What Are You Reading This Summer?

Even though we still have a month until the summer equinox, we are in summertime mode around here. School is out, the pool is open, Memorial Day barbecues have IMG_4503happened. I have a stack of library books I’m working through (and have put all my holds on suspension until I get through these!) I was reviewing my recently read books and noticed I had a streak of three 5-star books in a row!

I thought I’d commemorate that with a post about my favorite 5-star books of 2017 (so far). Maybe they’ll inspire your summer reading list.

To the Bright Edge of the World by Eowyn Ivey
This novel about the first expedition to Alaska’s interior captured my imagination. Ivey uses a variety of styles, between letters, emails, journals, and museum documentation. She creates a world around Alan and Sophie’s separation in the late-1800’s and then jumps to the present. Sometimes this format can feel cumbersome or forced, but Ivey seamlessly weaves the plot lines together, creating a rich idea of what could have happened on those early expeditions.

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
This stunning debut novel and winner of the PEN/Hemingway Award deserves all of the accolades! The story follows two sisters and seven generations. One one branch, we follow Effia who marries an Englishman and stays in Ghana. The other branch follows Esi, who is captured and sold into slavery in America. Each chapter is the next generation’s tale. The writing is captivating and this is a powerful book about the deep roots of racism. It’s an important read and can bring to light systemic issues in ways that can only be done in powerful fiction.

Trigger Warning by Neil Gaiman
I love short stories and I love Neil Gaiman’s writing, so I had a feeling this would be a winner. If you like magical realism or slightly disturbing fiction, this is a fantastic collection. There are some familiar characters – one story is a tale of Sherlock & Mycroft Holmes; one is a Doctor Who episode; one follows Shadow from American Gods. Others where previously published and a couple are written for this collection. They all caught my imagination and drew me in to fantastic landscapes, which I love.

Girls and Sex by Peggy Orenstein 
This is the only nonfiction book to make my list (which is unusual for me!) and one that I am recommending to EVERYONE. If you’re a parent of girls, this is a definite must-read. But if you’re a teacher or a youth leader or you want to raise responsible boys, this is an important book. Orenstein’s dissemination of research is relatable and well gathered. This book has made me completely rethink how we’ll have these conversations with our girls and has reset my expectations for what life as a teenager looks like. It’s a lot to take in and I’m glad I read this before we enter this stage.

Currently Reading: On my nightstand right now are The Turquoise TableA Man Called Ove, Jayber Crow, and The Novel of the Century. I’m liking them all so far – maybe my streak will exceed three in a row?

What are some five-star books that you’ve read recently? What are your summer reads?

Yes to Lazy Summer Days

This weekend I had my semi-regular meltdown about the state of our playroom. I pulled out a garbage can and started throwing in all of the broken goody-bag toys, the loose papers, the pens without caps, and the stepped-on plastic Easter eggs. I threatened taking away all presents for every birthday and Christmas forevermore since we clearly don’t need any more junk in our home!!!

IMG_4633It was at this point Frank decided to pack up the girls and head to Lowe’s to buy a couple replacement basil plants after our unexpected snowstorm. Once they were gone, I turned on my mid-30’s white-mom Pandora station and started really cleaning. Without the girls, tackling the playroom doesn’t take all that long and I soon had the toys put away and under control.

I even stopped cleaning with enough time to begin my new book and eat lunch all by myself in the quiet. When my family returned and Elle was down for her nap, Frank went outside to clean up the garden while Bea and I tackled the puzzle box. We put together all the puzzles and threw away the ones with missing pieces.

Time sitting together on the floor, project in front of us, chatting together. Bea’s love language may be physical touch (and at least one foot was touching me knee the entire time) but mine is quality time and this filled my “love tank” with my little girl.

This is the last week of school. Preschool graduation is on Thursday and then Bea can officially call herself a kindergartener, something she has been longing to do since January. Our June is pretty quiet. Maybe some camping trips. Frank’s parents may come for a visit. The pool opens. But really, I’m trying to keep our time open.

