Books I Read This Week 2019 – 04

This was a fantastic of reading. Several really wonderful reads across multiple genres. I read a fantasy (Every Heart a Doorway), a historical fiction (The Widows), a non-fiction (Brave, not Perfect) and a literary fiction (Normal People) I loved in one week and I don’t even know how to classify Karen Thompson Walker’s book. Despite a few books I wasn’t crazy about, I am very happy with this week’s reading. Here are my goodreads reviews. If you’re on goodreads, add me as a friend so I can see your books too! 

Every Heart a Doorway (4.5 stars):  This book is unlike anything I read in all the ways that’s hard to explain. It’s the first in a series and the last book just came out last week. Emily May’s review of the first book convinced me to give it a try. I figured it was reasonably short and if I didn’t like it, I could only stop at the first one.

I read it pretty much in one sitting and was entranced right away. I was pulled into the story, and the atmosphere, the characters, the unusual plot all came together to create something magical. I loved the range of the characters and their unique worlds. I loved all the gender-focused undertones that were smart and thoughtful but yet didn’t hit you in the face with any of it.

Most of all I loved the way the characters interacted with each other and had their own unique personalities and goals but also came together in their apartness from other, “normal” people. I loved that being at Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children was closest they could get to belonging in this world.

When you read 200-300 books a year, it’s rare to find a book that’s so unusual. Especially one that’s quietly atmospheric, thought provoking, enjoyable and well written. This one checks all the boxes. I am looking forward to reading the others in the series.

The Au Pair (2.5 stars):  2.5 stars. I don’t know what is wrong with me that I can’t seem to rate with whole numbers. 2 stars seems too stingy for this novel and 3 stars seems too generous. So there we go.

If you’re looking for a quick read that will keep you occupied and entertained without annoying you too much, The Au Pair is not a terrible choice. The story alternates between two characters and two moments in time. I liked the present day character more though both of them were a bit whinier than I like in general.

Here’s the thing: there’s almost no character development in this book anywhere. Not an inch of depth into any of the characters. She wants to know who she is and she loves the house she grew up in and that’s pretty much all you really know about Seraphine, one of the main characters. The alternate narrator, The Au Pair, is even shallower than that, in my opinion. For someone who cares way more about characters than plot, this book was likely a poor choice from the beginning.

There are twists and turns, though not super unpredictable since, you know, there aren’t a huge number of possibilities. The one thing the book has going for it is the pacing. It’s reasonably fast paced and you do want to keep reading it. So I read it in one gulp.

Now that I’ve written all this, 2.5 stars might even be a tiny bit generous.

The Water Cure (2 stars):  Not even sure where to begin…

Here’s another book that is blurbed with labels that have nothing to do with the book. I don’t know what the marketers are thinking when they try to compare a book to a classic. I understand it might have initial appeal and might cause me to pickup the book but then the let down after reading it and, finding out that you have completely lied to me, makes me so mad that I am now skeptical of anything and everything that comes after this. I can’t imagine the one single sale based on a lie is so much better than all the sales you’re now not getting because of the lie.

Ok rant done. This book is nothing like Handmaid’s Tale. Nothing. So I want to set that expectation first and foremost.

The only reason I gave this book two stars is because the author’s lyrical language is powerful and it was, for me, the best part of the book. I don’t usually prioritize paying attention to the language because if I am prioritizing the plot, it means your characters don’t have the depth I need and if I am prioritizing the language, well it means there isn’t much else that’s getting my attention enough. But in some rare cases, the language is beautiful and really adds to the story. This was one of those cases. Especially in the beginning and the ending.

This is where my positive feelings about the book stop. I have so many questions and so many complaints. If you’re going to have three narrators, they need to be distinctly different from each other so as to have a reason that the constant switching helps the story (instead of just giving the reader whiplash.) While there are small differences between the sisters, there is really not enough distinction (besides their plot of course) to make the rotating narration worthwhile.

The plot is convoluted and there are so many holes in the story that at some point I just gave up. I didn’t even care what was going on in the outside world, why they were here, where the others were, and on and on. This wasn’t a slow building story where you can understand the background of the characters and see how they ended up in the completely messed up places they ended up. I am not sure if the author’s goal is for me to conclude “men are evil” and “don’t mess with women” but those are not lessons. This is not a valuable take away. This is not feminist. It’s just another way of stereotyping. These topics are so complicated and so layered that writing a story like this and then selling it as feminist dystopia does it a disservice.

I was confused, horrified, angry and frustrated for most of this story. Maybe that was the intent. But to me, a book that makes me feel those things and doesn’t teach me anything or give me some questions to grapple with is just there to mess with my emotions. And, that makes me mad. I don’t think this is a powerful story. I think this is a missed opportunity.

I did love the author’s lyrical prose, however, so I’ll give her that.

The Widows (4 stars):  What a fantastic book!

Historical Fiction is not my favorite genre. It’s not generally what I would lean towards but I’ve read many in my time and, as with most other genres, what makes or breaks the novel for me is the characters. The character development in this novel is deep, rich and layered. The writing is solid and has just enough texture to envelop you in the atmosphere and is not so flowery (which I feel is sometimes the case for historical fiction) that it gets in the way. The fact that her characters happen to be a strong female characters is just an icing on the cake.

