Category Archives: live better

Recent Book Reads {+ good shows, movies & podcasts!}

Books! Podcasts! Shows and Songs! Here’s what I’ve been loving the last three months.

First: BOOKS. Got book goals? I keep track using a notebook (and pink ball point pen) and the Goodreads Reading Challenge. Haven’t signed up? It’s free, easy, and a great way to track books.

Here’s what I’ve read (and liked!) since January:

1. Year of Yes by Shonda Rhimes: An inspirational kick-in-the-pants guide to what happens when you say YES to more opportunities. A bold account from a minority woman in show business, self-described introvert, writer (creator of hit shows Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal), and single mother. I went back and forth between, “I need to say yes to more,” and “This is exhausting. Can I have a nap?” But no doubt about it: Shonda Rhimes is a FORCE.

2. QB: My Life Behind the Spiral by Steve Young: A fascinating look at sports, anxiety, faith, and how to throw the perfect spiral when you’ve got a photographic memory.

3. IQ by Joe Ide: The lovely literary agent, Zoe Sandler, sent me IQ and the follow-up, RIGHTEOUS, as she also represents Joe Ide. What I liked: A Sherlock Holmes in the hood mystery, and a needed diverse teen figure in literature. What was hard: the language. Like, it ain’t for the faint in heart. I’m kinda faint.

4. Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng: This one is getting all the feels, and for good reason. I’m a sucker for a great family drama, and Celeste Ng can articulate the great nuances in family life SO WELL.

5. Everything I Never Told  You by Celeste Ng: Ng’s first book. More great family drama writing. But this one is sadder, left me in a funk.

6. The Woman in the Window by AJ Finn: As a huge “Rear Window” Hitchcock fan, I dove right into this psychological thriller. Does she see what she thinks she sees – or is Anna crazy? A satisfying page-turner.

7. The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion: A stunning, unflinching account of Joan Didion’s husband’s death, daughter’s illness, and navigating the world without them. Sad, but heartbreakingly readable. I loved this.

8. The Witches by Roald Dahl: Paige and I read this together. Paige loved it. I liked it 🙂

9. A Deadly Wandering by Matt Richtel: Have a phone? Do your children have phones? Do they drive? Read this RIGHT NOW. So sad, so scary. DON’T TOUCH YOUR PHONE WHILE DRIVING. Your brain cannot pay attention to more than one thing at a time. Think you’re the exception? You’re not.

10. How We Die by Sherwin B. Nuland: Nuland writes that most people don’t die with “dignity.” Calm and descriptive, Dr. Nuland breaks death down from the point of view of the body. Fascinating – and also disconcerting. I kinda thought it wouldn’t happen to me. It will. I’ve been thinking about my coronary arteries a lot more.

11. Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? by Roz Chast: I DO NOT enjoy graphic novels. I LOVED this one. NYTimes Bestselling cartoonist, Roz Chast, wrote a memoir about her parents aging and dying (what’s up with my reading choices?). Honest, funny, poignant. It’s so so good. Highly recommended!

12. The Boston Girl by Anita Diamant: I’ve finally read Anita Diamant! All the girls and the cousins and the moms in my family raved about this book until I finally read. A good coming-of-age novel about a Jewish immigrant becoming a woman in 1900 America.

Podcasts I’m digging:

1. Everything Happens by Kate Bowler: Think a podcast hosted by a young mother and divinity instructor diagnosed with an incurable cancer would be a downer? It’s not! Kate Bowler, a self-described optimist, is walking us through the hardest part of life. Skeptical? Start with the Alan Alda and Wes Moore interviews – awesome.

2. That’s the Way I Heard it by Mike Rowe: Short historical sketches (10-14 minutes) told in mystery format, I sit in parking lots, unable to get out, absolutely riveted. And Rowe’s voice? Perfect.

