2017 Reading List

I had a goal this year to be on social media less and on my Kindle app more. So, like, in those spare minutes when I would normally pick up my phone and scroll thru Facebook, the plan was to instead pick up my phone and open my Kindle app and read a few paragraphs.

Good idea, right? Well. I can report that I didn’t follow through. I was not on social media any less. Whatcha gonna do. It was a crazy year! I couldn’t look away!

But!! I did still manage to read many, many great books. A lot of social media + lot of reading = a lot of laundry left undone. Worth it.

I have some observations about my list. Nerdery ahead:

I always say “I don’t read much nonfiction” (guiltily, with a tone that lets you know I feel I should read more), but nonfiction comprised nearly 25% of the books I read this year. What?! Never would have guessed that! Go me.

My favorite author discoveries this year are Chris Cleave and Ann Patchett. I plan to put more of their books on my to-read list for 2018. (And Diane Chamberlain is my favorite discovery in the “beach reads” category.)

It’s taken me a while to figure out my star system but I think I’ve got a handle on it:

3 stars: it was basically enjoyable, I didn’t get irritated or annoyed at plot lines or characters, and I didn’t consider quitting before finishing. 3 stars means I probably won’t recommend it to anyone, and will likely forget nearly everything about the book and not think about it ever again, but it was enjoyable in the moment.

2 stars: I finished it, but begrudgingly because I found something about the plot or characters or writing style annoying.

1 star: I seriously considered quitting, didn’t, and was then mad that I wasted my time finishing.

My 4 and 5 star ratings are trickier to describe. These are books whose characters start to feel like friends, or that move me in some kind of intellectual/spiritual/emotional way.

4 stars: I really, really like it and would recommend it to a friend. Weirdly, I can’t always put my finger on exactly why it didn’t earn that 5th star.

5 stars: I loved it, it made me think, I would recommend it to anyone, and will likely read it again and again.

Life Skills

One day last month or so (I promise, it feels like last month) I was teaching him to count pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters.

And then one day I glanced up and his Dad is teaching him how to manage his new checking account from his phone.

He’s 15 this month, and he has a bank account, and I wanna cry about it.  Moms are sooooo weird.

 

In other growing up news….look at this 11 year old cutie rocking her new braces! Middle school, here she comes.

 

Lots of growing up from the mid-kid too but his current feelings are photos are NOPE.  Thirteen year olds. They’re a trip. I’m pretty sure he’s not in hiding for any reason but you just never can tell.

 

 

Teaching toddlers stuff about life was fun, and I was pretty good at it.  Teaching teenagers stuff about life is fun too, but I sure stumble around a lot more now. Grateful for every single exchange I get to have with these three.

 

 

Spider webs, porta-potties, and messy faith.

Every so often I take my early morning cup of coffee and step outside. I leave my phone behind so that I can just enjoy the trees and birds and sunrise in the moment instead of taking a photo and captioning it in my mind for later sharing on social media.  (It’s a real problem I have, this thinking in captions.  I’m working on it…even though perhaps this post is evidence to the contrary.)

Usually these mornings are sweet.  I don’t go outside every morning or even every week.  But when I do, I am often gifted by sunlight streaming through the trees, or a red bird alighting on my mailbox, or the time to simply stop and notice the beauty of swaying trees, swishing their song whether anyone notices them or not.  I’ve had people down the street I don’t know well come outside for whatever reason at 5:45am, to find me standing in front of their house holding my coffee and enjoying the colors of the sunrise because there is a better view from their yard than mine.  Sometimes those moments evolve into what can only be described as sacred, as a simple”good morning” from a near stranger, followed by my embarrassed explanation of why I’m standing in their yard, somehow mysteriously turns into the sharing of burdens and the giving of encouragement and hope.   A life of faith is so messy. Sometimes I fight doubt, and my faith dips and wavers because the world at large seems incredibly broken, people are mean, and injustice so often has it’s way.  But then I go ahead and sort of half-heartedly ask the Lord to use me to share hope with the world…. followed by a chance encounter in the middle of the street at 5:45 in the morning.  So. Okay.  There’s that.  What can I do with that except lift my head, confess my doubts, and keep going forward in faith?

These are good mornings.  And God is good.

And sometimes I wake up and walk outside and immediately step into a massive spider web, and nearly throw my back out trying to free myself.  Any outside observer on this morning would not be compelled to say good morning or share their burdens with the crazy lady spilling her coffee while fighting an invisible ninja on her porch.

