By the Month: A Photo Documentary of Mt. Olympus

Dec 30, 2021

I never wrote anything about my 2021 goals. I actually had decided on a focus (Be Still), and I had a bunch of goal contenders that I was giving careful thought to. I even had a few goals that I had already finalized and started to implement and work on. But before I could get a definitive plan in place, Aaron's bone marrow crashed, and all of my ambitions seemed rather trivial, and I honestly didn't have the mental bandwidth to even think about them

But I had one fun idea at the beginning of the year, and rather amazingly, I stuck with it throughout the entire twelve months. I chose a location (two, actually), and I took a photo from this same spot during each month in 2021. The idea was to just be more observant of my surroundings and appreciate the subtle changes that happen throughout the seasons.

The first location was just a little private path that I often walk or drive past. My favorite photo is actually the one from March. It doesn't look like much, but I can actually feel the season changing from winter to spring when I look at it. The ground is giving off that awakening scent and the buds on the trees are swelling and the sunshine is tinged with warmth, and everything feels like it's right on the cusp. 

The second location was my beloved Mt. Olympus. I chose a spot that had a clear view of the mountain, unobstructed by houses or buildings. The interesting thing about these photos is that they are only representative of one day out of an entire month, and I have found that the mountain looks very different depending on the day as well as the time. For something that stands so still, it is surprising how many looks it has. It is a living testimony to me of the craftsmanship and creativity of God. The saddest photo in this roundup is August. I waited all month to try to get a clear photo of the mountain, but it was covered in smoke from fires for most of the time.

I'd highly recommend this little exercise to anyone who wants to give greater attention to the transformative beauty of the things right in front of you. I know I picked up on lots of little details I never would have noticed otherwise, and it was amazing how gratitude naturally followed. I love where I live.

A Little of This and That in November

Dec 19, 2021

November was surprisingly warm and free of snow. It felt like we really got to enjoy a full-length fall this year instead of two weeks between summer and winter. This month was a good mix of normal days and out-of-the-ordinary activities. We spent our time . . . 

Finishing . . . off another Great British Bakeoff season. As has become the tradition, we watched the finale with our friends and enjoyed trying some of the bakes from the episodes. We are actually an entire season behind due to slowing way down with our watching while Aaron was recovering from his transplant.

Watching . . . the boys in the Primary program. All of them memorized their parts, and I was especially happy when Ian confidently approached the mic and said his part without prompting because that never happened when we tried to practice at home. Max got to be one of the narrators who spoke before each class got up to say their parts. He took this role very seriously and practiced quite a bit of his own volition. Afterwards, he got a lot of comments from people saying he should be a news anchor or on the radio. (He probably owes all of the credit to his fifth grade teacher from last year who was very good about coaching the kids to speak slowly and clearly.) 

Going . . . to the park. We had such a warm November that Ian and I met up with another mom and her son almost every week for a little park date. Ian is sometimes shy around other kids, but this other little boy has become a great friend of his. They just seem to get each other and spend the entire time playing in the sand with trucks or scampering up the slides or pushing each other on the merry go round. (The added benefit to this is that his mom and I get lots of uninterrupted time to chat!) Hopefully we'll have some nice days this winter so we can continue to get outside and play. 

Going . . . on a field trip with Bradley's class. They went to a production of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang at Hale Center Theater. These are the best kinds of field trips to go on because you only have to keep track of your group of kids on the way in and on the way out, and the rest of the time, they're just in their seats enjoying the show (and I thoroughly enjoyed it, too!). 

Holding . . . my annual piano recital. I hadn't done one since our virtual recital in the spring of 2020. It was so nice to be able to have it in-person this time. I have thirteen students right now (that number includes my kids, except Ian), and all of them performed. It is really rewarding to work on and perfect and memorize pieces in order to make them performance ready, and it is also such a pleasant relief when it's all over and you can move onto other things (in this case, Christmas music!). 

Coming . . . this close to being diagnosed with gestational diabetes. At the same time Aaron was being told he no longer had diabetes, I was flirting with my own diagnosis. At 28 weeks, I had the 1-hour glucose test. It came back high (194, for those interested). I was absolutely positive I had gestational diabetes and immediately went on a low-carb diet (this was the weekend of Halloween, so no candy for me). My midwife said to come in a few days later for the 3-hour test, but this seemed like it was merely a formality since I had read online that anything over 190 was an automatic diabetes diagnosis. But I did the three-hour test anyway. As I drove home from it, I started getting a hot flash (very typical for me during this pregnancy). I was also feeling very hungry at this point. By the time I got home, I was feeling pretty sick and breaking out in a cold sweat. I felt like my blood sugar was low, so I did a quick finger poke to check it. It was only 45. At that point, I started eating as quickly as I could. When the official results came back from the test, my fasting glucose was normal (86), the first hour was high (184), the second hour was normal (136), and the third hour was low (46). So they said I didn't have gestational diabetes after all. However, I've been continuing to monitor my glucose, and it seems like I have a hard time coming back down quickly. So I've been trying to move after I eat and also avoid candy (which was way easier in November than it has been in December).

