Book Review

What I’m Into: Jan – Feb 2017 Edition

Happy March! I don’t know where you live, but it was 83 degrees here on the last day of February, but it will get down to 32 overnight tonight. The world confuses me.

What I’m Reading

My reading for 2017 is off to a great start! I’ve read 31 books so far this year spanning genres like history, memoir, feminist essays, historical fiction, humor, food memoir, young adult fiction, Danish lifestyle, fantasy, contemporary fiction, magical realism, and literary mysteries. Don’t worry, I’ll only go into detail on a few.

Tender at the Bone by Ruth Reichl. This book had been on my reading list forever and when I finally read it this month I couldn’t believe I had put it off for so long. I already love food memoirs, but Reichl is a truly spectacular writer, weaving the stories of her life so vividly around specific recipes that Reichl, her family, and her friends felt like old friends.

Bream Gives Me Hiccups by Jesse Eisenberg.

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz.

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi. I know it’s early to say this, but I think this will prove to be one of the most important books I read I all year.

Brooklyn by Colm Toibin. This book was very “meh” to me, which surprised me because I’d heard good things about it and heard that the movie (of the same name) was very good. While this is a (probably typical) story of an Irish immigrant to Brooklyn post WWII, I found the main character to be very distant with very little emotion that I could connect to.

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead. This is another book that I have heard rave reviews about. I had a similar reaction to this as I did to Brooklyn. I think there were intentional reasons why the characters were a little distant (perhaps to avoid the sort of torture-porn, emotionally exploitative elements that can come with brutal periods of history) but I still had trouble connecting. I liked the inventive element of making the railroad an actual train.

The Little Book of Hygge: The Danish Way to Live Well by Meik Wiking. Now I want to be Danish. Also the cover is just so pretty.

Astonish Me by Maggie Shipstead.

Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman by Lindy West

Rich and Pretty by Rumaan Alam

The Secret History by Donna Tartt. My second Donna Tartt. Like The Goldfinch I thought this had merit, but was inexplicably long.

A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab

Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly. So, this book is based on such an interesting true story, and I can’t wait to see the movie, but I think the actual book was a little boring. It was oddly paced and jumped around from character to character which made it difficult to follow at some points. It felt like the author couldn’t find a good balance between technical information and human interest details. Nevertheless, a pretty cool story about some women I wish had been acknowledged and appreciated more during their lives.

Heartburn by Nora Ephron

You’ll Grow Out of It by Jessi Klein. I actually really loved these thoughtful essays from a writer most known for her comedy. (Except for the one about porn. In case you’re judging me).

Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance. I found this very interesting and insightful into the poor white, blue collar American communities that are some of the largest supporters of our current president.

Scrappy Little Nobody by Anna Kendrick (Listen to it on audio)

The Long Way Home by Louise Penny. Killing it, Louise.

The Hopefuls by Jennifer Close

The Wangs vs. the World by Jade Chang. Trying to fill the hole left by Crazy Rich Asians. Not quite there, but still had some of the fun elements that I love in Kevin Kwan’s books.

The Nature of the Beast by Louise Penny. Just. Keeps. Getting. Better.

Pretty Girls by Karin Slaughter

The Sweet Life in Paris by David Lebovitz

The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon

Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon

Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson

A Separation by Katie Kitamura

The Mothers by Brit Bennett

The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey. Probably the most atmospheric book I’ve read this year. I love when a book makes you feel transported.

The Art Forger by B.A. Shapiro

Follow me on Goodreads for more of what I’m reading. And feel free to ask if you’re curious about any of the books I mentioned here!

What I’m Watching:

We finished watching the first season of The Good Place this month and I admit that I did not see the twist coming! At least not quite like that. We also watched the latest season of The Mindy Project which we had never finished. I am now halfway through season 5 of Scandal, an on-again, off-again show for me. Hubby and I watched a few movies together over the past few months, but the only one I can remember right now is The Family Fang which was weird, but I loved it. I am also current with Jane the Virgin (WTH by the way) and This is Us which I couldn’t possibly love more.

