Soul-glow: plodding through the Psalms

April is here. It’s cooler, and the afternoon sun is milder. I’m making breads and soups and I’ve pulled out the wooly throws for the couch to tuck my feet under.
The suddenly crisp mornings have me reaching for knits and socks that have been tucked away since last year.
The sun takes longer to rise, and my first sip of coffee is had in the grey dark, with my bedside lamp as the only illumination.
That, and the Word of God.
The Psalms have been lighting my path these days.
I’m suddenly carrying a lot of emotion. We all are.
We’ve found ourselves in the middle of a continuing outward crisis. Our lives have changed—our kids are home, we’ve lost jobs and holidays and the ability to visit family and friends. Our communities of faith are online, and our worship is hands outstretched awkwardly in our living rooms, a chorus of voices missing.
And it’s a lot. It’s a lot to carry, and we’re carrying it and moving forward and teaching our kids, and cleaning our homes and working remotely, and amen-ing to sermons from our laptops.
I’m here knuckles-deep in bread dough and unrolling a yoga mat and finding ways to ground my heels into a ground that’s shifting.

And in this rocking, surging uncertainty, the Psalms are steadying and sure.
Their writers show us how to ride the highs and lows of tides of emotions, and reveal a God that is constant in the midst.
You will answer me God, I know you always will. (Psalm 17:6)
You’ll answer me when I’m overwhelmed by a uni assignment.
You’ll answer me when I’m missing my friend.
You’ll answer me when I brace myself to glance at our bank account.
Protect me from harm; keep an eye on me like you would a child reflected in the twinkling of your eye. Yes, hide me within the shelter of your embrace, under your outstretched wings. (Psalm 17:8)
This comfort, to know as we carry weight, and carry on that His eye is on us.
You will answer me God, I know you always will. Maybe not in this moment when I ask, maybe not tomorrow. But we’re held in the twinkle of His eye; He sees and hears and knows and there’s the embrace to wrap us in when it’s all too much, and we can hide right there for as long as we need.
So we plod towards Good Friday, our Lenten journeys near the end and the palms of Sunday trampled and losing their green. The mild April sun casting its glow, and our glowing souls in the knowing that the King still comes in the midst of uncertainty: you will answer me God, I know you always will.

xx

* Committing to sharing my journaled thoughts here each day this week, and writing that here for accountability.

The March Booklist

I just read my February booklist. I felt nostalgia for the Em of February who didn’t know that within a few weeks the global Coronavirus pandemic would close the libraries she works in, leaving her jobless for the moment, and sad. She didn’t know her kids would be learning online from home, that laying on the lawn in the back yard with two of her besties would be the last real hangout with any of her friends in a long time…
It’s almost inconceivable, how much the world has changed.
I’m so thankful for reading.
We can read anywhere, any time.
And now seems like a great time to let you know that with your Australian library card, you can sign up to loan e-resources like ebooks and audio books and it is the best. I love the audiobook life: long drives, tedious housework, crochet… it can all be done while reading (well listening to a book being read to you!). My kids love them too.
Head to sites like https://www.borrowbox.com/ or download an app like Libby and then sign in with your library card. Your local library will still have some staff there, even though they’re not open to the public, so they can help you over the phone if you need it.

Anyway. 2020 is turning into a pretty read-y year. Here’s my March reads wrapped up and reviewed:

The Yellow Bird Sings by Jennifer Rosner
Another historical fiction novel read for the year, set in Poland during World War II. It’s about a mother and daughter hiding in a barn, and what happens to each of them when Rosa decides that her young daughter Shira would be safer hidden within a convent. I loved the concept, and it was different to many of the novels I’ve read set in the same era. It didn’t keep me as captive as I’d expected; I wasn’t as immersed or engrossed as I’d hoped, and I think the musical element was a bit lost on me.

The Bookish Life of Nina Hill by Abbi Waxman
This. I fell in love with Nina Hill, and claim her as my very own fictional bestie. She is smart and sassy and works in a book shop in LA… but also deals with crippling anxiety, and builds walls to keep people out. This novel was so sweet, full of witty cultural and literary references, and her cat Phil made me laugh out loud numerous times. It was just such a fun, beautiful read with a cast of loveable characters. Contemporary lit for the win!

The Scent Keeper by Erica Bauermeister
This was so different, and I’m glad I went in with no expectations! I don’t usually love magical realism, especially when it’s set in modern day, but somehow this story was woven so well. Emmeline lives on a remote island with her father. We don’t know why they’re there, but it’s all she can remember. He keeps a wall of bottles—scents captured inside—and the mystery surrounding them, the secrets of their past, is what propels the story forward.
I loved the second part of the story, as Emmeline grows up, and the people she begins to be surrounded by but the ending #facepalm. It wrapped up too quick, and almost felt like a completely different book!

