Sunday, September 10, 2017

Simplicity: The Internet Edition

Let me start by saying I don't think the Internet is evil. I like social media, with Twitter being my current favorite. I'm not a hands-free mom, and I don't judge strangers when I see them on their phones because I don't know their lives. Maybe they are checking in on their kids or managing doctor's appointments for a sick parent. Maybe they are playing Candy Crush. Whatever.

I just know that for me applying some simplicity rules about the Internet is necessary, especially with where my mental and physical health have been. With flailing adrenaline glands, too much time surfing social media sites or looking at irrelevant information online is a problem. I was already dealing with anxiety with occasional side dishes of depression combined with 36-42 hours straight of not sleeping for good measure. The Internet did not help in those situations, ever.

I don't know if anyone else occasionally feels this, but social media and comments sections can be scary and jarring and awful. I post my thoughts on social media, as well as my writing, and I'm not against engaging in discussion, but the heated conversations about hot-button topics are best not done online.

Even checking my articles for comments can be dicey. I've been called c*ntish(is that a thing?  I mean, that is an amazingly mean thing to call someone, but adding ish to the end just makes me think this person has commitment issues.) and I've had it implied that I'm a moron for homeschooling my kids and that I am glad they are losers.(They aren't losers.) 

I also realized surfing the Internet after a long day of parenting and writing is not self-care. It is self-comfort, and it isn't really that comforting. Sarah Bessey explains it well, but basically, self-comfort shouldn't be a regular thing, and if I'm going to intentionally choose something it's going to be fried food combined with sugar combined with binge watching Netflix. I feel a tad guilty and sick after that, but no one calls me a c*nt, at least not that  I am aware of and that's all that matters.

My Internet simplicity rules are as follows:

Time block social media and email check in times. 

Use my computer for work during blocked times.  Otherwise, it's off.

No checking anything on my phone.  I have no notifications set to go off either, and after reading an article that said even having the things near us makes us dumber, I put my phone in another room unless I am returning a call or text.

I work on my computer, so I am by no means never on the thing, but my time is scheduled to make sure my computer use is intentional and that I'm not hooked to a phone every second of the day like it's my third arm.

I've found that I actually see a lot more of my life this way. It felt innocent to check emails or Twitter when the kids were occupied with something else, but not doing that has helped me truly see them, to watch them taking part in their everyday lives and store memories for when they aren't right under my feet anymore. I don't want their memories to be of me looking at a screen, and I feel like having some guidelines in this area will ensure that they aren't.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

August Book List

I finished several books this month, and I also grabbed some just for reference.  I've listed them all here.

Fiction

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman
This book made me laugh out loud and cry multiple times, and I didn't want to let it go when I turned the last page.  Eleanor Oliphant is not typical, but since we see the world from Eleanor's view, we see why she thinks everyone around her is absurd.

When anti-social, possibly alcoholic Eleanor helps save an old man, she starts a friendship with a co-worker that leads to some upheaval in her otherwise planned out life.  As the story unravels we learn about Eleanor's past as she digs through her memories to piece together her own story.

This story is uplifting and shattering at the same time, and I cannot recommend it enough.  

Into the Water by Paula Hawkins
The author of The Girl of the Train, which I read by nightlight when the twins were tinies, is back with another mystery, this one involving the deaths of women in a river.

When a woman is found dead in the river months after a teenage girl was found dead there, questions come to the surface that must be answered.  The dead woman leaves behind a daughter who was also friends with the teen who died earlier, and Hawkins introduces us to a vast array of characters, all who might be suspects.

This was an enjoyable read and I recommend it, but it is clunkier than The Girl on the Train.  The story is told from so many different points of view that it's not easy to keep everyone straight.  I flipped back several times to figure out who I was reading about, and that messed with the urgency to get to the conclusion.

The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware
I ended August with a mystery/thriller, and Ware did not disappoint.  Our narrator, Lo, sometimes seems a bit unreliable, but it's hard not to believe her when she feels something has gone terribly wrong on the luxury yacht she is aboard.  A list of suspects and hundreds of pages later, Ware brings this mystery to a satisfying end. 

I read this one at night when everyone else was asleep. Luckily, I've never been a good candidate for a cruise due to vertigo, but I would never go on one after reading this no matter what.

A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
A Clockwork Orange was my classic choice for the month.  I knew nothing about this book when I picked it up, but I almost put it right back down.  The language the teenage hoodlum, Alex, and his friends use was disorienting from the start, and the violence that followed turned me off.

I kept reading, and the novel was a great study in what being a sociopath looks like.  However, I didn't feel sympathy for Alex ever while reading this, so I felt indifferent to his situation when the government tried to reform him.  The method the government used was wrong, of course, but I disliked this guy with a passion that ran so deep I felt almost nothing but loathing for him.

Poppy by Avi
Wren is in a book club, and it's the coolest thing ever.  The pick for August was Poppy, a story about a mouse who learns that the owl who rules Dimwood Forest is not the kind, watchful eye he passed himself off to be.  It's a tale of adventure that has great lessons about what it looks like when people in power use fear to control others and why it's important to question everything.

Non-fiction

Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance
Vance's look at the hillbilly family he grew up in while living in Kentucky and Ohio was brilliant for many reasons.  Vance is able to look back at what most would call a very dysfunctional childhood with an eye for the good in those who raised him.  He doesn't let his abusive, drug-addicted mother, his absent father, or his somewhat crazy hillbilly grandparents off the hook, but he shares his past with an obvious affection for those who helped him survive.  He acknowledges that without his grandmother as a constant in his life, he likely wouldn't have escaped the poverty that most hillbillies find themselves trapped in.

Vance shares the struggles of hillbillies while still refusing to make excuses for why many choose to give up steady jobs, embrace addiction, and then blame outside sources.  He writes with love and a critical eye and offers an inside view of life within this culture.

Stuff Jesus Never Said by Paul Ellis
This quick read that is illustrated with memes of stuff Jesus never said is insightful and hilarious while also being sad.  Flipping through the pages, there are many sayings that most people have heard and assume are Gospel truth, except they are nowhere in the actual Gospels.  Ellis kindly dismantles the false words we attribute to Jesus and helps us see who he really is and not just the image we've made him into based on inaccurate information.

This is Where You Belong by Melody Warnick
I love Gretchin Rubin, author of The Happiness Project which I read again every couple of years, and Warnick's book reminded me of her.  After moving regularly for years, mainly just because Warnick and her husband are always ready to try somewhere new hoping it will be better, she finally ends up in Blacksburg, Virginia.  With two daughters, one who is entering the teen years, Warnick wants to learn how to settle down and love where she lives.  Is it possible that we can make ourselves fall in love with our town or city, despite its obvious imperfections?  Would learning how help the U.S. population be stayers more than movers?

Warnick explores ways to be happy where we live, and I needed this book right now.  D and I have discussed the moving question endlessly for months, and we are no closer to knowing what to do.  Settled here for the foreseeable future, Warnick helped me see the benefits of trying to fall in love with where I live, even if we don't end up here forever.  She outlines ways to love our cities, and her instructions and experiments are fun to read and backed with data from many sources. 

