Read, Watched, Listened

I love reading just about everything (okay, you won't see any mystery or sci-fi picks on here), watching things that make me think and especially if they make me laugh, and wholeheartedly embrace the podcast. I also enjoy hearing about what other people are reading, watching, and listening. Here's my two cents worth.

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READ
Women’s Work: A Reckoning with Work and Home
A memoir and exploration of childbirth, mothering, work, and balancing it all. While the author, Megan K. Stack, writes from her experience as a white woman raising children in China and India, much of it still resonated with me. The most interesting characters are her live-in help, who run the cooking, cleaning, and childcare of the household. My only complaint is that this book never quite “got there” for me. While she grapples with the idea of being white and privileged (with the advantage of being able to hire housework and childcare out), I felt she missed an opportunity to dive in deeper, particularly in discussing the patriarchy. (And I hope her husband is better in real life than the way he came across in this book.)

The Quotidian Mysteries: Laundry, Liturgy, and “Women’s Work”
This is a quick but potent read. You can read it in an evening. I loved her poetic reflections on the mundane tasks in life - particularly as they relate to the home and mothering. Her opening scene, where she is struck by the priest “doing the dishes” the first time she was in a Catholic church, is a scene that has stuck with me.

Gone With the Wind (re-re-read)
I love this book. I KNOW it’s problematic in its view of slavery and Reconstruction and the Civil War. I KNOW. Yet I still love it. Has there ever been a more nuanced character in all of literature than Scarlett O’Hara? LOVE. HER.

The Universal Christ: How a Forgotten Reality Can Change Everything We See, Hope For, and Believe
I borrowed the e-book from the library but I really need to buy it because I could have underlined just about every page. Richard Rohr packs so much power into his sentences that I often have to read them over again to get the full meaning of his words. If you’re tired of the church’s whole “we’re in and they’re out” message then this book is for you. Everybody’s in, baby.

Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother’s Will to Survive
This book was already on my library holds list and then I saw it on Obama’s list of summer reads; I was so ready for it. And it’s good. It’s gut-wrenchingly good at points. Yet similar to Women’s Work I didn’t think it quite got there on the whole privilege front (Stephanie Land may have been poor but she is white, after all). She’s a very phenomenal essayist - the scenes she evoked were so powerful - and yet I felt the book completely lacked introspection. Short version: worth the read; please think critically about what you’ve read.

An Altar in the World: A Geography of Faith
I can’t believe this was only my first Barbara Brown Taylor book. She’s lovely. I mean, I don’t know her in person, but I’m pretty sure she’s lovely. She discusses the acts of worship in our every day - hanging up laundry, walking, etc. - and I was endeared to her immediately when she confessed to struggling with her prayer life (what prayer life?). Her idea that prayer is so much more than speaking directly to God with words - that prayer is in our emotions, and our actions, and even our very being - has stuck with me.

A Wrinkle in Time (re-read)
I needed a light read from the library, and this happened to be available. I haven’t read it since I was a child…late elementary school? Middle school maybe? I find it so fun to revisit these books as an adult. You don’t need me to tell you about it. This book is a delight. (Though did anyone see the movie? I saw that it’s on Netflix now. I mean, Oprah is in it. But is it worth it?)

Commonwealth
My favorite types of novels are family dramas, full stop. That’s exactly what this is. The beginning was slightly confusing to me (I struggled to understand who everyone was and where we were in the timeline as it shifted) but I caught on eventually. I love the characters, I love who emerged from the pack, and I love the mysterious details that become revealed to us over the course of the novel. I’m the dissenting voice that often finds Ann Patchett’s voice insufferable (I know). I went in not knowing anything about this book and emerged realizing it was just exactly what I wanted to read.

I Miss You When I Blink: Dispatches From a Relatively Ordinary Life
This is another one I need to buy because holy shit I could have done a lot of underlining. These essays on, well, basically everything in life are by turns funny, serious, relatable, and just the best. I don’t even have the words to describe this book because she took them all. Basically, I want to write like Mary Laura Philpott when I grow up.

WATCHED
Aziz Ansari: Right Now
I was skeptical going into this one but left feeling moved. That he tackles his sexual misconduct at all is heartening. While I think there were parts he could have handled better, my overall impression was positive. He had a whole section where he talked about growth and change as a person; that if we’re the same person we were 10 years ago, we’re doing it wrong, that he hopes he looks back in 10 years to himself right now and thinks, “What was I thinking?” I’ve taken that with me and have been ruminating on it for weeks now.

