Reading, Reviews

All The Pretty Things and Other September Reads

Thank you for all your kind words after my last post, The Summer That Was Quiet and Hard. Knowing that the whole self-contempt, identity issue is something many of us face, I wanted to share a few books that are helping me think through it all. 

This past month or so of reading has been completely out of the ordinary. I am usually a novel girl, as in, I read lots of novels and throw in a few nonfiction books here and there for good measure. But when you’re trying to figure out a lot of real life and you feel like you’re wading through deep waters, a thirst for help and wisdom and true stories from other travelers along the path is all that will do. And I gotta say, a couple of these books that just came out in the last two months are amazingly wonderfully.

Present Over Perfect

Present Over Perfect: Leaving Behind Frantic for a Simpler, More Soulful Way of LivingI put Shauna Niequist’s Present Over Perfect on my Spring TBR list, hoping to get an early release copy. I didn’t get one, but it was God’s goodness to me that I didn’t and that somehow I didn’t even get around to buying it the day it came out. I waited to read it until the very end of August. There could not have been a more perfect book for me to read at that very moment in my life. This surprised me, because I actually thought before I started the book, “I’ve kind of heard a lot about this message –the slow your pace, pay more attention to the present message–lately and I’m not so sure this book is going to have anything new to say about it.” Let me tell you, I was wrong.  Present Over Perfect bowled me over. It was this book that helped me recognize the self contempt I was feeling, and the one that gave me some tools to start waging the slow thought-battle against it. Niequist has so many good things to say about how we define ourselves and what our defining measures can do to our lives, in good and bad ways. I want to read it again right this minute. I hope you pick it up, and I hope it is the huge gift to you that it was to me.

All the Pretty Things

All the Pretty Things: The Story of a Southern Girl Who Went Through Fire to Find Her Way HomeEdie Wadsworth of Life In Grace has been writing her memoir for three years. This is one of those, “I wasn’t going to write a memoir but a publisher asked me to” situations that makes aspiring writers jealous and angry, but I am really glad that Wadsworth wrote it, no matter what the process was. All The Pretty Things is a book I couldn’t put down. Edie grew up in rural Tennessee, the daughter of dysfunction and love. Her family and her story will make you laugh and cry in sequence over and over again. I loved it. If you’re a fan of The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls, this book is definitely your cup of tea. I liked it even better than Walls’s memoir because of the huge measure of hope and redemption on every page. I bought this book. I love books, I read tons of books, but the library is my best friend. I hardly ever buy brand new books, but I bought this one. It’s so good, and filled with hope in hard situations. (Side note: her short podcast series Grace Talks is still my favorite podcast ever).

Chase

Chase Study Guide: Chasing After the Heart of GodThis is the second study I’ve done by Jennie Allen (the first one was Stuck) and again I am so thankful for the books and studies that are in my life at just the right time. Chase begins with a chapter called “Identity” and that is perfect. I’m finding you have to come face to face with who you are without God and with God before anything can become clear and you can live in the goodness God gives us. Chase studies the life of David and so far it’s been eye opening to look at stories I’ve read a million times (like David and Goliath) through the lens of how David’s belief in God changed his actions when compared to everyone around him. Truly, what we believe about God and ourselves changes everything.

So that’s what I read in September. And now it’s October! I’ll be back in a few days to post my reading goals for this Fall. Until then, have a great start to October!

Reading, Reviews

Quick Lit Review- August, 2016

I’m linking up with Modern Mrs. Darcy’s Quick Lit today to review what I’ve been reading lately. I have to confess, most of these books were read at the end of July or before August 6 because OLYMPICS. I save up all my TV watching hours for four years and cram them into two weeks and I loooove it. I wrote here about how my husband and I had to re-think our sports watching habits a few years ago, but I will not be moved on this– I will watch as much Summer Olympics as possible. But onto the books I did read since last month’s Quick Lit review!

The Light of ParisThe Light of Paris, by Eleanor Brown – I looked forward to this new book coming out by Brown because I really enjoyed her debut novel, The Weird Sisters. The Light of Paris was not as appealing to me, partly because it’s one of those back-and-forth situations between a character in the past and present, which I am pretty much sick of. The one technique that saves this novel structure in The Light of Paris is the present day plot is narrated in first person and the past plot is narrated in third person, so it’s a tiny bit easier to keep the plot lines straight in your mind. Still, I much prefer getting into one character’s story and staying there. Other than structure, I’d give it a 2.5 stars, mostly because the themes and story lines were not all that believable or enthralling.

The Affair at the Inn – I discovered that Kate Wiggins, author of Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, co-wrote a charming little book about a group of travelers in England in the 1800s. It was amusing, a nice light read for fans of old books and free on Project Gutenberg.

The House on the Cliff – My most recent D.E. Stevenson read. As usual, she does not disappoint.

The Grand Sophy – First foray into Georgette Heyer! I can’t say it turned me into a devoted fan, but all the readers who say Heyer is great for a sick day weren’t lying.

