Friday, February 24, 2017

Embracing winter update

Thanks to Kady for this amazing piece!
We intentionally moved away from the Texas heat to somewhere with four seasons. I am happy to be away from the oppressive heat, but I still need to mentally prepare myself to face the coldest months. This fall I was inspired to try and live seasonally and embrace winter. To achieve that ends, I have been focusing on cultivating cozy and channeling the hygge of the Danes.

If you would have asked me two weeks ago, how I was coping with winter, I would have told you that I was doing extremely well. We managed to avoid the sicknesses in January that plagued us last year (though we have not been so fortunate this month). The temperatures were frequently in the single digits and teens--or lower with the windchill--but we were still biking and getting out of the house. The dark often felt harder to face than the cold, but even that it is easier to accept after the winter solstice. The days may be short, but we are moving toward the light.

Then this past week happened with its sunny skies and temperatures in the sixties. We were able to open the windows in the house, bask in the sunlight, hang laundry up outside, and spend as many of our waking minutes outdoors as possible.

Before this unseasonable weather, I had thought I was fine winter, but I think I had actually just forgotten what I was missing. Now that I have gotten a taste of the warmer weather, I don't want to go back to bundling up in layers every time we step out of the house.

I may be eager for spring's arrival, but I can still recognize the good in winter: the kids' excitement at experiencing snow, the holidays, books read by the fire, soups for dinner most every night, plenty of reasons for homebodies like ourselves to hunker down, and the fact that I am no longer in a place where the never-ending summer sucks the joy from my life.

Intellectually I can recognize the upside of winter. But emotionally I am ready for the warmth, new life outside, and entire days lived in the park. The beauty of four seasons is that none of them last too long; just when you are tired of the current season, the next one arrives.

Monday, February 13, 2017

On being settled. Or not.


I thought I wanted to be settled, to live with both feet firmly planted and no move on the horizon. When we were looking to leave Austin our goal was to find a place to put down roots. If not our forever place, then at least a place that had the possibility of being a forever place.

Fast forward to last week when I was looking into jobs in New Zealand, Canada, Montana (hello, mountains!), and Denmark. I was texting my mom--who enjoys discussing travel and new locations as much as I do--when she made this comment:
See, you really don't totally love being settled. There's always something else out there.
Huh. I had always envisioned myself as someone who would find a spot and stay. I thought once I found a place I loved, I would never want to leave. In some ways, that's true: the longer I am here the more connections I make and the more I "love where I live" to borrow a phrase from Melody Warnick's book. But the excitement I feel when contemplating traveling to and living in new locations has not faded the way I imagined it would.

The most compelling reason to stay is for our kids. Neither Neil or I moved cities until we left for college (or in his case, grad school) and would like to offer that experience to HP and E. At the same time, if we moved they might learn more quickly what I have found to be true as an adult: you can be happy anywhere and that there are good people everywhere.

Despite all of my Googling and daydreaming of foreign locations, we are unlikely to leave Bloomington anytime soon. We like the community, our church, our neighbors, and Neil likes his job. If we leave, it would not be to get away, but to explore and embrace a new adventure.

So far I have lived in five states and two foreign countries. Moving is hard. It is hard to say goodbye to friends, to find where you fit in your new community, and to make new friends. But all these moves have taught me something else: it doesn't take that long to feel settled.

The thought of moving again doesn't fill me with dread; it excites me. Maybe I don't need to be so settled after all.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Staying informed


I used to feel informed and in-the-know about what was happening in the world, primarily from regular NPR listening. In the year before HP’s birth I regularly listened to both Morning Edition and All Things Considered. My listening continued after HP’s arrival, especially in the evenings. Neil would come home and watch HP while I cooked dinner and listened to the news. Then E entered the scene, and it all fell apart.

I was woefully uninformed about current events the first year after E's birth. My world felt confined to the immediacy of what was happening inside the four walls of our home. In my sleep-deprived state I was both unwilling and unable to take on the world's problems in addition to my own. For a time, that was fine.

