Friday, November 15, 2013

My Cup Runneth Over

This month, I have been trying to notice my blessings, big and small. I have lots of friends on Facebook who post every day something that makes them feel thankful. In the past, I found it a bit . . . forced—and too public for my taste. But this year, I decided to join in, knowing that focusing on the positive could only help my situation. I haven’t posted something every day because I can’t commit (ha ha), and sometimes I think of something for which I am grateful that I just don’t feel like sharing. But today, I had more on my mind than I could possibly share on Facebook.

As I sat at lunch with Phaedra and Curtis this afternoon, my heart was full. I looked from one child to the other, noticing their beautiful eyes and faces, and feeling so in love with them I could scarcely contain myself. They happily munched on mac & cheese and begged sunflower seeds and croutons off me from my salad. At that moment, I felt so full of the light of Christ. I don’t know any other way to explain it. I love those moments. I am so grateful for those moments.

Those are the moments when I don’t think about the boxes I still have to unpack, the unruly pile of shoes by our back door that are begging me to find a place to put them, the pile of dishes in the kitchen, or even the miles upon miles upon miles between us and the rest of our family. All I can think about is how blessed I am to be right there in that moment. I’m amazed by my children—how they grow and learn and love, and I am honored to be able to witness it and be a part of it. I feel the love of a hardworking husband who comes home after work and helps with dinner, pays attention to his family, and helps put kids to bed. He is concerned for our welfare, and he leads this family righteously.

For most of the day since that moment, I have been mindful of other blessings throughout the day and in my life in general.

I am grateful for my kids and how they remind me to stop and enjoy things like piles of leaves in the yard. I love how they beg me when we get home from school to spend some time raking leaves. I love how Curtis thinks he’s so important and helpful when he comes along and puts his rake in the center of our pile and pulls the leaves in the opposite direction. He hasn’t quite figured out how to get the leaves to go where we are trying to take them, but he really wants to work.

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I’m so in love with those faces!

I’ve felt thankful on many occasions that our new ward is so welcoming and friendly. I’m so glad the sisters are so kind.

I’m glad we’ve been here for a month, and it has gone by quickly.

I’m glad we were able to find a place that has a good school for Eleanor.

I’m am so grateful that the snow from Monday has melted! Watching that snow fall down and start sticking on the ground made me the worst kind of homesick I’ve been since we got here. It’s going to take me time and lots more warm clothing before I will be able to embrace winters here. I think I’m going to have to buy lots of thermals to wear under my clothes. And warm hats!

I’m grateful for the love of my family and for the connections I’m still able to have with them and my faraway friends.

But mostly, I’m grateful for moments like the one I had at lunch when I can stop and realize the great bounty that I have.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Time for a Change

Do you ever just get that feeling that a change is coming? That your otherwise peaceful lives are about the be turned upside down as your path takes a major detour from the expected?

I’ve had that feeling for months. I knew it was just a matter of time.

The feeling was right.

Grant has accepted a position at a community college in Illinois, near Chicago, and we’re about to uproot our little Oregon-grown family and head east.

I’m working really hard at being excited about this change.

We’ve told the kids about it. Actually, we asked them what they thought at first. Phae’s response was something predictable like, “Sure!” or “Great!” Eleanor gave us the thumbs-up as soon as she learned they have an aquarium there.

While my feelings are very mixed, and I am very reluctant to leave the family, friends, and home we love, I know it is the right thing for our family at this time.

About a week after the decision was made, Eleanor came to me one morning and asked, “Mommy, do you want to move to Chicago?”

My thoughts raced to all sorts of things I could tell her to placate her. I could repeat to her all the things friends had said to me about what an adventure it would be for us and all the fun things we could do. But before I started to talk, I took one look at her and knew I had to be completely honest with her. This is what I told her:

Your daddy and I have said many prayers to try to make the decision if we should move, and we feel like the answer was that we should. I know I have received an answer to my prayers that it will be the best thing for our family to move to Chicago. So even though it might sound scary to me sometimes to leave our cousins and grandmas and friends behind, I know that our Heavenly Father knows what’s best for us, and He will take care of us. If I didn’t feel like that’s what Heavenly Father wants for us, would I wake up one morning and decide we should just pack up and move to Chicago because it sounds like a fun place? Probably not. (She laughed at that.) But I have been praying that your daddy would find a good job in a place where it will be best for our family, and I know this is what we are supposed to do.

I told her that as long as we have faith and try to make the best of it, we will be blessed. And maybe we’ll be surprised by how much we end up loving it there. Who knows.

I’m so glad that I answered her question that way instead of just telling her what an adventure it would be. I’m glad that I was able to share my faith with her. Because this move is going to take a lot of faith.

