Harry Potter's Highest Priority

Nov 20, 2020

Harry Potter has become as much a part of our autumns as crunchy leaves, pumpkin carving, and Halloween costumes. When my boys are grown and think back on their childhoods, I know they will fondly remember the cozy evenings we spent immersed in the wizarding world of Hogwarts. And that makes me happy.

It's quite possible that Aaron and Max will remember this year's installment, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, better than any of the others. It was maybe the most enjoyable readaloud experience we've ever had, and that's saying something. They begged me to read it every night. They folded laundry if it meant I would read a little more. We spent Sunday afternoons reading just one more chapter. And they even woke me up on a Saturday morning to see if I would read before they had to start on chores. 

This was quite the contrast to last year. The fifth Harry Potter took us nearly five months to read, and it was something of a slog--a pleasant slog, but still a slog.

Not so with this sixth book. We blazed through it. The chapters melted away, one by one. There wasn't a moment of pause or drag. The story just flowed in that magical way that sometimes happens.

When we read the final line and closed the book, we felt immense satisfaction but also a keen sense of loss. We experienced withdrawals for several weeks after finishing. Sometimes Aaron would come into my room and open his mouth to start to ask for Harry Potter before remembering that there wasn't anymore left to read.

It was the first time I have been sorely tempted to just jump into the next book. I'm sure I wouldn't have met any resistance from Aaron or Max if I'd suggested it. But these books are as much about the ambiance and feeling of fall as they are about the stories themselves. We've created this experience, and it would be such a shame to break it for the final book. Plus, I know that the anticipation and excitement will only grow between now and next September.

I felt bad for the readaloud that followed this one. It probably didn't matter which book we chose, it wasn't going to be able to compete. The boys were completely unenthusiastic about it. It took us a good eight chapters before we were into it, and even then, it felt like we read aloud out of habit more than for the sheer pleasure of it. 

The one disadvantage of reading a book well after your peers is that many things have accidentally been spoiled for you (and in case you haven't read this book, this is your warning that I will be sharing spoilers here), including the biggest plot twist--that of Professor Dumbledore dying at the hands of Professor Snape. That moment has become a part of culture. Spoilers are unavoidable. 

But somehow, knowing that it was going to happen did not make it any less dramatic or heart-stopping when Snape raised his wand on top of the tower and uttered the fateful words. My eyes had skimmed ahead, and I had seen it before I actually read it aloud. It took my breath away, and I told the boys, "I can't read the next part. I just can't." I decided I was actually grateful many different people had spilled the ending many years ago. I think it might have been too traumatic otherwise.

Even though we knew the way the book would end, there were still many points of the plot that we knew nothing about, including who the Half-Blood Prince was. We discussed possibilities and mounting evidence, but we were still surprised when it was finally revealed.

Besides the pleasure I derived from reading this book, I also had a rather profound, maybe even spiritual, moment while reading.

During one of Harry's lessons with Professor Dumbledore, they visit a memory of Professor Slughorn's. It is incomplete and altered, but Dumbledore is convinced that the true memory will "undoubtedly be [the] most crucial piece of information of all" in understanding Voldemort. Dumbledore gives Harry the charge to find out the real memory from Slughorn. He emphasizes the absolute importance of this in their quest. Nothing else is of higher priority.

Harry doesn't doubt Dumbledore, but he doesn't have any great ideas for how to get Slughorn to trust him. And meanwhile, Draco Malfoy is definitely up to something. Harry can't figure out what it is, but it completely consumes him. He obsessively studies the Marauder's Map to track Malfoy's movements. He thinks about it all the time. He gathers evidence and comes up with all sorts of possibilities.

At their next lesson, Dumbledore asks, "Have you managed the task I set you at the end of our previous lesson?" Harry says that he asked Professor Slughorn about it, but Slughorn refused to give it to him. 

And then, Dumbledore says something that easily cuts down every single excuse: "And you feel that you have exerted your very best efforts in this matter, do you? That you have exercised all of your considerable ingenuity? That you have left no depth of cunning unplumbed in your quest to retrieve the memory?" 

Harry actually had been devoting that kind of effort, ingenuity, and cunning into a task, but it was not the one that Dumbledore had given him. Harry knew what the most important thing was. He even believed it was the most important thing. But something else won his attention because it was the thing that made his own prideful emotions flare up, and he couldn't let go of it.

With a start, I realized how many times I am just like Harry. I know what the important things are. I don't need to be convinced. But I don't give priority to them. I subconsciously know that those things will still be around whether I pay attention to them now or later. So I put them off in favor of more tantalizing endeavors. 

