Sunday, November 22, 2015

Hello from the Other Side

For the record, I'm not a big fan of Adele. Mr. Fob bought her first album back in 2008 and listened to it a lot, and I never really liked it. He bought an album from someone else with a similar voice at the same time, and I think I mixed them up a bit in my head, but either way I hated them both. I just found her voice to be a little too grating for me. But, I've had "Hello" stuck in my head for the past few days (along with most of the English-speaking world I'm sure). Friday would have been our fourteenth anniversary. I tried to tell myself that it didn't matter, but I was still sad. In an even weirder coincidence, that evening I ended up driving past the church where we had our wedding reception and the apartment where I lived while we were engaged (we'd planned to live there, but got into campus housing instead). It's hard to believe that fourteen years have already passed since then--some things have changed a lot and some have not.

But, really, most of the time things in my life are just fine. Friday night I got together with a group of friends that I've worked with for a long time through Segullah. They are great women and I always love hanging out with them. It's good to have friends that care about me, who listen to me, and who help me want to be a better person. 

I also just signed up for a two-week study abroad next spring in London. I'm really excited about going, even though I'm also a little nervous about committing to do something so big. It's taking up a significant portion of my savings, and I have to use almost all of my vacation time for the year as well. But, I can earn three credits in two weeks and learn all about libraries in England. The preliminary schedule looks amazing--we're touring places like the British Museum, Oxford University Press, the Imperial War Museum, the National Archives, and so on. The only other time I've traveled internationally has been my mission and that was a long time ago. I've always wanted to visit London and this seemed like the best way to do it. It's exciting to have something big to look forward to next year. 

I'm also excited about Christmas this year too. Going to Hawaii last year was super fun and a great break from the routine, but this year I'm really craving our old routines and traditions. This week I'll be hosting Thanksgiving for the first time in a few years, and the day after that I'll be getting out all our Christmas decorations and music. I only have three weeks left of this semester, with one big assignment to finish, and then I'll be free for a month. 

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Reading Roundup: October 2015

The Other Daughter by Lauren Willig

 Willig has become one of my favorite authors for romantic historical fiction (if you like Kate Morton, you should try Lauren Willig). Some of her other books have used a structure that alternates between the present and the past, but this one is set completely in the past (early 1920s England) and has a more straightforwardly linear structure than some of Willig's other books that I've read. It was a fun read and I enjoyed the story; the resolution to the mystery also surprised me as well. The characters all felt a little flat, however, and I would have enjoyed the book more if it had had more emotional depth.

Death Comes to Pemberley by P.D. James

This was our book club read for the month, and we all agreed that it was kind of boring. On the one hand, James avoids a lot of the problems that I've seen in other homages to Austen. She stayed fairly true to the characters and the time period in which the books were set. However, the tone of the book was really flat and there wasn't much dramatic tension, or even emotion from the characters. It was also the annoying type of mystery that can't be solved until some late-stage dramatic reveal that comes out of nowhere. I didn't hate the book, and I thought some of James' little references to other Austen works were fun, but it was not a favorite.

Did You Ever Have a Family by Bill Clegg

The voyeur in me picked up this book solely to find out more about the mysterious tragedy mentioned in the plot summary, but it turned out to be a really great read after all. It's structured a bit like a mystery, with the root cause of that tragedy hidden at the end, but it's not really a mystery novel. Also, it's the kind of book that has chapters from many different characters, and sometimes that really doesn't work, but in this case it does. I like books like this that function like a puzzle, as we start to put together all the different moving parts and see how they all work together in the end. The payoff wasn't as big as I had hoped, but it was still a great read.

After You by JoJo Moyes 

The problem with writing a sequel is that it is nearly impossible to live up to the delightful experience of reading the first book; we already know the characters and we've already lived through some big surprises, so there's a steep hill for the author to climb. I realized in the middle of this book that it just wasn't very enjoyable because I actually liked Will a bit better than Louisa. Well, maybe not, but one of the things that made Me Before You so enjoyable was the interplay between the two characters. A sequel just doesn't work without one of those two characters to serve as a foil for the other. I know that Moyes got a lot of pressure to write a book about Louisa, and there were a number of things that I liked about the book, so it wasn't all that bad.

