Mandy Hale has been on the scene for a while with her blog and book, The Single Woman. With her new inspirational memoir, I’ve Never Been to Vegas, but My Luggage Has: Mishaps and Miracles on the Road to Happily Ever After, Hale moves past doling out advice to telling the personal stories of how she learned those lessons.
A Middle Tennessee native, Hale landed her dream job at Country Music Television shortly after graduating from college. But her career took a nosedive after she had a panic attack on an airplane and subsequently missed an important awards show. In I’ve Never Been to Vegas, But My Luggage Has, she shares the story of the ups and downs that followed: severe depression, a renewed commitment to her faith, career reinvention, new adventures, and ultimately finding her voice as The Single Woman. Meanwhile, she experienced a live-in relationship that turned abusive (which she, admirably, doesn’t sugarcoat in any way), and a five-year roller-coaster romance with a charismatic man she refers to only as Mr. E. Along with a few you can’t make this stuff up anecdotes (two words: Donnie Wahlberg), the suspenseful Mr. E story intrigued me more than anything else in the book.
Hale is a likable, engaging storyteller. I’m thankful for her platform of positive empowerment for single Christian women, in a culture that’s more likely to treat us as second-class and encourage us to settle. If you’re not already familiar with her, I’ve Never Been to Vegas, But My Luggage Has is a great introduction that proves her relatability. Without knowledge of the things she’s overcome and continues to struggle with, I’d have a tough time connecting with a woman my own age who has to keep making new “vision boards” because all the dreams on them keep coming true. (My wallet’s too small for my twenties, and my diamond shoes are too tight!) One of Hale’s mantras on her blog is, “We are all The Single Woman,” and this memoir confirms that she is us.
I’ve Never Been to Vegas, But My Luggage Has releases tomorrow, March 11. I advise checking it out!
Recommended for: single women of all stripes; Oprah enthusiasts
WARNING: Major spoilers below for last Monday’s episode of How I Met Your Mother, and season 9 in general. Don’t look if you don’t want to know.
Dear Thomas and Bays:
Please don’t kill The Mother.
I know the Dead Mother theory has been around a long time, and was given some legitimacy by Ted’s urgency in the Time Travelers episode. But I didn’t think much of it until we learned that The Mother lost the man she loved at a young age… and doubted whether you get more than one love like that in a lifetime. (Also noted: her lack of future-voiceover in the episode.) And then this week, she spoke that line, “What kind of mother doesn’t make it to her daughter’s wedding?” and Ted cried, and the collective heart of the fandom sank.
At its core, HIMYM is a show about hope and love conquering all. That’s why I get so emotional about it. It’s gone to some dark places – the loss of parents, infertility, getting left at the altar – but always with the implication that everything happens for a reason, everything will pay off in the end. Ted has waited for his true love for nine seasons. If their happiness is only a prelude to tragedy, if she doesn’t grow old on the porch with him and his friends, if he’s telling his kids this long story because their mother is dead… it would be a violation of the very heart of the show. Sadly realistic, and a gutsy move, but a slap in the face. There are so few happy endings in real life. Sometimes art is the only thing that keeps us hopeful for ourselves.
You’ve promised us a twist ending. So I think if you were really going to go this route, you would have saved it for the very end. Why waste the emotional punch by parceling it out over the last few episodes? You know that everyone is going to jump to the Dead Mother conclusion, and maybe you’re just messing with us. Something is definitely going on with the Mother in 2024, but I believe she lives. I believe love wins.
Please don’t prove me wrong.
The following is a supplement to my old post about taking care of cats with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (or Disease). My 9-year-old cat, Peach, was diagnosed with IBS in early 2013 after a slew of expensive tests showed nothing wrong with her… aside from the fact that she could hardly keep any food down. During her sickness, I was desperate for information and ideas. I’ve learned a lot through trial and error, and continue to adjust the game plan, which I guess is part of treating any chronic disease. So if any worried cat owners are reading this, please benefit from my knowledge!
