A Little of This and That in June

Jul 5, 2020

In some ways, this summer is completely different from past years, and in other ways, we've managed to hold onto many of our favorites activities and traditions, including . . .

Celebrating . . . National Doughnut Day. You'll remember from past years that this is our favorite fake holiday to celebrate. By the time Mike picked up doughnuts from our favorite local shop, they only had chocolate left, but I didn't hear any complaints.

Starting . . . the summer reading program. We kicked off our family summer reading program at the end of May. This is our fifth summer doing it, and my kids look forward to it every year. We've had a wide variety of prizes in the past, but this year, I've stuck to just snacks and treats. This is Clark's first year participating fully in the program, and he's on a roll. He just finished kindergarten, so he only has to read one hour for a prize instead of two, but he's doing all of the reading all on his own and averaging between 8 and 10 hours every week, which seems pretty good to me.

Splashing . . . in the rain. We received three straight days of rain at the beginning of the month. Some of this rain was accompanied by hurricane-like gales and thunder and lightning. But when the storm part of it eased up and it was just the rain, the boys all ran out to play in it. They were completely drenched in about two seconds, but they didn't seem to notice or care. They loved standing in the gutter and letting the water rush past their feet. It was moving so fast, I was a little worried Ian might get swept off his feet and carried down the street. Afterwards, they came inside and huddled around the fire.

Grieving . . . the loss of four months' worth of family photos and videos. And not just any months, but July-October of last year--the very months when Aaron was diagnosed, Max was found to be a perfect match, the bone marrow transplant happened, and Aaron spent a month in the hospital. In other words, they were some pretty important months in the history of our family. And the photos and videos are all, inexplicably, gone--disappeared without a trace. Mike's theory is that my phone was synced up to one of our old phones that the boys use for listening to books, and one of the kids (probably Ian) deleted every single photo and video from those months. When I first noticed they were missing, I immediately went to the recently deleted folder, but they were gone from there as well. So, gone from my phone, the old phone, and iCloud. It just breaks my heart. I want those videos back so badly. I feel like I've been going through all of the stages of grief as I've come to terms with their disappearance. Everyone is always saying, "Make sure you back up your pictures and videos!" And now I'll add my sad tale to the evidence for why this is so important. The good news (and this is actually very good news) is that all of my photos actually were backed up in another program. So even though the loss of videos is still a really big loss, it could have been even worse.

Finishing . . . a summer sweater. A year ago, I bought some yarn at Purl Soho when Mike and I were in New York. I've been searching for the perfect pattern to use it with and finally found a cute summer top I thought would work. I combined two different sizes so that I could get the kind of neckline I wanted. And I made it slightly cropped so that I could wear it with skirts and wide-leg linen pants. The yarn I used has some linen in it along with wool and alpaca. This makes it really lightweight and drapey. The pattern itself is also really open and loose, so it's perfect for spring and summer. I love it so much.

Playing . . . a hymn for church. We are continuing to have home church, and it has brought so many unique opportunities and experiences for our kids, including Aaron playing the opening hymn one Sunday. If you play the piano, then you know it is a major accomplishment when you reach the level of being able to not only play a four-part hymn but do it while people are singing with you. I'm really proud of Aaron.

Making . . . goals. Because of the move, we were a couple of weeks late with planning out our goals for the summer, but the boys have been hard at work on them ever since, and they have accomplished so much. It helps that we are not going to the pool or on any family vacations, so we have loads of time every day (for better or worse). I'll try to get up a post about them, although I don't know if anyone is very interested in them anymore.

Building . . . shelves. Mike has been hard at work installing shelves in pretty much every closet of this new house. It has given us so much more storage space! I am so grateful for his handy skills and that I was finally able to unpack (most of) the rest of the boxes.

Having . . . socially distant playdates. During the month of June, Max had regular play dates with one of his best friends. Each time, they sat on the porch and talked for a couple of hours. Sometimes they played Battleship or House of Fire, but most of the time they just talked. I've never seen anything quite like it. I never worry about them breaking the six-foot barrier because they're really quite content to just sit and chat. Also this month, Clark got to go to a little birthday celebration for one of his friends. His mom set up a craft table and put Clark at one end and Jude at the other, and they had a grand time.

Reading . . . up a storm. Unfortunately, this is not referencing me, but Aaron. He has been averaging a book a day since summer break started, and I seriously cannot keep him in books. Luckily, he's the least picky reader out of all of my kids, and he will read pretty much anything I give him. This increase in reading also means that he is raking in the summer reading prizes and consequently has a snack stash that is constantly being replenished. When I asked him how he is able to get into a new book so quickly, he said that for the first few pages, he just reads for prizes, and that helps him clear the initial hurdle, and then he doesn't need any motivation after that. Sometimes I laugh when I think back to his time in the hospital and remember my worries that he was never going to enjoy reading again.

Heading . . . to the cabin for another brief reprieve. We went on a little hike, and I had fun identifying the many wildflowers along the trail. We also were so glad to have Mike's sister, Sonja, and her kids join us on the second day, especially since it rained most of the time, and the boys would have been so bored without cousins to play with.

Getting . . . a new roof. It was not the most exciting thing to drop a boatload of money on right away on our new house, but it needed to be done. We knew before we bought the house that the roof needed to be replaced because there were two layers of shingles where there should have only been one, and water had sneaked its way under the shingles causing damage to the wood underneath. So we had to replace everything (thumbs down), but now we should be good to go for a long time (thumbs up). We had a little bit of drama while the roof was being replaced. Because the pitch of the roof is so low, everything that was happening was extremely close to the actual ceiling. We noticed some damage to the drywall with all of the thumping and pounding and hammering. I was kind of upset about it, but it was nothing to what happened next: one of the workers slipped while he was laying down a piece of plywood, and his boot came through the bathroom ceiling, leaving drywall, insulation, and a view of the sky in its wake. Luckily everything (even the big hole) was a fairly easy and inexpensive fix.

