Friday, November 17, 2017

Simplicity Focus: Matches and Kerosene

Reading Ta-Nehisi Coates' book We Were Eight Years in Power reminded me of how you can't really move into a healthy place working through a broken system.  Until we admit that racism caused the Civil War and that the fallout even after the north won led to more racism, we aren't being fair to blacks.  We can't be surprised when Colin Kaepernick or anyone else kneels for the anthem. That flag has never meant freedom for blacks in the same way it has for whites.  Let's acknowledge that and dismantle the system.

I feel the same way about the patriarchy that leaves in its wake wounded women who are then blamed for their own rapes and assaults.  Coates' book reminded me that broken systems need to be destroyed and built again based on truth.  What I have seen in the wake of all the sexual assault allegations coming to the surface is people telling women to fix the crimes they didn't commit.

Dress modestly.

Have less women in the workplace.

Never be alone with a man.

Here's a thought: men, stop hurting women.  Take responsibility for this being your problem and don't lay it on women.  So simple.

The issue is that treating women badly and getting away with it is so prevalent in our society that no one even sees it anymore. Making women responsible for other people's actions is habit.

I discussed with a friend that my oldest is getting to the point where we have to start talking about the older kid things, like wearing bras. I told her I was hesitating even bringing it up because I don't want any of my daughters to assume they have to follow a societal norm if it doesn't work for them, whether it's shaving their legs or wearing bras.

My friend agreed, but she said we wear the bras and watch the wardrobe closely in order to keep ourselves safe.  She meant well with this statement, but I was way past that way of thinking.

Me:  I can't say I think it's doing a lot of good.  I would rather send my braless daughters into the world with pepper spray and brass knuckles with a come-at-me-mother*cker attitude than to let them run around thinking that if they had just dressed differently they would have been okay.

She wholeheartedly agreed that my approach could also work.

That's when I realized I wanted to set the patriarchy on fire, not try to put Band-Aids over a broken leg.

How can we make people understand that women aren't possessions? How we can we make women understand that no one has the right to do something to them if they don't consent, and that they don't have to say I'm sorry or feel ashamed when they are hurt?  How can people in the church get on the right side of this issue since many of them are busy defending a pedophile after electing a president accused of sexual assault?  I mean,  Jesus didn't tell women to dress modestly.  He warned men that if they lusted when looking at women, they might want to go pluck their own eyes out.  It's a pretty clear message.

Burning the patriarchy down is not an anti-man message.  Good men, like my husband, aren't scared of this idea at all.  They welcome it with open arms.  If those who believe they have rights to women's bodies that they don't are shaking in their boots at this idea, well, good.  That's the point.

We need to make it unacceptable to hurt women and then blame women for it.  We need to stop excusing sexism and misogyny in its many forms.  The term locker room talk needs to die.

Here's another thing:  just because women don't come forward immediately doesn't mean they weren't assaulted or raped.  Women who are sexually assaulted often don't report it for years, if ever, for a variety of reasons.  It's not because it didn't happen.  Also, with the hell they take when they come forward and the backed up rape kits that are never even tested, they don't feel a big incentive to come forward.

Of the women I know and count as friends, I would say at least half of us have been assaulted or raped.  None of us reported it.

Asking why a woman didn't report a crime against her body implies there was no crime or she would have said something sooner.  Forget the evidence that shows these men have harmed multitudes of women and none of them felt they could say anything.

After a stressful month where I felt helpless a good portion of the time, my simple goal came into focus: stop accepting this society, the one that devalues women.  Stop trying to fix small parts of it.  Take it apart every day and put something better in its place.

I would like to say that this is starting to happen with all the women coming forward, but I'm not optimistic.  These men will not lose anything near what these women have.  They won't suffer criminal prosecutions, though they would if they had stolen someone's car.  Most of them won't lose their jobs even if they attempted to rape teenagers.  As Sady Dole wrote in her amazing book, Trainwreck, men can get away with a hell of a lot more than women.

This will be a long fight, but it's worth it.  I want to push against what we've been taught and what we've seen when it comes to how women should be treated.  I want to make sure my life reflects love and care for the women I know and those that I don't.  I want all of us to banish the belief that women can't support each other and that women are hyperemotional messes.  Where I see sexism in my own life or in anyone else's, I want to draw attention to it and make a change.

What this will look like throughout my life I don't know, but I know this will be a forever mission, a calling if you will.  If you want to join, bring some matches.  Some things need to burn.

Just getting started on your burn-down-the-patriarchy journey?  Grab these books:

Trainwreck by Sady Doyle
Dietland by Sarai Walker
Young Jane Young by Gabrielle Zevin
Jesus Feminist by Sarah Bessey












Tuesday, November 7, 2017

The October Book List

October's books did not disappoint.  Non-fiction was dominant this month, but all were great reads.


