A Collection of Random Thoughts

green path redwoods

Photo and text by Gabrielle.

Well, Hello! Welcome to April’s installment of my random thoughts. Feel free to share your own random thoughts in the comments.

– With two new nieces on the way, I’m thinking of the sweet moment when siblings meet for the first time. One day they’ve never met, the next day, they encounter a person that will know them the longest of anyone in their life. So amazing.

– Ben Blair has two trips this month. As I mentioned, he’s been in Salt Lake City over the weekend, presenting at the Mormon Transhumanist Association conference. He’ll get home today. And then later this week, he’s heading to Houston. He and my brother, Josh, were asked to speak about Teachur at an education + technology conference.

And speaking of Teachur, a little update: it’s so awesome to see the company growing and forming. They are in true start-up mode. Lots of inquires from (like this article), getting asked to present at conferences (the Houston conference will be their 3rd so far), and more and more curriculum is getting built every day. Maybe the most fun, is that they are reaching out to professors and teachers to beta test the curriculum building software. Very exciting!

– While Ben has been in Utah this weekend, he had lunch Christopher and Lisa Clark. Topher is one of Ben’s life-long friends and was recently diagnosed with ALS. Which is mind-blowing. It’s impossible to picture him sick — this strong, happy man, in-demand director, father of 5, husband of Lisa Clark (one of my favorite people on the planet).

Understandably, everyone that knows him is heartsick about it. I had never even heard of ALS until the ice-bucket challenge came to be, and I still know very little, but apparently it’s the same disease that Stephen Hawking has. In Topher’s case, he’s been told it will be terminal. This is a hard thing.

– We’re having erratic spring weather, and I’m super into it. I know lots of places in the country are having unusual weather this month, but the Oakland version is pretty lovely. Last week, we had a hot day that felt just like summer. The next day, it was chilly and rainy, but not too chilly. Today is low 60s. Later this week we have some perfect high 70’s days on the schedule. The earth smells good! And if you drive toward Walnut Creek, the hills are green and misty and it looks like Ireland. It’s definitely the greenest I’ve ever seen it. I’m in love.

Oh. And the California strawberries are amazing at the moment! Go eat all of them before I do.

– I’m feeling a huge tension in my mind at the moment. I don’t think it will be a surprise to you if I say I have this non-stop drive to build and create. New ideas, new projects, whole new companies. But bringing them to fruition requires a high level of intensity and often stress. And when I’m in the middle of that stress, I react to it by wanting to shut everything down and just read all day for the rest of my life.

One part of my wants to build, build, build! To take on more, to fit in as much as I possibly can. I can feel the days and months rushing past, and I ask myself in a panic, am I doing everything I want to do? Are there ideas and projects that I will regret not exploring?

Another part of me has a vision of a simpler life. Where I’m doing less and less, and the days are filled with the calmness of a set schedule that requires very little decision making.

The building part of me is definitely stronger, but is it possible to build something big and amazing and worthwhile without the overwhelm? I long for models to study, to find people who are super engaged with their work, but somehow have a life of ease. I don’t really think they exist, but I long for them anyway.

– Our refinance closed last week. It ups our monthly payments, but lowers our interest rate, and switches us from a 30 year loan to a 15 year loan. I think it will feel like a burden at first, but am hoping it’s the smart financial decision. Who knows. I always feel like such a novice when it comes to decisions like this. Either way, it was a quite a process, and it feels like a big relief to have it marked off our to-do list.

– I’m craving some deep spring cleaning. And mostly de-cluttering. I walked into our living room the other day and just thought: What is all this stuff? Anyone else?

– I’m also craving some fresh media. I need a new show to watch or a stack of great books to tackle. But I’m not in the mood for anything too heavy. What are you reading and watching these days?

I think that’s it for now. Please feel free to respond to anything here, or bring up your own topic. I always love hearing what’s on your minds!

