Friday, January 30, 2015

Ho Hey // The Lumineers (cover)

I am on a cover-roll! It's been fun learning more about GarageBand and iMovie on my iPad. Don't look too closely, my editing skills need some work, but it's tricky to perfectly match up guitar strumming!

Still quite proud of our little project.

This guy...

Ho Hey
by The Lumineers


(Ho!) I've been trying to do it right
(Hey!) I've been living a lonely life
(Ho!) I've been sleeping here instead
(Hey!) I've been sleeping in my bed,
(Ho!) I've been sleeping in my bed

(Ho!) So show me family
(Hey!) All the blood that I will bleed
(Ho!) I don't know where I belong
(Hey!) I don't know where I went wrong
(Ho!) But I can write a song

1, 2, 3
I belong with you, you belong with me, you're my sweetheart
I belong with you, you belong with me, you're my sweet


(Ho!) I don't think you're right for him
(Hey!) Think of what it might have been if you
(Ho!) Took a bus to China Town
(Hey!) I'd be standing on Canal
(Ho!) And Bowery
(Ho!) And she'd be standing next to me

1, 2, 3
I belong with you, you belong with me, you're my sweetheart
I belong with you, you belong with me, you're my sweetheart

Love we need it now
Let's hope for some
Cause oh, we're bleeding out

I belong with you, you belong with me, you're my sweetheart
I belong with you, you belong with me, you're my sweet

(The last one)

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

The Divine In Me, The Divine In You

The Universe speaks to each of us in different ways. Personally, when several people recommend the same book or movie or website or Facebook friend to me, I take the hint. I like to think that I'm a good listener for the ways that God is trying to speak to me. If this is at all how God works, then here's a theme that's been coming up a lot of me lately:
how to balance confidence and humility, 
how to view myself and others.

And for me, it's come from three different authors.

In March of 2014, I read Glennon Doyle Melton's Carry On, Warrior. In it she writes about how to instill a sense of confidence and humility in her kids. She teaches them the same thing she tells herself on a daily basis:

"I am confident because I believe I am a child of God. 
I am humble because I believe that everyone else is, too."

Mmm, mmm, mmm...okay. I am good. We are all good.

Then, this winter, Jeremy and I have been listening to a series of teachings by Rob Bell. In one lesson, he talks about how we can be better receivers of the abundance in our lives. But also how we can be ready to give that abundance back to others. Bell said that a true balance of persective is to recognize regularly:

"I come from dust and yet, the Universe was made for me."

This is how we receive abundance. This is how we give back. Mmmmm...

And then, this month, my book is Eckhart Tolle's A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life's Purpose. In it he writes:

"Ego strengthens the separation between yourself and the other, whose 'otherness' has become magnified to such an extent that you can no longer feel a common humanity, nor the rootedness in the one Life that you share with each human being, your common divinity."

All right, all right. I get it!

We are all dirt. We are all nothing. 
Yet, we are something. And we are everything.

And at the same time, so is everyone else. 
We are all in this together.
All part of this divine body of humanity.


Imagine how this one little thing, this notion of both confidence and humility could change the world.  Isn't this lack of humility precisely where internet trolls live? Isn't this lack of humility exactly where violence stems from? In order to be hateful or aggressive, you have to first decide that you are superior. You deserve more. You deserve better. Those "other" people are less than. Just in the way of your progress. There's no common humanity here. Only arrogance.

We need some common humanity, people.

Sing it with me.

Friday, January 23, 2015

How to Travel Around the World

There's no perfectly graceful way to pack yourself into a small space and hurl through the air defying the earth's rotation, the pattern of the sun, and the time of day. There's no way to do this with perfect ease.

And are we even meant to do this? Is this how it's supposed to be? Obviously our bodies can withstand the air pressure and we don't, like, actually lose time by crossing the international dateline. It just feels like it.

It's long.
It's tiresome.
It's just plane hard (see what I did there?).
And yet, we do. Because we can. Because at the end of the day, this terribly exhausting process we willingly put ourselves through is a beautiful gift.

I'm reminded how blessed I am to be in a minority of people who have this wonderful opportunity to travel and see and experience and, yes, battle to the other side of the world. And on SEVERAL occasions, too. How cool is that? Some people never get the chance to leave their house, their neighborhood, their city, their state, or their country.

