Sunday, June 3, 2018

Persevering in May and Plans for June

Created a Home Office

Working freelance has its advantages, and I used to think one of them was that I could work anywhere. It's actually a blessing and a curse. Sometimes not having a space of my own makes me feel so unofficial that I don't get much work completed.

I remedied that by setting up my office...in our closet. It's a big closet, I had an extra table, problem solved. Plus, the kids always forget I'm back there so it's also become a great hiding place.

Added Vegetables

I love bacon, but I don't think bacon or any other meats like me anymore. I am not going full vegetarian, but I have worked to add more veggies and eat less meat lately, and it's been nice. There's a balance because I can't carb load to take the place of meat or I feel sick, but I have a lot more green on my plate than before, and I'm feeling a bit more energetic. Giving up sugar, unfortunately, is not a battle I've yet won.

Learned to Sleep, for Like Two Weeks

You guys, I was doing so well. I was clocking anywhere from 7-8 hours a night by going to bed at a relatively decent hour and just setting my alarm. I have the twins to thank for this because they wake up at the butt crack of down demanding breakfast and company and a pony, and I just wanted to beat them out of bed in the mornings so I could have at least four minutes of quiet before the demands started. I knew what time I had to get up and I got twitchy if I stayed up so late I screwed myself out of at least seven hours of sleep.

D then too off for ten days. That was great, but it ruined my sleep cycle because we party hard with kombucha and movies on loan from the library. I stayed up so late and then took naps and now I'm starting all over again.

Minimized

My minimizing project is never going to be fully over, but we made major progress this month. I wish I had taken before and after pictures, but I never remember to do that. I would say we threw away or donated about 20 percent of the items that were left after the first big purge, and it feels great. The next step is to organize what we have and control the flow of items into the house.

Became a Newbie

Flow Magazine put out the incredible A Book That Takes Its Time, and I vowed to purchase any book they produced forever after I finished it. I found out last month that 50 Ways to Draw Your Ordinary, Beautiful Life was out, and because I experimented with lettering and drawing in the first book they published, I bought this one.

I can't draw, and I live in a house of extremely artistic people, but that hasn't stopped me from enjoying this book. Drawing is so far out of my comfort zone that it requires all my focus and concentration, and that offers me pauses in my day to just zero in on one thing. I also wish I'd taken an art class in high school because drawing is helping me with spatial learning and geometry in a way math class never did.

I drew coffee, my early morning love.


Lived in the Hot, Sweaty Moment

Our air conditioner died in May, and apparently so did everyone else's because no one came to fix it for ten days. The experience was not as bad as it sounds, and despite being slightly uncomfortable and out money to replace the unit, we were pretty awesome about the whole thing, especially considering our dishwasher was also broken and we had just replaced our washing machine, which went out the week all six of us caught a stomach virus and puked on everything. Yeah, we were awesome.

I practiced being mindful and living in the moment instead of wishing away the days until the AC was back on. We had a lot of fun finding places to haunt during the hottest times of the day and finding creative ways to cook dinner without having to use the oven.

We might have eaten out a lot when it got over 80 degrees in the house.



Wal-Mart loves it when we come to explore.


Preparing for D's School

D is attempting two graduate level courses this summer so, if all goes well, he will be finished with this college thing by fall. It's awesome, but it means the next 60 days are going to be stressful for him. D is an internalizer, so he copes with stress quietly until he just carries the outward appearance of death across his face and I finally pry his brain open and figure out what is wrong.

We're trying to avoid that fate by setting up regular sit down check ins where he has to answer a series of questions about his current stress level while looking me in the eyes and not twitching. We're also going to give him whatever time he needs to study until he's comfortable with the material. It's going to be nuts because summer courses are fast and furious, but we're ready for the ride.

June Plans

  • Work my way through a 28 day meditation book
  • Complete projects around our house, which we moved into ten years ago this summer
  • Simply write without submitting so I focus on the quality of my work and not the stress of if any of it will find a home. Submissions can start in July.


Wednesday, May 30, 2018

May Book List

The reading was good in May!




Fiction


Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout

I showed up late to the party when it comes to Elizabeth Strout. This is now the third book I have read by her, and I am obsessed.

"Olive Kitterdge" is a novel that is also thirteen separate stories that cankterorous, complicated Olive  is a part of in some way. The stories span years in a Maine town and touch on love, loss, and the demons we can't outrun.

Lest you be put off by that description, Strout's writing is beautiful, sparse yet somehow full. She is one of the writers who makes me believe the studies that proclaim reading literary fiction can make you more empathetic. I wrestle into the minds of her characters and feel myself immersed in their situations. Her work is divine.

Swing Time by Zadie Smith

I feel in love with Smith's essay collection "Feel Free" last month, and a friend gave me this book shortly after. I devoured the story of an unnamed narrator and her friend Tracey who bond over dance in London. Smith shines a light on the complications of relationships, racism, and the good intentions of philanthropists gone awry all in one book.

The story travels from London to New York to Africa, and Smith's examination of relationships and privilege are profound without being preachy. Whether she sets her gaze on friends, lovers, or parents and children, she has a way of creating believable situations with authentic dialogue and interactions.