I have already felt and seen a great outpouring of blessings upon us. I have felt such great comfort through these stressful times of planning a move across the country. I would have fallen apart so many times over by now without being strengthened by my Heavenly Father. Sure, I’ve been overwhelmed, and there are times it feels like wave after wave of panic is crashing down on me, but those moments don’t last long. Ultimately, I know everything will work out. Everything will be alright. And we’ll find a new sort of happiness in Illinois.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Book Review: The Teacher’s Funeral: A Comedy in Three Parts

The Teacher's Funeral : A Comedy in Three PartsThe Teacher's Funeral : A Comedy in Three Parts by Richard Peck
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was a great book. Set in Indiana in 1904, Russel's one-room school teacher dies at the beginning of the book, a teacher who no one really mourns. The book is all about the events in Russel's life surrounding and following his teacher's death.

This book is filled with quirky characters and schoolroom (and outside of schoolroom) shenanigans. I loved the relationship between Russel and his sister, Tansy. I think what I loved most of all was the quiet father. He doesn't receive a lot of focus in the book, and he doesn't talk much. But the book gives you the sense that he knows exactly what is going on with his children, and he's just letting things play out until he sees a need to step in.

Toward the end, I was laughing out loud as things spiraled along when you thought they couldn't get any worse. Overall, it had a sweet feel to it, and I really enjoyed it. This is my first Richard Peck book I have read. I think I'll have to check out some of his others.

Content: I don't think there's much of anything to worry about in this book. I guess there's some mild violence: a schoolyard brawl and a grouchy aunt who threatens to shoot anyone on her land. That's about it. I don't recall any foul language. I would read it to my own kids as soon as I thought they wouldn't get too spooked by some of the pranks pulled. Some of my older nephews might enjoy it (ages 10-13ish).

I also loved finding out that he wrote the book about his mother trying to become a teacher!

What have you read lately? Anything good?

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Book Review: The Light Between Oceans

The Light Between OceansThe Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This was such a beautiful book. It was touching, heart-wrenching, and enthralling. It will have you feeling conflicted from the very beginning.

This book is especially applicable to parents, but it is also a beautiful love story.

I love the writing! In many ways, this book reminded me of the writings of Charles Dickens. I love how Stedman introduced one set of characters, made us fall in love with them, and then brought in another set of characters, told their story, and weaved to two sets together. Also similar to Dickens was Stedman's beautiful use of imagery. She didn't just tell you that men went off to war and didn't come back. She showed you, and she made you feel it.

There was one section at the beginning of Chapter 2 that I especially love for how eloquently it is written. Here is just a snippet:
"Like wheat fields where more grain is sown than can ripen, God seemed to sprinkle extra children about, and harvest them according to some indecipherable, divine calendar.
The town cemetery had always recorded this truthfully, and its headstones, some lolling like loose, grimy teeth, told frankly the stories of lives taken early by influenza and drownings, by timber whims and even lightning strikes. But in 1915, it began to lie. Boys and men from across the district were dying by the score, yet the graveyards said nothing."

That's just a part of the section I love the most. The writing is just masterful. There's so much more about this book that makes it good, but you just have to read it to see for yourself.

This is one I think I need to buy.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Book Review: Gem

GemGem by Holly Hobbie
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is just a gem of a book. Sorry, I had to.

This sweet book starts out with a letter from a grandmother to her granddaughter talking about a very cold winter that seemed to last forever. She says the only thing that got her through that winter was remembering a spring when her granddaughter had found a toad and named it Gem. She spent the winter painting pictures of the toad's life, and the rest of the book is made up of these pictures (without words).

At the end, we read the granddaughter's letter response after she has seen the book her grandmother made.

I thought this was darling. The pictures are beautiful and sweet. I love the correspondence at the beginning and end.

This book has a special place in my heart because of my own little backyard adventurers who will surely be catching toads of their own someday (right now it's slugs and worms).

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Sunday, June 2, 2013

Book Review: Requiem

Requiem (Delirium, #3)Requiem by Lauren Oliver
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Meh.

I liked each book in this series less than the previous book. (Warning, this will contain spoilers for the preceding books.)



Nope.


I have no words. This book just didn't do it for me.

Okay. A few words. Too much of it was cliché.

The "moral of the story" in the end was decent, but I think she was trying to be way more poetic than it actually came across.

The action was weak. The moments that I could tell were supposed to be tense or heartbreaking just didn't affect me like a well written book would have. She didn't make me care about the characters enough!!!

One of the major pitfalls for this book was that there was WAY too much swearing. I feel like Oliver thought she needed to increase the amount of swearing exponentially in each book. For me, when an author uses too much swearing in their writing, it just puts their writing in a lower class. And don't tell me that they need swearing to show the hardness of the characters. Dickens wrote about plenty of hard characters who were brilliantly portrayed, and he didn't fill his books with foul language.