Meds: Peach’s primary IBS treatment is still a daily dose of prednisolone. Some cats can get by with a low or less frequent dosage, but she’s not one of them. For almost a year, I gave her half a pill every day in a pill pocket treat, which she ate without complaint. But last November, she suddenly stopped cooperating. I tried different treats and hiding it in favorite foods, but she made it absolutely clear that she was Done Taking Pills. (Looking back, I suspect she’d been spitting out or avoiding the pill part of the treat for a while.) Thankfully, it was no big deal for the vet to switch her to a liquid. So now, instead of persuading Peach to take a pill every evening, I (gently) pin her down, shoot medicine into her mouth with a syringe, and we both go on with our lives. Some days she’s more cooperative than others, but as long as most of it gets into her mouth, I call it a success. Overall we’re both happier. I’ve heard it’s also available in a gel form that you can rub onto the cat’s ear! Technology.
To my surprise, Peach improved drastically on the liquid medication. Even on a pill, she still had some issues, and I had hoped for a better baseline of health. Now everything is pretty normal, and she’s filled out a lot more and lost that gaunt look. I’m thankful and pleased. I know long-term prednisone use carries some risks, but it’s working for now and I’m alert to any new problems she may have. By the way, it’s better to give prednisone to cats in the evening because it’s more harmonious with their natural cycles. Don’t ask me how, I’m not a vet.
Diet: Like humans with IBS, cats with IBS do best on a grain-free diet. I switched both cats to grain-free several months before Peach was diagnosed (it’s too difficult to feed them separate foods), and I believe it may have saved her life. My primary cat food source is Petco – they have plenty of grain-free options and a decent rewards program. However, Whole Foods has a new store brand of GF canned cat food for 89 or 99 cents a can! I pay an average of about $1.30 a can at Petco, so my bank account is still thrilled about that development.
Anyway, my cats get half a can of wet food each evening, and I mix in a little probiotic enzyme powder to give Peach’s stomach a boost. I used to use a different brand, but this NaturVet seems more effective and is cheaply available on Amazon. One container will last you forever.
My cats’ favorite dry food is Halo Spot’s Stew, but it’s one of the most expensive. So we compromise on the salmon or chicken from Merrick, which costs almost $10 less per bag. They each get about half a cup a day as recommended.
Caveat Emptor: Last fall, when Peach was having a rough spell, I came across information about a natural remedy that claimed to completely cure IBS in cats, including a lot of testimonials. I’m ashamed to say I came thisclose to dropping $100 on it, but thankfully I talked to my feline-expert BIL first. He gently reminded me that if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. After some more research, I confirmed that it was a snake oil situation. I share this story as a reminder to keep a clear head. When someone you love is suffering (even if that someone is an animal), it’s hard not to grasp at any hopeful possibility, but always check your facts and don’t let anyone take advantage.
In conclusion, my cat is doing great, but I have no guarantees that this will continue. So I’m staying flexible and appreciating every good day!
Notes From a Blue Bike: The Art of Living Intentionally in a Chaotic World by Tsh Oxenreider (4 stars)
I reviewed this here.
Dancing Through It: My Journey in the Ballet by Jenifer Ringer (3 stars)
I reviewed this here.
Divergent, Insurgent, and Allegiant by Veronica Roth (4.5 stars overall)
I’m one of the last bookworms I know to read this trilogy – I waited until it was finished. As I said yesterday, I was hooked and tore through all three books in under a week. If you somehow haven’t heard about Divergent, it’s set in a dystopian future where everyone is divided into factions according to their dominant personality trait: Candor (the honest), Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the intelligent). When people turn sixteen, they must make an irrevocable decision either to commit to the faction in which they were raised, or transfer to another one. Abnegation-born Tris loves her family, but feels too restless for her faction’s serene, sacrificial ways. When she takes an aptitude test before her Choosing Day, she finds out that she’s Divergent – well suited for more than one faction – and that she can never reveal this truth to anyone. This is all I knew going into the books and I think it was better that way, so I’ll stop summarizing here.
The Divergent trilogy is fantastic. It inspired, challenged, and moved me. I loved the worldbuilding, and I think Tris is neck-and-neck with Katniss and Hermione for the best YA heroine of the century so far. The only thing keeping me from giving it 5 stars was… many of the events of Allegiant. Aside from the thing that everyone was angry about, I felt cheated and thrown for a loop by a couple of other things. But somehow it didn’t ruin the whole story for me.
