Reading 2014

Last year, I met my (revised) New Year’s resolution to read 52 books in a year. I decided not to attempt such a goal again this year. I loved many of the books I ended up reading but also found myself reading quickly just to get through a book and not choosing books based on their value but just to read them. So, this year, I changed my goal to read a classic every month. How do you determine a classic? If it’s been on reading lists or is frequently cited by other authors or professors, if it’s old? I just decided to choose books that would make me a more well-read, well-rounded person. And books that I wish I read so I could contribute more to conversations, recommendations, my children’s lives, etc. Or if it had the words “Classic” or “Literature” on the cover.

Since it is May, I have completed four. In January, I read The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway. February was The Complete Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. March was Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf and April’s pick was The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain. I was determined to read Bleak House in May but that might not be a good book to read when you’re waiting for a baby to arrive. What have I learned so far? That I somehow missed a lot of great books growing up. I never expected to enjoy Sherlock Holmes or Huck Finn as much as I did. I also learned I am not a Woolf fan. Several times I wanted to throw the book against the wall but kept reading because I wanted to tell people I finished it.

I’ve read a number of other books so far this year and won’t list all of them but here are a few favorites:

1. The Garden of Burning Sand by Corban Addison- Much like his first book, this one tackles a major global issue, namely violence against the poor. Set in Zambia, the story was very compelling and the topic broke my heart. Read it and see recommendation 3.

2. Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver- Beautiful picture of Southwest Virginia and incredible questions about the meaning of faith, science and the relationship between them.

3. The Locust Effect by Gary Haugen- The title of this book comes from the American Midwest. Haugen describes how no matter how much work people put into their farms, how well they managed their assets and used their knowledge, a single swarm of locusts could randomly appear and wipe out an entire year’s crop, causing the family to lose their income for the year and often spiral into debt. Haugen argues this is the same effect that violence has on the poor. Until we figure out how to address the incredibly unequal rates of violent incidents against the poor, all aid and charity work will be hampered. My only frustration with the book was that I walked away feeling helpless to do anything about it since I am neither a lawyer nor enforcement officer.

4. Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson- Several people recommended this to me after I shared my love of The Hotel Between Bitter and Sweet. I loved the story, the imagery of the Northwest, the history and the characters. I was very sad to finish this book.

5. The Patron Saint of Liars by Ann Patchett- The story of a woman who goes to a home run by nuns to assist women who are pregnant and unmarried. Each character was a richly developed individual with their own motives. I found the story compelling though the ending was not my favorite.

Currently I am reading: Bleak House, Strange Glory (Charles Marsh’s in-depth, extensive biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer) and Dancing in the Glory of Monsters (about the wars in the Congo since 1996). The last one is on pause though because I am having enough trouble sleeping.

Down to the Wire

I am 37 weeks pregnant and am really hoping to not have to be pregnant too much longer. I am just not a good pregnant person. Our friend recently shared how nice his wife was while she was with child. Josh and I laughed out loud. I’ll admit, I’m a little scared to give birth in a hospital here. Mostly I’m worried I’ll end up in an operating room with people yelling things in French and German and I will not know what is going on and they will amputate a leg or something. The hospitals are really not bad. In fact they are so nice that people want to stay in them for as long as possible. They are like hotels. I know this because their websites have sections about room service and pictures of the gardens you can stroll through while recovering from childbirth. A friend’s son had his adenoids removed at our hospital and she swears that the dinner was the best meal she’s ever had in Geneva.

My doctor has been nothing but wonderful. She was very excited when I came in to see her the first time. When I saw our little one on the ultrasound screen, I said, “Wow. There’s the heart. That is amazing.” And she, in her Swiss German/French/English accent said, “Yes, it is amazing” and paused for a moment to enjoy the miracle with me. She has been very low key about everything. In the States, I think I saw my obstetrician every 2-4 weeks depending on how far along I was. Here I have seen her roughly every 6 weeks and even in the last two months of my pregnancy, I will see her once or twice. The only supplement I have been given is Iron and Folic Acid, a change from the US prenatal horse pills (that I still take) that cover every vitamin and mineral ever deemed to have a positive effect on a human.

