April 30, 2012

Book Review: The -Hunger Games

*Spoiler Alert!* If you have not read The Hunger Games and are planning to, you might want to save reading this until after you've finished--but don't worry, the average reader finishes in 1.5 days...

While I may not make it out to the movies anywhere near as much as I did before I had kids, I have still heard all of the hype around The Hunger Games (book & movie, alike). Who hasn't? In fact, it's all been shoved quite thoroughly down my throat. I decided to give in and read The Hunger Games since I heard from all directions that it was an easy read and a compelling story. Matt downloaded it for us on the iPad and I spent the past two evenings getting through the 350+ pages. The last time I read a book that short, I think I was in 6th grade? 

My general assessment of the story goes like this:

Interesting story with hardly any depth. It's all very surface-level. 

Not at all impressed with the literary aspect of this novel--the writing was inelegant, non-descriptive, left a great deal to the imagination (lucky for me, mine is pretty wild!). In a word, it was unimaginative

The hype: I'm not defending Twilight here as a "great literary work of the 21st century, but can someone please tell me why a love story about a human and a vampire gets such a hard time from everyone, but a story about adolescents killing each other is praised to no end? I get that Twilight was cheesy and wholesomely romantic, which isn't something that many people value in our society anymore, but I'll take that over some teenager who has some pseudo internal battle with herself in order to actually battle others in the arena. (You'd think that being faced with Katniss' situation would prompt some serious character development. Guess what. This don't happen. Not even close.)

I haven't read the other two books in the series (yet), although I have read all of the books in the Twilight and Harry Potter series. Why is it necessary for 3 books in this series to exist? The ending was abrupt and didn't even leave me expecting that to be its ending place. It didn't wrap around itself to prepare for a sequel or a continuation of the story, or whatever is supposed to come next in the second book....it's like the author wrote one story, then chopped it into three pieces. It reminded me of a time that Sean and I were watching an episode of a TV mini-series, and I didn't realize that's what it was. I thought I was watching a movie and when it ended so abruptly, all I could say was, "that's it?". More books does not always a better story make. At least in Twilight, each book in the series resolved itself to a point of rest while still demonstrating a suspense for what was to come. Harry Potter has 7 books. This makes sense seeing as how right from the get-go in book 1, we know that the character will have a total of 7 years of schooling at Hogwarts, thus making a sensible case for a long series involving Harry's storyline. Why shouldn't there be one book for each year? The hunger games just stopped. In the middle of the end of the story. It makes no sense. Like I said, the book is very short. I think the world could have made it through a 900 page book that reads like a teenage version of an un-rhymed Dr. Seuss story.

The story was entertaining, at the very least. The idea of a post-revolutionary North America with a crazy controlling government is something that goes right along with our latest obsession with the post-apolocyptic movies and books that have come out in recent years. Except instead of involving mythical creatures like zombies, vampires or wizards, it involves a tale of survival--not just in the brutal arena, but in their separated districts and day-to-day lives as well. I was, however, utterly disappointed in the lack of description the author provided. I want the story to paint its own picture. I want to know what the landscape looks like in detail. I want to know how it physically felt for the characters to meet their gruesome deaths. I want to know how the amazing Capitol food tasted. And by wanting to know these things, I don't mean reading words like "forest-like landscape", "felt nauseous", or "best-tasting food ever". While some readers might want to project what they already know about these things, or what they can imagine about these things onto the characters to fulfill the storyline, I read because I want to get lost in someone else's world...and for me, the world of Panem was sorely incomplete. 

Overall, it was an entertaining, easy read. It killed time for me that I didn't have to begin with (I should have skipped the whole thing and just edited photos or baked cookies, or cleaned something). It left everything to the imagination, which is not a compliment when it comes to literature--Twilight's and Harry Potter's accomplishments of this far exceeds the barely feeble attempt of The Hunger Games. Matt asked how I liked it, and I said, "maybe we should see the movie, because I feel like this would be a better movie than a book". Again, this opinion stems from a lack of creativity and descriptiveness that is impossible to leave out in a movie. It was all very PG, and when the main premise of the story is people killing each other for survival, I feel like there is a natural call for more intimate, descriptive, story-line-enhancing details. 

