Books of 2017, Part One

I listened to 15/19 of these books so that is definitely the best way for me to squeeze in reading these days!  I am so in love with audiobooks- they make menial tasks so much more exciting, listening gives me great motivation to exercise, hearing the story in my head makes the book really come alive for me, and sometimes a book provides desperately needed peace on road trips (last week I drove home from Richmond with the girls and Livvy screamed for about half of the 3 hour drive but I just tuned her out and enjoyed my book.)

1. Cold Sassy Tree by Olive Ann Burns - one of my favorite books ever.  This was my choice for book club and I was so pleased that everyone loved it.  It's charming and sweet, but also has some really neat insights.

2. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling - Harry Potter forever!  I bawl every time when Harry heads into the woods.

3. A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman - So charming.  Lighthearted and funny, but also made me want to be a kinder, more patient person.

4. America's First Daughter by Laura Kamoie and Stephanie Dray -  With all the hype about Alexander Hamilton I feel like Jefferson has become the bad guy, but I grew up loving him so much.  In this book Jefferson's story is told from the perspective of his daughter Patsy, which is just so fascinating.  It is historical fiction, but very well researched.

5. A Mother's Reckoning by Sue Klebold - This is a memoir by the mother of one of the Columbine shooters.  It seems like it would be creepy, but I found her story so interesting and enlightening.

6. Black Matter by Blake Crouch - This was a real page turner; I could not wait to find out how it would end.  It's sci-fi with some pretty intense action and some language, so not my usual book but it was fun to read.

7. One True Loves by Taylor Jenkins ReidThis is no great literary feat but was SO fun to read and drew me in from the first page.   On their first anniversary Emma's husband is lost in a plane crash.  Three years later, she has picked up the pieces of her life and moved back to her hometown and is now engaged when she learns that her husband has been found- alive.  She now has a husband and a fiance and lots of questions to answer.  This is the perfect summer read in my opinion.

8. Girl in the Blue Coat by Monica Hesse - This was a great YA novel about the Dutch resistance during WWII.

9. I am Malala by Malala - Fascinating.  I've since watched a few interviews with Malala and she really is an amazing woman.

10. The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank - After reading Girl in the Blue Coat I wanted to read this again.  I hadn't read it since high school and it was so much more heart-wrenching as an adult.

11. It's What I do by Lynsey Addario - This is the memoir of a conflict photographer.  She travels all over the world taking pictures in war-torn areas, and was even taken as a prisoner in Libya.  Her stories were interesting, but mostly I was fascinated by her explanation of her choice to live this dangerous life.

12. Summerlast by Ally Condie - This was a really well-written YA novel.  Cedar, her mom, and brother move to a small town soon after the tragic death of their husband/dad and son/brother.  They learn a lot about themselves, friendship, and supporting each other.  I thought this was a beautiful portrayal of grief and trying to move on after the death of a loved one.  And the characters were so real and likable.

13. The B.F.G. by Roald Dahl - We got this to listen to during all our time traveling to summer adventures.  It's not my favorite book but it's narrated by Natasha Richardson (the mom from Parent Trap) and she is fantastic.  It was so relaxing and pleasant to listen to this instead of fighting in the back seat.

14. The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead - This was very unique and interesting take on the underground railroad/race relations throughout America's history.  I just wish it wasn't so depressing.  I think that was his point, but it just made me discouraged and I wish it had been a little more hopeful.

15. Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan - This is a children's novel that weaved together three stories of children suffering through difficult periods in history.  It was good, but also very cheesy and all wrapped up a little too perfectly in my opinion (but I am very much alone in this opinion, it has gotten many really great reviews.)

16. First Comes Love by Emily Giffin - A good fluff read.  I always really enjoy Giffin's books when I'm actually reading them, but the stories are often a bit absurd and are quickly forgettable.

17. One Hundred Summers by Beatriz Williams - I was totally into this story and dying to find out how it would be resolved...but then I got to the end and it just felt kind of dumb and pointless and wrapped up too neatly.

18. The Other Einstein by Marie Benedict - This is the story of Mitza Maric, Albert Einstein's first wife who was also a physicist.  It was really an interesting book, and I especially loved the parts about her background, but when I finished and researched more I was disappointed to find that it was a very fictionalized story.  I'm sure parts were based on truth but the author definitely took a very negative view of Einstein which felt so harsh when so much of the book was not factual.

19. Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi - I've read a lot of memoirs this year!  This one is from a female professor in Tehran.  Her stories were interesting but so, so wordy.  I was in the throes of newborndom and not sleeping nearly enough so I had to give up.

20. Serafina and the Black Cloak by Robert Beatty - I was looking for something to read before we went down to Asheville and found this little series about a girl that lives at Biltmore.  It was fine, but not good enough for me to worry about finishing when it was due back before I finished.



