Thursday, March 31, 2011

Amazing Crayon Drawing with Lee Hammond - Book Review

When I was a child my very favorite gift was a big box of Crayola Crayons (back then the big box had only 64 colors) and a package of paper. Crayons make me happy to this day. The first thing I do after I get myself a new box of crayons (the big big box of 120) is take a big whiff of the waxy smell (love it) and then I organize the colors. Amberly asked me why Crayola didn't just organize the colors for me. Personally, I'm glad they don't. It would take so much of the fun out of a new box.

When FSBMedia contacted me and asked if I would read and review Amazing Crayon Drawings with Lee Hammond, I was thrilled and of course I agreed. I figured that Amberly would love it. She's our resident artist and crayons, as we all know, are for kids. Right?


When the book arrived last week I was AMAZED. Hammond's use of crayons is truly amazing (thus the title of the book). Her work is stunning and realistic and it is really hard to believe that her only tools were crayons. I was totally inspired by her creations. I ran to the store and bought a new box of crayons and some good sketch paper and have been "coloring" ever since.

I'm not really an artist but I've been following Hammond's tutorials on shading. I've created A LOT of spheres this week. Before I got the good paper, I copied Hammond's beach sunset. Fun! Fun! Fun! Plus, since Amberly and Lilly are always begging me to color with them, we shared some good quality mother/daughter time too.

While they're not generally considered a serious art medium, one really can create stunning and professional looking art with crayons. Crayons, as far as art supplies go, are fairly inexpensive. And with a crayon sharpener (a good one, not the one that comes with the crayons) even the "throw-away, only good for the kids" crayons can be salvaged. In fact, I haven't even used my new crayons yet. Honestly, they're too pretty in their fresh state. And every color I used in the above sunset picture comes in the small 24 crayon box that kids get at school.

I was coloring this morning with Lilly. I decided to try creating my own picture instead of just copying images from Hammond's book. I started a landscape of the view from my bedroom windows. It's coming along. It in no way compares with the beautiful images by Hammond, but I'm pleased. And it's just so much fun.

Lilly still prefers markers. But I'm working to convince her of the greater potential of crayons. Plus they don't mark up her face and hands like markers do.

I am absolutely delighted with Amazing Crayons Drawing with Lee Hammond. This book will make you look at a box of crayons in a whole new light.

While I received a complimentary copy of this book from FSBMedia, this review is my honest opinion and no additional compensation was received.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Ice Princess - Book Review

A woman is found dead and frozen in her bathtub by her neighbors in a sleepy and cold seaside town. She has slit her wrists and at first it appears to be a suicide. However, the forensic teams conclude from the evidence that it is not suicide. She has been murdered.

Thus begins the murder mystery novel The Ice Princess by Swedish author Camilla Lackberg. Lackberg is intensely popular in Sweden. She has sold over 3.5 million copies of her book there. That might not seem like much until you realize that there are just over 9 million people living in Sweden. The mystery has been translated into English by Steven T. Murphy and will soon be available in paperback from FreePress.

On the cover, Lackberg's book is compared to the extremely popular Swedish mysteries written by Stieg Larsson. I haven't actually read his work yet but I've heard some good things.

I don't often read murder mysteries but I do enjoy a well developed one. I started The Ice Princess last week. I read the first 100 pages in a few hours. It got off to a great and exciting start. If I hadn't been so exhausted, I felt sure that I could have finished it that night.

However, I got bogged down in the middle section. There was too much side-story that didn't involve the investigation. While the characters of Patrick, the police detective and Erica, the discoverer of the body are well developed and their budding romance is fun, it distracted from the mystery. Apparently this book is the beginning of a series starring Patrick and Erica, so I understand the need to have more of their story.

The ending wasn't entirely satisfactory either and the truth simply spills out without much difficulty in the last few pages. For guarding a disturbing secret so carefully for so long, everyone gives it up too easily with just a little questioning.

Camilla Lackberg does create interesting and believable characters. She has a great understanding of even the so-called "dregs of society" and writes of them with compassion and sympathy. Each one of the characters in the story, no matter how minor, earns a good description with plenty of back story.

The Ice Princess is a fairly good mystery. It's certainly not the best one that I've ever read and I must admit some disappointment. I expected better.

I received a free copy of The Ice Princess from the publishers in exchange for an honest review. No additional compensation was given.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Thanks to Jimmer

My brother Nate is 16 months younger than I am. Most of our childhood we were great playmates. But there was constantly an underlying competition going on between us.

I was a smart kid. I learned to read quickly when I went to school.

Nate learned to read the same time I did. Only more quickly and better. I can still remember when I was five and I tried desperately to convince my grandfather that Nate had only memorized There's a Nightmare in My Closet. He couldn't really read. After all, he had made my mom read it to him a hundred billion times. To prove me wrong, my grandpa pulled Nate onto his lap and had him read from The Book of Mormon. Nate did and I was defeated.

I hated when I struggled to sound out a word and he'd look over my shoulder and tell me what it was.

When I was in third grade and Nate was in first grade, my teacher (my very favorite teacher ever!) started a computer club for third, fourth and fifth graders and my brother Nate. My third grade teacher, whom I adored, loved my brother. Every time my brother stopped by his classroom my teacher would let him take a sucker from the birthday tree. At the end of the year when it was time for the summer birthdays (mine is in August) to get a sucker, they were gone.

