Monday, November 30, 2015

Joy to the World!

I'm a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, also known as the Mormons. When possible on Sundays, I discuss some things related to my faith and what I believe. With respect to your own beliefs, I hope this gives you a chance to get to know me and my religion a little better. For previous installments, click here.

It's officially the Christmas season! Here's the lastest video from the Church about why we celebrate this time of year.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

A mark, a yen, a buck, or a pound

Blake and I frequently get comments about how much fun stuff we do. And you know what? They're right. We really do. We live in a really interesting region with more things to do then we'll likely ever accomplish, but that doesn't mean we can't try! We realize we may not live in this area forever, and we don't want to miss it.

We also don't want to run out of money, so we have found ways to do things as inexpensively as possible. Fortunately, many of the attractions in the DC region are free - all the Smithsonian museums (including the zoo), monuments, various historical parks, a number of events and concerts. That covers quite a few of our adventures and dates. Many other things are fairly low cost, like national parks with a $5 per car entry fee.

We are also big fans of coupons and deals. We almost never go out to eat if we don't have some sort of coupon. I even keep some apps on my phone just because certain deals will pop up sometimes. Just this morning, as we were getting ready to go clean the church when I got a notification that McDonald's was offering a free Egg McMuffin because the Capitals (our local professional hockey team) had lead in the first period last night. Sorry oatmeal, but you're just going to have to wait, because McDonald's is on the way to the church. I had to run into the store while Blake went through the drive through so that we could each use the coupon on our apps, but free breakfast is free breakfast! We also use somewhat regularly, which offers discount gift cards to a variety of restaurants. We even got a Living Social deal for the website to really cut back on that price. I also sign up for emails from our favorite restaurants to get their coupons. I have it filtered to a different folder automatically, so it doesn't clutter up my main inbox.

Because we live in such a touristy area, Groupon and Living Social often feature paid local attractions, like the historical ships we visited a few weeks ago. Because of these, we've seen more off the beaten path places like Lincoln's Cottage and Gunston Hall. We probably wouldn't recommend them to people who have only a week or less in DC, but they've certainly enriched our experience here.

As often as we can, we usher at Ford's Theater, yes the one where Lincoln was assassinated, because you get to watch the show for free if you put in an hour of work before curtain. Done and done. A lot of theaters do that actually, we just happen to have a neat, historical one to work at.

Last year, the local second run movie theater was doing a Kickstarter to help them buy new seats. At a certain reward level, you got three free movie passes as a thank you, so we each backed them for that amount and paid for three dates in advance, in new seats to boot! I actually went up a reward level, so I got the three passes as well as a Date Package - two movie tickets, two drinks, and popcorn to share. Movies are kind of expensive dates, so we don't go to the theater that often. To have four dates already paid for has been great! In fact, we still have two passes each. We did go see The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part II in theaters this week, because seeing the very first one was our very first date and we've seen the rest of them together in the first run theater, but we went to a matinee and paid less than full price.

We have Amazon Prime (especially to supplement our entertainment since we cut cable last year) and if whatever we are ordering doesn't need to be here in two days, we take advantage of a $1 credit to digital content. Doing that two or three times pays for an at home movie rental date.

To help us remember what dates we've already paid for or are inexpensive and we definitely want to do them, we keep a list on a chalkboard in our kitchen. The list on the right is of walks we want to go on (or have, because they were on this list and we haven't erased them yet). Zoo and slurpees (there is a 7-11 right by the entrance) is probably going to be zoo and hot chocolate (also 7-11) in January after the new cub makes its public debut.

We do pay full price sometimes. Sometimes it's worth it, because of tradition (like Five Guys on General Conference weekend) or the activity is that good (such as Maryland Renaissance Festival - but we chose not to go this year due to time and budget reasons). However, because we've really been great about making and keeping a budget this year and we do wheel and deal our way through so many other things, we know when we can afford it.

We've decided that adventuring is something that is one of our priorities in our marriage, so with a little bit of effort, we make it work with our current budgets of time and money. We do still appreciate a good, lowkey time too, as evidenced by the weekend we are currently having. We did go on a mid-day walk today though, with a stop at Noodles & Co. for lunch with a BOGO coupon we got in the mail. The weather was extremely mild for late November, so we enjoyed sitting on the patio outside with Malcolm before coming home to an afternoon of relaxing or doing homework or other projects. 

Saturday, November 28, 2015

It's a quiet thing

What do you get when you combine a bucket list item, a need to walk the dog, your own walking goals, and a holiday from work?

A sunrise walk from the Tidal Basin, past some monuments, and across the Memorial Bridge. And back.
Photo credit: Blake

This was our family's own little Turkey Trot yesterday morning and it couldn't have been a better morning for it. The weather was pleasantly crisp (instead of downright freezing), the sidewalks and roads uncrowded, and the walk not too long or too short. We've been wanting to walk across Memorial Bridge for awhile, so we finally did!

The rest of day was a lot of lazing about and relaxing, coupled with plenty of cooking. It was just us, and that was just what we needed. We also went on another walk around our neighborhood after dinner, so some good mileage has been added to our annual totals.

We actually didn't make our Thanksgiving dessert until today when we had the missionaries over for Thanksgiving Dinner Part 2 - a caramel apple tart. We were too tired and full to even attempt it yesterday, but it was delicious and fresh out of the oven tonight.

