Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Non-Fiction Inspiration

Turns out I've read a lot of non-fiction and memoirs in 2017.  Too many to bore you with in one post so I've rounded up a few that I will loosely categorize as inspirational.

Hope Heals: A True Story of Overwhelming Loss and an Overcoming Love 
by Katherine and Jay Wolf 
This book came highly recommended by a reader (and all around awesome person) I trust.  I ordered a copy over the summer but then shelved it because it sounded too darn depressing -- a young wife and mother suffers a horrible stroke.  I cracked the spine early this year since I promised myself I'd stretch more with my 2017 reading.  Katherine and Jay Wolf take turns telling the story of Katherine's stroke and the many months of therapy and healing.  I was so inspired by the way this devastating, almost-fatal stroke tested and strengthened their faith.  Who can argue with the power of hope?

Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear 
by Elizabeth Gilbert
Eat, Pray, Love.  Never read it and don't plan to.  Gilbert, whose Eat, Pray, Love was wildly successful, was writing (and publishing) for years before that book thrust her into the spotlight.  I bought Big Magic during an ebook sale and am VERY GLAD to have read it.  Gilbert's insights into the creative life are incredible.  She writes in a conversational but confident manner.  I'd have loved to have read this book when I was writing my dissertation as she has many wise things to say about how suffering and martyrdom don't have to be a part of the process.  I never own it and say:  I'm a writer.  Were I to own it, this book would be even more valuable as it captures what is magical about creativity in a very reasonable, accessible way.

Side note:  It is possible that some big magic is happening in my life as I look back at my 2017 reading and note that I've read several books about writing or writers.  Gail Carson Levine's Writing Magic:  Creating Stories that Fly is a writer's guide for young people that includes exercises and prompts.  I'm not motivated to do them, but I can see classroom applications.  I read three memoirs by writers that included discussion of, surprise, writing itself:  Jessi Klein's You'll Grow Out of It (funny, insightful), Sarah Hepola's Blackout: Remembering the Things I Drank to Forget (honest, sometimes dark, inspirational), and Lee Smith's Dimestore: A Writer's Life (honest, beautifully written, rooted in place/time).  We'll see where all this writerly inspiration leads.

Settle for More
by Megyn Kelly
I'm not much of a television news viewer but since I didn't live under a rock during 2016, I was aware of Trump's attacks on Kelly and thus curious about her.  I bought Settle for More during a post-holiday ebook sale.  I have to say that I was inspired by Kelly's incredible work ethic and her willingness to make major changes in her life.  She also had some things to say about vulnerability in friendship that I am still thinking about.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

This Slob's Progress

My default setting is slob.  Because I appear somewhat organized and on-top-of-things out in the world, people often imagine that I have a tidy home.  With lots of sweat, hustling, angst, sighing, yelling at my family, and at least one full day, I can make it appear as if my home is (somewhat) tidy.  Day to day, I have struggled to maintain even a semblance of order.

Until now.

Thanks to Dana K. White's How to Manage Your Home Without Losing Your Mind, I have actually developed one good habit and had one a-ha moment.  It's a wonderful thing to read something wise, try it out, and actually see results.

First, the good habit:  doing the dishes every day.
I was not on top of the dishes.  In fact, any time I hosted anything and guests tried to help me with the dishes, I used to think, oh stop already, I'll deal with these tomorrow.  I was not one of those folks who couldn't head to bed with dishes in the sink.  Plus, I told myself that I should not run the dishwasher unless every single square inch was filled.  The timing never quite worked out though.  I'd often end up with a full load of dishes and at least another load and a half that I would need to handwash by the time I actually addressed it all.

Dana White tells us slobs (and she is writing the book for people like me, not for the already-tidy Tinas out there) to start by doing the dishes every single day.

So, I've been doing that.  Running the dishwasher every single night and emptying it in the morning.  Yes, I am not always running a giant full load, but it's not as empty as I thought since, with this new system, I've actually had room to fit some of the larger items I used to handwash (colanders, mixing bowls, etc.)  And, because the loads aren't giant, the thought of unloading is a lot less daunting, just like White promised me.

