Learning to let go; releasing resentment and control

This summer, it’s shaping up to be wet and muggy. Honestly, I hoped to be elsewhere by now. I’ve made no bones about how I feel about a deep south summer; they stink. (I promise this whole post is NOT a rant about summer.) But last night as I was journaling, when I answered the “What do you need let go of today?” question, I said, I need to let go of resentment over being here for summer.

I have to tell, staring at your honest unfiltered words on paper is a terribly humbling experience most days.

Friends, how much energy am I wasting over being pissed at summer for…well…being summer and for my lack of control over it? So much, apparently.

Which got me to thinking, how widespread is this issue for me? I expend so much concern and frustration over things I do not now, nor will I ever, have the power to influence or change. Global things like the weather, intimate things like failed relationships, family things like what if something bad happens to someone I love.

Yesterday, I shared about uncertainty, which seems to have unleashed a chain-reaction of insight. Not only do I try to distract myself from the discomfort of uncertainty, I actively try to reverse it. It’s like I’m bailing with a teacup after my rowboat was hit by a freighter. So much effort expended with less than zero possibility of affecting the outcome.

Maybe it’s obvious to everyone but me that this is why I really needed a period of hibernation. I can’t escape the daily deluge of crap that seems to threaten the existence of the entire planet. Most of which, I cannot control.  Raging against everything has depleted me utterly.

I must learn to let go.

Now I wish I could expound upon how I will go about all this letting go (a minimalist shouldn’t struggle with this so much, you would think). Unfortunately, I’m not sure how it will look. But I have to do this for my own well-being. I’m beginning to realize these internal seismic tremors aren’t just spiritual. They signal shifts that occur across every aspect of my life: relational, physical, emotional and spiritual. I can’t dismantle one and leave the others intact. Everyone’s along for the ride.

Fortunately, I believe in the saying, when the student is ready, the teacher appears. Having experienced this before, I believe I am already learning to let go, even before I knew why I was learning. Meditation, journaling, withdrawing from harmful places and situations are all tools of release. Even when I didn’t know why I needed them, I was practicing them.

So here I am, ready to tolerate summer (hey, it’s a stretch to ask me to embrace it), and lean into being exactly where I am for one more sweaty season. Even if it isn’t comfortable, it can still be very, very good. And I can learn to let go of what is not, without trying to fix it.

How pimento cheese and chicken salad can save our souls

Last night I met with some good friends at a local sandwich shop. We discussed a fabulous book over pimento cheese, or chicken and egg salads. We also discussed British television, under-reacting, how children survive to adulthood, pre-reading, parental angst and Chuck E. Jesus. We did not talk about news, politics, rage (well, other than parental rage), or anything else of national or international import. Basically, it was delightful. At one point I thought to myself, these are the moments that save our souls.

I’ve been thinking about important minutia lately. Oh how we love the grand, sweeping gesture. We accept the mantra, “go big or go home.” But most of us don’t have the energy, knowledge or support to go big, so we just go home, where we feel powerless to add anything of value to a floundering world.

Here is where we miss an important truth: it’s the little changes, usually begun right at home, that begin sweeping momentum shifts. It’s not about making the biggest splash when we cannonball into the pool. We simply start where we are with what we have.

We live in a culture of hero worship. Even the church has “heroes of the faith” we love to rally behind. We believe we aren’t smart enough or good enough or experienced enough to do something for ourselves. So we wait, and we wait for someone else to start something we can get behind. And by get behind I mean make a facebook post about it and hope people like it enough times to affirm our position.

But last night, as we encouraged each other, admitted our secret fears and confessed our secrets (My children had no formal educational instruction until they were 8-ish years old, and now they all go to college. How about that?), I realized how empowering it is to be seen…heard…known and finally, accepted. Such a small thing which makes such a huge difference.

Instead of marking the things which divide us, instead we joined together for a bit on the things which make us human, a trait every one of us shares. These shared little things are the ones which save our souls, not the giant political systems or the moral majority. The way we change the world is by connecting with each other in small ways, across systems and religions and ethnicity. When we meet in the connecting spaces, we create the momentum that tilts the world towards love, acceptance and equality.

