February books

likeamother
the beautiful cover of Angela Garbes’ book

4. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

I just adored this book. It had so many elements that I enjoy : WWII-era England, letter writing, strong and interesting women characters, and books. The writing was at times a bit heavy-handed but still so enjoyable. Honestly, a delight.

5. A Square Meal : A Culinary History of the Great Depression by Jane Ziegelman and Andrew Coe

This was fascinating! So much interesting history through this lens. My favorite weird/fun fact was that early nutritional guidelines developed in the United States based a man’s daily caloric intake on his occupation (okay, that sort of makes sense) and based his wife’s and children’s on fractions of his (I forget the fractions, say, 1/3 of his intake for his young child). So what this meant was that their guidelines recommended less food for the wife and child of a watchmaker than the wife and child of a railroad worker. Isn’t that hilariously ridiculous? Anyway, this book had more than just fun facts and is definitely worth a read.

6. Like A Mother : A Feminist Journey Through the Science and Culture of Pregnancy by Angela Garbes

I laughed out loud several times in this book and also learned a lot (especially about the placenta, holy wow). Garbes explores how in the US the main “pregnancy science” we (the general public) know is scary warnings (no alcohol! no deli meat!) but not the really interesting and amazing biology that actually takes place during pregnancy and birth. (Which is MINDBLOWING. Like, do you have any idea how complex and incredible the placenta is? Or the way that breast milk works, and how it can create antibodies specifically for the baby?? I thought I had a sense of these things but there is SO MUCH I didn’t know.) She also writes about her experiences as a woman of color in the medical/birth system, and interweaves her personal story with science and history. I’m handing this off to my husband to read next. I’d recommend it to anyone who plans to someday be pregnant (or whose partner or close friend plans to someday be pregnant!) or has an interest in feminism, pregnancy, or birth.

p.s. I also just read Garbes’ article, “Why Are We Only Talking About ‘Mom Books’ By White Women?” in The Cut and it was both a good piece on its own and provided me with books to add to my to-read list.

general life update

As I’ve been neglectful…

As I mentioned in this post, David and I moved to Idaho in June for David to start a cool new job. He is doing really well as a data analyst at a FinTech firm and learning lots. I started work as a clinician at an agency serving survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault and abuse in October. (Then I got my LPC — my Licensed Professional Counselor license — in December, which was exciting because I thought the paperwork would take longer.)

We’re very fond of our small apartment on the edge of downtown, and we both walk to work every day. We can walk to restaurants, movies, bars, and cute shops as well.

The running is probably the best part of life here (for me). We live close to a trailhead that opens up to miles and miles of sandy and hilly trails. In October, after a summer clambering all over the foothills, I got a personal record in a local half-marathon.

Our lives are pretty routine these days : work, running, church, and lying around watching Doctor Who while eating cookies. The usual. We’re planning a wee trip in June — more on that once it’s a bit more solid — and pondering our next move. But in the meantime we’re staying cozy.

a pond as seen from the trails near our apartment

My Top Ten Favorite Mountain Goats Songs

I took this photo in South Dakota in 2014 and I’m still proud of it

If you don’t yet listen to The Mountain Goats, you probably ought to. I have been a fan for several years and recently discovered an excellent YouTube playlist entitled Mountain Goats Long Ass Playlist and it is almost always playing while I’m doing clinical notes or other paperwork in my office.

The reasons for my deep love for this band are complex and difficult to articulate. But I think the summary is : John Darnielle (the singer/songwriter/center of the band) is a grown man who sings unflinchingly about past traumas and other difficult experiences in a matter-of-fact way that I find both deeply relatable and rare. I have not found this quality in other music, and it is this quality that I find almost painfully beautiful in Mountain Goats songs. John Darnielle writes beautiful and honest lyrics.

Anyway, my favorites :

(In no particular order) (But #7 MIGHT be my all-time favorite.) (Or #3.) (And #1 is sort of everyone’s favorite, for good reason.)

1. This Year

2. Love Love Love

3. You Were Cool

4. Woke Up New

5. Up The Wolves

6. Damn These Vampires

7. Never Quite Free

8. Hast Thou Considered The Tetrapod

9. Dinu Lipatti’s Bones

10. San Bernardino

David and I just got tickets to see The Mountain Goats this September and I am VERY excited!

(And yes these are YouTube links. In my defense, some are music videos. But more broadly no I don’t use Spotify and I’m sure it’s super great but we’re just not compatible. I don’t know.)

