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.

Lovely War by Julie Berry

Feb 3, 2020

The last book review I wrote was at the end of July, over six months ago.

I can't believe it has been so long since I have graced this blog with my deep thoughts after finishing a book.

But this is a book worth breaking my silence for. It is difficult to write a review of a book I hated (or had mixed feelings about). But it is exhilarating to talk about a book where I loved every single page. And that's what I get to do this time.
The basic premise of the book might sound a little strange at first, but stay with me. I promise it works beautifully.

The story begins in 1942 in a hotel room in New York City. Aphrodite (the Greek goddess of love) has just been caught by her husband, Hephaestus, having an affair with his brother, Ares (the Greek god of war).

Ensnared in an incriminating golden net, Aphrodite pleads guilty but begs for a chance to explain. She says, "Do you want to see what real love looks like? Do you want to hear about my favorites? Some of my finest work?"

When Hephaestus relents, Aphrodite begins, "I'll tell you the story of an ordinary girl and an ordinary boy--a true story. No, I'll do one better; I'll tell you two."

And with that, she takes her audience back in time to London in 1917 where Hazel Windercott meets James Aldridge at a parish dance, and it is as close to love at first sight as one can get. Their romance is adorably sweet and innocent but lasts only a few days before James reports for duty in the Great War.

The second love story involves Colette Fournier (a Belgian who lost her entire family when her village was massacred) and Aubrey Edwards (an African-American pianist/soldier).

There are so many things I could tell you about this book and why I loved it so much, but I’ll just share three.

First, it was eye opening to learn more about the Great War, especially how black American soldiers were treated by their fellow countrymen. This paragraph, told in Apollo’s voice, sums up the tragedy of it:
"Another week, and tensions will overflow. The army, hoping to prevent a race riot, will decide there's no good place in the states to put them [black American soldiers], and no English-speaking outfit anywhere along the Western front that will serve beside them. So they'll hand them off to the French army like a goodwill offering. No, toss them like a hot potato. No, lob them . . . like a hand grenade."
I often feel proud of the sacrifice made by my country to bring about the end of both world wars, but learning more about the prejudices and violence within the American army because white soldiers weren’t willing to fight with black soldiers was so disheartening, it made me feel sick. It’s so easy to focus on the unity that is felt when a country comes together in the same cause, but this is one time where differences were not overlooked, and the army suffered greatly because of it.

Second, I loved both romances so much, and, if pressed, I don’t think I could choose a favorite between the two couples. The writing was gorgeous and never seemed trite or cheesy (which was such a relief since I had tried another World War I book a few weeks before but gave up on it because the writing seemed so mediocre). Also, this is a book I would feel comfortable recommending to anyone—the romances were so sweet and innocent.

Third, I loved seeing this story through the perspective of the gods. Some friends I talked to said they didn’t really feel like the gods added much to the story, but I felt like they helped me see love and war and talent and beauty and heartache and death in a completely different light.

Here’s one favorite example of this (but be warned that it contains spoilers).

Spoilers ahead . . .

Aphrodite calls Hades as one of her witnesses, and hegives his own accounts of a few of the characters. I always tensed up a little when it was his turn, knowing that someone was probably going to die.

During one scene, Hazel and Collette were on a train together traveling to meet James when it is hit by an explosion. Hazel is killed when she throws herself over Collette to save her friend’s life. When this happened, I actually had to turn off the book (P.S., I listened to this, and the audio is excellent). I was in shock, and I said to myself, “No. No, no, no, no. That did not just happen.” When I finally drummed up the courage to turn it back on, Hazel was having a conversation with Hades (not a good sign). She asked to go back, and, surprisingly, Hades agreed to let her.

Some might say that this was too happy (and unrealistic) to have happened, but for me, it made the gods not only an entertaining part of the story but an essential one. It made sense that one of them would work out a deal with Hades, and I loved that that person was Hazel.

End of spoilers.

One of the big themes in the book is that everyone is broken by war, and because of that, everyone has some grief that they are carrying. At one point, Aubrey and Collette are talking, and Aubrey is apologizing because he is so torn up and devastated by the death of one of his friends (and feels quite a bit of survivor’s guilt because of it), but he knows Collette has suffered so much more loss than he has. Collette quiets him and says, “Grief is not a contest,” and I thought about how easy it is for us to compare our grief when really, grief is grief; a loss is a loss; heartache is heartache. It is all real and painful, and it’s okay to feel it.

I'm trying to remember when the last time was that I read a book where I got so much pleasure from the actual reading and also felt so incredibly satisfied when it was over. It’s been a long time, and I’m glad I can now add this book to that small and very exclusive list.
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