The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper by Hallie Rubenhold
I listened to this one on BorrowBox, on a recommendation from one of my colleagues. It was so interesting, and not what I expected at all. Rather than being at all about Jack the Ripper, it focused in on the Victorian era itself, the way families lived, and the difficulties they faced in England during that period. It was the era that produced writers from the likes of Charles Dickens, and George Eliot, and it completely makes the late 1800’s come alive—with it’s work houses and scarlet fever … this book served to bring Victorian England alive, and gave voice to the women and their families who lived there.

This Is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel
“This is how it always is. You have to make these huge decision on behalf of your kid, this tiny human whose fate and future is entirely in your hands. Who trusts you to know what’s good and right and then to be able to make that happen. You never have enough information. You don’t get to see the future. And if you screw up – if with your incomplete contradictory information you make the wrong call – nothing less than your child’s entire future and happiness is at stake. It’s impossible. It’s heartbreaking. It’s maddening. But there’s no alternative.”
Frankel’s writing is magic, the way she captures the universal struggles and hesitations and worries of parents is incredible.
The best part is that we get to know each of the five children, the parents and their love stories, their failures and faults and they’re all so real. As is the issue of gender dysphoria.
Reading a book like this will almost certainly make you a more empathic person.

Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel
I know, lets read a novel about a global pandemic that sweeps the world and kills 99% of the population, in the midst of our own global pandemic, which we’re in a season of social isolation for.
If it wasn’t for our own very real global events I don’t know if this book would have held my attention. It’s rambling and fumbling, taking us back and forth pre and post pandemic, following a cast of characters with either too much detail, or not enough.
The idea was interesting, but it was just a little on the slow side for me, and just wasn’t really the story I was hoping for. In saying that, 20 years post pandemic was interesting to read about, and a bunch of people living in an old airport was an intriguing idea. I just wished for… more?

So. Are y’all reading a whole lot more these days?
Any recommendations for me?

Stay healthy.

xx

Don’t yield to fear, or be troubled

I leave the gift of peace with you—my peace. Not the kind of fragile peace given by the world, but my perfect peace. Don’t yield to fear or be troubled in your hearts—instead, be courageous!

John 14:27 TPT

The definition of yield in this context is this: to give way to arguments, demands, or pressure.

The thing that I’ve learned about fear in my thirty five years on the planet is that it’s a bully. And the voice of fear is pretty loud right about now.
The world feels unsteady.
And out we try to step, wobbly and quivering, because there’s the global unthinkable and the personal inconceivable, and the wide world is collapsing, and I’ve already witnessed enough world-collapse this year and it’s no joke. Fear is no joke.

It’s a bully. I’ve seen friends crippled by anxiety, unable to eat, to rise, to function.
She said it felt like she’s literally fighting a heavy boulder just to get out of bed, and my breath shallowed at the thought.
I’ve fought chest pain and insomnia, and constant nagging worry. In the dark I’ve tossed and turned, trying to shake the harassment from my ears, trying to drown it out with thoughts of the inevitable dawn.
Fear is a bully—it will argue its case, demand you to pay attention and squeeze you until you can’t breathe. It lurks in the shadows, it basks in the pit of your stomach, it whispers in the early hours of the morning.
Fear floats past your face like the scent of someone you can’t quite place and the collective stench of it pervades our news feeds, conversations and dominates our thoughts.
Even when we’re trying to drown it out.
Fear is the virus and it multiplies in isolation.

But we can’t let the what ifs hold the power. The peace I know is robust enough to push back. The peace I know is feisty, courageous.
The peace I know stills the shaking ground around me.
The peace I know is founded on the Word, and the Word is a Person who fights for me.
The peace I know is not the fragile kind.
It doesn’t give way to fear, it holds its ground and fear discovers there’s no way around.
This peace is unyielding. It refuses to give way to arguments or demands or pressure.

It doesn’t mean the pressure isn’t there. It doesn’t mean there won’t be a fight.
But the peace is there for us to grab hold of, if we’d only stretch out our arm that far, and hold on tight. I’ll take hold of it all, with both fists—when the sweat streams and the tears fall, and my muscles ache and my arms shake, still I’ll hold on, I’ll not yield.
Instead I’ll be courageous.

Today for me, courage looks like not watching the news.
It looks like showing up, when you’d rather be hiding away.
It looks like bringing a gift when you’d rather bury it.
It looks like making a decision about where I’ll search to find the peace my soul craves—the Word or the world? (Hint, the world is cray cray).
It looks like declarations of faith and favour, and easing my kids’ anxiety about the big stuff with a simple dinner around our kitchen table.

Courage looks like refusing to worry about any moment other than the one we’re in.

Courage looks like gratitude in the face of the unknown.
Because this is not the end of the story.
Hold tight, don’t yield to fear.
Breathe.

xx

The February Booklist

I’ve been a devourer of books this month.
Last week on my day off, after I took my youngest to school, I eyed my current novel and thought just one more chapter. Two hours later I finished the novel, and carried its characters with me for the rest of the day.
I’ve been running again so audio books have been my favourite. I find it difficult to sit and read non-fiction for long periods—they’re just not as entertaining and easy to read, so audiobooks are a great way for me to consume them.
School has gone back so I’ve been reading with Amie. We’re almost finished Pippi Longstocking and we’ll watch the movie on the weekend.

