Books to Read (and Not Read) in 2018, Part 1

Bill Gates once said that if he couldn’t get through one book per week, then he was too busy.  His time is worth a lot (like, a lot) so if Bill thinks it’s important to read, then read I shall.

I completed my 2017 reading goal just in the nick of time and thought I’d share in case you’re looking for a little reading inspiration in 2018!

16. Of Mess and Moxie by Jen Hatmaker (10/10): It hit all of the hot topics for me — the joys and trials of being a mom who works outside of the home, what church is like for millennials, politics in this trying time, and lots of giggles along the way.  Highly recommend — my favorite Hatmaker book yet.

17. Option B, Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant (8/10): Such an honest book following Sandberg’s journey after unexpectedly losing her husband.  She co-wrote it with a psychologist which gives it a science-based look at grief and getting through things that weren’t in your original plan.

18. Born A Crime by Trevor Noah (8/10): I didn’t know much about Noah before reading this one but I appreciated his humor and undeniable intelligence as I now understand the masses do, too.  Noah outlines what it was like to grow up under his mother’s strict rule in a post-apartheid South Africa and how his tumultuous childhood influenced his adult life. (I recommend this one on audio book as his story-telling is phenomenal)

19. Wonder by R. J. Palacio (8/10): a nice story (soon to be made into a movie ft. Julia Roberts) about a little boy born with facial abnormalities as he enters a main-stream school.  I’ll call it charming and touching.  It’ll make a solid “feel good” movie. Good beach read as it’s written from the perspective of the kid so pretty simple/straightforward in its delivery.

20. Perfect On Paper by Maria Murnane (5/10): Meh.  I just wanted a little rom-com to break up my self-reflection book streak… but it was kind of a lame story about a young female journalist who dates around in San Francisco. I’m not saying I could have written something better but… meh. Skip.

21. It’s All Relative by A.J. Jacobs (7/10): I have read everything that Jacobs has written and he did a great job with a tough topic.  I wasn’t ga-ga over the study of ancestry before reading this book so I think that’s why I gave it an average rating.  Although, it did spike my interest enough to order a 23andme genetics kit… more to come on that!

22. Ready Player One by Ernst Cline (7/10): This is going to make an awesome movie (especially in theater, maybe even baby-sitter-acquiring-worthy) but I think all the video game nam-drops and Dungeon and dragons references were a little lost on me.  It was intriguing enough albeit a bit overdone.

23. What Happened by Hillary Rodham Clinton (10/10): Oh my goodness.  I don’t care what you think of Hillary or her policies — this book covers way more than democratic politics.  You start to remember the humanity of people (and hey, even politicians have feelings!) I was equally blown away by how much I didn’t know about the 2016 election and how new information continues to surface.  I would recommend this to anyone willing to try it out.  Alarming, enlightening, and full of hope for the future. Bonus points for listening to this one via audio book — it’s read quite poetically by the author.

24. The Darkest Minds by Alexandra Bracken (3/10): Alright, I’ve read some books that just don’t keep my interest and some that feel a little slow… but this is the only book that I read this past year that I really wanted to quit.  I had to read a paragraph two or three times before I could understand what it was trying to say.  Don’t do it.  Sorry Bracken.

25. The Lost Wife by Alyson Richman (9/10): Wow, this one sucked me in (in the best kind of way).  The story line follows a young man and woman who fell in love but were quickly separated by the Nazi invasion and went on to search for each other for years. It’s more than a love story.  It highlights the resilience of the human spirit and the strength of our sacred memories.

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The Most Important Career Decision That A Woman Can Make

When I returned to work after a year of paid parental leave from my awe-inspiring employer, Tyler assumed morning duty on the home front while I took on the pick-up and dinner brigade.  A majority of the time, I head to work or an exercise class before Addie even wakes up (a difficult choice made less prickly with a two minute FaceTime at the breakfast table).  Tyler is on his own to get her dressed, continue to carry the valiant torch of potty training, make her breakfast, find his own left shoe (which she loves to hide) and get her to daycare (ahem, school) before starting his own workday as a bustling real estate broker.

