Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Back to the Books Give-away

To celebrate the kids going back to school, I am participating in a "Back to the Books Give-away".

 I am giving away one $15 Amazon gift card to one lucky winner.

Seriously! How cool is that?! You can buy whatever book you've had on your wish list.

The rules are pretty simple.

The only mandatory entry:
1. Be a follower of Utah Mom's Life Blog and leave a comment on this post.

You can receive additional entries in the contest by adding a link to this give-away on Twitter, Facebook or your own blog. Leave additional comments for each thing you do (no more than 3 extra entries).

The contest will run until 11:59 p.m. MST Wednesday, September 7th and the winner (selected randomly from the comments) will be announced on Thursday, September 8th. This contest is open to US residents only.

Be sure to check out all the other fabulous book-related give-aways this week!

Back to School

I had mixed emotions about the kids going back to school. We've had such a fun summer together and there are many more things we wanted to do. I love the lazy, hanging out days--sleeping in and staying up later (even though my kids protest that I still make them go to bed before the sun sets). At the same time, our family needed to get back on a schedule.

My kids love school (some more than others) and they were anxious to go back and see their friends and meet their new teachers. Neal and Amberly started a week ago. So far, they are happy.

Apparently, as a sixth grader Neal is now "too cool" to pose for first-day-of-school-pictures. This is the only one he stood still for. He looks thrilled, doesn't he? Don't let him fool you. He was so excited, mostly for social reasons, though he has admitted since that he is enjoying what they are studying too.

Amberly doesn't even try to hide her joy. She simply loves school. Everything about it.

Thomas is in kindergarten this year. His birthday is next week and he'll be turning six, so he's been waiting to go to school for awhile. He was so excited. On Monday, he woke up, bathed and got ready for school in his new clothes. Utah Dad, Lilly, Molly and I walked him to school while he tried to convince us that he was old enough to walk by himself (not yet).

As we got closer to the school, we wondered why no one was there yet. The kindergarten area is usually so full on the first day. Then we saw a neighbor friend who was also starting kindergarten.

Just kidding! Kindergarten didn't start until Tuesday. So, we marched back home and Thomas spent one more day hanging out with his little sisters. Don't even ask how we got so screwed up on the date. I'll blame it on Utah Dad since he took Thomas to school the week earlier for his assessment while I stayed home sick with strep throat (the first time I've ever had it. MISERABLE!).

Yesterday morning, we got up and did it all again. This time, for real. Thomas was so cute and practically bouncing. We joined all the other HORDES of kindergartners from our neighborhood walking to school. Many of the neighborhood kids are in Thomas's class. Thomas played on the play ground while we waited for the bell to ring and wasn't a bit sad as he waved goodbye and walked into the classroom.

I didn't cry either. I suppose I'm weird. But Thomas is so ready to finally be off to school and I do get him back three hours later. I'll save the tears for when he leaves for college and his mission.

Thomas is in the same classroom that both Neal and Amberly were in during kindergarten, although they all have had different teachers. They both had darling, young, recently married teachers who got pregnant and had babies and didn't come back to teach. Thomas's teacher is darling, young and recently married. We shall see . . .

Thomas came home after school in love with his teacher and filled with stories to share about his day. Makes me so happy.

It's going to be a great year!

Friday, August 26, 2011

Nothing Better Than a Nice Juicy Steak

I confess, we love meat at our house. It's just true. We're carnivores. Nothing makes Utah Dad more angry than a wasted sausage. Let a piece of bacon fall on the floor and really, it's just about the end of the world. The boys take steak kabobs to the Annual Father and Sons' Outing and we splurge for a rib roast at Christmas. Utah Dad doesn't think it actually counts as a meal unless there is a substantial percentage of beef or pork or possibly chicken (heaven forbid) in the recipe. And all of my kids agree.

