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January 22, 2015 / RA

Undone for a while

I’ve decided to take an indefinite blog break.

Since I started my job 6 months ago, I have never felt caught up in life. Part of that is the nature of the job; I will never be really done with my list of things. I have come to a sort of uneasy peace with it by prioritizing as necessary and trusting my judgment that the undone things are not that important.

Along the way, this blog became one of those undone things. I don’t think it’s not important, but I’m not sure where this site lands in priority. I just got to the point where I felt like I was a beat reporter for my own life, and I was always missing the deadline. When I wrote my year in review, it was like ticking off a long list of things I never blogged about: learning to ride a bike, going to Mexico, taking my MIL to Talula’s for her 60th birthday, and on and on and on. And these were blog-worthy things! But I just … didn’t.

I used to feel like blogging and other internet interactions were a breath of fresh air. I’d surface from being underwater in clinical trial reports or classic literature and happily click through my feed reader or Twitter feed. These days, I feel bogged down by it all. The internet is another thing I can’t keep up with. It’s not my fresh air right now.

And that really sucks because I like blogging. I like keeping up with people by reading their blogs. I like tweeting nonsense! I just can’t do it right now, and I feel like I’m always catching up, 12 hours later, missing the joke, missing the boat. In a separate but concurrent phenomenon, blogs have become so shiny and glossy that this timeworn space seems quaint in comparison. I feel behind the times in a different way.

Last month, Janet was in town visiting family, and we met for breakfast. I told her about how I was thinking about taking a blog break even though I’d never done it in almost 9 (!) years of blogging. “I just need to fulfill my blog obligations first,” I said.

Oof. Because that’s what it had felt like for a while: obligations.

Janet said, firmly, “Blogging should only add to your life, not take away from it. I hope you don’t never blog again, but you can’t now, it’s okay.”

So, after today, I’m letting the dust settle around here. I’m being very noncommittal about this; I haven’t set a timeline or a goal. I think I’ll do a pulse check around the end of the quarter to see how I’m feeling.

Right now, I feel like I need to be in my own head for a time. I need to rescue my handwriting muscles from complete atrophy. I need to shield myself from daily comparisons with other people. I need to stop approaching writing in terms of a title and a category and a corresponding picture. I need to be okay with leaving this thing undone for a while.

This decision has been tough because I really value the relationships I’ve made through the site, and I don’t intend to throw out that baby with the blog bath water (as it were). There’s always email, even though I know that will take more effort on everyone’s part, and I plan to be around on Twitter. But, you guys, thanks so much for understanding and hanging with me. I appreciate it so much.

January 20, 2015 / RA

Q&A: Attacking new things

Harriet asked:

I’m curious about your process of attacking new things, I’m sure a million spreadsheets are involved, but you seem so organized and methodical, wondering if that is a byproduct of some of your scientific background, or if you learned such things somewhere?

Basically, my method of approaching something new completely depends on what the thing is.

Helpful, right?

But seriously, I don’t think I have a 12-step process for myself. I don’t always use a spreadsheet or set quantitative goals. It just depends on what I want to do. However, if I were to make some general statements about how I take on a new challenge, they would be:

Figure out what you want to do. 
At the risk of oversimplifying, I think this is the real first step. Sometimes, my goal is really discrete, like when I wanted to make 2 new recipes a month for a year. At other times, it’s vague, like when I wanted to re-read my old favorite books (hmm, things always come around, huh?). Either way is fine, as long as it’s something I really want to do.

Figure out how you will know you have done it. 
That is, what are the measures of success? If the objective is clear, the metrics will be equally clear; if it’s nebulous, this step should help you refine it. The year that I wanted to write a card to my grandmother every week, I set aside 52 notecards and worked my way through them. At the end of the year, I knew I had done it because all of the cards were gone. But last year, when I wanted to reach out, I didn’t keep track of every time I did it, but I know that I was successful because I got better at it by the end of the year. I also have little anecdotes about how reaching out changed outcomes, like when I connected my old college roommate and my friend who had just had a baby, and my roommate shipped her extra diapers. Or when a friend of a friend was holding a secondhand dress benefit for underprivileged girls, and I sent an APB to all my network for cast-off bridesmaid or prom dresses and wound up with THIRTY-EIGHT DRESSES in the back seat of my car.