Always Will by Melanie Jacobson

I first loved Melanie Jacobson's books because of the way she so deftly explored the particularities of the Mormon single adult scene; I thought this added an extra layer to her romances and made them both funny and relatable to me. This book, and her previous one, have moved away from the Mormon singles scene to more generic romance between single adults who aren't Mormon, but who also don't indulge in alcohol or who have casual sex. They are also fanatically ready to get married at age 25, like the protagonist of this book. I have no idea if this is true-to-life at all or not; I live in Utah and I'm nearly 38, so it's not like I know very many non-Mormons in their twenties. It's just interesting to read a book about characters that could be Mormon, but probably aren't, and even if they are they don't talk about church at all. It was still a fun little romance and I mostly enjoyed it, although I thought it was a bit too heavy on the angsty discussions and could have used a little more action.

Key Lime Pie and Blackberry Crumble by Josi Kilpack

I have now read all of the Sadie Hoffmiller mysteries, even though things were a bit out of order. I think that the first book was really strong, and then things were somewhat uneven but generally got better from that point on. One of the things that I found interesting was that, like Jacobson, Kilpack seemed to want to create a character that would be relatable to Mormons but that wasn't actually Mormon so she could appeal to a more general audience. Blackberry Crumble included Sadie going to church and teaching Sunday School, and dealing with some gossip from her church community about her actions, but it felt a little weird to me since church-going didn't seem to be a big part of her life in the first few books in the series. It didn't come up a lot in the rest of them either. Granted, most of the books take place within a short window of time and Sadie is often some place besides her home, but this aspect of her life doesn't always seem to be as fleshed out as it could be. Key Lime Pie deals with a character from a previous book who seemed to have a bit of a personality change between that book and this one, and it just wasn't that enjoyable to me. It also seemed to need more filling out of the characters and better descriptions, since I had a hard time really caring about any of them. Blackberry Crumble was a little more fun to read and had more complex conflict so I had a better time reading it.

Monday, November 02, 2015

Reading Roundup: September 2015

A Desperate Fortune by Susanna Kearsley

I have not read anything by Kearsley before, but after reading this book I've decided to look for more of her books to see if I enjoy them as much as this one. I thought she did a great job balancing the historical story with the contemporary one, and I felt that both were equally compelling. There were some elements of the present-day romance that seemed a bit far-fetched, but I still enjoyed suspending my disbelief and enjoying the ride.

Better than Before: Mastering the Habits of our Everyday Lives by Gretchen Rubin

I've already talked about this book on another post, so I won't say much here. I think this could be a useful book to re-read in pieces, rather than trying to read through all at once.

All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

Sometimes I think I'm getting too old to read YA fiction, because when I read books like this where so much could be avoided by parents that paid attention to what their kids are doing, I just get frustrated. Now that I'm getting old enough to nearly have a teen, books like this make me feel a bit terrified for the future. Anyways, it's a beautifully written book and had some twists I didn't expect, but I'm probably not the best audience for it.

English Trifle and Devils Food Cake by Josi Kilpack

I'm still catching up on the first few books from this series, and after reading these two I only have two more. I liked the third one (Devil's Food Cake) much more than the second one (English Trifle). In the second book, Sadie is out of her element on a vacation to England, and she hasn't really decided that she wants to be a detective yet. The book does a good job portraying her hesitancy to see herself as a detective as well as the fact that she's still recovering from stumbling into a murder investigation involving a friend. However, the plot feels too rushed and none of the supporting characters were developed very well, including Sadie's daughter. The book involved a lot of self-doubt from Sadie and dithering around, and it was a bit frustrating to read. In Devil's Food Cake Sadie is back in her hometown, the setting of the first book, and she has finally accepted that she wants to be a detective. This new identity does, however, come with some consequences and push-back from those around her, which provides a nice secondary conflict in the book to complement the murder investigation. I also wonder if I liked this book a little more because it involved a number of characters who become regulars throughout the series, so it felt much more familiar to me.

