Read Your Strengths: Books that Reflect Maximizer

Yesterday I talked about memoir and that fine balance of telling our life story and letting God do the quiet work before sharing. Since I do love what a memoir can accomplish, I thought I’d share my favorites.

In my opinion, these are memoirs done well: They stick to a theme, they draw us in, and yet they don’t give too much information while at the same time giving enough to not feel vague. These are a reminder that while memoirs tell real experiences, the art of storytelling applies to this genre.

Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard
This is the memoir most hope to write, I think. Poetic, slow, and beautiful imagery. I read this in college at a time when (at least, in my circle) you had to love Annie Dillard to have any credibility. But, it’s easy to love her – to soak in her writing and be reminded that life is about noticing.

513ao7zhgkl-_sx322_bo1204203200_Operating Instructions by Anne Lamott
I love most of Lamott’s memoirs, and this one wasn’t my favorite while I was reading it but it is the one that has “stuck” over the past few years. This is probably the most honest and true book on new motherhood out there. You almost need a couple months between phases to read it because she so accurately describes those first crazy, squishy, sleepy months.

Bittersweet by Shauna Niequist
Life is both broken and beautiful. This is the theme of my favorite of Niequist’s memoirs. I found this one to be her most honest and relatable – she does a beautiful job of sharing hard things but of connecting her own life experience to a broader audience. Her voice is fresh and she is still building an audience with this book, characteristics that strengthen it, I think.

Animal Vegetable Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver
This is one of the books that changed the way I eat and view food. For a year, Kingsolver and her family commit to eating within 50 miles of their home. They grow most of it, buy a lot from neighbors, and live without a lot. Kingsolver combines food activism, facts, and her own experience to create an experience that connects readers to her own story. While we have never gone this extreme, it opened my eyes to the importance of eating locally and the benefit of living without certain foods.

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls
I actually did not like this book at all when I read it. I couldn’t believe anyone could live such a dysfunctional childhood. But the more stories I’ve heard, the more I’ve come to realize that it is within the realm of possibility. (Thankfully, I haven’t heard many as extreme as Walls’ childhood, but some shared common threads.) What I credit Walls with is the ability to write a memoir that sticks in my mind. I didn’t connect with her at all and yet, it’s been over 8 years since I’ve read it and I still remember it clearly. That’s good storytelling.

What are your favorite memoirs? How do they influence the way you read the author’s other work?


This post is Day 11 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.

Stepping Away from Publishing Altars

I love reading book reviews, especially the highs and the lows. Some of the lows are funny – along the lines of, I haven’t read this book and hate magical realism so I give this book one star! But, the highs are often similar. Once, while looking at a newly released memoir of a well-known Christian author, I read, I haven’t read this book but I’m giving it 5 stars. I love everything by this author and I know I’ll love this one. Can’t wait!!!!

Writing reviews can be difficult, especially when the book is a memoir. (And, there are so many essay-driven memoirs out!) It’s hard to separate the fact that I’m rating a person’s book – what they’ve chosen to release to the public – not their life. When giving a memoir a 2- or 3-star rating, I’m not saying their value as a person or their life’s experience is only 2- or 3-stars. But their writing style or how they chose to release this part to the public? That’s what I’m “rating.”

I actually do love memoirs. It combines what I love about nonfiction (learning, discovering new ideas) with the empathy one gets from fiction or memoir. When done well, they are powerful at connecting a variety of experiences and ideas. When done mediocrely, it’s glaringly obvious.

There’s a movement to write memoirs as altars: The experience might not be finished or there may not be years of perspective between the moment and the publication, but the author is using the memoir as a way of remembering this particular time.

The problem with this, says Lore Ferguson Wilbert, is that when stories are published right away, there is no time for God to work in and through an experience. She goes on to say,

“…sometimes (not always) the best thing to do is to be silent. To listen. To hear. To experience emotions without immediately finding a place for them. To resist the urge to make a story with a beginning, middle, and end out of our ongoing brokenness and frailty.” “Save Your Soul: Stop Writing” CT Women:

Wilbert continues to remind us that we need to give space for our stories to develop, often in the quiet that is not published. That sometimes, a book or article will come from the experience but sometimes it’s best left personal. And that’s ok.

I experience this is my small space here. Essentially this blog is a series of altars: Grappling with the moment in life; Processing and remembering where we’ve come and what we’ve learned. Of course, I don’t share everything – not nearly! Things we’re still working through, I keep to our family. Moments that will forever are too personal will be kept private. Writing in a public space doesn’t mean living a public life.

