Category Archives: live better

What I Read Last Month: Book Recommendations!

There are three things that help me read more: Goodreads accountability (I get endless satisfaction from checking boxes!), I read before sleeping, and I try to always have a book in my purse. It is more tempting to reach for my phone, but I try to pull out the book when I’m waiting for someone…and I’m always waiting for someone.

So even though May was crazy busy, I did manage to read:

I HAVE LOST MY WAY by Gayle Forman. A YA read that was compulsively readable. I get why Forman is a bestseller – she’s good. Three kids, all lost in their own way, who find hope because they find each other one day in New York City. Really interesting and believable characters. What I didn’t like? How the word “sex” was interchanged with the “F” word. True to a character relationship? Perhaps.

BOSS LIFE: SURVIVING MY OWN SMALL BUSINESS by Paul Downs. I find business books interesting, and this one began with a few New York Times articles Downs wrote. Downs is a high-end furniture craftsman who’s just trying to stay afloat year after year in a world who buys cheap furniture. It reminded me a little bit of my dad and how hard the small business daily grind is.

INHERITANCE: A MEMOIR OF GENEALOGY, PATERNITY, and LOVE by Dani Shapiro. This book is getting tons of press as it hits at just the right time: DNA testing. How would you feel if your DNA test came back (that you took on a whim) and revealed your father wasn’t your father? Shapiro is a seasoned memoirist (I previously enjoyed HOURGLASS). I was really looking forward to this read and it didn’t disappoint. It’s a page turner with great writing and emotional pull!

JAMES AND THE GIANT PEACH by Roald Dahl. I read this as a kid, but Paige hadn’t. I read the second paragraph out loud and gasped – WHAT?! (the parents are eaten by an enormous angry rhinoceros at the London zoo!) Paige’s eyes grew wide as she said, what is this book?! It was so delightful! I loved it. If you haven’t read this gem or it’s been awhile, do it 🙂

I’m on my fourth book for June, but I’ll wait to post. Now tell me, what have you recently read and must recommend???

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What Goes On

I was going to title this post, “Ordinary Days” except nothing feels ordinary at all. The big and the small are happening and I’m just trying to hang on.

May was tremendous! Brynne and Nelson were in the musical, Once on This Island. We didn’t even know Brynne could sing. She played Andrea and Nelson was Daniel.

If you know this musical, then you know that Andrea and Daniel are betrothed. This, of course, caused much glee among their friends :). I’m sure biased, but they sure were AMAZING!

Nelson, rising from the dead

In the mean time, high school was finishing up, finals came and went, and my Anatomy & Physiology class dissected a sheep kidney. Isn’t this amazing?

Triple injected. Red arteries, blue veins, yellow urinary system

The garden has been busy, too, bursting with flowers and gorgeous greenery. Wow.

Someone is learning to drive. I won’t tell you who as they obviously don’t want their picture taken! But let’s just say I should be used to this. I’m not (think heart palpitations!)

I made a book video for Oklahoma. Thank goodness for my friend, Ethney, who makes it all happen. She played videographer as we visited with my Hereford neighbors.

My boy, my only son, my dearest little buddy…graduated from high school! I’m so so proud of him. He had a huge year. Sports, singing, awards, student leadership, seminary; all great.

Grandparents.

Nelson graduated with his cousin, Hailey. LOVE.

Kisses.

This same crazy week we decided to tear out all of the upstairs carpet and install bamboo flooring. Good thing my dad was in town!

It’s a JOB! Bamboo not in yet. This week, fingers crossed.

Me and my new pal, YA author, Susan Carlton had a book event at Gibson’s Bookstore in Concord, NH. It’s a FABULOUS bookstore! And Susan’s new book is terrific. Really good.

Even with life so busy and nutty, I go out and run. It’s my sanity. Endorphins, dopamine, serotonin. This scene stills my brain and fills my heart:

Life is good. And guess what? It’s summer time!

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Inspiration for the Week: i love the mothers

Many years ago, when I was the younger mother of two small children, I was so tired. The consistent lack of sleep for years was the hardest part of motherhood for me. I looked forward to an afternoon nap with an unusually ardent affection. Can I just lay down? was on autopilot in my brain. Also, I was still drinking a big glass of milk with an entire packet of chocolate carnation drink mix every morning b/c it had protein in it. It also had a HUGE amount of sugar and while I now know how sugar affects my energy, I did not at the time. I was literally pouring TIRED AND FATIGUE JUICE into my veins.

