Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Praise for Prozac and Other Ways I Persevered in July

Started Medication



For over two years I've been working to get my mental health on course. This has taken the form of dealing with Meniere's disease symptoms, taking supplements for adrenal issues, having my thyroid meds adjusted, and being treated for anemia. I started a progesterone supplement a few months ago hoping that would knock out the last of the anxiety and depression I sometimes deal with, but after a promising start, it stopped working.

On July 7th, I took my first Prozac. I talked to my OB about both PMDD and my Meniere's, and she thinks they are overlapping to introduce me to a fresh hell every month. When she offered an antidepressant, I didn't even hesitate. I knew when I called her that I was ready to take whatever was offered.

I'm still taking extra omegas and exercising, drinking my water and meditating, and I feel like doing those things more often now that I'm on Prozac. There are side effects and I feel them at times, but they aren't more distracting than what I was going through before, so we'll see.

An antidepressant doesn't make a person happy, but it does give me a choice, a buffer, a distance from my emotions that I didn't have before. I respond, not just react. I feel more like me, the me I was before my body and brain just sort of collapsed. I am so grateful for that.

I am glad I finally committed to this because I avoided it for too long, I fear. It was like I had been shot but refused to see a doctor because I wasn't quite dead, just bleeding profusely. If I could have even a slice of a good day, I talked myself out of medication. This is not the way to go about things. I'm so thankful to all the people in my life who have been open about their mental health struggles. I admired the way they persevered in taking care of their mental health, and now I'm joining them.

Cooking with Kids

Some people may have always loved getting in the kitchen and cooking with their kids, but I was not one of them. It's messy, it takes twice as long, and our flour costs $12 a bag. I had to bite my tongue to keep from screaming when it came flying out of the bowl while children attempted to stir.

Now that my oldest are actually capable of making something without leaving the kitchen looking like a crime scene, they helped menu plan in July and used a cookbook to buy ingredients for some great meals. Then, they either helped cook them or cooked them on their own. It was beautiful and tasty. Also, being on Prozac most definitely helped this process go smoothly for me.

Summer Elongated

I've decided to kick it 1980s style and not start homeschooling the kids again until after Labor Day. We spent July swimming, on play dates, and making no particular plans for the future. Wren's curriculum arrives this week so I can start planning for September, but until then I am strictly about the summer vibes.

Monday, August 6, 2018

July Book List

Non-fiction was the majority this month, but all the books were pretty great. It was a good month for words in my world.

Non-fiction

Girl, Wash Your Face by Rachel Hollis

I did not know who Rachel Hollis was before picking up this book, but I enjoyed her work. Hollis, who is a mother, businesswoman, and eternal optimist, shares a rule for life in each chapter. She weaves her personal story between the pages and works to lift women up and help them realize their goals.

This could have easily fallen into the self-help, cheerleader fluff, but Hollis did pretty well at keeping it out of that territory. She reminded me to keep promises to myself, a great reminder to obligers if there ever was one, and that I don't have to waste my time on what other people think of me.


Night Falls Fast: Understanding Suicide by Kay Redfield Jamison

I saw a lot of well-intended tweets and FB posts after the slew of suicides in June, and many of them made me nauseous. I know, that sounds awful, but so many were off the mark about suicide and mental health, and they left  those of us who have weathered the harshness of depression thinking, "what the actual f*ck are you people talking about?!?"

Writer Sloane Crosley then tweeted about this book, how it had all anyone needed to know about suicide, and she was right.

It's a very difficult read, especially if you have suffered from suicidal thoughts or know someone who has taken their own life. Jamison paints the devastation through suicide notes, research, case studies, and her own experiences as a woman who suffers from manic depression. The takeaways are many, including the most effective ways that have been found to treat mental illnesses, which Jamison found are a factor in over 90 percent of suicides. Though this was written years ago, Jamison's work is extremely relevant, and her ability to paint a picture of what mental illness looks like through both research and personal stories is a gift.

Read this book. Those who have been to the dark place will understand and know they aren't alone(but be warned you may also have some strong flashbacks, and those aren't easy to weather) and those who haven't can hopefully develop empathy for people who have historically been thrown aside even after their deaths, sometimes even having their bodies refused burial.