Sometimes the quiet adventures are perfect too.
Photo credit: Blake

Friday, November 27, 2015

That would be enough

Today I am grateful for:

Long walks
Beautiful scenery
Living in a really interesting and historical region
Holding hands
Answers to prayers
Hermit Thanksgiving - December is going to be insanely busy, so we are relishing a quiet, long weekend.
Malcolm kisses
Wonderful friends
A good job
Learning opportunities 
Good books
Good music
A warm and comfortable apartment
Fuzzy socks
Dishwashers (currently running for the third time in 24 hours, with more dishes in the sink)
Slow cookers
The gospel 

I have a really great life. Blake and I were talking at dinner about how many things could have gone wrong this last year that didn't. Instead, we are facing a bright future with a lot of adventures and I'm excited to embark on them! Not everyone is as fortunate as I am, and even I have had times where things went a different way than expected, so I know am truly blessed.

I hope you have had a wonderful Thanksgiving! I know I have!

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Cause it's gonna be hot! in that big boiling pot

Clearly, crafting is not a priority right now and I'm at peace with that. However! I still find time to make really tasty food. We have to eat after all, and it might as well be good. Some of the things we've made lately are slow cooker pulled pork, egg salad (dill makes this amazing),  and cracked wheat muffins.

Last Saturday, Blake and I made lemony lobster risotto with dill and Parmesan and it was SO good. We had a gift code from for a free date night meal kit, so all the ingredients were shipped to us in a refrigerated box, all measured out and ready to go. They also sent the recipe so that we could make it again once we acquire the right ingredients. Blake and I teamed up in the kitchen and the results were amazing. It's fun to cook together.

At least one night each weekend, we like to make pizza. We've decided that on most weekends, Blake needs to stay home and study one of the nights, so that night we make homemade pizza so it's still something to look forward to. We bought a pizza stone with some wedding money a couple of years ago and we definitely make use of it.

This pizza was made using canned dough, but we make our own now.

And sometimes our plans go awry. One Sunday, back in February, we came home from church to a home without power, so the beef stroganoff in the crock pot was not ready. Luckily, we had some cold cereal on hand (not a usual occurrence) and decided to eat it by lamplight. The power came back on during my second bite, but Blake got up, turned off the lights, and we finished eating in the mostly dark, just because we could.
I had a banana too. Blake does not like bananas.

I'm looking forward to making a delicious Thanksgiving dinner tomorrow. I toasted some homemade bread this evening that Blake made a week or so ago so that we'll be ready to start our preparations with slow cooker stuffing!

Any good meals at your house lately?

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

So I creep yeah, I just keep it on the down low

I was invited by the fifth grade girls to chaperone their field trip yesterday to the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History. Since the best thing to do after being out of the office/library for two days is to leave again, I was happy to go. Even if I have to keep an eye on five ten-year-olds as they run around a busy museum, it beats catching up on shelving and paperwork.

Now, I don't know if any of the students went home to their families and gushed about cool things they learned, but I sure did. Even though I've been to this museum threes and fours of times, I still found some new things.

In the insect room, a museum employee had three insects he was taking out of jars to let people touch or hold, depending on the insect. At the insistence of my students I held a feinting beetle. It's defense mechanism is to play dead when a predator is nearby, so it played dead on my hand for a couple seconds before it trusted me enough to start crawling.

I wanted nothing to do with the Madagascar hissing cockroach.

Based on how much I gushed about it to Blake, my favorite thing of the day was the last insect, the Australian walking stick. It is so cool! The museum employee had a female, apparent because of her large abdomen and tiny wings. These bugs are amazing at camouflage and mimicry! When they are first born, their mom shoots out the eggs. If there is no male around, it's okay - the female will just clone herself! Ants then carry off the eggs into their nests, where it is cooler and wetter than above ground. When the walking sticks first hatch, they look like ants, so the ants raise them as such! It wasn't really covered what happens when the ants and the walking sticks realize they are not the same, but I'm sure at some point the walking sticks get too big and move out on their own.

Out on the branches of trees and bushes, Australian walking sticks generally hang so that their abdomen just looks like a dead leaf blowing in the breeze, but if they're crawling around right side up, they look like a scorpion!
Not a scorpion!

Their life span is only about 9 months, but I think it's a pretty impressive 9 months.

I also learned, from our IMAX movie - Mysteries of the Unseen World, that dragonflies can move all four of their wings independently of one another, which is different from any other flying creature out there. This also allows them to hover and fly forwards and backwards.

Another other cool thing I got to do was touch a piece of Mars, a rock collected on Mars by a robot (I don't remember which one) and returned to Earth. The moon rock you can touch in the Air and Space Museum is pretty dang neat, but the Mars rock (in a similar display) is just off to the side in the minerals and gems room and you could easily miss it if  you're not looking for it. In fact, I must have missed it the other times I've been there. I definitely rectified that situation yesterday.

I'm bummed the new dinosaur exhibit won't be open until 2019, but I did think it was neat that there is a fossil lab with windows on three sides right in the middle of the temporary exhibit. The workers I observed were making storage boxes and taking photos, but that's still cool. There was a sign on the glass not to tap it, since it might disturb the mammals inside.

Overall, it was a fun way to get out and do something different for the work day and hang out with some students. I should have added a juice box to my lunch though. Anytime we had a field trip where we had to pack a lunch, Mom spoiled us by getting us a more fun than usual lunch to make the day even more of a treat, usually a Lunchable and a juice box. I did at least pack myself one last snickerdoodle and some Hershey's Hugs.

I did have to make up for it today by doing paperwork and lesson planning. I decided to put off shelving until tomorrow, but I'll make sure my podcasts are up to date in the morning so that I don't get terribly bored. 

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

I like your style

Who are you and what are you?
Malcolm has now been with us for more than a year and a half, so it's time for another list of things Malcolm likes and dislikes!
Bad lighting = fuzzy photos, but if I moved, he'd move

Things Malcolm Likes

Food - Your food, his food, anyone's food. He's mostly pretty good about leaving you alone while you're eating, but he's rarely far from the kitchen if someone is in there and definitely at your feet if you're eating. We know he's really tired when he's not responding to the presence of food.