Non-fiction

Hygge:  The Danish Art of Happiness by Marie Tourell Soderberg
I've read a ton of books on hygge, and I feel like I need to read them forever because of the good, basic reminders for how to live well.  This book was good, but it wasn't the best I've read this year.  The author had interviews, recipes, and general information, but it wasn't as informative or as entertaining as the other books I've picked up on the topic.

Going Into Town: A Love Letter to New York by Roz Chast
Roz Chast won me over with her graphic novel, Can We Talk About Something More PleasantGoing Into Town was great.  When I get back to New York, I will likely take this as a guidebook.  Chast wrote it for her daughter when she moved to Manhattan, but she turned it into an entire graphic novel, and it is as informative as it is funny.

Warehouse Home by Sophie Bush
I scanned this book, and it was beautifully designed.  Alas, I do not live in a warehouse home.  I'm in the suburbs and don't have the architectural specifications that would make this book useful for me.  I did like checking out the designs within, though.

 We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Coates is one of the strongest writers and smartest thinkers in the world today, and I never walk away from  his writing unchanged.  Between the World and Me is an epic accomplishment that D and I read together so we could discuss it.  We did the same with this book.  Coates speaks of race with honesty, making no excuses for our country's decision to base it's so-called liberty on enslaving African Americans.

If you read Coates writing in the The Atlantic, then you will likely recognize some of these essays.  There are eight that he wrote starting with Obama's campaign through his years in the White House.  He also starts each essay explaining what was going on in his life and the life of the country at the time he was writing.

Coates' work is well-researched (that's an understatement.  I don't have a word for the kind of work he puts into his essays.)  He also weaves in his personal story seamlessly with the bigger story at hand, that of the enslavement and oppression of blacks for generations.  If I had my way, this book would be required reading for the masses.

Trainwreck: The Women We Love to Hate, Mock, and Fear...and Why by Sady Doyle
Coming off of the heavy content of Coates' work, I dove right into Doyle's book about how women are often viewed as trainwrecks due to behavior that men are never labeled for.  This book is a great introduction to feminism and is also perfect for a seasoned feminist who wants to make sure he/she isn't sliding into bad habits when judging women.

Doyle looks at figures such as Mary Wollstonecraft, Charlotte Bronte, and Sylvia Plath, as well as Britney Spears, Hillary Clinton, and Miley Cyrus to dissect how we treat women who don't follow the rules.  She also holds up examples of men who get away with quite a bit more in our society.

In the world of Harvey Weinstein and other predators, many who still go unpunished because their accusers are women, Doyle's book is much needed.

Dear Fahrenheit 451: Love and Heartbreak in the Stacks by Annie Spence
READ THIS BOOK!  If you can make it through the chapter about Spence having to weed out The One Hour Orgasm book without laughing so hard you snort, I will give you five dollars!

Spence is a librarian, and having worked in a library and being only 15 hours short of my MLS degree, I have a huge appreciation for this book.  Spence writes letters to books in her life, and she also makes some stellar recommendations for readers at the end of the book.  It's a quick read that is hilarious, touching, and perfect for anyone who loves to read.


At Home in the World: Reflections on Belonging While Wandering the Globe  by Tsh Oxenreider
I have heard Oxenreider speak on podcasts and really enjoy her insight.  This book about the nine months she spent with her family traveling the globe pushes against the idea that we can't travel with kids.  Her children were all under the age of ten when the trip started.  She and her husband were already experienced travelers, so she had an advantage there, but she makes world schooling with young kids seem possible.

Oddly, this book wasn't what I expected.  I didn't feel near as connected to Oxenreider as I expected considering the fact that this was a memoir-style story.  I still enjoyed it, and her writing is strong, but it just didn't have as profound of an effect on me as I thought it would.  D and I have been struggling with wanderlust for a while now, but this book didn't make me want to grab the kids and hit the road. Oxenreider's honesty about the challenges of travel reminded me that we would be seeking gluten-free food in countries where we didn't speak the language, and Meniere's disease would likely keep me puking or dealing with vertigo on every plane, train, or car ride.  I still want to travel, but I appreciate this book for reminding me that it's more than glamour and new places, even if I would have liked more depth in the narrative in certain areas.

Fiction

Forest Dark by Nicole Krauss
I read this one very early in the month, so I have a general impression of it more than a detailed account.  My overall feeling was that though I enjoyed it and the author had some profound thoughts, I wasn't 100 percent sure what I had read when it was over.

Krauss plays with the idea of divided selves, the idea that we can be in one place and feel in another, sort of.  Even the book is told in a divided way, with the two protagonists receiving alternating chapters and never connecting in the story.  Nicole and Jules are both from New York and both end up in Israel for what could be considered existential crisis-like reasons.  They both chase unlikely tales despite their doubts.  They are both questioning their previous lives at home.