Yesterday I shared about feeling rage, impotent, helpless rage. But today I woke empowered – to feel more, to hear more, to connect more. You probably won’t hear about it in the news. It probably will receive very little attention at all. But I will know. If I can shift the moment to love those closest to me, then perhaps they will shift theirs as well. Each of us shifting a bit at a time towards love, mercy, grace and justice eventually we’ll create a tidal wave so huge, it covers the whole earth, washing us clean.

This and That on Saturday: ideas, projects and books

On Writing

Yesterday as I blogged, I realized it’s becoming difficult to come up with new content every day. Apparently, seventy days worth of words is all I have without some sort of break in between. I’m not giving up on the one-hundred days project, not at all, but I am feeling more challenged. This is actually a good thing. It means I am looking for new things to say instead of rehashing old ideas forever. I feel like I’ve taken seventy-three cleansing breaths, and now I’m ready for anything.

I started a separate book review blog. You can click the link, or find it in the page menu. The Mo’Joy Reads page will direct you there. It’s a teeny, tiny, baby blog with just a few entries so far. But it’s making me immensely happy. It’s so clean, organized and lovely. I’m using categories and tags to help facilitate looking up subjects and genres. I’m toying with author tags too. I’m like Monica from Friends with her label maker. SO HAPPY. Feel free to check it out.

On Reading

Earlier today I was commiserating with a friend who is reading too many books. I have too many on-going myself right now, even after trying to carefully curate my consumption. (I get alliteration points for that sentence, right?) I started reading on Netgalley and went a little crazy with book requests. So I’m hammering through some advanced reader copies and trying to wrap up a few loose end books. I’m still having a great time reading all sorts of new things for the 100 Story Summer. I’ve picked up so many books I might never have otherwise. In fact, be looking for a review today of The Girl in the Tangerine Scarf which may end up being one of my favorite books of the year. SO GOOD!

For years, I’ve felt a bit guilty about giving in entirely to my desire to read like a maniac at every spare moment. But this little side-project of mine has actually proven not only fun, but a huge productivity boost. Instead of getting fewer things done because of my reading, I’m doing and enjoying a lot more. I think I’m just not wasting time like I used to. This is an unexpected and delightful side-effect.

On the Month-of-No

The landscape of summer has shifted a bit since May when I got the idea for a month of no. It has actually opened up a bit more, relieving me of a few more responsibilities for a nice little window. I’m going to keep refining my schedule and saying more no than yes this summer. In fact, if it’s not a hell yes, it’s a resounding no . I like myself a lot more since starting this little plan. Although it can’t go on forever, this little window seems tailor made for me to take advantage of it and listen. Since I’m learning to trust my gut more and my guilt less, I’m going with it.

On Running

In January I set a little goal to lose 36 inches. I can’t use a scale because I obsess over numbers and climb on the awful device no less than twenty-seven times a day to see if I’ve fluctuated an ounce. It’s ridiculous, and not very healthy for me. We don’t actually own a scale. But for whatever reason, I can healthfully engage with a tape measure.

Anyway, since January I’ve been walking, and then walk/running, and now, I’m a runner again. I’ve had an on-again-off-again, mostly off-again, relationship with running since the half marathon almost two years ago. In fact, I’m beginning to toy a tiny little bit with doing another one. NEXT YEAR. Part of my crash and burn was training too fast and too hard for the last one and then a really difficult experience with heat and humidity actually forcing the route to close for marathoners.

This month has me clocking some of the longest distances I’ve run since before half marathon training (remember the giant toe blisters? and the terrible fall? I was a beat up girl). I remember, now, why I loved running to begin with and what a healing practice it is for me. The continued shrinking is nice too. I’m a little bit ahead of pace to meet my measurement goal by the end of the year.

So here we are. Caught up on the little things that matter so much to me, but seem difficult to work into a blog. Happy weekend to us all. I hope you find a good book to read, a quiet place to rest and someone you love to share it all with!