This novel doesn’t move fast. While there’s a crime (or two) at its center, it’s also not a who-did-it. While the characters are motivated by the events that precipitates their meeting, it’s so much more than that. It takes place in the 1920s and speaks to issues around coal mining, unionization, power balance (or imbalance), women and their place in society, and just so much more. All of these are the underpinnings and they are the layers of this story.

But all of that would have been nothing without the amazing character work. At its core, it’s a character-driven story and that is, by far, the very best part of this novel. I really enjoyed it and look forward to reading more from this new author!

Brave, Not Perfect (4.5 stars):  What a fantastic book!

Reshma Saujani’s TED talk was recommended to me by several colleagues at work, so when I saw the book, I knew a little about its premise. I have two boys, and yet, I am a girl 🙂 So it was quite interesting reading this book with both my mom filter on and as a woman myself. I’ve already recommended it to all the parents I know, because so much of this book is about highlighting behavior that exists in a way that feels indoctrinated. Things we don’t do consciously maybe because we’ve done them this way such a long time. It’s highlighting the invisible hidden in plain sight.

And like most truths, once you see it, you can’t unsee it.

A few years ago, I picked “brave” as my word of the year so that I could become braver. And one of the biggest shifts that happened that year wasn’t that I became brave but that I realized how brave I already was. The author talks about the positive cycle of how bravery begets bravery and that is very much the case. So does realizing how brave you are because it shifts the way you see yourself and now you’re no longer “afraid” to be brave. It is imperative that we turn this cycle around for our girls. The subtle (and not so subtle) push towards perfection is one of the most damaging signals women receive (and then internalize.) I still see this people-pleasing, “looking perfect on the outside but falling apart on the inside” every single day. Not only does it curb our potential as women, it also keeps us disconnected from each other because it’s not possible to have real connection/belonging without authenticity.

I’ve highlighted so much of this book and I will continue to recommend it to every parent (and woman) I know. We can only do better when we know better and this book is a solid step forward in that direction. And it also has tangible, specific next steps you can take to move into the practice of bravery.

Thank you Reshma Saujani for helping us all get less perfect and braver. (and thank you netgalley for the early preview of this awesome book!)

Normal People (5 stars): I loved every bit of this book. From the moment I read the first few lines, I knew I would have a hard time putting it down. I had a visceral connection to it almost immediately and I couldn’t put it down. I didn’t want to.

The books I love fall into two categories: books i have no qualms about recommending to everyone and books I love but I wouldn’t feel comfortable recommending without a bunch of caveats. This book falls in the latter category. (Plainsong, however, falls in the former.)

I want to start with the caveats:
– this might be boring for many, there’s no plot, nothing really happens and there’s no “ending” either. It’s almost like a glimpse into the lives of these characters over the course of a few years.
– there is a lot of sex and drinking and some drugs in the book. not many graphic descriptions of any of it but if you’re sensitive it will bother you.
– the secondary characters are not well developed and are so not the point of the story that writer clearly couldn’t be bothered to work on them.
– it’s hard to tell what the “point” of the story is or if there even is one.

I will also say while I liked it ok, I didn’t love Rooney’s first novel and I didn’t go into this thinking it was going to be amazing. Man Booker prize long lists are a mixed bag in my opinion so I wasn’t sure what to expect.

Ok, now that I have all the other caveats out of the way, I am going to come back to: I loved this book. I will thinking about it for a long, long time. I’ve underlined many parts of it. So much of this book connected with me.

I don’t even know how to describe what spoke to me so deeply. It’s so human is the best way I can think to describe it. The emotions the two main characters have, the deep conflict, the constant miscommunication (or lack of communication) that is a result of their own insecurities, their own feelings of inadequacy can be felt so acutely in this story that it made me wince several times. There are so many moments of realizations for the characters, moments where they see how their idea of something doesn’t really match up with the reality of the world and how their distorted thinking ruins their chances of joy again and again. It felt so true and real to me.

Here are a few quotes that really spoke to me::

Marianne sometimes sees herself at the very bottom of the ladder, but at other times she pictures herself off the ladder completely, not affected by its mechanics since she does not actually desire popularity or do anything to make it belong to her. From her vantage point, it’s not obvious what rewards the ladder provides, even to those who really are at the top.

The ladder is complicated for all people, at all rungs.

Even in memory she will find this moment unbearably intense, and she’s aware of this now, while it’s happening. She has never believed herself fit to be loved by any person. But now she has a new life, of which this is the first moment, and even after many years have passed she will still think: Yes, that was it, the beginning of my life.

This was such a touching moment for me. Those times in your life when you can experience something monumental and be aware of it’s hugeness at the same time. Sort of like both living and observing your life simultaneously.

He knew that the secret for which he had sacrificed his own happiness and the happiness of another person had been trivial all along, and worthless.

Isn’t this the saddest moment when you find out this thing you were so afraid of being “found out” for was meaningless to others? What you made so big in your mind, what you contorted your life for.

