Monthly Archives: January 2018

Ye Olde Book Reviews

Not that anybody asked, but here I am with am with a list of book reviews for the things I’ve recently read. I think I mainly do this for the sense of accomplishment I get in looking at my list of conquered books haha.

Also, books are proving to be my sanity this winter (she says un-ironically, though books have always been her sanity since forever).

I shall group them into genres, because I’m an English teacher, yo.

Books about medieval and Reformation England, featuring…

…Ken Follett’s trilogy about the city of Kingsbridge, the site of a cathedral (built in book 1, The Pillars of the Earth, set in the 1100’s). I actually read this one several years back and loved it, which made me super jazzed to see book 2, World Without End, which happens in the 1300’s and features everyone’s favorite pandemic, the Black Plague. You guys, I LOVED this book. Ken Follett is smart and writes a straightforward, readable story about architecture, war, engineering, public health & disease, and regular everyday life in the middle ages. I relished this book and then joyfully drove to Costco, where book 3 was available in hardback. This one is called A Column of Fire and is set in various locations in Europe, including England, in the 1500’s where the Reformation rages and turns people’s lives on their heads. I love me some good historical fiction about the periods which were the hinges upon which everything turned. Give me all the English history. I’m obsessed.

YA Fantasies

These are the books I read at the gym. Behold:

Hunted by Meagan Spooner. This is a retelling of Beauty and the Beast, a story I’ve always been partial to. Did I love this version? No. Did I like it enough to zip through it while on the elliptical? Yes. It was fine, enjoyable even, but no Robin McKinley.

The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden, a Russian fairy tale with equal parts ethereal and creepy. Apparently it’s part of a planned trilogy (since this is how YA books are written these days). I may or may not read the subsequent books. Again, it was sufficiently intriguing during my workouts.

Wintersong by S. Jae-Jones. A dark Phantom of the Opera-reminiscent story/also part fairy-tale set in olden time Germany. It’s about a girl with a difficult home life who composes music, and who (through various foibles) gets sucked into the underworld of the Goblin King. It’s rather Goth and pretty creative. I would not describe the characters as especially well-developed, yet again, I ate it up on the exercise bike.

Beast of Ten by Beth Brower. I’m reading this one now, and it’s pretty addictive. This is super high fantasy, as in a fully-realized invented world where people have various innate super powers that they employ in the service of good or evil. Literally, light and darkness play big roles in this story about Ember, a girl held captive in the perpetual winter of the Pyre, which is a giant fortress. It kind of reminds me of Brandon Sanderson, but I stopped reading him halfway through the first book, so this is better. Brower (a Utah author!) also wrote The Q, which I also enjoyed.

YA Classics

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle. I obviously re-read this in preparation for the upcoming movie, along with most of the book clubs in America. I read it when I was in elementary school, but I didn’t like it then. In fact, I didn’t finish it, mainly because I hadn’t lived enough to appreciate it. With maturity comes a greater ability to grasp the nuances and beauty in a groundbreaking book like this one. I read it in a single day and I am now converted to the Wrinkle in Time devotee club. The theme of this book is love, people! We need this book and it’s movie.

Mormon Feminist/Spirituality Poetry & Essays

Just to clarify, feminist writings aren’t man-hating or spirituality-denying. They are female-driven and equally value the female experience, which brings us to…

One Hundred Birds Taught Me to Fly by Ashley Mae Hoiland, or Ashmae, as she is known. I’m halfway through this book of essays about being a human–referencing Ashmae’s mission in Uruguay, her life as a mother of tiny people while living overseas, and as a sister grappling with family members, love, and belief. I’m so glad she wrote (and illustrated) this. Books like this give me hope that there’s room in the world for talking about God and doubt and spiritual things.