I felt like Oliver used swearing especially as a crutch. Whenever something intense was happening, one of the characters started swearing. Somebody dies, something's scary, something makes them angry, and it's "#$%^^, %$##*, *^%$#@!" Those moments would have been so much more powerful, more moving for me if she had fleshed it out with some actual dialogue or some actual body language! There are so many better ways she could have written those moments! Instead, she decided to alienate her reader by forcing foul words into his/her head.

I appreciated that the ending wasn't wrapped up in a tidy little bow. I applaud Oliver for that point. I really thought she would end it with everything wrapped up and blue skies, which would have been way too predictable.

Honestly, I don't hold very high esteem for this series. I say, if you're looking for a great YA dystopian series, read The Hunger Games. If you've read that and are looking for more and don't mind if it's not quite the same caliber, read the Divergent series. If you've read both of those and have to get your hands on something else even if it's just a worthless fluff read, I guess you could read Delirium. But stop there. It's not going to get better if you keep reading.

Content: This book has violence and plenty of swearing. The "sh" word used repeatedly throughout, and the F-bomb dropped more than several times--wouldn't qualify as a PG-13 movie.

So is it just me? Do you find swearing in a book to be a distraction and a sign of a weak writer? Or do you breeze over it so that you don’t even notice? Have you read this series? What did you think?

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Book Review: Divergent

Divergent (Divergent, #1)Divergent by Veronica Roth
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was an interesting, addictive read. Another Hunger Games spin off, but very well executed. This society is based on 5 “factions” that basically focus on one (and only one) character trait. Anyone who doesn’t fit into these categories ends up factionless and lives like a rejected hobo. I was mentally fighting the concept from the very beginning because I know I would never fit. But I guess that’s when you know you have a dystopia on your hands. It was fun to read along as characters began to question the arrangement.

I’ve already read the next book. I couldn’t stop reading long enough to write this review before going on to the next book. Both books are certainly life-suckers. You’re not good for much until you have them finished!

Content:
Certainly plenty of violence. I’m not sure if I would say it has the same amount of violence as Hunger Games or if I would have to say there is more.

Language: I don’t remember any swearing except for the occasional taking the Lord’s name in vain. I love it when an author can convey the mood or meaning without having to resort to swearing! Besides, realistically the words considered swearing probably could have changed by then.

Sexual content: There’s plenty of kissing and clinging in this book, but our main character has a fear of intimacy that keeps things from getting too out of control.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Book Review: Delirium

Delirium (Delirium, #1)Delirium by Lauren Oliver
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I didn’t know what this book was about when I picked it up. I like to find out just enough about a book to know I want to read it and then forget all that info before I get around to picking up the book. The first sentence sucked me in. It says, “It has been sixty-four years since the president and the Consortium identified love as a disease, and forty-three since the scientists perfected a cure.” What a cool concept! The catch is that the cure (brain surgery) can’t be administered before 18 years of age for it to be safe. So they have a bunch of teenagers running around being told not to fall in love. Imagine how that works out for them.

As a Hunger Games spin off, I found this book really interesting. It felt like it was directed toward a lower reading level just because it was more predictable than Hunger Games. That being said, it wasn’t completely lacking in surprises. The end was not exactly what I expected. I enjoyed this enough to read the next book. We’ll see where it takes me.

Content (stuff I might want to remember when my kids are teenagers and want to read this):
Language: There is some swearing sprinkled throughout, but it isn’t profuse. I would say it’s about the same as a PG-13 movie, but I think there were two F-bombs in there. Pretty light on the swearing, although I think any author is limited if they have to include it at all.

Violence: About the same level of violence you would find in the Hunger Games except not as often. Namely, people clubbing people over the head, shooting, and dogs biting at people.

Chastity (or lack of): The two love birds do plenty of kissing, and they spend the night together several times. I’m pretty sure they just slept the nights they spent together unless I blocked out some hint in there. There is one time when she decides to take her top off and let him admire in awe and wonder. Personally, I’m not thrilled with the influence this book could have on teenagers in relation to chastity.

It should also be mentioned that the main character and her friends have to lie to their parents/guardians on a regular basis, sneak out, and basically reject all that they’ve been taught. It’s understandable in the situation, but is there an underlying message that it’s okay to lie to your parents if you think they’re clueless and love is more important?