Blessings, blessings all around.

I need this now as I'm sitting at the airport hyping myself up for the next 24 hours of travel. We spent the past week in Lincoln, Nebraska for my best friend's wedding. How crazy is that? We can just hop on planes to visit the other side of the world! It was just as disorienting as it sounds.

This picture. Moments after landing. Friend time begins. 

We've only lived in Korea for 18 months and yet, when we visit the States, I'm always a little blundered at how accustomed we've come to Korean life that the adjustment takes some time for me. Korea is a different place. A place with rules I'm forever misunderstanding and customs that still surprise me. A place that both astounds and challenges us.

We're different animals now, and we know this because, upon landing in the States and stepping off the plane, we are greeted with smiles and chatter between strangers. STRANGERS, people! We don't even know each other and we're chatting about the weather in the women's restroom. Why? Why the hell not?!

And like my first morning in the States, I went for a jog and a gal out walking her dog said, "Good morning!" She said GOODMORNING, folks! She doesn't even know me. This America is a wild place.

I also bow at people. It's kind of awkward.

And also, I think I do a lot more listening and observing than I have before because it's kind of my permanent posture in Korea. We rarely know what's going, what's being said, or how things are being understood. We are constantly taking notes, watching, waiting, stepping back, looking again, and fumbling our way through. As I result, I think I'm a little less outgoing and more cautious.

So now we go Lincoln to Omaha,
Omaha to Detroit,
Detroit to Korea,
airport to bus terminal,
bus to taxi,
taxi to home.

Well, "home" for now.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

It Will Pass // Jill Phillips (cover)

I've enjoyed recording music lately.
Because it's new and interesting.
Because it's a break from the redundant and monotonous aspects of day-to-day life.
Because it's a challenge.

This video was particularly challenging because in this video, I tackled GarageBand and iMovie in one weekend. Twelve hours later, it was done. As you listen, don't think too long and hard about why this video took twelve hours.

It just did. And I feel pretty good about it.

It Will Pass
by Jill Phillips

There’s so much risk in love you never understand
When love has turned to dust inside your empty hand
The storm is raging on and you don’t see an end
Will it ever end?

Look out the window Watch as the wind blows
Darlin’, though it’s hard you know it will pass

When you can’t see beyond the darkness at your door
Or believe the day will come when you will cry no more
You can trust someone who’s been here before
And I’ve been here before

Look out the window, watch as the wind blows
Darlin’, though it’s hard you know it will pass
All that is so wrong will fade like a sad song
If you can just hold on it will pass
It will pass

Hold on and we’ll wait the storm out
Hold on and we’ll wait the storm out
Hold on and we’ll wait the storm out
We’ll wait the storm out

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Reasons My Husband is a Trooper

Last week was a bit rough for me. And if you're married, this inevitably means it was a rough week for "us." It was a week of three gynecology appointments, one positive Pap smear, and a lot of uncertain fears. 

My husband is quite the trooper. 

This is true for several reasons.

#1. It is not uncommon for a woman's "lady part issues" to be something only discussed with other ladies. Maybe it's culture, maybe it's media, but it seems to me that the fact that women bleed and feel are deeply disturbing to some dudes. Not so for my husband.

He's educated (Somebody paid attention in A&P class...). He's fascinated. And this goes a long way in making a girl feel less icky and more human.

#2. He let's me feel stuff. Not just the easy stuff, but the hard stuff. The ugly crying stuff. He doesn't run away from my tears. He doesn't try to fix everything. He doesn't explain away the reasons why I shouldn't feel the way I'm feeling. In moments of fear, everyone (not just women) wants to be heard and validated not bombarded with factoids.

When the doctor told me last week that I had "atypical squamous cells" and I started Googling what the hell that meant, Jeremy didn't say, "Oh, come on. Aren't we being a little dramatic?" or "Seriously. You're wigging out over nothing."

No, because that only would've made me feel small and silly and ashamed. Instead, he said, "I'm sorry. How can I help?" 

Four little words: 

These words could move mountains if we'd let them. Wow.

