Book Review: The Science of Breakable Things by Tae Keller

How do you grow a miracle?

This is middle schooler, Natalie’s, big question. Her botanist mom is suffering from depression. Natalie also has a big egg drop competition for Mr. Neely’s science class. Can she use the scientific method to solve both problems?

I really enjoyed this book. Keller does a great job nailing the voice of middle school days. Also, I love books that have girls thinking scientifically – and hopefully. Goodreads says: “Because when parents are breakable, it’s up to kids to save them, right?”

Eggs are breakable. Hope is not.

Recommended for all ages!

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Book Review: “Small Fry” by Lisa Brennan-Jobs

Small Fry by Lisa Brennan-Jobs (her father is Steve Jobs, you know, that Apple guy) is a terrifically-written memoir. From the start, Brennan-Jobs has a difficult task. She’s going to be judged by a higher standard. Is this a celebrity memoir or something else?

It’s something else.

Phillip Lopate’s review: “No other book or film has captured Steve Jobs as distinctly as this one has.”

It begins like this:  Lisa is born to very young unmarried hippies who don’t mean to have a baby. Lisa’s mother keeps the baby while Steve travels and has no parenting responsibilities. Lisa’s mother is an artist with little business-savvy and can barely make rent. Steve invents the computer “the Lisa,” becomes very famous and rich and often publicly denies his paternity.

But he loves Lisa. He comes to roller skate with her sometimes. He gives money to Lisa’s mother (though she has to sue him for child support.) He sometimes has Lisa stay over at his mansion (which contains no furniture.) They eat salad and freshly squeezed juice. It is hard for him to relate to his child, yet he obviously wants to.

The characters are complex, like real life.

Lisa’s mother: Even though she’s moody, prone to rage for the life she’s saddled with, I admire her. Poverty and stress make for a hard life and I could easily understand the emotional hysteria. She raises Lisa with the world is on her shoulders and her art in the backseat. She’s mostly kind to Steve even when he’s cruel.

Steve alternates between creeping me out and making me angry, though in the end you think maybe he just didn’t know how to be a dad, didn’t know HOW. Wealth and stress? Well, that’s a combustible combo, too.

Lisa’s writing is both succinct and beautiful. On her mother:

“She pulled over, jammed on the brakes, and sobbed into her arms. Her back shook. Her sadness enveloped me, I could not escape it, nothing I could do would stop it…at the height of her hopelessness and noise, I’d felt a calm presence near us, even though I knew we were alone in the watery hell, the car jerking. Some benevolent presence that cared for us but could not interfere, maybe sitting in the back seat. The presence could not stop it, could not help it, only watch and note it. I wondered later if it was a ghostly version of me now, accompanying my  younger self and my mother in that car.” (a memory at age 3)

“But it didn’t matter what she said, or how she explained. I saw us as a seesaw: when one of us had power or happiness or substantiality, the other must fade. When I was still young, she’d be old. She would smell like old people, like used flower water. I would be new and green and smell of freshly cut branches.” (a memory around age 4)

As a teenager, Lisa goes to live with Steve, who requires that she cut off contact with her mother for six months. Lisa writes:

“I would leave my mother – I’d said the words out loud. I felt giddy and guilty and numb. Maybe this was the origin of the guilt that seized me later and left me hardly able to walk sometimes, after I had moved in with them: having stolen her youth and energy, having driven her to a state of perpetual anxiety, without support or resources, now that I was flourishing in school and beloved by my teachers, I cast her out and picked him, the one who’d left. I chose the pretty place when she was the one who’d read me books of old stories with admonishments not to believe in the trick of facades.”

Oh, so good.

On her dad, whom she always calls “Steve,” after he’d been particularly cruel:

“We all made allowances for his eccentricities, the ways he attacked other people, because he was also brilliant, and sometimes kind and insightful. Now I felt he’d crush me if I let him. He would tell me how little I meant over and over until I believed it. What use was his genius to me?” (8th grade)

I found the ending to be cathartic and satisfying. Lisa’s mother says to Lisa:

“‘He’s following you around, your father,” she said, when she came to visit me after he died.

“A ghost?”

“Him. I don’t know how else to say it. I can feel him here. And you know what? He’s overjoyed to be with you. He wants to be with you so much he’s paddling behind you. I mean, he’s delighted just watching you butter a piece of toast.”

I didn’t believe it, but I liked thinking it anyway.'”