For Harry, it probably also had something to do with the fact that he felt unequal to the task. If he didn't try, then he hadn't failed yet, and that would give him more time. It is the same for me. I am crippled by the worry that I won't fulfill my highest objective, and so I would rather not think about it right now.

It has been almost a month since we finished this book, and I am still thinking about this part. I can't get Dumbledore's question out of my head, "May I hope, then, that you will give this matter higher priority from now on?" He could just as easily be asking that question of me. And I am determined to accept his challenge.

I know that this book is many people's favorite in the series, and it might be mine as well. Certainly a book that can be entertaining, compelling, and thought-provoking should be given the highest praise. I love that J.K. Rowling delivered some of her finest work towards the end of the series, and I couldn't have asked for a better reading experience than sharing it with my boys.

A Little of This and That in October

Nov 8, 2020

"O suns and skies and clouds of June,
And flowers of June together,
Ye cannot rival for one hour
October's bright blue weather."

Gretchen Rubin alerted me to this poem by Helen Hunt Jackson at the beginning of October, and I fell madly in love with it. The above is only the first stanza, but the whole poem captures the feeling of fall so well. And because of this poem, I was aware of just how many "bright blue" days we had in October, and I feel like I appreciated them more than I ever have. One of those was on a family hike in Bryce Canyon. The sky was absolutely clear and just the brightest, most brilliant blue. I gathered my kids around and read this poem aloud as we stood under that most perfect of skies; that's just the kind of nerdy mom I am. That is one of my favorite memories from the month, but here are a few more . . . 

Listening . . . to General Conference. What a treat it was this year. I don't know when it has ever lifted my soul more than it did this time. The messages were full of hope and healing and encouragement. 

Visiting . . . one of the most quirky spots in Salt Lake City. Ian and I have been looking for things to do in the mornings while the boys are at school. One day, we were planning to explore the Salt Lake City cemetery with a friend, but it was closed due to the windstorm last month. So my friend suggested we go to Gilgal Garden instead. I had never heard of it but was game to try something new. It took me two passes down the street to even find it because it was completely tucked away right on the edge of downtown Salt Lake. It was small but filled with an unusual and eclectic mix of statues that had both religious and historical significance. Jill and I stopped at each statue to read about its symbolism, and Ian ran around and climbed on things that he wasn't supposed to. I loved this little oasis hidden in an urban environment.

Replacing . . . the flooring in the living room with carpet. When we bought this house, there was beautiful cherrywood in the living room. I know some people love wood floors, but we didn't like this one for a number of reasons: it didn't match the other flooring in the house, it made the room feel formal rather than cozy, and it showed up every speck of dust or footprint. As the weather began to turn, we started to feel a sense of urgency to put carpet in that room. We couldn't bear the thought of facing winter with that cold, austere floor. So even though we've been working on the office right now, we decided to switch gears for the moment. I expected this to be a long process since Mike and I are both quite terrible at making decisions. But we decided to go to this carpet warehouse on a Friday, and by the following Tuesday afternoon, the cherrywood was gone and the carpet was installed. It was perhaps the slickest, quickest, most pain-free decision of our entire marriage. Plus, because we went the warehouse direction, it was very affordable. The cherrywood was a beast to take up--it was not keen to leave and was only pried free by Mike after much painful splintering. But we have enjoyed the new carpet so much already that I'm glad we didn't wait a moment longer to get it. 

Choosing . . . a pumpkin. It has been several years since we'd been to a favorite family-owned pumpkin patch. But this year we opted for it because we were trying to avoid a bunch of crowded activities like corn mazes or hay rides. It was absolutely lovely. It reminded me of how much I love going to a pumpkin patch that is simply that--a pumpkin patch. The boys ran through the fields searching for the most perfectly round and orange pumpkins and by the end of the evening, we had filled up our wagon with a dozen pumpkins to bring home.

Spending . . . time at the farm. Over the last few weeks, we've had a couple of outings to Wheeler Farm: once with some friends and again with my sister-in-law and niece. The mornings were cool enough that remembering jackets would have been nice, but it warmed up as soon as the sun came out, and then it was perfect. We roamed around without a real plan, always ending up at my kids' favorite tree with the twisty horizontal branches just perfect for scampering over.

Passing . . . the sacrament. This month we started going to church regularly, and now that Aaron has the all-clear on his health, he was finally able to help pass the sacrament. I'm so grateful though for the many times he got to do it at home leading up to this. 