Meeting . . . more people on a neighborhood walkabout. We've been so fortunate to have two organized neighborhood walks since we moved into our new house. We met a whole new group of people on this walk than we did on the one the month before, and between these two walks and other random introductions, we have met the majority of the people in our new neighborhood.

Throwing . . . a two-and-a-half hour tantrum. Ian has amazing stamina and determination, as evidenced by all of his tantrums over the last three months. I'm sure I'm doing something wrong as a parent because each tantrum really does feel like an intense power struggle. I know one of the big triggers for Ian is screen time, so I cut out shows mid-way through the month. But this epic tantrum came after the elimination of shows and was instead instigated by my request for him to get dressed in the morning. Anyway, the accumulation of these tantrums is a cause of stress and grief and guilt (for both me and Ian), and I'm not sure what to do. I'm worried he has permanently damaged his vocal chords since he has been hoarse for the past two months. After he had totally calmed down following the epic tantrum, he said to me, "I'm sorry I was crying at you, Mom," and it was just the sweetest thing.

Watching . . . the daily Covid-19 counts. This continues to be a depressing activity, but I can't seem to pull myself away from it. I look forward to the day when those numbers trend down instead of up (it will happen eventually, right?!).

Celebrating . . . Father's Day. We visited my dad the day before, and I gave him a present that he already owned, which was a bit disappointing, especially since I'd felt like the most prepared daughter ever when I purchased it several weeks before. My kids filled out their traditional questionnaires for Mike and gave him a couple of new shirts and a new card game. And then Mike planned out and made his own Father's Day dinner and invited his dad (and mom) to come eat it with us. It was our first time getting to use the back patio with guests, and it was just as awesome as we thought it would be.

Failing . . . to raise monarch butterflies. The boys had been asking me to take them over to their elementary school to look for monarch caterpillars. They knew there was a crop of milkweed along the upper field, and they had seen caterpillars there before. So we went one afternoon, and they were overjoyed to find three caterpillars--one medium-sized and two tiny. We took them home, along with a supply of milkweed leaves. Sadly, the two small caterpillars died within 24 hours. But we held out hope on the other one. He chomped down on his leaves like a champ and grew rapidly. We were all thrilled when he crawled up the side of his enclosure, spun his silk, and hung into a J-shape. We thought we'd have a chrysalis by evening. But unfortunately, as the hours passed the caterpillar went limp and started to shrivel up. We did some research and discovered that our caterpillar had been plagued by the Black Death, which is just as gruesome as it sounds. It was quite traumatizing for all of us, but especially for Maxwell who went into the aspens surrounding our house and sobbed and sobbed. I think he somehow felt personally responsible for the caterpillar's death since he considers himself a bug expert. We'll see if we dare attempt to find another caterpillar or if this experience has scarred us for life.

Picking . . . raspberries. We are missing our little raspberry patch at our old house. We'll hopefully get some planted here this fall, but in the meantime, we went to Mike's parents' house to pick raspberries from their patch. Ian was reminding me so much of Sal from Blueberries for Sal. He had a little bag to collect raspberries, but none of them seemed to make it into the bag before going straight into his mouth. But I can't really blame him--there's nothing like a sun-ripened raspberry right off of the plant.

Recording . . . songs for Aunt Angela. My little sister is still on a mission in Maryland. Around the time the pandemic started, we began singing and recording a song for her every Sunday. It was meant to cheer her up a little since she was stuck inside all day every day with almost nothing to do. But even as she has settled into a quarantine groove and found new ways to share the Gospel with others, we've continued to make these weekly recordings just for fun.

Digging . . . for geodes. We got a brief cool spell at the end of June and decided to take full advantage of it by going to the Dugway geode beds--a place that has been on our bucket list for a long time. It was over three hours away and much of that time was on rough dirt roads, with the last two miles being particularly rugged. There were a couple of times when I really thought our little minivan was going to get high centered and we would be stranded in the middle of nowhere, but luckily, we arrived without incident, and once we were there, we had a grand time. The geodes were not difficult to find; many of them, broken and whole, were scattered over the ground. And when the kids dug down into the dirt, they found even more. The geodes came in all shapes and sizes, and it was always a mystery what they were going to look like on the inside: some were sparkly, others showed cool, layered patterns, and some were disappointingly ugly. Aaron was fortunate to score a really big one, and he cracked it open himself. We brought that one home and stuck the two halves in our front flower bed. Mike's sister and kids came too, and it made the day even more pleasant and enjoyable (not to mention that it gave me some peace of mind having another family there since, as I already mentioned, we were in a very isolated corner of Utah). After a couple of hours, one of the boys spotted a lizard, and they basically abandoned the geodes at that point in favor of trying to catch it (they never did). Ian spent the day playing astronauts with his cousins and using a hammer to hit every rock he could find. It was well worth the time and effort it took to get there.

And that's it for June. I'm grateful for each of these moments with my family and loved ones. Life feels like such a gift.

Sweep: The Story of a Girl and Her Monster by Jonathan Auxier

Jun 27, 2020

Have you ever read a book and, upon finishing it, thought, Where is all the praise for this book? Why has no one been talking about it? Why has it not won any awards?

That's how I felt after reading this book. It was so beautifully written, well-researched, and brilliantly crafted that it seemed like it must have somehow been tragically overlooked the year it was published.

I personally took notice of it, not because anyone else had mentioned it, but simply because it was written by Jonathan Auxier, and I have been a major fan of his ever since reading Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes several years ago.

