A Little of This and That in March

Apr 5, 2020

March was a doozy, am I right? We began the month going to school, church, the library, and work, planning vacations, hanging out with family and friends, playing at the park, and shopping at the store. We ended the month in a very different state, not doing any of those things, which is something I hadn't even considered as a possibility a month ago. Life is strange, and the unpredictability of it sometimes makes me want to curl up and hide my head. But if we've learned anything in the past year, it is that life continues on, and there is still beauty and happiness to be found. We spent the month . . .

Celebrating . . . a decade of Maxwell. On his birthday, he stayed in bed reading before opening presents. He asked for salmon and asparagus for dinner instead of pizza. And he made his own birthday cake. All of these things made me realize that he's growing up before my very eyes. He still has a fiery temper and can give a steely glare like no one else I know, but when he's in a good mood, he's the best of the best.

Weaning . . . tacrolimus. Aaron reached Day +175, which meant it was time to begin weaning him off of the immunosuppressive drug he’s been on for the past six months. His dose will be decreased by half a milligram every two weeks. If all goes well and he doesn’t demonstrate any signs of GVHD, he should be completely off of it by the middle of June.

Loving...naps. At nearly three years old, Ian still loves to take an afternoon nap. He will often tell me, “I’m ready for my nap” after he eats lunch. Sometimes I will give him the choice of going down for his nap before or after I take Clark to school (back when I used to take Clark to school). He almost always chooses to have me put him to bed before, which I find highly unusual since most kids will do anything to prolong nap (or bed) time. He is just as easy to put down at night as he is in the afternoon. He just really seems to love curling up under his blankets with a book or a mountain of toys. He is so easy to put to bed that Aaron, Max, and Bradley can all do it if occasion requires, and even my mom commented on what a dream he is to put down for a nap. I’m not sure how much longer we can count on these amazing sleep habits, but I am soaking them up for all that they’re worth, and I don’t take them for granted in the least. (But potty training? Please don't ask about that.)

Canceling...a scientific trip to San Francisco. Mike’s dad and uncle are both diagnosed short sleepers, and so a group of scientists wanted to study any of their children who were willing to participate. Mike and his brother were planning to go the third week of March. They were going to be gone for five days, and they planned to have a fine time of it together (in between being forced to stay awake for 36 hours). But when Mike mentioned the upcoming trip to Aaron’s doctor, he was quite blunt in telling him that he shouldn’t go because of the uncertainty surrounding Covid-19. I believe his exact words were something like, “A free trip to California is like a free sky diving session into a dump.” So Mike canceled the trip, and then a week later, the entire country shut down in response to the pandemic, including the sleep study. So he wouldn’t have been able to go anyway. 

Going . . . to see our niece perform in her junior high's production of The Wizard of Oz. Clark and Bradley liked it so much, they actually saw it twice. (Look at that auditorium! And all of the people filing in! It feels surreal that such a thing was normal just a few weeks ago.)

Watching . . . our nephew open his mission call to the Baltic, Russian-speaking. It turned out to be the last real event we got to be a part of. Little did we know that in just a few short days, everything would be shutting down, and thousands of missionaries from around the world would be returning home. We didn't even take the time to be grateful for that joyous time with grandparents, cousins, aunts, and uncles. We didn't realize that those types of gatherings wouldn't be happening again for a long time.

Passing . . . the sacrament for the first time. In January, Aaron received the Aaronic Priesthood and was ordained a deacon. One of the duties of a deacon is to pass the sacrament to members of the congregation. However, Aaron had not been able to serve in this way because of the amount of germs that a tray accumulates as it is passed from hand to hand. But then church meetings were canceled across the world, and suddenly we were holding church in our own home. Our bishop authorized all priesthood holders to bless and administer the sacrament in their own homes, which meant that Aaron was finally able to pass the sacrament. I loved that his first time was in his own home to his own family. He'll always remember it.

Holding . . . church at home. Speaking of church, it has been a joy to worship as a family. I didn't expect to love it so much. But everyone has stepped up to the responsibility of preparing talks and lessons, conducting music, saying prayers, and singing together. Bradley even decided to make a number holder for the hymns, just like we have in the chapel at church. It has been sweet to share testimony and gospel truths with each other. It is one of the silver linings in all of this.

Feeling . . . disappointed about something. This isn't meant to be vague so people will ask me about it. I'm simply mentioning it because these monthly posts are one of the ways I document the life of our family, and this something took up a lot of mental and emotional energy in March, so I want to remember it, even though it didn't work out.

Escaping . . . to the cabin. We decided to take a couple of days and get away to Mike's parents' cabin. The cabin is up in a canyon and has no cell service. It was glorious. The constant barrage of news and everyone's opinions had been taking a toll on all of us, and it was wonderful to shut it all out, even if for just a little bit. We played outside, sat around the fire, went on a hike, played games, and ate doughnuts. (And I spent a lot of time knitting, too.) I didn't want to come home. Now it's up to me to manage my intake of what's going on in the world, and I think I prefer not even having the option.

Waking . . . up to an earthquake. Actually, I was already awake and working in the living room when the house began to rumble and shake. I instantly knew what it was. I've felt one other earthquake before, and this one was similar to that except that it lasted significantly longer. The magnitude was 5.7, and we felt aftershocks throughout the day. There was quite a bit of damage in some parts of the state, but our neighborhood was fine. It was just a little unnerving to have an earthquake thrown on top of a pandemic and economic collapse. I think the only good thing about it was that people stopped talking about the virus for a day. 

Picking . . . up school supplies. Our elementary school closed down and moved to a digital platform mid-March. I had to go to the school to pick up the boys' books and computers. They didn't want anyone in the building, so instead we went to each teacher's window, and they handed the folders and books through it, almost like a drive-through. It was one of those experiences I had never even considered, and then I was doing it like it was the most normal thing in the world. So surreal.

Watching . . . LEGO Masters. Our whole family has been obsessed with this reality series. Each week, the contestants are given a challenge. This can range from building an amusement park ride, a bridge that can actually support weight, or a kid-created fairy tale. The creations that come out of these builders' heads are truly amazing. Although we kind of wish we could binge-watch the whole season, it gives us something to look forward to each week. Even Ian doesn't want to miss out on it. One evening he had a little stomach bug and so was watching a show in his room. The rest of us went downstairs to watch the latest episode, and when he heard it going, he called out, "Hey! I want to watch LEGO Masters!"

