Abraham, Rachel, Soren and Liam. Our life together in Smalltown, Idaho.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Reading Journal: May 2015

And now, to break my five-month-long silence . . . it's time for my recap of recent reading! And by "recent" I mean, everything I've read since the last time I did this, which I believe was around this time last year.

Rescuing Julia Twice: A Mother's Tale of Russian Adoption and Overcoming Reactive Attachment Disorder
by Tina Traster

I was a little disappointed by this book. The writing was fine, the story was interesting . . . it was just that it wasn't really a book about Reactive Attachment Disorder. It was more of a story about an unhappy woman with mother issues learning to cope with the ups and downs of her own motherhood and learning to accept the child she has, not the child she wants.

I did a longer review of this book on Adoption.com. Read it here.

The Sparrow 
by Mary Doria Russell

This is one of my favorite books of all time ever. It's sci-fi, but don't let that throw you. There is a lot of depth and beauty in this story. Russell creates a cast of characters who are realistic and engaging. (I actually talk about them as though they are my real-life friends, a habit that is unnerving to my poor husband.) The novel includes the exploration of a new planet, where the space travelers--a modge-podge group of people that includes scientists, priests, and a doctor--encounter an entirely new planet peopled by two distinct intelligent races. Drawing on her background as an anthropologist, Russell's world is believable and fascinating, the cultures and ethical and moral questions that arise from them, mesmerizing. On top of this, she explores the complexities of faith, the limits of human suffering, and the age-old "problem of evil." She accomplishes all this with sweeping grace, without being pushy or didactic, and prose that reads like poetry.

The Storyteller
by Jodi Picoult

You can't ever go wrong with Jodi Picoult. The Storyteller is the story of Sage, a lonely baker who strikes up an unlikely relationship with an elderly man who visits her bakery regularly. As the two get to know each other more closely, he entrusts her with a terrible secret, a secret that touches her family's past in a profound way.

This was a fascinating look at the Holocaust from the perspectives of both a Nazi soldier and from a victim living in a concentration camp. For me, it brought the horrors of the Holocaust down to a very personal level, helping me see both the horrors, the utter lack of humanity, and the few beautiful that emerged from this event. Picoult succeeds in weaving together the modern plot with the Holocaust story in a tasteful and thought-provoking way.

(A delightful part of The Storyteller is the bakery where Sage works. It is called "Our Daily Bread" and run by a former nun with hot pink hair. The barrista is a dude who speaks only in Haiku.)

That One About Near Death Experiences
I totally don't remember what it was called or who it was by. It was interesting, but only followed the stories of a few people. I didn't really love its structure. I much preferred Life After Life.

by Larry Murray
This is a sweet story that lifts the heart and makes you want to be a better person. The main character, Charles, is an adorable old man whom I absolutely love. (I'm a sucker for adorable old men.) I learned so much about dairy farming and now, whenever I'm sick of doing the dishes or cleaning the house, I say to myself, "At least I'm not getting up at 4:00 AM seven days a week to milk the cows."

House Rules
by Jodi Picoult
This heavily-researched novel provided a lot of insight into the mind and struggles of someone who has high-functioning autism, as well as a peek into how autism impacts families. A compelling mystery keeps the story and characters moving.

The Red Tent 
by Anita Diamant
This is another one of those books that I'm a decade late in coming to, but it was fascinating. I was so intrigued by the feminine perspective of the biblical world as imagined by Anita Diamant. This story was made even more interesting by the fact that I was simultaneously reading Karen Armstrong's A History of God, which provided me with a better perspective on the book's melding and merging of pagan religion with the monotheistic faith of the Israelites.

A History of God
by Karen Armstrong
I didn't actually finish reading this book, because when I was about halfway through Abraham informed me that it wasn't well-regarded in "History of Religion" circles. It was fascinating, though, and I would love to find something similar but possibly more academically accepted.

My Story
by Elizabeth Smart
Elizabeth Smart was taken from her home in the middle of the night at knife-point. She was forced to camp in the mountains above her home town for months, then in a makeshift camp in California, suffering starvation, humiliation, and degradation. Her experiences were gripping, but in reading this book I was most impressed with the grace with which she handled her situation, her ability to have gratitude while she suffered while experiencing intense physical and emotional deprivations and daily sexual assault, her unwavering faith in God, and her ability to overcome what she had experienced and move forward to live a full and healthy life. This was a fascinating read.

Gone Tomorrow
by Lee Child
Typical Jack Reacher. Nothing to shout about from the rooftops, but an entertaining read.

by Andrew Morton
I'm a little embarrassed to admit that I read this. It was like reading a 400-page long People magazine, with less pictures. But I just couldn't stop, despite the book's aggravating misuse of commas. It was intriguing to observe Jolie's transformation from the epitome of Hollywood "bad girl" to a wife, mother of six, and inspirational philanthropist.

