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End of NaBloPoMo, and a This American Life favorite

Today is the last day of NaBloPoMo.  I’ve successfully posted every day.  I’ve had a fairly easy time of it, because I guess I like to talk and talk and talk and talk.

Admittedly, yesterday and today I have struggled to think of interesting topics. I considered writing about how I’m afraid American Horror Story might already be jumping the shark with the whole Black Dahlia storyline, or I could do yet another post about food or shoes.

Instead, I’ve decided to share my absolute favorite episode of This American Life:  In Dog We Trust.

The contributors in this episode share stories of the animals that fill their lives with laughter and love.  Chapter 3–Resurrection, is an armadillo story that had me doubled over laughing.

Now that NaBloPoMo is over, I’ll resume my normal posting habits…which is posting *almost* every day.  At least I won’t scramble for a topic on a day like today, when I’m feeling braindead and don’t have much to say.


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Memories of Barcelona

Even though the last few days have been mild, temperature wise, they’ve still been rainy and blah.  It’s times like these when I daydream back on sunny vacations.

Today I was thinking a lot about the wonderful Mediterranean honeymoon trip Mr. Beez and I took in 2009.  A few days in Barcelona was a highlight of that trip.  In addition to being beautiful and easily navigable, the city is just so friendly.  It feels completely livable.  There are so many places I’ve visited that I’ve thought were completely lovely, but perfect for a visit and then a return home.  Barcelona’s not like that– I could see myself staying there forever.

La Boqueria.  I could spend days and days and days here, going from vendor to vendor, snacking on fruits and veggies, and picking fresh meats and fish.

Everywhere you look in Barcelona is beautiful.  The architecture is breathtaking, the views are amazing, every direction is a sight to behold.

Gaudi’s creations throughout the city add whimsy.

 

And there are ample open air cafes for a late afternoon drink and relaxation.

I know plenty of people who have visited this magical city, and I’ve never heard a bad word about it.  I’d love to go back, but I worry that a visit of a week, even two, wouldn’t be enough.  If you have to leave Barcelona, you will leave it heartsick to return.

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The Devil in the White City, Erik Larson (2003)

I had never heard about this book before, and then three separate people recommended The Devil in the White City to me in the space of two days.  I needed to see what I was missing.

Larson tirelessly researched turn-of-the-century Chicago, in this nonfiction work that simultaneously explores the path to the creation of the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, as well as traces the mystery of a serial killer, H. H. Holmes, feeding on the crowds the fair attracts.

This book reads like fiction and is very engaging.  I appreciate that Larson included endnotes, with an epilogue inviting the reader to personally explore the sources. Larson alternates skilfully between the two storylines, it never feels choppy or uneven.

Larson took great pains to give the reader the true feel of Holmes’ personality.  Holmes’ most distinctive and disturbing traits were his chilling blue eyes and cool demeanor.  The description the first few times around was effective.  However, Larson repeats this description every time Holmes makes a new acquaintance, and after a while it is tiresome.

Although this is a serial killer book, it’s not frightening.  Actually, I found the storyline about the construction of the fair, the tight deadlines, and its looming failure to be very stressful, and create much more of an impression.

Larson explained how he used Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood as an inspiration for his work.  In Cold Blood is one of my favorite books.  Devil in the White City can’t stand up to the poetry of Capote’s language or the atmosphere Capote creates, but if you’re a fan of In Cold Blood, you will likely find this book enjoyable.

During and after reading Devil in the White City, I’ve been thinking about the condition of America at the time of the World’s Fair.  A fair like this simply could never happen again.  Oh, we could easily put on an enormous exposition, however, the world was a much larger place (so to speak) then.  We are no longer small town bumpkins who revel in wonder at cowboys or bellydancers.  Between National Geographic and the internet, we have access to everything.  There is nothing left to revel at anymore.

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High Octane Women: How Superacheivers Can Avoid Burnout, Dr. Sherrie Bourg Carter (2010)

I picked up this book during an insane period of work.  I was overburdened and exhausted, and like usual, none of my stress management techniques were working.  (Honestly: the techniques I try hardly ever work, I need to find some new techniques).  I knew that I’m not the only running-crazy working mom out there, somebody must have done it before and done it better, and written a book about it…right?

Bourg Carter’s book isn’t a magic bullet, but it will get you pointed in the right direction.  In addition to the obvious causes of stress, she points out smaller subtle things, that you may actually have control over, that may be increasing stress without your awareness.  She explains why traditional stress management techniques like deep breathing or yoga are not necessarily going to be helpful for high achievers, and why they may even increase stress.  For those in the true depths of burnout, Bourg Carter provides a guide to overcoming it, and starting to get your life back on track.

I feel like this book targets women who are overachieving at a level or two above me (CEO’s with multiple children, for example), but there was a lot in it that was extremely insightful and useful even for me, a baby-overachiever.

