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Well-prepared or Over-packed? March 2, 2013

Posted by phoenixhopes in Books, Knitting, motherhood.
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I’m out for the day with my youngest boy and I know the day will include lots of waiting around on my part. Currently I’m in the waiting area while he’s in an audition for a college music program. Next comes an audition for the theater program at the same school (well, “next” as in two plus hours later).  When that’s dome travel 1.5 hours south to drop him off at rehearsal in downtown Chicago. I’ll meet up with him again at the performance at four and when that’s done I’ll head home

To keep myself occupied I brought along:

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– Two books (nonfiction, the kind one reads in bits and pieces, pausing to consider)

– Three knitting projects (one glitten (glove/mitten hybrid)  that just needs the ends sewn in, one glitten that needs mitten cap finished and then a few ends sewn in, and yarn to start a new Wingspan)

– Notebook for writing (there are a few things stirring that need to come out)

– Three pound bag of Cara Cara oranges (it was simpler to grab the bag than just a few oranges)

So, what do you think? Too much? Just enough? Or might I end up at loose ends with nothing to occupy my time?

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Chu’s Day by Neil Gaiman February 6, 2013

Posted by phoenixhopes in Books, Kids, Neil Gaiman, reading.
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Chu's Day

Neil Gaiman says adults can’t read Chu’s Day… unless they are reading it to a child. I don’t have a small child handy so I cheated and read it to my cat. I’m not sure she appreciated the humor but I loved it. This is a simple story about a small panda with big sneezes. When Chu sneezes, bad things happen.

I borrowed the book from the library but I’ve also added it to my Amazon wish list. This would make a great gift for a young child’s birthday… as long as you’re prepared to read it over and over.

What’s one of your favorite read aloud books?

Blessings by Anna Quindlen January 27, 2013

Posted by phoenixhopes in Books, reading.
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Some books are meant to be gulped whole, consumed quickly so one can move on to the next one in the stack. Other books are meant to be savored, digested slowly. They bring a feeling of fullness so that it’s difficult to begin a new story– although the book is closed, the pages have all been read, the story lingers. Who wants to think about eating again when you’ve just finished a feast? Blessings by Anna Quindlen falls into that second category for me. I’m not sure when I acquired the book or how it made its way onto the stack of books by my bed. It must have caught my eye at some used book sale at some point but for the life of me I cannot remember picking it up. I don’t think I’ve read anything else by this author, fiction or non-fiction (although I’ll definitely be looking for them now). Whatever the means, I’m glad it found its way into my apartment and my life.

I love books that have at their heart a good story. Formulaic books like mysteries or romance are great when I’m in the mood, but what draws me in is the story. (I should clarify, mysteries and romance and the like can have a great story as well, it’s just that sometimes the formulaic part gets in the way for me.) As the story in Blessings unwinds, I became more and more attached to the characters and also more protective. I didn’t want anything to happen that might hurt them.

The novel begins late at night, when a teenage couple leaves a box at the estate of Lydia Blessing. In the morning her caretaker, Skip, finds  the box, looks inside, discovers a baby and decides he wants to keep her. The story is about secrets, new and ancient, and learning that what you think you know about a person is often not the truth. I can’t tell you much more without giving things away — you’ll have to read it yourself to find out what happens with the baby.

I’m glad Blessings made its way into my life and I’ll be looking for more novels by Anne Quindlen.

Overheard in line at Borders June 5, 2010

Posted by phoenixhopes in Books, Overheard.
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It was pouring down rain and a grandfather said to his 8 or 9 year old grandson:

“Wow, look at that rain. Too bad we didn’t bring an umbrella. But then, if we had an umbrella, we probably wouldn’t need it. Do you believe we can control the weather by carrying an umbrella?”

Grandson, rather dubiously responded:

“Well… we could control how wet we got.”

PS: If you’re wondering, I bought this and this.

A Happiness Moment February 22, 2010

Posted by phoenixhopes in Books, Goals, life.
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Check out the comments under my last post… the author of The Happiness Project stopped by! I noticed Gretchen’s comment while I was at work today and boy, did that make my day. It was a small act on her part, but she took the time to take a look at my little corner of the internet and leave me a smile. I’ve been grinning ever since.

The Happiness Project February 16, 2010

Posted by phoenixhopes in Books.
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Have you ever contemplated your life and found it vaguely unsatisfactory? You realize you have a good life overall — friends, family, home, interests — your life is full. At the same time, something is missing. You’re going through the motions, running on the treadmill of responsibility, missing the small things, not quite realizing the happiness that should be there.

This frame of mind is where Gretchen Rubin found herself one morning. Her life was good but she often missed the details and didn’t fully appreciate her life. It wasn’t that she was unhappy with her life or an unhappy person, but there were too many times when she also wasn’t quite happy. Times when she was irritated or peevish or simply not very nice.

In her book, The Happiness Project, Gretchen spent a year focused on activities to increase her happiness. She modeled her year loosely on Ben Franklin’s Thirteen Virtues and focused on one part of her life each month. Since she is a full time writer and the Happiness Project was also her work project, she also included plenty of time for research on happiness theories. As the months progressed, she built on what she had learned in the previous months. Out of that year a blog was born and a book was written.