But even with this selling point, it still took me over a year to pick up a copy because the title didn't interest me. I didn't think I had much use for a book about monsters.

Little did I know that the "monster" was only one to those who didn't know him. To Nan, he was a golem, birthed from a little piece of glowing char she'd had in her possession for a long time.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. Nan is a climber in 1875 London. She works for Mr. Wilkie Crudd, better known as "The Clean Sweep." Her job is to clean people's chimneys, not by pushing a broom up into them à la Mary Poppins, but by pushing herself up into them. Because of her small frame, she can go where no adult can--small shafts that are literally no bigger than a 9-inch square (I feel a little ill just writing that out).

Nan hasn't always worked for Wilkie Crudd. When she was very young, she moved around London with her Sweep. He was tall and thin and quietly protective. He told stories and invented possibilities and made even bad things seem exciting. Under his hand, she learned to read and think for herself. But one day he disappeared, leaving behind only his hat and a warm piece of char.

Nan keeps thinking her Sweep will come back, but in the meantime, her only option is to climb chimneys and collect soot.

But then one day, the unthinkable happens. While Nan is crawling through a tiny tunnel in a school for young ladies, she gets distracted by a conversation going on in one of the rooms below. She doesn't pay attention to her position, and she gets stuck. When a climber gets stuck, there are only a few options, and none of them are pleasant.

The one that Nan's rival, Roger, decides to try is called the Devil's Nudge, and it involves lighting a fire in the hearth under her. The idea is that with the right motivation, Nan will do anything, including breaking her own bones, to free herself.

But something happens when Nan is stuck inside that flue--something that Nan can't explain or even figure out for herself. The little piece of char she has carried in her pocket for years ignites and blasts her out of the chimney, and when she regains consciousness, she realizes that everyone thinks she's dead, and her char has turned into a little baby golem she affectionately names Charlie.

Together, they hide away and make an unusual, but very pleasant, life for themselves. No one but Nan's friend, Toby, knows about Charlie, and that's probably for the best since it only takes a few weeks before Charlie is no longer the size of a pebble but a big and lumbering (but just so naively adorable) golem.

But of course things don't stay happy and comfortable. Nan finds out that Wilkie Crudd doesn't believe for an instant that she died in that fire ("Nan Sparrow, felled by the Devil's Nudge? Maybe another climber, but not [her]"). And as she attempts to hide from and outsmart him, she learns more about golems. Miss Bloom, a teacher from the young ladies' seminary, tells Nan that golems are created for a purpose and that "once a golem has fulfilled its purpose, it must die."

This story was the perfect mix of history, fantasy, and emotion. If one of those elements had been removed, it wouldn't have worked, but blended together, they were a magic combination.

I learned so much about the tragic life that was the reality of so many children during the Industrial Revolution.  At the back of the book, Jonathan Auxier shared a few historical facts and said, "By some estimates, the average life span of a climber was just five years." Five years. He talked about how horrific this was, especially given the fact that a mechanical brush had been invented almost a century before, but many homeowners didn't want sweeps to use it, "claiming that the brushes did not do as thorough a job as young climbers."

These dire facts might have overwhelmed the story if not for the fantasy aspect. Charlie lightened up the story considerably. Not only were his little questions and statements so innocent and funny ("Oh yes, you are doing privacy"), but knowing that he would protect Nan at all costs made it seem like the story would somehow turn out right. It was also fascinating to learn about the history of golems within the Jewish tradition.

But what really made this story jump up to the next level was that it had this undercurrent of love and compassion and hope. By the end, I cared deeply for Nan and Toby and Miss Bloom and Newt and, of course, Charlie.

At one point, Nan and Toby were eating amaretto ice on top of a roof (yes, there were still some very idyllic moments, in spite of the hardship). Nan confided her fears regarding Charlie: "I'm afraid . . . What if I can't protect him?" Toby answered, "That's what it is to care for a person. If you're not afraid, you're not doing it right."

I read this book out loud to my kids, and although it was a little bit difficult for 6-year-old Clark to follow, it was a completely immersive experience for the rest of us. We were wrapped up in Nan and Charlie's adventures, and as we got to the climax, we literally could not pull ourselves away from the story.

During one particularly tender moment, I couldn't keep the tears from leaking. Maxwell looked at me and said, "You're crying. You're actually crying." I've cried at the end of many other books, but for some reason, he seemed to take more notice of it this time. He has brought it up a couple of times since then ("Mom actually cried at the end of that book"), and I think it was maybe the first time he realized the power of a good story and how much it can make you feel.

Toby told Nan, "We save ourselves by saving others," and that was true for so many relationships in this book: the Sweep to Nan, Nan to Charlie, Miss Bloom to Nan . . . as well as one beautifully unexpected one that I won't spoil by sharing. But if there's one lesson I hope my kids took away from Nan's story, it was exactly that: We save ourselves by saving others. Isn't that so completely true?

Ta-ta, Tacro!

Jun 18, 2020

Some of you have maybe been wondering how Aaron is doing in the midst of this global pandemic. I'm so sorry I haven't kept up with the updates, but it was because there really wasn't anything to update about. In Aaron's case, no news is good news, and there hasn't been any new news for a really long time.

I suspected this would be the case way back in September when we first made up a treatment plan for Aaron. You might remember that when I outlined the steps, there was a big gaping hole of nothing for about six months. I labeled this "the isolation phase," and in my post where I talked about it, I said it looked like it would be "the longest and most boring phase of the entire process."

I said this before we even started, not knowing that in just a few short months, a worldwide quarantine would take our definition of "boring" to a whole new level.

