Monday, April 27, 2015

Could Vs. Had: A Post For Moms Everywhere

The other night I had the occasion to spend some time with a devoted mother. She was clearly very aware of every nuance of her child's life. As she asked me questions about my son, who is the same age as hers, it was clear that I... wasn't quite as aware. And I have to admit, there were a few minutes there that I felt like the bad mother, that little voice inside my head saying, "See? She knows these things. Why don't you?"

And so, though hopefully no one would realize, I had a little debate in my head between me and myself. And in the end, I realized that I wasn't being fair to myself. Yes this mother-- who has one child-- was far more in tune with her child's life than I-- who have six children-- was. That is a fact. But I was also having this conversation with this mother in order to help my child with something that was important to him. I took time to arrange a meeting and go to it; through my actions I said to my child You Matter. And while I haven't done everything there is to do for this child, I have done what I could.

This got me to thinking. When my children are all grown up and their raising is "in the books" so to speak (though I know that point never really gets reached) what do I want to be able to say to them? What can I say with confidence and certainty? And here's what I arrived at: I want to be able to say I gave all I could. But there's a flip side to that statement. I don't want to say I gave all I had.

To me one of those statements is reasonable. The other is exhausting. One is restorative. The other is depleting. One breeds goodwill. The other breeds resentment. I gave all I could means as a mother I took in my own personality, my own limits, my own interests, my own desires. I kept my marriage above my kids. I remembered I was a person before these little people came into my life and I will be a person after they wing their way into the future God has for them. I made sacrifices, yes. But I kept some things that were still just mine, just for me.

I gave all I had means as a mother I spent and spent and spent, sowing into my kids with no regard for me, leading to exhaustion, depletion and resentment. Giving all you have means you've somehow equated performance with worth, forgotten your own happiness in the name of theirs. And the danger there is that eventually all this martyr stuff will catch up with you. If not now, then later when they turn to teens who no longer think you hung the moon, or even later when they, according to plan, leave.

Of course there will be times-- seasons-- when you by necessity give all you have. Illness, newborns, special needs situations and other issues come to mind. That is not what I am talking about here. I am talking about the daily flux of motherhood. And the way that these people (kids) will take whatever we give them. And we get to decide just how much that is.

Here are some examples:

  • Giving over control of the car radio to them. Listening to music you don't want to listen to in order to make them happy. Who's driving? Shouldn't the driver enjoy the ride more than anyone? 

  • Not going on dates because they don't want you to leave them. 

  • Participating in sports leagues and sacrificing entire weekends for the whole family in order to attend game after game. (If your child is a prodigy and this is a sincere investment in their future, go for it. But if they're mediocre and you're just out there because it's what everyone else does well...)

  • Functioning as a short order cook in order to provide food everyone at the table likes. 

  • Scrambling around to provide something they need because they forgot to give you adequate warning. 

  • Forgetting that they won't remember every detail of their childhood, and that includes all those sacrifices and efforts you made. And making decisions accordingly. Sometimes good enough is just that. 

  • Not taking time to do the things we love(d) to do, invest in friendships, or just be alone for a bit. Without feeling guilty about it. 

I'm not saying any one of these things from time to time is bad (Lord knows I've done them), but to ask yourself just how often you are doing these things and, more important, how you feel when you do? If you feel blessed and rewarded and called and validated, then keep doing what you're doing. But if you feel stressed and strung out and your blood is reaching a slow simmer, maybe rethink your approach. You might be giving all you have instead of all you can. (And if you need permission to stop the madness, consider this just that.)

And I'm also not writing this as an excuse to be neglectful and call it "taking care of you." Your kids need you. You. Not a sitter, not a chauffeur, not a cook. They need your eyes on them. They need your voice speaking to them. They need your arms around them. They need your applause, your affirmation, your validation. They need to hear You Matter from you. Your role is important and the balance must be struck. You still have to show up, put the time in, make the effort. You can't outsource parenting and you shouldn't.

But you can create boundaries that allow for both you and them.

Giving all you can is, to me, the healthy way to mother. Giving all you have is dangerous. Because the point of motherhood is to work your way out of a job. And if you've given all you have then that will mean there is no you left. Giving all you could means you preserved some bit of yourself, even if it's just the smallest fraction that you can build on as you have the space and time to do so. Recognize your limits. Regard your feelings. And go from there, in freedom. Give all you can. But beware of giving all you have. It's a subtle distinction, but an important one.

