Sunday, December 31, 2017

2017 books: The year I reread everything

2017 wasn't a bad year, but it was a hard year. My 2017 book list reflects that. I didn't seek out a lot of challenging reading because real life was challenging enough. From my books I just needed guaranteed happy endings and/or a guaranteed escape into another world. Fantasy series fit the bill perfectly, which is why I did so much rereading this year.

A lot of readers don't believe in rereading. Which I get—reading all the books is already a hopeless goal, and rereading something only sets you back.

But rereading books is worth the sacrifice. Rereading has allowed me to reconnect with the books that made me an avid reader in the first place. And when the book is good, no two reading experiences are the same—good literature grows with you.

That being said, I still had more "first reads" than rereads this year. And I never did get around to reading Lord of the Rings again, despite best intentions. Next year.

But before I set a plan for 2018, let's talk about what I read in 2017.

Goal: 52 books

Books read: 78

Books I didn't finish: 11

Pages read: 29,969, which averages to 384 pages per book. I read a lot of chunksters this year. Three were over 1,000 pages (thanks, Brandon Sanderson), and 20 were over 500. If I had limited myself to more normal-sized books, I might have hit 100 books again. But where's the fun in that?


  • 5 stars: 20
  • 4 stars: 28
  • 3 stars: 27
  • 2 stars: 3
  • 1 star: 0

First reads: 56

Rereads: 22

Fiction: 59

Nonfiction: 19

Books by female authors: 50

Books by male authors: 23

Books by multiple authors: 5

Longest book: Oathbringer by Brandon Sanderson, 1243 pages. Not the longest book I've ever read, but it's probably in the top five.

Shortest book: Of Souls, Symbols, and Sacraments by Jeffrey R. Holland, 37 pages. My bishop recommended this one a couple times, but I have to admit it's not my favorite Holland thing.

Favorite book, fiction (besides Harry Potter, obviously): Picking just one favorite book is a monumental challenge for any reader, but it gets easier when you find that special book that was written just for you. For me, that book is The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey. No other book has nailed what I want and need from a book like that one has.

But since The Snow Child was my top pick for 2015, I've picked a different book for 2017: The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson. I enjoyed this book the first time I read it, but I didn't love love it until I reread it this year. The Stormlight books are rich and complex, and it's just impossible to grasp everything the first time you read it. Since I was already familiar with the world and characters this time through, I was able to appreciate how masterful Sanderson's writing is. Catch things I missed the first time. He's waited his whole career to crank this series out, and that wait was worth it. This book, and the ones that follow it, wouldn't be what it is without the experience he gained from writing his other books, including Wheel of Time. Rereading this book was one of the most satisfying reading experiences I've ever had, and my love for these characters is very high.

Have I convinced you to give Brandon Sanderson a try yet? Good. Except, don't start with The Way of Kings. Read the Mistborn books first, or Elantris. And then you're going to want to read Warbreaker. Diving into Stormlight first might be overkill.

Favorite book, nonfiction: The Stranger in the Woods: The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit by Michael Finkel. This book was fascinating. I have more than my fair share of days where I just don't want to interact with anyone, but this guy lived alone, in the woods, for 27 years. JUST BECAUSE HE FELT LIKE IT. I just can't get over how crazy and cool that is.

Favorite reread: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling. Of all the Harry Potter books, this is the one I tend to forget the most. Probably because of the horrendous movie adaptation. So I actually have moments where I can't remember what is going to happen next or that I haven't thought about since my last read—which is a tender mercy, if I'm being entirely honest. This book was once my least favorite of the series, but it climbs a spot in my favorites rankings every time I reread the series. Don't overlook this one; it's great.

Author challenge: After reading What Alice Forgot last year, I wanted to read the rest of Liane Moriarty's backlist. I ended up just reading two—Big Little Lies and The Husband's Secret—both while traveling to/from Florida. They're perfect airplane books. Big Little Lies was my favorite of the two.

The great American novel (aka, the book that just begs to be read in a literature class): The Secret History by Donna Tartt. You want to discuss ethics and morality? This book has plenty of fodder for that discussion. Looking for complex characters who make questionable choices? This book has them in spades. Need some good writing? Look no further. Watching the events of this novel unfold is fascinating, disturbing, engrossing—I would have loved to discuss it with a class of pretentious English majors for a few weeks. I finished it almost a month ago and I still think about it a lot.

Best escape: I'm going to risk my reader's credibility a bit and go with the Twilight series by Stephenie Meyer. This series does what it's supposed to do really well—gives you a compelling love story that's easy to get lost in. Sometimes it's just nice to indulge in an over-the-top romance. #TeamEdward

Funniest book: Any of the Harry Potter books. J.K. Rowling's humor is the first thing that endeared me to this series. Without it, I wouldn't be the fan I am today.

Saddest book: Pachinko by Min Jin Lee. This was a hard book for me. It's well written and everything, and I appreciated the insight it provides on Korean and Japanese lifestyle/culture, but it's just bleak. Nobody really gets to be happy much. I definitely wouldn't dissuade anyone from reading it, but it's not a book I'll revisit.

Most intriguing premise: The Blinds by Adam Sterngergh. I don't read a lot of thrillers, but this one sounded too cool to pass over. It's about a town of criminals—only they've had their memories altered so they don't remember what they've done. Everyone still knows they're surrounded by people who have done horrible things, but it's hard to reconcile that fact with the nice old lady who runs the library, for instance. Lots of potential here, and the book mostly lived up to my expectations.

