Monday, February 08, 2016

Meet a M.O.M.: The Undaunted Cheryl Savage

I'm excited to introduce you today to my friend Cheryl for this M.O.M. interview.  She and I met back when I had just three little ones and I was trying to fit in exercise with everything else that goes along with having three kids in three years.  Her cousin taught a free aerobics class at a Church building near my house, where we took turns taking care of each other's children and sweating it out.  In the years since, she and I have been great friends, even as we have both added to our families and she has moved her family from Utah to both coasts and is now in the process of moving to the mid-West.  




Tell us about yourself and your family. Where are you from, where did you meet your husband, what did you do before kids? 

My name is Cheryl S. Savage and I was born and raised in southeastern Idaho. I met my husband, Brandon, while working on campus at BYU the summer after my freshman year. He had just returned from serving a mission to Australia and decided to go back to school in the summer instead of waiting for fall. It’s a good thing! We met in May of 1998 and were married in January of 1999. We both graduated from BYU in April 2001 –six days after I gave birth to our first baby, a little girl! I majored in Marriage, Family, and Human Development and minored in music –which has blessed my life continuously. One of the happiest memories we have as newlyweds are when we worked two summers in a row at BYU’s Aspen Grove Family Camp! It was so much fun.

Tell us about your kids. What are their ages and genders? What led you to have a large family? Do you think your family is complete?

We have seven sensational Savages! We had two girls, then four boys, and then a girl on the end. Their ages right now (but will change with birthdays during the next few months) are: 14, 12, 11, 8, 6, 3, and 11 months. What led us to have a large family? Honestly, when we were dating, we were both eager to have a lot of kids. We didn’t have a set number, although I do remember thinking it would be nice to have 8 or 9 kids. Brandon is the oldest of three and I am the oldest of four, so it definitely didn’t come from tradition! I do remember one incidence, however, that will always remain a turning point in our family. We had two girls and two boys; our youngest was just about a year old. Life was comfortable and everyone around us assumed we were finished having children because we had the perfect number and equality in gender. I remember telling Brandon that we needed to ask God if our family was complete, because it felt really easy and comfortable at that point! But I wanted to make sure we included God in our decision. I had always been taught that the decisions to have children (when, how many) was between the husband, the wife, and the Lord –and I wanted to make sure that when we made our choice, it was because the Lord wanted it for us, too, not just because it was what we wanted for ourselves. He needed to be a part of it! So, we both went to the temple and prayed about it, and we both had a distinct impression that we would have more children (not just one!). Since then, we’ve just taken it one at a time, always seeking Heavenly counsel with our decision. Is our family complete? Truthfully, we aren’t quite sure, yet.

Tell us about your faith and how that has influenced your life and family decisions.

If it wasn’t for my faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ, I don’t think I would have had more than a few children. In fact, I doubt I would have married as soon as I did, either. I wouldn’t have attended the university I attended, too! I probably wouldn’t have met Brandon at all. So, I would say that it has influenced every facet of my life and in every possible way. Every big decision in my life has been made after seeking God’s will. From where to live, what to study, how many kids to have, when to have those children, the friends I have, the choice I made to stay at home to raise our children, the way we raise our children –everything comes back to my faith and testimony in the gospel. I’ve seen close family and friends who do not believe as I do (and that’s okay), and I imagine my life would be a lot more like theirs. It would have probably meant a cleaner house! Haha!

I admire your blog and your openness about your struggles with mental illness. Can you tell us a bit about your journey, healing and what you’ve learned from your health struggles? 

I think that my health struggles have been one of the best educations I could have received. I have chronic asthma and I’ve been diagnosed with clinical depression and anxiety. Luckily, both of those things are under control! But for a long time, I never really knew what was wrong with me. It started as basic post-partum depression, but I didn’t realize what was happening until after my fourth child. Since then (about 9 years), I have worked really hard to overcome my mental challenges. I once wrote a blog post about how grateful I was to have depression (I’ll link to it at the bottom). People think that’s weird, but I realized if it wasn’t depression, what would it be? Trials are here to strengthen us and teach us things we could never understand otherwise. My depression has taught me how to slow down, be patient, be grateful, and ask for help. Currently, I’ve been able to see the same psychiatrist and therapist for 2 years. The consistency in medication and therapy has meant an incredible increase in how I’m able to cope!