This book is best to read at a time when you’re not completely overwhelmed.  Overcoming stress and burnout involves a certain level of decisionmaking. You will have to decide that you want to tackle the problem head on, this book cannot fix it for you.  You may have to set certain boundaries, which may be uncomfortable.  I know that in periods of acute stress, all I want is a magic remedy, and I would probably become frustrated with this book.  A lot of the proposed solutions are things I’ve heard before (and so has every other high achieving woman), but they’re discussed with new insight.  Even though I picked the book up when everything was absolutely crazy, I didn’t get around to reading it until things died down a little bit.  If I were reading this in a period of high stress, I’d be frustrated (1) that I’d heard of a lot of the proposed solutions before, and (2) they hadn’t worked for me before, so how is this book possibly going to help me?  Reading the book in a period of lesser stress helped me appreciate the fresh insight Bourg Carter contributes, and will enable me to better implement some of her suggestions into my life.

My favorite part in the book is Bourg Carter’s short discussion on balance.  She explains that treating “balance” as a work/life formula that is uniform across all women, and is achievable, serves only to cause more stress and frustration.  Striving toward a balance formula that doesn’t work for you is never going to help:

Adjust your thinking.  Don’t view it in terms of all-or-none.  Get whatever balance you can get in your life and be happy about it.  You also have to decide what the right balance is for you.  Who said that balance had to be 50/50, with half of your life devoted to work and the other half to home and family? No one.  If 50/50 is best for you, try to get as close to it as possible, knowing that you won’t succeed all the time, or maybe any of the time.  In fact, some days, you may not even come close.  But you’re doing he best you can, and you should reward yourself for the effort.  If 75/25 fits better in your world, then that’s what you should strive for.  Don’t let balance define you.  You define balance based on who you are, how you live, and what you want.

You would get the best use out of this book if you keep it around as a reference guide, picking it up now and then for a quick refresher on signs of burnout, stress management techniques, etc.  If nothing else, the book has immense value by showing the reader that she’s not alone and that burnout is not a personal failure.  Burnout is a creation of larger institutional and cultural problems, but those larger problems aren’t going to change overnight, so Bourg Carter helps the reader work through her side of things as best she can.

Word to the wise– I read a large chunk of this book right before bed one evening.  This resulted in: (1) A nightmare that I was pregnant, (2) After falling back asleep from the nightmare, a dream about getting ready for work, (3) waking up at 6am on a Saturday, confused about why my alarm didn’t go off, and (4) finally falling back asleep around 8am, only to have a dream that I had to conduct a deposition about a bunch of documents, except I forgot to print the documents out,  was wearing sweats instead of a suit, and went to the wrong office building…and somewhere in this dream I also managed to stop by the grocery store and pick up a huge multipack of those Gerber turkey sticks that Baby Beez loves (note to self: need to go to the grocery store, we are out of turkey sticks).   This book was great and I highly recommend it, but pick something else for a bedtime story.

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Window shopping for shoes

Like usual, I’m online window shopping for shoes.  The way I do this, you’d think that my closet would rival Imalda Marcos’…it doesn’t. I just like to look at shoes online. A lot. Can online shoe-browsing be considered a legitimate hobby?

Because it’s the holiday season, all the retailers are having DOORBUSTERS.  I swear I’ve gotten about 15 emails each day over the last week over these AMAZING SALES FOR MUST HAVE GIFTS.  The upside is that I’ve been online window shopping so darn much that I am getting shopping fatigue.  I’ve bought hardly anything, and already my desire to shop is petering out.  (This is hardly a problem for holiday gifts, since like way back in June I’ve had lists of what I want to buy each person, so there’s not much to “do” holiday-shopping-wise).

I’m about 10 years late on this trend, but I’m just now actually interested in Uggs.  They’ve been around so long that they’re not even a novelty anymore.  I never much liked the idea of pull-on boots, it seems like that would be uncomfortable or a hassle.  That is why I really like these Ugg Kenleys, that have a zipper up the side.  I also like that they’re in grey, I feel like grey is more versatile than black (you can wear it with navy! but still not with brown), and like black, can be either dressy or casual.

Last winter I completely destroyed my brown boots.  I’m on the lookout for new brown boots, but would also like to go with flat boots for a change.  My last 2 pair of brown boots have both had heels, which are nice, but my lazy feet are ready for something a little more comfortable.  I really like the Teva Jade Cove High Boot, and despite its brand, it doesn’t look like something you’d go tromping around in at summer camp.

In a completely different direction, I love these Miu Miu Gold Glitter Pumps.  I love the sparkle, and especially love the odd curvy shape.  There is a 0% chance that these shoes will ever show up in my closet.  In addition to costing multiple times over what I’m willing to shell out for a pair of shoes, I don’t think I’ve got the style or the courage to pull these off.

I’m also in love with Pollini’s Suede Tassel pumps.  I’m in love with almost any shoe in blue.