Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Doc - Book Review

"I'm your huckleberry."

Years ago, I saw Val Kilmer at an airport. That was the only thing--"I'm your huckleberry."--I could think of to say to him. Of course, I thought of it 30 seconds too late and didn't actually say anything.

In the movie Tombstone, Val Kilmer portrays the legendary character of Doc Holliday. It's a performance that I've been unable to forget. What a fascinating character.

In her latest novel, Doc, Mary Doria Russell, strips away the myths and lore surrounding one of Wild West's infamous characters and tells the story of John Henry Holliday, a young, sickly dentist from Georgia, who goes west in search of a cure to the tuberculosis that has already killed his mother.

Tired of life in Texas, J.H. Holliday and his girl Kate, head to Dodge City, Kansas. It's the end of the line for the cattle drives from Texas. Dodge City, full of vice and money and shifty politics, is the perfect place for a card sharp. While in Dodge, Doc sets up his dentist practice and meets the Earp brothers--with whom his name will be permanently linked in the pages of history.

Russell, an anthropologist, may be trying to present a more accurate picture of Doc Holliday and Wyatt Earp but the characters are only more rich and fully developed and believable in her version. Doc might not have been the gun slinging, cold-blooded, revenge-seeking man as he is generally portrayed (and even possibly became once they move on to Tombstone), but J.H. Holliday is still an intriguing anachronism. How does this highly educated, concert pianist, feeble gentleman fit in the rough and tawdry world that is Dodge City, Kansas? Using wit, skill at cards, unlikely friendships with the Earps and an undeserved reputation, Doc manages quite well.

I've had such a busy and fun week with multiple family get togethers and very late nights, but every chance I got, I slipped away to read this book. Russell is a gifted story teller. While some of the book, especially the beginning, reads more like a historical narrative, Russell does bring the characters to life. She also sets the stage for the inevitable action, by painting a detailed picture of Dodge and giving even the minor characters, such as the Chinese launderer, the Jesuit priest, the proper and beautiful belle of Dodge, and the various prostitutes personality and humanity. Seen through their eyes, Dodge City becomes more than just a Hollywood set of a dusty street of clapboard buildings.

Mary Doria Russell's novel Doc is a stand-out work of historical fiction and gave me a new perspective on this most fascinating character.

I received a free copy of this book from Goodreads.com in exchange for an honest review. No additonal compensation has been received.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

The Winner of The Violets of March Give-away

Randomly selected with the random number generator, the winner of one copy of Sarah Jio's The Violets of March is . . .

** Ruthhill74 **

Congratulations! Send me an email with your information so that I can send your new book right away. I hope you love it as much as I did. If you didn't win, be sure to look for this fabulous summer read at your favorite book store.

Friday, June 24, 2011

The Winner of the Thirty-One Thermal Tote Give-away

I'm having a hard time waking up this morning. Neal, who is still obsessed about basketball and all things Jimmer, insisted that we go up to his grandparents' house (civilized world with cable) last night to watch the NBA Draft. He sat on the couch, nervously watching until the Jazz had made their picks and Jimmer was picked at number ten. Then, we stuck around to visit with Utah Dad's Texas sisters, nieces, great niece and nephew and his parents. It was very late when we finally crawled in to bed last night.

However, it is exciting to wake up and remember that I get to pick a winner for the Thermal Tote from Thirty-one. Are you excited? After plugging the numbers into the Random Number Generator, it was determined that the winner is . . .

** Heather R **

Congratulations! I hope you love your tote. Please send me an email right away with your information, including your initials, so that you can receive your personalized Thirty-one Thermal Tote very soon.

And don't forget to enter to win a copy of Sarah Jio's recently released book The Violets of March. It's a fabulous read--perfect for summertime. That give-away ends today. Click here to enter.

Monday, June 20, 2011

The Violets of March Give-away - Midsummer's Eve Blog Hop Give-away

It's the Summer Solstice! Besides being the longest day of the year, it is also Neal's birthday. I can hardly believe he is turning ten. To celebrate, I am participating in the Midsummer's Eve Blog Hop hosted by Inspired Kathy at I Am A Reader Not a Writer.

Do you remember how much I enjoyed The Violets of March by Sarah Jio? I reviewed it : here. I liked it so much that I gave a copy to my former college roommate who grew up on Bainbridge Island, the setting for the book. And now, the publisher has generously donated a copy of the book so that I can give one away to one of my lucky and faithful readers.