Anyway, one Sunday I sat with a nice elderly man. What little hair he had, had long ago turned pure white. His eyes were blue eyes and framed with smile wrinkles. As we sat down he asked kindly, “How are you doing?”

I’m embarrassed to say I burst right into tears. All I could think and sputter was, I am just so tired.

He smiled and tilted his head and said, “Sister, you are doing a great work. Remember that out of the small and simple things, great things come to pass. Someday, your children – your sons – will call you blessed.

Now I admit, the first thing I thought was, oh my gosh, he said SONS. Am I pregnant? Am I having more boys??? I may have been pregnant at the time, I don’t remember, but I do remember that this was a very naughty phase of Nelson’s, when I would come downstairs and he had emptied all the pasta from the boxes onto the living room floor. When our eye would meet he would laugh like a little maniacal devil. So.

But after this frightening thought passed, I was encouraged.

Through all of the hard times of parenting, and all the “good” and rewarding parts too, I have remembered this old man’s words. They come to my mind often. Though I may not be called “blessed” yet, I have already come to see that all of the “small and simple” things are among the most important in a child’s life.

As for “my sons,” I only have one biological son, but there are many many boys I have had opportunities to “mother.” #lucky. (But only Nelson has emptied entire boxes of uncooked pasta on my floor. Special one.)

My darling daughter Cope who has been serving as a missionary in Taiwan for six months, and will be there for another twelve months, sent this to me for Mother’s Day.

So I send it out to you, wonderful women who mother the world and small creatures everywhere, who sometimes wonder how “enough” you are…you are. xoxo

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Inspiration for the week: Rachel Held Evans

Pebbles at Highland Lake

In remembrance of Rachel Held Evans, a truly courageous Christian woman who wrestled with doubt and faith, who challenged hypocrisy, who championed ALL. She passed away suddenly this past week at age 37.

From The New York Times:

“Her last blog post appeared online on Ash Wednesday, March 6, a day of repentance. It signals the start of Lent, which ends with the celebration of resurrection on Easter Sunday.

“Whether you are part of a church or not, whether you believe today or your doubt, whether you are a Christian or an atheist or an agnostic or a so-called ‘none,’” Ms. Evans wrote, “you know this truth deep in your bones: ‘Remember that you are dust and to dust you will return.’”

“Death is a part of life,” she added. “My prayer for you this season is that you make time to celebrate that reality, and to grieve that reality, and that you will know you are not alone.”

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Book Recommendations! (my april reads)

I read five books this month. Kindof. Two were DNF (did not finish) for different reasons. I don’t want to throw any authors under the proverbial bus (is that used correctly?) so I won’t tell you what they are (unless you corner me on the street), BUT – they came with a lot of BUZZ, touted as AMAZING! MUST READ!

My dear librarians BOUGHT these two books for the local library b/c I asked for them – and then I didn’t like them. Oh dear.

I sometimes wonder about these reviews, this whole “buzz” thing – who gets it, who doesn’t and why?

ANYWAY.

The two books that I loved this past month? BOTH middle grade reads! Middle grade is hot right now! Both of these books I HIGHLY recommend for you adults out there. Both have huge potential in a book club or as a conversation with younger readers:

The Miscalculations of Lightening Girl by Stacy McAnulty

Lucy Callahan’s life is changed forever when she’s struck by lightening. The zap gives her genius-level math and science abilities that she tries to keep under-wraps as a middle schooler. Technically, she could be in college – but surviving middle school is WAY HARDER. Can she do it? And what happens when her friends find out she’s a genius? This is a fantastic book, with themes of acceptance, differences, OCD, and friendship. It made me laugh out loud a few times – always a plus!

