{repost} How This Busy Mom Stays Sane By Reading Books

This is a repost of an original article I wrote for BlogHer.com.

In the months after my first child was born eight years ago, I had a mix of feelings most new parents experience: I was elated, exhausted, scared, and joyful. I also felt a bit lost. In the journey to motherhood, part of what made me was left behind.

My life was all about feedings, diaper changing, and getting that kid to sleep through the night. I hadn’t thought or talked about much of anything else since my son had been born. What about me? Where was I?


Photo Credit: on the nightstand via photopin (license)

These questions remained throughout my transition back to work. It wasn’t until my son’s sleeping was under control, and I had figured out to get how to the office on time without baby spit-up on my shirt, that I discovered how to shake off that lost feeling: I started reading again.

Books were my first love. Before my husband and kids, I had loved to read — to uncover stories — with a devotion nearing obsession. My childhood was spent at the library, devouring book after book until, by age 11, I had read everything in the children’s section. I moved onto the adult section and wore out my beloved library card.

I still remember sitting on the floor of that library, full of anticipation, flipping through the books I had not yet read, selecting the ones I would take home.

Through books, I traveled around the world and throughout time. I learned about different cultures, improved my vocabulary, and become a more thoughtful and informed person. I continued my love of reading into adulthood, carrying a book around with me wherever I went. I read all the time before my son was born. A perfect afternoon was lying in my sun-strewn bedroom, curled up on pillows, captivated by a story.

But kids have a way of changing, well, everything. That time I had allocated to reading in my pre-kid days was taken over by a small person who wanted me most of all, and, while I was thrilled to be his mama, I knew that I needed to find myself again. I did that through reading.

I started back slowly. In the beginning of early motherhood, I put a stack of magazines on my bedside table and committed to reading 10 minutes every night before I ended my day. It didn’t matter if the magazine article was about the best sunblock for kids, the benefits of meditation, or the situation in Afghanistan — I read.

Quickly, I noticed changes. I fell asleep easier, and I smiled more. I had more to talk about than how much the baby had eaten that day, and I thought about issues beyond what was happening behind my front door. Gradually, I emerged from that total preoccupation with my new role as a parent. I was a different me, of course — motherhood has a way of doing that — but I could tell that I was back.

Reading was my gateway to realizing that being a parent didn’t mean giving up what I loved or who I was. It also taught me the value of making time for myself.

As my ten minutes of reading before bed turned into 20 minutes and even 30, I graduated back to books. I dusted off my library card to read novels, nonfiction tomes, and even romance paperbacks. Historical fiction, science fiction, bestsellers, and classics — I bounced from genre to genre. I started asking friends and family for book recommendations again, and my list of “books I want to read” grew long.

Jump ahead to today, that newborn is a rising second grader and his little sister is six. Both of my kids have fallen in love with reading, too. Were they genetically pre-disposed to have their noses in a book? Or, is their dedication the result of our daily time together, snuggled up with a story? Together, we’ve gone to Hogwarts and outer space. We’ve learned how to spin a spider web from Charlotte and how to be a pacifist from Ferdinand. We’ve trekked to Antarctica with Tintin and learned how to rhyme from Dr. Seuss.

Getting their first library cards was as noteworthy as when they took their first steps; both times I cried with happiness at their achievements. You’ll never hear me tell my son and daughter to stop reading — except when the school bell is about to ring — and they know that books are our treasured possessions. As a result, I find books in every corner of my life — my bag, our car, the kids’ backpacks, the bathroom, everywhere.

Despite the sometimes overwhelming demands of career and parenting, I carve out time for reading. I grab moments where I can: waiting to pay at the grocery store, in the minutes before picking up the kids from school, and, as always, before I fall asleep. I’ve even been known to stay up late into the night to reach the last page of an “I-can’t-put-it-down” book, my husband sleeping beside me. I may be tired the next day, but I’ll also be satisfied.

Reading is my guaranteed way to retain my sanity.

Through books, I escape the repeated cries of “Mommy,” my family’s never-ending laundry pile, and the stress of work deadlines. The only stress from books, in fact, is the lack of time to get to them all.

With a stack of novels next to my bed that is up to my hip (I measured!), I need more hours in the day. And, if I found those extra hours, I’d definitely use them to read.

