How to Keep House While Drowning (CBR13 #12)

How to Keep House While Drowning: 31 Days of Compassionate Help

I’ve spent the past few years unpacking a lot about myself, doing the work in therapy, reading up on things that sounds like perhaps they are me. In that I’ve also started dealing with the fact that I struggle with care tasks – what you might more easily recognize as “chores”. I always have, I don’t remember a time when completing care tasks came easily, or instinctually. And, when I’m in a bad headspace it all gets so much worse.

But, I need to stop thinking in terms of better or worse as this book clearly elucidates, care tasks are morally neutral.

Once more: Care. Tasks. Are. Morally. Neutral.

The introduction of this book lays out what is to follow, what are care tasks and why are they so hard for people. It ends with the phrase “if you are crying right now this book is for you”. When a book tells you that and you’ve realized that you are in fact moments from crying, its oddly reassuring. Ah, I’m not alone! I’m so not alone that this licensed counselor has developed a whole philosophy of care (struggle care) to help the me-types cope.  From there the short 31 chapters (seriously, the entire kindle book is 54 pages long) bounce back and forth from unpacking the psychology (Shame is the Enemy of Functioning) and practical skill building (which Davis calls Gentle Skill Building and include cleaning bathrooms, doing laundry, hygiene, maintaining spaces, and others).

The book focuses on making functional decisions within your abilities: what can you accomplish with the energy or ability you have right now that improves your functionality? Is it throwing some underwear and socks into the washing machine and setting up your coffee pot so tomorrow you has something to wear and much needed caffeination? Then do that much and know you’ve done what’s needed, judgement free. Is the floordrobe of laundry your impossible task? Let it be. How can you make the floordrobe more functional? Do that and move onto the rest of your day. Feeling like you don’t deserve to do the fun thing because your house is a cluttered mess? Tell yourself the real truth: you, merely by being you, deserve to have a lovely day.

Davis shares a lot of ground with Rachel Hoffman’s Unfuck Your Habitat which I find helpful but not perfect, and Tricia Hersey and the Nap Ministry on our right to rest which should be noted.  All likely have information that you’ll find helpful or minimally reassuring.

Record of a Spaceborn Few (CBR13 #11)

Record of a Spaceborn Few (Wayfarers #3)

It has been quite a while since I’ve had a truly lovely reading experience. I should have known that Becky Chambers would deliver the goods. When I read To Be Taught, if Fortunate in September of 2019 (godtopus I missed regular library service in 2020 and am glad to have it back) I was simply astounded at what it accomplished, and it was from that time my favorite of Chambers’ works, with A Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet a very close second (I had struggled a bit to get into A Closed and Common Orbit even though I eventually found it to be moving and important and a four star read).

Record of a Spaceborn Few fed my soul, it is all about hope and connection. Chambers tells the story of the Exodus fleet, the homesteader ships that left Earth centuries ago in search of a new home for humans. They’ve found it now, but many have chosen to continue living on the ships as they orbit a star granted to them by other members of the Galactic Commons while some have taken off for life planetside or on smaller, individual ships. Like my other love Station Eleven, we trail several point of view characters over a period of time. The prologue starts with a terrible tragedy and then we jump ahead four years in time and experience what life is like now and what the lingering fall-out is for the residents of the fleet.

If Chambers had stayed there this would still easily be a four-star read that I would have been very glad indeed to have read. But Chambers pushes further, as she is wont to do. She takes the minutiae of their lives (an interesting read all by itself, I didn’t struggle as others did with the feeling of a slow start) and weaves with them tapestry of the human condition, of the struggle to find purpose, to know what our purpose even is, to find meaning in our lives both individually and in community.

