Thursday, December 31, 2015

2015 books recap: The year of the dragons

I successfully completed three book challenges this year. 1) Read 77 books (although I had to read 9 books in December to pull it off); 2) get a book bingo (if you listen to Books on the Nightstand—which you should, if you're a podcast person—you'll know what this is); and 3) check off 50 books from my TBR list (I didn't finish them all, but the important thing is that they're no longer waiting to be read).

I also read a large number of books about dragons, though that was completely unintentional.

Each challenge had its perks and downsides. This was the first year I really had to work to hit my "books read" goal, but I'm glad I set it so high. It's the only way I'll be able to chip away at all those books I want to read.

Speaking of books I want to read, it was especially satisfying making a dent on my TBR list. Since last year, I've whittled that number down from 214 to . . . 392. Sigh. I have a major problem.

As for book bingo, Shannan and I were pretty dedicated to our bingo cards over the summer. We stuck our cards to the fridge and monitored each other's progress continually. Here are some of the squares I had to get:

  • Book by an author who shares your first name
  • Thriller
  • Book with an animal on the cover
  • Part of a series
  • YA
  • Historical fiction
  • Book you think you will dislike
  • Presidential biography
  • Book about time travel
  • Title is longer than six words
  • Booktopia author
  • Recommended by a friend
  • Sci-fi
  • Re-read
  • Set in a place you want to visit
  • Has a movie/TV series based on it

There were more, but I'm impressed I remembered that many. It took me almost an entire summer to get one stinkin' bingo, and some of those squares were unnecessary torture. Still, it was a fun challenge and it forced me to read books I wouldn't normally consider. I think I'll do it again next year, as long as Shannan gets a harder card this time. ;)

This post is already getting alarmingly long, so let's get to it, shall we?

Goals: Read 77 books, check off 50 books from my TBR list, get a book bingo

Books read: 77

Books I didn't finish: 12. I'm actually quite proud of this number.

Pages read: 28,509 (about 375 per book)


  • 5 stars: 17
  • 4 stars: 28
  • 3 stars: 23
  • 2 stars: 8
  • 1 star: 1

First reads: 70

Re-reads: 7

Fiction: 67

Nonfiction: 8

*Plus two more, for anyone who bothered to do the math: the Altered Perceptions anthology had both fiction and nonfiction pieces, and I still can't decide if The Things They Carried is fiction or nonfiction. Which is driving me crazy.

Books by female authors: 50

Books by male authors: 26

*Plus an anthology that had multiple authors.

Longest book: Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, by Susanna Clarke. 846 pages.

Shortest book: The Time Machine, by H.G. Wells. 118 pages.

Favorite book (fiction): The Snow Child, by Eowyn Ivey. I'm not sure how to talk about this book without being annoyingly gushy. It's wonderful. Haunting. Emotive. Satisfying. The winter setting is magical, the characters feel real. I'll stop the gushing now on one condition: that you promise to find a copy and read it. (I'm not ready to lend out my copy, so you're on your own.)

Favorite book (nonfiction): Under the Tuscan Sun, by Frances Mayes. I really didn't read that much nonfiction this year, and most of it was English language–related. But this book was lovely. I think there's a small part of all of us that just wants to buy a cottage somewhere and grow all our own food and live the simple life. That's what Frances did during her breaks from teaching, and in one of my top travel destinations: Italy. Ah, that would be the life.

Favorite reread: The Wednesday Letters, by Jason F. Wright. I love this book. It's comforting in a come-stay-at-this-beautiful-bed-and-breakfast-and-forget-all-your-troubles kind of way.

Author of the year: Wallace Stegner. This guy is a gem. I can't believe I haven't read him before—next year I plan on reading a lot of his books. See more below.

The great American novel: Crossing to Safety, by Wallace Stegner. This book ties for Favorite Book of the Year. The next two or three books I read after this one were doomed because nothing can live up to a book you recently loved so deeply. This book spans decades and isn't real plot heavy, but if you enjoy good writing and great characters, this book is a must.

Best escape: Winter, by Marissa Meyer. I tried not to pick another Lunar Chronicles book for this category, but these books are just so perfect for hide-from-the-world entertainment. I tend to read mainly around bedtime and during lunch if I can swing it, but this is the type of book I pass on TV and games for because it provides the same type of entertainment value.

Funniest book: The Martian, by Andy Weir. I laughed so much while reading this book. It's a little crazy I enjoyed it so immensely, considering it has a lot of things I don't usually find entertaining: math and space, for instance.

Saddest book: We Are Not Ourselves, by Matthew Thomas. This wasn't the most tear-jerky novel I read this year, but it's so depressing. It's been almost three months since I finished it, and I'm still hurting a little. The book covers a span of 50ish years, the last couple decades of which involve a character slowly succumbing to the most horrible disease I know of: Alzheimers. This is a very good book and one I recommend without hesitation, but just know that it doesn't soften any of the realities of life.

Weirdest book: Nights at the Circus, by Angela Carter. (No, I didn't secretly write a book.) Ugh. I've given modernism/postmodernism a fair chance. And I still hate every book that falls under that category. I don't enjoy books that hurtle past the boundaries of strange, or that try so hard to be profound that they become profoundly pretentious. Not to mention that I've recently realized that I have not liked one single book that had a circus in it. So guess where this book ended up? In my fireplace.

Yawn award: The Time Machine, by H.G. Wells. I like time-travel stories, so it takes a lot for an author to make it boring. And this book couldn't have been written in a more boring way. Sigh.

Chick award: Beast Charming, by Jenniffer Wardell. A lot of the books I review for the Deseret News feel like work, but this one was so much fun. And what girl doesn't enjoy a good Beauty and the Beast story?

