Saturday, April 29, 2017

Why Fiction Matters

I finished my new favorite book The Actor and the Housewife by Shannon Hale. I found it in a magazine months (or years) ago and added it to my book list. As usually happens, it was exactly the right book at the right time.

The book is about a stay-at-home mother of three pregnant with her fourth child who meets her celebrity crush in real life as she's selling a screenplay that she's written in her "free time." Unexpectedly, the two feel an immediate connection though they are both married. The story is about how this two through the years balance their marriages, lives, and best friendship with each other.

The prose is beautiful. The narrator's voice is fresh and unexpected. Mostly this novel gave words to a friendship I have in my own life that has always felt mysterious and indescribable. I recognized what she described when the two main characters meet and can't seem to move away from each other. I experienced this as a very young woman and felt instantly at home with this person while also feeling very alone because I'd never heard the kind of connection I felt described by anyone I knew.

This story also celebrates the mysteries of life and trusting one's gut. Both things I have been meditating on a lot lately.  This is the power of fiction: to tell stories that help readers find themselves in the midst of scenarios that are both familiar and foreign and provide the space to move around in this alternate reality and to view one's life from a different perspective. Maybe reading any genre allows for that, but it seems that fiction is particularly good at providing that space.

It's also interesting that this book would find its way to me in the same week that I met my friend twenty-three years ago. I likely would have missed that little anniversary had the book not gotten me thinking about this friend and our peculiar connection. Again, it feels like a powerful dose of serendipity--my favorite thing--was at play.

The story was so entertaining I couldn't put it down and it had more plot twists and turns than I could have imagined. It left me wondering how the story would  resolve all the way up to the very end.

The more I read and the more I write I am drawn to the ideas of conveying and finding  the "me too!" and "we are not alone." The Actor and the Housewife definitely satisfied both. It's a book that has left me missing the characters and motivating me in my own work.

I feel so grateful for this title and its timing. It has now joined the ranks of my other favorites: Love Walked In by Marisa de los Santos, To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, and The House at Tyneford by Natasha Solomons.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Girl Talk - School Dance Edition

The Fourth-Fifth Grade Dance is this Friday.

Cadence is excited to go. It's got us talking, and me thinking.

The conversation started with us both looking in the mirror. I was putting on make up. She was dawdling before brushing her teeth.

"Mom, make your lips do like this." I copied her expression. She looked at my lips and back at hers.

"We've got the same lips."

"It looks like it, yes. But actually, you've got Nana's lips. Yours are fuller, like hers."

Our banter continued and I purposely made it swerve into different territory. I suggested fuller lips were kissable lips. She smiled big and squirmed. Then I suggested there would be no kissing at the dance Friday night.

Her face scrunched up as I had expected. "Oh no, this dance is a friends dance. The counselors have already talked to us about it. There is to be no dating at this dance."

"That's right. Fourth and fifth grade is a great time to be friends. There's lots of time for dating when you're older--like the last year of college."

I got another look I anticipated.

We talked more and she asked me when she could date. She confided that she would be scared to tell daddy and me when she had a boyfriend. This conversation gave me the opportunity to assure her that it would be all right when the time came. We talked about the boy that likes her now. I heard the hesitation as she admitted that she liked him back.

Be who you needed when you were younger.

A sweet boy called me in fifth grade. He had a mop of black hair, a big warm smile, and a great laugh. He was kind and popular--an unlikely combo. He called to ask me to be his girlfriend. Flustered by this first brush with the opposite sex, I asked my mom. "Tell him no."

Crushed and embarrassed, I passed the message along and we hung up.

There was no conversation, no discussion, no opportunity to hear how lovely it is to catch the attention of someone, to revel in it, and to also understand that fifth grade is too young. These were the messages I really needed to hear then.

And so I conveyed them to my daughter this morning. I told her that this boy seemed like a great kid. That he has the qualities that I want her looking for in the future as she begins to date. I also told her that I expected this future boy to be kind and if not, there'd be trouble for him.

I'm aware of how little I knew about this subject when I was her age and in the years to follow. There's so much that is confusing and nuanced. I want to help shepherd her through those years and the best way to do it is to start when the stakes are low. I am building trust with her and banking on her coming to me later when the stakes are higher.

I want to create a warm, nurturing space for us to have those conversations--now and in the future.

