Book Review – An American Marriage

I loved so many things about this book. It was thought-provoking, heart-wrenching and educational. I rooted for characters. I got mad at characters. And I allowed characters to test my perspective on issues such as modern racial oppression, relational issues and more.

While this next book, An American Marriage, was not actually my February Book of the Month selection, it would have been my second choice. So when the book club I’m in selected An American Marriage as our March book, I was more than happy to go back and nab it up (for just $10, by the way). I knew it was going to be a good one…

Book 8:
An American Marriage
by Tayari Jones

Genre:
Domestic Fiction

Published:
January 2018

Synopsis According to Mandi:
Without spoilers, An American Marriage is about a black, newlywed couple whose already somewhat rocky marriage is tested when the husband, Roy, is wrongfully accused of a crime and sentenced to 12 years in prison. Can budding love survive when the perfect concoction of residual racial oppression and the law keeps a husband and wife apart and temptation lives next door? Through letters and multiple points of view, the reader finds out.

Favorite Quote:

There are too many loose ends in the world in need of knots. You can’t attend to all of them, but you have to try. 

― Tayari Jones, An American Marriage

Awards (based upon my brief research):
An Instant New York Times Bestseller
Oprah’s Book Club 2018 Selection

Pages:
308

My Overall Rating:
4 – I loved so many things about this book. It was thought-provoking, heart-wrenching and educational. I rooted for characters. I got mad at characters. And I allowed characters to test my perspective on issues such as modern racial oppression, relational issues and more. A quick read, this book reminded me somewhat of The Help, in the way it sheds light on racial tensions that many of us believe are ancient history. Racism may have changed, but it’s not gone.

I highly recommend this book, but why the 4 and not a 5? The wife, Celestial, seemed to choose an unbelievable route in the plot. Not only did I not expect her to respond the way she did, I could think of several other responses that seemed more natural given the situation. In the end, resolution was found where resolution was needed, but the journey there for Celestial just didn’t seem quite right. 

Book Review – The Five Dysfunctions of a Team

This next book would not have been my choice in any way, but work calls… I’m all for healthy organizations, but reading organizational health books, to me, is like watching paint dry.

Coming off my high from The Great Alone, this next book would not have been my choice in any way, but work calls… I’m all for healthy organizations, but reading organizational health books, to me, is like watching paint dry. Plus, it’s just really hard to read a book I didn’t choose for myself when I have a stack of books on my shelf, itching to be read.

Book 7:
The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable
by Patrick Lencioni

Genre:
Organizational Health

Published:
July 2002

Synopsis According to Mandi:
Without spoilers, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team is a leadership fable that explores, well, the five dysfunctions of a team. Lencioni outlines those common dysfunctions as the following:

  • Absence of trust—unwilling to be vulnerable within the group
  • Fear of conflict—seeking artificial harmony over constructive passionate debate
  • Lack of commitment—feigning buy-in for group decisions creates ambiguity throughout the organization
  • Avoidance of accountability—ducking the responsibility to call peers on counterproductive behavior which sets low standards
  • Inattention to results—focusing on personal success, status and ego before team success

Favorite Quote:

Success is not a matter of mastering subtle, sophisticated theory, but rather of embracing common sense with uncommon levels of discipline and persistence.

― Patrick Lencioni, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team

Awards (based upon my brief research):
None noted.

Pages:
227

My Overall Rating:
2 – I’ll admit, I came into this ready to give it a one simply because it’s not my cup of tea. However, I will also admit this book held my interest for probably the first two thirds because it’s written in fable form for that portion. As soon as it turned into the preachy, preachy, this-is-how-you-have-a-successful-team type of stuff, however, I had to read and re-read sentences because I was reading without actually taking it in. Snooze-fest. (I’m sorry Patrick!) If you lead a team and you need help, sure, go for it, but I can’t say it’s better or worse than the next organizational health book because they’re all kind of the same, aren’t they?

P.S. Sorry for the boring book review, but a book read is a book read.

An Open Letter to the Mom Whose Preemie was Just Admitted to the NICU

To the mom with the baby in the NICU right now,

You don’t know me, but I’ve been praying for you. I, myself, just gave birth last June to a 27 weeker, a beautiful, now healthy baby girl.

