Cleaning Up Your Life (Tidying Up with Marie Kondo Review)

Tidying Up with Marie Kondo, a Netflix original series, is focused on changing lives through the power of cleaning up. Marie Kondo is the author of the book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up where she explains her “KonMari” method (a combination of her first and last names, meaning that this system is uniquely developed by Kondo herself). This series puts that method, and her book, into action as she meets with families in their homes and helps guide them through it.

I immediately loved this series and watched through all the episodes (only eight of them!) in about three days. Kondo is the smallest, sweetest, cutest person I’ve probably ever seen. I loved her personality and also her attitude towards cleaning. She focuses on a few important ideas in the tidying process that make all the difference: gratitude, joy, and moving forward.

Let’s dive into the KonMari method for a second. The KonMari method is about tidying by category, rather than location. These five categories are:

1) Clothes

2) Books

3) Papers

4) Komono (Miscellaneous) items (this is the kitchen, bathroom, and garage)

5) Sentimental (The last and usually most difficult category).

Kondo highly recommends proceeding through these steps in this exact order so that by the time you get to your sentimental items at the end of the process you are much more adept at knowing which items spark joy. She also mentions that this keeps you from getting stuck as you keep going.

When beginning the process, gather all of these items (like your clothes, for example) and put them all together in one place in a big pile. This allows you to really see the amount of stuff you have. Pick up each item individually and hold it. If that item sparks joy for you (as Kondo says, you should feel something like “Ching!” or a literal rush of happiness when you touch it) keep it. If you don’t feel joy, say “thank you” to the item and let it go. (Throw it away or give it away). If there is an item you don’t know about you can ask yourself further questions like, “Is this something I use?” “Is this something I want to take with me into my future?”

Ching!

One of the things I loved most is the inherit gratitude in this process. It reminds you to be thankful for what you have and even for the things you are getting rid of. Even things you don’t need or want have still taught you something or been useful to you before. Eliminating the unnecessary items in our crowded lives and houses make us truly appreciative and grateful for the things we really need, use, and love. It changes our perspective on “stuff” from just things that clutter up our homes to unique, important, and special things that we love to be around. Kondo herself seems to have a strong inner sense of peace that I think comes from extending gratitude towards every item in her life.

Another key piece of this process is joy. Kondo emphasizes that we should only keep items that bring us joy or happiness. By honing this recognition of what brings us joy we can reprioritize our lives. I think it also helps us better understand who we really are. A quote by Dolly Parton expresses this idea very well. She said, “Find out who you are and do it on purpose.” (Thanks, Dumplin (yet another awesome Netflix original movie)). By discovering what we love we find out who we are and who we want to become. We become stronger by having that knowledge.

Finally, Kondo mentions moving forward. She often asks her clients to picture the space and life they want for themselves. One of the episodes I liked the best centered on a widow who was cleaning up her house after her husband died. Obviously, she had a lot of sentimental value attached to her husband’s things. Kondo gently asked her what things she wanted to take with her. There is no wrong answer here, it falls to the individual to decide what kind of life they want (and the kind of things they want to fill it).

As for the structure of the show itself, each episode included specific tips on storage, cleaning, and tidying. For example, what is the best way to store children’s toys? Or how should you best organize a kitchen utensil drawer? These tips are included as well as a focus on walking through the process. It was clear throughout the show that different people struggled more with different stages of the process. Each stage is given more or less screen time based on how each person moved through it. Since there were eight episodes, each of the steps got plenty of time given to it and various tips on getting through it.

Overall, I highly recommend this show. I thought it was very motivational- I definitely went on a cleaning spree after watching! I also loved the variety of families Netflix included. They were different races, different sexualities, and at different life stages. These families made this show perfect to speak into the mess of each of our varied lives. Going through the tidying process can be difficult, but it’s worthwhile when it puts our lives and ourselves into better perspective.

Happy tidying!

The Final Table: Netflix’s Newest Cooking Competition

The Final Table, a Netflix original global cooking competition, tries to become the biggest culinary competition the world has ever seen. Yet it seems to fall a little sort of these big claims. 

