2013: What I Read

As 2012 came to a close, I ran through my Kindle history and shared what I’d read that year. I knew I wanted to do so again this year. It’s a good exercise for me to recap and remember the words I’ve consumed, the influence they had in the moment, and how I can carry the positive forward into a new year.

2013 started with some titles I knew I was going to read, and veered from there, based on what looked appealing from Fargo’s online library. Here’s the rundown:

“Gone Girl: A Novel,” by Gillian Flynn
“Have a Little Faith,” by Mitch Albom
“Cemetery Girl,” by David Bell
“Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake,” by Anna Quindlen
“Torch,” by Cheryl Strayed
“The Pact,” by Jodi Picoult
“Edward Adrift,” by Craig Lancaster
“January First: A Child’s Descent into Madness and Her Father’s Struggle to Save Her,” by Michael Schofield
“The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks,” by Rebecca Skloot
“Kiss Me If You Can,” by Carly Phillips (I’d like to pretend this was not on my list. I didn’t realize it was a Harlequin romance when I started it. That said, I can’t justify finishing it.)
“The Hunger Games,” “Playing with Fire,” and “Mockingjay,” by Suzanne Collins
“Bad Monkey,” by Carl Hiaasen
“Revenge Wears Prada,” by Lauren Weisberger
“Star Island,” by Carl Hiaasen
“Sharp Objects: A Novel,” by Gillian Flynn
“The Time Keeper,” by Mitch Albom
“Sh*t My Dad Says,” by Justin Halpern
“Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead,” by Sheryl Sandberg
“Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns),” by Mindy Kaling
“The Fault in Our Stars,” by John Green

My reading habits declined sharply in November, between increased hours at work and holiday busyness.  I downloaded “Life of Pi” last month, but never got a chance to crack click it before my loan expired. So I’m seeking recommendations for the New Year to relight my reading lamp.

What did you read this year? What are you most looking forward to reading in 2014?

What I Read: 2012

For Christmas last year, my hubby gave me what I consider my most-used and loved present, a Kindle Fire. I posted excitedly on Facebook when I received it. A friend jokingly replied, “If he loved you he would have got you an iPad. Oh well, at least he likes you … Maybe next year.”

Yes, a Kindle Fire is a far less expensive gift than an iPad, but given my family’s frugal nature, that makes it all the more perfect a present. It does everything I need it to (Facebook, e-mail, Angry Birds), with no monthly data fee. There seems to be a wireless network available most everywhere I go.

Plus, I’ve been able to read far more than motherhood would otherwise allow, and have yet to pay for a book thanks to free titles on Amazon and access to a vast selection of e-books through the Fargo Public Library.

It also helps me keep track of what I’ve read, which is why I can compile this list for you. Here’s a recap of my literary (I use that term loosely) consumption in 2012:

“For One More Day” by Mitch Albom
“Stay Tuned” by Lauren Clark
“Winning the Wallflower: A Novella” by Eloisa James
“The Carrie Diaries” by Candace Bushnell
“Absolutely Organize Your Family: Simple Solutions to Control Clutter, Schedules and Spaces” by Debbie Lillard
“The Girl Who Played with Fire” and “The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest” by Stieg Larsson (1)
“The Help” by Kathryn Stockett
“Scenes of Suburban Mayhem” and “The Summer Son” by Craig Lancaster (2)
“Water for Elephants” by Sara Gruen
“Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” by Jonathan Safran Foer
“Fifty Shades of Grey,” “Fifty Shades Darker” and “Fifty Shades Freed” by E L  James (3)
“Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children” by Ransom Riggs
“Shopaholic Takes Manhattan,” “Shopaholic Ties the Knot,” “Shopaholic and Sister,”
“Shopaholic and Baby” and “Mini Shopaholic” by Sophie Kinsella (4)
“The Postmistress” by Sarah Blake
“The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business” by Charles Duhigg
“I Don’t Know How She Does It: The Life of Kate Reddy, Working Mother” by Allison Pearson
“Wild” and “Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar” (5) by Cheryl Strayed
“Five People You Meet in Heaven” by Mitch Albom
“The Dressmaker” by Kate Alcott (6)

