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.

Two Recent WWII books: The War I Finally Won and Salt to the Sea

May 17, 2019

Not that anyone is looking for more World War II books to read, but if they were, these two are definitely topping my list right now.

The War I Finally Won by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

I loved The War That Saved My Life so much that I immediately put the sequel on hold (and if you know anything about me and my track record with sequels/series, then you'll know what high praise this is). I've heard some readers say they liked this one better than the first one, but if I was forced to choose, I think I'd put my vote with the first one.

That isn't to say there was anything wrong with this one. Just, to me, it seemed like the story kind of stalled out a bit. It still has most of the same characters: Ada, Jamie, Susan, Lady Thornton, and Maggie, with the addition of Ruth (a young Jewish woman who has come to study math with Susan). In many ways, Ada's story has come full circle as demonstrated in this scene where she is riding Maggie's brother's horse, Oben: "I kicked again. I whooped. His speed increased until his stride began to feel as smooth as rushing wind, as effortless as flowing water. I moved with him, effortlessly. On the day I was evacuated, I'd looked out the window of our train and seen a girl galloping a pony, racing the train. Now I was that girl, galloping, laughing, my head thrown back, the wind tugging my hair. I'd become the person I'd longed to be."

But "becoming the person she'd longed to be" came with a price, which was that Ada was gripped with an intense need to control everything and keep anything bad out of her life--a task that is impossible at the best of times, let alone during a war.

She was also confronted with the question of, "If I've already become who I want to be [the girl riding the horse], what comes next?"

It's those two things (Ada's internal anxieties and her hopes for the future) that really drive the plot of this book. But even though big things happened (the Thorntons experienced a tragedy, Susan became very ill, Ada helped warn the village about a bombing), the pacing itself felt slow. To be fair, it wasn't any slower than the first book, but I think the difference was that in the first one, I was getting to know the characters at the same time, but here I already knew the characters really well, so the quiet moments dragged.

That said, I think it's partly the slow pace that makes Ada's growth seem so authentic. Her problems are not solved overnight. She has opportunities where she gets the best of her demons and other times when they get the best of her, but her overall motion is upward and forward. This quote from the end might sum it up best:
"I'd known the right thing to do, and I'd done it. I'd helped take care of Lady Thornton the way she'd helped take care of me. I'd stood in the steeple while bombs and even an airplane had fallen past me out of the sky. I'd felt afraid but I hadn't come undone. My foot would never be all the way right, but I could walk and climb and run. My feelings might never be all the way right either but they were healed enough.
There were many things I liked about this book--it was definitely a worthy and satisfying sequel (and there is even a sweet moment of closure for Susan at the very end). But I guess what I'm trying to say is that it maybe matched the first one a little too well in tone and pacing and drama, so it didn't have quite the same impact on me.

Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys

This book is evidence to my suspicion that no matter how many books are written about World War II, we will never run out of new material for another one. More than anything, I think that attests to the sad reality of how vast and all-encompassing that war really was.

This story centers around four characters: Emilia (a young Polish girl) Florian (a secretive Prussian), Joana (a Lithuanian nurse), and Alfred (a German private). As the war neared its end, thousands of Eastern Europeans fled before the Russians. These four characters boarded the infamous Wilhelm Gustloff for a short voyage across the Baltic Sea.

Infamous, except that I'd never heard of it before hearing about this book. If that's you too, then here are a few facts: the Wilhelm Gustloff was torpedoed in the Baltic Sea on January 30, 1945. It was carrying over 10,000 people, nearly 9,400 of whom perished in the frigid waters (and an unbelievable 5,000 of those losses were children). To give you some comparison, the Titanic lost 1,600 lives and the Lusitania lost 1,200. The sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff dwarfed these other tragedies in every way, but for some reason, it has not been given the same amount of attention.

Set against this horrific backdrop, the stories of these four people were fascinating and heartbreaking. I listened to this book, and the audio used four different narrators, which made it easy to differentiate between the characters right from the beginning. As is so often the case with stories told from multiple points of view, this one was rich and multi-layered as I witnessed the same event from different perspectives and pieced together all of the details.