It's super easy to enter:

1. Become a follower of Utah Mom's Life Blog if you're not already and then leave a comment on this post.

For additional entries:

1. Use Twitter, Facebook or your own blog to spread the word about this give-away. Leave a comment on this post for each thing you do.

The contest will be open for entries until Friday, June 24th at 11:59 MST. The winner will be announced on Saturday, June 25th. This give-away is open to residents of the US and Canada.

Once you've entered to win a copy of The Violets of March, check out the rest of the blogs giving away books this week. Lots and lots of opportunities to win books!

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Yellowstone Vacation - Day Two

Monday morning, day two of our vacation, promised to be cold and wet. We decided to spend the day primarily viewing the wildlife in the park. We were rewarded right away with views of a bald eagle. We saw lots of bison and plenty of elk. The elk's antlers are just growing so they are not especially spectacular right now.

The park was very crowded. We amused ourselves by searching for license plates from all the states. Over the course of our vacation we would see at least one plate from 46 states (we didn't find Rhode Island, Delaware, Maine or Hawaii), four Canadian Provinces and several European plates. We visited with people from Italy and Great Britain and heard lots of French and Spanish. Not the mention that there were many people of Asian descent in the park as well. We were surprised and delighted to see so many people traveling in spite of the recession and the high gas prices.

We walked the short walks to view Gibbon Falls and Tower Falls. I like waterfalls. Like I told Utah Dad, they're a sure thing.

It was my first time driving through Lamar Valley. While we have heard that it is an excellent place to view bears. We were there in the middle of the day and didn't see any. The views were breathtaking. We saw lots of herds of bison, elk and some pronghorn.

As we headed north to Mammoth Hot Springs, I spotted an actual black black bear walking in the valley below. We stopped to take pictures and ended up creating quite a "bear jam". I'll swear the bear performed for the tourists. My filming skills are lacking and you can hear all the craziness of traveling with five kids in the background. Utah Dad is better, but then he doesn't have kids hanging on him.

At Mammoth Hot Springs we enjoyed ice cream and walking around the springs. We drove around the loop and stopped at Canyon for dinner. The meal was good--I had the Bison Ravioli--but it took a very long time to get our food and eat. By the time we left the dining hall, it was pouring rain again. We headed south to Hayden Valley and were thrilled to see a Grizzly bear mama with her two cubs.

This video is very shaky and you will get to hear my irritable-I've-been-in-the-car-too-long-with-five-kids voice. Forgive me. The bears are cool, though.

We continued on the south loop of the park in the rain. It was raining so hard that we really couldn't see anything.  We were in the Madison Valley nearing the west entrance of the park. The rain had stopped and it was dusk. We saw a crowd gathered on a turn-out. We joined them and were excited to see a wolf feeding on a bison carcass. A second wolf also ran across the nearby meadow while we were watching.

We had a fabulous day but by the time we got back to the hotel in West Yellowstone, we were all very grateful to climb into warm and comfortable beds and go right to sleep.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Yellowstone Vacation - Day One

We had the van packed and ready so that we could leave early on Sunday morning. The kids were especially excited to ride in the 15 passenger van because they wouldn't have to sit next to each other. The adults hoped that this would ensure the lack of fighting between the kids. It definitely helped. We also gave Lilly some Dramamine since she suffers from car sickness even on a quick trip to the grocery store. I was worried it would make her sleep the entire trip, but she stayed awake most of the time and was generally pleasant.

We stopped for a picnic lunch at Hell's Half Acre to see the lava rock in Idaho. It's a quick stop right off I-15 between Blackfoot and Idaho Falls. The kids enjoyed walking the trails to see the ancient lava. I thought it was pretty cool too.

We also made a quick side trip into Idaho Falls to see the temple and the falls. The water was very high and so to avoid any accidental falls (so nervous this year) we made the kids stay in the car. We enjoyed seeing all the Canadian geese and their goslings along the banks of the river.

Near Mack's Inn, we took another side trip to see the fish in Big Bear Springs. The fish must not like the rain because we didn't see a single fish while we got drenched on that excursion.

We finally reached our Hotel--The ClubHouse Inn in West Yellowstone just in time to check in and eat a quick dinner at McDonalds. After dinner we decided to take advantage of the last hours of evening light and go in to the park.

