Saturday, August 12, 2017

Permission to Want It

I am a mother of three young children, a wife, a homemaker. And in my spare time, I'm getting a PhD in English.

I've had such complicated feelings about this PhD. It was not part of my original life plan. It was never a goal. It was not something I wanted.

I wanted to be a stay-at-home mom. I wanted to be the good little Mormon housewife. I was content with that life, and getting this PhD feels like telling the world I wasn't content with that life. That I wanted more, that I have goals and ambitions for a career outside the home. Which is why, to other Mormons, I'm always so quick to explain, "This is revelation! God basically told me to do this! I don't know why, please don't judge!"

The whole lead-up to this program has been so emotionally fraught for me, so full of second-guessing, and so much anxiety. Mostly, anxiety about child-care. So many nights I've woken up in the middle of the night, unable to fall back asleep over the anxiety of child-care. We struggled to find a nanny, a child-care facility, a situation that felt good to us. I laid awake in bed those nights praying and pleading with the Lord: Please, help us find someone good! Help us find someone who will love and care for my children the way I love and care for them! And tell me again why it won't be me? Why can't I just stay home with my kids? Why is this so hard?

The answers didn't come immediately, but they came firmly and unmistakably, the way all the answers have seemed to come through this whole miraculous process of having the Lord turn my life around. I felt the words, "I have prepared angels to take care of your children. Please stop worrying."

But I couldn't stop worrying. It took weeks of struggle and stress, and even when we finally found a nanny I was comfortable with, even after she visited our home and showered love on my children and expressed enthusiasm and gratitude for the job, I still couldn't stop worrying. What if she quits? What if someone gets sick? What if the baby won't nap for her? What if? What if? What if?

I'm missing my son's first day of kindergarten. His father will be able to take him to school that day, and his grandmother will be there to pick him up at the end, but I will be thirty miles away attending my third day of mandatory orientation, and when I realized this is where I would be on my first child's first day of school, I nearly cried. I wanted to drop out right there. No PhD, no anything, is worth not being there on the biggest moment of my child's life to this point. He knows I won't be there, and he keeps asking who will be there. Who will be there to pick him up? Who will be there to help him find his classroom? Someone will be, but it won't be me.

It should be me.

Will I ever live the guilt of this down?

I have been so distracted by the logistics, so consumed by the worry and the anxiety and the stress and the guilt, that I haven't actually done that much thinking about school itself. I will be teaching this time, two sections of freshman writing. Finally, this past week, when I realized it would be catastrophic to put it off any longer, I started preparing for class.


I got excited. I got interested. I forgot how much I love teaching. I forgot how much I enjoy this subject I'm studying. I forgot that there is something about this whole academia world that brings me a lot of satisfaction. I've been so focused on letting people know that I did not choose this path, so focused on stressing about how hard this is to figure out, how crazy it is to be a mother of three and go to school, so conflicted about asking someone else to watch/love/raise my children for thirty hours a week(!), that I forgot to actually want it.

As I prayed that night, the spirit filled me with these words again, "I have prepared angels to watch over your children. Do not worry about them. I will take care of them, for they are mine. But you are mine too. You are my child too, and I have given you gifts and opportunities, and I need you to make use of your gifts. You have my permission to enjoy this. You have my permission to want this."

I think this time I will listen. I am still working on letting go of the worry. I'm still snuggling my baby a little bit extra, still relishing in the last slow moments home with the boys, still anxious about meeting all their needs. I'm still full of confusion about why this is my life path, still so full of conflicting emotions.

But I'm also excited. And I'm giving myself permission to enjoy it.

To want a PhD.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Books + Flowers = All the Good Things

Guys! I've been meaning to talk about this book for ages, ever since I won a copy of it (squeee!) from Linnae's giveaway back in March (Linnae is an inspiration to me, and along with her excellent book reviews, she blogs all about her impressive gardening efforts, she's amazing). But with the move and all, it got packed up before I had a chance to really dig into it. When I unpacked it last month, I swooned all over again at what a gorgeous book this is. Cut Flower Garden is by Erin Benzakein, who owns a small but extremely productive professional flower farm in Washington, and contains all her best advice for how to "grow, harvest, and arrange stunning seasonal blooms" (subtitle).

Okay, I love flowers. I love gardens. And I love books. And bookstagram has shown all of us how wonderful it is when you combine books and flowers. Right? Match made in heaven.

So a beautiful (and I mean, BEAUTIFUL, the photographs are stunning) book about growing said flowers? It's got me all heart eyes and becoming really aspirational. Now that I've got a yard with room for a garden, I have every intention of growing me some beautiful flowers (for photographing with my beautiful books, natch).

But here's the thing. I'm like, super, super novice level when it comes to gardening. I grew up in St. George, Utah (red sand + hot hot hot = no garden) and then lived in a series of apartments (no yards), and so this is the first time in my life where I feasibly can grow a garden, but I have no idea what to do or how to start or anything. Like, I am completely clueless.