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Friday, April 24, 2015

The Age Of Adaline (review)

I will admit that I hadn't heard anything about this movie when I got invited to attend a preview. I almost said no because of that, but then I decided to watch the trailer. (Below) And it drew me in and made me decide to go see it. I was astonished when my husband said he thought it looked good and he wanted to go. What? But ok. A date night it was.

First we went to Dean and Deluca near the movie theater and had salads. My salad was laden with all the things I love-- artichoke hearts and grilled chicken and kalamata olives and tomatoes and carrots and cucumbers and-- oh yeah-- lettuce, topped off with a delicious sesame vinaigrette dressing. It was one of the best salads I've ever had. If you've never had a make your own Dean and Deluca salad and you have one near you, what are you waiting for?? Treat yourself to one asap! But I digress. This is not a post about salads. It's about this new movie that is out today.

After we ate, we went to the movie, which was... not the best date movie we've ever been to. It was just a bit too girly for my husband. I'm not sure what he thought it was going to be but... it wasn't whatever that was. I think he thought there'd be more history involved? More science fiction uncovery of why this woman never ages? More chase scenes? It was none of that. So I kept looking over to make sure he was awake. And to his credit he stayed awake for all of it.

Here are a couple of random thoughts on the movie if you're considering seeing it:

It is a love story of several things-- yes love of course-- but also of dogs, and the city of San Francisco, and aging. In a youth-obsessed culture it was refreshing to see aging approached as something to be desired. If we stay young forever how will we ever experience the full scope of life seemed to be the story's throughline. And it was a point well-made. I liked that. And it did make me think.


I did not find the love interest attractive and I think that affected my ability to get swept into the love story. Blake Lively was, to me, far more lovely than he was handsome. This is me, showing my age. But that's ok because I learned from the movie that age is a good thing.


Some of the plot lines seemed contrived.


Blake Lively's breathy voice got on my nerves.

But-- but!-- I do not think I am the target market for this film. I think the two twentysomething girls sitting next to me with their salads on their laps and their big hoodie sweatshirts-- who bawled their eyes out through the last twenty minutes of the movie-- are the target market. And judging from their reaction, the movie should do pretty well.

So if you fall in the target market-- or know someone who does-- send them to this movie this weekend. But if you don't then proceed with caution. And you probably shouldn't take your husband if he likes a lot of action-- and the occasional gun-- in his cinema experience.

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Wednesday, April 22, 2015

What Worked For Me This Week

On Wednesdays I try to share things that made life easier or better. Here's the list this week: 

These shoes. They are by Sperry and I have no idea what they are called but they're kind of like espadrilles or Tom's. So easy to slip on and go. And that's what I've been doing nearly every day. The neutral color means they go with pretty much everything and they definitely match my usual "jeans and tee shirt" errand uniform. They were a little pricier than my usual flip flop but I can definitely say I'm getting my money's worth I wear them so much. They're kinda boring mom shoes but I love them.  Because let's face it, I am a boring mom. 

Finding and appreciating the beauty of spring. Whether it's on my long walks or right beside my back door (like this azalea), I've been trying to really soak in and savor the gorgeousness of spring. 

Refrigerating some leftover homemade cake frosting (because why would I let that go to waste?), then later buying some plain sugar cookies at the grocery store and letting my 9yo go to town with decorating them. She had a blast and the family enjoyed partaking in her handiwork afterwards. 

Taking my oldest to a Women's National Book Association event at our local indie bookstore. That's not how it started out-- he just said he'd meet me beforehand so we could have dinner around the corner from the event. After we finished eating I told him to at least come up and meet a few of my friends who had never met him. And he totally surprised me and ended up staying. That's him on the right with authors David Joy (Where All Light Tends To Go) and Leigh Ann Henion (Phenomenal). And yes, he did talk me into buying him David's book. And what mom can resist a kid-- no matter how old-- who wants to read?

I am a teensy weensy bit hooked on these right now. I am sure they are bad for me (don't tell me!) but you would not believe the amount of water I am willing to drink if these things are involved! So. Good. And only 5 calories a packet! 