Of course we saw many bison as we drove through Madison Valley. There were a bunch of vehicles stopped and we pulled over to see what they were looking at. We were delighted to see a black bear. We all piled out of the car to join the other tourists. We were a safe distance from the bear but we could all see it quite well. I can't even count how many times we had to explain to the kids that even though this bear is brown, it is technically a black bear. Hard concept to grasp, I suppose.

I took some film footage too. I absolutely cannot hold the camera still so it's pretty wobbly.

Seeing a bear was a perfect way to end the first day of our vacation.

Thirty-One Review and Give-away

Thirty-one is a consultant based company created by and for women that sells beautiful purses, totes, bags and other organizations tools for your home.

I hadn't heard of Thirty-one before Amy, a consultant, sent me several of their products to review. I was thrilled to receive the package last week. She generously sent a Large Utility Tote, an All-In-One Organizer and two Thermal Totes. Besides being visually striking and well made, I knew immediately that they would be so useful during our family vacation.

Anticipating the cold weather in Yellowstone, I filled the Large Utility Tote with jackets for our entire family. the tote fit perfectly between the seats in the van. It kept the jackets organized and accessible. I was able to quickly grab jackets for everyone whenever we stopped along our journey.

Now that we're home, I can think of dozens of uses for the Large Utility Tote in my home. Because our house is rather small and full of people, I'm always looking for ways to be more organized. The Large Utility Totes would be perfect for under-the-bed storage. One would fit just right under the end table in the loft. They would come in handy for storage in the laundry room or the bedroom closets. They would also be great to use for toy storage in the kids' rooms.

Now that we're home from our vacation, I can't decide if I'm going to use this one to store all the hats, mittens, and scarfs that hopefully I won't need this summer or if I'll keep it handy to pack with beach towels when we head to the pool. I suppose I better order another one or two or three. And right now, for every $30 you spend at Thirty-one you can get a Large Utility Tote for just $9.

It only took me a minute to figure out how I could best use the All-In-One Organizer on our trip. Our books, scriptures and card games fit just right in the organizer and slid nicely under the seat of the van. I didn't get many opportunities to read on the trip, but the books were right there and accessible if I needed them. Because books fit so nicely, I think I might keep the All-In-One Organizer near my bed with my to-read books. The All-In-One Organizer would also work well as a diaper-changing station, or packed with treats for the game.

The Thermal totes are so cool (literally). You can carry your lunch or snacks in style. They are beautiful and yet so handy. They were very useful during our vacation when we went on small hikes around the geysers and for our picnics.

The exciting news is that Amy is offering one Thirty-one thermal tote as a give-away to one lucky reader. It will embroidered with the winner's initials.

To enter you must:
1. Spend a few minutes checking out the beautiful products sold by Thirty-one on their website.
2. Come back to this post and leave a comment telling me how you would use a Large Utility Tote.
3. Be a follower of Utah Mom's Life.

For additional entries:
1. You may get additional entries by tweeting this give-away or sharing it on Facebook or your own blog.
2. You can also get an additional entry if you order something from the Thirty-one website.
3. Be sure to leave an extra comment for each thing you do.

The give-away contest will be open for entries until Thursday, June 23rd at 11:59 pm MST. The winner will be announced on Friday, June 24th. This contest is open to residents of the US only.

Friday, June 10, 2011

In the Garden of Beasts - Book Review

When my brother-in-law Pete recommends a book, I really try to read it. He has impeccable literary tastes. Several years ago, Pete suggested that I read The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson. I enjoyed every moment of that entertaining, enlightening and disturbing book. I've since encouraged my book club to read and Utah Dad. I loaned my copy to my brother because I knew he would like it. He's had it for awhile now. Hint. Hint.

As I mentioned in the last post, I read Thunderstruck by Erik Larson while I was in labor with Lilly. While I did enjoy it, I didn't find it as amazing as The Devil in the White City. Even so, I am definitely a fan of Larson's work and when I saw that he had published a new work, I was anxious to read it and thrilled to receive/win a copy from Goodreads.

In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson is a historical work about William E. Dodd, an unlikely choice for Ambassador to Germany in 1933. When Dodd and his family arrive in Germany, he discovers a beautiful place that has been rejuvenated since the First World War. American tourists didn't notice anything but the beauty and friendly people. However, Hitler and the Nazis have risen to power but hunger for complete control. During this year, Hitler will seize complete power and it will become the tipping point for this history of Germany and the world.

