7. My favorite Valentine tradition: the annual heart attack! I thought we might be getting too old for this, but we did this again last night and nope, never too old for this activity. Cut out heart, write someone nice for each person in the family, and then read them out loud. By the end, EVERYONE is smiling: Grandpa, Uncle, Dad, teenagers, and pre-teens. Even the dog got a valentine! Hang them on the wall and you’ve got a reminder that you like one another.
Reading gets me through the long month of January. Have any reading goals for 2019? I’m going to read 50 books this year (Lord willing and the river don’t rise). I’ll be keeping track in a leather journal and on Goodreads (why I keep both, I’m not sure). If you’re not on Goodreads, I highly recommend it. It’s easy to navigate and is somewhat like an accountability buddy. Once you finish one book, it sends you an email that says, Congratulations, what’s next? Me and my personality eat up this type of thing.
I’m quite pleased with the number of books I got through in January, though it’s a bit of a cheat as I started the first two in 2018, but never mind, I’m counting it. So here you go, all good books: Save the Cat by Blake Snyder. Even if you’re not writing a screenplay, this a a worthy read for any writer. And who knows, you might be so inspired you become the next Matt Damon/Ben Affleck (of Goodwill Hunting) powerhouse.
Front Desk by Kelly Yang recently won the Asian/Pacific American Award for Children’s Literature – a very prestigious honor! If you like well-written middle grade with a smart and problem-solving protagonist, pick this one up. It’s great!
The Book of Mormon, Another Testament of Jesus Christ. Following an invitation to finish this by the end of the year in 2018, I was a little late and finished in January. I love this book. You can see it’s worn from all the years of reading, marking up, moving, and handling. If you’re interested in religion, Jesus Christ, prophets, and history (think A LOT of bloody wars), here you go. This book has power; it’s changed my life.
The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon by Stephen King. Likely the tamest of the tame by King standards, I wanted to read a book that would teach me about suspense without giving me nightmares for twenty years (Hello, The Shining.) This is about a girl who gets lost in the New Hampshire woods for over a week. She gets bitten by a lot of black flies and as the sun sets, hears all the spooky sounds of the unknown… It was pretty good (and no nightmares.)
The Elizas by Sara Shepard (of Pretty Little Liars fame). I was looking for a psychological page turner and The Elizas showed up. Though originally turned off by the premise of a girl who can’t remember large chunks of her past due to drinking large amounts of alcohol (yawn), Shepard went in a different direction (brain tumor!? munscion syndrome!?) It was a page turner even if the ending was completely implausible 🙂
Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens. This is going to be made into a movie, I’m sure of it. If you like beautifully descriptive nature writing (reminiscent of the incomparable Pat Conroy) paired with love and a whodunnit mystery, here’s your book. I’m not quite finished, but I couldn’t wait to share! (Thanks for the rec, Annie!)
Dream Work by Mary Oliver. Oh Mary, I love her so. If you haven’t read the poetry of Mary Oliver, you simply must. In honor of her recent passing, I had to check this out. What a collection! A great NPR tribute HERE.
One of my favorites, “The Summer Day” by Mary Oliver:
Who made the world? Who made the swan, and the black bear? Who made the grasshopper? This grasshopper, I mean- the one who has flung herself out of the grass, the one who is eating sugar out of my hand, who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down- who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes. Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face. Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away. I don’t know exactly what a prayer is. I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass, how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields, which is what I have been doing all day. Tell me, what else should I have done? Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon? Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?
And now my friends, what ARE you going to do with your one wild and precious life? Does it include reading?
Today marks a momentous day: the 45th anniversary of my parent’s marriage. The texts, chocolate, and flowers sent don’t do justice to the gift my parents have given our family.
My mother was age 19 when she married. By age 20 she had twins (surprise!). By age 21 she had a third. She was tired.
What did I know of hardship? Life was fun!
I always thought my mother described her decision to marry as rather unromantic. It wasn’t so much of being “madly in love,” but rather, “I felt it was the right thing to do.”
Frowning, I vowed too have both 🙂
She was a nursing major, but had to drop out of the program she was so sick. She lost weight during her pregnancies and had to move back home for awhile so her mother could take care of the twins (me and my brother) while she tried to hold down food and complete homework. And yet, by sheer grit (and family babysitting) she did get that 4-year-degree in Family Science! (which proved to be one of the best decisions she ever made. We were great parenting guinea pigs.)
Me and my two chums (Peter and Andrea; we were more like triplets) lived in a little blue trailer at the base of Mount Timpanogus in Provo, Utah, while both parents finished school, worked, and raised three messy babies who liked to run away (mostly Peter!)