I'd recommend this book to people who are looking for something else besides Harry Potter and Twilight to focus on, or to a 4th grader who has a book report assignment: "...and then Katniss killed a rabbit by shooting it with her bow and arrow. She is really good with a bow and arrow. It is her favorite weapon to use." Other than that, keep looking, because if you're like me, and want something more than just words on a page from your story, you'll be sorely disappointed. I feel like this book had the potential to be amazing--one of the most significant works of this young generation's time. But with a great idea for a story supported by absolutely nothing other than a simplistic telling of what should have been a truly epic tale, The Hunger Games falls short of everything that "good book" should be. 

April 24, 2012

Adoption Day!

This post's title has an exclamation point because I feel so excited about this post! There is plenty in my life that I am thankful for and there has been plenty that I still doesn't sit right with me, but today was one of those days when everything that is good in my life was fully appreciated. 

Shortly after we moved to Boston and got settled in, Matt and I utilized his company's legal services and hired ourselves a family lawyer to help us process an un-contested adoption. We had talked about this even early on in our dating relationship, and for Matt, legally adopting the girls (although he has long since considered them his own) was something that was very important to him to do. So back in February (I think?) we met with our lawyer for the first time, got all of our paperwork signed and turned in, and then we played the court's waiting game. We heard back from our lawyer at the end of March that we had a finalization hearing set for the end of April. 

Today we met our lawyer and Judge Kaplan at the Edward W. Brooke courthouse in Boston. Our appointment was set for 9 a.m., which, I realize is a normal hour for normal people but my girls sleep in until 8 or 8:30 usually so needing to be in downtown Boston by 9 a.m. made me very nervous about how the rest of the day would play out in terms of their temperament. Matt and I were up by 6, the girls got up at 7 and we were out the door shortly after 8! With traffic, one missed turn, and a venture to the 5th floor of a downtown parking garage, we made it with just enough time to get through security. 

We came prepared to spend lots of time waiting on other cases and the Judge's schedule, but I don't think we were there more than 25 minutes before we were called into a side courtroom to meet with Judge Kaplan. The bailiff was kind enough to take some photos for us of the event using Matt's iPhone (it didn't occur to either of us to bring my camera....I didn't realize that would be allowed in the courtroom!). I'm glad to have some photos of this day, even though they're slightly blurry and have a finger in the way some of the time (he was really a very nice old man).

Here's all of us up on the Judge's bench

Us with Judge Kaplan

Us, Judge Kaplan, and our lawyers

Judge Kaplan signing off on our case!

Everyone saying, "Yaaaaaay!" and clapping...even the girls!

Even though this day was very much centered around Matt, I made sure to wear the necklace that Sean gave to me on our first Valentine's day after we were married. It's just a little part of the memory of him that I get to take with me. Remembering Sean made this day that much more special for me, and I hope that the girls will feel it someday too. 

SO, Matt and I now have two daughters together:

Sophie Michael Martella Sewell and Olivia Sean Martella Sewell.

"Martella" is now a middle name and isn't going to be used as a last name (no hyphenations or anything like that). Even though their names are now a mile long, I've become very sensitive about the meaning behind each and every one of their names. I may have told all or none of you this story before, but I'll share it again here, for the sake of this post.

When Sean and I found out we were having twins we knew that we wanted to have a 20-week ultrasound to find out what the genders were. We talked a lot about names that we liked for both boys and for girls. Sean's favorite name for a girl was "Sophie". He said when he thought of that name, he could picture a little girl who had big eyes like me, with lighter hair like him, and she'd be adorable. My favorite name for a girl was "Olivia". I envisioned a little girl with lots of spunk, sass, and who was a sweetheart through and through.

When Sean died, I was 16, almost 17 weeks pregnant, and my ultrasound was literally days away. It still breaks my heart to think about it. When I went in for the ultrasound, Baby "A", who was the baby situated on the bottom-most part of my uterus wasn't in a good position to view, so they began with baby "B"--the one on top. Baby "B" turned out to be a girl, and since Sean and I had decided together that if we had a girl we would use the name I had chosen, she was named "Olivia". By the time the technician was done with baby "B", baby "A" had repositioned and turned out to be a girl as well, thus receiving the name her daddy had chosen, "Sophie". 

