Parthenon (under construction)

Europe Dunn Right Episode 2: Athens

We arrived at the Athens airport around 11:30 PM on June 8th after spending the day flying to Istanbul and then sitting in the airport there for several hours. Our first step was to file another lost bag claim for Jonathan’s bag, which we already knew had never left Atlanta. We hoped we’d get it before we moved on to Italy on the 10th, but it wasn’t looking promising.

We took a 30 minute bus from the airport to the city center where our Air BNB host told us we could take a 5 minute taxi ride to our apartment. It was well after midnight by this time and we were exhausted. We got into a cab and gave the driver the address along with a map and directions the host had provided in Greek. The driver was friendly and chatty, but soon began putting on what we later realized was an elaborate show of not being able to find the place. He drove us around for about 20 minutes, getting out of the car at several points to poke his head down alleys.

Finally, we passed the street we were supposed to turn on, and our host, Lydia, saw us and ran towards the taxi waving her hands and yelling. He quickly turned the corner and let us out, asking for 15 euros. As we grabbed our bags from the trunk, Lydia, a bad-ass, no-nonsense true Athenian woman, marched up and started screaming at him in Greek. He yelled back, and we stood awkwardly holding our bags as they argued in the middle of the street. Then she turned to us and said pleasantly. “Only pay him 5 Euros. He knows the cost is 5 Euros. He pretended to be lost on purpose. It’s only two turns from the town center.” The taxi driver protested that this wasn’t fair, that he’d been driving around with us for 45 minutes (false) and that her directions were bad. They argued some more. Lydia called the police and reported him. I think we ended up paying him 10 euros and he left. It was 1 AM.

Corrupt taxi drivers aside, Lydia was a wonderful host and made sure we had everything we needed including directions to the major sights, which were within walking distance of us. Since we would only have 1 1/2 days to explore Athens, we wanted to pack in as much as possible.

The next morning we set off to see the Temple of Zeus, Hadrian’s Gate, the Acropolis, the Parthenon, and the Agora. I really enjoyed the way these ancient ruins were tucked into the modern city, and how the Acropolis still rises above everything else as it did in ancient times. We were both in awe of the size and the age of these ruins. It’s genuinely hard to comprehend just how long they have stood and how many generations of people have visited these places. Although the Agora is mostly rubble at this point, it was still amazing to walk to through it and think about Plato, Socrates, and Aristotle, spending their time on the very same ground.

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Temple of Zeus

 

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Temple of Hephaestus in the Agora

We had lunch in a restaurant in the touristy area near the base of the Acropolis and later stopped for a drink and a slice of lemon pie at a charming café built into the side of a staircase. There were restaurants and cafes on both sides of the stairs  with little bench-like tables for people to sit on the steps with their food and drinks. The neighborhood around these famous sights were adorable and everything you picture when conjuring up images of Greece.

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Storybook Athens

We were surprised to find that the Greek people we met in Athens were the warmest and friendliest people we met on our trip. My only regret about Athens is that we did not have time to eat more Greek food. My father is of Greek heritage and I grew up eating Greek food, which I love, but we were only in Greece for one dinner time.

After our full day in Athens, I developed an impressive migraine (likely triggered by air travel, dehydration,stress, and general tiredness) and had to put myself to bed early to sleep it off. In the morning, we had coffee in a cute café and then took a walk through the National Gardens. When we returned from our walk, Jonathan’s bag had miraculously arrived from the airport, just in time for us to get on the Metro and head back to the airport for our afternoon flight to Rome.

Other than the big sights in Athens (which were amazing), I wasn’t particularly enchanted with the city itself, but  I now have my heart set on a trip back to Greece to visit the islands. (This is the problem with me, every time I check a place off my list, three more pop up). Although we had an incredibly short visit, we enjoyed our time in Athens, scheming taxi drivers aside. It was a great first stop after a rocky start to our trip.

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Europe Dunn Right Episode 1: When the Worst Thing Becomes the Best Thing

We started our great European adventure in the Atlanta airport. We’d bought tickets with Air Canada that flew from Atlanta to Toronto and then on into Istanbul. Our plan was to spent 12 hours in Istanbul, doing a mad dash through the Hagia Sofia and the Blue Mosque before continuing on to Athens. Over the past few years Istanbul has become a source of fascination for me, so when I found out that the cheapest way into Europe was to fly through Istanbul, I was all about it.

We spent the night in Atlanta so we’d be able to arrive at the airport bright and early before our 11 AM flight. We were among the first people to check in. When we checked in we were told that we had no seat assignments, but not to worry because they would be assigned at the gate. We got coffee, went to our gate and read for a while, waiting for an agent to appear.

When the agent showed up, we politely asked for seat assignments. She said to sit down and wait and she would give them to us as soon as she had them. We politely and patiently sat down. 30 minutes later, we checked back in with her and were given the same answer. I tried to be calm, but I was starting to get nervous.

A few minutes later the gate agent announced that the boarding process was beginning. We stood at the desk and said, “We still don’t have seat assignments.” She asked us to wait just a minute until she was done boarding these people. At this point it became clear to me that we were not getting on this flight. As the final passengers boarded the plane, the gate agent finally told us, “You purchased tickets, but not seats, so we’ll have to put you on the next flight.”

