Monday, March 31, 2014

Mended Book Review and Giveaway

I like memoirs. There's something about reading other people's stories that makes me feel like we're all in this crazy life together.

So when Anna White offered me the opportunity to review an early copy of her new memoir Mended: Thoughts on Life, Love, and Leaps of Faith, I was excited.

It didn't take long for me to settle in with my Kindle and a blanket and soak up her stories.

In her first essay "Mended" Anna invited me right in with a few simple words: "I am enough. And so are you."

It's a notion that takes some of us a long time to realize and there, in the first few pages of the book, was a gentle reminder.

Later in "Worn" it was these words that caught my attention:
I write about the same things over and over again. Death. Uncertainty. Fear. Faith. The hard and fierce goodness of life.

"The hard fierce goodness of life"- I love that. And aren't those big, recurring topics for many of us? Death, uncertainty, fear, and faith. While Mended covers these topics, it's also about being a wife and a mother and, simply a person.

She admits that her story "isn't any harder or more dramatic than any of the other millions of hard stories that mothers share." Her stories are relatable because as humans and, further as women, our stories are familiar, almost entwined.

As I read Mended I felt like I understood Anna and, though we've never met, she understood me, too.

She also talks about writing and how, to writers, it is both necessary and difficult, healing and scary.

Anna White has written a memoir that feels honest. I zipped through it quickly because I wanted to keep reading and the essays were short enough to keep lying to myself with "just one more."

Find it on Amazon available in paperback and for Kindle.

P.S. Be sure to stop by this Wednesday to see a wonderstruck interview with Anna!

The Giveaway

Now for some great news: Anna has offered one ebook copy of Mended to a Live Wonderstruck reader. She's so generous!

So, if this sounds like your kind of book, leave a comment on this post by midnight Eastern time this Thursday (April 3).

I will use a random number generator to select the winner. Watch Friday's Flecks post for the winner to be announced. Then Anna will be in touch. Good luck!

The Trailer

Want to know more about the book? Here is a trailer of Anna talking about it.

Disclaimer: I received the advanced reader's copy for free from Anna herself (thank you, Anna!). That doesn't affect my actual opinions written here in any way. I wrote what I think.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Flecks #18


As in flecks of reflection from the week: what I'm learning and celebrating.

I've been in a bit of a funk for the last few days, but I'm feeling much lighter today- happier and maybe even a little bit badass. I'm ready once again to take on the world.

Little lows happen all the time and they help us appreciate the little everyday highs. As has become a little tradition here at Live Wonderstruck, I'm reflecting on the week with all its little highs and lows. (Hint: See that little sleeping angel at the top of this post? He's one of my highs.)

Here we go...

Things I learned this week:

  • There are certain days I shouldn't attempt life analysis, big dreams, or make any major decisions. If I'm in a funk, I need to be okay with all of the not knowing and divert my attention to NOT swirling myself into confusion and despair. Despair! (Is it just me or do you envision the Pit of Despair from The Princess Bride when you hear that word?)

  • When I'm in a funk, finding just the right piece of music and dancing to it helps so much. It doesn't matter if I'm making up moves as I go or if the motions are weird, clunky, jumpy, or my best impression of a flamenco dancer. The point is to feel the music and move. This week, the piece of music that worked its magic was Never Been To Spain by Three Dog Night. (Singing along - albeit, somewhat badly - to Tori Amos's Little Earthquakes album also helped.)

  • Once again, having a meal plan for the week was enormously helpful because it meant I didn't have to think at the end of the day when I was tired and run down. (It helped even more that this week's meal plan was pretty much ready to go thanks to my overzealous recipe picking the week prior.)

  • A little food goes a long way when you share. I attended a meeting to talk about building a community garden and we were asked to bring a dish to share. I didn't have time to prepare in advance or even to get to the store on the way there, so I searched my fridge and pulled out leftover cucumber and tomato salad I had made the day before. To me it looked like such a small container that might only have one or two servings in, but when combined with the egg salad, bread, fruit cocktail, brownies, chips, guacamole, and edamame brought by others, it was perfect. In fact, there was even a little left over to bring back home.

