What I Read Instead

At some point last year, I said to myself, “I should really log off Facebook and, like, read a book or something.”

So, I did. I read some books. And, I am here with recommendations.

Ready? Here we go!

Read this book if you want to read something with interestingly drawn characters and an ending that you don’t want to be an ending and also if you’d like to read anything from my list of recommendations that was popular within the past 18 months so you appear current and relevant and like those super smart friends you know who have Goodreads accounts:

Read this if you buy books based on how cute their covers are but actually really want to read THE MOST charming story because this is it and you will probably not read another book that is so lovely and surprising and one that makes you wish there was a sequel:

Read this if you’d like to go in the way back time machine to when Oprah was telling us what we should read and also if you want your worst parenting nightmare to be described in haunting detail:

Read this if you want to remember how quaint and inconsequential all of our problems were back in 2011:

Read this if you want to feel WAY, WAY better about your own parenting skills but also, I have some serious questions about the stories in this book and how one can remember actual dialogue and super specific details from when they were three years old and I’m kind of making a face when I think about this book so maybe we should discuss further:

Read this if you want to know how much of the Native American narrative was excluded from history class and if you want confirmation that everything Kevin Costner was trying to tell us in “Dances with Wolves” was true but also do not read this before bed as it is not a sleepy-time book because you really need some active brain cells to get through it but it is SO INTERESTING OMG READ IT AND REPORT BACK:

The actual title of this list of recommendations should be “What I Read (Or Listened To) Instead” but that seemed rather clunky.

BUT, I have MORE recommendations for you but they are not books, they are podcasts which are really just like books when you think about it but don’t think too hard about it because that isn’t really true but sometimes podcasts are all we have time for because life is very, very busy lately and listening to podcasts is all we can make time for while we work and fold laundry and do dishes and cook dinner and drive people places we don’t actually want to be.

These are my latest favorites and most of these were recommended to me and I now I am recommending them to you.

Listen to this if you want an interesting podcast with rotating topics that are always relevant and somehow never stale (I specifically recommend the episode pictured below):

Listen to this if you want to cry and laugh at the same time, every time (one of my all-time Moth story favorites can be found here):

 

Listen to this if you want to be ENRAGED at how multi-level marketing schemes target (mostly) women who are already in financially precarious positions, furthering their cash flow problems and leading them into deeper and deeper debt:

Listen to this if you’ve been thinking about doing one of those online genetic tests to find out where you’re from and who your distant relatives are (SPOILER ALERT DON’T DO IT SOMETIMES IT’S BETTER NOT TO KNOW TRUST ME):

Listen to this if you want to feel absolutely, unequivocally DEFEATED over how we treat  women and girls who are brave enough to come forward with stories of sexual assault:

Listen to this if you want to learn more about the people, places, culture, and experiences very different than your own that all merge together to make up the rich tapestry of this country leading to a deeper empathy for the lives and journeys of others (seriously):

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Podcast Love

If I know of something current or trending or super smart, it’s usually because of Twitter. The people I follow there seem to always know what to listen to, what to watch and what to read. Towards the end of last year, Twitter suggested I listen to the podcast, Serial. Everyone seemed to be fascinated with the unique format and compelling true-life story that gradually unfolds during each weekly episode. At the time, I didn’t even know how podcasts worked. I’m a late adopter of virtually every technology (we JUST started streaming things on our television about a month ago) so it took awhile for me to figure out how to access the content but after one episode of Serial, I was hooked.

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For me, Serial was the gateway drug to all of NPR’s podcast content. I quickly added several of their shows to my phone app including, This American Life, Invisibilia and Planet Money. It’s just such interesting, intelligent reporting and storytelling. It’s like PBS for your ears.

My favorite of the bunch is probably StoryCorps. The mission of StoryCorps is to capture the stories and history of individuals from around the country and record them as a historical record. It’s founded on the notion that everyone has a unique story to tell. The podcasts are a quick listen but always, always captivating since each episode shares one or more of the stories that have been recorded and preserved through StoryCorps. Oh, you guys, people are so, so interesting. Since I am generally pretty nosey and love to hear all about other people’s lives, I find this podcast FASCINATING.

Sometimes a StoryCorps episode is funny, sometimes it’s quite serious, other times it is incredibly moving. Listening to people tell their own story, with their own words, using their own voice can be especially poignant. Take a few minutes and listen to a recent episode titled, Listen Closely, at the link below.

http://storycorps.org/?p=58976

My absolute favorite thing about this episode of StoryCorps is that in each person’s story, there is someone – a kind teacher, an eager father, a complete stranger – that intersects their life when they need it the most, providing support and encouragement. Isn’t that amazing? Did you pick up on that theme in each of the three stories? Can you imagine if we all tried to be THAT person for others? Our world would be an excellent world.

Another favorite story-telling podcast is The Moth. It’s a longer-format show with each episode highlighting stories told by performers who are brave enough to deliver their tales, unscripted, in front of live audiences at venues around the world. You can listen to my all-time favorite episode of The Moth at the link below but you MUST listen all the way to the end. It’s amazing.

http://themoth.org/posts/storytellers/mary-claire-king#

If previous generations of stay-at-home mothers had soap operas and romance novels, I guess you could consider podcasts my “stories.” I have earbuds in whenever I’m loading the dishwasher, folding laundry or out for a walk. They make the mundane very, very interesting. More importantly, I think they’ve now proven that you actually get smarter if you listen to This American Life every week.

