Flashback: July 2006

IMG_0525

IMG_0523

IMG_0530

IMG_0532

How seriously cute are these little dudes? They are two of my nephews, Spencer and Jacob, and they certainly aren’t camera shy. Or at least they weren’t, considering these photos were taken almost nine years ago (!) I can’t believe it.

I have a tendency to poke through old pictures, reliving my favorite memories and marveling at how my family and I have evolved. I tend to get lost in these moments for hours at a time. For me, it’s very cathartic.

These pictures were taken at the Kansas Speedway one very, very hot summer day. For his birthday my dad was treated to a few laps around the racetrack, courtesy of my brothers. He was thrilled if not also a little nauseous at the prospect. I’m pretty sure he had a great time though. Right, dad?!

IMG_0543

 

IMG_0544

IMG_0546Aren’t these fun? Do you ever fall into a rabbit hole of reminiscing and looking back through pictures?

What are you up to this weekend? We are having dinner out with friends tonight and then going to another friend’s house tomorrow night for pulled pork burritos. I’ve felt extra lonely these past couple of weeks so I’ve been doubling-down on friend time. While it’s been so, so good to be back in Switzerland, the transition hasn’t been as smooth as I was hoping it would be. I’m sure it will just take a little time to find our rhythm again.

Wishing you and yours a very happy weekend!

 

A Love Gift

IMG_7047

 

IMG_7053

 

IMG_7063

 

IMG_7065

 

IMG_7077

 

IMG_7090

Adam surprised me with a sweet love gift on Tuesday evening–an Aeroccino! It’s Nespresso’s high-tech version of a milk frother and I couldn’t be more excited about it. In less than a minute it transforms cold milk–like straight-from-the-fridge cold–into warm frothy milk and foam, perfect for at-home cappuccinos. My morning routine just got a lot more decadent.

p.s. It would make a lovely Mother’s Day gift, which isn’t necessarily upon us, but in the not-so-distant future…

Tuesday Book Club: January, February, and March

bookshelf

While we were back in Kansas for January and February I managed to read quite a few books, not to mention countless magazines. At first I wasn’t sure I would be able to focus on something with my full attention, what with my mind going a million directions and constantly being distracted by the many goings on of the hospital. But, as it turns out, waiting in the hospital or hotel or airport provides ample time to check out an exhaustive list of books.

I’m still working on reading 40 new books this year and I’ve got a pretty good start on the goal. I’ll need to pick up the pace a bit here, but I’m happy to give it a go. All in the name of research… I decided to compile all the books in one post as opposed to writing about each separately. Here goes!

1. Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie–According to the New York Times, “‘Americanah’ examines blackness in America, Nigeria and Britain, but it’s also a steady-handed dissection of the universal human experience — a platitude made fresh by the accuracy of Adichie’s observations.” It’s a powerful book about race, class, wealth, and a reckoning within oneself. Ifemelu’s and Obinze’s journeys explore and critique what it means to be both a resident and an outsider. The prose is beautiful and eloquent, yet biting and excoriating at turns. Adiche manages to critique society without alienating herself from it. Her book stayed with me long after I finished it and I’d highly recommend it.

2. Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann– Wendy MacLeod for NPR writes, “If at first I feared that McCann’s prismatic approach to New York would be dutifully multicultural, I came away dazzled by his ability to capture the voices of uptown and downtown: the prostitutes, immigrants, socialites and aspiring artists. Although we complain about the ongoing gentrification of New York City, McCann reminds us that in 1974, the deteriorating, bankrupt city was a difficult place to live.” McCann captures the lives of a seemingly random group of people a single day in 1974, the day Phillippe Petit tightrope walked between the World Trade Center buildings (a real-life event you can learn more about through the incredible documentary Man on Wire). Let the Great World Spin is a meditative novel exploring our interconnectedness and our simultaneous solitude. It’s a haunting book that left me restless and a little anxious. I would definitely recommend it.

