Review x 2: The War That Saved My Life and Betsy and Joe

Feb 22, 2019

Guess what? The following books were both ones I picked on my own, for pure pleasure, with no expectations or strings attached. It felt so good, and I enjoyed both of them immensely.

The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
This book rekindled my love for middle grade novels. It was just so good, and I immediately put the sequel on hold, which is saying something since I'm not usually one to want to read the next book so quickly after the first. But I just really want more of Ada and Susan.

I also thought I was kind of tired of World War II books, but apparently I'm not. Ada's story begins just as Great Britain is on the cusp of joining the war against Germany. Having been confined to a one-room apartment her entire life, it is a beginning, both literally and figuratively, for Ada when her mam decides to send her little brother, Jamie, away to the country with the other school children to avoid the bombs that London is anticipating. Ada decides to leave with him. She doesn't ask permission; she just goes.

For years, Ada's mother has told her that she is worthless, disgusting, and embarrassing because she was born with a club foot. She doesn't deserve to be seen or educated. The cupboard under the sink is the place for her. For a brief few hours, as the train takes them far away from London, Ada puts that behind her as she exhilarates in her freedom. But it all comes rushing back when she and Jamie, grubby and unpleasant and her with a bleeding, throbbing foot, are not chosen by a single adult, and the teacher has to call up and force Ms. Susan Smith to take them.

The character development in this book is phenomenal. Ada's feelings are so complicated. She quickly falls in love with Susan's pony, Butter, and learns to ride him on her own. She makes friends with Lady Thornton's daughter, Maggie, and their stable hand, Fred. But her relationship with Susan is fraught with all of the feelings. She knows Susan didn't want them, and so any overtures of compassion and love from Susan are rejected. She reminds herself often that this is a temporary situation, and she won't let herself get used to Susan's attention. She has horrible flashbacks where all of the details of her previous life in London overwhelm her and make her frantic for escape. She is desperate for her mother's approval and constantly thinks, Maybe if she sees me doing [fill in the blank], then she will love me.

But slowly, her wounds heal, and she becomes capable, strong, and healthy. For Susan's part, having the children in her home begins to heal her of her own deep grief. Susan is wise and forward-thinking and reacts to the children's anger and rejection in a way that is both insightful and commendable. Ada has a complete meltdown on Christmas Eve, triggered by a gift from Susan--a beautiful green velvet dress. Instead of going to the Christmas Eve services at the church as they had planned, Susan wraps Ada up tight in a blanket and holds her until she is finally exhausted from her crying. The next morning, they go down for presents, but Jamie is sure Ada won't get anything because she was "bad" the night before. Susan says, "Not bad. Not bad, Ada. Sad, angry, frightened. Not bad." But Ada thinks, "Sad, angry frightened were bad. It was not okay to be any of those." The way that Susan was able to define Ada's outburst as actual feelings instead of making a blanket diagnosis was beautiful and touching.

This book won a Newbery Honor in 2016, and so I feel like I'm a little late getting to the party. But I'm here now, and this is going on my list of must-recommend reads.

Betsy and Joe by Maud Hart Lovelace
If pressed to choose a favorite Betsy-Tacy book, I think I would have to pick Betsy and Joe. Rereading it did nothing to change my opinion. I love this book so much.

For one thing, it has all the best scenes with Joe. You spend all of the high school books hoping for more of Joe, and you're finally rewarded in this, their senior year. By this point, he is set on Betsy and doesn't try to hide it. For her part, Betsy is thrilled. She spent the whole year previous wishing for Joe's attentions, and now she has them. Only problem is, Tony, who has always been like a brother to Betsy, now cares about her in a new way. Betsy is so happy to have Tony staying close to home and not jumping freight trains to hang out with older boys that she can't tell him she doesn't care for him in that way. But having two beaus is exhausting and anxiety laden, and eventually, Joe's pride can't handle it anymore: Either she goes with him exclusively or she doesn't. And without giving Betsy a chance to explain, he sticks out his chin in that defiant way of his and leaves her to Tony, which breaks her heart.