In the end, she confirms what Rubin believes: we choose to be happy, or we choose not to.  That's true no matter where we live.

Reference

The Five Love Languages of Children by Gary D. Chapman and Ross Campbell
In an effort to know more about our kids, I checked this one out and discovered what love language they spoke.  I'm now reading through the relevant chapters to figure out the best ways to communicate with them via their love languages.

The Adrenal Reset Diet by Alan Christianson
After seeing a naturopath, I found out my adrenals are trashed.  I'm taking about 50 supplements a day, and the naturopath also recommended I read this book to learn how what I eat and when affects my adrenals.  I'm reading the parts that are relevant to the stages of adrenal issues I'm in, stages two and three.

Discovering Your Personality Type: The Essential Introduction to the Enneagram by Don Richard Riso and Russ Hudson
Topics I've been obsessed with this year: hygge, minimalism, and the Enneagram.  In many ways they overlap because they are all about simplicity.  The Enneagram, in its own way, makes it simpler for us to understand who we are and what motivates us, so I grabbed this book to brush up on what each personality type is like and how to better serve them.  I am also reading up on ways to be the best type two I can.  


Monday, August 28, 2017

Simplicity: The Home Edition

To be very clear, I suck at home design and decorating.  I have never seen a show with those Chip and Joanna people, and we've lived in our house for nine years, but someone off the street could walk in the door and assume we've only been here a week.

My hobbies don't involve looking for the perfect throw pillow or turning a closet into a mini office.  I occasionally decorate furniture with laundry that I don't feel like folding, but that's about it.

So, why a blog on simplicity in home design?  Well, my style can be considered very simple, as in kind of non-existent, and I found out recently that that is actually a thing.  Minimalist decorating is pretty much what my home would look like if it wasn't cluttered.  I am also fond of Danish styles, which pretty much mimic minimalism but with really nice light fixtures.

I've found my biggest requirements for decorating happiness are: as little clutter as possible (laugh now.  I have four kids and they basically drop toys from their bodies as they walk around our home), and pieces that mean something to me.  Our walls are almost empty right now because I've been repainting several rooms, and I'm not putting anything back on them until I find the perfect pieces.  My husband is an artist, and he owes me several canvases right now. 

I also like spaces where it's easy to tuck in and hide, with a book of course.  Having things on a shelf that we're not using stresses me out (if we aren't using it, why do we have it?), so I started making tables out of keepsake boxes a couple of months ago and accidentally created a cool space in our bedroom where I often retreat.  We are now also using the boxes and they are not just sitting in the closet, so double win.

Reading The Nesting Place: It Doesn't Have to be Perfect to be Beautiful by Myquillyn Smith also opened my eyes to tons of possibilities.  Granted, my style is nothing like Smith's, but her advice is really solid and simple for those who want to try to create a beautiful space.

I feel like she gave me permission to care a bit more about how I design things.  It's creating, and I love creativity in all forms.  Though I'm not going over the top in the decorating department, I finally see that creating spaces that work for us isn't a waste of time, which is largely how I viewed it before.

Here is what simple in design looks like for us:

1.  Painting
It's amazing what a coat of paint can do for a room.

2.  De-cluttering
I am always looking for ways to have less, either by simply not purchasing items or by
clearing out what we're not using.

3.  No forcing it.
I could easily take everything I would need to live and move back to the tiny efficiency
apartment I rented in my 20s.  D and our kids could not.  They are minimalists, sort
of, but not like I am, and that's okay.  D collects comics and Alien toys (the proper name is\
apparently action figures, but they are toys).  The kids have more of his collector tendencies than I do.  This isn't bad, but I have to accept that my way of doing things isn't everyone's way.

4.  Find your style.
The best advice I read was to forget mimicking the styles of others or keeping up with trends. Create the space that makes you happy.  It's your home.  Don't fall for thinking it's only good if someone else is doing it.

My reading nook in the bedroom, which is sometimes borrowed by others
.

New paint in the kitchen and two pieces of art I love. 

Wren, Sam, and D owe me three more tree pictures since I'm making them paint me one for each season.

Homemade hooks from family members and crosses made by the kids.

Style and decorating for me means personal items that have stories behind them.  I love it if hands I frequently hold have made the designs I see every day.  I'm also okay with bare walls until I find what I love.


Thursday, August 10, 2017

July Book List

I'm a little behind because I am currently snowed under in books.  It's a good thing, but all I want to do is read.  Not eat, not adult, just grab my books and read.  Do people take vacations with their books?  Just, you know, a grown woman and three bags of books?  That's normal, right?

Anyway, here's July's list.

Fiction

The Best of Adam Sharp by Graeme Simsion

The Rosie Project and The Rosie Effect, Simsion's previous books, were wonderful and warm.  The Best of Adam Sharp tries to replicate some of the patterns from those books, but it doesn't achieve the same feeling or overall effect.

Again we have a protagonist who seems to be good at analyzing feelings but not so great at actually feeling them at times.  Adam Sharp has a brief relationship with a somewhat scattered woman while in his 20s, but they part and Adam finds himself decades down the road in a long-term relationship and settled in life.  When the woman from his past, Angelina, reaches out through email, is it worth upending his life to find out what might have been?

This book was good and I wanted to find out what happened, but it didn't hold the same charm as the Rosie books.  It also went to some unexpected places.  Told through music, this book has a playlist that can be accessed online for readers who want to hear the tunes of Adam's life.  It's worth a read, but if you haven't read the Rosie books, grab them first.

The Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz

This is my first book by Anthony Horowitz, but I was impressed with this mystery novel, which is actually a book within a book.  There is more than one mystery to solve, and Horowitz weaves the stories in and out beautifully, creating a story that is about much more than it seems.

When Alan Conway turns in his latest novel to his editor, Susan, she expects a good mystery story with all loose ends tied up.   What she gets is multiple unsolved mysteries, one that is taking place in real life.  As she follows the clues left behind, she finds that nothing is what it seems, and just like in a real mystery novel, the closer you get to the truth, the closer the danger is.

Summer just feels like a time for mysteries, and this one did not disappoint.  


Do Not Become Alarmed by Maile Meloy

I was hesitant to pick this one up because the subject matter is disturbing.  I read a lot of disturbing books, but anything with kids in peril makes me squirm since I became a mom.  It bothered me before, but now it's even worse.  However, Meloy's story drew me in, and I found myself laughing as well as holding my breath as I ran through this story.

When cousins, Liv and Nora, decide to take a cruise with their families, it seems like a great idea.   However, when the kids disappear while they are on a stop in Central America, their lives come apart, and no ones is quite sure who to blame.  Where are the kids, and how did this happen?

Luckily, we also have the perspective of the kids.  Sometimes that's not comforting, but at other times it gives the reader something to hold onto.  The families explore their marriages, their relationships with their kids, and the very unreal lines we draw that make us feel safe.  This is a must read.

The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka

This was my classic for the month, and I found it to be disturbing and addictive.  The entire story is creepy, and I am still trying to untangle the author's motive for his protagonist's metamorphosis.  I know there is a plethora of speculation, some of which I've read, but I'm still thinking it through and deciding what I think.  This book, all these years later, still has much to say about the human condition and how we deal with greed, family, and those who are different than the norm.