Mother’s Milk: Poems in Search of Heavenly Mother by Rachel Hunt-Steenblik, illustrated by Ashmae Hoiland. Approximately 18 months ago, as Jeff and I were driving Jack on one of his 10,000 Sunday drives which were our duct-tape-on-the-leaking-dam survival method for the endless weekends, I bewailed a Gospel Doctrine discussion where the comments were dominated by men. Entirely. I raised my hand and shared a comment about trials, which one dude (I’m not kidding) invalidated, telling me my interpretation of the Book of Mormon was wrong. For real. I was disillusioned by everything in my entire world. And I wanted to spew fire, dragon-like. Instead, I vented to Jeff about my absolute need to understand my Heavenly Mother. She’s God, too. She created me, too. We don’t talk about her, which isn’t a doctrinal thing so much as it is a church culture run amok thing, based on (I believe) a fear of sounding feminist when feminist is a dirty word to many people. I said to Jeff, “Knowing about Heavenly Mother and understanding Her could give me strength, which I need in my life.” Two things have happened in response to this: a) I explored and wrestled and came to terms with the fact that everything I know about my Heavenly Father, reveals as much about my Heavenly Mother. They’re both God. They both created all human spirits. They are completely unified. So there is a divine feminine, even if lots of folks think it’s blasphemy to talk about (WHICH IT ISN’T), and b) I read this book of lovely poems which resonated with me. Women are divine, too. My Heavenly Parents say so. Also, I still comment in Gospel Doctrine, and my insights are smart and honest. And I don’t bloviate.

Amazing Books That Wes Anderson Needs to Cinematize

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles. I read this book because Ann Cannon said it was the best book she read last year, and when it comes to the books, Ann gets around. I’ve already mentioned it plenty on this blog, so I’ll just say, this book is intricate and beautiful. The writing, characters, and story are fully-realized and astonishingly crafted. I love this story. Thanks for the recommendation, Ann.

And thank you, world, for having books.

Is This Post Self-Congratulatory?

When I am driving, I think all the thoughts and have all the writing ideas. I tell myself that when I am not driving, I will surely sit down and compose said thoughts, that very day.

But then poof! I’m making dinner, or at the gym, or doing laundry, or at work. And the composition of ideas in my head flies away, fairy-like. Creativity is ethereal, guys. You use it or lose it, in my experience.

So what shall I write, if I can’t remember all the things I wanted to write?

I will write about goals.

I set no New Year’s resolutions. In years past, my repeating resolution was simply to survive another year as Jack’s mother. I didn’t set myself up for failure with grand plans beyond that.

This year is different. And it’s not even New Years’ anyway.

Jack lives in a home of his own. He has full-time caregivers. I’m involved in his life, but it’s not the daily sensation of dog-paddling in the middle of a stormy ocean. I am one degree removed from the intensity and fatigue of being the lightning rod, so to speak. Also, I’m mixing metaphors, but whatever.

In honor of my dad, who is now pursuing eternal life and progression beyond the veil, I have been setting goals. I am determined to accomplish them.

My father was a goal-setter, even at a very young age. He desired to always be working toward something. He needed a plan, a vision, a purpose. With this as his motivating philosophy, he achieved so much in his seventy-one years on earth.

I’ve felt desolate in recent days thinking of all the years of my life that remain where my dad won’t be here. It’s the most painful part of this particular grief.

So, in order to get past this limited and limiting awareness–this tendency to focus only on me and now, I’ve told myself to once again take up being mindful. I’m looking around me and above me. I’m determining to make progress and do some good. I’m also being generous with myself when it comes to recognizing the simple things I’m doing right.

And so, behold…

The List of Some Good Things I Have Done in the Last Seven Days:

  1. Cooked a real dinner, twice. This is big news, peeps.
  2. Went to the gym…*6* times. My sorry lower back and right hip are thanking me. My mood is also thanking me.
  3. Spent an afternoon with my mom doing happy, diversionary things, like milling around Trader Joe’s and Target. Just being together is good.
  4. Felt less fragile at church. Also, experienced serious spiritual uplift on a couple of occasions.
  5. Finished two books. One was a YA fantasy (this is what I need to read while on the bike and elliptical. I can’t handle anything more cerebral). The other was a novel beginning in 1920’s Russia, A Gentleman in Moscow, by Amor Towles. Here are a sprinkling of adjectives which describe this book: superb, enchanting, and tender. Also, yes and thank you.
  6. Cut down on my social media consumption by roughly 90%. I still partake, but I do it less, and I’m more fulfilled and less angsty.
  7. Cleaned out a couple of cupboards and bathrooms. It’s not a lot, but still. It’s something. Yay me.
  8. Went visiting teaching and allowed myself to be visit taught. I love my people and am inspired by them.
  9. Talked with and waved to several of my former students. Became enchanted with my new batch of students. I just love them. They breathe energy into my life. And they’re just darling people.