You learn nothing very profound about yourself simply by being bullied but by bullying someone else you learn something you can never forget.

i wish this were true. I don’t know if it is.

No one can be independent of other people completely, do why not give up the attempt, she thought, go running in the other direction, depend on people for everything, allow them to depend on you, why not.

this might be the crux of this story in the end. if only we could.

I can’t even tell you what the story is about. I just know that there’s so much of it that spoke to me. And I can totally see that at another time, in another place, I might have found all of it sappy and pointless. But I didn’t. I connected with this deeply and felt rewarded again and again throughout the story.

huge thanks to netgalley and the publisher for an advance copy in return for an honest review

The Dreamers (4 stars):  I really enjoyed making my way through this story. It teetered between a 3 and a 4-star book for me while I read it depending on how much of it I was reading at a time. The more I read, the more engulfed I was in the story and the more I enjoyed the sweet softness of it.

Even though this sounds like a disaster, mysterious illness story, it’s not about that. It’s really about people and their connection to each other and there’s this added layer of an inexplicable sickness that’s spreading across the town that may or may not overtake you at any moment for no reason. The anxiety this causes is palpable in the novel.

The book tells the story through the experiences of different sets of people. A couple with a newborn baby, two young girls and their dad, the college students where the whole things begins, etc. Each story is touching and interesting and thoughtful from its own perspective. There are also small but poignant bits about immigrants, marriage, parenthood and more.

If you pickup this book because you want to know what happened and the mystery behind the illness, etc. you will be sorely disappointed. This is a quiet novel with slow, soft moving progress. It asks more questions than it answers. But it’s very beautiful and I really enjoyed my time with it.

And there we go, a really solid week of reading. Here’s to another fantastic week.

Books I Read this Week 2019 is a year-long project for 2019. You can read more about my projects for 2019 here. I am also tracking my books in real time on Good Reads here. If you’re on Good Reads add me so I can follow you, too!

Stories from 2019 – 04

This story is about the first week of school. My boys starting 4th and 8th grade. My how the time flies. A really simple page but it still makes me happy.

Here are two more stories from my 2018 album. The content for these mostly come from the “light” kit (with a few bits from “learn”) which was one of my favorites because it had all these super-happy colors.

This layout is about when I went rock climbing with all my people. I don’t like this page all that much but in my album it looks just fine. I don’t like the journaling on that alternating color card. It also just feels too empty to me. But the whole point of this new way of doing things is that one individual page is not as big a deal as how everything fits together.

Stories from 2019 is a year-long project for 2019. You can read more about my projects for 2019 here. Everything on the pages is from Ali’s Story Kits unless mentioned otherwise.

Everyday Magic – 04

Weekly Intention:  This is a short week since it’s a 3-day weekend. One intention I have is not to let this weekend go to waste. That is to say I want to make sure we go on at least 1 if not 2 adventures this weekend. It’s easy for me to sit at home and read and draw and journal and work, all of which are fine but i also want to do things together, however small/big. Ok now, for the week, my intention this week is to get organized and add the meetings i’ve been intending to on the calendar and feel a bit of momentum and check in period. Listen and learn.

This month’s intention is: Seeing the Magic: Pay attention to your life. Make note of all the magic around you. See the people who love, cherish, and honor you. Thank people, show them that you see them. this week i want to pay attention to the really small things. and the really big things. let’s see what i come back with.

One way I will show up this week:  I will try to listen with intent to find seams of things this week. areas where i can help.

One magic I will make this week: art at work for 30 mins at least twice if i can pull it off. 

This week, I will pay attention to: sleeping more on time. slowing down in the evenings. figuring out what “magic of me” is about 

This week, I will be kinder to: my kids. i love them so so so much.

This week, I will focus on pleasing: me i think. i need a bit of self-care.

One new thing I will learn this week: still not doing the online class. meh. but i want to focus on the “magic of me” part first. 

I am looking forward to:  the short week. i wish all weekends were 3-day 

This week’s challenges: a lot of back to back 30 mins meetings this week, i will have to figure out how to pace myself.

Top Goals: 

  • Work: get meetings on calendar, revise plans, start communicating them. schedule some agenda items, start the email.
  • Personal: keep up with journaling + art + yoga, pushups, gym.
  • Family: do physics with david,  math with nathaniel. cook for Jake. family photos and celebrations. go on at least one adventure.

I will focus on my values:

  • Love:  love my life, pay attention to what’s good about it.
  • Learn: about the magic of me goals.
  • Peace: peace with the weather, the winter, the cold/dark.
  • Service: service to work this week again, getting things going.
  • Gratitude: gratitude for my husband who is endlessly patient. 

This week, I want to remember:  that it is ok to be in the season i am in. i also want to honor mary oliver and remember what i want to do with my one precious life.

Everyday Magic is a year-long project for 2019. You can read more about my projects for 2019 here.

Weekly Reflection 2019 – 03

Magic I Saw this Week: This was a reasonably ordinary week and between the short, dark days and a lot of rain, I wasn’t super magical. But I paid attention to Nathaniel’s magic on Friday when we were together. Part of me wishes he would grow up a bit more and be willing to go deeper on things and then there a huge part of me which is so happy to have him still be such a joy filled kid. He’s magic in its purest form. David has also been in a good mood this year so far. He’s almost fourteen and while he has some teenager in him, he’s so kind, so loving and has so much character. I love that he hugs me so tight and is so kind to me always. And Jake’s had a magical week. He went climbing 6-7 times this week and passed a third lead climbing test. He’s a rockstar. I am surrounded by magic.

