Saturday, January 25, 2020

Policing Myself

I had Monday off, and it was super productive. I finished a book*, knocked almost everything off my school to-do list, went to the gym, put laundry away. I was a powerhouse.

And then I realized, it was in part because I didn't get on my phone. I didn't go on Facebook, in particular (well, for more than 5 minutes or so).

I found that when I went on and started scrolling, I lost swaths of time and really didn't have much to show for it. And, I found myself falling into the trap of comparing, and looking at what everyone else was doing, and looking to see what social things I'm not doing (even though I'm just fine not doing them).

I realized that this was not how I want to spend my time. I can't get off Facebook entirely; I use it to keep up with family far away and sometimes I enjoy putting my special brand of crazy and awkward out there amongst the photoshopping and seatbelt selfies and canned memes. I don't need to be spending as much mindless time on there as I have been.

I discovered a feature in the settings of my phone that tracks my screen time, kind of like a Fitbit for phone use. It showed me just how much time I've spent on Facebook, and I couldn't help but think of all the things I could have accomplished during that time. Of how very UNproductive that time was. Sometimes it's easy to sit on the couch after a long day (or while procrastinating) and just scroll, scroll, scroll. But that's time I could be reading, or writing, or working on a puzzle, or actually talking to someone.

My limit for Facebook is now 20 minutes. Just knowing I have a limit has already curbed my use, in the same way a food diary works. If you know you'll be writing down every thing that passes your lips, it can proactively stop you from eating too many gross things out of shame and accountability. If you know your phone is going to shut down an app after a certain time, there's a weird sense of trying to beat the policing that comes out and gets oddly competitive. It's like the timer policing assumes I have no independent self-control, but knowing the timer is there hones my self-control because I DON'T really want to be policed.

I bet you could do an interesting social psychology study on this.

So, a few days later, I've had the 5 minute warning come up but haven't had Facebook actually shut down on me. I set one for Pinterest, for 30 minutes, and it did get shut down on me (the icon grays out) today. I think though that I will make that time 1 hour. Pinterest is a different kind of rabbit hole -- I do use it for school stuff and cooking and home organization and vacation planning, and those are (at least a little) productive. More than an hour is probably unnecessary. It's a better, healthier, less-comparative-and-tinged-with-self-loathing time waster than Facebook, and I go on it far less frequently.

I think this social media policing is going to work out just fine.

* The book I finished was There There by Tommy Orange. It was PHENOMENAL. I literally couldn't put it down and the language was downright poetic at times. A great window into the lives of the Urban Native community, and a skillful interweaving of multiple perspectives marching towards a common event.

Monday, January 20, 2020

#Microblog Mondays: Eleven Years

Martin Luther King Day is a special day for many reasons, but it has a personal remembrance for me. Eleven years ago today (this holiday today, not this specific date), I proposed to Bryce and he said yes.

Why THIS day? Not for any other significance than that it was a three-day weekend and I'd gone to visit my best friend and her family, which involved a brand new baby and a toddler, and while I was there I penned a letter to Bryce that was basically a persuasive essay in favor of getting married. You could say I saw my married friend and her young family and wanted something like that for us, and you could say that I had time away to think about where we were as a couple and how Bryce had said he wasn't all that interested in getting married again but that he wanted a partnership with me, which was nice but I wasn't all that interested in a partnership without marriage.

So when I got home Monday, I made a nice dinner, set out a Sinnean Pinot Noir, lit candles, and printed out the letter after a zillion edits. It was nerve-wracking.

But I am so, so very happy that he said yes. Well, he jumped up with tears in his eyes and yelled, "YES! Of course, of course YES, I will marry you, Jess!"

Part of the letter referenced the difficulties we already knew we would face having children, but we had NO IDEA just how difficult those difficulties would be, or that they would end in us not having children at all. Although, to be fair, I did reference that outcome -- I distinctly remember saying that I was up for the challenge and if it turned out to be not possible for us, I could be happy with a life that was just us two because I loved him THAT much.

After all the hurdles we jumped only to land in quicksand, after eleven years, two houses, four cats, two dogs, several jobs, and two degrees... it feels good to know that the argument I made at the start of 2009 still holds true -- every last bit, even the "worst case scenario" that I know now is not worst case at all.