This show chose 24 talented chefs from around the world to compete (in teams of two) for a single seat at the final table. This legendary table has the biggest chefs in the world already sitting at it, chefs who have changed the culinary world of fine dining entirely. This includes chefs like Anne-Sophie Pic, Grant Achatz, and Helena Rizzo.  (I’ll admit I had never heard of them before this show, but they do seem really awesome.)

Anne-Sophie Pic

I absolutely loved the first few episodes of this show. They did a great job showcasing new and interesting culinary dishes and ingredients from various cultures. I mean, I have never seen or heard of Nopales before (a cactus used in episode one: Mexico as the native ingredient chosen by legendary chef Enrique Olvera).

This is not from the first episode, but is a great shot of Ash Heeger and Alex Haupt

I also loved that the chefs got two chances to make a great dish before they were removed from the show. I thought the editing and pacing was nicely done, with a good balance of tense cooking moments combined with slower more relaxing moments as chefs were introduced and we learned about different dishes. This show was interesting and explored new ways of cooking from other cultures. I really enjoyed learning about these new styles, techniques, and ingredients. 

During the beginning stages of this competition, it seemed reasonable when chef teams were asked to leave, they had failed twice to make a suitable dish, after all. As the competition entered the middle stages, however, I started to become more and more uncomfortable with the show. For me, episode six: USA was really the point I noticed things starting to go downhill. (Warning: some spoilers ahead.) 

I cringed through the entire episode. I disliked their choice of judges; Dax Shepard, Colin Hanks, and Sam Sifton. I especially disliked this because they seemed to try to have at least one female judge for every episode, except for the episode from the USA. I really felt that they could have done a better job choosing judges there. This was also the point I started to notice that all of my favorite teams, the chefs I’d come to care about were slowly getting eliminated. 

The next episode, Italy, cemented this feeling of growing unease with the show when the last females on the show (and the only female team) were eliminated by the end of the episode. (Also, Carlo Cracco seems super pretentious, especially in comparison to the other legendary chefs.) Monique Fiso actually broke down into tears after her elimination, saying she had sacrificed everything to be in this competition (she had no income coming in since she couldn’t work in her restaurant). That was definitely the moment this show wasn’t fun to watch anymore. 

Carlo Cracco

By the time I got to the finale, the only chefs left were the team from Australia (Mark Best and Shane Osborn) and the team with Canadian Darren MacLean and American Timothy Hollingsworth. Literally, all the of the “global” chefs from the show had been eliminated. (And all the chefs I cared about watching). After finishing the episode my only reaction was “Meh.” I didn’t really have any feelings, except disappointment.  

Does the lack-luster finale have to do with the casting of the chefs? The structure of the competition? I’m not sure, but I know that it didn’t feel very global by the time I got done watching it. 

Overall, if you love cooking competitions, you might like this one (and I do highly recommend the first few episodes!). But you might also feel pretty disappointed by the lack of representation by the finale. 

Exploring New Worlds: Hilda Review

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Hilda, a new animated children’s show on Netflix, is a perfect mix of exploration and friendship, adventure and humor.

I seriously can’t recommend this show enough.

Hilda is based on a graphic novel series written by Luke Pearson focusing on the adventures of Hilda as she explores her world, including her new home in the city of Trollberg.  Hilda and her mother previously lived in the forest where Hilda’s friends were the creatures she met there (including one called Woodman. Yes, he is made entirely of wood.) They later move to Trollberg where Hilda befriends two other middle school students, Frida and David. Together, the three of them explore the city and discover some of its secrets.

This is a light-hearted series focusing on adventure, friendship, and comedy. It is perfect for anyone from young children to adults because all audiences will get something out of it.

One of the best parts of the show is the fun fantasy elements carefully woven into the daily life of the characters. Hilda meets strange and wonderful creatures, discovers secrets and explores every hidden (and unhidden) inch of the world around her. 

