Sunday, June 25, 2017

On celebrating your wheelhouse

This past winter I attended some meetings with friends I only see once or twice a year.  In the meantime we keep up with each other through social media, liking Instagram pictures and wishing kids happy birthday in comment sections.  Right before this particular trip I had posted something on Instagram about a “fancy party” my kids and I had as part of the Fun list we create twice a year (summer and winter).  The Summer/Winter Fun lists are just basically a handful of things my kids and I want to try and do during the season that we are in.  The things range from stuff that requires some planning on my part- go to an indoor waterpark, go to a baseball game- to stuff my kids do all the time but becomes special once its on the list- go to the pool, sit by the fire and look at our baby books.  Most of it is all stuff we’d be doing anyway.  It’s just a simple way for us to add a little adventure to our seasons and make the stuff we’d already do seem a bit more significant.  For me, nothing about the Fun Lists are difficult or hard.  They push me to do a few things I may have easily put off until it was too late to try, but by and large it’s all stuff the kids and I already look forward to doing.

last year's summer fun list
When I caught up with these friends at the annual meeting more than one made a point to mention my “fancy party” post and comment wistfully at “what a great mom” I was, implying somehow that I was going above and beyond in the parenting game.  The comments caught me off guard and made me uncomfortable.  I was being given far too much credit.  The fancy party was not an act of heroic “Mom-ness” on my part.  It consisted of letting my four year old pick out my entire outfit (gray vintage polka dot dress I wear to weddings, knee high heeled brown boots and the earrings I wore for my wedding), inviting a few friends over, putting a table cloth on our dining room table, serving left over desserts from a party we’d just had and letting the kids drink out of tea cups and glass mugs.  None of it was too much trouble and all of it made that dreaded 4-5pm hour go by much more quickly. 

the fancy party

Pushing my kid on the swing for more than three and a half minutes or doing some sort of complicated craft with them- those are heroic acts of Mom-ness.  When I post about those on social media I would like a parade thrown in my honor and some sort of gold medal.  Unfortunately I don’t post about those on social media because they don’t happen.  Ever.  

I follow a mom on Instagram who’s summer plan involves a different activity each day.  To share her fun she’s got hashtags for each day of the week (#makesomethingmonday, #tastytuesday, etc).  Her activities are things like creating fun snacks for the kids or art projects involving making homemade paint with food coloring, water and cornstarch and painting the driveway.  These are all things that make my skin crawl and leave me grumpy and stabby with my kids if I try to do them.  I scrolled through her pictures of kids happy and messy, enjoying the creative activities she’d not only thought up (or taken the time to look up on pinterest) but also prepared ahead of time and then had the wherewithal to capture photographic evidence of the activity (instead of spending the whole time supervising said activity mentally counting down the minutes it could be over while simultaneously preventing the kids from also painting themselves, the car, house and bikes, thereby sucking all fun out of the activity, as I would have done).  And I felt guilty.  I should do that kind of stuff for my kids.  I should get over my deep and abiding hatred of such activities for their sake so they can have fun memories of making messes and eating yogurt covered bananas dipped in chocolate chips they created themselves.

And then I remembered my conversation with my friend all those months ago.  And I had a moment of clarity.  These activities, the crafts and fun snacks, that’s probably fun for this Instagram mom, just like Fun lists and adventures are fun for me.  It probably doesn’t produce the urge to poke her eyes out or chew off her arm just to end the activity.  She’s probably not doing incredibly hard things she hates just for the sake of her kids in the same way that I’m not when we check off Summer Fun List items and have adventures.

I think it is a very common misconception when we see other parents doing the kinds of activities that we ourselves find hard/boring/frustrating/violence inducing.  We assume that they, too, feel that way about the activity but somehow overcome their aversion in a super human feat of self sacrifice for the kids.  We believe our own inability to sacrifice at this level makes us sub par parents and this causes us to discredit all the awesome things we are already doing because they may come more naturally to us.  Things that other moms might find hard/boring/frustrating/violence inducing.