Now, your turn. Tell me, what podcasts are you listening to? Let’s all make ourselves smarter and the world brighter through intelligent listening!

Birthday Loot

Charlie’s birthday was last Thursday and true to our (we’re-so-tired-all-the-time) parenting style, the event was pretty low key. Charlie had a good friend from school over for a playdate and we baked cupcakes and opened presents and sang and blew out a birthday candle and that was that.

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Charlie did not, as in years past, proceed to eat the actual birthday candle. With age, comes wisdom, apparently.

Charlie asked for one specific thing for his sixth birthday: a wallet. He has earned a little money helping around the house and wanted a place to keep it. Makes perfect sense. We were relieved with the simplicity of his birthday wish list since he kind of hasn’t stopped talking about bringing that baby bear home. A wallet is infinitely easier to procure. Charlie’s new Spiderman billfold doesn’t actually fit into his teeny tiny pant’s pocket but, whatever, he can just hold it in his hand since I’m sure he’ll need some form of identification when he goes to pick up his new bear.

At six, Charlie’s most defining physical characteristic remains his small stature. He is still rather wee, as six-year-olds go.

It has been entertaining to watch him board the bus every day, clambering up the massive first step. With his backpack loaded down with books on library day, he almost doesn’t have enough momentum to actually make it in. I sometimes worry he’s going to tip over and fall back out. In fact, for many months, there was actually a girl that sat in the very front seat of the bus – right behind the steps – that would lean over every morning as Charlie boarded and hoist him up by his backpack handle. Without fail, I would watch her hand appear, take hold and yank him up the steps. It was hilarious.

At Henry’s soccer practice last week, I was sitting on the sidelines while Millie and Charlie loitered close by playing. One of the other mothers looked in their general direction and asked, “Twins, right?” “Well, no,” I laughed. One is three and one is six. But, I can see why she would think that. Only four pounds separate Millie and Charlie. In fact, Millie, oversized for her age, has now surpassed Charlie in pants size.

At this age, Charlie’s compactness only works to his advantage since we find him ridiculously adorable and want to give him everything he asks for (except for a baby bear, but only because Target doesn’t sell them). That’s why we bought Charlie a new lawn tractor. The argument could be made that we purchased the lawn tractor for mowing the lawn but really, Charlie knows that we know that he knows that the mower is really for him.

Charlie and Bob studied lawn tractors for months, eventually deciding on one together. They brought me to the dealership, pointed at the model they both wanted and then waved me into the showroom so I could handle all of the paperwork. A week later, the day before his birthday, Charlie was driving all over the neighborhood on his new Cub Cadet.

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Sorry neighbors! You’ll be hearing the roar of this engine for months to come.

I cannot overstate how much Charlie loves this lawn mower. He wakes up talking about it, falls asleep dreaming about it and incessantly pings Bob to take him riding on it. I pulled into the driveway this past weekend, opened the garage door and found Charlie, with the hood of the lawn tractor up, examining the engine. He had a small notebook and pen in hand and explained that he was performing a twelve-point inspection.

Charlie's notes from the mower inspection. We should actually consider teaching him how to change the oil on this thing. It would be handy.

According to Charlie, everything looked good. Also, we should probably work on his counting since this actually appears to be a 14-point inspection.

In addition to the lawn tractor, we successfully convinced Charlie we got him bunk beds for his birthday. Technically, we just bunked their existing beds but the whole thing seemed novel and new.

I have been diligently attempting to get our house more organized over the past few weeks and bunking the boys’ beds was crucial to solving the storage problem in the small room they share. (Full disclosure: I have never been a fan of their beds. I hastily purchased them years ago when we were moving to Richmond and now I strongly believe no one should ever be allowed to panic buy furniture while living in a temporary apartment with a padded bank account between house closings. I was mostly irritated with myself for how much I spent on bunk beds that we never bunked however, now that they are in their final resting place, I love them with my whole heart.) The boys’ room is pretty much transformed with all of the new floor space bunking the beds revealed and with the addition of a double dresser that needed a new home.

This room will never look this neat ever again. (Also, ignore the paint colors and lack of curtains. WE'RE GETTING TO IT.)

This room will never look this neat ever again. (Also, ignore the paint colors and lack of curtains. WE’RE GETTING TO IT.)

Charlie feels like a king getting to sleep on the top bunk and Henry, nine, is enjoying the cave-like atmosphere of the bottom bunk. However, the absolute best side effect of bunking their beds is that the kids actually want to play in their room now which means significantly less Lego pieces in the family room and greater quiet everywhere else.

Basically, a marvelous birthday present all around for everyone.

Totally unrelated to Charlie and his birthday, I assume that, by now, most of you have seen this video mashup of famous dance scenes set to Walk the Moon’s, “Shut Up and Dance.” If you haven’t, we should remedy that:

Are you dancing yet? Because it’s impossible not to dance while watching this. Literally impossible. If you’re not at least moving your feet a teeny tiny bit right now, you might be dead. Even Bob dances when this song comes on. It’s no Wings or anything but it’s pretty catchy.

We have watched this clip innumerable times in the past couple of weeks (hat tip to Twitter for always having links to the best stuff). Also, Henry assures me that the “shut up” part of the lyrics aren’t bad to say because we’re not saying them TO anyone. We’re just singing them. Sounds good to me.

So, you’re welcome because now this song is stuck in your head for the next week. My birthday gift to you!