Scenes From the Wild Wild West

19 years ago, for our honeymoon, The Professor and I drove a couple thousand miles from Salt Lake City and put down roots at a boarding school in a teeny tiny town in New Hampshire.

“We’ll stay 2-3 years and than fly away to a new adventure.”

Turns out boarding school life in rural New Hampshire was adventure enough. It’s become my home and the best place I could dream of to raise a family next door to hay fields, show donkeys, and holsteins. moo.

It’s also true that I left part of my heart out west. This year our family reunion was in Idaho and Utah, a blessing given the circumstances with Eric, Cassie and Scout. I took almost a 1000 photos and boy howdy, what a hard task it was to choose my favorites.

If you’ve never been out west, may these images inspire you to explore this beautiful world, especially with the ones you love.IMG_6338Flying over the midwest

IMG_7105

IMG_6357   The Professor is somehow always in the mix of flying and leaping children. He starts it.

DSC_0056 Bear Lake, Idaho. Home of my childhood summers.

IMG_6436 Vast amounts of food was served to small, and often screaming, children. Love them :)

DSC_0169 Family photos taken

DSC_0387  My sister, Andrea. The darling.

DSC_0463  My fab four

DSC_0632 Cope and Savannah. Bestie cousins, born 1 month, 1 week, and 1 day apart.

IMG_6574 Bear Lake is not complete without a cemetery tour given by my father. Here we are told the stories of our ancestors. Some kiddies find it more riveting than others :)

IMG_6579 DSC_0667 The farm where my father grew up and where I roamed as a kid.

DSC_0668 The milking parlor that used to be our clubhouse

DSC_0689 This cow wasn’t interested in my photo shoot

IMG_6608 The Professor in his element. We ate. A lot.

IMG_8613 The three beauty queen cousins born within months of each other. All going into their senior year.

DSC_0716 My dad. The Grandpa.

DSC_0791   Brynne and The Professor went flying.

20160629_094513  The cool kids

IMG_6650 Grandma brought a treasure chest filled with magic and goodies. The teens made a treasure map for the wee ones to follow. Fun times.

IMG_6636 Sweet Scout likes peas

IMG_6672The teens left us in Bear Lake for a day while they traveled to BYU-Idaho in Rexburg for a college admission tour. See Nate, of East Idaho News, driving? He assures me they didn’t really travel like this! RIGHT?

IMG_6668  DSC_0840 The rest of us hiked in Tony Grove, Idaho. There was snow!

DSC_0842 And beautiful flowersDSC_0845 And the surly Professor who wasn’t actually surly except for the camera :)

DSC_0846 And my TWIN brother! Do you like his hair? I too could be a silver fox. But I’m not so brave. Oh, the issues we women have.

DSC_0862 Back to flowers

DSC_0863  And meadows and reflections of lifeDSC_0876 IMG_6692 Beautiful Bear Lake close to sunsetIMG_7009 After Bear Lake, it was back to Utah where the teens left me standing in the street as they drove off into the sunset. It’s a whole new world, isn’t it?

IMG_6743 There are so many LDS churches in Utah you can walk to church with your hand in your dad’s. I like that.

IMG_6409There’s also A LOT of ice-cream! Iceberg was a huge win!

IMG_6747 My boy, Nellie Mak, has decided he wants to be a barber. His first willing victim: a cousin!

IMG_6986 I have FAR TOO MANY selfies on my phone!

IMG_7011 Another college tour: BYU in Provo, Utah. This is Cope’s first choice school and an extremely competitive one. The average GPA: 3.8. The average ACT: 28. Application process: this fall.

IMG_7014 My girl.

IMG_7027 My college apartment, in front of the window that The Professor once broke with a snowball.  It was true love from the start :)

IMG_7099 A trip to Salt Lake City, isn’t complete without a tour of temple square. I love The Christus.

IMG_7070  The conference center where the prophet and twelve apostles speak twice a year for General Conference. Also home to theater, musical events, and The Mormon Tabernacle Choir. These organ pipes are the largest in the world. It is a tremendous building.

IMG_7091 The Salt Lake City temple where we were married – for free! Swoon.

IMG_7112 Atop a mountain in Draper, Utah, where my brother, Patrick, and wife, Natalie, recently moved.

DSC_0942 DSC_0947 DSC_0954 DSC_0964 DSC_0967 DSC_0978 Siblings. My sister, brother, and me.

DSC_0987 My boy and his Uncle Patrick

DSC_0989     Beautiful Utah skies

IMG_7151 And back to Idaho

IMG_7154 And more beautiful western skies

DSC_0173 DSC_0177 DSC_0178Be still my heart.IMG_6517It was very difficult to think we could have a “fun” reunion, with the loss of Cassie. But it was also comforting to feel that with every hike and lake swim, she was with us. I imagine she always will be. We tried to stay “up” and provide an unforgettable experience for our children, as they gathered, laughed, and sometimes cried, with their cousins, aunts, uncles, and grandparents. What a blessing it was to be together, surrounded by the great beauty of the earth, and to remember the creator of it all.

Happy summer.

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We’ll Be Glad, For All the Love We Had

First, thank you for all of the emails, Facebook messages, Gofundme donations, texts, calls, and prayers this month. We have felt so loved and are so appreciative.