What I’m Eating:

I used an Amazon gift card I received for my birthday to buy a few new cookbooks to inspire me. So far, my greatest new discovery has been the Thai Beef Stew featured in Against All Grain: Meals Made Simple by Danielle Walker. We also make sweet potato fries at least once a week (like out of actual cut up sweet potatoes that we bake in the oven) which makes eating healthy more fun.

What I’ve Been Up To:

I feel a little spoiled by all the fun things we’ve been able to do so far this year. We rang in the new year in Costa Rica this year. We flew down to San Jose on December 31st in order to be there for my brother-in-law’s wedding on January 7. My amazing brother-in-law (who is one of my favorite people in the world) married a Costa Rican babe that he met while living in South Africa. Now that they are married they are preparing to move to Germany. Confused yet?

Anyway, this was probably the most exciting New Year’s Eve we’ve ever spent as we were picked up from the airport in San Jose and then taken to a New Year’s Eve party that was in full-swing at my new sister-in-law’s house. I don’t know how to explain this party except to say that Costa Rican families LOVE to dance and that drunk people shouldn’t be blindfolded and given sticks to swing at piñatas.

We spent the first week of 2017 in Costa Rica which means we basically peaked in the first week of the year. We visited a volcano and spent a few days at the beach and finished our week at Patrick and Sofia’s sweet and beautiful wedding. And then we had to go home to real life. Boo.

Theoretically, my life should have slowed down a bit starting in January, because I completed one part time job at the end of December, but in fact, January turned out to be one of the most challenging months this year. I had a few very unexpected professional disappointments followed by some high-stress situations (discussing my hopes for my contract next year with the headmaster, planning and executing Chinese New Year celebrations for the whole school). By the end of January I was ready to go on break again. Fortunately, my school had a Winter Break in early February and it just so happened to line up with a conference Jonathan was already planning to go to in Washington D.C. I got to tag along for a long weekend in DC where I got to hang out with Rachel, an old high school friend, and spend my days wandering through museums and historic sights.

In a completely random and unplanned coincidence, my parents ended up being in DC at the exact same time that I was, so I also got to spend a few hours with them. The night before we left to come back home, Jonathan and I joined Rachel and her friends at a Valentine’s ball at the Italian embassy where I got the chance to re-wear my dress from Patrick and Sofia’s wedding (which we all know never happens). It was a ball. (Get it? Get it?)

A few days after returning from this trip, I got to chaperone a group of high school sophomores from my school on a college tour to Wofford College where one of my best friends from growing up in Louisiana works in the admissions office. Having brilliant and talented friends doing there thing all over the wide world is pretty much the coolest. Especially when our paths intersect.

Hope your 2017 has started off with a bang. I’d love to hear what you’ve been up to!

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The Year of 100 Books: Reading Superlatives for 2016

Somehow, without quite intending to, I will finish 2016 having read exactly 100 books. (I say this with confidence now having 3.25 days left in the year and 1.5 books to go, but I’m hoping claiming 100 a little early won’t jinx it). Since I read a wide diversity of books, it’s impossible for me to simply choose just a few to write about, so instead I like to do book superlatives, because then I don’t have to pick favorites and I also get to create categories to fit the books I really want to write about. It’s a win-win!

Before I jump in, I wanted to address two  comments I frequently receive from people about my reading. First: “You must read really fast!” I’m actually a fairly slow reader due to the fact that for me to really process what I’m reading, I have to move my lips like I am mouthing each word, which basically means I read in my head at the same pace it would take me to read aloud. Of course, it depends on how dense the book is, but on average I’d say a 300 page book will take me 6-7 hours of reading time. I’m also not always reading literary fiction or works of research. This year in particular, I’ve read quite a few books that had little or no literary or educational merit and were just for fun.

The second comment I see often is, “I would love to read that much, but I never have time. How do you find the time?” I have a few answers to this. Practically speaking, I am a twenty-nine year old woman with a self-sufficient husband and no kids. While I often work 60 hours/week, I still have fewer demands on my free time than many other people do. Audiobooks have played a huge role in my reading life this year.  I sometimes listen to a book on audio while also reading the hard copy and switch back and forth between the two. I listen to audiobooks while I’m getting ready in the morning, while I’m driving to work or running errands, and while I’m cooking dinner. I get at least 2-3 hours of reading in every day just by doing that. I also bring a book with me everywhere I go and take advantage of the small moments I get throughout the day. Five or ten minutes here and there really do add up.