The Last Letter from Your Lover by JoJo Moyes

Moyes is an author I turn to whenever I'm in the mood for a romance that is both delightfully escapist, and yet somehow grounded enough in reality that I don't roll my eyes (more on her skill at writing these types of books--but watch out for spoilers--at this link). This book was so much fun to read, particularly in the first half that was set in the past. That first romance was so well-written and really sucked me in. The second half of the book, which is mostly set in the present day, was not quite as interesting and a bit clunky in parts, but I kept reading just to find out how the loose ends of the past were all tied up.

Dear Committee Members by Julie Schumacher

This was a quick and funny read--I read it all in one day when I was home sick from work. I don't know if it would be as funny for anyone who hasn't spent time in academia, since the humor is fairly subtle and focused on skewering the politics of college humanities departments. I also had fun reading it because it's an epistolary novel that really only tells half the story, and there were many moments when imagining the other half was just as hilarious as what was actually on the page.

Food: A Love Story by Jim Gaffigan

This was our book club pick for the month, and maybe before reading it I should have watched something by Jim Gaffigan to get a sense of his humor or delivery style (confession--I still haven't watched any of his comedy performances). My friend who recommended the book had listened to it as an audiobook and thought it was absolutely hilarious. I didn't dislike the book, but it didn't really make me laugh, so I wonder if listening to it would have been better. As we were discussing parts of it at book club, they seemed funnier in retelling, so maybe it's just not the kind of book to read by yourself.

Do No Harm: Stories of Life, Death, and Brain Surgery by Henry Marsh

I've never wanted to practice medicine, but I love reading books about medicine and the human body. This book was not just a fascinating look at neurosurgery, but also an excellent example of memoir. Marsh's writing has a distinctive voice, at times rather caustic and at others sympathetic and gentle. I'm not sure I would want to be friends with him in real life--but his ability to write compelling stories about contemporary medicine is one I can admire.

Carry On, Warrior: The Power of Embracing Your Messy, Beautiful Life by Glennon Doyle Melton

This was recommended for me by the library's ebook site based on some other things I had been reading. I'd read a few pieces by Glennon on her blog (Momastery) and so I thought I might like it. I didn't dislike it, but I didn't really like it that much either. The book is a selection of posts from the blog, but without any other writing to pull them together and add context, I felt confused at times and at others I felt like I was reading the same thing over and over. I've really liked some of her posts, and this book did include some great ones, but I think I'd rather read a memoir than a collection of blog posts.

Black-Eyed Susans by Julia Heaberlin

This book had an interesting premise, and at first it sucked me right in. However, as the mystery got weirder and weirder, it was harder to suspend my disbelief and go along with it (though, surprisingly, I guessed the major twist before it was revealed). Also, although an unreliable narrator can be kind of fun to read if done correctly, in this case the narrator was so unreliable that I was just left confused in some parts.

Persuasion by Jane Austen

It's impossible to pick my favorite Austen novel; each time I read one I think "oh, I love this and it's my favorite". If I have to make a decision, Persuasion and Emma are my top two choices (well, and Mansfield Park is right up there too). I'm not sure how many times I've read or re-read this book, but I love it every time. I really admire Anne for learning how to just be herself among so many silly relatives, and I just adore Captain Wentworth.

Sunday, November 01, 2015

Taking care of myself or taking it easy

A few weeks ago I had a moment of insight after reading a blog post about self-care. The author described learning to take of herself after having a moment with a needy child, and realizing that she was good at taking care of her children by feeding them nutritious foods, helping them get enough sleep, and so on. I've read a lot about "taking care of yourself" and I thought I was doing that, but after reading the article I think that I really haven't been. I've always been the kind of mom who really worries about the physical needs of her children--I try to feed them good food, buy them comfortable clothes they like, limit their screen time, and enforce appropriate bedtimes. And yet, as soon as they aren't home or are in bed, I stay up late, use the computer too much, and eat way too much unhealthy food. Because I'm an adult. 