Dodd's family accompanied him on his mission in Germany, including his daughter, Martha. Martha's many liaisons with powerful men in the Nazi party, Gestapo, and French and Soviet embassies become an integral and intriguing part of the story.

While most people did not fully recognize the dangers of Hitler's regime and even Dodd was a bit awestruck at first, Dodd eventually has his eyes open to the horrible ideologies and actions of the Nazis. It is unfortunate that very few believed Dodd.

The history of this book is absolutely fascinating, frightening and sobering. I simply could not put it down and read late into the night to finish it. Larson's skills as a writer are superb. He especially excels at allowing the characters to live on the pages. Both their flaws and attributes are included as Larson uses documentation from fans and foes. While Larson writes as an objective observer, the evil and depravity of the Nazi Party and Hitler are clearly revealed.

This evil is, of course, not a surprise. We all know of the horrors of World War II and the Holocaust. What I found especially interesting about this particular book is just how Hitler gained the power he needed to commit the atrocities and how the other nations essentially turned a blind eye to the early warning signs in the name of maintaining peace. Knowing the ultimate end and consequences, makes reading this book much more powerful and alarming.

Because The Devil in the White City alternates between the two story lines of a twisted serial killer and the building of the 1893 World Fair in Chicago, there are equal moments of evil and beauty. However, In the Garden of Beasts is darker and more sinister. This, of course, isn't surprising, since Hitler and his Nazis caused unmeasurable destruction, fear, and sorrow for the entire world.

Once again, Larson has written a very readable and completely fascinating and disturbing book of history.

I won a free copy of In the Garden of Beasts from Goodreads.com in exchange for my honest opinion. No other compensation was received.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

The Labor that Wasn't - Birth Story

I had an appointment with my certified nurse midwife yesterday. **No, I'm not pregnant. Thank goodness.** I just needed to go in for that yearly check-up that I've already postponed for over a year. I needed to have my thyroid checked again too, talk about my weird feet, how I don't eat enough vegetables or exercise regularly and how much I love my IUD. You know, that appointment.

I arrived rather early and saw to my delight that my midwife was about 20 minutes behind schedule. I got cozy in the waiting room and settled in to read my book. Imagine my surprise and disappointment when the nurse called me right back. Seriously! I just hate when they're so efficient.

I had my last four babies with the midwives at this clinic and I usually saw Claudia for my regular appointments so we've become quite friendly over the years. Claudia and I spent an hour visiting yesterday. We talked about my health, our kids and our similar interest in books (we both loved Udall's The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint). As she went over my past health history again and entered into a new computer program, we reminisced about my delivery of Lilly.

Since I'm listening to Lilly whine right now and need to be reminded of how sweet she once was/could be again, I'll tell you the story. If you actually know me in real life, you've probably definitely heard the story before. (Especially if you happened to attend book club last night. Since no one read the book, we discussed my appointment and medical history instead.)

My stab-in-the-dark, best guess for a due date was late June. As June passed and we moved into the hotter days of July, I was getting anxious to have that wiggly little baby. My feet were uncomfortably swollen, of course.

Utah Dad was about to go out of town on business and I was staying at my in-law's home to be closer to the hospital (I was concerned about the hour drive from home since I had Thomas in two hours). On Friday, I saw Deb, a CNM at the clinic. I was dilated to a five and she stripped my membranes. She was on-call at the hospital the next day, so she told me to come back in so she could see if I had progressed.

I went in to the hospital to see Deb on Saturday afternoon. I was dilated to a 6 now but still not contracting and while she said she could go ahead and admit me, I didn't want to spend unnecessary time in the hospital. Even though she said she would break my water, I am nutty natural and didn't want too much intervention. She sent me out walking.

Utah Dad and I walked the halls of the hospital until that got excessively boring and then we went shopping. After walking around the store for a few hours, I was exhausted, so we went back to my in-law's house.

Sunday morning I woke up disappointed that I hadn't gone in to labor during the night. I was talking to my mom on the phone and she told me to go back to the hospital.

I was a little embarrassed to walk into Labor and Delivery and not be in labor. In my earlier pregnancies I had to convince the nurses in the triage that I was laboring enough to be admitted. They were always shocked when they finally checked and discovered I was already dilated to an 8. Duh.

Claudia was the midwife on call and Deb had filled her in on my progress (she was shocked and worried that I hadn't come back after my "walk").

