Friday, December 31, 2010

Top Twelve Books of 2010

2010 has been a great year for me and my family. As the year comes to an end today, I decided to make a list of the top twelve books that I read in 2010 (they weren't all published in 2010). The books are listed only in the order that I read them this year.

1. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy.
You can read my review here.

2. Theodore Rex by Edmund Morris.
I read The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt in 2009 and loved both very long biographies. The third volume: Colonel Roosevelt released in November and I am so excited to read it in 2011.

3. The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt's Darkest Journey by Candice Millard.
It's pretty obvious that I'm a huge fan of Teddy. I loved this historical account of Roosevelt's trip down a previously unexplored tributary of the Amazon.

4. Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck.
I ordered this by accident. I spent an afternoon enthralled by Steinbeck's writing and his unique view of the world. A story about two men working together to attain their own version of the American Dream, it brings up many ethical questions and can lead to some interesting discussion and thought. It's definitely a classic.

5. In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex by Nathaniel Philbrick
After reading Moby Dick and Ahab's Wife, I became obsessed with reading about whaling ships. In the Heart of the Sea is the true historical account of the Whaleship Essex that inspired Melville to write Moby Dick in the first place.

6. The Seamstress : A Novel by Frances De Pontes Peebles.
You can read my review here.

7. Brooklyn : A Novel by Colm Toibin
You can read my review here.

8. The Help by Kathryn Stockett.
I don't think I ever got around to writing a review for this novel but I did really enjoy it.

9. Of One Heart :The Glory of the City of Enoch by Neal A. Maxwell.
Utah Dad made me read this but it was fabulous. You can read my full review here.

10. For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway
You can read my full review here.

11. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
You can read by review here.

12. Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen SimonsonYou can read my review here.

I wish everyone a Happy New Year.
Here's to more fabulous books in 2011!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Water, Water Everywhere

We spent a few days following Christmas at my parents' home. We slept in the guest bedrooms in the basement. Tuesday morning just before five am Utah Dad woke me up. "I hear water running," he said. I was irritated about being awakened and mumbled a grouchy, "then go turn it off." "It sounds like a waterfall," he told me.

He went into the bathroom and then the basement kitchen to investigate. In the bathroom he discovered that the washing machine, while not running, was completely full of water and was spilling onto the kitchen floor. I went upstairs to wake my parents and we spent several minutes soaking up the water on the floor with towels. We also discovered that there was very little water pressure in the house. My dad went out to the garage to get his wet vac and heard the rushing sound of a river (there is not supposed to be running water near their home). The water main pipe about 180 yards up the road from my parents' home had broken and water was gushing down the street and filling the culvert just behind their house. My dad called the authorities.

After we soaked up the water, Utah Dad, my mom and I pulled on our coats and boots and went tromping through the foot of crusty snow with our flashlights to see the flooding. As soon as we opened the door we heard the sound of a rapid-filled river.

My parents have a twenty acre farm. The road past their house goes down a small hill before the road goes back up another steeper hill. A land dike separates the road from my parents' yard, garden and fields. The road is about three and half feet lower than the dike and it has deeper ditches on either side of the road. The dike has a buried pipe that was used for irrigation. This pipe was gushing water and a five foot wide river ran down through the fields--melting the foot of snow, filling the old pond and widening as it rushed toward the canal that divides their property at the east end.

We climbed up the dike (where the kids had gone sledding the day before) to watch the road fill with water. Two deputies blocked the road from oncoming traffic (not much on the country road in the middle of the night). In the few minutes that we stood there watching, the water began to crest over the dike and melt the snow near us. The swirling, fast moving pond stretched thirty yards up the sides of the road. It was at least three feet deep on the road and closer to ten feet deep in parts of the ditches.

We went back to bed. When we woke up they had turned off the water and drained it off the road. They worked to fix the break in the water main and my parents finally had water on in their house by late afternoon (we had already headed home).

