When it’s Really Hard

I think I just had a true emotional breakdown. In car with Anderson. Not listening ad nauseam. Can feel my stress level reaching cataclysmic, desperate, absolutely miserable levels. I raise my voice, deep, gravelly, shaking – it doesn’t even sound like my own – desperately pleading with my 4-year-old to be quiet. I feel helpless and truly tortured. I have to leave the car.

We arrive at the park. I get out of the car, pacing back and forth in the parking lot, trying to pull myself together. I’m so thankful for my dark oversized sunglasses. I start sobbing, shaking, leaning against the car. I can’t pull it together. I can’t fake my way through lunch or the park. Thank god Aaron is there. He takes both kids while I sit in the car and force myself to eat a sandwich. Numb, depleted, in a haze. I immediately start googling emotional breakdown. Turns out the stresses of motherhood and added female hormones can be the perfect recipe for feeling emotionally flooded. Absolutely overwhelmed. Though I’m sure that emotional breakdowns aren’t limited to parents of young kids.

It’s hard to talk about, but I wonder how many mothers before me have reached this frantic, dizzying breaking point. How scary, how isolating to feel like you can’t even acknowledge your big overwhelming feelings, for fear of being judged, demonized, gossiped about, as less than “totally together”

Excuse my French, but F- that.

Sitting in the car, I text three people. My babysitter to help take the pressure of parenting duties off Aaron as I recover from whatever the hell just happened to me. My therapist, to get in to see her as soon as possible. And my friend who I know will always keep it real, will never listen to serious even scary problems I’m having and pretend she hasn’t been to equally dark places. So many people pretend…I’ve done it too. We listen to other people’s trauma and drama, we absorb the juicy details into our bloodstream like oxygen. We bury the most human parts of our selves that could actually offer true empathy in return – our own shame, our own fears, our own shortcomings.

We all have them. Why do we pretend?

I’m writing this because I refuse to feel like I should be silenced, or pitied, or outcast for having a very human, probably long overdue reaction to the mounting stress of parenting that can chip away at the fault lines of a parent’s spirit, until an emotional earthquake rolls over your entire body, your whole being.

I am a warrior. As is every hardworking, ground down parent out there. We would go to battle for our kids. Sometimes we go to battle against them. Today I encountered a battle that brought me to my knees, tearing off my armor, admitting defeat. The circumstances were nothing out of the ordinary, trivial, forgettable really. Potty talk and yelling and shrieking. But I just reached a breaking point. My soul was screaming for a break I couldn’t get. I couldn’t come up for air.

If that happens to you, tell someone. It’s ok to cry and it’s ok to load up your husband with all the kids and sandwiches and explain that you have to – need to – be alone. It’s ok to sit in the car and cry and dab your raw red eyes with Subway napkins and text your therapist and a good friend and reach out because we all need to be reminded we’re not alone. Young children have the ability to wear us down and chip away at us in a uniquely painful way that demands our attention and self-advocacy. We are no good to anyone else if we can’t at the very least acknowledge that.

I will be ok. Because I’m speaking up for myself, because I’m supported, and I have learned to have faith many times over in the resiliency of the human spirit. I do not feel hopeless in any sort of ultimate sense. Because I actually know, without a doubt, that many of you reading this will reach out to me to tell me that you care, that you’ve *been there,* that parenting is the hardest job on the planet and AMEN for admitting it gets the best of us and brings us to our knees once in a while. If you are a parent and have never felt it truly kick your ass or bring you to tears, I am happy for you. You’ve won a special kind of lottery. To the rest of us – be kind to yourself. Take a breath, insist when you need a break. You are doing the very hardest kind of work there is.

Race Day

The night before I ran 13.1 miles, I broke all the rules of carbo-loading, indulging in a pasta-less dinner at our fancy Southern hotel restaurant.  Many courses and two glasses of wine later (cheers to more broken rules), Megan and I returned to our hotel room where we carefully laid out our race attire, set alarms for 6am, and fell asleep to the familiar hum of HGTV’s Property Brothers.

I had set the bar very low for sleep on this trip.  Between a 7am flight out of Seattle, the 3-hour time change and a race start time of 7:30am (4:30am PST!!!), I was ecstatic to be merely present and vertical at the starting line.