Hiking . . . in Millcreek Canyon. Mike and I went on a short hike for date night, and it was breathtakingly beautiful. I kept stopping to take pictures only to be disappointed again and again that what I was seeing through my lens did not come even close to what I was seeing in real life. The colors were just magnificent: ombre tones creeping up to the tops of trees, bright patches of red, a confetti carpet under our feet. It just felt like a privilege to be out in it, drinking in the cold, spicy air.

Riding . . . my bike. I couldn't let these beautiful fall days pass without going on a bike ride with my mom.  I wish we lived a little closer so that this could be more of a daily activity instead of monthly or quarterly. But still, it was a lovely afternoon of chatting and riding through all of the fall foliage. 

Making . . . friends. I tried to be a little more proactive with texting people to go to the park or on a walk. I also enjoyed going to a Relief Society activity and attending church meetings over zoom. I am naturally quite introverted, so it is hard for me to take the first step in introducing myself or inviting someone to hang out. However, deep down I really do love people, so I know that in the end it will be worth the discomfort and vulnerability I feel in putting myself out there. 

Taking . . . family photos. We avoided turning this into the usual ordeal by not deciding until the day before that we were going to do family pictures and not deciding until an hour before what we were going to wear. Mike only had to make one emergency trip to the store for an item of clothing. Mike's sister, Sonja, was kind enough to be our impromtu photographer. All in all, it was quick, painless, and successful.

Eating . . . dinner in the canyon. Following family pictures, we stayed in the canyon with Sonja's family for dutch oven lasagna, woofies, and gourmet s'mores. We had avoided campfires all spring and summer to protect Aaron's lungs, so it was quite a treat to be able to sit around and roast marshmallows and watch the fire crackle and pop. We all came home reeking of smoke, which seemed just about perfect.

Receiving . . . a calling as organist. I finally have a calling in my new ward; I'm one of the organists for sacrament meeting. It has been a long time since I've had this calling, and I feel mostly happy about it. Mike also received a calling; he is now a deacon's quorum advisor, which means he gets to go to lessons and activities with Aaron. I'm glad we can serve and get more involved with our ward. 

Going . . . on a real family vacation for fall break. We've done a handful of day trips during the pandemic, but we hadn't been on a real vacation since our Lake Tahoe trip right before Aaron was diagnosed. As we looked at all of those empty days of fall break, we decided it was finally time. There are many spots in southern Utah that we haven't explored, so we settled on Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef, and Goblin Valley. And it was just a fantastic trip in every possible way. The weather was perfect, the scenery was breathtaking, the children were agreeable (for the most part), and we got to see so many new things. My parents and three of my siblings joined us for the second half of the trip, which was a fun addition. We went on hikes and beautiful drives, did a stargazing tour, caught lizards, and even ate some delicious food (a bit of a surprise since most places had already closed for the season). 

But the best part of the trip was . . . 

Climbing . . . all over hoodoos. The goblins of Goblin Valley were definitely my kids' favorite part of the trip. It was like an epic playground and climbing gym--hundreds of rock formations, each one of them different, just begging to be climbed and scampered over. There isn't anything manmade that could compare to it. It was a literal paradise for my kids. We spent a couple of hours there, and as we were getting ready to leave, Bradley said, "Can I just run over and climb one last one?" It was almost too much for him to think of leaving before he had personally climbed over every single one (but that would have taken days). In this modern age of conservation, I recognize the importance of preserving our national monuments and parks, but it was so refreshing in this one place to have the rules removed and just be able to have a really tactile, physical experience. We loved it.

Watching . . . the falling snow. We got home from our trip just in time for the first snowfall. The boys ran out in it with no shoes. As they jumped and ran and bounced around, they looked like they were doing some kind of ritualistic dance. Maybe that's what it was--a way to welcome the first snow of the season.

Enjoying . . . Aaron's first jazz band concert. I wrote many sappy details on this post

Making . . . something old, new again. A couple of months ago, I ripped out the very first sweater that I made for myself almost three years ago. I just wasn't wearing it very much anymore, so I decided to turn it into something else. It was so liberating to take it back down to a few skeins of yarn and knit it into something completely different. Plus, this was one of the most enjoyable shawls I've ever knit. It was constructed sideways, so on every row, I did just a little bit of the lace border. With other shawls I've done, the border comes at the very end, but I loved having the border happen at the same time as the rest of the shawl. It was both engaging and meditative, and that is pretty much an ideal project for me. 

