because reading 17 books at one time is normal.

Books are pretty rad, and libraries (and Amazon Prime) are immensely helpful in making my literary dreams come true. Growing up, I was quite the bookworm, preferring to read indoors (bless) rather than go on a family bike ride. And that was before the global warming days, back when it was PLEASANT OUTSIDE (typing this in mid-August from the comfort of my house while sipping iced coffee).

Back in the day, I’d ride my bicycle (minimum effort – we lived decently close) to the Gonzales Public Library* and would spend hours there reading, catching up on star stickers for whatever the summer reading program entailed, venturing into the reference section, and doing my best to avoid the grouchy librarian. (*woah – the library is now housed in the old bank building and looks niiiiice! Movin’ on up! I may have to go visit to witness their expanded collection firsthand.)

Side note: I never felt bad about incurring late fees, even as a child, despite the librarian’s best efforts to make me feel insignificant. Hello?!?! I’m helping support literacy! Not sure where I got this attitude, but it’s stuck with me into adulthood. Yeah, I’ve paid a lot of late fees. It sounds a lot better if you say I’m a very generous supporter of the literary arts….

The Shiner Public Library was somewhat of a step up from G-town’s, with friendlier staff (they actually smiled warmly at guests), a newer building, and my discovery of the Encyclopedia Britannica. This was in the pre-world wide web days, so flipping through those sets were kind of like how we google things nowadays. Let that sink in for a minute, oldtimers. Also, a lady who worked/volunteered there would cheerfully answer the phone, “Shiner Libary,” which I always found quite funny.

Fast forward a few years, past the discovery that you can check out 100 books if you wanted to at some of the larger libraries (instead of the 3 book limit I’d grown up with), past the advent of Amazon and their low prices and mega fast Prime deliveries, past speed reading books in grad school, crawling past the limited capacity of pregnancy brain then mommy brain then session, and now I don’t have a job and am finally able to focus enough to read at length again. And it is awesome, let me tell you.

Tim and I recently finished Ben Sasse’s The Vanishing American Adult: Our Coming-of-Age Crisis–and How to Rebuild a Culture of Self-Reliance (READ IT. IT IS VERY MUCH WORTH YOUR TIME). I loved his idea of developing a canon (list of top books you’d recommend to others), but now I think I’ve gone off the deep end in preparation for this list.

I’m reading 17 books right now. And no, I’m not some genius, I’m just immensely scatterbrained. I’ve never been in the process of reading so many books at once.

my current booklistThis is my current booklist. I’m reading all these right now.

From top left:

  1. Simplicity Parenting – recommended by a friend. Guessing the author wouldn’t recommend reading 17 books at one time.
  2. Half Broke Horses – written by author of The Glass Castle – it’s her maternal grandmother’s story about growing up in rural Texas. Fascinating thus far.
  3. For the Love – I’m developing a borderline obsession with Jen Hatmaker. I’m on the waiting list for her new book Of Mess and Moxie and am reading this in the meantime.
  4. Nothing to Prove – re-reading it, because it has become newly relevant in my new adventure, having resigned from the political world for awhile.
  5. Long Days of Small Things – recommended by another friend. Really wish I’d had this book when A was first born. So good.
  6. Bible – slowly reading and re-reading through this fascinating, encouraging, admonishing, transforming book that’s kind of a big deal.
  7. Diplomacy – This book is on my nightstand and is a wonderful cure for insomnia – I’m still less than an inch into this one.
  8. Present Over Perfect – reading this one again, too, and I’m becoming more confident that Shauna Niequist and I would be BFFs if ever given the chance.
  9. The Magic of Motherhood – full of short stories and essays that warm my heart and remind me to soak up these precious moments. Kind of like a Chicken Soup for the Mother’s Soul of sorts.
  10. Daring Greatly – Brene Brown and I, too, would be great friends. I’ve begun reading this book 3-4 times since meeting her at the book signing I stumbled upon at Book People 5 years ago, but it finally seems relevant at this stage of life. Funny how that works.
  11. Idols of the Heart – borrowed this from a friend and it is immensely convicting. So many idols.
  12. Designing Your Life – awesome book that makes me want to take a multi-day retreat and plan the heck out of life. Might be a good thing, might be dangerous. but intentionality is a very important thing!
  13. Cuba! – this is part cookbook, part storybook that has me wanting to go to Cuba RIGHT NOW.
  14. The Toddler Care Book – with lots of pictures so I don’t lose interest as I search for the things I am concerned about googling.
  15. Parenting – a gift at A’s dedication from our pastors. Tim and I are reading through this together. What an enormous responsibility and incredible opportunity parenting is!
  16. King Leopold’s Ghost – so help me, I’ll finish this book someday. Dark look at the slave trade in the Congo.
  17. The Search for Significance – totally pretending these are therapy sessions when I read this. One of the book’s main premises is that the world’s (and coincedentally my) definition of self-worth = performance + other’s opinions. Ouch. Very hard to break these patterns.

