Posted in book lists

my year in books, 2017

There isn’t much better than sitting down, uninterrupted, with a good book and a cup of hot tea ūüôā

While most of the books I read this year were read on my phone while nursing Aubade, pumping at work, or staying up way too late at night (not counting pages snatched while cooking, eating, or using the bathroom), just the fact that I was reading was good enough for me, even with the interruptions and without the hot tea!

Not counting rereads, I completed 83 books in 2017. I was trying to read books from different genres, time periods, and authors, but there were some definite slants. First, in genres, I read non-fiction, sci-fi/fantasy, historical fiction, and general fiction books somewhat evenly (more fantasy than the others by a bit) – but I read no mysteries or romances, and only one thriller and one book of poetry. For next year, I’d like to read more non-fiction and more poetry! I don’t really mind missing out on the other genres and I don’t have to make sci-fi/fantasy a goal for it to be read…

For time periods, I read exclusively modern books this year and almost half of them were written in just the last decade:chart

This is definitely something I want to change, even if it means I’ll be reading fewer books overall. There is a lot of wisdom to be gained from the experience of past generations, and a lot of classic books I haven’t yet read!

The oldest book I read this year was almost going to be¬†Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame (a book alternately beautiful, silly, and innocent, by the way), but at the tail end of the year I discovered¬†The Lord of the World by Robert Hugh Benson, which happened to be published just a year earlier in 1907. It couldn’t be more different, as a sort of Catholic version of the end-times novel popularized in the Protestant world by the Left Behind series. I did find it thought-provoking and even inspiring, as the story of a church disintegrating yet not destroyed in the face of the great tribulation (the nature of that tribulation itself is probably the most brilliant aspect of the book, as evil truly comes wearing the guise of an angel of light and seems to fulfill all the hopes and promises that humanity longs for). Next year, though, I hope to have both of these books beat by at least a few centuries!

As far as trying to read diverse authors went, about two-thirds of the books I read were written by women, and one-third by men. Again, about two-thirds were written by White American authors, while the other one-third were written by people of various ethnicities from various countries, including France, Italy, the UK, Nigeria, Ghana, Pakistan, China, and Japan. So a lot of the authors reflected me, demographically, as white women from the US, but I did branch out at least a little bit, and I hope to continue doing so next year.

While obviously not all 83 of these books were exceptional, there was only one that I truly disliked:¬†Don’t Breathe a Word by Jennifer McMahon. The premise was intriguing, but the ending (in addition to being horribly depressing) wasn’t what I felt the whole book was leading towards, and the characters and writing weren’t in themselves compelling enough to make up for that.

On the other hand, there were many that I deeply loved! Ten of them I actually read more than once (typically just by starting again at the beginning as soon as I finished it for the first time), and from those I would most highly recommend¬†The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver,¬†Watership Down¬†by Richard Adams, and¬†My Antonia¬†by Willa Cather. I feel that these books have in them the seeds of enduring literature as well as just being books I enjoyed reading. But it is always hard to narrow things down! And one of my favorites of the year – A Canticle for¬†Leibowitz by Walter M Miller Jr. – wasn’t reread because I could only find the audiobook. So, for the full list of what I read, you can click this link – the books in bold are ones that I believe are or will be classics, and the books in italics are the ones I read multiple times. If there are any that pique your interest, let me know and I’d be more than happy to share my thoughts about it with you!

Happy reading in the new year!

Posted in family life

2017

2017 is coming to a close.

We started out with postpartum depression and RSV; we’re ending with all three kids sick with the flu! (Well, to be more accurate, they were sick over Christmas and are mostly better now.) In between we fit more into one year than I would have thought possible, with therapies, medications, travel, moving into a new home, dipping our toes into the world of special needs education, and beginning a new round of transitions with my husband graduating and finding a job (which will start shortly after the New Year).

And I have learned so much this year, including about things that I thought I already understood but was able to look at from personal experience or through the new and edifying perspective of someone else’s experience or research. I acknowledged my anxiety as an obstacle in my path rather than a personal failing, thereby removing the associated guilt and shame and allowing myself to move forward; I began to make space for myself and the people I love to be different, express their differences, and be loved for who they are with those differences; I learned when to stand up for myself and when to disengage, and that both are ok given the circumstances as well as my own mental state; and I found the courage to make uncommon decisions for uncommon reasons without becoming defensive or belittling the choices I turned down. At least, those are the seeds of change that are beginning to germinate within me as a result of this year – I think I could spend a lifetime watching them grow!

