To Heather, With Love

I often joke that marrying into my husband’s family was the best decision I ever made for my writing career.

But don’t think that that hasn’t been painful.

The reason is this: the Makechnies are hyper-critical. Excuse me, I mean, master wordsmiths.

You make one misstep and The Professor and his posse will pounce like a snake on a mouse and swallow you whole.

The biggest disagreements between my dear husband, and me, is when I ask him to “quickly look something over.” What I’m really looking for is, “Looks great, honey. Brilliant, in fact!”

I’m still waiting for that utterance.

It took me a long time to accept the fact that proofreading my work is not something we, as a couple, can share.

And yet, I still test the waters occasionally. He now begins by asking, “Do you want me to edit this or just tell you I like it?”

Except he just can’t do that.  And my sensitive feelers cannot handle it.

The Professor comes by the super-critical eye honestly. Both parents are superb readers, writers, and storytellers. As a child, The Professor remembers his mother, Heather, a precise grammarian, becoming incensed over poor sentence structure.

Grandma Heather has even taught my children well. When she asks a question like, “Who wants to go with Grandma to the beach?” Not one child in this house answers, “ME!!!!” Oh no. The correct answer is, “I do!” (not “Me want to go to the beach!”) You see the difference? Believe me, after almost twenty years in this family I know the difference.

IMG_3644All of my children have sat at Grandma’s feet as she taught with her stories and love of language. She dedicated her entire life to raising good children, and she loved her grandchildren with her whole heart. I marveled at the way she was able to reach into the soul of each child and fill them so completely.

IMG_1934 Last summer Grandma Heather gathered the grandchildren by the ocean, pointing out to sea, at the Isles of Shoal off the coast of New Hampshire, telling stories of our ancestors. The woman could hold the attention of even the most squirrely child.

21690705952_af26eef8e3_k-1Here Grandma Heather used her words to comfort my boy, as he watched his sister sail away on a boat called Ocean Classroom.

When I started this blog, Heather was delighted! Mostly because her grandchildren were prominently featured. She laughed and commented at the pictures of baby poop and lipstick smears. But she also liked and encouraged this new hobby I was obsessing over: writing. Over time, I found I had procured an editor.

I would sometimes receive emails like this : “Wonderful! I could not be more proud!”

Other times: “This is not ready to publish. Go back and do some editing.”

Perhaps my favorite: “If you write the word YUM one more time I will throw myself out the window.”

I resisted using the word YUM for at least eight months.

Writers are often told to, “Imagine your perfect reader. Don’t worry about writing for the world. Write for your one person.” I have many perfect readers in mind when I write, but provided with such blunt and persistent feedback, Heather was always on my mind before I hit “Publish.” Would she think it was funny? Would my imperfect sentences drive her mad?

I’ve worked and reworked sentence structures and subject-verb agreement with Heather in mind, on consistent tenses, on pronoun agreement, and just the write blend of somber and humor.

Heather played the critic for me: an essential role for any writer. Oh, we sensitive writers need many things from many people. We need the constant and consistent praisers, but we also need the critical eye. Be wary if your critique group only loves your work – they’re not doing their job. You need someone to knock you down a few times if you hope to survive.

Heather’s praise was often glowing, but her criticism could sting. My skin has grown tougher. She was reading and I was learning.

A week ago today I sat in a church pew as Heather Hope Makechnie was laid to rest. Her death was a shock and has left us all bereft. It is words I am having a hard time coming up with. I hear her in my head, but I miss her voice.

I have turned to the words she wrote to me. Last summer:

How I miss my Cope, Nelson, Brynne, and Paige.
I hear the echoes of their voices in the house. (Tennyson does, too.)
I see their books and clothes and toys. I see the empty swing and slide. I watch the carrots and sunflowers grow toward the sun. But they are not here, and there is a tinny sound in the echoes. FORTUNATELY they are deeply seated in my heart, and the eternal love-light glows.
I pray that you are SEEING, HEARING, TASTING, TOUCHING everything around you.
I know you will come home with many memories, but I predict that the most powerful and lasting memory you will have is of each other.
Semper commone.

I have not felt like writing anything at all. The void feels so big and vast I just want to lie down.

Avoidance came in the form of eating way too many brownies, spending too much money at Target, running miles, and cleaning the refrigerator (yes, avoidance takes extreme forms.) And yet, as always, I was drawn back to the computer. To make an attempt at words.

