Thursday, July 20, 2017

Home Tour: Library (Before)

I was going to wait until this room was "finished," or at least fully furnished, before foisting pictures of it on you. But that's going to take too long and I'm too eager to share, so here you go. The "before" tour of our very unfinished library.

For years now, my husband and I have dreamed about having a home library. A room entirely dedicated to books. Something with floor to ceiling shelves, a spiral staircase, and cozy reading nooks.

Now that we have a house, it's time to make that dream a reality!

Okay, not exactly the dream I'd envisioned (no floor to ceiling shelves, no spiral staircase), but here's the thing. Houses in middle America here don't seem to follow the fashion of English manors of yesteryear. Nobody in this modern era wants a room just for their books. So until we get to design and build that dream house of our own (someday), I'm making do with the space we have.

This is obviously our front room. Parlor? Sitting room? Hearth room? I actually don't know what the official name of this room is (there is a living/family room downstairs), so I decided to just start calling it the library, and so far it's stuck. I've got the kids calling it the library, so the library it is.

Priority #1 upon moving into out house was getting some shelves for this room. The first house we bid on had these amazing built-in shelves around their fireplace, and I would've loved to have some nice built-ins put in here, but that would've been a capital-P Project! Plus taken a bunch of time/money etc. So instead I scoured the internet for a matching set of bookshelves to flank our fireplace, and I'd picked out a few options. But then my husband pointed out that there is both an outlet and switch (for the gas fireplace) on the right side wall that he really didn't want blocked by a bookcase, so I was scratching my head about what to do. Only put a shelf on one side? Find backless shelves that I actually liked?

Then, on our first (of many) trips to Ikea, I saw a set of these very respectable Hemnes bookshelves that I liked the look of, and lo and behold! It came in a half-width size too! Which meant the smaller one could fit between the fireplace and the switch without blocking anything!

(See the switch in question back there?) It's still not my ideal, as it feels a little off-balance, but I've decided that's fine for now. It's still a heck of a lot more shelf space than I've ever had before, and I'm having way too much fun figuring out how to arrange my books and decorate these shelves, and obviously making plans for all the books I want to buy to fill them up.

This is by no means my final shelf arrangement, this is just how I threw things together a few hours before we left for our family reunion, so I've still got lots of tinkering and thinking and rearranging to do about it.

There's also a new bookcase down in our office area, so with this move our shelf space has more than doubled, and I'm pretty giddy about that expansion. I always considered it a moral challenge to limit my book collection to the few bookcases we could fit in our little apartment, but now there's actually empty shelf space! For things other than books! And I won't have to fret so much every time I get a new book about where it's going to fit. So luxurious.

As for the rest of the room...

So far we got nothing. (I realized the other day, when we had visitors over, that most people probably think it's weird the bookshelves were my priority, and not a place to sit, but there you go). We've got plans to get a sofa and a comfy reading chair or two in here, and definitely a plant of some kind. And someday, I want to turn this into the library/music room with the addition of a piano (I play a little), but my husband is really hesitant about buying a piano. He plays the violin, and doesn't believe in instruments you can't carry and pack in the car with you (not really, he just doesn't want to move a piano up our front stairs).

Also, we've got to figure out how to decorate the walls and fireplace. I mean, what is that little alcove thing up there? What am I supposed to do with that? We've talked about getting a nice piece of art to put there, but we disagree on what it should be. Also, do you see that black swirly thing on the wall? The previous owners left it for us. I kind of want to throw it out, but my husband is in favor of keeping it (he just doesn't want to have to pull out the ladder and take it down just to put something else up in it's place). And maybe someday we'll repaint too (as much as I love beige... I actually don't).

So anyway, big plans, and this room is far, far from finished. I have no idea how long it will take us to get this room actually together (years?), but I have a feeling it will be my very favorite room in the house when we do. And I'll be sure to post pictures as it evolves, lucky you!

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

The Book Blab Episode 14: Summer Reading Programs

Hey guys, time for another episode of The Book Blab! This month we're discussing summer reading programs, the pros and cons of reading incentive programs in general, and the fabulous summer reading program Amy puts on for her own kids. This was a pretty fun discussion, and we even had a couple of special guests (one invited, the other not, but both still adorable!).

We ask a couple of questions in the videos that we'd love your feedback on, so please comment with your opinions. What would your ideal summer reading program look like? What kinds of incentives motivate you? And finally, are there any topic ideas you have for me and Amy that you think would be fun for us to talk about in future episodes? If so, we'd love to know!

Show notes below. As always, thanks for watching!

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

2017 Goals: Mid-Year Review

I made six public resolutions here on the blog back in January, and seeing as we've passed the mid-point of the year I figured it was time to check in on them and see how I'm doing. Let's get started.

