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The Summer 2017 Reading Guide (Not Your Typical List of Book)

June 6, 2017

Let me start off by saying this is not your typical summer reading list. The books in this post are not the best sellers and new release recommendations you see on every big summer reading guides on all the blogs, websites and magazines. Because really, why do we need to read about the same recommended books on every site?

My summer 2017 reading list is made up of books that are on my nightstand and in piles waiting to be read. Some of them are old books, and there are a few fairly new ones. And while they’re not all the big hits on every list, I’m excited to read some great stories by talented authors and I hope you’ll find some summer reading inspiration, too!

Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis, J.D. Vance — I’ve actually already read this book, but loved it so much I couldn’t not recommend it. I wrote a pretty elaborate review of the book in my local magazine, Terre Haute Living. So click over there to read more about why this is such a phenomenal and important story.

The Night of the Gun: A reporter investigates the darkest story of his life. His Own, David Carr — I just started read this memoir and I cannot put it down. Carr, a lifelong reporter, spent three years investigating his own life of addiction and crime, using techniques such as videotaped interviews, legal and medical records, and reporting. What results is a fascinating true story. Also, Bob Odenkirk (Better Call Saul, Breaking Bad) is staring in AMC’s television adaptation of the book, and I cannot wait to see how he plays Carr in this fascinating story.

The Girls, Emma Cline — This novel tells the story of Evie Boyd, who in Northern California in the late 1960s, gets caught up with a bunch of girls in the park and ends up joining a cult that is modeled after that of the famous Charles Manson. The story is fiction, but based on historical realities.

The Stranger in the Woods: The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit, Micheal Finkel — I’m intrigued by this memoir of an introvert, in the true sense of the word. From Amazon: “This is the remarkable true story of a man who lived alone in the woods of Maine for 27 years, making this dream a reality—not out of anger at the world, but simply because he preferred to live on his own.”

Under the Influence, Joyce Maynard — I love anything Maynard writes. The book tells the story of Helen, who recently lost her marriage and custody of her 7-year-old son due to drinking. Now in recovery, the book follows Helen on her journey and the relationships she becomes entrenched with during her sobriety.

Lucky You, Erika Carter — This is the story of three friends, Ellie, Chloe and Rachel, all in their early twenties and trying to find their way through life in a small Arkansas college town. From Amazon: “Each is becoming unmoored in her own way. … In a remote, rural house in the Ozarks, nearly undone by boredom and the brewing tension between them, each tries to solve the conundrum of being alive.”

Delicious! Ruth ReichelDelicious! tells the story of Billie Breslin, who travels from her home in California to take a job at Delicious!, New York’s most iconic food magazine. She ends up discovering a hidden collection of letters written during World War II by a young girl to the legendary chef James Beard. Reichel is the editor-in-chief of Gourmet magazine, so I’m sure the food descriptions will make me want to eat the book.

Anita, Helen Mishook, From Amazon: “When Helen left New York on a train bound for California in 1936, she was looking for a change of scene, planning to stay with her sister in Glendale and babysit her niece and nephew. But when she arrived, she found herself steeped in a world of bookies, mobsters, and a Nazi underworld that she must infiltrate on behalf of the Anti-Defamation League.” The story tells the under-told history of the American Bund, the pro-Nazi Silver Shirts, and their efforts to build a summer retreat for Hitler near the Los Angeles coast.

The Way the Crow Flies, Ann-Marie MacDonald — I loved MacDonald’s epic family saga, Fall on Your Knees. This one looks like it won’t disappoint either. From Amazon: “The optimism of the early sixties, infused with the excitement of the space race and the menace of the Cold War, is filtered through the rich imagination of high-spirited, eight-year-old Madeleine. … When a very local murder intersects with global forces, Jack must decide where his loyalties lie, and Madeleine will be forced to learn a lesson about the ambiguity of human morality — one she will only begin to understand when she carries her quest for the truth, and the killer, into adulthood twenty years later.”