Jeremy is well-versed in the ways of science and medicine. While I ran away from science classes, he loaded up on them and became an EMT. So he and I have had many a spat about the different ways we approach being ill or injured. He tends to be more chill, I tend to be more cautious. I don't know that one way is right and the other is wrong, we're just different. So when this latest health problem came up, I half-expected him to take his super chill approach. But he sensed my own fears and just sat with me instead. 

That's no small thing.

#3. At my last appointment, when they were going to give me my test results, Jeremy offered to come along and hold my hand. I declined, but I love that he was willing. As soon as I walked in the door at home, he pronounced, "It's not cancer!" with a giant grin on his face. He wrapped me in a hug that felt like the sweetest thing this century. We did the "grown-up dance" which is the little number we pull out of our pockets when we're feeling like real-live adults. Which is actually quite rare. 

We danced. We laughed. We snuggled it out on the couch.

Did Jeremy really think I had cancer? No.
Did Jeremy really need to be excited? No.

He did these things for me. For my benefit.

That's the best thing about being married: You've got a best friend who does sweet things with no benefit to themselves. That's love, folks.

That's love.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Beopjusa Temple Stay

There's a thing in Korea called a temple stay. It's like a spiritual retreat, of sorts, but you don't need to be of any particular religion to join the party. In fact, you don't have to be part of any religion to join the party. Isn't that the best?

The "temple" part of "temple stay" relates to a Buddhist temple. But did you know that Buddhism is not actually a religion? I'm sure that most people think it is because it is a way of thinking, a belief system, there are temples, and there are followers. But from my brief understanding, I've learned that it's less a religion (no church membership or anything) and more a life philosophy.

So, we were intrigued and the opportunity came so that we could attend the weekend before Christmas. I have to say that the two days we spent at this temple were probably the coolest two days we've had in Korea.

We live in a city of 600,000 people. We work at jobs. We live amongst the towering apartment buildings that surround us. It's not often that we get to spend time in nature and even less often that we see animals or stars. Beyond that, apart from occasional "culture conversations" at work and observations in public, how often do you really get an up close look at another way of life?

The Beopjusa Temple is located at the foot of Songni mountain about 90 minutes (by bus) away from from us in Cheongju. It's quiet and peaceful and calm. Monks and others live at the temple and host Koreans and foreigners alike for these weekend getaways.

We arrived on Saturday. We were given rooms and roommates (by gender) and instructed to put on our "temple clothes" which were basically just glorified pajamas. Being that we went during the winter time, everyone was wearing the pajamas over or under several layers of other clothes.

At our first meeting we sat down and saw a short movie about how to behave at the temple. Don't talk a lot. If you do talk, do so quietly. Walk softly and bow to people you pass on the temple grounds. Hold your hands gently clasped (right over left...) in front of your stomach. I was already feeling a little worried about breaking the rules. And then, they said that there should be no touching between genders. I broke that rule, literally, about five minutes later, without even realizing it.

We did a lot of sitting on the ground and felt the undeniable pain of how infrequently we sit on the ground...

We learned how to bow. And I found it interesting that before we began, a monk told us not to worry about our personal beliefs clashing with the bowing. Buddhists bow to a statue of Buddha, but she explained that they are not worshipping the statue. They are simply acknowledeing, paying attention to their deepest selves. It's less about worship and more about recognition of the goodness within us.

That's something I can get down. After all, most of us aren't as cocky and self-assured as we project. Most of us are still waging personal wars with our self-esteem. Wanting to feel like we are enough. That we measure up. Buddhism is about saying, "Yes, I am enough."

And so the bowing, down so that five points are touching the ground. Open palms to receive. Back up.

We got a tour of the temple grounds. These buildings are several hundred years old. America is barely "several" hundred years old. These traditions date back centuries. Is that not amazing?

We witnessed the evening chanting service by the monks which involved drumming and bowing before the Buddha statue. The music and chanting were really awesome and echo-y and the bows were really cool to see. Also, it was heck'a cold. It's December folks and in each of the buildings you have to take your shoes off and there's no heating. And, did I mention it's December? I watched my breath escape my body and dissipate into the frigid air inside the temple and felt my toes going numb.

Later, we had dinner. We were instructed beforehand to adhere to the rituals associated with meals. Be quiet. No talking. Take only what you will eat. Leave no food behind. Be grateful for the food that you've been given. Someone cooked that. In fact, all of of the vegetarian food at the temple is grown organically at the temple. It gives you a new appreciation for your food when you take just what you need and consider the hands that worked to make it. And is it my imagination or did the food taste better because of it?