The Middle PlaceThe Middle Place – Kelly Corrigan’s first memoir is a touching and honest account of dealing with cancer and family relationships at the same time, though I much more enjoyed this memoir about a brush with death, largely because of the faith behind it. I listened to this one while painting some furniture.

Deck with Flowers – More Elizabeth Cadell! She’s my new-old discovery this summer, and I’m really enjoying reading her books as I can find them.

There’s an Easier Way: 21 Ways to Lovingly Raise Your Children Without Regrets – I picked up this booklet on Amazon after hearing one of the authors, Bonni Greiner, speak on The God Centered Mom Podcast (which I highly recommend). The book is an easy read that doesn’t go incredibly deep but is full of useful tidbits, all of them doable and sensible. If you’re feeling overwhelmed as a mom but you also don’t feel up to reading a deeply theological parenting book, this one is great to get you thinking in the right direction without robbing too many precious brain cells or sleep. =)

I’m currently in the middle of new release Radio Girls, and enjoying it so far! What have you been reading?

Everyday Life, Reading

The Wisdom in Literature: Truths for Everyday Life

There have been many people in the past ten or so years who have either implied or straight out said that they think reading fiction is a waste of time. I don’t think they were exactly condemning fiction, just letting me know that they felt a certain level of guilt when they spent time or brain energy reading a novel. As a to-do list lover, I understand that feeling to some extent. Even so, I still confidently say, “Literature and stories have changed my life for the better.”  It could take hours to fully flesh out this statement.  I think there’s plenty of research to show how valuable reading quality novels is (like this article about readers being empathetic or this one about reading fiction to improve brain function), but I’m not going to argue on that kind of scholarly level today.  Instead, I’m going to give some concrete examples of wisdom I’ve gathered from literature. These are pieces of wisdom I’ve gleaned recently and long ago that I’m actually putting into practice in my everyday life right now.

1. Hungry boys need bread and butter.

I have a five-year-old boy. I am not lying when I say he is always hungry.  I’m not sure what I would think about this as a mom, having only grown up with girls in the house, if this conversation from Anne of Avonlea between Anne and Davy (who is six) hadn’t stuck with me:

“Anne, I’m awful hungry. You’ve no idea.”

“I’ll get you some bread and butter in a minute.

“But I ain’t bread and butter hungry, “said Davy in a disgusted tone. “I’m plum cake hungry.”

“Oh,” laughed Anne, laying down her letter and putting her arm about Davy to give him a squeeze, “that’s a kind of hunger that can be endured very comfortably, Davy-boy. You know that it’s one of Marilla’s rules that you can’t have anything but bread and butter between meals.”

Well, if even Marilla can admit that little boys must have something to eat between meals, then I guess it’s a fact. Let them eat bread and butter! (or something equally wholesome).

2. Get your work done in the morning.

D.E. Stevens has many practical and plucky characters in her books (and I like or love them all). I read The House on the Cliff a couple of weeks ago, which featured as a side character the delightful Mrs. Chowne (whom I have irreparably paired in my mind with Mrs. Patmore). At one point in the book, the main character finds Mrs. Chowne up very early and asks her why, and Mrs. Chowne replies, “I like getting up early on a nice bright morning. The work gets done much quicker if it’s done early.” So true. Anytime I make a to-do list, if I don’t get the majority of it done before lunch, it typically doesn’t get done, or if it does, it takes a dreadful amount of time. I don’t know how to explain this, except that Mrs. Chowne is simply right.

3. A little time away from children can help you love them more.

There’s nothing like feeling completely smothered from morning til, well, morning, that makes me grumpier. Especially in those years when there’s a newborn needing me all night and a toddler or two adding to the neediness all day, I feel like something in me is going to crack. But once everyone is (mostly) sleeping through the night, sanity returns. As Kelly Corrigan writes in The Middle Place“I wake up with Georgia just inches from my nose, urgently notifying me that Claire is ready to get up. I always love them best first thing in the morning, having forgotten something critical about them in the night, something gorgeous and utterly lovable.” After a good night’s sleep when nobody wakes me up, my children’s eyes seem more beautiful, their skin more exquisite, their voices like music. That’s the light at the end of the tunnel during the all night-neediness years.

4. Tidying up a sickroom will make the sick person feel better.

Near the beginning of Little Women, Jo goes to visit Laurie for the first time. He has been housebound with a bad cold for a week and needs some cheering up. When Jo comes in, she looks around and sees that the room Laurie has been confined to during his sickness is nice, but definitely in need of her help. She says to Laurie,

“I’ll right it up in two minutes, for it only needs to have the hearth brushed, so,–and the things made straight on the mantel-piece,so–and the books put here, and the bottles there, and your sofa turned from the light, and the pillows plumped up a bit. Now, then, you’re fixed.” And so he was; for, as she laughed and talked, Jo had whisked things into place, and given quite a different air to the room.

Having been under the weather myself for the last three weeks, I can tell you that this made up piece of fiction is absolute gold. Even if you are the sick person and you can only make your bed before you get back into it, just doing that will lift your mood. A few days ago, I undertook to clear all the junk out of the corners and along the walls of my bedroom in a burst of energy. Even though I had to spend more time resting later, I felt a peace about me that wasn’t there when the room was cluttered. Something to remember for the next time you or a loved one is sick. (On the other hand—I have certain loved ones who would be straight up annoyed if I came to visit and started cleaning the bedroom. Know your sick person…though sometimes it’s a risk I’m willing to take…).

