Creating Space In a Crowded Week

This week has felt mentally crowded. Frank’s had to work late in preparation for the tax extension deadline so bedtime has been on my own. But what’s really thrown me for a loop is that Elle has decided to stop napping. Right when I thought I was going to have two mornings a week to myself and an afternoon of quiet, it’s become a battle.

IMG_0627I decided to handle this shift in routine like the mature and capable adult that I am. I grumped and threatened and got really, really annoyed. How dare my three-year-old ruin my ME time?!

Often, my go-to defense is to turn inward. I go into a self-sufficient mode, I don’t ask for help, and I don’t vent to my friends. This usually doesn’t help anything. I finally emerged from this space, went for a walk with a friend, Voxed another friend who has kids farther along than mine and gained some perspective.

I realized I need to recalibrate my expectations. Much like sleep regression, we need to start a new naptime training and move toward “quiet rest time.” Maybe on the days when it’s too much of a fight, we run errands or do other chores. Maybe we’ll go for a hike. I don’t know.

What I do know is that the woe is me feeling isn’t helpful. It has me reflecting on the ways life so often doesn’t go according to plan. I expect to enter a new season with grace and ease, floating through the transition beautifully. The reality usually is something quite different.

I hope what I’ve learned from this start-of-the-school-year nap boycott is to step back and assess what I can do when life doesn’t go according to plan. I know I can always throw a fit, but maybe there’s another way. Maybe next time, I’ll go for a walk first or Vox my friend with the gritty parts of life.

That’s what community is all about. I’m hoping that by leaning in, I find space to breathe this next week. That this crowded feeling eases and we move into a new rhythm.

How do you deal with the unexpected? What’s your best way of dealing with these crowded weeks?

Linked with Five Minute Friday, a time to write without editing. Today’s prompt is “crowd.”

Favorite Fiction for Fall

My goal this year was to read more fiction. (I feel like this is a perpetual goal…) I love reading good fiction because it expands my worldview, makes me think about people and places I don’t normally interact with, and can dig into topics and issues in creative ways that is often difficult for an essay or nonfiction format.

FavoriteI just scrolled through my Goodreads shelf and tallied up 17 fiction books so far! I’m impressed with myself and would say I’m doing pretty well with this goal. With the school year underway and autumn just around the corner, I thought I’d share some fiction reads that will get you thinking about deep topics but with a compelling narrative.

(These are just five of my favorites. For a more comprehensive list, check out my Goodreads shelves or let’s connect on Instagram, where I often share my current reads.)

Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward
Jesmyn Ward is a masterful storyteller. I read both Salvage the Bones and Sing, Unburied, Sing this year and they both count as favorite reads. Salvage the Bones is the story of a family in the days before Hurricane Katrina. This intense novel tackles family, poverty, and the systemic structures that impact families who are more at risk when natural disasters strike. I was drawn into Esch’s story and felt that Ward handled teen pregnancy and all its complexities well.

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones
I found this novel to be an excellent follow-up to discussions around America’s industrial prison complex. Books like Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson have brought a lot of the injustices around incarceration to light and Jones is able to take the reality of those injustices and dive into them through this novel. The story follows Celestial and Roy, newlyweds who are separated within the early years of their marriage by a false conviction. The book dives into the reality of being separated, of how prison changes a person, and the pervasive injustice people of color experience in the court system.

Untitled designEtta and Otto and Russell and James by Emma Hooper
I read this book after a string of intense reads (see the novels above!) This magical story of three childhood friends in Saskatchewan was exactly what I needed. The plot toggles between present-day and World War II. I don’t want to give too much away, but keep in mind this genre is magical realism. Hooper uses magical twists in the plot that enrich the entire story but if you’re looking for historical fiction, this will be confusing.

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
This book received a lot of buzz last year, and for good reason. Ng weaves a deep story of suburban life, image and identity, foster care and rights, and our own prejudices when viewed through the lens of “doing good.” I think what makes this novel worth reading is that you will find yourself or your views portrayed somehow. Each character is developed in a way that brings to light many common ideas and ideologies of success and the American Dream. The themes in Little Fires Everywhere will make you examine your own good intentions and their roots.

Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders
I had this book on my shelf for a while and Frank devoured it earlier in the summer. I knew I had to pick it up and I’m so glad I did. Saunders weaves seeds of historical truth with a swirling world of the afterlife. His political commentary is powerful because of the setting and use of character. This is a novel that takes a little getting used to, as the style is written theatrically rather than narratively. If this has been on your to-read list for a while, I’d recommend moving it up. I’m glad I did!

What genre do you have to be intentional about reading? Any other fiction recommendations?

Disclosure: Amazon Affiliate links included in this post. If you click through to Amazon, any purchase you make supports this site. 

Harvest Comes at the End of the Season

Even though we’re back in school and everyone is looking forward to all things autumn and pumkiny, our garden is still in the height of harvest season. We planted our veggies at the end of May and spent most of the summer watering and watching our plants grow. We have volunteer spaghetti squash from last year (or from the compost – who knows?) and we have an abundance of cucumbers and tomatoes. Our squash had an ok year and our green peppers were the best we’ve ever seen.

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Photo by Chad Stembridge on Unsplash

I always get antsy for our harvest in mid-July. The plants are big and leafy but we get very few vegetables. Maybe a zucchini or yellow squash, but nothing impressive. Not yet. I always have to remind myself that the harvest really happens in August and into September. In fact, by the end of September, many tomatoes wither on the vine because we’re already moving on to more wintery recipes. (I know this makes us terrible farmers but it’s true every year.)

We’re three full weeks into our second year at our walkable neighborhood school. First graders still need a parent to pick them up and, even though this sometimes conflicts with Elle’s afternoon rest, I don’t mind carrying a sleepy preschooler to pick up her sister each day. These twice-daily treks to school have become a ritual of community that I would miss if we drove or if Bea rode the bus.

The faculty knows us and always say hello. We greet parents who are new friends and wave and connect with those we knew from last year. We walk home with a group of latch-key kids I’m getting to know better and yesterday I sent a note home with one of those girls, asking her mom to text about a play date.

Women from my Family Literacy group who have moved up due to language gains stop me, saying they wish they were in the beginner class so we could still see each other. Bea’s best friend’s mom joined Family Literacy and we got together last Saturday for henna.

IMG_0605If last year was for starting small roots in new soil, this year is seeing the shoots come up from our work. I don’t think we’re even into the leafy stage yet but I’m starting to see the results of our seeds. Last year, I was so excited about our new school and all we experienced that first year. Our kindergarten teacher was incredible! I made friends through Family Literacy! It was feeling like home.

And just shy of a month in, I’m amazed at how much deeper these relationships are growing. Even our new friendships feel deeper somehow, knowing we’ve been here a year and we’re committed for the next seven or so years as our girls progress.

Someone recently said that the word season is an overused term, especially in Christian culture, but as I watch our garden flourish, even when I’m ready to wind down and move into a cozier place, I can’t think of a more apt comparison.

We have planted seeds and are watching them poke out of the soil. I’m remembering that planting takes time, that vegetables don’t ripen until the very end of summer, and that our bounty gets us ready for a new season entirely.

I’m remembering, as we transition and make space with one foot in this new community and one still firmly in our preschool community, that I most likely won’t see the actual fruits of the intentional relationships we’re making for quite some time. Friendships take time and cultivation and community doesn’t happen quickly – no matter how I wish it would.

I’m learning to enjoy this space. To look at my plants with pride and anticipation of the fruits they will bear. I know not to rush things but to walk gently through the process.

What overused metaphor do you love for your life? Are you a gardener? How do you handle waiting for your harvest? 

