7 things I learned in March

Taking Emily Freeman’s lead to share a handful of things I learned this month, from the (occasionally) significant to the (mostly) shallow.

1. Those pretty things in my yard are Lenten roses, aka hellebores, of the Ranunculaceae family. Our new neighbor organized a community plant swap, and the local gardeners put me wise. (They also told me they’re extremely difficult to kill, which was wonderful news for this brown-thumbed gardener.)

2. How to blow dry my hair. This is ridiculous, because I’ve been using a blow dryer in some form since I was eight years old. But I’ve never been good at it, like salon-good. This month, it clicked, mostly thanks to interrogating my regular stylist, and also the stylist who did my hair on one of my extremely infrequent Drybar visits.

I’m still not salon-good, but I feel like I at least understand how to do it, and can finally get at least a little bit of the bounce of a good professional blowout.

What I was missing before: blow 80% dry before you start with the brushing. The way you section matters. Use a round brush. Blow each section all the way dry before moving on. And this was the big one: let the hair cool off for a sec while still wrapped around the round brush before unrolling.

(Because I know you’re gonna ask: there’s no magic here, but I use this round brush, this blow dryer, and this styling product. If you have favorite magical products I’d love to hear in comments.)

3. How to hit up a used book sale. As much as I love books, I’ve struggled with facing roomfuls of cheap used books in the past. (It’s so overwhelming to this HSP underbuyer!)

But earlier this month I hit up a big local used book sale with a different frame of mind. The books had been donated; all the funds were going to a good cause. And the one change we’re making in our new-to-us old house is bookshelves: we’re building two tall ones, and they will hold a ton of books. Way more books than we own. So I gave myself permission to go a little crazy—especially because the books were cheap!

So I decided to buy: 1. anything I’d read and loved and wanted for my personal collection; 2. anything I wanted to read that was available in an attractive edition; and 3. anything that was just plain pretty, like these Penguin classics that make me happy every time I see them.

4. So many fascinating things about sugar. I bought the new Gary Taubes book The Case Against Sugar the day it came out, two days after Christmas, because after the holiday sugar bonanza I felt like I needed it in my life immediately.

But then I put off reading it for nearly three months, because I’ve been reading for the Summer Reading Guide, yes, but mostly because I was afraid it would be boring. I should have known better.

One specific odd bit of new knowledge: American cigarettes are uniquely terrible for humans—because of the relationship between sugar and tobacco. I know that sounds strange, but I could not resist reading pages of cigarette making info to Will when we were both reading on the couch the other night. So fascinating! Who knew?

5. Brie + fig preserves. My friend recently introduced me to the magic of adding a little bit of fruit spread to a cheese board, like the Dalmatia Fig Spread she brought to my house to spread on brie and crackers. (Linking so you can see the packaging, but I’ve spied this at my local Kroger.) The irony of listing this right behind the Taubes book is not lost on me.

6. Balsamic glaze. I’ve had this at fancy restaurants, as a beautiful addition or finishing touch to a plate, and assumed it was difficult to make and/or expensive to attain. Thanks to this same friend (hi, Melissa!) I learned that nope, it’s right there on the shelf at Trader Joe’s. For $3.

7. There are so many good books coming out this spring and summer! I’m deep in Summer Reading Guide prep (I know, I know, I keep saying this, but it’s true!) and am scanning the publishing horizons for good books coming out later this year. I’m happy to report there are lots of good titles to look forward to.

Authors I can’t wait to read again in 2017: Anne Lamott (April), Elizabeth Kostova (April), Phaedra Patrick (May), J. Courtney Sullivan (May), David Sedaris (May), Jenny Colgan (June), Elin Hilderbrand (June), Laura Dave (July), Matthew Quick (July), Celeste Ng (September).

I’d love to hear what YOU are looking forward to. Please share in comments!

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  1. Jennifer N. says:

    I love shopping thrift stores for new (to me) books. You just can’t beat $.50 for a paperback or $1.00 for a hardcover! My criteria is that it must be a book either currently on my Amazon wish list, or a book I’ve been thinking about that just hasn’t made it to my wish list yet. I also look for copies in good condition or better, and if I can find a pretty copy, all the better!