Non-fiction

Books for Living  by Bill Schwalbe

I haven't read The End of the World Book Club, but I likely will after picking up Schwalbe's latest book.  Schwalbe writes about the books that touched his life, changed his perspective, and worked as touchstones to certain places in his personal history.  I love books about books, and this one did not disappoint.

Schwalbe believes asking someone "What are you reading?" is a wonderful way to get to know them, and I agree.  His accounts of what books touched and changed him made me feel like I knew him, and it also caused me to add even more books to my overflowing reading list. 

Goodbye, Things: The New Japanese Minimalism by Fumio Sasaki

Minimalism is simplicity at its best, and I am reading pretty much everything I can get my hands on about it.  I wrote about how minimalism can help us as parents here, and that article was largely inspired by Saski's book. 

Sasaki wrote a beautiful book about not only the material aspects of minimalism but about how much the practice can do for us mentally, physically, and emotionally.  Having practiced minimalism for years now, I can confirm his conclusions.

Whether a person thinks they are interested in minimalism or not, grabbing this book is a good idea.  It's full of wisdom, and it's a fast read.  Plus, it would make a great coffee table book with it's simple cover, but would a minimalist want to adorn the house with a book on minimalism?  The constant struggle, right?

Monday, July 10, 2017

Asher and Eowyn Turn Four

This year the girls were old enough to be super excited about family and friends coming to their birthday party.  We bought balloons and tons of food, and the girls were counting down the days in advance.  That's why it was awful when we all got the flu and the party was cancelled.

We spent two and a half weeks rotating doctor's appointments, medications, and naps, and by then the girls were four and their big day was over.  However, we still made cake and opened presents.


The flu didn't dampen the sense of humor.


(For the record, the girls  have been sick on their birthday EVERY YEAR since birth.  They usually get to party the weekend before, but by June 19th, each one is running fever.  They've had hand, foot, and mouth, strep, and ear infections.  This year was the worst since it was all of us and it was the flu, but I really don't even know why I plan for them to be healthy each year.)

Anyway, we decided when we were all well that we would reclaim both their birthday celebration and Father's Day since each one was obliterated by illness.  We didn't reschedule a big party because we were still shell shocked from all the sick, but we did spend five days seeing movies, eating lobster and ice cream, buying books, and going to the aquatic center and HOA pool to swim.  We threw in some fireworks for 4th of July, and suddenly we all felt better.



Here's the scoop on my now four-year-old babies.  Yes, we still call them the babies, but we're trying to stop.

Asher


Loves: Daniel Tiger, Magnatiles, All Books
She speaks in a high, very girly voice.
She's fearless in the water.
Asher is tenderhearted.  I've told her simply to not jump on the couch or to take her food in the kitchen, and I've found her five minutes later crying because she felt bad for getting into trouble.  However, when she digs her heels in, good luck.  She will get three inches from anyone's face and argue her point in squeaky, preschool speak.  It's a mixed bag.
She likes to be tickled.  

Eowyn

Loves: Daniel Tiger, Magnatiles, drawing, punching Asher when she's angry
Eowyn sounds like Peppermint Patty.  This is still an easy way to tell them apart.
She did not fully immerse herself in the pool for a month, but she's good with it now.
Frequently says "I'm frustrated" for no reason because she's heard Daniel Tiger say it.  This frustrates me.
Eowyn loves affection, and though she can be a tough kid to discipline at times, her feelings get hurt by anyone even looking at her the wrong way.  She'll punch her sister in the face, but when confronted she falls apart and begs us to hold her. 
Eowyn is still roaming around the house asking, "What happened to my party?" in reference to the birthday debacle.  We just keep saying, "Influenza B".
She likes to be tickled.

To be honest, I did not fully see the twin bond thing in these two for a while.  Sure, they have something special and always have, but they were not these crazy connected kids who were afraid to be away from each other.  They've always played independently and still do.

However, lately they have become more attached in certain ways.  They go find each other if something exciting is happening, and it's gotten to the point where if I'm handing out snacks while one twin is on the toilet, the other will go and try to drag her off so she doesn't miss anything.  They are both devastated when the other one gets in trouble, which is quite a change.  Last year at this time they would laugh at each other when disciplining was being doled out to the other one.


They fight like all good siblings, and their fights sometimes get more personal than my oldest two.  Still, we can't take them out on separate dates because they cry when asked to have fun without each other.  We're letting them call the shots on how all this works, and we're just trying to follow their leads.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Simplicity: A Mid-Year Check In

My focus word this year is simplicity, and somehow the year is halfway over.  I want to take an assessment as the second half of the year starts to see what the first half looked like and if I truly kept a focus on living simply. I will also still be blogging monthly about how we're seeking simplicity in food, fashion, home maintenance, electronic use, and the like.  I am also looking at what simple means to me as I make new goals for the last six months of the year.

Ways We've Done Simple

We Learned to Hygge

The Danish concept of hygge is all about simplicity, and I devoured books about this concept and wrote an article on it that was published here.  Whenever I feel myself veering off course when it comes to simplicity, I think hygge.  That means coffee, getting outside, unplugging from electronics, or grabbing a book to read.  It means simple food and long conversations.  Hygge helps me define my idea of simplicity in real terms, and just like it does the Danes, it makes me happier. 

We Made Positive, Scary Changes

I had to do a bit of soul searching when it came to what simplicity meant for me as it relates to change.  D and I both felt, without talking about it to each other, that we might not keep living where we are forever, and when we finally both confessed to these feelings, the realization floored me.

In the past, I've had no trouble with the idea of picking up and going somewhere else.  I love change that I initiate.  But being a parent suddenly made this idea seem impossible.  What about security and friends and all the things?  What if we ruined everyone's lives?

We're not planning on moving anytime soon, but conversations about leaving led to some realities that I had to face about control issues and about my own problems with displacement, something I've struggled with since my teen years.  It also pointed out some areas we needed to change where we're at right now.  We needed to get out of a situation, and we both knew it, but that fear of what would happen hung over our heads and damn near paralyzed me.  However, we did it, and it's great.  Maybe this is one small step and the bigger ones are coming.

I Sort of Learned to Sleep

Plagued with insomnia since birth if my parents are to be believed, I finally made the leap from an overtired, up-too-late person to someone who is getting around six to seven hours of sleep a night.  All it took was the flu leveling all six of us for two and half weeks to knock me down so hard that I had no choice but to prioritize sleep.

It's still hard for me.  However, I have streamlined my life to the point that I don't have to be up all night working, and when I get that urge to just sit up and listen to the quiet house until two am while still consuming coffee, I just say no. 

Simple Plans for the Future

One thing that is not easy but is simple is the idea that we need to challenge ourselves to grow.  I used to be great at pushing myself, but that was before I had four kids and my brain and body felt like mush by the end of the day.  Yes, I still read a lot and write daily, but I am feeling the simple urge to push out of my comfort zone and see where that leads.