Support from others has been positive as well. I was relieved to find that women in France (and therefore Switzerland) don’t discuss their deliveries. This is dramatically different from the U.S. where every woman (or many women) shares her story. I’ve also found that my other European/British friends don’t feel a need to share how their children arrived in the world, simply that they did. I’m not sure if it is discretion on the part of the Brits and Europeans or more of a disclosure problem in the U.S. As someone who had a caesarean, I found myself regularly wanting to jump into conversations about births and explain why I required a c-section. I became defensive and frustrated with myself for somehow not having the perfect birth. But here, no one ever asks me how Forest was born. They just know he’s here and that is that.

And the larger medical system has been nothing but good to us here. After Christmas, I had a scare with this pregnancy. Being a discrete person, I will just say I needed to go to the emergency room to be checked out. I thought to myself, “This will be the worst experience ever. This will be another reason to hate this place.” But everyone was wonderful. I called my doctor who answered her phone on the night after Christmas. She told me to go to the large University hospital and gave me her personal cell phone number to keep her informed. We went and they directed us to their special very nice maternity emergency room. There we were met by nurses who could speak some English and between that and my French, we filled out the necessary forms. Within ten minutes, they had the ultrasound out and found the heartbeat. Josh texted my dad to tell him the relieving news and my dad, a physician in the states, reminded us, “In the U.S. you’d still be filling out paperwork.” Twenty minutes later, we walked out the door having seen a doctor and been issued a clear bill of health and not paying anything. In fairness, they did send us a bill later but it was much lower than what I expected. When I woke up at 8 am the next morning, I saw I had missed two calls from my doctor. She had called to check on me twice, two days after Christmas. I ended up putting “Medical System” in the pro column for Geneva.

So I probably have no reason to be afraid of delivering this little one here. It is different to not feel so monitored but there’s also an empowering side to that. I will be able to say I gave birth on two continents and in two very different systems. That’s a pretty cool thing. And I’m confident there will be some cultural miscommunication which will give me something else to blog about. Looking forward to it for so many reasons.

Bad Boys, Bad Boys…

Ahh the intro to Cops. Who can forget it? I had my first non-canine-related encounter with the police today. While it was a nice study in cultural differences, I could have done without it. Today was my blood glucose screening test. For those of you who have never endured such a test, let me describe it. The doctor takes some blood, makes you drink a bottle of the most sugary substance you can think of excluding actual maple syrup. It’s sort of like drinking orange Kool Aid mixed with two extra cups of sugar. (Side note- the Kool Aid man has received multiple mentions on popular television lately. I smell a comeback). But, back to the test. After you drink this substance, you stumble down the hallway to the waiting room and try not to vomit or pass out while the baby kicks you like crazy because he or she has just received the most sugar he or she has ever had in his or her life. I tried to read news on my phone but had trouble focusing on longer stories. I got that Russia is annexing Crimea, the plane is still missing and more people have signed up for health insurance. Pretty good for a blood sugar high reading of the news. Then after an hour, they draw your blood again. At this point, I was also give an iron profusion (that’s what the doctor called it but I think something may have been lost in translation). Then I was escorted back to the waiting room where I read my Real Simple (which I have to bring with me because the French magazines are tough to read and are all about parties or what to wear to work if you are a female politician). After two hours and another blood draw, I was permitted to leave. I love my doctor but I left with multiple bandaids on each arm because of all the various treatments and tests. I was also late to get home to let the babysitter leave. 

All of this meant I was ready to go. I got in my car, paid for my two hours of parking and left the garage. Now, the lanes are confusing coming out of this particular garage and I thought I had my own lane. Apparently I did not. I cut off an unmarked van, resulting in loud honking and angry gestures from a man wearing what I thought was a security guard uniform. I am getting used to the angry drivers here so I kept driving. He pulled up next to me and yelled but I was focused on driving and thought he was just trying to get my attention so he could tell me what a terrible female driver I am. At the next intersection, he was next to me and I finally looked over, ready to hit the gas if this guy was actually dangerous. Then I saw the police patch on his shoulder. So I pulled over.