Jim Gaffigan: Quality Time
I adore Jim Gaffigan. I love this special. I have no big words to say about it. Go watch it. You’ll laugh. That is all.

Icarus
This documentary blew my mind. While the filmmaker began this documentary to study up on doping and how it affects performance in sports, it quickly turned into something he didn’t expect: exposing the Russian doping scandal in the Olympics. I had to keep reminding myself that this was not a movie and all these things actually happened in real life. To say I was on the edge of my seat is less a cliche than the honest-to-God truth.

Period. End of Sentence.
Women + empowerment + ending shame surrounding menstruation (specifically in India) = this documentary. It’s a quick, riveting, uplifting watch. (Also it won the Oscar, and if a movie about menstruation can win the Oscar, you know it’s good.)

Wanda Sykes: Not Normal
I honestly didn’t (and still don’t) know that much about Wanda Sykes, but since we’re suckers for comedy specials we went for it. We liked it -she’s funny, sharp, and relevant. She did spend a LOT of time talking about President Trump at the beginning and while on the one hand, it was funny, I also kind of wish we could just talk (and joke) about something (ANYTHING) else.

The 2000s
We love docuseries. This one was full of ALL THE NOSTALGIA. It’s hard to pinpoint a favorite episode: the television ones (episodes 1 and 2) are epic, the one about the 2016 election and the 9/11 episode brought all the feels, and the music one was the absolute best way to round out and finish the entire series.

LISTENED

The Daily
As far as I know I’ve never included The Daily here before. I’ve been listening to it off-and-on for awhile but recently it’s become an important piece in my morning routine. The impeachment-related episodes have been fascinating (even if I have to pause or re-listen to sections to fully digest what’s going on). For older, but still relevant episodes, I loved this one on the Democratic primary and this one about Parliament vs. Boris Johnson.

Note: any links to Amazon in this post are affiliate links.

To the Siblings Left Behind

I had prepped all summer for my oldest kids, the twins, to head off to Kindergarten. 

We prepared in tangible ways. I checked off the list of school supplies: crayons (both twistable and regular), scissors, notebooks, glue sticks: double of everything. We shopped for new clothes and set aside time for hair cuts. We went through the Kindergarten workbooks from their preschool teachers. We practiced opening lunch boxes, granola bars, and applesauce pouches; I showed them what was trash and what to bring home.

I tried to prepare them socially. We talked about how some kids in their class might have different skin colors. Some might have two mommies and some might have only one parent. Some friends might not celebrate the same holidays or eat the same foods we do. I told them I wanted them to do well in school, but the most important thing is for them to be kind.

Emotional preparation was more difficult. I wondered how the long days would affect them, something impossible to prepare them for. Would they be absolutely exhausted when they stepped off the bus at 4:00 pm? Would they need a snack, a hug, a nap?

I made lists to reassure myself. At least I had control over some things. I shopped for crackers and cheese and organic juice boxes for lunch and snack time. I added important dates to our family calendar. I stuck a note on the refrigerator: water bottle, snack pouch, lunch box, juice box, homework folder to help us remember everything in the morning rush.

I thought about how those long days would affect me. Just what was I supposed to do all day with their younger brother? I’ve never had only one kid at home all day. What would I do with Nolan and all three-and-a-half years of his energy, his spirit, his mad drive for socialization?

The first day of school arrived, and as that big yellow bus pulled away that very first morning (they ran on without a look back), I held Nolan in my arms to wave goodbye. And then it happened. His lower lip pouted, his eyes filled with tears, and he reached after the bus in despair once he realized what had happened. His 5 1/2-year old brother and sister, the built-in playmates he’s had for literally his entire life, were gone. And he was left behind.

In all these preparations, I hadn't taken into account what all this would mean for him. Not once had I thought about how all this would affect Nolan, number three in my trio, born exactly two years and two days after his brother and sister, who wears the same shoe size they do, the three-and-a-half-year-old who is so big strangers frequently stop to ask if they’re triplets.

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Read the rest over on the Twin Cities Moms Blog.

Life in the Busy (or The New 4:00 Hour)

In “The Habit” newsletter this week (a weekly email devoted to writing), Jonathan Rogers wrote:

 “If what you're looking for is an excuse for not writing, the busyness of your life is a good one. I should know: I use that one all the time. But having more time or a better desk probably isn't going to help as much as you think if you're not already using the hour or two you have at that little desk in the corner.”

