Monday, August 14, 2017

A Monday list

The past two days I've felt alternately angry, sad, and helpless in the face of hateful, racist, violent words and demonstrations. I know that the rally in Virginia isn't an isolated event, just a large and high profile one. It's a heartbreaking reminder that there are people who, for whatever reason, have let hate and anger and fear take root in their hearts. Who don't believe that we are all created in God's image, and that our differences are what make our world interesting. It's a reminder that people all over the world believe the answer to their problems is the existence of someone else -- someone "other" -- in the same space. We see this conflict played out time and time again, but it gets no less devastating. So here's my list for today, the things I'm reminding myself...

1. Pray. Pray like I BELIEVE it. Pray that people's hearts would change in the way that only Jesus can change them. Pray for Christians to be bold, compassionate, loving, and humble.

2. Pay attention. Pay attention to any opportunity I have to be a light in this dark, dark world. Maybe that's reaching out to a neighbor, giving time or money to organizations already fighting the good fight, teaching my children one day at a time to be loving and respectful of all people, or speaking out if I hear someone saying things that are hateful.

3. Follow Jesus to the best of my ability, in the circumstances I find myself in. The reality is that I will do more good occupying my own space well than in fretting over what I can't do at this moment. Am I loving my neighbors well? Do I see an opportunity to bless a friend struggling with grief, to take a meal to a sick neighbor, to be kind and friendly to that kind of weird person at church who is feeling lonely and outcast?

I think I would be remiss if I didn't acknowledge the fact that I don't know what it's like to have such hatred focused at me, and because of this words often fail me. I don't want to spout platitudes or be condescending in an effort to mean well, but what I will say is that I am sorry, I am angry, I hurt for you, and I can't imagine how you're feeling. I hope I can live my life in a way that is the opposite of hate.

"By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the worlds' goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth." I John 3:16-18

"Save, O Lord, for the godly one is gone; for the faithful have vanished from among the children of man. Everyone utters lies to his neighbor; with flattering lips and a double heart they speak. May the Lord cut off all flattering lips, the tongue that makes great boasts, those who say, 'With our tongue we will prevail, our lips are with us; who is master over us?' Because the poor are plundered, because the needy groan, I will now arise,' says the Lord; 'I will place him in the safety for which he longs.' The words of the Lord are pure words, like silver refined in a furnace on teh ground, purified seven times. You, O Lord, will keep them; you will guard us from this generation forever. On every side the wicked prowl as vileness is exalted among the children of man." Psalm 12

Monday, August 7, 2017

A Monday list

1. I took a big dream baby step today: I bought a domain name! Because I'm not in the mood to reinvent the wheel, www.amandaloveswords.com is now mine, all mine! And after way too much reading and a few attempts to make things harder than I needed to, I redirected the domain to this existing blog. One day I may try to develop an online portfolio -- which would require a bit more of an advanced web site than a simple blog -- but in the meantime, I think the simplified domain name looks a little more professional when I'm trying to do writer/editor/proofreader-type networking.

2. I've been in the mood for a true rainy day, and got my wish this morning. Granted, because it's August in South Texas that means that it's going to feel like a literal jungle outside, but it is what it is.

3. I started The Girl on the Train this weekend (the book). It's not the kind of mystery/suspense novel that I usually gravitate toward, but a friend read it and passed it on, and if someone I know physically hands me a book to try, I am more inclined to at least give it a go. (which reminds me that it's been at least three years, maybe more, since my friend Rita gave me a couple of books to read, and I still haven't cracked them open yet. Oops. Of course, one of them she said she didn't like, which isn't exactly motivating).

4. July seemed to last forever, but now I'm wondering how we're a week into August already. The kids are going to be starting a two-day-a -week Mother's Day after Labor Day, and there are a couple of other things going on that first week of September. So I think the forward-thinking-looming-deadlines-giant-list-making is taking my gaze off of the every day here and now.

5. Last week the kids and I checked out a little local used book store that's just a few minutes from the house. They had an adorable little kids section with big floor pillows and a little table and chairs, and now Christina keeps asking to go on a "bookstore adventure."  Because I was trying to manage the kid chaos (and explain to Christina the difference between borrowing books from the library, which we do every week, and buying books from a bookstore) I didn't really look around the adult section too much, but it seems to have a pretty decent variety, especially for a small store. I'm looking forward to making another trip soon.

Happy Monday!

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Reading...The Martian

The nice thing about reading popular books a few years after they're published (and after the movie adaptation comes out) is that there's no hold on the libarry copy and you can read it right away! I'd heard good things about The Martian by Andy Weir from both science fiction and non-science fiction fans. When it popped up as a recommendation on Overdrive (an app to download ebooks from your local public library) I checked it out, and really enjoyed it.

The book is essentially a stranded-on-a-desert-island survival story, but with a lot more science. Mark Watney is an astronaut who gets left behind on Mars when he and his crewmates are forced to evacuate their mission early due to a dangerous sandstorm. Mark is assumed dead -- which is how he gets left behind -- but it turns out he survives the storm very much alive. Mark is a great character -- likable and believable, like someone you'd want to hang out with back home. So it's easy to get invested in what's happening. It really felt almost like reading a memoir of what happened to a real person. The secondary characters filled their roles well -- real people who were worrying and working to get Mark home.

You can tell that the author is a scientist -- or at least a big fan of science and space travel. There's a lot of science as Mark explains in his log what he's doing and how he's doing it, and lots of insights into rockets and astrophysics and all the things necessary to space travel. While there are a few times where I -- who doesn't know a whole lot about science or physics or math -- got a little lost in the numbers, it didn't hinder my enjoyment. Occasionally I just kind of skimmed over those parts, reading enough to get the gist of what was going on. But for someone who really digs science, I'm pretty sure they would find some of the more detailed explanations a nice addition to the story. And i do think it lent a lot of realism to the story, grounding it in reality and making it seem -- like I mentioned above -- like it could be based on a true story.

Bottom line: great read, and I'm ready to see the film adaptation

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

A Tuesday list

1. I blew through Thick as Thieves by Megan Whalen Turner last week. Five stars, no hesitation. I'm really glad I re-read the first four books in the series before I read it, and I know that this one will hold up well to a re-read later. Turner is a masterful storyteller in my opinion, and I like how each of her books can be slightly different (this one's told in first person, but with a different narrator than we've seen before). The Thief series is a great introduction to fantasy -- the books aren't too long, but they're full of depth and layers, and the characters are full of life.

2. Jeremy and I finally started watching the BBC's Sherlock, and I'm really enjoying it! Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman are just fantastic. I know I'm late to the party on this one, but better late than never, right?

3. Newest book on the Kindle -- The Martian. One nice thing about holding off on reading popular books is that you don't have to wait for them at the library! I also have a couple of non-fiction books I want to start, although there's something about summer that just makes me want to binge watch shows on Netflix.

4. Somebody let me know if Starbucks starts delivering (or that new coffee shop that just opened up down the street that I need to try but keep forgetting. Note to self)

5. Well, looks like nap time is over. Peace out.


Wednesday, July 19, 2017

A Wednesday list

1. And....we're back! Mostly caught up on sleep and settled back into routine. The kids had a great week at Nana and Grandpapa's and J and I had a great week at camp. For me it was a bit of a mixed bag emotionally -- missing people who weren't there this year and heartache for hurting campers -- but there were a lot of great times and answered prayers too. I was also really challenged by the message each night during worship. We pray for the kids to learn and grow and be convicted, but it's pretty cool when the message reaches everyone at camp.

2. I finished my re-read of the first four Queen's Thief books by Megan Whalen Turner and I'm ready to dive into the newest installment that came out last month (Thick as Thieves). I also just got notified that a book I had on hold at the library is available (Exit West, by Mohsin Hamid), so I've got a lot of reading to do!

3.It might be time to get new running shoes when your toe is starting to poke a hole in one of your current ones. Fortunately, I love getting new shoes! Sticking to my tried and true Saucony Rides, but it reminded me that I really need to plan a little field trip to our local running store -- I'd like to try on some new styles for fun, and maybe see if they have any information on local 5ks and other races. Bonus: the running store is less than a mile down the road from a used book store I've been meaning to check out.

4. I don't know if it was getting a full eight hours of sleep Sunday night or what, but I woke up Monday full of motivation: I did all the post-camp laundry (8 loads), went to the grocery store, mowed the lawn, and even cooked dinner. Obviously, yesterday and today have been...less intense. But that's okay. At minimum, I have at least managed to get up early enough to get dressed before the kids get up (and yesterday got to read my Bible too!), which really sets a good tone for the day when I have stuff I want to get done. My kids get up early enough normally that I don't think I'll ever be one of those people who loves to always gets up before the kids do -- and I've started to own that -- but because I'm slow to wake up it's kind of nice to have at least 10 minutes first thing in the morning before the chaos starts.