I'd take this kind of crazy over blowing bubbles with the kids any day of the week 
For me, I get out of the house and do stuff with my four kids because between doing that and staying home with them, staying home is the more difficult thing.  I am not a homebody.  We go to the pool or visit parks we’ve never been to because I prefer that to staying home and doing arts and crafts projects or playing My Little Ponies with them for hours on end (or really for even just five minutes.  My Little Ponies suck.).  Other moms stay home and create cool pinterest worthy projects for their kids because that is much less difficult for them when faced with the thought of lugging three or four kids out in public.  I have a friend who has spent the last year creating awesome reading and writing activities every afternoon for her pre-k kid.  He’s a genius and will enter Kindergarten this fall more than a little prepared.  I wouldn’t know where to begin to create education activities for my 4 year old.  But my friend genuinely liked doing that sort of thing.  She used to be a teacher and this kind of thing is right in her wheelhouse.

I’m learning to celebrate the moms who are doing what is in their wheelhouse while also remembering that last part.  It’s in their wheelhouse.  And it doesn’t have to be in my wheelhouse.  And I’m giving myself just as much credit when I do the stuff that comes more easily to me.  Our kids don’t need us to do it all.  They need us to do the stuff that makes us come alive as parents, whether it’s getting out for adventures or creating beautiful crafts, cooking dinner together or homeschooling.  I’ve learned from experience that crafts are not fun when mom is tense and short fused the whole time.  Neither are adventures out.  The kids won’t know the stuff you didn’t do with them.  (They’re not on instagram.  They don’t even know that making your own paint with cornstarch and food coloring is a thing.)  They will remember the stuff you enjoyed doing with them.  So do that stuff with zero guilt about the rest.  Isn’t that more fun for everyone?
adventures make us both happy

Monday, June 19, 2017

A Few Good Books: May


Despite the insanity that is my life in May (or maybe, as a coping mechanism, because of it) I finished a new record of books last month.  Every single one would have been noteworthy in a different month, so narrowing down the top two or three is difficult.  But, we can do hard things, right?  So for this month’s Modern Mrs. Darcy Quick Lit link up I give you the very best of what I read in May (and some brief words about the rest).

First, the line up:

Be Frank with Me by Julia Clairborne Johnson
At Home in the World by Tsh Oxenrider
Anne of Avonlea by Lucy Maud Montgomery
Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk by Kathleen Rooney
One True Loves by Taylor Jenkins Reid
Hamilton the Revolution by Lin Manuel-Miranda and Jermey McCarter
El Deafo by CeeCee Bell
Dreamland Burning by Jennifer Latham

At Home in the World is Tsh Oxenrider’s second book, but my first encounter with her writing.  I’ve been listening to her podcast for a little while now and through the blogging world I knew that she and her family had taken a year long trip around the world (and lived to tell the tale!)  This book is just that tale.  I honestly hesitated to read it.  I’ve got some hardcore wanderlust right now and I was worried a book about a fantastic adventure globe trotting with three children would make me a little bitter.  I found it to be the exact opposite.  Oxenrider writes very honestly about the tension that exists between her adventure seeking traveler spirit and the root longing homebody that also lives in her.  She writes beautifully about all the amazing benefits of traveling like that with her family while also acknowledging that it is not perfect and it is not real life.  There were very real challenges that came with that experience, ones that were worth it, but challenges all the same.  This book made me start planning doable adventures my family could do now, and also appreciate the regular, everyday home life we’ve created for ourselves at the same time.  It was a quick read, a thought-provoking read, and I highly recommend it!

I heard about the premise of One True Loves described as “basically the story of Cast Away only he comes back before she gets married.”  I would add that it’s also told from the “Helen Hunt” point of view, as opposed to Tom Hanks.   Emma marries her high school sweetheart Jesse who disappears in a helicopter accident on their first wedding anniversary.  She returns home to put her life back together and ends up falling for an old acquaintance, Sam.  A few months before their wedding Jesse returns and Emma is left with a bit of a dilemma.  This was a page turner and I think I finished it in about three days, but I was surprised by how torn I was by her situation.  Reid does a good job of making it an impossible situation for all parties.  Based on the premise alone I assumed I would be rooting for the story to go one way, but Reid reveals the complexity of love, loyalty and death.  This one is a good summer read. 