Coolest title: The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, by Catherynne M. Valente. I didn't enjoy this book very much, but it has the longest title known to man, so I had to make up a category for it.

Most in need of an editor: The Lost Symbol, by Dan Brown. I know Dan Brown isn't exactly known for his elegant prose, but come on. Nobody will notice if you cut out 800 of those exclamation points.

Book I can't stop recommending: Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, by Susanna Clarke. This book slowly drew me in, and the further I got, the more I loved it. That love continued to grow after I finished the book, which is why several of my acquaintances have given it a try this year. The funny thing is, even though I can't stop recommending it, I'm certain not everyone will enjoy it. You've got to have an appreciation for Victorian literature and fantasy. If you don't, this book will probably bore you to death. So perhaps before reading this, brush up on these British authors: Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, J.R.R. Tolkien, J.K. Rowling, C.S. Lewis—if you like them, your chances of liking this book increase exponentially. And don't skip the footnotes—they're awesome.

Most pleasant surprise: Rilla of Ingleside, by L.M. Montgomery. Most of the Anne books are either really good or, well, a waste of time. The two books preceding this one were the worst of the series, so I didn't have high hopes for the final book. However, seeing that it was about a war gave me some hope that it at least wouldn't be silly and pointless. It wasn't. In fact, I think it's the best book of the series, after Anne of Green Gables, and it shows that Montgomery really shines when writing about the darker things of life. The fact that this book is so good makes that abominable "Continuing Story" movie even more of a travesty—Montgomery had already created a movie-worthy WWI story; Kevin Sullivan had no right to write his own and dump pre-parenthood Anne and Gilbert into it. Ugh, don't even get me started.

Biggest disappointment: All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr. Holy cow, this book got so much hype. I try not to let hype affect my reading experience, but it's really hard to ignore it when you listen to as many book podcasts as I do. I think I disliked the book for the same reason I dislike poetry—the language is too beautiful, the chapters too short and choppy, to work as a novel.

Most thought-provoking: Ordinary People, by Judith Guest. This is kind of an oldie, with a remarkably accurate portrayal of mental illness and how complex people can be.

Fueled my hope for humanity: I Am the Messenger, by Markus Zusak. I didn't think I would like this book at first, but it turned out to be pretty good. I really liked the reminder that you don't have to be extraordinary to make the world a better place; being ordinary will do.

Book that would make a good movie: Night Road, by Kristin Hannah. This book is pretty soap opera-y, which tends to bode well for movie adaptations. Done right, I think it would actually be quite watchable.

Book that would make a boring movie: Crossing to Safety, by Wallace Stegner. A fabulous book does not always a good movie make. I don't think this one can be done well, and if it is, it'll most likely dissuade people from reading the book, which is a tragedy.

I'd like to live in this book for a while: The Light Between Oceans, by M.L. Stedman. I'm a mountain girl through and through, but a part of me finds the near-total isolation of living by a lighthouse appealing. You'd have your own personal beach in your backyard. Fewer distractions from the outside world. I'm sure I'm too wimpy to rough it on a deserted beach for long, but for a while it would be a simple paradise.

Please don't make me live in this book: The Nightingale, by Kristin Hannah. I love WWII stories, but that doesn't mean I'm not glad I didn't have to live through it. This book focuses on what the women of France did during those years, which involved a lot of cold nights, hunger, terror—even in the supposed safety of your own home—and hopeless despair. This book makes it into my Top 5 of the year in part because Hannah was able to portray this part of history so vividly. It's such a good, heartbreaking book.

Favorite character: I'm going to cheat a little and pick two. First is Miri from The Forgotten Sisters by Shannon Hale. She's yet another one of Hale's characters I see so much of myself in, which adds a whole new level of special to the reading experience. Second is Death from Soul Music by Terry Pratchett. I still can't decide if I like Terry Pratchett, but Death is a funny and interesting enough character to urge me to keep trying.

Least favorite character: Levin, from Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy. Based on other reviews I skimmed about this book, a lot of people resonate with Levin, but I just found him irritating. Most of the time, he's either doubting himself incessantly or is jealous of those who are obviously cooler than he is. Ugh. I don't have the patience for that.

Most relatable character: Jane Eyre, from, duh, Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte. This was my third time reading this book, and I can't believe I never noticed the similarities between us before. She's shy, but fiercely independent. She would rather watch people creepily from the shadows than be out where all the action is. Sticking to her morals is more important to her than doing what's easy or convenient. I think I've found a bit of a literary kindred spirit.

Crush: Peder, from The Forgotten Sisters. Miri loves him, so I do too.

Don't judge this book by its cover: The Unfairest of the All, by Shannon Hale. This cover is hideous, and represents many things that suck about American culture. I wouldn't have given it any consideration at all of Shannon Hale's name wasn't on the cover. Rest assured that what's inside doesn't reflect the plastic fakery of the cover—there's plenty of substance and fun trapped in those pages.

