Books: May-June 2019

Notes on the recent round-up…

100 Days to Brave: Devotions for Unlocking Your Most Courageous Self100 Days to Brave: Devotions for Unlocking Your Most Courageous Self by Annie F. Downs
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I heard about this book in December on Aarti Sequiera’s IG feed (one of my fav Food Network Stars) but couldn’t get it in time to start on Jan 1. Still, it was the right book at the right time. Simple writing and not always applicable (I’ve been married for a long time, while Downs is still hopeful she’ll meet the right guy), but still, the challenge to be brave is the same no matter what individuals face on any given day. I heard myself using brave as a verb: “I braved up today and…” and God used it to help me make a courageous decision I’d put off for too long. On to new adventures which will require even more bravery!

“…hold on until the Lord makes it really clear that you’re supposed to let go. Ask God. Ask people you trust. Ask your own heart. But while you are listening, persevere, and lean toward holding on until God and other people make it really clear that you’re supposed to go” p130.

“I hope you’ve already taken that first step because I am sure, like I’ve rarely been so sure of anything before, that your people are waiting and your God is watching with expectancy for you to see where your map is going to take you” p231.

Outer Order, Inner CalmOuter Order, Inner Calm by Gretchen Rubin
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I enjoyed The Happiness Project and thought this would be similar. Not. It’s a ton of short practical tips for decluttering, creating order, and achieving inner calm. She admits throughout that some tips will work for some people and not others since we all have different triggers and tolerance levels. For my taste, it was almost too much. Her Top Ten Tips were helpful, but I encountered most of those in her first book.

UnshelteredUnsheltered by Barbara Kingsolver
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

My favorite thing about this book is that the last few words of each chapter also serve as the title for the following chapter, a neat literary trick.

Such a smart writer, Kingsolver took on so much in this book that at times it felt tedious. The house falling down around the characters stands as metaphor for our world cracking from the havoc we’ve wreaked on it as well as our country under the dubious leadership of a Pied Piper’s false promises. Evolution requires conflict, as do ideological debates, and evolution and debate both play central roles in this book. Shocking how, in some cases, characters can hold staunchly to their false beliefs despite truth like the nose on their face, while in other cases two seemingly opposite views can be equally accurate depending on perspective.

In these last few years I have despaired for the house crumbling around us. I have felt fear and loneliness, anger and frustration for the division in our country that lies in people with whom we at least occasionally share a roof. In the end, I think Kingsolver means to leave us with hope. The walls are, indeed, crumbling. We may very well soon find ourselves unsheltered. We feel ourselves likely to die, yet we might yet discover the warmth of the sun.

“‘No creature is easily coerced to live without its shelter.’
“‘Without shelter, we stand in daylight.’
“‘Without shelter, we feel ourselves likely to die.'” (90)

“‘My mother used to say when God slams a door on you, he opens a window.’
“Tig gave this two seconds of respectful consideration before rejecting it. ‘No, that’s not the same. I’m saying when God slams a door on you it’s probably a shitstorm. You’ve going to end up in rubble. But it’s okay because without all that crap overhead, you’re standing in the daylight.’
“‘Without a roof over your head, it kind of feels like you might die.’
“‘Yeah, but you might not. For sure you won’t find your way out of the mess if you keep picking up bricks and stuffing them in your pockets. What you have to do is look for blue sky.'” (415)

“Unsheltered, I live in daylight. And like the wandering bird I rest in thee.” (453)

The EditorThe Editor by Steven Rowley
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Having loved Lily & the Octopus, I was excited to discover this on our library shelves and even more so to dive headlong into its pages. Rowley has an entertaining voice as a writer, original, creative, page-turning. In this novel, he presents us with a loving portrait of Jacqueline Onassis as an editor for a discouraged and lost first-time novelist. This is a beautiful book about self-discovery and the people who participate in shaping us to become better versions of ourselves.

