Monday, October 10, 2016

Coffee Date || 29


If we were on a coffee date, it would be afternoon and we'd be sitting outside since it's no longer 102 degrees out, but we're not yet in the cold of fall and winter. This would make our time shorter because we'd both be thinking about the work we have to get back to, but the reprieve would be blessed and encouraging in the midst of a Monday. 


If we were on a coffee date, I'd tell you I'm studying the bible again. I would confess it's been long since His word and I have had much of an interaction (part of that is blamed on vacation, but mostly it's on me). I've finally decided to stop "giving myself grace" and start "putting in the work" because sometimes work is necessary. While I'm thankful His grace doesn't end, I'm thankful for the chance to stop being so graceful it borders on excused laziness with myself. I missed Him. I missed Him a lot. 


If we were on a coffee date, I'd share that I'm thinking about entitlement this again month. Because I haven't stopped thinking about it since two months ago when I mentioned how it seems to add to my struggles. There's been a lot of removing the paint from the walls of my heart and letting the bareness be enough, but this process is deeply freeing. 


If we were on a coffee date, I'd have a present for you. It would be in a craft paper bag and I'd insist you open it. It'd have Ghirardelli's sea salt chocolate cashews in it. I would really hope that you open them and that we can guzzle them down together because they are delicious with an afternoon coffee. (Also, I buy them at Target and they do not cost $12 there.)  


If we were on a coffee date, I might brag a bit about my reading challenge. Okay, I would definitely brag that I managed to read 52 books in the first nine months of the year. I'd want to tell you the one I LOVED and the one I hated and then I'd ask about your reading habits. You'd probably ask what I'm going to do now that the challenge is dust and I'd say, I upped my total goal to 70 and that feels really ambitious. (But then Rachel wrote this and I was like YES I CAN DO IT.) 


If we were on a coffee date, I'd ask how you make transitions easier. I've realized transitions go smoother when we expect them, when we think about them, when we acknowledge that they're coming. Moving from the heat of summer to the coolness of fall has reminded me of how important it is to be honest about our place in time. Honesty, acceptance, and seeking out little spots of loveliness are vital. 


If we were on a coffee date, I'd want to celebrate our wins this week with high fives. Football season is back and it puts me in the high five, "go team!" kind of spirits. I'd want to share in that overexcitement with you and then I'd ask if you have a team you're rooting for this season. I'd tell you we're Chargers fan (which sort of hurts my soul), but that I'm also a big fan of you. 


Now it's your turn to talk:

Friday, October 7, 2016

A Reader's Ramblings v. I



Debut Novel by Kerry Lonsdale
 ★★★
Super Short Synopsis: Love, loss, and learning to let go are all explored in the unexpected twists and tragedy that has befallen Aimee Tierney as she attends her fiance's funeral instead of her own wedding. Unsettled by a few unanswered and ignored questions regarding her love's death, Aimee attempts to dig into the accident that claimed his life while pulling together the pieces of her own. 

Two Things I Loved:

  1. Lonsdale does an amazing job bouncing around in time, pulling threads from the past to the present and weaving a rich tapestry of interrelated plot lines. This could easily be a confusing, try-hard attempt at a family-involved psychological thriller, but Lonsdale achieved a perfect balance with her seamless transitions. 
  2. This one made me think. It made me think a lot. About love, about what would happen if Jason went missing, about the way family is complicated and messy, about working in the family business. This was a novel with themes that stick with you, begging you to think about them again and again and again. 
ALSO: Londale's second novel All the Breaking Waves releases in December and I'm already awaiting it's availability. One Thing I'd Change:  
  • I wanted a break sometimes. The plot twists and turns wildly which kept the plot moving rapidly forward, but sometimes I wanted to settle in, to find a little bit of peace, and to breathe... This didn't happen, really, at all. Which I guess leads to the fact that the ending wasn't as developed or peaceful as I wanted from the chaos of the novel. 
Reminded Me Of: What Alice Forgot, The Pilot's Wife, The Light Between Oceans


The Things We Wish Were True
by Marybeth Mayhew Whalen
★★★.5
Super Short Synopsis: A picture-perfect small town is rocked by a near tragedy at the community pool where there are more than families seeking cool water gathering. 

Two Things I Loved:
  1. An exploration of suburban life in America like this one is necessary and interesting. I found myself relating it back to the small town we live in... Which was a smaller town that I grew up in... And the swimming pool that marked many summer afternoons of my childhood. Whalen picked up really relatable settings and events while making a gentle commentary on what it means to live in a small town. 
  2. Redemption is found in a plethora of ways which gives the close of the novel a complete and relaxed feel. I was thankful to tear through the many characters and plot lines of this one to feel like the end offers a clean and tidy closing that doesn't feel rushed. 
One Thing I'd Change:
  • The pace of this novel isn't typically something I'd enjoy. It was slower, more deliberate in making it's plot points and turns, but that felt refreshing in the context of the wildly thrilling books that filled almost the entirety of my month! 
Reminded Me Of: Big Little Lies, Four of a Kind, This One is Mine

by Carla Buckley
★★★
Super Short Synopsis: A psychological thriller that explores the complexity of family relationships, generational gaps, and asks the question "how well do parents know their children?". Following the lives of Arden and Rory in the months before and after a mysterious fire that leaves both girls clinging to life, Buckley deftly illustrates the way secrets and stories change -and can ultimately destroy- the way families operate. 

