I have read so many great books over the past few months - I'm probably going to do a post with a big, long list of titles because there's no way I can catch myself up with a post for each!
The Overstory by Richard Powers is the latest book I read and feel compelled to write about. My brother-in-law recommended this book to me, and I am so glad he did!
This book has a lot of depth to it. It wasn't a book I sped through, and I was OK with that. For me, taking my time with the story and letting the messages sink in was important. I really feel altered by it and it's a tale I'll never forget.
The book opens on an Iowa farm. The story progresses into a heartbreakingly honest reflection on the preciousness of family and the traditions that are carried over time. Including the joy and/or burden that comes with both. The first chapter struck me hard. It certainly stirred up emotions inside of me that I wasn't expecting. I was sobbing over its simple beauty. I can still feel the words and see the farm with its grand Chestnut tree. While reading this chapter (and the ones to follow) I couldn't help thinking about the amazing things that can come from one seed. One seed, in whatever form it takes, can do incredible things.
As the chapters progress, you meet new characters in different settings who eventually start to cross paths with each other. Their passion for nature, and specifically trees, unites them in important ways, to do important work - many times putting their lives and reputations on the line. The way they believe so wholeheartedly in what they committed to do for the sake of all trees is inspiring - whether it was physically protecting them or helping people better understand how vital and special they are.
Upon researching some of the things shared in the book about trees (wanting to see if they were facts or not) I discovered one of the main characters is based on an incredible ecologist named Suzanne Simard. If you read this book, I have a feeling you'll pick out who I'm referring to quickly!
A message that I took away and intend to keep is to "Give in." There is a point in the book when there is a terrible storm and characters living in a tree to protest it being cut down are almost thrown to their death. One had more experience than the other, and upon seeing her partner struggling against the wind and rain, yelled, "GIVE IN!" A great reminder that can be used in everyday life. Speaking for myself, at least. Surrender. Go with it. Struggling isn't going to help. Give In.
Ultimately, this is a love story about trees and how we take them for granted. Trees are more amazing than I ever could have imagined. After reading this book, I'm an even bigger tree hugger. I look up. I look down. I notice. I take a deep breath and let the trees intoxicate me. Every tree I meet, I take a moment to appreciate. The trees on our property are used to me talking to them, but now one or more of them get a pat and encouraging word almost daily.
If you are a nature lover, a tree hugger, a person that cares about the well-being of our world, this book is for you. Ooze through it. Sit with it. And most importantly, hug a tree and a plant a seed before, during, or after reading it!
Closing Note Inspired by This Book: There are so many beautiful, extraordinary, simple, complex, tiny, huge things happening around us every single day. It's absolutely devastating that we can't take them all in at once. Appreciate them. Marvel at them. Give them a round of applause. Nature sprouts, lives, and dies - and we don't SEE it. Moments go by and we don't SEE them. Seasons go by and we don't SEE them. Years go by and we don't SEE them. And they're right in front of us. Happening to us. Thinking about this almost sent me into a downward spiral. Thankfully, it also gave me good perspective. We need to SEE as much as we can, even if that's not everything. It might mean slowing down for a second and being mindful in a world that just keeps going faster and faster, but we'll miss so much more if we don't ground ourselves in the present and give thanks.
With the local library closed due to COVID, and not wanting to (or being able to) shop at a bookstore, I really started to miss my fiction books. We have a lot of nonfiction books at our house because typically that is the only genre we buy physical copies of. But I was getting tired of those. I needed a good, made up adventure to get lost in.
We had many lame “adult” things come up near the end of Summer that strapped us financially, so I was diligently saving up for a Kindle on the side. I wanted to be able to access whatever books I wanted, whenever I wanted. I told my sister what I was thinking about, and she went on watch to find me a good deal. Fortunately, “Amazon Prime Day” was coming up soon, and on the first morning I had several options to choose from in my text inbox from her!
I was able to get a great bundle deal on a Kindle Paperwhite, case, and charging wall adapter. It was hard to be patient waiting for it to arrive, even though it just took a few days!
