Bridget’s Bookshelf {13 Favorites of 2013}

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A few months ago I mentioned on Facebook that I’d managed to read 20-something books before I got stuck in a reading rut. I do this periodically. I inhale books as if I think words are disappearing and then all of a sudden I just stop. Sometimes life gets in the way, but other times I just don’t feel like reading. I got over that reading rut and managed to scarf down something like 10 or 12 more books before the year’s end. Some of these books are really short e-books, some of them are silly and mindless, some of them are deep-thought inducing, and some of them aren’t. The books are listed in the order that I read them and I’ve added notes to any that I think have note-worthy points. The ones with links are the ones that I liked the most.

  1. Beginner’s Grace: Bringing Prayer to Life (Kate Braestrup) – I still reference this book quite often.
  2. Twelve Days of Christmas (Trisha Ashley)
  3. The Book of Tomorrow (Cecelia Ahern)
  4. From Notting Hill with Love…Actually (Ali McNamara) – This book references almost every one of my favorite ‘chick flick’ movies.
  5. A Year of Biblical Womanhood (Rachel Held Evans) – At the time of this post’s publication, the kindle version of this book is listed as only $2.99!
  6. The Next Big Thing (Jennifer Weiner)
  7. Then Came You (Jennifer Weiner) – I typically like Jennifer Weiner books but I could never really get into this one.
  8. Our Town (Thornton Wilder) – I read this book at least once a year. One of my all-time favorites.
  9. Fly Away Home (Jennifer Weiner)
  10. Quiet (Susan Cain) – A really great book about introverts that many of my friends really enjoyed. For me, a lot of it was redundant material from my social work classes in college.
  11. Start. – Jon Acuff
  12. Bossypants – Tina Fey
  13. The Cross in the Closet (Timothy Kurek) – Very interesting book about a conservative Christian young man who decided to come out as a gay man (even though he isn’t) to everyone in his life, and to see for himself how the label of gay would impact his life. At the time of this post’s publication, the kindle version of this book is listed as only $4.99!
  14. The Book of Business Awesome (Scott Stratten) – You know a book is well-written when you can hear the author screaming maniacally in your head while you read.
  15. KidVentures: 50 Outdoor Experiences of Wonder, Discovery, & Childhood Memories (Jennifer Murray) – You may know Jenn as QuatroMama. Even if you don’t know her, you’ll love this book! Tons of great ideas for kids and parents!
  16. Work Happily Ever-After (Jeff Jochum)
  17. To Kill a Mockingbird(Harper Lee) – Another of my annual must-reads.
  18. Gone Girl (Gillian Flynn)
  19. Actually, Clams Are Miserable (Bryan Allain)
  20. Dad Is Fat (Jim Gaffigan) – Written by one of my favorite comedians, this book was laugh-out-loud funny in more than a few places
  21. Redeeming Love (Francine Rivers)
  22. Cold Tangerines (Shauna Niequist)
  23. Mother’s Letters (Seth & Amber Haines)
  24. The Fault in Our Stars (John Green) – I teared up in this one a few times. At the time of this post’s publication, the kindle version of this book is listed as only $3.99!
  25. Cold Sassy Tree (Olive Ann Burns) – This is a Very Southern Book. Non-Southerners might not ‘get’ it but she has the accent down pat!
  26. Firefly Lane (Kristin Hannah)
  27. Steal Like an Artist (Austin Kleon)
  28. The Faith Club: A Muslim, A Christian, A Jew– Three Women Search for Understanding (Suzanne Oliver, Ranya Idliby, and Priscilla Warner) – It took me a while to read this one because I’d have to read and re-read some sections before I could really absorb all that they were trying to say.
  29. Chasing Rainbows (Kathleen Long)
  30. I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban (Malala Yousafzai) – Wow! This young woman is simply amazing.
  31. The Guernsey Library and Potato Peel Pie Society (Shaffer & Barrows) – I have been eyeing this book for ages. I’m glad I finally read it, but it is not one of my top choices.
  32. Bread & Wine (Shauna Niequist)
  33. The Wilder Life: my Adventures in the Lost World of Little House on the Prairie (Wendy McClure) – We are knee-deep in Little House on the Prairie around here with my older two children and it was interesting to read while we were going through the books. If you aren’t a LHotP fan, you can skip this one. But if you are, it’s a fascinating read.
  34. Don’t Trade the Baby for a Horse (Wendy McClure) – The book is what I would consider a short companion book to the one listed above.
  35. The Gifts of Imperfection (Brene Brown) – I’m not quite done with this one yet but it is full of insight. If you’re searching for something that you just can’t quite put your finger on, this book is for you!

