Monday, January 16, 2017

2017 Reading Challenges

In 2017, I have decided to tackle three specific reading challenges, as well as one more open-ended option. I do a lot of reading, between reviewing for two websites (San Francisco Book Review and San Diego Book Review), writing for a digital magazine (Natural Mother Magazine), and occasionally writing about books here, on my personal blog.

Last year, I just assumed that the sheer number of books that I read would mean that all of the challenge categories would just line up for me. At the end of the year, I learned otherwise. So this year, I'll be making some more discerning choices when I select new review choices, and I may be seeking out some specific books at the library or for my Kindle.

This year, I also have the added challenge of an incoming newborn, who I am expecting in May or so. We'll see how much a new baby puts a damper on my reading aspirations.

Now, the challenges.

First off is Book Riot's 2017 Read Harder Challenge. (I didn't do too great on their 2016 challenge, so here's hoping I'm more successful this year!) This is only the third year of Book Riot's challenge, but it definitely promises to be the best one yet. There are 24 tasks on the list, with each one designed to help readers create a "perspective shift." With book spanning all kinds of genres and a wide variety of author categories, this one is sure to be fun... assuming I can fit more of the options into my reading list!

Second is the PopSugar Reading Challenge 2017, which I also attempted last year (see my 2016 challenge results here!). This year, there are 40 normal categories and 12 bonus categories, covering a wide variety of topics. Some have to do with authors, some with plot or genre, others with more fun things like what's on the cover. It's quite a list, though, so we'll see how far I get.

Then there's the Picture Book Reading Challenge, which I picked up from a book blog called Becky's Book Reviews. Seeing as my son is on a quest to read 1000 books in the next six months or so, this one was an obvious choice. Even when my son isn't in reading-machine mode, he still loves to read, so I imagine this one will be easily doable for us. I might need to use a little foresight and put some specific books on hold at the library, to make sure we hit specific authors and subjects, but that's easy enough, too.

The non-specific challenge I'm taking on is the Foodies Read 2017 challenge from This isn't an exact thing; instead of reading specific books, or even books that fit specific categories, readers/bloggers are to simply write and post reviews of books where food plays a major part. That can be cookbooks, novels set in restaurants or food-related settings, memoirs... anything where food is an important part of the book. And since I occasionally review cookbooks, I figure why not? Maybe it'll motivate me to get a cookbook review up here at least once a month; we'll see.

So that's my reading challenge agenda for 2017. What are you reading this year??

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Review: Wake Up to the Joy of You

It's a new year, and January is a time when many people make resolutions to make some big changes. Author Agapi Stassinopoulos is all for change, but rather than making potentially unobtainable resolutions, she advocates that this year be one of self-discovery, a year when we look inward to learn more about ourselves and, in the process, create the kind of life we really want.

Her newest book is Wake Up to the Joy of You, and it's a collection of meditations, thought-provoking questions, and simple life practices that can help readers change themselves for the better.

There are 52 chapters in this book, and each focuses on a specific theme. Each features a short(ish) reading about the topic, followed by either a guided meditation, simple practices readers can take to truly hold that message in their hearts, or both.

For example, one chapter urges readers to focus on worries, and how chronically worrying about things--especially things outside of your control--can lead to anxiety and fear; this reading is followed by a guided meditation to help readers let go of worry about things they cannot influence or change. Another chapter inspires readers to find their calling, to think about the things in life they are there to learn or teach, the challenges they must overcome, and more; this is followed by a short list of simple suggestions, including a journal prompt and a writing project to help readers fully visualize what their lives would look like if they could truly follow their calling.

This book is not one to be rushed through. Readers would do best to savor each chapter, to read one per week (or so) as suggested in a time and/or place where they can focus on what Stassinopoulos has to say and to truly take her words to heart. Readers will get even more out of the book if they take the time to actually do the guided meditations and/or attempt the activities she suggests.

Really, this is a gorgeous book. It's small and compact; it'll fit nicely on your bedside table, or in your handbag or backpack for a trip to your local coffee shop. Each chapter, peppered with personal anecdotes and quotes, is long enough to get readers thinking but not so lengthy that readers will find their minds wandering. The author's warmth shines through, and readers will get the sense that she really does care about the personal progress they're making.

Wake Up to the Joy of You promises a "calmer, happier life," and readers who work through the whole book are sure to discover the truth in that!


I received this book from the Blogging for Books program in exchange for an honest review. All opinions expressed are my own!

Friday, January 13, 2017

Raising a Bibliophile

Several months after moving to Virginia, I finally got around to getting a local library card.

Okay, to be fair, I got a card for the local city library months ago. Bug and I have hit story time there a few times, and it's a cute library with a decent set of books. But we hadn't made it to the county library yet. The closest branch is actually right across the street (almost literally), but it's currently closed for renovations (reopening next summer or autumn), and I didn't figure out that there's a temporary branch open a block away until just a few weeks ago. And since I did discover that, it's just been too cold to go.

