From the category archives:

Read This!

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I went on a reading bender this weekend and read these fantasy / fairy tale retellings and enjoyed them all:

The Cold King by Amber Jaeger: There is nothing I love more than a Beauty and the Beast re-telling and this is a goooood one, folks!

Bound by Kate Sparkes:  Second to Beauty and The Beast retellings, I love any story that features healers with a bit of magic / journeys on horseback / a good romance.  This has all three, told in a compelling, readable way. I’m on the second in the series now.

 The Seventh Bride by T. Kingfisher : Sort of a Bluebeard retelling but definitely with more of a horror bent than some I’ve read.  As a gentle warning to long time readers, it is a little bit more gruesome than the books I typically recommend, but, I really enjoyed it for its very down to earth heroine who keeps her wits about her in some very chilling times.

Then, I just listened to this gripping Radio Lab about an urban voyeur.  Insert eyeball emoji!

 

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I’ve been down the rabbit hole this last week – the Japanese organizing rabbit hole to be exact – reading and then implementing Marie Kondo’s practical, funny, spiritual guide to decluttering your home.  Joanna blogged about it last week, then a friend tweeted about it and finally I saw it in front of the register at the bookstore when I was checking out.   I bought it and read it in a day – I highly recommend it.

One aspect of this book that is very different from other organizing books/methods is that Marie connects to objects on a spiritual level and sees home as a spiritual place – for example, she thanks objects daily (her wallet, her worn out shoes, her sheets) for their help. While she doesn’t make the connection explicitly, I found myself thinking a lot about gratitude while reading her book and then decluttering the house.  I realized I’d slipped into an adversarial relationship with my house and many of my belongings – between moving and keeping the house organized (which often feels like a losing battle / a task for Sisyphus) somehow I’d lost some sense of fundamental gratitude for the apartment that shelters my family and the objects that we use everyday.   So getting back that gratitude was probably what I most appreciated about the book.

Marie warns, and I found this to be true, that her decluttering method can be emotional – there are reasons we all hold on to things long after we should have let something go.  The book goes deep – for example:

“The question of what you want to own is actually the question of how you want to live your life” and “The process of facing and selecting our possessions can be quite painful. It forces us to confront our imperfections and inadequacies and the foolish choices we made in the past … the things we own are real. They exist here and now as a result of choices made in the past by no one other than ourselves..This is why I’m against both letting things pile up and dumping things indiscriminately.”

If you’re not interested in the spiritual life of objects (no judgement here!) never fear – there is lots of practical advice in the book – from what do to with all those mystery cords that seem to be ever carried in with the technological tide to how to make the most of your closet space to how to fold clothes.

I will also note that she does not address households full of children’s toys nor what to do if you live any kind of creative life – art supplies – ideas for projects – inspiration books/papers/materials.  Her advice on paper is to simply throw it all out – which might work if you’re talking about 10 years worth of phone bills, but isn’t as applicable to any kind of creative process (at least, I don’t think so).  In any case, if you embark on this decluttering adventure, let me know!

 

 

 

 

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Recent Good Reads

October 28, 2014

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Here a few books I’ve read recently that I thought you might enjoy – the first is M.J. McGrath’s really readable mystery series set in the Arctic – I particularly like the third in the series, The Boy in The Snow.  I found the main character Edie compelling and competent, so maybe you will too!   The second was a young adult novel with a mystery at the center,  The Good Thief – a coming of age story with a complex world of characters that left me with good book glow.  What have you been reading?  Any recommendations?

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I stumbled on these “anti-stress” doodle books on French Amazon after Scott Schuman posted this photo of a Art Therapy Mandalas book on Instagram (which reminded me of Leigh’s mandalas).  I definitely doodle when I’m on the phone or in meetings and had read that it’s good for your brain but I hadn’t really taken in that there is a veritable movement of doodlers out there – both in coloring books and freehand.   In terms of freehand doodling, I just came across a Zen Tangle book while standing in line at Michael’s and went down the internet rabbit hole on the subject of doodling and mindfulness, doodling and healing and basically, the idea is that coloring in a coloring book or doodling helps clear the mind.   The University of New Hampshire Health Services has a useful discussion of the spiritual and healing aspect of coloring/drawing with free mandala downloads (I told you I went down the rabbit hole!). I like the idea that there is no wrong way to draw / color / doodle.  Anyway, do you doodle? Would you buy these coloring books? This Forest Fairies book seems pretty tempting since I’m fairy tale obsessed as does Animaux Fantastiques.  PS French Amazon is a rabbit hole of its own. So much good graphic design.