This month we unexpectedly lost my mother-in-law, Heather, and sister-in-law, Cassie. The loss of Cass was exceptionally hard because it was SO unexpected. She was young and healthy. And man, we had plans! She leaves behind a loving family, including her husband and my brother, Eric, and their little girl, Scout, age 3.

I feel like I’m just coming out of a fog. I realize from listening to the news that I’m not the only one suffering these days. Shootings in Baton Rouge, Minneapolis, Dallas, another terrorist attack in Paris – this life is sometimes so hard.

Questions of life and death swirl in my brain. Like, where is Heather? Where is Cassie? What comes next? How can we go on with two empty chairs? It has left me feeling very vulnerable; stuff happens. There have also been silver linings. Even as we feel broken, our family is tighter and stronger. We know we love each other. We know time is short. This is our one chance to make this life mean something – everything. I have felt peace and comfort as I pray – it’s there and it’s real.

The first law of thermodynamics popped into my head this morning: energy cannot be created or destroyed. It made me think about our physical body versus our spirit. There is comfort for even for the most scientifically minded.

I always go to two coping skills: writing and running. But this time it was hard to muster. I was just so tired. Thankfully my husband and running buddies have pulled me outside to run. Writing? Would I ever blog again? I didn’t want to write. I just wanted to skip over Cassie’s death. It was too hard to capture. Too much.  Avoidance and an abundance of ice-cream helped stave off the inner nagging (did you know Utah has the BEST ice-cream? There is an overabundance of creamy deliciousness from a variety of vendors on every corner! It’s as common as their churches!)

If I was ever going to blog again, I knew I had to face the computer screen and say something. This is what happened. Write it down. 

So.

My brother, Patrick, started a gofundme page for our brother, Eric, and his daughter, Scout. Rather than write it out here, you can read the full story there. In 20 days, over $27,000 was raised for the funeral and medical expenses. We are so overwhelmed by your generosity. So grateful. Thank you, thank you.

Burying Cassie wasn’t exactly the yearly family reunion we were expecting or wanting, but it was pretty miraculous that we were already gathering when her accident occurred in Boise. It was incredible that I was able to be with my brother and sit in the hospital for days with him. It was terrible and sad and emotional. But it was also bonding, spiritual; we had moments that will forever connect us.

I will never forget watching my brother lose the love of his life. I’ll never be so proud of him as I watched him pull himself together to make heartbreaking decisions and put a smile on his face for his little girl, Scout. The love was palpable.

IMG_6399Sweet Scout and Eric.

PqJE924QRhxluvUJH6AqGICmd8mcnBLnkl9NsT_33VA,LWZ90wXtYvxWYoqOIvLAFWmn2D0CillNxCWddhe7ILI,EQKsOLdoRwq3oLLroek3z-hB9lNdIfDLLJfk52vUN0MEric is an amazing father. Photography by Cassie. And Cass loved being a mother.

IMG_7176How blessed we were to have Cassie. Here is her beloved Idaho.

DSC_0130Cassie grew up in teeny tiny, Emmett Idaho. Because of her grace, beauty, kindness, she was jokingly teased as “the rose of Emmett.”

Everything she touched was better. She was kind, graceful, and elegant. In March, when we were on our “sister’s cruise,” Cass was reading Brene Brown’s, “The Gifts of Imperfection.” She said she was trying to let go of her need and angst for perfection. Ironically, her perfectionistic tendencies were great strengths and part of what I admired most about her. I always wanted to be more like her, to be a little more classy, to not be so sloppy. I suppose I can still try :)

Cassie was always helping me get better at design, creativity, and photography. She designed this blog and put up with my endless tech questions about pull-down menus, subscribe and share buttons. I feel a bit adrift without her at the helm. She did countless mock-ups of book covers as we discussed book ideas and concepts. We talked at length about photography and editing. Cass had recently launched her own photography business, Linen and Lace Photography. Isn’t she incredible?

We shared an affinity for hair products and woefully recounted how to best tame naturally curly hair. When I saw the bottles of shampoo and conditioner lined up on her bathtub I felt like laughing and bursting into tears. Obviously, she had mastered the tame: :)IMG_6431

DSC_0102 IMG_7114 IMG_7128Grief is the price we pay for loving her so much.

DSC_1006This picture is so sweet. It also makes me laugh – Scout found those two paper clips and refused to take them off her fingers.

IMG_6392 Eric and Scout have some hard times ahead of them, but I have every faith in him as a father.

And I believe the words he said in his eulogy for Cass: “Our hearts are broken as we say goodbye, but we are thankful we had Cassie for 35 incredible, adventurous, and beautiful years. We hold out hope that our journeys in life will sail us back to her.” Amen.

Love you forever, Cass.

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To Heather, With Love

I often joke that marrying into my husband’s family was the best decision I ever made for my writing career.

But don’t think that that hasn’t been painful.

The reason is this: the Makechnies are hyper-critical. Excuse me, I mean, master wordsmiths.

You make one misstep and The Professor and his posse will pounce like a snake on a mouse and swallow you whole.

The biggest disagreements between my dear husband, and me, is when I ask him to “quickly look something over.” What I’m really looking for is, “Looks great, honey. Brilliant, in fact!”

I’m still waiting for that utterance.

It took me a long time to accept the fact that proofreading my work is not something we, as a couple, can share.

And yet, I still test the waters occasionally. He now begins by asking, “Do you want me to edit this or just tell you I like it?”