My dad once told my mother in their early years of marriage (hopefully I am remembering the story right) that he preferred meat and potato dinners. He wasn't a fan of casseroles. As a result we mostly ate meat and potato dinners when I was a kid. There was always a vegetable on the side, rolls and dessert. My mom excelled at the square meal.

Since my dad was a hunter, we ate various forms of meat--elk, venison, pheasant, quail, rabbit--pretty much whatever was in season. We also lived on a small farm so we had a few cows and every now and then we raised a pig.

My brother and I were very young children the first time we raised a pig. We named him Homer and we visited him now and then in his pen. It certainly wasn't a "Fern and Wilbur" type relationship, but my parents were worried about our reactions when we found out that Homer had been butchered and that we were now going to eat him. They told us gently and were rather shocked by our childish responses. With gleeful faces we shouted "We're eating Homer!" over and over as we chewed piece after piece of ham. My parents had trouble eating their own dinners that night.

We don't live on a farm but my children have spent time on their grandfather's farm and they love to see the animals. They also know that meat comes from those animals. Over the years we've had several humorous conversations with the kids.

When Amberly was about three years old, one night at the dinner table she told us: "Cows give us milk. Pigs give us bacon and rabbits give us carrots."

Lilly, whose favorite stuffed pet is a little pink pig, was eating pizza on Monday night. Thomas watched her pick a pepperoni from her pizza. Pulling a pepperoni from his own pizza and holding it up in the air, he taunted her, "Pepperoni is from pigs, Lilly." She paused with the pepperoni half way to her mouth and countered, "No, pepperoni is from cows because cows have spots." Then she shoved that delicious circle of meat in her mouth and chewed with her supposed victory.

But today Neal and Thomas watched Food, Inc. on Netflix after school. This evening, Thomas was playing with Legos. I asked him what he was building and he announced, "It's a slaughter yard. I'm going to work in a slaughter yard." I haven't seen the movie but I've heard about it and I highly doubt that was the director's intended outcome.

Meat. It's what's for dinner (at our house, anyway).

Among the Wonderful - Book Review

In 1842, Phineas T. Barnum purchased the Scudder Natural History Museum in New York City with plans to make it into a showcase of the world's wonders. Filling the building with treasures and curiosities in order to fascinate and marvel the general population becomes his passion.

Ana Swift, the world's only giantess, moves into the apartments on the 5th floor of the museum as one of Barnum's employees. Her job is simply to walk among the visiting crowds each day in the museum.

Guillaudeu is the aging taxidermist who has spent his career in Scudder's museum and balks at the transformation of the museum under the new ownership.

Stacy Carlson's new novel Among the Wonderful  is the story of Barnum's museum, the curiosities and the people who work and live inside it's walls. With gracious and fine writing, Carlson opens up and displays Barnum's spiraling and mysterious museum with it's hidden galleries and human treasures. While the people who inhabit it are what the world called "freaks" and Barnum called "wonders", a hirsute woman, Siamese twins, albinos, natives, dwarfs, and giants, Carlson writes of them with a profound human touch, turning the reader from the voyeuristic tourist to the sympathetic and accepting soul.

The characters are richly developed and vastly different from the stereotypes that inhabit most stories about carnivals, fairs and circuses. Ana, the giantess, is so lovingly portrayed in all her heartache, hope and pain that she will be a literary character I will not soon forget. Guillaudeau, too, is a timeless character dealing with the very universal human emotions of aging, loss and dealing with change. His own metamorphosis is interesting to watch even as he bemoans the vast and sweeping changes in the museum.

With skill and style, Carlson takes a foot note of history and works it into a lovely and sweeping novel. Carlson excells as a story teller but proves herself, even more, as a compassionate and thoughtful observer of the human condition.
I received a complimentary copy of Among the Wonderful through the Amazon Vine program in exchange for my honest review. No other compensation was received.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Scabs and Guts Board Game - Review

Yesterday was our last official day of summer vacation. Neal and his cousin spent the day bingeing on Mario, which will go in the closet for the next nine months.

