Monday, March 20, 2017

"Life in a Jar"

My sister, Sharon, bought me the book Life in a Jar: The Irena Sendler Project by Jack Meyer this past Christmas, and my mom and I read it together. We finished it a couple days ago, and it was a great book! Here is a synopsis:

During World War II, Irena Sendler, a Polish Catholic social worker, organized a rescue network of fellow social workers to save 2,500 Jewish children from certain death in the Warsaw ghetto. Incredibly, after the war her heroism, like that of many others, was suppressed by communist Poland and remained virtually unknown for 60 years. Unknown, that is, until three high school girls from an economically depressed, rural school district in southeast Kansas stumbled upon a tantalizing reference to Sendler's rescues, which they fashioned into a history project, a play they called Life in a Jar. Their innocent drama was first seen in Kansas, then the Midwest, then New York, Los Angeles, Montreal, and finally Poland, where they elevated Irena Sendler to a national hero, championing her legacy of tolerance and respect for all people. Life in a Jar: The Irena Sendler Project is a Holocaust history and more. It is the inspirational story of Protestant students from Kansas, each carrying her own painful burden, each called in her own complex way to the history of a Catholic woman who knocked on Jewish doors in the Warsaw ghetto and, in Sendler's own words, "tried to talk the mothers out of their children." Inspired by Irena Sendler, they are living examples of the power of one person to change the world and models for young people everywhere.

I really liked this book, especially how it told Irena's story, as well as the story of the three Kansas students who uncovered Irena's heroic past. Irena convinced Jewish parents to give their children to her, and she smuggled approximately 2500 children out of the Warsaw ghetto in Poland. This was very dangerous work, of course, and Irena and the other members of Zegota (the codename of the secret organization that fought back against the Nazis) risked so much in order to help rescue others. As I read the book, I kept asking myself, "Would I have the courage to fight injustice and risk my life in order to help others?" I'd like to think I would, but I worry I would be too timid and scared.

This was a great book, and it definitely gets my recommendation!

Thursday, February 2, 2017

"My Story"

My mom and I finished reading "My Story" by Elizabeth Smart a few weeks before Christmas. My friend Heather recommended this book to me, and I'm so glad she did! When this book came out several years ago, I didn't give much thought to reading it. I basically knew what had happened to Elizabeth (or so I thought) from things that I had heard on the news and watched on TV. What I knew only scratched the surface as to what all happened to Elizabeth. I started this book and was absolutely sucked in from the beginning. It was a real page-turner!

Here is a synopsis of the book: "For the first time, ten years after her abduction from her Salt Lake City bedroom, Elizabeth Smart reveals how she survived and the secret to forging a new life in the wake of a brutal crime.

"On June 5, 2002, fourteen-year-old Elizabeth Smart, the daughter of a close-knit Mormon family, was taken from her home in the middle of the night by religious fanatic, Brian David Mitchell and his wife, Wanda Barzee. She was kept chained, dressed in disguise, repeatedly raped, and told she and her family would be killed if she tried to escape. After her rescue on March 12, 2003, she rejoined her family and worked to pick up the pieces of her life.

"Now for the first time, in her memoir, MY STORY, she tells of the constant fear she endured every hour, her courageous determination to maintain hope, and how she devised a plan to manipulate her captors and convinced them to return to Utah, where she was rescued minutes after arriving. Smart explains how her faith helped her stay sane in the midst of a nightmare and how she found the strength to confront her captors at their trial and see that justice was served.

"In the nine years after her rescue, Smart transformed from victim to advocate, traveling the country and working to educate, inspire and foster change. She has created a foundation to help prevent crimes against children and is a frequent public speaker. In 2012, she married Matthew Gilmour, whom she met doing mission work in Paris for her church, in a fairy tale wedding that made the cover of People magazine."

I was so impressed and inspired with the way Elizabeth was able to handle this horrific ordeal. Imagine being kidnapped in the middle of the night, sexually brutalized, having to go with very little food, being forced to get drunk, and being emotionally ravaged. What happened to Elizabeth was truly heinous. There were small miracles and tender mercies along the way, however, and Elizabeth never gave up or lost her faith. It was her faith in God and the atonement of Jesus Christ that enabled her to not only survive this trauma, but to be able to move on and still have a beautiful life where she has been able to advocate for others who have endured similar experiences. The atonement has so much power, because Jesus not only atoned for our sins, but He also suffered for all of the pains and atrocities that God's children would ever feel and experience.

I've recommended this book to several people, and think it's one that anyone who likes to feel uplifted and inspired would enjoy.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Elizabeth's 16th Birthday

My niece, Elizabeth, turned 16 on December 27. It's so fun to be able to celebrate her birthday with her each year, since we've spent the majority of our Christmases (and December 27's) together. I was 16 when Elizabeth was born, so she's now the same age I was when she was born. That makes me feel a little old!

Elizabeth wanted orange chicken with rice pilaf for her birthday dinner, and my brother-in-law also made gyoza (pronounced like "jowdza"), which are like potstickers. Everything was so tasty, and I've been hankering for more ever since!
Next Elizabeth opened her cards and presents:
She got some earrings and a nice jewelry box:
And a special present for her 16th birthday…
…a pair of emerald earrings:
Elizabeth and her mom, Christian and Matt, and E with Aunt Chan:
A few of us went to the movies for Elizabeth's birthday outing, and we saw Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. I fell asleep in the the movie, but I still enjoyed it!