She was more than our storyteller, she was our family’s heart. And though she will not comment, email, or stop by for a visit to discuss the latest blog post, I like to think she’s still keeping tabs. I like to think she’s still my perfect reader – and making sure I haven’t resorted to using the word, “yum.”

Heather’s last comment on this blog was this: “OH, my heart! so much to love all in one place!”

Indeed. So much love.

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What Are You Going to Do With All Those Kid Papers?

It is the bane of every parent’s existence: ALL THOSE PIECES OF PAPER. What do you do with it all? Especially if you are trying to keep clutter to a minimum and have More of Less?

I’ve decided one must be ruthless to survive. A couple of years ago, I got serious. In our family, each child gets one color-coded file folder. This file lives in my yellow, spray-painted filing cabinet next to my desk on the main floor.

At the beginning of each school year, I write the name and school year on the top of the file folder. Throughout the year, I save only the most meaningful pieces of paper. If it doesn’t fit in the file folder? Sorry, it has to go :( DSC_0077  What about all of that artwork? We hang art on the wall for awhile, sometimes take a picture, and then wave good-bye (correction: I wave good-bye. Under no circumstances do you ask permission to throw something away!)

At the end of every school year, the yearly file gets plucked from the yellow filing cabinet and goes downstairs to live in a plastic, portable filing cabinet. Each child has one. The plan is that when our children leave the house, they can take their personal plastic filing cabinet with them: unnamed-1What about important documents, medical records, and glasses RX you need to access every once in awhile? Who wants to go down to the basement and try to find it? What I’ve done, is use those same colored file folders (for instance, Cope is always yellow) and write the name and “Records” on the top. This file lives permanently in my yellow filing cabinet upstairs so I can access it easily.DSC_0083

DSC_0079This was one of those pieces of paper I wanted to keep: Nelson’s Adidas shoe design he drew in 8th grade. It went in Nelson’s blue “2014-15” file folder.

This system has simplified life SO much. I’m keeping a record, but it’s simple and automatic. I used to turn all these papers into homemade photo books, but after baby #2 was born, I quickly discovered that paper and photos would literally turn into a full-time job. I just couldn’t keep up. The feeling that I wasn’t remembering my child’s life in a clear and organized fashion hung over me like a storm cloud. This system? No stress.

Would it be nicer to have it all in nice, 3-ringed binders? Perhaps. But this is what I can do.

The kids also have a bin in the basement where I’ve saved a few items like baby blankets, a special toy, or Nelson’s cowboy boots he wore for three years. Some items are keepers; but remember: you must be ruthless to survive in a world that loves STUFF!

When the darlings leave home, they’ll take their one filing cabinet and one bin. That’s it! Cope will probably also steal my shoes, but that’s another battle…

Speaking of organizing files, I have a lot of them.

All of my personal files live in my yellow filing cabinet. Here’s a look at my writing section:DSC_0087

I recently discovered the beauty of the label maker (how can this bring me such giddy joy? I don’t know but it does!!!)IMG_8793You’ll notice the color-coded children’s section up front.

That’s how I do. How do you do?

And happy weekend!

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A Great New Book: The More of Less

I read this great book last month:

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It opens with a Will Rogers quote: “Too many people spend money they haven’t earned to buy things they don’t want to impress people they don’t like.”

Isn’t it funny? Even as adults we’re still trying to impress each other.

Warning: Reading this book may lead to the frantic purging of closets, drawers and cupboards that require multiple trips to Goodwill and the curb. This behavior may also leave you feeling like the weight of the world is off your back … at least that was my reaction after just two dressers.

I often wonder about this phenomenon; why do we feel so much better when we get rid of stuff? What is it about stuff that is so burdensome?

In “The More of Less: Finding the Life You Want Under Everything You Own,” author Joshua Becker wrote a personal note: “Amy, if you like the book, help spread the word. It’s important stuff!”

He’s right – it’s important stuff. I’m spreading the word!

The book begins with a story: “Our two-car garage, as always, was full of stuff. Boxes stacked one on top of another threatened to fall off shelves. Bikes were tangled together, leaned against a wall … Rakes and shovels and brooms leaned every which way. Some days we’d have to turn sideways when getting in and out of our cars to squeeze through the mess that filled the garage.”

Oh my gosh, he’s been in my garage!

Reading prompted multiple questions: Why are we working such long, hard hours just so we can buy, collect and store stuff?

Why? What’s the point of it all?

