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.


Sunday, April 1, 2018

Moving On in March: What Persevering Looked Like

March's perseverance was a bit different. It was less externally results based and more about mindfulness, finding balance, and figuring out balance on the journey. The checking off the to-do list took a back seat to figuring out why I put certain items on the to-do list and really evaluating if I'm living out my values.

I did a lot less and lived a lot more. Yes, there are things I have to do, but I also get to choose how I spend much of my time. The small, everyday moments are everything, movement is not always progress, and what I do matters, especially if it's offering my time with love.

In March I:

watched beeswax melt;
rejoiced over seeds sprouting;
signed out of my virtual life for four straight days;
became more okay with our homeschool life leaning towards the unstructured side;
stopped just trying to get to the next thing.

I also:

Made My Phone a Phone

I have not been able to access social media on my phone for a while, but I took a step out of my comfort zone and now cannot access email on it. This means if I want to check email, I have to sit down at my computer with an intentional purpose. It's fabulous.

Practiced 52/17

The change in my freelance situation has left me with a ton of projects that I've started but not completed. It's messed with my focus. Where do I put my time?  What if I decide to just scoot over, open another document, oh, wait, what was I working on? How is it one in the morning and I have NOTHING completed to show for all the time I've been sitting here opening 64 documents?

I ran across the 52/17 rule, and it has helped me with focus. Basically, you stick to one task for 52 minutes and then give yourself a brain break for 17. No flipping between windows, scanning websites when I should be focusing, or forgetting what I was doing in the first place.

Writing

I wrote in mindfulness journals, practiced The Artist's Way journaling, wrote pieces and submitted, wrote pieces and didn't submit.  Here are two that found homes.

I Found the Secret to Connecting with My Tween

Stop Telling Me to Put My Twins in Matching Clothes

Lent

I had some goals for Lent. As usual, God took them and turned them into something better, both showing I am incapable of doing what He did and bringing me through Lent a different person.


Meditation/Mindfulness

I have flirted with meditation for months, but I committed in March. I meditate on my own and with the kids, and the kid-attended sessions are entertaining. During our first, one kid was jumping and one kid was farting and one kid said "stop farting, I'm meditating", and one kid answered, "you can't stop farts" and if you can find your happy place among all the talking and the room smelling like ass, well, congratulations because you are amazing at meditation.

For creativity's sake and calm, I also meditate alone.

I worked through A Book That Takes Its Time, an amazing mindfulness journey. It has helped me immeasurably, and I will review it in March's book review post.

Marriage

D and I have been married for 12 years. Our anniversary is in the middle of March, and we spent it preparing to take the kids on a vacation with friends. It was perfect. We woke up to a mountain view and the kids asking to feed the horses. I was fascinated watching D hot tub with little people and take them for rides in the canoe. I got lucky with this guy.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

February Book List

Fiction ruled the 28 days of February, with two non fiction books thrown in for good measure.

Non fiction

Lagom: The Swedish Art of Balanced Living by Linnea Dunne

Yes, another book about the concept of lagom. This was one of my favorites, with practical tips for living a lagom life broken into sections that cover work, home, style, and more. Add in beautiful pictures and design and I loved the whole experience of reading this book.

My Kitchen Year: 136 Recipes That Saved My Life by Ruth Reichl

This cookbook/journey book was not on my radar until a fellow freelancer, trying to help those of us who were reeling from the closing of Parent Co., recommended it. Reichl was editor-in-chief when Gourmet magazine went under after 70 years, and she was understandably also reeling. During her journey through grief, she kept a journal, made Twitter friends, and cooked her way back to life and her next big project.

Reichl's book is a great reminder of what happens when you grab beautiful ingredients, slow down, and absorb the entire experience of making a meal. Reichl splits her book into seasons, and as winter melts into spring and the process of time carries on, she shares the pain and the triumph of starting over, as well as 136 recipes that will bring even the most desperate mourner back to life.

Besides being a great read, it's a phenomenal cookbook. I now make the meanest gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches on the block, so look out.

Fiction

Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward

This book is as amazing and shattering as everyone says. I felt like the first few pages were slow, but when I got hooked, I couldn't put it down.

