Hello Again

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Well, hello there. How are you? Let me just dust the chairs around here, open the windows and let some fresh air in. It’s been awhile since this little corner of the internet has seen any activity.

I did what I said I would do and I took a little summer vacation … and it was wonderful. I feel as if every August I reflect back on the summer that was and feel either immense relief that it was over, regret over missed opportunities, or both. This year I feel neither. Instead I am content. It was a good summer. It was the perfect mix of adventurous and relaxed. And for the first time I can remember, it felt as if I was truly intentional about enjoying the season of life I’m in right now.

Had to escape #coltscamp for a bit. It was blazin' hot. This helped.

In the process I learned that savoring where I am right now, both in the season of the year and the season of parenting older kids, involves a whole lot of letting go.

I let go of the notion that every day needs planned to the nth degree.

I let go of the idea that activities and outings are the only way to measure the amount of fun we’re having or how good of a mother I am.

I let go of my usual standards of cleanliness and perfection. (See photographic evidence below of dead flowers and a NERF modification station taking up residence on the dining room table for several weeks.) Having the kids pitch in and help, which was one of my few goals this summer, means not standing over them and explaining why one should vacuum in this precise pattern or load the silverware in the dishwasher this particular way. (Husbands, of course, are excluded from this delightful aspect of my personality.) Sometimes good enough is preferable over perfect. Actually, good enough is always preferred over perfect, something I will spend the rest of my days trying to put into practice.

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This little internet sabbatical also allowed me to let go of the need to produce work for the sake of looking productive. Walking way from creating in this space gave me room to reflect. It’s forced me to truly think about what I love versus what I love the idea of.

I love the idea of being a writer. I love the idea of sitting at my computer every day, steaming mug of coffee on my desk, surrounded in silence and pouring life-changing thoughts and ideas from my soul onto the screen.

I still love the act of writing, but I don’t love everything that goes with it anymore. And by “it,” I mean the idea of blogging as work intended to provide income. I don’t love the time it takes away from my other responsibilities and relationships. And I’m starting to think I’ve safely hidden myself behind the screen in an effort to avoid pursuing what I’m meant to do with my life.

Title this one "Mom, the amount of leg you're showing makes us uncomfortable."

This summer I loved feeling balanced, connected and in the moment. With myself, my friends and my family I had the summer I always loved the idea of and the summer I actually experienced together. I have to wonder if leaving the daily grind of blogging had something to do with it. And I’m contemplating that what I love the idea of and what I’m actually good at may be two very different things.

Reflecting in this way has been incredibly scary for me. Looking back at where I thought I was headed and where I find myself now, I feel untethered. What am I meant to do? I’m anxious, dreading the question of what I’ve been up to. Even a simple call during the day from Mike makes me break into a bit of a sweat.

“What are you up to?” he’ll casually ask.

Folding t-shirts. And fending off a mid-life crisis and my anxiety by reorganizing the LEGOs. What are you up to?

I also feel a bit ridiculous and ashamed. I am quite aware of my good fortune to have both the time and the choice to wonder what I should do when I grow up. And so I put on my very best phone voice when anyone asks what’s next, and say something chipper about exploring my options, enjoying the journey, blah blah blah. I mean, really. Who am I to complain or feel lost when there are terribly awful things happening all around us?

But what if all this caution in choosing our words, this care that we take take to put things in perspective when we think of or speak of our pain, is keeping us from feeling what we were designed to feel?

Panama City Beach

We are designed to feel shitty sometimes. And we are allowed to feel bad, sad, anxious and mad about both the Big Stuff and the Little Stuff. I know that in the grand scheme of things, my ambivalence about whether to stop blogging and my worries about finding work that’s right for me is small potatoes. But these burdens are my small potatoes, and to dismiss them doesn’t solve the deeper work I need to do to find a purpose and path. Also, small potatoes makes excellent home fries, and who doesn’t love fries?

I think this need to wrap up our uncomfortable feelings and loose ends in a tidy box, whether it’s for a story shared with everyone or the story we only tell ourselves is keeping many of us from living an authentic life. When we hustle to make everything look pretty again, it often turns out a mess.

So if you don’t mind, I’m going to stew in the corner with my basket of doubts and small potatoes. There is no lesson or witty ending just yet. I’m not going away, but I think you will notice a different feel in this space. I’m still writing, and some of that writing will still find a home here. I’m just not sure how much or how often.