{repost} Back-to-School: Time to Make the Lunches

This is a repost of an original article I wrote for BlogHer.com.

Last week, a friend who lives in Georgia posted to Facebook that school had started back up in her town. Kids were putting on new backpacks, carefully pressed dresses, and clean shirts to climb on the bus and return to the classroom. Homework, recess, and math drills had replaced days at the beach, swim lessons, and s’more making in the backyard.

In the Northeast, where I live, school doesn’t start until September, but my friend’s comment had my heart pounding and my fingers clicking over to our online family calendar. How many days did my kids have until school started?


school lunch

Photo credit: Melissa via Flickr

And, more important, how many days did I have before my blissful summer of no lunchboxes was replaced with evening lunch-making procrastination?

I counted carefully: 22. I have 22 days until school lunch making begins again — 22 days of freedom.

In the split of parental duties, in my family, lunch making falls on the Mommy side. This allocation has its origins in the days when my children were breastfeeding infants, and I was their main source of food. While they attended daycare, I pumped in my office at work, my door closely tightly, a “Do Not Disturb” sign affixed with duct tape.

I carried that breast milk home in a cooler, always triple-checking I hadn’t forgotten it behind when I left at the end of the workday. I kept a close watch on the amount of milk stored in our freezer, and I packed their bottles each evening, carefully filling them more and more as my babies grew.

I had nightmares about bringing bottles without nipples to daycare or of leaving the bottles somewhere, never to be found — my subconscious expressing the sadness I felt about not being with them. The demands of working motherhood offered no other choice, however.

As my kids moved on to solid foods, I retained my lunch packing role. I scoured articles for tips to offer my son and daughter inventive options, and I asked other parents what they packed in their kids’ lunchboxes. I stopped looking at Pinterest for ideas when yet another more board of sandwiches shaped like Darth Vader and cucumbers cut into flowers made me and my go-to carrot sticks feel inadequate.

I appreciated creative parents whose genius came out in the lunchbox, but for me, making lunches increasingly felt like a chore. No amount of razzle-dazzle in the snack department could make me see this role differently.

Part of my discouragement stemmed from seeing what my kids actually ate from the lunches I thoughtfully packed for them. That’s a benefit of the daycare they attended; what they didn’t eat came home each night.

I would open up their sticky lunchboxes with a sense of trepidation. Inside, I’d find half-eaten apples, empty water bottles, and crumbs — lots and lots of crumbs. I’d also find important insight into their rapidly changing palates, offering me a way to track my kids’ evolving view of food.

There was that time that my daughter, who couldn’t get enough of sunbutter and strawberry jelly sandwiches– it’s all she ever asked for — suddenly refused to eat them ever again. And, my son, who never saw a meal he didn’t want, rejected every item I put in his lunch, save banana yogurt. He ate that yogurt for lunch every day for a year; the day he agreed to try blueberry was a noteworthy event in our house.

Now my kids are in elementary school where a new temptation exists: buying lunch from the cafeteria. My efforts to tantalize them with healthy food choices– homemade granola bars, sandwiches on organic bread, and vegetables from our farm share — are nothing compared to going through the lunch line and buying chocolate milk and a pizza slice.

It doesn’t matter that my meal is made with love — and comes in that cute, pink Hello Kitty lunchbox or the red one with a turquoise fish on it — buying lunch is new, different, and so much better than whatever I put together.

Occasionally, I do let them buy lunch. We review the menu together, selecting two to three days each month when the meal sounds reasonably healthy to me and “cool” to them. They walk off to school with lighter backpacks, lunchboxes left behind on the kitchen counter.

At the end of the day, they tell me stories about going through the lunch line and eating the same meal as their classmates. When I ask if the school lunch was tasty, I take pleasure in my son’s reply: “Not really, Mommy. It wasn’t that good.” When he runs off to play in his room, I pull out the lunchboxes for tomorrow, smiling.

So, as much as I complain about my kids’ lunches (22 days to go!), I find myself clinging even tighter to my role as chief lunch maker. Perhaps it’s the realization that, one day far too soon, they won’t need me to do this for them; they’ll be able to make their own lunches.

I know I’m a big talker about how much I don’t want this responsibility: but deep down, I really like it.

What to Read Before Summer Ends (with a Giveaway!)