So that’s my list. An embarrassing amount of ineffective multi-tasking going on over here. At this rate, I might be finished with 1/3 of them by the end of the year. BUT I LOVE IT! So many books and topics and choices!!!

Ahem. Now allow me to brag about how incredible the Austin Public Library website is. It’s PHENOMENAL. You get your account, you log in, and you can type any book title or author and voila! You get a list of eBooks, downloadable audiobooks, audio CDs, and actual books. You can create your own “shelves” – I have a “for later” shelf of all the books I want to check out.

I can place holds on books, and if they aren’t located at a branch convenient to you, THEY WILL DELIVER IT TO YOUR BRANCH, email you when the books are ready, you walk over to the “on hold” section, find your name, and go over to the self-serve kiosk, scan your card and your books, and GO BACK HOME TO READ THEM. It is truly magical. I took a screenshot of my initial “for later” list because I was so excited.

austin public library bookshelf.PNG

What about you? What are the books you always share with everyone who asks for a recommendation? What are the books you’ve been eager to read but haven’t found the time? I love making these lists and would love to add any books you recommend!

 

 

put your phone down, people.

LET IT BE KNOWN that I am by no means a model citizen at what I’m about to get all preachy about, but after what I witnessed today, I’m making a massive change in how and where and when I use my smartphone.

I decided that A and I would have lunch at the Cafe Bistro inside Nordstrom today. It was a lovely treat; food was SO good, and A was immensely well-behaved, cheesing it up to the kind waiter and the neighboring tables and not throwing food. We were in the middle of an intense game of tic-tac-toe (kidding: she was taking the crayons out of the box and putting them back in ad nauseum) when I looked up to see FIVE tables around us with inhabitants on their smartphones.

Five.

It was gross.

Four of these tables consisted of moms with their kids. One lady was by herself so I’ll give her a pass. Acknowledging the irony that I was joining their ranks when I whipped out my phone to snap a photo of the perpetrators, I tried to sneakily capture as many tables as possible. Should have used the panorama function. Will work on stealth mode for doumentation in the future.

people on their phones at cafe bistroA and I shared some fries. Don’t judge.

Maybe I’m blowing this out of proportion. I clearly have no clue what’s happening in their lives. They could have all been corresponding with a dear family member or checking in on a sick friend….(one was perusing photos, so no excuses for her – girl yes I saw your screen)…. but I know what’s happening when I’m usually on my phone.

I mindlessly turn to my phone to fill the time, to numb my emotions, to distract me from annoyances, to feel important and check likes/follows/comments, to escape from the monotony… Sure, there is a great deal of good that these fascinating pieces of technology can foster, like facilitating meaningful, authentic connections with others, but I get sick to my stomach when I think of the hours I waste scrolling through other people’s lives when my life is passing by right on the other side of the screen.

Back to the restaurant. Holy cow, moms. Can you please pay attention to your children for the brief 30-45 minutes it takes to eat lunch? Summer is nearly over and your kids will be back in school. They, as you well know, grow up entirely too fast.

And we aren’t promised tomorrow, you know?

I’m thinking of people who have lost loved ones, who would give their right arm to have a child of their own, who missed their chance to apologize, who ache when they look back at how half-awake they lived their lives…

WHAT ARE WE DOING??!?!

Andy Crouch has a book called the Tech-Wise Family (here’s an article about it and here’s where you can get the book – I’m reading through some detailed book notes – shoot me a note and I can forward the notes to you!) that is gently convicting and contains practical ways to appropriately incorporate technology in our families.

