September Reading Challenge: Read a Book You Own

2016 Reading Challenge

 

This month’s challenge was to read a book you own. You could have read it before or maybe it’s a book that you’ve been meaning to read. It happens to the best of us, we pick up a book and it sits on our nightstand, desk or bookshelf for too long. Our intentions are good, but time is limited. Since I’m a compulsive, emotional book shopper, I had plenty of books to choose from for this challenge!

Here’s what I picked:

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Happier at Home by Gretchen Rubin

“We were in the rush hour of life now, and everything was moving so quickly, and every day seemed so crowded—more reason to remember to slow down, stay patient, take photographs, and play Hide and Seek.”

I loved Gretchen’s first happiness book, “The Happiness Project,” because of her relatable stories and inspiring ideas. “Happier at Home” was very similar in approach. She’s not trying to make revolutionary changes to her life. Her goal is to tweak the little things in her life to increase her happiness. She discusses little life hacks (like managing her computer/phone habits) and happiness “golden rules” (like if you want to be happier, act happier). It isn’t a how-to but more of an experimental journey. I’m glad I read this book in September because it felt like a refresh button on my life and focus. As the weather continues to cool, we’ll be spending more and more time at home and I definitely want to be happier when we do.

Your turn: What book did you read this month?

Grandma’s Comfort Food

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My Grandma’s birthday is at the end of September. She passed away a few years ago but I tend to think about her and her life during this time of the year. Of course, I think about her often and miss her every day but there’s something about her birthday that causes me to ponder her life even more. It also makes me miss her even more. When I think about my Grandmother, though, I can’t help but to think about food. Oh, she was passionate about food! She enjoyed cooking and eating. If I went out somewhere, the first question she’d ask me when I got home was, “How was the food?” Or “Tell me about the food.” She also loved cooking for her family. I can remember so many cozy meals around her table. The food wasn’t fancy, since she didn’t have much money, but it was always made with love.

I didn’t think about it when I was younger but I’m realizing she had some unique recipes. “Poor man” recipes, is what I’d call them now. My Grandma grew up during the depression and I think that forever changed her perspective on money and material items. It also changed her eating habits. She never had much of an appetite for meat, again probably the result of growing up poor during the depression and not having much meat to eat. She loved pasta, potatoes and vegetables. She also cooked a lot with cabbage, probably because her mother was Polish.

So, I grew up eating things, like cabbage soup, that some might consider gross or weird. I didn’t know any better then. Her food always tasted delicious. And even today I still have cravings for her cabbage soup. I’ve modified her soup recipe but I still can’t quite duplicate the flavor.

One recipe I can duplicate is a recipe she called “pot cheese and macaroni.” It’s a funny name and I’m not sure why it’s called that. Several years ago I read or heard somewhere that cottage cheese used to be called pot cheese. It would make sense since cottage cheese is the main ingredient in this meal. I’m sure I probably already lost you at cottage cheese and pasta. I don’t blame you. All I can say is this is one of those meals that will take me right back to my Grandma’s kitchen. I smell it cooking and I’m suddenly tearing up (and not because of the onions!). It’s vapor-thin, but it feels like the closest I’ll be to my Grandma this side of heaven. This meal was our family’s comfort food. Again, it’s nothing fancy, but Grandma’s pot cheese and macaroni was gold to us. And everyone in our family still makes this meal when they’re feeling down or need some comfort. And sometimes we just cook it because we think it tastes really good! We used to eat it as a meal by itself but now I usually pair it with sautéed sausage and peppers.

Grandma Jean’s Pot Cheese and Macaroni

1 lb/package of shell pasta

1 yellow onion, finely diced

1 stick of butter

1 16 oz. container of cottage cheese (not non-fat)

  1. Cook the pasta according to the directions.
  2. While you’re boiling the water for the noodles, sauté the onions in the butter. Cook them for at least 10-15 minutes on medium low heat, or maybe even longer. You want to get them very soft and sweet.
  3. When the pasta is cooked and the water is strained out, put the pasta back in the pot. Immediately add the cottage cheese and onion/butter mixture to the pasta pot. Stir until the cottage cheese is melted.
  4. Add salt and pepper to your preference.
  5. Serve and enjoy!