Enter, this book into my life! Such providential timing I must say. While Erin Benzakein is obviously a professional and some of her expertise/advice is way beyond my level, in this book she really breaks things down to the very basics so that even novices can find a place to start. I'm sure more experience gardeners can skip over her first section on the basics and get to the fun parts of all the pretty flowers, but I've been pouring over that section recently trying to figure out just where I need to start when it comes to growing my own garden (hint, apparently it's the soil).

Now, this book is obviously all about flowers, and there isn't much in the way of advice for planting food. My husband and I have often talked about growing a salsa garden someday, and I still want to plant some food varieties, but one of the awesome things about our move here is that we live really close to my in-laws who happen to have this amazing food garden, and we have been reaping the delicious rewards of that garden all summer long (tomatoes! cucumbers! lettuce! kale! beets! blackberries! I don't even know what else!). So, with the bounty from their garden, I'm feeling a little less motivated to pursue vegetables in our own, smaller space, and a lot more motivated to plant flowers. So although this book is pretty enough to sit on a coffee table and just be looked at, I'm planning on using it heavily as my how-to manual for the next few years.

It's August right now, and with the move and starting school, I'm just not going to get around to any heavy gardening this summer. But this book is giving me all sorts of ideas, and I'm making big plans for what I want to do over the winter and especially next spring (and by big plans, I mean, making any plans at all). In an attempt to keep myself somewhat focused and motivated on my gardening goals, I've decided to post pictures here and give occasional updates (yay for you!) Our "garden" as it stands right now is rather... suburban. Our home was very nicely landscaped, there are good trees, a nice-sized lawns in fairly good condition, and beds full of plants that seem designed for minimal upkeep. There is also one garden box bed on our side yard. I am so clueless that I'm not actually sure exactly what's even growing in our yard. I've got a lot of figuring out to do. But here are a few pictures of some of what's going on in my yard.

First, we have our little garden box. Guys, I have no clue what these plants are growing here. When my husband and I got around to clearing out the weeds in this box after we moved in, these plants were taller and evenly spaced, and looked like they had been intentionally planted, so we left them in and tended to the them hoping we'd be able to figure out what they were (my husband guessed they might be a variety of sunflower).

They are not sunflowers. They have produced these pathetic little yellow flowers (you can see some starting to bud), and these giant seed pods, but so far nothing else. It's entirely possible that we have been carefully tending nothing but giant weeds this whole summer. I'm still not sure. Anyway, I am sure that these are going to be ripped out this fall to make room for something much prettier next year.

Ah, here on the other side of our little garden box, we have the two small but still fighting for life tomato plants we planted early last month. My in-laws gave us a box of tomato plants they had seeded, but considering how we didn't even get into our house until the end of June (and didn't get these planted until July), it was a long shot of getting any fruit out of them. Most of the plants died during a hot spell a few weeks ago, but these two little troopers are still alive (barely). Needless to say, we will not be enjoying any fruit from them (doesn't matter, we've had more than enough tomatoes from my in-law's garden).

You guys! I have a hydrangea bush! When we moved in this was just an unassuming little plant in the corner of the back yard, but then a few weeks ago it suddenly started blooming and I realized they were hydrangeas! This is so, so, so happy. I love hydrangeas so much. So far there is only the one bush, but if I get my way, more will be joining in the future.

Aren't they the prettiest?

Here, we have straggly looking rose bush of some kind (at least, the tag on the plant says it's a rose variety, it has not produced any flowers) and some variety of lily that is past it's prime (they looked lovely in June). The rose bush was nearly dead when we moved in, but with some watering has seemed to find the will to live. Whether it will ever produce flowers remains to be seen. I'll have to do some research on how to care for it.

And this overgrown monstrosity of a bush actually has me the most excited, because there was a tag on it that identified it as a Jane Magnolia, so I'm hoping for some pretty pink flowers next spring (we shall see, I'm hoping the tag really belonged to this plant). I'm trying to decide if we need to prune this at all, I've no idea. Lots to learn! This was just one corner of the backyard flower beds, but all the other beds contain filler bushes, not flowers (which is something I'd like to remedy). Anyway, not much right now, but hopefully I'll be able to get something going for next spring.

One of my cute little garden helpers inspecting the blooms. So grateful to finally have a yard these boys can play in!

If you've any advice or expertise, I'd love to hear it! Any other books worth looking in to?

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Thoughts on Food Addictions and a Sugar Detox

sugar detox, flour detox, food addiction, bright line eating

I feel like I've generally got a pretty good relationship with food going on in my life (except for the times when I'm pregnant, because when I'm pregnant, everything about my relationship with food is horrible and nasty and emotional and complicated). Generally, I love food. I mostly eat healthy (because it feels good), but also never pass up a dessert when it's offered, and never beat myself up about it.

But apparently, things can change. Apparently, when things get stressful enough, I can eat my emotions.

Most of 2017 has been rather stressful for me. It seems that accepting a spot in a PhD program, going through a job hunt, buying a house, and moving states (with a baby who hasn't let me get eight straight hours of sleep one single night this whole year), is a bit stressful. Actually, incredibly stressful.