Popcorn - He knows not to get into the bowl when we're sitting on the couch and eating, but the moment a piece drops anywhere else, it's his.

Praying - Blake and I usually say our mealtime prayers together while standing in the kitchen and holding hands. It's not uncommon for Malcolm to come stand in between us and bow his little head too.

Dog Park - There is a great dog park about 2 miles from our house, behind the library. We try to go a few times a week and Malcolm is a big fan. If we're walking toward the route to the dog park but, at a certain junction, turn right for home for a shorter walk instead of left for the dog park, he will very likely protest, usually in the form of sitting or pulling. Sorry, dude.
Blake has been inspired by Thomas Kinkade

Fuzzy selfie!

Snuggles - Malcolm is a champion snuggler. Sometimes he's off on his own in the papasan or on the floor, but when he wants to snuggle, he is fantastic at it.

His people coming home - You know he's especially excited when it turns into a full body wag.

Sleeping in our room - We used to make him sleep in the bathroom, but we switched to our room after a few months of trust building. He goes to bed so much easier now, sometimes before us.
As Blake said: It's a dog's life

Weekend sleeping in - He's not allowed on our bed, except for two times - as we're getting ready for bed and if we're sleeping in on the weekend. We realized after awhile he doesn't need to go pee at 6:30 (or so) when he jumps on us and begins cuddling, and we're trying to enjoy a few extra lazy snoozes ourselves, so we let him stay.
Weekend morning snuggles

Cute and he knows it

Things Malcom Dislikes

Smoke alarm - Nothing makes Malcolm retreat to a happy place in his mind (or behind the couch) faster or for longer than the smoke alarm. Even if it only beeps once or twice, he's not himself for awhile. Luckily, his happy place is quiet and non-destructive. You can imagine how fun this was for everyone when the smoke alarm went haywire one morning around 5:30.
Hi guys!

Leaving the dog park - If you don't have a treat to convince him it's time to go, be prepared for a game of chase.

Missing his humans - If one of us is traveling, Malcolm tends to act a little weird around bedtime for the first night or two.
We love seeing deer on our walks

Overall, Malcolm is a friendly, good-natured, energetic dog. He's really settled into our pack and we're glad he's around! It took some time, but as we've all gotten to know each other better, we've gotten down to a pretty good rhythm of things. He's fantastic at walks, doesn't make messes in the house, hasn't chewed on any furniture for awhile, is super great with other humans and animals, and is just generally a really good dog. It would still be nice if we spoke each other's languages sometimes, but it works out just fine anyway most days.

Thanks for being awesome, Malcolm!

Monday, November 23, 2015

Beautiful words of love coming from God above

I'm a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, also known as the Mormons. When possible on Sundays, I discuss some things related to my faith and what I believe. With respect to your own beliefs, I hope this gives you a chance to get to know me and my religion a little better. For previous installments, click here.

According to the eighth Article of Faith:
 We believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly; we also believe the Book of Mormon to be the word of God.
Since the Bible as we know it was compiled by a council of people under the direction of a king, rather that a religious leader, we recognize that there may be errors in translation or scriptures that could have been included that were not. It's also gone through revisions and translations since then. Even now, many different denominations use different editions/translations/versions of the Bible.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints uses the King James Bible, as explained by the title page:
Containing the Old and New Testaments Translated out of the Original Tongues: and with the Former Translations Diligently Compared and Revised, by His Majesty’s Special Command  Authorized King James Version  With Explanatory Notes and Cross References to the Standard Works of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
We do believe it to be inspired word of God and are instructed to study it as such. Right now Blake and I are reading the Old Testament together every night. While one of us is traveling, we still use Skype to read together. Since I didn't pack a Bible this last trip, I would have used the scriptures on my phone, but then I was using my phone to Skype. So, I had the idea to grab the Bible left by the Gideons in my room to read with Blake.

Apparently the version they distribute is the New King James Version, copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Here are some of the verses, Deuteronomy 28: 25-29, we read one night in that version:

Here's how they read in ours:
25 The Lord shall cause thee to be smitten before thine enemies: thou shalt go out one way against them, and flee seven ways before them: and shalt be removed into all the kingdoms of the earth. 
 26 And thy carcase shall be meat unto all fowls of the air, and unto the beasts of the earth, and no man shall fray them away. 
 27 The Lord will smite thee with the botch of Egypt, and with the emerods, and with the scab, and with the itch, whereof thou canst not be healed. 
 28 The Lord shall smite thee with madness, and blindness, and astonishment of heart: 
 29 And thou shalt grope at noonday, as the blind gropeth in darkness, and thou shalt not prosper in thy ways: and thou shalt be only oppressed and spoiled evermore, and no man shall save thee.
Basically, the tone of the Gideons' version is a little less formal, more colloquial, possibly even more approachable. It reminded me of when I've read the same verses in English and Spanish. I understand the gist of the verse either way and the spirit of the message is still present.

Ultimately, we still read the scriptures, whichever version, something that's been a daily priority for us since sometime while we were dating. If you want to know more about our scriptures, you can read them online here. You can also request a free copy here.

As always, if I can answer any questions, please ask!

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Getting to know you

Part of the VAASL conference this year has been a celebration of Virginia authors. There was an authors reception on Thursday night where various local authors were spread around the exhibit hall, signing books and meeting fans. On Friday night, the annual banquet was held and Maggie Stiefvater, who lives in the Shenandoah Valley, spoke.

To date, I have only read one book by Maggie Stiefvater, Shiver, and I ultimately did not care much for it. I'm even more wary of paranormal teenage romance trilogies than I am about dystopian trilogies. I really liked her talk though, and I am willing to give another book or series by her another chance.

