Friday, December 30, 2011

Best books read this year


The Teacher's Funeral by Richard Peck* I love books that make me laugh and take me back to simpler times. Highly recommend the audio book.

"If your teacher has to die, August isn't a bad time of year for it," begins Richard Peck's latest novel, a book full of his signature wit and sass. Russell Culver is fifteen in 1904, and he's raring to leave his tiny Indiana farm town for the endless sky of the Dakotas. To him, school has been nothing but a chain holding him back from his dreams. Maybe now that his teacher has passed on, they'll shut the school down entirely and leave him free to roam.

As he did in A Long Way from Chicago and A Year Down Yonder, Richard Peck creates a whole world of folksy, one-of-a-kind characters here--the enviable and the laughable, the adorably meek and the deliciously terrifying. There will be no forgetting Russell, Tansy, and all the rest who populate this hilarious, shrewd, and thoroughly enchanting novel.

The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart.* A fun filled ride through mysteries and unsolvable puzzles. A great audio book.
Young readers who have worked their way through Lemony Snicket may well find their next obsession in The Mysterious Benedict Society, a dandy YA debut by novelist Trenton Lee Stewart. This engaging tale has all the elements tweens find intriguing: gifted kids, a dangerous mission, and a secret society where nothing is as it seems. Stewart throws plenty of challenges -- physical, mental, and moral -- in the path of his young protagonists, and readers will have fun solving the riddles and unraveling the clues in this smart, unconventional mystery. Complex, unpredictable, and deeply respectful of children's innate intelligence, The Mysterious Benedict Society is highly recommended for thoughtful preteens. P.S. We loved it, too!

The fabulous foursome readers embraced as The Mysterious Benedict Society is back with a new mission, significantly closer to home. After reuniting for a celebratory scavenger hunt, Reynie, Kate, Sticky are forced to go on an unexpected search--a search to find Mr. Benedict. It seems that while he was preparing the kids' adventure, he stepped right into a trap orchestrated by his evil twin Mr. Curtain.

With only one week to find a captured Mr. Benedict, the gifted foursome faces their greatest challenge of all--a challenge that will reinforce the reasons they were brought together in the first place and will require them to fight for the very namesake that united them.

Join the Mysterious Benedict Society as Reynie, Kate, Sticky, and Constance embark on a daring new adventure that threatens to force them apart from their families, friends, and even each other. When an unexplained blackout engulfs Stonetown, the foursome must unravel clues relating to a nefarious new plot, while their search for answers brings them closer to danger than ever before.

The Summoning by Kelly Armstrong One of the best paranormal series I've read. Fast paced stories with imperfect characters who you find yourself rooting for.

After years of frequent moves following her mother’s death, Chloe Saunders’s life is finally settling down. She is attending art school, pursuing her dreams of becoming a director, making friends, meeting boys. Her biggest concern is that she’s not developing as fast as her friends are. But when puberty does hit, it brings more than hormone surges. Chloe starts seeing ghosts–everywhere, demanding her attention. After she suffers a breakdown, her devoted aunt Lauren gets her into a highly recommended group home.

At first, Lyle House seems a pretty okay place, except for Chloe’s small problem of fearing she might be facing a lifetime of mental illness. But as she gradually gets to know the other kids at the home–charming Simon and his ominous, unsmiling brother Derek, obnoxious Tori, and Rae, who has a “thing” for fire–Chloe begins to realize that there is something that binds them all together, and it isn’t your usual “problem kid” behaviour. And together they discover that Lyle House is not your usual group home either…

The Awakening by Kelly Armstrong

If you had met me a few weeks ago, you probably would have described me as an average teenage girl—someone normal. Now my life has changed forever and I'm as far away from normal as it gets. A living science experiment—not only can I see ghosts, but I was genetically altered by a sinister organization called the Edison Group. What does that mean? For starters, I'm a teenage necromancer whose powers are out of control; I raise the dead without even trying. Trust me, that is not a power you want to have. Ever.

