Thursday, July 11, 2013


It's been awhile since I've done a book review, so there is a lot of catch up on.  For some reason there are a bunch of autobiographies/biographies in this group.  The good news? There are some really good ones:
Diary of a Stage Mother's Daughter by Melissa Francis is another autobiography about the girl who played Cassandra on Little House on the Prairie.  (Remember - the big eyed girl who was adopted by the Ingels after Laura had grown up?)  As much as I loved her stories about being on the set and what it was like to do commercials, the heart of the story is about her family.  It is a powerful story of a family that breaks under the weight of selfishness, greed and pain.  A great story.  (available on kindle at my library)

Bossypants by Tina Fey is her super funny autobiography.  It was interesting to learn about her life and her climb into the world of comedy - particularly as she gave the inside scoop on things I had seen on TV (ie: playing Sarah Palin on SNL).  Although she's a little older than I am, her 1980s references were awesome!   I was surprised at how much solid advice was in the book.  She addresses the particular challenges of being a woman in the male dominated TV/comedy world as well as how she struggles with her role as a working mom. It was an easy read with its fair share of foul language, but I enjoyed it.

Half-Broke Horses by Jeannette Walls is a biography written by the author of The Glass Castle.  She tells the true story of her maternal grandmother who lived in Arizona back when cars were a new invention, alcohol was bootlegged and a rainstorm made the difference between life and death.  I so loved Glass Castle that I was anxious to read anything by Walls.  She writes with a great voice and there were a lot of really interesting things in the book, but I didn't love it.  Liked it, not loved it.  I did end up convinced that there was NO way I could've made it back then.

Black Heels and Tractor Wheels by Ree Drummond, more commonly known as the Pioneer Woman, is yet another autobiography of how the city slicker Ree falls in love with a cowboy and slowly converts to a rural lifestyle.  The book is a compilation of blog entries in which she told her readers about her back story - and it reads like it.  It seemed a bit over dramatic with too many 1970s style cliff hangers, but it was a fun, easy book. It's good fluff.  (available on kindle at my library)

One Second After was recommend to me by my dad.  The story starts just before the US is attacked by an electronic pulse bomb which causes the whole region to permanently lose electric power.  (A real thing).  The essence of the book how society reacts to such a dramatic and devastating event.  It follows a small town, a day at a time, detailing how society falls apart and what people do in response to the situation.  It's a bit frightening and led to some pretty serious conversations with my family about how prepared we really are for a catastrophic event (answer: not very).  It makes you think and I liked it so much I'm hosting it for book club in August.

Happiness Project was written by a NYC author who spent a full year making a concerted effort to become happier. She did a ton of research - I absolutely loved all the studies she sites- and she has some great insight into what really makes people happy.  There were several things that annoyed me about her fundamental approach (I feel lazy, but it just all seems so exhausting...) Her perspective and insights are often held captive by her social class and the specifics of her situation.  But she's also the first one to put forth her story saying "adapt this to you".  It's the kind of book I wanted to mark up as I read it and add to my library for future reference, but not exactly a page turner.  (available in kindle at my library).

Matched is a young adult dystopian novel about a society that controls every single thing in the people's lives.  It's an interesting premise, and feels a bit like The Giver.  At the heart of it all is a love story (clearly this is aimed at teenage girls).   It was a page turner and I enjoyed reading it.  Matched is the first in a series, but I'm not sure I'll read the next two.  I liked it enough, but it was a little too fluffy for me to read the whole series.  I may change my mind on that.

Pretty in Plaid: A Life, a Witch and a Wardrobe by Jen Lancaster is a super funny autobiography of Jen's childhood and college years.  She grew up in the same era as I did and her witty references to the things of my childhood had me laughing.  Her retell of selling Girl Scout cookies was seriously hysterical.   I had read Bitter is the New Black, and although she is indisputably hilarious, Lancaster was also a tad crude for my tastes.  The good news with this book is that because she spends so much time talking about her childhood, the books stays sassy without becoming too harsh.  (available in kindle at my library)

Peace Like a River by Leif Enger was not a favorite.  I struggled to finish it and ended up skimming the book towards the end.  It moved slowly and although there were several poignant and beautiful aspects of the book, it just didn't get me turning the page.  The story is told through the perspective of a boy who watches his family react to some pretty awful events.  It's about faith and family and hope - all good things, but it just didn't ever really catch me. 