Let’s look closer at the main themes:

Friendship:

Hilda’s main friends in the show are Frida and David, whom she meets in her class after she moves to Trollberg. 

 

David, Hilda, and Frida

Hilda is also always making friends with the various creatures she meets on her adventures. She seeks to understand them and doesn’t run away from difficult or strange situations. Some of her other friends through the season include Alfie the Elf, and Tontu, a Nisse (a house spirit).

At the beginning of the series, Hilda doesn’t really know how to make friends or interact with others socially. She grew up in a very limited social environment, making friends with only the forest creatures around her house and no one her own age. After the move to the city, Hilda learns how to be a good friend to David and Frida, especially in difficult situations (interpersonal and otherwise). Her new friends must also learn to adjust to all of Hilda’s quirks and faults.

Home:

Hilda and her mom playing a game

After moving to Trollberg, Hilda often feels out of place and homesick for her old house in the woods. Throughout the series we get the chance to see her connect with her new city and new friends as she begins to call this place her home. In one episode she is temporarily trapped in a suspiciously similar house in the woods (even though her house in the woods was destroyed) that grants her every wish, except for letting her leave. She finally realizes that her way out is to wish for the one thing she really wants: a door back home. The house grants this wish and she finds herself in her new apartment with her mom again, finally accepting that this is the place she now calls home. 

Fantasy and Adventure:

Another thing Hilda does well is incorporating unique and fun fantasy elements in unexpected places. One of my favorite examples of this is the way they mention several times a specific weather station on the radio. This station is hosted by Victoria Van Gale, who has eerily accurate weather predictions. Somehow only about three people in the whole city tune in (because no one else except Hilda has found her station). We meet Victoria Van Gale in person in a later episode during which Trollberg experiences some crazy weather phenomena. 

Hilda is consistently finding hidden secrets, meeting mysterious creatures, and going on crazy adventures while the show maintains a light-hearted whimsy that makes every episode fun. Hilda’s world is made up of Rat Kings who trade you secrets in the gutters, large flying Woffs (like puffy, floating cloud dogs- seen in the first picture of this post, along with Hilda’s deer-fox, Twig), and nightmare spirits who give you bad dreams. Using her determination and resourcefulness, Hilda and her friends find their way out of almost any situation. 

Hilda and David flying through a storm

The gorgeous animation, using soft, dreamy colors for the background and more intense colors on the main characters (especially Hilda’s red sweater and blue hair), bring this world to light in a way that is truly special. Hilda is a carefully created universe shown in such a heart-warming way that you are bound to rewatch it again and again.

I really loved this show and I highly recommend it to anyone looking for a great cartoon show! 

Happy watching! 

The Curious Creations of Christine McConnell: Review

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Netflix’s recent spooky additions during October this year included a baking show called The Curious Creations of Christine McConnell.

Christine McConnell, the show’s main character and real-life baker, gained recognition as a self-taught baker who’s Instagram baking posts showcase her creepy (and delicious) desserts. Her show on Netflix is an interesting mix of baking how-to and spooky, puppet-filled plot.

I enjoyed the quirky, dark humor of the show and the subtle world-building. In fact, the two things this show does best are world-building and baking.

Watching this show will definitely make you hungry as you watch McConnell make her spooky (and delicious) creations. She makes everything from chocolate-peanut butter “bones” in the first episode to a cake replica of her house. Seriously. McConnell's house

10/10 for edible spooky houses.

She also makes some other craft projects throughout the course of the show, including items like this creepy candle with a face, and a stunning, hand-made red dress for a date. There’s no denying that McConnell is incredibly talented at making lovely, spooky-themed creations, both in real life and on this show. By taking the time to show how she makes these items, the mood tends to stay pretty light-hearted and relaxed.

creepy candle

The other thing Curious Creations does well is world-building. From set design to spooky characters, the world (and, specifically, the house) McConnell lives in is fascinating. The subtle layers of world building keep you guessing at the mysteries of this universe. How did McConnell come to live in this house? What is the rest of her family like? (To this question, we do see some answers in later episodes). How did all of these creatures come to be here? What or who is Christine McConnell exactly? And what kind of world does she live in? So many questions.