Full Disclosure: The links in this list are Amazon affiliate links which means if you click on that link and purchase that book, a small – and I do mean very small – portion of your sale goes to me!

Five.

Oh my sweet, big boy,

I want to say all those Mommy-things about how I can’t believe you’re already five. FIVE! And about how much you’ve grown and how big you’ve gotten. I want to go back and look at pictures of teeny tiny you and reminisce about the day you were born and the moment when your siblings first saw you and coming home from the hospital and cuddling in my chair with all three of you in my lap. Did you know that when we left the hospital, we didn’t take you straight home? We stopped at church. It was Christmas Eve and that’s one of my favorite services of the year and it was about to start, so we slipped in the back – you in your carseat and covered with a blanket. I don’t remember much about that service, honestly, but I remember staring at you and thinking of how similar me looking at you must have been to how Mary looked at Jesus. A mother’s love. Oof.

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And some how we went from that to this in 2.6 seconds. I loved that little baby, but I love this little fella even more. Because this guy? This guy is a trip! I never know exactly how to describe you. Laid-back? Friendly? Exuberant, maybe? Yes! Yes, that’s it! Exuberant – joyously unrestrained and enthusiastic. You have an energy about you that pulls people in and makes everyone feel important. You are so full of joy and light, your smile is infectious, and you’ve never met a stranger. You are tough as nails when you need to be, but you are empathetic and sensitive as well. You can be quite mischievous sometimes, but those long lashes and big ol’ eyes keep you out of trouble (probably more often than it should).

I love the things you come up with. You will do anything for a laugh, which sometimes isn’t the best of ideas, and you very often succeed. And your laugh is just the best! I love it so much that I recorded it and turned it into a ringtone for my phone.

You are starting to sound out words and can read some things. While we were wrapping Christmas gifts you sounded out “Dddddd…D. Aaah…aaah…A. Ddddd. D. Eeeee. E. Daddy is D-A-D-E!” I probably should have corrected you but you were so proud and it was so totally you and I just couldn’t. Kinda like with the word remember. One day I’ll miss you saying “binimber”.

I’ll binimber you for always, little buddy.
I love you soSOsoSOsoSO very much.
Love,
Mommy

Logic and Glory

On Tuesday morning snow came down on the Eastern Coast. Not enough to worry some, but enough to cancel school and work for many. DC was covered in a lovely blanket of white and I was slated to fly in on Tuesday afternoon. I watched the weather carefully all day Monday and Tuesday morning, simultaneously hoping that it wouldn’t snow enough that my flight plans would be disrupted but that it’d snow enough that some would still be on the ground when I got there. (We don’t see a whole lot of snow down here in Georgia). Sure enough, the weather cleared up before I arrived and there was just enough snow for me to show my kids via text and FaceTime and win cool points. Sure, it was half-melted and had gone from fluffy to crunchy but it was SNOW!

Another way I get cool points with my kids is to show them pictures from the airport and from my flight. As we were beginning our descent into DC, I noticed our shadow in the clouds – something I’d seen before but knew my kids hadn’t. I quickly opened up my camera and tried to get a shot before we came out of the cloud. It was so fast that it didn’t even really have time to focus, but as soon as I snapped the shot I realized that there wasn’t just a shadow. Around the shadow was a perfect glowing circle. This is a cropped but not edited picture of what I saw. Nothing has been added or altered in this picture. No filters, no editing, no anything.

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Logic tells me that it was probably something to do with moisture in the air and the sunlight hitting it just right and blah-blah-blah. (Side note: Glory be! I was right). But sometimes logic doesn’t satisfy the soul. I’ve shown this picture to a handful of people, all of whom have called it something different(a circle of protection, the hand of God, a guardian angel) but who meant the same thing: something or someone protecting us on that flight. And though I believed that (logically) there was a reason for it, I’d be lying if I didn’t also feel (emotionally?) that it meant something. Even though I knew darn well there had to be a good explanation, I have to say that a warmth did settle into my chest. Like that feeling you get when a piece of music stirs your heart beyond words. Or the first time your child says “I love you” and you find a little catch in your throat. Or when the sound of someone’s voice stops you in your tracks and makes you turn, with a smiling face and thumping heart. Sometimes reason rules. Sometimes you have to listen to logic. But sometimes? Sometimes you just have to zip your lips, open your mind, and let your heart feel it all.