What do you consider the most difficult aspects of having a large family? 

 Aside from the laundry (seriously, so much laundry!), I would have to say just being personally available to my kids for conversations when they want them to happen. There are other things, too, such as not being as involved in volunteering at their schools because I have little ones at home, or the cost of doing things. Keeping track of what everyone needs, too, can be daunting at times. Oh, and the grocery bill is high!

What do you do to get through the tough days?

Usually I will just declare a day off. That means I’m not allowed to feel guilty for not cleaning, making frozen pizza, and letting the kids watch TV. But on days when that doesn’t happen, I do better when I can read my scriptures, take the time to pray, drink some herbal tea, read a book, cuddle with my kids, phone a friend, or hang out on Facebook. ;)

What do you cherish most about your life? 

Oh, that’s easy! My husband and children, of course! And I would also include the gospel of Jesus Christ, which strengthens us and protects us from the evils in the world. I love those moments when we’re all together and we’re not arguing or yelling, but just laughing and laughing and laughing…

How do you and your husband keep your marriage strong? 

We go to bed together at the same time. We go on weekly dates (usually just dinner and we talk for hours). We go away together overnight at least once a year. We text each other throughout the day. We sit by each other at the dinner table, during family scriptures, in church (when he’s not on the stand, like he has been the last few years –he’s in the Bishopric of our ward), and whenever there are family events. We always say, “I love you” and kiss each other hello and goodbye. We hold hands a lot, too! One big thing we do is we forgive each other. We argue and disagree as much as any other married couple, for sure, but we’re getting so much better at apologizing and forgiving. And I think that’s the key –forgiving each other quickly.

What are the essential routines that help keep your life and family running? Can you give us a peek into what a typical day for you is like? 

I think the beginning and endings of days are the most essential. We start early and we try to get to bed early, too. Right now my husband is traveling for work, and so he’s not here during the school week (it will change soon!), so I’m up at 5:45 to drive our oldest to early morning seminary. I’m back by 6:10AM and that’s when I read my scriptures before I wake the kids up at 6:30AM for family scriptures and family prayer. I help get the kids ready for school; middle schoolers leave at 7:20AM and elementary kids leave at 8AM. Then it’s the 3 year old and the baby with me for the day! Cleaning, shopping, playing games (Memory is his favorite right now), blogging, reading, Facebook, phone calls, more cleaning, etc. –and then the kids start coming home at 2:45PM. From then until bedtime it’s pretty chaotic! Homework, chores, dinner, activities, friends, and then bedtime... Bedtime is simple, but it works. Everyone gets ready for bed and then we have family prayer. I tuck the boys in and say goodnight to the girls (they stay up later in their room), and then the baby and I go to bed –I nurse while I read. If Brandon is home, we’ll watch TV or just talk.

What tips do you have for managing a large family? 

Don’t sweat the small stuff. Like, ever. It’s something that has taken me a long time to realize, and it’s made me a lot happier! A clean house is nice, but not essential. It’s more important to teach the kids how to work together, pick up after themselves, and that means the house is a constant work in progress. Letting go of my unrealistic expectations for the type of cleanliness I had envisioned was very freeing, that’s for sure! Another thing I would suggest is to stay on top of laundry and organizing their clothing. I’m not always good at this, but holy cow, if you can do it, do! One other thing –have the older kids help out with the younger kids. I don’t mean for them to replace mom and dad, I mean for them to learn how to change diapers, feed toddlers, play games, and just enjoy their siblings.

Each family has its own personality and a lot of that has to do with traditions and the many different ways we find to spend time together. What is your family’s personality like? What do you enjoy doing together?


Well, we’re a bunch of nerds, first! We love to watch Star Trek and Star Wars, and truthfully, we love to watch shows and movies together a lot. We also enjoy playing games (card games and board games). We like museums, hiking, trivia, and being lazy on holidays. We really enjoy camping together and taking trips together. In fact, this past summer, we drove from our home in Pennsylvania out west to Utah/Idaho/Alberta to visit family and friends for a month and then we drove back. We camped along the way and saw some pretty amazing things! People probably thought we were strange, what with our 12-passenger van hauling a big utility trailer, pulling into KOA’s to set up the tent at 9PM every night… We had so much fun!