We made lotus flower lanterns. Or at least their Dixie cup sister. We glued petals on a paper cup while the monk talked about why the lotus flower is an important symbol in Buddhist thought. It represents purity of mind even amidst the muck of the pond. How even though we are constantly distracted and troubled in life, we can still achieve a clear mind.

Not long after this we went to bed. At 9pm. Which was obviously hard for some people to manage because it felt so early. But when living with monks...

We got up at 3am for morning chanting. This is the schedule the monks follow too, so we dragged ourselves out of bed, piled on the layers, and wandered to the main temple where the monks do their thing. So cool. So cold.  

After this, we headed back to the heated part of the grounds (thank goodness!) and learned about meditation. The monk explained that, again, there is a place for meditation in any and every faith tradition. It's only a simplification and clearing of the mind. In fact, she instructed us to just count to ten over and over again, taking deep breaths, and trying to think about anything other than the numbers. This may sound easy, but it's not. We only started with a baby lesson of 20 minutes, but even sitting on the ground for that long, nonetheless, meditating while doing it was not easy.

After meditation, the monk lead us in the 108 prostrations. A prostration is a bow and let me tell you, doing 108 of them is no small task. There is a symbolism behind doing 108 of them because each bow symbolizes a different prayer/repentance. It's a way of recognizing these things we need to confess. And the monk told us that she does them daily.

Quite a work-out actually. I was shedding layers and my legs were quite sore by the end. Here's some interesting medical advice from a doctor who advocates the daily prostrations for exercise.

Ya know, after you do 20 up and downs you start thinking, "Ouch, my knee" or "Sheesh, how many have we done now?" It's easy to get distracted, but the whole purpose of the prostrations is to re-focus. And if I had to pick a part of the weekend that was most meaningful to me, it was probably those darn, exhausting prostrations. Because as we did each of the bows, we listened to what each bow represents. It's hard to get down on your knees for no reason, but when I'm bowing "to ask forgiveness for the people I have hurt because I hurt the whole Universe"? Sheesh. That's humbling.

Things got deep real fast.

Have a listen:

I bow to think about who I am.
I bow to appreciate my parents for giving birth to me.
I bow to pay attention to the good in others and not the bad.
I bow to avoid expecting obedience from others.
I bow to make the best of each moment in my life.
I bow not to put my own needs over the needs of others.
I bow to learn to be nice to people even if I have negative feelings toward them.
I bow to know that happiness does not come from others, it comes from me.
I bow to avoid looking back at the past.
I bow to the people who worked to provide me with healthy food.
I bow for friends who have been beside me sharing laughter and tears.
I bow to realize that nature is being destroyed.

I mean, come on! Imagine how the world would be a much different (a.k.a better) place if we all thought about these things every day: gratitude, responsibility, trust. It's mind boggling. And so good. I consider myself to be a fairly intentional and grateful person and yet, with nearly every bow, I thought to myself, Huh, when's the last time I considered that?

I think it was after the chanting, the meditation, and the bows that we finally ate breakfast. Whew. What a morning! Then, we had an hour, so I took a nap and it felt like a whole new day.

We took part in a Korean tea ceremony which was cool and we were able to ask some questions to the monk. Buddhism itself is quite an overwhelming thing, so I didn't know where to begin with questions about that. However, I was intensely curious about how this monk came to be a monk. She said, "That's a popular question. Everyone wants to know, why on earth would you do this to yourself?" She laughed and explained that she grew up in a strictly Catholic family in Korea, moved to Boston for school, met a man who taught her about Buddhism, and she came back to pursue becoming a monk. I don't know a ton about the process other than that it takes several years and it's no walk in the park.

What I sensed as many of us asked her questions about herself and Buddhism and temple life is that we kept wanting boxes, categories, reference points with which to frame the Buddhist experience and time after time she would say something like, "You're asking the wrong question" or "It can't be labeled that way." For example, I'm intrigued with the idea that--because Buddhism isn't a religion and doesn't worship another god--someone could be a Christian Buddhist or a Mormon Buddhist if they wanted to. The two ideas are not so far from each other that they can't cooincide. She laughed a bit at this and said, "People always ask me why I left Catholicism as if it's a place I can't continually access through my mind. There are still many lessons I carry with me even as a Buddhist now. You all want to find a way to explain something bigger than yourselves, but it's not possible."