Book that changed my way of thinking: Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging by Sebastian Junger. Readers of this blog know I'm an unapologetic introvert. If I have the option of doing something alone, I will, and I'm all the happier for it. However, this book makes a compelling case for banding together in tribes, and Junger's reasoning for why veterans have a hard time returning back to "normal" society or for why depression and anxiety seem to be more of a modern problem actually had me rethinking my "alone is better" mantra a bit.

Pleasant surprise: Be Frank with Me by Julia Clairborne Johnson. Books/movies featuring characters on the autistic spectrum have been pretty popular—and therefore controversial—of late. On the one hand, I get why people are annoyed. It's frustrating when someone tries to take a real challenge or life situation just to shoehorn in diversity or to feature a quirky character. But when it's done right, I love stories featuring characters with autism. I remember having a conversation once with my sisters years and years ago where we were lamenting the fact that we had never come across any characters—books, movies, any medium—that reminded us of our brother. Which is a shame, because my brother is one of the most unique people I know. It's not fair that others should have to miss out. Now, I am NOT insinuating in any way that everyone with autism is the same. I am merely glad that I can occasionally come across a book or TV show with a character that navigates the world a little differently, in a way that's uniquely familiar and relatable.

I probably should say something about the book now. . . . I loved it. Read it.

Biggest disappointment: Dragonwatch by Brandon Mull. I enjoyed the Fablehaven series quite a bit, but this first book in the follow-up series wasn't exactly enthralling. A bit of character growth over the original series would have made it a lot better for me, but, yeah, that's not really something middle grade novels aim to deliver.

Most in need of an editor: Kiss Carlo by Adriana Trigiani. I adored The Shoemaker's Wife, but this book was not on that level at all. It might have been if there were a few more heavy rounds of editing to clean up the sloppy pacing and underdeveloped storylines and relationships. It always baffles me when an established author puts out a book with so many rookie flaws.

Bookish treasure: The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett. Any avid reader can relate to the plight of wanting to read every book on the planet but having to balance that urge with meeting real-world responsibilities. The protagonist in this novel—a queen!—lives that life in this short satire, and it's delightful.

Book I'd like to see as a movie: The Last Battle by C.S. Lewis. If they ever finish making the Narnia movies, I want them to do this one last, and bring back all the original Pevensies. Wouldn't that be awesome?

Book I'd love to live in: Gonna have to go with Narnia again. Obviously I wouldn't turn down a chance to go to Hogwarts, but Narnia is more the type of place you go to when you want to relax, you know? Especially if it's early Narnia in The Magician's Nephew before all the wars start: peaceful, pretty, no need to rush through anything. Can I just retire right now?

Book I don't want to live in: Oathbringer by Brandon Sanderson. I love reading about the worlds Sanderson creates, but I wouldn't want to live in any of them. Roshar, the world of the Stormlight Archive, is pretty much doomed in this book, what with the constant hurricane-level storms and threat to humanity's existence. It makes Earth look rather peaceful.

Favorite character: The main reason I love Sanderson is because of his characters. Kaladin is my favorite Stormlight character—and my favorite character of the year—despite how frustrating he can be. (Sometimes, I just want to smack him and send him to the corner for a time-out.) He and I have a lot of similarities, which is probably why my heart goes out to him. Watching him triumph is incredibly fun and satisfying.

Least favorite character: Sadeas, definitely (another Stormlight character). He's the snakiest snake that ever lived. Although *spoiler alert* Moash sucks too.

All the 2017 books (bolded a few more I loved but didn't talk about above):
  1. A Bestiary by Lily Hoang
  2. Royal Airs by Sharon Shinn
  3. Midwest Maize: How Corn Shaped the U.S. Heartland by Cynthia Clampitt
  4. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, by J.K. Rowling
  5. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, by J.K. Rowling
  6. American Justice on Trial: People V. Newton by Lise Pearlman
  7. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling
  8. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling
  9. Garage Criticism by Peter Babiak
  10. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling
  11. Part of the Family: Christadelphians, the Kindertransport, and Rescue from the Holocaust by Jason Hensley
  12. Faithful by Alice Hoffman 
  13. Of Souls, Symbols, and Sacraments by Jeffrey R. Holland
  14. Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer
  15. Emily Climbs by L.M. Montgomery
  16. Emily's Quest by L.M. Montgomery
  17. A Piece of the World by Christina Baker Kline
  18. Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
  19. The Stranger in the Woods: The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit by Michael Finkel
  20. Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty
  21. The Husband's Secret by Liane Moriarty
  22. This Is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel
  23. Dragonwatch by Brandon Mull
  24. The Best American Essays: 2015 ed. Ariel Levy
  25. Girl in the Moon by Janet McNally
  26. Women of the Book of Mormon by Heather B. Moore
  27. Dragonfly in Amber by Diana Gabaldon
  28. The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White
  29. Twilight by Stephenie Meyer
  30. New Moon by Stephenie Meyer
  31. Eclipse by Stephenie Meyer
  32. Breaking Dawn by Stephenie Meyer
  33. Jeweled Fire by Sharon Shinn
  34. Unquiet Land by Sharon Shinn
  35. Divinity of Women by Heather B. Moore
  36. Word by Word: The Secret Life of Dictionaries by Kory Stamper
  37. The Distant Hours by Kate Morton
  38. The Identicals by Elin Hilderbrand
  39. Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard
  40. The Accidental Tourist by Anne Tyler
  41. Be Frank with Me by Julia Clairborne Johnson
  42. Arcanum Unbounded by Brandon Sanderson
  43. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis
  44. Prince Caspian by C.S. Lewis
  45. Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C.S. Lewis
  46. The Silver Chair by C.S. Lewis
  47. The Magician's Nephew by C.S. Lewis
  48. The Last Battle by C.S. Lewis
  49. Switch by Chip and Dan Heath
  50. Exit West by Mohsin Hamid
  51. Landline by Rainbow Rowell
  52. The Spectator Bird by Wallace Stegner
  53. Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging by Sebastian Junger
  54.  Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow by Jessica Day George
  55. Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain by Oliver Sacks
  56. Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine
  57. The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson
  58. The Blinds by Adam Sternbergh
  59. The Changeling by Victor Lavalle
  60. Reading People: How Seeing the World Through the Lens of Personality Changes Everything by Anne Bogel
  61. Autumn by Ali Smith
  62. Goodbye, Vitamin by Rachel Khong
  63. Black Rabbit Hall by Eve Chase
  64. The Subversive Copy Editor by Carol Fisher Saller
  65. Words of Radiance by Brandon Sanderson
  66. The Burning Girl by Claire Messud
  67. Beauty by Robin McKinley
  68. The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett
  69. 100 Years of the Best American Short Stories ed. Heidi Pitlor
  70. Kiss Carlo by Adriana Trigiani
  71. Oathbringer by Brandon Sanderson
  72. Captain Wentworth's Diary by Amanda Grange
  73. The Secret History by Donna Tartt
  74. Winter Solstice by Rosamunde Pilcher
  75. Grimm's Complete Fairy Tales by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm
  76. The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey
  77. Mystic and Rider by Sharon Shinn
  78. Where the Heart Is by Billie Letts
Previous years:

If you need more books to consider, check out Modern Mrs. Darcy. Your TBR will explode.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Thanksgiving moments: Week 4

Nov. 22: Errands are just about the most mundane thing you can do on your day off, but . . . I love running errands on my day off. They're much more enjoyable when you're not fighting Saturday crowds or trying to cram another thing into a regular work day.

Nov. 23: It appears that my body likes getting sick the week of Thanksgiving. I'm just grateful it's a cold this time, not the stomach flu like last year. Also, my mom makes the best rolls ever.

Nov. 24: Things were pretty quiet at the Carter household today, for which I was grateful. It was nice to have a mellow day after the craziness of Thanksgiving.

Nov. 25: I've gone through an appalling number of tissues the past few days. I am grateful for the really soft ones; without them, my nose would not be in great shape right now.

Nov. 26: Anything that makes day-to-day living more convenient. Mainly, food that, at most, only needs to be heated up. Essential for sick days.

Nov. 27: My Christmas stuff is up! Except for my Christmas lights, which I cannot find. I'm trying to not let it devastate me too much.

Nov. 28: First day back at the office in a week, and it was a go-home-early day. Which allowed me to finish Oathbringer before my bedtime reading hour, which then allowed me to sleep more peacefully because I wasn't having stressful Stormlight dreams.

Nov. 29: Sometimes it's the simple things. Today I'm just grateful to be able to breathe out of both nostrils. At the same time.

Nov. 30: Today was rough. When the long list of things was done, I sat on the couch, in my pajamas, with some ice cream, and watched While You Were Sleeping. John Wayne was tall.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Thanksgiving moments: Week 3

Nov. 15: We're doing this writing contest at work. We each had to draw two "character" cards and two "scene" cards from a deck of prompts, and I've been trying to come up with a brilliant story based on my cards for a month. It's intimidating when you're competing against a team of professional writers; I at least wanted to try to hold my own.

Well, today I decided to just sit down and write and see what comes. And somehow, a story came out that I actually kind of like. It may not be brilliant, but if nothing else, I'm proud of that closing line.

And, here's another quote overheard at the office: "I'm a photographer. I'm literally a professional creep."

Nov. 16: I love burgers, but I'm not great at making them. Restaurant burgers always taste better. But today I made a burger from Home Chef, and it was delicious. I love food subscription boxes.

Nov. 17: A guy from Pixar came to do a creativity workshop with us today, and it was really good. Plus, he looked and sounded just like Adam Brody—a nice perk. (Readers of this blog mostly likely know Adam Brody as Dave Rygalski on Gilmore Girls, the best boyfriend on the show, IMO.)

Nov. 18: BYU's football season is almost over. The torture will soon end.

Nov. 19: After hearing my family's report of Elder Bednar's visit to their stake conference and watching the Face-to-Face with Elder Ballard and Elder Oaks, I am extra grateful to have apostles leading The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. These guys aren't the old, out-of-touch, conservative white guys the world tries to make them out as. They dedicate their lives to serving people all around the world, and they know what's going on, both inside the church and out. And because they're so good at recognizing the spirit's promptings and acting on them, their counsel often feels deeply individual. Their words are not just words; they are inspired by wisdom and love. We're really lucky to have these men as our leaders.

Nov. 20: Construction on I-215 is finally done. There wasn't an orange cone in sight today. #blessed

Nov. 21: Today is my Friday. That makes me so, so happy.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Thanksgiving moments: Week 2

Nov. 8: I had three social things lined up for the day, and I actually did them all. It's not often that I can say that. Highlights include playing a Scrabble game with word nerds, golfing with those word nerds, and feeling accomplished when I came home from the ward thing I didn't want to go to.