I picked up NW for next month. I am likely going to read everything Smith has ever written.

Stray City by Chelsey Johnson

I've seen this book described as a love letter to Portland in the 1990s, and I totally agree. It's a beautiful piece of work exploring the LGBTQ community that sought refuge in Portland during this time.

Andrea Morales flees her small Nebraska town when coming out earns her rejection. She makes a home in Portland and joins the Lesbian Mafia. One night, broken-hearted and vulnerable, she starts a relationship with Ryan that leads to an accidental pregnancy and threatens to unravel the belonging she's found in the LGBTQ community.

The dialogue is believable, the characters are rich, and this story is fiction but weaves in threads of reality, including the death of Brandon Teena who happened to be from the same state Andrea's character fled. It examines the damage that is done when dogma overrules compassion, and it spans years in the life of Portland, showing us the way the city changes as well as the people within it.

Johnson's understanding of people is what makes this book shine as she observes, "The tyranny of family love is that you can't help but love people who think God can't stand the sight of you."

Grab this one and settle in.

Short Stories

You are Free by Danzy Senna

I picked up this collection of short stories because a) I had read about them in Zadie Smith's book of essays "Feel Free" last month b) Senna is married to Percival Everett whose book So Much Blue is still on my mind months after reading it.

I'm extremely curious about creative couples since D and I both write. I mean, we don't make the money or get the awards or general acclaim like Senna and Everett, but I still love to read their work and wonder if they revise together or just want the other person out of their creative space.

This is a thoughtful collection of stories that centers around women and race, and Senna's insight is generally spot on. She has a way of creating a pleasurable tension in each story while offering realistic characters.The stories are thought provoking and enjoyable.

Essays

Not That Bad: Dispatches from Rape Culture edited by Roxane Gay

The common theme in these essays about rape is one that victims know well: taking responsibility for something that isn't our fault. 

Roxane Gay, who was gang raped at the age of 12, edited this book of essays to remind us that it is that bad, regardless of our experience in rape culture and regardless of how many people still refuse to acknowledge its existence.

The topic of rape is obviously a heavy one, but the essays are beautiful despite the violence that takes place within them. Each writer, both male and female, approaches the topic from their unique perspective and offers readers a glimpse of how rape culture has shaped their worlds.

A daughter discusses her mother's choice to stay in her marriage, despite her husband raping their child, to preserve the family; a woman whose sister was assaulted by a man now has to live with that man being a part of their family and her family's rejection of her due to her anger. Michelle Chen writes about the risks women face when crossing the border, their bodies used as collateral or as a way to punish them.

Every essay highlights the fact that when anyone is raped or assaulted, a lack of support or help recovering will leave damage in its wake. Not discussing trauma, categorizing it as not that bad or not as bad as what it could have been, does nothing but deny victims the right to heal as much as possible.

The essay "All the Angry Women" ends with "her anger is not going away." It's not. It shouldn't. It is that bad, and that anger is going to be a tool for many of us to fight.


Nasty Women: Feminism, Resistance, and Revolution in Trump's America

Go get this book. Read an essay a night. Let it sit in your brain. Meditate on these women's words and experiences and the research showing what it's like to be a nasty woman in Trump's America.

Jessica Valenti, Sady Doyle, and Sarah Hepola are just a handful of writers who contribute to this book. Doyle explores Trump's role as an abuser and explains why trying to give him a mental illness out is damaging for everyone. Hepola reflects on what it was like to be sober after the election after years of using alcohol as a crutch. Samantha Irby explains what it's like to be a queer black woman living in Trump country today.

All of these writers are incredible on their own, but having them together in one book discussing the current world we live in is a gift.

Amateur Hour: Motherhood in Essays and Swear Words by Kimberly Harrington

Let me start with the obvious: Kimberly Harrington is not an amateur, not at parenting or writing or life. I fell in love with her and I fell hard for this book.

These essays cover parenting, friendship, marriage, and middle age. This book is funny, laugh out loud worthy even, but it will also cause an array of emotional responses, sometimes on the same page. Harrington finds a way to nail the difficulty of being a parent without sacrificing the joys, and she doesn't diminish either the hard parts or the privilege of being a mom. That's a tough line to walk, and she does it flawlessly.

She can go from writing about letting her kid bleed it out in "The Super Bowl of Interruptions" to "You are All the Joy",  a letter to her kids that caused me to crawl in bed with all of mine for a reading cuddlefest. "Hot-Ass Chicks" is the ultimate ode to the girlfriends who keep us going, and it had me in tears. Harrington accurately opines "..I need my hot-ass chicks like I need oxygen. Because the first casualty of motherhood is honesty. And the second is vulnerability." That's true and lonely if you don't find your people.

This book is over 300 pages and covers using social media to broadcast our insecurities as well as what it means to be a working mom in the United States (spoiler alert: it's hard because our policies suck.)

I can't recommend this one enough. If you are one of my hot-ass chicks, you may find it randomly on your doorstep soon.


Non-fiction

The Path Between Us: An Enneagram Journey to Healthy Relationships by Suzanne Stabile

Most of the people in my life know I am obsessed with the Enneagram. It's helped me understand my own behavior as a two, and it's been a wonderful tool to use when trying to understand how other people who are not twos view the world.