I’m glad it’s been a big reading month, though, because life is about to get exceptionally busy. This crazy girl has just gone back to uni to do a Graduate Diploma in Information and Library studies. Part time, but on top of part time work and and a full time life. So, maybe the next few months will be quiet reading months as I get through the semester.

Here’s my Feb reading round-up:

Roar by Cecelia Ahern
Okay, this one I’m in two minds about. Firstly, I’ve never been a fan of short stories. I feel frustrated that they end so soon—I need more damnit, more background, more time with the characters. This compilation of short stories was no exception. Secondly, I feel like they became tiresome. Always centred around ‘the woman’, a different woman in each, but still a nameless woman. I love the imagination behind each of the stories, and their fantastical nature, like the hole that literally opens up when you feel embarrassed and the woman who finds herself in it, and the woman who grows wings and actually flies, and the woman who returns her husband to the market she purchased him from 40 years prior… there is no lack of imagination, but nor is there a lack of subtlety in each of the messages. They seemed a bit obvious, which meant I didn’t have to think, or wonder or analyse. I appreciate the feminist sentiment, the ‘lets all band together and appreciate the diversity of women’ but it was still too clean-cut, and neatly packaged for me to swallow.

Dear Edward by Ann Napolitano
I like Edward a lot. I like how perceptive he is to the people around him, and to his own internal struggles.
I like the story, and the simple way Napolitano tells it, without fanfare or overt suspense or thrill.
I like the complex relationships between the characters, and the fact that we got to know the others on the plane too.
“The air between us is not empty space.” – Ann Napolitano, Dear Edward

The Writing Life by Annie Dillard
This one took me a couple of months to get through, despite it’s small size. Each small essay packs a punch in the form of rich prose and insight into this writing life—as obsessive, curious and frustrating as anyone who pursues writing knows it to be. It’s not a how-to guide, but more analogy, life, observations and experience of the author.
“One of the things I know about writing is this: spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time. Do not hoard what seems good for a later place in the book or for another book; give it, give it all, give it now. The impulse to save something good for a better place later is the signal to spend it now. Something more will arise for later, something better.”
– Annie Dillard

The Flatshare by Beth O’Leary
This novel moves up to one of my favourites. I read the blurb months ago, and instantly knew I’d fall in love with the story, and I’m so glad it didn’t let me down. It has all the trims and trappings that make chic lit so fun and easy to read—a strong protagonist, who is complicated and loveable, and has equally complicated and loveable friends. It had a sweet romance, that began with post-it conversations. And it had deeper, more intense themes like emotional abuse and gaslighting, and all of the suspense and grip that makes you unable to put it down. I’m in love.

The Color Purple by Alice Walker
Firstly, wow. Secondly, I highly recommend listening to this one on audiobook, read by the author. Her voice, accent, language, pronunciation—it was stunning. She brought Celie to life. It won a Pulitzer prize for fiction in 1983 and I think it’s just as poignant today, in the context of an age of Black Lives Matter, and even in Australia where our racial progress is still in infancy.
Aside from it’s importance, it is a beautiful and redemptive story. Hard to read in parts, confronting and heartbreaking, yet stunningly hopeful. It is rich in observations of life, and profound.
“I think it pisses God off if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don’t notice it. People think pleasing God is all God cares about. But any fool living in the world can see it always trying to please us back.” – Alice Walker, The Colour Purple

Mind Over Clutter by Nicola Lewis
Look, I’m still exploring minimalism, and still slowly working my way through my home and decluttering. I hunt down these types of books to keep me motivated, but yet nothing has had the impact that Joshua Becker’s book had (read my thoughts here).
This one’s focus is on organising your clutter: get more baskets, go through your magazines often, shove things in the cupboard nicely, make more space, get some more baskets, try different tubs, make it a pretty space with another basket, and why not buy a new candle to make the space really fressshhhh. Okay it’s not that bad but nowhere does she address the reasons for our cluttered homes in the first place—she’s primarily talking to well-off people who don’t need to address their spending habits and are happy to continue to accumulate stuff but need some help on how to store all of this stuff so that they are not stressed out by it. It’s practical and somewhat helpful, but not what I was hoping for.

Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid
Look, if you ever need a book recommendation, I feel like Reese’s Book Club will never let you down. This was brilliant, in both storytelling, and depth. I love that the characters are not one-dimensional. I love that it calls out the ‘white saviour’—we will never know what it’s like to be a person of colour, we will probably always do and say the wrong things, we probably are not as self-aware as what we think we are. It’s about white privilege and class and gender and race as well as being about humanity—how do we decide what to do with our lives? How do we be happy for our friends when they surpass us? How do we come to terms with unmet expectations of ourselves? This book is intelligent. It reads like light-hearted chick lit (which is why I flew through it way too fast) but is heavy with social commentary and authenticity.