Getting . . . their first (and second) Covid vaccines. Maxwell, Bradley, and Clark were finally eligible for the Covid vaccine, and we didn't waste any time getting the jab. They were mostly excited about it. Max always gets a little nervous about needles, but he was able to talk himself down and hold still for it, and the other two didn't have any problems. I feel extremely grateful for this added protection for our family and only wish Ian was old enough to get it too.

Wishing . . . for chickens or a dog or rabbits or a parakeet or a bearded dragon. My kids beg for a pet all of the time. Every time we visit cousins or friends that have any sort of animal, they talk about getting their own. Sometimes, I wish I could be that kind of mom for them--the type that would welcome the opportunity to add any number of furry (or scaly) animals to the family. But I'm not. It is something of a miracle that I ever even said yes to a cat (and I kind of regret it every day). I always remind them that when they are adults, they can have any pet they choose (and at that point, they might realize how much work having a pet is and decide not to). In the meantime, they'll have to get their animal fill from other sources (and much thanks to everyone who is always so generous with sharing their pets with them!). 

Seeing . . . a physical therapist. True to my usual pattern in pregnancy, my hips began hurting right around 26 weeks. I decided to make an appointment with a physical therapist to see if there was anything that could be done to lessen the discomfort. This was my first time seeing a physical therapist. The one I chose to go to has a private practice and creates a very meditative environment. After the hour-long session, my hips felt better than they had in weeks. Unfortunately, in spite of my diligent efforts in doing the exercises she recommended every day, the relief hasn't lasted. The pain is worst in the middle of the night after I've been in a stationary position for a long time. 

Cutting . . . off his curls. Aaron's hair came back in super curly. After his first transplant, it was wavy, but this time, it was definitely curly. Unfortunately, he is not really a fan of curly hair and was anxious to cut it in the hopes that it would go back to its normal texture. We'll see. So far, it's still not straight but less curly than it was. 

Gagging . . . at the dentist. Ian loves the dentist. He looks forward to going every six months. He loves watching a show on the ceiling and getting a new toothbrush and using his little tokens at the end to get a couple of prizes. So I didn't feel the slightest trepidation about what was to come on his most recent visit (and neither did he). He'd been counting down the days until his appointment, and he cheerfully hopped up into the chair when it was his turn. The hygienist asked him if he wanted "birthday cake" or "cookie dough" toothpaste, and he chose "birthday cake." He opened up his mouth wide and was already laughing away at an episode of Loony Toones when the hygienist inserted the tool. And then, without warning, it happened. Ian gagged and vomited all over himself. The hygienist and I scrambled but were too late. Ian looked just as surprised as us. I cleaned him up as well as I could, and then the hygienist asked if she should try again. Ian was game (and actually quite cheerful about the whole thing), so he laid back down and opened his mouth again. The hygienist started with his front teeth, but as soon as she moved to the back, it happened again. More vomit, although this time I was at least on high alert. After that, we called it quits. Unfortunately, Aaron was having his teeth cleaned at the same time, so Ian (without a shirt) and I had to hang out in the waiting room until he was done. The happy ending to this story is that we rescheduled for a few days later (I made Mike take him this time), he went with mint toothpaste (in case the birthday cake flavor was the trigger last time), and he didn't have any trouble. 

Swimming . . . at a swim meet. Ever since Bradley's foot healed, he has been very dedicated to swim team. He had a swim meet early in the month and improved all of his times. I love individual sports where they mostly just compete against themselves. It's really motivating to him to see his hard work paying off. 

Creating . . . a baby names bracket. Trying to figure out what this baby's name should be has been hard. Nothing is standing out as the perfect name for him, and our kids are all very opinionated with their own ideas. I actually love that this has become somewhat of a family affair as we hash out ideas and debate the merits or drawbacks of each name. Aaron desperately wants to name the baby after a favorite character from a Brandon Sanderson book (Kalidan). Clark loves it when I add one of his suggestions to The List. After feeling like we were getting nowhere, Mike created a bracket, which each person filled out individually. There were 32 names on the bracket, and I was very discouraged by the end when Mike and I did not have any crossover in names in our final four. A couple of days later, Mike created another bracket. This one only included the top 16 from the previous bracket. This time we discussed and voted on each pair of names before moving on. This was much more helpful as we tried out each name with the middle name (which we've decided on), our last name, and the other boys' names. By the end of that bracket, I felt really good about the eight names that came out on top. So even though we haven't made any actual decisions yet, I think we're getting there.

