books and dreams and packing it light.

i-mfCtQNn-X2A lot of life happens outside of books.  Since my last post, my husband graduated with his PhD in neuroscience.  We moved out of our house and into my parent’s house for a couple short weeks.  Ohio is calling our name and we are listening.  Among all the hustle and bustle of packing our house and moving, I have enjoyed reading the Rush Revere series and The Life of Fred with my kids.  Sixty Acres and a Bride (again), The Four Agreements, Here to Stay, The Rose Garden, Sandwich with a Side of Romance, Somebody Like You, A Tangle of Knots, and Once Upon a Prince have kept me company.  Sweet, lovely company.

Although I desperately miss my quiet read time, I am enjoying our crazy-move-across-the-United-States adventure.  Leaving our home and neighbors has been hard, but  it has forced me to evaluate my priorities.  So much of my time revolves around wanting to appear more “this or that” instead of embracing the life I have and the silly little quirks that make me, me.  I think it is natural to reach for perfection instead of embracing the perfection that already surrounds us.

I often forget that no amount of skill or talent will increase my personal worth because my personal worth is already there.  It is in you and it is in me and it has been since the beginning of creation.  C.S. Lewis talks about finding the God in everyone that surrounds us and Ann at Holy Experience talks about people’s tendency to “see the world in measuring sticks instead of burning bushes.”  Whether you choose to write or read or sew or bake or take fancy pictures – your worth remains the same.

As a stay-at-home mom, I struggle with this concept.  I believe that I should bake cookies more often, fit in smaller jeans, always talk kindly, and never take a minute for myself… yet, I berate myself for not being more “in the world.”  Other moms volunteer in soup kitchens, crochet hats for the hospital, and run their own private businesses.  The act of looking around at the world with my own ruler drains my energy and decreases my appreciation for the gifts I have to offer.  Oprah relates this habit of looking and comparing the accomplishments of others to the runner that spends more time looking behind then ahead.  Panic will boil in the veins when someone behind starts to get close and desperation will saturate our courage when others pass us up.  Somehow in this life of social media connections, I have to learn to start looking ahead at the things I want to accomplish in my life.  I have to find the courage to give validation to my dreams.

I’ve learned that it is hard to “pack it light” when it comes to expectations we have for ourselves and for those that surround us.  We define what we want and we expect results.  Like my over-stuffed storage unit, we hang on to harsh personal standards that really hold us back and weigh us down.  In the book Walden, Henry David Thoreau talks about the weight and responsibility of our possessions.  We buy a little knick-knack and we have to dedicate our time and resources to keep it looking dust-free and nice.  Like our knick-knacks, our harmful thoughts and definitions of what it means to be a good person weigh us down and prevent us from enjoying the amazing blessings of today.  They force us to always see our glass as half-empty instead of overflowing, bubbly, and fizzy with gratitude for the amazing life we have to live today.

Thanks to a highly-stressful move, I am beginning to see the overflowing exciting bubbles of joy in my cup of life.  I am happy, loved, and dreaming big dreams.  I have everything I need and so much more.  And for that – I am truly grateful.

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin

Image“…All I can say is we’ll figure it out, I swear.  When I read a book, I want you to be reading it at the same time.  I want to know what would [you] think about it.  I want you to be mine.  I can promise you books and conversation and all my heart.”

A.J Fikry is a bookstore owner, widow, and alcoholic.  When a baby is mysteriously left in his bookstore one evening, A.J. Fikry’s drunken and wounded heart is challenged.  The mother is found dead with her last known wish that her child be raised in a bookstore.

“It is the secret fear that we are unlovable that isolates us… but it is only because we are isolated when, you will be driving down a road.  And someday, you do not know when, he, or indeed she, will be there.  You will be loved because for the first time in your life, you will truly not be alone.  You will have chosen to not be alone.”

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin is story of “unexpected love [rescuing] you and [bringing] you back to real life, in a world that you won’t want to leave, with characters that you will come to love.”

“There is only one word that matters… we aren’t the things we collect, acquire, read.  We are, for as long as we are here, only love.  The things we loved.  The people we loved…. and these,  think these really do live on.”

