Reads of 2018

Just like daily life, my reading life has its ebbs and flows.  Some seasons find me constantly buried in a book, oblivious to life around me.  Showering and parenting are pushed to the side and the characters and plot-lines take over my “real” life.  And really?!  That’s the coolest thing, as long as my children’s needs are met and everyone stays fed and alive.  I tell my students daily about this disease that I have and that THEY might catch it too.  It’s called, “Lost in a Book” disease and it strikes everyone at one point or another.

Our school district has adopted a new literacy curriculum this year, through the non-profit, Center for the Collaborative Classroom.  As with many things, education is often in the grips of the pendulum syndrome.  The latest pedagogy and practice often changes, but if you are patient and wait long enough, the “gospel” truth will come back to something similar to what you were doing 20 years ago, just with different packaging and buzz words.   After serving on the piloting committee, it was with deep joy that we chose this curriculum as the basis for each day’s reading and writing lessons are tried and true children’s literature.  The most surprising treat, though, has been the unexpected forays into titles by authors I know and love, yet have never read.  I have been brought to tears on more than a few days as we have dug into stories that touch me, even as a 44 year old.  I see students make deep connections between texts and in their own lives.  It has been a daily reminder of the power of reading.  The power of narrative and character.

This year’s book list for me personally has some expected favorites, but really, as I look back, some really surprising titles too.  Every year I try and forecast some books I will be looking forward to in the year to come.  But it is fun to see that some of my very favorites this year, the most meaningful books I read, were titles I didn’t even know existed a year ago.  It’s my belief that sometimes, books find us at just the right time.  None of my Type A planning or plotting can make it happen.  It’s just the stars aligning.

So…maybe something below will be of interest to you.  Maybe not.  But I hope that you get bit by the “Lost in a Book” disease in 2019 and that you find yourself surprised, connected and reflective too.

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KIDS

  • {sidenote:  In Oregon we have a wonderful, statewide program called OBOB which stands for Oregon Battle of the Books.  Students form teams and together read 16 titles for their age group.  My students can participate and my older son, Alex, has also been on a team every year too.  After reading the books, they prepare for “trivia” battle on the facts of the books and compete at school and then later, regionally and statewide.  I love the titles they include and am noting them below.}
  • Magic Tree House (always for Drew…but he especially liked the new Magic Tree House book that came out this summer, Hurricane Heroes in Texas).
  • Hello, Universe by Erin Entrada Kelly.  Newberry Medal winner…and lives up to the hype.  We listened to this book on CD over spring break and it appealed to both of our kids and the grandparents.
  • **The Wild Robot (OBOB 2018-2019) and The Wild Robot Escapes by Peter Brown.  Who knew that a robot could stir up so much emotion?  The sequel came out this year and I loved both.  Both have been favorites of my students.  And the illustrations are frame-worthy.  It was on the list last year (due to Alex reading it), but had to add it again due to the sequel and the fact that Drew stayed up reading it until 11pm on a school night.
  • **Shooting Kabul by N.H.Senzai.  This was an intense read. Our amazing school librarian (who also is an idol of my eldest son…) recommended it to Alex and we both read it and were pulled in by the narrative.  It follows the story of a family illegally leaving Afghanistan and losing their youngest daughter in the process.  I recently realized there are more books by this author that are part of the series so we will be reading more in 2019.
  • Emma’s Poem.  By Linda Glaser.  As part of the Immigration unit I teach in my classroom, I began incorporating this book.  It tells the backstory of the poem Emma Lazarus penned that is still posted on the Statue of Liberty.
  • I Will Always Write Back by Martin Ganda & Caitlin Alifirenka.  (OBOB 2018-2019).  This title is part of the middle grades OBOB list, but one that my friend Doris had highly recommended last year.  An unlikely friendship that began through a pen-pal relationship.  It tells the story of 2 middle schoolers in Pennsylvania and Zimbabwe. I didn’t care for the writing style but it was still a touching story.  It was a reminder that kindness is contagious.
  • The Magic Finger & The Twits…and all the other Roald Dahl favorites.  Drew has been pretty obsessed this year.  Hoping he doesn’t take all of the Twits’ antics to heart.
  • **The Day You Begin by Jacqueline Woodson.  Oh my goodness! This book is beautiful.  How’s this for a tear-jerker line: “There will be times when you walk into a room and no one there is quite like you…”  This was a stunning first week of school book.
  • Otis Spofford. By Beverly Cleary.  After adopting our puppy in June, Drew saw this oldie, but goodie, from Beverly Cleary.  And then got pulled into all of her past books.  It was my first time to read it and fun to get back into her clever narratives.
  • Bravery Magazine. These magazines are created by two “lady bosses” who have put together a gorgeous product, chalk full of great information and activities, but also beautiful artwork.
  • Collaborative Classroom Favorites(Two Bobbies:  A Story of Hurricane Katrina by Kirby Larson & Mary Nethery; The Spooky Tail of Prewitt Peacock by Bill Peet; Boundless Grace by Mary Hoffman, Sonia Sotomayor: A Judge Grows in the Bronx by Jonah Winter, Brave Harriet by Marissa Moss, Wilma Unlimited by Kathleen Krull)
  • Who Would Win? Series by Jerry Pallotta.  STILL Drew’s current obsession…this series pits two animals against each other in non-fiction style proving which animal would “win” against the other.  He has also now written four of his own “Who Would Win?” books. Maybe Drew will give Jerry Pallotta a run for his money?!
  • Island Born by Junot Diaz. Stunning new picture book.  I have already checked it out twice from the library and it’s on my wish list for adding to my classroom library.  It focuses on a girl who left the Dominican Republic before her memory “cemented” her experiences there.  When asked by her teacher to draw “where she came from”, she goes to people in her own neighborhood to draw on their memories.
  • The Girl Who Thought in Pictures:  The Story of Dr. Temple Grandin by Julia Finley Mosca.  This book is magic.  When I read it last year in my class, one student piped up, “Hey!  I have autism too!”  And another replied, “Me too!” and finally a third added, “I think like her!”  It was amazing and a reminder of the power that can be found in telling our story.  Even a hard story.
  • Hidden Figures:  The True Story of Four Black Women and the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly.  Can’t get enough of these amazing women.  I have about 5 books about them.  But, finding strong, non-fiction biographies about African American women is worth its weight in gold.  Perfect for younger readers.
  • Out of Wonder:  Poems Celebrating Poets by Kwame Alexander.  I love Kwame Alexander.  His poetry is amazing.  This book was put together by Kwame and a few other poets and the poems inside take on the style of famous poets and their themes.  When my students memorized some of these poems last spring I was teary eyed.
  • Hatchet by Gary Paulsen.  Alex, my eldest, got into a Gary Paulsen obsession this year.  Hatchet was on of his favorites.
  • The Wall in the Middle of the Book by Jon Agee…this book caught me off guard during our class library time.  In a world where we hear about walls on a day-to-day basis, this was a reminder that often the scary things we fear on the other side of the wall are the very things that save us.
  • Saving Winslow by Sharon Creech.  I adore Sharon Creech.  This new chapter book follows the life of a sweet donkey who doesn’t have much hope or many people believing in him.  A wonderful, heartfelt, hopeful story.
  • The Oregon Trail Choose Your Own Trail Series.  I discovered these on a Friday night down at our local bookstore, The Book Bin.  I sent texts to my equally geeky teacher friends and was met with as much excitement as I felt.   Choose your own adventure??!?  Oregon Trail!?!?  YES!  Drew got the boxed set for Christmas and stayed up until 10pm last night secretly reading with the map laid out.  Fun, even for non-Oregonians.

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TEACHING/PROFESSIONAL

  • Writing Strategies and Reading Strategies by Jennifer Serravallo. I had the treat of attending a day-long seminar in October and was able to hear Jennifer “live”.  These two books are incredible, insightful and pair so well with our new curriculum.  Any teachers out there?!  Make it a point to see Jennifer in person if she is coming your direction for professional development.
  • Mindset Mathematics: Visualizing and Investigating Big Ideas by Jo Boaler.  Yes…I have become what I said I’d NEVER become…..a math education geek.  Thanks to my former job share partner, and math guru extraordinaire, I was turned onto the philosophy and revolutionary teaching approach of Jo Boaler.  This past October, my friend and colleague, April, and myself had the incredible joy of attending a seminar with Jo and learn more about the basis for the latest books she is putting out.  We even sat in on her class at Stanford.  A highlight of the year for sure.