It’s also made me reflect on the goal of this blog. I didn’t start it to publish a book, and I don’t feel that I have a book in me, at least, not right now. Reading memoirs that seem to have been published prematurely has reminded me of this. I want to take my time with this space, to reflect responsibly, to respect where our family is on this journey.

As a maximizer, my desire to take a good thing and make it better sometimes translates to doing nothing. At least nothing that can be seen. Sometimes it means sitting back, resting, and letting my experiences fully form before seeking to grow.

Don’t get me wrong. I think sharing and processing is important. But it’s where and how we do it. I process motherhood in the safety of my MOPS group; life and everything with my friend, Robyn, with my mom, with Frank. My real life support team can support me because I share the gritty process. We need that. But that’s the balance, even when we live life offline. Who needs to be part of the process? Who will best help us grow? Ultimately, what’s appropriate?

If you’re a writer, how do you decide what to share publicly? Even in your daily life, do you share your stories with others?


This post is Day 10 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.

The Need for Seasonal Friendships

Each year, Frank and I host two big parties: The girls’ birthday in the summer and our Christmas party. This has evolved over the years – first with the fact that Elle was born just three days after Bea’s birthday. We’d always had a “invite everyone” attitude toward her party, but since we could combine both, we decided it’s better to err on the side of lots of kids and friends. Since it’s mid-summer, it’s easy to just open up the doors, let the kids run wild in the yard, and enjoy a barbecue.

img_9395Our Christmas party started when we moved into this house. We hosted our first one week after we moved in, partly because the reason we so loved this house was the ability to entertain, and partly for the motivation to unpack quickly.They’re our two big parties and take most of our energy, so it’s probably a good thing they’re spaced out.

One of my favorite parts is looking over the guest list. We’re in a season of diverse friendships: dance class, church, preschool, friends from forever, work friends, friends of friends who are now our friends, MOPS…. It’s a jumble and it’s fun to bring everyone together.

As a Maximizer, long-term friendships are the ones I look for. It’s hard for me to invest when a friendship is just for a small season. I like depth and seriousness in my relationships, and often these are found with consistency and time.

The funny thing is, you can’t tell which friendships are going to last or not. Friends we met in a brief class turn out to be ones we connect with longterm. Some we see frequently at activities are ones that stay surface-level.

My last few months in Paris, I was the last of my group of friends to leave. Partly because I was a year younger, partly for circumstances. At first, I thought I wouldn’t make any new friends that last semester – I’d just focus on graduating and be done. That’s not how it worked, and I’m so thankful for those friendships I made, even if they were just for a few months. Those friends taught me about life and faith in fresh ways, that my longterm friends hadn’t. Had I closed myself off to those friendships, I would have missed out on a lot.

Sometimes I feel that way with my community. It’s a bit precarious during these preschool years. I’ve been part of my MOPS group for 4 years now, and potentially could stay another 3 or so, until Elle is in kindergarten. That’s a long time, and I hope that our friendships continue after that, but already I’m seeing how hard it is to coordinate schedules, and we’ve only added an extra day to our preschool week this year! Same with our school friends or rec center friends – we are connected now, but what will happen when our kids are all in different schools full time?

This is when I need to live in the moment and recognize that some friendships will stick, beyond proximity, and some won’t. And that’s how life is meant to be. It’s not that our friendship is any less – it’s just seasonal.

I’m always amazed at the ones that do stick – my weekly walking buddy of nearly a decade was a friend from high school. We weren’t best friends then, and I would never have guessed where our friendship would end up. A mom I met at MOPS, but who doesn’t attend anymore, is still a friend we make time to see and I’m always rejuvenated by our conversations.

I’m learning to not compartmentalize friends too much: These friends are from preschool and we’ll only be friends during the preschool years. How sad would that be?! How much would I miss out?

What I’m learning is that, perhaps friendships won’t actually be longterm, but I can treat the moment as longterm. I can invest and know that while some friendships are seasonal, I wouldn’t want to miss out on this season at all.

Do you surround yourself with a few longterm friends or do you like to keep things fresh with new friends? 


This post is Day 9 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.

Measuring Mothering Success

When I was a teacher, my success was measured every day. I could chart my students’ progress and had formal assessments to verify my findings at least three times per year. Even though it was stressful to always be putting a number on my teaching, I had few doubts as to my successes or failures with my methodology and practices.