P.S. — I post my random thoughts each month. You can find them all here.

60 thoughts on “A Collection of Random Thoughts”

  1. Watching lots and lots of Veronica Mars (Rob Thomas and Kristen Bell)! Followed by lots and lots of Dollhouse (Joss Whedon and Eliza Dushku). Apparently, I’m in the mood for kick-butt females. They are the perfect background to my stress-reliever, crochet. Incidentally, my husband and I are living in France currently, so the reruns of old favorites have been a much-needed piece of home.

  2. ALS is such a tragic disease. I hope a cure can be found. ‘The Madwoman Upstairs’ is what I am reading right now. Not watching too much but the show ‘Quantico’ and ‘The Family’ are both very good. Not very light though. I hear ‘My Crazy Ex Girlfriend’ and ‘Jane the Virgin’ are both really good but I have not watched them yet. ‘The Nest’ looks like a fun, light read that is up on my list.

  3. Watching: Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown on Netflix. It’s stimulating, but you don’t have to think too hard. Michael Pollan’s mini-series Cooked was also very interesting!

    Reading: The Boys in the Boat, finally! It’s perfect for a rainy Sunday.

  4. I have a random thought/question/post idea. I was curious if you could do a post about weight and body image. I understand this is a pretty heavy issue, but it pervades society so deeply. How do you deal with people telling your loved ones they are too tall/short/thin/heavy, so have you never experienced it.

    I have family on both ends of the weight spectrum and am curious as to how you would handle it. I always try to focus on the beauty within, but I think we can all agree that society doesn’t do the same.

    Thanks for reading my random thoughts post today!!

  5. So very sorry to hear about your friend’s diagnosis. That’s incredibly difficult.

    Media recommendations: I’m currently reading ‘The Unit,’ which seems promising. I enjoyed ‘Book of Speculation’ and ‘Station Eleven,’ and ‘Church of Marvels.’ Some heavier than others, but none super intense.

    TV/Netflix-wise I second the recommendation for Michael Pollan’s ‘Cooked.’ I’ve also caught bits and pieces of the British series ‘Call the Midwife,’ which I plan to start watching in earnest soon, in addition to ‘Luther’ (recommended to me multiple times).

  6. Just read “The Royal We” over the weekend. It’s long but so silly and fun and engaging. A nice light read. And watching “Jane the Virgin” – silly and fun are the name of the game right now apparently!

  7. To watch: Orphan Black! Really interesting, and the Tatiana Maslany, the woman who stars in the show, is AMAZING! The first three seasons are available free with an Amazon Prime membership, and the fourth season premiers this week on BBC America.

    To read: Queen of the Tearling. I just started the book last night and already love it. Plus, Emma Watson has already signed on to produce and star as the lead in the film adaptation.

      1. I tried Orphan Black, and it has a fascinating premise. But I found it was too disturbing and violent for me (I know our culture has a high tolerance for this, and clearly not everyone feels the way I do about the show!) But in the good book category, Jade Dragon Mountain by Elsa Hart is a beautifully written historical fiction mystery novel. I just finished it and know I will read it again – it was that good.

  8. I recently read The Light of the World by Elizabeth Alexander. It is a memoir of sorts about her husband and their life together before he unexpectedly passed away at age 50 of a heart attack and how she processed his death and her life since. She is a poet and wrote and read a poem at President Obama’s first inauguration. I watched a few interviews with her after reading the book and she described her writing in the book as a “poet’s prose” which seemed like an apt phrase. The writing has a real rhythm to it and is concentrated and beautiful.

    We are in the process of selling two homes and buying one home and we are drowning in paperwork. Glad your refinance is finished!

  9. We switched from a 30-year to a 15-year a few years ago. It felt like a stretch at first, but seeing the balance drop that much faster (and knowing we were saving $100,000+ on interest) gave us the motivation to keep going. You will be so proud of yourself in a few months!