This morning I was who I needed when I was younger. And the heart of that little fifth grade girl inside me healed a little bit more.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Found by Micha Boyett - A Book Report

When one of your favorite writers makes a book recommendation, it is best to take her up on it. This is one of the lessons I learned while reading Found - The Story of Questions, Grace & Everyday Prayer by Micha Boyett.

Found is the story of a young woman's quest to find her way back to prayer and a spiritual life after becoming a mother. I found myself in her questions, her anxieties, and her worries about not being enough in the eyes of God. In some ways it was not an easy read because she is so hard on herself, holding herself and her spiritual life to exacting standards. I felt the author had crawled into my mind and was reporting from the field.

Boyett is drawn to monasticism and spiritual practices, and it was refreshing to find another modern woman drawn to these things as I am. Her poetic way with words brought me to tears over and over and never so much as she described her husband, Chris.

I wept big, hot, stinging tears each time she revealed this man's way of understanding her and loving her even when she was anxious or off-kilter. My reaction to these passages was so big, I had to stop and ask myself what was happening. My answers were hard to swallow: I have been lying to myself. I have been telling myself that I love being single (which I do) and that if I find a partner down the road that would be nice. The lie is that finding a partner is a deep, deep longing and wanting it so badly scares the sh*t out of me. Wanting to find love opens me up for more disappointment, and lately I haven't felt like I can take anymore. The depth of my weeping revealed the depth of my longing and desire for this companionship. Boyett's description of her husband gave me hope that I could find someone who might be patient with my anxious, tasmanian devil of a mind.

I am left feeling raw and exposed having read this book. I am also left feeling hopeful and less alone.
The truth shall set you free. I am reminded of this over and over as I peel back the layers of my life to reveal who I am, who I want to become, and what I want. I am grateful for writers who can so beautifully share their stories and in doing so help me connect with mine.

Friday, April 21, 2017

This Is Where I Am Today

I listened to a recent Robcast podcast with the amazing Rob Bell, and he mentioned attending a yoga class where the teacher used the phrase, "This Is Where You Are Today." My body and soul gasped when I heard it because I knew how powerful it would be on the mat. As I lower to brush my fingertips to the floor and have to bend my knees to do it, I pictured myself whispering, This is where I am today. The phrase grants permission, extends grace for however far--or not--your body bends in a given moment.

It was this phrase that propelled me back to my mat after months. I kept reminding myself that wherever I was in terms of pain, flexibility, or strength on my mat was exactly where I was and to not push beyond my edge or be angry or disappointed when it wasn't as far as I hoped.

I have returned to my mat a different person than the one who stepped onto it two years ago. Now, I step on it knowing that no matter what, it's better that I am there than not. I am not tracking my progress or my attendance. I do, however, set a timer and play some great music (Coldplay's Live Ghost Stories album), but the timer is there so that I can breathe and move and not think about how many sun salutations I'm doing or when I need to stop. Because two years after the great goal-setting experiment, I'm done with all the record keeping. I simply want to move and be healthy--inside and out.

I have not missed a day in nearly a month. I am increasing my time on the mat by one minute each week. For the past few days, I haven't checked the timer once. I'm acclimating to the time and am enjoying the early morning movement. The way I feel and the strength and confidence I continue building is the magnet that keep drawing me back to the mat morning after morning.

A new morning routine has emerged to support my mat time. I shower at night willing my hair to be presentable the next morning. I prep my electric kettle the night before, so that I can hit the button before I start moving on my mat. And on the mornings, like today, when I pop out of bed early, there's even time for writing.

The new mantra is having its way with my emotional and mental health too. When I start feeling angsty or restless off the mat, I remind myself that This Is Where I Am Today. It vents the pressure building that I should think or act a particular way. Saying these six words reminds me I am good where I'm at and that where I am tomorrow may be different and that's good too.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Wonder and Missed Opportunity

I was the only reader in my family growing up. I read all the time. I took books with me in the car, in restaurants. Once I even took my French textbook into the movie theatre because you know, the minutes before the previews start are precious minutes when I could get a few more pages read. I wasn't encouraged to read. I came upon the pastime on my own. Often, I felt like an outsider. Like a puzzle piece inside the wrong puzzle box. A reader in a non-reading family.

“Remember when you used to ask me to read to you?” my mother asked once when I was a young adult.

“I do,” I said.

“Well, I would try and then I'd get so upset. Reading to you reminded me of not being read to as a child. It made me so sad, I just couldn't do it.