I know that summer days can be especially long and that we won’t want a loose schedule for too long. I also know that we’ll get into a rhythm because we always do. But for now, I’m looking forward to not rushing, to not nagging to get out the door, and to remembering that while the days are long (sooooo long sometimes!) the years are flying by and I want to savor these summertime moments.

I’ve seen families create summer fun lists – things to check off before school starts. These sorts of lists stress me out. I lose sight of the fun and only think of the list. Maybe when the girls are older and need more things to fill the time, this will make sense. For now, I want to just say yes as much as possible. Yes to swimming and movies. Yes to backyard camping. Yes to taking the light rail to get ice cream downtown. Yes to bike riding and parks. All of those things or none of them, we’ll see.

I have fond memories of unstructured summer months. July holds a couple of formal activities but overall, I want to establish those bored lazy days with the girls now. I know that there will be long days when I long for school to begin. But now I’m looking optimistically ahead, hoping that my quality time tank will be full before Bea starts a new journey to full time school.

What are your fondest memories of summer? Do you like structure or open schedules? And, how do you keep the playroom clutter under control?!

Labels that Can’t Be Taken Away

We recently toured Bea’s new school for next year. Outside a kindergarten classroom, a sign read, We are authors. We are artists. We are learners. We are kind. We are mathematicians  We are helpful. We are friends.

danbo-2105835_960_720I just wrote about claiming labels and how some labels are so hard to claim. For me, those big labels that call up people who have worked far harder than I have for them: writer, historian, activist.

I just finished reading Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl. The first part of the book is a memoir of his years in several Nazi Concentration Camps, including Auschwitz. Frankl describes an initial experience of reaching the camp, when every possession is stripped from the prisoners. For him, his most important physical item was his early manuscript on his study of logotherapy.

What Frankl learns is that those who survived found labels that cannon be taken away. They found something beyond their present circumstances to cling to. His hope of seeing his wife and unborn child again as well as the hope of rewriting his research kept him alive.

This has made me reflect on those labels that I have so much trouble with. Perhaps I need to focus on labels that hold far more truth, that can’t be taken away. Even the precious label of mom could be taken, but what is deeper than that?

Friend, loyal, loved, loving, connector. These are all labels that go far beyond anything that can be taken from me.

Our last MOPS meeting was yesterday and before it started our leader gave us a heart with beloved written on it. She had us put it over our name tags as a reminder that above all, we are beloved.

That’s a truthful label that cannot be taken.

What are some true labels you need to remember? How do you separate those labels that can be taken from those that are far deeper?

Linked with Kate Motaung’s Five Minute Friday, a time to write without editing. Today’s prompt is “truth.”

The Power of Claiming a Label

When I was teaching, every year Mrs. Nichols would visit our school. We would gather on the uncomfortable pull-out bleachers in the gym and try to keep our students from I like myself!I like myself!I like myself!fidgeting too much. Mrs. Nichols was an energetic woman and would throw candy to kids who were sitting still and listening. Her job was to get the students excited about our yearly fundraiser of selling cheap wrapping paper in order to fill in funding gaps. (Lesson? Always vote to increase school funding.)

Before she would start the real assembly, Mrs. Nichols would have us all stand up, do a little dance, and repeat, I like myself! I like myself! I like myself!

This little dance and mantra made me highly uncomfortable. At 8-years-old, most of my students did like themselves. Why would they need this cheesy reminder? It wasn’t until I was complaining about Mrs. Nichols to Frank that I learned this was a common motivational speaking trick. The whole fake it till you make it or name it and claim it mentality.

As teachers, we practiced this in the classroom. When I started teaching, the trend was to call our students writers and artists and mathematicians and historians whenever we were teaching that particular subject. Sometimes it felt natural. When we were in the midst of writer’s workshop and working toward publishing our stories or an anthology of poetry, I found myself calling my students authors and poets.

Other times it felt completely fake. I had trouble calling my kids mathematicians as they struggled to remember the difference between quarter-past the hour and a quarter of a dollar. Learners sounded more natural at that point than mathematician.