Record of a Spaceborn Few bounces between Tessa, a mother of two small children  who has always been content with her life in the fleet but is starting to have questions about how to best raise her kids; Kip, a teenager who has no idea who he wants to be but he knows he doesn’t want to be on the fleet anymore; Eyas, a woman in her late 30s whose job is to tend to the dead which often leaves her feeling at a remove from everyone else even though she knows that she is doing what she was meant for; Sawyer, a young man in his twenties who was born and raised planetside but comes to the fleet looking for a new start in the place of his ancestors; Isabel, an Archivist who serves the role of documentarian and historian, of preservationist and clerk, and a visiting ethnographer from another race who serves as the outside viewer within the structure. I loved these characters, and I loved their relationships. By and large they do not cross paths with one another, but their worlds are fully developed with delightful secondary characters who are elegantly drawn. I was particularly attracted to Eyas’s and Isabel’s stories, I think everyone probably has their own characters which spoke to them and these were mine.

While told in an episodic way, this character driven story brings the various components of the society to life through the eyes we see it. We know these characters by relatively early on so as events transpire, we are pulled further into their world. Chambers has the gift of writing these stories of people living on spaceships who act like people you interact with every day. In short, Chambers captures our humanity, she uses the small details that tell us so much about who we are.

Read these books. You don’t have to read them in order, I think you should read book one, The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet before this one, but its not required.

Sakina’s Restaurant (CBR13 #10)

Sakina's Restaurant

In trying to get out of my reading slump I went back to my old Audible library to see what was hanging out there that I hadn’t listened to yet. One of the books there was Sakina’s Restaurant by Aasif Mandvi. I thought I was getting a straightforward short story not a recording of a one man show, and that effected my experience, I think. There’s a way you tell a story when you are going to be in front of an audience versus when you’re recording on your own; there’s an energy in an audience. Aasif Mandvi (Actor, comedian, and writer) originally performed this work off-Broadway 20+ years ago (and won an Obie Award for it). While this recording intends to capture the experience, I think it falls short.

Sakina’s Restaurant tells an age-old story: a poignant tale of immigrating to New York in pursuit of the American dream. In this case it is specifically the story of an Indian Muslim man who goes to America to search for a better life which for him means to become a millionaire. Once in America he works as a waiter at his uncle’s restaurant. It is from that place that we the reader are introduced to the rest of the cast of characters: his uncle, wife and their two children. The work is centered on a man’s desire to give the best to his children who have grown up and ‘forgotten’ their values and culture. The larger themes are of lost and broken dreams, but at under 90 minutes it just doesn’t get there.

The Irish Pub Cookbook (CBR13 #9)

It had been my intention to review this cookbook on St. Patrick’s Day, but my timings were a bit off. So here we are a few days later, but my positive experience with this book works year-round.

I really like The Irish Pub Cookbook because beyond its quality recipes it is a book you can read. Placed throughout are informational sections about a variety of pubs all over Ireland as well as the recipes. It’s a celebration of over 70 pub classics as well as pubs themselves with photos, history, and lore. Author Margaret Johnson is on a mission to inform Americans that contemporary Irish cooking means not just a rustic, hearty Irish classics such as stew with brown soda bread, but also “fancier” fare sophisticated as dishes found in restaurants around the world. There are certainly recipes included that cover some well-trod territory (is it really an Irish cookbook without Shepherd’s Pie?), but the “Blackboard Specials” sections lean towards the gourmet. Some were developed by the Irish Food Board to promote traditional Irish products to modern chefs and consumers.

This is a book written for the American audience – occasionally there are ingredients listed which are common in the states (half and half) that are not common across the pond. I haven’t done most of the recipes, but the ones I’ve done have come out well, but most importantly the ones I’ve read that are things I cook otherwise have improved my abilities. My soda bread hasn’t been as good as its been the past year ever before. But that does bring me to the only drawback that I can spot (I’m sure others might find different ones) is that there are quite a few recipes which are variations on each other. But that really isn’t the worst thing, and when I went hunting for soda bread to check proportions (which is what I do with recipes of things I already know how to make, seeing if I can refine my method) there were two, back-to-back, which I found helpful not harmful.

