At Home In The World (of books)

My parents are travelers. They have been to so many amazing places. And, starting when I was very young, they never had any qualms about bringing their children along. Some of the most memorable moments from my childhood are centered on the times when they took us somewhere new. We spent a summer driving up and down the California Coast, splashing in tide pools, visiting the Monterrey Bay Aquarium, and Disneyland.

We spent a summer in Australia and New Zealand. We snorkeled in the Great Barrier Reef and climbed Franz Josef Glacier on the South Island of NZ all within a few weeks of each other (as a mom now, I cringe at the idea of packing for that difference in temperatures!). I remember being on a New Zealand train and learning how to knit with NZ wool from NZ sheep. I remember a volcano that exploded in Rotorua that left the cars, trees, and streets covered in Ash. I remember the Syndey Opera House and seeing those sweeping curves rise up from the water like a flock of birds.

We spent a summer in Europe, taking trains from London to Paris to Berlin to Rome to Florence to Milan. We took small boats from Venice to Murano and Burano to see the glass and lace factories that have been there for generations. We fed the pigeons in St. Mark’s Square. We ate fettuccini carbonara with a raw egg cracked on top of it at your table. We snacked on Brie and escargot, and still talk about our favorite Parisian waiter. We watched the changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace and tried to make the Beefeater soldiers laugh.

My family also enabled or empowered me to strike out on my own. That meant two additional trips to Europe, one with my high school orchestra, where we traipsed around small towns in Germany (the cello was on the bus with me!),  and visited the Czech Republic to see the red roofs of Prague. I also spent six weeks in Spain studying abroad in the summer between when I finished my Bachelor’s degree and started my Master’s degree. They took care of my new husband while he studied at home and I drank Calimocho (wine and coke) with my young undergrad friends who called me abuela.

My husband and I traveled together as well, as soon as we got started on our journey of wedded bliss. We honeymooned in Jamaica, staffed a small clinic in Baja, Mexico, built houses with Habitat for Humanity in Costa Rica, Paraguay, and Guatemala. We sailed on catamarans in Belize and St. Thomas.

And then we had some babies! We took our boys all over the place when they were tiny and free to fly and nursed to sleep on the plane. They went to Cancun and Puerto Vallarta and Puerto Penasco. We got stamps in our passports and theirs together, as a family.


Cancun, MX


And then we stayed home for a while, and I turned to books for adventure. We were overwhelmed and exhausted by the idea of packing all the things, and flying somewhere and who would get sick, and who would misbehave. But when I open a book for the first time, I am so excited to discover a new world (or re-enter a favorite one, if this is the next in an already-loved series). I cannot wait to meet new characters, explore new landscapes, or feel new feelings. I am thrilled to fall in love for the first time (again!), run away from a killer, or experience the prejudices of racism. Maybe this time I’ll grow up in the south, see the world through the fingers of a blind man, or live in India. I might be part of these characters’ lives for a week or a year or three generations. Every single new book that I open reveals another facet of the world I love to explore.

As I jump from book to book, I am transported from space stations on Mars to springtime in Manhattan, from the battlefields of WWII to a dystopian future I could never imagine. Great fiction takes me there, for far less than the cost of a plane ticket, or time machine.

Non-fiction involves the same transportation, but always somewhere in this world. Perhaps I know myself better; perhaps I walk a hard road alongside the author, or perhaps I recognize the seedy underbelly of a society that I have never seen before. When non-fiction authors open my eyes, they force me, or maybe just help me to look further inward and outward than I have in the past. These authors open up new worlds that exist right here around me, instead of only in the pages of their books.

And that’s what today is about. Today, Tsh Oxenreider’s new book, At Home In The World, just showed up at my house. I got to read it already, so I can tell you it’s a beautiful reflection on travel and the love of adventure that my parents gave me from in my earliest memories – and that I hope to instill in my own children. It’s also an ode to the homebody, to the desire to put your roots down deep and have a favorite chair and a favorite restaurant and your own pillow. It’s a happy juxtaposition of wanderlust and belonging.