Except he just can’t do that.  And my sensitive feelers cannot handle it.

The Professor comes by the super-critical eye honestly. Both parents are superb readers, writers, and storytellers. As a child, The Professor remembers his mother, Heather, a precise grammarian, becoming incensed over poor sentence structure.

Grandma Heather has even taught my children well. When she asks a question like, “Who wants to go with Grandma to the beach?” Not one child in this house answers, “ME!!!!” Oh no. The correct answer is, “I do!” (not “Me want to go to the beach!”) You see the difference? Believe me, after almost twenty years in this family I know the difference.

IMG_3644All of my children have sat at Grandma’s feet as she taught with her stories and love of language. She dedicated her entire life to raising good children, and she loved her grandchildren with her whole heart. I marveled at the way she was able to reach into the soul of each child and fill them so completely.

IMG_1934 Last summer Grandma Heather gathered the grandchildren by the ocean, pointing out to sea, at the Isles of Shoal off the coast of New Hampshire, telling stories of our ancestors. The woman could hold the attention of even the most squirrely child.

21690705952_af26eef8e3_k-1Here Grandma Heather used her words to comfort my boy, as he watched his sister sail away on a boat called Ocean Classroom.

When I started this blog, Heather was delighted! Mostly because her grandchildren were prominently featured. She laughed and commented at the pictures of baby poop and lipstick smears. But she also liked and encouraged this new hobby I was obsessing over: writing. Over time, I found I had procured an editor.

I would sometimes receive emails like this : “Wonderful! I could not be more proud!”

Other times: “This is not ready to publish. Go back and do some editing.”

Perhaps my favorite: “If you write the word YUM one more time I will throw myself out the window.”

I resisted using the word YUM for at least eight months.

Writers are often told to, “Imagine your perfect reader. Don’t worry about writing for the world. Write for your one person.” I have many perfect readers in mind when I write, but provided with such blunt and persistent feedback, Heather was always on my mind before I hit “Publish.” Would she think it was funny? Would my imperfect sentences drive her mad?

I’ve worked and reworked sentence structures and subject-verb agreement with Heather in mind, on consistent tenses, on pronoun agreement, and just the write blend of somber and humor.

Heather played the critic for me: an essential role for any writer. Oh, we sensitive writers need many things from many people. We need the constant and consistent praisers, but we also need the critical eye. Be wary if your critique group only loves your work – they’re not doing their job. You need someone to knock you down a few times if you hope to survive.

Heather’s praise was often glowing, but her criticism could sting. My skin has grown tougher. She was reading and I was learning.

A week ago today I sat in a church pew as Heather Hope Makechnie was laid to rest. Her death was a shock and has left us all bereft. It is words I am having a hard time coming up with. I hear her in my head, but I miss her voice.

I have turned to the words she wrote to me. Last summer:

How I miss my Cope, Nelson, Brynne, and Paige.
I hear the echoes of their voices in the house. (Tennyson does, too.)
I see their books and clothes and toys. I see the empty swing and slide. I watch the carrots and sunflowers grow toward the sun. But they are not here, and there is a tinny sound in the echoes. FORTUNATELY they are deeply seated in my heart, and the eternal love-light glows.
I pray that you are SEEING, HEARING, TASTING, TOUCHING everything around you.
I know you will come home with many memories, but I predict that the most powerful and lasting memory you will have is of each other.
Semper commone.

I have not felt like writing anything at all. The void feels so big and vast I just want to lie down.

Avoidance came in the form of eating way too many brownies, spending too much money at Target, running miles, and cleaning the refrigerator (yes, avoidance takes extreme forms.) And yet, as always, I was drawn back to the computer. To make an attempt at words.

She was more than our storyteller, she was our family’s heart. And though she will not comment, email, or stop by for a visit to discuss the latest blog post, I like to think she’s still keeping tabs. I like to think she’s still my perfect reader – and making sure I haven’t resorted to using the word, “yum.”

Heather’s last comment on this blog was this: “OH, my heart! so much to love all in one place!”

Indeed. So much love.

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What Are You Going to Do With All Those Kid Papers?

It is the bane of every parent’s existence: ALL THOSE PIECES OF PAPER. What do you do with it all? Especially if you are trying to keep clutter to a minimum and have More of Less?

I’ve decided one must be ruthless to survive. A couple of years ago, I got serious. In our family, each child gets one color-coded file folder. This file lives in my yellow, spray-painted filing cabinet next to my desk on the main floor.

At the beginning of each school year, I write the name and school year on the top of the file folder. Throughout the year, I save only the most meaningful pieces of paper. If it doesn’t fit in the file folder? Sorry, it has to go :( DSC_0077  What about all of that artwork? We hang art on the wall for awhile, sometimes take a picture, and then wave good-bye (correction: I wave good-bye. Under no circumstances do you ask permission to throw something away!)

At the end of every school year, the yearly file gets plucked from the yellow filing cabinet and goes downstairs to live in a plastic, portable filing cabinet. Each child has one. The plan is that when our children leave the house, they can take their personal plastic filing cabinet with them: unnamed-1What about important documents, medical records, and glasses RX you need to access every once in awhile? Who wants to go down to the basement and try to find it? What I’ve done, is use those same colored file folders (for instance, Cope is always yellow) and write the name and “Records” on the top. This file lives permanently in my yellow filing cabinet upstairs so I can access it easily.DSC_0083

DSC_0079This was one of those pieces of paper I wanted to keep: Nelson’s Adidas shoe design he drew in 8th grade. It went in Nelson’s blue “2014-15” file folder.