When I was ten, all the fifth graders got to travel to Provo to see the Ramses II exhibit at BYU. All the fifth graders and my brother. He was in third grade. Fair? I think not.

During family scripture reading we'd battle to see who would read the longest verses.

A game of HORSE on the basketball court could be especially intensive.

We got in a fist fight once (that I can remember). We were just playing catch with a baseball in the back yard and the next minute we were slugging it out. I ended up sitting on top of him and holding down his arms so he couldn't hit me any more until another brother ran for a parent. I can't remember exactly how old we were, but I know we were grounded and had to miss the Young Women/Young Men activity that night.

The funny thing is, that even though we were constantly competing with each other, we were usually pretty good friends.

Nate grew up to be successful business owner. He married an awesome wife and has four beautiful and remarkably well behaved children (I give all the credit for that to his wife). We don't compete so much any more.

Except for one thing. Nate is a die-hard University of Utah fan. I mean DIE-HARD. He has a UofU bumper sticker on his truck. He and all his kids have UofU shirts and hats and jackets and socks and they attend games all the time. And he doesn't just cheer against BYU when they're playing against the U. He ALWAYS cheers against BYU. Perhaps cheering for the U is Nate's one act of rebellion.

Because we were raised on BYU sports from the time we were born and we listened to the games on the radio with my grandpa and dad. (OK, I'm old and I lived in the boonies and most of the games weren't televised then--so there.) Utah Dad and I attended and graduated from the Y. The blood flowing through my veins in true blue.

Needless to say, Nate and I don't watch the games together any more. Years ago, we tried because we like excuses to get together. It didn't work. Someone always went home mad.

So, I was surprised when Nate called me early last week to find out what we were doing on Thursday.

What did he think we were doing on Thursday? Of course we would be watching the BYU/Florida game. We planned to watch it at home online like we had watched all the other basketball games during March Madness and the NCAA tournament.

He invited us to his house to watch the game. Since he has a 42" HDTV, cable and the kids always like getting together with their cousins, we accepted.

We ate bratwurst and potato salad and we ALL cheered for BYU. Nate cheered loudest. And we all mourned at the final outcome.

And so I say . . . a big THANK YOU to Jimmer.
Thanks for the show this year.
Thanks for letting us watch you score 52 points against New Mexico and break Ainge's record.
Thanks for taking BYU to the Sweet Sixteen for the first time in 30 years.

And especially thanks for bringing BYU and Uof U fans together -- even if only for a moment.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Harassment Sensitivity Training

Utah Dad's employers have been harassing him about the sensitivity training he needed to take--again. He had to finish it by today. This afternoon he read various work place situations to me. He had to determine whether or not the qualified as "harassment".

Listening to him, I realized that I need to get in touch with the Human Resources Director at my work place (oh yeah, it's me) and organize some sensitivity and harassment training for my minions. I think you might agree that there is some harassment going on in my work place.

Case Study #1:
10:56 am Wednesday
Mom is paying bills (and checking Twitter) on the computer.

Lilly: (climbing onto Mom's lap) I want to play Nick Jr. Can I play Nick Jr.?
Molly: (pulling on Mom's pant leg) Cup.Cup. More milk.
Thomas: (in the bathroom) MOMMY, WIPE MY BUTT!
Mom: Thomas, I'm coming.
Lilly: Mom! Molly touched the button and turned off the computer!

Case Study #2:
2:35 pm Thursday
Mom is in the kitchen peeling hard boiled eggs to put in the potato salad to go with the bratwurst for dinner at her brother's house where they will all watch the basketball game (which will turn out to be sad, but she doesn't know that yet).

Lilly (in the family room): Turn on Backyardigans!
Amberly: Can I go play with Sarah?
Mom: Is your homework finished?
Neal: (calling from upstairs) Can I play on the computer?
Mom: Is your homework finished? I haven't heard the piano yet.
Lilly: Turn on Backyardigans!
Amberly (whining): My homework is too hard. I need a calculator.
Lilly (whining loudly): Mommy! Turn on Backyardigans!
Thomas: Can we take the chairs in the family room and make a blanket tent?
Mom: No tents today.
Amberly: My homework is too hard.
Mom: I'll come help you when I've finished peeling eggs.
Amberly: (crumples into a ball on the floor and cries) That will take for-ev-er. I want to play with Sarah NOW!

Case Study #3:
5:14 p.m. Tuesday
Mom is in the kitchen preparing chicken fajitas for dinner.

Thomas: I'm hungry. Can I have some Ritz crackers and peanut butter?
Mom: I know you're hungry. That is why I am making dinner.
Neal: What's for dinner?
Mom: Chicken fajitas.
Neal: It looks gross.
Amberly: I hate chicken fajitas. Why do you always have to make stuff I hate? You always make stuff I hate. It's too spicy and it burns my lips.
Molly: (pushing a chair over to the counter to "help" Mom) Bread. Bread.
Thomas: Mom! Get me those Ritz crackers and peanut butter. I'm still waiting.

Case Study #4:
7:15 a.m. Thursday morning
Amberly is out of bed but has curled into a ball on the couch in the loft. She's still wearing her pajamas.

Mom: Amberly get dressed. Here are some clothes.
Amberly: (kicks the clothes on to the floor) I hate those pants.
Mom: Which pants would your prefer? I'll go get them.
Amberly: My tummy hurts. I don't want to go to school.
Mom: It's your presentation today. You have to go to school. And we have to comb your hair today.
Amberly: Don't yank on my hair. I want to wear it down. Not in a stupid pony tail! I hate pony tails!