 

How to connect with your soul: Self-care adventures

Lately I am all about self-care. The more I journal about it, the more I realize it’s been years since I invested in myself. I don’t say this as a point of blame since I am solely responsible for self-care, from boundaries to application. Exploring ways to connect with my soul has turned into an adventure and a challenge this summer. Every day, I’m engaged in understanding myself better which in turn benefits everyone around me.

However, I  receive a lot of push-back when I talk about self-care with others. Most often I receive the ‘I could never do that‘ response. From healthy eating choices to the Month of No, there is a general reluctance to swim against powerful cultural currents.

Honestly, I believe we see self-care as a frivolous indulgence especially in religious circles. If we aren’t sacrificing ourselves to near burn out (or often past the point of burn out) then we certainly cannot be “good enough.” Or maybe it’s just me who absorbed this message.

Popular culture is no friend to self-care either. Our fervent pursuit of busyness, constant activity, pushing forward, get-ahead, stay-on-top, win-win-win mentality is quite literally killing us. Even though I stepped out of the consumer race several years ago, I still worshiped frequently at the ‘altar of should.’ Constantly working at things I should do, who I should be, ways my life should look, I lived the busyness mentality quite well even though I practiced minimalism.

Granted, some seasons of life simply are busier than others. Children, family needs or other personal responsibilities often make demands beyond our control. However, more often we make our loads into burdens with poor boundaries, ridiculous expectations and subscribing to the American dream. I don’t believe it’s only me who is guilty of these things. Ask the next person you see how they are, and it’s likely their response will be “Busy!

Oddly, I find it harder to answer people when they ask what I’ve been up to now that I can no longer claim “keeping busy.” How do you tell someone that occasionally, you feel downright bored. Mostly, I have enough to keep my mind working, but when I use self-restraint and stay away from time-killing distractions, I do sometimes find myself twiddling my thumbs.

What I do notice more often now is a general sense of well-being. Even when I am busier than I’d like to be, I can still feel it. By creating margin for my inner voice, my circumstances have less influence on my general demeanor. I haven’t perfected this state, but I am certain it will be second nature the longer I pursue this less-than lifestyle.

Recently, I actually made a list of things which I consider self-care. When I’m feeling overwhelmed or anxious, I choose an item, or two or three, and indulge in some self-care. I’m even incorporating self-care as part of my morning and evening routines. Creating self-care habits is high on my priority list this summer.

Some of my practices include:

  • Reading (who didn’t see that one?)
  • Browsing at the library
  • Taking care of my succulent garden
  • Meditating
  • Running
  • Snuggling the dogs
  • Drawing
  • Sitting outside, breathing deeply and doing nothing else
  • Burning candles
  • Yogi Tea
  • Journaling

As you can see, nothing is complicated or expensive. For a free practice, self-care may be as effective as a year of therapy was a few years ago. If nothing else, I like myself a whole lot more than I did six months ago. And I care a lot less about situations I cannot change or control as well.

What ways do you engage in self-care? How can you create margin to do them more often?

 

Not your typical New Year: life evaluations in high summer

Do you know how much I love New Year? It’s only 205 days until it rolls around again. I know this because I have a countdown app on my phone. I love it for several reasons. First, I love a clean slate. Whether it’s a new day, week, month or year, they all hold the magic of possibility. I also love starting something new. Granted, my record of follow through isn’t spectacular, but I am slowly changing that this year. Finally, I love it because after what tends to be a month of festivity and busyness around here, followed by a week of intentional rest nestled between Christmas and New Year’s Day, it marks a return to routine. I love shaking things up, trying a new thing, when push comes to shove, but I rely on routine to ground and settle me.

By now you are no doubt asking yourself, why in the world is this crazy person writing about New Year in the middle of June. Well, first of all, it’s the middle of June! You do realize this means the year is almost half over, right? How crazy is this nonsense? But perhaps more relevant to my current line of thought are changes I am considering for the rest of this summer season. Since I have a few personal projects ongoing, making changes runs the risk of experiencing overwhelm. Honestly, I think this is why most new year’s resolutions fail. We take on a boatload of change without considering the effort required to maintain them. I know this is my problem, anyway.