3. I Feel Bad About My Neck by Nora Ephron– I’m positive I’m not the target demographic for this essay collection, but I’d heard so much about it over the years that I couldn’t help picking up the slim book at the bookstore while we were home. Unfortunately, even if I had waited 30 years to read it I’m not sure I would have enjoyed it much more. It felt overly whiny and critical. What could have been read as self-deprecating, I perceived as pretentious bordering on obnoxious. I just didn’t enjoy it to be frank. I know it’s a seminal work for female memoirs and essays, but I can’t get on board.

4. Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed–I LOVED this book. Strayed is candid and compassionate as an advice columnist for The Rumpus, yet never condescending to her readers. She was revealed as the source behind the Dear Sugar column long after people submitted their queries, and reading a collection of some of the more inspiring correspondence letters was engaging and illuminating to the universal human experience. Anna Holmes for the New York Times says, “It’s backbreaking, no doubt: not just the work of writing, but the taking of complete strangers’ very real yet muddled pain, untying the knots and threads of their anguish and then doling out little, lovely pieces of yourself to them. The book’s disclosures — on the part of both the writer and her correspondents — is ultimately courageous and engaging stuff.” Oh, please read this book. I gave my copy to a friend because I couldn’t stand to not share it, but I’m picking up another for myself. I know this is a book I’ll turn to again and again throughout my life.

5. Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan–Things were getting a bit heavy at the hospital and I needed something light. Crazy Rich Asians delivers with a dramatic and cheeky–not to mention deliciously gossipy–story about the astronomically wealthy sect in Singapore and China. Its absurdity and humor were just what I needed to pass some stressful time in the hospital and I imagine it’s a great read for the beach or any kind of travel.

6. She’s Come Undone by Wally Lamb–Dolores Price is an unforgettable narrator. She’s snarky, critical, and totally batshit. The novel is over 20 years old, but the coming-of-age story is both timeless and relatable. I definitely got a sense of The Catcher in the Rye, but also of grand sweeping epic novels. It’s a true bildungsroman told through a sarcastic, heartbreaking lens. It was the third selection for Oprah’s Book Club (an obviously prestigious honor : ); according to the selection committee, “Through one thousand and one television nights, Dolores feeds herself the fantasies of melodramas and sitcoms and tries to understand the many faces of love and betrayal…What follows — obesity, sexual ambiguity, self-delusion, and madness — is the precursor to a radiant rebirth. It is not without labor pains, this new awakening.” The novel is disturbing and upsetting at parts, and I was often left feeling distressed by Dolores’ behaviors. But she is a redeeming character and you can’t help but root for her and cheer her on. It’s not for everyone, but for those looking for a passionate and challenging coming-of-age story I would definitely recommend it.

7. Brain on Fire by Susannah Cahalan–When New York Post journalist Susannah Cahalan was 24 she started having inexplicable seizures, mood swings and paranoid episodes. What was initially misdiagnosed as alcohol withdrawal soon developed into a full-blown mental meltdown. For a full month Cahalan “went mad” and completely blacked out from all her experiences, including recovery from invasive brain surgery. This memoir is a fascinating look at brain chemistry and the body’s capacity to attack itself. Cahalan’s family’s perseverance and commitment to her literally saved her life, and she is able to tell the story of her month of madness with bravery and composure. This book is as engrossing for its science and research as its compelling narrative.

8. We Are Not Ourselves by Matthew Thomas–If forced to make a comparison, I would suggest that We Are Not Ourselves is like Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections without the pervasive thread of black comedy. And while comparisons may not be fully apt here considering that the book as already been deemed a “masterwork” and “instant classic” by its own right, a nod in the direction of Franzen isn’t a bad way to go in my extremely humble opinion. The novel explores several generations of an Irish-American immigrant family in New York. When Eileen Leary’s projected ideas American domestic bliss fail to live up to the promise she expected she must find a way to reconcile her dreams with her reality. It’s an absorbing tale of commitment and family and American ideology. I loved it–though it’s certainly not upbeat–and I would recommend it fully.

9. The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty– This was an airport purchase along the same vein as Crazy Rich Asians. I was looking for something a little more tame and not as literarily-minded as some of the other intense books I’d been reading. Again, not super upbeat, but a dramatic and insistent story. Cecelia finds a letter written by her husband that is not to be read until after his death. Except she reads it well before he dies and it changes everything. There’s a lot of heartbreak and pain in the book, but it’s well written and engaging. Pick it up if you’re looking for a page-turner.