I think I definitely have some complaints to file with the HR department. Perhaps Utah Dad can share all the knowledge he gleaned from his recent training at our next Family Home Evening.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011


To avoid sweeping and mopping my kitchen floor, I decided to play around with my blog header today. While I liked some of the basic design elements from the header I made several months ago, there were other aspects that have bugged me. I've been teaching myself to use Adobe Illustrator and the learning curve is pretty slow, especially when I get interrupted by my children who want me to play games with them. How could I resist their kissable faces? At least I beat them at their own games.

Anyway, once they were in bed tonight I was able to finish tweaking and updating the new header. Do you like it? I hope it's at least better than the old one.



Better? Worse? Please let me know what you think.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Their Eyes Were Watching God - Book Review

I bought a used copy of Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston at the Salt Lake Library Book Sale last year. It's been on my to-read shelf for awhile so my friends and I decided to read it for our long-distance book discussion group this month.

Published in 1937, Hurston writes of the love story of an African American woman in Florida during the early decades of the Twentieth Century. It is a powerful and moving tale of love and gaining ones freedom through personal choice. It is also a haunting and horrifying tale of loss.

Janie has been doing what every body else wants her to do for years. Now, her second husband is dead. She is a middle-aged, beautiful widow of means. Tea Cake, a young and handsome gambler has caught her eye and woos her with promises of love. For the first time, she is falling in love. Ignoring the cultural "rules" and throwing caution to the wind, Janie follows Tea Cake to Florida.

Initially, I had trouble getting into this novel. The main problem was that as a used book someone else had underlined and made notes in it. It's a risk one takes with used books but these notes were especially distracting (we certainly were not thinking alike). Fortunately, the first reader (obviously a student) either tired of the book or got so involved in the story that the notes stopped around page 42.

The second hindrance was the Hurston's use of the local dialect. She wrote as the people spoke. ("Naw, Nanny, no ma'am! Is dat whut he been hangin' round here for? He look like some ole skullhead in de grave yard." p.13.) She was an anthropologist and a folklorist and writing the tales of her subjects verbatim is part of the trade. I got used to it and by the end of the novel it was no longer a problem.

Hurston's use of language is simply beautiful. She is at her best when describing about nature and especially the power of the 1928 Okechobee Hurricane (resulted in the lake breaching the dikes--thousands were killed).

As an anthropologist, Hurston also understands people and the social rules that bind people and tie them down. Janie is a complex character and I enjoyed watching her grow into herself in this novel.

This novel is a true American classic and deserves a place with the works of Steinbeck, James and Faulkner.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Short Stack

Years ago when Neal and Amberly were very small we went to a family birthday party across the valley. Utah Dad met us there after work. As we were leaving the party, I commented to Neal:

"Why don't you drive the car home with Amberly so that I can ride home with Daddy in his car and we can talk."

Obviously, I was joking. The kid was three years old. He couldn't even see over the steering wheel. But I shouldn't have underestimated his self-confidence. He quickly agreed with that plan and was FURIOUS when I explained that he really couldn't drive and that I was just joking.

All the way home, with me driving of course, he argued that he was fully capable of driving the car. After all, he had observed us doing it for awhile. "When I need to stop," he explained, "I'll just push on the brake." He was confident that he knew the way home too and told me every turn to make just to prove his point.

I added a note to my Mental Mommy Rule Book : Three year olds do not understand facetiousness or for that matter, their own limitations.

Yesterday morning I was lounging in bed long after my children had gotten up. They were hungry and begging for food (I admit that I didn't actually make a "dinner" on Saturday night--it was more like snacking).

"Why don't you go make some pancakes for everyone so I can stay in bed," I casually suggested to Neal. I didn't actually intend for him to cook breakfast. I was in the process of getting up and was planning to feed my children. I also figured that he would whine about it. Lately he's been complaining about everything I ask him to do. So, I was surprised when he jumped at the chance to prepare breakfast.

Neal made pancakes for everyone. Yes, he used a mix. And he is nine now so making breakfast is well within the range of his abilities. He insisted on doing it all by himself (without help from Amberly). But he did a good job.

I ate mine with strawberries and whipped cream.

Campus Book Rentals Helping Operation Smiles

I loved every minute of college and because I love books, one of my favorite days was the day I headed to the campus book store with the list of books I needed to buy that semester. I smiled as I tossed book after book into my basket, until the cashier told me how much money I owed. Ouch.

Since then, there are so many cheaper ways to get your books for college. Have you seen Campus Book Rentals? You can save up to 90% by renting instead of buying your text books. And really who needs to  keep that Biology text book that will probably be obsolete and replaced by another edition next year?

And to seriously sweeten the deal, Campus Book Rentals is now donating a portion from every book rented to Operation Smiles. Operation Smiles is one of my favorite volunteer organizations. Medical professionals and others donate their time and skills to travel to third world countries to do cleft lip reconstruction surgeries for children.

As a mother, I know that there is nothing better in this world than seeing the smile of my babies. The fantastic and dedicated people at Operation Smiles give this gift to mothers all over the world and give the little ones hope for a brighter future.

Click here to read a smile story about Estella from Honduras.

So, next time you need text books (or your kids do) consider renting them from Campus Book Rentals. And even if you don't need books, you can donate directly to Operation Smiles.