All the books I read in 2015, in the order I finished them (favorites are bolded):

  1. The Wednesday Letters, by Jason F. Wright
  2. The Wedding Letters, by Jason F. Wright
  3. The Light Between Oceans, by M.L. Stedman
  4. Pierced by Love, by Laura L. Walker
  5. Sorcerers and Seers, by Chris Heimerdinger
  6. Drums of Desolation, by Chris Heimerdinger
  7. Under the Tuscan Sun, by Frances Mayes
  8. Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, by Susanna Clarke
  9. Altered Perceptions (compilation)
  10. I Am the Messenger, by Markus Zusak
  11. The Invisible Library, by Genevieve Cogman
  12. Nice Girls Still Don't Get the Corner Office, by Lois P. Frankel
  13. What Is Lost, by Lauren Skidmore
  14. The Magician's Assistant, by Ann Patchett
  15. All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr
  16. Beast Charming, by Jenniffer Wardell
  17. Assassin's Apprentice, by Robin Hobb
  18. The Forgotten Sisters, by Shannon Hale
  19. The Unfairest of Them All, by Shannon Hale
  20. Soul Music, by Terry Pratchett
  21. Spindle's End, by Robin McKinley
  22. The Sandcastle Girls, by Chris Bohjalian
  23. State of Wonder, by Ann Patchett
  24. Between You and Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen, by Mary Norris
  25. Astonish Me, by Maggie Shipstead
  26. The Year of Magical Thinking, by Joan Didion
  27. The Cross Bearer, by E. James Harrison
  28. Snow Like Ashes, by Sara Raasch
  29. Crossing to Safety, by Wallace Stegner
  30. The Nightingale, by Kristin Hannah
  31. The Things They Carried, by Tim O'Brien
  32. Dragon Slippers, by Jessica Day George
  33. How to Train Your Dragon, by Cressida Cowell
  34. The Time Machine, by H.G. Wells
  35. The Lost Symbol, by Dan Brown
  36. The Crystal Cave, by Mary Stewart
  37. Deep Blue, by Jennifer Donnelly
  38. The Miniaturist, by Jessie Burton
  39. The Snow Child, by Eowyn Ivey
  40. Remembering Laughter, by Wallace Stegner
  41. Night Road, by Kristin Hannah
  42. A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeleine L'Engle
  43. His Majesty's Dragon, by Naomi Novik
  44. Dragon Flight, by Jessica Day George
  45. Dragon Spear, by Jessica Day George
  46. A Wind in the Door, by Madeleine L'Engle
  47. A Swiftly Tilting Planet, by Madeleine L'Engle
  48. A Wonderlandiful World, by Shannon Hale
  49. Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy
  50. Waterfall, by Lisa Tawn Bergren
  51. Life After Life, by Kate Atkinson
  52. Nights at the Circus, by Angela Carter
  53. Feast for Thieves, by Marcus Brotherton
  54. The Thinking Woman's Guide to Real Magic, by Emily Croy Barker
  55. Where She Went, by Gayle Forman
  56. The Lexicographer's Dilemma, by Jack Lynch
  57. The Shadow of the Wind, by Carlos Ruiz Zafón
  58. Many Waters, by Madeleine L'Engle
  59. An Acceptable Time, by Madeleine L'Engle
  60. The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, by Catherynne M. Valente
  61. We Are Not Ourselves, by Matthew Thomas
  62. Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling, by Richard L. Bushman
  63. Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, by Ransom Riggs
  64. The Rithmatist, by Brandon Sanderson
  65. Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte
  66. Ordinary People, by Judith Guest
  67. The Martian, by Andy Weir
  68. Winter, by Marissa Meyer
  69. Evergreen Springs, by RaeAnne Thayne
  70. In the Days of Lachoneus: The Gathering, by David Armstrong
  71. Sounds Like Me: My Life (So Far) in Song, by Sara Bareilles
  72. Rainbow Valley, by L.M. Montgomery
  73. Rilla of Ingleside, by L.M. Montgomery
  74. The Timepiece, by Richard Paul Evans
  75. Uprooted, by Naomi Novik
  76. Jesus the Christ, by James E. Talmage
  77. Book of a Thousand Days, by Shannon Hale

Previous years:

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

A satisfying snowstorm

When it comes to snow, ya'll know how hard I am to please.

Yesterday, I was pleased.

I went to bed the night before more than a little hopeful.

And woke up to the winter wonderland of my heart's desire.

Yes, those are my footprints.

I don't think I've ever seen this much snow outside of Elk Ridge.

Naturally, I had to get a little snow walk in before the sidewalks were plowed.

There was even enough snow to justify (or rather, encourage) working from home. After watching cars inch across 900 East at two miles an hour, I had no desire to add my car to the mess. UDOT was practically begging people to stay off the roads all day, anyway.

The only downside to staying home was that my apartment was freezing. So I sat at my desk all day in this attire (plus a jacket).

After a tiring day of nonstop work, it was time to relax with one of my favorite Christmas movies, Home Alone. Followed by an evening tryst through the snow because, well, why wouldn't you want to traipse through the snow when it's 25˚ out? Post-sunset is one of the many magical stages of snow.

I got my fill of this snowstorm, but I'm already looking forward to the next one.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

What Mary knew

I'm feeling the need to set something straight. Every Christmas, this sort of thing starts floating around Facebook, collecting tons of likes and emphatic agreements:

I'm referring, of course, to the song "Mary, Did You Know?" It's a beautiful song (the a capella arrangements, at least), one that is dear to my heart. It's one of the first songs I learned as a Trouvere, and also one of the first I sang with my mom and sisters.

So I admit, I get a little defensive when people roll their eyes and say, "Of course Mary knew."

Because when you stop and think about it, how much did Mary really know?

Luke 1:28–33 reads:
And the angel came in unto her, and said, Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women.
And when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and cast in her mind what manner of salutation this should be.
And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favour with God.
And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name Jesus.
He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David:
And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end.
It's all right there in the text—yes, Mary knew she would be the mother of the son of God. She knew he would be great. She knew he would save the world. While every other mother can only hope their child will do great things, Mary had that assurance before her child was even conceived.