I collapsed into a chair where I tried to do deep breathing exercises while popping anxiety pills. In spite of being fairly well-traveled and very flexible in many ways, I am not good with travel delays or changes in travel plans. Any type of travel where there is the potential to miss a connection–a flight, a train, etc.–makes me physically anxious. And when things go wrong, even though they are usually fixable, I freak out.

Once everyone had boarded our flight and the door was closed, we waited for the gate agent to give us a new itinerary. The best they could do was a flight that got us into Istanbul late in the afternoon–not leaving enough time for us to leave the airport and see anything before our evening flight to Athens. We asked if we could just fly directly to Athens since we wouldn’t have time to see anything in Istanbul anyway, but the gate agent said she could only book us tickets to our original destination. I angry-tweeted at Air Canada for a while while being very polite to the gate agent. We were both disappointed to realize we’d miss this whole day of our trip and end up spending two full days sitting in airports.

And then, the agent had us sign the paperwork for the airline to send us compensation for being involuntarily removed from our flight. Because we’d been bumped from that international flight, the airline sent us large checks (not travel vouchers). When we added everything up later we realized these checks covered almost exactly half of the cost of our entire 18 day trip to Europe. Which means we got a 1/2 priced trip to Europe.

I know. We’re still in shock.

The thing that seemed like the WORST THING EVER to the anxious traveler in me turned out to be an enormous blessing.

We flew to Toronto and then to Istanbul where we sat in the airport for about five hours before flying on to Athens. Since Jonathan’s luggage didn’t make it to Istanbul, we got to spend part of that time getting him Turkish boxers and t-shirts to tide him over until his bag arrived.

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Here’s Jonathan, killing time in the International Departures lounge in the Istanbul airport, waiting until we can check in for our flight to Athens.

I can’t finish this post without talking about how close to home it hit to hear about the Istanbul airport bombing, just 3 weeks after we’d been there. I think about the 36 people who died and the 147 more who were injured and know that it could so easily have been us. I am grateful for our safety, but I do not believe we are entitled to it any more than anyone else.  Today Turkey erupted into chaos as the military attempted a coup. I can’t help but thing of all the lives that have been and will be lost as the government and military struggle. I pray for peace and it feels inadequate. As-Salaam-Alaikum.

 

 

 

 

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What I’m Into: June 2016 Edition

This June was probably one of the best months of my life. I started a new job, took my dream vacation to Athens, Italy, and Paris, read eight books, celebrated Jonathan’s birthday, and ate gelato almost every day. This may have been a record high. I am linking up with Leigh Kramer to share some of what I’ve been into this month.

What I’m Reading:

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng. The first sentence of this book reads, “Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet.” The book goes on to tell the story of a interracial family (Chinese father, American mother) in 1970’s Ohio, and the way the parents’ dreams play out in the lives of their children. It’s not a mystery, and in many ways it’s not even about Lydia’s death, but it was a fascinating look at family dynamics, the things that motivate us, and how our actions can have unintended consequences.

The Rules of Civility by Amor Towles. A Gatsby-esque novel about one year in the life of Wall Street secretary and social-climber Katey Kontent in late 1930’s – early 1940’s New York. On the last night of 1937 Katey and her roommate Eve happen to meet the dazzling Tinker Grey, an encounter that changes both of their lives in ways they could never have predicted.

The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom. I read this one with my book-club this month. When 7-year old Lavinia is orphaned during her Irish family’s journey to America, she is taken on as an indentured servant by the captain of the ship and taken to live on his tobacco plantation where she works with the slaves in the kitchen house. Although she is white, the slaves adopt her as their own and raise her, but as she grows older, she is drawn into the world of the big house where she walks a precarious line between her race, the slaves who have become her family, and her position in society. This book had an intriguing premise – a little different from your run-of-the-mill antebellum fiction, but it was undeniably heartbreaking.

Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan. Shout out to my friend Kim for recommending this one – this book is a pure fun summer read. When Nick Young, heir to one of the largest fortunes in Asia, brings his ABC (American-Born Chinese) girlfriend home to Singapore for a wedding, all hell breaks loose. Poor Rachel, who knew nothing about Nick’s family or financial situation, must navigate the gossip and games of the Chinese elite in Singapore society.

The Good Girl by Mary Kubica. This was a very fast read with a major twist at the ending that I still can’t decide my feelings on. When 25-year-old Mia Dennett goes missing, her mother assumes the worst, but a few months later she returns with no memory of where she’s been and insisting that her name is Chloe. The story is told from three alternating perspectives – Mrs. Dennett, the detective investigating the case, and the captor himself –and jumps back and forth in time to the time Mia is missing and the time after she’s returned home.

Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim by David Sedaris. Listened to this on audio. If you think David Sedaris is funny, you will like this. It’s very true to his other slightly strange humorous essays, mostly about his family.

Dreams of Gods and Monsters by Laini Taylor. No words. This is the final book in Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy and there is nothing I can say to express how amazing this whole trilogy is. It is considered YA fantasy, though I don’t find anything particularly YA about it except that the characters are young. Sort of. It is creative and intense and haunting and beautifully written and I can’t recommend the series highly enough.

Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari. Even though I’m happily married and have been out of the dating game for 10 years, I found this book very interesting. Although Ansari is a comedian, this book is a well-researched sociology project about how modern technology has changed the way people navigate the world of dating, romance, and marriage.

Currently reading: Who Do You Love? by Jennifer Weiner, All of Us and Everything by Bridget Asher, and Furiously Happy by Jenny Lawson.

For more of what I’m reading or what’s on my To Read least, follow me on Goodreads.

What I’m Watching:

I caught up on Pretty Little Liars, my guilty pleasure show, and FINALLY got to find out who “A” is. I also watched a few episodes of season 10 of Bones, a show I go back and forth on watching. Jonathan and I watched the new season of The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt together and enjoyed it.

We didn’t watch that many movies because we were traveling, but I did watch Room on the airplane (upsetting, but interesting) and we went to see the new Now You See Me movie this week (didn’t like it as much as the first one). I’m hoping to see Finding Dory soon.

What I’ve Been Up To:

I started my new job on June 1st, but don’t have much to say about it at this point since I only worked for about a week before we left for Europe.

The bulk of June was spent on our amazing trip. We spent two days in Athens, 3.5 days in Rome, 5 days in Florence, 1 day in Venice, 1 day in Cinque Terre, and 3 days in Paris. It was spectacular. We celebrated our 6th wedding anniversary in Rome – we actually spent that day at the Vatican and were able to see the Sistine Chapel. As far as ways to spend your anniversary, this may be the best one we’ll ever have.:)

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We were beyond grateful to have this experience. It is something I’ve dreamed of since I was a young girl and it was surreal to see with my own eyes some of these places. We were able to go for 18 days including all the travel and we loved every minute. I want to do some individual posts to share my travel tips for those who are interested, but here are some photos of the highlights.

We also celebrated Jonathan’s birthday at home on the 30th. We had dinner with friends from his grad school program and I made banofie pie (banana toffee), something he discovered he loves years ago while doing study abroad in England.

Now that we are back and getting into our routine again, I am hoping that July moves a little more slowly. I’ve got a lot to figure out and get organized before school starts again and it feels like every time I blink another week has passed.

Hope your summer is off to a great start!

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What I’m Into: May 2016 Edition

Linking up with Leigh Kramer for the May edition of What I’m Into.

What I’m Reading:

I read so many good books this month!

How to Be an American Housewife by Margaret Dilloway. This was a our book club pick for May, part of my own effort to read more books by or about people of color. Shoko is a Japanese woman who married an American GI and moved to the US, a decision which left her estranged from her beloved brother. Fifty years later, Shoko wants to return to Japan to reconcile with her brother, but when her health prevents her from making the trip, she asks her daughter Sue to go in her place. This was a book that I found slightly better in theory than in execution, but I loved Shoko because she reminded me so much of the older Korean women I knew and the descriptions of the Japan made me miss Asia like crazy.

The Light of the World by Elizabeth Alexander. This is a deeply moving though difficult book written by the poet, Elizabeth Alexander, after the sudden loss of her husband. While achingly sad in places, it is also a reflection on the blessings of love and what it means to live a full and meaningful life.

Landline by Rainbow Rowell. This was a fun chick lit read if you are willing to go along with things like a telephone that makes calls into the past. Georgie McCool is a television writer who has just been given the opportunity of a lifetime—to pitch her own TV show. The only problem is that getting the show ready means bailing on plans to spend Christmas in Omaha with her husband and daughters. Georgie and Neal love each other deeply, but it seems like they want different things. Georgie, desperate to fight for her marriage, places a late night phone call to Neal’s parents’ house to try to reconcile, only to find that she’s somehow managed to call back in time to before she and Neal were married. Maybe she can fix their problems before they even start?

Dad is Fat by Jim Gaffigan. I highly recommend listening to this on audiobook (which is what I did) because then it’s basically like listening to Jim Gaffigan do standup. If you don’t know who Gaffigan is, he’s a great comedian whose main schticks are his love of food and how he and his wife are Catholic and very fertile and therefore live in a two bedroom apartment in Manhattan with five children. This book is mostly about parenthood and it’s hilarious.

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson. This is a new genre to me, a memoir-in-verse, about the author growing up as an African American in South Carolina and New York in the 1960s and 1970s. Written from her perspective as a child, an adult understanding of the larger social context gives weight to the innocent reflections, observations, and memories of a young girl trying to find her place in the world. I also highly recommend this on audio since it is written in free verse and you won’t get the same sense of rhythm reading it to yourself.

Jane Steele by Lyndsay Faye. If you are a fan of Jane Eyre, or gothic novels in general, this book is for you. While this is not a retelling of Jane Eyre, it draws heavy inspiration from it with the main character admitting that her favorite book is Jane Eyre because she sees so many parallels to her own life. Jane Steele is also a sensitive orphan who loses her parents and her home and is sent to a terrible boarding school. As an adult she sees an opportunity to return to her childhood home when the new owner advertises for a governess for his ward. Cue the epic romance. Jane’s life mirrors Jane Eyre’s in many ways, but with one notable exception. Jane Steele is sort of a serial killer. I loved it!