 

Do you have any family recipes? What are your comfort foods? I’d love to hear your stories (and recipes, if you’re willing to share)!

What I’ve Been Reading Lately: Stories that make you want to laugh, cry and cheer out loud.

WhatIveBeenReading

Welcome to my monthly book report! Because I can’t just read a book like a normal person – I need space to process and discuss it – below are my informal reviews and random thoughts on the books I’ve read this month. I love being able to share and connect with others to discuss what books wowed us (and maybe which books didn’t). This month I’m also including books that I’ve listened to as an audiobook. As usual, I’m linking up with the community at the Modern Mrs. Darcy.

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The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown

“It is hard to make that boat go as fast as you want to. The enemy, of course, is resistance of the water, as you have to displace the amount of water equal to the weight of men and equipment, but that very water is what supports you and that very enemy is your friend. So is life: the very problems you must overcome also support you and make you stronger in overcoming them.”

—George Yeoman Pocock

Since I’ve been inspired by all things Olympics lately, I listened to this as an audiobook using my monthly Audible credit. Since I don’t know anything about rowing, I was a bit surprised by how engrossed I became with the story…and not just me but my family as well. It’s the story of the rise of the University of Washington’s rowing team and their journey to the Olympics, with the happenings of Nazi Germany as the backdrop. But the story really centers around one person, the loveable Joe Rantz. It’s his story and his fierce determination coupled with his sweet disposition that completely hooked me on the story. Who doesn’t like to cheer for the underdog? It’s an all-around inspiring story and an interesting peek into that time in history. I think fans of “Seabiscuit” and “Unbroken” by Laura Hillenbrand will also enjoy reading this story. It’s truly one of those books that will make you laugh, cry and cheer out loud.

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Shadows of the Workhouse by Jennifer Worth

“No indeed, the nuns were not remote goody-goodies. They were a bunch of feisty women who had seen it all, lived and loved and suffered throughout, and remained true to their vocation.”

“Shadows of the Workhouse” is the second book in the “Call the Midwife” series and it was just as fascinating and engaging as the first book. Set in London’s West End during the 1950s, this book tells the stories of the people of Poplar. People who lived through just about every unimaginable tragedy – poverty, war, disease, etc. – and had an iron will about them. As the name implies, many of the stories tell of the horrors that occurred in the workhouses in the late 1800s and what happened to those children when they grew up. They are heartbreakingly sad stories, but also filled with hope and perseverance. You’ll want to cry and cheer at the same time. Oh, the things they had to live with and overcome! It’s such a great reminder of how lucky we are to live with today’s conveniences.

As a side note, if this is any testimony to the power of these stories, this book brought me out of a terrible reading “drought.” (You know those times when nothing interests you and you have no desire to read.)

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Before We Visit the Goddess by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

“What is the nature of life? Life is lines of dominoes falling. One thing leads to another, and then another, just like you’d planned. But suddenly a Domino gets skewed, events change direction, people dig in their heels, and you’re faced with a situation that you didn’t see coming, you who thought you were so clever.”

I felt like this book had a lot of potential to tell a very interesting story. It spans several generations and two continents. It’s the story of a grandmother, mother and daughter and the choices they make – both good and bad – that greatly impact their futures. The story highlights the complicated relationships that mothers tend to have with their daughters (and vice versa, of course). The writing was solid and I mostly liked the characters, but about half way through I started to wonder what the point of the story was, other than making me feel depressed. I don’t need a story to wrap up neatly but I want to feel as if there was some type of redemption or at least some point in telling the story. There seems to be a trend right now in current fiction, this book included, to create stories about a slew of characters bent on making bad choices and decisions. I’m not a fan of it. As a reader, it just makes me feel bad about life. I wouldn’t say avoid this story, but I would advise to approach with caution.