January books

I really do mean to update this more regularly. I finished three books in January. 🙂

booksjan2019
I read The Winter of the Witch on eBook but the cover is stunning!

1. The Shell Seekers by Rosamund Pilcher

This is one of my mother-in-law’s most beloved books and she lent me her treasured copy in the fall. I waited until it was good and cold and began it on January 1st. What a pleasure it was to read! We trace a family through several generations in England. The descriptions are delicious, and although I made a wee bit of fun of the author for all the wooden scrubbed tables she mentions (do you all have any other kind of table over in England? seems unlikely), I also totally want a wooden scrubbed table and to be the kind of person who has half a roast chicken in the fridge at all times. I will be seeking more of her books in future when I want a good cozy novel to sink into, for sure.

2. The Winter of the Witch by Katherine Arden

This was the third and final book in a fantasy series that I began in 2017. It was just released and I was SO excited. These books trace Vasya, a magically talented girl in medieval Russia. The books deal a lot with the meeting of folk traditions/pagan beliefs and Christianity — a topic I love to explore. They are also completely engrossing. I laughed with David about “fantasy book food,” a concept all of us who read fantasy are familiar with. Would I actually enjoy a stew of wild mushrooms, scented grasses, and pond fish cooked over a fire? Almost definitely not, but when I read about it in a fantasy novel I get mighty hungry. I definitely recommend these books to anyone who enjoys fantasy books, empowered girls, and the meeting place of magic and religion.

3. The Boy at the Door by Alex Dahl

My brother gave me this book for Christmas, in our great tradition of unwrapped books as gifts to each other. It is a psychological thriller (I think this is the right term, it’s hard to say) set in Norway. I could almost literally not put it down. David even snapped a photo of me reading it while drying my hair.* It’s hard to tell much about the book without risking giving it away, but it begins with a wealthy mother and interior designer who takes in a little boy from her daughter’s swim class. The book switches perspectives from Cecilia (the mother & interior designer) to Tobias (the little boy) and journal entries from Anni (who we learn more about as the book goes on). It is creepy and fascinating. (A note : there are some scenes with sexual violence, so it might not be the best choice if you’re looking to avoid those.)

I’m part-way through several books at work, including The Deepest Well by Dr. Nadine Burke Harris. So far I am really impressed with her work. She is a pediatrician who began incorporating her understanding of ACEs into her practice. I’ll write up a full review when I finish it!

Happy February reading, everyone! 🙂

* This isn’t the first time I’ve done this though. I hate drying my hair and often try to read while doing so. I’ve also been known to read while getting dressed, while cooking, and while walking (while reading The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis I walked straight into a huge cement block next to a construction site and went flying over it, getting identical scrapes in both shins and a bonus scrape on my chin! And no, I wasn’t a child at the time…or a teenager…or drunk. I was a graduate student and it was the middle of the day.

Life in the West

We moved to Idaho in June and have spent the summer alternating between settling in and traveling on weekends! We were able to head out to Washington two times to spend time with David’s family, and we also had the pleasure of hosting David’s sister & her husband, and later, David’s parents. We also spent a super fun weekend in Los Angeles for our friends’ wedding, so all in all, it’s been a pretty busy summer! Yesterday, we kicked off the fall season with a day-long Hogwarts Express Day celebration.

Life in Idaho has been a real adjustment, and I’m sure there’s plenty more adjusting to be done. But there are many lovely things about our life here : our apartment is in the most perfect location. Our next-door neighbor is super kind and helpful. My best friend Lindsey lives in town (!!!) so we get to hang out ALL THE TIME, which after years of always being in a long-distance friendship is pretty awesome. David is doing well at his new job. And I have access to bazillions of beautiful, hilly running trails. During summer I ran usually six days a week, but I’ve just begun training for a half-marathon in October, and I’m running three days a week and lifting weights three days (plus one rest day). I miss my trails, though, so I often add a long walk on lifting days. (Sometimes I add a long walk on running days, too.)

I’m working on navigating the counseling licensure system here, and in the meantime just housewife-ing to my best ability. Cooking, cleaning, you know. Recently, I’m most proud of my frozen bean-and-cheese burritos that David can take to work for lunch, crockpot steak fajitas, and the “sorting hat” cupcakes I baked for our party yesterday. I’ve also had plenty of time to read and get to know the local public library system.