So yeah. Lunch today was an odd and eerie look into other people’s lives and I couldn’t quite stomach it. This is a strange time! We are becoming programmed to be so incredibly dependent on our smartphones and many of us are missing the lives that are right in front of us. After today’s observation, I’m massively curbing my smartphone use, especially in front of A.

Does anyone have any other tips or tricks for being available but not glued to their phone? I need some help in this department. And some mental discipline, big time.

rufus the low maintenance dog

NOTE: I’d already begun this post when we ran to Lowe’s to get some paint samples. After witnessing a non-service fifi dog POOP ON THE GROUND IN THE PAINT AISLE and its owner shoot me this knowing sort of “kids will be kids” look, I thought, yeah, this is a good day for a dog post. ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!?!?!

If I were to fill in the blank in this sentence, “You know I love you if I ________” it would hands down be “pet your dog and feign interest in its wellbeing.” It’s no secret that dogs, especially fifi dogs, aren’t my jam.

Oh sure, I like the idea of having a dog. Guard dog, protector of the house/yard, one that can be sweet to A and she can grow up with, that sort of thing. But truth be told, I’m not really a dog person (or an animal person. I wanted to be a veterinarian when I was little, but that’s a different story I’ll delve into some other time). Oh, and I’m allergic to pet dander. And I’m an adult. And I am my own person. GOSH! Ahem.

A likes dogs. Whenever we see one out and about, she starts flapping her arms and saying, “a-DUH! a-DUH!” and T translates that to meaning that we need to get her a dog. T likes the idea of a dog, too, more so than I do, though the irreconcilable difference between us is that he sees no problem with it being an indoor dog. THIS HILL I SHALL DIE ON.

(I could go on but I’m just going to transition to the main point of this post).

Enter a stunning display of compromise by yours truly.

In a trip to Target yesterday to get one thing (a $.95 ball for A and take a guess at how much I ended up spending on other “necessities” Target convinced me I needed), we came home with this little Cabbage Patch puppy. Adopt-a-pet or something. We call him Rufus.

Rufus the low maintenance dog

He can softly bark, make sniffing noises, and in a weird Scooby-Doo voice can say, “rhy ruv ruu.” No pet dander, no bodily functions to worry about. We can even take him into Lowe’s and…well, I’ve staved off the “we should really get A a dog” discussion for a while. And she’s learning how to “feed” and “groom” him with the little bowl and brush it came with! Teaching her responsibility. All in a day’s work and another MOM WIN.

 

grown-up dates

Is it not incomprehensibly odd that one can go from being a rather carefree, spontaneous dreamer and planner and goer-onner of dates, dates that didn’t seem to require a whole lot of preparation, time, or money….. to getting tired just thinking of going down the babysitter list, much less planning and executing a one-on-one hangout with one’s favorite person?

Asking for a friend. Who is very tired.

But seriously. Am I viewing the past with too many warm fuzzies? Perhaps. Or is this just how it is, life with more wrinkles? With a kid? With a husband? Can I find a way to blame Trump for this? I shall try.

Between being physically and mentally spent at the end of the day, oftentimes the last thing I want to do is get gussied up, wear uncomfortable shoes (that is, anything besides no shoes or flip flops), put the baby to bed, brief the babysitter, spend entirely too much money on mediocre food, worry the baby has woken up and the babysitter can’t get her back to sleep, oh and try to be engaging and perky and maintain lively conversation when what sounds most enticing is a bottle of red wine and a tub of cookie dough allll to myself, comfy PJs, and falling asleep watching a movie?!

Sure, we go out. But I have to drink a substantial amount of coffee in the afternoon if there is any hope that I don’t crash before 8pm. And going out for a drink seems kinda pointless when we can drink at home for much, much cheaper (cue yet another rant at these prices these days while looking at the menu). I am sometimes brave enough to google these things to get some inspiration so it’s not just another dinner date, but am usually so apathetic and exhausted after reading through these chipper young’uns’ posts and their endless energy that I need to take a nap.

I SHALL NOT let this be the rest of adulthood, SO HELP ME. Therefore, be it resolved, instead of feeling like I’m starting from scratch/exhaustion every time it’s time to plan a date, double date, party, what have you, I’m going to make a LIST. And I’m going to share it with you, because SURELY I’m not the only one?? And I need your help. Austin-centric ideas are very much appreciated, but if you have any fun date ideas whatsoever, would you please shoot me a note or write in the comments?

