Monday, June 10, 2019

The Case for Audio Books

Audio books, listening, ear buds, woman with ear buds, books, favorite accessory

Okay, it's 2019 now. Audio books have made great strides in becoming accepted forms of "reading". Most of us have realized how awesome audio books are in terms of convenience, allowing for multi-tasking, and just sheer entertainment value. Audio books are here to stay for good.

However, there are still some purists out there. Some book lovers who hold to the hard line that if your eyes don't actually see the words on a piece of paper, then it doesn't "count." And look, I'm not here to bash those people down and say they are wrong.

All I want to do is give some historical context for this debate.

But let's start with science. Science has weighed in on this argument before, with studies coming down on both sides. On the pro-audio-books-side we get studies like the following:

1. This one, a blog post by Dr. Daniel Willingham, is perhaps my favorite. He's an educational psychologist who focuses on the science of reading, and he lays out my favorite defense of audio books.

2. Then, I love studies like this one, that show how beneficial audio books can be for developing literacy in children. Yes and yes!

3. And then there are a bunch of other studies on some more random positives, like this one about emotional impact (don't love that this one is sponsored by Audible, always a red flag, but interesting findings nonetheless!).

But then there are articles like this one from Time, which acknowledge some of the benefits of audio books, but land on the side of paper books for the following reasons:

-Inability to go back and re-read material to aid in comprehension
-No underlining/highlighting/marginalia, and no ability to see textual cues (like bolded headings, etc.) that help organize information in the brain.
-And, the multi-tasking thing can really be a distraction! Your brain can't focus on two activities at once!

I don't disagree with any of these points. They are valid positives for reading books in print. I love reading many types of texts in print for the benefits of these very reasons!

However, I do want to talk about how all of those arguments might not matter as much as some "paper books or die" hard-liners think.

There is one quote from that Time article that I actually think is really, really important for understanding this whole debate. One researcher, Dr. David Daniel, participated in a study that found that people who listened to information on a podcast vs. reading it in print performed significantly worse on a comprehension quiz, but he made the following observation: "We get good at what we do, and you could become a better listener if you trained yourself to listen more critically." In other words, perhaps we don't comprehend from listening as well as from reading simply because we don't practice critical listening nearly as much.

And this is the point I want to make. Historically speaking, the human mind is far more adapted to receive and comprehend oral information than written information. We were speaking and telling stories and orally communicating for centuries before writing ever developed. In fact, writing is so new on the evolutionary time scale that we as humans haven't actually evolved any physiological features specific to writing and silent reading, we just borrow from all the language areas of the brain that were already in place for spoken communication.

And even after the invention of writing, sound and phonetics and oral communication remained dominant or at least equally important for information sharing for centuries. Much of this was due to the scarcity and expense of writing materials. Papers, inks, writing utensils, and books were all prohibitively expensive for the vast majority of the population, and so when households were lucky enough to have a book or two, reading was usually a communal experience, with one person reading aloud for the rest of the household to listen to. We know from some interesting historical accounts that reading was still very connected to the oral for a long time: when people read, even if it was just to themselves, they read aloud. Words were sound, they were not separated.

Even after the printing press and the drastic influx of printed material and literacy rates, it really wasn't until the Romantic period, about the end of the 18th, early 19th Century, when reading became a solitary and silent activity. It was about at this point when writers began writing more for that silent type of reading as well. Before the Romantics, the dominant literary forms were drama (Shakespeare) and poetry, both of which benefit greatly from being read aloud. The rhyme, the cadence, the whole literary form is deeply connected with the sound of the words being said aloud. But after the Romantic period (which did have it's fair share of poetry), the novel really became the dominant literary form. Prose novels disassociated spoken and written language like never before, and with the longer and longer works, it became easier and faster for readers to read silently in their heads.

But what I want to stress is that silent, individual reading is a fairly new trend in the grand historical perspective. We seem to think it is the "best" way to consume information, but that is only because it is what we are taught and what we spend most of our time practicing. I've read the studies all about how we comprehend complex information better if we read it on paper, underline, highlight, or how note-taking on paper helps us retain information we listen to. But I think that some scholars of antiquity  (think Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, you know, those really stupid people) would have grounds for accusing us of "cheating" when we do that. Can't we just remember what we hear? Those guys used to have serious memories, and we "cheat" ourselves of a great deal by relying on paper notes and books to store all the information for us, with only the need for us to remember where it is stored, not what the information actually is. After all, we can always go look it up!

I've found personally in my own experience that listening comprehension really is a skill that can be improved with practice. When I first started listening to audio books, I could only handle listening to a few genres (lighter, fluffier, entertaining novels) at single speed. I didn't like listening to non-fiction or super flowery literary texts. Soon, I worked my way up to listening at 1.5 speed, and while it was disorienting at first, my brain soon caught up and it began to feel normal.

Now, I listen to everything--non-fiction, literary fiction, all the genres--at double speed and it doesn't even begin to phase me (and there was even a period where I accidentally listened to a few books in a row at triple speed, but my brain did have trouble with comprehension then). Initially, my rule for myself was that I would only listen to books I read for personal enjoyment, and that I would read on paper all my school work. But last year, after years and years of audio book listening, I finally decided to try listening to some of my homework on audio. And we're not just talking about how I listened to Jane Eyre and Emma, I also tried out listening to Chaucer's Canterbury Tales and Beowulf on audio, and other more complex texts that I could find audio versions of. And guess what! It worked great! Did I retain as much as I would've if I'd read them on paper? I don't know for sure. But I do believe with more and more practice, my critical listening skills will only get sharper and sharper. I'll be able to comprehend more, remember more, and have just as profound literary experiences through listening as through traditional reading.

I do want to note that my comprehension experience with texts like the Canterbury Tales and Shakespeare's plays may actually have been enhanced by listening due to the fact that these plays and poems were meant to be spoken aloud, and hearing them can add a lot that a silent reading experience misses out on. But I will admit that this type of enhancement may not hold true for every genre, especially modern literature. The last time I tried listening to an audio book of Virginia Woolf, I struggled to understand what was going on, not because I'm not a good listener, but because that specific text was very much written by an author who was writing for the silent, individual reading audience. I will absolutely agree that some texts are better in written form, not because reading with your eyes is inherently better, but simply because that is the type of reading the text was designed for.

However, I will still contend that complex ideas can be communicated verbally. Think of university lectures. Think of TED talks and presentations. Think of famous speeches. Think of religious sermons. We can listen to big ideas, complex ideas, and understand them without the aid of our eyes looking at words. The same is true for stories. Even long ones (heck, both the Illiad and the Odyssey were oral poems performed in front of live audiences before they were written down). We can listen and understand and follow long narrative (and not narrative texts) without ever looking a single written word. Our brains were designed to do that.

One final note, about the criticism of multi-tasking. The Time article states that listening to audio books is bad for comprehension because we will be tempted into multi-tasking and be unable to concentrate. I'm the first to agree that multi-tasking is bad for the brain. You simply can't focus on two intellectually demanding jobs at once. You can't listen to an audio book and respond to emails at the same time. At least not well. But there are plenty of activities people do every day that do not require any sort of conscious attention: washing dishes, driving that familiar commute to work, folding the laundry. Those tasks are perfect for listening to audio books: your hands stay busy (an important part of attention and focus) but your mind is free to listen and pay full attention to the book.