    I admit I’m having a book storage issue at my house, so I’m freezing my book-buying starting in April in exchange for hopefully building a built-in bookshelf in my living room. I’m pretty good about off-loading books I likely won’t read again, but I have so, so many that I haven’t read to begin with!

    This month, I’ve learned how to wear my hair curly! My hair is naturally wavy, but often ended up in a pony tail for my lack of knowing how get it to curl nicely. After consulting with a stylist and cutting several inches off, I now know the appropriate product to use with my fine hair and the best scrunching technique to get pretty no-fuss curls. It’s been a game changer!

      • Jennifer N. says:

        I’ve been using Coconut Curls frizz-defying mousse by OGX with good luck. I’ve also had good results with Affia’s Beautiful Curls activating cream. The key for me is to part my hair first, then apply product and scrunch my hair towards my scalp while hanging my head, almost even massaging my scalp.

  2. Amy says:

    Oh, Jan Karon. I read the entire Mitford series every 2 or 3 years and I’m in the middle of it now. It’s like going home and I find such comfort in those books. I love seeing them lined up like that 🙂

      • Leslie L. says:

        My husband was sick last year, so I gave him the first book Mitford book. I thought it would be good for him to read something pleasant and uplifting; a book with wonderful characters and events that would make him feel good. He got hooked and ended up ordering every book in the series (second hand on Amazon!) Father Tim is his new role model–a person my husband wants to be just like. Now I need to retire so I can read the whole series, too.

  3. Brandyn says:

    I have similar standards at a used book sales as well. 1. Rainbow Rowell books – I own all her books in physical and digital formats, but I will also buy new pretty editions. A few weeks ago I picked up a second hardcover copy of Attachments. I know it didn’t have a very big hardcover run, so I couldn’t resist.
    2. Books I’ve read and loved from the library, but don’t already own.
    3. Books currently on my GR TBR under $3.

    A warning since going a little crazy at used bookstores is new to you; It’s easy to forget you purchased a book when you bought it with 15 other titles. I’ve ended up buying multiples accidentally before.

    My March – I finally listened to the Hamilton soundtrack *embarrassed face*, and have listened to nothing else. Oh, except the Hamilton: The Revolution audiobook and your podcast of course.

    • Michelle says:

      For this very reason I now keep a list of books I own, sorted by author, on google docs. It’s easy to access on my phone through the app at any time. It took a bit of work to compile it, but I don’t worry about duplicating when Iooking at used books.

  4. addie says:

    If you want a little extra volume in your hair, finish blow drying it with your head upside down and don’t flip it back until its completely cooled

  5. I love buying used books. Last summer we took our 1 and 3 year olds to the last day of our library’s used book sale when you could get all the books you could stuff in a grocery bag for $3. My husband said to them, “You will probably never hear this again, but you can have whatever you want!” It was so fun!

  6. Dana says:

    Oh, book sales and used bookstores! I do believe they are my favorite way to buy books. The anticipation of what treasure might be discovered is such fun. I tend to go crazy in such places but I do look for old favorite classics and classics I want to read, plus anything new that is on my to-read list. Love finding current hardcovers for 3 dollars at my favorite store. I will also take a chance on a book I’m not quite sure of when it is priced so cheap. If i end up not liking it I don’t feel so bad. I am currently on a self-imposed book buying fast until I catch up a little on my TBR pile. But there is always the library! : )

    I have learned that my hair actually does better now if I just let it dry on its own. I grew my hair out from a short wedge with bangs into a longish bob with no bangs. My hair is really thick and I could not get it blown out the way my hairdresser does it no matter how hard I tried. I was tired of spending so much time drying it with pathetic results so I started letting it dry naturally. It has a lot of body and a bit of curl and actually looks really good when it finally dries. I am enjoying the ease of just wash and go.

    I discovered Trader Joes dried white peaches this week. I was looking for a new treat. Mix some cut-up slices with a some dried whole almonds. When you eat a handful of the mix, it tastes like peach pie!

  7. Amy says:

    I read The Case Against Sugar last month, and I’m finishing up my no added sugar month now! The last section of the book, where he talks about sugar’s connection to breast cancer, Alzheimer’s, and other diseases kind of terrified me. But I’ve learned from my no added sugar month that, while sugar is in a lot of my favorite foods (Stonyfield vanilla yogurt!?!?), I don’t consume huge quantities of it.