May especially (the month we bought the house, packed up, and moved) was super stressful. My first clue that the stress was getting to me was when I tweaked my neck during my routine yoga practice, and was unable to move it/sleep on it/function the whole week we were packing. The last time I tweaked my neck like that was the month before my wedding, and it took four visits to a chiropractor to get me back to mobility. Apparently, this whole move has been as stressful for me as getting married.

My second clue that the stress was getting to me was the alarming number of bags of chocolate chips I was eating my way through. I don't know exactly how many bags it was, but it was a lot. In fact, I found myself planning off-schedule grocery shopping trips because I needed more chocolate, and if you know me at all, you know that means things were desperate. I HATE going to the grocery store, and NEVER go more than once a week with my strict meal plan in place. So the fact that I was heading to the grocery store mid-week to get more chocolate was kind of a huge red flag.

Then I heard a friend mention a program she was trying called Bright Line Eating to help her manage her food addictions and lose weight. I was intrigued, not because I needed to lose weight, but because as soon as she said "food addiction" little bells went off in my head. So I came home and took the food addiction quiz, and came back with a score of 5 out of 10. While this wasn't necessarily a terrible score, it was higher than I thought I should be, so I started doing some thinking about how to fix this.

Basically, I decided to do a revised version of the Bright Line Eating program, my own little sugar detox. To sum up this program, there are four rules that adherents are supposed to follow for the rest of their lives (four bright lines): 1.) No sugar 2.) No flour 3.) Measure/weigh food (crap load of vegetables) and 4.) Eat only at meal times (no snacking). Since I'm nursing, and also not interested in losing weight (actually the opposite), I decided to ignore that last rule, and snacked as much as I wanted to. I also didn't worry about weighing my food (once again, not trying to lose weight), but simply tried to eat as much as I possibly could (especially veggies). But I did decide to cut sugar and flour as much as possible. I didn't go gluten free or hardcore (like, I didn't worry about sugar in salad dressings and stuff), but I cut as much sugar and flour from my diet as I conveniently could.

I waited until we actually moved into our house in June (and thus had full control over grocery shopping/meal planning), and then plunged into the detox for two weeks. The first few days were hard. Like, way harder than I expected. I was SO HUNGRY, despite the fact that I was still eating as much as I possibly could. This made me super nervous, because I'm always terrified about my milk supply dropping (it's been a problem before) and hunger is the enemy. But I decided to stick it out, and magically, after a few days, the hunger went away and I was able to stick it out without any problems with my milk supply.

While I only did two weeks of dedicated no sugar/no flour, I learned a lot of things and did some deep reflecting. These may or may not be of interest to anyone else out there, but in no particular order, here are my random thoughts about a sugar detox in case you are considering one.

-If you want to lose weight, this is absolutely the way to go. I lost weight (and I was trying desperately NOT to lose weight). One of the reasons I didn't go longer than two weeks was so that I wouldn't lose any more weight.

-Once I got past those first few days of hunger, I was actually surprised at how much energy I had, how full I felt after meals, and how good my body felt. Apparently, sugar and refined flour are actually huge energy drains on your system. And there's all this science about how sugar tricks your body into not being able to feel satiated. By the end, I felt really, really good. I mean, I felt like my old self, the self I haven't felt like since before I got pregnant last year. It was a super rough pregnancy, and my recovery was much slower than with my first two pregnancies. After this sugar detox, I felt like me again. It's like everything just snapped back into place (except for those stomach muscles, those still need some work...). This was awesome.

-It is possible, even for me, to get very, very tired of salads. Luckily I only need a couple of days, and then I'm back to my salad-loving self.

- It is HARD to cut sugar and flour and participate socially in food. I think this would be the hardest part about doing this program long term. Everything, and I mean practically everything, has sugar and/or flour in it. Also didn't help that my husband and I binge watched some Great British Baking Show while building Ikea furniture during this period, and it made me feel so, so sad that all that food was off-limits to me (even though I wouldn't have been baking/eating stuff like that anyway).

-When it comes to food addiction, I don't think I have a particular problem with flour, or even a lot of sugar. My real addiction is chocolate. I found that I wasn't sad at all to skip out on bread or other desserts, but oh! How I missed my chocolate! The only thing that kept me going was knowing that I was not going to be doing this detox forever, and eventually I would let myself eat chocolate again. It would be sad to go the rest of my life without ever eating bread, but I simply CANNOT live in a world without chocolate.

-It takes a lot of will power to eat this way. Two weeks was not long enough for it to become an automatic habit, and so I found myself exercising a concerted amount of will power every day to keep this up... and it was not healthy for my relationship with my kids. Especially those first few days when I was super hungry, I found myself snapping at my kids over very little things that I usually have the self-control to let slide. Science tells us that when we are exerting a concerted amount of will power in one area, we don't have any left over for other areas, and this was super true for me. I am a MUCH nicer mom when I can self medicate with chocolate.

