In the Weeds

It’s a whole new month today and time for an update, but before I go any further, let me clarify that I do know “in the weeds” is a restauranting turn of phrase that maybe seems like a stretch here but I’m applying it to my own life anyway as with the calendar flip comes another milestone in this mysterious health journey of mine….the three month mark of this head pain roller coaster.

First, a quick side note: big thanks and much appreciation given to those who have reached out with questions, possible therapies to try, and just general concern. That means the world to me and thanks to you all, I’ve been able to learn about and try some new-to-me treatments and approaches. I still haven’t tried every tool sent my way but it’s good to know I still have tricks up my sleeve if this sh!t continues to persist beyond current attempts in process.

The good news is, I have had some not just good but CLEAR days. 4.5 of them, actually, which probably sounds awful to most folks but after 2.5 solid months of a headache, I gladly welcomed that little window of relief. The crappy part was, it didn’t last and so the last couple weeks have been back on the roller coaster of up and down days with me still left to wonder what is going on, what can I do about it, and when in the world is it ever going to go away. As an uberplanner this unknown (that comes with chronic pain, no less) is incredibly hard on and frustrating for me. Hence the weeds and the continuing of trying of all the things to get out of them.

Since I last wrote I’ve started some new physical therapy techniques and exercises that seem to be helpful. Acupuncture continues to offer some relief and hopefully in time may get me to more and more clear days. I’ve also been toying with the idea of an elimination diet to see if my food is working against me more than for me, but that seems like such a daunting task, I’m pretty much dragging my feet on starting that just yet.

One thing I have been able to give up with ease has been alcohol. Turns out that when you already feel like you have a constant hangover, the thought of drinking something that could add to that pain is not appealing at all. I can’t say that this will stick beyond the headaches (see, still clinging to hope that this will all someday be behind me) but for the last two months I have been perfectly fine to take beer/wine out of rotation and feature sparkling water, kombucha, and hops water instead.

Here’s hoping that both the path forward and the pain clear soon and for good. I would give a huge, HUGE NA cheers to that development, for sure.

Headaches and Hiding

As if the last March-to-March didn’t make me enough of a hermit and homebody, the nearly constant, 90% daily headaches I’ve been having since early April of this year (that means I’m nearing the two month mark with that) have left me in very slow, very reluctant re-entry into the world.

OK, let’s be real. That’s not all the fault of the headaches. I’m one who would have come out of COVID life more slowly than most anyway but they certainly haven’t helped me feel up and ready dip a toe, really, much less dive back in to whatever life is these days. <– clearly I still have some feelings about this, eh?

But it’s been several weeks since I’ve written or done an update on the health front, and some folks have been checking in which is a good reminder to get on here and do some writing as part of the healing process, too.

After close to six weeks of constant headaches, I ran into five glorious, beautiful, wonderful days of Feeling Better. Not perfect but so much more myself that I was so relieved. Then came the backslide and it was not good. It also wasn’t a return to the height of pain, but still, to go backwards at all felt so defeating and even though things have improved somewhat since then, I still haven’t had another chunk of (or any) good days resurface. As a semi-side note, the level of awareness this has brought me about those living with chronic pain is huge. Being in pain every single day discolors and impacts every other area of your life, not just how your body feels. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone, ever.

The good news is, my MRI came back clear. I’ve since sent off some samples for hormone testing and our house is currently being evaluated for mold due to our leaky roof over the last year (that’s a post/update all on its own, I believe). Either of those could easily be the culprit and I’m very curious to know results on both. I’ve also continued with chiropractor and acupuncture and some other therapies, all of which remain hopeful and positive that we will get this figured out/fixed. I’ll be honest that I struggle more days than not to keep that same faith, but I also know there has to be some resolution because I can’t accept this as my new normal. I just won’t.

Having the kids home for summer is both lovely and an added factor of difficulty in all this because in case you haven’t met them or realized from me yet, there’s a LOT of them and they are NOT quiet. Even when I’m feeling 100% I think my kids are loud, so imagine how it is with a constant headache. They’ve gotten way too used to me shushing them and also trying to find space from them somewhere, somehow in our very full house, now affectionately called The Pancake Stack. Thank goodness Ben is also home for the summer so I can indeed “run” and hide from time to time which I’ve been doing in some odd, creative, and unique ways. One of those is this crazy looking cool-pack headache hat thingamajig that arrived yesterday and requires me to sit for 15 minutes when I wear it. It’s freezing fricking cold for the first 6 minutes and I can’t tell if it actually works or just makes my head feel better because eventually I take it off, but again I tell you – trying alllll the things because somewhere an answer and some relief await me.

This is an odd start to summer vacation. It’s a rough patch after an impossibly difficult year. At some point, something has to shift because as much as I like to internalize and introvert, I miss my people and I miss myself.

I Don’t Know How to Do This

The last few weeks have been the perfect storm of All the Trying, All the Things, All the Info, and All the Changes…to put it another way, life has been a lot and much of it has been overwhelming, in both pleasant and painful ways.

Let’s start with All the Trying…my headaches have persisted since I last wrote about them which puts me at a solid FIVE WEEKS of a non-stop headache, sometimes with only a few hours “off” during the day but really most days have had ache involved at varying degrees the entire day and night. Since my last post, I have added in acupuncture and been back to the chiropractor. I also went to the dentist to get some adjustments made to my mouth guard (because, Holy Hannah, nighttime jaw clenching has been bonkers for me lately). I don’t fault myself one bit for being overwhelmed by this never-ending pain as I don’t know how anyone is supposed to be OK with a five week headache. That’s just insanely hard, full stop.

During these weeks of headache, however, I’ve had no choice but to keep going and doing through the other season of overwhelm that is also known as May. Even though we aren’t out of the Pandemic yet apparently May is back and ready to throw down in 2021. There have been a ton of fun things and end-of-year things and Big Exciting Things happening with the kids and their spring sports and their school and headaches or not, I didn’t want to miss any of it. I wasn’t entirely successful on that front and did end up missing some things, but for the most part I got to be there and be involved/spectate which made my mama heart happy even if my head was not always on board.

