books


Just thought I’d stop by with some updates! Not much is going on now and my mind feels sleepy and quiet, so I haven’t had too much to say. Maybe it’s just this season of life, but I’m having a hard time following a train of thought to its conclusion these days. I wish I were writing more; I feel stuck and blocked whenever I sit down with a pen or at the computer, so I haven’t been doing it as much as I really should. Perhaps by committing more here I can get the practice I need, and practice makes progress.

So anyway: last month Will and I put the garden in. Here’s what it looked like when we started:

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Here’s what it looks like now:

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I’d say that’s a pretty significant difference! The green beans are actually re-planted because Buddy ate them to stumps a few weeks ago, but even planting them ten days after everything else they’re still huge. We had some wild temperature swings over the last two weeks, and they suffered a bit from that, but I pinched off the struggling leaves and they seem to be recovering.

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I have two tomato plants that are outgrowing their cages (not sure what to do for them next …). I pruned the bigger one and both of them have several small green tomatoes.

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I can taste the salsa already.

My lettuce is out of control and I’m not eating enough salads.

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I have really enjoyed caring for my little container plants this year and hopefully next year I can plant in the ground. In the meantime I need to construct fence or something to protect the veggies from Buddy so he can go out onto the deck again.

In other news, I did something either crazy or courageous and took both kids on a road trip by myself last week.

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We headed up to Pennsylvania to see Steve’s family while Steve got some work done on the house. It took us seven hours to get there (with four stops), but it went incredibly well. Both kids did great and we didn’t run into any problems. I wasn’t anxious about the trip at all; I didn’t worry about things going wrong and I decided to keep my expectations measured so I wasn’t trying to hold us all to a standard of perfection.

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(when we stopped for lunch)

While we were in PA we spent lots and lots of time with family which was wonderful. I’m so thankful to have such nice in-laws! I was able to get out to the King of Prussia Mall with my sister-in-law to do some shopping (Sephora, the Gap, Loft [I didn’t venture into Hermes or Cartier — this time]), and later in the week we spent some time at an arboretum.

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(with my babies in a replica of Thoreau’s cabin)

All in all it was a wonderful, restful week. My sainted MIL made the trip back home with me and spent the weekend with us, too, which was an added bonus! She went home yesterday so we’re back to life as usual.

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The last thing I want to write about tonight is Marie Kondo. I love her. She’s totally nutty but I totally love her. I mentioned in my last post that I had KonMari’d our drawers. I still love it. I did my closet a few months ago and it’s still (still!) clutter-free, which might actually be a record for me.

I haven’t finished the book yet, but I’m already seeing widespread changes. I went from decluttering in my dresser and changing up my storage to decluttering the surface of my dresser, to keeping my dining room table clear, to keeping the top of my dryer clear (all these being places where odds and ends tend to collect and then languish indefinitely). I am not through yet but I’m holding myself to a higher standard. Will and I have been picking up the toys at the end of the day instead of leaving them on the floor. I bought a Mrs. Meyers basil-scented spray and it smelled so good that I felt even more motivated to make the house look as good as it smelled. I don’t know what it is — maybe it’s just the act of reading the book — but it’s been a refreshing change and not one I want to give up. I’ve talked and talked and talked about clutter here before, and probably have more to say on the subject, but suffice it to say: the book is pretty out there, but I am so glad I’m reading it.

Anyway: I’m going to have some ice cream and finish reading. More on this later.

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Sometimes I have to stop and remind myself that I spent about 70% of my time in middle and high school writing novels. I tend to have to do this when I’m going through a period where I feel like I have little in common with the people around me, which happens from time to time. My early- to mid-20s were one such period, and I remember feeling more than anything like an alien who had been stranded on planet Earth only to have to try and make her way back home.

I’m saying all this not to expound upon what a unique and special snowflake I am, but to give you some background to understand my reaction to this line from Quiet, which I read last month:

I look back on my years as a Wall Street lawyer as time spent in a foreign country. It was absorbing, it was exciting, and I got to meet a lot of interesting people whom I never would have known otherwise. But I was always an expatriate.