-On that note, I realized that I use chocolate as a reward, a small treat, for getting through the hard parts of every day. I would tell myself things like "Once you get the dishes done, you can have some chocolate" and so I'd get the dishes done. Or "Once you get through bedtime, you can have some chocolate" so it was my little reward for surviving the bedtime routine. When that reward was taken away, life got just a little bit more depressing. I tried to come up with other little treats for myself, but most of them weren't practically possible or took more time than I had (like taking a nap, or reading a book, or taking a bath, etc.). It's so much quicker to just scarf a handful of chocolate chips.

-If you are an abstainer and/or have serious issues with food addiction, I highly recommend the Bright Line Eating program. I, however, am completely a moderator. I really enjoy life so much more when I can have my treats in moderation. I do feel like things got out of control in May when my stress and anxiety levels peaked, but all I needed was the two week detox to get back on a moderate track. Things may get out of hand again (I am, after all, starting a PhD program in a couple of weeks, and that baby is still not letting me sleep through the night), but I feel like I've gained some awareness and can monitor myself, and if need be, do another detox any time I need to.

Anyway, that was a lot of thoughts. To sum up, my sugar/flour detox was overall a really positive experience for me (except for the negative influence on my parenting), and I learned a lot about myself. While I've gone back to allowing myself a few chocolate treats, I've found myself with a hyper awareness of all the refined flour and sugar in food, and I'm still trying to avoid as much of it as I conveniently can. My body just feels so much better this way. I'm not a doctor or a nutrition person or anything, but I can pretty confidently say that everyone ought to try a sugar detox. I highly recommend the experience.

(P.S. If you have any questions about specifics of my sugar detox, feel free to ask!)

(P.P.S. I wrote more about body/food stuff last year in posts here, here, and here.)

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Books I Read in July

For a while there, I thought July was going to be a bust of a reading month for me. I think by July 14th, I'd yet to finish a single book. But then somehow I kicked it into high gear during the second half of the month and made it through six books in just over two weeks (that's pretty good for me). I think it was a combination of getting a nasty cold (spent a whole weekend in bed, but unable to sleep, so all I did was read) and some painting time that allowed me to burn through some audio books. Anyway, here they are.

The Wonder by Emma Donoghue

I haven't read Room yet (maybe will someday), but the premise of this book intrigued me so much. I was really curious to see how Donoghue was going to tackle the issue of religious miracles. While I will give the book credit for being engrossing and, especially toward the end, quite thrilling, this was not the book I wanted it to be. I was hoping for a discussion of faith and miracles a little more akin to what I found in Owen Meany, and not to be too spoilery, this was simply not that. Basically, Donoghue has no love for the Catholic church. Also, I wanted her writing to be a little more true to the time period (Dickensian), but alas, it was modern in both tone and thematic development. Still a strong recommend, just not what I wanted it to be.

Textbook Amy Krouse Rosenthal by Amy Krouse Rosenthal

This book is delightful, thoughtful, beautiful, sweet, and just all around lovely in every way. It is experimental in format, but I loved it so much. Parts of it made me cry, knowing how Amy passed away this past March (her midterm essay is all about calculating how much time she has left to enjoy life, and knowing it was so much shorter than she imagined while writing those words was just heartbreaking). I came away feeling that the world had lost a true gem. I would love to read this again, maybe even own it. It was just so wonderful. If you haven't already, read her tear-jerker of a love letter that was published in The New York Times before she passed. Then read this book. I highly, highly recommend it.

Belgravia by Julian Fellowes

This was a fun little soap-opery romp, very reminiscent of the type of drama Fellowes produced with Downton Abbey, but with a much tighter story-line that resolved very predictably and happily. It takes place about a century earlier than Downton, beginning at Waterloo and ending during the Victoria era. A nice light read, very engaging, good fun.

Warleggan by Winston Graham

It took me a while to get around to this fourth book in the Poldark series (I think I finished the third one back in February). I have not seen the second season of the BBC/PBS production, and I was enjoying reading the books without the benefit of foresight, but after this one I'm not sure if I will continue. I'm just so, so, angry. So can't even handle it angry. If you've seen the second season or read the books, you probably know what upset me, but I'll try to avoid spoilers. I'm hoping the show handled it differently than the book did, because Ross is just completely unforgivable in every way, but I'm not sure I care to watch this season to find out. Any other Poldark fans out there? What do you think? The writing and story really are quite fun, is it worth going on with?

Citizen by Claudia Rankine

I'd actually not heard of this one before my university sent it me as the required text all incoming Freshman need to read this year, and since I will be teaching said Freshman, figured I ought to read it as well. It has a unique format which I quite enjoyed, a mix of poetry and essay and other media, and which made for quick reading. But the content was quite a bit heavy. Basically it explores current racial tensions in America using some of Rankine's own personal experiences, and her exploration of the experiences of higher profile people (like Serena Williams). It was interesting and eye-opening and heart-breaking. Some of the incidences were big (police shootings), but others were just the small, everyday experiences Rankine must endure, and I found those to be the even more unfathomable. People really say things like that to her? Really?

