Category Archives: Personally

Yeah, About that Reading Challenge …

Remember a year ago when I wrote about a 12-book reading challenge that I wanted to tackle for 2015, and it seemed totally realistic, and I began by reading three books in a month-and-a-half? Well, I kept going, devouring new books left and right, and ended up surpassing my goal and finishing the year with a whole new set of titles that challenged, entertained and educated me! Well, then my infant became mobile, I applied, interviewed for, and accepted a new job at a new university, moved two states away, started the new job, bought a house, moved into that house, dealt with a broken water heater, hosted visitors every month from August to December, had a first-birthday party, a third-birthday party, celebrated the holidays, and went on vacation with friends in Palm Springs. So, 27 excuses later, I definitely did not finish that reading challenge.

I did make progress, although didn’t blog about it after February. So now, on my last night of Christmas/New Year’s vacation, I thought it was finally time to post an update, at least about what I can remember. Maybe this time next year I’ll be completely done.

A Book Recommended by Someone with Great Taste

wheredyougoUnlike me, my best friend, Melody, does an incredible job of making time for books, and she is constantly offering high-quality recommendations. So for this category, I read one of her suggestions: “Where’d You Go, Bernadette?” by Maria Semple. The story  is centered around a precocious teen girl, her brilliant/neurotic architect mother (Bernadette), and her also-brilliant, overworked father, set in upscale hippie Seattle. After suffering a series of mental breakdowns, Bernadette disappears, and the daughter starts an investigation to find her. Told largely through letters, emails, and records, it’s funny and tragic and moving. I was disappointed in the ending–it felt rather abrupt and unfinished. But overall, a lovely book. Apparently Richard Linklater and Cate Blanchett are doing the movie, so, yay!

A Book You’ve Been Meaning to Read

writingforstoryI checked out “Writing for Story: Craft Secrets of Dramatic Non-Fiction,” by Jon Franklin from the UT library literally years ago and just kept re-reserving it every time it came due again. When we decided to move to Tucson, I finally got my act together to finish it.

Franklin has twice won the Pulitzer Prize for his newspaper writing, and this book shares his painstaking process for how he crafts his masterpieces. It’s full of tremendous advice, tools, and perspective on researching, structuring and editing stories, and demonstrates that writing is hard work, not a mysterious art. But the most useful parts were two of his articles reprinted in the book, in original format and also with footnotes explaining the different storytelling techniques he uses. They are masterfully written and must-reads for anyone who puts pen to paper (so to speak) for a living or hobby.

A Book Published This Year*

commaqueenMy dad gave me “Between You and Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen,” by Mary Norris for my birthday. Norris is an editor at The New Yorker, and the book is part-memoir, part grammar and language exploration. As someone who writes and edits for a living and has always loved language, I was excited to dig in. I enjoy the parts of the book where Norris gives a behind-the-scenes look at how the copy department works at The New Yorker, but other parts, mainly her own personal history, are less compelling. I’m about halfway through the book, (I think–Camden lost my place) so I’m only partially counting it as a 2015 read.

Miscellaneous

There have been a few other books that I’ve started, but the only other significant one I finished was “Call the Midwife: A Memoir of Birth, Joy, and Hard Times,” by Jennifer Worth. Unfortunately it really doesn’t fit in any of the categories in the challenge. My review: it’s amazing and beautiful and heartbreaking, and I’ve never been so grateful to have given birth in the 21st century. I’ll get around to watching the show one day–after I read a few more books.

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Learning Tolerance from an Identity Crisis

The thing that drives me crazy more than almost anything in the world is when someone is unwilling to consider life from a perspective other than his own. I think that 98 percent of the world’s problems would be solved if we were better at that. (The other 2 percent could be solved if everyone took a moment to enjoy a slice of pesto gouda cheese on a turkey sandwich regularly. TRUST ME, that stuff is powerful.)