I know you already-tidy Tinas might be thinking, "Well, duh, washing dishes every day is a no brainer."  Good for you.  I'm just catching up.

Second, the a-ha moment:  focus on visible clutter.
Dana White recommends focusing on visible clutter.  She doesn't reference Marie Kondo, but the gist is instead of trying to Kondo your home and cull every single drawer and closet, you should focus on areas of visible clutter and go from there.

I had a corner of the dining room that was full of crap.  Boxes of Christmas decorations and wrapping paper and a big bag of Cub Scout shit (not actual feces, mind you, I'm not that slobbish/demented).  In the foyer, I had two boxes of Cub Scout popcorn that had been sitting there since November.  So, guess what, I moved the decorations to the basement where they are stored.  Then, I moved the Cub Scout popcorn to the pantry.  The pantry was a little crowded so I spent ten minutes working on it.  I consolidated some items, took a few things out of bulky packages, tossed a few expired items, and then easily found room for the popcorn.

On to the kitchen counters.  Having started to get the dishes under control, I was enjoying having clear counters near the sink.  How great would it be, I fantasized, to have clear counters to the right of the oven?  Maybe I could put my knives in a cabinet instead of on the counter?  Guess what?  I could.  All I had to do was open a cabinet, clean out the spices there (most of which were expired), change the height of a shelf, and voila, knives hidden but accessible!

Then, I looked at the spice rack/utensil caddy that the previous owners of our home had installed right behind the stovetop.  Worst place ever to store spices (near the heat) and I was sick of looking at all my utensils.  There is a long drawer directly under the stovetop.  It was filled with stuff it didn't need to be filled with.  I went through the drawer and tossed a few items and found new homes for others.  Next thing you know, I have all my utensils in a drawer right where I need them.  Then, I yanked that grease-stained caddy off the wall.  I need to figure out what should go there instead, but I appreciate having the blank canvas waiting.

There are still plenty of visible clutter areas in our home, but I have started to address them, and because I can actually see the results of my effort, it makes me want to continue.  Like Dana White said would happen.  Smart lady.

I could go on and on about this book, but if you are not an already-tiny Tina, I recommend reading it.  White is funny, likable, down-to-earth, realistic, wise, and practical.  This book was much more life-changing for me than another with that phrase in its title.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Audible First-in-a-Series Sale

I love Audible.com sales and not just because of the sale prices.  When facing a curated collection of offerings, I end up finding a few things that push me outside my comfort zone.  Something about the sale price makes me take more risks in my selections.

Audible's current sale is the First-in-a-Series Sale.  All the offerings are, surprise, the first in a series.

Here's a brief look at what I chose and why...

The Whistling Season by Ivan Doig -- The publisher's summary pulled me in on this choice:  "When a widowed rancher hires a housekeeper to help with his three young sons, he finds her to be cheerful and competent. Yet she is concealing a colorful and infamous past. Filled with humor and hardship, this novel sings with what the author calls 'a poetry of the vernacular.'"  I'm in.

Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson -- I'd certainly heard of Chains and Anderson.  I chose this piece of YA historical fiction because it tells the story of a slave in colonial New York City in 1776.  I have read many novels about slavery (as well as actual slave narratives), the vast majority of which are set in the South.  I was intrigued by the setting and historical moment here.

Gilead by Marilynne Robinson -- This novel has been on my "I'll Thank Me Later List" for years.  Perhaps I'll be more likely to press play than to crack the spine.

The Unexpected Mrs. Pollifax by Dorothy Gilman -- Widowed garden clubber in NJ joins CIA with Barbara Rosenblat narrating?  I've got eight hours for that.  

The Winds of War by Herman Wouk -- The reviews on this one are unbelievable, especially considering that it requires almost 46 hours (!!!!!!) of listening.  Not sure when I'll be in the mood for that many hours of a WWII novel ... I like that this one gives a lot of insight into the American Homefront as most novels cover (and very rightly so as there are so many stories to be told) the war in Europe.