Shows I Watched and NEED MORE OF:

1. Victoria by Masterpiece Theater: I could be happy just staring at Jenna Coleman on-screen. Her beauty is unreal. Oh yeah, the story is pretty good, too 🙂

2. Home Fires by Masterpiece Theater: No Season 3? I OBJECT!

Movies I LOVED:

1. The Greatest Showman: Hugh Jackman, Zendaya, Zac Efron…I loved it.

2. Coco: You’ve got to watch this with your family!!!! Tears, laughter, so good.

3. The Post: Inspired me to write THIS.

Songs I Can’t Stop Singing:

Midnight Train by Sam Smith

Greatest Showman Soundtrack

And now it’s your turn – what are you reading and watching and listening to???

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Embrace the Cheese {life is more fun}

On the Happier podcast this morning, I listened to sister, Gretchen and Elizabeth talk about “why you should embrace the cheese” – and I absolutely loved it.

I’m a firm believer in cheese. It really does make life more fun, even as you’re rolling your eyes at the cheesiness.

In high school I constantly began saying, “that’s so cool” or “that’s so uncool.” My twin, irritated at my black and white view of the world, snapped – “Everything to you is either cool or uncool.”

“No, it’s not!”

“Yes, it is!”

Yeah, he was right. My own insecurities were leading me to judgmental conclusions about everything. Cool or uncool. And if it was uncool, well then.

I began to ponder my relationship with cheese on a deeper level. Perhaps I needed to embrace my inner cheese. Perhaps that was the ultimate expression of confident.

This embracing was solidified for me in college when I was regaling a dramatic love story gone awry to my best buddy. I said, “I know it’s so cheesy,” and she laughed and said, “Amy, everyone loves cheese, whether or not they’ll admit it – everyone loves cheese.” Oh, yes, she was right! I was sold.

We are embarrassed by cheese and emotion and vulnerability. We squirm and cringe – and deep down I think we love it. And as humans – we need it.

I declared from that day forth, cool would NEVER crush my inner cheese.

Just ask my kids!

I consistently have to remind them (esp when they are rolling their eyes at me, and saying utterly ridiculous phrases like, “Oh my gosh, mom, are you SERIOUS?”) that EVERYONE LOVES CHEESE (even when it gives you gas.)

I have numerous examples of cheese working in my favor, and most of them have to do with The Professor, aka, dear Husband – THE LOVE OF MY LIFE, MY CUPCAKE, MY EVERYTHING (see? You probably cringed reading that. He will definitely cringe reading it and it will make me laugh and laugh. Laughing is good for you. You’ll live a longer, happier life. CHEESE IS FUN, especially at the expense of Husband – in the kindest of ways, of course.)

The first time I was really cheesy with Husband was our first Valentine’s Day. Dismayed when he staunchly declared Valentine’s a “Hallmark Holiday” designed by companies who just wanted your hard-earned cash, I reconsidered our union. Could I marry a man who did not value the cheesiest of holidays?

I decided he must be given a test. I emptied an entire bag of Hershey kisses all over his college bedroom floor and wrote a note: Now that I’ve kissed the ground you walk on, will you be my Valentine? Very cheesy.There was A LOT of cooing from my roommates – so I know I was on the right track.

The result? He was totally mine 🙂

You want more cheese in your life, believe me. LIFE IS MORE FUN WITH CHEESE (just listen to Elizabeth’s Valentine story.)

To achieve more cheese, you must be BRAVE. Cheese requires BOLD. I believe the resistance to cheese is fear. You’re waiting for someone else to make the first cheesy mood. Because what if you’re rejected? What if your cheesy move is not reciprocated? Will you die of mortification?

Go read or watch the Queen of vulnerability, Brene Brown. I’m positive she loves cheese!

I was lucky because I went to BYU, where, believe me, there is not better Cheese Ball training than BYU (and I LOVE BYU so don’t think I don’t!) There are dances every month and there is this expectation that you will ask and respond in the cheesiest of ways. (Not coincidentally, it’s a huge Utah Mormon thing – just ask my nieces!)

Another generation of cheese…and the absolutely most coolest girls!