So, El Deafo.  This book wrecked me.  I am obviously very invested in this topic, the story of a young girl who goes deaf at age 4 due to a bout with meningitis, and her subsequent years living in the hearing world with hearing aids, not quite in but not quite out.  This is CeeCee Bell’s true story, written in graphic novel form.  Liam and I read it together and I don’t have enough space here to fully convey how great of an experience it was.  Bell’s goal with this memoir was to express how it felt to be deaf in the 70’s in a hearing world.  And man, did she do a great job.  It opened up so many conversations for us, giving him some language and concrete stories to help him describe his experience.  I would recommend this book to anyone, but especially to parents of kids with hearing loss (and the kids themselves!).

Dreamland Burning is my read of the month I think (which says a lot ‘cause this was a heck of a month).  This is technically a YA, but I think it’s a great read for all ages.  Set in Tulsa, OK the book flips back and forth between present day and 1921 in the days leading up to the Tulsa race riots.  I knew nothing about this tragic event in history, so everything about it was eye opening.  In 1921 the thriving African American community of Greenwood was burned to the ground by rioting whites.  There’s a mystery involving the discovery of a dead body that connects both storylines, as well as the reality of racism that may not have lessened as much as we’d like to believe from 1921 to present day.  This one stuck with me and I’ve recommended it more than once since finishing it.

The Gifts of Imperfection is one of Brene Brown’s earlier books.  It’s a short, quick read that I’ll probably return to again, as it’s a good reminder of the importance of leaning into vulnerability and honesty.  I picked up Be Frank With Me on a whim, to check of the “book you picked solely for the cover” category in my reading challenge.  I really loved it and the endearing character of the little boy Frank will stay with me for a while.  I’m making my way through the Anne of Green Gables series, reading the second book, Anne of Avonlea.  Anne is a little older and a little wiser but just as charming.  Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk was our book club pick this month and I was super delighted with it.  Lillian Boxfish is another endearing character and the book follows her as she walks the streets of Manhattan on New Year's Eve, 1985 reflecting on her life and career as the highest paid female ad exec.  That premise sounded stupid to me, but I promise it was really good!  Finally Hamilton the Revolution is really only going to be interesting if you are Hamilton obsessed like me.  It’s basically the book of lyrics from Lin-Manuel Miranda’s groundbreaking musical interspersed wth stories of how the show came to life and the players that made it happen.  The real gem for me were the many footnotes Miranda added to the lyrics pointing out the different easter eggs he’d created or giving background on particular references or lines.  I’m a theater nerd and I hardcore love Hamilton so naturally this was right up my alley.

That’s what I’ve got this month, friends!  Have you read anything good this month?

Friday, June 9, 2017


When my dad turned 50 my mom threw him a big surprise party.  Our backyard was filled with all the people who loved him: United coworkers, neighborhood friends, family.  My sister and I had been the decoy.  My mom sent us to Target with him and told us to stall as long as we could.  It turns out this is an easy task for two tweens.  We puttered around, going up and down every aisle, eventually hanging out in the bathroom for an insanely long time while my poor dad waited outside, his blood pressure slowly rising.  By the time we left he was seething but it was the only time I was not phased by his anger.  We were doing this for the greater good.

And it was all worth it when he rounded the corner behind our house and saw all the people who’d gathered to celebrate this milestone.  They had a funny tee-shirt for him and all sorts of “over the hill” paraphernalia.  He made his way around our backyard, in his element, laughing and greeting all his people.  Later they would all pass around a basket collecting cash for the parking ticket my mom had incurred in the chaos of trying to get everything done for the party.  The party, as all my parents’ parties did, lasted well into the summer night.

Celebrating birthdays wasn’t a thing we did very well for my dad, so that’s probably why the 50th stands out.  I have no idea what we did for his 60th.  I was wrapping up my time in New York, a month away from getting married.  Did his birthday get lost that year, wrapped up as we were in wedding planning?  I’m sure my mom and siblings had a dinner at home for him like always, but that was probably it.  