The Best Man by Kristan Higgins -- I've already told you that I'm on a Kristan Higgins kick.  Can't wait to press play on this one during a tough or crazy week. 

There are plenty of ways to listen to audiobooks for free, of course, but I don't mind paying because it allows me to download to my old-but-perfectly-sized-for-listening ipod.  The audiobooks I purchase are truly a cross-category investment for me:  mental health, entertainment, fitness, and housekeeping.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Breaking Sam's Club Beverage News

I joined Sam's Club two years ago and have been very pleased with the selection of merchandise, the hours (Plus members can get in during the 7 o'clock hour instead of waiting until 10 freaking a.m. as at Costco), the proximity to my home (five minutes), and their Coca-Cola fountain (with good ice!).  The latter is important as I like to end my shopping trip with a large, cheap drink -- a pleasure that Costco robbed from me when they switched their fountain over to Pepsi.

I scooted over to Sam's early this morning and, as ever, held up a styrofoam cup to be scanned at checkout.  "Oh, did you know we switched over to Pepsi?" said the cashier in a very nonchalant way, as if that news would be either positive or neutral.  The most fitting word for my feelings in that moment:  despair.  Despair that would have turned into the fiery anger born of betrayal had I not looked over at the fountain and determined that Diet Coke was still on offer, along with a bevy of new beverage choices.

Excuse the blurry pics.  As I've said before, photographing soda fountains makes me feel like a creep.  Sam's Club is now offering Your Club. Your Choice as the signage above illustrates.  

Here's what I'm feeling...
Relief.  Diet Coke is still available and my addict's heart can rest easy.

Admiration.  I respect Sam's for not fully selling out by accepting whatever enormous incentives Pepsi seems to be offering these days.  (Ahem, Costco.  Ahem, Frisch's Big Boy).  Also, even though I don't drink them, I know of many who passionately love Diet Mountain Dew and Diet Dr. Pepper.  Glad to see those choices included.

Confusion.  There are some wacky offerings on this fountain that I would never drink.  Two varieties of Tropicana.  Sunkist Orange.  Sobe Lifewater.  Canada Dry.  A Raspberry Brisk Iced Tea (is that necessary with the regular iced teas in their own dispensers?).  A specialty Mountain Dew.  Something I can't recognize and that the photo is too blurry to make out.  I'm scratching my head at these choices, but not necessarily complaining since they have not replaced any standards.

Also, I said to myself, "Megan, you are perhaps out of touch.  Living in your bubble in the neighboring town of Pleasantville, you shouldn't assume that everyone has a loving/addictive relationship with Diet Coke just because you and many of your peers do."

I did some research.  A 2010 NBC News piece lists the top three sodas as Coca-Cola, Diet Coke, and Pepsi (in that order),  A 2016-17 list from top101news.com (can't attest to reliability of this source) ranks them Coca-Cola, Pepsi, and Diet Coke with Diet Pepsi in the seventh spot.

So, yes, Diet Coke is incredibly popular, right up there with the perennially loved full-sugar colas.

The other feeling, then, is Suspicion.  Regular Pepsi fills 3/24 spots on the Sam's Club fountain.  Diet Pepsi fills 1/24.  Caffeine-Free Diet Pepsi (?!?!) fills 1/24.  Whereas, Regular Coke fills 2/24 spots and Diet Coke, the second or third most popular soft drink, fills a mere 1/24 of the fountain. Hmmm.

Concern.  If after one shopping trip, I find that the Diet Coke tap has run dry and I can't get my 89 cents worth ... I don't know how to finish that without looking like a complete psycho.

I'm curious if each spot on a 24-tap fountain is carefully planned and negotiated on the corporate level or if it varies by store.  Or, if it's kind of haphazard arrangement.  Was my Sam's Club arranged on the whim of some Pepsi-loving beverage distributor?