She really is the cutest thing. Just so easy. Calm. Happy. 

We drank tea.

We went for a walking meditation.

And here's the group of us: about thirty awkward foreigners and one incredibly sweet monk.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Remember That Time I Thought I Had Cervical Cancer?

Remember that time I thought I had cervical cancer?

You probably don't because it was Tuesday. Like four days ago. But I haven't written about it, so of course you don't know about that time I thought I had cervical cancer. Let me bring you up to speed: On Tuesday, I thought I had cervical cancer.

Last week, I had gone to the gynecologist for my annual "lady check-up." She said she'd send me a text message with the results. That text is what triggered my small, fear storm on Tuesday night:

"Heather, atypical squamous cells, come back to see me."

I did what any intelligent human being in the twenty-first century does when they need answers:
I Googled it.

Now before you go lecturing me on the dangers of Googling your symptoms, let me tell you this: I live in Korea; a country that is medically advanced and chock-full of intelligent doctors and practicioners who speak Korean. And I speak English. This is not Korea's problem. This is my problem. No one is under any obligation to learn my language while I am in their country. So going to the doctor is always a little uncomfortable. Not because I don't trust the doctors, but because, more often than not, I can't communicate with them. And that's hard. So I'll often receive some kind of diagnosis and do my own research online.

The first hit on my Google journey was:
"Atypical Squamous Cells: Early Signs of Cervical Cancer."

I wanted to shrink. To pretend it wasn't happening. That I wasn't reading what I was reading. So, I kept digging. And no, atypical cells do not guarantee cancer, they are just red flags to a long list of other possible problems. And, oh yeah, cancer, too.

I had one of those moments sitting in front of the computer's late-night glow where my life flashed before my eyes. Not like an abrupt, car accident flash, but more of a slow and deliberate unfolding. A list of things I still wanted to do. A few regrets of "but I'm so young." And thinking of people I love. And how if myself--or anyone I knew--ever had cancer, how that would change...everything.

A few, little words in a text message had a tremendously intense effect on my head and my heart. It kind of shocked me how quickly I began jumping to conclusions and fearing the worst.

My sensible sister encouraged me to focus less on what I feared and more on what I knew to be true. When I thought about what I really knew, it was a short list. So I went back to the gynecologist the next day and did my best to take deep breaths, stay calm, and chant, "I can be brave" with each earnest pedal on my bike ride.

When I arrived, the doctor said, "Atypical cells."

"Yes," I said. "What does it mean? Is it bad? I'm nervous."

"No nervous."

"No, like I'm feeling scared."

"No scared," she said with the same matter-of-factness.

I listened as she described, as best as she could, the different outcomes. She didn't list cancer. So I asked, "Could it be cancer?"

"Yes, but don't worry. More tests." She smiled.

The nurse who I've only heard speak a nervous and hurried, "okay, okay, okay" lead me to the exam room. Through some awkward gestures and nudges, she got me in the right position on the table and in the stirrups.

The doctor came in. She looked around my insides, took a swab for the HPV test and then said, "Heather. Cut. Cervix. Blood. Okay?"

How does one respond to such a question? I just lifted my head off the table and looked down at her. "What?"

"Biopsy. Test. Seven cuts."

I put my head back down, put both hands on my face, took some deep breaths, and just waited for it to be over.

At this point, the normally wordless nurse surprised me and said, "Cry?"

I don't know if it was a question or an invitation, but I took it. Just a tear escaped my eye as I felt the weight of the scalpel pushing inside of me. I thought about the blood and this triggered the all-too-familiar dizziness starting to play tricks on my head.

I figured they might want to know, so I peeked out through my fingers and said, "I'm getting dizzy."

She stopped what she was doing, stood up to stand beside me, and put her hand on mine. Soothingly, she said, "Breathe." I did so in an exaggerated-please-don't-pass-out, please-don't-pass-out kind of way, and so she added: "Slowly."

Once I had gotten my breath and no longer felt dizzy, I opened my eyes to see her still standing there at my side. "I think you need to cry loudly." And so I did.

