Books

Books: The Most Fun We Ever Had

I really loved The Most Fun We Ever Had by Claire Lombardo. The story spans several decades in the lives of David and Marilyn, a happily married couple with four daughters, each with strong personalities and as different as can be. I am fascinated by relationships of sisters, partly because I do not have a sister of my own, and also because I am raising two young daughters.

Lombardo, who is only 30, is a former social worker, and that experience is evident in her riveting description of her characters’ emotions and responses. From the arrival of a teenage son one of the daughters gave up for adoption at birth, to the tragic death of one of their husbands, there is no shortage of family drama. Lombardo tells these stories with a realness that reminds the reader that no one is perfect, even if they seem that way on the surface.

123

(Image from amazon.com)

David and Claire are nearly perfect parents. They are loving and kind, yet their children, though successful in many ways, are also kind of messes. It is a somewhat painful reminder that even if it was possible to do everything right as a parent, a child is her own person in the end. Still, love and kindness always matter most, especially when parenting.

Overall, it is just a really good read about family dynamics and unconditional love. The characters are flawed in relatable ways and Lombardo is a gifted storyteller. This is her debut novel and I look forward to reading more from her.

In My House

Putting Away the Backpacks

Confession: I have left my daughters’ backpacks on their hooks in our entryway since March 13. That was the day school was abruptly closed throughout our state due to COVID-19. First it was closed for one week, then two, then the remainder of the school year. The presence of the backpacks made life seem somewhat normal, almost as if my five-year-old and three-year-old could return to their school and pre-school classrooms at a moment’s notice.

For many reasons, I just could not bring myself to put away the backpacks. It felt like admitting defeat. I did not want to accept the fact that my daughter would not set foot in her kindergarten classroom again. I would no longer volunteer in that room on Monday afternoons, or pick her up at the end of a day filled with learning and discovery.

Finally, yesterday, I took the backpacks down. My oldest daughter’s kindergarten year ends next week. What would’ve been a pint-size graduation ceremony at the high school theater filled with a lot of hugs, will instead be a Zoom pajama party with stories read by their amazingly dedicated teacher. I am grateful for the supportive adults who have found ways to make something special out of a difficult time.

February 2020 (1)

(Photo by Alyssa Crawford Photography)

In all honesty, taking down their backpacks, unpacking them, and putting them away in the closet made me sad. I looked at the blue glitter adorning my daughter’s backpack, indicative of her innocence and excitement, and I felt disappointment for her. She has continued to be her happy, enthusiastic self through the changes of the past two months. She has completed her school work with fervor, and has looked forward to the weekly Zoom meetings with her teacher and classmates. Yet she has started to ask more frequently when she gets to see her friends again. She misses going to the grocery store with me and attending church on Sundays.

I am not here to wallow in what feels like the loss of something important, but I do want to acknowledge how many of us are feeling as we close out the school year. College athletes are missing their spring seasons. High school seniors are missing prom and graduation. Kindergarteners won’t get to hug their first teachers good-bye, and every age in-between is missing out on the last day excitement that always fills the air.

We can be a little sad, but we should also be proud. We should be proud of our students for being so brave when their worlds have been turned upside down. We should be proud of parents for taking on roles of educators in ways most of us haven’t before. We should be proud of teachers for adapting to the situation and supporting students and families in an extraordinary way.

In the end, we will be better after all of this. I pray it will be safe for our students to return to their classrooms this fall. When they do, it will be a joyful occasion. Hopefully some good has come out of this challenging time in the form of newfound gratitude for our teachers, our communities, and our health.

As for my soon-to-be first-grader and me, we have started looking online at options for a backpack for next school year, partially in an effort to remain optimistic, and maybe to remind ourselves that this time of isolation will not last forever. Backpacks will once again find a place on the hooks in my entryway. When they do, I will appreciate the sight of them with all my heart.