Caught in the Middle by Regina Jennings

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In Regina Jennings first book,Sixty Acres and a Bride, we learn of the “crazy” Anne.  People avoid her.  She isn’t like everyone else.  When Anne is forced to kill her violent-abusive-husband, the town begins to avoid her more than ever. In Jenning’s second book, Love in the Balance, Anne is all alone.

Throughout the first two books, Anne’s tough (and different) exterior keep people at arms length.  When an abandoned child falls into Anne’s lap, everything begins to change and Anne becomes Caught in the Middle.  Does she have the courage to open up and love the world for the sake of the child?  Can she learn to trust again?  What about her broken and bruised heart?

Anne’s bravery and willingness to overcome her fears inspires me.  How many people surrounding me are internally hurting like Anne?  The people that surround Anne, patiently helping her learn to love again, inspire me.  And what of the romance?  Super cute.

I walked away from Caught in the Middle with a deeper understanding of what it means to love unconditionally.  People, fictional and real, are starving for love.   Everyone is lonely. Together, we can learn to put aside the judgement in honor of love… just like Anne.

The Owl, the Grasshopper, and You…

We have been studying the story of the Owl and the Grasshopper by Aesop this week during our language arts lessons.

In the story, a grasshopper is busily making music in the middle of the day next to the home of a sleeping owl.  The owl, upon awakening, asks the grasshopper to leave.  It is day time and owls sleep during the day.

The grasshopper claims that he has rights to play and ignores the owl’s request.

The owl is a sneaky little fellow.  When the grasshopper begins to play his music, he interrupts the grasshopper with a tale about his special wine sent to him from the gods above.  Rumor has it that Apollo himself drinks the same wine.  Would the grasshopper like to share a drink?  The grasshopper quickly agrees and excitedly jumps to the home of the owl.

When – wack!  The owl pounces upon the grasshopper and eats him right up.

The moral of this story is:  Do not let flattery throw you off your guard against an enemy.

I would like to take it one step further.

Sometimes people have the tendency to look around for outside validation to support who they are and what they should be doing in their lives.  They spend their time strapped to a treadmill, counting calories, and obsessively updating their social media statuses in an attempt to win the flattery of others.  While flattery is nice to receive, it should not dictate lives.

Running around in search of kind words and the “wine of Apollo” is not a happy life to live.  Fragile, insecure, flattery-addicted-hearts are easy to “wack down” with unkind words – intentional or not.  And instead of living a life with purpose, the person looking for flattery will spend their entire life chasing around those compliments instead of fulfilling their life mission and dreams.

In the end, the desire to receive kind words gobbles up a person’s soul.  Dreams should never be sacrificed for a “wine” that doesn’t exist. Do not let flattery throw you off your guard and away from your life dreams.

Calling Me Home by Julie Kibler

nateandangieoriginalMy husband and I just celebrated our 10-year anniversary on December 30th.  We carted the older boys off to grammie’s house and kept the five-month-old with us.

We visited the outlet mall in search for a suede jacket.  My husband, Nate, is graduating with his PhD this fall and it is a well known fact that PhD’s need suede jackets.  Plus, ten-year anniversaries are exciting.  Suede jacket exciting.

We went to dinner, ate while passing the baby-that-hates-the-car-seat back and forth and picked up a movie from Red Box.  We are so exciting.

We had plans to watch a movie while I nursed the baby, play a game or two, and cuddle in bed. Such activities are a commodity when you have four kids running around.

We popped Lone Ranger in the DVD player and sat back to relax when the phone rang.  Ignoring it, we turned the volume up.

It rang again.

It turned out that our seven-year old had the stomach bug.  He was pale and ready to lose everything he had consumed since the beginning of time.

We kissed for a minute and then hurried out the door to pick up our son.  Our kid puked on the highway and wanted to puke again when he got home.

We tucked all four kids in bed – with pots and buckets near by just in case – and climbed in bed together.  Exhausted.  Cuddle time happened, but it was interrupted on regular intervals.  It reminded me of that Phil Vasser song: Just Another Day in Paradise.