Well, if too little sleep and too much sugar are bad for my kids, why do I do that to myself? Why hadn't I thought of this before? I feel kind of silly. Two weeks ago, when the kids were last at their dad's house, I bought a bunch of vegetables and made a batch of ratatouille for dinner on Saturday night. I ate the leftovers for lunch for the next few days as well. Tonight the kids were at a family dinner with their dad, so I cooked myself some gnocchi with spinach cream sauce and a batch of roasted autumn veggies. It was delicious. I love to cook, but had fallen out of the habit of cooking for myself when the kids aren't around. It's nice to feed myself some tasty, nutritious food again. 

After my last post about motivation, a friend sent me a message asking if we could text each other for motivation on our particular goals. It was working pretty well, until I fell off the wagon this past week. I think I'll try that again this week--and while in the past I had her texting me to remind me of bedtime, I'm going to try reporting back the next day because I think that will make it even easier to stay on task. There's nothing like having to confess to someone else that you stayed up until 11:30 reading dumb stuff on the internet. 

As I've thought about this idea of taking care of myself, I've realized that there is a big difference between "taking it easy" and "taking care of myself". Yes, sometimes taking a break and relaxing can be an important part of self-care. However, too often over the last few years I've been taking the easy route of not setting goals, not pushing myself to do hard things, and avoiding a lot of things that I should be doing. In the end, this actually isn't relaxing or very nourishing to my soul. I feel a lot better on days when I do things and get stuff done--not excessive amounts of things, mind you, but real things that feel like real accomplishments. Now that I read back through this post, it feels similar to several of the other things I posted recently. I'm just putting pieces together and figuring out how to do fewer of the thing I don't really value, and more of the things I do value.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Bonus Day

Last night P. Bibby had a bit of a stuffy nose and was acting tired and whiny. The tired and whiny bit didn't surprise me because we had a busy weekend doing fun things together (on Saturday we took family pictures in the morning and then spent some time at a Day of the Dead celebration). This morning, however, when I woke her up to get ready for school she was definitely running a fever. It wasn't a high fever, but definitely enough to keep her home from school and childcare. Mr. Fob is often the parent who takes care of sick kids because he has a flexible schedule and works remotely--it's not hard for him to keep an eye on a kid and still get work done. Most of my sick leave during the last few years has been spent on myself. Unfortunately Mr. Fob is traveling for work this week, so I had to take the day off. 

Taking the day off, especially if I didn't plan on it in advance, is always hard for me. The work I do is certainly not life-or-death in its importance, and at least it's not like teaching where a missed day can really mess things up. But, in my current position, I'm the only one who does my particular job, and while my colleagues know how to fulfill some of my responsibilities, they don't or can't do everything I do. That also wouldn't be a problem except that my position is really interconnected with a number of other people, so there are certain things that I need to do in order for them to be able to do their jobs. Plus I supervise three student employees who need some oversight and guidance (and one of them just started last week so she hasn't had much training yet). Despite all this, there really wasn't much I could do this morning besides let people know that I wasn't coming to work. After accepting the reality of the situation, I decided to enjoy my day. I don't get many days off, and at least this time I wasn't sick and the kid I was taking care of wasn't throwing up.

P. Bibby felt a lot better after some medicine to bring down her fever, so she spent most of the day watching shows, coloring, playing games on her iPod, and cutting out some very interesting paper snowflakes to stick on the front window. I got some homework done, washed bedding and towels, cleaned out a few closets and cupboards, dusted, vacuumed, did some mending I've been putting off for too long, and enjoyed having a day to just be at home and get things done. Most days I'm gone for nearly nine hours total, and the rest of that time is mostly spent getting ready for work and school, eating dinner and getting ready for bed, and doing homework. I love my job and am really grateful for it, but if I'm honest I still hate working full-time, all the time. 