Are you a reader? You are in the right company! Here are 20 books from fellow gals who read that you need to grab NOW! Plus, the chance to score them all for free is a pretty sweet deal!It’s here, friends. The end of summer is upon us. I know. But that doesn’t mean you need to put your beloved books down! In fact, just the opposite. No time like the present to dig into your reading and escape the hassles and woes of Back-to-School prep and fuss. There is something to be said for hanging on to these last days of summer and making the most of them.

To embrace the end of our summer months, I teamed up with a bunch of my blogging buddies and asked the uber-important question: what book would you recommend for a last-blast at summer reading? What book would you love to share with others?

The result? We’ve blown the skies wide open and are coming to you with an entire list of great reads that you need to check out. Even better, we are giving one of you a $225 Amazon gift card along with seven of the titles on this list to read! Use the gift card to snatch up your reading wish list and dig into the books sent to your door. In short, you will be in a reader’s heaven. It’s sweet deal!

Enter to score the gift card and the hard copies of the books before August 14, 2015 at 5:30 AM ET through the Rafflecopter below. As long as you are resident of the continental U.S. and 18 years or older, you are eligible to win!

Are you a reader? You are in the right company! Here are 20 books from fellow gals who read that you need to grab NOW! Plus, the chance to score them all for free is a pretty sweet deal!

What’s on the list of recommended reads?

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Highlights from BlogHer15

Good advice, right? It came my way during BlogHer15, a blogging conference for women sponsored by BlogHer and SheKnows Media last month in New York City. (NYC was a fantastic spot for the conference! So much energy!) Shared by the executive editorial director of SheKnows, it, along with other wisdom and lessons learned, was shared during a writing session at the conference. I scribbled it all down in my trusty notebook (and, since it’s 2015, I tweeted it, too), as it became one of my mantras from BlogHer15. I’m applying it my writing—and to life in general; sometimes, the best advice appears when we’re not expecting it at all.

The conference, my third BlogHer conference and my fifth blogging conference overall (read about my experiences at #BlogHer13 and #BlogHer14 here, here, and here) was a two-and-a-half days of workshops, keynotes, and social events. It’s a big, busy meeting with women (and some brave men!) from all over. The part of me that clutches to the introvert label with a serious fierceness finds gatherings like this one overwhelming, but I was lucky at BlogHer15; I had a group of wonderful friends in attendance and was able to reconnect with bloggers I had met at my first BlogHer in 2013. My friends and conference roommates—my “tribe” as it is often referred to as in the blogging world—included bloggers from California, Texas, and Massachusetts. When I first started Red Shutters back in 2008, I never expected to make such special connections. I wanted to share my words, my stories; I didn’t think about making friends, too. But I have, and these friends are a gift.

With my BlogHer roomies Melissa, Phyllis, and Cheryl, I headed to Broadway to see "Hedwig and the Angry Inch"!

With my BlogHer roomies Melissa, Phyllis, and Cheryl, I headed to Broadway to see “Hedwig and the Angry Inch”!

Despite the lure of my tribe, I’ll confess to being skeptical about attending BlogHer15, wavering on my decision to go until right before the event. My uncertainty came from a lot of places—namely, life and work commitments—and it found its home in that thing women do, that thing where we deny ourselves what we want because it might inconvenience others. I worried about the money and the time away from my family. But what made me go was a comment my daughter made months ago and that had been rolling around in my mind ever since. My husband was away with his friends for a weekend of skiing. My daughter, upon realizing he was traveling with other dads for the time away, asked, “Mommy, when do you go on your trip?” She’s an observant kids; moms need time away, too. So to BlogHer I went.

My other reason for hesitating to attend another big blogging conference stemmed from the push/pull I have with my blog. I love writing here on Red Shutters; it’s a privilege to share my words. But the field of blogging is changing. Media, including video and images, is increasingly supplanting writing; long-time bloggers are leaving this form of expression altogether, seeking their online lives elsewhere; and readers are scarce, visiting individual blogs less and less. As the field shifts and redefines itself, I find myself at times wondering about Red Shutters. How sustainable is it for me to keep blogging? I’ve had this site for seven years, and, while I’m much better blogger than I was back in 2008 (check out my first post to see what I mean), I’m uncertain what what the future will be, should be, for Red Shutters. That introspection, though, was one of the reasons attending a blogging conference is a good idea; it gives you ideas to consider and directs your attention to new ways forward.