Winter Garden, Kristin Hannah — Most people know Hannah from The Nightingale. But this is an earlier story about one woman’s heartbreaking story of love, loss and redemption set in World War II Russia. It’s also an intimate portrait of contemporary mothers and daughters.

Station Eleven, Emily St. John Mandel, I’m not usually a fan of science fiction or dystopian stories. But this one sounds intriguing and has good reviews. Twenty years after a deadline flu pandemic swept a city, Kirsten moves between the settlements of the altered world with a small troupe of actors and musicians called The Traveling Symphony, which dedicated itself to keeping the remnants of art and humanity alive. But they soon encounter a violent prophet who threatens the tiny band’s existence. The story moves back and forth in time, depicting life before and after the pandemic, and a strange twist that connects all the characters and story.

The Leavers, Lisa Ko — From Amazon: “One morning, Deming Guo’s mother, Polly, an undocumented Chinese immigrant, goes to her job at a nail salon—and never comes home. … With his mother gone, eleven-year-old Deming is left mystified and bereft. Eventually adopted by a pair of well-meaning white professors, Deming is moved from the Bronx to a small town upstate and renamed Daniel Wilkinson. But far from all he’s ever known, Daniel struggles to reconcile his adoptive parents’ desire that he assimilate with his memories of his mother and the community he left behind.”

Thanks for reading this long list of book recommendations! Happy Reading!

Have you read any of these books? Are they good or bad? What are you reading this summer?





How to Have an Awesome Summer Without Breaking the Bank

May 26, 2017

I’m often asked how I find so many cool things to do with Sophie. The answer is actually pretty simple: I look to local resources and community event calendars, find the ones Sophie would enjoy most, and then add them to my calendar and go.

I learned a lot about different events when I was the Red Tricycle San Diego city editor. And when we moved to Terre Haute, I signed up for the local parents/kids resource site and found there are tons of inexpensive family-friendly activities.

But what I’ve found both in San Diego and Terre Haute is the same. More often than not, the activities Sophie loves the most are the simplest and least expensive endeavors.

So how do YOU find cool things to do with your kids this summer? I came up with 25 fun things to do this summer that don’t involve camp, a financial loan to get through the summer months, or Pinterest-worthy crafts to do at home (because some of us aren’t the DIY type).

Whether you’re in a big city or small town, head over to where I reveal my list of go-to ideas for summer fun.






20 Years a College Graduate and the Road Taken

May 19, 2017

If you’d told me where I’d be 20 years after graduating college, I probably wouldn’t have believed it. Twenty years is a long time. It’s just under half my entire life’s existence.

Yet here I am — 20 years to the month I graduated from San Diego State University. I’ve been thinking a lot about who I was then, and what I wanted out of my life at the time. Before I graduated college, I had two distinctly different career/life goals in mind. I wanted to either be a broadcast journalist or newspaper reporter, or go to law school in Boston.

I realized fairly quickly into my senior year of college that going to law school wasn’t in the cards for me. I liked the idea of being a lawyer, but I struggled with the LSAT and decided I didn’t love the law so much that I want to go through three more years of schooling.

To be a news reporter or producer, I needed to move away from San Diego to earn my stripes at a small town, local station or paper in order to work my way up to a larger market. That’s how it was done 20 years ago, before the Internet existed and it was possible to write news remotely for online publications. And at the time, I wasn’t quite ready to say goodbye to my home town and family to conquer the brave world of rural reporting.

So in April of 1997, I applied for my first full-time job as a publicity assistant at KPBS, the San Diego public television and radio station. I was already working at KPBS as a student assistant for a good chunk of my college years. I knew most of the staff and fellow students working there and had a deep affinity for public broadcasting even at that young age. One of my proudest professional moments was receiving the call to say I got that job.

