Don’t Sleep- Tap Dance

I recently finished Don’t Sleep, There are Snakes by Dan L. Everett.  It was one of those books that was thrust at me the last time I saw my grandfather-in-law. It is the story of Mr. Everett learning one of the most unique Amazonian languages. It’s a language which nobody outside of this specific tribe has ever been able to successfully learn. It was a really fascinating read. It gets a bit heady in the second half, but the overall story is gripping.

Everett spent years studying their language and culture in order to successfully communicate with them.  Naturally, there was a lot of miscommunication, misinterpretation.  He made errors.  He got laughed at. But he would try to use all of these things to learn and get better. Part of these errors came from a cultural standpoint, such as Westerners do a lot of small talk.  This is a kind of speech where we aren’t gathering much useful information.

For instance, if you need to borrow a co-worker’s stapler. Unless you know that person really well you probably aren’t going to just walk up to their cube and say, “Give me your stapler.”  You would most likely start off with at least a “hello” or “good morning,” followed by a “could I borrow your stapler for a moment?”  And then once you return it, there will be a least a “thank you,” perhaps a follow-up nicety asking them how they are doing, which social norms say that they are to reply to with “fine” or “well” whether this is true or not. An individual in polite society is to keep their troubles to themselves. Directness is considered on most accounts rude.

Other cultures don’t always operate in this manner and can have vast differences that lead to difficult and awkward situations. Everett learned that the Amazonian tribe had no mechanism for small talk.  It simply wasn’t useful.  To understand the language of a people, you need to understand the people and how they tend to operate on a day to day basis. I have found that since reading this book that this philosophy applies to other things as well.

For the past two years, I’ve been taking tap dance lessons.  While there are many specific steps to learn and master, a big part of it is improvising. Yes, it’s as terrifying as it sounds.

Like Everett, I fail a lot. To clarify, one can’t really “fail” in improv, but I do blank out on steps or get off beat. To me, this is what I classify as failing.  The first time I was a part of an improv circle I found that people would mimic other people’s steps. I saw this as copycatting or in some ways “I can do it better than you can.” I later learned that in tap improv circles mimicking is encouraged.  The concept of improv in a circle is to watch everybody and get ideas, try new things, and actually, repeating what someone else has done is a kind of compliment.

Improv circles are not a place to see who’s better than someone else, although talent does become apparent.  It is a place to learn and grow. This was a bit of a foreign concept to me having participated in competition sports and competing for the best grades in uber-academic classes in high school.

As I struggle through two songs of improv that feel like they go on forever every week in tap class, I try to think of Everett and his 20-plus years of struggling in the jungle to learn bits and pieces of a rare and baffling language along with the culture of its people.  I’ll improve through error just like Everett did to understand this new fascinating community that I’m slowly becoming a part of.


A Post Involving a Book and Running 13.1 Miles for a Sweatshirt

Tomorrow I will be running my first half-marathon.  This is something I never imagined doing.  When I started running about two years ago, I did it because it was an inexpensive way to get a good cardio workout. But as with anything in life, I needed a goal in order to keep motivated.  My first goal was to complete a running podcast.  I then worked on increasing my speed. I signed up for a 10k and set a goal to run 500 miles in a calendar year.

After I accomplished these, I decided it was time to try a half. Initially, the goal was just to run a half-marathon distance.  It didn’t necessarily have to be in a race setting.  However, I saw a race with a really nice tech material sweatshirt as some of the swag, so I signed up.

Yep, I signed up to run 13.1 miles to get a sweatshirt.

I’m feeling confident about tomorrow and after reading Finding Gobi by Dion Leonard I feel really inspired. It is the story of Leonard running an ultra-marathon in the Gobi Desert where a little dog starts to follow him, and his subsequent journey to bring her home with him. The book also gives some of the high–and low–lights of ultra-marathon running. The book showed me that there’s still a lot out there for me to achieve.

I honestly don’t know if I want to run a multi-stage ultra, but I do want to do a 50-mile race in Antelope Canyon someday. I know that this is a long way off, but reading a story about perseverance on so many levels is a really great inspiration and motivator to get out there and work towards it.

