Read Your Strengths: Books that Reflect Context

Whenever I am frustrated by politics or policies or when I feel like the general population’s opinion about something is a bit off, I turn to books. I love finding the answers and delving a bit deeper. Of course, the books I choose reflect my own political leanings and ideas because, unless it’s a heavy scholarly tome, most books written for the masses have some sort of bias.

People who have the strength of Context also tend to lean toward biography. I’d love to have more time to read biographies, and even set a goal of reading one per year. I like the idea of reading a book about someone written by someone else. Memoir is insightful but biography really helps me understand certain people in history.

These are books that have helped me recently. They may or may not reflect my own views. Some I picked because I wanted to know more about a different point of view.

Reagan: The Life by H.W. Brands
Nostalgia for Ronald Reagan began about an hour after his death. He seems to have become the battle cry for better times and the good old days. Reagan was already president when I was born so I have no memory of his time in office. This 800 page book delves deeply into Reagan’s presidency and foreign policy. I wish more had been said about his domestic policies, but by the end, I felt I had a better understanding to the man behind the myth.

The Second Amendment: A Biography by Michael Waldman
The older I get the more anti-gun I am. But a lot of people feel vehemently opposed to my views. I wanted to know how we shifted from needing guns for hunting and protection to collecting them, needing assault rifles, and living in an age where it’s easier to own a gun than a car. This book focused on the shift in language and meaning when the National Rifle Association moved from being a hunting club to being one of the most powerful lobbies in Washington, DC.

We the Living by Ayn Rand
This is my one fiction book on this list. Ayn Rand is a polarizing figure – people love or loathe her. I’ve also read Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead so am familiar with her better known pieces. What I most liked about We the Living is its autobiographical nature. Based on Rand’s own experience in the Soviet Union, it gives a glimpse into how her beliefs became so extreme.

Call the Midwife by Jennifer Worth
I fell in love with the BBC series based on this memoir but the books are incredible. Jennifer Worth’s experience as a midwife in postwar London is powerful – things we take for granted in today’s modern medical world were new and scary just sixty years ago. The book in this three part series that most impacted me was Shadows of the Workhouse, about the poor, the mentally ill, and single mothers. It’s hard to believe we treated people in such an abominable way just a short time ago, and is a reminder that we need to be vigilant against repeating these errors.

A History of the World in Six Glasses by Tom Standage
I love “history” books like this – ones where a fun theme is picked and we learn little snippets about our world. This one takes us through the history of modern culture following popular drinks – beer, wine, spirits, coffee, tea, and Coke. It’s a book that has stood out as fun, easy, and taught me a lot about how we view certain beverages as a society and why they’re of greater importance than simply party drinks.

What about you? What are your favorite history books or biographies? Where do you turn when you want to learn about a new perspective?


This post is Day 27 of the Write 31 Day Challenge. I’m spending the month of October writing about the StrengthsFinder test. You can find the entire series over at Live Your Strengths page.

Planning for Spontaneity

When we’re visiting family, it’s a week of cousins, and hard playing, and schedules that aren’t followed. We do really fun things and a lot of car naps and later bedtimes. Usually, sometime in our visit, we need a quiet day. One to rest and just chill. It keeps the girls going strong for all the fun, but they do reach a limit.

At the beach during naptime

Because of our at-home structure, these weeks seem a bit chaotic. But because of our at-home structure, I’m also surprised at how adaptable the girls are to a whirlwind schedule. They adjust and go with the flow and I know that, even though we may have a few more meltdowns than usual, a week of short naps and later bedtimes is worth the beautiful memories being made with family we don’t see often enough.

According to StrengthsFinder, people who have the strength of Context make better decisions because of their daily structure. They organize their lives in such a way that, when a decision needs to be made, it’s not too difficult a process.

Even though our daily life is quiet and structured, it reminds me a bit of this strength of Context. When we can live within a routine and structure, we do. It makes those moments when we need to be flexible and free possible.

Frank and I are both pretty thoughtful and methodical when it comes to family decisions. We have spreadsheets (when I say we, I of course mean Frank) and goals. We talk a lot about our budget and how we’ll wisely spend our money. Because of all this planning and sorting, we are able to make spontaneous decisions with our time and resources, as well. Because unexpected things occasionally arise and because we’re in good communication about expected events, we’re able to make quick decisions when we need to.

Sometimes I feel boring, being so rigid. I envy people who seem to live life on the fly, not thinking too much about both big and small decisions. They seem so free! And, certainly, when they are living within their own strengths, that works incredibly well.

What I’m learning is that, because my strengths include thoughtful planning, I can be free because of the planning. I am more relaxed and have more fun when the rest of my life is structured. When my foundation is solid, I am more confident to be flexible.

When I first read about Context, I felt like such a dud. I wanted something happier, prettier, more fun. As I learn to embrace my strengths, I’m seeing that happiness and fun are attainable, but the details look different. And that’s the beauty, isn’t it? That we all experience the fun and crazy of life, but we all structure it in different ways.