This series is closely tied to Maud Hart Lovelace's own life, and it makes me happy to think that all of the high school drama and festivities (the essay cup, the senior picnic, the dances), as well as the lovely home life (singing around the piano, sandwiches on Sunday, letters from Julia) were based on truth. (The one thing that isn't true? Maud and her future husband, Delos, didn't even know each other in high school, so even though Joe's character is based on Delos, their friendship with one another during that time is fictionalized.)

When Joe finally swallows his pride and Betsy finally realizes that she only wants Joe, it is in his aunt and uncle's general store in a tiny rural town. (Coincidentally, it was in this same general store that Betsy first met Joe nearly four years before.) Betsy has spent the week with friends, and her hair is straight and plaited instead of curled and puffed. Joe says, "Do you know, I like your hair straight," and Betsy thinks "if he had looked through all the poetry books in the world, he couldn't have found a better compliment." I could read this scene over and over again. I love it so much.

My other favorite scene is when Betsy is perfectly miserable on Christmas Eve because things have just fallen apart with Joe, but she chooses to put on a happy face and put her whole heart into all of the family traditions. In reflecting on the day, she says, "'It's a wonder I braced up for Christmas Eve. I'm glad I did.' She knew she had helped the family, and as a matter of fact, she had been happy. That, she realized, was because she had stopped thinking about herself." I think it's this one scene that makes the reader see how far Betsy's character has come over her four years of high school. She is willing to set aside her own personal misery for the good of the family, and that's admirable.

I don't know if I'll continue reading the series. To be honest, I kind of like to keep Betsy and Joe at this magical age where they're right on the brink of adulthood and madly in love with each other. The next two books lose a little bit of that because they have to grow up. But I might read Carney's House Party, one of the companion books to the Betsy-Tacy series, which I never read when I was younger.

A Winter Getaway to Disneyland

Feb 15, 2019

When I was a little girl, my family started a Disneyland savings jar. We taped a picture of Mickey Mouse to the front, and each time we received our allowances, we had the option of contributing a portion of it to the Disneyland fund.

But the nickels and dimes added up very slowly, and after a few months, we realized that while we were still far away from the amount it would take for Disneyland, we had enough saved to go to our favorite little amusement park just a few hours from our house, Santa's Workshop. (Plus, my parents convinced us that we would have a lot more fun at Santa's Workshop because we could ride all of the rides as many times as we wanted to whereas at Disneyland we would spend half our time in lines.) We raided the jar, had a grand time at Santa's Workshop, and, as I recall, never mentioned Disneyland again.

When Mike and I started our tradition of traveling to a warm destination each January, we always knew one of those trips would be to Disneyland. Unlike me, Mike had been to Disneyland as a kid, but just once for a day when he was ten years old. Although neither of us had a nostalgic history with the park, we still wanted to experience it with our kids. It has become something of a childhood rite of passage in America.

With Aaron approaching adolescence, it felt a little like our time was running out. Not that he couldn't enjoy it when he was older, but at ten years old, there was no question that he was still very much a kid, and we wanted him to be able to experience the magic of Disneyland with that childlike wonder still intact.

So we started planning. (Clarification: Mike planned; I offered feedback.) We booked a condo just west of the park back in June and then sat on the secret for months, never telling our kids about our January plans until we surprised them with it on Christmas morning. (We sent them on a treasure hunt which ended outside at an inflatable Mickey Mouse, and Aaron was more incredulous that we would buy an inflatable than that we would go to Disneyland.) (Fact: We didn't buy an inflatable, but borrowed it for this purpose.)

As the trip loomed closer, Mike's excitement grew at the same rate as my anxiety. He walked me through the map, showing me all of the things we would do, but all I could see were the long lines, the whiny children, and the crowds. I resigned myself to this being something I would grit my teeth through and endure for my kids, but it was not going to be the relaxing vacation of my dreams. Still, it would be a chance to get out of cold, smoggy Utah, so I was grateful for that.

Fast forward to our fifth and final day in the park. One by one, each member of the family said, "That was fun, but I'm ready to go" until Aaron and I were the only ones left standing.