As I clear myself from those sticky strands, I don’t appreciate the fog or the trees or the sunlight.  All I feel, frankly, is a growing irritation that I’ve stepped into a web, and oh BY THE WAY the view from my front porch is of a PORTA-POTTY.  People. There’s a porta-potty right outside my door and it’s been there a sweet forever.  Activity outside my house for the last several months includes dump trucks, concrete trucks, tractors, bulldozers, and construction workers loudly announcing their presence by banging their way in and out of the porta-potty as our neighborhood is growing and 70+ homes are being built next door.

Those spider-web and spilled coffee mornings don’t feel nearly so sacred.  But still God is good.  I remind myself of it on the red-bird days, the meeting strangers in the street days, so that deep in my heart and soul I remember it’s just as true on the porta-potty days.  God is good.  And porta-potties aren’t forever.

 

We tell the kids that we have basically added an additional bathroom onto our home. It adds value!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Creating a Rule of Life

A friend gifted me a liturgical day planner called “Sacred Ordinary Days.”

Planner pictured here beside over-priced latte

The word liturgical has previously felt mostly like a mystery to me. I’m not familiar with liturgical worship services or traditions; however, I am appreciating the sweet solace in ordinary quiet rhythms, and feeling a pull toward ancient rituals and solemn, holy routine.  Reading excerpts from The Book of Common Prayer feels safe and solid in a world that feels increasingly unsteady. Reading the lectionary every day feels reverent.  Brothers and sisters in Christ around the world, though divided by geography, or political leanings, or a host of other things, are connected in reading the same passages of Holy Scripture.

An exercise in the planner calls for creating a “Rule of Life“:

A rule of life is a commitment to live your life in a particular way. It is meant to be crafted with prayer and discernment, in partnership with God, as you consider the way God made you and the values He has inscribed upon your heart.

I do a lot of considering of how God has made my children…how God has made my husband…how God has made my friends…..but not a lot of considering of how God has actually crafted ME.  (Because let’s face it, who has the time?  Figuring out teenagers is a full time job. And once you think you have them figured out then NOPE!!! YOU DIDN’T!!! YOU NEED TO START ALL OVER FROM SCRATCH THROW OUT EVERYTHING YOU THOUGHT YOU KNEW BECAUSE THEY ARE SOMEHOW A WHOLE DIFFERENT PERSON IN THE SPAN OF FOUR MINUTES.)

Taking the time to think through and craft my “Rule of Life” has had lasting benefit. I’ve used it to help me process and think through those times when I just feel….. “off.”  Why am I angry?  Anxious?  Nervous?  Feeling ill at ease?  Generally in those times, I have violated a rule; or, I have allowed an ongoing pattern in my life that is not allowing space for pursuing what I truly care about.  Figuring out which rule I’ve flouted and how to course correct forces me to slow down and live with more purpose.

Here’s my working Rule of Life. I am excited to see how this grows and develops over time, and plan to revisit this practice at the beginning of each year.

RULE OF LIFE:

I will live with deliberate spaces for quiet and reflection.

I will love without judging if the recipient is worthy of it.

I will not seek comfort or validation in acquiring material things.

When I feel frustrated or angry, I will press pause.

I will feel joy and gratitude when I use my God-given gifts*.

I will speak and act on behalf of the oppressed and marginalized.

So….exactly none of those rules come “easy.”  But when I allow them to act as a guide, I feel like I am living out who God created me to be.  I violate my own rules a lot (ummm….daily), so I have ample chances to rejoice in grace, and in living Free in Jesus.  I have found these helpful not as a way to justify myself or put my hope in being good enough, but as a way to live a life that responds to the goodness of God by offering back a thoughtful, intentional life.  I turn 39 years old tomorrow and I want this next turn around the sun to be a good one.

*A friend has repeatedly encouraged me that finding time to write needs to be a part of my life, and part of “feeling joy and gratitude when I use my God-given gifts”.  Thus….this blog post. Thanks Christy for being an encourager not just to me but to so many women.  Here’s hoping I can work the rust out of my typing fingers.  And brain.  Some rust there too.

The Loneliest Stage

Mom’s of toddlers make an event of sharing the maddening, but ultimately laughable, stories of mayhem and destruction that the 5 and under set wreak upon our lives. In this stage of mothering, the rare coffee date with a group of friends explodes into laughter over the mischievous tales of your rambunctious toddler. Even the worst of the worst that toddlers can offer up (diapers removed and contents smeared anyone?) can still be met with a sort of head shake and a knowing laugh. Laugh so you don’t cry, knowing this stage will pass. We understand and have all been there.

It’s funny to talk about the three year old who earnestly promises he did NOT eat the cookie while smiling sweetly at you thru chocolate smeared teeth. After a glass of wine with friends, you can actually laugh about the mystery artwork on the back of your couch in Sharpie; and be mildly incredulous together that not one of your children will claim ownership of said artwork. Asking “Who did this?” is met with adamant denials and wide eyed looks of bafflement. You realize with a certain horror that one of your kids is a darn good actor, you just don’t know which one….

