Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Other Books I Read In February

Eight Hundred Grapes was a book I read/listened to for a book club. The book reads like a Hallmark movie in a good way. There were some unexpected twists and turns, and the story of family kept me listening. The story revolves around a family winery and figuring out what's next for each of the siblings and parents. There's lots of drama (but not too much), and I really liked the way Laura (I'm using her first name because she joined our book club discussion, so I like to pretend we're pals) wrote.

The Grown-Up was a short story by Gillian Flynn that came as an add-on in my Book Of The Month box. It was a good, quick fix of Gillian Flynn. (Also, let me say again, THIS IS A SHORT STORY - People seem to be giving this book bad reviews because they don't understand this). There's a cliffhanger at the end that was pretty great and reminded me why I love her thrillers.

Still Life With Bread Crumbs was an enjoyable read. Somewhere along the way I've become an Anna Quindlen fan of sorts, as this is the fourth book of hers I've read. (Note: It may be the fifth or sixth because two others look familiar, but I may have read them before I effectively tracked my reads.) This one was probably the best of her fiction reads. The characters are compelling, and it's a simple love story of sorts (at least that's how I read it), but there are lots of complexities to make it all work. I've also now read enough AQ at this point to say that if/when she writes more things, I'll probably check them out.

Gone Without A Trace was an advanced reading copy I received. It was a thriller, and y'all, I was so captivated that I ended up staying up for two hours one night to read nearly all of it (minus the part I'd read the night before). The story is narrated by Hannah, a woman who gets home from work one day and realizes every trace of her boyfriend is gone. His stuff from their apartment, their pictures together, and even every trace of communication on her phone. The story goes from there, including weird messages she receives that makes her think he's being watched. The story has lots of great suspense, and then there's a twist that is so, totally, completely unexpected. The book comes out in April, and if you're a fan of a good thriller, y'all need to pick this one up for sure.

Tell the Wolves I'm Home is the most beautiful book. It is a story told by June, a young girl whose uncle has died of AIDS during the 1980s. At her uncle's funeral, there is a man there. She's knows he was connected to her uncle, but doesn't know him beyond that fact. Shortly thereafter, she gets a note to meet up with the man, Toby. From there, she goes on a journey with Toby that involves getting to know her uncle even more after he's gone. There are other relationships June is trying to navigate, namely a changing one with her sister that also make the story especially compelling. Overall, this is an absolutely beautiful read. It is full of emotion and brilliant storytelling and is well worth checking out.

Start Right Where You Are was a book I happened upon in the New Books section at the library. I was most drawn to the tagline - How Little Changes Can Make a Big Difference for Overwhelmed Procrastinators, Frustrated Overachievers, and Recovering Perfectionists. Spoiler Alert - The latter of these two categories are me. The book was divided into lots of short 2-3 page chapters each with a helpful tip. I took lots of notes on her ideas (a good sign of approval from me), and I also found some things I plan on utilizing for some work projects. 

Books for Living was a book I landed on when needed something to listen to while walking. I knew it was for me when the beginning of the book talked about the nightmare of being stuck on an airplane with NO BOOKS. In fact, the reason I travel with paper books is because this happened to me in real-life. After two consecutive trips with issues accessing e-books, I only travel with books that have no option for technical difficulties. The book is a trip back through the reads that have meant the most to the author. When doing this, they're not just book reports, but stories of why these books continue to connect to him. While listening, I thought a lot about what these books might be for me and how I can read on a deeper level. I have lots of ideas and plans based on this book, so stay tuned. Also, I really liked the audio version of this book (weird to say for a book about books, right?), and I'd highly recommend reading this one in this medium.

The Sun Is Also A Star is another beautiful piece. It revolves around a chance encounter of two unlikely people. They couldn't be more different, but throughout the course of a day, they also realize they have an incredible connection. They're both in situations they didn't quite plan, and they're trying to navigate it all. I don't want to give any details beyond this because it would honestly spoil all that's awesome about the story. It's well worth the read and deserving of the current hype.

Throwback to the Books - February

I was honestly afraid to go back and read The Age of Miracles. I loved it the first time I read it, and I was concerned that the second time through wouldn't be as great.

