June 27, 2017

Recently Read

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot.
What a fascinating book! I had never heard of HeLa or this story until it was recommended to me by some coworkers. It was suggested as a topic for our book club, and I am so glad it was! It's the story of Henrietta Lacks, a poor black woman who died of cervical cancer in the early 1950s. The doctors took some of the cancerous cells from her tumor, without her knowledge or consent, and those cells ended up becoming a vital tool in the scientific community, contributing to the development of vaccines and other medical advancements. The book balances the scientific talk with the story of Henrietta and her family, as well as the author, who went on this journey with them to shine a light on Henrietta's life. I highly, highly recommend.

A Gentleman in Moscow, by Amor Towles.
I very much enjoyed this book, as I did his first book (Rules of Civility). The writing is wonderful, and he does such a good job of creating the setting. I am transported to the Metropol - a hotel in Moscow - in the1920s. Every scene is beautifully described, and I'm not distracted by the details, but rather I am absorbed by them. The story spans several decades and almost never leaves the hotel, and yet the story remained interesting the entire time. And the ending....well, let's just say that I adored the ending. Very satisfying.

The Underground Railroad, by Colson Whitehead.
I'm not exactly sure how I feel about this book. Part of me wishes I had a book club group to discuss it with, because it is certainly worthy of discussion. I do think that it is a fresh and unique approach to telling a story about slavery. On the other hand, making the underground railroad a literal thing felt odd and seems to somehow take away from the actual history. The book contains one main character - a slave girl named Cora - but her journey takes her to so many places that it often feels like separate stories as she moves from place to place. That said, those stories are powerfully depicted, they stay with you, and they make you think about what they say about race relations today. Overall, I liked the book, and it's absolutely worthwhile.

June 15, 2017

A Few Things...

I haven't been keeping up the blog, but I've still been reading, and it has become a habit to save links that I find interesting. I thought I'd clear out my history a bit and share some of the articles and posts I've enjoyed (somewhat) recently. Enjoy!

The Busier You Are, the More You Need Quiet Time. Yes to this. But why is it so hard to do?

Why Social Media is Not Smart for Middle School Kids. Aaron is off to middle school next year, and I've found myself drawn to articles like these. I want to be prepared for what's to come. After school orientation, a mom I know sent an email out to a huge distribution to let everyone know that her son would not be getting a phone next year - she was seeking support and solidarity. Maybe if we all agreed, we could keep them away for a while longer. She mostly received positive feedback, but a few disagreed, and it also seemed that quite a few parents are planning on giving them phones in 6th grade. 11 years old! Sigh. No judgment, truly - every family is different - but we do plan to hold out a bit longer than that.

Not Leadership Material? Good. The World Needs Followers. As I said, we're entering middle school next year, so college admissions is quite a ways off. But it's never too early to think about this, especially as they are still figuring out what their interests are.

Check This Box if You’re a Good Person. "..in the chaos of SAT scores, extracurriculars and recommendations, one quality is always irresistible in a candidate:  kindness."  I don't want my kids to be kind in order to get into college - I just want my kids to be kind.

Not Naughty: 10 Ways Kids Appear to Be Acting Bad But Aren't. I told my husband about this one. A reminder that so many of the ways our kids drive us crazy are completely normal. Sometimes we just have to let them be.

Politics of Professions. Not surprising, but fascinating. Most librarians are Democrats, most farmers are Republicans. As a group, doctors are in the middle, though pediatricians lean left and urologists right.

What Biracial People Know. Interesting article about the power of diversity in individuals as well as groups.

The Guilty Secret of Distracted Parenting. Oh my, I was definitely that mom on the playground reading a book or staring at her phone. Sitting at a playground while your kids play is boring! So is sitting outside the room while they practice piano. Or take their swim lesson. I'm grateful for Instagram and Twitter during those times. I am careful during games, and I typically only use my phone to text score updates to my husband, but I've realized that this looks the same to my kids - they only see me looking down. And dinnertime? Never - that's an absolute rule that I am careful to keep. No phones near the dinner table. All of it is a challenge and something to keep in mind, as we are modeling our kids' future behavior.

