Pay Attention to That Telling Detail

Monday, August 22, 2016

We're in Idaho with Brock's family this week, and I have had tons of reading time. I just finished My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout and I absolutely loved it. As I was reading I kept thinking that it was my kind of book. There were childhood analyses from an adult's point of view, exploration of mother-daughter relationships, little violence or swearing, and plenty of valuable insights. Strout really knows how to capture a person's inner life.

One insight that I kept thinking about was when Lucy was talking about a man she was in love with in college:
"He asked what we ate when I was growing up. I did not say, 'Mostly molasses on bread.' I did say, 'We had baked beans a lot.' And he said, 'What did you do after that, all hang around and fart?' Then I understood I would never marry him. It's funny how one thing can make you realize something like that. One can be ready to give up the children one always wanted, one can be ready to withstand remarks about one's past, or one's clothes, but then--a tiny remark and the soul deflates and says: Oh.
I have been friends with many men and women and they say the same thing: Always that telling detail."
This sentiments has been true in my own life with all type of relationships--one little thing that makes me realize the all-important about that person.

Happily, the reverse of Lucy's statement has also been true. I have often experienced moments where one remark or action has made me think, "Yes. I'm going to get along with this person very well."

I remember when it happened with Brock. We met at the beginning of the semester in a political science class and began walking out of class together. On one of these walks not long after we met, he started telling me about the Boston terrier his family had when he was growing up. My family has a Boston, so I was very interested in this coincidence (I love coincidences). I couldn't stop laughing at the way he was telling the stories and experienced a form of happiness that was new to me. Something inside me clicked and I knew he was special. And that feeling, that tiny detail, has always stuck with me.

Recently Read: August

Monday, August 15, 2016

Today I'm linking up with Modern Mrs. Darcy to share what I've recently read (and what I'm currently reading)

A Mother and Two Daughters
 by Gail Godwin
 This was such an interesting and captivating read exploring the very different lives and perspectives of three women. I loved the different and intertwining storylines and am now looking to try another book by Godwin.

I Remember Nothing 
by Nora Ephron
I listened to this gem on audiobook, and it is so good. There are so many truths about aging and divorce and love of place. Her essays are fresh and funny and memorable. She reads the audio version and that just makes it even better.

A Homemade Life
by Molly Wizenberg
Wizenberg is a food blogger and gifted writer, and I really enjoyed the way her book blended stories of her life along with recipes that reminded her of momentous events. She has a great writing style and it was fascinating to read about someone so interested in a topic at which I am a major novice.

Jayber Crow
by Wendell Berry
Berry's style of writing almost makes it hard for me to recommend- it is slow and philosophical and there is such a depth of thought. This was a not a book that I read quickly, but it was one that made me stop and think.

Big Magic
by Elizabeth Gilbert
I heard a lot of praise about this book, and found her message about ideas and creativity to be interesting. I thought her writing style was slightly off-putting and bit too informal, but it was a fast and fun read.

In Other Words
by Jhumpa Lahiri
I have been a fan of Lahiri's books for a while now, and was excited to see she wrote a nonfiction book. This one was originally written in Italian and is a love story about her love for the Italian language. She talks a lot about the meaning and emotions behind language and how language highlights her personal journey.

On Leaving Chicago

Thursday, August 11, 2016

In less than a week, I'll get on a plane and leave Chicago. As I'm heading out of this hot summer I'm thinking of another summer, three years ago, when Brock and I left Utah, newly married and newly graduated, eager for this new chapter in our lives.

I remember driving for days across the Midwest and feeling the weather become progressively more humid as we left Wyoming and pushed our way into Nebraska. As we crossed the Mississippi River I couldn't stop thinking, "I live east of the Mississippi." I was 22 and it felt like we were at the pioneer stage of our lives, leaving behind the familiar to make new and better lives for ourselves.

And as we're moving on to the next stage, I'm struggling to cope with what it means to be ending this one. I'm leaving this beautiful place where I truly became an adult, where I deepened my relationships with God and my husband, and where I became a mother.

The fact that I'm leaving keeps hitting me in waves. I'll be walking home soaking in the huge trees and beautiful buildings and then I'll tear up knowing that it's almost over. I'll jog down to the lake and feel so happy with its beauty but then my insides twist with sadness because I don't know how many more runs I'll have. I'll feel swamped by the heat and humidity and begin to long for fall but then remember that I'm not going to see another Chicago fall. And my throat swells with the pain of the ending.

How do I sum up three years worth of life-changing experiences?

I can tell you what I've learned. I've learned how to dress for Chicago winters (good boots, huge down coat, super warm socks, and a cozy attitude. Also a hat because wind chill and below-freezing temperatures can literally take your ears off. I warned you).

I learned what urban poverty in America looks like today and had my eyes opened what true diversity means. I've learned how to ignore the screaming of ambulances outside our apartment and begun to slightly copy Chicago accents.

I understood the true sweetness of spring with all its hope and budding blossoms and the sense of renewal, made even sweeter after living through long, dark winters.

I learned how to make adult friendships, how to serve people, and how to mother.