So there it is. My case for audio books. Don't dismiss them because you don't think they are as "legitimate" as reading a paper book. Audio literature was legitimate before paper books were even invented. And don't assume that just because you may find it difficult to listen or remember or understand as well with audio information that the entire form is not as good. You've just been raised in a paper-oriented world and trained yourself to learn/understand/read that way. With a little practice, your audio/listening skills can prove to be just as sharp. Remember, your brain really was designed to process language that way!

Monday, June 3, 2019

Books I Read in May

Halloo! Let's just jump right to the good news: in May I read sixteen books!!!!! Yes, that deserves five exclamation points, because this has to be some kind of record for me. I can't remember ever hitting such high double digits in a single month before, so feeling pretty excited about that. Now, to be honest, most of these books were light, quick, fluffy, and/or super short (but a few were longer and more substantial!), but even so, it was a great reading month. Welcome to summer!

Now, we have a lot to get through, so let's begin, shall we?

Dear Mrs. Bird by AJ Pearce

This one reminded me of a cross between The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society and Everyone Brave is Forgiven. It's not quite as good as either of those, but it's still charming and delightful and sad and depressing and so good in its own right. Yes, it's another WWII novel, but it really is worth a read if you're not sick to death of that genre. I generally recommend.

Transcription by Kate Atkinson

Yet another WWII novel, but this one did NOT hit the spot for me like the one above (maybe I shouldn't have read it right after?). I think Atkinson's writing is just beautiful. I love the way she structures sentences, and I love the way she does indirect discourse (although, does anyone *really* think in Shakespeare quotes?). However, the overall plot was really lacking in depth and interest. Which is crazy, considering this is supposed to be a spy/espionage/double-crossing agents thriller! I just think it fell flat. Generally, you can skip this one!

Mortal Engines by Philip Reeve

This book was quite a bit of fun while I was in it, but apparently hasn't left much of an impression on me, or a desire to read any other books in this series. In general, I'd watch the movie version if the opportunity ever presented itself, and I'd generally recommend this to middle-grade readers who enjoy action and good world-building (futuristic steam-punk, really interesting world). It's pretty good, but not fantastic.

The Royal We by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan

Man, this one was stupid. And long. In general, definitely feel free to skip this one. I like the royal family about as much as the next person (okay, that's probably a lie, some people are obsessed, and I definitely don't fall into this category), and I was looking for a fun, light spoof on Kate and William. This would've been better if it actually had been that, but they just packed in so much extra drama I couldn't handle it. I kept reading it because I just wanted to get to a description of the big wedding day, so imagine my complete disappointment when the book ends the night before!!! Ugh, what a waste of my time.

Alanna: The First Adventure by Tamora Pierce

Okay, don't judge a book by its cover, because the girl on this cover is definitely saying "Don't read this book, or I will burn you with the intensity of my disapproving glare!" But anyway, this is an older middle-grade fantasy series I'd never heard of but randomly ran across a recommendation that made it sound worth looking into, and I was not disappointed. It was short and quick, but packed in a lot of story! The main character is quite a fierce little girl (which is what that picture is trying to depict). She pretends to be a boy so she can learn to be a knight, and she fights hard to keep up with the other boys. It was a fun story, and I enjoyed the writing and the world enough to immediately jump into the second one...

In the Hand of the Goddess by Tamora Pierce

And this one took a turn and surprised me a bit. In the first book, she grows from age to 10 to 14, and that feels like the target audience age for the book too. But in this one, she goes from age 14 to 18, and has much more "adult" experiences, but the writing style and pacing still place this firmly in middle-grade territory. So that felt a little weird. I mean, there was nothing graphic or descriptive, but it was all pretty casual, which I didn't see coming. Anyway, the plot in this one got rather exciting, and I enjoyed it enough to continue on with the series.

The Girl You Left Behind by Jojo Moyes

I read Moyes uber popular Me Before You and didn't love it as much as the rest of the world, but I could tell I liked Moyes' writing style. So I decided to pick this one up. It flashes back and forth in time between contemporary London and WWI France. And guess what? I do like Moyes... when she's writing historical fiction. I didn't care as much for the contemporary story (why do I have such a hard time with contemporary fiction?) but the overall plot was interesting enough to keep me hooked until the end. I liked all the war/looted art history stuff, and I think this would make a really interesting book club book because man, is there some controversial stuff to discuss (not just about looted art, but especially about "consent" in war time)! I'm not entirely sure how I feel about the plot, but I think it was just good enough this is a recommend.

Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik

Oh man, you guys! I loved this book! I'm really on a historical-fiction-Russian-fairy-tale-retelling kick (see these books), and this one fit that bill perfectly. I can't even really say what it is that I liked about this book so much. I think it was the fact that the story revolved around two women who were generally under-appreciated by their families, who both found themselves in less than ideal accidental marriages, and then who both displayed their true value and worth in saving their respective kingdoms! The romances were both slow burns (considering you wanted both husbands to die slow and torturous deaths for most of the book), but I wish this book could've gone on longer and longer and longer. It was everything I love in a good fairy-tale retelling!

The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin

I read some really positive and really intriguing reviews of this, so I decided to check it out, and yeah, this is kind of incredible. Jemisin has built a really cool world here with a really interesting magic (?science?) system, and I loved the way the plot unfolded. I especially appreciated that the main character was a mother (because so often in fantasy/sci-fi, mothers tend to not exist as real people), and there were just a lot of really cool things about this book. However, I can't recommend it. One of the story-lines just had some really gross graphic situations and was generally crude enough that I just couldn't love it the way I wanted to. I may still continue on with this series, but I'm letting it sit a while before I decide.

Open Road Summer by Emery Lord

Not much to say here, but light, fluffy, mostly fun. The main character supposedly had this hard edge to her, but the book itself was quite clean. If you want a fluffy YA summer romance, this one is just fine. I've mostly forgotten about.

Field Notes on Love by Jennifer E. Smith

Another light, fluffy YA summer romance, but I will say I liked this one quite  a bit more than the last one. I don't know why. The plot is utterly ridiculous (just read the Goodreads summary) and predictable, and yet... I liked it. However, this one likely won't stick with me long term either.

Front Desk by Kelly Yang

This one is getting a lot of (well deserved) buzz recently, and I am on the bandwagon! I loved this book! It is such a fantastic middle-grade novel and hits really heavy topics (immigration, racism, poverty, etc.) with just the perfect tone. The main character is spunky and so fantastic! I loved the cast of characters. I will admit, I felt like some of the plot-line was a little far-fetched, until I read the author's note at the end about how many of these events are based on her actual life story!!! Unbelievable and so cool! I can see this one being read in schools all around the country, it's just so great. I highly recommend, to adults and middle-grade alike!

One True Loves by Taylor Jenkins Reid

This one is supposed to be a light contemporary romance, but man, I came away so depressed from this one. I both agree and disagree with how this book ended. I mean, the main character is in an impossible position (it's Castaway, but from the wife's point of view, where she's engaged to be married when her dead husband turns out to be alive after being stranded on an island for three years), and we are meant to be sympathetic to how she's changed and moved on and become a new person who is not the same person she was before grieving the "death" of her husband. Yet! I believe in eternal marriage! So yeah, this one was just depressing.