The short version? I loved Disneyland.

I loved it when I did not expect to. It worked its magic on me, and I was under its spell before I knew what was happening. At the beginning of the trip, I told myself we would go now and then maybe again in eight years when Ian is Aaron's age. At the end of the trip, I was looking up the price for annual passes. That's how complete my revolution was.

The long version? Keep reading for some of the highlights, surprises, and memories.

Main Street USA
When I was a little girl, my family had a collection of Disney singalongs--short videos featuring the songs (and words) of some of Disney's most popular movies. One of them was themed around Disneyland with each song showcasing a different part of the park. I can remember watching the song with the parade down Main Street and imagining about what it would be like to be there. So maybe that is why walking under the archway and onto Main Street was like taking a page right out of my dreams. I was there! And it looked just like it did in 1992: The brick laid street and the charming storefronts with Sleeping Beauty's castle sparkling at the end. I think that was maybe my first inclination that I might actually like Disneyland. And now that we're home, the memory of stepping out onto that well-known street is one of my most beloved of the entire trip.

A third adult
A few weeks before our trip, Mike had the genius idea to invite my little sister, Angela, to go with us. She is probably my kids' favorite aunt (and they have a lot) because she's just so fun and knows just the right things to do to keep them entertained and happy. I don't think there's anyway to measure the help she gave us, but we had some indication of how truly vast it was after we dropped her off at the end of our trip. Bradley and Clark immediately started fighting, and Mike and I turned to each other and said, "This could have been going on our entire trip." Instead, I don't remember hearing those two fight even one time in the car because Angela was sandwiched right in the middle of them (probably the worst seat in the van!) and provided a (fun, entertaining) buffer. I thought she might get sick of us by the end; she probably was, but she never showed it. She was sweet and patient and wonderful for all nine days, and our trip would have been a lot less fun and a lot more miserable without her.

Being brave
Before our trip, I decided I was going to ride ALL of the rides at Disneyland, or rather, I wasn't going to turn down riding something because it scared me. I wasn't going to finally get to go to Disneyland and not ride Space Mountain or Splash Mountain or any of the other rides I'd heard people talk about my entire life. I was going to grit my teeth, hold on tight, and scream my way through all of them. (P.S. I know Disneyland's "big" rides aren't that crazy compared to other theme parks, but I am not very adventurous, so this was a big deal for me.) Overall, it was so fun to prove myself a fun mom to my kids, and they loved seeing my nervousness and telling me there was nothing to worry about. I  rode Guardians of the Galaxy (aka, Tower of Terror) with Mike (thanks, Angela!), and before we got on the ride, I said something like, "I don't understand what's taking so long. Don't you just go to the top and then drop down?" And Mike said, "Sure, let's go with that." That was the only ride where my scream was cut off mid-drop, snuffed out like a candle. I don't know if we were plummeting so fast it was left behind or if I was just too scared to let it out. Either way, I was glad when that one was over and I could check it off my list and not go back. (But our worst ride experience was probably the Haunted Mansion. We got stuck on it for ten minutes, and Ian literally went psycho and screamed his head off (not because he was scared, but he was extremely tired and did not want to go on the ride in the first place, let alone get stuck on it). I wondered, At what point does an employee come and rescue you? Because I think we were almost to that point.)

The rain
Out of our five days at Disneyland, four of them were rainy. And it was maybe the best thing that could have happened to us. The first day was a little rough because we actually thought it wasn't going to rain, and then it did, so we were a bit unprepared. (And then we lost half of our tickets and had to wait in a long line in the steady rain at City Hall to get them reprinted. That was a low point.) But we went back to our condo in the middle of the day to dry off and get warm, and from that point on, we totally embraced the rain. We all wore big blue ponchos and called ourselves the "Blue Crew." I would take rain over crowds any day, so it was an acceptable trade.