I’ve also continued reading throughout this last month+ which brings me to the All the Info and All the Changes portion of this as I’ve now finished several resources on the Enneagram and feel like I’ve landed on that at a very interesting time in my life and in our world. From these books I’ve learned more about myself and what drives me and also what’s potentially contributed to my stress levels over this last year as I am very much a One, The Perfectionist, and let me tell you – a One in a Pandemic is a tough place to be. I’ve spent so long trying to do the right thing and freaking out about other people doing/not doing the right thing or politicizing the right thing that I can’t believe my body waited until now to also freak the frick out. To clarify, I’m not saying I gave myself these headaches but also, I can look back over the last 14 months and very much see how I was numbing/stuffing my anxiety (hello, 42 books already in 2021) and how perhaps that stored tension over time has contributed to pain in my body. To make sure it’s not something beyond that, my doctor wants me to have an MRI next week and I’m very much on board as that helps eliminate or shed light on any of the potential scary causes behind this.

So now, after getting all this info about myself, we’re at the end of the school year which comes with All the Change in and of itself, but this week’s unexpected turn also included a sudden removal of masks in our classrooms and, just yesterday, the CDC announcement that fully vaccinated folks can drop the masks and go back to life essentially as normal.

Sorry, what? That’s a huge bucket of change to dump on this exhausted, perfectionist mama’s head and I’m not quite sure how to process it. In fact, not knowing how to do THIS (life this last year+two months, plus life with a five-week headache) has indeed been a huge source of the problem for me for some time now.

I thought getting vaccinated was going to make me feel so much better. I thought having masks go away would be a happy making announcement. I thought I’d be ready to do this but it turns out I’m a little stuck and a whole lot unsure of how to proceed. (PS: if you are a podcast person, check out Episode One of “We Can Do Hard Things” from Glennon Doyle; it’s all about anxiety and she spoke to this unease with coming out of Pandemic Life and it was like she was in my freaking head when she spoke about this because those are exactly the struggles I am having right now. Who knew I wasn’t alone in this?)

At some point I have to figure out how to navigate back in the world in a way that works for me but I have yet to come to an understanding of what that might look like. Will I stop wearing masks? No, I will not because my state, my health department area is hovering around the 40% mark of fully vaccinated folks and that doesn’t feel like a super great number even though it is definitely something and something that I hope continues to increase. Will I be more comfortable in outdoor gatherings and seeing vaccinated family and friends indoors? Yes, I’m trying but please understand that this shift is a big one and it’s going to take some time for folks like me.

If I’ve learned anything from the last five weeks, it’s that I’ve got to give myself some grace and self-forgiveness for not knowing how to do this. It’s going to have to be OK to not perfect this right out the gate because, frankly, none of us know how to do this, so why should I place sure pressure and expectation on my own tension-filled shoulders? The not knowing of what re-entry and recovery look like for me simply just has to be because clearly I can’t force this. I can only give it time and continued trying.

Spring Board

In a lovely turn of events, Saturdays are now our quiet days, our days to do nothing (or everything depending on how you look at it) and will be for the next five weeks as tomorrow marks the start of Spring Sports in high gear for our fam. Miss Raegan’s already been at it for a few weeks with her running program, Girls on the Run, and the two biggest boys started with flag football practices this past week, but starting tomorrow our weeks will be full of all of that plus Sunday football games and then weekly practices for the new kid track program that Ben is helping coach here in town, and while we’re at it, why not throw in orchestra rehearsals for HD and Kinder Orientation for TJ, this week too, eh? Because, yep; all that is happening, too.

And this is why this sweatshirt has the best-ever job descriptor of what my life is like as a mama of five busy Littles because chaos coordination is exactly what I attempt to do all the live-long day, and especially now that we’re getting into high levels of activity again with this new season.

To be fair, I often find spring a little overwhelming for these very reasons – all the things happening at all the times takes a lot of organization and planning, not to mention remembering and executing. But this spring has that not-so-little extra bit of anxiety built into it because we’re coming into this level of activity after a year of basically going nowhere and doing nothing and the overwhelm is not just to our calendar but also our senses and energy levels, too.

The good part of this is that Ben and I have both been fortunate enough to receive our vaccinations for COVID-19 in the last month, at least the first dose. He actually had his second just yesterday and I will have mine this coming week, so once we get through two weeks after that, life going back to semi-normal will feel a bit more possible. But there’s still so much to process from everything that is happened in the last year that makes it hard to just dive back in to active, calendar-full life, on multiple levels, which brings me back to these quiet Saturdays.

I need them.

My kids need them.

My husband and my house need them.

We need some time to decompress and be away from all the going and doing because we haven’t quite figured out how to re-enter that again, which I think is OK. Actually, I’m not sure I ever want to go back fully to what life was like before, but with this many kids in our family, even keeping them limited on activities still means we have a ton going on and eventually I am going to have to find a way to navigate that that keeps us all happy and sane. In the case of this year, maintaining that meant saying “no” to soccer for the littlest two because we just needed to keep one day of the week to ourselves while we still could.

I’d like to think that we can still keep quiet days moving forward and we’re doing well to lay that foundation now. I have to believe that the spring board back to the world at large can still leave such space and grace for ourselves and our families. Time to take walks and think. Time to play games both inside and outside. Time to listen to music. Time to unwind and reset for all that is to come (because, again, even with just a little, it all quickly becomes a lot in this house).

Is it wishful thinking to hope we can keep this forever? Yes. I know that. But for this year in particular, this feels like the best strategy possible to keep ourselves in one piece while also putting some feelers back out there for what that semi-return actually looks like for us. I think coordinated chaos plus once-a-week quiet days are a pretty good way to start.

2021 Reading List

Holy smokes. I didn’t expect to hit the ground running quite so hard with the books this year, but we’re a quarter of the way through 2021 and I’ve already hit 25 books. This has me thinking maybe I’ll up my goal from 75 to 100 for the year, but maybe I’ll just see what happens and how that plays out as the weather gets nicer and we’re outside more of each day and evening.