The only other birthday I remember for my dad wasn’t an actual birthday, but the acknowledgement of one.  Shortly after my dad’s 63rd birthday he was gathered in our kitchen with his older brothers.  I watched them quietly raise a glass of whisky, toasting their father, who had died at 62.  As the youngest, my dad was now the last one to make it past that cursed age.  Now all three men had celebrated the birthday their father never got to see and there was a murmured recognition of this birthday’s significance for my dad and for them all.  

Sometimes I wonder if one day my siblings and I will gather in the weeks or months after my youngest brother turns 67 to acknowledge that we made it, that we all passed that milestone my dad never did.

Today would have been my dad’s 70th birthday.  As I type those words, tears flood my eyes.  I'm heavy today, anxious and burdened.  Seventy seems particularly significant and, for the first time in a while, I find myself grieving a little more bitterly than usual over this missed milestone. It makes me sad that he never got to see this age, that I will never know what my dad was like in his seventies.  For whatever reason that number, 70, feels more significant than the other three birthdays we’ve marked without him.  

I wonder what we would have done today.  It’s easy to say now, on this side of knowing how quickly and without warning a life can end, that we would have planned a big celebration, another backyard blowout, a cake with 70 candles, and “really over the hill” decorations everywhere.  In all likelihood though, we would have done what we always did: dinner at my mom’s, a simple toast to my dad, and a few gifts.  Either way this longing, this longing to be able to mark in some large or small way my dad entering into a new decade, making it of another year older, this longing is crushing today.

I hate that I don’t know what my dad would be like in his seventies.  I hate that I can’t throw him a big party today, or at least share a pint of Guinness with him.  I hate that he is forever stuck at age 66 while time keeps moving.  The sun will rise and set on June 9, 2017 but this day won’t be the day we want it to be.  Instead it’s a “would have been” day.  The day my dad would have turned 70 if he’d made it that far.  The day we would have celebrated him wildly.

I haven’t had a day like this in a while.  A day of bitter, hot tears and sharp pangs of longing.  I don’t know why this particular milestone feels so hard today but it does.  I’m sad.  And kinda pissed.  Much of the past three and a half years of grieving my dad has involved deep sadness over the loss of all the good he encompassed, sadness over the people who won’t know him, over the ways we no longer get to experience his love and care.  Today, if I’m being really honest, I’m mostly just mad that he didn’t get to be 70.  That we don’t get to celebrate this passage of time with him.  It’s shitty and it sucks.

And I know days like this give me a choice.  I can let my heart stay hard and bitter in it.  I can stay mad and shake my fist at God for not letting my dad at least make it to 70.  Or I can let it teach me and grow me.  I can use it as a reminder that we are not promised milestones forever so we should celebrate the ones that come with abandon.  

I have chosen the latter as often as I can, and I know I will continue to do so today.  But I will also let myself sit in the anger too.  I will let myself long for what “would have been”, even if I know that longing can never be met.  The only healthy way around days like these are through them, through the truth of what is hard to the hope of the good that can be found in hard things.

I will get my dad’s favorite burgers for lunch and maybe even down the fries with a Guinness.  I’ll be with my mom and my sister tonight.  We’ll imagine what celebrating my dad’s 70th birthday would have looked like and we’ll be sad that this particular story will never be told.  And tomorrow will be a new day.

Happy Birthday, Dad.  70 would have looked good on you.

Monday, May 15, 2017

A Few Good Books: April edition

On the fifteenth of the month I link up with Modern Mrs. Darcy and share the books I read the previous month.  I’ve made a concerted effort to read more this year, and I’m finding that keeping track of what I’ve read and sharing my favorites has helped make that possible.  (More thoughts on how I read more here.)  Plus, I love a good book talk. April was lost to disease in our house-everyone was sick more than once, including me.  The only plus to this kind of sick that keeps you horizontal is that you’ve got plenty of time to read, and read I did.  I made my way through some good ones this month.