Short lines
Some people had told us that Disneyland in January is a "ghost town," and while I think we might have different definitions of "ghost town," it is true that we weren't being crushed by people, and I didn't worry about my kids being trampled by the masses. There were many rides we could just walk onto, no waiting at all. We did utilize fast passes, but sometimes,  it wasn't even worth it to get one because the standby line was so short. Bradley was able to ride the IncrediCoaster three times in less than forty minutes because of the short lines, and on our last morning there, Mike took the big kids on Space Mountain, the Matterhorn, and Star Tours in a half hour time span. That's not to say we never waited in a line. For example, Radiator Springs Racers kept closing because of the rain, so the kids and I just stood our ground in the standby line, hoping to get in, and 75 minutes later, we did. But overall, we didn't spend the majority of our time standing in 90-minute lines for two-minute rides, and that is what I was envisioning before we got there, so I was grateful to be wrong. In fact, I don't know that I could ever go to Disneyland at another time of year because we were so spoiled in the middle of January in the rain.

One of the best decisions we made was to make a restaurant reservation each day we were at the park. It was so nice to have a place that was waiting just for us, especially when it was raining and we needed a little dry reprieve. The restaurants we went to got progressively fancier and more delicious (and more expensive) as the week went on. We went to Carnation Cafe (nothing special, similar to a Denny's), Wine Country Trattoria (standard Italian fare), Cafe Orleans (the best fries and beignets I've ever eaten, plus I actually loved the divisive Monte Cristo sandwich), and Carthay Circle (I'm still dreaming about the fried biscuits). Although we definitely took the more expensive route, I loved it because it gave our kids a refined experience with food they couldn't have anywhere else. We could never walk into a restaurant as nice as Carthay Circle with five kids without getting met with cold stares. But there, we were greeted warmly. They expected kids and didn't frown at the noise or the mess that comes with them. But at the same time, our kids recognized that we were in a nice place and that better manners than usual were required. They learned how to order from a menu and try new foods and wait patiently until everyone was done. It was something I never even thought of before we went to Disneyland, but I'm glad we made the decision we did and gave this experience to our kids (and ate a lot of yummy food in the process). On our last day, we didn't make a reservation anywhere because we wanted to hop around and try all of the classic Disney foods: churros, Dole Whips, mint juleps, raspberry Mickey macarons, the gray stuff, beignets (but the ones from Cafe Orleans were so much better), and grilled cheese and tomato soup from Jolly Holiday.  I know we didn't try everything (that's why we have to go back), but we made a good effort. Food will always be a big deal to us when we travel, and Disneyland did not disappoint.

Animation Studio
One of our pro-Disneyland friends recommended the animation studio at California Adventure. On a rainy afternoon, in need of a dry place, we decided to give it a try. And then we went back two more times. And honestly, if we'd had another day at California Adventure, we would have done it again. An actual animator walks you through the steps, and we learned how to draw Daisy Duck, Mickey Mouse, and Tigger. It was probably my kids' favorite non-ride thing we did. (Side note: This photo makes it look like no one else was there, but I took this at the end of the class, after everyone else had left.) (Second side note: Turtle Talk with Crush, which was in the same building, was also really fun.)

We took full advantage of the wide array of shows because they were somewhere to dry off in the middle of the day (are you noticing a theme here?). The morning we saw Frozen was especially needed because we were all feeling pretty soggy, and it literally poured while we were in the theater. It felt so good to take off our wet ponchos and shoes, munch on some warm popcorn, and watch a spectacular re-creation of the movie. And by the time it was over, the rain had slowed down, and we were ready to tackle the rides again. We also enjoyed the storytelling versions of Tangled and Beauty and the Beast and also Mickey and the Magical Map and Fantasmic.

Cars Land
If Main Street was the place where I felt transported to another time and place at Disneyland, Cars Land was the equivalent at California Adventure. We crossed the threshold and all of a sudden, it was as if we were in the movie: the Cozy Cone Motel, the one blinking traffic light, the statue of Stanley outside the fire station--it was all there, vibrant and life-size. The Radiator Springs Racers ride continued with that feeling because we didn't just feel like we were spectators (like we did on so many of the other themed rides that took us through scenes from the movies), but it seemed like we were actually a character in the plot.