The Three Little Pigs
When Peter and I were age 2, we moved to Omaha, Nebraska – far far away from family to the unknown midwest. Two more babies, Eric and Patrick, were born. I ADORED playing house with them, wrapping them up and hauling them around. It was a very stressful period of time for my parents: no money, starting a business, trying to make payroll, five children under the age of seven, long long work hours for my dad, home all day with kids for my mom. I know my mom contemplated what leaving would look like.
Always one who was keenly interested in people and relationships, I was both blithely unaware of marital challenges and observant of their behavior toward one another.
I would say this: they loved one another. They had a great respect for one another. They didn’t yell. They never demeaned one another (though my mother is widely known for her witty, slightly sarcastic tongue 🙂 )They had a united front. They had great faith that “sticking it out” would have eternal and lasting consequences. They taught us what commitment looks like.
My parents with their five children. I’m the oldest and the shortest – but I can still take my brothers in a push-up contest…maybe.
There’s nothing my parents love more than their family – even the crying babies.
Yesterday, on the eve of their 45th anniversary, my dad sent his five children the love story of Fyodor Dostoyevsky (the brilliant author of Crime and Punishment) and Anna Dostoyevskaya (also brilliant; his editor and researcher.) Read the whole story HERE – it’s so good.
Of their love story, Anna wrote:
Throughout my life it has always seemed a kind of mystery to me that my good husband not only loved and respected me as many husbands love and respect their wives, but almost worshipped me, as though I were some special being created just for him. And this was true not only at the beginning of our marriage but through all the remaining years of it, up to his very death. Whereas in reality I was not distinguished for my good looks, nor did I possess talent nor any special intellectual cultivation, and I had no more than a secondary education. And yet, despite all that, I earned the profound respect, almost the adoration of a man so creative and brilliant.
This enigma was cleared up for me somewhat when I read V.V. Rozanov’s note to a letter of Strakhov dated January 5, 1890, in his book Literary Exiles. Let me quote:
“No one, not even a ‘friend,’ can make us better. But it is a great happiness in life to meet a person of quite different construction, different bent, completely dissimilar views who, while always remaining himself and in no wise echoing us nor currying favor with us (as sometimes happens) and not trying to insinuate his soul (and an insincere soul at that!) into our psyche, into our muddle, into our tangle, would stand as a firm wall, as a check to our follies and our irrationalities, which every human being has. Friendship lies in contradiction and not in agreement! Verily, God granted me Strakhov as a teacher and my friendship with him, my feelings for him were ever a kind of firm wall on which I felt I could always lean, or rather rest. And it won’t let you fall, and it gives warmth.”
In truth, my husband and I were persons of “quite different construction, different bent, completely dissimilar views.” But we always remained ourselves, in no way echoing nor currying favor with one another, neither of us trying to meddle with the other’s soul, neither I with his psyche nor he with mine. And in this way my good husband and I, both of us, felt ourselves free in spirit.
Fyodor Mikhailovich, who reflected so much in so much solitude on the deepest problems of the human heart, doubtless prized my non-interference in his spiritual and intellectual life. And therefore he would sometimes say to me, “You are the only woman who ever understood me!” (That was what he valued above all.) He looked on me as a rock on which he felt he could lean, or rather rest. “And it won’t let you fall, and it gives warmth.”
It is this, I believe, which explains the astonishing trust my husband had in me and in all my acts, although nothing I ever did transcended the limits of the ordinary. It was these mutual attitudes which enabled both of us to live in the fourteen years of our married life in the greatest happiness possible for human beings on earth.
Trouble and struggle certainly found my parents. Their personalities are very different, as they will be the first to tell you, but I believe my father sent his children the above note as a reminder that despite the mystery we are to one another, love is a kind of firm wall on which we feel we can always lean, or rather rest. And it won’t let you fall, and it gives warmth.
This is certainly what they have done for one another, and return, have given their children and our children a place to lean that is immovable. Their love lets us rest when we have struggles of our own. It doesn’t let us fall. It gives warmth.
Day to day, great love stories are often quite mundane and ordinary, but over time, become quite extraordinary.
I love you, Mom and Dad. Thank you. Happy Anniversary.
My Top 12 books include memoir, a literary thriller, middle grade, historical fiction, and even a graphic comic book (an unusual choice for me). Interestingly, only two of the twelve books were written by men.
