As Bright as Heaven by Susan Meissner

Jul 31, 2020

When the coronavirus swept across the country at the beginning of March, I became fascinated with the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918. I learned that schools and campuses shut down just like they did here (although the closures didn't last as long--generally one to three months). I learned that the disease was violently fast: you could be fine when you woke up one morning and be dead by the next. I learned that the young were hit much harder than the older population; apparently, there had been a less severe strain that had passed through several decades before, which made many older people immune to the more virulent strain. I learned that the flu hit in three waves and wasn't officially over until 1920. I learned that the Spanish flu was one of the deadliest diseases in world history and killed an estimated fifty million people.

But most importantly, I learned that life eventually returned to normal. I clung to this fact during the first couple of months of the pandemic. It was very reassuring to know that even though it might take years, the virus would eventually run its course and let us move on with our lives.

When I found out As Bright as Heaven takes place in 1918, I immediately ordered a copy of it (our library wasn't open at the time, but even if it had been, my impatience to read it might have forced me to buy it).

One of the book club questions at the back of the book said, "What do you think it would be like to live in a city experiencing a pandemic, as Philadelphia did with the flu?" Little did the author know that in just a couple of years, she would be having first-hand experiences that would have helped her write a more emotionally accurate novel. And indeed, for me as a reader, I felt a deep commiseration with the Bright family as so many of their thoughts and feelings paralleled my own. There was a kinship there that made me instantly connect with the novel.

The story opens at the beginning of 1918. The Bright family is mourning the death of their beloved baby son/brother whose heart wasn't strong enough to carry him through life. An offer comes from Uncle Fred: he runs a mortuary in Philadelphia and wants to know if Thomas wants to learn the trade and eventually inherit the business.

The new start is just what the family needs to ease their grief; Thomas and Pauline pack up their belongings and embark on a different life with their three daughters: Evelyn, Maggie, and Willa. Life in the city is an adjustment, as is being in a home that houses and cares for the deceased, but overall it seems like a good change.

Pauline is immediately drawn to the embalming room. She has felt a closeness with Death ever since she lost her son, and she is soon in charge of all of the cosmetic tasks as the bodies are prepared for burial.

Evelyn, at fifteen, is studious and mature. She works hard at school and spends much of her time in Uncle Fred's extensive library.

Thirteen-year-old Maggie is drawn to the neighbor boys across the street: Jamie, who is about to head off to war (and who Maggie has a not-so-secret crush on, even though he is seven years older than her), and his younger brother, Charlie, who is mentally slow but so kind and sweet.

And then there's Willa. She is only six years old and is forbidden inside the embalming room. She is at once both innocent and selfish.

The story is told from the perspectives of these four characters. The point of view was somewhat random as the author often chose to tell about an event from a secondary, rather than the primary, person. This often provided a more objective, well-rounded view of things, which I liked.

The Spanish flu hit Philadelphia in October 1918, just after Thomas Bright left to serve in the war. The disease ripped through the city and quickly overwhelmed Uncle Fred as bodies filled up the embalming room and mortuary and were illegally dropped off on his doorstep in the middle of the night. The flu was unpredictable, taking some family members and leaving others. Maggie said,
"It's as if Philadelphia has been cut in two like an apple, and one side looks just the way the inside of an apple should and the other side is dark and wormy and makes you gasp when you see it. That side isn't an apple at all anymore but something sinister and wrong. And the worst thing is, no one's sure which side of the apple they're going to get." 
The Bright family is not spared, but just before the illness sneaks its way into their house, Maggie and Pauline are out delivering soup to the many souls who are suffering. Pauline leaves Maggie outside while she goes inside one of the infected homes, and Maggie's attention is drawn to the sound of a baby in deep distress. She ventures inside a nearby row house, and finds a baby soiled and starving and screaming. She peaks into a bedroom and sees the baby's mother, who is obviously dead. A little girl, the boy's sister, is also in the home, and her glassy eyes tell Maggie that she is also near death. Maggie picks up the baby, locks eyes with the girl, and whispers, "He's safe with me" before rushing out of the house.