 

 

 

Books

Books: The Female Persuasion

Women who hate women are the worst women of all. That’s the theory of Greer, the main character of Meg Wolitzer’s The Female Persuasion. It isn’t as simple as that, though, as Greer finds out as she navigates life newly out of college.

She eventually encounters feminist icon Faith Frank, a fictional sort of Gloria Steinem, and goes to work at Faith’s feminist publication and supporting organization. We follow Greer as she finds love, struggles financially, loses love, betrays a friend, finds career success, and repeats the cycle again. She seeks to find her voice, and that journey is somewhat interesting, and at least relatable.

556

(Image from amazon.com)

Through Greer’s struggles and decisions, I pondered that question again and again. I like the theme of the book and the writing was good, yet The Female Persuasion was not as riveting as I had hoped it would be. In fact, I kind of struggled through it. The characters were interesting and the feminist themes inspiring, but the plot kind of went all over the place. There were too many story lines without clear connections to one another.

The over-arching theme of the book is “what really makes a feminist?” Can you be a feminist and still betray your best female friend? Or does that make you a woman hating women, thus the worst kind of woman of all?

In My House

What I Hope They Remember

While driving today, I listened to a psychologist on NPR talking about how although we as parents might be stressed right now with all the uncertainty surrounding COVID-19, we would be surprised what our kids will remember from this time. She said the odds are actually quite high that their memories will be good ones. She said one of her teenage clients told her via a Zoom visit that he was enjoying his time at home because his parents had sat down and played board games with him.

Could it be that our kids actually like a little simplicity? For the past month, I have been so focused on the upheaval of our usual routines and the loss of the remainder of my oldest daughter’s kindergarten year that I have struggled to recognize the blessings that have come our way. Yes, I recognize the really big blessings like the health of my family and my continued employment, but I often struggle to recognize and appreciate the simple blessings of day-to-day life.

February 2020 (4)

(Photo by Alyssa Crawford Photography)

Vacations have been canceled. School is taking place at home. I miss a lot of things. I miss picking my daughters up from school and daycare. I miss taking my oldest to ballet class. I miss lunch dates with friends and making travel plans.

Still my young daughters seem to find excitement in the simple things. When they’re not arguing over which color of cup they want, children are exceptionally good at finding the positive in life. They are able to remind us to make time for joy, even in the face of uncertainty.

So when we look back on this time of social distancing, wearing masks, home-schooling, and oh-so-many Zoom meetings, I hope my daughters remember the good. I hope they remember our nature walks around the neighborhood, breathing fresh Black Hills air and collecting pine cones to make homemade bird-feeders. I hope they remember extra snuggles and movie nights with homemade popcorn and M&Ms.

I hope they remember the countless books we have read together when there’s nowhere to go and nothing much to do. I hope they remember riding bikes in the driveway in the afternoons. I hope they remember laughing at the little chipmunk that likes to hang out in the bushes outside the dining room window.

I hope they remember feeling safe and happy in our home. I hope they remember to keep appreciating the simple things, long after they’re grown. More than anything I hope they remember how much they are and always will be loved.

In My House

Lost, Have, Do

Like almost everyone in the world right now, I feel like 2020 has been a year of loss. I lost my two grandmothers in January and February. I barely had a moment to pick myself off the ground before major changes started happening due to COVID-19. It is difficult to process everything that is happening, and I certainly have almost no answers about anything. Still, I’m sharing what I have been doing to cope. I am mourning what I lost, appreciating what I have, and doing what I can do. I hope that when we are on the other side of all this, we will have a newfound grateful spirit and our priorities better in line.

Alaska 2019 (97)

Lost…
I think it is important to keep a positive outlook, but I find it impossible to do that without first acknowledging the pain of this ordeal. It’s OK to be scared, angry, and disappointed. Sometimes the losses are super major and painful, like that of a beloved grandparent. Sometimes they’re more on the petty-side like canceled travel plans. Acknowledging the disappointment of the minor losses is important, too. It’s OK that high school seniors are bummed out about missing prom and graduation, and they don’t need older generations diminishing that feeling.