Stolen Lives: Twenty Years in a Desert Jail
by Malika Oufkir
Malika Oufkir was raised in a palace by the king of Morocco, brought there as a companion for his younger sister. She viewed the king as a second father, and he loved her equally as well. Her family was wealthy and very prominent in the country, her father serving as the country's military leader. She was raised in opulence, enjoying every comfort life could offer, surrounded by friends and riches and adventures. She had high hopes of becoming a famous movie actress. And then everything crumbled. Her father led an unsuccessful coups against the king and was perfunctorily executed. The king then had her and her mother and her five younger siblings imprisoned for the next twenty years. She describes their suffering and deprivation and the courageous way they maintained their sanity during those dark years. After fifteen years of being locked away, she and her siblings dug a tunnel with their bare hands . . . and escaped.

Tess of the D'urbervilles
by Thomas Hardy
I didn't finish this book because I lost it halfway through. But I've read it before. And it's good. My coworker Courtney picked it up and was riveted through the entire tale. She'd come into my office and we would gripe together about its heart-breaking plot twists.

Silent Tears: A Journey of Hope in a Chinese Orphanage 
by Kay Bratt
When Kay Bratt and her family moved to China for a period of several years, she decided to make her time there meaningful by volunteering in an orphanage. However, what started as a few hours a week spent helping out in an orphanage snowballed into a massive effort to significantly improve the quality of life for the children living there. Appalled by the conditions she found in the orphanages, and the way the staff treated the children, Bratt worked first to build trust with the staff at the orphanage. Once they were comfortable with her, she was able to bring about great improvements, leading a growing group of volunteers and soliciting donations to help the children with their daily and medical needs. Her experiences were fascinating to me, and very eye-opening about the importance of reaching out and helping children around the world.

by Ally Condie
YA dystopian fiction, starring an emotionally repressed female protagonist who is in love with a guy who has a name that's actually a word. So it felt a little cliched, but I still enjoyed it. Condie has an appealing writing style and an imagination that created a fascinating futuristic world.

Thursday, January 01, 2015

Year in Review: 2014

A quick report on how I did on my 2014 resolutions.

1) Love better. Every year of my life teaches me a little about love. I didn't have to make too much effort here. I have made an effort to love my hunny more selflessly, and I think I've improved there. Right, Abe? RIGHT?

2) Be more positive. I did spend some time recording "Happies" throughout the year at the end of the day. (Not every day, mind you, but once in a while.) I love that. It's such a boost.

3) Prettify the house. Well, um, we bought new couches. And I bought paint for the kitchen cupboards! Which my sweet sister-in-law Hillary then actually applied to them. So now we have beautiful white cupboards, which are surprisingly easy to keep clean.

4) Write that dang novel. I wrote 30,000 words of my novel! Not the whole thing, exactly, but a helluva lot more than I've ever done before. 

5) Eat more healthfully.  #totalfail  

6) Get over my phone phobia.  I have gotten FABULOUS at this! Not perfect. But better. The phone is NOT as scary as it seems to be, people. 

7) Play the organ better. I've gotta be honest. My organ playing skills have not really improved. It's completely my fault, since I just haven't been able to bring myself to prioritize practicing. 

8) Track household spending more carefully. Nope. Totally sucked at this. 

9) Read scriptures at least 3 times a week. I have an on-again, off-again relationship with the scriptures. I definitely didn't do this consistently, though I did read all of the Book of Mormon except for 2 Nephi, Jacob, Enos, Jarom, Omni, and Words of Mormon. 

10) Continue exercising at least 3 times a week.  Be able to do 50 man push-ups in a row. HA! I exercised three times a week, but I can only do about 8 man push-ups in a row. 

11) Continue praying at least 3 times a week. This went pretty much the same way as the scripture reading.
12) Learn how to blow dry my hair with a round brush. Learned. Decided it wasn't worth all the effort. 

13) Teach Soren how to ride a bike without training wheels. DONE! BOOYA! 

14) Plan and cook healthy, nutritious dinners 3-4 times a week. Sometimes I did this. Aaaaand sometimes we ate cereal and sandwiches and pancakes every night. 

15) Improve our family's food storage/emergency preparedness.  Make awesome 72 hour kits, first aid kits, and car emergency kits. Well, I did think a lot about this! And discovered that the 72 hour kits my parents gave us for Christmas several years ago are pretty well equipped. And that's about as far as that went. 

You know, that's not too bad. I didn't do All The Things, but I didn't completely fail, either. Yay for goals!

