What I’ve Read & What I’m Reading

I thought that I was going to be a little annoyed when the alarm went off at 5:15 this morning and I had to accept that real life was fully underway again, but I actually didn’t mind getting out of bed because I was so rested from spring break. Apparently six days of reading / watching The Newsroom / sleeping (at least) eight hours a night has some benefits.

IMAGINE THAT.

Anyway, some of you (and by “some,” I mean “at least two”) have asked about my reading list, so I thought I’d do a quick recap of what I’ve read / what I’m reading. I think it’s probably obvious that I’m in a significant non-fiction phase, so if you have any good fiction to recommend (especially fiction where children are unharmed / not kidnapped / safe and treasured), I’d love to know about it.

All righty. Here’s the list.

1) The Art of Memoir by Mary Karr

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I love books about writing, especially Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott and On Writing by Stephen King. Given that, I was excited to finally get to read Mary Karr’s The Art of Memoir since I tend to write memoir-ish books. I highlighted a ton of passages in this book, especially the parts where Karr chronicles her own writing experiences. There are a few chapters where she devotes a significant amount of time to critiquing other writers’ memoir techniques, and I found those parts less interesting just because they reminded me a little of grad school and clearly I still have some lingering stress from my grad school experience (especially as it relates to Vladamir Nabokov, a writer held in the highest esteem by Karr). Even still, I know that I’ll read parts of this book again; Karr is a brilliant writer and so fun to read.

2) Lit by Mary Karr

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So after I read The Art of Memoir, I immediately downloaded Lit, and I’m still reading it. There’s definitely an overarching tone of sadness (the book focuses on Karr’s battle with alcoholism), but there are also some hilarious moments, and I’m increasingly convinced that nobody writes a better simile than Mary Karr. So far I definitely like Lit better than The Liars’ Club, Karr’s first memoir that was hard for me to read because the subject matter was so heavy. I’ll also say that the pace and structure of Lit are a little fascinating to me; I’m kind of hyper-aware of those two elements when I read, and so far I really like how Karr handles both.

3) The Short Drop by Matthew Fitzsimmons

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I read a chapter of this book back in the winter, and then I put it aside and told myself that I could start reading again after I finished my book. Well, that is exactly what I did. I tend to like a novel with any kind of CIA / government intrigue / secret and/or rogue government operation as a backdrop, and this one certainly delivers on that count. I was also interested in the mystery at the heart of this book. However, I felt like it got pretty dark about half-way through, and the dark never really let up for the rest of the book. So when the book was over, it just felt over – but I didn’t feel like anyone had really conquered anything / learned any big lessons / walked away better than they were before. Sorry if that’s a spoiler – I really don’t think it is – but ultimately there was something missing at the heart of this book (redemption, maybe?) that left me feeling hollow.

4) Looking for Lovely by Annie Downs

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Reading Annie’s books is like having a conversation with a friend. I just started reading her newest book (it releases Tuesday 4/5), and I can honest-to-goodness hear her voice in every single sentence. I love that. Without spoiling the premise of the book, I will tell you that 1) in the nerdiest possible way, I am a fan of the way Annie has structured / organized the chapters 2) almost every woman alive will be able to relate to Annie’s stories and 3) you’re going to laugh and cry as you read. This book would be a great choice for a book club or a small group – lots to talk about, lots of ways to connect Annie’s experiences to our personal experiences. Just FYI. Yay, Annie!

5) Jesus Outside the Lines by Scott Sauls

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I’ve mentioned this book before. I just don’t want you to forget about it. :-) IT IS FANTASTIC.

6) Why Not Me by Mindy Kaling

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I finished this book a while ago, and I’ve been meaning to mention it ever since. Mindy Kaling makes me smile, primarily because she is hilarious. I loved her first book and was concerned that book two nmight be a let-down, but oh no it was not. So. If you liked her first book or Tina Fey’s book or Amy Pohler’s book, you’ll enjoy this one, too. Some of you who like to read Serious Things might want to keep in mind that this is not necessarily something you would read to strengthen your world view, but it’s light and funny and, in places, tender. I am such a fan of Mindy Kaling’s writing style (random-ish, stream-of-consciousness-ish, loaded with pop culture references, conversational, etc.).