For instance, my freshman year, Ben Owens asked me to Homecoming by putting a note in a jar of honey and writing something like, “Honey, will you go to Homecoming with me?” I’m cringing just thinking about it….but of course I had to respond in a BIGGER AND BETTER WAY. So finally I came up with the idea of giving him a huge block of ice shaped as a heart (this was not easily done, mind you) and once the ice heart melted, a note inside read, “Now that you’ve melted my heart, I would LOVE to go to Homecoming with you.” You’re likely rolling your eyes, aren’t you? I even rolled my eyes at the time, but guess what – IT WAS FUN! Good, cheesy, fun.

So anyway, this is just to say, embrace your inner cheese. Just this last weekend I brought a group of teens to a “Super Saturday” where we went to workshops, listened to speakers, ate dinner, and went to a dance. Some teens in my group were NOT EXCITED. In the beginning there was a lot of sighing, slumping of shoulders, frowns, this is dumb, this is so cheesy, can I use my phone? And you know what, good wholesome fun is often very cheesy. It’s not “cool.” But what exactly is “cool”? Pretending you don’t care? Being on our phones? Watching movies alone? Nice clothes? The best cars? Making fun of people’s clothes and cars? Sex? Alcohol?

Bah.

You know what’s really cool? Cheese. Cheese is the coolest. Cheese is kind. Cheese is goodness. It’s getting outside of your comfort zone to do something really “uncool.” It’s dancing in the middle of the room. It’s Mr. Rogers. It’s letting go of FEAR, and some silly societal expectation made up by who knows who.

So I’m sticking with cheese for life. BRING IT ON.

And those kids I brought to Super Saturday? By the end of the night, everyone was smiling.

If you have stories of cheese, please add your voice here. There is strength in knowing that you, too, LOVE CHEESE as much as I do.

Didn’t you know? We are the cheese we’ve been waiting for!

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A Blog Writer’s Mid-Life Crisis…and finding a way through

A month ago I was ready to throw in the towel. Maybe it was time to quit the blog life. What do I have left to write about anyway? Posting the smallest detail about the kids is like trying to gain clearance for a special ops mission (mom, stop blogging about my underwear). And if I don’t have underwear, tell me – WHAT DO I HAVE?

Fine. I guess I see their point.

In addition, I’ve been so bummed out about the world of late that life was just too depressing to write about.

The books I’ve read this month are too sad.

Two years ago today I was on a cruise ship in the Bahamas.

This year? No cruise ship. A poor state of mind.

Do you feel this way in March?

Also, I’m thinking about my web presence. I’m having a book published. JUNE 12TH!!! You can pre-order now 🙂 Am I now supposed to have a more serious presence? An official amymakechnie website? Who cares about my cream puffs? sniff.

I fell into the trap, an all-too familiar trap for me, in the form of you have nothing worthwhile to say in your little blog. 

Post ideas would come. I didn’t write them down. The longer I went without writing, the more paralyzed I felt (get a grip, Amy, it’s only been a month.) Still.

I hadn’t given up writing altogether. No, I’ve been poring that creative energy into my latest novel. It’s been a bit torturous, probably my hardest project to date; very emotional (more to come on that…!)

Well. I guess you could say I was looking for a sign. And don’t I know it: we see the things we are looking for. I was looking for a reason.

Today a woman, Marci, whom I admire immensely, showed a class full of women a picture from a post I wrote last summer. I posted a picture of a dead butterfly that I thought was beautiful, even though the butterfly had recently met its demise. I wrote: I found this butterfly today. It was dead but looked ready to launch…there’s a lesson in there somewhere…

Really, I was thinking about the next spiritual journey of this butterfly’s soul. But Marci saw it in a different way. She said that this picture and my caption – I kid you not! – changed her life. She spoke about the girls that we teach. We might think they have it all together, like this shiny, beautiful, colorful butterfly. But inside they might be hurting or even feel dead. She said our girls need us to really know them, to watch for them, to lift them up. They need us to love them, to help them launch.

I sat there thinking, this is my sign. there is more to write. 