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Monday, April 20, 2015

Why I Don't Have My Favorite Songs on my iPod (Or, Absence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder)

Into The Mystic by Van Morrison is one of my all-time favorite songs. And, for a time, I had it on my iPod. Because, you know, iPods are the receptacles of all your favorite songs, right?

Except. Turns out, for me, they're not.

Sometimes the songs we love the best aren't the ones we should have accessible at all times. Sometimes the songs we love should be the things we happen upon, the things that are precious because of how rare they are. Sometimes happening upon our favorite song on the radio or hearing it piped through the speakers in the grocery store can feel like magic. In the midst of our ordinary, the right song at the right time can feel downright holy.

I took Into The Mystic off my iPod and decided for it to wait to come to me when I needed to hear it most.

And so I am sharing the video today, because it's Monday. And it rained all weekend in my neck of the woods. And it's a new week full of possibility, and also, responsibility. And we could all use a bit of magic, courtesy of Van Morrison:

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Friday, April 17, 2015

What I've Been Reading

I am linking up to Modern Mrs Darcy's Quick Lit roundup today.

First of all my apologies for being gone so much longer than I planned. When I set the date of my return to blogging, I wasn't thinking about spring break following the end of Lent. We went on a quick trip to the beach while the kids were out of school and, upon returning from that and getting back into the swing of school again, life has been crazy.

But I'm back now, and plan to return more consistently next week.

For my return post, here's what I've been reading lately. I've got some good books to share!

Gods In Alabama by Joshilyn Jackson: Anyone who knows me knows I love Joshilyn's writing. This was the only book I hadn't read by her and I think I was kind of hanging onto it because I didn't want to be done with her books. (At least until the next one's out.) But one day I decided to read it, and 24 hours later, I was done. This one was every bit as good as the others and I highly recommend it. 

For 10 years Arlene has kept her promises, and God has kept His end of the bargain. Until now. When an old schoolmate from Possett turns up at Arlene's door in Chicago asking questions about Jim Beverly, former quarterback and god of Possett High, Arlene's break with her former hometown is forced to an end. At the same time, Burr, her long-time boyfriend, has raised an ultimatum: introduce him to her family or consider him gone. Arlene loves him dearly but knows her lily white (not to mention deeply racist)Southern Baptist family will not understand her relationship with an African American boyfriend. Reluctantly, Arlene bows to the pressure, and she and Burr embark on the long-avoided road trip back home. As Arlene digs through guilt and deception, her patched-together alibi begins to unravel, and she discovers how far she will go for love and a chance at redemption.

My Sunshine Away by MO Walsh: I listened to this one on audio and, while I didn't love the narrator, I loved the story. It will definitely make my top ten list for this year. 

"My Sunshine Away" unfolds in a Baton Rouge neighborhood best known for cookouts on sweltering summer afternoons, cauldrons of spicy crawfish, and passionate football fandom. But in the summer of 1989, when fifteen-year-old Lindy Simpson--free spirit, track star, and belle of the block--experiences a horrible crime late one evening near her home, it becomes apparent that this idyllic stretch of Southern suburbia has a dark side, too.
In "My Sunshine Away," M.O. Walsh brilliantly juxtaposes the enchantment of a charmed childhood with the gripping story of a violent crime, unraveling families, and consuming adolescent love. Acutely wise and deeply honest, it is an astonishing and page-turning debut about the meaning of family, the power of memory, and our ability to forgive.

Home Is Where My People Are by Sophie Hudson: This memoir about what home means, what it's like to grow up southern, and the power of friendship. Oh, and it's really funny. 

All roads lead to home. It's easy to go through life believing that we can satisfy our longing for home with a three-bedroom, two-bath slice of the American dream that we mortgage at 4 percent and pay for over the course of thirty years. But ultimately, in our deepest places, we're really looking to belong and to be known. And what we sometimes miss in our search for the perfect spot to set up camp is that wherever we are on the long and winding road of life, God is at work in the journey, teaching us, shaping us, and refining us--sometimes through the most unlikely people and circumstances. In "Home Is Where My People Are," Sophie Hudson takes readers on a delightfully quirky journey through the South, introducing them to an unforgettable cast of characters, places, and experiences. Along the way, she reflects on how God has used each of the stops along the road to impart timeless spiritual wisdom and truth. Nobody embodies the South like Sophie Hudson, and this nostalgic celebration of home is sure to make even those north of the Mason-Dixon line long to settle in on the front porch with a glass of sweet tea and reflect on all of the people in our lives who--related or not--have come to represent home. Because at the end of the day, it's not the address on the front door or even the name on the mailbox that says home, but the people who live and laugh and love there, wherever "there" might happen to be.