Two Things I Loved:
  1. The Audible recording. The narrators that were cast and the pace of the novel are perfection. I couldn't get enough of the audiobook and I was thankful I'd picked this one up as a Daily Deal. 
  2. The complexity in relationship among the characters. Buckley manages to portray challenging relationships fourfold in the novel and, as a result, has you guessing the cause, the arson, the outcome of the fire until the VERY close of the book. You'll be shocked, I promise. 
One Thing I'd Change:  
  1. I HATED one of the characters. That's the point: to hate her. So I wouldn't technically change this because I believe in emotional responses as literary tools (which furthered Buckley's cause), but I really, vehemently HATED her. (Not telling who!) 
Reminded Me Of: We Were Liars, Reconstructing Amelia, Where They Found Her 

Relish
by Lucy Knisley
★★
Super Short Synopsis: This graphic novel-memoir depicts Knisley's relationship with food starting in her youth -as a daughter of a chef and a foodie- up until adulthood. Filled with amazing cartoons and hilarious memories, Knisley invites you to understand, better define, and cherish your relationship with food.

Two Things I Loved:
  1. The illustrations are amazing. From comic strips to illustrated family recipes, Knisley is a talent and it's easy to appreciate her craft. 
  2. The recipes and food are delicious. She talks about pasta and croissants and street tacos in Mexico. This is a mouth watering read that had me ready to make a four course meal full of carbohydrates. 
One Thing I'd Change:   
  • I'm not a graphic novel reader so this was out of my wheelhouse which means I have nothing to compare it to. Literally, nothing at all. So, I would only change my own lack of experience with graphic novels (which means GIVE ME YOUR RECOMMENDATIONS). 
Reminded Me Of: Bread and Wine, How to Bake a Perfect Life, The Coincidence of Coconut Cake

Wreckage
by Emily Bleeker
★★★.5
Super Short Synopsis: A plane crashes in the middle of the ocean and only two of the five passengers lives to return to America to receive immediate news fame. While return home after two years on a deserted island should be blessed, the new status of the passengers in society and their homes brings each of them to lie about the events that filled their lost time. 

Two Things I Loved:
  1. So, so easy to read. The plot moves fantastically, the characters are easy to have opinions on, and the lies are present from the outset and, well, until the close. I couldn't put the book down and had to know immediately how the consequences of each character's actions was going to play out in the greater story. 
  2. The themes -news' disrespect for privacy in search of ratings, popular cultures trivialization of suffering in order for mass entertainment, the misplaced right to judge of most television viewers, the victims' desire to protect their lives and loves despite circumstance- are SO relevant right now. They spoke to the communications theory major in me that wants to pick apart all of the ways bias comes in to play. 
One Thing I'd Change:  
  • The storyline is far-fetched. This is allowed for fiction and I, honestly, kept with it despite thinking how hard-pressed it would be for all of the wild things contained in this novel to happen because the inner dialogue and play between characters outweighs the one in a million weight of the plot line. I also felt as though one of the "twists" was unnecessary and may have, actually, done a disservice to the overarching commentary on mass media. 
Reminded Me Of: Salem FallsThe Girl on the Train, Before the Fall 


It Ends with Us
by Colleen Hoover
★★
Super Short Synopsis: This (what appears to be a) romance novel unexpectedly explores the way our pasts shape our futures, the cost of love and heart ache, and what it means to forgive what seems unforgivable. 

Warning: There's abuse in this novel. It's hard to read (not in the graphic sense, in the LET ME HELP YOU sense), but it's so necessary, so worth it, so made me a fan of Colleen Hoover.

Two Things I Loved:
  1. This novel was haunting -not in the spooky way, but in the pressed my emotions in and through and around and all the ways. It stayed with me well beyond those last pages (and the author's note -best I've ever read) making this review even challenging to write because I want to pour out all the feelings, all the perspective shifts, all the ways I can now say, I better understand the world.
  2. The way Hoover works with pace in the novel is amazing. The plot moves effortlessly; sometimes at a sprint, sometimes at a crawl, but always with an ease that I've not experienced often in my years of readership. I read the entire book in four hours because I couldn't stop until it was done. 
One Thing I'd Change:  
  • I wanted more at the end. I wanted to hear about happily ever after and all the kids and the marriage and just, everything. It makes sense why it needed to end, but GOODNESS I wanted to spend more time with the characters to see the way redemption played out beyond the most gorgeous of redemptive moments in the tail end of the novel. 
Reminded Me Of: The Silent Wife, Eight Hundred Grapes, Eleanor & Park

In the Land of Milk and Honey
by Jane Jensen
★★★.5
Super Short Synopsis: The second in a series about detective Elizabeth Harris, this novel is set in the Amish country as an epidemic is proving fatal to the local farming community. It is up to Harris to bridge the gap between her new friends, the Amish, and the CDC despite the deep distrust and difficult relationship between the two groups. 