That's definitely something to smile about.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Feeling the Spirit

Several weeks ago during a conversation with a brother-in-law he mentioned that while he feels the spirit when he attends the temple, often at funerals, and frequently during his own scripture study, he rarely feels the spirit during Sacrament Meeting.

I agreed and told him how just a few weeks earlier during the Sacrament song, I was surprised and actually had the thought pop in my mind: Wow! I just felt the spirit during Sacrament meeting. It's just such a rare occurrence any more that I was literally shocked.

It's sad, because I believe that Sacrament Meeting should be one of the most spiritual times of the week. It's certainly not the fault of the Bishopric, the speakers (they're usually remarkably good in our ward) or the music (love singing out with the crowd). It's really just the fact that nearly every Sunday I'm wrestling with at least one and probably more of my children during most of the meeting. My children have simply destroyed that special hour.

Admittedly, it is improving as they get older. And it helped in the last few years when Utah Dad and I decided to eliminate all snacks (even for the baby) during the meeting.

So, it's ironic that while I blame the lack of spiritual feeling during Sacrament Meeting on my children, that the place where I get the most choked up by the spirit is now the Primary room.

I haven't been in Primary Sharing Time and Opening Exercises for a few years. But at the beginning of the year I was released as the nursery leader and called to teach the 10-11 year olds in Primary. I was nervous. Because I love those little, tiny, cute kids with squishy faces and runny noses. (I have to laugh sometimes at the notes not to bring your nursery kid to class if he/she has a runny nose--when does he/she actually get to go? But seriously, follow the rules. They're good.) I was afraid that the older kids wouldn't do cute and funny things that I could laugh about after church. I shouldn't have worried. 10-11 year old kids say cute and funny things. Sometimes very funny (maybe a little inappropriate, but we're working on that).

Last Sunday one of the darling girls in my class looked up at me during Primary Opening Exercises and saw tears in my eyes. She asked me if I was alright. I was fine. Just spiritually touched by 8,700 primary children (I exaggerate a little, our primary isn't quite that big) singing out strong about prophets. I get emotional every time the Primary leaders ask a question and 8,700 little hands shoot up and they all know they answer. Just ask them. They all really know. And even though I spend quite a bit of time looking down my row and giving the evil eye to the noisy boys in my class and my own wiggly children, I can't help but be sensitive to the overflowing spirit in the room.

Best place to be -- Primary.

I'm serious. Don't believe me? Just accept that calling next time from the Bishop and become a believer. I dare you.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Knowledge Bowl 2011 - History

Do you know:

Who was the thirteenth century conqueror of Mongolia?
Whose assassination was the impetus to start World War I?
How much did Thomas Jefferson pay for the Louisiana Purchase?

There are a bunch of fifth and sixth graders in our school district that know the answers to these questions and more.

We spent the morning with Neal and his team at this year's Knowledge Bowl. Last year the theme was Geography, Neal's favorite subject since he could walk, and he blew out the competition. It was so much fun to watch the fire in his eyes as he buzzed in and answered question after question correctly.

This year the theme was history. Neal has never liked history but it is his parents' favorite subject, so we were excited. His teacher this year is amazing and she has really sparked his interest in American history (he now takes the American History Atlas to bed with him at night) and Neal was anxious to prepare for this year's competition.

Neal and his classmates were given study guides from the district. There were pages and pages of terms, people, places and events. The world has been around for awhile and it has a lot of history. A LOT. Neal and his team created a Google Document and they started gathering and compiling information. When they were finished, their printed and bound document was over 100 pages long. I didn't get a look at the information until after it was printed and I chuckled over some of the answers (i.e., the forty niners are a professional football team in San Francisco--true, but probably not what the judges are looking for).

We had fifteen kids coming regularly to the weekly after school practices that their coach Barbie conducted. I went along as often as I could to help. Two weeks ago, after a practice game, the three top winners were chosen as team captains and picked their teams. Neal was a team captain and he pulled out his sheet of paper. He'd already analyzed which kids he wanted on his team (he would have liked to have had the other team captains). He picked three other boys and one girl (I'm pretty sure he was just hoping to show off for her--he's crushing already).

Yesterday at practice, we had to scramble to change kids around on the teams because we couldn't find enough parents (two) to help coach the third team and two other kids announced that they had other plans and wouldn't make it. Neal was so upset that his team was breaking up but was relieved that at least his friend, who was on his team last year at a different school, would still be on his team.

Don't even get me started on the lack of parental support because I have plenty of things to say and they're not nice.

Anyway, we decided to get past all the drama from yesterday and have a fun day. Neal headed in with a good attitude. He and his friend kept up with the other teams for awhile in the first three rounds but the eventually lost the lead at the end. The final round was B-R-U-T-A-L. Now, Neal knows what the teams that faced him felt like last year. Final score - 250 to 25. Ouch.

That last team was amazing and I was seriously impressed. They knew everything. Every kid on that team knew everything! And they were fast on the buzzers. Lightening fast.

So, we lost. All four rounds. Neal was down but not terribly depressed (a trip to IHOP and Deseret Book where he bought a book about the Civil War helped). It was all worth it because he had fun. He had such a good time at the practices. The fifteen kids that met each week became really good friends. The majority come from the same class and after last year's bullying and other problems, I am just relieved that Neal has found and been accepted by such a good group of kids. They'll stick together next year and it makes me so happy.