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YOUNG ADULT FICTION

  • Turtles All the Way Down by John Green. After loving John Green’s last book, I was really looking forward to this one.  It was fine, but not as memorable.  I do really admire the way he wove in his own mental illness struggles.  Very brave.
  • **The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas.  Stunning, heart wrenching.  By now, I assume that many have read this book (which has also been on the banned book list) or seen the movie.  It is must read literature.  Otis even gave it a chew and brought us a $15 fine.  Angie Thomas has a new book coming out this spring!
  • **The 57 Bus by Dashka Slater.  This book was written by my mother-in-law’s friend and chronicles a true story of two teenagers and the crime that changed their lives.  And…it takes place in Oakland.  Luckily it has already been receiving awards and getting recognition, but add it to your list.  And order the Kleenex too.
  • **Long Way Down. By Jason Reynolds.  This was a national book finalist.  Written in verse, an allegory dealing with turf, death, bullets and the “rules”.  Oh my this was an intense one.  {A taste… “I felt like crying which felt like another person trapped behind my face.  Tiny fist punching the backs of my eyes, feet kicking my throat at the spot where the swallow starts.  Stay put, I whispered to him.  Stay strong, I whispered to me.  Because crying is against the rules.”}

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FICTION

  • The Wedding Date by Jasmine Guillory.  Read this chick-lit gem in a day.  Super fun and charming.
  • Still Me by Jojo Moyes. I really enjoyed Moyes’ first book, Me Before You.  This was the third in her series about Louisa Clark.  Much better than book two.  Loved how she had to learn to follow her heart.
  • **An American Marriage by Tayari Jones.  Another library book fee that pushed me to get going on this book despite other things I needed to do.  This novel has received well-deserved accolades as it chronicles the unexpected life turn when one character ends up in prison for a crime he didn’t commit.  I was so caught off guard and surprised by this gem.  A must-read.
  • ******The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah.  I am not surprised that I loved this book as much as I did being that Hannah’s previous book, The Nightingale, is still on my all-time top five favorite books.  I almost took a personal day and stayed home to finish this book, after staying up until midnight reading the night before.  Kristin Hannah leads me to believe that the characters are real people I know.  I had one moment where I slammed the book shut in fear, cried over a scene and kept wondering  how in the world the plot would be resolved with only 75 pages left to read.  The Great Alone is filled with adventure, survival, perseverance, heartbreak and the flawed human condition all taking place in rugged, remote parts of Alaska.  A—-maze—-ing.
  • My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry by Fredrik Backman.  After reading A Man Called Ove by Backman last year, I was so excited that our book club took this one on. I absolutely loved it. Maybe even more than Ove.  And….even in the midst of an optical migraine.  That’s Backman dedication. I loved the tender, yet comical way he dealt with grief and “differentness”.
  • The Crying Tree by Naseem Rakha.  This book was one of our Book Club choices this year.  The author is an Oregonian and we may still have a meet-up with her in the future.  It was a haunting telling of a crime committed, the brokenness and resulting gift of forgiveness.  Rakha has a beautiful writing style.
  • The Language of the Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh.  Another book club selection…amazing premise.  The main character has faced some incredible challenges in her life, but is able to use the Victorian language of flowers to communicate with others and foster connection.  I really enjoyed this book and found it surprising and unexpectedly touching.
  • **I’ll Be Your Blue Sky by Marisa de los Santos.  This book was one of Anne Bogel’s five “must reads” for summer and I can see why.  It was a stunning and perfect fictional read to start my summer break this year.  I count it as one of my favorites from 2018.
  • A Storied Life by Leigh Kramer. I have followed Leigh online for a long time and trust her book advice 100%.  This year, her OWN novel came out—A Storied Life.  It is beautifully crafted, touching narrative which I devoured in 24 hours.  The main character steps into a new role as caregiver for her dying grandma.  Themes of the art world, baseball and romance to boot.  It was a lovely beach read over 4th of July for me.
  • **Love and Ruin by Paula McLain.  I absolutely love Paula McLain’s writing style.  As Amazon reports, “the bestselling author of The Paris Wife brings to life the story of Martha Gellhorn—a fiercely independent, ambitious woman ahead of her time, who would become one of the greatest war correspondents of the twentieth century.”  Just like in Circling the Sun and The Paris Wife, McLain brings new life to brave and bold women in history.  I gave this one a 4/5.
  • *****A Place for Us by Fatima Mirza.  Holy cow.  This book was a doozy.  I started it and basically didn’t stop until I finished it.  Truly one of the most exquisite and stunning reads.  I am thankful (AGAIN!) to Anne Bogel for the recommendation.  It was the type of novel you don’t want to end because the characters seem so real.  Kleenex is a must.
  • The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang.  I was way down on the hold list for this one and my dear friend (and librarian) loaned me her copy.  It was the perfect “it’s way too hot to set foot outside, so stay in your jammies and read a mindless, fun gem inside” book.  Looking forward to her new book in 2019!
  • Ghosted by Rosie Walsh.  This was a light, fun summer read.  It was a romantic mystery and I was super surprised by the ending.  And it takes place in England.  Need you ask for more?!
  • Broken for You by Stephanie Kallos. A summer book club read.  I had no idea the unusual premise for this book would be quite so compelling.  It takes place in Seattle and follows the heart wrenching stories of 2 characters who meet and whose lives intersect in unexpected ways.  Loved this gem.  Didn’t finish it in time for Book Club, but got up at 7am and finished it the next day instead.  Sometimes reading, self-care and motherhood are hard to fit in at the same time, but making time for this book reminded me of the necessity of balance.
  • Shortest Way Home by Miriam Parker. The last book I read before school started this year.  It takes place in Sonoma, where we also celebrated my brother-in-law’s wedding in August.  It was so fun to read about places I love, while being there…if only I’d had a glass of Lynmar while reading this one!  All about how saying “yes” to the unexpected might be the best choice and truest path.
  • All We Ever Wanted by Emily Giffin.  I had other books to read for book club, but my goodness, I couldn’t put this one down.  It keep me up reading until 1am and thinking way beyond that.  In a time where sexual assault amongst high schoolers is in the news, the book was all too timely.  I gave it a 3.5/5.
  • Be Frank With Me by Julia Claiborne Johnson. Our most recent book club selection.  An interesting, imaginative story of a writer, her son and the unsuspecting assistant who ends up on nanny duty.  Reading this one with a number of fellow educators was so fun as the main character is on the spectrum and was so endearing.
  • **When Life Gives You Lululemons by Lauren Weisberg. Oh my goodness!!!  This was a fun, frivolous read for sure, but a favorite.
  • The Proposal by Jasmine Guillory. My second book by her this year and follows the experience of one of the characters in The Wedding Date.  I got this fun book from Book of the Month Club AND the library and it was one of the many books our new puppy, Otis, chewed.  I got to buy it TWO times!
  • Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarity. I had high hopes for this book as I love her writing style (think Big, Little Lies).  I gave it a 7/10.  It was a good, mindless read on Thanksgiving weekend, but I found the plot and characters so unbelievable that I ended it feeling a bit annoyed.  I loved the beginning but then it just went hay-wire for me about halfway through.
  • Winter in Paradise by Elin Hilderband. I have seen her books for so long and yet this was my first to read.  And…I was horrified when it ended unresolved…the first in a trilogy.    Loved the storyline and Elin’s author’s note were so helpful in having a deeper understanding for the setting choice.  It was fun to be immersed in the Caribbean on a winter, Oregon day.
  • One Day in December by Josie Silver. Super fun, light read to start off Winter Break.  Love Actually plot line, but still found it unpredictable and sweet.  Otis even chewed the binding to show his support.  We had to put our older dog, Sally, down and this book helped me get through a tough day and take my mind off my sadness.
  • **Marilla of Green Gables by Sarah McCoy. I alluded to this book in my introduction to this post, but Marilla of Green Gables might be my favorite read of the year.  It is a must read for Anne of Green Gables fans and creates the back story of Marilla’s childhood and life.  Sarah McCoy created a true masterpiece and researched allow the plot line to follow L.M. Montgomery’s style and historical detail.

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COOKING

  • Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat: Mastering the Elements of Good Cooking by Samin Nosrat. This made the 2017 list, but this year, after salivating through her 4-part Netflix special of the same name, I bought the book and have enjoyed it even more-so.
  • Magnolia Table: A Collection of Recipes for Gathering by Joanna Gaines.  I am on the Fixer Upper/Joanna Gaines bandwagon, I realize, but this cookbook is beautiful, approachable and best of all has some super yummy recipes!
  • Cook Like a Pro by Ina Garten.  Just picked this up from the library and can’t wait to choose a recipe or two to tackle for New Year’s!
  • A Beautiful Mess:  Weekday Weekend by Emma Chapman & Elsie Larson.  Love these ladies.  Their blog is amazing and this cookbook is all veggie focused.