In the meantime, I’d love to hear from you. Have you been through a career change or life transition that had you feeling lost as well? What helped you through it? What would you do differently if you could make those choices over again?

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April & May 2016 Must-Reads

Sundog Books Seaside Florida

A good book, the beach, and June. Is there any better combination of time, place and object? For me, that’s about as close to heaven as you can get! The kids and I spent a week at Seacrest Beach on 30A in Florida and it was indeed heavenly. Here’s something magical you can’t imagine when your children are little: one day you will be able to sit at the beach or pool and read a book while they swim and play! So stay strong, momma with little ones in water wings and swim diapers – your time in the sun with something good to read will come.

I didn’t want June to completely slip away without sharing my favorite reads from the spring. There are some strong contenders for best reads of the year in this batch, so let’s not dally any longer!

Disclosure: this post contains affiliate links.

March Must-Reads

Be Frank With Me by Julia Claiborne Johnson

I absolutely adored this book, from its charming cover to its endearing characters. Reclusive, fiercely private and cranky author M.M. “Mimi” Banning hasn’t been seen or heard from since she published her Pulitzer Prize winning novel 30 years ago. After falling prey to a financial scam, she needs the money to keep from losing her home … so she must write the world’s most anticipated follow-up novel. In order to do so, she’ll need a little help with childcare for her 9-year-old son, Frank. He’s no ordinary child: precocious, well read and familiar with every old Hollywood film (along with a closet full of suits, spectacles and hats to help him dress the part), Frank is both charming and troubled. It will take someone special to care for Frank and live up to Mimi’s standards. Enter Alice, sent by her boss and Mimi’s publisher to do whatever it takes to give Mimi the time and privacy to finish her novel. Witty, funny and thoughtful, Johnson’s novel was one of my favorites of the year so far.

The Expatriates by Janice Y.K. Lee

This book kept showing up as a recommendation for me in all sorts of places, and it didn’t disappoint. Set the present day, Lee’s novel follows the lives of three very different American women living as expatriates in Hong Kong. As the story unfolds from each character’s point of view, the reader comes to understand each woman’s particular struggle with living the expat life, while also watching their stories unfold and connect. It was fascinating to delve into the expat bubble: living among your own fellow Americans while at the same time trying to find your place in a new and completely different culture. If you enjoyed Liane Moriarty’s The Husband’s Secret,  Lee’s novel will satisfy as well.

How to Build a Girl by Caitlin Moran

Imagine Bridget Jones and Cameron Crowe melded into one teenage girl growing up in the gritty public housing of London. It’s a fun (but definitely not safe for work or small ears) listen. I cheered, pitied and laughed with Johanna Morrigan, as she navigates adolescence. She tries to build a version of a girl that will take her out of her current life: poor, awkward, humiliated and regrettably un-kissed. To everyone outside her family, she becomes Dolly Wild: rock critic, drinker of Mad Dog 20/20 and student of shagging. But did she build the right version of herself?

It was a slow go at first, but once I fell into the story I was enamored with Johanna. I highly recommend the audio version (just don’t listen to it out loud at work or with kids around – language and sex!). The narrator’s accent is exactly how I would imagine Johanna would sound, and her timing is fantastic.

The Crossover by Kwame Alexander

I’ve never read anything like this Newbery Medal Winner by Kwame Alexander. Written in verse, it’s a genre that I would typically pass over. But it came highly recommended, and I thought the topic (basketball) would appeal to Eli. We both loved it. It made us laugh, think, cry and talk about some tricky issues regarding relationships. Alexander tells the story of twins Josh and Jordan. They both love basketball and they’re fantastically good at it, thanks to passion, genetics and the coaching of their father (a former professional player). Junior high brings big changes to the boys and their relationship: girls, competition, rivalry and worries about their father’s health. Their struggles and their story would be compelling on its own, but the writing style takes it to another level. I’d recommend this book to just about anybody (I bet the audio version would be fantastic!), but I’d enthusiastically put it in the hands of reluctant young male readers.

