Am Reading

This year, I’ve made a conscious effort to get back to reading books. Conscious as in “I’m going to read instead of doing dishes while Daniel plays with Legos on the weekend.” I made a separate shelf for 2014 on Goodreads so that I could remember all the books I read this year.

I’ve read 25 books so far. It isn’t the most impressive number and it is definitely a far cry from the year in which I read 100 while also in grad school and working full time (pre-Daniel obviously!), but it’s not too shabby; it’s a start.

The truth is that I’ve probably read more like 30-35 books this year, but they aren’t books I list on Goodreads. They are too revealing, too personal. So they primarily live on my phone. Others are books I return to over and over again like Far From the Tree, books that belong to prior years but in which I find new truths each time.

Goodreads and my list of books read becomes yet another way in which I curate myself and the image I hope to project. My 2014 books hopefully reveal me to have broad interests. A fan of high-brow AND low-brow. Quirky. Or maybe it reveals me to be overly random or worse, pretentious – far too much non-fiction – when the truth is that fiction sucks me in and makes me unable to stop reading until I’ve finished the book. Fiction is much less cost-effective than a denser nonfiction.

Everything has become a data point into who we are.

I’m close to finishing two books I’m reading simultaneously – one a historical fiction and actual physical book; the other a book of essays on empathy I downloaded on a whim (and don’t especially love). I am reading, and I love it.

What’s the best book you’ve read this year?

#MicroblogMondays 2: Over Pumpkin Spice

In the past few weeks, my FB and Twitter feeds have been inundated w/ mentions of pumpkin spice lattes, pumpkin spice coffee, pumpkin spice vodka (kidding. For now), pumpkin spice cookies, cakes, doughnuts, cronuts. Pumpkin spice everything. And it left me feeling uninspired and slightly nauseous. I chalked it up to summer’s last gasp as the temperature was close to 100 all week: who can think of pumpkin spice under conditions like that?

Then Sunday I was in the grocery store (again!) and passed the new display of seasonal, pumpkin spice-flavored beer and had zero interest or excitement.

It’s disconcerting because as an Autumn worshipper, I have loved pumpkin spice stuff for years. We go to major lengths to find good pumpkin spice coffee. I make pumpkin muffins. I have loved to compare the various pumpkin beers – and I’m not even a beer lover!

Has pumpkin spice jumped the shark? What does this sudden ennui mean and will it extend to Autumn in general? Maybe I’m just anticipating Halloween and pumpkin carving and the smell of the ripe pumpkin as I scoop out the slimy, sticky guts because that’s my job. Kind of hard to enjoy pumpkin with that visceral memory.

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#MicroblogMondays: the Grocery Store

Today Daniel and I went to the grocery store for the third time in 4 days. Sometimes we don’t have our shit together in our house. Other times I channel the Grateful Dead and mutter, “what a long, strange trip it has been.” In the checkout line, a lady wheeled her cart behind ours and said, “Hi, neighbor.” I greeted her & made small talk. She looked vaguely familiar & referenced Bunco, but I couldn’t place her. Finally, on the way to the car, it hit me. She hosted the last neighborhood Bunco game I attended in January, which was also the first time I met her. She remembered me, but I didn’t remember her. Granted, she had on no makeup, hair pulled back & workout clothes, but she had remembered ME. It turns out the cashier lives in my neighborhood too. It was a little mortifying and I couldn’t help but think, “this is why you have no friends.”

this is part of Mel’s new MicroblogMondays series.

Kindergartener in the House

Between the summer of 1999, the summer I graduated from college, and last year, I developed a disdain for summer vacation. At best it was childhood nostalgia. At worst, it was a slap in the face as the reality of an 8-5 workday and a small amount of vacation time became understood.

This summer, though, I rediscovered the point of summer vacation as Daniel’s Pre-K year ended.  It was a relief to have the school year over with its homework, frantic nightly routine, lunches to make, firm bedtime to meet. June 6 came, we made it through Pre-K graduation and exhaled, feeling the tension leave our bodies.  We filled Daniel’s summer with two different summer camps, afternoons with grandma and two beach trips. We all moved a little more slowly in the evenings.  If we were running late, we could adjust bedtime without difficulty or repercussion.  Our mornings started later, so we didn’t rush as much, could sleep in a bit and enjoy a commute without traffic. The slower speed was nice, and for the first time in many years, I felt like summer was defined.