This is the first book I’ve read on running, but I’m really looking forward to finding more to learn about different races, opportunities, and people’s stories of overcoming some really crazy odds to partake in these extreme runs.

Running, as I’ve discovered personally, and through other people’s stories, has a huge impact on life. Its positivity is more far reaching than just increasing personal fitness. Running helps in a mental way that I didn’t know was possible.  It trains you, and it tests you; almost more mentally than it does physically.  It helps build determination and positive-thinking.  It builds confidence and stamina.

Dion Leonard highlights all of these aspects in the book; not only in his races, but in his struggle to keep Gobi. Even Gobi herself shows these in her fight to survive.

It’s a great book; so tomorrow as I’m plodding out mile after mile, I will think of these two and how my journey across the finish-line is a piece of cake compared to their journey from China to Scotland. However, my journey is really just beginning as this is just one more step that gets me closer to my ultimate goal of taking on the canyon.

The Spree

For many years, I longed for more vacation time. I would horde it as if it were the greatest treasure in the world.  I then proceeded to work for my company long enough to get a vacation bump.  By this time, however, I had gotten married but unfortunately, my husband doesn’t have nearly as many vacation days as I do.  Thus, I suddenly found myself with a boatload of days and no real need for them.

The Editor, Kelsey, was in a similar boat.  In fact, her boat was even larger than mine.  We both knew that we could randomly take days off, but for what purpose? To sit and stare at the T.V.?  To get behind on work, but not really accomplish anything?

When I take days off, I want to have a plan in mind, and we were both fortunate to get a spa gift card from our boss.  So, on the Editor’s birthday we decided we would do our spa thing, meet up with another friend for lunch, and head to Barnes and Noble.

We both took the day off, but our appointments weren’t until 11am. So I got up, made some breakfast, meditated, went for a run, painted, and then ran out of the house at about 10:20 to catch the bus.

I made it downtown in record time and was soon whisked away to get both my feet and hands pampered and beautified.  Once I got done, I met up with the Editor post-massage session and we headed off to lunch.

We met up with a friend, Sarah, to eat tacos and drink margaritas.  We then walked the 15 steps necessary to arrive at Barnes and Noble.  It really is my mecca.  We were barely two-feet inside the door, and we each had several books in our baskets.

We decided to take the approach that if a book struck our fancy we should throw it in the basket and then do a weeding out session at the end of all this bookish gloriousness.  It was fantastic.  We had piles of books, and that’s with scouring every section of the store besides the fiction section.  Before we even made it there, our baskets were overflowing, and our arms were aching.

We then decided to spread out all our wonderful treasures and make some tough decisions.  I got my final pile down to five books.  Kelsey could only bear to part with two which left her to purchase approximately ten books.  I believe Sarah talked herself down to five as well.

It was a smashing success. We then decided we needed to further celebrate the Editor’s birthday and our bookish wonders with more tequila.  So off we went to the local tequila bar which was conveniently just around the corner.

We had a blast, and when I got home I thought to myself:  I need to do this more often.  We had a loose plan, but no strict timeline.  It was a perfect way to relax, have fun, and obtain more beautiful books!

Killer Non-Fiction

I see my uncle and aunt-in-law a few times a year, and anytime we find ourselves together we swap book recommendations.  They are both retired chemistry professors and tend to read mostly non-fiction.

I love this because good non-fiction can be difficult to find. In spite of this, these two not only find interesting stories, but ones written by people who know how to write in a readable, engaging way. History and science can be riveting.  It just depends on how you package it. It doesn’t need to be dull and dry, and I do believe non-fiction is starting to take off more because we have learned this as readers and writers. Nevertheless, finding them can still be a challenge.

Last spring, we had all traveled to California to see my husband’s grandfather.  He, too, is an abundant reader, and I figured I was bound to go home with more books of the non-fiction variety. I did.

