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Unsubscribing

A little over a year and a half ago, in effort to meet the book reading portion of her Thirty By Thirty checklist, Mary-Hall read and reviewed a book called 7:an experimental mutiny against excess by Jen Hatmaker.  (Read Mary-Hall’s original blog entry by clicking here.)  Coincidentally, about 3 months later my boss and I headed to a conference in Michigan where she had been hired to be one of two key-note speakers for the weekend…Jen being the other one.  I, of course, made several awkward blubbering remarks about how my best friend had just read her book and said it was awesome, etc. etc. but fortunately Jen is just as super and awesome and gracious and hilarious in person as you would expect her to be from her writing, and was completely un-phased by my temporary fan-girl moment.  Anyway.  Before I packed up and headed out, I purchased my own copy of “7” from her product table along with another of her earlier books.

And then I put them on my bookshelf at home.

And didn’t pick up either of them for over a year.

Until two days ago.

Keith was deep into a book of his own and the house was full of the peaceful sounds of birds chirping outside (plus an occasional chicken squwak or two) and the cat purring and the hum of passers-by outside headed to eat popsicles and fancy burgers from one of the fabulous joints at the end of our street.  Basically, and all around reading haven, and so I went into our library and carefully considered the many books on the shelves I’ve never read.  And from the middle of the “H” author section, “7” called my name and I’m ever so glad it did.

The short synopsis of the book is that the author went on seven different “fasts,” each one a month long, focused on simplifying life for the purpose of allowing Christ to reveal areas in her life that needed re-aligning.  It’s hilariously written, but the depth behind it has had me in tears on more than one occasion.  It’s the kind of book that made me want to make some changes, some of which may or may not happen. Changes like going more green. I spent about 20 minutes researching the possibility of setting up a self-waterer system for my chickens that involves the water we collect in our rain barrel.  (The jury is still out  whether or not that is a safe thing for the chickens to drink so I’ll need to do lots more research first.)  I’d love to finally try a CSA (community supported agriculture). I’m also motivated to clean out some of the like-new-condition housewares from our shed and find an organization that works with refugees instead of donating them to GoodWill or selling them on Craigslist.  I’m considering instituting a personal rule with housewares and clothing that if I buy an item, I give one away.  For example, if I buy a new sweater, I choose a sweater to give to a women’s shelter so that I never exceed the amount of clothing I have now.  I want to try my hand at composting again.  (I can already hear Keith groaning as he reads this.)  While financially our spending and saving are both on the right track, I think there is more we could be doing to plan for retirement.

My brain got overloaded with ideas and so I put the book down for a minute and opened up my laptop to check my email.  I had 13 new ones in the hour since I’d checked it (!) and as I checked the first one, from a marketing list I’m on, I clicked over to an Etsy shop that sold expensive, beautiful leather laptop bags.  Ten minutes later, I found that I was in the midst of an internal dialogue trying to rationalize the purchase of a super cute retro style bathing suit that was “on sale” from another shop that had sent me an email.  (No matter that I haven’t once this summer donned swim attire, have zero plans to go anywhere involving water for the rest of the summer, and that in addition to a few cute, relatively new-ish suits of my own, a friend recently sent me a box of almost-brand-new bathing suits that she wasn’t going to use post having given birth to twins.)  I kept clicking and suddenly realized that 12 out of the 13 emails were marketing emails from stores and that I’d wasted about 45 minutes and been tempted to purchase LOTS of things that I neither needed, or should spend money on.

And then it hit me.

I didn’t have to only eat 7 foods for an entire month (an actual chapter of the book) or sell my home and live in an trailer park or anything crazy drastic.  I could start small.  I could unsubscribe from marking emails that do nothing but flood my inbox, steal my time, and fill me with all sorts of consumerism that really at the end of the day only led to covetous thoughts and discontent with the many many many material things I am blessed with.  So I opened up my trash email folder and started unsubscribing and changing email settings.  When I was finished, I believe I had unsubscribed from a grand total of 47 different emails.  FORTY-SEVEN.  What in the world?  I was baffled at how many times a day I plug in my email address without thinking about the barrage of junk email that will ensue.  The Home Depot Garden Club from when I was comparison shopping rain barrels and hoped there would be a coupon.  CNNSports.com from when I was in a Final Four Bracket Challenge 5 years ago. (Five!  And I’ve just been hitting “Delete” all these years!)  The Red Dress Boutique from when, well, which I don’t even remember signing up for.  Most of them (Papa John’s Pizza, for instance) were no-brainers to pull the plug on.  A few were trickier.  Anthropologie was the hardest to unsubscribe from and I even tried to rationalize not unsubscribing because I actually shop there.  But I realized that I have tons of super cute clothes and I do NOT need the temptation (or the time waste) of browsing their emails daily.  And on and on it went.

