deciding to go "off-book" (or rather, "off-list") for my reading, I've been reading some really GREAT stuff. (Who knew there was such gold to be found OFF of recommended reading lists?!)
So, instead of a whole list of books that I've just felt so-so about (as in years past), the majority of the books I've read so far this year have been really spectacular. Hence, instead of just the typical, "Books I'd Recommend to Anyone," "Books I'm on the Fence About," and "Books I Strongly Disliked," I present to you my current categorization for the crop so far this year:
Books That May Very Well Change Your Life,
Page-Turners That You Can Get Lost In,
Books That Are Good Enough to Read (At Least) Once,
Books That Are Definitely Not Worth Your Time (but that are fun to gripe about).
Surprisingly, I only have one book that made it into that last category. (It really has been a stellar reading year so far.)
But here goes:
Books That May Very Well Change Your Life
Author: Greg McKeown
I actually knew very little about this book before I purchased it--all I knew is that it had been recommended on several of the simple living/minimalism blogs I read and love, and I just had to see what all the fuss was about. What followed was a book that perfectly encapsulates the power of focusing on just one thing (instead of trying to do it all, all the time). Some of the graphics in this book (like this one) have forever changed the way I think about time management, and although I don't normally reread many books, I definitely plan on rereading this one, especially when I need a solid reminder of why it's important not to try and give my best to everything (since it just means that I end up giving my best to nothing). A fabulous nonfiction read that will forever change the way you view your life's focus/priorities.
Author: Karen Le Billon
I never thought I'd get much into parenting books, but I happened to pick this one up right around the time that we were starting to feed Raven more and more "regular" food (aka, not baby food), and I couldn't be more glad that I did. This memoir/useful guide is all about one (American) mom's attempt to try and get her kids to fit in with the French food culture when her family moved to France. What she discovered was that the French have a vastly different approach to food than Americans do, and she had been driven to the point where she was willing to try just about anything due to the fact that her two girls ate around 7 foods total and wouldn't touch anything else. After observing how French parents teach their kids to eat basically anything, she came up with a list of 10 "rules" for creating the kind of environment around mealtimes that will lead to kids who are adventurous, healthy eaters. This book will heavily influence how I feed our kids forever, and it's definitely worth a read if you have small children (even more so if they are already picky eaters).
Author: Anthony Doerr
It's not often that a fictional book would make it into this category, but I was so blown away by this Pulitzer-Prize winner that I haven't been able to stop thinking about it since. This story masterfully weaves together the destinies of two youths during World War II---one a blind French girl who is forced to flee her home in the middle of the night with her father and one a brilliant German orphan who is sent to a special training camp for Germany soldiers when he is still technically too young to be there. The whole story revolves around a rare gem that the French girl's father was supposed to keep safe for the French museum he worked for--a gem that the museum feared would fall into the wrong hands if left where it was, and a gem that was reputed to have a deadly curse on it. This book was perhaps one of the most beautiful, well-written masterpieces that I have ever read, and I fully plan on reading it again.
Author: Corrie Ten Boom
This is actually the second time in my life I've read this well-known autobiography, but I'm so glad I reread it again as an adult (since the first time I read it, I was in my late teens). This is the story of Ten Boom's placement in a concentration camp during WWII, where she was imprisoned after hiding Jews in her family's watch shop. Her faith and belief in the overall beauty of life and humankind is powerful and moving, and there are many, many lines in this book that I highlighted and found myself reading over and over again. An inspiring true account of a woman whose spirit and faith could never be beaten down, even in the worst of circumstances.
Page-Turners That You Can Get Lost In
Author: Laura Hillenbrand
This biography got a ton of press after the movie based on it came out in 2014, and it had been on my to-read list for ages before I finally picked it up. And, in the spirit of being an honest reviewer, I found the subject of the biography (Louis Zamperini) wholly unlikable at first, but after the former Olympic runner was enlisted in the American army during WWII and captured and put in a Japanese POW camp after surviving at sea for weeks and weeks on a lifeboat, I had to hand it to the guy for showing the utter indomitability of the human spirit. Zamperini suffered an extraordinary amount of hardship in his life, but his refusal to give in or give up truly won me over by the end, and I count this among the most moving biographies I've ever read.