There's another Sam's Club about twenty minutes away so I'll check out their fountain next time I'm in that area.  I'll be asking my parents and sisters to check their respective Sam's Clubs and will follow up with another edition of fountain drink dissertating when I have something to report.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Gallery Wall--Children's Artwork

Over a year after a renovation project that transformed our underused living room into a library, we have started looking for appropriate furniture for the space.  Though I know what I like, I decided it wouldn't hurt to have some design experts take a look.  Did you know that most furniture stores will send someone to your home for free?  They take measurements, snap photos, ask questions, and then follow up with ideas for how to lay out the room with their store's furnishings.  You are under no obligation to buy anything.  Two Pottery Barn designers visited on Friday, and I am proud to say they were impressed with my various gallery walls (or were good liars!).

I realized that though I shared pics of the fishy gallery wall in my son's bedroom, I hadn't shared the others we've done.

A couple of years ago, we filled an empty wall in our family room with the artwork the kids had created in school and in a beloved after-school art class.  About six months before the "installation," I started buying Studio Decor brand frames at Michael's whenever they were on sale (and when an extra 20 or 25% off could be taken off sale prices).  I chose black frames with off-white mats and placed the artwork inside as best I could.  Sometimes I could only highlight one part of a piece.

I don't have an expert tips for getting it all on the walls.  I traced the frames on wrapping paper and tentatively taped everything to the wall.  Still, my husband and I did some changing as we went.  He has a decisive personality when it comes to this sort of thing, which is helpful.

End result is a wall that is personal to our family and has great pops of color.  Is it a lot of nails in the wall?  You betcha.  You're either okay with that or you're not.  I figure we're stuck with this for a while (though I can always change out what's inside the frames).  I'm not planning to move ever again, but if I do, I trust I can find a good painter who can also fill all those holes.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Odyssey Soundtrack: August 2016-February 2017+

I've posted about the music we listen to in our minivan several times before.

Ever since August, we've been all about one thing in the Odyssey:  Hamilton.  The kids and I know all the songs.  Our love grows with each listen.  

Our faves ...
Mama loves "It's Quiet Uptown" and "Burn" (the line about Icarus!!!) and all of King George's songs.

My eleven year-old son was a big fan of "Cabinet Battle #1" and then became obsessed with "The Room Where It Happens."  Now, "The Election of 1800" is his jam.

My middle guy is into "Cabinet Battle #1" and "The Room Where It Happens."  But, he wants to make it clear, those choices have nothing to do with his big brother's preferences. 

My daughter sings it all but especially likes "Aaron Burr, Sir."  And "The Room Where It Happens."

So in the van where it happens, it's been fun to share this music together and to talk about what happens in the songs.  My middle guy is always asking good questions:  Why isn't Aaron Burr in the room where it happens?  Was Thomas Jefferson glad that Hamilton wanted him for President?  How did that comma change the meaning?  Okay, he didn't ask that last question, but I'd love to break it down for him.

It's also been fun to see the reactions of our carpoolers.  With one exception, they've been intrigued by the music and interested in learning more about the story.  Cool to hear my kids try to explain the context for different songs.

In case you're wondering, we have the "clean" version of the soundtrack.  It's not squeakily so, but I don't feel my children are being corrupted.
My hubby doesn't fully share in our Hamilton passion (in part because he isn't in the Odyssey day-to-day like we are), but he did take note of it and secure tickets for us to take our oldest to see Hamilton in Chicago for his birthday (and my early birthday) back in January.  We LOVED the live performance.  It helped to clarify who was doing the singing in some of the songs.  Tears were spilling from my eyes during "It's Quiet Uptown" and "Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story."  Such a wonderful experience.  I loved everything except the signature cocktail (avoid) and the price.  I am hoping to find reasonably-priced tickets (ha!!!!!) to take the other two kids to see it as well. 