And they learned so much. They know who invented the gasoline engine for cars (they're Germans). They know all kinds of details about the Spanish American war. They know that the ancient civilization of Mesopotamia is modern day Iraq. They know that Jefferson Davis was the President of the Confederacy during the Civil War. And that Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay wrote the Federalist Papers.

You would be amazed by what they know.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Matched - Book Review

It was appropriate that I spent St. Patrick's Day reading Matched by Ally Condie because the cover is just so green. To be honest, it was the cover that initially sparked my desire to read the novel. It's just so interesting and unique and once you read the book, you'll know that the design and colors of the cover are so very appropriate. My kids were also intrigued by the girl in the glass ball and they've been asking me all kinds of questions about the book.

My friend Annika, a die-hard lover of the YA dystopian genre, also read the book, wrote a positive review and had a copy I could borrow. She didn't happen to mention that it's a trilogy and the second book won't be available until November, but I'll forgive her.

I haven't read much in this genre, beyond the Hunger Games trilogy and the first in the Uglies series. However, I've enjoyed what I've read so far. I have to wonder if the surge of popularity for this new genre is a result of a generation of students who studied Orwell's 1984 in high school English. But it is also eerily appropriate as the government has grown and increased it's control over the years with various issues such as the Patriot Act, regulating the toilets we put in our homes and universal health care.

Sorry. I'll cease to be political and move on to a review of Matched.

Keeping to the dystopian formula, Ally Condie creates a "Society" where all decisions are made for the citizens by analyzing the data and giving them what is necessary for each person to live the most optimal life. For example, each person gets a prepared meal with just the right nutrients and calories for them. It arrives in a foil package at your home at the ideal time to eat. I might be willing to sign up for that part. The Society promises a healthy, long life but it also allows for limited individuality and personal choice--things that most of us hold sacred.

However, the Society also chooses, based on all the data and the person's genetic make up, who they will be matched with. At the age of seventeen, the citizens of the Society are told their match at a banquet and for the next three years the couple will have an organized and observed courtship.

Cassia is anxious and excited for her Match Banquet and thrilled when her match turns out to be Xander, her best friend. But once she gets home it is another face that she sees on her datapod. And that makes her wonder. Wondering is not conducive to the success of the society, just so you know.

I liked the novel. It's a quick read intended for young adults, so it's not exceptionally literary but it is well written for the intended audience. (Now days it seems we're all included in the young adult category--I don't know about you per se, but I'm young at heart at least. So, I guess it works.) The plot is well formed and not entirely predictable.

The novel is clean and I wouldn't hesitate to recommend it to one of my teen aged friends. It's lighter and less violent than some of its counterparts and deals more with the teenage love story. But love is a powerful force, even and especially for teenagers, and the character needs some impetus (other than just being a teenager) to rebel against the Society that she has been taught to revere and obey.

The author, Ally Condie, is from Utah and I loved the few subtle homages to her home state--the smell of sage and the idea that the sego lily bulb is edible and could sustain people (everyone that took 4th grade Utah history knows that).

I enjoyed the book. I really did and I look forward to reading the next one this fall.

DownEast Gift Card Winner

When I went to bed last night I was the leader in my family's March Madness NCAA Basketball Bracket competition. Since I haven't followed any of the teams with the exception of Jimmer and BYU, I made loose cannon guesses. I'm sure my lead will fall as the madness progresses. But it's good to be on top for now.

So, who is on top as the winner of the $25 gift certificate to DownEast Home? That's the real question on every one's mind this morning, right?

I plugged in the numbers to the random number generator first thing this morning and it ceremoniously quietly gave an answer. The winner is . . .


Congratulations, Cheryl! Send me an email with your information and please indicate whether you would prefer a physical gift card mailed to you that you can use in the DownEast store or an online code that you can use to purchase items online.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Bird Sisters - Book Review

I finished The Bird Sisters by Rebecca Rasmussen a few days ago and I've been thinking about it ever since and what I would write in my review.

I used to know of two old sisters that lived together in their house until they were in their nineties and no longer able to take care of themselves. Their early lives fascinated me and for years I have wondered and imagined how they ended up together and alone. The Bird Sisters by Rebecca Rasmussen reminds me of those two ancient sisters.

Milly and Twiss have been saving the injured birds in their hometown of Spring Green, Wisconsin for years. Neither sister has ever married. Never had children. Except for each other they are alone. But they do have a story and through memories, their story is told in this novel.

Milly is beautiful and sweet. She lives to please others and to bake cookies for Asa, the boy she day dreams about. Twiss, just a few years younger than Milly, is untamed and uncultured. She prefers to talk to the turtles living in the pond or play golf with her father.

Their mother gave up her inheritance to marry for love. Their father loves golf but an accident has messed up his swing and he moves into the barn. The family continues day in and day out in a fragile disharmony until their eighteen year old cousin Bett comes to visit for the summer.

The ensuing drama will change their possible futures and the sisters will stay exactly the same. I ached at the love between the sisters and their willingness to give up their futures for each other. At the same time it is literally painful to read of the loss of their girlish dreams.

Rasmussen expertly describes life in a small town. Her characters are eccentric but believable (especially if you have lived in a small town full of eccentric characters). Within the lovely setting and mixed with unique characters, there is a well developed and intriguing story too. Well written and engaging, I enjoyed this piece of literature.