After the dinner, Maggie was going to sign books and there was line practically out the door for it. So, Margaret, my keynote speaking conference buddy who has read even less Maggie Stiefvater than I have, jumped in line with a book to have signed for a friend, and I went to the restroom. Margaret was pretty close to the front when I got back, so I went up to stand next to her and a few other librarian friends and said, "It's not cutting if I'm not having anything signed, right?"

Everyone agreed, but then the conference planner/new VAASL president handed me The Raven Boys, the first book in The Raven Cycle.

"Do you want me to have this signed for someone?"

"No, it's yours now. I ended up with an extra copy."

"Well, okay then! Thanks!"

And about a minute later, I was at the signing table, having Maggie sign a book I received just moments earlier and have never read.

"To Amanda." *flashes name badge for spelling* "So far I've only read Shiver, and I didn't care for it much."

"That's okay. I think my books have gotten better since then."

"That's cool. I just got this one and I've heard good things, so I'm looking forward to reading it."

It was a bit awkward. But what DO you say to an author whose only book you didn't really like and you were not planning on meeting until literally a minute earlier?

The Virginian author/illustrator at today's lunch, Henry Cole, was also interesting to listen to. I'll be honest though - I dozed off a little during his talk. I was getting the sleepies after lunch and I knew I had a 2.5 hour drive coming up after, so I rested my chin on my hand and closed my eyes for a few minutes to take the edge off. I don't think anyone noticed, thank goodness. I did wake up in time to watch him illustrate this super cute drawing to the music (and even rhythm) of a Peggy Lee song.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

I want to be in the room where it happens

My very first task at this Virginia Association of School Librarians conference on Thursday morning was to present. I was at a three day professional development course over the summer and ideas were shared and it was suggested I submit a proposal to present in the fall. And I did. And I was accepted! So yesterday was my first opportunity to present at a professional conference of any kind and I think I did pretty darn well!

My session was on the The Music Teacher and the Librarian, and I shared a variety of ways that music teachers and school librarians can collaborate on lessons to support one another's program. Using ideas I gathered from other librarians, music teachers, and other educational colleagues, as well ideas of my own, I threw out several ideas for musical read alouds, research projects, listening and writing assignments, and other ways the librarian might be of use to the music teacher in fun and engaging ways for the students. I even got to work Hamilton into my presentation.

Since my school does not have a music program at this time, there is a lot I can't implement myself, but I hope the twenty-five or so people who attended got something out of it that they can take to their school.

It was a little nerve-wracking being among the first presenters. Everyone is still energetic and excited and not yet conferenced out or overwhelmed with ideas, like you might be by the third day. On the other hand, it was nice to get it over with and then just enjoy the rest of my meetings so far.

And enjoy them I have! As expected, I've been to sessions that have inspired me to make changes in my library now and other things to file away for later. Now that this is my second year attending VAASL meetings (I attended all the events that I could last year), I'm getting to know people and enjoy some networking as well. One of the sessions I attended today turned into a bit of a therapy session for me. It was intended to be a meeting of any solo librarians to network and meet together, but it ended up just being me and the facilitators. So, we talked about my job and the challenges I'm facing. They were really reassuring and encouraging and made me feel like I am doing the right things. I was even told that they were glad I was not the shrinking violet type, because I'd be even more challenged at my job if I were. It's really nice to receive professional validation from other librarians who know more than I do. One of them had even been to my presentation and enjoyed it!

I also won, in a round of genre bingo, a copy of a biography about my Texas hometown hero - Babe Didrikson Zaharias. She was a great athlete from the early 20th century who also grew up in Beaumont. I can't tell you how many times I wandered around the museum about her. It was right off the soccer fields, so I'd go there during my siblings' games sometimes.

It has also been wonderful to spend some time with an internet friend of mine, after meeting her in person for the first time. We've been friends on Twitter for at least four or five years and finally we got to hang out! She was a keynote speaker on Thursday and I think we both appreciated having a buddy to spend time with the last couple of days. It was also a highlight to get a shout out during her keynote address. I'll have to get up to Boston one of these days and hang out with her again!

I'm really glad to be attending this conference. Meetings like this can be hard for an introvert, and I miss my husband and dog, but I'm glad I'm here - learning things, feeling energized and rejuvenated about my job, and being among my people, strangers and friends alike!

Friday, November 20, 2015

Kiss me thru the phone

Technology is great for keeping in touch with distant family, but it's also quite great for keeping in touch with Blake when one of us is traveling, like I am for work. It's usually me doing the traveling, but either way, we still find time to Skype together every night. We talk, catch up on our days, and do our night time prayer and scriptures routine.

It's also amusing to mess with Malcolm. Most of the time he couldn't care less, but sometimes it seems that he can hear me, but he can't see me, and that's entertaining. It's also not uncommon for him to suddenly pounce on Blake, which is always funny. 

Of course, FaceTime is also particularly helpful for getting to see the new nephew. I called my dad recently and Gabriel "answered." He's getting his first tooth, so he's a pretty drooly little monster. I was smiling at and chatting with him when his mom snapped it from this perspective. 

Hooray for videophones!

Thursday, November 19, 2015

And I'm the one who pays for it

When Eilonwy and I discussed what our daily topics for NaBloPoMo (National Blog Posting Month) were going to be, I suggested doing crafts on Wednesday, because that was the night I was trying to make my weekly craft night. I thought it would be motivating and I'd get my craft on and then talk about it.

In case you haven't already figured this out - I have done little to no crafting this month.It's the third Wednesday of the month and thus far I have talked about how I can't finish anything and yay! I pinned some fabric! and a craft project I actually completed back in October.

