Category Archives: What I’m into

What I’m into: March ’17

It’s March, so here’s a “feeling lucky” edition of What I’m Into:

Reading: Lucky Boy

I’m not sure if the right thing to say about “Lucky Boy,” by Shanthi Sekeran is that I “enjoyed” it, because the book was beautifully written and gripping but it also ripped my mother heart out of my body and stomped on it.The short description is that immigration and infertility join the stories of two women.

The whole time I was reading, I was thinking about all of the immigrant women – all of the people – in detention facilities right now in our country. The book was inspired by a real story and the characters have this visceral quality to them, even as the writing gets into their deepest hopes and dreams.

 

This passage was among my favorites:

“Why did people love children who were born to other people? For the same reason they lived in Berkeley, knowing the Big One was coming: because it was a beautiful place to be, and because there was no way to fathom the length or quality of life left to anyone, and because there was no point running from earthquakes into tornadoes, blizzards, terrorist attacks. Because destruction waited around every corner, and turning one corner would only lead to another. So it made sense to stay put, if put was a place like Berkeley, with its throb of lifeblood, of sun and breeze and heart and anger and misplaced enthusiasm. She’d built her love on a fault line, and the first tremors had begun.” – Shanthi Sekeran, Lucky Boy

My friend Katy picked this selection for our club and it was lovely to just walk down to her house on a snowy night to hang out and discuss it.

We curled up on her couch and talked about life late into the night. She also showed me these Blank on Blank animated interviews which are pretty cool. The audio is from un-aired interviews of public figures. The Larry King one is pretty funny!

Working: #povertydsm 

My work days have been eclectic lately (last week I facilitated a discussion group in jail!) but that’s how I like it. Today, Des Moines University had the Des Moines Civil & Human Right Commission on campus for their annual poverty summit. The turnout was huge! I feel so lucky to be in a professional position that lets me interact with people in our community who are agents for positive change.

My role was mostly just to make sure our facility resources were available and functioning, and I sneaked away from my station in the afternoon to participate in a simulation of re-entry into life after prison. Whoa. We each got personas that outlined our lives after release, and had to complete tasks and bills and opportunities that aligned with that person’s situation.

It was incredibly difficult to get all of my boxes checked and drove home how challenging navigating “the system” can be for people and how our community could better align resources for people struggling to reenter society. I really want to host it with DMU students in the fall because I think it will be a powerful experience to help them understand what it means for patients who struggle to access care.

Girls Tripping: K.C. Style 

My sisters-in-law Molly, Ellen and I are headed on a mini getaway to Kansas City over St. Patrick’s weekend (our first!) We have a few things planned and a huge list of restaurants to try and NO RESPONSIBILITIES! I feel so fortunate that Joe has such a welcoming family and that I’ve been able to grow close to these women over the past decade. They definitely helped shape Joe into the amazing guy he is and I’m excited to make memories with them.

Image via Bozz Prints

I’ll report back here with details from the weekend!

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My Writing Elsewhere: The Lovely Bones

I have a piece in the March/April 2017 issue of DSM Magazine that I think turned out nicely. It’s a profile of Lee Emma Running, a Grinnell artist whose latest work would fit in nicely with the Des Moines Art Center’s current “Alchemy” exhibition. (Which is also the theme of this spring’s Big Hair Ball!)

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Read “The Lovely Bones” or check it out in the splendid layout (pp. 88-96) here.

I enjoyed interviewing Lee in her Grinnell studio, and I’m grateful the magazine editors endured a little more back-and-forth with me to make sure it the piece had just the right tone. It’s such a privilege to tell the stories of artists like Lee. I even got to see her pieces at Olson-Larsen Gallery, including a kind of walk-in installation. The 2017 Valley Junction spring gallery night is set for April 21, if you’ve never been.

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The magazine held its unveiling yesterday evening at The Republic on Grand, a new hipster Marriott in the East Village. It was so packed! They have a rooftop heated bar that looks out to Principal Park, which would be a great spot to catch the fireworks on a Friday night in spring. I am always thrilled to see friends featured and Jami Milne shot the stunning cover.

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The ethereal underwater ballet shot is beyond lovely, but I’m more obsessed with the “Layers” portraits she did of high school students in the RUN DSM slam poetry program. I saw a bunch of the teens perform in a showcase last weekend and I felt like they were total celebs.