Calypso by David Sedaris

Sitting down with an entire book of Sedaris' thoughts is always a treat. In his latest collection, he covers everything from family to middle age, from the devastation of his sister's suicide to having a tumor removed from his body to feed to a turtle. His writing is so hilarious that the serious, tough lessons hit me hard enough to knock the wind out of me. This is a fast read and a delight.


50 Beautiful Ways to Draw Your Beautiful, Ordinary Life by Irene Smit and Astrid van der Hulst

I am drawing my way through this book and loving it. I am not finished and will likely take a full year to get through all the artistic activities, but I wanted to mention it on the book list because of the pure joy I feel every time I pick it up.

I am horrible at drawing, painting, anything related to visual arts, but I have still thoroughly enjoyed attempting to capture what I see. This book has made me a better observer, and time seems to slow down when I sit to draw. I have to remain focused, something that is a challenge in our fast-paced world, and that brings a stillness to the day no matter how my picture turns out.


Eloquent Rage: A Black Feminist Discovers Her Super Power by Brittney Cooper

Britney Cooper writes honestly about what it means to be a black feminist in a world where feminism often doesn't do a great job of considering anything but white women's needs. Cooper still sees choosing to support feminism as worth it, and her words can help all of us make the movement better.

Cooper uses her anger, which many women are told is a bad thing to feel, in service of change. Her rage is eloquent, as the title implies, and she tells readers about harnessing her experiences and the feelings that come with them to affect the world.

Cooper shares her life, as well as research and deep analysis, and created a book I couldn't put down. I will likely pick it up to read again. I've never seen someone make such a convincing argument for black women owning and using their rage.


I adore pretty much anything Rachel Cusk touches. She wastes no words, gets to the heart of an issue, and writes with such beauty that I often find myself holding my breath while reading her work. Her non-fiction book on motherhood is further evidence of her skills.

This was published years ago, but I found the emotions she expressed are familiar no matter when you become a mother. Far from being unloving, her thoughts were honest and conflicted, complicated and all-encompassing, just like motherhood. 


If I had a coffee table, this book would be on it, not just because it's gorgeous but because I need to read these pages regularly. McAlary writes about how postpartum depression and a prompt to write her own eulogy led to a life change that helped her simplify and slow down. She covers everything from how to declutter to how to responsibly use technology without letting it overrun our lives. She's honest about the challenges of trying to live a slow life in a fast-moving world, but the solutions she offers are practical and effective.

McAlary's section on mindfulness beautifully explained everything I've learned about this approach and how using mindfulness techniques in our everyday encounters can transform our lives. I recommend this book for everyone.


Even my crappy photography skills can't ruin
the beauty of this book.


Fiction

Less by Andrew Sean Greer

I'm not sure what those who award the Pulitzer Prize look for in a book, but the 2018 pick was charming. Arthur Less, a semi-successful writer, decides to escape his own life when a man he's been in a sort of relationship with gets engaged and marries someone else. He takes invitations to teach in other countries, to attend writer's retreats, and anything else that can fill his calendar so he can escape from his own feelings.

I loved the characters in this book, and Greer isn't afraid to poke fun at his protagonist while still obviously caring for his well being. I found this book to be charming.

The Only Story by Julian Barnes

Barnes tells the story of Paul, a 19 year old who begins an affair with a married woman in her 40s. Paul lets his readers know that this isn't simply a sexual entanglement but a real relationship that spans time and challenges, and we see how the entire things unfolds from start to finish.

Barnes' writing is beautiful and even, flowing effortlessly. I enjoy his work and found this novel to read quickly and be full of compassion.

Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

"Things Fall Apart" is the first book in a trilogy, and many people read it in high school. I missed out, but I feel lucky that a friend recommended it to me. 

Okonkwo is a warrior in Africa who is not happy to see both religion and politics affect his community. Achebe spends the first part of the book getting readers acquainted with the customs of Okonkwo's community and giving insight into the man himself. When the European's clash with Okonkwo's community, affecting even his closest family, he struggles to find his place. The longer I read this book, the harder it was for me to put it down.