Even though our day was interrupted and not what we planned it to be, it was wonderful.  Perfect because I spent the day with my best friend.  The last ten years of marriage have been a dream come true and I am so happy that he chose me.

indexBut not everyone gets their happy endings.  I’ve mentioned before that my favorite kind of books are the books that make me appreciate my life for what it is right now.  Julie Kibler’s latest novel Calling Me Home, did just that.  Based on a true story, the book takes place in the early 1900’s in Kentucky.  The fight for love is real when Isabelle falls in love with a black man.  Fighting against heaven and earth, the two of them try to find a place where they can simply love each other in a world that calls it illegal.  The ending is both happy and sad but extremely powerful.  The line we draw in the sand separating us from those we believe to be different is so hurtful and wrong.  In the end, all that matters is love.  Destroying those imaginary lines is worth any obstacles we might encounter.

Throughout history, happiness has been sacrificed for power and control – over and over again.  I think it is important to acknowledge that power and control never breed happiness.  The two of them together create an internal hunger that can never be satisfied.  The addiction grows until one day we abandon those we love for a hunger that never goes away.

The book left me with a renewed gratitude for the life and love I have every day and a desire to love the world a little more.  I am grateful for the ten-years I have had to love my husband and family comfortably and I dream of a world where everyone else can do the same.

Longbourn by Jo Baker

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The Masterpiece Classic series of Downton Abbey just launched their fourth season.

Yeah!

Mathew is dead and Mary is depressed.  My two favorite characters are gone.  I am 20 minutes into the season premier and I am so sad.  I want to sit down next to Mary and cry my eyes out while simultaneously shaking her back to life.  Maybe it is expecting too much of her character to be happy, but couldn’t she find the strength to love her child?  Instead she sends him off with a nanny all day and refers to him as an “orphan.”

Meanwhile, the staff is still engaged to make their “masters” happy.  Sometimes it reminds me of the joke: how many people does it take to screw in a light bulb, only how many people does it take to make the entire Crawley family happy?

indexThe book Longbourn by Jo Baker is the story of the maids and butlers in the Bennett household.  The Bennett household, from Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, thrives upon the maids and butlers that keep things running smoothly behind the scenes.  Similar to the responsibilities of the maids in Downton Abbey, Sarah is responsible for cleaning the house, scrubbing mud from petticoats, and preparing the meals.  While Elizabeth and Jane and Lydia  are busily stitching together their “happily ever after,” Sarah is tired of living a life of servitude.  Orphaned and cared for by the “head-maid” at Longbourn, Sarah is desperately unhappy and starving for love.

A strange young man appears to serve as the footman for the Bennett family and Sarah’s world is turned upside down. The book is everything Downton Abbey with a little heartache and a lot of love nestled in between.  Sarah’s love life reminds me a little of the separation between Anna and Mr. Bates in season 3.

This book was everything I thought it would be and so much more.  I am now left with one major decision: do I re-read Longbourn or launch myself into Season 4 of Downton Abbey?

Lassoed in Texas by Mary Connealy

9781620294628_p0_v1_s260x420Cafe Rio and Mary Connealy are two of my favorite nouns.

Cafe Rio – as you may know – creates amazing taco salads. I would do just about anything for their grub.

Mary Connealy is an amazing author. I had the opportunity to read the first two books of her Lassoed in Texas series – Petticoat Ranch and Calico Canyon – over the holidays. Squeal. These books have permanently plastered a smile on my face.

The parenting/child relationships in these two books are incredible. Petticoat Ranch welcomes a step-father into an all-girl-household while Calico Canyon introduces an uptight school marm into an all-boy-household. Holy crap it was fun. Mary did a fabulous job at detailing what it is like to raise boys. I found myself wanting to shout “hallelujah!” because someone out there understands what my life is like. I found myself sticking post-it notes to all the “good parts” so that I could share them with my husband. A lot of post-it notes were used in the process and date night (thanks to these books) was *amazing*! We both have a deep appreciation for Adam’s number one rule.

I love a good clean romance that increases my gratitude for my husband and my family and these books fit the bill. The romance is sweet and clean and inspirational. And Texas fiction – I love you.

Santa made a surprise visit tonight when I discovered the Lassoed in Texas Trilogy on my kindle for $2.99! And if life couldn’t get any better than that, I learned that salad dressing at Cafe Rio can be purchased by the pint. The pint! Heaven has arrived.

With the Lassoed in Texas Trilogy on my kindle and an entire PINT of dressing in my refrigerator – my weekend is calling.