 

So, we’ve made some progress! What are you reading? Any good recommendations?

 

 

Monday Music

These are the tunes I’ve been listening to lately. Perfect for

feeling a little moody:

ethereal what-does-it-all-mean contemplation hour:

appreciating a solid xylophone intro:

finding a new song to have stuck in your head all day. In the best way. Also, girl power:

the double feature! (can’t pick just one…)

singing your sweet heart out:

karaoke:

a walk around the neighborhood:

What are you listening to? I’m always looking for new tunes!

Life, Recently

Laax

Barring people who cut in line and chew with their mouths open, forgetting all those episodes when your technology won’t work and you are entirely ill-equipped to handle the situation (both logically and emotionally), and excluding moments of deep forgetfulness wherein it seems that everything you ever set down will never be found again, it is in fact life’s unpredictabilities, its curveballs if you will, that are perhaps the most unnerving.

At the beginning of this year Adam’s dad suffered a major stroke, the magnitude of which was initially unclear. It was clear, however, that we needed to be home right away. We headed back to Kansas after being in Switzerland for only ten days and remained there for exactly two months. Those two months were, without any hint of doubt, the hardest and most challenging of our lives.

The stroke, a hugely traumatic event in itself, led to more complications than we could have ever imagined, and thus led to more anxiety, worry, and frustration. Frustration because we felt helpless and scared and vulnerable. We learned medical jargon, read up on the brain, and educated ourselves as thoroughly as we could. We all became immersed in the density that encompasses recovery from the edge of the unknown.

It was a frightening time and I won’t go in to the emotional hijinks that overwhelmed us each day (and, if I’m being completely honest, continue to in some degree to this day). Instead, I’m focusing on the positive, the remarkable, the miraculous. Adam’s dad is in recovery now and growing stronger each day. He is fighting a seemingly impossible battle to reclaim his life that was disrupted beyond our imaginings only a few months ago. He is doing better and feeling better, and we continue to count our most precious blessings every day.

Life’s unpredictabilities are powerful and humbling experiences. We like to think we have a plan, a program in place to stave off the creeping boredom and at-times numbing monotony that inevitably takes over our quotidian life. Plans and structure give us a sense of control in a chaotic society, so it’s no wonder we cling to them so fiercely. But what I have learned recently is that no plan is the best plan. Not in a nihilist, complete laissez faire sense, but in a way that helps me relinquish some control and loosen my grip on what I think the next year, five years, ten years, should look like. “Should”, right? What a funny, complex word that can complete derail our best intentions.

It feels like we’ve had some really rotten luck this year, in areas both big and small. It can be easy to feel discouraged and hopeless, and sometimes indulging in those dramatic feelings can be cathartic and generous to one’s fragile self. But–and go with me on this–attitude is everything. Embracing the positive throughout the negative, looking for signs of goodness and strength in the bleakest of moments are when we define who we are and the impact we make on our world. Acknowledge the heartache, the sadness, the absolute crumminess of what is out there–do not deny what is truly there!–yet refuse to let it determine your course. There are beacons of hope and glimmers of positivity in the worst moments we face. Maybe they don’t always coincide, and maybe we have to give them time to show themselves, but they are there.

Whatever you are facing, or have yet to face this year, that is especially challenging and overwhelming, please know that you are not alone with your grief. It can be hard to talk about these events; they are revealing and exposing, making us more sensitive to criticism and pain. But they are a part of life, and we are all experiencing life in varying degrees. I find comfort in that universality.

I’m happy to be back in this space. I look forward to making it a positive and upbeat journal, but also one that acknowledges the grittier aspects of our life. I’ve been reading a ton so there are quite a few editions of Tuesday Book Club that I must attend to. I haven’t shared our wedding photos, which I am eager to do. And Adam and I have some pretty exciting travel coming up this year, so of course we will have pictures and travelogues to share. 2015 has been rough so far, but I’m hopeful that it’s going to shine bigger and brighter for us soon.