7) Unoffendable by Brant Hansen

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I bought this book last week because I felt like I needed it. This presidential election has brought out parts of my personality that I don’t really love – a side of me that is super-opinionated and very certain of my right-ness and way too judge-y. Without belaboring the (boring) point, I’ll just say that I’m tired of feeling angry about it all, and after seeing mention after mention about Unoffendable, I decided to read it. No joke: I was teary-eyed by page three because it hit me right where I’ve been living. And while I haven’t finished it yet, this book is challenging me and encouraging me. I am grateful for both of those things. Also, Brant Hansen is HILARIOUS (I used to read his blog posts back in the day and wish I could write like he does), and he brings lots of levity to what could be a super-earnest subject matter. Also, I’m pretty sure that I’m on track to highlight more passages in this book than any other in recent memory. It’s a keeper.

So. Those are all of my current book-related thoughts. Have y’all read anything good or memorable lately?

So Here Are Some Things

We went to the beach last Monday, and while I can’t really categorize last week’s beach weather as “warm,” not even the chilly winds could diminish our beach enthusiasm. Wednesday morning I actually sat in my beach chair while wearing a sweater, thankyouverymuch, and Alex pretty much made up his mind that the water still felt great even thought it was a “little” cold.

Anyway, we had a great time getting away for a few days, and since we’ve been in spring break mode this past week, it seems like a fine and appropriate time to share a few things I’ve been enjoying.

I mean, I’m not enjoying them at this very moment, of course. But in general, most definitely. Yes.

1) Chicagoans find unexpected home in MSU’S Left Field Lounge

I love college baseball. I love people. I love when people make unexpected connections. I also love great writing, and Bob Carskadon is really good at that part. This article will make you smile (and if you’ve never been to a baseball game at Mississippi State, you totally should).

2) Carry On, San Vicente by Dave Barnes

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I’d only heard the first ten notes of this album before I was instantly transported to 1977 and my daddy’s green Gran Torino. It’s like the Eagles got together with Dan Fogelberg and Steely Dan and Styx and they made themselves a record. The melodies are classic (clearly with a strong 70’s vibe), the lyrics are compelling, and the Hudsons are listening like crazy. So fun.

3) Halogen Long Linen Blend Cardigan

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I adore a long, lightweight cardigan. Just today, in fact, I wore one to lunch because 1) it’s chilly-ish outside and 2) a long cardigan makes an otherwise boring ensemble (like today’s black t-shirt and boyfriend jeans) look way more pulled together.

Well, last week I ran across these long cardigans on Nordstrom.com, and I think the colors are so gorgeous. They come in regular sizes and plus sizes, too.

4) The Happy Hour with Jamie Ivey

On the way home from the beach I finally got to listen to Jamie Golden on The Happy Hour with Jamie Ivey. IT WAS DELIGHTFUL. The Jamies discuss a wide range of topics, including three of my personal favorites: TV shows, the Lord, and mascara. You can also find Jamie G. on The Popcast, her podcast with Knox McCoy, and on the Twitter, where she is one of my very favorite people to follow.

5) The Newsroom

A few weeks ago I was talking to my friend David (not my husband David, though certainly he is also my friend) about this current presidential election, and towards the end of our conversation, Friend David said, “You know what? You really need to watch The Newsroom.” Well, I finally watched the first episode while we were at the beach, and I was instantly hooked. The writing is great, and while I think season one is a little all over the place in terms of character development, I will say that the storylines held my interest all the way through. It’s an HBO show, so the language definitely errs on the side of colorful; consider yourself warned in that regard. If you liked Broadcast News, though, you will LOVE this show (it has definitely put me back in touch with the early-90s version of myself that really wanted to be Jane Craig).

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If you have Amazon Prime (have we ever talked about Amazon Prime? I adore Amazon Prime.), you can watch all three seasons of The Newsroom for free. And I guess it’s the same if you subscribe to HBO.

6) OPI Sorry I’m Fizzy Today

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This is my very favorite springtime pedicure polish, and we have been happily reunited over the last couple of weeks.