So there you have it.
I’m just happy that this month (as opposed to January) contained a few books that I’ll love forever and ever.

Tell me what you’re reading/hoping to read in March?

xx

My answer to ‘go big or go home’.

I’ve been running again. I’ve always hesitated to call myself a runner, because I know so many more legitimate runners—the ones who run 100km marathons… or even 40km marathons, or even half marathons! My few runs a week, in my mind, didn’t count.
Recently though, I shared this photo of myself on Facebook, after a run (yeah, this one looks 100% better than my passport photo, thank you Instagram filters!) and a friend replied telling me she’s been running almost daily for months and feels amazing.

A run every day?! How far do you run? I ask her.
Oh, it varies, mostly three kilometres, she replies. Occasionally I’ll do six.
Okay… how long do you run for?
Only about 20 minutes each time.
What?!

What had formed such a strong idea in my mind that a real run must be at least 5km? That unless I sweat it out for 45 minutes, it doesn’t count.
Why didn’t I ever feel as accomplished just going for a 3km run, a quick 20 mins?
Why did I have such a go big or go home attitude?
What’s wrong with staying small, and consistent?

Since I freed myself from the idea that I needed to do a big 30-40 minute run for it to count (count for what, and to whom I have no idea!), I’ve run more often than I ever have. Because I don’t have to psych myself up, or scrounge up extra time. It’s just 20 minutes, I tell myself. It’s only a 3.5km circuit. Or, it’s just to the boat ramp and then back again.

And I’ve been consistent now for weeks. I snatch a moment here or an early morning there. I tie my sneakers and jog at my own pace, for whatever distance I decide—I have no desire to run a marathon, I just want to run off my thoughts, plod out some prayers, get some fresh air and return with a good dose of happy endorphins. And I do. And the kilometres mount up and before I know it I’ve run 10k in less than a week.

So maybe staying small, is a win, because small and regular is better than big and… never.
Because if I’m honest, the idea that something needs to be big, and impacting and perfect actually immobilises me from trying, from beginning, from just doing.
And if staying small is what it takes to give me the courage to try, without the pressure of perfection, or an unreachable and unattainable result, then I’ll stay small and stay home.

Staying small means I pick up my journal in the morning without the pressure of scratching pages and pages; just write a sentence or two.
It means I can sit down to read my Bible, and know that reading a couple of verses actually does count, because I’m practising a daily slow that stills the hustle.
Staying small means that, though I may not have a whole day to spend with an individual kiddo, I can sit at the kitchen bench and give them an undivided 20 minutes, often.
It means that simply reworking some leftovers for dinner the next night is small, and easy, but it helps me to consistently provide homemade meals and avoid takeaway.

So, I’m happy to stay small, and come back home, if it means I keep showing up in all the ways that matter.

xx

Around here: the limp kale edition

There’s limp kale on the bottom shelf of my fridge right now. Its droopy leaves are a reminder of my more ambitious self, who, during last weeks grocery shop said, yes! I will have time to bake kale chips, and add kale to my morning smoothie! Clearly I did not have time, nor did I make any smoothies. In my defence, it was too hot to put the oven on, and so hot, in fact, that my sourdough seemingly melted when I turned it out of the banneton and into the oven, and I was left with a sad flat loaf (that I still ate).

The limpness of the kale could also represent how deflated I’ve become after discovering that the images in many years worth of blog posts have all but disappeared or been replaced by the wrong images. Oh my gosh. What a nightmare. I’ve already spent too much time moving over from one web host to another, and now this! It seems that there’s only one quick fix, but that it will cost more than $300 so I’ve resigned myself to the fact that the images no longer match the writing, and will one day just remove them all.

Aside from these depressing (yet very first-world, and in no way life threatening) issues, here’s me taking stock, because it’s Monday and I’m avoiding doing adulty things.

This week I am:

Making : my house tidy and clutter-free. Well, trying to.
Cooking : pizza scrolls for school lunchboxes, and sourdough naan for dinner
Drinking : Nerada Camomile tea
Reading: Tiny Habits and just finished Such a Fun Age which took less than 24 hours
Deciding: To do smaller grocery shops, more frequently, to see if that will affect the amount of limp kale and other vegetables in the fridge that haven’t been used
Enjoying: reading for two hours straight after school drop off on a Monday morning. It felt so indulgent.
Waiting: for the sourdough to prove
Liking: being back on Instagram
Loving: the beginning of a fresh year, and the framework we’ve created around it
Pondering: a run this afternoon, if the weather cools down enough
Listening: to the girls sing along to Hillsong worship as they got ready for school this morning
Considering: selling a bunch of junk in the shed on Gumtree
Buying: no new stuff. I’ve made a little promise to myself, and haven’t bought any new clothing or homewares this year.
Watching: The first episode of Season 5 Outlander! It. Was. So. Good.
Hoping: some hopes can’t even be articulated in words, it feels like this kind of hope in my chest
Cringing: about something I forgot to do, and keep putting off
Needing: to sort out the laundry cupboard
Smelling: peppermint essential oil, for motivation (fingers crossed)
Wearing: active wear, because I’m determined to go for that run
Noticing: how I don’t really need new clothes because I wear the same old faithfuls over and over
Knowing: I am much less anxious when my house is clean
Thinking: about which novel I’ll start next
Admiring: the bubbles in my sourdough starter, that I recently brought back to life
Getting: organised for the week
Disliking: the heat. I’m done. It’s too, too hot.
Opening: my phone lock screen too many times already today
Giggling: at the raucous laughter and stories shared on Saturday night with a bunch of long-time friends
Feeling: hot
Helping: with Joel’s English homework, Amie’s hair and Eden’s cooking
Slicing: chicken, which I happen to do with a fork and knife because I refuse to touch raw chicken.
Celebrating: getting tap shoes for Amie’s dance class second hand—it’s the little wins!
Forgetting: that thing I mentioned above. Also to pick up my passport from the post office!
Embracing: slow. Entering into a Lent season.

What are you noticing, thinking, wearing, reading? Feel free to copy and paste the prompts and tag me wherever you share your answers!

xx

what can happen in 10 months (when you don’t have Instagram)

When I was pregnant with my firstborn, my husband got up in the middle of the night and kicked his big toe. I can’t remember what he kicked it on, maybe it was the corner of the bed or a random object laying in the dark on the carpet. But I do remember being awoken by his shout, and then he probably kicked the thing intentionally, just to teach it a lesson.
The midnight attack of said random-object-or-bed-corner resulted in his toenail falling off a week later.
I joked often after our son was born, that I managed to grow an entire human in the time it took for my husband to grow one big toenail back. It was probably a year before he had a fully functioning toenail (side note: what is the function of toenails I wonder?).

Ten months ago I deleted my Instagram, without any real intention of going back.
I posted this about why, and then this about what I was learning, early on.
It was always about being less distracted, more grounded, and finding ways to embrace a slower pace—without the comparison to a bazillion other lives tearing my eyes away from my own.

The biggest thing I found was that I didn’t need Instagram to be distracted.
Maybe it’s human nature, or just Em-nature, but it seems that I am rather good at finding ways to zone out, check out, and procrastinate, even without my phone in my hand.
There’s Netflix and the bathroom cupboard that needs to be sorted, and five friends who want to have coffee, and books (not a bad thing but can be used as a distraction) and wandering through Kmart looking at things I don’t need.
Surprisingly I found it hadn’t been Instagram that was preventing me from doing anything meaningful, it was myself.
It was me, finding distraction from sitting down to a blank page, and it was me, finding other things to do instead of opening my Bible, and it was me, not taking captive runaway thoughts and letting them go like the string on a balloon.

Sorry Instagram, it wasn’t your fault.

However the biggest habit I broke, by deleting my Instagram, was the first-thing-in-the-morning scroll. This was massive.
I believe the way that we start our day, each day, is important. Crucial, even. And starting my day bleary-eyed and waking up to all the competing noise of social media was like junk food for my soul—easy, fast, but in no way healthy.
I broke the habit. I no longer had anything to scroll, so I’d wake up just like the pre-smartphone days. Hey God. I’m awake. Thanks for another morning.
My eyes adjust to the grey light creeping through the slits in the blinds, I stretch and curl my toes, move to a cool patch on the sheets, listen to the birds and notice changing seasons, changing light, changing me.
Sometimes I play with words or phrases in my mind, string poetry and prose.
Sometimes I reach for my Bible, or my journal. And when my kids rise early and reach for me, I’m right there, present. With them, warm bodied and aware of the absolute gift in front of me and not annoyed that they’re interrupting my covetous craving for that person’s holiday/bedroom/life scroll.

The same is true for night time. We plug our phones right next to our beds, and let the blue light dance in our eyes and we scroll trance-like, instead of seeing the gifts in front of us. Instead of listening to our bodies tell us they’re tired, instead of winding down with a book or with conversations. I’ve broken that habit too. Because the way we end our days is just as crucial.

But, after 10 months, I’m back on the ‘gram.
I missed the connection and the creativity.
But this time there’s intention around what I’m producing, and how I’m scrolling and interacting. Because life is so much bigger than that grid of squares, and I want to live it and feel it: elbow deep in kneading sourdough, snaking on carrot sticks and leaning over homework, saying yes when one of the kids says ‘can we go for a run/play Monopoly/watch a movie together’ and making eye contact with the other person in the room.
I’m back on the ‘gram, but for fleeting moments, and with intention.

So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out.