Those Girls by Chevy Stevens: this one is an advance reader copy of a book coming out this summer. It's gripping and gritty. Chevy Stevens' female characters are so much tougher than me! 

Life has never been easy for the three Campbell sisters. Jess, Courtney, and Dani live on a remote ranch in Western Canada where they work hard and try to stay out of the way of their father’s fists. One night, a fight gets out of hand and the sisters are forced to go on the run, only to get caught in an even worse nightmare when their truck breaks down in a small town. Events spiral out of control and a chance encounter with the wrong people leaves them in a horrific and desperate situation. They are left with no choice but to change their names and create new lives. 

Eighteen years later, they are still trying to forget what happened that summer when one of the sisters goes missing and they are pulled back into their past. 

This time there’s nowhere left to run. 

As much of a thriller as it is a deep exploration of the bonds among sisters, THOSE GIRLS is an unforgettable portrait of desperation, loyalty, and evil.

Where They Found Her by Kimberly McCreight: I just started this one-- but I've been waiting for it to come out for months. Can't wait to really dig in. 

From the author of the New York Times bestseller and 2014 Edgar and Anthony nominee Reconstructing Amelia comes another harrowing, gripping novel that marries psychological suspense with an emotionally powerful story about a community struggling with the consequences of a devastating discovery.

At the end of a long winter, in bucolic Ridgedale, New Jersey, the body of an infant is discovered in the woods near the town’s prestigious university campus. No one knows who the baby is, or how her body ended up out there. But there is no shortage of opinions. 

When freelance journalist, and recent Ridgedale transplant, Molly Anderson is unexpectedly called upon to cover the story for the Ridegdale Reader, it’s a risk, given the severe depression that followed the loss of her own baby. But the bigger threat comes when Molly unearths some of Ridgedale’s darkest secrets, including a string of unreported sexual assaults that goes back twenty years. 

Meanwhile, Sandy, a high school dropout, searches for her volatile and now missing mother, and PTA president Barbara struggles to help her young son, who’s suddenly having disturbing outbursts. 

Told from the perspectives of Molly, Barbara, and Sandy, Kimberly McCreight’s taut and profoundly moving novel unwinds the tangled truth about the baby’s death revealing that these three women have far more in common than they realized. And that their lives are more intertwined with what happened to the baby than they ever could have imagined.

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Thursday, February 19, 2015

A Break For Lent


I am taking a blogging break over Lent. If you're stopping by between February 18 and April 5, you will find no new posts. I plan to return with new material on April 6th. I hope you'll join me then!

In the meantime, please scroll back through my past posts, check out my most popular posts (in sidebar), and my "About Me" tab to learn more. 

And if you're looking for a speaker for your women's event, check out my "Need A Speaker?" tab at the top of the site. I'd love to come to your neck of the woods and share the "More To Your Story" message. 

I hope you enjoy this time of preparation for Easter. If you're giving up something, what is it?

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Friday, February 13, 2015

In Praise of Productivity (A Book Roundup)

With the new year, my thoughts turned to becoming more productive. I am almost certain this happens to everyone around this time, but the difference was, for me, the thought stuck around past January 1. I've continued to read up on and seek out ways to become more productive, motivated, and effective in the areas of parenting, time management, organization, clutter, writing, exercise, etc. It wasn't that I wasn't doing these things before, I am just trying to do them better. As with all things in life, I turned to books to discover new ways I could do that. Here's a list (with descriptions) of the ones I've read or aim to read very soon:

What The Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast by Laura Vanderkam

Mornings are a madcap time for many of us. We wake up in a haze—often after hitting snooze a few times. Then we rush around to get ready and out the door so we can officially start the day. Before we know it, hours have slipped by without us accomplishing anything beyond downing a cup of coffee, dashing off a few emails, and dishing with our coworkers around the water cooler. By the time the workday wraps up, we’re so exhausted and defeated that any motivation to accomplish something in the evening has vanished.