Well, I was kind of right. The book is about the earth's orbit gradually slowing meaning the world is (literally) all out of whack. It turns out a story centered around environmental change isn't as endearing in this day and age. I still was captivated, but my re-review isn't as raving as the first trip through.

I will say that the cover is still one of the most beautiful I've seen.

This is the actual book.

This is the dust jacket. Notice how the yellow and orange comes through the small holes.

The Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder was my jam as a kid. I had the boxed set - still have the boxed set. I remembered Little Town on the Prairie being my favorite, so I decided to re-read this one in the series.

It was as I remembered, and it was a reminder of how much pioneer culture was my jam as a kid. This book focuses on when Laura is older. Mary has gone off to college, Almanzo is introduced, and by the end, Laura is a teacher. Oh, and Nellie Oleson is around. Honestly, I didn't remember her being in the stories , as I was focused more on Laura and her family when I read as a kid. However, going back, she was annoying AF. Word on the street is she's not a real person, so that's comforting, but y'all, she was too much.

Someday, I'd like to take my love of this series to the next level and do some road-tripping to the sites in the book like The Wilder Life, but for now, the revisit to the book was a fun rest stop.

P.S. One other Throwback for the month was already recapped. Check out my return to Allergic to My Family here.

February in Exploreading

I happened upon this book after seeing it on Mandy Moore's Instagram.

Knowing nothing about Nora's story, I decided to use this one for the Exploreading Challenge - Read A Book You've Chosen For The Title.

This book was fantastic and tragic and all the feels. Nora lost her husband to a rare form of brain cancer, but this was after three years of marriage where they tried to do all the things they could together and in life to make the days together count. Five weeks before this loss, she loses her dad to cancer. These tragedies are central to the book, but her story is so much more than that. Her story is about being an adult-ish and figuring out things as you go and just trying to survive for yourself and for others. 

As usual, my friend Mandy Moore gets me, and this was an awesome recommendation.


For the Re-Imagining Of A Fairy Tale challenge in Exploreading, I found this book based on Snow White.

This book was a translation from Finnish. I actually think this is first time I've read a Finnish book??! Anyway, it's supposed to be part of a trilogy, and honestly I think the trilogy will be a better tie-in of Snow White. There were some references here and there, but given my love of the OG and other adaptations I wanted more. This book had a good mystery and thriller, and given it's for YA, I think the way it moves would totally be there jam. I'm intrigued enough that I may check out the second book, but would look elsewhere if you're looking for a Snow White fix.

For a book discussing issues related to class, I read Hillbilly Elegy.

This book has been hyped like whoa. I've had this on hold since November for the library and finally made it to the top of the list last week, and I had high hopes. . . that weren't met. For me, it just wasn't all the things that people said it would be. For all the talk about how it explained issues related to class, why the election played how it did. . . I just didn't get that at all. It was an interesting memoir, and it was a well-written story about overcoming adversity, but it didn't leave me with any new knowledge on the topic.

Honestly, I don't even feel like I've adequately completed this part of the challenge, so I'll probably seek out another book on the topic.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

(Still) Allergic To My Family

I have read this book more times than I count. When I was a kid and needed something to check out at my school's library, I'd pick this book over and over and over again. I was particularly excited to dive into this one after at least 20 years apart! The story is about Rosie and her huge mess of a family. She gets annoyed and aggravated and all the things, but their quirky gang is so endearing and fun. It was just as I remembered it, and it was fun to take a pit stop back into one of my all-time favorites.

When I was a kid, I remember learning that if you sent a letter to the publisher's address (listed on the copyright page), an author would get it and could write you back. After spending my grade school years in Rosie's world, I decided to take the plunge and write an author. So, I sat down and wrote a letter to Liza Ketchum. And you know what y'all?!?!? She wrote me back!!

I can still remember the exact day and excitement I felt when I opened up my mailbox, and there was a letter from a real-life author! I read it over and over and over again. For many years (and even now), I wanted to be an author, so this was an especially huge deal for me.)

Looking back on this book and this letter, I was struck my the kindness. She took the time to acknowledge what I'd wrote, and at 12 (and now), that meant so very much. This also reminded me of the simple joys of a letter. I'm endlessly trying to write and do more to connect with others through the written word, and this little nugget from my past gave me the renewed commitment to do just that.