The Bird Sisters by Rebecca Rasmussen is being published by Crown Publishers and is being released on April 12, 2011.

I received an ARC of The Bird Sisters by Rebecca Rasmussen from in exchange for an honest review of the book. I received no additional compensation.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Picking the Cutest Baby

I was invited by Samantha from Utah Valley Magazine (a magazine about all things gloriously and uniquely "Utah Valley") to join a small panel of bloggers to judge this year's entries for the "Cutest Cuties" Contest. Because, as you know, I'm an expert on cute babies.

I was excited and a little stressed about going this morning. Utah Dad can vouch for the fact that I agonized over what I should wear (the email said they would be taking pictures). I was a little over dressed but I only have two styles--church dress or lounging/jeans. I opted for the church dress.

I was also nervous about judging babies.

The scene with Seinfeld and Kramer looking over the bassinet and  trying to hide their true feelings about the ugly baby popped into my head a few times last night. Kramer, of course, fails. And I was afraid I might do my own foot-in-mouth maneuver.

Years ago when Utah Dad and I were first married we were members of a family ward in southern Utah County. We rarely attended this ward because we usually spent our weekends in Salt Lake with his parents doing our laundry. But one weekend we stayed home and that Sunday we sat on the very back row of the chapel which was separated from the other rows by the wide aisle. In the row ahead of us a baby was staring at me. She had pointy ears, one little tooth and a small tuft of hair that stood straight up on her head. She looked exactly like a little elf. I quietly nudged Utah Dad and pointed to the baby. "That is an ugly baby" he whispered back. Just then, as if the baby had heard his comment, the formerly serene elf baby pointed right at Utah Dad and started to scream and transformed into a demon baby. We were sure the baby had put a curse on us. (We're evil and we deserved it.)

If Utah Valley Magazine knew my history they might not have picked me.

It turned out that judging the cutest baby contest was much more fun than I imagined. The other judges from the blogs: Ma21cuteboy, I Never Grew Up, and  C.Jane Enjoy It were as delightful in real life as they are on their blogs. Admittedly, I was unfamiliar with some of their blogs before, but I know them now. The editors and staff from the magazine were also very friendly and personable. The food (from Kneaders) was incredible.

And all the babies and children in the pictures were very very cute. It was hard to pick just a few winners. There are a lot of really cute kids. Fortunately, some babies just really stood out from the others because of their extra smoochy, squishy, sometimes mischievous cuteness and we were all able to come to a consensus pretty quickly. You'll be able to see the winners in an upcoming issue of Utah Valley Magazine.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011


Molly had a low fever and a horrible cough last night. She was having trouble sleeping so Utah Dad rescued her from her crib and she snuggled against my chest--content and not coughing--for a few hours while I read. I was heartbroken that Molly didn't feel well but I enjoyed every moment of cuddling with my darling little girl. The cuddling moments are becoming fewer and farther between as my baby gets older and older. Generally, she's too wiggly, busy and independent to cuddle and it seems like she just wants to be on my lap when Lilly is already snuggling there (battles ensue).

Molly will be two years old this week.

It is breaking my heart for my little baby to grow up, even as I enjoy each moment of her discovery and growth. The second year of a baby's life is one of my favorites. They're just so cute and funny and delightful. They generally don't sass yet and the tantrums aren't as frequent.

I've been pregnant during each one of my other kids' second year and I usually have a two or three month old baby by the time the older sibling celebrates his/her second birthday. I have to admit that I have really enjoyed not being pregnant this last year. It's been nice to have more energy to play with my little ones. And as Molly nears her birthday, it only increases our understanding and contentment that she is, as far as we are able to determine, our last child. (Utah Dad was the surprise after the surprise--my greatest fear, I'll admit.)

I watched my friend and neighbor's baby for a few hours last week. He is such an adorable little guy with a quick smile and giggle. I cooked dinner with one hand and then ate my food with a baby on my lap. I smiled at the comfortable way he fit against my hip (thankfully only Neal weighed as much as this little guy). My children enjoyed playing with him and making him smile. Even Neal took a turn holding the baby.

As much as we took pleasure from our few hours with the baby, I have to admit that it was nice to hand him back to his mother that evening. I've heard other moms talk about this point they reach when they're just glad they get to hold and cuddle the baby and then give him/her back to his rightful parent. It feels a little funny but mostly comfortable to actually be there.

And Molly will always be my baby.

Friday, March 11, 2011

DownEast Home - Giveaway!

I love when the little DownEast catalogs come in my mailbox. I immediately look through them and circle all the cute clothes I want. Then, I pass the catalog to Amberly who starts drawing a new wardrobe for her paper doll based on the styles in the catalog (right now, she wants to be a modest clothes designer when she grows up).

There was something new and exciting in the last catalog that arrived. DownEast Home & Clothing is now offering some of their fabulous home accessories and decor online! Now many of those beautiful items that we love in the stores can be purchased by people who don't live in the Utah and Idaho area and me (since I rarely leave my house).

I am so excited because now that the temperatures are getting warmer and the sun is shining I am ready to freshen up my home in anticipation of spring. I know there will be a few more storms (it's inevitable in Utah) but spring is definitely coming. Soon the flowers will be blooming outside and I'd love to have the inside of my home reflect the warming season too. I am planning to pick up a few of these accessories from DownEast Home this weekend. I just can't wait any longer. I am in love with the bird houses and the silver candlestick holders.