Tuesday Book Club: Final Count

IMG_6260

IMG_1476

IMG_5888

IMG_5602One of my resolutions this year was to read 40 new books. I felt optimistic about this arbitrary number, but I unfortunately fell short of my goal, reading only 34 new books in 2014. Maybe it was because I read a number of books that were either 1,000+ pages or just under that. Maybe it was because I didn’t feel as challenged in my personal reading. Or maybe that’s just too many books for me to read in one year.

Hopefully not, because I’m going to push myself to actually read 40 new books in 2015. That’s one of my resolutions for the new year, along with attempting to eat more fruit (again!), find more charitable opportunities and watch church regularly.

Have you set any resolutions? Are you a goal-setter? Adam and I talked about ours the other night over dinner and we agreed that it’s easier to follow them if they are quantifiable. That is, “go to the gym” or “work out” are too vague as resolutions and can make success feel too flimsy. Instead, it’s helpful to phrase it as, “I will work out twice a week,” or in my case, “I will eat fruit 4 times a week.” (You guys. I know that’s insane because you are supposed to eat like 4 servings a day, but honestly, fruit is a toughy for me. I could eat veggies all day long, though). Anyway, I’ve found that putting parameters on a resolution will help me stay more consistent and transition it into my daily routine more fluidly.

If you’ve been following along with the book club then you’ll have some idea of all the books I read this year, but I thought it would be nice to get them all in a list here since I abandoned the Book It page. Should I just take that thing down because I’m truly terrible about updating it? Maybe there’s a new resolution in there…

Below is the list of 34 new books I read this year. I put an asterisk by the books I would highly recommend and you can follow the link to read more of what I had to say about them. In sum, I’m happy with the variety of books I read. You may remember that I’ve posed a challenge to myself to actively stray away from the contemporary fiction I’m so drawn to from time to time. I’m happy that I branched out a bit this year and plan to continue to do so. Read deeply and widely might be the motto.

  1. Martha Quest, Doris Lessing
  2. The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared, Jonas Jonasson
  3. Goodbye to All That: Writers on Loving and Leaving New York, ed. by Sari Botton
  4. The Mistress’ Daughter, A.H. Homes
  5. Dear Life: Stories, Alice Munro*
  6. The Goldfinch, Donna Tartt*
  7. Sisterland, Curtis Sittenfeld
  8. The Time Between, Karen White
  9. The Skies Belong to Us, Brendan I. Koerner
  10. The Luminaries, Eleanor Catton*
  11. Oblivion, David Foster Wallace
  12. The Engagements, J. Courtney Sullivan
  13. Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald, Therese Anne Fowler
  14. The Year of Magical Thinking, Joan Didion
  15. The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell*
  16. Eleanor & Park, Rainbow Rowell
  17. Still Life With Bread Crumbs, Anne Quindlen
  18. A Tale for the Time Being, Ruth Ozeki*
  19. Life After Life, Kate Atkinson*
  20. Beloved, Toni Morrison
  21. The Moment, Douglas Kennedy
  22. Nineteen Eighty-Four, George Orwell
  23. &Sons, David Gilbert
  24. The Little Friend, Donna Tartt
  25. Maine, J. Courtney Sullivan
  26. The Vacationers, Emma Straub
  27. We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, Karen Joy Fowler*
  28. The Signature of All Things, Elizabeth Gilbert
  29. Not That Kind of Girl, Lena Dunham*
  30. Mao’s Last Dancer, Li Cunxin
  31. What Alice Forgot, Liane Moriarty
  32. The Circle, Dave Eggers
  33. 1Q84, Haruki Murakami
  34. The Hundred-Year House, Rebecca Makkai

There were a few stunners on the list–The Goldfinch, The Luminaries, Life After Life–that really dazzled and excited me, and of course there were also a few that disappointed–1Q84, for being well over 1,000 pages, what did you really have to offer? But therein lies the joy of reading: the surprises and the development of taste and expectations. Reading never fails to amaze and inspire me, which is why I will continue to push myself to read more and read more widely.

What were your favorite books of the year? Any that you would recommend? I’m looking for contenders for next year’s list : )

Happy reading!