One of my daughter's honorary aunts and my best friends has created a long-distance book club as an enticement for Cadence to read for pleasure. A positive peer pressure sort of thing. It's such an act of love.

Our first selection is Wonder by R. J. Palacio. Cadence picked it out at her recent book fair at school. Tammy finished it first. I read it over the weekend, and now we're waiting for Cadence to finish it. 
I couldn't put the book down. The story is sweet and heartbreaking and restores one's faith in humanity. The characters are endearing. The dialogue sounds genuine, real, believable. I thought about my daughter as I read. I wondered what her reactions would be to certain plot points or what her response would be when she saw me crying, choked up, working on getting through a poignant scene.

And then I thought of my mother's admission. When she told me years ago what kept her from reading to me, I felt cheated. Angry. Hurt. Those were a daughter's reactions.

Now I see that admission differently. I hear those words as a mother, and I am sad for her. I know from experience now that the things we do for our children can also serve as healing for the child within.

Cadence and I read a few chapters before I took her to school yesterday. “I like Summer,” Cadence interjected. “She's kind and a good person.” I nodded and smiled in agreement. I turned the page and kept reading.

Reading this book together feels like the sacred moments I used to have with my baby and toddler at bath time. There in the water, she would splash and smile. The tension of a difficult nap time or meal time melted. It was like hitting a reset button. The bath time and reading together are each intimate moments that can help cement the relationship between parent and child. They nurture slowing down, breathing deeply, and letting go of the busyness of work and school days. 

The story underscores something I've been talking with Cadence since she entered kindergarten: Kindness matters. I am so grateful to have these opportunities to reinforce the values for which our family stands. 
By choosing to not venture outside of her past and work beyond hurt feelings, my mom missed out on these conversations and intimacies I am sharing with my daughter. I can't help but think she lost out twice--as a child and as a parent. She also withheld from herself the opportunity to heal something important by offering it to her children. As a mother, this makes me so sad.

I plan to read what Cadence reads for the foreseeable future. I see how this habit will help give us something to talk about that doesn't have anything to do with either of us. Neutral territory. Safe space to discuss important things if talking about ourselves becomes too risky for a time. Plus, I really like my daughter's brain and the way she uses it. I'm in awe of the thoughts she articulates, and know that as she grows her thoughts and her perspective will get even more interesting. I wouldn't miss these moments for anything.

One of my favorite quotes featured in Wonder.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

One Thousand White Women - The Journals of May Dodd - An Audiobook Recommendation

I have this knack for choosing books to listen to with a wide range of characters whose backgrounds require accents. It's the most delicious surprise every time it happens.

One Thousand White Women - The Journals of May Dodd by Jim Fergus is one of the new "stand-out" titles in my log of audiobooks to which I have listened.

A co-worker and I were talking titles one day a few weeks ago. Sometimes I hope the books friends recommend DON'T sound appealing because my list is already so long, but there was something about this story that compelled me to add it.

The general gist is that during the Grant Administration, the US Government agreed to a deal with the Cheyenne tribe to trade one thousand white women for horses in order to help transition the Cheyenne people into the white culture that was coming their way in full force. Historical fiction at its finest. There was no such campaign in American history, however, the author writes a convincing story about the hypothetical scenario.

As the subtitle denotes, the story is written within the context of May Dodd's journals. It was a masterful way to tell such a story. This is a book that doesn't let go of its reader or listener quickly. I miss the characters five days later.

The historical detail is breathtaking. The images he creates of the characters--both white and Native American--are stunning. There is a lot of Cheyenne dialect sprinkled through and it was wonderful to hear someone pronounce the foreign sounds.

I was amazed by the authentic way Fergus captured the voice of May--particularly in light of the fact that she was a character who lived more than one hundred years ago. I kept saying to myself, "A MAN wrote these words! He nailed it!" And then I'd think, "Please let me get Derrick's voice right when I return to my novel." Fergus's writing inspired me.

When we first meet May Dodd, she's a patient in a women's asylum in Chicago. She's been placed there against her will by her affluent family who are disgraced that she's left her station in life to live with the foreman of her father's company and borne her lover's two children.

Everything about her circumstances is heartbreaking, but it's a story about a woman who has gumption and grit and the determination to make the best of things. She demonstrates this tenacity in white society and also when she joins the people of Chief Little Wolf.