Review: I’d Rather Be Reading by Anne Bogel

Books and reading have always defined my personality. I was that nerdy kid who would scan my friends’ bookshelves when we were meant to be playing, itching to read new titles and get lost in the story. After grad school, my friends and I started a “Books and Beer” book club, meeting at bars in the hopes of meeting guys who also loved to read. And now, I edit and curate The Red Couch Book Club and am always on the lookout for books that would benefit our community. Yes, books are and always will be part of what makes me happy, what connects me to the world, and what expands my worldview.

IdRatherBeReadingBogel_3Dalt_webI’ve followed Anne Bogel’s blog, Modern Mrs. Darcy for years and love her book recommendations. Honestly, our tastes are quite different and I only read a handful of her picks but I appreciate the way she talks and writes about books.

I’ve been looking forward to her collection of essays, I’d Rather Be Reading since she alluded to it after the publication of her first book about personality types. This collection of anecdotes about the reading life (essays is a bit of a stretch) is cute and relatable. I’ve had stacks of books come in at the library at once; I’ve wondered how I’ll have time in this life to read all the books I want to; On tough days, I’ve often wished for a quiet cabin alone with a stack of books.

Each chapter served as a great introduction to readerly problems but I wish Bogel had continued. Rather than listing all the problems of bookshelf organization or remembering all the books that shaped her life (several times, in several chapters), I wish she had kept the thoughts going and linked those observations to a broader takeaway. It would have taken those anecdotes and turned them into actual, timeless essays.

I finished this book with the realization that I actually wouldn’t rather be reading. Instead of connecting with the plights of loving to read, I was confronted with all the ways one can miss out on life because of reading. It compelled me to step back and recognize that for me in this phase of life, reading is an essential tool but it’s not a way of life. I love reading because it helps me understand and connect with the world around me but unless I’m actively engaging in that world, reading falls a bit flat.

If you’re looking for a sweet gift book, this is a great option. If you’re looking for essays on reading, might I suggest finding a collection by your favorite author?

What about you? Would you rather be reading? How do you balance a love of books with real-life experiences? 

I received this book free from the publisher via Baker Books Bloggers in exchange for my honest opinion. Disclosure: Amazon Affiliate links included in this post. If you click through to Amazon, any purchase you make supports this site. 

A Time of Possibility and Responsibility

In her retelling of an ancient Potowatomi story about maple syrup, Robin Walls Kimmerer ends the tale with this reminder:

“Today, maple sap flows like a stream of water with only a trace of sweetness to remind the people both of possibility and of responsibility. And so it is that it takes forty gallons of sap to make a gallon of syrup” (p 63). Braiding Sweetgrass

IMG_0503We are three weeks into Bea’s school year and one week into Elle’s. On Tuesday, I came home to a quiet house and got more writing done in those couple hours than I had all summer long. On Thursday, I had a meeting at 10:30, right in the middle of my morning. I read and checked social media and wasn’t very productive until midmorning. And then the meeting got canceled. I had another hour or so before pickup.

What to do? I thought about calling the morning a waste and finishing my book. (Which I think would have been a totally acceptable option!) Instead, I checked the list I had dreamed up midsummer and picked one thing to do on it. It wasn’t much – just cleaning out outgrown clothes – but it felt like a good accomplishment.

I had to put into practice my head knowledge: I knew my list would take a while and that I’m in this two-morning-to-myself routine for a while. And yet, when confronted with actual practice, I spent an hour flailing and unsure.

This season reminds me of Kimmerer’s description of maple syrup. On one small level, this is a time of possibility and responsibility for me personally. As I transition to some breathing space in my own schedule, I’m reminded that the sap only comes when it’s ready. That this is a process.

I want to keep the enthusiasm and wonder of the possibility of this time. And I want to it to transfer to the time with the girls. Because really, these five hours every week are a small portion of my days. They are still filled with all the wonders and disciplines and moments that filled our days before.

How do I hold this possibility and responsibility together? How do I remember that this time doesn’t need to be stressful but appreciated as the gift it is?

What about you? Does it take you a while to transition to a new schedule or season? What are your best practices? 

Linked with Five Minute Friday, a time to write without editing. Today’s prompt is “rush.”