The Woman Who Rides Like a Man by Tamora Pierce

Knocked out the third book in this series in a day, and yeah, same thoughts as the second book. I like this world, this character, this story, but I just don't feel like it's appropriate for middle-grade? But I guess I'm just super prudish? Anyway, there really is zero graphic description, so I do recommend this for older fantasy readers (who can handle a middle-grade plot pacing).

The Blue Castle by L. M. Montgomery

How has it taken me this long to read this book!!! I know how, because this book does not exist in audio book format!!! Ugh, that has been so frustrating for me, because this book has been on my list for ever now, but I had to wait for school to end before I could sit and read it in paper (well, e-paper, but you know, still had to use my eyes instead of ears). Anyway, I loved it! So much! I think the plot is incredibly predictable, and I think "Barney Snaith" is the worst name for a hero ever conceived, but this book was just delightful on every level. Oh, how dreamy Valancy's year in the Blue Castle sounded! What a sweet and lovely little story! I will definitely be re-reading this one some time, it was just so wonderful! Highly, highly recommend (especially if you like Montgomery).

What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty

Okay, so I read this one by accident. I thought I would be reading a book about a woman with dementia/Alzheimers, but turns out that book is called Still Alice (can you see how I got those two titles mixed up?). Anyway, I realized pretty quickly this was not the book I thought it was, and I also realized pretty quickly that this book had an almost identical plot to a Sophie Kinsella book I read a while ago and didn't care for (called Remember Me? but at least there weren't children involved in that one). Anyway, I ended up getting sucked into this one, and it ended up being pretty good. I'm glad it ended the way it did. If you like contemporary fiction, this one is okay (some swearing, some infidelity, nothing graphic). It was better than the other Moriarty book I've read (The Husband's Secret).

Whew! Can you believe that was just one month? Man, this is going to be a good summer! As always, which ones of these have you read, and what are your thoughts? I always want to know!

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

No Punishment Parenting: A Divine Pattern

The first time I read a parenting book that recommended abandoning punishment completely, I thought that sounded entirely crazy. Not that I've ever been a fan of corporeal punishment, but after all, "spare the rod, spoil the child" is in the Bible, right? Or something like that.
It was just hard to imagine how to parent children without "punishment," without timeouts for tantrums, without "consequences" for naughty disobedience, without at the very least verbal reprimands. But frankly, time-outs hadn't actually been working out for me all that well anyway, so I decided to give this "no punishment" thing a whirl, just see what happened. To be honest, I expected it to be disastrous. I expected it to lead to chaos and anarchy.

But I was completely wrong, and the parenting books were completely right.

I'll get to more on my experience in just a minute, but I've done a lot of thinking about this concept, and a while back I had a huge "ah-ha!" moment when I realized that no-punishment parenting is actually a very divine way of parenting. Hear me out for a second.

What are the reasons we punish children? I can think of two off the top of my head:

1.) To teach/motivate/extract good behavior


2.) Justice

Maybe there are other reasons to punish children, but at least for me, these two pretty much cover it. I would punish my children because "they just have to learn!"

But does punishment actually teach? In my experience... no. Well, yes actually, it teaches a lot. It teaches children to be afraid. It teaches fear. It also potentially teaches children they are not worthy of love. It rarely teaches children the lesson we actually want them to learn (that hitting is wrong, and I don't want to hit because it hurts others and I don't want to hurt others, I want to be nice them) and actually teaches them fear (I won't hit because I'm afraid of being punished, or I will hit and then I will lie or try not to get to caught because I'm afraid of being punished). Punishment most often teaches children to be afraid or ashamed, it rarely teaches them to modify behavior based on feelings of love and morality.

But then we get to that sense of justice. I mean, your kid hit someone! They can't just get away with that! You can't just let them go on about their day as if nothing happened, while that poor other kid is sitting there crying his eyes out! That's not fair! They deserve punishment because it's just! That's how the world works!

But here's where my epiphany about divine parenting comes in: when does God punish us? Immediately after we've done something wrong? Right there, as soon as it happens?

Or does He wait? Does He give us space to learn, space to change and grow, and space to repent?

How many of us give our children time to repent? I'm not just talking about five minutes, or even an hour. In the vast majority of cases, God gives us our whole lives to repent. Could we afford to give our children the same amount of time? And then, once that repentance happens, there is no punishment! None! It's covered by the atonement of Christ! We repent, and there is no punishment! That is God's mercy!

How many times, as a parent, are we so concerned about meting out justice, that we forget about mercy? How long do we wait for repentance, and, if they do repent, how many times do we punish anyway because of the principle of the matter? Because of justice?

Then this second thought occurred to me: God doesn't punish children! Ever! In LDS doctrine, children younger than the age of eight are considered not accountable for their actions, and completely covered by the atonement of Christ. They are not capable of sin, therefore they are not subject to divine punishment. Ever.

Why on earth, then, do I feel it is just to punish children?

Now admittedly, I've only ever parented children who are under the age of eight, so maybe things will change next year. Maybe punishment is more justified with older children who are more accountable for their actions. But I'm guessing that even then I want to err on the side of mercy, on the side of giving time and space for repentance.

But now I come to the big question: if you don't punish children, how do they learn? How do you teach?

This is the question that stumped me at the beginning. But here's what I've started to figure out: not punishing children for misbehavior is not the same thing as ignoring misbehavior. It simply means waiting for the right moment, and then teaching through means that look nothing like punishment. In fact, what I've realized is that punishment is actually a lazy form of teaching. It is much harder, but also much more worth it, to consciously teach morality and good behavior in calm, intentional moments. Sometimes the heat of the moment requires redirection (like physically holding a child's arm to keep them from hitting, and trying to direct them to play somewhere else), but the key thing is not to react angrily (much harder said than done), and really attempt to remain as calm as possible. No one can learn in the heat of the moment, especially not children. But later, maybe right before bed when everyone is feeling calmer and you're snuggled up on the couch reading a book together, then you can start the conversation, "Remember earlier today, when you were hitting your brother? Was that a nice thing to do? What should you do next time you feel angry with your brother?" Surprisingly, this even works with my two-year-old. This is the moment for teaching.

As I've stopped "punishing" my children, I've even started viewing their behavior differently. I've stopped seeing them as being "naughty" or "disobedient," and instead I see little beings who are working so hard to learn, but who don't always get it right. Who does? But I have so much more grace now for age-appropriate or situation-appropriate behaviors that before would've been deemed "punishable."

My oldest is such a really, really good kid. He is responsible and obedient and just really awesome. Sometimes he gets plans in his head; projects he's working on that he really wants to finish. But I come barging in with demands that he stop what he's doing and go eat dinner, go take a bath, go get pjs on, go to bed. Naturally, he resists. It's hard to be interrupted. Even I as an adult get upset when people interrupt me and force new demands on me, why should I expect my son to not be upset? Why do I expect more mature behavior from him than from myself? The old me would see his resistance as disobedience. The new me tries harder to listen. What's this project? How long is it going to take? Can you maybe just do this part and then get ready for bed? Can we find a compromise?

Nothing about this situation deserves punishment, even if the way my son expresses his frustration feels rebellious or annoying or disobedient. It isn't disobedience, it's simply a person learning how to balance strong emotions.