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi. This book. All the feels. I read the entire thing in one day. It is devastating and beautiful and everyone should read it. At 36, Paul Kalanithi has spent most of his life training to be a neurosurgeon/neuroscientist. Just as he is finishing up his last year of clinicals, he is diagnosed with lung cancer. Kalanithi writes about his own journey, his decision to pursue medicine and what made life meaningful to him and the ways that those feelings shifted or grew stronger in the light of his impending death. Kalanithi died in March 2015 with this book “unfinished” in his opinion, but I think it’s perfect just the way it is. It’s difficult, but beautiful. I think everyone should read this and Atul Gawande’s Being Mortal, which I wrote about a few months ago.

For more of what I’m reading or what’s on my To Read least, follow me on Goodreads.

What I’m Watching:

We’re still trying to get caught up on The Grinder and New Girl. I finished the last season of Call the Midwife (loved it) and have actually been watching a few episodes of the latest season of Bones which I used to watch, but haven’t in a while.

We went to see the new Captain America movie, which I liked much better than several of the recent Marvel movies. And today we unexpectedly had some time in the afternoon and decided to go see the new X-Men movie. Because I love X-Men. (OK, I actually just love James McAvoy. I can’t possibly be alone in this).

Jonathan is, for some unknown reason, unwilling to go see Me Before You with me when it comes this weekend. Possibly my description of it as, “Maybe the most I’ve ever cried while reading a book,” didn’t sell it to him. I might just take myself even though it will be embarrassing to sit in a theater alone and sob.

What I’m Eating:

I’ve suddenly become obsessed with guacamole. Like obsessed. One of my favorite dinners is guacamole on top of a turkey burger. So yum. Here’s my recipe in case you are wondering about it. It’s completely imprecise and easy and it works every time.

1 ripe avocado
1 roma tomato
1 Tbsp onion
Garlic powder
Cumin
Salt
Lime juice

Cut the avocado in cubes, mash it up a bit but leave some chunks. Finely dice the onion and mix in. Add some garlic powder (maybe ¼ tsp? ½ tsp? I just eyeball it). Add cumin (maybe 1 tsp? More than the garlic powder. The cumin is very important). Dice tomato and mix in. Add salt to taste. Add a squeeze of lime juice.

I don’t measure anything, I just say add a little at a time and taste it as you go til you figure out what you like! Then put it on everything.

What I’m Writing:

I managed to do one post in the middle of the chaos of this month about my new tattoo. I also had a few pieces published to Modernize including this one about how to achieve eco-friendly style, Industrial Style 101, and this most recent post about how to boost your curb appeal with a container garden.

What I’ve Been Up To:

Life has hit hard this month. I’ve barely had time to breathe.

First off, I was offered and did accept a position as the International Student Coordinator/ESL teacher at Hammond. This is a part-time, year-round position that begins tomorrow. Hurray!

Then, a few weeks ago, I was given the opportunity to take over the job of the Middle School Administrative Assistant. There was an unexpected vacancy and they needed someone to fill in for the last few weeks of school. I jumped in and spent a few frantic weeks scrambling around trying to help out in any way I could without any real training or knowledge of what was going on. It was one of the most stressful experiences of my life. This was adding a full-time job on top of all of my other tutoring and writing obligations and a few Fireflies baseball games I had already committed to work at, which basically meant that I didn’t see my husband for approximately three weeks.

There was a pretty traumatic event during my second week working at the school where someone was shot outside of my house in the middle of the night. This naturally cued all the panic attacks and led to some stress-filled days and sleepless nights. I’m mostly OK now, though I’ve made an appointment to see my doctor about some medication for getting through highly stressful times. It wreaks havoc on me emotionally and physically.

Other than working and panicking, we have had some fun things going on as well. We got to house/puppy sit for friends who have an adorable white Havanese puppy called Dobby. We drove to Spartanburg to have dinner with my second family, the Millers who were in town visiting my lifelong friend Leigh who lives there now. We had Mama Ginger’s homemade red beans and rice. It was like being home.

The next weekend I hosted a makeup party for some of my friends. This was basically just a party to talk about makeup, recommend products, and talk through general do’s and don’ts. And I got to do a few of my friends’ makeup which is always fun. The whole event was fun for me since makeup is one of my favorite hobbies.

The following weekend my mom came into town for an epic 3-day visit. It was so great to see her and hang out. She treated me to a spa day complete with facials, massages, and a pedicure, and then completely shocked me by agreeing to the tattoo shop with me to get my new tattoo. (Read more about that here).

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Jonathan made me try out lots of cheesy showing-off-my-tat poses. Believe it or not, this is the best one.

I’m still loving my new tattoo, which is healing nicely. It was designed especially for me but my creative and amazing friend, Asharae Kroll, who recently had a book on handlettering published and is also offering an e-class handlettering very soon, so check it out! (Shamelss plugs one and all!)

Last Friday my friend Laura invited me to go to a paint bar with her and her sister. I really got in touch with my inner artist and painted this little masterpiece. I couldn’t understand why the people at the art bar didn’t ask if they could keep it to display for other customers. When I came home and showed Jonathan, he said, “Which way does it go?” but that’s OK, because we all know the best artists are the ones who aren’t appreciated in their time.😉

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I’m obviously a visionary.