    • RE: #4 – I tell everyone that I quit sugar in December, 2015. I lost almost 20 pounds effortlessly and kept it off, and noticed many other benefits: my lifelong struggle with constipation is gone. My face, hands and feet are no longer puffy. My knees and hands don’t ache. I will never go back. I’m no longer a slave to sugar and cravings!

      I eat my yogurt as 0% plain Greek – and then add yummy things. Peanut flour, berries, stevia, Meyer lemon juice – so healthy and not naughty.

      • Amy says:

        That’s great that it made such a difference for you! I’m actually working on a blog post now about how I’ve experienced NONE of the differences some other people have – no change in skin, energy, appearance, digestion, etc. And I only lost a very small amount of weight – probably because I’ve been eating more bread than usual to compensate. 🙂 Not sure if this has to do with the duration of my challenge, the relatively low amount of sugar in my pre-challenge diet, or maybe some people are just impacted differently by sugar than others…

        I’m impressed that you’ve kept it up this long! I can’t wait to start eating some of the things I’ve been missing all month!

  8. Fig preserves also are good with foie gras.
    I’m very torn about my books. I love them but I also feel that the right thing to do is to go to the library (on principle related to being a cheapskate and in favor of the sharing aspect, but also for practical reasons of space). Of course, I can make excuses that the library here won’t have them in English and I am far too lazy to read in French. Perhaps I should donate them to the library? There are many I haven’t opened since reading, yet whenever I lend out a book and don’t get it back, I am devastated. Their very presence is a solace, though an increasingly space-intensive one.

    • Debbie Snyder says:

      I think we book-lovers all have the same problem! Though some are easier to part with than others, I still tend to think of my books as friends! LOL

  9. Elisa Gray says:

    Balsamic Glaze is super easy to make. Buy inexpensive balsamic vinegar and boil the heck out of it until it’s the consistency that you like. That’s all. I usually use the Costco stuff.

    Also I recently learned that peach habanero jelly pairs extremely nicely with blue cheese, especially with a nice red wine. I sampled the jelly, but it was WAY too hot for me. Then I grabbed a bit of blue cheese, but there was still jelly on it. Voila! Pretty fabulous.

  10. Debbie Snyder says:

    I am wondering what everyone does with their books after they’ve read them? I know, for me, there are some books I will read and re-read, the classics, first editions, antiques, beautifully covered, etc. (those I will keep), I will also keep books that I will read to or give to grandchildren. However, regarding the books that you know you will never read again, and that aren’t considered “keepers”, what do you do? I have a hard time getting rid of any books, but I feel I must “thin out the herd” soon. Would love to hear from you!

    • Adrienne says:

      Hi Debbie – I use paperbackswap.com to exchange books I don’t want to keep. Over the years I have traded and received many books. It’s a great option!

    • Ann M. says:

      Please consider donating books to your local library. Typically they will sell them in their book sale but the proceeds go to fund programming like Summer Reading.

    • Terry says:

      Debbie, I’m another “give to the library book sale” person. Check to see if your library does this. Then you’re just circulating them, not throwing them away! 😉

      We also have a little free library near us and I take some of my books (mostly paperbacks) there.

      I made a deal with myself that I wouldn’t keep books just because a couple of years ago. I am slowly working through my unread shelves (three big shelves!!!! Yike!!!) and only keeping ones that I truly love and want to hand to others and say, “Here, read this!”

      • Debbie Snyder says:

        I would much rather recycle (rather than sell) the books whenever possible, particularly by giving them to friends and family to read, and I do whenever I can. For the rest, the library idea makes perfect sense, and I thank everyone who has recommended this.

    • Claire T says:

      We recently donated books that fall into that category to a swap shelf outside our local library. I struggled a little with the value of books we donated but to see the joy with which they were received made me certain this was the way to go. Now that we are in the last stretch of an international move that less overflowing bookshelf has made me very happy.