The Tuesday after graduation, my 21-year-old self walked into the KPBS studios (still very sunburned from foolishly laying beach-side over Memorial Day weekend) and started my first full-time job as a college graduate.

I loved those early days of my career, when so many of my friends and colleagues were recent college graduates — all of us trying to find our way in life. I shared an apartment with a roommate, and I worked hard to make ends meet; even charging groceries on a credit card to save enough money for rent. There was something exciting about the blank slate ahead, when life seemed so full of possibility.

I ended up staying at KPBS for four more years, being promoted to new roles in marketing and special event management. In 2001, I moved over to San Diego State University and for the next 11 years, I embarked on a long career there that included special events, fundraising, overseeing a marketing/communications department, and later speech-writing for the university’s two presidents. In March 2012, I left my safe and secure job to be my own boss and make a full-time freelance writing career. The rest, they say, is history.

While I’ve never regretted starting my career at KPBS (and everything that’s followed), I do think about what my life would have been like if I was brave enough to leave home 20 years ago. What would have happened if I ended up in a small town (like Terre Haute, for example), working for a local news station? Would I have stayed? Moved to a larger market? Gone back to San Diego? What type of writing career would I have 20 years later?

While I’m a fan of movies like “Sliding Doors” and “Peggy Sue Got Married” that explore the road not taken; in real life, there’s no way to know for sure what would have happened. I do know that I have no complaints about where my life has taken me, and I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished in the last 20 years.

I look at the person I was when I graduated college and think — while it’s been 20 long years — that girl is still very much the same as she is now. Of course, in 1997 I had way more hair and fewer pounds. But that young girl was ambitious, driven, and wanted something more/better from herself and life. I think, in many ways, I’m still like that. And while I do miss those early years of my post-college life, I believe every choice I made had a purpose. And every road I took led to the next chapter of my life.

“Time it was
And what a time it was, it was
A time of innocence
A time of confidences

Long ago it must be
I have a photograph
Preserve your memories
They’re all that’s left you”

“Bookends” — Simon and Garfunkel








Learning About Myself Through Painting Classes

May 11, 2017

I have a confession to make. Up until last fall, I was skeptical of group painting classes where people gather together to paint the same canvas and drink wine.

I always thought there would be no way I’d attend one of those classes because I am totally not artistic in the least. And I was intimidated. Seeing that perfect painted image, I’d feel anxious, thinking there was no way I could recreate that masterpiece.

Here’s the funny part. When I was young, I spent hours watching PBS painting shows even had my own canvases and acrylics so I could recreate the art. But over the years, I lost interest in that hobby.

As many of you know, last year we moved to Terre Haute and I literally did not know a soul in my new town. I started to get to know a few local boutique owners who offered painting and craft classes. In an attempt to meet nice, local people and do something different, I dipped my toes into the crafting waters through some art classes that Sophie and did together.

Then they offered a whimsical pumpkin canvas class. Knowing how much I love pumpkins and fall and trusting/liking the instructor I’d come to know, I decided to give the painting class a try.

While I was certainly nervous and felt a bit anxious, I really enjoyed my first painting class. It was — dare I say — relaxing in many ways. I liked doing something completely different with my brain and hands that didn’t involve typing or thinking in the same way I do during the day.

Here’s a photo of my first painted canvas. And while I was critical the swirls didn’t turn on the way they looked in the model, I’m proud that I took the leap of faith and did something new.

Since then, I’ve gone on to paint several more canvases through the Painting and Pie classes offered through the local parks and recreation department. It’s an relaxing evening of painting, listening to music and eating a slice of pie at the Grand Traverse Pie Company. Since I’m not a big wine drinker, the pie is a perfect accompaniment!

One of the lessons that’s been important for me to learn is that painting is a process, and a the work cannot be “judged” until the end. What I mean is I can’t spend time criticizing my work at each step. It’s so easy to say, “That line is crooked” or “The flower is too small.”