People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks

Well, after some unfortunate library due date timing, it took me two months to finish this one, but that wasn't for a lack of interest. You can read some more of my thoughts here, but I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I don't think everyone would love it, there's something of the contemporary literary depressiveness to it (where all the character's lives are messed up in some way), but I was just so fascinated by the premise. The story is based on a real rare book, but Brooks dreamed up the backstory of all the people who helped create, script, bind, and protect this book through a tumultuous 500 year history. It tickled the nerdy part of me that's really into books as objects of art.

Okay, have you read any of these? Thoughts? I'd love to hear!

Monday, July 24, 2017

Pretty Books for Pretty Books Sake

A couple weeks ago I saw an article posted somewhere (can't remember where or when, or else I'd link to it, sorry!) all about how hard copy books are outselling ebooks because publishers have caught on to this idea of making books really pretty. So, instead of producing millions of ugly, cheap, mass market paperbacks (like they were a decade ago), they've gone in for super pretty covers, gilt edges, special editions, beautiful artwork, etc. And it's worked! People are buying these pretty books, and thus the book publishing industry has survived.

What I remember most, however, is a comment some reader made on this article. It said something to the effect of "Can we please stop fetishizing books?!?!?"

And I've not been able to stop thinking about this comment, because, well, because I'm a huge sucker for pretty books. I love quality books, vintage books, or books that were made for no other reason than to sit on the shelf and be admired. Is this so wrong? Is this the wrong way to appreciate books? Should I be more puritan in my views and only love books for the messages and words they hold, not the cover they come with? Never judge a book, etc., etc.

So I was having a bit of a tiny moral crisis over this little comment for a while, until I started reading People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks. I'm still in the middle of this one (curse those library due dates coming up too quickly!) but in brief this is the fictional story of a rare book, the beautifully illustrated Serajevo Haggadah (which is a real book, Brooks just fictionalized the backstory). This novel follows the story of the book, from the modern expert hired to study it, back through the hands of all the people who helped rescue, rebind, restore, and originally create this beautiful book.

I've found this novel fascinating on many levels, but one is that I took a bibliography class in grad school that was all about historical book binding and construction. One of my assignments was to pick a book out of our library's special collections and do a full analysis of the folios, paper weights, measurements, binding materials, etc. At the time, I thought the assignment was tedious and pointless (I was there to talk about books, not measure them with a ruler!), but I've been amazed at how much I've appreciated knowing this sort of information about how books are physically made. So I felt a real kinship with Hannah, the rare book expert in this novel who does just such an analysis of the Haggadah.

What this story of a beautiful rare book has impressed on me all over again is that books are important for the words inside them, but also as objects of art. Often, the two go hand in hand. The more beautiful or important the words, the more they deserve to be housed in beautiful covers. So bring on the pretty covers! Bring on the gilt edges! Bring on the heavy-weight papers and the illustrated editions and the fancy designs!

I still love some good cheap books. Well, actually what I love are free books (libraries forever!). And, ironically, 90% of the books I've read in the last year haven't had covers at all (as in, they've been audio or ebooks read or listened to on my Kindle or phone).

But when it comes to the books I want to buy? The books I want sitting on my shelf? I want those to be beautiful, on the inside and on the outside. I want quality and design. I want only the best books, only the most beautiful words, and I want covers to match.

I'm totally here for the pretty books.

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.

Monday, June 12, 2017

My 5 Guidelines for Upsizing Minimally (or We Bought a House!)

No, this is not the house we bought. This is just a picture of Boone Hall Plantation outside Charleston, because every post is better with a picture.
So I mentioned this a couple of posts ago, but we bought a house. It closed last week so we are officially homeowners! The story of how we got this house is a whole thing, and I'll tell you that story some time, but today I've got other things on my mind.

Just over a year ago, I wrote a post considering the pros and cons of small living vs. more space. At the time, we were a family of four living in a smallish two bedroom city apartment, and I honestly felt like we were in a good spot space-wise. After majorly decluttering our stuff, I felt really comfortable in our place. We were living a comparatively minimalist lifestyle, and our "stuff" was under control. It felt good. Also, minimalism and small living is totally hip right now, and I liked considering myself one of the cool kids being counter-cultural and all.

But then we had another baby, and somehow things just started feeling cramped. She slept in our room, but all of her stuff and accouterments didn't have a real home. Her clothes stayed in baskets that rotated spots throughout the house, we were constantly tripping over her swing and boppy and Bumbo chair that seemed to live in the middle of the floor, and it just would've taken some major reconfiguration of our space to get her to fit in long-term. I started pining for more space.

Around this time, we started house-hunting for our move to Kansas. Based on our financial situation, we'd set a price range we were comfortable with and that we felt would get us a modest home, but I was surprised once we started looking at just how much house we could actually get in our price range (the Midwest, you guys, cost of living is sweet!). And once you know you can afford something bigger, it's kind of hard to hold back and stay small (especially when you're already daydreaming about more space).