  10. Oh my… I am so sorry for your friend… My heart broke into a thousand pieces with his Instagram… not only because it’s terminal, but because he seems to be such an amazing person, husband and father… I hope for the best for him and his family and grace and strength for all his close ones!
    I have recently discovered “Call the midwife” series (I know, it’s an old one, but I’ve just found it) and I found it moving, intelligent, heart felt, positive and sweet…as we rarely see in TV…
    And on the balance, I don’t know… The people I know who have been building and creating and still having a life with ease are those who have established rule as I work like crazy between 8am to 4 pm and then I have mandatory half an hour of yoga, half hour of reading and being present to my kids until they go to bed at 9 pm and date hour with my partner. I always think of Hemingway who seemed to work a specific number of hours per day and would stop writing when he knew how to continue on the next day… And then, off he went just to enjoy living…

  11. I am sorry to hear of your friend’s ALS diagnosis. I thought it should be pointed out the ALS is always terminal. Steven Hawking is living a long time, but he will die of ALS. The is no cure at this point in time. ALS is not like cancer, where there is a terminal diagnosis or a non terminal. It is all terminal at this point. My mom has ALS too. It is heart wrenching. Truly heart wrenching. The MDA puts on amazing clinics though, that are very supportive for the patient and their family.

    1. Thanks for the clarification. No doubt I misunderstood when it was explained to me. It sounded like some people live with ALS for 40 years, and can complete a full lifespan, and others only get 2-5 years after diagnosis. So I was thinking of that shorter time frame as terminal. I’m embarrassed at how unfamiliar this disease is to me. I suppose it’s because Chris is the first person in my life to deal with it.

  12. Re: re-financing. We did that with our previous house, and getting the extra equity in is what allowed us to get our current house. I also know that paying just one extra payment a year lowers a 30-year mortgage to 19 years – divide by 12, and for some people that extra a month is manageable.

    I really recommend The Light Between Oceans. We read it for book club and everyone loved it.

  13. Kate The Great

    Our most recent book club book was The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. Simple in vocabulary, very light Bible references, deep in emotion with a plot that’s not complicated.

    I’m also just about to read the next in a YA book I read as a kid called Among The Hidden by Margaret Haddix. Because it’s Young Adult Lit, it’s clean and the plot is not complicated, but it’s still engaging and gripping. I remember finishing the book and wanting more— and I’ve wanted more for years. I probably read it just as it came out and the author hadn’t written the next book yet. Thankfully, I can read them after years of stray thoughts niggling from time to time.

  14. Just started watching Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt on Netflix – it’s silly and light and every episode makes me laugh!

  15. Home is Burning by Dan Marshall. Novel that addresses caring for a parent with ALS. Lots of swearing and some Mormom bashing as he was raised in SLC but is not Mormon. I still found it funny and I am Mormon, was not raised in SLC but live here now.

  16. For light tv viewing, have you watched the Fred Savage / Rob Lowe show, Grinder? It is clever and funny. Grandfathered is good too. John Stamos is so right for this part. For light drama, check out Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries on Netflix. It’s an Australian show (I’m an Aussie) set in the 20s with fabulous costuming. There’s a murder each episode (obviously) but it’s all very light and easy watching.

    1. I’ll second Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries!

      It’s the most fun, light-hearted murder mystery I’ve ever seen. A really easy series to get drawn into.

          1. Sad that I’m done with it–such an addictive and easy to watch show. I love the banter and chemistry between the leads!

  17. A comment that addresses two of your thoughts…I am also craving a deep clean/purge and just finished Simple Matters by Erin Boyle (Of Reading My Tea Leaves fame). So satisfying!

  18. I highly recommend The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Condo. It really is life changing. Plus it covers three of your thoughts-a deep clean/purge, new media, and a manageable project that is deeply rewarding.
    When we decided to have our fourth baby I thought for sure we would need to move house bucks ei just couldn’t see how we could fit another kid in our tiny, Japanese home. But we followied Kondos advice, got rid of probably 50 large trash bags of stuff and things feel so much nicer and easier to maintain. Plus there is something deeply satisfying about a pruge. We’re not done yet, but I’m enjoying the journey.