I might love him even more now than I did then, because I know what we can survive and what we're capable of, and with so much behind us I can't wait to see what's ahead.

Pajama engage-o-versary selfie. Bryce said each year we may need to take 5 more selfies to find one that we don't both hate. Ha, ha.

This is why kissing selfies are a TERRIBLE idea. I look like I'm being deflated and my head and neck are misshapen, and Bryce is sucking my life force. Or giving me really bad CPR. One or the other. 

Mmmm, tacos for dinner with homemade spicy beans, caramelized onion, Peruvian marinated chicken, and avocado on tortillas Bryce made from scratch. Nom nom nom

Want to read more #Microblog Mondays? Go here and enjoy! 

Monday, January 13, 2020

#Microblog Monday: Caught Off Guard

I reached a point this past year where I could give away things in the "not ready to part with" box, and not feel hollow or super sad, like my tender insides were being scooped out bit by bit.

I gave a handful of things to my friend who adopted her son last year -- some board books, an owl puppet that makes him squeal. And, the stuffed elephant that my grandma gave us that goes with the book You're Here For A Reason. His nursery ended up being African Savannah themed, so it fit perfectly.

It felt good to pass these things on to a real live baby, and to have them not moulder in my attic space like creepy wasted relics. I honestly didn't feel sad when I gifted them, and even less sad when he so clearly adored the owl puppet.

So I was surprised when I felt a tinge of sorrow after coming home from a visit with my friend and her completely delicious baby. But not really, because it's one thing to give someone things that were supposed to be for your baby that never existed, and to see them in your own home or a restaurant. It's quite another to see them in their now-native environment, scattered on a toy-peppered couch, or placed just-so in a gorgeous nursery.

That brings a little more echo of What-Could-Have-Been-But-Never-Will-Be that reverberates in the beaten and onionskinned regions of my heart.

Do I regret giving those things away? NO.
Did I love seeing them used and cherished by someone else's hard-won family? YES.
Did it hurt? YES.
Would I choose differently given the chance? NO.

It just caught me off guard, is all.

Want to read more #Microblog Mondays? Go here and enjoy!

Monday, January 6, 2020


Our cats have occupied a special place in our home, in our family (probably in part because we don't have human children): from being featured on holiday cards to having their own stockings to my training them to let me hold them like babies...the cats stuff themselves into box-shaped spaces in our hearts. 

See? His stocking went up first! 

Cat. Since Abner passed away last year and the Maebe debacle, we are down to just one -- Lucky. He is my snugglebuddy, but he loves Bryce's lap. We call it the Special Lap because as soon as Bryce crosses one leg, creating the perfect cradle hole, Lucky jumps up there and promptly falls into a purry sleep-- even if he was on MY lap first. He's playful and cuddly and sweet. 

"Helping" me work in the cutest possible way

So it was very scary when he started vomiting like crazy on Friday, and acting weird. I got him into the vet that afternoon, and they gave him subcutaneous fluids and said to watch him for more vomit, that if he continued then they'd want to do x-rays to check for an obstruction or foreign body. 

Friday night he puked off the bed (like a gross waterfall) and we had to change sheets and everything. He was still acting weird in the morning, so I called the vet and we got him in for x-rays. 

They saw something, "granular material" that could be cloth or yarn, in his stomach (but nothing in his intestine, which was good news). But the bad news was, they wanted us to go to the Emergency Animal Hospital in the morning to get a retake of the x-rays and make sure that whatever it was went on its merry way, otherwise we'd be facing scary surgery. They gave him more fluids, which made him look like he had one really big floofy shoulder, and an anti-nausea injection, and sent him home. 

It was so, so terrifying. I was so nervous that 2020 was going to start with losing Lucky, and we wouldn't even be cat parents anymore, and the house would be even more silent, and my Game of Thrones "Mother of Cats" t-shirt would be a hollow lie.  And, he really is the best cat. We got him when he was 5 from our local SPCA shelter, and he's been just awesome (other than terrorizing Maebe). He knows just when to climb on my lap and purr and knead my flub. 