 

moving again

When David & I moved in with my mom last summer before traveling abroad, we had a goal : we would enjoy time with my mother, dog, and hometown, and by the spring, we would move again.

Here we are in May and we just finished packing up our “moving pod.” Next week we will start our 2500 mile drive to our new home in Idaho. David got a great job out there in the data analysis field, so we’re headed west again!

Our time in New York has been so special to me. We’ve gotten to spend lots of quality time with my mother (and with Pip the Kerry Blue Terrier!), and being in my home environment has been so nourishing. I love my childhood house and I love the wood paths nearby, where I’ve run or walked daily. I still dream that someday we will settle in New England, but for now, this job opportunity for David was too good to pass up. We’ll enjoy being close to David’s family and my extended family and friends on the west coast, too.

We found a sweet little apartment with the help of my best friend Lindsey who lives in Idaho (another perk of moving!!), and we’ll be setting up house out there in early June. Maybe I’ll get back into writing a bit more often again (how often do I say that?). Lots on my mind lately : slow/sustainable fashion, baking, how to make a new place home…but lots to DO as well, like, you know, moving across the entire country.

 

books I’ve recently loved

I used to be (perhaps I did this three times?) in the habit of making monthly “what I’m into” posts — books, television, music, etc.  It was a clever idea, and one I didn’t keep up. But lately I’ve been thinking a lot about my reading habits, and I figured I’d share some of the best books I’ve read in the past year.

Fiction

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead : I read this early in 2017. It was a very challenging book, with many depictions of violence and suffering (as is appropriate for a book about slavery). The ‘magical realism’ element of the literal underground was cleverly done, I thought, and something about Whitehead’s writing of the protagonist, Cora, pushed me to really think about how I relate to characters in novels. The plot reminds one of the ways that the past returns even when we might think we are safe.

The Girl with the Tangerine Scarf by Mohja Kahf : This novel, about a young Muslim woman in Indiana, was captivating. I didn’t realize when I got it out from the library that it took place in Indianapolis and Bloomington, but the many location references, which were familiar to me, helped ground the book and added a level of interest.

The Beekeeper’s Apprentice by Laurie R. King : I downloaded the first four of the many mysteries in this series onto my Kindle and read The Beekeeper’s Apprentice while in California to be with my beloved grandmother as she died, and then as I helped plan her funeral. It was highly enjoyable escapism, and although I still haven’t read the next three in the series, I am looking forward to them. I haven’t read a lot of mystery books, but I have read the Sherlock Holmes mysteries, and Laurie King writes about a young woman apprenticed to Holmes. If you’re looking for something diverting that still feels intelligent and rich, this is definitely a good series to try.

The Emigrants Series by Vilhelm Moberg : When David and I were visiting his distant relatives in Sweden, this book series came up over and over. It seemed like everyone in Sweden had read these books, and they all insisted that I ought to read them. So, I dutifully downloaded the four-book saga to my Kindle and began to read. The Emigrants is about a Swedish family that travels to the United States in the 1850s to escape the famine and poverty in Sweden (more than a quarter of the population of Sweden emigrated in the 1850s – 1950s. The population of the country has still not recovered from this mass exodus). The books were written in the 1940s and 50s, and I was completely drawn in. They were pretty strange at times — there are a lot of stories within the story, some of which are quite bizarre — but I was deeply fond of the characters, specifically Kristina, the mother of the family that emigrates. The books follow them from childhood until the end of their lives, and I cried a lot as I finished the final book.

Non-Fiction

Amazing Grace : A Vocabulary of Faith by Kathleen Norris : I read Mere Christianity by C.S.Lewis while David and I were in Oxford, and I was really disappointed with it. I thought Lewis wasn’t particularly clever and felt distanced from him by his sexism. I’ve loved some of his other work (I love the Narnia series, and I really enjoyed an essay collection of his as well as The Screwtape Letters), but I’d had high hopes for Mere Christianity. After I finished it, I asked for recommendations on a Facebook group I belong to : intelligent yet readable theology, from a woman. And boy, did this book hit the spot. Norris is articulate and thoughtful, but never conceited or obnoxious in her writing. I share a lot of her thoughts and was convinced by her arguments in favor of seeking meaning within the religion of your own ancestors. I’m looking forward to reading more of her work, and if you are a progressive, feminist Christian struggling to reconcile your modern views and the ancient, often “problematic” religion of your ancestors : check this out.

