Sunday, July 06, 2014

Reading Roundup: May and June 2014

Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell

This was our book club choice for the month of May, and I'm glad I got a head start on it because it took a long time to read. It was a fun experience because it's been a long time since I had read a book this long--thankfully it's a fairly easy read for such an epic book. I did not expect to enjoy it was much as I did and I felt like it gave me a lot to think about.

Fortune Cookie by Josi Kilpack

This is the second-to-last of Kilpack's Sadie Hofmiller mysteries. . When I found out that this was not the last book in the series, I was worried that it would feel like the author was just trying to stretch things out too much by suddenly having Sadie's long-lost sister appear. Instead, I liked that the story really delved into family issues and problems from the past that can crop up at inconvenient times. I have also appreciated how Kilpack has often included characters who aren't very friendly, and don't get more friendly or understandable with time. Sometimes life and people are just unpredictable like that.

My Name is Resolute by Nancy Turner

I'm a big fan of Nancy Turner and was really excited to find out that she had a new book out. At the same time, I was nervous that it just wouldn't be as good as These Is My Words. Thankfully it was just as good and perhaps even a bit better. This was another big, epic, historical read and a lot of fun to just sink into for a few hours. I think this was one of my favorite books so far this year.

The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert

I wasn't sure about this book since I haven't enjoyed much of Gilbert's nonfiction that I've read. However, I read enough positive reviews that convinced me to give this one a try and I'm glad I did. I took it with me on my trip up to Portland and it was a good book for a relaxing trip. For some reason I sometimes end up reading a bunch of similar books all at the same time, and this was the third epic historical book that I'd read in a month. I love historical fiction and it was nice to just have a mini binge during my break between school semesters.

For Darkness Shows the Stars by Diana Peterfreund

In contrast to the last book where my low expectations were exceeded, I had higher expectations for this book that were not really met. I'm still not sure why I didn't like the book that much; I might have been reading it too fast. It jumps around in time a lot and that seemed to bother me more than it usually does in books. I also felt like the ages of the protagonists and the amount of time elapsed since their estrangement didn't really give the story enough weight and had a hard time taking their love seriously. It wasn't a terrible book, but it just didn't do much for me.

Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline

I checked out this book because the premise was interesting--I liked the plot quite a bit and liked the interweaving of the contemporary story line with the one from the past. There were a few narrative threads that wrapped up a bit too neatly for my taste and I noticed a few small editing errors, but it was still a nice little read.

Hope Springs by Sarah Eden

This book has a somewhat awkward title, and I'm still a little unclear about whether it's supposed to be a sequel or the second half of the first book, or whether that distinction even matters. I just thought the titling was a little strange. I had some issues with the first book and wasn't sure I'd like this one, but I was pleasantly surprised. This book was more action-oriented and felt like it had a better plot arc, with more events moving things along and less talking and dithering. There was a twist at the end that I really didn't see coming and I thought that was handled well, though I felt like there were a few plot elements and characters' stories that weren't resolved as much as I would have liked them to be.

David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell

A friend of mine summed up Gladwell's books as "you thought this, but it's actually that"--and it's just as true of this book as his others. It wasn't a bad book at all--I learned a lot of very interesting little tidbits from it--but it was a typical Gladwell book. If you liked his other books, you will like this one a lot. If you haven't read one yet, give this one a try some time.

The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery

This was our book club pick for June and it sparked another excellent discussion. It was a surprising read; I actually hated the first few chapters and was about to give up on it. Then, it suddenly got much better and I couldn't put it down. Finally, the ending was a bit shocking and wrapped things up in an interesting way. I love books that are a little crazy like this one--I think the mark of a good writer is the ability to lead readers through a variety of emotions and to really make them stop and think about their lives and the world around them. 


The Impossible

I had read mixed reviews of this movie before watching it, but the trailer was compelling and I thought I'd give it a try. I'm still trying to decide if I liked it--the directing and acting were excellent. The special effects were also fabulous--the entire movie is pretty much two straight hours of chaos and terror. That can be a little wearying, especially since I felt like it was thin on plot. Obviously I appreciate the director staying fairly true to the family's experience he based the movie on, but some of the pacing felt a little off and the way the movie ended left me feeling let down. It had potential, but just didn't work for me.  