No one expects toddlers to be perfect, right? They are learning and growing, figuring out consequences, and ultimately learning what it means to be human.

It’s not so laughable though when those same imperfect kids wreak a little havoc down the road, in the teenage years.

Not many moms of teens sit around swapping stories of the most recent bold-faced lie your tween or teenager tried to pull over on you.

We can feel worried or embarrassed or ashamed when our kids are in this stage of life…. which creates a perfect storm of silence and secrecy. If we don’t guard against it, that can lead to shame that makes us traverse these years alone. I admit that it’s my first response. “Oh man. I hope no one finds out about this.” And yet, the enemy of our soul does so, so much damage in secret. The things we feel like we can’t say out loud are his absolute playground.

And here’s the truth about teenagers:
Just like toddlers, they are learning and growing, figuring out consequences, and ultimately learning what it means to be human. We accept our kids’ imperfections in the toddler stage when the mistakes are small, but not so much in the teen years when the mistakes have the potential to bring a bit more heartache.

lonelieststage

So make it a priority to find a friend you can confide in about your frustrations and joys.

If you’re hesitant to share with anyone the very real, sometimes painful, experiences you go thru with your teen, why? Why the tendency to keep it all close to the vest? Here are my fears:

1.  I don’t want anyone to think less of my teen, or love them any less.
2.  I don’t want anyone to judge my parenting as lacking.

When I look carefully at those reasons for not openly sharing our trials with someone….I have decided those reasons are garbage. Are there any moms in your world who might withhold love from you or your teen upon hearing they are imperfect? Yes. You probably know who they are, so don’t choose them as your confidante. The moms who have proven that they love you and love your kids are going to own the fact that their teenager isn’t perfect either, and once you share your own story they will 99 times out of 100 have a story of their own to share. There is joy in knowing that all teenagers are a little bit crazy.  They flat lose their [still developing] minds at times, and we are not in this new and scary parenting stage alone.

Sometimes you need a friend to say out loud: “Your kid is a great kid. He made a mistake. All kids do. It’s okay. This is not outside the realm of normal behavior.” And then when it’s her kid that loses their mind, you can be there to tell her those same things.  (Bonus points if you have a friend from YOUR middle school or high school days who can remind you of your OWN ridiculous acts that your teenage brain convinced you were a great idea!)

There is so, so much joy in the teen years. These kids of ours are smart and funny and opinionated and kind and good. And then they lose their mind a for hot minute and make you crazy – but it doesn’t undo all the great things about this stage. Unless you brood, and worry, and fret, and don’t bring that crazy into the LIGHT with a trusted friend. Keeping the hard and confusing stuff in the dark can make this stage so lonely, and so scary. You need someone to help shape your perspective, and talk you down from locking your child in their room until high school graduation.

Don’t go it alone ladies. This stage of parenting is infinitely better shared.

noise and niceties

Like

My relationship with Facebook is the same as every other mid-thirties mom I know:  We love seeing pictures and hearing about the daily lives of friends and family far away.  We hate how it becomes a time drain and leaves us feeling like we suddenly look up from our phone to realize we just wasted 45 minutes scrolling through things that we either don’t care about or that rile us up and make us angry (Hello 2016 Presidential Campaign!), or just perfectly simple updates that are fun to see but don’t really shape our lives in any important way.  90% of what I read is just Noise or Niceties.

So we delete the Facebook app from our phones for a while, until we miss seeing pictures of our cute nieces and nephews, or something happens in our own lives that we want to share, and pretty soon we’re sucked right back into the time wasting.

And then there’s the discussion about social media presenting everyone’s best side, and driving us to comparison and discontent.  I don’t mean to be a part of perpetuating that part of social media, and only showing the bright and shiny side of our life…. but based on the real life comments of “Your family is so fun!” and “Your kids are so sweet!” or “Your home is so pretty!” from Facebook friends who are just  casual acquaintances in real life, and have never even been in my home or been around my kids longer than 2 seconds, I have to admit I’m unwittingly part of the problem.   I think I’m fairly transparent that my life is not perfectly tied up in a sweet bow, but it seems that’s the image I project despite my best efforts.

Relationships really matter to me.  I am a friend girl.   I like to know about peoples lives, and connect with them and learn from them.  But is Facebook really helping me do that?  Maybe?  In some small way?  But recently I’ve tried to change how I’m using Facebook, to add more value:

-if I see a post from a local friend and think “I haven’t connected with her in a while…”, I try and make a date right then.  Set up a time to have coffee,  a gym date (ha), or invite their family over for dinner.

