Books

Books: Migrations

In the last few weeks Charlotte McConaghy has become one of my all-time favorite authors. I devoured both Once There Were Wolves and Migrations. Her writing is perfection. I awkwardly fan-girl-messaged her on Instagram to find out details about what she’s working on next. She even responded!

(Image from amazon.com)

Migrations weaves an emotionally wrenching tale of Franny, a troubled woman with no shortage of trauma in her life. It is set sometime within the not-too-far future in which most animals are now extinct or on their way to being so. Franny fixates her interest on the arctic tern, a small bird that makes the longest migration of any animal in history.

While Franny seeks the tern by joining a group of fisherman, she also seeks healing and closure. The story transitions back and forth between different points in her life, but does so in an organized and exquisite way. I will post about Once There Were Wolves in the next few weeks, and will be eagerly awaiting McConaghy’s next work, due out in 2023.

Adventures

Five!

The baby of the family turned five Sunday and we celebrated with pandas, gymnastics, and donuts. Snowy weather prevented my parents from bringing the most adorable panda cake pops made by my mother so we settled for donuts. The kids had a blast running off energy.

One of the most fun parts of being a mother is watching as our little one’s personalities develop and grow. I am forever surprised and amused by how different two sisters can be. They are both so very lovable in their own ways.

The girl is excited to start kindergarten in August. She loves ballet, Calico Critters, her heart blanket, and, of course, pandas. She is sweet, funny, and sometimes a bit stubborn.

She ended a wonderful birthday with some big sister snuggles. Soon we will be taking a family vacation to Washington, D.C. to see real pandas. Anyone who knows our girl knows what a big deal that is! Happy birthday to the little one who makes our family complete.

Books

Books: Broken Horses

I picked up Broken Horses by Brandi Carlile despite having listened to very little of her music. The book came recommended by some of my recent favorite writers. I also liked listening to what she had to say on Glennon Doyle and Abby Wambach’s We Can Do Hard Things Podcast, which you should check out if you haven’t already.

Carlile writes candidly about her struggles growing up in the Pacific Northwest in a family that was involved in the local music scene. Her family moved a lot and during that time she found herself attached to two different horses, broken in their own ways. Those horses would play an important role in the artist’s life, teaching her that the word ‘broken’ can mean a lot of different things.

(Image from amazon.com)

Carlile also writes about motherhood. When she and her wife decided to do in vitro to conceive, Carlile felt some reservations about not carrying their children. She writes about feeling somehow like less of a mother at first and how society defines what a mother is.

Carlile merges life as a touring musician with parenthood. She and her bandmates frequently bring their entire families on the road with numerous young children taking over the tour busses. These anecdotes were some of my favorite parts of the book.

Despite being a Grammy winner, she is still awestruck by her heroes Joni Mitchell, Tanya Tucker, and Elton John. I enjoyed the print version of this book very much, but I hear the audio version is even better because Carlile narrates it and sings some of her songs throughout the narration. Now I’m onto exploring more of her music.

Adventures

To Be Needed

“She didn’t seem to have trouble leaving you,” the kindergarten screener told us as we sat on tiny stools at a kid-sized table. I felt a small jab in my stomach. My soon-to-be-five-year-old is ready to start kindergarten. Heavy sigh.

When my husband and I brought her into the classroom and began filling out registration paperwork, she happily skipped away down the elementary school hall with one of the kindergarten teachers. She was confident. She was unafraid.

At first I might have secretly wished she would have been a little apprehensive. I anticipated I would need to at least give her a hug and say an encouraging “you’ll do great!” Then I asked myself if I would rather have had her cling to my leg in tears or refuse to participate. Of course the answer was no.

There are so many times when parenthood presents us with mixed emotions. We want to be needed, yet we are tired of preparing yet another bowl of cereal or reading that eighth story at bedtime. We want to raise capable kids ready for the world, yet we still want them to need our hugs and to pick them up when they fall down.

Soar, little one. I will be here for you when you need me, but also when you don’t. You are loved.

Books

Books: I Came All This Way to Meet You

Is there a certain age at which we are expected to have found ourselves? Truly, do we ever? And who sets those expectations? Those are the questions I was left asking myself as I finished I Came All This Way to Meet You novelist Jami Attenberg’s memoir.

After all, Attenberg finished writing her memoir as she approached age 50, and was only beginning to feel like she was finding herself. After years of working odd jobs, moving around, and wanting to devote more time to writing, she finally published a novel. Then, after years of writing, traveling, crashing on friends’ couches throughout the world, and undergoing a fair share of personal trauma, she found she was only just beginning to decide what she wanted out of life.

(Image from amazon.com)

Despite her lack of success in romantic relationships, Attenberg writes about very close and loyal friendships with people she has met throughout her travels. She explored the Capuchin Catacombs in Italy where her friend Viola took her to see a small child perfectly entombed in glass since 1920. After, Viola took her out for a piece of decadent seven-layer chocolate hazelnut cake.

Just like Attenberg herself, the book seems to be trying to find its way. Her stories are flawed and pieced together, but remind us to enjoy our journeys, even if we are unsure what destination we want. As for me, I’ll skip the catacombs, but gladly take the cake.

Books

Books: The Discomfort of Evening

The Discomfort of Evening is the debut novel by Dutch poet Marieke Lucas Rijneveld. Discomfort does not even begin to describe it. Winner of the 2020 International Booker Prize, the book is not at all a pleasant read, but it would be impossible to argue that the writing is anything short of stellar.