As always, what follows are the books I’ve read this year in chronological order. Bold titles are the ones I super recommend or enjoyed. The list that follows after the titles and blurbs is (just part of) my virtual To Be Read stack.

  1. Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid — I zipped through this one mostly because I didn’t want to stop reading so I could see what was going to happen next. This felt so relevant and possible and real, plus it was great the way it moved back and forth from lead female character to lead female character.
  2. The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett — Although the first 20-30 pages were a little slow for me, by Part Two, I was totally hooked and found this to be a great read. I was intrigued by the characters and their life choices and by how society/perception played into all of that as well.
  3. The Girl with the Louding Voice by Abi Dare — This one took me a bit to get into and essentially the entire book is filled with intense hardship, but the language is beautiful and revealing and the determination in it is just as remarkable as the crisis. The story may be fiction but the facts sprinkled through the later chapter titles show how it may not be far off from reality for some (many).
  4. Go Tell it On the Mountain by James Baldwin — The connotation of a word on the very first page threw me for such a loop, I struggled to get into the rest of the book, and as it turned out, the book had nothing to do with the meaning of that word. I stuck with it for the sake of a virtual book club. Eventually I caught on to what was happening with the structure and the focal point of one particular day/night in young John’s life but this was a hard read for me.
  5. The Education of an Idealist by Samantha Power — I have been wanting to read this forever and was glad to finally get my hands on a copy. It’s big – 550 pages of memoir meets journalistic reporting on life in war-torn countries plus genocide and then into politics, so whoa – that’s a lot of heavy stuff. But I have always enjoyed Power’s interviews in recent years and she is a great writer/reflector and I’m so glad she’s back into government work with the USAID.
  6. One Day in December by Josie Silver — Given the book’s title, I was surprised at how much time and content the story covered. Even though I found it predictable, I still enjoyed it as a quick, romance-y read and was interested in the character’s growth over time. I also found it more believable than the previous Silver book that I read last year, The Two Lives of Lydia Bird.
  7. Conjure Woman by Afia Atakora — This would make an excellent book club choice in part because I have questions and ideas I want to bounce off others after reading it. Also, this is a debut novel?! Whoa. I can’t wait to read what she writes next! I love how the book jumps in time but not in giant leaps (for the most part); this builds the story and characters in such an intriguing way.
  8. Our Time is Now by Stacey Abrams — This was such an informative read. Granted, a fair bit of it went over my not-in-politics brain, but I also don’t think you have to have direct ties to politics to get something out of this book. It really speaks to our civic engagement in general which is so vital and important. It was interesting to read this given that the book was written before COVID-19 really hit and so that discussion along with the drama of mail-in voting that became our reality in 2020 was missing here (and about which, I am sure, other books will one day be written). It was also interesting to read this after Jan. 6 because that too feels like it plays a role in what Abrams had to say about voting and leaders and concerns for our democracy. All together, I learned a ton and I am so grateful that the Stacey Abrams of the world are out there to guide us and keep us going through it all. (finished 2.11.21)
  9. Love Lettering by Kate Clayborn — I grabbed this online because it was being offered as a community read from our library and it proved to be more than just a typical romance as it had some intrigue and mystery to the characters, too. It was the perfect palette cleanser read after some of the more dense books I’ve been tackling as of late.
  10. The Wedding Date by Jasmine Guillory — Sometimes a predictable, quick, romance-heavy book is just what you need to read and this series is so good for that. I actually read Book 2 last year, so I liked going back in time to the first and plan to read the subsequent ones later in the year. I like Jasmine Guillory’s style, but fair warning – these are Harlequin in nature so pick a different book if that’s not what you feel like reading.
  11. The Murmur of Bees by Sofia Segovia — I loved the way this was written and the way the story unfolded. The in-depth discussion of the 1918 Spanish Influenza caught me off guard because I wasn’t prepared for how relatable that would feel to life in 2020/2021, but that was not the whole focus of the book by any means. Although I was confused by the shifting perspectives and occasional odd jumps in sequencing at first, once I hit a stride with this one, I couldn’t put it down.
  12. Tweet Cute by Emma Lord — This book was adorable. It’s a YA RomCom sort of read but it still caught me by surprise and delight while reading, which was great because it was witty and fun without being too obvious or over the top. (Finished 2/23/21)
  13. Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi — This was neither light nor easy in terms of content but this book blew me away both in scope and style and I could not stop reading. I loved the approach of each chapter devoted to a new generation and how the stories and characters were woven together in this breathtaking, brutiful novel.
  14. Regretting You by Colleen Hoover — I expected this to be predictable and while it was, it was also a quick, enjoyable read and I liked some of the little nuggets that came at the end of the book in terms of life lessons. Also, if the characters had just freaking talked to each other, a lot of heartache and headaches would have been avoided, but then you also wouldn’t have had as much story to build, so, there’s that.
  15. The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah — Although a relatively quick read, this is not light in scope or subject matter. I got so drawn into these characters and was so compelled by their story of hardship and struggle in the Dust Bowl 1930s. Oddly there were lines throughout the book that were spot-on perfect for and relevant to today’s (pandemic) world. I’ve read at least three of Hannah’s books and all were serious but good and I highly recommend this one!
  16. Kindred by Octavia Butler — this surprised me in content and style and was truly unlike anything else I’ve read. While I’ve read many books that travel between narrators and time, I’ve never taken on a story that follows one narrator through time in this way. Ultimately this was an interesting story with an impactful look at slavery and racism ancestry, and history.