Then 2016 happened and the pendulum swung the other direction. Our family had settled into a regular rhythm, which gave me more time and energy to pay attention to current events. That extra time coupled with an election I couldn't look away from led to the opposite problem: I was consuming too much news and felt overloaded.

I am still trying to find that right balance. I want to stay informed and engaged--there is so much happening that requires information and action!--but I don't want it to take over my life in an unhealthy way. If anything I am still on the "too much news" side of things. It feels manageable, but could use some tweaking to make it more sustainable. Here's how I'm keeping up these days:
  • Subscription to Time magazine. I love that as a weekly publication, the news is pre-digested. There is more analysis, synthesis, and bigger picture thinking than found in the 24-hour news cycle.
  • Subscription to our local paper. We started this about six months ago but I wish we had subscribed sooner. How else I would find out who was running for the school board and other local offices?
  • The Skimm. This is a news-recap that comes to my inbox M-F. It gives me the headlines of what's happening in the world, both politically and culturally. It is geared toward millennial women, which is fine for me, but might be too casual an approach for others. I appreciate that they also recap big pop culture and sports news. Without it, I wouldn't even know when the Super Bowl was (not an exaggeration).
  • NPR politics podcast. I resisted listening to this for awhile, but now I can't live without it. It keeps me up to date on political happenings with insightful analysis and perspectives from journalists in thick of it.
  • Subscription to the New York Times online. Every evening I sit down and sift through the top stories and "most popular" section. Since the election it has felt even more important to support quality journalism like the NYT.
  • Watching John Oliver's Last Week Tonight on YouTube. It only comes out once a week (or less) and it is something Neil and I both enjoy watching. I find most all television news insufferable, but I find this to be funny and informative. It has been on hiatus since just after the election and I am looking forward to its return.
I am not able to keep up with all of the above all the time. I often end up skimming the front section of the local paper and let Time pile up for a week or two before sitting down and reading. I most religiously read the NYT and the Skimm and always listen to the latest NPR politics podcast.
How are you managing to stay informed without losing your mind in these crazy times?

Friday, February 3, 2017

Life lately


Struggling to write. The news of the world is so dark that what I have to say here feels trivial in comparison. I want to keep showing up and be in the habit of writing, but it is hard to feel like it matters.

Thinking about Homeward Bound by Emily Matchar. She took a critical look at many of the choices I have made (staying home with my kids, intentionally downsizing, DIY cooking, etc.) in a way that made me think, not get defensive.

Relishing in glorious, glorious sleep. My children now regularly sleep past six a.m. This has been the dream for so long and it is every bit as wonderful as I imagined it would be.

Working on a new creative project and feeling energized by the possibilities.

Excited to visit a college friend in Nashville to our celebrate our birthdays. It may still be four weeks away, but anticipation is half the fun, right?

Re-watching the final season of The Office with Neil. I loved the early seasons, but the last one is my favorite. Feeling all the feels about Jim and Pam.

Loving the imaginary play happening in our house. HP usually assigns roles (mommy bunny, baby bunny, and friend mouse, for example). E is adamant about declaring a role for herself if she does not like one assigned. If we call her "E" while they are playing she'll correct me: "No! I am not E! I am a CHICKEN!" Okay then.

Inspired to be politically engaged. I signed up for a reproductive justice workshop on how to advance women's rights in the current political environment, have been calling my representatives, and attended a local protest against Trump's executive order on immigration (pictured above). It feels small in the face of what is happening, but it is something.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Getting outside

The draw of living out of town, surrounded by nature is strong. I know I am romanticizing it, but the thought of drinking my coffee in the morning while looking out into the woods instead of my neighbor's backyard is incredibly appealing. Imagining raising my kids where playing in nature is an everyday occurrence is even more so.

But that is not the choice we made. Even more than being close to nature, we value not getting in a car on a daily basis. When it came down to it--life in the woods with a car or life in the city without one--we chose the latter, but I still feel the pull of the former.

Last year I read Richard Louv's Last Child in the Woods and it reminded me how important being in nature is for children and adults alike. We may not live in the woods with fifty acres of our own to explore, but we can still prioritize time outside. Here's how we are making it happen:

(1) Taking regular bike camping trips. We took two trips last year and hope to do two more this year. The feeling I get once we are out of the city and biking through country roads? Bliss.

