Saturday, June 29, 2013

Summer Reading

Hey friends!

How are you?  Things are going well over in my neck of the woods.  I took some much needed (and well-deserved, if I do say so myself) time off once the semester was over.  I watched a bunch of the TV shows I've been wanting to either try out or catch up on.  Highly, highly recommended are: Sherlock (the BBC series), Arrested Development (seriously, I'm not sure how I hadn't been on the bandwagon before... I'm on it now), House of Cards (on Netflix), and Veep (on HBO).  I, of course, also love me some Game of Thrones, New Girl, The Mindy Project, and several others, but I do a pretty good job of keeping up on those during the season.  Because I, apparently, love TV.  Don't judge.

I've also been reading a whole lot over the last several months and have more books than I'll possibly be able to read this summer on my "To Read" list, so I thought I'd share!  Keep in mind that I really love historical fiction (especially war

time historical fiction), however, there is a good variety on the list.

Books I've Already Read (And Recommend):

Miss Dreamsville and the Collier County Women's Literary Society by Amy Hill Hearth
This was a fun, really fast read.  It is set in Naples, Florida in the 1960's - back before it was transformed from a rural area near the Everglades into the vacation haven it is today (trust me!).  My enjoyment might have been increased by the fact that I was in Sanibel and only 1 county north of Naples when I read it, but I so enjoyed the way Hearth weaved so many different lives together, dealing with racial, gender, and sexuality issues.  It is funny and heartfelt.

The American Heiress by Daisy Goodwin
OMG.  I CAN. NOT. WAIT. for Goodwin to come out with her next book!!!  If you like Downton Abbey (at least the first couple of seasons...), or really anything set at the turn of the 20th Century, you will LOVE this book!!!  It's thick, but I loved it so very much that I read through it a heck of a lot quicker than I expected to, but never wanted to end.

Hemingway's Girl by Erika Robuck
Once again, this was a beach read for me way back in January.  I really enjoy reading books that speak to my current mood or things that are relevant to my life at the time.  The setting for this book is Key West, Florida and I was in Florida at the time I read it.  I loved that aspect of it.  Even more, though, I loved the story.  Did you read The Paris Wife?  If you liked that, if you like Hemingway, or if you are a fan of vibrant historical fiction, I think you'll like this one.  Robuck's description of a cafe meeting between Hemingway and Mariella, the book's heroine, where Mariella eats a piece of key lime pie had me dying for some and you best believe I took care of that craving at dinner that night...

The Baker's Daughter by Sarah McCoy
Serious WWII historical fiction!  Ok...  I have a real thing with 1) wartime historical fiction, 2) stories in which the main character discovers something from her family's past, and 3) stories that are set both in present day and the past, transitioning seamlessly from one to the other.  This is ALL of those things.  A woman in El Paso, TX is forever changed after interviewing Elsie Schmidt in her German bakery.  Elsie was a German living in Germany during WWI who saved a young Jewish boy from the Nazis.  I love this book because it tells a story that we don't often hear: that of the struggles of German nationals who were also severely impacted by the horror of the Nazi regime.  I also love that this is a story of challenge, discovery, families, and love.

Those Who Save Us by Jenna Blum
Ok...  I could almost copy and paste the description of The Baker's Daughter down here.  haha  I'm a weirdo.  I love stories like this so much that it bothered me NONE that they were so similar.  Again, this is the story of a young German woman just trying to survive WWII and keep her daughter safe and alive.  Fifty years later, her daughter starts to discover the truth about her mother's story and about the sacrifices her mother made to save their lives.  This one will REALLY make you question your notions of what is right and what is wrong.

The Art of Hearing Heartbeats by Jan-Philipp Sendker

This is another piece of historical fiction and yet another story about a child's discovery of a parent's past and true self.  However, the setting is a rural village in Burma.  This is an absolutely beautiful story of love and acceptance between a boy with no sight and a girl who could not walk.  I liked the setting for this story because it reminds me some of Bangladesh.  There are rickshaws, crowded markets, and beautiful open fields.  It wasn't my very favorite read so far this year, but it was definitely enjoyable.

What I'm Reading Now:

Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter
So far, REALLY good!  I picked up this book for two reasons.  First, I remembered reading that this was a very courageous piece of writing.  The author takes risks, he describes the nitty gritty parts of life in a really beautiful way.  Second, the story is set on a rocky side of Italian coastline.  Duh.  There are a lot of tangled pieces right now... And I am anxious to see how they sort themselves out...