The other day, Bea told me that she was going to be a leader during the day and an artist in the evening. I asked her what she would do as a leader and she responded, Oh, you know. Leadership things.

Maybe naming it and claiming it with kids feels unnatural because they already do it so well. My students set the bar high. If their dreams become reality, I’ll have taught future Broncos quarterbacks, millionaires, and movie stars. And maybe those dreams will come true. But most likely not, which is totally fine.

I struggle with claiming my dreams. I still flounder when talking about writing or the places I volunteer. I second guess my dreams and interests and label them as hobbies or just something I do during nap time.

There’s power in labels, certainly. We just celebrated Mother’s Day and I know for a lot of women, this is a label filled with conflicting emotions. In these intense years, it’s a label I feel like I have earned and one that is continually defining me. It’s a label that I’m learning means so much more than simply giving birth to two girls.

I’m learning to balance labeling things I know to be true, things I hope to be true, and the reality of what is true. I’m learning that, when I am confident with certain labels about myself, I am modeling confidence for my girls.

So, as Bea strives to be a leader, I’m encouraging her leadership skills now by calling her a leader. I don’t use the label flippantly, but I am on the lookout for those times when she is exhibiting those powerful skills. And I’m learning that the more I name her talents, the more confident she is in claiming them.

What are your views on naming and claiming labels? What are some labels that come naturally for you? Are there others you’re wishing to claim more confidently?

Parenting Without Immediate Results

The other day I felt like the Best Mom. I put aside my to-do list and focused completely on Bea. During quiet rest (which is just as much for me as for her) we read books, played an imaginative game, drank hot cocoa with her tea set, and wrote a book. It was a sweet three hours, just the two of us.

IMG_1708When Elle woke up from her nap, a switch flipped. I had assumed that all this quality time would carry over to the rest of the evening but something happened and suddenly Bea became a wild thing.

My first thought was, Well that was a waste of time! I could have just worked on my to do list and gotten the same results.

Of course, parenting isn’t a results-based practice. We can do all the “right things” and still not get the immediate results we’re hoping for. Sometimes this extremely long-term vision is tiring. I want to know right now that my kids will turn out ok; that my attempts at patience and empathy will pay off.

The immediate results that I am seeing are that I always have a little bit more. Even when I think I don’t have an ounce of patience or energy left, somehow I do. No one has ever died of playing one more game of tea party or reading one more book.

I’m reading Man’s Search for Meaning by Vicktor Frankl. In it, he talks about the need to look to the future, that without a future hope our present becomes meaningless. I’m taking those words and putting them to this journey. That even on the longest days, my hope is that these endless tea parties will make way for future friendships.

What is something you’re doing now with the future in mind? How does that long-term vision impact the way you view certain tasks now?

Linked with Kate Motaung’s Five Minute Friday, a time to write without editing. Today’s prompt is “mom.”

Welcoming the Stranger Introduction

I have the honor of introducing our May book club read over at SheLoves Magazine today. We’ll be discussing Welcoming the Stranger by Matthew Soerens and Jenny Hwang Yang. We’ll do most of our interactions over in our Facebook group and I’d love for you to join this discussion! (Here’s the link: Red Couch Facebook.) This book was filled with a lot of information and powerful stories, which makes it a timely and important read. Here’s an excerpt, but click over to read the whole post and join the discussion!

Red-Couch-Welcoming-the-Stranger-IntroductionMy family history is one of skirting modern-day immigration regulations. On one branch, my ancestors arrived soon after the passengers on the Mayflower, helping to build the new Massachusetts Bay Colony. Others arrived pre-World War 1 and worked their way to the Midwest. Regardless of route, my family arrived in an era when a boat passage was paperwork enough and they came from desirable countries that posed no threat to the white Protestant population.

In Welcoming the Stranger, Matthew Soerens and Jenny Hwang Yang remind us that people immigrate for a wide variety of reasons: from fleeing unsafe regimes to the prospect of higher wages and standards of living to reunification with family who live in America. Every immigrant has a unique story and journey that brought them to the decision to pursue life away from their familiar culture.