I cried because if "atypical squamous cells" are just abnormal cells they need a far friendlier name.
I cried because getting a positive Pap smear result is scary.
I cried because I didn't know I was being stripped down and probed that day.
I cried because seven parts of my cervix were being cut off.
I cried because it's hard to communicate your needs in another language.
I cried because never had home felt so far away.
I cried because I wanted a hand to hold.

And then, I realized, I had one. This stranger, who didn't know me from the other fifty patients she might see that day, was holding my hand to reassure me in her own way. And it mattered.

On my way out, the nurse doubled her speaking vocabulary, yet again, by saying, "Me too."

Simple words.
Small gestures.

I spent Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday feeling better. More calm. More at peace. I vowed not to Google search anything until I had more information. And I went back this afternoon to get my test results.

"Good news!" she said as I walked in. "Only inflammation cervix. No HPV. Finish."

"Whew!" I said, as I wiped my forehead in that physical gesture we use to communicate relief.

She looked at me a bit sideways, but handed me a tissue for good measure.

Now, I've just gotta take these meds (the Korean pharmacy-style always makes me feel like I just scored a lot of tickets at the arcade!) and supposedly my cervical issues should be cleared up relatively soon.

My wise sister told me this week that
"worry is basically praying for the thing you don't want to happen."

There's truth there. There will always be medical tests. There will always be symptomatic Google searches. There will always be times when we are confronted with fear we don't know how to carry. And yet, we can only focus on what we know to be true.

My body is working for me. Not against me.
Sometimes cells do funky things.
It's going to be all right.

MORAL OF THE STORY: Ladies, get annual Pap smear tests and pelvic exams. Cervical cancer often takes years to develop, so if you're checking every 1-2 years, your chances of avoiding it are high. Plus, I've been learning more about the HPV vaccine and am confused as to why I haven't learned about this sooner. Look into it.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

The Books I Read in 2014

A year ago, at the start of 2014, Jeremy and I decided that we wanted to read a book a month. This felt like a pretty significant goal being that both of us have never done a ton of reading for pleasure, mostly just reading for school (how did I graduate with an English Ed degree?). I'm happy to say that we both met our goal and I actually ended up reading eighteen books! Whoa. So, in case you're looking for a good read this coming year, here are my thoughts on the matter.

January: Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris

David Sedaris is a name I had heard a lot in the past few years, but didn't know a lot about him (my friend, Michael always raved about Sedaris). And even after reading the book, I'm still not sure I knew a lot about him, except that he's funny and entertaining and maybe that's enough. This wasn't a difficult read, just random tales of family and travel and living in Paris (which was probably the most entertaining part, in my opinion). He tells a hilarious tale of walking miles and miles in order to log steps into his FitBit device. Once he reached one goal, he kept walking to get a few hundred more steps the next day. Just because. Then, he started picking up trash. Then, the little, local town named a garbage truck after him for all of his litter efforts. Hee Hee!

Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and The Fate of  Every Person Who Ever Lived by Rob Bell

You know how the recent movie The Interview has been so controversial? It's gotten all kinds of international publicity and that makes everyone want to see it even if they never wouldve otherwise? Yeah, that's how I felt about this book. The conservative evangelical's vicious response and opposition made a lot of people want to read it even more. Including me. And I wasn't let down. Frankly, I feel like religion tends to limit our interpretation of God. If you're part of a large group of "believers" you remain a part of the group by continuing to believe what the group believes. But why not dream a little? Why not hypothesize? Why not consider other possibilities? I'm all for it. How creative. How interesting. Do any of us really know exactly what the Bible is trying to say? No. In truth, we are all hypothesizing. God help us.

February: Wildwood Imperium (Wildwood Chronicles #3) by Colin Meloy

I don't do a ton of fictional reading (but I'm working on it!). This series written by Colin Meloy (the lead singer of The Decemberists, in case you were wondering) is the story of a twelve year-old girl who lives in Portland, Oregon and stumbles upon a secret world and identity that had been kept a secret from her since she was just a baby. This is the third in a three-book series and I highly recommend them.

