To Me, You Are Perfect

IMG_5035I’ll bet none of you has ever watched Love Actually quite like I did today. While at the dentist. With a pillow and blanket. Getting five fillings. Yes, FIVE. The whole experience made me thankful for three things:

  1. The blissfully buzzy combination of nitrous oxide and British comedy. (When my dentist told me this visit would be mostly out of pocket, I replied that I’d just think of it as a couple of really expensive margaritas.)
  2. That Aaron gives Anderson exactly a 50% shot at decent dental genes.
  3. That drilling in my mouth for 1.5 hours kept my dentist too busy to look up at Love Actually’s brief yet awkward “adult film scenes.” Both Dr. Yang and I narrowly escaped death by embarrassment.

So what makes this movie so great? I found myself thinking in my happy, floaty, compromised state. And it is so great, I would argue – a perfect companion for giftwrapping, slumber parties and extreme dental procedures alike.

It’s not like we’d actually want to be in the shoes of most of the characters (STD-bound, party-in-the-USA Colin? No thanks. Struggling porn stars? Pass. Widowed father, cheated on boyfriend, or cheated on wife? No, no no!)

And it’s not like most of us would even in-real-life condone what are ultimately some of the film’s most endearing moments (kissing your best friend’s wife, hooking up with an x-rated actor, making out with your much younger political assistant). But the magic of this movie is that these moments ARE just that – truly real, truly sweet, truly endearing. Alas – we silently cheer these moments regardless of moral murkiness.

TOP FIVE TAKEAWAYS FROM LOVE ACTUALLY:

1) You don’t have to speak the same language to fall in love.

How adorable are Jamie and his Portuguese assistant who jumps into the water to save his manuscript and takes English lessons for him? THAT’S true love.

2) Don’t take yourself too seriously. Even prime ministers need to dance down the stairs to 80s music from time to time.

3) Be real with your kids, and let them be real with you.

Show of hands – who wanted to adopt little red-headed lovelorn Sam the minute he started locking himself in his room with signs like, “Rhythm is my life?” Yep me too. I treasure the relationship he has with his dad as they both navigate life and love after losing their wife/mom.

4) “Life is full of inconveniences and complications.” – Karl to Sarah as sparks finally fly after their office Christmas party, but keep getting interrupted by her brother’s phone calls.  Oh, the brother…  Oh, the phone calls…

Live anyway. Love anyway. Try again.

5) Tell someone that to you, they are perfect. Preferably the person YOU’RE married to (or at least who’s not married to someone else), but I’ll give the guy a break – he needed to grieve and give up. And that kiss from Keira Knightly after he holds up all the signs? I’d like to think it’s a perfectly platonic friendship, “thank you” kiss. Sounds like the kind of thing that exists in Britain. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. To me, it’s perfect.

 

**I wrote this in December, 2014 but somehow it got stuffed in a draft folder and never published…. so here it is 18 months later…better late than never!

Psychology of a Christmas Tree

Psychology of a Christmas Tree

Every year there’s a mental shift that takes place in my mind, when a physical shift takes place in our living room. We have a tradition of trekking out to North Bend, walking through row after row of crisp green evergreens and finally, finally – blurry-eyed because all trees looks EXACTLY THE SAME after you’ve looked at 300 of them– we choose one to chop down, shake, bale and tie to our car. (*I should mention that this year, for the first time ever, the process was shortened significantly due to the virtual SQUALL we rode in on. Aaron essentially pointed to the first tree he saw and began sawing it down, while I nonstop chased Anderson through the mud, almost guaranteeing a round two of his already endless cold. But, I digress.)

THIS is how excited Aaron gets when we go to the tree farm (AKA a rare day out in the country with manly tools):

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I, on the other hand, play it cool at all times.

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Then we head home, I decorate the tree pretty much entirely by myself, and Aaron contributes to the festive spirit by agreeing to be “tortured” by Christmas music of the 90s pop singer variety.

And then this magical thing happens. This huge, dead, dry, expensive TREE makes its home next to our couch and magazine basket for the next month. I mean, if you really think about it – the whole thing is a pretty funny tradition we Christmas-celebrators have.

The even weirder thing is how deliriously HAPPY it makes people to put plastic lights and other shiny things all over an increasingly dead tree and just sit there and stare at it for a month. I think I might be at risk for whiplash simply from the number of times I’ve already turned to observe our Noble Fir in all its glory while writing this.

So, I don’t know why these dead trees affect us so much, but they do. When my tree is sending the scent of pine wafting through my house and little pinpricks of lights are shining through my windows for these few fragile weeks each year, I feel safer. I feel like life itself is warmer and softer and gentler. Like this tree with 100 balls hanging from it will protect me from all harm, and will force my life to be more profound and meaningful and rose-colored.

