat. We got a bowl of ramen to split, but the thing I really loved was the side of rice you could add on to the ramen. It was so good! And the frozen yogurt for dessert hit the spot.
--The Smith: the mac and cheese came highly recommended, which sold me before we even went. Besides that, we also got the potato chips with bleu cheese fondue (sounds weird, tastes amazing), the tomato soup encrusted with toasted cheese, and the burger (which Mike said rivaled the best burger he's ever had). The one mistake I made was ordering three things that all had cheese. Individually, I would have loved each one. All together, it was a little too rich.

--Bubby's: I had the pancake flight. Mike had the biscuits and gravy (except their biscuits weren't ready so he had to swap it out for ciabatta). I loved the location and vibe of this restaurant, but Mike said the gravy was trying too hard to be healthy.
--Shake Shack: Our last stop in the airport before heading home because why not?

After it was all said in done, we only had two food regrets. Mike, that the only bagel we ate was one that he had to share with me; and me, that we walked into Max Brenner and didn't order a hot chocolate.

Bookish Destinations
We didn't make it to any museums, but we did visit two literary spots that have been on my must-see list for a long time: the New York Public Library and Strand Bookstore. The New York Public Library was magnificent. The outside steps, the entrance hall, and the reading room took my breath away. But I'm not going to lie, the children's section was a disappointment (except that it had a case containing the original Winnie-the-Pooh stuffed toys). I'm guessing there are other New York branches that devote more space to children's literature; there must be. In contrast, the Strand traded in sophistication for miles and miles of books (eighteen, to be exact), all crammed in on top of each other. It was overwhelming. I didn't know where to look first. I actually wish I had gone with a list of out of print or difficult to find books because I bet they were there. I just didn't think to look for them.

Yarn Shops
Since time was of the essence, it was actually a big sacrifice (and a sign of true love) for Mike to let me go to, not one, not two, but three New York yarn shops. And I loved every single one of them. Each one had its own unique culture and vibe and actually matched the neighborhood it was in very well: Knitty City--friendly and social; Brooklyn General Store--charming and old-fashioned; and Purl Soho--sleek and sophisticated. I came home with little yarny souvenirs from each one, and I'm looking forward to making some new things that will help me remember our vacation.

The Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island
Since this was our first time in New York, we had check off some of the big bucket list items. The Statue of Liberty almost got cut at least twice, but in the end, I'm so glad we devoted a large portion of our time to it because it really was special and made a big impact on me. Also, for a mere $18.00, it is literally the cheapest thing you can do in New York (or at least feels like it). We got to ride the ferry to Liberty Island, go on the walking audio tour (which was fantastic), get back on the ferry for a short ride to Ellis Island, go on the walking audio tour (equally fantastic), and get back on the ferry for the ride home. Seeing the statue in person was surprisingly emotional for me--partly because there's just something about Lady Liberty that is so majestic but also because I couldn't help but imagine my great-grandfather sailing from Denmark and what it must have been like for him to catch a glimpse of her for the first time. I also just loved learning some really cool facts about her (like, did you know that Alexandre-Gustave Eiffel, creator of the Eiffel tower, designed a similar type structure for the inside of the Statue of Liberty?). We originally had tickets for Friday that would have allowed us to go inside the pedestal, but we ended up having to switch to Thursday and the pedestal tickets were gone. Maybe it's really cool and maybe we really missed out, but I still felt like we got to see plenty.

Broadway Shows
We ended up getting to see two shows  while we were in New York: The Lion King and My Fair Lady. We decided on The Lion King after several weeks of deliberation. Of course we wanted to see Hamilton but not really enough to fork over the money. We tried the lottery but didn't get it, and really, I was fine with Lion King because it felt like such a New York classic to me (it has been running since 1997), and I actually hadn't ever seen the stage production. I don't need to tell you that it was fantastic. The costumes especially were really spectacular. The only downside for me was that the theater was in Times Square, and I'll be honest, Times Square and I did not click. It was too loud, too bright, too gaudy. I much preferred Lincoln Square where My Fair Lady was playing. We had toyed with the idea of seeing a second show but didn't know if it was the best use of our one and only day with Rachel and Micah. However, Rachel really wanted to see My Fair Lady (and frankly, I did too), so we went to the box office right as it was opening to see if they had any standing room tickets. They didn't, but the sales clerk said they had a few tickets for $99 (which was half the price of what we were seeing online), so we snatched them up. And as it turned out, going to this show is one of my favorite memories from New York, partly because I went into it in such a grumpy mood (the subway had some delays which was bumping us up right against the clock, and I hate being late), but as soon as the play started, my sourness dissipated. It's such a delightful story and much funnier than I remembered, and of course, the acting and singing were stellar. Ironically though, one of my takeaways from New York was actually that I don't have to go to New York to see a high quality production. I'm grateful for our own local theater that cultivates an amazing pool of talent that we get to take advantage of on a regular basis.

The Color Factory
We spent most of our time trying to check off some of the big ticket New York things: Statue of Liberty, Central Park, Broadway show, etc. But one of the things that Rachel really wanted to do was visit the newly installed Color Factory. It's an interactive museum where you take a guided tour through different rooms, all encouraging you to experience color in a new way. For example, in one room, Mike and I sat across from each other and followed several prompts to create portraits of each other. In another, we spun around on different color wheels. Many of the rooms had tasty, colorful samples to try. It was totally unique, and being a big fan of color myself, I really liked it (although when we reached the last room and jumped into the giant blue ball pit, I was a little amused that I was there without my kids).

Maximizing our time
Even though we couldn't do everything we wanted to, we did try to cram in as much as we could, even if it meant we couldn't get the full experience this time. For example, on Thursday we went to the 9/11 memorial. We didn't have time for the museum, but we walked around the memorials and read the names etched into them. It felt somber and sobering and beautiful all at the same time. We also squeezed in a walk on the High Line just before we left on Saturday. It was a lovely mix of urban green space. Unfortunately it was very cold and windy, so I was kind of glad we could only walk for a little bit.

I almost always leave every trip wanting a little bit more while at the same time feeling grateful I get to go home. It's a good place to be--a sweet spot of craving and satisfaction. But this time, I've been surprised by how often my thoughts have strayed to New York and how much I want to go back. It's going to make choosing our next destination a challenge--from now on, I'll never be able to decide if we should go somewhere new or go back to the limitless possibilities of NYC.

P.S. Many thanks to my mom and Mike's sister who kept our kids for us while we were away. This trip would not have been possible without them.

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