I’m intrigued with the concept. On the one hand I’m a bit uncomfortable. It seems self indulgent to focus on my own happiness as though I am the center of the universe. On the other hand, the only person I can change is me and if I am happy, content, at peace with my life, then my interactions with the world around me will be more positive.

Most of what Gretchen shares in her book is common sense stuff. Taking care of yourself physically (exercise, adequate sleep, eat right) will help your mood. Children grow up in a blink so make the effort to make happy memories, work on projects together and be silly. Follow your passion. Enjoy now. Try something new. Be grateful. Laugh. Be nice. Cut people slack. Make time for your friends. What makes her Happiness Project unique is purposing to examine any and every way to increase happiness.

I love reading memoirs and love this new non-fiction genre of “spend a year doing something and write about it”. It is so much more enjoyable to read stories of how an individual tackled an issue, what they learned, where they struggled and failed, how they succeeded, than it is to read a more academic self-help book. Somehow, reading one person’s story inspires me more to consider how to incorporate the ideas into my own life.

Although I’m not quite inspired to launch my own full blown Happiness Project, I hope I’m more aware of the little joys in my life. I want to challenge myself to learn something new.  I want to live in the now instead of fretting over the past or worrying about the future. I want to remember that “the days are long but the years are short” and to enjoy and appreciate as much as possible.

The Shack January 31, 2009

Posted by phoenixhopes in Books, thoughts.
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I read The Shack this week and, although this may surprise some people, I wasn’t impressed. I feel a bit guilty for that – I’ve heard such great things about it. Friends have raved.  I expected to be moved and really wanted to like it but it left me more annoyed than inspired.

I should explain… I’m not much of a follower. I mean I don’t think I’m anti-social, I like people just fine and have friends, have even been a member of groups, but I’m just not one to watch a movie or read a book simply because it’s the popular thing. In fact, I’m contrary enough that if something is “the thing” then I’m likely to set it aside. Snobbish of me I know, but I just don’t put much faith in bandwagons. This means that I’m often not quite up on the popular culture — and sometimes means that I don’t discover some great things until much, much later because my snobbishness got in the way.  I know there are blockbuster movies that are amazingly wonderful but I think that most blockbusters are simply the newest thing out there. I don’t use Oprah’s Book Club as suggestions for my reading list, but I’ve also read some good books and found out later she had recommended them.

So, The Shack… it seemed that the only thing I heard about this book was praise (well, except for the pastor who preached that no “good Christian” should read it because, gasp, God is portrayed as a woman and that will lead us all down the slippery slope to goddess worship. I wanted to ask him what he though about the verses in Psalms where it says that He covers us with his wings and ask if considering that word picture would lead to chicken worship but I refrained). So I resisted reading The Shack in large part because it was so well loved —  I just wasn’t going to hop on the bandwagon.  Like I said earlier, when I finally decided to read it I expected to be moved. This book is about a person with a deep hurt and, as a result, has a lot of questions for God. Hmmmm, sound familiar? Based on what I’d heard, I wanted to see myself and my relationship with God and experience some kind of catharsis. This is the kind of life-changing reaction to the book that I’d heard from others. Maybe I set myself up to be disappointed.

I didn’t hate the book, or think it was a bad story, I was just left a bit flat. Every good story has some underlying message, but the question is, which came first — the story or the message? While reading The Shack, I felt that the author had a message he was trying to proclaim and created the story to show a way to relate to God. I never felt that Mack had taken residence in the author’s mind and he had to put him to paper. Instead I felt that he had been moved considering how God wants to reach out to us at a very personal level and chose to create a story to explain those thoughts. 

There were definitely parts of the story that I liked. I loved the garden — the chaotically, beautiful, fractal mess of the garden and what it represented. The discussion about judgement made me stop and think (and, ironically, I wonder how this post fits in). Forgiveness seemed a bit too easy, although I did appreciate that God said even in the midst of forgiveness there still may be some appropriate, lingering anger. Although it’s been said a zillion times and can easily be cliche, I needed to be reminded that it’s not about rules but about relationship.

I don’t regret that I’ve given a few hours of my life to read The Shack or feel that my time was wasted, I just wasn’t as moved as I expected, and wanted, to be. What was your experience? What did I miss?

A Prayer for Owen Meany January 11, 2009

Posted by phoenixhopes in Books, reading.
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I thought I knew what this book was about. I’ve seen the movie Simon Birch and knew it was based on A Prayer for Owen Meany and I figured the book would be a better telling of the story in the movie. After all, isn’t the book always better than the movie?

I was right, of course, the book was better. The book was better in the way that Thanksgiving dinner is better than a turkey sandwich and chips. Now, I happen to like turkey sandwiches, especially one with smoked turkey, sundried tomatoes and havarti cheese, but even the best turkey sandwich isn’t a feast that spreads across the table and onto the counters.

If you liked this movie (or even if you didn’t) read this book. It is so full of coming to grips (or never really coming to grips) with the huge events in ones’ life. Those things that happen to us, or around us, that affect us in such a way that it takes the rest of our lives to fully absorb the impact. It’s about losing faith in God and finding it again. About knowing,  and accepting,  one’s destiny.

I started reading this book in tiny bites during my commute on the train and ended up finishing it in great gulps late at night when I should have been sleeping. This will stay on my shelf to be re-read in the future.