Tag Archives: reading

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: 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!

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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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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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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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