Magic I Made this Week: Jake and I are still doing the yoga. I went to the gym three times for body pump and once for yoga this week and still did my pushups. I journaled daily. I made time to draw at work twice this week and left work early three times to try to be home for the kids. I’ve been taking time to take care of myself and the ways in which I want to grow but I’ve also been taking slow steps and being graceful with myself. Also listening to what I want/what I need/what will fill me up. It’s a journey for sure.

Magic of Me that I explored Week: Hmm I still haven’t done much here. The journaling has definitely been helping and I am planning to do some extra thinking here this week. I’ve been neglecting it.

Top Goals Review:  

  • Work: reviewed 2019 plans but didn’t get meetings on calendar yet, actively working on it.
    Personal: kept up with journaling + art + yoga, pushups, gym. feeling good about this.
    Family: started physics with david, though we only did twice. found new math to do with nathaniel, feeling good there. cooked for Jake only once. took family photos and did celebrations.

I celebrate: speaking my mind on friday. i have a lot of thoughts and have been trying to be articulate and yet honest.

I am grateful for: a long weekend. they make me disproportionally happy.

This week, I exercised: I’ve done yoga every morning and I’ve also done 10 pushups a day minimum each day. I also went to body pump three times, and another yoga class at work.

Self-care this week: Still journaling, sleeping reasonably well, and leaving work as early as possible to work from home as much as possible. Also got my hair done!

I showed up for:  work this week and for myself especially with taking the time to do art.

I said yes to: Jake this week when he wanted extra climbing time. it’s so wonderful to see him so happy.

I said no to:  to working late at work during these rainy days.

Core Desired Feelings Check-in:

  • Embrace: i am embracing my feelings as much and often as possible, still. paying attention to undercurrents especially. trying to tend to and communicate my needs.
  • Alive: i spent all of Friday reading this book I love love loved and while it might be weird since it was such a passive thing, i really felt alive reading it.
  • Lighter: letting myself slow down and not feel pressured by my todo list has been making me feel lighter.
  • Kinder: i was kinder to my friend this week, she really needed it.
  • Surrender: thinking about surrender a lot. trying to connect with my most innerself and understand what my needs/cravings are.

What I tolerated this week: a lot of rain. rain makes me sad so i put extre twinkly lights on. our tree is also still up.

My mood this week was: sad but also centered.

I am proud of:  getting some lovely art done.

I forgive myself for: not being as productive and super happy this week.

Here’s what I learned this week: i learned that communication is tough. we each have so much of our own issues that it’s super hard not to imbue other people’s words with meaning that might never ever be intended and then the reaction to that creates its own dynamic and it’s so so important to try to be able to step back and see where I added meaning when there wasn’t one (or where there was a different intended meaning.)

What I love right now:  the fire on my tv is still making me most happy.

Weekly Reflection is a year-long project for 2019. You can read more about my projects for 2019 here.

Moments of Gratitude – 03

This week starts with New Year’s photos and then captures our ordinary life.

Here we go, first spread of the year. I have been writing down a handful of things I’m grateful of from each day. 

a wonderful start to 2019.
thank you cards from my friend Kelly and her lovely daughter.
a wonderful little text from my hubby, our family photos, eating yummy food, and doing art.

i love doing this project so far, let’s see if it lasts.

Moments of Gratitude is a year-long project for 2019. You can read more about my projects for 2019 here.

Joy of Art – 03

This is the official first week of Life Book 2019  or at least my interpretation of it. 

I had to try this one twice. In the first version, the face was too small which made it too hard to color. So instead of giving up or continuing with what wasn’t working, I just went to the next page and tried it all over again. 

Grateful that I did. I don’t love this but I am much happier with it and it was wonderful to get to play with watercolors.


Joy of Art is a year-long project for 2019. You can read more about my projects for 2019 here.

Books I Read This Week 2019 – 03

This was a good week of reading. I finally decided to take advantage of netgalley and between that and my library accounts, i have a lovely list of books on my TBR pile that I am excited to read.  Here’s what I have from this week:

Plainsong (5 stars):  In the last few weeks of 2018, I spent time reading a lot of posts around best reads of the year and added content to my TBR. Somewhere along the way, I picked up Plainsong. I don’t know who recommended it or what they said that made me add it to my list. Especially since it’s a book that was published long before 2018.

Whoever it was, thank you.

This book was a pure joy to read. The characters, the dialogue, the atmosphere of the book all come together to envelop you into the story. Much of the book is sad and has real, raw, and bad things happening to several characters. But underneath all the realness of life there is this thread of hope that emerges from the quiet goodness of other characters. The way people express their feelings, their thoughts, their worries feels so true to character. 