“‘Saudade. It’s a word my grandmother used to say when she was missing home.’ Daniel’s grandmother was born in Brazil, and so every now and again some Portuguese pops up in conversation.
“‘What does it mean?’
“‘Oh. It doesn’t have an English translation….Not a direct translation, anyhow….It’s like a nostalgia or melancholy, but more than that. With a recognition that the something we’re longing for hasn’t happened, or isn’t returning. Or maybe never was.'” (199)

10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works by Dan Harris
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I grabbed this book for the title, having no idea that it’s the story of how Harris learned to meditate. As a Christian, I call meditation “prayer” and the practice is a little different. I stuck with the book because all truth is God’s truth and I can always learn to be more compassionate, gentler with myself and the world, and–to the title–happier.

Once Upon a RiverOnce Upon a River by Diane Setterfield
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a magical tale, set in a Thames-side pub frequented by storytellers and story-lovers who become players and tellers both in another magical tale.

“They were collectors of words the same way so many of the gravel diggers were collectors of fossils. They kept an ear constantly alert for them, the rare, the unusual, the unique.” 31

“‘I saw her myself, I did. She ran down to the boathouse quick as could be, and when she come out in her rowing boat, the little old one of hers, off she went, haring up the river…I never seen a boat move like it.’
“‘Haring up the river?’ asked a farmhand.
“‘Aye, and just a little slip of a girl too! You wouldn’t think a woman could row so fast.’
“‘But…”haring,” you say?’
“‘That’s right. Quick as a hare, it means.’
“‘I know what it means, all right. But you can’t say she was “haring up the river.”‘
“‘Whyever not?’
“‘Have you ever seen a hare rowing a boat?’
“There was a burst of laughter that bewildered the gardener and made him flustered. ‘A hare in a boat? Don’t be daft!’
“‘That’s why you can’t say “she went haring up the river.” If a hare can’t hare up a river, how can Mrs. Vaughan?'” 202-203

You Are a Badass Every Day: How to Keep Your Motivation Strong, Your Vibe High, and Your Quest for Transformation UnstoppableYou Are a Badass Every Day: How to Keep Your Motivation Strong, Your Vibe High, and Your Quest for Transformation Unstoppable by Jen Sincero
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I ❤ this book! It’s not rocket science, but it gave me little shots of enthusiasm for my own life.

“…the excellent thing about success is that it always comes down to one simple thing: the decision to keep going until you’ve reached your goal.” 2

“Contrary to popular belief, it’s not as important to know exactly what you want to do with your life as it is to know what makes you feel good.” 39

“What comes out of your mouth comes into your life, so choose your words wisely.” 76

“Procrastination is just fear in the form of brakes, and fear is not the boss of you.” 125

“The Moment of Truth or Poof: when all our no-nonsense dedication to achieving our goals and all our excitement about the brand-new life we’re creating for ourselves either stays strong or goes poof…” 151

“Overwhelm is a mindset; it’s the choice to focus on everything all at once and stress yourself out. Instead, choose to take your life moment by moment and savor it…” 167

Just the Funny Parts: ... And a Few Hard Truths About Sneaking Into the Hollywood Boys' ClubJust the Funny Parts: … And a Few Hard Truths About Sneaking Into the Hollywood Boys’ Club by Nell Scovell
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Scovell has made a consistent and interesting career in writing mostly for TV. This book was funny at times, but not as funny as I wanted it to be. She drops a lot of names because they mean something to her, and probably to others in the industry, but meant mostly nothing to me as a reader. I hung in there mainly because she occasionally drops some gems about how to hang in with the hard work of being a writer. It got better towards the end as she lives into her identity both as a woman and a writer and takes a stand on behalf of other women in male-dominated fields.

“Writing is not what you start. It’s not even what you finish. It’s what you start, finish, and put out there for the world to see. Sometimes we’re afraid to share our work because we know those twin jerks–criticism and rejection–are out there waiting to beat us up. Once the assault begins, there are three possible responses: (1) run away from the jerks; (2) defend yourself against the jerks; (3) assume the position and say, ‘Thank you, sir, may I have another.’ The third choice hurts like hell, but the jerks often have useful feedback.” 22

“It’s always better to like doing something that to be instantly good at it. If you’re successful but hate the process, you’ll stop doing it. If you suck, but the work intrigues you, you’ll keep at it and get better.” 45