Untangled by Lisa Damour

If I could put this in the hands of every parent of a tween and teen girl I would. I can’t even begin to express what a gift this book is to parents wondering how to make it through the teen years. Damour, a clinical psychologist who specializes in child development and research on girls, writes a handbook for parents that guides them through the seven transitions girls need to go through on their way to adulthood. These transitions (Parting with Childhood, Joining a New Tribe, Harnessing Emotions, Contending with Adult Authority, Planning for the Future, Entering the Romantic World, and Caring for Herself) are necessary but tricky, leaving even the most confident parents and girls wondering what on earth is going on. What I love about Damour’s book is that it talks about these issues in a calm, informative way – never condescending, never preachy, and (most importantly) never panic-inducing. Each chapter explains these developmental processes with the reasons why they need to happen and why they’re normal, and ends with specific examples of when a parent should worry. The teen years (unfairly) get a bad rap, especially teen girls. This book will help parents leave that notion behind and parent in a way that will ease the tension and drama, leaving them to enjoy this fantastic phase before their girls leave them in adulthood.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling

You guys, I did it! I finally read Harry Potter! I don’t know why I waited so long, but you can bet it won’t take me as many years to read the rest of the series. I read the first book as my pick for “A book chosen for you by your spouse, partner, sibling, child, or BFF” in the Modern Mrs. Darcy Reading Challenge. Both Mike and the kids have been begging me to read the books for years. Since finishing the first book, I also got through The Chamber of Secrets by listening to the audio version on our way to the beach. The audio versions  narrated by Jim Dale are fantastic. Delving in the books makes me even more excited about the upcoming movie “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” as well as the release of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child  at the end of July.

Honorable Mention

Love the House You’re In by Paige Rien

As a timid and indecisive decorator of my own home, I really appreciated Page Rien’s guide to living in and decorating the home you’re in. Rien guides the reader through an overview of the home and her philosophy on decorating. I love how she emphasizes taking the time to think about what you love about your home and what bothers you, as well as taking stock of each room and its features before diving in to making any changes. She gives concrete, useful examples and ideas of how you can make your home better without having to spend loads of money or embark on a giant renovation. The underlying theme of her home improvement philosophy is to find ways to make each and every space unique to you and what you love, allowing readers to find their own decorating style that will reflect who they are and what’s important to them.

 

The Possibilities by Kaui Hart Hemmings

You may know Kaui Hart Hemmings by way of George Clooney. Her previous novel, The Descendants , was adapted into a movie starring Mr. Clooney. This is the first book I read by Hemmings, and I enjoyed it. It wasn’t a page-turner by any means, but it satisfied my love for good stories with interesting characters and connections. Sarah St. John was once the cheerful face that greeted Breckenridge guests on their hotel room televisions. But three months after her only son, 21-year-old Cully, was killed in an avalanche, she’s not sure she can do it anymore. She’s sad, angry, and searching for answers as surprises about Cully come to light. In a road trip with her hodgepodge of a support group, she begins to see the possibilities of moving on without Cully.

How to Raise an Adult by Julie Lythcott-Haims

I hit the non-fiction jackpot this month, reading several great titles that will stick with me for a long time. Lythcott-Haims reflects on the kids she helped usher through Stanford as the former freshman admissions dean and investigates why this generation in particular has had such a difficult time adjusting to adulthood. She tells stories of young adults whose parents intervene in college courses and post-graduate job interviews, and of kids who don’t know how to manage themselves on their own. Using these anecdotes as a guide, she formulates a plan for parents raising this next generation, helping us raise grounded, confident and independent kids who will be ready to tackle adulthood equipped with the tools they’ll need. I found it inspiring, eye-opening and extremely helpful. I’d especially recommend it for parents of tweens and teens who are on the cusp of the college admissions process.

Overwhelmed: Work, Love & Play When No One Has the Time by Brigid Schulte

I’m fascinated by the topic of time: how we spend it, how we manage (or don’t) manage it, and why some people feel stressed and overwhelmed while others feel a balance between work, love and play. Schulte takes on this topic and does it well, including research, interviews and personal anecdotes that bring the issue to life. Are we really overworked and destined to never have enough time for fulfilling work, close relationships and personal leisure? Or is there a way out? I enjoyed this book so much that its inspired me to do my own personal time study and read more on the topic by picking up 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think  by Laura Vanderkam. This subject matter isn’t for everyone, but if you’ve ever had the nagging feeling that you could be spending your time in a different way, Overwhelmed will help you explore that in depth.