What activities are your kids involved in? How do you handle the logistics of getting everyone where they need to be in the course of a week? How do you decide what activities are worth your family’s time?

Honestly, our kids aren’t involved in many activities that are outside of school and church. Moving here to Pennsylvania and coupled with our personal (religious) agreement not to participate in certain activities on the Sabbath means our kids don’t do very much. The most we have are after-school drama rehearsals or student council meetings. Cello lessons are actually during the day at school, and they are not currently in piano lessons (even though I was a piano teacher for a decade!). So for us, it’s easy! For about a year, I felt I was depriving our children because they weren’t doing as many of the activities they were doing when we lived in Utah, but then I realized that I didn’t do anything outside of piano lessons as a child, and I had a very happy life. If one of our kids came to us and begged us to be in something, we’d definitely re-think it, but so far, so good.

How do you find balance in your life? How have you fit in the time for your own personal development?

I’ve been better at this in the past, but I do it by going to Book Club, weekly date nights, playgroup, taking the time to read books, write, play the piano, and for years I would get up early and exercise. I also believe in encouraging my kids to have some independence –they don’t need me to entertain them every minute of the day, eh?

Besides the scriptures, what books have had a great influence on your life and your parenting?

That’s a really hard question because I read voraciously. Poetry, historical fiction, memoirs, etc. I really love to read! I don’t remember where I learned everything in regards to my parenting, but I do know that Jane Austen changed my life personally. That sounds clich√©, but it’s true. But I think the books that have influenced my mothering have been books about parents who have faced really hard situations and still chose selfless love. “Mrs. Mike” by the Freedmans, “A Lantern in Her Hand” by Bess Streeter Aldrich, and “These Is My Words” by Nancy E. Turner are some of those.

If you could go back in time and whisper encouragement to yourself at a younger age and stage of life, what would you say?

I would tell myself that it works out. Stay close to God, and everything will work out! And it always will.

What are some of your favorite posts from your blog?

My Personal Journey and Epiphany With Motherhood

Don't they Know How Gross They Look

In Which I Spoke to Women about Womanhood and Motherhood (Note from Christina:  I got to be there when she gave this presentation.  It is WELL worth your time to read!)

Miracles

Thanks so much for letting us get to know you better, Cheryl!

Monday, February 01, 2016

Meet a M.O.M.: Jaci Wightman, author of A Princess Story

I'm so excited to be bringing back my Meet a M.O.M. (mother of many) series of posts.  Today, I am doing an interview with Jaci Wightman, one of my first large-family internet friends.  She and I met way back in the early wild-wild-west days of the internet where Facebook didn't exist, blogs were only just starting, and people who were into that kind of thing hung out on forums.  She and I were part of a moms exercise check-in.  I'd just had my twins and was so happy to meet a mom who was a bit older but also had a lot of kids close together.  She was so kind and encouraging to me and gave me some awesome advice that I still remember.

We lost track of each other after some time, though I enjoyed getting the occasional Christmas card. Fast forward a few years and I was so happy to get back in touch with her.  Her kids are now mostly raised and she's started writing books. She even gave me an advance copy of her newest book, A Princess Story: The Real-Life Fairy Tale Found in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  I have enjoyed reading it.

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your family. 

Well, I’ve been married for 25 years and I have 7 kids age 24 to 16. Right now, we have 2 high schoolers, 1 on a mission, 2 in college, and 2 who are married (and we’re expecting our first grandbaby in April!). I’ve always been a stay-home mom, so it’s been a big adjustment to go from all those years of happy chaos to just 2 teens now at home. But it’s really fun to watch my kids start to spread their wings and learn to fly on their own.

You had 7 kids in 8 years, most of whom are now mostly grown.  Can you share a little bit about that experience?

You know, it was never my plan to have my kids so close together. But the Lord had other ideas, and I’m actually really glad my husband and I followed His promptings to have our kids when we did. Yes, it was incredibly crazy when they were little (when our youngest was born, I had a 2nd grader, a kindergartner, and 5 pre-schoolers). But over the years I began to see how perfect His plan was for me as a mom. I can now say I’d gladly do it all over again because of all the growth and stretching and joy that’s come through having our kids the Lord’s way rather than my own.