“An episode, article, or book doesn’t flow out of a pen or keyboard fully formed. Each work is built concept by concept, beat by beat, word by word. It’s a process of discovery. You head down a path which leads to another and another and another until you hit a dead end. Then you backtrack to where you made a wrong turn and look for a better way through.
“When I write, I feel like an optometrist, constantly flipping between lenses and asking, “Is this better? Is this?’ Slowly, the work comes into focus.” 87

“…while work expands to fill the time, time expands to fill a mission.” 255

Advent 4 – Knowing Peace

Around the time Teen hit middle school I began encouraging him each time he walked away: “Be your best you,” meaning make good choices and do your best and stay true to yourself. You can be yourself, but it takes intentionality to be your best version of yourself.happiness-project

So maybe it shouldn’t have surprised me to discover “Be Gretchen” at the top of Gretchen Rubin‘s Twelve Commandments of Happiness. Fill in your own name and it sounds easier than the reality. I may want to sing like Idina Menzel, or paint like Monet, or innovate like Steve Jobs, but those aren’t my gifts. Sure, I can practice and develop new skills – I can hire a vocal coach, or take a painting or business class – but honestly I probably won’t because those aren’t my gifts; those desires don’t drive me. Beating myself up over a false version of myself won’t make me happy. So I Be Me and employ Commandment #2: “Let it go.”wiz

I saw this on the screen as we watched The Wiz! this weekend. The things each character wanted – a brain, a heart, courage, home – were already theirs; they just had to believe.

Rubin’s pursuit of happiness strikes me as a key to peace: “Be Me” and “Let it go” lead to both happiness and peace. If I am at peace with myself, I have much higher likelihood of being at peace with you. And peace with myself starts with peace with God.

I’m not sure I would know how to be my best me if I didn’t know what God says about me. For example:

God made me – Psalm 139:13-14 says, “You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body and knit me together in my mother’s womb. Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex!”

God loves me and saved me – John 3:16-17 says, “For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.”

I’m God’s child – John 1:12 says, “But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God.”

Jesus intends me to live a full life – John 10:10 records Jesus saying, “The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life.”

God has given me specific gifts for specific work – 1 Corinthians 12:7 says, “A spiritual gift is given to each of us so we can help each other,” and Ephesians 2:10 says, “For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.”

God will help me – Hebrews 4:16 says, “So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most.”

Hearing and believing these truths from God’s Word free me up from discouragement and free me to be my best self. I’m created by God, and God doesn’t make junk. I am loved by God, which gives my life value. I am gifted and empowered by God to do good work and live a full life.

I read this prayer this week, and it speaks straight to this point:

Dear God: Please untie the knots that are in my mind, my heart and my life. Remove the have nots, the can nots, and the do nots that I have in my mind. Erase the will nots, may nots, might nots that may find a home in my heart. Release me from the could nots, the would nots, and the should nots that obstruct my life. And most of all, Dear God, I ask that you remove from my mind, my heart and my life all of the ‘am nots’ that I have allowed to hold me back, especially the thought that I am not good enough. Amen.

Blessings on these last few days of Advent 2015!advent wreath

Week 4 – Knowing Peace
December 20-24

Read and light four candlesThe first candle represents the expectation of the One who will bring Peace. The second candle represents God’s peace in us. The third candle represents the call to make peace with one another. The fourth candle represents the Gospel of peace.

Say aloud together: Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

Read Scripture: Ephesians 2:14-18

Read: Jesus Christ is our peace. On the cross He defeated sin and death and tore down the wall separating us from God. He destroyed our interior walls which kept us from being whole and holy. He shattered the walls that separate us from one another, human distinctions that matter nothing to Him. Christ fought the battles to win peace for us. Come, let us worship the Prince of Peace!

Pray: Dear God, thank you for the good news of peace. In the name of Jesus we pray for peace, Amen.

 

Monday John 17:3 How do you enjoy eternal life here on earth?
Tuesday Acts 10:36 How has the good news of peace through Jesus Christ changed your life?
Wednesday Romans 5:1 How does peace with God affect your daily life?
Thursday 2 Corinthians 5:20 With whom does God want you to share His peace?

