Monday, October 16, 2017

The Book Blab Episode 15: The Joys and Sorrows of Book Recommendations

Well, it's been a couple of months since our last one (my fault, I've had the crazy schedule lately), but Amy and I are back with another episode of The Book Blab. You guys, this one was seriously so much fun to record, we both had such funny stories about book recommendations gone awry! I'd love to hear your own stories in the comments. Also, apologies for the less than stellar lighting. We had to film at night because, once again, my schedule is crazy. Enjoy!

Show Notes

0:20 - Suzanne's new PhD program
1:35 - Today's topic: the perilous territory of making and receiving book recommendations
2:30 - Personal experiences with bad book recommendations
  • 3:00 - Suzanne's experience
  • 5:20 - Amy's experience
7:25 - How to handle a book recommendation that you didn't like
10:28 - The joy that comes from getting a good recommendation

  • 11:10 - Suzanne's experience
  • 11:50 - Amy's experience
13:25 - The anxiety of giving a book recommendation (but we love making recommendations anyway!)
15:40 - Suzanne's book recommendation gone wrong
18:20 - The times we've forced a book on someone, and it's gone over well
  • 19:00 - Amy's experience
  • 20:05 - Suzanne's experience
20:53 - The moral of this discussion
22:40 - Two seasonally appropriate reads for October
  • 23:30 - Suzanne's reccomendation
  • 24:50 - Amy's recommendation
28:08 - Conclusion

Books and links mentioned in the show:

Suzanne's recent post about time: Never Enough Time
Mister Pip by Lloyd Jones (Amy's review)
The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey (Suzanne's review)
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte (Suzanne's review // Amy's review)
A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman (Suzanne's review // Episode 6 of The Book Blab)
A Time to Dance by Padma Venkatraman (Amy's review)
The God Who Weeps by Terryl and Fiona Givens (Suzanne's review)
Dracula by Bram Stoker (Suzanne's review
And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie (Amy's review)

Friday, October 6, 2017

What Makes an Author?

I'm teaching English 101, the freshman writing course, this semester. It's been fascinating. So many things have changed since I took my own freshman writing course over 10 years ago.

The textbook we are using in my course is title Everyone's an Author, and we spent our first day of class reading the introduction and discussing whether the title is a true statement. Is everyone an author?

The authors of the textbook put forward an argument in the introduction that anyone who participates in social media or interacts online (which is basically everyone these days) is an author because they compose, "publish," and create work that has an audience (namely, whichever friends and family follow them, but potentially the world, since anything these days can go viral).

But while my students "publish" writing all the time to social media, very few of them felt like they could legitimately call themselves "writers," let alone something so endowed with cultural meaning as the word "author." During our discussion, I was able to pull out some of my own research interest knowledge and talk about how the invention of the printing press changed the way we view authorship culturally. Before the printing press, when anyone wealthy or lucky enough to find themselves in possession of a quill and parchment could write, the word "author" held a different meaning than it does today. In point of fact, it was much more closely related to the word "authority" (and it's not terribly hard to see how those two words are etymologically connected). An author was simply anyone who had the skill, the knowledge, the ability to write with "authority." Chaucer was an author because of his mastery of the (middle) English language. He could write with skill, he could write with authority, therefore he was an author.

Then the printing press came along, and things changed. Over time, printing press owners and then publishers became gatekeepers of the term "author," awarding it only to those writers they selected and allowed to move into print. No matter your level of skill or mastery of a subject, you could not call yourself an author until someone else, someone with the "authority" of a publishing house behind them, bestowed that title upon you.

In today's world of technology and social media, however, that is changing. Now, anyone with a computer and an internet connection can "publish" almost anything they want, from tweets to novels, and find an audience who will read them. The publishing house's role as gate-keeper is becoming narrower and narrower (although, it still pretty firmly exists). The term "author" is being applied to blog writers, people who self-publish novels, or those who write fan-fic. Our definition of who is an author is loosening, expanding, reforming with our technology.

But the point I put forward to my classes in our discussion is that I believe, in our new age of online publishing, the term "author" will need to revert to it's root connection to "authority." Yes, anyone can write whatever they want and post it over every social media account they want, but you should only be able to call yourself an "author" if you write from a position of "authority," a position of mastery and skill over the English language. And my goal for each of them, by the end of the term, is to help them gain that mastery and skill over the English language so that they can feel comfortable with claiming that mantle of "authority," so that they can truly consider themselves "authors."