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Spread the happy

Sharing a few things that have brightened the past few weeks for me.

Winning the jammie jackpot

First, let me tell you I rarely win things. So I almost convinced myself it was a fake-out when I got a message from the folks at Hanna Andersson letting me know I’d won a $500 (!) gift card through one of their #happyhannas #hannajams contests.

img_1188Granted, it was like two weeks into 2017, but pretty much the best thing that’s happened to me all year.

Since I hit the jammie jackpot, I feel like I should spread the happy!
Comment on this post with something that’s made you HAPPY in 2017 for a chance to win a pair of Hanna Andersson baby jams. They make an amazing shower gift if you don’t have a little of your own. That’s how I got hooked! I’ll pick a winner at random on Feb. 1.

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If you’ve ever snuggled a kid in these clothes, you know how super soft and durable they are. My mom spoils the kiddos with them when she finds a good sale, and I do not complain. Since the baby jams are footless, they allow a little more room for growth, which I love. I’m going to be a little selfish and get a grown-up outfit, too, with my gift card.

More bright spots:

Refreshing the downstairs bathroom

This is our primary bathroom (we have a 2/3 bath upstairs) because who doesn’t love a clawfoot tub? Joe added on the shower when we moved in, but otherwise it’s just been the same purple hodgepodge since we moved in. Here’s the grody paint-prep before photo:

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And after:
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Mostly just a gallon of paint (Hotel St. Francis Spirit Blue which is actually not the paint I intended to go with, but that’s what you get for rushing a trip to the hardware store with a kid in tow), a new IKEA vanity (really a buffet) and bringing in accessories from other areas of the house. I whipped up a little runner for the vanity using fabric from Bonnie Christine’s Succulence line that I bought when Stitch was closing last year.

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I’d like to make a few tweaks like adding more art and a mounted necklace hanger, but having a vanity area is a game-changer. The art is a Bozz Prints piece that looks like it’s currently unavailable. Despite the color being not what I intended originally, I’m happy with how it turned out!

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Pairing treadmill time and podcasts
I need to do this more like 3 times a week instead of once every week and a half, because heading to the Wellness Center at work for speed walking on an incline while listening to a podcast is pretty great. I’ve been listening to Fresh Air, but branched out and tried Call Your Girlfriend, where I picked up the cute term “doing life admin” as a description of spending time paying your bills, making appointments, etc.

Hanging at ladies’ book club

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Being part of a book club (now several years strong) is incredible. It took us an hour and forty-five minutes to before we finally sat down to start discussing the book last night, but that’s part of what makes it so special.

I’m not great at making friend dates and look forward to these pre-planned nights. Honestly, I did not love Swing Time even though I had high hopes. Our next book is Lucky Boy by Shanthi Sekaran.

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We marched together

I wasn’t sure if I would be able to juggle two kids at the Women’s March on Saturday (Joe had to work the bike expo), but we made it out! After all, if my children are a reason I want to stand up for democracy, I can’t make them my excuse not to show up.

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We rode down and met up with friends, and it was encouraging to be among so much positive energy.

The highlight of the morning was when one of my friends asked Emmett “What are women’s rights?” And he responded – without prompting – “Human rights!”

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I’ve been feeling wary since the election, emotionally exhausted looking out at the uphill climb out of policies, de-funding and secrecy that are counter to what I feel make this country great. I’m scared, and furious.

But am inspired by the activism and calls to responsible citizenship that I’ve seen and I know I am able to act from a place of privilege. There are so many who have had their sleeves rolled up for so long and I hope everyone who marched is able to stay organized. {Thanks to a friend who shared some good posts (vol. 1 & vol. 2) on intersectional feminism!}

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Last Friday during the inauguration, I was at the YNPN Des Moines NON-CON, hearing presenters including Dr. Glennda Bivens present on topics of diversity, equality and inclusion, which felt like a good antidote to the rhetoric of the incoming president.

There are lots of sites out there with suggestions for “acts of resistance” beyond the march {my friend Norah pulled together a nice roundup} and I already have my legislators saves to speed dial. I don’t think anything will replace the need for deep and meaningful conversations.

