Sunday, May 26, 2013

Bookshelf: April-May

Despite packing up and moving to a new state and preparing for Teach For America, I've managed to do quite a bit of reading over the last two months. I don't expect to read too much from now until sometime in 2015, so I'm enjoying this current state of reading freedom.

See my reading selections for April and May below. Just a warning: I probably should have separated this into two posts. But I didn't. (Also, notice the star rating next to the title for a cursory look at my opinions! All ratings are out of five stars.)


The End of Worry - Will Vander Hart & Rob Waller - ***
Though a little simplistic, The End of Worry gave me a brief overview of the what worry is and ways to deal with it. The biggest thing that I took away from this book (and that I'm still practicing consciously) is to be present in the moment, especially if I'm feeling anxious or worried. This may seem overly simplistic, and for more acute cases of anxiety it probably is, but for me this works well.

The End of Worry is a fast read, so it's not a major commitment to pick up. I would recommend it to anyone who has wanted to give greater thought to the role of worry in their own lives, but I would also caution that this is in no way comprehensive. If you've already researched worry and anxiety disorders at all, none of this will be new.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire - J.K. Rowling - *****
I've continued my re-read of the Harry Potter series. (I'm hoping to finish up the last book before my TFA training starts at the beginning of June.) Re-reading these as an adult has given me a greater appreciation for Rowling's writing style. Not only does she use words in amusing and effective ways, but her story line is, well, epic. I kept noticing how details in this book tied back in with characters and events in the first three books and I wonder to myself, Did she plan this from the beginning?

Between the Lines - Jodi Picoult & Samantha Van Leer - **
I haven't read anything else by Jodi Picoult, but her books have been recommended to me on multiple occasions by people whose opinions I trust wholeheartedly. But I did not care for this book. The idea and the story line are interesting, quite fun for a bibliophile like me, actually, but the effect is ruined by the poor development of the characters. Even main characters fell flat for me. I think that if the authors wanted to develop characters more fully and keep the story as is, the whole book would have needed to be a little longer. Because of all the good recommendations I've gotten for Jodi Picoult, I'm going to chalk this disappointing read up to the fact that Picoult was working with her teenage daughter to write this. For a teenage writer, this is fairly impressive. For a 26-year-old reader, it's disappointing.

And Then There Were None - Agatha Christie - ****
I would have give this book five stars if it had been a little... happier. I think just the frame of mind I was in when I read this didn't lend itself well to a murder mystery in which every single character dies. I wanted something happy-go-lucky. But as mysteries go, this was top-notch. This was my first Christie mystery, and I was terribly impressed. It's kind of like the board game Clue, only more complex.

The Bronte Sisters: The Brief Lives of Charlotte, Emily and Anne - Catherine Reef - *****
The only books I've read by either of the Bronte sisters are Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte and Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. I loved them. This brief biography of the Bronte sisters made me love them more. Through this book I gained a richer understanding of how and why the two novels above were written. I learned about the distinct personalities of each of the Bronte sisters and the eccentric personality of their brother, Branwell. I am inspired both to live in 19th century England and read the rest of the works by the Brontes.

Sorcery and Cecelia, or The Enchanted Chocolate Pot - Patricia C. Wrede & Caroline Stevermer - ****
Patricia C. Wrede is a long-standing favorite of mine. Her Enchanted Forest Chronicles charmed me as a junior high girl and still manage to put a smile on my face. I hadn't read this in quite a few years, and I honestly didn't love it as much this second (or maybe third?) time through. Wrede and Stevermer wrote this book as a series of letters. If I remember correctly, they chose the time period and a few other general rules for their letter-story, but then kept a strict rule that they couldn't discuss what they wanted to have happen in the plot. They wrote back and forth, and Sorcery and Cecelia emerged.


Little White Duck - Na Liu & Andres Vera Martinez - ****
This was the first of three graphic novels I read in May. This was a very fast read, about a child growing up in China during the 1970s. I learned a lot about Chinese history, legend, and culture in these few pages. I'm not generally a huge fan of graphic novels. It's just not the way I like to read. But I thought this was well-done.

American-Born Chinese - Gene Luen Yang - ****
This is a little longer and intended for a little older audience than Little White Duck. I liked how it dealt with issues of racism and stereotypes. The book alternates between three stories. Jin is a Chinese-American boy trying to navigate through high school despite the mild (and sometimes overt) stereotyping by classmates. Danny is a White American boy who has a cousin from China named Chin-Kee. Chin-Kee is an exaggeration of all of the worst stereotypes and misconceptions Americans have of Chinese culture. The Monkey King has mastered the arts of kung fu and the heavenly disciplines but the other gods do not accept him because he is a monkey. At times parts of each of these stories felt a little bizarre to me. But over all, this is a great and extremely interesting investigation into the challenges of growing up Chinese-American.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince - J.K. Rowling - *****
I just love Harry Potter. This was the book I remembered the least, and I simply loved rediscovering it. That's really all I have to say on Harry Potter.

