Monday, January 27, 2014

Sharing my recliner

"Just stay here in my room while I run down and change the laundry. I'll be back in one minute," I say as I practically run from the room.

But before I make it to the first step, I feel her tug on my jeans and wiggle her little hand into mine.

She follows me everywhere all day long. She's at my feet, "helping," as I load and unload the washer and the dishwasher. If I run outside to grab a soda or the newspaper, she's outside too. When I pee, she's my designated wiper. When I do my strength-training circuit, she planks when I do, and I'm always afraid that she's going to get too close and get smacked in the face with a kettlebell. She only falls asleep if someone's sitting in the room with her, and as soon as she ends her first sleep cycle, she wants to get in bed with us. She swoops in like a vulture the second I set down a sandwich or a Diet Coke. She's sharing a chair with me right now.

And now that she's verbal, there's no silence in my brain. "What's dat? Computer cord? Leave it plugged in? Why?"




I turn on Disney movies to help divert her. We adopted a brother so she'd have a buddy. But he watches the Disney movies and she grabs my legs like a koala bear when I walk across the room. I know some of it might be an adoption attachment thing. Some of it might be because Ed and I just left her and went out of town for a few days, but holy cow, I can't take a deep breath without touching her.

This is the baby girl who I hoped and prayed and wished for so desperately. The one I wrote all of those sappy letters to. And sometimes she annoys the hell out of me.

When my class got canceled, I was disappointed because I love teaching, and I really wanted the opportunity to read a whole bunch of new material and share that information with others. But I was even more disappointed that I wasn't going to get a mental and physical break from my toddlers once a week.

Overall, I think things are going better with the babies. They're less destructive. Rose hits less than she used to. No one has had a major medical procedure for a few months. I think they're starting to see each other as friends rather than rivals. But the clingyness remains.

Eli is pretty clingy too, but I can put him in front of a movie and take a pee. And he naps. Rose has traded naps for two extra hours of sitting on top of me while I try to write, which just leaves us both feeling frustrated. I know I should give her some undivided attention for a while before delving into work, but I worry that she might be a bottomless pit of undivided attention. For an introvert who needs a twenty minute snooze and an equal amount of time with a book to recharge for the afternoon with the bigger kids, the whole "sharing a recliner" thing doesn't work so well.

The thing that really kills me is that she naps like a dream for other people. Always for a babysitter. Usually for Grandma or Daddy. Never for me. And quiet time in her room doesn't happen. It's more like kicking the door and waking up Eli.

When Maren was a toddler, I felt a little bit weepy about her milestones. She was going to grow up and I'd never have a baby again and I knew I'd miss these moments. But with Rose and Eli, I find myself wishing the intensity of this time away. Right now Rose is trying to put my bra on (because I haven't managed to do that yet today), and while it's pretty adorable to hear her asking to put her "boobies on," more than anything I just wish she'd go into another room.

In some ways, taking a child-free vacation reminds me of how weird and hard it is to be the primary parent to two two-year-olds. When I can get into a car and I only have to buckle myself, or I can run in and out of the grocery store in less than five minutes, it makes me feel like I live the rest of my life with my feet bound in concrete blocks. These babies-- they're my joy and the best blessing I never thought I'd have, and I am so very lucky to be able to be home with them every day, but man oh man, what I wouldn't do for an hour of silence. If you ever wonder why I'm out on snow-covered roads at 5am, you've got your answer right there. It's funny to think that there will be a day when Rose would rather die than talk to me about her bra, and when she won't want to sleep with me, but appreciating an overabundance of anything is hard, isn't it?

Thursday, January 23, 2014


Since I bragged about my Mormon Lit class and how excited I was to teach it, I guess I now have to announce that it was canceled due to low enrollment. The bad news is that I was really looking forward to a weekly break from diapers and two-year-olds. The good news is that I will be much more prepared to teach it in the fall, when it will be offered again. Syllabus will probably be about the same, so sign up!

