Friday, May 18, 2018


Well, I did it. Submitted all those final grades today, the very last item on my spring semester to-do list. And that's it. The first year of my PhD is in the books, with nothing but a long summer stretching before me, home with the kids!

Actually, I've been home full time for over a week now, and can I just say...

It's been an adjustment.

So funny, how long I've been looking forward to summer and to just being a stay-at-home mom again, no more rushing everything, no more dropping the kids off at the nanny's, no more stressing when the school calls about my child being sick and I'm over an hour away tied up in student conferences, no more guilt! Just staying home, spending all the time with my kids, doing all the things I haven't had time for!

And then to come home and remember that, oh yeah, stay-at-home life can be rough!

Yes, being in school for a full course load while teaching two classes was incredibly busy and stressful. But it was also fulfilling and immediately rewarding. I mean, there was the sitting in class and talking to professors and other grad students and hearing them respond to my ideas and treat me like I was an interesting, intelligent human being. But then there's all these other confidence building rewards too, signals that real people in this real world like me and think I have something to offer: getting As on my papers, getting two papers accepted to conferences, getting high ratings from my student evaluations and comments telling me about how much I impacted my students' lives, winning a departmental award for best graduate seminar paper, etc. It's pretty addicting, that feeling of "Yes! I'm a smart, intelligent person, and other people think so too!"

But then I come home, and my kids are like: "I want more milk!" "Change my poopy diaper!" "I want a snack!" "Mom, I can't find my shoes!!!!" And while I'm doing my very, very best to raise polite, pleasant little children, we're not there yet. So much of being a mom is feeling like a failure. Feeling like a drudge. Feeling like you are doing nothing right, and no one is giving you gold stars for what you are doing right. In fact, most of what you do right as a mother (serving vegetables for dinner! enforcing those screen limits! getting everyone bathed and to bed on time!) is met with outright hostility.

It's an ungrateful position. You work so hard for so little encouragement except to wake up again the next morning to be met by another round of thoughtless demands, tears, and failure.

But you know what? I'm grateful for it, if for no other reason than to keep me humble.
"Though I have been busy, perhaps overbusy, all my life, it seems to me now that I have accomplished little that matters, that the books have never come up to what was in my head, and that the rewards—the comfortable income, the public notice, the literary prizes, and the honorary degrees—have been tinsel, not what a grown man should be content with."  -Wallace Stegner, Crossing to Safety
I'm extremely grateful that I'm getting a PhD right now. This past year has been hard, but in an amazing way. I've seen what I can do. I've seen how I can grow. It's been incredible to get to develop in this way, and it feels so, so right. It feels like exactly what I'm meant to be doing.

But I already know that at the end of my life, it won't matter a smidge.

No degree, no career, nothing matters more than my children. My family. My real life. And while it's super nice to get those shiny grades and awards and gold star recognition, my real growth as a human being happens in the far more humble work of making dinner every day, and scrubbing pee-covered toilets, and folding the millionth load of laundry, and putting the to-do list on hold to go outside and push my son on the swing for the hundreth time today. It's rocking my baby to sleep because those molars are coming in slow and painful and she needs her mama. It's reading stories to my boys before bed. It's having dance parties in the kitchen. It's those small, golden, sometimes hard and un-glamorous, moments that the real rewards of life are found.

So here's to summer! Here's to being home with my kids! Here's to more growth and personal development, more testing of patience, more analyzing priorities, more looking for the positive, more focusing on love!

(And here's to the fact that in August, I'll get to go back to school again!)

Thursday, May 10, 2018

The Book Blab Episode 17: Book Clubs

Hi guys! I know it's been a million years (my fault, I'm the one with the crazy schedule), but Amy and I finally got together to record another episode of The Book Blab! This was another really fun discussion about book clubs (honestly we may do a Part 2 episode here, because we didn't even get around to talking about what books make good book club reads). And please, tell me all about your book club experiences in the comments. What makes them good, what makes them not-so-good? I'd love to hear!

Show notes below!

(Also, ugh, excuse the awful lighting on my end, and the technical glitches. I filmed this while taking a study break in a study room at the library, so there was awful fluorescent lighting and a jumpy wi-fi connection. Apologies.)

1:00 - Life updates
1:50 - Today's topic: book clubs
2:40 - Why would you want to be in a book club?
  • 3:20 - A book club lets you discuss those books that beg to be discussed
  • 4:08 - A book club helps you see a certain book in a new way
  • 4:16 - It's fun to socialize with other readers
  • 5:10 - A succinct answer to that question
5:58 - A few descriptions of some of the book clubs we've been in
  • 6:17 - Suzanne's traditional book club in Chicago
  • 7:50 - Suzanne's casual book club in Houston
  • 8:03 - Suzanne's Learning Circle through the Power of Moms organization
  • 9:22 - Amy's education group
  • 10:15 - Suzanne's brand new book club in Kansas City
  • 10:33 - Suzanne's virtual book club with former college roommates
  • 11:57 - Amy's neighborhood book club
  • 12:58 - Amy's very traditional, very serious book club
  • 15:55 - Amy's family reunion book club
  • 17:00 - Suzanne's family book club (and surprising confession!)
  • 17:53 - Amy's plans for a book club with her kids this summer
  • 19:30 - The Book Blab mini-book clubs
20:18 - Helpful tips for making a book club work well
25:36 - A few ideas for how to start a book club
29:26 - Two of our favorite books about motherhood