I know it’s not drastic or revolutionary.  But I’m excited to see what this electronic purge does to my time management, satisfaction level, spending habits and online productivity.  And who knows.  Maybe it will be the first step in bigger things.  Like a social media fast or a shed clean out.  And I challenge you to figure out from what you need to unsubscribe.  I think we all have something we could use less of in our lives.

Music Review: Songs from Along the Way

Bethany’s CD has been out for a little over a week and its been in steady rotation in the Johnson household since it arrived at our doorstep.  And so here is my attempt at a “music review”.

Bethany has many accomplishments along her musical journey.  She has played her own bridesmaid entrance processional (i.e. playing while walking).  She has played in a faux backup band for Kellie Pickler and Taylor Swift (i.e. playing while acting).  She has played the Rankin County Barnyard Opry (i.e. playing while keeping a straight face).  But this CD – ‘Songs from Along the Way’… this is my favorite yet.

songsfromalongtheway

First, the album packaging and photography are lovely.  Having grown up with her, hotglueing faux fur to house slippers and whatnot, my first reaction opening the package was along the lines of ‘oh wow this is really a legitimate product.’  It was even shrink-wrapped.  But I mean really, I would expect no less. The music though – Guys, it is killer.  I’m not just saying that because the artist is one of my closest friends on the entire planet.  Seriously.

The whole CD is enjoyable from start to finish.  Bethany is rocking it on the violin, and the guitar and piano players are no slouches. The guitar provides a steady driving undertone, harmonic complements come from the piano, all the while Bethany’s violin soars fast and free, up and down, in and out.  Little bits of added percussion here and there tie it all together.

The more upbeat tracks leave you with no choice but to tap your foot and nod your head, at a minimum.  Those less inhibited (3 year olds especially) will break into an all-out jig.  The lively party tracks are balanced out by several slower, more introspective passages.  Among my favorites of these is #4 Ashokan Farewell – so much emotion wrapped in there like only a violin can deliver.

This is perfect music to have playing in the background during a dinner party.  Your guests will think you’re smart for listening to instrumental music.  Other recommended uses:  Saturday morning cleaning, airplane takeoffs and landings, and while reviewing endless Excel spreadsheets.  Basically I haven’t found an inappropriate venue yet.

So there you have it.  I’m giving Bethany’s freshman album ‘Songs from Along the Way’ a big 5 stars for excellence all around.  Buy one and see for yourself.
golden-rating-stars

Book Review – Joyland by Stephen King

I read a book.  Somebody give me a gold star! OR maybe a cookie.

Last week I had to fortunate opportunity to meet my good friend Meredith, who is a real librarian, at where else but the library in our hometown.  We went for story hour with her two kiddos and Ransom.  A good time was had by all.  And to top it off, she gave me a book to read.

The book was Joyland by Stephen King.  I haven’t read any of Mr. King’s works prior to this, but I have enjoyed some of the film adaptations.  The Shining movie holds a special place {of ridiculousness} in my heart.  And The Green Mile movie is high on my list although not one I could watch regularly or anything.

I do love when people give me books or even just give me recommendations.  That solves the challenge of actually finding a book to read.  So of course I dove right in to Joyland, set in the early 70s in an amusement park.  I was kind of expecting suspense, fear, chills, horror maybe, from Stephen King.  But the suspense level was actually more on par with an episode of CSI or Criminal Minds.  There is a ghost but she’s fairly innocuous as ghosts go.  There’s also a lot of cool carny lingo.

The main character is this distant-ish 21 year old guy floating along in that highly relatable yet awkward zone between kid and adult.  He’s a pretty realistic character really, but so laid back about everything that I never did get to anxious for him, even around the ghost.  He takes a summer job at a carnival where there had been a (gasp!) murder.  The book describes all the events leading up to him solving the murder along with a lot of interwoven side plots.

All in all, its a good read though not entirely what I was expecting.  Its short so it goes by pretty fast.  (Also like tv show?)  Tell me, all you avid book readers out there.  Just how do you handle this reading thing?  My problem is this: If I start reading a book that’s even halfway decent, that’s usually all I do until I’m done.  I mean, everything else goes on the back burner and not necessarily in a good way.  I kind of HAVE to FINISH it so I can go on with life, you know?  Dinner on Monday night was a mess.  How do you contain the reading hours so that life can continue?  I need to know.