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Book Review: The Reluctant Blogger by Ryan Rapier

Title: The Reluctant Blogger
Author: Ryan Rapier
Enjoyment Rating: ****
Source: Kindle
This book would be rated: PG

Another novel, another spouse dead of a brain aneurysm. Because I've read SO many books lately about widowed thirtysomethings trying to make sense of their new lives, I didn't have very high hopes for The Reluctant Blogger. But Rapier and his story of Todd, who starts a blog as an assignment from his therapist, really surprised me. Todd writes about his struggles to raise his kids, especially his teenage daughter, about everyone who wants him to start dating again, and about his relationship with his family and friends.

One of the things Rapier does best is tell the side stories. I loved getting to know about Todd's best friends, his totally normal bishop (who felt like a real person instead of a caricature), his overly rigid dad, and the women he ends up dating. A thoroughly enjoyable read with a satisfying conclusion, which also manages to make insightful commentary about LDS culture (and gentle criticisms thereof), The Reluctant Blogger is the novel that seems (at least of the books I've read) to be one of the best LDS novels of 2013.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Book Review: Making Faces by Amy Harmon

Title: Making Faces
Author: Amy Harmon
Enjoyment Rating: ****
Source: Kindle
This book would be rated: PG or PG-13 for mild language and violence

Fern is a high school senior with glasses, braces and bad hair who spends her time hanging out with a kid in a wheelchair. Ambrose tall and hot, the captain of the wrestling team who also sings like an angel. Of course, Fern is in love with Ambrose, and of course, he barely acknowledges her existence. When he finally does recognize her, it's not in a good way. And then he convinces his best friends to join the military with him, and when he's the only one who returns to their small town alive (barely-- and with a badly scarred face), he knows what it's like to be a pariah. But Fern is still there, and reaches out to him.

If I had checked out the Goodreads page for Making Faces before reading the book, I think I would have been highly skeptical of the story (the first ten reviews are obviously from lovestruck teenagers who are part of the Ambrose fan club). Heck, if I'd seen the book jacket, I think I would have been skeptical. But the book doesn't disappoint. The narrative is complicated, switching back from past to present and between characters. Harmon's writing is clear and lyrical. Her characters are interesting (not just Fern and Ambrose, but also her wheelchair-bound cousin, Bailey, whose side-story is fascinating), and she does a great job capturing life in a small town. While I'm sure Ambrose is a hottie and if there's a movie, it will be a success, I also think that the book is much more than just a hot guy and a nerdy girl getting together.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Book Review: Abby Road by Ophelia London

Title: Abby Road
Author: Ophelia London
Enjoyment Rating: ***
Source: Kindle
This book would be rated: PG or PG-13 for steaminess

Abigail is a superstar singer (think Gwen Stefani or Taylor Swift) who has struggled to find her footing after the tragic death of her brother a year earlier. After finishing a world tour and having a breakdown, she ends up at her sister's house in Florida to regain her balance. While there, she meets Todd, a surf shop owner who is also a wealthy Marine who speaks five languages. They fall instantly in love, but Abigail's mental health (and her inability to fire her sleazy manager) gets in the way, and they break up, leaving Abigail to pick up the pieces and decide whether or not she can finally face the demons who are holding her back.

London writes well, and although Abigail and Todd are completely improbable characters, their love story is cute. This feels a lot like a romance novel, but it's an enjoyable one. The ending is rewarding, and the idea that people are better off in their relationships when they are mentally healthy is a good one as well.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Book Review: Replacing Gentry by Julie N. Ford

Title: Replacing Gentry
Author: Julie N. Ford
Enjoyment Rating: **
Source: Kindle
This book would be rated: PG

Marlie is a social worker with liberal ideas from California who travels to Nashville to visit a friend and finds herself in a whirlwind romance with Daniel Cannon, a state senator with political ambitions, twin sons, a dead wife, an overbearing family, and some creepy friends. Within days of their meeting, they're engaged (even though strange things keep happening to Marlie the whole time), and a year later, she has become Marlie Cannon.

Adjusting to life in Nashville isn't easy for Marlie. She keeps putting her foot in her mouth with her political statements. She feels pressure to live up to the standards set by her predecessor and raise her sons. And people all around her treat her like a pariah, well, except for the people who are trying to seduce her.