Two lessons for me: when the universe calls on us to act (“the universe,” “the muse,” our “conscience,” “God” – call it what you might) we should act. My medium is writing. I feel compelled to do so. What you feel called to do, you should – that is your great gift to the world in whatever big or small sphere you operate in.

The other lesson is this: when we are moved by another, we should acknowledge the art or action and what it means to us. So, thank you, Marci and Danielle(!) for telling me that the picture I took of a dead butterfly with a caption meant something to you. That means something to me.

And so I had to write.

The End.

Happy Monday to you!

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Monday Encouragement

Are you also in dire need of a news detox? Me too. Which is terribly ironic (re: my previous post on the free press.)

Reading too much and watching too much news has left me despondent, especially regarding politics, gender, guns.

You know, I’ve had to be reminded that before there was 24 hours news, there were still terrible things happening in the world – it just didn’t land in our mailbox 24/7.

There is the evidence for optimism (see Melinda Gates speak about lowering child mortality.)

History teaches us that lesson over and over. We have madeTREMENDOUS PROGRESS. I’ve heard my parents talk about how hard my ancestors had it (teaching our children about their resilient ancestors is key to modern day resilience.) I’ve heard my parents talk about how scary the 70’s were, when there were hundreds of political bombings, sometimes daily. I’ve heard my parents talk about how scary it was to live through the threat of nuclear war continually hanging over America, the scandal or Watergate, the long gas lines.

In the 70’s, two of my brothers-in-law escaped Vietnam on a small fishing boat. That’s a really cool story now – but it wasn’t cool then.

Is modern life getting worse? I don’t know. But look around. Look around, look around, how lucky we are to be alive right now.

Can we do better? Yes.

And first and foremost, that starts with our families.

It feels easier to march and yell and  “save the world” (and hey, I’m ALL FOR THE MARCHING and the voting!) but it’s much harder to go home and love our families. It’s harder to love our neighbors and those people who don’t vote like we do. Much, much harder. But that’s where our greatest sphere of influence is.

Here is my first inspiration:Thee first family I knew. My mama was so tired (she says this look is apropos of her mental state at the time 🙂 ) Our baby boy Patrick was born 17 months later. And man, I admire and love her so much for working so hard at creating the family she wanted, for fighting for stability, for turning off the tv, for making us run around the block for exercise, for preaching the importance of breakfast, and opening the scriptures and showing us how to get down on our knees to pray, for teaching her girls what true feminism is. I love my father for his kindness and hard work and providing and showing us all what it means to be a real man. These two worked so hard at creating a loving family. Yea!!! It worked! I still love this family, 40 years later!!! LOVE IS WINNING.

(We can talk about the haircuts another day.)

I say, let’s love your family first. Second, find your causes, get your boots on the ground and ACT – BUT ALWAYS WITH LOVE.

Hate only begets more hate. Let’s stop worshipping violence. Let’s not allow it in our homes! Let’s turn it off. Let’s reject the idea that we have to be entertained by watching other people hurt each other. Let’s RISE UP and BE KIND to EVERYONE – wouldn’t that be a revolution?

As my good friend, Sue Houston wrote:

The basic problem is that at some level we still think that violence can produce peace, that violence can be entertainment, that violence can be depicted everywhere and that there will be no ill effect on our collective psych.

If we want peace, we need to teach peace.
If we want compassion, we need to act compassionately.
If we want Love to win, then we need to learn to Love, not just our friends and people who are like us.

We need learn to see the common humanity in every single person, and to Love everyone, without exception.

Boots on the ground. Love is a verb. Act. The power lies within us – how much do we value the children of the world?

“And I think that we in our family don’t need bombs and guns, to destroy to bring peace just get together, love one another, bring that peace, that joy, that strength of presence of each other in the home. And we will be able to overcome all the evil that is in the world.”

Mother Theresa, Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech. December, 1979,

Happy Monday, friends.