At this point, he had called back up to help with this crazy driver. So four or five cops got out of their marked cars to back up their colleague. Even as he walked up, I thought, certainly cutting someone off is not a crime. I apologized as I handed over my Swiss drivers license (glad I got that thing in time). Now, maybe this is a ridiculous idea but I figured a very nice, friendly, apologetic six-month-pregnant woman would get a little bit of compassion or understanding. No. He gave instructions to the other officers who then stood around my car and watched me while he radioed something on his shoulder walkie talkie. All I could think was “I have a babysitter at home who I need to call but if I reach for my phone, I’m pretty sure one of you will shoot me (yes, police officers are armed here too).” Ten minutes later, after several people had walked by and shaken their heads at me (what did you do!?! shame! and you’re pregnant! One mother even sort of turned her child away), I was allowed to leave. When I asked what I had done, the English-speaking officer told me that I had been a very, very dangerous driver and almost collided with the police officer’s van. And I did not stop. “There will be a report. You will pay.” I was sort of hoping it would be automatic deportation just because that would make for a great story. But instead I’m left with some sort of report being filed about my very very dangerous driving and some unnamed amount of money due to Switzerland. As we like to semi-joke, it could be ten francs, could be one thousand. I’ll keep you posted. Note: I did have a small amount of blood on my face, I assume from one of my many bandaid applications. I might have called back up after seeing that. But he called it before. Ridiculous.

Hiddenness

ImageThis post may veer slightly from my generally irreverent observational accounts of life in Geneva. But yesterday, I found a Bible verse that meant so much to me. It’s from the story of Hagar, the servant Sarai sent to Abram to bear his child (that’s probably the simplest version of her biography). Hagar got pregnant and began to despise Sarai and then got sent away by Sarai. An angel found her in the desert and told her to return to Sarai. Then he gave her a great blessing for her soon to be born son Ishmael. Hagar said, You are the God who sees me. 

I have been very moved by the idea of hiddenness. As a mom of a toddler in a country that is not my own, I feel hidden. In Houston, I had a number of friends who I could call up and meet for lunch on a regular basis. Now lunchtime is spent with Forest. In the States, I could go to the grocery store and ask questions or just talk to the cashier. Here I speak much less in public, self-conscious of my French accent (or serious lack thereof). I have made friends but we are all on kid schedules. Nap from 11-1 means meeting for lunch is out. School and activities fight for space on a calendar and coordinating even two toddler schedules can be difficult. And calling my friends in the States must wait until at least 2 pm because of the time change. All this means I spend more time alone or with someone who speaks one word expecting me to understand all that “bird” implies: “A bird flew to the bird feeder and ate and flew away.” Duh. Of course that’s what “bird” means.

But I’m not as bitter about this as I used to be. First of all, Forest is developing more vocabulary every day and it is exciting to hear him try to form sentences. “Nyo (pronoun he uses for himself) fly house Mimi.” But more than that, I have really come to believe that hiddenness is a phase that I am in right now. I used to want to be the Press Secretary of the United States (nerd alert). But many days, I actually learn and do more in silence than in front of others. And because I am in silence as I work and live, it makes me remember why I chose to stay home with Forest and build our little life. And I think that is a gift that is unique to moving to Geneva. I did not spend nearly as much time in silence or solitude in Houston. There was always something to do or someone to spend time with. I can’t explain it and I do not feel this benevolent towards silence most days. But to read that He is the God who sees me, on days when I feel somewhat invisible to the adult world around me, settled my heart. 

I know this post is different than my usual babbling about life in Switzerland. But when I discovered Genesis 16:13, I could not stop thinking about it. And it ties in with one of my favorite Henri Nouwen quotes: “One of the reasons that hiddenness is such an important aspect of spiritual life is that it keeps us focused on God. In hiddenness we must go to God with our sorrows and joy and trust that God will give us what we need… we are inclined to avoid hiddenness. We want to be useful to others and influence the course of events. But as we become visible and popular, we grow dependent on people and their responses and easily lose touch with God, the true source of our being.”