  17. You Have a Match by Emma Lord — The miscommunication between characters drove me a bit nuts at times but then that’s probably pretty spot-on for teenagers, so I get it. I love how Lord weaves family dynamics into her books and that the whole story isn’t just about crushes or partying or totally typical teenage drama. (finished 3.13.21)
  18. Girl, Woman, Other by Bernadine Evaristo — It took my editing brain a bit to calm down over the total lack of periods in this book, but once I got past that, I absolutely loved the characters and how this was written in interconnected trilogies that were multi-generational and so fascinating to watch (read) unfold. Loved it! Also, it had a totally unexpected connection to the book I read just prior to it which is always weird/cool when that happens.
  19. When You Trap a Tiger by Tae Keller — This was a great YA read that spoke so much to family dynamics and cultural backgrounds and young teendom. It was a quick read but I loved how it wove together in its own story the art, beauty, history, and magic that is story telling.
  20. The Rosie Effect by Graeme Simsion — Even though the basic premise stems from an obvious and somewhat irritating miscommunication, that’s actually pretty on point with these characters and this series which remains enjoyable and fun to read. I read the first book not that long ago so it was easy to fall back into rhythm on Book #2.
  21. Stay with Me by Ayobami Adebayo — This was far from a happy, light read, but it was very well done from a layered, unfolding sense of both the characters and the story that details not only relationships but also parenthood in raw, honest ways. I’ve read a number of Nigerian-based books recently and this one blew me away as a debut novel.
  22. The Archer by Paulo Coelho — A simple, short read that is, of course, layered with symbolism and meaning and told through a basic story that could be applied to connecting any action in life to one’s soul, not just archery. The illustrations throughout the book are beautiful. This could be read multiple times not just for dissection of meaning but also because it is such a brief book. (finished 3.22.21)
  23. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot — I didn’t expect this to be such a page-turner but even in the midst of the science, the story and reporting of this sucked me in and I couldn’t put down the book. I learned a lot about cell cultures as well as the rights, privacy, and privileges given to medical patients over the course of our nation’s history. Ultimately, I was blown away by the questions this true story revealed and raised.
  24. If I Never Met You by Mhairi McFarlane — Although the basis of the meet-cute and subterfuge were remarkably similar to another book I read not that long ago, I still enjoyed the story and the way the twists and turns developed throughout the book. I also appreciate that every romance book doesn’t have to be Harlequin in nature.
  25. This Close to Okay by Leesa Cross-Smith — this one surprised me in how, devastatingly at times, human these characters were. I also struggled to suspend my disbelief at how the beginning of the story unfolded but from there it was a beautifully detailed look at how even a few days can leave a lasting impact and connection between people. And, on an odd side note, the basic premise for a marriage ending in this book was the exact same as what happened in the book I just finished reading. How does that even happen? (finished 3.30.21)
  26. The Wedding Party by Jasmine Guillory — I just praised a previous book for not being too “open door” and now I’m going to turn around a praise this one for being, well, perfectly open door in the way all of JG’s books have been. I read the first two books of this series out of order but that worked in my favor on Book 3 because the character carry over was more direct here and I liked that. For an it-is-what-it-is series, I really enjoy these!
  27. Vera by Carol Edgarian — It’s remarkable to read stories of survival after moments of devastating destruction and loss such as an earthquake + fire in the early 1900s which is the setting for this book. I liked how the story unfolded with a hyper focus on the days after followed by learning more of the story in a long arc sort of way beyond that. I ultimately was confused by a statement on page 1 that never did resolve (for me) in the rest of the book, which means either I missed something or something is missing. Either way, this would make for an interesting book club discussion.
  28. Cinderella is Dead by Kalynn Bayern — To be fair this style is outside my normal comfort zone so this was just an OK read for me but that may just be because I no longer read thriller/fantasy books much if ever. This one seemed part Hunger Games, part Handmaid’s Tale, part Twilight (not really, there are no vampires, just odd, surreal and supernatural messed up fairy tale stuff) but I appreciated the concept of a fairy tale turned on its head and the overall message behind the quest. (finished 4.4.21)
  29. Wonder by R.J. Palacio — Love this book so much. This is a second read for me as my own 5th grader just read it and wanted to discuss with me and all I could remember was how much I liked it. Now I remember why and can’t wait to discuss it with him.
  30. The Turner House by Angela Flournoy — I loved the way this was written (focusing on roughly a third of the members of a family with 13 kids) both in terms of the present day storyline and then the periodic flashback chapters to the POV of each parent each time it happened. It was such a good look at big family life, life in Detroit, and just life in general. I LOVED the line “Humans haunt more houses than ghosts do.” and the paragraph that followed it all about how houses become homes that mean so much to the people who reside in them.
  31. Hood Feminism by Mikki Kendall — This is a must-read and a must-read-again because the scope of everything being addressed within this book is wide and deserves to be given attention more than once. The subtitle on my copy is different from what is listed online; mine reads “notes from the women white feminists forgot” which is an accurate description of what the book entails.
  32. Behold the Dreamers by Imblo Mbue — These are characters and a story that crawl under your skin (in a good way) and settle in for longer than it takes to read the book. Set around the time of the 2008 Recession, this is written in such a tangible and honest way. It would make for an excellent book club discussion! (finished 4.15.21)
  33. The Book of Longings by Sue Monk Kidd — from the onset I liked the premise of Ana, a young woman set on being a writer who shares her voice even though next to no one finds this acceptable. As the story unfolded, I especially appreciated her relationship to Jesus and how the whole concept of the book was imagining what it would have been like had he been married and how it really could have come to be without us knowing seeing as how the majority of women in history have been silenced/ignored. SMK’s Author’s Note at the end of the book speaks well to this in terms of her inspiration and why a story such as this is worth conceiving and sharing.