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Christmas 2016

I know I'm pretty late with my Christmas blog post, but here it is… finally! My sister Sharon and her family came up from Mississippi for the holidays. I think we've spent almost every Christmas with Sharon's for the past 18 or so years. It's nice to have so many happy Christmas memories with them!

I don't have as many pictures from Christmas day as I would like (or as many shots of people opening/posing with their gifts), but things were a little crazy that day, and a lot was going on since we had church in the morning since Christmas was on Sunday. Sharon's kids got up and got ready for church, and came downstairs and opened their stockings about 7:15. My mom and I were busy getting ready for church, so we missed this part of Christmas morning.

I got each of Sharon's kids a few little things to put in their stockings. The two pictures below are of my four-year-old niece, Emily, and they are probably my favorite pictures that were taken on Christmas. I found these little, collapsible brushes at the dollar store, so I got one for Sharon's three youngest girls. I almost didn't buy one for Emily, but I'm so glad I did! After seeing hers, she threw her arms up in the air and said that it was what she always wanted. How precious is that?! That was one dollar well spent!
This is Matt with one of his favorite Christmas presents: a bundle of neon green parachute rope. He was using it to make booby-traps all over the house during the 10 days Sharon's family was here! The other picture is of Matt holding up the calendar I got him. (I bought calendars for everybody, since the dollar store had a fairly large selection of 2017 calendars.) I also found a pack of cards at Target with different facts about insects that I thought he might like. That's pictured below, as well.
Rachel was the next to open her stocking, and then Sarah:
Kate went next, followed by Elizabeth. I can't believe how mature these girls are looking!
After stockings and a breakfast of sweet rolls (orange rolls and caramel pecan), we went to church. We only had one hour of church, so it was a shorter day than usual. Our family friend, Paul, came with us, and then he stayed with us through the afternoon as we opened our presents. Chandra, Joe and Christian came over to open presents with us, as well, after they got out of church.

I'm not crazy about the way I look in these pictures, but I'm including them anyway, just to document this sweet exchange between Emi and me. She is such a cutie, and she makes me laugh. I love her so much!
Mom and me, followed by pictures of Emi and Rach:
Elizabeth is not a little girl anymore, and neither is Kate! They are both so sweet and fun to be around. Here they are on the way out the door to church:
And here's Chandra's family when they arrived to our house after they got out of church. I love Christian's festive, little outfit, not to mention that adorable look on his face in the side-by-side pictures below. Talk about heart-melting!
We finally started opening our presents a little after 12:30 PM. The kids were getting impatient as we waited for everyone to arrive. I can't say that I blamed them!

Here's Rachel opening a little sewing box from Grammy. I love the first picture with Matt looking over her shoulder as she opened her gift:
Above: Rachel got a sweet rag doll, and Sarah got the Razor scooter she wanted.

Matthew also got a Razor scooter. My mom gave him a cape with an "M" on the back of it (I wish I had gotten a picture of him modeling his cape, but I didn't), and I gave him a soccer ball. A few days after Christmas he was running around the backyard playing soccer while wearing his cape. So cute! 😏 
Emi really wanted a lawnmower, so my mom got her one. She was delighted!
Christian hasn't quite gotten the hang of opening gifts, so Chandra helped him figure it out.

These girls got more books. They sure do love to read!
Chandra and our mom both got Bissell steam mops (unbeknownst to each other). Several of us girls went in together to get the mops for Chan and our mom. It was kind of funny to see them both open them, and realize that they had each gotten one. Chandra was really hoping to get one, because she's been wanting one ever since she used our sister Annette's steam mop back in October. As you can see from the pictures, Chan was thrilled!
The girls always make such thoughtful and creative gifts for us. Their creativity is truly amazing! I unfortunately didn't get any pictures of myself opening any of my Christmas gifts, but here's Chandra with Elizabeth and Sarah when they gave her the presents they made for her.
Above are pictures of Sharon and Elizabeth wearing their new blanket scarves. Elizabeth used her own money to buy her own scarf right before Christmas. These particular scarves come with fuchsia gloves, and Elizabeth decided to wrap up the gloves that came with her scarf for her mom for Christmas (since Sharon had teased that she thought they would go great with her dark blue pea coat). Well, Sharon got a blanket scarf from Spencer for Christmas, so she gave the fuchsia gloves that came with her scarf to Elizabeth. Both of them are happy campers, and they look so stylish in their [almost] twin scarves! 😉

Another Christmas has come and gone. We sure had fun during our 10-day Christmas vacation together. I must admit that I'm now feeling the post-Christmas blues, since I miss everyone. That always happens to me after my sisters have come to visit with their families. I look forward to their visits so much, so then after all the fun is over, I feel a letdown. Fortunately, it doesn't last too long before I get used to my normal, quiet routine again.

Here are a few other highlights our visit:

  • Watching Hallmark Christmas movies together most evenings.
  • Having a delicious nacho bar for our New Year's Eve dinner.
  • Going to the temple with my mom, Sharon, and Spencer.
  • Playing Qwirkle (I've heard of this game before, but I'd never played it, so I asked Sharon to bring hers. It was really fun!)
  • Sharon asked me to make a special slideshow (one of my hobbies) for a special recognition night at church for Elizabeth, who recently received her Young Womanhood recognition award. Sharon and I spent a fair amount of time putting the finishing touches on it.
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