Saturday, December 6, 2014

Because I Couldn't Resist This Face:








Also, we totally adore these beautiful new twin nieces:


First two of FIVE NEW GIRLS coming to Dave's side of the family in FIVE MONTHS!!

Our Baby Girl will be number three, slated to make her appearance sometime between a week from now and three weeks from now. It's been fun resurrecting Madelyn's infant clothes - washing, folding, putting away all ready for another sweet spirit to join our family! We're so grateful for the light Madelyn is in our lives and are looking forward to being touched by the light Baby Girl will bring with her too!

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Two!

We made it to our sweet baby girl's second birthday! With another baby on the way, we've had to come to grips with the fact that little Madelyn isn't so little anymore. She is such a light in our home and family. Her personality is much, much larger than her petite 22-pound frame. Some things we love about our Madelyn include:
  • Her energetic curiosity and enthusiasm for life.
  • Her keen powers of observation (the other night when it was very dark outside and she was very sleepy, a black dog passed on the sidewalk in front of our car. I was impressed with myself - the driver! - for seeing it and far more impressed when I heard a sleepy "woof woof" from Madelyn's chair in the back. That girl sees everything).
  • Her love of cleaning. Seriously, her favorite thing to do is push the broom around, or put things in baskets, or wipe the floor, all while singing "clean up, clean up!"
  • Her attention to her own physical development. When she wanted to learn to jump, she practiced every single day until she could jump with both feet off the ground from anywhere. She practices her stair climbing, her ladder climbing, her stroller pushing, her running, her ball throwing...all with great determination and gusto. As a result, she can climb, run, push, and throw remarkably well for her age. I'm pretty sure she can throw a ball overhand straighter than I can! 
  • Her love of people. She waves hello and goodbye to anyone she sees. We hope she never loses her desire and enthusiasm to communicate and interact with others, because we have seen how happy she makes both people who know her well and strangers she's never seen before.  
  • Her joy in music. Madelyn loves to sing and dance, and she's sensitive enough to dance slowly and "beautifully" when there is a slow and beautiful song playing, and fast and excitedly when the music is upbeat. Our church congregation loves to watch Madelyn stand on our pew and "lead" the music and belt out her own tune during the hymns. 
I was searching through pictures on our external hard drive the other night and found some pictures of Madelyn at 10-months-old. Dave and I have always felt that Madelyn looked and acted like Madelyn from the day she was born...that she really hasn't changed very much. But I was a bit shocked when I compared pictures of her last summer to pictures now. So fun to see these little beloveds growing before your eyes.

Newborn

Six Months


Ten Months 
(the picture I was comparing earlier this week)

One Year


18 Months


Two Years



 

Happy birthday Sweet One!

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Wisdom from a Passover Song

The last few days I've had Dayenu on my mind. Dayenu is the title of a memorable, lively Passover song that celebrates the Lord's blessings at the time of the Exodus from Egypt (Tzom Kal tomorrow to my Jewish friends for Yom Kippur - I know I'm in the wrong season to be thinking of Passover :) ). The title is a Hebrew word that means "it would have been enough" or "it would have been sufficient." The lyrics go something like this:

If He had brought us out from Egypt
and had not carried out judgments against them
         - it would have been enough!
If He had carried out judgments against them,
and not their idols
         - it would have been enough!
If He had destroyed their idols,
and not smitten their first-born....
...[or] had not given us their wealth...
...[or] had not split the sea for us...
...[or] had not taken us through it on dry ground...
...[or] had not drowned our oppressors in it...
...[or] had not supplied our needs in the desert for forty years...
...[or] had not fed us the manna...
...[or] had not given us Shabbat...
...[or] had not brought us before Mount Sinai...
...[or] had not given us the Torah...
...[or] had not brought us into the land of Israel...
...[or] had not built for us the Holy Temple
         - Dayenu! It would have been enough!

I think the song is very Job-like. Job was righteous and obedient so he received blessings. But at some point, those blessings stopped. Not only did Job NOT receive further blessings, but the blessings he had already received were taken away. Job was left to wonder why the Lord had deserted him.