When it Comes to God

I don't think we ever really stop journeying when it comes to spiritual issues, and D and I have recently made some decisions about our journey that give us peace.  We're going to keep pushing in the direction we're going, the one God is opening for us.  I'm also keeping a journal of all the places I see God amidst this crazy, ugly world.  Turns out that if you look for Him daily, He's not that hard to find.

When it Comes to Books
 
 I read a lot, and it's one of my favorite hobbies.  I don't discriminate against pretty much any type of writing, though I prefer certain types over others.  However, there are some classics I missed out on in high school, and I want to go back and read them. I read Anna Karenina a couple of years ago because I loved my Russian Lit class in college, and it was amazing.  Now I'm tackling War and Peace.  The problem is that book is a behemoth, and I want to savor it while still not missing out on reading other, newer books.

My goal is to read at least one classic a month, and I hope to still throw some new books in there as well.

When it Comes to Writing

My writing has been going well, but one place where I have fallen back is fiction.  I love writing fiction, but having fiction published is a beast.  Because I am successfully having non-fiction published regularly, I've stopped working on fiction as much.  This isn't how I want things to be.

I'm going to make sure my time is organized in a way that I can work on fiction every day, even it's just a little.  Whether it gets published or not isn't the point.  I have some words that need to be written, and so I have to write them.

When it Comes to Movement

Truth be told, I have never fully recovered from my pregnancy with the twins, and it's starting to show. I'm not yet 40, but my endurance is awful, and I don't feel like this is totally normal.  After carrying the girls for 37 weeks, I breastfed for another 17 months.  Just when all of that came to an end, I developed symptoms that a year later would finally be diagnosed as Meniere's disease.  Basically, every  time I thought I was getting back up, I got knocked back down.

I am going to push myself to sweat and hurt daily.  This is something I used to do without thought, but I used to overexercise due to an eating disorder, so it wasn't exactly a good thing.  I'm looking for normal/challenging, something where I will see that I am getting stronger.  Right now, I don't feel strong.
 
When it Comes to People

I fully embrace the part of me that can't deal with people all the time, the introvert side that needs quiet to survive.  However, I've started embracing the extrovert side as well, the part of me that loves those intimate relationships that lead to hours of conversationCatching the flu and all of us being quarantined for weeks left me aching for time with the people I usually see on a regular basis.  I want to keep feeding those relationships since I care for them so much.


Monday, July 3, 2017

June Book List

I only read five books this month, but I am also editing D's novella, and I managed to binge watch A Handmaid's Tale on Hulu.  Since all six of us were hit with the flu, I did the best I could with what time I had.

Non-fiction

Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay

Gay's essays on feminism were insightful and honest, with the author confessing to embracing feminism but not feeling like she is always doing it right.  Her message is relatable since even the most staunch feminists can't seem to agree on every issue and where we should stand.  I agree with Gay when she says that it's important for her to be a feminist, even a bad one, because there is still work to do for women.

Gay covers music, movies, and her own life in these essays, and though all were enjoyable, I was particularly fond of the stories that centered around her narrative and personal history.  That's why I grabbed the next book on the list and dove in.

Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body by Roxane Gay

Gay's memoir takes an even more personal turn, talking in more detail about the gang rape she experienced at the age of 12 and what it meant for the rest of her life, particularly her body.  Attempting to protect herself from the abuse she suffered at the hands of cruel boys, Gay ate to deal with her trauma, and this book talks about the toll that hunger has taken on her life.

Gay holds a mirror up to our body-obsessed culture while still admitting that she sometimes longs for a different body.  Her honesty is breathtaking, and it doesn't say great things about our world that a woman with her PhD and best-selling books to her name still has to deal with rude remarks about her appearance.

I read Hunger in one night, absorbing Gay's story, weeping for all she went through.  It's impossible to define this book except to say it should be required reading for all.

Lab Girl by Hope Jahren

Scientist Hope Jahren writes her memoir using personal stories and information about plants.  It may sound like a strange combination, but it's perfection.  I read this one slowly, not really wanting it to end. 

The chapters alternate, telling something about plant life in one then switching to tales of Jahren's life, starting with her childhood living with a father who let her come to his lab regularly.  Jahren is honest about the struggles female scientists face, and she's also transparent about her struggles with bipolar disease.  Her writing is beautiful, almost lyrical, and I felt every emotion possible while reading her story.  Put this book in the hands of any budding scientists, avid readers, or anyone who just enjoys good writing.

Fiction

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

Towles' protagonist was described to me by a friend as "like Ove from A Man Called Ove, but way less grumpy".  That description is perfect, and this book was a delight.

When the Bolsheviks take over, Count Alexander Rostov is confined to a hotel for the rest of his life as a punishment for being a man of leisure.  He takes this confinement in stride, and for decades he watches Russia change from inside the elegant hotel.  While confined, he makes friends, finds purpose, and reveals details of his past.  When a young girl needs him to have a good life of her own, he rises to the challenge and uses his skills to provide her with the best life possible.

This book is on BookPage's top 50 for the year, and it belongs there. 

No One is Coming to Save Us by Stephanie Powell Watts

Watts' book is described as being Great Gatsby-like, but it's been years since I've read F. Scott Fitzgerald's tale of 1920s decadence.  I enjoyed this book for what it was: a tale of families coming to terms with where their lives have led, and the tale of a man trying to change his future by using money to lure in the girl of his dreams.

Ava dreams of having a child, but her marriage to Henry is falling apart and she can't carry a pregnancy to term.  JJ comes back to lure Ava to him with the house he is building in the Carolina mountains.  Sylvia, Ava's mother, watches this unfold, dealing with her own life decisions and the infidelity of her husband, Don. 

This story explores what it means for this family to be black in the Carolinas, a previously segregated area that still carries the scars of racism.  Watts' writing is wonderful, and the relationship between Ava and Sylvia, mother and daughter, is accurately depicted as equal parts difficult and tender.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

May Book List

May started out kind of slow in the reading department, but it picked up speed at the end.

Non-fiction

Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church by Rachel Held Evans
This was the first book I've read by Held Evans, but I am sure I will read more.  Questioning her evangelical upbringing, Held Evans leaves the church of her childhood to find a place to belong.  Most of her questions are the same ones I have, the same many evangelicals have, in this current landscape.

Held Evans book is beautiful because she is able to appreciate parts of  the way she was raised while still finding a way to move beyond it.  She rises above the cynicism that plagues most of us at times and finds God in her seeking.

I've followed Held Evans on Twitter forever, and I'm an even bigger fan of her now.

Dear Friend, from My Life I Write to You in Your Life by Yiyun Li
Yiyun Li pretty much destroyed me with this one, yet I recommend it highly.  This is not a light read, not an easy book to get through, but it's valuable.

Li writes about her struggles with depression and the books that helped her as she tried to find her way through it, a journey that may never end for her in this life.  She loves author William Trevor as much as I do, so reading about her interactions with the author was a joy.  However, reading about suicide is difficult, especially if you've lost somebody to it.  Li's observations are precise and they will leave readers thinking long after the last page is turned.

If you struggle with occasional depression like I do, take this one slowly.  It can consume you.