7) Old Navy Boyfriend Jeans in white

Last weekend Melanie and I had a long talk about white jeans for spring. I’d been looking for a pair of white boyfriend jeans – something I could cuff and wear with flat sandals or wedges – but everything I was seeing online looked a little tighter in the legs than is my preference. A couple of days later I got an email with a discount code from Old Navy, and after I’d clicked around a little bit, I was tickled to see that they had some white boyfriend jeans that didn’t look skin tight.

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Well, I ordered a pair, and I really like them. To be clear, they’re Old Navy jeans, so they may bag out / stretch out a little quicker than other brands, but I think they’ll be perfectly fine for work. They come in regular sizes and plus sizes, and at only $30 or $35-ish dollars, they’re a deal. Even better is that the discount code SPRINGFUN is valid through tomorrow (Monday), and on the regular sizes that’ll get you an additional 40% off (don’t know why the code doesn’t seem to work with plus sizes). GET THEE SOME.

Hope y’all have a great week!

SB Or Bust

Well, it is finally (and most mercifully) spring break for us. It’s the latest spring break I can ever remember, and while I know I’ll love it when we go back to work / school and only have about seven weeks left until summertime, I may need a day or two to recover from how twitchy I’ve been the last couple of weeks. Personally I think it’s high time for me to devote a considerable amount of energy to staring at a large body of water. That’s usually a good cure for whatever ails me.

Last week Alex had a lacrosse game on Tuesday night, and then Wednesday night I washed All The Clothes in our new washing machine. You may remember that about a month ago we enjoyed some exciting adventures with a new dryer that would not in fact turn on, and its replacement was finally delivered and installed a couple of weeks. But while we were waiting on it, our washing machine started doing weird things. When the repairman came to look at it, he said that we needed a new control board and a new doohicky and a new thingamajig, but since the washing machine was still under warranty, the manufacturer opted to just replace it instead of fixing it. SO, we picked out a washing machine that matches our new dryer, and here’s to hoping that we’re done with replacing any of those things for a while. So far I really like them both, but I’ll like them even more if they turn out to be dependable. Dependable is such a good quality.

Then last Thursday, Friday, and Saturday I worked on recording the audio versions of A Little Salty to Cut the Sweet and Home is Where My People Are. I’m going to record the new book, too, but that’ll probably be a couple of weeks down the road. Anyway, I recorded A Little Salty… first, and since I haven’t read it in a long time, it was kind of neat and maybe a little bittersweet to walk back through those stories. It felt strangely full-circle since the book ends on Easter Sunday and I was recording it on Thursday and Friday before Easter – and we actually went to my hometown Easter Sunday. For some reason I was so, so nervous about reading, but the people who own the recording studio are actually from Mississippi, too, and they totally put me at ease about my accent and the fact that the “-ing” sound is hard for me.

I should finish up Home is Where… next week, and then we’ll get started on Giddy Up, Eunice. I think they’ll all be released about the same time as the new book, but I’ll keep you posted on specifics. The whole experience has been really fun and has also confirmed that there is no hope for this Southern accent of mine. I can try and try and try, but I will say “git” instead of “get” every single time.

Early Sunday morning we drove to Mississippi so we could celebrate Easter there. David and I ended up hanging out with Mama at home and watching First Baptist’s service on TV (Mama wasn’t feeling quite up to church that morning, though she perked up as the day went on), and Alex went to the church where we grew up with Daddy, who was teaching Sunday School, and Martha, who was greeting before the service. He had the best time getting to be with them there, and afterward we all went out to my cousin Paige’s for lunch. Paige and I planned the menu while I was sitting in the Publix parking lot Saturday afternoon, and I have to say: we got ‘er done, y’all. It’s nice to be able to do that for Mama and Chox considering that they’ve spent forty years planning and cooking for us, and it’s fun to cook for Martha just because she thinks every single dish is wonderful! perfectly wonderful! is this not wonderful?!?!?

We all had such a good time (that’s Paige’s son in the pictures with Alex, by the way).