The thing is, working full-time has real value and there are good reasons why I'm doing it, even though my kids are young and I do receive regular child support. When I got divorced, I thought long and hard about how I wanted to support myself and the kids. The problem is that working part-time does not just mean a lower income. It also means that I have no paid sick or vacation time, so if I ever need or want to miss work, my income goes down even more. Plus I would have no medical benefits, and after spending years dealing with trying to get healthcare without coverage or with poor quality coverage, I really don't want to do that anymore. Living without good health insurance is just another way to reduce your income even more. More than anything, I worried about the future. Sure, I can scrape by for a few years on part-time pay. But I wouldn't be saving for retirement, saving for short-term emergencies, or paying off my mortgage very quickly. Full-time work means more time away from the kids and more money spent on childcare, but it also means financial stability for all of us, both now and in the future. It's a trade-off I'm willing to make, even if I have to frequently remind myself of why I'm doing it. I'm also incredibly grateful for the education and experiences I have had that qualified me for the type of job I have now. If I have to work full-time, at least it's at a place with a decent salary, good benefits, and a great work environment. And, the bottom line is that I prayed about my work decisions and got strong promptings that this choice was the right one for me. Sometimes I wish I had more days like today where I could spend the day taking care of my home and children, but for now I will just have to enjoy them when they do happen.

Friday, October 09, 2015


Desmama commented on my last post to ask me if I had read Gretchen Rubin's new book Better than Before, which is about forming new habits. I actually did read it last month, and if I ever get around to reviewing all the books I read last month (I read a lot of books), I will write a brief review of it. I have, however, been planning to write a longer post about the book and some of the thoughts I had about it. First of all, I enjoyed the book but I didn't love it. It didn't feel as life-changing or revelatory as some similar books I've read like The Power of Habit or Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength. I think some of the reason why I didn't like the book was just personal preference--the book is written more like a memoir than other similar books I've read, and in order to enjoy it you have to like the author and feel like you can relate to her. I didn't always feel that way--my life is very different from hers and I didn't feel like some of the things she described and suggested would work at all for me. I also read the book very quickly, and I checked it out as an e-book. I think this would be a much better book to buy in print so that you can read parts of it at a time, and re-read parts as needed. 

One of the things that I did like about the book, and that I'd heard about before reading it, was her categorization of people into four habit 'tendencies', based on how they respond to internal and external expectations. I took the quiz she has available on her blog and was not surprised to discover that I am an "obliger", meaning that I am good at fulfilling external expectations and really bad at internal ones. I've been thinking about this label for the last few weeks, trying to decide how well it describes me and how it can be helpful in creating change. 

There is a part of me that is disappointed in the fact that I was not an "upholder", or a person who fulfills both internal and external expectations. In the story I tell about myself, I am that person who is disciplined and self-motivated, because that's who I want to be. I also don't think of myself as the sort of person who does things just for other people or who never takes care of herself. But, as I've thought more about Rubin describes these tendencies and looked more closely at my behavior, I can see how this makes sense. First of all, as Rubin makes clear, these are just tendencies and also primarily describe our relationship with habits. So I should be wary of extrapolating anything out to describe other aspects of myself or of labeling one tendency as "bad" and another as "good". 

I also used to be a lot more diligent with personal habits like getting enough sleep, reading my scriptures, writing in my journal, and so on. From high school up through my mission I was a very diligent, regimented person. As I think about it, though, I did most of those things because I felt like I was "supposed to" and that others, including God, expected me too. Frankly, I didn't always get the most out of those habits, but I checked off a lot of internal boxes and felt good about myself as someone who did the right things. At some point around the end of my mission and getting married, things started to shift for me and I learned to relax and to do things like scripture study because it was fulfilling for me as an individual. It became much more meaningful, and unfortunately more irregular. It still is all these years later. 

I'm still a very conscientious person in many ways. I am diligent at work, show up on time, and try my hardest to be a productive team member. I fulfill my callings and faithfully show up to church every week unless I'm deathly ill. I'm the sort of person who shows up to events, parties and meetings most of the time. If you invite me to stuff, I almost always make an effort to come. I'm not an excessively overbearing parent, but I keep the house clean, cook meals for my kids, and generally take good care of them. I've said more than once that one of the things I miss most about being married is having someone to take care of and someone who would do things with me--I miss being part of a team. 