But do I even consider myself an author? I, who only write in this small corner of the blogosphere, with my small and limited audience (hi, mom!). Do I even consider myself a writer? It's hard to claim those terms for myself. It feels like someone else, someone with "authority" needs to award those terms to me with a publishing contract and a book in print.

But at the same time, I do feel like I write with some skill, with some level of mastery (if I didn't feel that way, I sure would feel uncomfortable in my role as writing instructor at a public university). I do feel like this little hobby of mine, this little blog thing, however small my audience may be, is actually for an audience! People read my words! Doesn't that make me an author, at least in some sense?

I believe it does, and so I just want to say thank you. Thank you for coming here, for reading my words (however unskilled and unpolished they sometimes are). Thank you for participating in this space that brings me so much satisfaction and joy. Thanks for making me feel like in some small way, I can claim the title of "author."

Monday, October 2, 2017

Books I Read in September

You guys, my commute to school these days is loooong. I'm spending quite a bit of money on gas, and it's only a matter of time before I get pulled over because not a day goes by I haven't seen flashing lights somewhere on my drive (this portion of K-10 seems to be over-monitored, in my personal opinion).

But! I don't even mind, because two things: 1.) My drive is surprisingly pretty (in that Kansas, golden corn-field, sunflower, rolling green meadow kind of way). This may change come winter, but right now I'm loving the views. And 2.), you guessed it, the audio books. I made it through five books in September thanks to that commute, and some of them were quite good. So, let's jump in.

The Book of Speculation by Erika Swyler

Unfortunately, this was not one of the good ones. I mean, the description of it sounds good. Librarians? Mysterious and beautiful old books? Mermaids and traveling circuses and magic? It kind of sounded exactly like my thing. Alas, it failed to deliver, and my general recommendation is to skip this one. I just found it rather boring and uninteresting. I failed to care about any of the characters, the mystery at the center was obvious, there were plot-holes, and there was some content that just made this one not that enjoyable.

Dear Committee Members by Julie Schumacher

This one! Epistolary novel at its best! So this is written from the perspective of an older creative writing professor at a second-rate university where funding keeps getting cut and the building is falling apart around the poor, neglected English department. Having long given up on his own career ambitions as a novelist, and beset by numerous requests for various letters of recommendations (LORs) from students and faculty alike, Professor Jason Fitzger uses these letters as his outlet for creative writing. The result is hilarious. Maybe I found it so enjoyable because of my current re-entry into the world of academia, but this one was just so much fun. I highly recommend (with the caveat that there is a little bit of language at some points).

Beartown by Fredrik Backman

Backman strikes again. I just don't even have words to describe how powerful this one is. I mean, it's incredible. It was masterfully written, and I will be thinking about this book for a long, long time. The only reason it will not replace Ove as my favorite Backman is because the content is quite a bit darker, and the language considerably rougher, and therefore it is a harder, less enjoyable read. I just can't even believe how realistic Backman makes his characters, and how much sympathy he made me feel for everyone in this story. And there are some horrible people in this story! The one complaint I had is that at the end, the resolution felt a little too poetic, a little too... satisfying? I have a hard time explaining what I mean by that without giving away major plot points, and I simply don't want to spoil this for anyone. But if you've read it, I'd love to chat with you about it.

His Majesty's Dragon by Naomi Novik

This one was just a complete delight. I thoroughly enjoyed it. It's just my kind of historical fiction, as the tone and style feels like it could've been written in early 19th Century England. Except there are dragons. What fun! The characters and dragon lore and everything were very carefully crafted and this was just a super enjoyable read. My only complaint is that there wasn't a romance (everything is better with a romance), which I kind of understand given the circumstances, but I still wanted one. I'm tempted to read the next in the series (although, holy toledo there are like, nine books! Ugh!), but the plot preview doesn't leave much room for a romance in that one either, so, kind of less motivated. Anyway, still a fun, solid recommend.

