The Best Things are Often Outside Your Comfort Zone

I’m a person who loves his comfort zone. One of my favorite vacations of the year is the one I take around Christmas, because I go nowhere. I stay at home and play games and watch movies and eat food. It’s lovely. But as anyone who’s been following my life lately can tell you, I do many more trips and vacations than that, and most of them end up requiring a whole lot of planning and travel. Each time one of those vacations comes up, I inevitably wonder what in the world I was thinking that made me think it was a good idea.

Because I like my comfort zone. I’d happy stay at home each day. It’s comfortable. It’s familiar. It’s easy.

But often the best things in life are none of those. The things I remember for years after are the things that brought me out of that zone. That forced me to do things I’ve never done before. My mission to Germany. My semester abroad in Israel. Family vacations to Dublin, Paris, London, Germany, and Slovakia. Situations where I was frantically scrambling around, trying to piece things together and then hoping for the best as we headed off to the airport.

Of course. one could say those experiences are the most memorable because they involved the most pain. They were hard, but as time goes by, I forget the hard parts of them and only remember the good parts. And that’s true, no doubt. But it’s also true that the times that I have struggled the most have also been the ones that have had the biggest impact on who I am as a person.

This is strange. I’m trying to just talk about “hard” vacations, and I somehow keep being drawn to make a connection between hard times and hard vacations. Clearly there’s a difference between the two. Going through turmoil in life is much different than bringing it upon yourself because you want to go to Europe for a few weeks. But I’m reminded of rollercoasters. They’re terrifying, really. You strap yourself into a machine that’s going to whirl and loop and race you all over the place. It’ll jostle and rumble and shake you. Why do we love them? It’s chaos, and far from comfortable.

But I think we like them because it’s a way of having those tough times without having to have too many of the baggage that goes along with them. It’s controlled terror. Constrained.

And maybe that’s why I love these vacations, as much as I dread them and panic as I wonder if I have everything under control before we leave. (How will I get from the airport to the hotel when we arrive? What will we do? Where will we eat? How do we get tickets?) The lead up to the vacation is the same as getting in line and waiting for the ride to begin, listening to the clack clack clack as the coaster approaches the top. And then the big day arrives, and it’s whirls and loops and races all the way to the finish.

Chicago starts tomorrow. Then comes Utah, Yellowstone, family reunions, and more. It’ll be a fun ride, and I don’t know how much I’ll be able to post to my blog for the next while. Apologies in advance.

Wish me luck.

Movie Review: Beauty and the Beast

To celebrate the end of school, we had a movie night. Trying to pick a movie that will actually interest all my children (and be appropriate for all of them) isn’t exactly an easy choice. We typically end up watching things that aren’t really great for MC, but keep Tomas’s interest. This time, I decided to go with something that would be good for MC, but which Tomas might not love: the new live action Beauty and the Beast. (I was pleasantly surprised when Tomas expressed enthusiasm to see it, and watched (and enjoyed) it willingly. Yay!)

When I was in high school, animated Disney movies were sort of like Pixar movies were a few years ago. Between The Little Mermaid, The Lion King, Aladdin, and Beauty and the Beast, Disney seemed to be unable to go wrong. (Until Pocahontas came out and reminded us that yes, they could.) But for a stretch there, it was all awesome. I was (and continue to be) a big Disney fan. Bought the soundtracks. Saw the movies multiple times. The whole deal. Beauty and the Beast is a show I even saw on Broadway.

Still, I was skeptical about how it would turn out. The buzz I heard was all positive, but you never know with one of these productions.

In the end, I really loved the movie. Well acted, well sung, well directed, with special effects that somehow managed to pull it all off. (I bought the non-3D version, but that Be Our Guest number almost made me wish I’d gone for 3D.) Really, the only quibble I had was personal: they excluded two of my favorite numbers from the Broadway musical version (“Home” and “If I Can’t Love Her”). Normally I wouldn’t hold that against a movie, except they made the decision to include the orchestral version of Home for a snippet of the movie. To me, that’s like letting someone smell something delicious, and then letting them know they can’t eat any of it. Why bring it up at all if you’re just going to ignore it? I got all excited, and then . . . nothing. (As for “If I Can’t Love Her.” they went and included a Josh Groban version on the soundtrack. Come on! Put it in the movie!)

(For reference, here are the two songs I wish they’d included)

But really, how good does the movie have to be where my only complaints are about relatively obscure things they didn’t include that I have a personal attachment to? The movie was a delight from start to finish, and it did exactly what it set out to do: adapt the animated version almost note for note. It really made me admire the original all that much more. It’s got an engaging story and characters that are actually well rounded. The live action expands on some of that, but it didn’t need to do much. Casting Emma Watson in the lead role pretty much set the movie up for success right away. And you know the singing is pretty impressive when I waited through the credits to double check if any of the actors were dubbed. (They weren’t!)

I ended up giving it a 9/10.

The End to Another School Year

And thus we come to the end of another school year, and the start of the couple of months where I think working is the hardest. It’s so much easier for me to head into work every day when I know my family’s in the same predicament. Sure, I get up earlier than they do, but at least I leave the house knowing the bus is coming soonish. Misery loves company, right? (Despite the fact that I enjoy going to work, I actively dislike getting up in the morning. Just keeping it real here, folks.)