Your Turn: What have you been reading lately?

Self-care September

Sunflowers

I love September. It’s the start of my favorite season. I love the weather. I love new school supplies. In my family, we have two big birthday celebrations this month. Overall, it’s a happy month.

But it’s also one of those months that make me want to hide underneath my comforter because there is SO MUCH TO DO! Whenever I peek at the calendar, I feel my pulse quicken and my anxiety starts creeping in. I’m never, ever going to get it all done.

With this lingering in my mind, it’s really no surprise that I absolutely adored Holley Gerth’s wise words on self-care in her book, “You’re Already Amazing.” (Ignore the kind of cheesy title, it’s actually a very good book.) It was God’s perfect timing for me to read this book right now. She doesn’t just give the reader some cliché or touchy-feeling talk about finding time to take a bubble bath. Instead she gives the reader a guideline on how to evaluate your emotional withdrawals and deposits. The withdrawals are what take emotional energy and the deposits are what restore emotional energy. The withdrawals are not bad things, per se, but things that tend to exhaust us. Once you know your withdrawals and deposits, you can balance your emotional account.

Since self-care can be a weakness of mine, I spent some time considering how I make deposits into my emotional health. Some answers were not surprising, but some were. Most of them were simple things that I could easily incorporate into my daily life: taking walks, reading books, yoga, going some place new to explore, etc. I hadn’t completely realized how important the little details of my life were to my emotional health. It doesn’t have to be a beach vacation (although those are nice too!).

Once I had my list, I vowed to myself that I would incorporate these things into my already out-of-control month. Despite the many withdrawals, I want to finish this month in the black.

Are you good about practicing self-care? How do you make emotional deposits? I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences in the comments!

September Reading Challenge: Read a Book You Own

2016 Reading Challenge

 

Can you believe summer is wrapping up this month and fall is just around the corner? Our community pools close next week which means poolside reading is also coming to a close. I’ve read some great stories this summer, but with the hints of fall in the air I can already feel myself shifting toward different type of stories. I’m a seasonal reader, meaning the weather and seasons tend to determine what type of books I’m going to read. Does anyone else do this?

In the fall I tend to want a sturdy character story, something reflective and/or introspective, or maybe something with a bit of a mystery to it. These feelings are heavily factoring into which book I choose this month.

Another factor is, of course, this month’s reading challenge! September is a busy month, so I tried to keep it simple for us. Our challenge is to read a book we already own! It can be a book we’ve already read or one we’ve been meaning to read. This won’t be difficult for me, since I have plenty of options to choose from! I’ve mentioned before that I have a book buying addiction, right? Some people have a to-be-read pile, well, I have a to-be-read shelf (ok, fine, SHELVES). If it’s a sickness, I don’t want to be cured. (Incriminating evidence below…)

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Here’s my pick:

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Happier at Home by Gretchen Rubin

I LOVE Gretchen Rubin so I’m embarrassed to admit this book has been sitting on my shelf untouched for years. I was listening to her podcast recently and she recommended reading this particular book in September because of the idea that September is the new January. September is a month of beginnings, fresh starts and clean slates. After a summer on-the-go and spent mostly outside, plus starting a new school year, I think it’s a great time to be encouraged about our home lives.

 

Your Turn: What book will you read this month? Are you a book collector, like me? Does your reading change with the seasons? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

August Reading Challenge Recap: Judge a Book by Its Cover

2016 Reading Challenge

We’ve been told “don’t judge a book by its cover” and I mostly agree with that statement but I wanted to let us off the hook and indulge in the superficial this month. The challenge was to pick a book based solely on its cover.