And yet! Despite everything that happened to him, this amazing, grieving man continued in faith, saying "I know that my Redeemer lives" and "though he slay me, yet will I trust in him...He shall be my salvation." The testimony that Job had received early in his life carried him through times that were astronomically difficult. The early blessings he had received and the faith he had in the Lord was, as the song Dayenu testifies is possible, enough.

I have been feeling very blessed lately. Not in a happy, go-lucky way mind. I'm not always very good about ignoring small inconveniences and discomforts and being glowingly happy because of my blessings (did any of my other LDS friends completely identify with Sister Marriot's "dim light bulb" comment from General Women's Conference?). But there have been blessings flowing into our lives and sometimes Dave and I do feel like there isn't room enough to receive them:

  • We will be welcoming another baby girl into our family in just a few months. 
  • We are constantly delighted and entertained by our personality-filled toddler. She is ever a light in our lives.
  • We are healthy! Madelyn practices using her body every day and we marvel at her little legs and arms that run so fast and climb so well and swing on the bars above the slides at the park. She uses her sharp eyes to observe things like twisty clouds in the sky and uses her ears to pick up the sounds of trucks and airplanes and to take pleasure in music of all kinds. My pregnancy nausea has completely gone now that I am entering my third trimester and I am experiencing no other complications with my pregnancy. Dave has had a few random allergic reactions to some unknown thing in the past year, but otherwise is also doing very well. Our bodies are blessings that we try hard not to take for granted.
  • After a month of searching and offering on three total houses, we finally closed on one that feels even better to us than the other two, earlier offers. We are now in the process of cleaning, packing and moving, but we have a full month to do it before the last day of our apartment lease. We are grateful we will have space for the baby when she comes and space for active Madelyn to move around a little bit, both inside and outside! Coming from a miserable almost-20 weeks of pregnancy, I'm very grateful for a house that has tons of natural light and airflow (two things I didn't get much of in my basement apartment). 
  • David has a good job with reliable benefits. He also has the opportunity to take classes that will expand his education and skill set and hopefully move him into a career path that will be even more satisfying for him.  

I was pondering over these blessings the other night after my light was off and the house was quiet. And I thought about Dayenu and wondered if I, too, could sing that these things would be sufficient. If something really trying occurred in the near-future - maybe something unthinkably tragic (because what mother doesn't worry even when things are good?) - like the death of one of my girls, would I still be able to thank the Lord for my blessings? What if I never received another blessing of any kind, like Job? Would I be able to praise God for His goodness? It was a sobering thought that struck me with a force I had not considered before. Despite the wrenching grief and sorrow and the hollow ache that would come in dire situations, could I still say, "Lord, the testimony I have had until now is sufficient. The blessings I have received were enough that I will continue to sing to Thee with gratitude?"

I try to stay away from these trains of thought, usually, because deep inside of me I fear that dwelling on thoughts like these might invite the Lord to challenge my faith in such ways. I remember President Eyring praying for challenges to test his courage and faith and reporting that the Lord did indeed answer that prayer, sending him the hardest trial of his life to that point only a few days later! Certainly very difficult trials may and do come at different points through life. I don't think I'll escape that, so I try hard to record now my feelings of blessing, peace, and gratitude so that these times might sustain me through the difficult ones.

That being said, I think Dayenu teaches us another lesson as well. It teaches, of course, that we should be grateful in our circumstances and praise the Lord for the great blessings He does give to us, even if they are not so many as we would like. But I think it also teaches that, unlike what happens in the story of Job, the Lord doesn't often give just one or two blessings. He doesn't just perform one miracle in our lives and then go away to leave us to ourselves again. He doesn't lead us out of Egypt then let us fend for ourselves in the wilderness.

Instead, Dayenu teaches us that the Lord is with us every step of the way. He delivers us from Egypt and He gives us everything we need to pass through the wilderness. He brings us safely to the promised land and there He builds us a temple with the promise of every noble and magnificent thing. He sends us blessings because He loves us. That doesn't mean there isn't a sea to cross, or a wilderness after the sea! But the Lord provides throughout those trials when we continue in faith. He does send His tender mercies to buoy us up and strengthen our trust in Him. Really, I think it's a beautiful, beautiful lesson.    