The writing is exquisite. Even simple sentences like this one, "She held her breath in one hand and her suitcase in the other," vividly meshed together the physical and emotional details. I also loved this one, which gave a stark image of the effect of the war: "War had bled color from everything, leaving nothing but a storm of gray."

In the midst of this terrible tragedy, the writing had a way of bringing in little forgotten details that just made my heart twist. For example, as Emilia is traveling through the woods, she often sings a little nursery rhyme from her childhood: "All the little duckies with their heads in the water, heads in the water . . . " Later, as she looks over the water at the destruction all around her, the nursery rhyme, once innocent, comes back unbidden with frightening accuracy, only it is no longer referring to ducks.

Two characters deserve special mention: the shoe poet because I loved him so much and Alfred because he was so unbelievably awful.

The shoe poet, as everyone referred to him, might have been my very favorite. He was a man without guile who had a keen sense of observation and shared his wisdom through shoe metaphors (hence, the nickname). He was especially kind to the wandering boy, a young child who had come unmoored from his family. I loved their trusting and loving relationship in the midst of so much despair.

Then there was Alfred who was an egotistic narcissist but also a bumbling idiot (depending on the point of view at the time). I loved the other three main characters so much and felt a connection with each one. But even in his pathetic wretchedness, I couldn't drum up even the least bit of sympathy for Alfred. I had to wonder if this was what the author intended or if I was at least supposed to feel somewhat sorry for Alfred or if she purposely created an unlikeable character because she knew we would need someone to hate.

I'm always on the lookout for the title of the book to be embedded in the story somewhere. It usually sheds some light as to why the author chose it for the title and makes it more poignant. In this case, the title came from Joana as she drifted in the middle of the sea: "I wanted my mother. My mother loved Lithuania. She loved her family. The war had torn every last love from her life. Would she have to learn the grotesque details of our suffering? Would news make it to my hometown . . . ,  to the dark bunker in the woods where my father and brother were thought to be hiding? Joana Vilcus. Your daughter. Your sister. She is salt to the sea."

I'm grateful that I have yet another book to add to my list of worthwhile and appropriate young adult novels. Because even though the subject matter is dark and heavy, the actual content was quite clean and sensitive. I'll leave you with this final bit of wisdom from Emilia, which highlights the resiliency of the human spirit and that even in the darkest moments, we can find the good: "Nature. That was something the war couldn't take from me either. The Nazis couldn't stop the wind and the snow. The Russians couldn't take the sun or the stars."

A Little of This and That in April

May 11, 2019

There's just nothing like April. I think it will always be my favorite month. And it was a good one this time around. You might have found us . . .

Pruning . . . our fruit trees. We have three fruit trees in our backyard (apple, pear, and peach), and in the five years we have lived here, we have never given them a proper pruning. One of my friends offered to teach me how to prune them, and it was an opportunity I couldn't pass up. She showed me what a proper cut looks like and taught me the correct shape for each type of tree (hint: they're different). I learned to look for branches that are crossing or overlapping and pay attention to the direction of the new growth. When we were done, they all had been pruned back quite a bit (especially the peach), and I am SO excited to see what they'll do this year.

Revamping . . . the flower beds. We have been holding off planting anything in our front flower bed for a long time because we couldn't make a decision about what we actually wanted to do with it. But then Mike was at his favorite store (i.e., the NPS store), and they had a bunch of inexpensive plants, and so he just decided to buy them all (not really, but close). It's a hodgepodge of stuff, and we don't really know what we're doing, but for the moment, it looks way better, and at the very least, it's a starting place. Mike bought enough plants to also rip out one of the beds in the backyard and replant the whole thing with lower maintenance bushes. Sometimes I just have to remember Gretchen Rubin's adage: "Done is better than perfect."

Taking . . . notes during General Conference. I felt like we turned a corner this year because for the first time, Aaron and Maxwell took pages (literally pages) of notes during the talks. Yes, they were being bribed with candy, but they've been bribed with candy before and have only done the bare minimum required. This year, they listened attentively and wrote down lots of insights, and I just felt like I was seeing them grow up before my very eyes. (But then, there was also Bradley who told me probably a dozen times how much he hated conference and listening to talks, etc., so it wasn't all golden.)