This system has simplified life SO much. I’m keeping a record, but it’s simple and automatic. I used to turn all these papers into homemade photo books, but after baby #2 was born, I quickly discovered that paper and photos would literally turn into a full-time job. I just couldn’t keep up. The feeling that I wasn’t remembering my child’s life in a clear and organized fashion hung over me like a storm cloud. This system? No stress.

Would it be nicer to have it all in nice, 3-ringed binders? Perhaps. But this is what I can do.

The kids also have a bin in the basement where I’ve saved a few items like baby blankets, a special toy, or Nelson’s cowboy boots he wore for three years. Some items are keepers; but remember: you must be ruthless to survive in a world that loves STUFF!

When the darlings leave home, they’ll take their one filing cabinet and one bin. That’s it! Cope will probably also steal my shoes, but that’s another battle…

Speaking of organizing files, I have a lot of them.

All of my personal files live in my yellow filing cabinet. Here’s a look at my writing section:DSC_0087

I recently discovered the beauty of the label maker (how can this bring me such giddy joy? I don’t know but it does!!!)IMG_8793You’ll notice the color-coded children’s section up front.

That’s how I do. How do you do?

And happy weekend!

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A Great New Book: The More of Less

I read this great book last month:

41pkwq-8CJL._SX351_BO1,204,203,200_

It opens with a Will Rogers quote: “Too many people spend money they haven’t earned to buy things they don’t want to impress people they don’t like.”

Isn’t it funny? Even as adults we’re still trying to impress each other.

Warning: Reading this book may lead to the frantic purging of closets, drawers and cupboards that require multiple trips to Goodwill and the curb. This behavior may also leave you feeling like the weight of the world is off your back … at least that was my reaction after just two dressers.

I often wonder about this phenomenon; why do we feel so much better when we get rid of stuff? What is it about stuff that is so burdensome?

In “The More of Less: Finding the Life You Want Under Everything You Own,” author Joshua Becker wrote a personal note: “Amy, if you like the book, help spread the word. It’s important stuff!”

He’s right – it’s important stuff. I’m spreading the word!

The book begins with a story: “Our two-car garage, as always, was full of stuff. Boxes stacked one on top of another threatened to fall off shelves. Bikes were tangled together, leaned against a wall … Rakes and shovels and brooms leaned every which way. Some days we’d have to turn sideways when getting in and out of our cars to squeeze through the mess that filled the garage.”

Oh my gosh, he’s been in my garage!

Reading prompted multiple questions: Why are we working such long, hard hours just so we can buy, collect and store stuff?

Why? What’s the point of it all?

As a society we may be working more, but for what?  I don’t want to live in a tree house, but my lifestyle is certainly far more extravagant than my parents, and far far more luxurious than my grandparents and their grandparents! I have a feeling they would be astounded at our wealth – I’ve seen the pictures of their poverty.

It’s hard for us in different ways. We’ve created a lifestyle that requires us to work longer hours, find multiple jobs, and make dual incomes. To alleviate the stress, many of us make it worse: We buy more (dopamine hit!)

And then, to take care of all our stuff, we have to clean it, organize it, buy more containers to organize it, and spend our precious weekends moving our stuff from one location to the other.

STOP the insanity!

We don’t really need to own all this stuff.

These were the words that changed Becker’s world in 2008 while talking to his elderly next-door neighbor as he struggled to clean his garage. While pulling out dusty, underused possessions, Becker noticed his son alone in the backyard. His son had wanted to play with him that morning, but alas, dad was too busy. “The juxtaposition of the two scenes dug deep into my heart, and I began to recognize the source of my discontent for the first time. … It was piled in my driveway.”

This moment is when Becker’s journey into minimalism began.

The whole point is this: “Our excessive possessions are not making us happy. Even worse, they are taking us away from the things that do. Once we let go of the things that don’t matter, we are free to pursue all the things that really do matter.”

Using both scientific studies and anectdotal stories, Becker tells us what our closets are telling us:

In America, we consume twice as many material goods as 50 years ago. Over the same period, the size of the average American home has nearly tripled and contains about 300,000 items. On average, our homes contain more televisions than PEOPLE! Home organization is now an $8 billion industry and still, one of out every 10 American households rents off-site storage, “the fastest-growing segment of the commercial real-estate industry over the past four decades.”

We Americans have a personal-debt problem, with the average household’s credit card debt over $15,000 and the average mortgage debt over $150,000.

Debt makes us very very unhappy.

Becker wants us to see our overstuffed homes for what they are: distractions from the source of true happiness like relationships, free time, financial freedom and less stress.

He acknowledges it’s not easy, particularly for families with children, pets, and a lifetime of momentos. It takes a hard look and family agreement to know how to realistically downsize. It can take months and even years to change our habits and actually own less. I’m finding this to be true.

Purging is not an overnight phenomenon.