RELIGIOUS/PSYCHOLOGY/PARENTING

  • The Techwise Family by Andy Crouch.  This book offered some great ideas and strategies for putting technology in its place to help balance family life.  I left feeling a little guilty, a little encouraged and was willing to give it a 6/10.
  • **Dare to Lead by Brene Brown.  I always love Brene Brown but this newest book will probably land as my favorite.  “At the end of the day, at the end of the week, at the end of my life, I want to say I contributed more than I criticized…”  So much rich wisdom about how daring true leadership is and the many places and ways we are called to show up as leaders.
  • **New Minimalism by Cary Telander Fortin and Kyle Louise Quilici. Well this book took me on an unexpected journey this year.  I tried to quickly read it before the library fines took over and then?!  I had to say, “fees be damned…I’m finishing this and soaking it in.”  The book took me on a summer-long journey in my classroom and home to purge and minimize.  Unlike the Magic Art of Tidying Up, it was focused on the psychology and philosophy side of minimalism.  Sunset Magazine had referenced it earlier in the year as a practical guide to decluttering and designing a space for sustainable and intentional living.  But it was even more for me.  As a former “Recreation and Leisure Studies” major, the deeper definition they offered lead me away from guilt.  As they shared, “leisure can be the period in which magic happens.  Leisure time is crucial…honor leisure time in the same way you honor other duties.”  Decluttering and simplifying, in its truest sense, allows for more leisure and less guilt.    Two colleagues and myself even took these practices into our classrooms and purged more than I can even fathom. I gave myself until August 13th when other family, summer responsibilities took hold to sort, recycle and purge in my classroom and I am so proud that I hit my target and made it through every cupboard and drawer.  Four months into this new year, I can already say that that hard work has paid off.
  • Outside the Lines by my friend, Mihee Kim Kort! Mihee’s prophetic voice, her honesty, bravery, humor and love oozed out of this book.  It took so much risk to write this gem and I am so proud of her for birthing it.  Outside the Lines:  How Embracing Queerness Will Transform Your Faith will push and stretch you.  It  kept me thinking long after finishing it in July.
  • Stretched Too Thin by Jessica Turner.  I had the gift of being on the launch team for this incredible book.  Jessica shares about a challenging topic with honesty and tenderness…the balance between work life and personal life.  Here was my review on Amazon:  “Stretched Too Thin by Jessica Turner has been on my “must read” list for months prior to its publication. I devoured it in an afternoon and plan to go back and re-read it again at a slower pace. Jessica’s words resonated with my life story, my struggles, my questions and my deepest longings. Even the title struck a chord. Feeling “stretched too thin” can be debilitating and yet, Jessica approached the topic with love, care and thought. She provided wisdom on topics from work life balance to managing the demands of children, marriage, friendships and most importantly, for me, mental load. The way Stretched Too Thin described and built the concept of mental load helped me understand more about the many things I carry in my head that usually fall to me to remember and take care of. The difficulty with “holding” all of my own to-do’s for work, let along family and personal life is a major challenge. Jessica approached this topic practically and gave her readers a place to “do the work” and actually process her ideas with relevant questions and points to consider further at the end of each chapter. I can’t recommend this book enough. A must read for all working moms trying to balance it all while stretched too thin.”
  • Girl, Wash Your Face by Rachel Hollis.  If I could buy a copy of this book for every female I know, I would.  Rachel has a direct, almost in your face, approach that caught me off guard when I started reading.  Sometimes you need that approach to have a kick in the rear and to get going.  As the new school year started, I really found her approach and ideas helpful as I tried to set some new habits and mindsets in place. It did give me the boost to get going on running a 5K and doing some training.  I know many have issues with her approach and brashness, but I still am thankful for this one.
  • How to Be a Happier Parent by KJ Dell’Antonia.  After hearing KJ interviewed on multiple podcasts, I knew her book needed to be on my “to be read” list.  Her chapter entitled, “Mornings Are the Worst” is my favorite and most relatable!  She has a humorous style and yet is extremely practical too and useful no matter your children’s ages.
  • Almost Everything: Notes on Hope by Anne Lamott.  Plan to devour this one before we hit 2019.  I find myself avoiding the concept of hope in the midst of so much depressing realities in our world.  Thank you, Anne, for tackling it head on during such a time as this.  “Love has bridged the high-rises of despair we were about to fall between.  Love has been a penlight in the blackest, bleakest nights.  Love has been a wild animal, a poultice, a dinghy, a coat.  Love is why we have hope.

 

FRIVOLOUS

  • MAGAZINES!  Our boys’ former psychiatrist saved up People magazines for me and shared them on each visit.  As of October 31st, I am now in need of a new supplier.  Bon Appetit, Sunset, Real Simple & Oprah are still favorites. 
  • Bachelor Nation by Amy Kaufman. Well, this one goes under frivolous even though it could qualify for the category below…as a long time, 15 year fan of the Bachelor franchise, I had to read this one.  Otis gave me side-eye for reading this one, but I couldn’t resist.

TRAVEL/MEMOIR/BIOGRAPHY/PHOTOGRAPHY

  • **Tell Me More: Stories about the 12 Hardest Things I’m Learning to Say by Kelly Corrigan.  Kelly Corrigan has been a long-time favorite author.  Her newest book, Tell Me More, was a heart-wrenching memoir filled with 12 hard truths to live by; phrases we can use to sustain our relationships.  Still have this quote on my mind from Rabbi Michael via her book, “There is no greater gift than to help a child set their enoughness, their might.”  Or the value of just saying to someone, “Tell Me More.”  Of giving someone the chance to share their fullest, truest story.  Kelly shares from a place of vulnerability as her own father’s and best friend’s deaths were the foundation for much of her memoir.
  • Heating and Cooling by Beth Ann Fennelly. 52 short memoirs, poems, etc. about “life”.  A quick, quirky, fun read.
  • **I’d Rather Be Reading by Anne Bogel.  Oh, Anne.  She is a hero and inspiration for me.  This sweet, little hardback was a quick read but resonated deeply.  She shares short essays about the delights and dilemmas of the reading life.  And…her podcast is the best.  A perfect gift for the reader in your life.
  • *Becoming by Michelle Obama. Michelle’s memoir is well-written, moving and inspirational.  I have loved to learn the backstory of her childhood, schooling, the beginning to her relationship with Barack and her reflections on life in the White House.  I am so bummed to miss seeing her in person in February when she comes to Portland, but trying to soak in the book and imagine it.

 

LOOKING FORWARD TO IN 2019

  • Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi and Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave have been on my list for awhile. Still need to commit and read them!  Also…Louise Penny!
  • I will be tackling the Modern Mrs. Darcy Reading Challenge for 2019!  I am really excited to take on some texts that I wouldn’t have otherwise due to her list of challenges for the year!  Here’s the link if you want to join up as well!
  • The Alice Network by Kate Quinn
  • The Sound of Gravel by Ruth Wariner
  • The Bride Test by Helen Hoang
  • How to Walk Away by Katherine Center
  • Iris Apfel: Accidental Icon:  Musings of a Geriatric Starlet by Iris Apfel
  • Nowhere Boy by Katherine Marsh
  • I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness by Austin Channing Brown
  • The Book of Essie by Meghan MacLean Weir
  • Radiant Shimmering Light by Sarah Lucille Selecky
  • Cozy Minimalist Home: More Style, Less Stuff  by Myquillyn Smith
  • Transcription by Kate Atkinson
  • On the Come Up by Angie Thomas
  • There, There by Tommy Orange
  • The Royal Runway by Lindsay Emory
  • A Spark of Light by Jodi Picoult
  • City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert
  • Lost Roses by Martha Hall Kelly (author of Lilac Girls)
  • Meet Cute by Helena Hunting
  • The Adults: A Novel by Caroline Hulse
  • Kitchen Yarns: Notes of Life, Love and Food by Ann Hood
  • The Minimalist Home: A Room-by-Room Guide to a Decluttered, Refocused Life by Joshua Becker

 

Past Year Book Round Ups:

2017

2016

2015

2014

2013

 

What’s Your Message?

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On Christmas morning I did a little internal squeal when I opened up a package containing a frivolous item that had been on my wish list…a felt letter board. A few days after the hoopla of the 25th, my mother-in-law and sister-in-law were helping me cut apart the hundreds of plastic letters that came with the felt board. I began wondering to myself what message and words I should place on that board. Happy New Year? Dwell in Possibility (Emily Dickinson)? People who love to eat are the best people (Julia Child)? So many letters and quotations to choose from can often feel overwhelming to me and then I end up with a blank slate.

As 2018 begins, we enter into a time where this blank slate is before us. For me, I begin to ask myself what message I should be placing on my own felt board. What message should I be sharing? Be living out? Be guided by? In the past I have jumped on the “one word” train and chosen a word that was my focus for the year ahead. Oftentimes my “one word” felt overwhelming and like another must-do on the checklist.

So I am sitting with the blank felt board for awhile. My kids are putting messages on it. Sometimes silly ones. Sometimes a “subtle hint” to their parents. The messages can be misspelled. Unfinished. Too wordy to fit.

Is it such a bad thing to have a blank message board, though? To wait and just *be* in the midst of a new year? To proceed with love and kindness. To move with independence and creativity, even if we aren’t 100% sure of our tagline?

In 2018, it is my hope to live with an open heart. To have my “felt board” open to post the message needed for the moment. Maybe even to be a place to “display” the messages of others…to allow my kids to choose the intention we focus on as we move forward.

“An infinite question is often destroyed by finite answers. To define everything is to annihilate much that gives us laughter and joy.”
– Madeleine L’Engle, A Circle of Quiet

 

{this post is one of my “every so often” blog posts for Practicing Families….reposting here}

Fourteen.