The list:
The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon
Wonder by R.J. Palacio
I Let You Go by Claire Mackintosh
The Magic of Motherhood by Ashlee Gadd and the Coffee + Crumbs team
A Rule Against Murder by Louise Penny
A Movable Feast by Earnest Hemingway

The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon is a delightful YA novel about two teens in New York City.  Natasha is an illegal immigrant, brought to the states at age nine by her parents, who is about to be deported back to Jamaica.  She meets Daniel, a Korean-American teen on the morning she is frantically trying every last ditch effort to stop her impending deportment.  The book follows the two throughout the day as they fall in love (as only two teens can in a few hours), fall apart and come back together.  The book also injects chapters from the point of view of the many people they encounter throughout the day.  It was a charming book with surprising depth about family, home, young love, and that universal truth that there is always more to people that what you see on the surface.  I really loved this book and would recommend it to teens and adults alike. 

R.J. Palacio’s Wonder is an upper grades children’s novel.  I picked it up because I’d heard great things about it, but also because I’d wanted something new to read with Liam.  Its main character, Auggie, is a young boy with severe facial deformities due to a genetic condition he was born with.  Auggie has been homeschooled his whole life but as the book begins we find that he’s about the start the fifth grade, middle school for this New York City school.  Auggie’s facial deformities are such that people react instinctually and poorly upon seeing him.  The book follows his fifth grade year as he makes friends, deals with bullies and adjusts to life in school, all told through the perspectives of Auggie and the people who surround him.  I loved this book and I loved reading it with Liam.  I’d intended to read it to him each night, but he was quickly hooked and went ahead without me.  This left us fighting for possession of the book regularly.  It was on the high end of Liam’s reading level and I’m glad I read it along side him because we were able to check in on comprehension stuff.  Plus, my book nerdery loves chatting books with my kid.  A super sweet book that gives kids a chance to practice empathy and understanding.  I loved it.

Before I’d even picked up I Let You Go by Claire Mackintosh I knew it was a fast paced story with a twist “you never see coming.”  This meant, naturally, I was on high alert, my mind forming theory after theory as I read as to what this twist must be.  And even though I’d been warned, even though I’d been looking for it, there was indeed a twist that smacked me right in the face, so unprepared was I for it.  This is the story of a boy who dies in a hit and run, the detectives following the case, and how it all can change in a moment.  Mackintosh does a really good job with multiple perspectives.  It was well written, engaging and with a killer twist.

Coffee + Crumbs is a collaborative website with stories from motherhood.  This book, The Magic of Motherhood, is a collection of essays from the women who run the blog.  I caught wind of it because one of the writers, Anna Jordan, is the daughter of Ryann’s beloved pre-school teacher.  It is a beautiful book, both the writing and the images sprinkled throughout.  The essays are a great mix of voices and topics and I love that it covers all aspects of motherhood: from pregnancy through birth, joys and loss, biological, foster care and adoption.  You can find traces of your unique story in all aspects of this book.  It would make a great gift for a new mom, or an experienced one.  

A Rule Against Murder is the fourth in Louise Penny’s Inspector Gamache series.  I’d heard that she hits her stride by the fourth book, each becoming better and I did find this one to be my favorite so far.  A Moveable Feast by Hemingway was our book club pick.  I probably wouldn’t have picked it up otherwise, but I was glad I read it and terribly disappointed when the plague that was April kept me from book club that month to discuss it.  It was an interesting look at Hemingway’s life as an unknown writer in Paris.  The English major nerd in me loved seeing his encounters with other well known writers from that time.  It also made me want to pick up and move to Paris, but only if I could also go back in time to the 1920's.  The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo, Schumer’s first memoir, was interesting, insightful and funny.  I fell in love with Schumer when I saw her randomly on Ellen once, and I’ve long loved her stuff, relating to it in so many ways while also feeling like she is often on a different planet than me.  The book felt the same.  She is funny and smart and I inherently “got” her but also felt completely foreign from her.  Which, for me, makes it a great voice.