It's hard to describe how I felt about this book. I enjoyed it and recommend it, but it was also heartbreaking due to White knowing how humans work so well. 

Adrian Mandrick is an anesthesiologist who is also obsessed with birds, to the point that actual humans sometimes take a backseat to adding birds he's seen to his list.

When Mandrick's mother tries to reach him, we start to see his past story unfold alongside his current situation with his wife, his children, and his addiction. Though a couple of the last scenes felt a bit forced, the story was captivating and devastating in equal parts, though I believe White meant to offer hope in there as well.


Sunday, July 15, 2018

The Birthday Girls

My youngest kids are now five years-old, and that is just totally weird. Sticking to tradition, they were sick the week of their birthday, which has happened every single year since they turned one. The actual day of their birthday was fever-free, but the next day Asher came down with croup and Eowyn followed two days later. We had to postpone their party for a week, but they eventually hit the pool with friends, pizza, and so much sugar. I took no pictures of this party because I suck.

When Wren and Sam went to VBS in June, I was with Asher and Eowyn on their own for a couple of hours a day for a week. This is something that pretty much never happens because we're all usually together. We went to the library everyday, and people kept telling me how kind they were and how well they shared. 

I'm not going to lie, I was kind of shocked. All of the things those people said were true, but I had stopped seeing them. Having four kids is wonderful, but it leaves me simply commenting on bad behavior a lot in an attempt to keep the train on the tracks. Asher and Eowyn especially get this from me. That week reminded me that they do so much good, and I notice very little. I'm working on it.

Eowyn this year




She tried spicy chicken and loved it.
She loves roller coasters at Six Flags and cries when she isn't tall enough to ride one.
Eowyn played lookout/potty flusher/evidence destroyer for Asher when Asher swallowed a non-edible item. We were waiting for Asher to poop it out, but she was adamant that she never swallowed it. Why, then, did she have her sister flush the toilet every time poop hit the water? Asher was still going while Eowyn was frantically flushing. I just hope these two use their forces for good. If not, sorry.
Eowyn stuck a Perler bead up her nose. It was not awesome.
She loves books and drawing, and D has even taken some of her characters and transformed them into adult art pieces.
While mad at Asher, Eowyn screamed, "I don't want to be your twin!" to which Asher replied, "That happened in mom's stomach! You can't change it!"

Asher this year






She likely swallowed broccoli Shopkins, but who really knows.
She is standing out on her own by choosing not to ride as many roller coasters as Eowyn.
She is a total water baby who petitioned to remove her floaties and won.
Asher loves to draw and loves books. The Ling and Ting series is a favorite of them both, and Asher really likes Peppa the Pig books.
She interprets song lyrics to hilarious effect. We all now sing Sweet Dreams are Made of This with the lyrics, "Everybody's looking for dumplings."
Eowyn smirking.


These two are starting kindergarten this year, and I have no doubt they will be great learners. I'm lucky to have them.








Monday, July 2, 2018

June Book List


We're halfway through the year, and I am officially proclaiming 2018 a great year for readers. The books I've read so far this year have given me so much joy, and here are the ones I made it through in June.



Fiction

The Burgess Boys by Elizabeth Strout

Strout abandoned the style I know her for and opted for a straight-forward narrative told about the Burgess boys, two brothers from Maine held together by tragedy. Taking place in both Maine and New York, we learn about the Burgess boys when they try to help their sister with her son, a teen who has just committed a crime and started a major uproar in the small Maine community where the sister and son still live.

Strout's characters are rich, the plot intriguing, and the overall effect enthralling. She knows people, what motivates them and how they fit, and this is one of her greatest gifts to readers.


On Beauty by Zadie Smith

I am continuing my obsession with Zadie Smith's work, and "On Beauty" did not disappoint. Smith tells the story of the Kipps and the Belseys, two families differing in political and ideological views whose lives collide, often to comic results, at an American university.

Smith's gift is her use of dialogue, her understanding of who her characters are, and the way she weaves social issues into the daily lives of her characters. This book was funny and serious and heartbreaking, and I'm finding that to be true for most of Smiths' work. My introduction to her fiction was "Swing Time," but I think I loved "On Beauty" even more.