So the house we got is more than double the size of our apartment in Houston. It wasn't the largest house we looked at or could afford, and it certainly isn't any McMansion, but it's still so much more space than we've ever lived in before. In fact, it's bigger than anything I've ever lived in before, including the house I grew up in.

At first, I was just giddily excited. The baby gets her own nursery! I get a home office! There are more than three drawers in the kitchen!

But then we started to make lists of all the things we would need to buy to live comfortably in this house. And the lists just kept growing and growing. This whole week it feels like we've been doing nothing but shopping: furniture stores and hardware stores, Walmart and Target and Ikea, and let's not forget the hours and hours online scouring Wayfair and Overstock and Amazon (and Craigslist, but you guys, scoring deals on Craigslist is an art form I do not have the skills, or patience, for). Going from renting to buying any size house comes with it's necessary purchases: washers and dryers and lawn mowers and hoses and all those things you're not responsible for when you rent. But then there's also all the furniture we need for these new rooms, and all these home improvement projects we're already trying to tackle (new carpet! new paint!). It feels like the list is endless.

And with every swipe of the credit card, my old anxiety flares up about all this stuff we are accumulating. It is so much stuff in so little time that it just feels overwhelming. There is so much stuff that part of me just wants to call the whole thing off. Let's just find an apartment and keep renting, keep living our minimal lifestyle, keep things small and simple so we never have to worry about replacing a roof or fixing the water heater or whatever million possible hassles we could face as homeowners.

But another part of me is still deeply excited by this new responsibility. Yes, this is a big house, and we will need to accumulate some more stuff to live comfortably here. Yes, there will be things to fix and a lot of work and a lot of money to keep it up. But this house is ours. It is part of this whole family thing that we are building together. It is a space that will give us room to grow and work and dream and build together as a family. Owning a home is an act of creation. We have here an empty canvas upon which we will create, decorate, design, build, work, clean, fix, arrange, and make it more beautiful. And we will do it as a family. I'm excited about this.

So while everyone else on the internet may be throwing up the virtues of downsizing and going minimal, we're upsizing. But there's still a huge part of me that will always feel drawn to a more minimal lifestyle, and so I'm working on creating some guidelines for myself on how to approach our accumulation of stuff. Here's what I've come up with so far.

1. Only buy what we need to live here comfortably. Just because we have more space doesn't mean we have to fill it to the brim. But we still want to make this extra space usable in the most effective way.

2. Take it slowly and be fiscally responsible. There are some things that we have to buy right away (like a lawn mower, washer and dryer, etc.), and some purchases we've budgeted for (like a new office desk and chairs), but other things we can wait on, like furniture for the front room, patio furniture, or decor items to fill up all this new wall space. We have some ideas of what we want to get, but we don't need them right away, so we'll wait until we've saved up or find the perfect item. This means things might look bare for a while, but I'm trying to be okay with that.

3. Buy less at a higher quality. We could buy a bunch of cheap furniture and decor to fill up the space, or we can buy fewer things that are slightly higher in quality. We're actually trying to take this approach when it comes to our home improvement projects too. There are a couple of rooms where I want to rip out the carpet and replace with a hard surface of some kind, but we decided to hold off on that right now and save up until we can afford to put in flooring that matches the hardwood already in the kitchen and dining area. We could've gone with a cheaper laminate or composite wood option, but hopefully by saving up and putting in higher quality flooring that matches through the whole house, it will increase the value of the home and help with resale.

4. Buy for joy and beauty. I never want to own more than I need, but I'm also giving myself permission to buy things that make our space beautiful or that make us happy (as long as it's in the budget).

5. Keep perspective and don't get attached. Just because we have the space now doesn't mean we will in the future. Should life ever throw us a curve ball, I want to be able to let all this stuff and space go and be able to downsize again. Maybe easier said than done, but I can try.

So, any other suggestions or nuggets of wisdom to share about how to upsize gracefully? I'd love to hear! I'm still feeling quite a bit of anxiety over all of this change, so advice is appreciated.

Also, you better believe there will be pictures coming, probably even whole before-and-after montages (I am the girl who posts about my over-thinking of holiday decorations, after all). But like I said, we'll be taking it slowly. We don't move in officially till next week (when the carpets are finished and they can ship our stuff to us from storage), and then we'll be drowning in boxes and chaos for a while, so don't expect anything soon.

But do get excited to hear the dramatic story of how we bought our house, complete with bidding wars, a private jet ride, and all the stress and anxiety of buying a house I hadn't actually seen!

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Travel Log: Charleston S.C.

trees, road
Okay, I know, this is not a travel blog. But sometimes when you go somewhere completely wonderful, you just need a place to share (a fraction) of the beautiful pictures you took.

Here's how the story went. On Thursday (May 18th) the movers showed up to pack up all our stuff (well, all the stuff we hadn't already packed ourselves). On Friday the moving truck rolled out taking the vast majority of our possessions to a lonely storage unit. And on Saturday Miss Lily and I boarded a plane (her first time!) to Charleston S.C., bidding farewell to our boys for a week, and to Houston forever.