The Hate U Give  by Angie Thomas

I suggested this one (before reading it) for my virtual book club, and after reading it I'm kind of super horrified because SO! MUCH! SWEARING! I mean, it's a YA book, and while there's generally been an increase in swearing in contemporary YA, this is way, way, way more swearing than I've probably read in any book ever. That being said, the swearing is all super realistic, and the book for certain would not be as authentic or believable without it. Still, just be warned before you begin, should you choose to read this one. And, despite the cussing, I do still recommend this one. It is a powerful, powerful book about very current controversial racial issues (the main character witnesses a police shooting of her friend), and I'm actually excited to talk about it with my book club because there is so much to talk about. The characters in this book are amazing, there is a lot of funny humor in between the horrible stuff, and I learned so much I didn't know before about people who have a very different life than mine (the point of reading diverse books). There is a reason this is a best seller right now, and I agree that it deserves it's place and should be read and talked about. But yeah, so much language. So, so much language. Just don't listen to it on audio (which I did, because that's the only way I can read books right now, so I know from experience that it's not a good idea, even though the narrator gives a fabulous voice to all the characters).

Anyhoo, what was your September reading like? Read any of these ones before? I'd love to chat about them if you have!

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Never Enough Time

Today is my birthday, and I'm giving myself the present of time to write a post here. It's been a while, and I've missed writing here terribly. But I'm still having quite a bit of trouble adjusting to my new schedule. I'm hoping it's just a this semester problem, I'm hoping things will settle down a bit and I'll get more efficient at all my new responsibilities and be able to breathe a little bit more often. But this past month has just been... intense.

I recently read a post on social media from a friend. She's a stay-at-home-mom, and another working mom had made a comment to her about how much time she must have for things. She was arguing back that stay-at-home moms work too, it's not all sitting around eating bon-bons and watching TV.

This debate is as old as... I don't know. Whenever moms started working outside the home regularly. Who has it harder? Who works more?

I've been a mother for almost six years now, and the vast majority of that time I've been and considered myself a stay-at-home mom. Even when I was a "full-time" student working on my master's degree, I wasn't gone for more than 15 hours a week, which hours-wise is less than part-time. I spent way more time "mothering" than I did studying. I was a mother first, a student second.

But this PhD thing is different. I'm outside the home 30 hours a week, twice as much as before. Technically, that is still less than full-time, but it's still been a HUGE difference. I'm not just a student now with classes and homework, I'm also a GTA. I'm a teacher, designing lesson plans and holding office hours and grading papers and getting paid (pittance, but I'm still getting paid). For the past month I have felt not just like a student mom, but like a working mom. And my time... my time as a working mom looks so different than it did as a stay-at-home mom.

But do I think working moms have it harder?

Here's the thing about time. We talk about time as if it is a standard thing that everyone experiences the same, but that just isn't true. Time moves so differently depending on your situation, your expectations, your desires, your emotions. Here's what I can say about my experience with time as a stay-at-home-mom and as a working mom.

As a stay-at-home mom, I spent a lot more time with my younger children. I spent more time preparing their meals, making home-made baby food, cooking meals from scratch, cleaning the dishes. I spent more time going to story-time at the library, play dates at the park, and hanging out with other moms of children my age. I had time to do a pre-school co-op, reading lessons, and home-school activities. I had more time to play with my children. Every moment of that time with my children felt loaded with deep, deep value. I was doing the most important work I could be doing, and it was hard but so valuable.

But I also spent more time in mind-numbing negotiation with toddlers. I spent so much time not being able to enjoy a coherent thought because of the constant chatter, the constant demands on my time. There was always a diaper to be changed, a snack to be dispensed, a baby to nurse, a toy to fix, something that had to be done right this minute or it would lead to a total meltdown. And all the luxurious time to run errands? Well, if I could time it right and get out the door in that perfect fifteen minute window after the baby's nap but before we needed to be home for lunch, then maybe I could get to the store. But if we missed that window, it meant the outing would inevitably end in tears.

As a working mom, however, I have time to think complete thoughts. I can sit for an entire hour in my office and not be interrupted. I can focus on reading an article with complex ideas without trying to block a constant stream of toddler chatter and requests and destruction in the back ground. I have time to listen to audio books during my commute. I spend six hours every day in clothes that have no spit-up on them and are not nursing friendly. I spend time doing my hair, wearing make-up, and wearing my contacts every day. I spend hours talking to other adults who talk back to me with intelligent thoughts, and we are not distracted by someone smearing spaghetti sauce on the walls or throwing toys at the baby's head. Spending my time this way feels incredibly luxurious, almost selfish even. I feel like I do not deserve it.