The beauty of historical fiction is the way it functions as a mirror reflecting one's own life and times through the characters of another time and place. It was excruciating to listen to the Army men discuss their plans to take over the lands of the natives with zero remorse or consideration for the fact that the land belonged to the natives. I had to confront my whiteness and it was uncomfortable, shameful, and heartbreaking. I hated knowing that generations ago it is likely that my ancestors played roles in stories like this.  We are better for confronting these harsh truths of our lives. It's the only way we can improve things moving forward.

Fergus writes with such grace and elegance about the native tribes. He displayed their humanity and the dignity with which they lived in harmony with nature if not always with other tribes.

This book has something for every reader/listener: drama, humor, accents, battle, sex (toward the end of disc five is one of the most beautifully written loves scenes--again, bravo, Fergus!), community, consequences, justice, injustice, and heartbreak.

On audio, the story is on 12 discs and is 15 hours long. I listened to it over about a week-and-a-half on my daily commutes to and from work. It would make an awesome companion on a long road trip, particularly if you happen to be driving out west. One Thousand White Women would also make an excellent book club selection. After I finished the story, I googled Jim Fergus because I was so taken by his writing. It turns out a second volume of what is to be a trilogy is coming out in mid-2017 in the US. (It's already published in French. He apparently has a big following in France.)

If you decide to check it out, please let me know what you think.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Birthday Tradition

Before I became a mother, I watched the way other families celebrated their babies' first birthdays and was overwhelmed. Friends and family gathered and gave these babies a ton of stuff. I had an immediate reaction. I'm going to do something different when I have a baby.

As I planned Cadence's first birthday,  I invited a lot of people.  I HAD THIS AMAZING BABY I WANTED TO CELEBRATE!!! But I knew this baby had everything she needed, so I turned her birthday celebration into an opportunity to do something good for others in honor of her birthday. I identified an organization that accepted pajama donations, so we held a pajama drive. This gave our guests a more productive way to direct their generosity and didn't create the awkwardness of coming to a party empty handed.

That year, we collected more than 40 pairs of pajamas for children in need. Every year since (except for birthday two when we celebrated with only immediate family) we have chosen an area non-profit to collect items from their wish lists.

We've collected canned foods, diapers, wipes and baby supplies, and school supplies.  Years five and six were difficult. "I want the presents," my budding philanthropist would say. I would explain to her that she was getting presents from generous family, but that for her birthday we were celebrating with friends and asking them to help her make lives better for young children in our area. In those years, it was a hard sell, but I persisted. I saw too much good coming from it for her and for the recipients. Plus, our children have too much stuff as it is. She didn't need these things.

Princesses and Knights building a castle out of the "bring four cans" invitation to celebrate Cadence's fourth birthday

Making our delivery at an area drop off center.

At one point the hard sell was with her dad. He argued that she was such a good girl who never asked for anything. I reminded him that it was this birthday tradition that was shaping her into such a girl who thought more about her friends being a part of her celebration than what she was getting. I also reminded him that he didn't want the stuff coming into our house. He relented and the unique approach to birthday parties continued.

At age eight or nine, the tide shifted. Cadence came to me. "Mom, who are we going to support for my birthday?"

I made a big deal of that fact that as the birthday girl, it was her honor and responsibility to choose the cause and the collections.  She always chooses the needs of small children. Last year, she collected items for the Little Bit Foundation whose mission it is to break down barriers to education for St. Louis public school children.

This year, she wrote the following script, read it during announcements at church, and invited her congregation to support the cause:

Every year for my birthday I try to collect different items for the little bit foundation ( This year I wanted to invite you to help me! If you don't know what little bit foundation is it is a organization that helps children to make sure education is there for them. I always go to there warehouse to help. I have been getting to know the staff and I would like to donate stuff like the past years. This year I am going to be collecting items such as: socks, underwear, toothbrushes, and gently used or new stuffed animals. Thank you. CM

I was stunned by the initiative she took to include other people in her collection cause. And bless them, they responded!  As did her birthday party guests.

The items her friends donated in honor of her tenth birthday.

Here's the tally:

160 pairs of socks

79 pairs of underwear

50 toothbrushes

13 toothpastes

3 toothbrush/paste combo packs

1 body wash

I asked Cadence what she thought of me delivering her donations on my lunch hour. I was certain I knew the answer: "No, I want to go with you to deliver them."

Actually, I want her with me too. In past years, she carried in her collected items into the kitchen of the St. Louis Crisis Nursery. There she saw children eating their dinner. "Are those the children who don't have anything?" she whispered. I shushed her, nodded, and whispered back that we'd talk about it in the car. In that moment, what she was doing became real to her. Even if she was only five. I kept my promise and we discussed how the crisis nursery helps parents when they are having a hard time take care of their children.