THANKFULLY, it turned out (after many, many dollars) that whatever it was moved along, and he's okay. Quiet, and oddly minus his plaintive meow since he's come home, but tonight he fell asleep on my lap while I worked on school stuff and his little head weighed down my hand and wrist and I typed like that anyway because he was just so cozy. Bryce is away for a whirlwind business trip, so the Special Lap wasn't available, but I'd like to think he would have still been a living wristwarmer for me. 

Lucky was the name he came with, and we were lucky to find him 8 years ago. He lived up to his name this weekend -- hopefully he stays lucky for a good long time! 

Happy to be home!
Want to read more #Microblog Mondays? Go here and enjoy! 

Friday, January 3, 2020

A Flood of Holiday Books

In Iceland they have a tradition that translates into "Book Flood" -- most of their books are released and bought between September and December because a common (and very special) gift is books. More reasons to love Iceland.

The tradition is to give a book on Christmas Eve, and then spend the evening in bed, reading the new book while munching on chocolate. What's not to love? (Well, the spoiler in me feels like you'd get chocolate crumbs in your sheets which would smear and look like poop in your bed, and you'd have to get up to brush your teeth or else stay cozy but wake with a million cavities, which makes me think the chocolate part of this tradition was added by Icelandic dentists...)

Bryce does this tradition in a way, gifting me a hand-selected pile of books on Christmas morning (also on my birthday, I'm a lucky lucky lady). And then, since we went to Vermont right after Christmas, I got two more piles of books because when you are in the Mecca of independent bookstores, it's like law that you need to support them and give them lots of your money. They take the time to curate their selections and group them just so, so I take the time to pick some out, typically ones I haven't seen in mass market chain shops or Target, and bring those home, too.

The holiday Book Flood is real.

So here they are, the books of holiday break, in all their luscious paper glory:

Bryce Finds

1) Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, illustrated edition by J.K. Rowling and Jim Kay
It's now tradition that when a new one of these comes out, it's mine for either Christmas or my birthday. It is going to be SO EXCITING to have the whole set. Also, Bryce has never read these, so we read them together (although we're woefully behind, thanks PhD)

2) In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado
A memoir told in unique format where each chapter is in its own style, following a particular trope. Details the author's experiences and survival of an abusive relationship with a charismatic and volatile woman. Quote from the back: "Carmen Maria Machado has reimagined the memoir genre, creating a work of art both breathtakingly inventive and urgently true. In the Dream House is crucial queer testimony. I've never read a book like it." - Alex Marzano-Lesnevich

3) Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir
I started seeing this everywhere when we went to Vermont. My favorite description is the quote on the cover: "Lesbian necromancers explore a huanted gothic palace in space! Decadent nobles vie to serve the deathless Emperor! Skeletons!" - Charles Stross
What's not to love there? (PS, every year there's a theme, like red covers, or black birds, it looks like this year didn't have theme other than dragons and lesbians maybe?)

4) SHOUT by Laurie Halse Anderson
This one I did know about, but hadn't read yet. This is Laurie Halse Anderson's memoir, written in verse like her iconic SPEAK verse novel about the aftermath of rape by someone you know, where she explores her family, her own rape, her year abroad in Denmark to remake herself, and how she became a writer and a champion for freedom to discuss and read about experiences that make the people who censor things uncomfortable but are very much a part of life for so many young people. It's gorgeous (I may have read this one already, so good). My favorite quote from the book:
"too many grown-ups tell kids to follow
their dreams
like that's going to get them somewhere
Auntie Laurie says follow your nightmares instead
cuz when you figure out what's eating you alive
you can slay it."
Yeah, Laurie. That.

5) Shadow Scale by Rachel Hartman
The second in the trilogy that I started at the end with Tess of the Road, a Bryce Find for Christmas last year. Follows Seraphina, a half human-half dragon, as she makes her way in a world that seems to be either/or rather than both/and.

6) Orange World by Karen Russell
A book of short stories by an author I love, who wrote Swamplandia!, Vampires in the Lemon Grove, and St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves, and the novella Sleep Donation. I read the title story in The New Yorker, and I'm excited for the rest. She does magical realism real well.

