Tag Archives: books

Books I read in 2017

After becoming a mother, even more than reclaiming my body, I have longed to get back into my reading groove. The past few months, it’s definitely felt like that’s started to happen and I’m feeling more at home in myself than I have for a long time.

Maybe it’s the fact that my kids are finally at a point where they can play semi-independently. I feel much better about lounging on the couch with a book than I do scrolling through my phone while they fight over magnets.

Last month when Joe was out of town for the week and I was solo parenting, I actually took a half vacation day to finish a book club book while getting a pedicure and drinking coffee. It was glorious. Self-care, for me, is making room to read.

Getting an alumni card to the Drake University library has also been a game-changer. They have all of the new literary fiction out in a special “leisure reading” section and it seems like the college students are too slammed with studying to check anything out. Plus, it’s open super late and just down the street, so it’s super easy to bike or walk over.

My book club also continues to be a source of joy and sisterly connection. Even if we don’t love, love the book, the meeting is something I always look forward to because those women are the most genuine, funny, smart – I could go on.

Following my ‘Books I read in 2016‘ list, I thought I’d make one for this year!

Brianne’s books of 2017

This year, I tried to focus more on works from voices that are typically more marginalized. I’m probably forgetting a few that I read, too.

Book Club kicked off 2017 with “Swing Time by Zadie Smith. I think we collectively didn’t love the plot, but did love some of the snippets because Zadie Smith.

Then we read Lucky Boy by Shanthi Sekaran, which was fantastic but also kicked a bunch of young moms in the ribs repeatedly because it follows two women dealing with infertility and adoption and immigration and deportation. It’s fictional, but it’s also very real.

I listened to “Exit West” by Mohsin Hamid which is a great book to experience in audio form. I had a free trial of scribd, a reading subscription service. I got it out of the library for Joe later, too. It’s a magical realist take on mass-migration and is quick and compelling.

I breezed through Maria Semple’s “Today Will Be Different” which is a comedy that packs some existential punches, too. (This didn’t really adhere to my marginalized voices goal, and I read it on my phone.)

Over my birthday week, I dove into  “Commonwealth” by Ann Pachett, who is one of my favorite authors.  Reading her books is like knitting with a luxurious, expensive wool that makes you want to pull our your stitches just so you can feel it roll around in your fingers a little longer.

I read “The Mothers,” by Britt Bennett, which was a good story and I cared about the characters when I was reading it, but didn’t stick with me like some of the others I read this year.

On vacation, I read “The Hate You Give,” by Angie Thomas. It’s technically a YA book, but a powerful Black Lives Matter coming of age story.

I also read “Do Not Become Alarmed” by Maile Maloy, which I think I liked much more than anyone else in book club. It’s a harrowing story, though (fictional) about a family vacation gone terribly wrong, so maybe I was just in the mindset. I liked her description of parenthood.

Trials of the Earth,” a recently re-issued memoir of pioneer woman Mary Mann Hamilton. I remember reading Little House in the Big Woods the firs time and being freaked out by the girls blowing up pig intestines to play with. Well, adult me was losing my mind at the matter-of-fact recounting of so much hardship and death Mary experienced.

I cried through “Lincoln in the Bardo” by George Saunders. It was haunting and beautiful and disorienting. I loved it even when I really didn’t like it.

Forest Dark by Nicole Krauss, was a book club pick. We all loved her book “The History of Love” but this one wasn’t universally appreciated by the squad. It’s a divorce book and the Kafka and Israel references were outside of my scope of familiarity. There were some really beautiful passages, though.

Goodbye, Vitamin by Rachel Khong was such a quick, warm read. It’s about a breakup and Alzheimer’s and I’m pretty sure I read it in one sitting. It starts out around Christmas and would be a good one to pack on a family trip.

I read A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan because book club was super pumped to pick her new book “Manhattan Beach” for December’s club and that wasn’t available at the library yet. I had to check the publish date (2010) because it felt both really current and slightly dated. I liked it a lot although I didn’t attach as much to the characters as I think I was supposed to. Maybe I read it too quickly?

All the Missing Girls” by Megan Miranda was a page-turner/thriller/bestseller. If you liked Gone Girl, you’ll probably like this. (I stayed up really late over Thanksgiving to finish it while everyone was sleeping!)