I spent most of this past weekend preparing for a business writing workshop I was supposed to teach this week, but we did sneak away on Sunday afternoon to meet up with Jonathan’s dad and sister in Charlotte. Kacy is doing in internship in Charlotte for the summer and Jonathan’s dad drove down to help her settle in. We were only able to see them for dinner, but we try to take advantage of any opportunity to see family now that we are in the same country. For now, anyway.😉

We leave for our great European adventure on TUESDAY!!!! Not that I’m excited or anything. To be honest, things have been so busy that I haven’t really done any planning or packing or anything. Hopefully we’ll be able to make time this week to get everything set. We’ll celebrate our 6th wedding anniversary in Rome this year. How unbelievable is that?! (On several levels). I will do my best to take ALL THE PICTURES and post them here and on my Instagram account.

Header Image Credit: Weheartit.com

 

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To Write Truth on My Arms

On Saturday I got a new tattoo, lyrics from a song I love crawling down my forearm from elbow to wrist,inked in carefully crafted, one-of- a-kind lettering designed for me by a dear friend. It says, “I will hold on hope.”

When you tattoo words on your arms, people ask questions. They want to know “Why these words? What do they mean?” And there is no simple explanation, no easy way to describe everything these words mean to me, and everything the song they come from represents.

Last Wednesday night I woke up to the sound of gunshots. Three sharp staccato cracks and then the squeal of tires and the roar of an engine. I lay in my bed, heart pounding, afraid to move, mind racing through possibilities. A domestic dispute? A drug deal gone wrong? Or maybe it wasn’t really gunshots at all. How did I even know what gunshots sounded like? But minutes later, when the police lights pulsed through my bedroom window like a beacon, I understood that what I’d heard really was a gun and it really was just yards away from my bedroom. Panic wrapped its fingers around me like a vice as we took our pillows and crept upstairs into the loft in the dark, trying to escape the flashing blue lights without attracting attention. I folded my body onto the short end of the sectional, knees pressed into my chest, trying to make myself as small as possible, thinking about how much I miss living in a place where I never felt threatened, where I was never suspicious of my neighbors or worried for my safety.

For several anxious days afterwards I flinched at every loud noise or flash of motion caught in my periphery. My body trembled and my teeth chattered with chills produced by the excess adrenaline coursing through me. The days blurred together until, with a little medication and a lot of prayer and some serious support from my husband, I started to relax back into my life.

There are many things I cannot control about my circumstances. There are many things I cannot control about my own body. But I believe that I have the power to choose what defines me. Each of my tattoos represents a truth about who I am and who I hope to be. “I will hold on hope,” is both a truth and a resolution. I will not be defined by anxiety and I will not settle into a unfulfilling life because I’ve given up on dreaming for a greater one. I will choose hope.

Later on in this song come the lyrics, “But I need freedom now/And I need to know how/To live my life as it’s meant to be.” Like with any form of art, I’m sure there are different interpretations of this song, but to me, these words are powerful. They express the restless energy I have felt for most of my life–the tension I feel between the life that’s expected of me and the life I dream of. I believe that I can live my life “as it’s meant to be.” I believe that even as I struggle with anxiety and depression, I can choose hope. So I hold on.

I hold onto the hope that the broken parts of me can be made whole, that I can grow strong through struggle, and that I can find the freedom to live my life honestly and authentically, as it’s meant to be, even if it looks different from the lives of those around me.

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My mom went with me to get my tattoo…which was an experience I could never have imagined in a million years. If you know my family, you’ll know what I mean.

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The lyrics are taken from the Mumford & Sons song, “The Cave.”
The font was hand lettered for me by my dear friend Asharae Kroll.

What I’m Into: April 2016 Edition

And… somehow it’s May. I have one month of tutoring/subbing left in the school year and Jonathan finished his first year of grad school yesterday. It is incomprehensible to me that we’ve been back from Korea for 8 1/2 months and that Jonathan is now 1/3 of the way through his program. This is somewhat terrifying since it means we are only two years away from having to figure out what to do next. Again. (!)

As always, I am linking up with Leigh Kramer to share what I’ve been into this month.

What I’m Reading:

Still Life by Louise Penny. I’ve been hearing about Louise Penny’s Chief Inspector Gamache mystery series for a while now and I finally picked up the first one. These books were recommended to me based on my enjoyment of mystery writers like Kate Atkinson whose mysteries are less about suspenseful procedures and more about character development. I enjoyed this first book, but I did find it to be a little slow for a mystery. I’ve heard that Penny really hits her stride with these by book 4 or so, and I plan to continue them at some point. I loved the setting in a rural town in Quebec. My reading this month had a bit of a French theme and it was fun to have that element in this book as well.
Bringing Up Bebe: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting by Pamela Druckerman. I mostly enjoyed this book, but I admit to some skepticism about the author’s generalizations about what “the French”  or “French parents” do. I was also amused that the “wisdom of French parenting” was mostly things that seem like complete common sense to me –how do French parents get their babies to sleep through the night at such an early age? They use the revolutionary “pause” technique, otherwise known as waiting five minutes to see if the baby is just waking up between sleep cycles and will fall back asleep on its own or if it actually needs something. It’s comical to me that this is a method because it seems so obvious to me, but I know there are parents who feel that letting a baby cry, even for as short a time as 5 minutes, is cruel. I did especially appreciate the parts about how French parents cultivate an appreciation for a wide variety of foods and don’t have picky eaters. If I ever have kids, we are not doing the separate kid’s meals of chicken nuggets and boxed mac and cheese every night. The thing I appreciated most about this book was the examination of how French parents (or at least the ones the author observed) value continuing to develop as adults after they’ve had kids instead of letting their kids take over everything in their lives.
The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah. My book club read this book for our April meeting and I cannot recommend it highly enough. It’s a World War II book that manages to be completely different from any other WWII book I’ve ever read (which is saying a lot). It tells the story of two sisters living in occupied France. Vianne fights for the survival of herself and her young daughter while her husband is held prisoner and a surprisingly kind  German soldier moves into her home. She is forced to question her own loyalties and the line between playing nice to protect her daughter and standing up for what’s right. Meanwhile, her impulsive sister Isabelle is willing to risk everything to feel like she is doing something valuable for the war effort. She becomes involved with the resistance in bold and dangerous ways. Isabelle thinks Vianne is passive and Vianne thinks Isabelle is reckless and irresponsible, but each of them is fighting in the only way they know how.
 
Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver. Barbara Kingsolver is one of my favorite authors, but this is my first experience reading her nonfiction. This book recounts her family’s year-long experiment in eating locally during which they grew most of their own food on their farm and committed to purchasing things they couldn’t provide for themselves from local farmers in their community. One of the coolest parts of this book is that it’s a family collaboration with sidebars written by Kingsolver’s scientist husband, and menus and recipes provided by Kingsolver’s 19-year-old daughter Camille. Kingsolver doesn’t expect everyone to be able to make the radical change to subsistence farming, but she encourages small changes that add up to a big difference for the environment and for local economies.
The Light Between Oceans by M. L. Stedman. I’d had a hold on this one from the library for several months and my turn finally came. It was worth the wait. Tom Sherbourne has returned from four years on the Western Front to take a position as a lighthouse keeper on a remote island off the coast of Western Australia. He brings his young, vivacious wife Isabel out to the island with him where they live an isolated existence where their only company is a supply boat that comes from the mainland once a season. Isabel’s greatest dream is to be a mother, but her body seems unable to cooperate. After two miscarriages and one stillbirth, she has given up hope, when a boat carrying a dead man and a living infant washes up on the shore. Isabel sees this as a gift from God and insists that the mother must be dead as well and that they should keep the baby, against Tom’s better judgment. The couple raises Lucy as their own for several years until they return to the mainland and discover that their child’s real mother is very much alive and devastated by the loss of her daughter. Tom and Isabel must decide what is right and whose happiness carries the most weight.
Currently Reading: How to Be an American Housewife by Margaret Dilloway, Landline by Rainbow Rowell, I Can Barely Take Care of Myself: Tales from a Happy Life Without Kids by Jen Kirkman, The Light of the World by Elizabeth Alexander
Follow me on Goodreads for more of what I’m reading.

What I’m Watching:

This month I finished watching How to Get Away with Murder, which Jonathan has grown disenchanted with, but I am still interested in. I also discovered that there was a new season of Call the Midwife on Netflix which I didn’t even know existed. I LOVE that show, so that’s been a fun discovery. Another British show I’m enjoying is Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries which is about a lady detective solving mysteries in the 1920’s. I think it’s set in Australia? I’m not totally sure because the characters have different accents. Either way, it’s fun!

What I’m Eating:

I am attempting to eat very healthy in preparation for our trip next month (see Exciting News 2 below).

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To get myself excited about eating really healthy, I have to look for new and intriguing recipes to try. A current favorite in our house is these turkey meatballs over zucchini noodles (zoodles!). Plus the colors are just gorgeous.

I also made this crockpot Korean beef for a friend’s baby shower this past weekend. It was a vintage travel themed shower with foods from around the world. This was super simple and a big hit!

Follow me on Pinterest for more recipes!

On the Internets:

Loved this post from Sarah Bessey on resurrection.
My friend, Briana, has been hitting it out of the park with her posts at Off the Page:
My friend Meredith’s piece over at You Are Here Stories anticipating the birth of her (now newly arrived!) daughter.
I also really enjoyed this hilarious song from Flight of the Conchords called “Woo a Lady.” It’s not a new song, I just had never heard it before. The sound quality on this video isn’t great, but if you use headphones you should be able to catch the lyrics, which are hysterical.

What I’m Writing:

Nothing except for articles for Modernize, which are backlogged so not many have been published. I did share this piece on de-cluttering using the Kon Mari Method  and this piece on Modern Style 101.