Divide the main objective into smaller tasks that you can handle. 
In Empire Falls, one of the main characters is described as always subdividing her work into smaller and smaller elements such that there came a point at which she would never be unsuccessful, because she would simply conquer the task in front of her. That’s the point here: divide and conquer. Rome wasn’t built in a day and so forth. Keep it up, peeps.

When I decided to learn how to make and decorate sugar cookies, I split it up into trying different recipes first. Once I landed on the cookie recipe I liked, I focused on not getting icing all over the dang kitchen. Then I figured out how to actually decorate them in a way that didn’t make me crazy. Done! And it only took me over a year and 14+ batches.

Change course if you need to.
Okay, right after you divide up your big objective, take a guess as to how long it will take you to realize whether your plan of attack is working. For daily tasks, a week might be enough. For weekly frequency, maybe a month. Or maybe 6 months? It doesn’t matter, just pick a time and stick to it. Ask yourself, “Am I any closer to being successful at the thing I wanted to do?” In a more boring world, this might be called a progress report, but if that bums you out, think of it as a built-in time to change it up. It’s an exit ramp! If your highway of a plan is not working, get off at the rest stop and have a soft pretzel while you figure out something else to try. Is it your measure of success? Is it the scope of your smaller tasks? Sketch out a new plan and be on your way.

The first year that I tried using actions as resolutions, I engineered a super specific method of grading myself quantitatively. I set up recurring reminders on my phone to do my weekly, monthly, and quarterly evaluations so that I would know exactly how well I was doing. Or, as it turns out, exactly how poorly I was doing. In my first quarterly update that year, I wrote that I was letting go of my scoring rubric:

“It feels a little strange and wishy-washy not to have hard numbers; how else do I assess anything? But this year is more about how I feel than what I accomplish, so I need to assess that in a feelings-y way. Rest assured that I feel very uncomfortable about this, so I can only assume that this approach will lead to growth, or at least build character, or something.”

Then, at the end of the year, I reflected,

“This year, I planned on being really quantitative in my assessment methods. I made an in-depth spreadsheet with anchored scales of success and pre-specified questions, but I ditched that in the first quarter because it wasn’t constructive. In fact, it was kind of a downer. This was a surprising development because I love numbers, but grading myself constantly led me to focus on my deficiencies at the expense of my accomplishments. Ultimately, I realized that the exercise was unhealthy. For the rest of the year, I tried to characterize my progress qualitatively in my quarterly reports. I don’t know what percentage I grew, but I know that I grew, so whatever.”

The point is progress, I think, no matter how you get there.

- – – – -

Harriet observed that I am very organized and methodical, and yeah, guilty as charged. I don’t know how else to approach things, especially new things. I completely get that not everyone (okay, hardly anyone) is like this, so maybe this list won’t resonate with you. But regardless of how you roll, I think we all have to start somewhere.

Who cares if you can only run for 1 minute? Run for 1 minute and walk for 29. Who cares if you think your handwriting is terrible? Send letters anyway. Who cares if you don’t have the time/interest/wherewithal to host people at your house? Meet a friend somewhere for coffee or dessert or wine.

If you want to make a change in your life or take on something big, go for it! You have to start somewhere, even if that means your somewhere is clueless, inept, or clumsy. In other words, there is no Step 2.

Words of wisdom from Barney Stinson

January 15, 2015 / RA

Actions for 2015

I started approaching my new year’s resolutions as actions in 2013, and it’s been a really good exercise for me. The short phrases stick in my mind as mantras to encourage (or reprimand) myself, and I keep them very top-of-mind by sticking the images I make on my computer wallpaper, in a frame on my dresser, and this year, on my phone. Seeing the words all the time, especially when I wake up in the morning, helps cement them in my brain, and it helps me take them to heart all year long.