(2) Going on Sunday hikes a couple of times a month. Our church is a mere mile and a half from a local nature preserve. Twice now after the service we have biked there for a picnic and a short hike (short being the operative word with a toddler and a preschooler). Most of the time was spent throwing rocks into the lake, building fishing poles out of sticks, and eating snacks. We were fortunate to go last weekend (as photographed above) when we had unseasonably high temperatures. Starting in March I would like to go twice a month.

(3) Take advantage of the in-town opportunities. There is a large park blocks away that features a creek and plenty of open space. Both kids love to "fish", launch "boats" into the creek, climb trees, and run up and down the hills. I want to be better about seeking out these little pieces of nature we can enjoy without leaving town, or even our neighborhood.

(4) Let the kids go outside every day, even if just into the backyard. This one has been relatively easy to manage now that we have a fenced in yard. The winter weather doesn't seem to dampen kids' enthusiasm for playing outside, or at least not HP's--E has a lower tolerance for the cold.

(5) Take regular walks. Going on walks has been a stress reliever for me since I was in junior high school. I have fallen away from the habit, but am trying to get back into it. It will be easier once the days get longer (and warmer!), but I am trying to sneak in a few walks a week. It does wonders for my mental health.

How does your family enjoy the outdoors while living in town?

Monday, January 23, 2017

Biking in winter

I am in the middle of my second winter biking with two kids. Here's my secret: it's not actually that different from biking other times of the year. To provide some context for our experience, let me give you a picture of what we are facing:

We live in Southern Indiana, so while winter here is much colder than in Austin, it is still mild compared to many other parts of the world. We have gotten two snows, each only an inch or two deep. The worst stretch so far has been a couple of weeks where the highs were in the teens and the windchill was consistently in the single digits or negatives. It was cold enough then to freeze the cable to my derailleur on three separate occasions. While those more extreme temperatures do happen, it mostly hovers in the twenties and thirties with some days that warm up into the forties and fifties. I am writing this in the middle of January and our ride this morning the kids were in light jackets with the top down on the bucket bike. I try to keep that in mind when I think about biking in the winter: it is cold some days, but not every day.

The most common question is whether I worry about the kids being too cold. Honestly, I don't (#buildscharacter). When the temperature plummets they are bundled just as they would be to play in the snow: boots, snowsuits, mittens, scarves, etc. There are always blankets in the bike to wrap around them for an extra layer of protection. Since they are enclosed under the canopy of the bucket bike, they are protected from the worst of the wind. I have no doubt that it is still cold in there; there is only so much you can do to combat "feels like -2" temperatures. With all of the layers, even little ones can go for a short ride. We rarely ride more than two miles one way, which translates to fifteen to twenty minutes door to door. If we were riding for hours, I might feel differently.

As for me, the proper attire makes biking possible even on the coldest days. When the wind chill is in the single digits or below I wear polar fleece pants, extra socks, my coat, a scarf, two pairs of gloves (a liner and a windproof outer-cover), a balaclava, and an ear warmer in addition to my regular attire. The hardest thing to keep warm are my hands. The bigger challenge is not how to stay warm, but how to keep from getting too warm. When you start out you need a lot of layers, but once you start riding you warm up quickly. It is not unusual for me to show up at my destination slightly sweaty and feeling like I overdressed. As with any outdoor activity, as long as you have the right clothes, you're fine.

The worst part of biking in the winter is without a doubt putting on all of gear. When I am bundling everyone up I dream about the ease of summer days when we could put helmets on and go. It feels like it adds an extra ten minutes on either end to put on all the extra layers. But if I am being objective, I know that even that is an exaggeration. All told, it realistically adds four or five minutes and much of that time would be necessary even if we were in a car--kids still need more layers no matter the mode of transportation.

There are circumstances in which I won't ride, but it is usually ice, not the cold that keeps me inside. In those instances we either stay in for the day or walk to our destination. One advantage of living in a smaller town is that everything is relatively close, which makes walking an easy and viable alternative to cycling.  