Adjusting . . . to doing school at home. Many people are referring to this as "home schooling," but I prefer to use my sister-in-law's term, "crisis schooling," instead because, as someone who was home schooled for ten years, I can tell you that what we're doing is not home schooling. But semantics aside, my kids are learning at home, and it's going really well--not because of anything I'm doing but because their teachers are absolutely amazing. They're extremely quick to respond to emails or messages. Both Bradley and Maxwell's teachers have really embraced the online platform and are putting out a lot of video content to help explain new concepts (Maxwell's teacher even continued with their class readaloud, which pretty much melted my heart). They're also doing virtual group meetings, so they're still getting to interact with their classmates quite a bit (Bradley's teacher has been doing optional bingo nights, which also melts my heart). I'm definitely noticing anew how different my kids are. Max is so much like me. He shuts himself in a room with his list of assignments and stays on task until everything is completely done. Bradley doesn't need much help from me. He likes a break every hour or so, but he gets right back to his work when he is done. Clark needs lots of help, of course, but doesn't complain. And Aaron . . . perhaps surprisingly, Aaron is the one who has the hardest time staying on task--and he should be the most used to this since we've been doing it the whole school year! The hardest part of this "crisis schooling" for me is that I am not the in-house teacher but the in-house problem solver, and I don't like solving problems all day.

Clearing . . . up my acne. A couple of months ago, I started breaking out more than I ever have before in my life. I had no idea what had brought it on since I hadn't made any changes to my diet or skin care, and my life wasn't unusually stressful (this was pre-pandemic, obviously). I asked a few of my friends for tips, as well as my sister. I started using a facial scrub, which made my skin feel nice but didn't actually help with the breakout. I finally decided I better go see a dermatologist. I found a clinic and checked to make sure it was in network for our insurance, but then the world fell apart, and there were more important things to worry about than zits on my face. I have never worn a ton of makeup, but once we were confined to our house and I wasn't seeing anyone, I just stopped wearing it entirely. And wouldn't you know it, but my acne completely cleared up.  I guess when this is all over I'll be looking for a new brand of makeup, but in the meantime, I'm enjoying going au natural.

Learning . . . from Mo Willems. You've probably already seen this, but Mo Willems (author of the Elephant and Piggie series) has been putting out daily Lunch Doodles--short videos where he shows kids around his studio, teaches them how to draw one of his characters, and encourages their creativity. We've watched a couple of them so far and found them quite enjoyable. 

Switching . . . to virtual piano lessons. As with everything else, social distancing put an abrupt end to my piano students coming over to my house. Now we meet over FaceTime. It's not ideal because there's almost always a slight delay or a break in the connection, and I can't easily demonstrate or point to things, but we're making it work. And I'm very grateful to get to keep this part of my weekly routine.

Learning . . . how to fold a fitted sheet. I have long felt frustrated that this supposedly "easy" domestic skill had somehow evaded me. I finally decided to make it a goal for 2020, and I was determined to keep trying for as long as necessary until I mastered it. Turns out . . . it didn't take that long at all. One of my friends offered to show me over Marco Polo, and within thirty seconds I could do it! In my defense, I had tried two other "tutorials" before this, and they both left me feeling so confused and disheartened. But then when my friend showed me, everything suddenly clicked. So now I can check off that goal, which of course makes me really happy.

Meeting . . . with my book club virtually. The pandemic hit Utah the week before my book club was scheduled to meet for the month. At first, we just canceled. But then we decided we might as well hold a virtual meeting over Zoom. It was my first time using (or even hearing about) that platform, but ever since then, we've used it multiple times a week. We discussed the book Nothing to See Here (which I thoroughly enjoyed reading but probably wouldn't recommend because of the excessive swearing). It was so good to see the faces of my fellow bookies even if there weren't yummy treats to go along with it.

Knitting . . . a couple of cute friends. As you might guess, knitting has proven to be a great comfort to me during this unsettling time. I've been spending most of my time on a sweater (it's fingering weight on small needles, so it's taking me a long time), but to break it up a little, I knitted a couple of toys for new babies in the family--a little rabbit and duckling. I enjoyed seeing them sitting together on my dresser for a couple of weeks before I gave them away.

Working . . . from home. Mike has been working exclusively from home since mid-March. I am so grateful that he has a job that allows him this kind of flexibility. It's been a sacrifice for him since the stuff that he can do at home is fairly boring and would probably be the things he would be avoiding if he were actually at work. He has to be closeted away in a little room in our basement most of the day, sitting in an uncomfortable chair. But it gives us all so much peace of mind to not have him in a work space with other people all day, and I realize that it's such a privilege to have this as an option.

Buying . . . six pairs of rollerblades. Yes, six--one for every member of the family except for Ian. Mike decided that as long as we didn't have anywhere to go or anything to do, we might as well learn how to rollerblade. The rollerblades arrived one by one over a period of about a week, and with each new arrival, another person learned to rollerblade until we all had a pair and did it together! It was great fun, and I'm sure it will provide many more hours of entertainment in the coming weeks. It's also probably going to be one of the things my kids remember the most from this scary time.

Managing . . . a busy virtual schedule. The first week of quarantine, our calendar was completely wiped out of all activities and events. But by the second week, it began to fill back up, but with virtual things instead--play dates, class meetings, book club, family hangouts, game nights, etc. It's kind of amazing that our lives can still feel somewhat busy, even while not leaving our house.

I have no expectations for April. We will take it one day at a time. That's all we can do, right? How are all of you doing, friends?

The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle by Avi

Mar 26, 2020

If an award was given for "worst cover ever," this book would probably be a top contender. I passed over it many times as a kid at the library because it looked rather dull. I guessed it was about a girl traveling across the ocean. Her voyage looked happy, even pleasant. Look at her serene expression, her hair blowing gently in the breeze, her crisp and frilly outfit. I assumed her "true confessions" were about a secret love interest or some other silly nonsense.

Nothing could be further from the reality of this book.

How about mutiny, murder, and hurricanes on the high seas instead?