As your kids got older, you started writing.  Can you tell us about your first book, Body Image Breakthrough?  What influenced you to write it?  What is the message you hoped to convey through it? 



It’s funny—in earlier years, I never saw myself as a writer at all. But I always loved to study and try to find answers to my questions. About 10 years ago, I applied that to my struggle with negative body image. I wanted to know how the gospel of Jesus Christ could help me with that particular problem. Through a great deal of study and prayer, the Lord taught me how to conquer all the negative thoughts and false beliefs I’d battled since I was a teenager. That healing process was so liberating, I wanted to share it with other women who were suffering just like me. So I got out my laptop and started to write. 

Your second book, A Princess Story, just came out.  Who is it intended for?  Why choose fairy tales to explain the gospel of Jesus Christ?



This book was born in early 2012 when I was called to be the Young Women’s President in our ward. I was looking for a way to make gospel principles more relatable to the girls, and one night as I sat watching Tangled with my daughters, I realized there was gospel symbolism woven all throughout the story. So I thought it would be fun to include it in one of my Young Women lessons. It struck such a chord with the girls that I kept building on those lessons for the rest of my time in Young Women. Eventually I realized it was another message I really wanted to share in book form. But A Princess Story isn’t just for Young Women or YW leaders. As daughters of God, we’re all princesses (no matter our age), so this really is a story that relates to each and every one of us. In fact, I’ve had many friends (even grandmas!) who’ve read it and found it applied very much to their personal lives. So I’d recommend it to any woman young or old who wants to know more about her own personal princess story.

As I've been reading your book, I love the easy conversational style that is so accessible for young girls.  I can totally see my twins, who are almost 12, reading this and gaining some great insight.  I loved your chapter on the dragon within each of us, as I felt it explained very well the natural man we all fight against.  What were your favorite parts of the book to write?  Can you share a few of your favorite paragraphs from the book?

Oh, wow, this book was so fun to write, it’s hard to choose a favorite part. I think one thing I enjoyed was being able to tie so many popular princess stories from today into the gospel of Jesus Christ. In the book I use Rapunzel, Jasmine, Cinderella, Ariel, Belle, Snow White, and even non-Disney examples like The Princess Bride and Ella Enchanted. Most of us know these stories by heart, so it makes it easier to apply the gospel to our individual lives.

Maybe instead of including paragraphs from the book, I’ll show you the Table of Contents so readers can get an overview of what’s included in the story. Here are the chapter titles: A Peculiar Princess, A Notorious Villain, An Awful Monster, A Dragon Nature, An Awe-Inspiring Hero, A Dangerous Distraction, A Load of Lies, A Broken Heart, A Closer Look, A Great Exchange, A Baptism of Fire, A Princess Warrior, An Epic Battle, A Prince’s Kingdom, An Endowment of Power, and A Happily Ever After (you knew I had to include that last one!). In the book, I cover every part of a typical princess story, which just goes to show that we really are living out our own fairy tale, only in real-life instead of make-believe.

As a busy mom of lots of kids, how have you found the time to write and pursue your own interests as well as nurture your family?  What has helped you find balance during the various stages of your life?

 There’s one piece of advice I think is crucial for women in our generation who want to have it all and do it all. Yes, we want to learn and grow and try different things . . . but the key is that we don’t have to try to do it all at once. For instance, in my 20’s, I quit school after finishing my Associates Degree because we’d started our family and I wanted to stay home with our kids. But in my 30’s, the Lord opened the door for me to go back and finish my Bachelor’s Degree (I graduated in 2012 at age 41). I was able to accomplish that dream, but it came in a way that was right for me and my family. So I really believe it’s all about timing. I had some seasons when I didn’t have much time to pursue outside interests, but that was only for a while and I was willing to make the sacrifice for our family. As I was patient, I was able to add more to my life when the time was right. So I really believe if we’re prayerful, we’ll find a way to do the things we love and become who we need to become, but we must do it by following the Lord’s will and His timing.

Thanks so much for letting us get to know you better, Jaci! Where can we learn more about you or pick up a copy of your book? 

