Snowpocalypse Reading List

Snowpocalypse. Oh thank goodness, the first two weeks of February are finally behind us. Yes, it actually happened. No, I didn’t enjoy it.* I mean, who would enjoy record-breaking snowfall in an area of the country not used to having snow accumulation at all, let alone several snowfalls piling up over such a short time?

*This is a lie. I completely enjoyed it to the very depths of my Midwestern soul! I didn’t enjoy having to call off work for the first two days since I couldn’t get out of my driveway, however. I mean, what self-respecting snow driver from Southern Illinois would I be if my pride didn’t hurt quite a bit admitting defeat like that?

The silver lining was the unexpected reading time that suddenly stretched out before me. Even though I had a ton of novels I picked up from a recent library conference, my mind was drawn to a few nonfiction books I had checked out from the library. These books became my Snowpocalypse reading list.

Hummingbirds: A Life-Size Guide to Every Species
When I woke up that first Monday morning to see the snow, I started freaking out about the Anna’s hummingbirds who hang out in my yard. Thank goodness I had spring on my mind the previous week and had checked out this comprehensive book about hummingbirds. What began as a curiosity to discover whether I could attract multiple species to my yard became a quest to keep my Anna’s alive. Page 335 declares this species status to be of least concern, but I knew locally our birds were in trouble. I practically memorized the section on feeding and trooped out back to wipe the snow off the one hanging feeder, also throwing seed down on clear patches for the seed-loving birds. Then I set to work making fresh nectar, filling two feeders, and rotating them out every few hours so the nectar wouldn’t freeze. One of my regular hummers buzzed me the first few times I did this, either out of appreciation or anger I couldn’t tell. But I did feel a little like Snow White the way the birds kept popping up in my yard so I choose to believe it was total appreciation.

Instant Pot Fast & Easy written by Urvashi Pitre with photographs by Ghazalle Badiozamani
There’s nothing quite like cold, dreary days to make me want something hot and filling to eat. Don’t worry–I’m not a French toaster. That’s something we Midwesterners call folks who stock up on milk, eggs, and bread anytime a snowflake appears in the forecast. But I did find myself with extra time and an extra empty belly from all the work I was doing in the yard for the birds. Enter food blogger and cookbook author Urvashi Pitre, whose blending of different cuisines was just what I needed. My favorite recipe I made was the deceptively simply titled Garlic Chicken. The mustard-based marinade and extra garlic in this recipe made my mouth water and my house smell amazing. This book is perfect for those times you can’t decide what type of food you’re craving. There is such a variety of recipes I’m sure you can find something for everyone.

No Hard Feelings: The Secret Power of Embracing Emotions at Work by Liz Fosslien & Mollie West Duffy
Me: Why do you want this job?
Interviewee: I love reading and I would love to read all day like you do.
…crickets…
This was an actual conversation I had with someone I was interviewing for a job working the checkout desk at a small but very busy library. The myth of the aloof reader perpetuates library work, but the reality is that all day every day we library workers are moving from one task to the next, mostly interacting directly with real people. Customers, coworkers, and bosses alike–no one truly works alone. Good communication skills are the best tools to have in your tool belt, both at work and in your personal life. But the one thing most books about communication skip over are the emotions that each of us is walking around with all the time and how those can vary widely from person to person, hour to hour. That’s why when books like No Hard Feelings hit my radar I drop everything to read it cover-to-cover. With accessible language and helpful–and often humorous–illustrations, the authors break down the best ways to deal with both your emotions and those that surround you. Spoiler: you can’t make emotions go away or pretend they don’t exist, so don’t try. I was able to immediately try out some of the techniques at home, when the cabin fever hit my husband and me and our emotions were getting real. See? It’s not just another business book. The information can be applied to your whole life.

