Monday, June 29, 2015

#Collaboreads: The Invention of Wings

Today is that really beautiful day where we're going to gather round and talk about reading. Today's the really beautiful day we're going to share about the random books we've picked for ourselves and we're going to R.E.A.D.S them. You, me, and RAD are going to share and to add all the books to our GoodReads and overwhelm ourselves with the things that we absolutely need to consume.  

Let's start with the fact that I read The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd. 

This book is strong, really strong. I say this because I listened to it on tape (my first time EVER making it through a book on tape) and was so enchanted by all parts of it. The narrators they chose have voices that are all the kinds of delightful and fitting to the characters. My only critique is that this book is so good and you are dying for it to go fast and the readers can only read so quickly without slurring everything together. Be warned fast readers, be warned. 

Now time for the R.E.A.D.S. review. If you need a reminder of how these go, check out this post

I've always sworn I am not a historical fiction reader. I would tell you until I'm blue in the face that I just can't take all those references in my reading. But, lately, I can't put historical fiction down and I've gravitated with a deep and dying devotion to the Civil Rights era. 

This novel falls earlier than the other historical fiction books I've read as of late. It steps in and provides a context of the attitudes and actions that precipitated the Civil Rights movement with a constant battle over the righteousness and legality of owning slaves between the members of a white, wealthy southern household. 

The main character, Sarah Grimke, is a white daughter of a plantation owner who is real. Yes, this is a fictional novel that dances around the beautiful, brave life of a forward-thinking woman who changed the course of our nation's history. Sarah speaks with intense emotional clarity and intelligent appeals that immediately liken you to her. She's well aware of the consequences of her action and incredibly honest about how she wished desperately for things to have ended differently. 

Sarah has a voice that is starkly and beautifully contrasted with the slave she is given as a birthday gift. Handful, the slave -her slave-, details life under the rule of a hateful and terrible Mrs. Grimke (Sarah's mother) while providing a gruesome account of the double standards surrounding slavery. She shares the rich history that slaves pass from one another, passing down their family tales through quilts and craft and word of mouth. She's rich in person and spirit, though owned by a (morally) bankrupt white woman. 


If I could only pick a single character to love, I'd probably lean towards Sarah because of the many ways our lives seem to overlap. Her love for her father, her large role in his dying days, her closeness to her littlest sister, her pained emotions about the enormity of the injustices around her. I just see me in her. 

But Handful, with her determined-ness to honor the plan she and her mother made, was gorgeous. Her ability to reveal the pain and beauty, the hurt and hope of slaves in this time of transition (from slavery to freedom) was easy for me to grow deeply addicted to. She was divine, a character made to be loved, whose character and life was one that surely sent ripples through the lives of other characters in the book and those of readers. 

I never thought fact and fiction could linger so seamlessly, though I'd expect nothing less from Sue Monk Kidd. Her ability to bring gorgeous life to what could easily be called a history lesson illustrates the way our past is amazingly (and terrifyingly) relevant to our present. 

There's a plethora. The Help, The Secret Life of Bees, Calling Me Home, To Kill a Mockingbird. And yet, this approaches a different angle of the Civil Rights conversation. It hits in the early 1800s, when slavery was booming in the U.S., but the inklings of race equality were bleeding down from the North to the South. 

I'm a hit and miss fan of Kidd herself. Some of her novels have turned me inside out with their beauty. Others fall flat and are almost impossible to read in their entirety. You can always expect complicated relationships, beautiful wordsmithing, and amazing metaphor. Sometimes it works for me and I can't stop, other times I just can't get hooked. 

I've avidly read novels by Sue Monk Kidd. This cover was different for her, but was consistent with the cover art that's running in the historical fiction circles. It walks along the same design lines as All the Light We Cannot See with the sort of ombre, watercolor backdrop with block text on the front cover. 

I'm not sure that it relates as the image depicted falls blurry and muted behind the white letters of the title, though I'm sure it's meant to intimate a sunset with the beautiful family of reds and oranges that quickly fade into night's black. 


Five. Five stars. A hole handful. Once again, Sue Monk Kidd has opened my eyes to what beauty can happen in our history and the way that it can be a part of our present. 

I literally have this in my Amazon shopping cart to send to Rachel because I just know she'll eat it up like I did.

Now that my review is done, it's your turn! 

