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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