36 for 36.

books I've read

I have always loved to read, but it has been a pastime, like many, that comes and goes based on my stage of life and ability to concentrate. As a kid I read constantly. As an adult, I’ve had short spurts of reading often, followed by long breaks of zero literary pursuit.

2017 has been different, due to three factors.

1. Harry Potter. I re-read the series at the beginning of the year to stay ahead of Ali, and it inspired a quest for more fantastic literature.

2. #TwitForLit, as my husband so literarily coined it. I grew weary of Twitter this year after having been a loyal reader of my timeline for the better part of a decade. The year’s exhausting news cycle and over-politicization of everything might’ve been the impetus for such a decision. So I traded in my Twitter-reading time for even more fiction. It was a fantastically good trade.

3. September. The end of summer hit me with the force of a giant, sticky ogre. I have finally realized that in my newish Dysautonomia-driven life, September is my worst month. I used to despise January – the darkest, shortest-dayed month. But September is the new January. By the end of summer, my reserves of hydration and energy and ability to withstand Alabama’s oppressive humidity are completely used up. I just cannot anymore. As such, I hibernated in September, reading book after book, throwing myself into other worlds and fictional adventure to medicate my personal frustrations.

(All this could be solved if I could reverse-snowbird the month of September. Perhaps a giant northern road trip in 2018.)

To properly catalog my 2017 reading obsession, I joined Goodreads, about seven years later than the rest of the world. I followed three of my most trusted literary friends to copy their reading habits, then set my settings to private. Of all the crazy intimate details of my life that I share, letting the world see what I was reading felt too personal (I know I don’t make sense.) Several days later, I logged onto my Goodreads account on an actual computer to put in some reviews, and somehow by clicking the wrong tab, accidentally friended every single one of my Facebook friends that was on Goodreads.

The horror.

I went from 3 to 164 friends.

Which meant that 164 people got a notification that I wanted to see what they were reading.

I was mortified.

And I had no idea why.

But at any rate, you might as well friend me now – after all, I’m friends with everyone else.

As of today, I’ve read 36 books this year. In fact, I finished my 36th book of the year the day before my 36th birthday (which was yesterday, lest you haven’t sent flowers yet) – so clearly this was how I was meant to fill the cracks in my year.

So after all that ridiculous prologue (this is why I don’t write books), let’s discuss the books I’ve read this year – or at least the absolute BEST books I’ve read that you must also read.

Best overall read: What Alice Forgot.

I thought this book was going to be fluff chick-lit, but it became so important to me. It had such a unique point of view that would benefit nearly anyone in my stage of life (married with kids), and perhaps anyone in any stage of life. Without ever being preachy or overt, it poses a fascinating question for introspection throughout the book that begs a change in perspective on one’s life. And besides all that, it was simply a delightful, enjoyable read from beginning to end. As soon as I finished it, I texted a dozen friends and told them I insisted they read it IMMEDIATELY.

Runners up for best adult reads this year:

Ready Player One. This book was made for people ever-so-slightly older than me, but I enjoyed it despite not getting all of the cultural references. The premise – a world that is so screwed up that everyone lives in a virtual reality rather than IRL, is disconcertingly plausible. The plot – that a treasure hunt using every 80s pop culture reference imaginable to solve riddles and find clues, is immersive and fun. I’d sworn off dystopian literature after re-reading The Hunger Games and finding it depressing at this moment in history, but this is dystopian as Willy Wonka would create dystopian, which totally hides all the dysfunction in a delightful chocolate coating.

 

11/22/63. This is my first and most likely last Stephen King novel. I don’t do horror, so he’s never been an author I was interested in. On a whim, I read this non-horror book, and it was riveting. Without a shred of historical dryness, it immerses you into the 50s and 60s via time travel, which feels a bit hokey at first but is artfully (and very intricately) pulled off. This book is so massive it should have been a trilogy, but it was totally worth the endless read and multiple rises and falls in the plot. I even got the references to another Stephen King book (It), even though I’ve never read nor watched it. I can imagine that someone who does love S.K. would be thrilled by the referential quality of this book.

