Thursday, December 29, 2016

What I Read in December

December was a busy month, but that didn’t stop me from feeding my book addiction. Here is what I have been reading this month and what I added to my bookshelf.

What I read

Pack of Two: The Intricate Bond Between People and Dogs by Caroline Knapp (borrowed from the library): A journalistic memoir in which Knapp describes her relationship with her dog Lucille and explores other people’s relationships with their dogs. This was written in the 1990s and Knapp has since died, which made me sad that there aren’t current works to read. I loved her storytelling. By the end, stories about other people and their dogs came with such frequency that I longed for the earlier part of the book where she told her own story so beautifully.

Zen Pencils-Volume Two: Dream the Impossible Dream by Gavin Aung Than (borrowed through Comics Plus Library Edition): A fun graphic work that sets famous written works and speeches to cartoon images. It’s fun to see how this artist adds story the words of others.

Thirty Million Words: Building a Child's Brain by Dana Suskind, MD (gifted to me via Audible): An interesting exploration of brain development in young children that gave me a few ideas and made me nervous about my inability to go back raise my son from age 0 to 3 years again.

Adulthood is a Myth: A Sarah's Scribbles Collection by Sarah Andersen (gifted to me via Kindle): Silly cartoons about the truths of being an adult. This one is just pure fun. Read it for an afternoon of giggles.

Bitch Planet, Vol. 1: Extraordinary Machine by Kelly Sue DeConnick, illustrated by Valentine de Landro (purchased at Book Riot Live in November): A graphic novel in which non-conforming women are sent to another planet to serve time. I wanted to like this much more than I did. Lots of people had great things to say about this, but for me, I preferred listening to their hype more than actually reading it.

Most Wanted by Lisa Scottoline (borrowed from the library): This was the December selection in my book club. It started off slow, but got rolling about 100 pages in (more than I would have given it had it not been a book club pick). However, I was stunned at the number of writing and editing issues in this book. It definitely needed more work before publishing.

Currently reading

The Dinner by Herman Koch (borrowed audiobook from the library): This is my book club’s January selection. I am listening to it because only the audiobook was available at the library, and I am so happy it worked out this way. The narrator is dynamite. He has a pleasant tone, uses all the right emphases and inflections, paces his reading powerfully, and changes his voice subtly and perfectly when characters speak in the story. I don’t listen to audiobooks often, but this one is making me rethink that decision.

A Piece of the World by Christina Baker Kline (received for free from BookBrowse in exchange for review): This historical fiction tells the story of the woman in Andrew Wyeth’s painting Christina’s World. I was already swooning at the language in the prologue and, so far, the story is delivering exactly what I expected.

What I acquired

Phoebe and Her Unicorn by Dana Simpson: I borrowed and read this book last month in the Comics Plus Library Edition app. I am super excited to have my very own copy to re-read again and again thanks to a Christmas present from my fellow unicorn-loving, book-loving, copy editor friend. (Coincidentally, I gave her the same thing.)

Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly: This is the February selection in my book club, and it was already on my wishlist, so I am excited about this pick. It wasn’t available through my library, so I went ahead and ordered the hardcover for myself.

How to Bake Pi: An Edible Exploration of the Mathematics of Mathematics by Eugenia Cheng: This one hasn’t arrived as of the time of writing this, but it is on its way. I heard about it on a podcast and added it to my wishlist. I found a used hardcover copy on Alibris for $1.99 (plus $3.99 shipping), so I ordered it. I suspect it might pair nicely with Hidden Figures.

Your turn

What books have you loved (or not loved) lately? What do you have your eye on?

Disclaimer: I have used Amazon affiliate links throughout this post. Should you choose to buy something through those links, they will send me a small fee, which I will likely add to my book fund. Thank you.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

How My Word of the Year Helped Me Ignite My Life

Every year I choose a word to set an intention for that year. I don’t often set resolutions, but when I first heard about the idea of a word for the year, I grasped the idea and ran with it. Some of my previous words include shine, focus, joy, and badass.

This year my word was IGNITE. I chose this word because I wanted to get this new chapter of my life (as a newly single mom) started. I wanted to spark my fire, and I believe I succeeded.

During the course of this year, I have set out to meet new people, find new hobbies, and rekindle my enthusiasm for old hobbies. I wanted to find the elements that were fully me with no external input -- the activities, ideas, and habits that were true for me.

Meetup was a huge help in finding activities and people to do them with. Through Meetup, I joined a monthly book club, which is something that I really missed from my previous locale. I love this group of people and, regardless of whether I liked the book, I always look forward to great conversation with these new friends.

When I decided I wanted to hike and felt safer going with other people than alone, I searched Meetup and found the Women’s Hike and Write. This group really couldn’t have been more perfect for me. We go on moderate hikes, then pause to journal, then continue back. I never would have imagined someone else would like to bring a journal with them while hiking, let alone the number of women who have actually participated. Plus, the organizer of this group and I have become close friends.

I met with another temporary book club throughout the summer as we read Think and Grow Rich together and discussed a few chapters each week. We reunited this fall over dinner, and it was so fun to see what everyone was continuing to think about the book. There is talk about perhaps reading another book together in 2017.

I continue to check Meetup for new groups and events to join. I tried a meditation group (and would have returned if my schedule allowed), and I am now keeping my eye on photography groups, writing groups, and a social group for introverts.

