The Short List: April

Poolside reading

I can’t think of the last time in my life (at least since having kids) that I have packed and unpacked a suitcase so many times. This spring has been a season of travel. Last month I had my quick trip to New York City. (Update: I was able to watch my Life Reimagined video that I shot while in NYC. I can’t share it quite yet, but I’m so happy with how it turned out!) This month I was able to get away for a few days to Florida with Mike. His trip was pretty much all business, while mine was pretty much all lounging. I’m eternally grateful for my family and neighbors who make it possible for us to sneak away together. I’m also eternally grateful for piña coladas.

In just a few days we’re headed west! Yes, our big trip to California is right around the corner. You may remember it was our Christmas gift to the kids. We’re all super excited. We’ll spend four days in Los Angeles, a day at Disneyland, and 3 days in San Diego. If you want to follow along, be sure to find me on Instagram. And maybe Snapchat? I just joined, but have absolutely NO clue what I’m doing. That, my friends, is what having a teenage daughter is for. I’m angie.six in that foreign land!

While we’re navigating the west coast, here are a few things I found while still firmly planted in the midwest:

Disclosure: This post contains a few affiliate links.

Listening:

I’m still way behind on the podcast craze, but there are a few that I’ve been absolutely loving. One is Modern Love. Each week, a celebrity reads an essay from the New York Times column by the same name. The topics of the essays are so varied and interesting, and never fail to captivate me. I especially loved “My First Lesson in Motherhood,” read by Connie Britton. As a reader, I also adore the new podcast from Anne Bogel, What Should I Read Next. I think I love listening to people talk about books almost as much as I enjoy reading them! I’m on a quest to find a podcast that the kids and I would enjoy together. Any suggestions?

Reading:

Thanks to a recommendation from What Should I Read Next, Eli and I are reading The Crossover by Kwame Alexander together. Reading something written in verse is new for us, but the topic (basketball) and the writing have us hooked. I’m also tearing through a fantastic book on parenting teenage girls. Chock full of useful and panic-reducing information, Untangled: Guiding Teenage Girls Through the Seven Transitions into Adulthood by Lisa Damour is a book I’m going to be shoving into other parents’ hands on a regular basis. On the fiction front I started The Possibilities by Kaui Hart Hemmings . You might remember her as the author of The Descendents, which was made into a movie starring George Clooney. On the audiobook side of things I’m listening to How to Build a Girl by Caitlin Moran. Imagine Bridget Jones and Cameron Jones melded into one teenage girl growing up in the gritty suburbs of London. It’s a fun (but definitely not safe for work or small ears) listen so far.

Loving:

I’ve been admiring maxi dresses from afar for the last couple of summers. They seem so cute on other (taller) women, but all wrong when I try them on. Every maxi dress I’ve tried on has been too long, or too tight in the wrong places, or so loose it looks like a potato sack. And don’t even get me started on the bra issues!

gap column maxi dress

I finally found the perfect maxi dress at the Gap that is big-busted, short girl perfection. It comes in petite sizing, so I don’t have to hem it, it’s clingy in a sexy way (as opposed to sausage-casing clingy), and I can wear a normal bra with it. I’ll be wearing it all summer long, dressed up and dressed down.

Surfing:

Have trouble deciding what to read? How about reading a book based on your Myers-Brigg personality type? (I’m an ISFJ-T, so I added A Little Life to my TBR list.)

Our 19th wedding anniversary is just around the corner, so these tweets that only married people will understand made me chuckle.

As a person who never excelled at math, this article fascinated me. It also changed the way I talk about math to my kids.

What’s on your short list of favorite things right now?

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March 2016 Must-Reads

It looks like a little glimpse of spring was all my reading life needed to get some oomph back! March found me with some great reads and listens on my nightstand and in my ear. My picks were quite varied this month. I mixed new with old, happy with sad, and serious with downright fluffy YA fun. I read two books that have me desperate for a trip to Italy. It was a good reading month, friends! Here’s what I loved, liked and just couldn’t finish in March:

Disclosure: this post contains affiliate links.