If you’d like to see the full list of what I read this year, feel free to check out all of the titles on my Goodreads Reading Challenge. You can also read my superlatives from 2015 here. Now on with the show!

Grumpiest Old Man Book

18774964A Man Called Ove by Friedrik Backman. Ove is the quintessential grumpy old man with plenty of opinions about all of the youngsters these days. All he wants is to be left to die in peace, but the young family who moves in next door isn’t about to let him. This book is heartwarming, but also made me excited to be a cranky old person some day.51Q3z3emk2L._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_

Runner Up: The One-in-a-Million Boy by Monica Wood. Though this one has a 104 year old grumpy old woman (plus a quirky little boy), it still fits the category and was one of my favorite reads this year.

Most Thrilling Thriller

23125266I went through a thriller phase this summer and into the fall, but I found myself let down by most of the ones I read. I think this is because thrillers set you up to expect some great twist and most of the ones I read either didn’t surprise me or just didn’t make a ton of sense. My top pick was I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh which managed to be unexpected without being a wild dramatic twist. Big trigger warnings for domestic violence though.

More recently, I really enjoyed Before the Fall by Noah Hawley which also steered away from the last minute plot twist in favor of a reasonably paced reveal of what happened. But don’t read this on a plane.

Most Likely to Make you Want to Cook All the Foods

3090282A Homemade Life by Molly Wizenberg which is both a memoir and a book full of recipes, reminding us of how food shapes our ordinary lives.

Runner up would be Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler which I didn’t ultimately give a great review because I really disliked the main character, but it paints an incredibly vivid picture of life on the Manhattan restaurant scene.

Most Disappointing Book

51rq4omr5l-_sx329_bo1204203200_I really hate to say this because this wasn’t a bad book at all, I just had very high expectations. I’m talking about Tana French’s latest Dublin Murder Squad mystery The Trespasser. I absolutely loved her previous five books (especially The Likenessand had extremely high expectations for this one. It wasn’t a bad book, but it did drag for me a bit in a way her previous ones hadn’t, and I didn’t feel as connected to the detective as I have in her previous books.

Most Fun Book

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Crazy Rich Asians and the sequel China Rich Girlfriend by Kevin Kwan. Both books are pure, voyeuristic pleasure peeking in on the lives of the filthy rich of Singapore and Hong Kong. These books also made me want to move back to Asia ASAP.

Book I Now Wish I Could Get Back the Hours of My Life I Spent Reading

27190202We Could Be Beautiful by Swan Huntley. Rich White People Problems book except with completely flat characters and no development whatsoever and weird creepy incest-y relationships.

I also did not care for Jennifer Weiner’s newest book Who Do You Love although I usually find her books to be reliable feel-good reads.

Best Historical Fiction

515p3OrN1KL._SX327_BO1,204,203,200_The Nightingale by Kristen Hannah which is about two sisters living in occupied France during WWII, each fighting in her own way. (One of the best books of the year for me).

51tXTlzZcNL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_Runner up: Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford. Another WWII novel, this one focusing on the lives of Japanese Americans forced into internment camps in the US during the war told through the eyes of a Chinese American boy.

Best Contemporary Fiction

51MDWaEfUiL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt. Just wow. I loved this book so much. I don’t even know what to say about it. Just read it.

Book I Can’t Shut Up About

51C9yK9VzzL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_Being Mortal by Atul Gawande. I mean, I really couldn’t shut up about this. I was bringing up the topic of end of life care and the inevitability of death like it was my job. This book manages to deal with a morbid subject with grace and compassion and truth. I think it’s a must-read.

Best New Series

This wasn’t a new series to the world, just a new series to me. Louise Penny’s Chief Inspector Gamache mysteries came highly recommended and they have not disappointed me. I will say that the first few were good but not amazing to me, but the further you get in the series, the better they are. These are the types of mysteries that are focused on character development, delving into the psychology of the characters and probing human nature. I will be finishing book 9 of 12 in the few days. (PS- You do sort of need to read them in order because sometimes they refer back to previous cases).

