Tuesday, November 24, 2015

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

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

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

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

I wanted nothing to do with the Madagascar hissing cockroach.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

The World Turned Upside Down

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 16, 2015

Like a fiddler on the roof!

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

New Year's Eve

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


  • Ham and scalloped potatoes for dinner


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


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

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


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


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


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

Sunday, November 15, 2015

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

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

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

From the YouTube description:

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

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

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

Saturday, November 14, 2015

To the ship, to the ship

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 13, 2015

I said hey, what's going on?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 12, 2015

I'm looking for a mind at work

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

Things I love about my job:

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

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

What are your favorite things about your job right now?

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

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

I am pretty awesome at starting craft projects.

I am not pretty awesome at finishing them.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The next step will be sewing.

I'm going to go make some snickerdoodles instead.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Alexander Hamilton, My name is Alexander Hamilton

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Monday, November 9, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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