Books Referenced:
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Disclosure: Amazon Affiliate links included in this post.  If you click through to Amazon, any purchase you make supports this site. 

Mapping My Hopes With a Foundation of Flexibility

School started last week for Bea and, while we have another week to go until Elle begins her preschool adventure, I’m enjoying the rhythms that the school year has to offer. This summer was pretty unstructured. Outside of a week at zoo camp, we hung out, went swimming, got on each other’s nerves, and played outside a lot. I think that freedom and boredom are incredibly important to a summer schedule, even if I get overwhelmed with the mess and chaos.

IMG_0487Now that school has started, I’m itching to get back into a productive routine. This first weekend of the school year arrived and I found myself out of sorts and frustrated. I looked back on the week and saw all the things I wanted to do that just didn’t get done. Elle and I went to the zoo but I didn’t write as much as I was hoping; we didn’t clean the playroom; we just kind of hung out.

With Elle starting preschool two mornings a week, I’ve been imagining all of the things I’ll get done with those five extra hours each week. I have big plans! I’m going to practice French and work on a project that kept getting shelved over the summer and really go through the closets for a good purge. Frank and I want to have morning-dates and I want to try to find a workout rhythm. I want to volunteer in Bea’s classroom and go to the art museum regularly. I absolutely recognize that I have more planned than I have space for.

Before preschool begins, I’ve started making lists of my hopes for this year. Things I want to accomplish and rhythms I’d like to create. I’m hoping to map out this time so that it’s not wasted away doing things I could do with Elle around.

But I also want to be intentional about this time with Elle. I’m recognizing that these goals and hopes need to be flexible and fluid. I see how quickly the time passed before Bea started full-time school and I want to savor these moments with Elle.

In her reflections on summer routines and the beginning of a fall schedule, author Addie Zierman says,

“And so I’ve come to accept that this summer, for me, was not supposed to be about being productive, or even really functional. It’s been about being grounded.”

Addie Zierman: Field Notes from the End of Summer

As I plan my fall and our new schedule, I need to remember these words. I have hopes of productivity and I know our routine needs to be functional for our family. But above all, I need to find the ways in which we all stay grounded and rooted. How am I building a schedule that leaves me energized and fulfilled for those days I spend with Elle? How can I feel as productive as possible during my alone time so that the after-school flurry feels more energizing rather than draining?

I have a feeling this will take a good amount of trial-and-error and I need to remember that this is part of building rhythms, as well. What is working? What clearly needs to be fixed? How can I read my family and myself through this shift in seasons?

For now, I’ll keep scribbling my lists and goals as I assess what makes the most sense for us, at this moment.

How do you set goals at the beginning of a new season? How do you tweak your plans along the way?

Review: All the Colors We Will See by Patrice Gopo

One of my favorite genres is essay collections. Whether narrative or expository, a well-written essay is incredibly powerful. It’s also a genre that is overdone and I’ve read my fair share of mediocre collections, making me cynical of the style as a whole.

_240_360_Book.2632.coverWhen I heard about Patrice Gopo’s debut collection, All the Colors We Will See, the reviews were high. I knew I had to check out her collection and I certainly wasn’t disappointed. Gopo renewed my love of this genre.

This stunning collection of essays about identity and culture drew me in and has become one of my favorite reads of the year. Gopo grapples with the big ideas of raising multicultural children, finding her own place in American culture, and reflecting on her role as a mathematician-turned-writer. And yet, she invites me into this conversation beautifully. Her own reflections helped me dig into my own labels and identity and how those impact my worldview.

If you’re looking for a collection to make you think about what identity means in today’s culture, I couldn’t recommend All the Colors We Will See more highly. And, if you’re looking for more backstory, check out my interview with Patrice over at SheLoves Magazine!

Do you read essays? What are your thoughts on the genre?

I received this book free from the publisher via BookLook Bloggers in exchange for my honest opinion. Disclosure: Amazon Affiliate links included in this post. If you click through to Amazon, any purchase you make supports this site.