This birthday tradition has opened my daughter's eyes to the needs of others. This year, the evening after she'd passed out the invitations and discussed the donations with friends she told me, "My friends asked if they could bring me a gift in addition to a donation. I told them they could, but that these kids need this stuff more than I do." In addition to these birthday drives, Cadence is exposed to the reality of hunger through the back pack program our congregation supports and that children sometimes grow up in difficult situations as she watches two of her favorite people become foster parents to two precious boys.

My daughter has an enormous heart. She is always sharing what she has with those around her. It is such a natural thing for her. Bless her heart, she doesn't know anything different. This practice has helped her to understand how good it feels to share and that there's enough to go around. She doesn't feel threatened by the idea that sharing will diminish her experience. In truth, I can tell it's had the opposite effect.

Generosity of spirit is one of my favorite human qualities and my daughter has it in abundance.

Happy Golden Birthday, CJM!

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Race Mama

Yesterday Cadence ran in the Read, Right, and Run race. Throughout the school year, students read, do "right" things (such as collect donations for non-profit organizations and read to seniors) and run. On this special day, they run the final mile of the marathon they've been running. More than ten thousand area children accompanied by parents, family, and friends converged on Forest Park. Cadence was cheered on my her mom, dad, Aunt, and two cousins from out of town.

We found empty sidewalk space within view of the Muny and its gazebo. The sun was shining with a brightness St. Louisans haven't seen in days. Its rays and my cup of coffee helped to warm me.

As we sat on the curb watching other people's children run their race, I began reflecting on my first race in Indianapolis nearly two years ago. Having never raced before, I was struck by how good it felt to hear strangers yell out encouragement to us as we ran. It gave such a boost and helped propel my achy legs forward.

I said out loud that I wanted to cheer on these kids, but was feeling shy. Something about naming my hesitation blew it away and I began clapping and yelling a variety of "you can do it" messages. Many times I was the only voice in the crowd yelling and clapping. As I watched these children take in my encouragement, I noticed that a lot of times they didn't know I was talking to them. I wanted them to know it, and because I didn't know their names, I began shouting out their bib numbers.

"Go, number 3215!" More often than not the child would look down at their bib, and back at me. I'd yell, "That's you! You've got this! The finish line is so close!

Sometimes the child would smile and keep going, sometimes even faster than before. Most of the time they'd look at me like I was crazy.

It wouldn't be the first time I've seen that look.

My sister and Cadence's dad laughed at how nearly every time I shouted a bib number, each child had an identical response. One suggested that I'd probably get a child tripped up as they looked for their bib number.

I persisted. The more encouragement I yelled the more I remembered what Glennon Doyle Melton repeats: There is no such thing as other people's children. They belong to all of us. It was a privilege to stand in for their parents on this stretch of the race. I know I wanted Cadence to hear the cheers and clapping of other spectators on other parts of the race.

Then I began thinking about the families in Syria. How their children are ours too. I felt a pang of guilt sitting on this curb in the sunshine with not a care in the world (for the moment.) And then I caught myself. I remembered that my guilt does nothing to improve their situation. I thought how much those families would delight in a Saturday morning race for their children and decided the best way to honor them and their struggle in the moment was to enjoy it and be grateful for it. There are other things I am doing to help the cause such as praying for an end to such suffering and for the safety of those helping on the ground, as well as donating to worthy causes that are helping to support relief efforts.

It isn't uncommon that my lighthearted, happy thoughts turn to such heavy, important topics. Welcome to a jaunt through my head and heart. I consider these roller coaster thoughts as reminders of life's interconnectedness. Life is beautiful, satisfying, messy, and catastrophic at once.

No children tripped as a result of my cheering. And the cheering got really loud when we finally saw our star.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Woman of the House - Vol. 5

I find myself living in a "Murphy's Law" season of life post divorce. I am least in the position to afford the repair costs of anything, and so of course, these past two years have played host to a ridiculous number of things breaking or needing repair. What I am learning is how lucky we were before that things remained in good repair. My chagrin is that now it is mine alone to shoulder the unexpected costs and inconveniences.

Last Sunday evening I began entertaining the idea that I might be superstitious.  I actually considered the possibility that the mirror that shattered after I'd fallen asleep one evening last year might have something to do with why the spin cycle on my washing machine stopped doing its job.

