Friday, August 16, 2019


I am a woman, a wife, a mother, a daughter, a sister.  I teach kids in China how to speak English each morning over the internet.  I have friendships to maintain, a home to care for, and I am a resident of this world.  If you can identify with any of these things then you too probably face some amount of stress. 

I know I do.


When I saw the book Burnout on bookstagram I knew I had to read it.  I bought it and set it aside, a bit intimidated.  Honestly, a book with the subtitle, "The secret to unlocking the stress cycle"  seemed like it would stress me out more.  

After reading You're Wearing That?  I thought my reading life could use some more nonfiction.  And then I heard Annie Jones talking about Burnout on her podcast and I thought, "Ok...I'll give this a try." 

From the start, I liked the voices of the authors (twin sisters), who felt like friends who were looking out for me.  They had great insight into the stress cycle women feel and how the patriarchy rigs the system.  The research they used was reliable but they also included anecdotes that made the science go down real smooth. 

Here's what I learned:

1.  Modern life doesn't help us complete our stress cycles.  We need to be active, creative or connect in some way (30 minutes of exercise, dance, 20-second hugs, good laugh or cry) in order to signal to our bodies that the stress is behind us. 

2. "Planful problem solving" (doing what you can to plan for problems) and "Positive Reappraisal" (changing your view of problems to opportunities) can help mitigate some of the things that cause us stress. 

3.  Watch out for relationships where you're being a human giver (someone whose value is only found in their good appearance, pleasant mood, and care for others).  This is draining and an impossible way to live.

demanding kids ✔️ ✔️ ✔️ ✔️ 

4.  I can counteract some of the damage done to society by the patriarchy by practicing self-acceptance and seeing myself as "the new hotness."  I am hot, right now, stretch marks, zits, and lines around my eyes.  And so are you.  And so is she. I can redefine "hot" and resist some of the stress that comes from society.  

5.  Connection is required.  Introvert or otherwise.  We need each other and there is scientific evidence to back that up.

6.  Getting rest is crucial and an act of rebellion against a society that says busyness and exhaustion are signs of a good life and getting proper sleep is selfish. 


7.  We all have a "madwoman in the attic"--that voice in our head that pushes us to be a human giver.  I sat with this idea for a while and thought about what my madwoman looked like.  She is a version of me from the upside-down: a mess, slovenly, disorganized, and weak and she yells at me that there is no difference between me and then I work extra hard to prove her wrong.  I'm still considering the implications of this. 

8.  Self-compassion allows you to heal without inflicting more damage.  Practicing gratitude makes you aware of the good people in your life and the ways circumstances have worked out in the past which can give you hope for the future.  Not necessarily earth-shattering, but very good reminders. 

These things scratch the surface of what I learned.  There were multiple studies and facts provided in the text that made me tell whoever was near me and call my husband at work.  It's been three weeks since I read it and I feel better equipped for those times I feel overwhelmed by stress and I now incorporate completing the cycle in my daily life.  I'm not perfect, but I did just get back from a vacation with my mom and my mother in law and didn't lose my cool.  That is PROGRESS, my friends!  

I think Oprah would be proud. 
Overall, my new approach to stress is hopeful and healthy and if nothing else, that makes reading Burnout a smashing success.  

Have you read it?  Share your thoughts in comments.  

Friday, August 9, 2019

Reading Recap: July Edition

Despite being at home with four kids I did a lot of reading this month.  I think I've learned the value of little moments here and there reading just another few pages.  I never leave home without a book.  And, during the summer months, I make everyone read so it becomes a family activity. 

Disclaimer: Whenever we have reading time I always have to yell to get my kids to come and then the first five minutes is spent grumbling and fidgeting and making rude noises.  But once they've settled, they read for way longer than I ever expected and only grudgingly get up to move on to the next activity.  But it always starts with yelling. 

Also me

I don't mind the heat because it forces me to slow down and not feel so guilty about reading on the couch for an hour with a cold glass of seltzer next to me.  It's the same for rain and snow.  I guess I just love extreme weather for the reading benefits (not the damage and destruction they cause, though, that part really sucks).  

So, here are the books I read this month:

Watching You
I've seen this book a few times at bookstores and was curious about it but never actually bought it.  It was available on Libby so I listened to it at the beginning of the month.  It was an enjoyable, suspenseful read that played with the theme "looks can be deceiving." 