Be sure to check out some of the gorgeous and fresh accessories DownEast Home is offering online right now. And you already know that DownEast sells national brand name home furnishings for up to 90% off so it won't surprise you to know that their prices online are simply fabulous.

You can also find fun and exciting information about DownEast Basics on their own blog:

DownEast Home & Clothing is also sponsoring a give-away of a $25 gift card for use either online or in stores (the winner can pick) to one winner.

It's easy to enter just do the following steps:
1. Follow DownEast Home & Clothing on Facebook or Twitter and then come back and comment on this post.

By the way, it's awesome to be a friend of DownEast on Facebook--you'll get all the updates on sales, promotions and new products.

2. Tell your friends about this give-away on your blog or on Facebook and get another chance. Just leave a second comment on this post.

3. Be a follower of Utah Mom's Life blog. You know you want to anyway.

The contest will be opened to entries until next Thursday, March 17th at 11:59 pm MST. The contest is open only to residents of the US. The winner will be chosen randonly from the comments and announced on Friday, March 18, 2011 on this blog.


Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The Space Between Us - Book Review

In The Space Between Us, Thrity Umrigar takes her readers around the planet to Bombay, India which at first seems like a completely different world with it's own unique cultures and customs. However, the people in India are just that--people. And people really aren't that different from each other whether they live in Bombay, Salt Lake City or Copenhagen--we all dream for a better future, for love, for understanding.

Umrigar tells this story of human desires in the setting of Bombay where the very poor work in the houses of the middle class (labor is very cheap and they lack the conveniences such as dishwashers and washing machines, so even the middle class have maids). There are distinct divisions between the classes. Even the most well treated maids must use separate dishes and are not allowed to sit on the furniture.  

Bhima has worked for Sera for many many years. They have become close and over the years Sera has paid for Bhima's granddaughter Maya to attend school and college. Now seventeen year old Maya is pregnant and everyone around her insists that she have an abortion so that she can return to college and not "ruin" her life. The destruction of the child will have lasting effects for both Bhima and Sera's families.

Bhima and Sera are not so very different in their personal desires and neither, whether learned and well-off or impoverished and illiterate, have had much power to direct the flow of their own lives.

The descriptions of the slums in which Bhima and Maya live are raw. Umrigar is a skilled weaver of beautiful and powerful fiction. She writes so well that I felt as if I were walking along the beach with Bhima and buying balloon animals from her balloonwalla or breathing in the smells from the open air market.

Dealing with painful subjects such as extreme poverty, abortion, rape and illiteracy (not unique to India), this is not a novel that will warm you heart. However, Umrigar treats these subjects with dignity and honesty through the sensitive eyes of two believable and likable characters.

I found the novel both gripping and heart breaking. It moved me.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet - Book Review

When I picked up Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet to read last week, I figured I would finish it in a day or two. It was going to be quick filler while I waited for my book club book to arrive in the mail. The book is not very long and I had heard such good things about it.

It turns out that every time I sat down to read this week my eye lids would get heavy and within minutes I would be sound asleep. It took me a full week to read it. This, however, should not reflect poorly on the book. In fact, it turned out to be a blessing because this is a book meant to be savored.

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet is Jamie Ford's debut novel. I've been hearing about it for awhile and I added it as an after thought to my amazon book order a few months ago to get my cost up to $25 for the free shipping. (This was just before I found out how to get Amazon Prime for free.)

Henry is a twelve year old Chinese boy living in Seattle and attending a white school on a scholarship when he becomes friends with Keiko, a Japanese girl who is the only other non-white in the school. They work together in the cafeteria and develop a close friendship as they try to ignore the taunts and ridicules from their classmates. It is a sweet relationship but also a forbidden one. For it is World War II. The Japanese are hated and even American citizens who are Japanese by descent are suspected of being spies. Also, Henry's father hates the Japanese and Henry has been restricted from associating with the Japanese.

Henry and Keiko continue to grow close even as the Japanese, including Keiko's family are rounded up and moved into internment camps first in the fair grounds near Seattle and eventually at a camp in Idaho. Henry, in love, promises to wait.

This novel is fabulous! It is beautiful, sweet and bitter (the title is perfect), romantic and emotionally stirring. I adored the characters and even though it is often easy to scoff at adolescent love, their feelings are strong and their reactions completely believable. The setting, characters and plot weave together so perfectly with Ford's style to create a subtle masterpiece.

It is also, for my more sensitive friends, completely and refreshingly clean. I'm anxious to discuss the multiple themes and facets of this book, so don't be surprised if I start forcing everyone I know to read it. You'll thank me.

Not the Friday Night I Was Hoping For

It was a crazy Friday afternoon. I helped Neal's Knowledge Bowl team study and prepare after school. And then I spent the rest of the afternoon running kids back and forth from Activity Days and Cub Scouts along with all the other mothers in my neighborhood (time to start a carpool, I think). We had just finished our yucky but easy dinner of fish sticks and Utah Dad and I were in the kitchen dishing up ice cream as a consolation prize.

I looked up from the dish of mint chocolate chip ice cream just in time to see Molly who was standing on one of the dining room chairs tip over and face plant on the floor. Utah Dad, who was closer, scooped up the hysterical little girl. She reached for me and I took her in my arms. Except for the fact that she was screaming, she looked OK until I realized there was blood dripping under her chin. Sure enough she had a good gash and I knew immediately that it would require some stitches. I got the bleeding under control and Molly calmed down.