The random criteria for next month's link-up: 
A book with someone's name in the title. 
And we'll see ya'll on July 27th!

Thursday, June 25, 2015

on the recipe for bravery

Print available from AmberThomasMakes

There's a look to bravery. It's sort of angry looking -brows furled, eyes determined, soul in the zone of perpetual defeat. It's on the faces of the Gladiators on TV, on the sweaty forehead of Gerard Butler as he declares Sparta in 300, coursing through the veins of every soldier standing, laying, fighting on the front lines. There's a look to bravery, a look that I assumed was it's total when, in fact, it's merely one part.

The angry-brave look is the dictionary definition in our minds, it's what we're comfortable with because it's specific. But then there's brave like smiles in the midst of deep sadness, whispers in the expanse of a diseased silence, hope when all dreams have been dashed and the last chance isn't looking so hot. Brave is so much more than that angry face and taut muscles.

Brave is knowing the price of action and realizing the cost of denial is far greater. It's setting aside the resources -energy, time, money- necessary to invest in yourself and being sure the efforts are worth it. It's knowing you can pour out over and over again because you will be poured into. It's constant pursuit without discouragement because you know the world needs you.

Brave is the act of speaking words you're afraid to say. It's saying what if this isn't what we thought this life was going to look like. It's asking if we can thrive in this spot or is it simply a place in which we survive. And what is it worth to take that risk and jump from surviving to an insane amount of thriving? It's saying all those things gracefully and honestly.

Brave is the ability to give words to those latent desires. It's about having dreams and honoring them, though fail and fear might break your spirit. It's seizing the opportunity to do that one crazy thing you never really imagined yourself doing simply because you can, because you've given yourself permission, because your heart simply needs you to hike over that unknown trail and be surprised by its wildness.

Brave is playing the cards you've been dealt with zeal. Because some hands suck, some hands look like loss and death and sadness and they feel so unfair and mean. It's those hands that make you want to throw in the cards, toss them heavenward and walk away from the table. But life pulls you in, it dares you to make something of yourself and brave does, it shakes and bakes and makes something no one ever expected out of what appeared to be absolutely nothing.

Brave is smiling in the face of heartache. It's knowing the smile is real, is celebratory, is something more than just a pasted on grin. It's not a bunch of pearly whites attempting to mask the real ache, but is true blue cracks of joy in a pained face. Those smiles are the bravest kind of beautiful smiles.

There's no recipe to brave, no perfect look or posture. There's no journey that's any more brave than another. There's no way to bolster you or your story, except for the encouragement to go and be brave.

Monday, June 22, 2015

A Lesson You've Taught Me [The Letter Link-Up]

Welcome to you, to you and to your words today. 
The Letter Link-up | Mr. Thomas & Me

This letter is part of The Letter Link-Up. They are written to remember mundane moments that would otherwise slip away, to hold tight to him, and to remember how life looks right now at this very moment with the chance to shed light on your heart. 

While my letters are documenting moments within our marriage before children for our children, you are allowed to write your letter to anyone, on anything with the prompt being simply a loose and suggestive starting point. 
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Dear Jason, 

The other day you asked me about my dreams. Well, you actually asked me to lay out my five-year plan. I mumbled and jumbled and wished Hazel would barf on the floor so I could do something -anything- else. I had no clue what five years from now holds, so I put together a bunch of random messy syllables that were more misunderstood than sensible. You stared at me and waited in silence. And I crunched under the pressure the same way an empty beer can does under one's sandal-ed foot. 

I didn't know what to say because I don't chunk my life out into five years or four years or even one year. I have these wild ideas and I pretend they'll just arrive the way Santa and the Tooth Fairy do.  But, that's not how this happens, does it? I don't have tread on my boots to hit the ground and run in because I'm not applying myself in the way you know I can.

You know me. You see the potential, you remind me that you fell in love with a college girl with bold and wild dreams. You know she's still in here, dulled by dementia and life and a focus on this very moment. You don't get caught in there, you don't hang out in right now with no regard for tomorrow. No, you are the man with a plan who wants to see me out there chasing some goals. 

You say you can win at a task and you do. You're a man that knows he has two weeks off of work around Christmas time and decides that's ample opportunity to take up woodworking. You're a man with a goal and subsquent plan. You don't always know the way to get there, the way to conquer the mountain ahead of you (and us), but you always succeed. You do it gradually, bravely, and -mostly- with grace. 