My 2018 reading goal was 50. I made it to 40. Of the 40 books, nine were written by men, thirty-one by females. (What does this mean and does it matter? Do I need to diversify?) I keep track on Goodreads, which is super fun and a way to stay organized if you like that sort of thing. So here you go, my TOP 12:
Always looking for book recommendations so tell me your 2018 favorites! And do you have any 2019 goals? I’m determined to read more!
Looking for a quick and tasty holiday appetizer? Look no further. These simple sugared cranberry brie bites will give every foodie just the right fix.This recipe was originally posted at Annie’s-Eats, one of my favorite food blogs. The sugared cranberries are a Christmas staple around here; they have the most fantastic sugar tart POP!
First, you’re going to make a simple syrup to coat the cranberries and then let them dry on a drying rack like this, for about an hour.
Then you’ll coat them with more sugar. Yes, I’m saying sugar on the blog, oh dear. Justification: cranberries are soooo nutritious, but difficult to eat without a little bit of the white stuff.
A little bit of brie cheese on a wheat cracker and there you go!
Sugared Cranberry Brie Bites:
1. Procure wheat crackers. Round crackers give a nice aesthetic appeal.
2. Pick out a nice Brie (we’re pleased with PRÉSIDENT® BRIE ROUND)
3. Sugar your cranberries:
Simple Syrup: Over medium heat, combine 1/2 cup water and 1/2 cup white sugar. Sir until combined. Take off heat. Pour in a bag of cranberries, just to coat (not to cook.) Using a slotted spoon, lay cranberries on a drying rack for ONE HOUR, at least. The cranberries should slightly sticky dry, but not wet.
Next, pour some sugar into a bowl. Pour cranberries into bowl to coat. And that’s it. Really.
Now, let’s sing – FA-LA-LA-LA-LA-LA-LA-LAAAAAA…it’s sugared cranberry brie bite time!
Here are some beloved items you may consider for the Christmas season:
For the convenient, cool and earth-friendly:
Bamboo Travel Utensils – To-Go Ware Utensil Set with Carrying Case. Yep! This is the gift I’m MOST EXCITED about giving this year! When I saw these bamboo utensils in their cute carrying case hanging off a colleagues backpack (thank you, Lynn!) I knew the perfect person to give them to: my earth-conscious missionary daughter who doesn’t need “stuff.” THESE. I want a set for the whole family (suggestion met with blank looks). What’s the big deal, you ask? LESS PLASTIC. Everywhere you go, you can whip out your bamboo utensils instead of using plastic disposable utensils that are cluttering up the oceans and forests and killing our cod. Just recently, missionary Cope-headed-toTaiwn asked me to send some chopsticks. This set COMES WITH CHOPSTICKS. I cannot get over the cleverness. (My son demonstrated what this might look like at the lunch table were he to pull out his bamboo fork. Obviously only the mature can handle the cleverness.)
Silpat Baking Mat: Thank you, Glenn and Kim! I adore these baking mats because: no more pan scrubbing!
For your HEALTH:
Garmin Forerunner Watch: It’s not inexpensive, but on the other hand, a total bargain. One of the best things I own. No matter where you walk or run, this watch tracks total time run, pace, mile splits, and heart rate. It’s a huge bargain if you look at it from a health perspective. Look for sales at Groupon.com, Amazon, and Garmin.com.
I have a lot of favorite “things” (like pens and paper!) but these are just a couple I’ve recently thought of. My kids have been doing a lot of “no-sugar” challenges and so for stockings, Santa and I are collaborating on Lara Bars (3-5 natural ingredients), nuts, seeds, paleo-friendly beef sticks, gum, dark(er) chocolate, and perhaps some Seed and Sky earrings.
And now for BOOKS! You can find past book recommendations HERE, but below are the ones I’m especially fond of for Christmas.
My daughter writes home about the great JOY she is finding in serving others. She left most of her world behind. I’ve been contemplating that idea and how freeing and appealing it sounds. I would like to follow that example of JOY and SERVICE this month. I know what our family needs most is not more stuff. So I’m looking for those moments of when we can do a little good and feel a little better (and yes, part of that can most definitely include presents!)
P.S. If you’d like to write Sister Cope Makechnie (Mǎ Jiěmeì) for Christmas, she can get email and mail:
If you want to send a real letter, she will be at the missionary training center ONLY until the end of December: Sister Cope Makechnie JAN01 TAIW-TCG 2005 N 900 E Unit 88 Provo UT 84602
When it comes to parenting, by far the biggest battle and discord we have had in our home isn’t drugs, sex, or rock ‘n roll.