Other things I accomplished this year:

1) I made an Adoption Wiki! Okay, I actually just figured out how it worked, created a structure for it, and then supervised interns and employees as they filled it with content. But still. I was proud. 

2) My hair grew another six inches without my hacking it all off. Then I discovered braiding, thanks to Lagertha, my new best friend--er, I mean, a character in the History Channel drama Vikings. (Which you should watch. After the kids are in bed. Because it's so good. But kinda gory. And then Lagertha can be your friend, too.)

3) I spent more hours in meetings talking about navigation for Adoption.com than I'd ever thought possible. I did not realize, until 2014, that website navigation is such a very serious business. 

4) I kept the lawn alive all the way through October! And mowed it pretty much every week! Plus, sometimes Abe put magical things on it, like fertilizer and weed killer and such. And it was all green and lush and such. I'm considering adding weed trimming to my repertoire for next year. That's pretty intense, though, so don't get too excited. I'm not sure if I can commit to that. 

5) I grew a garden! Get this, people: FOOD GREW IN MY BACKYARD. The edible kind. Strawberries and cucumbers and lettuce and things. Also, squash and pumpkin, which almost took over the world. Surely there's a movie about a squash patch that takes over the world? Because those squash--they're seriously so aggressive. 

6) I learned to advocate for my children. I am not a naturally assertive person, so this was hard for me, but I realized that if I didn't do it, no one would, so I stood strong and pushed and annoyed and pestered until I got them both what I felt they needed. 

7) I read so many things about adoption and fell in love with every single member of our Adoption.com writing staff. 

8) I learned the piano accompaniment for a pretty intense Christmas Cantata that the stake choir put on this year. 

9) I crocheted an entire scarf for Briar in 4 hours. I haven't crocheted anything since '07, so it was kind of a big deal. 

10) We went on two vacations with the children and made it out alive.  

11) I bought a flat iron and learned how to use it. 

And I think that's about it.

Otherwise, if you needed to find me in 2014, I was probably washing dishes, hanging out with my kiddos, kissing Abraham, or napping. There was a lot of napping. 

In 2015, I hope to nap less. (But more about 2015 later.)

Monday, December 22, 2014


Look at this woman.

Isn't she gorgeous?

But she is more than just a pretty face.

She is a mom to four incredibly awesome kids.

She is a faithful wife (and has been for almost 20 years!).

She is a rock climber.

She is a musician.

She is a student.

She is a teacher.

She is a bicyclist.

She is an artist.

She is a reader.

She is an explorer.

She is a writer.

She is a muscle machine.

She is the kindest auntie in the world.

She is an amazing cook.

She is a skilled bargain shopper.

She is a yogini.

She is a home decorator.

She is ridiculously organized.

And . . . because I got incredibly lucky . . .

She is my sister.

Collette is seven years older than me,  so she was always my idol. And she, who had waited seven long years for a little sister, took her role as big sister very seriously.

She taught me how to read. She taught me the proper way to hold a newborn kitten. She taught me how to play the piano. She taught me to love rainstorms. She taught me how to draw floor plans for houses. She taught me how to wear makeup. She taught me how to make a man sit on the pot without bending the paper. (<---inside joke.="" p="">
When she was in college, she wrote letters to me about her roommate and her professors and about the spider that lived in her dorm room. When I was in college, she wrote about her kids' antics and clipped the police log out of the Shelley Pioneer, highlighting her favorite entries and adding humorous commentary.

Once for my birthday, she surprised me with a picnic by the river.

We have taken many a long, giggle-filled walk together, swapping stories and worries.

Yes, there was that time that she paid me 5 cents to remain completely silent during the drive from Pocatello to Idaho Falls.  There was that time that she permanently kicked me out of our shared bedroom. There was the time when I completely freaked out because she had accidentally thrown away my half-eaten dinner. There was that time that I said something jerky and insensitive and totally hurt her feelings (well, actually, that was lots of times.)

But for the most part, sisterhood has been good to us.

When Liam had his tonsils removed in May, I found myself sitting alone in the hospital waiting room. My baby had just been wheeled into an operating room filled with strangers. I had just received a text informing me that Soren had thrown up on the way to school. My parents were out of town. I was sitting there, trying to hold myself together, when my phone rang. It was my sister. I heard her voice and I was a goner. Tears streamed down my face. Between stifled sobs, I told her how worried I was about Liam and how sad I was that I couldn't be there to take care of Soren.

She knew just what to do. She validated my worries about Liam. She picked up some popsicles and Pedialyte and took Soren to her house, so he would get the kind of attention only a mom can give to a sick kid. She brought dinner to our house that night.