Dear Ijeawele, or a Feminist Manifesto in 15 Suggestions by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
This should be required reading for everyone.  In an elongated letter she wrote to a friend who wanted to know how to raise her daughter as a feminist, Ngozi Adichie gives 15 suggestions for how to raise girls who will embrace their roles as equals.  She inspired me to write this short piece about dads raising feminist sons.

The advice is practical and easily applied, and the style of the writing makes for a fast read.

My Life with Bob: Flawed Heroine Keeps Book of Books, Plot Ensues by Pamela Paul
I love reading books about books, and Paul's non-fiction account of her life with Bob is one.  In fact, Bob is Paul's book of books, a journal she started keeping in college that contains the name of every book she has read since then.

Paul expertly tells about the books she read as she unfolds the story of the life she was living during the readings.  I loved that someone else put into words how I feel about books, that they are portals to other places in life.  When I see William Trevor's Reading Turgenev on my shelf, I'm taken back to college and a difficult time in life when this book felt like an anchor.  The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo reminds me of nursing Sam all night after he survived pneumonia his first month of life.  It was a dark book, one I'm not sure I would have read if I hadn't been in such a weird, sleep-deprived place, unable to rest out of fear.  John Steinbeck's East of Eden is one that I have read so many times it feels like a string connecting certain points of my existence up to now.

For those who love books or who want to love books, My Life with Bob is a must.  As expected, Paul convinced me to add tons of books to my reading list, and I realized that my Erin Condren planner is sort of like my own Bob since I chronicle the books I've consumed there.

Fiction


The Stars Are Fire by Anita Shreve
I've always sought out Shreve's books.  The Last Time They Met and The Weight of Water are my favorites, and I recommend them both over The Stars Are Fire.

To be fair, the book was well written with interesting characters.  The backdrop was Maine during a fire that ravaged the coast during the 20th century, and Shreve did her homework when it came to the history.  Her characters, a lonely wife with two children whose husband goes missing during the fire, are vivid, and it is enjoyable to watch the protagonist explore her desires for her own life after tragedy.

This is a quick read, but for those who enjoy Shreve or want to start reading her work, this isn't where I would start.  It didn't have me waiting with baited breath like others she's written.

The Hearts of Men by Nickolas Butler
I read this one while on vacation in Austin, and I will always remember hiding in the tiny laundry room perched on the counter trying to get in a few more pages before the dryer went off.  Butler follows two boys who went to camp together and their divergent paths in life.  As they age, Nelson, the outcast as a child, comes back to run the camp he loved.  His friend's son and grandson eventually make their way to the camp.  Events unfold for these men and boys, everything from war to destroyed relationships to violence.  One of the highlights of this book is when we receive the view from a female character who ventures to this camp as an adult.

This book was rich and drew me in.  I devoured it in two days, quite a feat considering how thoroughly those kids wore me out when we were out of town.  

New Boy by Tracy Chevalier
Chevalier retells Shakespeare's Othello, except the setting is a school in the 1970s where preteens make the first day for the new, only black student difficult, to say the least.

Chevalier's books have always been hit or miss for me.  Falling Angels was my favorite, and while New Boy is well written, I wasn't dying to pick it up every night.  Maybe all of those Shakespeare classes in college stripped away all the suspense for me.  



Friday, June 2, 2017

Simplicity: Vacationing With Children, or How to Feel Very Old Quickly

I can sum this up for those of you who don't want to read further:  there is no simplicity when you vacation with children. We waited over eight years to take our four kids on vacation, then we just headed four hours down the road to Austin so we could enjoy gluten-free grub and nature, and it was still a hot mess.  Yes, there were fun moments, but vacationing with kids is just a lot of work in a location that is not your home.

Things I Now Know About Vacationing With Kids

If you want a great response, dress identical twins as minions and go everywhere.



The bathroom situation is never going to feel fair.  We have three girls and one guy.  D gets to take Sam to the bathroom for a quick spray in the urinals, while I'm stuck in the bathroom with the lady crew, and two of them still have a phobia of public bathrooms.  I have to tell Asher and Eowyn that every potty is a kid potty, and then they still sit so close to the edge out of fear of falling in that they usually pee on the floor, or on me.  It's not right.




I'm old.  For real.  I don't say that lightly because birthdays and stretch marks and all that jazz have never phased me.  I've always felt mentally young, so the number has never been a big deal.  But, damn, vacation made me feel old.  Everyone around us seemed so hip.  The kids went feral and I felt like the warden of a tiny insane asylum, shouting things like, "Don't lick the asphalt!", "Why is your hand in your pants?", "D, where's the other one?!?"  I ran into a spring fully clothed wearing my purse to retrieve a child who fell in, and pulling him out of the water then standing there in my mom clothes smelling like ass just about finished me off.   When I found myself in the hotel laundromat on the fourth day washing clothes and reading a book, I realized that was the most Zen I'd felt all week.  Then I was pretty much just sad for the rest of the day.

It's all fun and games when no one is sinking.

I'm not the fun parent.  I'm not ever going to be the fun parent.  I ask questions about the consistency of bowel movements and say things like, "that doesn't look safe".  That is who I am.  I need to embrace it.

Loose plans and children are good and bad.  We had tentative plans for each day, but we kept it very loose in case we needed to make last minute changes.  This kind of worked, but because our routine was not carved in stone, the questions never stopped.  They needed a concrete itinerary, and I just needed a nap.

Eating gluten-free in a city that caters to food allergies is beautiful.  Wild Wood Bakehouse, Sweet Rituals, TacoDeli , and Picnik made this trip for us.  Going to restaurants where explicit directions for everything didn't have to be given was freeing, and the food was delicious.  It was insanely expensive, but we were prepared for that.  We ate well.






 
We probably need to move to a place like Austin.  Despite vacation making me feel very old, Austin suited us for many reasons, and I loved the city.  Gluten-free food that was truly safe was everywhere, as were trees and bike paths, waterways and people on the slightly more liberal side of things.  It felt properly progressive, and none of us really wanted to leave.  It's not in the cards right now, but it was nice to see the kids enthusiastic about a change that D and I would really like as well. Plus, after the Austin mayor did this, it would just feel right to live in his city. 

Monday, May 8, 2017

April Book List

April was full.  Let's jump right in!
 
Fiction 
 
This is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz 

This book is a collection of stories that center around Yunior, a Dominican American male who wants to be loved but isn't so good at the rules of the game.  The faithfulness rule is particularly a problem for  him.  However, readers will still want to find out how Yunior came to be who he is, and Diaz offers glimpses of his life, never making excuses but somehow still garnering sympathy for Yunior at times.  This is the first book I've read by Diaz, but the writing was extraordinary, and I'm sure I'll be back for more.

The Girl in Green by Derek B. Miller

When journalist Thomas Benton and soldier Arwood Hobbes meet near the Kuwait border during war in the early 1990s, an event occurs that will change both of their lives.  Twenty years later with another war raging, they will head back to the Middle East to try to rectify a horror that still haunts them both.

This book was so good I couldn't put it down.  Revealing truths most of us choose to ignore about engagement in wars overseas and the "victories" that are anything but for many people, Miller creates memorable characters trapped in impossible situations.  I count this one as a must read.