Not very impressive.

Eilonwy, on the other hand, has made multiple sweaters and done cool art projects with her kids. I'm a little jealous. But you know what? That's okay. I don't know how to knit and I don't have kids. That's not to say I couldn't still do my own hand and foot print art, but it wouldn't be the same. Eilonwy and I are in different seasons of our lives right now. and there is nothing wrong with that.

Come to think of it though, Malcolm and I did do some paw print art back in April, at an event at our local pet supply store.

This was the only paw print I could get out of him before he made it abundantly clear that he was not interested in this project. I framed it and put it up in our kitchen anyway. 

So what did I make tonight? A very long drive. It should have taken me 2.5 hours to drive to Williamsburg, VA, but it took me 5. I left later than I should have and got stuck in rush hour traffic. 
No crafting for me tonight. Instead, I listened to the entire cast recording of Hamilton, chatted with my mom on the phone (with my earbud/mic), and jammed to some tunes. 

Now, I sleep.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

The World Turned Upside Down

Since most of the books I read lately are from my library's collection, I read a lot of middle grade and young adult fiction, and I enjoy it. A parent (who is also a teacher) came in this morning to ask about a book her daughter just checked out. She named it and asked if I had read it. I did and I liked it and I was able to assuage her concerns that there was anything inappropriate in the book. Difficult situations (a single, working class father who doesn't know how to relate to his autistic daughter and vice versa), yes, but that's it.

What it also means is that a lot of dystopian fiction makes its way across my desk.

The good news is that I like dystopian fiction. The Giver is still my favorite book ever. However, I am well aware of dystopian fiction's oversaturation of the market right now and I am not going to waste my time on something that isn't good. So, when I decided to start reading The Testing series by Joelle Charbonneau, my guard was up.

It had all the hallmarks of a popular dystopian series - female protagonist, trilogy, disturbing rites of passage into adulthood. However, the first book is a Virginia Reader's Choice for High level grades this year, so I figured someone had decided it wasn't terrible. I'd ordered it for the library, so I picked it up off the shelves and started reading.

I have decided that I have made the right choice. Yes, it contains some tropes, but others are refreshingly absent. I'm quite pleased by the fact there is a love interest, but no triangle, and the love our main character, Malencia, has for the boy from her hometown is not really a driving force in the story. It affects certain choices, of course, but does not drive her to action in general.

I also appreciated the lack of moping or whining. Is she sad at times? Yes. But she doesn't go on and on about it for pages on end. Cia is a very decisive character, and this is another way she shows it.

One person I talked to about it said that The Testing is The Hunger Games for people who don't want to think. I don't necessarily agree with that. Yes, Cia explains everything she's doing and why, but that's okay with me. This is her story after all. I still managed to have things to think about.

Overall, having read the entire trilogy, I liked it and would recommend it to others who enjoy dystopian fiction.

Another dystopian fiction trilogy I like is the Matched trilogy by Ally Condie. It's a world in which there is very little personal choice. Everything is decided for you by the system, based on algorithms and calculations. It reminded me a lot of what I understand as Satan's plan for the children of God - don't give them the choice to do anything other than follow Heavenly Father and everyone will return home to heaven.

Turns out that Ally Condie is Mormon, so this might have been exactly what she was going for. As such, I engaged with this series in a different way than someone else might who is not Mormon, but I've recommended it to some of my students and they enjoyed it anyway.

What are you reading lately? Anything I should read? It doesn't have to be dystopian!

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Like a fiddler on the roof!

My family of origin has several enjoyable traditions - some for everyday, some for special days, some just because. Now that I have a baby family of my own, Blake and I have been negotiating our own traditions by bringing some from each of our families or personal traditions, as well as creating our own. We both have a few we can't do yet, generally related to kids, and probably some to discover along the way. I know I look forward to that. For now, here is a list of traditions we currently enjoy as a family.

New Year's Eve

  • Something to toast the New Year like Martinelli's sparkling cider or ginger brew egg nog ice cream floats


  • Ham and scalloped potatoes for dinner


  • Spook burgers and bones and blood for dinner on Halloween (We'll add witches brew - a beverage with dry ice - once we remember to pick up dry ice before everyone else does.)
  • Mummy dogs for dinner on a Halloween adjacent day


  • Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade (at least the Broadway musical performances)
  • Full Thanksgiving spread, even for just the two of us
  • Attend the temple the day after Thanksgiving

  • Decorations go up on the first Sunday of December, during the First Presidency Christmas Devotional, whilst drinking hot chocolate
  • Must watch during the Christmas season or last quarter of the year - Muppet Christmas CarolThe Nightmare Before Christmas; Love, Actually (usually just me); Borrowed Hearts (with Sisterface, in person if possible)
  • Pizza for Christmas Eve dinner - This is a tradition of Blake's family, but we'll be with my family this year. We're going to suggest it. This post might be their first knowledge of this suggestion.
  • Others depending on which family we are celebrating with - We have yet to spend a Christmas as just us, so we'll see what sticks when we do.


  • Birthday dinner of birthday person's choice, usually cooked by the spouse  - For Blake it's manicotti. Me? I change it up.


  • Blake gets the last kiss as I leave for work, or vice versa if he leaves without me. If I pet Malcolm on my way out, I make a point of kissing Blake one more time. We'll extend this to children first, spouse last when the time comes.
  • Wake up and go to bed together
  • Whoever fixes their toothbrush first fixes the other's as well
  • Bedtime routine - personal prayer, couple prayer, couple's journal (a Q&A couple's journal from Fran), scriptures, round of Plants V. Zombies Pinata Party, lights out.