I am glad I read this, but I didn't take away anything concrete.  It was beautifully written, but I usually like to know at the end of stories if what I think happened really did happen, or if what occurred was a metaphor for an idea that was over my head.  This one may have just been a little too smart for me, and that's okay.

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
I don't know how many times I've read The Bell Jar in my life.  A lot is my best estimate.  I ran across Plath's name online and was overcome with an insane desire to read this again.  I actually own this one (I don't buy many books despite how much I read.  I am a big lover of the public library.) so I grabbed it off the shelves and dived in.

I haven't read this one in years, and I am a different person than I was when I last read it.  Plath appeared to me in ways that were so different and yet the same.  Yes, the story is fiction, but most say it's so closely based on her life that the novel ruined real life marriages, and it wasn't supposed to be released until her mother died.  (It was anyway.)

The story tells of Esther Greenwood and her summer in New York as she starts suffering from a mental breakdown.  It's honest and raw.  It led me down a rabbit hole as I researched again Plath's suicide that left her two young children behind, her son's suicide a few years ago, and the suicide of Ted Hughes' mistress, who also killed their child. (Hughes was Plath's husband at the time of her death.)  I am going to dive into Plath's poetry again next, but this excursion gave me a lot to think about for awhile.

The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides
Author Annie Spence is so convincing that I ran out and picked up The Virgin Suicides from the library because it's her favorite book. I was not disappointed.  This beautiful story was my introduction to Eugenides, and his writing is flawless. 

He tells a story about the Lisbon sisters and the boys who watch and love them, mainly from a distance.  We know that they will all commit suicide by the end of the story, but that doesn't take away from the beauty of this book at all.   Eugenides captures lust, obsession, and adolescence perfectly, and I was  sad when this one ended.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Simplicity: The Mental Health Edition

October had a bit of a rough start.  The shooting in Vegas, the death of Tom Petty, personal complications, they all landed and stuck in my brain.  The way I felt the first couple of weeks of this month can best be described as a baby who has been varnished with sand paper.  I was just so raw.

Then the Weinsten charges and the #MeToo started, and a lot more bad feelings rose to the surface.  

I've had some struggles with anxiety and depression the last couple of years, and though dealing with the health problems that set off the bad flojo mojo in my brain has helped a lot, I'm not immune to down days.  It probably did not help that I chose a down day to pick up The Bell Jar to reread, but that's neither here nor there.

This was me.

Courtesy of pics.me.me


The problem is that I never remember how to crawl back to the light when I'm in the darkness.  Understand that oftentimes will has nothing to do with it.  Some people need medication.  I need 40 supplements a day.  I'm not talking about some kind of mind over matter BS.  Get help when you need help, and don't be ashamed about it.

It's just that I'm already receiving tons of support and knew that my sadness was situational, and I still had a hard time pulling out of it.  I didn't want to try.  I wanted to curl up and live in the black fog at the same time I wanted to be rid of it.

What finally gave me a lift was accidentally stumbling onto the things that help me cope.  I didn't go out seeking them.  I was too busy reading The Bell Jar, remember?  I just got up every day and was reminded of what helps when I'm in a funk. 

My tips, in case you need them.

Be around people, even if you don't want to, but only for as long as you can take it.  Choose awesome people. 

Do one thing on the to-do list.  Make the phone call.  Pay the bill. Remember that you are capable of functioning.

Self-talk it out. Get to the core of why you feel bad.  Look for solutions.  Accept it when there are none.

Slow way, way down. Read the extra bedtime story, opt for crazy slow mornings, spend more time than necessary on a science experiment that involves dirt that will forever be stuck on the baseboards.  Moving in slower fashion helps us appreciate all the little things that are actually quite big.

Cry with someone who loves you.  It's fine.  They might cry, too.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

September Book List

Time blocking helped me use every minute to the fullest in September, and I read ten wonderful books.  Whenever I caught myself wasting time on something that didn't need to be done, I asked, what would I rather be doing?  Reading was almost always the answer.

Fiction

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

I fell in love with Ng's first book, Everything I Never Told You.  The way she examines relationships, reveals what we do and do not show of ourselves to others, is magical.  Her talent is a gift, and that book took my breath away. 

Little Fires Everywhere is a worthy sophomore novel, and I couldn't put it down.  Ng does what she's best at: looks at the inner workings of family life and reveals what's going on under the surface.

The fires in this novel encompass teenage romance, racism, and class conflict.  She looks at the temptation to try to plan our way into the perfect life and how those plans can fall apart.  Ultimately, in this book Ng asks what makes a mother and doesn't give us the easy answer.