Wonder - R.J. Palacio - *****
This book was fabulous. About a boy who is born with severe physical deformities because of a genetic mutation, this book deals with themes of bullying and self-confidence. Wonder is told from multiple viewpoints: Augie, the boy with the genetic mutation, Augie's sister, whose whole life has been defined and colored by having a little brother like Augie, and Augie's new friends at school. I'm pretty sure that if I end up teaching anywhere between 3rd and 6th grade, I'm going to read this book aloud to my class or have the class read it together. It deals with so many issues that would hit close to home for the kids I teach and cries out for kids to develop compassion and integrity.

The Last Unicorn - Peter S. Beagle - ****
This is a unique and beautiful story. What really sold it to me, though, was the quirkiness the author sprinkled on top of what was otherwise a pretty somber story. I first tried to read The Last Unicorn when I was about 13. The title, as well as the subject, of this story appealed to me. But re-reading it now has convinced me that this is not a fairy tale for kids. I appreciated things in the book this time, like learning to live with loss or regret, that I just found troubling as a 13-year-old. Lovely.

Maus 1: A Survivor's Tale: My Father Bleeds History - Art Spiegelman - *****
I did not realize that Maus 1 and Maus 2 were part of the same story, and I am definitely going to have to pick up Maus 2 next.  As graphic novels go, this has such depth and breadth. Not only does it introduce the horrors of the Holocaust in a way that's easier for kids to understand and digest, but it also introduces the subject to readers who might be less likely to pick up a book on the Holocaust otherwise. This true story told in an unconventional way is one I will recommend to my students (once I have them) and kids (once I have them).

Currently reading:

Decision-Making and the Will of God - Garry Friesen & J. Robin Maxson
Yes, I'm still working on this one. I'm really close to the end though.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - J.K. Rowling 

Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? - Beverly Daniel Tatum

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

A Beautiful Ambiguity

I don't really think ambiguity is beautiful. But I'm trying really hard. After much soul searching, I realized that most of the anxiety and nervousness I feel when faced with new situations or challenges has at the root a fear of uncertainty. I want assurance that everything will work out fine. When I do not have that assurance, I feel threatened by the possibility of loss or difficulty or suffering. A sense of anxiety follows. Maybe this seems really obvious and you're thinking to yourselves, Oh, Hillary. Obviously! But this was actually a revelation for me. I realized that when I choose to embrace uncertainty, then I'm not as anxious. It's like really cheap, really simple therapy. Mark and I have a lot of ambiguity and uncertainty right now, so I have lots of opportunity to practice embracing instead of resisting.

I had an interview at a school yesterday. Because I'm applying and interviewing for teaching jobs through Teach For America, I'm almost guaranteed a teaching position this fall. But not quite. I still have to interview and interview well. The school still needs to like me and want me. TFA can't force me on them. Unfortunately, I never feel like I interview well. I liked this school a lot. I could see myself teaching there. But I didn't leave the interview with a sense that my interviewers really wanted me teaching there.

During interviews, I always get this feeling that I should have taken speech in high school or forced myself to do something that required public speaking when I was in college. I just don't feel like I express my passion and excitement well. My nervousness makes me quieter and more reserved. I just want to stop partway through the interview and say, Can I be perfectly honest? I'm not expressing myself well. But I would be a really good teacher. I promise. Just hire me and you'll see! But interviews just don't work that way. So now I'm waiting (not very hopefully) to hear back from this school and waiting for more interview opportunities. I think I better force someone who loves me to ask me a bunch of interview questions before the next interview so I can practice conveying what I mean to convey.

Mark is also waiting. He's waiting to hear back on a job he's interviewed twice for already. We're hoping he makes to to the next round of interviews. He's continuing to search for other jobs to apply for, but this one looked good. (Yay! More opportunity for me to practice embracing uncertainty!)

When we arrived in the Twin Cities almost a month ago, I had hoped that before I started training with TFA on June 1 Mark would have a job and we would have begun to look at apartments. At this point, that doesn't seem likely. God is asking us to wait more and trust more. I'm practicing embracing this period of uncertainty.