Blair's Books and More, Formerly Phoenix/Misty Valley Books, Formerly Misty Valley Book Shop

1) Girl, Woman, Other by Bernadine Evaristo
Won the Booker Prize along with The Testaments by Margaret Atwood. Tells the story of 12 characters, mostly women, black, and British, a love letter to London and growing up black and female. Lots of friendships, family, lovers: a bit epic. I hadn't seen it on display yet, so when I saw it I had to get it.

2) Dreadful Young Ladies And Other Stories by Kelly Barnhill.
Bryce found this one on a display shelf and I was suckered in by the cover, admittedly, but then when I found it was hailed as "bold, reality-bending invention underscored by richly illuminated universal themes of love, death, jealousy, and hope" and that Kelly Barnhill was reviewed as a fantasist in the vein of Neil Gaiman... I was sold.

3) Oliver Loving by Stefan Merrill Block
This is a book that has been on my to-read list for years, but it was surprisingly hard to find. This particular copy had some damage to it, but I bought it anyway because I thought it was a sign or something that it was there, cover-out, staring me down in a tiny bookshop in Chester, Vermont. It's a story about a boy who has been paralyzed and wordless for the ten years following a school shooting who may or may not be able to come back to full consciousness due to an experimental treatment. Sounded fascinating.

The Northshire Bookshop 

1) What If This Were Enough? Essays by Heather Havrilesky
This was actually on my "Books I Want to Read" Keep list, but I didn't realize it until after it caught my eye in this wondrous bookshop in Manchester, Vermont. Essays that urge readers to reject the constant pursuit of a shiny shallow future that is promised by the gadgets and technologies of our time and instead to find happiness in the Right Now. Sounded pretty good to me! 

2) View From The Cheap Seats: Selected Nonfiction by Neil Gaiman
I love Neil Gaiman. That's pretty much all I needed to buy this book, which I've never seen before, all collected nonfiction writings on, "authors past and present; music; storytelling; comics; bookshops; travel; fairy tales; America; inspiration; libraries; ghosts; and his experience at the 2010 Oscars." It's not just essays, but also introductions, speeches, and articles. 

3) The 1-Minute Writer by Leigh Medeiros
Gives writing prompts for 1 minute, 5 minute, and 1-15 minute exercises to get your creative juices flowing. It was marked down. so I figured, why not? 

4) Force of Nature by Jane Harper
I haven't yet read The Dry, although it's on my shelf, but this is the same author. It takes place in Australia -- a group of women go into the bush as part of a corporate retreat, but one woman goes missing and everyone's story about what happened is a little different. A mystery! 

5) No One Tells You This by Glynnis McNichol
This was on my "Books I Want To Read" Keep list, and then Loribeth reviewed it, and it was marked down on a central table in the book shop... so I HAD to get it. Any book that is a memoir where things didn't turn out how society dictates and how you may have originally wanted, and it's a way to thumb noses at the idea that your life is tragic if it doesn't work out in certain ways... well, that's a book I want to read. 

6) The Beloveds by Maureen Lindley
Twisty, messed up mystery. An older sister who feels slighted vows to get her "rightful" inheritance back from her "golden" younger sister, no matter what. It involves a weird dog, a bundle of poisonous mushrooms, and a lot of unhingedness. Sounded fun. 

7) Planting the Natural Garden by  Piet Oudolf and Henk Gerritsen
This is just a gorgeous little square gardening book about the glories of a wild, natural aesthetic. It also has the first half as a sort of plant catalog, which I love especially in this time of dormancy. I just drool over the possibilities for new plantings. I have big plans for more spaces in the yard, and this beautiful book will help me! 

There -- the insane number of books I collected between Christmas and New Year's, from Bryce, and from two independent Vermont bookshops. I just love this season of filling the shelves and looking forward to the joy of an unexpected snow day where I can sit in pajamas and read all day! 

Monday, December 30, 2019

Maybe February Is Better

We love our spot in Grafton, Vermont. It feels like we're home when we see that corner church spire and walk into the main inn to check in before unloading our (insane amount of) stuff into our room across the street. We really like to move in when we go there.

Last year, we went in February because we'd just moved, and it was too overwhelming to think of doing Christmas away (we'd booked it well before realizing the timing of selling our house and moving into the new one).

This time, we realized that maybe February is a better time to go, in general.