In one episode we see Christine in her bedroom, just waking up for the morning. It seems that she is “sleeping” with her eyes open, looking almost dead. This small detail gives interesting hints about the world of Curious Creations. I genuinely loved the idea of this creepy house and the kind-hearted, though dark and mysterious, woman who lives in it. I also love how she treats the creatures who live in her house like family, bring in the trope of the gathered-family and true warmth to their relationships and interactions.

McConell

From details like the spider-web cupboards to the reappearing skull (of a previous mailman, apparently) and all the creatures living around the house, world-building gets a 10/10 here. Quirky, spooky, and mysterious, Curious Creations aces this test.

On the other hand, while I enjoyed watching The Curious Creations, I did feel like it took its genre-breaking a little too far. In some ways, breaking the genre molds of typical baking shows and typical spooky shows is what makes Curious Creations so unique and fun. But breaking the genres like this comes with a price.

Curious Creations doesn’t fit very well in any genre. Is it a baking show? Yes, but it doesn’t give quite enough detail to become actually useful as a baking show. I felt that a few too many steps were jumped over in the recipes for anyone to actually try to follow along with unless they are a professional baker with professional tools. In an attempt to showcase McConnell’s creations to the fullest, the show jumps over a few too many minor steps to be a really good baking show.

Is this show a children’s show? The rating is PG, but some of the content seems a little bit too raunchy or scary to make it a really good children’s show.  I mean, serial killers welding axes does seem a little scarier than PG, and let’s not even talk about the time they tortured a neighbor in the basement. (I’m also not going to talk about my feelings on Rose (an undead raccoon) as a character. I understand that she was written to be obnoxious, but she crosses the line into highly annoying a few too many times for me to like her very much. I’m not sure she helps to make this a “kids show” either, although they might find her the funniest of all audiences.)

rose

Is it a fictional, spooky show with a plot? Technically yes, but the plot is left underdeveloped so the show can focus on the baking. I wish they would have given more screen time to some of the other quirky characters living in McConnell’s house and addressed more some of the other intriguing plot points. By always cutting back to the kitchen so McConnell can talk about baking, the plot felt like it was cut a little bit short.

Breaking these barriers leaves Curious Creations in a strange, new territory for a spooky show. Who is the intended audience for this show? Children? Parents and children together? Young adults looking for something slightly spooky? I can’t help but feel that all audiences will be left a little confused and disappointed by how this show has divided itself between baking and fiction.

Final Thoughts:

If you love baking and spooky shows you will enjoy this one! It has a lot of super interesting concepts surrounding it that add to the mood of the show and help make it truly unique and fun. I really enjoyed both Christine’s baking and the idea of her house, but I didn’t fall in love with the show itself.

It is still a really good show to watch to get in the spooky mood!

Happy watching!

Pumpkin Spice Cupcakes (Vegan!)

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‘Tis the season for all things pumpkin spice! Last week, in celebration of fall, I made vegan pumpkin spice cupcakes to take with me to share at work and eat after going to a local haunted house. (You can’t go wrong with something sweet after something scary!)

I followed this recipe from lovingitvegan. It was easy to make and has a great vegan buttercream frosting to go with it.

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Unfortunately, I realized only after I began baking that I didn’t have any pre-mixed pumpkin spice. So I combined the spices together myself- which gave it a more personalized flavor. Just use cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and ginger. You may also use allspice to add extra spice to your mix. Add these spices together until you get your desired taste. (Mine was a little heavier on the ‘spice’ part of the pumpkin spice, and in the future, I would definitely be more careful with the cloves!) This recipe called for 3 1/2 tsp in the cupcakes themselves and a bit extra for the frosting, so keep that in mind if you are thinking of making your own.

I also made a flax egg for the first time as an egg replacement. It works incredibly well to bind the batter together, just like an egg would. To make a flax egg, mix 1 tbsp ground flax meal with 3 tbsp water and let it sit for a minute or so until it starts to thicken.