I was lucky to have entered the Snowpocalypse with a full slate of reading material whose information could immediately be used in activities to help keep animals alive and keep boredom at bay. Here are some of the ways I used what I learned. And while I can still hear the stacks of unread novels crying out to me, I know I did the right thing in reading nonfiction while trapped inside my house.

Morning Routines

I’m pretty much the last person to notice a trend and definitely the last one to hang on to a trend once it’s started. The last woman to wear those cat eye glasses of the 1950’s – that’d be me. The final one to be into the huge shoulder-padded clothing of the 80’s – me again. And, there’s no doubt that I’ll be the last one in leggings after they’ve fizzled out with the rest of the world.

But now I am really in on something from the beginning and it is quite simply this:  thinking about how we spend our first hours after waking up.

I know I’m not the only one thinking about this subject, because the Wall Street Journal just had a feature article on how people have carved out time for themselves just after they wake up. Further proving my point, Benjamin Spall and Michael Xander just came out with a book called My Morning Routine: How Successful People Start Every Day Inspired.

Spall and Xander  have interviewed over 60 prominent people and asked them things like:

Do you use an alarm to wake up? Most don’t and many get up naturally or with a pets assisting at about 5:30 or 6.

What are your most important tasks? Many intentionally keep technology, specifically cell phones, at bay.

While coffee and meditation figures prominently, each person interviewed has carved their own unique way of keeping the world away until they’re ready. The interviews include people with young children, retired generals, tech start-up entrepreneurs, artists and writers. They share what happens to their routines when traveling, and how they feel when unable to follow their established routines.

There are even a few people from the Northwest in the book – novelist Ruth Ozeki, Washington’s Attorney General Bob Ferguson, and Bob Moore from Bob’s Red Mill. I loved being privy to these individuals’ morning routines and I think you will too. The two authors summarize throughout the book, addressing the idea of flexibility in morning routines and the importance of changing what’s not working.

This book made me think about my morning routine and how I can change it when I’m no longer working. I may wake the cat up, instead of the other way around, just for starters. I think about people all over who are relishing those early morning hours, as I do. For me, this was just the right book at the right time.

Celebrate National Screen Free Week

Last week was the official celebration of National Screen Free Week, but there is never really a bad time to try and cut down on screen time. This goes for children, teens, and adults. Most of us know that too much screen time is unhealthy for various reasons, but this doesn’t necessarily prevent us from spending too much time looking at our screens.

There are an abundance of books and resources for parents who are seeking guidance about media use and how to strike a good balance. The American Academy of Pediatrics released guidelines in 2016 that gave recommendations for specific age groups. They also developed a program in which families can create a custom media plan that outlines how technology will be used in their homes and when they are out in the world. Striking a healthy balance is not just an issue that parents and their children face. This is something that many adults struggle with if they are using any kind of digital device.

The list below highlights books for families with children and teens, but it also contains books for adults. There are books that challenge you to temporarily break up with your phone and others that offer children alternative activities to screen time. Finding a balance between technology and the other aspects of our lives is a challenge and these books offer support, ideas, and insight into this modern day phenomenon.

art of

The Art of Screen Time by Anya Kamenetz

Anya Kamenetz, the lead digital correspondent for NPR and mother of two children, has written a book that simplifies the various ideas and philosophies that exist about children and the use of screens. The book takes a balanced approach that has been compared to Michael Pollan’s writing about food. Her message: “Enjoy screens. Not too much. Mostly with others.” The book is divided into two parts: one that addresses screens and children and another that explores parents and screens.

rules

iRules: What Every Tech-Healthy Family Needs to Know About Selfies, Sexting, Gaming, and Growing Up by Janell Burley Hofmann

iRules presents a specific philosophy called Slow Tech Parenting. The author explores the online culture that exists for teens and introduces timely topics that include cyberbullying and sexting. Parents will learn how to develop the “rules” that work best for their family.