  19. That is so very sad about Chris. I don’t know him- but I’ve been to a play he directed and he is a genius. Lisa is amazing too. So sad for their family. I love Call The Midwife and The Grinder that’s been mentioned. I am also a little crazy about the Netflix series Fuller House- Probably because I grew up watching Full House and it makes me nostalgic. My new favorite book is Love Does by Bob Goff-FABULOUS!

  20. Just read rare bird by Anna whiston-Donaldson and raising Ryland by Hillary Whittington… Both moving and incredible.

  21. Hey, weren’t some of you going to France this month to work on your house? And seconding Call the Midwife!

    1. Are you thinking of our summer trip? We’re going from June 20th to August 20th. We bought our tickets last November which seems like forever ago! We’ve never planned our travel so far ahead before.

  22. On building a life that has both productivity and calm: I’ve recently enjoyed the book “I Know How She Does It” by Laura Vanderkam. I’m practically recommending it to every woman I know.

    The author asked dozens of successful women to keep track of their time in half-hour increments for a week, and then she studied the data they submitted. I found it illuminating, and a very refreshing counterpoint to the “women can’t have it all” narrative our society tends to focus on. The Introduction and part of chapter 1 are available on Amazon’s “look inside” feature, and if you read nothing else, I’d recommend just reading that.

  23. Call The Midwife, as mentioned, is a good series. Catching up on Modern Family right now. Funny and always heartwarming at the end. Have you watched the series Park and Recreation? Very funny!

    1. I’ve been thinking about Call The Midwife, but am concerned it will be stressful. Anytime I watch a show that depicts a harrowing birth it seems to trigger a lot of stress for me. Is it a hard show to watch? Or more charming than stressful?

      1. There are emotional moments, but I didn’t find the show to be disturbing, even when I watched it through two pregnancies. They deal with the subject matter in …a considerate? way and cultural and historical background is great. I actually like the show better than the books.

      2. It’s the most realistic depictions of labor and birth I’ve ever seen on film–there was a moment in the latest episode when a mother hugged against the midwife through a contraction and I remember doing the exact same thing, and how much power and support the midwives gave me. It’s a show made by women, and you can tell. It’s changed a lot over the course of the seasons, so give it a try–it’s a tearjerker but also so warm and lovely with a lot of humor and wonderful depictions of female friendship and strength. (I’d read the book the first season was based on years before, when I was pregnant!)

        I love seeing the gradual shift from the 50s to 60s as well!

  24. I’m so sorry about your friend. I hope you are able to spend as much time with him as possible and can let him know what he means to you. My best friend passed away in August and it is such a hard loss – I wish I had had the opportunity to do so (in her case it was an accident). I’ve spent a lot of time thinking of the things I wish I had been able to say to her.

    On a lighter note – I heartily second re-runs of Modern Family, Parks and Rec (on Netflix) which is HILARIOUS and on Amazon – Mozart in the Jungle – Gael Garcia Bernal? Hubba hubba.

    As for the build/relax balance I suspect you are right, it doesn’t quite exist. We are in the middle of remodel of our 1870 Italianate Victorian – literally half the house is being chopped off – it’s exciting and exhausting. As a Christian, I’d say, it helps to keep my mind on Christ – like the story of Peter walking on the water – when he takes his eyes off the Lord he starts to sink, you know?

    Wishing you peace with all of it!

  25. So sad to hear about your friends diagnosis. ALS is a terrible disease. For fun tv viewing, watch “Jane the Virgin.” It is seriously darling and hilarious. For a great book try, “A Man Called Ove.” Such a sweet book!

