On Tap for Today

A fun loving, inspired living blog


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Today: The power of touch.

[tweetmeme source=”elizabethev” only_single=false]Despite my admissions that I hate people invading my personal space, and would rather snap kick a stranger than be hugged by one, there’s no denying the power of touch.

One of the most challenging and moving books I’ve ever read is There Are No Children Here: The Story of Two Boys Growing Up in The Other America, by Alex Kotlowitz.  I read it three times the summer after graduating college, before starting work coordinating a mentoring program for at risk kids.  We called them children of promise, but still, they were and are up against so much.  That book crushed me, and at the same time, inspired me and I have continued to go back to it as my career has evolved.  One passage in particular was on my mind a lot this past week.

Kotlowitz describes, with painful detail, the basic needs that aren’t being met for children living in poverty.  Beyond food, shelter, access to health care and education, he talks about the emotional needs of children– the things I likely took for granted as a child– including the power of touch, and such childhood rites of passage as owning a pet. We had fish, hermit crabs, and the occasional hamster, but I wouldn’t say we were an animal family, if that make sense.  I don’t know if we ever asked our parents for a dog (we probably did), but when the first time I read the passage about children wanting pets so badly, trying to take in strays, but ultimately being unable to care for them, it didn’t fully resonate.

And then I got a dog.  And people stopped us everywhere we went, wanting to pet him.  (He is especially popular with kids waiting for the bus on Broadway and MBTA workers). And I found myself snuggling with him for hours.  And I noticed how, given the choice, he’d always be right at my side.  And I loved seeing him race to the door when Nick got home from work.  Having a dog is like having a constant, albeit furry, hug.

While petting a dog is no substitute for human contact, animals can be great sources of comfort and therapy for people in all walks of life.  I am really excited that after two and a half years of training, Clark became a registered therapy dog on Friday night.  We’ll start social and therapeutic visits in the next few weeks, with opportunities to work with children, adults, and the elderly.

I’m grateful for everyone who has helped Clark perfect his snuggling techniques.  He’s had plenty of practice in his three years on the planet. 🙂  Want to spread the power?  Your assignment: go touch someone… in a non-creepy way.

Also On Tap for Today:

Do you volunteer?  What’s your favorite way to help out?


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Today: Prepare to spring forward.

[tweetmeme source=”elizabethev” only_single=false]If you were worried that I had succumbed to a trust fall related injury, never fear.  I am alive and mostly no worse for the wear.  The ceramic skeleton key that used to hang by our table, however, didn’t fare quite so well.  I’ve been tempering last weekend’s festivities with 13 hour days at the office, endless meetings, and welp… staring at this.

The thought of springing forward and subsequently losing an entire hour of sleep has me downright cranky.

Then again, I am usually cranky.  Because I rarely sleep enough.  And sometimes because I eat too much sugar.  I am a work in progress.  High on my self-improvement agenda lately is making quality sleep a priority.  Incidentally, that handle belongs to a door on that cute little cottage in Boothbay Harbor.

While I have a million excuses for both staying up too late, and pressing snooze too many times the following morning, I am making a bit of progress, starting with a mini-makeover.

I went to town at West Elm.  And yes, I do keep a Twitter bird-shaped nightlight at my bedside. You never know when you might need portable illumination.

In addition to my attempt to design on several dimes, I’ve made a few adjustments to my evening and nighttime routines.  Rather than scramble in the morning, I am spending a few minutes before bed putting away dishes, packing my lunch, running a load of laundry, putting away errant shoes and Frenchie toys, picking out an outfit (and then another one for when I decide I hate the first) and carving out my to do list for the next day.  It’s amazing how much more quickly my brain turns off when it’s not preoccupied with the frenzy of the next day.  Speaking of frenzy, I am trying to replace cop shows with reading.  And simplifying my soul.  Sort of.

While 40 days will be up before we know it, I highly recommend this read for anyone trying to incorporate the Lenten message more practically into their day.  From spending 15 minutes in silence, to wearing your oldest clothes, Paula Huston offers really interesting suggestions and exercises for connecting with those who suffer.  I just made the books sound really depressing; it’s not.  Quite the opposite, really.

After reading for a few minutes  in my newly refreshed bed, I think about all that I have to be grateful for.  I turn up my sound machine (set at “ocean”) to full blast, and before you know it, I’m out like a light.  And then I wake up an hour later, and remember that I forgot to set my alarm.  Baby steps.

