Saturday, February 18, 2017

Book Love: Moon over Manifest

I've been posting about books a lot lately but I've read so many great ones that it's hard not to! 

Moon Over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool
page count: 368 pages
approx. read time: 4.5 hours

This book was Newbery Medal winner in 2011 so right there is a pretty good sign it's going to be good.  It came recommended to me by a friend and I'm usually up for some good middle-grade fiction and this was one of the best ones I've read (which really isn't saying much because I haven't read many in the last 20 years was good).

Abilene Tucker has lived a mostly transit life with her father, Gideon, in her 12 (I think) years.  She knows how to jump on/off rail cars for one thing.  She has grown up hearing about the town of Manifest and after a slightly grusome accident, her father ships her off to live there with an old friend named Shady.  Who is a little Shady but in a mostly harmless way (that might sound bad but there is never even the slightest hint of possible or potential abuse).

The story takes place over two time periods - 1918 and 1936, when Abilene is a resident.  She arrives in town on the last day of school and makes a couple friends.  She is wondering how to spend her summer and time stuck in Manifest waiting on her father when she discovers a hidden stash of items and what she believes to be a treasure map.  This leads her and her friends on a bit of a chase to figure out the meaning of the various items and where this map leads to.

Abilene also befriend/is forced into helping Miss Sadie, a "diviner" who seems to know a lot about the people of Manifest and all the items from from Abilene's hidden stash.  Miss Sadie shares stories with Abilene from Manifest in 1918 and the people who were around then and some are still there now.  Things happen.  Abilene slowly learns about the town's past and how that affects her in the present.

In the beginning it took me a little bit to keep the characters straight but then by the end I couldn't get through it fast enough. Things happen and are connected in ways I did not expect or see coming.  And just when I thought the revelations were done there was something new.  It was really incredible story telling and so well written.  I really felt like I knew the people of Manifest and understood their struggles.

I've read a decent amount of fiction set around World War II but not nearly as much as World War I (the earlier time line) or even the time before the second war (the later time line).  It was refreshing to read about a different time in history.  Highly recommend to any interested in history, small town America, or just good story telling.  I imagine it'd be great to read in a school setting too!

Friday, February 17, 2017

Friday Five: {5} Paris Books

I've already covered some of my favorite books that take place in NYC, both contemporary fiction and non-fiction.  Now we are moving from another of my favorite cities.  I say that like I'm an expert or something when really I've spent about 8 hours in Paris.  BUT that was enough to make me want to go back.  It's near the top of a list of places I'd love to revisit if money were no object.  Anyways, here are 5 books that take place in Paris to help me live vicariously through the pages.

The Art of French Kissing by Kristin Harmel
This is a pretty light and fluffy read without being painfully light and fluffy (you probably know what I mean).  Emma is in PR and sent to Paris to work for a famous rock star.  She keeps running up against the same reporter.  And she's in Paris.  I mean, from these 3 sentences you know where the story is going but that doesn't mean it's not enjoyable anyways.

Isla and the Happily Ever After by Stephanie Perkins
This is the third book in a 3 book series but, in my opinion, the best one.  You don't need to have read the first two to understand what's going on here because other than one or two scenes, the characters from the previous books are periphery characters.  It's YA about two students at the School of America in Paris.  There are teens falling in love in Paris.  It's a sweet and charming story.   

Paris Letters by Janice Macleod
I've mentioned this book many a times here on the blog but it is one of my Paris favorites.  It's a memoir about a woman who was fed up with her life in the States and decides to save money and figure out to way to travel.  She majorly downsized (some good minimalism inspiration there) and does some traveling before settling in Paris.  Once she is there semi-permanently she has to make money somehow so she sells watercolor letters of her time in Paris (which you can still subscribe to here).   I've read this multiple times and so enjoyed each time.  And in looking for her Etsy shop link I found out she has a new book coming out this summer.  Promptly added that to my to-read list!

Along the Infinite Sea by Beatriz Williams
I could (almost) fill this list just with books about people who quit their current life and moved to Paris.  I've read quit a few of those.   However, I figured some good fiction, historical at that too, would be a nice change of pace.  This book is loosely connect some of Beatriz Williams' other books (many of which I've read multiple times and I still haven't figured out all the connections) but in now way do you have to read the others first.  This one is about Pepper who is uncovering the mystery of a car that she is restoring.  A mystery that goes back to Paris, the beginning of World War II, and some people on the run.  Also, that cover is gorgeous. 