Utah Dad put on Molly's coat and snow boots (they're her favorite--I hope she is finished insisting on them before summer is here) while I grabbed my purse and jacket. He stayed home with the other kids (incidentally, he also made them clean their bedrooms and the loft and put them to bed) while I rushed with Molly toward civilization and an urgent care.

I really didn't want to go to the IHC Insta-Care nearest us. It doesn't have the best reputation and my insurance doesn't cover IHC. Loathe to pay the extra, I decided to drive by Alpine Pediatrics just to see if they might still be open. I was pleasantly surprised to see that they have just started providing urgent care two weeks ago. Woo hoo! They are open until 8:30 p.m. each night at my location and even longer than that at their other locations..

The nurse put some gel on Molly's to chin to numb it and we sat to wait for the numbing to take effect. Molly watched Monster's Inc. and I read the book I just started this afternoon.

I was nervous about how Molly would handle to actual stitches. Thomas had to get stitches near his eye brown when he was about her age. He screamed and thrashed. It took three of us to hold him still and I was practically sitting on him. Fortunately, that has been my only other experience with stitches as a parent.

In stark contrast to Thomas, Molly behaved perfectly. She lay very still and never uttered a peep while the lovely and gentle Anne sewed up Molly's gash with five stitches. I even overcame my aversion on all things needle-like and peeked a little. It wasn't so bad.

The only thing Molly said when it was finished was "Cookies!" I figured she deserved some so we made a quick stop at the store to get some frosted animal cookies. She ate two when we got home and then went right to sleep snuggling with her dolly and lamb.

I was so pleased with the care we received at Alpine Pediatrics and so grateful that Molly was relaxed and calm. It wasn't exactly how I planned to spend my Friday night but it wasn't as bad as it could have been. And for that I am grateful.

Thursday, March 3, 2011


Yesterday during dinner, one of my children said something funny/profound. Smiling, the throught crossed my mind that I needed to write it down.

When I went to bed, I remembered that there was a memory I wanted to write down. I pulled out my pen. But when I went to grab the appropriate notebook (I have a journal-like notebook for each one of my children) I could not remember who said it. Or what they said.

Blank. Completely blank.

And I still can't remember. My brain has apparently ceased to function.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

An American Plague - Book Review

It was Neal's turn to pick the book I would read aloud to the kids. He chose An American Plague : The True and Terrifying Story of the Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1793. I bought the book from a book order a couple of years ago. It's just been sitting on  my shelf since then. It was about time we read it. For the past week I have been reading (and dreaming) about a horrible plague illness wiping out large chunks of the population.

In the late summer of 1793, Philadelphia, then the nations capital, was hit by a horrifying epidemic. Hundreds of people were falling ill to yellow fever. There was no cure and at the time the cause of the disease was also unknown. Wealthy citizens and most of the national, state, and city government fled the city to avoid the fever. Those who remained struggled to care for the sick and dying while maintaining order in an abandoned city. In a city of 30,000 people (the largest city in the US at the time) between 3000 and 5000 people eventually died of the yellow fever that year.

It would be over a hundred years before doctors finally discovered the way the fever was spread (a type of mosquito, of course) and it was the mid-twentieth century before scientists created a vaccine for the yellow fever. There is still no known cure.

The book, written by Jim Murphy, is fascinating, thoroughly researched and well written. While intended for young readers, it is written in an academic style. It is not for those with a weak stomach. Neal and I enjoyed it.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Spoiled Brats

A family member called my husband yesterday to tell him about the tirade he went on during his Priesthood meeting on Sunday. This particular relative was born without an inner-censor and regularly says exactly what he's thinking before he thinks about whether it's actually appropriate to say at that exact moment (it's what we love about him). Keeping that and the fact that I'm hearing this second hand through my husband in mind, here's the basics of his rant. I thought it was interesting and perhaps even applicable but at the very least could start an interesting conversation.

On Sunday he was sitting through yet another lecture from a leader about how men should validate their wives. (It seems the men get this lecture often. Some probably even need it and heaven knows we like to be validated.) However, on this day, during this lecture this relative had had enough. He interrupted to say and I quote that "Mormon women are spoiled brats". (Now, I'm paraphrasing) He claims that we don't realize just how good we have it. He pointed out one brother who was holding his baby and another man had just left the room to change his baby's diaper. He quoted his mother who comments regularly when she sees men take care of their babies at church that women now days are so lucky to have husbands who are willing to help out with their babies. (Her husband NEVER changed a single diaper for even one of their seven children. From what I understand, he'd start gagging. Nice.)

Relative went on to say that now days a woman hands over their kids as soon as her tired husband gets home from work, hands them a honey-do list with things from A to Z, and then heads out to book club, Zumba, or Time-Out-For-Women. The man (in his version) takes care of the kids and completes the list with the exception of N. The wife comes home and all she can do is complain that he didn't finish N.

Even the glares from the Priesthood leader giving the lesson didn't deter the relative and he continued. In his line of business he works regularly with people in the world. He says he listens to the men talk about women and even their wives. Apparently, we would be shocked, appalled, disgusted. So, he concludes that Mormon women along the Wasatch Front do not realize how good we have it and that we are big baby whiners when we complain that our husbands need to validate us more. Essentially, we are spoiled brats.

Hmmmm. Something to think about. Maybe.