I had to stop reading for a minute when I finished that line, and just look up and blink. I had never seen or heard it (“it” being this feeling that has followed me my entire life) phrased this way, but reading those sentences made me realize that back in the early 2000s, I didn’t know it, but I wasn’t the only alien stranded here on earth. I wasn’t the only expatriate.

The above paragraph gets to the heart of the matter, but really, reading Quiet was deeply gratifying. Not only did it show me that many of the things about myself that I have always thought (or were told) were character flaws aren’t, but it just made me sit and think about some other things that I’ve taken for granted. Like what I want out of a career (if I even want a traditional “career”). What that says about me. What makes me happy, and what merely feels like an obligation.

Much of my career was spent in the social work field, which I found satisfying and interesting, and for a long time I was bound and determined to resume that once my kids were old enough. But these last several months have me rethinking everything, including my dedication to my old career. Did I pursue social work because I felt a true personal passion for it, or because I felt a moral obligation to help other people? Why do I view helping through such a narrow lens? Why do I feel like being a stay-at-home mom is selfish sometimes? Why do I believe that taking my own nature into account when I’m making decisions is akin to cheating? Why do I think that spending my time writing, and finally challenging myself to write a good novel, isn’t a good enough use of my time?

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I don’t have any pictures uploaded of myself as a 13-year-old novelist, so this idyllic scene will have to suffice. You can’t see the cat that’s just out of the frame.

I should say that I’m closer to letting those things go than I ever have been, and reading books like Quiet and March have helped a lot. I didn’t realize how much I reflexively resist my nature or deny it, but I suspect that goes a long way toward explaining a lot of things: my mental struggles with not working; my lack of writing; even that feeling Cain describes above in relation to work, feeling like almost every job I’ve ever had was like being in a foreign country. Truthfully I think a lot of my struggles with being a stay-at-home mom arose from a sense of guilt or a reluctance to allow myself to enjoy it.

Does this all sound painfully neurotic, and certainly too neurotic for one’s mid-30s? (You should have been around in 2003 …) I just feel like my compass is finally facing the right direction. I am finally taking the steps that will lead me home. I don’t have to be an expatriate forever after all.

I’ve been reading up on Waldorf philosophy this winter. I started with Simplicity Parenting back in December, and I thought it was excellent. I’m not someone who reads a lot of parenting books, and I actually didn’t realize this was a Waldorf book when I picked it up, but it resonated with me and got me thinking a lot about our home life, the culture we’re creating, and the childhood we want to provide for our children. This is another book I’d like a paper copy of — I read it on my kindle originally and wanted to underline the entire thing.

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Anyway, after Simplicity Parenting I eventually moved on to You Are Your Child’s First Teacher, which I finished recently. Now, one of the reasons I loved this book was because it is, in a word, kind of wacky. There’s lots of straightforward talk about things like life force and vital energy. I appreciate a lot of spirituality in my yoga practice (the more out-there, the better, honestly) but this was a bit much even for me. I found it endearing. But at any rate, it too prompted some reflections on our home life.

Rhythm is big in Waldorf, and I’m drawn to the concept. It’s looser than a routine, but it provides structure to the days and weeks. There are natural rhythms to everyone’s days (morning, noon, and night), rhythms to our weeks, rhythm in the natural world and in our seasons. You might say that in our family, our weekly rhythm is three mornings out of the home (preschool and Bible study) punctuated by two quiet days at home. But you might also say that our daily rhythm is a bit more chaotic, and that is where I’m focusing my attentions right now.

It’s actually kind of a challenge for me to create — and stick to — a daily rhythm, but our days flow so much better when we’re in a groove. When we sit down for breakfast and lunch instead of grazing all morning. When we set limits on how much time we can spend watching Curious George. For me, when I do the breakfast dishes as soon as I can, when I fold the laundry the same day I wash it, when I set aside an hour or two each evening to work. Creating habits around these things helps to automate doing them, meaning I don’t have to think about them as much and try to find the time to cram them in while I’m trying to do something else. And most importantly, rhythm is so helpful for Will.