Charlotte Doyle has lived most of her life at Barrington School in England, but the time has come for her to return home to Providence, Rhode Island. As such, her father booked her passage on a merchant ship, the Seahawk. The circumstances are not ideal for a refined young woman, but two other families will also be sailing on the ship, so Charlotte will not be alone.

But when she arrives at the dock in Liverpool, she finds out that neither family will be able to make the voyage after all. Not only that, but Charlotte can't even find a porter who is willing to take her trunk to the ship because the name Seahawk has an instant negative effect on everyone who hears it.

With a deep sense of foreboding, but no other alternative, Charlotte boards the ship. Her fears are not allayed: Her cabin is small and cramped, the sailors are coarse and frightening, and she doesn't know how she'll ever maintain proper decorum through such a long journey. One sailor, Barlow, warns her: "You're being here will lead to no good, miss. No good at all. You'd be better off far from the Seahawk." In addition to that, the ship's cook, an old black sailor by the name of Zachariah, offers her a dirk, and you know things can't be good if someone think you may need a knife to protect yourself.

It is also obvious from the very beginning that there is quite a bit of dissatisfaction and unrest among the crew, and it seems to be directed toward the captain, Andrew Jaggery. But Charlotte thinks the captain is the only civilized human on board (besides herself, of course), and she is determined to stay close to him in spite of the warnings from the rest of the crew.

Things come to a head when Charlotte accidentally finds a round robin in the crew's quarters--a type of symbol that signifies unity before a mutiny. Captain Jaggery reveals his true (ugly) colors, and Charlotte instantly switches loyalty, casts away her restricting dresses, and joins the crew.

I don't think my boys would have ever decided to read this book on their own, but it worked perfectly as a readaloud. It had plenty of suspense, adventure, and yes, unfortunately, blood to keep them extremely interested. Almost every chapter ended with a cliffhanger, which made it nearly impossible to find a good place to stop reading each night. They never wanted me to quit in the middle of a chapter, but every time I got to the end, they said, "Mom! You can't stop there! You know you can't stop there." As the climax approached, we had no other choice except to keep reading.

I will say that in spite of the thrilling adventure in this book, I came away severely disappointed by one thing (spoiler ahead):

I kept waiting for the crew to rise up in defense of Charlotte. I had it all worked out in my head: Captain Jaggery would attack her, and just as her fate seemed inevitable, they would rush to her aide in a display of true friendship and loyalty.

But the moment never came.

At first, it was understandable. They were trying to protect Zachariah because he had been one of their mates for years. But even once it was clear that Zachariah was innocent, they remained stoic and impassive, paralyzed by doubt and fear.

Perhaps it was the author's intent to give Charlotte the full spotlight at the end--to demonstrate that a girl doesn't need any help from a bunch of rough and tumble sailors. But even though it made Charlotte look awesome, everyone else (except perhaps Zachariah) was disappointingly weak, and I wouldn't trust any of them for friends in the future. Plus, we're supposed to think that these men who couldn't be bothered to give Charlotte even so much as a nod of encouragement were all of a sudden going to be totally supportive of her becoming captain of the ship? I couldn't buy it.

It was one of those times where I wanted to take the book and rewrite the climax. It could have been so much better. It's not all about girl power. There needs to be a sense of camaraderie and loyalty as well, and that was missing.

(Spoilers over.)

Overall, we all loved it, and the parts that didn't meet our expectations gave us lots to talk about. It was a little advanced for Clark who was rather a fair weather listener. He was always in and out of the room, which meant he sometimes asked questions about the most obvious things: "Who's Captain Jaggery?" (The other boys: "What do you mean, who's Captain Jaggery?!?!?! Only the most evil captain to ever sail the seas.")

Our copy had a slightly updated cover. And even though it still might not be the most tantalizing, that dirk behind Charlotte's back does give you a clue that it will be about more than just salty winds and blue skies.

This Ball of String Called Life

Mar 19, 2020

I am envious of the birds--their cheerful twitterings and joyful exclamations of spring. No knowledge of a global pandemic; an economic collapse; a medium-sized earthquake. Oblivious to the chaos, they have retained their normalcy in a way that I long for.

I listened to them this morning as I sat on the steps on the side of our house. Everything was still and peaceful except for their sweet and repetitive songs--little calls back and forth to one another.

Then two neighbors walked by. I caught only the briefest snatch of their conversation, but it included the words "social distancing." It is what is on everyone's lips right now. And mind. And heart.

I went back to listening to the birds. As with everything else, they missed the memo about social distancing. They were enjoying brunch together, but I was not invited.

My dad used to read a story to my brothers and me about a young man who found a ball of string (or perhaps it was given to him--the details are a bit fuzzy). This ball of string gave him the ability to jump forward in his life. All he had to do was give a little tug on the string--unwind the ball just a bit--and he could easily move past his current situation. The catch was that he couldn't go back. Once the string was pulled, it could not be rewound.

At first he was reluctant to pull the string. He seemed to sense the danger in it. But it was too tempting. If there was something he was looking forward to, he unwound it ever so gently so that he didn't have to wait. When his daughter became ill, he jerked it forward to free her of the pain. Sometimes he pulled the string too hard, and he lost more of his life than he intended to. Bit by bit, his life slipped away until the string was nearly gone.

If I had that ball of string right now, I don't know if I could resist the urge to give it a wee pull. The unknown is what is weighing on me right now. I have no idea how long this could go on for. Will my kids ever go back to school? Or church? Will we ever take another family vacation? What about soccer, gymnastics, chess club, play dates, shopping, the library, book club, concerts, plays, date nights, and the like? Will we ever go back to "normal"? Or is that what this is?

Of course, we were somewhat prepared for this, having said no to many things over the last six months because of Aaron's compromised immune system. But now we've taken it to the next level. Or maybe we're just finally feeling exactly what it's been like for Aaron for these many months.

I went on a short walk this afternoon. Despite it being the first day of spring, the weather was cool and wet. I loved it. As I walked, I meditated. I have been meditating almost every day since I took Brooke Snow's Christian meditation course at the beginning of the year. It has been so grounding for me, and the benefits have continued as I've practiced it during this uncertain time.

While I was walking, I tried to do one of the seeing meditations. I attempted to picture events of the future through a lens of gratitude as if they had already happened. This is a meditation I have quite enjoyed in the past as it is full of the hope that comes with thinking about your dreams.