Your NICU experience will be hard and frustrating. You’ll be overly emotional. You’ll be exhausted. You probably won’t take good care of yourself. You’re going to stare at a monitor, watching numbers rise and fall for hours, bored, yet unable to do anything else. People will say weird things to you. You’ll question if you’re doing it right – being there for your baby enough, pumping enough, prioritizing the right people/activities… You’ll get blazing mad at the same doctors and nurses you trust your baby’s very life with – especially when you get to the end and you just. want. to take. her home.

But this is what I told myself, and I thought I would share in case it helps you get through it as well…

In the traumatic, “we need to deliver your baby NOW” moment, I promised God I’d raise my baby to do anything He called her to if He saved her. I literally laid there, in tears, swarmed by doctors and nurses, praying, “She’s yours, God, save her.”

And He did save her.

Throughout our NICU experience (69 days), I realized I was afraid of what God might call her to do because of my promise. I wholeheartedly believe she will be a better disciple than I’ll ever be because God gave her life out of the muck and mire that was our pregnancy and her first months in this world.

You have a precious fighter on your hands. I’m so glad for the health he/she’s been blessed with this far. I will continue to pray that he/she continues to thrive beyond imaginable, because God has massive, huge plans for that teeny, tiny little one.

Please be encouraged.

I hope this is the hardest thing you ever have to go through. And I hope you have just a village of people rallying around you.

He is with you always. (Matthew 28:18-20)

So much love to you! Keep pumping, mama!

P.S. Just 6.9 weeks until the March for Babies (Ok, it’s 7, but it’s not too late to donate a dime for each day of Oaklee’s NICU stay – that’s just $6.90 – or maybe even a dollar per day?)! Click here for a reminder of what March of Dimes does/did for us.

Sponsor/Join Oaklee's March of Dimes team.

Mom, Dad, We’re Having a Baby

One more sleep, one more day of work, and then an evening of visiting/calling all our immediate family to finally, finally, spill our happy news.

3.13.17

“Hopefully I remain in good health for the busy week ahead. This weekend was the most ill I’ve felt since being pregnant. I still didn’t throw up, but I almost wish I would have. It might have helped me feel better.”

I wrote the quote above in the Atlanta airport, on my way home from visiting one of my best friends who was also pregnant and already high risk herself. It was the last week of secret keeping, and we let the secret begin to trickle out, taking advantage of the face-to-face time I got to spend with two out-of-town friends while in Atlanta and my husband leaking the news to a family friend in Germany. 

One more sleep, one more day of work, and then an evening of visiting/calling all our immediate family to finally, finally, spill our happy news. 

When we got out of work, we picked up Jimmy John’s subs and headed to my parents where we released Charlie, our miniature pinscher, donning the “Lil’ Big Bro September ’17” t-shirt pictured below. Amidst surprises/celebrations at each of our stops and through each of our FaceTime conversations (thank goodness for today’s technology, huh?), we gave each family member a copy of our announcement picture (also pictured below).

Pregnancy Announcement

What I would call “the honeymoon phase” of our pregnancy – the days we could finally talk freely about it, and without worry – had begun. Throughout the next week, we continued to tell our friends, co-workers and extended family, and we learned our ability to keep a secret/hide a pregnancy was pretty top notch as not a single person had suspected we might be pregnant. 

On the 16th, I shared the following text on social media, accompanying the laundry image above:

This September will be extra sweet. Not only will we celebrate three years of marriage, but we’ll become a family of three. 

If only we would make it to September before our baby was born…

In the stats: 
Gestational Age: 12 weeks, 2 days
Days of blood: 4
Doctor’s Appointments: 1

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Book Review – The Great Alone

Oh my heart, this book. It has everything – love, adventure, suspense, history, horror, psychology… And then the bulk of it is set in Alaska.

Few places have a piece of my heart, but Alaska has a large chunk of it I think. I spent a summer month in Homer while in college, staying at my cousin’s house with his family, and went back with my husband just a couple of years ago for a week in May to show him the place that absolutely captivated me like it does so many. This next book, The Great Alone, is set in a fictional town across the bay from Homer. It was my February Book of the Month selection, and when I saw it was an option, my choice was a no-brainer.

Book 6:
The Great Alone
by Kristin Hannah

Genre:
Historical Fiction

Published:
February 2018

Synopsis According to Mandi:
Without spoilers, The Great Alone is about a family of three who move from Seattle to the untamed wilderness of Kaneq, Alaska in 1974 to claim a parcel of land left to Ernt, the father, by a slain Army buddy. Ernt is a former Vietnam POW suffering from PTSD whose treatment is limited to trying to escape “the man” and doling out domestic violence on his fearfully faithful wife. The daughter, Leni, tries her best to lead a “normal” life despite her very abnormal circumstances, but while Alaska claims her heart, her parents claim her future, unless she can escape…

Favorite Quote:

Alaska isn’t about who you were when you headed this way. It’s about who you become.