According to Rudolf Steiner (the creator of the Waldorf movement) rhythm takes some of the pressure off for kids. When they know what to expect each day, it frees them up to engage in creative play and focus on their own learning and development. That makes sense to me because it makes sense for me. Truthfully, living in and sticking to a routine doesn’t really come naturally to me, but one thing I’ve learned since becoming a mom is that just because it doesn’t come naturally to me, that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t do it. So I am trying.

Rhythm isn’t going to magically happen without my involvement, it turns out, and right now while it’s not ingrained I need to be constantly aware of it. It feels a bit like deep cleaning, where the process is hard but oddly satisfying, and the end result is absolutely worth it.

Linking up with Leigh Kramer!

Now that I’m back to blogging again, I thought I’d take some time each month to share and reflect on what we’re up to. It’s easy for me to look back on the last few weeks totally unable to remember any details. But my life is made up of details, so I don’t want to forget them.

Books:

To Kill a Mockingbird (Harper Lee): Perfect, of course, and I wish I’d reread it sooner.

The Year of Magical Thinking (Joan Didion): It was interesting. I’d never read anything by Didion before and her take on the grief experience was painfully honest. It wasn’t uplifting, which I actually kind of appreciate, because suffering so often seems (and is) utterly pointless. I appreciated that. I think I prefer Lewis’s A Grief Observed, but I haven’t read it in several years.

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler (E.L. Konigsberg): A childhood favorite that I hadn’t picked up since childhood. I read it in a night and it was so fun. What does it say about me that I really love Claudia as a protagonist? I wouldn’t want to be her mom, but I love imagining her as an adult.

Quiet (Susan Cain): I want to talk more about this book in a separate post, but the long and short of it is that this book was deeply gratifying to read. Everyone should read it, especially managers and teachers. I bought the kindle copy but I may actually shell out for the paperback for future reference.

Bits and pieces from Teach Your Own (John Holt), You Are Your Child’s First Teacher (Rahima Baldwin Dancy), and The Well-Trained Mind by Susan Wise Bauer and Jessie Wise, none of which I want to return to the library. We’re thinking about homeschooling when our kids are old enough, and I have been reading everything about it I can get my hands on since December.

Coming up in March: GileadLizzy and Jane (I’ve started it — I got it for $.99 on a Kindle sale; it’s OK), and Jane Eyre (!!!!) among others. My friend Maggie and I are reading our way through the Brontes this year and I can’t wait.

On my mind

I’ve been thinking a lot (a lot) about writing, and working on incorporating it back into my daily life. It feels so good, like slipping into a favorite outfit — the one that makes you feel like you. This makes me feel like me again.

I wrote out my testimony this month. I was supposed to read it today at MOPS, but it was cancelled because of snow. I’m hoping I will still have an opportunity to share it, but at any rate I think I’ll post it here as well when I’ve edited it to my liking. I’m happy with it.

I’ve also been working on simplifying decision-making through the way I meal plan (I hold to certain parameters every week), how I dress, and what we do with our days. Reading up on Waldorf philosophy has also impressed on me the importance of rhythm in our days, so having that in mind has been helpful too. Spending my days with an almost-three-year-old who doesn’t nap is tiring, and anything I can do to simplify helps me preserve much-needed energy. And mental energy is every bit as important as physical energy these days.

Other stuff

We’ve spent a lot of winter afternoons with all the couch cushions on the floor, coming up with creative ways for Will to jump around and be active. This winter has been really good and this afternoon routine is a big reason why. Our life is so wonderfully simple right now.

We had two snowstorms last week after an entire winter without a single flake! Will had to miss preschool, but other than that we had a lovely time at home. We had family visiting, too, which made for a full house and lots of much-loved company.