I had read To Hell with All That: Loving and Loathing Our Inner Housewife by Caitlyn Flannagan before and still enjoyed it the second time.  It's really a discussion of modern motherhood, examining things like the change from "Housewife" to "Stay at Home Mom" with all it's nuisance, nannies, sex, Martha Stewart, etc.  She's witty and critical and seems to hit the issues faced by both working and stay at home moms.  I related to so much of the book and loved all the information she pulled in.  Although it totally works with the sociologist in me, I think a lot of women would find this book relatable, entertaining and insightful. 

Edenbrooke by Julianne Donaldson is set in Jane Autin's England.   This romance was predictable, sappy and totally enjoyable.  Girl fluff for sure.  The strong willed and slightly silly woman collides with the mysterious and slightly arrogant man in a series of misunderstandings until they fall in love.  A great, light, summertime kind of read.
Half the Sky by Krisoff and WuDunn examines issues faced by women at a global level:  Human trafficking, poverty, prostitution, health, education, etc.  The authors tell individuals' stories, making the greater issues more real, but then also sites statistics and other information to provide a greater context to the problems.  It's an upsetting book to read - to hear about child prostitutes, men beating their wives and women raped and discarded.  But this book does not just document the problems.  Many stories end with the women overcoming their fates.  The authors call the reader to action, providing information about various aid organizations, and going so far as to examine how effective the various agencies are.  (Kindle at the library)

Turns out that several women in my book club did not like The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald - but I did.  The first time I read the book, a friend had told me that it was about a man who threw big parties and yet when he died no one attended his funeral.  So as I read it, I was watching for the hollowness of the relationships, the decent into loneliness.   The characters are amoral, the setting is spectacular and the relationships are rooted in selfishness - it made for an interesting read to me.  For book club?  We went to lunch and then watched the movie.  LOVE my book club!

The Watsons Go to Birmingham 1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis is a juvenile fiction about an African-American family in Detroit who decide to visit Birmingham.  The bulk of the book just follows the family with their normal situations and problems, but the end - when they get to Alabama in the height of the Civil Rights Movement, it really gets good.  There is a compelling climax at the end of the book, but I'm not sure it's worth reading the rest of the book to get there.   I liked it, but didn't love it.  (Kindle at the library)
Does This Church Make Me Look Fat?  The title alone made me want to read this one.  It written by Rhoda Janzen, the same author as Mennonite in a Little Black Dress, which I also loved.  The book is autobiographical, as Janzen details her fight with cancer as well as her path from an academic skeptic to faith.  She's witty and a bit crass, but her insights into some religious topics had me taking notes.  It was easy to read and had me thinking in new ways about some religious concepts - love that!

My favorites in this groups:  Diary of a Stage Mother's Daughter, One Second After and Pretty in Plaid.  Good stuff.  I'm almost done with Eleanor and Parks (Thanks for the recommendation Traci - so far I love it!)

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Bolder Boulder

The race that offers bacon at mile two and cupcakes at mile four! And I ate them both!
I still hate every single step I take on the treadmill, but I can't seem to find a better way to burn calories and strengthen muscle tone.  So I continue to trudge my way through a few miles three times a week on the treadmill.  Knowing that I had been running (and doing some running himself) Diamond suggested that we run the Bolder Boulder this year.  It's a 10K with a reputation of being one of the most fun races in the US.  If you run and you live in Colorado, ya kinda have to run the Bolder Boulder- at least once. 
 I was hesitant.  I was running three miles regularly, but six?  That seemed pretty daunting.  Plus I run in the gym, not outside.  I started trying to lengthen my runs at the gym adding five minutes, then another five minutes, etc.  I eventually did get up to running six miles (although I was still stopping to walk just a little bit).  I tried running outside and couldn't seem to pace myself at all, so I gave up with outdoor running and went back to the treadmill.  I was really nervous about how I would do a 10K.
 The first two miles were great - I felt good and since I was running with Diamond, he was able to keep me at a decent pace.  But then we hit the first hill, I slowed to a walk and realized that I would probably not have the best time.  I told Diamond to go ahead, he took the hill, did great - met his goal and had a strong finish.  Me?  At that hill I decided I was here to have fun, not get a good time. 