It definitely livened up our short visit and my parents were very grateful that Utah Dad had heard the water so that the flooding in their basement wasn't worse.

I didn't the camera out until the area had been drained. Here's the video I took (mostly for the benefit of my siblings).

Recovering Charles - Book Review

My new friend gave me a copy of Recovering Charles by Jason F. Wright for Christmas last week. So sweet. It was perfect to read during the small moments of free time during the holiday.

Luke Millward has discovered success as a free-lance photographer in New York City when he gets a call from a friend of his estranged father. He discovers that his father has been living and working as a musician in New Orleans and is missing following the Katrina disaster. Halfheartedly, Luke heads to Louisiana to find his father.

This story tells the painful and often gruesome story of Katrina's wrath on New Orleans and the Gulf Coast in a dignified way--glorifying the heroes and citizens that helped in a most horrifying natural disaster. It is also a story of hope and faith and healing old wounds as Luke learns to forgive and also discovers that people can become better. He also learns to love again.

I really enjoyed the novel and would recommend it to anyone looking for a quick, heart-warming read.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Wuthering Heights - Book Review

It's strange that as a lover of literature (it was my major in college too), I haven't previously read Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte. I'm surprised that it wasn't assigned for any of my classes. I've read and loved Jane Eyre by Emily's sister Charlotte multiple times and Wuthering Heights has literally been on my shelf for years waiting for me to read it.

Last week I decided to cross Wuthering Heights off my to-read list.

I'm not sure exactly what I was expecting. You can't not have some expectations about Wuthering Heights. It's often a favorite novel of other literary/pulp fiction characters. A well-written, darkly romantic ghost story. That's what I was expecting. And in some ways, that's what the book was.

The writing is really good once I got past the strange and sometimes confusing model of narration--the servant telling the story to a boarder who writes in his diary. This style removes the reader from some of the inner dialogue and thoughts of the main characters. However, if it had been narrated by Heathcliff, like Lolita's Humbert, I might be even more disturbed by his character. And who else could have narrated it? Cathy II, Hareton and Linton have no idea why their lives are being constantly manipulated by Heathcliff.

There is a ghost. Her appearance early in the novel is the only moment of intense emotion and romance that I expected from the novel. It is the only reason I was compelled to continue reading. I was eagerly awaiting another such experience.

The characters are either reprehensible and completely without merit or sniveling, abused pawns in Heathcliff's demented game of revenge.

Needless to say, I was disappointed. Lovers of Wuthering Heights will no doubt claim that I have missed the point. Perhaps. Maybe you have to be younger to read and appreciate the immature and ridiculous passion of Heathcliff. Maybe I missed my chance to appreciate this novel. Still, I don't understand why so many teenagers actually like it. How is this an example of true love? How is abuse and vile retribution against others romantic?

Monday, December 20, 2010

Winners of Massage Envy Give-away

Wow! I am surprised by the excitement this give-away generated. We must all be a tense, stressed-out group of ladies in desperate need of a massage. I am really excited to announce the winners this morning. It feels a little like Christmas.

As I described in the original rules, the first four winners were chosen randomly using the random number generator from the comments (extra comments by the same person were thrown out) and they had to be followers of Utah Mom's Life Blog.

The winners of the first four one hour massage gift cards to Massage Envy are (drum roll, please):

Adam and Brynn

The contest for the final gift card was to be awarded to the person who sent the most referrals to Utah Mom's Life and had their name mentioned in the most comments. This competition was fierce and for awhile was very close between Jen Johnson (who also writes Baby Blvd. Blog) and Marion. But Marion pulled ahead and even if we throw out the anonymous comments, she is definitely the winner.

Congratulations to Marion, who is the winner of the fifth and final gift card for a one hour massage at Massage Envy.

I hope everyone is able to find some time to relax this holiday season.

Winners: please email me with your contact information so that you can receive your prize.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Easiest Cheesiest (without actually being cheese) Neighbor Gifts

Last Christmas I was a Grumpy Grinch. I didn't take my kids to see Santa (they didn't deserve it). I didn't send out Christmas cards. I didn't give out gifts to our neighbors either.