Like many memoirist, Brennan-Jobs writes from a place of sadness and reflection (though I did laugh out loud when she flushes her tights down the toilet.) She longs for what we all long for: to be loved by a mother and a father. I turned the pages greedily, at once enraged and empathetic. It’s a fascinating story. Also heartbreaking, but redemptive, all the same.

Highly recommended!

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Good News For the Week

It’s Maple Season in New Hampshire!

“One of the great innovators of our time, Steve Jobs of Apple, had this insight: ‘you can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backward. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.’

…Don’t get overwhelmed by the many large, difficult tasks of life. If you commit to doing the “easy” things – the “small” things God asks you to do – and you do them as perfectly as you can, big things will follow.

In a sense, your small and simple sacrifices are the dots of daily living that make up the masterpiece painting of your life. You may not see how the dots connect now, and you don’t need to yet. Simply have faith enough for the moment you are living in now. Trust in God, and ‘out of small things [will come] that which is great.'”

-Dieter F. Uchtdorf

 

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good news for the week {& daughter eats chicken comb}

Some times you just need a break from the typical news cycle of doom and gloom. Here’s something to lift our spirits: my daughter as exhibit A:Cope is a missionary in Taiwan. She LOVES pho (yum yum!) Do you know what she’s holding?

A chicken’s comb!

Let’s get a closer look. Exhibit B: I see…feathers. And you know what she did with the chicken comb? SHE ATE IT.

This is what Google says about a chicken comb: “A comb is a fleshy growth or crest on the top of the head of gallinaceous birds, such as turkeys, pheasants, and domestic chickens. … The comb may be a reliable indicator of health or vigor and is used for mate-assessment in some poultry species.”

Mmmm to fleshy growths! (where is the vomit emoji?)

Missionary Cope also writes (and this is really the good news of the week!):

“Fun stories: no rats this week, BUT last night as we were calling all our friends a man started SCREAMING in Taiyu (the native language of Taiwan that sounds just similar enough to make me think I’ve forgotten all of my Chinese every time I hear it) at a cashier. This went on for a little while, as he went out and then came back in. Then the police showed up and they started yelling in Taiyu as well! We learned that he didn’t have enough money to buy bread, and lost it when the cashier wouldn’t give it to him.
As we reflected on the situation, I was overcome with a deep sadness. We would have gladly given him the money he needed if we had understood what was going on before the police arrived. Had he not been yelling at the cashier, or had we the ability to understand him better, the situation could have been resolved. Had he not exhibited such anger, the police need never have been involved. How often is this sort of interaction played out every day? It is all well and good to say we would give our neighbors our bread, and even better to do it, but how many faceless “others” are we unable to help because we have not the understanding?
This is the miracle of the Atonement, and of the gospel of Jesus Christ. No matter what our problems are, no matter our capacity to explain them to ourselves or others, the Savior knows them completely and has already given us a way to be whole. This is the wonder of the system of ministering as friends and as disciples of the Savior that we see in the church. As his representatives and led by his spirit, we can give the aid needed by others. We may not even know we are doing it, and perhaps they will not either, but our father always does.
2 Nephi 26:23-25 teaches us ‘For behold, my beloved brethren, I say unto you that the Lord God worketh not in darkness.
He doeth not anything save it be for the benefit of the world; for he loveth the world, even that he layeth down his own life that he may draw all men unto him. Wherefore, he commandeth none that they shall not partake of his salvation.
Behold, doth he cry unto any, saying: Depart from me? Behold, I say unto you, Nay; but he saith: Come unto me all ye ends of the earth, buy milk and honey, without money and without price.’
We are always welcome and invited to the Lord’s presence. He will never command us to depart.”
Thanks, Cope!
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my despair {& hope} over the college admissions scandal

This admissions scandal highlights a problem that’s been going on a for a long time – and it makes me so so angry.

You know that quote? “Even if you win the rat race, you’re still a rat.”

As a mom of one graduate and another graduating this year, this admissions cheating and deception hits very close to home.

I am well aware that I, myself, write from a position of privilege. I have had opportunities that few in the world have had simply because I was born in America. I’m white. I come from a middle class family who valued education and could help me pay for it. I went to an incredible college-bound high school.

But I’ll tell you what. I had parents who were fairly hands-off. I wrote my own essays. I didn’t have the advantage of “knowing people in high places.” My parents weren’t in the position to donate heavily to the alumni fund. No one wrote my essays. The chips fell where they did. I was wait-listed at my first choice school. I still went to college – and realized a few things along the way. No one was going to make life happen for me.

Thank you, parents, for not making it too easy.