When people go to Disneyland, they always post a million pictures of themselves with various Disney characters, and I always thought it was so silly because I could have cared less about seeing them posing with a person in a mask. But that was before I saw Ian with the characters, and then I totally succumbed to its charm. He was so cute! Even though he didn't have any idea who Pluto or Eeyore was, he still ran over and gave them giant hugs and big high fives. So here are a few pictures of Clark and Ian with some characters, and I'm sorry for all of the times I've made fun of you for posting similar ones. I get it now.

Tour rides
My kids called them tour rides--you know the ones where you sit in a little vehicle of some sort and take a "tour" through the scenes of a movie? My big kids turned up their noses at them (although they were still good sports and rode a bunch of them), but I  was so grateful for them because Ian was able to ride almost all of them, he and Clark loved them, and we usually didn't have to wait in any lines.

A night out
We were hardcore on our first day at Disneyland and stayed until 10:00pm because we wanted to see the fireworks. But on the other nights, I went back to our condo with my sister and most of the boys, and Mike stayed with one of them for a special night out where they got to do whatever they wanted without having to coordinate with the whole group. For Bradley, that meant riding Star Tours over and over again until he was chosen as the rebel spy. I even got my own night out on our day off from Disneyland. Our friends, the Gardners, were in California the same week as us, and so we hung out with them on Thursday. That evening, we left eight of the kids with Angela, and Mike and I took Ian and went out to eat with James and Kathy.

Beach time
In addition to our time at Disneyland, we also went to three different beaches during the course of our vacation: Laguna Beach, where the boys jumped over waves and got soaking wet; Little Corona del Mar, where we explored tide pools and watched the sun set; and Balboa Bay, where the boys biked down the boardwalk with the Gardners and ate Balboa bars (and that place literally was a ghost town). Each place was different, and the laid back pace perfectly countered our high energy on the other days.

After it was all said and done, we all had our favorite rides and favorite foods and favorite activities. Part of the luxury of going for five days was that we could identify what those favorites were for each of us and do them again, locking them into our memory forever.

One of the things that felt most important for me to do was ride the teacups. That's because I associate that ride with Mike's sister, Alisa, who passed away in 2015. She loved Disneyland. Following a particular blow in her cancer journey, her family left on a spontaneous trip and were able to forget, or at least ignore, the diagnosis for a few happy days. Our first day at Disneyland, the teacups were closed due to rain, and I'll admit, I felt a little heartbroken. But on our next day, they were open again, and as the colorful lanterns spun above our heads, I thought about Alisa. She was such an example of making memories and going on adventures as a family and truly living in the moment.

That's what I hope to do with these family vacations. They're a lot of work and money and usually have at least a couple of very unpleasant moments. But exploring a new place together creates family bonds in a unique and special way. We'll remember this trip forever and might have to go back sooner rather than later.

Educated by Tara Westover

Feb 8, 2019

I don't know how I feel about this book. Maybe I'm writing about it too soon after finishing it. Maybe I should wait until both of my book clubs have discussed it and I've had time to shape my thoughts and let my opinions settle.

But part of me also just wants to get this review over with so I can be free of this book that made me feel so many things, most of them not at all pleasant.

It is the memoir of Tara Westover, the youngest of seven children, who was raised in the shadow of Buck Peak in rural Idaho. She didn't have a birth certificate until she was nine years old. Her mother and father treated all illnesses and injuries (some of them quite significant) at home. Her education was neglected in the name of home schooling.

Her father plays a key role in the way Tara identifies herself. He rules the family with almost prophetic authority, laying down the will of the Lord and admonishing them all to become self-sufficient and prepare for the end of the world. (Ironically, they are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which is also my religion, but it was almost unrecognizable to me.) (Also ironically, Tara's father is uncannily similar to the father in The Great Alone, and both books happened to be narrated by the same person, which made the resemblance even more striking.)

I spent most of the book cringing. If anyone had looked over at me while I was listening, they most likely would have seen a grimace. The amount of physical injuries that happened in this story was astounding: legs ripped open, faces burned off, wrists cracked. If it had been fiction, I might have said that the author had carried it too far.