― Kristin Hannah, The Great Alone

Awards (based upon my brief research):
Amazon Best Books of February 2018
No others noted… yet, but I will guarantee this to become an award winning book. 

Pages:
438

My Overall Rating:
5 – Oh my heart, this book. It has everything – love, adventure, suspense, history, horror, psychology… And then the bulk of it is set in Alaska. Can you fall in love with a book? Because I think I just did. I’ve read 86 books since I’ve gotten married, and this is one of just eight books I’ve given a 5. 

I’m not generally drawn to historical fiction, but I was intrigued by the concept of the 70s falling into the “historical” category. I didn’t expect to actually learn things about the 70s, and I certainly didn’t expect to enjoy doing so. Hannah definitely did her research – not only will you learn about a time period, but you’ll learn the effects war can have on a man, what it’s like to be in a cyclical domestic abuse relationship and what homesteading looks like on untamed land. It’s wild from all angles, and it rounds it all off with just the right amount of resolution. I was satisfied in the end, yet I wished the story could go on forever because Leni, you’ve found a place in my heart, and I wish the very best for you. 

I also need to share that I selected the quote above as my favorite because it’s a great representation of the book. However, here are two quotes that are great representations of my relationship with the book:

She was reminded of the college kids she’d seen in Homer every summer, clots of young adults in REI rain gear looking up at the jagged, snow-capped peaks as though they heard God calling their names. She would hear whispered conversations about how they were going to chuck it all and move off the grid and live more authentic lives. Back to the land, they’d said, as if it were a biblical verse. Like the famous John Muir quote – The mountains are calling and I must go. People heard those kinds of voices in Alaska, dreamed new dreams. Most would never go, and of the few who did, the vast majority would leave before the end of their first winter, but Leni had always known they would be changed simply by the magnitude of the dream and the possibility they glimpsed in the distance.

― Kristin Hannah, The Great Alone

Ugh, this is me, circa 2010. I was changed simply by the magnitude of the dream of moving to Alaska and the possibility I glimpsed in the distance. Secretly, a part of my still wonders if I’ll make the move some day, because…

She loved Alaska’s wild ferocity, its majestic beauty. Even more than the land, she loved the people to whom it spoke. She hadn’t realized until just this moment how deep her love for Alaska ran.

― Kristin Hannah, The Great Alone

Alaska does speak to people. I’m 100% sure of it. And my love does run so deep for that land. Never have I felt more alive than the two times I was lucky enough to find myself there. Now excuse me while I linger on the warm feelings in my heart from this book before diving into the next one…

PS If you’re interested in a Book of the Month subscription, which I’d highly recommend if you enjoy reading, let me know and I’ll send you a link that will allow both of us to get a free book if you sign up! It’s been a great way for me to be exposed to new books, explore new genres and get so, so excited when the first of the month comes around and I get to pick my next book. I love it!

The First Bleed

I was pregnant. I was bleeding. It wasn’t much, but it was enough to make me turn to the stats. To me, blood meant miscarriage – what else could it mean?

3.3.17

“I called my doctor’s office on Monday and they didn’t seem too concerned, so that helped me feel better too.”

It’s said approximately 20-30% of women bleed a little in early pregnancy. Half of those who bleed go on to miscarry. In general, 15-20% of all pregnancies end in miscarriage, though many happen before women even know they’re pregnant.

I was pregnant. I was bleeding. It wasn’t much, but it was enough to make me turn to the stats. To me, blood meant miscarriage – what else could it mean? It didn’t matter that every fourth or fifth pregnant woman was experiencing the same thing. It felt traumatic. Was my body unable to do this? Had I lost the baby we’d just found out about six weeks earlier, the one we’d yet to tell anyone about? And how could this be happening to me? How, after a fun night out at a local hockey game with friends, could I have to come out of the bathroom and utter the words to my husband, “I’m bleeding”?

I bled lightly for four days. I called my doctor’s office – the doctor I’d yet to meet since we were still so early. They didn’t seem concerned, so I tried to believe things were fine. Then we had our first actual appointment and, low and behold, there was a heartbeat.

Our baby’s heart rate was 160 beats per minute. At this gestational age, simply hearing a heartbeat meant we had less than a 5% chance of miscarrying. All that worry over the week leading up to the appointment was for nothing. The doppler’s reassurance, in that moment, was everything I needed.