 You can visit jaciwightman.com for more info on both books and a link to my personal blog. And A Princess Story is available on amazon.com in both paperback or kindle versions. Christina, my friend, thank you so much for allowing me to be part of your wonderful blog! It’s been really fun to stop by and chat about something I feel so passionate about.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Worth a look ~ 4 sets of twins, why ostriches stick their heads in the sand, and sinking ships

Parenting/Motherhood:


Do I ever feel guilty about not "using" my college education?  This article was EXCELLENT on the topic of motherhood and careers, especially for those who have yet to choose a major or a college.  Planning ahead for more family-friendly professions and considering your debt load is definitely important.  I especially appreciated the many, many good comments that weigh in on different careers and experiences.

Why we might actually WANT to keep our heads in the sand

A 90-year-old mom talks about her nine kids, including four sets of twins and how parenting has changed (via Clover Lane)

Super fun:

So Funny:  7 Quick Takes about Trashy Obsessions

I love this mash-up of classical classics:

(via Like Mother, Like Daughter)

Inspiring:

This week's sacrament:
"From the outside, it's just a piece of bread and tiny cup of water. In the hospital, of course, it's also a short visit from kind strangers, but a swallow of bread and a sip of water seem like odd gifts to bring a cancer patient.
For those who know, though, this is what my visitors will bring:
It's Jesus, who--after wearing himself thin walking the length of Galilee and Judea teaching, healing, warning, and loving--now lies flat on his face in Gethsemane suffering with me. It's his promise that whenever two or three gather,  remembering, he'll be.

My friend recently toured the Vasa Museum in Sweden and reminded me of this devotional address by Elder Renlund from 2014 (read, watch, or listen at that link).  The story of the Vasa ship is fascinating:

In the early seventeenth century, Sweden was a world power. Sweden’s king, Gustav II Adolf, commissioned a warship that would be christened the Vasa. The ship represented a substantial outlay of resources, particularly the oak from which the vessel would be built. Oak was so valuable that cutting down an oak tree without authorization was a capital offense. Gustav Adolf closely oversaw the construction process, attempting to ensure that the Vasa would fully realize his expectations.
After construction had begun, Gustav Adolf ordered theVasa to be made longer. Because the width supports had already been built from precious oak, the king directed the builders to increase the ship’s length without increasing its width. Although the shipwrights knew that doing so would compromise the Vasa’s seaworthiness, they were hesitant to tell the king something they knew he did not want to hear. They complied. Gustav Adolf also insisted that this ship have not simply the customary single deck of guns but cannons on three decks, with the heaviest cannons on the upper deck. Again, against their better judgment, the shipwrights complied.
Over the course of several years, shipwrights, carpenters, rope makers, and others worked diligently to build theVasa. Over one thousand oak trees were used to complete the ship. It had sixty-four cannons and masts taller than 150 feet. To give the ship the opulence befitting a king’s flagship, several hundred gilded and painted sculptures were added.
On August 10, 1628, the Vasa began its maiden voyage. In view of countless spectators, the ship left its mooring directly below the royal castle in Stockholm. After being pulled along by anchors for the first several hundred feet, the Vasa left the shelter of the harbor. A stronger wind entered its sails, and the ship began to tip. The Vasa righted itself slightly, but only temporarily. Before long, as recorded by an observer, “she heeled right over and water gushed in through the gun ports until she slowly went to the bottom under sail, pennants and all.”1 The Vasa’s maiden voyage was about 4,200 feet.
The Vasa rested at the bottom of the Baltic Sea until it was recovered three centuries later in 1961. It was successfully raised from the seabed and towed back to Stockholm. Today the Vasa rests in a temperature- and humidity-controlled museum in Djurg√•rden, an island in central Stockholm. I have a model of the ship in my office at Church headquarters as a reminder of several lessons that underlie its short, tragic history.
Despite the Vasa’s magnificent appearance, the ship was not seaworthy. The alterations in its construction resulted in it not having sufficient lateral stability to enable safe seafaring. Gustav Adolf’s desire for an extravagant status symbol ruined the design of what would have been a magnificent sailing vessel, the mightiest warship of its time. The shipbuilders’ reluctance to speak up—their fear of the king’s displeasure—deprived the king of their knowledge and insight. All involved lost sight of the goals of the enterprise: to protect Sweden and to promote its interests abroad. A ship that attempts to defy the laws of physics is simply a boat that won’t float.