Pause… I am so grateful that a) I have a husband and co-parent which is not a given b) that the nature of Tyler’s career allows for this morning flexibility and c) he chose to incorporate this into his career, his life, and his partnership with me.  When I read Lean In shortly after returning to work, I was struck by the chapter called, “Make Your Partner A Real Partner,” in which Sandberg says:

“I truly believe that the single most important career decision that a woman makes is whether she will have a life partner and who that partner is. I don’t know of a single woman in a leadership position whose life partner is not fully—and I mean fully—supportive of her career. No exceptions… and contrary to the popular notion that only unmarried women can make it to the top, the majority of the most successful female business leaders have partners.”

When Tyler takes care of Addie in the morning, it has not only supported me and my career, it’s developed a unique relationship between father and daughter.  I will admit… those first few weeks back at work after caring for Addie full time for a year, I often thought, “Can anyone care for Addie the way I did?” Drilling this down a bit, I was actually quite convinced that I had figured out the “right” way to raise Addie and worried that anyone else would be 2nd string.  Will he do breakfasts the same way I do? Does he choose the same outfits I would?  When she asks a question or toes a line, will he say the same things I do? The answer is no.  And that’s not “wrong.”

Tyler caring for Addie in the mornings not only affords me the ability to pursue my career, it has also humbled me as a parent.  Tyler parents and cares for Addie in his own unique way… and it’s taken me awhile to realize that she’s better off for it.  While we do try to stay aligned on the big-ticket items in parenting, most things (like how her ponytail is styled) are subjective.  Daily, I feel a calling to surrender my own arrogance as a parent and recognize that I am not a better at loving Addie.  And she’s is more well-rounded little person because of it.

3 Easy and Quick Weeknight Dinners

Addie is going through this phase of being hungry all the time (I mean… I am hoping it’s a phase??) She’s always been a fabulous eater, chowing down on 90-100% of what we put in front of her (I know, #blessed).  But let me hit you with a recent real life example…

After picking Addie up from school, I took her straight to Nordstrom Rack, my go-to for kids shoes (…let’s be honest, mama likes their shoes, too). Snack time at her school is at 3pm yet just a mere 90min later, Addie was beside herself with hunger. Had you been at the Rack on that afternoon, you would have found me hushing my darling, sobbing daughter who was shouting, SHOUTING in the check out line, “Mommy!!!! Why won’t you feeeeeeed me?? Mommy, I’m SOOO hungry my tummy hurts!!! Mommy, whhhhy?!?!!!” *cue kidless store clerk judgy eyes*

Needless to say, when I walk into our home after a long day at work with an apparently nutrient-deprived daughter, I need dinner on the table STAT. If I had it my way, our timeline on a weekday would look like this:

4pm: walk out of the office
4:30pm: elbow my way through traffic, arrive at Addie’s school
4:50pm: walk into our house, embrace Addie’s pleas for a snack
5:25pm: dinner on the table, forks in mouths (I know, I have some high expectations)

And now that we have our kitchen (mostly) back up and running, I’m back doing what I love to do… cooking fresh and delicious food for my people.  It’s what I look forward to at the end of my workday.  I try to cook from nearly scratch at least three times a week which is about all I can muster.  Here are three quick, simple (6 ingredients or less!) and fork-lickin’ good recipes for you to test run with your family.  You’ll get folks to your dinner table in a split:

Sausage + Kale Skillet by Budget Bytes – 5 ingredients

  • Time Saving Tip: rather than buying a pack of sausage and having to de-case them, pick a healthier (and conveniently easier packaged) Italian chicken sausage like Isernio’s, found at in most grocery stores.

Chicken, Zucchini + Prosciutto by Real Simple – 5 ingredients

  • Time Saving Tip: the most time consuming part of this dish is pan-cooking the prosciutto (since you have to do it in batches). Shave off time by laying out all of the prosciutto on parchment paper on a cookie sheet and bake at 350 for 12-13 minutes. Presto prosciutto!