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Fourteen seems so much more civilized than thirteen.  I think of thirteen and all that goes along with the first year of “teenagedom” and my eyes get big and my heart pounds a little faster and harder.  When you think of marriage in comparison to our own youth and development, it gets a little scary.  The early teen years?  The years of awkwardness, facial acne (or was that just me?).  Band geek moments.  Trying to find my footing socially.  Working out what it means to establish my own beliefs.  Thinking I was mature and yet, wanting the comforts and support of my parents.  The teen years meant more internal, emotional strife.  Yet….through all these roller coaster moments, I also have very fond and heart-felt memories of these years too.
And when it comes to marriage in the “teen years”?  Well, I’d say fourteen is pretty sweet.  I feel greater comfort and “being known and seen” than in the early years.  I am growing more confident of my own self, needs and areas for growth (oh, there are SO many areas for growth….sigh…) .  We are entering a new stage of parenthood that while harder in certain areas also is easier too as they gain independence.
As I look back on the year that has just ended—thirteen!—I am thankful for the traditions that we continue to solidify.  I am grateful for the MANY laughs we have chosen to share (vs. growling and internal implosion) over the parenting journey.  I cherish the opportunities afforded to us by grandparents and our dear support team to go out for a meal or a movie or a walk without our kids.  I am more thankful than ever for Matt’s humor and wit.  It is helped me get through many a hard teaching or parenting day still standing.
Fourteen itself, according to HappyAnniversary.com reminds of these same themes….and gives tips for the traditional gift for fourteen years, IVORY.

Between raising children, working on your careers, and all the other chaotic details of life, the 14th anniversary is one that some people pass by without marking. Instead, plan to get away together for the weekend or overnight. Ship the kids off to your parents’ place at least for one night if you can. By this time in a marriage, we are so busy and often feel pulled in every direction. So plan ahead and set aside alone time for you and your spouse.

Ivory is the traditional material for the 14th anniversary, but please only ever buy products that are made using imitation ivory which is often made using a composite sourced from non-endangered animal bones, tagua nuts, or some other non-animal source. Please never purchase real ivory because that supports an illegal and brutal elephant poaching industry. Better yet, make a donation to the elephant rescue charity in Tennesee. They provide forever homes for elephants who have been mistreated in circuses or found living in inadaquate and cramped zoo conditions. It is truly a gift from the heart!

I can’t say I have managed to purchase anything Ivory or Elephant preservation focused to mark fourteen years (instead I went for the always popular choice….beer, chips and salsa—but at least the beer is MAN GOGH….not quite GOUGH, but still, couldn’t resist that purchase!), but it’s never been about the traditional with us anyhow.
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Yesterday we were in the Oakland Airport, ready to board a flight home to Portland after a wonderful trip to the Bay Area for New Years.  And a rat entered the airplane after the previous flight had landed.  A rat hunt ensued and after 4 hours of updates and reports from the gate employees, maintenance and the amazing pilot himself, our flight was cancelled.  Matt, being the creative he is, started tweeting hilarious updates and was picked up by four news sources and asked to skype in for an interview.  Our odd little incident became the top story of the day later that night on the news.  I can’t insert video footage here, but suffice it to say it was hilarious.
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 And if our marriage and days can be built on celebrating the odd moments, laughing at our weird predicaments, trying to keep sane and connected even when work and parenting are challenging, well….then that makes me feel like we aren’t doing too bad.  Would a week trip to Europe be an awesome celebration of our anniversary?!?  Um, yes.  But feasible??  Not so much.  And that’s fine.  Dinner and movie will do.  It may not be ivory or saving endangered elephants, but the normal, everyday with a little celebration thrown in, is enough for me.
Happy 14th, Matty!
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December Photo Project Day 10 :: One of my holiday favorites!  Pastega Family Light Display!
Matty with the fancy meat! ❤️
Turkey Trot Year Five!

Past Anniversary Posts:

2017 :: Thirteen

2016 :: Twelve Years (was sick in bed, so we had a yummy post anniversary dinner out a few days later at Frankie’s after a January 3rd snow “storm” where school was closed!)

2015 :: Eleven Years

2014 ::  10th Anniversary Palm Springs Extravaganza

2014 ::  Ten Years

2013 ::  Nine

2012 :: Eight

2011 :: Contentment (Seven Years)

 

Reads of 2017

One of my favorite rituals and rhythms each year is taking time to look back over the year and thinking about the books that landed in my lap.  Every year, especially as I have moved back into full time teaching, leaves me with guilty feelings.  I have regrets over books never finished, others returned to the library early to avoid late fees, or just acknowledging that I spent more time catching up on reality tv or binge watching shows on Netflix than I should have.

But….we have to start where we are.  And let the realities of our current circumstances be what they are.  And so, I choose instead to be grateful for the works of literary art that we took in this year. I also joined a Book Club this year with other women at my school.  It was such a great addition to the year, built friendships, allowed me to dig into some books I wouldn’t have otherwise. Hoping to keep up with this in 2018.

Without further adieu, here they are.  Former year’s posts are linked at the bottom along with some books I am looking forward to in 2018! (** denotes a favorite from 2017!)

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Kids

  • {sidenote:  In Oregon we have a wonderful, statewide program called OBOB which stands for Oregon Battle of the Books.  Students form teams and together read 16 titles for their age group.  My students can participate and Alex has also been on a team every year too.  After reading the books, they prepare for “trivia” battle on the facts of the books and compete at school and then later, regionally and statewide.  I love the titles they include and am noting them below,}
  • Magic Tree House (always for Drew…but he especially liked the new Magic Tree House book that came out this summer, A Big Day for Baseball.  It chronicles Jackie Robinson and was fantastic.  We also re-read the San Francisco Earthquake book too, Earthquake in the Early Morning.  Fun to focus on the history and have a deeper discussion.
  • The Case of the Mistaken Identity (Brixton Brothers Series) by Mac Barnett (OBOB 2017-2018)
  • **Dash by Kirby Larson (OBOB 2017-2018).  Because of the study I do in my class each year on the time of Japanese Internment, I was beyond excited to see this book added to the OBOB list this year.  It chronicles a girl’s experience being sent to an internment camp and having to temporarily leave her dog behind.  Very touching story and well-written to be accessible for upper elementary aged kids.  I can’t wait to start it with one of my in-class book clubs this February.
  • **Masterpiece by Elise Broach.  (OBOB 2017-2018).  OH MY GOODNESS.  This was a favorite of mine this year.  Such a sweet story combined with some mystery elements too.  A must read for upper elementary kiddos!
  • Eddie Red Undercover:  Mystery on Museum MileEby Marcia Wells.  (OBOB 2017-2018) This mystery was a fun, light summer read with an artsy mystery.  Fun to read alongside Masterpiece.
  • Poppy by Avi.  (OBOB 2017-2018). Surprisingly I hadn’t read this until I saw it on this year’s OBOB list.  We used it as our 2nd read aloud in my class this year and the class was riveted.  It is part of a series and so if kids get hooked they tend to keep reading.
  • The Red Pencil by Andrea Davis Pinkney.  (OBOB 2017-2018) This book tied in beautifully with my first literacy unit so I wrote a grant to get a set to use for Book Clubs in my class.  It is written in poetry form and follows the experience of a girl in Sudan who eventually finds herself in a refugee camp.  Strong girls and education is a theme combo that just grabs me.  A gorgeous read.
  • **Wild Wings by Gill Lewis (OBOB 2017-2018).  Oh my goodness!  This was the first book Alex and I tackled from the OBOB list this summer and from page 1, Gill Lewis pulls you in with the written word.  It’s a book that still sits with me and isn’t my typical favorite genre, but it grabbed be from the start.  Haunting story.
  • The Who Was, What Was and Where Was Series.  Any books from these series are wonderful for kids.  Of course Alex, my history buff, was THRILLED for the anticipated release of Who Was Alexander Hamilton.  He also devoured Alex and Eliza by Melissa de la Cruz this summer too and we can’t wait for a mom and son date to see Hamilton in Portland in March!
  • The Wild Robot by Peter Brown.  Drew and I delved into this gem and it kept him up reading at night which isn’t usual for him.  Drew’s a great reader, but it hasn’t taken over his free time choice yet.  But this book managed to do it.  It is so good that I stole it a few nights to keep reading myself after putting him to bed.
  • Immigrant Kids by Russell Freedman.  My colleague found this on the shelf at school in the copy room and it became a wonderful new book to enjoy and dig into during our immigration unit in class.  Gorgeous black and white photos and text to help students understand the immigrant experience at the end of the 1800s and into the 1900s.
  • Mr. Lemoncello’s Great Library Race by Chris Grabenstein.  Currently reading this one with Alex at night for read aloud.  We love Grabenstein’s series about Mr. Lemoncello and have been looking forward to this follow up.  It has a similar feel to the Book Scavenger listed below.
  • Book Scavenger by Jennifer Chambliss Bertman.  This book was a fun read and follow up to Bertman’s first book, The Unbreakable Code.  Our school librarian set up a scavenger hunt at school and the kids who found the book had a chance to go to the Public Library and do a live FaceTime event with the author, Jennifer Chambliss Bertman.  Alex found the book and we went in July 2017.  It was such a fun experience!
  • Who Would Win? Series by Jerry Pallotta.  Drew’s current obsession is this series that pits two animals against each other in non-fiction style proving which animal would “win” against the other.  Little does he know he will have about 20 different books in the series by the time Christmas is over tomorrow.
  • Upside-Down Magic by Sarah Mlynowski.  This was on the OBOB 2017-2017 list but Drew picked it up in December and it’s been a fun read for bedtime.  Fantasy and animal focused, so it’s Drew’s jam.