And I think because we tend to attach this kind of illogical but really sweet meaning to these enormous green things in our living rooms, it just kind of becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Life tends to be sweeter and slower and more meaningful for these weeks when the Christmas tree moves in.

People need this month. People need these lights, and this slow-down, and these traditions that just ARE. People need pure little joys that they’re not intended to over-think. It all means something uniquely different to each of us. And that’s the beauty, and the magic, of this season.

This was our first Christmas tree in our first little house the year we were married (I know, I know – it’s hard to see it, in such fierce competition with the AWESOME paint colors):

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And this is our current tree (please note the all-grown-up neutral color palette):

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Merry Christmas, everyone.  Cheers to the mystery behind the things that bring us joy.

My Holiday Book Picks

IMG_4883I’ve had a number of people ask me for book recommendations lately. Maybe it’s because I’m a loud advocate for books I love, or because I recently started another book club (yay!), or because – best case scenario – I have good taste in books? I would like to think so, but then again books are very personal things.

I’ve been painfully at a loss for what to write this last month. I think posting several essays I was passionate about in October took a lot out of me, and I’ve needed a few weeks to just mull life over, eat turkey and wait for inspiration to strike.

I’m feeling inspired to recommend books I love. After all, it’s December, which means you’re either looking for good gift ideas or will soon be lying around on the couch with extra time to kill. Either way, maybe you’ll fall in love with one of these titles, too…

DISCLAIMER – I don’t claim to run an extraordinarily diverse gamut in what I read. I will be the first to acknowledge these are largely mainstream, popular best-sellers. But I love them nonetheless, and apparently a lot of other people do, too. You won’t find much sci-fi here, or historical fiction, or deep philosophical musings. What you WILL find are compelling stories that made me laugh or cry, made me more tolerant and embracing, or softened my heart – stories about people, about morality, passion, love, loss, friendship, family, identity, bravery and adventure.

MY TOP 10 NON-FICTION PICKS:

Wild by Cheryl Strayed

This was the first book my new book club read. I challenge anyone not to find an honest piece of themselves in Cheryl’s story, her emotional journey arguably even more grueling than the physical one she tackles over months alone on the Pacific Crest Trail. I laughed, I winced in pain (That backpack! Those SHOES!!), shook my head at her utter unpreparedness, and ultimately cheered her across the finish line, into the brand new life that awaited her. Be one of the cool ones who reads it before it hits theatres this month.

The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan

I have not eaten at McDonald’s since reading this book. I usually don’t read things this meaty (no pun intended..) and academic, but I bow to Michael Pollan’s exhaustive research and learned so much from this absorbing read. I will never think of a corn farmer, home-cooked dinner, or fast food meal the same again.

Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua

This was the “love it or hate it” parenting book of 2012 and was nothing if not controversial. Personally, I loved it. NOT because I necessarily agree with it, or strive to follow the uber-strict parenting it endorses (Teenage piano recital at Carnegie Hall? Check. Fun sleepover at a friend’s house, ever? Definitely not check.). But because this book showed me I must be growing up – I could appreciate, respect, and even find joy in reading – someone’s story and logic that is very, very different from my own. I loved Amy Chua’s honesty – sometimes self-deprecating, sometimes unapologetic.  She reminded me that no matter how different our practices or philosophies may be, she’s just another parent, doing the best she knows how, with her kids’ best interests at heart.

Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom

An oldie but a goodie. Old man, young man. One dying with few regrets, one living with many. Aha moments and tears abound…

Audition by Barbara Walters

I have always had a career-woman crush on Barbara Walters. I would give up stay-at-home-mom’ing to be her. Anderson would understand. This memoir, her life, the obstacles she’s overcome, the glass ceilings she’s shattered, the people she’s interviewed and opened up to the world that was watching – are all nothing short of fascinating to me.

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott

Written as a loose and gentle ‘instruction guide’ for aspiring writers – Lamott’s words are universal and meant to be applied to the art of living, too.

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

I didn’t know anyone’s childhood could be quite this crazy until I stepped into that of Jeannette Walls. I remember reading this book by the pool on a weekend in Arizona last winter, and I kept nudging or waking up Aaron to read him passages – it was simply too outrageous to keep to myself. I found a lot of correlations between Walls and Cheryl Strayed in their childhoods (and the extent to which they overcame them), and raw, eyebrow-raising, deadpan writing styles. Highly recommend both, but have to say this is the stronger book.

Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

Did anyone not take this indulgent, invigorating and enriching self-discovery trip around the world back in 2007? Good. Just checking.

Quiet by Susan Cain

The full title is Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking.

Aaron says I’m obsessed with framing people and life through the lens of “introvert” and “extrovert.” This book fueled that obsession, and gently taught me so much about the importance of those quiet moments in my own life, and those quiet people around me. Also exhaustively researched with footnotes that could be a book of their own…rivals Michael Pollan.