Two Things I Loved:
  1. Jensen presents Detective Harris as a real, flawed person despite her role as the heroine of the novel. She's tempted, she's frustrated, she's emotional, and yet, she's a hero at the close of each novel (this isn't a spoiler, promise). 
  2. Amish culture has fascinated me since we visited there when I was a child. Jensen has done her research, she knows about their beliefs and their culture in a way that appears brave and true in the novel. I learned more about their cause and effect relationships which (always) earns the novel some respect in my opinion. 
One Thing I'd Change:  
  • This one wasn't as strong as the first. I'm not sure if it was the sweeping nature of the epidemic or the technical conversation required for the fatal dosages, but I just wasn't drawn in and dying to read more like I was with the first. However, it seems really important to note that I listened to the first on audiobook, I read the second. This might account for the disparity. 
Reminded Me Of: Plain Truth, Cuckoo's Calling.


I finished my 52 books challenge.
I'm still going to read.
I want your suggestions.
Tell me the best book you've read this year.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Euro-Thomas Trip: Part 1.

On September 10th -our fifth anniversary-, we ate dinner in Terminal 2 of the LAX airport before loading a red-eye flight from California to Paris. And from there, we spent two weeks traveling through Italy. Seven hundred fifty pictures, dozens of plates of pasta and pizza, and nearly a gallon of amazing wine later, we are here with a lot to talk about and no perfect way to organize it.

This is going to be a simple two part series full of pictures and all kinds of wanderlust information. For today, Part One.

 Length of our stay: 3 days, 3 nights.

A Few Practical Tips:
  1. Charles de Gaulle airport is about 35 minutes outside of the city center so plan ahead and get a ride in. There are tons of private shuttle services that are amazingly priced (especially compared to the taxis) as well as an awesome bus and train system that goes from the airport to the city. 
  2. The city is HUGE. We planned on doing it by foot most of the time and, well, that was quickly put to rest by the end of Day 1. 
  3. Download Google Translate if you don't know any French (or if you can "sort of get by"). Menus and signs often didn't have English on them which meant we had no clue what they said. 



Two things we'd recommend:
  • Hop on, Hop off bus tours. This isn't so much because of the tour as it is a SUPER easy way to get around between all the landmarks of the city without having to understand the public transportation policies. We bought our ticket the last day and wished we'd done it for our entire stay. (You can easily get tickets at the stops by the Eiffel Tower.) 
  • An evening boat cruise on the Siene.
    f
    The city of lights is gorgeous when it's lit up at night and the views from the river are exquisite. This was easily our favorite part of Paris and we actually talked about doing it twice because we enjoyed ourselves so much! (Plus side: there are bars and restaurants along the river front that are adorable and delicious.) 



One thing we'd do different:
  • Spend less time in Paris. This city didn't capture our hearts the way we expected and we were thankful to head to Italy when the time came.  

Length of our stay: 3 days, 2 nights

A Few Practical Tips:
  1. Bring shoes that you can walk miles in. There are NO roads, no cars, few scooters and bikes on Venice. It's an island that's just a few miles from side to side, but the plethora of alleyways will ensure that you get lost at least a dozen times a day. Keep your feet comfortable while you're covering more mileage on foot than you ever imagined. 
  2. Be prepared to slow down. Venice's pace is slow, comfortable, sort of lulling like the water that runs through its core. So, don't expect to show up and do all the things in one day. Slow down. The alleys can be crowded (easy to get away by turning and turning and turning until you end up in a random, quiet place) and I promise: you'll get lost more than you'll be found. 
  3. Visit St. Mark's Square at night. It's far, far less crowded and there are live bands playing classical music. You can sit down and sip on wine at one of the restaurants OR there are bars in a few of the corners where you can pick up a cocktail or glass of wine and drink as you walk from bandstand to bandstand.



Two things we'd recommend:
  • Take a gondola rowing lesson
    Gondola rides are 80 euros regardless of the number of riders you have. This is awesome if there's six in your party, but expensive if there's only two. So, before we left I did some research and learned about Row Venice -a gondola rowing lesson company. We loved our time (despite the MASSIVE rain storm that hit while we were out) and adored the things we learned about Venice, gondaliers, and local life. 
  • Check out the Libreria Acque Alta book shop. 
    Whether you like books or not, you've never seen a store with the character and goodness that is this shop. From the book-filled gondola to the waterfront reading perch to the walls of books in the small garden, you'll feel like you've been transported to some reader's paradise. We waited out a downpour in the stacks of this store and I find myself dreaming of all the books and pages since we've returned. 
One thing we'd do different:
  • Visit Burano. We didn't venture to the far island simply because of our own lazy bones and I wish we'd made it out to see the colorful buildings. 
Length of our stay: 2 days, 2 nights.

A Few Practical Tips:
  1. Stay in Florence. But be willing to leave to visit the gorgeous countryside that's just outside of the city limits. There are tours and buses and taxis and car rental companies that make escaping the city a no big deal kind of movement. 
  2. Open front wine bars are everywhere, take advantage of them. There are locals pouring out of the store fronts and it's a little bit intimidating, but the moment they identify you as a tourist, they move out to make room. Italy is one of the most hospitable of places I've ever visited. 
  3. Public bathrooms are gross. So, drop your expectations and get over the peeing in a dirty place kind of expectation. This is true for throughout Italy and, well, I struggled at first. 
Two things we'd recommend:
  • A wine tour.
    There are a TON of wine tours offered throughout the Tuscany region so you can't go wrong. However, some of the tours (like the one we went on) offer olive oil and cheese tasting as well so look for those opportunities if they're your kind of thing. 
  • Eat a burger at Off the Hook.
    After being gone from America for a week (and after I finally got over the upset traveler's stomach that I get), all we wanted was a delicious burger and Off the Hook hit the spot. Their burgers are big, bad, and kept us smiling through the afternoon of wandering Florence on our first day there. 
One thing we'd do different:
  • Spend SIGNIFICANTLY more time here. We'd rent a car and drive all through the countrysides. We'd drink more red wine and eat all the things covered in olive (and truffle) oil.  


