Monday, March 2, 2015

a year of clubbing

This weekend marked the one-year anniversary of my book club! It's hard to believe that almost exactly a year ago I was hosting our formational meeting and trying to figure out how to even be a book club...and now here we are with twelve-ish meetings (and a lot of awesome food) under our belts. It might seem silly, but in all seriousness- book club has been one of my favorite things to happen this past year. And some pretty great things happened last year, so that's really saying something. 

I always thought I'd like to be part of a book club because- big shocker!- I love to read. And I like talking about books with other people who've read the same books. And I really love hor d'oeuvres. So the idea of a book club held a lot of appeal to me. But in the last few years, as year after year of infertility and angst slowly passed me by, I started really craving a book club because I'd started noticing that any time I got together with a group of women, all anyone ever talked about was their kids. Well, and childbirth. And breastfeeding. And since I couldn't relate to any of those things (while simultaneously desperately wanting to experience all of them), I basically avoided hanging out with most of the people I knew (and liked!!!...just...not in large, un-focused groups, I guess). I mean, I understood how this happened- obviously they all had kids, were all SAHMs, and like...that's what was going on. It just wasn't a lot of fun for me to be a part of. But I still wanted to hang out with people and have friends- I just needed it to be in a setting where there was something besides epidurals to chat about. Something like...a book! So after a few months of sitting around and wishing someone I knew would start a book random night, two (also childless, ha) friends and I decided to just do it ourselves, dangit.

And guess what? It totally worked. My book club was born and for the first time in my adult life, I regularly hang out with my friends (both old and new, from all sorts of walks of life- single, married with no kids, married with kids, working moms, SAHMs- we're all there!!)! And we talk about books and current events and faith and movies and politics and the logistics of quadriplegics having sex (well okay, maybe that was only this month...) and sometimes our relationships and families and careers, but the topics are all mixed in together and it is just wonderful. Refreshing, challenging, and pretty much one of my favorite parts of the month. Every month.

Yeah. So consider this a PSA for book clubs. You should join one!! 

Before we started ours, I polled as many current book club members as I could to get their advice for starting one. That helped a lot as we tried to establish ours and figure out how to make it run successfully. I thought I'd throw out a few ideas that we used/use that I think have been helpful. 

-When we first decided to try and start a club, my friend and I made a list of about 14ish girls we knew in the area that all loosely knew one another. It wasn't an already close-knit group of friends, but everyone knew at least two other people on the list. We made a private group on Facebook and invited everyone to join it, then shared our idea of making a book club. We had our first meeting at my house and invited anyone who was interested to come so that we could plan. We also told people to invite anyone else they knew that might be interested. This seemed to be a good way to get going- we didn't start our first month with a book discussion, but with discussing how we would want to run our club.

-We meet on the fourth Saturday of each month. This consistency seems to really help. Not everyone can make every meeting, but because they're so just works, I guess. We have enough girls that actively participate most of the time that there are usually 6-10 of us at any given meeting...sometimes as many as 15, sometimes as few as 5...but it's not a big deal if you can't make it. And since the book changes every month, it's no big deal if you miss five months in a row- you can just join back in whenever your schedule clears up!

-We rotate hosting each month. We usually spend the last 15-20 minutes of each meeting choosing where we'll meet the next month and deciding what to read. Sometimes some folks will come with a list of book ideas- this is always helpful!! Sometimes we just pull up Amazon and browse the best sellers list for a few minutes. Several of the girls in our group actually work at the library, so they're in the know about what's popular at the moment (and how hard it will be for us all to get a copy). The host normally tries to lead the discussion and think of (or look up) questions to guide us. Some books inspire so much discussion that we never get to the questions!! But sometimes it's really nice to have them.

-No kids are allowed. We (okay, maybe it was just me...) established this rule hard and fast at the beginning. Obviously if you are hosting and you have kids, they don't have to be banished from their house, but otherwise- no kids allowed. Not even nursing babies. I know, I know- harsh, but otherwise a book discussion would quickly dissolve into a oh my goooosh she is so cuuuuute!!!!!! discussion, which defeats the whole point of book club. (And yes, this was a hard rule to abide by once my darling and angelic baby came along, but abide I did.)

-We discussed upfront what types of books we would all be comfortable reading/discussing. We were all open to reading outside of our normal 'comfort zones' (hello, chick lit and dystopian fiction!), but it was good to chat about the things we would not want to read. This could vary from group to group, but I'm glad my group talked about it.