Most Challenging

20342617Bryan Stevenson’s book Just Mercy broke me and challenged me not to turn a blind eye to the injustices being enacted every day in my country through our prison system. After hearing Bryan speak last month I am even more determined that we all have a responsibility to work towards justice in our communities.

Furthest Out of My Comfort Zone

9969571Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. I have little to no interest in video games or in 80’s pop culture references and yet this book completely charmed me. As a bonus, the audio book is narrated by Wil Wheaton.

Most Exotic Setting

This is a three-way tie between Enchanted Islands (Allison Amend) which is based on a real-life couple who were sent to be spies in the Galapagos islands pre-WWII (but only about 1/3 of the book takes place there), The House at the Edge of Night  (Catherine Banner) which is a dreamy, multi-generational, Gabriel Garcia Marquez-esque book set on a small Italian island, and The Light Between Oceans (M. L. Stedman) which is mainly set on a mostly uninhabited island (more of a rock really) off the western coast of Australia.

Best Series Ender

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Dreams of Gods and Monsters by Laini Taylor. This is the final book in the Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy and it is magnificently intense. Runner up goes to Winter, the conclusion of Marissa Meyer’s Lunar Chronicles. Both of these books run around 800 pages long so it’s a good thing they were worth it!

Most Important

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Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. Written as a letter from Coates to his young son explaining what it means to be black in America. This is a book that everyone should read.

Funniest Book

16141924Dad is Fat by Jim Gaffigan. If you are familiar with Gaffigan’s stand-up, the book is very similar. I really enjoy his sense of humor.

Book That Made Me Cry

25899336When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi. Yet another book I read this year about mortality, the reality of death, and the brevity of life. Reading the words of this thirty-something neurosurgeon who must grapple with his own terminal diagnosis and what’s really important in life. I dare you not to cry reading this man’s words and knowing he does not live to finish the book.

 

Best Rich White People Problems Book

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Because this is a genre I actually enjoy now and again, The Nest by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney is the ultimate indulgence. Four adult siblings who are within months or receiving a tidy inheritance, only to find that the “nest” has been plundered to cover the indiscretions of the eldest brother.

Best Prose

13152194I was honestly blown away by Tiny Beautiful Things which is a compilation of essays Cheryl Strayed wrote in her Dear Sugar advice column at the Rumpus. I don’t always agree with her advice, but I was moved by her genuine compassion and authenticity which shone through in these letters. They are stunning.

Most Educational

51PfhTR2k-L._SX330_BO1,204,203,200_Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver. I learned so much in this book recounting Kingsolver and her family’s year of dedication to eating only foods they grew themselves or sourced locally. For example, did you know that the ability to mate naturally has been bred out of American turkeys and the turkeys you eat at Thanksgiving are all the result of artificial insemination? Told you it was educational.

Most Unique

61sewvnupl-_sx324_bo1204203200_A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki. I’m not even exactly sure how to explain this book except to say that it was both intensely realistic, dealing very explicitly with things like mental illness and suicide, and also somewhat surreal. Which I think was the point. It’s difficult for me to tell you what this book is about and it’s probably better to just read a synopsis, but I will say that while this book had some disturbing parts and some strange magical realism towards the end, I still really liked it.

Best YA Book

515e3HFpceL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson. I love what this book had to say about art, why we create it and what makes it necessary. Noah and Jude are twins (Jude’s a girl, btw) who have always shared a special connection until some time in their 14th year, something breaks them apart. The story is told in alternating sections from Noah’s and Jude’s perspectives. Noah’s part of the story is told in the past, while Jude’s portions are told three years later. You get bits and flashes of what happened between them from each side until it all comes together in the end. Noah is strange and isolated, drawing constantly, misunderstood by his peers and desperately in love with the boy next door. Jude is rebellious and fiery, ready to crash and burn if that’s what it takes. Something tears them apart in a way that changes them completely, but they each only have half the story.