Nov. 9: As an editor, I spend a lot of time in Microsoft Word. When I got a new work computer over a year ago, I noticed Word was considerably slower than it was on my old computer. Any time I clicked back into Word after using a different application it froze. The problem never went away and I didn't know what to do about it, so I just dealt with it. I got used to waiting for the spinning rainbow to disappear every time I entered Word. I tried to do my link- and fact-checking all at once so I wouldn't have to click in and out of Word more than was absolutely necessary. I got in the habit of scrolling down before clicking out of Word so I would have something to review when I came back while Word sluggishly unfroze itself. I dreaded getting multiple files at once because I knew it would take 5 minutes just to save them to my desktop.

Frustrating, right? It's been slowly driving me insane. On busy days, watching that cursed spinning rainbow is enough to push me over the edge. FINALLY, earlier this week, after a long search through my computer that I'm certain I won't be able to duplicate, I found some old updates that were never installed. So I installed them, and HALLELUJAH WORD IS WORKING PERFECTLY NOW. You have no idea how amazing it is to be able to enter a Word doc without being punished. Sometimes I click in and out of them just for fun.

Nov. 10: Scattergories has an app. I may never get any work done again. (And I'm still going to beg my family to play this game with me on a regular basis.)

Nov. 11: My temple attendance has dropped since the Jordan River Temple closed over a year ago. Every other temple in the valley is overcrowded all the time as a result, which makes going to the temple much more of a hassle than it used to be. (I know, I know; #UtahProblems.) But I went today, and it was a lovely, faith-promoting experience.

Nov. 12: I think I may have made a friend or two at church today. (Always hard to tell for sure, when you're me.)

Nov. 13: Another thing I like about daylight savings in the fall is watching the sun set on my drive home. The sky looked incredible tonight.

Nov. 14: OATHBRINGER CAME OUT TODAY! I picked up my copy during lunch and read the first 40 pages or so—I almost didn't make it back to work. The wait for this book has been killing me, and I cannot wait to dig into that 1,248-page monstrosity. Brandon Sanderson, thank you for making me so excited about your books.

If you don't care about outstanding fantasy books, here's something one of my coworkers said today: "Please don't die behind me. I'm very sensitive to corpses."

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Thanksgiving moments: Week 1

I get a little testy around this time of year when the Christmas music debate is in full force. I am firmly in the camp that you should listen to Christmas music whenever you want to (this year I didn't even make it until Halloween—I blame Pentatonix), which only makes Thanksgiving purists more preachy. You'd think we'd get bored with engaging in this same stupid argument year after year after year.

But believe it or not, you can still celebrate Thanksgiving while listening to the best genre of music there is. And one of the ways I like to recognize Thanksgiving is by focusing on gratitude on the blog throughout November. This year I'm going to focus on capturing the special moments, so there may not always be an "I'm grateful for" entry, but, you get the idea.

Nov. 1: I buy new Christmas albums every year, and today I was getting to know the Killers' Christmas compilation. They're all originals, except for one track at the end, "I'll Be Home for Christmas." Before getting to the singing, Brandon Flowers talks about his childhood a bit, and while I was only half paying attention, I heard him mention Footloose and then Onion Days. I perked up immediately; did I hear that right? Sure enough, he soon mentioned good ol' Payson, Utah. My secondary hometown inspired a song! A Christmas song! Even better, Payson was the first place where Brandon (a Nevada boy) experienced a white Christmas. He then invited a special teacher, Mr. Hansen, to sing with him, and it was like getting a local version of the end of the movie White Christmas. The Christmas miracles are starting early this year.

Nov. 2: The latest episode of This Is Us (the Halloween episode) might be my new favorite. A lot of it resonated with me, from the characters bemoaning how rough your 20s can be to the character who was 9 months pregnant while all the Halloween craziness was going on (sorry, Kin!).

Nov. 3: November 3 will no longer be known as just my dad's birthday; it's also the day my fourth nephew was born. (Of our family of 14 people, 6 of them share a birthday with someone else. That's almost half! Crazy.) So basically, anything else that happened today doesn't matter. You just can't beat welcoming a new life into the world. I can't wait to get to know this little guy and watch him develop into a unique and interesting person.

Nov. 4: Today's is a tie between holding my new nephew and gauging my niece's reaction to her baby brother. For something as helpless as a newborn, they sure have a lot of power over the people around them. I could have just held him and looked at him for hours. As for Avonlea, I've never seen her so excited about anything. I guess it shouldn't be surprising that she loves her brother SO MUCH after seeing how enamored she was with her cousin Noah. She's a proud big sister, and SO EXCITED baby Conrad is finally here.

My heart just melted.

Nov. 5: That extra hour of sleep was glorious. As was the Sunday nap I took that I didn't need as much as I usually do. I love daylight savings in the fall. For a few weeks it's easy and natural to fall asleep at a reasonable hour and easy-ish to wake up early.

Nov. 6: Copywriters who have a sense of humor are my heroes. Here's the warning I found on my Haunted Hotel–scented candle:

I tried to save myself the trouble of typing all this out, but that font is tiny. So if you want an easier reading experience, see below:


Never leave a burning candle unattended.
They are DANGEROUS when they're lonely. 
Do not let any children or pets near a flame.
Nothing adorable. Full-stop.
Don't burn it on or near or under or beside or while contemplating flammable objects!

Thank you for your cooperation; I am certain you and this candle will have many happy hours together.

Nov. 7: Today was the first real wintery-cold day we've had, and I'm loving it. I'm a cold-hearted human who laughs in the face of those who can't handle the cold. It's my payback for enduring July/August while the heat lovers reveled in what caused great misery in my life. I believe in equal suffering for all.