Oh, and if I ever make it back to my elementary school library, my first stop is in the fiction section to see if this book/my old friend is still in its familiar spot waiting for me to check it out. . .again.

Friday, February 10, 2017

What's Making Me Happy - 2/10

I'll be honest (because it's my blog, and that's what I do here), I didn't have the greatest day. However, that is all the more reason to take a moment before my weekend kicks off to zone and think about the happiness that was my week.

First off, y'all, Y'ALL, are you watching The Good Place?!?!

I started watching after hearing some banter on a podcast. I'm now through all of the first season (13 episodes), and all I can can do is persuade other people to watch. The show is by Michael Schur (aka he created Parks & Rec aka Mose Schrute), and it's witty and funny and all the things.

The basic premise is that Kristen Bell shows up in heaven where Ted Danson is her "host" of sorts, and she realizes she's not meant to be there. The show just goes from there with so many great twists and turns. Please, please watch. Kthxbai.

Second of all, I have to tell you about these H&M sweatpants. Here's the thing, I love sweatpants more than any other pants. I also really love sweatpants with elastic at the ankles. These sweatpants are super soft, super comfy, and my new favorites. Also, I'd have more pairs, but the mall makes me unhappy, so I've avoided going until I have more patience to endure.

Finally, some of y'all may remember a few months back when I was momentarily famous when one of my all-time favorite podcasts (Awesome Etiquette!) answered my question about neighbor etiquette around a car that had been parked in the street. If you'd like to hear what they said, go here, and listen starting around 22:30. Unfortunately, we never met/even had an interaction with our neighbors to address the situation as Lizzie and Dan suggested. Instead, I've just been angry every time I backed out of my driveway for the last five months. However, this week, the CAR FINALLY MOVED! Dustin was so excited when it happened that he ran back inside to tell me as he headed off to the gym. I've also found myself backing out especially far because I finally can! Oh, and I sort of promised my family we'd have them over for dinner when/if it ever moved. Well, it did, so last night we had a good ol' fashioned brinner. Although as my friend Kristen mentioned, our neighbors probably should have hosted given all the grief we've been through.

So, that's where I'm at this week. What's making you happy?  

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

A Look Inside Working From Home

I have been working remotely (aka working from home) for just over a year now. I still get lots of questions about how I make this (literally) work and what my days look like. So, today I thought I'd answer some of those frequently asked queries and give y'all a window into my days.

Q: What time do you start working?
A: I am usually "at work" by 7:00 AM. I wake up when Dustin does (around 6:15) and start getting ready. I love sleeping in, so I knew when I started doing this that a key was going to be getting up, so as to not have a workday that went into the evening. 

The headquarters I work for is on eastern time, so I decided early on I'd keep eastern work hours. I'm most often working an 8:00 to 4:30 EST schedule which translates to 7:00 to 3:30 CST in Kansas. I do keep my work computer clock on eastern time so I know what time it is in my alternate universe workday.

Also, even though I start working at a time I never thought I would, mornings are still the worst. The key to my early start? Coffee, obviously. A big work from home perk is I can savor my coffee in a ceramic mug each morning.

Q: Do you wear your pajamas to work?

A: I don't. I make it a point to actually get ready every day. I do a morning routine as if I'm going into an actual office. I don't always wear business casual, but I try to at least look presentable. Some days Most days that translates to sweatpants and a nice-ish top. Every once in awhile I get the urge to dress up more, and I do. Regardless of how casual I go, I change out of whatever I slept in to signal a change in what I'm doing. I also change out of my work clothes at the end of the day. Even if it's putting on something else in the same vein, it's important for me to separate my day as if I am coming and going to work somewhere that's not my house.

Q: Do you sit on your couch and work?

A: Once in a blue moon. 98% of the time, this is where I'm working. . .

Before I started remote work, my employer asked me to pick out my own home office furniture. I found this corner desk (with lots of tabletop real estate) at Ikea. I decorated my office space with knick-knacks, notes and other happy things like I would on a campus. I also have set up my office space near natural light. This is a major perk as most of the campus offices I've had haven't had this. Most of the time, I work without lights on at all and let the sunshine into my day. 