An Ode to the Drive Through

ImageAwhile ago, I decided to change the title of my list. Rather than “Things I Miss about the US,” I have started calling it, “Things I Will Never Take for Granted Again.” It’s a subtle difference but slightly less mournful. Today’s addition to the list? The Drive Through.  In Geneva, there are no drive-throughs. There is one in Annemasse which is just across the border in France. It opens at 10:30 and closes at 6 or something. And it is a McDonald’s, not my favorite. I drove through once or twice when I got really homesick but for the most part, I park and go in to every store.

Houston was the opposite. When we lived in Houston, I drove through at least one every day and not just for food- Starbucks, the pharmacy, dry cleaning, the bank, etc. I could basically do everything from the air-conditioned comfort of my car. Once, when we had first moved down from New York, I noticed the line for the drive up ATM was really long so I parked and went into the bank. They did not even have an ATM inside. That is how many people chose to walk in- zero. In New York, no one drives but everything is so dense, you can walk to all these places leaving your toddler in the stroller. I guess parts of Geneva are like New York but it’s a smaller city and things are farther apart. And you have to go to lots of places to get everything you’re looking for- peppers at one, corn chips at another, etc. They just don’t seem to prioritize convenience.

And while I know this driving has led to rises in unhealthy lifestyles and pollution, it is just so easy. I could put Forest in his car seat and get everything done. Each store seems to be separated from one another here and I have to drive to, park, get out, retrieve a cart, get Forest from his car seat, corral him into said cart, go in, run the actual errand, return the shopping cart (because you get your two franc deposit back), put Forest in the car and then leave. I have to allot double or triple the amount of time for errands now. I’ve started ordering groceries online which is helpful because it’s one less store to go to and go through the procedure. And I know this makes me sound like a lazy American (I wish I were not so typical) and I promise that if I get to live in the land of drive throughs again, I will not use this luxury every time. But, maybe like half the time. It would be a lifesaver to just have a drive through ATM. There are many times I’m grateful for the way Geneva has made us slow down and enjoy life at a proper speed- live in the moment, if you will. Unfortunately, I do not really want to live in the moment of getting cash from a machine. Add one to my list of things we should all be grateful for.

School Days

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Forest was recently accepted at our neighborhood “jardin d’enfants” which is basically a preschool. I was informed of this via a message in French on my voicemail. My voicemail is funny though and I didn’t realize I even had a message until thirteen days later. I recognized the name and days of the week and was thrilled that they had an opening for Forest. Unfortunately, I got the message over Christmas break which meant an agonizing two weeks of waiting to make sure they had held the spot for him. They had. The director of the school called me back and mercifully spoke to me in English.

“You will bring a deposit of fifty francs, slippers for the feet, pampers and clothes. You will come for a visit on Tuesday and then he can stay by himself for fifteen minutes on Thursday. Then thirty, then forty-five and so on,” the teacher said. I was unsure about the slippers but had heard the Swiss were particular about cleanliness. The deal with the slippers is this: every child must keep a pair of soft soled slippers at the school. They enter the building and immediately change from their outdoor shoes to the slippers. Outdoor shoes do not come in contact with the indoor spaces. This continues into elementary school. Our friends’ ten-year-old son has three pairs of shoes at school on any given day- the shoes he wore to school, slippers for the classroom and sneakers for gym. I have even heard of adult gyms that require different shoes be worn after entering the gym. This is remarkably different from America. I just read a post from Nole on Oh So Beautiful Paper about how her daughter has to wear hard-soled shoes for day care. I think Americans are more concerned about the safety of the children’s feet (and liability for an injury) than the cleanliness of the floors. The Swiss appear to be the opposite. I thought it was another fascinating cultural difference.