As my son waits on his last school today, my heart aches a little bit – what will it be?  The chips will fall and he will deal.

The extent to how far we will go for our children can be a very slippery slope. I want so very very badly for all of my children “to succeed!” and I sometimes do too much for them, forgetting that the struggle is GOOD.

And, as my wise mother says – “they are COMPLETELY missing the point of what an education really is.”

Photoshopping faces onto legit athlete’s faces (this scandal also highlights the great value of athletics over, say, an amazing violinist or, say, a student who does an extraordinary amount of community service…) bribing SAT and ACT proctors…

This is WRONG.

So it’s all bad. It’s really really bad. As I try to see the big picture of this landscape, I’m thinking of what this scandal is really highlighting: the great anxiety we have over getting into “the right college” and how we apparently are not willing to let our children “fail.”

Those who can pay, often do. And it continues to create an incredibly unfair advantage. It’s immoral. It’s deceitful and goes way beyond even writing your kid’s college essay, bombarding the admissions department, or securing a top-notch recommendation from an influential person.

So the richer get richer b/c they get into the “best” schools and make higher wages out of school. Class distinctions grow wider. For minorities, for non-athletes, for low-income students, for kids working really really hard, for those with great character but no “outstanding thing” – are put at an even more of a disadvantage.

I read this today: “For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” Matthew 16:26.

Said slightly differently:

“What goes around comes around.”

“We will all get our just reward.”

But in the meantime, how about this: what kind of world do we want to live in?

What kind of life do we really want to create for our children?

Don’t mistake making your children’s life EASIER as a good thing. Stop the comparing! Don’t be so concerned with creating an exceptional child that you forget you already have one.

Let’s be better. Let’s BE GOOD. I think we live at a time where it takes a considerable amount of bravery to be good. Have courage to do the right thing when it seems like there’s no reward for it. There is. We will get our just reward. We will keep our souls.

 

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Lent

This photo reminds me that this is a season for study and contemplation. It makes me feel peaceful.

Lent begins today, March 6th, and goes until Thursday, April 18th.

If you are unfamiliar with Lent, it is a Christian observance to ready us for Easter, the holiest of Christian holidays as it signifies the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Lent is often considered only a Catholic holiday, but not so. I think it’s a wonderful observance for any one or family getting ready to celebrate Easter.

It is a time for prayer, reflection, fasting, service, and sacrifice – giving up something now for something better. That’s the irony of what we consider “giving up.” We are the ones who benefit.

My brother, Patrick, and I encourage one another to do this each year and I always enjoy the challenge, the process, and the end.

I’ve written about it HERE and HERE, which was fun to reread .

I wrote:

Take yourself to the challenge. If you don’t, the challenge will come to you. It always does. The challenge will WRECK the unprepared.

My Word Nerd friend Julia wrote:

This sacrifice is supposed to turn our dependence back to God and away from worldly things, or worse, our own sense of accomplishment. It should bring challenges that will make us better people. Im also trying to fast from worry. Pretty hard for this mama.

Challenges that make us better people. Love that.

This year, my brother’s goal:

No caffeine + workout routine + gratitude journal + the book of Isaiah

This year, I’m going to:

Give up my “time” by studying The New Testament for 30 minutes/day + write down my impressions (as I’m sure they are there to guide me through life.) 

Today I read Matthew 7-8 and Mark 2-3 using THIS as my guide. It made me feel good, more peaceful – a tale-tell sign that something is right.

I would also like to write something every day on this blog (like The Sandguppy does – so funny!) until April 18th but I’m afraid to commit! We shall see if I could do a little better on that front.

Trying is good!

Stretching is good.

Happy season of Lent.

Are you participating?

 

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Would You Like a Valentine? {some easy favorites}

Let’s start with the treats, shall we?

1. Dark decadent homemade chocolate. With only three all-natural ingredients, this chocolate is so easy to make, very tasty, and GOOD for your body!

hearts3

2. The Valentine Fruit Heartfruit-heart

3. A Valentine Breakfastpuffpancakes

4. Oreo Truffles and Chocolate Covered Strawberries DSC_0096

5. My Favorite Old-Fashioned Sugar Cookie  (thick, soft, and delicious!)DSC_0070-1024x680

6. Ipod Valentines (comes with a free printable!) Yes, ironic given my technology rants 🙂

IMG_0292

7. My favorite Valentine tradition: the annual heart attack! I thought we might be getting too old for this, but we did this again last night and nope, never too old for this activity. Cut out heart, write someone nice for each person in the family, and then read them out loud. By the end, EVERYONE is smiling: Grandpa, Uncle, Dad, teenagers, and pre-teens. Even the dog got a valentine! Hang them on the wall and you’ve got a reminder that you like one another.

paige1 momReally?