I had some extra batter after I made a batch of twelve regular-sized cupcakes, so I made an additional eight mini-cupcakes as well. I actually loved the mini-cupcakes even more than the regular cupcakes. Cupcakes usually have too much sugar for me to handle, so a mini-cupcake makes it easier to eat (especially if you are watching your sugar, but still want dessert).

Here is the recipe:

Making Homemade Einkorn Bread

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Einkorn, an ancient strain of wheat similar to spelt and emmer, appeared on a documentary I recently watched about the sustainability of current farm practices, including the growing of wheat. (This one! Right here! Its called Sustainable.)

Why is einkorn important?

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Einkorn is a grain that promotes genetic diversity in the grain crop, which helps nearly every element of the farm from the land and animals, to the crop itself. Regular wheat is one single strain of grain that is constantly mass produced, draining the soil, forcing the use of pesticides, and losing nutrition from the wheat itself.

On the other hand, a grain like einkorn helps restore the soil, and because it is genetically diverse, limits the need for the protection from bugs or disease that pesticides provide. It also hasn’t lost its nutrient value like regular wheat has. Eating einkorn provides more protein and potassium (along with other nutrients) than regular wheat.

The documentary discussed how this kind of wheat grows so well and interviewed a baker who uses einkorn in his bakery every day. I was very curious to try some einkorn bread of my own, so yesterday I made my first loaf. (In the future I’d also like to make more bread using other kinds of ancient grains! The taste is similar to whole-wheat bread, rather than regular white bread flour, which is exactly what I love from my bread).

How to make einkorn bread:

I followed this recipe from Live Simply.

The ingredients are very simple:

Water, yeast, olive oil, honey, and salt along with all-purpose einkorn flour. (You may use whole wheat, but the author of the recipe, Kristin Marr, suggests using the all-purpose for this particular recipe.)

After the yeast has been activated, the ingredients combine quickly into a sticky dough. It is important to not overwork the einkorn dough because it won’t rise correctly if you do.

The bread then proves for an hour before another 30-minute prove in the loaf container. Finally, it goes into the over at 375 for about 35 minutes. When I pulled my loaf from the oven, I was initially worried it was burnt. Actually, it really wasn’t burnt (well, maybe just a tiny bit on the very top), since the einkorn flour turns a darker color after it has been baked.

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Overall, this first try at making einkorn bread was a success! I definitely want to make another loaf, since this one is mostly gone already and I plan to eat the rest with some homemade soup tonight. This particular recipe doesn’t make an overly sweet or salty bread, so it goes well with nearly any dish.

Here is some more information about einkorn!

 

The Underground Girls of Kabul (An Inside Look into the Lives of Afghan Women)

kabul girls

The Underground Girls of Kabul, written by journalist Jenny Nordberg, is a look into Afgan culture and the lives of Afgan women. Nordberg specifically explores the phenomenon of families dressing their daughters as boys, or bacha posh.

In Afganistan, a girl child is called “dokhtar” (daughter) while the boy is “bacha” (child). The girl is not the chosen child, she is “other”. The phrase “bacha posh” means “dressed like a boy” and is the term for those children who are neither son nor daughter. They are the girls dressed as boys.

Before reading this book I assumed it might be a heart-wrenching look into the confined lives of Afgan women, but this book proves over and over how much of a falsehood that thought was. In many ways, Afgan women are indeed mistreated and confined, but this book is a hopeful look at how their society might be transformed and is in the process of transforming right now.  The presence and existence of these girls proves there is a kind of resistance to the control of society and a subversion of the tightly controlled roles and rules surrounding the behavior of women.

Reading this book also helped to open my eyes to the actual culture of Afganistan and its people and history. To be honest, I hadn’t read that much about Afgan culture before this and I was surprised in many ways to hear stories from the women themselves. Of course, there are some truly horrible and saddening moments in the book, but I understand more clearly why their society behaves this way.