And now, with your questions and your prodding, there's a dream and a plan. There's a path on which to hike, hoping to find what's on the other side of this five-year mountain. I was lucky to get to follow you in all the adventure. Lucky to follow you until now. Now you've opened up space for me to lead. You've charged me with the tools, challenged me to go and do, asked me for deadlines and goals. I gave them to you, half-heartedly, then laid awake at night and thought about how boldly, how certainly I can do this not only with you, but for you. I can make this into a whole-hearted adventure, an endeavor that will redefine goals and circumstance. 

I can do this to show you the way you've been the best teacher of life. 

Love is learned and you're the best tutor in the land,
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
For those who want to know more about the dream, my dream, it's here. It's Amber Thomas Makes: original art from my hand to your heart and home. It's just a beginning, a stepping stone, a place where you've all encouraged me to pieces. It's a start at a five-year plan -or at least a two year plan.  
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Next month we're going to talk about:
Your Greatest Strength
And we'll be writing, linking, loving on
Monday, July 20th.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Your turn. Your turn dear friend: 

Friday, June 19, 2015

Where Peace Comes In

A few weekends ago there was another visit with dad. I knew it was going to be different this time with him sleeping more and me going alone. I knew it was going to be different because he would be thinner still, less aware, more gone. I knew it was going to bAe different with all the tears and sitting beside his bed in quiet reverie.

I stood and sobbed by his bed with my scrunchy, cry-face in my hands. I touched his arm and said hi as carefully as I could. I tucked his blanket tight around his legs and wiped my runny nose on the sleeve of my sweater. I gathered a chair and took in the way his room has changed to remind me of a hospital. I stare at him and I wonder where Death is now.

I look at his sunken eyes and tight skinned cheeks and I ask where Death got lost. His Siri is broken, he's lost and somehow in his confusion, Death has walked by and missed him. I look on and I ask God when mercy begins. I wonder when Peace shows up. Dementia comes with no mercy, with very little peace, in fact there's not single fleck of kindness here in these trenches.

When it's time to leave, I box it up, putting all the emotions in a pretty little package completely shut with a bow. Sometimes besides tears, visits mean nothing but the smile I paste on my face as I am released out the doors. I can go, can cry, can miss, can leave. I can wonder and pray and mourn there in that space, but now, as I leave, it's time for living.

Living is easy until church.

I'm there in the chapel lined with chairs that face the stage. They sing -the faithful people- up there on the stage. They sing and dance and clap their hands. They say things like "mercies anew every morning" and "no looking back"and "make me brave". I watch hands raised and waving like seaweed under water. I wonder how the Spirit blows through their branches so smoothly. I want to join, want to believe, but just stand.

As they pray for His words in the morning's sermon, I ask Him about Death once more. I ask Jesus to tell me how much longer there needs to be hurt without healing. I plead for mercy on dad and on us -five sitting in a row, arms crossed on our chests, filled up with the same soulful aches. My thoughts are no longer with church, but with him and Death and peace instead.

I think about the way he lays and sleeps, seeming too tired to even bother with the bits of life that are left. I mourn for him, knowing he's not in there, but wondering where he might be. I hope his body is empty, I hope his spirit is experiencing some taste of peace, a semblance of heaven, if even the tiniest bit. I can't stand the thought of him trapped in there. I can't imagine the great size of his bright soul stuck in the dreary, shaded room of a memory care unit. I can't settle down into the comfort of church thinking that I'm not the only one aching for a place of peace. 

That's it: I don't know where peace is. 

For him, for me, for the plethora of his relatives and a far larger net of his friends. I don't know where peace is for any of us. I imagine it's in death -but that's just a wild guess. I want to pretend his passing will be our answer, but I might just be focused on the wrong thing in my Very Right Now. 

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

let's have coffee - our monthly date

If we were on a coffee date, we'd be walking in our accidentally matching running clothes and drinking our caffeinated beverages. My guess is we'd have something iced because it's humid and hot in these parts of California. We'd be wandering through the local neighborhoods and trails and counting our blessings and steps.

If we were on a coffee date, I'd tell you I cleaned out my closet using the KonMari method. I'd also admit I was completely shocked by how little I got rid of, but how the act of reorganizing all the things I own was SO INCREDIBLY helpful. I definitely have a better idea of my style (all my shirts are white, grey or black with the exception of five) which -I hope- will make me more discerning when I'm shopping for anything new.