I received a package in the mail that contained a new board game. I called the boys to ask if they wanted to play. I got a half-hearted, dulled-by-video-games response. Then, I told them the name of the game : Scabs and Guts. They came running.

Scabs and Guts : The Meducational Board Game is easy to learn and quick to set up. The game teaches children about the body. Players answer questions in three categories to advance around the board. The categories are first, Scrapes and Scabs, the questions cover topics on hygiene, infections and wounds of the external body, second, Blood and Guts, which has questions about the blood stream and internal organs and third, Blubber or Buff, questions focus on positive healthy choices.

The questions are all about interesting facts about the human body, inside and out. We had fun learning things that we've really never even thought about. There were plenty of mentions of boogers, farting and other bodily functions to keep the ten year old boys giggling.

Younger kids will enjoy it too. In fact, Thomas won the game--possibly because of the unusual amount of time he spends looking at his book about the human body or because he is exceptionally good at guessing.

There's lots to learn and plenty of fun to be enjoyed playing Scabs and Guts Board Game.

I received a complimentary copy of Scabs and Guts through the Amazon Vine program in exchange for my honest review. No additional compensation has been received.

Monday, August 22, 2011

My Heroes

It used to be that most of the women that I admire were older. And by "older" I mean that they are older than I am, not necessarily "elderly". Women like my amazing mom (who celebrated her 56th birthday yesterday) and my grandma and my step-grandma and Sue Kane and my mother-in-law and my sisters-in-law and and that English professor at BYU and Sister Hinckley and Sister Beck and  . . .

I still admire these women. I still look up to them and appreciate their wisdom and examples of virtue and integrity.

During a conversation the other day with Utah Dad I realized that the older I get, the more I find that many of the women I find truly amazing and remarkable and worthy of my of my admiration are actually younger than I am. It's inevitable, I suppose. But so many of the women I know are just amazing!

Women like my cousin who lost one of her premature twins and has helped the surviving twin overcome his myriad of trials with grace and dignity. I know she has had and will continue to have difficult, draining days but she is always so hopeful and positive. Her smile always brightens my days.

Or another cousin who has finally been blessed to adopt two beautiful children after years of desiring and longing for a family. Her ability to love is amazing as she has opened her arms and home to not only her little babies but to their birth families as well.

My dear college friend who works long hard hours to support her family while her husband is ill.

The neighbor women and girls who send their husbands and fathers to fight and protect in the Middle East and then serve the other soldiers' families left behind.

Frankly, my neighborhood is full of women I admire. Women who genuinely care about their neighbors and go out of their way to serve.

I really am supremely blessed to live where I live and to know the women I know--young and olderish.

Friday, August 19, 2011

The Butterfly Cabinet - Book Review

August has been an interesting reading month for me. I've been running like crazy doing all kinds of fun stuff with the family. At the same time, I've been fighting off a cold. By the time I fall into bed, very late, each night, I just don't have any more energy to stay awake and read.

It took me longer than I expected to read The Butterfly Cabinet by Bernie McGill. I had trouble getting into it and then I had trouble finishing it. I'm also having trouble finishing the review. This is my third and hopefully final attempt.

The Butterfly Cabinet is a novel based on a true crime in Ireland from the late 1800's. A child is locked in a closet as a punishment and dies. Her mother is sentenced to prison for murder. The basic plot intrigued me immediately.

The novel alternates between two narrators--the mother's prison journal and the house maid's recollections to the granddaughter of the murderer, neither of which I particularly cared much for.

The author uses language to her benefit. She has a lovely way of describing the situation and excels at exposing the secrets, fears, and thoughts of two very different women. There are multiple sentences so lyrical that I had to stop and read them again. The prose is delicate and kind while revealing the darker parts of a person's life.

The novel delves deeply into the themes of motherhood and marriage. There is much to think about regarding a mother's love and the line between abuse and punishment.