Rijneveld tells the story through the eyes of a 10-year-old girl growing up on a Dutch dairy farm. Anyone who has grown up on a farm or ranch would describe Rijneveld’s details of the smell, the cold, and the sounds of the cattle shed in the depth of winter as authentic and accurate. Rijneveld pulls from her own experience working on a dairy farm and it is clear she knows that world well.

(Image from amazon.com)

At the beginning of the book, Jas loses her older brother to a skating accident. She, her parents, and her two remaining siblings are left to cope, not very well, with the bleakness. Much of the book is deeply disturbing, even cringe-worthy as the family becomes unhinged. As a reader I wanted to intervene, help them, hug them.

This book is not for everyone and I would caution readers that this was probably the most disturbing book I have ever read. I briefly expected there to be some kind of light at the end, but I was mistaken. Still, I have to say Rijneveld has an remarkable gift for putting the reader right in the moment through the eyes of an innocent child.

In My House

There’s Magic in the Ordinary

A couple weeks ago I ordered a new comforter set from Bed Bath and Beyond. I was excited to take advantage of the January linen sales and to replace our decade-old, tattered duvet. My daughters were excited that the new set happened to arrive in a gigantic cardboard box.

As soon as they spotted it on the dining room floor their eyes lit up. They waited anxiously as I made sure the comforter was the appropriate size for our bed. I wasn’t about to let them start turning it into a castle or a car or a theater stage before I ruled out the possibility of needing to return the bedding set.

As soon as I announced that the box was theirs, they cheered with delight. They immediately began drawing, bedazzling, and turning the box into something resembling a retro Volkswagen van. They pushed each other around in the van, then turned it into a kindergarten classroom for stuffed animals. The box has since served as a bakery, a school bus, a cottage, and a science laboratory.

I watched them play and wondered if there is anything that brings me as much joy as they’re experiencing by playing with a cardboard box. Then I realized that yes, there is. Watching their happiness unfold over something so ordinary yet so magical brings me that joy. Listening to their laughter and observing their creativity fills my heart.

We all know disappointment very well right now. After nearly two full years of fear, uncertainty, cancelled plans, and lost loved ones, what can we do except strive to find joy wherever it hides? It might be in the smile of a friend, the calmness of a brisk winter sunrise, or even in an empty cardboard box. Where will you find your magic today?

Books

Books: Born a Crime

Born a Crime by Trevor Noah tells The Daily Show host’s story of growing up in South African under apartheid. Noah truly was born a crime. When he was born in the early 1980s, it was illegal under apartheid for his black mother and his white father to have a relationship.

Noah incorporates South African history into the anecdotes of his youth. Growing up where he did was a challenge and his mother did all she could to ensure he had a good education. Noah struggled with his racial identity among his peers, but found his niche doing comedy and booking gigs as a DJ. Life was not easy for Noah and a lot of the stories he tells will leave the reader wondering how he even survived to adulthood.

(Image from amazon.com)

The writing and editing is a little sloppy in parts. Some of the anecdotes are contradictory or simply do not flow well. Still, there are some laughs to be had as he recounts his youth.

I have to admit I did eventually lose interest in stories of his teenage antics. His devotion and admiration for his mother, however, was written about beautifully. The book is worth sticking with for the ending about his mother’s strength in surviving and escaping an environment of domestic violence. One thing is certain: Noah and his family have truly been through a lot.

In My House

Why I Love Apartment Therapy’s January Cure

For the past couple weeks I have been participating in Apartment Therapy’s January Cure. It’s a free 20-day program featuring simple daily tasks to simplify and organize areas of the home. So far the most rewarding part has been a post-holiday purge of old toys.

The challenge doesn’t focus only on apartments, but on quick and easy daily tasks that can help bring organization and order to any space. Of course it’s fun that one part of the program is buying yourself fresh flowers on Fridays. Though the 20-day program is well underway, you can view the calendar and participate in the cure any time you want.

I really like how forgiving the program is. The tasks truly are something I can accomplish even with a busy work schedule and two little ones at home. The writers of the program remind us to give ourselves a lot of grace if we don’t feel up to a task or don’t complete absolutely ever item on the calendar. If you want to take some small steps toward simplicity and organization, I highly recommend the January Cure, even if you do it in February. Happy organizing!

Books

Books: The Storyteller: Tales of Life and Music

I read a lot of memoirs and biographies and my favorites are those that leave me feeling as if a friend just told me a story about their lives. Reading The Storyteller: Tales of Life and Music by Foo Fighters founder and frontman Dave Grohl was much this way, despite the fact that I’m not really friends with any famous touring musicians. Grohl is funny and the book is even more endearing by the fact that he wrote it himself without the help of a ghostwriter.

Grohl documents his humble beginnings learning to play the drums and guitar in humble suburban Virginia. He finds himself “in the right place at the right time” throughout his journey from Washington, D.C.-area band Scream to drumming for Nirvana to eventually founding and fronting Foo Fighters. The Storyteller does not fixate on Nirvana or the death of Kurt Cobain, but Grohl does describe his relationship with Cobain and the fear he felt when he realized his bandmate and roommate was suffering from addiction. The only thing Grohl was addicted to was coffee.

(Image from amazon.com)

As a parent of young daughters myself I perhaps most related to Grohl’s stories about raising his three girls. Having grown up with a mostly absent father, Grohl prioritizes being there for his daughters. One story documents his experience with food poisoning while flying home from Australia while on tour to attend the Daddy/Daughter Dance.

Despite his own success and fame, Grohl still is awe-struck by his idols and continues to be amazed and inspired by any opportunity to meet or jam with them. He also describes his love and appreciation for his mother. The Storyteller is a humble ode to music and its impact on all of us, and, overall, is just a really entertaining tale as told by someone who seems like an old friend.