What I Read | FEBRUARY 2018

112077The Game of Kings by Dorothy Dunnett

The friend who shares my love of The Queen’s Thief series suggested that if I like Rogues with a Heart of Gold™, I ought to give Dunnett’s Lymond Chronicles a try.  Twenty pages in, I was overwhelmed by the Scottish history and lingo, but a deluge of rabid Lymond fans on Twitter encouraged me to keep going.  One hundred pages in, I was ready to call this (mostly unread) series the best in the world.  It is beautifully and cleverly written, both at the sentence level and in terms of the over-arching twisty plot.  Lymond himself is awful and complex and SO AMAZING, but the huge cast of supporting characters more than live up to his level.  I adored this book, and I can’t wait to read all the others in the series!

23197837The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton

Although this book has an interesting premise in creating a world in which a special few magically talented girls are revered for their ability to beautify humans that are born with grey skin and red eyes, I just couldn’t buy into the full picture this novel tries to paint.  Why is this ability so important that literally the whole country and political structure revolves around them? Why are Camellia and Amber friends, when throughout the book we only see them arguing or being annoyed with each other?  Big points for a creative concept, but that’s it.

Screen Shot 2018-02-24 at 11.38.01 AMAmerican Panda by Gloria Chao

Although distinctly Chinese-American, this book speaks to the universal transition of a college student learning to differentiate herself from her parents.  I loved watching Mei struggle to decide how she wants to live her life as she both appreciates and resents the omnipresence of her parents in every aspect of her existence.  I was also extremely interested in the Chinese-American culture presented here, and I can only imagine how funny and gratifying and meaningful this story must be to readers with immigrant parents.

leonardo-da-vinci-9781501139154_lgLeonardo da Vinci by Walter Isaacson

I loved Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs, and I adore Renaissance art, so this book was an obvious go-to for me.  Isaacson once again tells the story of a man’s life with clarity, appreciation, and enough fanboying that the 500 pages flew by.  Da Vinci is famous for his artwork (specifically his Mona Lisa and Last Supper paintings), and I loved reading about how they came to be.  But even more, I enjoyed reading about da Vinci’s obsessive observational skills, and how they led him to discover more about anatomy and machinery than anyone else in his era (or for centuries after him).  He was a genius because his passion for life married art and science, a combination I hope we see more of today!

35099058Gunslinger Girl by Lyndsay Ely

A post-apocalyptic story that veers into classical Western tropes of brothels and gunfights, I really enjoyed this book until its last act.  I liked Pity and her conflicted feelings about both enjoying and fearing her new dangerous home.  I appreciated that the stakes were high, with characters actually dying almost from the word go.  But I never really believed the romance, and I thought the ending devolved into stereotype when it could have easily been more interesting.  This seems to be set up for a series, and I won’t be reading more, but this first glimpse into Ely’s world was pretty fun.

13414183Better Nate Than Ever by Tim Federle

The Illinois Caudill books are out, and this was the first I picked up.  It is a hilarious and endearing story of a sensational pre-teen sneaking off to NYC to audition for a Broadway musical.  I loved seeing the city through his eyes:  when he’s excited, all the chaos is beautiful, and when he’s disappointed, the same things are suddenly dreary or scary.  Nate is a BIG character, overwhelming the story and the characters within it with his personality.  It’s easy to see both why he is bullied in school AND why those exact same qualities are going to win him fast friends and success once conforming stops mattering so much.  This is a great book about family, friendship, and first steps toward self-awareness.

whatlight25f-1-webWhat Light by Jay Asher

This is a schmaltzy YA Christmas romance, and I was not into it.  The girl works on a Christmas tree farm one month every year, and she falls in love with the “bad boy,” whose badness is boring and is in actuality the most Do Gooder teenager on the planet.  I was super unimpressed by this one, but it’s a nice thoughtless feel good story if that’s what you need in the moment.

Advertisements

MoviePass, the Movie Theater Subscription You Need to Try

Several months ago, a friend recommended that I check out MoviePass, a Netflix-esque card and app that gives you access to one movie in theaters per day for the low price of $10 per month.  I was about to spend three months in a foreign country, but as my return date approached and award season movies were filling my podcast queue, I decided to give it a try.

READER.  This is such a good deal!!  If you see at least two movies in theater per month, MoviePass more than pays for itself.  I cannot imagine how it is financially lucrative, and I can only assume that prices will someday be raised.  So now is the time to take advantage of this amazing deal!