And if you’re like me, or if you’re not, and you love the places of this world but maybe can’t afford plane tickets for everyone right now, or can’t handle the headache that might come with the travel, be sure to grab a copy of Tsh’s memoir. It will take you around the world while you sit in your favorite chair. It costs less than as a fast food meal for the family, but she will share with you the flavors of four continents and 20 countries.

So, what’s next for me? Well, I’m gonna keep reading my books and seeing the world that way, but we’ve also put two new family trips on the calendar for this summer because I read this book. Tsh prompted me to remind my husband of our early adventures and ask him if we are instilling that love of adventure in our kiddos. The answer was to book flights, and make hotel reservations, and go exploring. Because I want to be at home and rested and comfortable, but I want to remember how small I am as well, and see its sights and feel its climates and revel in its wonders.

*disclosure: I was provided with an advance copy of this book by the publisher, but I also bought my own copy, with my own money because I love it that much. Links used are affiliate links: no cost to you but a little kickback to me*

Amp Up Your Reading in 2017

Have you ever done a reading challenge? Do you try to read a certain number of books each year? Do you just pick stuff up at random or do you need a guide to keep you moving? If so, check out the following reading challenges! A reading challenge is a great way to guide your reading through the year, or get you going again if you feel “stuck” after a book and don’t know what to read next.

I’m challenging myself for the following year based on last year’s statistics. I want to read more books, more books from the library, more books by people of color, and some short stories. With that in mind, I’m trying to fulfill the following categories for my reading next year:notes-on-bookmarks This is how these categories stacked up for me this past year:

  • Read 140 books – this year I read 123, but my reading didn’t REALLY ramp up until May, so I think this is doable
  • Read at least 50% books that are borrowed – yikes… this year only 35% of my books came from the library, friends, and galley copies, which means I spent a lot of money on books!
  • Read at least 20 books by people who aren’t white – this year I read 19
  • Read a short story collection – I have NEVER done this!
  • Read a book that was translated from its original language – Fredrik Backman gave me 3 in this category this year
  • Read 30 non-fiction – I read 26 this year
  • Read a book by an author that died before I was born – This year I read 3 from authors that passed before I was born, but two were children’s chapter books
  • Read a book under 100 pages – if I count read-alouds with the kids, this is easy, but making this happen with an “adult” book is more difficult!
  • Read a book over 500 pages – my longest this year was 11/22/63 at 849 pages
  • Read a book set in New Mexico – I didn’t pull this off this year, but did read some NM authors!
  • Read a book from an LGBTQ author – I read only two of these this year
  • Read a literary award-winner – I read a few of these this year!

If you’d like to create your own challenge, feel free to use any of these categories! If you’d like one ready-made for you, take a look at the ones below!

modern-mrs-darcyModern Mrs. Darcy: Choose Your Own Adventure Reading Challenge – You can choose to read for fun (12 books) or read for growth (12 books) or read for both (all 24 categories!)


momadviceMomAdvice Reading Challenge – I’m a huge fan of Amy Allen Clark and her MomAdvice book club. She came up with this fun reading challenge printable for the year. If you click through to her site, you can even see the books she has chosen for all 52 of these categories!

popsugarThe PopSugar Reading Challenge – 40 categories ranging from “a book about career advice” to “a book with a cat on the cover” and another 12 ADVANCED categories if you want to try for a book a week!

bookriotBook Riot’s Read Harder – 24 tasks and/or reading categories to “explore topics or formats or genres that you wouldn’t normally try”

challiesChallies Christian Reading Challenge This one has 4 levels: Light –> Avid –> Committed –> Obsessed. You choose how many you want to try to attempt, of course! Light includes only 13 books (one every 4 weeks), then 26 for Avid, 52 for Committed, and 104 for Obsessed readers!

better-worldBetter World Books 24 categories including “a book that’s been adapted into a movie” and a movie-watching bonus!

You can also find a master list of many other options on Girl XOXO‘s roundup of 2017 reading challenges! She has over 100 compiled!