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Hopefully we have a good bit of quality time in store this week (along with no small amount of reading – I am SO EXCITED ABOUT THE READING). Hope y’all had a wonderful Easter – and if it happens to be your spring break this week, please know that we share in your joy.

Hallelujah. And also amen.

All The Sports

I didn’t really intend to take another week off from the blog, but Alex had four lacrosse games from Saturday to Saturday, plus a big birthday, and then in the middle of all the normal parts of our schedule, I got page proofs back for book three and had a pretty tight turnaround with those. I actually love me some page proofs – making all the final tweaks and changes but not really having to come up with any new words – so when I finally finished those, I just wanted to hang out with my people and watch some Mississippi State baseball. We played Vanderbilt (they’re the #2 team in the country) in Nashville this past weekend, and Friday night’s (and Saturday night’s) games were just delightful if you’re a Bulldog (WE WON!).

Saturday morning Alex had a lacrosse game, and afterwards we were eating at Chuy’s (AS WE DO) when I started thinking that I might want to meet my friend Daphne at State this afternoon. Our women’s basketball team was playing Michigan State for a spot in the Sweet 16, and since my people were going to be tied up with – you guessed it – lacrosse practice, D told me I should go if I wanted to go. I was on the fence-ish until we found out that our small group wasn’t meeting at church this AM, and at that point it seemed like a no-brainer.

So. This morning I drove to Starkville, enjoyed some fine worship time courtesy of Travis’ new album, met Daph, her brother, and her older son for brunch, then headed to the Hump for some basketball.

We had THE. BEST. TIME.

The game was so fun – with a crowd that was the absolute best kind of rowdy – and after who knows how many lead changes, the Dogs hung on and won 74-72.

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I may be the tiniest bit hoarse.

After I got back to Birmingham I ran by the grocery store since I was unfamiliar with how to pack a lunch for Alex using air and tap water (and since I hadn’t pulled together a Shipt order earlier in the day), and after I got home and caught up with my people, I turned on the A&M / UNI 2nd round game so I could cheer for the Aggies while I wrote this blog post.

OH. MY. LANDS., y’all. I have never seen a game like that in my life. It was hands-down the most incredible comeback I have ever watched. And it resulted in a lot of ALL CAPS texting between Melanie and me.

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There must be a lot of heartache on the Northern Iowa side – they played their hearts out – but I am thrilled for the Aggies. As far as I’m concerned it’s always a good thing for a team wearing maroon and white to be in the Sweet 16.

So, to sum up: lacrosse, baseball, women’s basketball, men’s basketball. That was pretty much the weekend.

And it sure was a good one.

Hope yours was, too!

Hello, People Of The Internet

Well, I saw the first azaleas of the year this morning, so I think that’s a sure sign that SPRING IS HERE. The weather has been gorgeous this week, so that’s a delightful thing, but pollen and I have some longstanding ish-ahs – as evidenced by the fact that my eyes have watered all. day. long. By about 8:30-ish this morning I’d rubbed off all my eye make-up, so I believe the phrase you’re looking for is easy sophistication.

All righty. I have several things to report. I do hope they’ll be of interest.

1) The New Pants

This afternoon I received my new pair of Old Navy wide-legged linen pants with the new drawstring waistband. I have to say that they’re super-comfortable, but I wish I’d ordered a size smaller. Don’t get me wrong – they fit fine – but I think the old-style waistband made the pants fit differently through the hips. The pair I got today is looser in the hips than last year’s pants were, but I’m still keeping them because my word at the comfort. It’s also nice to be able to adjust the waistband; that wasn’t an option with the old yoga-pant style.

2) I also bought a pair of these.

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They’re not my normal style of pants at all, but I wanted to try them because they’re wide-legged and because I thought they might be cute with some a fun pair of sandals. I have to say that I liked them a whole lot when I tried them on. They’re high-rise, which is nice if one of your personal goals in life is to avoid a muffin-top, and they’re actually way more flattering than I anticipated. They’ll be great pants to wear to work this spring, and the navy is bright enough that it doesn’t look utilitarian. I’m not a fan of a capri pant as a general rule, but I think cropped, ankle-length pants can be sort of sassy with the right top, shoes, and accessories. So I’m excited about these. And I’m thinking about ordering the white because it’s so hard to find good pants for work.