You’ll Grow Out of It” by Jessi Klein had me laughing out loud. Her confessional essays about taking baths and Anthropologie were so spot-on. I thought the first half of the book was better than the second, but it was a quick read. She has this great section about realizing there are two main types of women: wolves & poodles (based on their innate femininity) and I was like YES! I’ve always felt like a ‘wolf’ and her description is so perfect and hilarious.

Here’s my book stack that’s due Jan. 7:

I think I’ll let Joe read the Sedaris and I started “Sing, Unburied, Sing” by Jesmyn Ward tonight. (I heard “Made for Love” was totally crazy but good.) It’s a little ambitious, but I have 12 days off around the holidays, and lots of miles to travel, so I’m hoping to make it through most.

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What I’m into: October 2017

Drinking a cup of coffee right before putting the kids to bed (or, rather, letting one’s husband put the kids to bed because he’s going to be at a work thing the following night) is a totally good idea, right? Checking in on the old blog to get myself focused for an evening of productivity.

Reading

I got an alumni library card for the Drake University Cowles Library (thanks, MPA degree!) and it is so awesome. College students don’t read for fun, and so their selection is well-stocked. Plus, it’s a quick bike ride from my house.

Leave it to “Trials of the Earth,” a recently re-issued memoir of pioneer woman Mary Mann Hamilton, to give me a little perspective in life. I’ve always been drawn to pioneer stories (team Laura Ingalls Wilder forever) but this is such a blunt, raw, moving account. Pioneer life was hard work, and as this NPR review puts it :

Beyond everything else, this memoir impresses on readers just how easy it was to vanish in an earlier America. Fevers and accidents carry off loved ones, sometimes in a matter of hours; in other instances, it’s simply the promise of a better life in the next county that lures Hamilton’s friends and relatives away, never to be seen again.

I also skimmed “The Index Card: Why Personal Finance Doesn’t Have To Be Complicated” on our trip back to Chicago for a wedding. It breaks things down into 10 pretty simple rules. We’re doing most of the things listed, but I’m hoping to be much more proactive/knowledgeable about our finances and there were some chapters that covered new ground for me. It’s also funny and approachable, if you’re looking for smart advice in this department.

Cooking

Our veggie drawer hath overfloweth this fall, between our own little garden, produce from neighbors and a half share of the Blue Gate Farm CSA. I just defrosted some grated zucchini from last month and made up another batch of Smitten Kitchen zucchini fritters tonight. So. Good.

You seriously can’t go wrong with any of Deb’s recipes (and I’m not a huge cook) so I got Joe a copy of her new cookbook for his birthday, with the promise I’d make him whatever he wanted from it.

Exploring

I post kind of a lot about places we visit as a family, and I have been loving the blog Des Moines Outdoor Fun since discovering Stephanie via Instagram. She seems like a total kindred spirit. We checked out Margo Frankel State Park on Sunday morning (north Des Moines – almost Ankeny) after seeing one of her posts, and it was a great little spot to spend a couple of hours with the kids.

I also recently joined the Polk County Conservation Advisory Board (don’t be too impressed, I basically just e-mailed to ask to be on it!) and attended my first meeting out at Yellow Banks State Park (Runnells/Pleasant Hill area).

It was neat to see a new-to-me nature spot, and we got a sneak peek at some plans for cabins there, and saw how the little lake had been re-done. There’s a backpacking camp area just an eighth of a mile from the parking lot/dock, so I think we might be able to try that out with the kiddos next summer.

Dressing up with my husband

Joe and I got fancy for a reception in Chicago at Lacuna Lofts, where my little brother will have his wedding next fall. It’s a funky site with a great view of the skyline. I’m so excited for him! I get to be a groomswoman.

We brainstormed our Halloween costumes on the way home and decided to go as protected bike lanes and the Iowa Women of Achievement Bridge!

I used to love coming up with the Iowa/Des Moines themed costumes when I worked for the YP weekly, and it felt good to get creative, even if it was kind of last minute.

I can’t believe tomorrow is November! Even though this year has been generally awful (in my opinion) on a macro scale, and I’ve had my first panic attack about the state of the globe, I am so, so thankful for my family, my community and the happiness in my life.

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Fall things

My mom and aunt came to town this weekend and we made our annual pumpkin patch pilgrimage to Howell’s in Cumming. It just gets more fun every year. The patch tradition feels like the best marker of time for me as my kids grow.