On the cold days where it feels like too much effort to get everyone geared up and on the bike I think of this Mr. Money Mustache article. Just like we biked through the heat of Austin summers, we bike through the winter here. I have shifted my mindset to think that it is normal--even enjoyable--to ride all year round. It may be cold, but it's not that cold. Some days biking HP to preschool or taking the kids to the library is the only exercise I get. I don't want to lose the opportunity to move my body and get outside because I am unwilling to take the time to put on the proper gear.

In sum, here my tips for biking as a family through the winter:
  • Keep the  kids protected from the wind, either a cargo bike with a canopy or a bicycle trailer.
  • Invest in the gear you need. Good gloves and a face mask are a must.  
  • Change your mindset. Biking does not have to be a fair weather activity. Cycling in the winter lets you enjoy the outdoors when most people retreat inside. Bonus: you feel like a badass.
It may be cold, it may be gray, and it may require many layers of gear, but it is still both possible and fun to get around by bicycle all winter long.

Friday, January 20, 2017

This is not normal


I haven't written about the election in this space, but that is not because it hasn't been on my mind. It has been hard to think about anything else. Today, Trump will become the President of the United States. That is a sentence I never thought I would type.

We traveled to Missouri on election day, ready to watch the returns with family and celebrate. I was excited and confident that our country would elect the first female president. Voting for Hillary with my kids was so, so special. We all know how that turned out.

I took periodic breaks from watching the returns to comfort my daughter who was struggling to fall asleep in a different place. By 1 a.m. it became harder and harder to deny that Trump was going to be the president-elect. I lay next to E, holding her, and thinking over and over, What the fuck, world? What. The. Fuck. She deserves better than this. We all deserve better than this.

This SNL clip describes with painful accuracy how election night looked for me, emphasis on the painful. The results forced me to come to terms with facts others cannot so easily avoid: we live in a racist, homophobic, misogynistic society. I was genuinely shocked by the results of the election, and that is a problem. My privilege and the liberal enclaves I inhabit blinded me.

I am at a loss. Outside of some extended family, I know very few, if any, Trump supporters. I live in a liberal town, go to a liberal church, and have liberal friends. How do you have productive, thoughtful, respectful conversations with the other side when you live in an echo chamber?

This post sums up so much of what I have been feeling. Hillary Clinton losing the presidency to Trump has felt personal in a way politics never has before. I was disappointed when Bush won in 2004--the first election in which I cast a ballot. But I wasn't scared. This feels different. This is different.

But here we are. Some days I find myself going about our routine, able to forget about the news. Then I remind myself it is a privilege to be able to check out, and I don't want to; I want to engage.

Someone recently told me that anger is not a productive emotion, that I should have hope instead. I respectfully disagree. I am angry and I want to stay angry. Angry enough to act. Angry enough to speak out. Angry enough to educate myself even when what I learn is uncomfortable. Angry enough to remember how incredibly not normal this all is.

We are entering a new era. Let's pay attention. Let's listen. Let's engage. Let's resist.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Day in the life, Winter 2017

I am participating in Julia's Day in the Life round-up for the first time. It felt a bit tedious at times to write it all down, but I love the idea of being able to look back on a typical day at this stage of our lives.

Neil and I are 31
HP is 4.5
E is 2.25

Day recorded: Saturday, January 14, 2016. Please excuse all of the awful lighting in the pictures. As I will note, it is dark, gray, and rainy which does not lend itself to beautiful photos.

5:50 I wake up. I consider trying to go back to sleep as today was going to be Neil's day to wake up early with the kids.

6:10 I decide to go ahead and get out of bed, hoping to get in a few minutes of reading before the kids are up.

6:11 No such luck. E hears me in the living room and I hear her loudly declare: "I'm ready to wake up!" #smallhouseproblems I get her milk and cashews and start putting away the dry dishes in the sink while I start my coffee.

6:15 E is happy so I sneak off to the living room for a few minutes of reading. I eye the laundry on the drying racks and think about how it needs to be put away.