Monday, June 23, 2014

Nine Years Later

I started this blog nine years ago, back when I lived in a two-bedroom apartment that didn't have any air conditioning, I was in grad school, and I only had a two-year-old. Since then I 've gained two more children, finished my degree, lived in two other states before coming back to Utah, found a full-time career and started a new graduate degree, lost my mind a few times, got my sanity back a few more times, and lost my marriage. It's been an interesting ride and I'm not even sure if I've got anyone else still reading what I post. 

I've posted quite a few times about blogging, why I started a blog, my feelings about blogging, and why I keep at it. Back when I started this whole thing, blogging was the new, exciting thing to do. Facebook, and Twitter weren't around yet, and even smartphones and the ubiquity of texting weren't that big. YouTube wasn't here, and most 'viral' stuff was shared through emails. Communication has changed a lot during the time I've been blogging and people have been predicting the death of blogs for several years now (I think the death of Google Reader killed off just as many readers as the rise of Facebook; try Feedly--I love it). I resisted Facebook for a while before giving in, and now I spend much more time on Facebook than I do on blogs; nine years ago I spent a lot of time reading blogs, commenting on blogs, and linking to blogs. I love Facebook for many reasons, but miss some of those old days of blogging. Perhaps that's why I love reading longform articles and still happily read the remaining scraps of blogs that I can--I love the wide reach of Facebook and the tidbits I glean, but I still crave deeper discourse and longer arguments.

Sometimes, though, I feel as though I've run out of things to say. My blog has devolved into spontaneous updates that are generally not much more than a chronological rundown of recent happenings. When I read through old posts I feel a little sad that I used to have so many opinions and so much to share. Now I often sit down to write something and find that my mind is blank. Part of that is the changed nature of my life--I'm not home all day with kids, and my kids are getting old enough that there are things about them I don't want to share. Similarly, I don't want to blog very much about work, and most of what I do there is fairly arcane or would boring to most people. The same thing applies to my schoolwork; there isn't very much in my life right now that I can talk about. 

As I was thinking about this I also realized that as much as external factors are creating writer's block, there are plenty of internal factors too. I don't take very much time anymore to really sit, ponder, and create. I don't know what my opinions are on many issues because I don't sit and read deeply or think about them. I know that during the last few years I've gotten in the bad habit of running away from my emotions; it's easy to get busy and to avoid really facing and taking apart the difficult things in my life. It's so much easier to open another tab on my browser, read another listicle on BuzzFeed, or skim through my Facebook feed. I don't know what I think or feel about so many things because I haven't given myself the chance to feel anything. I tell myself I'm too busy, which is true, but I'm also too scared. And too tired. But, part of the reason why I feel overwhelmed and tired is because of the information overload I willingly bring on myself. I've always been a curious person who is eager to learn new things. In today's information environment this is becoming a bit more of a curse than a blessing. 

Like many blog posts, I started this one without really knowing where I was going. I've had these thoughts for a while now but I had not really put them down in a coherent manner. I think I have made an important realization about my life lately--I've been stuffing a lot into my brain without letting it make much of an impact. Perhaps I can step back a bit, do some thinking, and come up with some better blog posts. Hopefully the next nine years of blogging will be much more interesting.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Trying to Write a Blog Post

It's been almost a month since I last wrote a post on here. I keep thinking "I should write a post; I have stuff to say." And then I don't end up writing anything after all. Stuff has happened--it's been a mostly good month I guess. I might write a better post about the last month at some point later this week. Here, however, is a quick glance into a typical evening around here. 

5:30--Get home from work and talk to the babysitter a bit before she leaves. Put away my things and figure out dinner. I actually made a menu plan and bought supplies for meals this week, but no one is feeling excited about breakfast for dinner (too many pancakes at their dad's house over the weekend). 

5:45--Decide to make some veggie soup and biscuits for dinner. It's a bit ambitious, but uses up food I have on hand and sounds tasty. P. Bibby "helps", which mostly means getting in my way while I try to quickly make dinner. At least we get to spend some time together chatting about things. She impresses me with her ability to eat a piece of raw onion--she says it's "spicy" and that she likes spicy things. 