In just over a week, we’d tell our friends and family and proceed to the second trimester. I’d almost gotten through the first trimester completely unscathed of morning sickness, with only a little bleeding to be upset about. Things were, once again, peachy, and we were so excited to be closer to letting the secret out.

In the stats: 
Gestational Age: 10 weeks, 6 days
Days of blood: 4
Doctor’s Appointments: 1

P.S. Don’t be fooled by the smile on my face in the photo of this post. I’d also gotten a haircut that week, and it’s literally the only picture I took all week. I’m doing my best to use photos from or around the date of the post, so… I guess I’ll tell you that picture is it… and I guess I’ll tell you it was taken in the bathroom at work because I’m classy like that.

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Book Review – Disappeared

Book 5 was a gift from my mom, and a book far from the realms of my comfortable genre choices. Young adult, I love, but thriller, I loathe.

I think books are the perfect gift. They give you a chance to learn, to grow, to use your brain and to escape to another world. Book 5 was a gift from my mom, and a book far from the realms of my comfortable genre choices. Young adult, I love, but thriller, I loathe. I get so wrapped up in stories, that I sometimes struggle to escape them, and therefore, I generally avoid thrillers. However, I assumed I could handle the intensity of a young adult thriller, and I’m glad I took that chance. 

Book 5:
Disappeared
by Francisco X. Stork

Genre:
Young Adult – Thriller

Published:
September 2017

Synopsis According to Mandi:
Without spoilers, Disappeared is about a brother and sister, Emiliano and Sara Zapato, in Juarez, Mexico who battle poverty, violence, justice, right and wrong and love in the tangled web that is the violence and cartel activity of Juarez. When things go too far, the siblings are forced to make the illegal immigrant trek across the desert to the US in search of safety.

Favorite Quote:

When you’re walking in the desert, the step in front of you is the only one that demands your attention.

― Francisco X. Stork, Disappeared

Awards (based upon my brief research):
None noted.

Pages:
329

My Overall Rating:
3 – I want to be more generous with this rating because I learned so much from this book about the cartels, the extreme amounts of violence in other countries and immigration. It pushed me to do further research and to think on a different level about my opinions on these things. I loved that the book had me rooting for illegal immigrants because, as an American, I think we’re too accustomed to the negative connotations revolving around illegal immigration.

But let me bring it back to the reason for the 3. There was just something missing. Most good young adult books take me probably two days to read, because they’re easy and I don’t want to set them down. I set this one down multiple times, and I can’t decide if it was so I could take the time to do my research and form some opinions about what I wanted for the characters or if it was something wrong with the writing.

That being said, I would recommend doing some research on the author, Francisco X. Stork, because he’s lived a pretty incredible life himself. And I would also still highly recommend this book given the simple fact that it made me think so deeply. From a literary standpoint for a fictional, young adult thriller, 3. From a conversational, thought-provoking, opinion-changing standpoint, 5. This is another one I hope my daughter reads someday. Though, by that time, I’m sure our laws and processes for immigration will be vastly different than they are now…

Donating Dimes

We’ve got 69 days to finish up our fundraising for the March for Babies. Who cares? We do. Could you give a dime for each day Oaklee was in the NICU ($6.90)?

Friends, we’ve got 69 days to finish up our fundraising for the March for Babies. Who cares? We do.

Oaklee’s first 69 days of life were spent in the NICU. When talking about raising money, 69 days doesn’t seem long enough. When talking about living in the NICU, it feels like an eternity. In these next 69 days, could you help us reach our fundraising goal of $1000?

Every donation helps us get a little bit closer to our goal and, ultimately, helps expand programs and educate medical professionals to make sure moms and babies like me and Oaklee get the best possible care. Your donation is funding research to find solutions to the biggest health threats and supporting moms through every stage of the pregnancy journey, especially when things don’t go as planned.

If you’re not feeling gung-ho like us Grasmeyers over here, could you give a dime for each day Oaklee was in the NICU ($6.90)? Thanks, in advance, for your contribution!

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P.S. Click here for a reminder of what March of Dimes does/did for us.

I’d Like to Thank the Academy

Being nine weeks pregnant on a friends’ weekend away to northern Michigan is rough. We went up north to Glen Arbor to ski and go wine tasting, two things I could not do, being pregnant.

2.22.17

“I can’t believe we’ve kept the secret this long. So. Hard.”