The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown

A challenge to live your life for the approval of your truest self – not your neighbors, not the other moms at preschools, not your parents, not your friends. An in-depth look at why we do the things we do, and the freedom to embrace our messy, scary imperfections and stand proud nonetheless.

 

MY TOP 10 FICTION PICKS

Me Before You by Jojo Moyes

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Best book I’ve read in at least five years, and possibly ever. My dear friend Jodi gave it to me, and wow – what a gift! No exaggeration – I cried in the fetal position on the couch as I suffered through the last few pages (in the best way possible), and posted these thoughts upon finishing it:

“So if you’re looking for a good book to read…. For the last 5+ years I would have said my favorite book was The Dogs of Babel by Carolyn Parkhurst. Well, last night I think it was de-throned by Me Before You by the amazing Jojo Moyes. I was inspired, uplifted, brought to laughter and tears, heartbroken then made whole again over the nine days I read this book… I will treasure this story forever.”

The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd

Sue Monk Kidd has an extraordinary gift for descriptive writing – she paints the most beautiful landscapes (both physical and emotional) with her words. The Secret Life of Bees is a beautiful, magical story of finding unconditional love in unexpected places and, finally, learning to love oneself. Bees serve as a perfect metaphor for leadership, community and loss throught the story. I am a more centered and awestruck person after reading this book.

Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson

This book makes my top 10 based purely on the beauty of Guterson’s writing. I’ve never read an author quite as gifted at painting a landscape with words. This book was a major, award-winning hit for Guterson, who was a high school teacher on Bainbridge Island (and still lives there at last check) when he spent his mornings before work writing it. An elegant masterpiece from a true wordsmith.

The Color Purple by Alice Walker

A rich and raw tapestry of stories grappling with pain, poverty, strength of survival and unrequited love. Yet through it all, forgiveness, grace, the unlikely formation of family, and second chances.

“She say, Celie, tell the truth, have you ever found God in church? I never did. I just found a bunch of folks hoping for him to show. Any God I ever felt in church I brought in with me. And I think all the other folks did, too. They come to church to share God, not find God.” – p. 165

My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult

I read a lot as a kid, then not so much as an adolescent and teen, sadly, when I largely equated reading with the burden of homework. In my early twenties I reignited my love of reading FOR ME – and this is one of the first books that met me there. Jodi Picoult is also the auther who most inspired me to start writing again, as I emailed her and she responded about six years ago, and I began my own novel, which remains unfinished…

Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay

The first half of this book was BRUTALLY hard to read. It’s about the truly unimaginable, don’t-get-me-started horror of the Holocaust. It’s really hard for me to go to that place. But sometimes, I believe hard=important. This was one of those books.

The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman

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I just finished this book last month. It circles around one of my favorite themes in books – an impossible “What would I do?” moral dilemma involving young love in the isolated life of a lighthouse’s island, a baby, and a really devastating secret. And it brings you to the 1920s in Australia with all the cultural implications of that place and time.

The Dogs of Babel by Carolyn Parkhurst

This was my favorite book for years until Me Before You came along. The writing is at once beautiful, heartwrenching, approachable and mysterious. The true test of this book’s integrity is Parkhurst’s ability to take a subject matter that demands great skepticism – and around it weave such a powerful story that the reader is willing to suspend disbelief and embrace the greater truths this novel delivers. The writing is moving yet whimsical, the plot twists clever and creative, and the emotion raw and real.

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

Most similar to Me Before You in tone, tenderness and volume of tears shedA YA novel for all ages, you’ll fall in love with these brilliant, stubborn, lovelorn teenagers.

“As he read, I fell in love the way you fall asleep; slowly and then all at once.” – p. 124

The Deep End of the Ocean by Jacquelyn Mitchard

This was a true-pager from the get-go for me; I read hours in the first sitting. Another story of impossible choices, and how life as we know it can change in an instant.

On my to-read list..

Yes Please by Amy Poehler

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

One Plus One by Jojo Moyes

Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple

Far from the Tree by Andrew Solomon

The Tipping Point – or anything else by Malcolm Gladwell

HAPPY HOLIDAYS AND HAPPY READING, EVERYONE!!!

PS – I’m proud that my child is such a little bookworm…. This photo is not staged, I swear!

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PPS – Thanksgiving weekend just marked 2 years of my writing this blog. I must say I’m pleasantly proud and marginally surprised I’ve stuck with it this long. I’ve grown from the platform this has given me to become a more disciplined writer, and am so thankful for everyone who has been my cheerleader, shared this blog with friends, and otherwise made me feel supported.  I probably wouldn’t keep doing it if I didn’t think anyone cared… SO THANK YOU!!