Archive by Author | Stephanie Y.

Picture + 100 Words: Walking Through the Valley of Death

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Death Valley National Park boasts the highest air temperature ever recorded (134°) and routinely hits 120° in summer in the shade. Why would anyone go here? Well, it’s your closest chance of experiencing Mars on Earth. Cracked salt flats flanked by colorful striped hills and badlands. A valley that you both want to walk farther into and also run far away from. In December we thought the park would be empty. It was packed, parking lots teeming. But on our way out, we pulled off the perfectly paved road and watched dusk descend on the valley without another soul in sight.

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For Skincare, It’s the Habit That Counts

I used to be solidly in the I-don’t-get-it skincare camp.

Although I didn’t have the delusion that people being interested in skincare was a novel thing (cough…the outline…cough).

I took awful care of my skin. In fact, I barely took care of my skin.

After a conversation with my dermatologist I started washing and moisturizing my face twice a day with Cetaphil and Cerave AM and PM. That was more than a year ago and my skin has never been happier (or smoother, or brighter, or cleaner, or more moisturized).

I recently stumbled upon a breakthrough of sorts when it comes to skincare that I wanted to share with all of you. It’s simple.

If you make any skincare routine a habit you will see improvement. No matter how much (or how little!) you spend on the product. 

Here’s what happened:

I have always had dry, chapped lips. Just always. Like so chapped that I can’t wear lipstick or gloss because it gets all cracked and ugly.

I was reading a newsletter (because I love newsletters) and Kim Bui mentioned in passing that she had started using a Korean lip mask that had gotten rid of her chapped lips.

Intrigued that there might actually be a solution to my chapped lips, I put the mask in my online shopping cart.

But I just couldn’t convince myself to spend $20 on something that was not even an ounce.

Wait, I thought. I have never, ever tried anything habitually to get rid of my chapped lips. Sure, I use chapstick but that was basically it.

I did some searching and found a similar product (Rosebud Salve) that cost only $6. I told myself – buy this. Try it every night until it runs out. If it doesn’t work, buy the lip mask.

Guess what?

It worked!

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Basic.

Just the simple act of moisturizing my lips every night has made a tremendous difference on my lips during the day. I didn’t need to spend $20. I just needed to make it a routine.

So whether you’re trying to rein in your skincare spending or you aren’t convinced that skincare “works,” I recommend that you try this out on just one thing: buy a less-expensive, affordable product and make using it a daily habit. Give it time and see if it makes a difference.

I bet that it will.

Farewell to #SJBookClub: 8 Books to Read About Criminal Justice, Race & Immigration

I remember talking to Kerry about her idea for a social justice book club. She was worried, rightly so, that a title like that would be a battle cry for the trolls. She came up with an elegant solution: #SJBookClub.

I participated in the virtual book club at first to support a friend, but I quickly realized that my literary fiction obsession was keeping me away from some very important books written by some very intelligent people. I was introduced to Bryan Stevenson, who reminded me to throw fewer stones. To Jesmyn Ward, who opened my eyes to experiences I never knew were happening less than an hour from my childhood home. It got me all riled up about our (failing) criminal justice system. It pushed me to read broader.

For that I am thankful.

Kerry announced earlier this month that she is officially retiring the club. As a participant who hasn’t participated in a year I support that decision. Sometimes these clubs or lists or books pop up just when we need them, and then fade away when we need to focus on something else.

I wanted to honor the club in a small way. I put together this list of books that you should read. Some were books we read as a club (those are * starred), others are not. All have influenced me. And, as I want to continue this journey, please comment any other books you think I should add to my list!

Criminal Justice System

  1. Just Mercy – Bryan Stevenson*
  2. The New Jim Crow – Michelle Alexander*

Thoughts on Race

  1. The Men We Reaped – Jesmyn Ward*
  2. The Fire This Time – Essay collection edited by Jesmyn Ward
  3. Between the World and Me – Ta’Neishi Coates

Immigration

  1. Enrique’s Journey – Sonia Nazario*
  2. Tell Me How It Ends – Valeria Luiselli

The Day We Gotcha: One Year With Our Bouvier

A year ago today we drove three hours through the mountains of Maryland and West Virginia. It was a drab December morning, but we were filled with anticipation.