The thing about the whole world being bored right along with you is that you no longer feel like you're the odd one out. For the first few weeks of quarantine, Aaron was practically giddy as he watched everyone else isolate themselves and wear masks just like he'd been doing for the previous six months.

The sad thing about the timing of all of this is that the BMT team started weaning Aaron off of tacro (the immunosuppressive drug) the same weekend as the country went under lockdown. The three-month weaning process is generally seen as a time when you can slowly lift restrictions and ease back into normal life.

But the exact opposite happened for us. We tightened everything up even more than we already had. We didn't see family, the other kids stopped going to school, Mike began working from home, we wiped down every package that was delivered and quarantined the mail, we had most of our food delivered, we stopped getting takeout, and Mike went through a whole germ-avoiding process on the rare occasions when he ventured out to the grocery store.

We anticipated this summer to be one of rejuvenation and excitement as we resumed some of our favorite activities and went on new adventures. Although that is not shaping up to be the case, we are still seriously celebrating because Aaron is doing so well. We are watching his body make a full and complete recovery, and it is just miraculous.

Once we began weaning him off of the tacro, we finally began to see some changes, good changes, in his blood counts. For months, they had been fairly stationary (platelets in the 200's (normal), hemoglobin around 11 (just below normal) and white blood cells between 1000 and 2000 (low)). But as the immunosuppressive drug has slowly left his system, those counts have been moving up again. At his last appointment two weeks ago,  his hemoglobin was 12.5 (normal) and his white blood cells were at 3000 (still low but getting close to normal).

He has continued to show no signs of GVHD. His latest chimerism looked good (the percentage of Maxwell's T-cells had gone back up). He has an abundance of energy (he's been running with me in the mornings). And his hair came back in extremely thick and wavy. He was holding onto it rather possessively, but he finally let Mike give him more than just a trim a week ago.

Today was extra-special because Aaron took his very last dose of tacro. We have been looking forward to this day for nine months. And I'm proud to say that in those nine months, we missed a total of only one dose. That felt pretty good to me, especially since there were a few months where we were giving it to him three times a day.

We celebrated at the stroke of 9:00am (Tacro Time) with cherry pie and vanilla ice cream. We'd been talking up the Tacro Party since the evening before, and after everyone finished eating their pie, they excitedly asked, "Now what? What's next for the party??" We admitted that eating celebratory pie was pretty much the only thing on the agenda, and they grumbled to themselves as they walked away, "I expected there to be a little more to this party . . . " But come on, what did they expect? We can't go anywhere or have anyone over, so our options were rather limited.

So now that Aaron is done with tacro, you might be wondering what the plan is going forward. His doctors are now looking towards September, which will be his one-year transplant anniversary. At that point they will take him off of his last two medications (a prophylactic antibiotic and antiviral), do some of his baseline tests again (lungs, heart, etc.), and hand him over to a hematologist for future follow-ups.

As we were wrapping up Aaron's appointment a couple of weeks ago, Dr. Harris said, "Come September, Aaron, you can do whatever you want!"

I'm not exactly sure what that means in light of the global health crisis we're all facing, but it was a nice sentiment anyway, and I liked the sound of it.

A Little of This and That in May

Jun 7, 2020

As I look back over the month of May, I am legitimately shocked that all of these things happened within a few weeks of each other. The activities that happened in the first half feel like soooooo long ago. I guess moving will do that to you. It seems like we stepped into a different life. This month found us . . .

Catching . . . snakes. We took another little weekend trip to the cabin. We are so lucky Mike's parents have this little place so we can have a change of scenery. The weather was so lovely this time, and we spent many hours outside enjoying it. There is a little stream that runs past the cabin, and my kids always have so much fun floating things down it or tossing pebbles into it. But this time, it produced an even greater gift: three garter snakes--small, medium, and large (or baby, teenager, and mom, as the boys labeled them). These three snakes provided hours of entertainment. The boys released them into the water or grass and watched them slither around before re-catching them. They let them slide between their fingers and over their hands and arms. They built a makeshift terrarium so they could observe them without fear of them getting away. Basically, it was just the best afternoon for them. When it came time to let them go, Maxwell begged and begged to take one home and acted like it was the greatest injustice of his life when I said no. (And, in case you were wondering, no, I did not hold, or even touch, any of the snakes.)

Holding . . . a virtual piano recital. Several months ago, I planned and scheduled a spring recital for my piano students. It was supposed to be on May 7th. I realized many weeks ago that it would probably not be able to happen as planned, so I decided to switch to a virtual recital instead. My students still prepared and memorized their pieces as they normally would, and then they each recorded themselves in their own homes. They sent the videos to me, and I (actually Mike) compiled them all into one video that could then be watched from start to finish, just as you might attend a normal recital. It actually worked out really well--with the caveat that I think it ended up being rather nerve wracking for some to perform in front of a camera. Even though you had the option of recording your piece as many times as you wanted, I discovered that the pressure mounted with each repetition, and so recording more than once wasn't overly beneficial. It was also a good exercise for me in letting go of control because even though I sent very detailed instructions on how to record, people chose to do their own thing, and I just had to be okay with it.

Feeling . . . so spoiled on Mother's Day. The night before, Mike asked me, "What are your expectations for Mother's Day?" I told him I had absolutely none. In fact, with all of the busyness surrounding buying a house, I'd pretty much forgotten about it entirely (hence, my own mom got her present two weeks late). He said, "That's good," leading me to think he hadn't thought about it much either. So I was quite surprised when I received two necklaces with the boys' names engraved on them, as well as a few other presents, that were definitely not last minute gifts. It was obvious that he was thinking about Mother's Day weeks in advance, and that made everything feel even more special. Clark made me a flower headband out of paper, and the day was peppered with cute notes, yummy food, and lots of hugs. My non-existent expectations were far exceeded.