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Teaching/Professional

  • Daily 5 and CAFE reading books (especially after having the gift of attending the training conference for two days in June 2017).  Lots of strategies and ideas to help keep my literacy time relevant for students no matter their reading level.

Young Adult Fiction

  • Everything Everything by Nicola Yoon
  • The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon
  • **Salt to the Sea  by Ruta Sepetys.  My dear school librarian, Christy, always brings me the best books and knows the themes and types of books she thinks Alex will like.  She recommended Salt to the Sea to me and I ordered it at the public library.  Barely got home from picking it up and Alex was into it, finishing it in one day.  I realized I’d better get going on it too.  It is written chapter by chapter following different characters and their experience during WWII.  From Ruth Sepetys’ website:  “In 1945, World War II is drawing to a close in East Prussia and thousands of refugees are on a desperate trek toward freedom, almost all of them with something to hide. Among them are Joana, Emilia, and Florian, whose paths converge en route to the ship that promises salvation, the Wilhelm Gustloff. Forced by circumstance to unite, the three find their strength, courage, and trust in each other tested with each step closer toward safety. Just when it seems freedom is within their grasp, tragedy strikes. Not country, nor culture, nor status matter as all ten thousand people aboard must fight for the same thing: survival.
    A tribute to the people of Lithuania, Poland, and East Prussia, Ruta Sepetys unearths a shockingly little-known casualty of a gruesome war, and proves that humanity can prevail, even in the darkest of hours.”

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Fiction

  • Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter.  A fictional read, but focused on some real life, former Hollywood-ites and set in Italy.  A fun summer read.
  • **Hotel at the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford.  This was the first book I read for my book club and had had it on my list for a LONG time.  It was gorgeous story telling and writing and a perfect read while teaching my Japanese Internment unit at school.
  • The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty.  I didn’t care for this as much as Big, Little Lies, but it was still a fun read and true Moriarty style.
  • The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood.  Another read for my book club and perfect companion while watching the series on TV.  Margaret Atwood is visionary and an incredible writing.  This genre isn’t usually my favorite but I really enjoyed it nonetheless.  {or was freaked out by the prophecies found within!}
  • **Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult.  I had no idea what this book was about before cracking it open this summer and was pulled in from page one.  The story that unfolds is timely and a gripping story of the effects of race and the law.
  • A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman.  Well….get your Kleenex ready when you sit down to read.  Fredrik Backman is an incredible story teller and Ove is a character you will fall in love with.  His quirks and character development were so touching and moving.
  • **The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid.  This book accompanied me to Maui this summer and was the perfect beach read.  I absolutely loved it and count it as one of my favorites from 2017.
  • **Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman.  I absolutely positively loved Eleanor’s character, life story and the arc of the plot.  Such a fun read and an eye into those on the spectrum as adults.
  • Goodbye, Vitamin by Rachel Khong.  My friend Elena read this one due to her membership in the Book of the Month club (I am now a member for 2018…can’t wait for some new expected reads!).  I loved the heartwarming story about a broken engagement and Alzheimers.  Odd combo, but it works.
  • **Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly.  Just finished this in November for my book club.  As a WWII obsessed reader, this griped me.  The interweaving storylines were gorgeous and very real.
  • Sourdough by Robin Sloan.  Kind of a weird one, but fun that it was set in the Bay Area.  It includes food and the Ferry Building in SF so it still drew me in despite some disappointing parts.IMG_1094

Cooking

  • Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat: Mastering the Elements of Good Cooking by Samin Nosrat
  • Over Easy:  Sweet and Savory Recipes by Joy the Baker.  So many yummy recipes in this gem.  I feel like my life doesn’t leave enough time for slow bunches and more fancy recipes, but I still found this book very approachable.
  • Nom Nom Paleo:  Food for Humans by Michelle Tam and Henry Fong.  I went back and ordered this book and their newest, listed below, from the library and found many exciting new, paleo recipes.  Have been cooking up her instant pork carnitas all fall and winter.  Fantastic flavor.
  • Ready or Not? by Michelle Tam and Henry Fong

Relgious/Psychology/Parenting

  • Of Mess and Moxie by Jen Hatmaker.  I really enjoyed Jen’s storytelling style and particularly have appreciated her accompanying podcasts focused on more of these mess and moxie topics as well.
  • **Braving the Wilderness by Brene Brown.  I always love Brene Brown but this newest book is especially riveting.  The whole experience was made even BETTER when we got to drive up to Portland and have FRONT ROW SEATS to see Brene speak the week the book released.  Brene shares some revolutionary ideas in this book that are so applicable to our political and country climate these days.

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  • The Road Back to You:  An Enneagram Journey to Self-Discovery by Ian Morgan Cron and Suzanne Stabile.  I enjoy Ian and Suzanne’s podcast more than the book, but Enneagram anything is a must for me!
  • Brain Rules by John Medina.  Great ideas that I have really used in my teaching. I am a geek and sucker for all things brain development and research.
  • The Church of Small Things by Melanie Shankle.  Melanie has such a humorous wonderful style and her books are always a fun read.
  • Clutterfree with Kids by Joshua Becker
  • Hallelujah Anyway by Anne Lamott

Frivolous

  • MAGAZINES!  Our boys’ psychiatrist (and our parenting mentor and savior!) saves up their People magazines and gifts them to me on every visit.  A guilty pleasure for sure, but a fun one!
  • The Magnolia Journal.  Once in awhile I am given a copy of Joanna Gaines’ newer magazine.  I haven’t subscribed yet as it’s pricy and I don’t see TONS of content.  But I really loved the summer issue and their Roadtrip inspiration article.  Hoping to squeeze in a short road trip this summer up to Washington and another at the end of the summer down to California—-influenced by this article and issue.
  • Bon Appetit, Sunset, Real Simple

Travel/Memoir/Biography/Photography

  • ***************************At Home in the World:  Reflections on Belonging While Wandering the Globe
    by Tsh Oxenreider. Hands down, my favorite read of 2017.  I listen to Tsh’s podcast, The Simple Show, religiously, and have read her books over and over.  But this book, was something else.  And quite unexpected how much it touched me.  Tsh chronicles her family’s year long trip around the world.  But it is so much more than that.  Our early 20’s aged friend read it and love it too, as did my neighbor who has older high schoolers.  It’s just so thought provoking and will transport you to another world and challenge you to think about what it means to BELONG, no matter where you are.  I wish I could give this book to everyone in my life this year.  Thanks, Tsh.  Sidenote:  My friend Miranda humored me to trek up to Portland with me right before school started and we went to the PopCast Live event.  Tsh was a guest at the event and we snuck in front of the line to have her sign my book.  I was basically speechless meeting her and starstruck.  Highlight of the year, indeed!

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  • **The Year of Living Danishly:  Uncovering the Secrets of the World’s Happiest Country by Helen Russell.  I was on the wait list at the library for the longest time and ended up getting many fees for keeping it too long, but Helen Russell is a master story teller.  She crafted a book that chronicles the year she and her husband moved to Denmark for her husband to take a job with LEGO.  I adored this book!!
  • Mastering the Art of French Eating:  From Paris Bistros to Farmhouse Kitchens, Lessons in Food and Love by Ann Mah.
  • **Born a Crime by Trevor Noah.  Trevor Noah is an incredible writer and this book, while not a light summer read, might be one of my top three of the summer.  I read it right after Small Great Things and wow…that was a one-two punch.  So much reality about the struggle of growing up biracial in South Africa.
  • Chasing Slow: Courage to Journey Off the Beaten Path by Erin Loechner
  • She by Kate Spade New York.  My student teacher just gave this to me for Christmas and I was speechless opening it.  I am obsessed with women’s biographies and this one is stunning.  Photographs, quotes and reflections from famous women (even including Miss Piggy!).  All dressed up in Kate Spade book style.
  • Chasing Light:  Michelle Obama Through the Lens of a White House Photographer by Amanda Lucidon.  My friend, Sue, gave me this book last week and I read it and soaked in the photographs yesterday.  Oh, Michelle Obama, how we miss you!
  • **Obama:  An Intimate Portrait by Pete Souza.  I stood pouring over this book with my dear friends, Martha and Jessica during a girl’s weekend in November.  We all were teary-eyed recalling the humanity, love, care and inspiration of our former president via the eyes of his photographer, Pete Souza.  This is a must have coffee table book,  in my humble opinion.
  • Dream Big Dreams: Photographs from Barack Obama’s Inspiring and Historic Presidency (Young Readers) by Pete Souza.  When I saw that Pete Souza was putting out a young readers edition of his Obama book, I immediately ordered two. 