 
Book I made Chris read:

Neverwhere. (I also made Chris read Ready Player One but it’s already been mentioned.) Chris needed an immersive book to read last Tuesday while I had surgery (did I mention I had surgery last week? No? Well I did), and this is the perfect other world to enter into and then pop out of afterward. It was my first Neil Gaiman read (I have since listened to the audio book of Coraline), and his unique style of writing, in which he doesn’t explain the rules of the worlds he throws you into but you discover them along with the character, is thoughtful and fascinating. For those who love entering into imaginative and supernatural worlds, this is a fantastic book.

As the Harry Potter series are my favorite books ever written, I am not at all opposed to reading children’s literature.

So here are my favorite children’s books this year:

All around best children’s book: The Extraordinary Education of Nicholas Benedict. The fourth in the series of The Mysterious Benedict Society and also the prequel, this book made me so happy. It was a joy to read, and the ending, though not a huge twist, was unexpected and so lovely. I absolutely cannot wait for Ali to read this series – I told her she must read them as soon as she finishes her current series (she’s been immersed in The Land of Stories series – thanks to Heidi for the blog comment recommendation.) Back to Benedict. The first three books in the series were fun as well, though I felt they had slightly too many coincidences and the character of Nicholas Benedict was not nearly established enough to make him as lovable as the books implied. Once I read the prequel, the rest fell in place, and now I want to read the first three again. I would never suggest anyone read books out of the author’s preferred order (especially the Narnia series – those books ARE NOT MEANT TO BE ORDERED CHRONOLOGICALLY no matter how they package them – I was recently in a new acquaintance’s home and helped myself to rearranging them the way they were meant to be read), but this series makes me come close to recommending it. But don’t. It’s such a fantastic series, do this: read 1-4, then go back and read 1-3 again.

Surprisingly good read of the year:

Nooks and Crannies. I bought this because Amazon said “Hey! This book is only $3.49 and you’ll like it since you bought these other books!”, so on a whim I added it to my cart. It was extremely clever and immersive (though as a kid’s book, it surprisingly contained a maybe-murder and the discovery of a dead body – how very un-Dora-The-Explorer of them – but I kind of appreciated the author’s 1980s take on children’s literature.) After reading, I decided that the only thing putting this book in the Amazon Bargain Bin is the title – it’s so stupid and not at all representative of this well-written story. Rename it and raise the price – free advice from me to the author.

Book I want to read again:

Counting by 7s. I read this book altogether too quickly, though I blame the book – it begged to be read in nearly one sitting. It was a beautiful tale of friendship and growth, loss and recovery, grief and rebirth. The characters were beautifully crafted and I really want to know them all in real life.
So. What should I read next? What are you reading this year? What have you loved and not loved?

Things I’ve been Enjoying.

I have not cared to blog AT ALL the last couple of weeks because I have just finished my first re-read of all seven Harry Potter books. One of my favorite book series, I’ve wanted to do this but never felt like I had “the time” to dive in. But Ali finished book 4 (Goblet of Fire), and I wanted to make sure our encouragement of letting her read the rest at her current age of 10 was a good decision. This was the perfect excuse I needed to immerse myself into Hogwarts and beyond – “For the child. I do it for the child.”

Here are my thoughts from re-reading:

– Upon my first reading, I did not enjoy book 5 (Order of the Phoenix). It was too dark, and Harry was too moody. But after having the entire picture of why Harry was grumpy and what was going on and what important information was gleaned in that year that was necessary later, I actually quite enjoyed it the second time.

– Books 5-7 are in a league of their own. They are the most gripping, engaging books I’ve ever read. I’m almost mad that the movies exist because of how much richness they leave out. I took 45 days to read the first four books, but only 6, 5, and 4 days respectively to read books 5, 6, and 7 – despite them being exponentially longer than the first four. They’re simply stunning works of art.

– My first reading of the books (before watching any movies, of course) happened when I was pregnant with Ali. Only books 1-6 were out during that time. Book 7 came out the next summer, when Ali was 6 months old and I was in the depths of post-partum depression (unmedicated at that point.) I did not remember this timing, but once I started book 7, I looked up the publishing date, sure that something was amiss, and it all made sense. My memories of 1-6 were very clear and mostly positive, but I remembered not liking book 7 and thinking it was a total drag. This time around, there were parts of book 7 of which I had zero recollection, and I enjoyed the book immensely. The moral of this story is: don’t read excellent literature for the first time while you’re depressed. Or if you do, read it again later.