I do not claim to be perfect in this arena. I have plenty of judginess welling up inside me at any given time. However, I generally am intentional about trying to imagine what’s behind other people’s behavior and words, what life must be like for them, what forces are pushing and pulling them around, even if (sometimes especially if) I disagree with them. I’m sure part of it comes from being a writer. It’s my job to learn people’s stories.

And part of it comes from noticing more and more that my own truth, who I really am and what I really want, is not so easily defined. It’s often fractured and contradictory. Less Instagram, more kaleidoscope.

Here are some truths about who I am:

In January I returned to work full-time after the birth of my daughter. Some days I ache to be with her. Others I am grateful for the break from constant providing and for the opportunity to flex my non-mom muscles. Sometimes I feel both of those things in the same hour. Or in the same second.

I am bone tired, nothing left in me at the end of the day AND yet really want to stay up to watch another episode of Bloodline on Netflix. (Is anyone else watching this show? Does it actually exist? I have seen literally zero mentions of it anywhere ever. Kyle Chandler, people!)

I am both delighted at my son’s rapidly expanding independence and set of skills AND terrified that he will suffer some catastrophic, Final Destinationish injury.

I crave a simple, meaningful, uncluttered life. I CRAVE ALL OF THE CLOTHES.

I am a calm, confident mama bear raising interesting, kind, strong children. I am a weeping mess with an embarrassing lack of patience and no clever parenting hacks.

Ketchup is great. Tomatoes are gross.

You see? Two truths at once. All over the place.

As I try to better understand myself, love my husband, take care of my children, spend money wisely, get enough sleep, and make BIG LIFE DECISIONS, these dualities can get in the way. I don’t know what to make of them. And some of them interfere with me being perfect. How annoying.

And yet there they are. I must acknowledge them, work with and through them, for better or worse. I must remind myself and hope that other people realize that one part of me does not define all of me. And that’s why I’ll try to do the same for them.

I came across this post from Design for Mankind the other day (thanks for sharing the link, Alysa Bajenaru!) that so eloquently captures this struggle:

We know that labels are for jars, and we know that we are not jars. And yet, it is an easy trap, boxing ourselves into characters or avatars, for brevity’s sake, of course. We have 140 characters, 5 minutes in the elevator, 10 minutes at a dinner party to explain ourselves, to introduce the passion that beats within our soul. To announce to the world, or whoever is in front of us, yes, yes, this is who I am. This is how I will define myself.

Nailed it. Later she writes:

And so, the new goal is this: I am what I am. I am what I have done in the past, and what I will do today, and what I plan to do tomorrow. I am a combination of my contradictory thoughts, my elemental surprises, my deepest character flaws.

After all, it is with the same hands that I scramble eggs, and braid hair, and type on keyboards. It is with the same mind that I dream of hiking and yurt-living, but with clean sheets and a fully stocked refrigerator, please. And it is with the same heart that I seek to live a life filled with love for my neighbor, and yet still find myself the passive aggressive toe-tapper at the local post office.

And it is with the same eyes that I look at your avatar and squint, knowing there, too, is much, much more.

Doesn’t that perspective sound nice? And like it would solve roughly 98 percent of our problems?

Reading Challenge Update #2

One-and-a-half months in on my 2015 Reading Challenge, and I’m feeling pretty good, having already finished three books. And that doesn’t even acknowledge a few others I’ve got on my nightstand and desk at work that I’m working my way through since I started them before the challenge. Hopefully this isn’t like a marathon runner who sets an overly ambitious pace at the beginning of the race and then passes out on mile 20. Not that I’d know the feeling because running is terrible.

Tales of Woodsman PeteFor my second book of the challenge, I tackled “A book in a genre you don’t typically read,” with a graphic novel called “Tales of Woodsman Pete,” by Lilli Carre.

It’s super short, so I finished it with just a couple of quick pre-bed readings. It was quirky and had a folk-art quality to it that I like. And while it was certainly enjoyable, I do wish I had picked a meatier book for my first graphic novel. I don’t feel like I really got a good sense of the genre’s strengths and potential for compelling stories. I’ll probably try another one in the future.