Looking forward to in 2018

  • The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
  • Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi.  Have tried this three times and need to just commit and finish it.  Such and deep and powerful story!
  • Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave
  • Maybe a Louise Penny read.  I have had Louise Penny’s books recommended by many people in my life and think it’s time to take the plunge!
  • Reading People: How Seeing the World through the Lens of Personality Changes Everything by Anne Bogel.  Anne produces one of my favorite podcasts which I listened to for a week straight while weeding our back yard this summer.  Her new book combines personality and picking books.  EEP.
  • At Home in this Life by Jerusalem Greer
  • A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle.  Still haven’t read this classic and must tackle it before the movie comes out.
  • Still Me by Jojo Moyes
  • The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah
  • Brave by Rose McGowan
  • The Female Persuasion by Meg Wolitzer
  • For my Husband for Sure…and maybe me too….The Monk of Mokha by Dave Eggers
  • The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion
  • The Crossover by Kwame Alexander.  Crafted in free verse with hip hop poetry?!  Yes, please.  This book won many awards in 2015 and is on my list for the year ahead for sure.
  • The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton
  • Turtles All the Way Down by John Green…can’t pass up the next novel from the author of the The Fault in Our Stars.  Young Adult Fiction at its best!
  • My friend Elena and I are going to be tackling the Modern Mrs. Darcy Reading Challenge for 2018!  I am really excited to take on some texts that I wouldn’t have otherwise due to her list of challenges for the year!  Here’s the link if you want to join up as well!

Past Year Book Round Ups:

2016

2015

2014

2013

 

Puzzling

{This post originally was posted on the Practicing Families Blog where I contribute sporadically throughout the year. }

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We are knee deep in the middle of summer these days and as a teacher with two boys at home–ages 6 and 10–we create a summer bucket list each year.  Rather than seeing this list as a prescriptive, stressful agenda of to-dos, it actually gives our days a little structure and allows the boys to have some fun things to look forward to and traditions to anticipate.  The Summer Bucket List helped us four years ago when we were moving to Corvallis.  The boys were 2 and 6.  Moving is hard on everyone and so we wanted to be very intentional about the time, creating space for good closure as well as fun adventures, exploring and bonding as a family.

I have talked about our Summer Plans here (https://thesestones.wordpress.com/2015/06/15/summer-lesson-plans/ and https://thesestones.wordpress.com/2013/07/01/summer-bucket-list/) but as the kids get older, the list changes.  Some items remain the same, and then we spice things up with new ideas as well.  Certain traditions have remained no matter our location (7-11 free slurpee day, S’mores, picking berries, joining the summer reading program, heading to the beach, etc), but this year, I added something pretty flashy…doing a puzzle.  I know.  The virtual pinnacle of summer excitement.  But puzzles tend to be good for slowing down and focusing my two busy boys that seem to be in constant NERF gun battling mode or fighting to use screens or running amuck throughout the neighborhood.  So, I invested in a breakfast puzzle and planned to also have breakfast for dinner.

We worked on it on a sweltering day, while eating popcorn and drinking smoothies.  We took breaks.  We worked silently.  We became addicted.  My husband had to pry me away from it at 6:30pmreminding me that I was the parent and we had children to feed and adult duties to complete.  Parenting.  Such an interruption when I was channeling my 75-year-old future self.

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After taking a two-day break, we went back to the puzzle with new energy, ready to finish it up last Monday.  Our family arrived in town on their roadtrip, and they started helping.

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In no time, we finished!  But…..not quite.  ONE side piece was missing.  Tablecloths were gently lifted, puzzle boxes were searched, the dog bed was examined, I looked through all of the deck boards on my hands and knees with a flashlight to see if the missing piece could be found, but nope.  Gone for good.  Or at least, gone for now.

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The kids took it in stride and ran off to play with their cousin, but I was having a harder time.  I am a list maker and I live for the sense of completion of a project, a procrastinated task done, a school year well finished, a Saturday morning to-do list complete, or….a puzzle.  I finally let it go, but left the puzzle out on the deck for two more days, hoping for a miracle.  Finally, last night after the wind had attempted to pick the puzzle up and it was folded over like a tidal wave, I begrudgingly put it back in the box—-all NINE HUNDRED, NINETY-NINE pieces, wondering where that one lost puzzle piece was hanging out.

And as I always do, I started thinking more about the narrative going on in this experience.  As a book lover, and story-driven devotee, I look for the underlying narrative, the lesson and the theme, no matter the time or place.  I found myself connecting this puzzle situation to the last year of our lives.  I went back to work full time as a teacher last fall.  Both my boys and myself spent our days under the same roof and my full-time work inevitably changed our family dynamic.  My brain was going 100 miles a minute all the time, preparing for lessons, making lists, finishing observations, preparing supplies for projects, correcting papers, creating worksheets, deciphering math lessons. My husband and I had to act as a relay team, passing the baton between errands, meeting, tasks, sports practices, or extracurricular commitments.  I often felt that if one little thing went wrong, the whole delicately balanced charade would collapse.  We ate out more, we missed some experiences because frankly, MOM WAS JUST TOO TIRED.  Try as I might, to get all the pieces to perfectly fit together to make the bigger picture complete, it was a mirage.

I remember myself as an eager-to-please high schooler, writing bible verses all over my bedroom on self-created posters.  Matthew 5:48 was there amongst others, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly father is perfect.”  That was the goal–perfection.  To be like God.  To have all A’s.  To be involved in a balance of clubs, sports, and music activities at school while investing in leadership opportunities at church.  I was seeking perfection.  All the puzzle pieces perfectly snapped together.  And it’s something I still struggle with today.  I know I must emote it as my eldest will sometimes look at me in our  biggest moments of frustration and say something along the lines of, “I can’t live up to all of your standards!  I am not PERFECT!”

Eugene Peterson reimagines this same passage of scripture, however, and in the Message, he translates Matthew 5:48 as this:  “Live generously and graciously toward others, the way God lives toward you.”  There is no wording about perfection, rather generosity and graciousness.  And this, friends, is our calling.  God lives TOWARD us, 24/7, with generosity and gratitude.  God is gracious to us.  God is FOR us, even when we aren’t whole, when we have a piece missing or are lost.  God doesn’t require perfection, but a generous and gracious life.  While that isn’t easy most of the time, I do find that the days, or moments, I manage to “live generously and graciously” toward others, I can be calmer about the missing pieces to the puzzle.  I can handle life’s question marks with less anxiety.  I can be present in moments of liminality.

There will be countless opportunities to practice generous and gracious living this summer, the upcoming school year, and beyond.  I will need to model it in the hardest of places–my own family and my classroom.  But maybe?  I will have to just add it to the Summer Bucket List.  It won’t be a line item to be checked off, highlighted, or completed.  But an ongoing narrative or theme, a way of living.

Thirteen

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I love the chance to riff off of the traditional anniversary gift list each year…and this year is no different.  Today, Matt and I are celebrating 13 years of being married.  As our nanny said, our marriage has entered the teenage years!  Lord, have mercy.

13 has always loomed like a weird number and an odd anniversary (no mathematical pun intended…).  But here we are and really?  It’s feels great.  Arriving at LUCKY 13!  A Baker’s Dozen.  According to the research, 13 is “the number of upheaval so that new ground can be broken.”

 I am not sure if I buy into all the significance of numerology, but I love that the “gift” for 13th anniversaries is to be lace.  Yes, we could go the lingerie route.  But for blogging purposes, we’ll go for the pun instead.  Lace.  Shoe laces.  Used to secure footwear in place.  And even amid so much upheaval of 2016 and new ground to be broken in 2017, I feel the gift of a partner who truly is that lace for our family.  Securing us in place despite uneven ground, change, and times of disruption.

In the past year we enjoyed a few moments regaining perspective on ourselves as adults.  As normal humans not just parenting team members.  We had about 15 hours in Seattle to enjoy the Adele concert.  We tackled whole30 during the months of June & July.  We walked through work changes together, mostly a big decision and transition for me to go back to full time teaching at the same school as the boys.  It was an insanely difficult choice to make and having a partner that walks through those pros and cons and mostly lets YOU come to your own understanding is paramount.  We conquered some fears too (hello, walking in a dark cave with bats….eek).

So thankful for the chance to celebrate it all…dinner out at Bellhop and the Bachelor premiere.  Classy?  Always.  Here’s to THIRTEEN!

My Love.  Happy Easter!!! Bowling!!! Happy Mother's Day to me!  Cocktail in a watermelon!!42!!!! ❤️1 mile complete!  Bookin' It Run! #cbcplbookinitYippee!Cheesie Happy Adele Faces! ❤️My favorite wedding date forever and always.  Silly husband.Conquered my cave fear and nerves about bats today!  Lava Caves ☑️.1324290200897067085_5876272Happy Thanksgiving!  Turkey Trot ✔️!

Past Anniversary Posts

2016 :: Twelve Years (was sick in bed, so we had a yummy post anniversary dinner out a few days later at Frankie’s after a January 3rd snow “storm” where school was closed!)

2015 :: Eleven Years

2014 ::  10th Anniversary Palm Springs Extravaganza

2014 ::  Ten Years

2013 ::  Nine

2012 :: Eight

2011 :: Contentment (Seven Years)

 

December Photo Project 2016

Every year since 2010, I have participated in a wonderful photo challenge called the December Photo Project.  Can’t believe this is year six.  (until I look back at the pictures and realized that the boys have grown so much!)  Taking time to catalog this month’s pictures on the blog today to hold space for the memories of this month.