Non-fiction

How to Hygge: The Nordic Secrets to a Happy Life by Signe Johansen

Johansen shares more secrets behind the concept of hygge, moving from just the study of Danish culture to encompass all Nordic countries.  The book is a beautiful achievement with simple photography, and about half of the book is composed of recipes since food is a big part of hygge.

Johansen talks about the importance of nature, food, and relationships, and she shares personal stories from growing up in Oslo.  I recommend this one for anyone on their journey to find hygge.

The Year of Living Danishly by Helen Russell

I'm nothing if not thorough when interested, which is evidenced by the fact that I read two more books on the idea of hygge and Danish living this month.  This memoir written by journalist Helen Russell covers the year she spent in Denmark when her husband received a job with Lego.  Burnt out on the fast-paced London life, Russell and her husband decided to try something new, and Russell documented their time there to find out if she could be happier in the country that regularly ranks the highest in happiness surveys.

I laughed out loud while reading this book, and it was a perfect culmination of what I've learned so far about Denmark's ideas about hygge.  As an outsider, Russell was able to view Danish habits, as well as their traditions and love for rules, through clear eyes.  She doesn't just focus on all the good but lifts the veil on the lesser known facts, like how much Danes like to fight and drink and how the Danish divorce rate hovers near the 50 percent mark.  She searched to find out how despite all the downfalls, including the weather and darkness that lasts the majority of winter, Danes stayed so happy.  This was a great read, though I'm still not moving to Denmark.  The cold and darkness are my biggest road blocks.

I Was Told There'd Be Cake  by Sloane Crosley

I discovered Crosley's essays by accident, but I was hooked quickly.  From a story about being a bridesmaid for a bridezilla to a tale of her Jewish parents sending her to a Christian youth camp almost every summer of her childhood, Crosley's essays embrace the awkwardness and honesty of being a human.

These essays almost always went a direction I didn't expect, and Crosley is skilled at pulling her readers in and allowing them to look at bigger issues in hilarious, relatable ways.  I grabbed her next book as soon as I finished with this one. 


How Did You Get This Number? by Sloane Crosley 

In her slightly more serious follow up essays, Sloane is a tad older, though still young by my standards.  Though there were lessons and meanings to be taken from I Was Told There'd Be Cake, the hilarity that was intertwined made the essays somehow more poignant.   That humor can be found here, but it's not prominent.

Sloane covers traveling alone, failed relationships, and being a bridesmaid again, this time in Alaska.  The essays were definitely worth the read even if I preferred I Was Told There'd Be Cake.


The Princess Diarist by Carrie Fisher

I read this one at Dennis' urging since he listened to it on audiobook and was very affected.  Star Wars has been a part of his life since he was a child, so I wondered if I would enjoy this book as much since I haven't even seen one full Star Wars movie all the way through.

Despite not being a typical Star Wars geek, this book was beautifully written and offered a glimpse into Fisher's strange upbringing with celebrity parents, her affair with married and much older co-star Harrison Ford, and what fame is like up close. Fisher is witty, funny, and relevant, and that makes her recent death feel like an even bigger loss.

The Nesting Place by Myquillyn Smith 

I have been slowly  making my way through this one for months because it's a book about home design.  If you have seen my house ever you are laughing right now, and that's okay.  Smith encourages us to embrace our own style, and she gives tips about how to do that regardless of what she calls "lovely limitations."

I liked this book, not because I would ever want to emulate Smith's style.  What is great about it is how practical the tips are and how Smith turns designing a home into holy work meant to serve those around us, which is never a way I've looked at it before.  A great read, and it wouldn't look bad on a coffee table as decoration either.  

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Simplicity: The Work Edition

It's weird to put this in writing, but I work from home as a freelance writer.  It's been going on for a while now.  At some point I became officially, or as official as things get in the world of freelance, employed by a company out of Canada who now puts money in my account every two weeks.  I also have several creative gigs I receive payment for.

Like the true digital native I am not, I am floored by this.  I write for a living, what I've always wanted to do.  Understand the money I make is not major by most people's standards, and I am only afforded the life of stay-at-home mom/writer because D has a job as an accountant.  But I was doing this for free and now people pay me, and I don't know any of them.  We've only met on the Internet.  It's awesome and weird and I keep waiting for it to all fall apart.

Every time my paycheck comes, this is how I look:


Courtesy of Memecreator.org


That's why when I started on my simplicity journey I really didn't think work was an area of my life that needed a makeover.  I'm doing what I love while still home, and I take pleasure in my job even on the days when everything else falls apart.

What I didn't understand is that in itself can be a trap.  So can not having an office or a place to retreat to work, not setting work hours, and feeling like working everyday is a good idea because I can.  I mean, I'm just a freelance writer who works part-time.  There's no way this could get out of control.

But sound rules and guidelines can create simplicity, and I needed some.  As the months wore on, I realized I wasn't taking any days off, I was working in bits and pieces all day and night, and I felt constantly frazzled even though I still enjoyed what I was doing.

I'd like to say these realizations inspired me to make a change, but they didn't.  What did was watching another woman, one of my editors, make a change.  She disappeared one weekend, not returning emails or approving submitted drafts.  Of course, I assumed she was only ignoring me and that I was being very quietly fired, my dream finally dying like I always suspected it would. 

Turns out, she messaged all of her writers the next Monday saying she had decided to take some time for herself, for her kids, uninterrupted time, time where the threat of work intruding just wasn't a factor.  She was refreshed and relaxed and has been taking weekends off ever since, I believe.

I suddenly thought, "Yeah, you know, that makes a lot of sense."  And I started doing the same thing.  Empowered women empower other women.

It's required a ton of planning and being intentional with every minute of my time on the days I do work.  I set aside big blocks of time when others in the house are the least likely to be affected, and then I have to push to meet deadlines.  The payoff has been worth it.  I'm producing more work than ever, and I have a consecutive 48 hours every week where work is not a factor.

It wasn't until I did this that I realized the importance of checking to make sure I am emotionally and mentally available as opposed to just physically.  When you're with your people all day like I am as a homeschooling mom, it's easy to think that grabbing a few minutes here and there to work is no big deal.  However, without hours set aside for when I would work and complete tasks, my deadlines hung over me all day long.   I thought about them, logged onto the computer to work on bits and pieces, and stayed physically present while not being very mentally in tune with those around me.

Setting up my simple dos and and don'ts for work has worked wonders. It's allowed me to be productive, to rest, and to offer myself fully to others in a way I wasn't before.

God rested, not because He needed to but because He was setting an example.  There is simplicity in Sabbath, no matter when we do it. 

Saturday, April 1, 2017

March Book List

March was a long, lovely month for reading.

Fiction

Behind Her Eyes: by Sarah Pinborough
This suspense thriller takes the man-cheating-on-wife story and gives it an extremely unexpected twist that will leave readers shocked when the last page is turned.  When Louise kisses David at a bar, she doesn't know he is her new boss or that he is married.  His wife, Adele, suddenly pops into Louise's life, and as much as she knows it's not a good idea, Louise continues her relationship with David and her friendship with Adele, not letting either one know about her connection to the other.

