Meet Samantha: A Groundwork for Social Justice

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been tuned into unfair practices and their impact on the underdog. In the second grade, after reading a Scholastic News article about dolphins getting caught in tuna nets, I insisted we buy only brands that had “Dolphin Safe” stamped on the tin. When our local Alpha-Beta grocery store was bought by Lucky, I insisted we boycott, unable to support this quintessential capitalist move.

5164XF0x7LL._SX318_BO1,204,203,200_Whether my motives were well-researched or not, the idea of siding with the oppressed has been part of my outlook from my earliest memories.

When American Girl dolls first became popular I was too old to really play with dolls anymore but just the right age for the books that came with each doll. I don’t remember my exact age – probably 9 or 10 years old – when I received Samantha, the wealthy girl who grew up in New York at the turn of the twentieth century.

In the first book of the series, Meet Samantha, readers are introduced to Nellie, who works for Samantha’s neighbors. She is employed as a maid because factory work was impacting her health. In the second book of the series, Samantha Learns a Lesson, the storyline continues as Samantha researches child labor in factories for an essay she writes for school.

I loved these books because Samantha, who was about my age when I first read the series, stood with the oppressed. She listened to the stories and experiences of those who weren’t part of her economic class and let those stories change her perspective. She fought for acknowledgment and used her own privilege to give space and voice to someone who didn’t have that same audience.

I haven’t read these books in years but recently my old Samantha doll was rediscovered. Bea slept with her for a while and now Elle carries her around by the hair and brings her everywhere. This doll is definitely not a collector’s item but certainly has the potential for Velveteen Rabbit status one day. I remind myself that toys are meant to be loved, not preserved.

The books are still a bit above Bea’s comprehension but I’m looking forward to the day we can read them together. I’m sure that now, decades later, I’ll see flaws in the plotline. I’m sure the stories aren’t as well developed and there’s the clear issue of white privilege through the pages.

And yet, I saw myself in Samantha as a 10-year old reader. I read about a girl who first listened to stories and then acted toward reconciliation. I read about a girl who looked out for those whose circumstances didn’t offer the same privilege and who included them as friends.

Simplistic and formulaic as the stories may be, this American Girl series gave me a relatable example of what social justice could look like in my own world.

Which book most impacted your journey when you were 10 years old?

A (1)This post is Day 2 of the Write 31 Days Challenge. I’m spending the month of October writing about the A Literary Life. You can find the entire series over at my A Literary Life page. Disclosure: Amazon Affiliate links included in this post. If you click through to Amazon, any purchase you make supports this site. 

A Literary Life

If you’ve been around here any length of time, you know I’m an avid reader. Books, learning, and expanding my perspective are among the numerous reasons I value and carve out time for good books. Plus, there’s nothing like getting lost in an incredible story, is there?

A (1)I debated participating in the Write 31 Days challenge this year. I’ve written far too much about our transition (or lack thereof!) this fall. I wondered if I needed to just lean into letting ideas settle and grow. But I also thought about discipline and work. Ideas need to grow, yes. But I also need to practice the craft of writing and the accountability of this 31-day challenge often kick-starts a slump.

I thought about our rhythms and family culture and decide to tweak the challenge a bit this year. Recently, I’ve been shutting off apps and really limiting my time on the internet. I wondered how I could balance writing and interacting every day while also keeping these boundaries so I decided that, instead of writing every single day for the month of October, I’ll write every weekday. I suppose I should really call this Write 23 Days instead.

As I was reflecting about letting ideas settle and seeds dig into the soil, I realized I can do that and continue to write. So I’m keeping it lighter this year. I thought about all the books that have shaped me from childhood through adolescence, from my twenties into motherhood. I mapped out the books that shifted my worldview.

Some of these books are the actual book that sparked a change in thinking; other books represent a genre or series that impacted my perspective.

I hope this inspires you to map out your own literary journey and maybe you’ll add some new books to your to-read shelf.

And, if you’re a writer and interested in joining the challenge, link up over here! You have until October 5th to join the community.