Enjoy!

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January Reads and Recommendations!

Reading gets me through the long month of January. Have any reading goals for 2019? I’m going to read 50 books this year (Lord willing and the river don’t rise). I’ll be keeping track in a leather journal and on Goodreads (why I keep both, I’m not sure). If you’re not on Goodreads, I highly recommend it. It’s easy to navigate and is somewhat like an accountability buddy. Once you finish one book, it sends you an email that says, Congratulations, what’s next? Me and my personality eat up this type of thing.

I’m quite pleased with the number of books I got through in January, though it’s a bit of a cheat as I started the first two in 2018, but never mind, I’m counting it. So here you go, all good books:
Save the Cat by Blake Snyder. Even if you’re not writing a screenplay, this a a worthy read for any writer. And who knows, you might be so inspired you become the next Matt Damon/Ben Affleck (of Goodwill Hunting) powerhouse.

Front Desk by Kelly Yang recently won the Asian/Pacific American Award for Children’s Literature – a very prestigious honor! If you like well-written middle grade with a smart and problem-solving protagonist, pick this one up. It’s great!

The Book of Mormon, Another Testament of Jesus Christ. Following an invitation to finish this by the end of the year in 2018, I was a little late and finished in January. I love this book. You can see it’s worn from all the years of reading, marking up, moving, and handling. If you’re interested in religion, Jesus Christ, prophets, and history (think A LOT of bloody wars), here you go. This book has power; it’s changed my life.

The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon by Stephen King. Likely the tamest of the tame by King standards, I wanted to read a book that would teach me about suspense without giving me nightmares for twenty years (Hello, The Shining.) This is about a girl who gets lost in the New Hampshire woods for over a week. She gets bitten by a lot of black flies and as the sun sets, hears all the spooky sounds of the unknown… It was pretty good (and no nightmares.)

The Elizas by Sara Shepard (of Pretty Little Liars fame). I was looking for a psychological page turner and The Elizas showed up. Though originally turned off by the premise of a girl who can’t remember large chunks of her past due to drinking large amounts of alcohol (yawn), Shepard went in a different direction (brain tumor!? munscion syndrome!?) It was a page turner even if the ending was completely implausible 🙂

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens. This is going to be made into a movie, I’m sure of it. If you like beautifully descriptive nature writing (reminiscent of the incomparable Pat Conroy) paired with love and a whodunnit mystery, here’s your book. I’m not quite finished, but I couldn’t wait to share! (Thanks for the rec, Annie!)

Dream Work by Mary Oliver. Oh Mary, I love her so. If you haven’t read the poetry of Mary Oliver, you simply must. In honor of her recent passing, I had to check this out. What a collection! A great NPR tribute HERE.

One of my favorites, “The Summer Day” by Mary Oliver:

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

And now my friends, what ARE you going to do with your one wild and precious life? Does it include reading?

xoxo.

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A Short History of a Long Love Story

Today marks a momentous day: the 45th anniversary of my parent’s marriage. The texts, chocolate, and flowers sent don’t do justice to the gift my parents have given our family.

My mother was age 19 when she married. By age 20 she had twins (surprise!). By age 21 she had a third. She was tired.

What did I know of hardship? Life was fun!

I always thought my mother described her decision to marry as rather unromantic. It wasn’t so much of being “madly in love,” but rather, “I felt it was the right thing to do.”

Frowning, I vowed too have both 🙂

She was a nursing major, but had to drop out of the program she was so sick. She lost weight during her pregnancies and had to move back home for awhile so her mother could take care of the twins (me and my brother) while she tried to hold down food and complete homework. And yet, by sheer grit (and family babysitting) she did get that 4-year-degree in Family Science! (which proved to be one of the best decisions she ever made. We were great parenting guinea pigs.)

Me and my two chums (Peter and Andrea; we were more like triplets) lived in a little blue trailer at the base of Mount Timpanogus in Provo, Utah, while both parents finished school, worked, and raised three messy babies who liked to run away (mostly Peter!)

The Three Little Pigs

When Peter and I were age 2, we moved to Omaha, Nebraska – far far away from family to the unknown midwest. Two more babies, Eric and Patrick, were born. I ADORED playing house with them, wrapping them up and hauling them around. It was a very stressful period of time for my parents: no money, starting a business, trying to make payroll, five children under the age of seven, long long work hours for my dad, home all day with kids for my mom. I know my mom contemplated what leaving would look like.