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Christmas Granola

As a self-described granola addict, this is one of my favorite Christmas gifts to push on the neighbors {I don’t think they mind}.
It’s extra festive because we candy the nuts with maple syrup and a pinch of sea salt. Oh my. Read on…life will never be the same.
You’ll start with the usual suspect: rolled oats (not quick oats)
About 7-8 cups Granola. Add cinnamon.
In a saucepan, over low-medium heat, add water, honey, olive oil, and maple syrup. Heat until small bubbles form around pot. Pour into dry mix. Stir. Lay out on two lined cookie sheets. Cook for about an hour until toasty brown.
 Add Dried Cranberries, Pumpkin Seeds, and Coconut Flakes. It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas…
Candied nuts are simple: heat maple syrup in a skillet, add nuts. Stir occasionally. Done! YUM.
Load into gift bags and you’ve got a great gift. Tasty, healthy, WE RUN ON OATS!

MaisyMak Granola Snack, Christmas Edition:

Heat Oven to 300

Combine:

7-8 C Oatmeal
1/2 C Sunflower Seeds
1 Tbsp Cinnamon

Heat in Saucepan:

1 C Water
1 C Honey
1/2 C Olive Oil
1/2-1 C Pure Maple Syrup
Heat until tiny bubbles form around pot. (If you want more “sticky clumps,” you’ll need to add more honey or maple syrup.) Pour over the dry mix. Stir evenly. Spread granola onto two lined (foil or parchment paper) cookie sheets. Place granola in oven, stirring every ten minutes, rotating granola from top to bottom racks to ensure even browning. About an hour.
Meanwhile….

Heat in Skillet:

1/2-1 C Maple Syrup
A pinch of Sea Salt
1 C Pecans
1 C Almonds
1 C Walnuts
In a skillet pan (I use a well-oiled cast iron), heat maple syrup and sea salt over low-medium heat for one minute. Add the nuts. Stir occasionally until syrup begins to “candy” the nuts, being careful not to let the nuts burn. You’ll know it’s ready by the delicious smell, and when the liquid is soaked up. About 7-9 minutes. (Beware: these candied nuts are a DANGEROUS snack 🙂 )

When Granola is out of Oven, Add:

Candied nuts
1 C Unsweetened Coconut Flakes (I like Bob Mills)
1 C Dried Cranberries
1 C Roasted Pumpkin Seeds

Place in gift bags. Or consume. Whichever. Merry Christmas!

You may also want to try: 3-ingredient homemade dark chocolate, my favorite sugar cookie, sugared cranberries and brie bites, famous NYTimes No-Knead Bread!

See you in the New Year!

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Chocolate Fudge “Blackout” Cake (a new favorite!)

Did you know? The most popular summer recipe is CAKE. I find this surprising…over ice-cream? Unless we’re talking this cake recipe. Then I totally get it.

I rarely create an original recipe, I taste-test. King Arthur Flour made this one, the Chocolate Fudge “Blackout” Cake. As a devoted cake mix girl, it takes a lot for me to consider making a cake from scratch – especially one with three layers of different chocolate.

This one? Oh my heavens. It made me look real good.

Summer epiphany: when you’re actually home and demanding a SLOW summer, you have time to make a cake! And while time is still a precious commodity, some cakes demand to be made. THIS ONE.

Upon taking a bite, my husband, the critic of all food critics, pretty much melted into a puddle onto the floor. I’ll be making it again.

And with strawberries just coming into season, they are the perfect addition to this lusciousness.

King Arthur didn’t have strawberries in the original recipe – that’s my contribution. We like it! Also, I eliminated the optional espresso powder b/c I didn’t have it – still good! Would you like a bite? I suggest making the three different chocolates (not hard) the day before and assembling the day of – then you can relax and enjoy the cake of your labor…

Hurry up now! Before you lose your nerve…make this cake!