My middle child is generally the sweetest, easiest kid on the planet. But if he doesn't get enough sleep or enough food, boy, do we know about it! He generally wakes up in the morning hangry hangry hangry! He'll say he wants a bowl of cheerios, but after I get him one he'll scream and cry about how he actually wants Raisin Bran. But if I get him that instead he screams and cries all over that it was cheerios! And back and forth until I just want to throttle him. It's so frustrating! But is it punishable? Usually I find that if I sit with him long enough to calm him down, and get a bite of food into him, after three or so bowls of cereal he's back to his happy little self! All trace of tantrum is gone! Would it teach him anything to send him to timeout? Punish him by not letting him eat at all? No. I just have to trust that at some point he will have more self-control than he does now. Even I'm grumpy when I'm hungry, do I really expect him to feel better than I do?

And my youngest. The most spirited, the most rambunctious, the most energetic of my three. Today she asked me for a strawberry, so I got her one from the fridge. I told her to go sit at the table and eat, but she started down the hallway to her bedroom. I called to her and reminded her that food (especially sticky, juicy, red stain food!) needed to stay in the kitchen, and would she please come sit at the table? She looked right at me and with a sassy little shake of her head said, "NO!" and continued down to her room. I stood there for a second, dumbfounded at the boldfaced disobedience. I could feel the need to punish. I felt the need to run and grab her and physically bring her back and scold and lecture her. How could I let her get away with such disobedience? Wasn't it setting a bad precedent? Wasn't I being soft? But I took a moment to stop and regain calm. I followed her down to her room and said one more time, "Please come eat that at the table. Food isn't allowed in the bedrooms." Then I turned and walked away. It took a minute, maybe two. But she came back to the kitchen.

How grateful I am that I gave her time! Maybe she was testing boundaries and pushing up against my rules, but she wasn't actually trying to be disobedient. And even if she was, even if she never came back to the kitchen and managed to wipe strawberry juice over all the carpet and plush surfaces of her room, she's only two. She doesn't know right from wrong yet. Does that deserve punishment? Or does that deserve more patient teaching while we wait for her to grow and mature?

Along with avoiding punishment, I now also try to avoid "consequences" in my parenting too. I've heard people talk about the idea of "natural consequences," but in my humble little opinion, if it truly is a "natural consequence," then a parent doesn't have to actually do anything to bring it about. For instance, if a child touches a hot stove, the natural consequence is that they will get burned. The parent didn't have to do anything to bring that consequence about. But if a child fails to do their Saturday morning chore, and as a "natural consequence" is made to miss out on the afternoon birthday party of a friend... that is a punishment. There's nothing "natural" about that. I try really, really hard to avoid any "if, then!" phrases as a parent, any threats, anything that can be construed as, "If you don't do this, then there will be a consequence!" It's not a consequence, it's a punishment.

I will admit this incredibly hard, and I'm not perfect with it. My default "consequence" situation usually happens around bedtime, when my oldest is stalling and dragging things out, and I find myself threatening, "If you don't get your pajamas on and brush your teeth right now, there won't be any time for me to read to you!" This feels like a natural consequence at the time (I always have so much work to get done at night, that if bedtime doesn't happen fast enough, I start to get panicked with stress), but my son sees it for what it is: a threat and a punishment. Occasionally it motivates him to get moving a little faster, but usually it spirals into misery. He continues to dally (usually because his mind is focused on something else), and I continue to fume, until I explode and walk out of the room and slam a door (a few weeks ago I even dramatically threw the book across the room smacking it against the wall... very mature), and then he cries and throws a tantrum because he just wants me to read to him. He just wants to make sure I still love him. He wants to reconnect and heal. So I have no choice but to go back on my ultimatum threat and read to him. Try to heal the breach. Because what kind of mother punishes a child by refusing to read to them?

So I try, and try again, to avoid threats. To avoid ultimatums. To avoid any language that forces compliance in fear of a consequence.

But I still see the questions in your mind, because they were the same ones in mine: then how do you get your kids to do what they need to do? How do you get them to see what they've done is wrong? How do you get them to behave? How do you make it feel like they are not "getting away" with something? Won't the kids grow up spoiled, soft, and self-centered if they are never punished?

And here's all I can say: maybe. Except that doesn't seem to be happening with my children.

I'm not saying my children are perfect little angels, that I stopped punishing and they started being perfectly obedient. I would guess they throw just as many tantrums and have just as many "difficult moments" as most children their age. But they certainly don't have more. They are not "spoiled" (as far as I can judge) or headed for a life of rebellious crime (again, as far as I can tell).

But they are happy.

Here's the biggest change I've noticed: Throwing out punishment didn't change my children's behavior, but it did decrease the negativity in our home by probably about 90%. I personally no longer felt the conflict from enforcing punishment. I no longer have to be the bad guy. I don't have to yell (although I sometimes still do, working on it!), I don't have to scold, I don't have to make someone sit in timeout, I don't have to take toys away, I don't have to threaten or cajole. I simply redirect and stay as calm and positive as I possibly can.

And I apologize when I mess up. That part is pretty key too.

And for the most part, I have normal happy kids, who experience a normal range of expected emotions (including frustration, grumpiness, impatience, sass, anger, and boredom), and who are often very compliant, and sometimes not. But overall, they are happy. They feel safe. They know they are loved. And they are thriving. Our home feels peaceful. It really does. My children fight sometimes, but really, not all that often. They have tantrums, but really, not all that often. I get to the end of my rope, but really, not all that often. The overwhelming feeling in our home is peaceful and happy, which is exactly what I want it to be.

I want to emphasize that this is a kind of parenting that we are still working on, my husband and me together. Last weekend, we took the kids to run some errands to a few stores. It was miserable. They were whiny and out of control. In the car on the way home, two kids were crying, and the one in the back was verbalizing his own boredom and frustration in that particular tone made specifically to grate on a parent's very last nerve. My husband turned to me and asked, "How do we get them to stop whining? What are we supposed to do?"

My answer surprised even me. I told him, "Nothing. We do nothing. The kids are tired. We made them stay up late last night (to participate in a babysitting co-op), and they didn't get enough sleep, and probably got too much sugar, and then we dragged them to a bunch of boring furniture stores, and frankly, it would be strange if they weren't miserable right now. They are acting completely appropriate for their age and situation. They certainly aren't in any position to be taught right now. So we just wait until they are." Later that night my husband did have a talk with our oldest son about having more patience when he's bored, and maybe helping out with the younger two instead of just complaining. Did it work? Did he learn his lesson? Maybe, maybe not. But what he didn't learn was to be afraid of us, and that's something.

I want my children's behavior to be motivated from a place of love, from a sense of rightness, from a knowledge of moral duty. I do not want my children's behavior to ever be motivated by fear of punishment, fear of lost love, fear of angry parents. When they mess up and make mistakes (really mess up, not just fail to meet arbitrary expectations I unfairly place on them), I want them to feel sorry because they truly feel sorry, not because they are sorry they got punished. This is a more difficult way to teach, but it is a better one.

God always gives us space. God allows us all time to learn, and grow, and repent. He gives us this entire life, a probationary period, a time to prepare and to repent. Sometimes He can't prevent the true natural consequences of our choices, but in most situations, He withholds Divine Punishment until the very end, when time has actually run out. God's plan is NOT a plan of punishment. That is the point of the atonement, so that not a single one of us will ever have to suffer a moment of punishment if we choose to live worthy and repent. God does not teach through punishment. And it is my humble testimony and opinion that we can parent in God's divine pattern. We can allow our children space to learn and grow and repent. We can teach in the calm moments (never the heated ones). And we can simply let go of punishment. Period.