Happy Wednesday, everyone!

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

A Tuesday list...see you in a couple of weeks!

1. So, Facebook's Timehop is a funny thing. It shows me how I was a full participant in boring and mundane status posts back in the earlyish days of Facebook, and it shows me that this time last year I had almost the exact same thought as I did this morning: getting ready for camp is a combination of planning then waiting until it makes sense to pack. Kind of like staying at home with littles -- super crazy moments and busy running around interspersed with sitting and building with blocks or pushing cars around the floor.

2. The second book in the Charlotte Holmes' series became available from the library yesterday! I really enjoyed the first book (A Study in Charlotte).

3. Somehow I've forgotten how much summer running is all about survival because the runs are just so much harder in the heat and humidity. Of course, this would be a prime time to focus on cross training, but I am so inconsistent in cross training. It's hard to exercise when the kids are up and around -- naturally as soon as I start to do something they abandon what they were playing nicely with and want to be all up in my business -- and there are just too many other things I want/need to do when they're napping or after bed time. Running's nice because they go with me in the jogging stroller. Of course, the best solution would be to get up and do it before they wake up...I say that about a lot of things though. Maybe the second best solution would be to just start doing it so they get used to it, and I can put up with interrupted workouts for a while until interrupting me gets boring.

4. We got newly upholstered couch cushions last week! Our 40 year old couches have had a face lift and I am in love! They're navy -- neutral enough to decorate around, without being brown. (I love brown, but we're surrounded by a lot in various shades of brown and tan and beige already right now).

5. Whiny toddlers who haven't napped are THE WORST. So frustrating, but you know they can't really help it. Sigh. This is why you don't get more interesting blog posts.

6. With camp coming up, it'll be a couple of weeks until you hear my random thoughts and/or book reviews. In the meantime, stay cool, read a lot, and let me know what your favorite non-running exercise is!

Friday, June 30, 2017

A Friday list

1. It occurred to me today that we leave for camp in a week. I foresee a bit of frantic-ness and perhaps some excessive list-making in my future.

2. I've been staying up way too late at night re-reading The Queen's Thief series by Meagan Whalen Turner so I can get started on the newest addition to the series (I mentioned it a couple of weeks ago). It's a fantastic re-read because it's been long enough since I read it the first time that I don't remember a lot of detail, plus it's got enough substance -- both plot and character -- that it really holds up to being re-read. I just love these books so much. (Obviously...did I mention the too many late nights?)

3. This morning's exercise included a short run-walk (tiredness + jungle-like humidity = a little bit of walking mixed into the running) and mowing the lawn. I'm pretty sure I sweated (is that a word?) out about two pounds.

4. I'd been hoping to sneak in a trip to the theater to see Wonder Woman before camp, but that's not happening. Maybe it'll stay in the theater a while and we can go after. It's doing so well that it seems possible.

5. I've joined a challenge -- Jon Acuff's "Summer of Finish." It's supposed to be an encouragement/motivator to finish something by the end of the summer. I'm using it as a writing challenge because I'm this close to finishing a project I've been working on since forever. Of course, you think that would mean when I get done with this list I'll get to work, but....real talk I'm probably going to take a power nap first. I mean....work smarter (with a little rest) not harder, right?

 Happy weekend!

Thursday, June 22, 2017

A Thursday List

1. I know you all are on the edge of your seats wondering what happened with my hair care dilemma. Four words: apple cider vinegar rinse. I know! After a little bit of reading and research, I came across that suggestion and gave it a try: diluted some apple cider vinegar, washed my hair like normal, and then rinsed with the vinegar. Magic. Soft, silky hair with no more of the weird dandruff-y like buildup. That was over a week ago, and I'm just now thinking of doing it again. So...problem solved!

2. Potty training.

3. Jeremy's birthday is next week, so this weekend is birthday celebration extravaganza. Houston Dynamo soccer game tomorrow night and a game day with friends on Saturday. He likes to do a come-and-go all day kind of thing.

4. I've finally jumped on the British Baking Show bandwagon and I am officially hooked. And hungry.

5. I've recently discovered a new-to-me artist: Brady Toops. Soulful singer-songwriter with a super chill vibe. I downloaded his newest album and am enjoying it quite a bit.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Watching...Anne with an E

Like many women and girls across the world, I consider Anne Shirley to be a kindred spirit. The Anne of Green Gables series is hands down one of my absolute favorites -- and I have a tough time naming favorite books! I have watched and own the most well-known film adaptation by Sullivan Entertainment, and I have re-read the books countless times. Last year, PBS put out a new Anne of Green Gables adaptation, which I have not seen yet; then this month, Netflix released an adaption of a Canadian Broadcasting Company adaptation called Anne with an E. Over the past few weeks, my dear friend Nicole and I simul-watched (she lives in North Carolina, so we couldn't actually watch together in person, so we just schedule a time to watch and text each other) the seven episode series of Anne with an E.

Prior to watching the new show, I'd read an interview with the creator, so I knew going in that the Anne with an E adaptation was going to skew a little more melancholy than previous adaptations. I knew that they were expanding on Anne's tragic childhood prior to Green Gables, so I was prepared for significant differences between the show and book. Which, to be honest, I would have expected anyway, given that there have already been television adaptations of the material, so it makes sense that they would want to make their own mark in a different way. And I'm not generally a true purist when it comes to book to movie/tv adaptations anyway. The thing that matters most to me in adaptations is how true is the visual version to the characters, relationships, and world. Does the adaptation stay true to the spirit of the book? That's more my concern.

So. Anne with an E. How did it stack up? I have definite mixed feelings. (I'll try to stay spoiler free, but read at your own risk. Also, I have lots of words to say about this, apparently so....it's long. Sorry not sorry)

The bad:
1. Matthew. This was the most heartbreaking disappointment, because Matthew is one of the true gems of Anne of Green Gables. The actor did a great job portraying Matthew's quiet, shy sensitivity, and his love for Anne. They added a bit of extra back story for Matthew in this version, but I didn't mind that. It was sweet. But there were a couple of instances where they had Matthew doing things that were EXTREMELY out of character in my opinion, and out of character in a way that really bothered me.
2. Billy Andrews. There's this whole drama with Billy Andrews in the show that was completely absent from the books (because Billy doesn't really do anything at all in the books until the second one). Which...fine, whatever. But I didn't like the drama, and I didn't like the way they changed his character into a bully and a jerk. And kind of tagged on to that -- some of the kids and other towns people in general were just a lot meaner at the very beginning. I understand what the show creators were going for, but it wasn't my favorite and didn't sit well.
3. Heavy handedness. One of the negative critiques I read of this series was the heavy handed approach to feminism, and I have to say while it didn't bother me as much as it did that reviewer, I can definitely see her point. Anne of Green Gables -- the original book -- is remarkably feminist. Anne is smart and intelligent -- her number one rival in school is a boy, and not just any boy, one with a gigantic crush on her BECAUSE she's so smart. She's a successful teacher and principal. She goes to college when that wasn't the norm (her best friend Diana wasn't allowed to study past high school since it wouldn't help her get a husband, according to her mother). She's independent and a published author. When she gets married and has a family, you never get the sense that she's settling, or that she's just doing what's expected -- it's clear that it's her choice. Anne with an E just takes a much less subtle approach to those themes. Similarly, there is a much more heavy handed approach to establishing how hard it is for Anne to settle in and fit in in Avonlea. There are some storylines that just go on for too long with lots of extra (and in my opinion unnecessary) tension and drama. While a little bit may have added some richness and a fresh perspective to the story, I think they could have benefited from a little more subtlety.
4. The cliff hanger ending. I'm not opposed to a cliff hanger in general, but this particular one -- which involves a brand new storyline -- was a hard no for me.