    • Leslie L. says:

      I have bought so many good books over the years from the Friends of the Library cart/shelves. What a great way to get good hardcover books for a dollar! I have also donated bags and bags full of books to their worthy cause. At work, we have put a bookshelf in the teacher staff lounge for swapping good reads with each other. It has been nice to talk about the books we have in common instead of “teacher talk.” A favorite lately is Paula McLain’s Circling the Sun.

  11. Kat S says:

    For Debbie Snyder – one suggestion for thinning the bookshelf herd is to check with your local library to see if they want your (gently) used books. My library sells them to raise money, which then benefits my local community by way of increased programs, more books, better hours, etc. It’s win-win from my point of view!

  12. Debi Morton says:

    I’m looking forward to the new Louise Penny Inspector Gamache mystery in August. Absolutely my favorite new release every year! I was surprised you didn’t have it on your list, Anne.

    • Christine says:

      That’s the one I’m waiting for too! Last year on the day A Great Reckoning came out I took the day off work. Read the whole book in a day.

  13. Grace says:

    Balsamic glaze is also super easy to make – you just simmer balsamic vinegar in a pot over the stove until it cooks down to your desired thickness. 🙂

    Also, I can’t wait to hear your upcoming book recommendations for new books. I feel like I haven’t read a book I really loved so far this year. 🙁

  14. June says:

    I’m looking forward to Tsh Oxenreider’s new book coming out! And I’m going to try out “things I learned” on my blog as I’ve really enjoyed following yours over the past few years. Thanks for sharing and inspiring!

  15. Judy H. says:

    I have a “long” pixie haircut. The front and top are longer, the rest of my hair is cut like a short pixie style. I love the cut, but could never achieve that “out of the salon” look at home. After asking my stylist hundreds of questions, she also recommended getting my hair about 75% dry before styling, recommended the Marilyn Flatter Me Too 2-inch hairbrush (available on Amazon). Before she begins styling, she lightly sprays my still slightly damp hair with Sebastian hairspray and when all finished, uses a tiny bit of Pravana hairstyling paste to pull and push the top pieces of my hair into a a bit of a messy little look. I can now do my hair, just like she does!

  16. Judy H. says:

    I forgot to mention, I’m excited about Jenny Colgan’s new release! I smply adore her storytelling method of writing books. I find them always a bit charming, sometimes a bit teary and mostly just FUN to read. I’m always sorry when the book ends.

  17. Bethany says:

    I’ve been listening to your podcast and I can’t wait to read Fangirl! Thanks for all the recommendations. As an English teacher, I feel obligated to read literary musts and classics. Thanks for allowing me drop guilt and enjoy reading again!

  18. Leigh Kramer says:

    I am so impatient to read Kostova’s new book! The last time she had a new release, I still lived in Illinois and was working for hospice and actually took it with me to a bereavement conference in CO. That is way too long ago! Suffice it to say, she owes me. Er, us.

  19. Brenda says:

    Goat cheese with sweet red pepper jam or red onion balsamic jam are also delicious. I make both jams, but they are available in stores, as I learned how to make them when I stopped wanting to pay for the fancy jam. Fig jam, very thinly sliced apple, and brie makes a killer grilled cheese sandwich with a whole grain bread (raisin bread would probably also be good).

  20. Michelle says:

    I’m addicted to tomato jam! I started making and canning it every August about four years ago. Like Brenda above I serve it with goat cheese, spread it on paninis, put it on fresh bread with jarlsberg cheese for breakfast, top cream cheese on a bagel. I’ve known people who put it on burgers. We always add it to cheese trays, and it makes a great hostess gift.

  21. Andrea says:

    I love to hit my local Goodwill for books! It’s pretty hit or miss, but last time I hit the jackpot. I think somebody with my exact reading taste had just cleaned out her shelves!

    • emily says:

      Mel’s recipes are in heavy rotation at my house and this particular dish is one my family’s favorites! I always keep Costco pork loins in the freezer so I can whip this up without a trip to the market.

  22. Marilyn says:

    I love to buy used books. Sometimes you can hit the jackpot and find a book you wanted and could not find.