March Must-Reads

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

When this memoir first started appearing on my radar, I dismissed it as something I just wouldn’t want to pick up. Dr. Paul Kalanithi was just 36 and finishing up his training to be a neurosurgeon when he was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer. Beyond his dream of becoming a doctor, he also dreamt of one day being a writer. He never imagined he’d have such a short time to accomplish both. Paul passed away in March of  2015. An instant best-seller, this book has been popping up everywhere in papers, magazines, websites and blogs. When it appeared on my library’s express shelf, I thought the book universe must be trying to tell me something, and so I took it home. Once I picked it up I couldn’t put it down. Paul’s voice comes through clearly, and it is honest, endearing and heartbreaking. The book took on additional weight and meaning as one of my neighbors unexpectedly passed away as I was reading it. Don’t skip the epilogue at the end, written by Paul’s widow, Lucy.

After You by Jojo Moyes

I’ve yet to read anything by Jojo Moyes that I haven’t loved, but by far my favorite is Me Before You. (Anyone else stocking up on tissues in anticipation of the movie this summer?) After You takes readers back to Louisa Clark, who is trying desperately (without much success) to figure out how to live a life Will Traynor would’ve been proud of. A freak accident and an unexpected visitor give Louisa the jolt she needs to change directions. The question is whether she’ll be brave enough to respond. It’s hard to match the chemistry behind the love story of Louisa and Will that Me Before You provided, but After You does a fine job of crafting a new story for characters we’ve come to love and tying up some loose ends. You won’t sob at the end of this one, making it a perfect beach or pool read for this summer.

This is What Happy Looks Like by Jennifer E. Smith

More like This is What Fluffy YA Fun Looks Like. Smith’s book read like a modern-day version of my tween/teen daydreams: Quiet girl-next-door strikes up flirty (yet completely anonymous) relationship with boy via email, thanks to one mistyped character in an email address. Boy, who happens to be world-famous teen-heartthrob, figures our where girl lives and convinces the producers of his next big movie to film on location in girl’s small town. Will they fall in love in real life? Can they survive jealous friends, meddling agents, and keep their relationship under wraps? OH, THE DRAMA. But it totally works and I loved it. Elena loved it, too.

Four Seasons in Rome by Anthony Doerr

Anthony Doerr is the writer behind my favorite book of 2015 (and one of my favorite books of all-time), All the Light We Cannot See. In 2004, as his wife was recuperating in the hospital from delivering twins, Doerr finds out that he’s won the Rome Prize. With a studio in Rome and a stipend waiting for him, Doerr, his wife and his infant twins travel to Italy to live for a year. Sleep and words are hard to come by in Rome, but beauty and good food are not. It was so interesting to read of Doerr’s struggles to write what would eventually become his Pulitzer-winning novel, and to see how this time in Rome played a part in a book that wouldn’t be born for nearly 10 more years.

As Doerr witnesses the historical announcement of Pope Benedict XVI first-hand he writes this:

“The glory of architecture, the puffing chimney, the starched white robe – these details are carefully chosen; they are there to reinforce majesty, divinity, to assure us that what is said to be happening is actually happening.

And doesn’t a writer do the same thing? Isn’t she knitting together scraps of dreams? She hunts down the most vivid details and links them in sequences that will let a reader see, smell, and hear a world that seems complete in itself; she builds a stage set and painstakingly hides all the struts and wires and nail holes, then stands back and hopes whoever might come see it will believe.”

Reading this, I realized that this is what makes Doerr and All the Light We Cannot See, in particular, so very special. I was able to see, smell and hear World War II in the village of  Saint-Malo perfectly, just as I was able to do with Doerr’s Rome. What a gift. This book is equally wonderful for all the senses.

Find the Good by Heather Lende

This was a quick read (or listen, for me) that just brightened my day. Lende is an obituary writer for the local paper in her small Alaskan town. You would think, in a small town where everybody knows each other, that this would be a depressing job. Instead, Lende uses the lessons she learns from the lives of the deceased and the loved ones they leave behind to inspire us to find the good in the world around us. As she says, “We are all writing our own obituary every day by how we live. The best news is that there’s still time for additions and revisions before it goes to press.” Her essays are relatable, funny and touching.

The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo

This was my pick in the Modern Mrs. Darcy Reading Challenge for “A book you’ve already read at least once.” Kate DiCamillo is a master at writing books for children that adults will love. She’s also extremely gifted at writing books that make wonderful read-alouds. Despereaux the mouse may be small (even if his ears are extremely large), but he is mighty and brave when it comes to his love for the Princess Pea. Nothing can stop him from rescuing her – not the deep, dark dungeon, the rats, the butcher knife, or his own family’s betrayal. But it’s in the journey in which he learns what’s really important: love, loyalty and soup. Eli wasn’t captivated by the first couple of chapters, but I urged him to give it a few more nights of reading … and he was hooked. We especially love the character of Miggery Sow. Not only is she fun to read as a narrator, but she speaks to the heart of what all children want: to be heard and seen.