Okay now, I'm almost anticipating decent in the ranks, so please, if you disagree, or if you have a "But what about this???" situation, please feel free to comment! This post is part of me just working through all my thoughts and feelings about this pretty radical idea, so feel free to work through it with me! I'd love to know your thoughts/opinions!

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Books I Read in April

What's that you say? It's May 21st? Why am I talking about April? Who really cares anyway? Look, I know I'm behind. It's just, that stretch at the end of April through the first two weeks of May is super killer in academia. It's just been busy. But! Nothing can stop me from recording here my little reflections about ALLLLLL the books I read. These posts give me life. I love tracking my reading and recording my reflections here (and on Goodreads, and now on IG too...), even if no one else cares.

Anyway, despite being incredibly busy, and also despite making another audio book app transition (I've abandoned Scribd, which I talked about on my IG stories, but if you missed that one, I'll maybe do a post all about it sometime, because I'm sure you all care very much), April was a pretty good reading month for me. A few classics, a few hot titles, and some stuff somewhere in between. Let's dive in, shall we?

Little Dorrit by Charles Dickens

I've never had a goal to read Dickens' complete works, but I keep coming back to him, so I may manage it anyway. What to say about this one? It's not my favorite, but also, really, really good. I really loved Little Dorrit (even if I never fell in love with her love interest, especially considering the father/child relationship they start off with... ew). If I were ever to write a paper about this book (not likely), I would be most interested in focusing on the minor character of Tattiecoram, because that whole servant situation is just begging for some analysis. Also, found this one interesting to read so closely following The Way We Live Now (by Trollope) because they both involve financial scandal and suicides. I suspect something was going on in Late Victorian England to inspire this coincidence, but I confess I don't know my British financial history well enough to confirm. Anyway. If you like Dickens, you'll probably like this one.

Dark Matter by Blake Crouch

I read this one for my local book club. It's a sci-fi thriller, and it was good enough that as soon as I finished it I recommended it to my husband, and he loved it. It's not, like, life-changingly good, but it was enjoyable for what it was. I thought I had the plot figured out from pretty early on, but there was one twist that caught me by surprise. I still feel a bit conflicted about the ending. Also, I must confess, if there is such a thing as the multi-verse (which I'm pretty open to), this is NOT how I see it working. But what do I know? I will say, the thing I appreciated the most about this book was the emphasis on relationships and family as being far more important than any level of career success. That was nice. If you like sciency thrillers, this is probably a good pick for you.

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

I had to read this one just to see what all the fuss was about, and in general, I quite liked it (though not quite as much as the positively glowing reviews I've read). It was character driven (very nicely crafted characters, mostly), but also had a murder mystery thread through-out to give a little punch and suspense. There was plenty of beautiful writing, descriptions of nature, poetry, all things I tend to like. But the way it ended! I mean, don't get me wrong, the ending was foreshadowed all the way through so it didn't surprise me so much as... make me feel really conflicted. We're discussing this one with my book club on Thursday, and I'm so glad because I need to talk about this with someone. I just can't decide how I feel about it. Anyway, while I think it might be slightly over-hyped, in general I do recommend this one. It's quite good, and I will be very excited to read anything Owens writes in the future.

The Only Investment Guide You'll Ever Need by Andrew Tobias

Oh, look at me, plugging along with my financial books. This one was very hit and miss with me. Parts of it were ridiculous (all his advice on budgeting... some of it was so stupid), and other parts of his advice got too specific to be helpful (everyone should invest in timber!!! Really?!?!?). It started being very overly basic, but then moved so quickly through big jargony words that I often got lost. All that complaining is to say that it's far from perfect, but I actually think there is a lot of great stuff in here, and I'll probably revisit this one some time (in paper, not audio) to let some of these terms and concepts soak in better.

Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ by Lew Wallace

I've been interested in reading this one for a long time. It was tradition in our family to watch the movie every year around Easter, and whenever I love a movie inspired by a book, I always want to read the book. Plus, there's a scene in Anne of Green Gables where she gets in trouble for getting so caught up in this book that she doesn't do her school work. If Anne found it so wonderful, of course I'd want to read it! Alas... it did not live up to expectations. This one is emphatically joining the small but select group of stories where the movie is better than the book. Okay, the book actually had some interesting details that the movie missed out on. It really is quite a bit more focused on Christ's life than the movie is, and Ben-Hur actually spends most of Christ's ministry following him around like a disciple. So that was cool. But pretty much everything else was worse. Basically, this one takes an extremely patient reader to work through the dense and meandering prose. I consider myself a fairly patient reader (I've read War and Peace! I read Dickens for fun!), but this one pushed me over my limit. In general, feel free to skip this one, but if you've never seen the movie, you absolutely should watch it! It's a cinematic gem of epic proportions!

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C.S. Lewis

I picked this one up partly because my virtual book club is discussing the whole Narnia series this month, and partly because I told myself last year that I was going to re-read the whole series myself. I'm just apparently doing it very slowly, and out of order. Anyway, this one is fantastic. I'd forgotten about so many of the adventures in here (the magic book! the sea people!), and in general it was just really, really good. Maybe I'll start doing these read alouds with my son. He's probably old enough.

The Winter of the Witch by Katherine Arden

I've been itching to get my hands on this since it came out in January. This is the third installment to the The Winternight Trilogy, which is a historical fiction fairy-tale retelling series set in Russia. I read the first one a while back, and was a bit confused by it. It's not like any fairy-tale retelling I've ever read, but the series has really grown on me. This third one cemented it for me, though, and I really, really love it now. It's just so much more substantial than your usual fairy-tale retelling. The historical part of it is so interesting (she includes so many details, and this third book ends at a real historical battle), and the writing is just really good. I won't say the series is perfect, but I would say there is plenty of meat here for a good book-club discussion (lots of themes around feminism and faith that make it really good). And there is a romance, but it's not a very traditional romance. If you come to these things for a good satisfying romance, you might be disappointed. I'm still not sure how I feel about the way this romance played out, but I found everything else so good that I think it's totally worth your time. I highly recommend the whole series.

Okay, there you go. My April recap. It was a really good reading month, but my May is shaping up to be even better, so I'm excited to be back in a couple of weeks to talk about all the books I've read since then. But for now, have you read any of these? If so, what are your thoughts (especially about Crawdads)? I'd love to know!

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Books I Read in March

Well, this post is coming a bit late, considering how far into April we are right now. But better late than never, I still read a few books I'm anxious to talk about. In March I finally gave up on my library audio book app and started using Scribd, which is a paid subscription service a little bit like Netflix. I just barely finished up the free trial month, but since they restrict access to some titles during the free trial, I've decided to give it another month (as a fully paying customer) before making my final decision about whether or not this is the right app for me. I've been documenting my experience with Scribd a little bit over on my Instagram stories, so if you follow me there you'll get to hear much more about this soon (or check my archived stories to see what I've already posted, in case you're interested).

Anyhoo, let's get on to the books I actually managed to listen to last month. It wasn't a great month, partly because of Spring Break (a whole week without my commute and constantly being with my kids really cut into listening time), and partly because I took on a couple chunksters that took some time to get through. But I'm determined that no pride in a numbers game should ever come between me and my love of good long books.