Summer vacation ended on Monday of this week when Daniel started kindergarten.  Kindergarten is a milestone year, and I’m struggling to wrap my brain around how he can be a kindergartener already. Five is so old, yet so young (remind me to apply that some logic to myself in a few weeks when I turn 37. Doesn’t work the same way, does it?).

Daniel isn’t attending the same school for kindergarten that he did for Pre-K. We didn’t have the greatest year last year.  He learned a lot and met wonderful people, but at the end of the year – before that actually – it was clear the school wasn’t a good fit for him. We thought the routine and structure would be great, but it turned out that perhaps they depended too much on structure and routine and were too inflexible. There were a lot of expectations and pressure, pressure we all felt when he didn’t meet the expectations.  And at the end of the day (or year, rather), we felt as a family that it wasn’t right for so much pressure and anxiety to be placed on the still-small shoulders of a new 5-year-old.

So the school wasn’t a good fit for him–so what? Many more schools out there, and we’ll find one that fits, right? It’s not a big deal.

It is a little bit of a big deal. And the issues we had went a little beyond a too-rigid structure and to the fact that our little boy is baby square peg just like his Momma Square Peg and Daddy Square Peg. I bring it up because it was a pretty bad year and impacted all of us.  I cried a lot. We were short and frustrated with Daniel and with each other. We argued with teachers and administrators. We spent a lot of time on the phone and email. We felt like failures which I know had to make him feel like a failure, and he tried so hard. So very hard.

And we didn’t say anything. Couldn’t say anything because we were scared and worried and anxious. And angry. I was angry at the school, the world, everyone. I couldn’t post anything because I was and am trying to figure out how to give Daniel privacy and not stigmatize him in any way while at the same time, this is all we were thinking and talking about. And selfishly, I also worried about schadenfreude and whether others would revel in our difficulty (“that perfect KeAnne doesn’t have a perfect life after all!!” Ed. note: not that I ever claimed to). So that’s why I bring up the school change. Because it’s nothing, yet everything.

I have a LOT of feelings about it, especially how it contributed to my already not-great opinion on religion.  Jimmy has a LOT of feelings about it because it was his alma mater. That’s not important.  What is important is that Daniel is great.  He’s smart, sweet and funny as he’s always been. We enrolled him in a very small, private kindergarten taught by a wonderful teacher who adores him and understands that one size doesn’t fit all. The three of us have so much less anxiety, and that is such a good thing.  He is going to have a wonderful kindergarten year (even though he still refers to it as “work”).

Here’s to building a better hole for our square peg.

First Day of Kindergarten!

First Day of Kindergarten!

Time to Say Goodbye to Summer

It’s Friday at twilight and Jimmy has just brought in the chairs and umbrella. It is our last full day at the beach and we intended to spend most of it outside, enjoying the gorgeous weather and soaking up every minute we could. We went in for lunch, decided to have a short quiet time and next thing I knew, the boys were napping. It happens rarely these days, so I let it continue; the result was that we forfeited the rest of our afternoon outside.

It’s OK. We’ve had a great time, spending hours each day outside, taking evening walks and relaxing. I can’t help but feel a bit melancholy. Some of it is due to the usual angst of leaving the beach and ending vacation, especially when we won’t be back for 10 months.

Most of it is due to my worry that we didn’t maximize our time here; you know, sucking the marrow out of our beach week and all that. We didn’t play in the water as much as we would have liked. We didn’t collect as many shells. We didn’t spend as many evenings chatting into the wee hours while the ocean breezes blew. The truth is, we were tired. It has been a busy summer of work projects, home projects and camp, and I think the three of us were relieved to sit (the adults) and dig in the sand (Daniel).

The end of this trip also symbolizes the end of summer. School will start in a little over a week and we will have a kindergartener. Our lives will begin to revolve around a calendar again; June and August will take on significance beyond “summer” and “hot” as “school” creeps in and takes over.

Time passes and all that.