I was determined to enjoy this Christmas season more and to do the things that I neglected last year. I have a stack of Christmas cards written out and addressed. If I actually go get stamps, my friends and family should receive them soon.

Today, I finally finished delivering our gifts to our neighbors.

After going over our list of families that we wanted to give gifts to (they teach our kids in Primary, or they have kids in our nursery, or we just like them--actually we like them all) we had a list of over 50 families and I'm quite sure we forgot some (if I forgot you, I'm so very sorry). Since we needed to give to so many people and our budget is tight and I always fail when I try to bake for other people, we brainstormed other fun gift options.

We came up with this easy, silly option:

We made them for Family Home Evening last week. I turned our family picture into a coloring page using Adobe Photoshop software; added a message and printed them out. Neal helped by punching holes in the card stock. Amberly cut the ribbons. And we tied a box of crayons to each card. (I planned ahead and bought the crayons back in August when Wal-mart had it's back-to-school sale, so I'm even cheaper than you thought.) Thomas, Lilly and Molly went with us while we walked around the neighborhood and left gifts on doorsteps.

Hopefully, we gave our neighbors a little chuckle as they colored our family picture. I've already seen some of the artwork. My little neighbor Max did a really good job.

We really do love our neighbors and friends. We are grateful to live in such a great place with such great people.

Austenland - Book Review

Several friends have read and enjoyed Austenland by Shannon Hale and I was in the mood for some seriously light reading. My brain seems to have turned off this holiday season. Austenland turned out to be exactly what I was looking for this week.

I was actually pleasantly surprised by how much I liked the story of Jane Hayes, obsesssed with Mr. Darcy (aka Colin Firth), goes on vacation to Pembrook Park, Kent, England. I'm sure there aren't many women who haven't dreamed at least for a second that they were back in Jane Austen's England. I'm not even a super-Austen fan (I've only read four of her novels) and yet . . .

Jane Hayes soon becomes Miss Erstwhile and is immersed into the world of Pembrook Park and the stuffy, politeness and gentility of the handsome actors that inhabit it. Jane is trying desperately to leave her obsessions behind her so that she can successfully move on to reality.

Hale's writing is witty and engaging in this squeaky clean novel.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Massage Envy - Review and Give-away

Sunday morning I woke up with shooting pain in my neck. I couldn't turn my head to the left without intense pain. Utah Dad said I was just being "stiff necked". The pain continued and by Monday my shoulders and back were hurting too. So, it was timely that Massage Envy wanted me to come try them out.

I called for an appointment yesterday afternoon and had one scheduled for last night. I didn't know Massage Envy was open so late. It was very convenient to be able to help Utah Dad get the kids in bed before heading out for a massage.

I can count the number of professional massages I've had on one hand. The first one was in the hospital after I delivered Neal. It was standard in that NH hospital that all mothers received a massage the day after delivery. Ahh. Heaven. Five years ago for Christmas, Utah Dad gave me a gift card to a shwanky spa in the avenues of Salt Lake City. A year later, I used half the gift card for a fabulous massage. I still haven't used the other half. As a mom, it's just hard to schedule in that time.

However, as the folks at Massage Envy pointed out last night, massages are not just a luxurious, relaxing indulgence (as I have always thought of them) but they also promote good health and wellness. In fact, Massage Envy is less the spa experience and more a health conscience experience. The massage, though, was just as good. Fabulous, in fact. I feel 98% better this morning.