Creative Liberties: Holiday Edition

St. Nick's Night

Have you ever heard the story of the holiday ham? A young woman is hosting the holiday dinner at her new home and she gets the turkey started in the oven and then pulls out the ham, cuts it in half, and puts both halves in the oven. Her new husband asks why she went through all that work to cut the ham in half and she looks at him as if he were a fool and says, “That’s the way you’re supposed to do it.” The young man wasn’t so sure about that answer but he was sure that he didn’t want to get her all riled up before everyone got there so he dropped it and went on his way. But his question stayed with the young woman all morning long and when the young woman’s mother arrived the daughter asked, “Mom? Why do you cut the ham in half before you cook it?” “That’s just the way you do it,” answered her mother. “It…it cooks faster that way, I think.” But the young woman’s mother wasn’t really satisfied with her own answer and thought about it off and on the whole day until her mother arrived for dinner. While Grandmother was in the kitchen looking at all the delicious food, the Mother said, “This morning Susie asked me why you have to cut the ham in half before you cook it and I realized I don’t really know why. I’ve just always done it that way.” Grandmother begins to snicker as she says, “Well, I don’t know why you do it that way, but did it that way because I didn’t have one big pan to fit the whole ham on so I put one half on each of my two smaller pans.”

How many “traditions” started just like this. (I’d venture to say more than we realize)! Someone makes a split second decision and they run with it, not imagining that it will have much consequence but someone else latches onto it and whoops…now it’s tradition. “Well, that’s just how things happened” becomes “That’s the way we’ve always done it!”

Saint Nicholas Night happened like that for us. Several years ago a friend of mine told me about the Catholic tradition of St. Nicholas Feast Day which, long story short, is a day to celebrate St. Nicholas and his generosity. To celebrate, some children leave their shoes out by the hearth and St. Nicholas drops by and leaves them small toys and/or coins tucked inside. We decided to further that idea and leave out toys for St. Nick to pick up and take to the North Pole, refurbish, and then redistribute to other children for Christmas. That’s a Win-Win-Win in my book. Clear out old toys, teach the children about giving to others, and make it not so obvious if/when Santa brings pre-loved toys on Christmas morn. So we did it one year and then, quite honestly, I forgot about it.

The next year I saw a friend post about St. Nicholas on the morning of December 6. Whoops. We missed it! So we rounded up our toys (and I made a quick run to the store for goodies) and I told the children that St. Nicholas day was indeed December 6, but he didn’t come until that night. Carter was old enough that apparently that stuck in his brain and we’ve been doing it on the night of December 6 since. Thanks, Catholicism, for letting us borrow your Saint’s feast day. We’ve taken some creative liberties with how it should be celebrated and changed it around a bit. We call it St. Nick’s Night and he brings candy instead of small toys or coins. I love how it’s teaching our kids to think of others, to clear out some space and pass along what they’re aren’t using anymore, and to be mindful that pre-loved toys are just as lovely (sometimes even more so) as brand-new-in-the-box toys. This little tradition makes me happy and I wonder how (or if) it will change over time. Most things do, I suppose. But this is one idea that I’d like to keep around for as long as we can.

Happy St. Nick’s night, y’all!

 

 

Resolve : Cracked

I’m going along and one little thing after another chinks my armor,
this steely resolution that I’ve built around my head, my heart.

Weeds of doubt slip into the cracks. Words snake their way in.
And I am frightened but I don’t move. (I can’t).

I convince myself that it’s just a little thing. I can handle with it. NBD.
But it grows and grows and grows – little thing after little thing – until it’s all I can see.
The weeds curl around my heart and squeeze.
Bits of my soul ooze out, but I don’t feel a thing.

It squeezes and squeezes and squeezes until the only things left are anger, bitterness, hurt, and yes…a little pride.
(But not enough).

Smile a While

Smile a while and give your face a rest.
Wave your hand to the one you love the best.
Then shake hands with those nearby and greet them with a smile.