(This seems like a great time to share a semi-related book club story. One of the girls in my club, B, told us this a few months ago. She is becoming friends with a neighbor of hers and they hang out while their kids play. They were chatting one day and the neighbor mentioned something about wanting to meet more friends and hang out, so B told her about our book club and invited her to join us that month. The neighbor was like well...thanks, but I only really like one kind of book. I don't branch out much. B told her that we've read all different genres and named a few of our recent picks. The neighbor looks straight at her and says in ALL SERIOUSNESS oh, well...see, I really only like vampire porn. And then B really had nothing to say about that, because that's probably not really a genre we're going to delve into. Sorry, neighbor!!)

-Pick books that lend themselves to discussion. That might seem kind of duh, but not all books do. Some books are perfectly enjoyable, but then you go to talk about them and it's like "I liked it!" "I liked it too!"...and...we're pretty much done. That is not the kind of book that is great for book club. That's great for you to read by yourself on a rainy day. So do a little research (I've even had good luck doing lame things like Googling "great book club books" haha) before choosing a book! We have found that if reviewers (even the ones on the back of the book/official Amazon review) describe a book as morally ambiguous or ethically's going to lead to great discussion, ha. 

-We try to choose books that are readily available at the library and/or cheap on Kindle. We realize that buying a new book every month would be cost-prohibitive to some people, so we don't usually pick the super hot book that just came out last week and everyone is talking about...because that book will definitely not have 10 available copies at the library. We typically pull up the online library system on our phones during the meeting as we discuss books so that we can see at a glance how many available copies of something there are before we choose. We also do a good job of passing around books once someone gets one. :) Shhh...don't tell the library.

So here are the books that my book club read throughout the past year. I didn't make it to every meeting, but I'll grade each book that I did read/attend the meeting for its Book Club Worthiness.

 The Giver (Lois Lowry)- A
     -We picked this as our first book because nearly all of us had read it before, PLUS it was coming out as a movie soon. It's super short but led to excellent discussion. It was really easy to find question guides online. Because this book was one of the very first dystopian novels that most of us had ever read, it was fun to link the themes in it with all of the more modern dystopian trilogies.

This is Where I Leave You (Jonathon Tropper)- B+
     -Another one chosen because it was about to come out as a movie. This book was a harsh departure from the youthful innocence of The Giver! This wasn't one of my favorite books to read, but I remember us having a lot of laughs as we discussed it!

The Rosie Project (Graeme Simsion)- A+++++
     -We all LOVED this book. Loved reading it, loved talking about it...just LOVED it. This was one of my favorite books we've done- it is an easy, lighthearted, hilarious read...and yet there were still enough deeper themes and topics to make it compelling to discuss. I would definitely recommend this book to any book club (or person) who isn't sure where to start. There were discussion questions in the back of the book (most convenient feature ever) and just can't go wrong here.

The Program (Suzanne Young)- C
     -And again with a 180 degree turn from the month before- from a universally-loved, happy story to a dystopian world where teenage suicide is an international epidemic...??? Not sure how this happened, really. Ha. Pretty much none of us loved this book (it was compelling enough to keep reading, but just. so. depressing. and. angsty.) and our discussion consisted of mostly just making fun of it the whole time. Eh. Probably wouldn't recommend it to your book club, unless you are a bunch of angsty teenagers.

The Pioneer Woman: Black Heels to Tractor Wheels- A Love Story (Ree Drummond)- NR
     -I didn't make it that month and didn't read the book, so I can't say how it went. I do know, though, that the girls all brought Pioneer Woman recipes as snacks, and I still regret missing that night. But probably my thighs don't.

Bridge to Haven (Francine Rivers)- NR
     -I also didn't make it this month (obviously having Millie turned me into a huge slacker!) and didn't read the book, so no opinion on how great it was or wasn't.

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry (Gabrielle Zevin)- A+
     -This one was also universally loved. A really well-written, lovely story that was easy to read and awesome to discuss. I'd never heard of this book, so now I make it a point to recommend this one to anyone who happens to ask if I have any book recommendations...I just can't imagine anyone not liking it!

The Husband's Secret (Liane Moriarty)- A+ 
     -We picked this one because EVERY BOOK CLUB IN AMERICA was picking this one. And for good reason!! This book was chock full of oh my gosh, what would YOU do??? ethical situations that may have more easily-offended groups clutching their pearls pretty tightly...but we loved it! This also set off everyone in the group on personal journeys to read ALL of Liane Moriarty's books, ha.

The Light Between Oceans (M.L. Stedman)- NR
     -We chose this book particularly because of the reviews spoke of "entering the waters of treacherous morality," which was obvious code for "will lead to awesome discussion!!!" Ummm...well, I can't actually report on the discussion because I ended up missing this month, but I read the book anyway. Well, part of it. And then I entered the waters of treacherous morality and absolutely could not keep reading because my heart was so torn out of my chest that I couldn't breathe and I am not even being overly dramatic. I couldn't even handle the plot anymore. The girls in my group seemed pretty polarized on this one, though- some of them really enjoyed it, some agreed that it was just too heart-wrenching. I guess you could read it yourself and see, but just be aware that it deals with issues that could be particularly difficult to those sensitive to adoption and child loss.