Having . . . another quiet Thanksgiving at home. For the third year in a row, we chose to keep Thanksgiving small--in terms of people, but not in terms of food. Everyone in the family was involved in the preparation, and the kitchen was a continual busy hive of activity. Because we had so much food but not very many people to consume it all, we decided to break it up into four courses: appetizers, salads, main, and pies. This made it so that we were able to try everything, but we avoided that overstuffed/overfull feeling that often comes with Thanksgiving (except for Max, who wasn't able to show much self-control when the mashed potatoes came around). This also meant that we spent most of the day in the kitchen since it was a lot of cleaning up and preparing for the next course in between eating. My very favorite part of the day might have been between the salads and main course when Ian, Clark, Bradley, and I went over to the school parking lot to ride bikes/scooters and enjoy the gorgeous sunshine. We finished off the day by enjoying our last course (pies) with our good friends who live across the street and watching A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving with them. 

Taking . . . a million Covid tests. That might be a slight exaggeration, but ever since the start of school, our kids have come down with an array of illnesses (even though their schools actually mask pretty well). This especially applies to Ian who is like a toddler all over again and seems to have a perpetual stuffy nose or cough. Every time they get something new, we take them to get a Covid test since, for Aaron's sake, we really would like to know as soon as possible if we're dealing with Covid. So far, we've managed to avoid it (I really don't know how since it seems like they're catching everything else). Ian has probably had the most tests out of all of the kids, but luckily, he actually seems to like them.

Cutting . . . down a Christmas tree. We tried something new this year. We got a permit and went into the mountains to find our own Christmas tree. Even though we live right by some mountains, there are only certain areas that offer permits for Christmas trees, so we actually had to drive a couple of hours to the designated spot. Mike was careful to read all of the rules ahead of time so he knew the approved places for tree cutting, what size/type of tree we were allowed to take, and what we needed to do to legally take it out of the forest. He also made sure he had the correct tools and gear to successfully chop down a tree. He was the real MVP of the day for sure. There wasn't any snow in the canyon we went to . . . but there also weren't a lot of small pine trees, at least not in close range. These are mountain forests, not flat forests, and all of the good trees tended to be at the tops of ridges (at least in the area we were in). Mike and the older boys scrabbled up to the top a few times, lured by a tantalizing tree, but they always returned empty-handed, mostly because the terrain was tricky enough to navigate without a tree, and they didn't know how to safely manage the descent with a tree in tow. Eventually, we settled on a tree we'd found early on in our search. We'd passed on it at first because it was a bit scraggly, but after all of the other attempts, we decided it was the best one. And we ended up falling in love with all of its imperfections (and affectionately naming it Willoughby after one of our favorite Christmas books, Mr. Willoughby's Christmas Tree).  There is definitely a feeling of pride and accomplishment that comes with searching and finding just the right Christmas tree. I think we're all pretty attached to it. 

Decorating . . . the tree. We only put up about half of our ornaments because our little Willoughby was smaller and less robust than our artificial tree. Many of our ornaments are just filler ornaments anyway, so I didn't mind. Ian was so tired from the Christmas tree excursion earlier in the day that he fell asleep before it was time to decorate, but he got in on the action with some of the other decorations. 

Resuming . . . a favorite tradition. Mike's family goes to a performance of Messiah every year--usually at Abravanel Hall with the Utah Symphony, but not always. We've had to miss the last two years due to Aaron's health and Covid, but it happened again this year. Sadly, it wasn't a sing-in and we definitely missed the energy that comes from uniting our voices with hundreds of other people in this beautiful music, but it still worked its magic on us and made us feel the Christmas spirit. 

Putting . . . up the Christmas lights. Last year, Aaron helped with this task. This year, Bradley did it. My kids will take any excuse to get up on the roof. 

The year is flying by. As much as I'm looking forward to saying goodbye to 2021, it has been filled with a lot of good, and I'm glad to have a record of it here. 

The End of an Era: Harry Potter #7

Dec 14, 2021

I read aloud the first Harry Potter book to Aaron and Maxwell when they were seven and five, respectively. 

It was always my plan to read one HP book every fall until we were finished with the series. And amazingly, we stuck with that plan. My kids never read ahead, even as their friends methodically spoiled every single plot point over the years. 

It has been something we've looked forward to with great anticipation at the beginning of every school year. Harry's adventures have been as distinct a part of the season for us as pumpkins and crunchy leaves.