It was still relaxing and we enjoyed the bookshops and walks around town and up the hills. But...

1) February has more snow. There was a bit, but it kept icing and we actually had to cut the trip short a day thanks to an ice storm that came through Sunday night to Tuesday (we were supposed to leave Monday). The ice made it hard to hike, and warmer temperatures meant more mud.

2) There are fewer giant families in February. They're were maybe three different giant multigenerational parties there, which made everything feel a little...crowded. We could never quite find a time to use the common area with the fireplace in our building. Breakfasts were very, very full and there were many high chairs (filled with adorable tow-headed children that tugged at my heart scars) and self-absorbed people who left their strollers right in the middle of busy entryways. The game room was almost always full of people, and by the time we snuck in for a game of ping pong, there was an odor that seemed to be either a) a spill of something terrible or b) pee (also terrible). We reported it, in part to make sure it was clear we didn't go around stinking up the place, but with all the large families with small children they said it happens. That and being left with the dregs of the eggs at the buffet Saturday morning due to a large party that came in ahead of us, I was more than a little resentful of the large family influx.

3) We just really love our house at the holidays. The weird thing is, in our house we can have a fire with no one else around, there's ping pong in the "basement," we can read and be cozy... We sort of recreated Grafton in our home.  The only things missing are the lovely people we see who work at the inn, housekeeping services, and dining options we can walk to. And creeks and rocks and pine trees, of course.



Oh wait, that's not Grafton, that's home!

So, we decided that perhaps we will shift our cozy winter stay in Vermont to February break from now on. More snow, presumably less large family gatherings, and more time to enjoy our home at the holidays.

See ya next time, covered bridge! 

Want to read more#Microblog Mondays, ones that may actually be micro? Go here and enjoy!

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

These Are A Few Of My Favorite Books

One of my favorite holiday (and birthday) traditions is the stack of books Bryce gifts me. He picks them out based on what I've loved in the past, but also based on lists like the NPR Book Concierge (so I cannot look at that list until after Christmas) and prides himself on finding books that I would not have picked out for myself.

The other night at dinner, he asked me, "What are the best books you've read in the past few years?"

Oh man, that's a loaded question. I read a LOT, and I have to keep track in a Keep list because I cannot hold all the titles in my head, but a peek at the title brings a flood of details back to me. So I had to think on it a bit. And consult my list.

I thought it would be fun to share with you this, my list of books that I consider BEST, from the past couple of years (in no particular order). It may be a bit more than "a few":

The Testaments by Margaret Atwood 
Speculative fiction/dystopian: farther-in-the-future sequel to The Handmaid's Tale, gloriously multi-faceted and didn't ruin a favorite.

The Invited by Jennifer McMahon
Fiction: A sort of modern ghost story where a couple basically builds a haunted house, supernatural with mysteries and observations on human relationships.  Love this author (other favorites are The Winter People, The One I Left Behind, and Don't Breathe a Word.

The Seven (and 1/2) Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton (my edition was Canadian and didn't have the 1/2) 
Fiction, mystery: A mind-bending twisty mystery with a bit of supernatural that had me thinking long after I'd finished, immersive and not a particularly easy read as you have to pay close attention. Totally worth the effort.

first, we make the beast beautiful: a new journey through anxiety by Sarah Wilson
Nonfiction, memoir hybrid: LOVED this book, best book on anxiety I've read in a while. You can pry my sugar out of my cold, dead hands. Loved a lot of the other practical exercises, though! :)

The Three Dark Crowns series by Kendare Blake
YA Fantasy: Like Game of Thrones lite, awesome world building and cutthroat traditions, strong female characters

Sawkill Girls by Claire Legrande
YA Fantasy: Ditto the strong female characters and cutthroat traditions, more modern day with horror fantasy woven in, interesting premise.

Bitten by Witch Fever: Wallpapers & Arsenic in the Victorian Home by Lucinda Hawksley
Nonfiction/Art: A Bryce Find that explores the history of colorful Victorian wallpaper that was totally laced with arsenic, interspersed with full color panel reproductions of said wallpaper. FASCINATING.

Notes to Self by Emilie Pine
Nonfiction, Essays: Beautifully honest, gorgeous essays including some discussion of womanhood and infertility. Has been reviewed by Different Shores and The Road Less Traveled.