(I know, hadn’t I already done this?). Habits are hardwired. It’s very difficult to say good-bye. For instance:

unnamed-5 I’ve kept my sun-bleached lifeguarding hair for TWENTY YEARS.

unnamed-3 I made these crayfish claw earrings for my sister as a joke in high school or college. She kindly regifted them to me. I bravely tossed them. And now I’m actually sad because they’d make a great gag gift! See? That’s another reason we don’t throw away – sometimes we regret it!

unnamed-4 A small white statue with a broken arm. It has sentimental value, but alas, it has sat at the back of my drawer for decades.

unnamed-7 Do I really need a dusty tassle?

unnamed-6 What this is and where did it come from?

Brynne has also caught the decluttering bug. Outside her bedroom I heard her say, “Paige! You can’t keep it! Does it SPARK JOY???!”unnamed-2

unnamed-1I purged most of our CDs and many many movies that I can stream from Spotify or Netflix.

I’ve still got drawers and file cabinets and rooms to go, but it feels SO SO good to have less stuff.

Read this book! (and no, I’m not getting anything out of this review.) Becker makes such a great case, I’m convinced that if we followed a path of minimalism (owning less stuff) we would reap the benefits Becker is seeing all over the minimalist world: greater joy, more contentment, increased generosity, more high-quality possessions, a better example to our children, less work for ourselves and others, less comparison, less distraction, and freedom to pursue what we were really put on this earth to do.

Though its not a religious book, Becker is a preacher (love that). He’s a seeker of happiness and enlightenment. He recounts the story of the rich man who asks Jesus what he can do to gain eternal life. Jesus says to sell all that he has, give it to the poor, and follow him. But when the young man “heard that saying, he went away sorrowful: for he had great possessions.”

I recently read in the New York Times, that it’s not possible to be an atheist: we all worship something. A good question for us all: What are we worshipping?

The More of Less was released on May 3 and after its first week, landed on many National Bestseller Lists:

  • USA Today Bestsellers List: #10 in Nonfiction; #2 in Self-Help
  • Publisher’s Weekly: #13 in Hardcover Nonfiction
  • iBooks: #10 in Nonfiction
  • Amazon: #1 in Several Categories

Becker also writes a great blog, Becoming Minimalist!

Henry David Thoreau and John Ruskin are often referred to as the “fathers of the minimalist movement.” Becker? I’d say he’s a modern-day leader.

We don’t need to own all this stuff. I vow to keep trying.

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Game-Changing Weekend Links {May 2016 Edition}

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  1. Paige made me bread. Here’s a similar recipe from NYTimes. More to come from Master Chef Paige.
  2. This girl is intriguing. Two years of trash fit into one mason jar. WHAT?
  3. Latest podcast obsession? Hidden Brain. Listen to episode 26: GRIT.
  4. Love this Adam Grant TED talk! spoiler: original thinkers are often cautious. They procrastinate, too. Grant’s book is on my Amazon Wish List.
  5. How could empathy be dangerous? It could lead to world peace…
  6. Compliments are Free.
  7. Students: Put Your Laptops Away. You know I love it!
  8. Someone told me they started doing this. And their kids were nicer :)
  9. Waiting for Augusta is here!
  10. We started with food. Let’s end on food. Joy the Baker is a joy to read! But The Professor is the one who knows the way to my heart with these Mother’s Day, grilled curry vegetables:unnamed-2
  11. Which is a good thing, as The Boy won’t let me kiss him in front of the camera any longer. “Mom. No. No. No.” This is unlinkable :) unnamed-1

Hope you enjoy (with vegetables and kisses) – and Hallelujah, it’s the Weekend!

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I Swore I Wouldn’t Do It…Then I Did

"Seriously, mom. It's such a dinosaur."

“Seriously, mom. It’s such a dinosaur.”

“Our children will not have iPhones. I don’t care how uncool it is. They will absolutely not carry the internet in their pocket. Ever.”

I’m pretty flexible. I’m an obliger (take the test!) It would be my great horror to be viewed as a megalomaniac.

Sometimes I should care more, but I just don’t. Where to go to dinner? I don’t really care (as long as it’s not McDonald’s). The Professor wants to choose the color of the van interior? Have at it. You want some input on a new living room rug design? Either one is fine. I just don’t care. It feels inconsequential. It doesn’t matter. Yes, sometimes I should care more. For example, I’m prone to impatiently hacking my hair off every few months (I really shouldn’t.)

But there are other Amy Absolutes:

Thou shalt not have a DVD player in the car. Because children should be bored occasionally, daydream, and look out the window. Maybe even talk to me.

Thou shalt not do all the chores. Because a working family is a happy family! And the mother is not the slave of the family.

Thou shalt not speak rudely to mom and dad. Because honoring thy mother and thy father is a worthy endeavor.

Thou shalt not use my toothbrush. Or I will never speak to you again. The Professor has had to ask for forgiveness on multiple occasions. 

Oh yes, these things do matter. Technology use is my hot-button. I can get more fired-up about technology rules than most political candidates. Kids and iPhones. No. Why in the world would I put that device in my child’s pocket when there is a world to explore? When technology addiction is rampant, when a child’s brain is so malleable and still forming?

No, we shall frolic and sing with our bonnets and aprons on at all times….

The hills are alive with the sound of music!

The hills are alive…

I’m sad and terrified when so many of our children do not know how to read a textbook and pull out cohesive “take-aways.” When The Classics are “boring.” When Google is so easy, that “hard” is avoided at all costs. When English courses have to cut out whole books, curriculum, and reading because our teens just don’t have the brain power to sit still, absorb, and ponder Anna Karenina. I liked this post.