But rationality returned and I remembered that the spin cycle had been on the fritz for months. I was grateful that I'd been able to eek out complete laundry cycles as long as I did.

I am fine-tuning my ability to remain calm and not think the world is ending with each of these episodes. By the time I figured out there was a problem it was too late to do anything about it. I kept talking to myself about how it's only money and the loop of bad luck I find myself in will not last forever.

One of the advantages of these annoying moments is that they nurture my creativity and problem solving skills. I went to work the next morning and had the brainstorm that maybe someone I know knew of a spare washing machine that I could make use of, so I posted such a request on Facebook. Several people commiserated with me on the frustration of a broken washing machine. Others shared my message. Another friend messaged me and encouraged me to google the problem in the event that it was a simple fix.

I spent an hour watching youtube videos about the possible scenarios. I would watch the video, put it on pause, run for the tools the repairman on screen said I needed, and then followed his lead. Each time I hit a dead end, but I definitely felt better educated about the workings of the machine. After an hour, I decided to schedule an appointment for a repairman. The broken spin cycle seemed relatively simple by all the videos I watched, but I knew that I was out of my league.

One of the possible culprits was a broken lid switch, and lo and behold, that was my machine's problem. I felt so proud to recognize the diagnosis when the repairman announced it the next morning. We discussed my options. I decided to pay for the repair. The repair was expensive, but less than a brand new machine.

What this season is teaching me is that there is not one static right decision, but the right decision for the time I'm in. In this particular moment, having the part available was a convenience I was willing to pay for. My machine would be functional again immediately. I wouldn't have to go shopping and pay for a brand new machine. I could keep the old machine with higher water levels than the new high efficiency machines. I would keep this machine out of the landfill a little longer. All of those factors made me confident in my decision.

This season is also teaching me to trust my ability to make these decisions on my own with confidence. The greatest tool I access in this new solo chapter is my gut. I listen to her consistently and she delivers peaceful, firm direction regularly. I almost never second guess myself now, which feels like such a long-awaited gift after years of not feeling sure of my decision-making. I'd like to think that I could learn how to fine tune my decision making without all the inconvenience and expense, but I have a strong suspicion that's not how it works.

The broken part

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

How to Raise a Wild Child - A Book Recommendation

The current political atmosphere has knocked the wind out of my presidential biography reading sails. The upside is that I can devote the time I usually spend reading tedious biographies to the 40 plus books on my other reading list. I have an eclectic taste in reading material. I love fiction and non-fiction equally.

Screen shot of just a portion of the books on my To-Be-Read list

I also have a terrible habit of taking a long time to read a book requiring me to renew the library book repeatedly. I'm working on doing that less, which is easier when I'm not binge watching something fantastic on Netflix.

Today's recommendation is How to Raise a Wild Child by Scott D. Sampson. I don't remember where I learned about this book, but he title certainly piqued my interest.

The author is a paleontologist recognizable to your children if they are/were fans of Dinosaur Train on PBS. The basic premise is that in this digital age children are spending far too much time indoors, and Sampson highlights reasons why that's detrimental as well as ways to increase our children's exposure and love for nature.

I am an ideal consumer of his knowledge and wisdom because 1. I'm not too outdoorsy and 2. I'm not drawn to science. This book is a lovely combination of personal stories of exposing his young daughter to nature, descriptions of current research on social behavior as it relates to nature and the environment, and reasonable tips for increasing a family's exposure to the outdoors.

Woven throughout the book was the use of the abbreviation EMU as a way to think about exposing children to nature. Sampson believes that nature exploration happens through Experience, Mentoring, and Understanding. He introduces the reader to the idea of being a child's mentor and assures adults that to be a mentor, one does not need to be an expert. This was an encouraging discovery for me.

He talked about the importance of balancing our need to keep our children safe with providing opportunities for our children to explore the great outdoors on their own without too much "hovering" by adults.  He called this being a hummingbird parent where as our children age, we move farther away and "zoom in only when necessary." I appreciate having new language to describe things I am already doing. Hummingbird parenting is such an example.

Sampson also suggested that we need to change the way we discuss the future and our role in helping to protect nature and the environment.  He recommended changing our language from sustainability to thrivability. I really like that shift in our thinking.

I enjoyed this read more than I expected to and have some great ideas for how to expose Cadence to the wonders of our beautiful outside space. And was also able to consume it in one check out period at the library. Bonus!