Being nine weeks pregnant on a friends’ weekend away to northern Michigan is rough. We went up north to Glen Arbor to ski and go wine tasting, two things I could not do, being pregnant. The weather wasn’t ideal for winter activities, so while I did manage to get out on my cross country skis once, what’s more impressive is that I managed to hide the fact that I wasn’t drinking… for an entire weekend… where people went wine tasting.

How did I work my magic? The answer is three-fold.

1 – My drink of choice was “apple cider and fireball” (sans fireball of course), though I did bring fireball, and I did get it out and put it away several times. Really, I just drank half a gallon of apple cider all by myself over the course of about 24 hours. The sugar. Oh, the sugar. When offered a glass of wine, I said, “Sure, just a half glass though,” and held onto it long enough to make people believe I’d been working on it before handing it over to my husband to finish off. I couldn’t be double fisting with my “spiked” apple cider, now could I?

2 – When the girls started getting ready to head out to go wine tasting, I needed a reason to stay behind. My reason didn’t feel very believable, but it worked in the end. I acted as though I was between going and staying, when, really, I knew I could not go. I stayed back because “I wanted to get out on my cross country skis once more and the snow was quickly melting away”. Luckily for me, the poor skiing weather played into my needs.

3 – When we paid a visit to a meadery on the way home (one that I absolutely love, by the way), while our friends tasted various meads and my husband filled our howler, I stood off to the side taste-testing various flavors of honey, and picking one out to take home. I was oh, so interested in that honey. And you know what? We still have that jar of honey today, unopened. Thanks for being the decoy – I bet you’re delicious, but you’re not mead. Maybe we’ll get to you this year.

Weekend away with friends aside, we also had our first pre-natal appointment, which was really just a consultation with a nurse where they pretty much tell you not to drink or smoke while pregnant. Um, ok, got it.

In other news, just over two weeks and we would finally get to spill our secret!

In the stats: 
Gestational Age: 9 weeks, 4 days

P.S. As we get further along into this, you’ll realize how crazy it was that I could go from February 6 to February 22 with no updates due to an uneventful two weeks.

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Book Review – Red Clocks

Red Clocks did the unimaginable, and it’s one redeeming quality was simply that I made it all the way through a book that was 100% a challenge for me.

This book was my second Book of the Month pick (January). I was disappointed in my options for January, and thought this one was my best bet. It was not. After December’s pick/review, I wondered if I generally rated all of my books too high, because there’s rarely a book I can’t find at least something good in. Then, alas, Red Clocks did the unimaginable, and it’s one redeeming quality was simply that I made it all the way through a book that was 100% a challenge for me.

Book 4
Red Clocks
by Leni Zumas

Genre:
Literary Fiction

Published:
January 2018

Synopsis According to Mandi:
Without spoilers, Red Clocks is about five women in different stages of life who are, in some way, affected by newly formed government regulations relating to pregnancy, adoption and parenthood.

Favorite Quote:

Acceptance, thinks the biographer, is the ability to see what is. But also to see what is possible.

― Leni Zumas, Red Clocks

Awards (based upon my brief research):
A New York Times Editor’s Choice
An Amazon Best Book of the Month
An Indie Next Pick
One of Wall Street Journal’s Twelve Books to Read This Winter
An Esquire most anticipated book of 2018
An Elle Best Book of Winter
A Popsugar most anticipated book of Fall
A Ploughshares most anticipated book of Fall
A Nylon Best Book of the Month
One of Publishers Weekly’s most anticipated titles of Fall 2017

Pages:
356

My Overall Rating:
1 – On a scale of 1 to 5, I would only give less than a one if I didn’t finish a book, so… at least I finished. I chose this book because it said “dystopian” and it was related to pregnancy/adoption laws. I knew it would be a challenge for me. My fear before reading it was that it would be similar to The Handmaid’s Tale, which is a phenomenal book, and that it wouldn’t be as good, so I would therefore be disappointed. However, it was nothing like The Handmaid’s Tale. Instead, it was 351 pages of vulgarity and confusion. I felt uncomfortable with the repetitively, freely used anatomical language and I struggled to see a plot until I was a little over half way through. In my opinion, that’s not ok.

That being said, I would not recommend this book. I realize people love it (it’s only been out for a month and it’s won several awards and has very high ratings), but I’m apparently not on the same page as most critics. This book is for the literary adventurous, a group I would claim to be a part of, but a group who’s willing to read books they will hate for the sake of a new experience.