Also in contrast to some American preschools, Forest’s preschool requires a gradual entry. The director told me that several parents have complained because they want their children to do the full three hours right away. I was relieved when she told me everyone had to do this gradual entry program- fifteen minutes alone the first time building up to the full three hours. Every child does this schedule and it can be tailored to each child. If separation is an issue, the entry is even more gradual. It’s much more focused on the child’s comfort at the school than the parent’s three hour break. I can’t lie, the first few days I was disappointed that I had to sit in the car and read a book. What else would I do for fifteen or thirty minutes? It was a nice quiet reading break but I was hoping for a little longer. Even as I write this I am watching the clock because Forest is staying an hour and forty-five minutes today and I can’t be late getting him.

The first day (thirty minute visit while I stayed), we went inside and Forest ignored the very nice teacher who was kneeling down to greet him, walked directly into the classroom and began to play with a car. It took some effort to get him to take his shoes and jacket off and say hello to the teachers. As we left our visit, the children were headed outside to play which only made Forest sadder to leave. I had to carry my crying boy back to the car. The next day (fifteen minutes while I waited outside) was worse… for me. I said goodbye three times, kept hoping for at least a little sadness to mark my departure and even went in to give him a kiss. Nothing. He was off doing puzzles with his friends already. I’m pretty sure I was sadder to leave him than he was to be left. I came back in fifteen minutes only to be told no, he was not leaving until his puzzle was done. Fair enough.

Forest going to school has actually really changed my outlook on Geneva. Prior to this, everything I did could be done anywhere in the world- cook, play with Forest, laundry, etc. I was frustrated by how inconvenient things are (have I mentioned there are no drive-throughs in this town?) and felt like my life was made much more difficult by our location. But now that Forest is in preschool and is exposed to French on a regular basis, it has given me something to really appreciate about Geneva. We probably couldn’t find a French preschool in Houston- though we could find a drive-through ATM. But Forest’s exposure to French makes living here more valuable to me. And that is worth a lot more than convenience. Seriously though- no drive up ATMs? You could do everything in a drive through in Houston- banking, dry cleaning, pharmacy, etc. I’m sure I’ll rant more on that later.

Where’s My Pizza? A final reading recap

When I was in eighth grade, my brothers got to participate in Book It. If they each read five books, they would receive a coupon for a personal pan pizza from Pizza Hut. This was a reading incentive program not something my parents dreamed up though it would have been amazing if they had. I was too old to participate, a great disappointment to both the competitor and reader in me. So this year, I made my own. After adjusting for life with a toddler, I decided to set a goal of reading 52 books in 2013. And while there was no personal pan pizza waiting for me, I am proud to say I did it anyway. Here are the last books I read in 2013, ranked by my personal preferences. I have some thoughts about my reading project that I will try to share next week or the following. But here are the books and my thoughts on them.