In honor of the beautiful tulips that have bloomed in my yard, I give this book five out of five tulips.

PS: Bonus material: I learned a new word whilst reading this book. 

BIOPHILIA - the love of life

The wordie in me swooned. Love of life, indeed.

Monday, April 3, 2017


I "graduated" from counseling for a spell last year. "I don't think you need to be here. You're taking up valuable time for someone who needs it more," my counselor joked. "Plus, you have a great read on when you need a tune-up." It felt really good to be in a place where regular conversations with my trusted counselor weren't imperative.

And then months later, I met a man who asked questions of me that I wasn't able to answer which led to more unanswerable questions. It would have been easy to blow off the questions--and him--and move along with my life unexamined. I don't do unexamined well. The tune-up came sooner than expected, but meeting with my counselor was the best way to navigate these newly unearthed and unexpected questions and accompanying emotions.

In these sessions, she encouraged me to write my way through the things that this new (and brief) relationship drudged up. The things I am exploring have nothing to do with him, and yet he was the catalyst to the new level of self-awareness. It's interesting how life unfolds when you navigate it with curiosity and an open heart.

In the past two years, my mind has become an attic full of a motley collection of things: old hurts, anger, memories, mistakes, disappointment, etc. I think of them as boxes long ignored, but making it trickier to navigate. It's become easy to stumble into or over these things on my way to the stuff I want. Fear stood in the way of clearing out these boxed emotions. It's scary to open a box, rifle through the mess and say, "This. This right here. This is why I am sad, mad, hurt, confused, disappointed."

With the help of my counselor, I now had the courage to do the heavy lifting. To move the boxes around, examine the contents, and purge what I no longer needed. I coupled the need to declutter my head space with my desire to write more pieces that could be submitted to publications outside of the comfort zone of the 300 Rejections community. (Bless you, dear hearts.)

I mapped out a series of three essays--they can stand alone (and hopefully will soon.) Or they can tell a larger story as a collection on my blog. But they have to get rejected in the big world first.

I've been working on (and stewing over) essay two  since last fall. I kept visiting the words, but then I would get overwhelmed and walk away for a time. I can't describe the sense of relief and release to get those words out of the mental attic and onto the computer screen. With that box of stuff gone through, the attic was clearer. The decluttering gave me breathing space to tackle what felt like the hardest, scariest bit of writing I have pursued thus far. I would wake up with fully formed sentences scrolling through my mind and words on my tongue, and when the haze of sleep lifted the words would be gone. I heard the essay take form on my commutes to and from work--never when I was seated in front of my laptop. I jotted these snippets down. But they were clunky and weren't sounding like they did in my head. This made me panicky, and so I'd stay away from it for awhile longer. All the while, I was carrying these words. Feeling their weight, and the need to unload them.

Then Sunday morning as I scrubbed the shower walls and floor, I heard the essay take shape. Words came fast and clear. I finished my tasks and made my way to my computer. An hour later a 600 word first draft was on my screen. I knew there was a lot more work to be done before I could consider it ready to submit, but it wasn't haunting me anymore.

And outside my head, it also wasn't so scary. I had been true to my aims: to tell the truth, to do no harm, to help readers not feel alone. I needed a witness to this moment, so I sent it to Dan and went about the rest of the day.

The most remarkable thing came over me as the hours wore on. I felt lighter, calmer, more at peace than I had in weeks of carrying that essay's theme around. Another image came to me: poison. The stories I am telling have been poisoning me. The noxious effects have colored every area of my life for longer than I care to admit. The writing is like activated charcoal to a poison victim. It's helping me no longer absorb the harm that life has doled out.

In all of the years of journaling, where I've poured out my thoughts and emotions, I have never thought of the act of writing in this way. Now I can't stop thinking of it.

I came across two amazing quotes from authors today. Their words reinforce what I know firsthand about the healing nature of creative pursuits.

In a series of tweets, J. K. Rowling shared writing advice she needed to hear early in her career. This was the most potent piece for me:

"Even if it isn't the piece of work that finds an audience, it will teach you things you could have learned no other way." 

And from Jen Hatmaker: 

"You are not required to save the world, or anyone for that matter, with your art.
It isn't valuable only if it rescues or raises money or makes an enormous impact.
It can be simply for the love of it. That is not frivolous or selfish in the slightest. 
If the only person it saves is you, that's enough."

My writing is saving me, and it is enough.