Chocolate Fudge “Blackout” Cake

FILLING

  • 1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 large egg, at room temperature
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

CAKE

ICING

  • 1 1/2 cups chopped semisweet chocolate chips
  • 3/4 cup heavy cream

Instructions

  1. To make the filling: Place the chocolate chips, salt, and sugar in a blender or food processor and pulse until finely ground.
  2. Add the egg and pulse just until the mixture is smooth.
  3. Heat the cream to just below a boil, with small bubbles forming around the edge of the saucepan (or microwave-safe bowl).
  4. Turn on the blender or processor, and slowly add the cream. Scrape down the sides of the container if necessary. Add the vanilla and pulse to blend.
  5. Pour the pudding into a shallow bowl, and refrigerate it until chilled and thickened, 2 hours to overnight. I found that overnight works best. Still not setting? Stir in gelatin.
  6. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly grease two 8″ x 2″ round cake pans. Line them with 8″ parchment circles, if desired, and grease the parchment; this step will ensure your cake’s crumble-free turnout from the pan.
  7. To make the cake: Whisk together the dry ingredients.
  8. Add the eggs, oil, and vanilla; beat on medium speed for 2 minutes, scraping the bottom and sides of the bowl.
  9. Stir in the water; the batter will be thin.
  10. Pour the batter into the two prepared pans.
  11. Bake the cakes for 35 to 45 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
  12. Remove the cakes from the oven. Cool them for 15 minutes, then turn them out of the pans to cool completely on a rack.
  13. To make the icing: Combine the cream and chocolate in a microwave-safe bowl or in a saucepan. Heat until the cream is steaming and showing small bubbles around the edge.
  14. Remove the chocolate/cream from the microwave or burner, and stir until the chocolate is melted and the mixture becomes completely smooth, with no lighter areas remaining visible.
  15. Refrigerate the icing for 30 minutes (I went longer). Beat the chilled icing briefly, until it thickens a bit and becomes spreadable.
  16. To assemble the cake: Cut the domed tops off both cake layers; these will become your crumb coating.
  17. Place one layer on a serving plate. For best presentation, lay strips of parchment around the edge of the plate before laying the cake on top; these will catch the inevitable icing drips, and can be removed once you’re done icing the cake.
  18. Top the cake with the filling, spreading it evenly to the edges.
  19. Center the second layer of cake atop the filling.
  20. Spread the icing over the top and onto the sides of the cake.
  21. Crumble the reserved cake, and gently press it onto the top and sides of the assembled cake.
  22. Serve immediately, or within a couple of hours. For longer storage, refrigerate. This cake is best served the same day it’s made, or within 24 hours. Freeze, well-wrapped, for longer storage. You may also choose to freeze individual slices — for those times when you HAVE to have a piece of chocolate cake!

Enjoy!

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Top Ten: What I’m Loving Right Now

1. This Revlon blow dryer. It’s not hyperbole to say it’s changed by frustratingly-unruly hair life. I LOVE It. So fast and no frizz!

2. This root spray. The best part is watching Gregor’s face as I spray-paint my head. What are you doing? Found at Target (of course it was).

3. Garnier BB Cream. I’ve blogged about this before, but our relationship is going strong. With a hint of color and coverage, I ADORE this product. (Target)

4. Good quality Gardening Gloves and Mud Boots. It’s a real gardening game changer to have gloves and boots that fit and don’t give you blisters. Pay a little more and you’ll enjoy your chores more. Found in local stores & online!

5. Blister Gel Guard Band-Aids. Wow. For two kids who had bad blisters this week, these were fantastic! A boy could work all week and a girl could hike a mountain with me. Awesome product. Found everywhere! 

6. The Bullet Journal. For years I’ve been a wee bit obsessed with finding the perfect calendar system. Clearly I have problems. I’ve slowly started the bullet system, ignoring the multitude of bullet journal talent out there. Nina gives some good tutorials and is metaphorically holding my hand through this trying time.

My calendar is not a “true” bullet journal as I’m using a regular notebook – but that’s the beauty of the system! You can use whatever you want with whatever notebook and pens you like. (I also have a pen problem.)

Boho Berry and her bullet journal obsession inspires and intimidates (see below). But the bullet journal is YOUR journal. Do it your way.

7. Watercolor paper. Brynne and I have had so much fun on Sunday mornings. We pull pictures off the internet and magazines to paint. Putting a drop of water on paper, followed by a drop of paint and watching it spread…so beautiful! I’m into birds these days. Clearly, you don’t have to be an expert, just paint!