For example, one eye-opening moment for me was when Nordberg points out that in some ways the West is more obsessed with gender roles (in childhood) than Afghans are. A woman she interviewed explains that, in Afghanistan, “people are driven by something much more basic- sexuality. Everything before puberty is just preparation for procreation. That is the purpose of life here.”

Part of the reason that Afghan culture keeps women so tightly confined is that they are in a constant state of war. When everything else is unstable, the Afghan men keep a tight grip on any reasons they have, specifically their reputation and their women. Controlling women means that, to an extent, they have control over life- the literal production of life which can mean safety and future security for their family.

Nordberg’s suggestions in the epilogue of the book as to how Afghanistan can move out of this cultural mindset include two important factors, that the country must enter a sustained time of peace, and that part of the change must begin with “powerful men educating many other men”. The women in Afghanistan won’t be able to achieve economic or political power until they are supported by their fathers and husbands.

This book really changed my perspective on Afghan culture and the Middle East. Nordberg helped me understand a little more clearly what living on the inside of such a culture looks like. Ultimately, there is great potential for hope and progress, but the road towards that goal will be long and difficult.

 

 

Vegan Chocolate Chip Cookies

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On Friday last week I made my first batch of vegan chocolate chip cookies to take with me to a dinner party. They were so easy and fast to make, and they tasted delicious! I also brought the extras in to work the next day—my coworkers loved them too! It’s a nice feeling to know that more people might be able to eat your dessert if they have lactose issues or adhere to a vegan diet.

I followed this recipe.

Ingredients:

2/3 cup refined coconut oil, melted

2/3 cup vegan granulated sugar

2/3 cup packed vegan brown sugar

1/2 cup unsweetened vanilla almond milk

teaspoons vanilla

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

teaspoon baking soda

teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

bag (10 oz) vegan semisweet chocolate chips (1 1/2 cups)

 

However, I’d like to make another batch soon with some chopped walnuts added for a bit of extra crunch and nuttiness.

The steps, posted below, only took a few minutes to follow. (And you can safely eat the dough because there aren’t any eggs! Not that the presence of eggs stopped me before…)

 

  • Heat oven to 350°F. In large bowl, mix coconut oil, granulated sugar and brown sugar until well mixed. Stir in almond milk and vanilla.
  • Stir in flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt until dough forms. Stir in chocolate chips. Drop dough by slightly rounded tablespoonfuls 2 inches apart onto ungreased cookie sheets.
  • Bake 11 to 14 minutes or until edges are light brown and tops look set. Cool 1 minute on cookie sheets. Remove to cooling rack; cool completely. Store in tightly covered container.

 

Recently, I’ve been trying to learn how to bake more vegan desserts and have had a lot of success with both banana bread and apple cake. It turns out that great dessert doesn’t need milk and eggs, it just needs a lot of sugar.

Cheers to baking!

-Sarah

The Book Life: Comparing Bookstores and Libraries

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I recently started a job at a library, meaning that I now work two jobs that leave me surrounded by books. Stacks of them. Shelves of them.

Picture books are returned slightly sticky from young fingers.

The recipe books leave me feeling hungry.

cookbook        everday korean      milkbar life

I spend my time shelving, putting books on hold, and searching for that one book about knitting someone requested. I also see endless amounts of crappy romance novels. The tagline of the day: “Scot rhymes with HOT!” (Yes, it was a romance set in Scotland, if you haven’t guessed it already.)

 

My other job surrounded by books is at a bookstore.

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I love how, by necessity, small bookstores can only offer a curated selection of books. Some of these are the kind you buy to show to others, the ones with the beautiful photography. The ones you keep on a coffee table on a kitchen counter. The travel books and cookbooks.

Some of these books are memoirs, academic books, textbooks, picture books, or religious books. These are the bestselling books, the ones the store hopes it can make a profit on.

Books at a bookstore are in pristine condition and are meant to be bought and brought home to find a place on your bookshelves.

bookstore 2

Here, I spend my time helping customers find books and selling them books at the register.

Here, a book might be on sale or 25% off or even as a $5 fiction book. Also here is where some books might be $40 or more (I’m talking about textbooks or books with an expensive binding). Things can start to add up.