The story is set in a small British town and rotates perspectives of people who live on the same street.  By the end, I was surprised, not necessarily by whodunit, but by how wrong surface judgments of other characters could be--which then made me reflect on my own casual judgments, which are all probably completely off base. 

v. awkward

A Great Reckoning
Maybe one of my favorite Gamache books, but honestly, I think that every time I finish another one.  I just love seeing the characters grow and change over the course of this series.  In this installment, we get to learn more about Gamache as a child and gain insight into what happened after his parents died.  As always, Louise Penny books make me hungry and I never drink more tea than when I'm in the middle of one of her novels.  Even in the hottest week of summer.  There are worse problems to have.

it's fine.  not a problem really.  just bring me some tea now!!!

The Gown
This was the Modern Mrs. Darcy book club pick for June.  I have yet to finish one of those books on time but I still enjoy them whenever I read them.  This was a case of the right book at the right time.  At the time, I didn't want anything too heavy or hard.  It is historical fiction which isn't usually my jam, but the book was so well written and the characters so engaging that I couldn't put it down.  I even googled one of the characters to see if she was a real artist. And she was not a real person.  #fictionburn

A Place for Us
This novel has been on my shelf since last summer.  I don't know why I didn't read it before.  I'm not sure why I read it now.  But I'm so glad I did.  It is a beautiful, heartbreaking story of a normal family.  Except this normal family is Muslim and they are trying to live in America pre and post 9/11.  While the actual events of 9/11 play a very small role in the story, the repercussions change this family forever.  
so good even Ruby wanted to read it
The author did an excellent job of elevating the mundane.  Showing how the same incident (a disagreement between siblings, a sister telling on her brother, a dinner conversation) can be perceived by different family members and how something as simple as a conversation can have lasting effects.  

The prose was so beautiful, I highlighted so many passages.  The final section had me crying and I did not want to close the book on these characters.  I am a better wife, mother, and human because of A Place for Us.  This is going on my lifetime favorites list.  

Rumple Buttercup
I debated if I should include this book.  It's not really a picture book--there are chapters, but the chapters are short and I read it in a half-hour.  The pictures are simple but resonant.  

And that's why I'm including this: it's a simple but resonant book.  Rumple is a little monster who loves bananas (like me) but is too shy to be around people.  He learns that everyone has some things that make them different and that diversity makes the world better.  He learns it's ok to be himself in the world.  This is a lesson I need to remember and one I think is valuable to kids and adults alike.  And I like the format: it's not preachy or like the author is trying too hard.  It stays with you because the message is delivered gently and in the form of this weird looking little monster who is also completely lovable.  

Listen, Slowly
Listen, Slowly is about a 12-year-old girl who travels with her dad and grandmother to Vietnam to discover what really happened with her grandpa during the war. This sounds exciting to me, but to Mai/Mia, the middle school protagonist, it is practically torture to be ripped from her friends and her world in Southern California.

I bought this book a long time ago and I heard Liberty Hardy talking about how much she liked it on the What Should I Read Next podcast. I decided to pick it up because it is short, it is summer and I like seasonal reading, and I love stories about other cultures.

Mai/Mia's voice could have gone awry, sounding too snarky or sounding too sweet. Instead, Lai strikes a careful balance with each of her characters, making them sound realistic because there is both sweet and snarky to Mai and her grandmother is both honorable and a little rebellious and her dad is trying to do the right thing but also overtired.

people are complicated and that's how they should be written

Bonus: I learned a lot about Vietnam, the culture, the language, the country.

The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency

I listened to this while running.  It wasn't high brow literature, but it was a good story.  Listening to it was great because the narrator had a fantastic accent and knew how to say the names which would have been v. challenging to read.  
sometimes names and words in other languages make me feel like this...that's what audiobooks are for!
Precious, the main character, has had a tough run, but then she decides to open a detective agency.  She takes on local cases and is constantly surprising men who think a woman could not possibly be a detective.  The novel made me smile and I have a warm place in my heart for Precious.  I will probably listen to the next installment, especially because the first book left off on a cliff hanger which is not always my favorite, but I was ok with it for this book.  

I ended the month on a non-fiction note and I will do a post to tell you more about this book because it was so good.  I learned a lot from the authors.  Their research was illuminating and the studies they cited often had me telling whoever was in earshot about them.  

Burnout looks at the stress cycle women deal with.  Some of it could be relatable to men, but the main focus was women.  The authors (twin sisters) offered some quality advice on how to complete the stress cycle...spoiler alert: it's not watching hours of TV and then falling asleep.  They talked about ways to cope within a system that's often rigged against women and how to quit striving to look like supermodels but instead live a healthy life with self-love and appreciation for others.  