Stasiland by Anna Funder : My mother traveled in Germany and Eastern Europe last spring as a chaperone for a school trip and read this book while there. I borrowed it from her after David and I returned from Europe and it was fascinating. I never felt like I knew very much about East Germany and the Stasi, but Funder’s journalist eye provides facts and good stories within the context of her own story of living in East Berlin shortly after the fall of the wall. (If you read this book, pair it with the film Goodbye Lenin, a really excellent German film which, unlike most German films, had East Germans involved in production and shows a different “side” of East Germany).

Victoria The Queen by Julia Baird : I was interested in Queen Victoria after watching the first season of the PBS Masterpiece Theatre show, Victoria, and picked up this massive paperback when I saw it at Costco. I read it all fall and into the winter, finishing on December 31st. It’s magnificent! Baird is a journalist but also has a PhD in history, so she has the perfect blend of rigorous research and historical knowledge with captivating and intriguing writing style. I learned so much about Queen Victoria and also British history, Europe, and the industrial revolution. She really was a magnificent queen, and some of the popular imagination of her — that she disliked her children and was largely not involved in the politics of her country — are clearly disproven by Dr.Baird’s research.

The Natural World of Winnie-the-Pooh by Kathryn Aalto : My dear friend Lindsey gave this to me as a birthday gift. I love Winnie-the-Pooh, I loved the film Goodbye Christopher Robin, and I loved the tiny bit of hiking that David and I got to do in Southern England, so this was a perfect gift. I learned a lot about Winnie-the-Pooh, A.A.Milne, and Ashdown Forest (the “real” Hundred Acre Wood). It’s also just a beautiful book to look at — lots of photographs, clever page design, and handsome red cloth covers.


One exciting element of reading Victoria The Queen was realizing that I actually can read history books. I find history very interesting but have often felt intimidated by history books — and quite honestly, a lot of history books seem very dry and dull to me. However, after I finished this massive biography, it occurred to me that there must be a lot of other well-written, interesting books on history. I asked around and am now reading To End All Wars by Adam Hochschild, which is about World War One, and finding it absolutely fascinating and quite engaging. It’s pretty exciting to feel like I have a “new genre” to explore.

What are your favorite books about history? Any I should add to my to-read list? 🙂

 

how things look right now

…because everyone seems to be asking, anyway.

Since David and I returned from our grand European tour, we’ve been living in my childhood home, with my mother and the family dog, Pip. While I know moving back in with your parents isn’t exactly on everyone’s late-twenties bucket list, it’s really been lovely. For one thing, I think something about losing a parent at a relatively young age (in my case, I was twenty when my dad died) shifts the way I think about my family. Even if most of the time we’re just doing regular stuff like watching TV together, going for a walk, or running errands, I really value my time with my mother.

Also, as any of you who know my in real life are already deeply aware, I am absolutely passionately obsessed with my dog, Pip. You know how some parents worry that they’ll finally cave and get a puppy, and then their kids will lose interest? Yeah, I’m not that kid. Pip is thirteen years old and I still think (know) that he is the greatest animal on the planet.

While we’re here, I’m doing a hodge-podge of home and personal projects while applying to jobs (no luck yet, but I’m not exactly rushing), and most importantly, David is working very hard to try to finish his doctoral dissertation. It is all that lies between him and his PhD, and y’all, it is a lot of work. He’s in his office most of the day and has Skype meetings with his advisor regularly. Living at home has allowed us the luxury of time : David has lots to focus on his work, and I have lots to take care of projects and decompress from the world’s most stressful job. I loved my time at the domestic violence shelter/rape crisis center/human trafficking service center but, I mean, as you can guess from the workplace, it was extremely high stress.

So here we are, living a calm and cozy life that feels a bit like a break from real life (but, I must always remind myself, is in fact a real life). I read a lot, I try to cook all the meals and keep the house tidy, and I daydream and worry far too much about what our future holds.

On that note, I’ve got to go tidy the family room and do the dishes. And perhaps have a cup of tea while I’m at it…

sprinkles biscotti

In December I was looking around for holiday treat ideas and remembered that I’d seen the idea of funfetti biscotti floating around Pinterest. I’ve never made biscotti, so rather than use one of those recipes I decided to return to the mother ship : King Arthur Flour. I’ve barely modified this recipe for Vanilla Biscotti to make it more ***fun*** and rainbow. They turned out amazingly & were sent out to family in holiday treat boxes. Sorry the photography is the literal worst, usually I have my husband help me but he was on a Skype call with his dissertation advisor and I’m impatient so I took the photos left-handed while my right hand did the baking things. (I am right-handed, as you can tell from the photos!) 

