Tag Archives: books

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

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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Tiny undies

It’s a battle of wills around our house lately, with one potty training kid who inherited his mom’s stubborn streak and another teether who lets you know with all her lung-power her desire to stay up late and chill like her dad. I’m whispering “this is a phase” to myself over and over and over and knowing that some day, I will sleep again and won’t be lugging a travel potty with me everywhere.

Some. Fine. Day.

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There is really no good time in our go-go-go schedule to start potty training, but after we went to our little triplet friends’ third birthday party and I noticed all three of them in undies, it was settled. The next day, we were ditching the diapers and rolling up the carpets. This was our third attempt, so I already had a jar of gummy worms, stickers for a chart and a bunch of tiny boy undies. This time, I had the will and there’s no looking back. We did a couple days of setting alarms and making him try every 10 minutes or so, and it gave us some momentum to commit.

Thankfully, our summer babysitter has potty trained before, and got into it, too. It’s definitely going to be a long, accident-prone road, but I’m trying not to make potty training turn us into total shut-ins and only resorting to pull-ups at night, for nap and during wedding receptions when I want to keep my sanity. Emmett may have further “christened” a Church floor in Indiana this weekend. This photo is after our rest stop pee-s negotiations on the way up. We both got what we wanted, eventually. The struggle, though. Our second week has been way harder because we’ve been out of a routine.

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Thankfully, Emmett did NOT pee at the Vaudeville Mews tonight, when I took him to see the ridiculous band Koo Koo Kanga Roo (mostly because my friend Danny’s band MAIDS was opening and I can really only go to his all-ages, 6:30 p.m. shows!) Emmett ran around in circles and ate ice out of a red solo cup and then barely fought bedtime, so I’d call it a win.

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Let’s hope that’s the first and last time I bring a potty seat to the Mews, although honestly those bathrooms are so scuzzy, I’d probably prefer the Baby Bjorn. Right?

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Also, completely unrelated but I started “The Girls” by Emma Cline on our car ride home from Indiana and it’s been a good, quick read so far. One of those summer books everyone’s packing for vacation.

 

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What I’m into: Boston, books and bunnies

A full 10 months ago, I found out a professional organization I’m part of was putting on an exciting conference in Boston. Eileen wasn’t even born yet, but I immediately booked my mom and aunt to babysit so Joe and I could do a kid-less pre-conference getaway in a city we’d never explored, with one half of the airfare covered. (Because two kids in daycare is no joke on the piggybank.)

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My brother even gifted us a stay at a ridiculously hipster hotel for Christmas with his Marriott status points. That’s a selfie from the lobby. Waterfront corner room, what, what! (Don’t worry – the conference hotel looked onto a brick wall.)

I know some people who couldn’t imagine vacationing without their kids, but I found the trip to be just the spring break from all of the lame refinancing-our-house kind of adulting and we’ve been up to. Plus, uninterrupted sleep. Here are a few highlights:

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Walking everywhere. A day spent walking and reading and eating is my zen. We did a bit of the Freedom Trail and checked out the very cool Boston Public Market (which reminded me of the Des Moines Social Club Culinary Studio on steroids) and shared a giant powdered sugar-covered cannoli from Mike’s Pastry, which is apparently a tourist must. We took the Charlie to Harvard, where people mistook my breastpump for a college student backpack and asked me for campus directions (mamas’s still got it!) and the MIT Museum and Cambridge Brewery.

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It felt so great to explore without worrying about nap times — and I’m such a geek, I want to read more about the “Big Dig” that put Boston’s highway underground.

Expanding my palate. I ate my first ever full lobster and oyster. I’m not really a seafood person (aside from PEI mussels, which always seem to be overpowered with delicious garlicky butter sauce), but I had to get some of the local flavor. We went to the Yankee Lobster Co., a little divey family-owned place, and then washed dinner down at Harpoon Brewery just down the block. We also had solid meals at the restaurant in District Hall (which my startup community friends in DSM would find interesting) and Sonsie.

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Talking about things other than our kids. Sure, we mused about what our babies might be up to, but because we were exploring places like Boston’s Institute for Contemporary Art, I felt like we had fodder for more interesting date-night conversations. Because we had so much fun time together, I felt like there was latitude to strike up conversations with strangers, too. We had an entertaining talk about politics with an organic farmer (who wants to consolidate the US into seven states) while grabbing pre-dinner drinks in the restaurant on top of the Prudential Tower.

Time to read. We browsed bookstores in Cambridge and I cuddled up with “Dear Mr. You” by Mary Louise Parker, the latest selection of the book club I’m part of. A memoir in letters, it was one of those books that’s easy to breeze through, but you really want to savor. I can’t wait to discuss it Friday night! I cried three times (at least), so it’s obviously getting high marks from me.

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(In other book club news: Two of the ladies in our club also just put out a teaser about this dreamy children’s book they’re collaborating on!!!)

Reuniting with my bunnies. Joe headed home on a Monday morning and I stayed in Boston and conferenced until late that Wednesday night. The sessions were great, but it felt so good to return home after so much time away and appreciate my family with fresh eyes. We hung around town and didn’t do much for Easter, which was alright by me!

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Another kind of mom guilt

I’ve struggled to put into words how I’ve been feeling lately.

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I’m not overwhelmed or down on myself. It’s not the blues, although when I brought up the subject with my sister-in-law tonight, I burst into tears. Luckily, she knew exactly what I was trying to express without me fully articulating it.

I feel guilty. Not for being a working mom, or not having a spotless house, or not packing the most healthful lunches. It’s different — a visceral, almost survivor’s guilt. I have a warm home and a beautiful baby and whip-smart toddler and supportive spouse and food in the fridge (although the fridge itself might be on its last leg).

I’m suspicious of my happiness, almost ashamed of my good fortune. I’m ever so grateful, but also kind of waiting for something to shatter, because it doesn’t feel right that I should be allowed to be so content when there is so much suffering in this world. I keep up with the news (maybe too much), and almost daily there’s a story that brings tears to my eyes.

Apparently postpartum hormones are changing at around the four-month mark, and I acknowledge that’s probably a strong contributor to why I am feeling everything so deeply. But  I need to acknowledge my emotions and how motherhood has changed me. I don’t think I was ever indifferent to suffering, but when your heart starts to live outside of your body in the form of your children there is this intense vulnerability and resulting empathy.

I will admit here that I’m not someone who likes to think of things in terms of being “blessed,” and that my spiritual framework is pretty different from a lot of my Christian blogger friends. It’s hard to detach these complex feelings from the tendency for many to have a religious solution, but I’m really not interested in that. A conversation for a different time, perhaps.

And so…I record these days here and in my line a day journal, and find comfort in the beauty of a good book. Currently reading “Cutting for Stone,” by Abraham Verghese. {This NPR book club review is from 2011, not next month}

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