The baby helps pull the Bright family through more tragedy. He is a distraction for them as they put all of their energy into caring for him. Evelyn said,
"The world doesn't stop. It just keeps spinning, with all its troubles, yanking us into its wild revolutions. There is no stepping into mourning, all secluded with nothing but much-warranted sorrow for company. Instead it's as if the train we're all on switched tracks at full speed and now we are racing forward in a completely new direction with no time to think about the destination we'd been headed toward before and now will never see." 
This description resonated with me. Even though we haven't experienced the same kind of loss as Evelyn and her family, there has been the rush of primal life--basic needs that must still be met, even as we struggle to catch our breath with the many changes that are constantly being thrown in our path. This story resonated with me in a way that it wouldn't have six months ago. I know what it feels like to have life come screeching to a halt all while it incessantly keeps pushing forward.

The story eventually jumps ahead seven years to 1925, but I can't share any more of it without giving away big things: moments that were beautiful and heartbreaking and brought me to tears.

As an interesting side note, my dad comes from a family of morticians. His great-grandpa and grandpa owned a furniture store that doubled as a funeral home. My dad's mom went to college and received a degree in English, but she had also always had a dream of following in the path of her father and getting her embalming license. So in 1944, at the age of 29, she enrolled in the College of Mortuary Science and did just that. Even though she only used her license for a few years, she was very proud of it. I can still remember visiting her in the nursing home during the last years of her life and seeing it prominently displayed above her bed.

Because of my grandma's deep interest in serving as a stepping stone between the living and the dead, this book held a different kind of appeal for me. In reading about the Bright family's experience caring for the dead, I felt a little closer to my own heritage.

I read the last fourth of the book on a beautiful summer's day when my family and I had gone to the cabin for the day. With my kids all occupied in various activities, I sneaked away to the hammock hanging between the trees. I read (and then reread) what ended up being my favorite scenes in the book, and I think I'll always associate this book with happy memories, which is one of the best ways to enjoy a story.

I have since given my mom a copy of this book for her birthday and convinced my sister to read it as well. It could not have been a more perfect book to read at this crazy time, and it gets all the praise from me.

A Look at Our Goals for Summer 2020

Jul 26, 2020

Last year, I wrote a post about the four things that make it feel like summer for our family. I find it so interesting that even though our world has been turned upside down in the months since then, and it feels like there are so many things we can't do, our basic summer routine has stayed largely intact. No, we aren't going on a long family vacation. And no, we don't have four family reunions this year.

But our day to day activities have remained mostly the same this year as in summers past: we are doing our summer reading program (and family book club), we have a new summer playlist, we've traded out daily trips to the pool with a splash pad and otter pops in the front yard, and we have our summer goals.

It's difficult to explain why we like setting summer goals so much. When I post about them, I feel like it makes us look nerdy and kind of intense. But the reality is, these goals are actually A) fun things we already want to do,  B) a way for us to intentionally connect as a family, C) a chance to learn and improve skills, D) an opportunity to help out around the house, and E) an easy way to keep academics fresh and sharp. (And yes, I really did just give you a lettered list of reasons because I actually am nerdy and intense.)

The lack of other plans has actually given my kids quite a bit more time to work on goals than they usually have, and they are consequently flying through them. We pretty much never finish everything on their lists, but I think we're going to come close this time.

From youngest to oldest, here are the things we're working on (and even though I don't personally have any goals, I always include myself when I talk about them because they often require quite a bit of time and effort from me as well).

Ian, age 3
  • Learn to pump a swing (I didn't take into account that this would be a difficult goal to achieve since we left our swingset behind at the old house and we aren't going to any playgrounds . . . )
  • Put together a 48-piece puzzle (he's making progress, but it's not clicking as fast as it did with the other boys)
  • Learn solfeggio (this one is going surprisingly well; Bradley and Clark do it with us, and it's been really fun. I'm using these videos to guide me with the order to teach the syllables/pitches and which songs to use)
  • Learn the letters and sounds (he's pretty good at this one despite very little help from me)
  • Learn to write name (he has one of the easiest names to write, especially if using all uppercase letters, so I'm feeling confident he can do this one)
  • Make bed (he moved to a regular-sized twin when we moved, and I'm embarrassed to say I still haven't purchased a twin-size comforter for him, so that makes "making a bed" a bit difficult)
  • Get dressed independently (this has been the cause of some truly epic tantrums, but I'm happy to say, he's doing it very well now)