The book is strange. I like the descriptions of Nashville and of feeling like an outsider in the city (I've spent lots of time in Nashville, and feel like Ford captures the essence of the city), but the book is riddled with grammatical errors, typos, and clunky writing that shows a lack of editing. Furthermore, I wasn't sure if the novel was supposed to be supernatural or not, and I'm not 100% sure that the ending cleared things up. I think that with some good editing, this book could have been a lot better than it is, which is too bad because it has some exciting elements.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Book Review: Family Size by Maria Hoagland

Title: Family Size
Author: Maria Hoagland
Enjoyment Rating: ***
Source: Kindle
This book would be rated: PG

Wards in the church, especially those outside of Utah, tend to become not just a place for people to worship together, but the hub of social life for many LDS people. In fact, it's a sign of a close ward when people say that their ward members are "just like family." But just like you might not tell your mother or sister every bit of your personal life, especially when it comes to your reproductive plans, you might keep things like that from your ward members, too. However, in our "more kids is better" culture, people often assume things about ward members based on how many kids they have, and how quickly they started having them. In Family Size, the women of childbearing age in a ward in Lubbock, Texas are not that different from women in many of the wards I've lived in. There are some who have kids every eighteen months, like clockwork, others who stop after a couple, and still others who seem to be putting off their family in favor of nice things and travel. And everyone is worried that others are judging them for their choices, which results in the women keeping some things secret that they really might feel better if they got off their chests.

The book, told from the point of view of several women in the ward, shows not just the women's struggles to raise up good families, but also their struggles with identity, competitiveness, and with provincial attitudes. While I enjoyed the women's individual stories, what is more memorable for me is the critique of our culture that is implicit in the pages.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Book Review: A Way Back to You by Emily Gray Clawson

Title: A Way Back to You
Author: Emily Gray Clawson
Enjoyment Rating: ***
Source: Kindle
This book would be rated: PG

In A Way Back to You, Annabelle is still reeling after the death her husband, more than two years earlier. She hasn't gotten her groove back, and everyone around her can see it. A friend stages an intervention, and Annabelle goes to spend the weekend with her parents, to give her a chance to decompress from the stress of single parenthood. But when she wakes up the next morning, she's sixteen years old, and she has to relive part of her teenage years in order to get back to the present. But should she live her life differently? If she can meet her husband earlier, giving herself four extra years with him, should she? What about the boy she was crazy about at the time? Just how much should she change the course of her life?

While I didn't understand the final chapter of the novel, when she returns to the present (certain things were altered that seemed kind of unalterable, like the structure of her husband's brain), and there were problems with the timeline (she repeats many times that they had thirteen years together, but I did the math and they had at least fifteen years together), I really enjoyed the portions of the novel when Annabelle is in the past. There are times when I'd love to live my teen years with the wisdom of my thirtysomething brain, and Annabelle gets that opportunity, which is fun to see.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Book Review: Emma's Choice by Loretta Porter

Title: Emma's Choice
Author: Loretta Porter
Enjoyment Rating: **
Source: Kindle
This book would be rated: PG

In the opening pages of Emma's Choice, twenty-eight-year-old mom Emma shares a meal at a local restaurant with her husband and two small children. While she stays behind to pay the bill, the rest of the family heads to the car, and gets killed by a texting driver in the parking lot. Emma is, understandably, blindsided by the experience, and she copes by selling all of her belongings and taking off for England, where she gets a job, makes a few friends, and learns to recreate herself as someone who is no longer a wife and mother.

While the premise of Emma's Choice is interesting, I feel that the story itself fell short of expectations. My favorite part of the book is Emma's relationship with her twin brother. He watches out for her over the year that the story unfolds, and their relationship felt real and believable. What didn't feel believable was that Emma would react to the death of her entire family by throwing everything away and taking off for England, or that her friends and family would think this was an acceptable way to behave. I was also bugged by the fact that when Emma does arrive in England, there are immediately two guys Amir and Will, who follow her around like puppy dogs and do her bidding. It's obvious that both guys are totally into her, and I'm not sure if this is the "choice" that is alluded to in the title. I wanted to see a grieving process without so much rebound involved. 