However, there is more to the story than Louise knows as she attempts to dissect the marriage she inserted herself into.  Be warned with this one, willingly suspending disbelief is necessary, but Pinborough does a good enough job of keeping readers intrigued that it feels natural to just go with it.  The ending is trippy and twisted, and readers will love it or hate it depending on their preferences when reading. 

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng
Marilyn Lee just wants her favorite child, Lydia, to be anything but ordinary.  James, her father, wants her to blend in in a way he, a Chinese-American, feels he never could.  But when Lydia goes missing, those dreams disappear as the entire Lee family is left to sort out the truths in their family.

I can't praise this one enough.  Ng writes about family indescribably well, and the way she covers the dynamics between Marilyn and James and the sibling dynamic between all three Lee children is flawless.  I rushed to the end of this one since there was an element of suspense, but I was devastated when it was over because I didn't want to put it down.  

All Our Wrong Todays by Elan Mastai
There were a lot of things right and a lot of things wrong about this book.  On the positive side, Tom Barren should be a character who is easy to hate, but Mastai writes him generously and makes readers root for him.  Also, the premise of this book is fascinating.  Tom lives, or lived, in a 2016 where we had flying cars, technology to fix everything, and world peace.  That is, until he hopped in his dad's time machine and destroyed it all, landing him back in what is our real world. 

The parts I wasn't crazy about were the technobabble(if I'm reading a book about time travel, I'm okay just trusting that it's happening.  I'm not going to understand if you try to explain it to me anyway) and the parts closest to the end where it felt like the book wasn't staying tight and was trying to accomplish too much. 

The Roanoke Girls by Amy Engel
Engel doesn't play around.  She drops a truth bomb about her characters' lives in the first 30 pages of the book and never looks back.  She can do that because the rest of the book is so naturally suspenseful and well written that she doesn't have to drag the reader along.  Despite the disturbing things going on in the lives of her characters, readers will want to find out more about the Roanoke girls.

Lane becomes friends with her cousin, Allegra, when she stays with her grandparents one summer after her mother's death.  Years later, when Allegra is missing, Lane goes back to Kansas to try to find out what happened to Allegra in the midst of the twisted home she was raised in.

Dark, disturbing, and well written, The Roanoke Girls is a good read for those who like suspense and psychological thrillers.  

Harmless Like You by Rowan Hisayo Buchanan
Jay needs to find the mother who abandoned him when he was two years-old.  He has recently lost his father and is struggling with the changes in his own marriage and his lack of feeling for the child he and his wife just had.  His story is told along with that of Yuki, his mother. 

We follow Yuki, an aspiring artist in New York who decides not to go back to Japan with her family, from the time she is sixteen until she makes the fateful decision to leave her only son.  Even though we know the decision she ultimately makes, it's interesting to follow her to that choice, feeling sympathy for her as she endures a violent relationship and tries to find a place in the world with so much fighting against her. 


Non-Fiction

The Little Book of Hygge: Danish Secrets to Happy Living by Meik Wiking
I've been fairly obsessed with hygge since it perfectly encompasses my loves of simplicity, minimalism, and conscious living.  Hygge, pronounced hoo-ga, is a Danish concept that basically means that feeling of comfort, warmth, and contentment we've all experienced but might not know to name. 

The reason hygge is getting so much attention lately is that Denmark consistently ranks in the top three for happiest countries in the world.  Many researchers want to know why, and they pretty much agree that the Danes' obsessive focus on having hygge in their lives is it. 

Wiking's book is fun, illustrated, and a super fast read.  He lists things that are considered hygge, like candles, hot chocolate, and blankets, while also discussing things that aren't considered hygge by Danes, like social media.  He dives into trying to explain how a country with extremely high taxes and freezing, dark weather for a good portion of the year manages to stay so happy.  I loved this book and finished it in a day!

The Book of Hygge: The Danish Art of Contentment, Comfort, and Connection by Louisa Thomsen Brits

While readers may nod their heads and giggle through Wiking's fast hygge read, Brits' is more like sinking in with a cup of tea and slowly devouring each chapter, taking time to meditate on what was read before moving to the next page. 

Brits says many of the same things Wiking does, like that hygge is about relationships, a feeling of security, and conscious living, but her approach is to dig deeper into what makes hygge, such as using all five senses and creating boundaries between our worlds and experiences. 

I will read this one again.  The first time I read it, I spent most of my reading time in a recliner next to the screen door listening to the kids play while drinking coffee.  I was also wrapped up in a blanket.  It was a very hygge experience. 

Monday, March 6, 2017

Simplicity: The Parenting Edition

When you have a large family and one person falls ill, you just wait for everyone to crash like dominoes until the germs run through the entirety of the house.  That occurred, but it took nine days.

It sounds crazy, but cancelling every play date and avoiding public places so we wouldn't share our germs actually turned into a great time to focus on simplicity in parenting.  It led to realizing that being around my kids near constantly ensures everything in quantity but nothing in quality if I don't work at it. 

Here are some simple lessons I learned during our stomach virus time:

Big kids always need to be rocked.  They will reveal everything in the world to you in a recliner with your arms around them.

Listening is hard but amazing.  I now know more about the video games Sam enjoys than I ever wanted to, but being receptive to hearing about his obsessive interest made him talk about deeper questions he had, something that isn't always easy for him.

A few kind words are everything, even if it's just telling one of the three year olds, "Thanks for at least aiming for the toilet that time. I'm proud of you."

We love our play dates, our friendships, our familiar routine, but slow is not a bad pace for us, even when everyone is well.  I have to remind myself constantly that that's okay, it's actually what D and I work for.  We want meaningful, not just a full schedule.  We want intentional, not busy.  Sickness is always the reset button that helps me assess whether we are living out our values or just going through the motions, trudging through the day.  The latter is not my definition of simplicity.

We make time for what's important, and important to me always equals deeper intimacy and communication, even though I am a lover of checking items off the to-do list.  It's about balance, but I'm going to swing in favor of less with more depth than more but shallow every time.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

February Book List

I read some very rich books this month.  The memoirs I devoured were two of my favorite memoirs ever, and reading my first book by Maggie O'Farrell was an indescribable pleasure. 

Fiction

This Must be the Place by Maggie O'Farrell:  Adrift from his children in the states, Daniel has a new family in Ireland but is called back to America for an emergency.  When it's time for making his way back to Ireland and back to his ex-movie star wife who fled her celebrity life years before, the journey proves difficult as Daniel grapples with memories and mistakes from his past that have the potential to sink his future.

There aren't words to describe how affected I was by this book.  I still think about it daily, and O'Farrell caused me to care about each of these character's fates to a point where I feel like they are actually real people walking around somewhere in the world.  Not overly sentimental but still heartbreaking at times, this book still manages to be funny.  I plan on reading more of O'Farrell's books because This Must be the Place made me a forever fan.

We Love You, Charlie Freeman by Kaitlyn Greenidge:  The Freemans move to the Toneybee Institute to teach Charlie, a chimp, how to use sign language.  They are immersed in this experiment, a black family in the early 1990s, and are supposed to treat Charlie like a member of the family.  However, the Toneybee Institute has a questionable past, and when that is brought to light through flashbacks and discovery, the entire situation starts coming apart at the seams.