Instead, I try very hard to simply paint in the moment. Then at the end, step back and look at the entire view. It’s amazing how the work changes from the beginning and middle to the end. And how a “flaw” transforms into part of the beautiful whole.

Here’s a few of the canvases I’ve painted over the months.

This covered bridge painting is probably my favorite.

I was most nervous to paint Rudolph. I’m still critical of the wreath and his small head.

I love this one!

The pop of the the red cardinals against the wintry birch trees adds so much.

This canvas of hot coffee in the winter morning background was in my kitchen for quite a while.

It was a perfect, rainy the evening the night I painted this one.

April showers bring May flowers!

Embracing painting has been an eye-opening experience for me. It’s helped me find a new way to be creative, and I love capturing nature and the change of seasons on canvas. I’ve also given myself permission to accept that my art doesn’t have to be perfect — that itself is a great lesson to learn!








Currently I’m …

April 12, 2017

I’m trying something new here on the blog, using the “currently” prompt. Feel free to play along in the comments, on your own blog or social media.

Currently I’m …

Inspired by …

Last month, I had the pleasure of attending the Power of Narrative conference in Boston and it was phenomenal. The mission of the conference — which has been taking place for 19 years — is “helping narrative journalists to strengthen their craft skills, puzzle out the complex ethics of intimate journalism, and impart the down-to-earth humanity that is the genre’s strength.” We heard speakers such as Doris Kearns Goodwin, Sonia Nazario (Enrique’s Journey), Sheri Fink, and so many other talented writers. It was truly inspiring to be in a room full of journalists and writers and people wanting to tell stories and do good work that makes a different in the world. It was all humbling and made me want to do better.

Thinking About …

I’ve been thinking about how spring is in full bloom (no pun intended) here in Indiana . The days are getting longer and the sun is appearing earlier and staying out later. Everything is greener — the trees are coming back to life with leaves; and flowers are blooming, even ones in our yard I’d never seen before. I really love seeing and feeling the seasons change before my eyes.

The weather is warming a bit, and this weekend we had all the windows open and enjoyed a warm (but not too warm) breeze flow through the rooms. And then yesterday, we had heavy rain and a thunder/lightening storm. It’s fascinating really, seeing the weather change so quickly.

Watching …

There’s lots of great television airing right now. I’m so excited “Better Call Saul” season three is on the air. We did a big binge-watch of season two on Netflix this past weekend. I’m also liking “The Good Fight,” which is the spin-off to “The Good Wife” on CBS Access. It’s SO good — much better than the original series. We’re also enjoying “Billions” on Showtime, and I’m struggling to get through the final season of “Bates Motel.” It’s really slow, and they probably could have written the final series in four or five episodes.

Reading …

The best book I’ve read lately is Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance. This book was super interesting and Vance does an amazing job of really shedding light on the Rust Belt rural middle class of America. I found the book even more relevant now that I live in Indiana and what he writes about could be a few streets away from me. It’s also been helpful to understand how President Trump was elected and what made this traditional Democratic Rest Belt community change to Republican country.

Listening to …

I listened to the Making Oprah podcast, which is a limited series about how the “Oprah Winfrey Show” began and its journey. Like so many of you, I used to come home from work and watch the show. It’s fun to revisit some of the topics and hearing Oprah herself. I’m also about to dive into the Reveal podcast, which is a series of mysteries produced by the Center for Investigative Reporting.

On the music front, I continue to listen to Dawes, even more so after I saw them in concert last month. They played for three hours and it was incredible!

Eating/Drinking …

I don’t have anything that exciting to report on the eating/drinking front. I’ve been making lots of meals from Plated and Home Chef. (You can read my reviews of these meal services here.) When I was in Boston, I took advantage of the restaurant selection and ordered a few seafood dishes. I do miss fresh seafood in Indiana. We still eat fish, but it’s not as abundant as it was in San Diego.

What’s currently going on in your life these days?








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