Now I'm running for my life with three of my supernatural friends—a charming sorcerer, a cynical werewolf, and a disgruntled witch—and we have to find someone who can help us before the Edison Group finds us first. Or die trying.

The Reckoning by Kelly Armstrong
The explosive final part of the Darkest Powers trilogy, Kelley Armstrong's internationally bestselling YA series.

Courting Miss Lancaster by Sarah Eden A charming little tale that made me laugh.

Harry Windower adores blonde, green-eyes Athena Lancaster, but alas, a penniless man like himself has no hope of winning a young noblewoman's hand. To add insult to injury, Athena's brother-in-law and guardian, the Duke of Kielder, has asked Harry to assist Athena in finding a gentleman of her dreams. But the lovesick Harry is cunning as well: as the weeks pass, he introduces Athena to suitors who are horrifically boring, alarmingly attached to their mothers, downright rude, astoundingly self-absorbed, and utterly ridiculous.
Athena can't comprehend why she is having so little success meeting eligible and acceptable gentlemen. Indeed, her circle of admirers couldn't be be less admirable - nothing like the loyal, gentle friend she's found in Harry. But how long can Harry's scheme be hidden before it is discovered? And what will Athena do when she uncovers Harry's deception? Escape into a charming regency world in this delightfully romantic comedy of manners that will entertain you to the very last word

Uncommon Criminals by Ally Carter Ally Carter is one of my favorite authors as she writes funny, strong, and lovable woman characters and Uncommon Criminals doesn't disappoint.
Katarina Bishop has worn a lot of labels in her short life life. Friend. Niece. Daughter. Thief. But for the last two months she’s simply been known as the girl who ran the crew that robbed the greatest museum in the world. That’s why Kat isn’t surprised when she’s asked to steal the infamous Cleopatra Emerald so it can be returned to its rightful owners.

There are only three problems. First, the gem hasn’t been seen in public in thirty years. Second, since the fall of the Egyptian empire and the suicide of Cleopatra, no one who holds the emerald keeps it for long, and in Kat’s world, history almost always repeats itself. But it’s the third problem that makes Kat’s crew the most nervous and that is simply… the emerald is cursed.

Kat might be in way over her head, but she’s not going down without a fight. After all she has her best friend—the gorgeous Hale—and the rest of her crew with her as they chase the Cleopatra around the globe, dodging curses, realizing that the same tricks and cons her family has used for centuries are useless this time.

Gregor and the Mark of the Secret by Suzanne Collins Beautifully written tale that like The Hunger Games makes you think.
It's only a few months since Gregor and Boots returned from the Underland, leaving their mother behind to heal from the plague. Though Gregor's family receives frequent updates on her condition, they all know Gregor must return to fulfill his role as the warrior who is key to the Underlanders' survival. Accompanied by his now-talkative little sister Boots, still considered the honorary "princess," Gregor joins forces with another princess--12-year-old Luxa--and Ripred the rat to defend the Underlanders and the vulnerable "Nibblers," or mice, from the rat army.

Everyone in the Underland has been taking great pains to keep The Prophecy of Time from Gregor. Gregor knows it must say something awful but he never imagined just how awful: It calls for the warrior's death. Now, with an army of rats approaching, and his mom and sister still in Regalia, Gregor the warrior must gather up his courage to help defend Regalia and get his family home safely. The entire existence of the Underland is in Gregor's hands, and time is running out. There is a code to be cracked, a mysterious new princess, Gregor's burgeoning dark side, and a war to end all wars.

Percy Jackson and The Lightening Thief by Rick Riodran If you love mythology, then this is the series for you.
After getting expelled from yet another school for yet another clash with mythological monsters only he can see, twelve-year-old Percy Jackson is taken to Camp Half-Blood, where he finally learns the truth about his unique abilities: He is a demigod, half human, half immortal. Even more stunning: His father is the Greek god Poseidon, ruler of the sea, making Percy one of the most powerful demigods alive. There's little time to process this news. All too soon, a cryptic prophecy from the Oracle sends Percy on his first quest, a mission to the Underworld to prevent a war among the gods of Olympus.