Santa was riding on a fire truck near your home, so our first shared moment consisted of listening to you whine at the sound of sirens while you had a dingleberry removed.

We didn’t even know what a dingleberry was back then.

Now we do.

And we also now know that whine of yours can range from frustration to discomfort to just looking for some attention.

Back on the ground and out the door you took off, running on impossibly short legs through the grass, jumping, weaving around our feet, latching on to loose pant legs. Within 20 minutes you were passed out in the car and basically slept through the 3-hour ride to your new home.

Played a bit. Now we're headed home!! #bouvier

A post shared by Balthasar the Bouvier (@bouvierbalth) on

A year with Balthasar. It has consisted of taking you to 12 states (plus D.C.), to four national parks, and you’ve already dipped your paws in both the Atlantic and Pacific.

PhotoGrid_1502326741931Your living quite the charmed puppy life.

Some things haven’t changed much over the past 12 months – you still have puppy dreams and make adorable noises before falling asleep. You hate closed doors (especially to the bathroom when one of us is in it) and you don’t want us to be in separate rooms. You love running on grass and cleaning out peanut butter jars. You have been tearing up cardboard boxes with zeal since day one with us.

Other things have changed – you now love cuddling and getting “scritches.” You’ve developed quite the obsession for tennis balls and got rid of your habit of stealing other people’s newspapers. You love the water now and can’t imagine not at least testing the temperature by getting your tummy wet (it’s never too cold).

This past year you’ve wowed us with your intelligence and the speed that you pick up new commands. As you’ve grown into an adolescent we have found ourselves questioning our positive-only, force-free training.

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But then you’re so polite, ask permission for everything, and are kind with every human you meet. It’s been a challenge, but the training is working.

We hope to have many many more years with you and celebrate many many more “gotcha days.”

But today we’re thinking back about the 365 days with a bouvier named Balthasar. We’ve gone through thousands of poo bags, had hundreds of ear licks (your “kisses”), taught you dozens of commands, and you’ve taught us to be more forgiving, curious, loving, responsible, and to cherish the moments when the herd is all together.

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Seven Things That Surprised Me About Raising a Puppy

Our puppy Balthasar turned 7 months this week. In honor of that I’m sharing 7 things that I didn’t anticipate about raising a puppy.

1) Your Heart Will Feel Ripped Out Every Time You Leave

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I mean, this is his face when you get home. Why would you ever leave him?

We are lucky that both of our jobs allow us to work from home a lot. We’ve been able to sync up our schedules mostly so that at least one of us is home during the workweek. Of course, we do have to leave the pup alone from time to time (in fact, we even have to make up reasons to leave so that he can get used to being home alone). But it hurts our hearts every time we have to be away.

2) Walks Aren’t About You

When you take your dog for a walk, it’s not a time for you to relax or decompress. It’s a constant training opportunity and you have to be on alert—rewarding good behavior and modifying when he’s being impolite. If you want to take a stroll and be lost in your thoughts, you should leave the pup at home (but, also, see lesson 1).

3) You Will Always Wear Crappy Clothes

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So excited about cows. Doesn’t notice your jeans.

The first several months (year?) of your life with the puppy you’ll want to always be in clothes you don’t mind getting ripped or dirtied. Just keep the nice outfits in your closet.  The pup will ruin you clothes. So don’t set yourself up for disappointment.

4) Your First Routine Will Become THE Routine

Dogs thrive on routines. So that routine that you start up when you first get the pup will most likely become the routine. Make sure you can stick with it! Can’t do mid-morning walks usually? Then don’t do those when you first get your pup and you’ve taken time off from work. Jump right into the routine you want to have and try to stick with it as often as possible (even on weekends).

5) You Will Spend Inordinate Amounts of Time Talking About Poo

My friend Molly warned me of this, but I didn’t quite realize how much poop talk there could possibly be. Has he pooed yet? Was the poo soft? When was the last time he pooed?  Did you see x in his poo? (being that thing he shouldn’t have eaten / isn’t edible).

6) You Will Think You’ve Broken Your Dog

Put your vet’s number on speed dial. You’ll be calling them a lot. (And paying them a lot). (Hello, stool samples!). (See? Poo again). Your puppy’s behavior will be completely new the first couple of weeks and just when you get used to it all of a sudden he’ll start doing something super odd—like walking around in the evening with his mouth open. When Balthasar did this we thought we had broken the dog. We hadn’t. We called the vet, he said don’t worry. Just know that sometimes there are reasons to worry. So pay attention and note those behavior changes. And don’t be afraid to call the vet.