Additionally, the rare time away from camp drop off, work deadlines, and laundry clears the mind to focus on—and relish in—learning and inspiration. Inspiration can be found throughout BlogHer. It’s at the podium, of course, when engaged and engaging speakers talk about issues that really matter—from racism to maternal mortality, to raising our girls to be leaders and following through on our dreams. Inspiration is also in unexpected places; it’s the conversation you have with someone while waiting to get into the bathroom or the chat you have in the elevator. It’s meeting a new person on the shuttle bus, at lunch, or over drinks at the end of a long, packed day. With three BlogHers name badges hanging in my office, I’m a veteran now, but that doesn’t mean I’m immune to the power of such a tremendous gathering.

I returned home from BlogHer with a stack of business cards of new bloggers to check out, a bag of swag to share with my family, and ideas—lots and lots of ideas. There are too many to share here, but I can tell you highlights of my time at BlogHer15—some meaningful, others silly, and all of them memory-making:
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And Now You Are Six

Today, in honor of my daughter’s sixth birthday, I share my birthday letter to her. Read my previous posts about her birthday here, here, here, and here.

six years oldDear G,

Today you are six years old. Six!

You are excited to be six; I too am excited, though I am also a little sad.

You’ll understand this feeling when you grow up and realize that, unlike kids, adults are less interested in getting somewhere fast—like the next birthday—and more interested in slowing down the moments so they don’t slip by so quickly. Adults hope that by doing so they can convince themselves—and everyone else!—into thinking they have more time than the daily allotment of 24 hours. They want to fill that newfound time with more of what they hold in their hearts. For me and for your Dad, too, we’d fill that time with you and your brother. That’s why I’m a little sad: we arrived at six way too fast.

You’ll like being six. It’s a lot like five—but more turbocharged, if you will. Now, you need two hands to count your age and you’re even closer to the tween years (which I am not at all ready for, so move slowly, kid). As a six-year-old, you’ll be in first grade and have homework (you might not like this but it’s good for you). You will join Girl Scouts, you’ll learn harder music for the piano, and you will ride your bike farther than ever before.

My birthday wish for you this year—and every year, I imagine—is for you to be kind and for kindness to find you, for you to be curious and for that curiosity to awaken your mind and heart, for you to be brave and for that bravery to make life rewarding, and for you to love and be loved.

Don’t let anyone make you think you can’t do things that are hard or different. Don’t stop writing stories, drawing pictures, telling funny stories, making up songs, and being you. (Please stop drawing on your comforter, though; that ink really isn’t going to come out.) Don’t ever stop climbing into my bed early in the morning to snuggle; it’s the best part of my day.

Laugh. A lot. And listen. Listen to what people say and what remains silent.

Speak up. For yourself, for friends, for people you don’t know. Some of my favorite stories about you are the ones in which a friend was sad and you comforted her, or a friend was hurt by another child and you stood up against that hurt. Keep doing that; it will make you a better person and your life will be more fulfilling.

Find joy in your body and its strengths. Run, jump, climb, skip, ski, and skate. Don’t stop moving and figuring out who are you—and who you can be.

Trust in me, your Dad, your grandmothers, your aunts and uncles, and cousins to be there for you. Your brother, too—he loves you way more than he lets on. Know that our circle of family and friends sees in you a vivaciousness and joy that is special, and that we will do whatever we can to support you.

six yearsI often describe you as a “firecracker”—full of light, a bit unexpected, and capable of producing awe. You have all of those qualities, though unlike a firecracker your impact is longer lasting. Remember that you can and do impact others. Remember that there are consequences for your actions and words, so you should make choices that represent you well and are true to who you are.

Have fun being six, G! Be a kid—play, make friends, and learn.

Most of all, know that I love you. Very, very much.

Happy birthday.


Making Ice Cream with Stonyfield and YayLabs!

One of the highlights of summer has got to be ice cream. In my family, we’re big fans, welcoming a stop by the local ice cream store for a cone after a day at the beach or on a warm afternoon (check out our ice cream bucket list here). Our small town has five spots to get ice cream or frozen yogurt in our downtown area alone, which, surprisingly, was not one of the reasons we moved here (with the way we like ice cream, you would have thought it was). As a result, we’ve been working on increasing the kids’ stamina on their bicycles so we can ride into the center of town for a cone from one of those shops. (Yes, we’re also working on increasing their cycling stamina because it’s good for them; ice cream’s our “carrot” if you will.) Interestingly, for a family of ice cream aficionados, we rarely have it in the house, instead preferring to see it as a treat to have outside the home.