Told from different points of view, Ward has a gift when it comes to giving each character a unique voice. Spanning generations and taking an honest look at the results of racism, "Sing, Unburied, Sing" should leave every reader unsettled. There were times I was holding my breath as I followed 13 year-old Jojo on his journey as he tried to come to terms with a father in prison, a mother with issues, and grandparents who wouldn't be around forever to protect him. Then there's the fact that he can communicate and hear things other people can't.

I'm not much of a ghosts-just-show-up-in-books person, but it happens here and it is done exceptionally well. That should say tons about Ward's writing and storytelling skills.

Brass by Xhenet Aliu

Told from the perspective of a mother and daughter at two different points in life, this is so much more than just a mother/daughter tale, though it does shed beautiful light on the complications of those relationships. It looks at the immigrant experience in the states and explores the stories we don't know about others, even those we're closest to.

When Luljeta rebels for the first time in her life, she goes all in. After being rejected from her first college choice, she sets out to find her father, who walked out of her life before he was born. Her journey leads her away from her mother, Elsie, while also revealing her mom's story and the conditions that left her stuck in the situation Luljeta desperately wants to leave.

This book kept me interested until the end. It was a human story with heartbreaking moments, and I recommend it.

The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin

I was worried going into this one because I saw the book everywhere, reviewed and marketed endlessly. That's either the sign of an amazing book or a set-up for disappointment because the book can't live up to the hype. I am happy to report that, for me, this book lived up to at least some of the hype. It's not the best I've read this year, but it's very good.

We meet the four Gold siblings in 1969 when they visit a fortune teller to find out the date each of them will die. From there, the stories are told by each sibling in different chapters. Will they each die when they were told? Are there benefits to supposedly knowing the expiration date on your life? These are the questions Benjamin seeks to answer, as well as if our decisions make a difference in the ultimate outcomes of our lives.

Mudbound by Hillary Jordan

In the post WWII world, when men of color fought in the war but came home to a country that still viewed them as second class citizens, we meet a cast of characters whose fates will intertwine to create a shattering story.

Ronsel comes back from Europe to the Mississippi Delta and helps his dad work the land he still doesn't own for the McAllan family.Jamie McAllan comes back to help his brother Henry and to try to get a grip on his life. Told from rotating points of view, we meet many characters and get to peer into their minds, giving us a glimpse into the racism, sexism, and horror of the not-so-recent past (and unfortunately, this kind of racism and sexism is still not rare.)

Jordan is an expert at creating full, rich, characters and putting them into a story that speeds to a horrifying conclusion.

One Station Away by Olaf Olafsson

I don't know why the word meandering comes to mind when I think of this novel, though it might very well fit. Olafssen tells the story of Magnus, a man mourning a loss while trying to deal with strained parental relations and work as a neurologist. Three women in his life connect the story, and the book is told partially through flashbacks that allow us to view Magnus' childhood and relationship with his fiancée.

I enjoyed this book.  It wasn't extraordinary, but it was thoughtful and well written.

Exit West by Mohsin Hamid

Hamid's book couldn't have existed at a better time than the present. Nadia and Saeed meet in the war-ravished country they live in and decide to escape through the magic doors that are popping up all over the place. These doors carry people to other locations, and though Nadia and Saeed leave the threats of their home country, they are forced to deal with the hostile attitude towards foreigners when they arrive in other lands.

This story explores major world issues while still remaining a personal story about two young people in a relationship. That may be its magic. This is my favorite book by Hamid.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Persevering in February

This month was short but full.  As I continue to try to persevere in certain areas, I find that it takes mindfulness to stay on course.  Here's where my mind and actions focused this month.

Autonomy for My Kids

I've always known my job as a parent is to get my kids ready to launch. We have a very short time to accomplish that, and I've started seeing how short since my oldest is halfway to 18. I'm trying to give all four more autonomy, still being there when they need me but not being there when I feel like I need to be and they don't. Sometimes it's hard to know the difference.

We've spent more time in nature, one area I want to continue to persevere in, and the kids are natural leaders there. I've also been handing over recipes and letting them cook, something that wasn't easy for me when they were younger since our flour costs $12 a bag.  Messes are costly, but so is robbing them of the independence of prepping food for their whole family.