My Summer Reading List:
I currently have about a bazzillion unread books in my bookcases.  I should really start utilizing the library more often, but I have a real problem.  I LOOOOOOOVE owning the books.  I like to hold them, I like to look at the covers, and I like to be able to loan them to fellow book lovers.  My mom is the same way.  We often borrow books from each other ... though hers somehow manage to find permanent spots on my shelves while mine always make their way back to me.  Oops.  So not fair!  haha  Ok.  So, in an effort to clear out the "To Read" pile (if only so that I can justify buying crap loads of new books this fall), here's my list for the summer (in the order they're currently stacked/piled on my shelves)!

Blue Asylum by Kathy Hepinstall
The Dry Grass of August by Anna Jean Mayhew
bread & wine by Shauna Niequist
still points north  by Leigh Newman
The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman
The Paradise Guest House by Ellen Sussman

Ok!!!  Your turn!  What's on your To Read list???  Come on, I'm dying to know.  I mean... I really need suggestions for my Fall Reading List...

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Catching Up


Well, that was an unexpected several month hiatus...  Oops.  Anyway, before I resume regular posting, here's what has been going on in my life since January:

1.  I have a new niece!!!!!  Grace Michelle was born on April 18th.  She's getting cuter by the day!

As is this little guy.  And my obsession with my nephew is still going strong.  He's totally got an attitude and I love it.  "No, T.  No see me. Go 'way."  It's precious.  

2.  I adopted a dog in January.  Meet Walter:

He's sweet and chubby and adorable.  He has one white paw.  It is my kryptonite.  He is also a little naughty and we have an appointment at doggie obedience school tomorrow.  Nellie is still skeptical...  But they're growing on each other.

3.  I studied for 2 and a half months, spent 8 hours a day for 4 days in a little office at school taking my written comprehensive exams (with no notes at all), then orally defended my answers 3 weeks later.  These exams are required by my PhD program in order to move past my coursework and move onto my dissertation.  I also did all of this while teaching my first college class ever, playing on 2 volleyball teams, and training for a half marathon.  I am crazy.  It was a stressful and intense process, but I PASSED!!!!  Then, I celebrated.  Hard core.

4.  Last weekend, I ran my 6th half marathon.  Never before have I been so mentally or physically unprepared for a race.  But, it was the best race experience of my life.  The miles flew by and I loved (almost) every minute of it.  I have some theories as to how this happened.  Maybe I'll share them one of these days.  :)

Turning into the home stretch, smiling the whole way.

Cheering on friends running the full marathon.

So, things have been a little busier than usual.  But, they're starting to calm down a bit, so I'm planning to spend a little more time on here.  I miss writing to you all.  I don't know how many of you actually enjoy reading the crap I write, but I enjoy doing it.  Sooo...  I'm going to do it more.  haha

Take care and enjoy the late spring/early summer weather.  

Until next time...

Sunday, January 6, 2013


Isn't it funny how a word or a quote or an idea will strike you and, once it does, you see and hear it everywhere?  I don't know why it happens.  Is it because there's something you're looking for?  Or is someone (God, the universe, Buddha, your mom) trying to tell you something?  Sometimes when it happens, it's a little disconcerting and sometimes it's just cool.  Anyway, this has happened to me.  

I'll spare you most of the long, drawn-out, gory details but, in short, the idea of vulnerability has been presented to me again and again over the last several months in one form or another.  To this let me just say: YUCK.  

"Katie, you have to open up and let people get to know the real you."

"Katie, you need to put yourself out there.  Make new friends.  Go on dates."

"Katie, you need to tell people how you feel.  And not just the people who you already trust, but also the people you want to build relationships with."

Like I said...  Yuck.  I mean, I'm tough.  I'm strong.  I hold it together when others are falling apart.  I don't like to feel sad (no one does - duh).  I don't like to feel uncomfortable.  I don't like to show weakness or vulnerability.  I don't like to cry in front of most people (with a few exceptions - fun fact: I have an ex-boyfriend who refers to me as "The Crier").  I like to make jokes, avoid the crap out of uncomfortable situations, and use logic to keep myself from getting too emotional in most circumstances.  I don't even like to type the word vulnerability - it sounds so ... "let's form a hug circle and talk about our feelings" (i.e. NOT ME).

But, like I said, this idea of being vulnerable and needing to let people get close to me in order to create true intimacy has been tugging at my leg for a while.  Then, a month or so ago, I came across a story on NPR's "On Being."  The hostess was interviewing Brene Brown, a PhD in social work who researches shame and vulnerability.  I immediately fell for her message.  She was funny, she was real, and she's a Type A professor who, herself, has avoided vulnerability for years (we'd probably be BFFs if we ever met).   