As a society we may be working more, but for what?  I don’t want to live in a tree house, but my lifestyle is certainly far more extravagant than my parents, and far far more luxurious than my grandparents and their grandparents! I have a feeling they would be astounded at our wealth – I’ve seen the pictures of their poverty.

It’s hard for us in different ways. We’ve created a lifestyle that requires us to work longer hours, find multiple jobs, and make dual incomes. To alleviate the stress, many of us make it worse: We buy more (dopamine hit!)

And then, to take care of all our stuff, we have to clean it, organize it, buy more containers to organize it, and spend our precious weekends moving our stuff from one location to the other.

STOP the insanity!

We don’t really need to own all this stuff.

These were the words that changed Becker’s world in 2008 while talking to his elderly next-door neighbor as he struggled to clean his garage. While pulling out dusty, underused possessions, Becker noticed his son alone in the backyard. His son had wanted to play with him that morning, but alas, dad was too busy. “The juxtaposition of the two scenes dug deep into my heart, and I began to recognize the source of my discontent for the first time. … It was piled in my driveway.”

This moment is when Becker’s journey into minimalism began.

The whole point is this: “Our excessive possessions are not making us happy. Even worse, they are taking us away from the things that do. Once we let go of the things that don’t matter, we are free to pursue all the things that really do matter.”

Using both scientific studies and anectdotal stories, Becker tells us what our closets are telling us:

In America, we consume twice as many material goods as 50 years ago. Over the same period, the size of the average American home has nearly tripled and contains about 300,000 items. On average, our homes contain more televisions than PEOPLE! Home organization is now an $8 billion industry and still, one of out every 10 American households rents off-site storage, “the fastest-growing segment of the commercial real-estate industry over the past four decades.”

We Americans have a personal-debt problem, with the average household’s credit card debt over $15,000 and the average mortgage debt over $150,000.

Debt makes us very very unhappy.

Becker wants us to see our overstuffed homes for what they are: distractions from the source of true happiness like relationships, free time, financial freedom and less stress.

He acknowledges it’s not easy, particularly for families with children, pets, and a lifetime of momentos. It takes a hard look and family agreement to know how to realistically downsize. It can take months and even years to change our habits and actually own less. I’m finding this to be true.

Purging is not an overnight phenomenon.

(I know, hadn’t I already done this?). Habits are hardwired. It’s very difficult to say good-bye. For instance:

unnamed-5 I’ve kept my sun-bleached lifeguarding hair for TWENTY YEARS.

unnamed-3 I made these crayfish claw earrings for my sister as a joke in high school or college. She kindly regifted them to me. I bravely tossed them. And now I’m actually sad because they’d make a great gag gift! See? That’s another reason we don’t throw away – sometimes we regret it!

unnamed-4 A small white statue with a broken arm. It has sentimental value, but alas, it has sat at the back of my drawer for decades.

unnamed-7 Do I really need a dusty tassle?

unnamed-6 What this is and where did it come from?

Brynne has also caught the decluttering bug. Outside her bedroom I heard her say, “Paige! You can’t keep it! Does it SPARK JOY???!”unnamed-2

unnamed-1I purged most of our CDs and many many movies that I can stream from Spotify or Netflix.

I’ve still got drawers and file cabinets and rooms to go, but it feels SO SO good to have less stuff.

Read this book! (and no, I’m not getting anything out of this review.) Becker makes such a great case, I’m convinced that if we followed a path of minimalism (owning less stuff) we would reap the benefits Becker is seeing all over the minimalist world: greater joy, more contentment, increased generosity, more high-quality possessions, a better example to our children, less work for ourselves and others, less comparison, less distraction, and freedom to pursue what we were really put on this earth to do.

Though its not a religious book, Becker is a preacher (love that). He’s a seeker of happiness and enlightenment. He recounts the story of the rich man who asks Jesus what he can do to gain eternal life. Jesus says to sell all that he has, give it to the poor, and follow him. But when the young man “heard that saying, he went away sorrowful: for he had great possessions.”

I recently read in the New York Times, that it’s not possible to be an atheist: we all worship something. A good question for us all: What are we worshipping?

The More of Less was released on May 3 and after its first week, landed on many National Bestseller Lists:

  • USA Today Bestsellers List: #10 in Nonfiction; #2 in Self-Help
  • Publisher’s Weekly: #13 in Hardcover Nonfiction
  • iBooks: #10 in Nonfiction
  • Amazon: #1 in Several Categories

Becker also writes a great blog, Becoming Minimalist!