This approach to ice cream eating changed this weekend, however, when, thanks to our friends at Stonyfield and YayLabs!, we made our own ice cream at home with a shake, roll, and twist.

YayLabs! sent us their the SoftShell Ice Cream Ball to try out, which has been designed to help users make ice cream anywhere—on a camping trip, at the beach, or, in our case, on our driveway. Retailing for $34.99, the ball looks a bit like a small turquoise Death Star—only instead of housing Darth Vader, it makes ice cream.* Each end of the ball opens up: one side is for the ingredients, while the other is for the salt and ice.

This weekend, I recruited my kids, R and G, to put our ice cream making skills to the test. We decided to make frozen yogurt. In one end of our Ice Cream Ball, we placed 2 cups of Stonyfield yogurt, selecting the plain whole milk kind, along with 1/3 cup of maple syrup and 2 tablespoons of vanilla. In the other end we put in ice cubes and ¾ cup of kosher salt (the directions call for rock salt, with kosher salt as an acceptable second choice). I carefully carried the ball—now heavy with possibility—outside with R and G skipping ahead. I had heard from other Stonyfield Bloggers about the importance of not throwing the ball (a temptation for all kids, big and small), for as cool looking as the ball is, it is not indestructible (just like the Death Star!). “Don’t throw the ball at your sister” is a reasonable piece of advice—Ice Cream Ball or no Ice Cream Ball.

making ice cream with stonyfield and yaylabsR and G sat on our driveway, a few feet apart from one another, pushing the ball back and forth for about 10 minutes before I joined the fun. My husband sat down on our driveway, too, and soon the four of us had our feet touching, legs spread out, and the ball was rolling from one family member to another. The kids made a game of the ice cream making, challenging each other to roll the ball back and forth between their two hands, counting the number of times the ball went from the left to the right. G’s turn got her to 110 rolls, the family record. After a few more minutes, we checked on our creation, carefully unscrewing the lid to find frozen yogurt lining the sides of the cylinder with liquid still in the center. Back to rolling we went. After another 10 to 15 minutes of back and forth, up and down the driveway, rolling and counting, counting and rolling, we declared our ice cream/fro yo ready to eat. The end result was delicious, so delicious in fact that the kids wouldn’t pose for a photo. They were too busy eating.

Sprinkles are a must for ice cream (and frozen yogurt) in my house!

Sprinkles are a must for ice cream (and frozen yogurt) in my house!

I enjoyed the unexpected parts of this project: R and G working together (with minimal yelling), and R and G discussing how was that the salt and ice turned the yogurt into dessert (it must be science, they concluded). I also appreciated that, while ice cream can be high in sugar, our frozen yogurt was on the healthier side, using only yogurt, maple syrup, and vanilla (though richer recipes can be made with the SoftShell Ice Cream Ball). The ball is also easy to use: no parts to freeze in advance (the reason I never get around to using the ice cream machine I got for my birthday years ago). And, it’s a great activity to keep the kids occupied—though this is definitely an outdoor activity, as the ice can be messy as it melts.

So our official opinion? With our Ice Cream Ball at the ready, we may give the ice cream shops in our town some competition.

Disclosure: As a Stonyfield Blogger, I created this post in partnership with Stonyfield. All opinions here are mine.

*Anytime I can make a Star Wars reference in a blog post that has nothing to do with Star Wars, it’s a good day.


3 Ways to Keep Your Car Clean (even with kids!)

3_ways_to_keep_the_car_cleanIs your car like mine?

My car is a necessity: living in the suburbs, it’s the most reliable way to get my family from home to work, school, soccer practice, and piano lessons. My car is also our home away from home: it’s where my husband and I spend hours with our kids, driving to Grandma’s, laughing, and catching up. It’s our second living room, a place where we’re all together.

My car is also a mess.

Often, when I am driving—especially when we’re in traffic—my kids call out, “Mom, this is for you!” Since my focus is on keeping us all safe, I keep my eyes on the road and twist my right arm backward to take whatever they’re offering. Inevitably, they thrust a banana peel, granola bar wrapper, or empty juice box in my hand. It’s annoying—and dangerous.