After browsing at the bookstore, I decided to read “Beautiful Ruins” by Jess Walter. Just looking at the cover felt like going on a vacation! I was hopeful that once I dived in, I’d love it. Sadly, though, it didn’t work out that way. I was thinking it’d be a fun story with some romance but it ended up being a slowly paced story that oozed of melancholy and regret. The characters were interesting and charming, and it was an intriguing story, but for some reason it just didn’t grab me. It was a good story, but it wasn’t a good story for me right now. When I kept putting off reading – something I never do – because I didn’t want to read this story, I knew it was time to switch to different book.

Instead I went with another book that had a beautiful cover….

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My Pick:

The Language of Flowers” by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

I’ve heard great things about this story from multiple sources but the cover has made me shy away. It’s true, this book has a pretty cover, but it’s pretty almost to a fault. If a cover is too perfect, I tend to think the story is going to be too cheesy. Instead, once again, I found a very melancholy story behind this beautiful cover. Thankfully, though, this time it had enough of a hook to pull me in! The story is about Victoria. She’s just turned 18 years old and has aged out of the foster care system. She’s not a bad person, but she’s a very broken person. Now, she’s on her own without any sense of direction on where she wants to go in life, except for this amazing ability to communicate by flowers. Yellow roses mean jealousy, peony means anger, sunflower means false riches, etc. Victoria is able to use this talent to put her life together and heal from the past. It’s a bittersweet but also a hopeful story (those are my favorite kind of stories).

It’s a story filled with sadness, disappointment, finding and losing love (and then finding it again), and a main character with a trunk-ful of hurt but who wants to heal. Not exactly the whimsical and romantic story the cover implies. Still, it was a good story and I’m glad I read it.

That said, my lesson learned this month: Don’t Judge A Book By Its Cover!

What about you? Did you pick a book by its cover? What was your experience?

 

5 Easy Ways to Read More…When Reading Isn’t Coming Easily

When You Want to Read More ...

 

A person who won’t read has no advantage over one who can’t read.

-Mark Twain

It hurts my heart when someone tells me they don’t like to read or that they don’t have the time to read. Even though it makes me sad, there’s a part of me that can relate. I’ve gone through long stretches, mostly in college and post-college, when I didn’t read and I almost lost the joy I find in reading. Now I can’t imagine life without a pile of books! Still, there are times when I feel like I’m in a reading rut and nothing seems to interest me. Like any routine, it’s hard to start again. Even knowing where to start can be a challenge since there are so many book options out there.

Once you start again, though, the routine and pleasure will come back. I recently encouraged a friend to read a book, after a long break from not reading. She listed some reasons why she was too busy to read and that was the end of the conversation. I heard back from her a few days later. She decided to pick up a book that had been lying around her house collecting dust and she flew right through it.

When I think about my non-reading years, I so wish I could have that time back. My to-be read pile is enormous and I feel sadness at all the years I wasted not reading. I could have made a bigger dent in my reading pile by now! All the things I was missing! The fun stories, the encouragement, the adventure, the humor!

If you’re thinking about getting back on the reading bandwagon, I’ve pulled ideas from my own life, things that helped me when I was in a reading funk, that I hope will get you back on track.

Start with a Book You Already Love

Recently I was going through a reading funk and needed something to jolt me out of it. Over the past couple of years, I’ve been slowly making my way through the “Anne of Green Gables” series and have loved each one. So when my most recent reading funk hit, I decided to pick up the next book in the Anne of Green Gables series, “Anne of the Island.” I was immediately pulled into the story and finished the book in a couple of days. It was exactly the recharge I needed to get excited about reading again.

Ask the Experts

Try wandering around the library or bookstore one day. The library is a no-risk option for trying out books without having to buy them, but sometimes – especially when you’re not sure what you want to read – the display tables and “employee picks” at the bookstore can be a big help to get started. Librarians are very helpful and eager too. Don’t be afraid to ask them for ideas. The librarians at my local library sit at a table with a big sign that says, “Please interrupt me!” Join Goodreads to see what your friends are reading, read a book blog (hi!) or ask friends for recommendations. I also highly recommend the podcast, What Should I Read Next with Anne Bogel. I guarantee your reading list will explode!