However, one of the benefits of this little writing project is better clarity of my life values. Writing things down helps me know myself better. Sharing them publicly makes me feel a sense of accountability, whether or not anyone is really watching (probably not). Writing helps me see and understand my values; the public forum makes me examine whether my lifestyle aligns with my words. Both are important steps in whole-hearted living.

So in light of this mid-year evaluation, and the self-awareness writing has brought about, I feel compelled to make a few shifts. Perhaps you might call them resolutions, but I prefer to think of them as experiments. After all, until I try them, there is no way to know whether the benefits I imagine will actually come to pass. They look good on paper, anyway.

So I’m making plans and arrangements to determine if these shifts are feasible and practical for me right now. Even the best idea is doomed to failure if it’s implemented at the wrong time, like starting a diet at Christmas. I need to determine if I am just grabbing at random change due to my restlessness, or evolving current patterns which work for me but could be even better. Anything generated from restlessness is likely to fizzle out anyway, so better to conserve effort for those things which matter.

So that’s what I’ll be working on this weekend. No doubt, as these shifts settle into routine, I will be writing more about it. In a month, my one hundred days of writing is over, and I’m already making plans so that shift happens smoothly rather than my usual all or nothing approach. How about you? What’s going on for your weekend? Do you think Mid-year Experiments will be as popular as New Year Resolutions? Or am I just one of those weird introverts who loves any excuse to lose herself in introspection?

*Speaking of shifts. I shifted a chunk of my book talk over to goodreads. You can follow me here. Eventually, there will be links to take you from here to there, but that’s a project in the making, and not one under consideration this weekend.

How to prepare for a Month-of-No without guilt

I had plans for writing today. I even have a mental script and a written framework. However, when you can’t drive for four days, the next day will fill quickly with all the things you couldn’t do the previous days.  It’s been a bit hectic. Since Saturday, I’ve worked on a list of things to be done before the ‘Month-of-No’ which begins tomorrow (or tonight at sundown if you’re speaking sabbath). I’m just about ready now, but my words are few. So instead:

How I prepare for the Month-of-No
  1. Decide now what and who gets my yes. Make sure the list is short.
    My family, Craig and the girls, are my first line of yes.  I will pick Olivia up from her friend’s birthday party and handle most work transportation for Bailey.  I’ll also make sure we have groceries each week. But no, I’m not dropping everything for last minute plans, or ill-planning. The last two months were packed, packed, packed and I have juggled, juggled, juggled. I want us all to enjoy ourselves. Since no one likes being home as much as I do, I will occasionally have to venture out. But only with fair warning.
  2. Don’t apologize for self-care. Yes, it is nice to be able to take this time. Yes, I understand this option won’t work for everyone. I do realize how lucky I am.  This is the way life goes sometimes. I have margin at the exact time my soul really needs it. Only a fool looks at that gift and ignores it.
  3.  Make a plan to accommodate my limits. Probably one-third of my running around is due to lack of planning on my part. Over the last few days I wrote out a menu plan and a master grocery list. Honestly, I’m over making dinner. But I also am one of two people in the house who isn’t employed, so dinner is on me. Fortunately this month has girls and husband gone for weeks at a time, and I’m simple. A few groceries go a long way. Beyond that, there is not one thing I need that won’t wait until later.
  4. Have a ridiculous number of books on hand. I currently have 18 books out from the library with another 9 on hold. (The library is on the yes list for the month of no.) I’ve actually set myself up with several projects and plans -with tools already on hand – for the entire month. I don’t want to spend it watching seasons of netflix or scrolling through social media. Even though I enjoy those things, more often, I use them as numbing tools. I want to spend this month aware and engaged.

My family has observed a weekly Sabbath for many years. That observance has taught me rest doesn’t come without preparing for it. There is a front load of responsibility to handle before I step out of sync for a bit. Fortunately for me this year I have a rare window. Many of my responsibilities are winding down for the summer. No children are taking classes or doing activities, and as I already mentioned, parts of my family will be gone at least a week this month. So, I made a choice to do what I need to do, which is rest, relax and restore.