Basically, I've been doing what I've always done but more often and with more natural consequences: let them make their mistakes, make their choices, test their limits, and deal with the outcomes.  Sometimes it's gone well, like a three hour outdoor exploration led entirely by the kids where we came home wet, tired, and exuberant. Sometimes it's been pretty awful, like when one kid didn't want to do AWANAS work, didn't do AWANAS work, then had a massive breakdown when the verses weren't magically memorized. Or when one kid didn't get out of the bathtub when asked just to throw sass and had to shove dinner down her throat in four minutes, miss bedtime stories and her nightly smoothie. That's life, and that's what we're preparing them for.

Loving the Planet

I've always cared about the planet, but I'm also kind of lazy. I have tried to make all the very big, environmentally positive changes in one day, and I've inevitably failed at all of them. Not this year.

I am making small changes that will hopefully have large impacts when it comes to taking care of the environment.  We've always recycled, but I also started making myself carry reusable bags to the store this month. I have done this in the past, but when I forgot I'd just take plastic. Now if I forget, I make myself by another reusable bag.  I'm cheap, so this is really working to jog my memory.

I needed new jeans (need is the accurate word in this case since I had one pair and they started ripping in two places that were going to eventually lead to indecent exposure charges), so I ordered from ThredUp, a used clothing company. Reusing is environmentally friendly, and the new jeans were made for me, even if I'm not the first one to wear them.

We're going to explore the recycling center in March to help the kids see the impact of our decisions.  I'm also trying to wear D down in the hopes that he will eventually get on board with composting. He has some concerns since I can't smell, and rats the size of squirrels are often seen on the sidewalks in our neighborhood, but I know I can make it work.  I don't really know that, but I'm trying to convince us all.

We're also eating loads of leftovers to decrease food waste, and that's decreasing our grocery bill in the process.

Accepting Constructive Criticism

I got the coolest rejection email last week, and I cannot shut up about it.  Okay, I've only told D, but he will tell you that I can't shut up about it.  A local, wonderful publication rejected one of my short stories, but they took the time to send me feedback because the story was well received by most of their reading committee.  They only send feedback about 10 percent of the time when they think stories have a real shot if revisions are made.

There were two detailed, very honest reviews of what did not go well with the story, and I hopped around the house like a toddler who found mom's secret chocolate stash for an hour after I read them. Why? Because they responded. They took the time. Also, they were right. I did what they said I did, it weakened the story and caused it to go unpublished, and now I can fix it. They also shed light on habits I have in my writing that I need to work to overcome, and I am eternally grateful for that.

It's easy to get stuck on the rejection part, but I try to teach my kids that learning, even if you don't win, is invaluable.  I actually felt that this month. I didn't personalize the rejection; I appreciated the  opportunity to improve.

Anxiety Tracking

It's come to my attention that many people still don't fully understand what anxiety is like, as evidenced by the many conversations I've sat through where things like "don't worry", "have faith", and "let go of control" are repeated.

Sure, people get anxious when they are stressed, but anxiety is also a recognized mental health issue that some of us can't fully control. I wake up on certain mornings with my heart rate elevated to the point that I can't take deep breaths. Nothing changed while I was sleeping except for a hormonal shift that affected my brain or my adrenals wigging out and not controlling my cortisol levels. I didn't just forget to "let go and let God".

Anyway, I started tracking my anxious days because they follow a pretty regular pattern. I am much better since my adrenals are recovering, but when I ovulate, I still have issues. The adrenals produce progesterone, mine still seem to be failing at this, so ovulation is a hard time for my body.

I may deal with this forever, or at least until menopause when I will begin a whole different load of challenges, so I'm trying to do what I can with what I have. I'm tracking my anxiety days because the best thing I can do when I'm anxious is contain the damage. I need to pull away as much as I can on these days, which isn't completely possible since I homeschool my kids.  Still, when D gets home and I've pegged a days as falling on the anxious scale, I leave. 

My anxiety looks nothing like me worrying 24/7. It looks like me being so irritable that there is nothing anyone can do that does not startle me and then push me into an all-out angry response.  Imagine all sounds causing my heart rate to spike and put me in fight or flight mode + four kids under the age of 10.  You'd be glad to see me leave, too.