 

As a caveat, I have to admit that life feels WAY different this year.  Working full time again (even in the same profession and grade level) has been very challenging.  I feel like I am running on fumes many days and need to put my all into survival.  I don’t mean to sound bleak, but it has been a true challenge to balance the many responsibilities of parenthood, teaching, supporting a student teacher and being emotionally present in my marriage.   I look at the pictures from this season (below this post) and it reminds me that while I forgot to take pictures and post some days, photography and looking for special moments in the everyday is so important to me.  Without making time for it and claiming it as vital, it doesn’t happen and I die a little bit inside.

So, as I think about 2017, I get a little overwhelmed.  I know that today, though, I need to clean out the fridge, make a grocery list and meal plan for next week and shop.  I need to make a homework planner for my students and create a new seating chart and get ready for two new arrivals to my classroom.  I need to finish today’s suduko.  Drink some coffee without cream.  I need to tend to my own boys who are coughing up a lung or two and finish reading Lauren Graham’s new book, “Talking As Fast As I Can.”  And….write thank you notes.  So many thank you notes!

And beyond that?!?  Well, there’s a lot beyond that.  I know I should be goal setting for 2017.  I am doing that with my own boys and with my students.  But some days and years?  It’s about taking the goals one day at a time.  Doing my best to be in the moment and not just treading water.  Below, I recopied my recent post in our church’s Advent devotional.  It talks a bit about waiting.  And being in the in between.  And below that?  My pictures from this year’s December Photo Project.  I post all this with hesitation lest the filters of the pictures lead you to believe that my life is perfect.  It’s way far from it.  But despite the challenges and feeling like I can’t quite get my act together, I am feeling very thankful.  Grateful for good friends, for the support and love of family, for the help of trained professionals and counselors, for books  to read and reality shows to get lost in.  Thankful for almost 13 years of marriage (Tuesday officially!).  Grateful for work that is meaningful (even though it can be hard and overwhelming).  And most of all, thankful that underneath everything….all the plans and lists and goals and to do’s…..that Jesus has come to release us from our fears and to set us free.

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A prayer for today and the days ahead from the Church of England.

 

“Soon God’s promise to save the world will be kept! When the right time comes, God will send a leader from Kind David’s family, and he will be a good ruler.”

“Hurray!” shouted the people. “God remembers us!” The people were hopeful. 
Jeremiah 33, Spark Story Bible

“I’m drowning…” I have cried these words to myself many times this fall as I embarked on going back into the classroom full-time after a ten-year hiatus. Some days the sheer volume of assignments to grade, curriculum to decipher, emails to read and respond to, meetings to attend and students’ needs to care for seem too much. Hope can sometimes be hard to grasp.

The decision to teach full time was not made lightly last June. Pro and con lists were drafted. Conversations unfolded over texts, phone calls, during walks and through emails. And time and time again, it felt as if God had clearly opened a door. And that door wasn’t closing. It was a promise of sorts. I can’t say it was God calling down from the heavenly realms, “You’ll be safe! I will keep my promise to you!” However, there was a clear invitation to step forward into the fear and the unknowns and the possibilities ahead with a deep knowledge that God remembers me. That I wouldn’t be forgotten. I, like the Israelites, felt hopeful.

And I still DO feel hopeful. But living in the place of waiting, being fully present during the times that aren’t easy, can be hard. We live in a state between “HURRAY! GOD REMEMBERS US!” and “When is God going to show up with that promise?!?” And often, it can feel very lonely, almost like the Israelites’ exile.

Slowly, but surely, God is teaching me a lesson about how I am waiting. Am I in a place of hope-filled waiting? Or angst-filled waiting? Waiting filled with anger? Or waiting filled with expectation? Am I eying my own “chocolate chip cookie” or “LEGO” completely missing out on what is right in front of me?

Can we, like the Israelites, wait? All the while, preparing for a new reality, a new normal to come? What word of hope do we need to hear this Advent? Jeremiah spoke to the Israelites, but his words are God’s message of hope to us, too — God’s promise will be kept because God is faithful. In the midst of our own forms of exile when we feel alone or forgotten, how will we wait? What word of hope do you need to hear today?

Come, O Long expected Jesus, 

born to set your people free.

From our fears and sins release us; 

Christ in whom our rest shall be.

You, our strength and consolation, 

come salvation to impart;

Dear desire of many a nation,

 joy of many a longing heart.

-Charles Wesley

December Photo Project 2016 :: Dec 2nd :: New Christmas PJs!
December Photo Project 2016 :: Dec 2nd :: New Christmas PJs!

Saturday Vibes...Christmas Cards, catching up on podcasts and coffee.  #dpp2016
Saturday Vibes…Christmas Cards, catching up on podcasts and coffee. #dpp2016
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Fraaasgeeeelay! Loved seeing A Christmas Story as live theater! Well done by the Majestic!!! #dpp2016
Santa and his Reindeer ❤️❤️
Santa and his Reindeer ??????
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December Photo Project 2016 ::December 5th :: love that this kiddo sorted two bags of m and m’s and then bagged them in preparation for my students’ checkerboard games…their little holiday gift. Today we are preparing for St Nicholas Day…awesome to do some gifting and acts of service for MOM!!! ???????? #dpp2016
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Stinky Boy shoes filled with oranges and chocolate coins. Thankful for the loving life of St. Nicholas. His example of loving others, feeding the hungry, bringing hope to the imprisoned, comforting the lost and teaching truth to all. (Amy Welborn). So today’s expected snow day seems like a slim chance….instead we sugar the kids up with chocolate coins followed by oranges and then send them out to do loving acts for others. Aka: shopping for the canned food drive with @emmelynne6 ?? and maybe not killing each other with “brotherly love”. ??????. #dpp2016
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Snowman Poop….my favorite! Thanks, @bennysdonuts !!!! ?? ?? ????
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Evidently Alex was up at 3:34am, thinking it was later, standing out on the porch looking for snow! ????????#dpp2016
Love the display at our school....canned food drive time! ❤️ #dpp2016
Love the display at our school….canned food drive time! ?? #dpp2016
At the vet with our sweet girl. ❤️#dpp2016
At the vet with our sweet girl. ??#dpp2016
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When your husband is using three “connected” ladders to install lights. ????????. Griswold Fam.
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Enter a caption

Self imposed time out. Steadily checking off the to do list to enter into this last week before break with some semblance of order. This still means dinner hasn’t been started. Husband is out at a church event. Dog is frantically shaking after a medicine bath which nearly killed us both. Kids are running outside in the dark singing Carol of the Bells and I have yet to plan my math lesson on liters which scares me. But I am sitting down on my bed and taking some deep breaths for two seconds. Advent. Calm. Sanity. These states of mind and being are out there somewhere….. maybe on the other side of a Wednesday field trip, building candy houses with 50 kids, and finishing animal reports! 😂😂😂😂

 

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Enter a caption
Only pic I took today but a lovely way to start the day. Sweet rolls and candlelight to celebrate St Lucy’s Day. And then dinner out tonight at Les Caves with Drew’s amazing teacher…Cheryl Graham. A day of light indeed. ❤️ #dpp2016

OSU ladies basketball game! ❤️

OSU ladies basketball game! ❤️

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Best student teacher around. Love you, @eap711 !!! ☃️❄️️🏀❤️☃️❄️🏀❤️

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Someone’s having a Lorelei Gilmore snow moment….❄️❄️❄️❄️❄️

Snowman! ☃️❄️️☃️❄️️ #dpp2016

Snowman! ☃️❄️️☃️❄️️ #dpp2016

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Cabin Fever. Another snow day tomorrow. Hello winter break. Hello sad children and mom.
Rogue One!  #dpp2016
Rogue One! #dpp2016
December Photo Project 2016::Saturday, December 17th::Photo Card Assembling!
December Photo Project 2016::Saturday, December 17th::Photo Card Assembling!
First Presbyterian Church, Corvallis.  So pretty this morning!
December 18th :: First Presbyterian Church, Corvallis. So pretty this morning!
Rudolph Came to Church!
Rudolph Came to Church!
Love going thrift store shopping with this one.  Never a dull moment.
Love going thrift store shopping with this one. Never a dull moment.