But today, my mind met a brick wall. I went back to the aspirations of last week, and they seemed insignificant, even ridiculous. I no longer knew if they were possible or even practical in our new reality. Maybe I needed to readjust my thinking to fit into this new framework. But I didn't know what that looked like. I tried to see over the wall, but it was too high. I didn't have a magical ball of string in my pocket that could effortlessly move me forward to the next scene of my life. I yearned for a glimpse of the future, but the present pushed back against it.

My mind wouldn't give up though. I went back to the basics: I imagined myself recognizing God's hand in my life. I felt His love for me, and I opened myself up in gratitude to Him. I pictured a future of happy, healthy children. They were doing the activities they love. A smile crossed my face, and I began to feel light. With each thought, it became easier to think the next one.

Yesterday I read Chapter 21 of Luke. This chapter highlights some of the events surrounding the destruction of Jerusalem and also the Second Coming. It makes mention of wars, commotions, earthquakes, pestilences, famines, and "fearful sights."  It is not exactly a pleasant chapter, and yet I came away from it feeling so much peace. The charge is given to "be not terrified" and "in your patience possess your souls." Both of these felt like timely reminders.

But it was verse 28 that especially caught my attention: "And when these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh." The imagery was powerful: Look up. Lift up your head. Redemption is coming.

There are many things beyond my control right now. But I can look up and see the good in the world around me. I can lift up my head and get to work. I can acknowledge the redemption that comes.

I want to hold my ball of string carefully--not dwelling on the past or rushing into the future but taking the moments and lessons as they come and letting them shape me. I want to let the string unwind at its own pace without any help from me. I don't want to miss out on the magic of today because I was so concerned about avoiding every ugly, disappointing moment. 

A friend came over on Tuesday evening to help me prune my peach tree. (Don't worry, we were very careful to follow the necessary precautions for no contact.) She guided me through the process of snipping off twigs and cutting down branches. We opened up the middle so light can reach the inside of the tree. As we pruned, I took notice of the new buds decorating each branch.They were full and plump, right on the cusp of blossoming. It will happen any day now.

Spring is my favorite time of year. And this spring, we will miss out on a lot of the things I love about this season. But one thing we will not have to miss is the bringing forth of new life. It will happen whether we notice it or not. Like the birds announcing the arrival of spring, the trees and flowers will follow their predetermined course and make each new day a celebration.

I think I will enjoy it more this year than I ever have before. It is reminiscent of past springs while at the same time paving the way for a brighter future. And I am going to bask in it now.

A Little of This and That in February

Mar 8, 2020

Spring is on the horizon. Although I am so happy to be putting this winter behind us, I have to say that it didn't feel as long or as tedious as I was expecting, and for that I am extremely grateful. February was filled with . . .

Visiting . . . my grandma. I alluded to this trip at the end of my January post, but now I'll share a little bit more about it. My mom and I spent five days in Lincoln, Nebraska with my dear grandma, and it was heavenly. Because of the distance involved, I have only seen my grandma a few times in the fifteen years since I got married, and those visits have all been abruptly cut short because of the short attention spans of little children. But this time, it felt like I had been transported back to my childhood in all of the best ways. I slept in the small guest bedroom and listened to the familiar sounds of the traffic on my grandma's busy street. My grandma shuttled us around in her old Chrysler van (yes, she still drives at 90 years old!). We sat around in the living room and paged through old photo albums. We went out to eat at my grandma's favorite restaurant where she ordered a piece of butterscotch pie (as usual). My Uncle Steve dropped by for a visit and teased me. One night, my mom let me tag along when she got together with two of her best friends from high school and college. They were so cute as they talked and laughed and reminisced. It made me wish that I could have been part of their crowd, too. It was also good to get some alone time with my mom. We watched movies on the plane, walked around my mom's old neighborhood, and commiserated about some of the awkward moments during our trip. It was just a very sweet, very peaceful, very relaxing trip, and I'm just so grateful the weather cooperated so we could have it!

Writing . . . poetry. One of my goals for 2020 is to write a poem every week. It's turning out to be one of my favorite goals ever. I just write the poems in my regular, daily journal. They take the place of an entry, and they're usually about an event or thoughts from something that happened that day or week. My friend, Sarah, asked me if I was going to post those poems anywhere, and the answer was a resounding no. So far, my poems have ranged from tolerable to mediocre to awful, but guess what? I don't care because I know no one is going to read them. It's purely for my own benefit and growth, and I am enjoying the process so much. It is free from any of the pressures I put on myself when I know other people might see my work, and so I'm not experiencing the kind of paralyzation I get with other creative endeavors. I want to keep it that way.

Finishing . . . off the latest season of the Great British Bakeoff with our traditional finale party with the Gardners showcasing recipes from the show. This time, Mike made Steph's Raspberry Chocolate Fudge Cake, Henry's Tomato and New Potato Tarte Tatin with Crab Salad, and Michael's Keralan Star Bread. It was maybe the best food we've ever eaten but the most disappointing end to the show I've ever seen.

Sharing . . . a friendly public service announcement about Maggie Binkley's 15-minute workouts. I mentioned these a few months ago when I first started doing them, but I think they are worth mentioning again as I do one almost every morning before I take the kids to school. I love that they push me, they can be easily modified, there is a wide variety (with or without weights, core, arms, cardio, etc.), and I can be done in under twenty minutes. They look a little amateur since they're just recorded in Maggie's living room, but I haven't found the quality of the workout to suffer because of that at all, and it actually helps me feel more comfortable doing it because it feels like Maggie is the kind of practical, down-to-earth person I could be friends with. I highly recommend them if you're looking for a workout you can easily do at home.

Sitting . . . in the dentist's chair for the first time. The boys all had dentist appointments in February (except Aaron), and it was the first time for Ian. He can be unpredictable and volatile (typical two-year-old), so I didn't know what to expect, but the other boys went first, and when it was his turn, he hopped up in the chair like an old pro.