Although I’m excited for the movie, I’m a little bummed now that they’re making movies, because I think this would have worked much better as a TV series. Oh well.
Books for February: 5
2014 year to date: 11
In February, I visited my brother in Indiana; attended a fabulous Galentine party at a friend’s downtown loft; celebrated a few friend and family birthdays (February is awfully birthday-heavy for such a short month!); witnessed a fantastic Tiger win; filed my taxes and already received my refund (woo!); watched a lot of Olympics; took my flute for a sorely needed tune-up; and bought a bluebird house for my yard. We also had a tiny snow that melted within hours.
Read and Reading:
I tore through the entire Divergent trilogy (plus supplemental materials) in under a week. I had decided to wait until the final book came out to start reading, and I’m so glad I did. The story and Tris’s distinctive voice sucked me right in. I understand all the fan objections to Allegiant and have a few of my own, but I don’t regret emotionally investing in these books. They raise a lot of worthwhile questions and food for thought. Actually, I could probably write a compare-and-contrast paper just on Tris and other YA heroines of the last ten years.
I’m working my way through a curated list of the most important Buffy The Vampire Slayer episodes in preparation for an upcoming blog series, Lessons From Buffy. Get excited! I kind of forgot how good the show was, and it’s getting tough to accomplish much at home. Especially since my cat Peach likes to watch it with (and on) me. I think she’s appreciating the positive female role model.
Rented and liked: The Spectacular Now (pretty depressing, though). Went to and liked: The Monuments Men, though the bad reviews I’ve seen had valid points. I think there was just too much story there to make a super-tight movie.
The hip but classically soulful Aloe Blacc is really growing on me. This month I learned that he also sang “I Need A Dollar,” which is (inexplicably) my family’s unofficial party song with some longtime family friends. So yeah, I’m a fan.
♥ In February I took a few steps toward a more organic beauty routine. After seeing a good review on a curly-hair website, I ordered Giovanni Tea Tree Treat shampoo and conditioner from Vitacost. My scalp is loving it! This was my first Vitacost order and I’m already a convert. I loaded up an online cart, then printed it out and took it to Whole Foods for comparison. Everything cost twice as much at Whole Foods. No contest.
♥ One unexpected side effect of wearing an eye mask at night is that my eyelashes are breaking and falling off. I’m a little freaked out about it, so I ordered supplies for this natural lash serum. Hopefully I’ll be ready for a mascara commercial by this time next month.
♥ Instead of buying more Biore Ice Cleanser for my face, I’m trying Yes to Tomatoes. Very few cleansers are a match for my super-oily skin, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised by this one!
As you already know if you follow me on any other social media, I’m going to be an aunt again in October! I’m so excited to have a second niece or nephew to love.
As I mentioned, my parents and I visited my brother in Indiana over President’s Day weekend. It was my first experience of a place in deep winter. I kept wanting to pull over and take pictures! We went to Owensboro, Kentucky on Saturday and had lunch at the famous Moonlite Bar-B-Q. It was a meal I’ll remember for a long time!
On The Blog:
This month I talked about being, not doing; why my Phoebe Buffay-level guitar skills make me feel more alive; and my struggle to convince myself that I don’t have to be pretty all the time.
Posts I Loved:
♥ LOL of the month: Lindsay Ferrier, When Pinterest Attacks.
♥ Donald Miller: Why I Don’t Go To Church Very Often. Whether you agree with him or not, he makes several excellent points here.
♥ My hero, Kelle Hampton: The Can’t Also Crisis and Sorting Out Identity Issues At 35 Years Old
♥ Paul Heggie: Come On Over Anyway
♥ Abby Norman: Put Down Your Sword, Sister, Your Seat Is Right Here
♥ Debby Hudson: When We Don’t Want Real
♥ Jimmy Cornfoot: Lessons From The Bike
♥ Proud of this post from one of my best friends: Faculty Devotion: Hope
Thomas Nelson, the Christian imprint of HarperCollins, recently relaunched their blogger book review program. Previously Booksneeze, the program is now called BookLook (excellent decision, IMHO). I hadn’t requested anything from them in a long time, but when I checked out the new page, I noticed that Notes From A Blue Bike: The Art of Living Intentionally in a Chaotic World by Tsh Oxenreider was available. Within minutes, a hard copy (!) was on its way to my mailbox.