Poisoning . . . aspen trees. When we bought our home six months ago, we knew the aspen trees in the front yard would have to go. There were at least eighty of them, and we knew that number would continue to grow exponentially over the years. The previous owners had let the aspens spread on purpose. They loved them and had a bench nestled in the middle of them. The irony is that no one else in the neighborhood liked them, and this subject has been the number one thing that people want to talk about when we meet them for the first time: "Hi, I'm _______. What do you think of the aspens????" Mike read up on how to kill them, and, because of their connected root system, it is a long process. Some people have told us to expect it to take at least three years. The general recommendation was to poison them in the fall so that the sap would carry the poison throughout the roots, so that is what Mike did. Now we'll wait out the winter before we chop them all down in the spring. I read this quote from author Kaya McLaren and thought it a fitting tribute: "Go spend time with the aspen trees. They'll tell you how it works. They'll tell you to look to your roots for energy. They'll tell you there's warmth below the surface." I agree, but I think I'll connect with the aspens in the mountains instead of my front yard.

Trying . . . to write blog posts. I started several posts this month but only published one of them. But I had a little lightning bolt moment when I realized my phone is inhibiting my ability to write because it distracts me during the key moments of the day--not necessarily during moments when I might be writing but during moments when I would be thinking, which is the kindling needed for writing. 

Painting . . . and carving pumpkins. If I'm being honest, these activities feel somewhat obligatory, but they're important to my kids, so I guess they're worth the hassle and mess. Ian is really the only one who still needs help. He had Mike carve his pumpkin to look like Pumpkin Jack from a favorite picture book. All of the other pumpkins have since been thrown away, but Pumpkin Jack is still kicking because Ian is fascinated by his slow sagging and deterioration. 

Making . . . Halloween costumes. Our kids have been talking about and planning their costumes since last November. They really wanted to go as characters from BYUtv's sketch comedy show, Studio C. It's not like you can go out and just buy a Captain Literally costume, so we knew this theme was going to require time and creativity. I am a big fan of homemade costumes, but they do take a lot more work, and there were a few stressful points when I thought we weren't going to be able to track down the pieces we needed (much thanks to my friend, Abby, who came through with green polyester pants for me at the last minute). In the end, everything came together, and we were all super pleased with the results. Mike was Scott Sterling, I was Ann Withers, Aaron was Jeremy, Maxwell was Lobster Bisque, Bradley was the Love Janitor, Clark was Captain Literally, and Ian was Awkward Avoidance Viking. (I've included links to a skit of each of these characters so you can watch if you've never seen them.) Most people had no idea who we were, but for those who did, the recognition was immediate. My kids had me cracking up all night with their impressions, and even I couldn't help getting into Ann Withers' character. 


Buying . . . so much fabric. I don't know what got into me, but my love of sewing was suddenly rekindled in one, swift burst. And I coped by buying enough fabric for eight different garments. A Halloween sewing project (Maxwell's gold vest) detained me from diving into it, but I felt a little thrill every time I looked at that towering pile of potential. 

Listening . . . to Dreamsicle. My dear friend, Sarah, and her friend, Megan (who I also know and love, but only virtually) recently started a podcast about dreams, spiritual gifts, personal revelation, and feeling the love of our Heavenly Parents and Jesus Christ. It is just fantastic in every way--from the quality of the production to the natural dynamic Megan and Sarah have to the deep spiritual insights they share. It has already enriched my life in so many ways, and I highly recommend it if your life could use a spiritual boost, too. I kind of feel like both of these women are my spiritual mentors, and I'm happy to share them with you. (Bonus: Aaron gets a mention in Episode 8!)

Celebrating . . . Halloween all. day. long. Don't get me wrong--having Halloween on a Saturday definitely has its perks, but an open schedule meant that we filled it up with all the things. We put on our costumes around noon and decided to go show them off to my parents . . . and then my brother . . . and then Mike's sister . . . and then Mike's parents. By the time we were done driving all over the valley, it was almost time for our old neighborhood's Halloween parade. This was a very well-coordinated event with everyone setting up a table or bowl or even a slide on their driveways, and then all of the families walking down the streets and trick-or-treating but in a safe way. It was great that it was in the late afternoon so everyone could see each other and it was still nice and warm. I hope it becomes a tradition. After the parade, we went home for a dinner of fruits and veggies, and then we went trick-or-treating in our new neighborhood. In contrast to the parade, it was not at all clear or obvious what we were supposed to do. Every house kind of did their own thing: some were set up outside, some wanted kids to ring their doorbells, some had their porch lights on but didn't want trick-or-treaters. Because of covid, it felt like everyone needed to be on the same page with clear expectations, but they weren't. We still had a fun evening though and were very impressed with the creativity of people in making things fun and safe. Even though it was long, it was one of the best Halloweens we've ever had. 

Whew. I hadn't realized October was so busy until I wrote it all down. November is already proving to be much more subdued. How was your month?

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