7) You Will Feel Amazing When the Puppy Falls Asleep

Our puppy, since day one with him, has made this cute little licking noise right before he falls asleep. We call it the “nap noise.” Whenever we hear him make that noise it’s such a good feeling. Finally! You’ll think. He’s going to sleep! Yes, puppies sleep a lot, but when they are awake it’s a lot of work and you have to pay close attention so you will look forward to those long sweet naps. Good night, sweetheart!

Want to follow more of Balthasar’s adventures? He’s on instagram: @BouvierBalth

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I can (and will) sleep anywhere. Even on the beach! With sand on my nose!

The Masterful Paula Fox: Readers’ Workshop Roundup

For this month’s Readers’ Workshop, we read Paula Fox’s Desperate Characters with the goal of paying attention to paragraphs.

So what did we notice? That Fox is a master at dialogue and paragraphing.

Jonathan Franzen agrees. In the novel’s introduction, he calls Fox’s prose a pleasure, and notes that her sentences are “small miracles of compression and specificity, tiny novels in themselves.”

desperateSome may say the title is not catchy enough, but most of the Readers’ Workshop participants agreed that it’s apt. The book is filled with literally desperate characters. (One person mentioned they kept referring to the novel as “Desperate Creatures,”at first accidentally but soon realized they might be on to something).

Even though most of us wanted to have a nice, stiff drink while reading it, we appreciated the writing, how human the characters felt, and the way that Fox moved us. She made us feel uncomfortable, and perhaps even desperate.

And yet some members said they read the novel twice or were in the process of re-reading it. A testament to the odd draw that Fox seems to have on readers – you cause us discomfort and we come back for seconds.

Fox passed away this month, she was 93. Several club members recommended reading the New York Times obituary, and I’m glad I did. Knowing more about her life helped put some of the themes and the setting of the novel in perspective.

This was our third month of reading closely per Francine Prose’s Reading Like a Writer. What have we gotten out of it so far? Some are finding it to be a hard habit to instill – they have to consciously remind themselves to slow down and read closer (myself included). Others have decided to continue reading for plot first and then taking time after finishing a novel to reflect on the writing.

Regardless we are meeting each month and having thoughtful discussions about the novels we read and the writing we are learning to appreciate even more.

Picture + 100 Words: Grant Me The Patience to Shape a Pine

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We’re having a heat wave in Maryland. With temperatures in the 70s in February, many of us wander around delighted and frightened. For those with gardens, the temptation to get back in the dirt is strong. But will we have another frost before spring? After experiencing Japan’s gardens we’re more inspired than usual to prune this, shape that, plant those. When you look at this tree and you imagine the patience that went into forcing this pine to take that shape you remember that gardening is an exercise in restraint. Step away from the shears and wait a few weeks.

Watch This, Read That: Books and Movies Made for One Another

It’s not often when you can watch a movie adapted from a book and really enjoy it, so that’s not what this list is about. Instead, I’ve rounded up some movies and books that are better together.

Watch: Boy. Read: The Bone People 

booksboyBoy is one of those quirky and sweet films you can’t get out of your head. Set in New Zealand, it’s a coming-of-age story of a young boy whose absent father isn’t quite the hero he thought he was.

Meanwhile, The Bone People by Keri Hulme, is also set in New Zealand and also has a young boy as a main character who is dealing with his own set of issues – being orphaned in a shipwreck and being physically abused. It’s a challenging and complex book that causes you to rethink what you know about the very flawed characters. Having said that, it’s one of those books you’ll hug after you finish reading it.

Watch: Brooklyn. Read: Another Brooklyn

booksbrooklynOscar-nominated Brooklyn tells the story of a young Irish immigrant who moves to the U.S. in the 1950s in search of more job opportunities. She falls in love with an Italian-American, but unexpectedly has to return home to Ireland. While there, she has to decide between her old and new homes.