Anyway, pick up this book if you are going on a long trip and need an diversion.  It won’t change your life or give you nightmares but it is entertaining. 🙂

Thanks for the book Mere! At the very minimum I feel more well rounded being able to say that I’ve read a Stephen King book.

A Southern Book Review

For my birthday last month, my sweet parents gave me some birthday money which I promptly combined with a giftcard I’d gotten and bought a dress from Anthropologie that I’d had my eye on.  But before I did that, I made a stop over at Amazon.com and picked up a copy of a book that I’d been wanting to read since I’d heard it was being written.  I might have waited about a year to get my hands on a copy of the book, but I didn’t wait to read it.  I finished it the day after it arrived in my mailbox.

I can't tell you how much I love this dress.

I can’t tell you how much I love this dress.

About a year and a half ago I was road managing an event in Tuscaloosa Alabama.  It was a stressful day to say the least: the lead singer had had to make an emergency doctor visit because he’d lost his voice and couldn’t sing, we’d done our entire load-in during an all-out monsoon (floods and musical instruments and equipment don’t generally play well together), and sound-check had taken about 3 times too long due to a mysterious buzz in the speakers (potentially due to the aforementioned monsoon, but whatever.)  The show was set to start at 7pm and at exactly 6:52 PM, we found out that the power company had planned a “scheduled 4 hour outage for general maintenance” for that same time-frame.  If you know me well, you can picture my frazzled face.  My dear friend Leslie had driven about an hour to see me that day and arrived in the middle of this chaos.  She’d brought her friend Sophie with her who happened to be a blogger, and was terribly excited for us to meet saying that we’d surely be friends.  Sadly though, hang out time was not in the cards that night as I had to say only a quick hello before dashing off to plead with the power company to please not shut down our concert (fortunately the VP of Alabama power attended the host church so crisis was averted with about 30 seconds to spare.)

But fortunately, we had the opportunity to meet again one evening in the lobby of a Best Western in Birmingham, Alabama where we ate cake from Olexa’s (ya’ll……the BEST) with some fabulous ladies and laughed into the wee hours of the morning (but that’s a whole ‘nother story for a whole ‘nother day blog).  And that night, Sophie mentioned the book she was working on.  The book that, fast-forward to August 14, 2013, I bought on Amazon.

My mom, Me, Leslie and Sophie...taken on the night of cake eating and much laughter.

My mom, Me, Leslie and Sophie…taken on the night of cake eating and much laughter.

A Little Salty to Cut the Sweet: Stories of Faith, Family and Fifteen Pounds of Bacon had me literally laughing out loud in bed one night….the same night that it had me shedding a few tears over stories of grandparents passing on and such.  My personal favorites involve her mother-in-law and Steinmart, although I’m pretty sure I could give a good case for each story being my favorite. You’ll also feel like cousin Paige, grandma Sissy, Sister, Brother and Aunt Choxie are your personal friends by the end of it.  Her writing is witty, inspirational and gosh-darn draws you in until you realize the only thing you didn’t like about the book was that you’ve come to the last page and you aren’t ready for the stories to stop coming.  And if you aren’t ready for the stories to stop coming, then you’re in luck.  Because Sophie writes a blog called BooMama, which means you can keep up with her hilariously snarky opinions on anything anytime you darn well choose.

A Little Salty to Cut the Sweet.  They say don't judge a book by it's cover....but in this case, that's totally a safe thing to do.

A Little Salty to Cut the Sweet. They say don’t judge a book by it’s cover….but in this case, that’s totally a safe thing to do.

Sophie reminds me of another favorite author of mine, Bailey White, whose book “Mama Makes Up Her Mind: and Other Dangers of Southern Living” shall forever be a favorite.  You should pick up a copy of each.  And then give em to your Mama.  Or Mama-In-Law.  Or StepMama.  Or GrandMama.  Or whatever kind of Mama you’ve got.  And then get ready to laugh and cry and rehash all your own favorite family stories.  Because family is ever so precious.

And the winner is……

So it’s Saturday morning already and the results of the Annie Downs double-book-giveaway are in!!!  We loved all the comments and book recommendations…for sure the best crop of comments we’ve had in a while.  But, in this game, there can only be one winner

…and that winner is…..

Leslie!

yay, Leslie!  She slid her entry last night in just under the wire with the shortest comment of them all, but takes home the gold anyway.  Leslie….check your email inbox…all we need is your mailing address so we can send a little “Perfectly Unique” and “Speak Love” your way next week.

For everyone else…thanks so much for participating in our first-ever giveaway.  If you still want to check out the books, you can pre-order Speak Love here (it releases next Tuesday, August 20th!) and purchase Perfectly Unique here.  I promise they are amazing and while they are aimed at girls ages 13-18….but I always say they are great for ANY girl who was once a teen.