teens

Screens and Teens: Connecting With Our Kids in a Wireless World by Kathy Koch

This book champions the incredible technology we have access to and how it helps us succeed in daily life. It also explores the flip side of this, specifically focusing on teens and their devices. Unhealthy habits can develop during this important part of their development and lead them into addictive behaviors as adults. Parents are offered practical solutions to help them navigate their role in creating a healthy balance in their teen’s life.

break up

How to Break Up With Your Phone by Catherine Price

Catherine Price treats your phone like any other relationship in your life. Her book will help you re-calibrate and develop a relationship that feels good. She not only focuses on your habits and mindset, but she also suggests how you can make custom changes to the settings and apps on your device.

being mindful

Mindful Tech: How To Bring Balance to Our Digital Lives by David M. Levy

Mindful Tech promotes finding an emotional balance while you are actually using various technologies and devices. Oftentimes, we become overwhelmed when we are online and the author discusses ways to feel more relaxed and integrated. He provides exercises that will help readers gain insight into the way in which they use different technologies such as social media and email.

addicted

Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked by Adam Alter

Irresistible explores behavioral addiction in relation to the digital technologies we currently use. It also offers ways in which users can develop more control over their digital habits.

screen free

150+ Screen-Free Activities for Kids by Asia Citro

If you are looking for screen-free activities, then this is the book for you. It will give you all sorts of ideas about fun activities you can do with your babies, preschoolers, and school-aged kids.

fun screen free

Screen Free Fun: 400 Activities for the Whole Family by Shannon Philpott-Sanders

Screen Free Fun elaborates on alternatives to screen time and focuses on activities for the whole family. There are ideas for craft projects, outdoor activities, and day trips.

#Squadgoals: Fellow Fat Girls

Every body is a real body. Let’s get that straight right away. Often I see people online describing “real bodies” as if there is only one type of body that counts. Counts for what, exactly, I’m not sure. That’s not my jam and if you clicked on this post chances are it’s not your jam either. If you’re here looking for any body-shaming, be it against fat, skinny, tall, short, or any other size-based smack talk: you have come to the wrong place. But I hope you do stick around, because I’m here to talk about some books that feature people who look like me and maybe you’ll find something that speaks to you, too.

I’m fat. There. It’s on the internet forever! I choose to use the word fat because it’s honest and a little shocking to people who are more used to euphemisms like “big” or “curvy.” Not all fat women have curves, or curves where you’d expect them.  I started out life as a skinny kid but over time I developed the trademark family hips, thighs, stomach, and double chin. Even when I drop weight these are always going to be my problem spots, as hundred-year-old family photos will attest. I can either obsess unhelpfully over how I’m shaped or I can learn to accept my lines and still work toward a goal of a healthier me. Here are the books that are inspiring me, whose photographs of bodies that look a lot like mine inspire me, and whose text give me the tools to keep pushing forward.

When it comes to loving fashion and living life for yourself I turn to books written by women who have been there, done that, and are calling me to join them in living my life at full volume. This all started with Lindy West’s Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman, which I read in a fit of joy last summer and immediately told everyone multiple times about how much I loved it. Reading Lindy West was the first time someone was telling me that I was enough. That I not only didn’t have to justify myself or my choices to anyone, but that there is absolutely nothing wrong with my body nor how I choose to dress it. I’m not exaggerating when I say it completely changed my attitude toward myself. Shrill led me to so many great books sitting on my nightstand right now that I’m rotating between: Things No One Will Tell Fat Girls: a Handbook of Unapologetic Living by Jes Baker, Hot & Heavy: Fierce Girls on Life, Love & Fashion edited by Virgie Tovar, Fat Girl Walking: Sex, Food, Love, and Being Comfortable in Your Own Skin…Every Inch of It by Brittany Gibbons, and the very recently published Big Fit Girl: Embrace the Body You Have by Louise Green. Just reading the titles gives me goosebumps! But checking out the covers, all featuring fat girls with positive attitudes makes my heart swell. I’ve found my support group and I’m never looking back.