Purge

I believe that often books come into our lives at a time for a reason. A friend compiled a great list of books for me to read throughout our summer away. After enjoying one of the books I recommended to her, she started following the author’s blog. That author had a promo of a free kindle download of another author’s book, which my friend mentioned to me. I downloaded the book, googled the author, and found her website.

Twisty-winding its way to me, the best result of this book download discovery was the author’s website. Hannah Keeley is a motivator. I signed up for her “30-Day Purge” and after just one week I am so glad!

I don’t qualify as an Organized Woman. Now and again I stumble upon a system that works for me, at least until something throws a wrench in it (and “something” can be as simple as one of the guys dumping a load of papers on my desk – the overwhelming nature of having to sort paper creates a system wrench, not to mention the wrench it generates in my gut…). But I also know that my lack of organization drags me down. I lose things I want, I can’t find things when I need them… Being disorganized takes time when I least to have time to spare.

Hannah has divided the home into “zones” and Zone 1 is the kitchen, the focus of Week 1. Each day I received an email with instructions to declutter/clean one specific area of the kitchen and tips for how to go about it. Hannah recommends setting aside one hour each day, but it didn’t take that much time. And it was fairly easy to build the work into other work – as I extracted ingredients for dinner, I did a clean sweep of the fridge; while a pot simmered, I tackled the spice drawer. One day I thought I might not have the energy, but I caught a burst when I was prepping the coffee pot for the morning.

I didn’t do it perfectly, but I did well enough. I took baby steps. More than once I left a piece of the assignment for the next day. I haven’t yet mustered the courage to excavate the under-sink cabinet, and the cupboards will require Guy’s assistance – after all, some of the clutter is rightfully his. (The first fight we had after our wedding: where to put things in the kitchen. We each thought we had primary domain in that one small room…).

It surprised me how starting and completing one small task could give me such satisfaction. We’ve lived in this house for six years and I had a) no idea how many crumbs had accumulated in the bottom of the freezer (seriously, how do crumbs end up in the freezer?) and b) no idea how to get the freezer pan out (Guy happily helped – of course he did, I was doing the real work!). Maybe that little bit of organization isn’t revolutionary, but it did make dinner prep faster and shopping less expensive – I knew exactly what I had on hand and where to find it.

And I feel freer. I can give myself grace for disorganization in that area because I have reorganized this area; that area will have its time. One assignment at a time, I am heading in the right direction.

This afternoon Tween opened a drawer that had been the “junk” drawer of junk food, all the leftover treats from every holiday and birthday party, the stuff I won’t eat but mysteriously won’t throw out. But really, no one needs candy from last Christmas or even Easter. It’s almost Halloween, for crying out loud! Anyway, Tween was shocked but, even better, he didn’t complain that I’d thrown out the junk. I had kept a few recent treats and he happily helped himself to a not-gunky-because-it’s-so-old lollipop.

Gretchen Rubin attacked clutter as one of her January tasks when she first began The Happiness Project. She couldn’t find any research to back up the popular belief that organization boosts happiness, but just look at the success of The Container Store or Real Simple magazine: at least in the good ol’ USA, people seem to crave an uncluttered life. And it’s difficult to achieve and sustain. [I just discovered that Gretchen also has decluttering projects on her website; maybe Purge Part 2…?]

So my small attempts at organization this week have been a miracle in my mundane. And they have me thinking: what else do I need to purge from my life? Besides the clutter, what else holds me back? And what small steps can I take to tackle it?

Three times this year I’ve done a three-day food-based cleanse. The first time I was thrilled to lose five pounds. The next two times I was disappointed to only lose two. But then I realized that comparing one experience to the other was the problem. After all, I’d lost two pounds in three days – not bad! A cleanse is really a purge for your diet. The cleanse rebooted my physical system and upped my commitment to healthy eating. I don’t know that I could eat like that all the time, but it was a good discipline.

I have 21 days left of this purge experiment. I already anticipate that, like the diet cleanse, I will need to repeat the process and probably more than once. But my new commitment is to purge the clutter while I ponder the question: what holds me back?