 Length of our stay: 3 days, 3 nights

A Few Practical Things:
  1. Stay in the Ponte area. Food, food, food. That's what this area is about and, goodness, you need all the pasta and pizza and wine bars that this area has to offer. Plus it's in walking distance to St. Peter's Square and the Tiber River and the Castel de Sant'angelo. 
  2. Taxi prices are really reasonable and the city is very walker friendly. So don't be afraid to take on some walking with the possibility that you'll catch a taxi home. The prices here are comparable to NYC -we paid 13 Euro for a twenty minute ride to the soccer stadium just outside the city. 
  3. See a football game if you can. Because this experience is one that you will never, ever forget. There's no spirit like European soccer fan spirit and you deserve the opportunity to cheer wildly alongside all of the people in the stadium. 


Two things we'd recommend:
  • Visit Castel de Sant'angelo
    In long ago times of war, the Pope would leave the beauty of the Vatican for the safety of a real, castle fortress called the Castel de Sant'angelo. This castle is now retired and is simply a museum but it was easily one of our favorite Roman memories. We drank wine in one of the watchtower windows while overlooking the basilica. There is nothing, nothing to muddle that memory. 
  • Take the elevator to the top of the Altare della Patria
    Panoramic views of the entire city of Rome? Bird's eye view of the Roman forum and the Colosseum? The change to overlook Rome's current capital building and it's square? HERE. Here, here, here you get all of that and more. We fell madly in love with the city on our last afternoon of touring when we stumbled upon the elevator up to the top of the arch that happens to overlook all of Rome. 


One thing we'd do different:
  • Skip the Hop On, Hop Off bus tour. It just isn't useful in Rome like it is in Paris. The loop is small and busy and takes quite some time because the driving is much more patient than it is in France. We got a three day pass and ended up skipping it entirely on our last day in the city because it was easier to simply walk.
Whoof, we made it through a fly over of our two week vacation... Stay tuned for Part II next Wednesday!

Monday, October 3, 2016

Public Service Reminders v. 6.0

Before we left for Europe, I was struggling with inspiration. I felt tired and emotional and every time I sat down to write words that were more than a How To, I felt overwhelmed. It seemed there were too many things rather than the normal emptiness of writer's block.

I knew something had to change, that I couldn't keep on painting and working without acknowledging the feelings so I wrote them down as bullet points. Just words like this:

  • frustrated
  • tired
  • scared
  • busy
  • frantic
  • nervous
  • edgy
I wrote them down and then I spent a few days jotting down the moments when I felt those feelings the most. I felt all of them when I dealt with a single thing: my email inbox.

Not even my work email, but my personal one. I had twelve to fifteen emails each morning when I woke and each one told me how to change my process, what I needed to buy, where I could go to find more inspiration. And I felt like I wanted to read each one, but I had no time to dedicate to the task. I'd signed up for too much.

So I unsubscribed. Over and over and over again I said to remove me from this list and from that one.

This is a public service reminder: De-clutter in order to define what's important. 

Maybe it's your inbox or your closet or your paint supplies that need a good going through because the way they're overcrowded has you feeling frantic. Maybe your schedule is packed and you're not setting aside the time you need to fill your own cup, this'll leave you edgy and exhausted. So, declutter.

- - - - - - - - - - - 

Two weeks away from home was glorious. But I was so thankful for the moment we turned left onto our street and I could see our red front door. Pulling into the garage after two weeks away nearly brought me to tears.

We stayed in apartments we rented through AirBnB the entire two weeks. We stayed on a canal in Venice, in a newly constructed high rise (that had no air conditioning) in Paris, in a Pottery Barn looking loft in Florence, and in a tiny two story apartment with an even tinier shower in Rome. Each was in amazing locations in their given cities, each held a charm of it's own, but nothing -absolutely nothing- kept us from thinking of our home.

This is a public service reminder: There is no place like home. 

Everyone tells me that home is a person or choice. But my home is a building that I share with a man I love and a dog that wiggles. Home holds our King size bed and my art and a closet full of clothes. Home IS with a person and WAS a choice, but it's also a place full of beauty and joy that belongs solely to you.

- - - - - - - - - - - 

I used Pinterest to pack for Europe. I checked out a dozen packing posts and had a serious plan -wear black, white and grey with red accents. It worked perfectly and I had more outfit options than I needed (though we were thankful for the two places that had washers). 

But, in our two weeks abroad, I learned something about myself: I will never be a minimalist. 

I enjoy getting dressed. I adore shoes and jewelry. I relish the many options that I have each morning when it's time to pick out my outfit. I have a closet that is larger than bathrooms in some cities around the globe and I've nursed a pit in my stomach at my own purchase power that's wasted. I own more clothes than I'll ever need and I'm sure I'm a consumer in the most American of ways. 

This is a public service reminder: Discover your person and behold it. 

Returning home, I felt no regret about my closet and my things. I, instead, felt thankful for my place in America. I felt deeply thankful for the home, the closet, the chance to run to Target and buy two dresses I don't need but that I love. I stopped feeling bad about being a maximalist and embraced my own rhythms. 