Beautiful:

Some of my favorite landscapes from last week's trip to California:







Wednesday, January 27, 2016

One a Day 2016, Weeks 1-3

I decided to go for another year of one-a-days, and since I was already mostly in the habit, it's been fun to continue it.  I keep wanting to take some time to write more for this blog (I think I still have a few readers), but it's just not happening right now.  Benji's gotten into the rotten habit of waking up every two or three hours at night and though we've persuaded him to take a pacifier instead of eating except at 2 and 5 a.m., it's still exhausting for me.  We spent a week enjoying the warmer weather in California this month and now that we're back, perhaps we can influence him into better sleep habits.
New Year's Day party included decorating cookies

Organizing our puzzles and games.  Do you think we have enough?



One library basket just isn't enough for us anymore.




I'm loving my macro lens.





Packing for our trip!

Rockhounding in the desert.  This picture represents a lot about the relationship between these two.  :)

The younger girls love doing crafts on our trips; these necklaces were fun to make.


Universal Studios!




Four Generations at Great-Grandma Cain's house

Driving home past Edwards Air Force Base

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

What I Read and Why, Plus Favorites from 2015

I read 42 books in 2015, which is quite a few more than I read the year before -- I blame pregnancy and nursing for the increase.  Goodreads sent me an email to tell me about my reading last year, complete with graphics that showed which book was the most popular of what I'd read (The Graveyard Book) and which was the least (Barefoot to Billionaire).  

The 42

Looking over the books was interesting.  Last year, I read a lot more fiction than I usually do, some of it on audiobook while I ran or tackled projects around the house, others on my kindle while I endured the last few months of pregnancy.  The Emporer's Soul, Elantris and Still Alice were my highest rated fiction books.

But nonfiction is my true love and has been ever since I was a young mom and realized my book addiction was interfering with my parenting.  I loved to read and while that was mostly good, the fact that I would get so engrossed in a story that I would stay up until the wee hours to finish "just one more chapter" was not so good.  I was tired enough getting up with babies at night; I didn't need to deal with fiction-induced sleep deprivation as well.  So I switched to reading nonfiction, which fed my insatiable desire to read without the late night binge-reading.  No matter how interesting a nonfiction book or engaging a memoir, I just don't get the same "I have to see how this ends!" feeling from them, and thus I can close the book and turn off the light at a reasonable hour.

When I first switched to reading nonfiction, I felt a bit like a sugar addict switching to a whole foods diet:  a bit deprived, but also virtuous.  And back then, pre-blogs, Facebook, and Goodreads, it was actually hard sometimes to find interesting nonfiction books.  I read a lot of parenting books, a lot of history (David McCullough), and a ton of biography.

Today, it's a lot easier to find good books.  I have dozens of friends on Goodreads who post about wonderful books and many of the blogs I read post about the best books they've read.  I have so many books on my to-read list, but like my life, it's a bit scattered.  I have some listed on a "To Read" memo in my phone, some on Goodreads, and some on my wishlist on Amazon.  I really need to get a better system for deciding what to read next, particularly as I'm finding it more and more difficult to get through all the books I check out from the library.

It would help if my library didn't make it easy to check out more than I have time for.  I have a little addiction to the "New Nonfiction" table they keep stocked with all sorts of interesting reads.  Even as I pick up my holds and track down the books I really intended to read, I always stop at that table and end up sidetracked in my reading. As I scan the titles, I'm always finding something that just sounds amazing.  Unlike my earlier reading days, I find I really have little interest in history (with the exception of memoir or super interesting biography) and I'm pretty much done with parenting books.  My loves now are culture, science (especially social science, psychology, and medicine), and memoir.  Especially memoir, and especially if it's a story of someone who grew up in a culture much different or challenging than mine.  I love to get a peak into someone's life story and why they are who they are.