Most Surprising

25852870Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld. This book is part of the Jane Austen project, a collective that invited several modern authors to modernize classic Jane Austen novels. I normally really hate re-tellings of classics. Especially modernizations. But this one (based very closely on Pride and Prejudice) just worked for me. Bingley is a famous bachelor after being on a nationally televised show called Eligible (like the Bachelor), Lydia and Kitty are obnoxiously into CrossFit and Elizabeth and Darcy have hot hate sex. Also, the whole thing is set in Cincinnati of all places and mentions lots of places I go when I’m visiting my in-laws there.

Celebrity I Now Want to Be Friends With

51YEfYZUHLL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_Padma Lakshmi after reading her book Love, Loss, and What We Ate. I never really knew anything about her before, but after reading this book I think she’s pretty impressive and much smarter than people probably realize. She’s also led a really interesting life–born in India before immigrating to America with her mother, working as a model in Europe in her early twenties, meeting and marrying Salman Rushdie, and later going on to become a television cook and a judge on Top Chef.

Best Heroine

So, this book will really only work for you if you are a Jane Eyre fan or a fan of the gothic novel in general. This is not a retelling of Jane Eyre, but it is heavily inspired by it. Except in this novel, our heroine, Jane Steele, is an accidental serial murderer. I also love the cover design for this book.25938397

If you’ve stuck with me this far, thanks for reading. Believe me, I did my very best to pare this list down to the ones I most wanted to talk about, and I still had to leave a few good ones out. I don’t have a specific reading goal for 2017 and I actually hope to do more writing, which would probably cut down on my reading time, but you can always follow my progress on Goodreads!

What were the best books you read this year?

 

 

 

What I’m Into: August & September 2016

For the first time since I started doing my monthly round-ups, I missed a month. All I have to say is, I work about 60 hours/week right now and while I genuinely love my job(s), I have almost no time and certainly no energy for anything that requires brain space. So there you have it.

What I’m Reading:

 

Kitchens of the Great Midwest. by J. Ryan Stradal. More of a set of linked short stories than a novel, each chapter centers around a particular recipe and cumulatively tell the story of Lena Torvald, a brilliant young chef, through the stories of those whose lives intersect with hers. Some characters/chapters I loved. Others I hated. The overall form was new and fun.

A Fatal Grace by Louise Penny. Chief Inspector Gamache #2. Small town murder in a charming Quebec town full of eccentric characters. Louise Penny’s strength is creating a world full of 3-dimensional characters. Admittedly, this is not what everyone is looking for when it comes to a mystery, but they lend themselves to interesting observations about human nature.

We Could Be Beautiful by Swan Huntley. I have a soft spot for rich-people-problem books, but this one was really awful. There was no character development or movement. Just blah.

The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown. This book reminded me of All of Us and Everything which I read in July. Three eccentric adult sisters with a Shakespeare-loving father come to terms with themselves and with each other. Interestingly, this book is narrated in the first erson plural (“We”) and somehow still works.

Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed. Cheryl Strayed’s collection of columns from her time writing the Dear Sugar advice column is a gem. Even if I don’t agree with all of her advice, it’s hard to deny that Strayed has a gift for speaking truth with tremendous empathy.

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. This difficult, beautiful book is something we all should read as we seek to understand the reality of the black experience in America

China Rich Girlfriend by Kevin Kwan. Pure delight. The sequel to the entirely wonderful Crazy Rich Asians picks up two years after the end of Crazy Rich Asians.

The Nest by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney. People seem to have strong reactions to this book – either they love it or hate it. I loved it. This is a rich white people problem book that hits the right notes.

I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh. Of all of the thrillers I read this summer, this one was my favorite although probably also the darkest and most violent.

I Remember Nothing by Nora Ephron. Nora Ephron’s funny little life reflections are a great distraction.

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins. I’ve heard a lot of negative feedback on this from fans of Gone Girl. I enjoyed it, but I had also figured out who was responsible for the crime fairly early on. I’m still enjoying the unreliable narrator trope even though it has (arguably) been overdone in recent releases.

The Expats by Chris Pavone. The set-up for this was so great, but it was lacking in execution. While this made me want to move to Europe ASAP, it was also very far-fetched and the timeline was somewhat confusing.

