Surviving Summer (in a nutshell)

I have a love-hate relationship with summer.  I will explain.

I love the sunshine and the absence of snow.  I love the parks and the leisurely pace and the fun summer family programs.  I love the freedom to schedule outings and day trips and vacations completely uninhibited by school calendars.  I love building a schedule made up of all the priorities I don’t seem to have room for during the school year.  I love my children having time to play outside and play with each other. I love the longer days, and I love that the kids get more playtime with dad. And I love watermelon, strawberries, and popsicles.

Now for the parts that are harder to celebrate. . . .  longer days mean later bedtime, and, frankly, after I’ve spent an entire day with all three children by myself, I’d kind of go for a 6 p.m. bedtime.  Vacations are fun, but they are hard work.  As in, if you’re a mom, the only things that really do “vacate” are your brain and your energy.  Plus, has anyone else noticed that children are just really naughty for several days after a vacation?  It’s exasperating.  I find it difficult to coordinate babysitting or go to appointments or make some time for myself when all my children are at home all day.  The gym, for example.  (Have I mentioned before that I loathe gym day-care?  I have issues.)  And since I never have any quiet time during the day, I stay up too late at night wasting my brain on mindless stuff just because I’m relishing my alone time. Oh, and let’s not forget that when siblings get to spend oodles of time together, they fight like cats and dogs.

Sigh. Sorry my cons paragraph seemed quite a bit longer than the pros.  I tend to get a little dramatic when I complain.  Anyway, in light of this summer paradox, I have a few questions:

  1.  Do you think that maybe there’s a really fine line between children being naughty and children just being annoying?  I think I lump it all into the naughty category and get more fed up than I need to be.
  2. One thing that saves my sanity is scheduled and enforced reading time.  My boys are 6 and 8 and both read really well.  I’ve found that a lot of books that are at their reading level have kind of inappropriate content.  They’re not quite ready for pre-teen literature.  Do you have any suggestions for some good chapter books or series for boys?
  3. Any post-vacation tips?  Because, seriously, we have a few more coming up and I don’t know if I can handle the sassy, lazy aftermath.
  4. We have a lot of great kids in our neighborhood, but I don’t know much about the rules of play date “etiquette.”  If a child invites another child to play, is it presumptuous to want to play at the home of the invited?  I always think it’s kind of odd when a kid shows up and says, “Can so-and-so play?” and you say yes, and then the kid just comes on in.  Oh, you meant here?  On the other hand, I know my own children would like to go play at their friends’ houses, too (One word: Wii.), but I never want them to invite themselves over.  Am I being weird about this? because I worry that I’m making more of it than I should.
  5. We like to do several small weekend camping trips during the summer.  After Elder Perry’s last general conference talk, I committed myself to make sure that even when we are traveling, we should always go to church and take the sacrament.  This past weekend, we took a wrong turn on the way home, lost some time, and didn’t get back in time to take the sacrament.  I feel sad about that.  I need the sacrament.  This is not a question.  I’m just saying how it is.
  6. I’m hoping it’s normal to be in a summer blog slump.  I don’t know if there’s less time for writing or if I have less ideas, but I dont’ feel very bloggy productive.  And reading blogs?  Only minimally.  Anyone else feeling that way?  I’m sorry if anyone I love has been feeling neglected.
  7. Last question.  Do you have any favorite quotes or scriptures about patience?  I’d love to hear/read them.

Famous by association.

I’m feeling kind of glamorous lately.  Know why?  Because I know her:

Isn’t she lovely? And by “know her,” what I really mean is I’ve read her blog for a while and we’ve exchanged a few emails and stuff, so that totally makes us soul-sisters or something, right?  Right? . . . . Whatever, you’re just jealous.

Her name is Melanie Jacobson.  She is a wife, mom, shoe connoisseur, humorist, and AUTHOR.  And she’s a Mormon. (Sorry, couldn’t help myself.)  Her first novel was just published, and I was so lucky that Melanie sent me a copy of it.  Look how cute it is:

Seriously, it’s almost as cute as she is.  I know I said that I was going to take a break from blogging to work on a book of my own, but I couldn’t pass up the chance to be a part of Melanie’s blog tour for this new book.  I’ll tell you why.

Melanie writes what she likes to call “LDS chick lit.”  I dated for a full a decade before I met and married my husband, so I consider myself quite an expert in the LDS dating scene.  Frankly, I felt like my life during those years was LDS chick lit, and perhaps that’s why I don’t read much of it now.  Kind of like post-traumatic stress disorder.  Despite my normal aversion to the genre, I was really excited to read Melanie’s book because I really like her.  Surprisingly, I found myself enjoying the read and the ride down memory lane.