1. Read 52 Books. According to Goodreads, by the end of June I'd read 33 books which puts me slightly ahead of schedule. I'm hoping that even with school starting up, I'll be able to keep up with audio books during my commute, so I think there's a strong chance I'll be able to accomplish this one by the end of the year. Yay!

2. Finish Draft of Book. Yeah, this one is not looking good. I can barely find time to write here on the blog, let alone on that book project I started last year. And I don't think starting a PhD is going to help anything on this front. So, we'll see what happens by the end of the year.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Books I Read in June

Sorry, this one's getting up rather late into July for me, but we had a family reunion over that extended holiday weekend and I didn't get this up before it started, etc., etc. Despite more craziness in June (living with my in-laws most the month, closing on a house, finally moving in, shopping and unpacking and everything) I was determined to get more books read than I did in May (which was only one book, a pathetic all time low for me).

To get my reading juices flowing again, I fell back on my old stand-by trick of turning to light, fluffy, easy and addictive books. You know, the kind of books that don't make your brain work too hard and are easy to breeze through. It worked, because I made it through five books in June. The only downside to this trick is that these books never tend to be good ones, or ones I feel strongly about recommending. I might even be a tiny bit embarrassed to admit I read these. I guess that's what makes them fluff reads. Anyway, in the interest of accurate record keeping, here they are:

Thursday, June 29, 2017

The Story of Buying Our House

So yeah. Buying a house is a crazy, crazy process. Especially when you are first time buyers trying to learn the ropes, and a job change and interstate move is in play as well (mortgage companies don't love those things, apparently).

Anyway, my husband flew up to Kansas City in early April for some job interviews, and while he was up here he arranged to meet up with a real estate agent to look at a few properties and get a feel for the market. The week before his trip, our agent (Tina) sent us a link to all the listings in our price range and target neighborhoods, and told us to pick our top three for their outing. I was pleasantly surprised (thrilled really) to see just what kinds of houses we could afford. There were some seriously nice options in our price range, and it was hard not to start day-dreaming about what it would be like to live in one of these beautiful homes.

We sent Tina an email Friday night with a list of our top three choices, and she emailed back Sunday morning saying two of our choices were already under contract, so could we pick two new ones? We looked at all the new listings for that day, chose two more, and by Monday morning one of those was gone as well.

Basically, what we learned is that this was an extremely fast moving market. We didn't make an offer on any of the houses he saw during that trip (per the mortgage lender, we couldn't make an offer on a house until my husband had accepted a job and had an offer letter in hand), but we kept a tight watch on the listings. It became a morning ritual for both of us to pull up all the new listings over breakfast and try to guess which ones would still be on the market the next day. Anything that was half way decent was usually gone in a day or two, so this was usually an extremely depressing ritual. There were several houses that I would even have considered "dream home" status, and it was hard not to get hopeful or get my heart set on one.

Nathan had his own set of favorites. There was one house in particular that he really, really liked, mostly because of its location. This neighborhood was ideal as far as cutting both our commute times down to 30 minutes each, but it was a super nice neighborhood so most of the houses were well outside our price range. He was so excited to find a house in the area that was within our range (just barely). I did not share his enthusiasm for this particular house (which we called the Blue House for obvious reasons), because while most of it was lovely, it was a split level with a rather disappointing kitchen, two things I considered deal breakers. But these disagreements didn't matter, because this house too was off the market within a matter of days.

My husband received several offers from his round of interviews, and it took a few weeks of negotiating terms and weighing pros and cons before he finally settled on one and accepted an offer the first week of May. We had originally planned to wait to do our serious house-hunting until we moved up to Kansas City at the end of May, but I was starting to feel some pressure about making an offer earlier than that so we could get settled sooner. Also, the Friday after he accepted his job offer, there were two really, really awesome houses that went up, and just knowing that we could actually make an offer now meant I didn't really want to let them slip away. So we called Tina and my mother-in-law and had them run out to these neighborhoods to take a look at these two houses. The first one, while nice, ended up being quite a bit smaller than it seemed and also not in a great location, so we ruled it out, but the second house was amazing! My mother-in-law fell in love with it, and because we Face Timed through her tour, we could see how it was even better than the pictures showed online. The kitchen had been entirely redone and was simply beautiful. There was a large yard, a mud room, a formal dining room, four bedrooms with an extra sitting room/office off the master suite, builtin shelves around the fireplace, and it was within walking distance of the elementary school. There were a few things that weren't perfect (namely, location, it would've been a much longer commute for me), but everything else was so amazing (especially the price!) that I was determined to make it work. I convinced Nathan that we should make an offer, even though neither of us had seen it in person. So Friday night (the day this house went on the market), we submitted an offer.