According to the Mayo Clinic, some studies have found massage helpful for:

o Stress relief
o Managing anxiety and depression
o Pain
o Stiffness
o Blood pressure control
o Sports-related injuries
o Boosting immunity
o Cancer treatment

According to

o A 2008 review of 13 clinical trials found evidence that massage might be useful for chronic low-back pain. Clinical practice guidelines issued in 2007 by the American Pain Society and the American College of Physicians recommend that physicians consider using certain CAM (complementary and alternative medicine) therapies, including massage (as well as acupuncture, chiropractic, progressive relaxation, and yoga), when patients with chronic low-back pain do not respond to conventional treatment.

o A multisite study of more than 300 hospice patients with advanced cancer concluded that massage may help to relieve pain and improve mood for these patients.

o A study of 64 patients with chronic neck pain found that therapeutic massage was more beneficial than a self-care book, in terms of improving function and relieving symptoms.

And if you are still trying to find the perfect, last-minute gift for someone on your list (think mother-in-law), gift cards for massages are just right! Massage Envy has locations in 43 states. I was delighted to find out there's one not really that far away from me.

The only thing better than a really great massage is a FREE really great massage.

Massage Envy is offering five one-hour massage gift cards to give-away to five of my wonderful, lucky readers.

Here's the deal:

Four of the winners will be chosen randomly from the comments on this post. The fifth gift certificate will be given to the person who can refer the most people to Utah Mom's Life Blog. I don't care how you do it. Facebook. Blog about it. Call everyone you know. Get them to mention your name in their comment on this post. If you get the most referrals, you'll win a free massage. Good deal.

To win:
1. You must be a follower of Utah Mom's Life Blog.
2. Leave a comment on this post.
3. Don't forget to mention the person that referred you.

The contest will be open until Sunday, December 19th at 11:59 pm MST. The winner will be announced on Monday morning. The contest is open to residents of the US only.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Christmas Box - Book Review

I read The Christmas Box by Richard Paul Evans yesterday afternoon. The best thing about it was that it was short. I feel a little like Elaine from Seinfeld when she hated the highly acclaimed "English Patient".

There must be something wrong with me. That's the only explanation, right?

Don't get me wrong. It's a sweet story. A sad story and a good reminder of what is really, truly important--especially at Christmas. I get the message. I gave my babies extra hugs last night.

So, maybe my real problem with the book is actually the length. There wasn't time to develop any of the characters very well. I don't care about them yet. It's hard to be too emotionally moved by a story if you just don't care about them.

Monday, December 13, 2010

I love these squishy faces.
 They weren't particularly in the mood to have their pictures taken, but they were just so cute.
I couldn't resist.

The only thing better than being a kid at Christmastime
 is having kids at Christmastime.

Deeper Than The Dead - Book Review

One of the fun things about regularly winning books from is that I get to read an ecclectic mix of genres and books that I might not actually pick up off the shelf at the book store. Deeper Than The Dead by Tami Hoag is one of these books. The book sat on my pile of to-read books for awhile and I decided to read it this weekend.

This murder mystery is intense and thrilling and will keep you up at night, which is exactly what you want from a murder mystery. In a quiet community, four ten year old children, cutting through the woods after school, find the dead body of a woman--brutally murdered by what appears to be a serial killer. Another young woman is missing.

Although written and published recently, the story is set in 1985, before DNA evidence and just as the FBI's Behavioral Science/Investigative Support Unit is getting attention for a new technique--"profiling". The 1985 time, allows the mind to work over time while the CSI aspect of most modern day murders. I liked that aspect. Also, I was also ten in 1985 and got a kick out of all the cultural references from the time.

I was pretty sure that I knew who the serial killer was early in the book and it turns out that I was right, but there is enough suspense and evidence thrown on other characters and enough twists and turns in the plot to keep me guessing and doubting until the end. There is a little romance and some interesting and sympathetic characters in the story to make it additionally appealing.

I really enjoyed Deeper Than The Dead and I'm glad that I finished only so that I can go back to sleeping at night.

In full disclosure, there is some bad language, gruesome details of murder and one sex scene.

I received a copy of this book free from This review is my honest opinion and no compensation has been given.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Build-A-Bear Winner

It was so nice to read about all the service that you do during the holidays. As parents, I think it is especially important that our children learn from our example to serve others. You are all very inspiring.