I don’t follow Tsh’s very popular blog, The Art of Simple, but I’d seen Notes From A Blue Bike around the blogosphere and knew it was at least partially an expat story (which I love!). The book holds plenty of stories about her young family’s years in Turkey, with such vivid description that I could almost hear the sea and see the colors of the bazaar. But that’s just the beginning. After moving back to the States sooner than she expected, Oxenreider was overwhelmed by the frantic, careless, often soulless pace of American culture. She moved her family from big-city Texas to a small town in Oregon in an attempt to recapture a simpler life. Yet even there, she struggled to make intentional choices instead of running on automatic pilot.
Notes From A Blue Bike describes all the stops and starts of creating a simpler life and figuring out what works for you (and your family, if applicable). Oxenreider is confident but not pushy or narrow in her beliefs. She acknowledges that Americans who want to slow down will always have a fight ahead of them, but she makes doing so seem achievable, not like some pie-in-the-sky dream. She reminds us that every little bit counts – that whenever we take time to cook a real meal with real ingredients, or spend a whole afternoon with friends instead of rushing off to the next thing, we become a little more alive and in tune with God and the world around us.
Honestly, I spent a lot of the book thinking “This is all very nice, but I’m only one person and I don’t have time.” Yes, I don’t have time to take more time. Clearly I’m far from figuring this out for myself. But Notes From A Blue Bike has given me plenty to chew on.
Recommended for: anyone who feels burned out; Americans returning home after a long time away
I received this book from BookLook in exchange for an honest review.
Saturday was my mom’s birthday. She celebrated with her friends on the actual day, so we had our family birthday outing yesterday. I suggested the National Ornamental Metal Museum – I hadn’t been there since I was a kid, and wanted to see a specific exhibit that closes soon. Happily, my mom liked this idea. So after a delicious lunch at Bar Louie in Overton Square, we went to the museum!
The other main gallery included a collection of whimsical darts like “Dart Vader”:
We also went out to the foundry and watched a metalsmith at work. His recent projects were scattered around to look at. I was really taken with this rose:
The Metal Museum grounds provide a beautiful view of the river. The view, and a trellis that looks like a cornstalk, were the only things I remembered about the place. But now that I’ve rediscovered the museum, I want to visit more regularly! The art is so unique, and the lawn or gazebo would be a fantastic place for a picnic. (Spring can’t get here soon enough!!)
I’ve been mulling over the above quote since I saw it on Pinterest a few months ago. (It’s attributed to Erin McKean from Dress A Day – I purposely haven’t looked up the source post to ensure that my thoughts here are my own. But I did make this new graphic for the quote.) These words hit me hard, because until recently, I subconsciously took for granted that I did owe prettiness to everyone.
I’ve written before about my ugly-duckling youth. I’ve always been aware of my appearance in a way that naturally beautiful women don’t have to be. Discovering my own style in my 20s was a very positive process, but knowing I could be pretty also turned up the pressure. Once I finally learned to make the most of what I had, it felt wasteful and lazy if I chose not to do so. I discovered fashion and beauty blogs, and they echoed the voices in my head. Don’t go to the store in yoga pants or without makeup, you’ll run into someone you need to impress. Dress for the job you want, not the job you have (aside: what if the job you want is a freelancer or SAHM?). Don’t look sloppy at home, even in pajamas, because your loved ones deserve to see the best you.
The Christian community isn’t immune to this message, and it doesn’t stop when you get married. There’s an unspoken implication that “letting yourself go” is like writing your husband a hall pass. If you expect him to make the sacrifice of staying faithful to you, you owe him your ideal appearance. (Needless to say, this rarely goes both ways.) The longer I was married, the harder I worked to look my best. I never felt secure or good enough just as I was. Deep down, I knew something was really wrong with my marriage, and maybe I could fix it by trying my hardest to be The Perfect Woman (of whom beauty was just one facet). If I failed, I needed to know I’d done my best and ensure that no one would be able to say, “No wonder he cheated, have you seen her lately?” I never verbalized this effort even to myself, but it was always there.