The overall quietness of the book was something I cherished the whole time I read it. Especially after Uprooted which was lovely in its own right but certainly not quiet. I have never read this author before and I have no idea why. I was very sad to find out he’s passed away but grateful that he’s left a body of work. I look forward to spending more time with his words in 2019.

Talking Across the Divide (4 stars):  After the last two books I finished, I needed a change of pace so I decided to pickup a nonfiction book. This was new on my pile and I liked the premise of it so I figured it was a good pick.

Overall, I think it was a good book. I liked all the ideas/approaches he introduces in the book and I felt that, in general, he was pretty realistic about how tough it can be to talk across the divide. He clearly has experience with this. ( Though I will say while I liked the E.T. example as a way to show how people might have different stories they have accumulated in their life, I felt that telling me to have them watch E.T. was too simplistic for the example he was giving. That was the one time in the book he completely lost me.)

The reason I gave this 3 stars is really because there wasn’t much new here for me. I’m lucky enough to have a wide range of interests and friends from a wide range of backgrounds. This has taught me that people I love and respect can have wildly different opinions/perspectives than I do. Having such a variety of people in my life has helped me work on some of these tactics and has helped me be more open to listening because as Brené Brown often mentions, it’s hard to disregard someone’s thoughts/opinions/words if you know them as a human being. Not that I always get it right, of course, but I’ve done a lot of growing up in the last twenty years and I am aware that things are a lot more complicated than they might seem and I have but my stories, perspectives, experiences so it’s important for me to remember that those are not the only ones there are in the world. 

Anyhow, these are good books for me to read. Good reminders to keep an open mind, to listen, to care, to remember to not perpetuate a divide. As my favorite Ram Dass saying goes: We are all just walking each other home.

A Key to Treehouse Living (3 stars): Most people who review this book start with its unusual style. The book is written with alphabetic titles as if you’re reading an encyclopedia. I’d read this style before in The Lover’s Dictionary which at the time had delighted and surprised me. Maybe because of that, in this case I felt like it was mostly a gimmick.

I’ve read a lot of books so the gimmicks don’t do it for me anymore. I much prefer novels that have deep, rich characters and solid writing. To be fair to the author, this book is written well and even though all the other characters are ephemeral and not developed much at all, the main character here is layered and complicated. 

I also liked the writing. I highlighted this little sentence that made me smile: “An old man with the need to ruminate will pop like a champagne bottle when you ask him a question and stories will come out like the foam.” I like how it was both so visual and so relatable. 

Had the author trusted his ability to write strongly and develop rich characters, and made this book less gimmicky I probably would have rated this higher. Still really enjoyed it and look forward to seeing what he comes up with next.

Bad Blood (4 stars):  This book showed up in my life in so many ways that I couldn’t continue to ignore it. When my book club picked it months and months ago, I thought it would be a boring, sensationalist read. I live a few streets down from where Theranos was. I work in Silicon Valley and all the little cafes mentioned in the book are in my neighborhood. I figured I knew all I needed to know about this story. 

Then it started popping up all over my Instagram feed by several bookgrammers I follow. My friend whose judgement I generally trust said it was a really good read. And then the clincher was when my brother-in-law said he was up until 2am reading the book and that it was one of his best reads of 2018. I finally succumbed to the universe and bought the book with my audible credits.

It took me a little less than 24 hours to finish because this book is written in a way that makes it very hard to put down. Even when you know half the story. The number of unconscionable acts in this story are appalling. The fact that the house of cards didn’t come down for as long as it lasted in quite mind blowing.

But what made me the saddest reading this book wasn’t even Holmes’ actions. She clearly lost her way at some point and decided to put her greed above anything else and that part of the story I knew (even if I didn’t know all the bullying, secrecy and just outright creepy things she did to her employees.) What caught me by surprise was the way in which people/companies came on board even while suspecting there was something off. They were so worried about their FOMO that they chose to be a part of fraud rather than miss out on something real. Walgreens was worried CVS would do the deal if they didn’t. The number of times people say But what if we pass on this and it’s real blew my mind. Couple FOMO with a charismatic, passionate, successful-looking female CEO and you have yourself a perfect smokescreen. One she took advantage of to its fullest extent. 

Parts of this story made my skin crawl. And other parts were more like facepalm. I don’t know whether to be grateful that the journalist kept pushing until it finally fell apart or horrified that it took as long as it did.

Some Assembly Required (4 stars): This was the only non-fiction Anne Lamott book I haven’t read, so when the library added the audiobook, I put it on hold immediately. Anne Lamott reads her own audiobooks and they are a joy to listen to. I am not a grandmother yet (and not for a long while I hope) but here’s what I know about Anne Lamott: there’s wisdom in all of her books regardless of topic so I knew this would be no different.

And I was right.

Anne Lamott is neurotic, difficult, selfish, and struggling in all the ways the rest of us are. She’s human, she’s fallible, she’s flawed. And yet she’s also wise. She surrounds herself by other wise people and she puts all that vulnerability into her books. So when you read her books, you see the mess that life is, you see someone being honest with you about her own struggles, and you connect with her humanness. 

Or at least I do.