I feel like I have more energy than I’ve had since Jack left. It turns out that books, exercise, cooking real food, cleaning up clutter, and being present with people are utterly satisfying.

I think my dad approves.


This Post is a Jack Update

Things on the Jack front have not been quiet.

Despite having a rotating supply of caregivers, his own house–which is a controlled environment with fewer rogue factors, and a team of educators doing their level best to meet his needs, Jack’s behavior continues to be somewhat erratic.

We’ve had long meetings with the school. We read daily email updates on Jack’s school day. His caregivers take him to the doctor all the time in an effort to stay on top of ear problems.

Last Friday, I met Jack and two helpers at Primary Children’s for an eventful (read: crazytown) ENT appointment and then drove downtown to the behavioral health clinic to see his psychiatrist. It was six hours of Jack, which I used to do all the time, and yet this time, I was exhausted.

Jack’s needs never ebb. If anything, they tend to peak at times, requiring more than the average (which compared to many is already greater than average) level of care. Staff who work with Jack tire quickly. All of this is stuff I know intimately because I learned it over the many years when I was the default caregiver. It was my job, and it wasn’t a job I could quit.

The neuropsychiatric hospital recommended that Jack always have one-on-one care as he needs constant attention and rotating activities (every five to ten minutes). This was their official treatment plan, along with requiring Jack to follow through on instructions received and vigilantly monitoring him for signs of being overwhelmed, in order to head off problem behaviors before they happen.

These are all things I think I’ve always known, but which are almost impossible to achieve when you have LITERALLY ANY OTHER FACTORS IN YOUR LIFE, i.e., other children, dinner to make, laundry to do, a job, errands, cleanup, and a home where neighbor children and the UPS guy are dropping by and changing the dynamic of Jack’s home life.

Even now, when he is without any housemates (temporarily), and receiving one-on-one care at all times, Jack still has occasional outbursts requiring that he be restrained.

The hospital also maintained that “curing” Jack of aggression isn’t going to be a reality. We can only work and hope for fewer and less intense aggressive behaviors. It’s kind of the “there is no cure” conversation. Also the “this will persist in some form or another for the rest of his life” conversation.

At school, Jack now has his own separate classroom. It’s a more controlled environment, without the unpredictability of other students. His team works two-on-one with him for instruction with a workable communication system, all while maintaining a routine he can tolerate.

He had two good days at school after returning from his month at the hospital. And since then, he’s been kind of a disaster at school. He’s been hurting staff and destroying property. He acts sick, but when his caregivers take him to the doctor, he’s not sick.

All of this makes me wonder if he’s sick of the struggle. Is he just beyond frustrated? Is it the massive growth he is undergoing as a teen? Does he legitimately feel just terrible? Or does the fact that he points to the card on his communication board reading “sick” simply indicate that he’s sick of all of it–not being able to speak, not being a typical teen, not having a say in so much of his daily experience?

Jeff thinks I’m projecting my own wants and needs on Jack when I wonder things like this. But how can we really know?

This is when I feel utterly helpless. I can go to his appointments and talk with the school and pray and pray and pray and pray. But ultimately, I can’t fix anything.

This is when I’m all, “Jesus, here is the steering wheel. Please please take it.” He’s Jack’s brother, too. He’s his Savior, too. He’s knows Jack’s inner life better than I do. He is capable of effecting the real change Jack needs.

It’s not as easy as it sounds, turning it all over to whatever God wants to happen in Jack’s life. But we’ve been doing this for some time now. When we hand it over, the solutions eventually come.