We first took Emmett to Howell’s when he was just four months old, dressed in a pumpkin suit to keep his abdominal stitches protected (!!!) and then took Eileen when she was like a week old or something with just her pumpkin-hat clad head peeking out of the carrier (!!!) because I’m an insane person for a gourd photo opp. This year, I dressed her in an outfit my mom brought back from Germany and that I wore as a toddler.

We remembered to pack a lunch this time. Lately I’ve been making little ham sandwiches on those Hawaiian bread buns for kid picnics. They’re the perfect size.  Since nobody needed a morning nap, we were able to spend about three and a half hours exploring – feeding goats, jumping on bounce pillows, shooting corn cobs out of cannons, etc.

Joe and his brothers-in-law biked the Hennepin Canal  in Illinois this weekend, so we also met up with cousins at Walker-Johnson Park in Urbandale. I’m late to the game but that park is super awesome. After going to 31 Des Moines parks in July, I was blown away by this massive complex and how many different play areas there are.

It would be easy to spend hours here, and it’s connected by trail to the Urbandale library. Plus, it’s just down the street from Aldi, so I swung by on the way home and picked up cheap wine & crackers for a low-key post-playground, pre-dinner snack for the grown ups.

I love a crisp fall day but I’m also embracing the rainy days we’ve had. Our book club just discussed George Saunders’ Lincoln in the Bardo, which was a challenging read but moving. (I ugly cried over poor, dead Willie Lincoln more than I ever imagined I could.) Our next pick is Forest Dark by Nicole Krauss, which just came out last month. Her book “The History of Love” is in my all-time top 3 favorites, so I’m excited to curl up with this one.

I’m also hoping to get sewing again. I want to make some little doll dresses for Eileen’s 50 cent babydoll that we got at a Goodwill. She’s obsessed with Baby Addie and turns two next week! I’m not sure where she gets her mama instincts, but I do know from whom she inherited her bossy streak.

I feel like I’ve missed blogging and crafting and I’m not sure what I’ve been doing with my evenings, but I have been walking/podcasting more (are you listening to Death, Sex & Money?) and cooking and doing  youtube yoga.

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What I’m into: Long weekend edition

Four day weekend! Which used to be a luxury, but now that we have two little kids looks like this x4.


Joe and I did manage to get in a fancy dinner date in for our seventh anniversary! We went to Table 128, which was delicious. Dinner  there is spendy, but you can experience the gloriousness that is their “donuts” appetizer (cheddar + jalapeno fritter, sweet corn, Parmesan snow, sriracha aioli) on their happy hour menu, and I’ve heard great things about lunch, too.


I just finished the classic E.M. Forester novel “Howard’s End,” a pre-WWI British family drama where a liberal (Margaret totally would have been Team Hillary) and conservative (Mr. Wilcox would probably have been a Trump-er) fall in love, peppered with some intense House Hunters. OK, that’s an oversimplification. The themes of social class, the role of philanthropy in society, feminism, etc. still felt relevant. I have always wanted to watch the movie with Emma Thompson, and now that I’ve read the book, I feel like I can.

I’ve been enjoying recommendations from friends on the podcast + fitness fronts:

My friend Katy turned me on to “Another Round” with Heben and Tracy. I listened to their podcast on intersectionality on a walk and am instantly hooked! It’s kind of like Call Your Girlfriend except more of a black culture focus. I honestly have not had many black friends, so more opportunities to hear the black female perspective the better. The hosts are as silly as they are smart, too, so even serious topics are engaging.

My STL besties started a workout video text chain that had me a little overwhelmed, but I’ve been trying a few of the PopSugar fitness videos and they’re pretty legit! (Not going to lie, sometimes I watch them first from the couch while buying sports bras online…)

I realize this is the kind of stuff cute, fit women have been doing for years and years and I just am such an uncoordinated goof I feel absolutely ridiculous jumping in. (I confirmed in the privacy of my living room that anything with “dance” in the title is NOT for me, though.) I’ve been walking and running a lot more but know I need to also include workouts that tone and strengthen, and I’m able to laugh loudly at myself while I do these.

OK, kind of in the vein of all of that, Joe and I started watching GLOW on Netflix and it’s goooood. I read this essay from one of the stars and was intrigued. It’s definitely worth putting in your queue!

