Friday, February 27, 2015

books i read in february

the sea of tranquility by katja millay - 

i loved this book so much! while the prose wasn't as amazing as astonish me (my fave book in january), the plot was. 

the opening paragragh: "i hate my left hand. i hate to look at it. i hate it when it stutters and trembles and reminds me that my identity is gone. but i look at it anyway, because it also reminds me that i'm going to find the boy who took everything from me. i'm going to kill the boy who killed me, and when i kill him, i'm going to do it with my left hand."

this is the story of a young girl who suffered terrible tragedy and is desperately struggling to recover from it. she meets a young boy who, for much different reasons, is also lost and alone. they are drawn to each other and become the best of friends, offering each other solace and security. as their relationship grows their individual stories are revealed, hers more slowly than his, and they must deal with the circumstances of those discoveries. 

one thing i find frustrating, not just with this book but with many novels about teenage love - the characters are just 17 years old yet they live the lifestyle of an adult and have aged wisdom about it all. i'll concede that in real life young people who endure calamity or loss could surely grow up more quickly or act more mature than their peers but i find fictional stories to take this concept a bit too far. with this particular book, even though i sometimes found myself thinking these are supposed to be teenagers?, ultimately i just didn't care. i fell in love with the characters and became completely invested in their story. 

and, heck, mature teenage love stories have been around since romeo and i guess i should just get over myself. 

pastrix: the cranky beautiful faith of a sinner and saint by nadia bolz-weber - 

this memoir by female pastor and founder of the house for all sinners and saints, a lutheran church in downtown denver had me hooked. pastor nadia, a former comedian, addict and christianity cynic felt a calling to lead "her people", those who don't fit into the typical starched and pressed mold of suburban mega-churches. this book is nadia's personal story of faith - how she came to it, how she stumbled into church leadership and how she constantly finds jesus in the people and places from which christians often turn away. 

nadia recounts the moment she knew she was supposed to be a pastor. as the most religious among her friends she was asked to lead a funeral service for a comedian who took his own life. she stood on stage at comedy works in denver and looked out at those gathered in mourning. she wrote, "in that underground room filled with the smell of stale beer and bad jokes, i looked around and saw more pain and questions and loss than anyone, including myself, knew what to do with. and i saw god" (page 9).

i dog-earred so many pages; marking specific passages that touched my heart. here are a few:

from page 198, "the greatest spiritual practice isn't yoga or praying the hours or living in intentional poverty, although these are beautiful in their own way. the greatest spiritual practice is just showing up. showing up, to me, means being present to what is real, what is actually happening."

from page 172, this made me laugh out loud because this is so exactly me, "pretending to feel a way other than how i actually feel is not a gift god gave me. i can pull it off for short periods of time when needed, but the effort is exhausting." 

from page 135, talking about the grace of god, "god's ability to love us is always greater than our ability to make ourselves worthy of [love]."

from page 86, "god is not distant at the cross and god is not distant in the grief of the newly motherless at the hospital; but instead, god is there in the messy mascara-streaked middle of it, feeling as shitty as the rest of us. there simply in no knowable answer to the question of why there is suffering. but there is meaning. and for me that meaning ended up being related to jesus - emmanuel - which means "god with us". we want to go to god for answers but sometimes what we get is god's presence."

i was inspired by this book. like, the kind of inspired that made me want to buy hundreds of copies and gift it to everyone i know. while some of my friends and family might be offended by nadia's writing (she is as far from conservative christianity as one can get), i honestly believe if all christians believed the way nadia believes, this world would be a better place. basically, her belief is that we can come to god just as we are. no need to wear a mask at church or change our personality in order to fit in. god loves us all. each and every one. and we can all love god. the end.

the paying guests by sarah waters

a story set in 1920's london. a tale of a once precocious daughter who was left to care for her mother and their large house after losing her two brothers in the first world war and her father not long after. accustomed to middle class luxuries, after his death it was revealed her father had made poor financial choices, placing miss frances wray and her mother in rather dreary circumstances. they had to let go of their household servants, learn how to do (and keep up with) the daily chores themselves, and take in tenants in order to make ends meet. mr. and mrs. barber, the young couple who move in upstairs, are lively and mysterious. frances is both drawn to them and wary.

the inside book flap calls the paying guests "a love story, a tension-filled crime story, and a beautifully atmospheric portrait of a fascinating time and place".

i agree. 