And I am grateful for her openness, for her willingness to be vulnerable so I can feel less alone and so I can grow and benefit from her wisdom. I am always grateful to read one of her books. This one had the added advantage of including bits and pieces of her son Sam’s thinking. It’s so lovely to have read Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son’s First Year and now to hear the baby from that book speaking as an adult with his own baby. 

Super thankful for writers like Anne Lamott

The Happiness Project (3.5 stars): I joined netgalley in 2009, and then proceeded to do nothing for ten years. Last Monday, I finally decided to dig up my login information and see if I can start using it. The Happiness Project was the first book that accepted me so I decided it had to be the first one I read. 

And I am glad I did. 

Apparently this is not the first book, so the author jumps right into the story without giving too much of a background on each of the characters. This didn’t bother me at all, though I will say by the end of the story I still couldn’t really tell you much about the physical characteristics of any character except that one of them is pretty petite. This, too, wasn’t a huge problem for me. I did feel like I got to know each of the characters as a “person” and they felt uniquely different from each other, and reasonably three-dimensional to me. They were flawed, interesting, thoughtful characters. 

The book was a fun and quick read. When I was reading it, I liked getting lost in their stories and when I wasn’t reading it, I found myself looking forward to reading more. While there were some learning moments for each character, this wasn’t a story of major growth. 

When they first make the “Happiness Project” I thought it would end up being that they would each learn something about what happiness meant for them and how their project/goal would shift with the learning etc. but it wasn’t a book like that. It was light, fun and one of those books that come together beautifully at the end, leaving you smiling and happy. 

If you’re looking for a deep, literary book that will make you learn about new cultures, or appreciate complex characters, I wouldn’t recommend you pick this one. But if you want to have fun, enjoy a good story with characters that are real and experience real-life situations, especially around marriage and motherhood, I think this is a fantastic pick. 

I gave it a 3.5 stars because while I would have liked a bit more depth, I really enjoyed the story and had fun the whole time I read it.

Chief Joy Officer (3.5 stars): 3.5 stars but I decided to round up this time partly because I am so happy leaders like this exist and I want to encourage these types of books to be written more and more and I want other leaders to take their cues from this type of advice and leadership.

I’ll start with what I liked: I liked all the examples of how the author’s company works and how much time and effort and, most importantly, thoughtfulness they’ve put into the process of making decisions that serve their purpose around creating a more joyful and collaborative company. It sounds like it’s clearly a wonderful place to work and I have subscribed to their newsletters and earmarked it as a place I’d love to go visit when/if I make it to Michigan (which I am decidedly likely to in the next 3 years.) I am a firm believer that such environments don’t happen magically. It takes a lot of effort, dedication and intentionality. 

Now, the part I wish there was more of was specific to me. I work at a large company and I run operations for a reasonably large organization where I was hoping I could take away some tangible, interesting ideas from the book and start recommending that we implement them (or at least experimenting with them) in my organization. Alas, with the exception of one small idea, I didn’t walk away with anything else. Partly because some of his suggestions are things I am already working on and partly because it was hard for me to envision how to integrate some of his other ideas into our organization. But this is not to say there are no ideas in the book, just not a major aha! moment for me.

All in all, it was a worthwhile read and I am looking forward to tracking the company for a little while through their newsletters and seeing if I get some gems there. And super grateful companies like this exist.


Can You Ever Forgive Me? (2 stars): This came up on my library hold so I decided since it was a quick read, I could go ahead and tackle it. I wanted to read it before I see the movie. Because I refuse to see movies without reading the book and I knew I wanted to see this one. 


The book left so much to be desired. There’s nothing to learn or even something to enjoy in this book, for me. While some of the tidbits of the letters she wrote were fun to read, I felt the lack of any emotion, any remorse, or even anything that made this person real for me, stopped me from connecting with the author at all. 

I understand this is a true story and the truth likely is that she didn’t feel remorse and that she didn’t have a big, amazing reason why she did what she did except that she could and she needed/wanted the money. Sometimes the truth is as simple and straightforward as that. 

That doesn’t mean I have to like it and it doesn’t mean it makes a good story. At least not for me. 

I will still likely watch the movie, though I am decidedly less excited to do so now.

Juliet, the Maniac (4 stars):  Wow so many feelings for this book. I don’t even really know where to start…

I’ll start with part of the book’s description that totally made me mad: “An explosive portrayal of teenage life from the perspective of The Bad Friend…” what?! This is a terrible description for the book I read. There are few things that make me angrier than reading blurb copy that was written to raise curiosity/to sensationalize and then book ends up being something completely different and now you’re disappointed not because the book was bad but because the blurb set the wrong expectation.

The first sentence of the blurb here in goodreads is closer to the truth of this book: “It’s 1997, and 14-year-old Juliet has it pretty good. But over the course of the next two years, she rapidly begins to unravel, finding herself in a downward trajectory of mental illness and self-destruction.” but really if I were explaining it to a friend, I’d say this is a book about a 14-year-old who is suffering from several forms of mental illness, most specifically being bipolar. It’s the story of her trying to (or her parents forcing) to find her way back. It’s raw and honest and disturbing in all the ways life can be when you’re suffering from mental illness and are also a teenager. 