I’ve never been much of an athlete but lately I’ve been obsessed with the idea of doing yoga. Because my balance is worse than a newborn goat’s and I’m insecure about the potential for a gas explosion (my own) I have never sought out a yoga class. Countless friends have told me yoga will change my life, and did I want to try one of their classes? Nope! Nothing against you, you rad woman you, or your yoga class, which I’m sure is taught by a patient and knowledgeable person. But I’m only prepared to tackle this challenge from the comfort and safety of my own living room. That’s where these yoga books are going to come in very handy: Yoga Bodies: Real People, Real Stories & the Power of Transformation by Lauren Liption and Jaimie Baird, Curvy Yoga: Love Yourself & Your Body a Little More Each Day by Anna Guest-Jelley, and the library’s most recent acquisition Every Body Yoga: Let Go of Fear, Get on the Mat, Love Your Body by Jessamyn Stanley. Notice a trend? Even these very yoga-focused books also include a very healthy dollop of body acceptance and an infectious “Rawr! I can do this!” attitude.

Fat girls love themselves and have moments of insecurity just the same as women of any size have. We’re all in this together. Let’s start celebrating our differences while still finding common ground with which to bond: books!

Spring Cleaning Reading List

Confession time: I am the absolute worst at keeping everything clean and neat. Some people are extremely organized, and I’ve never been able to understand how they got that way. Other people turn to cleaning and organizing precisely when they feel stressed, as it gives them a measure of control over their environment and gives them something else to focus on for a while. Then there are people like me whose homes and work spaces always seem to be in chaos, as other priorities always seem to trump cleaning and organizing. Whether you’re extreme like me or fall somewhere else on the neatness Bell curve, here are some books that will help us out.

First, let’s talk about clutter. There’s no point in cleaning if there’s stuff to be put away, purged, or repaired, right? This logic is usually what keeps me from progressing with any home organizing or cleaning project. Fortunately The Home Decluttering Diet: Organize Your Way to a Clean and Lean Home by Jennifer Lifford exists. A rare combination of visual appeal and useful information, this book takes you through each room of your house and helps you make those tough decisions about what to keep and what to send away. Within each room, Lifford breaks the work down into smaller projects that are easier to chip away at so that procrastinators like me can’t use the “I don’t have time to do the whole room tonight” line. Every. Single. Night.

If this book doesn’t appeal, try the more direct Unf*ck your Habitat: You’re Better Than Your Mess by Rachel Hoffman. While the title is eye-catching, the blurbs on the back by personal heroes Kelly Sue DeConnick and Cory Doctorow are what sold me. It’s based on a 20/10 system where you clean for 20 minutes and then take a 10 minute break. While this might sound completely obvious to the Martha Stewarts of the world, I need this actually written down so that I can give myself some breathing room when it comes to tackling what is already going to be an unpleasant or at least not fun project. If you’re a professional procrastinator or are really good about ignoring random junk piling up in your entryway, this book might be for you (and it’s definitely for me.)

However, if you think reading a how-to manual on decluttering is too remedial or an insult to your intelligence (seriously, there is no judgement here!) you may find inspiration from someone else’s journey to live a clutter-free life. Year of No Clutter by Eve O. Schaub shows the psychological side of clutter and hoarding. While she spends a year tackling her “Hell Room” where stuff has just piled up in overwhelming chaos, she also explores hoarding in general through some of the recognizable media out there: the TV show Hoarders and the book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo. As Schaub conquers her psychological clutter, you may find yourself inspired to roll up your sleeves and tackle your own “Hell Room.”

Now let’s talk about cleaning. I think you can learn a lot about them just from their titles: The Cleaning Ninja: How to Clean Your Home in 8 Minutes Flat and Other Clever Housekeeping Techniques by Courtenay Hartford and Clean My Space: the Secret to Cleaning Better, Faster–and Loving Your Home Every Day by Melissa Maker. Both books break down cleaning challenges into smaller tasks, explaining the more difficult ones in detail while also not talking down to you. There are tips for the best kinds of cleaning equipment to own (I bet my cats would love a feather duster!) and professional advice for every level of cleaner (let’s call it slacker–like me– to pro).