  • Skype every night if one of us is traveling
  • Saying "John Paul Jones" before we embark on anything we deem adventurous
  • Breakfast picnic of bakery muffins and fruit if our weekly grocery walk takes place on Saturday morning
  • McDonald's for breakfast when embarking on a road trip
  • Sonic stop if we're passing one
  • Whenever I make pancakes, I make the last one into a heart for Blake

Monday, November 16, 2015

Hello, hello, hello, hello, we welcome you today - hello!

I'm a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, also known as the Mormons. When possible on Sundays, I discuss some things related to my faith and what I believe. With respect to your own beliefs, I hope this gives you a chance to get to know me and my religion a little better. For previous installments, click here.

Recently, a film was produced by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to introduce six different Mormons and it is currently available on YouTube.

From the YouTube description:

The Meet the Mormons movie examines the very diverse lives of six devout members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons). Filmed across the globe, Meet the Mormons takes viewers on a journey into the day-to-day realities of individuals living in the U.S., Costa Rica, Nepal and beyond. From their individual passions to their daily struggles, each story paints a picture as rich and unique as the next while challenging the stereotypes that surround the Mormon faith.
The official, full-length version of the movie will only be available on YouTube for a limited time. Learn more about Meet the Mormons at Meet the Mormons is also available on Netflix worldwide.
Meet the Humanitarian - 
After leaving his village to receive a degree in Engineering, Bishnu Adhikari returned to his home in Nepal with a newfound faith and a determination to help improve the living conditions of the area. Bishnu now travels to remote villages in the Himalayan Mountains to build roads, schools and water systems, all while living with his faith and respecting his culture and his family’s expectations.
Meet the Coach - 
As Head Football Coach of the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, Ken Niumatalolo balances the pressures of his high-stress job by putting his family and faith first. In the competitive, high-stakes world of college football, he made the shocking decision to cancel staff meetings on Sundays, traditionally seen as critical to the team’s success, to instead honor the Sabbath day.
Meet the Fighter - 
With her husband’s help, extreme sports enthusiast Carolina Muñoz Marin has fought her way to the top of women’s amateur kickboxing in Costa Rica, challenging the traditional stereotypes of a Mormon woman. In between family time and training for competitions, Carolina and her husband run a charity to help those in Costa Rica who are less fortunate.
Meet the Bishop - 
Jermaine Sullivan works full-time as an academic counselor to 200 students in order to support his wife and three kids. He also volunteers full-time as a Bishop of a Mormon church in Atlanta, Georgia. He leads his diverse congregation with youthful exuberance while shattering stereotypes of what it means to be a Mormon Bishop.
Meet the Mom - 
Dawn Armstrong, a struggling single mother, had hit rock bottom and lost all hope. Then she met some Mormon missionaries who helped her and her son get back on their feet and start a new life. Her son is now older and ready to fulfill his two-year voluntary missionary work. As she helps him prepare to leave home for the first time ever, she also prepares to say goodbye. 

I will be honest - I haven't watched this yet myself, but I've heard great things. If you've ever wanted to learn more about the daily life of a variety of Mormons, this would be your chance. If you miss it on YouTube, you can also find it on Netflix. It's available in 29 languages on YouTube and the links are in the description on the original page.

I hope you enjoy this film. As always, if I can answer any questions, please ask!

Sunday, November 15, 2015

To the ship, to the ship

Today, Blake and I went on a date to Baltimore to check out four historic ships anchored in the harbor there.

We started with the USCGC Taney, a Coast Guard cutter that is the last ship afloat to have survived the attach on Pearl Harbor in 1941. She was also present at the battle in Okinawa when the war came to an end. She then served the Coast Guard until the 1980s.

Next up was the Lightship Chesapeake, which served in place of lighthouse where such a building couldn't be built. The light on the mast could be seen for 14 miles with 13,000 candlepower!

The third vessel was the USS Torsk, a submarine built in the 1940s. Those were some tight quarters! We know a couple people who have served or currently serve on subs, and we have a deeper respect for them now.

Our final stop was the USS Constellation, a sloop of war from the mid-1800s. We got to see a demonstration of the parrott rifle on the deck!

The decks were rather spacious, especially after the sub, but they were probably more cramped when filled with crew and supplies. I tried out a hammock, and it was pretty cramped, even for short little me.

We found out that most of these ships provide an overnight experience for classes, scout troops, etc. You get to sleep like the crew, have two historic meals, and enjoy other appropriate activities. That sounds way fun to me!

We followed up this outing with a Thanksgiving lunch provided by our apartment complex (free and catered by Boston Market - yum!) and grocery shopping (because sometimes that's what you gotta do). Since then, we've napped, taken Malcolm to the dog park, made pizza for dinner, and now we're watching the BYU football game. We also turned on the heater for the first time this season - we were outside so much today that we just couldn't quite warm up with our apartment only being 60 degrees.

It's been a great Saturday!
Malcolm's status at the time of this post

Saturday, November 14, 2015

I said hey, what's going on?

Just found this draft from September 2014, so let's review and then update!

Tomorrow I officially start my second year as a school librarian. Technically, I've been back for a few weeks, but the students will be joining us tomorrow. I'm much more ready this time around, but I still have my work cut out for me. It's helpful that the director of the school stopped by my office earlier this week to tell me how great of a job I'm doing!

See yesterday's post for how that's going.

Blake started his last year of school this week. Graduation is May 17, 2015! He's taking four classes, interning with the TSA, and is a dean's fellow this semester. In his spare time, he's already applying for Big Lawyer Jobs.