Social Justice Activities

I voted in the Democratic primaries. It didn't take much time, I felt great about who I voted for, and I am counting down until November. It's not hard to get politically involved.

D and I also found a sitter so we can go meet with our church about the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements. D and I haven't had a sitter in about three years. This is important, and we both want to be around the table discussing next steps, me as a survivor and him as the best damn feminist I know.

Monday, February 5, 2018

It Wasn't All Bad: Persevering in January

That last post about persevering through the loss of a familiar, wonderful freelance gig didn't leave much room to talk about other ways I persevered in January, ways that weren't so traumatic. I'm doing that here because my focus word has helped me evaluate my goals and plan my time, and it's going well. Here's where perseverance led me during the first month of the year.

I supported a local writer friend and signed up to be on a launch team for another writer that I know through a place we both have work published. I am also filling out Amazon reviews for books I love. I want to support artists, so I'm finding ways to make it happen.

I attended a Bible study on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the Book of Amos, and social justice. We have a discussion this week about where to go from here, and I can't wait to see what comes from it.

I attended the Women's March in Dallas with a dear friend. I was able to protest while hanging out with one of my favorite people, so double win. I also met women running for office in Texas while there and felt a sense of belonging that calmed me in the midst of all the upheaval in the world.

I kept in touch with my people face-to-face, through text, or on the phone. I do this regularly, but I tried to be the one to initiate contact more often. Community is necessary and healing.

I got out in nature and got the kids out in nature every second we could. We took the idea of no bad weather, just bad clothes seriously, and I have felt much better because of it. There's very little I know of that can't be cured by fresh air and sunshine.

Where I Need to Work

Fiction Writing: I pretty much met my goals on non-fiction work, but this novel needs to write its own damn self. I made progress, but not the progress I hoped for.

In case you're wondering, D is an excellent and very strict editor. When I missed my first deadline, I was sentenced to wiping the butts of the youngest in the house until my pages were turned in. That's two four-year-olds 24/7. He looks nice, but he does not play.

I did make major progress on a short story, so that's something. I think I may have to set an appointment every week to leave the house and set up camp alone to work on fiction. Will someone make sure I do this?  I am 38 years-old and still in desperate need of a keeper.

Sleep:  So, I need sleep. I need a bedtime routine. I need to grow up and get disciplined in this area because there is only so much coffee in the world. Whatever. We'll see.

How are you persevering in February?

Thursday, February 1, 2018

So You Thought This Was Going to be Linear: Persevering in January

It's funny how when you set a goal, life decides obstacles might make it more interesting. Truthfully, I am lucky I chose my focus word and had a clear view of my goals before January, because the last week of the month blew pieces of my world to bits.

The website I contribute to regularly is about to disappear. A source of professional and personal support, as well as income, is going to evaporate, just like that.

I'm a freelance writer, so I should be used to this, but I'm not. I have been so lucky from the start because Parent Co. is amazing. I've published other places, but I really dug in with them because of my amazing editor, their streamlined process, and their unending support for their authors. Plus, I loved their website even before I wrote for them.

I handled the news really well. Just kidding, I freaked the hell out when I received the email on Monday. D wasn't home yet, and I was in the house with the kids suddenly dealing with tunnel vision and dry heaves. This was a gut punch, a loss, cause for immediate mourning. I calmed down long enough to realize this loss hurt for a multitude of reasons, and I was going to have to face all of them.

1. I like bringing in money. We don't depend on my income, thank God, but it's nice to have and I like making it. I like being paid consistently for what I do. Yes, I can do this with other sites, but I had a process that worked, and I LOVE my routines.

2. I have some serious identity confusion at times. I know I'm a writer whether my work is being published or not because I write. I know this is not the only place that has accepted my work.  However, the loss of this place made me feel like I lost my writer identity somehow, and I need my writer identity. I love being a mom and a wife, but I need to write and to view myself as a writer because it's what I do. Before I talked myself through the whole you're-still-a-writer-thing, I felt untethered.