Romans 12:1-2 The Message

Come say hi.

https://www.instagram.com/everydayofferings

xx

The January Booklist

Last year, setting a reading goal for myself was such a highlight.
And it really was for myself. Because reading is a form of self-care for me; switching off, curling up with a cup of tea and a novel, or sliding into a hot bath with a book, I know it’s something I love to do.
But who knows that the things we love to do are often the things that are shoved aside in favour of the things we should do, or must do, or need to do.
Setting myself a goal to read 40 books in the year kept reading on my radar.
Sometimes I would go a week or two without picking up a book, but because I knew I had a goal to reach, I always had a book on my bedside ready to go. Also, it helps that I work in a library and books are always on my radar…
But the goal made me read, and reading makes me feel like I am caring for my little self, and that has been a win.
So, this year I’ve kept the same goal, and the same thing in mind. Read. Read more. Read widely.
And then share what I read here, to keep me accountable. And also conversations about books are my favourite, so come chat!

You can also find me on Goodreads here.

So. Here are my reads for Jan:

Less by Andrew Sean Greer
Imagine. Here I am at the beginning of the year, ready to dive into a good novel. It’s evening. Husband is watching the cricket, I pull up my legs on our tan leather couch, freshly showered and wearing new pyjamas. I have a cup of tea next to me. The front door is open and letting in the summer breeze. Then I start to read. It’s slow going. Some of the writing is intelligent and insightful. I like the voice given to human stuff. But then over the next few days I keep reading, and I find it more and more difficult to pick up. It’s slow. The main character’s melancholy is depressing. The story doesn’t seem to go anywhere. The character is going places, physically, like travelling, but the plot? I don’t even know where it’s going it’s moving at a snails pace.
So all my ‘leaping into a good novel’ dreams are dashed, because this one for me was not a good novel.
Time I won’t ever get back and all that jazz. 1 star for the writing style. I don’t know how on earth this won a Pulitzer prize!

Three Women by Lisa Taddeo
Oh, you were hoping my January reads were going to get better? So was I!
What. did I just read.
I was drawn to this one because literary journalism is one of my favourite genres. This author followed each of these three women intimately for years, to capture their stories. I love that immersive style of reporting, Capote-style.
But this time, the result actually physically repulsed me.
It wasn’t the sex, truly. I mean, I can’t believe I’m even admitting this but I’ve watched Orange Is the New Black. I’m not a prude. I am not a G-rated only Christian girl who only watches Anne of Green Gables.
It actually wasn’t the explicitness of the book that I found so disturbing.
I kept reading, and waiting for redemption, and there was none to be found. What I wanted was for the three women to awaken to their identity, to take their power back, to have a happy ending for goodness sake!
But there was none.
And the idea presented that these kind of relationships are a normative expression of feminine desire and sexuality…
Just no.
I have to go wash my eyeballs. Another bummer.

The Dutch House by Ann Patchett
Ahhh now this one was more like it. This was the one I read into the wee hours. The one I looked forward to coming home to. The one that took me on a journey. I love that the story is told through the eyes of a boy, as he grows up. I love the sense of foreboding that the house in the story gives, as if it’s a character itself—and it kind of is. This quote, that I quickly scribbled down, is an example of some of the profound insights into humanity, into our individual stories:
”There are a few times in life when you leap up and the past that you’d been standing on falls away behind you, and the future you mean to land on is not yet in place, and for a moment you’re suspended knowing nothing and no one, not even yourself.”
The book is less plot driven than I’d have liked it to be, and can be a bit slow in parts. But, after two novels that left me shaking my head, this was a welcome reprieve!

Cold Storage by David Koepp
Okay, this would not be a book I would naturally pick up. But, when Harper Collins sends your friend a bunch of copies for your book club, and she drops one to your house, and then reminds you to read it with the words, “It’s not what you think, give it a go I think you’ll like it!” then you pick up the book. And then you fly through it, even though it’s about a mutating fungus and a retired Pentagon bioterrorism operative, and science fiction but oh my goodness it’s thoroughly entertaining and actually I laughed out loud at a couple of places. It was lighthearted, and even though sometimes people exploded into green goo-like substance after being infected with weird fungus-from-space, I really liked this book. Honestly, I surprised myself!

The Beekeeper of Aleppo by Christy Lefteri
I kept coming across this title in the libraries where I work, and it had me intrigued enough that one day I borrowed it myself. It follows a family fleeing from war in Syria and it does an incredible job of giving faces to the faceless refugee crisis that plagued our media outlets a couple of years ago. It gave them human faces and insight into their plights, and the risks they had to take to escape the war zone that had once been their places of residence. It sheds light on insufferable loss, on the repercussions of trauma, on hopelessness. Nuri and his wife Afra help to give voice to those who lost so much. It’s heartbreaking.

When Less Becomes More: Making Space for Slow, Simple and Good by Emily Ley
After reading Chasing Slow and Minimalist Home last month, I needed something to keep the ball rolling in my downsizing, minimising, decluttering life, and I came across this one.
To be honest, it was similar to Chasing Slow, but didn’t have the punch I expected. It was more focused on minimising our time on social media, and devices, than much about decluttering our homes or the minimalist movement that I’m experimenting with. There are definite faith overtones, and it reads like an extended blog. But I did enjoy listening to it as I decluttered my house some more.