Thanks to everyone who joined in the fun!  We loved having ya’ll come by.  Enjoy your weekend…and if you somehow missed Mary-Hall’s hilarious post on the woes of Mississippi’s Craigslist site yesterday, you should check that out here.

See ya’ll Monday!

(thirty)one for the Books

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photo credit: Hannah Westphall Blanton @ http://hannahelaine.com/

It’s hard to imagine that today is already my birthday.  Last year, when I turned thirty, it was all about accomplishing things.  Checking things off my list.  What could I DO before I hit the big 3-Oh.  What tasks could I claim I’d completed prior to the anniversary of my birth.  And it was lots and lots of fun.  But this year’s been different.  Maybe because it’s not an “important” birthday like 18 or 21 or anything ending in a zero or a five.  Granted, Switchfoot and Taylor Swift have done their best to put a new spark in random year birthdays with their respective odes to “24” and “22,” but to be honest, 31 is sort of the ho-hum of ages.  It’s not a milestone.  No one says, “oh!  31!  wow….that’s such a great age.  I couldn’t WAIT to turn 31!”  They just kind of say, “yup.  that’s the birthday that comes after 30,” and go on with their day.

But I don’t want you to think I’m down on 31, because I’m not at all.  I’m totally up for it and whatever it brings with it, but as I was thinking about how this year feels different from the giddy project-oriented fervor of turning 30, I realized that maybe this year is less about what I can accomplish, and more about reflecting on who I am.  Am I the type of person I want to be?  Am I kind, patient and loving?  Do I value others?  Do I value myself? If I wasn’t me, would I want me as a friend? (That last one is always a tricky one!)  I’ve learned alot about myself in this past year.  Or maybe “learned” isn’t the best word, as I think a good chunk of it are things I already knew but wasn’t ready to acknowledge or embrace, change or come to terms with.

I think in the end what matters most isn’t what we did, but how we lived and loved and who we were.  I want to be personally fulfilled, but also extend grace and hope and friendship to others and build them up as I have been built up by those family and friends who have invested so deeply in me.  A tall order for a nondescript year like thirty-one.

But.  Today’s birthday blog isn’t all introspection and heart searching.  Here’s the fun part.  Since it’s my birthday, and with birthdays come presents, we’re actually going to give one lucky reader a present.  Yup.  It’s my birthday, but you get the gift.  Pretty sweet, huh?  My awesome friend Annie Downs is an amazing author (you may remember my review of her first book, From Head to Foot, a few years ago) and she’s about to release her second book Speak Love this Tuesday, August 20th!  And because Annie is generous, and because I frankly can’t think of a better way to celebrate my birthday than giving away books (if you don’t know about my love affair with the written word, you can check that out here) by one of my favorite people/authors, on our blog….we’re giving away an autographed combo pack to celebrate: that’s right, an autographed copy of her book Perfectly Unique, AND a copy of the new Speak Love.  Maybe you’re thinking that you’re not a teenage girl so this isn’t really for you.  But I’m going to stop you right there and tell you to enter anyway.  Because surely you have a daughter, niece, girlfriend, neighbor, sister, friend, auntie, granddaughter, coach, or babysitter who IS a teenage girl, and well….I bet she has a birthday coming up sometime in the next year and would LOVE this as a gift.  Or, even if you’re not a TEEN girl, if you’re a girl of any sort, I bet you’ll be encouraged like crazy by reading these.  I know I was.  And who doesn’t need a little encouragement every now and then?  (Especially free, autographed encouragement shipped right to your doorstep.)

These two excellent reads could be yours.

This is a TwoGirlsBlog first, as we’ve never done a give-away before, and frankly, we’re not quite sure how it should all work.  But here’s the ground rules that we’re going to roll with.

1. Anyone can enter.  We have a spam filter that we monitor so we promise to choose a real person and not a bot.

2. To enter, just leave a comment below telling us your favorite age and the title of your favorite book, or a book you’ve read recently…and your first name only.

3. We’ll pick a winner by putting the comments in a hat and drawing one.  seriously.  (sorry, no bonus points for creative writing.)

4. We’ll announce the winner Saturday, August 17th on the blog. (Any comments posted before Friday, August 16th @ 11:59 PM Central Time will be entered to win.)  So you totally have a few days to comment and tell all your friends to enter as well.

5. We’ll email the winner at whatever email address you entered to comment and find out what name and address you’d like your autographed books sent to, and ship ’em your way the last week of August.  (please note…we will never sell, trade, barter, post, share, give-away or otherwise release your email address or personal information.)