If we were on a coffee date, I'd ask about your dailies. I'd want to know what makes up your morning routine and how it sets a wonderful foundation for you day. I'd press you for the nitty-gritty details like when you pick out your outfit and how, if you have a hair washing schedule, and the themes for your days. I'm interested in routine lately and there's nothing like getting into the mundane intimacy that is routine.

If we were on a coffee date, I'd want you to tell me about audiobooks. I'm an old soul with my love for the physicality of books, but I have set my mind on listening to a book while I'm driving or getting ready or cooking dinner. I downloaded The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd for my #Collaboreads choice and love the two women who are reading it. But, I'm sort of struggling and I want to know if you have a trick or a recommendation or, well, HELP. (I did take advantage of the three free months offered by Helene and you should too.)

If we were on a coffee date, I might cry a little bit because lately I'm just sort of prone to tears. I'm not sure what it is that's got me so feely, but I am and I'm trying not to hate it. Bad things happen to good people and, lately, it just breaks my heart to sit and talk through devastating heartbreak. It's so sad and yet, lovely, because we're enduring -all of us- and sharing and being and coming together.

If we were on a coffee date, I would ask if you have favorite shorts. It turns out I do, these from American Eagle. I want all the pairs in all the colors with all the sale prices -somehow I don't get everything I want at one time. Knowing that I love the shorts (because I've owned a pair for a few years now) makes me confident in the purchase and yet I don't want to spend the money. Why the conflict my soul?

If we were on a coffee date, I'd dare you to tell me your dreams. Jason did this to me the other day, he asked point blank, what my dreams were. And I had no good answer. I mumbled about a book and about creating artful things and owning something I could call my very own little venture and he just looked at me. He looked and nodded and asked me to tell me what my dreams were. I knew I had some and, yet, I had none. So I'm working on that, I'm working hard on that.

If we were on a coffee date, I'd thank you for living your life. I know there's no other option, I know it' can feel easy and fun or nearly impossible, but you're doing it. And it reminds me that I'm doing it too. We're all in a season right now, a season that will change and transform and look wildly different than our current place, so let's set our hearts on a grateful embrace.

Monday, June 15, 2015

How VoxBox Works

In the land of blogging, we often hear of opportunities to receive free things in exchange for our honest opinion on the products we receive. It's controversial -or at least seems to be so- and is something I've struggled with off and on since the moment people besides my mom started reading my blog.

When a few of my favorite bloggers started using Influenster, I decided to check it out for myself. And I joined, connected all my networks, then waited. And waited. And was thrilled when I got an email saying that I could be a fit for the #BlossomVoxBox. I took a survey (or snap as Influenster calls them) and upon completing it I was a match. They asked for my address and said I'd be getting a green box of happy mail in a few weeks.

Before the box arrived on our doorstep I googled all over to see what exactly VoxBox would expect from me. I wanted to know how much I'd have to share or put out on social media to be a worthwhile recipient of their products. There was nothing for me to read and understand, so I decided I'd write one of my own (you're welcome).

The box showed up outside our door one Wednesday afternoon and I was surprised by the way its contents truly worked with my lifestyle. I unloaded the box and snapped a picture to use for my blog posts and social media.

Then I did what the directions in the box said and checked in online. After checking in the dashboard for your box will come up. It contains all kinds of directions and information as well as multiple pages for you to work through (in the orange on the left).

You can read through the tabs and see what tasks are available, but you're not going to be able to accomplish much without first understanding the products you've received. 

So, do the fun part and put everything to work. Drop the shampoo in your shower for your next shampoo day, grab some granola before a hike, start applying that moisturizer with SPF to your face. And you decide what you think. Some things you'll love, others won't be your style, and still more will just be uninteresting to you. 

A week has passed and you've munched on every bag of Beanitos you have (plus stocked up more from the store). Check out the VoxBox badges first. Notice there's a ton of ways to interact with the products and their brands online. This was my favorite part of VoxBox -I didn't have to do anything, but instead got to tailor my efforts to be honest and genuine. 