The Way We Live Now by Anthony Trollope

Ever since hearing a guest lecturer speak on Victorian marriage ideals last semester, I've been feeling a strong need to read some Anthony Trollope. I picked this one without doing too much research, and... I'm not sure it was the right place to begin. First off, I listened to it on LibriVox, amateur narrator at single speed (kill me now, this is what drove me over the edge to Scribd). Second, this think is beastly long, repetitive, and has some really, really dislikable characters. Almost 3/4ths of the way through I still wasn't sure who I was supposed to be rooting for, and what the best marriage options would be for the characters in the end. The major focus is actually a financial scandal, and the parts that discussed business and stocks and financial markets were just tedious. All that being said, I do not regret reading this one. It was fascinating for lots of different reasons, and probably something I'll never forget. I would recommend this one only to the committed reader of Victorian serial novels who has a true appreciation for lots of prose and is more interested in historical cultural commentary than a good story or romance.

Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself by Kristin Neff

I read this for my local book club, and I liked it well enough. I can see how many, many other people could find this book extremely useful, especially those prone to negative self-talk or depressive tendencies. However, I took her little quiz online, and found I already score pretty high on her self-compassion index, meaning much of this book didn't feel all that useful or innovative to me. It still lead to some very interesting discussion at book club, and also, this woman's life story is really quite interesting, and it was really cool to see how her research (she's a professor) has helped her deal with some pretty serious life problems. I would very much recommend this book to anyone, especially anyone who struggles with a lot of negativity and self-criticism.

Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination by Neal Gabler

For some random reason I'm unsure about, my husband checked the cd audio book version of this out from the library to listen to on his commute every day (he's never done this before, always listens to books on his phone, so I forget what inspired this). He began telling me all sorts of interesting facts and saying I really ought to read it, but since we couldn't both share the cds on our separate commutes, I found it on Scribd (and listened to it at double speed, thus finishing well before him). And guys! Sooooo interesting! If you like biographies, I highly recommend this one, it's fantastic. I really had no idea how Disney became such an institution, nor the history of animation, and it was just so fascinating. Now I really want to read a book about the rest of the Disney corporation, just to see how things went on after Disney's death (anyone know if that book exists?). The only downside is this one is also quite long, but it's still fantastic.

Dr. Thorne by Anthony Trollope

I decided to give Trollope another chance to impress me, and since I'd already seen the Julian Fellowes adaptation of this one, and knew I'd like the story, I picked this one. And it was delightful! Despite knowing how it was going to end, I still found it a very enjoyable read with a very satisfying romance. Still lots of interesting commentary on the economics of marriage here, but really, really fun. This one felt a lot more funny, too. If you like Victorian classics with a good romance, this is a great one! (Also, the Julian Fellowes adaptation is available on Amazon Prime, and you should totally watch it if you haven't already, because while slightly different, it is equally delightful, I had to watch it again after finishing this book).

How Google Works by Eric Schmidt and Jonathan Rosenberg

This book is a little dated (it came out in 2014, I think, and it's crazy how much has changed at Google even since then), but I still found it so interesting. I don't know why I like reading corporate management books so much, considering I've never worked for a business, and probably never will. I was not the target audience for this book (it targets people who are starting up or managing their own companies), but I still found this inside look at Google to be so interesting. I really, really, really like this company. Every semester when I talk about research to my students, I always go off on this long tangent about how Google has changed the nature of research, how the search engine idea revolutionized the internet (do you remember back to the days when you actually had to know and type in the full address of the website you wanted to visit?), and how lucky we are that Google's mantra is to "do no evil," because that's what makes the internet as amazing as it is today. So, it's not much of a secret that I really love Google, and I loved getting a little behind the scenes look at how they work. It made me a little sad to realize I'm probably not cool enough or smart enough to ever work for Google, but also, working at Google would drive me crazy (open floor plans!!!). Anyway, I still recommend this one if you enjoy corporate management books as much as I do.

Okay, and that wraps up March! Have you read any of these? And what do you think of them?

Friday, March 15, 2019

Kids Don't Come With Instructions (But Here Are Some Books I've Found Useful)

Some things I've done that parenting books have told me to do that have changed everything:

1. Validate my children's emotions and experiences as real and important. This one is tricky sometimes. Because they are little and unreasonable and know so much less than I do, it can be incredibly easy to dismiss their feelings. You don't want to eat your vegetables? You don't want to get buckled in your car seat? You don't want to get dressed/bathe/be a reasonably not-disgusting human being? Tough luck, baby, just deal with it! After all, I know exactly what they need to do to turn out to be decent, healthy, productive, contributing, and happy members of society, right? What do they know?

Well, turns out that's not the point. Turns out it doesn't matter if I know more than they do. Turns out that the better I get at  not dismissing their emotions, the easier it is to actually get them to do what I want. It takes some theory-of-mind work and empathy on my part to get there, and I'm not always the best at it in the heat of the moment, but I've had some pretty convincing experiences where as soon as I validated what they were feeling, everything changed. Sometimes it looks like me realizing that what they are asking for really isn't all that difficult to give in to. Most times, when giving in to their demands or feelings isn't an option, it looks like me just recognizing that they are unhappy, and that is a completely valid response. It's okay to be unhappy when I interrupt their play to go to the store, that wouldn't be fun for me either if I were in their shoes. It's okay they are unhappy that I'm forcing bedtime on them when it would be far more interesting to stay up late. Don't I still struggle with that one too? It's okay they are throwing a tantrum or refusing to oblige, I'm asking them to do hard things and they are young. It's not easy. Just a little dose of sympathy and understanding has gone a long way to change everything about my perspective on how I interact with my children. Instead of getting frustrated, I feel the pain with them as we move through these hard parts of the day. Just because they are little doesn't mean their feelings and experiences aren't valid.

2. I no longer believe in punishment. This one felt so counter-intuitive to me the first time I read about it (in this book here), but punishment didn't seem to be working much either, so I decided to give it a try for a bit and see how things went. This was several years ago, when my oldest was probably three. I used to have power struggles with him constantly, and I felt that any resistance and struggle on his part was punishable with time-out. Basically, he was in time-out a lot, several times a day. But all time-out led to was bigger tantrums and more tears and worse power struggles. It was a vicious cycle. So I just stopped using time-out. I stopped punishing him pretty much cold turkey, for anything.

And I'm not sure anything changed about his behavior, but my perspective changed drastically. I realized that most of the things I'd been punishing him for were age appropriate behaviors. He was simply being a three-year old, and I was telling him it was not okay for him to be a three-year old. I was telling him he needed to be older and more mature than he was capable of being. Punishment wasn't teaching him anything but fear and frustration, and as soon as I stopped punishing him, our relationship improved drastically. I began seeing for the first time just how scared of me he had been, and it broke my heart. He was scared of my disapproval, but he also wasn't doing anything "wrong," except trying to learn and grow and test his boundaries in ways that were entirely appropriate for him.