I decided I would do every fun thing available along the course.  I ate bacon, watermelon, cotton candy, Doritos, and a cupcake - although really only a bite of each.  I opted to stop for the guy holding a "Free Hugs" sign and zigzagged along the road hitting each and every sprinkler.  (Although I decided against the Slip N Slide - the line was really long). 

To be honest I was disappointed by my performance.  I had run six miles in sixty minutes at the gym a few times and was hoping to get the race done in close to an hour.  I came in at 1:11 - much slower than I wanted.  I also walked a ton more than I had been doing at the gym.  Oh well.  I finished - and I do feel like I took full advantage of everything that Bolder Boulder has to offer.  Diamond's already talking about doing it again next year.  I'm thinking, "Have fun Babe."

Steamboat Springs

There have been a handful of students from my time teaching high school that I have stayed in touch with.  (Facebook has been particularly helpful in making that happen!)  Every so often I'll hear from one of my old students and I've always loved that.  Earlier this summer I got a message on Facebook from Chris, someone I had taught back before BB#1 was even born.  She messaged me because she was investigating the church and wanted to talk to me about it all. 

We had some great phone conversation and even met for dinner when she and her husband came to town.  It was good for me to be able to articulate why the gospel means so very much to me and why I believe that following the path outlined by the church leads to true happiness.  A little later she told me she had decided to get baptized and asked if I would speak at her baptism.  SO great! 

We decided to go with the whole family up to Steamboat (where she lives) and make a long weekend of it. 

We spend some good time with Chris and her family on Sunday (at her friends gorgeous restored barn/home) then on Monday we hiked Fish Creek Falls. 

It was a longer, steep hike, but it was stunning the entire way - lots of little waterfalls along the way and big waterfalls at both the beginning and end of the hike. 
A great weekend in the Colorado mountains!

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Broken Angels

We survived another season of baseball.  Phew!  We stayed in the same league as last year, opting to drive a half-hour each way to practice (pre-season 4+/week) and games (2-3/week) in exchange for avoiding Sunday games and tournaments.
Last year Big Boy #2 was the starting pitcher.  By the end of the season he was batting fourth or fifth in the order and had a fabulous experience.

This year, not so much.  His coach did let him pitch - some.  Try as hard as we could, there wasn't any logic to whether or not the coach would let him pitch.  In one game the coach had him start an inning and after BB#2 struck out the first two players up to bat the coach pulled him.  What?!?  That was all he pitched that game.  Sometimes the coach would promise to let him pitch at practice, but then wouldn't put him in during the game.  BB#2 spent way too much time in right field and hardly ever played first base (which he played when he wasn't pitching last year).  It was frustrating and discouraging.
When BB#2 made a fantastic diving catch the coach heaped all the praise on the kid BB#2 threw the ball to and then complained that BB#2 wasn't giving 100%.  It seemed there was no way to earn the praise of the coach.  As a parent I was annoyed when he called a last minute practice on Memorial Day that lasted over two and a half hours (seriously!) and by the end of the season BB#2 was talking about quitting baseball all together. 
Like most kids, BB#2 blossoms under praise and tends to wilt under criticism.  Fortunately, he didn't get worse this season, but he didn't get better either. We'll try another coach next year and hopefully it will be a better experience. 
It seems kids sports are nearly impossible to get just right.  At least we haven't managed to figure it out.  Too easy, too competitive?  A coach that's too hard and/or doesn't build skills? Avoiding Sunday games and the volume of time to get to long practices and even longer games?  Sometimes I wonder if it's worth it.  Especially after a season like this. 
But when he has a great game and is so proud of himself for cracking a double or striking out a batter, well, I guess sign me up for one more year...