Now the Good!
1. Anne. Fortunately, Anne was still Anne (heavy handed feminist comments aside). She was still resilient and creative and imaginative and optimistic despite all of the reasons she had to not be. She was still flighty and forgetful, yet level headed and extremely handy to have around in a crisis. She was still adorably vain about her looks, and still big-hearted, loving, and generous.
2. Marilla, Diana, Gilbert. Other than Matthew and Anne, these are the three most important characters and relationships to get right, in my opinion, and thankfully, they were fantastic. Marilla was spot on: stern, practical, and no-nonsense on the outside, but with a soft, gooey center and a dry sense of humor that she just needed to put into practice before Anne came along. Diana seemed completely true and authentic, just a normal girl with a big heart and a sweet spirit. And I loved the portrayal of the Anne-Diana dynamic: Diana being the string on Anne's balloon, grounding her when she needs it, but also liking her for who she is and always letting Anne be completely herself. Diana was quick to stand up for Anne and try to smooth things over with the other girls, and it was just a delight and really faithful to the spirit of their relationship in the books. And finally...Gilbert. Even though they changed his storyline quite a bit, I don't think they could have done better at capturing the heart and spirit of the boy who is simultaneously oh so dreamy and yet completely deserved that slate over the head. Every interaction between Anne and Gilbert was just right.
3. Jerry Buote. I'm not sure how many people would agree with me on this, but I actually enjoyed the way they significantly expanded Jerry's character. In the book, he's a name -- the hired hand who helps out on the farm and who never even gets a line of dialogue. In Anne with an E, he and Anne often interact like brother and sister, and I think it's kind of a fun addition.
4. A lot of little things....like the fateful Rasberry Cordial Tea, Ruby Gillis, the Story Club, the amazing opening credits, and Miss Josephine Barry. There were a lot of delightful moments in these seven episodes. Characters and small scenes or interactions that were just right, things that really captured some of the best things in the book. And even some scenes that weren't in the book, but could have been: like a scene where Marilla is worried and deals with it by staying up all night cleaning and baking.

Bottom line (finally, you say): There was enough I liked that if they make more I will keep watching. I'd recommend it, but with reservations, depending on your tolerance for changes to the source material. Ultimately though -- like I told Nicole -- if I'm hankering for the real thing, I can just pull out my books and dive into the familiar and wonderful world of Avonlea.


Wednesday, June 14, 2017

A Wednesday list

1. Met some friends at their neighborhood pool this morning. Last summer going swimming felt like a huge headache. C had just turned 2 and M wasn't even a year old yet. It all felt complicated and hard. But now that they're both walking, and no one's still drinking bottles, and C will stay beside me until she gets on her floaties it's much less of an ordeal. Plus, I've reached the stage of toddlerhood where leaving the house -- even for a trip to the pool -- doesn't require a bunch of stuff. So, we all had fun, the kids are napping, and it was a good mood booster for me.

2. I needed a mood booster because before we left, the kids were playing outside and both me and the littlest managed to step in some kind of animal poop in the middle of the yard. We don't have a pet. But my money is on one of the stray cats that roam our street or one of the litter of stray kittens that, while adorable, seem to think our backyard is their backyard (and no, we DO NOT feed them). I just want to be able to send the kids out to play without wondering if they will get covered in poop. They aren't going to look for it, or avoid it. This isn't the first time this has happened, and I'm just really, really over it. BUT! Pool time. I'm feeling much more chill now.

3. Yesterday, I finished reading First Impressions, by Charlie Lovett, and it was....pretty good. I have and really enjoyed Lovett's first novel; The Bookman's Tale, and First Impressions follows the same basic format: a literary mystery told half in present day and half in the past. I enjoyed the format (as I did with The Bookman's Tale), and I enjoyed the plot and the mystery. I thought the historical chapters -- which followed a fictionalized Jane Austen -- were well-done for the most part. Unfortunately, aside from the setting and plot, the present day chapters left a lot to be desired in my opinion. The characters -- even the main character, Sophie -- just felt completely flat and unrealistic. Lovett added a little romance into the story and while the idea was solid the execution was awkward and passionless and left me rolling my eyes so. hard. I'm of the opinion that authors can write fantastic characters of the opposite gender, but in this case it just felt like the author had a really hard time writing a woman character (not to mention that cringe-worthy romance). That said, I enjoyed the book enough -- and really enjoyed The Bookman's Tale -- that I wouldn't hesitate to pick up another book by the author again.

4. But let's talk about a really GOOD story.  Girlboss, on Netflix. It's a little vulgar (so, Mom, I don't think you'd like it), and the first couple of episodes I wasn't sure I could handle watching the main character for 12 more episodes, but it just kept getting better and better. It's the story of an early twenty-something girl who can't keep a job, can't figure out what she wants, has a complicated relationship with her Dad, and a pretty big chip on her shoulder. But one day she finds an expensive vintage leather jacket in a thrift shop for only $6 and sells it on Ebay for enough money to pay her rent and then some. So she starts a business. In her words: "You know when people flip houses? I do that, but with old clothes." What really kept me watching the show, was the storytelling. I love watching (or reading) characters grow, and watching them navigate relationships that feel authentic and complicated. And the pacing was spot on. Just enough tension and time to earn each step forward, each new development, but not so much that any one storyline dragged too much.

5. MEGAN WHALEN TURNER HAS A NEW BOOK OUT IN THE QUEEN'S THIEF SERIES. Y'all. I loved this series. Deceptively complex fantasy, with a unique world, brilliant storytelling, and one of my favorite characters of all time. It's been a while since I read the first four books in the series, but they're not too long so I'm going to reread them before I dive into number five. But you better believe it's sitting in my Kindle waiting for me!

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

A Wednesday list

1. Recently finished At Home in the World, by Tsh Oxenreider. It's a travel memoir about a family of five who spent a school year traveling around the world, and I really enjoyed it. It's conversational, thoughtful, and full of gratitude. It made me want to travel, but also made me feel like it's okay to be a homebody sometimes. And it's not just a travel log or list of cool things the family got to see and do. It's more about self discovery, family, relationships, stepping out of your comfort zone, and longing for the familiar.

2. I'm a big Date Lady fan (my cousin's wife owns the company, but I'd be a fan anyway. It's delicious, award-winning stuff), and today tried one of their new products for the first time: Coconut Caramel Sauce. I am in LOVE. Y'all. I can't even with how good it is. The coconut is subtle, and the date-sweetened caramel is not too sweet. It's good on fruit, on ice cream, in coffee, on a spoon.

3. Apparently today is Global Running Day! I ran 3.18 miles to celebrate. Don't know if it's the humidity or what, but the runs have felt hard the past couple of weeks. I'm hoping my body stops rebelling soon.

4. I've been trying out new personal care products by Akamai Basics. The idea behind Akamai and their products is "personal care, radically simplified." Plus, everything is natural and organic and full of ingredients that are good for your body. Anyway, they have three products: a 3-in-1 bar, toothpaste, and skin fuel (an oil-based moisturizer). It's a subscription based company, so you get your box of goodies every two months, and you can customize the box as needed. I love the toothpaste. It's pretty reasonably priced for that kind of all-natural, organic, etc. product, so I'll probably keep buying it. It tastes a little weird at first, but it makes my mouth and teeth feel amazing. The skin fuel is nice and light. Right now, I use it in my hair, after I shave, and basically how I'd use lotion. The 3-in-1 bar I am torn on. 3-in-1: body/shave, face, hair. I like it as a soap/shaving cream replacement. My skin feels clean, but not dry, and it really does work well in place of shaving cream. It's fine on my face too (see: not dry). But it's the hair that I can't decide on. My hair feels clean but...different. I think it's the feeling you get if you don't wash your hair often, or don't use shampoo when you wash (people who wash with baking soda or other non-shampoo washes). Basically, I think it's just my hair returning to a more natural state. So, it feels clean...but also dirty? I think it LOOKS fine (at least, no one's told me it looks dirty), and I can go longer between washing, it, which is awesome (except, that when I'm running I wash it anyway, because -- sweat). So again, I'm torn. One day, I love it, then next, I hate it. And honestly, I'm overthinking it, which is ironic, since the whole idea is to make my life SIMPLER.

5.  I've got a library book sitting on my table and a stack of old advanced reader copies I've been meaning to read since I worked at the New Hanover County Public Library. My goal the next few months is to make my way though those and a few other library book sale purchases that have sat on the shelf unread for several years. I admittedly tend to get distracted by shiny new things (see: library book sitting on table), but I recently read one really good one, and put one unfinished in the donate pile that I just couldn't get into.

Happy Wednesday!


Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Reading...A Study in Charlotte

A Study in Charlotte by Brittany Cavallaro is a delightful re-imagining of Sherlock Holmes. Imagine that James (Jamie) Watson and Charlotte Holmes are teenagers whose family legacy goes all the way back to the infamous Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson. Imagine that Jamie and Charlotte are teenagers, and finally meet at a Connecticut boarding school where murder and attempted murder bring them into the thick of what one might consider a fated partnership.