Sean and I hadn't settled on middle names yet since we wanted to find out what we were having first, but had talked about the idea of using family names as middle names. When Sean died (remember this is before I knew I was having girls), and I don' know if she'll remember this, but Kathy turned to me and said that if there was a way to honor Sean with the babies names, it would mean the world to them.

When I had settled on "Sophie" and "Olivia", and when I thought about those words spoken to me by my mother-in-law, I knew that their middle names, their "family names", should be a direct reflection on their father. I picked "Sean" as Olivia's middle name since she was the baby named first, and "Michael", Sean's middle name, to go with Sophie. 

Almost 4 months later, Sophie Michael Martella and Olivia Sean Martella were born. I saw so much of Sean in them then, and continue to see him in them as they develop both physically and emotionally. 

As you can see, this is a lot of meaning behind my daughter's names! It was important to me for them to take Matt's last name, "Sewell", as theirs  since he has stepped into their lives to fill a crucial role that will be irreplaceable for them. He is their father; their daddy. They cry for him when he leaves, they give him tickles, slobbery wet kisses, and ask him to read them stories while they sit in his lap. Having a part of his heritage passed on to them, even in the form of a surname, is very meaningful to both of us. 

All in all, even with the excitement that Judge Kaplan encouraged us to show regarding this event, Matt and I don't really feel any differently. We never needed a legal document to feel like a complete family, and we went on about our day as normally as we could (the girls' nap schedule...and bedtime now for that matter, was completely thrown off today), although we did celebrate by going out to dinner together. This is definitely a significant step for all of us, but we're grateful that we have established ourselves as a family outside of what the law recognizes. Families truly do come in all shapes and sizes, from all different makeups and backgrounds, and as for ours--it's simply perfect.

April 18, 2012

SAHM: Luxury or Necessity?

This morning as I had my second cup of coffee I pulled up CNN on the iPad. I usually don't watch news programs or stay too current with world events (unless they're really important or specifically interesting to me) because I don't like all the negativity in the media and I like to form my own opinions about things and not be hounded to disagree with one side or another. I do, however, try to peruse CNN or the WSJ or even the Huffington Post when I'm feeling really liberal to scan headlines to see if there's anything new worth reading. Today I  chose the CNN app and when it loaded, the first headline spoke volumes to me without me even having to open the article.

It read: "Moms: I can't afford to work". (Here's the link, it's a short article so give it a read-through) http://money.cnn.com/2012/04/18/pf/moms-work/index.htm?hpt=hp_c1

Let me start off by saying that being a stay-at-home-mom is something that I've wanted to do for many many years of my life. I can't say that it's the only thing I've wanted to do, but it's definitely something that I wished could happen for me. This dream of mine began as a child and as I grew older that dream grew further and further away from me. It wasn't because I ended up married to a cancer patient whose fertility was shot from the first chemo treatment (and ended up remarried to another!). It was because of the changes in our economy, the rise in the cost of living, goods, taxes, health care, education, and pretty much everything else. I mean, come on even the "dollar menu" at Wendy's is now called the "value menu" because they had to stop charging a dollar for everything and had to up their prices. As I found myself immersed in higher education, I found myself drowning in student loan debt. The major I had chosen would only yield a viable career with a post-grad or doctorate degree which was not only a serious time commitment, but an even greater financial one. Everyone hears about medical school and how students can come away from it with hundreds of thousands of dollars of student loan debt, but this is true for many other fields that higher level degrees can be pursued in. While working toward a Ph.D in psychology hasn't turned out to be in the cards for me (at least at this point in life), I don't think my views about that article or its application to my life would be any different than they are now, had that pursuit been the case.