My Grandfather’s Books

The whole “Nature vs. Nurture” war has been raging for years and personally, I think there is a strong case for the effects both elements have on a person.  But no matter how you spin it, I’m pretty sure my love for the written word comes at me from both sides.  It’s in my blood, and deeply woven into my web of experience as well.  And now I work for an author.  Another stretch of my life path, with books for pavers.

I lost my grandfather eleven years ago next week.  He was elderly and had severe respiratory problems caused by years of smoking back in the days before people knew that smoking wasn’t safe.  They say that time heals all wounds, but I’d have to disagree on this point.  I think I miss my grandfather more as the years go on and I grow older and become more and more aware of the unique person he was.  I wish I could sit down and ask him a whole slew of questions that it never occurred to me to ask.  I wish I could hear his reaction to the adventures I’m having as an adult and to the ever increasing discoveries of modern technology and medicine.  I wish he could meet my husband.  He would love my husband.

My grandfather taught me lots of things as a kid.  Like how to spell “squirrel.” And how to say “Lemon Yellow Lollypops” when I was having trouble differentiating between the “L” and “Y” sounds.  And once, in the days before Google & the Internet, we sat down with a pencil and a sheet of lined notebook paper and from memory wrote down all 50 states of the United States and then put them in alphabetical order.  He asked me questions and listened when I answered, no matter how silly or long-winded my answer might of been.  And in between all that, he read books.  Lots of them.  He was ever in “his chair” with a book in hand and a crossword-puzzle as a bookmark.  My mother read to me in the womb….and every night of my childhood thereafter until I was able to take over and read to myself.  And even then, she continued to read to me when my eyes were too droopy with sleep to process the words, but the story too enticing to abandon.

My favorite photo of me with my grandfather, George Wilhelm Christophersen.

My favorite photo of me with my grandfather, George Wilhelm Christophersen.

My uncle is an author and an avid reader (as well as a gifted fiddle player).  In fact, he’s many times earned his paycheck writing reviews of other people’s books for various newspapers and magazines…the perfect combo for an author/reader.  This past weekend, when I was visiting my parents for Mother’s Day, he decided it was time to comb through my grandfather’s vast library.  He kept a large stack of books, and the rest came to me to keep or sell to the local used bookstore. Some of the sorting process was easy…pulling out classic works that weren’t yet a part of my personal collection that I’ve always wanted to read.  The yellowed copy of “Nicholas Nickleby” for instance, that I used to beg my grandfather to read to me; undaunted at age five by it’s 939 pages.  Tucked helpfully inside is an equally yellowed index card listing a “Who’s who” of the story’s characters in my Grandfather’s eloquent script.  But then it became more difficult.  All the volumes of PD James that I have no desire to read, but that I can’t seem to part with either.  Some of my earliest memories are of carefully running my fingers over all the book bindings on my grandparent’s bookshelf, thrilled at the thought of the mysteries and glorious tales those volumes might contain.  When I imagine their house, Michner’s “Texas” is an integral part of the decor.

Some of my grandfathers books.  His formal education was brief, but he had a life-long passion for learning...even teaching himself Spanish in his late eighties.

Some of my grandfathers books. His formal education was brief, but he had a life-long passion for learning…even teaching himself to read Spanish in his late eighties.

So while I may never crack open any of them, the works of John leCarre will probably take up residence next to whatever popular fiction my book-club is currently reading, at least for a while.  These books to me are happy ghosts of years past; comfort items that remind me of when life was simple and the highlight of my week was story-time at the Burleson Library.  As I write this, I glance up from my screen and scan the bindings of the hundreds of books that sit displayed on the floor-to-ceiling bookshelves Keith and I had custom-built into our front room last Spring.  My grandfather would have loved those bookshelves.

*****

“I had a mother who read to me
Sagas of pirates who scoured the sea.
Cutlasses clenched in their yellow teeth;
“Blackbirds” stowed in the hold beneath.
I had a Mother who read me lays
Of ancient and gallant and golden days;
Stories of Marmion and Ivanhoe,
Which every boy has a right to know.
I had a Mother who read me tales
Of Gelert the hound of the hills of Wales,
True to his trust till his tragic death,
Faithfulness lent with his final breath.
I had a Mother who read me the things
That wholesome life to the boy heart brings-
Stories that stir with an upward touch.
Oh, that each mother of boys were such!
You may have tangible wealth untold;
Caskets of jewels and coffers of gold.
Richer than I you can never be —
I had a Mother who read to me.”

-Strickland Gillilan (1869-1954)

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