Also On Tap for Today:

Are you an early riser?  I need your help.

 


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Today: The healthy shelf.

[tweetmeme source=”elizabethev” only_single=false](I summoned all my willpower to not title this post The healthy shelfy.  I love a rhyme.  Especially ones that involve made up words.)  We have quite the healthy collection of books in our housecondohold.  I’ve been making an effort to clear out the random books we’d likely never open again (I rarely read books twice), or that didn’t fit well in our literary rainbow.

Plus, we needed to make room for this guy.

After seeing this set on Pinterest, I quickly ordered one, hoping it would arrive in time for Nick’s birthday.  A few weeks later, I was perusing the always interesting “miscellaneous” section at HomeGoods, when I spotted an identical set (but at a fraction of the price).  Something compelled me to place it in my cart (in hindsight, I think it’s because I am psychic… but in reality, I think I have a problem when it comes to impulse shopping and French bulldogs), even though I had already made the exact same purchase.

When the Pinterest-inspired package arrived, I didn’t fully unpack it, as I was in a rush to wrap Nick’s presents and keep my real, live French bulldog from eating any Styrofoam packing peanuts.  Low and behold, when Nick unwrapped the package, one of the bookends was missing… a foot.  Fortunately, I had a second split-in-two ceramic Frenchie on standby.  Helpful?  Yes.  Normal?  Not really, no.

But that’s beside the point.  As usual.  More to the point, is this:  books are a great way to get healthy and stay healthy.  Some provide motivation or inspiration, others healthy recipes and suggestions for preventative care.  Some you may not want to read in public (say, the one about digestion, for example).  Others might make the perfect gift (I will gladly fake autograph any of these selected titles, to make your present extra sketchy special).  Some make great reference guides you can go back to over and over.  Regardless, I think they’re all worth a read.

A few of my favorites:

  • Michael Pollan’s Food Rules provides the perfect foundation for healthy eating.  No-nonsense, no Fluff (literally and figuratively).  A new edition was recently released, featuring illustrations from the talented Maira Kalman.
  • I was first introduced to Robyn O’Brien and The Unhealthy Truth at a luncheon hosted by Stonyfield Organic a few months ago.  After one of her children experienced a severe allergic reaction to the food Robyn– and most families in the US–was serving, Robyn launched a single-handed investigation into the food industry (including issues of additives and labeling).  Her findings are nothing short of alarming.  I highly recommend that everyone read and learn from Robyn’s story.
  • A Women’s Guide to a Healthy Stomach is not something I’d read in public.  Or in mixed company.  Still, Dr. Wolf provides great information for anyone dealing with digestive issues and a completely un-awkward way.
  • For a little running inspiration, Kristin Armstrong’s Mile Markers offers a fantastic collection covering the many, varied reasons why women run.  I love the community that running creates.  Everyone has their own motivation for running, and I find that really inspiring.  If you’d like to read about my marathon experiences, feel free to check out these posts:  26.2 Miles of Smiles (Part I), 26.2 Miles of Smiles (Part II), Follow the Signs.
  • The Women’s Health Big Book of Exercises is a great resource for at home workouts, and includes detailed instructions and photos for any and every exercise you can imagine.  While it is technically a “big book,” it’s small enough to toss in your gym bag as well.

I could go on and on, but this post is becoming a novel in its own right.  It’s time to tuck these babies back into their color-coded spot on the shelves.  🙂

Also On Tap for Today:

What are your favorite health and fitness reads?

 


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Today: The books I wish I had written.

[tweetmeme source=”elizabethev” only_single=false]After returning from Boothbay Harbor, one of the first things I did was rave to my mother about J. Courtney Sullivan‘s second novel, Maine.  Already a New York Times best seller,  “It’s the kind of book you read and think… I wish I wrote this book,” I told my mom.  It was evocative, and equally as heartbreaking as uplifting– I only wished it was waterproof, so I could take it out on the float with me.

I started thinking about other books I wish I had written.  Unfortunately people like Charles Dickens are always beating me to the punch.  Pests.  Since I just gave away the first author (I was distracted, trying to invent some reason to type What the Dickens?!), I suppose that’s a reasonable place to start.