Clark, age 6
  • Complete four units in piano books (Clark has really taken to piano this summer, and he's been making great progress)
  • Learn solfeggio
  • Write in journal (His journal entries are the cutest things--I will love looking back on these someday)
  • Family book club (I selected Alvin Ho for our book club this year, specifically because I knew it was a book Clark would be able to read, and I wanted him to be able to participate with us)
  • First grade math workbook (For some reason, Maxwell has taken it upon himself to be Clark's math tutor; I'm not complaining)
  • Science experiment kit (I bought this kit over a year ago and then promptly forgot about it; Clark found it one day and begged to do it for one of his summer goals; it came with twelve experiments, and he and Bradley have been doing it together with practically no help from me)
  • Throw and catch a frisbee
  • Make phone calls (I keep forgetting to have him work on this one; it feels like we're in an age where we don't use the phone as an actual phone very often)
  • Identify 50 states (He loves this one, mostly because we practice with chocolate chips)
  • Clean bathroom counter, toilet, and mirror
  • Memorize address and Dad's phone number (we moved, so he needed to learn our new address)
  • Memorize three scriptures
  • Creative Kids Art Camp (I bought this class for Bradley and Clark to do together; it includes 35 lessons, so it's a really great value, but unfortunately, they haven't loved it so far)
  • Learn rules of chess (if chess club ever starts up again, I know Clark's going to want to join, so I want him to know the basics)
  • Three family hikes

Bradley, age 8.5
  • Complete four units in piano books (I use this method for my students, in case you're interested)
  • Science experiment kit
  • Learn solfeggio 
  • Third grade math workbook (Bradley tells me this is the most boring math book ever, but I only have him do one page at a time, so I don't think he's suffering too badly)
  • Sewing lessons (We chose three projects from this book; so far he has made a drawstring bag and a picture frame; Max is doing it too, and we've been having so much fun with it)
  • Family 5K (We've been running multiple times a week; at the end of the summer, we'll map out our own course and run it as a family)
  • Memorize three scriptures
  • Load/unload the dishwasher
  • Learn solfeggio
  • Family book club
  • Bake cookies (I like this goal a little too much; I am more than happy to let him bake cookies anytime he wants to)
  • Online coding (He has been using this free program)
  • Three family hikes
  • Complete one unit from Mystery Science (I used Mystery Science with Aaron this past school year, and since I still owned a subscription to it, I decided I might as well take advantage of it by having Max and Bradley complete a unit of their choosing; I really love this science curriculum)
  • Creative Kids Art Camp
  • Walk/run to Sonja's house (Bradley really wanted to see if he could walk to his aunt's from our house; she lives about two miles away, so it wasn't hard, but we hadn't ever done it before)

Maxwell, age 10
  • Complete three units in piano books
  • Family 5K
  • Sewing lessons
  • Learn conducting patterns (3/4, 4/4, etc.) (He has been able to put his new skills to use since we are still having church at home)
  • Family book club
  • Memorize three scriptures
  • Sweep and mop
  • Snack camp (When I heard that Emily of One Lovely Life was putting together an online snack camp, I thought it would be just the thing for Max. While it turned out not to be as much actual instructions for kids as I thought it would be, he has still enjoyed making the recipes)
  • Online coding
  • Document summer through creative writing (This can be a poem, comic strip, essay, fictionalized story, etc. The idea is just that he is making a record of his summer in a creative way)
  • Read through a world atlas (I like this one from National Geographic. He probably won't make it all the way through it this summer, and that's okay)
  • Fifth grade math workbook
  • Make dinner (He has been making dinner about once a week with help from Mike)
  • Three family hikes
  • Complete one unit from Mystery Science