I could go on and on, and I will, in my next blog post.  But for now, know that if you struggle with feeling stressed this book is immensely helpful.  I have felt so much lighter since I read it.  
📚 📚 📚 📚 📚 📚 
That's what I read this month.  I'm excited about August.  August means vacation and lots of reading and the beginning of fall sports.  For me, summer isn't too short or too long, it's just right.  

Thursday, July 25, 2019

An Open Letter to Audiobooks

Dear Audiobooks,

I just wanted to write you a little note to tell you that I love you. 
calm smile, a glass of whiskey, eyes closed, Ron knows what's what
You make chores and exercise so much better.  Instead of trudging into the laundry room faced with folding six loads of towels and kids' clothes, I practically prance in there and am left feeling sad when the final sock is matched. 

Time spent in the car used to be an endless changing of channels to find a song that fit the ven diagram of songs I like and songs the kids can listen to.  Now my children remind me that we need to finish our audiobook and drives are spent getting smarter and building connection.  You make me a better parent, audiobooks.  

When I go through difficult times and long silences are just too much, you help me navigate quiet times in the way I used to as a kid: with bedtime stories and stories to fill up the spaces when I just don't want to think about the stress of life.  These escapes are essential and often, in your novels and nonfiction, I find answers I didn't know I was looking for.  

I'll be honest, though.  You're not perfect.  I have listened to some narrators who have swept me up into another time, another place.  But there are others, I'm sure you know the ones, that grate my nerves and make me abandon the audio format.  I shudder when I remember one narrator who I literally yelled at every time I put the book on or another who's accent was like nails on a chalkboard.  

make it stop!!!!
Despite your imperfections, I am grateful.  I know the list of books I finish each year would be much smaller without your help.  The way you elevate my work/travel time makes this enneagram type 1 feel so much more productive.  Without you, I'd probably be watching a lot more TV.  

You are a delight and a gift and I don't know what I'd do without you.  

Yours Truly,


Do you listen to audiobooks?  Who are your favorite narrators?  If you have never listened I highly recommend starting with Trevor Noah's Born a Crime.  It is hilarious and informative and his accent and voices make it a unique experience.  

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Best Book of the Summer (so far)

I've read a few books this summer and since I'm about at the halfway point I thought it would be a good time to look back to see what I've liked and what I didn't and consider what books I will read in the next month and a half to round out my summer reading. 


I've read thrillers that are fun, series that I love, and books that have surprised me in both the best and worst ways. 

As I perused my list I thought about what would make a book "the best" to me at any given moment.  Well, it should be something that resonated.  For me, the best books are books I think about for a long time afterward.  My reading experience matters too.  Did I connect with the characters and themes?  Did it feel like I was immersed in the world of my book or was it hard to break into?  Could I set it down and forget about it or was I actually frustrated with my real life for getting in the way of my reading? 

After considering these questions while looking at my book list I knew I had an obvious choice.

The River by Peter Heller

This book is everywhere and that is not a thing that matters to me.  For a loooooong time I've craved a modern story told in the Hemingway fashion.  I think this book achieves that on some levels (with less misogyny as an added bonus).  Writing about nature can be difficult: I get bored easily and it can sound trite real quick.  But this book took me out onto the water in a canoe and made me care deeply about the two protagonists, an unnamed woman, and the world of the river. 

The flashbacks and inner thoughts of characters were just as compelling as the actual plot.  Heller does not stick strictly to the rules of grammar and it made the flow of thoughts and dialogue seem more authentic and helped build the voice and characterization of Jack and Wynn who could have been too similar to separate. 

But you could read all this on any review.  What I want to tell you is I couldn't put it down.  I knew I was reading it too fast and tried to slow myself down, but I couldn't.  Books like that are often hard to find. 


So, that is my best book so far...what is yours?  Leave a note in comments and maybe I can add your must-read to my TBR before September rolls around and schedules begin again. 
who are we kidding?  I jam on my planner all year long.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Let's Talk

A few months ago I read You're Wearing That by Deborah Tannen, a famous linguistic professor and researcher.  At the time I thought it was kind of long and overly technical in parts and overly anecdotal in other parts.  I would probably still say the same thing if we were chatting over coffee about it, but then I would tell you all the things I learned from it.

It's a book that sits with you and makes you think.  You read it and then you see it play out in all of your interactions and you think, "Wow, it's so obvious, now that I know what to look for."

Some things I took away:

1.  "The double meaning of connection and control"
Tannen talks about how speech that's intended to build connection can also feel like speech that's intended to control.  There are messages (the obvious meaning) and metamessages (meaning that is taken from the tone, when, and why something is said) that impact the course of our conversations and these can be very difficult to balance in the mother/daughter relationship. 