However, this novel was less than enthralling for me. The suspense fell flat and I was disappointed by the ending that didn't seem to fully fit with the mother's earlier persona and actions.

I received a free copy of this novel from the publishers in exchange for my honest review. No other compensation was received.

Lagoon - Out and About in Utah

I had only been to Lagoon once before. I must have been fairly young. I only have a vague memory of a fun house (that I believe no longer exists).

Gramps took Neal and two of his cousins to Lagoon last year. They had a fabulous time and Neal has been anxious to go back.

Our entire family spent the day at Lagoon in Farmington, Utah on Tuesday.

We all enjoyed our day so much. I was thrilled to find out that most of the park is shaded by large trees. The shade helped but it was still a very hot day. The younger kids enjoyed the carousel, bumper cars and other kiddie rides. I didn't know that Lagoon has a small zoo boasting several tigers, lions, llamas and other interesting animals.

Amberly, Neal, Utah Dad and I went several times on the new Bombora roller coaster. Then, we noticed that kids as small as Thomas (who was just one inch too short to ride on nearly all the big rides) and Lilly could go on it too. Just as we were about to get on Thomas got nervous. He cried and clung to the gates. I felt like the evil  mean mom as I peeled his fingers from the gate and carried him crying onto the roller coaster. He tightly held my hand and when the ride was over (in about 30 seconds) he shouted, "Let's do that again!" So we did. Lilly liked it so much that she would have been happy to ride the Bombora over and over.

Lilly and Thomas also loved the HydroLuge and insisted on going down the slide a second time. We were all disappointed that Rattlesnake Rapids was closed for mechanical reasons.

Molly looks thrilled, doesn't she. A little nervous, maybe.

I spent the early part of our day trying to convince someone to go on the "big and scary" roller coasters with me. Finally, at the end of the day, Neal and Amberly went with me on the Colosus and Wicked roller coasters. Amberly had a moment of panic at the beginning of Wicked but once you're on the ride, there's nothing to do but hold on and enjoy it. They were awesome and had the lines been shorter, we would definitely have gone again.

We had a fabulous day and now I've got a bunch of dare devil thrill seekers who have been discussing how they can't wait to save their money and go on the Catapult in the X-Venture Zone. I think I'll make them wait to do that until they are adults and I don't have to witness it.

Great times at Lagoon! It was a fun and exciting was to end our summer vacation.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

The Picadilly Circus is Coming to Town - Promo Code

PICCADILLY CIRCUS has everything you'd expect to see at a Circus. Celebrating 25 years entertaining families throughout North America "we've pulled out all the stops!" You'll see the 'Elephant Extravaganza', an elephant stands on one foot; 'Motorcycle Madness' has motorcycle daredevils somersaulting and spinning in a big Globe of Doom; 'Katunga' the giant jungle monster; the fabulous 'Mongolian Angels' outstanding contortionists; crazy comedy with circus clowns, even a 1923 Model T with a mind of its own; daring aerialists; cirque artists and our special attraction 'The Boxing Kangaroo', Rocky a 250 pound kangaroo, will have you falling off your seat laughing as audience members are invited to participate.  It's 1 1/2 hours of excitement and fun at PICCADILLY CIRCUS.

Check the website for locations, dates and times. Fun for the whole family!

Special "Buy One Get One Free" adult tickets are available on-line at our website (limited time offer!!). See site for details and ticket pricing. Use Promo Code: ELEPHANT

**My family will be attending the circus for free in exchange for this announcement. No other compensation was received.**

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Weekend at East Park - Out and About in Utah

My parents celebrated their 37th wedding anniversary this weekend (convenient timing since I turned 36 years old today. It was also one of the things that tipped me off about my real age). My parents considered celebrating by going to a concert together but I insisted that it was the perfect weekend for my family to visit. It turns out that it was the perfect weekend for my sister and her family to visit also. My youngest brother decided to join us since his wife was hanging out with her mother and sisters for the weekend. Once we were all there, we missed my other brothers and their families. The weekend would have been even better if they had come too.