But just like with every prophecy, whether it be rooted in scriptures, legend, or epic fantasy, it's impossible to fully understand it when it is first given. Mary continually pondered things in her heart, but her understanding of her divine son came slowly. James E. Talmage puts it this way:
Mary appears never to have fully understood her Son; at every new evidence of His uniqueness she marveled and pondered anew. He was hers, and yet in a very real sense not wholly hers. There was about their relation to each other a mystery, awful yet sublime, a holy secret which that chosen and blessed mother hesitated even to tell over to herself. (Jesus the Christ, pg. 116)
This isn't to rip on Mary in any way. Most people expected the Messiah to be a king and conqueror—how could she have known that her son would have the authority to challenge their religious traditions, walk on water, heal the blind and deaf, save more than just the people he interacted with during his mortal ministry? It basically defies human logic to expect any of these things to happen.

Yes, Mary knew who her child was. But it took some time to fully understand what that meant. "Mary, Did You Know?" is not like that question Harry asked Dumbledore regarding whether he knew Tom Riddle would grow up to be the darkest wizard of all time. The question merely reflects the constant wonder Mary must have felt as she watched her child grow. It's a phenomenon we're still marveling over today, even after 2,000 years.

That question isn't just for Mary. It's for us, too.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Something good

I don't like going longer than a week without posting, and whenever that happens (which has been pretty standard the past few years, sadly), I start to scramble for ideas on what to write about. Sometimes I'll even make a mind map on a sticky-note to help me brainstorm. That's how devoted I am to my readers, guys.

But lately the only "inspiration" I've been able to easily draw from has been bad news—yucky politics (is that redundant?), unreliable media (again, redundant?), and so much violence. Did you know we've had more shootings this year than we've had days?

These types of things really bum me out, and I don't like to dwell on them too much.

One thing that consistently doesn't bum me out, though, is this group of people.

 Sure, we aren't immune to family drama, but a lot of our time together looks like this.

 And on very rare occasions for very short moments, they look like this.

It's difficult to feel too down about the world's troubles when you've got little human beings like these in your life.

Or that little smirk.

It's not ignoring the world's problems when you find comfort and joy in your family. If anything, it gives you more motivation to make your small corner, at least, a little better.

Just ask Sam.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Like winning 10 cents in the lottery

I know better than to hope for snow every time it appears on the weather forecast. I've been disappointed by the brownish-gray dreariness outside my window too many times to be duped by "80% chance of snow" projections.

However, constant, crushing disappointment hasn't jaded me so far as to prevent hope that this year's winter will make up for last year's lack. In my mind, Mother Nature is scientifically obligated to dump snowstorm after snowstorm on top of me.

Instead, the forecast promises snow and either fails to deliver, or even worse, gifts it to ungrateful complainers. I realize that it's not even Thanksgiving yet, but as far as I'm concerned, we're a year past due for some good snow.

I've never been good at waiting for the first magical snow of the year. I'll take comfort in knowing that Calvin, at least, understands the torture.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Dream Diary: Part 9

Comically bad writing
Kimberly and I went to an intense dance retreat in Ogden for a few days, and when it was over, Kimberly had had enough of girlish stuff and wanted to play football. She had to get permission from the city to organize a team that just played in our backyard, and they sent their denial via a horribly written newsletter. Their reasons for not allowing this team were something like "Your dad is to tired" and "Your sweet sister Angie will just be tuxting all day." The grammar mistakes were even worse than the "Bunko prizes will be awarded" family newsletter of 2006, so I am 99% certain my dream laughter manifested in real-life 4:00 a.m. sniggers.

A unique class schedule
Occasionally my school dreams will take a different tactic and give me a course schedule full of fascinating (but mostly impractical) classes. Some examples:
  • Renaissance cooking
  • Jousting
  • A class that met in Spain every other Friday
  • Archeology (aka, digging a hole to China)
I think the underlying theme here is that I need to travel more.

A new recurring nightmare
Someone make sure I watch all my favorite Christmas movies this year, because I've had at least two dreams recently that Christmas was over and I was devastated because I hadn't watched Home Alone or While You Were Sleeping yet.

Alien takeover
The night I finished The Rithmatist, I dreamed that I was the protagonist in a future society that's crumbling, aided by aliens taking over people's bodies. The alien leader tricked a bunch of regular humans into congregating at this huge building (I think it was at BYU), and I figured out in the nick of time that he wanted take over all of us at the same time. I wish I could say the dream had a happy ending, but most of the people were changed to aliens (or maybe I should just call them zombies) and the few of us who escaped sprinted to our cars for safety, lamenting the fact that we had lived to see such a dark day.

A trip to see Harry Potter. That's in London.
I was so tempted to buy tickets to see Harry Potter and the Cursed Child and plan an entire HP-related trip in the UK. So tempted. Then I dreamed that I took that trip. It included many of the things that exist in the London of my imagination: walks in the rain, lots of green stuff, gatherings in charming pubs, and of course the anticipation of seeing the play. Please, please let this happen.

Monday, November 2, 2015

My Top 10 playlist (fall 2015)

After weeks of deliberation, my refreshed Top 10 playlist is ready to be discussed. The main theme here is that end-credit song marketing works extremely well on me.

About half of these are dutiful survivors of my last Top 10 playlist, so I won't talk about them in great detail.

1. (Everything I Do) I Do It for You, by Bryan Adams (from Robin Hood). This song made it on a list of Most Cheesy Movie Songs. I wanted to shake my fist at my screen and yell, "How dare you trivialize the most romantic song ever written!" In fact, I might have done that.

2. When You Come Back to Me Again, by Garth Brooks (from Frequency).

3. Brave, by Sara Bareilles.

4. Savior, Redeemer of My Soul, by Vocal Point.

5. Danny Boy, by Vocal Point.

6. The Time of My Life, by David Cook.

7. It's Time, by Imagine Dragons. This is one of those songs I'm incapable of skipping, because it works for all of my moods. And it's a great song.