I got the latest model that is waterproof (because reading in the bathtub is a thing for me) with 8GB storage. It was shockingly tiny when I got it, but it’s the perfect size. I haven’t gotten into Audible yet, but Joel has, and this model can connect to Bluetooth and offers Audible access. There is no glare, so it feels like you’re reading a paper book. It holds its charge for a long time as well. You have easy access to what you’re currently reading and can add titles to your “Wish List” as you come across books you want to read in the future.
A couple of my favorite features are:
I must add a disclaimer that I do not encourage the use of Amazon. Getting a Kindle is one of the very few exceptions I have made. Continue to show up for your local retailers and bookstores when you can. Part of me feels super guilty for buying this product because it requires me to purchase Kindle books through Amazon going forward, but we’re all human, and sometimes we just want what we want. If you know a way around purchasing books through Amazon for the Kindle – I’d love to hear from you! And if you are wondering why I’m anti-Amazon, Click Here.
Jodi Picoult is officially one of my new favorite authors. I think I'm a little behind in discovering how great she is because she has a huge collection of popular titles, many being New York Times Best Sellers.
A Spark of Light was a joy to read. It is centered around a very controversial topic - abortion. An active shooter holds staff and patients of an abortion clinic hostage in an act of anger, hate, and revenge for his young daughter who recently had an abortion. Throughout the story, you learn about all sides of abortion - those who have them, those who protest against them, the procedures themselves, laws surrounding them. Even though it is a fiction book, it has several non-fiction elements that I enjoyed.
I also liked the structure. The book starts with the drama and suspense surrounding the shooter in the clinic, works its way back hour by hour following each of the characters, and ends back with the shooter in the clinic along with the final outcome for all of the characters. It's really a lovely progression.
At the end of the book, you find out that Jodi did her background research. She followed actual abortion patients and providers and protestors. She witnessed procedures. She learned about the laws. She read the data. Knowing this made me like the book even more because it confirmed for me that although the book is fiction, there were truths throughout. Most of which were heartbreaking and unjust. But truths nonetheless.
No matter what side of the fence you are on, this book humanizes abortion in a really important way. I hope you'll take time to read it in order to understand different perspectives of this touchy topic.
Let me know if you read it and what you think!
Happy New Year! I hope you had a 2018 full of lessons and milestones that helped you grow.
If you're into starting your new year on a positive note, I wanted to share a couple of FREE 30 day programs I'm committing to. The best part (aside from them being free)? They can both be done from the comfort of your home. It felt too good to be true when I discovered that two of my favorite women, Adriene Mishler and Mel Robbins, were releasing programs both starting on January 1, 2019. For me, there's no better way to enter into an improved physical and mental space as I navigate my way through the next year.
Here's a quick rundown of these programs and links to the information you need if you'd like to join in:
Dedicate - A 30 Day Yoga Journey
Adriene Mishler, Yoga with Adriene
There's nothing like 30 days of yoga with Adriene. I've done several of her 30 day programs and although it's tough at times to hop on the mat every single day, the pride and release of emotion you feel on day 30 makes it all worth it. The best thing about this program is that although it is designed to be done every day for 30 days, you can really do it at your own pace. Don't beat yourself up if you get out of sync. Adriene wouldn't want you to feel that way! She wants you to find what feels good.
I like to keep myself accountable by using the calendar she provides. If you sign-up on the Dedicate webpage I linked above, you'll also get daily encouragement emails from Adriene. She's truly one of the best humans. I know you'll fall in love with her. She is the perfect teacher for an at home yoga practice.
All you need for this program is access to YouTube, a yoga mat (or towel, or rug - sometimes I don't use anything!), and some blankets or a pillow.
Mel Robbins, Author of 5 Second Rule
I stumbled upon Mel Robbins on Instagram in 2018 and it was one of the best things that could have happened for me. She is a wonderful, inspirational woman who gives honest, common sense, and science-based advice on how to be a better human. Someone that believes in themselves and their ability to do anything they set their mind to. Someone that controls their mind, not allowing themselves to become a victim of it. And so much more. I absolutely love her.