Aaron, age 12
  • Complete three units in piano books
  • Learn three hymns (He has been playing them for our home church, which is so nice)
  • Sew on a button (He wasn't as interested in the sewing lessons as Max and Bradley, but I still felt like this was an important skills for him to have)
  • Family 5K
  • Check fluids in car (I could use a lesson in this myself)
  • Practice trombone (He basically took this last year off, but he would really like to participate in band when it's possible again, so he's trying to revive his skills)
  • Make dinner
  • Digital literacy online class (He wanted to free up a couple of credits in his fall schedule for another elective, so he decided to do one of the required classes over the summer so he could just get it over with; it has taken up a lot of the time that he would normally be spending on other goals)
  • Algebra workbook
  • Memorize three scriptures
  • Build shelves with Dad (they did this one at the beginning of the summer when they made shelves for literally every closet in this house)
  • Use iMovie to make a summer video (I bought this course for some basic video editing help; it's a good one, but I only recommend it if you have an Apple computer)
  • Family book club
  • Three family hikes
  • Listen to news podcast one time each week (We've been doing this one together; we choose an episode from The Daily and then discuss it after we're done; it has been a great way for him to keep up with current events over the summer)
  • First aid and CPR class (I don't know if this one is going to happen, honestly. I wasn't able to find a good online class, and I don't know if he's going to have time for it anyway after he finishes his digital literacy class)
  • Sort, wash, dry, fold laundry

As usual, these goals fit into three broad categories of fun, academic, and practical. At the end of each month, we will celebrate their progress with a family prize. Last month, we went to the geode beds, and this month, we'll either do a backyard camping trip or get a new lawn game.

These goals are very much about the process and not the end results. Little by little, we chip away at them, and at the end of the summer, we're always amazed at what we accomplished.

If you have any questions, I'll do my best to answer them. For more ideas, check out these posts from the past.

An Ode to Two Houses

Jul 19, 2020

When you move, it is always a tradeoff. You never leave behind everything you didn't like about your old house in exchange for perfection in your new house. Even people who design and build their own house (as my parents did in the late 90's) usually find things they would have changed or not done or added in retrospect.

Such has been the case with this house. There are, obviously, a lot of things to love about it. That's why we bought it. But there are also so many good parts of our old house that I am fiercely missing as we adjust to a new space. We knew this would be the case. When we first looked at this house and deliberated if we should make an offer on it, Mike and I listed out the pros and cons of each space and weighed them against each other.

You already know how the debate ended. Here we are in our new house and finding so many things to love about it. But Mike and I have both been guilty of saying, "Wouldn't it be so nice if our house had [some aspect of the old house]?" Or, "I sure do miss [fill in the blank from the old house]."

The thing I'm realizing is that it's nice to miss an old space and feel some longing to go back--it means we were happy there. It would be so sad if we were relieved to put a house and a neighborhood behind us, which is thankfully not the case at all.

I'm also realizing that it's nice to grow into a new space. It feels good to have to struggle with it a bit because you really come to know it in the process. That's right where we are with this new house. We're trying to figure out where and how to arrange our furniture. We're adding shelves and buying new pieces to make the space work better for our family. We're dreaming of bigger changes down the road.

As we transition from our old house to this one, I wanted to take a minute to record a few favorite things from each house.

First, I am really missing these things from our old house:

1. My flowering cherry tree (better known as, the princess in my front yard). It seems like every spring I have to talk about my cherry tree at least once because I am so completely charmed by her. I had always wanted a flowering cherry tree, and we planted it within the first two months of buying our house. She was just a little thing to start with. I was sure the kids were going to snap her skinny, twig-like trunk right in half. But every year she grew by leaps and bounds until this year she was more like a regal queen than a delicate princess. She was even big enough to accommodate a child in her branches. Knowing that it would be our last spring with her was so bittersweet. I soaked up her beauty. (And don't worry, we already cleared a spot in our new front yard and planted another cherry tree.)

2. The peach tree. Yes, another tree. I'm sorry, I just love trees. We planted this one, too, and this was actually the first year that we were going to get a good peach harvest. I've tried to take good care of it (with help from my expert gardening friend), and it has grown so much in the last two years. I pruned and thinned it this spring, even while knowing we weren't going to be around by the time the peaches were plump and juicy. I hope David and Emilee thoroughly enjoy it, and maybe we can even beg a peach or two from them.

3. Built-in shelves. You might remember that a few years ago, Mike took out the brick wall that was in our front room and completely redid it with a new mantle, fireplace, and built-in shelves. I loved that space so much. It brought character and beauty to the room, not to mention extra storage for books, games, and puzzles. I'm really feeling the loss of it in our new place since there is nothing like it and not even really potential for something similar.