After a summer spent trying to prevent a catastrophic war among the Greek gods, Percy Jackson is finding his seventh-grade school year unnervingly quiet. His biggest problem is dealing with his new friend, Tyson, a six-foot-three, mentally challenged homeless kid who follows Percy everywhere, making it hard for Percy to have any normal friends. But things don't stay quiet for long.

Dark Mirror by M. J. Putney Time travel and magic, what more could you want?
Lady Victoria Mansfield, youngest daughter of the earl and countess of Fairmount, is destined for a charmed life. Soon she will be presented during the London season, where she can choose a mate worthy of her status.

Yet Tory has a shameful secret—a secret so powerful that, if exposed, itcould strip her of her position and disgrace her family forever. Tory’s blood is tainted . . . by magic. When a shocking accident forces Tory to demonstrate her despised skill, the secret she’s fought so hard to hide is revealed for all to see. She is immediately exiled to Lackland Abbey, a reform school for young men and women in her position. There she will learn to suppress her deplorable talents and maybe, if she’s one of the lucky ones, be able to return to society.

But Tory’s life is about to change forever. All that she’s ever known or considered important will be challenged. What lies ahead is only the beginning of a strange and wonderful journey into a world where destiny and magic come together, where true love and friendship find her, and where courage and strength of character are the only things that determine a young girl’s worth.

Dark Passage by M. J. Putney
The Irregulars return home to 1803 England safely, but their worldview has changed. Not only have their heroic efforts at Dunkirk given them pride and confidence but their dangerous mission has increased their magical powers.

This spare (256-page), erudite "portrait" doesn't attempt to retrace the entire life of Washington; rather, it concentrates on key themes and events that reveal the first president as he really was. As historian Joseph J. Ellis notes, the chapters on slavery and religion are especially beguiling and significant.

Churchill by Paul Johnson*
In Churchill, Johnson applies a wide lens and an unconventional approach to illuminate the various phases of Churchill's career. From his adventures as a young cavalry officer in the service of the Empire to his role as an elder statesman prophesying the advent of the Cold War, Johnson shows how Churchill's immense adaptability combined with his natural pugnacity to make him a formidable leader for the better part of a century. Johnson's narration of Churchill's many triumphs and setbacks, rich with anecdote and quotation, illustrates the man's humor, resilience, courage, and eccentricity as no other biography before.

The last quarter of the eighteenth century remains the most politically creative era in American history, when a dedicated and determined group of men undertook a bold experiment in political ideals. It was a time of triumphs; yet, as Joseph J. Ellis makes clear, it was also a time of tragedies—all of which contributed to the shaping of our burgeoning nation.

The Professor and the Madman, masterfully researched and eloquently written, is an extraordinary tale of madness, genius, and the incredible obsessions of two remarkable men that led to the making of the Oxford English Dictionary -- and literary history. The compilation of the OED began in 1857, it was one of the most ambitious projects ever undertaken. As definitions were collected, the overseeing committee, led by Professor James Murray, discovered that one man, Dr. W. C. Minor, had submitted more than ten thousand. When the committee insisted on honoring him, a shocking truth came to light: Dr. Minor, an American Civil War veteran, was also an inmate at an asylum for the criminally insane.

Longitudes and Attitudes by Thomas Friedman An interesting look at 9/11.
From the Pulitzer Prize–winning New York Times columnist and bestselling author of From Beirut to Jerusalem and The Lexus and the Olive Tree comes this smart, penetrating, brilliantly informed book that is indispensable for understanding today’s radically new world and America’s complex place in it.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot Highly recommended. Science and non-science lovers will love this.