Friday, September 30, 2016

September and Me || 2016

CURRENTLY 

loving. My bed. Because vacation is grand, but no bed is MY bed and it's good to be home.
needing. To figure out what to do with the 750 pictures from Europe. I mean, overwhelm.
wanting. Some fall weather. 102 degrees just isn't cutting it.
writing. Blog posts and such. I'm inspired after two weeks away and BLESS.
reading. Eight Hundred Grapes. I'm late on this one but I can barely set it down.
watching. Survivor. We'd lost interest until this season: Millennials versus Gen X.
listening. To Jack Johnson's Curious George CD. And The Chainsmoker's "Closer".
wishing. Everyone could travel. Going new places is so mind-blowing and heart-expanding.
feeling. Inspired. So inspired. I've craved inspiration for months and now, it is here.
craving. Stuffing. Butternut squash. Smoked turkey. Mackintosh apples. Basically, all the fall food.
eating. A lot. Jet-lag is for sleep and a feeling of constant starvation.
drinking. Green tea in the rare morning chill (so rare).
smelling. Books. I loved my eReader on vacation (six books later), but I missed paper pages.
working on. Custom Christmas ornament options for this season. BE PREPARED.
contemplating. How to stuff more time in my day so I can do all the creative things. 


IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

We were gone most of the month so there's not a whole LOT of September writings. But, I gave an adoption update letting you know where we're at in the process.

I was preparing to reopen the shop on Saturday, October 1st, but couldn't ignore that today's my Popsicle's birthday. So, it's open NOW. The month will come with some Christmas offerings and a few (more) new globes that I'm hoping will make you smile (or buy).

I finally read Harry Potter (just the first book) for this month's #Collaboreads. (For the next month, we're reading books with the word FALL in the title and, in case you wanted to know, I'm reading A Fall of Marigolds by Susan Meissner -adore her writing.)

MUST READ:

by Laila Ibrahim

Super Short Synopsis: This rich, deeply impactful, historical fiction stars, Mattie, an enslaved wet nurse, and her charge Lisbeth -a white babe of plantation owners- in their quest for freedom from the societal norms and a redefinition of their identities over the course of decades. 

My Thoughts: Gosh. I don't have enough kind things to say about this novel. The characters were real, relatable, heart-breaking, and perfect. The content painful to realize as part of America's history, but important to grapple with -especially in today's America. We need novels like this to remind ourselves of the healing that has started, but is still profoundly necessary. 

I found myself so invested in the pains and joys of the characters that tears were running down my face on our flight home from Europe. Thankfully, the complete stranger sitting next to me was asleep and Jason was enthralled in a movie so no one was aware of my reader's plight. This easily slips into the Top Five reads I've ever read and, goodness, I can't wait to recommend it all over the place. (I literally want to buy a half dozen copies of it and send it to every brave reader I know.)

Reminded Me Of: The Kitchen House, The Secret Life of Bees, and The Invention of Wings

The rest of my book reviews are going to be in a separate post because I've missed doing them here on the blog (plus I have a new format I want to try out). 

Three Nifty Things You Need to Know
This is here because I'm obsessed with her and missed her so when we were gone. 

1. There are 750 pictures on my phone from our two weeks in Europe. Yes, nearly a thousand shots of all the things we did for two weeks. And in lieu of a book that we order off of Apple or Snapfish, I've set my heart on making a paper moleskine into our trip book... So, I had to order a WHOLE BUNCH of pictures from my phone and the best way: Postal Pix. They're uploaded from my phone and that's all I have to do until the pictures arrive in our mail box!

2. My favorite lotion just released a new scent(?) and you NEED to know about it. I get it at Target in the natural skin care section for about $13.99.  It's coconut, but smells so faintly like vacation. No one else can smell it (so I'm not like a giant pina colada walking down the street) and it keeps my skin so nourished throughout the course of my day! 

3. We just finished registering at Target for baby Thomas and did you know they're so smart and made an APP?!? Yes, I just used my phone to scan the labels of the things we wanted instead of having to check in with the customer service (which is always busy at this start of school time of year). Maybe all the stores do this but, how cool is technology? 

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Collaboreads: Or the First Time I've Read Harry Potter


It's the day where the best kind of book club (which doesn't make everyone read the same book) is live!

Rachel and I are thrilled you're here, but first:

If you missed what #Collaboreads is, you can familiarize yourself here.

Short version: Rachel and I pick a random criteria for the book (i.e. Takes Place in Summertime). You pick your book and read it. Then the last Wednesday of the month we meet up and talk about our choices.There's a R.E.A.D.S. review format that we've shared for suggestion's sake (shared in this post), but feel free to review however you're comfortable!

For September we dared you to read a book that's been BANNED in one way or another.

This seemed like the perfect time to take a dive into the world of...


You'll never believe this, but at 27 years old, I've never read an entire Harry Potter book. In fact, I've only ever made it to Platform 9 3/4 before I would jump ship and move from the fantastical life of wizards to something more familiar to me. But this time I told myself I'd make it happen.


By J.K. Rowling
RIVETING. 
I get why people love this series. Rowling can write and she does this play with pace that is admirable, riveting, and envy-making. Just as I'd start to feel tired, prepared to nap or sleep or just set the book down, she'd whip the plot line up to another action-packed peak and there'd be no way I could let the novel rest in that place.