I was now dilated to a 7. Claudia insisted that I be admitted to the hospital at this point. Utah Dad and I settled in to a room. I read a book - Thunderstruck by Eric Larson (it's good. I'm actually reading Larson's latest book-In The Garden of Beasts right now.) and visited with Claudia and the nurses. I would have contractions when I walked but they would all but stop when I sat down to rest.

Finally, after several hours Claudia suggested that she break my water. I relented and consented. She broke my water. I walked in to the bathroom. Walked out and nearly had the baby on the floor.

Yesterday as we visited, Claudia laughed as she recalled, "I yelled, hey dad, you better get over here if you're going to catch this baby."

A very sweet, darling little baby, that didn't whine so much back then.

I was so huge! I tell you, I got positively gigantic during pregnancy. Please excuse the pictures. I've tried hard to forgive UtahDad for his lack of photography skills. (These aren't too bad. They're the only ones that aren't completely blurry.)

Monday, June 6, 2011

Flat Stanley Visits - Out and About in Utah

We are hosting Flat Stanley at our house this month. He is visiting from New York. While we have sent Flat Stanley out to visit others before (a niece in Boston and an uncle pilot) we've never had the privilege of showing Flat Stanley around our home state before.

First, Neal took Flat Stanley to his very favorite place--school. Neal's elementary school is nestled in the cedar and sage brush covered hills. Neal loves school but is very glad that he can now enjoy summer vacation (except when I make him do extra chores and practice the piano before he can play video games).

Next we headed to downtown Salt Lake City and Temple Square for a very unique Utah experience.

We took Flat Stanley for a tour on top of the Conference Center. From the top, we had a fabulous view of the city.

The top of the Conference Center has beautiful gardens, forests and meadows full of wildflowers. It's a lovely oasis in the middle of the city. It also has water features. This mother duck has made a home for her babies in the fountain.

From the top of the Conference Center we can also see the Utah State Capitol Building.

Next, we took Flat Stanley to Emigration Canyon. The pioneers first entered the Salt Lake Valley through this canyon in 1847. We especially love this canyon because our Mamau and Gramps live there.

We had a great time playing tour guide to Flat Stanley last weekend. Molly fell in love with him and has insisted that she take him to bed each night. We might not be able to let him go home.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

The American Heiress - Book Review

We spent the evening with my in-laws today. While Utah Dad grilled some bratwurst, I flipped through the People magazine. My mother-in-law subscribes to the magazine and I have to admit that it's my guilty pleasure to read the gossip and hype about the celebrities when I visit her. Although, I'm so out-of-touch with all things "cool" lately, that I don't even recognize half of the supposedly famous people.

Tonight, I stopped to read an article about the extraordinarily large homes of some of the rich and famous. Oprah's home in California is over 20,000 square feet but only has four bedrooms. Wow!

Reading Daisy Goodwin's novel The American Heiress was a bit like reading a tabloid magazine. Cora Cash is one of the wealthiest American young women in the 1890's--the gilded age. Cora is already worth a fortune but her status-seeking mother schemes to marry her off to a titled but money-troubled English gentleman. Cora is OK with that plan if it means that she can escape her mother's control. The press and the admiring young fans crowd the streets for a glimpse of Cora at her elaborate wedding to Duke Wareham. Cora thrives on the attention but her wedding day is even more perfect because she has married for love.

However, is this highly educated and groomed young woman really ready for the stuffy and proper English gentility? And did her duke marry for love or money?

Goodwin's novel is a very entertaining read. I had a hard time putting it down to go to sleep each night this week. Reminding me of Edith Wharton's Age of Innocence with it's decadence and moral themes, this novel is full of fresh plot twists and elegant but ultimately self-serving characters. Cora, while narcissistic and conceited, is so young and naive that I couldn't help but hope the best for her as she stumbles her way through the English protocol and the intrigue that awaits in her new life.

By turns romantic and tragic, The American Heiress lured me in with details of the extravagant lifestyles of the extremely wealthy but captured and held my attention with a well-paced plot and fabulously delicious and devious characters. It's a "guilty pleasure" but not too guilty, because Goodwin is pretty good at keeping the details of the "bedroom" scenes brief and discreet.

This is one enthralling summer read.

I received a copy of The American Heiress through the Amazon Vine program in exchange for an honest review. No compensation was received. The book will be released on June 21st.