After you've read through the VoxBox Badge tasks, you can take on individual badges. I only did these for the products I loved. Some of them ask you to review your product online or to tweet about the product using their hashtag or to like their Facebook page. Often these tasks have multiple steps to them, so be diligent and aware in accomplishing each bit.
There is a specific amount of time allotted for the campaign (by the time I got my box in the mail there were 21 days left). At first I felt overwhelmed by the amount of tasks to complete in 21 days, but many of them are small and completely manageable. The time for the campaign ended up being extended for another week about ten days before the initial end date. Know this could happen for you and allow for more time in getting all your tasks done.

Some really helpful (I wish I knew them beforehand) tips:
  • Take pictures of yourself wearing the make-up, dipping the chips in salsa, chomping on the granola atop your acai bowl. These pictures will become part of earning your Brand Badges later. 
  • Allocate your time. A lot of the Brand Badges ask you to review and, well, no one's ever loved writing a paper the night before it's due so employ the same attitude here. 
  • Familiarize yourself with the hashtags. Each product has a hashtag that it wants you to use and some of them are sort of random so check out the cheat sheet that Influenster provides for you. 
  • Don't lie. I mean, honestly, you're not going to love it all and you don't have to. There's nothing tied to how you feel about the product that'll win you a better place or campaign in the future. 
  • Know badges matter, but aren't everything. Some of the badges were just not something I could work out. I didn't want to tell anyone that I'm busy slathering myself in Sally Hansen's Airbrush Legs business when I wasn't. So, that badge didn't work out. 
  • Always include: "I received these products complimentary from Influenster for testing purposes."
So, that's VoxBox for you. I know, holy smokes with all the details and conversation, but now there's a place to understand the process and expectations before you have to fully commit. 

My honest opinion: the box was fun and well-suited to my lifestyle so I didn't feel overwhelmed trying to "plug" something I don't like. The expectations are completely realistic so you're not sweating it trying to figure out where and when to work things in. And, if you must know, I'd do it over again! 

Any questions? Leave them in the comments. 

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

dear you: a letter about wall weavings and beauty.

Dear you,

I've been really fascinated by the wall hangings that are making their rounds on Pinterest. I stare at them and ooh and aah over the way they seem cozy and warm while they're decorative and beautiful. I can't get over the way simple strings come together in weaves and twists to make a bigger, beautiful pattern. 

I sort of want to buy five hundred bunches (that's not even what they're called) of yarn and spin them and twist them and pompom them into beautiful wall hangings. I want to put them all over my house on every which wall. But I don't. Partly because Jason wouldn't tolerate walls covered in patterns of yarn. But mostly the reason that I don't make the weaved wall hanging thing is because it requires effort, an effort I'm just really not willing to make. An effort that I haven't mustered and, honestly, I'm okay with it. 

I look at all those beautiful options, the way wall hangings and yarn can look a thousand kinds of different and still be all so beautiful, and I want to draw some gorgeous lesson. I want to say something like you're beautiful or we're all unique or there's no one like you. I want to draw out a fun little rhyme like "no one is youer than you, this is truer than true" (thanks Dr. Suess), but it just feels wrong. Mostly I just keep wondering what part of that weaving I'd be. 

Maybe the yarn strands and ribbon remnants and torn fabric that make wall hangings so gorgeous. 
Maybe there wrapped around small circles that we call life, adorning this time and this place.
Maybe pompoms and loops and swoops and pulls. 
Maybe fringe and curls and multicolored. 

Maybe we're one or two of those things or we're all of them, I can't tell because I'm not evolved that far just yet. This is a letter that offers little resolution. But let me leave you with this: 

You are worth the effort. Your dreams are worth the effort. Your goals and life too. 

You're more important than any bunch of yarn ever will be, 

Monday, June 8, 2015

what i read in may

Maybe I've come into my reading own and my reviews are going to be longer and much more involved in the coming months... Or I had a month of insanely interesting reads, but today's post contains more words than any book recap has EVER had. Maybe it's more words than all of them put together (this is a dramatic postulate, but not truth).

Regardless, it was intense this month. I read two amazing books before the first week of the month even closed out. And then I had a time crunch with The Rosie Effect (that's where ordering a popular book from the library gets you), but NOM, NOM, NOM is my overarching attitude about the reads from this month.

The blurb on the front cover of the book reads as this:
"If Calling Me Home were a young woman, her grandmother would be To Kill a Mockingbird, her sister would be The Help, and her cousin would be The Notebook. But even with such iconic relatives, Calling Me Home stands on her own."  - Wiley Cash
Yes. So much yes. But there's one Cash forgot: The Secret Life of Bees. Surely Kidd's book and Calling Me Home would be inseparable best friends. The melding of race in today and yesterday were seamless. The content touching, real, unbearably grand, yet painful.