Thursday, February 26, 2015

thursday things that make me think

it's a snow day here in denver so we're tucked in tight, wearing pajamas, drinking cocoa, reading and watching t.v. 

i cannot express the loveliness of it all. 

typical thursday mornings find me volunteering at the boys' school so i don't always get to share links with you but today, my friends, is your lucky day!

since deliberately dropping off the social media map a month ago i'm not sure which articles have been exploding in popularity. certainly i've missed out on some humorous things, some informative...but i think i've gained some sanity in return. but that's another post for another time. anyway, although i'm no longer stalking my feeds for content, i'm not lacking in interesting things to share. here are some things that made me think...

this just flat made me laugh out loud and made me think about the conversations i've had with the boys...and the ones to come! gah!  sex is tricky at momastery.

10 awesome benefits to strength training plus a basic dumbbell workout you can do at home. strength training basics at our best bites.

i think selma, and the award-winning song from that film, glory (especially the moving performance of the song during the oscars), has spurred conversation about the progression (or lack thereof) of the civil rights movement. this essay touched me. she writes"the next time i find myself judging the poor or underemployed, the person with no wheels, the high school drop-out, the inmate, the welfare mom, i'll consider the ways my life never came close to mirroring theirs."  listen to the sound by flowerpatch farmgirl.   

a list of 36 questions that can make you fall in love at the new york times.

oh help me lord! just five ingredients to make my all-time favorite sweet treat?!  triple decker chocolate peanut butter bars at half baked harvest.

rather than seeing others who seem to have it all together and thinking how will i ever attain that it might be better to simply think she is five years ahead of me in her journey. that stops the evil comparison game and provides encouragement to persevere on your own path, no matter what area of life you're trying to improve. creating a simple life doesn't happen overnight at the art of simple.

"i have come to believe that lifelong love often looks extraordinary, yes, but it's because we are faithful to love well in the ordinary minutes of our days".  love looks like 2:07am by sarah bessey.

"he's exactly the way he's supposed to be". i know what causes autism at huffpost.

i've been reading and loving this blog for years! in this post karen outlines the tv shows she's recommended in the past and whether or not she's still enjoying them. (jeremy and i have gotten hooked on more than a few of her suggestions!)  she also writes about three new ones. 3 tv shows you should be watching part viii at the art of doing stuff.

happy thursday, folks! 

Saturday, February 21, 2015

my fitness journey - in photos

after yesterday's post i got a text message from a friend saying, "where are the photos?!". my response was that i don't really think my body looks all that different, at least compared to last summer, so i didn't include pictures. surely i've posted a photo of myself between last summer and now, right, so....nothing new to show you.

i'm the same weight i was last summer. the pounds i dropped occurred in the first six months of joining the gym, before jeremy's and my trip to mexico thank you very much. since july 2014 i've plateaued in the weight loss department but i recently got together with a friend who hadn't seen me in months and she could see a difference in my body. she was surprised to hear i am the same weight. so i guess that means positive changes are occurring. it also means what they say about strength training is really does make your body look better even if the same number of the scale keeps popping up.

anyway, that text got me looking through old photos...

november 2009

june 2012. me with my handsome brother.

may 2014. i had been exercising for three months at this point. don't we look so happy??

july 2014. in mexico. i had been exercising for five months at this point. wearing the same dress as in the photo above.

august 2014. i was sucking in my tummy.

november 2014. i had to buy smaller ski pants because my pair from last year kept falling off.

today. i'm not sucking in my tummy...i don't need to anymore. :-)

so you see it's really just a slight difference over the past year. but it's a huge difference when comparing the past five years!

Friday, February 20, 2015

my fitness journey - part three

it's been exactly one year since i joined a gym.

in may i wrote that my motivation for joining planet fitness was the thirteen pounds i gained over the course of the holiday season (thank you very much reese's peanut butter cups). moving for just ten minutes on the treadmill made me feel like puking. 

in july i updated you, boasting about how i had built up to jogging. after five months of consistent exercise i could finally run a mile, something i had not done since middle school. 

fast forward to november.

all the walking and jogging was killing my left knee!

i started seeing a physical therapist for my jaw (tmj disfunction). he was successful in quickly healing that problem so i asked him to work on my knee too. he assessed me and determined that my left hip was shaky, my hamstrings were weak and my glutes needed bolstering. because of those instabilities my knee joint had been seriously over-worked.  his solution: strengthen the weaknesses. he referred me to a personal trainer who concentrated on conditioning the specific muscle groups that would take pressure off my knee.