It's complicated

2.  When I was a kid I had the habit of asking my mom to feel my head to check and see if I had a fever.  It was an act of caring and connection that I repeated through my teens.  Apparently, this is common behavior because women tend to share their "minor misfortunes" with their mothers in order to elicit a "metamessage of caring."  I have noticed this in my daughters too. 

3.  Advice from a mother to a daughter is tricky business.  Moms see their daughters as direct reflections of themselves so they think they need to help their daughters be the best they can be.  Daughters often take this advice poorly because they think their mother is just criticizing them.  The "big three" topics are hair, clothing, and weight and these should be approached very carefully or not at all.  If Tannen had to add a fourth, she said it would be "how they raise their children."  This list made perfect sense to me as both a daughter and mother.  

4.  She talked about a "disapproval sandwich" when a woman is "criticized by both their teenage...daughters and their older mothers."  This is valid. 

5.  I loved the chapter when she describes why this book is about women.  For women and girls, "talk is the glue that holds a relationship together--and also the explosive that can blow it apart."  Tannen goes in detail about the ways boys relate (competition, action) and the ways girls relate (connection, talk). 

6.  The concept of how, in a group of three, there is often "alignment" between two people and the third is left out really struck me.  I could see it actually happen when one of my daughters and my husband and I would talk.  It was like only two of us could agree on any given topic.  The metamessages, tone, and body language can contribute to the alignment too.  This makes a complicated verbal dance into a tight rope walk over hungry alligators.  I also saw it with my three daughters: two will align in any given conversation leaving the other out and being left out of connection is really frustrating for girls and women.  

7.  She gave some strategies for moms with teenage daughters (I have two currently and will eventually have 3 at the same time).  When things start to escalate you can stop the conversation.  Remind your daughter, "You don't have to like me, but you have to treat me with respect."  Using humor is a trick most dads get instinctively, but moms can benefit from it too.  Instead of trying to do more of the same while getting bad results we should try taking a left turn to move the conversation in a new direction.  #helpful

This Instagram is from when I was reading this book in the bath to relax after a "heated discussion" with one of my teens. 
V. relatable.  

These concepts and strategies are still rattling around in my head, helping me better identify healthy and unhealthy communication.  I'm no pro, but I'm able to know when to just stop a conversation now, instead of pushing it into an argument.  

If I could revise the book I would add a few bullet points at the end of each chapter for easier reference.  I might also trim down some of the examples she gives that seem repetitive and I'd definitely reevaluate the chapter on emails and instant messaging...but it was kind of fun to see how far technology has come since 2006.  

I'm happy to have read it and feel confident that this book has led me to improved communication with all the women in my life and a deeper understanding of the science behind things I had always taken for granted.  

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Summer Reading Moods

It's summertime in these parts.  We've had lazy days, days at the beach, visits from family, visited family.  There are a few things we still want to do and a vacation on the horizon.  But the next couple of weeks I feel like I will be walking on a tightrope, dangerously close to falling into the abyss of chaos that my life can become with four kids and little routine. 

This weekend we spent time in Harper's Ferry, WV.  It was a fun overnight trip that included fighting, sniping, laughing, complaining, kindness, and grumpiness.  Though those things sound like they can't coexist, the more I'm a mom, the more I realize they do more often than not. 

As usual, I packed three books because you never know what you'll want to read at any given moment.  I ignored my book club book in favor of the next book in the Louise Penny series when I got some time to read while the kids were in the pool after a day hiking and visiting historic sites in 90% humidity.  I was completely immersed in the world of the book--it was glorious.  After a long, full day we went to dinner and I was happy and optimistic. 

Well written, immersive novels make my heart flutter.  I find myself reaching for them instead of my phone.  I look for people to talk to about them.  Reading is a hobby, not a job so I should be able to find joy in my books.  And when I do, I get up from my reading chair refreshed and content--even if I was just crying over a moving scene.  Ahhhhh.

replace the bottle of perfume with a book and this is me

We came home and I spent time working and trying to corral my kids on Monday.  I was getting more and more frustrated and I realized my mood was tied to my book--I had switched over to the book my book club had picked and I can't stand it. 

After I recognized this shift in my mood and the way each time I turned a page I felt like I was dying a thousand deaths, I made an executive decision.  I'm done.  That's it.  This need to complete books is to discuss them is ridiculous.  If I hate the book, I need to ditch it.  I set the book aside and I feel liberated, empowered. 

Life is too short to read a book I can't stand.  There are lots of other books I want to read and I know exactly what I don't like about this particular book (I'm 200 pages into this 400-page novel) and it's not changing. 