Being . . . serenaded to on my front porch. On the afternoon of Valentine's Day, there was a knock on the door, and Mike said, "Oh, I think it's for you." I opened the door to four random strangers, dressed in suits and wearing big smiles. They broke out in four-part barbershop. I stood there awkwardly listening and throwing questioning glances at Mike. When they were done, I put on my best enthusiasm and said, "That was so nice. Thank you so much." One of them held up his hand and said, "Oh wait, there's more!" I endured one more love song, they handed me the ugliest artificial rose I've ever seen, and then walked away. Once I'd closed the door, Mike said, "I didn't think you'd like it, but I knew it would be memorable!" (Apparently, a guy from his work is in a barbershop guild, and singing to people on Valentine's Day is their annual fundraiser.) Mike failed to snap a photo, but trust me, it was memorable.

Banging . . . out the knitting projects. I finished four different projects during the month of February: a cowl, two hats, and one toy. There's a certain rush that comes with completing something, so to get it four times in one month felt pretty good. I started the cowl several months ago when Aaron was still in the hospital (I needed a very mindless project to work on), but the others were quick little projects that each took me less than a week to finish. I'll admit, I think it's going to be difficult to settle back down with a longer project that won't give me the same kind of instant gratification.

Caving . . . into Clark. One of those aforementioned knitted projects deserves its own special paragraph. My kids watched the first season of The Mandalorian with Mike and loved Baby Yoda. Personally, I could care less about Star Wars, but when I saw a knitting pattern for Baby Yoda, I knew my kids would love it. I made the mistake of showing it to Clark after which it became his personal mission to get me to knit it. He can be relentless--a trait that could prove to be very useful to him in the future--and he followed up with me constantly about this project: Have you bought the yarn yet? Did the yarn arrive?  Did you start making him yet? Are you working on it? How much do you have left? He even went so far as to negotiate with me, "I'll only do that if you work on my Baby Yoda." Luckily, it was a pretty fast knit (even with making the body twice because I wasn't happy with it the first time), and now I am free from my task master. He loves that little toy and even went so far as to say, "If I have my Baby Yoda with me, then I don't get bad dreams."

Listening . . . to the music from the Broadway version of Little Women. My Little Women game is still going strong. My mom and sister and I couldn't find a weekend in February to continue our marathon, but I revisited the Broadway soundtrack that I fell in love with years ago. I feel like many people don't know about it, but it is so good, and I promise that if you are also obsessed with all things Little Women right now, then you will love it. I especially recommend Jo and Beth's duet "Some Things Are Meant to Be," which brings me to tears every time.

Volunteering . . . in Clark's kindergarten class. There are a couple of women who come to Clark's class every Friday to sing and teach songs to the kids. I believe they started doing it when one of them actually had a kindergartner, but that has been years ago, and they're still doing it. It is such a generous gift to the kindergarten class year after year, and I love them for it. Anyway, I told them that if they ever needed someone to fill in on the piano, I would be more than happy to help. And this month, I finally got a chance! I loved listening to these sweet kids sing their hearts out, but mostly I just sat in awe of Lorraine (the one teaching the songs) who just seems to have a gift for teaching music. The kids adore her.

Going . . . on a hike. On President's Day, we decided to get out and enjoy the sunny (but still very cold) weather with a little hike. We did the Bonneville Shoreline Trail, which is beastly in the summer because it doesn't have any shade, but it was quite pleasant in the winter. Unfortunately, some parts of the trail were very muddy, and those places were especially difficult for Ian to navigate. We made it though, and it was worth it for the crystal clear views.

Introducing . . . my kids to an old favorite from my childhood: the PBS Ramona series. This 10-episode series was released in 1988, and most of the stories were taken from the book, Ramona Quimby, Age 8.  I decided to see if I could find it on YouTube, and then I showed it to my kids. The quality is not great, but so far they've loved it. I think we've watched the first five episodes.

Buying . . . a new coffee table. When we first moved into our home, we bought a $40 coffee table from the classifieds. It has served us well, but for the last year or so, it's been looking a little chipped and sad. So when Janssen talked about how much they love their coffee table and how hard wearing it has been, I purchased it immediately without even giving it a second thought. (It helped that it was more than 50% off, so it wasn't a huge investment.) It matches our living room so well, and we immediately broke it in by putting together a 1000-piece puzzle on it (luckily it fit, or I probably would have had to send the table back).

Committing . . . to potty training Ian. I've been thinking about it for a couple of months (ever since he begged for underwear for Christmas) but finally felt like the time was right. Our pediatrician recommends that dads train boys (which is all fine by me), so we found a weekend when Mike had Friday off and blocked off the three days for exclusive teaching and practicing. In the days leading up to it, we talked it up big time to Ian, and the night before, he and Mike went out to fill up the prize basket with treats and toys. Of course, as much as I'd love for Mike to be 100% in charge of this, he has to go to work. So I've had to take over, but overall, it's been pretty successful (although not enough that I will label Ian as "trained" yet), but, more importantly, it has been a positive experience.

Watching . . . Bright Star at Hale Center Theater. Mike gave me tickets for my birthday, and we finally got to go at the end of February. I knew almost nothing about the story going into it, and it blew me away. I was disappointed at first to find out that we were getting the lead's understudy, but she was so good that if I hadn't known otherwise, I wouldn't have believed that she wasn't the normal lead. We always love Hale Center Theater, but this was probably in my top five shows of all time.

Attending . . . concerto night at our local high school. My nephew, Steven, was one of nine soloists who performed a concerto with the high school's orchestra. It was a fantastic night. There was so much talent coming off that stage, and it was exhilarating to be in the same room with it all. Steven played the second movement from Camille Saint-Saens' Piano Concerto No. 2. It represented months of time and work on his part, and it all paid off beautifully. I don't have a photo from the night, but I do have this one of Steven playing Connect 4 with Ian, which shows what a well-rounded, nice kid he is in addition to being so talented.

Waiting . . . for his birthday. Although Leap Day forces everyone to wait an extra day for their birthdays, I think it's probably only the March 1st birthdays who really feel it. Max was especially disappointed this time around because Leap Day not only made him wait for his birthday, but it pushed it off of Saturday and onto Sunday.

That's a wrap on February! I'd love to hear about the highlights from your month in the comments below.

Cold Sassy Tree by Olive Ann Burns

Feb 29, 2020

Just a heads up: In the course of this review, I mention a couple of things that might be considered spoilers, so continue at your own risk.