Blake did indeed graduate from law school on May 17, 2015! My parents, maternal grandparents, an aunt and uncle, his parents, and maternal grandmother all came to celebrate with us and it was wonderful. Blake and I orchestrated a fantastic itinerary for their trip and we all had a great time! It would have been nice if they called the right name at his graduation, but at least the right name is on his diploma. He also took and passed the Virginia bar exam! We're still waiting on the Big Lawyer Job to come through, but he's finishing up his Masters in the meantime.

My apologies to Blake for not making this event a post of its own yet. It certainly deserves one! I'm so proud of this guy.

Malcolm has been enjoying a lot of walks and trips to the dog park. I did a 100-mile walking challenge this month and he was my constant companion, though Blake joined us often. Our grand total this month was 104.7 miles. His favorite destination is the dog park, which is 4 miles round trip.

Because of the success of August 2014's 100-mile challenge, I decided to walk 1,000 miles in 2015. As of yesterday I am at 892.4!

Relatedly, I already need new walking shoes. And let's not discuss how many pairs of pants and shorts I've had to replace because of the increase in walking since Mal's adoption.

I am HARD on my walking shoes. I'm on the third pair since this draft and I could probably use another new pair. I could also use a new pair of snow pants, because I wore mine out on walks with Malcolm during a very frigid winter last year.

I think that covers at least a few of the major happiness from the last year!

Friday, November 13, 2015

I'm looking for a mind at work

I certainly never expected to become a school librarian and especially not in a private Islamic school, but it really has proven to be the right job at the right time. There are definitely stressful days and things I would change if I could (my kingdom for an assistant!), but most of the time, I really enjoy this job. I am learning new things constantly and trying to make the most of this unexpected adventure.

Things I love about my job:
  • Being told by the homeroom teacher the lesson I'm giving that day is perfect for what they're working on in class.
  • Collaborating with teachers to find that perfect lesson topic
  • Connecting the right book with the right student. 
  • Discussing books that a student loved that I also loved.
    • Especially when I recommended that book in the first place
  • Making students laugh
  • My students making me laugh
  • Making changes that work
  • Learning from changes that didn't work
  • Reading from the library collection
  • Helping students become self-sufficient library users
Yesterday was especially fun. It was a half day for the kids, so the Girls Elementary held a book and breakfast readathon. Most of their school day was centered around various reading activities, including the first 90 minutes just being reading and breakfast. And we all got to wear our pajamas. I enjoyed visiting most of the classes and having some time to just model reading for pleasure by reading my own book of choice while the students read theirs. 
What I wore to pajama day, with added Malcolm, since it's his favorite chair too. He didn't get up from this snuggle easily.

It didn't hurt that the school then provided lunch for the staff and let us go home two hours early ourselves. After a day like that, I honestly felt a little more refreshed to return to school today.

What are your favorite things about your job right now?

Thursday, November 12, 2015

I'll be there someday, I can go the distance

I am pretty awesome at starting craft projects.

I am not pretty awesome at finishing them.

Sometimes I finish them. The odds of finishing a craft project are increased based on the simplicity of the project or the time it takes, as well as my confidence in my own abilities.

The odds are also increased if it doesn't involve me using my sewing machine.

My parents gave me a decent sewing machine a few years ago for Christmas. I've successfully made a few things with it, and I'm definitely grateful to have it. But I'll be the first to admit that I need to practice a lot more. There are probably things I'm doing wrong related to the threading or tension or various feet. Since I don't have one of my sewing mentors nearby, I'm stuck figuring it out on my own. Way to go, me. Should have taken advantage of the opportunity when I lived closer to those people. (Hi Mom, Grandma, Fran and Eilonwy!) My parents also gave me a sewing how to book - should use that more often. Maybe even go through it in order, like a textbook.

Oh and Malcolm has varying reactions to the sewing machine. Sometimes he doesn't care. Sometimes he does.

Jewelry goes quickly, at least the styles I make lately, though there are some more complicated designs I'd love to try sometime. My jewelry stuff currently lives on the shelf under the coffee table, so I really ought to bust it out and make more things while I'm just hanging out.

And then there are all the random crafts I've started or purchased the materials for. Sometimes I get the materials and then don't have the time to do it immediately, so eventually it gets stashed away and I forget about it for awhile. Sometimes I just work on it when I remember, but that's once every several months - this goes to the time factor involved in actually finishing it. Sometimes I'm just not in the mood.

This school year, I decided that I wouldn't be taking a dance class in the evening. The friend I was taking the class with last year had a baby two weeks ago, so she wasn't going to be dancing for a few months, and the studio was in her town, which is about 30 minutes away from mine. So, for time and money reasons, I chose to implement a craft night at home during one of the nights Blake is gone for class (he's still working on his Masters). I haven't been able to do it every week, but I have had some success in working on or finishing projects.

Knowing I wanted to blog about crafting tonight and if I didn't do something I wouldn't have anything to talk about, I decided to work on a project I started two years ago. The pieces were in two different places (some in the embroidery box, some on a shelf on a bookcase in my living room) and I thought I still had some embroidery to finish.

Apparently I finished the embroidery back in . . . um . . . whenever, and the next step was pinning all the pieces together so I could sew them. So I did.

Then I realized a few pieces might be set up wrong side out, so I unpinned, flipped some things, and repinned.

The next step will be sewing.

I'm going to go make some snickerdoodles instead.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Alexander Hamilton, My name is Alexander Hamilton

A month ago, the most I might have been able to tell you about Alexander Hamilton was that he was shot by Aaron Burr and I probably only remember that thanks to a certain commercial from the 90s.

Now, thanks to a certain new musical, I can tell you a whole lot more. Lin-Manuel Miranda, who I already liked from his musical In the Heights and his wedding video, has written a musical based on the life of Alexander Hamilton and it is brilliant.