Author: Fredrik Backman
Nowadays, to be a bestseller, there is usually a lot of marketing and social media campaigns and strings being pulled to get as many people to pre-order the book as possible so as to get onto the bestseller lists right away. Well, this book happened to land on the bestseller list basically from word of mouth, from what I can gather---it was Backman's debut novel, published in Swedish, and it was so popular that it was quickly translated into multiple languages and became a bestseller in multiple countries. If I had to pick one word to describe this story about a grumpy widower who seems to have a gripe about everything, I would call it "charming." It's not often that a book has a beautifully happy ending that's 100% satisfying and believable, but this is one of them, and I honestly think I'm a better person for having read this. Such a heartwarming read (with some absolutely hilarious moments, to boot).
Author: Liane Moriarty
This page-turner about the interweaving of many women's lives revolving around an unsolved murder and an incriminating letter found by accident is definitely not the typical type of book I pick up, but I'd heard about this from so many different sources that I decided I'd better just read it already. Although the writing's nothing too special (and at times seemed a bit too "light" for the darker subject matter), this book was pleasantly suspenseful and left me guessing until the end. Great for a summer escapist read.
Author: Kate Morton
Another unexpected thriller pick for me, this story is about a detective forced to go on leave who discovers an ancient lake house in the middle of a forest that's been untouched since the family abandoned it after a tragedy decades earlier. Although on leave, the detective finds herself unable to stop herself from delving into the unsolved mystery of a missing child and the secretive but socially respectable family he came from. This one had me spellbound for the first 90%, and it kept me constantly guessing. My biggest beef with it? The ending was far too tidy for my taste, to the point of it being totally unbelievable. However, if you like an intriguing mystery and don't mind endings that tie up all loose ends (and I mean all), give this one a try.
Author: Karen Thompson Walker
This futuristic novel depicts a society not too far out from today that has their world turned upside down when the earth starts slowing its rotation on its axis, slowly lengthening out the number of minutes and hours in each day. At first, the shift is hardly perceptible and life seems to go on as normal, but as the days get longer, the situation gets more and more dire, and the protagonist (a 6th grade girl) discovers how much outer events can shape the inner workings and desires of the human mind. Although this book felt a bit formulaic in parts (like how much the author threw in obvious hints to foreshadow events happening later), this was an enjoyably absorbing read that got me really thinking about how much depends on forces utterly out of our control.
Books That Are Good Enough to Read At Least Once
While not life-changing or page-turners, these books were charming or useful in their own right, and I'm not sorry at all that I chose to pick them up.
Author: Ruch Reichl
I adored Reichl's Garlic and Sapphires (a story about the food critic's various disguises that she chose to go to different restaurants in), so I was eager to dive into this more recently published one about Reichl's return to cooking in her own kitchen after the food magazine she'd been overseeing closed down. Basically, Reichl mixes bits of personal thoughts and events with the recipes that she cooked over that trying year of her professional (and personal) life. Along with the charming photos and droolworthy recipes, I enjoyed the narrative on this as well. If I had to describe it, I would say that reading this was like reading a food blog that contains a hefty dose of the personal, which is my favorite kind of food blog to read anyway. A lovely little collection of stories and recipes.
Author: Kate DiCamillo
I've never seen the movie inspired by this children's book, so I went into this knowing absolutely zero about what to expect. I actually read this book out loud to my daughter, and it was a great choice for doing so because the chapters were really short, so I never felt like the daily commitment had to be too great for us to read through it together. This is the story of a mouse who was unwanted and unappreciated by even his own family, and when he falls in love with the (human) princess, he is left in the dungeon to be killed by the rats. A great adventure ensues, with characters both quirky and lovable helping in the quest. While this isn't the kind of book that an adult would probably like to read for his/her own pleasure, it's a great book to read with kids, combining a fun story with a lot of possibilities for teaching life lessons along the way.