Unfortunately, if I tell my kids to hold onto the trash until we’ve stopped, it somehow ends up on the floor and we all forget about it—until the smell.

Since I know my kids could be better at keeping my car clean—they don’t, after all, throw banana peels on the floor of our house!—I’ve implemented three easy organizing techniques to keep my car clean:

1. The Pit Stop: Whenever I stop to fill up my gas tank, I go through my car. I take five minutes—that’s all you need!— to empty out trash that’s accumulated. I look under seats for missing items (and more trash), and I ask my kids to pick up the books and toys that are strewn about the back seat. I make it a game (who can pick up the most books?), and they are (surprisingly) eager to cooperate.

2. The Trash Bag: For too long, I drove my car without a trash bag. This resulted in the aforementioned “Mom, here’s my juice box!” habit and generally made my car unsightly. Determined to get ahead of the mess, I made myself a washable car trash bag (that’s it in the photo). I dove into my box of leftover fabric, finding two pieces of complementary patterns and white strapping for a handle. I made the handle extra long to hang over the back of the driver’s seat. A quick ten minutes with my sewing machine and I had a bag to hang in the car. Now, the kids have no excuse to give Mom their trash, and when that bag gets grimy, I can throw it into the washing machine for cleaning. If sewing isn’t your thing, try using a bag you already have on hand, making sure it’s easy to clean.

3. The Deep Clean: I thought about having a no food rule in my car—and then I had kids. Once you realize that Cheerios can be magical to toddlers, it’s hard to say no eating in the car. So, I let my kids snack in the back seat, and I end up with crumbs is every possible spot. The best solution is a deep clean, once a month. I schedule it on my calendar for 30 minutes, crank up the tunes, and go to work. With a hand-held vacuum and eco-friendly cleaning supplies, I make the crumbs disappear. The key, for me, is the 30 minute time limit and the music. Getting the crumb culprits involved helps, too; after all, once kids see how much of their snack ends up under their booster seats, perhaps they’ll be tidier next time. (A stretch, I know, but I’m hopeful!)

Any tips you’d add? I’d love to hear them in the comments.

Travel to Haiti

haiti_5This is a much-overdue post about my family’s visit to Haiti earlier this year. I can’t believe it’s taken this long (five months!) to share it here on Red Shutters.

In February, my husband and I took our kids, five-year-old G and seven-year-old R, to Haiti for their school break. We were met with a lot of “You’re going where?” questions from friends, as Haiti is an atypical travel destination for a family with young children. It’s probably an atypical destination for a lot of people. My sense is that most people heading to Haiti from the United States these days are Haitians visiting home, aid workers on assignment, or volunteers on a service trip. We were going for a different reason: vacation.

I’ll be completely honest: Haiti would not have been my first choice for a vacation, but family members relocated there last year, and the pull of a quick plane ride to see them, after many years when they lived on the other side of the globe, was enticing. My apprehension stemmed from concerns about Haiti’s stability after the 7.0 earthquake that devastated the country in 2010 and the wisdom of taking of young children to a developing country with such deep and unsettling poverty. According to the World Bank, “Haiti remains the poorest country in the Americas and one of the poorest in the world (with a GDP per capita of US$846 in 2014).” Additionally, “more than 6 million out of 10.4 million (59%) Haitians live under the national poverty line of $2.44 per day and over 2.5 million (24%) live under the national extreme poverty line of $1.24 dollar per day.” In case you read that sentence too fast, 83% of Haitians live on $1.24 to $2.44 per day.

But, my husband and I have a strong commitment to raising children who are good global citizens, people who are aware of the way others around our world live, are respectful of other cultures and traditions, and make choices about their lives that improve our world. Bringing them to Haiti, therefore, was a step toward that goal. So, we went.