– The books were infinitely richer on the reread, and lost none of the appeal because I knew how they ended. There are so many hidden nuggets throughout the books (even starting in book 1) that you cannot understand until you’ve read them all. Seeing all of these brilliantly included foretellings takes away any sadness over the lack of surprise.

– I’ve been simultaneously reading The Wingfeather Saga (by Andrew Peterson) out loud to the kids while reading Harry Potter to myself, and The Wingfeather Saga did not pale in comparison. If you’re needing another series to read that has many of the special elements of the Harry Potter series (lots of surprises, a fascinating and unique world, finding out more and more about how that world works as the series goes on), I definitely recommend it. It’s no Harry Potter, but it’s not too far off.

– Yes, I did give Ali permission to go ahead and read whichever Harry Potter books she wants.

Next on my reading list that will keep me from wanting to blog again: Harry Potter and The Cursed Child. I start tonight.


Other things that I’ve enjoyed lately:

The Skimm – a free news newsletter (literal NEWSletter?) that catches me up on the news in a delightfully sing-song, lighthearted fashion. They write wonderful things like “meanwhile, Trump is trying to ctrl-z that budget item…” Y’all – replacing “ctrl-z” for “cut” in a news article is speaking my love language. It’s been a good way to keep up with what’s going on in the world without freaking out about it – and it’s the first daily email that I actually look forward to. Whether or not you get your news elsewhere, this is sure to entertain.


dotted journals (sometimes referred to as bullet journals.) I discovered these journals toward the end of last year (much thanks to my dear friend Carla Jean) and ever since, they’ve been helping me organize my life. They’ve made me much more productive, and have helped with this year’s resolution, which is to have monthly goals rather than yearly goals. Working on something for 30 days is so much easier than a year, and I’ve often created a new habit by the end of 30 days, so I don’t need to track it any further.

I currently have 3 bullet journals in regular use (two Northbooks and one Miliko), and an extra bullet journal as a scratch pad. They are:

1. My to-do list/catch-all notebook – it contains a universal to-do list that I rewrite about once a month or whenever the page gets full, plus all sorts of other lists, planning pages, and information – keeping an index in the front of the book and numbering the pages makes this doable and possible.Bullet Journal To-Do lists

2. A bible journaling notebook – I use one side of the page for bible study, and the other side to artistically write/draw a bible verse – it’s a way I can take part in the bible journaling fun without the stress of actually drawing in a bible and potentially messing up.Bullet Journalling Bible Verses 4s

Bullet Journalling Bible Verses 2s

Bullet Journalling Bible Versess

Bullet Journalling Bible Verses 3s

3. My monthly goals book (this one is the spiral-bound Miliko – I just leave the month’s page facing up and on my bedside table to make it easy to remember to track.) Each month I pick 5-ish things that I want to work on or track, and mark my progress each day, along with tracking how I felt that day and what I did that day. It’s a great way for me to track how things affect my Dysautonomia (a lot of my monthly goals are actually health “experiments” to see what helps make me feel better), along with keeping a short one-sentence journal of each day. I’ve found that it’s surprisingly fun to read back over.

Bullet Journallings

In the back of this notebook, I’m also keeping up with mine and the kid’s mileage for the year. (I know mine in MapMyRun, but don’t track the kid’s miles anywhere else.)

Bullet Journalling Running Miless

There’s something magical about the dots in these journals that makes journaling and to-do listing so much easier and more fun. I really enjoy the manual part of it – I still keep my calendar on my phone, but written lists and tracking just feel right. Of course, a set of colored pens are necessary to truly make it this much fun. Oh – and a natural anal-retentive nature. But if you think I’m crazy, go search #bulletjournal or #bujo on Instagram. You’ll be lost for hours, mouth agape, at what crazy levels people go to bujo their lives.