Author: Amy Tan
I've long admired Tan's work, and this novel was no exception. It tells the story of a daughter whose mother is losing her memory, and all the secrets that her mother kept inside for so many years are finally starting to be revealed. I don't want to give away too much, but the story basically weaves how four generations of women are affected by certain events long past, and some of the secrets are pretty shocking. As usual, Tan combines fantastical bits of superstition and reality to create an ever-twisting tale.
Title: The Joy of Less
Author: Francine Jay
For those who are just starting out on their journey to live a more simple life through the elimination of excess stuff, this book is a great start. Not only does it give the background and present the argument about why the simple life is worth pursuing, but she also goes room by room through your house and explains (in great detail) how to get over the main hurtles you might come across as you declutter and simplify. As I've read so much on minimalism and decluttering over the past few years, this felt a bit repetitive to me, but as someone just starting out, this book would provide a fabulous jumping-off point.
Author: Joseph Bruchac
Confession: I only read this YA adult novel because I had assigned it to a group of students in my class who I didn't think would actually read it, so I read it myself so I could accurately check up on if they were actually doing their book summaries and book club roles correctly, rather than just making them up. (Spoiler alert---three out of the four boys in the group totally made stuff up and tried to pass it off as fact.) Anyway, this is the story of a Native American middle schooler who starts to get a little in over his head when he gets ready to present an oral report about how their school mascot--the Chiefs--is offensive to the Native American community nearby and should be changed. The story is pretty straightforward and the writing is nothing too special, but the plotline was reasonably interesting and the premise really did get me thinking (especially because my own high school mascot--an Indian brave--could be construed as offensive under the same reasoning used in the book). A good introductory read to being culturally sensitive and inclusive.
Books That Are Definitely Not Worth Your Time
I only have one in this category, but I was so utterly disappointed in this book that I feel I must warn anybody who might have had the desire to pick it up that it most definitely is not worth the 3-4 hours you'd spend reading it.
Author: Mary Carlomagno
When I first came across this title at my local library, it strongly reminded me of 7, a book I read last year and absolutely adored (another life-changer, for sure!). Looking for similar inspiration from someone's personal experience with going without for the sake of personal growth and discovery, I eagerly picked up this little book, expecting to be newly invigorated to continue in my own simplification journey. Um, NO. I found the writer to be privileged, shallow, and utterly unchanged by her experience overall, and I often got the sense that she took on this year-long journey not because she really wanted to experience any growth, but because she just wanted a book deal. Her moanings of how difficult it was for her to go without buying several pairs of $600 shoes a month just left me with nothing to relate to, and I found her intensely disagreeable throughout. Totally not worth your time if you're looking for someone to inspire you to live a life with less.
And that wraps up my reading so far this year! I can't wait for next week (when I'll be on summer break at last) and can read about double of what I'm reading now. Anything you'd recommend for me? I'm currently on the lookout...
Saturday, May 28, 2016
Friday, May 27, 2016
Years ago, I thought I thrived under the guise of busy-ness--
I overplanned my days, jam-packed my schedule, and found myself frantically running around everywhere because somehow, deep down, it oddly made me feel important. Needed. Productive. Accomplished.
Then I got into the whole idea of minimalism and simple living, and I started to cut back on commitments and learned to be okay with quiet nights at home, whole weeks with nothing extraneous on the calendar, and hours upon hours of unfilled time in which to proceed as my current heart desired.
Usually, that's what my life looks like.
(Not that I'm letting myself just be lazy, of course---I'm only talking of outer commitments, not my drive to fulfill inner goals.)
But the end of the school year is different, and my current days at the school and my days (and nights) at home are packed with grading and last-minute planning and organizing and starting to move all my personal effects from the classroom back home.