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Image via @xo_lp who has a sweet printable you can turn into postcards to send to your representatives

A few weeks ago, I went to act on calling out companies that are advertising on fake news sites. I was surprised and dismayed to see ads for a local company I’ve had great interactions with on Breitbart. But instead of blasting a tweet calling them out, I decided to give them the benefit of the doubt and sent a private message, which was quickly answered. Turns out it was part of a “remarketing” campaign and their company was just following my cookie trail to any site I visited. They weren’t intentionally marketing there, and were really nice about the interaction. People! Conversations!

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The other piece is putting my money where my mouth is and trying to focus less on acquiring stuff and more on supporting meaningful causes and work. We have digital subscriptions to several news sites, are sustaining IPR members and subscribe to the New Yorker. I’ve made several first-time donations in honor of friends’ kind acts and response to discouraging policies.

Did you march? Looking to do more?

If you’ve never been to a “Day on the Hill” at the Iowa State Capitol, there are opportunities throughout session to support organizations and causes that are meaningful to you. DMU had our day today, and it was so much fun to see our students get excited about advocacy!

P.S. Fox Brewing is hosting Adulting 101: How to talk to your local legislators on March 5 and The Greater Des Moines Partnership is hosting an “Advocacy Essentials” workshop on Feb. 7 in the morning

 

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Books I read in 2016

Reading is my favorite luxury. That feeling of being transported while under a big blanket on your couch. I have this epic ability to tune everything out when I read (a talent which, if you are in my family, you don’t love). I always feel a little lost when I’m between books.

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I’m so thankful to be part of a ladies book club that meets every 6 weeks or so, a commitment to myself and to my friends to share thoughts and let the wine (and pizza) and conversation flow. I missed our last meeting and it feels like I’m a sailor who passed by a welcoming harbor without stopping.

If you’re looking for a book to pick up, here’s a recap of most of the books I read this year – I’m sure I am forgetting a few!

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I just finished Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichi and it was a terrifically “now” (although kind of pre-Trump “now”) take on race in America that also managed to feel like hanging out with a Nigerian-born college best friend and seeing the world from a different lens.

Over Thanksgiving and my grandpa’s funeral, I read “We are Not Ourselves” by Matthew Thomas. It was a story spanning an Irish-American woman’s life from the 1950s through 1990s and it wasn’t uplifting or groundbreaking, but it felt like being witness to a quiet family drama.

In October, I read “Homegoing” by Ya Gyasi, which explores the African slave trade and African American relations in a beautiful voice. I love books that take on multiple perspectives and the connect a whole lineage, and this was a fantastic, personal read that also helps show institutional racism.

Our book club felt the need to rate “The Argonauts” by Maggie Nelson on a different scale, because it felt important and provocative and existed on a more academic plane than most of the other novels we read. If you want to delve into some feminist theory and gender studies type of reading and gain a better understanding of “trans” people and relationships, it’s a book that captures that in personal and current way.

I likened “The Girls” by Emma Cline as eating a sour candy. It’s smoothly composed but has a sour, wicked plot. It’s one of the hot novels of the year and follows a teenager who gets swept into a Manson-like cult.

Devoured “Tuesday Nights in 1980” by Molly Prentiss. It’s bouncing between connected characters and set in New York at the turn of 1980 (at least so far) and big into the art scene at the time.

I loved “How to be a Person in the World,” a collection of Ask Polly advice columns by Heather Havrilesky. I’d press it into the arms of any woman navigating her 20s, who doesn’t mind a lot of eff-bombs.

I picked up Dear Mr. You” by Mary Louise Parker, in Cambridge and remember relishing it and the bliss of a kid-free Boston getaway. The actress presents a memoir in letters, it was one of those books that’s easy to breeze through, but you really want to savor.

I don’t think I got through all of them before my library loan expired, but I was captivated by the short stories in ‘A Manual for Cleaning Women,’ by Lucia Berlin. The NYT calls her stories “careworn, haunted, messily alluring and yet casually droll.” Spot on.

P.S. Lazy girl’s guide to east reading: Download the Overdrive app and you can rent e-books from your library from your bed. I’ll always prefer the real thing, but sometimes you need a quick/free fix. 