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Book Binge -- Boy Band Girl Fan

I enjoy a good Netflix binge as much as the next person.  For me, that means watching 3-4 episodes of one show in a week.  I have a fantasy that one day I'll find a show that I'm so obsessed with that I'll start walking on the treadmill to justify watching more episodes.  For now though, any binge behavior takes place on the couch, usually while folding laundry. 

I listened to Goldy Moldavasky's Kill The Boy Band over a month ago.  It's a funny but DARK novel about a boy band, The Ruperts, and their fangirls.  I liked the sharp writing and insights into fangirl culture and female friendship.  I think it would be a great book club selection.  Quick read with lots to discuss.

Kill The Boy Band brought to mind two other novels that involve male performers and their female fans.

And so, I present to you, a new blog feature, the first-ever Book Binge ...
Allison Pearson's I Think I Love You is the story of Petra, a teenager from Wales, and her obsession with David Cassidy in the mid-70s.  This novel captures the old school fangirl (was this a word then?) playbook of fan magazines, letters, and clubs.  Like Kill The Boy Band, I Think I Love You is also a story of female friendship.

The Love Song of Jonny Valentine by Teddy Wayne is a novel for anyone who's ever wondered about Bieber Fever and the like.  This novel focuses on the boy fueling all those fangirl fantasies and made me feel compassion for its Bieberesque protagonist.

Kill The Boy Band by Goldy Moldavsky takes fan culture into the age of social media, evidencing the powerful influence of Twitter, blogs, and fan-sourced information.

Any college students in need of an essay topic?  Read these three books and have at it.  

Monday, February 13, 2017

Semi-Homemade Valentines

I've written before about the cute stuff you can make with Avery's online design tools.  Here's how we used labels for this year's valentines.

My daughter wanted to give out heart-shaped sunglasses with her Valentines.  I showed her the options on avery.com/print, and she chose this cupid emoji for her labels.  Adjusted the size, customized the text, printed at home, and stuck them on some leftover envelopes.  She made quick work of writing her classmates' names on the envelopes (a task that seemed tortuous for her brothers at that age) and then put the sunglasses inside.  No cards, just envelopes with the non-edible treat inside.

Less focused on tomorrow's festivities than his sister is, my middle guy didn't much care what he passed out tomorrow.  I wasn't interested in an weeknight Target trip so we turned to label land.  He rejected all the traditional Valentine graphics on the Avery site but was tempted by a sea scene.  We came up with a cute(ish) saying and pressed print. 

We stuck the labels on pieces of cardstock (I'm a craft hoarder so I have that kind of stuff around).  I also had a package of cute pencils (again, hoarder) so we washi-taped (craft hoarder) the pencils on top.  No envelopes for him.

No one from Avery paid me to write about their labels for my tens of readers. 

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Sweet Treats

Two treats that sweetened my weekend ...
My Goodreads friends (I'm booksandcarbs there if you're interested) already know that I've been on a Kristan Higgins kick.  I read If You Only Knew last year, enjoyed it, and then forgot all about it.  I bought All I Ever Wanted during an Audible sale, enjoyed it, and have since also read The Next Best Thing and Higgins' brand-new novel, On Second Thought.  These romances are well-written and truly funny.  They feature likable women who have interesting (often complicated) relationships with men and women (moms, friends, sisters, co-workers).  Picked up the library hold on Friday evening.  Finished the book by Saturday evening. 

I did my civic duty and bought some Girl Scout cookies this year.  Before I avoided most gluten, I used to savor my Samoas and Hoedowns.  This year, I bought Thin Mints and Samoas for the family and decided to give the new gluten-free Toffee-Tastics a whirl for mama.  Two thumbs up.  It's a substantial shortbread-type cookie with some chunks of toffee.  If I ever again have the time/patience for a cup of tea, a toffee-tastic would go, um, toffee-tastically, with it.

What sweetened your weekend?