3. I like it when things are linear. I worked a couple of years to establish my writing, and it went well. I found a place I loved and did work for them. Nice gig. This is not the freelancer's real life, and I should have known that since every freelancer on the planet will tell you all the time. I didn't listen because I didn't want to. I am at the starting-over placeluckily not totally over because I have made contacts and built my resumebut I do not love the two-steps-back process.

4. I love the people I work for and with. I submitted to Parent Co. because I read their articles and found them beautiful and useful. They spoke to me as a parent in a way that I needed to be spoken to. I was so intimidated that I hesitated to submit my work, then when the first article was accepted, I assumed it was a fluke and was scared to try again. I finally did after my editor reached out to me, and now I have around 50 articles that have found a home there.

Luckily, the writers and my editor (is it weird that I'm still claiming her?) have come together and vowed to never leave each other. The support has been more than I thought was possible.

Everyone talks about how enlightening and freeing it feels to be pushed out of a routine and into the scary places, but here's the truth: first it feels like shit, like a sucker punch, like your skin is on fire and you are running from yourself.

I cried a lot. I still cry a lot, even though we're going on day five of the news. I cry because something beautiful is ending. I cry because beautiful things are already being planted. I cry because I feel taken care of by people I've never even met in person, and I need that right now. I am zero percent useful in a crisis. I hate this about myself, but it is a fact. One friend told me to just be bossy during a crisis and it would calm me down, but what would I say during my bossy time?  Don't follow me, I'm just running in circles with no clue? This is as horrible as it seems, I can feel it?  I just threw up in my mouth?  Nobody needs to hear from the person who can only bring themselves to this, which is me.

Other writers have created lists and are encouraging all of us to get back out there and own it. They are reminding us kindly of all the waiting rejection but also of the possible success. They are whispering persevere.

And I will. The first night I just cried into a plate of cheesy bacon fries and sent an email to my friend that said, "I'm not having a crisis. Wait, yes I am." D talked me off the ledge about 400 times, only to have me start crying again five minutes later.

My friend sent an email back that said "you're gonna continue to rock out with your lady c*ck out (that's a colloquialism. If you have a lady c*ck I think I would have heard about it by now)", and I laughed for the first time since I got the news. I will rock out, eventually.

In honor of a wonderful site that gave me so much love and support, here are three pieces that hold a special place in my heart that were lucky enough to find homes on Parent Co. Check them out before the site is gone for good at the end of the month.

The Inconvenience of Girls Who Want

I outed myself as a survivor of rape and sexual assault in this one, though you would have to notice the word we instead of them to catch it.

I don't believe victims of rape and sexual assault have to out themselves. It took me over a decade to tell anyone I was raped, and I still don't share the details. However, it was important for me to tell at this point in my life, and this article was the beginning of that. I felt freer once it was published, and I am so grateful my editor saw fit to include it on the site.

Raising an Orchid Child in a Dandelion World

When I found out one of my kids was an orchid, life made sense in a way it hadn't previously. I was able to pull together all of the research I had been doing when I wrote this one, and it gave me an opportunity to get everything straight in my head.


Can a Mother be Undeserving of Her Child's Love?

Originally titled "When Love is a Homemade Necklace, and I'm Not Worthy", this is the first piece that I ever had published on Parent Co. I am still way too careless with my children's love, and I try to do better every day. Putting this piece out there made me feel both vulnerable and accepted, even when I'm screwing up this mom thing.

May you go forth and persevere in February and every day, no matter what life hits you with. Onward.



Tuesday, January 30, 2018

January Book List 2018

There were some common themes in the books I read this month: midlife, nature, and lagom.  I find that sometimes things overlap that way, and it's fun. Certain holds will come in at the same time, or I'll see a book I thought would be on hold on the shelf and grab it. This month's reading reinforced my belief in living a life of balance and being outside.

I am also going to review my favorites from each month on Amazon. That's part of my perseverance practice for this year that involves supporting other artists. Amazon reviews, even if they aren't long and detailed, can help writers, so think about taking the time to review books you love when you can.

Memoir

You Don't Have to Say You Love Me by Sherman Alexie

I avoided this book for a while because I knew Alexie was going to slaughter me. I read "The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian" years ago.  Alexie's YA fiction book, one of the most banned books in the country I believe, left me weeping. His memoir about mourning the death of his mother did the same.