When I went to therapy a few years ago, my therapist gave me a great gift. She told me to take an entire year off of everything. She recognized what my traumatized soul most needed. Quiet. Margin. Room to breathe. Room to dream. She was right. But it’s been couple years since I did that, and the last season was packed. Even good things- so many good things- wear you down over time.

One last thing to remember for the month-of-no is this:

5. Practice Gratitude. Every day, friends. Even the ones filled with yes in the months to come.

Looking for a quiet space to read: 100 story summer

This weekend is the culmination of a month of planning and pushing through. As in all busy weeks, reading didn’t make it to the priority list. I read in the gaps, in the moments before succumbing to sleep, or while waiting in the car. But I can see the June, the month of no, shining on the horizon. Today we celebrate our wonderful middle girl Bailey for working hard and completing high school as well as her first year of college. Next week can be about reading again. This week the story is all about our girl.

Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter

I am a firm believer that sometimes, we have to try a book on more than one occasion to determine if it’s really not a good fit. Sometimes the book is fine, it’s us who isn’t ready or open or a good fit yet. Beautiful Ruins is a book which proves this point, at least for me. It’s been about five years since I tried to read this.  I was lured in the first time by the gorgeous cover. Although, I don’t remember why specifically I finally put it down; I was a good way into the book when I did. I do remember feeling unable to connect with the characters and that the story was disjointed.

Fortunately, this book came around again thanks to my postal book club. Because I was accountable to read it, I was determined to try it again. And whoa nelly! am I ever glad I did. I absolutely LOVED this story the second time around. The setting is lush and isolated, the characters quirky, broken, searching, flawed and beautiful (well, mostly beautiful, some characters are simple distasteful no matter what.). Making brilliant use of shifting time lines and POVs, a mystery, of sorts, unfolds. All along the way, each narrator searches for love and belonging in their own way.

I am delighted to have the chance to change my opinion on this amazing book. I highly recommend it to all.

My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve picked this book up only to return it to the library unread, through no fault of the book itself. The hype surrounding the story kept bringing me back, and finally, I picked it up and finished it all in one sitting. I’m not sure what I expected, but what I got was a quiet rumination on family, relationships and ghosts from our past. The story is different than I imagined, very understated and vague. It hints and peeks around corners rather than blatantly revealing harsh details. It quietly forgives even when we aren’t sure what is being forgiven.

This book is a perfect quiet afternoon read. It doesn’t hurry or make you turn pages quickly to see what’s next. It is thoughtful and complex and deserves undivided attention so no layers get missed. I’m looking forward to the companion book, Anything is Possible which releases this summer (and may already be available).

 

Finding Calm: Something Fun Sunday, Ep. 6

The week has finally arrived. My middle daughter’s graduation party is this week, and I am knocking down the details while trying to maintain my cool, calm demeanor in the middle of it. *snort*  OK, maybe calm isn’t the first word that comes to mind when you think of me, but I am working on creating margin, so I have no need to panic, and making time to sleep, exercise, eat and create. Which brings us to the fun stuff.

I know Saturday is technically the day I talk about books around here (On the blog, at least; I talk about books at home on the daily). But I feel it’s necessary to put first things first when I speak of fun things. This week marks the release of Modern Mrs. Darcy’s summer reading guide. As usual, I’ve obsessed all week over what is available at my library (nothing), and what is available on overdrive (a few). I’ve picked out the ones I can’t miss, and the ones I am not so sure about. I’ve arranged and rearranged my too read list based on what I want to read now and what is coming due at the library. What can I say, book are serious business around here.

Today two of the books on the reading guide are on sale for kindle. I’ll link them at the bottom of the page.

Having reached the pinnacle week of May, I’m personally anticipating arriving in June and not feeling completely burned out. For me, this is a huge win. But as an introvert, I know by the time June rolls around, I will feel maxed out socially.

June is officially the month of no. I will not make commitments nor will I travel. I will not be out four nights a week. No will be a word I use often and with great relish. With my family and close friends I try to say yes as often as possible, but next month even those will be sparing. It’s good to give and give joyfully, but there is also a time to lay low and replenish. I loved this article about saying no.