Wielding . . . a medieval sword. Mike's parents came home for General Conference, and we had the overdue Christmas party that got postponed last October when my mother-in-law had a health scare and they couldn't fly home. Among the gifts, each family received a long broadsword (i.e., a "sword of truth") with the intent that it will be used to open future mission calls (a family tradition). The swords have actually been stored in our basement for the last eight months because Mike's dad had them shipped to us, so I'm glad to see them finally go to their real homes. (Sometime I'll have to share the story about when the first one arrived at our house before we knew my father-in-law was sending them to us. We got a mysterious package in the mail from, and when I opened it and found a full size, authentic (and yes, sharp!) sword in there, I might have freaked out a little.)

Going . . . on a shopping spree. At least, that's what it felt like. I had just been needing a lot of different things--a couple of pairs of shoes for me, some summer clothes for the boys, some new shirts for Mike--and I had just been letting it all pile up until Mike and I went on a date to the outlets  and just took care of it all. It kind of gives me some anxiety to spend a lot of money all at once, but it's so nice not to have to use up brain space researching running shoes anymore (because that's what I do, and research just paralyzes my decision-making abilities). Also, for the record, Mike is a fantastic person to go shopping with because he has no problem making decisions, he actually likes to give his opinion when I try on clothes, and he always encourages me to buy more than I would otherwise (which may or may not be a good idea . . . ).

Receiving . . . a lot of rain. This spring has been a wet one. Thankfully, most of it has come in the form of rain and not snow. (But I had to laugh when I was volunteering in Aaron's class on the last day of the month right during a little snowstorm; the kids were all very distracted by it until his teacher finally got fed up with it all and said, "Come on, you guys, you live in Utah! It snows in April! It's not anything special.") After the third or fourth day in a row of rain and no sunshine, I was pretty much over it, but I can't deny the results: our grass is maybe the greenest it has ever been.

Drawing . . . a picture of the allegory of the olive tree. Perhaps I better explain. One afternoon during my personal scripture study, I was reading the allegory of the olive tree, which is found in Jacob 5 in The Book of Mormon. It is a long, detailed allegory that involves planting and pruning and grafting and burning, and even though I have read this chapter many times, I was just feeling a little lost. So I decided to start over and attempt to illustrate what I was reading. Now, you have to understand that my artistic abilities are severely limited, but I made my best attempt in forty little pictures over six pages in my notebook. It's not something I would show to anyone else (hence, no photo), but it helped me visualize and understand this allegory like I never have before. It was a good exercise (and I can only imagine what it could have been in the hands of a different artist).

Finishing . . . the softest, coziest sweater. I finally finished another project (I have three others started . . . ), and I'm so glad we still had a couple of cold days in April so I could wear it. It is so warm and comfortable; I could live in it. It will be something to look forward to in the fall.

Seeing . . . the news about Notre Dame. Like probably so many of you, I was shocked to hear that Notre Dame had caught fire and that centuries of history and culture had been lost. It reminded me of when the Provo Tabernacle experienced similar destruction in 2010. It made me realize that even though buildings are not alive, they have the power to touch the lives of millions of people through their beauty and the events that happen inside and around them. I visited Notre Dame in 2016, and it wildly exceeded my expectations. I had seen photos of Notre Dame before, but photos couldn't capture the craftsmanship or scope or magnificence of that edifice. I remember standing right next to it and looking up in awe at its intricately carved walls and wondering about the hundreds of unknown, unrecognized people who worked so tirelessly for a lifetime to make it what it was. After the fire, the internet was flooded with photos--images of families and friends and individuals visiting the cathedral and basking in its beauty. I'm glad that I have my own photos to remind me of it.

Running . . . out of fabric. I dusted off my sewing machine this month and made myself a dress. In the process of cutting out the pieces for it, I realized I did not have enough fabric for the sleeves. So I went back to the fabric store, only to find out that they no longer had that fabric in stock. So I went to another (much larger) store and miraculously (seriously, it was a miracle) found the same fabric. I finished the dress (I even conquered the invisible zipper) before admitting that I had chosen the wrong fabric (it was very stiff and had absolutely no give). So I don't know that I will ever wear it in real life, but I've already bought more fabric to make it again (and this time, I made sure that I'll have enough).