Saturday, January 4, 2014

On saying yes (Teaching Mormon Lit)

Some of the biggest opportunities in my life have come at the most inconvenient times. Just after my twenty-first birthday, when I'd spent the last 22 months impatiently waiting for my missionary boyfriend to come home, Bruce Young asked me to be his TA for the London Study Abroad Program. I said "no," burst into tears, walked across campus to my job, and called him as soon as I got in the door to tell him I wanted to do it after all. When I look back at my college experience, it's definitely that time in London that was the most memorable and the most formative, and if I'd done the safe thing and not left the guy I'd been writing an average of a dozen pages a week for the last two years (my roommates were aghast that I'd even consider it), I would never have had those experiences.

There have been other times when we were absolutely certain, my missionary and I (he did wait those four months for me after all), that our lives would take us in one direction, only to have us sent somewhere else. We had an apartment and jobs lined up for him to go to medical school at Duke, only to have a full-tuition scholarship come through from Washington University just days before the decision deadline. We packed up our stuff and moved to an apartment we'd never seen in a city we didn't know. And eleven years later, at the end of our training, we were sure he'd end up with a job in Provo, near his family, but just before he put his pen to paper and signed the formal contracts, the job opportunity came through here. Things were less certain in many ways with this job, but it's turned out to be a great experience for all of us.

Similarly, I applied for BYU's MFA program on a whim, at the recommendation of a friend, and was terrified to find out I'd been accepted. I had four kids, and the youngest was only three, when I started, and it felt both overwhelming and completely indulgent. A year later, we were DONE, DONE, DONE building our family when the undeniable urge to adopt Rosie came, and we followed it even though it meant going back to diapers, sleepless nights, surgeries, and eventually Eli. And undoubtedly, they've been the greatest (most overwhelming) blessing I never thought I'd have.

But as many of you know, I've found it hard to keep up with having two two-year-olds (and four older kids). The babies get into everything. They hit and talk back. They don't sleep. They both want to be cuddled and carried and fed at the same moment. I've spent the last nine months barely keeping my head above water. Shortly before we went to get Eli, I took on the responsibility of heading up Segullah, and I feel like I barely give it the attention it deserves most times, and my list of "to do" things for the journal is a mile long (in my mind, because writing it down is too much work).

So it should come as no surprise at all that I got a call a little more than a month ago. Did I want to teach Mormon Lit at the BYU Salt Lake Center?

I didn't see any conceivable way that I could do it. I can't even manage to get out of my pajamas some days. My house is a wreck. My running schedule has all gone to pot. I can't manage much but baby wrangling and driving people places and Instagram posts most days.

So I said yes (of course I did).

Because while my short-term plans included not much more than laundry and potty training, my ten-year dream plan included teaching at the Salt Lake Center, and my wildest dream included teaching Mormon Lit. And when your wildest dream falls in your lap, you don't say no, even if the timing isn't right.

I finally started working on the syllabus this week, after several weeks of denial. And thanks to Margaret Young (who is teaching the immensely popular section in Provo), Angela Hallstrom, Michael and Karen Austin, and the entire staff at Segullah, who have been amazing at providing recommendations for what we should study, I'm not totally terrified any more.

This Wednesday, the class will start. And for the next four months, I'll spend Wednesday afternoons in front of a class, and the rest of the week, I'll be praying that Rosie will nap so I can somehow keep up on the class and the 40ish Whitney books I need to read during the same time frame. And maybe this will even help me get some of my mojo back.

Wish me luck! And if you're free from 12:15-2:40 on Wednesdays, consider taking it-- there's still room!

There are people who've gotten wind of this crazy endeavor and have asked to see my syllabus, so here is the reading list and schedule of assignments. I know it looks like a lot of reading right now, and I plan to pare down some of the readings as I get a sense of the class, but I'd rather subtract from the syllabus than add to it.

Literature of the Latter-day Saints
Course Description :
This course surveys the foundations and current state of Mormon literature as demonstrated in journals, essays, poetry, short fiction, novels, drama, and cinema.

Course Objectives:
English 268 will introduce students to the rich Mormon literary heritage and to the current state of Mormon letters/art. The course will also encourage students to become a part of the Mormon literary endeavor by writing their own work or by researching an author or subject of their choice.