Salmon with Lemon-Cilantro Vinaigrette by Real Simple – 6 ingredients

  • Time Saving Tip: When you purchase your salmon, ask the store butcher to slice the skin off. Leave it to the professionals and save yourself the fishy hassle.  And if you’re carb averse, this pairs wonderfully with pan-cooked zoodles.

Because I’m always looking for new recipes to add to the rotation… what’s your go-to weeknight meal?  It doesn’t have to be fancy, it just has to be delicious.

How to Get An A+ in Parenting

Remember what success looked like in high school?  In order to obtain that coveted 4.0 GPA, you had to do it all.  Complete all the homework, do all of the extracurricular activities, get all the right answers and write all the papers to the exact specifications outlined in the syllabus.

But now, as a married, working mom, when people ask “How do you do it all?” my answer is not “I pull all-nighters.” In fact, I do not reply to every email or attend every event or have every answer. And so most often, my out-loud answer is, “I can’t and I don’t.”  This is a statement that I know to be true and have most often ACCEPTED as truth.

But then there are times I resist it.

Listen, I want to get straight A’s in all of life’s subjects: Wife, Mother, Full-time Employee, Daughter, Sister, Friend, Christian.  I want it bad.  And there are moments I try pretty darn hard to do it all… until a ball drops, a deadline is missed, texts go unanswered.  And then I’m faced with a choice.  Do I allow myself to dive head first into the shame spiral or do I let the small things slide, have a good chuckle to myself and move on?  What if I forgot to send those thank you notes… everyone will get over it.  Maybe I left some wet clothes in the dryer (twice)… whoops. Better luck tomorrow.  What if I had to say “no” to that friend’s invitation (again!) because the week was already just too jammed… catch you later and you’re still dear to me. Perhaps on a Monday morning, I realize that we are completely out of coffee beans and also out of the back-up instant coffee packets (WAIT, THIS IS ACTUALLY UNFORGIVABLE.)

It would be so very easy for me to list out the ways I got an F this year.  We are four (4!!!!) months into a full-on kitchen-turned-home renovation and I’m losing my innovative edge with my toaster oven. My husband broke his arm and just found out he needs surgery (THIS WEEK!!!!) and I am patient and compassionate but only to a point.  Addie started at a new school full time a few weeks before I began a new job at the foundation while offloading the job I’ve had for the last five years.  As a dear friend of mine says, “It’s a bit of gong show around here.”

But I know I need to redefine what success looks like now.  It’s NOT doing it all, getting it all right, being perfect in every which way.  It’s getting the right stuff right.  It’s picking the important ones and sloughing off the rest.  It’s reading my toddler one more book before bedtime (even at the expense of my expanding inbox).  It’s giving my parents and my sister a five minute phone call to say hi and I love you and letting the dishes wait.  It’s putting on my rain boots, walking outside in the dark up the stairs to the sunroom to get my husband some more ice for his arm (because that’s where our refrigerator is right now, DUH.)

I was exactly the student you think I was in high school… I aimed high.  And maybe it’s okay to keep working toward that 4.0… but it’s due time to reinvent our grading rubric.

Best Gifts for Teachers Under $20

Let’s be real.  Teachers are heroes.  Shower your teachers with love and thoughtfulness this year and here’s one way you can do it without breaking your back-to-school budget.

Addie’s first day of school is tomorrow!  And by school, I mean daycare.  But explaining the concept of “school” is much easier when conversing with a two-year-old, so it’s off to school she goes!  My sister has been a teacher for many years and I’ve come to deeply appreciate the dedication to education and the individual care and thought she gives to each and every student.  So, I wanted to do our very “first” first day of school up right for Addie’s teacher!

T.J. Maxx is my first stop for many-a-things.  Don’t get me wrong, there is a time and a place for Target but sometimes I can find just what I’m looking for at T.J. Maxx for half the price and with about half the distraction.  Plus, I know I am not the only one who gets a cheap thrill out of the “Regular Price” vs “Our Price” mind game. (See what I did there… “cheap thrill…” Oh, bless it.)