  26. Re-reading To Kill a Mockingbird. I have a child into history at the moment so I just read “The Boys who challenged Hitler (Knud Pedersen and the Churchill boys) I think is the title. Also, I read a fascinating Nonfiction called Lady Bird and Lyndon. Lady Bird was truly amazing (I know author bias, but she really was). In the 1930s? she had her own checking account, (and always did even after marriage!) was a genius business woman etc. I truly wish she could run for president!
    I’m interested to hear your thoughts/response to the call to help the refugees. Do you have any apps or websites that are useful in doing that?

    1. My Relief Society is approaching it locally. Our presidency reached out to Oakland’s IRC and asked what they need most for the refugees/asylees coming their way. And they said,

      “The best possible thing for us are flat donations. Gift cards are especially great. Pre-loaded Clipper Cards and bus passes enable parents to take their kids to school and get around town to purchase groceries, get to job interviews and work, and generally acclimate to their new cities! Gift cards to Target, Lucky, Food Maxx, Smart & Final and Grocery Outlet are also very helpful, as they help our refugee and asylee clients with food security during their first few months in America.”

      So gift cards are being collected.

  27. So very sorry about Chris Clark and family. Wishing comfort and peace to you and Ben, too.

    For media, how about a little Shakespeare? I really liked Bill Bryson’s Shakespeare, The World as Stage. Entertaining yet informative.

    And I loved the movie, Hamlet 2000, for the clever filming, the images. Shakespeare language in NYC c. 2000. As Rolling Stone said in a review, “Don’t be scared off.”

    (FYI, I’ve never cared for the play. A soap opera, really. But I read a synopsis and reviewed the famous lines before watching the movie.)

  28. My son (and plenty others) are really taken with Casey Neistat’s vlog on YouTube and I have now become hooked when I get a chance to take in about 8 min. I really feel film is such a powerful communication tool.
    *Jane the Virgin is an excellent show.
    For reads I just read Victor Villasenor’s Rain of Gold. It’s the true story of his relatives coming to this country from Mexico during the revolution. It’s incredible (and apparently the publisher made him leave some out for fear it wouldn’t be credible). I followed this up with his memoir Burro Genius. I really like how he writes. At the end of Burro Genius he includes an open invitation to his family’s ranch in Oceanside, CA at 1pm on Thanksgiving (through 2026) for peace, harmony, gratitude and connecting with fellow humans. I think I want to bring both of my dyslexic kids this year!
    Random thoughts, I think it’s amazing how humans make this pelvic cartilage dissolving enzyme right before giving birth and then regrow that cartilage afterward. With all these spring babies around and a friend’s cow having paralysis after calving recently I wonder if that is the same for 4 legged livestock animals?

  29. When life gets overwhelming I retreat into one of my favourite books: ‘The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets’ by Eva Rice. It’s a beautiful book about a girl in the 1950’s navigating her way through life – she has a gorgeous family pile but no money. It’s not a silly chick flick/lit read but something very soothing and gentle – more like a Dodie Smith. It’s fabulously written and I promise will take you away to a world that no longer exists. For me, it acts like the Narnia series when I was a child (or even Harry Potter when I was a teenager). When pull it off the shelf my husband always gives me an extra hug and leaves me to it :) !

  30. My heart just broke a little. I have been reading C Jane for years and through her blog, the blog Topher keeps when he goes abroad with his students. I have had a little crush on him ever since. He seems like such a fun husband, father and teacher. I have no words. #1. Isn’t it crazy how small the world is and how connected we all are without knowing it. and #2. I hope having people all over the world thinking about and praying for him and his family will help!

    1. I hear you on the broken heart. Ben Blair grew up around the corner from the Clark family and has been friends with Chris since childhood. Chris is easy to have a crush on.