But also, as a a working mom, I cannot find the time to go grocery shopping. I cannot find the time to make baby food from scratch. I cannot find the time to go to the library, or play dates with other mothers. I feel so cut off from the other mothers in my area, because if I didn't meet them in the two months before I started school, I feel like there's no hope now. I have no time for this blog, for photography, for all those other hobbies I love and used to fill my evenings with. I haven't watched a TV show since before school started. I don't check social media any more. I get way less sleep.

And then there are those other things about my time now, the kind that just add to my guilt. Like how the nanny taught my two-year-old how to spell his name, or how I watched the video on my phone of the first time my daughter pulled herself up to a standing position because I wasn't there in person to see it. Or about how the birthday present that my husband gave me this year was to take all the kids over to grandma and grandpa's house for the night so I could spend one night without being woken by the baby, one morning sleeping in without children chatter. And it was amazing, and glorious, and I feel so much better after getting nine hours of sleep for the first time since... I don't even know when, but also somewhat guilty that the only present I wanted was to spend more time away from my children. (My baby woke my husband at 3 AM and 5:30 AM, so I'm more glad than not, it was a lovely present.)

I have felt stretched so thin these past few weeks. I have felt so fragile, because three children, and a house to keep up, and a full-time job on top is just really a whole, whole lot. I've found myself sitting in the parking lot at school, crying and praying and wondering again and again why I felt inspired to get this PhD thing. Why I'm bringing this level of craziness into our lives. Why am I using my time this way?

But on the other side, I've had such amazing experiences already. I've been reading so many interesting things, thinking so many thoughts! There are so many things I've been wanting to write about here, ideas I've had while teaching or from my classes. I've felt so lucky. What a privilege, to have this time to learn. What a pleasure, to be teaching again, things I'm interested in to students who actually want to learn (or who are at least paying a lot of money to be sitting in my class and therefore invested in getting a decent grade). I just feel so grateful that I get to be spending my time this way.

And I still do have time to make dinner every day. I'm still home every minute that my oldest is home from school (stupid full day kindergarten). I still have time to read to my boys before bed. I still have time for date night. I still have time to cuddle my baby in the morning. I still have time for the essentials, the most important parts.

Time is such an interesting thing. It stretches out at some points and speeds by at others. There is never enough of it, yet everything gets done in the end. As a stay at home mom, I never had enough time. I never had enough time for coherent thoughts, I never had enough time in adult conversation. I spent my time negotiating with toddlers and coaxing babies back to sleep, and it was exhausting and mind numbing. As a working mom, I never have enough time. I don't have enough time to do all my work and still play with my children. I spend my time flat out running and juggling and trying to not let any of the balls drop, and it is exhausting and guilt-inducing. There will never be enough time.

But time is all I have, and I firmly believe it's just a matter of learning how to use my time more efficiently. I'm still trying to figure it out, I'm still learning how to manage my time and how to fit everything in. Unfortunately, this blog is still going to be taking a backseat for a while, but hopefully not forever. There's just a huge learning curve here at the beginning. It's intense. But I'll figure it out, because this is my life, and I have to make time for all the things I love.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Books I Read in August

Well, August was an intensely busy month, but I still managed to read a few books. And by that, I mean that thanks to my hour long commute every day, audio books are keeping me in the pleasure reading business! It's so fun to look forward to my commute, although, also a little bit discouraging that I am restricted to audio books, because not every book is better on audio. Also, I haven't fully explored it yet, but my new library system doesn't seem to have quite as large of an audio book offering as my last library, which is problematic. But I'll figure out how to keep my audio book queue stacked one way or another.

Anyhoo, let's jump in!

Jane of Austin by Hillary Manton Lodge

As much as I love Jane Austen, I've found that most knock-offs are fun but substantially lacking. True for this one. It's a sweet little retelling of Sense and Sensibility, and it was fun to see how Lodge fit the story into a modern context, but beyond that there wasn't much to this one. It was squeaky clean and nice light fluff reading, but not much more. Still recommend if you like a nice light and fluffy romance.

Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders

Look, I love Lincoln, and I read a couple of rave reviews about this book, so I was excited to give it a try. And I will say, this was an incredibly creative new way to tell a Lincoln story and explore social issues during the Civil War. I was fascinated by the format, and the way entire chapters were made up of nothing but snippets and quotes from other books, biographies, and historical letters and documents carefully woven together to tell a narrative. I learned a lot. However, I categorically cannot recommend this book. I have a fairly high tolerance for swearing and sexual content, but this book surpassed my tolerance level significantly. Parts were just crass and gross (which I found so weird, considering the major characters are ghosts without bodies). This whole conception of the afterlife was just... depressing. Also, the unique format makes for a TERRIBLE audio book. If you must read it, read it in a print format.

My Grandmother Asked Me To Tell You She's Sorry by Fredrik Backman

Considering how much I loved A Man Called Ove, I find it a little strange that I'm only just now getting around to reading some of his other books. But part of the delay is that I just didn't see how he could write anything that lived up to Ove. And this book does not live up to Ove. But I still liked it quite a bit. The characters are just as wonderfully fleshed out and complex, and I realized what I love about Backman's style. He has this way of telling a story in a certain way to make you believe certain things about the characters, and then he'll take a step back and reveal the larger context and suddenly everything changes about how you see that character. It's brilliant writing. The critique I'd heard about this one is that the seven-year-old protagonist is just too unrealistic. She's supposed to be smart, but even still, no seven-year-old girl acts/thinks/talks this way. And it's a fair critique. But surprisingly, it didn't bother me too much. I still liked this little girl quite a bit, even if she wasn't a believable character. The story-line itself isn't quite as tight as it should've been, and there's a fantasy story element that kept me disoriented for a bit (it felt so different from Ove), but I still quite enjoyed it, and I'm putting all his other books on hold now.

Slade House by David Mitchell

I just love David Mitchell so much. I meant to read this one when it came out a couple years ago, but never got around to it. So when I found it as a featured audio book on my library's e-catalog page, I pounced on it. But I wish I would've saved it for October! It was such a delightful, creepy story with just the right amount of suspense and horror, it would've made for perfect seasonal reading around Halloween. This is a companion novel (maybe novella? It's short) to Bone Clocks, so you really need to read that one first. But I recommend everything by Mitchell (start with Cloud Atlas, it's by far his best).

What about you? Read any of these books? Any recommendations I should look into?

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Notes on a Crazy Month

You guys, this month! This month has been intense. These past two weeks have been insane. So much has happened in these past two weeks that I kind of feel like it's been a lifetime. Basically, my brain is so full it's going to explode. I've had to compartmentalize all the different parts of my life and assign times to think about these different parts, because when I try to think about all the different parts together, it's just too much for my brain to hold at once and I just feel the thoughts overflow and slip away. It has been a busy, busy few weeks.

So, I don't really have anything coherent to say here, but I thought it might be nice or cathartic or something to journal a bit, share some snapshots of all the busy parts that have been going on, and just let you know what's been on my mind. This might be a bit random, but oh well.

1. The Solar Eclipse We happen to live just a few minutes south of the zone of totality, but as luck would have it, I was assigned to teach my very first college class at exactly 1:00 PM on that very Monday. And while it might be excusable for a student to miss the first day of class, under no circumstances can an instructor (especially a bottom-of-the-totem-pole first year GTA instructor) miss the first day of class. So I was super disappointed to find myself on campus in Lawrence that day, with the possibility of only seeing 99.3% totality (so close! yet so far away!). Then, in an even more disappointing turn of events, it was so overcast I didn't even get to see any part of the eclipse! I quickly took roll as soon as class started, then ushered my students outside for the apex (which was supposed to happen around 1:07 PM for us), and we all stood around with our glasses in our hands wondering where the sun was even supposed to be behind the clouds. It did get dark, but with all the clouds it kind of just felt like the darkness of a summer thunderstorm. Super disappointing.

My husband, on the other hand, had a much more exciting experience. He checked our oldest son out of school and headed north with his family. Their first location got totally rained out, so they found themselves wandering some country back roads chasing the sun. They managed to find a hilltop right on the mid-line and jump out of the car just seconds before totality, and despite some light clouds they saw the whole thing, and had a very exciting story to tell. I'm so jealous I couldn't be with them. I told my husband that I don't care where we are in seven years, I am going to see the next eclipse!