Henry David Thoreau and John Ruskin are often referred to as the “fathers of the minimalist movement.” Becker? I’d say he’s a modern-day leader.

We don’t need to own all this stuff. I vow to keep trying.

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Game-Changing Weekend Links {May 2016 Edition}

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  1. Paige made me bread. Here’s a similar recipe from NYTimes. More to come from Master Chef Paige.
  2. This girl is intriguing. Two years of trash fit into one mason jar. WHAT?
  3. Latest podcast obsession? Hidden Brain. Listen to episode 26: GRIT.
  4. Love this Adam Grant TED talk! spoiler: original thinkers are often cautious. They procrastinate, too. Grant’s book is on my Amazon Wish List.
  5. How could empathy be dangerous? It could lead to world peace…
  6. Compliments are Free.
  7. Students: Put Your Laptops Away. You know I love it!
  8. Someone told me they started doing this. And their kids were nicer :)
  9. Waiting for Augusta is here!
  10. We started with food. Let’s end on food. Joy the Baker is a joy to read! But The Professor is the one who knows the way to my heart with these Mother’s Day, grilled curry vegetables:unnamed-2
  11. Which is a good thing, as The Boy won’t let me kiss him in front of the camera any longer. “Mom. No. No. No.” This is unlinkable :) unnamed-1

Hope you enjoy (with vegetables and kisses) – and Hallelujah, it’s the Weekend!

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I Swore I Wouldn’t Do It…Then I Did

"Seriously, mom. It's such a dinosaur."

“Seriously, mom. It’s such a dinosaur.”

“Our children will not have iPhones. I don’t care how uncool it is. They will absolutely not carry the internet in their pocket. Ever.”

I’m pretty flexible. I’m an obliger (take the test!) It would be my great horror to be viewed as a megalomaniac.

Sometimes I should care more, but I just don’t. Where to go to dinner? I don’t really care (as long as it’s not McDonald’s). The Professor wants to choose the color of the van interior? Have at it. You want some input on a new living room rug design? Either one is fine. I just don’t care. It feels inconsequential. It doesn’t matter. Yes, sometimes I should care more. For example, I’m prone to impatiently hacking my hair off every few months (I really shouldn’t.)

But there are other Amy Absolutes:

Thou shalt not have a DVD player in the car. Because children should be bored occasionally, daydream, and look out the window. Maybe even talk to me.

Thou shalt not do all the chores. Because a working family is a happy family! And the mother is not the slave of the family.

Thou shalt not speak rudely to mom and dad. Because honoring thy mother and thy father is a worthy endeavor.

Thou shalt not use my toothbrush. Or I will never speak to you again. The Professor has had to ask for forgiveness on multiple occasions. 

Oh yes, these things do matter. Technology use is my hot-button. I can get more fired-up about technology rules than most political candidates. Kids and iPhones. No. Why in the world would I put that device in my child’s pocket when there is a world to explore? When technology addiction is rampant, when a child’s brain is so malleable and still forming?

No, we shall frolic and sing with our bonnets and aprons on at all times….

The hills are alive with the sound of music!

The hills are alive…

I’m sad and terrified when so many of our children do not know how to read a textbook and pull out cohesive “take-aways.” When The Classics are “boring.” When Google is so easy, that “hard” is avoided at all costs. When English courses have to cut out whole books, curriculum, and reading because our teens just don’t have the brain power to sit still, absorb, and ponder Anna Karenina. I liked this post.

And yeah, I blame technology for some of that. I read less because of my phone. It sits on my bedside table, putting me to sleep and waking me up. All the dings, alerts, and Twitter notifications that go off in our pockets, pulling us away from absorbing, focusing, and being “all in.” I see the effect in my classroom every.single.day. I fight that battle every.single.day.

Two years ago I wrote about my gollum-like fascination after finally getting an iPhone. It’s been life-changing. I can actually find your house now with that nifty GPS! I keep an on-line calendar, use reminders, check Instagram, comment on Facebook and blogs, schedule appointments – I LOVE my phone. I love it. I love it too much. Which is why I wanted to keep it out of the hands of my darlings as long as possible.

“My friends make fun of me everyday,” The Boy tells me. After revealing he had to ask permission to use technology at home, his friend literally rolled on the floor laughing. Now, every time he sees The Boy using his iPad at school he says, “Nelson, did you ask permission??!” 

Come on now, are technology rules SO WRONG?