Somebody once told me that teaching is not a job--it's a lifestyle. What they meant was that you can never, ever leave your work at work--that you're somehow doomed to always be grading papers before going to bed or trying to plan lessons in between feeding your kids and cleaning your house.
I'll have you know, this is SO not true (at least, it doesn't have to be true.) I have found that 90% of the time, when I'm being really intentional about my work, I can leave my work completely at work (other than my gripes and triumphs, of course, which I share nightly with my oh-so-patient hubby) and fully enjoy my time at home without a (work) care in the world.
Now is the 10% where I have no choice but to bring my work home, fit in grading during Raven's naptimes, and feel guilty when I'm not 100% using my free time to grade (ahem, like...right now).
I had so many other things I wanted to blog about today, but all those other posts will require a dedicated stretch of time for choosing and editing photos, drafting out more organized thoughts, and trying to make it at least semi-interesting for anyone reading.
But for tonight, you just get this.
Only one week left of this to go...
Monday, May 23, 2016
Back before I was diagnosed with my AI disease and I was just barely starting out on my postpartum weight loss journey, I saw this pleated mint skirt online during Nordstrom's big anniversary sale and just fell in love with it. Never mind that I'm normally too cheap to shop at Nordstrom and never mind that they didn't have the skirt in the size I was currently at (not that I even really knew what that size was, to be honest)--
I WAS GOING TO HAVE THAT SKIRT, DANGIT.
And so I bought it several sizes smaller than what I was at the time, with the full intention of it being my "goal skirt" that I would only fit into when I had lost all my pregnancy weight. (And I figured that the $45 I dropped on it would be extra motivation to actually work to fit into it since I normally spend about $25 for a skirt, max.)
And so the skirt arrived, and even though I knew there was no way I could possibly fit into it, I still tried to pull it on, only to discover that I could barely even get it over my bum and hips, much less have a prayer at trying to zip it up. But I was determined, so I kept the skirt despite the seemingly daunting task ahead.
Months later, even after getting diagnosed with my autoimmune disease, I was still hopeful that I'd someday fit into that pleated mint skirt, so there it hung, in the far right corner of my closet, gleaming hopefully at me.
Every 5 pounds down or so, I kept trying it on, hoping that this time would finally be The Time, and each time, I was able to wiggle the zipper just a little bit higher up than the time before.
But The Time seemed to never want to come.
As you know if you've followed my weight loss journey, That Time was a LONG time in coming--I was sidelined by a disease that attacked my muscles and then by the medication used to treat that disease (which made it basically impossible for me to lose weight). During the throes of being on the steroid used to treat my condition, there were a few dark moments when I almost got rid of the skirt because I felt like it symbolized everything that I didn't think I would ever have again, despite my honest-to-goodness best efforts (including going on an elimination diet for several weeks, consistently running and working out, and eventually counting calories religiously).
Finally, when I decided to try out the capsule wardrobe trend, I packed the skirt away, wondering if it would ever come back out again.
Well folks, on Mother's Day weekend, I decided to pull that puppy out of storage and see what would happen. Imagine my surprise and delight when the skirt not only fit, but that it zipped up easily! If I were a more sentimental kind of person, I probably would have teared up at the victory, but as it was, I just walked into the next room to show it off to my husband and brag a bit.
And here is the truth about my "secret" to fitting into my goal skirt---
There was no one workout program I tried or some magic diet I paid money for or some specialized program I used. All I did was be consistent--probably 90% of the time--with exercising multiple times a week and watching what I ate for 13 months straight. For over a year, I consciously cut back on sugar, tracked how many miles I was running a week (and gradually increased that number over time), tried to take as close to 10,000 steps a day as I could, and ate a lot of produce and lean protein.
Looking back, I probably could have lost the weight faster, in theory. I could have slashed my calories down to 1200 a day (instead of the more conservative 1600 that I did), I could have made myself work out 6 times a week instead of 2-3, I could have tried some kind of juicing detox to "jumpstart" the whole process.