The Rent Collector (Camron Wright)- A
     -I blabbed on about this book last month, but we all loved both the book AND the awesome discussion it sparked. I felt like this one was a little more off the beaten path for me personally (just isn't something I would probably ever choose on my own), but I'm so glad we went for it!

Me Before You (Jojo Moyes)- A
     -This book definitely didn't go the direction we all thought it would!! We had semi-intentionally picked a book we thought would be pleasant and light-hearted, since the previous few months had been so heavy...and yeah. Wrong! We all enjoyed reading this and had some fabulous (and hilarious) (well, and also serious) conversation. 

Coming up next month: What Alice Forgot (Liane Moriarty)
     -Roughly a third of us (including me) have already read this, but we all want to discuss it, so we decided to return to ol' Liane for round two. Since I read it a few months ago, I already know it's going to be a great one to discuss...I'm just trying to decide if I need to reread it before we meet!

Also, we tend to discuss Gone Girl and/or the Harry Potter books at pretty much every meeting (while comparing and contrasting know, in the context of our discussion!), so those should be considered unofficial books that we've read.

I'm sure that only the nerdiest of nerds have actually made it this far...but since I so appreciate other bloggers talking about what worked and didn't work for their book clubs, I thought it was time I repaid the favor. 

In conclusion, book club gives me all sorts of warm and fuzzy feelings. If you're not in one, you should think about joining one. If you are in one, you should tell me what your best/worst book picks have been. Annnnd...yay for excuses to hang out with ladies, eat tons of amazing snacks, and enter those waters of treacherous morality for a few hours!

(because I'm not a jerk, here's an unrelated picture from the weekend)

We found some daffodils blooming at the park! Yay!

*Book links are Amazon affiliate links.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

not exactly a snowpocalypse

We've had an exciting few days of "winter weather" here in the South.

Unfortunately for us, "winter weather" does not necessarily equal "winter wonderland."

This is about as good as it got.
Unless you have a really boring idea of what constitutes a wonderland.

The weather still brought plenty of excitement, though- early releases, delayed starts, the anticipation of what might happen, the constant debate of the varying predictions and forecasts...THAT, at least, did not disappoint. I had hoped that the most liberal forecasts would come to pass- the ones that saw us getting 4 inches of accumulated snow, glorious days of being snowed in...but alas. Nope. Oh well.

As it turns out, Millie isn't #1 Snow Fangirl. I had high hopes for that, too. I mean, she gets SUPER EXCITED about things like paper surely her first experience with frozen precipitation was going to blow her little baby mind, right?


I've seen her express more excitement about dryer lint.

We still gave it our best ISN'T SNOW AMAZING?!?!?! shot, though. We videoed the whole thing, thinking that her reaction would be some magical moment. 

We got a lot of blank stares.

It's okay, though. I'm choosing to believe her lack of enthusiasm is just because a) she probably couldn't really FEEL it due to her coat/hood, b) there wasn't enough on the ground/trees to really catch her attention, and c) she was really distracted and enamored by the scarf I was wearing and it was hard to direct her attention elsewhere. Ha. Oh well, maybe we'll try again later...if we get any more snow this year. Or next year.

Believe you me, though- this "Millie is not impressed" experience is not at all serving to dial back my excitement about seeing her experience the ocean for the first time this summer. No way. I spend at least 10 minutes a day imaging how awesome it's going to be, and just because First Snow Experience was a nonevent...I'm still holding out high hopes for First Beach Experience. So anyway. No pressure, Mills.

I used my extra free time yesterday to finish up this month's book club pick, Me Before You*. It was surprisingly depressing and thought-provoking, and I'm a little scared (yet excited) to see what kind of conversation it sparks when we meet this weekend!! I've been really slacking on my book-reading lately (I blame you, Parenthood)(the show, not the thing), but this one sucked me in. And then ripped my heart out. But I guess that's just the way things go sometimes.

Matt and I aren't movie-going people, but speaking of really depressing books- I want to see Still Alice. Anyone seen it? I'm hopelessly behind on my current events, but I think I heard on NPR that it was nominated (or won?) some Oscars. Anyway, when they started discussing the premise of the movie, it occurred to me that I'm 99% sure I read the book a long time ago. And really liked it. Well, as much as you can like something really depressing. So anyway- now I want to see the movie. Maybe when it comes to Netflix in about 25 years, I'll remember to look it up and watch.