I have not done a formal time-out with my children since then. I can't say I've inflicted any sort of formal punishment for anything. In fact, it's been a long time since I've viewed any of my children's behaviors as deserving punishment at all. This is not to say that they are perfectly behaved angels. Far from it. It's just that I've learned to distinguish between age-appropriate behavior, and actual transgression. Age-appropriate behavior sometimes needs correction (my youngest is a hitter, she's a violent little thing), but punishment doesn't teach correction, it teaches fear. Instead, I try to find ways to talk and teach during calm moments, and when bad behaviors happen (like the hitting), I simply try to redirect and stay calm. But I don't punish. She's only two. Most two-year-olds hit. It's not inappropriate for her age or maturity level. She will grow up some day and she will become more self-aware and develop greater capacity to control her impulses. What I can control is whether or not she also grows up fearing and resenting me, or trusting me to be her safe place.

This rejection of punishment, or even "consequences," I believe has had a profound impact in our home. For the most part, my children are not scared of me. They behave in age-appropriate ways, and I stay calm (mostly, it's a work in progress) and talk to them calmly when those age-appropriate behaviors cross lines of safety and propriety. This whole rejection of punishment has given me all sorts of insight into how Heavenly Father punishes as well, but that's a post for another day (don't have time for a deep theological tangent here, but I have lots of thoughts here that I'm bursting to share, so hopefully soon!).

3. Parenting is less about my children, and far more about me. I can't "change" my children, I can only change me. 90% of our struggles are about my expectations, and most of the time, my expectations aren't fair. The reason church is so frustrating? Because I expect my two-year old to sit quietly for a solid hour. Is that a fair expectation? Maybe for some kids, but not for my girl. That doesn't mean that I'm not supposed to have any expectations for her behavior, but it does mean that when I'm feeling super frustrated with her, the frustration is stemming from my expectations not being met, not from her behavior actually being inappropriate for her age and maturity level. I can change my expectations, I can't necessarily change her.

4. Less stuff is best. Experiences are better than toys. Children need to get outside, explore, be messy. Routine is key. Routine is crucial. Routine is life. It's okay for kids to be bored. They need unstructured time just to play. They need to be allowed to fail, to make mistakes. Humor always helps. Silliness can go a long way. Connection is key. Food does not need to be a battle. Sleep should be protected at all costs. Sleep is life. Touching is important. Give hugs and kisses, tickles and caresses. Be gentle. Be kind. Be calm. Be calm. Be calm. (This last one is kind of just a grab bag of some parenting philosophies I believe in and have worked for us.)

Now, does this mean I'm a perfect parent and we have no struggles and my children are all wonderful? No! (I already talked about my violent two-year-old, no perfect children here!) My kids watch far more TV than they should and do far fewer chores than they should. We still have lots of things we need to work on around here, there are still lots of ways I could be a better mother. The point is, I'm a better mother than I used to be because of parenting books. Below is a list of some of my favorite ones.

Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids: How to Stop Yelling and Start Connecting by Dr. Laura Markham

Kind of the big one that has changed me the most. I don't know if it will offer everyone the same enlightenment it offered me, but I 100% credit this book for setting me on the path to be the parent I am today.

How To Talk So Little Kids Will Listen by Joanna Faber and Julie King

Not quite as life-changing for me, but still brim full of all the things I believe work with kids: validating feelings, getting rid of punishment, using empathy, etc. Haven't read the original one, but plan to some day.

Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv

The book itself was a complete bore, not riveting at all. But the message completely resonated with me. It presented a view of childhood that I really want for my kids, about helping them connect with nature.

Simplicity Parenting by Kim John Payne

Again, maybe not the most well written, but a message that deeply resonated with me about the kind of simple childhood I want to create for my children.

Bonus! Including an Instagram account here: Ralphie from @SimplyOnPurpose . She is the single best reason to be on Instagram, in my personal opinion. I won't say that I agree with 100% of the things she says, but I probably agree with 99.9% of her parenting philosophy. She preaches positive parenting, and it is beautiful. If you aren't already following her, you probably should be. Peruse her archived stories, she has such gems of wisdom and advice about all sorts of things. Water the flowers, not the weeds! Stay safe! Ignore the junk!

What are your favorite parenting books/resources? I'm always looking for new ones!

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Feminist Financial Literacy:

We passed a big financial milestone last month:

We finally paid off all of our student loan debt!!!!

And of course, I'm using the words "we" and "our" gratuitously here, because none of the student loan debt was actually mine (I take great pride in the fact that despite my 9+ years of post-high-school education, I've never taken out a dime in loans to pay for any of it), and of course, all of the money to pay it off came from my husband's salary. But, we live in that kind of "our money, our debt" household. Of course it took both of us to get to this point.

And considering it was six figures worth of debt (I'm fuzzy on the actual number, somewhere between $130,000.00 and $150,000.00, because law school is expensive, man!), I'm also fairly proud that we managed to pay it all off in just over five years.

We actually had the majority of it paid off before we left Houston. In fact, if my husband had stayed at his job in Houston just one month longer, we would've had the whole thing paid off then. But when we moved, we took about a 50% pay cut, and we bought a house, so we decided to put the last couple thousand of our student loan debt on hold (as in, just paying the minimum) while we settled into our new financial position and figured things out. But sitting down at the beginning of this year to figure out our finances, we decided that we had enough financial security now to just go ahead and pay off the rest of that loan, and start funneling that money into an extra retirement account in my name.

When I say it took both of us to get to this point, it's because my husband and I both play different roles in our financial life. He's the one with a business degree who took all sorts of finance courses in undergrad. He's the one who mapped out our loan repayment plan. He has our long-term retirement plan in place with an investment strategy to get us in a very comfortable position in the future. He's got the big picture figured out. My strong suit, in compliment, is the day-to-day budgeting and frugal living. I know how to walk into a store (any store) and walk out with only the things on my list, and sometimes, not even all the things on the list because while shopping I realize that the mental math isn't adding up and I need to cut the non-essentials to meet the budget. I'm the one tracking our spending and making decisions about where we need to tighten our belts and where we maybe have room to finally spend a little.

And for most of our marriage, I've been fairly happy with this arrangement. It works out well. I focus on pinching the pennies now, and he reassures me that when we're 70, we'll be set.

But recently, I've been feeling a need or a pressure or whatever to get a better handle on the bigger picture side of things. Partly, I think this has stemmed from conversations with my younger sister, Angela. Angela is single and lives in Palo Alto, California. As in Silicon Valley. She works as a school teacher, but she has friends at Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, and all the other various tech industries there. She knows people who make a lot of money. I mean, she lives in Silicon Valley, money (or the lack thereof) is everywhere in her world. After watching how her friends spent money, and stressing about her own financial position (it's an expensive place to live, and she's doing it on a teacher's salary), Angela started talking to people about their financial plans. When she was at a party, or hanging out with a group of people, she started asking anyone who was willing to talk what their financial plans were. And she noticed the most fascinating divide. Any guys she asked could talk for hours about their money. They had all sorts of plans and ideas and investment strategies. But whenever she asked women these questions, most of them would freeze up, or talk vaguely about "saving," or flat out admit they didn't really have a financial plan. And these are highly educated women working at big-name places in cutting edge fields! It struck my sister as problematic that women who were otherwise just as intelligent and qualified as men still seemed to lack the kind of financial literacy that these men have.

So last summer, Angela and one of her closest friends started a financial literacy book club for women. Every month, they choose a book on some financial topic to read, and then when they get together, they not only discuss the book, but also usually have a guest speaker talk to them about financial topics (recently the head of YouTube finances was one of their guest speakers... my sister has some pretty cool connections). Hearing her talk about this book club, and her own growing passion in helping single women get more educated about their finances, has really inspired me.