Last month when I assigned a homework assignment, it involved downloading the Adobe Voice app. Every single student whipped out their smart phone. I realized maybe my high school kids were right…they were the oddballs. But aren’t oddballs adorable?

My oldest darling, Cope, is a junior in high school. She has a flip phone, which is “absolutely mortifying.” The Boy, a freshman, flat out refused. He would rather not have a phone than to be seen with something “so lame.” Which sounds terribly materialistic, but there are a few things in a boy’s life that really matter (girls, meat, shoes…and phones?)

Let us back track to last week when The Professor said, “I think we should get you a new phone for Mother’s Day.” My contract was up, you see, and I’d been drooling over the new and improved camera feature. I didn’t object to The Professor’s wishes :)

Yesterday, we giddily (read: me) visited a Verizon store (where the customer service is out of this world, awesome) and discovered that not only could I get a new phone, but we could upgrade to a better plan (text me! I now have unlimited texting!!!!) and also transfer my daughter’s phone number to my older iPhone and pay LESS than what we were paying for her flip phone.

Ah, geez.

What’s a mom to do?

We took the deal.

Yep, I sold my child’s imagination for a few silver coins. The world is ending.

I had a moment. “Wait, wait, wait! I only want her to be able to take photos, text and call – THAT’S IT!” It turns out we can control the cellular data (for $5/month!) but if she has wi-fi? Well, it’s free reign.

I felt ashamedly resigned. I rationalized like this: she’s a good girl. she has a good imagination. she still loves to read. and sing. and yeah, she’s a bit addicted to youtube videos but mostly if they involve Lin-Manuel or cheesy BYU studio C outtakes. Also, I know that technology, used the right way, is AWESOME. We can change the world right from home!

At least, as far as I know. Maybe I don’t know. Maybe they’re all tech addicts at 3a.m. If you know of such behavior, you better tell me.

We held out for almost 17 years. Maybe it was time to extend the leash a little further. In a few short years, mom isn’t going to be around to set the parameters (I weep.)

The best part was having our stellar Verizon gal, Kelly, transfer Cope’s old number and plan to my older iPhone, knowing her flip phone would suddenly stop working. She was going to freak out. When Cope came home from school I showed her my new phone, which she drooled over, as I casually asked, “I called you today – why didn’t you call me back?”

“Something is wrong with my phone.”

“You must have dropped it.”

“No, mom, I swear. I didn’t drop it!”

“How sad,” I said. She sighed.

At this point I very slowly took out my old iPhone. Before I could say anything she screamed. And started hopping up and down. It was rather wonderful.

After having yet another technology discussion (I like to be thorough :) ) she reached out her hands, snatched the iPhone, and whispered, “Precious.”

Heaven help us all.

Alas, it’s not all roses around here. The Boy has taken this injustice very personally. We obviously have favorite children.

“Mom,” he says, following me around. “You’ve got to let me have Snapchat now – you gave Cope an iPhone!”

That, my friends, is the latest battle. What say ye? Do tell.

 

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Recent Book Reads and Recommendations!

Book recommendations are some of my favorite posts to write!

If you read my last book post, you know of my utter obsession with Liane Moriarty (Nicole Kidman and Reese Witherspoon will soon star on-screen in Big, Little Lies.) I gobbled up three of her books late in 2015 and spent January and February running back and forth to the library to check out her earlier books. Have I mentioned? My librarians are my BFFs.

Here’s what I’ve been reading the last few months…

1. The Hypnotist’s Love Story by Liane Moriarty: Ellen is a hypnotherapist and finally falling in love. But new love, Patrick, has a stalker ex-girlfriend. Ellen is intrigued and thinks it would be fun to meet stalker…she doesn’t know she already has…

2. The Last Anniversary by Liane Moriary: Sophie has unexpectedly inherited her ex-boyfriend’s Aunt Connie’s house on Scribbly Gum Island—home of the famously unsolved Munro Baby mystery. A cute read about finding your own happiness. And I love the name “Scribbly Gum Island.” I want to move there.

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3. Three Wishes by Liane Moriarty. Moriarty’s debut novel about 3 beautiful triplets – they are so dramatic! As a reader who loves character-driven novels, Moriarty nails it every time. I’ve asked Moriarty to tone down the swearing but she says her characters have a mind of their own…

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You can tell how much better Moriarty has gotten as her subsequent books are released – a very fun author observation! This is also great news for all of us: WRITING IS A CRAFT we can all learn.