Well, looks like Millie has awakened from her mid-morning slumber. Time to go rescue her and get ready to roll into work at noon! Good times, I tell ya. Happy Thursday!

*Amazon affiliate link

Monday, February 23, 2015

party all night

It was a pretty raucous weekend all around. Matt and I had our first night out since Millie was born- one of my coworkers got married and it was a black tie, eat-drink-and-be-merry-all-night event! My parents came up for the weekend to watch over the Nuglet and get some baby snuggles in- apparently they think Matt and I don't share well, so they needed us out of the house so that they could actually have a shot at holding Millie. Whatever. I feel no need to share my baby cuddles. But I'm glad this worked out well for them.

Anyway, so Matt and I spent Saturday afternoon getting dolled up for the wedding. Or rather, I did. Matt spent about 15 minutes putting on a suit, but whatever.

Not going to lie- I spent at least 30 minutes trying out different lipstick combinations to find the perfect one for the night. I think it took me longer to choose a lipstick than it did to buy a dress. So now you know about my priorities.

Another bonus to having parents in the house is that they can take save you from a selfie-only existence!

I got exactly zero pictures of the ceremony, the bride, the decor, or anything else remotely important. Good thing she hired professionals to do that so that I could focus on what was really important: eating all the food and dancing all the dances.

There was an amazing 12(ish)-piece band playing awesome music and the crowd was all about it!! We aren't great dancers, but we had a great time pretending! We also enjoyed hanging out with all of my coworkers and +1s. And the food. And the fancy outfits. And everything! Yay for a night not spent sitting on the count watching Netflix. (Okay, not going to lie- I did feel a few pangs of longing for the Bravermans. Hard to stay away from those guys for a whole night. Also, Millie.)

Also, I would like to reward myself with a gold star for Advance Planning.

That's right. While the band took a break from their jamming, I took a break from my heels. Throwing my Toms in my purse before I left the house turned out to be a wonderful idea about 10:00. Bring on another hour of dancing!

So we had a great night out (but were pretty darn happy to get back home to our quiet house and sleeping babe)...and in our absence, Millie took it upon herself to have a baby rave in her jump-jump.

She partied until she just couldn't make it any longer.

Poor sweet baby. All that jumping gets pretty exhausting!

At any rate, we all had a wonderful and out-of-the-ordinary Saturday. I'll be happy to return to our regular, ordinary Saturdays, though. The kind that don't require a half-hour of lipstick planning.

We returned to our regularly scheduled programming on Sunday with Mexican food after church. Millie decided to check out the high chair scene like a big girl.

She thought she was pretty hot stuff, reading books and chomping on Sophie like a big girl.

Wow, Matt and I look like we stayed out too late dancing or something. At least Millie looks excited about life (and/or sopapillas)!

And finally, I wanted to answer a question that I'm sure has been plaguing most of you.

Where can I get a Millie of my own, Erika?? She is so cute and fabulous- I simply MUST get one!

Well, I can tell you.

MILLVILLE!!!! It's like the happiest place on earth.

I know, I know. I am so hilarious. And now I'm out.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

who you gonna be?

Sometimes when I watch groups of kids now, I play a game where I try to guess which one Millie will be when she's older. Yesterday Matt and I observed kids playing at recess for a little while during our lunch. We analyzed the kids and tried to imagine Millie out there with them.

Will she be the one making her arms look like a chomping alligator or shark and chasing the other kids around, threatening to eat them?

Will she be the one studiously throwing basketballs at a child-sized hoop, determined to get the ball to go through?

Will she prefer to sit on the floor and giggle with her friends, or sit on the bleachers with her teachers and talk?

Will she want to just run and run and get sweaty and have tangled, matted hair? Or will she be like her mama at that age, hating sweat and dirt and running and doing anything remotely yucky?

Will she be doing somersaults on the gymnastics mats or playing school with her friends? If she plays school, will she be the teacher or a student?

It's a fun game. I don't have any idea what she'll be like at three, or seven, or sixteen. Yesterday Matt and I agreed that based on what we know about her now, she'll most likely be the kid bouncing on one of those balls that look like a yoga/exercise ball with handles. I mean, given her passion for jumping in her exersaucer now...that seems like it'd be totally her jam in preschool! There were a few little girls laughing hysterically as they jumped...I bet that'll be her.

It doesn't really matter to me which kid she is on the playground one day. As long as she is kind to her friends and teachers and loves what she's doing...she can run or jump or sit or talk or read or sing or chase and it'll be just great.

Today she is a happy, giggly, drooly little nugget who makes folding laundry a lot more entertaining.

I can't wait to see who she becomes...but I sure do love her a lot just the way she is now.