Maybe I should focus on all the things we did do. Daniel had ice cream every night. He tried crab cake and lobster bisque (sadly rejecting both). Jimmy found a sandwich he loved (a bigger deal than it sounds for my sandwich-rejecting men). We added 6 new starfish and a clamshell to our starfish family. We ended each day sandy, salty and tired. It was a good week.

Now it’s time to pack up and go home. Wash the beach clothes and start organizing the back-to-school items. And maybe one day when the nights are crisp, I’ll put on a shirt I wore at the beach, inhale the scent of the beach and find myself back here.

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What’s Your Story?

Lately, everywhere I go, everything I read, emphasizes the importance of storytelling.  It shows up in articles and blogs I read online. It even shows up at a data conference I attended in a session on visualizing data and using it to tell a story for stakeholders.  Dashboards used to be the buzzword; now storytelling is on the rise.  Headlines encouraging you to tell your story, share your story, tell the story.

The question is whether storytelling as a concept, as a tool, is truly on the rise or if I’m just more attuned to it.

It’s more likely that I am experiencing the Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon, the experience of encountering a new concept or thing everywhere after you learn about it.  I could call it by its more prosaic name of “frequency illusion,” but I think Baader-Meinhof is jazzier.

Storytelling.  I used to think of stories and the telling of them as something for children. It certainly wasn’t something adults do (we call that “blogging” or marketing if you’re in business). Stories are something we outgrow as we move from board books to novels with longer, more complicated plots. Stories are instructive, tools for molding behavior and character.

Ever since the spring and our two Listen to Your Mother productions, I’ve been thinking a lot about stories and storytelling. It’s likely because we had two cast members this year who work with stories, their structure, their form, their history, and their power. And I began to see our production as an important part of the storytelling process, giving our local readers – adults all – an opportunity to share their stories, to have the audience learn from them, and to learn from each other.  I found myself learning lessons from each one: the futility of control, respecting myself as worth a place at the table, learning from our children, flipping roles with our parents. I learned from them and internalized those lessons as I hope Daniel learns from the stories we read him.

It turns out that storytelling isn’t so childish after all. One of the most profound books I read this year was Scatter, Adapt and Remember: How Humans Will Survive Mass Extinction by Annalee Newitz.  In it, Newitz explore prior extinction events (spoiler alert: there have been many); the rise of humans; and finally, what we might face in the future.  The “Remember” part of the title refers to storytelling and how it is not merely something fun to do around the fire or at a party but is in fact a powerful survival tactic and evolutionary development. As Newitz writes, “Over the past million years, humans bred themselves to be the ultimate survivors, capable of both exploring the world and adapting to it by sharing stories about what we found there.”

And this:

It could be that one small group of H. sapiens developed a genetic mutation that led to experiments with cultural expression. Then, the capacity to do it spread via mating between groups because storytelling and symbolic thought were invaluable survival skills for a species that regularly encountered unfamiliar environments. Using language and stories, one group could explain to another how to hunt the local animals and which plants were safe to eat.

And this:

…people could figure out how to adapt to a place before arriving there—just by hearing stories from their comrades. Symbolic thought is what allowed us to thrive in environments far from warm, coastal Africa, where we began. It was the perfect evolutionary development for a species whose body propelled us easily into new places. Indeed, one might argue that the farther we wandered, the more we evolved our skills as storytellers.

Storytelling saved lives and may have even assisted in our evolution. I can’t think of many things more powerful than that.

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Speaking of stories, this week the videos from the 30+ 2014 Listen to Your Mother shows became available on YouTube.  Here’s the link to the main LTYM channel with all the shows. And here’s the link to the Raleigh-Durham videos. And because I’m not above a little shameless self-promotion, here’s the link to MY reading ;-)

I promise that you’ll laugh, you’ll cry and you’ll learn. Enjoy.

 

Happy Place

By last weekend, we were counting down the minutes to beach trip #1. Sunday finally arrived and we were on our way. Great weather so far, and we’re having a great time. Daniel has already “found” three starfish, and Jimmy and I have loved sitting outside and talking until the stars came out. We’ve also spotted Mars & Saturn. It truly is our happy place and we are thrilled we are able to return in two months.

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