Seriously, though, there are some cold-weather things we can all enjoy. Hot beverages! Cozy evenings at home! Some of us even have fireplaces! All good things.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

What I learned after I turned 30

After a month and a half of being a member of the 30s club, I feel like I've already learned more life lessons than I did during all of my 20s.

I prepared as best I could for this milestone, but it wasn't enough to prevent a month-long identity crisis. That unwanted 3 at the beginning of my age changed everything—how I felt about myself, how I saw myself, how I related to those lucky young people in my singles ward still in their 20s, how I felt about my future—and it started changing the second my alarm clock switched to midnight on my birthday, like that ominous scene in Groundhog Day.

The getting older part had nothing to do with it. I'm saving the freaking-out-about-how-old-I-am for my 40th birthday. No, it was the stark reality that the life I was living was not the one I thought I would have at this point. Worse, I no longer had a youth buffer to hide behind; being 30 meant I had to face the facts like a grown-up.

These moments hit everyone in different ways, many times throughout their lives. This certainly wasn't the first time I had confronted uncomfortable life truths. But it hit harder this time because I felt like I had won a competition no one wants to win: Mormon and single at 30. Likely single for a long time to come.

I don't like to talk about my dating woes here—or to anyone who isn't in the same boat, really—but I'd be lying if I didn't acknowledge that the main reason turning 30 felt an awful lot like entering the depths of despair was because of that dang ticking clock. I'd already wasted a decade of potential childbearing years. Passed through a lot of milestones on my own I had wanted to commemorate with someone else. I can't get those years back.

And that's just the beginning. I also had to take a good look at the person I've become, which has set the foundation for who I'll be for the rest of my life. When the blinders came off, I didn't like everything I saw. The weaknesses I strived to overcome in my 20s are still my weaknesses, and likely always will be. I was forced to confront flaws that I've denied for years. (I used these rationalizations a lot: Oh, I may be stubborn about commas, but I'm not a perfectionist. I'm actually not too afraid to try this new thing, I'm just too lazy to do it.)

Such stark truths made me see the future differently, too. I had to accept that good-enough-for-now may end up being my happily-ever-after. Expecting every dream to eventually come true suddenly felt like a child's dream, now that I'm intimately familiar with how often real life disappoints rather than delivers.

I know I have a lot to celebrate, and I spent most of my 20s celebrating my good fortunes—a good career! money! independence! an awesome family!—but when you're in a crisis you don't always want to celebrate the good things. You just want the bad things to change. And planning for a life that includes the bad things is depressing.

It took night after night of intense prayer and journaling, but I eventually snapped out of it, emerging a tad more wise and empathetic, better equipped to try at life.

For instance, I now understand why people do crazy things like buy motorcycles when they're going through a mid-life crisis (in my case, that motorcycle will be a house, if all goes as planned). I think I have a better plan for living a life of purpose, one that caters more to my strengths rather than the unproductive cycle of tackling my weaknesses (it's not like my problems will disappear once I'm a daring, social individual, anyway).

Not to mention I've been reminded again and again that I still have a lot to learn about life, which is far more comforting than I could have predicted. (Although it'd be nice if the random emergencies October threw at me would subside, thanks.)

And that, my friends, is what's so great about being 30 as opposed to 20: knowing that there are still more unknowns than knowns is comforting, rather than terrifying. Who would have thunk it—life indeed does go on after age 29.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

20 great things about my 20s

It's the last day of my 20s. Such a strange feeling. I've spent the last year reconciling myself with this inevitable reality, and you know what? There's no need to be so dramatic about it.

But I'm not quite done reflecting yet. I tried to put these 20 things in a special order, but that was turning out to be impossible, so, know that the order isn't important. And that this post is really long. Don't say I didn't warn you.

1. All the pampering

Once I graduated from the starving student period of life, I slowly slid into a whole new world: a world that included non-essential but delightful things. I bought a queen-size bed so I can sprawl out as much as I want to when I sleep. I discovered how amazing pedicures are. I found a hair stylist who gets my hair and has helped me figure out how to manage it. I spent too much money on clothes, movies, books, and music. I didn't get to do these types of things much during the first 22 years of my life, and the novelty of being able to casually cough up money for temporary pleasures still hasn't worn off. Sure, I've had to relearn how to stick to a budget—it's a lot harder when I'm not punished with a shortage on food every time I splurge—but I really, really enjoy having the time and the means to relax about finances every now and then and enjoy some of the frivolous things.

2. Hobbies

I'm a hobby person. Cross stitching, crocheting, photography, reading, design projects, piano, and journaling helped make my free time—when I had it—more meaningful. Even cooking got to be more enjoyable. It's quite an indulgence to invest in so many hobbies, some of which I've been developing for a lifetime, some of which are new. My twenties were great like that.

3. Piano

One of the hardest things about college was not having my own piano. Sure, I could run down to the basement of Miller Apartments or to virtually any classroom on BYU's campus, but it wasn't the same as having one in your own home, waiting for you whenever you needed it. I've made other major purchases in my 20s, but buying a piano was the most important. I don't use it as consistently as I used to, but having one at my disposal at all times has played a large role in helping me de-stress, sort through my muddled thoughts, and find joy during rough stretches.

4. Walks

I started taking regular evening walks soon after moving to Midvale, and it's often my favorite part of the day. It's my time to enjoy being outside, to think, to listen to podcasts, or simply to just move around for an hour. Walking may not be the best workout, but it's the only one I've been able to stick to, and it does more for my overall well-being than anything else does. They've pretty much become a non-negotiable part of my life.