A Tale of Two Cities

Charles Dickens, clearly, I am not.  The last piece of fiction I wrote was my resume.  Totally kidding.  It was an adaptation of Robin Hood, inspired by an illuminated manuscript from the medieval period.  And if you have not already died of boredom, I will elaborate.  It was written in French and (shock!) entirely awful.  And it is now either taking up space in a landfill (sorry, Al Gore) or hanging in my professor’s office, a testament to all that is wrong with American co-eds.

A Tale of Two Cities showed me that a book could be so much more than a book, even if it was assigned reading.  A carefully drawn plot could become a treasure map of sorts.  When Mme. Defarge started knitting in deathly code, I was hooked.

Charlotte’s Web

Each year, a certain teacher at our grammar school would be reduce to tears, all because of an itsy, bitsy spider.  She would barely finish reading the first chapter aloud before dissolving into a crying fit, but– because she loved Charlotte’s Web so– she would pick it up again, day after day, until finally her students would know the ending.  In second grade, I was in the classroom next door.  We listened to a lot of music that year, likely to drown out all the sobbing.

Someone gave me a hard cover copy of the book (I remember it being a First Communion present… that can’t be right, can it?), and I read it on my own that summer.  It was the first book to break my heart.  Had I actually understood The Velveteen Rabbit at such a tender age, surely it would have taken the prize.  That story is brutal.  Regardless, Charlotte’s Web taught me about sacrifice and love and friendship in terms I could understand.  Plus, it made me wonder about farms.

There Are No Children Here

I discovered Alex Kotlowitz after re-reading four of Jonathan Kozol’s books in as many days.  It was the summer after I graduated from Boston College.  I was awaiting acceptance into several volunteer programs, and feeling rather adrift in the world.  If Charlotte’s Web broke my eight-year-old heart, There Are No Children Here ripped my twenty-two-year-old heart to shreds.  I coveted Kotlowitz’s ability to engage, with a seemingly endless reservoir of compassion, while still respecting the professional tenets of journalism.  I couldn’t imagine how I was laughing at the little anecdotes he shared, given the devastation surrounding these stories.  And no sooner had I finished laughing, I was crying like that second grade teacher.  It was all just so human.

A few month later, I would go on to start a career in youth development.  I don’t think this is a coincidence.

I Was Told There’d Be Cake

If I was funny enough, rich enough, and patient enough to be a comedian, I would want to be Sloane Crosley.  And if I couldn’t be her, I’d at least want to steal all of her material.  I thought people who laughed out loud while reading on planes were manner-less goobers, until I became one of those people (we all know my manners are impeccable).  Crosley’s essays are all at once poignant and hilarious.

Packed and ready to make peace.

I’ve started writing a few books in my head, including one called Frenchie Kisses for Everyone (a working title, mind you).  The story follows me and Clark, as we circumnavigate the globe and (as the title indicates), he kisses everyone we meet.  In the face of such overwhelming cuteness, rebel forces lay down their arms, corporate standoffs grind to a halt, and you know… other stuff.

Maybe I could start by writing one of those “choose your own adventure” books.  That way, I wouldn’t really have to commit to an ending, and my overactive imagination could be of benefit.  For once.

Also On Tap for Today:

Which book(s) do you wish you had written?


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Today: A novel idea.

[tweetmeme source=”elizabethev” only_single=false]It’s no secret that I love to read.  Right now I am in the middle of five different books.  It’s sort of a problem.  I recently finished The Kitchen House (and loved it).  When I got to the end, I noticed an interview with the author.  I usually skip over these book club-type sections, mostly because I have four other books to finish, but something about this interview drew me in.

I don’t want to spoil the plot, because I think this novel is definitely worth reading, but Kathleen Grissom’s description of how she developed the storyline and characters was fascinating. I’ve always wanted to write a book, but wasn’t exactly sure how that actually happens.  I am sure it’s different for everyone, but Grissom’s revelations were quite fascinating.  Perhaps my kooky imagination could play to my advantage?

Tucked within the interview was a recipe for Belle’s molasses cake, which appears throughout the novel.  I figured if the cake was half as good as the book, it would be mighty tasty.

I flagged the page (wahoo for Post-its), picked up all the ingredients… and then completely forgot about it.  Until this afternoon.