5. Don’t Think Too Hard At Night

This one might be the best. It’s from a children’s book with a not-so-wise-sounding title: Bing Bong Bang and Fiddle Dee Dee. There’s a lot of good stuff in it, though, for kids and grown ups. Here’s the part I hope to remember until my dying day:

“The morning is wiser than the evening. And the light is better, too.”

How many times have you been lying awake with a problem or worry running circles in your mind, and it’s actually gotten better thanks to your nighttime thinking? Or have you had an argument at night that didn’t only get worse the more you talked? Personally, this has never happened. Problems or disagreements stretch at night like scary black shadows, but in the morning, they are once again just the size of the thing they really are and they can actually be dealt with. Maybe you’re getting the idea that I’m a morning person, but I think this is pretty much universal–problem solving and argument resolving are daytime events.

Have I made my point yet? Sure, this wisdom is always true, whether it’s put down in black and white nonfiction or told in a story. When it’s in a story, though, it has a way of etching deeper into my mind and proving its worth. That’s why I don’t think fiction can ever be called a waste of time.

Reading, Reviews

July Reading – New Favorites and Quick-Lit Reviews

Today I’m linking this update on summer reading post up to Modern Mrs. Darcy’s Quick Lit. Check out lots of other quality recommendations on her page!

Vinegar GirlVinegar Girl, by Anne Tyler – If you’ve ever read an Anne Tyler book and thought “Her writing is so beautiful, but I’m at the end of the book and I still don’t know what it’s about!” then this book is for you.  It has a definite plot with a beginning, middle, and end. I think of that as a plus, as much as I admire Anne Tyler’s other books. Vinegar Girl is a modern retelling of Shakespeare’s The Taming of The Shrew (remember that 90’s movie, Ten Things I Hate About You? Also a retelling of that same play). In this retelling, the main character, Katherine, is a grown woman, but this book definitely has a Young Adult feel to it. It’s short and sweet and very clean, but some of the themes Tyler weaves in it might just stick with you. Anyone could enjoy it, and English teachers everywhere should definitely check it out.

The Friendly AirThe Friendly Air, by Elizabeth Cadell – I’ve discovered Elizabeth Cadell and my summer just got ten times better. I know there are way too many reviews about all sorts of books that say things like “This writer is a modern Jane Austen!,” and I’m about to add another one. Cadell really does write lighthearted yet interesting books about quality characters whom you will end up liking. This one was published in 1970 but it has a timeless feel. It’s about a young woman, Emma, who strikes up a friendship with an older eccentric woman, bound and determined to move to a warmer climate. She somewhat randomly picks Portugal and sets up Emma as her moving assistant. Of course, Emma becomes much more and adventure and romance ensue.

The Yellow Brick RoadThe Yellow Brick Road, by Elizabeth Cadell – My second Cadell book, and completely different from the first. This one is a mystery that starts with Jody, a sensible young lady, falling down some stairs during a job in London and waking up with the solid but mysterious knowledge that things are not as they seem. She is sure she did not simply faint and fall down some stairs, but it seems like no one wants her to know what really happened. As she pursues the truth and gathers allies along the way, the cozy world she took for granted is entirely changed. I read this book from start to finish in one day (on a sick day). It’s a great summer read!

Life Among the SavagesLife Among the Savages, Shirley Jackson – A few weeks ago, I was losing my sense of humor in mothering. Everything felt overwhelming, from getting my children to do their chores to dealing with bullying. I picked up this book and was saved. The beginning is a little slow, as Jackson sets the scene for where her family lives and works, but pretty soon Jackson had me laughing out loud over her account of shopping in a department store with her two children, or her attempt to make coffee while in labor with her third child. I can see myself reading this again in about five years. I need a whole slew of this type of books! Mothering is serious business, but if I can keep laughing as I go along, I might just make it.

The Curate’s Awakening – I’m not sure how to describe this book, other than it’s sort of a combination of a Thomas Hardy novel mixed with C.S. Lewis. It’s a novel about a young country curate (think beginner pastor) coming to grips after already choosing his profession with the fact that he doesn’t actually know what Christianity is about or if he even believes it. I’m about half way through and finding it to give me lots of food for thought. Also, the subplot of a young lady and her murderous brother keeps things moving along pretty well. (Thanks to my friend Mary for lending me this one!)