My first year, I was naive and chose a whopping 6 for the year. SIX! HAHA. Oh, 29-year-old RA, so precious. Last year, I pared it down to 4, and this year, I’m whittling even more to just 2.

Actions for 2015

Keep it up
I feel like I will always have a resolution about exercise, housekeeping, and eating wisely, but some things need constant vigilance. This action is about everyday maintenance. I’m shooting for 120 exercise sessions again, I’ve got a weekly chore chart (AGAIN), and I want to sustain the mostly-veg lifestyle I’ve got going. On the days when I don’t feel like getting up to do Pilates, when I feel like I don’t have time to scrub something, when I would rather have a donut from the leftovers in the office kitchen, I will grit my teeth and remind myself to keep it up. Then I hope I will make the better decision.

Connect the dots
Now that I live, work, and attend church in the same town, my life is much more integrated. Or, in some occasions, smashed together. All of my tidy compartments have fallen over, and everything is in the same mix. This action is about living a coherent life. Faith, work, and personal life all hang together and affect each other. I want to see the connections and parse them in my mind (and in words) so that I can live a life that’s not broken up into little bits. Those compartments were neat and comfortable, but they also were disjointed and rigid. The box of my life got all shaken up last year, and I want to make it work without divisions.

January 13, 2015 / RA

4 actions for 2014: Q4 and wrap-up

4 actions for 2014I framed my new year’s resolutions as 4 actions for 2014, and here’s my last quarterly progress report, although more of a year-end wrap-up.

Reach out: My subgoals under this action are to follow my instincts to communicate and ask for support when I feel overwhelmed.
Like I mentioned last quarter, my new job has been an exercise in ALL of these actions, but this one is probably the most drastic. Every time I introduced myself to someone new, I thought, “Reach out!” before I did it. I feel like my reaching-out mental muscle is getting stronger, and I have to keep exercising it to maintain.

One story: When Penn State won their bowl game, I dashed off an email on my phone to a former co-worker who is a diehard Nittany Lions fan. The message went:

Subject: OMG

Message: FICKEN!!! (Hope you are well!)

She wrote back the next day about the game — she was THERE! — plus the super exciting news that she is pregnant! We had a lovely email exchange over the next week, and see, that is the power of reaching out. I wrote her a five-word email, and we reconnected, even though we haven’t worked together in 3 years. I just loved that.

Make space: I want to make physical space, preserve my pauses, and read fewer books.
DONE. This quarter, I have done lots of purging, taking my own space, and, reading the least books ever. I have a long way to go in this, but I feel like I made incremental progress this year, and this concept was definitely at the fore of my mind.

Recently, I commented to JG that I hardly baked at all this year, and I realized that this bought me a lot of time. He nodded and said, “You don’t bake anything simple.” And I mean, I still really like to bake, but not doing it practically every weekend created its own space, which I’m really grateful for. So, even though I aimed to make more physical space (which I did), I cleared some mental space, too.

Cultivate: I aim to cultivate my relationships (marriage and friendships) and a healthy lifestyle (diet and exercise).
This quarter, I was always super busy and really tired, and I feel like I didn’t do a great job with having quality time for the people in my life. But, by some grace, I don’t feel like my relationships suffered too much. JG was also busy/tired, but a big game changer this year was making (and keeping!) a free weekend each month that was barred from activity. Other than that, we had a lot of beer nights with corresponding girls’ nights, and we had an awesome time over New Year’s Eve with friends. I think it’s been a good year for us as a couple and in our community. It’s as if our world widened enough to let us grow in these ways without stretching to the point of bursting, and I like that. We’ve had to make choices and set priorities, of course, but I feel very thankful for the opportunities I’ve had to grow my relationships this year.