Always one who was keenly interested in people and relationships, I was both blithely unaware of marital challenges and observant of their behavior toward one another.

I would say this: they loved one another. They had a great respect for one another. They didn’t yell. They never demeaned one another (though my mother is widely known for her witty, slightly sarcastic tongue 🙂 )They had a united front. They had great faith that “sticking it out” would have eternal and lasting consequences. They taught us what commitment looks like.

My parents with their five children. I’m the oldest and the shortest – but I can still take my brothers in a push-up contest…maybe.

There’s nothing my parents love more than their family – even the crying babies.

Yesterday, on the eve of their 45th anniversary, my dad sent his five children the love story of Fyodor Dostoyevsky (the brilliant author of Crime and Punishment) and Anna Dostoyevskaya (also brilliant; his editor and researcher.) Read the whole story HERE – it’s so good.

Of their love story, Anna wrote:

Throughout my life it has always seemed a kind of mystery to me that my good husband not only loved and respected me as many husbands love and respect their wives, but almost worshipped me, as though I were some special being created just for him. And this was true not only at the beginning of our marriage but through all the remaining years of it, up to his very death. Whereas in reality I was not distinguished for my good looks, nor did I possess talent nor any special intellectual cultivation, and I had no more than a secondary education. And yet, despite all that, I earned the profound respect, almost the adoration of a man so creative and brilliant.

This enigma was cleared up for me somewhat when I read V.V. Rozanov’s note to a letter of Strakhov dated January 5, 1890, in his book Literary Exiles. Let me quote:

“No one, not even a ‘friend,’ can make us better. But it is a great happiness in life to meet a person of quite different construction, different bent, completely dissimilar views who, while always remaining himself and in no wise echoing us nor currying favor with us (as sometimes happens) and not trying to insinuate his soul (and an insincere soul at that!) into our psyche, into our muddle, into our tangle, would stand as a firm wall, as a check to our follies and our irrationalities, which every human being has. Friendship lies in contradiction and not in agreement! Verily, God granted me Strakhov as a teacher and my friendship with him, my feelings for him were ever a kind of firm wall on which I felt I could always lean, or rather rest. And it won’t let you fall, and it gives warmth.”

In truth, my husband and I were persons of “quite different construction, different bent, completely dissimilar views.” But we always remained ourselves, in no way echoing nor currying favor with one another, neither of us trying to meddle with the other’s soul, neither I with his psyche nor he with mine. And in this way my good husband and I, both of us, felt ourselves free in spirit.

Fyodor Mikhailovich, who reflected so much in so much solitude on the deepest problems of the human heart, doubtless prized my non-interference in his spiritual and intellectual life. And therefore he would sometimes say to me, “You are the only woman who ever understood me!” (That was what he valued above all.) He looked on me as a rock on which he felt he could lean, or rather rest. “And it won’t let you fall, and it gives warmth.”

It is this, I believe, which explains the astonishing trust my husband had in me and in all my acts, although nothing I ever did transcended the limits of the ordinary. It was these mutual attitudes which enabled both of us to live in the fourteen years of our married life in the greatest happiness possible for human beings on earth.

Trouble and struggle certainly found my parents. Their personalities are very different, as they will be the first to tell you, but I believe my father sent his children the above note as a reminder that despite the mystery we are to one another, love is a kind of firm wall on which we feel we can always lean, or rather rest. And it won’t let you fall, and it gives warmth.

This is certainly what they have done for one another, and return, have given their children and our children a place to lean that is immovable. Their love lets us rest when we have struggles of our own. It doesn’t let us fall. It gives warmth.

Day to day, great love stories are often quite mundane and ordinary, but over time, become quite extraordinary.

I love you, Mom and Dad. Thank you. Happy Anniversary.

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My Top 12 Books of 2018

My Top 12 books include memoir, a literary thriller, middle grade, historical fiction, and even a graphic comic book (an unusual choice for me). Interestingly, only two of the twelve books were written by men.

My 2018 reading goal was 50. I made it to 40. Of the 40 books, nine were written by men, thirty-one by females. (What does this mean and does it matter? Do I need to diversify?)  I keep track on Goodreads, which is super fun and a way to stay organized if you like that sort of thing. So here you go, my TOP 12:

 

Always looking for book recommendations so tell me your 2018 favorites! And do you have any 2019 goals? I’m determined to read more!

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