I met Emilee soon after moving to Baltimore.  She was fun and friendly and sweet and I liked her immediately.  She was in primary with me and her little boy Miles was a year younger than Jilly.  That fall she told us she was pregnant.  She was super super sick with her pregnancies so she wasn't able to get out very often.  I took her dinner 1-2 times a month and stayed to visit and have the girls play with Miles.  I loved getting to know her this way, Emilee was THE most gracious person and wrote me a thank you note every single time I brought dinner.  In May she had Emerson and she was so excited to finally feel better and have her sweet baby there.  Just a few weeks after Emerson was born we went out to Cheesecake Factory with a few friends and it was SO fun.  I remember thinking how lucky and grateful I was to have these Baltimore friends, and we had lots of fun plans for the summer/fall.

One morning that August I got a text from Emilee that she had been diagnosed with breast cancer.  I was shocked and so, so sad.  I asked if I could bring dinner that night and she said that would be great.  I cried the whole way there and had no clue what to say to her.  She gave me a huge hug, it felt like she was comforting me.  Em would always always say "it's all going to be okay."  Just a couple weeks later Emilee and her boys left for treatment in Utah.  All of her family lived there so she could get a lot of help.  We'd get updates from her family, texts from Emilee when she was feeling up to it, and her husband Brad was still working here and visiting Utah every two weeks so we had him over for dinner often.  All year long we prayed for her and followed along as she did her treatments.  In June she had finished her chemo and radiation and had a scan that found no cancer, we were expecting her home in the fall- hooray!

But in July they found a tumor in her brain that they removed quickly then did some more radiation.  We all crossed our fingers.  Then in the Fall the cancer returned again and was very aggressive.  We'd get updates from our friend Alli who lived in Utah, and often the updates came very late because of the 2 hour time difference.  I was up in the middle of the night nursing Livvy, who was just a few weeks old, when I got the most heart-wrenching message- the cancer was spreading quickly and there was no treatment that would give her any quality of life so she was going to spend the rest of her time at home with her family, they expected her to live for about 8 more weeks.  We were devastated.  We wrote down memories and letters to send to Emilee and her family, and we made videos for her.  Emilee was too sick to respond but we'd get updates from her family and from Alli.

On December 10th we were at our Ward Christmas party and I got a text during the opening prayer.  It was Brad, telling us that Emilee had passed that day.  My friend Erin was across the room and I could tell that she hadn't seen the message yet.  I made my way over to her and she said she could tell from my face what the news was.  We cried together for a minute before leaving with our families to go caroling.  The next week was kind of a blur, the Christmas message seemed extra sweet, we held our kids extra tight, and talked A LOT about Emilee and what an angel she was/is.

It's been a few months now, but I think about Emilee all the time.  She was a wonderful, patient, kind, lovely person.  She was full of faith and optimism no matter what.  She's helped me to be more grateful and patient and to remember to find joy in all circumstances.

(This is sadly the only picture I have of Emilee, she's the one at the very bottom)



Mattie is WAY into makeup these days and had no trouble convincing her friend Vera to put some on with her

I found this picture on my phone, one of the older girls must have taken it (probably the owner of the little toes in the corner)

Livvy became so smiley in February, and she found herself in the mirror, which she found thrilling

Another amazing park day in winter

Disney on Ice!  We gave the girls tickets for Christmas then we counted down the days. Bryan stayed home with Livvy so it was a special treat to take the girls downtown to see the magical show.

The morning after the show we hosted a sugar cookie decorating party.  A lot of our friends ended up getting sick that week so it was a smaller party than we'd planned for, but any party with cookies, frosting, and sprinkles is a good one!  I wish I had taken a picture with her friends, but I guess we were too busy!

We saved some cookies to decorate later with Jilly and Bryan.

Jilly made these valentines for all 20 kids in her class, they were a labor of love by the end!

We don't get the best sunsets thanks to all the trees around but this night the sky was beautiful

Valentine's Sunday - not sure if that's a real thing or something I just made up, but we're going to keep it going!

Matching heart sweaters from Nana.  I took the little girls to Jilly's Valentine's Party at school.  Her teacher is SO nice to always let them tag along.  They were great and it was a fun little party.

The girls had ballet on Valentine's Day so after their class I picked up Happy Meals for them at McDonalds.  Bryan picked up dinner for us from Carabba's (where we also went on the Valentine's Day when we got engaged.)  I thought takeout would be a fun way to have a nicer meal, and it was fun, but definitely not as good as it would have been in the restaurant since it was all cold by the time we got the kids to bed, then we still had to clean up after ourselves!  Lesson learned ;)

Mattie is constantly asking me to take a picture of her hair-do so she can make sure I did a good job ;)  We rejoined the Y in January after taking a maternity break and started going a few times a week.  I went to a body sculpt class with friends and we also liked to go swimming as much as possible.  Livvy was SO good, she'd just sleep in her carseat or hang out in the swings in the Child Watch.  

Haircuts! We finally got a kids' place close to us and stopped there after school one afternoon.  Mattie got a little trim but Jilly got about 4 inches cut!

Between August and November of last year there were 7 baby girls born in our ward!  It was so fun to have so many baby girls around at Play Group.

Jilly lost her first tooth!  It had been super wiggly for about a week.  Finally one afternoon it was really driving her crazy so I told her I'd try to get it out.  I started to pull but she said it hurt so then she just yanked it out on her own!