6:30 E comes in and finds me, HP wakes up and joins us. The three of us read. Partway through the second book, Neil wakes up and comes out. He goes in the kitchen to make his oats while we continue reading.


 7:10 HP requests painting and I get him set up at the table.


7:20 Neil and I chat about our plans for the day--we need to get groceries and make a run to the Habitat Restore. HP moves on from paint and asks for crayons. E is playing in the living room. After our conversation I sneak off to the guest room to drink my coffee and finish my book.

7:45 After I finish, I check in on the family in the living room. They are building a house for the friend dog (E) while Neil is the mommy lion and HP is the baby lion. In these games HP often suggests a role for E but she is usually adamant about being either a cat or a dog and HP concludes that she can be their friend who is a dog and since they are friends they won't eat each other. Everyone wins. I leave them to go shower and get ready for the day.


8:10 I finish listening to the latest NPR politics podcast while I put away my clothes. (Neil has put away most of the laundry but left my stuff as I am particular about how it gets folded.) I start making the grocery list and Neil and I chat more about who is going to do what this morning. I remember to reserve the recording studio at the library so Abby and I can record an episode of Friendlier tomorrow. HP and E are busy in the living room. E is peeling wrappers off of crayons, not sure what HP was doing.


8:30 I eat breakfast (orange, cashews, sauerkraut--the pickings were slim; we really need groceries!), start a load of laundry, and get our bulk containers ready for the grocery trip. While I am doing this Neil is getting the kids dressed for the day. (HP is hiding in the hamper in the picture below.)


9:00 I leave for the store, Neil and the kids are going to the farmers' market for bread and a few veggies. The ride is gray, wet, and cold. We have not seen the sun in what feels like weeks, it has been day after day of clouds and rain.

9:15 Shopping at the co-op by myself--so luxurious!

10:15 Ride back. Still raining. Still cold. Still gray.

10:30 Arrive back home and unload. Neil starts getting ready to head to the Restore. With the weather we decided it would be easier to keep the kids at home. Plus, he's going to try and find a chair which would be impossible to get home with the kids without them getting soaking wet.

10:45 I continue unloading the groceries and make some sausage for lunch. We usually don't buy meat, but it was calling to me today. HP and E both love it, so I know they will be happy with that choice.


Partway through unloading I realize I left my funnel at the store (I use it to get the bulk stuff in my containers more easily), which makes transferring some of the stuff from bags to containers a challenge. Popcorn and rice spill all over the counter, which HP helpfully picks up to make a "stew." E is missing from the activities--I find her in the backroom building with train tracks.


11:25 I go in the living room to eat some food while scrolling Instagram, when I hear shouts from the back room. HP is upset and wants to read a book. We read one he picks and one E picks.

11:35 I contemplate the fact that we need to straighten up, hang the load of laundry I started this morning, and do diaper laundry today. I do none of those things and head back to the kitchen. I wasn't planning on making applesauce today, but we have a few seconds left from the farmers' market and all of the produce I bought today didn't fit in the drawer. I convince myself to get it done and start chopping apples to throw in the Instant Pot.

 
HP is in the kitchen with me, and E is off playing independently (par for the course in our house--HP likes to be wherever I am; E usually doesn't care). I clean the kitchen after the applesauce is in the pot. HP sweeps the kitchen floor and tells me we are going to clean today.


12:05 Neil's home with potting soil, a new container to pot a plant into, and a chair. He eats lunch and reads the paper while I start straightening the house. HP cuts out all of the "candy" he drew earlier this morning (X candy that tastes like turnips, a square candy that tastes like carrots, and a candy cane).

12:40 I go to clean the bathroom (company coming tonight, HP was spot on with his cleaning statement), minus the shower. We don't have anyone come to clean our house, but if we did, a driving force would be my hatred of cleaning showers.

12:50 I eat more food while Neil sweeps and vacuums the house. E is busy with pots and pans. HP is making a costume for Halloween out of newspaper and tape.


The applesauce is done. I blend it then put it in jars.




1:00 I disappear in the guest room to do some writing. I was going to go to the library to work, but decided I didn't want to go back out in the rain. I work on drafting this post and editing another.