I started with Ian Morgan Cron's The Road Back to You, and Stabile was a co-writer on that one. Stabile set out on her own this time to explain how we can have healthy relationships with everyone on the Enneagram, no matter what our numbers. "The Road Back to You" helped me figure out what number I was on the Enneagram, and "The Path Between Us" helps us understand what that means for relationships with others.  (I feel it's necessary to point out that Stabile is a two, and relationships are EVERYTHING to us. It doesn't surprise me at all that a two focused her book on the relational aspects of the Enneagram.)

This book is broken into chapters that cover each number and how to interact with people in that number. It's a quick read and a wonderful reference tool, and I will likely purchase it because the library frowns upon highlighting their copies.

Logical Family by Armistead Maupin

I had never heard of Maupin before I grabbed his memoir, my first read for the month of May. As a gay man growing up in a conservative, racist home in the south, Maupin has a unique story to tell about finding your logical family when your biological one can't accept you.

Regardless of sexual orientation, most of us have found ourselves in the world finding our logical family, those friends that are chosen as family in a way we don't get to choose our biological relatives. Maupin takes us from the American south to Vietnam to San Francisco, and along the way he shows us what it mean to embrace who he truly is and shed who he was trying to be to garner acceptance by his family.

This book has endless stories about people you will recognize, but its best moments are when Maupin's worlds collide, like the one where he is marching with his logical family after the murder of Harvey Milk and his biological family shows up, still not ready to accept him but present in his hurt.

Maupin is a gifted storyteller, and this book will appeal to anyone who has made their home away from the one they were born into.



The Little Book of Lykke: Secrets of the World's Happiest People by Meik Wiking

Wiking wrote The Little Book of Hygge, my first read about the Danish concept of coziness and happiness in the moment. He's the reason I'm hooked on hygge, and I will gladly read anything he writes.

"The Little Book of Lykke" (pronounced looka) expands beyond the happiness secrets of the Danish to include how other countries find ways to be happy. This book is broken down into sections and covers topics such as freedom, trust, and togetherness. Wiking provides real, actionable ways to create a happier life wherever you live.

I love reading about other countries ideas of freedom. Wiking fairly points out that the U.S. is a country with a huge divide between those who have money and those who don't, and Denmark would not consider that freedom. Freedom to them, and many other socialist countries, means knowing your neighbor can go to the doctor, go to college, and buy food. It creates trust and togetherness.

He also points out that Breaking Bad could have never been a believable show in Denmark. Instead of working a full-time job and still needing to resort to cooking meth to receive cancer treatment, Walter would have simply heard, "Here is your treatment plan, Walter. I will see you on the fifth."

How to be a Perfect Christian: Your Comprehensive Guide to Flawless Spiritual Living by The Babylon Bee

If you don't enjoy satire and sarcasm is not your love language then you best pass this one by. Sarcasm is basically a survival tool for me, so I loved The Babylon Bee's tips on how to be a perfect Christian without the inconvenience of, you know, authentic faith and a messy relationship with God.

This satire is cutting, and no matter where you are in your spiritual journey, you can't help but be convicted of a few transgressions within this book. It's a reminder that there's no formula for faith, no way around love and messiness.

It's a welcoming invitation to get real about what life is really like following a Jewish carpenter who didn't play by the rules, even if it means we have to forego the image of perfection in other people's eyes.

The Mommy Shorts Guide to Remarkably Average Parenting by Ilana Wiles

Know a pregnant person? Give them this book. I grabbed this one after seeing someone on Instagram commenting about how funny it was, and it did not disappoint. I only wish I had read it when my littles were younger because I think it would have been a sanity saver.

Wiles is honest about parenting and reminds all of us that being a totally average parent is a worthy goal. Pick it up for laughs and cute baby pictures.

The Very Worst Missionary: A Memoir or Whatever by Jamie Wright

If you've followed Jamie Wright's blog of the same name then you know her style: honest, smart, and challenging in the best possible way.

Wright's memoir focuses on her beginnings as a sort of Jewish kid before moving to her free-for-all teen years that led her to a baby, marriage, and a Christian faith that both saved her and almost sunk her. She handles the church and those within it kindly despite not always being handled kindly when she had questions, and she sheds light on what happens when short term mission trips aren't thought out journeys but simply ways for Christians to feel like they are doing something Jesus-like.

Wright's work is hilarious. You will laugh out loud reading this book. You'll also question some of the long-held beliefs about being a Christian and saving the world. I hope Wright continues to share the wisdom of her journeys because this book is beautifully written, accurate in its insight, and necessary for all of us.


10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My  Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works by Dan Harris

I read "Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics" and loved it, so I grabbed Harris' first book that chronicles his journey from majorly successful but stressed recreational drug user to meditation enthusiast. It did not disappoint.

Harris is a wonderful writer, and reading this book made me feel like I was listening to a friend tell a great story. Harris traces his complicated route to meditation, starting with Eckhart Tolle, Deepak Chopra and finally leading to a set of meditation practitioners who can answer his questions and concerns about the practice. Along the way he offers practical advice and reasons to get started with meditation, and implementing the RAIN method and the "Is this useful?" question have helped everyone in my house considerably.