The Cruelest Month by Louise Penny. More small-town Quebec murders, though certainly the book where we learn the most about Chief Inspector Gamache.

Everyone Brave is Forgiven  by Chris Cleave. I really enjoyed this. Part WWII saga, part love triangle, this book encompassed my favorite things about WWII era literature and films with a bright dash of humor mixed with the somber realism.

The Forgetting Time by Sharon Guskin. Four-year-old Noah knows things he’s never been told and asks every night to go back to his “other Mommy” even though he lives with his birth mother. Is it possible that Noah is remembering a past life? This book was fascinating, although the pacing was a little odd to me because it seemed to climax about 75% of the way through and there was still another quarter of the book to go.

The Hypnotist’s Love Story by Liane Moriarty. I adore Moriarty’s other books (though I haven’t read the most recent one), but this one wasn’t my favorite. I still enjoyed it, but compared to the others it felt a bit long and I connected less with the character. 

Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson. This book has wrecked me. Everyone should read it. It was difficult for me to make myself continue in some parts because of how upsetting some of this (true!) information is, but as a privileged middle-class white woman, it was something I needed to read.

The Girls by Emma Cline. I’m not exactly sure what drew me to this book besides the good reviews I’d seen and a slight fascination with cults, but in the end, this wasn’t my cup of tea. It was well-written, but I just didn’t really connect with the main character so I wasn’t especially sympathetic to her actions.

The City Baker’s Guide to Country Living by Louise Miller. Light, fairly fluffy, easy read. I enjoyed it, but it won’t stick with me.

Follow me on Goodreads for more of what I’m reading.

What I’m Watching:

I’ve picked up Scandal again (I’m at the end of Season 4) and Jonathan and I have started watching our old stand-by’s, New Girl, and Brooklyn Nine Nine. We also started watching The Good Place, mostly because I love Kristen Bell and it has some delightful Pushing Up Daisies vibes.  I’m waiting for the perfect time to start This Is Us because I know I’m going to love it with all of my guts, but also that it is going to emotionally exhaust maybe. Maybe this week when Jonathan’s at night class and I’m home on my own.

What I’m Eating:

I’ve eaten terribly for most of the last two months just out of sheer busyness. But when I haven’t eaten terribly, it’s been because of Prep Dish. Prep Dish is a meal planning service that gives you four meals plus a salad, a breakfast, and a snack or dessert. It tells you exactly what groceries to buy and then tells you how to prep everything in one 2-3 hour session so that you have meals ready-to-go all week long. It’s still a bit of work up-front to grocery shop and prep, but it really does make life wonderful to know that your meals are already planned and ready to go. And most of the meals I’ve had have been great. The service costs $14/month and they give you a paleo option and a gluten free option. I figure I’ll at least do it for a couple of months and then maybe just start recycling old weeks. This is totally not sponsored by the way. Here’s what we ate last week:

menu

What I’ve Been Up To:

Besides working all the jobs, we’ve had some good times in August and September. I think. I mean, it’s honestly kind of tough to remember back that far. I do remember that we went to Charleston at the beginning of August. And then school started and both Jonathan and I started teaching.

I do remember that the weekend after Charleston we got to hang out with our very dear friends, Tim and Asharae and Tim’s brother Richard who was visiting with his wife Lindsay, a friend I hadn’t seen in years. And of course we got to see Brandon and Christy, our other close friends who live in Charlotte. Yay, friends!

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For Labor Day weekend, I went to Raleigh by myself and saw my bestie boo Christina and her husband Andy, my friends Mary and Justin and their doll-baby Evelyn, and went to a 1st birthday party for my friends Jerusha and Nathaniel’s daughter, Edith.

A few weekends ago, Brandon and Christy came down our way and we all went to the Greek Festival together where we mostly ate delicious Greek food and watched some entertaining Greek dancing.

At work, I hosted a tailgate event for our international students and their host families that went over pretty well. We also all participated in spirit week with dress up days like Pajama Day and Superhero Day. On Friday, the entire high school went bowling and I had a great time watching some of my students try bowling for the first time.  I really do love these kids. Which is fortunate since they are pretty much my whole world right now!