That’s what I had in April.  What are you reading?

Monday, May 8, 2017

On being open and grounded in parenting

It happened at Chick-fil-et this time.  As I scrambled to grab utensils and ketchup packages before our food made it’s way to the table I saw a man talking to my friend who was listening and also scanning for me.  I approached the table, taking stock of the man’s hearing aids and use of sign while he spoke.  He was deaf and he’d spotted my son’s implant.  

I love when we see adults or kids who wear hearing aids or cochlear implants.  I usually make a point to show Liam and sometimes we’ll say hello.  It doesn’t bother me and I want Liam to see other people who are also deaf.  As I suspected this man had seen Liam.  He asked about his implant and then mentioned when he talked to Liam he’d signed and Liam hadn’t really responded.  Did he know sign language?

“No, not really.  He knows a few signs, we did a little when he was first learning to listen and speak, but pretty soon he didn’t need it as much.” 

“Oh.  You know it might be helpful to have him learn sign.  You never know what might happen that would have him need to be able to communicate with sign.”

I gave a bit of a non-committal answer and commented that yes, we do hope to get him interested in sign someday.  This very kind man and I chatted for a bit longer, he made a point to say he’d be working there through the summer and he’d be happy to help Liam learn sign, adding that he knows how important it is for deaf kids to have role models in deaf adults.  I thanked him and made a point to mention that Liam does have some adults and peers in his life who also wear cochlear implants.  Later he came back to our table to ask if we liked to watch movies.  He recommended one with Marlee Matlin, a famous Deaf actress, about parents with a deaf son who were trying to decide if their son should get a cochlear implant.  I hadn’t heard of the movie and told him I’d check it out.  I’m willing to bet there was at least a little of an anti-cochlear implant sentiment throughout the film.

On the surface it was a pretty benign conversation with a deaf man about my deaf son.  And yet, because I am aware of the intricacies of Deaf culture, the complicated feelings about cochlear implants, and the judgements some make about the decisions hearing parents make for deaf children, I knew there was a lot going on underneath this polite conversations.  I knew what he wasn’t necessarily saying and he likely knew the same for me.

Interactions like this stir in me a strange combination of both defensiveness and openness.  The conversation is loaded and I wonder what assumptions this person has made about our family and our decisions and my ability to parent my son.  I often replay these conversations, defensive about our choices, anxiously crafting imaginary arguments and point by point rebuttals of his unspoken judgments.  And yet he knows something about the world my son exists in that I will never fully know.  And I can’t discredit that.  I want to listen when he speaks because he has something to teach me.  

I am learning the truth that white parents of black and brown children have come to understand for decades, they need to look outside themselves to help their children navigate the world.  There are identity issues and challenges that require parents to reach out to others who can understand these things in a different way.  Even though I carried this child in my body, we will experience the world differently and I need to be open to understanding that.

And so I try to stay open.  When I feel defensiveness creep up, when I want to shout, “I’m not a bad mother!  I’m making thoughtful, intentional decisions for him!” in the face of a man who is genuinely trying to offer help and perspective that only he can, I need to stop and listen.  I need to receive the information and let it shape my parenting.

But before it informs how I parent, I need to sift through it, to hold it up against decisions that I know deep in my bones were the right ones.  I must first ground myself confidently in what I know is true.  I am confident in our decisions.  I know we did the right thing for Liam.  And I know we are doing our very best to surround him with other deaf adults and peers.  
I don’t have to let every opinion and perspective of every well meaning stranger inform my decisions with Liam.  I only have to stay open.  Open and grounded.  Both/and.

I suspect this may be a parenting truth for us all.  To stay grounded in the decisions we have made with careful intention while staying open to the understanding that there is always a different perspective that may be helpful.  If we insecurely let everyone else’s opinions on parenting sway our every decision we will be inconsistent and unmoored, our poor children constantly having to adjust to whatever new idea we’ve decided we must chase down.  But if we stubbornly dig into “our way” without allowing for outside wisdom we risk missing the deeply individual needs of our children, for even those for whom the apple does not fall far from the tree  still are not exact replicas of their parents.