·      Regular quizzes on the readings (approximately weekly)
·      Mormon literary events–you will attend one event and write up a short response essay.  These events may be author readings, LDS films, or specifically LDS dance/music concerts or an LDS play.
·      Genre Fiction and Literary Fiction Presentations. While it’s impossible for us to read more than a representative sample of some Mormon literature in this course, we’re going to do our best. Twice during the semester, students will pick a novel written by a Mormon author, write a short review (500-800 words) and prepare a 15-minute presentation/discussion of the novel. 
·      Final Project–you may choose ONE of the following for your final project: 1) Research paper–write an 8-10 page research paper (using at least four outside critical sources and MLA format). 2) Write a series of poems, essays, or short stories totaling 10-12 pages.

Weekly Quizzes- 20%
Culture Project- 10%
Genre Fiction Presentation- 20%
Literary Fiction Presentation- 20%
Final Project- 30%

Required Reading:
Anderson, Nephi, Added Upon
Chadwick, Tyler, ed,. Fire in the Pasture: 21st Century Mormon Poets
Dalton-Bradford, Melissa Global Mom: Eight Countries, Sixteen Addresses, Five
Languages, One Family
Hallstrom, Angela, ed., Dispensation: Latter-day Fiction
Morris, William Henry and Theric Jepson, eds., Monsters and Mormons: Thirty Tales
of Adventure and Horror
Peck, Steven L. The Scholar of Moab
Peterson, Levi, The Backslider
Stewart, Mahonri, Saints on Stage: An Anthology of Mormon Drama
Weyland, Jack, Charly
Williams, Carol Lynch, The Chosen One
Additional essays and material available on MyBYU
Two additional novels of your choosing (see attached list of suggestions)

January 8- What is Mormon literature?
“Mormons offer Cautionary Lesson on Sunny Outlook vs. Literary Greatness” by Mark Oppenheimer,  “About Serious Mormon Fiction” by Douglas Thayer, “Mormon Literature: A Sunny Outlook” by Scott Hales, “Unrealistic Expectations of Mormon Miltons and Shakespeares” by Jettboy, “Fisking the NYT: It isn’t just me. My whole religion can’t be ‘real’writers” by correia45, “As Much as any Novelist Could Ask: Mormons in American Popular Fiction” by Michael Austin
January 15- Added Upon by Nephi Anderson, Jane James’s Story, Eliza Partridge’s Diary, King Follett Discourse
January 22- Charly by Jack Weyland
January 29- The Backslider by Levi Peterson
February 5- Selected Poetry from Fire in the Pasture
February 12- Melissa Dalton-Bradford class visit, read Global Mom
February 19- “Easter Weekend” by Eugene England; “Barcelona, Venezuela: 1998”
by Brittney Carman; “Take, Eat” by Tessa Santiago; “Smoke and Mirrors” by Stephen Carter; “Of the Drowned” by Jaren Watson; “Working at Wendy’s” by Joey Franklin; “On Laughter” by Patrick Madden
February 26- The Chosen One by Carol Lynch Williams
March 5- Genre Fiction Presentations
March 12- Stories from Dispensation: “Calling and Election” by Jack Harrell;
“Wolves” by Doug Thayer; “Buckeye the Elder” by Brady Udall; “Clothing
Esther” by Lisa Torcasso Downing, “Obbligato” by Lisa Madsen Rubilar
March 19- Stories from Monsters and Mormons: Preface by Terryl Givens, "The
Mountain of the Lord," by Dan Wells; "Allow Me to Introduce Myself," by Moriah Jovan; “Charity Never Faileth,” by Jaleta Clegg; "The Living Wife," by Emily Milner, “That Leviathan, Whom Thou Hast Made” by Eric James Stone
March 26- Plays from Saints on Stage: “I Am Jane” by Margaret Blair Young and
“Gadianton” by Eric Samuelsen
April 2- The Scholar of Moab by Steven L. Peck
April 9- Literary Fiction Presentations, Semester wrap up
Final Exam Period- Final Projects due

Book Review: Agent to the Stars by John Scalzi

Title: Agent to the Stars
Author: John Scalzi
Enjoyment Rating: ****
Source: Audible
This book would be rated: PG-13 for language

Tom Stein is a Hollywood agent who just got a great deal for his highest-profile client, actress Michelle Beck, when he's called into his boss's office for an unusual proposition-- Carl wants him to drop a majority of his clients in order to represent a gigantic blob of slime from an alien planet. Although Tom is plenty freaked out, he agrees, and a madcap adventure ensues as Tom, Carl, Joshua (the alien), and Tom's assistant Miranda embark on a quest to introduce the friendly aliens to the human race in a way that won't inspire revolt and widespread panic.