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downloadNext I took the plunge with Gillian Flynn’s “Gone Girl” for “A book that’s currently on the bestseller list.”

I love mysteries, but had been hesitant about this one because the general aura around it seemed to be pretty gruesome, and I don’t like stories that ruin your life. (I’m looking at you, 21 Grams.)

But I was also super curious about the book and the movie and didn’t want anything spoiled if I did end up reading it.

After talking to a few different people who had read the book, I decided to give it a shot. My hope was that the suspense of the plot and quality of writing would balance out the unpleasantness of the subject matter.

For me, it did. This text I sent Travis pretty much sums up my response to the book:

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I sent that Friday afternoon after finishing part one. I completed the book by Sunday night.

I hate spoilers and will try not to give anything away, but proceed at your own risk if you haven’t read it.

I was hooked from the very first page, which also immediately had me stumped as to what to make of the main character, Nick Dunne. His way of explaining how much he loves (-ed?) his wife is to imagine peeling back her skull and exploring chunks of her brain. You know, real sappy stuff.

While the vitriol the characters express at times is alarming and twisted, I do think parts of the book realistically depict how two people can shift from happily ever after to … less happy in just a few years. Of course ultimately the plot follows a more sensational path that bears no resemblance to average marital strife. But even in that sensational universe, there was only one plot point that seemed out of character to me. (If you’ve read it, I’m thinking of the way things conclude with the money belt in the cabin.)

That’s not to say I didn’t find it unsettling. I did. And it’s certainly not for everyone. But Flynn is a very effective storyteller, and I found myself repulsed by and yet sometimes bizarrely rooting for the two main characters. (Ok, rooting for them against my will. Like, something bad would happen to them, and I’d think, ‘Oh no!’ And then I’d realize I was feeling sympathy for a terrible person. It’s like feeling concern for Frank Underwood. Shudder.)

So to sum up, I enjoyed it, as strange as that seems. It didn’t ruin my life. And I think Ben Affleck is just the most absolute perfect casting for the movie, which I definitely plan on seeing.

Three books down, nine to go.

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Reading Challenge Update #1

I did it! I read a book! In some kind of miraculous surge, I finished a book less than three weeks after starting it. I think reading it on the Kindle app of my giant iPhone 6 Plus was the key because I always had it with me.

InterruptedThe first book I chose for my 2015 Reading Challenge was “Interrupted: When Jesus Wrecks Your Comfortable Christianity,” by Austin’s own Jen Hatmaker. This checks off the “A book by a favorite author” category. It was a quick but convicting read, focusing on Hatmaker’s awakening to a deeper, grittier faith, one that compels us to truly care for, engage with, and serve our neighbors and communities. A great read for anyone interested in social justice and living missionally.

Next up I’m tackling “A book in a genre you don’t typically read.” Now, I have pretty wide-ranging interests and enjoy everything from historical fiction to mysteries to Malcolm Gladwellian non-fiction. So I decided to Google a list of book genres to find something that’s so atypical that it wouldn’t even occur to me. And there on Wikipedia I found it: graphic novel. Perfect! Never read one, never been particularly interested.

Tales of Woodsman PeteSo I turned to my favorite pop culture blogger, who I remembered loved graphic novels. And I discovered she had been laid off. Nooo! But all her graphic novel recommendations are still online, and I came across “Tales of Woodsman Pete,” by Lilli Carre. Here is the description:

“a collection of vignettes and stories about a solitary albeit gregarious woodsman with a loose grasp on his own personal history and that of the outside world. He forms relationships with his inanimate surroundings and muses to a dead audience, specifically his bear rug Phillippe.”

I’ll take it!

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What I Love Right Now

These are the things currently making my life a little better. Maybe they’ll do the same for you.

The Gilmore Guys Podcast

gilmore guysI want a ringtone that is these guys impersonating Miss Patti exclaiming, “Rory!” I never knew it was funny until they said it. Now it is amazing.