5. Roommates

I learned a lot from four years of roommates. Like, how to (finally) make my bed consistently. And how to make do with a small amount of space. Having roommates helped me come out of my shell more, and we did a lot of fun things together. Those were good years, for the most part; I'm really grateful for those memories.

6. College—BYU

I loved being a BYU student. Those years are among my fondest memories of the past decade, and it's not just because of the social life. I just really loved being a student on such a beautiful campus, no matter how grueling it was at times.

7. My "no studying on Friday nights" rule

Not long into my freshman year at BYU I made a personal pact: I would never do homework on Friday nights. Even if I had a ton of work to do. Even if I was bored. The only time I broke this rule was when I had a test on Saturday morning (or when it was fun homework like reading a novel), but the rest of the time I guarded this precious homework-free time. I almost always had too much work to do, but I desperately needed this block of time to allow myself to relax. It saved me from many a meltdown. I've continued to follow this stricture, not doing freelance work or any other brain work if I can avoid it. I am beyond spent by Fridays, and often the only thing that gets me through the day is knowing that I have an evening of nothing to look forward to. I wholeheartedly recommend following a similar practice if you aren't already—it's one of the best decisions I ever made.

8. Grad school—SNHU

Grad school was not part of my master plan until it happened. And it ended up being the least stressful part of my academic life. The fact that I wasn't expected to pursue this degree, and that I was concentrating entirely on things that I liked (except for that dang teaching class), made it a luxurious experience most of the time. I've often said that the journey of completing my MFA was more important than the actual diploma or any monetary rewards, but it actually has helped in my career, too. I spent 18 months living the life of a writer, and while I eventually decided that writing full time was not something that would make me happy, it did give me some valuable insight into how writers' minds work. It was a treasure trove of information that I've drawn from heavily as I edit other people's writing, reminding me what sort of feedback is actually helpful and keeping me humble—because the writers have the harder job. And since the entire program was online, it opened my eyes to the many ways to keep learning that don't require a traditional classroom environment. Which is a good thing; otherwise, I may have had to go get another master's degree, just to keep myself entertained.

9. Podcasts

Podcasts are the number one reason I haven't been tempted to go back to school. They don't replace taking an actual class entirely, but they do fill the void, the one that must be filled with learning. And some of them are just plain fun. My podcast addiction has only gotten worse since I gave Alohomora! a chance 3–4 years ago, but I try not to let that bother me. Having too much to listen to is a problem I enjoy having, for now.

Podcasts I'm especially loving right now: the Legendarium, Literary Disco, and Annotated. If you want some non-book recommendations, try 99% Invisible, Lexicon Valley, Gastropod, Myths and Legends, and BackStory.

10. Career

Sometimes career advancement hinges on appearing in dorky promotional videos.

My career is not the most important part of my 20s, but let's be real—I spent too much time at work for it to not be one of the most important things in my life. I've worked with a lot of words and wordsmiths over the years. You'll just have to read this post again if you need a refresher, because, ironically, I can't put together an assembly of words I'm happy with. Something about this subject is just hard for me to write about.

11. BYU basketball

I was at this game. It was the most awesome sporting event I've ever attended.

I didn't get into college sports until after I graduated from college, but now I'm really dedicated. Jimmermania is to blame. Some years have been better than others, and some years I was unhealthily obsessed, but it's something I look forward to every year now and that brightens up the dreariest part of winter. Call sports pointless if you want, but reigniting my love for basketball has made my life better.

12. Stake softball

Pretend that's a softball field in the background, not my apartment. I am terrible at taking pictures in the moment. When I have to be in them, anyway.

Of the many times I've tried to get some sort social life going post college, stake softball is the only area I really succeeded. I have a much higher success rate when the activity involves, well, an activity ("show up and eat and mingle" themes are usually a bust for me), and when it's an activity I enjoy, it becomes more than just another opportunity to step out of my comfort zone. I played all six summers I've been in Midvale, and it's provided much needed balance—and fun—to my summers. Again, sports play an important role in my life. I did not expect that to be one of the takeaways from my 20s.

13. Books

The great 2016 book cull. These are the books that made it through the screening process. I alphabetized them.

I wish I had joined Goodreads a few years earlier so I could give you an exact count of the books I've read in my 20s. I'm very sad about this. But I'll try to get over it. Since I opened my Goodreads account at the end of August 2009 (just before I turned 22), I've read 509 different books. Many of which were re-read. In college I didn't have time to read for fun, but I read for homework. This was when I finally started to appreciate the classics, although I still don't consider classics "fun" reading. Good for when I need some brain stretching, though. And since getting my master's, I've become the textbook definition of a voracious reader. It's been a wonderful luxury to have the freedom to devote so much time to chipping away at my endless TBR pile. I've become a more active part of the reading community (mostly through podcasts and Twitter), and books are more important to me than ever—as evidenced by my growing book collection at home. If there's one thing that will finally give me the courage to buy a house, it will be the fact that I need more room for my books.

14. Travel

I still haven't stepped foot out of the country, but I've visited a lot of the states (thanks to the many vacations made possible by my dad's Frequent Flier Miles/Marriott Rewards Points and the ACES conference my work pays for). I've seen most of the Western U.S. now and have even made it east of Utah a few times. I am not a seasoned traveler by any means—I leave Utah maybe two times a year, and never for longer than a week and a half—but I'm grateful for any chance I get to explore another piece of this great country. But I think returning home is my favorite part. One quick adventure is all I need to fully appreciate my boring life again.

