Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The Last Camellia - Book Review & Give-away

Addison's secret past is about to catch up with her so she jumps at the chance to "hide" at her in-law's recently purchased English Manor--Livingston Manor. A garden designer by trade, Addison falls in love with the manor's beautiful gardens and especially the orchard of camellia trees. There is something strange and mysterious about the manor and in her research Addison will discover it's secrets.

In the early days of World War II, Flora, the daughter of a New York baker and an amateur botanist, takes a job that makes her uncomfortable. A thief has threatened and bribed her to pose as a nanny for the Livingston family so that she might be able to determine if a very valuable camellia--the Middlebury Pink--is located on the estate. She is to find it and steal it. While shady, the job seems simple enough but Flora doesn't count on falling in love or the dangerous mysteries surrounding the manor.

Atmospheric and mysterious, Sarah Jio delivers a compelling read once again with The Last Camellia. I always enjoy Jio's books. There is an easiness and comfort to them that makes them feel immediately like old friends. Not to mention, the covers are always so inviting.

The Last Camellia captures the essence of an English manor with the quirky characters and spooky mysteries. The main characters are likable and while they each have their own complex lives and occasionally make unwise choices, there are easy to root for. The mysteries surrounding Livingston Manor are not as predictable as I originally assumed. The Last Camellia is definitely worth reading this summer. Slip it in your bag when you head to the beach.

Five lucky readers can win a copy of 
The Last Camellia by Sarah Jio.
To enter just leave a comment on this post. The contest will be open to entries until Sunday, June 30th at 11:59 pm MST. The winners will be chosen randomly and announced on this blog on Monday, July 1st.

The contest is open to residents of US/Canada only.

**I received a copy of The Last Camellia in exchange for my honest review.**

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Yellowstone Vacation

We started our trip bright and early Monday morning. We loaded up the van with the luggage, the kids and Utah Dad's parents. As they backed out of the driveway, I was going to move our car into a different parking spot and for just one moment, I contemplated fleeing for a quiet week by myself. But my book was in the van with my family.

 After a quick trip at Target for sunglasses and a booster seat (my car has built-in car seats and I forgot that we would need one for Molly in the rental van--a brand new 11-passenger van), we were on our way.

Our first stop was at the Brigham City Temple. As a family, we're trying to see how many temples we can go to this summer. The Brigham City Temple is still the newest temple in Utah and this was our first chance to go see it. It is beautiful and the grounds were lovely.

Our next stop was at the Rexburg Idaho Temple. It too is majestic and stunning. It was nice to get out and stretch our legs. We also shopped for treats at the local grocery store and ate dinner at Applebee's in Rexburg. The kids were feeling a little sick but we treated them with MotionEaze oils and they felt better.

We love to walk around the pathways at The Upper Mesa Falls in Idaho. It's a little scenic detour off the main road and it's worth it.

We didn't stop again until we reached the Western Cabins at Old Faithful Snow Lodge. We checked in, dropped off our luggage and headed out to look for wildlife in the evening light. We were a bit disappointed that we hadn't seen anything. On our way back to the lodge in the dark, we saw a bull elk right beside the road. I rolled down the window and snapped a picture.

Tuesday morning we let Utah Dad's mom sleep in and we enjoyed the breakfast buffet at the Snow Lodge. Once we got her out of bed, we set out on a walk around the Upper Geyser Basin at Old Faithful. Neal and Thomas are completely fascinated by the geothermal features of the park so we usually dedicate a full day to looking at the geysers.

We were on the board walk on the southeast side of the Upper Geyser Basin when we saw a grizzly bear with two cubs. She was good at keeping the cubs hidden and you can't see them in the picture below. The bears were about 100 yards away in the trees. We've seen grizzly bears closer on previous trips but we've always been in the protection of our car. It was a little unnerving to realize that we were that close to a bear with only a few hot pools between us and the bear. I also regretted not bringing my older camera and my zoom lenses.

Morning Glory pool is just so beautiful even though it is losing some of it's glory. It's just not as hot as it used to be. We also got to see Beehive Geyser erupt.

I think we stopped to rest near this Mountain Bluebird's nest. She seemed bothered by our presence.

The loop to Morning Glory Pool is about 4 miles and the girls legs were giving out. It was a brutally warm and sunny day. Utah Dad and Thomas hurried ahead to get the van and the rest of us stopped at the Country Store for a rest and to hydrate. It was lovely sitting on the porch, enjoying our drinks and I visited with the manager of the store.

Next we headed to the West Thumb Geyser Basin. We had never been there before in all our trips to Yellowstone (Utah Dad has been there more than 20 times) and it was one of our favorite places this trip. It is along the side of the lake and has beautiful views. Not expecting much, I only had my iPhone camera. It was definitely worth the short walk around the loop.

Black Pool (below) is the hottest pool in the park. A ranger told us that two weeks ago a baby elk calf stepped off the board walk and died in less that two minutes. We could still see the bones in the shallow part of the pool. That freaked us out a little.