There are many adaptations, re-tellings, and twists on the Sherlock and Watson story, and this one more than holds its own. I liked the idea of Holmes and Watson being real people whose families are connected for generations. You get a modern day Holmes trained in deduction and science and logic from birth, a teenager who consults with Scotland yard, but who's family legacy also includes a bit of neurosis, emotional detachment, mental illness, and drug addiction. I like that you get a Watson who is an aspiring writer, whose youthful fascination with the story of Charlotte Holmes turns into a genuine -- if unconventional -- relationship and deep bond.

There are other small gems in the story: Jamie's dad, Charlotte's brother, a couple of boarding school friends and one genuinely caring dorm mother. There are a lot of bits of humor and levity, just enough to offset some of the heavier elements like Charlotte's drug addiction and an (off camera) instance of sexual assault.

All in all, a great read if you like mysteries and boarding school and fated if slightly unconventional relationships. An especially great read if you like Sherlock Holmes.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Reading...Strange the Dreamer

I've decided that Lanie Taylor is basically a wizard. You know the story-within-a-story where the things an author writes come true? Taylor's writing is that way -- just magical. She writes captivating stories set in fantastical worlds that I can see unfurling across the page. Taylor's writing is lush and decadent. In the hands of a different author, it's the kind of writing that might seem overwrought, but Taylor's stories are the perfect vehicle for that kind of evocative prose -- they're fairy tales.

Strange the Dreamer is the story Lazlo Strange, a boy orphaned by war and raised by dutiful but somewhat uncaring monks in the city of Zosma. He finds solace in his imagination, and in stories. And for Lazlo, one story stands out above all the rest: the story of Weep, the legendary unseen city across the vast desert called the Elmuthaleth. Caravans full of stories and marvelous treasures would entice the countries on this side of the Elmuthaleth. Adventurers would set out to attempt the dangerous dessert crossing, but none returned, as outsiders were forbidden in the Unseen City and put to death. But two hundred years ago, all the caravans stopped coming, and people began to forget about Weep. For Lazlo, it was the story of all stories, a mystery that captivated him so much it helped him earn his nickname "Strange the Dreamer," and just a little bit of ridicule among his eventual colleagues at the Great Library.

Until one day, a company of legendary warriors from the Unseen City rode into Zosma, and everything changes. Lazlo is given the chance to accompany the Tizarkane warriors and the scholars they've recruited to help them solve a mysterious problem in Weep. It's the adventure he's always dreamt of, and one that will give him more questions than answers.

Strange the Dreamer is a story that lives in the gray areas -- where good people do bad things, where centuries of oppression and torture breed hate and fear, and where sometimes there is no clear path forward. It's a story about hoping and striving for the best, but sometimes having to face the worst.

Clearly, I loved this book. It's a duology, and I can't wait for book number two! But, I realize fairy tale-esque fantasy isn't for everyone. But if that IS your jam (or you are open to trying it) here's an excerpt from the book that I think represents it really well:

All his life, time had been passing in the only way he knew time to pass: unrushed and unrushable, as sands running through an hourglass grain by grain. And if the hourglass had been real, then in the bottom and neck --  the past and present -- the sands of Lazlo's life would be as gray as his robes, as gray as his eyes, but the top -- the future -- would hold a brilliant storm of color: azure and cinnamon, blinding white and yellow gold and the shell pink of svytagor blood. So he hoped, so he dreamed: that, in the course of time, grain by grain, the gray would give way to the dream and the sands of his life would run bright. 
Now the bird. The presence of magic. And something beyond the reach of understanding. An affinity, a resonance. It felt like...it felt like the turn of a page, and a story just beginning. There was the faintest glimmer of familiarity in it, as though he knew the story, but had forgotten it. And at that moment, for no reason he could put into words, the hourglass shattered. No more, the cool gray sift of days, the diligent waiting for the future to trickle forth. Lazlo's dream was spilled out into the air, the color and storm of it no longer a future to be reached, but a cyclone here and now. He didn't know what, but as surely as one feels the sting of shards when an hourglass tips off a shelf and smashes, he knew that something was happening.
Right now. 
 

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Every mile counts


Travel survival skill: sleep when you can, where you can.
Nailed it.

This post was inspired by a book launch campaign from Tsh Oxenreider with the release of her new book At Home in the World (which I just started reading). I'm too late for the official launch-week "party," but I figure it's never to late to talk about something that's occupying brain space and capturing my interest!



I’ve always enjoyed traveling. Maybe it was the frequent trips to visit grandparents a few hours away. Or being an avid reader, visiting numerous places through the pages of books. Or maybe it was the two week road trip my family took when I was nine, driving from our home in Missouri to Michigan, Niagra Falls, New York, Boston, Washington, D.C., Tennessee, and Atlanta. Maybe it was seeing my Dad come home from a trip to China, full of stories and excitement from experiencing a new culture and connecting with people from across the globe. Aside from those few experiences, my family’s travel was mostly limited to trips to see grandparents and great-grandparents. But we took advantage of opportunities when we could:  a trip to Spain with my Dad in high school. A senior trip to England and Scotland. A family camping trip through Oklahoma and North Dakota. And those experiences planted the seed of wanderlust, a desire to travel and see and experience other places.  Fast forward a couple of decades, I've logged more miles and continued to take advantage of seeing new places when I can. The travel bucket list just keeps growing, and my husband and I slowly get ourselves into a position to continue see more of the world.

These days, any kind of dream factors in two sweet kiddos – a three year old and a one and a half year old. Travel is on my mind lately because I recently listened to a couple of podcasts talking about travel, in particular traveling with children. One constant theme: to have kids who are good travelers you just have to ….travel. Like most things in life, if you want to get better at something, or if you want it to be easier, you have to practice. At first, I thought to myself: well, better get busy planning family trips! And then the other day, as I was packing suitcases for a weekend trip to visit cousins in Austin I realzed: this was the sixth time in the past six moths that I’ve packed suitcases for a trip. A two-legged trip to Missouri in December to visit family, followed immediately by a vacation in North Carolina in January, a week in the country with the grandparents, followed two weeks later by a week in Florida (Disney World!). Back to the grandparents’ for Easter, the aforementioned last-minute trip to Austin, and most recently a weekend road trip to Oklahoma  for a half marathon. And there you have it: practice. And I realized, practice doesn’t have to be glamorous. Travel doesn’t have to be glamorous. Maybe it’s “just” going up to Nana and Grandpapa’s, but that’s still learning to be comfortable away from home. Maybe it’s “just” a trip to Oklahoma, but it’s still experiencing something beyond your neighborhood (and for a three year old from Texas, Oklahoma is probably pretty exotic). It’s getting used to flying, riding, and watching. It’s getting to a point I can pack for three in an hour (30 minutes if it’s just an overnight). It’s knowing what things I’m so thankful I packed, and what things just took up space.

It’s family together time, it’s (mostly) a lot of fun, and it’s growing travel and life skills one mile at a time.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Reading and listening

1. This post could accurately be titled "A Monday list" but I'm feeling a little rebellious this afternoon.

2. A few days ago I just finished listening to the podcast "S-town." It's a seven episode podcast by the producers of Serial and This American Life. It's like listening to a short novel, or creative memoir. I saw it described somewhere as a "true life Southern Gothic," and I think that's applicable. If you like stories about people and how we're all a little more complex below the surface, then you may enjoy this story. I say may, because unlike most novels, "S-town" doesn't wrap up in a nice tidy package. It starts out as one story, and turns into something else. But it is fascinating, and creative, and you'll want to talk about it.

3. Right now I'm reading Good Faith, by David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons. It's a thought-provoking look at how to navigate those the intersections when Christian beliefs collide with opposing beliefs. It's goal is to give people insight into how to hold fast to convictions, while still loving their neighbors and treating people who disagree with respect and kindness. In a culture where it seems that disagreements always lead to fighting, and where everyone is divided into "us" and "them," this book seems exceptionally timely. So far, I'm really enjoying it. Some of the things they talk about aren't rocket science (listen to people before speaking, for example), but it's presented in such a way that makes it resonate and sink in just a little more. And there are a few ideas that create a bit more of an "a-ha!" moment.

4. We've got a date night planned for this month. Nothing too exciting: dinner and a movie. BUT, we're trying out a restaurant called Q-shi, a barbecue/sushi fusion, that we randomly saw featured on Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives . Sounds a little weird but also a little awesome. Then, of course, we'll be headed to see Guardians of the Galaxy 2.


Happy Monday!