Christmas This Year

IMG_6715

IMG_6750

It’s hard for me to talk about going home for the holidays without tearing up. This year felt more emotional because I was experiencing especially strong pangs of homesickness this December and the anticipation of spending time with my family and friends was causing some restless nights. Of course, once I arrived the two weeks at home flew by and leaving home left me an even more emotional mess. I just wasn’t ready to leave.

There are certain times, though they are few, thankfully, where I truly wonder what we’re doing over here. Are we living our best life this far away from our nearest and dearest? Wouldn’t we be happier at home? There is no right answer. When I’m zipping across Europe by rail or snuggled up at home while it snows here in Switzerland, everything feels good deep down in my gut. I feel balanced. And then something happens, not even something catastrophic necessarily, and I question our motives and logic.

What usually calms me down when I feel this panic rising is that nothing lasts forever and I’m not the only one grappling with these conflicting feelings. I am happy here. I love living in Switzerland. And I love my family and friends and spending masses of meaningful time with them. I feel pulled in opposing directions, but ultimately content with where we are now. Being at home riles up all these thoughts in me and I can’t help feeling contemplative and nostalgic, the natural end-of-year reflection only exacerbating this exercise.

 

IMG_2249

 

IMG_2250

sisters^^Courtney and I went to a Christmas party and I still don’t know what we dressed up as

All told, I had a wonderful time at home. Lots of quality time with friends and family, eating all my favorite foods and indulging in holiday delights, shopping trips, sister sleepovers, reality TV with my mom and general merriment and fun.

We spent some great time at Adam’s house and reveled in the relaxation. We celebrated Christmas a few days early, though it felt just like the real day with a big breakfast in the morning and a lazy afternoon of movies and lounging.

My family has the big to-do on Christmas Eve with my brothers and their families and all the siblings. We have brisket, cheesy potatoes, pie, cookies and presents before going to service in the evening. Christmas day is more relaxed; we usually see a movie in the afternoon (this year it was Big Eyes–recommend!) and find a time to open presents at home either in the morning or evening.

I took a healthy amount of photos while I was at home, but discovered this weekend, when I downloaded all the images, that I had my settings all wonky and only a handful of them turned out. So many of them are overly yellow and blurry and it pains me to see so many memories fuzzed out. I’m sharing them anyway, despite of my lack of attention to detail, if you’d like to see what we got up to at home. Get ready for the photo overload…

IMG_6659^^Louis, Erin’s dog, is the best male model

IMG_6666

IMG_6639^^a picture recreating a picture

IMG_6696

IMG_6706

IMG_6710

toast^^European beers are great and all, but nothing has the crispness of a PBR ; )

IMG_6720

IMG_6726

IMG_6756

IMG_6775

IMG_6766

IMG_6779

IMG_6794

IMG_6798

IMG_6800

IMG_6805^^for every one nice, normal photo of us there’s a good smattering of “outtakes” that no one seems to love as much as us

IMG_6846

IMG_6816^^when we went to Greece this summer we bought my dad a 20-year-old bottle of Vinsanto, a dessert wine. Standing in line to check my bag so we could bring it home nearly caused us to miss our flight, so this thing was worth a lot. We were happy to finally get to open it up and enjoy!

IMG_6828^^my dad has a fondness for creepy woodland animals

IMG_6855

IMG_6860

IMG_6869

IMG_6886^^teaching two of the triplets how to misbehave at Grandpa’s house

IMG_6888^^Mason ::swoon::

IMG_6896

IMG_6911

IMG_6915

IMG_6930

IMG_6949

IMG_6952^^ a Christmas toast!

IMG_6957

IMG_6968

IMG_6977

IMG_6983

IMG_6991

IMG_7019

IMG_6727

I hope you are having a magical time of year. These quiet days between Christmas and New Year’s offer such pointed time for reflection and resolution. Adam and I spent some time last night thinking about what we want 2015 to look like. It’s humbling to review such an exciting and momentous year. But’s it’s just as exhilarating to stand at the beginning of a fresh year, one ripe with possibility and adventure. I want to wish you the warmest of season’s greetings and glad tidings in the (almost) new year.