Harris reminds us that mindless living often comes with consequences, and the mindfulness meditation offers helps us train one of our most important tools: our minds. Meditator or not, read this book and it will be hard for you to stay unconvinced about the benefits.

Graphic Novel


This graphic novel is a beautiful quick read. When Hopkins realized she would one day have to navigate life without her mother, she approached her mom to receive advice about how to go on when she was gone. From that this book was born, and it is full of advice, recipes, and lessons about grief. 

The illustrations are beautiful, the advice is sound, and this would make a great gift for any daughter or son.



Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Persevering in April

Persevering in April had to do with setting limits, doing what I know needs to be done, and nature. I continued to minimize, ridding our home of even more junk, and we are spending as much time in nature as possible before the summer heat destroys that option. Here are other ways we persevered.

Health

April was a weird month for health issues. Wren, despite being in remission and on a gluten-free diet, had some issues that are connected to having Celiac. We went through this same thing two years ago, and she was not pleased to know we'd have to work to get her through these problems again. Neither was I, but I've come to understand something since last time: you can do all of the right things and still end up with wonky results.

I should have already known this, but I prefer the narrative that says if you follow all the rules nothing bad happens. Where this affects me health wise is that the minute I follow the rules and things go off course, I don't want to follow them anymore. I didn't eat bread for a day and didn't lose five pounds? Fine, bring on the rolls.

Health decisions are long term and may or may not work out. It's still worth it, so in April I worked harder on thinking about the long haul as opposed to the immediate result. Even then, I could be one of those people who has a heart attack while running a marathon. Just kidding, I would never run a marathon. You see my point though. I eat well because it generally makes me feel better, I work out because it's good for me, we go gluten-free because even if Wren does still occasionally have issues, it's better than what would happen if we didn't. I'm trying to keep my motives right even when things go wrong, knowing that there are no guarantees but that I generally have better luck with spinach than pork rinds.

Social Media

I am not here to denounce all social media. You are probably reading this blog post because you saw it on one of my social media pages. But in April I made some conscious decisions in this area that served me well.

I can't totally pull away from all social media because of my freelance work, but there were days I didn't go near it. When I did, it was for quick glances and not never-ending scrollfests. I used it to promote articles but not to advertise the everyday events in my life, and I enjoyed that approach.

Social media is not in and of itself evil, but it's not often a place I walk away from feeling better. For practical uses, it's good. However, when I'm reaching for it as a comfort tool, I am not really comforted, and I end up sad about the time I lost staring at a screen discovering all the ways I disagree with people I know. I'm going to continue to keep consumption low and enjoy the time it affords me.

Delaying Gratification

It's kind of retro, but delayed gratification is awesome. Yes, it's a fancy way of saying waiting for what you want, which is not something we do often anymore. However, like snail mail or counting down until Christmas, it can evoke some strong positive feelings.

I knew I wanted a certain book and that I was going to have to purchase it, but I waited for weeks before I finally did. When I finally had it in my hands, it was a delicious feeling. Inspired by that experience, I now have a few items and experiences on my list, but I'm savoring the time leading up to actually possessing them.

Positive Spin

I've set some limits for myself in hopes of achieving certain goals, and that's not a super fun thing to do. Instead of falling into the habit of saying, "No, I can't do that", I've flipped the words. Now I say, "Yes, I can do this."

No, I can't eat chocolate three days in a row, but yes I can take myself on a nice walk and throw back some kombucha. I still don't get the chocolate, but framing the conversation in my head around what I can do instead of what I can't makes the whole experience more empowering.

Breaking It Down

Our house is almost 20 years old, and I love it. However, it needs work in many areas, and we are trying to do some small things in between raising kids and D finishing college. The problem is that I get overwhelmed easily in the face of home anything. Repairs, design, it all stresses me out.

I finally broke down my big picture to identify tiny tasks I could work on slowly that will eventually lead to the big picture. This has kept me from getting completely paralyzed by how big all these projects seem. One step at a time, one room painted, one washing machine replaced, one picture hung on the wall. We'll get there.

Kept Finding Green

We made time for outside every day possible. We played and hiked through nature preserves, sprinted past overly friendly geese on walks with friends, and just found ways to see green while we can still get out.

Summer is fast approaching, and there's only so much hiking you can do in Texas in July without having a heat stroke. There's always swimming, but I need a canopy of green over my head and birds chirping to feel like I am fully immersed in nature. Chlorine is a poor substitute, so I will continue to drag everyone outdoors to hang out under tall tress until triple digit temperatures stop me.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

April Book List

Twelve books filled April. I started the month with Sloane Crosley's essays and ended it with Tom Rachman's fiction.  It's not a bad way to enjoy spring.

I haven't found anything as amazing as A Book that Takes its Time for mindfulness journaling, but I did pick up a couple of fun journals to have on hand. Both remind me to slow down and give me excuses to sit around and color when stressed.