Monday, April 24, 2017

A Monday List

1. I keep forgetting today is Monday, because it really feels like Tuesday. Yesterday, the kids and I stayed home because both kids were pretty snotty. I thought it might be allergies, but a feeling in my gut sent me to the pediatric walk-in clinic and sure enough -- Christina has an ear infection and pink eye. All that to say -- yesterday felt more like Monday. So I'm already trying to catch my bearings this week.

2. I went to Half Priced Books last week ( I LOVE that store) and bought a couple of books, one that I'd already had on my radar, and one spontaneous-I-liked-the-cover purchase. I may end up regretting the spontaneous purchase, but we'll see.

3. I probably won't write a whole post about it, but I ended up reading the first book in the Hugo Marston mystery series (I'd accidentally read book six, The Paris Librarian, a few weeks ago). I liked some parts of that first book -- The Bookseller -- a little better than The Paris Librarian, but some parts less. I think oddly enough, my least favorite parts of the books are the main character. He's a little bit....too perfect, I think. But I like the mysteries, the way the author writes Paris as a character, the supporting cast. So, I think I'll probably return to Hugo Marston when I'm in the mood for a good procedural/detective novel.

4. Chili for dinner tonight. I could have chili every week. In winter, in summer...whatever, whenever. So good.

5. iZombie and The Amazing Race are back! (I'm a few weeks late in proclaiming this, I know, but it's been a bit busy around these parts). I was trying to describe iZombie the other day, and thinking about how with some shows with a "thing" -- like zombies -- the "thing" is really a vehicle for the storytelling (like Walking Dead -- it's not really about the zombies) That's kind of true with iZombie too (although...it's also pretty heavily about the zombies), and I was thinking -- well, it's a procedural mystery show, but funny sometimes, kind of like Veronica Mars, but with zombies. Which duh, makes sense, since it's made by the same person. Anyway...I loved Veronica Mars, so no surprise iZombie hits a sweet spot with me. And of course, Amazing Race will always have a special place in my heart, even though I'm not having much luck staying caught up since I don't have CBS All Access (or cable, etc.).

Happy Monday!

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Blog reading

It's been a while since I posted links to blogs I enjoy reading on a semi-regular basis. I kind of think of blog reading like magazine reading -- some place I can go to read short(ish) articles about things I find interesting. When I've just got a few minutes, or an attention span too short to read in whatever book I've got, magazine and blog reading is a nice option. My blog reading is kind of all over the place lately: previously, I followed and regularly read quite a few library and book-related blogs as part of my job. Naturally, that consumption has slowed down a bit in the past couple of years, and since I'm not getting paid to perform readers' advisory at the moment, my blog reading has diversified a bit (although I'm always going to gravitate toward book blogs, naturally). Plus, I switched feed readers a while back (which is my favorite way to keep up with blogs) and quite a few blogs got lost in the transition, so I'm building up my list of go-to reading again. In no particular order, here are three blogs that I'm particularly digging these days:

1. http://monicaswanson.com/
Monica Swanson (the "grommom") is an author, wife, and the mom of four boys. She and her family live in Hawaii, homeschool, and surf a lot. Her blog is in the genre of what I'd call "mom blogs." She writes about parenting, homeschooling, healthy eating, and life on the North Shore (which....seriously, all her gorgeous pictures are worth following by themselves!). I discovered her when she was a guest on a podcast, and stuck around her web site because I was drawn to her laid-back, friendly, conversational voice. She clearly values relationship with her kids (who range from upper elementary to teenage), and I'm always trying to soak up examples of building and maintaining family relationships.

2. The Lazy Genius
Y'all, I really feel like The Lazy Genius and I could be friends in real life. This web site and blog is run by Kendra Adachi, and the premise behind Lazy Genius, is "being genius about the things that matter, and lazy about the things that don't." Identify the things that matter most to you (TO YOU being the operative words here), and don't waste valuable energy on things that aren't really important. On this blog you'll find posts on everything from making friends to cleaning, shopping at Aldi and cooking, to books, reading, and a March Madness Bracket of Guys. It's sometimes serious, sometimes fun, and always enjoyable.

3. Forever Young Adult
Unlike the other two blogs, this a site I've been following for a while. What started out as a site that posted reviews of YA books has evolved into a site for all the best parts of YA and YA-adjacent media -- books, movies, tv. It's still a great place for book reviews, and a lot of fun too.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

A Tuesday list

1. Barry's Irish Breakfast Tea. Backstory: a former coworker Aimee told me about this tea when we worked together at the Pender County Public Library. She had been to Ireland several times, and discovered this tea -- which she had only ever found in Ireland. She took a trip to Ireland while we were working together, and brought back some Barry's, which she generously shared a bit with me. I never knew I could love just a simple black breakfast tea so much. Fast forward: I happen to glance at the tiny "British" section of my local HEB grocery store and practically do a happy dance when I see my beloved Barry's. HEB is the best, y'all. The. best.

2. The Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon and Half Marathon is coming up soon! This is significant to me because I'm signed up to run the half. I'm excited because it's my first half since before the kids were born. Actually, I think it's my first race, period since then. Training is a different animal this time around. A lot more people involved and a lot more logistics to work out when it comes long (i.e., time consuming) runs. It's been good though. It's felt good to push myself physically again, to get back into a running groove. I will say I am looking forward to not juggling all of those logistics. Hats off to my running friends with kids who are training for something most of the year. And hats off to an extremely supportive husband who helps me manage those logistics by doing things like getting the kids ready for church on Sunday mornings and keeping air in the tires of my jogging stroller.

3. Finished Rivals in the City, which was a delight from beginning to end. I didn't have anything specifically lined up to read next, so I'm flailing a little bit today. I have a lot of choices and a lot of books on my to-read list, so it's mostly a matter of just figuring out my mood. Which is easier said than done. On the non-fiction front, I am in the middle of Good Faith, which is really good and really thought-provoking. I'll have a lot more to say about that when I'm finished.

4. Bought Christina's birthday present yesterday and I'm super excited about it. I stole the idea from my parents and a gift they bought my niece -- a ukelele. C LOVES to pretend to play the guitar, but right now she just uses our Rock Band guitar. I liked the idea of giving her an actual instrument, just in case she really likes it and wants to learn to play as she gets older. Bonus: if she ends up not caring one day, she can just pass that instrument on to her mama. Double Bonus: I found a red one. And anyone who knows C probably knows it's her favorite color.

5. Anyone else feeling bereft on Tuesday nights these days without This is Us? Just me?

Happy Tuesday!



Wednesday, April 5, 2017

A Wednesday List

1. My post-vacation hangover (travel hangover, not alcohol hangover...just to clarify) isn't as bad as I thought it would be. I think part of that is the fact that it really was a relaxing vacation. Did I get enough sleep? Of course not! There were conversations to have and games to play! But stress level was minimal, and I definitely left feeling mentally, emotionally, and spiritually recharged. Plus, my first two days back I had fun activities scheduled with Houston friends, so that helped soften the blow of being back to "real life."

2. The weather today is AMAZING. Mid seventies, low humidity. It's the kind of weather you forget happens in Houston when it's the middle of July and the tropical weather -- mid to upper 90s with high humidity -- has you sweating under a heat blanket with no end in sight. Definitely not taking it for granted today.

3. I'm in the middle of reading Rivals in the City by Y.S. Lee. It's the fourth book in The Agency series, a Victorian mystery series starring a young female detective. It's a really fantastic series. The Victorian setting is clearly meticulously researched, and beautifully and artfully portrayed -- there's no dry, historical exposition, in other words -- the mysteries are solid, and the characters are people you want to get to know more. I'm moving a little slow on finishing this book because of vacation and then real life catch-up activities, but I'm enjoying it just as much as the first three.

4. Speaking of vacation (I know...jumping around here), even though we didn't travel to someplace exotic, just getting out of town and going someplace new stirred my travel bug a bit. Then listening to two different guests on The Happy Hour with Jamie Ivey talk about traveling and traveling with their families (kids) really fanned the flame. I'm busting out the white board today to start brainstorming our family travel bucket list. Because A) if you don't plan for it, it won't happen B) I need to be able to research, look for deals, and know how much money to save up for trips and C) a little dreaming is good for the soul!

Happy Wednesday!