  31. Reading: I just finished reading Do Not Attempt in Heels: Mission Stories and Advice from Sisters Who’ve Been There for church book club. I was surprised by how much I liked it! I’m also in the middle of Smart Money Smart Kids by Dave Ramsey & Rachel Cruze. I feel like I haven’t got to the meat of it yet. We’ll see how it turns out. I’ll blog about it. ;)

    Watching: Boys Over Flowers on netflix. It’s a Korean high school drama. It’s so corny and I just love it. My husband and I watch together and enjoy just getting into it and laughing at it.

  32. I have been reading your posts for years but this is my 1st comment. As an intensely introverted musician/mother, I feel the creative tension always. It seems impossible to have that wonderful burst of all consuming creativity (which often involves late nights working and thinking in silence, followed by foggy-migraine filled days) while maintaining a good daily routine and taking care of myself and my family. My solution when my kids were tiny was to completely set aside the creative self because I could not bear to do it half way and because my husband was involved in a series of crazy jobs that took him away from us a lot. It worked to a certain extent but I don’t think I was very happy for a lot of those years. But, every time I tried to take on a project that involved my whole creative self I ended up regretting the exhaustion that ensued and questioned whether it was worth it/swore never to do it again. My partial compromise during that time has been to teach piano lessons–a way to continue to grow, musically, while staying mostly home and controlling my own time.

    14 years into marriage and 12 years into child-bearing (youngest is almost 4), I feel like I am just on the edges of finding some semblance of a balance. My husband’s career allows him to be home more often, my kids are more independent and I can start to take on projects that are more fulfilling. I still feel regretful at times about how much I have on my plate and I turn down lots and lots of opportunities, but, as a pianist, I know that even at 40, I have many good years ahead of me. And it turns out that all those years of teaching piano lessons to kids has actually fed me more than I thought it did. Now that I am returning to the piano regularly to work on my own projects, I am finding that my level of technique and playing has increased significantly from years of teaching others and helping them analyze and break down their playing!
    Lest I tie this up too nicely with that previous bow, I must admit that I am looking at my calendar for the next 3 weeks wondering how on earth I can possibly follow through on everything I am committed to; since it will take so much of my emotional energy to do so. But at the same time, super excited to be doing the actual performing! It feels good to do what I feel like I was born to do, as cliche as that is.

  33. I just finished watching the 2 seasons of Togetherness on HBO.
    I think it’s so creative, funny, and it has some very intense sexy scenes.
    I love the main mom character.

  34. ALS is such an atrocious illness. It is always terminal. There is no such thing as a non terminal diagnosis.There is no cure. I just wanted to say…

  35. You’re an amazing mom. End of story. Projects make mortality more colorful, but I reign it in by telling myself I’m saving that energy for the darker days of life.

    Also, The Invention of Wings is a must-read.

  36. I’m so sorry to hear about your friend. My aunt died of ALS- I know the pain. She was so young- I think she passed away before she was 40, or just after- husband, two kids, the diagnosis felt totally out of the blue. As another commenter mentioned- it’s all fatal. And it’s devastating to watch. (Only 4% survive more than ten years, most pass away within 1-5 years). There are resources available – we had some really amazing caretakers and nurses who added a lot of joy in some really miserable periods. Enjoy your time together- what I wouldn’t give for a moment more.

  37. I was sad to hear about Topher Clark. A friend in my ward was also recently diagnosed. I’ve been visiting her each week and we have great chats. A few weeks ago I captured a really great photo of her at the organ in our chapel. When I gave her a copy of the photo she said that might be the last time she played the organ. :( It’s heartbreaking.

  38. I love this quote so much: “…the sweet moment when siblings meet for the first time. One day they’ve never met, the next day, they encounter a person that will know them the longest of anyone in their life. So amazing.”

    My nephew (my brother’s 3rd child) was being born the next day, and it really struck a chord with me!

  39. a little quirky humour is always welcome in my life….. “Chuck”, “Eureka” and “Freaks and Geeks” all fit the bill. All are also (primarily) kid friendly.

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