8. Into the West, by Annie Lennox (from The Return of the King). Every time I feel the need to update my top 10 favorites, this song is always in the mix. After my most recent viewing of The Return of the King, I decided it was time to end the debate regarding whether it was awesome enough to deserve a spot on this list and just put it in its rightful place. It has a beautiful, haunting melody, it's perfectly sing-along-able for my range, and it just makes you feel things.

9. The Call, by Regina Spektor (from Prince Caspian). This song is an absolute heartbreaker, and it's 100 percent perfect for Narnia. The first time I listened to it in my car rather than during the end of the Prince Caspian movie, I realized that it also perfectly captures the feelings in my heart every time I'm going through a major change, or am simply remembering the past. It's so, so good. And did I mention heartbreaking?

10. Go the Distance, by Michael Bolton (from Hercules).

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

October nesting

The deeper we've gotten into fall, the more I've wanted to burrow down at home and do cozy, fall things. 

Like drink hot chocolate. (By the fireplace, of course.)

And read good books. (By the fireplace, of course.)

Sadly, I'm not reading Harry Potter right now, but it makes such a lovely prop.

And just sit and watch the fire while you warm up because you're still trying not to use your heater. It's a lovely way to spend a chilly evening.

I've also been crocheting. A lot. Usually by the fireplace.

FYI—the shirt isn't quite finished yet. Still have a little bit of edging to do.

With daylight savings at the end of the month, I've also been trying to enjoy the last of my evening walks for the year. The foliage hasn't been that impressive, but I've still been treated to some lovely sights and distinctly autumn smells.

And it seems that the colder and darker it gets, the happier I get, burrowing up in my little apartment, indulging in hobbies. Perhaps I owe this giddiness to the fact that I sleep significantly better during this time of year, which provides an automatic mood boost, but I also just really like the cold. The anticipation of snow. The thought of listening to Christmas music again. Fun winter attire.

It's such a wonderful time of year, made even better if you don't dread the season that follows.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

What the fandom wants, the fandom gets

Throughout earth's history of human habitation, it's the loudest voices who tend to shape its course. That has interesting consequences in the 21st century, particularly in light of fandom cultures that are like gluttonous monsters continuously fed by paparazzi and internet-theory side dishes.

Netflix is among the latest vying for the knight in shining armor position among fans. It houses most of the TV shows we missed out on but were mildly curious about. It allows for effortless binge-watching. It's responsible for letting us relive our childhoods via a Full House reboot.

Most importantly, it's made one of my biggest fandom dreams come true: Gilmore Girls is coming back! For most GG fans, the reboot isn't about reliving the glory days; it's about getting closure on something that wasn't wrapped up in a satisfying way. Fans have been loudly lamenting that lack of closure for eight years, and finally, the stars have aligned to make that happen.

Sure, this world has got problems, but it's a beautiful place when it makes your frivolous fantasies come true.

Now that I can check that item off the list, I just need a few more things:

  • The Harry Potter encyclopedia (no, Pottermore isn't enough)
  • Another Harry Potter book (or 12)
  • A Harry Potter TV series (come on, let's make this happen)
  • A Brandon Sanderson cosmere movie (I'll even let you pick which book to do!)
  • A live-action version of all my favorite animated classics (done right, the way Cinderella was)
  • For Once Upon a Time to get good again
  • For Jimmer Fredette and Tyler Haws to do extremely well in their respective careers and somehow end up playing for the Utah Jazz together, preferably coached by John Stockton and Karl Malone
  • For BYU to win all the championships

Oh, and one more thing:
  • A Gilbert Blythe for me to marry

What the fandom wants, the fandom gets.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Finally, something to get out of bed for

It's no secret that mornings and I don't get along. I've always felt that the best way to get through mornings is to sleep through them, but I haven't managed to sustain a lifestyle that allows that kind of schedule.

Which is why my mornings are strategically planned; only the most essential of tasks are completed before leaving for work—things like making lunches and working out can be put off until the evening. (I would shower in the evenings too, but they are an essential part of the waking-up process.) Breakfast cannot be skipped, but it can be rushed.

It's a system that's been working for me my entire life. But I've always wished I had the "It's Christmas morning!" or "We're leaving for vacation today!" attitude that makes de-sandwiching myself from my sleep chamber an enjoyable experience. I've heard people talk about how excited they are to start each day anew, meet new people, and make a difference in the world. 

For me though, when that blasted alarm clock goes off, my first thoughts are usually along the lines of "Why is the world so cruel?" and which story I should tell my manager so I can call in sick and get a few more hours of sleep. 

I know I have a lot to live for. But I'd sooner punch someone in the face than acknowledge that before 8:00 a.m. 

Now, I'm going to shift gears a bit and talk about an oft repeated and failed new years resolution of mine: diligent scripture study. I've been pretty good about reading most days, but I often fly through a chapter because I either want to go to bed or move on to my "real" book. Even if I read something scripture related every day for a week, my total time with spiritual study is probably less than what someone else could accomplish in a day.

However, the last few months I've had a bit of a breakthrough with scripture study. I resolved to make the study part stick this time, and now I can actually say I study the scriptures rather than speed-read them.

This presented another problem, though. After 15–20 minutes of good study, I wouldn't have time to ponder on what I'd read because I would move right along to the book I was reading at the time. It's a little jarring to emerge from deep study on something personal only to jump right into a different world. But bedtime reading is an essential part of my day, something I'm not willing to give up. 

Somehow, I had to find a way to separate these two tasks. Both were important to me, but they didn't play well together.

