Category Archives: Books

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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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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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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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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Writing and Reading

I’m not going to lie, the past couple of days around here were pretty miserable. Joe was out of town for work and Thursday night I was up every hour from 2:30 a.m. on with a vomiting child or screaming baby. By the end of Friday, I was covered in the barf of three different people and my back ached from slipping down our steep staircase while holding Eileen.

Let’s just say, we were all asleep by 8:30 p.m. Friday night and this morning I was awakened feeling not quite refreshed, but alive enough to survive two hours without coffee (our machine broke last week) before hauling my kids into the van so I could get a latte and giant cinnamon roll. Things improved greatly from there.

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I was even gifted a moment today when Eileen was napping and Emmett was playing quietly that I stopped going for the world record of laundry done in a 12-hr period and gave myself 20 solid minutes to read. Because reading>housework, every single time. I’m reading Homegoing by Ya Gyasi right now, and the voice in this book is wonderful.

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It’s our book club book, and I got a late start because it took me awhile after our last meeting to get through The Argonauts (which is an important book, I can sense, but not a casual read. It’s very much a text that might be assigned in a feminist methodology/gender studies course). I’m reading it with extra pleasure because I’m simultaneously listening to lectures/working on assignments for the University of Iowa “How Writers Write Fiction: Storied Women” MOOC. And that shit is hard! I haven’t written fiction since my creative writing course in college and although I can sense I’m not totally horrible at it, the writing is not effortless.

We were supposed to focus on voice and identity and write a short story or scene (suggested length 1-2,000 words, which I did not achieve) in which the main character is a female child. The instructors encouraged us to “think about how you can invent identity and voice without falling back on stereotype, on assumed knowledge, on predictability. Consider who you want your character to be, and how you want her to show your readers who she is, and how much you want her to consciously know about who she is. Consider how the people around her might speak to her or describe her; consider what she might understand or not understand about how they relate to her and how they relate to the world.”

If you want to read my piece (super rough, like typed at 2:30 a.m.) it’s after the jump. Posting it here because I don’t know what happens to our work once the class is over, and in case anyone wants to provide constructive feedback. It feels very YA and one of my workshoppers said the voice feels more like a teenage voice than child, which I kind of agree with. WIP!

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What I’m into: The ‘I’ve Given Up’ edition

All in the same week, I bought a pair of Crocs and joined Weight Watchers. Then cried about it. The Crocs are the ballet flat kind and I intend to only wear them to walk the dog and garden, but still. I decided as I purchased them (so practical!) that I could probably never be cool again. Not that I was ever actually cool, but I had an illusion of at least being “with it.”

The Weight Watchers thing I’d been toying with for awhile, but it felt like a last resort. Portion control is not my strength and this “baby weight” which is really bagel weight isn’t melting off, especially since I’ve stopped nursing. I know the equation is to eat less/make better choices and move more, but I think my competitive spirit means I need some number goals. Also, I need to not have immobilizing full body poison ivy like I did for a few weeks last month. I will say that I was hangry the entire first week and was so good about “points” and then GAINED three pounds, which was totally insulting because I went to a wedding and held my friends’ bridesmaid bouquets so I wouldn’t eat all of the cheese…

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Anyhow, I’m doing the online version and now I have an app on my phone that scans barcodes on my snack choices and a fitbit coming in the mail, so we’ll see if I can get myself in gear.

We also have a van now, which might be the mom trifecta, except that the van is Joe’s primary vehicle. I’m not going to lie – it was kind of awesome for our drive down to Oklahoma City last weekend. We had enough room to bring Wilbur and stayed in a cute airbnb and got to check out the brewery my brother is building. Check out Twisted Spike if you’re in OKC later this fall, or after!

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Emmett and Eileen got to operate a forklift, and we got to hang with family we rarely see.

In less-lame things I’m into, I finally read “When Breath Becomes Air” by Paul Kalanithi (it’s essentially a death memoir) and it was lovely. I’m drawn to books about medical professionals these days, working at a med school and all, and I always appreciate a book that makes me think and cry. I also just started ‘A Manual For Cleaning Women,’ a collection of short stories by Lydia Davis. It reminds me of Flannery O’Conner.

Eileen’s first birthday is in one month (what?!) and I’ve been looking for some manatee accessories for her, which obviously devolves into looking for manatee accessories for me. A few friends shared a post about these amazing shoes.

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Wish listed. And totally cooler than crocs, right?! Never mind.

 

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What I’m into

Argh. This morning, with its thunderstorms and pancakes held so much promise for a chill, productive-but-lazy day. And by that I mean the kind of day when you get your house picked up while the kids nap and you hum a little to yourself in the process. Those are glorious. I wrote poems in my mind while I walked the dog, and watched a bit of CBS Sunday Morning and then geared myself up for all of the peaceful cleaning and then… no napping. Teething and whining and Joe and I taking turns dealing with that noise and loads – neigh, mountains – of laundry. Real life. I was a little bit frustrated that things didn’t stack up like I’d imagined, but our children seem to like to make us pay for the previous day’s fun. Yesterday morning was spend out at the Farmer’s Market and riding bikes.

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I really can’t complain. I did finally manage the excavation to reveal the carpet on my side of the bed, which was about three layers of clothes thick. My discarded garments become like sedimentary rock. I am one of those people who cannot hang something back up, or put it in a drawer or hamper. I pile. I pile on piles. Then, the dog makes a bed out of the piles and I realize: This is why I can’t have nice things.

The bright spot of the day was meeting up with some new neighbors and friends for gelato at Chocolaterie Stam because I won a “Gelato Rendezvous” party in a drawing and wanted to make good on the “We should hang out!” promise we made seven months ago when we met at the caucuses.

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It was a nice break and then Emmett signaled it was over by tripping and falling and bawling and then dropping an entire box of chocolates on the ground because, again, Real Life.

Speaking of, last weekend after our camping trip, we had about two hours to turn around and re-pack to go to a baby shower in Omaha. We hit out marks and got about 20 minutes out of town before the VW started issuing these scary beeps and warnings to STOP THE VEHICLE. So, we limped it back home, repacked into the Subaru and made it to Omaha in time. And now, we’re shopping for a van. Real. Life. We’ll be selling our VW, but I came to the horrible realization that it’s probably worth half of what the awesome electric assist Yuba we drooled over at the Farmer’s Market goes for. If you are in the market for a manual 2003 Passat wagon, holler at me.

I’m heading into a few stressful weeks of work events and feeling pretty anxious about it, so I downloaded “How to Be a Person in the World” after reading this interview  and just started it for a little “me time” to round out the weekend. It’s already putting me in the right mindset. Her advice is funny, and real and vulnerable.

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I need to read her essay about dirty laundry. (Not, like, embarrassing/horrible secrets, but the real deal.)

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