Our Savannah hotel room had the advantage of being located directly along the race course,  nearly hovering over the starting line.  Over a room service breakfast of cold cereal, bacon and coffee, we took our time stretching and spying on the slowly accumulating cloud of runners chatting, shivering and stretching on the roped off street three stories below.

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Wardrobe-wise, we debated on which camp of people we wanted to fall into: those who are happy with what they’re wearing at the beginning of the race, or at the end.  We sucked it up in our sleeveless running tops on a chillier-than-normal Georgia morning, and chose the latter (the right decision).

I was informed that, as far as races go, this was a small one (about 1,200 participants, I would later find out).  Having nothing to compare it to, I enjoyed being able to casually join the cluster of runners in my estimated speed group, and was off and running within seconds of the start of the race.

In those precious few pre-race minutes, milling about in the street among a sea of spandexed women with bib numbers safety-pinned to their chests, snapping pre-race selfies and chatting excitedly before beginning a largely speechless journey, I soaked it all in.  I wasn’t nervous, anxious or worried about anything.  I was just so happy to be there, in this place, in this moment.  I was standing squarely in the intersection of dreams and their hard-won achievement.  Nothing that happened over the next 2+ hours could change that.  I had arrived.

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I can still feel the dissipating chill to the early morning air, as weak sunlight fought its way through the handsome and historic Georgia oaks, dripping with Spanish moss.  Their canopy felt comforting, nurturing and charming, and their shade would sustain me through much of the run.

The beginning of the race felt like a train slowly pulling out of the station, chugging along slowly and steadily at first, then quickening and strengthening as runners broke free from the initial swarm of people and found their own space, their own pace.  I was intentional to start the race at an unnaturally slow pace, so as not to get carried away with the momentum and burn out early (advice I’d received from seasoned runner friends and made myself listen to).  I knew my body and how it runs well by this point, and I knew what pace I could sustain.  I trotted along those first few minutes in a gradually loosening tangle of women, with the sounds of Jason Aldean’s “A Little More Summertime” coursing through my ears and setting my pace, establishing my intention.  I hadn’t really planned a song to start running to, but this one was perfect for me.  Lord knows all of us in the Northwest could use A LOT more summertime, and in a way, this experience felt like the official start of that season for me.

The song also deals with regret and taking hold of experiences while the sun is still hanging up in the sky…and I intended to do just that.

Miles one to three were easy breezy. If I’m pacing myself and not running for speed, I can run that distance and carry a conversation without a problem.  Around mile two or three is typically where I tend to find my pace, and things sort of get harder and easier at the same time from then on out if that makes any sense.. I always find there to be this certain “X Factor” with running.  Meaning, all else being equal, some days a run simply comes more easily and more naturally than others.  Thankfully, the X Factor was working in my favor this particular morning.  None of my long-fought worries came to light – no side cramps, no having to stop and pee, no sickness or starting the race on no sleep.

Early on, within the first few miles, I just knew I was going to easily exceed my goal finish time of 2:20-2:25 (about average for a women’s half marathon).  I mentally readjusted my goal to 2:10. My second big goal was to not stop at all, for any reason.  It’s a goal I had had early on in my training, but had let go as the weeks stretched on and the runs became longer and more grueling – I just didn’t think that goal was controllable or sustainable for thirteen miles and over two hours of running.  Nor did I think I could sustain my normal solo running pace of about 10 minutes/mile.

But I did.  I accomplished or exceeded both of my major goals.  I ran the entire way (even at water stations, I would only slow to a lesser jog, but never stop – yes, I was that sloppy, stubborn person sloshing red PowerAde all over myself in the name of not stopping).  I never stopped for a bathroom break, a walking break, or a water break for 13 miles.  I was pretty proud of that.

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I far exceeded my initial time goal, and missed my revised goal of 2:10 by 13 seconds (but didn’t beat myself up).  I had also managed to sustain my pace at an average of 9:57/mile.  There were two sources of time for this race – the huge banner/digital timer you run underneath at the finish line, and an electronic time “chip” embedded within your race bib.  Apparently, for this race at least, the chip was considered more accurate, putting my finish time at 2:10:13, while my clock time was 2:11:00.   And there’s more than you ever wanted to know about my personal race time.  😊

OK back to my experience mid-race…  Around the mid-way point I got a second wind and surprised myself at the number of people I began to pass.  It also definitely helped that the song that made me hands-down THE MOST HAPPY to run to throughout this whole race, came on around this time.  Please brace yourself as even I cannot contain my amazement at my level of sophistication and maturity at the mere mention of this beloved song:  Miley Cyrus, “Party in the USA.”