But my grimace was for more than the physical pain. First it was for all the things Tara endured as a child (physical abuse by her older brother being the most egregious), but later it was because she just kept going back for more. Even after she received a bachelor's degree and began work on a PhD, she continued to return home where she fell right back into her role as obedient and submissive daughter, always doubting her own memory if it conflicted with that of her parents.

Throughout the book, as Tara explains certain events, she says things like, "My brother, Tyler, remembers this event differently" or "I recorded this experience in my journal, but I have no actual memory of it." Sometimes her journal even revealed two very different versions of the same event. Tara has this habit of pausing the experience and zooming out on the picture and examining it from afar: "I will always remember my father in this moment, the potency of him and the desperation. He leans forward, jaw set, eyes narrow, searching his son's face for some sign of agreement, some crease of shared conviction."

This distrust of her own memory is understandable when, as an intelligent, successful adult, Tara finally confronts her parents about her older brother's abuse and is met with adamant accusations that such allegations are misconstrued and false. She receives no support from them (even as her brother is sitting beside her, whispering threatening things in her ear), and this leads to a complete mental breakdown where she can't cope with real life because she doesn't even know if she's actually living or just imagining it.

It just made me sick. And angry too. I am not saying that this is a completely accurate, unbiased account of Tara's life. It's a memoir, for crying out loud. Of course it's going to be biased. A memoir is not a factual statement. It is a unique individual's perceptions of her own experiences. But when a story is corroborated by multiple people (as Tara's was) and the people who supposedly love her most blatantly disregard it, it is sickening. There is no other word for it.

I did find it curious, however, that anytime she quotes an email or message exchange, she specifically states that it is not a direct quote, but a general recounting of the basic premise. I didn't understand why she wouldn't just quote the actual words rather than reinterpreting them each time. It didn't make me question her accusations, but it made me approach the story a little more cautiously than I might have otherwise.

In tone and content, it reminded me a great deal of both The Glass Castle and Hillbilly Elegy (and also, as mentioned above, but for completely different reasons, The Great Alone). If possible, I think Tara's story is even more horrific than Jeannette Walls' and personally, it gripped me quite a bit more than J.D. Vance's.

I think part of my discomfort with the book was that certain details matched my own upbringing, but everything about it was grotesquely warped. Tara was a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; I am a member of the same church. Tara was home schooled; I was home schooled. Tara's mother used herbal remedies; my mom preferred echinacea to Tylenol when we were sick. So maybe it wasn't just that I was distressed by Tara's story. Maybe I was a little defensive too. It was an example to me that even good things can turn bad when taken to an extreme.

Content note: minimal swearing, but a fair amount of descriptive injuries and abuse

A Little of This and That in January

Feb 5, 2019

I missed writing about November and December, and I thought about going back and doing a post about what happened during those months, but then I knew I would just get behind on January, and the cycle would continue. It was one of those times where I just needed to let it go so I could start 2019 with a clean slate (you might have noticed some of my last reads of 2018 never made it on here as book reviews either). It is what it is. Here's what we were up to in January:

Ringing . . . in 2019. We ended up going to my parents' house to celebrate until about 9:00 pm, and then we went back to our house to finish out the last few hours until midnight because I didn't want to be driving home at the same time as all the people leaving parties. Plus, Ian and Clark needed to get to bed. Originally, I wasn't planning to go to my parents' at all, but Mike said that when he thinks of New Year's Eve, he actually thinks about my family because that's where all of his New Year's Eve traditions and memories were born since it wasn't a holiday his family really did anything special with when he was growing up. That made me happy, so we went and had a fun time. My dad, brother, and I put a 500-piece puzzle together in record time because my brother is a whiz at puzzles. And of course we pulled out the ukuleles because now that I know how to play, that's just the fun thing to do. When we got back to our house, Maxwell hurried to finish the last ten pages of The Book of Mormon (that was a goal of his before the end of the year). And then we counted down to midnight and threw confetti all over the living room. It was a good time.

Going . . . back to school on January 2nd. No kidding, the 2nd! Who makes these schedules anyway?