How do you best experience fun and spontaneity – when you have a plan for the rest of your days or because that’s how you best function?


This post is Day 26 of the Write 31 Day Challenge. I’m spending the month of October writing about the StrengthsFinder test. You can find the entire series over at Live Your Strengths page.

My Favorite Era

I was listening to a podcast the other day and one of the hosts mentioned how young America is – that it’s hard to find a home more than a hundred years old. Comments like this make me cringe. Yes, we’re a young country if you’re looking at a European-controlled population. But if you’re looking at humanity living on this land, America is quite old.

img_0667One of our family’s places to go and just breathe is Moab, Utah. The red rocks, the hiking, the dry climate (especially in spring, when it’s still temperate), and the fact that it’s relatively “undiscovered” makes it one of my favorite places to visit. When we’re hiking, we’ve come across petroglyphs and pictographs from the Pueblo and Navajo tribes that populated the area. These etchings are a reminder that people have inhabited this country for thousands of years before Europeans arrived.

I love living in an area where such history is easily accessible. We’re looking forward to taking the girls to Mesa Verde and other spots where we can see the remnants of ancient civilizations. We want them to recognize our own history – not just of the European immigrants that form our own family, but of our land and region.

One of my favorite parts about living in Paris were the plaques put up around the city, creating a history lesson. Churches, apartments, cafes, random alleys and corners have these short paragraphs about what happened in that particular spot. It’s amazing to be reminded of all that happened in that place, over the span of centuries.

I think it can be easy to romanticize ancient cultures. To long for the “old days” when life was easier and simpler and, subsequently, to downplay our own current era. When we see these ruins and read the plaques, we are reminded that big things happened long ago. But small things happened, too. Small moments filled those day-to-day lives, just like ours. People worked and played, just like we do.

Frank and I were talking about when we would have wanted to live in the past. He often imagines life as a pioneer in the wild west. I reread the Laura Ingalls Wilder books and, now as a mom, can only see the transient lifestyle. The fact that there was often little or no community support. The harsh winters and the stress of living in undeveloped territories. No, thank you.

Because I have an appreciation for historical context, I am quite happy living in this era. Middle class America is luxurious, with our single family homes and running water. With so many choices and opportunities. I sometimes wonder if a love of history can lead to a longing of the past. But for me, my love of history gives me a greater appreciation for the life we’re living today.

What about you? Which era would you most like to live in? Are you nostalgic for older times or do you like today?


This post is Day 25 of the Write 31 Day Challenge. I’m spending the month of October writing about the StrengthsFinder test. You can find the entire series over at Live Your Strengths page.

Sometimes the Witch Gets the Prince

While looking for something in the storage room the other day, Bea and I found one last box of books from my teaching days. This one was filled with fairy tales, books on character building and feelings, and books that taught specific idioms used in the curriculum. It’s been fun rereading these favorites and watching Bea latch on to new books.

One of her favorites is The Three Little Wolves and the Big Bad Pig. We’ve read it so much this past week that she already has it nearly memorized. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised – two other favorites are a more traditional (though whimsical) telling of The Three Little Pigs by Steven Kellogg and The Three Little Dassies by Jan Brett. The teacher in me loves that she’s making these text-to-text connections and starting to understand the concept of retelling a story.

img_1587On Bea’s first day of preschool, she wore a shell necklace, given to her for her birthday. She wanted to look like Saoirse from Song of the Sea. When she showed her teacher, she exclaimed, Oh, I love your necklace! It reminds me of Ariel from the Little Mermaid!

Bea tried to explain that no, this was like Saoirse’s, but the teacher had no context and there were a dozen other kids wanting to show her their special outfits.

We read a lot of fairy tales in our home and we own several Disney versions of them. But we also read and talk about other versions. I want Bea to know that Cinderella is a universal tale, told in many ways, in many languages, reflecting many cultures. That the Disney version isn’t wrong, it’s just one version.

Of course, fairy tales are part of childhood. But, I read them for so many other reasons. The original versions teach empathy and bravery in ways that prepare kid for real life giants and problems. They remind us of the threads that run through a common human experience. They prepare our children for the world outside our home and our curated friendships.

As an adult, reading fairy tales has grounded my view of our world today. Frank gave me Hans Christian Andersen’s complete collection last year and I’ve been slowly reading one or two tales every night before bed. Andersen is most known for The Little Mermaid, The Emperor’s New Clothes, and The Little Match Girl, but this 700 page book is filled with so many more stories – stories of life and death and good and evil and morality.

Andersen’s stories remind me that life hasn’t changed all that much, when you look at the core of humanity. Powerful kings can do good or they can be evil. Working people, just living their lives, can take big risks and go on great adventures or they can contentedly stay home. Love doesn’t always win and the witch sometimes gets the prince in the end.

They’re a reminder that magic doesn’t always go the way we hope and that happy endings aren’t real life. (Or even fairy tale life, if we go by the original versions.) I find this hopeful in so many ways. To always look for the happy ending is a futile quest – sometimes life doesn’t go the way we hope and it’s disappointing. I think these fairy tales remind me of that reality and that it’s not just me.