Have…
For many of us, what we do still have has tremendous capability to overshadow the painful part. I have an amazing husband, two wonderful daughters, and a schnauzer who sleeps on my legs every night. I have books and now more time to read them. I work with tremendously smart, brave, and caring people in the health care field. We all still have sunsets, the smell of rain, fresh-brewed coffee (if that’s your thing), and heavy metal music (that’s mine).

Do…
There are few things I feel in control of right now, but I have a short list of positive actions to keep me in the right frame of mind in the coming weeks. They are:

• Send at least two hand-written notes a week.
• Try to laugh every day.
• Spend at least 15 minutes a day reading something positive, funny, or enlightening.
• Remind myself daily that this won’t be forever.
• Find ways to continue regular runs despite the gym being closed and weather being questionable.
• Pray, pray, pray.
• Hydrate.
• Love my husband and daughters with a new-found appreciation.
• Stop all media after 7 p.m. (Advice from one of the aforementioned super smart doctors with whom I work.) Instead of scrolling through CNN right before bed, watch a movie with my husband, read to my children, or even catch up on DVR’d Jeopardy episodes.

Books

Books: Becoming

Michelle Obama describes herself as an “ordinary person who found herself on an extraordinary journey.” I enjoyed her book Becoming, because it was really about her with just a small amount of politics thrown in to add context. Michelle is an ambitious person, but not necessarily in the political realm.

She was a reluctant first lady, but was, and continues to be a fierce promoter of women’s rights, education for girls throughout the world, and childhood nutrition. I related to her stories of being a working mom of two young daughters, trying to balance career and motherhood. Whether you’re a former first lady or not, we all just want safety, love, and opportunity for our children.

She had a simple childhood in a lower class Chicago neighborhood with hardworking parents who did everything they could for Michelle and her older brother. She was a good student who worked hard and got into Princeton with a scholarship. She writes of her childhood “I had nothing or I had everything. It depends on which way you want to tell it.”

999

(Image from amazon.com)

In Becoming, Michelle does not shy away from the challenges of being married to a politician who eventually would be president. There were many missed dinners while she was alone at home with two young children. She was thrown into being publicly criticized about superficial topics like a sleeveless dress she once wore. There was exhaustion to the point of tears.

She writes of trying to give her daughters some level of normalcy during their time in the White House. She shares stories of stressing out about finding a warm hat for Sasha before the inaugural address, and of her and Barack (both barefooted) greeting Malia’s prom date in the White House with Malia begging her dad not to embarrass her. She writes of the Secret Service accompanying her to Target.

At the end of the day, we all face our various challenges. Becoming does not seem like a cry for pity or political support, but rather a heartfelt reminder that we are all works in progress. Becoming is never giving up on the idea that there’s more growing to be done.

In My House

Pantone 2020 Color of the Year: Classic Blue

Pantone’s 2020 Color of the Year is Classic Blue. It is described as “a timeless and enduring blue hue elegant in its simplicity.” I have started gravitating toward blue a bit more than ever before. I recently had my dining room and kitchen painted light blue (more on that later). Here are a few fun favorites.

adfadfasdf

1. The pattern of this reversible quilt set makes it a perfect centerpiece of a master bedroom. (Bed Bath & Beyond). 2. These blue pants would really dress up a neutral top.(Loft) 3. Polka dots make this children’s dress so classic and cute. (Primary) 4. This pea coat is the perfect combination of two shades of blue. (Anthropologie) 5. These glasses are so pretty and would make a great gift. (Kate Spade) 6. This accent chair would be a perfect pop of color in an otherwise neutral living room or guest room. (Target)

Adventures

Love, Support, and What’s Coming Next

Thank you all for the outpouring of love and support after I posted about losing my grandmothers. I am reminded that we are really never alone in our grief. Others have been there. They care. The challenge sometimes is letting them care for us, letting ourselves be loved when we need it most.