She is not a “bad friend,” she’s just a girl who’s struggling so very deeply and keeps making choices that don’t serve her because she’s sick, because she’s struggling, because she’s lonely, because she feels “not right” inside, because…well for all the reasons many of us struggle during some of the most formative years of our lives. 

I can’t relate to any of what Juliet does in this novel (side note: or is it non-fiction? I could never be sure and still am really not. If it’s meant to be a novel it would have been better served by the main character having a different name. in my opinion this only serves to confuse the reader and doesn’t add to the story.) I didn’t take any drugs or really much alcohol during my teen years. I don’t want to give away much of what happens in the story (even though I think the things she “does” isn’t really what the story is about.) But I could relate to her anyway. I could relate to her suffering. I could emphasize with her. The writing was so real that I could almost feel it crawling under my skin.

What was most interesting to me is that I alternated between reading the book as my teen-self and as my parent-of-teen self. I don’t even have a daughter but there were parts of the book where I got so mad at her for continuing to self-sabotage and make choices that wouldn’t stop hurting her. I felt angry and frustrated and wanted to stop reading. And then there were other parts that brought me right back to my own old teenage self where I could connect with her feelings of emptiness and pain. 

Clearly, this book left an impression on me. I will say that I didn’t want to be reading it as I was reading it. It was painful and raw. I didn’t want to watch her as she was doing so much harm to herself and others. But yet, I am glad I read it. And I will likely think about it for a long while.

[ps. this was my second netgalley read, hence the early review.]

Keep Going (5 stars):  When I saw there was an Austin Kleon book coming out, I knew it was an occasion to celebrate. I was super excited when I got the approval email from netgalley, and not-shockingly, I read the whole wonderful book in one sitting. (I am sure he would tell me to slow down, savor, and appreciate the book. But I couldn’t. I will just have to reread it so I can do that the second time around.)

I’ve read several of Austin Kleon‘s books and this has the same format as the others. It’s a little book, full of wisdom. I highlighted so many parts of the book that I am not sure I can capture all of them here. 

I am not a full-time artist, I don’t make a living on art, or even make any money, but as someone who has stopped spending time being creative in the last year, I knew this book would help get me back on track. 

And so much of the wisdom here is exactly what I am trying to implement to bring art/journaling back into my life. Here are some of the notes I took:
– a daily routine and observe, where are the spaces in my day (maybe i can book a 30 minute meeting at work to do art? could I pull that off?)
– choosing what I spend my time on (am I spending my time the way I want do, what am I doing on automatic?)
– make a list of all the todos, make a list of all the won’t dos, make a list of all the want to learns
– i loved the journaling idea of thankful/”need help with”
– make a list of all i did that day, what i want from tomorrow, and then be done with the day (i love this as the ritual of letting the day go.) i also loved the idea of letting the day be (instead of crumpling it up.)
– “If you wait for someone to give you a job title before you do the work, you might never get to do the work at all.” This is so true in so many areas. At my job, too!
– Practicing art is helps make your soul grow. so important for me to remember!
– i liked the idea about rereading my diaries. a bit scary, too 🙂
– i also loved the idea of visiting the past, reading old books, I should read some Seneca!
– i also loved remembering that art (like many things) happens in cycles and that maybe i was in a quiet cycle for the last year or so.

This is just a sampling of what I highlighted in this lovely book bursting with wonderful inspiration and quiet wisdom. It’s a book I will keep coming back to again and again.


And there we go, a really solid week of reading. Pretty happy.

Books I Read this Week 2019 is a year-long project for 2019. You can read more about my projects for 2019 here. I am also tracking my books in real time on Good Reads here. If you’re on Good Reads add me so I can follow you, too!

Stories from 2019 – 03

This story is about how us right now. How I love taking our family photos and little things I want to remember from this moment in our lives.

Here are two more stories from my 2018 album. The content for these mostly come from the “light” kit which was one of my favorites because it had all these super-happy colors.

This story is from when we all went “hiking” together even though most of it was just walking and not really hiking.

Stories from 2019 is a year-long project for 2019. You can read more about my projects for 2019 here. Everything on the pages is from Ali’s Story Kits unless mentioned otherwise.

Everyday Magic – 03

Weekly Intention:  This week will be a bit more hectic than last week was but hopefully not a lot. My intention this week is still to go slow. Be home as often as possible, journal, be grounded, listen and try to pay attention.

This month’s intention is: Seeing the Magic: Pay attention to your life. Make note of all the magic around you. See the people who love, cherish, and honor you. Thank people, show them that you see them. Still going strong on the letters. Maybe I can add one new thing this week.

One way I will show up this week:  I will try to be kinder this week. Listen with the intent to help everyone I meet with.

One magic I will make this week: I didn’t get to do art at night during the week last week so I am going to see if it can be this week’s magic. 

This week, I will pay attention to: how to handle myself better in the evenings when I am tired and worn out.

This week, I will be kinder to: people at work. let’s see if it makes a difference in how i feel.

This week, I will focus on pleasing: nathaniel. let’s see if i can focus on him.

One new thing I will learn this week: i didn’t pick an online class last week :/ this week i will figure out what math to teach Nathaniel. 

I am looking forward to:  getting my hair done. 