I'm excited to start training for TFA. I know I'm going to learn a lot and be pushed hard. I'm excited to be in a classroom this summer and learning right alongside other new teachers. I don't mind that I have to spend five weeks in Tulsa, Oklahoma, for that training. What I do mind, what I am nervous about, is leaving Mark for that period of time. I haven't been away from Mark for more than three nights, I think, since we got married four years ago. Six weeks apart is going to feel like an eternity. Plus, Mark is used to my habits - embarrassing, irritating, and otherwise - and I'm just not excited about suddenly gifting those co-habitation habits to a stranger.

But in all of this, I'm trying really really hard to enjoy the moment. I'm enjoying holding and petting and feeding treats to my parents' cat. (I love cats. I really love cats. Mark really doesn't. But that's a post for another time.) And I'm enjoying sitting at the table by the sliding glass doors and listening to birds in the trees in the back yard. I'm enjoying spending time with my parents and siblings and family-in-law and niece and nephews. I have lots to enjoy now.

So, I'm trying to embrace this beautiful ambiguity. We don't know where we'll be living in two months. We don't know what our bank account will look like in two months. We don't know where either of us will be working, or whether we'll be able to get a dog. We don't really know anything. But we know that God is good. I know I can trust Him. I know He is leading us step by faltering step. God has arranged for us, right now, this beautiful ambiguity.

The Lord is faithful to all his promises
and loving toward all he has made.
The Lord upholds all those who fall
and lifts up all who are bowed down.
The eyes of all look to you,
and you give them their food at the proper time.
You open your had
and satisfy the desires of every living thing.
            -Psalm 145:13b-16

Monday, May 20, 2013

Lovin' the Fam

This weekend I got to see my little sister in the leading role in a musical at her school. I love hearing her sing. She has all the vocal abilities I wish I had and all the confidence on stage I never thought to wish for because that wish seemed too far-fetched. I wanted to post a video of one of her songs from the musical. I think I might be infringing on copyright laws to do that, but my sisterly pride is just too great.

One of the most entertaining parts of Abby being Cinderella for a weekend was all the adoring little girls who toddled over to her in awestruck wonder after the performances.

Little girl in awe at meeting Cinderella

Even in church the next morning, the family sitting in front of us had brought their little four-year-old girl to the performances. When she first realized that Cinderella was sitting directly behind her in church, the little girl's eyes widened and she burst into hysterical giggles. Then throughout every song we sang the girl was turned around in her pew, gazing at Abby. 

Mark and I also got to celebrate this weekend with our sister-in-law and niece, who both have had birthdays in May.

Amy and Shirley, the birthday girls

And, of course, at any family function I take every opportunity to spend time with and endear myself to my little niece and nephews.

Creedence, learning from a young age that I am a very fun aunt

Million, also learning that I am a very fun aunt

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Kind of Like Vacation

This morning Mark and I ran to Costco for groceries and PetSmart for cat food for my mom. Since we're trespassing indefinitely on my parents' hospitality, we want to be as helpful as possible. Our life right now is strange. That's the only word I can use to describe it.

We're in the midst of rocking and rolling change. We're both going to be starting new jobs, but we don't know what they are. We're going to be moving into a new apartment, although we don't know where it will be. We're going to be joining a new church, although we don't know what it will be like. And, for us, those changes will happen in that order. Jobs first, then apartment, then church.

So, even though big changes are taking place in the larger picture, in the day-to-day picture, we're just waiting. Waiting and running errands and doing chores around the house to make my parents' lives easier. We've both had interviews and are waiting to hear from this or that person, which makes the waiting portion of our lives that much more obvious.

In fact, the waiting is so obvious to me that it's like a cat that wants to be fed. It's not always loud and in charge, but it always finds a way to get under foot. And if you're not careful, it will trip you up and you'll fall flat on your face.

The weather has been beautiful the last few days. (In fact, as soon as I'm done writing this, I'm going to go for a long walk outside. Maybe I'll even run through other people's sprinkler systems.) Today for lunch I made a green smoothie following this recipe that I've fallen in love with. Then, with a belly full of smoothie, I stood out on my parents' deck overlooking their backyard, soaking up the sun for a few minutes.

I realized, if I weren't concerned about Mark and me having means of earning a living, this would be kind of like vacation. It's not totally like a vacation, because we are trying to be the most help we can be to my parents. (We don't want to be those kids who come home after college and play video games in the basement until we're 30. Not only do we not want to be those kids, we don't want to at all resemble those kids.) And I do have a lot of reading and 'pre-work' to do to be ready for my Teach For America training in a couple weeks. So in those senses, it's not really like a vacation.

But I wish I could enjoy this time like a vacation. I know that once my training begins I'll probably turn into a nervous wreck and lose my sense of humor and maybe my hair. All the more reason to savor a few minutes of calm now. And my hair. Maybe I should do something exciting to my hair, like get highlights.