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I spied Robert Blair’s “Mantras for Our Generation” via lcbk on Instagram.  PS: Next year I’m going to the NY Art Book Fair, hell or high water!

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I came across this string on Good Reads via Smart Bitches Trashy Books a year or two ago and have been slowly working my way through the list (I’ll request a few from the library at a time).  A good book is the best therapy money can buy and I love having a long, long list to work through!  Sunday was just one of those days around here (doing our taxes, open houses, life not going according to plan, you know, the usual!).  We had a long subway ride to Brooklyn to go see an open house and I decided to take a time out with a good book  – The Winter Witch ($2.99 Kindle version) – to see if I could shift my attitude and the tenor of the day.  The hour flew by as I got sucked into the hills of Wales (with sheep! and magic! and PONIES!) and a bit of love and redemption, too. After the dust settled, I joked to Tim that we need to have a Kindle preloaded with some new-to-me books mounted on the wall with a “break glass in case of emergency” sign.   Do you read to calm down, too?  Also, if you haven’t read Tam Lin by Pamela Dean, it’s a modern fairy tale treat!

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This morning I almost missed my stop on the subway because I was so absorbed in Bernd Heinrich’s Winter World.  It seems counterintuitive that just as winter is ending I can’t get enough of descriptions of how animals survive the cold.  Heinrich brings to life the world of the woods in a compelling and readable way for those of us who are far from being scientists.

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This morning Tim passed Zadie Smith’s Elegy for a Country’s Seasons over the coffee cups and crumbs from breakfast, saying “You’ve got to read this.”  I did, and I’ve been thinking about it all day, her heartbreaking and honest assessment of our collective relationship with nature (and our ability to damage it).  It sounds sort of dry or Al-Gore-boring like when I describe it, but it is beautiful and haunting and above all true, so I guess, now I’m handing it over to you and saying “You’ve got to read this“. [click to continue…]

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I read two thought-provoking articles this weekend that I thought you might enjoy, even though I’m not sure I agreed with all the points raised:

The first, What You Learn in Your 40s in the New York Times was full of nuggets like these:

  • “Eight hours of continuous, unmedicated sleep is one of life’s great pleasures.”
  •  “There are no grown-ups. We suspect this when we are younger, but can confirm it only once we are the ones writing books and attending parent-teacher conferences. Everyone is winging it, some just do it more confidently.”

But, perhaps my favorite was:

  • “‘Soul mate’ isn’t a pre-existing condition. It’s an earned title. They’re made over time.”

SO TRUE.

Then, I read Women at the Top by Marcia Angell in this month’s New York Review of Books, a review of Alison Wolf’s: The XX Factor: How the Rise of Working Women Has Created a Far Less Equal WorldAngell is my mother’s age and writes about my (our) younger generation which makes for interesting reading, to say the least.  She writes:

From earliest history right through the 1950s, there was a transactional element to marriage. In return for the security and protection and social approbation the husband provided, the wife provided sex and children and management of the household. If the man was wealthy and the woman beautiful and charming, so much the better. Of course, there was often love and companionship as well, but throughout history, as Wolf writes, “sex proffered, sex withheld were the main assets that girls possessed … All that changed almost overnight when the birth control pill hit the market in the early 1960s…Reliable contraception also made it feasible for women to undertake long years of education and commit to careers in a way that had not been possible before, and they began to be encouraged by, of all people, their fathers—their “besotted” fathers, in Wolf’s words…As families became smaller, fathers became more ambitious on behalf of their daughters, since in a two- or three-child family they might have no sons. By the 1980s, women were entering the upper echelons of society on their own, and many had high enough incomes to have children without marriage and support them, if they had to. Sex, marriage, and children no longer had to go together.