We all arrived Friday evening, ate pizza and stayed up ridiculously late visiting and laughing.

It wasn't my idea, but we woke up pretty early on Saturday morning. My mom woke up even earlier and was already making our traditional and favorite breakfast of apple fritters. I ate more than I should. They're just too delicious.

My mom always has some projects for us to complete and we always work before we play. So, Neal and I joined my mom, grandma and aunt picking apricots. The ripest fruit was in the top of the trees so we devised several creative methods to reach it, including standing on the truck and making Neal climb up into the branches. Neal was a great help and within a few hours we had baskets and baskets and boxes of fruit.

While we were getting sticky and hot climbing trees, my dad and the men were bailing hay in the fields. Utah Dad and my brother-in-law were excited and anxious to have a turn on the tractor. It broke down while Utah Dad was driving it. I'm really hoping it wasn't his fault.

My sister took the kids with her to the pond to catch frogs. They caught over 10 tiny little frogs and Amberly got her shoes very muddy. It's a good thing we haven't bought her new school shoes yet.

My sister has two little girls that are the same ages as Lilly and Molly. They had so much fun playing together. The older two girls were trying to "ditch" the younger two girls who followed them from place to place.

When all the work was done, we drove up "the mountain" to East Park. My youngest sister and her husband came too. My second brother had to work but his wife and three boys also joined us. The reservoir there was uncrowded and welcoming. As soon as we parked the car, Neal, Amberly and Thomas bolted from the car and ran to the water. I think they were a bit surprised at how cold the water is.

The adults insisted the water was too cold to swim. Then Utah Dad went in. Since my family is notoriously competitive, the others just had to join him. Before long my dad and brother were out in the water too. One of my sisters and my sister-in-law got in too. I went in to my waist. It really was numbing cold. (By the way, I have a cold so my voice sounds especially obnoxious on the videos. Hopefully it doesn't always sound like that.)

My sister and brother-in-law brought their kayaks so we all took turns kayaking around the lake.

I love how my brother-in-law carries around his little daughters. They are tiny and they cling to his arm like little monkeys.

Both Neal and Amberly begged to try kayaking by themselves. They've never done it before and I was a little nervous but they both did really well.

My brother and brother-in-law decided to try some "dare devil" moves and stand on the kayaks. They were knocking each other off and it was pretty dang funny.

Neal just had to try standing up in the kayak too. He has some pretty impressive balance.

Molly and her "matching cousin" had a great time getting wet and muddy.

Lilly and her cousins (she called them "my best friend and that boy") were inseperable. They layed out on a rock and had all kinds of princess make believe.

Amberly enjoyed trying to kayak by herself. I was pretty impressed by her ability to navigate. She thought it was funny to go out in the reeds.

  Not to be out done by his sons and grandson, my dad had to try standing on the kayak as well.

Anyone who thinks my little Amberly is just a sweet girl might be surprised to see her mischevious streak. She did her best to try to knock her grandfather off the kayak and into the water.

Thomas and his "matching cousin" had a great time climbing on the rocks, swimming and throwing rocks out into the water.

Amberly tries to bump into her grandpa again.

The mountain lake was breathtakingly beautiful. There were very few people there and we only had to share the lake with a pair of fishing ospreys. They are the coolest birds.

After we spent several hours at the lake, we returned to my parents' house and had a BBQ. Then my sister had a special surprise. She brought ten floating lanterns. The children were absolutely mesmerized as the lanterns floated into the sky (imagine a much smaller version of Tangled). It was so beautiful. Thomas shouted with great enthusiasm "They're becoming stars!"

We put the kids to bed. My brother-in-law taught us a great way of making ice cream shakes in the Kitchen Aid. And then he and my sister taught us a new fun card game.

The days are just longer and much more fun at my parents' house. I'm convinced.

**Thanks to my sister for sharing many of the pictures included in this post. You're awesome.**