I'm in the lucky position that I'm not single, and I don't necessarily have to bear all the financial responsibility for my future alone. But I'm not sure that matters. My husband is very smart and knowledgeable, and I have every reason to trust him and the decisions he makes about our money. But that doesn't mean I'm not smart and knowledgeable too, and that we both might benefit if I were to learn some of this big picture stuff and contribute to the decision making process. I mean, there is always the terrible "what-if" scenario where I could end up single far earlier than I plan to, and that alone should be enough motivation to get me to figure this stuff out. But provided my husband out-lives me, I still believe our financial life is only all the stronger for having two heads thinking about it together.

Over the past few months, I've been starting to read more financial books about investing and other big picture stuff. This is an entirely foreign field for me, and I'm quite naive. The more I read, the more I realize I have to learn. Also, the more I realize how much knowledge my husband actually has. I've been peppering him with questions recently about our retirement accounts, and while I still get confused about the difference between 401ks and traditional IRAs vs. Roth IRAs (something about when the taxes are taken out...?), I'm slowly getting there. I'm picking up terms like index funds and targeted accounts and slowly, ever so slowly, trying to make sense of it all.

But while I realize I am still far, far behind my husband in grasping all this stuff, I've also still seen glimmers of how me learning about this could help both of us. Right now, the plan my husband has in place for us has us retiring comfortably at around age 67 (so, 65 for me?), provided our income remains fairly stable. But I've been reading up on trends like FIRE and value investing  and other such things, and I've been talking to him about how we could work to push that number lower, or at least, get us to a place where he could scale back at work earlier and branch out into some of his other interests. My husband makes a great lawyer, but it's a stressful job, and he has all sorts of other interests he would love to explore if he didn't feel such pressure to provide for a family (he's talked about teaching and graphic design, for instance). So I can be a voice to advocate for different investing strategies that open up possibilities for us. I like that! But it won't happen at all if I don't take the initiative to learn some of this stuff myself and really be a partner in making these decisions.

All of this is to say that I still don't quite know what I'm talking about when it comes to big picture financial strategies. I'm still very much a newbie at all this stuff. But I also believe that I am smart and capable, and this is important stuff for me to know about, even though I have a husband who is way ahead of me here. It's important in case I don't always have that husband, and it's important because my insights and knowledge can potentially benefit both us in the long term. I don't want to be dependent on someone else for financial security, not a financial planner, not even my husband. I want to know these things myself so that I can make the best decisions for myself.

And my sister Angela? Well, she's actually going to business school this fall. I imagine she's going to be taking this new-found passion of hers for educating women about financial literacy into the future in a big way. I'm cheering her on and supporting her by taking the message to heart and becoming financially literate myself. If you've read any good books on any financial topics, please let me know! I'm here for it!

Monday, March 4, 2019

Books I Read in February

Okay folks, February was a short (cold, miserable) month, and I had some frustrating experiences with my audio book app (more on that later, it deserves it's own post), but I still managed to finish seven books, which is not too shabby. Let's cut the preamble here and just dive in.

Tess of the D'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy

This was a re-read for my virtual book club. I haven't read this book since high school? college? I forget, but oh my goodness, it is still a top favorite of all time. This is a seriously depressing book that makes you hate all men, but it's so beautifully written I love it despite that. This is by far my favorite Hardy, and if you've never read it, you should. You really should. You may cry buckets of tears, but you'll still love it. I promise.

The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Emmuska Orczy

This was also a re-read, for my other book club, and this book is so much fun and so delightful and if you haven't read it yet this is another one you should go out and read right now because it's just delightful. For our book club we actually watched the movie (because, duh!), and this is one of those rare times where the movie really is better than the book. Except the book is still wonderful! I love the book, and I will totally re-read it again some day. There are things about the book that are really fun. But the movie is better (the Jane Seymour version, there are others but that one is THE one). If you haven't seen the movie, find it, watch it, love it. You'll thank me.

How To Talk So Little Kids Will Listen by Joanna Faber and Julie King

As part of my January self-help kick, I decided I wanted to read a good parenting book, but this was all my library had available through the audio book app that looked remotely interesting (see my note above about frustrations). I think I would've preferred to read the original one, but this one was still surprisingly good. I found myself agreeing with everything the authors said, patting myself on the back for already doing most of the things they suggested, and coming away with a few new tricks that have come in really handy in dealing with my oldest's emotional moments. I think I've got a post brewing in my head about parenting books, we'll see if I ever find the time to write it.

Wedding Night by Sophie Kinsella

This was my attempt at "seasonal reading" for February (you know, Valentine's Day...). Ugh. I think this is my third Sophie Kinsella, and I think I've finally decided I need to give up on her. I mean, I liked it well enough to finish it. She can be quite funny, and there were some ridiculous shenanigans in this one that were amusing (really ridiculous, but funny), but mostly, it's too much cotton candy and swearing and stuff.

Dumplin' by Julie Murphy

If this book had been about a thin sized girl losing her aunt and fighting with her mom and overcoming obstacles to finally go out with the cute boy at work, it would've been fairly cliche, unremarkable chick lit YA. But the fact that the main character is plus sized really does make this book remarkable. I'm not sure I've ever been in the head of a plus sized high school girl like this before, and it was equal parts inspiring and heart-breaking. It was one of those reading experiences for me where I realized that some voices don't get their fair share of representation in certain genres, and it was refreshing to be able to hear this voice and vicariously experience her triumphs and pain. It's not a must read, but it is a good one. I very much enjoyed it. (Anyone seen the movie? Haven't gotten around to it yet, but I'm planning to watch it!)

This Is the Year I Put My Financial Life in Order by John Schwartz

So, I've been on a weird kick of reading books about money recently (this is another post entirely), but this is definitely one you can skip. I mean, unless you are as clueless and this guy, and max out your credit cards, and make poor real estate decisions that lead to near bankruptcy, and luck out by belonging to a generation that still gets pensions so it doesn't matter that you borrowed from your retirement to pay off your kids' student loan debts... then go ahead and take financial advice from this guy. Schwartz is a New York Times reporter, so the guy can write. Much of this was fairly entertaining and highly readable. But seriously, you don't need to read this one.

Circe by Madeline Miller

The one time my library's app came through for me with a winner! This book has been getting some buzz for a while now. Last year I picked it up in an airport bookstore and read a few pages and knew I needed to read the whole thing, and... I loved it! This may not be a great book for everyone. The pacing feels a bit episodic. It felt like the structure of the Iliad or Odyssey, epic and grand but not a modern plot structure. The writing is beautiful. Oh my goodness, the writing just swept me up and left me swimming in this world of petty jealous gods and witchcraft magic and sailors lost at sea... it's beautiful. I highly recommend the audio version, it's very well done. Long story short, if you enjoy Greek mythology and have even a passing familiarity with the Odyssey, or just enjoy beautiful well-written books, this is one for you! We'll see how long it stays with me, but it already feels like one I'd love to re-read in a few years (and that's high praise from me!).

Okay, that's a wrap on February. I've got Spring Break next week, so I'm hoping that translates into some writing time here on the old blog, because I've got so many things I want to talk about! But for now, have any of you read any of these? What did you think of them? I'd love to hear!