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

The 22 Most Influential Books of My Life

I recently saw a Facebook "list and tag"-type post about books. Something like, "list 10 books that have stayed with or affected you in someway. Don't think too hard, they don't have to be classics," etc. As my mind skimmed a couple of book titles that have affected me, I decided it might actually be an interesting personal history study to do the challenge, but amended in a couple of ways. So, a few days later, I opened my journal and started writing down the titles of books that impacted me throughout my life, beginning from childhood. I also annotated my list, because book titles aren't much good in a journal without some commentary about why and how they impacted me. I came up with 22 books or sets of books and it was so fun to do that I thought I would reproduce it here, in case the exercise spurs anyone on to a similar, fun set of musings :)

Disclaimers: My memory isn't perfect, of course, and I've read a lot of books throughout my life. I'm sure there are books that did impact me that I can't remember very well and so don't appear here. This is also not a list of books I love. There are books that aren't on this list that I love and books on this list that I don't necessarily love (or don't love as much anymore). Finally, "impact" is a nuanced and complex thing. My annotations describe, as well as possible in my current stage of hindsight, the impact I think the books had on me then and, where relevant, now. It's probably all oversimplified or overly specific but hey, it was fun to think about even if I can't pinpoint how exactly I was impacted and in all the various ways a book affected me.

Ok, so disclaimers out of the way, here we go: 22 books (or sets of books) that have impacted Amy's life along the way (all books are linked so if you're interested in finding out more about any of them, Amazon can tell you all about it!).

Early Years

1. Little Duck's Moving Day: A Little Golden Book my parents read to me over and over again when I was 3 and 4. I remember identifying with it specifically - and it serving as a comfort! - as we prepared for our move to Minnesota. I also remember doing a lot of my early reading in this book. (I am including a picture of the cover here, because for some sad reason, Amazon doesn't have the cover shown!) 



Elementary Years
2. Boxcar Children books: I remember lolling around our school library during library time in my first few grades struggling to find anything I was interested in reading. Then I discovered the Boxcar Children and I gobbled them up! I still remember vividly the moment I discovered them on the shelves and exactly where they were shelved in my school library.

3. Little House on the Prairie books: These books impacted me again and again as I read them through childhood and my young adult years. The detailed stories of life in a different time helped me put my own life in perspective and helped me understand that hard work, obedience, gratitude for what we had, and keeping on despite struggles were virtues that could be cultivated. 

4. Carry On, Mr. Bowditch: This was the 1956 Newbery Medal winner. My mom read this amazing book out loud to us when we were young. It expanded my horizons in ways other books didn't: to think about the wide world, to work hard and value scholarly achievement (not necessarily through formal schooling or degrees), and even to teach that sometimes life is hard. It bothered me that Nat's lovely first wife dies (spoilers, sorry!), but since the book is based on a true story, it sensitively taught a very young girl that death happens and despite the sadness, struggles such as that could be overcome. (I've written about this book on my blog before. To see the post, click here.)

5. Number the Stars: This was a book we read as part of our 4th grade class. It was perhaps my first meaningful and moving exposure to the Holocaust. 

6. The Thoroughbred books: This is one of those manufactured paperback series and can't be considered classics of literature by any means. But in my late elementary years I had become so interested in horses that I wanted to know everything, and a lot of my knowledge about that world of horse raising, racing, jumping, dressage, etc. - which I didn't and never would have real access to - came from this series. Through these books I lived in a horse world in my imagination for several years. 

7. Chronicles of Narnia: My first exposure to fantasy literature and a delight to a girl who wanted more fuel to fire her childhood of enchantment. They have also continued to be favorites throughout my life for their beautifully illustrated themes and their simple power.

Middle School Years

8. Ivanhoe (unabridged): This book was a project I set for myself in 6th grade, perhaps ultimately out of a sense of pride. I was interested and curious in this big, old book on my parents' shelves - that was genuine - but even when it was difficult to understand (mostly always for my 6th grade self), I felt determined to get through it.
    9. The Work and the Glory series: I worked through all of these giant books (novels that detail LDS church history from its beginnings to its settlement in the Salt Lake Valley) during my middle school years. They made me feel like I had a religious heritage; I felt part of something larger than myself. They probably helped me develop confidence in my sense of identity during that time of adolescence when many of my peers were struggling with identity.