But according to time management expert Laura Vanderkam, mornings hold the key to taking control of our schedules. If we use them wisely, we can build habits that will allow us to lead happier, more productive lives.

Drawing on real-life anecdotes and scientific research that shows why the early hours of the day are so important, Vanderkam reveals how successful people use mornings to help them accomplish things that are often impossible to take care of later in the day. While many of us are still in bed, these folks are scoring daily victories to improve their health, careers, and personal lives without sacrificing their sanity. For instance, former PepsiCo chairman and CEO Steve Reinemund would rise at 5:00 a.m., run four miles, pray, and eat breakfast with his family before heading to work to run a Fortune 500 company.

What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast is a fun, practical guide that will inspire you to rethink your morning routine and jump-start your life before the day has even begun. 

What The Most Successful People Do On The Weekends by Laura Vanderkam

Many of us breathe a grateful TGIF when Friday rolls around, envisioning a weekend full of both productivity and refreshment. Yet too often our precious weekends seem to disappear, eaten up by unproductive work or leisure that fails to energize us. Monday morning comes too fast, finding us still unrested, with too much still undone.

Time management expert Laura Vanderkam, continuing her series on What the Most Successful People Do, shows how we can take control of our weekends to get necessary R&R, while also using our downtime as a springboard to a productive week. 

Drawing on real-life anecdotes and scientific research, Vanderkam explains why doing nothing can be more exhausting than doing something and why happy people make weekend plans in advance. She shares weekend tips gleaned from busy people such as politician and talk show host Mike Huckabee, former CEO Frank Baxter, and TV producer Aliza Rosen. She reveals the kind of weekend activities that make people happiest, explains why it’s important to unplug at least for a little while, and shares the secret of why Sunday night may be the most important part of any weekend.  

What the Most Successful People Do On the Weekend is a fun, practical guide that will inspire you to rethink your weekends and start your workweek refreshed, renewed, and on track.  

How She Does It: An Everywoman's Guide to Breaking Old Rules, Getting Creative, and Making Time For Work in Your Actual Everyday Life by Anne Bogel

Today’s working woman looks a lot like you. 

She’s a: 
• stay-at-home mom, working on her passion at naptime 
• a part-time professional sharing childcare with her husband 
• a full-time creative planning a future on her own schedule 

She’s a woman – like you – with the opportunity to find fulfilling and profitable work without the mother guilt of previous generations. The possibilities are endless for today’s woman in this shifting work place – but the roadmap for getting there hasn’t quite been written. 

Until now. 

In How She Does It, author Anne Bogel unpacks these trends in family & work culture, and gets to the core of HOW you can make your work goals fit into your unique family situation. 

Inside, you’ll find the personal success stories of 30 women who found – by playing to their unique strengths– solutions that really work for their families. 

Better Than Before: Mastering The Habits of Our Everyday Lives by Gretchen Rubin

The author of the blockbuster New York Times bestsellers, The Happiness Project and Happier at Home, tackles the critical question: How do we change? 
Gretchen Rubin's answer: through habits. Habits are the invisible architecture of everyday life. It takes work to make a habit, but once that habit is set, we can harness the energy of habits to build happier, stronger, more productive lives.
So if habits are a key to change, then what we really need to know is: How do we change our habits?
Better than Before answers that question. It presents a practical, concrete framework to allow readers to understand their habits—and to change them for good. Infused with Rubin’s compelling voice, rigorous research, and easy humor, and packed with vivid stories of lives transformed, Better than Before explains the (sometimes counter-intuitive) core principles of habit formation. 
Along the way, Rubin uses herself as guinea pig, tests her theories on family and friends, and answers readers’ most pressing questions—oddly, questions that other writers and researchers tend to ignore: 

• Why do I find it tough to create a habit for something I love to do? 
• Sometimes I can change a habit overnight, and sometimes I can’t change a habit, no matter how hard I try. Why? 
• How quickly can I change a habit? 
• What can I do to make sure I stick to a new habit? 
• How can I help someone else change a habit?  
• Why can I keep habits that benefit others, but can’t make habits that are just for me? 