The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert
Fiction, YA-ish Fantasy: A gorgeous mystery with some dark fairy tale twistyness woven in, magical and dark. Another Bryce find

The Unwinding of the Miracle by Julie Yip-Williams
Nonfiction, Memoir: An incredible exploration of living with adversity and then the process of dying unfairly young from colon cancer. Beautiful, haunting, honest, and raw.

The Collected Schizophrenias by Esme Weijun Wang
Nonfiction, Memoir: Amazing explorations of living with schizoaffective disorder, eye-opening, honest, raw, beautiful.

Rachel Hartman's trilogy (Seraphina, Shadow Scale, Tess of the Road)
Fiction, YA Fantasy: Caveat that I haven't read Shadow Scale yet, I got Tess of the Road first and then went back to the beginning, although you don't have to read them in order, a Bryce find. Strong female characters, bucking societal norms, dragons and giant snakes and interesting mini-dragon things called Qigutls. Great world-building.

Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert
Nonfiction, Inspiration/memoir hybrid: Gorgeous manifesto to the power of creating despite fear, super inspirational (but I still have fear, sigh). Love her writing, even though I hated Eat, Pray, Love.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman
Fiction: Part hilarious, part heartbreaking, a story of a socially awkward woman and her quest for belonging, romance, friendship, overcoming her personal demons. Laughed and cried in equal measure.

The Changeling by Victor Lavalle
Fiction, Fantasy/Mystery: An amazing mystery with a man searching for answers about his father who mysteriously disappeared and trying to figure out what's really happened with his wife and son (wife is accused of killing his baby son, which sounds like a terrible premise for ALI people but I swear it's okay and all is not as it seems, without spoiling anything). Although it takes place in Queens, strangely steeped in Norse mythology.

Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood
Fiction: A brilliant reimagining of Shakespeare's The Tempest. Gorgeous.

The Darker Shade of Magic trilogy by V.E. Schwab
Fiction, Fantasy: Blood magic allows special people to travel between nearly identical worlds, some with magic, some without, some devastated and angry... it's got magician's competitions, pirates, a little romance...I devoured them. Bryce Find.

Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi
Fiction, YA Fantasy: Book 1 of a series, worldbuilding based on West African mythology where a race of magicians are persecuted and in danger of genocide, colliding of the ruling class and an ever-powerful maji. I love that as she gains more power and confidence, her hair gets wilder and more natural (and the author insisted on having natural hair for the cover flap photo). Immersive. Also, more blood magic.

The Raven Cycle series by Maggie Stiefvater
Fiction, YA Fantasy: I DEVOURED these books, and cried when they ended. A Bryce Find that resulted in him gifting me 4 books as they came out. Combines boys' boarding school/town girl, supernatural psychic stuff, Welsh mythology. She's a gifted writer.

Meddling Kids by Edgar Cantero
Fiction, Fantasy: Imagine if Scooby-Doo took place when they were in their early 30s as a sort of reunion when bad stuff starts happening and one of the gang has died. Super weird, gloriously so. A Bryce Find.

All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews
Fiction: A beautiful book about loving someone with severe depression who is intent on dying by suicide. Told by the sister, moving and lovely and sad.

Okay, Fine, Whatever by Courtenay Hameister
Nonfiction, Memoir/Essays/Project: A love letter to trying to live less anxiously and overcome fears (or at least attempt to), Courtenay chronicles her difficulties with a change in her career, her relationship with her weight, her dating escapades, and other adventures. It was like reading a conversation with your new (and very smart) best friend.

Anything by Maira Kalman (esp The Principles of Uncertainty)
Nonfiction, illustrated memoir-ish: Hard to classify. Love her honesty, her dealings with loss and grief, her amazing illustrations. A Bryce Find!

There you go, a by no means exhaustive list of favorites but a list of books that made me happy in the past two years or so, many of them gifts from Bryce. Also, I apparently read a LOT of fantasy and memoir/essays. I'm not sure what that says... Maybe I love escaping into other worlds and other people's lives.

EDIT: I can't believe I left out Between the World & Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates! A letter from Mr. Coates to his son on life and race, a tough but necessary conversation and a call to action.