To make a long story short, we ended up in a major bidding war for this house, and it was super stressful and overwhelming. The owners were supposed to pick an offer by Friday night, which turned into Saturday night, but come Sunday morning we still hadn't heard anything. The longer they kept the house open, the more offers they got, and the more pressure we felt to keep resubmitting higher and higher bids, which neither of us felt good about. Basically, it was turning into a mess, and we were both getting super discouraged. It didn't help that Tina kept telling us stories about how all her other clients were in bidding wars too. It felt like there were twenty buyers for every house on the market, and we were just never going to be able to compete.

And then!

Sunday morning Nathan was perusing the new listings (per our usual habit), and what should he happen to see but the Blue House! The one he'd loved so much that had been on the market a few weeks earlier. Apparently the offer had fallen through and the house was back on the market! But what to do? We still had an open offer on this other house. Plus, nobody had actually seen the Blue House in person. But there it was, back on the market the first weekend we can make an offer, and it was the house he loved so much. Also, for whatever reason, the house was relisted under it's old number, meaning it looked like it had been on the market for over forty days, which is kind of a death sentence in a fast moving market (if a house has been up longer than a week, something is wrong with it).

So, here's where the story gets really crazy (in my opinion). We're at church, still thinking about our situation and trying to figure out if we should pull our bid on the other house (which the owners were still showing, even though they had like twenty offers!) and try to pursue this Blue House, when Nathan sits down next an older man in our ward that he's pretty good friends with (they served in the bishopric together). This man, who shall remain nameless, happens to be incredibly wealthy. Like, billionaire kind of wealthy. And trust me when I say that we don't know that many billionaires (he's the only one, I promise). Anyway, this man leans over to Nathan in Sunday School and says, "Hey, I have a meeting tomorrow up in Kansas City. I know you guys are house-hunting right now, would you like to fly up with me on my private jet and take a look at some houses?"



I just don't even know what to say about this. I still can't believe it happened. I mean, what?

I remember talking to my mom on the phone that night and just being like, how do I even say the words that my husband is getting a free ride on a private jet? This is NOT the kind of life we live. This is SO outside of the ordinary for us. Also? Can we talk about timing? This house, this Blue House that my husband had been stalking for a while comes back on the market the weekend we are eligible to make an offer, and then that day! That very day! He gets an offer for a private jet ride just in time to see this house in person (from our billionaire friend who just happens to have a random meeting in the town we're moving to)? The signs just kind of felt undeniable.

I made him take a picture from inside, just so I could see. This is likely the closest I'll ever get to a private jet. And I've no idea who the man in this picture is, some random employee of our friend who was flying up for the meeting too.
Anyway, we pulled our bid on the first house (broke my heart, but it relieved a ton of stress), got Tina to rearrange her schedule, and Monday by 11 AM Nathan was touring the Blue House (while I Face Timed from Houston), and by Monday at 4 PM we had put an offer in.

By Tuesday morning, it was accepted.

No bidding war. No other offers. Just a simple miracle.

So I'll just say again that this would never have been my first choice house, mainly because I judge every house by the kitchen, and this kitchen was disappointing. Also, it's a split level, which is the most annoying floor plan ever (no offense if you live in/love split levels, but honestly, who thought this sort of house design was a good thing? How did it become so popular? I do not understand). But everything else about it is extremely lovely. The kid bedrooms are adorable, it is spacious and well taken care of, and honestly it is the least offensive split level design I've ever seen (it actually has curb appeal). After Nathan promised we could paint the kitchen cabinets white, I really couldn't come up with any strong objections. And after our offer was accepted so easily, I just couldn't deny how right it felt. This was our house. This was the house meant for us. This was the perfect house.

I didn't get to see the house until the very end of May, during our final walk-through before closing, and seeing it in person really sealed the deal for me. It's like Nathan told me, what the pictures don't show and what really makes this house great is the location. Our neighborhood is incredible. Like, just incredible. And as far as splitting our commute times, we couldn't have found a better location.

Everything about this story feels like a miracle to me. And every day living here has confirmed it even more: we are meant to be here. We are meant to live here.

It's amazing to me how everything has fallen into place. At the beginning of the year, Nathan and I felt so much anxiety about our future. There were so many question marks that had to line up perfectly, and everything felt up in the air. First I had to get accepted to grad school with funding, then he had to get a job, then we had to find a house. All of those things felt so huge and hard and uncertain, but each one just fell into place so easily. So miraculously.

Now the last question mark we need to figure out is our childcare situation. I still have no idea what we're going to do, but at this point, I'm just waiting for the next miracle to happen. I'll let you know when it does.

(Also, I'll post pictures at some point, maybe when we're a little more unpacked and settled.)

Friday, June 23, 2017

Five Thoughts on Living in Our New (To Us) House

1. I'm walking a ton more steps every day. This is a good thing, but I never really thought about this being a part of more space. I'm running up and down the stairs a million times a day, walking from one end of the house to the other, and moving so much more than I needed to when we lived in a little apartment. I guess most people who live in small apartments in big cities can walk everywhere they go, but Houston is definitely a driving city, so a small apartment plus driving everywhere meant my life there was pretty sedentary. But having more space means taking more steps, which can only be a good thing for my health, right?