But even though there were moments when I got pretty down on myself about the whole thing because I wasn't seeing the results as quickly as I wanted, looking back, I'm not sorry that I went about it the way that I did because I can say with 100% sincerity that I can stick with my current lifestyle basically forever, which means that I'm much more confident about the weight STAYING off (rather than just coming off in the first place).
And that's something to be pretty darn proud of (in addition to fitting into that beautiful skirt).
Some other good news?
I tried on my size 4 work pants from Before the Pregnancy this morning to see if they too would finally fit after all this time, and you know what?
I didn't even have to suck in to zip them up :)
Wednesday, May 18, 2016
When I was still young and single and slowly wising up about the Truths of Life, I stumbled across a life-changing personal revelation after pondering whether or not I should break up with my then-boyfriend. My thought process went something like the following:
There isn't really anything wrong with [Boyfriend]. There's not really anything seriously wrong with our relationship together. So why am I wanting to break it off?
I don't want the problems I can foresee us having.
In my life, I dated a lot of great guys--guys who were smart and attractive and compassionate and funny and driven. I am a better person myself because of many of the people I dated way back when.
But people aren't perfect, and every relationship eventually revealed to me the flaws of the other person--like the boyfriend who was fabulous with kids and beyond compassionate and caring for me, but who didn't have much direction or motivation for what his general life plan would be and who was generally content to just see where the tide took him. Or the boyfriend who was the opposite--SO motivated and driven that he had a hard time being flexible or spontaneous, and every minute detail had to be planned every single day.
These people were good people, but I could foresee issues down the road that I, for one, just didn't want to have to deal with.
So when I finally decided to choose Matt as my husband, I knew we'd have some things to work through (as all couples do), but they were issues I had chosen to be willing to work with.
And somehow, that makes all the difference when we're going through those issues.
This same life revelation has come back to me again recently as I am just a couple weeks away from walking away from my job.
I know many of the problems we'll soon be facing---an income that is severely lower than what we're currently at, the uncertainty of "where we'll be" over the next several years, and the fact that I will have to somehow still find ways to keep pushing myself as an individual while still devoting much of my time to caring for Raven. I know there will be many days when I am frustrated and feeling lonely for other adults to talk to and where I'll wonder if I've done the right thing by staying home (or if I'm just being driven crazy by it).
But I also know, based on past experiences, that when those moments come up, they will be easier to deal with because I can remind myself that I HAVE CHOSEN THEM.
The fact is, sometimes we let ourselves become a victim of our circumstances--we complain that we're upset about not making enough money or not getting enough time for ourselves or that no one appreciates us at work. But the fact is, we choose many of our circumstances, so, in effect, we have chosen many of our problems.
And when you look at it that way, it makes it easier to look at the large picture and remind yourself WHY you chose this path and to evaluate sometimes if it's still worth it for you (because it often will be).
The fact is that life will sometimes be hard, and you will almost always have some problem or concern or worry happening in your life.
But the other fact is, YOU make your decisions, so therefore YOU control your destiny (to a very large degree, anyway).
Sure, there are things out of our control---tragedy strikes, we get struck by a chronic illness, life doesn't go according to plan....
But much of our day-to-day life we DO control.
So a few months down the road, when I'm stressed out about finances or having a particularly rough day as a stay at home mom, I will simply need to remind myself--
THESE are the problems I've chosen. And I would choose them over the alternative again and again and again.
Tuesday, May 17, 2016
When my dad called me a few weeks back asking if we would be able to make it out to Moab on a weekend getaway with him and my stepmom and the rest of my siblings, I was nothing but excited--I had wanted to go to Moab again for years, and I conveniently had enough paid vacation days at work to take advantage of the situation.
First off, when my whole family is involved, I really should just plan on there being some craziness. After all, the last trip when we all got together with my dad, we ended up almost getting arrested for trespassing and our car almost got stuck in the mud for the rest of time and all eternity on the way back from fishing.