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Books to Read in the Summer of 2015

In January, I committed to read 45 books in 2015 and have been tracking my progress via the Reading Challenge on Goodreads. I’m currently nearing the end of book 25 (yea me!). Back in April, I updated you on what I’d be reading this year, and today, I’m checking back in on the rather eclectic bunch of books (both fiction and nonfiction) I’m tacking in 2015. Here’s what I’ve recently read:

books to read summer 2015

  • Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng: I’m almost done with this, Ng’s debut novel, and I am really enjoying it. While the plot is one readers have seen before (a main character dies and her family is devastated), Ng’s approach is original, as she explores feelings of identity, race, and connection. I highly recommend this book if you have not already read it.
  • The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz: I cannot stop gushing about this book, giving it five stars on Goodreads. A 2008 Pulitzer Prize winner, this novel is part fiction, part history, part magical realism, part fantasy, and all of it’s terrific. This book is an inspired choice if you like original and unique voices in fiction writing.
  • Bringing Up Bébé: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting by Pamela Druckerman: A funny book for me to read since my bébés are in elementary school, but this was my book club’s selection for July. It provoked a wonderful conversation when we met on everything from what our kids eat (or don’t eat) to bedtime routines to “adult” time. I’ll admit to not being thrilled about the book when it was first selected—I wasn’t keen on reading a parenting book—but Bringing Up Bébé is more a memoir about finding your way when you are out of your element, considered through the lens of parenting. I did especially enjoy the author’s peek into the development of the palates of French children; we Americans, with our hamburgers and chicken fingers, have a lot to learn!
  • Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter: This book, which took the author 15 years to write (while he worked on other projects), moves back and forth from la dolce vita Italy, to Hollywood, to Idaho. With rich characters (both real and imagined), Beautiful Ruins is both poignant and hopeful. This would be a good book to pack in your beach bag this summer.
  • Delicious! by Ruth Reichl: I found this book in a used book store (or, as I like to call stores like that, the place to find buried treasure) and quickly devoured (pun intended) it in a weekend. An engaging story about a young woman who moves to New York City to join an esteemed culinary magazine only to see the publication go out of business, Delicious! benefits from Reichl’s extensive years as a food critic and magazine editor. The book is filled with details about New York and cooking, and would make a fun read on a trip this summer.
  • Not My Father’s Son by Alan Cumming: I’m a fan of Alan Cumming’s (he steals every scene in The Good Wife), so I looked forward to reading his memoir which chronicles his upbringing in Scotland, how he got into acting, and his complicated and difficult relationship with his father. Thankfully, the adult Alan comes across as someone who has an enormous capacity for love and fun and has moved on from the hurt of his childhood. I later learned that Alan narrated the audio version of his book and wished I had listened to it. (I’m such a sucker for a Scottish accent!)

I’m also (still) working on Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption
by Laura Hillenbrand (very good but sad) and H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald (also good). Next up is Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed and A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara. Also, for book club, I’m going to re-read The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck.

Quite a mix, isn’t it? That’s what I love most about my reading list this year – a real array of stories and voices.

What are you reading this summer? What do you recommend I add to my to read list? Tell me in the comments, and happy reading!

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Photo Credit: Books 6 via photopin (license)

Birthday Reflections

Two days ago found me in the parking lot of an outdoor store—one of those chains that sells everything from Go Pros and hiking books to mountain climbing equipment and all weather socks. I wore a fluorescent yellow vest and a black helmet and stood in front of a green bicycle painted with flowers with a wicker basket on its front. The bike looked a bit like Austrian elves had decorated it, but I was captivated by the red tassels on its handles and by the silver bell that dinged like a doorbell, so I had selected it for my test ride. For years, I had been without a bicycle, my last one having rusted away, and I was at the store to see about getting a new one.

Apprehensive, I stood in front of the bike wondering if that maxim “it’s just like riding a bicycle – you don’t forget!” was true. My children picked up on my concern, and my daughter called out, “Don’t worry, Mama. Just take a breath and step on the pedal.” I looked at her, encouraging me, and felt a slight twinge of humiliation. Was it embarrassing that she was a better bike rider then me (which doesn’t say much since she learned to ride without training wheels only two weeks ago), or should I feel proud that the child was eclipsing the parent? I decided to go with proud (my ego, small as it is, couldn’t bear it any other way), and stepped up on the bike. I wobbled a bit and then found a rhythm. Around the parking lot I went, wind in my hair. I rode up and down the aisles, remembering how much fun it is to ride a bike, to do something of joy. I stopped in front of my husband, nodding like my daughter. I would get a bicycle.


All over the Internet, you’ll find letters parents write to their children on their birthdays. I have been known to do this once or twice myself. What about writing to yourself on your birthday? Birthday reflections for the grown-ups, if you will?

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