When I was a kid, I can remember seeing both A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and Cold Sassy Tree on our bookshelves. Not knowing anything about either of them, I kind of thought of them as the same book--probably because they both had the word "tree" in their titles.

As an adult, I eventually picked up A Tree Grows in Brooklyn almost ten years ago, and I fell in love with everything about it. But Cold Sassy Tree remained unread, even though it seemed to get tossed around quite often as a suggestion at various book clubs over the years. It finally landed when my book club planned out our reading for 2020 and voted to read it in February for the romance genre.

And surprisingly, even though the protagonists, storylines, and settings are markedly different between the two books, there was something about the writing that actually did end up reminding me of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. Maybe it was just all in my head from my association with the two books in my childhood, but a certain quality under the surface seemed to resonate in each of these two books. Maybe it is just that both of them seem to exude that sharp and vibrant writing style that marks them as a modern classic. (Other books that have a similar feeling to me: Crossing to Safety, To Kill a Mockingbird, and East of Eden.)

The story is told from the 14-year-old perspective of Will Tweety in 1906. He lives in the town of Cold Sassy, Georgia with his mother, father, sister, grandma, grandpa, aunt, uncle, and cousin. His grandfather, E. Rucker Blakeslee, owns the general store and is well respected in the community.

That is, well respected until his wife, Mattie Lou, passes away and, not three weeks after her funeral, he elopes with the milliner, Miss Love Simpson. Mary Willis and Loma (Will's mother and aunt) are so mortified and ashamed of their father. They'll have absolutely nothing to do with Miss Love.

But Will likes her. She is kind and young (more than 20 years Mr. Blakeslee's junior), and so pretty. Ostracized from the rest of the town, she takes Will into her confidence, explaining that the marriage was really a business arrangement. Mr. Blakeslee gets a housekeeper, and she gets deeded the house and the furniture after his death.

But regardless of what it started out as, it is soon clear to Will that his grandfather has strong feelings for Miss Love, and Miss Love is slowly but surely reciprocating.

I don't know what I was expecting exactly, but this story unfolded in the most surprising way. Remember, it was told through the eyes of a 14-year-old boy; and while I didn't always enjoy being in the head of said 14-year-old (ahem, puberty), I have to admit that it cast the story in an interesting and compelling light. It felt so authentic and real that I couldn't quite fathom how a 60-year-old woman had written it.

Speaking of which, I enjoyed the writing style so much that I looked up Olive Ann Burns after I was finished to see what else she had written. Tragically, much like Harper Lee, it looks as though she was a one-book wonder. But I can't help but think that if her one and only book was this good, imagine what else she might have produced.

One of my favorite characters was Mr. Blakeslee. I loved the way he pushed against social constructs and laid aside conventionality in favor of what he deemed was right or proper . . . or just what he selfishly wanted. For example, when Miss Love is dismissed from being the Methodist pianist, he sees it as an opportunity to have a good time, just the two of them, singing and preaching together. (His religious views were rather unorthodox as well, but I loved them.) At another point, after Will's Uncle Campbell commits suicide, rather than making the whole affair feel shameful and unforgivable, Mr. Blakeslee pours out compassion and expects the whole town to come along with him in honoring the man. (It's quite possible that his actions were also a reflection of the guilt he felt, but it helped the town move forward in a positive way nonetheless.)

The most tender moment for me, and the one I'll probably always remember from this book, occurred when Will read the suicidal note from his uncle. The P.S. said, "I fixed the faucet," which alone about broke my heart since it was something his wife, Loma, had been nagging him to do for a long time. But then Will noticed that "even as I stood there holding his sweet and lonely words, I heard water going 'drip, drip, drip' into the bathtub." It was too much for me. It made me so sad to think that this man felt like he couldn't do anything right, and then, just before he took his own life, he tried to do something that would make his wife happy. But it hadn't worked; the faucet was still dripping. But then Will, in spite of all of his mischievous and naughty ways, picked up the wrench and changed the washer because, in his words, "nobody was going to say Campbell Williams was so sorry that he couldn't even fix a faucet." There were many heartbreaking moments in this story, but this one--this is the one that got to me.

I listened to the audio version of this book, and I thought it was fantastic. I never even cracked the cover of the actual book, so I never saw what the text was like. To me, the southern accents just flowed easily and naturally. But after going to book club and hearing about the experiences of those who had chosen to read rather than listen, I felt like I made the right choice. Apparently, the dialogue, which had been so engaging for me, was a bit of a beast to read when written out.

I was surprised to find out that this book was published in 1984. For some reason, I expected it to be older than that. I think it has that timeless feel that makes it difficult to place in a certain decade. I can see why many people think of it as a modern classic. It is multi-layered and vivid and just so real. 

The Truth About Aaron's Numbers

Feb 22, 2020

If I talk to you in person and you ask how Aaron is doing, chances are I will say something like, "He's doing really well. His counts are looking good."

This is true.

His platelets have been in the normal range for months now. He hasn't needed a blood transfusion in twelve weeks. He has neutrophils.

But what I might not tell you is that there are some things we are "just going to keep watching," as the doctors say.

One of those things is Aaron's chimerism. (P.S., I am going to do my best to give an accurate explanation of medical terminology and data, but please be patient with my limited vocabulary and expertise.)

A chimerism, you might remember, is when a person has two sets of DNA in their body. Ever since his bone marrow transplant, Aaron has had both his own DNA and Maxwell's. About once a month, he gets a blood draw to check the ratio of Maxwell's DNA to his own.

The cells that his doctors are most interested in are the T-cells (one of the types of white blood cells). It was Aaron's T-cells that attacked his bone marrow and caused the problem in the first place, and we really don't want them to do that again.

Right now, Aaron has a mixture of his and Maxwell's T-cells in his blood. For the past several months, we've been tracking those T-cells with increasing interest. When they were first measured in October, the T-cells were 47% Maxwell's and 53% Aaron's. When they were measured in December, we were all happy to find out that Maxwell's cells had increased to 75%. But the next month, they unfortunately dropped back down to 66%.