Friday, February 10, 2017

January & February Kindle First Selections

If you're an Amazon Prime member, remember that you have access to one free book each month to be selected from the six Kindle First offerings.  You have nothing to lose except a few minutes of your time.  Even if I don't immediately read all my Kindle First selections, I enjoy the "free shopping" experience.  It's fun to browse when there's no money on the line.
My January Kindle First selection was Elizabeth Blackwell's In the Shadow of Lakecrest.  I think the Chicago setting is what swayed my decision here.  Current Goodreads rating is 3.68.  I'll report back if I actually read it.
My February freebie was The Marvelous Misadventures of Ingrid Winter, written by JS Drangsholt and translated by Tara F. Chance.  This description of the main character drew me in: "neurotic Norwegian mother of three small children and an overworked literature professor with an overactive imagination."  Hmmm, I'm not Norwegian, nor currently teaching, but still...  Current Goodreads rating is 3.16, which isn't that great, but I'd love to know the average rating from neurotic mothers of three who also love literature (and who feel an affinity for Norway ever since their son's Christmas In Norway project from 2015 -- God Jul).  Again, if I read it, I'll report back.

What about you?  Are you Prime?  Do you take advantage of the Kindle First offerings each month? 

Thursday, February 9, 2017

BOTM -- January Selection Report

Still catching up after many weeks of no blogging.  I was very tempted by several of the January Book of the Month Club selections.  Lucky You--a Southern, female, buddy, fresh start story--really appealed to me, but it's not actually released until March and the idea of reading it early seemed risky.  I like to let the people speak a bit first.  When I went to read two of the books I had selected from summer BOTM offerings, I checked Goodreads and noted that each had under 3 stars (at the time).  It's sort of a bummer to crack the spine of a book you've paid for, knowing that many readers have been underwhelmed.  One of those books, The Fall Guy, I read anyway and liked well enough (3 star read for me).  The other one, Rich and Pretty, I still haven't been able to justify spending my reading time on.  Anyone want to sell me on it?

Back to January though.  I didn't place Lucky You in my book box, but it's on my radar.  I chose Janet McNally's Girls in the Moon and Kathleen Rooney's Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk.  McNally's book is about girls who sing, if I can recall.  I'll find out when I read it!  Rooney's Lillian Boxfish Takes A Walk was perfect for me!  Lillian Boxfish walks around NYC on NYE in 1984.  Not the safest course of action for an eighty-five year old!  As she walks, reflections on her career and marriage are interspersed with her interactions with new/old friends she encounters.  Loved Lillian's wit and spunk and that Rooney pulled that off without writing a gimmicky "feisty old lady" book.  Plenty to think about here with regard to gender, motherhood, marriage, aging, careers, desire, city life, and more.  Rooney teaches at DePaul University so I imagine if I pay attention, I could probably attend a Chicagoland reading.

Here's the pic I snapped of my January BOTM box when it arrived.  Gillian Flynn's The Grownup was a bonus!  Note that I am still brightening my kitchen with arrangements I put together with grocery store bunches.

Are you a BOTM Club member?  What did you choose in January?  Report on February's selections coming soon.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Audible Monthly Credit(s) Report -- January

Surfacing after a busy month in the school volunteer zone.

Sorry to keep you waiting (ha!).  Here's how I spent January's audiobook credits.

Jim Lynch's Before the Wind came highly recommended by a reader I trust.  For me, it was just an okay listen.  I felt like I never quite got the feel of the story and definitely didn't connect with the characters.  To be honest though, I had a lot on my mind during the period of time when I was listening to this one so maybe it was just the wrong book for the moment.  Those with knowledge of sailing might want to investigate this one.  Which sailing novel would I wholeheartedly recommend, you ask?  Trustee from the Toolroom by Nevil Shute.  Do I sail?  Absolutely not.

I was a fan of The Family Fang so was really looking forward to Kevin Wilson's Perfect Little World.  Solid listen.  I would have liked the perfect little world of the novel to be more fully developed, but I liked thinking about how the ways the family can (and cannot) be stretched and extended.  Spoiler alert:  not sure of what to make of the suspiciously happy ending, though it's the one I wanted.