15. Alone time

If I ever get married, you'll know it's true love because that's just about the only thing I'm willing to sacrifice my alone time for.

16. Being single

This was "the" trial of my 20s, but I eventually came to not only appreciate, but love, the single life. The dating (or lack of) part of being single sucks, but pretty much everything else is great. The freedom. The independence. The money. The not having to plan around others. Honestly, if there ever was a decade to enjoy being single, the 20s would be it. This is no big revelation because that's what the world is always shouting at us, but I needed to experience it myself to believe it. These "me" years have been a gift.

17. YSA wards

This picture was taken so long ago it feels like it was another age. This was the year my roommate was one of the relief society presidents and she made me teach relief society.

I've spent a third of my life going to singles wards. That kind of boggles my mind. But they've become the norm for me. During my BYU days I longed to graduate into a family ward, but now you'd have to drag me—death glare and all—into one. Part of the reason for that is that I don't feel like I have a place in a family ward as a young single adult. Some singles integrate just fine into a ward that focuses on already established families, but I need to be somewhere I'm not an anomaly. But even if I was properly married with kids and fit the mold for a regular ward, I would miss the energy of YSA wards. The absolute silence during the sacrament. The fun. I know a lot of YSA wards have problems, but most of my wards have operated the way they're supposed to. So well that I don't want to leave.

18. Temple/endowments

It's been a huge source of comfort to me to not have to wait for marriage—something I seem to have no control over—to enjoy the blessings of the temple. I would not have made it through the last six years without it.

19. Family relationships

Your relationship with your family changes as you get older. In most cases, you either become each other's obligations or each other's closest friends. I see my family much less than I did when I was living at home, obviously, but those family bonds are strong. Not unbreakable—even the relationships with your favorite people require work if you want them to last—but strong. It's cool that we're all in the adult stage of life now and can relate to each other on more equal planes, without the pointless bickering mucking things up.

20. Niece/nephews

I saved the best for last. I spent many years being envious of all my friends and cousins who got an early start at aunthood, but my turn finally came five years ago (coming up on six, actually). Being an aunt has lived up to the hype. I adore those little tykes.

So for this section, you get four pictures. One for each unique little person. Narrowing it down to just one favorite for each was a tragic exercise.

Jaxson is a precocious kid who wants to be an adult RIGHT NOW. I love this picture because he manages to look both grown up and perfectly childlike.

BRONX'S FACE. This is the oldest picture of the bunch. I've been gushing over it for five years.

Not quite a typical Avonlea smile, but it's a pretty good portrayal of her personality. A little bit sassy, always ready to pose, exuding adorableness.

Noah is a little daredevil who's always looking for an excuse to giggle about something. Such a funny kid.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Summer 2017 book wrap-up, Twitter style

*Maybe if I keep writing summer wrap-up posts, the infernal heat will go away.

23 books, summarized in 140 characters or less.

Unquiet Land by Sharon Shinn, 3 stars
My least favorite of the Elementals series. Boring love interests are a major downer.

Divinity of Women by Heather B. Moore, 4 stars
A nice read on the women of the Bible and Book of Mormon.

Word by Word: The Secret Life of Dictionaries by Kory Stamper, 5 stars
One of my word nerd heroes talks about life as a dictionary editor. It's fun and fascinating.

The Distant Hours by Kate Morton, 3 stars
A good mystery that is just spooky enough for a rainy weekend. But the ending ruined the good thing the book had going, IMO.

The Identicals by Elin Hilderbrand, 3 stars
A nice beach read. You read it, enjoy it, then forget it. Except I still think about it from time to time.

Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard, 4 stars
A good read on the beauty and ruthlessness of nature. But don't read it if you need a plot.

The Accidental Tourist by Anne Tyler, 3 stars
A character-driven book (why am I reading plotless books in the summer?) with an ending you'll want to discuss.

Be Frank with Me by Julia Clairborne Johnson, 5 stars
A young woman helps out an eccentric kid and his reclusive mother for several months. You'll be sad when it's time for her to leave.

Arcanum Unbounded: A Cosmere Collection by Brandon Sanderson, 5 stars
For those who just can't get enough of Brandon Sanderson, even though he does nothing but give us new worlds to play in.

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis, 5 stars
When you're stressed out, just go to Narnia. Problem solved.

Prince Caspian by C.S. Lewis, 5 stars
The book I always enjoy but must rely on the movie to remember the plot.

*Note: I did not reread The Horse and His Boy because I hate that one. But I did review it.

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C.S. Lewis, 4 stars
My favorite symbolism of the entire series.

The Silver Chair by C.S. Lewis, 3 stars
The adventures are starting to feel a little stale, but I reeeeally want to fly into Narnia like that.

The Magician's Nephew by C.S. Lewis, 5 stars
Adored this one as a kid. Magic soil that grows anything you plant, flying horses, the birth of Narnia—I love it all.

The Last Battle by C.S. Lewis, 3 stars
It's also cool to see the death of Narnia. Still mulling over Susan's fate, though.

Switch by Chip and Dan Heath, 4 stars
I really wish the authors' names were Chip and Dale. But there's some cool ideas on how to enact change.

Exit West by Mohsin Hamid, 3 stars
A timely refugee story with a hint of magic to it. A tad overwritten, though.