As I look more closely about my motivation for doing things, I realize that the description of "obliger" really does fit me best. For example, this summer I had my nanny come at 8:00 every morning. I always tried to be completely ready before she showed up because I didn't want to inconvenience her. Now that school's back in session, I tend to dawdle in the morning and I've noticed that both the kids and I leave later than we would like. For some reason I can't find the same motivation to get ready quickly like I did before when someone was showing up at my house every morning. My supervisor at work gives me some leeway on my arrival time since she knows I have to get kids out the door first, so I don't worry about getting there at an exact time. If I didn't have that understanding, I'd probably stress more to get there at a certain time. 

Now the real question I have to figure out is whether this knowledge is helpful to me in making better habits. Rubin's main answer for obligers is to use external accountability for change, since we are better at listening to others than ourselves. I'm struggling with how to implement this in my own life. First of all, as I mentioned, I don't have a built-in partner anymore. I also don't really have a strong social network that I could go to for help in motivation, and as someone who likes to make other people happy, I really hesitate to ask anyone to do something for me like keeping me accountable. That's a big job. I'm also not totally sure how it would work, because even though I like to fulfill external expectations, I'm really good at justifying stuff and finding loopholes so that I don't feel bad about letting myself or others down. I will have to keep thinking about this, and maybe even get the book again so I can re-read some parts. I'll keep everyone (meaning the two or three people who read this blog--thanks for the external motivation, by the way) posted.

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

Writer's Block

I'm forcing myself to write this post. Almost every night, after I get the kids in bed and tidy the house, I sit down at the computer to catch up news and blogs and do my homework. Too often, instead of homework or writing or something productive, I end up scrolling through Facebook again and again, hoping someone will update something. Then I hop over to BuzzFeed and mindlessly read through a bunch of posts, most of which have the same jokes and the same GIFs I've seen a bunch of times before. I have a lot of ideas for writing in my mind and yet I never seem to take the time to write them down. Not only have I been neglecting this personal blog, I've also had a hard time getting things up on Segullah lately and I always feel guilty about that. Additionally, I should be more dedicated to my homework--I've been getting by in my classes, but I'm not very dedicated.

I realized the other day that I'm scared of writing. When I think about sitting down to write, I feel fear. It's weird. I agreed to writing an essay for an upcoming anthology and it has been very difficult. Just writing the thing made me freak out, and that first draft really wasn't very good. Revising has been torture--I need to go through the draft again because I have received some good feedback from two friends who I trust and who are solid writers. And yet, the idea of reading what I wrote makes me want to run away screaming. I just can't handle it.

Other things that make me feel the same sort of fear are changing my habits like going to bed earlier, exercising, and getting into a more consistent scripture study routine. There's one part of me that keeps yearning for positive change--and another bigger part of me that keeps freaking out and wants to just keep eating sugar while staying up late reading fluffy stuff on the internet instead of doing anything productive or substantial.

At the end of last summer I wrote a post about how I really wasn't doing that well. Last fall I spent several months in therapy and it really helped a lot. I've also read some great books by Brene Brown and a few other books that have helped give me some insights into my particular struggles and some ideas for change. However, I'm still having a hard time putting my ideas for change into practice. And I feel like a bit of a broken record here on this blog because I think I've written a number of posts with this same theme during the last few years. I don't know yet if I need to go cold turkey with change, change a bunch of things at once, and/or make some small positive changes. I'm still figuring this out.

One thing that has been clanging around in my head for a while has been the phrase "be a producer not a consumer". I think that is something I need to focus on. When I am anxious I want to consume. I bite my nails, eat all kinds of sugar, mindlessly read books or stuff on the internet. I don't want to have to deal with producing things like opinions that someone might read and judge me for--it's safer and more comforting to just sit back and take things in. To change that, my new small goal will be to set aside some writing time for the blog a few days a week. I may or not publish everything I write, but I will write something. Also, I will make a goal to not just write another navel-gazing post about why I'm not writing or what my latest neurosis is--this blog has plenty of those already.