Also, fun idea : I did a random mix of sprinkles for a rainbow/funfetti effect, but you could do anything!! Red and green sprinkles for Christmas? Blue and yellow or white for Hanukkah? Red and blue for Fourth of July? Your friend’s fave color for a custom batch as a gift? SPRINKLES ARE AMAZING!!

And : this was a genuinely fun recipe to make. You get to do weird stuff, like pull it out halfway through and spritz it with water. It smells delicious. They traveled well. UGH I’m just so excited about SPRINKLES BISCOTTI. Tomorrow, BTW, is the first day of February. HAVE YOU CONSIDERED making these with RED AND PINK sprinkles?? VALENTINE’S DAY BISCOTTI? I’m just saying…

Ingredients
six tablespoons of unsalted butter (at room temperature)
two-thirds of a cup of white sugar
one-half a teaspoon of salt
two and half teaspoons of vanilla
one and a half teaspoons of baking powder
two large eggs
two cups of all-purpose flour
one-third of a cup of sprinkles*
(unusual equipment : a spray bottle full of room temperature water)

ingredients
my favorite kind of baking is all-my-ingredients-ready-to-go baking

Preheat your oven to 350* Fahrenheit. Line a large baking sheet with a silpat or some parchment paper.

Beat together the butter, sugar, salt, vanilla, and baking powder until creamy.

Beat in eggs. At this point, the dough might look pretty funky — “curdled,” says King Arthur Flour — but do not panic.

On low speed, add the flour until it forms a smooth, sticky dough.

Plop the dough on the baking sheet. Divide into two equal lumps and shape each one into a log that is nine-and-a-half inches by two inches, and about three-quarters of an inch tall. Straighten the logs, and smooth the tops and sides with a wet spatula (just dip it in some water).

shaping into logs
I literally didn’t know my arm could look this hairy and formless, I swear I actually have quite lovely wrists. ANYWAY note the ruler? I used a regular ol’ ruler to shape them.

Bake for twenty-five minutes.

Now, here’s the fun part. Remove the baking sheet and spritz the logs — getting the sides as well as the top — lightly with the water. You want to do so lightly, but cover all the exposed bits of logs (AKA, don’t try to pick it up and spray the underside, leave that as is).

spritzspritz
hehe spritz spritz hehehe

Let it sit on the sheets for five minutes.

Use a serrated knife (in my case, a bread knife worked) to cut the logs crosswise into half-inch to three-quarter-inch slices. Be careful to keep the knife perpendicular to the baking sheet so that the thickness of each slice is even.

log to biscotti graduation
log-to-biscotti graduation ceremony

Lay the biscotti on their sides (now they’re biscotti! not logs! yay they graduated!!) and bake another twenty five to thirty minutes until very dry** and beginning to golden.

Remove to a rack to cool. Instagram those babies. Eat too many of them while packing treat boxes, so that you have to bake a second batch to have enough for the treat boxes. (Oops.) I haven’t tried dunking them in coffee, because I h a t e coffee and will never apologize for it, BUT I love people who love coffee and I bet they’re great dunked in coffee!!

* There are so many types of sprinkles! I had to look up sprinkles to figure out how to discuss this and I found a wonderful blog post titled Sprinkles 101 on the appropriately-named blog With Sprinkles On Top. Take a glance at that to catch up on your vocabulary before reading on. –Okay, you back? So, I have tried both quins and rainbow jimmies and they both work well. I do not think that sanding sugar would work quite as well, but I haven’t tried it. My personal favorite is quins. Do note that if you use quins, which are sometimes in fun shapes (ducks, trees, hearts, etc.), the shape will disappear as the sprinkle melts into the biscotti.

** Vague, right? I know. I texted my bosom friend, Lindsey, while I was baking these, and she was casually all like oh yeah I’ve made biscotti a bunch. I was like, WHAT how come you didn’t TELL me because sometimes I’m a bit unreasonable — but anyway — she told me she has fallen into the trap of overbaking because OMG, biscotti need to be DRY AS THE DESERT. In fact, your biscotti may still be a teensy bit moist in the centers when you take them out and that is A-OKAY, they will dry more as they cool. So don’t overbake your biscotti!! Thank you Lindsey for your BAKING WISDOM.