End of Summer Fun

Earlier in the summer, my aunt and I purchased a Groupon deal for the Chattanooga Ducks.  (Basically, it's a tour of the downtown area in a WWII amphibious landing vehicle--a truck that also functions as a boat.)  We decided to hold the tickets until closer to fall and make a day of it in Chattanooga.

Last weekend, the highs were only in the upper 80s, so we decided to head up on Saturday.  It was a fun day in downtown Chattanooga, and I pulled out my camera for the first time in what feels like months and got some fun late-summer pictures of my favorite girls.


All the kids got to take a turn driving the boat...they loved it!






After the Duck tour and a delicious lunch downtown, we rode the free shuttle to a different part of downtown--marking Addison & Mackenzie's first public transportation ride, I believe.  (They were thrilled to be riding on a "bus".)  We intended to visit the antique carousel at Coolidge Park, but it was closed for repairs.  The girls happily settled for splashing in the fountains at the park.

When A & M got their fill of splashing, we performed a quick change into some dry clothes and headed back toward our car.  There were a couple of other places I would have liked to visit, but the youngest members of our crew were fading quickly.

Sure enough, almost before we even made it out of the parking garage, this was the scene in the backseat:



I declare it a successful adventure.


School Days

It seems I might have failed in getting a picture of the first day of MDO last year.  Oops!  For reference, here's a picture taken around this time a year ago:

Look at those cute little baby hands!  And the chubby cheeks!

And here are Addison & Mackenzie on the first day back to school last week--their first day in the three-year-old class:


It's hard to believe how much they've grown and changed.  Looking at these pictures, I realize how much of the baby-ness has disappeared over the last year.  But man, I love these grown-up girls.  They are such little hams lately; they make me laugh like no one else can.  True, they can also push my buttons like no one else can...but that's just part of the deal, right?

The first week back to school went very well in our house.  They went for the short summer program, so they've really only had about a month without the school routine.  Still, I was a little worried, since they've spent most of the last three or four weeks staying in their pajamas all day and not having to even leave the house most days.  It was a relief that all three days went as smoothly as we could have hoped, and it seems A & M are going to love their year in the three-year-old class.

I always ask my youth group at church if they are ready to go back to school...it's usually pretty evenly split, with about half dreading it and half ready to get back in the swing of things.  I was usually one of the ready-to-go kind of kids, though I probably wouldn't have admitted it.  I loved school, and I particularly loved the first-day, new-year excitement.  Ahh, the memory of all the fresh and clean notebooks and school supplies makes me smile.  (Actually, new supplies still make me ridiculously happy...you never outgrow some things, I guess!)

Which camp were you in--looking forward to school or dreading it?  And I KNOW I'm not the only one who still stocks up for myself when school supplies go on sale, RIGHT?


Shadow of Night, by Deborah Harkness

It's no secret that I loved last year's A Discovery of Witches.  It easily made my list of favorite books in 2011.  The first book of the trilogy was full of history, mystery, and strong and intriguing female characters.  As the title suggests, there were plenty of supernatural elements,  but I felt they were tastefully incorporated, unlike a lot of the vampire/witch genre riding the post-Twilight wave.  (Twilight for educated adults, maybe?)

At the end of A Discovery of Witches (ADOW), Matthew Clairmont (a vampire) and Diana Bishop (a witch) are preparing to timewalk back to the sixteenth-century England to attempt to locate a lost manuscript.  When that book ended, I was instantly excited for the next part of the story.

Shadow of Night, the second book in the trilogy, picks up right where ADOW stops, with Matthew and Diana stepping into the past.  History is a huge part of these books, and I was excited to see what Harkness, a historian herself, I believe, would do with such an unusual setting.  You don't see a lot of novels with modern characters getting the opportunity to venture back to Elizabethan London.

This time-travel tome is rife with name-dropping:  Sir Walter Raleigh, Shakespeare, Christopher Marlowe, etc.  It's a little convenient that Matthew was able to fade into the background during his time as a part of this scholarly and well-known group of men....but hey, what's the fun of traveling back to Elizabethan England if you don't get to rub elbows with some of the greats?  (And yes, that does include the queen herself.)  Some of the most interesting parts to me were the details showing Diana trying to adjust to the customs of the age, by practicing her writing style and imitating the speech inflections of others.

As much as I loved all the history contained in Shadow of Night, I wasn't quite expecting the entire book to be set in the past.  There were only very brief, minor glimpses into present-day occurrences.  We know enough to realize that significant things are happening, things that will surely have major consequences in the last book, but we only get the barest of facts about the rest of the family while Matthew and Diana are in the past.  The constant focus on the past made the book a little tedious at times, at least for me.

