Aug 24, 2015

Filling the Pitcher

I was recently teaching a group of youth in my church and we were talking about the nuances of being a parent. I had them list some of their concerns, which ranged from dropping the baby to how to teach the kids all the things. After they had suggested their list, I added one more - WANTS/NEEDS.

This, of course, can mean several things. First, there is the financial aspect. My kids know that there are times they have to wait until payday for things that can be deemed as needs because needier needs were already taken care of (food, clothes, what have you). And they know that if it is a want, they will often have to pick up extra chores (or, quite frankly, actually do the ones they have right now all the way).

I suggested to these youth, though, that moms and dads are often guilty of working so hard to provide for everyone elses everything that they begin to neglect their own. We hear all the time that moms do this, giving everything they have to their children, but I've known way too many men who become reluctant workaholics to think this is a gender based issue. Before long, both mom and dad are on autopilot, both at work and at home, reacting to the circumstances around them instead of intentionally making decisions for a happier life.

Everyone knows that a cup can't be filled if the pitcher is empty, but more and more, I see adults transitioning into empty pitchers.

This, among several other reasons, is why I write. I like that I have something to work toward, something that is mine, something that gives me joy and satisfaction and a feeling of accomplishment. Sure, that feeling can come when all the laundry is done, but it's not the same thing at all.

Several of my sisters find this feeling in athletic competitions. Two of my sisters, and my 60 year old dad, are heading to California in a few weeks to complete a century ride down the coast of California. That's 100 miles on a bike - and they are quite excited about the idea. My brother has taken part in starting up a company (okay, a couple) because helping get a business from concept to corporation is thrilling for him.

Yes, there are things that will fall to the wayside in pursuit. But if I'm weighing pros and cons, I'd rather have a kitchen that is less than meticulous than have children who are afraid that one more request might be the one that snaps mom's patience. I'd rather have floors that get vacuumed slightly less often and let my kids see that I can have a career and love/drive/cheer/encourage/comfort/push my children and myself.

The funny thing that happens is happiness begets happiness, talent begets talent, satisfaction begets satisfaction. Time and again, I've seen adults who rediscover a passion they had, and that passion extends to passion for marriage and love and children and family. There will still be the struggle for balance - I don't think that ever goes away. But the end product of such a balancing act can be drastically different if we allow time for ourselves.

Aug 17, 2015

Find Wonder Every Day

Several years ago, I came across this TED talk by Elizabeth Gilbert. If you are a fan of either her or TED talks, I'm sure you've watched it at least once. I come back to it yearly, when I'm full of doubt, when I need a little inspiration, when I need a reminder that there are things I'd like to accomplish beyond the get up go to work come home soul-sucking cycle that can so easily become our lives. 

Knowing this, it probably won't come as a surprise that I'm a fan of her new podcast, Magic Lessons.
A couple of weeks ago, I was listening and heard the advice to find WONDER in everyday things. It resonated with me for several reasons. 

1. I applied for a job earlier this year that I didn't get. 

It was a job I would have been awesome at, and I found out, after, that I was third. But really second because they courtesy interviewed someone already at this institution. Finding out where I stood is both exciting and frustrating - it's the almost, so close, but not quite that lets me know I'm on the right path, I'm doing the right things, and for whatever reason, it's not my turn. 

2. I'm going back to a job that I love and get frustrated by in ebbs and flows

I LOVE teaching, love interacting with teenagers. I don't love that I will have nearly 200 students in six classes, that the workload nearly buries me at times, and that every Tom, Dick and Harry seems to have a theory and an opinion about why education in our country isn't awesome. I'm passionate about education, follow updates and theories, brain-based learning and best strategies, and at the same time, work very VERY hard to not see any of the comments sure to follow any of these articles because it is flat-out hurtful. 

3. I'm querying a novel

I've been working on this book for a long time. Part of it was so I could find my writer voice, part of it was to figure out the necessary structure of the book. Twenty thousand words into the book, I broke my hand - then had it reconstructed. 

In January, when I was setting my New Year's goals, I wrote "Put my whole self into The Light Behind the Clouds." I felt then, and still feel, that this is a book that conveys what I want to say to the world, the does it in a manner that is true to my writer self. But the tricky thing about querying is there are going to be rejections - it's the nature of the beast. 

The first dozen rejections were form rejections, with one being simply a sentence of declination "Send from my iPad." 

Through this, I'm trying to find the wonder. I'm trying to maintain joy in the journey. I refer to these experiences as character builders, things I'll be able to look back on with a smile LATER, when I have my dreams. I have reason to believe this will happen because it's happened before, but that's a difficult thing to remember when I'm in the middle of it. 