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Listening to Story Pirates 

I have also been really loving the winter light in our house. I was a little apprehensive moving away from a house that was flooded with sunshine every afternoon into a midcentury ranch on a wooded lot, but happily I adore the light here. Natural light is essential, and good light cheers me up and makes me happy every morning. (File under: the little things.)

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Anna continues to be the perfect baby. She’s a dream.

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Five months old on Monday. This seems impossible.

I’ve also really been enjoying season 5 of Downton Abbey, and as usual end every episode embittered to have been born into a time when people don’t dress for dinner in fabulous, glittering dresses. I’ve been watching it while knitting and eating chocolate, and I can’t really think of a better way to spend a winter evening.

Onward to March! One more week until daylight savings, and three more weeks until spring.

I rarely buy books. I am a big fan of our public library, and I hate to think of the clutter I’d leave behind if I owned every book I wanted to read. I make an exception for kindle books (for all I love about our library, its Overdrive e-book selection is pitiful) but for the most part almost all of my reading selections are in our home only temporarily. (Even Anna Karenina, which took me months to read last year. I think I renewed it four or five times.)

We moved last year and our new house has a huge living room. It’s big enough to divide it into two separate areas, and in one area I’d like to put in some built-in shelving for storage and books. Despite several thorough purges of our collections Steve and I have a ton of books, and they’re still all in storage up in my dad’s basement. Once we get them back, I can’t wait to organize them. But I’ve been thinking — we may have a lot of books, but our collection is still lacking.

One thing that matters a lot to me as a parent is to instill a love of reading in my children. I want to make sure they grow up surrounded not just by books, but by good books. I am creating a list of books I want to own in our family library, both for us and for them. I have actual paper books in my Amazon shopping cart right now. Here are some of the ones I’m thinking of first:

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Gilead by Marilynne Robinson. We’re reading this for our book club next and I’m so looking forward to rereading it. I honestly think Gilead is the best book I’ve ever read. I found it so overwhelming, in fact, that I still haven’t read Home or Lila, both of which (along with Housekeeping) are also on my to-own list. I will never write as well as Robinson, but I’ll accept that gladly just to bask in the beauty of her prose.

More classics:

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Speaking of my book club, I just read this for the first time in 20 years. (I checked it out of the library right before the news of Lee’s next book hit!) It was wonderful. I wish I hadn’t waited since high school to read it again. Along with Mockingbird, I’m planning to add several high school reading list classics: Catcher in the Rye, The Bell Jar, some Dickens, Shakespeare, Virginia Woolf. Of course, the fun part in choosing which books to include is rereading them all!

As far as poetry and nonfiction goes, I am still thinking. I love Mary Oliver*, and I don’t want to forget my college women’s studies days reading Audre Lorde and Adrienne Rich, nor my Academy days with Langston Hughes, Gertrude Stein, and (especially) William Carlos Williams.

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(I love this book.)

I don’t own enough bookshelves yet, sadly, so it’s not time to start building my collection just yet. So until we can get to Ikea, my Amazon wish list will just get longer and longer.

What am I missing? (And to think I haven’t even thought about children’s classics! I need to teach the babies to read first. I’ll give that a few years still.)

*As I was adding Oliver to my wish list, I noticed Amazon has a “poetry by women” category. I’m pretty confident they don’t also have a “poetry by men” category. Just, you know, an observation.

1. Duplos.

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(Bonus: he’s learned how to smile for the camera. I LOVE IT.)

Will has finally reached the age where he can really play with duplos, and I love it. I was never a lego girl growing up, but I played with duplos for years. One of the really fun things about being the mom of an almost-preschooler is the play! I am not so much a get-on-the-floor-and-play kind of mom, but I am really enjoying Will’s imagination these days. Duplos especially. There’s something very soothing about stacking duplos and often when I’m putting them away at the end of the day I have to stop myself from building more duplo houses, towers, robots, and dumbbells.

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(You know, as one does.)