Beyond Our SelvesBeyond Ourselves, by Catherine Marshall – Catherine Marshall is the author of the famous Christy. You may have known that, but did you know Marshall wrote quite a lot of nonfiction, too? Beyond Ourselves is Marshall’s memoir of her spiritual journey in living in God’s strength was on my Fall 2014 Reading List… and I’m just now getting around to it.  I can’t even tell you how much I’ve gotten out of it thus far. My favorite quote so far:

Our emotions are often painfully misleading, and at best we have imperfect control over them…Our feelings can be affected by such irrelevant matters as the mood of those around us, by whether we had a good night’s sleep, by hunger or indigestion, or by a morning in which the rain blew through the open window, spattered the wallpaper, and the neighborhood dogs turned over the garbage pail. “I don’t feel God’s presence today,” we wail. What is the remedy? It is simplicity itself: our emotions are not the real us. (emphasis mine) (p. 58)

Fans of Elizabeth Elliot will find a lot to like about this book. I snagged the copy I own on a whim when our church library shut down and gave away all its books, but you can easily get a copy for about $4 off of Amazon if your local library doesn’t have it.

That sums up what I’ve been reading lately! Found any gems this summer? Let me know in the comments!

Reading, Reviews, Top Ten Tuesday

My Top Ten Beach Reads

Is there any felicity on earth that compares to reading a great book on a quiet beach? No. There is not.

I’m linking up to the Top Ten Tuesday meme over at thebrokeandthebookish.com to share my five favorite beach reads from the past and the five books I’ll be reading this summer. What’s even better is I’m also including the five books you must read with your kids at the beach! Fifteen for the price of ten! Hang on to your sunhats.

Favorite Past Beach Reads

  1. The Pilot’s Wife – Shreve is like Piccoult: she may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but read at least one of her books. Her writing is beautiful.
  2. Jacob Have I Loved – YA that you’ll never leave behind
  3. The Light Between OceansThe Light Between Oceans – I think this will be considered a classic in fifty years. (more about this book here!)
  4. What Alice Forgot – Light hearted, yet thought provoking.
  5. Orphan Train – A great piece of historical fiction!

Bonus: If you have not read these, these two off my Favorite Books List are best by the beach!

  1. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
  2. Anne’s House of Dreams

What I plan to read this summer:

(though probably not on the beach—I have three kids 7 and under…reading on the beach is a thing of the past and the future, but not the present).

  1. The Forgotten Room – Karen White is best read by the ocean! I especially loved Long Time Gone
  2. Everyone Brave is Forgiven – The book of the year, apparently! It’s often compared to All the Light We Cannot See.
  3. At the Edge of SummerAt the Edge of Summer – A new book by the author of Letters from Skye.
  4. Birds of a Feather – I read the first Maise Dobbs book a while ago, and it’s high time I moved on with this fabulous series.
  5. Deerbrook – An old book I’ve never heard of til recently! It’s compared to works by Gaskell and the Brontes, so sign me up! Also, it’s available for free on Project Gutenberg.

 

Great beach reads for you and your kids!

  1. The Maggie B. – I am in love with this book.
  2. Jonathan and the Big Blue Boat – Great for little boys!
  3. Amy's EyesAmy’s Eyes – I read this chapter book in an old beach house when I was 10 or so and thought it was awesome.
  4. The Nickelplated Beauty – Such a good book about a family who lives near the sea, their rusty stove, and their love for their mama.
  5. The Golden Venture – Out of print, but an absolute treasure. I checked it out repeatedly in the library as a kid. It’s about a girl who stows away to follow her dad to the California Gold Rush and ends up living in San Francisco.

I think I could go on forever! Beach reading is absolutely the best. I’m looking forward to a great summer of books and beaches. Share your favorite beach reads for you or for children!

[Side note: My brain is already on vacation. Seriously, it thinks it’s lounging on a beach chair sipping lemonade in a tropical oasis. The only problem with this is, it’s totally not true. We are not done with school yet (two more days), we are still in the middle of a million house projects, and life is very busy. I am trying my hardest to focus and get motivated to get stuff done, but my brain is saying, “Sorry. I’m done. DONE.” And my body is not far behind it. I’m tired, and it’s a weird tired. An “I’ve been sitting by the pool for three hours and can’t will myself to move” kind of tired. Except I have most certainly not been sitting by the pool. I’ve been staring at unfolded laundry and stirring macaroni and cheese. Hence the quiet on the blog. I can’t think an original thought, even though I’m off Facebook, so hang tight…something will come to me eventually. But maybe not til the rest of me joins my brain at the beach.]

Reading, Reviews

Update on the Spring Reading List

Time for a quick catch up on some recent reading! As always, my reading list is mishmash of novels and a little bit of nonfiction. A couple of months ago, I put out my Spring TBR list of 9 books. Here’s how it played out.