Finally, I turn my gaze to organization. After all, it’s the last hurdle after conquering clutter and busting those dust bunnies. And I’ve found the perfect-for-me book: Organized Enough: the Anti-Perfectionist’s Guide to Getting–and Staying–Organized by Amanda Sullivan. There’s some overlap here with decluttering, but the sections on which types of paperwork to keep and for how long really shine. The book is divided into two sections. The first part helps you learn to think differently about your stuff and your habitat. The second part cultivates specific skills that will aid you in staying organized for good. That’s great news for people like me who want to put in the work once and just be done with it.

If you don’t want to spend tons of precious time dealing with the stress and emotional work of decluttering, cleaning, and organization, join me in my spring cleaning quest that all starts with the right book.

Reading for Self-Care

I’m having a difficult time right now coping with some new realities in my life. Work is high-pressure this time of year because there is a ginormous wave of new books coming through the door every day (thanks, new book budget!). My personal life is crazy as I work on a new creative endeavor that is pushing the bounds of my sanity. I mean, how much energy do I really have after dealing with those tidal waves of books all day? Politically I am ready for action and contemplating how things may change over the next couple of years.

All this adds up to some serious stress levels and a general feeling of helplessness. What can I do to alleviate the stress and maybe turn some of this negative energy into action? As with most crises in my life, I turn to books. Here’s a list of books I’m utilizing as a form of self-care in this uncertain time.

reading-for-self-care

The Stress Test: How Pressure Can Make You Stronger by Ian Robertson
More than anything right now I really want to find a way to take negative pressures, like stress, and turn it around with a positive result. The Stress Test looks like it can do just that. Backed by over forty years of research, cognitive neuroscientist and clinical psychologist Robertson is going to teach me how to change my reaction to pressure, getting a better response that will help my overall health and well-being. I’d honestly hate to lose all stress in my life, because challenges keep me on my toes and, I think, make me a better person. Thankfully it looks like The Stress Test is a scientific approach that walks the line between too much and too little stress, which is just what I need right now.

100 Things You Can Do to Stay Fit and Healthy by Scott Douglas
It might go without saying that all this stress is adding up in a negative way. I can feel the impact it’s having on my health. That’s why I’m so looking forward to this short book. Early reviews say there are some common sense things we’ve all heard before–but I think that’s just what I need right now. Show me simple changes I can make to improve my day-to-day well-being and I’ll be set to tackle the bigger issues I care about.

The Trump Survival Guide by Gene Stone
I usually avoid talking politics on the internet because, let’s face it, as a group we humans can be overly nasty to each other online and I’m not looking for a fight. However, I don’t mind telling you how I’ve felt overwhelmed with uncertainty with the new administration and each Cabinet member’s stances on the issues that are vital to my well-being. Gene Stone’s book breaks down each issue, giving historical background, how President Obama strengthened or otherwise created change, and what President Trump is likely to do based on his history with each issue. Don’t get too bogged down in those sections, however; the best is at the end of each chapter, where Stone lists several things I can do to take action now to support each issue or cause, to strengthen it, and to give voice to the marginalized. Getting involved in national organizations, donating time to local causes, and even donating money can all help.

The Dictionary
Based on the first White House press conference, I’m certain to start keeping a dictionary by my side. I still use physical dictionaries and other reference books, as I find it easier to flip back and forth to relevant sections (especially important when trying to find the right word to embody your thoughts). But now more than ever I want to be able to define words that seem to not mean what press releases and politicians are telling me they mean. Whether or not you’re inclined to keep a giant book of words nearby, I highly recommend following Merriam-Webster on Twitter. They post a word of the day with a brief definition and often tie in these educational tweets to what’s happening in the news.