Her name was Henrietta Lacks, but scientists know her as HeLa. She was a poor Southern tobacco farmer who worked the same land as her slave ancestors, yet her cells—taken without her knowledge—became one of the most important tools in medicine. The first “immortal” human cells grown in culture, they are still alive today, though she has been dead for more than sixty years. If you could pile all HeLa cells ever grown onto a scale, they’d weigh more than 50 million metric tons—as much as a hundred Empire State Buildings. HeLa cells were vital for developing the polio vaccine; uncovered secrets of cancer, viruses, and the atom bomb’s effects; helped lead to important advances like in vitro fertilization, cloning, and gene mapping; and have been bought and sold by the billions.

Yet Henrietta Lacks remains virtually unknown, buried in an unmarked grave.

Now Rebecca Skloot takes us on an extraordinary journey, from the “colored” ward of Johns Hopkins Hospital in the 1950s to stark white laboratories with freezers full of HeLa cells; from Henrietta’s small, dying hometown of Clover, Virginia—a land of wooden slave quarters, faith healings, and voodoo—to East Baltimore today, where her children and grandchildren live and struggle with the legacy of her cells.

*Recommend the audio book

Thursday, December 08, 2011

ABC of Utah A to Z

A: Part City Arts Festival

Lindsay and I spent an fun afternoon exploring the Park City Arts festival in August and eating yummy food. There was some amazing stuff, though since most of it was out of my price range I don't know if I'd spend money on admission in the future. Though if I did have some spare change, I kind of want one of these. Aren't they so cute?

Beaver mountain

One of the highlights of the year--three days at a cabin on Beaver Mountain with the fam. What's not to love about ziplines, fuse-ball tournaments, amazing foods, beautiful scenery, game nights, hikes, canoeing, four wheeling, exploring Beaver, and jumping into cold lakes? Not being able to do it every weekend! :)

A: Cedar Breaks and Chalk Art Festival

On our way back from Beaver, we stopped at Cedar Breaks for a little hiking. I've forgotten how beautiful it is.

Each June, the Gateway hosts a Chalk Art Festival. I remember doing a chalk art project in high and was surprised at how it was much harder than it looks, so I was impressed with some of the skill and detail of some of the artists.

This guys work was incredible. You can check out his finished piece here.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Five years

"The Lord loves each of us too much to merely let us go on being what we are, for He knows what we have the possibility to become." Elder Neal A. Maxwell

This quote by Elder Maxwell has always brought me such comfort, but as I've reflected on how my life has changed since November 25, 2006, when I went through the temple, I realize how beautifully this quote sums up my thoughts and feelings of what the temple means to me.

I never pictured going through the temple single, and so when the promptings began it involved a lot of prayer and fasting as it wasn't how I pictured doing it and the thought of going through single petrified me.

But, it's been the best thing I've done for myself.

I am so glad that I haven't waited until I've was married before I had the blessings of the temple in my life. Because of the covenants and promises of the temple, I've seen how the Lord has/is shaping my life and that his plan for me is better than anything I have envisioned for myself. When I feel small and inconsequential, I can go to the temple and be reminded that the blessings and promises are not only very real, but also very personal and that God is aware of me.

The covenants I've made have provided strength when I wasn't sure I could deal with the stress, worry and loneliness anymore as they've refocused my view and reminded me that my righteous desires are heard and through faith and obedience they will be fulfilled. Which is good because as I've sat in the temple and saw the blessings I haven't yet received (marriage and children), it's been that promise that's gotten me through.

While marriage in the temple has always been on my life list, it's only after going through the temple that my reverence, understanding, and desire to always have this blessing in my life has increase. Family life without the temple is no family life at all.

I love the feeling of love and acceptance that the temple offers. The sweet temple workers who have been so kind in their praise and gratitude. They don't know how much I've needed their encouragement and love. Being single, I don't always have someone who's excited to see me every single day and I've loved the fact that I can I can walk into the temple and have people who are happy to see me.