my first session with brandon the personal trainer was in mid-december. he told me to do pushups. i did four. yes, four. he told me to do squats. both he and the physical therapist said i have a funny looking squat. everyone stood around and ogled the oddness of my squat. he told me to do sit-ups. i did twelve. he had to hold my feet. he told me to do iso rdl's. i said what the heck are iso rdl's. he showed me (they're a hamstring/glute exercise) and i did three sets of eight with no weight.

fast forward to now.

pushups: i can do four sets of ten (count em up, people! that's forty!!)
squats: i can do five sets of twelve strong, balanced squats with 30# weight.
sit-ups: i can do three sets of twenty unassisted sit-ups with 4# weight.
iso rdl's: i can do three sets of ten with 50# weight.

finally, after 8+ weeks of strength training my knee is feeling better. it's not perfect; if i walk or jog too much i get pain afterward. interestingly, though, my knee feels great after a strength workout. more than decreased pain in my knee, i'm happy with my overall improvement in strength. i can see a slight difference in body definition. i can feel muscles under the flab. i can carry my sixty-pound sons up the stairs without trouble. i've noticed a change in my mood and energy level. i'm thrilled to say i made it through this holiday season without gaining any weight!

i very much like utlizing a personal trainer. brandon is encouraging, supportive, informative. he knows what my specific body needs. it's nice not thinking about workouts - i simply do what he tells me to do - and he includes enough variety so i don't get bored and so my progress doesn't stagnate. most things he has me doing could be done at home. now that i've built up to weighted exercises i require gym equipment but that's not how i started out. here's an example of one of my very first workouts, which i did at home using a 5lb dumbbell:

active warm up (i do a shortened, modified version of this warm up. this is not my physical therapist talking in the video but this is the physical therapy clinic i go to. they have a patented way of doing PT and he talks a little bit about why)
body squats 4x12
walking lunges 3x8 each leg
reverse crunches 3x12
push ups 3x6
dumbbell rows 3x12
bicep curls 3x10
planks 3x30seconds
active cool down

brandon is accepting clients. he works with me on a semi-remote basis. i visit him twice/month at push performance in highlands ranch, colorado and the rest of the time he texts me workouts to do on my own. i'm sure he'd be willing to help you too. if you're interested in connecting with him feel free to email me at rwhite143 at gmail dot com and i'll pass along his contact info.

so it's been one year since i started getting physically fit. i've lost twenty pounds. i've gained a bunch of muscle. best of all, i can hang with the big boys at the gym.

the next step for me is to decrease my percentage of body fat, which is still too high even though i'm arguably in the best shape of my life. brandon says this will involve workouts that will totally suck, make me hate him and cause me to be dripping with sweat.

yeah....i'll let cha know how it goes.


Wednesday, February 18, 2015

on snowshoeing and life

my in-laws gave me snowshoes for christmas. i love them. i enjoy venturing out on saturday mornings while the boys are off on skiing adventures of their own. snowshoeing in winter is no more taxing than hiking in summer. the cool thing about it, at least in the area i've been walking, is that the snow cover, and therefore snowshoes, allow me to go places i cannot get to in warm months.

the national forest area across the street from our condo has clearly marked, well worn trails during summer but when snow hits it's a free for all. you can go wherever the heck you want as long as you're willing to put the work in to get there. after one of the first snows of the season i tried going for a walk on the land wearing only my boots. i hiked (slowly trudged) for thirty feet or so until i finally decided to turn around and follow my foot prints (the knee-deep holes i'd created) back to the sidewalk. snowshoes are very helpful tools.

over the past six weeks as i've logged more and more miles i've come to realize something: snowshoeing is like life.

sometimes you have to blaze your own trail.

sometimes it's better to follow the trails of others.

sometimes you have to backtrack.

sometimes you think you're on firm ground but suddenly find yourself thigh-deep in snow.

sometimes it's best to get the heck outta dodge.
(perhaps when you're alone in the forest and notice fresh moose tracks?)

sometimes you get carried away by the beauty around you (or the good company beside you) and you go too far. this can be a lovely thing (adventure!) but it can create unwanted consequences (steep hill!).

sometimes you have to take the bad with the good.

sometimes you just gotta sit down and take a breather.

when you don't know what to do
or when you're feeling blue
or when you're in need of something new
or when you're unsure which direction to take
or when you're afraid of the unknown
it's best to simplify things.