-if I see a post from a faraway friend, whom I can’t connect with in person, I try and send that friend a text or an email.  I can ask them more in depth questions about whatever it was I might have commented on or “liked”, and we can start a back and forth dialogue better done between two people than our entire friends list.  Those text convos stray from the initial topic, can spread out over a few days, and bring me a lot of joy.

-if I would never in a million years do either one of those things – arrange to see that “friend” in person, or text/email them a personal message, I often “hide” them from my timeline. It’s not that I don’t care about that person and might not want to check back in with them occasionally, its just that I only have so much time in the day.  Scrolling thru the posts of people with whom I’d never connect in real life is one of the things that gives me that “UGH.  I have just wasted so much time” feeling.

Here’s to trying to enjoy social media, while not letting it become a beast of burden. Possible?  I hope so.  I sure do love those pictures and updates of my nieces and nephews and my besties’ kids who are spread all over the globe.   Makes this Oklahoma girl in a Tennessee world feel a little bit closer to home.

dream a little dream, even if it’s scary

 

Sitting on my back porch today, looking at those pretty woods dotted with redbud trees, I remembered a page in my journal from not quite 2 years ago that I recently stumbled upon:

 

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This light-hearted journal page, full of little wishes uttered as weak prayers, was written at a time when our family was in transition, making decisions about a new job and a new city.  The surrounding pages in that same journal are filled with a lot of fear and pain and questions, and lessons on the resolve that it actually takes to follow the scriptural command to “live at peace with all men.”  Sometimes the best path to peace is a shut mouth, which makes for less spoken words but more filled-up, tear-stained journal pages.

In the middle of those messy pages, I forced myself to write down some hoped-for wishes for the future. (And now, not quite two years later, check, check, check, and check.)  If you are in the middle of your own hard season, don’t be afraid to lift your head and dream a little.  I know it’s scary.  Draw on your courage and faith, and infuse some hope for the future into your heartache. Be brave.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fall Porch

Summer is well and truly over.  As much as I lament it’s absence when I am shivering on the soccer field at early morning games, I have had to say my goodbyes.  See ya in June, best season of the year.

But at least a new season brings with it cute porch decor!

Bought some mums, made a wreath, and sewed throw pillows for my rocking chairs with some fabric from my scrap pile. Hello Fall!

front porch
I really like the burlap ribbon amongst the flowers and leaves on my wreath (click image to enlarge). Copied mine from a compilation of different wreaths seen on Pinterest but especially this one.

 

 

 

 

 

Farewell, pink and purple.

My 10 year old has ditched all the pink and purple once decorating her room. She turned on those “little girl” colors fast enough to bring a tear to a Mama’s eye!

We sweetened up her new bedspread with some fabric bunting and tissue paper pom poms for quick,  inexpensive updated decor. Love this girl’s style.

 

Blue is my favorite color, too.  I may or may not sometimes take over that hammock for a prime reading spot when she’s in school.  Shhhhh…..

 

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Morning Mommy

scarymom

Y’all. I timed it. It takes me approximately 17 minutes to run a brush through my hair and slap on a bit of makeup, and transform from scary Picture A to normal Picture B.

So,  my dear middle school boys,  I apologize for perpetually dropping you off at Middle School as version A. I know it’s only 17 minutes. I know. I’m sorry.

For your early school career,  I upheld the unspoken contract that I would at least keep a dark, large pair of sunglasses, lip gloss, and a ballcap in the car,  in order to shield the world from scary version A, and also not scar your young psyches.

But now. Dude. Middle school starts flipping early. I feel like I deserve a medal for leaving the house at 6:45 to drive your precious selves to school thereby saving you an even earlier trip to the bus stop. I am going to continue to roll out of bed, stumble around, and sleepwalk myself to the van. (Except on the mornings your Dad does the sleepwalking.) (Which is good for you, because he’s way cuter and less embarrassing right outta bed.) The point is,  finding my sunglasses and hat is just way too hard.

So, the boys get Version A mom at drop off. In all its glory. Morning sun shining brightly upon that puffy face. And my daughter,  who doesn’t have to leave the house until 8:15 and thereby leaves time for my coffee to start working, gets the new and improved Version B mom and less trauma in her life. It is a tough, unjust world.

(I did stop myself from rolling down the window and yelling to the boys as I drove away “Hey! Boys! Look! It’s Emma walking in the building!!! Remember sweet Emma? We had dinner with her family this summer?!?”  My finger was literally on the button, but at the last minute I remembered that the boys would die of embarrassment if either version of  me yelled out the window about “sweet Emma” in front of the middle school. Be cool, mom.  Be cool.)