Monday, March 4, 2013

Book Review: Love and Logic Magic for Early Childhood

Love and Logic Magic for Early ChildhoodLove and Logic Magic for Early Childhood by Jim Fay
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Hmmmm, I have to say I have a love/hate relationship with this book. I was given this book when my 1st child was a baby, and I remember reading it and thinking so much of it made sense. When I saw other parents doing things love and logic warns against, such as counting to 3, I felt like I was so much smarter than them. I wasn't going to adopt the Fays' practices in entirety, but I thought it was a useful guide. I had it all figured out. My kid would be so great.

Fast forward 7 years and add 2 more kids, all of them great. I've been telling myself for a while that I need to go back and reread this book, mainly because my 4 year old has really been pushing limits. I know the Fays say it’s a mistake to say your child is going through a phase, but age 3 and 4 are a pretty rough phase. That doesn’t excuse it, and I realize that something has to be done to change it. Reading the book for the second time with more real-life parenting experience, I wanted to chuck the book across the room most of the time I was reading it. There are so many aspects of it that are just not realistic! Sure, I have loads of friends who want to drop everything in their life just to hang out in a grocery store parking lot just in case my kids act up in the store! Sure, if I let my child stay up all night at a sleepover and then send them on a sleepover encouraging them to do it again, they'll decide not to because last time they got too tired. Oh, and sure, teaching my child that lesson will TOTALLY be worth it because it's not like they'll make my life miserable the whole day following while they are exhausted. And if you can't tell, I'm dripping with sarcasm here!

I just don't understand how giving a child choices all day long is supposed to shut them up when you say it's your turn to make a choice about putting them to bed. That might work for 10 seconds on my kids before they start complaining or popping out of bed for random reasons. It really bugged me that they didn't even consider the possibility of kids acting up after that assertion that it's the parent's turn to make a choice. What do we do after that when the kids turn on the light and start jumping on the bed? What besides sing Uh-Oh do we do? Tell me that, Mr. Fay!

I agree with some of the other reviews that said they found it annoying how dramatically the Fays push their method. They make it sound like all children who aren't raised with L&L will end up in jail.

All that being said, there are some helpful tips and methods found in this book. They just have to be sorted out from some of the other unrealistic stuff. I realize that I already use a lot of Love and Logic in my own parenting, I just haven’t acknowledged it all the time. I wouldn't discourage others from reading this book, but I would say to take it with a grain of salt.

Have you read this book? What did you think?

Right now, I struggle with coming up with consequences that fit the infraction. I feel like I’m not creative enough. It doesn’t help that my 4 year old is untouchable. No punishment seems to get to her. Put her in time-out: she doesn’t seem to care. Take away toys: she says, “Here, I don’t want this one either.” Take away privileges: she shrugs it off.

What’s your biggest parenting struggle?

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Book Review: The Secret Garden

The Secret GardenThe Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I really enjoyed this classic. For some reason, I didn't read it in school as so many other people seem to have done. I always meant to get around to reading it.

I did hit a slump in the beginning of the book. I got started reading it and then had to hurry and read a book for book club. The Secret Garden got put on the backburner, and it took me a long time to pick it up again. I was a little disappointed at first because I wanted it to be a book my 7yr old daughter could read. While it was easily appropriate for her, I thought the Yorkshire dialect used in the dialogue would be too challenging. I found it awkward myself, and it might have been the reason I set the book aside for so long.

But I'm glad I returned to it. The book was very enjoyable. I found it reminded me of a younger charactered version of The Keeper of the Bees by Gene Straton-Porter. The story has a lot of heart. I'm not a gardener myself, but I found the love of nature and the fascination with the garden and its creatures to be quite infectious.

I was a little wary when there was so much talk of magic as the cause of things, but I realize the book is about children. We all want to believe in magic when we are kids, don't we? I liked what Susan Sowerby (Dickon's mother) said when asked if she believed in magic. "'That I do, lad,' she answered. 'I never knowed it by that name but what does th' name matter? I warrant they call it a different name i' France an' a different one i' Germany . . . Never thee stop believin' in th' Big Good Thing an' knowin' th' world's full of it -- an' call it what tha' likes.'"

Whoops, I forgot to mention in the review that I read a few snippets to my 7yr old, and she really enjoyed it. I decided this book would make a great read-aloud. She thinks she’s ready to read it on her own, but I think she would lose interest trying to get through all the dialogue. She doesn’t always follow through with finishing her chapter books, especially the long ones.

Right now, we are reading Babe: The Gallant Pig by Dick King-Smith. My kids have never seen the movie, and I’ve promised a movie night once we finish the book. I’m having a hard time keeping up with reading our chapter books out loud because my 4yr old (who I am trying to get more interested in reading) doesn’t want to listen to chapter books. She prefers picture books—and books about spiders—go figure! Anyone have any tips on how to use our family reading time in a way that I can satisfy both preferences?