Seven Letters from Paris by Samantha Verant 
Another "I moved to Paris" book but another good one.  Samantha was 40 and not loving her life in the States.  She finds 7 love letters she got from a Frenchmen she met in France when she was 19.  She googles the guy, they reconnect, and she ends up moving to Paris.  I mean, not to spoil it but it's pretty obvious that's where it was going.  If you've ever thought about quitting your life and moving to Paris, or just googling an ex from 21 years earlier...this might be for you.  Or if you just want to live vicariously through someone who did. 

Any Paris books to recommend?  I'm not going back anytime soon besides through books!

Thursday, February 16, 2017

State of the Adoption - Year 5

This week marks 5 years since we first met with our initial social worker to begin the "intake" process for what turned out to be Luke's adoption (read about that intake meeting, getting paperwork in, Luke's adoption story).  That meeting cost $100 and started us on this adoption journey.  We had no idea what to expect, no idea when or what baby it would lead us to.  It was scary and overwhelming and emotional but also felt so good to be making concrete steps to finally become parents. 

I still look back fondly on that spring that I spent recovering from my first ankle surgery, prepping for adoption, and planning our trip to Europe.  (Even more so at this moment because Luke found the sample bottle of lotion I used during that time and so the memories are super present today.)  We were optimistic and hopeful. 

Five year later our thoughts have changed a little.  We're parents to (I think) a pretty amazing little kid, despite our parenting screw-ups.  He so desperately wants to be a big brother.  He mentions it multiple times a day, it's always the first thing he prays for, it's always his wish on eyelashes or birthday candles.  One of his cousins asked him yesterday what he wants to be when he grows up and he said "A big brother!".  It is adorable but also so heartbreaking that we haven't been able to give him that.

We've been looking into more agencies lately, since finding out that ours placed NO babies last year despite multiple potential birth mothers.  It's been, at times, an exciting but mostly overwhelming task.  I started a spreadsheet to keep track of all the agencies we've contacted, their location, number of babies placed last year, number of waiting families, and the cost. 

And that's the biggie.  I mean, we obviously want to list somewhere that has been placing babies.  That's important.  But it also comes down to cost.  And not necessarily just the placement cost.  The part that gets me is what it'll cost us if a mother backs out.

Various books and articles I've read about adoption have informed me that we should plan on at least one failed match before placement.  I consider ourselves EXTREMELY lucky that Luke was already born when we found out about him and we could sign almost immediately, less than 48 hours after meeting him, 5 days after we heard about him.  However, that is not typical.  The majority of families are matched while the mother is still pregnant and 99% of the time, they don't (legally can't) relinquish rights until at least 24 hours after birth.  It is fully in their rights to change their mind at any point (which is understandable).  But that does give adoptive parents a whole lot of time to worry.

So, when asking agencies about their placement costs, if they will take outside home studies, if we can be placed at their agencies as well as others, I'm also asking how much it'll cost us if the mother changes her mind post-match.  There was one agency we were all ready to list with because it would only be $300 with our current home study.  That's a drop in the bucket when considering the placement costs most places.  Then we learned that we'd be out $9,000 if the mother changed her mind within 4 weeks of giving birth - birth.  Out $9,000 and no baby.  That's not a small sum.  And something books tell me we should plan on happening.

Then there is the agency where we wouldn't be out as much money if she changed her mind but their overall fees are the highest, north of $25,000 before medical.  And after that $25,000+ you still have to provide a retainer for things like postage.  Because you can't afford a stamp out of the $25k we are already giving you.  (That makes me grouchy.)

Then there is the agency I was talking with on the phone and Luke decided it was a good idea to start SCREAMING for pizza right when the social worker asked me to tell her about us.  That doesn't look so good.

Then there are the agencies that ask for how much money you can spend on an adoption, making it sound like they'll just take everything you have.  (As if we don't need money to also raise a kid??)

I've had some tough weeks and it's emotionally draining talking to agency after agency, making frantic notes, feeling like we are getting nowhere.  We'd like to be listed 5 places.  We have 3 good potentials but a lot of places also having us waiting.  Wait to contact them again in March.  Wait until an informational meeting in March.  Check back again in the summer.  I think after this long, almost 3 years since we started the process for #2, we want/need to do something NOW.  Even if it's just filling out paperwork or changing our profile (that potential birth mothers see) or getting our home study sent somewhere.  It's a lot of waiting, which we should be used to after all this time, but maybe we're also getting more desperate?

It's been a long time, a lot of tears, a lot of stress, a lot of worrying, wondering, and trying, so hard, to trust God's plan through it all.  And while we do trust, it's not like we can sit around waiting for a baby to fall into our laps.  We have to actively do something.  We have to be listed somewhere for that perfect match to happen.  And part of the struggle has been knowing what to do.