The kids are having their rest time. E rests and/or naps in her room. It is about 50/50 whether she will nap or not. I almost prefer the days she doesn't as bedtime is easier. If she does nap then we have to wake her up, otherwise she sleeps past four and has a lot of trouble falling asleep at night. HP is in the living room. He usually listens to Sparkle Stories or does some kind of craft (drawing or cutting).

3:10 I wrap up what I'm working on and head out to the living room. I discovered Neil hung up the laundry during rest. I thought E must have napped as she was so quiet during rest time, but turns out she was just playing quietly in her room. Getting her to rest in her room on the days she isn't napping has been a real struggle, so this is major progress.

HP is wound up and we decide to make banana oatmeal cookies. I follow this recipe that has just two ingredients: bananas and oats. Usually the kids help, but they disappear into the backroom to work on puzzles together.


3:30 They are done with puzzles and E requests a book. After I read to them, Neil gets them ready to go into the backyard. They fill the bird feeder, move the plants into the bigger pots Neil got this morning, and play outside. Neil takes out the compost while hanging out with them.


I prep veggies for this lentil soup recipe while catching up on Harry Potter and the Sacred Text. At some point  I start diaper laundry.

4:00 HP has to come in and take a break with me when he had trouble listening and playing well with E. The cookies are ready so he calms down and has one of those, then heads back out.

4:30 Everyone is back inside. I straighten up the house while Neil tells stories to the kids on the couch. They have both been requesting stories featuring themselves, and Neil obliges.


5:30 Our dinner guests arrive. We enjoy the soup I made topped with yogurt and the delicious kale salad they brought. The kids did surprisingly well considering how exhausted they were. HP only ate yogurt, which is par for the course for him. HP and E only lasted a few minutes at the table, then disappeared to the backroom to play, making frequent trips back to tell us one thing or another.

6:40 The kids are back in the living room making slides out of couch cushions. I get E ready for bed and put her down. She is barely hanging on and falls asleep almost immediately.

7:00 Neil gets HP ready for bed, after which I read him a book and he goes to sleep. He runs out once to tell me to check on him in "five plus four minutes", which is a standard request these days.

8:45 Our guests leave. I realize we still have to hang up the diapers. Ugh. Neil offers to do it if I clean the kitchen (his usual task). I finish up listening to a podcast while I clean.

9:15 We get ready for bed, I check my email and scroll Instagram. I help HP use the potty before we retire for the night.

9:30 Lights out. And so ends our day in the life.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Prioritizing creativity


One of the reasons I want to shift my defaults is to eliminate time-wasters so I can focus on pursuing bigger ideas and projects. As we all know, there are only 24 hours in a day. If I am going to prioritize creativity, I need to let something else go. There are some obvious areas to reduce that don't require much of a trade-off--time spent scrolling social media, for example--but that alone will not open up the hours I need.

After some thought about what could give, I decided to stop working out at the gym. I have six hours every week of childcare (HP in preschool, E in the gym daycare) and those are my only uninterrupted daytime hours to work during the week. I used to split that time between writing, reading, and taking an exercise class. Now I am using that time exclusively for writing and podcast related projects.

Being active and healthy are still important to me and I am not giving up exercise altogether. One of the benefits of being car-free is that walking and biking are incorporated into my everyday life. That alone does not keep me in the best shape of my life, but it does allow me to maintain a baseline level of fitness. Hauling sixty-five pounds of kids in the bucket bike up the hills of Bloomington is no joke!

I will miss the challenge of a good group fitness class, but I know there will be time to come back to it. Eventually I want to find a regular gym routine again, but at this stage of life it is more important to me to find time to write and create instead of always letting those be the things that get pushed aside.

Here's to writing, podcasting, and prioritizing creative work!

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Best books I read in 2016

I love to get book recommendations. These days, it is the primary way I find my next read. I offer this list both because I like to look back and remember the books that shaped my year and in the hope that someone might find a new book to read. If you have any recommendations for me, I would love to hear them!

The books are listed in the order I read them. Those with an asterisk I gave five stars, the others I gave four.