And yeah, I blame technology for some of that. I read less because of my phone. It sits on my bedside table, putting me to sleep and waking me up. All the dings, alerts, and Twitter notifications that go off in our pockets, pulling us away from absorbing, focusing, and being “all in.” I see the effect in my classroom every.single.day. I fight that battle every.single.day.

Two years ago I wrote about my gollum-like fascination after finally getting an iPhone. It’s been life-changing. I can actually find your house now with that nifty GPS! I keep an on-line calendar, use reminders, check Instagram, comment on Facebook and blogs, schedule appointments – I LOVE my phone. I love it. I love it too much. Which is why I wanted to keep it out of the hands of my darlings as long as possible.

“My friends make fun of me everyday,” The Boy tells me. After revealing he had to ask permission to use technology at home, his friend literally rolled on the floor laughing. Now, every time he sees The Boy using his iPad at school he says, “Nelson, did you ask permission??!” 

Come on now, are technology rules SO WRONG?

Last month when I assigned a homework assignment, it involved downloading the Adobe Voice app. Every single student whipped out their smart phone. I realized maybe my high school kids were right…they were the oddballs. But aren’t oddballs adorable?

My oldest darling, Cope, is a junior in high school. She has a flip phone, which is “absolutely mortifying.” The Boy, a freshman, flat out refused. He would rather not have a phone than to be seen with something “so lame.” Which sounds terribly materialistic, but there are a few things in a boy’s life that really matter (girls, meat, shoes…and phones?)

Let us back track to last week when The Professor said, “I think we should get you a new phone for Mother’s Day.” My contract was up, you see, and I’d been drooling over the new and improved camera feature. I didn’t object to The Professor’s wishes :)

Yesterday, we giddily (read: me) visited a Verizon store (where the customer service is out of this world, awesome) and discovered that not only could I get a new phone, but we could upgrade to a better plan (text me! I now have unlimited texting!!!!) and also transfer my daughter’s phone number to my older iPhone and pay LESS than what we were paying for her flip phone.

Ah, geez.

What’s a mom to do?

We took the deal.

Yep, I sold my child’s imagination for a few silver coins. The world is ending.

I had a moment. “Wait, wait, wait! I only want her to be able to take photos, text and call – THAT’S IT!” It turns out we can control the cellular data (for $5/month!) but if she has wi-fi? Well, it’s free reign.

I felt ashamedly resigned. I rationalized like this: she’s a good girl. she has a good imagination. she still loves to read. and sing. and yeah, she’s a bit addicted to youtube videos but mostly if they involve Lin-Manuel or cheesy BYU studio C outtakes. Also, I know that technology, used the right way, is AWESOME. We can change the world right from home!

At least, as far as I know. Maybe I don’t know. Maybe they’re all tech addicts at 3a.m. If you know of such behavior, you better tell me.

We held out for almost 17 years. Maybe it was time to extend the leash a little further. In a few short years, mom isn’t going to be around to set the parameters (I weep.)

The best part was having our stellar Verizon gal, Kelly, transfer Cope’s old number and plan to my older iPhone, knowing her flip phone would suddenly stop working. She was going to freak out. When Cope came home from school I showed her my new phone, which she drooled over, as I casually asked, “I called you today – why didn’t you call me back?”

“Something is wrong with my phone.”

“You must have dropped it.”

“No, mom, I swear. I didn’t drop it!”

“How sad,” I said. She sighed.

At this point I very slowly took out my old iPhone. Before I could say anything she screamed. And started hopping up and down. It was rather wonderful.

After having yet another technology discussion (I like to be thorough :) ) she reached out her hands, snatched the iPhone, and whispered, “Precious.”

Heaven help us all.

Alas, it’s not all roses around here. The Boy has taken this injustice very personally. We obviously have favorite children.

“Mom,” he says, following me around. “You’ve got to let me have Snapchat now – you gave Cope an iPhone!”

That, my friends, is the latest battle. What say ye? Do tell.

 

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Recent Book Reads and Recommendations!

Book recommendations are some of my favorite posts to write!

If you read my last book post, you know of my utter obsession with Liane Moriarty (Nicole Kidman and Reese Witherspoon will soon star on-screen in Big, Little Lies.) I gobbled up three of her books late in 2015 and spent January and February running back and forth to the library to check out her earlier books. Have I mentioned? My librarians are my BFFs.

Here’s what I’ve been reading the last few months…

1. The Hypnotist’s Love Story by Liane Moriarty: Ellen is a hypnotherapist and finally falling in love. But new love, Patrick, has a stalker ex-girlfriend. Ellen is intrigued and thinks it would be fun to meet stalker…she doesn’t know she already has…

2. The Last Anniversary by Liane Moriary: Sophie has unexpectedly inherited her ex-boyfriend’s Aunt Connie’s house on Scribbly Gum Island—home of the famously unsolved Munro Baby mystery. A cute read about finding your own happiness. And I love the name “Scribbly Gum Island.” I want to move there.

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3. Three Wishes by Liane Moriarty. Moriarty’s debut novel about 3 beautiful triplets – they are so dramatic! As a reader who loves character-driven novels, Moriarty nails it every time. I’ve asked Moriarty to tone down the swearing but she says her characters have a mind of their own…

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You can tell how much better Moriarty has gotten as her subsequent books are released – a very fun author observation! This is also great news for all of us: WRITING IS A CRAFT we can all learn.