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organising by Marie Kondo
Remember when this book went viral? I’m sure you’re familiar with her phrase about getting rid of something if it doesn’t spark joy. Well, did you know that she also empties her handbag every night because she thinks it will ‘feel full’ and then she also thanks it for it’s work that day. Needless to say, there are some ideas in this book that I won’t be implementing. But there are others that are more practical, and I think it’s helpful if you find it hard to part with material things, particularly if they’re somewhat sentimental. She doesn’t really address the practical things that we need to have in our homes, or give any ideas about how to store or organise those things. In that area I feel like Minimalist Home is much more practical. But I had to read (listen) to this book because it’s such a widely-read book in the arena of minimising.

So. I’m off to a roaring start, having seven notches in my 2020 reading belt.

On my bedside are The Flatshare by Beth O’Leary, Roar by Cecelia Ahern, The Writing Life by Annie Dillard, and I’m currently listening to The Grown-up’s Guide to Teenage Humans by Josh Shipp.

What are you reading? Do you have a reading goal for 2020? It might not be as ridiculous as 40 books fo rate year – maybe it’s just one a month?

xx

Simplifying: Why I need less stuff

Right in my ear, as I hung out the freshly washed sheets in the summer sunshine, she said, “The question of what you want to own is actually the question of how you want to live your life.”
Marie Kondō that is, in the audio book of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.
I’ve recently read Joshua Becker’s The Minimalist Home: A Room-By-Room Guide to a Decluttered, Refocused Life and also Erin Loechner’s Chasing Slow.

They’ve all made me increasingly aware of the excess stuff that has made it’s way into my home over the years.
I have always been good at decluttering, and letting go of some of the stuff—you know, passing on toys and clothes the kids grow out of, and clearing the pantry of out of date packages… but it’s seemed that no matter how much decluttering I’ve done, the contents of our home hasn’t stopped swelling, and a significant amount of my time and energy has gone into tidying, reorganising, sorting, and moving a myriad of things into different spaces.
All of it to make me feel organised, clear-headed, and productive.
But what I’ve found is that even when those things are in a different space, and maybe not so visible, the stuff is still there, and still takes up space in my home and my life, and eventually the contents accumulate and spill out onto various surfaces, and then I spend more time, energy and money (plastic storage tubs anyone?) reorganising again.
The thing is, to our cultural standards, I’m sure that what I own isn’t excessive. In fact, as I’ve been more and more intentional about not accumulating more, I have been more conscious of what those around me fill their homes with—and more and more I want to excuse myself from the race. You know, the one you’re subconsciously running in—the race to have more, and new, and bigger and better.

I want out of the culture that says we must consume in excess.

Because my lifetime accumulation of stuff is suddenly overwhelming.

Today I cleared out three small bedside drawers, and filled a shopping bag full of rubbish.
It was full of notebooks I’d used only a few pages of, cords for devices I no longer own, dried up gel pens and birthday cards from years gone by. All the things I was keeping ‘just in case’ had begun to encroach on my ability to live freely, lightly. And all of it felt like wasteful excess. Unnecessary multiples whose only purpose seemed to have been only to provide momentary thrill and sparkle of owning something new.

I have yet to see a house that lacked sufficient storage. The real problem is that we have far more than we need or want. – Marie Kondō

Every year we try to take the kids on a staycation in our city. We stay in a hotel overnight, wander streets for coffee and ice-cream and order room service. It took me a while to work out why our time together at these times was such quality. How did we connect with the kids so well? Why was it so easy to give each other attention? How did conversation flow so freely?
I have come to the conclusion that this occurs because there was is no distraction. It’s intentional. Because the hotel rooms are empty of stuff, so our focus changes—there’s no tidying to do, so we invent things to do together.

I’m not saying I want a home as bare as a hotel room, but I do want to intentionally curate a home where the focus is on the people in it, rather than the stuff we’re surrounded by. Because even stuff that is hidden well in drawers and cupboards and excellent storage spaces and curated organisational containers, it still encroaches on my ability to breathe deeply the freedom that is found in undistracted time with people.

So this year I’ve made a quiet promise to myself. To explore minimalism. To not add to my wardrobe, kitchen, bathroom cupboards, or kids rooms without deep thought and intention.
To shop for needs, not wants.
To stop keeping things ‘just in case’ and to hold on to the material things in my life lightly. To create a home that allows me the space to love my people, and to have the time to pursue the life I want (and really, to spend less time organising and tidying my writing space, and more time writing in it!).

xx

The December Booklist

Twenty nineteen is done and dusted. As dusted as so many previously neglected areas of my home, after a couple of my December reads that I honestly think have completely changed the way that I think, and have been a catalyst to some changes and decisions I’ve made as I’ve moved into this new year.
December was busy—in that regular December kind of way, that sneaks up on you even when you think you’ve been organised and prepared. But also in a different kind of way. Because life is different now that I have a big grown-up job, and this alone affected the way we prepared for Christmas and the expectations I laid down around having and doing it all. It was different, but lovely.