Landline by Rainbow Rowell, 3 stars
A magic phone allows a woman to talk to her husband in the past. WILL IT SAVE THEIR MARRIAGE?

The Spectator Bird by Wallace Stegner, 4 stars
A short (for Stegner) book about aging, basically. An excellent read, as his books always are.

Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging by Sebastian Junger, 4 stars
The root of all our problems: we don't do things together. Introvert me balks, but Junger makes some points that are hard to argue against.

Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow by Jessica Day George, 5 stars
A pretty great fairy tale YA book that doesn't get a lot of attention.

Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain by Oliver Sacks, 3 stars
Fascinating at first, but the case-study-after-case-study format gets wearying after a while.

Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine, 5,000 stars
If there ever was a perfect book, this would be it.

For more great book talk, head over to Modern Mrs. Darcy.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Summer 2017 wrap-up (covering mostly just the good stuff)

GUYS. Summer is almost over. I cannot express how big of a relief that is. I feel like I'm coming back to life, kind of like how normal people feel when spring starts to unthaw a long winter. I simply was not built for long, hot summers. Convention insanity doesn't help, either (more on that later).

It's become a tradition on this blog to have a summer wrap-up post every year. So consider this my "What I Did This Summer" back-to-school essay. Honestly, it doesn't look that different from the ones I wrote as a kid. (Only this one has pictures—erm, way more than I planned on sharing, sorry—because without pictures, you got nuttin'. Name that TV show!)

We went to swimming lessons.

We kicked off our sister party with swimming lessons, and I'll just say it was a much better way to spend a Friday morning than at the office.


The crazy thing is, 20 years ago we were the ones going to swimming lessons with our cousins.

Poor Tyrel, always surrounded by girls.

We went on vacation.

All of us but the Searles spent a week in South Dakota/Wyoming. Home to lots of blue, green, and brown—and not much else.

We went on a Tuesday, and there was still an alarming number of people there (which is why Shannan is not pictured).

I used to think it was super random that someone decided to carve people's heads into a mountain, but after seeing all those flat, smooth rocks, I kind of wanted to carve something into a mountain.

We spent the week in a cabin.

Our most successful vacations tend to be the ones where home base is a place we can claim all for ourselves.

We took walks and hikes whenever we wanted, because everything we needed was basically in our front yard.

The child had to be walked several times a day. During one walk she proceeded to pick up every rock she saw and stuff them in her pockets until her pants were literally falling off.

We found a rock that inspired us to stand tall and triumphant.

I was not as successful. Dang wind.
Turns out climbing a tree Yogi Bear style is much harder than it looks. Pretty much all I could do was jump and hold on.

Tyrel and I went to the top of the mountain. Well, Tyrel did. I almost made it to the top, but my fear of heights prevented me from moving past the low end of the top. So Tyrel skipped to the highest point while I sat in a safe spot and took selfies.

Many Dutch oven dinners were consumed, monitored by Kimberly and Jeremy. But mostly Kimberly.

And we can't forget Dad, the barbecue master.

I helped by taking pictures of fire.

And we did some other vacation-y, sight-seeing things, including visiting family who moved up here like 12 years ago (not pictured, sadly).

Rushmore Cave. This picture cracks me up.

This amusement park was awesome. It looked like some farmer/engineer guy built a couple roller coasters in his backyard. (In front of us is a bunch of farmland.) Not very many people were there, and the food was delicious. I'd give you the name of the park, but I kind of want it to remain anonymous so it's still deserted if we ever go back.

Oh, and since we had such picturesque surroundings, Shannan and I helped take pictures of the Balls family. I hereby proclaim them the cutest family ever.

We had a water party.

Whenever I picture the perfect summer day, it includes my entire family, an outdoor activity, and a barbecue. We usually have a water party on either Memorial Day or Pioneer Day every summer, and it's pretty much the best. See, sometimes I like summer.

Don't get in Bronx's way—because he will get you.

Noah had a little trouble aiming his squirt gun at first.

Tyrel's favorite part of the party. Every year.

I played softball.

As always, softball was one of the best things about my summer. I wasted my two good hits on the first game, but was much more successful at socializing than I've been in past summers. This year's team was special.

This was right after winning our stake tournament's semifinal, I think. It was an awesome game, complete with a miracle comeback. I just wish the photographer had waited until everyone was ready to take the picture. 

This next picture will give you a better idea of just how dedicated my ward was to softball this year, whether they were playing or not. (And this was after some of us—myself included—had already left.) Attendance at softball games was basically mandatory.

I survived Convention.

I didn't have time to be sad when softball ended (after a run in the regional tournament, which meant we got to play at the nice ballpark in Cottonwood Heights. It's rained three out of the four times I've played there), because Convention—the week I dread all year—was next up on my agenda.

I won't torture you with the details. These two pictures pretty much sum up the experience.

How I felt during that 72-hour work week:

How I felt when it was over (after I'd had a few days to recover):

The universe gave us an eclipse as a Monday-after-Convention gift.

I wasn't super excited about this "once in a lifetime" event, but pretty much our entire building emptied out around 10:30 Monday morning to watch the eclipse's progress, and I didn't want to be left out. My department ended up on the roof with 20-30 other people. Looking at the sun was fun, but my favorite part was when it cooled down 15 degrees and the sunshine dimmed enough so I didn't even need sunglasses. In case you forgot, I am not a fan of the sun.

I also enjoyed watching people from the buildings nearby come out in clumps to watch the eclipse. Even the golfers across the street took a break.

And, that's a wrap! Turns out it was a pretty good summer.