Tiny Letters: A Day in Retrospect

Dear Primary Children’s Hospital,

Thank you for having responsive staff and doctors who can handle all the nutty behaviors. When Jack and his entourage enter your doors, we essentially put you through an unwitting, rigorous testing period. Can one’s facility stand up to a nonverbal, frustrated, ear-infected teen with severe developmental delay? Let’s find out!


Dear University Behavioral Health Clinic,

Thank you for existing and for being in our corner these last 13 years. My goodness, we would be up a creek without you. Also, paddle-less.


Dear Jack,

Thank you for putting your head in my lap today and letting me scratch your scalp and run my fingers through your gingery curls. You’re such a good, brave boy.


Dear Jeff,

For installing the new microwave after the old one died when we lived a dark, sad existence for five long days without one, I salute you. You are super handy and wonderful (and lovable) to have around. Same goes for your work with the fireplace mantel. It is magnificent.


Dear My New Refrigerator,

I realize I am perhaps TOO happy about your presence in my kitchen. But, New Fridge, I’ve never before in my life owned a brand new fridge that I picked out myself. So you see, MNF, I think you are a thing of beauty and I love you. Putting away the groceries on your shelves yesterday was a gratitude exercise, which may make me a pretty weird-sounding, yet completely honest person.


Dear People of Instagram,

Consider yourselves LUCKY and also BLESSED that you were not subjected to photos of a) My New Refrigerator or b) my Costco groceries reposing in loveliness on said fridge’s shelves. The thought of posting them crossed my mind. I squelched it (you’re welcome).


Dear Henry,

Watching your basketball game was super fun for me this afternoon.


Dear Wasatch Mountains,

Your pink, frosty peaks did a number on me this evening. Sheesh, the shifting light, the smudges of pigment, the ephemeral brilliance of your altered states! This is why people (who aren’t me) write poems.


Dear Thomas S. Monson,

Thank you for inspiring me to be a better person. The best funerals, I believe, leave participants with a feeling of uplift and hope. I only caught a few minutes of your funeral broadcast, President Monson, as I drove from Jack’s appointments to Jack’s other appointments, but I snatched up the sense of goodness which permeated the service and, as it were, your life. Thank you for being you, and for making people feel important and loved.


Dear January,

I’ve never been so neutral and okay with you before. I think it may have something to do with the 50 degree daytime temps and the storms which basically stay in the mountains. Maybe, January, it has something to do with the fact that for the first time in a very long time, this new year feels like a real fresh start. 2017 pummeled me more than once, but I don’t feel desolate. I’m hopeful, plus grateful. Which equals happy.

Buoyant by Association

Things are a little weird right now, at least inside my head, mainly because of the old grief houseguest. And yet, here I am bravely sallying forth, even when that means occasionally doing things like going back to bed on a Wednesday morning after driving Charlie to school in the rain. Which I did yesterday, and which I do not regret one whit. It was fine, because then I got up and did all manner of email/teaching correspondence and updating of lesson plans. And laundry.

Anyway, the bottom line is, grief is back. She’s a withered old woman in tattered babushka garb who silently appears, sitting on my couch and doing nothing other than lending an air of quiet, heavy sadness to my surroundings. It’s not her fault. She’s not even real. She is merely a projection.

She’s an embodiment of the nebulous feelings wafting into my life with greater frequency in the last 8 months, first with Jack’s move to residential care and then the recent death of my father. The emotions of which she is comprised are loss, separation, altered hopes, heavy acceptance, adjusted life plans, a growing awareness of life’s fragility, and constant change.

This very, very serious list doesn’t mean I’m not coping, or moving forward, or being grateful, or feeling peaceful. I am doing and feeling all of these things, much of the time.

And yet, grief holds in her gnarled, arthritic hands both peace and sadness, gratitude and sorrow, hope and weariness. Maybe she has a basket to help her carry all of it, the contradictions and the enormity of emotions.

I don’t have a basket, and I don’t want one, because it’s all too much for me to carry around.

“Cast thy burden on the Lord, and trust his constant care,” says the hymn.