I worked on Christmas Eve and New Years Eve and served library patrons, and wished them happy Christmases, and tracked down book titles they’d heard about, and extended due dates for the ones who’d be holidaying in January and wouldn’t be able to return their books on time. One of the things I love about the library is that it whirrs on; there is always someone available to help you photocopy, or chat with you about your latest read. In the crazy Christmas hustle, the library was like a refuge. I watched people walk through our doors and breath a deep sigh of relief; this was no busy shopping centre, and here there was no to-do list.

So, in all the working hours and Christmas preparations, I made sure to read a Christmas novel, and a few others in between. Here’s my December wrap-up:

The Christmas Party by Karen Swan
Irish countryside, long-held family feuds and multiple plot lines, all centred around Christmas? Yes please. I am a sucker for a good romance, even if it’s as predictable as my morning coffee. My morning coffee is no less enjoyable in its predictability, and neither is a romantic novel. And a Christmas one at that.
This was our bookclub choice for the month (and when I say our pick, I do really mean two of us who needed something lighthearted and Christmassy, after some heavy choices in the previous months!). I loved having this to look forward to curling up with after a long day at work!

The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris
I think my favourite part of the book was the prologue, in which the author talks about meeting and spending time with the man whose story she wrote. Her friendship with the elderly gentleman grew over three years, in which he shared with her his story, in bits and pieces of memory. The end result is a beautiful, moving piece of historical fiction, about a Slovakian Jew in the infamous Auschwitz-Birkenau who meets the love of his life. I listened to this one on audio, and it was beautifully read. I will always be shocked and heartbroken over the treatment of human beings at that period of history—anything that reminds us of the evil we are capable of, and serves to then help to prevent further horrors, is a good thing.

Chasing Slow by Erin Loechner
This was another audiobook. Before the kids finished school, and as I was preparing the house and presents and ticking things off my to-do list, I’d put on my headphones and listen to Erin read me her book. I loved hearing her journey through excess, share her faith and her values, and question all the things I’ve questioned: what am I chasing? When will I arrive? Will this stuff ever make me happy?
”There are two ways to get enough: one is to continue to accumulate more and more. The other is to desire less.” (G. K. Chesterton)
This is more of a memoir than anything (with a few recipes along the way – I did actually go and make her better pasta recipe, with a creamy cashew sauce and zucchini noodles and it was delicious!) but I love the way she writes, her honesty with herself and her readers, and I was inspired to evaluate the things I cling onto too. Ultimately, this journey of slow is exactly that: a journey.

The Minimalist Home: A Room-By-Room Guide to a Decluttered, Refocused Life by Joshua Becker
This. There was this one week, prior to Christmas where I had a couple of days off and I was determined to use them well, and to sink my teeth into something I may otherwise not have time for before Christmas. The back room had been getting on my nerves prior to then, with the dusty blinds and windows, and it was a big job. I wanted another audiobook after I’d finished Chasing Slow, and I needed one that was available now, not in a few weeks. So this one came up as a recommended read. I wasn’t that excited about it to be honest, but because I was standing over a bucket of hot soapy water, and was about to spend the following four or five hours scrubbing blinds and windows until they shone, I tapped ‘borrow’ and set to it.
I was ridiculously inspired. This book is both incredibly practical (room by room, drawer by drawer, why do I need two vegetable peelers? ) and also inspires us to look at the underlying issues of why we keep so much, why we need to store, collect, display and hoard. This quote I scribbled in my journal in the days I was listening:
”Minimising forces us to confront our stuff, and our stuff forces us to confront ourselves”
The advantages to a minimalist lifestyle are actually profound. There is so much joy to be found in owning less. I 100% recommend this book (and, in fact, any of Becker’s resources) if you are looking to simplify your life in 2020.
This is only the beginning of a journey for me, but one that I’ve begun with decluttered kitchen drawers and sparkling windows.

Watch for the Light: Readings for Advent and Christmas
This is probably my favourite Advent devotional ever. It has 45 readings, or chapters, each by a different author. There are readings by CS Lewis, Sylvia Plath, Henri Nouwen, Philip Yancey, TS Eliot, John Donne – I could go on. It’s literary and spiritual genius, that focuses on the significance of Christmas. This is a book that will be well-loved and dog-eared for many years to come.

So. Folks. I did it.
I read 45 books this year—5 more than my goal.
I shared each of them here on my blog with a mini review, which seems like a massive feat in itself for this not-great-at-finishing-things-I-start kinda girl.

We started a bookclub, and I fell in love with reading again, and now I work in a library.

Life.

What to read in 2020?

Follow me over on Goodreads and send inspiration, and let me know what your 2020 reading goals are?

xx