Find the Time

Now that you have stack of books, the most obvious hindrance is finding the time to read. I know a lot of people who enjoy “binge-reading”: ignoring everything and reading non-stop until the book is finished. But that’s not always a realistic option, since usually there’s still real life to deal with. Most of my reading is done in fifteen-minute spurts of time. Sure, I’m not finishing books every day, or even every week, but I’m making progress on books. The biggest thing for me was turning off the TV at night and sitting down to read instead. Now I almost always read before bed.

Make it Convenient

Not only do I keep books piled around my house, I also try to keep a book in my purse or car for those in-between waiting times – during kids practices, carpool lines, etc. Trust me, the updates on Facebook can wait. I’ve also started listening to audio books while driving around town or while I’m doing chores in the house.

Start or Join a Book Club

I would not read nearly as much as I do without my book club. Several years ago, I really wanted to start a book club. I love discussing books with other people and I knew I needed the accountability to read more books. I asked around and got a long list of reasons and excuses of why people couldn’t join. A couple of years later, I was out to dinner with a group of friends and we decided to pop into a bookstore before heading home (I think we were hoping the babysitters would get the kids to bed before we arrived home) and, as we were browsing around, we decided to start a reading club. I’m happy to report that our book club has been going strong for five years and it brings me so much joy! I’ve been challenged to read books that I would have never pick up on my own but that I really enjoyed. Other than actually learning to read, it’s probably the best thing I’ve done for my reading life.

I hope these tips and ideas will inspire you to get out of your reading rut or to read more! If you have any additional ideas, please share them in the comments below!

What I’ve Been Reading Lately: Gripping Tales of Truth and Fiction

WhatIveBeenReading

If you’re new around here, this is my monthly book report.These are informal reviews and random thoughts on the books I’ve read this month. I love having this place to share and connect with others to discuss what books wowed us (and maybe which books didn’t). As usual, I’m linking up with the Modern Mrs. Darcy.

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East of Eden by John Steinbeck

“There’s more beauty in the truth even if it is dreadful beauty.”

Watch out, readers! This book has claws! It completely gripped me and wouldn’t let me go until I finished it. I found myself ignoring life many times in order to keep reading and that doesn’t happen very often with me. It’s a saga that spans a couple of generations, but focuses mainly on a (somewhat dysfunctional) family in Salinas, California. I will say, at times, it unfolded a bit like a soap opera with melodramatic turns of events, but I think Steinbeck was using the “over the top” extremes to prove his point of good vs. evil. It wouldn’t have been as fun to read about a mildly bad person and an average good person. You need extremes sometimes. The story parallels the Cain and Abel story but I’ll leave that discussion to more intelligent people than me. In addition, I loved how the story gave glimpses of the times and the future. For example, there was a fascination with refrigeration. At one point, one of the characters risks a lot of money to ship lettuce on ice from California to the East Coast. It didn’t go as planned but obviously it hinted at what the future would hold for these farmers. I would slightly agree that it might have benefited from some editing BUT it never lagged or dragged on. I was intrigued the entire time and, for being 600 pages, I flew through it.

Porcelain by Moby

“My own records should be melodic and emotional, and I should do my best to make music that could give people happiness, or at least a beautiful sadness that offered consolation.”