It’s hard to believe another school year is in the books. Tomas is done with seventh grade. DC is done with third. MC has her first year of preschool behind her. It was a big year for all of the kids, for a variety of reasons. For Tomas, I saw him really come into his own in terms of taking responsibility for his schooling. He’d been able to coast through school up until this point, but this year things stepped up a notch, and it too some adjustment to get the hang of that. He came through that experience strong, and he finished the year with great grades.

DC has really upped her reading game since September. She dove right into the library’s summer reading program as soon as school let out, and she’s been devouring books. That makes me very happy for so many different reasons.

MC is just at the point where school is a fun thing to do. But that first exposure to it is important. We’re so lucky to have great teachers in the area for all ages.

Of course, I also realize that things aren’t all smooth sailing for Denisa now. She’s got three kids at home that she has to wrangle each day, which makes her job considerably harder. They’re signed up for swimming lessons, tennis lessons, and they’re planning outings around town and to the library, of course. So she gets to sleep in longer than I do, but her days are likely just as hectic.

And we’ve got trips scheduled, of course. The big one this year is an expedition to Chicago, then to Utah, with a side trip to Yellowstone and Wyoming because why not. There are three family reunions sprinkled in there. We’ll no doubt be plenty busy, and we’re hoping to go camping some when we come back.

Ever have so much fun scheduled you kind of wish you hadn’t scheduled any of it?

I’m at that point now. If I can iron out all the plans, then maybe I’ll start to feel more on top of things. Wish me luck . . .

And congrats to my awesome kids, for being awesome.

Book Review: Three Parts Dead

Three Parts Dead (Craft Sequence, #1)Three Parts Dead by Max Gladstone

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I was very impressed with this book. I picked up the whole series when it was on sale one day on Amazon. Never heard of it before, but I read Patrick Rothfuss’s review of it, and I figured it certainly sounded worth $13 as an experiment. Why not?

So glad I bought it.

As far as fantasies go, it’s a bit of a strange one. Set in a sort of alternate history feeling-ish present day, where magic and gods are real. Or were real. Most of the gods are now dead, usurped by magic users. Probably. The world building unfolds as the story goes on, so it’s not something you necessarily wholly understand right at the beginning of the book, and Gladstone does a fantastic job doling out information through the narrative, as opposed to using information dumps.

Really, it’s the sort of book that makes me jealous as a writer. It’s so well done, I wish I’d been able to do it myself.

Better yet, that’s all just the background for the story. This specific fantasy is more a murder mystery book with a legal slant, that happens to take place in a fantasy world. Pulling off all of that at the same time is incredibly difficult, and this book makes it feel like a breeze.

A god and a judge die the same day. The deaths seem unrelated, but a magic-using lawyer fresh out of school is hired by a law firm to come in and represent the dead god’s priests in an effort to resurrect a zombie version of the god that will continue to at least do most of what the living god had done for his believers. And as she explores the case, she discovers all is not as it seems.

It’s an intriguing book that’s unafraid to shove its readers straight into the deep end. I can definitely see why Rothfuss loved it, and I’m already well into book two. If any of this sounds remotely interesting to you, I encourage you to give this book a shot. Best of all? It’s a stand alone. Yes, it’s part of a sequence of books, but this one exists perfectly all on its lonesome.

Let me know what you think.

View all my reviews

Achievement Unlocked: Library Director

I remember when I moved to Maine, just a shade less than 10 years ago, Denisa and I had a conversation about where my career might take me. I was fresh out of library school, though I’d already been working in libraries for seven years. We hoped we might be able to settle down somewhere for a while, but as I took a look at my coworkers, I felt like the odds of me having much upward mobility at my library were pretty slim. My director had been there for about ten year already and was years and years away from thinking about retirement, and even if he were closer, my supervisor was only a few years older than me.

It seemed clear at the time that if I ever wanted to really “move up” in the library world, it would likely entail a physical move as well.

But if there’s one thing these past ten years have taught me, it’s that you really can’t plan for the future too much. The future almost always has other ideas.

Case in point: here I am, ten years later, and as of yesterday afternoon, I’m officially the Library Director at my job.

I am, of course, very happy and proud of that accomplishment, though it certainly has come at a cost. There are far fewer librarians at my institution now than there were before, and they’ve all left under a variety of circumstances. Some happy, some very sad. So in some ways, this has been a game of “Last Man Standing.” But here I am, and it’s important to celebrate your accomplishments when you can, because you never know when that whole “future” thing is going to throw you another curve ball.

Being a library director means more to me, as a librarian, than it likely does to non-library folk. For one thing, it’ll be so much easier to tell people what I do. “Library Director” is easily understood in a way “Manager of Informational and Research Services” just isn’t. By the time I got to the end of saying my title aloud, most people had already fallen asleep. But Library Director is a title that’s fairly universally understood. It also means I’m quite firmly entrenched in administration at this point, though thankfully my library is small enough that I still have plenty of opportunity to get out and actually beĀ doing things. It’s a very “hands on” role for a director at my university, and I like that.

Where do I go from here? If I can swing it, this would be a lovely part of my story to finish it off with “and he lived happily ever after.” Not that I have nothing more to do at this point, but rather that I’m in a spot where I’m very happy. My family is happy. I love the area. I admire and respect my coworkers, and I feel like my work is contributing to society in a very beneficial way.

I have no real desire to use this as a launching point to go be a director elsewhere after a few years. I would love to dig in and make my library the best it can be.

We’ll see what “the future” has to say about that . . .

For today, I’ll just be glad things are going well. Maybe I’ll buy a few Magic: the Gathering cards to celebrate. :-)

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