Reading list 2016

New books: 13 (4,537 pages)

Tiffany Tsao, The Oddfits
Brandon Sanderson, Shadows of Self
Andy Weird, The Martian
Kazuo Ishiguro, The Buried Giant
Brandon Sanderson, Bands of Mourning
Margaret Atwood, The Heart Goes Last
Anthony Doer, All the Light We Cannot See
Alwyn Hamilton, Rebel of the Sands
David Flusfeder, John the Pupil
Patricia McKillip, The Bell at Sealey Head
John Grisham, The Last Juror
Jennifer Trafton, The Rise and Fall of Mount Majestic
Oliver Sacks, An Anthropologist On Mars

Previous years: 2015 | 2014 | 201320122011 | 2010 | 2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006 | 2005 | 2004


Year 3

It’s really been almost three and a half years by this point, but I never got around to writing when it was Christian’s birthday this April. I suppose that says something.

Between year 2 and year 3, I had Ramona. There was so much anxiety while I was pregnant with her! It was emotional and often overwhelming and really, really difficult to believe that things would turn out okay. Delivery was very traumatic for me, and then I got to worry about SIDS for a few months. But at the same time I healed. Ramona wrapped my heart in sunshine. And eventually I felt that just as we didn’t deserve to have Christian die, we didn’t deserve (still don’t!) a baby so pleasant and happy and cheerful as Ramona. She is incredible, and she’s helped me feel joy. Lots of joy.

Let’s see what I can remember about Doubleplusgood Day. In the weeks leading up to it, I wasn’t thinking much about Christian being gone – I was basking in Ramona’s golden glow. I had vague plans for a good deed to do to celebrate Christian’s birthday, and of course we had cookies at our house for anyone who wanted to stop by. The actual day of his birthday was pretty lousy, though, despite how much it seemed like it wouldn’t be hard for me. It was a Sunday, and we were (of course) running late for church. I was in a bad mood because I hate being late and because when it comes down to it, I’d rather be partying with Christian instead of talking about honoring him and remembering him. So that still sucks. When we got to church, there were no seats left! We’ve been late before, but there’s always somewhere to sit. It kind of pushed me over the edge. Fortunately, some people had remembered that it was Christian’s birthday, and despite my bad mood it was so, so nice to have people say something.

I had hoped that we’d have lots of friends drop by to tell us about their good deed. For me, that represents love for my family. I was surprised and a little hurt that only one family came by, but it made their visit extra meaningful. Before they came I took a grief nap (just made that up, it’s not a thing) and Jarom took Evan and June to the cemetery. By bedtime, I had gotten texts from a handful of people about their good deed. I had built it up in my head that I’d be hearing throughout the day how people helped celebrate Christian, and it was hard to spend the day feeling a little forgotten.

To be fair, Doubleplusgood Day was an anomaly. Most of year 3 was spent in anticipation of, and then delighting in, Ramona. I still have some feelings of guilt about how happy she makes me – like it’s somehow disloyal to Christian. (I know that isn’t rational.) I don’t want to spend the rest of my life in heavy grief, and I’m sure no one else wants me to, but it feels like my joy means I don’t miss Christian anymore. (I know, not rational and not true.) The guilt is lessening, though, and maybe by year 4 I will have found a balance between the lifelong sadness of Christian’s death and the joy of actually living my life and loving my family that’s here with me.


Please and thank you

Doubleplusgood Day. April 24. Do something nice. It doesn’t have to be big. But please tell me your good deed so I can record it in my little book of beautiful things that are done to help remember Christian. 

New to my story? Start here


Absolutely no direction to this post

Fair warning, this is a poorly written collection of about 4 blog posts I’ve thought about recently, and because I’m an adult (really! I have kids and a mortgage and I think midnight is late!) I’m not even going to go back and edit for clarity, or typos. Take that!

Alright. First is this idea about how being willing to try new things is better than…not being willing. See, no editing! It’s a virtue to be brave and adventurous and to seek out new things (new worlds, new civilizations). This is not a virtue I possess so naturally I was considering how to argue that it isn’t necessarily such an amazing trait. Or, at the very least, it isn’t necessarily such a flaw to dislike trying new things. I already have a lengthy mental list of my flaws, ranging from minor to “Why on earth does anyone ever voluntarily interact with me,” and if I can knock one of the list, cool. Because I really am not one to go new places, eat new foods, meet new people, try new…anything. What do you think? Character flaw or just personality?

Next, there was some real issue I wanted to write about but it’s drifting around the edges of my memory like slow motion dandelion fluff. I remember feeling hesitant to bring it up as it was a somewhat divisive subject, but it wasn’t politics or religion. Hmm.