Joel got me her book 5 Second Rule for my birthday and my mother-in-law got me the journal that helps you apply the teachings from the book to everyday life. I will be reading the book and using the journal throughout Mindset Reset. I've been waiting anxiously to get started!
You don't need the book and journal to take part in Mindset Reset. All you need is, again, access to YouTube, the Mindset Reset guidebook, and a journal. You'll want to sign-up for the program on the website I linked above so you get notified when a new video is up! Make sure to follow her on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter as well. She shares uplifting messages everyday.
If you decide to do either of these programs, let me know! I'd love to keep in touch throughout the 30 days. We could also keep each other accountable! I'm all for that.
Namaste and I wish you the best in 2019!
Abbi Jacobson may have regretted writing this book, but I’m sure glad she went through with it.
If you don’t know who Abbi is, here are a few bullet points on her:
Before having the privilege of attending Abbi’s book signing at The Vic Theater in Chicago, I knew very little about her as a person outside of her characters. I had read she felt that much of what you see of her on Broad City is an exaggerated version of herself in her 20’s, but that’s about it. She addressed this very thing during the program before the signing, saying she is at a point right now where although she still feels like that person today, so much has changed, so her professional choices as of late have been ones to help show she has evolved from Broad City Abbi now that she is in her 30’s.
As we sat in the theater and Abbi was interviewed by fellow author, Samantha Irby, I was captivated. I immediately connected with her. It felt like I was watching myself speak. So much of what she said deeply resonated with me. It was an experience I have never had before. Her celebrity status wore off quickly. She was just a woman on a stage sharing who she was, what she thought, how she felt. An hour flew by and before we knew it we were in line to meet her in person!
Joel and I got to have our picture taken with her after she signed our books. I had prepared and practiced statements ahead of time. I would tell her she was such a role model to me. That she and Ilana are two of my favorite women of all time. If I panicked, I knew I was going to say I loved her and didn’t want to do that because I didn’t want to freak her out! But both of us just lost it when we saw her. We got out a quick greeting, a “so nice to meet you, take care,” and it was over! She’s a doll. Just what we expected her to be.
Quick (Additional) Celebrity Sighting Break – We were semi-distracted throughout the program because we sighted not one, but TWO of our favorite celebrities sitting just a few seats away from us. Hannibal Buress (a.k.a. Lincoln from Broad City) and Jeff Tweedy (from Wilco, who we just saw this past September)! Joel and Jeff exchanged waves. It was surreal and made an already amazing evening even better.
Now let’s get to the book. With three weeks of vacation on her calendar, Abbi takes a solo road trip across the country to work through a recent break-up and feelings tied to the imminent final season of Broad City.
If you are a 30-something female, I think this book will resonate with you on some level. It’s a quick read because it is a collection of essays, illustrations, memories, and general ponderings. I felt like I was reading her journal. It’s funny, it’s heartfelt, it has true reflective depth that sneaks around each corner of her humor - catching you a little off guard. Overall, I related to her story strongly because I realized she and I are very alike. I nodded in understanding and snickered in empathy of what her human experience is like. Because it felt so much like mine.
It has been wonderful to get to know her better. I didn’t realize how much self-reflection would happen on my end because of what she shared. And I don’t think she meant for this to be a personal development/inspirational book, but it was for me. She’s a bad ass babe who humbly owns the direction of her life. Even though it makes her uneasy sometimes, she’s steering her own ship. She’s creating her own opportunities. She’s not waiting on anyone to do it for her.
5 out of 5 stars. Two thumbs up. More in love with her than I was before. Highly recommend if you like humor, have been heartbroken, sometimes just need to “get the hell out of here,” or have had to put a passion project out to pasture. If you are already a fan of Abbi, you'll enjoy it even more. There are points throughout when I could hear her voice reciting the words I was reading.
Chicago Travel Details
I also wanted to share a few quick details about our stay in Chicago. We have visited Chicago quite a bit throughout our marriage. It was getting to the point where this special place was starting to feel stale. That all flipped on this last trip. All it took was a change of hotel location!