This week’s challenges: getting all the routines decided and set at work.

Top Goals: 

  • Work: review 2019 plans, get meetings on calendar.
  • Personal: keep up with journaling + art + yoga, pushups, gym.
  • Family: start physics with david. find math with nathaniel. cook for Jake. family photos and celebrations.

I will focus on my values:

  • Love:  stay grounded, show my love more. say kind words. celebrate others. show them why they are awesome.
  • Learn: go back to doing art again. just for you.
  • Peace: peace with moving slower than I would like to.
  • Service: service to work this week, getting things going.
  • Gratitude: gratitude for my mom’s checkup results being well. 

This week, I want to remember:  that how I spend my days is how I spend my life.

Everyday Magic is a year-long project for 2019. You can read more about my projects for 2019 here.

Weekly Reflection 2019 – 02

Magic I Saw this Week: Hmm this week’s magic was going bouldering together, getting back into the groove of work, but most wonderfully spending a lot of time with Jake. I saw how wonderful it is that I am able to come home early most evenings, spend most weekends calmly and really enjoy my family.

Magic I Made this Week: Jake and I are still doing the yoga and it still feels magical but another piece of magic i created for us was driving up to dogpatch on Friday morning just the two of us so I could watch my amazing husband boulder and celebrate and videotape his progress. It was wonderful.

Magic of Me that I explored Week: Hmm I am not doing as much work here as I would like but I did journal all week and there have been a few insights. I’ve also been practicing really feeling the kind words my husband says to me and owning them and thanking him. 

Top Goals Review:  

  • Work: aligned with my manager on our goals for 2019, also wrote up a long document for us to review this week.
  • Personal: kept up with journaling on all but one day, didn’t do new art during the week art, but did yoga and went to the gym twice for body pump and yoga and also did my daily pushups. 
  • Family: didn’t restart physics with david. did math with nathaniel. cooked for Jake. did both family photos and celebrations.

I celebrate: transitioning to work reasonably seamlessly and slowly.

I am grateful for: an unexpected bonus at work for some work i did last year.

This week, I exercised: I’ve done yoga every morning and I’ve also done 10 pushups a day minimum each day. I also went to body pump once, another yoga class at work, and bouldering.

Self-care this week: Still journaling, sleeping reasonably well, and leaving work as early as possible to work from home as much as possible.

I showed up for:  Jake this week. we got to put him on the spotlight.

I said yes to:  going bouldering even though i was scared and sore.

I said no to:  to bookclub even though i had intended on going but decided i really needed that night at home.

Core Desired Feelings Check-in:

  • Embrace: i am embracing my feelings as much and often as possible, trying to live them as i experience them.
  • Alive: the bouldering, while super scary, made me feel alive.
  • Lighter: i am really enjoying reading a lot and sitting by the fake fire we have going on our tv. it makes me feel lighter, grounded and grateful.
  • Kinder: i am trying to be kinder to myself and jake and my kids. trying to pay attention to everyone’s needs. not fully there yet.
  • Surrender: i need to surrender to where i am and how i feel. working on it.

What I tolerated this week: i was very sore early in the week, though I am better now.

My mood this week was: tired and in pain.

I am proud of:  how much work i got done, my discipline with coming home early.

I forgive myself for: losing my patience more than i’d like.

Here’s what I learned this week: i learned that most people don’t ask for what they want. most people don’t even know what they want. when a situation is not great, i need to take the time to understand what i want, and then ask for it.

What I love right now:  that i am still feeling relatively grounded.

Weekly Reflection is a year-long project for 2019. You can read more about my projects for 2019 here.

Moments of Gratitude – 02

I spent a long time thinking about whether I wanted to continue this project from last year. After going back and forth, I decided there was a way I could transform it slightly and make it work.

After looking around for a long time, I liked this journal the best. I wasn’t sure if it was going to be nice in person but it’s absolutely beautiful. 

I take two photos a day of something magical in my life and then on the third box i write down gratitudes from the day. I know that the new science says this practice only works if we do it 1-2 times a week but I believe in daily or never so I am going for daily here.

Some days I might not get to it, or some weeks I might really fall behind in which case I’ll do it weekly then 🙂

Here’s to Seeing more Magic in 2019.

Moments of Gratitude is a year-long project for 2019. You can read more about my projects for 2019 here.

Joy of Art – 02

One of my goals this year is to bring back the practice of making art regularly. Ideally I’d do this more than once a week but if I end the year with 52 pieces of art, I will be super glad. 

To help with this goal, I am taking several classes so fae:

  1. Life Book 2019  Easiest way to bring back art for 2019.
  2. Perspective class by Olga this class was free.
  3. Alisa Burke’s yearlong art journaling class.

The work I share here will start with these and if I am lucky it will spread out to more. So we’ll see.

This week’s art is inspired by Tam’s warm up in Lifebook week 1. This piece has nothing to do with the piece she created but it’s how I wanted to warm up. 

I can sit here and criticize every piece of this but I am surrendering and letting it go because the goal is not to create perfect art. It’s just to make more art and I have to start somewhere. So here it goes.

Joy of Art is a year-long project for 2019. You can read more about my projects for 2019 here.