Outside of Meetup groups, I have made a point to strike up conversations with parents of other children, with neighbors I see outside when I walk my neighborhood, and with the people I encounter as I run errands. Sometimes the conversations go somewhere, sometimes they dead-end. I don’t consider myself to be great at talking to people I don’t know well, but I am proud that I am trying more often. Some of the local shop owners and employees recognize me when I walk in. It feels so good to be welcomed by them.

I took advantage of programs at my local library, like a one-night watercolor class.

I hosted my first party at my home. And people came. Lots of them. As I looked around at all of their friendly faces introducing themselves to each other, it occurred to me that every person there is someone I met in the past year since moving to this home and town. I thought I was just hosting a party; I didn’t realize that it would become a milestone marking how far I have come in one year.

I went kayaking.

I went to a Yanni concert.

I attended children’s birthday parties where I was the only separated/divorced mom.

I joined in meditations, Reiki circles, and discussion groups hosted by my dear friend and Reiki master.

I drove almost two hours to see Glennon Doyle Melton speak.

I read more than 80 books in one year. I didn’t even know that was possible. It helped that I began receiving books for free to review -- another new venture.

I became a regular visitor of Longwood Gardens with my camera and journal (and sometimes a book) in tow.

I completed my Hospice volunteer training at the beginning of the year and have spent the rest of the year visiting patients and assembling packets the nurses need for patient care.

I learned how to set my hair in victory curls. I don’t think I learned all the right words for that, so perhaps that statement doesn’t make any sense at all. Being that a fancy hair day for me means that I blow-dried it rather than letting it air dry, this was quite a feat. And, dangit, I walked into that 1940s-themed party looking the part.

This year marked the first time I flew with my son by ourselves. We survived (obviously). He now looks forward to air travel and is quite good at it.

This year also marked my first solo vacation -- a quick weekend to New York City for Book Riot Live.

I submitted articles to two publications. Neither have been accepted, but I wrote them and submitted them, and I’m proud of that.

I heard one of my poems read in front of an audience for the first time. The audience responded with “that’s right” and “yes” and “mm-hmm.” The second time, they cheered.

I started a new full-time job after 6 years of freelancing.

I got a dog.

I hired my amazing friend, Amy Pinard, to photograph this new version of our family.

With my son’s help, I chased rainbows. They appear in my home on sunny mornings, and we have made a ritual of seeking them each morning and sometimes making our own if there aren’t any. (See them by following me on Instagram @livewonderstruck.)

I joined a gym, and I continue to go three times per week. I swam laps for the first time since I was about 10 years old. I bumped the treadmill up to a running pace for two minutes. (As I have never been a runner, this is a huge step for me.)

I survived divorce. Again. (That’s twice.) I am slowly learning to accept that number. It carries a stigma, and it makes me feel like a miserable failure, like I have made poor choices. Then I think, Oh no. I’m Ross. (Ross from Friends, that is. He was worried about life after three divorces.)

I learned how to peacefully coparent with my ex-husband. I even (sort of) befriended his new girlfriend.

I cried. A lot. But I smiled more than I cried. This has been a hard year, yet overall a good one.

This new chapter has been full. I could have squeaked by. I could have hidden under the covers. Instead, I chose to step out of all of my comfort zones and see what might happen.

My life as I write this looks very different than it did one year ago. Keeping the word “ignite,” and more specifically, the phrase “ignite my life” top of mind throughout the year, I experienced many things I otherwise may not have. I showed up, whether or not I felt ready. I tried. That has made all the difference.

As I sat on the train in November for my first solo vacation and pulled out the book I brought to read, I had to laugh. The book was called Burning Woman. I do believe I am on fire now.

Looking ahead to 2017, I have my new word ready. I have been trying it on for size, and it feels right. That word is SACRED.

As I continue to live a life that is fully me, fully mine, I want to make intentional, delicious choices that will serve my highest and greatest good. Choices that will serve my family, that will nourish my body, that will allow me to send goodness and happiness out into the world. Choices that will enrich our (my and my son’s) experiences. Sacred choices.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

The Secret Language of Dogs: a book review

The Secret Language of Dogs: Unlocking the Canine Mind for a Happier Pet
by Victoria Stillwell
Published by Ten Speed Press on October 11, 2016

The Secret Language of Dogs is a non-fiction look at the behavior of dogs. Stillwell presents the psychology of dogs’ body language and actions in a way that is easy to understand. She answers whether dogs feel love, guilt, and a slew of other human emotions. She advocates for positive training rather than punitive training.

Although you will find the occasional training tip, this book is not a step-by-step guide for how to train your dog. It is purely about canine behavior and qualities. It will help dog owners understand what is going on in their dogs’ minds based on their posture and actions, which, in turn, may help the owner determine the best course of action, if needed.

The chapters are broken down into small subchapters, making the content very easy to digest. This also means you can pick it up and read a section in a spare moment without having to commit to a long reading session. (However, if a long reading session is what you want, you will breeze right through this book.)

The book itself is very high quality. It is a sturdy paperback measuring 7 x 9 inches with full-color photographs throughout. The photography is crisp, professional, and will elicit plenty of “awwws.” It makes me want to pull out my camera for a photo session with my pup.


Both educational and delightful, I recommend The Secret Language of Dogs to anyone who has a dog or plans to get one.

I received an advance-read copy of this book from the publisher, Ten Speed Press, via Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review, and I have used affiliate links in this post. Please see my book review and affiliate disclaimer.