A busy day at the bookstore means there was a lot of people. A busy day at the library means there was a lot of books.

Here are the major differences and similarities between the two:

  1. Bookstores are fundamentally a retail setting. This means that there is always some transfer of money happening for the products (and no, I don’t have control over the prices.)
  2. Libraries work as a circulation system, not a one-time sale. There is a constant flow of books going out and coming back in. Unlike the bookstore, the circulation system in the library is constantly flowing and there is almost always more books to be reshelved.
  3. Both host authors and events. And summer reading programs!
  4. Both engage and encourage the community, in slightly different ways. A library is fully open to the community for meetings, but a bookstore can more easily show a movie or host live music.
  5. Both open discussions, spread information and promote learning.
  6. Customer service is very important in both settings. (I was forced to watch a training video on this very subject called “Give ‘em the Pickle”).

In the end, even if being around books every day and can get a little bit tiring, I love seeing what people are reading. I love being part of the process to help people engage with new ideas and stories. I love working at places people can come to get work done or research or just read and relax.

 

So, for now, I’ll just be over here. Living the book life.

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Everything Happens for a Reason (A Look at Dealing with Tragedy)

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The book Everything Happens for a Reason (and Other Lies I’ve Loved) is a memoir by Kate Bowler about her life after being diagnosed with stage IV colon cancer. Her heavy, beautiful writing discusses her view of faith in the face of tragedy and living life when your sense of certainty has been completely stripped away.

Bowler was a professor at Duke Divinity School, mother of a two-year-old, and wife to the love of her life when she was told she had cancer and had only two years left to live. Her diagnosis ripped away her old life immediately and left her wondering how to live in the face of death.

This book is a perfectly paced story, carefully balancing all the darkest moments with snippets of information and daily life which makes it all bearable. For example, at the end of chapter two, “Object Lesson”, we learn that Bowler had previously had a miscarriage. This moment is one of the heaviest and most heart-breaking in the book. As Bowler shares this moment she says:

“I felt something strange and ran to the bathroom. I started to scream for Toban. As I sat crouched there, everything moved around me in a blur…When we had said all we could say and I had cried all I could cry, we stood there like fools, without language or focus… I could not look down. I was nothing but blood and water.”

But the next chapter begins again with something much more light-hearted: a magic show that Bowler attends wither her friend Blair. By taking the reader from one scene of heartbreak to another, lighter scene, Bowler is able to make this memoir readable and meaningful rather than overwhelming.

Another key part of this book is the two appendixes giving advice on how to interact with someone going through a tragedy. The first appendix, “Absolutely never say this to people experiencing terrible times: a short list”, is full of things to not say to someone (even if you think you are being relatable). Number 5 on the list is the lie “Everything happens for a reason” to which Bowler says:

“The only thing worse than saying this is pretending that you know the reason. So if people tell you this, make sure you are there when they go through the cruelest moments of their lives, and start offering you own [reasons]. When someone is drowning, the only thing worse than failing to throw them a life preserver is handing them a reason.”

The second appendix contains suggestions for positive, helpful ways to interact with someone going through rough times. It includes items like “Oh, my friend, that sounds so hard.” and “I’d love to bring you a meal this week. Can I email you about it?”

Bowler writes about her tragedy and her faith in such a beautiful, vulnerable way. At the very end of this memoir she writes:

“My little plans are crumbs scattered on the ground. This is all I have learned about living here, plodding along, and finding God. My well-laid plans are no longer my foundation. I can only hope that my dreams, my actions, my hopes are leaving a trail for Zach and Toban, so, whichever way the path turns, all they will find is Love.

Zach is beside me in our big bed as I write these words, rolling around like a polar bear cub… It’s another beautiful morning, and it’s time to yell with the pitch of the coffee grinder and make him French toast. I will die, yes, but not today.”

If you are looking for a memoir exploring life during (and through) personal tragedy, Bowler’s Everything Happens for a Reason is excellent and honest. I loved it!