    10. Heidi, Little Lord Fauntleroy, and A Little Princess: These were feel-good books about girls (and a boy, in Little Lord Fauntleroy's case) who had strong moral character and courage and also had a strong sense of identity at a young age. They stood for what they believed was right, even in very difficult circumstances. With my own convictions, which were increasingly strengthening, I wanted to be like the protagonists in these books.

    11. The Harry Potter series: I hardly need to link to these, but they have to go high on my list of "impactful" books. My brothers had started reading numbers 1-3 when I was in Middle School and I mocked them a little, since they seemed like silly books. Somehow, I believe in 8th grade, I gave in and started book 1. I was immediately hooked and now I read through the whole series probably every other year. I don't know that I've read any book(s) more. (Just a PS, if you haven't listened to the Jim Dale books on tapes, you are seriously missing out on a gigantic treat. They are fabulous.)

    12. "Harrison Bergeron": My only non-Amazon link because this is a short story. I didn't like it much; it was required reading in class. But it has stuck in my memory and continues to provide a striking illustration for the dangers of policies that try to equalize society to the extent that individual strengths are at risk.

    High School Years

    13. To Kill a Mockingbird: We studied this book in depth my Freshman year of high school and I was moved by its voice, its sensitivity, and its humanness. This book had a profound affect on me again in the summer of 2007 when I would listen to it on tape in my pink Buick driving back and forth to work. The end led me to long periods of deep thought; I was deeply troubled by the injustices in the world.

    14. Watership Down: Another book I read in Freshman English. Not only was it a very exciting read, but it made me think (possibly for the first time) about group dynamics, leadership qualities, and the dangers - sometimes subtle - of various political and community structures, especially as regards the balance between freedom and security. Like other books in this list, it also dealt a lot with courage and impressed upon me how different kinds of courage can function in a society. (Yes, it's about bunnies, but don't be fooled. This book is both intensely action-packed and deeply interesting.)

    15. How to Win Friends and Influence People: This was given to my brother as a gift when we moved between my 9th and 10th grades to California. I read it shortly thereafter and it made me think about how I treated and interacted with others. It also helped me realize that how my transition between a new school and place went largely depended on me. 
    ***This is where I seem to have an inexplicable gap in my reading history. I remember plenty of books I was required to read in 10th and 11th grade English classes (not in 12th grade English. We didn't read or write much in that class. In fact, I don't know what we did that was of any use...) but I don't remember a single one that impacted me or my life in a profound way. In my personal time, I was beginning to focus heavily on daily scripture reading and supplemented my scripture study with books off my parents' shelves like Jesus the Christ, Bruce R. McConkie's Messiah series, and Opening the Seven Seals. These, while I don't list them officially, all helped fashion my religious identity and understanding.***

    College Years

    16. Washington, the Indispensable Man: I read this right before/as my Sophomore year of college was starting. It was the kind of book that filled me with awe just because I could read it (I remember my roommates giggling at me because I openly stated how grateful I was to be able to read!). But the book was so interesting; I was grateful that I had opportunities to learn, that I could learn about and from the lives of incredible people.

    17. Various books related to my studies, like Rivers of Fire; Real Jews; The Chosen; Mystics, Mavericks and Merrymakers; and War on Sacred Grounds: Books such as these opened my understanding of the complexities of the Middle East and, more broadly, human life and interactions.

    Post-College Years

    18. The Discoverers: I had been given this book as a gift shortly before my wedding, but as my studies absorbed my time, I could only crawl through it until my coursework at Cambridge was finished. It was worth it, though. This is an incredible book unlike any I had ever read before, documenting the history of "discoveries" - famous ones like the European exploration of continents and lands and discoveries I'd never thought of before, like the "discovery" of time or the mapping of the human body. The author does a good job of exploring the discoveries and discovery methods of various peoples and cultures around the world and explains things like why Portugal became such a seafaring nation (as opposed to other European powers) or why China went from centuries of rapid and advanced discovery to relative discovery stagnation. (I've written about this book before on my blog. See my post about it here.)