When Matt and I were preparing to move to Boston, we had to consider many many things. His path was set. He had been offered a job with PwC and had accepted. He knew his salary, but the reality of his expenses had to be adjusted significantly when suddenly faced with the prospect of supporting 4 people rather than 1. When he and I met I was on track to apply to nursing school. I was able to take classes in Salt Lake because I had family and friends nearby willing to help me by watching my kids so I could go to class and study. With that support system being absent in Boston, I wasn't sure how I would continue my pursuit of a second Bachelor's degree. What would I do with the girls? I couldn't just have my dad watch them. Daycare? Oh--the things you learn about the effects of daycare as a child psychology major! I definitely wanted to avoid that. What was I left with? Being a stay-at-home-mom? While this prospect appealed to me in the sense that I would be able to raise my own children, be there for their milestones, and have that bond with them, I was definitely concerned about whether this was a realistic financial option for our family. Yes, being in school wouldn't pay, but I would be done with the degree in less than 2 years and would be able to jump right into a thriving workforce. What about finding some office job or doing anything that simply having a Bachelor's degree would allow me to do? In Salt Lake, I could pull down somewhere between $25,000-$27,000 per year working full time in an office. Although the pay might be higher in a place like Boson...so is everything else and it truly evens out. If I went from making $13 per hour in Utah to making $17 or $18 in Massachusetts, I wouldn't notice the increase because the cost of living in this part of the country is so significantly inflated (that and this state loves to tax absolutely everything...ah! there's the republican in me!). Even if I made a high-end $35,000 for the same job out here, the cost of childcare for two children, would surpass the cost of rent. Ridiculous? Ab-so-lutely

After much deliberating, stressing, agonizing, and waiting to see how things would work out, Matt and I decided that me having a job wasn't something that we could afford. It didn't make sense to either of us to throw our kids into daycare only to have me work just to pay that bill. So, by default, I lucked out and landed my dream-job of being a stay-at-home-mommy. That article talks about some women who didn't ever see themselves staying at home to raise their kids, but have found themselves in that situation because, like for Matt and I, it just isn't financially reasonable to send two people to work and pay for childcare at the same time. I feel very very blessed to be able to have had being a SAHM as an option on the table to even begin with--there are plenty of families in this country, and people that I know personally, who don't have jobs that pay as well as Matt's does, salary-wise, or whose jobs offer anywhere near the quality (or quantity) of benefits that we receive. We're very lucky that his one job is enough to support our family. And while he works incredibly hard enduring long, stressful days on his job, we truly are in a position where we are surviving, and where we don't have the luxury of being luxurious. Even with me taking on a part-time nanny job half-days two days a week, and running a photography business (the business is in the process of relocation and rebranding which doesn't provide mountains of income), we're still very watchful and cautious about where we stand financially. We budget like crazy. We pay attention to which car we drive when and where (I have an SUV, he has a Honda Civic). We open windows in our apartment instead of running the AC on days it gets hot, and we bundle ourselves and the girls up when it's chilly so we don't have to turn on the heater. (We're very proud of our $7 gas bills!) We use everything (okay, so maybe not everything, but we really really do try) in our refrigerator before it goes bad, and we make lists when going to Costco and the grocery store so that we don't overspend (yes I clip some coupons, no I'm not into "couponing"). We do things for entertainment like taking the girls to the park, going on walks around the mall (no spending), and utilizing our annual membership to the Science Museum (which allows us 2 hours of free parking in their garage, which is unheard of anywhere else anywhere near that close to downtown Boston). We definitely set aside some funds for things like clothes and toys for the girls when they're needed, a date night once a month for ourselves, and the Internet (so Matt can work from home, and let's face it, so I don't go crazy being at home without another adult all day!). But overall, money's tight, and while it's a hindrance in terms of the lifestyle we'd like to live (and surely will one day in the future), it's absolutely a blessing in terms of me being able to stay home and raise our girls.

I don't know if being a SAHM will change one day in the future or not, but until the future is here, I'll enjoy what I consider to be a luxurious necessity. I wonder sometimes how many other mothers I know would love to be in my position, and how many of them are glad to be able to be in the workforce. For me, for now, I'll stay at home, read stories with my toddlers, teach them crazy dance moves, windex the windows to get their hand prints off, vacuum crumbies out of the carpet, throw out pail upon pail of dirty diapers, have dinner ready for my husband when he comes home, iron and starch the laundry, bake cookies at request, do the grocery shopping, and still make time to watch Mad Men in the evenings. 