This was also a year of good reading. What began as a way to cope with my depression when almost nothing else could distract my mind from the darkness turned into a re-ignition of my lifelong compulsive love of books and a chance to discover new characters, adventures, worlds, and authors. For the first time since childhood I kept a book log for myself, which was a massively encouraging endeavor in and of itself, and managed to read and record 84 previously-unread-by-me books since I started tracking mid-January! I think the books deserve their own post so I will say no more here – but it was a major part of my year and a consistent source of pleasure and refreshment as well as an escape from my own head.

And of course this was the year of Aubade, since she just barely made an appearance in 2016 but has by now infiltrated herself into every thread of the warp and weave of our lives. Through her, the boys have gained independence and learned compassion and gentleness. She has stolen our sleep but given us laughter. She is a confident baby princess, secure in her belief that whatever she wants, she should have, and she will get it for herself if no one will get it for her! She is a fearless baby explorer, certain that she can do whatever she sets her mind to do, and that around every corner (or behind every door, or on top of every high place) there is something new and exciting to discover. She is a bestower of hugs and a jealous claimant to her mommy’s lap. She is a passionate lover of showers (or pools, or baths, or splash pads), peek-a-boo, mud on her fingers, the thrill of the climb, the loudness of blenders and vacuums, snuggles with the people she loves, and singing or playing music. I can hardly believe she has only been in our lives for a year, because life without her would seem so empty.

Overall, it was a year of crashing lows, dark valleys to endure, and steep mountains to climb (my saint for the year was St. Jude, patron of hopeless causes, and it certainly seemed fitting when I was in the depths of the depression) – but it was also a year of soaring highs, transcendent mountain views, and glorious sunrises. A more stable and mundane year would certainly have been easier, but I am thankful for the things that happened and the way they shaped the person I am now. And now, let the adventures of 2018 begin!

 

Posted in musings

bike thefts and mindfulness

Remember how excited I was about biking in my {SQT} post on Friday? Well… it’s a good thing I’d written that post the night before, because when I went out to the garage that morning both my bike and my husband’s bike were gone. Beautiful brand-new bike (first new bike I’d bought since I was in junior high), stolen. I took the car instead that morning, and worked on cognitive-behavioral techniques about it all day (because sadness triggers a lot of unhelpful thought patterns for me), and prayed about the best way to move forward, and just generally felt sad and disappointed and hurt all day long. It wasn’t just a bike that was stolen: it was my quiet time with God, my exercise time, my outdoor alone time, my time of refreshment and empowerment, that was taken away. And I didn’t know if it would be financially wise to buy another bike when we apparently live in a high-risk area.

But what I did know was that I didn’t want my (very legitimate) sadness to prevent me from experiencing the happiness of all the good things that were just as much a part of my life as the bike theft. Driving home, I thought about how the kids were waiting for me, how they would be excited to see me, and want me to play with them, and fill the house with silly games and wild stories and sweet cuddles – and how my sadness could interfere with my ability to connect with and cherish them, or keep me from feeling the joy of their laughter and craziness. Was I going to let this unknown thief steal the¬†happiness I have with my children? No I was not! It is ok to be sad, I told myself, but right now, in this moment, I am going to seize the joy and beauty and love that presents itself, and let the sadness wait until a time when I can listen to it and determine how to address the practical issues the theft created. The bike was stolen in the past; the commuting will take place in the future; but my children are with me¬†now, offering up their little happinesses, desiring my love and happiness in return. And I can choose what I am going to open my heart up to in this now, this present moment. (Oho! Look at that! It’s my 2017 word of the year!)

One of the things I’ve learned from my therapist is that it’s extremely¬†pointless to try to make a thought or emotion go away. The more one fights it, the bigger and stronger it gets. Choosing to open oneself up to a new thought or emotion, however (a more helpful alternative), allows the unhelpful thought or emotion to slip away, or at least shrink into the back reaches of the mind. So that’s what I tried to do with my sadness and disappointment, by fully living in the present moment so characterized by the happiness (and neediness ūüėõ ) of my children.

(And in the end, we found two cheap old bikes on Craigslist that will work for now and not be quite as appealing to thieves – or quite as much of a loss if they are stolen! I still miss my bike, but at least I don’t also have to miss biking itself.)

Posted in musings

presence and PPD

Back in January I decided that my word for 2017 would be “presence”, with the goal of being more present with my family, community, church, and job, instead of being disconnected or lost in daydreams. It’s not that I think daydreams or introversion are a bad thing – I just don’t want to regret the time I wasted or the things I did half-heartedly because I was distracted with meaningless things. And so I did my best, through the worst of my PPD, to be present with my family. When I could barely make myself get out of bed, I would try to play games and read books in the bedroom.¬†I would try to fill the days with fun activities to keep us going so that the depression and anxiety wouldn’t drag me down and away from them. But I still felt so disconnected, so far away from them and from our life together. I spent hours reading just to escape my emotions, and in the process isolated myself from the people around me. I would watch my children laughing without feeling any corresponding happiness; I would sit with Aubade smiling at me and ache with heart-wrenching sadness. Look at these children, so happy and beautiful, the depression whispered, and look at you, so miserable, so unable to laugh and play with them and appreciate their silliness.