  34. Meg and Jo by Virginia Kantra — I wanted to read this because I love Little Women but because I love Little Women, I struggled getting into this. I also really disliked the Meg/John storyline for the first half of the book (just talk to each other already!!!) but of course enjoyed Jo’s arc from start to finish. By the end, I was more drawn in to the whole story and could definitely appreciate the risks and liberties Kantra took when recreating this classic in a modern way.
  35. Pride by Ibi Zoboi — It has been ages since I read Pride and Prejudice so the story there wasn’t super fresh in my brain while reading this, but there was enough in my memory to see how Zoboi played with that framework and also how she made this her own. I loved the combination of romance then to the real world now and this detailed look at Bushwick and Brooklyn which I’ve read about in many books but have never been to in real life. (finished 4.23.21)
  36. Royal Holiday by Jasmine Guillory — I wasn’t prepared for the departure in the storyline to a different generation of love stories, but still enjoyed the ease and predictability of the book. Curious to see what Book 5 is like.
  37. The Road Back to You: An Enneagram Journey by Ian Morgan Cron and Suzanne Stabile — This is my first foray into the full Enneagram and I learned a lot about myself as well as all nine types. I’m looking forward to learning more and will also be seeking out books on this subject that aren’t so faith-based; there’s nothing wrong with that element, but I also want to know more of the psychology behind each of these.
  38. Maybe You Should Talk to Someone: A Therapist, Her Therapist, and Our Lives Revealed by Lori Gottlieb — I laughed, I cried, I learned something, I saw myself reflected in this book, and just like I think therapy is for all, so too do I think this is a must read. I loved this book about what it is like to be a therapist/what it is like to be in therapy and I think it would be a good introduction to anyone considering seeking therapy themselves. My only caveat is that Gottlieb speaks to the ending of therapy which may well indeed be the case for some/many, but not all; beyond that this is a break-your-heart open look into the lives of her patients, her therapist and herself. I loved it.
  39. The Mother’s Promise by Sally Hepworth — Perhaps I’ve read too many SH books at this point as I’m getting a little too good at figuring out the twisty-twists well before the end of the book, but this one just didn’t hit quite as good as some of her others for me.
  40. Simple and Free by Jen Hatmaker — I appreciated the seven different tasks Jen took on in this book and it was very interesting to read now, ten+ years removed from when she first did them/wrote this. The asides/additions/corrections she placed into the new publication of this were insightful and gave a very unique perspective to how certain seasons and challenges in life shift over time. I will carry some nuggets forward from this book and see what I too can implement to make like a little more simple, a little more free. (finished 5.8.21)
  41. Hana Kahn Carries On by Uzma Jalaluddin — As with Jalaluddin’s first book, I enjoyed this modern take on an older tale. This was a quick read and although it touched on several heavier topics throughout, it was also fun and charming.
  42. The Rose Code by Kate Quinn — I’ve stayed away from WWII books for a while after being overrun with them, but this was a fantastic choice for revisiting that subgenre. I was blown away by the pulls from real life that this took and even though I did not understand the decoding/machines they used, I found the story and its unfolding to be very intriguing.
  43. Don’t You Forget About Me by Mhairi McFarlane — I liked the character development in this one and found it both entertaining (I laughed so hard at one point, I scared the hubs) and heartfelt with the layered story-telling and character reveals. I’m making a more conscious effort o read lighter rom-com type novels and this was a good one for just that.
  44. Mom Babble: The Messy Truth about Motherhood by Mary Katherine Backstrom — These short, bite-size essays are a great way to get a laugh, a little misty-eyed, and a dose of inspiration on motherhood, too. I’ve followed MK’s work for years and am happy for her and her book publication; she’s one of my favorites to follow on socials because she is so funny.
  45. Broken Horses by Brandi Carlile — Phenomenal. But you really need the audio and the hard copy to both hear and see the beauty that is this memor-ish (her words) book. (finished 5.31.21)
  46. A Year of Ugly by Caroline Mackenzie — This book was so unlike what else I’ve been reading and I really appreciated both that and the view into the world of refugees and immigration that it gives. There is a sense of comedy and humor here which the author speaks to in the afterword, even though the subject(s) at hand is(are) quite real and serious. This one took me a while to finish but at no fault of the book itself.
  47. A Long Petal of the Sea by Isabel Allende — This was a fantastic read and oddly related (geographically and through refugee storylines) to my previous novel, but that perhaps made this all the more meaningful for me. I also couldn’t shake how much the stories of political division within the book echoed what I feel here in our present day. I loved following such a sweeping scope of the main characters’ lives and seeing both them and their loves evolve over time.
  48. The Kindred Spirits Supper Club by Amy Reichert — I found myself confused by this simple read several times with both the family tree/timeline of past lives + the back-and-forth of the main relationship. I appreciated the way anxiety was featured within the book but the hot/cold/just fine without smooth transitions between events left me wondering more than once if I had missed something.
  49. Simmer Down by Sarah Smith — Girl meets boy with a side of Hawaii and food trucks (and steamy sex scenes and a helping of grief and mourning, too). This was just fine for a summer read. Being set in an off-the-beaten path venue with the unique cooking twist added to the fun.
  50. Beth & Amy by Virginia Kantra — Even though I wasn’t enamored with Meg & Jo when I read it earlier this year (I think I’m too invested in and connected to those two characters from previous reads of Little Women), I picked up this sequel to give it a try and goodness, am I glad I did so. I enjoyed this book so much. I don’t know why exactly (beyond aforementioned emotional attachment, or rather, lack thereof) it was easier for me to see these two (little) women in a new and updated way but it was and I did and I liked it very much. I won’t give any spoilers except to say that I greatly appreciated Kantra’s modern depiction of Beth’s disease and illness. (finished 6.29.21)