And so maybe we’ll head back to Chick-fil-et this summer for sign language lessons.  I know this second language would be good for Liam and we have always said it’s a skill he needs.  But I won’t regret or second guess our decision to focus first on listening and spoken language.  It was the right choice for us and I'm glad we made it.  

Monday, April 17, 2017

A Few Good Books: March

It’s the 15th!  Which means I’m linking up with Modern Mrs. Darcy to share a few of the best books I read during the month of March.  I covered some good ones and a few worth raving about. 

Here’s what I read in March
The Cruelest Month by Louise Penny
The Road Back to You by Ian Morgan Cron and Suzanne Stabile
The Bible Tells Me So by Peter Enns
Born a Crime by Trevor Noah
Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche
Good as Gone by Amy Gentry

The Road Back to You is a look at the Enneagram personality typing.  I’ve been dipping my toes in this somewhat ancient way of looking at our selves, how we respond in stress and at our best.  I had heard good things about this book and had spent some time listening to the podcast these authors host.  This book was a really great introduction to the Enneagram.  It covers the theory behind it and goes through each of the nine types in pretty good detail.  It certainly isn’t an all-encompassing, comprehensive look at the Enneagram but it’s a great starter and it made me want to look into other resources on the topic.  The authors’ writing style is very warm and accessible as well.  Overall I definitely recommend it!

Born a Crime is Daily Show Trevor Noah’s memoir about his childhood and young adult life in South Africa during Apartheid.  Noah was born to a white father and black mother, which during this era in South Africa’s history was literally a crime.  I’d listened to some interviews by Noah in recent months and have been struck by his wisdom and insight when it came to some of the things that were happening in our country.  I was super excited to get my hands on this memoir.  Noah writes like he talks and I could almost audibly hear him through the words on the page.  His stories and antecdotes were entertaining, eye opening and thought provoking.  The thing I most appreciated about this book was the education on South African Apartheid that Noah provides.  Each chapter is framed with a short “lesson” on different aspects of what happened during the Apartheid era.  There was so much that I didn’t know and Noah gave the reader a master class in an entertaining, approachable and interesting manner.

Americanah was my read of the month.  It’s the story of two Nigerians and their respective experiences immigrating to America and London, and then their return back to their homeland.  This book made me think about so many topics: the experience of immigrants, race in America and England, the way hard life experiences change and shape us.  It was SO well written, and the characters so well developed.  This is a book that will stay with me for a while.  One of the characters writes an anonymous blog about race in America and the author incorporated these fictional blog posts into the book beautifully.  It made me wish that this blog actually existed.  I love good fiction that highlights the experiences of others in a way that helps foster empathy and understanding and this book is heading to the top of my list of books in this category.

I’m slowly making my way through the Inspector Gamache series and The Cruelest Month was the third in the series.  Penny’s created a great cast of characters in these books and they keep me coming back.  The Bible Tells Me So was a super fascinating look at how our culture’s way of reading the bible in order to defend it’s divine accuracy is ruining our ability to  actually read and experience the bible as God intended.  It’s changing the way I read the bible.  And Good as Gone was the palate cleansing page turner I needed after the much heavier Americanah.  It was a fast paced, well told story of a girl who returns 8 years after being kidnapped.  Questions abound over who the girl really is and what really happened.  

That’s my March reading!  What did you read?  Anything I should be adding to my ever growing to read list?

Tuesday, April 11, 2017


I love, love, love Podcasts.  A good podcast will make me 99% more productive and it always makes the nightly routine of cleaning up the kitchen more enjoyable (not to mention drowns out the sound of my kids screeching while Tommy bathes them).  If I’m working out, going on a walk, cleaning my house, folding laundry, etc., I’m listening to a podcast.  I’ve been listening to these for years but I’ve really seen a huge uptick in content in the last year or so.  For your listening pleasure I thought I’d share a few podcasts you may enjoy.  (If you’re new to podcasts, this tutorial is a good place to learn how to find them/listen to them)

This one is my favorite, and the one I’m usually quickest to listen to every week.  This is also the podcast I would be doing right now if it wasn’t already being done.  Knox and Jamie are a delightful duo, they are funny and snarky (though my sister thinks they are too mean) and they talk about all things pop culture.  I find myself wishing I could jump into the conversation regularly.  Even if you are not a pop culture aficionado, it’s worth a listen.  Jump in wherever and enjoy!