Some days are much easier than others.  I know it'll all be worth it someday, just like all the years of waiting, crying, and stress were worth it the second Luke became our son.  I would most definitely go through all those hard years if it was the only way for him to be ours.  And I know we will feel that again someday. 

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Quick Lit - February

It's once again the time of month where I link up with Modern Mrs. Darcy to share what I've been reading!  I've been knocking through books lately but that's largely due to rereading the Little House series for the first time in over 20 years but those will be getting their own separate post.  Here is everything else I've read in the past month!  As always, I'm very active on Goodreads!  Follow me there!

Other book posts this month:
Book Love: A Year of Living Danishly
Book Love: Girl in the Blue Coat
I also did a short series on easy books to read if you are trying to get back into a good reading habit this year!
Easy Books for Getting Back in a Reading Groove - Chick Lit
Easy Books for Getting Back in a Reading Groove - Memoir
Easy Books for Getting Back in a Reading Groove - YA
Easy Books for Getting Back in a Reading Groove - Wanderlust

Upstairs at the White House: My Life with the First Ladies by J.B. West
My aunt recommended this (and lent it to me) after seeing that I enjoyed reading The Residence a few months ago.  J.B. West was a long time usher at the White House, covering multiple presidents.  He was there when FDR died, there when Kennedy was assassinated.  He left at the beginning of Nixon's term (I believe).  I don't remember what president The Residence started with but I feel like these didn't overlap, or not much if they did.  I wasn't alive for any of the presidencies in this book but still was vaguely familiar with them through history classes.  In our very divided political climate, it was so nice to just read about the presidents, First Ladies, and their families as people, not politicians.  Read about the history of the White House and how the various families used it.  Especially recommend if you just want a break from all the division in our country right now.  4 Stars

A Portrait of Emily Price by Katherine Reay
I liked but didn't love this.  The story skipped a few times and I was left thinking I missed a few pages or something.  But I did appreciate the positive mentions of the Catholic faith, I rarely read Christian Fiction where the characters are Catholic and I appreciated that!  Also, all the ingredients of food were incredible, made me wish, again, that I could really cook.  3 Stars

The Wicked City by Beatriz Williams
I've read all her books and this one was not my favorite.  Like most, it was told in split timelines - the 1930s and 1998 with two women discovering things and living life in the same building in New York City.  There was a rather graphic almost rape? (definite sexual abuse) scene that was hard to swallow and overall the whole prohibition story line wasn't my favorite.  I enjoyed it but it won't be one I reread like A Hundred Summers3 Stars

Raising Grateful Kids in an Entitled World: How One Family Learned that Saying No Can Lead to Life's Biggest Yes by Kristen Welch
This book wasn't quite what I was expecting.  I thought it could have used maybe a little more editing and a little more cohesion but the message was very good.  The author tells stories about raising her 3 children, the oldest now being in high school and the youngest in middle school.  We haven't reached most of the stages of parenthood that she writes about but I still appreciated what she was saying.  It was also barely 200 pages so super quick and easy to get through.  Definitely some food for thought in there.  3 Stars

The Thousandth Floor by Katharine McGee
I've read and enjoyed a fair number of YA dystopian/set in the future novels and this was another one.  I really liked the premise - it's about 100 years in the future and most of Manhattan (about 100 blocks of it) is consumed by this giant tower, 1,000 stories high.  It was like SimTower on steroids.  The higher you lived, the richer you are.  I found the world very intriguing and mostly well thought out.  But then the guys...there is something I want to say here but won't because SPOILERS but...I was yelling at the book towards the end, and yelling at my husband "This book has BLANK" (You can read my review on Goodreads if you really want to know what that was.) So.  It was hard to get over that but I still marked the sequel as "to read" so apparently I'm still interested enough.  3 Stars

How to Celebrate Everything: Recipes and Rituals for Birthdays, Holidays, Family Dinners, and Every Day in Between by Jenny Rosenstrach
I wasn't too impressed by this one in the beginning - when she was going through the standard holidays and her family's traditions for them.  I really liked the second half when she was talking about their own quirky traditions and celebrations and how the little special routines can make a difference.  I marked waaaay too many recipes I want to make and am definitely using her basic kid's party plan for when we finally have one for Luke! 4 Stars

My Berlin Kitchen: A Love Story (with Recipes) by Luisa Weiss
I enjoyed this book, as much as I have other similar travel/food memoirs.  The author grew up in Berlin, then was bounced between divorced parents and as an adult - living in Berlin, Boston, New York, and Paris.  She cooks a lot along the way, of course there is a guy and some really beautiful sounding scenes in Italy.  (Can I trade passports with her??).  If you are interested in travel or food, this might be for you.  It made me wish I could cook better.  And travel more.  3.5 Stars