 

Shhhh.... #dpp2016
December 19th :: Shhhh…. #dpp2016
Grandma Arrived!!!!! Christmas can begin!
December 20th :: Grandma Arrived!!!!! Christmas can begin!
Cookie Decorating Time
Cookie Decorating Time
Popcorn and a Movie at 10:30am!  Winter Break!
December 21st :: Popcorn and a Movie at 10:30am! Winter Break!
Something besides tshirt a and cozy pants!!!!! ❤️
Something besides tshirt a and cozy pants!!!!! ❤️
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December 22nd :: Another demeaning medicine bath for poor Sally. And Alex in bed with 102.5 temp. Sadness. 😞
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My sweet love. 24 hours ago he was his normal self: creative, opinionated, talking about hard things, snuggling on the couch, debriefing after a full, but fun day. Today? After being up from 3-6am with a migraine and a 102 degree temperature, he put himself to bed and has been there all day. Anyone who knows this child knows that he never rests, let alone 12 hours alone, in bed with nothing to do but sleep. Praying that all the rest leads to a healthier tomorrow and that it doesn’t pass on to the rest of us. No one (especially ministers and kids!) wants to be sick on Christmas. Prayers for healing appreciated. 💜👓💤😴😷😓🤒💜
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December 23rd :: Alex is still in bed. Fever down a tad. Long day of more and more sleeping. Got a few chapters into The Wonder by Emma Donoghue finally (already overdue), Monopoly with Drewsie and Alex crawled out to the couch for It’s a Wonderful Life (thanks to Cara Miller’s movie drop off service). Still hoping for recovery to come and heal buddy boo. My big outing? Eyebrow waxing. Clearly you are all jealous.
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December 24th :: It’s a 6 year tradition now….the picture for the 24th is always our Christmas card so here it is for 2016. This year has been good, but hard. But one of the very best moments we will treasure as a family was the 24 hours we spent at Crater Lake in August. Such a gift. And the eecummings quote?! Magic in words. Merry Christmas everyone!
Made it to church!
Made it to church!
Familia
Familia
Wooohoo!  Happy Boys!
Wooohoo! Happy Boys!
Be still my heart.  Ukulele Love with Grandpa.
Be still my heart. Ukulele Love with Grandpa.
Family Selfie
December 25th :: Family Selfie
Annual ophthalmologist visit.
December 28th :: Annual ophthalmologist visit.
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Happy Hour. Margaritas. Chips, guacamole and salsa. Tacos. Kale salad (for our conscience). And wonderful conversation with my dear friend, @simplyelena . The best. ❤️🌮❤️
Family! ❤️❤️
December 29th :: Family! ❤️❤️ Quick trip to the ocean and Depoe Bay!
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A mojito and an old fashioned overlooking the ocean WITHOUT CHILDREN! Winning! Early anniversary treat at Tidal Raves Restaurant ! Almost 13 years! 🌊🍹 🍷 🍺 🍾 🌊
Bye bye Beach and Grandpa and Grandma .
December 30th :: Bye bye Beach and Grandpa and Grandma .
Waiting in Line!
Waiting in Line!

 

Past Year Posts

December Photo Project 2015

2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014 were all daily posts.  If for some reason (hahaha), you’d like to see the posts, just scroll back to December for each year.

In case you want to know more about the December Photo Project, click on the link below.  I truly love this tradition every year!

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Reads of 2016

Each year I try to take a few minutes to reflect back on the year past and the books we have delved into.  I feared having gone to full time teaching that my list would be minimal at best, but surprisingly there are more to be found than I’d expected.  So, without further adieu, below are the books I read this year.  My favorites are also marked with two asterisks.  Happy Reading and please comment on your own favorites this year!!

img_8676Kids

  • Elephant & Piggie Series (especially the last two books in the series that were published this year, I Really Like Slop! and The Thank You book). Mo Willems is a genius in our household (and in my classroom).  And the best highlight?!?  Meeting Elephant and Piggie at the Farmer’s Market in Corvallis this summer.  Such a blast!
  • The Very Hungry Caterpillar (an oldie, but a goodie and Drew’s first book checked out on his very own library card)
  • Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Peña
  • Danger in the Darkest Hour and Night of the Ninth Dragon by Mary Pope Osborne
  • Pax by Sara Pennypacker
  • Upside Down Magic by Sarah Mlynowski
  • Harry Potter and the Cursed Child Play by K. Rowling, Jack Thorne, and John Tiffany (and the end to the regular series!)
  • A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park
  • Rooftoppers by Katherine Rundell **
  • Escaping the Giant Wave by Peg Kehret
  • Quinny and Hopper by Adriana Brad Schanen
  • 365 Days of Wonder: Mr. Browne’s Book of Precepts by Raquel J. Palacio

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Teaching/Professional

  • Mathematical Mindsets by Jo Boaler

Young Adult/Fiction

  • Carry On by Rainbow Rowell
  • The Girls by Emma Cline

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Fiction

  • Today Will Be Different by Maria Semple
  • Paris for One by Jojo Moyes
  • Circling the Sun by Paula McClain
  • The Nestby Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney
  • The Muse by Jessie Burton
  • This is Your Life, Harriet Chance! by Jonathan Evison
  • The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah*********
  • The Wonder by Emma Donoghue**

Cooking

  • My Kitchen Year by Ruth Reichl (wonderful book in and of itself, but going to SEE Ruth when she came to Corvallis this past winter was a DELIGHT!!!!!)
  • How to Celebrate Everything by Jenny Rosenstrach
  • The Seasoned Life by Ayesha Curry
  • Bon Appetit Magazine!

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Religious/Psychology/Parenting

  • Love Warrior by Glennon Melton**
  • Rising Strong by  Brené Brown
  • Present Over Perfect by Shauna Niequist**
  • Falling Free by Shannon Martin
  • The More of Less by Joshua Becker
  • Well Played: The Ultimate Guide to Awakening Your Family’s Playful Spirit by Meredith Sinclair

 Frivolous

  • People, Real Simple, and Sunset magazines
  • And catching up on the back issues of my favorite magazine which has now ended, Anthology L

Travel/Memoir/Biography

  • Four Seasons in Rome by Anthony Doerr
  • Talking as Fast as I Can by Lauren Graham
  • When Breathe Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi**
  • For the Right Reasons by Sean Lowe
  • The Magnolia Story by Chip and Joanna Gaines
  • Eating Up the West Coast from Sunset Magazine and Brigit Binns
  • Camp Sunset: A Modern Camper’s Guide to the Great Outdoors
  • Love, Loss and What We Ate: A Memoir by Padma Lakshmi**

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Looking Forward to in 2017….

  • At Home in the World: Reflections on Belonging While Wandering the Globe by Tsh Oxenreider
  • Our Little Racket by Angelica Baker
  •  The Sun Is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon
  • What Falls from the Sky: How I Disconnected from the Internet and Reconnected with the God Who Made the Clouds by Esther Emery
  • Chasing Slow: Courage to Journey Off the Beaten Path by  Erin Loechner
  • Katharina and Martin Luther:  The Radical Marriage of a Runaway Nun and a Renegade Monk by Michelle DeRusha
  • Over Easy:  Sweet and Savory Recipes for Leisurely Days by Joy Wilson (Joy the Baker)
  • Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
  • Salt to the Sea  by Ruta Sepetys

 

Past Year Book Round Ups:

2015

2014

2013

OKAY

{this post was originally published in December 2016 during my once-in-awhile contribution to Practicing Families blog}

okay

~by Christine Gough

“OKAY” has taken a bad rap for awhile.  We often joke that “OKAY” is the most common answer to life’s constant questions.

“How was your day?”  OKAY.

“How are you feeling?”  OKAY.

“How does the weather look?”  OKAY.

“Did you like the book?”  It was OKAY.

But then something happened the other day.  And it woke me out of my rut and daily routine.  I was walking by our adjunct family member, Amazon ECHO.  It’s a little device that conveniently stores song libraries, holds lists of important information, and can even play games with you.  It’s almost as forward-thinking as the Jetsons.

Anyhow, due to my husband’s ingenuity, when I walked by Echo and stated, “Echo?  Turn on Christmas Tree.”  She replied, “OKAY.”  And it happened.

As in….I asked one time.  And she said OKAY.  And that was that.  My request was granted. The tree lights went on.   End of story.

I think this moment seemed so unexpected because—-this never happens.  Or maybe I should say, it rarely happens.

I ask my eldest to “please unload the dishwasher.”  And usually anything but “OKAY” comes out.

I request that my youngest stop what he’s doing and feed the dog.  Again, a simple “OKAY” would work perfectly, but not so much.  “MOM…..I NEED TO FEED SALLY!???!  NOW???  I’m busy!”

A good friend of mine was having a similar reality too.  So she made an OKAY! chart.  Every time she places a simple request before her daughter and the response is, “OKAY!”, her daughter gets a star on the OKAY chart thereby getting closer to reaching a reward.

I know I’m not alone….while sometimes I dread the monotone, “OKAY” response to my probing questions, other times, I’m dying to hear it when I place a request to my children.

Good ‘ol Amazon Echo made this utterly clear.  The cheerful “OKAY!” and quick completion of my request threw me.  While I desire this to be done for my own benefit, I am realizing how hard it is to do myself.  I read over and over again that a simple act of kindness, simply saying, “yes” or “OKAY” can be the glue that holds relationships together.  The binding material for thriving, not just surviving, with others.

As we teeter on the brink of this upcoming holiday, maybe this lesson is the reminder we need to model and not just desire from our children and those in our lives.  True giving, the spirit of the Christ’s birth, is a resounding “OKAY!”  A “YES!”  Living from a place of kindness and keeping our eyes open for places we can give the gift of “OKAY!”  Christ’s birth story was one not many would have said, “yes” to.  The circumstances weren’t pretty or polished.  The companions might not have been expected.  The road ahead unknown and overwhelming.  But Mary said, “OKAY.”  In fact, she responded, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.”  The situation was anything but easy, yet Mary agreed.  She said, “OKAY.”  Not just to feeding the dog, or emptying the dishwasher, but to carrying the very embodiment of God.

My yes might be a bit smaller and day-to-day, but over time, these “OKAYs” build into something bigger.  They begin to form a lifestyle that embodies the divine qualities of kindness and generosity.