I know. Whine, complain. I'm serious, though; it's been in the 20s and 30s lately, and most of the time we don't have a car during the day, and there's no way I'm walking even a few blocks when the temperature is at freezing or below.

So. Anyway. We finally got a library card to the county library a few days ago, and when we were there, we heard about a new program they just started called 1000 Books Before Kindergarten, which is exactly what it sounds like. The goal is to read kids 1000 books before they start kindergarten. They don't all have to be different books, and you don't have to track every individual title. Instead, the librarian gives you a series of coloring sheets, if you will, which each have a certain number of butterflies on them. Kid colors in a butterfly for each book, and once you fill in a sheet, you take it to the library for a reward. There are different milestones to aim for: 100 books, then 250, 500, 750, and finally 1000.

Almost done with this sheet!

Theoretically, you sign up for the program after first having read 25 books. Considering the amount Bug and I read every day, I just signed up same day, because we've obviously read way more books than that over the course of his life so far. Parents can sign up even their little babies, so I figured we're covered.

Once I explained the premise to Bug, he got very excited. Because: prizes. Actually he took it as a personal challenge of sorts (which is guess *is* technically the point).

The result? We read more than 75 books over the past three days. Bug claimed his first reward this morning.

It's a magnet!

And there's no slowdown in sight.

Bug has always been a big reader, just like his mama. He has an overstuffed bookshelf in his bedroom, plus there are always other books rotating in and out of the house: review books; library books; new arrivals from bookstores or book sales or Paperback Swap coming in, other books we weren't too thrilled with heading out.

While we lived in both San Diego and the Sacramento area we hit story times nearly every week. Bug has participated in the Summer Reading Program every summer he's been alive (again, because: prizes). When I request new review books from one of the outlets I write for, I almost always ask for a few picture books for his sake (and before too much longer, he'll be able to start reviewing books himself!). We frequently buy books from library book sales and I can't walk into a regular bookstore without picking up at least one new selection for him. Bug obviously can't actually read to himself yet, but he enjoys having even longer stories read to him, including ones meant for 2nd and 3rd graders. He's got a short attention span for most things, but he'll happily bring me book after book after book. We can read for hours on any given day.

So a challenge like this is really not pushing us to do anything new. We're already big fans of books. But it is bringing out Bug's competitive spirit, and it's giving us something specific to work for.

Just another way I'm working to raise a book lover, I suppose. Bug loves being active, playing board games, being wild outside, watching cartoons, and doing other normal almost-five-year-old things. But it's very important to me that he not only appreciates books, but that he love them. Books are amazing tools, and I dearly want my son to grow to love them the way I do. And programs like this are a fun way to motivate him to do something he already enjoys.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Mid-Pregnancy-ish Update: Similarities & Differences

Sometimes, I don't even know how to properly label this pregnancy.

Whenever I tell someone I'm expecting another baby, or whenever they notice my little bump, they always ask what number it is. Is it your second? they'll ask, eyeing Bug nearby. Well no, it's not. Technically, this is my fourth pregnancy. Fourth. But things get murky because Bug is my only living baby, and lots of people don't really recognize miscarriages as actual pregnancies. Or they like to pretend that since the baby never was born, not in a traditional sense anyway, that it never existed.

I don't like glossing over my losses; they were real; those babies existed, if only for a short time physically, although forever in my heart. My decision to openly acknowledge the pregnancies I lost tends to make people uncomfortable. Or maybe they just don't know what to say. Either way, I find myself in an awkward position; I'm not fishing for sympathy when I mention my miscarriages, but I also don't want to pretend that there was only nothingness between Bug and now.

Fourth pregnancy, second baby? Simply say this will be my second living baby? I feel like I'm jinxing myself when I say that. Even now, more than halfway through the pregnancy, I find myself not wanting to believe that this is all real. Unable to believe. I likely won't believe until I'm holding this baby in my arms. I may sound morbid, but there's still no guarantee that a living baby lies at the end of this journey. Any woman who has suffered a loss can understand the fears that underlie an otherwise healthy pregnancy.


It's hard to really contrast this pregnancy with any of my others. Bug was born so long ago now, nearly five years, and I honestly have a hard time remembering what my pregnancy with him was like. As for my other two pregnancies, I found myself comparing this one to them and contrasting at every turn. As much as I don't like to admit it, part of me was trying to avoid doing anything wrong, making any mistakes, doing anything that might increase my risk of another miscarriage. Even though I know, intellectually anyway, that neither one of those losses was my fault, I still couldn't help but wonder if I could do things better this time around, somehow.

I found myself comparing pregnancy symptoms and discomforts. I remember being really nauseous when I was pregnant with Bug, for pretty much my entire first trimester. I also dealt with nausea during my second pregnancy, the one I lost at 12 weeks. I had none with the third, but that one lasted only six weeks. So when I started feeling sick a few weeks in with this one, what did it mean? What about the exhaustion I started feeling as I inched closer to that 12 week mark? How much was pregnancy-related and how much was simply from running around after my son?