After my divorce it was a huge relief to be liberated from this pressure. Looking cute and staying in shape became something I did just for myself, not a losing battle to live up to impossible expectations. I felt great, and much more attractive than I had in my early 20s. But the longer I’m single, the more the pressure creeps back in. I fight paranoia that if I run into The Right Man and I’m not in perfect hair, makeup, and wardrobe, he’ll walk right past me. I know that’s ridiculous on multiple levels. Sure, when I have to run up to the store in the middle of yard work and a cute guy makes eye contact, I wish I was more put together and, you know, clean. But any man who expects a supermodel 24/7 isn’t someone I want to be with anyway. In any case, it’s not the end of the world. Yet I can’t totally dismiss my fears, or the nasty little voice that says See, you’re not trying hard enough, and that’s why you’re alone.
As McKean points out, beauty obligations aren’t only tied to relationships. Even though the days of parasols and hoop skirts are far behind us, there’s still an expectation on women to be decorative and pleasing to the world in general. Personally, I’m still overcoming some crazy random standards of what is and is not “phoning it in” (examples: wearing pants to work or church; neglecting to apply lipstick). But if I have more important things to do than put forth an all-star fashion effort, who cares? Last time I checked, no one was paying me to be beautiful. The vast majority of us aren’t walking a red carpet every day. We have to stop judging ourselves and each other like the world is one big Who Wore It Best? column.
Don’t get me wrong: I love fashion. I take pleasure in a beautiful pair of shoes. I’m a regular at Ulta and the makeup aisle of my local CVS. To me, these things are a form of artistic expression. Primping and selecting clothes I feel attractive in is a huge mood and confidence booster, even if I’m going to be alone all day. To a degree, I agree with the philosophy that care for one’s body is a statement about one’s general worth – sadly, many women suspect deep down that they don’t deserve to look or feel good. I also believe that the pursuit of personal beauty can be a gift to those around us, and can reflect God’s beauty and even honor Him. But it shouldn’t be an obligation. It shouldn’t be a weight hanging around our necks, or an impediment to living well-rounded lives, or an instrument of shame. It shouldn’t be the cost of admission to society as a woman. The only way to change this is to convince ourselves, first, that we don’t have to be pretty. I’m already fighting the fight. Join me, won’t you?
As a lifelong lover of dance, I’m always up for a ballerina memoir. Dancing Through It: My Journey In The Ballet by Jenifer Ringer is a personal and engaging insider’s look at the New York City Ballet. A strong dancer from an early age, Ringer was thrilled to be accepted into the School of American Ballet (or, as I know it, the real-life Center Stage) in New York. She joined City Ballet at sixteen. Aside from a few leaves of absence, Ringer continued as a company member and eventual principal dancer until her retirement just this month at the age of 40. The book is full of funny anecdotes, stories about her most memorable ballets, and reflections on working with famous choreographers like Jerome Robbins and Peter Martins.
However, for me, the real meat of this memoir is in Ringer’s faith testimony and unflinching discussion of her struggle with eating disorders. In her late teens, overworked and underequipped for adulthood, she fell into a brutal cycle of binging and purging. After gaining so much weight that she was fired from the company, she was forced to build a new life and sense of self-worth. Only when she found a better sense of balance was she able to return to a healthy weight and start dancing professionally again. This personal background became public in 2010 when a New York Times reviewer criticized her weight. Due to “Sugarplumgate,” Ringer was invited onto a number of shows (including Oprah) to discuss body image in the dance world as well as her own history. She felt strongly that God had given her an opening to talk about these issues and potentially help others. I can relate to a sense of being called to share about painful parts of your past, and think it was really brave of her to do so.
Two things about Ringer’s story pleasantly surprised me. One, she achieved real success in the ballet world without having to compromise her Christian faith. Two, she met her husband at City Ballet… a straight male professional dancer who’s also a Christian. Let that sink in for a minute.
Some have criticized the lack of narrative structure toward the end of Dancing Through It, but that didn’t bother me. My only issue was that Ringer’s consistent earnestness and gushiness got a little wearisome. I watched some videos of her dancing after finishing the book, and I think if I’d done so beforehand, I would have had a more sophisticated mental picture of her.
Overall, this is a solid read for anyone who enjoys memoirs by people in the arts!