Receiving . . . the news that a spot in the gifted program opened up for Clark. Last month, I shared that Clark was on the waiting list for the program. I hoped that enough people would decline their invitations that there would be room for him, and that's what ended up happening.

Visiting . . . Alisa's grave. This was such a peaceful, beautiful afternoon in an otherwise crazy month. I have always loved wandering around cemeteries, studying the names and dates of people I've never met and wondering about their lives, and I was surprised by how much my kids enjoyed it, too. It is hard to believe that Alisa has been gone for five years. So much has happened during that time that we would have loved to share with her.

Inspecting . . . our new home. I find home inspections rather depressing, albeit informative. By the end of it, we had a long list of everything that was wrong with the home we wanted to buy. Some of it we already knew (sagging fence, unsafe balcony), but some of it was a surprise (radon in the basement, an old roof). As the inspector tapped through all of his incriminating photos, I saw time and money disappearing in a blink. But here's the thing: if you buy a house that is over fifty years old, it is bound to come with a few problems. If we didn't have these specific issues, then there would be others. And at least we know what we're dealing with upfront so we can budget and prioritize. Even though it sounded like a lot to us, our inspector assured us that the home was average, or even above average, compared to what he sees every day, so that was somewhat comforting.

Closing . . . on our new house! Everything went so smoothly with the purchase of this house. The sellers were accommodating and easy to work with. The financing and loan went quickly so that we were actually able to close ten days sooner than expected. It was a joy to work with the same realtor we had when we bought our first home six years ago. He has been in the realty business for sixty years, and we trust his intuition and expertise so much. He has become a dear friend to us over the years, and we felt so blessed to have him help us through the process.

Learning . . . how to parallel park. It was one of my goals for 2020, so for a romantic Friday date night, Mike and I headed to the church parking lot. He parked his car and spaced a stack of boxes a car's length behind it, and then he guided me through wriggling into the tight spot with our van. I went through the whole process several times and only bumped into the boxes once. However, I think it's going to take more than one lesson before I feel confident enough to do it downtown in real life.

Packing . . . up our entire house. I hope the memory of this week lasts me a long time so that I don't try to move again! I'll admit, we didn't take the most efficient route--we mostly did it ourselves with a pickup truck and our van, and that ended up being a lot of trips. There was one day in particular where I thought I was going to have a breakdown: we were halfway out of our old house and halfway into the new house, and it just felt like there was chaos everywhere I looked. But luckily, as we continued to plug away at it, the old house emptied out, and we stopped making things worse and could instead start making them better. Aaron, Maxwell, and Bradley were all extremely helpful, and Mike and I both agreed that we couldn't have done it without them.

Paying . . . someone to clean our old house. The last time we moved six years ago, I vowed to myself that I would never again clean a house I was moving out of. And I stayed true to my word. After we moved out all of our stuff, Veronica came over with her cleaning supplies. I went back to the new house to unpack boxes (and do laundry, which never stops, even when you move). Six hours later, Veronica was done, and our old house was transformed. It was seriously some of the best money I've ever spent.

Combining . . . imaginations for truly epic adventures. I'm so glad Clark and Ian have each other because they are two kids who were cut from the same cloth. Every day, they wake up and become someone new: a couple of superheroes, a dad and his son, a dog and his master, a horse and a cowboy. They dress up and give each other different names and completely immerse themselves in whatever they are playing. It gives me so much joy to watch them together.

Finding . . . renters for our old house. And not just any renters, but Mike's cousin, David, and his sweet family! The thought of renting our home was giving me some real anxiety. I just didn't know how to go about finding trustworthy, conscientious, responsible people. And while renting our home seemed like a good idea in theory, the reality is that with the wrong people there, it could turn into a financially draining nightmare. While all of these worries were going through my head, Mike was doing the dishes one night when he suddenly had the thought, I wonder if David would want to rent our house? Although we knew David and his family had moved to Salt Lake last summer for David to do his residency, we didn't have any reason to suspect that they were looking to move. But Mike called David anyway, and lo and behold, they were looking for a new place! What's more, their lease ended on June 1st, just a couple of weeks after we closed on our new house. The whole thing felt divinely orchestrated to me, and we are so grateful that David and Emilee can now enjoy the home and neighborhood we love so much.

Waving . . . to our teachers in a reverse parade. We made it to the last day of school. The teachers all stood on the sidewalk at the top of the school, and we drove down the street waving to them and telling them to "have a good summer!" and "we'll see you in the fall!" It was the strangest school year ever, but we made it through, mostly because these teachers rose to the challenge and put their hearts into virtual teaching.

Meeting . . . new neighbors. I thought the pandemic was going to make it really difficult to meet people in our new neighborhood, but our neighbors have truly surprised us. They've gone out of their way to pull over and say hello if we're outside, stop to chat if they're on a walk, bring us dinner and treats, text with information about the ward and neighborhood, and wave and smile across the street. We were very fortunate that there was a neighborhood walkabout scheduled on our very first evening in our new home, and that made it possible for us to meet quite a few people all at once. For the most part, everyone has been very respectful of Covid-19 boundaries (with the possible exception of two older couples who walked right into our entryway bearing gifts of food), and it has done my heart good to feel so loved right from the start. I hope I can reciprocate to some neighbors in the future.