This past year, I learned about Parkinsons Disease, the latest research on aging, congruences between MesoAmerican culture and the Book of Mormon, ancient Jewish temple worship, the Chilean mine disaster, how well-intentioned efforts to end poverty can go terribly wrong, civil war and terrorism in Sri Lanka, obsessive-compulsive disorder, how North Korea is crazier than a dystopian young adult fiction book (though this book is a better one for understanding North Korea), how the northwest coast of America should brace themselves for a tsunami, and what marshmallows and preschoolers teach us about self-control, among other things.  It was a good reading year (notwithstanding the time I wasted reading Austenland, my only one-star book of the year).

If you're like me, you're already looking up these books, finding them fascinating, and putting them on a to-read list that you'll then forget about in favor of that alluring "New Non-fiction table" at the library.

Of all the books that I read this past year, here are five that stand out in my mind:

1.  Temple Theology - An Introduction by Margaret Barker.  Barker is a scholar, studied at Cambridge, and is a Methodist preacher.  The way she had of describing and opening up the symbolism and meaning of Old Testament temple worship really opened my understanding of how temple worship was designed, then and now, to bring us to Christ.  It was a short book, but very dense.  I gained so much insight from reading this.  The author has written several other books that I want to read soon.

2.  The Marshmallow Test:  Mastering the Art of Self-Control.  Members of my Church might remember this talk about patience given a few years ago by Elder Uchtdorf that cited a study of preschoolers and marshmallows.  This book was written by the original creator of that study, who has spent his career studying the long-term effects of being able to delay gratification.  In short, kids who can resist temptation later on go on to have higher SAT scores, and more successful lives.  The book was wonderful.  The author talked about his own struggles to quit smoking and one interesting part, was about how people react when finding out they carry the breast cancer gene.  From my review:

 "Essentially, the author says that each of us are ruled by a "hot brain," which is inclined to be tempted by immediate rewards, and a "cold brain," that calculates and measures choices and consequences. Building self-control involves accessing the cold brain when the hot brain is more likely to be in control. 
There were a lot of interesting studies in the book. One that fascinated me involved how poorly people judge what effect bad news might have on them. Specifically, they found that women tested for the breast cancer gene sometimes fell apart when they found out they had it. So they eventually developed role playing to help women decide whether or not to get tested. Actually coming face to face with what could happen if they did have it was a lot more realistic for those to make a choice as opposed to just a bland recitation of the possible risks and benefits. 
Another section of the book talked about how to access the cold brain to step back and re-evaluate difficult and painful life experiences (such as getting hung up on a betrayal by an ex-boyfriend), and how that can help a person move forward."

3.  Still Alice.  This is fiction that felt like a memoir, exploring the life of a woman who discovers she has early-onset Alzheimer's.

4.  The Idealist:  Jeffrey Sachs and the Quest to End Poverty.  This book took a look at the programs set up by a man determined to end poverty essentially by throwing a lot of money at it.  Unfortunately, life, economic incentives, corruption, and even weather intervenes to keep lofty goals from  being realized.  Ending poverty is just not as simple as some people want it to be.  (As a side note, I've read dozens and dozens of glowing articles about micro-credit and and how it works so well at bringing people out of poverty, but recently solid research has shown it doesn't really do what we thought it would.)

5.  Elantris.  My kids got me into reading Brandon Sanderson this year and he is a master of storytelling and world-building.  This was one of my favorites (and just may have kept me up until the wee hours to finish).


What were your favorite reads in 2015?


Wednesday, January 13, 2016

My Ten Favorite Landscape Photos from 2015

With the help of my Facebook friends, I narrowed down this year's favorite landscapes from 30 to 10, then I arranged them in order of which ones I like best. For Christmas, my husband paid for me to get a dozen large canvases of my work, and many of these now grace my walls.


#1  Haven, Provo City Center Temple
(Available for purchase)

#2  Shorebreak, Maui (this one hangs above my bed now)

#3  Aspens, Nebo Loop (This one is hanging in my great room)

#4 Sunset on top of the world, Maui

#5  Frozen Shoreline, Utah Lake

#6  Stone Cathedral, Arches National Park

#7 Moving Water, Maui

#8  Leaning In, Maui


#9  Burst of Yellow, Nebo Loop


#10  Night Falls, Utah Lake




I'd love to know which ones are your favorites!






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