I'm not someone who ordinarily enjoys science fiction. I think it helps, in this case, that the book takes place on Earth and the majority of the characters are human. As a devoted reader of the People Magazine app on my phone, this book represented a lot of what I like-- great characters, a quick-moving plot, an engaging narrative voice, and lots of Hollywood gossip, with a little alien extras on the side.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Book Review: Lying by Sam Harris

Title: Lying
Author: Sam Harris
Enjoyment Rating: ***
Source: Audible
This book would be rated: PG

I'm not sure that this really counts as a book, since it's shorter than a full-length Radiolab podcast (and half of it is Harris answering questions), but I'm going to review it anyway. In Lying Harris explores why why lie and why we shouldn't. He goes through common justifications for lies, and then talks about why those justifications don't hold water. Harris believes that with few exceptions, lying is never justified, and it's easier in the long run to tell the truth (even if it seems hard at first) than it is to lie. The Q&A after the book is also worth a listen.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

The Boy Detective by Roger Rosenblatt

Title: The Boy Detective: A New York Childhood
Author: Roger Rosenblatt
Enjoyment Rating: ***
Source: Audible
This book would be rated: PG-13 for some allusions to sex and language

In general, I tend to enjoy the books I listen to more than the books I read. I think this is because I tend to skim when I get bored when I'm reading, but when I'm listening, there's no option for skimming, and sometimes I skim so much that I miss some of the essence of a book. However, there are other books that require more concentration than I can give them during a morning run, and these are books I like to read closely (although, truth be told, I don't generally enjoy reading these kinds of books, even though I feel guilty about it and feel like I should be willing to put forth more effort). Anyway, when I first started reading The Boy Detective, I got hopelessly lost almost immediately. In the memoir, Rosenblatt takes a walk on a New York City street at night, visiting the stomping grounds from his childhood. He veered from the present, to 60 years in the past, to a dreamlike state, to a made-up story all in the first two minutes, and I was convinced I was missing something as a reader. But my hands were too cold to switch over to something less demanding, so I kept listening, and Rosenblatt kept up with these fanciful switches (in one episode he goes from talking about dogs in detective fiction to his son's dog to the dogs he once owned to a dog who is a hero in a story he's making up on the spot, all in about 30 seconds). It's very stream-of-consciousness, and once I stopped being worried that I was missing something and started just hanging on for the ride (and not worrying too much if I didn't follow the entire thread of the narrative), the story became much more enjoyable. Rosenblatt's voice is great, and over the course of seven or eight hours of listening, certain threads did emerge. The whole idea that the book was spawned on a single midnight walk is, of course, artifice, but I enjoyed the exercise, which he presents, in part, as an example of memoir to the students in a class he's teaching. This would be a great book to read in a Creative Writing class to look at craft.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Book Review: The Valley of Amazement by Amy Tan

Title: The Valley of Amazement
Author: Amy Tan
Enjoyment Rating: ***
Source: Kindle
This book would be rated: R, for descriptions of courtesan life

Violet grows up as the spoiled and petted half-Chinese daughter of the owner of a courtesan house in Shanghai. When she's fourteen, her mother decides to return home to San Francisco, and due to a number of double-crosses and shady deals, Violet is left behind in Shanghai, where she soon becomes a courtesan herself. The Valley of Amazement is, like many Amy Tan novels, a story of struggle, mother-daughter relationships, and, eventually, a sense of peace.

I read so many books that they tend to blend together after a while. I've noticed that Ed, who probably reads a couple dozen books a year, has a much easier time remembering plot lines than I do. But I must have read Arthur Golden's Memoirs of a Geisha at an impressionable time in my life, because it's a book that I remember really well. And as I was reading The Valley of Amazement, I couldn't get over how similar the books are. Yes, I do realize that MoaG takes place in Japan, while VoA takes place in China, but the time periods are relatively similar, and the exacting descriptions of courtesan life are almost identical, including the description of the sale of the girls' virginity. However, I much preferred MoaG. The Valley of Amazement is fine in and of itself, but it doesn't hold up well in the inevitable comparison.