It’s been especially fun to paint and send cards

8. Shutterfly puzzles and scrapbook. I’m just tickled pink at the possibilities! This one was free, minus shipping with one of their many weekend deals.

9. Seed and Sky. I’m obsessed. These necklaces are etsy hand-painted by a gal who grew up in my little New Hampshire town. They make a great graduation, birthday, or anytime gift. My aunt has the nest (my fave!), Brynne has the fox, Cope has the compass locket. I’m drooling over the hummingbird, the bunny, the succulents! I want all. Follow on Instagram for deals!

10. Skillshare. Want to learn a skill? Like painting or watercolor or or calligraphy or design or lettering or like, anything? Try it free for two months! My current favorite is teacher Louise De Masi who is teaching me and Brynne how to paint this fox:

Well, that was fun to share. What about you? Any favorite anythings?

 

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Graduation

Well, we did it. 

I can say “we” because y’all know this day is a family affair.

This milestone – wow.

It is the toughest paradox of love: letting go and holding on.

I’m so proud of this girl. She has worked really really hard. She has hiked and sang and ran and studied. She has cried and laughed and prayed and LEARNED SO MUCH. She stumbled and fell and got up many many times. She sailed the ocean blue, was elected school leader, played Belle and freaked out over finance class (the drama runs deep :). I’m so grateful for it all.

I give thanks for a tremendous education, an amazing advisor who not only advised, but fed and loved her. I give thanks to the many fabulous teachers that not only noticed, but SAW her. Cope was born a “faculty brat,” raised on campus with 12 dorm boys until we moved off campus, and has always aspired to walk across this specific stage. The “bittersweet” cliche? Totally true.

This girl made me a mother and I’m in awe of her. There’s the other paradox: the child becomes the teacher.

Brene Brown says the etymology of the word “paradox” captures the heart of what it means to love. Greek origins joins the two words para (contrary to ) and dokein (opinion.) The Latin paradoxum means “seemingly absurd but true.”

Parenting captures that exactly – seemingly absurd but true!

It is seemingly absurd that we are here…but it’s also true. It’s seemingly absurd that my “baby girl” Cope (who was just wearing a onesie!) will not live under our shared roof this fall.

It’s seemingly absurd that I will survive this. But alas, that is true, too.

This day of graduation is a paradox of joy and grief. There is absolutely no control over either one. And I know very well that in life there is no joy without sadness. There is no sadness without experiencing that great joy.

Now excuse me while I go find my tissues. This is a happy day 🙂

 

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These are my poems; these are my short stories

“Many people have said to me ‘What a pity you had such a big family to raise. Think of the novels and the short stories and the poems you never had time to write…’ And I looked at my children and I said, ‘These are my poems. These are my short stories.'”
Olga Masters

Happy Mother’s Day 

To all the women doing the raising: you’re doing good work!

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What’s This Thing Called Work-Life Balance?

My one-word theme for the year, “Simplify” is staring at me from the wall. Personal progress is suspect.

I tell you, simplifying is hard. It means saying No to SO MANY THINGS.

I experienced further angst when reading this stove analogy by humorist David Sedaris on management: “One burner represents your family, one is your friends, the third is your health, and the fourth is your work.” The gist…was that in order to be successful you have to cut off one of your burners. And in order to be really successful you have to cut off two.

Oh dear. This is likely the reason I’ve never qualified for Boston. It’s the reason my great American novel is…well, where exactly is it? On the other hand, I’ve fought very hard for to keep the family fire burning. My friends probably feel very cold #sorry.

Is there any way to keep all four burners successfully lit? By trying to “do it all,” can we ever master anything? Logistically, getting those “10,000 hours” takes much longer. We become “jack of all trades, master of none.” For the select few, like elite athletes, master painters, novelists, and craftsman, cutting off select burners is essential.

But for the rest of us mere mortals? It seems those burners are constantly competing.

Over time I’ve become very aware of this simple fact: saying Yes to one thing means saying No to another.