Here are some ideas I’d like to try soon:

  • Nighttime kayaking on Town Lake
  • Movie matinee (daytime, so I don’t fall asleep, duh)
  • Come up with our own bucket list
  • Paint at one of those painting places
  • Segway tour and not fall off
  • Drive-in movie
  • Help out with social times at a nursing home
  • Obnoxious duck tour and get really into using the duck call
  • Progressive food trailer dinner
  • Third Thursdays (are free!) at the Blanton Museum
  • Takeout/picnic in a nearby park
  • Brewery tour
  • Winery trip
  • Improv comedy show
  • Friday night high school football game (letter jacket optional)
  • Two-stepping at Broken Spoke
  • Swing dance lessons at the Texas Federation of Womens Clubs Mansion (ahem, where we got married!)
  • Pay attention to stars, comets, meteors and go stargazing somewhere hilly
  • Austin Symphony
  • Take a community class through ACC

What about you?? Anything to add to my meager list above??

why we should start a garden in august

These are my backyard plants.

plants1

Punk petunias, if you couldn’t tell. They are scrappy little guys, both having seemed to resurrect Lazarus style once this summer, so I’m still holding on to hope. I’m pretty sure the rosebush I planted this spring is (also) dead, but it’s hard to get a good view of it from the deck, so maybe I’m wrong. I’ll spare you the carnage of the suffering snapdragon plant in the front yard, but come on over for a visit and you can see it in all its glory.

Point is, watering plants is apparently more than I can handle. So what do I do? Set out to transform our yard into an oasis of green grass and colorful petals and creeping vines, and I can actually envision all this, thanks to Pinterest. Granted, the photos of these yards don’t tell the whole story… for starters, they are likely MAINTAINED BY PROFESSIONALS (or people who pay attention to their plants like it’s their job and have nothing else to do). And these yards are probably not in Texas in August.

yeard3My focus is on vegetables and herbs because I’m passionate about being practical like that. (picture links to the pinned website)

yard4This! I can so do this!! (picture links to the pinned website)

I have many more pins of inspiration, but that board is private…. I don’t want to ruin the before and after photos for you.

Ok first things first. I need a landscape architect to tell me what areas of the yard can grow what type of plants. Then I need the already-mature plants to appear tomorrow or so (I’ve been thinking about this for awhile, so I’m ready for those plants to BE HERE!) Then, I’ll need them to water themselves while not adding to our water bill, weed themselves, prune themselves, fend off any ants or snakes or rodents or birds, and produce grocery store quality produce in the first week or so so I don’t lose interest.

Pinterest is so empowering!! I can do this!!

stay in your lane.

I thoroughly enjoy helping other people stay on track. I was an impeccable teacher’s pet/tattle tale back in my day and I’ve carried those tendencies with me into adulthood. The whole log-in-my-eye-speck-in-your-eye-concept was so confusing to me growing up. Um, Bible? That is backwards: all these other people have the planks, and – lucky me! – I actually don’t have any specks.

Ahem. I’m really fun to live with.

There is a rather busy intersection between our home and all the things, and it is IMPERATIVE, I TELL YOU, to be paying attention to get through the light – especially the left turn lanes – in a timely fashion. To be fair, a number of people (cough myself included sometimes cough) often languish in their cars, distracted by a cell phone, a screaming child in the backseat, what have you, and miss the light.

BUT NOT TODAY. Emily the Alert One was at the wheel, judging all nearby drivers who were not on their game (bad Austin driver post some other time, trust me). So I was in my lane, set to head straight through the light (it was red). I was next to a car in the left-turn-only lane (green light) and this lady was immersed in her smart phone for a good while. All the cars in front of her had gone, we’re talking a good 6 car lengths between her and the intersection. And she just sat there.

Being the hyper-vigilant human I happened to be at the moment, I laid on my horn AND I WASN’T EVEN BEHIND HER (Translation: my ability to get to where I was going was in no way affected by her). Oh yeah, and no one was behind her. She, startled, looked up and sped through the intersection, barely making the by-this-time-it-was-yellow light.