  • I'm learning right now as I type this that I'm more prolific than I realize when I'm in a good mood. Interesting.

Things I'm celebrating this week:

  • Getting out of a funk.

  • Further clarifying.

  • Big dreams.

  • Dancing in the kitchen.

  • Meeting a wonderful garden educator and designer named Eve. Perfect.

  • Girlfriends who will listen when I call and say, "I'm feeling like a grump, so I called for a little girl time," then don't mind a slow conversation riddled with short silences.

  • Zerby Derby is now on demand. (This is a new children's television show that runs for just 10 minutes at 11:00 a.m. on Sprout. It is created by filming remote control cars. My toddler loves it, but we almost never get to see it. This will make him happy.)

Things that are resonating with me this week:

This week's Creative Living with Jamie podcast in which she answers a question that I asked her: What is the difference between core values and focus areas?

I don't own any St. Patrick's day decorations. I didn't realize that a leprechaun visit was customary. I don't dye food or drinks or toilet water green. That being said, I loved Kristen Howerton's article Can We Bring the Holidays Down a Notch?

5 Ways to Get Your Body Moving Even When You Don't Want To from Real Fit Mama because this feels doable and potentially even fun.

What is Simplicity? by Ginny Lennox because simplicity means different things to different people, but also can mean different things to us at different times.

Every Child is Gifted & Talented. Every Single One. by Glennon Doyle Melton at Momastery.

In case you missed it...

My latest article is up at Grandmother Hen: a review of the movie The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.

Your turn:

What did you learn this week? What are you celebrating? Leave a comment and I'll share a "Woohoo!"

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Clearing the Gunk from our Dreams

Lately I've been getting clearer about my dreams. It seems like it should be easy enough, but there's a lot of gunk to get through. Gunk that comes in many forms- preconceived notions, limited thinking, "rules," not knowing what's possible, worrying about how to make money, staying within what is "acceptable," and not knowing what I don't know, to name a few.

I've struggled for a long time with figuring out what I wanted to do. It's been a question since high school when I needed to plan for college. Part of my problem was having a limited view of what was possible. I was choosing options from the Occupational Outlook Handbook, skills assessments, personality tests, and the jobs I knew of from adults in my life.

I'm not very good at thinking outside the box and I had plenty of "no, I don't want to do that" notions and some "hmmm... maybe that if I learned more," but no "Yes! That's the thing! That's what I want to do."

My problem was I wanted to try it all- a little bit of everything. How are you supposed to know what you like until you try it? And how are you supposed to pick a course of study and a career plan until you know what you like?

Ultimately I finished college and had some wonderful jobs. I've been able to dabble in a bunch of different fields and learn a lot along the way. I've learned what I like. I like to write, specifically about life and self-improvement. I also suppressed that for many years because it didn't seem like a viable (read "lucrative") choice.

My problem these days is trying to balance shooting for what I want while also supporting my family. It is in separating out what it is I really want vs. what I know I can consistently make money doing. It is in being okay with calling myself a writer and working toward that goal even if other job titles sound better (that "more acceptable" thing again). It is in finding time to write and time to engage with my family.

It's also in understanding that sometimes words will come to me when I simply can't capture them, then when I have time to write, nothing may come to me at all. Words are finicky that way.

I'm still figuring it all out, but I'm getting better at removing distractions and clearing out the gunk.

Writing is a priority. My family is also a priority. Life, in all its extraordinary ordinariness, is a priority. So for now, all other things are measured against those.

What gunk clogs up your dreams? How do you clear it to get back on your path?


Friday, March 14, 2014

Flecks #17

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As in flecks of reflection from the week: what I'm learning and celebrating.

Things I learned this week:

  • I learned more about the kind of work I do and don't want to do. Hooray for clarity!

  • I did not learn how to make bread. I followed a basic recipe that seemed simple enough, but it didn't rise. I used "active dry" which is all I found at my grocery store. I'm guessing that's not the same as "instant" which is what the recipe called for.  So all of that uber-dense bread went into the garbage. So sad.