6:30--Dinner is finally on the table. It's a little later than usual, but everyone is hungry and enthusiastically eats all their food. Veggie soup gets a 10 out of 10 from everyone.

7:00 Finish cleaning up dinner and work on getting P.Bibby in the shower. After her shower she gets a few minutes to watch a show on the iPad and I think I might sit down and start a blog post. Instead, I realize that I'd should load the dishwasher and wipe down the kitchen. I also start a load of laundry during her show. 

8:00 After reading stories and brushing teeth, P. Bibby is finally in bed. I try to decide whether I should go downstairs to exercise, log in to my current class to read this week's assignments, or write a blog post. Schoolwork wins, so I log in and figure out what's due this week, read some discussion posts, and respond to a discussion topic. Then I catch up on blogs I'm reading on Feedly and respond to a few emails for Church.

9:00 Oops--that all took longer than I thought it would. I remind the older two children that "it really is bedtime, now". Maybe now it's time for a blog post? No, I just remembered that it's time to register for fall classes and I need to figure out what I'm taking. Time to eat an ice cream bar and peruse the schedule, syllabi, and online instructor reviews. I figure out my classes and register. I'm also interrupted a number of times from people who should be in bed for questions about the texture of their latest bowel movements (eat more fiber), what happens to garbage after it is picked up by the garbage truck, and whether or not there are potstickers in the refrigerator. My answer to all these questions is generally "go to bed!"

9:30 Maybe now I will write a blog post. Then I click on the blog to read what my last post was about, and then I get sucked into reading archived posts from years ago that I've read way too many times before. I do this way more often than I would like to admit...

9:45 OK, I really will write a post, but first I'd better check on kids. First I have to change a poopy pull-up (so tired of that routine), then I remember to go downstairs and scoop the litter box, then I check on the dryer to make sure I have clean, dry underwear for tomorrow (yay!). One final check to make sure the lights are off, the blinds are shut and the doors are locked.

10:15 Hmm, I should be in bed within 15 minutes. I should probably get ready instead of writing a blog post. No, I'm going to do it anyway because it's been so long. Too bad it's not very interesting and provides no useful information to any of my readers. Maybe later this week I'll have time to write something substantive after all.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Birthday, Mothers' Day, Conferences, and More

Two weeks ago on Friday was my birthday and then Mothers' Day was the week after that. Those two events are usually fairly close together, so if there's not a big celebration for one of them I don't really feel left out. This year it ended up that both days were fairly uneventful. On my birthday S-Boogie and Little Dude made me some French toast for breakfast. It was pretty tasty and they didn't make too much of a mess in the kitchen. I spent the whole day at the annual conference for the state library association--there were some interesting sessions and I got a tasty free lunch with an entertaining speaker, so I guess the day wasn't a total wash. There was terrible traffic coming back from the conference so I got into town a little later than I had planned. I had to pick up the kids from Mr. Fob and then we had a ward activity that night; I thought it would be fun to just get Wendy's for dinner, but it really wasn't that great. We had poor customer service and P. Bibby was cranky and didn't eat her food at all. We were a bit late to the ward activity, and even though I wanted to go for the kids' sake, I didn't really think it was that fun. It was a movie night, which basically meant we all watched Frozen and ate popcorn, and then went home after the movie. We came home, I got kids in bed, and my sweet visiting teacher stopped by with a milkshake just for me. I stuck a candle in it, we took some pictures, and I decided it was a good birthday after all. I think next year I want to run away to Oregon or somewhere similar. 

Mother's Day also demonstrated the paradox I live with--kids are a hassle, but I love them to death and miss them when they aren't here for special days. It's relaxing to have a day off without kids, but also sad at the same time. Oh well, that's just how it is. Mr. Fob technically had the kids for the weekend, but we juggled things around due to sickness and other scheduling problems and they came back on Saturday night. Sunday they gave me some sweet cards and a pound of chocolates, and they participated in my favorite tradition of singing in sacrament meeting. This year was P. Bibby's first time and she did a great job. It was a fine, normal Sunday, which was good since the rest of the week was a bit crazy for me. 