Friday, March 24, 2017

Reading...The Paris Librarian


The Paris Librarian (Hugo Marston #6) I picked up The Paris Librarian on impulse one day at the library. It was part of a display of books with a library/librarian theme, and it just caught my eye (kudos to the librarian who put the display together!). I liked the cover, I was in the mood for a good mystery, and I liked that a librarian was somehow worked into the plot. 
The novel stars Hugo Marston, a former FBI agent turned chief security officer of the US Embassy in Paris. When his friend Paul Rogers, director of the American Library in Paris, it appears to be a heart attack. However, Marston's finely tuned instinct nags at him, and when Marston's girlfriend dies not long later, Marston is convinced that both were murdered. 
The mystery involves an elderly famous actress suspected of spying on Nazis in World War II, a locked room, a senile old woman, rare poison, a secret passage, nosy journalists, and lots of visits to Paris cafes for coffee and delicious food (okay, that last thing isn't actually part of the plot, but it goes a long way toward setting the mood and making me hungry). The plot and mystery were interesting and well-paced, the characters felt real, and the setting -- as I mentioned -- was a well-written and vivid part of the story. There were a few spots of exposition -- mostly inner monologue of the main character's -- that felt a little clunky, but it didn't detract from my enjoyment of the book overall. Plus, I didn't know it when I picked up the book, but it's the sixth in a series featuring Hugo Marston. (thus a bit of exposition expected) There are a few things that characters reference that I'm guessing took place in earlier books, but I certainly felt that the book worked well as a stand-alone.
Bottom line: a good read if you're in the mood for a classic, locked-door type detective mystery novel, or a visit to Paris (and don't mind a little murder mystery on the side).

Friday, March 17, 2017

A St. Patrick's Day list

1. St. Patrick's Day was my Grandpa Rush's birthday and my grandparent's (Rush) wedding anniversary. So it's a bit of a bitter sweet day in my family. A good day for remembering loved ones in heaven, but a little sad because we miss them.

2. In the spirit of remembering, here's are two fun facts about my grandparents: 1. My grandma essentially made the first move. Her cousin and my grandpa were friends, but when my grandparents met, my grandma was dating someone else, and they didn't live in the same town. After my grandma was single, she called my grandpa once and said she was coming to Kansas City (where he lived) with -- I can't remember who now. Maybe her cousin? -- and why didn't he show her around while she was there? Boom. 2. My grandpa was in the Navy in the 50s, an underwater demolitions specialist -- basically what turned into the Navy SEALS.

3. In addition to being a holiday on which I think about my grandparents, I also get a bit melancholy around this time now that we don't live in North Carolina. Our good friends the Reeds used to host a fantastic St. Patrick's Day party every year. An excuse to make Irish stew, scones, eat yummy bread with Irish butter, listen to Flogging Molly, and occasionally bust out a good flick like Waking Ned Devine. Every year I contemplate hosting my own "Swagger Party -- Texas edition", but so far the idea hasn't quite made it out of the gate, But it will.

4. If you're in the mood for a story set in Ireland (which, if you're like me is basically all the time), may I suggest one of the following:
Sing Street (movie) -- 80s, music, high school, love, family, friends, misfits, brothers, dreams, heartbreak. SO GOOD.
Bog Child (book), by Siobahn Dowd -- Northern Ireland, historical fiction, coming of age, melancholy yet hopeful
An Irish Country Doctor (book), by Patrick Taylor -- small town, quirky, loveable characters, wonderful sense of place.
Moone Boy (Hulu original series) -- 12 year old boy's imaginary friend (Chris O'Dowd) helps him navigate the ups and downs of life as a 12 year old boy in Boyle, Ireland. Hilarious, heartwarming, and just delightful.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

If only I was an engineer, or, deep thoughts while running

I've been on a few middle-of-nowhere country runs the past few days, and since I need to be able to hear as well as see cars and dogs, I haven't taken by headphones. But it's amazing what kind of writing I can get done in my head while I'm running. The problem then comes when I try to sit down and write it out later. Sometimes, by the time I get to a computer or even a piece of paper, the words are gone or I can't quite capture the same thought. So I've decided I need a device that I can hook up to my brain to put thoughts directly into written words. Someone get on that. I'm sure nothing could go wrong, right?

Today on my country road run, I was thinking about one side effect of training for a race: I want to talk about running all the time. One of my friends in town is training for the same race, and it's his first one! He's not been a runner previously, so while I'm trying to offer encouragement and tips, I'm trying to do it in small doses because he's not hooked yet. But he does do CrossFit, so he at least understands when I get excited about it and want to talk about it. Anyway, I miss my running buddies so much during these times. Fortunately, we have phones and texting to keep in touch, and I have some amazing online running friends who I can talk to about running all the live long day. And they get it. It's nice to be gotten (is that a word? whatever. I'm going with it).

I think that's one of those things that we all want -- that we all need, in fact -- to be "gotten." To be seen, and heard, and known. I hope you all have someone, or lots of someones, in your life who make you feel seen, and heard, and known. Who get you. And know that even during those times when we don't even get ourselves (hello teenage years), God gets us, he knows us. Better than we know ourselves.


Monday, March 6, 2017

Reading for your ears

I'm on a podcast kick these days. What's a podcast, you may ask? Think, radio talk show, except you access it through the internet. I'm relatively new to podcast listening, but in my limited experience so far, it seems like you can find a podcast for anything. There are a lot of entertainment and popular culture related podcasts, preaching and Bible-based podcasts, books, film, how-to, travel, business, economics, politics, lifestyle, fashion....you get the picture.

For me, it all started with the NPR quiz show Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me (did you know you can access A LOT of NPR shows as podcasts? No need to be near a radio at a certain time!). Then, a recommendation for The Happy Hour with Jamie Ivey....which led to recommendations for Marriage is Funny and The Popcast....which led me to The Lazy Genius Collective web site....and of course she has a podcast too!

You get the picture. So, I've started listening to these podcasts when I would previously listen to audio books -- on runs and walks, washing dishes, folding clothes, etc. A friend and I were talking about it, and when I commented on how I've been doing a lot more podcast listening than audiobook listening, she compared it to magazine reading versus book reading; sometimes, when you mostly have smallish chunks of time, reading a magazine (or listening to a podcast) is a lot easier and sometimes more enjoyable than reading a book. And I think she's spot on.

So, I'm thinking of my podcast listening as another form of reading these days, and because I've got a lot eating up my time at the moment, and am reading a longish book (and haven't finished it yet), I won't bore you with all the podcasts I'm subscribed to or occasionally check out, but here are my top four favorite podcasts at the moment:


1. The Happy Hour with Jamie Ivey
The whole idea behind this podcast is making listeners feel like they are sitting down with two amazing women -- our host and her guest -- and chatting over coffee or a glass of wine. Jamie and her guests talk about life, faith, family, travel, work, dreams, struggles, and joys. Everything from the death of a loved one to favorite mascara, from living and working abroad to parenting challenges and starting a business. She's talked to moms of littles, moms of grown-ups, women with no children, and single moms. Writers, entrepreneurs, speakers, philanthropists, musicians, and people with some truly unique and interesting stories.

2. The Popcast with Knox and Jamie
If you've ever subscribed (or wished you subscribed) to Entertainment Weekly magazine, this is a podcast for you. If you like hilarious banter, movies, television, music, books, and/or celebrity gossip...this is a podcast for you. I don't always know what they're talking about or agree with their tastes, but listening to Knox and Jamie each week (sometimes more than once!)  is pure fun. Each episode is built around a theme such as: Best and Worst Fictional Neighbors, Misunderstood Song Lyrics, Celebrity Feuds, How to Kill off a Character,

3. This American Life
Many of you are probably familiar with the NPR show This American Life, and when it comes to my personal podcast playlist, this is probably the most book-like show. Each episode has a theme, and the show is built around that theme: with interviews, essays, and various stories built around that theme. It's along the lines human interest, long-form journalism. I don't listen to it regularly, but when I'm in the mood for something often informative and always engrossing, this is my go-to.

4. Marriage is Funny
This show is currently on hiatus, but there's three seasons of episodes available to listen to. It's a tough podcast to describe, because when I try it just sounds boring: a married couple talks about life, and marriage. Yawn. But it's really a lot of fun. The idea behind it, is that "perfect love" only exists in the context of God, so in our relationships (specifically marriage), pursuing "great love" is more attainable and sustainable. It's the idea that creating a community of other married couples is so valuable -- knowing you're not alone in the struggles and challenges that come when pursuing that great love. Some episodes are light -- like going out for drinks with good friends -- and some dig a little deeper, like a good session of couples therapy. Gerard and Jessie are funny, genuine, and have a heart for encouraging marriages and relationships.

Monday, February 27, 2017

A Monday list

1. I just reread last week's list, and it seriously has to be the most boring blog post on the planet. What made me think I had enough thoughts for a list? Not sure.