As if all my new reading assignments might not be enough, Scott’s aunt asked one afternoon if I had read Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann.  I said that I hadn’t.  She told me it was about the Osage Native Americans. I had a momentary let down.  I’m not super into Native American history or history of the western United States during pioneer days.

But she described that the book discusses the Osage reign of terror which led the FBI to become the investigative force we have today.  She had my attention again.  She said it was really well written, so I thought maybe I should give it a go.

I put it on my Christmas list and was lucky enough to get it in my annually gifted box o’ books.  When I started reading it I was shocked at how gripping the story was.  I finished it in just a few days which is quick, even for me.

It is a story with so much tragedy and yet so much intrigue.  At times it was hard to believe I was reading a non-fiction tale.  It seemed like it should have been a novel.  It is one of the few books I’ve read where I totally get the hype and I understand why it was named one of Amazon’s best books of the year for 2017.

At this point, I want to read all of Mr. Grann’s other work.  He is a remarkable writer who is actually giving my favorite non-fiction writer, Sam Kean, a run for his money. I’m eagerly awaiting my next visit with Scott’s aunt and uncle to not only tell them how much I loved their latest recommendation, but to ask about what others they have found in the meantime.

Have you read Killers of the Flower Moon? What did you think?  What non-fiction books do you recommend?

Hidden Surprises

I know many of us struggle to find time to read the books that we really want to read.  We “must” read books for book group.  We have books that we need/want to review for Goodreads, our blog, etc.  We have books lent to us by friends and colleagues that we feel an obligation to hurry up and read so we can return them.

I understand that the use of the phrase “must read” sounds ominous, like we have homework. I get that we kind of do it to ourselves, but occasionally we crave to read something that strikes our fancy rather than something with a deadline. Nevertheless, out of all these books that we “must” read, we find ones that are truly surprising.  There are books we never would have picked up if someone hadn’t forcefully thrust them into our lives.

One of these reads came to me as a Christmas gift from my mother-in-law.  My husband, Scott, and I are planning a trip to England and Scotland this year, so she purchased me a book called Call the Nurse: True Stories of a Country Nurse on a Scottish Isle by Mary MacLeod.

I can honestly say I wouldn’t have read this book up if left to my own devices, but, finding myself in possession of it, I felt that it deserved a fair shake. After finishing Brandon Sanderson’s 1300-page tome Word of Radiance—awesome in spite of its length—I felt that I needed a change of pace. It seemed like the perfect time to give Nurse a go.

I admit that the writing style isn’t the most eloquent or masterful, but it is genuine and straightforward. I found the short, simple anecdotes charming and interesting. MacLeod’s descriptions created a great picture without being overly burdensome.

I grew up in the middle of nowhere Iowa so on certain levels I identified with the simplicity of country life MacLeod portrays.  Although, I was a bit luckier to have a few more modern convinces. If anything, it inspired me to jot down some of the crazier stories of my childhood.  Perhaps people would like to read about working in a corn maze or learning about the concept of beer chips.

Anyway, Call the Nurse turned out to be a nice read that I’m really happy my mother-in-law picked up for me.  I find I’m now more interested in exploring other memoirs. Sometimes those “must” reads turn into “glad I did” reads.

Are there any hidden treasures you’ve discovered?

A Booked Christmas

Going to my parents’ house is like going to the library, but better.  There are no late fees or “check out limits” and once a year I get to keep all the books I’m given.  This Christmas was no exception. I was not only graced once again with my yearly box o’ books, but also borrowed another stack from my mother.

On Christmas Eve, I found eight lovely tomes in my yearly box o’ books:

  •             The Rithmatist by: Brandon Sanderson. I’ve actually already finished this!
  •             Sense & Sensibility by: Jane Austen
  •             Brave New World by: Aldous Huxley
  •             Killer of the Flower Moon by: David Grann
  •             Caesar’s Last Breath by: Sam Kean. (And I’ve finished this one too!)
  •             Words of Radiance by: Brandon Sanderson
  •             Rebecca by: Daphne du Maurier
  •             Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper by: Phaedra Patrick

As you can see, I hit the books right away because I’ve already finished two of them.  They were both terrific!