Celebrating . . . Clark's sixth birthday. He had been excitedly counting down the days for over six months. It was thrilling when the number was small enough that he no longer had to ask Siri but was able to do the math himself. He had very specific requests for food, presents, cake, activities, etc. That is very typical of Clark. He likes things to be just so. He had been holding covert conferences with Mike for months about what he wanted his birthday cake to look like. He wouldn't let any of the rest of us know what it was. Luckily, Mike was able to bring his vision to life, and we were all surprised when he cut into a cake that looked like the Mandalorian helmet and a bunch of Baby Yodas spilled out of it. Clark was ecstatic. I also organized a little bike ride with a couple of Clark's friends. It was surprisingly stressful because it was harder than I thought it was going to be to keep these friends six feet apart, but what did I expect after two months of not seeing each other?

Building . . . bunkbeds. When we moved, we decided not to bring Ian's crib with us. It had lasted through all five boys, and it was pretty trashed. Plus, at three years old, there was no reason that Ian couldn't move into a bed . . . except that we didn't actually have a bed for him. Mike had long been saying that he wanted to build a new set of bunkbeds. He had already built one set a couple of years ago, and it was actually much sturdier than the manufactured set we already owned. So building a matching set was one of the first things he did after we moved in. The boys all helped paint it, and now Bradley and Ian have a new bed.

Getting . . . wet on hot days. The month of May ended with a heat wave. Our neighborhood pool hasn't opened up yet (and even when it does, we're not sure if we'll feel safe to go), so we made some water fun in the front yard, thanks to a birthday gift from Grandma Jill and Grandpa Paul. I anticipate this getting even more use in the next two months.

That's it for this month. If you were hoping to see a bit more of the inside of our house, you'll have to wait. It has been fairly slow getting rooms put together. Even though our new house is bigger, our stuff isn't fitting into it in the same way, so it is taking some time. But it's giving us plenty to do in June!

Marilla of Green Gables by Sarah McCoy

May 16, 2020

If I had seen this book on a library display stand, I would have passed it by without so much as a second glance. I have never been drawn to fan fiction. I prefer to just stick with the real thing and leave the rest of the story up to my own, not someone else's, imagination.

And in the case of my beloved Anne Shirley, that is even more true. How could anyone possibly try to get inside L.M. Montgomery's creativity and flesh out a backstory? The very idea seemed impossible, not to mention almost sacrilegious.

But it was my friend who read it first. Her love of Anne runs deep as well, so I felt like I could trust her when she said, "It was actually really well done. I think you would like it."

So I decided to take a chance. And I was pleasantly surprised.

The story was anchored in familiarity while still standing uniquely on its own. It was delightful to have Marilla introduced to "the White's daughter" and realize with a start that it was none other than Rachel Lynde. Or watch Marilla head the fundraising of the Ladies' Aid Society's by selling bottles of homemade raspberry cordial. Or notice a certain lovely amethyst brooch pinned on Marilla's dress.

But then there were new things never before considered: unconventional Aunt Izzy who chose to remain a spinster in order to pursue a career and a life outside Avonlea; the death of Marilla's mother, which forced Marilla to grow up early; an underground abolitionist organization to help protect runaway slaves. These things propelled the story forward in its own way without being tied to events and details from the future.

In spite of all of these good things however, the story was actually quite painful.  This had nothing to do with the writing (which was really quite lovely and, thankfully, did not attempt to mimic L.M. Montgomery's lavish descriptions) or the pacing (which surprised me with an intense climax at the end).

No, it was painful because, at its center, there was John Blythe with his self-assured smile and strong opinions, and he was just so gosh darn likeable. It broke my heart over and over again because I knew how it was going to end before it even began. I couldn't enjoy his tutoring of Marilla or his slow clap after her speech at the town debate (reminiscent of another slow clap after a striking performance of "The Highwayman") or his sweet kiss after falling into the stream. Each tender moment was like a jab to my heart. I wanted to will the story to go one way, all while knowing there was absolutely no way for it to work out.

And that begged the question, Did I actually want their romance to be reconciled? If there had been a Marilla and John, then there would never have been an Anne and Gilbert, and that would have been even more tragic.

In the end, it was Marilla's fierce loyalty to her father and brother that kept her from John, but the sad irony was that they would have given her their blessing over and over again. Matthew as a young man was just as you might imagine him to be--quiet but very kind and mostly keeping his opinions to himself.

At one point, he was in a bit of a political argument with John. Marilla, who was listening in on their conversation, couldn't stand the way John seemed to be pushing Matthew around. She rushed in to defend Matthew and put John in his place.

Matthew was not one to reprimand Marilla or tell her what to do, but after John left, he said, "I have a voice just as much as you do. It's a choice we make every minute--what truths are important enough to say aloud and what ones are important just to know." It was that quiet knowing that really defined Matthew's character--both in this book and later on with Anne, and the author captured it so well.

I kind of thought Anne might show up at the very end in an epilogue, but she didn't. Instead, Sarah McCoy chose to end it twelve years before Anne's arrival at Green Gables when Marilla's hope for a child was still just a wish in the grass.

But even though Marilla didn't know what was on her horizon, I did. And knowing that Anne would be coming in just a few years made me happy--and made me want to reread the books and rewatch the movies because of course that's the only possible logical next step after reading a book like this.

A Little of This and That in April

May 10, 2020

April still held its magic, even with the quarantine--maybe even more so since we had the time to enjoy every new blade of grass and unfolding blossom. Some days still felt impossibly long, but for the most part, our days slid into a new routine, and the month was filled with pleasant activities, such as . . .

Watching . . . a General Conference to remember. When I think of General Conference, images of a bustling Temple Square and packed Conference Center come to mind, but this year was completely different. It was filmed in a small auditorium with only the speakers for that session in attendance. There was no choir or congregation (and the flower arrangements looked rather pitiful, if I'm being honest). But the messages were still so good and offered a lot of hope during this uncertain time.

Saying . . . hello from a distance. Our nephew, James, came home from his mission in Australia due to Covid-19. We drove by his house to welcome him home. He has since been reassigned to North Carolina.