Simply Brilliant: Powerful Techniques to Unlock Your Creativity and Spark New Ideas by Bernhard Schroeder
Now more than ever I want to be creative, both in my solutions to life’s everyday problems as well as in my spare time creating something wonderful. Simply Brilliant promises to not just provide ways for me to harness my creativity, but also to explain why creativity even matters in the first place. When the going gets tough often the first thing to be eliminated is the creative, awesome thing that gives me joy. I am determined not to let this happen and I’m hoping this book will give me not just creative tactics, but the motivation to keep reminding myself, “This matters.”

The Inefficiency Assassin: Time Management Tactics for Working Smarter, Not Longer by Helene Segura
Based on the demands for my time and energies I’m definitely going to need this book to keep everything juggled and balanced–or at least as well as I can. While there are many books published each year about how you too can achieve that work-life balance, the title of this one instantly drew me in. I definitely want to kill inefficiencies! And while it may just be a book marketing tactic, I am willing to believe it. If I want to get everything done, especially going home to a massive creative project at the end of a long day at work, I’m going to need an action plan and practical ways to battle inefficiency so I can slam through necessary evils like housework and still have time to focus on my creative pursuits.

What books would you add to the list? Reading for self-care is the best decision I’ve made so far this year and hope you’ll join me in tackling our negative emotions and turning them into positive impacts.

Catastrophic Happiness

catastrophic happiness catherine newmanWant to hear something weird? I love reading parenting books, but I’m not a parent. How-tos, essays, memoirs, cartoons, pretty much everything except those photographic encyclopedias that help you diagnose your baby’s latest rash. No. Thanks!

Seriously though, it doesn’t take a parent to appreciate these books and I think reading some of the how-to books makes me a better aunt. The memoirs, however, are what I pick up when I want to see the world through my own mother’s eyes and imagine how different my life would be with littles. I usually go for funny, but I can also handle cute and heartwarming. And I found all of that and more in Catastrophic Happiness by Catherine Newman.

If you read Real Simple magazine you probably recognize the author’s name. Newman is the etiquette columnist and always handles readers’ questions with grace and verve. Yup, sometimes the answer is that you have to stand your ground and be firm with your mother-in-law/child/spouse/co-worker/florist. The same holds true for parenting, which makes me still hold out hope that the editorial staff will eventually let Catherine write a parenting advice column.

Catastrophic Happiness isn’t like most parenting memoirs I’ve read–and trust me, I’ve read a bunch. Most focus on what it’s like to start parenting life with your newborn. Babies and toddlers can provide endless entertainment and joy, so the plethora of anecdotes usually proves meaty enough for a book. Or several.

This is exactly why Catastrophic Happiness is so incredibly awesome. We get to share in the trials and tribulations of the not-so-cute phase of raising kids. The book starts out with Catherine’s son Ben and daughter Birdie already starting school and it follows them up into the start of their teenage years. These are the years that can get messy, or distant, or strained, or just plain…blah? I’m not really sure, but for some reason they aren’t usually the focus of a book. But this is definitely a mistake, as Catherine proves chapter after chapter.

I laughed. I cried. I read so many passages out loud to my husband that I should have contacted the publisher to see if they would let me record the audiobook. Catherine Newman has a particular way with words that will have you writing down quote after quote. She turns a phrase like no other. I wanted to include a passage to illustrate what I mean, but publishers get a little bit Genghis Khan about comparing quotes from an advance reader copy to the finished product, and our finished copy hasn’t yet arrived. You’ll just have to wait and see for yourself!

Catastrophic Happiness hits bookshelves on April 5th, so there’s plenty of time to get a copy for your mom/sister/wife/cousin/friend for Mother’s Day. Regardless of whether or not you’re a parent you should read this one, to yourself or out loud to someone you love.