  23. Cheryl says:

    There’s a raspberry pepper jam that my grocery store sells. It is amazing with brie! That spike of heat, the sweetness and cheese is a classic combo. We also discovered a hot mustard/pear preserve that is good with cheese as well.
    But then you have to go and mention Gary Taubes. I read his book “Why We Get Fat” a couple of years ago. I have no problem going low carb/sugar. It’s STAYING there that kills me. It just gets so boring after a while! I miss the variety of flavors that sugar adds to my diet, and by sugar I mean fruit. Plus I love to bake. If there’s some good answer for that I would love to hear it. Meanwhile I’ll be over here yo-yo-ing.

  24. Tara says:

    I have had the new Anne Lamott on pre-order for nearly a year; I am so excited to read it! I’m definitely looking forward to new J. Courtney Sullivan, Jane Green, Elizabeth Strout and I didn’t know Laura Dave had a new one coming out – eeek! I’m going to look it up right now!

  25. Cheri says:

    I see your copy of ‘Belong To Me’ – love that book.
    In Portland, OR the public library system combined all their used books into one big building. It’s an entire library (Dewey sorted and everything) of books for $1-3. It’s my dream store.
    Thanks for the Taubes book rec’d – we’ve been eating Ketogenic for four months. After getting over the initial withdrawals, even the sight of sugary foods makes my stomach queasy. The trick is to eat plenty of healthy fats. A spoonful of coconut oil in a spicy tea (like Bengal or Chai) is very satisfying. It tastes like Snickerdoodles.

  26. Catherine says:

    I shop my used book sale very differently. All books are $2, so I grab everything that’s on my TBR -pretty or not- that way I have something kicking around when all the hold lists are too long. If I like it, I keep it after. If I do not like it or it sits for too long unread, I donate it back. All the money goes to University Scholarships.

  27. Donna says:

    Love this post! The Case Against Sugar sounds fascinating!

    What I learned this month:
    1. A tip for preventing blisters: Chapstick! Apparently it acts as a shield and reduces friction. Simply dab a bit on your heels or toes or wherever you tend to get blisters! (Thanks, Cup of Jo!)

    2. I read The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas in 24 hours last weekend. When I turned the final page, I kept thinking this needs to be turned into a movie. Then I came across this interview with Angie Thomas: http://www.atlantamagazine.com/news-culture-articles/9-questions-ya-author-angie-thomas-breakout-hit-hate-u-give/
    and yup, it’s already being adapted into a movie!! Yay!

    3. The Mothers is also being adapted into a movie. Kerry Washington is producing it!

    4. Emma Roberts has an online book club, Belletrist.
    Thanks again, Anne.?

    • Donna says:

      Oh and here are the upcoming releases I am most excited to read:

      So Much Love by Rebecca Rosenblum (March 14. This is on my spring reading list!)
      Solitude: A Singular Life in a Crowded World by Michael Harris (April 4)
      The Slip by Mark Sampson (May 20)
      The Substitute by Nicole Lundrigan (June 24)
      Fitness Junkie by Lucy Sykes and Jo Piazza (July 11)
      Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng (September 7)
      Endurance: My Year in Space, A Lifetime of Discovery by Scott Kelly (November 7)

  28. milka says:

    “The War Bride Scrapbook” By Caroline Preston doesn’t come out until December! I adore her previous book “The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt” – it’s a unique way to tell the story through vintage memorabilia (ads, photos, pins) and so fascinating! I just cannot wait!

    • K says:

      I will second the endorsement of Perfect Hair Day 5-in-1. I feel like I share Anne’s story – I have never been able to “do” my hair until now! My hair is curly but not like the awesome curly ringlets that I think look so cool…more like, curly that turns quickly frizzy and is impossible to dry straight. But with this product, I can do it! AND I also can avoid washing for 3-4 days and it looks better each day.

  29. Cris says:

    I’m looking forward to Gretchen Rubin’s new book about her four tendencies framework which is due out in September!

  30. Sarah says:

    Jennifer Robson has a new book coming out in May! Along with Alison Patacki in July or August! Two of my favorite historical fiction writers!!

  31. Deb says:

    The Dalmatia Fig Spread also comes in an orange-fig version that is wonderful. The Pioneer Woman features a very easy appetizer using the fig spread: slice a baguette, brush lightly slices lightly with melted butter, toast in oven for a few minutes, spread with fig jam and then a smear of goat cheese. So great.

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