My friend Brittany recommended this ridiculous, hilarious podcast to me, and I’m so glad she did. Kevin, a die-hard Gilmore Girls fan, and Demi, who had never seen the show before, “recap” each episode of Gilmore Girls (which I re-watched in its entirety during my maternity leave). I use “recap” loosely because they go on tangents of tangents of tangents. But they are glorious tangents. Regular segments include the Fashion Report, freestyle rapping about people who leave iTunes reviews, and Pop Goes the Culture, a supercut of each GG episode’s pop culture references. Oh and making up fake podcasts about other shows: Friends Fellas, Parks and Rec Pals, About About a Boy. They love Emily. They call Chad Michael Murray “Chad Michael Mudface.” Good stuff. They do swear quite a bit, which is weird to listen to compared to how tame the Gilmore characters are. But generally I love it. As my friend Brittany said, “I didn’t think I’d want to listen to twenty-something guys talk about anything, much less Gilmore Girls,” but I’m happy to listen to these two talk about anything, especially Gilmore Girls. BONUS: They’re both UT grads. Hook ’em!

(Kevin is also the creator of this brilliant “Sorkinisms” supercut that highlights all of Aaron Sorkin’s lovely but recycled dialogue on his various TV shows.)

Frozen Basil Cubes from Trader Joe’s

This one doesn’t really need an explanation. It’s great. There.

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Lush Cosmetics Shampoo Bar

Lush shampoo barMy brother- and sister-in-law gave me some Lush products for Christmas and I immediately became a fan. They use natural ingredients, no animal testing – all that good stuff. I decided to try their shampoo bar, and lemme tell you, it’s pretty awesome. I was skeptical, but you just rub it a few times through your hair and BAM: suds city. My hair generally gets greasy pretty quickly, but with this it stays clean for longer than usual. I have the Jumping Juniper one. Also, it’s only $10.95, so it’s easy on the budget.

Everlane T-Shirt

everlaneI’m on a mission to aim for quality over quantity in my fashion choices and to be more aware of how and where things are made. Everlane is an online startup clothing company dedicated to “radical transparency” on factories and pricing. I tried their basic white v-neck – it’s a steal at just $15 – and am very pleased with the quality. I also like that their website tells you how tall the models are and what size they’re wearing. That way I knew to order one size larger than I normally would, since the models don’t have any – what’s the word? – boobs or hips. (P.S. – If you order something through this link, I get a nifty store credit. Then you can get your own referral link to get your own credit. Yay for free stuff!)

Endless Reader App

This app has been a lifesaver for keeping Camden occupied when I’m nursing and when we had a lot of travel in the fall. You drag and drop letters to spell a word, and then drag and drop that word and a few others to make a sentence. Then there’s a cute little animated video that reflects the sentence. I was amazed at how quickly Cam picked it up, and now he actually recognizes some of his favorite words. Educational, entertaining, and not at all irritating. Win win win!

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Reading Challenge

All year my social media feeds are flooded with new challenges people are signing up for: abs, real food, writing, not shaving, remembering to take out the trash. What have you.

I can honestly say that I’ve literally never cared about any of them. You go girl with your 30 days of crunches. I’ll be over here binge-watching The Good Wife on Amazon Prime Video. (I see what all the hype is now about that show! I mean, Christine Baranski’s jewelry alone is worth the watch. Those chunky rings. But I think Julianna Margulies is too hard on her daughter about the faith stuff.)

ANYWHO.

The other day I finally saw one I could get behind:

2015-Reading-Challenge

I LOVE reading. It’s all I want to do on vacation or a plane. Or a train if I ever rode those. But with a toddler and infant and full-time job and two dogs and dishes and Facebook and Netflix, I’ve found it increasingly difficult to find time or energy to read. I’m also a rather slow reader, so it takes me awhile to finish something even when I do find time. I have 121 books on my Goodreads to-read list. I have stacks of books in the house that I’ve been meaning to read for years.

So when I saw this challenge (from a website called Modern Mrs. Darcy, shared by The Art of Simple), I was intrigued. I liked the categories, and it sounded like something that would motivate me to CREATE time to read, to really make it a priority. But in a fun way, not a 30-days-of-crunches way.