Then the very next day we were down in Richmond and while we were swimming a ball bumped her in the mouth and knocked the tooth right next to it out!  

Livvy rolled over for the first time at my parents' house!  She was laying on the bathroom rug for a minute while I washed my hands and she plopped right over.

A beautiful day at Maymont

Mattie got a blister on her foot so I held Livvy and she rode in the stroller like this 

It's fun to see Mattie and Livvy in matching dresses that Jilly and Mattie wore

President's Day- I sat in the sunshine holding sleeping Livvy and watched these big girls play

I thought it was so funny that the temperature was almost the exact same every place where we have family living.

The girls' ballet classes are at an Elementary School and Mattie loved to ride these little scooters in the hall during Jilly's class.

Jilly came home from school one Friday and crashed like this on the couch.  I was very suspicious that it was strep throat, and we found out the next day it was!  This girl shows the exact same symptoms every time- no sore threat, high fever, and total exhaustion!

The Russell's host The Newlywed Game every year and it's one of my very favorite things.  So much fun this year, even though Bryan and I did pretty horribly (we'll blame the sleep deprivation!)

And that was February!



NYE 2016

When Bryan and I were in NYC last year it was Chinese New Year and there was confetti covering the streets.  We bought a popper and saved it all year but had forgotten how much confetti it held and set it off in my parents' family room.  We were all astounded by the mess it made and spent the next day vacuuming and picking up pieces.  Sorry Mom!

Sweet, snuggly Livvy.  It took her a while to get over her cold after Christmas.  She had a terrible cough and I would stay up all night holding her because I was so worried about her.  The pediatrician said she had RSV, but that her lungs were clear and her breathing was fine, we just had to wait it out. 

I think this was the first week back to school.  We were supposed to get a little bit of snow and we wanted a snow day so badly so Jilly wore her pajamas inside out and backward.  No luck, there was just a tiny dusting and school went on! 

I got a handlettering workbook for Christmas so Mattie and I practiced writing together.

First time in the bumbo!

Mattie's first day as a Sunbeam!  She was so ready and so, so excited to go to Primary.  I love having her on the front row, she always makes funny faces at me.  Her teachers are Brother and Sister Lim, the son and daughter-in-law of her nursery teachers she loved so much.  We got so lucky!

Snapchat obsession

Mattie has really loved getting to be a big sister to Livvy

This January we were so lucky to have so many warm days!  I kept pinching myself that we were really at the park without even jackets on!  I was so, so grateful to not have to be cooped up all winter with a new baby, the fresh air did wonders for all of us!

Bryan heading off to a klondike campout with the Scouts.  I don't love him being gone once a month on campouts, but I am grateful he has someone to camp with besides me!

I have a picture like this of Bryan with each of the girls ;)

When he got home Bryan set up the tent out in our sunroom and the girls spent the night there!  Of course I worried about them all night and went down to check on them a couple times but they had a great time.

When we lost our friend Emilee we realized we were great at taking pictures of our kids, but terrible at taking pictures of ourselves!  So we're trying to fix that.  This was at Suzette's twins' baptism, I can't believe we have kids that old!  Erin's oldest will get baptized this fall and then Jilly next year!

Oh Livvy, we love you so so much!

Over the weekend of MLK Day reading suddenly clicked for Jilly.  I had bought these Pinkalicious easy reader books to give her for Valentine's Day but I decided to give them to her early and she read through the whole set!  It has been SO fun to watch her read.

And Mattie learned how to eat her bagel with her feet (haha!) 

You have to be 6 to do the rock wall at the YMCA so Jilly was finally old enough!  We went one night with Bryan and she made it to the top on her first try!

We had a four day weened for MLK Day and we spent one of the days at the Aquarium with some friends.  We go about once a month but never get sick of it!  

Sometimes I still can't believe that she's a kindergartener, but she definitely looks the part!

Jilly brought this home from school and we died laughing when we saw Trump's orange face

The girls wore matching dresses to church and were being so goofy.  They kept yelling "BFF! BFF!"

The first note Jilly ever wrote on her own "If you bring a card then you get it for free" in her little cupcake shop.  Ever since this we find notes from Jilly all over!

A message from my phone, kind of applicable to my life most days 

After being sick for so long Olivia got used to me holding her all night and she hated her big crib.  I was hardly sleeping at all and kind of a mess.  I finally thought to try putting her back in the bassinet.  She looked huge in there, but she liked that it was tighter and cozier than the big crib and she started sleeping at least a few hours at a time.  Hallelujah

Katie and Joey came to hang out with us and we took a matchy cousins picture- my favorite kind!

Joey and Mattie at Storyville

One Saturday we went to this fun climbing place.  Jilly was awesome- she climbed to the top of this kitten wall lots of times, and tried many of the other walls.  Mattie spent most of her time in the bounce houses but she also climbed a bit and we all celebrated a fun day at Chick fil A afterward.

Another little dusting of snow.  I got Mattie all bundled then she played outside for 4 minutes.

Livvy's first snow- we lasted about 2 minutes

Poor Jilly got an ear infection and it wiped her out.  She had a super high fever and basically laid on the couch all day long.  Happily she was back to herself the next day!