As an introduction, here is the Hamilton Mixtape that Miranda performed while he was first working on this project. Miranda explains the concept and sings what became the musical's opening number.

Basically, Miranda decided that music of the revolution was a hip-hop story - an orphaned immigrant who starts at the bottom in a new city and helps change the world. Using hip-hop, R&B, rap, pop and traditional Broadway style music, Miranda has created an approachable, emotional, and inspiring story about "ten dollar founding father without a father."

The promotional materials explain that the show is the story of America then as told by America now, as it is an ethnically diverse cast. It's almost impossible right now for me to think of the Founding Fathers as just a bunch of old, white guys. And, of course, the relationship between Burr and Hamilton throughout. NPR First Listen gives it a really nice review that's worth reading.

There are so many Easter eggs and references in the music and I know I haven't heard them all. At this point, if I think to myself that something is a reference, it probably is. There are some wonderful lyrical annotations at, and I look forward to having time to go through them all.

I have so many favorite parts that I don't even know where to start. It's just so smart and so fun to listen to. You should give it a listen on Spotify, or just buy the album. Listen for King George singing as a scorned lover. Definitely check out the song where Hamilton starts making fun of a Loyalist farmer by creating variations to the farmer's musical theme, like Mozart did to Salieri in Amadeus. Discover how beautiful it is when Washington starts speaking his farewell speech as Hamilton writes it. All the repeated musical and lyrical themes of various characters. And all the other musical delights in between.

I haven't discovered a new musical that I love this much in a long time. It's just so, so good. Be aware that there is some language and that Hamilton was the center of one of the first, shall we say, interpersonal scandals of our new nation, and that story gets told.

I can't recommend this musical enough. So, go listen to it already! And if anyone wants to send me and Blake to New York to see this, I would be forever in your debt.


Tuesday, November 10, 2015

She's got a ticket to ride, but she don't care

Blake and I love how much we can use technology to communicate and stay in touch with our families, even though we're spread all over the country. We're big fans of texting, calling, Skype, and FaceTime. We have set up private Facebook groups for each side of our family for even more communication options.

Another favorite things of ours is playing games online. Online games are really nothing new, but we've found a couple we particularly enjoy.

Our competitive game of choice is Ticket to Ride. We can set up a private table on Steam and up to five can play at a time. When I was in Utah in September, we played with most of my family. Blake played on his phone in Virginia. I was on my computer in Utah. My parents were a team on Dad's iPad. Mr. and Mrs. Brotherface were a team on Mom's desktop. Sadly, Mr. and Mrs. Sisterpants weren't able to join us that time, but we've played with them since. Since we had Blake on Skype on my dad's laptop, it was more like we were all together physically. Now that we've shown  my side of the family how to play online, we're hoping to do it more often.
Blake sent me a copy of the map, since it doesn't give me the right colors on my computer - lame

We often get to play with Blake's brother and sister-in-law, and those games can get mean. We played two rounds last Saturday and I won the first one. Blake, very kindly, helped me find an alternate route when my plan A failed and I paid him back by winning by one point because of the Longest Train card. He had been up by 9 until the last second. Sorry, sweetie!

I came in third on the second game because a certain brother-in-law purposefully disrupted my route just because he could and I never fully recovered. Fortunately, he came in 4th, which was my only consolation.

Cooperatively, we like playing Pandemic via Skype. Each side sets up a board, so you do have to have an actual copy of the game to be most effective. One side runs the master board and the other follows it so everyone can still see what's going on and still work together. We've lost more than we've won, but it's still fun to play together. We'd love to see how other cooperative games like Forbidden Island or Forbidden Desert work on Skype sometime. Cooperative games work well because you don't have to hide anything from the other players, so you can be fully transparent will running the two boards simultaneously.

If you're non-local and want to try one of these games with us, just let us know! If you are local, we'd love to set up an in person game time. We have a lot more options than just those two . . .

What are your favorite ways to keep in touch with your families and friends?

Monday, November 9, 2015

The distant scene--one step enough for me

I'm a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, also known as the Mormons. When possible on Sundays, I discuss some things related to my faith and what I believe. With respect to your own beliefs, I hope this gives you a chance to get to know me and my religion a little better. For previous installments, click here.

There are lot of things about the gospel that I don't know or understand. The wonderful thing about that is that's perfectly acceptable. The point of studying the scriptures, attending our church meetings, going to the temple, and just about everything else we do is to embark on our eternal progression and personal development. We are expected to ask questions and seek out answers for ourselves.

In Alma chapter 32, we can find the method for exercising our faith -

26 Now, as I said concerning faith—that it was not a perfect knowledge—even so it is with my words. Ye cannot know of their surety at first, unto perfection, any more than faith is a perfect knowledge.
 27 But behold, if ye will awake and arouse your faculties, even to an experiment upon my words, and exercise a particle of faith, yea, even if ye can no more than desire to believe, let this desire work in you, even until ye believe in a manner that ye can give place for a portion of my words.
The full text can be found in Alma 32:26-43. There is no timeline. We don't have to come to answers or understanding in anyone's time but our own.

When there is something I don't understand in the gospel or the church, I rely on and focus on things I do. I find comfort in those things and work and pray to understand what I don't. In short, I use the promises found in Proverbs 3:5-6.
Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding.
 In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.
We are not expected to blindly follow the things we are taught without question, but to learn and discover and understand truths for ourselves and to build our own personal testimony. For that, I am grateful. I hope to continue learning and growing in my knowledge of the gospel and in all other aspects of my life for as long as possible.

The video is of one of my favorite hymns, sung by one of my favorite groups. Enjoy. And if you have any questions about the gospel, whether you are a member of my faith or not, I would be happy to discuss them with you, because I don't think any of us should be traveling these paths alone.