I love it, I hate it. I’m always on it, I’m always vowing to cut back.
Our two oldest children had a phone upon entering high school, or soon after that. It was great for communication – and it still is. I text my son every day. I texted Cope every day until she left for her mission to Taiwan (I’ve got to write about THAT!) And I tell you what, I really miss NOT TEXTING her every single day. Or maybe I just miss talking with emojis.
We’ve got lots of tech rules. We’ve had many many discussions about usage. We’re all sick of talking about it. We have a technology contract. Children hand their phones in at night, cannot have it in their rooms without permission, and know that at any time, we, as their parents can access all of their accounts (Yep, we’re fun.)
And still, by far, arguments over technology use ranks #1 over all other issues.
This summer I really began to wonder why we continue to do this to ourselves. Actually, no one is doing this to us. We are doing this to ourselves. We are putting the internet in our children’s pockets, with all its pings and dings and apps and saying – but not too much! Get real.
I greatly dislike the worry and pit in my stomach I get when I see children reading less (Brynne: I WOULD STILL READ!) I worry we are training them to be more distracted as they are drawn into snapchat and social media time sucks. I dislike that we look at a screen first thing in the morning and the last thing at night.
This summer, an epiphany: we’re not giving our ninth grader a phone.
How very revolutionary.
Response: “That’s so unfair!”
Yes, it totally is. But you see, darling, we are evolving. Getting better at this parenting gig. We will change our minds, course correct, and generally do things that are very unfair over the course of your 18 years under this roof.
Brynne, you still love me, right?
Interesting to me, she got over it very quickly. Life went on without anyone disowning us.
She has an iPod and a laptop. She has access to the internet. Thus far, she has always been able to reach us, has never been kidnapped, stuck on the side of the road, shoved in a locker, been swallowed by a whale, or any other worst-case scenario that I, as a mother, regularly envision. (Brynne: uh, NOT YET!)
With an iPod, she can text. She can borrow someone else’s phone when she’s on the road with the team. So far, it’s not been a hassle. (Brynne: uh, not for you!)
I almost caved a couple of weeks ago when Cope left her iPhone behind and we suddenly had a spare. Why not give it to our ninth grader? (Brynne: yeah, why not?) Why not? It’s paid for. For $20/month we could just pass it on down. But you know what? I don’t want my Niner to have a phone. When she asks why, I say, Because I Love You. (Brynne: insert eye roll.)
You’ve likely Googled “phone” and “addiction” (or is that just me?) (Brynne: just you, Mom.) We know they’re addictive, especially for our children’s growing, impulsive frontal lobe brains. This impulsivity has advantages, making our teens bold, creative, risk takers, out of the box thinkers. What do we do to that brain when we put the internet in their pockets? What I see? Eyes glued to screens. Fights with mom. Ugh. So over it.
Caveat: the internet is not bad. It’s great! What a genius invention. I just want to hold off a little longer, knowing full well our teens are already accessing the internet for hours, daily. But do they have to have it in their pocket?
Maybe in a few months we’ll change our minds and my 14-year-old will have a phone in her hands. Maybe I’ll feel differently in a week. Maybe the time will be right.
And parents: take heart. My Niner is not the only one without. I’m seeing the tide turn a bit, in that respect. Other parents are saying no, too. When I see this, I think – YES! And it makes me feel not quite so witchy.
SOLIDARITY is a POWERFUL thing! It has further emboldened me to say – Not Yet. And perhaps you will read this and be emboldened, too.
Bottom line: if you DO want to give your child a phone, it’s OKAY. I won’t throw rocks at your window. It’s a personal, family decision. Great! Good for you!
But also this – if you DON’T want your kid to have a phone – it’s OKAY. It’s a personal and family decision. Great! Good for you!
My girl thinks this post is lame. She would still like to have a phone. (Brynne: it’s not too late!) But I think she also understands. (meh.) And she’s still nice to me.
MUST READ HERE. “When I treat teens struggling with depression, anxiety, and ADHD, I tell them to get off their screens. In the hands of a depressed adolescent, phones can be dangerous. In my view, they are weapons. I wonder how we have gotten to the point in America where young children carry these weapons in their hands to school, soccer, parties, and even bed — and no one sees the danger?”
We don’t tend to like adversity and problems. Yesterday, these trees gave me a different perspective. The day after a wicked cold rain storm that raged through the night, I happened upon these trees sitting in cold flood water. They stood still and strong, with nary a root upturned. Missing leaves and small branches, but completely unmoved. And I thought: Strong winds and strong storms make strong trees.