Maybe she was grateful, but I was dumbfounded. At myself. Sure, I’ve laid on the horn plenty of times to get people moving and don’t feel at all bad about it (the uncannily palpable incompetency of Austin drivers WILL be a future post, ok?! Can’t deal today!). But this? Someone in another lane? The phrase “stay in your lane” hung over my head the rest of that drive and I felt like I’d reached a new low in getting involved in other people’s business.

Garage sale sign taker-downer? Other lanes of traffic honker atter? Do we see a pattern, friends?! Emily, stay in your lane, please.

And everyone said, “Amen.”

garage sale signs

I love a good garage sale, but y’all. Can we get some sort of garage sale sign PSA out to the masses? The number of poorly written/designed/secured signs advertising garage sales in my neighborhood is ridiculous. NOT TO MENTION the ones for sales that have already happened. PAST TENSE.

garage saleNo.

Do you think you get paid just for putting the signs out?!? How else are people supposed to know where/when to go? YOUR ONE JOB is to make a good sign so people can come buy your junk that isn’t good enough to sell on Craigslist (or you are too lazy to post). YOU WILL BE JUDGED by the quality of your signs, people.

Please allow me a few pointers to assist the people who apparently have a good deal of trouble in this department (granted, that’s not you, because you are smart and resourceful, as evidenced by you reading my blog right now, so I’m not really sure how this will get to them…. but it’s cathartic to make this list nonetheless.)

Top 5 Tips to Remember When Making Your Garage Sale Sign:

  1. Do not use a poster (or construction paper ARE YOU KIDDING ME) of any kind without some support. This is Texas. It is hot and humid and windy and rainy, and that was just this morning (har har). Use some common sense and use something more substantial. Thanks.
  2. Don’t use that cardboard-backed paper either. When the elements meet your sign, the paper will lift from the backing and be just like the poster in #1 but uglier and more like paper. Funny story: we were driving home from our vacation and saw a “MOVING SALE!” sign near our house. It was on this type of paper and the street number was the same as ours and the first letter of the street name was the same as ours…. the rest was folded back from view. I was terrified that someone had broken in to our home while we were gone and had hosted a moving sale earlier that day. Drove the final five blocks back to our house in sheer panic.
  3. Put the date of your garage sale, people. Saturday is a great day to have a sale, but we do get quite a few of these each year now, so be more specific.
  4. While we’re at it, a timeframe helps. It will help you, too, so creeps aren’t a’creepin’ at your house before or after the sale is going on.
  5. AND FOR THE LOVE, if you put a sign out, be sure to do AMERICA a favor and take it down once your sale is over! This will prevent getting people’s hopes up only to be dashed when they go through the trouble of getting out of their car and unrolling your poorly secured sign. ALSO, it becomes LITTER (or something) once the event has passed. The sign referenced in #2 above? Yeah that was two weeks ago and it’s still out. Being “that neighbor” who goes around taking down old garage sale signs isn’t really the route I want to go, but IAMTHISCLOSE, so help me.

 

seeds from mr. fisher

On one of our morning walks, an elderly man smiled and waved while he watered his front flowerbeds.

When I snapped out of my eyes-glued-to-phone trance (guilty) and asked him how he was, he said, “Worried my flowers will die from all this heat! I’ve given up on watering my yard. You like those flowers?”

He gestured toward two bush-like clumps – one yellow, one orange. I wasn’t sure which one he was talking about, so I enthusiastically answered, “Yes, they’re beautiful!”

Pride-of-Barbados(Photo taken from a page on the Bexar County Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service site – thanks for sharing this info!)

“Would you like some seeds? Hold on a minute.” He scurries into his garage and I’m standing in his driveway for enough time to make me wonder if he’d collapsed somewhere in there and I should go find him. Thank goodness I have A in the stroller so I’m not just standing there… I don’t know what to do with my hands….rock the stroller back and forth and look normal…. (gosh I’m not very comfortable just “being” 91% of the time).

He finally reappeared, said he couldn’t find the seeds, but that he would put them out for me on his front porch. “Come back by here – there will be a medicine bottle on my front porch full of seeds – those are for you!”

I’m thinking, ummm great. Some random medicine bottle with his confidential prescription info on it and pill-like seeds in it and I’m just supposed to take them off his porch?! Thanks but no thanks, sir. Smile and nod.