2. I Started School! My PhD program started with a week-long orientation, eight hours every day. While this was an incredibly useful crash course in how to teach the classes I'm teaching this semester, it was GREULING. I came home exhausted every day with nothing but hours of homework ahead of me. But the biggest headache of that week was figuring out childcare. Being away from a baby you are nursing for eight hours a day is logistically (not to mention emotionally) taxing. I had to pull out the old breast pump (detestable thing) and find private corners to pump during our lunch break, and even still I noticed a decline in my milk production over the course of the week (perhaps it was the stress?). On top of that, my baby developed a serious addiction to formula and bottle feeding, and is now showing some cheeky attitude when I try to breastfeed. As much as I dislike breastfeeding, I hate paying for formula even more, so I'm fighting her on this, but it feels like a losing battle. I might be weaning earlier than anticipated, which I'm both happy and depressed about. But baby girl's newfound love of formula has in no way dampened her enthusiasm for that 4 AM feeding she still won't drop (at least not permanently, she occasionally sleeps through it, raising feelings of false hope in me that come crashing down a few days later when she decides nope! Party at 4 AM is just too much fun). And no, I do NOT offer her a bottle at that feeding. Baby girls who insist on waking their mothers up at that time of day do not get rewarded with sugary fake beverages in synthetic plastic bottles. If I dry up, well then, she'll just have to deal with it.

3. My Baby Started Kindergarten! My oldest baby started kindergarten that same week as orientation (another logistical headache), but thankfully his transition was just about as smooth as can be. I was not one of those weepy mothers (except for the part about how I MISSED BEING THERE), because I'm actually kind of excited to have kids old enough for school. And he's loved it so far, even though I don't think it's quite living up to his expectations about what school was going to be like. We've probably been watching a little too much Magic School Bus recently, because he asked me last week when his class was going to go on a field trip, and why weren't they learning about all the animals in the ocean, because that's what he thought he was going to learn about at school. Hmmmm. It really is unfair to expect a public ed teacher to live up to Ms. Frizzle.

4. I Saw Hamilton! In Chicago! So, months and months and months ago, my husband and I decided that we needed to see Hamilton, and we were just going to make it happen no matter what. So we hopped online and bought the cheapest tickets we could find at the earliest possible date, which happened to be... last weekend. Then everything else in our life happened (getting into grad school, moving, etc.), and when I realized our weekend trip to Chicago was going to be right after the first full week of school, I just about cancelled (because, can you say most exhausting week of the year?). But I'm so glad we didn't cancel, because despite being exhausted and stressed, that trip was AMAZING and totally, completely worth it. It was so fun to be back in our old stomping grounds (and kind of sad we haven't been back more often in the four years since we left), seeing what's changed about the city (taxes on shopping bags!) and what's stayed the same. The weather was gorgeous, the company fabulous, and we had the best time. It's been a while since we've had a trip without kids, and I'm already itching for another one (preferably after the baby is actually weaned, so the hated old breast pump doesn't have to come along). Also, seeing Hamilton live was really, really super fabulous. I have lots of thoughts about the whole thing, but I'll spare you that since I'm already rambling on here longer than anyone really cares about.

5. Hurricane Harvey As much fun as we had in Chicago, guys, my heart is breaking for Houston right now. My Instagram and Facebook feeds have just been a mess with all the devastating images my friends are posting. Thankfully most of our friends have stayed dry and been okay, but a few of our friends did get flooded, and some more evacuated or were out of town and don't know when/how to get back. There's a part of me that is grateful we weren't there through it, but another part of me wishes we still lived there so we could help and serve. It's hard to watch something like this happen to people and places we know and love, and feel so helpless. We're certainly praying and donating and doing what we can from afar, but my goodness, what a week!

Okay, I've got to get back to doing some real work now. Life is just very, very full right now, and while I'm trying to get a good routine going so I can figure out some more regular time to fit in blogging, the truth is that I can't even figure out how to fit grocery shopping into our new weekly routine (I tried running to Aldi the other night only to find they close at 8 PM, not helpful!). So posts might be few and far between, but I'm not giving up yet! If I've learned anything, it's that this space provides me with a little bit of sanity and writing here makes me feel like I still have some "me" time, so I'll fight for it.

How's your back-to-school transition going so far?

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!