Before I could panic too much, Aaron's doctor assured me of a few things:

  1. One lower value does not actually reveal anything. In fact, if the numbers were plotted on a graph, they would still indicate an upward trend. Without more data, it is best not to draw any premature conclusions. (And incidentally, when Aaron's chimerism was checked this month, Maxwell's T-cells were at 69%, so even though it wasn't a significant gain, at least it didn't drop again.)
  2. The T-cells are just one small component of bone marrow. And at this point, all of the other blood cells are 100% Maxwell's. To put that into perspective, even though the T-cells are only 69% Max's, when all of the other cells are accounted for, Aaron's bone marrow is now something like 95% Maxwell's, which is pretty darn close to 100%. (It's just that the T-cells are the most critical to Aaron's full recovery so that is why they get more than their fair share of attention.)
  3. The anti-rejection drug that Aaron is still on suppresses the T-cells. It's critical to suppress those cells so that Aaron's bone marrow has a chance to heal without his own cells attacking Maxwell's or vice versa. So we really can't get a clear interpretation of what's happening until he comes off of that medication and his immune system fully wakes back up. (They will begin the weaning process next month.)
  4. It is common for the T-cells in bone marrow transplant patients to never reach 100% donor. As long as the two different DNA's play nicely together, it really doesn't matter if there are still a few of Aaron's cells in the mix. In fact, our doctor said that having both DNA's can actually help protect against GVHD (Graft Versus Host Disease) in the future. 
So that is why we have to just watch and wait right now: we can't do anything until we know more, and we can't know more until more time has passed.

The other thing we're watching is Aaron's cellular activity. When he was originally diagnosed, his cellular activity was less than 5%. Although it is normal for cellular activity to decrease with age, our doctor said that typical cellularity for an 11-year-old is about 80%. 

I was excited to find out what Aaron's cell activity is like now since it is obvious he is maintaining pretty consistent numbers (even if some of them are not in the normal range yet). When he got his central line removed last month, his doctor did a bone marrow biopsy to determine this.

The results were . . . disappointing. His cell activity came back at 20%, which seemed low to me. Dr. Boyer said at 100 days post transplant, they see that percentage anywhere from 10 to 50. So Aaron's results are not abnormal, but Dr. Boyer did admit that he's "on the low end." Knowing only a few other individuals with aplastic anemia, I have very little to compare to, but the ones I know all had a higher cellularity at this point, which makes it feel like Aaron is behind even if he is not. 

So that is why, even though Aaron's counts are looking good (they really are!), I feel like I have to keep the worst case scenario somewhere at the back of my mind. (I admit, this might not be the best idea for my mental health, but I can't seem to help myself.)

And what is the "worst case scenario," you ask? Well, that's the good news. 

If this bone marrow transplant doesn't end up working, then Aaron will have to do it again.

How could that possibly be good news? Because he gets a second chance (or even a third or fourth chance if necessary). This isn't cancer. A failed attempt does not mean some foreign cells are slowly taking over his body. Rather, his bone marrow just didn't figure things out on the first try and needs another pass at it. 

Of course, it would mean starting the process completely over, and that would really stink. Like, really truly. But we have a donor (although I shudder to think what said donor would do if we told him we needed his bone marrow once again), and we could do it.

But really, I'm getting ahead of myself. Even with the less-than-perfect numbers, all indicators still point to a full and complete recovery. 

And in the words of Dr. Boyer, "I can promise you we'll get this right. There's a slight chance we might have to do again, but in the end, we will get it. No question about it."

I'm banking on that and looking to the future with an eye of faith and hope. We have seen many miracles so far and trust that Aaron's healing will continue to go smoothly. Please continue to keep him in your prayers. 

A Little of This and That in January

Feb 9, 2020

We made it through January! This felt like a real accomplishment, especially because I didn't have a warm-weather trip to break it up this year. We managed to stay busy with . . .

Trying . . . to defy the school district. Following Christmas break, school resumed on Thursday, January 2nd. I felt like this was totally unreasonable for a number of reasons, so I told my kids that if they didn't want to go back to school until Monday, then they had my full permission to do so. Sadly, I guess I've instilled a love of rules into them because both Maxwell and Bradley did not want to miss a day. So they went back to school. Then I realized that the end of term was literally the end of the next week, and the Martin Luther King holiday was the week after that. I don't know who is signing off on these school calendars, but it doesn't seem like it could be that hard to rearrange the dates a little so that the breaks line up in a more convenient way. The other school districts somehow seem to be able to manage it.

Watching . . . the new Little Women. Oh, my heart. I loved this movie so much. I started to cry when the sisters chose to give up their Christmas breakfast for the Hummel family, and then my tears pretty much didn't stop for the rest of the movie. They streamed down my cheeks, and by the time it was done, the scarf around my neck was wet. I loved where they chose to start (and end) the story, the casting, and the intersection between Jo's past and present. It was told so beautifully and perfectly. Seeing this new adaptation fired up all of my love for Little Women, which inspired . . .

Starting . . . a marathon of Little Women adaptations. My sister and I discussed the new Little Women at length (we didn't see it together), reliving all of our favorite scenes and admitting a few of the minor flaws. We decided we needed to watch as many of the past adaptations as we could find in an ongoing movie marathon. We were going to start with the 1933 version with Katharine Hepburn, but after watching the trailer, we decided that even our great love for old movies couldn't stomach that much melodrama. So we watched the 2017 Masterpiece miniseries first instead. And then, the next weekend we watched the 1994 version, and my mom came, too. Next up will be the 1949 adaptation.

Celebrating . . . my 35th birthday. My mom took me out for lunch and a pedicure. Mike got me big, soft cookies in place of a cake (a good decision!). And I got a serger, which I've been wanting for awhile even though I have no room for it. I've already used it to make the comfiest sweatshirt I've ever owned. It was a good day.

Finishing . . . Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. We started our annual Harry Potter reading in August. Mike read Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets with Bradley and Clark, and I read the fifth book with Maxwell and Aaron. Clocking in at 870 pages, it felt like a true marathon. We didn’t read much during the month Aaron was in the hospital, and we took a little break in December so that we could do one Christmassy readaloud, but we finally finished this month. We enjoyed it very much, but man, it was a tough one to read. That Dolores Umbridge has to be one of the worst characters in all of literature. I felt an actual hatred towards her.

Saying . . . goodbye to his central line. I already wrote about this, but Aaron's central line was removed on January 10th, and we haven't missed it once (well, maybe Aaron has just a little on the days when he has to have a blood draw).