I was also able to pilfer (with permission) an additional seven books:

  •             Naked Once More by: Elizabeth Peters
  •             A Column of Fire by: Ken Follett
  •             Hardcore Twenty-Four by: Janet Evanovich (currently reading)
  •             The Cuban Affair by: Nelson DeMille
  •             Origins by: Dan Brown
  •             Z by: Therese Anne Fowler
  •             Lovers of the Chameleon Club, Paris 1932 by: Francine Prose

My mother-in-law also added to my reading list with a memoir of a Scottish nurse because my husband and I are planning a trip to Scotland later this year. It sounds interesting, and I’m really looking forward to it.

It was a very bookish Christmas and I loved it! It’s going to be an exciting year of reading, and I’m off to a good start. Luckily, while I’m already two books down, the Editor and a friend of hers have plenty of reading material to keep me busy once I get low, but I should be good for a couple more months.

Is there any that I should move to the top of my list?

Until next time, happy reading!

Box o’ Books

The past few Christmases my parents have given me a box of books instead of just a Barnes and Nobles gift card. To be clear, there is nothing wrong with B&N gift cards, but there is something truly delightful about getting actual books for Christmas.  Maybe it’s because there is no delay in being able to thumb through them, smell their pages, and ogle their pretty covers.  Wow…that’s creepy.  But you get the idea.

Since this has become a tradition of sorts, and I’m just about to finish the last book from last years box.  Yes, I’m still reading  The Brothers Karamazov, but I’ve almost conquered the beast. Woof.  But that’s another blog post.  However, since the Christmas season seems to be upon us (even though it’s only November), I thought I should start making this years list.

Yes, every year I give my parents a list.  I read too many books for my mom to stab in the dark.  This year the process of making the list has been much harder.  There are just so many wonderful books out there, and I struggled with what I should ask for specifically. Nevertheless, after much contemplation I have the list.  Like any wish list I will not obtain the full list and my mom may throw in one or two she thinks that I might like, and naturally this makes it all the more fun!

Okay, I’ll shut up. Here’s the Box o’ Books  list of 2017:

Rebecca by: Daphne du Maurier- A former roommate mentioned that this was one of their favorite books and for whatever reason, it’s been stuck in my head ever since.

Brave New World by: Aldous Huxley- I’ve seen this book appear numerous times on lists of books everyone should read, so I thought perhaps I should see what everyone is on about.

Caesar’s Last Breath: Decoding the Secrets of the Air Around Us by: Sam Kean- Mr. Kean is my favorite non-fiction writer, so his latest book was an absolutely must on this years list.

The Rithmatist by: Brandon Sanderson- I’ve again see this book recommended quite often, and I’ve liked Sanderson’s other work.

Words of Radiance by: Brandon Sanderson- This is the second book in the Stormlight Archives series.  I really enjoyed the first one which I received in last year’s box.  Naturally, I want to find out what happens next.

The killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by: David Grann- This book was recommended to me by my aunt and uncle-in-law. They said it was a tremendous read and apparently many others agree.  This book was originally on my book date list, but it didn’t make it into my basket that day.

Sense and Sensibility by: Jane Austen- I’ve only read one other Austen novel: Pride and Prejudice while it wasn’t my favorite. I’ve decided I need to give Austen another go.

The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper  by: Phaedra Patrick.  This book also was on my book date list, but I could not find a copy in our search.  The title has me very intrigued.

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by: Benjamin Alire Saenz- I know nothing about this book, but I thought the title and cover were amazing and thus on the list it went.

When the Moon was Ours  by: Anna-Marie McLemore- Yes, I also shamefully picked this book because of its cover.  It looks so magical.

Otherland by: Tad Williams- I have been meaning to read this book for years.  It was recommended by a few friends, and I thought maybe it was high time that I get around to reading it.

There it is folks! Thoughts?  Did I pick some doozies or duds?  Let me know your thoughts below!

Happy Friday!