Yoga With Adriene – I needed to do yoga to help some back pain I’ve been having (still left over from 2015’s wreck) but the idea of going to a class felt like another thing that I didn’t have time for. It took me about a week to have a eureka moment and realize that there are probably yoga classes on YouTube. Sure enough, I found Adriene. She’s not too cheesy and has hundreds of videos to choose from – I like searching for topics and being gleeful that she’s covered them (“back pain”, “for runners”, “in a bad mood”, “left pinkie pain”) (Okay I don’t know if she has one for left pinkie pain but if anyone did, she would.) She also has videos of every length – 6 minutes to 50 minutes. Anyway. I kinda am in love with Adriene.


– Trader Joe’s – We’ve only had one for about a year and the first time I went in, I was so confused. Was this a grocery store? A snack foods store? A random collection of brand new products that I have to figure out how they fit in my life? But I’m finally starting to get the hang of it and finding the things I like, such as the dried peaches, dried sweetened mango, cinnamon pecans, frozen risotto, some of the soups (some are just terrible – it’s a real hit-and-miss kind of game), triple ginger cookies, dried okra (no seriously it’s interesting and good), and their refrigerated pastas – especially the butternut-squash-filled pasta. But I’m still learning so let me know what you like.


I have an embarrassing amount of workout clothes. But I’ve finally found my all-time favorite tank, the Brooks Go-To Racerback Tank.

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More importantly, there are a few of last year’s model on sale for $12.60 on Amazon (and also here, size large in a different color, but this one’s not showing up in any searches so it might be gone soon – especially since I just bought two.) It’s long and thoroughly covers the butt, it’s not clingy, it’s comfortable, and it’s flattering. But definitely buy it a size too big.


What have you enjoyed lately?

The Best New Crafting Bling: Fimo Slices.

crafting with fimo barrelss

It’s been way too long since I’ve made a craft project worthy of sharing. Today’s is brought to you by purchasing the wrong product, because sometimes you discover something fabulous by screwing up. Such was the case with Fimo barrels.

I loved making Fimo beads when I was a kid – the rolling into a barrel, then slicing to show the amazing detail. I was never great at it, but it was fun anyway. When I saw that you could very inexpensively order pre-made super detailed barrels, I was thrilled.

Fimo ProjectIMG_4741sI ordered this set and this set, and they should last us for many craft projects.

I did not realize, however, that the barrels were already baked, making them more of a hard rubber than the soft clay I was used to working with for beading.

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In retrospect I should have assumed so – they were advertised as nail décor – something I would NOT be using them for. (Any mother knows that supergluing something adorable to our fingernails would be a practice in maddening futility.) But alas. I had excitedly ordered them, then when I found out what they were, promptly put them in a junk drawer for over a year – which is, apparently, the amount of time it takes for me to have a eureka moment as to how to utilize something.

That realization was that we could use them for a 100 Days of School craft.

Using an X-acto knife, I carefully sliced 100 slivers for each of the kids (and 100 for myself – because if we’re gonna craft, I should get to craft too.)

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(Aren’t they gorgeous? It made me happy just seeing them all.)

I drew us each a tree with a metallic sharpie on scrapbook paper I had left over from previous craft forays (these were from a frames project from YEARS ago. I have trouble purging craft products.)

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Then I gave the kids some glue and told them to have fun.

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I have to say. The finished product, though useless except to lay around the house for the next year and a half until I finally throw it out, was VERY satisfying.

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And the kids loved all the different shapes – there were Angry Birds, flags, playing cards, emoji, and a animals. The random variety kept them endlessly entertained and plugged into our crafting project.

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A couple of weeks later, it was about to be my Mom’s birthday. She is a Master Gardener, so I thought it would be fun to use the barrels in the shape of flowers to make her garden birthday cards.

I pulled out my scrapbook paper again, and also my Washi Tape (from my gift wrap hack that I’ve gloriously used for the past three years.)

I sliced the kids one of each of the flowers, along with other things that would belong in a garden.

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I then drew them stems, handed them glue, and told them to go to town.

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The finished product further convinced me: Fimo barrels should be in everyone’s craft drawer, not sadly languishing in a junk drawer.

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Of course, as delightful as the outsides were, I’m pretty sure Gramamma preferred the freestyling insides.

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But let’s be honest – crafting before sentimentality. Those Fimo flowers are THE BOMB.

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