We normally stay in the heart of downtown. This time, we stayed at the Majestic Hotel in the Lakeview area, which isn’t far from the city. It is a boutique hotel that includes parking for $25 dollars. It was a super cozy place that is renovated while maintaining its historic charm. Here are some photos:
It was within walking distance to some nice stores and restaurants that we hadn’t been to before. If you are a Chicago Cubs fan, the hotel has a hint of baseball décor and Wrigley Field is just a few blocks away.
The neighborhood felt safe, everyone was sweet as sugar, and you forgot you were on the outskirts of a huge city. Our walk to find coffee the morning we left was idyllic and made me heartsick to live in the city, which I haven’t felt in a very long time. It was nice to know I haven’t lost the city girl spark in my heart!
To get around, we used Uber. If you haven’t tried it yet while traveling, just do it. I’ve only had great experiences and the price is right. Reserving an Uber from the app is super easy and no cash is exchanged, it all takes place through the app. Joel had never been in an Uber before our trip and he ended up loving it!
I took these photos on our way out of the city. Such a magical place. I love the feeling of so many possibilities big cities bring.
My latest television series indulgence is also doubling as my new favorite book!
I was late to The Handmaid’s Tale bandwagon because I’m not a bandwagon person. The instant something is super popular I’m normally not interested. I suppose that is the hipster in me.
Anyway, this story is worth all of the praise! The most intriguing thing to me is that the book was published in 1985, written by Margaret Atwood, and the scenarios she includes are eerily relevant today. I feel that the world she created amplifies what is subtly (and sometimes not so subtly) happening in our current political climate and country.
The handmaid sharing her story is named Offred (Of Fred, her Commander). In the story’s setting, handmaids are simultaneously revered and looked down upon. In this new totalitarian world, fertility is a challenge. Handmaids are the answer to this problem. And although many times they give the gift of life, it can’t be overlooked that in their life before the country changed, they were adulterers, “whores,” “gender traitors” – women who had “sinned.” Their bodies are no longer theirs, but their Commander’s and their Wife. Frequent “ceremonies” occur where essentially the handmaids are raped in an effort to conceive a baby. It is dark and twisted and will take your breath away if you choose to watch the series.
Atwood’s world is built on religion. Those who revolted against and attacked the United States government have created a new era based on The Bible. Everyone is expected to live and breathe the words in The Bible. Any past transgressions or current day actions that that fall outside of the Holy Word result in severe punishment, and in most cases, death.
Freedom as we know it is non-existent. Women are forbidden from reading or writing or working. They must obey their Commander or other men. Free thinking is beaten down. Uniforms are implemented to help others identify your status. Love is arranged. Money is no longer. “Guardians” are omnipresent, guns in hand, ready to shoot you down. Public hangings on “the wall” are the punishment of choice. The outlook is bleak.
BUT, hope resides. Some people were able to escape to Canada before being captured and forced to live the Gilead way of life. Secret messages are exchanged. Revolution bubbles beneath the surface. Stories of what is truly going on are leaked to countries who could potentially help. People exist within Gilead with enough power that they can attempt to assist people in getting out.
It’s the hope that keeps the characters going. Memories of how life used to be. A yearning to eventually get back to “normal.” Although, most of the men in power have no interest in this because they’ve “got it made” in their opinions. So, it might be a long road.
If there’s one thing this story is teaching me is that we have it good. Really good. Today freedom reigns, but in a blink of an eye it could all be taken away from us. So squeeze your family tight. Appreciate your right to share your opinions, thoughts, feelings. Stand up for what you believe. Don’t allow basic rights to be taken from you. Read. Write. EXPRESS YOURSELF. Don’t take it for granted.
Joel and I love books. We're usually pretty good about going to the library so we don't accumulate more stuff, but once in awhile we like to buy items that we either plan to keep or donate to the library when we're done.
Half Price Books is one of our favorite used book stores. The one we go to is in Cedar Rapids. It has an amazing selection and the books are as good as new. They also have music as well, which is where you'll find Joel during the bulk of our visits!
We took an impromptu trip to Cedar Rapids last weekend and paid it a visit. Here are some of the items I picked up:
This is one of my favorite books. It is great for reflection and meditation. I gave my last copy away to a friend who I thought would appreciate it, so needed to get another copy for myself.