Letting Autumn Guide My Days

The nights are getting cooler and our garden’s harvest is slowing down. We ate tomato and cucumber salads, made tomato cobbler, and I baked two apple pies using the fruit from our backyard tree. It was a flurry of seasonal eating and delicious vine-ripened produce.

IMG_0705Less than a month later, things are slowing down. We’ll pick a few more tomatoes before it gets really cold but not many. Our squash plants are officially done and we’ll soon be turning our compost that’s been churning all summer into the earth as we prepare the ground for a long winter’s sleep.

It’s funny how we wait all season for a big harvest only for that harvest to be over in a matter of weeks.

Last week was a busy one for our family. Usually, I try to create space in the week with no plans or activities but through a variety of planned and unplanned visits and errands, we had a jam-packed week. One of my planned activities was to go for a walk with one of my pastors. We had talked about getting together for coffee but as we confirmed, a walk was suggested and I’m so glad it was!

I know that, especially with deeper or more intense conversations, walking helps my thought process. Sitting across from someone in a crowded space can feel a bit intimidating – not because of our relationship but because of the environment. It’s harder for me to have vulnerable conversations in the intimacy of a shared cafe space. But on a path out in the open, not looking directly at my friend? The conversation winds and meanders and we’re able to touch on big topics, comment on a puppy or flock of birds or beautiful garden, and circle back to those discussions.

As we were starting the second half of our six-mile loop, my pastor returned to a comment I had made earlier in our conversation about time and vocation and the big questions of what’s next? She reminded me that in order to produce, we must plant the seeds and then let them germinate and grow in the soil. She pointed out the books and conversations and groups I’m part of and wondered if I’m in a growing place. That I may not be producing much right now because I’m preparing for the harvest.

The way she phrased this thought fit into what I’ve been pondering and reading on my own but it all clicked as we worked up a sweat on that sunny morning. Recently, I’ve been in a production season. I’m seeing friendships grow at school and writing had come fairly easily. I was reading books that pushed my boundaries and was able to process those ideas quickly.

But the past few months have felt a bit more forced. I assumed it was our summer routine but, now that we’re over a month into school and autumny sorts of things, I’m still struggling through the work.

I just finished Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation by Parker Palmer. This is a book that needs to be read at the right moment. If I had read it earlier this year or last year, I don’t think it would have meant as much as it has at this moment. In his last chapter, all about the seasons of life, he says,

“I am rarely aware that seeds are being planted. Instead, my mind is on the fact that the green growth of summer is browning and beginning to die. My delight in the autumn colors is always tinged with melancholy, a sense of impending loss that is only heightened by the beauty all around. I am drawn down by the prospect of death more than I am lifted by the hope of new life” (pg 98).

I’m watching our own leaves fall to the ground as the weather starts to shift. I love the changing of seasons – the active process of watching leaves turn brilliant before they fall. But the season itself can be quiet and melancholy. After the leaves fall but before the winter snows come, life is brown.

Similarly, in spring Palmer reminds us of the slush and mud that precedes the blooms. That each season has that time of transition and muck before the brilliance.

I’m learning to lean into the burrowing nature of autumn. I’m quieting my soul, reading books that may not emerge in thought or conversation for a while, and putting aside that list of hopes and goals.

Practically, this looks like making lists of thoughts and ideas for writing but not putting pressure on myself to hit “publish.” This looks like starting and abandoning books that may be incredibly interesting but not what I need right now. It looks like really limiting my time reading the news, checking social media, and instead focusing on engaging in the small work of the now.

I was talking with another friend and she reminded me to give my soul space to breathe. I’m learning to do that. To balance breathing with discipline; to let the plants grow and nestle while still tending the garden. I’m leaning into autumn and remembering that, while seasons are predictably three months, my own life’s seasons aren’t so neat and tidy. And there’s something beautiful about that, too.

Life seasons don’t always follow actual seasons. What season are you in right now? How are you finding balance through it all?

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. 

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.