Now, I'm excited to announce the winner of the $25 Build-A-Bear gift certificate. Chosen randomly with the random number generator, the winner is . . .


BrookeLynn said...

I'm so excited for this give-away!!! This year, I am volunteering at the Food Bank in Downtown SLC. I am going with several youth in our area. I think it will be a great experience for me and them.

Congratulations, BrookeLynn. Please send me an email with your information so that you can receive your gift certificate as soon as possible. Thanks to everyone for entering and to Build-A-Bear for sponsoring the give-away.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Major Pettigrew's Last Stand - Book Review

I rarely fall for the protagonist in the books I read, but I have to admit that I have developed a slight crush on Major Pettigrew. He's just so charming. He's the ultimate gentleman. Brave. Wise. Very, very polite. And mature. A rare find among men today (we're talking fictional, literary heroes--just so you know).

It took me almost two weeks to read Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson only because I was busy over the Thanksgiving holiday and then my brother-in-law finally was successful in getting us hooked on the television series, Arrested Development. When I did get a chance to hide away and read, I savored each and every word of Simonson's debut novel.

This modern day Romeo and Juliet-type story is unique in that the characters are older and finding love unexpectedly the second time around. Major Pettigrew, retired and widowed, falls quietly in love with Mrs. Ali the shop keeper. Not everyone is delighted by their subtle yet deep romance. Pettigrew's ambitious son, Mrs. Ali's family and the nosy citizens of the village of Edgecomb St. Mary find the relationship "inappropriate".

I adored this novel. It is definitely one of the best romance novels I've read in years. It's witty and clever and emotionally stirring. Kudos to Simonson. I hope she keeps writing. She has a gift and I can't wait to read her next novel. (Note to Annika: she was a stay-at-home mom.)

I received a free copy of Major Pettigrew's Last Stand from This review is my own, honest opinion and I received no compensation.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Build-A-Bear Service and Give-Away

Saturday morning, Amberly, Lilly and I woke very early to drive to Salt Lake City. After stopping for a bagel at Paradise Bakery and Cafe, we went over to the Build-A-Bear Workshop in the Gateway Mall.

We participated with other Mommy Bloggers and their children to help stuff bears for donation to the Marine Corps' Toys for Tots Program at a Holiday Giving Gathering.

Brooke Robison, a Build-A-Bear Huggable Hero, spoke to us about service and ways that we can serve our community this holiday season. She suggested several ideas such as hold a bake sale and donate the proceeds to a charity or make handmade ornaments with the residents of a nursing home.

With the help of the very friendly staff of Build-A-Bear, we stuffed some bears with love and hoped that they would find children who needed them and would love them this Christmas season.

 My girls were too shy to pose for pictures with the bear or the Marine, but they were willing to snuggle with their furry friends. The bears were so adorable.

Build-A-Bear sponsors many service activities during the year. They also donate a percentage of the sales from several of their stuffed animals to charities.

They're so generous that they're also offering a
$25 gift certificate to Build-A-Bear for one of my lucky followers.

To enter:
You must be a follower.
So, become a follower, if you're not already one.

1. Leave a comment on this post. What can you do to serve in your community this season?
2. For an extra chance to win, link to this give-away on your blog or Facebook. Leave a comment on this post telling me what you did.

This give-away will be open to entries until Thursday, December 9th at 11:59 p.m.
The winner will be announced on Friday, December 10th.
This contest is open to residents of the US only.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Worst Family Photo Shoot Ever!

We haven't had a family photograph taken for years. YEARS! In fact, neither Lilly or Molly are in any of our family pictures. Isn't that pathetic? As a photographer, I think that is especially unforgivable.

I was determined this year to get a family picture taken. I'd been trying to arrange a shoot with my sister all fall. Most of the good times, I had already booked with my own clients. I was sure that we could get pictures during Thanksgiving. Then, it was way too cold.