Playing . . . Pictionary. January was full of a lot of quiet evenings at home where we said, “Well, what should we do tonight?” On one of those nights, Mike said, “How about a game of Pictionary?” We divided up into two teams of three each with Ian acting as the time keeper, and we had the best time. I don’t usually like Pictionary because I don’t have any artistic skills and consequently feel quite self-conscious, but I didn’t mind one bit if my kids made fun of my bad drawings. They all liked it so much that we had to play a couple more matches during the rest of the month. We mixed up the teams each time, and I managed to go undefeated.

Wondering . . . if Ian has a personal mission against his parents’ eyesight. In the past few months he has: broken a pair of Mike’s glasses, washed my contacts down the sink, put soap into Mike’s contact case (and Mike then put those contacts into his eyes . . . ouch), lost multiple contact cases, and (most recently) lost my glasses, which we didn’t find for two days. For all of his sweetness, he is a mischievous one.

Beginning . . . family history classes. Before the end of the year, a friend of mine (Jill) asked if there was something she could teach Aaron. I was so grateful that she reached out about it. Even though homeschooling has been going great with him, the days get a little long. I thought it would do him good to have some interaction with another adult and learn something in the process. After tossing around several ideas, we settled on family history because it is something Jill has a particular passion for, and it is not something Aaron was already getting. It turns out family history is a rich, multi-layered subject with all sorts of different avenues to explore (religious, cultural, geographical, historical, etc.) So far, they have been looking at Mike's family line, tracing it back to the first ancestors who joined the Church and learning about where they came from and who they were. It's fascinating, and I have to admit it, has sparked my interest as well. Mostly though, I'm just grateful that Jill offered a skill she had and gave some of her time to us. It really touched my heart.

Receiving . . . the Aaronic Priesthood. With his twelfth birthday coming up later this year, Aaron was old enough to receive the Aaronic Priesthood and be ordained to the office of deacon. He hadn’t been to church since early September (but had participated with his class via FaceTime), but on the Sunday he was ordained, he donned a mask and came back to church for the first time. So it was a big day all around. We were grateful to have grandparents there to support him, and we are proud of Aaron for accepting greater responsibility and moving forward with faith.

Gallivanting . . . with friends. Clark is by far the most social of any of my kids (at least right now--don't want to prematurely label anyone!), and luckily he has a whole posse of neighborhood friends to keep him entertained. Every day when he gets home from school, he doesn't even pause long enough to take his backpack inside before he is knocking on doors and rounding up anyone who wants to play. I usually don't see him until dinnertime. And on Saturdays, he often spends the whole afternoon running back and forth between yards in an elaborate game of dinosaur hunt or icicle peddlers.

Agonizing . . . over whether my mom and I should visit my grandma in Nebraska. Early in the month, we decided to go, and we purchased plane tickets for the end of the month. But then Lincoln was hit was some pretty serious winter weather, and my grandma was convinced that the weather pattern would continue, so she asked us to cancel our trip. That was easier said than done since we couldn't get a refund on our tickets. So we just watched the weather for the week leading up to it and then finally decided the day before that it was good enough to go. In the end, our trip went so smoothly (I'll share more about it in my February update), but it caused a lot of anxiety and indecisiveness as we tried to figure out what to do.

Switching . . . choir practice to Thursday evenings. I've been accompanying my ward choir for the past five years, and during that time, we've almost always rehearsed either before or after church on Sundays. But this year, we decided to try Thursday evenings instead, and I'm so glad we did because it means that Mike can come and sing now, too. (However, after completely spacing it one Thursday, I realized it hasn't become a routine part of my schedule yet.)

Sledding . . . down Neff's Canyon. Mike and I got adventurous for our weekly date and went sledding . . . alone . . . in the dark . . . in the canyon. It was wild and crazy and fun, and we felt like we were college students again. (And yes, I was a little worried a cougar was going to eat us.)

Learning . . . how to do a back handspring. Bradley is still in gymnastics, and this month they began working on back handsprings. Bradley figured out the rhythm of it really quickly and was doing them on the floor without a spotter by the second class. I think watching him do it for the first time and seeing him look up at me in the bleachers with the proudest grin on his face will probably be one of those memories that will always be a favorite. Unfortunately, the back handspring led to . . .

Injuring . . . his neck. The day after Bradley learned how to do a back handspring, he was doing them at home (I mean, how could he let a skill like that grow cold?!). He didn't have a solid landing, and his neck took the brunt of the mishap. He had a very stiff neck for over a week and even a little trip to the emergency room just to make sure it wasn't anything more serious (it wasn't). We learned that it's probably best to really solidify skills before trying them at home.

Going . . . to weekly storytime at the library. When my big kids were little, it was rare for us to miss storytime, but in a case of true youngest child neglect, Ian has probably only been a couple of times during his entire life. So when one of my friends asked if we'd like to join them each week, I readily agreed. And it's been so great. Ian is past the age of wanting to run away from me (which was one of the things keeping me away) and just contentedly sits on my lap for the entire thirty minutes. (He's actually been a bit shy and hasn't even wanted to do any of the actions to the songs or finger stories yet, but he has still enjoyed it a lot.)

Getting . . . the sweetest note from Clark. One day, Clark and Ian were driving me crazy. They were mercilessly teasing and bothering each other, and after hearing one scream too many, I finally lost it. A little while later, Clark brought me a note, and my bad mood immediately vanished. Clark is so sensitive and loving, and the note was one of the most heartfelt things I've ever received.

Competing . . . in a chess tournament. One of Max's friends invited him to go to a chess tournament. Even though Max loves chess, we've always avoided tournaments in the past because they are all-day affairs, and it's hard to give up an entire Saturday for chess. But since his friend offered to take him, we let him go. He loved it so much that we might not be able to avoid it anymore in the future.

Celebrating . . . my Grandma Lois' birthday. She has been gone for almost twenty years, but she would have been 114, so we decided to honor her at a family party. My mom made one of my great-grandma's signature dishes. She also displayed some old photographs and knickknacks. She even filled up the cream colored candy dish with spice drops, just like Grandma Lois always did. I just thought it was so fun to share memories of her life and spend some time thinking about her.

I think that's a wrap on January! Tell me about something you did to chase away the winter blues.

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