2. I haven't watched the Academy Awards in years, largely because it's not nearly as enjoyable to me if I haven't seen any of the films nominated, and the past several years I either just haven't gone to the movies as much or the films nominated just haven't been that appealing to me for whatever reason. This year is actually the first year in a while that, when I saw previews for the movies nominated I actually wish I'd seen quite a few of them (not just Best Picture nominees, but films with nominations in other categories as well). Of course this year, I kind of wish I'd watched the Oscars because it appeared that there were some entertaining and enjoyable moments -- some intended, and some not.

3. I must have movies on the brain, because Friday night I actually watched one! It was a movie called Man Up, starring Simon Pegg, and really quite delightful. The premise: Fresh off of a terrible engagement party and ill-fated set up, and on her way to her parents' 40th wedding anniversary, Nancy is mistaken for Jack's blind date. Nancy goes along with it, and the two have a great date...until Jack realizes she's not who he thought she was. Anyway, I love Simon Pegg and the rest of the cast was great too. If you're in the mood for a funny romantic drama, it's a good one. Especially if you have a soft spot for Brits.

4. Finished the book Also Known As last week. It's young adult fiction, about Maggie, a teenage girl who's family are spies in a secret non-government spy agency. Maggie is prodigy safe cracker, and primarily helps out on her parents' missions, but finally gets a chance at her own job when The Collective wants her to befriend a high school boy in order to hack into his father's home office safe and computer. It's fun and witty and sweet. Nothing earth shattering, and while I may read the sequel, I'm not in a rush to get it.

5. I've entered into the part of my half marathon training where I'm doing weekly long runs that are longer distances than I've run in at least 3 years. So every week is a new-again milestone. This week was especially great because I set out with a minimum goal of 5 miles, but an if-I'm-feeling-it goal of 6 (the two goals are because my last long run was cut short since I'd been sick just a few days before). Well, I ran 6.18 miles. Yay! Just what I needed. My last couple of runs had just felt really hard, so it was nice to feel in the zone.

Happy Monday!

Monday, February 20, 2017

A Monday list

1. I'm re-watching Freaks and Geeks on Netflix right now, and I keep forgetting how many now-famous people are in that show (perhaps they were famous then too? Not to me, at least). Yesterday, I saw an episode with Matt Czuchry AND Shia LaBouf.

2. I don't wear much jewelry these days since I'm not going out to a job every day, so the past year or two I've basically developed a rotation of a few of my favorite things. A few pairs of earrings and a few necklaces. I'll mix it up now and then when I have reason to accessorize, but when I travel especially, I tend to take just a few things. Well. That backfired. Because somehow either in the last leg of our trip home in January from Winter Travel Extraveganza, or in unpacking chaos, I have lost my absolute favorite pair of earrings and one of my three favorite necklaces. The earrings are more replaceable -- I bought them myself, and I know where to get another pair. Just have to give myself permission to spend the money again. But the necklace was a gift from my friend Katie who lives in Phoenix. So not only did I love it because it was cute and trendy and went with literally everything, it had sentimental value as well. Are these big problems in the grand scheme of things? No. But it's still a bummer. I'm still hoping they'll turn up somewhere in my house eventually.

3. Vacation is almost a month away now and I still feel very unprepared. Part of that is that it's Monday. On Mondays I either feel like I'm stuck in a sinkhole with a pile of things to do on top of me, or I feel like a productive superwoman. Today is option A. But it'll get done.

4. Just started learning a new game yesterday: Tak. A game that appears in Patrick Rothfuss's Name of the Wind, and one that a game designer decided to create. It's really great. Simple, but complex.

5. Went for a run in my neighborhood yesterday and almost ran into a skunk. I'm sorry, what? Thankfully it stayed on its own side of the street.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Reading...Court of Fives

It's been a while since I read a book by Kate Elliott, and after finally sitting down with Court of Fives I'm kind of kicking myself for putting it off so long (so long, in fact, that I remember adding this to my mental to-read list back when it first came out....in 2015).

Court of Fives is the first in a young adult fantasy series set in an East Asian and Pacific Island- inspired fantasy world. Jessamy is one of five daughters, in a family that is both highly regarded and looked down upon. Her father is Patron-born, and a decorated Captain in the military. Her mother is Efean, a "commoner." It is illegal for Patrons and Commoners to marry, and Jessamy and her sisters are seen as disgraceful. Not only are they girls -- highly honored in Efean cutlure, but looked down upon in the Suro (Patron) culture -- they are "mules." But Jessamy's father loves her mother and their daughters and cares for them and protects them as best he can.

Jessamy has one goal in life -- to play the Fives, an athletic competition that combines strength, speed, balance, strategy, and mental sharpness. She trains in secret, but dreams of one day being able to compete.

When disaster falls upon her family, it's her skill at Fives that ends up saving herself, her mother, and her sisters. It's this skill and passion that introduces her to Kalliarkos, a Patron of extremely high standing, with whom she forms a friendship, despite unanimous disaproval. Now, Jess is caught up in political schemes beyond her control, a pawn in games she isn't even aware of. And it's through this turn of events that she begins to get glimpses into the history of her mother's people, glimpses that lead her to believe that maybe the history she's been told isn't exactly the whole truth.

My enjoyment of Court of Fives can be summed up like this: I immediately bought the second book once I finished it. Kate Elliott builds the most amazing worlds, and it's always fun and interesting and exciting to spend time in them. Her plots are layered and detailed, and I really enjoyed the complex -- i.e., interesting and realistic -- relationships between the various characters. Jess is a bit exasperating at times, but who isn't?

Bottom line: well-crafted YA fantasy well-worth your time

Thursday, February 9, 2017

A Thursday list

1. Just started reading The Court of Fives by Kate Elliott. Pacific rim- inspired fantasy fiction and so far I'm digging it.

2. It's officially training time for the Oklahoma City Memorial Half Marathon! It's been a few years since I've trained for anything, and I'm excited. Slightly apprehensive since there are a lot more things to factor in when scheduling my time, but my goal is just to finish, so the bar isn't set too high.

3. I've had a bad luck streak with technology lately and currently using an old backup phone until my new one comes in. It's helping me see what apps and other smart phone features I really use and miss when they're gone. Interestingly, I've really backed off blog reading lately, and notice it especially with the lack of feed reader app (and the switch to a new feed reader). I think it's a combination of size of my free time blocks and the pace at which my brain currently absorbs information. Which also makes me think of...

4. ...my quest lately to find a consistent and reliable way of consuming news. I don't actually want to rely on Facebook and Twitter headlines. But again...it takes a change in my reading habits that just hasn't happened yet. But I think these days with so much news and opinion and information (and misinformation) flying around, I'd be better off being at least semi-well informed. But, I've never been a news junkie and have no desire to be. I guess I want to consume news in the most efficient way possible, and not let it consume my time.

5. I've been trying kombucha recently and I like it! In a perfect world I might even brew my own, and while the little bit I've read about it makes it seem easy -- or at least, not hard -- it just seems like one more thing to start and keep up with, and maybe....I'll just buy it on occasion. I need a local friend who brews it. That's my solution for everything  really -- have friends with interesting hobbies that are different from mine! (like when we were living at the beach: don't go through the work of having your own boat....just have good friends who do).

Happy Friday-eve!

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Reading...The Undoing of Saint Silvanus


The Undoing of Saint Silvanus The Undoing of Saint Silvanus is Beth Moore's first foray into fiction, and I really enjoyed it. It's a little bit of a mystery, a little bit of a family drama, and a little bit of redemption story. It's set in New Orleans, and centers around the family and residents of Saint Sans, an old church turned boarding house/apartment house. Jillian, a young woman living and working in San Fransisco, gets a call from her estranged father's family letting her know that her father -- an alcoholic living for the most part on the streets -- has been murdered. Despite her mother's objections and her own misgivings, she heads down to New Orleans for the funeral. Jillian has a pretty big chip on her shoulder as the story starts. She's searching and lonely and subconsciously not really happy with her life (although she would tell you differently). The story and mystery and well-crafted, and the characters are a delight to spend time with -- even Jillian, as much as I wanted to smack her a few times. The real strength to this novel though, is the style. Beth tells the story like a classic Southern storyteller, rich in detail, sly commentary, and human observations.

Bottom line: a really good read.