8FF07A86-0BEC-493B-A6C9-71584B6408F9

I will be posting more on memories and my personal navigation of the coping process in the months (years?) to come. However, I’ll also be posting some more light-hearted pieces in the next few weeks. I have some book reviews coming your way as well as some shopping posts and of course some adventures in parenting.

Thank you for reading!

Adventures

When It Feels Like Our Loss Defines Us

A few weeks ago I did something I never thought I’d do. I had the words “Love You” tattooed on my left wrist. I also, quite suddenly, faced something I never wanted to face: Both of my grandmothers died within 18 days of one another.

We have been launched into something new against our will. I’m 36 years old and for the first time in my life I have no grandparents. My parents, for the first time in their lives, have no parents of their own still on Earth.

12556

Right now it feels like these losses are defining my life. Getting myself and two tiny humans ready for multiple funerals, memorial services, and burials has taken it all out of me. In work meetings my mind drifts to the call I answered from my mom telling me my grandma was gone; and then to the call 18 days later from my dad telling me my grandma was gone.

I am realizing that it’s OK to not totally be OK. No one is expecting me to be. I don’t really know what I should be doing. So, what I am doing is: Turning to my friends, trying to prioritize getting good sleep, praying, running regularly, reading a lot, watching my dear daughters play oblivious to what a real and major loss really means, and clinging to my amazingly strong and calm husband.

The tattoo is the handwriting of my Grandma Mary taken directly off the card she gave me on my wedding day, but also how she signed everything to me in the 36 wonderful years I had her in my life. She was A HOUSE WITH CHARACTER’S most loyal reader and commenter. So that’s why I’m back on here, posting about her, posting about pain, loss, and, at least a little bit of hope.

These losses don’t define me, but the love my grandmothers shared with me and my family does. That is a legacy of love that will live on in me, my daughters, and those who come after us. The loss doesn’t define us. The memories do.

In My House

2020: Make Time

Happy 2020, everyone.

Was anyone else as excited as I was to take down the Christmas decorations and get back into normal living?

Every year despite my best intentions to maintain some sense of routine, healthy living, and normalcy during the holidays, I’m left feeling I have fallen short in that field. I even Google-searched “self-care during the holidays” a few times during this past December.

Don’t get me wrong, we had a wonderful holiday season with family and friends, but there’s something about routine and the fresh start of a new year that calms my soul.

So this year I’m not making resolutions, but I am committing to getting back into the routine of regular exercise, self-care, and saying no to the things that don’t matter in order to make time for the things that really do.

123222

Time to rest: For me, this means getting good sleep (at least most nights) and taking a break to read for at least a few minutes every day. On especially busy and stressful days at work, it also means prying myself away from my office to go for a quick walk and decompress.

Time to just be: It’s safe to say that most of us feel over-scheduled at many times in our lives. Instead of taking pride in being the busiest, we need to allow ourselves and others to say no to requests once in a while without the inevitable guilt-trip.

Time to volunteer: This might be a bit in contrast to that last one, but I still think volunteering and community involvement are hugely important. The key is prioritizing and not saying yes to every single opportunity.

Time for self-care: Many of us are guilty of letting our own health and happiness fall by the wayside in favor of caring for others. It’s difficult to prioritize self-care, but how can we care for others if we aren’t properly caring for ourselves? For me, this means regular exercise, spiritual connection, and an occasional mani/pedi.

Time to hydrate: This is kind of a strange one, but although most Americans have easy access to healthy drinking water, many of us go through life dehydrated. I am leaving my refillable water bottle on my desk at work as a reminder to keep downing the water.

Time to play: What is life without a little fun now and then? Whether it is going to a water park with my daughters, a date night with my husband, or even just taking a moment to play tea party with the fam, laughing and being silly is good for the soul.

How will you make time for what is important in 2020?