And at least I know I won't need to budget for cleaning help anytime soon...

April 17, 2012

Dance Moves & Bouncy Balls

Since Easter Sunday, all four Sewell's have been out of commission various days throughout the last week with a head cold. We call came down with the same thing Sunday evening and it seems that Matt is the only one who has fully recovered. He's been under a lot of stress this past weekend, though, since he misplaced his wedding band! Eeeek! We were terrified that one of the girls got ahold of it while he was in the shower or something and threw it away. Very very thankfully though, it was waiting for him downtown in the lost and found at the building he worked in on Friday last week. Hopefully now that his ring has been recovered, the girls and I can do so from our sinus ailments as well! 

Despite their illness, which really has been mild, the girls have been up to their usual shenanigans. Their Aunt Stephanie and Auntie Emily will be proud of them--they've taken up dancing! These girls have loved music since before they were born and the moves have finally caught up to them! They're still very toddler-esque and their moves are very wobbly and unbalanced, but they definitely enjoy themselves while they rock back and forth, squat up and down, or shake their shoulders to the beat...or to no beat! Sometimes they dance when there's complete silence! Aunties--we may have some future ballerinas on our hands! Sophie danced for her daddy in the elevator on the way home from picking him up tonight, and then continued dancing as she walked down the hallway. It was adorable! In the next few days I'll work on snagging a video of this going on...it's too cute to miss!

You can imagine that having twins would lend itself to having a ridiculous amount of toys, most of which we have two of. I'm guessing most moms feel this way about the toys that have taken over their own homes (the baby stuff takes over a house like a fat guy takes over an all-you-can eat special!). But seriously, we have two of most everything. This fact doesn't keep the girls from screaming and fighting over a toy that the other one is holding at the moment, and despite the ever-increasing mound of children's junk that has taken over my house, I still feel the need to make sure that each child has their own, "this isn't yours, it belongs to you and sissy" toy to keep them occupied. One toy that the girls didn't have any of (if you can believe that there's actually something that exists that they don't already have...two of...) is a ball. Simple. We didn't have any balls for them to play with. Balls have been a favorite of Sophie's since we went to the park with cousin Linus and he brought some of his to play with, but we never had any at home for her to enjoy. Last Sunday she got to play with what I call the "crazy ball" at Linus' house again (it's this ball with little knobs all over it that cause it to bounce in unexpected and random directions) and she enjoyed every minute of it. Then, yesterday we were having a play date with a new friend, Gretta, and her mom Amie and Sophie discovered that Gretta has a beach ball to play with, so of course she went nuts with that too. And all the while she toddles around saying, "bah! bah! bah!" which of course, is obviously her word for "ball". 

So finally, today we were at Target and I decided there was no time like the present to get the girls their latest toy obsession. We found the bin that had those giant rubber marble-swirled brightly colored balls and of course, they were on sale for $3. I think that sales in the toy aisles at stores are a parent's worse nightmare. Here she was, my darling little one, who derived so much innocent pleasure from rolling around  giant bouncy ball! How could I resist giving in?! Okay....so it wasn't that dramatic, but I did think to myself, "psh, these would be on sale". I found a brightly colored blue one that I decided I could stand looking at for the next who-knows-how-many years, and I dug it out of the bin. Sophie knew what I was doing right away and started shouting, "bah! bah! bah!" and I tried to explain to her little toddler self that she needed to be patient and that when we got home she would be allowed to play with it. "Bah! bah! bah!" was all I heard the rest of the time we were in the store, and growling angry screams were all that I heard the entire car ride home. I'm grateful to her that she somehow managed to wait until I had her in her car seat to fall apart completely seeing as how the lines at Target were crowded today and she would have made quite the scene. She had calmed herself to the point of gasping sobs by the time we made it home. From the minute I set the thing loose in the house all the way until bedtime, she pushed and kicked and bounced that ball around to her little heart's content. And where is Olivia in all of this? She was excited about the orange "crazy ball" that I got for her at Target today too, but showed no where near the same level of enthusiasm for her new toy as her sister, although they did have some fun playing with the balls together.....

Oooooh those crazy kiddos...