I first heard about Moby’s memoir, Porcelain, while listening to a Happier with Gretchen Rubin podcast. He was a guest on the show and I was truly impressed by his general outlook on life and was curious about his memoir. As soon as I started reading it, I was immediately hooked on the story. Moby brings to life a time, place and group of people that are so far removed from my own life: the club and rave scene of a drug-plagued New York City in the late 80s and early 90s. It was so shocking, interesting and crazy to peek into his life. It’s like a car crash that you can’t look away from – stories so shocking that you can’t believe it’ll get any worse (it does), and a story of wild contradictions. He’s an extremely talented person, yet riddled with insecurities. He desperately wants to find love, and yet destroys every relationship. At first, a vegan, Christian in a world of clubs, but ultimately becomes as raunchy and immoral as the people he once judged. Actually, most of the time, he’s much more judgmental of the well-meaning Christians than of the druggies, ravers and other assorted characters he meets in the clubs (even when he was still considering himself a Christian). I admired his ability to find bits of happiness and hope in rather dire circumstances and his drive to make music, but the second half of the book is about his downward spiral and it was heartbreaking to read. It reminded me of the humanity of actors, artists, and musicians. They are people just like us, navigating their own set of circumstances. In this case, Moby had to navigate his hard childhood, poverty, bad theology, and alcohol addiction to become the person he is today. In my opinion, it’s worth reading but I’m going to give this book a Rated R disclaimer for a lot of sex and drug use.

Your Turn: What have you been reading lately?

 

The Unexpected Benefit of To-do Lists

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At the start of summer, I started a haphazard bullet journal. All summer long I meant to go back and really learn how to use a bullet journal (i.e. watch/read all the tutorials) but I never had the time. In the busyness of life, I sort of made it my own, to fit my own purposes.

When I started it in June, I made a “wish list” of all the things I wanted to do and get to this summer. It was an assorted list of things that needed to be done and fun things I wanted to do. And then the list loomed in the back of my mind all summer as a constant reminder of all my inefficiencies. It’s easy to feel inadequate when faced with a long to-do list.

July is over now. Two months that came and went like an afternoon thunderstorm that rolls out as quickly as it rolls in but still leaves everything soaking wet. Remembering the list, I finally sat down to look at it and face my own internal judgment. I told myself, instead of feeling bad about what I didn’t do, I was going to create a new list of all things I did do.

I’m happy to report that, without realizing it, I’ve been slowly crossing things off the list. And, you know what, all the really important stuff was on “what we did” list!

It was so encouraging to be reminded that our time wasn’t wasted. In fact, it was filled to the brim with fun, friends and family (and a few necessary projects around the house). Then I looked back at my original June list and I was able to cross off most of my to-do items and the ones that I didn’t cross off weren’t really that important to me anymore.

Sometimes we’re harder on ourselves than we need to be. Rather than feeling bad, my to-do list did the opposite. It reminded me to count my blessings. Rather than counting what’s lacking, maybe we need to spend more time counting what’s right in front of us. Less lists of what we need, and more lists of what we have.

August Reading Challenge: Judge a Book by its Cover

2016 Reading Challenge

We all know the saying “never judge a book by its cover” is mostly wise advice but sometimes aren’t we just a bit tempted to judge a book by its cover? I know I am! Let’s do it this month! Here’s my suggestion: go to the bookstore or library or even a friend’s bookshelf and pick out a book for the most superficial reason – its cover! It might have a pretty cover or be uniquely designed or you’re just drawn to it for some reason. Give in to the urge. But, here’s the catch, DON’T read the back or the first page. Just buy or borrow the book and start reading.

Of all the challenges, this might be the one I’ve been looking forward to the most. I can’t wait to hear about your experience and what caught your eye!

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As for me, I went to the bookstore yesterday and realized this challenge was harder than I expected. It’s not easy to “trust” only a cover. There were a few books that jumped out at me but ultimately I went with a book that fit my mood and season.

My Pick:

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Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter

This book has a beautiful, colorful, beach cover. The cover feels like summer, which is probably why I picked it. I can’t tell you too much about this book because I didn’t read the back. I remember hearing some good reviews about it a couple years ago and I think it takes place in Italy and maybe one of the characters is an actress. Other than that, I have no idea what I’m getting into! I’ll let you know at the end of the month.

Your Turn: What book will you read this month? And why did you choose it? What on the cover grabbed your interest?