51. The Worst Best Man by Mia Sosa –The wedding planner/formally knowing each other side(s) of things made for an entertaining take on this standard romance read.

52. People We Meet on Vacation by Emily Henry — I loved the way this was written and that it didn’t follow a classic story structure for romance or a beach read. The back and forth in time POV from the narrator was done in an unpredictable way which made the reading go so quickly and also kept me waiting to see what would(had) happen(ed) in a non-cloying way.

53. The Lost and Found Bookshop by Susan Wiggs — I liked the sort-of mystery that went along with this book and that it didn’t fall into beach read romance territory. The language of the various narration felt stilted to me at times and I actually thought more depth/something sinister was going on at first, but in the end, I appreciated the way things came together and how various storylines were completed. (finished 7/9/21)

54. Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon — I got completely swept up in this YA read and couldn’t stop until I finished, all in one day. Told from a teenage perspective and obviously written pre-quarantine life, this one comes with much more than your typical teen angst/first love story and it is also so relatable after the last year and a half. I don’t know how Yoon writes such compelling novels but she’s 2/2 for me so far on being great reads!

55. The Book of Two Ways by Jodi Picoult — This one comes with a giant * next to it because the entire time I was reading I kept thinking about how much I liked the way it was written, that is, until the final page and then I was just mad. I haven’t been that flabbergasted by a book’s ending for a long time if ever, so, if you’ve read it or do read it, message me because I need to discuss this with someone!

56. Dear Martin by Nic Stone — This should be required reading not just for high schoolers but all adults, too. The concept and the style of the writing both take center stage throughout the story development that is both compelling and heart wrenching.

Caste by Isabel Wilkerson

Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon

Dear Martin/Dear Justyce by Nic Stone

American Street by Ibi Zoboi

Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi

The Deep by Rivers Solomon

Piecing Me Together by Renee Watson

Hunger by Roxane Gay

Ordinary Light by Tracy Smith

Leaving Atlanta by Tayari Jones

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

Black Girls Must Die Exhausted by Janye Allen

Queenie by Candice Carty Williams

Take a Hint, Dani Brown by Talia Hibbert

A Song Below Water by Bethany Morrow

I Almost Forgot About You by Terry McMillian

Swing Time by Zadie Smith

With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo

Well, That Escalated Quickly by Franchesca Ramsey

A Black Woman’s History of the United States by Diana Ramey Berry and Kali Nicole Gross

The Full 360/365

As a writer, as a mother, and as an individual, it’s hard for me not to notice and mark milestones. Patterns, too. For example, last year at the end of February, our family had a stomach bug rip through our entire household and unfortunately this week brought us the return of a similar sick fest. This is also the time of year when third quarter ends for Ben and the kids at school and I see my own end of Winter Term/start of Spring Term resulting in an excess of grading (which is super fun in the midst of caring for super sick kids, btw). But the real milestone that’s looming and feeling both heavy but remarkably hopeful is what I consider the anniversary of the start of our COVID-Year.

A year ago today, actually, my kids began their four-day Spring Break weekend and one of my dear friends and I were frantically trying to decide if we should still travel to Denver to attend an author event or not due to COVID-19 news sling-shotting around the country (spoiler alert: we did not). How little we knew then in terms of just how many plans would be cancelled or how long school would be out in the months that followed. How little we knew about the controversies and struggles that would come, much less the number of people who would be diagnosed, get sick and how so many would be lost due to this disease. How time would lose all meaning and make for both the shortest and longest days, weeks, months, and now year of our life. How is it already mid-March again? But also, haven’t we lived 10 years in the last 12 months? If gray hairs and worry lines are any indication, then yes, we have done just that but in the blink of a (tired) eye.

And yet, here we still are. Still marking the days, still doing our best to do our part by not making many plans (and keeping the ones we do make as safe as possible), and still masking up wherever we go. For 365 days, or 360 degrees if you’re following our trip around the sun as one of my friends likes to say, we have been in this and at this. Thankfully, mercifully, and sometimes frustratingly, we are are still here this whole year later happy at least because we have each other even as we mark what the experience and struggles have been for us.

Today, though, our family has a glimmer of hope, a sign of changes to come, as Ben received his first vaccine dose. He’s not the first in our immediate family to get one but we are so thankful his turn arrived. I haven’t been super worried and stressed about him getting this as schools here have found a way to keep open safely with masks and some protocol changes but it is still such a relief that educators are in the initial-ish round of shots in our community.

My hopes for a vaccine are quite different. I don’t meet any of the criteria to get a shot now or anytime soon, so instead I’ll just keep doing what I’ve been doing as we hope and pray the president was right in saying that all Americans who want a shot should be able to get one by the end of May. The thought of being able to go and do more with more confidence this summer than we’ve had at all in the last year is a lovely one, even if that is still months away at this point.

After all, if the last year has established anything, it is that time is a loose concept and we are much stronger and capable of navigating chaos than we ever knew.

Effing February

We made it. Can you believe it? I am both shocked and pleasantly delighted because this February has been a(n): ass kicker, doozy, shit show, mess, dark time. Seriously – take your pick of any of those words and they’ll be spot on for what this insufferably long short month has felt like.

I realize we’ve faced harder times than the past four weeks in our family, but to hit this gray, super snowy, super cold month right at the end of the Pandemic Year Calendar (that’s a thing, I’m telling you) has made things feel extra challenging. The hard stuff has been just that – hard, and more days than not have felt like I’m grasping at straws a bit to hold things together. And trust me, I’ve been trying and doing all the things to make the load feel lighter.

Here are some of those things:

For one, I’ve been keeping a Gratitude Journal daily since mid-November. I’ve done this on and off through the years and my favorite method is to list three unique things per day for which I am grateful. I can’t just say a person’s name or repeat what I said the day before – it has to be specific to a person or thing that happened during my day.

I love this gratitude practice right before bed because it helps reframe my brain just before sleep and helps me parse out my day a bit while the lights are still on in hopes that my brain won’t take off running in 20 directions at once the second my head hits the pillow. I also appreciate how it helps me document the days without taking as much time or effort as it would to write a full journal entry.

Another practice I’ve adapted in February is my seasonal affective light therapy routine. I don’t normally get the SADs this bad but this year has been far from normal and those lights are pretty inexpensive, so I got one and started using it every morning as directed for 20 minutes, even on the few days I’ve been able to get outside for actual Vitamin D.

I didn’t know if the light was helping all that much until this week when it got legit nice on Tuesday and I plumb forgot my light therapy session for the day (and then the next day, too) and then holy moly cow, did my mood ever slam in to me hard by Wednesday night. So. Note to self: keep doing the daily sit in front of the uber-bright lamp, even as actual spring approaches. It IS working!

Also working for me is the fact that I broke up with coffee, perhaps for good, but certainly for the foreseeable future.

It’s been three weeks now since I quit. Throughout the insanity of the last year, I’ve tried so many things to help my sleep and my anxiety, but it seemed that no matter what I/we did (drink less, make it weaker, etc.) nothing kept me from getting the shakes and getting more spun up in my head after my daily cup(s) of bean juice. But also, this was a total conundrum because I’m a mother of five, so how to survive (pandemic) life without some (damn) caffeine?