One of the great things about ADOW was how quickly it seemed to move.  At well over 500 pages, it is of significant length, but I was so intrigued by the story that it didn't matter (I quite liked having lots of "story" left to read, in fact).  SON did not move nearly as swiftly as its predecessor.  There just wasn't a lot of action to move the plot along as quickly, and I found myself wishing someone would do something to create a little action.

That's not to say nothing happened in the book, of course.  There is plenty to ponder while waiting for the third installment.  But, like many middle books of a series, SON is more about developing the characters and setting the stage for the finale.  In that respect, there is nothing to complain about with SON.  The development evidenced in Diana's character was particularly well done.  The marriage and relationship between Matthew and Diana became much more meaningful and deepened significantly during the second half of the book.  Matthew had some excellent scenes with his father that further developed his character and put to rest some lingering issues.  In fact, the scenes at Matthew's family home were some of my absolute favorites of the book.

In the end, I was left rooting for Matthew and Diana as a legitimate couple, sure that they were equally devoted to their blended family, and excited to see how the entire group will face the challenges sure to come in the final book of the trilogy.

I received a digital copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.  Shadow of Night is available now.




Me to Mackenzie, on a long afternoon without a nap:  You're exhausted, aren't you?
M:  What does 'exhausted' mean?
Me:  It means very, very tired.
M:  Yeah, I'm exhausted!


At the zoo...
Can you guess what an ANTeater eats?
A & M:  Ummmm, GRASS!
So logic isn't a strong point yet...


Me:  Girls, do you remember how to say 'goodnight' in Spanish?
Mackenzie, proudly:  Goodnight in Spanish!
Is she getting a jump on the smarty-pants stage?!


Addison, randomly to Jeremy one day:
Hey, you ole fat boy!
I laughed for days at that one.  Jeremy, not so much!


When Mackenzie is questioning something, she often says "Why because?".  I LOVE it.


Addison often sits with me while I do my makeup, and she has taken to asking for the small brush to smooth her "eye barrels".  (Eyebrows)  


The girls discussing between themselves why they have to take a bath:
M: If we don't take a bath, we will be stinky!
A:  Yeah, and Jesus won't like it if we are stinky...it will make him throw up!
Good opportunity for a conversation about how Jesus loves us no matter what--not just when we are shiny and clean.


Addison, trying to put on a shoe that is nearly too small...
Me:  Your foot sure is growing!
A:  Yeah, let's see how much it weighs. (Pretends to measure) It's twenty dollars!


Jeremy had been teasing Mackenzie quite a bit in the car the other day, and she had her fill.
J:  I'm sorry for picking on you, Mackenzie, are you still mad at me?
M:  Okay...but I'm gonna keep my eye on you, daddy!

Mackenzie's best intimidating look

I love my silly girls that know exactly how to make us laugh and brighten any day.


State of Affairs, July Edition

Here we are halfway through August and I'm just now getting around to talking about July.  To be honest, I can't remember many exciting details about the month.  It's summer, and we are enjoying all that entails.  We stay up late, skip baths, and wear pajamas all day (well, some of us are forced to get dressed during the week--you know, jobs and all that jazz).  We hide from the heat, have movie nights, and occasionally leave the house in search of ice cream or a trip to the pool.

Yep, July was just...July.  Nothing really notable to report.

Books read:  5.5
The Homecoming of Samuel Lake--Finished from last month, reviewed here.  Definitely one of my favorites for the year.  Recommend!

Heist Society--A fun YA book about a girl and her family of professional thieves. 

Dead Reckoning and Deadlocked--Books 11 & 12 in the Sookie Stackhouse series.  I wish these books could go on forever, I love them so much.  They're just pure fun reading.  I'm a little sad the series will be ending next year, but book 12 left me eager to see how it all wraps up.

Charmed Thirds--Book 3 of the Jessica Darling series.  I read the first two a few years ago and finally found the rest from a used bookstore for a cheap price.  I was less than impressed with this one than with 1 & 2, but the last two are shaping up nicely.

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry--A little slow and meandering for my taste, and especially for summer reading, but beautifully written.  Reviewed here.

Awkward is back on for the next month or two.  (On MTV.  I KNOW.  It's seriously the only time my tv lands on that channel.)  I love this show.  I'm not sure how it happened, but MTV really did something right with this one.  It's the best kind of teenage angst.

Music-wise, my girlies are obsessed with the Laurie Berkner Band.  The music is pretty catchy, and Jeremy and I find ourselves singing the tunes even when the girls aren't around.  (Embarrassing!)