In my first month using MoviePass, I’ve seen 1. Call Me By Your Name (the sexiest and most accurate First Love movie I’ve ever seen), 2. Lady Bird (a perfect depiction of what it’s like to be a teenage girl), 3. Coco (a beautifully animated story about Mexican culture and the importance of family), and the premiere of 4. Black Panther (it lives up to all of its hype omgggg)!

PROS

  • MoviePass promises “Any movie, Any theater, Any day,” and so far I’ve found that to be completely true.  My small Midwestern city allows MoviePass at all of its theaters, though some require the physical card and others need only the app.
  • This is especially great for watching favorite movies multiple times in theaters, catching up on award season films, or checking out movies in which you wouldn’t normally invest money.

CONS

  • After signing up online at moviepass.com, you have to wait up to two weeks for your physical MoviePass card to show up in the mail.
  • If you want to cancel your subscription, you cannot rejoin for another nine months.

TOTAL SAVED

Call Me By Your Name ($8.75)
Lady Bird ($7.00)
Coco ($7.00)
Black Panther ($6.75)

MoviePass (-$10.00)

= $19.50 SAVED

Best Of: Living in Greece

After being in the States for two and a half weeks, my brain has been telling me, “Well, that was a nice vacation!  Time to go home!”  But my apartment is sold, my job position is filled, and Greece is not my home anymore.  Needless to say, I’ve been pretty moody and nostalgic, so I went back and reread all my “Living in Greece” blog posts.  Here are some of my favorites:

A Week in Greece #1:  Everything is New  | This is where it all started!  I’m so impressed with how self-aware I was about the stresses of moving to a new country.

The Beginnings of Culture Shock  | Includes an excellent list of silly things that are dumb on their own but add up to Major Frustration.

Language Learning Meltdown  | One of the worst moments of my time in Greece and how being vulnerable helped.

A Week in Greece #12: HD Planning, Agatha Christie, and the Beach!  | This is a fun snapshot of my life while living at the Bible College, and includes a great moment in which I visit a friend because I passed my bedroom door and was too embarrassed to turn around.

A Week in Greece #15:  A New Friend, First Week at HD, and Apartment Furnishing  | Enter Luciana, who would become my best friend!

Happy in My Homesickness  | Wow.  This post is extremely good and extremely relevant to my current feelings of being homesick for Greece.

A Week in Greece #27:  Slumber Parties, Hiking, and Escape Rooms  | Apparently, it took me nearly seven months to find comfortable friends that did not socially drain me.

A Week in Greece #36:  Rambo Jesus, Goodbye Roommate, Two New Cats  | A lot of these weekly recaps include me complaining about feeling overwhelmed, but this one is definitely one of the funniest and most self-aware.

Year 2 | A Week in Greece #1:  I’m Back  | After six weeks in the States for Christmas, I reunited with all my old friends.

Year 2 | A Week in Greece #5:  Work Weirdnesses  | A story about the highs and lows of working at HD.

Year 2 | A Week in Greece #8: A Lot of Luciana and Thessaloniki  | Just…a lot of sweet memories.

Year 2 | A Week in Greece #13: US Team, New Baby, Mission Meetings  | My last “A Week in Greece” post from my last week back in April 2017 when I naively thought I would be returning soon.

(I didn’t document my last three months (November 2017 – January 2018) because…I dunno, I felt like everything was Too Much.  I regret that now, but oh well!)


 

Reading through old posts reminded me of how hard it was to live in Greece, how there were so many wonderful moments that made the day-to-day sense of being overwhelmed worthwhile.  These past two years were genuinely the hardest and best years of my life so far.  I grew a lot, and I made incredible friends and exciting memories.  I’m so glad I can relive it all here.

Saying Goodbye to Greece

It’s been two weeks since I moved back to the States from Greece, and already my time there feels like another life.  Before I lose even more perspective, I wanted to write up a summary of the ways I grew while living in Athens for one and a half years, based on words that end in -ly.

Physically

Whenever I try to be Healthy, I always feel like I am significantly altering my life.  Living in Greece showed me a lifestyle that naturally includes healthy habits.  I walked 30 minutes to work every day, and without a car, I relied upon walking and public transportation to carry me everywhere around the city.  Greek people love to eat, but the food they’re feasting on is generally fresh and natural.  They’re genuinely skeptical of processed foods, and not in that “I hate myself for loving this microwavable meal!” way, but by repeatedly asking me if I was okay because I didn’t know how to cook real meals for myself.  BUT WHY WOULD I, when my culinary helplessness led several people to regularly drop off homemade meals at my desk or doorstep?