4. A bathtub. Four bathrooms in our new house and not a single bathtub. It's kind of ridiculous actually. I am not really a bath taker myself, but I love a bathtub for my kids. So yes, I'm really missing being able to put Ian in the bathtub and have him be completely entertained for a good half hour. Not to mention that it's much easier to wash a child's hair in a bathtub instead of a shower.

5. Air conditioning. This is something Mike is missing more than me. It's not that our new house doesn't have an air conditioner, but just that it is almost completely ineffective on the second floor. The thermostat is on the main level, so it stays nice and cool there, along with the basement. But the second floor (where all of the bedrooms are) gets unbearably hot in the late afternoon and evening. Maybe someday we'll get a second air conditioner installed, but for now, Mike just has to reminisce about the pleasure of going to sleep in a nice, cool room (although, I admit, that I often felt like I needed to bundle up in those circumstances).

6. A view from the kitchen window. I used to be able to stand at the kitchen sink washing dishes and watch the comings and goings of the entire street. I could recognize on sight each neighbor's car, including boyfriends and relatives. I knew the dog walking schedules of each family. I was entertained by the frequent drama of the group of fourth grade girls. Sometimes, if I was lucky, a horse and rider would even canter by. Now I just look out at our dilapidated back fence. It is probably the most boring window in our entire house, which is too bad because I actually spend a lot of time at the kitchen sink.

7. Flat, quiet street. Speaking of the street, I miss it sooooooo much. In fact, it might be the thing I miss the very most. I don't know if we will ever be able to match that street. It was just the best. It was wide and flat--perfect for rollerblading and riding bikes and playing games. And it wasn't connected to any through streets, so pretty much the only traffic we got was from people who actually lived on the street. Our kids played in it a lot. Since moving, they have hardly been in the street at all . . . partly because it is too sloped to be able to rollerblade safely and partly because I've forbidden it due to it being a busier street. I'm still trying to figure out if there's anything we can do to make street activities more accessible again.

8. A big backyard. This was a hard thing to give up. In fact, when we made our list of pros and cons, it was probably the biggest con for the new house. Our old backyard contained a shed, swingset, trampoline, garden, pumpkin patch, raspberry patch, giant maple tree, two smaller maple trees, and three fruit trees, and it still had plenty of room to run around and play. In our new backyard, we had to cut down an apple tree just so we'd have room to squeeze in the trampoline. It's a downgrade, for sure (not to mention that we lost the best backyard neighbors ever).

9. Front porch. The front porch was one of my favorite things about the old house. Mike built a swing  for it, and in the evenings, we would sit there with a beautiful view of Mt. Olympus and chat with all of our neighbors. Luckily, I didn't actually have to give it up because . . .

. . .  our new house also has a wonderful front porch!

Here are the things I love about our new house (and I apologize that I don't have very many photos--we're not quite there yet).

9. Front porch. The porch is slightly bigger than the one at our old house. For now, we just have a few patio chairs on it, but we have plans to install a swing (or two). It has a great view of the mountains as well, and we've met a large percentage of the neighborhood just by sitting outside in the evenings. I love big porches, and I'm so grateful that both of our homes have had one.

8. A big master bedroom. In our old house, there were two places that really felt cramped: the kitchen and Mike's and my bedroom. Our bedroom had a tiny closet where we tried to cram our clothes, shoes, a drying rack, the vacuum, temple bags, knitting supplies, hats, and scarves. It was ridiculous. Our room usually looked more like a laundry room than a bedroom because it's where all of the clean and dirty laundry passed through. It technically had a "master bathroom," although I use that term very loosely since it was not any bigger than the bathrooms on airplanes, and it opened out into our room like another tiny closet. Basically, our bedroom was not much of a haven. But now, it is! It's large and spacious. It has plenty of room for a desk and a couple of chairs in addition to our bed and dresser. It has a large closet that doesn't feel one bit cramped. The bathroom, although not huge, has its own shower with a dressing room leading into it. The dressing room actually functions perfectly as a craft room for me, which means I can leave my sewing machine set up all the time and don't have to put away my project before I'm done. The bedroom has a ton of natural light, amazing views, and is so peaceful and quiet. Basically, I love it so much. There have been several times when Mike has been working on a project in the room and has a bunch of parts and tools laid out all over the carpet, and we ask each other, "Can you imagine all of this in our old room?" and we just laugh because it wouldn't have even been possible, let alone so completely convenient.