And now I’ve read all her books and am in a deep, dark slump…but don’t fret, Ms. Moriarty has a new book coming out this July! And my BFF (dear librarian, Gail) has already ordered it for me. I tell you, there are benefits living in the sticks!

Coming in July… (I mean, shouldn’t they hire me to be her publicist or something?)

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4. Writing Irresistible Kidlit by Mary Kole: So, so, good. A former literary agent, Kole knows the business. Want to write for kids of any age? READ THIS NOW. I’ve underlined and ear-marked every page.

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5. The War That Saved my Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley: “Mom, you HAVE to read this book!” my 11-year-old Brynne insisted. It was a very good, award-winning middle grade read set in WWII.

6. Finding Audrey by Sophia Kinsella: My first Kinsella book, I had to read this young adult novel after my oldest couldn’t stop laughing and saying, “The mom in this book is SO YOU!” Which, after reading, was totally unflattering. Kinsella does a great job using humor to write about a serious, psychological issue.

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7. Secrets of a Charmed Life by Susan Meisner: An adult historical fiction novel set in WWII that features two young sisters separated during the Blitz in England. Heart wrenching for me to read about a missing child.

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8. Medium Hero by Korby Lenker: A collection of short stories, Korby Lenker CAN WRITE! I loved this collection so much. Lender will make you laugh and cry and think about your faith as he searches for his own.

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9. The More of Less: Finding the Life You Want Under Everything You Own by Joshua Becker: THIS BOOK is going to be big and deserves its own post. Joshua, of the hugely popular blog, Becoming Minimalist sent me an Advanced Reading Copy as he is about to release this gem of a book. Pre-order before May 3rd and you’ll have free access to the Minimalist class. I’m not joking: this book is a life-changer. It’s fantastic. You’ll be hearing more…

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10. When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi: I weep. What happens when a brilliant neuroscientist gets cancer just as he is finally embarking on his calling in life? A #1 New York Times Bestseller, “For readers of Atul Gawande, Andrew Solomon, and Anne Lamott, a profoundly moving, exquisitely observed memoir by a young neurosurgeon faced with a terminal cancer diagnosis who attempts to answer the question What makes a life worth living?” I was trying to drift into a restful Sunday nap while reading but couldn’t stop crying and sniffling. The Professor puts up with a lot, I tell you. Worthy read.

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And now on to the next batch of books. Tell me, dear friends, have any book recommendations for us?

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Ordinary Days

1. Happy Earth Day! It’s finally warm enough to run outdoors in shorts!unnamed-10

2. New Hampshire weather keeps us on our toes! It’s 70 degrees one day and freezing the next. Look at these stoic daffodils:unnamed-13

3. But even the frost can’t keep spring away…unnamed-9

4. It’s the month of speeches! Eldest stays up late into the night to write a speech as she runs for school leader…unnamed-7

5. And Brynne and Paige recite poetry on stage. Here Brynne recites, “The Highwayman.” A macabre family favorite. Happy Poetry Month!unnamed-6

6. Let’s go back to the good earth. I’m obsessed with these sweet mini peppers. Best snack ever. And breakfast, lunch, and dinner.unnamed-1

7. In other news, the boy doesn’t like my clothing selections. “No, I will not wear this to formal, Mom.” But why, aren’t you still, like, five?unnamed-5

8. We finally dyed our Easter eggs. It’s still fun in April…unnamed-11

9. It’s rare for a child to run after me, begging me not to go. I’m prone to spoil children for their devotion.unnamed-2

10. As I was eavesdropping on two girls purging their room, I heard, “Paige, you can’t keep it! DOES IT SPARK JOY???” Yes, Marie and her Tidying Book has rubbed off on us all..unnamed

11. Seeing The Professor use his brand new pole saw (after years of the wife nagging,) made me swoon. My, how romances changes in a marriage.unnamed-4

12. Bonfires! But only with permits and discretion: it’s fire season.unnamed-8

Happy weekend…and to all your glorious ordinary days!

p.s. This post is dedicated to Prince, a childhood favorite.

“Dearly beloved
We are gathered here today
To get through this thing called life

Electric word life
It means forever and that’s a mighty long time
But I’m here to tell you
There’s something else
The after world

A world of never ending happiness
You can always see the sun, day or night…”

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10 Reasons You Might Want to Go On a Cruise

Before this year, I’d never been on a cruise ship before. It’s not the type of vacation my parents ever took us on growing up. Cruise ships were for other people. Besides, getting on a boat with a few hundred strangers? No, thank you.

But when my mother had the brilliant idea of taking her daughters and daughters-in-law on a bonding trip, a cruise came up. So I did my daughterly duty and took one for the team :)

My mom was very insistent that we ALL come. We wanted to go a full week, and with six of us trying to figure out schedules, childcare, and work details, there were A LOT of emails sent back and forth.

Finally it was decided. We would go on a 4-day March cruise to Key West and the Bahamas – two places I’d never been. Even when we had our tickets I felt like I was living in a dream world. The Kardashians go to the Bahamas. I go to, like, Wyoming.

As the day approached, I was excited, thou I also had that mother-guilt of leaving the kids and husband behind during their spring break. Yes, it was a cross I had to bear…:)

I have to say: I’m sold. It was incredible.