And now I’ve read all her books and am in a deep, dark slump…but don’t fret, Ms. Moriarty has a new book coming out this July! And my BFF (dear librarian, Gail) has already ordered it for me. I tell you, there are benefits living in the sticks!

Coming in July… (I mean, shouldn’t they hire me to be her publicist or something?)

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4. Writing Irresistible Kidlit by Mary Kole: So, so, good. A former literary agent, Kole knows the business. Want to write for kids of any age? READ THIS NOW. I’ve underlined and ear-marked every page.

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5. The War That Saved my Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley: “Mom, you HAVE to read this book!” my 11-year-old Brynne insisted. It was a very good, award-winning middle grade read set in WWII.

6. Finding Audrey by Sophia Kinsella: My first Kinsella book, I had to read this young adult novel after my oldest couldn’t stop laughing and saying, “The mom in this book is SO YOU!” Which, after reading, was totally unflattering. Kinsella does a great job using humor to write about a serious, psychological issue.

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7. Secrets of a Charmed Life by Susan Meisner: An adult historical fiction novel set in WWII that features two young sisters separated during the Blitz in England. Heart wrenching for me to read about a missing child.

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8. Medium Hero by Korby Lenker: A collection of short stories, Korby Lenker CAN WRITE! I loved this collection so much. Lender will make you laugh and cry and think about your faith as he searches for his own.

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9. The More of Less: Finding the Life You Want Under Everything You Own by Joshua Becker: THIS BOOK is going to be big and deserves its own post. Joshua, of the hugely popular blog, Becoming Minimalist sent me an Advanced Reading Copy as he is about to release this gem of a book. Pre-order before May 3rd and you’ll have free access to the Minimalist class. I’m not joking: this book is a life-changer. It’s fantastic. You’ll be hearing more…

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10. When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi: I weep. What happens when a brilliant neuroscientist gets cancer just as he is finally embarking on his calling in life? A #1 New York Times Bestseller, “For readers of Atul Gawande, Andrew Solomon, and Anne Lamott, a profoundly moving, exquisitely observed memoir by a young neurosurgeon faced with a terminal cancer diagnosis who attempts to answer the question What makes a life worth living?” I was trying to drift into a restful Sunday nap while reading but couldn’t stop crying and sniffling. The Professor puts up with a lot, I tell you. Worthy read.

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And now on to the next batch of books. Tell me, dear friends, have any book recommendations for us?

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Ordinary Days

1. Happy Earth Day! It’s finally warm enough to run outdoors in shorts!unnamed-10

2. New Hampshire weather keeps us on our toes! It’s 70 degrees one day and freezing the next. Look at these stoic daffodils:unnamed-13

3. But even the frost can’t keep spring away…unnamed-9

4. It’s the month of speeches! Eldest stays up late into the night to write a speech as she runs for school leader…unnamed-7

5. And Brynne and Paige recite poetry on stage. Here Brynne recites, “The Highwayman.” A macabre family favorite. Happy Poetry Month!unnamed-6

6. Let’s go back to the good earth. I’m obsessed with these sweet mini peppers. Best snack ever. And breakfast, lunch, and dinner.unnamed-1

7. In other news, the boy doesn’t like my clothing selections. “No, I will not wear this to formal, Mom.” But why, aren’t you still, like, five?unnamed-5

8. We finally dyed our Easter eggs. It’s still fun in April…unnamed-11

9. It’s rare for a child to run after me, begging me not to go. I’m prone to spoil children for their devotion.unnamed-2

10. As I was eavesdropping on two girls purging their room, I heard, “Paige, you can’t keep it! DOES IT SPARK JOY???” Yes, Marie and her Tidying Book has rubbed off on us all..unnamed

11. Seeing The Professor use his brand new pole saw (after years of the wife nagging,) made me swoon. My, how romances changes in a marriage.unnamed-4

12. Bonfires! But only with permits and discretion: it’s fire season.unnamed-8

Happy weekend…and to all your glorious ordinary days!

p.s. This post is dedicated to Prince, a childhood favorite.

“Dearly beloved
We are gathered here today
To get through this thing called life

Electric word life
It means forever and that’s a mighty long time
But I’m here to tell you
There’s something else
The after world

A world of never ending happiness
You can always see the sun, day or night…”

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10 Reasons You Might Want to Go On a Cruise

Before this year, I’d never been on a cruise ship before. It’s not the type of vacation my parents ever took us on growing up. Cruise ships were for other people. Besides, getting on a boat with a few hundred strangers? No, thank you.