March: Tiny, Beautiful Things: Advice on love and life from Dear Sugar by Cheryl Strayed

I didn't know anything about Cheryl Strayed until a friend recommended her book, Wild. I read it and enjoyed it. I didn't know that years previous to Wild she had been writing for an online advice column. I think I enjoyed this book even more than Wild. Strayed is a gal friend most of us would like to have: witty, wise, and incredibly funny. Every question that was posed her way she answers in the most humble and non-traditional ways. It challenged the way I look at human "problems".

April: Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead by Brene Brown

Brene Brown is one my heroes and I enjoyed her first book, The Gifts of Imperfection quite a lot so I took on Daring Greatly. I didn't enjoy it as much as her first book and yet, I value the themes such as shame and guilt and healing and growth that I could still probably read it again and find something new that I needed to hear.

May: Carry On, Warrior: Thoughts on Life Unarmed by Glennon Doyle Melton

I love that conversations about imperfection and vulnerability and courage are happening in society by way of such inspiring authors, and Glennon Doyle Melton was added to my list of favorites this year. I'd been following her blog for several months before I realized she'd written a book. It's mostly popular, quirky blog posts that she turned into a book. So there's not necessarily a continuing story-line other than the day-to-day tale about how we are all doing our darndest to love each other (and ourselves) better every day.

The Truth about Cheating: Why Men Stray and What You Can Do to Prevent It by M. Gary Neuman

Jeremy has not been cheating on me. We haven't had any marital distress in this area. I can't tell you exactly why I bought this book other than it was, like, 99 cents on Amazon for Kindle. I wasn't immediately turned onto the title which seemed to imply that if my husband did stray, there was certainly something I did wrong. But, I read it anyway. If there's any takeaway from the book, I found it interesting the various studies they did with married couples. Time after time, studies showed that women assumed their husbands cheated because they had put on weight or weren't pretty enough. But men cited over and over how their mistress was not prettier or thinner than their wife, but just available, present, and interested.

June: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

This is a fascinating story! I'm not sure how most of us have probably never heard of Henrietta Lacks because somehow this woman's cells have lead to the greatest scientific discoveries of the past century. For someone who dislikes/runs away from conversations about science, this book kept me interested for several reasons. Number one, her story is one that needs to be told. Number two, the book has a steady theme of race and ways that we've greatly used and abused the lack of privileges that black people had seventy years ago and now. Number three, I felt like I learned something useful and relevant.

The Journal of Best Practices: A Memoir of Marriage, Asperger Syndrome, and One Man's Quest to Be a Better Husband by David Finch

I've always been particularly interested in Asperger's, but definitely since I had a friend in college and one of my students in elementary school with it. I had heard an interview the author on NPR and wanted to know more. Finch makes it well into his thirties without knowing he has Asperger's, but the book tells the true story about how he came to recognize that there were specific reasons behind some of his "quirky" behaviors. The discovery provided him an outline to make big changes to his life and his marriage.

July: The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

I'm quite late to the game on this book. I'd heard it was an amazing book, but certainly difficult to read. I found both to be true. The book, which is set in Afghanistan, showed me a side of the country that had nothing to do with war or Osama Bin Laden, which a narrative we rarely hear. The book follows three generations and how we are deeply changed by things from our past. Trigger warning: This book is hard to read because of rape and sexual assault. Proceed cautiously.

August: Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life by Barbara Kingsolver

While I've read some great books this year, if I had to pick one that was probably the most important, I'd say it was this book. I'm also a bit late to the Barbara Kingsolver train and really want to read some of her works of fiction. This one is the true story of how her family, who was living in Arizona, came to the important realization that human life was never meant to thrive in the desert. Most, if not all, of the water and food was being shipped in from somewhere else, which just felt wrong. So the family moved to Virginia and started farming. They vowed to spend the next year eating only what they could grow or purchase at their local farmer's market. Quite a task! The story is pretty amazing and reconnected me with importance of knowing the story behind where my own food comes from. In short, Jeremy and I have decided to one day become organic farmers. We're sold. We can all do better.