This trip to Charleston was a fun girls trip with my mother-in-law and three sister-in-laws to celebrate my mother-in-law's significant birthday this year (out of deference to her, the specific number of this significant birthday will remain unnamed). I can't remember who picked this location (Evy?) but I will say that before this trip, I was only vaguely aware that Charleston even existed, and had completely zero life plans to ever visit. But oh, my, goodness! Am I ever glad I got the chance! I had no idea that any city with this level of charm existed outside of Europe. Basically, the entire city is one picturesque photo opportunity. There was just not an ugly place to aim my camera. So, ready for a few pictures? Here they come!

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Books I Read in May

You guys, I'm not positive, but I think I've hit a new all time low as far as books finished in a single month. At the end of last month I was in the middle of two books I was really enjoying, and in the entire month of May I managed to finish one of them! ONE! SINGLE! BOOK! In the whole month!

This is so embarrassing.

I've been scratching my head and trying to figure out why it was such a bad reading month, and the truth is, I'm just not sure. But here are some possible theories. First, it was a busy month. We bought a house (more on that later). We had a flurry of good-bye parties and social engagements. We packed up our apartment and moved to a new state (moving is the. worst. thing. ever!). And I spent the last week traveling. So things were pretty busy.

But I've had busy months before, and still managed to fit in a little more reading time, so I'm trying to figure out what else accounts for the slump. I was especially looking forward to the travel time, because I had five separate plane flights in which to read, and I thought for sure I was going to knock out some books there. But then, I was traveling solo with a lap baby who needed lots of attention on all those flights, so I think I ended up getting a total of thirty minutes of reading done in the air.

Honestly, I think that sweet baby is the major culprit for most of the reading slump. She has become extremely efficient on the nursing front. We're down to about five minutes a session which is barely long enough for me to check my phone before she's demanding to be burped and on with her day. So that precious reading time is all but gone. And I was trying to remember when I used to read, before nursing when there were just the two kids. I remember I used to read in the afternoons and listen to audio books while doing the dishes. Somehow, with three kids, that time just doesn't seem to exist anymore (not that there aren't still dishes to be done, it's just my husband seems to be doing them more because I'm occupied with one or the other of my needy children).

I think the real problem is that we just haven't settled into a good routine yet. The baby's nap schedule is still all over the place, so my days just aren't predictable right now. And then of course, we moved. Nothing more disruptive to one's routine than packing up and moving. Without my solid routine in place, I'm struggling to find my reading time. It doesn't help that I'm just exhausted all the time (once again, the baby's fault, I just can't get her to drop that pesky 4 AM feeding) and I'm in this brain-foggy place that makes focusing and mental activity (like reading) difficult.

Anyway, it's probably a combination of all these things. Hopefully this next month is better. Now, without further ado, let's get around to talking about that one solitary little book I finished. At least it was a really good one.

The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown

In my further defense, this was quite a long book. But you guys, it's totally worth all the hype. This really was such a good book. I can't count how many times I've heard it compared to Unbroken, with most people saying that Unbroken is better. And yeah, when one is the story of a guy who nearly dies in a plane wreck at sea only to be rescued by the Japanese enemy and sent to a POW torture camp, the story of nine college boys who win an Olympic medal seems tame by comparison. But I think I fall on the side of people who think that this book is actually better (not that it has to be a comparison, they are both extremely good). At the very least, I found this to be a more enjoyable reading experience, because it was so inspiring and uplifting (whereas Unbroken was quite a depressing slog for most of it). Brown is an extremely talented writer. I was just amazed at his ability to imbue these rowing races with drama. I was on the edge of my seat through every single race description, especially the final one when I knew the outcome! It was just really, really good writing, and a very inspiring story. I highly recommend.

Have you read it? Agree or disagree about the comparison to Unbroken? Any other thoughts?

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

The Book Blab Episode 13: The Girl Who Drank the Moon Mini Book Club

Sorry, guys. I didn't mean to drop out here for most of May, but life got real busy here. So busy that I couldn't even find time to read (which I'll tell you all about in my end-of-month round-up tomorrow). What have I been busy doing? Well, mostly packing up my house, moving all our stuff to storage, and then traveling around the country (which you probably know about if you follow me on Instagram).

Anyway, the good news is that during all my traveling, I ended up in Utah with a few free hours on my hands, and got a chance to meet up with Amy in person to film our latest Book Blab! And our babies got to meet!

Amy and Suzanne, babies

So, so fun!

Anyway, the long awaited discussion about The Girl Who Drank the Moon is here, and we had lots to say about this book (seriously, once we turned the camera off, we sat around chatting about this book for another thirty minutes or so). If you haven't read it, maybe don't watch this. Spoilers abound. But if you have read it, we'd love to hear your thoughts! Please let us know what you think about this book. Show notes below.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Listening Comprehension and Children's Audio Books: Some Thoughts

In March's Book Blab Episode, Amy and I talked about the importance of reading aloud to kids (of all ages). We covered a lot of material, but two things we didn't talk about in that episode (but which I've been thinking a lot about since we started reading longer chapter books aloud to our boys last year) were listening comprehension, and children's audio books. These two issues are related, but let's take them one at a time.