Celebrating . . . Easter. It was different this year. We didn't get to host our neighborhood egg hunt, nor did we get to worship at church with all of our neighbors and friends. But we still focused on the symbols of the Resurrection, enjoyed Easter baskets, dyed Easter eggs,  talked about the Savior and His priceless gift, had a couple of family eggs hunts, and sang songs in praise and celebration. This year I made up a playlist of songs about Jesus; music is always such a big part of the way I celebrate Christmas, and I decided I wanted it to be the same for Easter. It made me happy to listen to the songs throughout the month.

Rebuilding . . . LEGO sets. When Aaron was still quite small, maybe three years old, Mike bought a random assortment of Lego in an ebay auction. I remember being disappointed because there were only a couple of mini-figures included. Now we have a whole drawer of mini-figures as well as more Lego than we know what to do with. For years, I have held onto the instruction booklets from each set in the hopes that my kids would actually rebuild some of their sets after they'd been taken apart and swallowed up in the hundreds of other pieces filling our basement. But anytime I suggested it, they said it was too hard to rake through all of the pieces in order to find the ones they needed. So the booklets sat in a bin, neglected and forgotten. But turns out, if you get stuck inside your house for over a month, you eventually get bored enough to think that searching for a single piece for fifteen minutes is actually a pretty good use of time. And so, my kids began rebuilding many of their old sets, and they've been having the best time with it. And I don't have to buy more sets! Win-win.

Spending . . . a lot of time in the bathroom. Perhaps too much information for this little blog, so skip this paragraph if you can't handle talking about bodily functions, but potty training Ian has not been a smooth or easy process. When it came to peeing, he figured it out right away. But he came up against a mental block with pooping, and he could not seem to break through it. We offered him every incentive imaginable, which seemed to do little in terms of motivation except to ramp up the pressure in an unhealthy sort of way. I kind of felt like maybe we should just let go of all expectations and try again in a few months, but it seemed like that might mess him up, too. Basically, I was sure we had ruined him at less than three years old, and he was destined to a life of counseling to help overcome the emotional trauma of potty training. Finally, after talking with my sister-in-law about it, we decided that maybe if he just sat on the toilet for long enough, it would eventually happen, and then he would realize that it wasn't so scary after all. He was happy to oblige if a show was involved, and many hours were spent just waiting and hoping and praying that it would finally happen. The whole family was invested in this, and when it finally happened one night, everyone gathered round to clap and cheer, and Ian ran around in absolute elation. It was the cutest thing. (Unfortunately, one successful time did not take away all of his anxiety or resistance. It has continued to be an almost daily struggle, poor guy.)

Finding . . . out that Clark was on the waiting list for the gifted program at his school. This was disappointing since I knew it would be a good fit for him and that he was capable of doing the work and keeping up with the pace. We were in contact with the district several times during the month to see if there was any recourse for him but found out that they don't really budge from the results of that one 45-minute test. They just told us to wait and see if he would get moved from the waiting list.

Wishing . . . Mike and Ian a very happy birthday! Their birthdays are just six days apart, and it made for a fun week of celebrating. On Ian's birthday, each of the older boys took a turn playing with him, and he soaked up all of the one-on-one attention. Aaron jumped on the tramp, Maxwell built a long car track and raced Hot Wheels, Bradley read stories, and Clark took a Playmobil family on a trip to the beach. Ian has got to be one of the luckiest kids around to have so many fun brothers. (He doesn't mind quarantine one bit.) We sang to Mike over apple crisp (made by his dad), and Ian had a cake shaped like a big doughnut (his request).

Walking . . . around the capitol. On Mike's birthday, I wanted to do something to break up the day so it would feel a little bit special. We left the boys at home (presumably doing their school work), and we drove up to the capitol building. The cherry trees were still in blossom, and we spent a very pleasant half hour walking under their canopy. Because it was a Wednesday morning and cool and rainy and in the middle of a pandemic, we had the path almost entirely to ourselves, and it was quite lovely.

Covering . . . our ears. Ian's favorite birthday gift was a bugle given by his grandma and grandpa. They apologized profusely when he opened it, but I didn't think he would actually be able to get any sound out of it, so I wasn't too worried about it. Except that . . . within just a few seconds of trying, he figured out just the right combination of pursing his lips and blowing to produce maximum sound. He thought it was awesome, and I thought it was  . . . not awesome. Unfortunately, as much as he liked it, we had to confiscate it because it was disrupting the peace of our entire neighborhood.

Saying . . . goodbye from a distance. In the midst of this whole pandemic craziness, our next door neighbors moved. They had a little boy who was Clark's age, and before they were separated by social distancing, the two of them used to play together every single afternoon, rain or shine. Even after social distancing, they found creative ways to play--Jackson would perch up on top of the fence and close his eyes, and Clark would run and hide; then Jackson would call out possible hiding places, and Clark would have to reveal if he was right or not. I feel sad that these two didn't get to spend their last few weeks together running around like normal with light sabers and action figures. Instead Clark made a goodbye card, stuck it in Jackson's mailbox, and then they were gone without a proper farewell.

Visiting . . . Antelope Island. On a whim one morning, Mike decided to take the day off so we could go on a family adventure. We packed some snacks and headed out just like old times. When we arrived at the state park, there was a sign informing visitors that the biting gnats had hatched and that "no refunds would be given for insects." The bugs are infamous on Antelope Island, so we weren't surprised, but it still made us a little nervous. Luckily though, it was a cool, windy day with a little bit of rain, and that seemed to hold the biting gnats at bay. Mike's sister, Sonja, and her girls came too. We maybe didn't stay quite as socially distant as we were supposed to, but I figured the wind probably carried away any conniving germs, and it was so good to spend some time with them. We went on a couple of short hikes, tried to catch some brine shrimp in the Great Salt Lake (for science!), and named the seagulls. About halfway through the second hike, the wind died down and the sun came out, and then we were literally engulfed by those aforementioned biting gnats. We ran screaming down the mountain and decided a driving tour might be best for the rest of the day. We were so happy to get out and do something different though, so even the biting gnats couldn't ruin that.