If you've done the math, you know where this is going, right? One book a year, starting in 2015, meant that we were up to #7, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, this fall. Aaron and Maxwell are now 13 and 11, respectively. When we cracked the cover and read the opening line ("The two men appeared out of nowhere, a few yards apart in the narrow, moonlit lane"), it felt momentous--the beginning of the end.

To be honest, this seventh book was bittersweet, right from the start. I felt myself holding onto this sweet, fun tradition with my kids. We were excited to finally see how the series ended (especially me, since I had somehow managed to avoid most spoilers) but also so sad to know there wouldn't be any more books after this. 

Also, I know this won't be news to anyone, but this last book was intense. It was a continuous stream of battle followed by near-death (or death) followed by confrontation-with-Voldemort followed by battle, etc. What would have been the climax in any of the other books was just getting things going in this one. It felt a little relentless and exhausting, especially with so many favorite characters dying. My kids already knew about most of the deaths before they happened, but I didn't, and they took an emotional toll on me. 

And yet, despite it not being at all carefree or pleasant, this book was absolutely masterful. I was amazed with the way everything came together: pieces from past books suddenly returned with a purpose that was unseen before. Additionally, the complexity of the characters--their many layers and mistakes and triumphs--left us questioning our previous loyalties: Dumbledore so beloved but also selfish; Snape so despised but also loyal. 

As Harry himself grappled with combining what he thought he knew with unpleasant revelations, I found the following scene rather profound: Hermione said, "'But you know how much truth there was in everything Rita wrote about you! . . . How can you let these people tarnish your memories of Dumbledore?' [Harry] looked away, trying not to betray the resentment he felt. There it was again: Choose what to believe." I feel like this is the type of decision we all face at some point (sometimes over and over again): How are we going to move forward with the evidence we have about someone? Will we let the good in them overshadow the bad or vice versa? Will we give them the opportunity to become a better version of themselves? Or will we do all we can to keep them trapped in a self-made box of mistakes? As Kingsley later said, "Every human life is worth the same, and worth saving." 

We finished the seventh over Thanksgiving break. After reading a combined total of 4100 pages over the course of seven years on beautiful late-summer evenings on the front porch and chilly fall evenings around the fire, we finally read the words, "The scar had not pained Harry for nineteen years. All was well." It felt good. It felt satisfying. It felt right. But it also felt so, so sad. It is hard to see a good series come to an end, especially one that literally accompanied the coming of age of my kids. These books encompassed a significant part of their childhoods, and they will always remember them.

But as this annual tradition comes to a close, you might be wondering, "What about your other kids?" 

I'm kind of wondering the same thing.

You see, when I came up with this idea of reading one HP book every fall, it seemed so perfect. I wrote about all of my reasons for reading them aloud and spacing them out in this post from 2016. Everything in that post worked perfectly for Aaron and Max. From start to finish, the experience was dreamy and magical and just so fun. 

But you want to know who got the short end of the stick? Bradley.

This is how the Harry Potter series went for him:

2015 (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone): He was barely four years old and not interested in listening to a long book. 

2016 (Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets): He had a longer attention span and joined in the listening with his brothers.

2017 (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban): He thoroughly enjoyed listening to the book.

2018 (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone): He was barely seven years old; I thought he was too young for the dark themes in #4; Mike started the series over with Bradley and Clark.

2019 (Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets): Mike read aloud to Bradley and Clark while I read #5 to Aaron and Max (side note: biggest slog of the series for us).

2020 (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban/Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire): Mike attempted to read #3 to Bradley and Clark; Clark got bored and complained about it every time they tried to read; Bradley got frustrated that they couldn't even make it through a book he'd already heard before; I compromised by letting him listen to the audio version of #4 on his own.

2021 (Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix/Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince/Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows): It was a bumper HP year for Bradley as I realized that things hadn't worked out for him. I let him listen to the audio versions of #5 and #6 so he would be caught up and be able to read #7 with Aaron, Max, and me.

Although the series ended on a high note for him, and it was so fun to have him back with us for the last book, I feel like his experience with the series was much different from the other two. And I feel really sad about that. For Aaron and Max, it was this seamless, predictable, comforting experience. For Bradley, it was a disjointed jumble. 

Looking back, I don't know what I should have done differently. All I know is that my "perfect plan" wasn't very perfect for him. Having a bigger family makes some traditions harder to navigate when you're trying to cater to different ages and needs. 

But looking forward, I'm making plans for what to do now. I can't imagine next fall without some Harry Potter in it. And I think Clark might finally be more on board with it and probably Ian, too. So I might just start over with the series, reading specifically to those two but knowing that Aaron, Max, and Bradley will most likely be pulled into the story again if they are home in the evenings. It might be even more of a family experience than it was the first time through, which might make it even better.

But I think I might let Jim Dale read #5 for me because I just don't know if I can do that one again. 

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