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P.P.S. Next up is “Swingtime” by Zadie Smith. Anyone have a copy I can borrow? I should probably buy it because I loved “White Teeth” and Zadie Smith, in general!

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What I’m Into: December, 2017

The past couple of weeks have been pretty relaxed at home, and it’s been great to chill and create. And snuggle a tiny manatee impersonator.

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I can’t believe I’ll be off work for 10 whole days over Christmas – and I’m looking forward to more of the same.

Watching: The Crown

Joe and I haven’t had a show in a while, and we’ve been slowly working through The Crown, the Netflix original series about Queen Elizabeth’s young days as a monarch. It’s an interesting character study of a female leader, but also, I’m not going to lie – those costumes are what get me.

Reading: “We are Not Ourselves” by Mathew Thomas

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A colleague passed this 600-pager about an Irish family spanning the 50s-90s along to me, and although it wasn’t exactly uplifting, it was well-written and absorbing. And the central character’s name is Eileen! I started it one night with a big bowl of dessert cereal and realized the simplest joy.

Trying: Calligraphy

I went to a DSM Girl Gang watercolor and calligraphy workshop last weekend, and although my finished greeting card was a bit of a fail (especially when held up next to my friend Maggie’s, who is basically a professional), I had a blast.

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There is something so relaxing about repeatedly tipping writing tools and paintbrushes into pigment, and practicing a new skill. I stayed up way too late making name tags for gifts. That was a little more my speed, because I could practice a million times and then cut out the best one, versus having a big huge card in front of me that I was afraid to mess up.

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Baking: Caramel-filled Snickerdoodles

Emmett turned his nose up at my homemade chocolate chip cookies the other week (!!!) saying he wanted cinnamon sugar cookies instead. Fine kid. More for me. So when I came across this recipe for a caramel-filled snickerdoodle, I thought it would be a fun one for us to work on. It was a big hit! We made the dough in advance and then he and his cousins got to roll the caramel into them. We ate them fresh from the oven while I read The Polar Express after dinner.

Plotting: A downstairs bathroom refresh 

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I haven’t been on Pinterest in ages, but I’m itching for a winter project and finally painting our downstairs bathroom is on my list. (It’s still the same bright purple it was when we moved in!) We picked up an IKEA buffet to serve as a kind of vanity/more storage, and I’m going to put some deep blue test patches up to see what fits. The claw-foot tub and tile are black-and-white, so hopefully it all comes together.

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Under the tree: Something to read

Lately, I’ve been thinking about how I need to up my godmother game. It’s harder to make special time for my niece now that I have two small people of my own to drag to kid activities and who demand my attention. But as Caroline grows and grows before my eyes (she’s a first grader now!), I’m realizing just how fleeting childhood is. Plus, isn’t the best part of being an aunt free rein to focus on the fun stuff?

What to do together?… As if reading my mind, my friends at Ephemera just announced they are hosting a lovely book signing and pajama party at their shop the morning of Saturday, Dec. 10 for kids aged 2-7.

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Our friend Katie Leporte produced and wrote an incredible children’s book, Pearl and the Whale. The morning features a book reading with Katie, craft and breakfast treats.

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Adults don’t need to purchase a ticket to tag along – but it’s limited to 15 kids. Event info here.

I vividly remember attending book events as a little girl, and treasure those autographed editions. I still want to write a book when I grow up.

I can’t wait to bring Caroline and make a special memory together! I’ll be wearing my flannel cupcake pajamas to the Ephemera book signing, for sure. And I’m so excited to see the whole book in print.

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Katie “illustrated” the book using  a needle-felting technique and photography. My jaw dropped when she teased behind-the-scenes photos (shot by our mutual friend, Bethany Kohoutek).

I’m also going to pick up an extra first-edition copy for Eileen’s “Something to Read” Christmas present this year.

Read more about Katie’s process on her blog. If you’re not local, you can also snag copies of the book through the site!

Other ideas for winter aunt/niece outings in Des Moines: 

  • Fancy breakfast at Strudl Haus
  • Board game in the “tropics” of the Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden
  • Ice Skating at Brenton Plaza
  • Visit Salisbury House decorated for the holidays
  • Tea at Gong Fu

I suppose those would all be good date ideas, too!

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