So, I'd keep reading. Then I'd be 100 pages further in the novel and wondering where the night went.

ELEMENTS.
Reading this one was effortless... I know it was meant for Young Adults, but I really struggle with fantastical elements (hence the reason I've never made it through an entire book in the series yet) and I feared I would be pulling out my own teeth in an effort to mark this one off my To Read list.

But I was wrong.

Maybe the wisdom and experience that the last fifteen years of my life held were part of my enjoyment, but I related to the characters. I actually thought, Whoa, I've been in a situation like Harry is with Snape. So, yes, I now understand why it is that grown adults treasure the series so.

Does this mean I'm going to jump in and read them all? I don't know.
But I'll admit this: I've been thinking about the second book and what happens to Harry next.

ASSOCIATE.
Gosh, this is where I struggle.

Parts of the book reminded me of Matilda -almost like if I was going to be a matchmaker I'd totally set Harry and Matilda up because they seem to have so much in common. This similarity makes me smile because Matilda is one of the first books I ever loved.

I know Rainbow Rowell's Fangirl deals with what it means for a beloved series to come to an end (and dances in the realms of fan fiction) so, of course, my heart goes there and thinks of that.

DESIGN.
This feels funny to talk about for me... Mostly because the book cover is something that's been around for over a decade of my life. However, I adored the simplicity and regal look of the digital book covers (which might be blasphemous to my own reading attitudes from just a month ago). 

STARS. 

Four and a half. 

I'm not sure what is keeping me from giving it the FULL five... Maybe part of the issue is there were places where I could put the book down and where I wasn't that particularly interested. I've heard from a few people that the first is, in fact, the weakest of the novels so, I'm holding hope and guessing I'll jump into the second of the series soon.

And now, it's your turn to talk about all the books that filled your month!


Next month's topic we'll see you on 
October 26th! 
And we're going to be reading... 

Books with the word FALL in the title!
Yep, going seasonal and depending on the goodness of  polysemy here!

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

An Answer to Prayers || A Marriage Letter

Dear Jason,

Earlier this month I made a crockpot full of our favorite spaghetti sauce, boiled two bags of our favorite noodles, and served over a dozen of our neighbors. It was accidental -the way they all ended up in our backyard-, but oh the depth of purpose in those moments.

You see, we prayed to be a gathering place from the moment we married. We prayed that people would be comfortable enough to come, to sit and pour out, to know we'd pour back in. We prayed and our community grew with care and effort. Then we decided to buy a house. And our prayers changed.

We prayed for the doors to be unlocked, the rooms to be inviting, the neighbors to know how much we adore the act of gathering. And that Sunday evening, we had a full, full house. There were shrieks and tortoise rides, stampedes of small children up and down the stairs. There were moms relaxing around our American flag table on the patio and dads setting up the make shift movie theater out front. There was garlic bread and vinegar topped salad served with all kinds of conversation.

And in a small, hardly quiet moment: I knew our prayers had been answered. All the noise and chaos and the doors wide open were the result of faith well invested.

This extends. This extends to you -the way I prayed for a husband who adored me the way I loved him-, this extends to our town -the roots we've put down in the place where I was raised-, this extends to jobs -the steady, fulfilling places where we spend our days-, and it'll extend to our family.

Our prayers are heard. His will fulfilled.
Our hearts are led. His purpose kind.

Faithfully praying and loving by your side,
Am

- - - - - - - - - -

This letter is one in a series of letters I write to remember mundane moments of my marriage that would otherwise slip away. I write with a dedication to hold tight to him and to remember how life looks right now at this very moment. The chance for these letters to shed light on our marriage before children for our children because they won't know us as newlyweds is a much loved and added bonus.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Coffee Date || 28



If we were on a coffee date, I'd want to serve you up something good and strong because lately, that's all that's keeping me awake in the evenings. I don't know if it's the night coming earlier or the darkness in the mornings, but the blessed rest of night feels SO MUCH shorter these days. I'd probably want to offer your some of my homemade cold brew coffee with coconut creamer because it tastes like summer which is quickly coming to an end. 

If we were on a coffee date, I'd ask about your opinions on fall. Fall gets a hard wrap sometimes like it's the sad, unathletic sibling of the star quarterback that's named Summer. But I love it -and not for the pumpkin spice lattes- because the leaves changing and the evenings cooling are creativity boosters galore. I'd ask if you call it autumn or fall, if you're a fan of pumpkin (I only like some of it), and how much football plays on your TV in these months. 

If we were on a coffee date, I'd tell you I've started journaling prayers. I'd tell you because I'd want to know if you've done the same and then I'd need to know how. I'd need to know because I've realized I left no space to track answered prayers and that sometimes I just want to bullet things and others leave me feeling like I need to edit myself. I guess I should honor each of the rhythms as it comes, but I tend to favor uniformity. Tell me friend, tell me HOW. 

If we were on a coffee date, I'd talk to you about books. I'd probably have two or three to hand off to you as recommendations from our shelves and I'd want to know what's been rocking your world (or boring you to death). I'd mention how I've dived head first into the world of Harry Potter (for #Collaboreads) and I'm loving the second in a detective series called In the Land of Milk and Honey and 

If we were on a coffee date, I'd confess I've been more intentional in the evenings. Jason's been working longer hours in preparation for our trip which means our time together in the evenings is shorter. The moment he walks through the door each night I'm over the moon and my phone -with the texts and emails and apps- doesn't appeal to me. I want to carry this on to the less busy, more mellow times. 