I couldn't imagine my life without the blessings of the temple. I am grateful for a loving Father in Heaven who knew I needed the peace, strength, wisdom, and love found in the temple and in the covenants. Like the pioneers who knew they needed to blessings of the temple to make the journey across the plains, I know that without the temple I couldn't make my mortal journey.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Keep Calm and Carry On

I've loved the phrase KEEP CALM AND CARRY ON since I came across it years ago. I've always admired the spirit of the British during WWII and, for me, the poster perfectly summed up their determination. It's been a reminder to live and love life and to always carry on because life isn't as dark as it may seem. Over the past year KEEP CALM AND CARRY ON has become my unofficial motto as things haven't gone exactly as planned or hoped for. So it's no wonder I have three KEEP CALM AND CARRY ON posters in my bedroom? :)

This pink one was the last acquisition. My roommate gave it to me two months during a particularly crazy and stressful week and it makes me smile every time I see it.

When my bishop called and asked if I could come and have a chat with him on a Saturday morning, I honestly thought it was about some of the stuff I wanted to discuss concerning my current calling. So when the call to be the Relief Society President was issued I was a little taken back. In fact, my first two thoughts were "wow, wasn't expecting that," and "I'm going to be sick."

The past two months have been a roller coaster of emotions. There have been lots of sleepless nights. How do I deal with 130 sisters, half who are under the age of 23? What do I do with the 30 + sisters who are inactive, and another 40 who are semi-active? How do I improve the 30% average of Visiting Teaching? How do I teach the sisters the importance of RS and visiting teaching? How do I deal with the health issues of the sisters (three with hospital stays already)? How do I deal with the mental, emotional, and spiritual questions and concerns of the sisters? How do I get to know them better? What type of example am I being? How can I be more charitable? How can I impart my love for this gospel to them? How can I have enough time to do it all?

But it hasn't all been stress and worry. I've had some amazing moments, especially as I've been able to see glimpse of individual sisters potential and worth. As I've watched an inactive sister come to RS two weeks in a row, or agree to do Visiting Teaching I've been truly humbled because I know that I've been the messenger for the spirit. I've watched sisters willingly serve those who are difficult and do so with a loving heart. I've been grateful for those sisters who've felt that they've got a friend in me who've been willing to open up.

But mostly, I've learned a lot about myself. I've learned it's ok to give up control on certain things (especially if I don't want to have a mental breakdown). I've learned that even though I want to do it all, I just can't, and that it's ok to walk away and say "I'll do that tomorrow." I'm learning to have great patient and love for those who are struggling and are difficult to deal with. I'm learning that help really does come when it's greatly needed. I've learned that sometimes I just need to listen and not to try and fix the problem. I've learned to trust my instincts. I've learned to rely on others (especially my wonderful councilors) and their wisdom. I know at the end of this year, I will look back on all the things I've learned and will be so grateful for the fact that the Lord trusted me enough.

Lastly, I'm really grateful for these wonderful sisters I have beside me. They are capable, strong, spiritual, funny, kind, smart, and make my job so much easier.

Allie (1st councilor), Kaitlin (2nd councilor), and Whitney (secretary)

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Thursday, August 11, 2011

2,062 miles

2,062 miles now separate me from this little one.

How I am going to miss him. He's CAPTURED my heart completely.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

It All Ends Here--Sadly.

I grieved when the final Harry Potter book came out, but I knew it really wasn't over until the last movie came out. In a theatre full of die hard fans, we laughed, cheered, and grieved the end of the era--together As I sat in there, I thought back to many conversations speculating what would happen, the craziness of long lines for the midnight book and movie releases, the hour spent creating the perfect costumes, and how amazing it was that a book had that ability to bring so many people together.

The last time I'd create a Harry Potter look for a movie premier.


How did I end up representing Voldermort?

Monday, June 27, 2011

Dress love

I've got major dress envy over this vintage number that Cat Deely wore on So You Think You Can Dance the other night. I may just have to attempt this dress this year just to get over my dress envy.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Did I really just say that?

While I may be a girl, I do try to refrain from saying really girly things. :) It wasn't happening this last week with gems such as:

Can you help me with this? I don't want to ruin my manicure.