But now, I'm working on wonder. That might be in a poignant poem, a song that stills my soul, a hug from a child after sixteen million eye rolls, or even holding hands with the guy who I continually fall in love with. These are things that can still bring wonder, things I can hold to when the wonder of other aspects isn't quite so prevalent. 

How have you found wonder in the every day things? What do you know you can count on to help you feel happiness? 

Jul 22, 2015

Women's Fiction Spotlight: The Lemoncholy Life of Annie Aster

I was super excited to get a copy of this book, in part because I know Scott, know that he is an incredibly generous, kind-hearted, hilarious guy, and because the premise, the cover, and everything about this book sounded like something I'd love if it could be pulled off well. 

Blurb from Goodreads: Annabelle Aster doesn't bow to convention—not even that of space and time—which makes the 1890s Kansas wheat field that has appeared in her modern-day San Francisco garden easy to accept. Even more exciting is Elsbeth, the truculent schoolmarm who sends Annie letters through the mysterious brass mailbox perched on the picket fence that now divides their two worlds. In this unconventional and enchanting tale, Annie and her new neighbor must solve the mystery of what connects them before one of them is convicted of a murder that has yet to happen…and somehow already did.

This is a charming debut. Wilbanks is able to introduce a cast of characters in different time periods in an organic way, giving the reader a chance to get grounded with them, to a little bit fall in love with them, and then brings another on stage who is charming and unique in his/her own way. And then the fun begins, with snarky letters across the time periods, characters with heart-wrenching imperfections, each longing for a loved one to have a better life while trying to discover what that better life is for themselves. The plot twists and winds together, picking up the pace in a steady rhythm that will make you forget about your bed and want to see how everything comes together. And just when you aren't sure you can love what happens anymore, Wilbanks elevates the plot again, bringing everything to a fantastic climax.

I loved this book much MUCH more than I expected to, and I came into it with high hopes. I am smitten with the uniqueness of characters - truly. I will read Wilbanks again.

***I received an advanced copy courtesy of NetGalley for a free and honest review***

Jul 15, 2015

Women's Fiction Spotlight: Lost Lake

Blurb from Goodreads: Suley, Georgia, is home to Lost Lake Cottages and not much else. Which is why it's the perfect place for newly-widowed Kate and her eccentric eight-year-old daughter Devin to heal. Kate spent one memorable childhood summer at Lost Lake, had her first almost-kiss at Lost Lake, and met a boy named Wes at Lost Lake. It was a place for dreaming. But Kate doesn't believe in dreams anymore, and her Aunt Eby, Lost Lake's owner, wants to sell the place and move on. Lost Lake's magic is gone. As Kate discovers that time has a way of standing still at Lost Lake can she bring the cottages—and her heart—back to life?

Sometimes lost loves aren't really lost. They're right where you left them, waiting for you to find them again.

Over and over, Sarah Addison Allen amazes me with her characters, plots, relationship development and magic. I adore everything she writes and while this starts feeling a bit different, it is utterly charming.

Jun 12, 2015

Women's Fiction Spotlight: Maybe in Another Life

I'd heard of Taylor Jenkins Reid for sometime before I finally got around to reading a book by her. I knew she was masterful at contemporary stories and that she could elicit great emotional responses from her readers, but outside of that, I didn't really know what to expect. 

Blurb from Goodreads: At the age of twenty-nine, Hannah Martin still has no idea what she wants to do with her life. She has lived in six different cities and held countless meaningless jobs since graduating college. On the heels of leaving yet another city, Hannah moves back to her hometown of Los Angeles and takes up residence in her best friend Gabby’s guestroom. Shortly after getting back to town, Hannah goes out to a bar one night with Gabby and meets up with her high school boyfriend, Ethan.

Just after midnight, Gabby asks Hannah if she’s ready to go. A moment later, Ethan offers to give her a ride later if she wants to stay. Hannah hesitates. What happens if she leaves with Gabby? What happens if she leaves with Ethan?

In concurrent storylines, Hannah lives out the effects of each decision. Quickly, these parallel universes develop into radically different stories with large-scale consequences for Hannah, as well as the people around her. As the two alternate realities run their course, Maybe in Another Life raises questions about fate and true love: Is anything meant to be? How much in our life is determined by chance? And perhaps, most compellingly: Is there such a thing as a soul mate?

Hannah believes there is. And, in both worlds, she believes she’s found him.

While this is Reid's third book, it is the first I've read. She is able to work character, complication and emotion seamlessly together with a compelling plot that explores what might happen if a single decision were made differently. Reid explores alternate effects, and somehow makes the reader want to have both happen. I'd heard she was an author to read, and now I can add my voice with those praising Taylor Jenkins Reid.

**review on advanced copy from NetGalley**