Listening . . . to Ian be a little copycat. Anytime we say, "Ian, are you a copycat?," he says, "Copycat" just like a little parrot. The boys love to get him going, asking him to say anything from "chicken" (why is that word so cute in a toddler voice?) to people's names to car brands: "Ian, Ian, say 'Chevrolet!'" Seriously, so cute.

Meeting . . . our new little nephew, Wally! Walter (or Wallace) has always been on my list of potential boy names because I LOVE the nickname, Wally. I'm so glad I finally get to use it! And he is such a little sweetie. So happy for my brother and sister-in-law and their three older kids. (I knitted Wally a little green sweater that hopefully he'll grown into before the weather warms up.)

Receiving . . . a calling in the Young Women organization in my ward (I think this actually happened at the end of December). It came as something of a blow because I have been quite vocal about not wanting a Young Women calling (probably too vocal . . . ). I just feel like I didn't even relate to teenagers when I was a teenager, let alone now as an adult. However, I am slowly, slowly warming up to it. It has been a good teaching opportunity for my kids: I am serving because I love Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ, even though I got a calling I didn't want.

Feeling . . . surprisingly good about turning thirty-four (probably helps that I keep forgetting my actual age!). My birthday was on a Monday, which is maybe not my favorite day for a birthday, but then Mike took me out for breakfast after the boys were all at school, and I'll tell you what, going out for breakfast on a Monday actually feels pretty luxurious. I felt so spoiled, too, with a new silverware set, a repaired wedding ring, and a new knitting bag (I've never been a purse kind of gal, but a bag to hold my knitting? I am totally on board with that). All in all, it was just a really nice day.

Repairing . . . my wedding ring. My ring has one diamond in the middle and a tiny diamond on either side. A few months ago, I looked down and realized that one of the tiny diamonds was missing. The jeweler said all of the little prongs were really worn down, which meant I was at risk of losing the other two diamonds as well. So I took off my ring and have just been wearing my plain wedding band ever since. Mike surprised me by getting it fixed for my birthday, and I love having it back on my finger. It made me realize how much I really love my little ring.

Looking . . . at all of President Henry B. Eyring's watercolors at an art exhibit at the Church History Museum. Mike and I went on a date to see it, and I stopped and looked at every painting and took the time to read every caption. As much as you want to let your kids experience all the good things, sometimes it's nice not to have them along. Also, I had no idea that President Eyring is so talented. I think it's maybe one of those interests he has kept close so that he has something he can do that is just his without an international audience (except now, that's not the case). It also made me really think about the value of giving time and attention to our creativity, and, I'll admit, it made me feel better about all of the time I devote to knitting (not that I was feeling bad about it . . .). I actually ended up seeing the exhibit a second time because I also went there with the young women from my ward.

Spending . . . five days (and a lot of money) at Disneyland. I have a whole post coming about our adventures, so for now I'll just say, we had the BEST time.

Realizing . . . that no matter how many times I see the word "Disney" in the Disney font, I will always see the "D" as a "G" first before my brain turns it into a "D." Anyone else do this?

Deciding . . . to take my sister to California with us. Last month, as we were planning our vacation, we kept coming back to how we were going to manage five kids AND still have a fun time. And then we (actually, I think Mike) landed on the brilliant idea to bring my sister along. My kids all love her, and we knew it would just be so nice to have a third adult around for crowd control purposes. Luckily, she agreed, and it ended up being a very good decision.

Relying . . . way too much on the DVD player in the car. It was just too easy to put in a movie for the crowd in the back while Mike and I listened to our own stuff in the front. Consequently, we completely forgot about a little scavenger hunt card game I bought specifically for our trip, and the boys didn't do nearly as much reading as they said they would. But the time passed quickly.

Savoring . . . a truly magical snow day. Two days after we got home from our trip, Salt Lake City got a dumping of snow. Normally I'd be all sarcastic and say something like, "Yippee, welcome home to us." But this time I meant it. It came on MLK day, which meant no school for the kids and no work for Mike, and we hadn't made any other plans (intending for it to be a recovery day from our trip). It was exactly as a snow day should be. The kids spent most of the morning outside with some of the best packing snow of their lives. With the help of Mike, they built an igloo and then had an epic snowball fight (something that is forbidden at school), followed by a mug or two of hot chocolate. Meanwhile I watched them from the comfort of my chair in the living room with some knitting and a book in my lap.