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What I’m into: June, 2017

I’ve been missing this space, friends! I have so many posts in my mental “drafts” folder, but most of my writing has been happening for other outlets and longer days of sunshine keep me away from my computer. But my conference flight got cancelled, so here we are! This should probably be like three different posts, but I am breaking blogging “rules” because, whatever.

Reading log

I’ve finished a few books since my last post, and have more on deck.

For book club, I listened to “Exit West” by Mohsin Hamid which is a great book to experience in audio form. I had a free trial of scribd, a reading subscription service that gives access to 3 books and 1 audiobook each month for under $10. I typically use the library’s app to read digitally, but there are often wait lists for popular titles. This book is narrated by the author and clocked in at just under five hours. I totally listened while strolling through a greenhouse picking up flowers for our window boxes.

Exit West combines the compelling story of a migrant couple with s futurist plot and elements of magical realism. My favorite passage was about how we’re really all migrants through time. The book captures that feeling of discomfort at change and different-ness that seems to be roiling throughout the world and makes it personal.

Then I breezed through Maria Semple’s “Today Will Be Different” which is a comedy that packs some existential punches, too. It was 100% #whitepeopleproblems but I definitely caught glimpses of myself (yeah, maybe not the best version) in Eleanor, the protagonist.

I just finished “Commonwealth” by Ann Pachett, who is one of my favorite authors.  Reading her books is like knitting with a luxurious, expensive wool that makes you want to pull our your stitches just so you can feel it roll around in your fingers a little longer. Good thing I have not read the whole body of her work yet. I’m definitely going to pack something by her for our next vacation.

Travel log

I got to spend my 32nd birthday weekend in Chicago (32 in the 312!). I had a conference earlier in the week at the (gorgeous!) Loyola Lakefront campus and it felt strange to take the train into the city and then the L to campus like a commuting adult. Then, Joe came out and we got to spend a whole Saturday just the two of us in the city.

Joe and I started our touristy day with cold press Intelligentsia coffee and an architectural boat tour, which has been on my bucket list forever.  My dad was an architect and I’ve always geeked out on design. Our guide for the 90-minute river cruise was engaging and I learned about some of the buildings I’d never even noticed before.

I had wanted to check out the new Nutella cafe, but the line was ridiculous, so we had lunch in Millennium Park before popping into the American Writer’s Museum, which had opened a few weeks prior.

The museum well done but pretty small, so it felt pricey for just an hour or so of browsing. We got to see Karouac’s original “On the Road” draft scroll, and I enjoyed a poetry exhibit that had an immersive audiovisual element.

We had a few hours to kill before our dinner reservation, so we decided to wander around Old Town. (The boat tour and dinner at Geja’s Cafe, a Lincoln Park fondue restaurant, was me cashing in on a few year’s of my brother’s Christmas present generosity.)

The Old Town Art Fair was in full swing, so we popped in and drank sangrias and browsed the art booths, gardens and ogled the homes. It was such a beautiful day and a great vibe! I even found a print that I was able to secretly snag as a Father’s Day present for Joe. (The $10 admission also reminded me how lucky we are that the Des Moines Arts Festival – June 23-25 is free!)

Geja’s is tucked underground and dimly lit, with each booth like a romantic cavern surrounded by wine bottles. Fondue is such a fun date dinner because it’s like an activity in and of itself. We got cheese fondue with appetizers and then a huge platter to cook in oil with probably 10 dipping sauces, and then chocolate fondue for dessert, and split a bubbly Rose. The outing was extra sweet knowing my brother had planned it for me, and was entertaining Emmett at Legoland while we enjoyed day and evening out! Photography is frowned upon but I surreptitiously snapped this one of my lovah and flaming ‘mallows.

We stayed over at my brother’s condo that night and all watched the first ever Star Wars movie, an experience I think my brother wishes he had broadcast on Reddit because I am so unaware of anything to do with that whole franchise. He, on the other hand, has memorized a three-volume set of Star Wars information.

Health log 

After gorging myself on fondue and birthday cake, I’m trying to turn over a new leaf in the healthy living department.

I got my annual results back from my work wellness check and realized I can be as #bodypositive as I want, but I do actually need to make changes to be healthy.

So I have downloaded myfitnesspal app and have been getting friendly with the Yoga with Adriene youtube channel. I want to make some changes that are sustainable, but if I don’t see improvement by the end of summer, I’m going to try Farrell’s, I think!

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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!

americanah

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. 

swingtime

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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