A key component in my daily balancing act is the calm app. I’m using it twice a day currently. Those fifteen minute chunks may be the most important thing I do each day. My anxiety is better. I don’t struggle as much with anger and resentment. I feel calm (go figure). There is a free version if you want to try it out, and it’s apple and android compatible.

Finally this:

Graduation

I can’t even apologize for the language. In this month of nostalgia and misty eyes, when people express sorrow that I am growing older and my children are leaving home, this is how I feel.
Empty nest party time is almost here, folks. We’re powering through.

 


Becoming: How I’m rediscovering anticipation

The week long celebration of all the good things in my life has ended, which is a good thing. If every day were a celebration, then soon enough, no days would be. There is a season…and all that jazz.  As much as I love a good lay around and indulge myself day, Eventually, I want my routine. I thrive on anticipation of what’s next, but only so long as I know what it is. Surprise is not my strong suit, at least, not the complicating kind. Boring or not, I adjust slowly, and irritably, to sudden change. In this, as in so many things, I can either fight against my personality or embrace it. I’ve decided to finally, after too many years of beating myself up for who I am.

I’ve considered these upcoming summer months for a few weeks now. May races by like a dervish, throwing parties, graduations and program endings near daily. Previous summers we’ve done a form of “school light,” but this year, different in nearly every way, we won’t. School’s out for summer – at least, at the end of the week it is. School’s out, programs are ended, life will slow and still, requiring little of me, a speed I very much enjoy.

It’s easy, I’ve discovered, to lose myself in busyness and distraction. I can do it even when life is slow and still, perhaps even better than when too many things are clamoring for my attention. This summer I’m creating intentional habits and routines to prevent this slide into disarray. I may not have much I have to do, but I often don’t anticipate well by creating space for the things I want to do. Instead I fall into distraction. I invent ways to elude self-awareness and focus. Self-awareness can be discomforting when you focus on internal disruption, and I tend to avoid discomfort when I can.

However, self-care keeps jumping up and slapping me in the face. After years of being responsible for the raising of young humans, I’m graduating too.  My decades of hands-on, day in and day out parenting were the most beautiful, crazy and fulfilling ones yet. To be given the gift of presence in my own children’s lives has been the defining characteristic of mine. But time moves on, and the definition is changing. Although it feels sudden, it’s truly not. It’s merely the thing we’ve been moving towards for the last twenty years.

Still, I plan to allow myself the grace to adjust slowly to whatever the new definition is. I’m not certain myself, yet which is terribly unsettling. This summer I will embrace the discomfort and the adventure of self-awareness, listening to who I am and what I want.  The years ahead will be fundamentally different than the ones before, and I must be different in them, or flounder and despair.

One day last week, I came to a sobering realization. I can’t remember the last time I felt excitement for whatever happens next. Part of that feeling is depression talking, a voice which is receding now, another part is learned helplessness, the rest is my resistance to acknowledge a life change. It’s time to evaluate everything, even myself, especially myself, in light of this entirely new season.  I can’t continue to wear my winter clothes and expect to be anything but ill-suited to this emerging spring. Not only do I realize this now, I feel excited, at last, about the possibility of it all. I anticipate becoming me again.

Summer is coming and I am becoming in it. This is a scary and wonderful thing.

The week I Read Everything: 100 Story Summer

This week I joined in the Bout of Books readathon. It was also my birthday week, although I had plenty to accomplish, I allowed myself a great deal of leeway for reading. It was my gift to myself. As you can see, I read a rather ridiculous amount, and I’ll likely finish another book today. This week I read incredible books that range across the spectrum of style, content and story-line. It’s been a truly great adventure and only whetted my appetite for reading. However, by the end of the week, I missed my non-fiction reading too. So my reading will be a bit more balanced in the weeks to come, and a bit less as I tend to read non-fiction more slowly.

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

Years ago I read Hosseini’s Kite Runner, which was beautiful and horrible all at the same time. I want to say I loved the story, except I didn’t always love the story. I was often repulsed by the events and yet the story unfolds with such tenderness and unexpected beauty that I loved it all the same. A Thousand Splendid Suns reproduces the same magic a second time.