Big Cone and Fishing Cone are hot springs out in the lake. The mountain men used to leave the fish on the line, throw it in the springs and let it boil for a minute or two.

We went through Lake (stopping at a store for supplies) and out the East Entrance road to Sylvan Lake. We had a picnic on the shores of the lake. We spent the evening driving through Hayden Valley but didn't see much more than some lone bison. We returned to the cabins after dark and went right to bed. The girls stayed in the cabin with us and the boys stayed in the other room with Utah Dad's parents. The girls got to be extra cozy.

Wednesday morning, we went back to the Snow Lodge for breakfast while Utah Dad's mom (we call her Mamau) slept. Amberly wasn't feeling very well and didn't eat much of her breakfast. We returned to the cabins to pick up Mamau and just as we were loading everyone into the van, Amberly rushed from her seat in the back and threw up. Thankfully, she got it all outside of the van but she managed to get it all over Utah Dad who was standing by the door of the van. He and Amberly went to shower. After they had changed, I volunteered to stay at the cabin with Amberly while the rest of the crew went to see the hot pools and geysers at Midway Geyser Basin. I was thrilled for the break and used the time to read. By the time they returned for us, Amberly was feeling better and we set off again.

We headed toward Canyon Village. On our way to Artist Point we saw a three bull elk along the road and stopped to take pictures.

Mamau just kept walking toward that elk in spite of our warnings not to get closer.

We love the views of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone and Lower Falls from Artist Point.

I captured the view of a rainbow at the Brink of Upper Falls.

After enjoying the views of the canyon and the water falls, we headed up toward Roosevelt and Mammouth. Along the road just south of Roosevelt we were excited to see two black bears within a quarter of a mile from each other. It was in an area where we couldn't stop the car, so I shot these pictures with the door of the van open.

We stopped to eat yummy burgers and ice cream at Mammouth Terrace Grill

Afterward, we went to see the Mammouth Hot Springs. It was getting chilly so some of us waited in the van while Neal and Thomas and Amberly went on the walk around the springs with Gramps. About this time, I definitely needed a moment alone. I locked myself in a stall of one of the cleaner restrooms that I had encountered in the park and played a game of Sudoku on my phone. Ten minutes later, I was ready to rejoin my family. 

Thursday morning we left our cabins and headed south to Grand Teton National Park. The views are always breath taking.

We arrived in Idaho Falls pretty early in the evening. We enjoyed a delicious and filling dinner at Famous Dave's BBQ. After dinner, we took a walk along the beautiful shore of the falls. We enjoyed the views and fed the ducks, geese and gulls. Utah Dad took Amberly, Thomas and Lilly swimming in the hotel pool. Neal watched the disappointing Game 7 of the NBA finals with Gramps. We stayed in the suites at the Best Western Driftwood Inn. It accommodated our large family, had nice amenities including a complimentary breakfast (with cooked-to-order omelets) and a pool.

Friday morning, we went to see the Idaho Falls Temple. We enjoyed the Visitor Center and talking with a Sister Missionary from Guam. The grounds and the temple are just beautiful.

It was fun to have Utah Dad's parents along on the trip. Gramps spent most of the time in the back of the van with the kids. They played all kinds of road trip games and it was fun to hear their hilarious laughter. Mamau spent most of the time in the front seat of the van with Utah Dad who was the driver. I know he enjoyed that precious time he was able to spend with his mom.

 Friday was Neal's 12th birthday. I hope he enjoyed his special day.

And at the very last moment of our trip, I had Amberly snap a picture of me (she did a pretty good job). So here's a bit of evidence that I went along. It was worth it. We had a fabulous time and made some great memories together.

Reconstructing Amelia - Book Review

I've been reading Reconstructing Amelia by Kimberly McCreight as part of an online book club that we like to call "Book Lovers Unite" lead by Tamara from Traveling with T. Tomorrow, Tamara has arranged for the author to answer questions about the novel. Be sure to check it out but be warned, there may be spoilers.

Kate, a junior partner at a law firm in Manhattan, is busy with an important client when she receives a call from her daughter's private school in Brooklyn. She is informed that her daughter has been suspended from school and Kate needs to come pick her up immediately. In shock because her daughter Amelia is a straight A student--respectful and good. By the time Kate gets to the school, she is devastated to find the school surrounded by police and to learn that her 15  year old daughter has committed suicide by jumping from the roof.

Months later, Kate is just starting to emerge from the grief to return to work when she receives a cryptic text that implies that Amelia didn't jump. Desperate to get the truth about her daughter's death, Kate starts digging with the help of a police detective. What she learns about her daughter will break her heart; make her question her own ability to parent and search out the people ultimately responsible.

Reconstructing Amelia by Kimberly McCreight is a suspenseful, emotional read. Normally, I would have devoured this book in a matter of days in a desperate attempt to get to the ending. Because I was reading with the book club and we had a reading schedule that spread out over several weeks and I was determined to stick to the schedule, I took my time and read this novel more slowly. In some ways, it made the characters and situation more powerful as I had more time to think and dwell on the story.