  1. The Summer Before the WarThe Summer Before The War, Helen Simonson – I loved the setting and the characters of this book. One the one hand, I wanted to read about them forever. On the other hand, the pace of the novel was uneven and it was hard to pull out the overarching themes that take a book from just a story to something worth recommending. Not as good as Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand.
  2. The Song of Hartgrove Hall, Natasha Solomons – Also did not meet expectations. Very gloomy characters. Very gloomy setting. The main character is a moody young man in some parts of the book and a grumpy old man in others, who doesn’t seem to have developed much of a moral compass or compassion for others in between times. The back and forth between time periods disjointed the book. Solomons’s The House at Tyneford was much better.
  3. Keep Me Posted, Lisa Beazley – Surprisingly, this one was my favorite. It was PG-13 rated in my opinion, and sometimes got a little too gossipy in tone at the beginning when the two main characters, sisters living in different countries, start writing letters back and forth. However, this book was actually one of the catalysts that led me to Give Up Facebook. I liked its themes of true friendship and authenticity. It’s not a literary masterpiece, but it has redeeming value, likable narrators, and it was just what I needed to read at the time I picked it up.
  4. Flood Girls, Richard Fifield – Abandoned early because of excessive crudity.
  5. Lilac Girls, Martha Hall Kelly – I want to go back to this one…but I’m scared. I got about 1/8 of the way in and chickened out. Why? Well, I’ve read quite a few books set in WWII. Now, I get to a certain point in the story and think, “Oh, no. No no no. I know that place. I know that name. I know how this is going to play out…and it isn’t going to be pretty.” Lilac Girls is in a stack with The Nightingale right now, waiting for me to recover enough bravery to go on.
  6. Present Over Perfect, Shauna Niequist – Didn’t get an early copy, so it’s still high on the list this summer. It has an August release date.
  7. Longing for Paris, Sarah Mae – Still in the middle of this one! I’m struggling to engage with it, but I don’t think it’s because it’s not a good book. I think it’s because it hits pretty close to home. Sarah Mae is presenting an idea and a challenge that requires hard consideration on my part. So I keep putting it off, saying, “Maybe tomorrow.”
  8. High Rising, Angela Thirkell – Haven’t gotten a hold of a copy yet. Thirkell isn’t exactly floating around libraries and used bookstores in the U.S.
  9. Last Stop on Market Street – Still on the holds list at the library for this one!

And now for some short reviews of books that got added to the Spring reading list as I went along!

A Place We Once Knew Well, Susan Carol McCarthy

SA Place We Knew Wellet in Florida in 1962 during the Cuban Missile Crisis, this is the story of how the missile crisis was the tipping point for many other crises in a small town near McCoy Air Force Base. Before reading this book, I knew nothing about the Cuban Missile Crisis. The historical accuracy of the book combined with the emotional story depicting how many Americans must have felt during those 13 days of uncertainty in 1962 was fascinating. The actual story and characters delve into some other themes of the time like women’s healthcare and mental health. Those were not as thrilling, but all in all it was good enough to make it a solid 3 star book.

Land Girls, Angela Huth

I thought I’d love this book. I hated it. It is set in the English countryside during WWII, and follows the experiences of three young women who signed up to be Land Girls. These women did the farm work that the men would have done if they hadn’t been called to war, and then some.  All that sounds fascinating, right? Sadly, that is where the historical accuracy of this book ends. Angela Huth imposed a college co-ed dormitory lifestyle of today onto characters and situations from the 1940s. The amount of “shagging” going on was ridiculous. The amount of food these girls ate was also ridiculous (rationing, hello?). Beyond the historical inaccuracies, the amount of time spent in the secondary characters’ thoughts was jarring and unpleasant. If Huth had stuck to developing the three main characters and kept their actions in line with other literature of the period, this could have been a great book. Unfortunately, it is loathsome. And the original Land Girls think so, too.

Heidi's ChildrenHeidi Grows Up and Heidi’s Children, Charles Tritten

I need large doses of Old Fashioned Goodness in my reading life, and these were perfect. They made for excellent bedtime reading.

Stars Over Sunset Boulevard

I grabbed this one up when I saw it was a new release by Susan Meissner, who wrote one of my favorite books of last year, Secrets of a Charmed Life. Set in the late 1930s, Stars Over Sunset Boulevard follows two women as their unlikely friendship progresses. The theme of motherhood is big in this book, and I appreciated how Meissner presented it tenderly and as something of great value, but also shattered the myth that it will complete a woman. The book is on the cusp of the change in what a woman expects from her life — from children and marriage and a life firmly rooted at home to a career. The two main characters present opposite sides of that shift. The complexity of their friendship as they navigate their differences points to the most important theme in the book — nothing you strive for in life will take the place of being truthful and living with love for others greater than love for yourself.

All in all, I haven’t come across anything work more than 3 stars this Spring. The search for the great summer read of 2016 is on!

Everyday Life, Home Renovation, Reading, Reviews

Why I Loved The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up

So have you heard of this book, The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up? A few months ago it seemed like all my friends were telling me about. Apparently, it’s become all the rage since its release in 2014. In it, Marie Kondo outlines her KonMari method of tidying up your home once and for all. I didn’t want to hear about that, though. When this book came up in conversation, I would smile and nod, but I was thinking, “I don’t need to read another book about housekeeping, I just need to buckle down and keep house.” So I tried the Buckle Down Method. For months.  It worked terribly. When we moved into our fixer upper, I told myself it would be different. I would have more space and we would have a place for everything. But here’s the thing: if you’re not willing to confront all the things you have, you’re not willing to put them away. 