  1. Hotel at the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jaime Ford- What I originally thought was a romance turned out to be a coming of age story of a Chinese boy living in Seattle during World War II. His best friend is Japanese and is sent to an internment camp. Alternating between his life during the war and present day, we get to see and imagine what might have been.
  2. Mrs. Buncle’s Book and Mrs. Buncle Married by D.E. Stevenson- These charming books were originally published in 1936 and tell the story of Barbara Buncle, a secret author who must remain secret because she has written about the people of her town, Silverstream, and they are furious. A terrific look at life in small English villages with excellent social commentary.
  3. When You are Engulfed in Flames by David Sedaris- in case it is not obvious to anyone else, Sedaris is far and away the treasure I discovered in 2013. His stories are laugh-out-loud funny and his wit and sarcasm make me love him. This book is mostly about quitting smoking and living in Japan but was still incredible relatable and readable.
  4. State of Wonder by Ann Patchett- I confess to not knowing much (read: anything) about pharmaceutical research protocols but I loved this story of a woman trapped between two worlds, her lab in Boston and the research of her mentor in the Amazon rainforest. Compelling from beginning to end.
  5. The Paris Wife by Paula Mclain- Historical fiction about Ernest Hemingway and his first wife Katie. Great details about his writing process and their life in Paris. As you can imagine, not the most uplifting book I read this year but really well written.
  6. Monuments Men by Robert Edsel- I had higher hopes for this book which got a little slow in places. The story was fascinating- a group of men sent to Europe to find stolen and hidden artwork as the Third Reich fell.
  7. Jacob Have I Loved by Katherine Paterson- Somehow I missed this on the eighth grade reading list but I think I appreciated it more now than I would have back then. As someone who regularly struggled with self-comparison to anyone but especially a talented sibling (or three), this book was almost haunting. It brought up emotions and memories I had not experience in years. Great Young Adult novel that is profound at any age.
  8. The Happiest Toddler on the Block by Harvey Karp- I enjoyed his book about babies so I thought I would read the one about toddlers. His main piece of advice is to remember toddlers brains are not developed like ours. We need to treat them like little cave men- speak slowly, use small words, etc. I felt like that was obvious but as I see more and more parents attempting to rationalize their actions to their two year olds, it might not be as obvious as I think.
  9. Lady Windemere’s Fan by Oscar Wilde- A play about upper class Londoners in the 1890s, I found myself really enjoying the characters and the case of mistaken or hidden identity at the center of the play. Many of Wilde’s famous quotes come from this play. “I can resist anything except tempation.”
  10. Sycamore Row by John Grisham- As gripping as a typical John Grisham, it was not his best. That I would save for Pelican Brief or The Chamber but Sycamore Row was easy enough to get into and interesting enough to read in a day.
  11. King and Maxwell by David Baldacci- Not going to lie, I read this one mostly because I love the “Will they or won’t they fall in love” aspect of these stories. The actual case was pretty interesting though the writing is campy per usual.

The last four books I read in 2013 were the first four Narnia novels by C.S. Lewis. I try to read them every year between Thanksgiving and Christmas. They are heartwarming, wise and profound while still remaining easy for anyone over ten to read. I find a new gem each time I read them and this year was no exception. “Take courage dear heart.”

First Year Victories

We are one year in. It’s been exactly a year since we landed in Geneva with eight suitcases only to be greeted by a Prius- only the first of many cultural differences to be discovered. We landed in January, deep in the middle of winter– full of gray clouds and fog so thick you couldn’t see the giant mountains all around. For ten days, I thought, “This city is supposed to have beautiful landscape all around and I can only see to the end of the street.” It was both literally and figuratively a dark time. Three days into our life here in Geneva, I got a phone call from my only friend here. “We’re getting moved back to Houston in a month,” she told me. I held it together, shared excitement with her and then promptly sobbed for an hour. This was the first of “one step forward, two steps back” events. But with each setback came a victory and rather than complain about the difficulties (namely the language difference and a variety of changes in help with Forest), I thought I’d focus on a few wins. And yes, I consider them victories (meaning we defeated something) because I am a competitive person by nature.

  1. I figured out how to buy a hair dryer and a temporary phone. This seems minor but was my greatest victory.
  2. I learned to communicate at markets and sometimes at restaurants. My French is passable when it comes to making doctor’s appointments and reservations.
  3. We found a house that is as charming as a ski chalet and moved in ten days after our arrival which was also the first day I saw the mountains.
  4. I signed up online for a grocery store points card. It arrived in the mail with my name on it and that made me feel at home here. At least the grocery store knows my name.
  5. I also ordered a box that goes on our car and automatically pays tolls in France and Switzerland, saving us time and cash. Every time we fly through a toll I give myself one point against inefficiency.
  6. We started a home group at our church and love the members of it.
  7. Forest learned to walk and talk.
  8. I found a doctor I like a lot who will deliver our next baby (due in June- that’s exciting too). We also found doctors for Forest and Josh. And we learned where both the public and private ERs are.
  9. We found a few restaurants that we love and order from regularly. One even gave us a Christmas present because we go there so often. It was a beautiful candle. We are still trying to figure out what to give them.
  10. I both earned and paid a speeding ticket in France.
  11. I figured out online grocery delivery. And because this is Switzerland, the delivery is super fast and always on time. 
  12. Forest got into a public preschool here (more on that soon).
  13. I read 52 books and met my goal (again more to come).
  14. I can find my way around Geneva pretty well, especially the way to IKEA, the French mega grocery store and the garden center.
  15. We figured out how to watch American football and sitcoms.