And that Greek food!!  I will forever miss running to Gregory’s for a €1.40 cappuccino or to Big Bad Wolf for a €2 gyro.  Never have I eaten so well for so little.

IMG_2639

Emotionally

It was in Greece that I really began to truly like myself, which for me really means feeling comfortable being me.  I credit this with two habits of my workplace:  1) we stressed, from the beginning, the necessity of having people with different personalities and talents on the team to complement each other, and 2) our weekly 12 Steps meetings created space to talk honestly about our worst self-destructive habits amongst people who would say, “Yeah, me too!” or “I can see how that would hurt you, but let me tell you how I also see that this is a strength of yours.”

IMG_9431

Mentally

Despite my complete lack of natural talent in language acquisition, I learned enough Greek to navigate the city on my own, shop for anything I needed, and have conversations with people who knew My Brand of Greek (i.e. could interpret my incorrect tenses and guess what I was trying to say).

In addition to the language, living in a foreign culture also stretched me in numerous ways.  I became frustrated with some differences, fell in love with others, and survived a spate of social anxiety that was pretty debilitating.  My worldview was expanded, my knowledge of politics extended beyond the United States, and I learned to think more critically AND compassionately about both my native and adopted countries.

IMG_9015

Spiritually

One of the things I’ve always struggled with is the feeling that I ought to be perfect.  A classic Good Girl, I figured I could force my way into God’s affection through sheer performance and rule-adherence.  Working at HD helped dismantle the last of those lies. As I spent every day teaching self-esteem and anger management to women whose trauma was close to the surface of their every decision, it was easy to understand their fear of betrayal and their desire to manipulate people to assure their own safety.  Sometimes there were setbacks that seemed to come from nowhere, and my fellow staff members were quick to build up whichever of us was frustrated with a lack of explicit progress.

Eventually I applied this attitude of grace and patience to myself.  I realized that life is about growth, not perfection.  I realized that God is present in moments of vulnerability and community far more than in the perfectionistic performances I often fall back on.  The end result of understanding God’s patience for me was my deeper love of him.  I felt, very deeply, that nothing I could ever do would change his opinion of me.  And that was freeing.

IMG_9350

 

Socially

If Greece gave me anything, it was an overabundance of social riches.  I became friends with people from multiple countries, had roommates from Ukraine, the US, Greece, and Canada.  I found nerdy friends and travel friends and cat friends.  All the weirdest corners of my interests were suddenly open and accepted.  I had weekly K-Drama nights, one of my birthdays was spent forcing friends to play video games, I celebrated an English Christmas, and I had best friends who knew me, teased me, loved me, and inspired me.

I’ve said it many times before, but there was something especially meaningful about friends made in a foreign country.  Without a social or familial support system to fall back on, I had to rely on people to an occasionally absurd degree, and that kind of dependency forged deep relationships.  I’ve always loved Found Families in media, and the group of people I called friends in Greece were my found family.  I will miss them enormously, and I’m not sure I’ll ever experience something quite like them again.

IMG_9391


To relive more of my Greek experiences,
check out my Living in Greece tag.

My Life as a Nerd

I was rereading some of my old posts, and although I originally marketed this as the story of my childhood as a nerd, it far more effectively tells the sad and hilarious tale of a childhood full of enormous anxiety issues.

My Google Drive is full of drabbles, short pieces I’ve written and quickly abandoned before they got anywhere significant.  This one was called “My Life as a Nerd,” and I totally forgot I wrote it last summer.  I will never finish it, and I wanted someone to see it, so Here, Blog!  Enjoy.


I’ve spent my whole life being a nerd because I learned, from the very youngest of ages, that fantasy is better than reality.  It’s not like I had an oppressed, horrible life.  I grew up in a firmly middle-class family: not rich enough to fly somewhere for vacation, but rich enough to afford the newest technological gadget that interested my dad (a case could be made for inherited nerdiness).

The thing is, I was an introverted, extremely shy kid.  Life was hard for me, even when “life” just meant standing in front of the preschool to show off…

View original post 801 more words

What I Read | JANUARY 2018

Screen Shot 2018-01-27 at 4.35.38 PM

The Queen’s Thief Series (The Thief, The Queen of Attolia, The King of Attolia, A Conspiracy of Kings, Thick as Thieves) by Megan Whalen Turner

This is my go-to comfort series, and I reread them when two of my friends in Greece decided to read them as well.  We literally had parties where we talked about the books for hours and fell all over ourselves squealing about Eugenides’ perfection.  They are children’s adventure stories with a political backstory that becomes increasingly important throughout the series, and seriously.  Eugenides is the embodiment of my Ideal Fictional Hero and I cannot even hold it together any time he does anything.