Moving after ten years of marriage and three children was eye opening. I was floored by all the boxes we pulled out of the attic only t to move them to another attic. They were out of sight, but they were weighing on my mind—what is in all those boxes? I always thought I was a ruthless de-clutterer! And it wasn’t just the attic. All my mental images of peaceful rooms were replaced with mounds of stuff.  I know I could say, “give yourself a break, you just moved in,” but that would not have been the truth. The truth was I liked our house better before we moved our belongings into it, which seems the opposite of how it should be.

Then came Spring in the midst of it all. The week after Easter feels like the true New Year. January is just a joke, when we’re still wanting to hibernate in the winter season of rest.  I don’t remember consciously deciding to, but I guess all this fresh air got to me, and I took the plunge and read The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up cover to cover last week. Surprisingly, I loved it.  Okay, yes, there was a bit too much treating inanimate objects like they are living beings, but ignore all that and what you have is a whole new way to declutter and manage your home that actually works.

Before I tell you the five kinds of items I got rid of after reading this book, let me tell you a tiny bit about the KonMari method. The first step is going through your belongings by item type, not by room. You handle your things and ask “Does it spark joy?” Now, you don’t have to ask this about things like your toothbrush, but its a valid question for just about everything else. You may be shocked how many things in your house actually spark feelings of guilt or worse that you never even realized. I’m not trying to get all touchy-feely or assign life to inanimate objects, but Kondo’s point that our possessions have an effect on us is, strangely enough, true. So you go through this process for your clothes, your books, and progress through all the different kinds of items in your house, ending with your keepsakes and photos. Then, and only then, do you work on putting things away. Because every single thing in your house needs a home. Sound overwhelming? It’s not a process you can do in one week, for sure. Kondo recommends getting it all done in six months. I promise you, though, once you start, you’re going to want to get it all done right away!

Still curious about how this could actually be different from other methods of house cleaning? Let me share some unexpected results from my experience. Here are the five kinds things I got rid of after reading this book.

  1. Things I could use but I don’t want to use anymore. Perfectly good clothes fall in this category. I got rid of two canvas grocery bags of clothes. All of these clothes fit fine. They weren’t in bad shape. But they did not make me feel joy at all. For whatever reason, a certain blouse can make me feel like an uptight grump, and a specific dress can make me remember how inadequate I felt when I wore it to a wedding. I won’t ever put those clothes on and feel joy, no matter how serviceable or stylish they are. Beyond clothes, I got rid of scads of toiletries. Why in the world did I have 11 different bottles of lotion, with barely any used up? Six, yes six, of those bottles were expired. I threw all but one away because, newsflash to myself, I don’t even like using lotion! I now have one bottle of lotion and judging by previous lotion use, it will probably expire before I use it up.
  2. Things I’ve been meaning to use but haven’t. I.e. most of my craft supplies. I am not very crafty, yet when craft supplies come my way, I have trouble discarding them. I had in my stash glass painting supplies that I used when I was sixteen. I have been collecting odd yards of fabric for a decade, thinking I’ll someday sew something new and great with it….but I don’t really sew. Ever. The truth is if I am going to make something, I’m probably going to need new supplies. It turns out I only actually liked one piece out of the twenty pieces of fabric that have been taking up space in my home for ten years. All my glass paint was dried up. The only things I kept in my crafting stash were paints I’ve used in the last year, the one piece of fabric I liked, and my sewing kit I use for mending. I know if I really want to make something I’m going to want to use or display in my house, I’m need to pick the materials based what I like now, not what I had before. This category also could apply to books that glare at you with disdain from your bookshelf because you haven’t read them yet. Okay, so I find it pretty easy to personify books. But seriously. If you haven’t read it yet, you probably aren’t going to. And that’s what a library is for anyway!
  3. Things I thought made me who I am. Well, this is a tough one. Mementos and keepsakes come in all shapes and sizes. Weirdly enough, I’d been holding onto all my college papers. My mental hang up? I will probably never be in a situation again where the merit of my work was measured and found to be pretty great. I was good at college, and I liked to write academically. However, when I started re-reading the papers I pulled out of the attic, I realized I didn’t enjoy them at all. I am too far removed from that world to even know what I was talking about most of the time! It was something I was good at, but it’s not something I do anymore. Also, I still had all kinds of mementos from my wedding day. The sweat-stained satin shoes, the hundreds of greeting cards from friends and family, the dried boutonniere my husband wore. That’s what a wedding photographer is for, right?  It’s in this category that I found the most valuable principle I pulled out of Kondo’s book: “It is not our memories but the person we have become because of those past experiences that we should treasure. This is the lesson these keepsakes teach us when we sort them. The space in which we live should be for the person we are becoming now, not for the person we were in the past.” It’s okay to get rid of the clock you really loved six years ago. If you find yourself resentful of all the mugs you’ve collected from your travels, get rid of some! The you in the here and now needs more space to breathe and think than items to pull you from the present back to where you’ve been (on the flipside, if those mugs/candles/what-have-you spark joy, keep them!).
  4. Things I didn’t know I hoarded. Did you know that almost everyone hoards something? Kondo declares this to be true in her book. Before going through my things, I said to a friend who was telling me about her particular stockpile, “I don’t think I hoard anything. I am a terrible planner and have never had the foresight to maintain a stockpile, much to my chagrin sometimes!” Oh, but I was wrong. I counted over 250 sheet protectors from various places in my house. #whatanerdhoards. I vaguely remember this time when I seriously needed a sheet protector and didn’t have one in college…that fear has morphed into packages all around my home. Dumb? Well, I bet if you started pulling out all the you-name-its in your home, you’d be surprised at all the ballpoint pens or packages of unopened socks or bags of tortilla chips, or what have you. It only takes one time of not having what you need to make you feel like you must buy that item on a regular basis to avoid dire straits. I’m starting to wonder about my love of the name Avery…
  5. PhotosOkay, okay, before you shutter and walk away, I just want to declare this truth: Just because a moment is captured and frozen in time in a photo does not mean it’s worth keeping. I really did not need to move boxes from house to house with hundreds of photos in them of my high school missions trips, college beach trips, or even a trip to Europe. Seriously, if you go through photos (especially from back in the film era when every photo snapped was a photo developed), Kondo says you will probably only want to keep 1 in 5. This was definitely true for me. I kept plenty of photos to give a more than ample overview of my life and my favorite moments and people, and that’s all anyone needs.