Honorable Mention

10% Happier by Dan Harris

This book found me by way of Gretchen Rubin’s “Happier” podcast, in which Harris was a guest on the show. He was engaging and funny and got me curious about something I never thought I’d be interested in: meditation. 10% Happier tells Dan’s story of how he overcame an addiction to the drugs and alcohol he used to fuel his need for an adrenaline rush. You may know Dan as a news anchor on ABC. His impetus for finding something other than drugs to calm his mind? A live, on-air panic attack on Good Morning America. Harris is skeptical at first, but eventually finds that meditation is able to sooth him like nothing else he’s ever tried. It isn’t a miracle worker, but he does believe that it makes him 10% happier. If you approach this as a manual for learning how to meditate, you’ll be disappointed (although Harris does offer tips and resources at the end of the book). However as a memoir and as a means to see if meditation might be right for you, this book was a fun and thoughtful read.

Landline by Rainbow Rowell

I kept putting off this particular Rainbow Rowell title because many reviewers didn’t enjoy it as much as some of her other titles. I adore Rowell’s writing, with Eleanor & Park being one of my favorite books of all time. The reviewers are both right and wrong. I agree, it’s not as charming or engaging as some of her other books. It’s a really hard plot to explain, involving estranged spouses and a magic landline telephone. But it’s not a book Rowell fans should automatically dismiss. She’s still in there, even if the characters aren’t as lovable. And I’ll take a little Rainbow Rowell wherever I can get her!

Fun Home by Alison Bechdel

I picked up Alison Bechdel’s graphic novel after seeing the Broadway musical based on the book in my recent trip to New York City. I absolutely loved the play and wanted more. Bechdel tells the story of what it was like growing up with a closeted gay father, all the while questioning her own sexuality. As she finds herself and is able to come out to her family, her father finds his walls closing in. Just as Alison is able to live her life truthfully, her father ends his. This tragic story is also mixed in with recollections of family life in the 70s. The family ran the town’s funeral home, and her father’s hobby/obsession was restoring the Victorian home they lived in. I got lost in some of the text and reflections, but overall I enjoyed the story and the format. Even though it’s a graphic novel it’s definitely not intended for younger teens. I’d hoped I could share it with Elena, but it will need to wait a few more years. If you’re in NYC, definitely make plans to see the show!

New & Noteworthy

Only in Naples by Katherine Wilson (Available April 19)

I received this ARC from Netgalley.

What happens when you roll a food story, a travel story and a love story all into one? You get one delicious, entertaining read! That’s exactly what Katherine Wilson’s debut memoir is. Katherine goes to Italy for what was supposed to be a 3-month internship. Instead she falls in love with an Italian. She’s embraced by his Neapolitan family, and through his mother, Raffaella, she learns some of life’s most important lessons: how to love fiercely, how to dress up any outfit with a belt, and how to feed a family with love … and lots of pasta. The writing is sweet and funny, and sure to have you craving Italian cuisine for weeks. Don’t miss the recipes at the end with Raffaella’s commentary mixed in with the directions – they had me rolling! A truly fun read that will leave you hungry for more tales of the Avallone family. This was my pick in the Modern Mrs. Darcy Reading Challenge for a “A book published this year.”

The Rest

H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald

I had such high hopes for this book, almost selecting it as my book club pick. It’s been on nearly every book-of-the year, must-read list, it’s set in England, and it’s about birds. Doesn’t it just scream Perfect for Angie? But I just couldn’t get into it. I never connected with the author’s story or the hawk. Perhaps it was coming, but I gave up after more than 2 hours into the audio version. Did anyone else read it and love it? Did I give up too soon? I’m curious.

What have you read and loved lately?

The best books I read in March in fiction, non-fiction, YA and children's literature.

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Should-less Days: What They Are and Why You Need Them

What would happen if you took a day off from your life and only did the things you felt like doing? Self-care days or mental health days aren’t lazy – they’re good for your well-being! Take a should-less day and do the things you want to do without beating yourself up. If it’s good enough for Ellen Burstyn it’s good enough for you!