51IpIExqbQL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_Pegasus by Robin McKinley

This is an unfortunately cut-off first book in a series that I assume is leading to a human/pegasus romance that I…was super into??  McKinley’s ability to create lush fantastical and creative worlds is very evident here, and I’m really disappointed that there seems to be little possibility of a sequel, just as the political aspect of things were heating up!  I wanna know if humans and pegasi can coexist when led by representatives of their species that can speak telepathically!

6a016760e4a142970b01676103f988970bThe Moon-Spinners by Mary Stewart

This was one of my favorite childhood movies, so I was curious how the novel that inspired the Disney movie held up.  While mostly similar in plot, Stewart’s novel feels more grownup, to the point that I believed a devastating plot twist that fortunately turned even twistier.  A perfect book for those of you who like murder mysteries set on Greek isles!

516RKT4NIAL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_The Divine Dance by Richard Rohr

The final conclusion that Rohr reaches “Everything is holy” feels incredibly satisfying and encouraging after a deep dive into the relationship of the Trinity (both amongst themselves and with humans) and how that informs all of life.

2337457The Art of Crossing Cultures by Craig Storti

I read this as I was flying back from Greece, and it was incredibly validating to see my cultural experiences laid out on the page before me.  It helped me to see what I did well and what I did poorly while trying to adapt to a foreign culture, and I HIGHLY recommend it to anyone considering living in a country not their own.

a328d7c9caf2857e082fe981af6df5b8Meditations by Marcus Aurelius

I read this because *ahem* it was a significant plot point in the amazing television show Black Sails, and I’m glad I did.  It’s a bit like the book of Proverbs, and there were quite a few bits of wisdom that I really took to heart, including this one:  “But to get back up when you fail, to celebrate behaving like a human – however imperfectly – and fully embrace the pursuit that you’ve embarked on.”

31207017Love Hate & Other Filters by Samira Ahmed

Half teenage romance, half social commentary, I didn’t like this book as much as I should have.  Everything felt a little too perfect, and I couldn’t help wanting a bit more grittiness in a novel about hate acts and terrorist attacks.  But it’s a fun quick read, and well worth a day’s read.

 

Expressing Enneagram Four Emotions with Fiction

Sometimes when I tell people I’m an Enneagram Four who has a lot of emotions, I can see them silently doubting me.  And it’s true, in daily life (especially work life) I’m fairly even-keeled and logical.  But one day I was listening to the Prince of Egypt episode of the Good Christian Fun podcast, and I burst into tears when they played a ten-second clip of the song “Deliver Us.”

Everything became clear:  I express my emotions through fiction.

It is in books and movies and television shows that I feel comfortable feeling the anger, longing, and joy that lives inside me.  This is probably why the only time I made progress in therapy was when my therapist finally asked me, “If you had to choose one book to symbolize your life, which would it be?” and I immediately said, “WELL.”

This is also why I can be embarrassingly possessive of my favorite stories.  Here is an actual text conversation with my brother from a couple days ago illustrating how well he knows my neurotic mind:

IMG_9383

I infamously got pissed at my mom when we were watching the season 3 finale of LOST and I realized she hadn’t been keeping up with the show while I was at college.  “I just want to enjoy the thing you enjoy with you!” she said (as an Enneagram Two).  I made her leave, because I didn’t want someone who wasn’t emotionally invested ruining my experience.  When I recently told a friend about this, she said, “You’re awful,” and while I see that, I…would do the same thing again.

I see now that as an Enneagram Four, I very often conflate my emotions with my identity.  I’m therefore very protective of them.  I will not show someone The Fall (my favorite movie of all time) unless I am sure they will like it, because my heart cannot handle someone looking at my soul for two hours and then saying, “Eh.”

Now that I think about it a little more, I think that emotionalism is definitely present in me all the time.  But I don’t trust many people to accept, let alone enjoy, the intensity of my feelings, so I keep them inside.  It’s in stories, which are spaces inherently designed for emotion, that I feel safe enough to let everything out.  So if someone doesn’t know the nerd side of me, they will probably be surprised to hear that I’m an Enneagram Four.