Eventually it occurred to me that I could move scripture time to the morning. Perhaps it took me longer to reach this conclusion than it should have, but it's unsurprising considering my background. My family was always a read-scriptures-before-bed type of family, and that was the way all of us preferred it. Getting up for family prayer in the morning was hard enough. Mom would be ready for work, of course, so she got to laugh at us as we staggered into the family room in various states of consciousness: the three older girls in the middle of curling their hair or shoveling down cereal, and Dad and the two youngest sleep-walking to the circle of sleepy Carters, collapsing to the ground and shielding their eyes from the light.

Some families swear by morning scripture time, but I always pitied my friends who were deprived of their precious sleep so they could pretend to stay awake through a chapter of the Book of Mormon. 

So I shoved that thought away. At least, I tried to. Then I proofread a book that touted the benefits of morning scripture study and read an article in the Ensign that went on and on about the blessings of getting up early. I finally decided that I was ready to give it a try.

My plan was to get up at 6:30, 20–30 minutes earlier than my usual wakeup time. Now, I know what most of you are thinking: you get up way earlier than that every day, that 6:30 isn't early, blah blah blah. But it was a huge deal for me; it felt like a life-altering decision.

I went to bed early on Sunday night and actually succeeded in falling asleep in under an hour (unheard of on a Sunday, but I was still tired from not being able to catch up on sleep over conference weekend due to the fact that I don't sleep as well in my bed at home), and woke up unusually refreshed.

I've thought about this, and I think it was the best morning of my life. Seriously. Better than those mornings in Elk Ridge when I woke up to over a foot of snow. Better than those Saturdays I wake up thinking that my alarm will go off soon, and then realizing that it's Saturday and I can stay in bed for as long as I want.

Having enough hot water to stretch my shower to 10 minutes and having a good hair day is usually a good start to my day, but then I had a full half hour to relax, study, and ponder. It was so weird not feeling rushed, and I was amazed at how grateful I was to be spending the worst part of my day doing something so fulfilling.

Life went on as normal after that, though the memory of that special morning lingered. And the past two days getting out of bed wasn't a battle with the snooze button; I actually wanted to get up to make sure I wasn't robbed of any scripture time. I don't know how long this new routine will last, but it's already done something that a job I enjoy, adult responsibilities, and a good night's sleep haven't been able to maintain: give me something I want to wake up for.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Some Gilmore love

Gilmore Girls has been getting a lot of love lately, what with a new generation of people discovering it on Netflix, the GG reunion panel last June, and this week's 15-year anniversary of the date the pilot aired. (Not to mention the popular "Gilmore Guys" podcast, which I love almost as much as "Alohomora." Harry Potter fandom always comes first.) Let me just say, it's nice to be validated in my choice of favorite TV show.

I discovered the show the summer before I started college. It was often on during the time I worked out, so it (ironically) became my motivation to hop on the treadmill at 11:00 a.m. on days I wasn't opening at Domino's. I stumbled upon the show during its worst arc (basically all of season 6) and was introduced to both Rory and Logan at their worst.

Which is probably why it took another summer of workouts for me to really get hooked on the show. While watching sporadic episodes, I related to Rory's shyness and love for books, I was constantly amused by Lorelai, and I wanted to live in Stars Hollow. I loved the humor of the show, and the further I got into my college education, the more references I understood. By my junior year of college I had watched every episode, and it has since become my go-to when I need something comforting and funny.

And like other devoted Gillys, the show has affected the way I live in seemingly odd ways.

  • My hair progression tends to follow Rory's.
  • Whenever I order pizza to complement movie watching, I sit on the floor and lean against the couch while I eat.
  • I eat Pop Tarts a lot more than I did as a kid.
  • I know what my order would be if I ever ate at Luke's Diner—the largest cheeseburger in the world Luke makes for Lorelai in the pilot (I think), which she doesn't even touch. Still mad at her about that.
  • I am ashamed that I have never seen Casablanca.

Not to mention there's a Gilmore quote for every situation.

When you are fed up with people: "People are particularly stupid today. I can't talk to any more of them."

When you're not in the mood for being single: "It's all any of us wants, to find a nice person to hang out with until we drop dead. Not a lot to ask!"

When someone is freaking out about looking moronic in front of someone they like: "I'm afraid that once your heart's involved, it all comes out in moron."

When your boss doesn't appreciate you: "If I am going to be treated like a dog, I would like a cookie and a raise."

When you really need to insult someone: "Butt-faced miscreant!"

When someone won't give your stubbornness the benefit of the doubt: "I can be flexible. As long as everything is exactly the way I want it, I'm totally flexible."

When you're so frustrated you have to make up a new word: "That makes me so mad. And so sad. I'm smad."

When you need to quickly change the subject: "I love shrimp!"

Every Monday morning: "I feel like crap on toast."

When you're worried about not having a life: "Years from now, I want to read an in-depth biography of myself and not puke."

When someone gives you leftovers: "You brought us used dessert?"

When someone tries to get you to sit down when you'd rather stand: "Can't. These aren't my pants."

And, of course, when words just can't express your exasperation, you can always say: "Oy with the poodles already."

I don't think I'll ever stop re-watching this show, no matter how dated it gets. I get the feeling that Lorelai would approve.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Dream Diary: Part 8

Voldemort has a son?
I'm at my high school doing typical dream stuff—trying to remember my locker combination and the location of all of my classes—when I receive a note from the front office. It's sort of in code, but the gist of it is that I need to contact Mr. Barnes (my jr. high band director) because there's new information about my dad from the 1970s that has something to do with a flute. My high school friend, Danielle, and I try to track Mr. Barnes down, with little luck, since he doesn't teach at the high school. So we decided to break into his apartment, where we interrupted Voldemort's son in his plans to raise an evil army of flutists. Before I had time to ponder on practicality of this plan, Voldemort's son started trying to bite our necks, and I woke up thoroughly creeped out.