Winning . . . first AND second place in the pinewood derby! We literally forgot about the pinewood derby until two days before the race whereupon Mike scrambled to help Aaron and Maxwell each make a car. Then on the day of the race, Mike came home from work and realized he had left the cars on his desk (he'd taken them there to make sure the wheels were aligned). Then when Aaron weighed in his car, they realized it was too heavy, so Mike hacked away pieces of it until it passed. So it might have seemed like the stars were not aligned for the boys, but then they ended up winning both first (Aaron) and second (Maxwell). In Aaron's words, "My car didn't look the nicest, but it was the fastest."

Hosting . . . our fourth annual neighborhood Easter egg hunt. I love this tradition so much, and we had a perfect day for it this year.

Observing . . . Easter. We always do Easter baskets and our neighborhood egg hunt on the Saturday before Easter, which keeps the actual day a little more focused on the Resurrection. This year we went to my parents' house for dinner and then had a little family egg hunt after that, and it was simple and perfect.

Studying . . . the scriptures as a family. Ever since our boys were very little, we have tried to read the scriptures daily and share scripture stories with them, but at the beginning of the year, we started doing it with a little more intention than before. That is because our church made a big change in January: the Sunday meeting schedule was cut down from three hours to two hours, and we were encouraged to use that extra hour to study together as a family in a home-centered, church-supported effort. In addition to this, gospel study was correlated throughout the Church with the Come Follow Me curriculum. The New Testament is our course of study, and it is broken down by week with which chapters to read, questions to discuss, and activities to do. The same material is also taught at church, and so we study it at home, and then we're ready to share insights when we meet together at church. It has been wonderful. Our weeknight study is still fairly short, but on Sunday afternoons, we put Ian down for a nap, and then study and learn together. Not only has it been a good experience for us in our home, but it has enriched our time at church as well. Rather than having family scripture study in one book of scripture and church classes in another, now we're all on the same page (literally), and I love it.

Celebrating . . . our two April birthdays--Mike's and Ian's. One of Ian's favorite songs is Happy Birthday, so I knew he would be thrilled when it was actually his turn to open presents and blow out a candle. The evening before, after Ian went to bed, the rest of us all gathered in the living room to wrap presents and get everything ready for the birthday boy. I thought it was the perfect representation of how much we all love and adore little Ian. He loved his presents and his Chicka Chicka Boom Boom cake, and he even blew out the candle all by himself.

Weaning . . . Ian. A few days after Ian's birthday, Mike and I went to New York, and I knew that was going to be the perfect time to finish weaning Ian. But to be perfectly honest, I didn't feel ready for it. He is my baby, and nursing has always been one of my favorite parts of being a mom. I will miss hearing him ask for "Mommy's milk" or "a little bit of milk." (As of right now, he still hasn't stopped asking him for it, but I just keep reminding him that it is all gone.) Luckily, our nighttime cuddles and conversations and songs have not stopped, and I'm grateful I still get to rock him before bed.

Visiting . . . New York for the first time. To celebrate our fourteenth wedding anniversary, we decided to take a trip to the Big Apple. Neither of us had ever been, and we spent the weeks leading up to it gathering recommendations from all of our more sophisticated and well-traveled friends and then editing our itinerary again and again as we tried to squeeze in more things before being realistic and trimming it back down. The trip exceeded all of my expectations. I will write a whole post about it soon, but I'm so glad we got to go, and I can't wait to go back.

Missing . . . the wax museum. While Mike and I were in New York, Maxwell's class put together their own wax museum. Max was Benedict Arnold, and in the days leading up to it, he loved to wear his costume and say his part (in fact, you can see him in it in the birthday prep photo above, ha!). I was so sad to miss the actual event, but luckily my mom was able to go see him, and she said he did great!

Loving . . . every little detail of spring: the forsythia bushes that burst into brilliant light before resuming their incognito status; the sweet star magnolias that I never noticed until this year; the changing hues of green--sharp and new, then darkening into something more mature; the parades of butterflies returning from their migration south; the pungent smell of lilac; and of course, my beloved flowering cherry in all its frothy pink glory. I have loved everything about this spring (except for maybe my allergies, but it's a small price to pay for all of this beauty).

What has this spring looked like for you? Tell me about it!
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