This is a book on tape (CD) that I bought to listen to in my car. There are six discs and it is read by the author, Shonda Rhimes (if you live under a rock, she's a powerhouse television writer - Grey's Anatomy, Scandal, etc.). It is SO GOOD! I'm already on disc two and I've loved every minute of it. If you are like me - an introvert to the core with anxiety, social anxiety and/or "stage fright" - read (or listen to) this book. She gets it. And she finds a way to overcome it. It's pretty powerful.
To be honest, I was initially drawn to this book because it was hot pink! But after flipping through, it looked like just what I needed at this time in my life. Earlier in the day I had told Joel that life's about having grace on ourselves and others, so it was quite ironic that this book fell into my hands. I've committed to reading one chapter each night. I don't (can't) speed through personal development books. If I try, I lose interest. It has been a pretty easy read and I enjoy the author's point of view. It can also act as a workbook, leaving blanks for you to answer questions along the way to help you check-in with yourself. I reflect vs. writing my answers down because I want to give this to the library so someone else can benefit from it when I'm done!
Yes, I still buy CDs. I was thrilled to find these albums from two of my favorite riot girl bands - Bikini Kill and Le Tigre. Always a punk girl at heart, baby!
Lastly, here's us, happy to be together for an entire day with no other commitments, wandering as we pleased. Doesn't happen at all anymore, so we definitely made the best of our time with each other!
I've been on the search for a daily reflection book and was lucky enough to run across this gem in a used bookstore we frequent!
The Book of Awakening by Mark Nepo contains a reflection for every single day of the year. There are no days or years tied to the dates, so it can be reused over and over again!
The topic of each passage varies - some are personal stories from Mark, others are stories from or about people he knows. Each one is very brief yet insightful. A consistent theme at the end of each entry is a focus on three mindfulness activities. You're asked to focus, to breathe, to silence your mind, to release anything you're holding onto.
Taking time in the morning for daily reflection has been a great addition to my routine. So far, I haven't missed a day. It's become very important to me to start the day in the right state-of-mind. It takes just a few minutes. Whether or not you personally connect to the message that day, at the very least you can feel good knowing you took some time to be still and focus on your personal growth. Namaste, my friends!
This book was a page turner. Couldn't put it down. I finished it in five days, which for me, is a miracle.
Swimming Lessons is a story about a woman - wife, mother, friend - that goes missing after leaving a trail of letters for her husband hidden in his overwhelmingly large collection of books. Ingrid's letters outline her life, in grueling detail, starting from the point when she met her husband up until the day she disappears. There is a lot of speculation around where she had gone. Had she drowned in the sea? Or had she chosen to leave?
Her letters are presented every other chapter. The space in between is filled with a present day account of life without Ingrid through the eyes of her daughter, Flora. She shares the other side of Ingrid's story. How others viewed Ingrid. How her family and friends, primarily her husband, were coping (or not coping) with her disappearance.
If I could choose one word to describe this book, it would be "haunting." Haunting in a way that was mysterious, moody and reflected the deep complication that exists on some level in every parent/child relationship and in marriage. I'll never forget it.
If you're a lover of books with happy endings, this wouldn't be for you. But if you like stories that explore the "things left unsaid" in relationships - you'll love this. Enjoy!
Eight Hundred Grapes by Laura Dave did a great job of delving into the complexity of family dynamics while highlighting the importance of weathering storms together.
The main character, Georgia, was well developed and the members of her family were a delight to get to know. Everyone in the story was keeping some form of secret that was revealed as the book went on, which made this a page turner.
The story primarily took place on and around the family vineyard, which added an interesting element. Although I'm not sure if what they said about managing a vineyard is completely true, it was neat to learn about how wine was made while you got to know the family that made it.
This book definitely pulls at the heartstrings. I'm a sucker for a good story that touches on the special bond between father and daughter. I was in tears as I read the last few pages.
And just in case you're wondering what the title stands for - "The secret number of grapes it takes to make a bottle of wine: eight hundred." Cheers!