  • 30:05 - Suzanne's recommendation
  • 31:20 - Amy's recommendation
33:47 - Conclusion

Books and links talked about during the show:

The Read-Aloud Family by Sarah Mackenzie
Till We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis
Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner
The Four Tendencies by Gretchen Rubin
Mini-book clubs on The Book Blab (Episode 6 on A Man Called Ove and Episode 13 on The Girl Who Drank the Moon)
Educated by Tara Westover (Suzanne's review

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Books I Read in April

Well, look at that, another month has passed, time for another check in on the books I read.

I had good plans of popping over here mid-month and writing up a real kind of post. You know, the kind I used to write before I started this PhD thing. But here's the thing about academia. April is the worst month of the year for us. It's just unbelievably cruel, everything that has to get done before an academic year wraps up. I'm still up to my eyeballs in grading and term-papers and all that fun stuff. But on top of that, my kids decided to have a super exciting month of illness! I dealt with lots of vomit, several rounds of fevers, a nasty chest cold that all three kids can't seem to get over, and endless snot-faucets, all accompanied with lots of middle-of-the-night shenanigans that made everyone involved super happy. Also, the baby popped out two molars, and made sure to let me know how she felt about it. Also, potty training continues with the three-year-old, which means I spent two hours yesterday scrubbing poop off the carpets and play tent in his bedroom. So anyway, all that is to say, I've had some other things going on, and a post did not happen.

But the horizon looks rosy indeed! My very last class happens tomorrow, and then I've still got a week scrambling to get my papers written and grades submitted, but after that! After that my summer is looking gloriously open! Which means maybe I'll have more time to write!

But probably, ironically, less time to read, since I will be losing my glorious daily commute. That commute is the only reason I finished five books this past month. Do you want to hear about them? Here we go.

Educated by Tara Westover

Have you heard of/read this one yet? It's getting tons of buzz, New York Times bestseller, all that. Honestly, I could write a whole post about this book. And maybe I will soon. Because I have lots of thoughts. Lots and lots and lots of thoughts. And feelings. Lots of feelings. I'm not sure a nonfiction book has ever made me feel this way. It was strong, and it was visceral, and it was anger. In fact, one night while I was listening to this and cleaning up, my husband asked me if I was angry at him. I realized that I'd been short and snapping, and I said, no, I was not angry at him, I was angry at this book. Well, not the book itself, and not Tara Westover (the author,) but more her family, and the situation in this book. I'm probably not doing a very good job of convincing you to read this book, but yes, honestly, I think you should read it. Everyone should read it, and then talk with me about it. I need to talk to people about this book so I can process my emotions here. Have you read it? Can we talk?

The Turn of the Screw by Henry James

I picked this up because I wanted something good and something short while I waited for another book to come off my holds list, and this delivered both. James is a brilliant writer, but I actually found myself pretty annoyed at his style here. It just felt like he (well, she? the narrator is a female) could never just say things plainly. But I guess heightened suspense and literary ambiguity and whatever. The mix of ghost story and possible weird Freudian psycho stuff would make this a perfect October read, if you're looking.

Shadows of Self by Brandon Sanderson

Mistborn #5. What to say about this one? If you love Sanderson, you'll like this one. If you don't care for fantasy, nothing you need to see here.

Paradise by Toni Morrison

This one has been on my to-read list forever. Morrison is one of those author's I've always been meaning to read, but never gotten around to. Until this month, when I finally decided to cross her off. But apparently this book is #3 in a trilogy? I didn't know that until after I'd read it. And I'm not sure how necessary it is to read the other two first, I didn't feel like I was missing anything. However, I will caution against listening to this one, the prose/narrative style doesn't lend itself well to follow easily on audio (at least, I personally felt that way). Otherwise, the writing was beautiful, the characters interesting, and the story just utterly heartbreaking. It's one of those books I'm glad I've read, but I didn't exactly enjoy being in the middle of reading it, because you know how it's going to end from the beginning, and everything is just so sad. So I recommend it, just don't expect it to be full of happiness and springtime.

Exit West by Mohsin Hamid

I'd read a couple positive reviews on this one, so added it to my holds list when scrolling through my library lists. What those reviews didn't mention was this book technically falls into the genre of magical realism, which as you may remember, is not my favorite genre. But guys! I actually liked this magical realism! First off, it was fairly subtle, only one element really. Second, it added quite a bit to the themes of the story, so I loved that. I recommend this book in general. It was a powerful, humanizing perspective on the global immigrant/refugee crisis we've got going on right now. It was also a love story, but not a typical one. It was shortish, and well written, and all around quite good.

Okay, that's it for April! Read any of these? I'd love to hear about it! (Especially if you've read Educated, what did you think???)