7. A dishwasher. Yes, after fifteen years of marriage, we actually have a dishwasher!!! And as much as I said I didn't mind washing dishes by hand, it is actually SO nice to be able to just load all of the dishes into the dishwasher after a meal. It has made cleanup so much faster, and we use far fewer paper products than we used to. A dishwasher is kind of magical.

6. A laundry room. Equally magical is having a real, honest-to-goodness laundry room. I mean, it's just incredible. I'm no longer tripping over laundry baskets in the kitchen, nor do we have the constant hum of the washer or drying accompanying almost every meal. Something surprising also happened when we moved: our dryer all of a sudden started working much more efficiently! In our old house, the dryer usually took two full cycles to get the clothes completely dry. Now it only takes one. I guess the new house must be vented better or something. I am able to get a couple more loads in per day now that I'm not waiting around for the dryer.

5. The view. This might be my very favorite thing about this house. I love natural light, and I love being able to see in all directions, and this house has both. Plus, since it has a second story and is situated on a bit of a hill, it means that we can see even more. I love to watch the sun rise over the mountains from my bedroom window and the sun set over the valley from Bradley and Ian's bedroom. It's true that I don't have much to look at from the kitchen window (see above), but on the whole, I can actually see so much more from this house.

4. Garage. We haven't reaped the full benefits of this yet since Mike is still building shelves so we can organize all of the tools and yard equipment that got dumped in there when we moved. But eventually, we are looking forward to parking our van in a garage like real adults.

3. Fireplace. Our last house had two fireplaces, but neither of them worked. This one has a gas fireplace in the living room, and it works beautifully. We moved in at the end of May, so we haven't had a ton of opportunities to use it, but during a brief, rainy cold snap, we turned it on, and I was like, "Okay, you're my new best friend." I anticipate lots of cozy evenings by the fire this winter. (We also hope to eventually give the fireplace a bit of a makeover since right now it is surrounded by ugly tile and doesn't have a mantle.)

2. Large kitchen island. I haven't mentioned the kitchen much because, to be honest, there are a lot of things we don't love about it. The large island in the middle of it was originally one of those things. We felt like it was too big at first, but in the weeks since we moved in we, mostly Mike, have changed our tune. It's just so nice to have such a big workspace for making pies or multiple dishes at once. Gone are the days of feeling like the kitchen couldn't handle a second chef at the same time. And if we ever get to have people over again, I'm sure it will be great for buffet-style entertaining. (But in spite of falling in love with the size of the island, I despise the pattern and color of the countertops.)

1. Easy access to the backyard. Even though the backyard is pitifully small, it does have a couple of things going for it: it's accessible from both the kitchen and living room; and it has a large covered patio (as well as a balcony). Both of these things make it great for outdoor dining and entertaining. There are many things we want to do to make it more aesthetically pleasing and inviting, but the potential is there.

All of these things are really nice, but I didn't even mention the main reason for our move. Last year, we decided we really wanted to be closer to the boys' schools. They have been going to an out-of-boundary elementary school, which consequently funneled them into a different junior high and eventually a different high school. We could have moved them to the boundary schools when the time came, but we decided we didn't want to. We felt really good about their school situation. We also could have stayed where we were and still had them go to the out-of-boundary schools, but we thought it would be nice to be by families that loved and supported and went to the same schools we did.

So we started looking for a home within a very small perimeter. There was basically only one neighborhood I was willing to leave my beloved street for. As you might guess, looking within such a narrow boundary meant that homes for sale were few and far between. When this one came up, we jumped on it--not because it was perfect per se, but it was located just where we wanted it. We feel fortunate that we actually really love our home in addition to it being in the perfect place.

And we sincerely hope that we will eventually get to reap the benefits of being closer to the kids' schools, even if this will not be the year for it.

A Little of This and That in June

Jul 5, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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