Friday, January 27, 2017

A Friday list

1. The munchkins and I took advantage of cool weather and a brand new zoo pass today and went down to the Houston Zoo for the morning.  I love having annual passes to things like the zoo, amusement parks, or museums because there's no pressure to see ALL THE THINGS in one day. We enjoyed being outside, saw some animals, and learned a few things about the best way to take two very independent toddlers to the zoo (hint: just stay a couple of hours because who has the energy to constantly say "this way. over here. this way. stay with mommy" all day long). C did pretty well, but M is definitely 17 months old and still figuring that whole thing out. I trired a little backpack leash we have with him, but it was...unsuccessful at this point. We'll try again.

2. I got into the habit of using a blog feed reader when I was working as a librarian and keeping up with lots of book and library blogs, and it's something I still do to some extent. I'm going to try out a new feed reader though, because I kept having trouble with the app on the old one.

3. New running shoes came in the mail today!! And I signed up for a spring half marathon yesterday. The Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon (and half marathon). I'm a little nervous about starting to actually train for something, but I need a little shake up in my running routine.

4. I do pretty well most days at just going with the flow when it comes to M's food allergies, but today I just really, really want to order pizza for dinner, and that's a no go for him. Maybe I can fudge something for him and he won't notice that he's eating something different and can't have bites from our plate. Or maybe I'll find some motivation to cook dinner. We'll see!

5. Started The Undoing of Saint Sylvanus this week, and so far am enjoying Beth Moore's first foray into fiction. J and I also started watching Stranger Things (finally, right?) and even though we are only three episodes in I am hooked!

Happy Friday, y'all!

Monday, January 16, 2017

Two books and a movie










It was a good weekend for stories at my house. First, I finished The Shadow Throne, by Jennifer A. Nielsen (third book in The Ascendance trilogy) and was a solid, satisfying ending to this fantasy trilogy. I'm not going to say much about the plot so as not to give away any spoilers, but I can tell you that this trilogy's strength lies in its tight pacing, great characters, and the various relationship dynamics. There may be a little romance in the books, but the story doesn't hinge on that, which was refreshing. And while the story itself isn't groundbreaking, it told a familiar story in a fresh voice and felt like the best kind of comfort food.

I also devoured A Tangle of Gold, by Jaclyn Moriarty, another trilogy conclusion (The Colours of Madeleine -- apparently this was also the weekend of trilogies). I can't say enough how much I enjoyed these books. For one thing, worldbuilding is unique and magical, grounded in reality, but a slightly bent and colored reality. Second, it's just a good story, and as the story unfolds, I kept telling myself "this isn't what it seems" or "this has to mean something" and "wait a second..."  The author does a good job of gradually pulling all these teasers and hints and glimpses into focus throughout the trilogy, and in this book in particular. It's also a book with characters that started feeling like friends. I appreciated how the characters grew and developed and learned and weren't stagnant. The books are fun, but with depth and substance, and basically, these books are delightful. I didn't want it to end and I wanted to hang out with everyone in it forever.

And finally, Sing Street. Y'all. This movie. I seriously wanted to watch it again as soon as I finished it, although preferably with a friend to share the experience. Sing Street has been on my radar for a while, and I'm so glad I finally pressed play. It's set in 1980s Dublin, where we meet Conor, a 15 year old boy who loves music. When the movie starts out he's been sent to a new school. It's rougher than his old school, and he runs into bullies both in his peers and in the school administration. He meets Raphina -- older, mysterious, edgy, and gorgeous. He tells her he's in a band and wants to use her in a music video so he can get her number. When she says okay...well, then he's got to start a band. The movie is about music, friendship, growing up, finding your voice, falling in love, heartbreak, hope, family, and taking chances. It's a coming of age movie, a brother move, a friend movie, a romance. (And for real: the number one relationship of this movie is not Conor and Raphina, it's Conor and his older brother Brendan. Such a great and unexpected part of the movie (on a side note: I kept thinking the actor looked like a cross between Chris Hemsworth and Chris Pratt). In addition to the brother story, I think all the supporting characters just really elevated the whole film. No matter how seemingly small a part, each character was exactly pitch perfect. Eamon, Barry, Ngig, Penny and Robert and Ann, Brother Baxter....all of them, just super solid. Anyway, I loved this movie. Loved it, loved it, loved it.

Monday, January 9, 2017

A Monday list

1. My first list of 2017! Umm...ok first blog list. I have already made at least two to-do lists. Three. Three to-do list. One for the day on Friday, one for the month, and one for our upcoming vacation in March. I really like lists. The other day, my two year old -- who loves paper and pens and pencils -- had a piece of paper and a pencil and said "I need to make my list." Where does she come up with this stuff? (she says sarcastically)

2. First run of 2017 -- Saturday, home in Houston, podcast on, and brrr....it was actually cold. Not as cold as it is where my running friends live in Pennsylvania, Nebraska, and Michigan...but I had to bust out my hat and gloves, for sure. Not my best run, to be honest, but the sun was shining and I moved for 3 miles (40 minutes. Yes, I'm slow) and it was great!

3. My word of the year this year is "present." I want to embrace my present, the things I like and the things I don't. I still want to set goals and go after them, but with an attitude of contentment grounding me. I want to be present in ever day -- with my family, my friends, my neighbors. Now, my children are already reminding me that in this season of life, "present" also includes "flexible." My little people like to play havoc with my sleep, so I'm trying to remember to roll with it. Would I like to set the goal of getting up 30 minutes early each day to write or run? Sure! But when the kiddos spend the hours of 3:30 and 7 a.m. taking turns waking up, that's not going to happen. I make the time when I can. Does this mean that for this (tired) routine-loving girl those "me" things or projects may not happen as often as I'd like? Maybe so. But I guess it gives me something to work on.

4. Brought some Port City Java coffee home from Wilmington. Ahhh. In addition to adding a bit of deliciousness to my coffee cup, it makes me feel a little more connected to the dear friends we got to see while we were out there visiting over New Year's.

5. I'm reading The Shadow Kingdom by Jennifer A. Nielsen right now, and have a library copy of A Tangle of Gold by Jaclyn Moriarty waiting in the wings. Also trying to catch up on my favorite podcasts and still leisurely reading Present over Perfect by Shauna Niequest. I've been reading that one for a while, but it's not one I feel the need to rush through.

Happy Monday!

Sunday, January 1, 2017

A milestone reached

Six years ago, Jeremy and I signed up for a money class at church mostly because a bunch of our friends were doing it too. We were pretty broke, and had quite a bit of debt, so we figured it didn't hurt to get a few ideas. Well, that particular class -- Dave Ramsey's Financial Peace University -- hit us right where we needed it. It was the right information, at the right time, with the right people, and in a way that really connected with us. Taking that class put us on a more firm trajectory toward...well, financial peace. We gained a new vocabulary, new tools, and a fire in our belly to change our lives. We sat in that class living paycheck to paycheck with balances on six credit cards (a few overdue, if we're getting real honest), a vehicle payment, and a chunk of student loan debt. Today, we made the final payment on the final student loan and can greet 2017 debt free.

It's been a long and in some ways a circuitous journey. These six years have contained career changes, two major moves (one halfway across the country), and two kids. We've had our moments of focus and some times where we've chosen to be a bit more lax. We've learned to communicate better over money, and can honestly say that it's gotten to be less and less of a relationship stressor. We're on the same team, have the same goals, and that is such a good thing for us.

Paying our debt off wasn't an easy thing. We had to make sacrifices, cut corners, work long hours, and make tough choices. We've become more aquainted with delayed gratification. I'm not saying that to pat ourselves on the back, just to acknowledge that it wasn't something that just "happened." Sometimes we made choices that looked different than everyone around us. Fortunately, we also had friends walking the same road. Having support in our community was crucial to helping us stay the course and not get discouraged. They understood when we chose not to go out to eat, or go on vacation with them, or hire a babysitter to go out to the movies. They cheered us on, shared their own tips and advice, and gave us hope as we watched them experience their own debt-free journey.

I say all this for a couple of reasons: first, I'm just excited. Being debt free is an amazing feeling. A little surreal still, but amazing. Second, I know that lifestyle changes particularly with money are not as simple as "just". There's rarely an easy fix, no cut and dried solution. If you are struggling, I get it, and I hope 2017 brings a light, some clarity, and a little hope. Third, I know this journey is not over. I'm looking at a lifetime of being intentional with my money. A lifetime of deliberate choices to stay out of debt and to model good financial behavior for my kids. Most importantly, a lifetime of honoring God with the way I handle money. Being generous, ethical, and wise. Of approaching money with an open hand, knowing that what I have could be gone any second, and that when I have a penny to share, I should.

So I end this year grateful, hopeful, and a whole lot lighter.