I'm going to miss being able to have memories triggered by things I see. If I don't see the old church whose bathroom I used when I was 4 months pregnant, will I forget about that hot, happy day with Brock at the jazz festival? If I don't see the bench at the Lincoln Park Zoo where I nursed 2 week old James, will I still be able to feel a flood of memories about my first outings with a newborn? Will I begin to forget this time in my life and the versions of myself that have thrived here?

Despite these worries, what I feel most is overwhelming gratitude. Gratitude for these experiences and for this place I both loved and hated. Gratitude to have gone through it all with my husband so that no matter where else we live and what else we go through, I'll always be able to turn to him and say, "Remember when we lived in Chicago?"

And now for a walk down memory lane:

First time at Lincoln Park Zoo. We were such babies

Walks during the polar vortex winter. I can't believe I forced us outside. It was so cold. Although it must have been slightly bearable since I was not wearing a hat
Museum of Science and Industry and Brock's mountain man goatee

Our apartment building

James in his kitchen bedroom

One member of the family loved that our street was the fire truck/ambulance thoroughfare

Our view on our morning walk/runs

Buckingham Fountain. James almost managed to squirm his way through that fence but I didn't get a picture of that

Down coat as mentioned above. I think this was taken on a warm-ish day in March, based on the fact that James isn't wearing his down coat and my scarf is a "lighter" one

My Favorite First Paragraph

Monday, August 8, 2016

I love collecting my favorite first lines and paragraphs from books. The beginning of a book sets the tone for the whole reading experience and I love the way they can sweep you into the story.

Something I love doing is collecting a stack of books from the library (mostly books I've put on hold since my toddler has no patience for browsing the stacks) and sitting down with them in kids section. While James plays, I open each book and read the first page- enough to get me excited about the book, and sometimes enough for that book to move up positions on my "to read" shelf. This is what happened with Americanah- the first page sucked me in so intensely that I had to drop everything and read it. And it was AMAZING.

My favorite first paragraph that I have ever read (ever) comes from Peter Pan, by J.M. Barrie. So many people know the story of Peter Pan from the Disney movie, but the book is astounding in its own right. Barrie's descriptions and turns of phrase are so unique that I couldn't stop marveling over their construction. The story is interesting for children and adults alike, and I was happily surprised over how good it is.

I knew I was going to love it the minute I read this first paragraph:
"All children, except one, grow up. They soon know that they will grow up, and the way Wendy knew was this. One day when she was two years old she was playing in a garden, and she plucked another flower and ran with it to her mother. I supposed she must have looked rather delightful, for Mrs Darling put her hand to her heart and cried, 'Oh, why can't you remain like this for ever!' This was all that passed between them on the subject, but henceforth Wendy knew that she must grow up. You always know after you are two. Two is the beginning of the end."
To start a book like this is, to me, astounding. I stopped right after I got to the end of the paragraph and immediately read it two or three more times because it is truly breathtaking.

This paragraph put into words a sentiment I think about a lot- that we are always growing up. When I first become a mother, I would mourn how fast James was changing and would wish that he stay a teensy baby forever. I wanted, in an abstract way, for him reach a time when he wouldn't change so much. Then I realized that we are always changing, all of us, all the time. There will never be a moment when we are not growing up.

That Barrie captured this same feelings, that we only exist in these moments, floored me. That he also explained the feelings that go along with this realization- the beginning of the end- made me admire him immensely. This book has wisdom and insight wrapped inside a children's story. It is definitely not one to be missed.

Do you have any favorite first lines or paragraphs? I'm always on the lookout for amazing ones.

Four Ways I've Changed Since Becoming a Parent

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Becoming a mother has (obviously) changed me in a lot of ways. I've dealt with tons of gross stuff that I would rather not think about and I've survived the sleep deprivation/actual torture that is the first few months. I've also felt my heart melt by my baby throwing his arms around my neck for a hug and by hearing him say "shoes" in the cutest baby voice imaginable.

Here are a few specific ways that I have been changed, some random and trivial and one that has been life-changing.

1. Early wake ups

James, like many children, has some sort of internal body alarm that goes off like crazy before 6 am. While most mornings I feel like sleeping for another 3 hours when he wakes me up, once I'm up I'm always happy that I get to see the early morning.

I like that I can get to the grocery store by 8 am with no stress, that I am no longer late for 9:00 am church because I've been up for 3 hours already, and that I can make plans for 7 am and actually keep them. The other day I was at the doctor's office (for tendinitis, another parental gift) and the receptionist making appointments asked the man in front of me if he could come in at 8:30 am. He said, "No, that's way too early for me" and I laughed to myself because getting places at 8:30 am is such an easy time for me to achieve now. Being awake early in the morning something that I really enjoy overall (as long as I get to bed by 10:30 pm (not a joke)).

2. Vertigo

I do not know the scientific reason for this one, but ever since James was born I have been plagued with vertigo when I get really tired. When he was a little baby I remember laying down in bed after being up with him in the night and every time I closed my eyes the room started spinning. I would force my eyelids open to stop the spinning, but then when I closed them again out of sheer exhaustion the spinning would begin again. The cycle would continue another time or two before I finally dropped off to sleep. This happened almost every night for the first weeks and gradually lessened as James (and I) were able to sleep for longer stretches.