If one Sunday morning you find yourself at the little country church where my Papa preaches, you’ll hear this song. The piano will twang along and the people will sing whole-heartedly, not worrying about how they sound. There’s something special in those little churches that big churches lose somewhere along the way. There’s also something special about being greeted with a smile. It not only makes an impression on people, it just makes you both feel better.

Last week I rushed into Walgreens right before they closed. I always feel bad when I walk in at the very last second because I remember being that person behind the counter who is silently cursing the person that walks in at closing time. I rushed to grab what I needed and then headed to the checkout. Scrambling for my debit card, I didn’t even look the cashier in the eye. But all of a sudden she said, “I remember you. You’re the one who waved and smiled and said ‘Good morning’.” I looked up at her, a smile now dancing on my face. I was. I am! It was me, the one who waved and smiled and said, “Good morning.” And I’d completely forgotten about it until that moment. But she hadn’t. And that made me happy.

Earlier in the week I’d walked in while the entire Walgreens staff was huddled in the front of the store having a meeting. When I walked in I was greeted with a plethora of “Welcome to Walgreen”s – a habit for many of them, I’m sure. And, without even thinking about it, I made a huge (and I do mean huge) circular wave and almost shout-sang “Good Morning!”, hanging on to the rrrrnnnn sound much longer than I should have. I laughed at myself and my reaction. Who does that?, I thought. I’d looked like a total fool. I blushed a little, laughed and went on my merry way.

Even though it was long-gone from my memory, that cashier hadn’t forgotten. Maybe she remembered because she thought I was a fool. Maybe they all snickered about it once I walked away. But I like to think that my silliness really did brighten their day, that maybe I passed my smile around. And, I thought, I’m extra glad that she remembered me for being the smiling one instead of the grouchy one (because, unfortunately, there have been plenty of times when I could have easily been remembered as the latter).

So smile a while and give your face a rest. It’ll do us all some good.

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Gratuitous picture of my four favorite smiling faces

Breastmilk Boo(hoo)

It always catches me off-guard, that moment when the scab is ripped off. I’d completely forgotten about it and then I hear a conversation or read a post and it all comes rushing back to me. And I know that the people who share these words do it out of love. They believe whole-heartedly that breast is best and they want you to believe it, too. And here’s the thing, I agree with them. In other circumstances, I might even be one of them. I might be the one rattling off all the benefits and calling for others to try harder, go longer. But I’m not because I couldn’t be. I couldn’t nurse my babies. And I see them now and I know – I know beyond a shadow of a doubt – that my babies are growing up to be smart, productive (tiny) citizens of society. But still it haunts me, this ache that has lessened with time but never completely goes away. I wanted to breastfeed my babies and I couldn’t. I did it all, tried it all, gave it my all (and then some) and it just.didn’t.work. I don’t think I’ve ever cried more over a single thing in my life. Giving up broke my heart every single time, even after I promised myself I wouldn’t get my hopes up. I always found myself daydreaming of a nursing newborn and how wonderful it would be, but things rarely turn out like they do in our daydreams, I suppose.

Of all the things in my life that I wish had maybekindasorta been a little different, this is what I wish I could change the most. I bottle fed skin-to-skin. I made lots of eye contact. I did everything I could to make bottle feeding as much like breast feeding as I could and yet I still feel like I missed something. And, as illogical as I know it is, I still feel like I did something wrong. That it was my fault. That I didn’t try hard enough. That I gave up too quickly. That I didn’t try more things. Even though I know damn well that’s not what happened. The mind is a funny thing, isn’t it? 

I know this much though: my children are pretty darn smart and imaginative, even without that liquid gold. I mean, what 4 year old asks to be the man in the moon for Halloween? That’s some serious thinking outside the box.
the ivey league halloween 2013

Gratitude (or something like it)

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Is there a word for that moment when you feel so overwhelmed with gratitude that you can’t even move? That moment that just socks you in the stomach so hard that you can’t breathe and tears roll down your eyes simply because you’re aware – so veryvery aware – of all the good, all the beautiful, all the wonderful that’s right here in your lap. Surely there is. I may even know the word but my whole body is so absorbed in living and loving this moment that there’s no brain power left to add words. Or maybe there aren’t words. Maybe it’s something that transcends language.