New & Noteworthy

Are you as Hamilton obsessed as I am? If so, get a copy of Hamilton: The Revolution in your home STAT. We have tickets to see it in Chicago in January, so I thought having it around on the coffee table would keep us satisfied while we wait for it. The only problem is, it never stays on the coffee table! We’ve all enjoyed looking through it, and Eli keeps squirreling it away to his room so he can practice all the lyrics to the songs.

The Rest

These are the books I got through without feeling anything particularly special about them, or that I started and just couldn’t finish:

  • I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai: A book club pick I struggled with. I skimmed over large portions.
  • Nuts to You by Lynne Rae Perkins: A read aloud for Eli that would be better suited as book for kids to read themselves.
  • Belzhar by Meg Wolitzer: YA by an author I really like. I prefer her other books more.
  • Hands Free Life by Rachel Macy Stafford: I had high hopes for inspiration here, but I just couldn’t get through it. A little too flowery and Jesus-y for my taste.
  • How to Tell Toledo From the Night Sky by Lydia Netzer: Parts of this story were great and other parts were just plain weird.

What are you reading and loving lately? Please share!

The best books I read in April and May in fiction, non-fiction, YA and children's literature.

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The Short List: May

Pacific Park Ferris Wheel Santa Monica

Disclosure: This post contains a few affiliate links.

Summer break is here! Are the kids out of school where you live yet? While we’re all ready to be done with early mornings and homework, I kind of wish we’d go into June and not go back until after Labor Day. You just never know about Indiana weather in late May and early June. Just the other week we needed our winter coats and had a freeze warning!

Speaking of summer break, I’ve been doing some thinking. I’ve been blogging for nearly 10 years now, and I’ve never taken a true vacation. I may skip a week or two of posting when things get crazy, but I’ve generally tried to make sure I’ve had at least one or two posts up every week … for a decade! Summer is always tricky for me, as I’m not great at writing ahead and so I always feel pulled between blogging, real life, and parenting.

Unlike other years, I’ve noticed a new feeling when it comes to this blog, though. Instead of feeling like I want to write here, I’m feeling like I have an obligation to do so. I think, more than anything, I’m tired of the hustle. The hustle is everything but the writing. It’s the staging of photos to make everything pretty for Pinterest. It’s trying to come up with witty bylines for Facebook and Twitter, and the self-promotion. It’s worrying about page views and likes and shares. I don’t want to hustle anymore, and I’m not exactly sure what that means for me, for my writing, for this blog.

And so I’m going to do what my heart wants and what my head has been so scared to do in the past: I’m going to take my own summer break. I’m going to finish up my California trip write-up as well as a round-up of the books I read this spring, and then I’m going to step away for a bit. I really and truly don’t believe it will spell the end, but I’m hoping it will give me time to think about what’s important in my life right now and spark that creative flame again. I don’t have many summers left with my kids. To spend another one hustling while their childhoods march away just as rapidly doesn’t feel right this year.

I promise I won’t leave you hanging, though, wondering if and when I’ll ever return. In the meantime, you can always find me on Instagram. I’d love to connect with you there as well, if we aren’t connected already. And if you’re dreading your own hustle, whatever that might mean for you, I encourage you to take a step back as well. The things that mean the most to you will still be there when (or if) you decided to rejoin the race.

In lieu of the normal short list, I thought I’d share a few things that spoke to me as I thought about what I wanted this summer to look like and how I could be more intentional about enjoying this season.

This episode of Gretchen Rubin’s podcast, Happier, is part of what sparked me to really think about summer break. I’m always so hopeful it will be different from the other seasons, and then I’m disappointed when it’s over and it feels like I didn’t enjoy it to its fullest. Here’s to having some experiences that make summer feel truly different from the rest of the year.

This article about how making time for books made the author feel less busy really resonated with me. As technology creeps into every aspect of our lives, I find that taking the time to shut the “chatter” out and read a book is extremely calming and restful.

I just finished Julie Lythcott-Haims’ “How to Raise an Adult.” In this article she talks about skills every 18-year-old should master before leaving for college (something she also discusses in the book in more detail). We’ll be working on these skills this summer!

I was craving a gin and tonic a couple of weeks ago, and accidentally bought club soda instead of tonic water. I made a gin rickey, and inadvertently discovered my official drink of summer (although the dark and stormy will always be near and dear to my summer heart).

I hope you have a wonderful summer! In the words of one of my favorites, Garrison Keillor: “Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.”

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