Getting an official diagnosis and some outside, objective perspective helped me see that this inability to feel present was¬†not a moral failing or a character flaw, but a symptom of a disease, and that in itself was encouraging and reassuring; it didn’t solve the problem, but it gave me more strength to fight it. It was a shield against the barbed lies that are, for me, a hallmark¬†of the experience of depression. And at each step, as I sought help and as the depression tried to convince me not to ask for help – that the risks of vulnerability or the potential of getting a bad therapist or the side effects of medication were too great – it was my goal of presence that kept pushing me forward. Because I could tell that I was not capable of being fully present in that state, and because I wanted to be fully present, I knew that I needed something to change.

I never thought that I would take an antidepressant. Those are for weak people, the depression had always told me, and I don’t really like the idea of taking a daily pill (I’m still slightly resentful of my daily thyroid hormone replacement, to be honest, to the point where I once tried going off it cold turkey to see if I’d be ok without it… let’s just say that wasn’t the best idea I’ve ever had). And yet, for this past week when I’ve been taking it, I’ve had more internal peace and happiness than I’ve had for a long time. I’ve watched my baby sleeping or cooing up at me and been filled with deep, deep love instead of the ache of inconsolable sadness; I’ve sat with my boys at the table and laughed at their silly antics instead of ignoring or snapping at them. I’ve planned and cooked¬†healthy meals and cleaned up the kitchen every night, and helped my husband with the laundry, and packed diaper bags and taken the kids out without feeling scared or overwhelmed. I feel like I’m living my life again, instead of just observing it through a dim and melancholy glass: I am present. I hope it lasts but I’m not going to waste time worrying about that; I’m going to enjoy this while I can.

Posted in Uncategorized

{just enough info} – 2017

{JEI} is a link-up with a different topic, and a few different leading questions, every week; I haven’t participated before, but the questions for this week made me stop and think in a New Year’s-y sort of way that I’d been avoiding otherwise, so I thought I’d share with you all.

1. What is one small thing, if you accomplish it in 2017, that will make you feel successful?

Forming an exercise routine and continuing it long enough for it to become a habit or discipline would make me feel insanely successful! I’d be happy with 15 minutes of intentional activity every day, to be honest. My body is going to need some extended rest to recover from Aubade’s birth, but because of that, and because of the anemia I had during the pregnancy, it’s going to be fairly weak and need some attention. I’d like to build back the strength and stamina I had before the kids, ideally – but just starting out with some core rebuilding exercises would make me feel like a success.

2. Have you picked a ‚Äúword of the year‚ÄĚ or patron saint of the year?

No patron saint here (how would I narrow it down? and it feels somewhat audacious¬†to think a saint would be interested in being my patron, like asking someone to be a¬†mentor…), but I did settle on the word:¬†presence. I want to be more present this year, less lost in my own head; I want to engage with the real family I have, in the reality we share, instead of forming an idea or abstraction of them and interacting with that; I want to actively listen instead of chasing daydreams while my husband or children try to talk to me; I want to turn my phone on less frequently and run and play and laugh more often. It is easy for me to live in a world of theories and ideals, to the exclusion and detriment of the actual – and I don’t want to squander the actual blessings I’ve been given by not being as fully present with them as I can be.

And ok, I did go to¬†http://saintsnamegenerator.com and have it randomly select a saint just to see who it would be, and it was St. Jude (author of the book of Jude in the New Testament). Apparently he’s the patron saint of hopeless and desperate causes… Honestly, I don’t know much about him, nor am I even that familiar with the book of Jude. Maybe I should rectify that – I need a book of the Bible to dig into deeply right now¬†anyway!

3. What are you looking forward to in 2017?

I’m looking forward to my husband graduating and (hopefully) finding a job! We’ve been waiting for this next chapter of our lives for a long time now and it’s exciting to see just how close it is! The specifics of it will also help us make other decisions like where we’ll want to live (we’re outgrowing our current house because it doesn’t have the best bedroom layout, mostly) and what schooling choices we’ll make for the kids (since Rondel will be turning 4 this summer! Where does the time go?), so I’m looking forward to hammering out the details.

Head on over to Sweeping Up Joy for the rest of the link-up!