If you’ve ever thought about embarking on a cruise ship, here are ten reasons why you might absolutely love it.

10. Get a taste of the TitanicDSC_0582 Wait. That’s not a selling point? I wasn’t scared of the ship going down, but I think anyone who gets on a vessel this large must have that scenario run through their head. The ship is huge. Everyone has to attend a safety meeting the first day. It was pretty awesome to embark on something that big and to float into the sea.

9. Have a Relaxing and Luxurious VacationDSC_0292 We don’t take relaxing and luxurious trips. It’s more like, Get your backpacks and you’re one change of clothes! We’re going to rough it, eat squirrel, and like it! Which, you know, has its place but it’s not exactly… relaxing. On a cruise, you’re treated like royalty. Someone comes in to “make up your bed” twice a day. There is a gym, spa, yoga, games, night-time karaoke, dancing, and 24-hour room service. Everyone is so nice.  You don’t lift a finger. You begin to think: I could get used to this.

8. Adventures of a LifetimeDSC_0514 My mom and sister will love this photo…aren’t they cute? :) It was my first time snorkeling and once I got past gulping salt water and the chilly water, it was a blast! DSC_0023 Another activity I’ve never done: parasailing! Hands down, a sisterhood favorite. I’m scared of heights but I wasn’t at all afraid up there in the sky. It was so fun. So exhilarating. SO BEAUTIFUL.DSC_0257 This is Key West. I couldn’t get over the color of the water.IMG_9577-14 Cope wasn’t drooling over my water pictures…just the boat crew and photographer :)

7. Sea and Animal LifeIMG_9642-32 When you can dive down and pick a starfish off the ocean floor? Wicked cool, no?

IMG_9596-22Many seagulls and birds.

6. FOOD!DSC_0543 So, when you go on a cruise, you’ve already paid for everything. You never have to pull out your credit card unless you’re buying the extras. I couldn’t get over the fact that I could walk into a buffet every morning, lunch, dinner, snack, and late-night snack to get unlimited FOOD that I DIDN’T HAVE TO PREPARE or clean up after. I was so thankful for this fact I could have wept several times.

And the food was good. We were on a Celebrity cruise. I’ve been told Norwegian cruise lines are even better, but I tell you what, I felt I was living pretty large!DSC_0373

5. It’s an Economically-Savvy Way to See the World!DSC_0569 This is downtown Bahamas which has a lot of history. It was very sobering to know that the dock we landed at was a former slave auction/port. Cruising is a pretty economical way to see the world. Our tickets, with taxes, came out to about $500. For $100 more we could have had a 7-day cruise and seen more of the world.

Hotel costs, transportation, and food will eat that money up in a second. In addition, there is NO HASSLE. You just get off at different ports, explore, snorkel or whatever else you want to do, and make sure you get back on the boat at 4 pm. (If you miss the boat you’re on your own!)

Every other time I travel, we are using the GPS, finding a place to eat, calculating costs, figuring out the hotel, how to get here and there. This was just so easy.

4. Disconnect and UnplugDSC_0440 A wi-fi plan is available, but I didn’t want to pay for it, nor did I have any urgent business. I just shut my phone off for four days and hoped the kids would survive. Gasp…I had to read books and talk to real people! No email to check, no texts to respond to. Until you unplug, you might not realize what a load it really is.

IMG_9656-37It was very freeing to ponder the great big world under the great big sky.

3. Get a Taste of How Others Spend Spring BreakDSC_0552  Yeah, so I’m joking about this one. But one afternoon while we were in port we chose Señor Frogs and realized it was party destination number 1. We Mormon moms were only slightly out of place…haha!

2. See the Great Beauty of the World IMG_9647-34 Man, there is so much beauty out there.DSC_0256 I took a gazillion shots of the sunrise and sunsets. Watching the sun slowly slowly come up over the horizon was like watching a master artist.DSC_0180 I remember Cope telling me that we should STOP using plastics because it’s destroying ocean life. Once you’re on that ocean you really understand what a precious and beautiful resource it is…and maybe it’s one worth preserving (those “beady” face washes? Plastic? Destroying the ocean.)DSC_0234 Clouds and water and sunsets hold an enormous fascination.DSC_0393  DSC_0270 A fishing vessel out on the water.

1. BondingDSC_0364 Bonding was the #1 purpose of this trip and that’s exactly what occurred. I loved these girls before, but I loved them even more now. We’re all so busy, living in different parts of America, working hard, raising kids, and only get to see each other once a year.CCS-160313-8x10BarsLounges-5285162_GPR Aren’t they beautiful? How FUN and wonderful to leave real life behind for awhile, to get to know one another even better. To laugh, cry, karaoke, eat, and talk late into the night.IMG_9640-30 Such a dorky picture of me, but you know, we were pretty darn happy :)DSC_0443 Thank you, Mama Mary. For such a great idea. For sponsoring us, for loving us, for bringing us together.IMG_8203Will there be a next time? Oh, you bet your pa-tooty! It was unanimously decided it’s a definite YES. Top picks: Charleston, a ranch, another cruise, Venice, North Carolina…so many parts of the world we need to see TOGETHER.

I came back with a totally new appreciation of vacationing on a cruise ship. And I’m already planning a husband/wife trip…the Professor isn’t so sure but I think I can sell it. Anyone else in?

xoxo.

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