Success = Choreographed dances

Motherhood has no such outcome chart. I flail wildly through the days, hoping that somehow these two girls turn out okay. We do things I think will be beneficial to creating productive members of society: Reading books, going to museums, waiting in line, learning to entertain ourselves. But who knows? All this effort could result in success or possibly a huge disaster.

Ultimately, I have to do stuff and then open up my hands and let them go. I have to trust that the hours of attention to table manners and cleaning up will translate when Bea is at school or at a friend’s house. I have to hope that stopping to correct or affirm behaviors will somehow make them stick.

As a maximizer, I thrive on that measured success: I need to know areas of improvement or areas that I can continue to build a strength. I want to take something from good to awesome.

At work, I always looked forward to principal evaluations. Even at the museum, when my boss observes me, I like debriefing afterwards and talking about areas for improvement. Sometimes I wish someone could observe my mothering and give me a measured plan for further improvement. The problem is that, what are we basing our findings on? How can we accurately measure the success of craft time or quiet rest time?

That’s where faith and trust and community come into important play. It’s not that I compare my mothering to my friends but that there’s a spirit of camaraderie in this season. The power of me too! is especially important right now, when I wonder if I’m going crazy.

Maybe I’ll never be able to measure the success of my mothering. When would that happen? At 18? 25? 42? Even though it goes against my personality, this immeasurable success has rounded out the sometimes-harsh edges of always looking for the best. I’m learning, not necessarily to settle for mediocre, but to live life a bit more openly, and a bit more trustfully.

How do you measure your success as a parent? How do you respond to observations and constructive criticism?


This post is Day 8 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.

When You Can’t Learn From the Past

When we moved into this house, we loved it for the floor plan, the fact that we could imagine different uses for certain rooms for different phases of our family’s growth, and all the natural light. Built in the late-1980’s, previous owners have done some upgrades (hardwood floors!) while others are original to the home (the master bathroom…)

We made a list of home improvements – things that needed to be done in the first months of moving in all the way to dreams that may not happen for at least a decade, should we still be living here.

One of the improvements that wasn’t necessary but was certainly toward the top of the list was the master bathroom. It has everything we want in a bathroom: 2 sinks, a soaking tub, plenty of storage, natural light. It may have been updated at some point, but those updates are dated and falling apart. In fact, one morning, we woke up to see some of the tiles in the shower had fallen off the ceiling! Cabinets were painted black, but just a sloppy job on the outside – the insides are filled with unfinished brushstrokes.

All of it works and it’s far bigger than any bathroom we could have dreamed of in our house search, yet it’s just unfinished enough to make it annoying.

We set aside money for the project and thought we’d renovate this summer. A new hot water heater, necessary care for the eight old trees in our yard, and an unexpected immediate need to fix our deck have pushed our dream bathroom down on the list of renovations.

We talked about doing it piece by piece – fixing the tub that leaks and can’t be used, redoing the tile, slowly updating as we can. The maximizer in me cringes at this thought. I would rather live longer with an annoying bathroom than do it slowly, with the risk of an incoherent space.

So, we’re waiting. It’s probably a good thing in the end. If I were to redesign our bathroom now, it would include childproof shelving and fixtures that I may not need in just a few years. Perhaps it’s best to settle down a bit from the busy toddler stage and really think what we’d need from this space longterm.

Right now, we use the nonfunctioning tub as a playpen for Elle, though those days are slowly fading already. She’s mobile and doesn’t like to be confined. She also knows what she is and isn’t allowed to explore and is fairly compliant. So, we close some doors and let her wander upstairs. The other day, I looked in the tub while showering and realized that, instead of bursting with toys, it had a book, a doll, and a stray stuffed animal. Time passes quickly.

Mothering and maximizing are sometimes at odds with each other. The desire to go from good to better, rather than accepting the status quo is so often thwarted by the fact that kids change so quickly. What worked last month or yesterday may not work anymore today. What worked for Bea certainly doesn’t work for Elle. My desire to learn from my experiences and grow just doesn’t work neatly when raising individual humans.

Like our bathroom, I’m learning to step back, be ok with something that’s not perfect, and recognize that one day we’ll have all the time in the world to make it exactly what we want. In the meantime, I’m grateful for what we have in this particular season.

How do you tackle home improvement – bit by bit or do you wait to do something all at once? What about life? Are you able to appreciate the moment or do you look for improvement? 


This post is Day 7 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.