There have been other interesting comparisons as well. With Bug, I broke out like crazy toward the end of my first trimester. I constantly had pimples around my mouth and on my chin. Some people told me that was a clear sign I would be having a boy (old wives' tale, of course, although I did indeed end up with a son), while others simply reminded me of the amount of extra hormones my body was producing. This time around, my face remains clear as can be. Does that mean I'm having a girl? Does it have anything to do with my diet (I was lacto-ovo vegetarian when I was pregnant with Bug, but I've been fully vegan for a year and a half now)? Is it simply a case of every pregnancy is different?

When I was pregnant with Bug, I didn't really have much in the way of food cravings. I did have a few aversions--tea, chocolate. Contrary to what some predicted, meat continued to gross me out (a few people told me I'd surely start craving it). If I craved anything, it was greasy things: breakfast sandwiches (I had all but eschewed eggs for a long time before that), french fries, other fried potatoes.

This pregnancy so far is much the same. I stopped drinking tea a few weeks in; my body apparently knows that caffeine is a no-go, and I don't even want herbal tea, although I drink it sometimes anyway. My aversion to chocolate isn't as strong as it was with Bug, but I still haven't voluntarily eaten a brownie in a long time, I can't handle hot cocoa, and I stopped buying myself the high quality dark chocolate bars I used to indulge in. About the most chocolate I can handle now is the occasional chocolate chip cookie. As for cravings, I don't know that I really have any of those either. Nothing so bad that I want to send D out in the middle of the night in order to achieve satisfaction. I've been wanting potatoes on occasion (french fries again, and I find myself making fried potatoes frequently in the mornings), tater tots. I have wanted onion rings a few times. I definitely find myself gravitating toward salty rather than sweet these days, but for the most part, I'm still eating the same overall-healthy plant-based diet as I was eating pre-pregnancy.


When I was pregnant with Bug, I exercised consistently throughout my first trimester. I was running three or four miles at a time, lifting weights, attending cardio kickboxing-type classes, swimming. I started to taper off sometime during my second trimester, for various reasons related to scheduling and energy levels. I did yoga for the duration of pregnancy number two, and I honestly can't remember if I had started regular exercise again (or not) for number three.

By the time I got pregnant with this baby, I had been well settled into a regular routine, switching primarily between several workout DVD sets and an at-home yoga practice. I continued exercising for the first few weeks after my positive test, but I have to admit that I fell out of practice soon after. Even though I know, know that exercise does not cause miscarriages, that irrational fear was definitely part of the reason why I quit. Other reasons included nausea and exhaustion.

Once I had gotten past the first twelve weeks, the most scary part for me, and been in for a regular doctor appointment where I could verify that baby was still alive and well (there's that morbidity again), I started exercising again. And for the most part, I've managed to stick with it. I've been exercising 4-6 times per week, sticking with a mixture of yoga and my workout DVDs (modified as necessary, of course; avoiding pretty much all abdominal and back-lying exercises at this point, and focusing more on yoga and strength than on cardio) and occasionally trying out videos I find on YouTube or apps on my phone.

Pretty much every book I've read on prenatal fitness (and trust me, I've read a lot of them) indicates that there are myriad benefits to staying fit throughout pregnancy. At this point, now that my baby has a consistently strong heartbeat and I can feel him/her moving frequently, I am beyond my fear of somehow damaging my baby. Instead, I'm focusing on this as one aspect of the pregnancy that I have complete control over. Being Rh sensitized means that there are many things I likely don't have control over--where I give birth, some of the tests I will have to endure, certain hospital procedures, not to mention the possibility of induction if things get bad--but I can control how healthy my body is and do everything in my power to ensure strong muscles, a centered mind, and--hopefully--a good birth (even if there's a possibility neither I nor baby may get to decide when that will be).


In the mommy groups I'm in on FB, lots of women ask when others first felt their baby move. To be perfectly honest, I don't remember when I started feeling Bug move. I really don't. Pregnancies two and three never got that far. This baby, though, I've been feeling since I was about eleven weeks.

Eleven weeks! But I was afraid to tell D for days, in case I was imagining it, and I didn't mention it to anyone else for some time either. They were only the lightest flutters, but I felt them. And continued to feel them through and beyond my subsequent prenatal appointments. And even so, only I could feel them; it's only within the past few weeks that anyone (meaning, D and Bug) has been able to feel them by placing a hand on my belly.

By this point, though, those movements are pretty strong. Strong enough that they keep me awake at night sometimes. Strong enough that I can't concentrate on other things sometimes because I'm just so in awe of the life inside me. Strong enough that I can't fall asleep at night because I just want to lie awake and revel in the fact that this baby is still with me.

At roughly halfway through the pregnancy, I have a respectable baby bump, too. I also don't remember how fast my bump grew with Bug, other than to say that I remained relatively small throughout. My bump now isn't huge, but it's big enough to get in the way when I do yoga and to make it hard to sleep.


Roughly halfway done. Here's hoping the rest of this pregnancy goes as smoothly as the first part has gone.