What I’ve Been Up To:

Working. All the time. When you have five different jobs, there is always something to do. Most recently, Jonathan and I got jobs working at the new minor league baseball stadium in town. We work as club level and suite servers for the people who are fancy enough to rent out suites, though last week I ended up working in a beer booth pouring beers and working the cash register. It was extremely busy, but I made great tips, so I’m not mad. Although my uniform of a polo shirt tucked into khakis with a belt does make me look like a chubby zoo keeper.
We spent most of our April weekends in Charlotte for one reason or another. At the beginning of the month we took a last-minute Friday night drive up to meet up with friends from college who we hadn’t seen for years. They were in Charlotte for an event and it was great to catch up with them and meet their adorable kids.
The next weekend we went back to Charlotte to spend time with our good friends, Brandon and Christy. We ate ridiculous amounts of cheese while listening to live music, and did some shopping at the outlet mall. We also stayed up way too late playing board games and waiting for the boys to stop playing FIFA so we could go to sleep.
The following weekend was meant to be relaxing, but Jonathan ended up having a weird eye-related emergency that we spend most of Sunday sorting out, so it didn’t go quite as planned. (He’s recovering nicely, by the way).
This past weekend was a long-awaited reunion with my college roommates as well as a baby shower for one of the roomies, my dear friend Asharae. It was so wonderful to see everyone and to get to shower Ash and her husband with love and support as we anticipate their sweet baby. Sure, we talked and laughed nonstop for 3 days and it was exhausting and my voice is still all scratchy, but it was totally worth it!
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I’ve also finally started running again which I’m really enjoying. I’m up to about seven miles and was considering a half marathon in June, but have decided to hold off on race training – there is so much going on in the month of May that it’s hard to make the time commitment. I will still be running though! I absolutely love running through the neighborhoods around my house, even though we’re basically having summer weather already (80’s – 90’s).

Exciting News:

I’m being offered a job that I actually really want. I haven’t signed a contract yet, so I don’t want to share all of the details yet, but it’s probably the first job I’ve ever gotten that I’m genuinely excited about.It involves working with international students and seems like a perfect fit for me. It’s a part time job (4.5 hrs/day) but it will be consistent and that will be good.

Exciting News 2:

After much deliberation about whether or not we could make this work, we have taken the plunge and booked a trip to Europe in June. (Well, more accurately, to Italy and Paris with some brief stops in Istanbul and Athens). This trip is something I’ve been dreaming about literally since I was a child and something Jonathan and I have talked about doing together since before we were married. I can hardly believe it’s actually happening and I get all weepy with joy when I talk about it.
How did April treat you? What have you been into lately?
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What I’m Into: March 2016 Edition

I freaking love spring. Even though my car is positively yellow with pollen and the temperature fluctuates from 48 to 85 in one day, I love it. I love the colors, I love the sunshine, I love the warmth. I love the long, light-filled evenings. Basically, I’m a fan. Linking up with Leigh Kramer for this post.

What I’m Reading:

Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande. This book blew me away. Surgeon Atul Gawande explores what it might look like if we accepted the inevitability of our own mortality, and if doctors specifically focused not just on prolonging life at all costs, but on helping people die well. One of the most compelling parts was considering how the seriously ill might choose to live their remaining days if they accepted the limits of their lives instead of living through invasive procedure after procedure on the slim hope of buying more time later. (This doesn’t mean assisted suicide). I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it and have awkwardly worked it into dinner conversations with people who probably have no interest in discussing their own mortality, but what better mark of a great book than that you feel compelled to talk about it even in inappropriate contexts?

Scary Close: Dropping the Act and Finding True Intimacy by Donald Miller. I enjoyed this book about Miller’s own struggle to recognize the masks he hides behind and to recognize unhealthy and codependent tendencies. He is brutally honest about his own insecurities and the things he has used to cover them. This was a quick read and it made me think about how I conduct my own relationships.

Happiness for Beginners by Katherine Center. Thirty-two year old Helen Carpenter seeks to rediscover herself after a bad divorce by signing up for a 3-week intensive wilderness survival course. She isn’t counting on her annoying little brother’s annoying best friend tagging along (cue the romantic tension). This is basically Wild as a fiction book. It had some charming moments and I enjoyed it, but it wasn’t anything that will stay with me long-term.

Carry On by Rainbow Rowell. This is a YA fantasy book. I think it would have had more significance for me if I’d read Fangirl, but I haven’t. It’s a stand-alone story about a boy magician named Simon Snow. While there is the Harry Potter-esque set-up of a magical school and a boy who is destined to be the most powerful mage of all time, we pick up the story in Simon’s 8th and final year of school. There are passing references to fights with dragons and previous encounters with the insidious humdrum, but the reader is dropped into the middle of an ongoing story which makes the setting feel less stale. Each chapter is a first-person narrative from a different character’s perspective. I felt like Rowell was giving an intentional nod to all the conventions of YA magical school fantasy, then proceeding to turn those conventions on their heads. There is a mysterious headmaster, the Mage, but there are also gay vampires.  One fun element is that the system of magic spells is tied to common figures of speech, nursery rhymes, and even the lyrics to Bohemian Rhapsody, so phrases like, “Easy come, easy go,” have magical power.

Someday, Someday, Maybe by Lauren Graham (of Gilmore Girls and Parenthood fame). When 26-year-old Franny Banks moved to New York to become an actress, she set a deadline for herself. At the end of three years she would either be successful or give up and move on. Now that deadline is looming and Franny is frantically trying to navigate what she is and isn’t willing to do in pursuit of her dream. No great literature here, but it wasn’t poorly written and was a nice light read with a funny and charming protagonist.

Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt. I recently started a book club and this was our first pick. I LOVED this book and discussing it with others during book club made my appreciation of it even richer. It’s 1987, and 14-year-old June Elbus has just lost her uncle Finn, the person she loved most in the world, to AIDS. At Finn’s funeral, June sees a mysterious stranger who she later learns is Toby, her uncle’s secret lover. Unwilling and unable to completely let Finn go, June forges a secret friendship with Toby, the only person in the world who might just miss Finn more than she does. Through her friendship with Toby, June learns more about her own family, about compassion, and about what real love looks like.