sometimes you just need to put one foot in front of the other.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

simple, cheap valentine's activity

i had to switch this photo to b&w so the red X's and O's would show up better against the red game board.

looking for an easy, inexpensive valentine's day game?
what if i told you it costs $1.50 and takes less than 5 minutes to create?

hugs & kisses tic-tac-toe!

here's what to do:

- drive to target, of course
- walk to the dollar spot
- find a $1 package of foam X's and O's (my pkg also contained sparkly lips. ooh la la.)
- walk to the office supplies section
- pick up one $.50 sheet of red poster board
- take supplies home
- cut a large heart out of the poster board
- draw a tic-tac-toe board on the heart
- ask your kids who wants to be HUGS and who wants to be KISSES
- listen to your kids fight over the HUGS because oh my goodness KISSES are the worst ever
- declare that whomever has KISSES gets make the first move
- take turns being KISSES/going first
- have fun!

i made two of these tic-tac-toe games for graham's kindergarten class to play with during their school valentine's day party.

nothing better than a simple game, presented in a special new way, to make the week of valentine's day a bit more fun for your kids!

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

books i read in january

the secret place by tana french - 

the secret place is a crime novel about four teenagers, the closest of friends, who attend st. kilda’s, an elite all-girls boarding school in dublin, ireland. a young man from the neighboring all-boys school was found dead on st. kilda's lawn nearly one year ago and the mystery of his murder has yet to be solved. one of the friends finds an anonymous note claiming to know details about the murder. she takes the card to a detective with whom she is familiar and that gets the ball on a going-nowhere investigation rolling again. 

i enjoyed reading to find out who knew what, who did what…all in all, a good murder mystery. there was a meta-physical aspect (think turning a light blub off with your mind) to the four girls’ relationship that i didn’t really understand. i think the book would have been just fine without it. as one who has been to and loved ireland, one of my favorite things about this book was reading the typically irish dialogue.

astonish me by maggie shipstead - 

this was my favorite of the bunch. it's one of the best books i've read in a long time. the writing was just so beautiful! here's a passage about something as ordinary as fetching and reading the mail (from page 90): 

“Elaine has the mailbox key and so is the one to collect the mail and so notices the new letters coming for Joan. They are exotic interlopers among ordinary white envelopes from Jacob and terse postcards from Joans’s mother: thick paper, odd sizes, European stamps, the address written with foreign flourishes by different hands. Elaine leaves the letters on the kitchen table. Joan takes them without comment and retreats behind the Indian cotton curtain that shields her bed. there is the sound of tearing, the rattle of paper, and then silence."

had i been telling the story i'm sure to have written something like "elaine was the roommate with the chore of checking the mail. she began to notice some strange letters arriving for joan and wondered what they were all about."

see the difference?



astonish me is a story about ballet, told through the life of joan. she is a professional ballerina but not a principal dancer; joan will forever be stuck in the core. when she finds herself pregnant she chooses to leave behind her first love, the ballet, and settle down into normal family life. as her son grows it becomes clear he is a gifted dancer and joan is brought back to the ballet, meshing together the two very different worlds she holds so dear.

i loved the plot, i loved the ending, i loved the writing. i just loved it all.

arranged by catherine mckenzie - 

this was a quick, easy, chick lit book. the story was typical - girl continually chooses the wrong boy, girl signs up for a dating service in hopes of meeting the right boy, girl discovers the dating service is really an arranged marriage service (what? crazy!) and decides to go for it anyway. girl finally meets the right boy. but, as the cover states, will it be happily ever after?

orange is the new black by piper kerman - 

a memoir by a WASPy new yorker who made the poor choice to knowingly assist a cartel by carrying drug money through airport customs. ten years and a whole new life later she faces the consequence of that act - 15 months in federal prison. this is the story of her time served. 

i was definitely interested to read about her experiences behind bars. what i found most intriguing were the friendships she cultivated there and her feelings that she was a better person for having met and done time with women who society typically tosses aside. also, i found it cool that the author now volunteers and lobbies to improve the broken prison system.

the book is very mild and tame compared to the netflix show of the same name, for which i was thankful. if you are curious about what it's like to be in prison (i think most of us are) this is a good read. 

the andy cohen diaries by andy cohen - 

i'm currently reading this; about one quarter of the way through. so far i'm just kinda meh about it and considering not finishing. usually i like celebrity gossip behind-the-scenes things (andy cohen is an executive producer for the bravo network which airs the real housewives series; has many celebrity friends) so i'm surprised this hasn't peaked my interest.