Essays

Look Alive Out There by Sloane Crosley

I discovered Sloane Crosley very late in the game, so I read her first two books last year instead of years ago when I should have. When I found out she had another book of essays coming out, I stalked three libraries to find it and succeeded quickly.

This collection of essays covers everything from rich, loud neighbors to retired porn stars. (Crosley's not-quite uncle was a porn star whose birth name is Johnny Seeman. Yep.) She explores what it's like to stumble across swingers in California and to appear as herself on Gossip Girl. She does all this with humor, wit, and insights that don't feel forced. That's her genius, and she's only gotten better at her craft over the last decade.

I was surprised to find out Crosley has Meniere's disease, the same vestibular disorder I have, and her descriptions of vertigo were so precise that I feared I might start spinning just reading her essay. I recommend her work to everyone and this, her best work to date, is perfection.

Feel Free by Zadie Smith

I am almost too overwhelmed to even attempt a review of Smiths' essays. She is highly intelligent while still being accessible. She is not immune to her own shortcomings or limited thoughts, yet she's not self-deprecating in the way we usually see it done. She's aware, smart, and a very skilled writer who looks at any subject she tackles with the most comprehensive view possible before sharing her thoughts.

This book is over 400 pages but is broken into five parts depending on the topic. Every time I finished a section I was sure it was my favorite, only to make it to the end of the book to say I can't choose. I wouldn't want to have missed any of it.

Smith can discuss any issue, but she can see the issue beyond the issue and wrestle with that as well. Her commentary on the recent hit movie Get Out sits alongside views about Brexit and writers using their own lives to inspire work. She writes about books, politics, and the dynamic of the family, concluding that no matter the family experience "the family is a violent event." Her closing essay on joy versus pleasure nearly undid me, and I can't wait to read more by Smith as I was very late to discover her mastery.


Essays won it for me this month, and Corrigan's hilarious, thoughtful book helped get them there. Corrigan tells readers about the 12 phrases she is trying to say more, whether encouraging her child or a friend to express their emotions by asking for more information or getting rid of the craziness in life by simply saying no.

This is my first book by Corrigan, so I didn't know what to expect. I am now about to raid every library in my area for everything she has ever written. She comes off as an honest, smart, witty friend who isn't afraid to talk about the times she's stumbled in order to help us get it right.

Yes, yes, and yes to this one.  Read it once with a highlighter, and then read it again.



Non-fiction

Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics by Dan Harris, Jeffrey Warren, and Carlye Adler

I've had a very flirtatious relationship with mediation for a while now. I like the idea of it. I like all the benefits it offers. I like thinking of myself as someone who can sit still and find my Zen. However, it's only been in the last couple of months that my relationship with meditation has moved to the next level, and this book helped get it there.

Harris had a panic attack on live television in front of millions of viewers, and that started his journey to meditation. It's been so life changing for him that he went on a road trip to address people's concerns and excuses as to why they don't meditate. Along the way, he offered answers and assistance for how to get started and keep the practice alive for the long term.

Along for the journey was yoga expert, Jeff Warren, who writes easy-to-follow meditations for different situations that will guide readers who want to get started or elevate their practice. This book is a hilarious story, a wonderful how-to, and just plain fun. I am working through all the meditations in the book and feeling more confident now that Harris and crew helped clear up many meditation misconceptions for me.

Harris and Warren are also honest about life after meditation. It's generally more focused, calmer, but meditation doesn't mean we suddenly don't have bad days or that our old demons don't come back to haunt us. We're just equipped with better tools to handle them when we meditate.


Why do we feel compelled to make resolutions on January 1st? When is the best time to perform certain types of work? Are you a lark or an owl?  Pink attempts to answer these questions and offers information to help us understand how beginnings, middles, breaks, and ends play a huge role in our lives.

Pink ends each chapter with a handbook to help apply the strategies he's discussed.  I very much appreciated this since each chapter is full of useful information that is much easier to use when a quick, scannable plan for action is offered. If you like research and need an official, data-backed reason  to take an afternoon siesta, this is a great read.

Warning: you will NEVER schedule medical procedures in the afternoon again.


I love the concept of Swedish death cleaning, and even wrote about it here. So imagine my surprise when I did not love this book. I really wanted to, but it didn't work for me.

Death cleaning involves taking care of your earthly items so your loved ones won't have to go through it all when you're dead. It's considerate, and you don't have to wait until you're knocking on death's door to death clean. Adopting minimalist tendencies and making conscious decisions about purchases is a great way to make sure you never accumulate more than you need. If you start to acquire too much, practice some death cleaning.

The concept is easy, but Magnusson's meandering narrative about her death cleaning didn't interest me. I am used to books about tidying or minimizing containing a bit of narrative and a lot of practical tips. This felt more like a story about Magnusson that centered around her life with some death cleaning thoughts thrown in for good measure. That threw me.

Her advice to keep one vibrator instead of 15 is sound because finding that one is going to do your kids enough damage, but I didn't pick up any other super useful tips from this book.

If you want to tidy up, I recommend The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, Goodbye, Things  New Minimalism or Soul Simplicity, which I review below.


I read The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone last year and was so taken by Laing's study of art and loneliness that I still think about her words. "The Trip to Echo Spring" had much the same effect. Laing wrote this one first and focused on writers and alcohol, a pairing that is much too common.