September: Let My People Go Surfing: The Education of a Reluctant Businessman by Yvon Chouinard

Jeremy love, loved this book, so I basically had to read it in order to be able to talk to him during the month of September. This is the story of Chouinard, the owner and founder of the outdoor outfitter company, Patagonia. The company was started with the purpose of making good, quality products, but morphed and changed into a company wanting to do even better. This book tells the story about where our clothes come from: what field, what people, what kind of damage to the environment. Basically, if you are buying cheap clothes at places like Walmart, Target, or even higher-end dealers, chances are someone else is paying the deficit. Shirts can't cost $10. From the crops, to the process, to the chemical dyes, to the formation, to the distribution all around the world. The cost to the planet far surpasses any money we are laying on the counter. And, in case you're wondering, Jeremy has kind of sort of taken a vow to only buy clothes at Patagonia for the rest of his life. That's pretty convicting!

Body of Work: Finding the Thread That Ties Your Story Together by Pamela Slim

This was probably my least favorite book this year. I didn't have great expectations. It was handed to me by a friend and I opened it only because I'm trying to figure out what I want to be when I grow up. Maybe I just wasn't ready for the information, but by and large, it wasn't too useful to me. The theme is that these days it's good to have a variety of skills and gigs with which you can earn money.

Grain Brain: The Surprising Truth About Wheat, Carbs, and Sugar--Your Brain's Silent Killers by David Perlmutter

If there's a book that has most changed how I live day-to-day, this is the book. The title is a bit too "doom and gloom" for my style, but by the end of the book, I more understood their point. Essentially, the book highlights that diabetes and heart disease have been on the rise ever since the 1970s when the FDA endorsed a high-carb and low-fat diet, only to find now that we've been overdoing carbs and fat is not the culprit we thought it was. In fact, the less grains and more fat and cholesterol a person eats, the lower their cholesterol and risk of heart disease becomes. As someone who has always had high cholesterol, I've spent the past few years laying off of animal proteins, butter, milk, and cheese as a means of regulating my cholesterol levels but to no avail. However, now I've been eating more meat, more cheese, more dairy and more fat, and instead, cutting out most grains and starches and sugars. The science makes sense. Check it out.

October: Through The Door of Life: A Jewish Journey Between Genders by Joy Ladin

I was turned onto this story through an NPR podcast as well. Gender has always fascinated me and so this tale of a man who becomes a woman was really interesting. The book is written heavily in a journal-style and highlights a lot of the inner turmoil and pain that comes with being born into the wrong body and finding your way in a world that is largely unaccepting to the transgender community.

The Chrysalids by John Wyndham

Apparently, only my second fiction book of the year (geez, what am I so afraid of?). Another recommendation from a friend. This is a sci-fi style book that hypothesizes the damage done by fundamentalist, black-and-white, this-or-that-no-matter-what thinking does to our souls. In this world, all physical blemishes or deformities are seen as sin and error, worthy of death. Imperfect babies? Killed. Abnormal thinking? Done away with. It's a world where the rules are so precise, so limiting that no one wins and everybody loses, even those making the rules.

November: Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other by Sherry Turkle

I'm still digesting this one even though I finished it almost two months ago. The intersection of technology and ethics is one I find to be so interesting and so important. Turkle is a psychologist who studies the way that technology changes us. The first half of the book was largely about how people--young and old--respond to robots. I didn't take many notes and struggled to keep reading. But the second half of the book sent me furiously scribbling down notes to research more on my own. She digs into our new, digital lives: online and always connected. How that changes our relationships and the meaning we find in our lives, how we tend to hide from real-life interactions. How we see listening to voicemails as troublesome when they could've just sent a text message. And how if someone knocked on our door without warning, we'd be bothered--annoyed even--when this is how most of human kind has related to each other for centuries. We are alone and we are together. Always.

December: The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz

A friend who lived in Korea left this book behind for me to read and admittedly, I didn't love it. I kept waiting for there to be some kind of great resolution, some reason why I'd read this long and challenging bil-lingual story about a fat kid who couldn't get any "action" with girls. By the time I finished, I didn't feel connected to any of the characters and didn't care whether they got what they wanted or not. If any redeeming qualities, I did learn quite a bit about Dominican culture, particularly that of immigrant families constantly straddling two worlds.

There you have it. Eighteen books. (I actually read nineteen, but that was a re-read. I can never get enough Anne Lamott, so I read her Grace Eventually: Thoughts on Faith.)

Number one recommendation: 
Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life by Barbara Kingsolver

Close second: 
Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other by Sherry Turkle

Have you read any interesting fiction you would recommend? Leave me a comment!