This was a more recent discovery but I’ve come to adore this podcast.   Two thirty something men are reading the Baby Sitters Club books and discussing them.  The secret sauce of this podcast is in the two hosts themselves.  One review described them as “Frasier Crane and Andy Dwyer” which could not be more perfect.  They are hilarious and they discuss these books as though it were a 200 level English Lit course.  There are a lot of inside jokes that carry throughout the show, so I’d start at episode one.

In the Dark is an investigative reporting podcast.  It wrapped up season one, which looked at the Jacob Wetterling case, one of the first child kidnapping cases to get national attention.  This look at the case was so thought-provoking for me and it made me pay attention to a number of subjects I usually don’t consider, such as accountability in police investigative work and the sexual offender registry laws.  You can binge all of season one now and they just announced that they are working on season two.

There is only one season of this brilliant, brilliant podcast, and sadly it looks like it will stay that way as the creator and media company have parted ways, but The Mystery Show was one of my all time favorite podcasts.  Starlee Kine, the host, solves mysteries every week, the everyday, ordinary mysteries that you can’t solve just by turning to Mother Google.  I realize I’m making it sound kind of stupid, but Starlee has a special charm and an unbelievable gift of interviewing and relating to people.  She has a conversation with a Ticketmaster employee that I still think about.  Belt Buckle is my favorite, but all are pretty great.  (This clip of her on Conan is particularly endearing.) 

Single Episodes of Podcasts

The Liturgists: Lost and Found Series and Black and White

This is a podcast hosted by Michael Gungor of the band Gungor and Mike McHargue (commonly known as Science Mike).  I’ve really enjoyed The Liturgists but the Lost and Found episodes (episodes 6 and 7) were the ones that drew me in.  The hosts share their experiences having a “crisis of faith” or all out loss of it and in my own dark season of doubt these voices were calming and loving guides.  The other episode, Black and White (episode 34), is a conversation with Michael and Mike (who are white) and Propaganda and William Matthews (two black men) about race, racism and white supremacy in America.  This conversation happened almost a year ago, as Trump was gaining steam in the primaries, and, well, now that we’ve seen how that turned out, I think it’s all the more relevant.  HIGHLY recommend it!

Heavyweight: Gregor

This podcast only has one season, and I don’t know if another is coming or not but I really loved it.  The host, Jonathan (who has a really endearing self-deprecating humor) interviews people who are haunted by the “what could have been” moments of life.  Maybe a single moment, that had it played out a different way, could have changed the course of your life.  Jonathan takes them on an adventure where they go back to the people and places to find out what if.  I actually really loved and would recommend all the episodes but Gregor (episode 2), in particular, really stuck with me.  His friend Gregor lent some CDs to a friend who would later use them to create the album that made him a rockstar.  Gregor never got the recognition he thought he deserved, so Jonathan helps him go about making peace with that.  It ended up being a fascinating conversation about art and fame and recognition and career fulfillment.  (I’ll also slip in episode 7 “Julia” which made me want to reckon with my middle school bullies.) 

I just discovered Missing Richard Simmons and it is a fascinating look at the mystery surrounding Richard Simmons- am I the only one who didn’t know that he’s been essentially missing for almost three years???  I also just finished the super popular S-Town.  I actually have some big feelings about this podcast that I'm trying to sort through, more than I could say here, but it's definitely worth listening to and will stir up lots of conversation.

Also, I’m always dreaming up my next project and lately I’ve really wanted to do a podcast. We’ll see if it goes anywhere, but for now it’s a fun dream.  This is just a small slice of the podcasts I’m loving.  I’m sure somewhere down the road I’ll write a part two to this.  Have you been listening to anything good??