It struck me. Since the school year began - really since August hit with all of its NO-ACTIVITIES-FOR-YOU business - I’ve felt pretty dried up. The kids sapped most of my energy in August. Then school hit, along with ALL THE OTHER THINGS. Dance and religious education started. I’ve said “yes” where I used to say “I have three small kids so NO”: to volunteer positions, a writing class, a leadership position at church. Things I feel I have some space for now.

At night, I often stare for awhile at a blinking cursor, with a blank mind but a full brain. At my own little desk in the corner, I struggle to find something to say. 

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And I wonder how much is hiding behind the busyness and how much is actual...busyness?

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The hour from 4:00-5:00 pm used to be the single longest hour in my entire day. To survive for one more hour until the clock flipped over to 5:00 felt like an eternity.

4:00 was about the time I gave up for the day. Where I plopped in the grass and willed our neighbors to come over and play. When I lay down on the couch, to hell with the quantity of toys scattered across the floor or whoever was wailing about a minor bodily injury around me.

Really, I don’t think 4:00 pm has ever been a great time for me. It was the least productive time in my professional life. I often tackled busywork tasks like sketching out floor plans or scanning tile catalogs. I dreaded phone calls during the 4 o’clock hour, when my brain was fried and my introvert side was all d-o-n-e.

I’m still ready to be done for the day at 4:00 pm. But since that’s the time Caden and Brooklyn’s bus pulls up to release them back to me, 4:00 feels less like seeing the light at the end of the tunnel and more like entering another tunnel.

“It felt like I went from a nine-hour day to a twelve-hour day,” a friend said to me recently, regarding the transition to full-time-all-day-every-day-school. That hit me as exactly right.

While my day was far from over at 4:00 pm previously, the end was in sight. Another hour until there was another set of hands to help wrangle small children. I could begin my mental check-out from the day, devote time to dinner and dishes and not much else. (Tyson had bedtime duty.) I was almost free for the day - free to leave the house to write, to do yoga. (*ahem* to mindlessly scroll Instagram…)

Now at 4:00, it feels like my day starts all over again.

There are new nighttime responsibilities added to the ones that already existed: filling water bottles and snack bags and tucking them in backpacks, checking communication folders, planning lunches for the next day. I often do bedtime now with Caden and Brooklyn since I don’t see them all day. These duties, unlike many of my other nighttime tasks, can’t be pushed off. The toys, if need be, can still be scattered across the front hall all day tomorrow, but those lunches need to be packed and ready to go by 8:15 am.

And morning comes with its own chaos. Breakfast for three kids (plus me, hopefully), unloading clean dishes from the dishwasher, loading the freshly-dirtied breakfast ones. Drinking coffee before helping Nolan find clothes, supervising Caden and Brooklyn (make sure they’re actually getting dressed and not distracted with half a sock on somewhere). Brushing three sets of teeth and doing Brooklyn’s hair. Packing up those lunches and triple-check to see that everything is in their backpacks. On preschool days Nolan and I have to be out of the house by 8:25 am. Caden and Brooklyn catch the bus at 8:45.

It’s fine. The mornings don’t bother me so much. I thrive on routine. And with three kids who often wake before the sun, it’s not a mad dash the way I know it is for other families.

Plus, after the morning rush three days a week, I return home to quiet.

Quiet is rarely a word that can be applied to our evenings.

Dinnertime spills over into bedtime which seems to be where all those Big Kindergarten Emotions come out. They’ve held it together all day and now they’re home and they’re safe and their energy bubbles over into one more endless round of giggles at the table, whining about a LEGO they’ve lost, or sobbing that they want their room painted blue again because they liked it when it was blue and I didn’t even ask them if I could paint it white. (1: I totally did ask and we all agreed on white and 2: you’ve literally never brought this up before. Can we please talk about it at some other time - any other time - when it’s not already 43 minutes past your bedtime?)

My day feels stretched out, beginning with that four o’clock hour. And my evenings feel like they’ve slipped away.

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I sit down at the end of the day, my later-than-usual, stretched-out day. I’ve felt so caught up in those lunches and remembering drop-off and pick-up times. I’ve scribbled Post-It note reminders to bring sandwich bags to Nolan’s preschool, to pick up ingredients for the church potluck, to send money for the back to school dinner. I send an email to the teacher, place the book order, cross off items on my list, and make another for the next day: wrap presents for the party, revise that document, make a phone call, write this post for that deadline.