2. Oh, the light! The light, the light, the light, the light! My biggest complaint about our old little apartment was the lack of natural sunlight. There were windows, but only on one side of the apartment, and there were big shade trees right outside so barely any light ever made it inside (we had to use inside lighting pretty much all day). But this house has big, beautiful east and west facing windows so there is light all day. Unfortunately, this means my children have been awake at the crack of dawn (which of course, is at it's earliest point right now) because of all the light flooding in their bedrooms windows, but I don't even care. My heart just fills with giddy, giddy pleasure every time I walk into a room and see the sunlight pouring in. I'm so excited to get to know how the light slants and changes in every room throughout the day and through the seasons. And now I can get me some houseplants that might have a chance of surviving!

Thursday, June 15, 2017

What It Means to Be a "Reader": Does Nonfiction Count?

Look, I love nonfiction. Nonfiction books can be amazing and informative and fascinating and gripping and wonderful. We did a whole Book Blab episode on all our favorite nonfiction books. Nonfiction is amazing, and I love reading good nonfiction books.


When someone asks me my what my favorite book is (impossible question) the answer is always and forever going to be a novel. A fictional story. That's where my true love lies. To me, literature is fiction. I remember reading a quote somewhere (no idea where, so sorry I can't cite a source) about how even the word "nonfiction" sounds like an apology, denoting its inferiority. It doesn't get it's own word, it is identified simply as being not-fiction. Because obviously, fiction is the best.

So when I took my "Teaching Reading" course in college, and the professor talked about how many (maybe even most) people prefer reading nonfiction, I couldn't really believe it. Who are these people? I didn't know anyone who actually preferred nonfiction over fiction. How could I even begin to understand someone like that?

Well, over the past few months, I've slowly been coming to terms with the fact that my oldest child is probably one of those people. Here's the evidence.

1. He picked an easy reader book out at the library called The Adventures of BB8 that he absolutely loved, not because he knows or cares anything about Star Wars or the story, but because the book told a fictional story in a nonfiction format. Every page contained it's own heading, and every other page or so contained informational graphics like all the categories of different droids, or diagramming a starship, or something like that. He was the most fascinated with the Table of Contents, and ever since reading this book, all of the stories he's written on the computer have contained detailed Table of Contents, including notes for indexes and glossaries. I've never met another five-year-old who does this.

2. He was recently gifted a book about space, which he loves, but he tends to ignore the main text and focus on all the captions and factoids presented in bubbles. He's apparently really drawn to the visual layout and bite-size break up of text presented in these kinds of texts.

3. And, the most compelling piece of evidence by far is the absolute love and devotion he's shown for his favorite book of all time: Maps. I mentioned how cool this book was when we got it last year, and here's a picture of it (from last year):

Then my son got super interested in geography, and this became his new favorite book, and one year later, this is what the map book looks like today:

Yeah, it's been taped back together so many times, the spine doesn't actually exist anymore. We really just need to bite the bullet and get another copy of this book, but I'm waiting until his geography obsession abates a little so our next copy has a chance of being enjoyed by the younger children.

Anyway, the point is, my kid's favorite book is about maps. Geography. Nonfiction that is light of narrative text. I'm not denying this isn't a cool book (it is a super cool book, and deserves to be obsessed over), I'm just saying that at no point in my childhood was my favorite book about maps. Stories? Yes. Maps? No.

And it's totally, totally cool that my kid likes nonfiction books, or at least books that present bits of information alongside graphics. These are great books. It's just that when I think about people who I would define as "readers" (and I want my children to grow up to be defined as "readers"), they read fiction. Novels. And as children, they read and devoured all that wonderful children's literature. They love stories. That's what a reader is to me.

My son does enjoy stories (remember this?). He willingly participates in our nightly read-aloud sessions, and he'll sit and read both picture books and chapter books on his own, but he reserves his passion and enthusiasm for these nonfiction books. And I'm trying to tell myself this is okay. Right?

Do you count as a "reader" if the books you pour over are maps?

I actually think this was one of the things my college professor was trying to teach us English-major-avid-reader teachers-in-training, that we needed to re-frame how we defined what a "reader" was. Kids who read informational texts are "readers." Kids who read graphic novels are "readers." My kid is a "reader."

He may not love the same books I loved as a kid, or love fiction the way I love fiction, but he still loves books, and I will encourage a love of books and reading in any form it comes. When it comes to family read-alouds, I will always choose fictional novels, because everyone deserves to be exposed to classic children's literature. But when it comes to his own personal reading, he'll always be allowed to read his choice.

And if that's nonfiction, that's wonderful.