Whether readers want to get more sleep, stop checking their devices, maintain a healthy weight, or finish an important project, habits make change possible. Reading just a few chapters of Better Than Before will make readers eager to start work on their own habits—even before they’ve finished the book.

Listful Thinking: Using Lists To Be More Productive, Highly Successful, and Less Stressed by Paula  Rizzo

What do Madonna, Martha Stewart, John Lennon, Ellen DeGeneres, Ben Franklin, Ronald Reagan, Leonardo da Vinci, Thomas Edison, and Johnny Cash have in common? Each is (or was) a list maker. These successful people, along with CEOs and successful entrepreneurs, all use lists to keep track of their ideas, thoughts, and tasks. Finding enough hours in the day to get everything accomplished and allow for some downtime can be a struggle. It's no wonder so many of us are stressed, overextended, andexhausted. More than half of all American employees feel overwhelmed, according to a study by the nonprofit Family and Work Institute. For the 54 percent of us who feel like we're chasing our own tails, Listful Thinking is here to prove that it doesn't have to be that way. You can still find time to relax, read a good book, and do the things you love. Listful Thinking is the book that will give readers their lives back with indispensible tips on saving time, getting organized, improving productivity, saving money, and reducing stress

Manage Your Day To Day: Build Your Routine, Find Your Focus and Sharpen Your Creative Mind by Jocelyn Glei

Making Ideas Happen by Scott Belsky

According to productivity expert Scott Belsky, no one is born with the ability to drive creative projects to completion. Execution is a skill that must be developed by building your organizational habits and harnessing the support of your colleagues.

As the founder and CEO of Behance, a company on a mission to empower and organize the creative world, Belsky has studied the habits of especially productive individuals and teams across industries. Now he has compiled the principles and techniques they share, and presents a systematic approach to creative organization and productivity.

While many of us focus on generating and searching for great ideas, Belsky shows why it's better to develop the capacity to make ideas happen-a capacity that endures over time.

Daily Rituals: How Artists Work by Mason Currey

Franz Kafka, frustrated with his living quarters and day job, wrote in a letter to Felice Bauer in 1912, “time is short, my strength is limited, the office is a horror, the apartment is noisy, and if a pleasant, straightforward life is not possible then one must try to wriggle through by subtle maneuvers.”
Kafka is one of 161 inspired—and inspiring—minds, among them, novelists, poets, playwrights, painters, philosophers, scientists, and mathematicians, who describe how they subtly maneuver the many (self-inflicted) obstacles and (self-imposed) daily rituals to get done the work they love to do, whether by waking early or staying up late; whether by self-medicating with doughnuts or bathing, drinking vast quantities of coffee, or taking long daily walks. Thomas Wolfe wrote standing up in the kitchen, the top of the refrigerator as his desk, dreamily fondling his “male configurations”. . . Jean-Paul Sartre chewed on Corydrane tablets (a mix of amphetamine and aspirin), ingesting ten times the recommended dose each day . . . Descartes liked to linger in bed, his mind wandering in sleep through woods, gardens, and enchanted palaces where he experienced “every pleasure imaginable.”

Here are: Anthony Trollope, who demanded of himself that each morning he write three thousand words (250 words every fifteen minutes for three hours) before going off to his job at the postal service, which he kept for thirty-three years during the writing of more than two dozen books . . . Karl Marx . . . Woody Allen . . . Agatha Christie . . . George Balanchine, who did most of his work while ironing . . . Leo Tolstoy . . . Charles Dickens . . . Pablo Picasso . . . George Gershwin, who, said his brother Ira, worked for twelve hours a day from late morning to midnight, composing at the piano in pajamas, bathrobe, and slippers . . .

Here also are the daily rituals of Charles Darwin, Andy Warhol, John Updike, Twyla Tharp, Benjamin Franklin, William Faulkner, Jane Austen, Anne Rice, and Igor Stravinsky (he was never able to compose unless he was sure no one could hear him and, when blocked, stood on his head to “clear the brain”).

Brilliantly compiled and edited, and filled with detail and anecdote, Daily Rituals is irresistible, addictive, magically inspiring.

(I am linking this post to Modern Mrs. Darcy's monthly book roundup.)
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