I don’t know if it’s busyness as an excuse or actually being busy. I see how I could get lost in this phase of life, maybe even more so than in the baby stage. Where I don’t have naptime to fall back on and more often than not have a (non-napping) three-year old around. When 4 o’clock hits and our house explodes into chaos and emotions and dinner to make and backpacks to clean out.

Maybe I am busy.

Maybe I’m hiding behind it sometimes.

Maybe that’s okay.

Maybe I’ll learn to make the most of that blinking cursor during the single hour I find in the evenings, in my own corner of my bedroom. Maybe I’ll find a way to energize myself during the 4:00 hour. (Hahaha.) Maybe it’s okay for awhile if that cursor blinks at me more than I would like. Maybe I’ll find life in the busy and return here to put it all down on the page.

A Week in the Life

On Monday, they have VBS. I drop the kids off in the church basement, which is decorated for a journey into both outer space and scripture. Even Nolan, at three, is old enough to join his brother and sister. They all wave to me cheerfully, hardly a half-glance back after I sign them in. Their friends greet them with smiles as they race to their spots on the floor to learn a new song and hand motions. 

“Have fun!” the volunteers tell me before I escape. I give them both a smile and a silent prayer of thanks for their willingness to step in here so I have a morning to myself. They’ll spend the next three hours singing, dancing, creating, snacking, and laughing while I run errands, write words, and rotate loads of laundry in a quiet house.

I walk up the steps and back out into the sunshine. It’s amazing how much easier I can breathe without six little hands pulling on my arms, my shirt, bumping into my legs, without little voices asking for a snack, if they can go to a friend’s house, wondering where the moon is during the day.

Tuesday afternoon, we set up a lemonade stand at the end of the driveway. I’m sure we’ve become a familiar sight to the neighbors, since we’ve been out here at least once or twice a week for most of the summer. Caden’s cries of, “Lemonade! Lemonade! Who wants lemonade?” reverberate around the neighborhood.

A lawn crew drives up and stops. They walk over and contribute two whole dollars to our cause. Nolan pours wobbly cups of lemonade and my daughter hands them out. The nine-year old from around the corner stops by, too. She passes her quarter to Caden and says she told her friend we were outside, that she would be over soon to drink lemonade and to play.

It doesn’t take long before we’ve gathered an entire group of neighbors in the front yard. Kids ride back and forth on the path in front of our house on scooters, balance bikes, and skateboards. Another mom, a friend from just down the street plops in the grass beside me. Some of the older kids race around to the back of our house to play on our playset and Nolan follows. I’m grateful for these pre-teens. I need a break from his energy, and they can wear him out better than I can. I take advantage of their enthusiasm until it’s time to go inside for dinner.

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Wednesday, I text with a group of friends from the twins’ first year of preschool. We text often and still see each other occasionally for playdates or cocktail hour. They’re an easy group of moms to be with—they’re funny and easy-going. I can tell them that my kids are jerks and receive commiseration, not judgment. They understand, they’ll say, since their kids are jerks, too.

“I may have set a world record for the number of curse words said in a single morning,” I send out one day.

“It’s something in the air!” one replies, “I called my mom and dropped them off with her so I didn’t hurt them yesterday!”

“My husband and I have nicknamed our five-year old ‘the little twerp’ this summer,” another responds.

I’m in good company here. Despite these text threads, no one takes anyone else too seriously. We still think all of our children are lovely, intelligent, delightful human beings. Except for the times they’re not. And then it’s nice to have the space to vent without fear of judgment.


Read about the rest of my week in the life over on Kindred Mom.

Favorite Twin Cities Breweries

My husband and I spent the first five years of our marriage living in Madison, Wisconsin before moving back to the Twin Cities. We loved it there. Wisconsin is known for many things: cheese, Packers football, and, my favorite, beer.

We were immersed in the craft beer world. Not only did we live near fabulous breweries, but each restaurant we frequented had beer lists that read more like chapter books, with double-digit amounts of local, craft beers on tap. I quickly moved on from the Bud Light of my college days and picked up on the difference between ales and lagers, appreciated the hoppiness of IPAs, and learned the correct way to pronounce "hefeweizen."

While the craft beer movement has exploded throughout the country, we're especially lucky in the Twin Cities. There are over 130 breweries in the state and most of them are located in Minneapolis, St. Paul, and the surrounding suburbs. Local taprooms have even become a favorite hang-out for my husband, though he prefers not to drink himself. We love to check out new ones on date nights, bounce around a few with a group of friends, and sometimes we even bring our three kids along. Here are some of our Twin Cities favorites.

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Find out my favorites over on the Twin Cities Moms Blog!