The Opposite of Spoiled: Raising Kids Who Are Grounded, Generous, and Smart about Money by Ron Lieber 
Seeing as I spent 8 years in public accounting before staying home with Luke and I have a 10+ tab spreadsheet to keep track of our own finances, making sure Luke has good money sense is something that is rather important to me.  I agreed with pretty much everything in this book and there are parts we can put into practice now, even with an almost 4 (!!!) year old.  Strongly recommend for anyone with kids still at home! 4.5 Stars

The Only Street in Paris: Life on the Rue des Martyrs by Elaine Sciolino
This book was written by an American woman who has lived for many years (decades?) in Paris, moving near the Rue des Martyrs with her husband once their children were in college.  She falls in love with this street and all the people who live and work there.  It was a little pretentious but mostly enjoyable.  3 Stars

Pancakes in Paris: Living the American Dream in France by Craig Carlson
This 1) made me want to go back to Paris.  And 2) made sure I absolutely never want to open a business in France (which I had no plan to ever do anyways).   It's the story of an American man who moved to Paris in his late 30s to open an American style dinner.  And all the headaches (and some rewards) he encountered along the way.  I don't think I'd want to eat American style food if I had a short stay in Paris but for ex-pats or longer visitors I can see how it would be appealing! 3 Stars

What have you been reading and maybe loving this month?  I don't need them but love getting recommendations!

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

The Adoption Question I Wish We'd be Asked

I've come to the recent revelation that bringing up adoption is something of a conversation killer.  Most people don't know how to respond when we joke about it or just mention it so the conversation stops and goes nowhere.  This might be a good power to remember when I'm trying to get out of an awkward conversation.  It's not something most people like to talk about.

I think it must be like after someone has a loved one die.  You want to say something but often don't know the right thing to say or don't want to say the wrong thing or make the person feel worse.  I totally get that and have been guilty of it so many times.  You err on the side of saying nothing versus the wrong thing. 

We get asked, periodically, how the adoption is going.  There usually isn't much to say.  Certainly if something happened that we wanted to share then most of the people who ask would already know.  But I appreciate being asked because most people say nothing.  It's nice not to be forgotten.  It's not like we ever forget about it.  Adoption has been on my mind every day for 6 years.  I also have a little boy who prays multiple times a day that we find brother/sister and sometimes tells me he has found them (according to him, they are frequently hiding in the dishwasher).  (Social worker: We do not put children in the dishwasher.)

As much as I appreciate being asked about how the adoption is going, what I really wish is people would ask how we are doing.  That's it.  "How are you doing with the adoption?"  Some people would probably just get the trite "Oh fine, nothing is happening."  And some days that's the truth.  I think it about it every day but just like I think about what to have for supper or what clothes I'm going to wear.  It's a thought but it doesn't affect my mood.

Other days, that's not the story.  I know everyone has their own struggles and people generally hide the worst from people.  It is really hard to share the struggles we've felt since beginning this journey, just like I've never fully understood the struggles of others.  It's impossible to really get it unless you are in it.  I should probably take my own advice and realize a simple "How are you doing?" is better than nothing when I don't know what to say.
Pregnant ladies get asked how they are doing. I know they do because I ask that question often and I highly doubt I'm alone in that.  And I do want to know (within reason, one of the benefits of adoption is avoiding the gross/painful parts of pregnancy and childbirth.  Please don't tell me about any fluids being discharged from anywhere.)  But I would argue that adoption is much tougher emotionally than a healthy, normal pregnancy. For one thing, with pregnancy you know it's going to be over in less than 9 months.  We started the process for baby number two a whole 34 months ago with no near end in sight.  I might not have someone kicking my insides but that would be preferred to the emotional pain that has been so present lately.

Once it hit 50, I stopped counting the pregnancy announcements since we started trying to get pregnant.  That's family and close friends (We have a very fertile circle, apparently, or just a large family.  Both might be true.).  Every single one has stung, at least a tiny bit.  It's not that we can't be happy for other because we are, but until you've wanted nothing more for this long, well it's not going to be easy.  There might be some secret tears behind that "Congratulations!".  (Well, secret before I wrote about it on the internet.)

I truly appreciate every single time any person has asked "How's the adoption going?" because it shows they care enough to say something.  It shows that haven't forgotten we are waiting.  I know it's not an easy topic to bring up and I appreciate anyone who has risked the awkward conversation that may follow.  This was going to be a list of "things to say to someone waiting to adopt" but then I realized that this one question would sum them all up.  Other than "We have a baby for you!", this is what I'd most like to hear.

"How are you doing with the adoption?"