Florida by Lauren Groff

It's not fair to go into a book expecting it to be an earlier book. I made that mistake with Groff's story collection "Florida" mainly because I fell hard for "Fates and Furies" a couple of years back and will likely hold every book she ever pens against that one.

Once I adjusted, I enjoyed the stories about people who are in Florida or are somehow connected to the state. Most stories don't actually connect at all, though there are some that have the same female protagonist. 

The stories are character driven, interesting sketches of human beings and the circumstances they find themselves in surrounded by the relentless creatures and disasters of the Sunshine State. "Fates and Furies" is still my favorite by her, but this was a solid collection.


Kudos by Rachel Cusk

The third and final installment of Cusk's Outline trilogy is breathtaking, just like the previous books, Outline and Transition. Cusk's writing is unique because she does not give readers what they expect. The background of many characters, even the main protagonist, are sparse, but she creates conversations between characters that speak truths about humanity. People don't simply shoot the shit when they speak in a Cusk novel. They get down to the nitty gritty of existence in the best possible way.

I love Cusk's work and fell in love with her words and style the moment I started reading "Outline." Kudos was a beautiful finale that offered depth and a shattering ending scene that will not leave me anytime soon, if ever.


Asymmetry by Lisa Halliday

So I can't say much about this one, but please, someone go read it and then let's chat. Here are the basics: young professional, Alice, begins an unlikely relationship with famous writer, Ezra. It's a strange courtship considering the fact that Ezra is many decades older than Alice, but it has its tender moments. This is the central focus of the first section of the book titled "Folly."

Amar, an Iraqi-American, reflects on his past while held in an airport during the early 21st century. His story unfolds through flashbacks as readers wait to see his fate. This makes up the section called "Madness."

These two stories lead to the final installment that will either leave readers satisfied or totally pissed. I am in the first category, but I've read enough reviews to know many people are not.

"Asymmetry" is one of those books I love because I can't stop thinking about it. Halliday brings so many questions to the surface, and I absolutely do not have the answers. What more could you ask an author to do for you?


Non-fiction

Happy as a Dane: 10 Secrets of the Happiest People in the World by Malene Rydahl

If you're familiar with hygge and how Danes are so popular for their happiness status, this book won't offer any new revelations. However, it does explore some of the paradoxes, such as how Denmark rates so high in happiness rankings when suicide is still a major issue for this country.

Rydahl covers ten basic values that give Danes the happiness edge, and she discusses how these work in real life settings and what it means for Danes who have to compete with other countries where productivity, not happiness, is the goal. It was an enjoyable read.

Comfort Detox: Finding Freedom from Habits that Bind You Erin M. Straza

I had a hard time getting into "Comfort Detox." I loved the topic and the challenge to live outside of our comfort zones for a greater purpose, but the writing made me feel like I was slogging through, even when I enjoyed the content.

Having read Half the Sky and other books about problems around the globe caused by poverty, I am familiar with Straza's take on Christians needing to live outside of our comforts so others can simply live. It was a great reminder, and she brings up very relevant points about our habits and how many of us don't seek comfort from Christ. We like things and food and excess and comfort and use those as Band Aids instead of seeking God and serving others. Again, the writing wasn't my favorite, but the message is solid.

Everything That Remains: A Memoir by the Minimalists

I expected to like this book, and I did enjoy the content. However, like Straza's, I had a hard time with the writing. Set up as a journal, it felt like reading Joshua Fields Millburn's diary while also having to flip to the back for notes from Ryan Nicodemus, his friend and other half of the Minimalists. The dialogue often felt stilted, even though it was based off of real conversations.

The point of the book and the focus on  minimalism was good. Millburn walks reader through how he cleared his life of material excess, and this led to a whole other journey of ridding life of other excesses. From abandoning to-do lists, not having Internet access, and not worshipping achievements, Millburn shows how embracing minimalism is about so much more than just not buying junk. Unfortunately, for a book on minimalism the actual writing and format felt extremely clunky.