The Benefits of Being an Octopus by Ann Braden

From my Instagram review: I really really loved seventh-grade Zoey. She’s a girl who takes small brave steps to transform herself and her family when the adults in her life have forgotten how. Poverty can so easily kill the spirit. Zoey takes herself and the reader to a place of realization that you can – and you should – say NO when you’re made to feel less than. It’s hopeful, but know there are rough issues explored- ones that will prompt good and necessary discussion. Braden writes deftly about the things we see but don’t want to see. It’s a reminder to me, personally, that there is suffering I NEED to see and act upon, esp when it comes to children. Highly recommended! Great job, Ann. A stellar debut 🐙

The Care and Feeding of Ravenously Hungry Girls by Anissa Gray

Hailed as a dazzling debut, I wanted to like this more than I did. Althea, Viola, and Lillian are three sisters dumped in the middle of hardship. There’s relationship trouble, identity issues, and even jail time! But…I had a hard time caring about the characters (not sure why?) Many other readers really liked this book and Gray is certainly a very talented writer.

There you go! Now tell me – what did YOU read? Recommendations???

Bonus:

Song I’m loving: TAYLOR SWIFTS’s ME! I mean, so good. Makes me want to RUN!!!

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Life Goes On & Happy Bday, Cass

There’s still snow on the ground. But the rhubarb finds a way.

Today is Good Friday, the day we commemorate Jesus’s trial, crucifixion, and burial 2000 years ago. Amazing, really, that such a long-ago event remains so central in our lives. Good Friday was not good, but with the belief in Christian doctrine, a necessary one. The “good” of Good Friday is incongruous unless viewed in what it heralds…on Sunday He rose.

You know I see “signs” everywhere. I relate to words of poet Mary Oliver, who wrote And mostly I’m grateful that I take this world so seriously.

I can’t help it. There has to be meaning in everything.

In New Hampshire the snow lingers to the point of exasperation. It’s mid-April and last week I was driving through a snow storm! But a day later I spotted it – the bright red of the rhubarb poking through the brown dead earth.

I was reminded of how I received this rhubarb. It was a surprise gift. Thank you, Tamar. She was sad. She was thinking of Heather. She felt a wreck. To top it off, she had killed her beloved rhubarb plant. Actually, she only thought she had. Hark! One day, growing out of her own dead brown earth was a baby shoot of scarlet red.

“Suddenly,” she said, “it was as if I heard Heather’s commanding voice behind me – ‘SEE! LIFE GOES ON!'”

Tamar dug up a piece of the rhubarb root, got in her car, and drove to my house. She gave me the tiny plant and said I was not capable of killing it. Indeed, I neglect it and still it grows. It has become a yearly reminder: after the winter, spring always come. Life goes on.

And now it is Easter. A week from now we will celebrate Cassie’s birthday. She would have been 38.

My good brother. And sweet Scout who loves her mama and happy sunflowers.

Yes, “Good Friday” was a tragic day and yet it made possible to have “Good News” – that Jesus Christ would rise again. Because of this, we too, will rise again. It is both incredibly implausible and absolutely believable.

I find it significant, or perhaps only comforting, that this Easter falls so close to Cassie’s birthday – not the anniversary of her death.

She is gone from this earth, but she is not lost to us. She is there. Here.

Happy Easter, friends. What GOOD NEWS we’ve been given.

“Someone I loved once gave me
a box full of darkness.

It took me years to understand
that this, too, was a gift.”
― Mary Oliver, Thirst

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Can I Send You Guinevere’s Secrets?

The REAL Willowdale Princess Deon Dawn – and my dad (Bear Lake, Idaho)

Dear friends,

It’s here.

All of GUINEVERE’S SECRETS, written by yours truly.

This is a companion guide to  THE UNFORGETTABLE GUINEVERE ST. CLAIR, where the true stories behind the fictional stories are revealed.

For instance:

Was this book inspired by true events? Was there really a burial? Did a gentle boy really kill the goose? What about that finger under the tractor?

The cow in the picture above? She was my dad’s…and yes, that WAS HER NAME.

CLICK HERE to subscribe and I will send Guinevere’s Secrets to your inbox right now! (If you’re already a newsletter subscriber, it should already be waiting for you – hooray!

Enjoy! It was a pleasure to write and revisit the many ways real life influenced this work of fiction.

Amy 

p.s. Know anyone who enjoyed Guinevere and would like to know her secrets? Please share this post or the above link – thank you thank you xoxoxoxo

Can’t wait to hear what you think!