I made a goal to exercise at least 120 times this year, with a reach goal of 150. The 150 was a big LOLZ about halfway through the year, and I didn’t even hit 120 in absolute numbers. However, when I count each of my bike-riding practice sessions as half an exercise tally, I squeak past the 120 mark. Let me tell you, learning to ride a bike involved much sweat and tears, so I feel okay about this. As for diet, we are eating almost all vegetarian meals now, and we made it through our CSA with flying colors, so that was a big success!

Create: I want to write more and be brave with new things!
This quarter, I wrote more in my journal, albeit in bullet points and scrawl, but that’s okay. I was also brave in running a giant event, having tough conversations, and going to various work events for the first time. Woo! Overall, I like to think I am braver now, but I think I am just better at barreling through. Or is that the same thing?

Previously: Q1, Q2, Q3

January 11, 2015 / RA

1 black dress, 37 days in a row

As of last week, I completed my Dressember campaign and honored all of the donations to International Justice Mission, which totaled $1450! That’s enough to fund a whole month of investigation plus medical care for a survivor of violence. So, so amazing. Thank you to everyone who donated to the cause! Throughout the weeks of Dressember, the best part was having lots of conversations to advocate for the work of IJM and the victims they help, and the second best part was knowing that the funds raised would go to support those efforts.

When I first considered participating in Dressember, I asked other local women if they would do it with me. “I would do it in the summer,” they said, or, “I don’t have enough dresses!” Those responses kind of rubbed me the wrong way. I felt like, it’s supposed to be hard. People definitely asked me why I was wearing a dress, tights, and flats in 15-degree weather, and I got to tell them! As for not having enough dresses — WELL! I would prove them wrong, OH, YES. (That was the third best part!)

37 days of a black dress

(see all of the outfits)

The whole endeavor wasn’t a piece of cake, but the challenges were certainly surmountable:

  • No pockets: OY. I never had lip balm on me, and I forgot my office access key more than ever before. On the aforementioned morning when I was out in the snow in tights and flats, I also locked my key in the office. At 6am. When the main door was not open. And I was carrying 3 dozen donuts. ARGH. But the facilities guy was there and let me in (after 6 shivery minutes), so all was well. I’m just saying, it was less likely to happen if I had been wearing jeans.
  • Tricky laundry logistics: Basically, I was constantly in a position of having to wash what I was currently wearing. I was pretty diligent about wearing the dress in that I wore it any time I left the house, which was, well, A LOT OF THE TIME. Also, the dress does best when it’s hung to dry, and in these frigid temperatures, it takes a while. So, I managed to wash the dress about once a week (by the way, this was my most frequently asked question), and it was damp when I put it back on … only a couple of times.

And that was it. Those were the “hardest” parts of the challenge, which is to say, it wasn’t that hard. I mean, sure, I looked longingly at my jeans and such, but it wasn’t really DIFFICULT. In addition to the positives of getting to advocate for IJM, I appreciated that:

  • I had an easier time getting dressed every morning. My friends who grew up going to Catholic school testify that wearing a uniform makes getting dressed so much easier. For this month, I had plenty of options for variety, but there were some limitations. For example, I didn’t wear my black cardigan or black blazer for the whole time because that would have been a lot of black. I also didn’t wear my bright flats because I haven’t figured out how to do that with black or gray tights. So, that kind of stuff went out the door, and that was fine. Fewer options = less decision making. I didn’t plan my outfits ahead of time, and it all worked out.
  • I confirmed, yet again, that I don’t need that much clothing. Even though I wore 37 different combinations of clothing (and even more than that, because this number doesn’t include some extra outfits from changes in weather and such), that encompassed 34 unique clothing items (like tops, cardigans, leggings) and 38 unique accessories (like shoes, jewelry, belts, and scarves). This finding confirms that this year, I really want to pare down in the number of clothing items I wear and store. The girls at work are doing a clothing swap at the end of the month, and I’ve decided to do a last-ditch wear of stuff that’s on the cusp, and if I don’t care enough for those items, away they go. At the swap, I’m going to limit myself to taking home, at maximum, half the number of items I brought. I’ve also instituted an indefinite clothes-buying freeze, just because I don’t really need anything.