Best Gifts for Teachers under $20

Trail Mix: The way to a teacher’s heart is through their stomach.  That’s how the saying goes, right?  Grab a small bag of nuts, trail mix or dried fruit that they can stash in their desk drawer and sneak out during recess. $3.99 (originally $6.00)

Stationary: Cards are one of those things you always hope to have on hand but rarely think to buy, amiright?  Help your teacher stock up on thank-you notes and blank note-cards and let her focus on educating young minds.  Bonus points for fun and colorful designs! $1.99 for 10 cards (originally $8.00)

Nail Polish: Forget the Wet & Wild polish of your youth. Grab the good stuff for the person who is going to do you the favor of caring for your kid for eight hours a day. Some stellar brands include OPI and Essie. $3.99 (originally $10.00).

Travel-size Lotion: Pamper your teacher with some fresh, lightly fragranced lotion.  Pick a scent that’s agreeable like lavender or coconut.  Travel-sized bottles are perfect for stashing in their bag or school desk drawer for the drier, winter months. $1.99 (originally $5.00)

Small Candle: Our teachers are responsible for so much during the day.  Let them wind down in the evenings with a yummy, scented candle in a pretty jar.  “I hate candles.” – said no one ever. $2.99 (originally $8.00)

Gift Bag: Stash all the small gifts in a bright, fun bag, add some tissue paper and voila! Just remember the cardinal gift bag rule: refrain from writing on the bag tag so your thrifty teacher can re-use as they please.  It’s the gift (bag) that keeps on giving. $1.99 (originally $5.00)

Parents + Teachers: What’s your favorite back-to-school gifts to give or receive?

 

Books to Read in 2017, Part 1

Each year, Tyler and I set goals for ourselves as individuals as well as a few shared goals (take a trip to a new place, save up a certain amount of money, etc.)  In previous years, my goals have included trying 2-3 new recipes per week, having better boundaries with technology, and taking a class at the University of Washington.  While our goals vary from year to year, they always include a reading goal.  This year, I kicked it up to 15 books in 2017.  Also, true story, we made our 2017 goals a quarter of the way through the year… because that’s life sometimes.

It doesn’t always feel like there are enough minutes in the day to read something for myself but that’s where my beloved Audible subscription comes in.  I can listen to books while I”m folding laundry, on my way to work, or while getting ready in the morning. I went through at least half of these books on Audible.  The other half, I read on my Kindle mostly before bed (with the brightness turned waaaay down low because #marriagemeanscompromise).

My 2017 reading list so far has included…

1. Smart Girl, Rachel Hollis

3rd book in Hollis’ trilogy so I was already attached to the characters.  It’s nice to have a series that isn’t technically a teen novel or overtly sexualized.  Just a good, ol’ fashioned romance novel. Easy and fun read, great for a vacation.  7/10

2. Talking As Fast As I Can, Lauren Graham

Have you ever seen Gilmore Girls? No?  Stop reading this and go binge watch every single episode and then read this book.  And if you also love Parenthood (wait, how could you not?), you’ll love the behind scenes look into Lauren Graham’s life.  8/10

3. Influence, Robert Chaldini

Want to get people to do stuff? There are some practical and genuine ways to influence those around you.  I worried it would just make me into a master manipulator but instead, it gave me insight into what motivates others.  Longer read with a large dose of psychology. 8/10

4. It Ends with Us, Colleen Hoover

Umm. No. I thought this was a romance novel.  It was more about stalking / a physically abusive relationship / death… I was unprepared and kind of sad.  Maybe the title should have tipped me off?  4/10

5. In a Dark, Dark Wood, Ruth Ware

Another creepy one… but this time, I was ready! If you like being spooked, it’s a decent page turner. Ware also wrote “Woman in Cabin 10” which I think I liked even better. 7/10

6. Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg

Okay, so I’m like 4 years late to this party but… This is a must read – for men and women.  I read this a few weeks after returning to work from parental leave and it was especially engaging as a newly working mom. Has anyone read her newest book, Plan B?  It’s next on my list. 9/10