A Friends and Boy Meets World Mashup
The main cast in Friends decides to pretend to act like someone else in the main cast to throw paparazzi off their trail. (For example, Monica did a killer impression of Ross). Who do they call to sort out the mystery? None other than Eric Matthews. He bungled the whole thing, of course.

BYU's new assistant football coach: me
My contribution to the team was to make them run around the church a lot and eat Chinese food after practice. Unsurprisingly, fans were not happy, so they sent the cops out to get me. I spent a lot of time running in this dream.

A series of elevator dreams
Dream elevators are bad news. For example, I once dreamed that the elevator I was in broke free from the building and floated aimlessly around San Francisco for hours. Another time I stood in line for an elevator at BYU for a long time, and when it was finally my turn, the elevator was just too tired to carry another load. My elevator mates and I plummeted to the basement, which was approximately 15 miles beneath us. I would not wish it upon anyone to have their life flash before their eyes in this manner. In my latest elevator dream, Kimberly was the culprit. We were headed to the basement of the Payson Temple for a family reunion, and the corner she was standing in disappeared and she fell several stories to what should have been her doom, but luckily a pile of Barbies and pillows cushioned her fall. My dream-elevator victims are not always so lucky.

Moral of the story: always take the stairs.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Enchanted pages

I started reading this book last night that I think I'm going to love. This passage at the beginning really struck a chord with me:
Once, in my father's bookshop, I heard a regular customer say that few things leave a deeper mark on a reader than the first book that finds its way into his heart. Those first images, the echo of words we think we have left behind, accompany us throughout our lives and sculpt a place in our memory to which, sooner or later—no matter how many books we read, how many worlds we discover, or how much we learn or forget—we will return. (The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon, pg. 8)
The first book that popped to my mind when I read this was, of course, Harry Potter. I was 12 when I read Sorcerer's Stone for the first time, relatively young in my reading life. Would I love the books as much as I do if I hadn't been a part of the lucky Harry Potter generation? Probably not.

But there are other books that I read early in life that have stayed close to my heart. (If you've seen my Favorites shelf on Goodreads, you probably noticed that a lot of them are young adult/middle grade.)

I have my 5th grade teacher, Mr. Applegate, to thank for introducing me to some of my favorite books. There's Ella Enchanted, still the best fairy-tale retelling I have ever read (and I've read a lot). There's The Giver, one of the first books that portrayed the world I lived in in grays, rather than black and white. And there's also A Return to Christmas, a cheesy, predictable Christmas story that always makes the Christmas season feel more complete.

I've read all of these books more than once, and they all still evoke that magical, childlike wonder. I add a few books to my Favorites shelf every year, but the ones I fell in love with in elementary school/middle school get a special spot on that shelf. They're the ones I go back to the most.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

On journaling

I recently made a goal to write in my journal every day. This isn't the first time I've made this goal; in my younger years, it seems like I was constantly resolving to write every day "because Gordon B. Hinckley says it's important." Which meant that in elementary school, I had far too many "I hate [insert sibling here]" entries (alongside many "I hate [insert Chicago Bulls player]" entries). In junior high the hate turned to love, with an entire year's worth of "I love [insert boy]" entries.

My heart was in the right place, but the result was a lot of thoughts I'm not exactly proud I preserved for future generations (except for, perhaps, the Chicago Bulls ones. Some of those were very colorful, like Dennis Rodman's hair).

Since I don't need to motivate myself to write in my journal, I haven't made any journal-related goals since 2002. I eased into writing about once a week, and that's been good enough for me for 13 years.

18 journals, and counting.

But you miss out on some of the biggest benefits of journaling if you wait until something noteworthy has happened to pull out that pen and paper. You forget about the hilarious tidbits that make up everyday life. You don't take the time to think of something you're grateful for on a really crappy day.

The benefits of journaling extend past immediate payoffs, though. I've found that it's a powerful personal revelation tool, as well. It's a bit freaky how often I've found answers to my current struggles by diving into my past experiences. And it's not just about my ever-evolving learning cycle; it's like when you read a scripture at exactly the moment you need it and you feel as if it was written just for you. Only the words are your words, and you already have an emotional connection to them.

Journaling is about more than just documenting your life (which is important, no matter how mundane you think your life is). Your journal can also give so much right back to you if you're willing to put in the effort.

Seriously, if you're not a regular journal keeper, give it another try.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Glad for an unexpected reason

The signs are all there: the kids stopped coming to the park where I like to take my lunch breaks; the sports section of every newspaper talks about nothing but football; pictures of freshly groomed kids keep appearing on my Facebook feed.

Proof that Tiffany was in fact taller than me at one point. (Preschool)

School has begun.

Two things: those are skorts, not a skirt (wouldn't want to abolish the tomboy reputation I've established), and Tyrel was the cutest little boy ever. (5th grade)

Except, one thing that usually accompanies this time of year hasn't appeared yet: the tug at my heart and slight feeling of envy. For the first time in many years, I'm actually glad that I'm not one of the many starting school. I'm glad I don't have to figure out how I'm going to cram classes, work, church, and sleep into a too-small space of time. I'm glad I don't have to adjust to a new sleep routine.

We must have felt pretty safe at our high school if we could show up on the first day with Care Bears and duckies on our shirts and not worry about getting beat up. (Senior year of high school)

Sure, there are things I will always miss about being a student, but for once I'm glad I just get to sit back, enjoy the changing leaves, and watch some football.

Technically not a first-day-of-school picture, but it was the first week, I think. (Sophomore year of college)

Good luck to those who aren't so lucky.