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Coates structures the book as a letter to his son. It was a reminder to me of how much I don't know about race and how my privilege protects me. It was an uncomfortable, informative experience. A year later, I am still thinking about this one.

*We are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler
It was such fun to read a book set in Bloomington as a new resident. I don't want to give too much away as this is the kind of book that it is better to go into with as little knowledge of the plot as possible. Fowler touches on what it means to be family, where our loyalties lie, and the ethics of animal-based research.

*Carry On by Rainbow Rowell
Rowell tells the story of a boy wizard and his adventures, friendships, and relationships at a wizarding school in Great Britain as he works to vanquish the forces of evil threatening to destroy the world as he knows it (sound familiar?). It is a companion book to Fangirl and while each stands on its own, but the premise of Carry On (i.e. Harry Potter fan fiction) made more sense after reading Fangirl. That said, I am glad I read them in the order I did as I was truly surprised by the twists and turns in the narrative in a way I would not have been otherwise. If you loved Harry Potter and want to disappear into another magical world, I recommend giving it a try.

North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell
Gaskell's novel had a similar feel to Pride and Prejudice, which is usually not my preferred genre. I gave it a try as it came highly recommended by Abby and I trust her judgement when it comes to books. It felt slow at times, but even then I could not stop reading and wanted to know how the relationship between the two main characters was going to resolve. It has been more than 150 years since it was first published but the issues of class feel more relevant than ever.

The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine by Michael Lewis
I have to admit that there were several sections of this book that I had to read multiple times to make sure I understood them clearly--we're talking three, four times. Lewis delves into the nitty-gritty details of how the financial crisis of 2008 happened by following some of the very few people who saw it coming. There is also a corresponding documentary by the same name if that is your preferred way to consume information.

*This Is Where You Belong: The Art and Science of Loving Where You Live by Melody Warnick
I have always been a believer that I can be happy living anywhere, and Warnick's book confirmed that assertion. The fact that she recently moved to a college town from Austin, TX--just like we did!--made it all the better. It inspired me to find more ways to put down roots and commit to life in Bloomington. It would be a great book for anyone, but I would specifically recommend it to people who have recently moved or are thinking about relocating.

*When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
Kalanthi's memoir is without question the most emotional book I read all year. It chronicles his life after being diagnosed with terminal cancer. The passage that has stuck with me is one where Lucy and Paul are discussing whether or not they will try to have a child, knowing that Paul does not have long to live:
"'Don't you think saying goodbye to your child will make your death more painful?'
'Wouldn't it be great if it did?'
Lucy and I both felt that life wasn't about avoiding suffering." p. 143
Miller's Valley by Anna Quindlen
I have read Quindlen's non-fiction before, but never her fiction. I am still not sure how I feel about the ending, but the writing was beautiful and the characters were rich. It illuminated the particular problems of a specific place, in this case Appalachia, and the ways in which the government exploits and manipulates people to accomplish its goals. I plan on seeking out more of her fiction in the future.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by J.K. Rowling
As a Harry Potter fan, how could I not read the new play? As expected, it was a very different reading experience from the novels. But whole time I was reading it I was thinking about how much fun it was to be back in that world. Harry Potter, you've still got my heart.

Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman by Lindy West
This book first came to my attention through a This American Life podcast, which I also recommend. It took me a few chapters to get hooked as I didn't love humor in the beginning, but that all changed once I got into the meat of the book. West explores what it means to be fat in our culture and the many ways fat (and particularly fat, female) bodies are judged, shamed, and penalized.

Smarter, Faster, Better: The Secrets of Being Productive in Life and in Business by Charles Duhigg
I heard about Duhigg's book from a Freakanomics podcast. The book offers advice, but only after telling well-researched narratives where you see that advice in action. It inspired me to change my mindset and habits to harness more productivity in my own life.