I Feel Bad About My Neck: And Other Thoughts on Being a Woman by Nora Ephron. This is a quick read that will make lots of women laugh (and maybe men too). While I’m not at the same life stage as Ephron was while writing this, I still enjoyed her humorous take on some of the more ridiculous aspects of what society expects of women.

Currently reading: Still Life by Louise Penny, The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah, Bringing up Bebe by Pamela Druckerman , and Night Driving by Addie Zierman. Follow me on Goodreads for more of what I’m reading.

What I’m Watching

I finally made it to the end of Revenge which I’ve been watching on Netflix on and off for more than a year. The finale was somewhat satisfying. I also watched all of the Full House reboot, Fuller House. I think this is largely for people who are nostalgic about the original show as many details as well as entire plot lines are updated versions of well known Full House episodes.It’s corny, but as someone who grew up on Full House, I still kind of loved it.

This month we enjoyed a weekend getaway to a cabin outside of Asheville. While we were there we watched The Intern and Burnt (which I always refer to as “Bradley Cooper, Chef”). I liked both of these movies a lot. We also made it to see Zootopia which was cute.

What I’m Listening To

I don’t miss an episode of Anne Bogel’s What Should I Read Next? podcast and find it great fun to listen to while I’m running – something I have been making a big effort to do more of. I’ve also gotten into a band called I am They who I first heard in my friend’s car. I think they’re from Nashville and I think their music is perfect for easy listening. Very peaceful.

What I’m Eating

I have been making a very serious effort to eat better, which for me means limiting starches and sugars and eating lots and lots of veggies and fruits and fish and some lean meats. This means I have no enticing pictures to share with you. Except. I did make this lemonade cake for Easter. Which is one of my all-time favorites.

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Follow me on Pinterest for more recipes!

What I’m Writing

As you probably know, I’ve been pretty MIA from blogging this month. It was an unintentional hiatus, but I’m glad that I took some time off. I was feeling a little burnt out and if you keep reading, you’ll see why. I did do some writing to apply for a summer writing fellowship I’ve heard great things about, but unfortunately I wasn’t accepted.

The two pieces I published on the blog this month were this one about my relationship with “Mr. Jones,” a homeless man who I give reading lessons to and this one about managing my anxiety. I also continued to submit one post each week to Modernize, but they are behind on their publishing schedule and don’t have anything new up yet.

What I’ve Been Up To:

March was actually kind of nuts. In the best way. The first weekend I drove up to the Charlotte area to visit my adorably preggo friend, Asharae. The next day I went to Spartanburg to visit one of my oldest and dearest friends who has a new boyfriend I felt the need to meet and pass judgment on.

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The following week, Jonathan’s parents and sister came to visit for a few days during Spring Break. I was not on spring break and had to work during the day, but it was still great to see them. We’ve been back in America for 7 months and we’ve seen Jonathan’s family four different times, which is amazing when we’d only seen them twice in the previous two years. My good friend (and college roommate) Taylor also came up from Charleston to visit for an afternoon.

The next week I hosted the first meeting of the Badass Book Club where we discussed Tell the Wolves I’m Home. It was such a great evening and we had a great discussion. That weekend Jonathan and I went on a short getaway to Asheville, NC. We stayed in a cabin a little north of Asheville -actually it was the exact same cabin we stayed in on another getaway four years ago when we were living in Raleigh. It was such a sweet time and a great opportunity to relax and just hang out together. The view was beautiful and there was an awesome hot tub.

It was especially nice to get away because the following week I had to teach a two-day business writing workshop at a local company. This was my first experience doing anything like this and I was incredibly nervous and unsure about my materials, content, and presentation, but it went well and they have already asked me to come back and do the workshop again for a different group of employees.

That week was the week of Easter and part of my church’s Easter tradition is to celebrate the Seder (Passover) meal on Maundy Thursday. We do this in small groups in each other’s homes. I went to my friends Ben and Leslie’s house and celebrated with their family and another family from our church. We went through the traditional meal with all of the symbolism. Since there were six kids there, it was a little chaotic, but also a lot of fun.

On Easter Sunday we went to church and then shared a delicious Easter lunch with our friends Buffy and Ian and their kids (and Ian’s mom). Our dear friends Brandon and Christy happened to be passing through town that afternoon and Buffy and Ian kindly invited them to join us for lunch. We had a great afternoon eating yummy foods and enjoying each others’ company. Also, my mom sent me these Jasmine pajamas in the mail for Easter!

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This last week of March was supposed to be a bit slower-paced, but I found out on Monday that I would need to prepare and teach a demo class at the school I tutor at. This was part of the interview process for a 5th grade teaching position I am applying to for next school year. I spent most of this week in an adrenaline frenzy. I gave the lesson yesterday morning and it seemed to go well, though I don’t have my hopes up about the position since there are other candidates with better experience and qualifications. But, you never know until you try!

If you’ve stuck with me to the end, thank you so much for reading! I hope you are enjoying spring as much as I am and I would love to hear about what you’ve been into and up to this month!