As a mother of children that are growing up way too fast, the topics of bullying and the choices our children make resonated with me. Kate is surprised often to find out the horrible things that Amelia was not telling her. It's easy to want to judge Kate for not being an attentive mother, yet I was reminded of Neal's fourth grade year. He was being physically bullied by older boys and I did not pick up on the clues. It wasn't until I witnessed it myself in front of the school, that I realized that I had completely missed Neal's earlier pleas for help (I wrote about it in a blog post *here*).

Reconstructing Amelia is a powerful and scary book for a parent. McCreight has written a compelling, suspenseful and very realistic book about the life of a teenager. Though it takes place in a private school in New York with very wealthy students, the situations they face are not entirely different from the teenagers going to a public school in a religious area of the west. The ending was surprising and not completely satisfying but the book is definitely worth reading.

**There are some language and brief sexual encounters in the book.**

If you'd like to become a part of the "Book Lovers Unite" online book club, check out Book-alicious Mama who will be hosting the reading of Painted Girls By Cathy Marie Buchanan in July. I read it earlier this year and loved it. Read my review *here*.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Our Week on the Farm (AKA Grandma and Grandpa's House)

The kids and I went to my parents' house for a week. Utah Dad stayed behind to work and do some projects for his MBA. My sister and her family joined us. My goal for the trip was to get the kids outside as much as possible. The week started out hot and windy and we hid inside. Fortunately, the weather improved and the kids were able to go outside.

The kids were so excited to meet the newest baby horses. Scout (the paint) and Kit (the brown one) were born this spring. Having two new babies sort of made up for the loss of the kids' old favorites Cookie and Chip. My parents now have eleven horses and six are a year old or less. Ollie and Bess, the foals born last spring, quickly became favorites. They are escape artists. They got out of the pasture near the house so we put them in with the other horses by the pond. They got out from that field too so we moved them to the corrals near the house. Having them close, the kids were able to visit frequently and feed them "salads".

In the evenings, we would walk down to the pond to feed the horses a few oats. The kids just could not resist the pond. I am allergic to Russian Olive trees, sage brush, alfalfa and probably horses (apparently I'm allergic to my childhood), so every time I walked outside I was pretty miserable (even with allergy meds) but I used two boxes of tissues and endured.

The kids spent a lot of time playing in the new sandbox that the guys built during our Easter trip. I got to sweep up plenty of sand and try to scrub it from their hair.

The kids also love the swing in the maple tree and the tree house where they can do puppet shows. My mom also installed a television and DVD player in the tree house this summer. I think they watched part of one movie. They were too busy to sit still.

They insisted that we return to the pond to attempt to catch frogs. We could hear some but they were never able to capture one in their jars. They really just like getting wet and muddy.

We took pictures of my sister Kim's girls. They are so darling. They're getting anxious for their new baby sister to arrive this summer.

We went to my nephew's tournament baseball game one evening. He hit a home run. He's pretty, dang awesome. The kids lost interest and we ending up playing at the park. It seems that I am allergic to baseball too.

My sister-in-law and her boys brought over one of their new baby bunnies. The kids fell in love with it and proceeded to beg for their own baby bunny. I'm nearly 100% sure I'm allergic to bunnies too.

One hot afternoon we took the kids to the Western Heritage Museum. They had all kinds of fun things to look at and learn about. The kids had a great time searching for all the items on the Bingo cards that the museum gave them. 

I was excited to discover that the First Lady dolls that had been in the library during my childhood were now part of the museum. I had just recently been wondering where they had gone.

We played some basketball.

One afternoon, my sister planned a picnic for the kids. After they ate, they raced each other in gunny sacks.

Neal went golfing with Grandpa, Uncle Marcus and his cousin. He had fun and only regretted that he didn't ask Grandpa if he could drive the cart.

The kids built huts under the lilacs where we had our own huts as children. We did some weeding in the strawberry patch and helped Grandma cover the raspberries with netting. We pruned some bushes and made some fences to protect the new fruit trees from the deer.

We let Neal stay up each night with the adults to play the marble game and eat lots of ice cream.

I used transferred all our old home videos from the archaic little tapes to DVDs and watched hours of footage of Neal laying on the floor as a baby.

I helped my mom deep clean her book shelves where I discovered a book about my dad's family history. I spent some enjoyable time reading about my ancestors--especially the crazy stories. My mom introduced me to the new LDS Family Search and I'm anxious to spend more time researching my family history.

(picture from

My sister and I went to the temple one afternoon during my dad's shift. We saw our 9th grade geometry teacher. I always enjoy going to the Vernal Temple. It's small and intimate and relaxed.

The last evening there we attempted to take some "cutesy" pictures of the girls. They were only a little bit cooperative.

We had a fabulous week and the kids are already begging to go back again this summer.