Yes, I have feminine products in my glove compartment.

I may have cried after I left the salon.

I can't play because I burned my finger on my straightener.

Eating that is so not worth the calorie intake.

I don't have any aspirin in my purse, but I do have midol.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Friends, the beach, camping=heaven

The group
(br: Trent, Erika, Alison, Todd, Emily, Heidi, fr: Mike, Me, Dan, Hafid)

I love road trips and all that comes with it---lack of sleep craziness, great conversation, girl talk, not having to check work email. Really the list could go on and on. Add to it camping and the beach and it's the formula for brilliant adventure.

Grauman's Chinese Theatre, Walk of stars, street performances,
Hollywood sign, Kodak theatre, crazy people

Madam Tussards Wax Museum
uncanny likeness (mostly), grown ups playing dress-up, short movie stars

Miceli's Italian Restaurant
oldest Italian restaurant, fabulous pizza, Italian kitsch decor, "slices the size of a dinner plate"

Aneheim Angels vs. Kansas City Royals
first professional baseball game, nosebleed seats, rally monkey, AA broke seven game losing streak, beautiful weather

Taio Cruz Concert
actually knowing who Tai Cruz was, lack of sleep crazy dancing, cell phone picture

feet in the sand, waves crashing, sand castles, football, freezing water,
SUN, book reading, sea shell gathering, gorgeous sunsets, happiness

fire, marshmellow roasting, ocean cooked corn on the cob, our adopted pet aka the shunk, butchering campfire songs, good food, youtube video discussions, perfect summer activity

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Things to do this year.

The thought of turning 29 actually petrified me, so to make 29 a little more bearable I've decided to have 29 adventures this year. So if you want to join me on any, or all of the adventures, I'd love to have you along.

1. Take a cooking class
2. Become scuba certified
3. Read 100 books
4. Finish scrapbooking study abroad
5. Be a part of a flash mob
6. Cook 29 new recipes (including a soufflé)
7. Dress up for the midnight showing of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
8. Go to my first professional baseball game. First one completed: Anaheim Angels vs. Kansas City Royals, June 11 in Anaheim.

9. Learn how to sail
10. Join the DUP (Daughter of Utah Pioneers)
11. Sew a dress
12. Take a picture a day for 29 days (luckily for me February next year has 29 days)
13. Finish Jesus the Christ
14. Try a new ethnic food restaurant each month.
15. Buy a bike
16. Hike Mount Olympus
17. Lose 10 pounds
18. See The Sound of Music at Sundance
19. Have a Utah A to Z adventure
20. Go paragliding
21. Take a road trip decided by the flip of a coin.
22. Do a session at all Utah Temples
23. Do a murder mystery date
24. Write the first chapter of my novel
25. Do a bike race
26. Plan a huge croquette tournament
27. Volunteer at a local school
28. Take a dance class
29. Plan my 30th birthday celebration. It's already been decided that I'm going to be celebrating my 30th birthday in some remote and exotic location (unless something better comes along). Right now the top choices are Sweden, Guatemala, Prague, and Italy. Anybody's welcome to join me, hint, hint. :)

Saturday, June 04, 2011

Ghetto Adventure=Good Times

I have the COOLEST family! Why? Because my family is always up for adventure--even if it turns out to be a slightly ghetto adventure to Hollywood Connection.

Reason #1 why our ghetto adventure was amazing. We all made "matching" spray painted shirts. Awesome.

Sara, Jane, Laura creating the awesomeness.

Reason #2 why our ghetto adventure was amazing. Ten grown people on the world's smallest roller coaster.

Reason #3 why our ghetto adventure was amazing. Bumper car domination.

Jane, Laura, Sara

Reason #4 why our ghetto adventure was amazing. Ridding the lamest rides over and over again and laughing each time we did.

Drew's first carousel ride.

Reason #5 why our ghetto adventure was amazing. It may have been mini golf, but that doesn't mean we still aren't competitive.