Enjoying . . . my new silverware. For my birthday, Mike and my kids got me a new silverware set.
For the last almost fourteen years, we have been using the cheapest of cheap utensils--the kind that would bend (or break) if you tried to use them to scoop up some ice cream. We have always meant to get another set, but in the meantime, the cheap stuff kept doing its job, so it wasn't a pressing need. But I can't tell you how much pleasure the new silverware has given me. I actually enjoy washing the dishes just so I can pick up each utensil and feel its subtle weight and shiny smoothness. I didn't know eating a bowl of cereal could bring me so much joy. And then, we came home from our trip, and it was like the silverware was brand new all over again.

Biting . . . my nails as Aaron competed in the school geography bee. It was intense. Every time it was his turn to answer a question, I pressed my face into Mike's shoulder and closed my eyes. I don't know why I thought that would help. The questions were just so random, and I didn't know the answers to half of them. So I was surprised when Aaron got question after question correct. And finally, he and his friend were the only two left. They were each given the same three questions, and Aaron got one right and missed the other two, and the other boy missed all three, so Aaron won! I was so relieved it was over, and then I realized that because he won, I was maybe going to have to sit through another competition all over again. He had to take a qualifying exam for the next level, so we'll see.

Listening . . . to the Brooke Snow podcast. My friend, Sarah, sent me a link to the most recent episode because she knew that my theme for 2019 is to Be Present, and this particular episode was about that exact topic. It was short and powerful (I think I'll be listening to more episodes in the future), but my ears specifically latched onto this thought:  "Presence is the intersection of God's time with our time." Because "all is as one day with God, and time only is measured unto men," it makes sense that it is in the present moment that everything comes together.

Learning . . . colors. About a month ago, I began really making an effort to point out specific colors to Ian. He quickly learned the names but couldn't identify them with any sort of consistency. Sometimes I would hold up an item and ask, "Ian, what color is this?" and he would rattle off several options ("Yellow! Green!) before landing on the correct one or giving up. But then, just a few days ago, he pulled out the Hoot Owl Hoot game (one of my favorites for little kids, btw), which has a bunch of cards with a different colored circle on each one. He brought them to me one at a time and stated the color of each one: "Orange." "Purple." "Red." And he was right every single time. And I'm telling you, it was no less exciting to see it all click with him than it was when Aaron was a little toddler.

Using . . . a timer. Clark has been struggling. He wants all the things (attention, food, fun) and he wants them all right now. He also has no concept of time. So if I tell him, "You can have a snack in thirty minutes" or "I can help you in ten minutes" or "You need to go to your room for two minutes," it means absolutely nothing to him. One day, a friend recommended using one of those little kitchen timers that counts back the minutes very visually with a shrinking red band. I bought one the very next day and have been using it all month with Clark. It has helped tremendously. He no longer has to ask me every thirty seconds if it is time for a snack because he can see it for himself.

Watching . . . a Walt Disney documentary. I came home from Disneyland obsessed with all things Disney. I promptly checked out the four-hour documentary about Walt Disney's life and have dedicated a few evenings to watching it. The kind of vision and creativity and grit he displayed throughout his life completely fascinates me.

Working . . . on science fair projects. The STEM fair came early this year and coincided right with our vacation. So Mike had to spend all of Christmas break helping to plan and carry out three different projects for Aaron, Maxwell, and Bradley so their posters and notebooks could be turned in during the second week of January. Unfortunately, because we were gone, they didn't actually get to present their research to the judges, so that was a bit of a bummer.

Celebrating . . . the end of January! We made it through my least favorite month of the year, and I actually liked it a lot. But now I'm ready for spring to come, and it's not looking very hopeful yet.

How did you spend your January days? What helped you get through this cold, dark month?
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