Saga of the Swamp Thing by Alan Moore

D put this one on my list, and I enjoyed it.  I don't seek out graphic novels on my own, but he has introduced me to that world.  I'm grateful for how I have to slow down and examine the pictures as well as how strong the writing was in this story.  I was lucky enough to have D to give me some back story on the previous issues, and I recommend that if you pick up in the middle with this one.

American Housewife: Stories by Helen Ellis

I read this book in one afternoon, and it was wonderful.  Funny, disturbing, and relevant, American Housewives is a collection of short pieces about the experiences of housewives, none of them typical.  Ellis isn't afraid to take her readers to the dark side while still making them laugh out loud.

Stories of murder and bra fitting are included, as well as an examination of book clubs and infertility.  Grab this one for a quick read.

Anything is Possible by Elizabeth Strout

The sort-of sequel to My Name is Lucy Barton is elegantly written and full of characters that readers will remember long after the last page is turned.  Each chapter tells of townspeople who are somehow connected to Lucy Barton, some who are even related to her.  Living in her hometown, they struggle with lost love, past war horrors, and secrets that destroy.

When Lucy ventures home after years away, she confronts the people she left behind. Read My Name is Lucy Barton first, but have this one on hold to devour when you're finished.


Non-fiction

Of Mess and Moxie by Jen Hatmaker

I started the month with Hatmaker's hilarious quick read.  Writing funny and touching material is hard, and I am constantly amazed at how easy Hatmaker makes it look, telling of her adventures when following the wrong bus to a school field trip as well as sharing her faith sincerely.

For those familiar with any of her previous books, such as For the Love and Seven, expect more of the same honest, girlfriend talk mixed in with recipes and how-to sections. Hatmaker excels at giving us permission to be human and to let go of the idea that we can attain perfection.

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain

I have read articles by and about Cain, and I have listened to her podcast.  She is the reason I understand the introverts in my home (as well as the introverted side of myself which is growing more prominent as each day passes), and she gave me the language to finally see that one of my kids is an orchid.  In short, I owe her my life.

I finally made time to actually read her well-researched bestseller, and it was amazing.  I don't often buy books because I am a minimalist and have access to awesome libraries, but I purchased this one and highlighted it to death.  I will read it regularly and refer to it for tips.

Everyone, whether they are an introvert or not, needs to read this book.  Cain may have found a way to help us all understand each other better.

The Glass Castle by Jeanette Wall

The movie, which I haven't seen, recently came out, and this pushed me to finally read this book, one that has been on my shelf for over a year.  Wall's account of her very unconventional childhood is well-written, heartbreaking, and utterly unforgettable.

Raised by an  intelligent but alcohol-loving father and a mother who believes herself to be more fit for creating art than raising kids, the Wall children largely learn to care for themselves.  However, the dynamic between the members of this family is unique, and Wall's parents follow her and her siblings even after they leave home.

I found myself infuriated at most every decision the parents of the Wall children made, but I loved this book.  Wall writes in beautiful prose that makes this book feel like fiction even as we know it's real.

Gone: a Girl, a Violin, a Life Unstrung by Min Kym

Cue the playlist on Spotify before starting this one. Hearing Kym play the violin is a treasure that goes along perfectly with her account of what is was like to grow up a prodigy.  Besides all of the struggles that entails, Kym then found the violin that felt like it was made for her, only to have it stolen while she sat at a cafe. This loss unraveled her and started her on another journey to discover who she was when not defined by her instrument.

Kym's writing is good, though it's the story that is exceptional.  Reading this story of loss while hearing her music float through the air is haunting.

The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone by Olivia Laing

This thought-provoking read is part-memoir, part study of art, artists, and the dilemma of loneliness.  Interweaving her own story of living in New York City, surrounded at all times by people but utterly alone, Laing also shares information about artists like Edward Hopper and Andy Warhol.

Well-researched and excruciatingly painful to read at times, Laing explores what loneliness does to us as well as the way that society creates the condition.  She also discusses what it means to go through the world without adopting the belief that coupling off is the only way.

The More of Less: Finding the Life You Want Under Everything You Own by Joshua Becker

I recommend this book for anyone interested in minimalism.  Though I prefer Marie Kondo's more extreme way of going through items to downsize, Becker has his own charm and may be easier for people with less all-or-nothing tendencies.

There are two parts of this book that especially excited me.  Becker addresses having a family and being a minimalist.  It's a unique challenge because you have to respect other people's things while still longing for less.  He has tips for how to handle that.

Becker also offers tips for keeping the house tidy after it's uncluttered and minimized.  Kondo failed me on this one.  Her theory is that once a house is tidied up, it will never again have issues.  Since other people live in my house, that is 100 percent untrue, so I loved Becker's tips for how to keep things scaled back each day.

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.