Miriam and Laila are born a generation apart, but their lives become cruelly intertwined in the war torn streets of Kabul, Afghanistan. Spanning decades of history, from the cruel regime of the 60’s and 70’s to the despot warlords of the 80’s and early 90’s, these two unlikely heroines embody what it means to love, lose, survive, and even hope in an oppressive and militaristic society. By the end of the novel, I was barely breathing. I had to remind myself to slow down and read all the words in an effort to discover what happened next. Harrowing and haunting, this is a story of feminism and friendship where such things should not be. It’s beautiful and wonderful, and I am the better for having experienced this book.

You can expect to see a review of Hosseini’s third book, And the Mountains Echoed very soon.

Vinegar Girl by Anne Tyler

After reading A Thousand Splendid Suns, I needed to step away and read something completely different, something with a guaranteed happy ending. Vinegar Girl by Anne Tyler is a retelling of Shakespeare’s classic, Taming of the Shrew.  It’s not typical of Tyler’s style or story-lines, but it is exactly what I needed after being emotionally ruined by my previous book.

Including a fake marriage to extend green card status, PETA saving laboratory mice, a sharply, brilliant preschool teacher, this story ultimately realizes family should be a launching pad, not a lifelong behavior template.

I might not have enjoyed this story as much if I were looking for more nuanced Tyler, but when I needed a light-hearted, familiar love story, this book delivered.

Lincoln in the Bardo – by George Saunders

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I put this book on hold based on a podcast recommendation. Whatever I expected, this book wasn’t it. In fact, I can’t think of another book I’ve read constructed quite like this one. Snippets of news, press releases, diaries, memoirs, internal dialogue, ghosts, vice, heaven and hell, death, grief, and redemption all rolled up together in an extraordinary way.

Based on the death of Willie Lincoln, President Lincoln’s son, of typhoid fever during the early days of the Civil War, the study of Lincoln’s grief is deeply moving. But it’s not the only story being told here. The residents of the Bardo, a Buddhist concept of the space between death and rebirth into a new life, also have stories to tell and truths to reveal. Understanding the things which hold us to this earth, regret, unfinished work, inability to let go, greed, avarice, lust and making peace with our identity are also important themes in this story.

As much as I loved this book  (the more I reflect, the more I realize how complex and wonderful it is), it is one I will recommend only occasionally. It’s not easily accessible nor meant for reading quickly without attention to constantly changing details. But, for the reader who is willing to invest time and attention, it’s an exquisitely wrought exploration of humanity and eternity.

Half Broke Horses by Jeanette Walls

Many, many years ago, I read and loved Jeanette’s memoir, The Glass Castle. Even though it was harsh and terrible at times. It was also beautiful and hopeful. It’s a story of accepting where we’ve come from and our inability to change the people we love.

Half Broke Horses is not a memoir but a “true-life novel” of Jeanette’s grandmother, Lily. When Lily was fifteen years old, during WW1, she rode her horse 500 miles from Texas to Arizona to accept her first teaching position.

Alone.

Lily is harsh, wild, crazy, intelligent, beautiful and a stark realist. From teaching hard-scrabble western children to selling bootleg liquor out her backdoor during prohibition, her determination and intelligence inspire me.  Her audacity makes me want to stand in a chair and cheer. I love the Wild West anyway, and reading the story of this true pioneer woman is the most fun I’ve had this month.

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

Last year I read the book, One in a Million Boy. Since then, I recommend it to everyone who will listen and people who aren’t so interested too. Its understated beauty and simplicity are perfect. A Man Called Ove is the first I’ve read since to capture that feeling of simple, beautiful goodness.

Ove’s story is one of loss and grief, how when we’re broken, love mends us. It’s about community, and family, and being angry at the world, about losing and finding home again without ever leaving the living room.  I laughed, aloud, which I don’t do frequently with books. I cried aloud, too.  Even when it’s predictable, it’s OK because the predictability is so right, setting things exactly as they should be. I’ll read this again and again for how it’s beauty touches my soul as a very good book should do.