Maybe it's more important to be mindful of the ways my books are making me feel in this season, where I'm home with four kids trying to avoid losing my mind.  I like thinking deep thoughts, feeling feelings, and laughing...I don't like being annoyed by poorly edited novels, catching contradictions that seem obvious, and not being able to tell the difference between the voices in a multiple perspective novel.

Reader: know thyself!

Maybe someone needs to hear this: it's ok to set it down.  To not like the book everyone else loves and to not finish your book for book club if it's physically painful to keep going.  Do your family and your mood a favor and set it down. 

So, now that I've put that aside, I can pick up another book to fill the gap in my roster.  I think I'll tackle East of Eden this summer.  I've been looking forward to digging into a big classic that I haven't read yet and a few people have recommended this one to me. 

How does reading change your mood?  What book experiences make you feel refreshed and content and which ones are physically painful? 

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Reading Recap: June 2019

June is over and July is here!  Long, lazy summer days have me in their grip and I am v. happy about this.  Naps are my life and we spend an inordinate amount of time at the pool.  School ended in a haze and we were just so done with it.  Now we have a flexible routine and lots of reading time.  
actual footage of me every day at 2pm

I was prepared for June being a terrible reading month but it was actually pretty good.  I read six books.  Call it escapism if you must...because that's what it was.  

Here we go:

1.  The Goldfinch.  I wanted to finish this one in May but it ended up being June.  It was a complicated book.  I think I felt every single emotion towards Theo, Hobie, Pippa, and Boris.  There were parts I absolutely hated and there were parts I couldn't stop thinking about.  Tartt is an artist with language, even in those hated parts.  

This is a journey story about Theo.  He meets an unlikely cast of characters as he experiences mundane and extraordinary situations over a short period in his life.  He makes good decisions and some really, really stupid ones.  The reader is forced to question how his childhood changed him, the lifelong ramifications of certain friendships, and how grief can be woven into our lives like a silvery thread in a tapestry.  It's probably a classic.

I'm really glad I finished it before the movie comes out this fall.  

2.  Murder at the Vicarage.  I didn't enjoy this book which is a new experience with an Agatha Christie work.  Miss Marple was a peripheral character and the narrator was all over the place.  I was so annoyed with most of the characters that I just didn't care about the mystery.  Blah.

3.  The Mysterious Affair at Styles.  I really enjoyed this book which is a common experience with an Agatha Christie work.  Apparently, I have an affinity for Poirot.  I care about him.  And the characters were a little more complex than in Vicarage where all the characters seemed cartoonish in their stereotyping.  Anyway, I will now take a break from Christie for a while.  

4.  The Dream Peddler.  This is not a book I would have picked up in a million years.  It is about a peddler who sells dreams in a sleepy little town that is reeling from a tragedy.  I read it for book club and it was so surprising.  The author's descriptions were incredible.  It was like, "yes, that's exactly how that sounds/feels/smells/tastes.  how did you find the perfect combination of words to describe that???"  She made a story that could have been overly sweet and kind of silly but instead was an exercise in empathy and highlighted the beauty in the ordinary.  

5.  The River.  Too much is being said about this one on the internet but I read it and loved it.  I love Hemingway's approach to nature and writing and Heller does a good job of offering a similar approach with his own energy.  Heller tells the story of two young men traveling down a river and trouble ensues.  But it's not about the trouble.  If you are looking at the trouble you might miss the relationships, the statements about masculinity, and the reverence of the natural world.  This book might require two readings to really understand some of the more nuanced themes.  

actual footage of my life in May and June

6.  Inkling.  My 10 year old picked this for our mother-daughter-book-club.  At first, I was like, "Ugh, a book about an inkblot."  Granted, I did buy it, but I thought the kids could read it and leave me out of it.  I read it because I'm a good mom.  

After the first 30 pages, I was hooked and couldn't stop myself, actually.  Somehow Oppel makes a compelling story that had me shedding a few tears out of an intelligent inkblot and a conflicted boy.  I don't think the characters I read at 10 were so well rounded.  We both agreed Ethan's little sister who has Down Syndrome was a complete ray of sunshine and his frenemy Vika was a jerk, except for she wasn't always a jerk and you could kind of understand why she was behaving like that.  Bravo, Oppel.  

The best part of the book for me was that Inkling would imitate any of the books he "ate" the night before so he would be talking like the BFG or Anne of Green Gables or Hemingway.  It was awesome. 

I can't wait to see what's in store for July.  No spoilers, but I'm already off to a great start!

Have you read any of these books?  What did you think?  Also, what did you read in June?  Share in comments and we can keep the book chat going.