(1) I read book one of the trilogy, “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” in late 2011.
(2) Lancaster is a noted Montana author, and happens to be married to my best friend. Check out his book “600 Hours of Edward.”
(3) Yeah, yeah, I know.
(4) I’d read “Confessions of a Shopaholic” YEARS ago, but recently discovered that Rebecca Bloomwood’s story continued. Yes, this is escapist chick lit. I admit it.
(5) I only read half this book, not because it wasn’t good (the writing is beautiful, the letters and advice compelling), I just ran out of time!
(6) In progress

First up in 2013 is “Gone Girl” by Gillian Flynn. I’ve heard great things about that book. I’m also hoping to read “Torch,” a novel by Strayed, and a borrowed copy of “Have a Little Faith” by Albom rests on my nightstand. I’m looking forward to the release of  Lancaster’s sequel “Edward Adrift” in April.

Happy New Year, and happy reading!

What did you read in 2012? Any recommendations for 2013?

‘Is that the best you can do?’

Money-Savin’ Mama has been reading up on saving and building wealth. I checked out a book from the library last week, “Five Lessons a Millionaire Taught Me for Women” by Richard Paul Evans.

It was a quick read. I finished it over the weekend. As I read Evans’ anecdotes, something seemed familiar about them. I finally figured it out. A few years back, my husband read Evans’ book — the original “Five Lessons” book, not the edition geared to women — and had read some of these same stories aloud to me.

I was glad to have the refresher, though. While much of Evans’ advice is standard in the personal finance world (know what you earn and what you spend, pay yourself first, delayed gratification, giving back), there was one tactic he recommends that I had forgotten.

“Is that the best you can do?”

Evans stresses how important it is to “win in the margins” — basically you need to earn more or spend less to hasten your wealth building. Smart wealth-builders do both, he writes. The book offers ideas for augmenting income and encourages responsible, rational spending.

Among these ideas, Evans suggests trying to pay as little as possible, especially on big-ticket items, simply by asking “Is that the best you can do?” He calls these “the Seven Golden Words.” The book has several stories of people who’ve saved hundreds and thousands of dollars by using that phrase — on a bedroom set, on patent leather pumps, on medical bills.

That last one got me thinking. I gave birth to a baby boy in August, and our hospital and clinic bills have added up to a lot more than we were expecting. (I was on my own insurance policy and Owen was on my husband’s, meaning we had to meet two deductibles.) We’d used up the last of our flex dollars — pre-tax money you can set aside for medical expenses — paying for mine and Owen’s hospital stays. Then we got what we *hope* is the last clinic bill, for about $300.

Today, I called the billing department, explained our situation, and then asked, “Is there anything you can do to lower the bill?” The gal on the other end said, without hesitation, that they could give us a 5 percent discount for paying the bill in full. I said that was something, and paid the bill. I was happy to accept the $15 in savings.

I admit I didn’t use Evans’ exact phrasing, nor did I challenge to see if that really was their “best” offer. Maybe I could have done better.

But I could have done worse.

I’d call that a lesson learned.

Have you tried this savings tactic?  When and how did it work?

Why is a parent’s best never quite good enough?

My Parenting Perspectives column for June 14:

It looked like a mosquito bite on my daughter’s left thigh. She wanted me to put a Band-Aid on it, so I did. Five weeks and a trip to the walk-in clinic later, and 3-year-old Eve still has a red, bumpy, nickel-sized rash on her leg.

As I debated between another round of antibiotic cream at home and another trip to the doctor, a battle raged in my head. Am I the overprotective mother seeking medical advice for the equivalent of a scraped knee or the negligent mother whose daughter’s leg will be amputated because of the infection I let fester?

And why is it always one extreme or the other in my head?

The truth is, either way I’m caring for my daughter, doing the best I can. But for so many moms, myself included, our “best” just never seems like enough.

About this time, I started paging through a book that had been loaned to me, “The Mommy Myth: The Idealization of Motherhood and How It Has Undermined All Women.” Printed in 2004, four years before I became a mother, I saw myself (and the saga of Eve’s red rash) reflected in its pages.