What I’m Into: July 2016 Edition

In July, I jumped full-swing into my new job, planned and cooked what felt like 1,000 meals that are Whole30 compliant (today is day 28!!!!), and drove all over the Carolinas trying to visit friends before summer ends. I’m linking up with Leigh Kramer to share this post.

What I’m Reading:

When my stress level is high (and when I have long solo drives and access to audiobooks) I escape into reading, and this month I read 12 books. I’ll mention all of the titles, but won’t go into much detail or this will get crazy-long.

All of Us and Everything by Bridget Asher. Quirky family drama about the eccentric Rockwell women. Funny and heartwarming. 3.75 Stars

Who Do You Love? By Jennifer Weiner. I like some of Jennifer Weiner’s books, but this one was a bit of a slog to me. Rachel Blum and Andy Landis meet when they are eight years old. Then they spend the next 30 years falling in and out of each other’s lives. 2 Stars.

No One Knows by J.T. Ellison. This thriller starts on the day that Aubrey Hamilton’s husband is declared dead, five years after he disappeared. But things may not be what they seem. Fast-paced summer read. 3 Stars

Furiously Happy: a Funny Book about Horrible Things by Jenny Lawson. Jenny Lawson writes comic essays about serious things. In this book, she tackles elements of life with mental illness. Her sense of humor is irreverent and isn’t for everyone, but some of the serious moments were really poignant. 3 Stars.

All the Missing Girls by Megan Miranda. Another summer thriller about two girls who disappear from the same small town 10 years apart. The story is told backwards over a 15 day period. At first I thought this was gimmicky, but in the end I liked it. 3.5 Stars.

Love, Loss, and What We Ate by Padma Lakshmi. Lakshmi writes (very well) about her life in India, as an immigrant in America, as a model in Europe, as the wife of Salman Rushdie, and as a judge on Top Chef. In each part of her life, food plays an important role. I actually loved this, especially for Lakshmi’s honesty, even when it portrayed her unflatteringly. The food writing was great and her experiences were fascinating. 4 Stars.

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford. Sweet story about a Chinese boy and a Japanese girl living in Seattle, Washington just as America enters WWII. Henry’s father hates the Japanese and forbids Henry to have anything to do with them, but Henry forms a strong bond with Keiko, the only other non-white person at his school. When she and her family are rounded up and moved to an internment camp, Henry vows to bring her home. 4.5 Stars.

Year of Yes: How to Dance it Out, Stand in the Sun and Be Your Own Person by Shonda Rhimes. Rhimes, the creator of Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal, and How to Get Away With Murder, writes about the year she challenged herself to say yes to all the things that scared her and embrace the opportunities that came her way. She writes just like Olivia Pope and Annaleise Keating speak, so that’s fun, especially on audio. 3.5 Stars.

The One-in-a-Million Boy by Monica Wood. This was great. 104-year-old Ona Vitkus is alone in the world until an 11-year-old boy scout is sent to help her out. Ona tells him about her life and he shares his encyclopedic knowledge of world records. One day, the boy stops showing up. In his place is his father, Quinn, there to fulfill his son’s obligation. Together, Ona and Quinn teach each other above love and regret. 5 Stars.

Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler. Twenty-two year old Tess moves to New York City and becomes a waiter at a prestigious restaurant. She is exposed to the intoxicating world of the restaurant business as well as some of its darker character. So much cocaine. So many dysfunctional relationships. I wasn’t connected to the character but there was great atmosphere in the restaurant and food writing parts. 3 Stars.

Rising Strong by Brene’ Brown. The follow-up to Daring Greatly, this book explores the process of how we get up again once we’ve fallen on our faces and why vulnerability is still the way forward. Not necessarily a fun book, but an important one. 4 Stars.

Before We Visit the Goddess by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni. I loved this multi-generational story of three Indian women (and the other people whose lives intersect with theirs) whose stories of running from the mothers who can’t understand them, reveals how little we often know about what’s really going on in the lives of others. 4 Stars.