I love that this ball is about 2/3 the size of Sophie and she insisted on carrying it around with her the entire afternoon and evening.

Even when she needed a break from all of the running around, she wanted to have the ball in her lap.

When she decided that she did want to watch the show that was on for them, she made sure that her big bouncy ball was right next to her...she sat like this for a good 15 minutes or so.

Maybe Olivia's enthusiasm will increase once Sophie's wears off a little bit?

April 10, 2012

Easter 2012

There was a lot about Easter this year that was special for me. The girls were finally old enough to enjoy this holiday to some capacity, and so Matt and I took full advantage of that. It is so much fun to see how excited they get when they are able to do new things! We didn't color eggs--we'll save that for next year! But, the Easter Bunny definitely made a stop at the Sewell house and the girls woke up to lots of colorful excitement.

I have tried to upload the video that Matt shot of that morning's adventure here several times, but it is refusing to allow me, so here's the link to the video on Facebook (and if this doesn't work, you can just find it on my page or Matt's page...I promise it's worth the dig!) 


Naturally, I took a bunch of photos of the eggs in their hiding places and of the girls running around loading them into their baskets. (I apologize for the graininess of these photos, somehow the ISO setting on my camera got thrown out of whack. It has since been adjusted though, I just wish I had realized it before the opportunity had passed. Oh well! Grainy pictures are better than nothing!)

The Easter Bunny laid out their baskets by their bedroom door, but instead of placing all of their candy-filled eggs inside, he scattered them all over the living room! Each of the girls got a book in their basket and a chocolate bunny, but had to go around and hunt for their eggs!

The hiding places...
On the bar stools underneath the counter top

On top of the drawer handles in the kitchen...

On the sofa cushions...

On the window sills and the coffee table...

Amongst the DVD's...

On the entertainment unit...

 On top of the end table...

On the bookshelf....one of the girl's favorite hiding spots for their own toys!

On the dining room chairs...

They did a great job of putting the eggs into the baskets!

 Sophie was so eager to grab them all!

She found quite a bit!

This photo makes me laugh because this egg was right near eye-level for her and she kept walking right on by! Once she figured out it was there, she had quite the go of getting all of them down at once!

We were invited to Joni's and Laura's for Easter lunch and I made deviled eggs. So, yes, I found these on Pinterest. What can I say? I love love love Pinterest! 

Those were the only photos that I managed to nab pertaining to our lunch that day. Joni organized an egg hunt in their back yard, and the 5 kids who were there just went nuts! The girls did very well for themselves, and the kids ended up pooling their eggs and candy (the girls went home with some bunny ears and their cute baskets that Aunt Joni got for them--mommy and daddy said they had enough candy from the Easter Bunny at home!)

Once we were home, the girls, who napped briefly in the car on the way to and from Aunt Joni's, were in a great mood. We found these Easter hats at Target for $1 and we couldn't resist! The girls actually love wearing them, and it made for some super cute photos!

That's M & M dye on her face, although she did have marker stains all over her hands from church that morning too! Luckily, none of either got on their dresses.

Mommy decided to try on the Easter hat...it didn't quite fit :)

The girls love giving "sissy kisses" now! It just melts me each time!

Sophie is such a daddy's girl...

Matt says that the girls won't remember this Easter, even though they enjoyed themselves, and even though I know that's true, I do think they'll enjoy looking back on this post and seeing what they were like at this age. I know I will!

It was definitely a fun and exciting day, and all of us were absolutely exhausted by the evening!

Easter has a special significance for me (not that the resurrection of Jesus isn't significant enough on its own...). I was baptized on Easter Sunday when I was 9 years old, so I had my 15th "birthday", if you will, this past Sunday. It's funny, I often feel like a teenager when it comes to my relationship with Christ. Without getting into gruesome details, I often feel rebellious, detached and uncommunicative toward God, and most days are still a great struggle to find myself in Him again. But, with Sean's passing, I have been comforted by the assurance I have from Jesus' sacrifice and resurrection that I will one day see Sean again. I'd like to go on more about this, but I'm having trouble expressing myself in words today. 

For now, I'll leave you all with these pictures and I hope that your Easters were as special and memory-filled as mine was!