Oh, and words can't express how much I love J.K. Rowling:

Monday, August 24, 2015

Wrapping up summer

The past few weeks I've been checking off item after item on my end-of-summer to-do list. Here are a few:

The Union Unicorns won the YSA regional softball championship. (Okay, so it was the losers' bracket, but we're still sort of champions.)

After playing softball for three hours straight, I took a cold shower, and then it was time to move Shannan back home.

Good timing too, because USANA's International Convention was a few days later. At the end of those 12-hour days full of super-charged energy, there is nothing better than going home to pure solitude.

Between our Associates' insane love for our blender bottles and the dinosaurs roaming around, I almost didn't make it out alive. It was a close call.

Some extra freelance work prompted me to spruce up my wardrobe a bit, so I took advantage of some back-to-school prices. (Summer may officially be over by the time the rest of my clothes ship, though.)

And then, of course, there's the trees.

The best thing about wrapping up summer is that fall is just around the corner.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

That week after my iPod thing died

Last Saturday, my commute to the Draper Temple become much less relaxing when (1) I left late, (2) I hit major construction, and (3) my iPod FM radio transmitter (hereafter referred to as iPod thing) broke. I made it to my session—barely—but on the way home I was forced to (1) take the roundabout way home (still hitting some construction along the way) and (2) listen to the radio.

For a few hours, I seriously considered buying a new car with an iPod dock rather than replacing my iPod thing again. That's how important it is to me to always have complete control over the listening experience in my car.

Normally I grumble when I have to go with the more expensive option, but in this case I was actually annoyed that I had to spend $30 instead of $15,000.

I still had to do without it for about a week while I waited for the product to ship, so I had to dust off my radio surfing skills, an art form I was glad to let die. I haven't listened to the radio on purpose for several years, and let me tell you—it hasn't changed one bit.

  • The FM 100 (point 3) guy still pronounces Celine Dion's name wrong (like DEE-on). It bugs me so much I kind of want to bomb his house.
  • I have even less tolerance for commercials than I did before.
  • Soft Sunday Sounds is such a poor substitute for my Sunday playlist. They only pick artists with breathy, bored-sounding voices, and playing something interesting—like a Lord of the Rings soundtrack—is inconceivable for them.
  • And my three presets that still exist are still playing all the same songs. Ones that annoy me (White Flag). Ones that stations were contractually obligated to play every fifth song and that I violently hated (like that Tim McGraw song by Taylor Swift—with the exception of one song, I still can't listen to any of her stuff). And the ones I would voluntarily listen to, but that can be more fun to experience when you have no control over when they're played (Keith Urban is apparently still a big deal).

But the inability to skip songs and avoid commercials was too much for me. So I figured it was the perfect time to try out that list of new podcasts I've been collecting and listen to them on my commute (with headphones. Well, headphones in one ear, anyway). And of course I like most of them, and I'm probably going to have to start splitting my work commute between music and podcast listening now.

Because sitting in silence while I'm driving isn't an option (unless I'm really, really mad).

It's been interesting to try to get by without my normal driving routine, but I am plenty happy to return to what's comfortable and familiar.

But when iPod thing #4 breaks, I think I'll spring for that new car.

Friday, July 31, 2015

35 ways to celebrate Harry Potter's birthday

I often celebrate Harry Potter-related dates more enthusiastically than I do Muggle holidays. Halloween is a day to mourn James and Lily, not go to wild parties. April Fools' Day calls for birthday cake commemorating Fred and George's birth, not pulling obnoxious pranks on our coworkers.

So Harry Potter's birthday, in my opinion, should be an international holiday. And here are 35 ways to celebrate it (in honor of Harry's 35th birthday).

1. Don't go to work.

2. Go to Harry Potter World.

3. Eat at the Three Broomsticks.

4. Drink frozen butterbeer until you either die from a brain freeze or go off on a sugar high.

5. Then eat a chocolate frog.

6. Actually, eat lots of chocolate. There are Dementors out there.

7. Write an article about someone, Rita Skeeter style.

8. Or, hand-write a letter to someone you haven't seen in a while. 

9. Play a game of Quidditch.

10. Orchestrate your own Triwizard Tournament.

11. Catch up on Pottermore.

12. Read as many pages of the Harry Potter books as you can.

13. Or, watch as many of the movies as you can in fast motion.

14. Take a bath with a giant golden egg.

15. Take a nap in a cupboard, preferably one under the stairs.

16. Walk up to someone and say, "I see thestrals."

17. Show off your House pride.

18. Or, have a Sorting ceremony.

19. Find someone who hasn't read Harry Potter (an arduous task) and convince them to read the books. You'll change their life.

20. Wear mis-matched socks.

21. Visit Platform 9 3/4. That's in London.

22. Dress up as your favorite Harry Potter character, even if it's the Whomping Willow. Especially if it's the Whomping Willow.

23. Take your wands off your display case and have a duel with someone.

24. Wish J.K. Rowling a happy birthday.

25. Send your favorite teacher some crystallized pineapple.

26. Look something up in the library instead of on the internet.

27. Every time someone tells you to do something, say "My father will hear about this."

28. Play the Harry Potter trivia game you made.

29. Pretend you're Arthur Weasley and get excited about rubber ducks and escalators (I mean, escapaders).

30. Tell Microsoft to stop underlining Harry Potter terms like Patronus and Dementor.

31. Write an essay about why Muggles need electricity.

32. If you haven't already, contemplate on what your Boggart or Patronus would be.

33. Refer to every girl's bathroom as the Chamber of Secrets.

34. Say "Expelliarmus" every time someone challenges you in any way.

35. But most importantly, get into mischief.