I felt loved and safe and cared for.

My sister is my angel, and I am so grateful to have her be a part of my world.

I love you, Clee!

Saturday, October 18, 2014

New Hampshire Visit: 2014

Our trip to New Hampshire this year was the best. It was so nice to spend time with my in-laws (weird thing to say, I know, but true). Abe's brother Tanner, his wife, Holly, and their three boys were visiting as well, so between their family and the New Hampshire cousins, there were lots of kids to play with. I hardly saw my boys (save for the occasional story time). 

The weather was perfect. I loved hanging out my clothes to dry in the sunshine while songbirds made a joyful noise. We had lots of time to play outside in the lush, green grass and woods. 

And we got to see many people that we love--Abe's parents, of course, and his Nana, and his "other" family, the Irwins (we met his friend Jared's adorable baby boy), Six of the eleven kids in the family were there at some point. 

Also! We went to Santa's Village, the Christmas-themed amusement park where many of Abe's younger siblings worked as teenagers. It was truly a delight. 

I can't capture the joy of this trip in a blog post, but I'll try to compensate with a few pictures, 99% of which were taken by Abe's sister, Lara. (Thanks, Lara!) 

In which we visit people: 

The boys with Nana, Abe's grandmother.

Playing at Nana's house.

We had dinner at Quentin's house.
Here are Soren, Auntie Tailour, and Oliver.

We ate dinner with Lara and Nathan, et al. Here are Nate and Abe being all playful.

After dinner, we went for a stroll.
L-R: Maya, Abe, Nate, Lara, me, Soren, Liam

Abe and Soren enjoying the lovely New Hampshire evening.  

Me and Abe enjoying the beautiful New Hampshire evening.

                                                                We must have found something awesome.

    I couldn't resist the sweet tree house.

Yep. This pretty much sums up these two. 

(Though this was how they interacted 6 years ago.)

In which we spend the day at Santa's Village:

Liam sleeping en route.

Soren emerging from the spinning drums of the little drummer boy.

Waiting for the bumper cars (both above and below).

 Soren contemplating the magic of the wishing well. 

Me and Soren water racing. After a traumatic experience on a ride called the Flume (it's Splash Mountain-esque, Liam didn't want anything to do with water rides). 

        Ferris wheel! Liam yelled at me every time the car rocked. "Stop it, Mommy!"

There was an awesome water park portion inside Santa's Village.

                    This ride made my tummy sad.

Lara's remark here was that she thought the reindeer was a bit "dainty" for Abraham.

Chase and Maya on some Christmasosaurs. 

The Chimney Drop made me and Soren laugh hysterically. Chase and Lara liked it, too.
(P.S. My calves do not usually look that massive.)

In which we frolic in the water at Beaver Brook Falls:

L-R: Tailour, Maya, Soren, Me, Liam, Chase, Holly.

Building a dam. 
Sistas-in-law: Tailour, Holly, and me (above) or Lara (below)

Yes, Lara's hair is blue! Isn't it fabulous?

I love these ladies. 

In which the children do a lot of playing:


A very serious game of chess. L-R: Samuel, Chase, Liam, and Auntie Ivy

Uncle Caleb was a favorite playmate when he could be found. He and the kids created a "Hideout" in the woods. They all wrote their names on the sign. 

They were all VERY excited about having their "own" fire in the hideout.

In which Abe's and Caleb's birthdays (36 and 26, respectively) are celebrated

Abe sitting with his mama. 

Sharing a joke.

Birthday dinner! There was so much delicious pie.

In which various people demonstrate their affection for one another:

  Quentin resisting Abe's brotherly affections.

B and Gramps being adorable. 

Caleb, Gramps, and Abe.

The boys giving each other piggy back rides. (Quentin is hoisting Caleb while Abe looks puzzled.)

Maya is actually five months younger than Soren, but she can heft him easily!

L-R: Chase, Ethan, Soren, and Maya

Tailour and Quentin. 

Lara and Nathan.

Caleb with the kiddos. L-R: Chase, Soren, Liam (concerned about the crying baby), Oliver (also alarmed by the crying), Isaac (crying), Samuel, Maya, and Ethan

Caleb playing well his role as Pied Piper. 

Liam looking hale and hearty. 


Six of eleven. L-R: Caleb, Lara, Abe, Quentin, Tanner, Ivy 

Reading to some kiddos. The listening crowd grew from here. In the end, even Gramps joined storytime. No idea why I felt compelled to poke my leg out like that. 

Breakfast club! It was so fun to get out and have some "girl time" with these ladies.

Liam shows his love for his Uncle Nate by pretending to shoot him.

 This is called "mad scientist hair."

The apple and the tree.


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