In a nutshell, here's what she says:  In order to live life with our whole hearts, in order to live a life in which, no matter how much we screw up, our own sense of worthiness is not up for negotiation, in order to be a good leader, a good parent, a good partner, a good friend or family member, etc., etc. we have to open up and put ourselves out there and let others do the same.  We have to do things even though we are scared and even though we might fail.  We have to love even if we might not be loved back.  We have to feel pain and let those we love feel pain, too.  Dr. Brown has also found, through 15 years of teaching Masters and PhD students and years of research, that people who have overcome tough times in life end up being the most hopeful.  

Now...  I'm mildly obsessed.  I have listened to the NPR interview about a million times, watched both of her TED talks, read a bunch of her articles, and am a few chapters into her latest book.  I've bought into this idea and I'm trying to learn what it takes to be a little more courageous, to stop avoiding the pain and discomfort, and to open myself up to others.



Let me tell you what.  Reading about vulnerability is a whole freaking lot different than doing vulnerability.  

A few years ago, the yoga studio I go to in Lincoln hosted a little New Year's intention-setting gathering.  We spent some time on our own, but guided by the teachers, thinking about the past year and about what we'd like to manifest in the coming year.  We wrote down a whole bunch of intentions (i.e. "I want to get closer to my family."  "I want to pay off my credit card debt."  "I want to be more patient with my coworkers.") and picked the one that stuck out to us most as our intention for the year ahead.  I loved this exercise, so when my mom and I found out they were offering another gathering at the end of 2012, we jumped at the opportunity (and drug my sister along with us).  As we sat down in the studio on Sunday evening, lights low, candles lit all around, warm and comfortable, I started thinking about my 2012 and 2013 and started preparing for some quiet time with myself (surrounded by 40 other people, but still).  Ummmm...  I couldn't have been more mistaken about what was to come.  Before we started, we were asked to think about an animal we most identified with, write the name of the animal on a name tag, and put the name tag on.

My first thought?  "Seriously?  They're going to make me think creatively tonight?  Um, cat? Dog? I don't know what fucking animal I am."

My next thought (after choosing giraffe)?  "Please don't make me explain to everyone why I chose giraffe."

Guess what we had to do?  Go around in a circle and explain why we chose our animal.  


We also had to make the sound that our animal makes.  

Double shit.

1)  I do not know what sound a giraffe makes (I tried to channel my 2 year-old nephew and failed miserably).  2)  I do NOT WANT TO DO THIS.  3)  It makes me uncomfortable even telling you that I did this.  Let's not even mention how uncomfortable I was actually DOING it.

Um, the night was not over.  We wrote about the things that happened in our lives in 2012 and shared them with the neighbor on our right (thank goodness my neighbor was my sister).  Then, we wrote about the things we want to happen in 2013 and shared them with our neighbors on the left (this time a complete stranger).


We had to pick a partner and sit cross-legged across from that partner.  My mom and sister chose each other leaving me high and dry (a choice they have been paying for ever since), so I partnered with someone else.  Luckily, this someone else was one of the studio owners and someone I've known for a while.  But, we're sitting across from each other, and the other owner and leader of the workshop tells us to look into each other's eyes.  

WHAT?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?  (*curses in my mind at my mom and sister*)  NO!!!!!!!!  GOD!  UNCOMFORTABLENESS!!!!!!!!!!!

"Look deeply into your partner's eyes.  See who they really are.  Let them see you."

If I could have smacked myself in the forehead and had a "Doh" moment right then, I absolutely would have.  I mean, here I am, reading and listening to this researcher talk about being vulnerable and letting others around you be vulnerable, and then I'm put smack in the middle of a situation in which I have almost no choice but to be vulnerable.  I have to stare in someone else's eyes, for god's sake.  For like 5 minutes.  And I was SOOOOO uncomfortable.  I even fished my glasses out of my purse and put them on, just to have a protective barrier between me and everyone else in the room (yes, I realize they can all see through the glasses...).

My point?  I'm still all in.  I'm forging ahead.  But, holy shit, this vulnerability stuff isn't easy.  It's uncomfortable.  It can be really stinking scary.  Because I know I can - and probably will - get hurt.  I think it'll be worth it, though.  At least I hope so.  

I also hope I don't have to stare into someone else's eyes for minutes on end again any time soon.

Happy New Year, friends, from my family to yours.  May 2013 be a fan-freakin-tastic year, full of fun, laughter, love, courage, and a little rest.

p.s.  You really, really MUST watch or listen to Brene Brown's stuff.  I'm dead serious.  Maybe you won't be as into it as I am, but there's some good stuff in there and my blog post just can't do her work justice.