Monday morning I woke up really early and drove off to another conference for a few days. It was only located an hour away, but I got myself a hotel room for two nights so I didn't have to deal with driving back and forth so much. The money was worth it and so were the three days I spent at the conference. I was a bit nervous about going since it is usually the sort of thing that is attended by people with more professional level jobs than I have (I'm just in a staff position, not a librarian or anything). The conference was the annual meeting for an association that deals with academic libraries and literature in Spanish and Portuguese. I wanted to go because I work with all of our book vendors, I speak Spanish, and right now I can get student rates for conferences. My employer was hosting the conference this year and so I was able to get permission to attend. It was a lot of fun--the presentations were interesting, I had good conversations with a lot of people, and I met most of the vendors I work with in person so now our emails can feel a little more personal. It was also nice to have a few days off from the normal routine of work, and of course receptions and restaurant lunches are quite a lot of fun too. I was pretty exhausted by the time the three days were over. 

Coming back home on Wednesday afternoon was also a rough transition back into 'normal' life. The last session ended at 3:30, so I was able to get back into town by 4:15 and decided to quickly stop at the grocery store on my way home. I got home by 5:00 and had just finished unloading the groceries when Mr. Fob dropped off the kids. Unfortunately P.Bibby had just had diarrhea in her pants; I had to interrupt my dinner preparations in order to deal with that mess. Then we quickly had dinner before S.Boogie and I ran off to a special mother/daughter Activity Days event. I came back home and got the older two in bed before checking on P.Bibby in bed, where I discovered another unfortunate bowel incident (she had a tummy bug the week before and I guess it had worked its way through). By the time I got that cleaned up, everyone settled for the night, and unpacked my stuff, it was pretty late. Wednesday was a long day and then I had to get up Thursday morning and jump right back into work and everything else.

Somewhere in the middle of all this I finished my last few assignments for this semester of school. I have a few weeks off until the new semester starts in June but I don't know how relaxing they will be. I still want to get the garden in, and I'm trying to fix up the backyard a bit since Little Dude is getting baptized in a few weeks and we're going to have a party here afterwards. In two weeks I'm flying up to Portland for a very quick trip to attend my sister's graduation. The kids only have two weeks of school left and there are a few programs and other events to attend. Life just keeps going and going around here.

Friday, May 09, 2014

Reading Roundup: April 2014

Longbourn by Jo Baker

I like Jane Austen and have all read her books more than once.  I like Jane Austen quite a lot and admire her writing, but I don't consider myself a fan of hers. Based on other reviews I've read, this probably explains why I liked this book so much. If you feel like the Bennetts are your own relatives and that Austen's words are scripture, you probably won't like this book. If you love alternate versions of other stories, beautiful writing, and intricately detailed historical fiction about Britain, you will love this (warning: unlike in Austen, there is some violence and sex).

Coming Clean: A Memoir by Kimberly Rae Miller

I thought this book was going to be more interesting than it was. It wasn't bad--she has had (and still does) a complex relationship with her parents--but had the problem of some memoirs where it focused mostly on telling a lot of stories about the past without really describing how they affects the present (the "so what" problem). It also had some surprisingly obvious typos, which I thought were unusual in a nationally published book. 

Winter Queen by Amber Argyle

This was a Whitney finalist that didn't get a lot of love from many of my fellow readers. I didn't think it was that bad--I really liked the world building and loved the characterization of the main character. The plot was also mostly well-constructed, at least as far as the main conflict between different kingdoms and such. However, the book was also about how this girl became a fairy queen (I think) and that aspect of the plot was confusing and didn't make a lot of sense. It made this feel like two different books trying to be put together, and that just didn't work out so well in my opinion.

Heart of the Ocean by Heather Moore 

The last Whitney finalist I read this year; this book was in the Speculative category, but those elements were fairly light (it has some supernatural/ghost aspects to it). Generally I liked it, but the plot was a bit cliche and I thought a lot of the historical details didn't feel right for the time period it was supposed to be set in (it's set in the 1830s, but the action and dialogue and some of the setting details felt much later, like 1870s, to me--I could be wrong though).