My second clue that this trip might not be the relaxing adventure I'd planned for was that the night before we were due to leave, I came down with the nastiest sore throat of my life (not to mention a whole body full of aches and pains and shivers). So, instead of leaving at 6:30 AM the next morning as scheduled, we hung around in Logan until 8:00 when the Instacare opened, where I could get the confirmation that I did, indeed, have the dreaded strep that I thought I did.
I think at this point, most reasonable people would have just stayed home. After all, strep is not some trifling little cold that you can just ignore for hours at a time while you go soak in pools and go on crazy hikes. But, in a moment of decision fueled by FOMO (fear of missing out), I decided that I would regret it more if we didn't go than if we did, so off we went.
I'll spare you a blow-by-blow account of how I gradually got sicker and sicker the longer the vacation went, but I will include some of the general highlights of the trip:
* We missed out on the first day's activities because of our late start and my sick condition, but we sure had the most amazing salmon I've ever eaten that night. I normally hate salmon, but there was something about the plethora of butter and slivered almonds and dill on top that made it just exactly what I needed.
* I think we all (Raven included) got about 5 hours of sleep that first night. Between 9 rambunctious children and several snoring adults, my body definitely was going to have to rely on something other than sleep to get better.
* Once I saw the beautiful lodge and surrounding country we'd be staying at, I was determined to get some pictures at sunrise (a wish made much easier by the fact that I wasn't sleeping anyway, so I might as well get up and go do something). Enter the most terrifyingly wolf-like dog into my peripheral vision while I'm taking out my camera around 6 a.m., and I about had a panic attack on the spot. Apparently the dog hung around the property and was really friendly, but when you see a dog that's easily big enough to eat you blocking your way back inside, it's not easy to stay calm. So, I did what any rational person would do--when the dog came closer, I gritted my teeth and hoped he'd let me pet him without biting my hand off, then I scrammed inside as fast as I could and made my sister distract the beast so I could still get the pictures I wanted.
* I decided I felt well enough for a hike that next day, so I braved the Delicate Arch trail (which was one that I actually had never been on despite my other trips to Moab earlier in my life). We were all supposed to meet at the trailhead first thing after getting into the park, but let's just say that that didn't happen, so those of us who were actually where we'd said we would be went on ahead and beat everyone else to the top by a good 20 minutes.
* Once back to our lodge that night, I was feeling about a hundred times worse than I had felt at any point on the trip. Not willing to face another sleepless night and not willing to keep my family up with the imminent trips to the bathroom that would be coming that night, I decided that we were going to make an emergency road trip back home. At 9 p.m. Meaning that we wouldn't get into Bountiful (our stopping point) until 2 a.m.
* After throwing up multiple times in a row in the car and thinking we were getting pulled over by a cop but not actually getting pulled over and going through a lightning storm, we made it back.
When asked if it was all worth it once we were back at home, I replied to my husband--
"Absolutely, because at least now I don't have to live with the regret of wondering what would have happened if we'd just gone."
So there you go, folks--
My philosophy of life rationalizing why I sometimes do insane things.
But hey, at least I got some decent pictures out of it, right?
P.S. Sorry that I wasn't much fun on the trip, family---and I'm sure hoping that none of you get what I have. But thanks for being willing to put up with me!
Tuesday, May 10, 2016
So...there may or may not be 16 pictures in this post of 10 on 10.
(But about 5 of them are concerning her new birthday toys, so really those should all count as one. Yeah, I know---my justification skills are amazing.)
Of course, if I were really amazing, I would cut it down to 10 and do the other six in other posts that were just begging for adorable pics of my kid. But, as the saying goes, go big or go home, so Cuteness Overload you shall have.
(Note: This particular book was not bought at that sale, but you can almost always find her dragging a book around with her wherever she goes.)
7// Until about two weeks ago, eating was unequivocally one of her favorite pastimes. (Who knows what's happened since then...maybe more teeth coming in?)
And, as per custom, some little bonus videos:
Raven Says Nana (Banana)
Raven Walks for Pill Bottle
(Don't worry--the pill bottle is empty of all pills. Just saying.)