My main strategy was to vary how much of the black dress I showed at a time. Some days, I wore a top underneath the dress, and the whole thing showed. Some days, I wore a cardigan, and that shaved off the sides. Other days, I put a sweater over the top and only showed the bottom section of the dress, like a skirt. I think that contributed to the illusion of variety and helped me even further limit how I wanted each outfit to look, which made getting dressed even easier. These were my favorite looks of the project:

Dressember favorites

  • 2: I like how throwing a belt on makes this outfit look put-together, when it is essentially office-approved loungewear.
  • 9:  Here’s a good example of the sweater-over-top move.
  • 13: This was probably my favorite look of the entire thing, almost solely because I figured out that I could lengthen that red beaded choker-length necklace by adding the chain of another necklace to the clasp. Genius!
  • 17: I felt very LAYERED in this look (Chambray! Dress! Cardigan! Necklace! Tights!), but I loved it.
  • 26: Again, I lengthened this necklace with the chain and found a whole new life for it. Plus, boot cuffs made by my MIL!
  • 27: On the weekends, I went with a graphic tee + cardigan formula, and this was my favorite iteration.
  • 30: Here, I layered a black tee under the dress and made it look like a different, sleeved dress by hiding the neckline with the (fake infinity) scarf.
  • 33: I think I finally learned how to deploy my bright tights, and here is my favorite version of them. Purple gingham and purple tights!

I would definitely do Dressember again, and I’m already thinking of how I could spin it next year. Another One Dress project? Maybe restrict my other clothing items or accessories? Hmm. Any ideas?

Thanks for following along on social media and, of course, for your contributions! Today is National Human Trafficking Awareness Day, and you can go to IJM’s website to learn more about injustice among the poor and how you can help to end it. Dressember also has a huge, ambitious goal to raise $500,000, and we are so close! Please consider donating  — contributions are accepted through the end of the month. It’s mind-blowing to me how a simple concept like wearing a dress every day could raise HALF A MILLION DOLLARS that will go such a long way to benefit people around the world. Thanks for taking part in that work!

January 8, 2015 / RA

Book report: 2014

This year, as part of my “Make space” action, I made a goal to read fewer books. I realized that books had become merely merit badges for me, and I was reading (and very quickly, at that) for the wrong reasons. I think I’ve made progress and have eased off from the press that I must-read-must-read. I still haven’t quite shaken the habit of reading for achievement or feeling bad when I don’t read as much as I’d like to, but I will take it.

So, in 2014, I read 44 books, which is, indeed, an all-time low. However, due to stealing/rescuing lots of books from my parents’ house, I also re-read a bunch of my childhood favorites, and I had the distinct pleasure of re-reading 21 of my favorites from the years. That brings me to a total of 65 books, which feels quite respectable! For sheer pride, I like to hang my hat on the book/week rate, so anything in the range of 50 books/year seems good to me.

(Like I said, I haven’t quite shaken the habit of reading for achievement…)

Of those 44 new books, these were my top 8 for the year, prioritized by hearty recommendation, but it’s all relative, because I would energetically press all of these books into your hands. Find more detail in the quarterly book report noted by each title.

Favorite books of 2014

1. The Light Between Oceans, by ML Stedman (Q2): Favorite novel of the year! Fair warning: it is gut-wrenchingly sad. I didn’t think the author could keep it all hanging together the whole time, but oy. She really did, and it packs a wallop. Everything ties in but not in such a contrived way that makes you roll your eyes. It’s just beautiful and deep and difficult and sad.

2. Men We Reaped, by Jesmyn Ward (Q2): Best nonfiction book of the year! Big thanks to Hillary and Michelle for recommending it to me. It’s about a depressed community that was hit hard by Hurricane Katrina, so it’s not exactly leisure reading, but oh, man. It is certainly excellent writing. Get to this one, people.