Greenidge does a wonderful job of creating a story that encompasses large themes, mainly race, while also making the core of the book about family, betrayal, and what happens when we don't know how to use the languages we know to properly communicate the truth to each other. 

We Are Unprepared by Meg Little Riley:  I wasn't overly crazy about the writing in this one, probably because I read it during a month when I was drowning in elegant, precise words.  However, I enjoyed the story of a couple who move from their lives in New York to live more organically in Vermont.  Their plans go awry when a super storm is predicted to change the landscape of the planet for good.

Riley did a good job of showing how people break into factions and fear is just as dangerous as anything Mother Nature can unleash.  She also presents a scary view of the possibilities if the climate continues to change and all the predicted destruction occurs.

Memoir

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi:  Paul Kalanithi planned his career as a neurosurgeon and neuroscientist meticulously before being interrupted by cancer at the age of 36.  Suddenly unaware of how long he had left to live, Kalanithi had a chance to further analyze a question that had haunted him all of his life:  what do we live for, and what makes it worthwhile?

This book is beautiful, almost poetic, but it isn't overly sentimental.  Kalanithi shares his experience of going from a doctor to a patient and from having his whole life planned out to not knowing if he would be alive months down the road.  The wisdom he gleaned from the experience is valuable to us and will be part of Kalanithi's legacy now that he's gone.

I'm Supposed to Protect You From All This by Nadja Spiegelman:  Spiegelman is the daughter of Art  Spiegelman, the award-winning author of Maus, a graphic novel about his parents time in a concentration camp during the Holocaust.  His daughter, Nadja, is talented in her own right, and her debut book broke my heart and made me reflect on the complicated relationships we often have with the women in our families.

Spiegelman interviewed her mother Francoise Mouly, a famous editor and publisher who has worked for The New Yorker, about her life, and what she found helped shape their relationship and also led her back to her grandmother, who told sometimes contradictory stories to those that Francoise shared.

This entire narrative unfolds beautifully under the careful hands of the author, and it makes the reader wonder about memories, perceptions, and the lies we tell ourselves to continue to connect with others.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

A Little More About Those Pops

Update:  A day after I posted this piece, I heard from the culinary development representative again.  Her news is good for the Dallas/Fort Worth area.  The DFW Steel City Pop locations use chocolate from Unrefined Bakery, a 100% gluten-free establishment that is owned by a mother/daughter team who have Celiac.  However, locations in Houston, Alabama, and Kentucky are still at risk due to the use of Ghirardelli cocoa powder in some of their products.  
 
I posted a statement to Facebook yesterday about my disappointment in Steel City Pops because of their refusal to deal with ingredients that might contain gluten while still advertising their food as gluten-free.  I stand by my concern, but I wanted to add a bit to that since hearing from their culinary development representative this morning. Here's the breakdown:

Their representative from Ghirardelli is giving them a completely different story than the person I was in contact with.  Here's the statement I received from Ghirardelli about an ingredient Steel City Pops uses:

At this time our products are not certified as being gluten free, the FDA requires products to be tested to confirm that gluten level is below 20ppm. Currently Ghirardelli products are not tested to this requirement and therefore we cannot make any gluten free claims for our products, production lines or manufacturing facilities. If a Ghirardelli product contains gluten it will be noted in the ingredients. 

What this means is that Gharardelli does not require that their products meet the lowest possible standard for a gluten-free designation.  Thankfully, after years of being considered an enemy to the Celiac community due to their lack of transparency, they are finally giving a straight answer and saying they just aren't taking the extra step to guarantee anything.  I can at least respect the honesty. 

However, Steel City Pops' Ghirardelli representative tells a different story and says the company is on the verge of being certified gluten-free, they just don't want to pay for the designation.  Given the company's past and my exchange with a Ghirardelli rep. yesterday, I don't believe it.  

Steel City Pops is looking to change to a company who provides certified gluten-free, organic cocoa powder, but they haven't yet and I don't know when they will.  For us, that means this dessert destination is out.

All this to say I can't recommend this place to those with severe gluten-intolerance or Celiac, but I do commend the company for taking my concerns seriously and sending my emails up the chain of command until I was able to have an exchange with someone who seemed to moderately understand why I was concerned.  That is something, and I will take it.  

I also want to warn the Celiac community that I believe issues like this are going to become more prevalent for a couple of reasons:  number one, we're trending.  To eat gluten-free now is to be the cool kid at the lunch table, but that means many restaurants and manufacturers are cashing in as opposed to actually checking out how to help those who actually need this diet to live.  

Number two, governmental standards are going down the tube.  This is not completely new since the last administration seemed to owe a large portion of their souls to Monsanto, but I fear in this current climate where making money is the primary consideration for those in office, things are going to get very hard for those of us who need to verify ingredients in food or medication.  

To survive, research and question more than ever.  Eat at home when you can.  Eat whole foods that are less in question.  Eat certified GF.  Be careful. 

Sunday, February 5, 2017

What Simple Looked Like in January

The beginning of this year was a challenge to the simple mantra, I'm not going to lie.  I've spent much of the last several months feeling displaced in many areas of life, such as politically, spiritually, and in a sense in community because I like being a hermit and want to run at signs of conflict, and I don't know if you've popped your head outside the door or logged onto a social media account lately, but conflict abounds.  Plus, I am an anomaly whose views do not fit in any one group, a mutt of sorts, so I've watched people take up pitch forks and just waited to see which direction they were going to hit me from. 

This is how I walked into my year of simple.

What I have tried to do this month is to boil life down to what I want to accomplish and how I get there cutting out all of the BS along the way.  Try this if you want a sure fire way to see how full your life is of BS.

Here's what has helped me make my way back to the simple this month:

Uno: Yep, the kids' card game has done wonders for simple in this house.  Everyone feeling cranky and stressed?  Uno.  Everyone leaning too much on junk food and technology?  Uno.  Too cold to go outside without your six year-old suffering frost bit because he won't wear pants? Uno.

Kodaline's Album, In a Perfect World:  Music centers me, and one of the things that scares me most about losing my hearing is losing my memories.  They are tied up in song and the sounds of people laughing.

This album is beautiful and haunting and never fails to help me center and release tension.

Picnics:  These are not elaborate picnics with an actual basket and a trek to the woods.  We picnic in the backyard.  We picnic in the living room.  It's a great way to fellowship together that feels exotic because we don't do it every day.

Coffee:  Do I really need to explain this?

Story Time:  I recommend the following books for stellar story time: The Day the Crayons Quit, The Day the Crayons Came Home, Naked (it's a children's book, I promise), and Leo, the Terrible Monster.  They reset us every time.


Writing:  Writing is a great way for me to avoid therapy.

Actions Over Words: I am opting for actions over words, which isn't to say I won't use words, but they will be in putting out there what I think is important and not arguing with people who don't agree. I'm not going to try to convince other people, but I am going to protest.  My kids already know how to call their representatives, so I'm teaching action as well as practicing it.

Prayer:  If I love someone, I pray for them.  If I don't, I begrudgingly throw their name out there and let God deal with me.  It works either way, and it never fails to calm me and give me purpose.

Simple is not easy, but I think it's going to be worth it.