So, that being said, I'm going to close my computer and go for a long walk outside.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Because I can't speak about infertility better myself on Mother's Day... are two posts that have really spoken to my heart on this day that has come to be wrought with so much complex emotion:

Everyday Doxologies: 'About That Holiday Coming Up'

The Messy Middle: 'An Open Letter to Pastors {a non-mom speaks about Mother's Day}'

And now that I've completely (ha!) dealt with the emotional mess of mixing infertility with Mother's Day, I do want to take a few minutes to say how very thankful I am for the two mothers I have in my life because I, unlike so many people, have not only one wonderful mother but two.

Mother 1 - my birth mom

I am so very thankful for my mom. She is a thoughtful, kind, and generous person. She delights in giving gifts to her kids. Her seemingly endless supply of optimism have buoyed my melancholic spirit on so many occasions. My mom has the rare (at least it seems rare having lived in my own head) gift of being able to think the best of everyone, including her children, of whom she has seen the worst. I have always felt loved and appreciated for who I am with her, truly loved and appreciated for who I am. She's not faking it. And if her house is a little bit messy on occasion and the clutter piles up a little too much for my liking, I know its because she's busy with people. She has such a heart for people. My mom, along with my dad, taught me about Jesus gave me every opportunity to get to know Him as my personal savior, and I'm so thankful.

Mother 2 - my mother-in-law

Before I got married, I naively bought into the cultural stigma of mothers-in-law, and I expected that I might not get along with my own mother-in-law if I ever married. That has, by far, not been the case for me. My mother-in-law is kind and loving. She's super organized, which I love. She genuinely wants to help her kids if she can and does an excellent job of walking the tightrope between not really helping and helping too much. She has a genuine heart for service and blesses so many people through her acts of service. My mother-in-law prays for her kids. I've been blessed over and over again by her reminders that she is praying for me. I admire so very much her desire for God and I want to want God like she does.

There are so many more things I could say about my two moms. They are both wonderful ladies. And I have the privilege of being able to look up to and emulate both of them. In this way, God has been so very good to me!

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

You Can't Rush Sourdough

Our sourdough starter #2 is up and running. Or bubbling, rather. We got it going a little over a week ago and had been feeding it twice a day since then to try to coax some life out of it. By Sunday I had just about given up hope. Our starter #1, at the end of its life, had such a delicious yeasty smell. When I gave it a good stir before making something sourdough-y, it smelled a lot like an open bottle of wine. On Sunday, starter #2 smelled like play-dough.

Mark convinced me not to give up on it, though, so I let it sit and think about its actions for another 12 hours without adding any extra flour to it. That seemed to be the ticket. By Monday I was noticing a few more bubbles, and by Tuesday afternoon it was threatening to spill over the sides of its jar. I overheard my dad ask Mark if he should be afraid that the starter was going to attack him in his sleep. That was when I knew we were really in business again.

However, as we expected, starter #2 doesn't have the delicious tangy smell starter #1 had after five months of living in our fridge. We made our sourdough English muffins this morning, and they didn't taste sour. They fluffed up, but barely. It's just going to take time for our starter #2 to come into its own.

It's going to take a while for us to come into our own up here in the Cities too. The vacation effect has worn off a bit. Although we're still enjoying spending time with my family and are still thankful for how they've opened their home to us, we're beginning to wish that we had our own space some of the time. But Mark is still searching for a job, and I'm still not getting paid by my school. We just have to wait to become an autonomous family unit again.

Also, I'm beginning to really miss my library. Yes, I still think of it as my library. I miss my coworkers who are actually some of my best friends. I miss the hustle and bustle, and I miss seeing people everyday. Right now Mark and I have a lot to do, but it's just stuff to do. While we're doing it, we're not very social.

And the driving. Yeesh. It's really really going to take me a while to come into my own driving around here. Hopefully at some point driving to a new location won't feel like a major ordeal. I won't sit forward on my seat, clutching the steering wheel in a sweaty vice-like grip, my heart won't pound as I change lanes, and my lower back won't be sore from tension by the time I arrive at a new location. (Of course, I should qualify this  by acknowledging that Mark does not experience these symptoms driving around the Cities. I'm the hyper-sensitive, ultra-stressed, uptight one in the relationship.)

Moving to a new location is a little tough, even when the move was desired and anticipated. I'm not complaining about our situation right now. We're just like a new sourdough starter-- it will take a few months for us to find ourselves in our own place, begin working out how to make new friends and hold onto left-behind friendships, and drive without hyperventilating. But pretty soon we'll be making things happen confidently (and with a little tang).