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Good News for the Week: Soft Cinnamon Rolls

Twice a year I’m sure to make cinnamon rolls: the first Sunday in April and the first Sunday in November when we are watching “General Conference.” Instead of trotting off to church we listen to a series of talks on faith, love, and service to our fellow peeps.

I love this weekend. I want my children to love this weekend. I want them to associate these amazing talks and the good feelings they will feel, with a happy morning with their family. Believe me, food gets them to the table. Besides me throwing an apple at them, they’re usually on their own for breakfast, but this weekend it’s extra special. I make something.

And thus we have…the cinnamon rolls.

Now, I’ve tried my share of recipes. Until last year I made them with Rhodes dough, which is fine and everyone loves them, but my soul began to yearn for something more…something puffier, softer, less pre-fab. More homemade (the babies must be sleeping through the night).

I found them. King Arthur’s Soft Cinnamon Rolls.

Light, fluffy, absolutely delicious.

They are more time consuming to make than simply rolling out pre-made dough or popping frozen buns out of a can – but this is GOOD NEWS! This ensures that I will not make them more than a few times per year. They will remain precious and just out of reach.

If you need a favor, to get on someone’s good side, seek forgiveness, or simply want high praise and adulations I suggest THE BUNS! Out of 193 reader comments and reviews, this recipe enjoys 5/5 stars.

Mmmmm.

Yesterday one of my kids said we’ve trashed this world so much that “it’s not even worth saving.” The comment stopped me in my tracks.

Dear child. There are cinnamon rolls to be made. The world is definitely worth saving.

Love, Amy

Subscribe to Amy’s Author Newsletter: A Monthly Dose of Book Love

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Book Review: A Place For Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza

A Place For Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza

As an Indian family gathers for Hadia, the eldest sister’s wedding, parents Layla and Rafiq reflect on raising their children – what happened, what they wish they could take back, did they do their best?

This literary fiction novel announces Fatima Farheen Mirza as a major literary talent. FOR REAL. I marveled at Mirza’s ability to write from four different points of view without ever announcing who was speaking or from what time period – you just got it.

I grew up in the suburbs of Omaha, Nebraska. Next door lived the Huqs from Bangladesh. They were Muslim, we were Christian. The mothers of both families traded stories over watering the hostas in the garden. Kea Huq was strikingly beautiful with her long straight dark hair and beautiful salwars. She made her tiny gold nose ring incredibly classy. Of her arranged marriage, my mother asked, “Did you love him?” Kea answered, “Of course I did. He was my husband.” It’s been a lesson for us, I tell you.

In A PLACE FOR US, Hadia has balked Indian tradition and is marrying for love, though he is still a muslim and a man of Indian descent. Even with many personal cultural and religious differences, I found myself relating to so much of the thoughts and feelings of tradition, home, and belonging.

Amar is the youngest child and only son. He’s different. He just can’t do it right. He’s not as naturally school smart, dreams of being an artist, has a penchant for always pushing the envelope, wonders if there is even a God, and eventually turns to substances to cope. His mother and sisters are his protectors. His father loves him but doesn’t know how to deal with such a son. He has a temper.

There are secrets, there are betrayals, there is guilt that is hard to let go of. This is the story of every family, but told from a very unique point of view. I loved it.

By the end, Rafiq is sick. He’s an old man holding his arms out for his youngest child to come home. Will his beloved Amar ever return? Is there really a home for each of us to return to?

This story is a love story on many levels – between a husband and wife, between Hadia and Abbas who dies young, between Hadia and her chosen husband, and between Amar and the beautiful Amira who loves Amar but cannot watch him self-destruct – yet longing to be with him anyway.

There’s also the great love story of how much a mother and a father love their children, even when they cannot say it out loud. The mother, Layla thinks, “She was stunned and stunned again by them, and her love for them. How much had been lost? Never made it into her memory, never been captured in a photograph?”

Oh, my heart.

I read this book more slowly than I usually read, forcing myself to slow down and enjoy each sentence – you’ll want to. The writing is at once reflective, aching, and beautifully constructed.

Half the pages of my book are turned down so I can go back and reread sentences – aspiring and inspired to write as wondrously as Mirza does.

Have I convinced you? Read this book. It’s tremendous.

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