But when my mother had the brilliant idea of taking her daughters and daughters-in-law on a bonding trip, a cruise came up. So I did my daughterly duty and took one for the team :)

My mom was very insistent that we ALL come. We wanted to go a full week, and with six of us trying to figure out schedules, childcare, and work details, there were A LOT of emails sent back and forth.

Finally it was decided. We would go on a 4-day March cruise to Key West and the Bahamas – two places I’d never been. Even when we had our tickets I felt like I was living in a dream world. The Kardashians go to the Bahamas. I go to, like, Wyoming.

As the day approached, I was excited, thou I also had that mother-guilt of leaving the kids and husband behind during their spring break. Yes, it was a cross I had to bear…:)

I have to say: I’m sold. It was incredible.

If you’ve ever thought about embarking on a cruise ship, here are ten reasons why you might absolutely love it.

10. Get a taste of the TitanicDSC_0582 Wait. That’s not a selling point? I wasn’t scared of the ship going down, but I think anyone who gets on a vessel this large must have that scenario run through their head. The ship is huge. Everyone has to attend a safety meeting the first day. It was pretty awesome to embark on something that big and to float into the sea.

9. Have a Relaxing and Luxurious VacationDSC_0292 We don’t take relaxing and luxurious trips. It’s more like, Get your backpacks and you’re one change of clothes! We’re going to rough it, eat squirrel, and like it! Which, you know, has its place but it’s not exactly… relaxing. On a cruise, you’re treated like royalty. Someone comes in to “make up your bed” twice a day. There is a gym, spa, yoga, games, night-time karaoke, dancing, and 24-hour room service. Everyone is so nice.  You don’t lift a finger. You begin to think: I could get used to this.

8. Adventures of a LifetimeDSC_0514 My mom and sister will love this photo…aren’t they cute? :) It was my first time snorkeling and once I got past gulping salt water and the chilly water, it was a blast! DSC_0023 Another activity I’ve never done: parasailing! Hands down, a sisterhood favorite. I’m scared of heights but I wasn’t at all afraid up there in the sky. It was so fun. So exhilarating. SO BEAUTIFUL.DSC_0257 This is Key West. I couldn’t get over the color of the water.IMG_9577-14 Cope wasn’t drooling over my water pictures…just the boat crew and photographer :)

7. Sea and Animal LifeIMG_9642-32 When you can dive down and pick a starfish off the ocean floor? Wicked cool, no?

IMG_9596-22Many seagulls and birds.

6. FOOD!DSC_0543 So, when you go on a cruise, you’ve already paid for everything. You never have to pull out your credit card unless you’re buying the extras. I couldn’t get over the fact that I could walk into a buffet every morning, lunch, dinner, snack, and late-night snack to get unlimited FOOD that I DIDN’T HAVE TO PREPARE or clean up after. I was so thankful for this fact I could have wept several times.

And the food was good. We were on a Celebrity cruise. I’ve been told Norwegian cruise lines are even better, but I tell you what, I felt I was living pretty large!DSC_0373

5. It’s an Economically-Savvy Way to See the World!DSC_0569 This is downtown Bahamas which has a lot of history. It was very sobering to know that the dock we landed at was a former slave auction/port. Cruising is a pretty economical way to see the world. Our tickets, with taxes, came out to about $500. For $100 more we could have had a 7-day cruise and seen more of the world.

Hotel costs, transportation, and food will eat that money up in a second. In addition, there is NO HASSLE. You just get off at different ports, explore, snorkel or whatever else you want to do, and make sure you get back on the boat at 4 pm. (If you miss the boat you’re on your own!)

Every other time I travel, we are using the GPS, finding a place to eat, calculating costs, figuring out the hotel, how to get here and there. This was just so easy.

4. Disconnect and UnplugDSC_0440 A wi-fi plan is available, but I didn’t want to pay for it, nor did I have any urgent business. I just shut my phone off for four days and hoped the kids would survive. Gasp…I had to read books and talk to real people! No email to check, no texts to respond to. Until you unplug, you might not realize what a load it really is.

IMG_9656-37It was very freeing to ponder the great big world under the great big sky.

3. Get a Taste of How Others Spend Spring BreakDSC_0552  Yeah, so I’m joking about this one. But one afternoon while we were in port we chose Señor Frogs and realized it was party destination number 1. We Mormon moms were only slightly out of place…haha!