2. The above picture is indicative of another thing I’m totally into: getting up early. (Or, to be more honest, attempting to.) For a long time now I’ve been in the habit of sleeping until Will gets up, but I really prefer to be up, dressed, and somewhat caffeinated before jumping into the fray. This morning I put Anna back to bed in her own room after her 5:30 feeding so I could get some writing done before Will woke up. I didn’t get to much, but it’s a start. I am trying to make this a permanent habit.

3. Story Pirates. I just learned about Story Pirates and Will is hooked. This is a group that takes stories written by children and acts them out. My niece, Adeline, had one of her stories performed a few years ago. They have a podcast where they perform radio plays, and we’ve had it on for the last few days instead of music. It’s really fun to listen to and, although Will is not even three, I feel like it’s never too young to encourage writing and imagination in a young child.

4. This book I’m reading:

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I think I will write more about this book when I’m done with it, but so far it’s been … validating. I have always (always, always) felt a bit like a square peg in a world of round holes, but reading this book has helped me to feel like that’s not a character flaw.

In other news, the weather is like this outside:

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This is as cold as I can remember it being in 10 years of Virginia winters. Yikes.

Ever since I had Anna (more on her to come) I have had a lot more time to read than I anticipated thanks to the kindle app on my phone; I read while I feed her. So since she joined us, I’ve blasted through about ten books. (She’s 3 months old.) One of these books was recommended by my sister — March by Geraldine Brooks. It’s a book that tells the story of the father in Little Women. In the book, he serves as a chaplain during the Civil War. I won’t give too much away about it, because you should read it too, but I arrived at book club ready to talk about what I didn’t like about the book. And there were a few things — I didn’t really love the book when I had finished it. But in talking about it, layers of meaning began to be revealed and I realized this was a powerful book with an unusual message.

March talks obliquely about vocation, and the reader is left wondering whether the decisions and choices March made were the right or best ones. Consequently, the book made me think in a new way about my own vocation — motherhood — which is one that has honestly been hard at times for me to accept. I have always liked being a mom, and deep down I have always enjoyed staying home and being a full time homemaker, but I’ll admit I fell prey to “just a mom” syndrome and felt embarrassed that I wasn’t “doing more” with myself, that I was just wasting years at home with small children while I waited for my real life to resume. Reading this book forced me to look at my vocation more honestly and directly, and to be able to see it with the true value that it has. (Note: it has intrinsic value both for what it is, and also because God has called me to it.)

It’s no secret, since I wrote about it several times when Will was a baby, that I struggled a lot with letting go of my career. I spent a long, long time clinging to this idea that I absolutely had to resume my career by a certain deadline, come hell or high water, because if I didn’t — then what? What if I just let go and stopped trying to plan out the future? What if I just … trusted? The idea terrified me, frankly, because I was afraid that if I didn’t I would miss the boat. What boat that was, I don’t know, but I have always hated the feeling of being untethered and that is what I felt in my first few years of motherhood. I felt untethered.

But I’m learning to let that go. Just before I read March I attended a forum at my church on women and vocation. One piece of advice the speaker offered? “Do what’s in front of you.” This was given in response to the question of discerning God’s will for your life. Start by looking at what’s in front of you. And right now, God has placed me here in my home. I realized that my stubborn determination to plan out my future career wasn’t leaving room for anything else. It certainly wasn’t leaving room for God, and I definitely wasn’t following my calling. (I do believe that I am called right now to be a SAHM [though I really hate that title].)

I will talk more about this later, I’m sure, but I did a lot of thinking last month after attending the forum and reading this book. It was a humbling few weeks as I considered how much I was struggling needlessly against the path God had placed me on, but it was also so liberating. Forgive the cliche, but I felt like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders, and the worry and anxiety I had been carrying around for so long began to dissipate at last.

So thanks, Geraldine Brooks, for giving me the opportunity to think honestly about my vocation and to finally (finally) stop feeling like it’s not good enough. Because of that, I can finally (finally) stop living in fear of the future.