During that delightful dating decade of mine, I made a list.  I really did.  I listed the things I was going to do with my life since I was probably never going to get married.  Somehow having a checklist of fun and fulfilling things to do made that possibility seem much less tragic.  It included things like travel, and getting a Ph.D., and foster parenting, and kissing one boy from every continent.  (I totally made that last one up right now, but why didn’t I think of that before?)  Anyway, Ashley, the main character in The List, did the same thing, only she wasn’t quite as pathetic as I was.  She wrote the list when she was 16 years old as a must-do collection of tasks to be completed before she got married.  And as a free-spirited young adult, she is still committed to that list.  I found myself quite attached to Ashley by the end of the book, and I decided that we could have totally been college roommates and friends.  It would have been one of those friendships where I rolled my eyes at her a lot, but still stayed up late talking and laughing.  I even would have shared my Pringles (a college dietary staple) with her.  I loved watching her learn the lessons that I painfully learned myself during those dating years, not the least of which is this:  Things don’t always go according to YOUR plan.

Melanie has a gift for writing fun dialogue full of clever, sarcastic banter that so genuinely embodies the nervous and flirtatious and awkward and exciting reality that I remember about that stage in my life.  The way she wrote about Huntington Beach and the ocean made me really want to be on a lawn chair on the warm, sunshiney sand.  As it was, I read the book from a lawn chair on the side of an indoor swimming pool while my children splashed and played.  I read for a couple of hours, went home and read for a few more hours, and finished the book.  In one day.  ONE day, people.  I read a whole chick lit book in one day, and I liked it.

Those of you who frequent my blog at all know that I am a bit of a self-proclaimed prude.  Having said that, if you’re looking for a fun, light read that takes you back to the days of an open-canvas future and blossoming romance, and you want it to be totally clean and enjoyable, you ought to give The List a shot.  I think it’s a perfect vacation book– either to take with you on vacation, or to sit down in the middle of your laundry pile at home and take a vacation of your own.

Since you’re almost as lucky as I am (though not nearly as famous since I “know” Melanie), here’s a chance for you to win your very own copy of The List:

Go here and just leave a comment.  That’s it.

Melanie’s also doing a giveaway of cool beach-related items on her own blog, so go leave a little comment over there, too.

I hope you win. I really do, because you’ll like the book.  If you don’t win it, go buy it (I think it’s on Amazon and even Kindle), then tuck your kids into bed, stay up late and read it until it’s done, roll over and kiss your hubby good night, thank your lucky stars that you survived your single years, and go to sleep.  That’s what I did, and it made me happy.  I like happy.  Thanks, Melanie.  🙂

The Return to Reading

Almost a year ago, I announced that I was beginning to read again now that I’ve emerged from the fog of infant and toddler years. At that time, my readers responded with an insane amount of good book recommendations. I’m happy to report that I have read the following since then (and probably some more that I forgot to record.  I put an asterisk by the ones I enjoyed the most.):

The History of Joseph Smith by His Mother  




















The Help*

Kathryn Stockett

I obviously haven’t made a ton of progress, but I’m ready to really dig in to your suggestions this year. Matt got me a Kindle for Christmas, and I really love it. My favorite thing about it is easy one-handed reading while I’m all tucked in to my bed covers. Anyway, I’ve made a list from your recommendations of 49 books I’d like to read. Do you think it’s possible I can read them all in 2011?! My goal* is to at least start all of them. Despite my undying trust in your taste, I’m a super picky reader and sometimes things turn me off that don’t bother other people. However, I want to at least give them all a chance, even if I decide partway through that they’re not for me. You can click here to see my list of books I want to read, courtesy of YOU.

*by “goal,” I mean I really want to try.  I’m not going to freak out if  I don’t finish the whole list, but I bet I get a lot more read this year just by trying.

Do you have any must-reads to add to the list that you’ve read in the last year?  Keep in mind my picky criteria:  I’m kind of a book prude (hate blatant sexuality, especially sexual violence, or casual coming-of-age experimentation, as well as child abuse or crass language) and I try to steer clear of dark, brooding, or depressing literature (Seriously, I get discouraged for days just from reading sad news headlines).

Favorite Christmas Books for Families (including a giveaway)

I hope this doesn’t count as playing Christmas music before Thanksgiving.  I just want to give you some great ideas so you can get a jump start on the holiday season.  We love to read around here anyway, but come Christmas time, I hit the library and clean them out of nativity-related stories (I know, I’m selfish).  We also own several that we love to read every year.  I keep a basket full of Christmas books by the fireplace, and send my children there anytime I want them to settle down.  We all cuddle on the couch and read stories for a while, and we usually read several stories at bedtime as well.  Here are some of our favorites:  (I got the pictures from

What is Christmas? by Michele Medlock Adams is a sweet rhyming book that talks about the true meaning of the day.

The Donkey’s Christmas Song by Nancy Tafuri:  I love this one about how Jesus loves us all just as we are.