2. See the Great Beauty of the World IMG_9647-34 Man, there is so much beauty out there.DSC_0256 I took a gazillion shots of the sunrise and sunsets. Watching the sun slowly slowly come up over the horizon was like watching a master artist.DSC_0180 I remember Cope telling me that we should STOP using plastics because it’s destroying ocean life. Once you’re on that ocean you really understand what a precious and beautiful resource it is…and maybe it’s one worth preserving (those “beady” face washes? Plastic? Destroying the ocean.)DSC_0234 Clouds and water and sunsets hold an enormous fascination.DSC_0393  DSC_0270 A fishing vessel out on the water.

1. BondingDSC_0364 Bonding was the #1 purpose of this trip and that’s exactly what occurred. I loved these girls before, but I loved them even more now. We’re all so busy, living in different parts of America, working hard, raising kids, and only get to see each other once a year.CCS-160313-8x10BarsLounges-5285162_GPR Aren’t they beautiful? How FUN and wonderful to leave real life behind for awhile, to get to know one another even better. To laugh, cry, karaoke, eat, and talk late into the night.IMG_9640-30 Such a dorky picture of me, but you know, we were pretty darn happy :)DSC_0443 Thank you, Mama Mary. For such a great idea. For sponsoring us, for loving us, for bringing us together.IMG_8203Will there be a next time? Oh, you bet your pa-tooty! It was unanimously decided it’s a definite YES. Top picks: Charleston, a ranch, another cruise, Venice, North Carolina…so many parts of the world we need to see TOGETHER.

I came back with a totally new appreciation of vacationing on a cruise ship. And I’m already planning a husband/wife trip…the Professor isn’t so sure but I think I can sell it. Anyone else in?

xoxo.

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Game-Changing Weekend Links

lemonbar1

Its the weekend – hooray! Am I the only one who needs a nap? But perhaps you’d like to read these first:

  1. Remember these luscious lemon bars? Now that it’s officially Spring you can MAKE THEM NOW.
  2. Have a highly sensitive child? Listen to Susan Cain’s Quiet Podcast, Episode 9. So good.
  3. I am so angry at the food industry. Watch this. Guys, we need to STOP feeding our children poison aka SUGAR. It’s literally killing us. Also on Netflix.
  4. Creative People Say No. Oh, I needed to read this one.
  5. What legacy are you leaving behind? Thought-provoking.

Happy weekend!

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This is not a program; it is who we are {how to help refugees}

I think it’s so cool when people take their vacation and sick days to travel to Greece and hand out water and food. I often wish I could helicopter in and distribute coats. I wish I could hold and feed babies.

I admit feeling helpless when I hear about the 60 million displaced refugees around the world.

And it’s also easy for me to turn off the news, compartmentalize suffering, and head off to soccer practice.

This past weekend was General Conference, eight hours of talks by leaders of the our church. Funny how much I LOVE it now (really, eight HOURS???.) Instead of getting in the car on Sunday to go to church we get to watch from home (both Saturday AND Sunday!) It’s this awesomely spiritual down day.

With the help of cinnamon rolls, notebooks, and new sharpies :) Cope saw these and said…”oh, I smell love.”unnamed-1

So we listened to talks by men and women who spend all the minutes of their day volunteering their time and energy to loving and serving others. Very inspiring.

The Relief Society is the women’s organization of the church and it is the largest women’s organization in the world. It’s purpose is just as it sounds: to provide relief to those in need. Once again there was a call to action – to help our brothers and sister refugees.

How to help? There was a new program announced called I Was a Stranger.

Citing information from the United Nations, Sister Burton (the Relief Society general president) said there are more than 60 million refugees worldwide and half of those are children.

The program doesn’t ask for us to fly to Greece or organize a huge relief drive (though those are awesome endeavors). “This is an opportunity to serve one-on-one, in families, and by organization to offer friendship, mentoring, and other Christlike service and is one of many ways sisters can serve.”

It reminded me of a friend who said to me, “You know, there are a lot of people who will fly across the world to help but won’t walk across the street to help their neighbor.”

I haven’t stopped thinking about that. It’s pretty simple, really. As we prayerfully seek guidance, I think we’ll be guided to just the right opportunity.

All the talks we heard were fantastic. You can watch HERE if you’re interested or just curious about what we Mormons sit around watching :)

But this talk by Patrick Kearon about refugees was especially great:

I’m thinking maybe I should just keep making cinnamon rolls…that would make someone happy, right???

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