The bottom line is this: having a cluttered home makes me feel like all my problems are just that- having a cluttered home. Kondo shares story after story of how after clients tidy up, they are left with that delusion stripped away and get down to working on the real issues in their lives. Some of her clients changed jobs, some lost a ton of weight, others mended relationships. A cluttered home is not a life or death matter, but it can keep us from confronting all sorts of things because we hide behind the fact that we can’t deal with anything else, our homes are too much of a mess. Best to get that in order first. Yes…if you actually do it. This is the life changing part. Get your house in order once and for all and get on with your life. Have I done that yet? Noooooo. I’ve still got a lot of work to do. But I really hope that by the end of this summer, my home will be in order.

Image result for oak island beach houseMy goal is the feeling you get when you walk into a beach house you’ve rented for the week. The corners are empty. The floor doesn’t have stacks of anything on it. There is no laundry piled up on the beds. The air seems clearer and cleaner. Am I aiming too high? After reading The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, I really don’t think so. I want to live with just what I need and just what makes our home beautiful to us.

I’m also looking forward to Kondo’s next book, Spark JoyBut first, more tidying!

Reading, Top Ten Tuesday

Spring To Be Read – A Top Ten Tuesday List

It’s been eons since I’ve joined in on a Top Ten Tuesday link up, but I’m back at it today because I’m excited about several books coming out this Spring! For more ideas on what to read this Spring, head on over to The Broke and the Bookish and explore what others are reading!

~My list~

  1. The Summer Before the War, Helen Simonson

The Summer Before the WarAfter reading Simonson’s first book, Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand, I knew she was just the kind of author I like. Her new book follows a small town’s and a few of its inhabitants as the WWI looms over and then burst into their lives. I think Simonson will do a great job of capturing the setting and the characters, just as she did in Major Pettigrew, and I can’t wait to find out how her first attempt at  historical fiction turns out.

2. The Song of Hartgrove Hall, Natasha Solomons

I immediately put this on my TBR list after reading The Captive Reader’s early review of it. Natasha Solomon’s  The House at Tyneford was something of a Jane Eyre tale set in WWII, and it was beautifully written.  Now Solomons is in that same time period with her book The Song of Hartgrove Hall. In the UK, its title is The Song Collector, and I wish the publishers would have kept that title here in the States! It sounds like the title of a poem. But I’ll settle with the U.S. version and try to enjoy it anyway. =)

3. Keep Me Posted, by Lisa Beazley

Keep Me PostedSisters reconnecting through old fashioned letters in the modern age of social media? Sounds like a great read! I can think of all kinds of themes this book could explore, but I’ll have to wait til April 15 to find out what this book is really like. (Thanks to Memories From Books for alerting me to this new title!)

4. The Flood Girls, Richard Fifield

Set in Montana, The Flood Girls follows the coming home story of Rachel Flood as she tries to re-forge ties with her mother and slide back into the hilarious and quirky small town of Quinn. The Flood Girls is being compared to A League of Their Own and Russo’s Empire Falls — that’s enough for me to put it on my library hold list and give it a try!

5. Lilac Girls, Martha Hall Kelly

Another title with “girls” in it, but a completely different kind of book, Lilac Girls is based on the true story of Caroline Ferriday, an American woman whose post in the French consulate in 1939 led her into the fray of WWII and the pursuit for justice for two other women, German doctor Herta Oberheuser and polish girl Kasia Kuzmerick. This book tells the story of some unsung heroes of the era, and I’m looking forward to it!

6. Present Over PerfectShauna Niequist

I love Niequist’s books – she paints pictures with her words while lending perspective on embracing the beauty of this life while loving well and following hard after God. Bread and Wine gave me a better perspective on feeding my family and friends and even taught me a few things about cooking. Present Over Perfect doesn’t release til August, but I’m hoping to get an early copy. Fingers crossed!