Shouldless Day

Last year I was listening to one of my favorite podcasts, Death, Sex & Money. The topic of this particular episode was an interview with Ellen Burstyn. At 83, the critically acclaimed actress probably knows a thing or two about life, and so I was eager to listen. She talked about something in the podcast when jolted me from my basket of laundry: the concept of should-less days.

What, exactly, is a should-less day? It’s essentially a vacation day for your body and brain, a rest from busyness and doing what’s expected. Here’s how Burstyn explained her should-less days:

“There is nothing I should do, so I only do what I want to do. And if it’s nap in the afternoon or watch TV and eat ice cream, I get to do it. I recommend them. I have wiring in my brain that calls me ‘lazy’ if I’m not doing something. And that wiring is there, I haven’t been able to get rid of it. But what I can do is I can put in another wiring. I can put in should-less days. So when that voice goes off and says, ‘You’re being lazy’ I turn to the other wiring in my brain that says, “No, this is a should-less day and I’m doing what I want.”

I think Ellen and me (and probably you) have the same wiring, the one that likes to call you lazy and isn’t there something else you should be doing? This is an unusual concept, considering we’ve been taught to prize busyness and efficiency above all else. This idea comes up again and again in my chats with other women and moms – the feeling that there are no days off. There is always something you could be doing. If it’s not taking care of your family, it’s the house, or work, or your body or your friendships.

I penciled in my first should-less day in mid-December. I knew a few things: if I didn’t schedule it, it wouldn’t happen. I also knew that, while on the surface, taking a precious school day in the middle of the busiest holiday season and making it a day of rest seemed crazy, it might also be the one way to keep me from going crazy over the holiday and winter break. I didn’t tell anyone about it. Quite honestly I was afraid of hearing what I tell myself: That’s ridiculous. You don’t need a break. Factory workers in third world countries need breaks, not you.

But we do. We all do, no matter who we are, what we do, or who we’re responsible for. We have two choices: we can ridicule people who take care of themselves, in the process making them feel worse and not making us feel any better, or we can take note and give ourselves permission to do the same.

So what did I do on my should-less day? Well, honestly I spent a lot of it arguing with the voice in my head:

I should call the firewood guy (No)
I should vacuum up that snowdrift of dog hair in the hallway (No)
I should run that errand when I’m out (No)
I want to fold laundry (Yes. I’m weird.)

Shouldless Day

In between arguing with myself, I treated myself.I made myself breakfast and a good cup of coffee.

Shouldless Day

I went back to bed with my book. I snuggled with a warm, snoring dog.

Shouldless Day

I didn’t exercise. I drank tea and enjoyed the quiet and the Christmas lights. I stayed in my pajamas all morning. I took myself out to lunch, and realized I’d forgotten my phone at home. It was delightful. No interruption, no feeling like I should check those emails or see what’s happening on Twitter (Nothing. Nothing is happening on Twitter or Facebook or Instagram that I can’t miss for an hour). I made room for silence and I paid attention to the thoughts in my head (which can be scary – hence the need to fill our days with stuff).

It was just what my mind and body needed. And here’s the best part: no one in my family noticed. The world as we know it didn’t fall apart because I scheduled 7 hours to take care of me. If anything, they noticed that I was calmer, more content, and not so grumpy.

How often should one take a should-less day? I can’t tell you. I haven’t taken one since then, instead taking a few should-less mornings or afternoons (baby steps). As I get to know myself better, I’m aware that scheduling a should-less day just before or right after draining events would be smart.

I would love to see should-less days become a thing, and I’m happy to start a little movement right here. If you can’t take a day, take an hour. Go out on a limb and let people know. “Oh, I’m sorry. I can’t meet with you on Tuesday. It’s my should-less day.” Share what you do on your should-less day and tag it #shouldlessday. I pledge that from this day forward I will no longer give anyone the stink eye or say snarky things inside when they’re choosing self-care over busyness and people-pleasing. Here’s to breaking old habits that wear us down and installing new wiring that builds us up.

Self-care days or mental health days aren’t lazy - they’re good for your well-being! Take a should-less day and do the things you want to do without beating yourself up. If it’s good enough for Ellen Burstyn it’s good enough for you! Simple Living | Stress Relief | Self Care For Moms

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