It’s why my garden looked like this last summer:

My good and faithful garden still delivered tomatoes without much attention

I’ve always been a HUGE proponent of balance until one day, a few years ago, I thought, No, there should not be balance any longer – I’m throwing that out the window! I should choose the most important things in my life and pursue them with a single-mindedness. Everything else should fall to the wayside.

I struggle daily to find the focus. Every night I write out the next-day schedule. I have my “Top Three” priorities. I can tell you that “Write One Hour” is always on the list. Though I’ll be honest, it’s a pitiful five minutes.

I’ve noticed this stove burner thing play out in several different scenarios. If I immerse myself in total family activities/running errands/grocery shopping, “my work” (writing) suffers. If I stay at the computer all day long writing or getting ready to teach a class, I feel horrible for neglecting my children. Most times, “the work” takes the backseat. Sometimes I wonder if that’s the best choice.

Tough choices abound daily. For instance, I want a really clean and organized and perfectly decorated house, but I’ve consciously made the decision to not use my best mental hours to clean. Sometimes this is embarrassing (for every repair and mailman…)

I refuse to get any more chickens, rarely volunteer at school, and won’t make an extra trip to school when kids forget stuff (full disclosure: I still cave.) But darn it, it’s also the reason I can’t seem to get the pictures hung on the wall.

A Personal Manifesto to Keep the Burners Burning Bright:

1. Protect the things that are most important. That means we need TO KNOW what those things are. Make an actual list.

2. Pursue the MOST IMPORTANT things FIRST.

3. Practice the art of saying No. This is particularly hard for women. We like to save the day. But why? Are we trying to be helpful or are we trying to make ourselves feel good? “I’m sorry, I just can’t make that happen right now,” is a muscle that needs to be exercised! When we say NO to something, we are saying YES to something else – like time or family or a hobby – or A NAP!

Need help? How to Say NO Here. (ha!)

4. Remember: we choose our own level of busy. I remind myself of this when I see my name next to “feed dinner to 50 cast members.” I CHOSE to put my name there. (why, Amy, why???)

5. Make a decision and than own your choice. There needs be no battle between stay-at-home and working parents. We are all working parents. We are all doing our best to support and raise our families. Individual families require individual decisions. When it comes to one another, I think our only job on this earth is to love one another no matter what. Be confident in your choice. Haters be darned.

6.  Stop being a people pleaser. Ugh, I’m such an obliger. Stop it. The End.

7. Learn to delegate. Did you know? In families, 40% of women are the main breadwinners, yet 70% of women still take on the majority of the household tasks. It seems to me that we women want and need help and we resent the fact that our families don’t help more, but if they try to help, they don’t do it the way we would do it. We feel badly when there’s resistance. “Oh no no no, let me get that for you. You sit there while I load the dishwasher, sweep the floor, and kill myself from exhaustion…” puh-lease. 

We handicap our children when we don’t let them help. They become literally help-less. My first college roommate left college after a week because independence was so scary. She was scared to walk to class. “Laundry is too overwhelming.” As I sadly said good-bye I remembered scrubbing our kitchen floor as a child and I was finally grateful that I was taught to clean, cook, and wash my own clothes. I wasn’t good at it for a long, long time, but it came. Let the children fail, work and struggle. It’s a gift.

8. Seek guidance through prayer. I believe there is a God who loves us, gives us gifts, and wants us to succeed. Seek Him first and we will know what burners to light.

One last story: the other day I was at a track meet for my daughter. I took a video of another child winning a race and sent it to her mother. Her mother was thankful but I sensed she felt guilty that she wasn’t there, that she had to apologize and explain. Was I making her feel guilty by sending a video? Was I making her feel that I was the better mother because I was the one there? I wanted her to know that I’m not always the one “THERE” either. Next week, I can’t be at the track meet. Another mother or father will take a video of my child running and will send it to me. I may feel guilt but I will fight it. That No means a Yes to someone or something else. And sometimes that’s just the way it has to be.

Time is precious. May we use it wisely.

Thoughts on a Tuesday…

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