7. Longing For Paris, Sarah Mae

Longing for Paris: One Woman's Search for Joy, Beauty, and Adventure--Right Where She IsAs a mom, it’s easy to feel like all you do is give everyone in your family what they need while ignoring the dreams that have been building inside of your for a lifetime. Sarah Mae gets this. She wrote Desperate from that place (one of my favorite books, by the way!), and now her new book is another exploration into finding hope in current situations. She has always wanted to spend time in Paris, but she’s never come close to that. Her book is about how all of us have ideals of places or positions that we think will truly fulfill us, but the art of living wholly here and finding joy right where we are is a worthy pursuit in this phase of life. I’ve got this one on my Kindle, just waiting for me to be brave enough to see what it’s all about.

8. High Rising, Angela Thirkell

I have not yet read anything by Angela Thirkell, but she is always mentioned in the same set as some of my favorite British authors, D.E. Stevenson and Barbara Pym, so I’m making it my goal to finally read High Rising this spring.

9. Last Stop on Market Street, Matt De La Pena

Winner of the 2016 Newberry Medal, this is one to go along with my Three Book Thursday series on children’s books. Stay tuned!

10. Many other books I have not discovered yet!

My reading lists are always fluid. I will stop reading some of these books I’ve listed today, or I will find other books that look better…but it’s always good to have goals and my goodreads.com to read list is always growing, despite how many books I check off!

Have a wonderful Spring full of books and outdoor reading, with lots of running around in the warm weather mixed in!

Reading, Reviews

Light Reading Gone Awry: What I’ve Read This Winter

I’ve said before that winter is the best time for reading. A great classic and a warm fire on a cold night is just delightful. However, in the midst of all this renovating craziness and cold season sleep deprivation, I absolutely have to keep the reading light and easy.  I’m about to rethink my light reading theory, though, because it is so hard to find a quality light read! Here’s what I’ve read in the last few weeks. Please share your favorite light reads with me and save me from light reading gone awry! (If you’re more of a non-fiction fan, scroll to the end of this post).

The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend – 2 Stars
25573977I was excited about this book because it is touted as perfect for lovers of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. Why, I’m not sure, other than there’s lots of mentions of books in it, and a few letters. What I love about Guernsey is the setting (English Channel Islands), the characters (fresh and witty and kind), this history (WWII), and the subtle plot and character development. The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend is set in the Midwest, has one-dimensional characters, and every single feeling and detail of the characters is written down in painstaking detail. (And so is the physical nature of relationships, so thumbs down there. Really, I don’t need to know any of that about book characters!) In its tone and story, it’s similar to a Fannie Flagg or Sandra Dallas book, but the strong, unforgettable characters are simply not there and the pace is super slow. I wanted to like it, but I found it to be pretty trite. If you liked The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, you might like this one, but I’d still guess The Readers of Broken Wheel characters won’t draw you in. Feel free to prove me wrong and let me know what you think!

The Lost Husband – 2.5, almost 3 Stars

I really liked some of the characters in this book, and it was nice to read a novel written from a mom’s point of view for a change. The main character, Libby, does such a good job of describing why she can’t stand watching violent movies. The book is back at the library so I can’t type it out, but I think most moms of little children would enjoy this as a light read. However, I have to tell you, there’s a character who claims she can speak to the dead. If that sounds as sketch to you as it does to me, don’t let this stop you from reading on; it never happens and it’s not a big part of the plot.

The Daughter’s Walk – DNF

Sheesh. I wanted to ask the author, “Why do you feel the need to create horrific events like this for your characters? Do you hate them? I can’t take it!” I know Jane Kirpatrick has lots of fans, but this book is not my cup of tea.

The Brontë PlotThe Bronte Plot – 3.5 stars

This one is my favorite of the light read bunch I picked up in the last few weeks. If you love Victorian British Literature as much as I do, you will thoroughly enjoy it. If you aren’t a big fan of Victorian British Literature, you might still like it! There are lots of references to works by Charlotte Bronte, Emily Bronte, and even Anne Bronte, so get ready to google some stuff if you’re unfamiliar with their works. Beyond the literary ties to some of my favorite books, I loved the elderly character, Helen. In my mind, she is played by an elderly Vanessa Redgrave and is just like her character in Letters to Juliet. So far, everything Katherine Reay has written has been a 3-4 star read with absolutely zero smut and thought provoking subjects that manage to end up being uplifting instead of depressing. I highly recommend her for all your light reading needs.

Chasing GodOn the non-fiction side of things, I just finished Chasing God by Angie Smith and I loved it. My favorite part was the last two chapters, because Smith pulls out some details of Jesus’ interactions with people in the gospels that I have missed my entire life. Her humor and humility makes this a great read if you want to go deep but you’re struggling to focus on the really serious books about Christianity. I’m looking forward to reading her other works, as well.

Now I’m in the middle of What Is A Family? by Edith Schaeffer which is very inspiring but also overwhelming. I have to remind myself “take small steps and make a little progress” almost every time I read it, though, because Schaeffer has some pretty high standards of nurturing— flowers on the table at tea time (and, well, tea time), lots of lovely art supplies, nature all around, etc.

So, what have you been reading?