Wolves, Boys, and Other Things that Might Kill Me by Kristen Chandler

This book has been on my list for quite a while and I had heard quite a lot about it from a number of people, so my expectations for it might have been a bit high. I also think I just wasn't in the mood for a book about an angsty teenage girl with a scary dad--I sometimes think I want to read a bunch of YA fiction and then I get overloaded. Despite that, I still really enjoyed this book. The author does a great job bringing together a variety of complex problems and making the book really work. Maybe I'd like it even better if I read it again some day.

Ripper by Isabelle Allende

Wow, this book was a total stinker--I only kept reading it just because I wanted to see if I was right about the ending (I was) and because it was so amazingly bad that it was funny. Isabelle Allende has written some great books, but this was not one of them.The characters are all horrible cliches, the plot is completely unbelievable (are there really only 10 people in all of San Francisco? it felt like it), and the writing is horribly overwrought.

The Death Class by Erika Hayasaki

I picked up this nonfiction book on a whim at the library because I thought the topic was interesting. It is the story of a woman who teaches a class about death and dying at a university in New Jersey, and about some of her students and their difficult lives. Some parts of it were really well-written and I particularly liked the author's insights about death and American culture. Other parts of it, especially her writing about the professor, were too simplistic and overly reverential. 

Letters from Skye by Jessica Brockmole

This book wasn't as substantial as I thought it would be, but it was a pleasant diversion while waiting a long time for a car repair that should have been quick. A novel told only through letters is difficult to pull off and I don't the author quite got it right. The letter writers didn't quite have distinctive voices and too often the artifice of the author was a bit too present. For a quick, fun, romantic read, though, I thought it worked.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Goodbye to April

Only three more days are left in April, which means that it's less than a week until my birthday and only a month until Little Dude's. Even more importantly, the kids only have 5 weeks of school left before summer break. Unfortunately our favorite babysitter from the last two summers won't be available because she has an internship she has to complete, so I've to start looking for someone new. I've only got about 2 weeks of school left and am happily looking forward to a little break. I am taking a class over the summer but it doesn't start until June 1st. April and May always end up being such a busy time; it seems like all the programs and recitals and things end up happening during these months. I'm just looking forward to summer vacation so I don't have to drag everyone out of bed and hustle them all out the door every morning. 

Tonight as Little Dude was going to bed, he told me "I'm tired of parties". I don't blame him--he's definitely an introvert, and during the last week he's been to three big family dinners. There's been a lot going on. This Friday is my birthday, but I'm spending the day at the state library association conference and then the evening at a ward movie night. I guess if I want to celebrate, I need to plan another birthday getaway for next year. 

The other big thing that happened recently was that I got an iPhone. For years I've resisted getting a smartphone for many reasons. My basic phone recently developed issues with sending and receiving texts and I've got some traveling coming up, so I thought it seemed like a good time to take the plunge. I've had the phone since Monday, and honestly I haven't done a lot with it. I downloaded Facebook so I've used it to send messages and to check on some Facebook stuff and email at various times. I've taken a few pictures and posted them to Facebook, and it was a lot easier and more fun than my previous process (I just need to figure out how to hold the phone steady so they aren't blurry--it's such an awkward object). I imagine that over time I will find new things to use my phone for; I actually like texting and typing with the touch screen more than I thought I would. 

During the last two weeks I attended some training offered through the university's Human Resources department. I'll probably write more about it in a different post devoted to my new goal that I set (yes, I know I'm good at setting goals and bad at following through). It was a lot of fun and I'm excited about making some changes in my life and in what I do at work. 

The weather here has, of course, been crazy. Last weekend was absolutely gorgeous with warm, clear weather. Then yesterday we spent all day getting pounded by cold rain and there is fresh snow on the mountains. Many of my neighbors have started to work on their yards but I really haven't. The lawn has been a struggle for the last four years that I've lived here; it's still mostly weeds and very patchy grass. I have some extra money this year from my tax return so I think I'm going to sign up for some professional help. It feels weird to me--I've never thought of myself as the sort of person who spends money on lawn care and am not sure about putting a lot of chemicals on the lawn. However, I got an estimate from a well-reviewed company the other day and the price was lower than I expected. I think I'm going to go for it; hopefully one season of intensive care will get my lawn back to being something nice to look at and nice to walk on. 