I start to count my blessings and I can’t finish one thought before another crashes into it. Words are too slow, too cumbersome, too human to catch up with what I think, what I feel. And I’m convinced that this is the kind of prayer that brings me closest to God. The kind of prayer that has no words.

Uncomfortable

I read about some inequality or hatred that I’ve never heard about or even thought about before…and I squirm a bit in my seat. Scootching to the side, I leave room for my familiar friend Uncomfortable to join me. I may not like it, but I have to remind myself that Uncomfortable doesn’t always equal Bad. Uncomfortable means that I’ve noticed, that maybe even if I want to look away, my heart-gut is saying, “Listen up…this is important.”

So instead of shying away, I sit with the Uncomfortable. Let it weigh heavy on my chest and really wrestle with it. What does it mean? What does it mean for me? Do I dare to even ask? Maybe…maybe…I’m supposed to do something. Write a letter to the editor. Stand up for someone who might not be so easy to stand up for. Go do that thing that my heart is telling me to do. Or, possibly harder than any of those, change. Change my heart, change my mind. Changing isn’t a sign of weakness; it’s a sign of growth.

I think I’m growing now. I walk around with the uncomfortable weighing down my pockets. I hide it there, thinking no one will notice. And it’s not, like it’s been a hundred times before, that I’m uncomfortable in my own skin. Quite the opposite, really. Certainty is the belt holding up my heavy-pocketed pants. But how long can I drag around these stones of hurt and frustration and disconnect before I tire my own self out, like a toddler runningrunningrunning until – all of a sudden – I stop.

I open my head, my heart, my hands…waiting for something, anything.
And, for now, this is all I find:
You must love each other, just as I have loved you.

I think that’s enough to keep me busy for a while.

Simplicity and Slate

“Mama! Is this a real slate like Laura and Mary would have used?”
“Yeah. Kinda like that.”
“Oh my gosh, Carter! Look! It’s a real slate like for learning stuff. Like in the Little House books! Can we get it, Mama? Pleasepleasepleasepleeeeease.”

The girl knows I’m a sucker for books and that this will be an easy sell. (It was).

"Little House Best book ever! I'm reading the fith book!!!!!"

Little House
Best book ever! I’m reading the fith[sic] book!!!!!

We started the Little House series several months ago and we used to take a break between each book to read something else. But the end of book four was so sad and book five begged to be read and so we started it the next night. Every night I read to them. (The little kids get their turn earlier in the day). They are both completely capable of reading these books independently but there’s something about hearing it read aloud that makes it magical. And as long as they will let me read to them, I’ll continue to do so. It’s one of my favorite parts of having children. Seriously.

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We went on a field trip recently where there were covered wagons and beef jerky and a little log cabin. Her eyes glittered with excitement and happiness as she listened to the guide talk about the tiny house and how Laura’s house would have been much smaller than this one. Whoa! I thought. And I glanced at her and she mouthed the same to me. We were smashed into the tiny cabin with maybe 20 other people, double what it was built to hold. Can you imagine 8-10 people in that tiny little house? There was one small bed and a crib, a fireplace, a table, and a rocking chair. The loft was tiny but aching for little children to visit, but rules are rules and there was no climbing the ladder that day.

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As I looked around at the simplicity, I wondered where it all went wrong. Hear me out. I’m not glamorizing it. These people lived hard lives and I’m not asking for tradesies (because, for starters, I <3 my A/C).  They endured struggles that I can’t even begin to imagine. But as I read the books I notice that they never seem worried about what made them “happy” or what feels good but what kept them alive and what was the best for the whole family. Were they better for it? Maybe, maybe not. I don’t have an answer, but it’s a question I think about often.

I read a passage tonight about the family traveling to Silver Lake. It describes mile after mile after mile of nothing but a giant sky and blowing grass. My kids can’t even really imagine grass tall enough to blow. And, if I’m being honest, I can’t imagine miles and miles of nothing. We live in a rural area, but not that rural. (Although sometimes I wish we did).

My eyes and my voice are both tired. I stumble over a word or two as my mouth tries to keep up with my brain (ever a problem for me). Her eyes are flicking on and off but she leans in, hearing each word and letting my voice take her on a journey that starts on a bouncy wagon seat and ends with her dreams. Her book of dreams; that’s the book I really wish I could read.

~just write~