First, comprehension. One of the biggest concerns I had with starting longer chapter books with my then four-year-old was whether he would be able to follow and understand a longer story that took days and weeks to read. Drawing on my training as an English teacher and my experience of reading aloud to my son for the past few months, here's my best advice on increasing listening comprehension while reading aloud.

1- Choose age appropriate books with stories that your kid naturally finds interesting. This is easier said than done, and it takes some trial and error to figure out the books that work and the books that don't. Reading aloud is a chance to expose your children to books that are above their own reading level, because children can usually have higher listening comprehension than reading comprehension (another reason it's great to read aloud), but if you go too far above comprehension can plummet. Likewise, if your child isn't interested in the characters or story, they are less likely to pay attention. It takes some work to find books that hit the sweet spot for comprehension, and we've had a couple of duds (but it's always fine to stop reading a book that's not working and just move on).

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Happy Bloggiversary to Me!

Hi guys! Four years ago this month I pushed publish on my first little blog post here at Such Stuff, and while I didn't necessarily have a clear vision about what I was going to do with this space, it quickly became my favorite hobby of all time. Writing about books? Meeting up with other wonderful bookish people? Writing about other rambly things completely unrelated to books? Yes and yes! This little blog has been so much fun for me and brought me so much joy, and I hope I can keep up with it while plunging into the depths of grad school work at the PhD level (not to mention still raising those three kids....).

To commemorate my bloggiversaries, I like to do a little face-lift and sprucing up here on the blog. This didn't happen last year because, pregnant, so things were kind of in desperate need of some updating (I mean, desperate). I made a few simple cosmetic changes (hope you like the new header, I drew it myself, if that isn't painfully obvious) and spruced up my pages, which is what I want to draw your attention to.

First off, I finally have a page devoted to the archives of The Book Blab! Yay! I've been meaning to put this page up since, well, since we started doing The Book Blab, so that was long overdue. Now if you ever want to view a past video but don't want to go searching through all my archives, you can head to that page.

Second, I changed up my Books page with a much more aesthetically pleasing view of (most) of the books I've read and reviewed on Goodreads, but I would appreciate your feedback on this page. Right now when you click on the book cover, it takes you to my Goodreads review of the book. I thought that would be the most useful because Goodreads is where I actually give a star rating for every book I read, but would you prefer links to my actual blog posts? Since I don't thoroughly review every book, or sometimes talk about books in multiple posts, linking to posts can get messy. But if I get a strong response from you guys about wanting links to my blog posts, I'll see if I can work something out.

Also, right now that page is organized by the order I've read these books (most recent reads at the top), because this organization is the most useful to me. But this page is supposed to be useful for you guys, so would you prefer alphabetical order? Or some other kind of organization? Or do you not really care at all? Let me know in the comments, because I can reorganize fairly easily (especially if you want it in alphabetical order).

Finally, do you guys have any other input for me? Things about the blog you wish I would add/delete/change? Comments or advice? Favorite types of posts? Things you wish I'd write more about (or stop writing about, as the case may be)? Questions? I'm all ears, hit me up in the comments or shoot me an email.

And can I just say, thank you so much for reading! I love all you, the readers I know in real life, the virtual friends I've made through this blog, and even the silent stalkers who never comment! I'd still write if nobody ever read, but it's so much more fun with an audience, so thanks for joining me here.

Here's to many more years of blogging to come!

Monday, May 1, 2017

Books I Read in April

Well, I only made it through five books this month. I really shouldn't be all that disappointed, considering this still beats my goal of a book a week (and actually, by the end of April I've already read more books this year than I read the entire year of 2014, so that's something). It's just clear that all my luxurious nursing reading time is a thing of the past, and I'm back to fighting and scraping to find time for reading amidst all the other demands on my time. Also, I'm in the middle of two really good books right now that I had hoped to finish last week but alas, the time did not materialize. Anyway, I've actually written about most of these books already, so these reviews will be short with links to my other posts.

Rainbow Valley by L.M. Montgomery

It was charming and delightful, but I missed Anne. More thoughts here.

The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey

Stunningly beautiful. Beautiful story, beautiful writing, five star read. More thoughts here.

Rilla of Ingleside by L.M. Montgomery

Not the same kind of love as for the earlier Anne books, but still really good as a WWI book. More thoughts here.

Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo

Still really well written, but lost some of the novelty of the first in this duology (Six of Crows). Also, a bit dark and violent. Mentioned in this post.

The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill

I finished this one for a special mini book club Book Blab episode with Amy, but then she went and had her baby, so we didn't get the episode filmed this month. I'm saving all my thoughts for whenever we do get that episode filmed, so stay tuned for that (but read it yourself first, because spoilers!).

Actually, I just realized that I "read" a few more books this month by way of read-alouds and audio books with my son, but I'm still on the fence about counting those toward my personal reading goals. I'll share more about those in an upcoming post. Let me know if you've read any of these ones, would love to here your thoughts!