I follow The Minimalists on Twitter and will likely start listening to their podcast, but this was not my favorite book on minimalism.


Real Happiness: The Power of Meditation by Sharon Salzberg

After reading both of Dan Harris' books on meditation and happiness, I picked up Sharon Salzberg's guide because Harris recommends her strongly. I will buy this book and keep it on my nightstand because it is the perfect guide for meditation, mindfulness, and compassion.

Salzberg explains why we should mediate and then leads readers through many guided meditations to build their practice. The book is set up to be a 28 day guide with each week focusing on a different type of meditation. There is a CD to help with guided meditation, and Salzberg's writing is instructive, informative, and encouraging. Whether you are new to meditation or a seasoned meditator, this is a perfect read.

I'm Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness by Austin Channing Brown

This should be required reading for all white people. Austin Channing Brown tells what it is like growing up black in a world where her name was chosen to help her appear white on job applications because her parents knew that was her best shot at getting interviews as a black woman in America. She tells of her journey learning to love her Blackness and the challenges of working with organizations, mainly Christian ones, that say they want to have a diverse company but usually just want a few non-white faces to stand out in the crowd, not divergent views that might make other people face their own prejudices.

You will be convicted and uncomfortable while reading this book, and that is good. Sit with those feelings and listen to Channing Brown as she gives us all advice on how we can do better.

Essays

We Are Never Meeting in Real Life by Samantha Irby

I first read Irby's work in Nasty Women, where she penned an essay on being a black, queer woman in Trump country. Immediately enchanted, I put her newest book of essays on hold and devoured them in a matter of hours.

Irby writes about serious life matters using humor to leave the reader unsure whether to laugh or weep. I managed both by the end of the book. She is honest and covers topics some readers may not be able to handle. Nothing I can think of is off limits, and Irby's vocabulary and imagination are vast.

I love Irby's writing, her wit, her honesty, and her cynicism. This is another essay book from the first half of the year that I will likely read more than once.

Meaty by Samantha Irby

Of course after reading Irby's latest publication, I went back for her earlier essays. I enjoyed "Meaty," especially when she dived into deeper topics like her complicated relationship with her mother.

Irby pushes the exploration of taboo topics even further in "Meaty," and I think that's why I liked "We are Never Meeting in Real Life" better. I felt like Irby was still trying to find the balance between honesty and over-the-top in this one, but it is still an amazing book of essays that kept me laughing and thinking, a good combo.


There are No Grown Ups: A Midlife Coming of Age Story by Pamela Druckerman

I had mixed feelings when I read Druckerman's previous book, Bringing up Bebe. One thing I knew for sure was that I would not fit in with French women, and that was totally confirmed in this book.

Druckerman, an American journalist living in France, explores what it is like to be in the middle phase of life. Each chapter offers ways to know you're in your forties, such as cellulite on your arms (I have it and I am not yet forty) and people calling you ma'am. Because she lives in France, much of her exploration of middle age centers on French women, the affairs they have, the lingerie they wear in their sixties (I'm not even forty yet but the sixty year old in the sexy underthings is kicking my ass in this department) and what it means to have an identity as a middle aged woman in France. I didn't find these sections particularly useful, though it's interesting to know how women in other places are getting through midlife.

Druckerman is at her best when she is researching wisdom, sharing tidbits from Freud and Jung, and opening up about her cancer diagnosis and how it altered her view of middle age in certain ways. The book beautifully evolves to an ending that explores more of Druckerman's ancestry and what shaped the approaches her family took to life, approaches that have led Druckerman to this place in her own midlife experience.

If you want to know more about that ménage a trois she agreed to for her husband's 40th birthday, you will find it here, though I've informed D that asking me for a ménage a trois as a gift is the same as asking for a divorce. She wrote an article about it around the same time "Bringing up Bebe" came out, and it caused quite a stir. She explores more about that time in her life in a chapter of this book.


Memoir


Heart Berries by Terese Marie Mailhot

It's hard to nail this one down, but I will try. Mailhot's memoir of her life as a Native American woman suffering with mental health issues and recovering from trauma is raw, beautiful, and as hard to read as it is to put down. She shares her experiences in sparse chapters that unashamedly point fingers, not just at others but often at herself, highlighting the losses she's lived through and the toll her cumulative experiences have had on her present life.