Enter: the help of good friends and some good old Big-Brother-targeted-marketing thanks to the fact that our phones listen to everything we say (you know it’s true) and mine heard my need for not-coffee loud and clear.

In January a friend and I were texting back and forth about yoga and knowing she was a life-long tea drinker, I asked for her secret recipe of her favorite cuppa. I don’t actually know that it was so much secret but knew it would definitely be British, and I was willing to give it a try. Over the course of a month+, I started doing a combo of coffee then tea and then finally flipped the switch to just tea (Irish or English Breakfast in the morning/green tea in some form in the afternoon or, thanks to my phone, a mushroom-based cacao drink) and guess what – no shakes! Still caffeinated enough! WhooHoo!!!

The other component to working through all the mental/emotional stuff has been, of course, the physical side of things. After starting off the year with a solid YWA challenge of 30 days straight of yoga, I jacked the heck out of my back on the final practice and had to take the next two weeks getting that and my forever sore knee back to OK. Spoiler alert: when you twist your knee, ask your dang chiropractor to look at it. You already see him once a month so don’t just assume it “just needs time” – ask him to check it and adjust it already! Seriously – I went about two months too long trying to be patient when really I needed to give my body direct attention and now that I have, things are finally back in place and feeling better.

As a result, I’m back in the movement game. I’m not doing any yoga at the moment but I have started up again with our elliptical and plan to keep at it, logging 39 miles on it before my 39th birthday in March. It takes longer to do two miles on that thing than it would for me to walk/jog that distance, but I like the workout aspect of it and since we’re still going to have more cool days than nice calm ones in the next four weeks, I like my chances with the indoor route for now.

Looking back, that’s a heck of a list. I didn’t even realize I’d taken on so many survival strategies until I started writing this, and now that I see it all, I’m both glad I did each thing and still a bit flabbergasted by how hard everything has felt even with all that good stuff mixed in to my daily habits. But that’s the kicker of all this…this isn’t about the last few weeks…it’s about the fact that we’ve been at this careful, cutoff way of life for so long now, of course my system is worn out despite all the trying and doing to keep me/us afloat.

I think acknowledging that exhaustion and the grief surrounding everything that as been these last twelve months is just as important as all the other coping skills mentioned here. And, while we’re at it, we can celebrate as we flip the actual calendar (and maybe the bird, too) and kiss this F**cking February goodbye.

Church Away from Church

It’s been ten months since our church has gathered in person in our church building. In that time, the church leadership has been so careful, considerate, and cautious which has been greatly appreciated as we have monitored local COVID-19 numbers and trends. Thankfully the church has also been extremely creative in keeping us connected during this time which has been possible thanks to technology and those who know how to wield such tools well. There have been outdoor services (last summer and fall) in the park, drive-through-town processions while listening to Sunday service on the radio, remote Sunday School lessons recorded and shared on the church’s YouTube page, and, of course, the weekly LiveStream on Facebook.

Since this post is about church, I must be honest and admit that I also have some confessions to make. The first is, although I have listened to/watched many if not most weeks, I have not made my family do much of that. The kids have been pretty consistent with their Sunday School lessons at home, but that credit goes to their dad, not me. When we were doing eSchool to start the year and I was in charge of three kids zooming and such from home every day I absolutely could not entertain the idea of making them do videos on the weekend, too. Thankfully Ben wasn’t as daunted by that idea and he’s continued to keep them engaged with those this whole school year. It helps that he is an actual Sunday School teacher and has even recorded two of the lessons along with some of our Bigs as helpers.

But the LiveStreams? That has been a time for me while the rest of the family does their thing around the house. The one part they consistently catch is the very end when our pastors sing “We are the Church” and as a giant side note: oh my, how all of us love that song and hope very much that that little benediction stays as part of service even when we are someday back in the actual sanctuary on Sundays.

So yes, I’ve been a little selfish with my Sunday mornings because I want to actually hear the message and not be so distracted by wrestling kids at the same time like I would during actual in-person church. This leads me to my second at-home confession: I’m not very good at just sitting and watching the LiveStreams. I blame this in part on the fact that in our 5ish years of attending First Pres, we have always had a bunch of little Littles in tow so, no, church service has never been a calm or still experience for me. I’m holding, shushing, feeding, or taking someone (or multiple someones) to the bathroom all the live-long (Sun)day, so how would I know how to just sit and listen?

At home my inability to just sit has transformed into some productive sessions while I watch/listen to service. I have had my coffee, I have done dishes, I have prepped and cooked meals, I have folded a LOT of laundry, and I have started feeding the kids lunch which is why they so often catch the final prayers and song around 11:30. I even used service to wrap Christmas books in December! But even with all this activity, I am listening and probably hearing even more than I get to when we are there in person.

This morning’s sermon touched on turning away from disconnect and distraction and it struck some cords with me. While I suppose my house-holder duties done during church might look like some icky, distracted multitasking to some, I’ve been quite grateful to have these months of hymns, prayers, announcements, and sermons to keep me company while I do the necessary tasks of caring for my family (even if I don’t let them listen with me) in a prolonged time of stress and loneliness. It makes me feel more connected to my broader community to use my church time to lighten the load of a busy mother (who is, yes, often distracted); it’s like a layer of blessing is added on top of those chores that would otherwise just be, well, chores.

There was another takeaway message from today’s service that charged us with checking in with our church family and to pray for those we would normally sit by on Sundays. I mean, seriously – maybe there is a church out there that doesn’t do voluntary assigned seats, but I have yet to be part of one, and in our current life we are Balcony People all the way where there are lots of wiggly, noisy kids and their tired parents plus some very patient other adults. As chaotic and sweaty as all that is, I miss it. I miss getting time there with the friends, family, and church family who love on and help take care of my not-so-little crew as we navigate Sunday mornings together. And now, as I reflect back on my own Sunday morning routines during the pandemic, I am also curious to know what those same Balcony People (and those who sit down below) have been doing with their Sunday services at home. Perhaps I am not the only one doing two things at once?