Using . . . Marco Polo. The isolation prompted me to finally begin communicating through Marco Polo. For someone who avoids talking on the phone at all costs, it has proved to be the perfect way to stay in touch with friends and family. I should have starting using it years ago.

Finishing . . . a new sweater. I started it way back in January and have been slowly plugging away at it ever since. My first major hurdle was choosing which two colors to pair together. I sometimes feel paralyzed by even very inconsequential decisions, such as this one. So I enlisted the help of my sister, a friend, and a patient employee and finally decided on this Fossil/Hayloft color combo, and I love it. This sweater was knit in pieces, which meant I knit the front, back, and sleeves all separately and then seamed them up at the end. This made it feel a little like I kept knitting the same thing over and over, but only having one piece at a time made the whole project feel less bulky. This also meant I didn't get to try on the sweater until it was completely done, and that was a little nerve wracking, but all of my math paid off.

Deciding . . . to embrace my wavy hair. I thought quarantine might be the perfect time to stop straightening my hair every day and just see what would happen. Ever since I was a teenager, my hair has had some wave to it (as well as copious amounts of frizz), and it has only increased with each of my babies. It seemed kind of ridiculous to have to straighten it every morning instead of just working with what was already there. My sister-in-law (who has gorgeous curly hair) has become my curly-hair mentor and cheerleader, and I'm grateful that she's taken on the challenge. There have been some rough days (and one rough week in particular). I caved and straightened my hair one day because I couldn't stand the way it was looking. But there have also been some days where I look at myself in the mirror, and I think, "Hey! I like that natural curl!" (And in case you're curious, here are a few of the things I've been doing to encourage more curl: I stopped using shampoo that contained sulfates, I started using conditioner, I stopped using a towel or blow dryer to dry my hair, and I began using a product in it that didn't build up or make it crunchy.) There has been a lot of experimenting and trying different things, but I told myself I needed to keep going until at least the end of May before calling it quits.

Hanging . . . out with friends the socially distant way. We brought our camp chairs and blankets, spaced them apart, and spent a lovely two hours talking about whatever we wanted to. And then the sprinklers came on and the lights in the park all went out for an exciting finish.

Suffering . . . from seasonal allergies. It is really such a tragedy that my enjoyment of my favorite season has to be tempered by hay fever. And I'm telling you, this is not a good year to have sneezing fits. I almost didn't take Ian to his 3-year check-up because I thought they'd kick me out due to sneezing. It doesn't seem to help if I stay inside either. In fact, one of the worst times of day for me is right when I wake up in the morning. I'm also worried that my allergies are just getting progressively worse with each year. Up until this spring, I had never had a cough associated with it, but now if I try to run outside, I feel like I have asthma (which I've never had before), and it takes me an hour or more to recover.

Enjoying . . . Clark's daily costumes. This kid lives in his own world, and he always has some sort of adventure going on. He is also very particular about things and concerned about every single little detail. He sorts his clothes by color and now selects items that match to create his costumes every day. This was one of my favorites: the Green Granger.

Writing . . .  a story with friends. Maxwell and his friends have coped with not being able to see each other by writing a story together. They have a shared google doc, and every day they each log on and add a little bit more to the adventures of the Chicken Nugget Sandwich Boys. It's about what you might expect from six fourth-grade boys, and I pretty much love it.

Finding . . . a house to buy! This is our biggest news for this month. After much thoughtful consideration and many prayers, we decided to leave our beloved neighborhood and move to one that was closer to the boys' schools. We thought we found a home last month but came in as the second-place offer (this was the disappointment I alluded to . . . ). We thought it was probably best to hold off on our house hunt for awhile with the wildly dipping economy and uncertain virus, but then we found one that we had to at least try for. And now we're under contract on it! I will share more details next month.

Making . . . stop motion videos. I saw an offer for this free stop-motion class on Instagram, so I got it for my kids. They've had so much fun with it (Aaron, especially), and I've loved some of their resulting videos.

Marking . . . the passing of another year of marriage. We're up to fifteen years now! We celebrated by ordering takeout (which we haven't done since quarantine started because . . . paranoid). We took it to a park, found a secluded spot, set up a table, and enjoyed a scrumptious feast. It was heavenly! I'm grateful for a marriage I like more and more each year.

Watching . . . a lot of home improvement shows. It just comes with the territory when you buy a house, am I right? Plus, our evenings are usually quite empty, so what else are we supposed to do?

Remembering . . . two blissfully perfect evenings. Sometimes when something just feels incredibly right, I like to consciously acknowledge it and take a mental (and sometimes an actual) picture of it so that in years to come, I can still go back to it with vivid clarity. April held two of those moments for me. One of them was on a cool, cloudy evening when we all put on our roller blades and rode up and down our street. No one else was out in the neighborhood, and time slowed down and stilled. The other one happened when I called the boys inside to read to them and they asked me to read on the tramp instead. The temperature was perfect, and I loved looking up at our big maple tree arching over the sky. It made me wonder why I hadn't made this a regular occurrence in the spring and summer months. (Plus, we're reading a really good book right now: Sweep: the Story of a Girl and Her Monster by Jonathan Auxier.)

That's a wrap for this month. What quiet joys did you find in April?

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