Well, moving on. We’re coming up on my 5 least favorite weeks of the year – between the time we got Christian’s diagnosis to the day he was born/died. To counteract how lousy these weeks make me feel, Jarom and I host Doubleplusgood Day, where we ask friends, family, and strangers to do an act of service in Christian’s honor. You probably already knew that. This year I want to make it big. Maybe I’ll tell a local news station about it? Doubtful, but one year I might. I do want to get a lot of people involved this year – so now’s a good time to start telling your friends about it. April 24. If you’re in Utah county, you can even come by my house and get a free cookie in exchange for telling me about your good deed. Last year for my doubleplusgood deed, I took cookies to the labor & delivery nurses at the hospital where we had Christian. Terrible idea, since it was the first time I’d been back, and I was pregnant and emotional. Now that I have Ramona, I’m a lot more willing to go to the labor & delivery floor, so I might take cookies to the nurses every year as part of my deed. Everyone likes free cookies.

Here’s my oversharing for today. In February 2013 I started taking Zoloft for anxiety. My doctor increased my dosage after I found out Christian was going to die, and wow I’m glad because the depression after Christian was already overwhelming. But the Zoloft also made me gain weight, and keep gaining weight. Then finally I was pregnant with Ramona and gained a lot more weight. In the first month after she was born, I went down 25 lbs (I had gone up 55 lbs during pregnancy, which was actually typical for me). And then stalled. I’m not motivated enough to do real things like eat better or exercise, so I can’t complain too much about not losing weight, right? I switched from Zoloft to Wellbutrin a few months ago, and even though I’m still not trying to change any of my habits, I’ve been losing weight. Slowly. Now I’m 17 lbs from my pre-Ramona weight, which is still 25 lbs over my pre-Christian weight. One of these days I might start caring enough to make use of our exercise bike, or take the dog on walks, or walk to the park with June and Ramona. I definitely won’t stop eating the foods I love – I want my life to be happy and full of the joy that baked goods bring. But I’m feeling encouraged by the Wellbutrin-induced weight loss.

Lastly, I’m currently listening to the audio book of The Runaway Jury, my favorite John Grisham novel. I would love to serve on a jury, but Jarom says that as a lawyer’s wife I never will. BOO.


Introducing: Ramona

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I don’t have a real reason for not writing this earlier, other than a vague “I just don’t want to.” I want Ramona to be MINE MINE MINE and writing about her seems like she belongs to everyone. But, here she is anyway.

Ramona Minaret Hillery was born on September 20. I honestly don’t remember when during the day – maybe evening? I was in labor for what seemed like forever, and she was 8 lb 3 oz (much bigger than my other 3 kids!), so pushing her out was realllllllllly difficult. Ramona was only 18.5 inches, though, which made her a fairly compact newborn.

Birth story, blah blah blah, I don’t feel particularly inclined to write about it at the moment. It was altogether a terrifying, emotional, draining event. The days, weeks, and months that followed were full of anxiety that something would happen to her. But they were also full of cuddling, and adoration, and eat/sleep/repeat cycles (for both of us, I guess).

Our senior year of high school, Jarom and I were on the Academic Decathlon team because we are just that awesome. Our teammates were awesome, too. We have so many fond memories of that year. For our honeymoon, we went back to the Monterey beach condos where we’d stayed on a Decathlon team retreat. We keep in touch, more or less, with most of our teammates, and with our coach. It was also the year that we finally figured out we like liked each other. Yeah, teenagers. Ugh. This story does have a point: it was hard to decide on a middle name for Ramona, and in the end we went with the middle name of one of our teammates. It was a shout-out to all of the friendships we made that year. Also Minaret is just a flippin’ awesome name.

Ramona does not look like I expected. At all. June was born with black hair, and I figured Ramona would have brown hair. I always pictured her that way. It was SO surprising when she came out with quite a lot of orange hair.

She’s 4 months old now. Her hair is longer, but still – as Evan calls it – “mango-colored.” It does look like it might be starting to grow out blonde at the roots. As unexpected as her orange hair was, I’ll be sad if it doesn’t stay that color, for a year or two at least. And her eyes have stayed blue-blue – also unexpected! Evan and June both have brown eyes, and although theirs didn’t look particularly brown until about 8 months, theirs were definitely darker at 4 months than Ramona’s are. I kept crossing my fingers that she’d have green eyes, so I fought any comments about how blue her eyes were . . . but I think it’s time to admit that Ramona has blue eyes. Blue-blue.

Last weekend she suddenly noticed my phone while I was holding her. She’s started reaching and grabbing for objects with definite intention. And a few days ago, I was walking through the house carrying her, wondering why something felt different about carrying her, when I realized that I just had my arm under her bottom – she was holding her head up the entire time.

Stop growing, Ramona!

When Evan and June were babies, I was so impatient for every new milestone. Smiling, laughing, rolling over – I was desperately excited to see the people they were becoming. I feel oddly sad every time Ramona hits a milestone, though. Like a part of her is gone forever. Lost. I think maybe I should see a therapist or something.

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But. Despite all my weird feelings, I cannot get enough of this girl. When I’m not holding a camera in her face, she smiles – all the time. She’s stingy about laughing; today was a lucky day and she laughed for about 3 minutes. Ramona has even been learning to sit in a high chair. Evan and June are NUTS about her. Even Jarom seems to like her ok, so we all agree our kookaburra belongs here!