I find that though her books hover around the 300 page mark, I have to read them slowly. There is so much information: the research she has done on her subjects, the conclusions she draws, what she observes when she travels, and her own personal narrative, that I like to take in small amounts of material and let my brain marinate in it before moving on.

Laing focuses on Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Raymond Carver, John Cheever, John Berryman, and Tennessee Williams. At times these authors' lives overlap, and somehow Laing weaves all six of their stories into her book seamlessly while also visiting locations that were meaningful to the writers.

Her exploration of alcohol is sobering, and this book falls into a category best described as melancholy, as does "The Lonely City". If you have time and the desire, follow Laing wherever she leads. Her insight is priceless and often beautiful.


Carver was diagnosed with MS and forced to decide how she wanted to live with this chronic condition. Stress makes it worse, so Carver set to overhaul her life, cutting back on debt, purchases, possessions, stress, and bad habits. The goal was to live simply, and she devised a plan to make life simple across every possible aspect of her life in order to make the most of her health and her time.

Years later she is helping others find ways to live simple, soulful lives. I loved this book because D and I have been on the simplicity journey for a while, deciding what to keep, what to toss, and how to build a life around our values. It's a never-ending process, so I find that having a book around to continue to help motivate us is always good.

Carver's book is extensive and offers ways to help readers implement simplicity practices into their everyday lives. Grab it and get ready to chunk the excess and embrace the soulful simplicity of each moment.

Fiction

The Confusion of Languages by Siobhan Fallon

Cassie and Margaret couldn't be more different. Living in Jordan with their military husbands, Cassie is the one who has been there for a while and follows the rules. Margaret is the newcomer who thinks she can figure out how to adapt following her own set of rules. Their unlikely friendship leads to a study of human relationships and reminds us that every decision we make has a consequence.

When Cassie and Margaret are involved in a minor car accident, Cassie keeps Margaret's young son while she goes to clear up the paperwork. When Margaret doesn't return in a timely manner, we see the story of their friendship unfold in flashbacks that lead the reader into a complicated web of jealousy, desire, and pain.

Fallon does a wonderful job creating rich, multidimensional characters. Nothing feels contrived and everything that happens moves like dominoes falling, leading to an inevitable conclusion. I picked this one up on a whim, and I'm really glad I did.

Future Home of the Living God by Louise Erdrich

Cedar was adopted and raised by two kind liberal do-gooders, but she seeks to find her birth family upon finding out she's pregnant. There's also the issue of her pregnancy occurring when evolution is reversing, offering babies who are a different species of human when they survive at all.

During any major event, humans and systems don't always shine, and that's true here. A registry is started to bring in pregnant women so they can be monitored, and neighbors start turning people in for rewards. As the story of what could be the end of the world occurs, Cedar attempts to keep her baby safe, leaning on her biological and adopted family to help her when they can.

This story touches on the dangers of technology, climate change, and militarized churches. It is original and horrifying, but the fact that it is written as a journal for Cedar's unborn child offers the reader some of the ridiculous human optimism that Cedar, and many other humans, hold onto in times of despair.

I read this one over many days, only able to absorb so much. It's a shattering, human story, and Erdrich presents it perfectly.

How To Stop Time by Matt Haig

This book has a lot of buzz around it, and it's well deserved. Protagonist Tom Hazard was born in the 1500s but is still alive, looking quite young, in the 21st century. He's one of those rare humans who doesn't age on a normal schedule, and that has made his life long but not easy.

When he's introduced to The Albatross Society, he's offered a way to move every few years before anyone takes notice of his lack of aging. The only condition is that he has to perform certain tasks for the society. Driven by fear of things that have occurred in his past due to his eternal youth, he joins.

This is an interesting story that has flashbacks from Hazard's time knowing Shakespeare and F. Scott Fitzgerald, but it's more than that. Days after reading this, I was shocked by the symbolism, how Hendrich, the leader of The Albatross Society, is a stand-in for America, a fear driven person with a for-us-or-against-us mentality. Hazard's past experiences exacerbate his fear, allowing him to overlook evil for what he views as safety with Hendrich.

Though a work of fiction, Haig captures much about the human condition and offers profound insight about time and how we respond to our limited amount.

The longer you live, the more you realise that nothing is fixed. Everyone will become a refugee if they live long enough...everyone would realise that the thing that defines a human being is being a human. 

Haig's words are an important message for our time.

The Italian Teacher by Tom Rachman

Rachman tells the story of Charles "Pinch" Bavinsky, son of famous artist Bear Bavinsky. Bear's art comes first, before his children, his many wives, or any other earthly obligation. When Charles attempts to become an artist like his father, one sentence destroys his dream and sends him on a journey to find his place in the world.

Rachman creates flawed characters that the reader will still care about. Pinch's longing for his father is desperate and hard to read, and even when readers wonder what Pinch is thinking they still can't forget the situation he came from and throw him some grace.