You guys, this song made me CRAZY LEVELS of happy.  I was 7-ish miles in, with my hands up, they’re playin’ my song… noddin’ my head, movin’ my hips. Like, yeah.    I’m not kidding.  Thankfully Megan and I had spread out by this point and she was spared  a lot of embarrassment.  Because that’s what friends do.

Post-Miley, I started to slow down a little and didn’t have quite the bounce in my step. You just can’t top “Party in the USA.”  Such a buzz kill.  I soldiered along for a few miles, and by mile 10 I needed that double-digit mental boost.  The 11th and 12th mile were hard-earned, and by the last mile of the race I couldn’t decide whether to attempt to somewhat sprint it or slow down even more for my sanity.

At that point, you are just putting in the time.

I paced myself pretty reasonably until the huge finish line clock came into view, and I saw it was already at about 2:10:40.  You better believe I ran my @$$ off that last 20-second stretch, with a last-ditch effort goal to beat 2:11.  I crossed that final, glorious line with tears in my eyes, a voice announcing my name and hometown in my ears, and two cowering teenage girls innocently handing out bags of snacks and water and hanging medals around the necks of haggard, delirious runners.  Speaking a mere “thank you” was all but out of the question as my muscles nearly exploded from the 2+ hours of exertion finished by an exhausting sprint.

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Crossing the finish line… 

I finished 333rd out of 1,210 runners.  (3-3-3, Dad!!  Can you believe it? Sorry, inside joke regarding my tendency to roll R’s.)

I stumbled down the sidewalk, reacquainting my quickly stiffening muscles with the slowed, easy pace of a walk.  I numbly downed an entire bottle of water and a banana, and focused on nothing more than breathing and pacing in circles for about 5 minutes.   My friend crossed the finish line a few minutes later.  We took some pictures to celebrate, and walked the length of the park, drinking more water and marveling at how weird it felt to not be running.

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The rest of the day was filled with pool time and books, recovery, beer, very greasy burgers, and karaoke.  I decided to retire my go-to Shania Twain karaoke song, “Any Man of Mine” after one last encore in Savannah.  I’m planning to use my birthday this summer as an excuse for a ladies’ karaoke night – please let me know if you’d like to be invited!

I just might sing some Miley Cyrus.

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…And I’m Feeling Good

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I’ve been feeling really good lately.  Like, sincerely happy.  Thankful for each day.  Content.

I don’t know if this has to do with the transition back to school, the start of my favorite season with its magnificent colors and crispness to the air, or just arriving at the final portion of a year where I’ve been stretched and stressed and challenged a lot.

I feel like I can breathe more deeply and see all that’s in front of me with more clarity.  I’m a wiser and slower and more thoughtful person than I was a year ago.  I have better perspective.

This year was hard in many ways – round two with a newborn, plus a toddler was more of a mountain to climb than I ever anticipated.  Add marriage stress that comes with the crazed, exhausted parent territory, and turmoil in other relationships, plus an unexpectedly busy summer with preschool camp plans evaporated and both kids home full-time – 2016 has been a doozy.  When it rains, it pours.

But I’m kind of done talking about hard.  I’m just kind of over it.  My skin is thicker, my sleep requirements a little lower and my time management skills sharpened after the year that I’ve had.  I know more about myself and feel the need to explain myself less.  I’ve done a lot of explaining this year.  I’m kind of over that, too.

I was talking with my sister-in-law recently, who always seems happy. I honestly don’t know if I’ve ever heard her complain, or nag, or see any given glass as “half-empty.”  She asked me at a birthday party recently how I was doing, and I said, “Really well.  I feel like I’m just in a really good place.”  She was happy for me (as she always is), and said things were good for her, too.  I asked if fall was her favorite season too, as it is mine.  She replied that not really, she’s happy with any season, and any day, even the dreary middle of winter, she honestly enjoys.