If we were on a coffee date, I'd mention the new MTV show Unlocking the Truth. As a true child of the '90s, I keep up on what MTV happens to be serving and their decision to tackle a Real Crime docu-series in lieu of The Real World has me as a major fan. Think of it as Steven Avery with a smaller time commitment, but an equal as binge-worthy quality. 

If we were on a coffee date, I'd recommend fall be the season of butternut squash. This is blasphemous in the season beloved for its pumpkin spice, but I can't get enough of butternut. My go to recipes are this gnocchi bake, these roasted spicy chunks, this creamy soup, and butternut squash raviolis (which I've never made, but want to). 

If we were on a coffee date, I'd remind you that hard times happen, but you endure. Because, right now my friends are weathering storms that are big and bad and scary and hard. But they're enduring and they don't realize the bravery that fills their days. Sometimes, we just need a reminder that we're more durable than the seasons through which we're required to live. So here, a reminder: 
This is hard, this season sucks and aches and so much more. 
But you, you are strong, you are brave, you are wholly enduring. 

----------
Join us friends. Join Erin and I in community and coffee and all the kinds of general goodness. 

Friday, September 9, 2016

Five Years: a Celebration of Mr. Thomas & Me

Five years ago -tomorrow- we sat in matching gold chairs and breathed sighs of relief after saying "I do" in front of our family and friends. We ate smoked ribs with macaroni and cheese, we drank Mike's hard lemonade, and then we danced. Oh we danced and danced and danced.

The night was bliss -a blur of my white dress, his grey tux, and our arms wrapped around each other. They say that your wedding night is just the beginning of the joys of marriage. And they are right. But they are also underwhelming newlyweds.

Because marriage is the joy of sharing laundry and living spaces and bathrooms because you choose. It's the love that blooms in the sweaty throes of yard work, through the pained grunts of moving heavy furniture, under the splashes of interior paint. It's the kindness that surprises you in the depths of night, the first chirps of morning, the full bellies of noon.

Marriage -in it's truest form- happens on the daily, in the minutiae, with little pomp or circumstance. Marriage is the gritty relationship you'll never be able to put into words topped off with some fun vacations and sexy time. Marriage is bigger than your wildest dreams, sweeter than the grandest cake, fuller than the most fruitful of trees.

And so, in honor of five years of the daily, beloved kind of marriage that made me a Thomas, I've shared some superlatives. Nothing like thinking about the last five years in the small (and big) moments:

BIGGEST CHALLENGE:

Learning how to balance our individual goals and how to combine our personal money habits.

MOST MEMORABLE MOMENT:

Hysterically laughing ourselves to sleep at night. This is one of many moments, but they're my most treasured memories of our marriage. 



BEST PURCHASE:

Hazel. (Second best: Jason's boat)

BEST DATE NIGHT RESTAURANT PICK:

Wine tasting followed by our favorite local Italian restaurant.



PROUDEST MARRIED MEMORY:

Getting the keys to our home. I never imagined we'd be able to buy a home in our first five years of marriage.

FAVORITE PHOTO:

snapped by the talented Alexes Lauren Photography

MOST VALUABLE LESSON:

Humility, dropping pride for the sake of loving and being loved in deeper, more honest ways.

MOST LOVED SONG:

"Who Are You When I'm Not Looking" by Blake Shelton

 FAVORITE ROAD TRIP TIP:

Listen to the Dr. Laura podcast and always have a bag of Gardetto's.

MOST REWARDING MARRIAGE LESSON:

Communication. We have seen how hard it is for two people -especially a man and woman who live together- to learn to speak and to listen. This is something we've been really intentional in practicing and it's such a soul-deep reward when we get it right.


FAVORITE VACATION:

Our week in Denver. Tied with our week in Costa Rica (though I'd change a couple of our choices there).

THING I'M MOST LOOKING FORWARD TO:

The next fifty years of him by my side (and then some).

GREATEST GIFT:

Tickets to a Florida Georgia Line concert for Jason's 27th birthday. He sang along the ENTIRE night and I'd never seen so much joy in that man's face.

LARGEST MILESTONE:

Say our final good-bye to my dad last December.
 


And finally, the question I've asked Jason every single week for the last five years,
FAVORITE THING ABOUT BEING MARRIED:

His provision. I married a man who makes sure I'm provided for before anything else and I'll always, always be deeply thankful (and in love with) that part of him.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Five Tips to Amazing Book Review Writing


I've always been an avid reader and in the last six months, I've become an avid reviewer. Part of my love for reviewing is my innate joy in sharing my opinion about anything. And, confessionally, as a reader I highly depend on reviews to influence my reading choices -so in reviewing, I feel I'm paying it forward to future readers of all the things.

While Amazon's review system is clean and interesting, I find myself comparing the star rating (and then grittier reviews) with what's found on GoodReads. I've ended up giving more clout to the reviews that I read on Goodreads because the reviews are more specific in their critique and more bold with their adoration. Engaging with a HUGE social network of readers has allowed me to see how every reader is different, every book is included in life's context and that all the kinds of context are important.

But what kind of reviews are my favorite? Well, there are five things that make book reviews stand out and especially influential to me.