Once I'm done working, I try to close out and leave this space for the day. It can be easy to keep working and working and working, but I try to disconnect, so it doesn't move from my office that's in my home to my home that's in my office. It's easier to do this in our house because my office is upstairs. The only other things on this floor are an extra bedroom, a bathroom, and a laundry room (definitely don't spend a lot of time there), so I don't have a lot of reasons to be up here when I'm not at work.

Q: What are the major differences from working in an office? 

A: Y'all, I'm so productive. Ridiculously productive. Because I don't get interrupted, I have an incredible workflow. There is more of an intentionality with meetings that get scheduled and how I communicate because I'm a solo project more often than not.

One thing I have to remind myself is that when I'm not doing my best work (or any work), I need to take a break. I don't need to sit at my desk and mindlessly scroll through social media or stare as I wait for inspiration. Because I'm getting so much done, it's okay (and expected) that I'd take a break to recharge and refuel.

Q: Do you take a lunch break/breaks during the day?

A: Yes. I try to always take at least an hour to leave the house. I have a policy, in fact, that I leave the house once a day. If I don't, I get stir crazy and by the time Dustin gets home, I'm kind of an insufferable human. 

I usually take my lunch at 11 AM because that's when they're taking it at the office. Plus, because I get up so early I'm ready for a break at this point. I usually take the time to go to the gym (or walk outside if it's nice), pick up groceries, and/or run miscellaneous errands. 

I always eat my lunch away from my desk, so as to again give myself a break from the "office" environment. I also make sure to eat an actual lunch, so I'm not just snacking my way through the day which can be tempting when your pantry is so close.

I'll also squeeze in chores here and there, but I'm careful not to get sucked into doing all the things. I try to frame it as the fact that I'm working FROM home, but not working AT home. In other words, my priority during the workday is the workday. I'll sometimes use short breaks to do a quick chore (e.g. load/unload dishwasher, change out laundry), but don't clean the whole house or anything, not that I would do that anyway.

Q: How do you stay connected to your co-workers?

A: Around the time I came on-board, work upgraded their technology with Google. Most of the time if I'm in meetings with folks I'm on Google Hangouts (see, it's important I don't wear PJ's). It makes a world of difference from a connection standpoint to actually SEE the people I'm collaborating with. Email is obviously also a big thing, too. I'm known for being speedy on my replies, and that also helps keep me plugged in. 

One thing that's both a challenge/perk is that because I'm not in the physical space, I can't just pop over to someone's office to give a quick answer to a question, and/or they can't do the same for me. At the same time, this means that if I need to touch base with someone (or vice versa), we schedule out that time, or we do a quick text exchange. 

That said, I think working remotely has made me a more efficient communicator, as it makes me stop and think about what the best way for me to convey information is for each project/response. 

Also, I must say I really dig living life like the Jetsons. It's a total childhood dream come true.
(Source: Revolve Robotics)

Q: What do you like about working remotely? 

A: I have come to really like the way I'm able to work. I can truly dig into projects and initiatives. As someone who spends lots of time in their own head (for the StrengthsQuest folks in the crowd, Learner & Intellection are in my top five), it's been really neat to actually have the time to take ideas and turn them into action (SQ Note - Achiever is also in there). 

I have time to simply read. I actually take time during my days to read articles, read books, listen to podcasts/webinars to learn about what I'm doing. I know I could have done this before, but my workday structure now lends itself to this more.

I like the freedom to set my own schedule. If I need to run an errand during the day, I can. If my family needs help with something, I can come in at a moment's notice. If I want to start super early and have my afternoon, I can do that. Similarly, if I want the afternoon off, I can finish up my hours later. The flexibility to do more with my day makes me more productive and happy on all fronts.

Q: What challenges are there working remotely?

A: I think the absence of a community has taken some getting used to and is honestly the toughest part of this type of work. I am fortunate to have co-workers who take the time to check in and make sure I'm doing okay beyond just my work tasks. Even though they're not in my space, I feel connected to them both personally and professionally which makes a world of difference.

