Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Status Update: End of Summer

It's the final week before school starts around here.  That means we are scheming to get to the beach once more and trying to cram 1,000 fun activities in (laser tag, arcade, movies) before those yellow buses come around. 

We hosted a big party last weekend.  Like BIG.  63 guests.  We had never done anything like this before and I worried I made a terrible mistake but it was great.  Everything worked out and fun was had by all.   

When my schedule is full of cleaning, parties, work, and fun, I always think, "I will have no time for reading" and yet somehow, love finds a way.  

I am reading in all of the nooks and crannies of time that I can find.  A few minutes before my daughter gets in the car after volleyball camp, a few minutes before dinner, and a very few minutes before bed.  (I am tired.)

All these times all add up and by the end of the day, I'm surprised that I've crushed another 50 pages or so. 

This time of year also makes me reflect on what we did right and what we got wrong this summer.  My kids and I are a bundle of nerves before we have to implement a new routine and schedule.  A combination of anxiety, a full schedule, and deep thinking makes me turn to books when I need to catch a break from my brain. 

I love the way I can escape into a good book and it requires enough of my focus that the rest of the world literally fades away. 

I have noticed, though, that at different times I've hidden in different genres.  When we were moving, I read classics.  Slipping back into timeless Literature gave me a sense of security I needed.

 When my daughter had surgery, I read YA fantasy.  Having to learn the ins and outs of a new world kept me from letting reality spin me out of control. 

When my dad passed away, I read historical fiction.  Stories about people who lived good lives and fought good fights gave me hope to carry on. 

Now, facing transitions and self-evaluation I am reading murder mysteries.  I'm not sure what this one says about my current situation but gosh, I really love a good murder story. 

What do you read when you get busy or times get tough?  Have you noticed patterns in the genres you turn to during different circumstances? 

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.