These are obviously small victories. But each one makes me feel more accomplished and settled. We’ve also explored the region, made friends and found a church we love. There are many difficult days- living far from family and friends is hard on us and the language and cultural differences can seem insurmountable. Especially in January. Though this morning, I was greeted by warm sun and 11 degree temperatures- that’s Celsius, not 11 F like my friends on the East Coast. But writing out my list of seemingly small victories helps to remind me we’re farther than we were on January 7 last year. And on a sunny day, I can be very grateful. I’m still working on being grateful on gray days.

Reading Update

My reading goal is the first New Years Resolution I have come remotely close to finishing. Usually I want to be healthier or nicer or something and I forget about it by March. This one is well within reach and I love it. Setting goals is awesome. And that would make a great name for a terrible self-help book. You’re welcome.

As of my last update, I had completed 22 books on my quest to read 52 this year. Since then, I have read thirteen more. I have seventeen more to go- seven of which I plan to read between Thanksgiving and Christmas when I complete my yearly tradition of reading The Chronicles of Narnia. So for those of you who are not former mathletes (don’t worry- I was in fact both a mathlete and an Academic Decathlete), I still need to read ten books.

1, 2 and 3. Let’s Explore Diabetes with OwlsDress Your Family in CorduroyMe Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris

I have fallen head over heels for David Sedaris and his wit, his charm and his spot on descriptions of living among the French. I read these at night and several times woke Josh up by laughing out loud at a short story.

4. Mr. Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

I listened to this one over the past month and found it absolutely charming. The story of a young man who takes a job in a bookstore only to discover it is the front for something far more exciting. I don’t want to give away the plot but I will say I loved this book for its quirky characters much like I loved Where’d You Go Bernadette and The Pilgirmage of Harold Fry.

5. The Cuckoo Calling by Robert Galbraith

I’ll admit it- I did pick this up because the media revealed that Robert Galbraith is the pen name of J.K. Rowling, of Harry Potter fame. The premise, the murder of a successful and famous model, was intriguing and I was not disappointed. Much like Harry Potter, the characters are lovable, well developed and the story keeps you guessing until the end. Well worth a read, especially good for vacations.

6. Me Before You by Jojo Moyes

This novel was heartbreaking. About a young man paralyzed after an accident and his young caretaker, a woman who can’t seem to get a lot of things right, this was a page-turner. I was particularly touched by the ways people either kept or lost hope and the ways that hope was not tied to current circumstance. How do we maintain hoping for someone who has given up hope on improving? How do we remain faithful to loving them well when he or she has no desire to be loved? Lots of questions, lots of humor- this book was wonderful.

7. Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter

This book kept showing up on my recommendation list from Amazon. Living in a French speaking country, I rely on my Kindle almost exclusively for new books (except for the amazing selection sent by Courtney Kampa). They are not so bad at guessing what I would like. This book was beautiful and the stories woven together in a compelling narrative. This was also a favorite because we were planning a trip to Cinque Terre shortly after I finished it.

8. The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton

Somehow I missed this Pulitzer Prize winner in English class and happily read a real copy of it (i.e. not my Kindle) last month. Set in a New York before anyone lived above 40th and more specifically in Gramercy Park (my favorite neighborhood in the city), The Age of Innocence was interesting in the same way a Jane Austen novel is interesting. It introduced me to a society, a set of rules and a life that I will never experience. Even though she wrote it almost a century ago, I felt it was relevant and still amusing to this 21st century woman.

9. The Engagements  by J. Courtney Sullivan

An entertaining look at the diamond engagement ring tradition, how it was created and marketed. While the book is fictional, weaving the stories of various owners of the same ring, it was also enlightening to read about the real marketing campaigns, the strategies used to drive up the cost of diamonds and the way our “traditions” were shaped by a few ad executives. Somewhat Mad Men like with romantic and tragic stories of proposal and marriage throughout.