The Fourth Wise Man by Susan Summers and Jackie Morris: You might have to tell it in simpler words to the youngest children, but the story and pictures are beautiful.  (Incidentally, I watched the movie “The Fourth Wise Man” at a zone conference on my mission and it fast became a holiday favorite for me.  I really recommend it as a great Christmas movie to watch with your family.)
Mortimer’s Christmas Manger by Karma Wilson.  This is one of my favorite stories about a mouse whose selfish ways turn around when the real story of Christmas changes his heart. So sweet.

Bear Stays Up for Christmas is by the same author,but this one doesn’t count for the nativity-type.  The rhyming text is just whimsical, the story is cute, and my kids love it.

my very first Christmas Story: a very simple board book that tells the true story of Christmas with cute pictures

The Shepherd Boy’s Story: another cute Christmas story board book that encourages children to tell others about Jesus.

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson is an excellent read-aloud about some rotten kids from a troubled family who forced their way into roles in the local Christmas play.  Your children will love reading about all their mischievous antics, and I’ll be surprised if you can read about the actual performance without tearing up.  It’s a great story about the goodness in all of us, even where we least expect it.

Okay, so technically this is not a book. Classic Holiday Stories is a Disney DVD.  I like to read my children some kid-friendly version of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, or maybe the original text this year. This DVD has the Disney cartoon, Mickey’s Christmas Carol, which I think is cute and my boys really liked it last year. It will be fun to watch it again after reading the story.

Finally, I recieved this book as a gift from Jana Parkin (a.k.a. Charette in the blogging world) a few weeks ago.  It is called What Think Ye of Christmas? by Ester Rasband. 

Jana did all the artwork for the book in beautiful watercolor paintings.  It is really a lovely book that explains the Christian message behind all the symbols of Christmas time.  It helps you to find and recognize Christ even amidst a commercial wonderland.  “All things bear record of Him.” It encourages you to live out that Spirit of Christ as you celebrate the holiday.  And Jana’s paintings are so masterful and charming.  We went out to lunch the day she gave me the book as a gift, and after I took it home and read through it, I wished I had kidnapped her to come home with me and paint something beautiful like that on my walls.  Would you like to win a free copy of “What Think Ye of Christmas?” Anyone who leaves a comment will be entered into a drawing for this fantastic Christmas book, courtesy of the artist herself.  For anyone who would like to purchase copies as gifts, you can do so here (you can find a discount code on Jana’s blog).  Drawing will be open through Thanksgiving Day.

Do you have any favorite Christmas books in your family?

Seize the day.

I’m staying at my parents’ house for a few weeks in an attempt to keep my own house clean for longer than 3 or 4 hours while it’s on the market.  The good news is that we’ve had several showings in the first week.  The bad news is that the real estate market bites right now if you’re a seller. (Read:  everyone who’s buying a house thinks you should sell it to them for $1.99.)

On the 1,100 mile drive down, I somehow managed to read a book.  (I also managed to get a raw spot on my neck where the seatbelt rubbed it 100 times from turning around to solve a problem, hand out snacks, or pick up dropped items.)  I read The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho, which has apparently sold millions of copies worldwide and been life-changing for many people.  It was a very nice story, and I applaud any book that makes its point without resorting to trashy subplots, but I didn’t find it excessively inspirational.  Perhaps that’s because it felt like a lot of philosophical embellishment about simple principles that I already believe to be true. It reminded me a lot of the French novel The Little Prince, only less cheesy. So, while I didn’t love, love, love the book like many people seem to do, I did like it.  There were a couple of quotes from the book that were stand-outs for me, maybe just for where I am right now, but I thought I’d share:

“When each day is the same as the next, it’s because people fail to recognize the good things that happen in their lives every day that the sun rises.”

“The secret is here in the present. If you pay attention to the present, you can improve upon it. And, if you improve on the present, what comes later will also be better. Forget about the future, and live each day according to the teachings, confident that God loves his children. Each day, in itself, brings with it an eternity.”

Isn’t that a lovely way to say Carpe Diem?

So, I’ve been trying hard to just live more in the moments of each day and to do things like play games with my children and not wish they were over so I could do something else.  (What? You don’t do that?)  Here are a few other thoughts I love about the right way to live in the moment:

“The past of each of us is now inflexible. We need to concentrate on what has been called “the holy present,” for now is sacred; we never really live in the future. The holy gift of life always takes the form of now.” ~Elder Neal A. Maxwell

“You have “today” within your grasp. But unless you “seize” it, it will slip through your fingers like quicksilver and be gone. Oh, certainly, the sun will come up each morning throughout your life, and each day will present an opportunity of sorts for good works and happiness. But no other “today” will ever again be quite like the one that is now in your grasp.” ~Elder Lance B. Wickman

“Learn the true value of time. Seize, snatch, and enjoy every minute of it, for it is limited unto each individual. Live today! Jesus pointed the way when he said, “Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself.” (Matt. 6:34.) We must resolve to live one day at a time, and live that one day to the full. Resolve also that we will extract from every experience of this day something that will make us wiser, happier, more efficient.” ~ Elder Hugh B. Brown

So what about you?  What good things came with the sunrise this morning?