The recipe is simple and easy to follow, right up my alley.  I wasn’t sure what it would taste like but, um, molasses is a good source of iron.  Or whatever.  Give me a baked good, and I will rationalize eating it for you.  When I pulled the pan from the oven I thought two things:

  1. I wish I had a square cake stand.
  2. This smells insane.

If that’s not reason enough to pick up a book, I don’t know what is.

Also On Tap for Today:

What was the last book that inspired you? What’s on your summer reading list?


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Today: The bookshelves of my dreams.

[tweetmeme source=”elizabethev” only_single=false] I have been dreaming of these bookshelves all my life.  And now they are in our condo.  I am in nerd heaven.

BEFORE

AFTER

Moments before taking the first photo, Nick and I shared a moment of panic, having found a paint color we preferred over the color the contractor had already (expertly) slapped on the wall.  We had just run 18 miles and were probably in no shape to be making decisions, let alone engaging in manual labor.  But when Martha Stewart speaks to you through the medium of Lemon Ice in eggshell finish, you listen.  So we went to Home Depot for the sixtieth time this year, bought a quart of paint and some sort of painting kit, climbed up a ladder and (amateurishly) rolled on a new color.  Before that first coat had dried, it was obvious that we had made the right choice.  And as I leaned back to admire my handiwork, I nearly plummeted from the ladder.

Moments after taking this last photo, I found (yet another) bin of books that were tucked away during construction.  By some miracle of Roy G. Biv, we had exactly the right number of books with exactly the right color covers to fill out all of the shelves.  I felt quite proud of myself.   And then I nearly tumbled from my step stool.

I really need to grow a few inches, for safety’s sake.  And probably get a life while I’m at it.

Also On Tap for Today:

If you were to stock your shelves with a few new books, what would you be reading?


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Today: Book ’em, Elizabeth-o.

[tweetmeme source=”elizabethev” only_single=false] If you’re like me, you live in constant danger of books falling on your head.  I have amassed quite the collection of books about art written in French, books about Portuguese written mostly in pictures, books about mystery, books about cooking and eating, books about urban housing and education, books about true crime, and more books about art written in French.  When Nick and I moved into our condo, the collection expanded to include books about investing, books about business, and books about how to put up with people like me (i.e. The Idiot’s Guide to Idiots).

This photo is a repeat offender at On Tap for Today...it's just that good. Replace the pug with a Frenchie boy and it would be perfect.

[Photo source]

Just inside our front door is a niche that in 3-4 weeks will be a spectacular home for beloved books, with shelves reaching right up to the ceiling.  For the better part of a year, most of our books have been stacked on the one random shelf installed in the niche by the condo’s previous owners.  Originally, they were color coordinated (a look I am obsessed with), until one leaning tower of pages crashed to the floor, nearly paper cutting me to death as I came in from the gym.  When the cabinet maker and contractor came by to measure last week, I figured I should secure the location (I didn’t want the gentlemen to go all workers’ comp on our assets), so now our books are in bags, bins and piles here, there and everywhere.  In other words, right where you need to be standing in order to be productive.

I can’t tell you how many times I have purged my book collection.  I tried to maintain a one book in, one book out policy (sort of like getting in the door to An Tua Nua when we were juniors at BC), but it never lasted long (very much like my love for An Tua Nua).  I’ve kept certain books because they’ve changed the way I think, because they are special.  I’ve kept other books because they were pretty.  I’ve kept still other books because I was certain I’d want to re-read them.  Upon closer examination there are exactly six books I have ever read more than once as an adult (when I was a kid I re-read all the time).  They are:

  1. The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald
  2. A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens
  3. Ordinary Resurrections, Jonathon Kozol
  4. The Catcher in the Rye, J.D. Salinger
  5. Suite Française, Irène Némirovsky
  6. There Are No Children Here, Alex Koltowicz

So basically, there is no reason to hang on to all 40,000* other books presently threatening to overtake the condo.  They’re destined for better things than terrifying their owners with bodily injury and space consumption.  They’re going to prison.

Please see the Prison Book Program for more information about their upcoming book drive, volunteer opportunities in Quincy on Tuesday and Thursday nights, and how prisoners benefit from donated books. They have chapters across the country and accept donations throughout the year, so please consider passing along your could-do-without books even if you’re not in the Boston area.

*Pardon the gross exaggeration.

Also On Tap for Today:

Is once ever enough?  Which book(s) do you find yourself reading over and over again?