Alexie grew up on an Indian reservation in Spokane, and his relationship with his mother was complicated. His mother struggled with mental illness, as does Alexie, but she gave up drinking when Alexie was young. Alexie credits this move on her part for saving his life, though he still suffered in ways that most of us will never know.

This book is a tribute, an accusation, a letter of forgiveness to the woman who raised him. Laced with poetry and prose, Alexie's writing is beautiful and full, and this is a wonderful, if shattering, read.

Love and Trouble: A Midlife Reckoning by Claire Dederer

Poser: My Life in 23 Yoga Poses is one of those books that holds a certain place marker in my life. I read it after Sam was born, before the twins were conceived, and I loved it. That's why I grabbed Dederer's latest memoir about her midlife journey to rediscover the girl she once was: sexual, adventurous, untethered.

When Dederer starts having desires that don't quite fit in her life as a mom and wife living in Washington state, she pulls out her old diaries and remembers the girl she left behind, the one who grew up longing for both love and sex. Dederer takes us on a personal journey as well as exposing the world she grew up in where the free love movement didn't always mean safety for girls.

This book is honest and raw, and Dederer holds nothing back as she tries to figure out what a midlife sexual awakening means for her current life. She explores not only sex but the reality of what happens to girls who care more about being loved than actually finding someone worthy of their love.

Lights On, Rats Out by Cree LeFavour

LeFavour's memoir is unique in many ways. Her writing style is not easily definable, but it present its own sort of magic and beauty. That's good to have since the time in her life she covers revolves around the years she burnt her body with cigarettes and fell in love with the psychiatrist trying to help her.

LeFavour shares details of her childhood, where she was pretty much abandoned by both parents, and she explores her desire to burn herself and how she ultimately stopped. Like Dederer's memoir, LeFavour is flashing back to this period in her life after wrestling with temptations in the present. It's different than most anything I've read, and I am glad I picked it up.

Fiction

Genuine Fraud by E.L. Lockhart

I have never been disappointed in an E.L. Lockhart book until now. Though the set up of "Genuine Fraud" is unique, the story isn't. It so closely resembles the plot of a major movie from years ago that it could almost qualify as plagiarism. If you want pure gold from Lockhart, grab her Boyfriend Quartet or her suspenseful We Were Liars.

Goodbye, Vitamin by Rachel Khong

Even typing a review for this one is almost bringing me tears. "Goodbye, Vitamin" is a sparse, beautiful story of a young woman suffering through a break up while also going home to take care of her father, who is losing his memory. It's a story of a family in crisis looking for redemption, and I think it's how Khong captured all of the small things so simply that made this one stick for me. It's a quick read, and I highly recommend it to all.

Heather, the Totality by Matthew Weiner

I enjoyed Mad Men so I was curious as to what a book written by the creator of the show would be like. I was not remarkably impressed. This slim novel follows Heather, the only daughter of a well-off New York couple, and the parents who adore her. Her life collides with a man who has lived a hard life and, in my opinion, is a sociopath. Chaos ensues.

Not a lot of things make me uncomfortable when I read them, but the parts written from the sociopath's perspective did.  I guess that's called good writing, but it didn't feel that way when I was reading it. I felt more like Weiner had sketched out somewhat interesting characters, but the story didn't hold together for me. I didn't know it was over until I landed on the acknowledgements page.


Seven Days of Us by Francesca Hornak

I picked this one up because it was a read-alike for The Nest, a book I read last year and loved. It was a good choice. Though "Seven Days of Us" can feel predictable at times, Hornak does a beautiful job of creating rich characters that the reader will care about.

Quarantined with her her family for seven days around Christmas, Olivia tries to adjust to her life back home after helping with the deadly Haag virus in Africa. Her younger sister is obsessed with her wedding planning, and her mom and dad both have their own worries. The stories of all the family members collide as we're given views from each person's point of view.

This was a very enjoyable read with heart.

So Much Blue by Percival Everett

Percival Everett is a prolific author, but this is the first book I've read by him. "So Much Blue" tells the story of Kevin Pace during three points in his life: during a trip to El Salvador, during an affair in Paris, and during his family life drama. These events occur years apart but connect and give a full picture of Kevin as he wrestles with what he needs out of life and why he won't show anyone his latest painting.