Well, life goes on and hopefully we'll have a good time in May, crazy recitals/programs/birthdays/parties and all. Right now I've got two big canker sores in my mouth that have been bothering me for a few days so I'll just be happy to be able to eat again. That's setting my expectations low enough, right?

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Spring Break (or, Managing Expectations)

The kids had their Spring Break this past week. One of the hard things about being a working parent is the fact that when the kids have days off from school, you have to figure out what to do with them. One of us, or both of us, usually has to take time off work to take care of them; thankfully Mr. Fob has a flexible job so sometimes he doesn't even take time off and just has them hang out with him. Last year for Spring Break I took off part of the week and the kids and I went to Las Vegas to visit my parents. The year before that Mr. Fob took the older two to Disneyland, but left P. Bibby here because she was barely two years old. This year's Spring Break has been highly anticipated by everyone for several months. Mr. Fob took the week off work and drove all three kids down to California to spend a few days at Legoland. 

It was a weird week for me--the first time I've ever had all three kids gone for such a long period of time. Their dad picked them up last Sunday evening and they were gone until late Friday night. From what I can tell, it was a fabulous trip. We talked on the phone every night and I saw a lot of pictures on Facebook (the internet can be pretty awesome sometimes). They had smooth driving, nice weather, healthy kids, and tons of fun. I had actually been looking forward to this week for quite a while. I thought that a week by myself would be relaxing and productive. As usual, I had high expectations for all the things I could get done without having distractions around (lovely, adorable "distractions" that I missed all week, by the way). 

And, as is usual in life, my expectations of high productivity and general awesomeness didn't quite come true. First of all, it ended up being a crazy week at work. The previous Friday at 4:50 I had been approached by my supervisor with the question "what's your next week looking like?" There was a training session being held at my library, sponsored by the state library, on new standards for cataloging. That is not the area of the library I directly work in, but it's an area I want to be more involved in at some point in the future and an area that I already participate in slightly. Plus, the training was being offered by an expert in the field, was being held in my workplace, and had a few empty slots so I could easily attend. It was a great opportunity, but also made my life somewhat stressful all week. Despite the fact that the subject was fascinating, participating in 5 full days of computer-based training is just not relaxing. Add on top of that the fact that none of my regular job duties were getting done at all, and that I hadn't had time to plan ahead for being away from the office for a week. I spent a lot of last week feeling fairly stressed out. Of course, in my usual fashion I tried to logic my way out of things. But, telling myself that "this shouldn't be such a big deal" never really works to make the anxiety part of my brain stop freaking out "this isn't what I thought was going to happen. Where's my routine? Stuff isn't getting done right now!" Sigh.

It's actually probably good that the rest of my life outside work was fairly low-stress since last week could have been a lot worse. Having flexibility to go in to work earlier and stay a bit later was really nice, and it was good to be able to come home and just vegetate instead of having to cook dinner and put people in bed. I should have just accepted that fact instead of being disappointed that I didn't go to the eye doctor, deep clean my house, get my car repaired, write a research paper, hang out with friends, watch movies, cook healthy food, or most of the other ridiculous expectations I set for myself. Instead, I did some cleaning, got some homework done, exercised once, read the last two books I needed to finish for the Whitney Awards, and survived the week. Time went by really fast and the next thing I knew it was suddenly Friday night and my house was full of sleepy kids again. 

Yesterday we just hung out around the house. I completed some school assignments, did laundry, and spent a few hours in the afternoon cleaning out the garage. The kids spent most of the time playing with their new Lego sets that they bought at Legoland. Today we went to church, spent the afternoon hanging out (more Lego playing), and had a nice Family Home Evening about Holy Week. I think Spring Break was great and hope we can all do it again some other year; next time, though, I won't make too many plans. My dad always says that the key to happiness in life is not have any expectations. I think he might be right.