Our Women on the Ground (CBR13 #8)

Our Women on the Ground: Essays by Arab Women Reporting from the Arab World

Looking back, I can’t quite remember how this book ended up on my TBR back in February 2020. It did though and I’m glad to have read it, even if it took me longer than I hoped to actually complete it. There is something incredibly valuable about learning a story from the person experiencing it; of seeking out authentic voices and sources. In bringing Our Women on the Ground, Zahra Hankir puts the voice of women journalists from the Arab world front and center, where they should be.

The countries represented in this work are as varied as the nineteen women writing from and about them. It is, by its very nature, an advocation for local voices. Reading these essays I was struck again and again how these voices are by and large missing from the media narrative, or if not missing certainly overshadowed. We usually hear from Western correspondents who might cover the area for a year or two and then return to their home countries where they might write memoirs or authoritative non-fiction books and become the go to sources for the area. By this model we are being denied the voices from this area of the world who have the ability to bring a more authentic telling of events to the surface. They have unique and intimate access, and as such are able to tell the story of the Arab world and broader Middle East with a profound sense of nuance and cultural understanding which rises to the surface in each of these essays. On top of that, this book is nothing but women’s experiences – even the translated works are translated by a woman – and I find myself more and more seeking out women’s voices to balance the absurd over abundance of male voices in the media.

Dressed for the Photographer and Vintage Fashion (CBR13 #6 & 7)

I’ve been preparing at work for a program discussing women’s fashion 1830 – 1930 for International Women’s Day/Women’s History month. For me it has been an excuse to pull some pieces out of storage and get them new photographs and update their records, as well as just working on something I find interesting. I’ve spent quite a bit of time over the past decade getting conversant on the changing women’s silhouette during that century of time (which is our primary interpretive period) and honestly – if I was going to volunteer to deliver digital programs, I’m going to try to keep it to topics that I want to talk about since I really don’t enjoy being on camera.

Dressed for the Photographer: Ordinary Americans and Fashion, 1840-1900 by  Severa, Joan L. (1997) Hardcover: Amazon.com: Books

That doesn’t mean I didn’t need to go back to some of the resources and refresh myself (and get some additional images to share). First up is a book which really doesn’t have an equivalent in my experience, Dressed for the Photographer: Ordinary Americans and Fashion, 1840-1900. Joan Severa spent years funded by an NEH grant compiling and studying early photography to unpack the visual evidence for what it can tell us about fashion history, and what fashion history can tell us about the larger social trends in place. Severa examines the material culture, expectations, and socioeconomic conditions that affected the clothing choices depicted in the photographs from across the country. Her depth of knowledge regarding attire allows her to date the images with a high degree of accuracy – which in turn helps others turn around and date their own images – and to point out significant details that would elude most observers, including me on what is probably my third or fourth trip through this book.

This work, weighing in at over 300 pages, is a deep dive into visual history and provides extensive information for understanding the social history and material culture of this period. There are hundreds of reproduced photographs and Severa unpacks what can be seen in each. What I appreciate most is that not only are there so many images, but that the images feature people of all ages, sizes, wealth levels, and a variety of racial backgrounds. Severa avoids falling into the trap of whitewashing history by including black, Hispanic, and indigenous peoples in her examples. While I was primarily focused on women’s fashions this go through it is also an indispensable resource for children’s and men’s fashions.

Vintage Fashion: Collecting and Wearing Designer Classics, 1900-1990:  Wright, Emma Baxter: 9780061252013: Amazon.com: Books

The second book I’ve been working with is Vintage Fashion: Collecting and Wearing Designer Classics, 1900-1990 by Emma Baxter-Wright. While I was primarily working with this one for its first third, it is a useful look at fashion in the 20th century. While Dressed for the Photographer is interested in telling a more middle-class story Vintage Fashion aims for a higher socio-economic level. This one is only a three star read for me not for choosing design houses over popular fashion, but for not providing more examples of the trends being discussed. Each section has a round-up of what to look for in a given timeframe, but there just wasn’t enough variety in the images for me. Also, this is a book about women’s fashion, menswear is almost entirely absent. But, as a primer for large trends it does a commendable job.