    19. The Anne of Green Gables books: I had grown up with and LOVED the mini-series and had read the first book during my youth, but it wasn't until I was home with a newborn baby that I finally read all the books. They affected me in my adult life in a way they hadn't in my youth - their tenderness and wisdom were sweet for a new mom.

    20. The Thief books (don't read descriptions of any past the first book or important plot points will be spoiled!): These were just a series of books that blew my mind because they were that good. Dave and I discovered these thanks to family recommendation two years ago. In her novels, the author includes politics, religion, and absorbing tales of human nature in brilliant and fresh ways.

    21. Kristin Lavransdatter: These books are painfully human. I've never felt so much like an author could wheedle into my soul and know all the frail and petty thoughts that I have sometimes, and all of the ways I try to justify myself. But she doesn't point out human sin and weakness in annoying or obvious ways. These books are powerful, painful, matter-of-fact, and overarching all of it is the understanding that despite sin and human failings, redemption can be sought and found.

    22. (Last one!) Lord of the Rings: I read these, I am ashamed to say, for the first time last winter. So good, so astute, such a powerful illustration of good versus evil. 

    Saturday, August 9, 2014

    So, I may have disappeared for a while, both electronically and in person...

    Hello blog. It's been a while. I blame...mostly sickness. More on that in a sec. It's also not nearly as fun to write blog entries about my quiet little home life as it is to write blog entries about European travels. Sad but true, though I don't mean to diminish the importance or the joy of a quiet home life. More on that in another sec.

    First:
    Pregnancy this time around. Oh my. I found out earlier this time than I did with Madelyn and so I got about two weeks to revel in the happiness of my secret. Last time I was terrified from the beginning, even though we'd been hoping for it to happen. This time I was thrilled. I felt like I was glowing and smiling everywhere I went (you know, the way you always thought you were supposed to feel). Then the sickness hit and I was completely unprepared. Last time I was sick. Couldn't go in the kitchen, couldn't smell chicken cooking, couldn't walk into Panda Express, couldn't eat anything but fruit, cheese quesadillas, and Cheerios with a ton of milk. I imagined I would probably have to deal with that again, but I really hoped this time would be different. It was - it was a lot worse! This time I had to fight all.day.long not to throw up. And by the late afternoon or evening I would throw up anyway, once, twice, sometimes three times. I tried the things you're supposed to try, including a vitamin/antihistamine combination that the doctor recommended. After weeks and weeks of debilitating misery I buckled and started taking Zofran. Sometimes it helped me manage the nausea. Sometimes I threw up anyway. It was tough to feel like I couldn't take care of my daughter, my husband, or my house. Really, I have no idea how Madelyn survived those months. I don't know what she ate. I think she probably watched WAY too much Curious George.

    I mentally crossed off all the days on the calendar as they passed. I knew it was going to last at least through June. I was desperately hoping I'd be through with it by the beginning of July (a few weeks past the first trimester mark). I wasn't, but the nice thing was that my energy returned at the beginning of the 2nd trimester. Somehow the renewed energy made the nausea something I could deal with. And after a little bit I was taking Zofran every other day, then every three days. Finally, at the mid-way mark, I can say I'm down to only short-lived bursts of queasiness. I feel like myself again! I can happily do things like blog, and get some work done for the patient company that contracts my writing services, and take my daughter to the zoo (her favorite place in the world other than her grandmas' houses. Before I got sick and hot, we went at least once a week), and take down my Easter decorations (yep, that happened the day before the 4th of July), and do the laundry and go grocery shopping, and go on dates with my husband, and... smile again, heh. I can be happy about this pregnancy again. I can be thrilled about the second little girl who is coming to our family.