Soerens and Yang pack Welcoming the Stranger full of the debate on immigration. They feature personal stories, address misconceptions about contributions of immigrants to the economic and social aspects of our society, and cite religious precedents of caring for the foreigner. Intermixed with stories are facts and data and the appendices alone are worth the read. This is a manual for Christians to understand the actual impact of opening our doors to immigrants and retaining the United States’ foundations as a nation that welcomes all cultures.

I appreciate the depth and scope that Soerens and Yang bring to this conversation. They broke down a lot of misnomers about the effect of undocumented workers on our economy; of the actual crime statistics of those entering our country; and of the reality of working your way up in society. Read the rest and join the discussion at SheLoves!

What are some practical, real-life ways you get to know your neighbors? How do you listen to their stories?

You Don’t Have to Give Up Your Friends to Join a Moms’ Group

I recently read an article titled something like, Why You Shouldn’t Join a Moms’ Group. It was all about why new moms should just keep the friends they already have without making new friends. That old friends are way better and that it’s important to have friends without kids.

bag-gypsofilia-seeds-1716655_960_720On one level, I do agree with this author. When I had Bea, my friendships didn’t simply end. My friends without kids came over and showered my new baby with toys and clothes and food. They held her and cooed and reminded me that life was still normal, just a new normal. But then they went back to work and I stayed home with this new human, watching The Wonder Years on Netflix and wondering how I would fill our days.

When she was about six weeks old, I ventured to our neighborhood library for Book Babies and my life changed. I was invited to a Mothers of Preschoolers group at a nearby church and started going. Now, in addition to my pre-kid friends (who mostly have kids of their own now) I also have this group of women who have held my hands on this journey of motherhood.

My moms’ group stood by me during those fresh newborn days, though sleep training and milestones. Though toddlerhood and adding a sibling and potty training. My moms’ group talked about all those mothering things, yes. But we also talked about how we advocate as moms, how we remember social justice as we engage with our preschoolers. My new mom friends went with me to a conference on Race and Reconciliation and pushed my thinking of how to was the  engage with those radical ideas.

My moms’ group filled a void in my days that my friends without kids simply couldn’t. They held my babies and cooed and reminded me that life was still normal, just a new normal. I still get together with my friends without kids. I cannot imagine life without them. They push and shape my thinking. They love my kids with time and energy my mom friends just don’t have.

What made me sad about the article was that the author made it sound like an either/or choice. I understand that polarization sells, but you don’t have to give up your friends without kids in order to join a moms group – if that is a requirement, I’d encourage you to look into a new moms’ group. But that’s certainly not the norm.

Mother’s Day is this weekend and I know it can be a time of heartache for many women. The road to motherhood can be filled with trauma and tragedy and unmet expectations. It can be a stark reminder of a life wished for but not fulfilled. It can remind us of broken relationships with our own moms.

I still love celebrating Mother’s Day. I love remembering my own journey as a mother and I love taking time to remember those who have helped me on this journey. From my own mom and grandmothers to aunts and friends to whom was the friend-without-kids for so long. From my friends in my moms group to my friends without kids now.

I suppose what I’m trying to say is thank you. Thank you to my friends without kids who so graciously show up to my messy home and engage with my girls. Who offer perspectives and experiences that I often envy because of your freedom. Thank you to my friends who are ahead of me on this journey. Who offer hope and wisdom and a sense of humor to these little years. Thank you to my moms group friends who are right here with me in the trenches. Who commiserate and reminisce and laugh at our sweet and insane days. Thank you to my friends who started out as single girlfriends and who have grown into motherhood with me. For the patience and flexibility of the changing nature of our relationship.

Mothers Day is as complex a holiday as motherhood itself. I am thankful for the women in my life who have held me up through these first years of my own mothering journey.

How do you support the moms in your life? Did you ever join a moms group when you were a new mom?