In the interview at the end of the book, Mailhot admits that she started this book as fiction but decided to come out with the full truth and offer it as a memoir. Some reviewers have complained about this, saying it renders the writing less than authentic, but I don't agree. Anyone who has written knows that playing around with style doesn't mean the content isn't accurate. Mailhot said she worked for a detached voice, though most readers think that's just how she writes, and I understand her desire for a style that sounded both desperate yet removed. Reliving past trauma might be slightly less jarring if the author can play around with writing style to detach.

I waited for this one to finally be available at the library, and it was worth it. Shattering and honest, it's a unique book from a real talent.




Sunday, July 1, 2018

Persevering in June

The first six months of the year are gone.  How exactly did that happen?  Here's what I focused on in June.

Getting Rid of Plastic

In our continued effort to treat the planet better, I purchased reusable bags to replace Ziploc bags in our house. I'm hoping that my kids won't throw them away and that we'll find them as convenient as the less eco-friendly type. I plan on reviewing them once we've used them longer.

Letting Go of Expectations and Outcomes

Part of what I've learned studying meditation and mindfulness is how important it is to let go of expectations. This doesn't mean I can't hope for things, but letting go of how I expect a situation to turn out or how I expect someone to act is freeing because it allows me to live in the experience. I notice what is actually happening. I respond to what is, not my disappointment about what isn't.
This isn't easy, and I am working on it every day.

Writing Without Reader Eyes

I spent the whole month of June writing creatively and did not submit one word. This goes back to letting go of outcomes and expectations. I am trying to master my craft, write what I care about, and plow through about 17 essays and stories that are started but not finished. It's been refreshing to just write without taking time out for the submission process.

Yes, I do want these pieces to find homes, but that's not my primary concern right now. I'm writing for me and so I can grow in this area. I may continue this through July because I've enjoyed it so much. Maybe in August I can spend a ton of time just writing cover letters and submitting.

Being the Support Person

D is trying to finish his final graduate college classes this summer. That's been intense, and he's needed time to study as well as hold down a full-time job and parent. I'm trying to do what I can to take the load off of him in other areas of life, even if it's something as stupid as taking the trash out instead of waiting for him to drag that mess to the curb.

Marriage is precious when each of you can slide into the role you need to fill at the time. D usually takes the kids to the pool in the afternoons so I can get a break, but I have been doing that this summer so he can come home from work and start studying. I've realized how much I take him for granted and how he constantly expresses gratitude, an area I need to majorly work on.

Actually Eating the Vegetables

I'm still eating a sort of pescatarian diet that also includes eggs. Guess what I learned? There are tons of really unhealthy vegetarian-style foods out there. I knew this already because we have been through the gluten-free transition. Sure, you can eat healthier on a gluten-free diet, but you can also just eat gluten-free crap.

I am trying to make taking meat out of my diet = adding more vegetables, not more meat-free trash food. It's hard. I am never going to be one of those girls who gets excited about cauliflower or who salivates thinking of a soup made with squash. Those people are adorable, but I'm not one of them.

Salad? Yeah, I am trying to do that, but potato chips with black bean dip are also vegetarian, so I have to make myself choose wisely. This month has been a challenge, but I'm moving that direction.

No Summer School, Sort Of

For the first time in our homeschooling lives, we've decided to take a summer off. I ask the kids to read daily, but that's about it. However, we are working on other skills, mainly training our brains to handle big feelings without repressing or being totally controlled by them.

I've introduced activities, books, and workbooks on mindfulness, empathy, and calming down, as well as working through techniques for dealing with anxiety. Being able to handle emotions is the gift that keeps on giving, and I am honestly just now getting better at dealing with repressed issues and investigating my feelings without being owned by them. I want my kids to be able to do this much earlier in life. The public library and Pinterest have helped tons on this journey.

Creating

I am in the process of:
Creating a new art/homeschool room design
Creating a calm down box for the kids(and maybe me)
Creating quality time with each kid, each day



This is the beginning of the paint sample process.

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.