    Second:
    So when I'm NOT sick, I actually love being home all day with my toddler. Who knew there could be so much personality packed into that tiny, 21 pound frame!! I mean, yes, this personality comes with all the goods and bads. She is strong-willed, determined, independent, and opinionated. She whines and throws tantrums, just like toddlers are supposed to do. Sometimes I am too tired to handle it and I kind of lose my cool. Sometimes I think her tantrums are hilarious. I saw this "46 Reasons My Three Year Old Might Be Freaking Out" article once and I find myself making my own mental list sometimes. We've had tantrums because:
    • She couldn't walk correctly after putting on mom's shoes
    • She couldn't get her shoes to fit on mommy's feet
    • We wouldn't let her drive the car when we were going somewhere
    • We made her sit down in the bath
    • We forgot to let her throw her dirty diaper away
    • We didn't have time to stay and play with the Bull Mastiff who lives upstairs and might weigh 5 times what she does
    • We wouldn't let her play with the bathroom plunger (this is a constant battle. For some reason one of her biggest desires is to carry the plunger all around the house with her.)
    But Madelyn is also very sweet and affectionate. She has an incredible zest for life and wants to explore and experience everything. She is extremely social and loves gathering all the people who love her around her. She is (mostly) fearless. She is a practicer; when she wants to become good at something like climbing stairs or walking a narrow ledge or jumping or drawing tiny, intricate spirals she practices over and over again. Every day. She has a fun sense of humor and loves to dance and twirl and "lead" the music while she sings. She loves to run...well, scamper really, her feet pattering energetically over the floor, legs flying sideways, her cute little diapered bottom wiggling. She has big blue expressive eyes and warm, golden hair that curls magnificently over her ears and around the back of her neck. She loves blowing kisses and giving hugs. When you're lucky, she'll snuggle into the hug, lay her head on your shoulder, and gently pat your back.


    Madelyn loves to be outside. We have loved living across the street from a big park where she can swing and climb on the playground or see the ducks at the pond. She also likes to push her little car around the driveway and color with chalk or blow bubbles. But for the last couple of months it has been way too hot to be outside, at least for this pregnant mamma. So Madelyn has had to find ways to amuse herself inside and it has been so sweet to see the nurturing part of her nature emerge. She discovered the bin of stuffed animals in the corner, most of which are the ones I would never let my mom get rid of from when I was little. Madelyn especially liked the BIG ones, the bear that is two times wider and about as tall as she is, the floppy pig that, again, is about as long as she is, the Little Foot dinosaur that is half her height. For weeks she carried them around with her, changing their diapers (wiping and all), wrapping them in her blankie and singing them a little song and patting them "good night," putting them in her high chair and strapping them in, occasionally reading them books. When we bought her her first baby doll after our mid-pregnancy ultrasound, Madelyn was so excited. "Baby" is her new little full-time charge and goes all around the house with her. Now, when I rock Madelyn and sing to her before bed, I also have to rock and sing to Baby. Every nap and night when we lay Madelyn down in her bed, Madelyn asks for Baby to come lie down next to her too. Even last night, when we were transferring a very sleepy Madelyn to her bed from the car after a fun, late night with family, we got a quiet, sleepy "Baby?" from her before we left the room. That little voice about melted our hearts.



    Yesterday I was looking at Madelyn pictures from a year or more ago and thinking how much she has changed in the last six months. She is absolutely a delight, opinionatedness and all. I am grateful for the privilege to watch and marvel all day long.  

    Monday, January 6, 2014

    Sochi Olympic Trials

    One of the benefits of living in Utah :)

    After the ski jump portion of the Nordic Combined trials (which I missed, but it was worth it to see the jumps and get in the Olympic spirit)


    After the cross-country ski portion of the Nordic Combined trials, which I did see.
    Neat to watch Vancouver's gold medalist race! 

    The Olympic Oval in Kearns, UT, ready for the 500 m short track speed skating trials



    The retired Apolo Anton Ohno broadcasting for NBC (middle)


    Jessica Smith (with the orange helmet) blew away the women's competition, and will be joined at the Olympics by Emily Scott (with the long blond ponytail) and Alyson Dudek, also pictured here. 

    J.R. Celski, who won two bronzes in Vancouver and is the favorite for a US medal in Sochi

    Celski and Eddy Alvarez (717), whose entire family was right behind us chanting and cheering like crazy.
    It was awesome to get caught up in the Eddy fervor - these trials sealed his attendance at his first Olympic games!


    Road to Sochi



    Sneaking near to Ohno while he broadcasted after the day's races were over

    The cutest little hockey player EVER

    Holiday Break

    Winter Fun, Family Nativity, Gift Opening, Family Christmas Party. We loved our two weeks with family!

























    In her bath that afternoon Madelyn had discovered that shampoo was a thing.
    During dinner she decided to try it out with her enchilada.