Blast from the past

I’ve been compiling all the recipes I use most into an easy-to-edit cookbook, since the notebook I normally use is now covered in a great deal of food-type stains. There are way too many places I stash recipes. One is this old Miquelrius journal I dearly loved – I started writing notes, lists, journal entries, recipes, directions, and everything else in it toward the end of 2004. It was mostly full by the time Jarom and I got married in 2007.

I started going through it page by page this morning to check for recipes. And, before too long, I found this gem, presented to you with minimal commentary (but also more-than-minimal embarrassment).

August 23, 2005 / The genuine Mika

I blush easily. I read Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix in 6 hrs 39 minutes. I used to make pterodactyl noises to make my sister laugh. I gave up chocolate for a while and now it doesn’t taste as good as it used to. I have six nieces and nephews [current count: 21] who call my sister “Aunt Mika” because they remember my name. I want a puppy more than any other tangible thing right now. I have put my whole heart and energy into Decathlon, learning how to cook [come again? I did no such thing], and my relationship with Jarom. I am risking everything on him because he’s worth the worst heartache in the world. I play the Glad Game. I dislike driving on the freeway. I watch chick flicks. I enjoy learning and using formulas in Microsoft Excel. I have spent a long time disciplining myself to be a positive, optimistic person who seldom complains. [I was obviously heavily drugged while writing this.] I am fascinated by genealogy. I edit well. I can be cheered up by a mug of Ghirardelli’s gourmet hot chocolate. I use a guided imagery cd to fall asleep. I am a terrible liar. I love little kids. [Ok, that goes beyond drugged. Was I naive or just in extreme denial?] I don’t want a diamond ring. I write long letters. I am just beginning to really understand myself.

For what it’s worth, I think understanding oneself is an ongoing part of one’s twentysomethings. And boy, I had no idea back then. You know what’s on my list of top 3 things I DON’T like? Noise, crowds, kids. Luckily I’ve figured that out in the past 10 years, and I can avoid all of those most of the time because my own kids fall into this magical “I actually love you” zone. I still love Jarom, too, so that’s a plus.


I am not like other blogs

For better or worse, I don’t have any interest in maintaining a blog that attracts a lot of readers. I actually don’t care if anyone but me reads this (although I know my mom and dad will read it, because they are cool like that). Because I care so little about being a Big Deal Blogger, and because I’m an impressively lazy person, I don’t usually have pictures with my posts, or links, or fun recipes. It’s just me (and occasionally Jarom) writing about life.

Actually, I was skimming through the past few posts recently and overall it was pretty depressing. If I wrote more frequently, you’d have a better glimpse of what life is really like, but the blog makes it sound like I’m still in the depths of despair over Christian.

Such is not the case.

Ramona is soothing, happy sunshine for my heart. She is the joyful center of attention in our house. Certainly, having a new baby has brought up some painful feelings about Christian – the past four months have flown by, and I feel guilty for taking any moment with Ramona for granted. It’s just how life goes, though, you know? You can’t live so intensely. Not every waking moment with Ramona can be sunshine-filled, heart-bursting euphoria. And not every waking moment after Christian was despair-filled, heart-wrenching anguish, either. Thank goodness for all those regular, unremarkable moments in between the anguish and the euphoria.

Anyway, I got off track there. Or maybe I didn’t have a track to begin with.

Right now Ramona and I are vacationing at my sister-in-law’s house in Washington. I’ve never been to Washington before – so green! So rainy! It reminds me a great deal of winters in northern California. This summer, I’m coming back with all the kids, and I’m excited to see how different (or similar) the foresty wetlands are in the warmer months.

Taking a break from nearly all my responsibilities has been wonderful for me. It gives me enough emotional distance to see what I really want to emphasize as a priority in my home, and what things I’ve just gotten stuck insisting we do. It inspires me to spend more quality time with the people I love, doing things we love. And it gives me a much-needed chance to recharge and to figure out how I can be more me. Deep down, I like me a lot – it’s just so tricky to avoid getting bogged down by obligations (real or imagined or self-imposed) and expectations (the same), and body image and envy of others, their talents and their seemingly perfect lives and their got-it-together-ness. Why don’t I have it together yet? Oh yeah, I’m working on it. And this is a great reminder that even as I work on getting the all-encompassing “it” together, I have to make sure it isn’t at the cost of the Really Important Stuff. You know, Jarom and the kids and the compassion I so desperately want to show to others.

I guess this vacation is like one of those giant Pause buttons I always wish for. Life is still happening while I’m here, but I’m not in the thick of it, and my only responsibilities here and now are to feed Ramona and to change her diapers. Those are so easy that I can do one of them in my sleep. The rest of the time, I can reflect on where I am in my life and how I want to help my life continue in its beautiful direction.

This blog post has zero direction, obviously. And you don’t get any pictures, either! So there!