As Bea and Elle grow, I want to make sure we read these other versions – the ones in which the Little Mermaid turns to sea foam, or the little match girl is unsuccessful and freezes on a cold night. These stories open doors to conversations of kindness and generosity and how we view our neighbor. They help us see the world as a whole, rather than as one driven by the American dream of happily ever after.

What is your favorite fairy tale? Do you like reading different versions of it?


This post is Day 24 of the Write 31 Day Challenge. I’m spending the month of October writing about the StrengthsFinder test. You can find the entire series over at Live Your Strengths page.

Remembering the Past and Learning from Experience

We were talking last week at MOPS about which strengths make us better parents. Which ones really feed into our parenting styles and/or how we connect with our kids. My top strength is Context – the need to look back to understand the present, to take a moment to orient myself in the moment.

The controversial exersaucer

One of the best parenting books I read was Baby Meets World by Nicholas Day. It’s pretty much the history of parenting – how we’ve evolved as a society to this age of paci or not; breast is best; swaddles and back sleeping. Essentially, it says that we’re doing a good job in this era of information and that we’re all good parents. (Outside of extreme cases, of course.)

It reminded me not to overthink parenting, to trust my instinct, and to remember that not too long ago formula consisted of beer and honey.

Perhaps it’s no surprise that my favorite adolescent books were historical fiction, that I majored in art history, and that I continue to lean primarily toward books that draw from history to make points about today. If we don’t remember the past, we’re bound to repeat it.

Knowing history gives me a sense of stability in what seem like these crazy times. History keeps me grounded in a heated election year, in a time when the church is experiencing growing pains, and when it seems like we’re a doomed culture.

Being grounded in history helps me in my daily life, too. I know from experience that we need to leave around 11:30 to get home for lunch. That both girls just do better when we eat at home, with little stimulus, in preparation for a quiet afternoon. This certainly doesn’t mean there are exceptions – because, life. But, it means I plan our days around what I’ve tried and know what works.

This is the hardest thing about tax season and kids. Each year is so different. I can’t learn from the past because what worked last year most likely won’t work this year. Part of my survival as someone who thrives on context is also learning adaptability. It’s a reminder that, while we should focus on our top strengths, remembering to balance with other “lesser” strengths is important, too.

If you’ve done StrengthsFinder, what’s your top strength? How do you balance your strengths with reality?


This post is Day 23 of the Write 31 Day Challenge. I’m spending the month of October writing about the StrengthsFinder test. You can find the entire series over at Live Your Strengths page.

Words Matter

Our WordsAt the beginning of the year, Bea was teased by a friend. We processed the words at the time, but the incident has come up again and again. In fact, I was surprised when, six months later, we came home from a playdate with that friend and Bea mentioned that she hadn’t been teased! Later, after her birthday party, Bea’s first observation was that her friends didn’t tease her. We still talk about it sometimes.

Frank and I had to tread carefully when processing this with Bea. The words were clearly hurtful and it broke my heart that someone had made fun of my sweet girl. I know that this is the first of many times when words will be spoken and feelings will be hurt, and I doubt it will get any easier.

As we processed with Bea, we made sure to talk about how her friend’s words were mean, but her friend is not. We wanted to really establish that people do hurtful things, but they are not hurtful people. That words can be used to hurt, but that doesn’t make the person using them bad.

And really, Bea’s friend wasn’t being mean or purposefully hurtful. She was acting her age and navigating the odd social system of the preschool set. Just as Bea was learning how to respond to hurtful words, her friend was learning to see which words could be hurtful.

It made me think of how our words matter.

Rim2015-0277e2During our miscarriage, as our nurse was searching the ultrasound for a heartbeat, there was a subtle shift in her vocabulary. She went from talking about the baby’s heartbeat to that of the fetus. I didn’t really register that shift in the moment, but on reflection, I realized how helpful it was for me to begin the grieving process. I needed to detach myself a bit from the idea of a healthy baby and recognize that we had an unviable fetus. That small shift was exactly what I needed. For others, that shift may have been harmful to their process of healing.

Our words matter.

When life is busy and Frank and I are like passing ships in the night, it’s easy to say things quickly and without context. It’s easy to stick with business conversations of groceries and bills and doctors appointments because we have limited time, and those are pressing. And yet… Taking a moment to have a small but powerful conversation about us is what keeps us going during those busy seasons.

Our words matter.

When we experience yet another mass shooting that brings about conversations and big feelings surrounding gun control. When another person of color is killed by a white police officer and conversations about justice resurface. When our own background and opinions get in the way of real, valuable conversation, I am reminded of how much our words matter. My words matter when I choose to say something against injustice. And they matter when I stay silent and listen. They matter when I push back or when I engage.

My words matter.

I’m learning again and again that how I speak and what I say matters. Whether it’s something small to one friend or something bigger to a larger audience, I am learning to stop, to take my time, and to remind myself that my words matter.

How do you process your words? Any advice for future hurt feelings?