The book also explores the idea of art, what it is, what it means, and who gets to decide what art matters. The pacing felt off at times, with Rachman seeming to narrate us quickly from one place to another, but the book overall is a solid, thoughtful read.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

March Book List

March was a full, rich month of books. Most of my non-fiction choices leaned towards mindfulness, appreciating each day, and slowing down. Fiction picks were a bit more random. Enjoy!

Non-fiction

Educated by Tara Westover

I started the month with Westover's enthralling tale of growing up in Idaho with survivalist parents. Her parents, wary of the government, didn't obtain birth certificates for their children, and Westover still isn't sure when her birthday is. She was also not allowed to see doctors and wasn't schooled, publicly or in a homeschool environment.

Westover writes honestly about her life lived in this environment. She somehow takes almost a spectator's view, offering details without over personalizing, as she rolls out moments in her life that most of us have never had to live. Her writing is beautiful, even though the subject matter is rough.

When a sibling turns violent, the misogyny bred within the walls of her home forbids her protection. Following some of her older siblings' paths, she attempts to get into college and out of the place that can no longer guarantee her safety, and never really could.

One reviewer said that if Westover's story was fiction, it'd be a lot easier to stomach. However, it's not, and we are better because Westover came forward to share it. You will root for Westover from the very first page and feel emotionally invested even when you turn the last one.


DIY Rules for a WTF World by Krista Suh

This book would be easy to dismiss as cutesy or too millennial. That would be a mistake. One of the creators of the pussyhat movement, Suh shares her tips for using our talents and passions to create a life of meaning and change, and her advice is sound.

From encouraging us to figure out if we're in a time of taking in or putting work out into the world to encouraging us all to beware of secondary emotions, Suh's advice makes sense for the world we're living in. She encourages us to know we're already enough, to choose the non-negotiables and stick with them, and to keep working until being a feminist is the obvious choice for everyone instead of something people view as a threat.

I Am, I Am, I Am: Seventeen Brushes With Death by Maggie O'Farrell

I fell in love with This Must be the Place, a novel by O'Farrell. Still, I didn't know exactly how to feel about her approach to her memoir since she based it around 17 near death experiences. It was a unique design, and it paid off.

From the first chapter where she describes narrowly escaping murder to the last where she details the challenges of having a daughter with an autoimmune/severe allergy issue, I could not look away. O'Farrell's life has been unique in many ways, but she points out the truth and makes readers feel it: we're always teetering on the edge, never sure when the end is coming. Most of us likely don't even know how many times we've barely scraped by, cheated death by a matter of seconds. O'Farrell, due to many factors in her life, is acutely aware of many of these times in her life, and it gives her a wonderful perspective to offer advice to the rest of us on what it means to really live.



A Book that Takes Its Time: An Unhurried Adventure in Creative Mindfulness by Irene Smit and Astrid van der Hulst

I don't buy books. I know, weird. However, I occasionally make exceptions, and this is a must-buy. Really, buy it, because no library in their right mind would stock it because it's interactive and patrons would destroy it on day one.






It's not an exaggeration to call this book life changing. Created by the editors of Flow Magazine, it is a mix of written articles and interviews, journaling, illustrations, and invitations to create in a variety of ways. I looked forward to picking it up every day and savoring whatever activity I decided to try. I'm still working my way through the 30 day mindfulness journal, and I reread the essays regularly.

This book encourages me to slow down, sit with my kids and create art, and remember that the little moments in life are the big moments, if only we don't miss them. There are post cards I've mailed to friends, beautiful moments I've captured on illustrated paper, and a collage that I made that I'm pretty proud of. Grab this book and make space in your day to dive into it.

Unbound: From Freedom from Unrealistic Expectations of Motherhood by Jamie Sumner

Jamie and I both wrote for Parent.Co, and this should tell you tons about what I think of Jamie's writing: when we received an email telling us to archive our work before the site shut down, I archived some of Jamie's. Yes, I was in a mad panic, crying and worried about losing my writing, but I wanted to make sure I could go back and find her words as well.

I'm on the launch team for her book that comes out April 10th, and I gave a full review of it on Goodreads.  You can also find that review below. 

I received an early copy of this book and devoured it. Jamie Sumner's honest look at the expectations we put on ourselves as mothers, as well as how to try to release them, is beautiful, hilarious, and gut-wrenching. Sumner shares her journey to motherhood, which included infertility and many unexpected turns, and opens up about all the emotions she experienced while waiting for her life as a mother to begin.

Interspersed with Sumner's story are the stories of women from the Bible. Sumner seamlessly weaves these Biblical narratives in and helps even those of us who have read them a thousand times see these women in a new light.

Sumner's voice is unique, her message redemptive, and her story impossible to put down. The messages and lessons she learned are universal and already etched in my mind to recall when I have one of those days where I need to remember to release my expectations and lean into the already-written story.

The questions at the end of each chapter make this book perfect to use for daily journaling, and it would also be a great read for any book club or Bible study. No matter how you choose to read it, this is a book worth reading.

However, I have even more to say because it has stuck with me weeks after turning the last page.

You need Jamie's story and her grace-giving ways in your life. I sat up a couple of nights ago googling, "how to fix the damage you've already done to your kids", so I definitely need it. In the moments where other writers might remind us to act right, fly straight, and pull ourselves up to our full potential, Jamie reminds us that God already knows we're going to muck it up often and loves us anyway. That message inspires me to want to love harder instead of sending me down the shame spiral.