7. Big Little Lies, Liane Moriarty

So confession, I started watching this TV show and then right before watching the last episode, I bought the book. The book was great, the TV show was fantastic. If you’ve already watched the show, I’d still recommend the book.  There are some big differences (the show is set on the white sandy beaches of Carmel, California while the book is set in Australia!) 8/10

8. Hillbilly Elegy, J.D. Vance

Whoa.  This book is all the rage right now for good reason.  The storyline is heartbreakingly moving.  A real page turner for our current economical time in America. Also, Bill Gates read it and liked it soooo…. 10/10

Working Moms: How to Avoid the Shame Spiral

Around Addie’s 2nd birthday, I posted some observations about her as a real and unique little person as well as some of my reflections on motherhood, specifically what it’s like to be a mom who is also working outside of the home.  It garnered responses like “Wow, someone else is right there with me in this” and “Thank you for sharing, can you do it more often so I feel slightly less crazy?” So friends, back to the blog I go…

***

The makers of the Audible are my heroes.  They make my 15-30 minute commute purposeful, might I even say, enjoyable.  It’s a monthly subscription for $14.95 per month and worth every bit of my sanity.  Plus when you’re at dinner parties and people begin to share what fancy books they’ve read recently, you can have something better to contribute that your deep musings on the latest edition of, “Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?” (Why does the teacher look so mad? That is such a diverse classroom of children… way to be ahead of your time, Eric Carle!)

My most recent audiobook: Of Mess and Moxie written by Jen Hatmaker.  I’m only three chapters in (AKA one round trip commute to and from the office) and my mommy worldview has already been blown to pieces.  I’ve also laughed out loud a noteworthy amount of times because Hatmaker’s commentary is both moving and hysterical.

My favorite part so far — Jen’s youngest daughter, Remy, asked her to come have lunch at her elementary school sometime that week.  Jen consulted her calendar and found that she had her workdays already booked up.  She told her daughter that she couldn’t come.  After breaking the news to Remy, she sulked around the house for a while and then came up to Jen and said, “It’s alright, Mom.  I forgive you.”

And Jen’s reaction is priceless:

No. Nope. No ma’am. Forgiveness is offered for someone who has wronged you.  Not a mother who has a job during your 11:10am lunch slot…  My work is not a sin against you, child of sorrow. Most moms on the entire earth work, in fact.  I refused to sink into a shame spiral because I didn’t grant my snowflake’s particular wish, especially because we spend most of every day in the same house together.  A few years ago, that would have sent me to the prayer closet, wringing my hands, yet again, at how often I wound my children.  I might have let that seep into my thoughts, poisoning my hope for their healthy childhoods and our future relationship.  I may have immediately compiled a list of all the moms who would have dropped everything, rearranged an entire day to make it happen.  The ones who already eat at their kid’s school twice a week…  Instead I said, ‘Sorry kid.  Have a great day.  See you at 2:45.’ And shocker… she was fine.  You guys, the kids are fine.  We are fine.

Oh, this is gold.  I think the line that was especially sobering to me was “most moms on the entire earth work.” When did not working outside the home become the goal in my mind?? Before I had Addie, I remember pleading with my stay at home mom friends… “I just don’t want to work… I want to be home… How can I make this happen?” But what I was really thinking was, “I SHOULD be home.  To be a good mom, I NEED to be home.”  But how does that apply to all of the women who actually don’t even have the choice?  Does this mean that there are only good moms in countries, family units, cities that have the financial security or family support to even have that choice?  Nay.

But I had a choice – and I chose to work.  And there are moments, I feel that “shame spiral” creep in… What if I can’t always be there to put her to bed because I have a work dinner? What if her hair is a bit “cutting edge” sometimes because I’m not always the one getting her ready in the morning? If she still sometimes cries as I walk out the door to head to work, does she know I still love her like crazy? Am I totally screwing her up by working – moreover, am I willingly CHOOSING to screw her up?  In these moments, I’ll look to Hatmaker’s sage wisdom:

“No. Nope. No ma’am…  My work is not a sin against you…  You guys, the kids are fine. We are fine. ”

See you at 4:30pm, Addie girl.

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