First on my list is Interrupted, by Jen Hatmaker. I’m putting that in the “book by a favorite author” category because I adore her writing. And because the Kindle version was on sale the other day for $1.99.

And since one of the categories is “a book recommended by someone with great taste,” I’d love your book recommendations. Because I’ve managed to surround myself with people who have great taste.

I was also drawn to this challenge because, while I’m not making any resolutions this year, I do want to try and live more intentionally in 2015. Making decisions and spending time on things and people I really care about. Hopefully that will also include more posts here. But it definitely won’t include a month of crunches. Just to be clear.

P.S. – If you’re like me and feel like you don’t have the time, check out Austin Kleon’s 7 tips on how to read more.

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A Tiny Miracle

And lo, she did fit into her pair of nice jeans that she had not fit into for many months, even before she got pregnant.

And Then There’s This

Sometimes life is all baby hugs and sunshine, and then sometimes life is coming home to a broken air conditioner when it’s a million degrees outside, and a fussy kid, and a wife who forgets to tell her husband that she did not yet drain the noodles, and a husband who does not notice that the noodles haven’t been drained and so he adds the already crappy marinara sauce into the pot, thus making the noodles and the sauce both worse and kind of awful, forcing the wife to run to the Circle K for Gordetto’s, peanut M&Ms, and a fountain drink so that the evening only feels 90 percent pathetic and unsatisfying, instead of 100 percent pathetic and unsatisfying. And it’s important to share those moments, too, in addition to the baby hugs and sunshine, so as not to construct a false portrait of one’s life. Oh and also sometimes you realize you still haven’t washed the sheets, even though there’s a tiny bit of dog vomit in that one spot. And then all of a sudden you’re grateful for the sweet gift of denial and compartmentalizing.

Theoretically speaking, of course. I would never sleep in a bed with dog vomit.

Mornings

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Mornings are hard. A challenge. Difficult. I hate them and they’re awful.

We keep staying up way too late, and then Camden wakes up anytime between 5-6:30 a.m. It’s a 50-50 shot as to whether or not we all manage to eat breakfast. Feed and water the dogs. Feed and water the chickens. Feed and water the plants. Then every day as we’re trying to get out the door, it’s “Where are the keys?” and juggling the baby and the carseat and my purse, diaper bag, lunch, and breast pump (so glamorous). Always leaving later than we’d prefer. Sometimes, like today, we get a few houses down the street and then turn around to make sure the oven is turned off and the back door is locked. Then we drop off Camden at daycare, with an embarrassing amount of hugs. (“Did you wait a long time to have him?” the daycare grandma asked this morning, which I assume is her way of saying, “Man, you guys sure are attached to this kid.”) The other day he cried for the first time when we were leaving, and then I cried, but he got over it before we even got back to the car. It took me a little longer to recover.

It’s summer right now, so the traffic is fine, but during the school year it’s rage-inducing.

But I also love the mornings. Most days Travis and I get to carpool, so after we drop off the little man, it’s just the two of us. We listen to “Morning Edition” and talk about the week (or, on Mondays and Fridays, the weekend). Sometimes we stop for caffeine and breakfast tacos. Or sometimes a Chick-fil-A chicken biscuit, if I’m being totally honest. Last Friday we stopped for gas near work, and as crazy as it sounds, it was a little fun, just this stolen moment, a detour together before going about our separate days.

And then sometimes it’s raining and Travis turns down the radio so we can hear each other better and then things get quiet and I fall asleep.

I guess I can live with the mornings.

[P.S. – I did keep up with my 32-for-32 project yesterday, but I wrote in my Q&A a Day journal instead of on here. Five days in, so far so good!]

Waiting

Yesterday I wrote that I was anticipating a visit from my dear friend Jo. She’s here now, but she started feeling sick, so we’re waiting around while she lies down to see if it passes. I’m suddenly remembering that the last time she was here, she got very ill for several days. Reallllly hoping my house isn’t some kind of ongoing problem for her.