3. Home Cooking, by Laurie Colwin (Q2): Man, second quarter was good to me, wasn’t it? I super loved this collection of essays, so much so that I asked for it for Christmas (my MIL gave it to me) and gave it to my mom for Christmas! And then my mom proceeded to read 100 pages of it in almost one go, which is basically a solid book recommendation if I ever heard of one.

4. Every Good Endeavor, by Timothy Keller (Q1): In a year that was so marked by changes in my work life, I’m really glad I read this book. It gave me such a good framework in thinking about my job and how it’s integral to my faith, and vice versa.

5. Delancey, by Molly Wizenberg (Q2): This book is so lovely. I love Molly and her writing and her restaurant, and I read the entire thing in almost one sitting. Is it too trite to say that I devoured it? Oh, well.

6. The Shelf, by Phyllis Rose (Q4): Do you like to browse the library stacks? Do you read all of the “staff recommendation” notes at indie bookstores? Do you like to think about the effect of contemporary literature on modern feminism? Then this book is for you! I hope I didn’t turn off 95% of the people out there, though, because this book is funny and smart as all get-out. I was so sad when it was over.

7. The New Kings of Nonfiction, edited by Ira Glass (Q3): This collection is a tad out of date, but no matter: the writing is excellent. Anyone out there who wants to write more should read this book to get a good dose of what good writing sounds, feels, and looks like.

8. The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, by Gabrielle Zevin (Q3): This novel plays on a theme of short stories, which I thought was so clever. The short story is an underappreciated, shuttled-to-the-side genre of writing, but it is really very difficult to execute. This book made me want to read all of the ones mentioned in its pages, as well as pulling off the trick of having a decent plot. Some elements were predictable, but the characters were endearing and compelling within an enjoyable plotline, and it’s definitely worth your time.

P.S. I didn’t rank my re-reads because I love them all, which is why I revisit them.

January 6, 2015 / RA

Book report: 2014, Q4

Yet another “successful” quarter of reading, and I am putting that in air quotes because I stayed consistent with my goal to read fewer books this year. Yay. I added to the questionable accomplishment by failing to keep good records and basically did not update my Goodreads reviews all quarter. So, after cobbling together titles from the stacks on my nightstand and my library records, I think this list represents what I read in the past 3 months. I will say that most of my lack of reading was attributed to not realizing that Lonesome Dove was OVER NINE HUNDRED PAGES LONG, FOR THE LOVE.

Annnyway, this quarter, I finished 7 books plus 5 re-reads. Again, there were no total failures, and I’m glad that my reading flakiness appears to have had no ill effects. I’ll be back with a round-up of my favorites from the year, but here are my thoughts from the last few months. In response to the question: “Would you recommend this book?” …

YES!

The Shelf, by Phyllis RoseThe Shelf, by Phyllis Rose: This book was part of the stack I grabbed from the “new books” section of the library on a whim because I just needed something fun. And, yes, this is totes my idea of fun. Okay, so, this book isn’t for everyone, but it was definitely for me. There are some books that are for book lovers (like The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, The Thirteenth Tale, and Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore), but this one is for people who love talking and thinking about books, not just reading them. Unlike Why I Read, this book pulls quite the trick of being intellectual but not dry, and I really enjoyed it. I kept pausing and exclaiming over how much I was loving it, and I was sad to see it end. I’d been on a pretty erratic reading streak at the time, so I appreciated how this arbitrary challenge still resulted in thematic learning. I love the idea of the library as this jungle to be explored. This was my favorite line about reading:

Certain genres hold themselves cheap. However good they are, however deeply they may affect us, they do not present themselves as more than entertainment. But some kinds of literature demand to be treated respectfully. The obligation is on the reader to live up to them and not so much on them to entertain the reader. What we call literary fiction is a genre with great aspirations. If a novel presents itself as serious, judging it becomes more complicated. That it isn’t enjoyable does not immediately disqualify it from having succeeded. Literary fiction can say, “You will learn to love me in time. My difficulties are there for a reason. They will challenge you, but you will learn from them and be changed for the better.