Hey, I did think of one thing... July was the month I learned to slightly-less-than-hate running.  I use the term "running" very loosely, as the most helpful advice I read was to slow down.  So I'm moving along at less than a snail's pace, but it's more than I've ever done before.  The first time I went out with this new mindset, I "ran" for a little more than six minutes before I slowed (or sped up, maybe?) to a walk.  Just a few weeks later, I'm up to "running" the entire 30 minutes, something I never, ever thought I would be able to do. 

I won't say I'm in love with running or anything, but it's fun to realize I'm doing things I never thought possible.

And now that it's August, how is the last of your summer going?  As exciting as mine?


Six (and Ten)

Six years ago yesterday, we began our married life together.  It hasn't been flawless, but six years, a few homes & cars, two kids, a couple of jobs, and innumerable amazing moments later, I can say without a doubt that it's exactly where I want to be.


I can't help but be reminded that it is also this month that marks ten years since Jeremy and I met and began dating.  TEN.  

One day, I'll have to write out the story of how we met.  I can imagine the girls would like to read that sometime in the future.

There is no big dramatic element to our story, but to us, it was perfect. 


The Art of Rational Debate

I have always enjoyed a good argument.  During my college years in particular, I learned to appreciate thoughtful, rational deliberation, usually with classmates (and yes, friends) of opposing beliefs or ideals.  Being a political science major, I had plenty of opportunities to refine the art of debate and to practice crafting substantial, meaningful arguments.

Though I could still get worked up in the heat of a good discussion, I learned the value of listening to the other side's point of view and taking their arguments under consideration.  And if I may be perfectly honest, attempting to understand the opposing mindset often gave me more solid ground to stand on in arguing against it.  I can't think of a particular instance when my convictions were completely changed by discussion or debate, but I can think of many, many ways in which listening to and attempting to understand the views of others allowed me to think of the issue in a new light and see things I hadn't considered before.  (And in turn, craft a more rational and persuasive argument about why their position totally wrong--ha!  I kid, it wasn't always like that.)

Perhaps most importantly, the sharing of ideas and opinions with others allowed me to solidify my own values, especially in my own heart and mind.  So many times, we believe in things, argue for or against policies or practices, and defend or attack the actions of others without really understanding the underlying issue at all.  My experiences in college and graduate school taught me to investigate and consider the opposing viewpoints, to decide where my convictions lie, and then to take a stand and embrace my beliefs.  (Do you want to hire me as the poster child for a liberal arts education yet?)

I realize I am not expressing this very eloquently, but I truly believe that you can only argue validly and rationally when you understand exactly what it is you're arguing against.  Know and understand your opponent so you can better defeat your opponent...or something to that effect. It is in the defending and explaining of my position that I become most secure in my own beliefs. 

Thank you to all of those who argued rationally, analytically, and thoughtfully with me during those years (and in the years since, for that matter).  Whether you were on my side or a side I vehemently opposed, you played a part in helping me shape the convictions I place my faith in every single day.  Thank you for helping me see the other side and to appreciate the value and wisdom in loving and understanding others, even when we blatantly disagree.  Thank you to the professors who encouraged us to think deeply and embrace and expand on our positions.  Thank you especially to Dr. H., who played devil's advocate in every single instance and who taught me to investigate an issue from every angle imaginable.  I try my best to pass these same foundations on to my students.

In light of all I've seen and heard over the past few weeks, I am more grateful than ever for the ability to recognize a good, intellectual argument from one that is better left untouched.  After many years, I see the wisdom in knowing the difference between the two.  I understand the truth that there is no way to "win" (or compromise, or have a good conversation) with people who refuse to consider anything apart from their own ingrained beliefs and who will never even listen to, much less try to understand, the opposing point of view. This kind of person will not listen to reason, has very little empathy or compassion for the people with differing convictions, and in truth, probably has only the simplest understanding of the issue in question.  (Yes, I'm generalizing and over-simplifying, but I've seen it, and I've seen it on both sides of the fence--or the political spectrum, if you will.)

And just in case you're wondering...YES, in this particular instance, I am referring most specifically to 99% of the arguments I see in my Facebook news feed.  Though it takes all my strength and willpower, and though I often gripe and make my points (loudly) to those who have the misfortune to be around me at the time I read something incredibly inaccurate, insensitive, and/or thoughtless, I will NOT engage in that kind of discourse. With rare exception, there is no rational thought, consideration, or respect going on in those conversations, and any time I choose to devote to them is time wasted.

I WILL, however, use the "hide" button.  Liberally, at times.