10 things that surprised me about early retirement. If we are far away from college, we are definitely far away from retirement. And yet I found this article intriguing. I wonder how long I will want to continue working. I wonder how Kevin will enjoy retirement.

How to Raise a Feminist Son. I think we're doing okay so far, but not in all these areas. I let them cry, they have lots of role models and exposure to different types of families, they have chores, and I'm teaching them to cook and clean. I encourage them to be themselves, although it's discouraging to see the pressure put on them from their peers. Nathan loved the pink stroller he got (at his request) for his 4th birthday, and he used to love princesses; but it all changed once he started school. We play with girls and read books where girls are the main character/hero. (Aaron is digging Nancy Drew right now.) Probably the area where we could improve the most is that we mostly adhere to traditional roles around the house. "If the mother cooks the food and cleans the house and the father mows the lawn and is often gone from home, lessons are learned." I worry about this, but we do the best we can.

Update:  You Should've Asked. THIS.

June 12, 2017

Recently Read

Lincoln in the Bardo, by George Saunders.
I LOVED this book. It's super weird and fascinating, and there's also real emotion and depth to it. It so uniquely and brilliantly weaves historical accounts of the night Willie Lincoln died with a supernatural story of ghosts in Willie's graveyard. I can imagine many people will hate this book. My husband is currently reading it, and every night when he puts it down, he says "this book is so strange". And it is. But if you're able to go into it with a completely open mind and no expectations for how a story should be presented to you, I promise it's worth it. It often reads like a play, and I can imagine the audiobook is especially entertaining. I may have to check that out, too.

Commonwealth, by Ann Patchett.
I liked this book. Well-written, interesting story, and thoughtful. I didn't love it, though, and the characters didn't stay with me afterwards. The organization of the book was a bit confusing to me, and I found it a little difficult to keep up with the multiple storylines and timeframes. It's a shame, because the individual chapters themselves contained some beautiful words and compelling insights. I wanted to love it more.

Discover Your True North, by Bill George.
The only thing I learned from this book is that I will never be a high-powered billionaire executive. And that's okay. I do like the concept of understanding yourself and your priorities and using that to navigate your career. That's much of what we focused on during my recent leadership training at work. It's important to understand who you are and to stay grounded in that rather than getting caught up in doing what you think you need to do to get ahead. All that said, I think I'm going to stay away from the business books for a while. Books are an escape from work.

June 6, 2017

Taking Control...

Several weeks ago, on a regular evening after work and school, I casually mentioned to Aaron that he should practice the piano. He put his head down on the counter and started to cry. Taken aback, I asked him what was wrong. He said, "It's too hard!" Evidently he was a bit overwhelmed by the piece he was learning, so he was intimidated to start. I listened, and then explained that he should break it down into smaller, more manageable parts, and not get hung up on what the teacher wanted him to accomplish before next week's lesson. After some back and forth, we sat at the piano together and got started. He's still tackling that beast, and I'm so proud of him for not giving up.

After this conversation, I realized that I needed to give myself the same pep talk. I've been overwhelmed by the amount of work I've had lately, and in addition to sheer volume, there has been some challenging work as well. Spring is already a very busy time of year. Piano recitals, baseball games, chorus concerts, etc. It seems that every day has an event. I adore every one of these events, but it can be tough to find balance. When I get overwhelmed by my to-do list, it can be difficult to motivate myself and stay organized. It's much more tempting to check social media, read the news, watch TV...anything to procrastinate from the work I should be doing. Then, after being on my computer all day at work, I rarely want to get back online to do things like send personal emails or update my poor, neglected blog.

But I'm almost there. There are only two weeks left of school. I checked a few big items off my work to-do list, and I'm hoping the schedule will become a bit more manageable. I'm working to get my inbox and to-do list under control. I'm also learning to say no more often. I reminded myself that I do have a voice in how much I take on.

And so, with spring almost nearing its end, I am taking control and putting my priorities back in place. Then, I can enjoy life more fully. I can appreciate all those happy events and not feel distracted by everything else swirling around in my head. I can be more patient and attentive. I can be proactive and thinking towards the future. I can reach out to friends, make connections. And yes, I can update the blog.


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