All told, I can’t wait to be back in person, as I’m sure all of my church family agrees. Will I miss being able to fold laundry or clean the kitchen at the same time? No, not at all because those tasks are always going to be there. But if we’ve learned anything in the last year it’s that what is is not a given. When we can safely gather again in places and spaces with our people, it is going to be such a welcome gift, one I hope we carry with us in the years to come as we continue to move with love, service, justice, and humility in this world.

This Christmas

Long time no write, friends. I’d say part of that is from sheer busyness, even when we still don’t go anywhere or do anything beyond the necessary, but also, it’s just been a strange end of fall/start of winter for me with a lot of emotional ups and downs, and as much as writing still helps me with that, I haven’t known what to say about it here. I don’t know if you’ve noticed but the Internet can be a shitty place to share your heart and I’ve felt myself shying away from doing so these last couple months.

That said, we are now on Christmas Break and I’m trying to store some bits and pieces of this crazy year in recorded fashion because I know that like everything else, this too will pass and fade over time and documenting will one day help me remember just what this Christmas was like.

This is the Christmas of staying home even though (knock on wood) no one is sick. The last two Christmases have brought us botched plans thanks to germs, and I guess this one is no different except that we feel so fortunate not to have actual COVID botching them for us. Again, knock on allll the wood, please and thank you now that I’ve just written that. We will still see my parents over the holiday because they’ve been in our COVID Bubble for months now, but the rest of our holiday interactions will be via video call of one kind or another. We did three different versions of that just today, actually, with a FaceTime, a Skype, and a Family Zoom, all before noon! We did get to do an early Christmas with Ben’s folks last weekend, too; it was our first real gathering with them since July.

This is the Christmas of having five kids ranging in ages 3-11.5 which is still a pretty intense place to be in terms of navigating everyone’s big feels and needs and the fact that is is still really hard to find an activity that they can all do together without mass chaos or fighting happening. Ben and I love board games and much as we try, we keep looking forward to the day when we can actually do that as a whole family unit and have it go smoothly. We know with perseverance and practice, we’ll get there. Eventually.

This is the Christmas of still being able to convince all five kids to watch a PBS Christmas special together and oh how happy it made my heart. Harrison is a legit tween now but bless his big brotherness, he was totally on board to watch A Very Monkey Christmas, the Curious George Christmas “movie” yesterday with the rest of his sibs all piled together on the couch with popcorn and M&Ms while a not-so-little blizzard whirled around outside. Honestly, how many more years do we get of him doing that? I’ll cherish each one, however many he’s willing to give us.

This is the Christmas of cooking and baking a few things here and there but also being really grateful that my mom is here and helps as much as she does, including from her kitchen and our family’s love language of food. We’re also going to try one of Ben’s favorites of his mom’s, homemade Mounds candy, next week once we’ve worked through some of the other Christmas goodies and meals.

This is the Christmas of three nights (so far) of driving to look at Christmas lights, including the less-than-successful Christmas start night. It sounds like that was pretty cool for folks with a telescope but for us it was a bit too much wandering on dark country roads with five over-excited children in the van with us.

This is the Christmas of buying myself a present that I love because a mom’s gotta do what a mom’s gotta do, you know?

This is the Christmas of being so thankful for the technology that has seen us through this year and this holiday, that has kept family and friends close even when we couldn’t gather in person. I get so sick of the screens sometimes but also, without them? We would not be OK.

This is the Christmas of Thank Goodness This Year is Almost Over and the Christmas of May We Never Forget All We Learned This Year. It’s been an insane ride and that won’t just change when the calendar flips next week, but for now, for today, which happens to be Christmas Eve, may we all just pause for a second and see it for the gift that it is, no matter how different it looks and feels.

Benched

When I set my goal to walk/run 87 miles in the 30 days leading up to the election, I knew I was up for the task because I needed a good distraction. In fact, I’ve been distracting myself with such activity every single day since the third week in April, which is why it is terribly ironic that on Election Day itself, after I’d actually surpassed the original goal by an extra 20 miles, I injured my left knee due to the contact sport known as parenting.

Y’all, it’s a tale as old as (modern) time: I stepped funny sideways to avoid landing on a Lego (c’mon, parents, you know you know this dance) and tweaked my knee in doing so.

The kicker is, I kept on walking the rest of the week (because how else was I going to survive the chaos of waiting for election results?) before Saturday afternoon’s venture made me realize, I’m actually really hurt and need to take some time off from that kind of movement.

Again, I haven’t missed a day of that in damn near seven months (SEVEN MONTHS) and benching my body right now has not felt good. Eliminating my “burn off the crazy” options while also taking away the option even to do something more gentle like my yoga practice has left with me with meditation/breathwork only and let’s be real clear for a moment – I have been emotionally stuffing with exercise for months now and sitting still is HARD.

Also ironic this week is that after a mailing delay, my #RunforRuth RBG swag finally showed up on Monday, Day Two of my No Movement Week (really hoping it is just a week). An injury does not negate the fact that I put in 107 miles in 30 days (and the injury is not from those miles), but it is bittersweet all the same to be in a place of stuck while also trying to celebrate that accomplishment.

Obviously this isn’t my first physical injury ever and clearly I need to bring in some emotional/mental balance in other ways than just pounding the pavement, so in some ways, this is just fine. But since I can’t burn off said crazy in said ways, I’m doing some extra protecting by staying away from social media but for once-ish a day. There’s a lot of noise out there and my feelings of overwhelm plus too much while also feeling like I’m not doing enough are just a little too loud for that particular space right now.

So I’m reading and doing an ecstatic breathwork program and checking my email about 50x a day since it’s the only platform beyond Pinterest that I’ll let myself look at online these days. And I’m trying really hard to be patient while my body works through what it needs to work through to recover.

I can’t really say patience has ever been one of my strong suits, but like my hero who inspired me to move a little more this fall in the first place, I am persistent as all get out so for now, that will have to do.