The way I’m describing my sister-in-law’s outlook may sound trite, or superficial.  But I assure you, it’s not.  She’s just one of those aware, determined-to-be-happy people.  I have seen her in situations that would be devastatingly low for most people, and she is doggedly determined to be grateful and press on.  Always.

So I’m someone who believes all feelings are valid.  We should never feel pressured to say we’re better or worse than we really are.  If you’re in a bad place – by all means, talk about it.  But if you’re in a good place, talk about that, too.  We all want to be there, and we want to know what’s working for others to bring balance, contentment and joy to their life.

For me, I’m remembering time is my most precious commodity.  Am I spending it on the people and things that matter?  When my head hits the pillow, what are my biggest “time drain” regrets?  What really mattered about my day, and made a positive difference?  What didn’t matter, or took me back a step from where I want to be?

A lot of the time it’s the routine, mundane days that make me feel best.  Days I spend relatively “unplugged” from the noise of TV, social media, shallow banter and clutter – tend to be some of my favorites.  Getting into my groove with how I take care of my home, keep up on my responsibilities, maintain a good rhythm and routine for my kids, check in with my husband throughout the day.  Those patterns, those little things done over and over – those make for good days.

Nothing revolutionary here perhaps, but it just feels really good to be in a good place in my own little corner of the world.  So much good can come into our lives if we simply commit to being aware.  Aware of how we spend our time.  Aware of how we speak of others.  Aware of our own feelings.  Aware of how we treat our spouses, friends, kids.

Aware.

What has caught your attention lately?  What needs more of it?  I hope you feel more good than grief when your head hits the pillow tonight.  And if you don’t, think about how you can feel better at the end of tomorrow.

I have always appreciated these words by Ralph Waldo Emerson, and have maybe even shared them on this blog before.  I keep meaning to frame something like this and put it next to my bed…

“Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities have crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day; you shall begin it serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense.”

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!!

Headlights

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Earlier this year, I read a great book by Anne Lamott called Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life. It’s full of helpful encouragement and sanity-saving strategies for those of us who aspire to be better writers, but it’s also full of good tips for being better humans. Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about one of my favorite “nuggets” that I took away from that book. It goes like this:

“E.L. Doctorow said once that ‘Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.’ You don’t have to see where you’re going, you don’t have to see your destination or everything you will pass along the way. You just have to see two or three feet ahead of you. This is right up there with the best advice on writing, or life, I have ever heard.”

This past Tuesday I attended the women’s Bible study at my church. Since my family isn’t winning any awards for church attendance these days, it’s my own little way to stay plugged in to my church, my faith, and others on that journey. These past few years haven’t been the clearest for me in my faith. I could write a whole blog about that, but faith is a very personal thing and I will just leave it at that.

But the headlight approach is so true when it comes to the “big picture” of life, whether you choose to frame that through a faith in God, and/or science, and/or your own role in your personal destiny/fate/purpose. As much as I sometimes long to know how it’s all going to “turn out,” life is and forever will be taken one patch of headlight-bathed road at a time – nothing more.

In my mind there are two probable responses to this: frustration, or relief. I could choose to be frustrated that I don’t know how many kids I’m going to have and how safe/healthy/successful they’ll be, or if I’ll ever publish that novel or die trying, or if I’ll get to all my “bucket list” travel destinations around the globe, and if certain friendships will last and if I’ll stay on the path I want to stay on….and and and…

OR

I could choose to feel relieved that I only have to focus on a few feet of life at a time – just as far as my headlights allow me to see. That right now, today, and every day – I’m only responsible for what I can see, for what I can control.

And the biggest blessing of my week as this thought has been swirling around in my mind – is that I’ve been feeling actually really at peace with that. With the letting go of knowing where I’ll be in x,y, or z section of my life next month, year or decade. I know that my life is productive and full – and that it is full of things, people, tasks, responsibilities and roles that I love. How lucky am I? I’m just feeling truly grateful that I get to wake up each morning and build my life, nurture my family, develop my talents and impact my community in ways that are important to me.

And as long as any of us are living with purpose and making the best turns and exits and merges we know how along the way, I really do trust that – in the warmth of those headlights – we can make the whole trip that way.

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