3) Our friend Travis has a new live worship album that comes out this Friday, and I cannot wait. I’ve had his latest song – “The Blood of Jesus Speaks for Me” – on repeat for the last two weeks. It is beyond beautiful, and it preaches a sermon that I need to hear every single day.

4) Melanie and I are working on some behind-the-scenes things to hopefully make the podcast more enjoyable / frequent / professional-ish, and hopefully you’ll be seeing some of those changes later this spring. We’d planned to change the theme music by now, but the new theme song doesn’t have a natural end and I can’t figure out how to fade it out and so NOT YET on that. Anyway, if you listen to the podcast and enjoy it, we sure would appreciate it / be very grateful / be sure to increase our per-podcast mentions of Amy Grant if y’all would consider leaving a review on iTunes. I know that’s a strange request, but your reviews make a big difference in terms of helping with various podcast-y algorithms that others tell me are important even if I don’t necessarily understand why. So if you leave (or have left) a review, thank you. You may just think that you’ve written some sentences, but you have also contributed to some sort of algorithm. And that is very fancy of you, my friends.

5) Never gets old.

NEVER.

Happy Thursday!

“If Reason Fails, Try Force”

First of all, y’all are awesome. Thanks for that.

Second of all, this was the first weekend in forever where our schedule wasn’t at the mercy of a practice and/or game schedule. IT WAS DELIGHTFUL. We’re about to be full speed ahead with lacrosse season, so it’s been nice to have a weekend that felt more like an actual pause between weeks. Those are increasingly rare, as evidenced by the backlog of quality TV programming that’s currently hanging out on our DVR. But this past weekend, at least, was utterly refreshing. I got to see a couple of friends who were in town, I got to cook, I got to spend an inordinate amount of time in pajamas, and I got to hang out with my people.

The only tough thing, really, was that I had to say good-bye to the Crawleys.

Let’s talk about that for a second.

*SPOILERS AHEAD*

*BEWARE OF MANY SPOILERS*

*SO MANY SPOILERS*

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Y’all, it was everything I hoped it would be.

The Dowager Countess had some of her best lines ever, and the sight of her laughing over Spratt’s column brought me untold joy. Plus, at the end, when she affirmed Cora in the kindest, most tender way, it was almost more than my heart could take. Such genuine affection there.

And then – AND THEN – Edith. Oh my goodness. For her to end up as the highest-ranking Crawley, for her to be so completely adored by her new husband, and for her to be courageous enough to shoot straight with her mother-in-law – I was just so proud of her. It was like watching a little sister grow up and come into her own, and it was about time, you know?

More than anything, I think, the final episode made me think that watching six seasons of Downton was absolutely worth it. Barrow was entrusted with what he’d always wanted but hadn’t dared to dream he was capable of doing. Mrs. Crawley took a chance on love – and it paid off. Bates and Anna FINALLY enjoyed some happiness. Mary and Talbot had a whole new life ahead of them in more ways than one. Lord Grantham stepped out of his comfort zone to support and affirm Cora. Even Daisy, Molseley, and Mrs. Patmore seemed to have brighter days in store.

Probably the biggest thing that struck me last night was how the Crawleys and the people who worked for them ultimately became one big family. The lines between the aristocratic class and the service class were much blurrier than in season one. Rose wanted to go downstairs and show the maids pictures of her baby. Mary and Lord Grantham went downstairs to talk to Carson. Anna had her baby upstairs in Mary’s bedroom (and Daisy even snuck upstairs to borrow Mary’s hairdryer – with no repercussions). Tom and Talbot opened a car dealership – which would have been borderline scandalous ten years prior. Lord Grantham shook Barrow’s hand and Carson’s hand (and I cried both times – because Barrow and Carson were so taken aback by it).

(I can’t even talk about the staff singing “Auld Lang Syne” – just suffice it to say that I had to press pause so that I could try to compose myself.)

All in all, it was an utterly satisfying, totally enjoyable end to a series that made Sunday night television fun again.

We’re gonna miss it so much, aren’t we?