I am doing this. I am accepting all the things I’m asked to experience. I’m asking Jesus to bear the burden with me, so I can get up and do the things I need to do.

And he does, so I can.

I realized today as I drove to the university to teach my classes that through both of these processes (Jack’s care and my dad’s passing), the central emotion I have experienced is buoyancy. Is that weird? I feel lifted. I don’t feel low, at least not most of the time.

I feel like I am being raised up. I feel buoyant. Not because I myself am inherently buoyant, but in the sense that I am holding tightly to something that keeps me afloat.

By which, I mean Jesus of course.

A Letter to the Six People Possibly Still Reading this Blog

Dear Reader,

You probably don’t check in here much anymore. And who can blame you. When the content isn’t refreshed multiple times per week, why bother?

I am posting to say that I know, I’m sorry, and that writing is hard in this season. It’s Grief, Round Two. I am able to (sort of) sleep. I am able to get up and shower and do laundry and do dishes and make breakfast and clean up kid clutter. Today I was able to update my syllabus as the semester starts next week. I am managing Jack’s transition from hospital to home to returning to school.

What I am not doing, dear reader, is living out loud. I’m living softly, weirdly, incompletely, one day at a time.

I do lots of pondering, remembering, musing, and feeling. I am feeling the hurt. I am forgetful and spacey, and making plenty of mistakes.

After my dad’s passing and up through the funeral, I was on a spiritual high. I honestly felt lifted up and really pretty buoyant. Since the funeral, though, the adrenaline has ebbed. The crush of friends and well-wishers has calmed. Regular life has returned. And I’ve been struck by the sense of enormous loss that follows me around.

Before I forget them, reader, I’m going to write down a few things that have happened in the last little while:

  1. I dreamed my dad was at Jeff’s parents’ house, in their kitchen. He was loading up a dinner plate with tri tip roast and flank steak. “Oh boy, how is this going to play out?” I wondered to myself, thinking of my dad’s inability to eat anything solid for the last month of his life. But in the dream he wasn’t sick, weak, or starving. He was healthy. I looked over where he stood by the sink and saw him chugging Sprite straight from a 2 liter bottle, which is bonkers because my dad cared nothing for Sprite. But it was a happy image which, my sister remarked, represents that my dad is “catching up.”
  2. I felt that my dad was close to us on Christmas Eve. Like, literally close by. I knew it. It didn’t seem odd, but comforting and amazing. It happened during our annual variety show, where the kids tell jokes and play songs on the piano. My nephew, Auguste, danced and did the signs to Mele Kalikimaka as we all sang along, which was the cutest thing I’ve ever seen. When he finished, we all cheered and I distinctly heard my dad’s voice calling out a whoop from behind me. I actually turned around and looked behind me, at which point I remembered and thought, “Oh yeah, he’s not here.” I figured my ears were playing tricks on me. My sister, Sarah, and her family brought my mom to my house on Christmas Day. My mom told me that after opening presents that morning, she and Sarah had watched the recording of Auguste’s variety show number. “I heard Dad’s voice on the video. It was when we were all cheering.” She started to weep. This experience taught me that his spirit still exists, that he isn’t far away, and that he still knows what we are doing and rejoices in his family. It isn’t easy to describe the beauty I felt from that single audible cheer. Some people may regard me as a weirdo for a) having this happen to me and b) talking about it. If it makes me weird, I’m comfortable with that. I heard my dad’s voice and he sounded so, so happy.
  3. The goodness of people astounds me. Friends from all the various corners of my life came to the viewing, the funeral, the cemetery, my mom’s house, my house, my sisters’ houses. They brought hugs, chocolate, dinners, bread, soup, homemade rolls, sweets, fruit, sympathy cards, and compassion. They sent flowers, gifts, and stories with expressions of love. I’m blown away at the love that exists in the world, both in happy times and in emotional and painful times. People are so good, especially my people. They have reached out to me and my family with what I feel is an extension of Jesus’s love.

This is the end of my letter, dear reader. I’m hopeful to be in a state where more writing can happen. *Dear HF, Please bless my brain cells*