It's much less frequent now, but when I get really tired the world around me will spin and I'll feel like I'm going to fall over. It's pretty annoying and nothing I've Googled has given me a clear indication if this is actually baby-related or not, but it is definitely tied in with birth/no sleep/extreme bodily fatigue.

3. Hair

Oh, the hair. Every mother of young children can regale you with tales about how her hair changed. Yes, I lost a lot of hair after James was born, but not so much that I felt like I was going bald. It was annoying when it started growing back in and I had an inch of hair growing around my scalp, but I dealt with it. The biggest change for me has been my hair texture. Before my baby, my hair had some sort of wave in it and always dried pretty weird. Now my hair is practically stick straight. I don't blow dry it or anything after I wash it and it dries pretty normal with only a few crazy pieces that I need to straighten the next day.

I have to say, this is one aspect of having a baby that I liked. My hair is so much easier to take care of now and causes me much less woe, although that could also have to do with me caring so much less about it. It's not really on my radar as much as it used to be.

4. Compassion

There's this scene in The Office where Pam says, "Having kids makes you so soft. I used to watch Pulp Fiction and laugh. Now I'm like, 'That poor gimp is somebody's child!'" I've never seen Pulp Fiction, but when I watched that part in The Office after becoming a mother I thought, "Yes, exactly."

When James was in his first weeks of life I would stare at his little face and marvel at the fact that he would become a boy, then an adult, and someday an old man. This is so obvious that it's silly for me to write out, but it hit me that every person on this earth started their lives as a baby. They cooed and waved their fists around, they cried when they were hungry or tired, and they had the sweetest baby smell. They blinked slowly at their parents' faces above them and fell asleep on their parents' chests. They were tiny beyond belief and utterly helpless, yet so soft and sweet.

Thinking about people this way helped me gain incredible compassion for them. I started imagining people as sweet little babies with parents who thought the world of them and suddenly it was easier for me to imagine the love that their parents have for them. Everyone is somebody's child, and multiplying the love that I feel for my baby has helped me feel more love for everyone else. I can see people the way their parents see them, and understand the whole new realm of caring that is parental love. Knowing that we all began our lives as sweet and innocent as my precious baby put the whole concept of humanity in perspective for me. We all began our lives the same way and for that, we are connected.

This feeling of compassion also helped me understand the way that God loves us as His children.  I feel closer to Him knowing that He feels the same type of love I feel for James, only of a greater magnitude. Thinking of people and God this way has completely changed my idea of what it means to love and to care and to sacrifice. And for that change in perspective I will always be grateful that I am a mother.

Six Wonderful Novels Published Before 2002

Monday, August 1, 2016

I love reading fiction. It fills my soul in a way that no other reading can quite match. When I find a good novel I feel like a whole other world has opened up to me. Nora Ephron (in her book I Feel Bad About My Neck) talked about the state of rapture that she experiences when she is in the midst of a good book, and that is exactly how I feel too.

I decided to restrict my recommendations for this post to before 2002 because a) Peace Like a River was published in 2001 and I really wanted to include it and b) I worry that great novels of the past often get overlooked with the buzz that new books get every year. These six novels have stood the test of time and are truly amazing reads, and I have read most of them more than once because I love them so.

1. Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
This romantic thriller is set in 1930s England and tells the story of a young woman who marries an older man with a dark past surrounding his late wife. The plot twists and turns as the protagonist finds out the truth about Rebecca and the man she married. I often felt myself slightly holding my breath while reading some of the more intense parts- it is just that good.

2. The Chosen by Chaim Potok
This wonderful book tells the story of two boys from different Jewish sects both growing up in Brooklyn. Their friendship highlights their similarities and differences and makes you think about relationships between God and His children and between fathers and sons.

3. The Red Tent by Anita Diamant
There are few books that make me absolutely giddy to talk about and this is one of them. The Red Tent tells the story of Dinah, the only daughter of Jacob (from the Bible). It’s all about womanhood and its ancient rites and customs, and ultimately about family and love. I could read this book once a year for the rest of my life and never get tired of it.

4. Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner
A truly sweeping novel, Angle of Repose is about one family's story over three generations. It takes place in proper East Coast homes as well as log cabins in the Wild West, and a ranch house in California. It delves deep into the question of what makes or breaks a marriage, and how those marriages affect future generations. It is long but so wonderful.

5. Kindred by Octavia Butler
While many (including my library) classify Kindred as science fiction, that genre doesn’t provide a good enough description for what this book actually is. It tells a story of a black woman in the 1970s who time travels to a plantation in the pre-Civil War era along with her white husband. It is an incredibly fascinating story that provides a modern view on a horrific institution.

6. Peace Like a River by Leif Enger
Peace Like a River is a novel that is hard to summarize. Its narrator, Reuben, is an 11 year-old boy who is on a journey from Minnesota to the Badlands with his father (a deeply spiritual minister who Reuben is convinced has worked miracles) and sister while looking for Reuben's brother. The story has so many components: love, romance, good, evil, and lots of winter. It is thought-provoking and engaging.