1. Honesty about expectations for the author and book.

When I pick up a book, I've often checked out the reviews for it. I've definitely read the blurb on the sleeve. I've probably heard about the book from a book blog or podcast or friend or my mom and so, I know it's going to be good. This means the moment it is anything but good, I grow frustrated. It took me months to realize this and to identify that my expectations are SO important in determining my impression of a book.

2. Identification of what the reader likes in books.

For example, I adore plot. Minimal character development is okay with me as long as the plot moves, twists, and reveals more about the characters as they are interacting with one another through large narrative events.

3. Realize the context and circumstance in which you're reading said book.

You have to be honest with yourself about what you need from a novel when you pick it up. Are you up for another WWII historical fiction novel or do you need a simple beach read? Can you handle the heavy heartbreak of a grieving memoir or would it be better to read through a wild thriller that leaves some mystery for you to obsess over? Honor your feelings, know your circumstance, and then pick away!

4. Specifically name your struggles.

I've never read any of the classics (besides what had to be read for class in high school). I've always wanted to say I've made it through Little Women. But I dread the book every time I make it to page 150. I am not a classic reader -much to my own sadness. I've come to terms with this fact and have stopped trying to force myself and hallelujah!

5. Point out what would make you love the book.

So the book was boring but you trucked through it. You've thought all the things to think and realize that all you needed from the main character was a brave face at the turn of the novel rather than a serious dependence on her vampire lover. Say that and then some because people desperately want to know exactly what would make the difference in your stars.

What, specifically, do I 
look for in GoodReads reviews?

A score of 3.75 or higher. Getting lower than that ISN'T a deal breaker entirely... But I'm picky and every reader knows there's nothing worse than spending time with a book that sucks when there are so many amazing books out there in the world waiting for you to read them.

You know the one thing that's a review killer for me:
SPOILERS.

There is no -I mean NO- reason you need to spoil ANYTHING when writing a review. There are many ways to reference different places in the novel -the closing, the opening, the turning point, etc. - without specifically saying Harry Potter is a wizard and Albus Dumbledore dies. SO MANY WAYS to share your opinion without breaking the literary tension that we all love and adore.

Friday, September 2, 2016

Public Service Reminders v. 5.0


We stayed on a lake in the mountains with Jason's family at the beginning of August. I watched the weather app on my phone for the two weeks leading up to our trip. I knew what I needed to pack and I was thrilled when I had my suitcase prepared before Jason did. I laid on our bed and bragged while he folded and stuffed his clothes into a bag of his own.

Forty-eight hours after being at the lake, I could be found wearing the same shorts I arrived in. This is abnormal for me, but -you see- I packed wrong. I brought a single pair of shorts because I was counting on cold, crisp mountain weather that didn't happen. I had pants and sleeves all prepared, but they were ill-fitting for the sunny, bright days we got.

I wanted to be embarrassed. I wanted to hide my outfit and I hoped deep in me that his family didn't notice. But somehow, I kept coming back to, this is my family and I'm unprepared. The shorts were a reminder that we're always unprepared. Aren't we naive and confused in one way or another always? It's the odd, blessed miracle when we have all the right things in our bag.

This is a public service reminder: we're all trying to prove our capability.

But we're messes with the wrong things packed in our bags. We've brought band-aids to heal major wounds, we're trying to stop a flood with a tea cup, we're hoping a cocktail umbrella will provide some shelter from life's storms.

- - - - - - - - -

Our office building is being rennovated. Two men are working hard to do the work that's probably better suited for a dozen men. They're busy and making progress and being overseen by a jerk. He swings by at random times and wants to assert his dominance. He tests them on the name of tools (NO THAT'S A CRESCENT WRENCH.) and tells them to do it how they see fit, but then criticizes their choice.

I can't stand the man. He's rude, he's mean, and it takes every cell in my body not to tell him how important kindness is. But, he doesn't even notice me. He doesn't notice my door is open and I can hear his unpleasant management style. He doesn't notice when I walk by and say hello. He doesn't notice anything outside of himself.

And I have spent more time than I can count thinking about him, about how I have do and will do the same. I realize the places and points where I've represented myself so poorly. I try to counteract the embarrassments that result with the moments I'm proud, but humility is a vital part of life, right?

This is a public service reminder: people are watching you and making judgments. 

I know, it sounds creepy and weird. But we have to realize the ripples that extend beyond our initial interactions. Like, our kindness makes an impression beyond the person who receives it. And -in extension- so does our rudeness.

- - - - - - - - -

Speaking of offices, I'm dealing with some frustrations at work. I'm trying to ask some questions and understand the fine points of our union contract. It's completely foreign territory to me -my dad handled all these things many, many years ago. We've let the questions sit for years too long and it's time to take the bull by the horns.

So, I've grabbed tight and I'm trying hard to be kindly stern in getting answers (even if I have to ask so many times that it hurts my ego). This is insanely frustrating because of the many people who make many decisions and the need to talk to all of them. Also, because I don't understand so much of the process so my eyes are being opened to a ton of new information. Also, because the systems in place aren't particularly easy to move within which means I'm calling and emailing a dozen different people in hopes that one of them can point me the right way.

It's all of our faults that this is so frustrating.

This is a public service reminder: frustrating things happen -what matters is how you respond to it. 

I'm not one who claims patience or understanding. I'm also not usually the one to need to rely deeply on the patience of another human. So give patience because one day you'll depend on it.

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