I found this to be a fascinating cultural/sexual history and context for the seemingly endless debates about leaning in/opt-ing out/work life balance. I have a funny perspective on all of this since in the last five years as fate would have it I have 1)worked full time, with a full time nanny, 2) stayed home full-time with my child and 3)worked part time with a patch-work blanket of sitters, and what I can say with confident sincerity is that each experience was full of pleasures and guilt in almost equal measure.  Nothing about being a mom (or dad) is as simple as leaning-in or opting-out and all the options are full of hard work and doubt.

Quite a bit later in the article Angell tackles what is given up as a result of what she calls the “cult of overwork”: as it turns out: cleanliness, sex and sleep (see What You Learn In Your 40s above, HA!):

In a New York Times article titled “The Case for Filth,” Stephen Marche concludes, “A clean house is the sign of a wasted life, truly. Hope is messy: Eventually we’ll all be living in perfect egalitarian squalor.” Despite the hyperbole, there is something to this view. Since housework takes time these couples just don’t have, I think lowering neatness standards is sensible, even though it is sometimes hard on us grandmothers, who grew up rating ourselves on our cooking and the appearance of our homes.

I hope both articles are of interest to you and I’m curious what you think, too. PS: I couldn’t resist the somewhat gratuitous shot from Working Girl that appeared in the New York Review of Books piece. JUST LOOK AT ALL THAT HAIR!!

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About six months ago I subscribed Alex to two kids magazines, Click and Ladybug and Alex is always delighted when we check the mail and there is something for him.  He sits right down and pages through the whole magazine. Click is more science-y (who invented the fork?) and Ladybug has more stories.  There is always a project or two to cut out and build (this month it was a cootie catcher, last month a memory game).  I like the stories and (beautiful) illustrations – we cut the magazines up for collages afterwards (using every part of the buffalo in this house!). What I like most is seeing Alex’s enjoyment of something written and tangible, which, in our increasingly digital and technical age, seems all the more precious.  Highly recommended for the kiddos in your life.

 

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On the plane home tonight I read Scott Stossel’s brave/honest/upsetting/completely absorbing article in this month’s Atlantic about coping/not-coping with anxiety.  The article is long and worth reading in its entirety, but one section in particular had me belly laughing out of my seat: a description of what happened when Scott ran into anxiety related toilet trouble at a Kennedy house party.  It is what we call in our house a “laugh or cry situation” –  it’s so bad you can either laugh or cry.  Start here, with the paragraph that starts “Case in point…”  

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I’m traveling for work and while we waited on the tarmac for 44 planes in front of us to take off at LaGuardia, I had the distinct pleasure of reading the entire New York Magazine, cover to cover. Yes, 44.  But we did take off eventually and then land in Boston, so I have absolutely no complaints.  And New York Magazine was smoking hot this week.  I read all about the pigeons and cockroaches and horses of NYC not to mention, the history of the selfie.   Perhaps my favorite article was 100 recommendations for the perfect weekend.  A few of my favorites made the list (Brucie in Brooklyn!) but there were many more I wanted to try (Buvette!).  Also, I recently bought two of these Baggu bags, originally for toting gym gear, and am obsessed with them for travel.  They made corralling all my power cords and chargers and STUFF so easy on the one hand and then actually organized my clothes on the other.  I am definitely buying a few more for family travel.

 

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We’ve been hibernating at bit this weekend, how about you? We’re really enjoying binging on The Newsroom and Alpha House (John Goodman! John Goodman! John Goodman!). Then, I finished Across the Great Barrier last night and dove right into the next book in the young adult series, The Far West.   My insta review: highly readable; the best quickie description would be Little House on the Prairie meets Harry Potter.  The main character grows and stretches and learns to be independent and know her own mind in a very satisfying emotional “arc”.  As a bonus, Alex even enjoyed the parts I read aloud today about scouting in the “Wild West” (with only a bit editing from me on the fly). What are you reading and watching this weekend?

PS I made these scones today, in a scramble when I realized the larder was bare and a friend was coming over in a half and hour, and they turned out flaky and very scone like.  Internet recipe success!

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Tonight is the full moon of January – which happens to be known as the “Old Moon”.  The moon is also at its furthest distance from Earth (252,607 miles away!).   One of my favorite instagramers is @smallspells – she makes beautiful pottery and great astrology – here is her take on tonight’s full moon.

 

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