Honorable Mention (other four star books I read):

Unprocessed: My City-Dwelling Year of Reclaiming Real Food by Megan Kimble
Plastic-Free: How I Kicked the Plastic Habit and How You Can Too by Beth Terry
Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari
Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater
Siblings Without Rivalry by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish
Circling the Sun by Paula McLain 
Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater
Sex Object: by Jessica Valenti
Love Warrior by Glennon Doyle Melton
Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchel
 
If you want to see past lists, you can find them here: 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Embracing the mess


I like for things to be organized. Tidy, if you will. All day long I am picking things up and putting them back where they belong. One of the main motivators behind simplifying our stuff has been the obvious outcome that the less stuff you have, the less there is to manage.

Even so, life with two kids leads to its fair share of stuff. Legos, blocks, discarded clothes, drawings, crayons, and mittens, to name a few. Add on the fact that hang drying clothes in the winter means drying racks are constantly cluttering our living area, and the stuff in our house starts to feel oppressive.

Early on in the winter I realized that I couldn't continue this way. There are the little things I can and did do: I put many toys away in the closet (especially the ones with all the tiny pieces), which I bring out on an as-needed basis. I put away all the winter clothes as soon as we come in the house. I tidy a few times a day, instead of letting it build up.

All of those things helped, but they weren't enough. I realized that I needed to shift not just our stuff or my habits, but my thoughts. Winter is not forever. Soon we will open up our back room again (we closed it off for the winter as it is so hard to heat), the kids will be outside more, and the clothes will be outside on the line. Until then, I need to embrace the mess and let it be what it is. I can choose how much to let my environment affect my mood. Do I prefer a clean, tidy environment? Absolutely. But what if I decided not to give that power? What if I just let it be?

This practice doesn't always work, but it helps. For now, as we enter the coldest months of the year, I will take it--mess and all.

Friday, January 6, 2017

2017 | Default


When I sat down to think about the year ahead, I first tried to map out the big things I know are coming in 2017:

HP starts full-day kindergarten. This feels momentous. Kindergarten! It will be a big transition, but I have no doubt he will thrive. That said, I think we will all need time to adjust and will have to be patient with ourselves in August and September as we find our new normal.

E starts preschool. This doesn't feel quite as big, either because she is the second child (sorry, E!) or because she is already regularly in childcare at the gym several hours a week. Whereas for HP preschool really was the first time he had been away from me on any kind of regular basis. I am excited to watch her take this step. For me, it means I will have regularly scheduled chunks of time during the week to pursue my own projects--a first for me since becoming a parent. It also means there will be lots of shuttling in my future: HP to school, E to preschool, E from preschool, HP from school.

The end of diapers! Okay, I don't know this will happen, but I am hopeful. HP toilet trained just past two and a half and I am hoping the same will happen for E this spring or summer. Sometimes I allow myself to dream about being done with cloth diapers. And that dream is amazing. May it come true in 2017.

In the past I have chosen a word to guide to intentions and focus my actions throughout the year. This year I chose default. I decided on it after reading through some old blog posts from New Years' past, one of which referenced the power of identity-based habits. It resonated with me then, and it still does today.

When I am making a choice this year, I want to ask myself what I want my default to be. Then I want to do that thing. Hopefully by the end of the year, that choice will have truly become my default and I won't have to continually ask the question.

I want my defaults to be:

...to read instead of scrolling Instagram. (I am a person who reads.)
...to not automatically reach for my phone to fill time. (I am a person who is not addicted to my phone.)
...to play games/cards or chat with Neil in the evenings instead of watching a show. (I am a person who takes the time to connect with my spouse.)
...to go on regular walks. (I am a person who exercises / takes time for myself.)
...to go to bed before 9 p.m. and not bring my phone into the room. (I am a person who prioritizes sleep.)
...to say yes to my kids. (I am a person who connects with and enjoys my children.)
...to write first during rest time. (I am a person who writes.)
...to take action where there is a need in our community. (I am a person who acts.)

I do not think most of the above are a huge stretch; I often make those choices and am that person. But I would like to make being that person more ingrained, more automatic. When life gets stressful it is easy to slip into bad patterns and choose the easier option instead of the better one. My hope is that if I focus on my defaults, then what is better will become easier.

(p.s. Abby and I talk more about goals and intentions in the latest episode of Friendlier.)