Realizing I have this gap, it is on my list this year to become more engaged in my community. Since I don't have a built-in group/connection, I have to take more time to build this out myself. I am fortunate to still have higher ed friends up the road who keep me connected, and I need to do better about (re)connecting there. Also, now that Dustin and I are in a home we'll be in for awhile, it makes sense to find ways to connect to the people around us in our city. While I'm an introvert for the ages, I've come to know I need people lots, too.

Q: What tips do you have for remote work?

A: Go the public library when kids are still in school. Seriously, y'all, libraries are battlefields once kids are out. Go for the peace and quiet during the day.

There are times when Costco doesn't serve samples, and it's the worst. Stay away from around 11 AM (not set up yet) and around 4 PM (closing up shop for the day).

There are times when grocery stores are trickier to navigate. Figure out which day/time your store restocks, and don't go then. 

As I said before, leave the house once a day. It doesn't seem like it'd matter, but whoa, it does. Dustin can very clearly tell which days I haven't taken a break. I spend more time in my house than most (~22 hours a day), so taking some time away even though I love our space is crucial.

Maintain a work routine. Even though you're going down to a zero minute commute, make sure to make yourself still feel as if you're going to work and leaving for the day. It helps to create a separation of work and home that isn't there in space.

Finally, I'd share this article. Many of things in this article I already do, but it's one of the best piece I've read about how to make this work - How to Work Remotely Without Losing Motivation.


Have more questions? Let me know. It's a very different world, and I'm happy to share and connect to tell you more!

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Other Things I Read in January

In addition to all the things I read for my two challenges, I also had time to read all these (mostly) awesome things:

My Not So Perfect Life was an advanced reader's copy I received. I have read nearly all of Sophie Kinsella's stand-alone books, and I have pretty much adored them all. There is a predictability about her writing that also has an element of surprise. This one focused on Katie, a woman working in branding who ends up working on her family's farm on a vacation venture after being unexpectedly fired. There are added layers of plot when her ex-boss shows up, as well as a romance throughout. I loved this one because it had lots of twists and turns I didn't quite see coming even though I also totally knew how the romantic component would end. I also really, really liked and related to Katie as a character trying to figure life out. I highly recommend picking this one up when it is released in a few weeks.

With A Little Luck is a book by one of my favorite authors from my twenties - Caprice Crane. As I am now in my mid-thirties, I've realized when I read books like this that my taste has changed. However, I can also clearly read a book and say, "I would have loved this in the late 00's!" This was one of those books. I still enjoyed the story, and it was a great book to read on a day of travel. If you're a fan of a rom-com in a book, this one is worth checking out.

The Paris Wife is a book about Ernest Hemingway's first wife. I was really into Hemingway in high school which yes, in retrospect, was weird. Anyway, I liked that it was a different view of Hemingway. For a fictional read, it did a good job of painting the real life picture of young love and how Hemingway developed for better or for worse. It was intriguing - Not my favorite, but intriguing.

Tribal Leadership was phenomenal. I heard about this book on a webinar, and I was so excited about it that I went out that afternoon to the library where it was at, checked it out and read it all in one night. The leadership concepts it explains were done in a way I'd never considered. After finishing it, I recommended it to two more people at work. It's already made me think differently about how I work.

Midwives was a book loan from my friend Kristen. It was absolutely fantastic. It's an older book, and I'm bummed I'm just now welcoming it into my reading world. The book kept me captivated until the last paragraph. 10/10. Highly recommend.

Girls In The Moon was my first book from my Book of The Month subscription via Groupon. The book has two stories. The story of a 17 year old girl trying to figure life out, and the story of her parents - rock stars who've fallen out of love. Phoebe's story moves forward, and her parents goes further and further back in time. This one was a fun read. It ties in New York and rock 'n roll and young love in all the best ways.

Here We Are: Feminism For The Real World was an advanced reading copy I received. Y'all, I wish I would have had this book when I was a teenager. I was always a feminist whether I knew it or not, and it was wonderful to see a YA book focus on the topic from an intersectional lens. The book has 44 unique authors on this topic from a variety of identities and lenses. The way this book looked at the topic was phenomenal on all levels. There were pieces from folks I adore (Wendy Davis and Mindy Kaling) and lots of folks I'm now glad that I know, and it was just wonderful feminist beauty all around. It's definitely worth the read for teens, adults, and all the people.