Yes

  • Autobiography of a Face, by Lucy Grealy: This memoir is really powerful and poignant. It made me think about all of the things, big and small, about adolescence that shaped how I view myself and how I think others view me.
  • Lonesome Dove, by Larry McMurtry: Finishing this book is a great accomplishment of my year! I’d never read a Western, and this had the added bonus of being over 900 pages long and a Pulitzer-winner. I really enjoyed it, thank goodness. There are some wonderful, beautiful lines scattered here and there, but mostly, it is straight-up entertaining cowboy talk, and I found it refreshing and entertaining.
  • Yes Please, by Amy Poehler: I read this collection of essays on vacation, and it was perfect for that. It surprised me by being more advice-y than behind-the-scenes-y (technical terms), but I found Amy Poehler super motivating and fist-pump-inducing. There are a couple of pieces I did not enjoy, but for the most part, it was great. My favorite essays were anything involving Parks and Rec, which is back tonight, HALLELUJAH.
  • Incomparable, by Andrew Wilson: I read this book about the character of God with a friend, and I was impressed by how the author managed to write 60 (!!!) thought-provoking essays on what could become tiresome. I can imagine referring back to this book in the future as different concepts resonate with me at different parts of my life.

Eh

  • Bread and Wine, by Shauna Niequist: I just did not see the big deal about this book. I found it mostly off-putting, like Hannah, and I don’t think it’s worth the time reading. If you want a book about food and faith, read A Meal with Jesus. If you want a book about food, read My Life in France or A Homemade Life.
  • Blue Lily, Lily Blue, by Maggie Stiefvater: I honestly don’t even remember much about this book. Not a good sign, and I can vaguely remember some progress with the plot, but (and I’m pretty sure this is the opposite of a spoiler) we STILL don’t know who Blue’s true love is or if he will die when/if she kisses her, so basically I am still on the hook for the last installment, thanks very much, Maggie Stiefvater, ARGH.

Unfinished

  • Playing God, by Andy Crouch: I started this one and then couldn’t bring myself to keep reading it. I have taken it hostage from my pastor’s office, and I will get to it fairly soon in the new year. It’s dense and will require a lot of brain power, so I have to sort of psych myself up for it.

Re-read (these were all rescues from my parents)

  • The Remarkable Journey of Prince Jen, by Lloyd Alexander: Each chapter in this adventure book ends with a hook, something like: “What will become of our brave prince? Read the next chapter to find out.” It’s super cheeseball, but it heightens the old-world feel of the story, and I find it all very charming. This is a standalone book by the author of 2 very strong series (Chronicles of Prydain and the Westmark trilogy — both recommended), and I’m afraid it flies under the radar for middle grade readers. Bring it back, kids!
  • The Irrational Season, by Madeleine L’Engle: I read this through the Advent season, more or less, and it was another reminder that I need to make room to re-read all of my L’Engle books. I was reminded of this book when I saw these lines on Twitter, and they still ring for me: This is the irrational season when love blooms bright and wild. / Had Mary been filled with reason there’d have been no room for the child.
  • Good Night, Mr. Tom, by Michelle Magorian: Ugggh, this book is so saaad. I knew it going in, and it was still awful (AWFUL) when the thing happens to the guy. I don’t remember being as torn up about this when I was a child, but then, I have softened in my old age. Give this to a kid for an excellent story of the London blitz refugees to the country, or give this to an adult whom you want to see weep.
  • Winnie-the-Pooh, by AA Milne: I think my image of Pooh has been too Disney-fied because I was surprised to remember that these little vignettes are … not really stories. But they are charming! I just hope kids these days (get off my lawn!) don’t feel bored by them because they are so quaint.
  • The 13 Clocks, by James Thurber: I loved this book so much as a kid, and when I re-read it this year, I loved it even more. It’s Thurber, so the humor ages well. This just another book that I’m so glad my mom suggested when I was younger.

Also

Previously: Q1, Q2, Q3

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