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Things I'm celebrating this week:

  • Receiving a kind message out of the blue from a childhood friend.

  • Clarifying my intentions.

  • Changing my mood on a tough day.

  • Healing.

  • Completing a project.

  • Next steps.

  • Getting the ducks out for a swim!

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Things that are resonating with me this week:

Allowing Dreams by Susannah Conway in which she says...
My part of the deal is to work hard, be committed and have a little faith. And to make room in my life for the good stuff to flow.

No Time for Perfection! by Ginny Lennox

How to Watch Your Kid's Game Without Being a Jerk by Glennon Doyle Melton at Momastery.

In case you missed it...

My latest article is up at Grandmother Hen: Doing Good in a Grand Way - Environmental Issues. I'm always proud of these "Doing Good" articles.

Your turn

What did you learn this week? What are you celebrating? Leave a comment and I'll share a "Woohoo!" (And if you have any tips about making bread or what kind of yeast to use, please share.)

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Gratuitous Duck Photos: First Swim of Year

It's been a while since we've had a duck update here. What with it being winter and all, there hasn't been much to show.

However, the last two days were quite nice and warm, so I thought I'd fill up the kiddie pool and let Squackers and Buttons go for a swim- their first of the season. (Well, technically their second because they escaped on a really cold day and stood on top of the ice that filled the pool, lapping up the water at the edges.)

As always, they reveled in their swim time, fluffing their feathers...

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...primping and preening and cleaning...

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...shaking their tail feathers and all their other feathers, too.

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Yep, they had a good time.

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It's back to cold weather and strong winds today. I sure can't wait for more spring frolicky ducky days.

P.S. If you aren't familiar with Squackers and Buttons, you may want to read about that fateful day last year when my husband and I randomly bought ducks on a Friday night.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Rough Day? Do the Opposite

It was one of those days. You know the kind. I was grumbly, the toddler was whiny, and there were a million things to do. Nothing seriously wrong, just everything a little off. That kind of day.

By the time the teenager came home from school, I was full-on cranky. I knew that I was prepared to snap at any little upset, so I worked hard to keep my mouth shut.

On our way to the orthodontist, the teenager took over the radio. He changed the station and turned it up, I turned it back down. I was in no mood for loud music. I just wanted quiet.

But then a weird thing happened, I came into awareness. I recognized that I was in a bad mood and that there was no reason to be cranky toward my teen.

In that moment, I made a conscious effort to change the way I felt (or at least fake it as best I could). I did the opposite of what I thought I wanted in that moment. I said to my teen, "You know what? You're right. We could use some good music," and I turned the radio back up. Then we car danced. Both of us.

I'm not going to pretend it completely turned my day around, but I definitely felt a small shift. (A shift that was undone when I praised myself for arriving at the orthodontist 5 minutes early only to find out I had the appointment time wrong and was, in fact, 55 minutes late. It was that kind of day.)

After the orthodontist, I took my teen for our customary milkshake. (This is something my mom did for me after every orthodontist appointment when I was a kid. Not only was it a special treat, it also helped numb the teeth a little from the tightened wires. I've carried on that tradition.)

While in the drive-thru lane, I once again acknowledged the grumpiness, saying to myself, "I'm frustrated today." And because I was frustrated, I tried to give someone else a good day: I paid for the meal of the person behind me. "I don't know them," I explained to the drive-thru attendant. "Just tell them to have a good day."

My teenager thought that was pretty cool. "Whoa! That was like a movie. I mean I've seen that in movies and stuff, but I didn't know people actually did that. I wish we could see his expression."

It occurred to me I had possibly just imparted a lesson about kindness. In the midst of my own grumbliness.

I drove away listening to him chatter and watching him twist in his seat to try to see the other car leave.

That was when I smiled. That was when I decided the day wasn't all that bad.

Try it. When you find yourself in a grumbly moment, do the opposite of what you want to do. Maybe you'll make someone else smile and maybe you'll even find your own smile in the process.