I decided that today was going to be the family picture day. I didn't expect much. Just one good picture. I asked Kathryn, a darling young woman from our neighborhood/ward, to come with us after church and just snap a few pictures with my camera. I forced the kids to wear what I picked out for them. I made Neal wear a shirt with a collar--heaven forbid.

I thought it would be overcast today. While the rest of the Wasatch Front was covered by disgusting smog (we went up to SLC this evening so I know just how gross it was--eww, I can still taste it), our valley was sunny, bright and 50 degrees. The temperature was perfect for pictures, the light was not so great.

While I tried to figure out a way to get a picture in the bright light, my children and especially Utah Dad were whiny and not at all helpful. We did a few test shots in one area and the light was too bright but I was so irritated by my family, I decided to call it a day. Then it was my turn to complain. Poor Kathryn. She might avoid our family for awhile. She was helpful, awesome and cheerful the entire miserable time, by the way.

So, here's the mediocre picture of my grumpy family that we will be sharing with all our loved ones this Christmas season.

Bright Merry Cheer Christmas 5x7 folded card
Shop Shutterfly for elegant custom Christmas photo cards.
View the entire collection of cards.
For embedding this Christmas card, created at Shutterfly, I will receive a $25 gift certificate from Shutterfly.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

North Pole Express Discount Code -- Out and About in Utah

Last night after dinner, the kids changed into their pajamas. But instead of heading to bed, we were all whisked away to the North Pole to visit Santa Claus courtesy of the Heber Valley Railroad. The timing couldn't have been more perfect. It seems that it is Neal's crucial year.

Our journey began at the train station in Heber, Utah. We boarded the train and were delighted to find that not only were we in the heated car, our car was famous. It had been used in the filming of one of Utah Dad's very favorite movies--A River Runs Through It. We took our seats and waited for the train to depart for the North Pole. We were greeted by helpful and friendly cocoa waiters and by Mrs. Claus.

Finally, our train set off for the North Pole. The kids were so excited. They were soaking up every minute and were so well behaved. We sang favorite Christmas carols while ringing jingly bells. We drank hot cocoa and ate scrumptious cookies.

When we got to the North Pole (only a half an hour trip by train, who'd have thought?), Santa was waiting near the tracks. He boarded the train and visited each and every one of the children. Utah Dad was especially thrilled that this Santa visit might exempt him from standing in line to meet Santa at the mall this year. Each child had the opportunity to tell Santa what they wanted for Christmas and they received a small gift from him.

"The best thing about the train was the hot chocolate and the cookies. It's to die for." -- Thomas

"I liked the singing." -- Amberly

"It was really fun. I drank my hot chocolate really fast. And the cookies were good. The train went slower than I thought it would." -- Neal

"I got to see Santa." -- Lilly

The entire experience was really quite magical and a nice beginning to our holiday season.

Tickets are now on sale for this popular holiday train, which is a long-standing tradition for thousands of Utah families. First class service is available most weekends during the North Pole Express schedule. Due to the high demand for tickets, the Heber Valley Railroad is offering two matinee excursions on Thursday and Friday, Dec. 23-24, 2010.

The North Pole Express will depart every Monday through Saturday through December 24, 2010.

Nightly Excursions
Depart 5 p.m.; return 6:30 p.m.
Depart 7:30 p.m.; return 9 p.m.

Matinee Excursions (December 23-24 only)
Depart 2 p.m.; return 3:30 p.m.

Tickets can be purchased by calling SmithsTix at 800-888-TIXX, by calling the railroad at 435-654-5601, online at, or at the Heber Valley Depot, 450 South 600 West, Heber City. For more information and directions, contact the Heber Valley Railroad at 435-654-5601 or visit

The Heber Valley Railroad and the North Pole Express are offering a generous discount for my blog readers: 5$ off coach tickets on December 7, 8, 9, 14, 15 and 16.
To receive the discount you will need to call the train directly at 435-654-5601 and ask for the “Utah Blogger” discount and be prepared to tell the train the name of this blog -- Utah Mom's Life, of course.

Thursday, December 2, 2010