10. Threat Vector by Tom Clancy

I was so sad to learn Tom Clancy passed away recently. I have loved everything I have ever read by him. I’ve started to listen to his books because the stories and plot twists are so captivating, I find myself wanting to drive to the store or the kennel or anywhere just to hear more. One of Clancy’s most unique gifts was his sometimes prophetic almost-warnings about future dangers. Threat Vector is about the internet, privacy and surveillance, situations of which we should now all be wary.

11. The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart

I will not lie- the hand lettered cover and illustrations first drew my attention to this book. My former roommate Kristen is an eighth-grade English teacher and one of the things I learned from her is the beauty and value of Young Adult fiction. She taught me that the YA genre is not one to be ignored as it frequently holds the most relatable and poignant stories. This one was about a group of misfits who are called upon to save humanity. One part The Justice League, one part Pippi Longstocking and one part Wendell Berry, I loved this book and its fable about technology.

12. The Chaperone by Laura Moriarty

Another Amazon suggestion, I liked The Chaperone though it did get a little soap opera-esque at times. While I promise I do not only read books set in New York, this one is about the trip Louise Brooks and her chaperone (hence the title) took to the city in 1922. I love reading about the city (much like I’ve mentioned before) but the personal dramas became a little much at times. I finished it because I started it but it was not my favorite.

13. No Other Gods by Kelly Minter

This book, a Bible study, was handed to me by a wise mentor who heard I was interested in modern day idolatry. The book was a God send, especially at at time when I found myself idolizing easy living, America and being known. I know not everyone is looking for a Bible study but if you are, you should pick this one up.

Beating your own drum

As an introverted mother, I am determined to expose Forest to social experiences. If given the choice, I would stay inside and read or craft or something other than be social. Because of that, I worry that Forest will lead a severely diminished social life simply by virtue of being my child. So I signed us up for a French class and a music class. I figured it would be good for Forest to spend time with a group of children, not just one friend at a time and I surmised I would meet a few moms in the process. In truth, I have met a few moms and they are all very nice. I think I’m the only American which is great. The others are Italian, Venezuelan, British, Australian and Spanish. Their children have romantic names like “Mateo” and “Adriano” and “Felipe.” Forest is a lovely name but sounds a little out of place.

A few weeks ago, we went to the music class for the first time. A young French man greeted us warmly and we went past the curtains into the class space. As we were the first to arrive, Forest was very excited to have all of the egg shaped shakers to himself. He took them out of the box and put them back in, took them out and put them back in. Cleaning things up is very exciting for Forest. I am told this is normal. He was proud and may have even clapped for himself. Then class started.

The first thing the teacher, the young French man, did was to dump out the box of shakers which was upsetting enough to Forest. All that work! Then all of the children and parents shook the eggs. At that point Forest stood up, signed all done and tried to walk out. I let him go out for a minute and talked to him quietly. Then he was fine to go back in but remained skeptical. To be fair the teacher was acting like a frog and a crow and a sandpiper. Skepticism was probably appropriate. We made it through that first class without additional tears and when I asked him if he wanted to go again, he only shook his head once. Victory.

The next week he made it thirty minutes before walking toward the door in tears. The teacher was kind enough to tell me that I could continue participating and just let Forest wander where he wanted to. I’m not sure why the other parents are there but if my child is crying, I’m probably not going to focus on pretending to be a sandpiper (they are really into that one). I smiled and immediately left the circle.

This past week, Forest sat in my lap happily and even willingly hit two sticks together when offered. At the end of the class, when the teachers hand out a variety of percussion instruments, Forest picked up a small drum, walked to the sofa in the corner, climbed up and sat all alone, beating his own drum. I’m trying to tell myself he is very independent and self-confident. He may just be an introvert.

Tomorrow, we will miss music class, sadly. We have to wait for the delivery of our giant American freezer. Side note: someday I will explain the size of appliances here or rather share the sizes. I cannot possibly explain why you would want such a small refrigerator or dishwasher. But regarding music class, I don’t think Forest (or I) will be too sad to miss it. We can act like sandpipers on our own time. More in a few weeks.