Everything Happens for a Reason: and Other Lives I've Loved by Kate Bowler

Prepare yourself now: you will laugh often reading a book about a woman who has terminal cancer. I know, it was weird, but Bowler's voice is unique. She is able to capture the sorrow and questions that come with a colon cancer diagnosis in her 30s as well as the joys and absurdity of life.

Due to Bowler's first book on the prosperity gospel, she is an expert at recognizing the kind of faith that believes it should be rewarded with health, wealth, and prosperity. While it's easy enough for most of us to laugh off preachers in mega-mansions and people practicing a name-it-and-claim-it faith, Bowler shows that many Christians still subscribe to the belief that we should get some rewards for our faith. A life with our children, cancer-free, perhaps.

In exploring why and how we believe this, as well as what happens when we don't get that life, she offers insights to how people often try and fail at sitting with others in pain. The appendix of the book offers tips on what to say and what not to say to those grieving or living with incurable illnesses, and it should be required reading.

The narrative is not always linear, but that didn't take away from the experience for me at all. Bowler affirmed something I have felt for years: things happen, not always for a reason, and that's okay. We don't have to lesson the hell out of people's tragedies. (Bowler also begs us to stop Eastering the crap out of people's Lent). We can sit with them, mourn with them, and be okay in the not knowing.


New Minimalism: Decluttering and Design for Sustainable, Intentional Living by Cary Telander Fortin and Kyle Louise Quilici

This book is pretty, informative, and simple. I have not turned it back into the library yet because I'm in love with it.

The authors introduce us to new minimalism, the type that isn't defined by number of items or deprivation. It's defined by having what we need, enjoying what we have, and practicing clutter cutting in every area of life. That' includes materials, but it also means clearing up our mental space and schedules to lead a quality life.

Whether you're a newbie to the minimalist movement or have been at it for years, you will thoroughly enjoy this one. The first section that covered principles over how-tos was my favorite, but that may be because I've read a ton of how-to books before. I like being reminded of the why behind minimalism to keep my endurance for the process up and moving forward.

Fiction
My Husband's Wife by Jane Corry

I stuck in for over 300 pages of what I will call a very disappointing labyrinth of dysfunction. A lawyer with a mysterious past, a lying husband, and a maybe-criminal collide with a single mom and her beautiful young daughter. That's about all I retained.

Mysteries have to be pretty amazing these days to compete with the masters out there, and this wasn't. It was intriguing enough to make me see it through, but I was indifferent and exhausted by the end. I don't really have the endurance to even thoroughly review it, so that says a lot.

Looking for Alaska by John Green

I was way behind in picking up this one, but when one of the second avid readers in my life recommended it, I knew it was time. Green's account of teenage Mile's life away at school is funny, honest, and heartbreaking. When he meets Alaska Young and makes friends with a group of intelligent misfits, his life takes turns he couldn't have imagined before, some that lead to great memories and others to tragedy.

Still Me by Jojo Moyes

I love Louisa Clark, and she's the reason I came back for the third installment of the Me Before You trilogy. The second book was not bad, but it paled in comparison to the first. The third is better and fully displays Moyes' genius when writing Louisa Clark and her quirky ways.

The book picks up with Clark in New York having left ambulance Sam behind to pursue the move. They work at a long-distance relationship, and it is predictably fraught. The people Louisa is working for are complicated and interesting, and so are the wonderful/awful characters she meets along the way.

At some point in life all of us have to decide who we are and what that means for the direction of our lives. Louisa faces that choice, and the consequences are meaningful, hilarious, and honest, just like her.

The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn

D read this one before I did, so I was determined to finish it quickly so he would stop taunting me about knowing the ending. Finn made that pretty easy. This mystery is told in short chapters that accelerate to a satisfying ending.

Anna Fox has some problems, one of them being that she likes to watch her neighbors' lives play out from the safety of her own home. A shut in, she is the creepy lady who spies on those not wise enough to close their curtains. When she sees something that causes her concern, is it real?  Can someone who has problems leaving her own front porch be trusted to know what she saw? Will anyone believe her?

The story twists and turns, and while a couple of parts are predictable, I was still surprised by the ending. Finn does a good job at rolling out the story at just the right speed, and I enjoyed it.

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

I did not know that Siobhan Dowd, author of The London Eye Mystery, had any other works in progress when she passed away. I read "The London Eye Mystery" almost a decade ago and fell in love with her work just in time to find out she had lost her battle with cancer.

When I picked up "A Monster Calls", another recommendation from reader friends, and saw that it was based on Dowd's story idea, I felt grateful and sad to have found her again after so long. After reading this YA story, I was wrecked even more by the end.

When a tree turns into a monster that speaks to Conor at night, telling him stories to make Conor offer his in return, questions arise about why this monster has arrived. As Conor deals with his sick mom, his absent father, and a grandmother he doesn't connect with, he is forced to deal with his own feelings and thoughts, and in this he learns lessons that will resonate for both younger and older audiences.