Currently Reading: Kitchens of the Great Midwest by J. Ryan Stradal and A Fatal Grace (Chief Inspector Gamache #2) by Louise Penny. Follow me on Goodreads for more of what I’m reading.

What I’m Watching:

I binge-watched Season 2 of Jane the Virgin when it hit Netflix. I love this show so much. But I have no idea if I’m team Michael or team Rafael. It changes constantly.

What I’m Eating:

Jonathan and I are on day 28 of Whole30 which is no grains, no dairy, no sugars, no soy, no artificial flavors, additives, or preservatives. The good part of this is detoxing from 3 weeks of pasta and pizza and gelato (and many previous months of not eating as well as we could). The hard part is that it takes a lot of work and planning to eat three Whole30 compliant meals every day and it has more or less killed our social life because it is very hard to eat out or eat at a friend’s house. You have to read the label on everything you eat and it matters what oils things are cooked in, etc. We are beyond ready to be done. At this point I would say I will continue to eat this way more or less when cooking at home, but I don’t think I’ll ever do Whole30 again. It’s like living life in black and white.

I did find some really delicious new recipes though. My favorite has been this pan-seared mahi-mahi over coconut cauliflower rice with fresh mango salsa. Recipe here. Follow me on Pinterest for more of what I’m eating.

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What I’ve Been Up To:

Right after returning from our trip, I took the 4th of July weekend to fly down to Louisiana and visit my family, specifically my sister Anni who was about to leave to study abroad in Australia for the semester.

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We spent a significant amount of our time reading in her bed. Seesters.

The next weekend, Jonathan and I drove to Raleigh to visit my best friend from college, Christina, and her husband Andy who recently bought their first house. We also got to see our friends Nathaniel and Jerusha while we were there. We stayed with Andy and Christina overnight on Friday and while we were there, our mutual friend Asharae (who lived with Christina and me during college) went into labor in Charlotte. Asharae and her husband Tim had chosen not to find out their baby’s gender before the birth, so Christina and I were eagerly awaiting the news. The minute we heard they’d had a healthy baby boy, we raced out to buy tiny baby boy clothes for him.

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The next day, Jonathan and I were able to go to Charlotte to visit Asharae and Tim in the hospital and to meet tiny Beckett Elijah. My heart is so full for these sweet friends.

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Sweet Little Family

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Ecstatic Auntie and Uncle!

The following weekend I got to help throw a baby shower for Kelly, another dear friend of mine here in Columbia expecting a son in September. I Pinterest-ed a recipe for cake pops which turned out mostly well except that the candy melts I used for the coating kept turning out too thick, so the coating wouldn’t go on smoothly.

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How cute is Kelly?! And also that alligator towel.

I also got to spend an afternoon at the zoo with my friend Kristen and her boy, Callum. My favorite part was the gorillas who, like me, were totally over it.

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I took a solo overnight trip to Wilmington, NC where I got to see one of my best friends from home in Louisiana who lives in a charming house there with her handsome firefighter husband, their massive dog Grizz, and their new Dalmatian puppy, Koda. She is one of those friends that I can reconnect with immediately, even if it’s been months since we’ve talked. We tried to go to the beach, but it was too crowded, so instead we bopped around town and looked for secondhand bargains.

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Last week, Jonathan’s parents came to visit for a few days. It’s been near 100 degrees here every day all summer, so we are limited on how much activity we can do, but we enjoyed playing board games and talking.

This past weekend while Jonathan was working at the baseball park I took another short solo trip up to Stanfield, NC, the town outside of Charlotte where Asharae, Tim, and baby Beckett live.

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Beckett has epic hair.

My new job involves me finding host families for our international students, arranging their transportation and move-in, organizing a week-long orientation, and teaching ESL class once school begins on August 18th. Since my students start arriving this weekend, I know the month of August will be a crazy one, which is why I’ve made it a priority to see my friends over the past few weeks, even if it means traveling every weekend.

I’m still working on telling all of our travel adventures. Parts 1 and 2 are up already, but look for Part 3 about our time in Rome in the next few days!

What have you been into?

 

 

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!

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 my new airbrush makeup kit project, 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

 

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?