Fast forward a couple of decades and you’re still in Brooklyn, but with Jaqueline Woodson’s Another Brooklyn you get the story of a black girl who moved with her father and brother to Brooklyn from Tennessee in the 70s. The short book is packed with thoughtful insights about our memories coming into contact with hard truths.

Watch: The Dressmaker. Read: The Luminaries

books2aHave you seen The Dressmaker yet? It is one dark, bizarre tragedy of a movie. Kate Winslet shines. Set in Australia, a young woman returns to her provincial hometown after launching a successful career as a dressmaker.

Elanor Catton’s The Luminaries is set in New Zealand during the gold rush and follows a very mysterious, twisting story with a dozen main characters. The connection between these two is a little harder to make, I know. But just trust me on this one.

Watch: The Railway Man. Read: Narrow Road to the Deep North

booksrailThe Railway Man starts with a wife trying to understand her husband’s psychological problems. As a young man, he was in a Japanese POW camp during World War II where he was forced to work on the Thai Burma Railway. The wife and a close friend try to help him overcome the trauma of his youth.

Although The Railway Man is an adaptation of a book by the same name, the film shares a lot of similarities with the Man Booker Winning Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan. In the book, an Australian doctor becomes a war hero after surviving a Japanese POW camp tasked with building the Burma Railway.

Watch: Spotlight. Read: The Burglary

books2spotYou watch Spotlight and you realize how the absolutely unglamorous work of investigative journalism can have a profound impact on so many lives.

You read The Burglary by Betty Medsger and you see how the brave actions of unlikely citizens (in conjunction with the help of a journalist to share their story) can bring down an institution as big as the FBI. More from me about that book here.

The Energy in Philip Roth’s Sentences: Readers’ Workshop Roundup

What makes a sentence great? Francine Prose in Reading Like a Writer says it’s difficult to quantify but that when you read strong, vigorous, and clear sentences it makes you want to get out a pen and paper and start diagramming sentences.

For the second Readers’ Workshop we focused on sentences and how Philip Roth uses sentences in the Pulitzer Prize winning American Pastoral.

Authors can write sentences for grammar, clarity or rhythm.

Grammar makes the reader comfortable – we expect grammatical sentences.

Clarity is a higher ideal than grammatical correctness, so if a writer needs to break a rule to get a point across they will do so. But it’s deliberate and well thought out.

Finally a writer may choose to write a sentence for rhythm, and possibly choose a slightly wrong word to make the sentence more musical.

9780525432838We saw examples of all of this in Roth’s sentences, which Prose describes as energetic and varied, with fragments scattered among full sentences.

The energy in the sentences can be felt in the rhythm that Roth uses quite often – one long sentence followed by three to four short sentences. Roth uses brief sentences (even fragments) much like a drum beat. You can almost feel this build up of tension as the 400-page lament keeps spilling out.

One thing we almost all agreed on – American Pastoral is a challenging read. The content, the characters, even those beautiful sentences can be intense.

A man in the book club who is the same age as Roth (and also grew up in the Northeast and is also Jewish) said that Roth’s books are so familiar to him. It’s people he knew. It’s the people he grew up with. It’s his father, his friends. On the other hand, a woman who is the same age as Roth said that even though the characters and life experiences were so different from her own, she felt that it was very real.

American Pastoral is very male-centric, and many of us noted how the narrator and the main character really misunderstood the female characters in the novel. It was a stark contrast from last month with Alice Munro. One club member suggested that Munro should write the story of one of the female characters (the speech therapist) and we all agreed that was an excellent idea.

So, Alice, we’re waiting.

For March we’re learning about paragraphs and reading Desperate Characters by Paula Fox. Won’t you join us?

Picture + 100 Words: Living in a Puppy Video

DSC_4032 (1).JPGBefore we got a dog, we watched an embarrassing amount of youtube videos of puppies doing funny things. Like the chow in a bowl. The bouvier behind a wheelbarrow. The confused malamute. Once we got our puppy, we realized we were now living inside a youtube video. Everything Balthasar does is hilarious to us. The whining and whistling to wheedle us into giving him absolutely anything. The natural curiosity that has him staring down everything that moves. The muted barks as he dreams. The head tilts. He has become a constant source of entertainment. Maybe we need a youtube channel?

Note: He doesn’t have a youtube channel, but Balthasar is on Instagram if you’d like to follow his adventures: @bouvierbalth.