The book’s authors, Susan Douglas and Meredith Michaels, discuss the “new momism” — that intensive mothering requiring a level of perfection impossible to obtain has become a cultural norm. That the buck stops with the mama deer. No one else can provide for our child the way Mom does. And, the authors say, the media and corporate America have cashed in on the concept, simultaneously presenting the image of the perpetually happy, utterly fulfilled mom and the next-big-scary-thing-that-will-harm-your-child.

“We are supposed to be as vigilant as Michael Corleone’s bodyguards but appear as relaxed as Jimmy Buffett in Margaritaville. One way to survive these contradictions is to buy as many child protecting/enhancing products as possible. Reasonable precautions have morphed into unrelenting, wallet-emptying paranoia,” Douglas and Michaels write.

I like to think I’ve avoided these trappings. Sure, Eve has car seats and a bike helmet and we installed a gate on our stairs — all reasonable precautions, some legally mandated. But I’ve resisted the home sterilizing systems and video baby monitors and sleep positioners. (I did, however, recently register for a wipe warmer for the baby I’m expecting in August, a wholly unnecessary luxury, for sure.)

When I browse the aisles of safety products or get press releases from companies pitching items every new mom must have (The BabySpa by Baby Diego! The Nap Nanny Chill portable recliner!), I think about generations of babies who grew up without these “essentials.” Heck, these kids slept on their tummies in cribs bathed in lead paint, rode in the front seat of the car and played on toys with exposed metal springs.

And they survived.

It’s a matter of objectively looking at the dangers and taking prudent precautions, of recognizing when we universalize the miniscule chance of a risk coming to fruition. And knowing our best is enough to protect our children.

Sherri Richards is pregnant, has a 3-year-old daughter, and works for The Forum. She blogs at http://topmom.areavoices.com

‘Cheetos and Barbies’

All Eve wants for Christmas is Cheetos and Barbies. At least that’s been her most consistent answer whenever anybody asks her what presents she would like this year.

When she says Cheetos, she actually is referring to Gerber Lil’ Crunchies (in mild cheddar flavor), a toddler snack her friend Joren shared with her this summer. Barbies, of course, are the quintessential little girl gift, though technically aren’t for children under age 3.

I honestly think my 2-year-old would be thrilled if only a canister of cheese puffs and a single doll were under the tree this year. This makes me wonder why I’ve been agonizing over the stash of gifts in the guest bedroom closet, wondering if it’s enough.

I drug it all out last night: the Abby Cadabby slippers (a Black Friday find), the Cinderella outfit and costume jewelry (Halloween clearance), a Tinkerbell bouncy ball (like the ones she plays with at our gym’s daycare), an Elmo book/puzzle (snagged from a B&N clearance shelf this June), bubble bath, Sesame Street undies and colorful barrettes (for her stocking), and a canister of Lil’ Crunchies. (We’ll let someone else get her the Barbies.)

I think my hang-up is that I haven’t gotten her one “big gift.” For her first Christmas, we got her a play shopping cart set. For her second, she got a Little People schoolhouse from us. I wonder if I shouldn’t get her this fancy Jessie doll from Toy Story 3 or maybe the bike I’d picked up at a Black Friday sale and planned to give her for her March birthday. There are so many options for gifts in the store ads, my head kind of spins at all the things I think she’d like.

But when you’re 2, price tags don’t matter. Just Barbies and Cheetos.

Book suggestions

About a year ago, we formed the InForum Moms Book Club group at http://moms.inforum.com. As the year came to a close, I thought I’d recap the nine recommended books (we took it easy this summer), just in case someone is searching for a winter read.

“Revolutionary Road” by Richard Yates
“The Shack” by William Paul Young
“Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West” by Gregory Maguire
“Change of Heart” by Jodi Picoult
“The Shipping News” by Annie Proulx
“Under the Tuscan Sun” by Frances Mayes
“Rise and Shine” by Anna Quindlen
“The Friday Night Knitting Club” by Kate Jacobs
“The Blood of Flowers,” by Anita Amirrezvani

If you’ve read any of these, I’d love to hear what you thought. AND, if you have any suggestions for 2010 book club picks, please share!