I introduced A to him, and he thought I said her name was “Anna Lee.” Said that’s also the name of a famous ship in the Mississippi? Must research.

We then discussed everything that seemed to pop into his mind, from his service to our country (Armed Forces, Postal Service, Social Security Administration), to his pride in ensuring all grandkids made it through college (and now he’s working saving for his great-grandchildren), to his wife’s passing in 2006 from Alzheimer’s and how hard it’s been on him. He said he’ll be 91 this year – OH MAY I PLEASE REMEMBER to bring this sweet soul a card on December 17th!

We parted ways and were probably 5 gone for minutes, down on another street when I hear, “ANNA LEE!!! ANNA LEE!!!” I turn around to see Mr. Fisher on a bicycle (photo below – HOW CUTE IS THIS?!?!).

With a childlike enthusiasm and a very proud “I found them!” he handed me a medicine bottle marked “Pride of Barbados” with the seed count noted on the side. He gave me planting instructions and told me to pass the rest of the seeds on to my friends once I was done and to take care. Just like that, he took off and headed back to his house.

Mr. Fisher

So I’m going to plant me some Pride of Barbados seeds out of this medicine bottle and see what happens. Anyone else want to join me?? I have 51!!

Barbados seeds

that’s enough.

Y’all. I promise this isn’t going to turn into a political, polemical blog. I hate politics. POLICY is exciting and challenging. POLITICS makes me sick at my stomach. But this is really about something else.

Human decency.

This heartbreaking thing made the news today. Sadly, this happens more often than we care to admit. Before you start rehearsing your cleverly compelling stance on comprehensive immigration reform in the mirror, would you just take a moment with me to imagine what it was like inside of that truck? What it’s like to watch people die right in front of you? What it’s like to go in and out of consciousness, your body on the verge of heat exhaustion as you are banged around in the back of a truck, then sit cooking in a parking lot for hours? Wondering who is going to pick you up and if you’ll be in any better a situation than where you came from? Wondering if you’ll even make it out alive?

It’s hard to imagine because many of us have things pretty dang easy in America compared to this. And it’s apparently pretty dang easy for us to jump to conclusions, assuming these people were on a joy ride, heading for our sanctuary cities like they were on their way to some pathetically gluttonous hot dog eating contest.

Maybe these poor souls were trying to escape horrendous conditions and start a new life. Maybe they’d been trafficked (THAT IS JUST ANOTHER WORD FOR SLAVERY, PEOPLE) from their homes and families. Maybe they were taking a massive risk, trying to provide for their family the only way they thought they could. Or maybe they were wanting to enroll their kids in our public school system, ranked 43rd in the US. Yeah, that’s probably it.

And maybe the driver knew what cargo he was pulling. Maybe his heart is more evil than we can fathom. Maybe he’s in the trafficking ring. Or maybe the cartels have threatened his loved ones and in making this trip he was just trying to keep his own family safe from harm.

The point is, there are lots of unknowns. In this tragedy and in countless situations in our world. ENOUGH of rushing to cover our tails or make ourselves or our legislative initiatives look great or passing judgement on others without knowing all the facts. What if we would first take a deep breath and imagine just for a moment what it might be like to be in someone else’s shoes? And not posture or make things political? Can we please try that?

“When I was a boy
and would see scary
things in the news,
my mother would
say, ‘Look for the
helpers. You will
always find people
who are helping.'”
~ Fred Rogers

There are a number of brave people across the globe that are committed to helping. In the story above, I’m thinking of San Antonio Police Chief McManus and Fire Chief Hood  – good men who do hard things every day to make their community a better place.

Here are some other helpers: International Justice Mission is an organization that partners with justice systems around the world to help victims of violence. They fight slavery. Learn more here.  The Polaris Project works to eradicate modern slavery and they have a big focus on the United States. Check them out here. There are so many ways to get involved: you can donate your time or money, work for them, learn about how to spot a victim of trafficking, contact your state and federal legislators to let them know your stance on various pieces of legislation, and you can always tell others about these groups. There’s the National Human Trafficking Hotline. in Austin, there is Refugee Services of Texas and Allies Against Slavery. These are just a few off the top of my head – please let me know if there are others I should include!

This is bigger than Republican vs. Democrat, Liberal vs. Conservative, Texas vs. Everyone Else. This is about human decency. And that’s enough.

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