Everett's writing is smart, deep, and addicting. The characters in this book come to life, and the dialogue is witty and real. I loved this book, and I am adding Everett to my list of authors whose work I want to devour. 

Non-fiction

Live Lagom: Balanced Living, the Swedish Way by Anna Brones

This was my first of three books about lagom this month, the Swedish concept of living a life of not too little but not too much. Finding balance in every area of living is important to the Swedes, and Brones' book is a solid introduction to how to achieve that balance.

Brones' mother is from Sweden, so Brones has a unique view of the differences between the American and the Swedish way. She's not shy about what some view as the downfalls of lagom, and she shares what works and how with readers. I really enjoyed this book, and it made me hungry for more lagom-centered reads.


Your Scandinavian starter books



With Brones' book as an introduction, Brantmark's book gave more detail into the how and why of lagom. The pictures were beautiful, the book was in depth, and I spent quite a bit of time savoring this one. I didn't want to give it back to the library because it's a great resource, so it may go on the must-buy list. 

Brantmark is knowledgeable and a good writer, and her insights are great for those seeking balance.

The Little Book of Lagom by Jonny Jackson and Elias Larson

Maybe it's because I'd already read two fabulous books on lagom, but this one did not inspire me. It was skimmable and felt like it could be a book on just general life tips as opposed to specifically about lagom. I didn't spend much time on it and I would not recommend dropping off here on your lagom journey.


My next stop on the go-outside-already tour was Akeson McGurk's book about how the Swedish send their kids outside rain, shine, or snow. Akeson McGurk, who grew up in Sweden, found that recreating the outdoor life for kids in the States presented some challenges. She moved back to Sweden with her two young daughters for six months and found that parents there still believe in sending their kids out into the world with the right clothes to explore, unless there's a chance they will be struck by lightning.

She watched her shy child flourish in the woods, and she offers practical advice for how to get kids out more. Backed by research touting the benefits of being outside, this book was a fun, researched read that inspires.  Truly inspirational?  Akeson McGurk came back to the States and started working in her area to build more systems to allow kids to enjoy the outdoors. She is being the change she wants to see.

Because I know all of my kids flourish in the outdoors, and because one of them becomes much less anxious and doubtful in nature, I found a forest school in the area after I closed the last page on this one. Between the school and the commitment D and I have made to be outside with the kids so many hours a day, I'm confident we will collect all the right clothes needed for any weather soon enough.

The Nature Fix by Florence Williams

Williams' book began my obsession with all things nature, and I'm so far down the rabbit hole now that I may never crawl out. I think that's okay, because her detailed research points to what most of us probably already suspected: humans need to be out in nature. Our brains and bodies need it, and in today's technology-obsessed fast-paced world, we are going to have to prioritize being immersed in nature if we want it to happen.

I have always felt this, so Williams' research didn't surprise me. However, it pushed me to action in a more committed way. Williams' breaks her books into parts, and though there is tons of information, her writing style is both entertaining and informative. She worked with researchers, hiked trails all over the world, tried virtual nature, and made this information easily accessible to all of us. I savored this book and actually may purchase it. That's big for me because I am a hard-core library user.

Williams' explains the benefits of being in nature for short spurts, hours a month, or weeks at a time.  She looks at the way nature is now being used as therapy, and she offers hope for anyone living in a flat, concrete-covered suburb (ahem, me) who wants to find ways to live in nature more.


Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone  by Brené Brown

I have read articles about Brené Brown, seen quotes by Brené Brown, but I have never read a Brené Brown book until now. I was seriously missing out. In today's world, which sometimes feels charged by anger alone, "Braving the Wilderness" is a must-read.

Brown discusses how to both belong and also how to be ready to be the wilderness on our own.  Doing the latter actually helps us do the former, and I couldn't have read this book at a better time in my life. Not fully fitting into any group and feeling it a lot more lately due to the current climate in the world, this book empowered me and brought me to tears at times.

Brown writes the rules for how to be the wilderness and offers practical advice for how to follow them. "Daring Greatly" is next on my list by Brown.