I found myself thinking of Baltimore and Ferguson and the racial tensions at my high school... And wondering what this collection of novels -dealing with the delicacy of relationships between the races in America with gentle boldness- would do in the hearts of our nation.

It is not often a book brings me to tears, but this one did. Oh how it did. Watching the fictional relationships -both romantic and platonic- develop, deepen, and destruct left me speechless and hurting. Though I knew the characters were not "real", I understood they were based on real things, people, hurts and healing.

The Silent Wife has been deemed 2015's Gone Girl. I hear these claims and understand, but deeply disagree. Harrison's debut novel creeped into the depths of my soul and gave me spine shivers. I wondered often how these thought processes happened and what contributed to each of the characters' dysfunction. These ponderings she answered in chilling clarity.

Deemed a psychological thriller, I found myself much more interested in each of the characters than I did Gone Girl. While I was fascinated by the twists and turns of the Dunns' plot line, I felt like a fly on the wall of Jodi and Todd's minds as I read through The Silent Wife. Often I thought of the nature versus nurture debate and how Harrison melded it into the marital mess that stands at the center of her novel.

I want Jason to read this one. He'll enjoy it, I'm positive. But then, I spoiled most of it because my shock just couldn't be contained. (This is one I totally recommend reading at the same time as a friend so you can text and say "HOLY SHIT DID YOU EXPECT THAT?" to one another regularly.)

I read The Rosie Project in March while we were on vacation. It was a fun, easy read that got me thinking about different kinds of people and the way we process social situations through the filters that make up our thought process. It was fascinating and Don Tillman, the main character, was quirky to the point of adorableness, but the plot line sort of left me hungry for more. It seemed to fall short in the trite way that books a la chick flick can.

However, Simision has REDEEMED himself with The Rosie Effect. Never before have I fancied a sequel to it's predecessor but, as I grew up hearing, there's a first time for everything. Truth be told, I almost cried when this novel ended. I flew through the 341 pages of Rosie and Don's pregnancy, finding myself constantly pondering what would happen next. Simision included typical marital issues that come with pregnancy, while enriching the plot line with more fantastical issues (that are greatly rooted in today's America) without going too far (my biggest pet peeve as a reader of fiction).

Yes, this is a must read. Even if the first book wasn't for you, I'm sure this one will make up for any and all of your disappointments.

I actually feel bad for A Three Dog Life and the way it got caught up in the beautiful month of reading that May was. It was often passed over while I was busy reading what I craved in a deeper way than Thomas' words and that probably wasn't fair. But the thing is, it fell flat for me. 

The premise of the book is this: Thomas' husband takes their dog for a walk one evening. The dog runs into traffic and when he runs out to save it is struck by a car. He lives, but suffers a severe Traumatic Brain Injury and is never the same man. In fact, his brain is so damaged he has to be moved from their home and into a care facility. -Does this story sound sort of, a hint of, familiar to you? Because it's just like my dad's story but instead of a TBI he has dementia. 

Maybe my big expectations for the book were unfair. Maybe I was too busy comparing her words and feelings to my own that I was distracted and unappreciative, but this novel just didn't do it for me. She didn't have an AH-HA moment, but instead seemed to just be, to just survive and sometimes have a hint of living. She loved her dogs and used them to fill gaps, something I believe is powerful, but I wanted to know her. 

That's it: I wanted to know Abigail Thomas -not her dogs or her family or her husband. I wanted to know the way she grew and changed and hurt and moved. While there were flickers of her throughout the novel, I felt like I was looking in a mirror and barely seeing her, something that stole an experience -as the reader- from me. Thomas has written other books -one a memoir and several novels- and, if I'm honest, I have little to no interest in reading a single one of them. 

There is almost nothing I can say about this book that would be worth reading in comparison to reading the book. Cleave's ability to write beautiful words about hard, terrible things is unmatched. I found myself re-reading paragraphs over and over again because of the way his words just charmed me. 
"In a few breaths' time I will speak some sad words to you. But you must hear them the same way we agreed to see scars now. Sad words are just another beauty. A sad story means, this storyteller is alive. The next thing you know, something fine will happen to her, something marvelous, and then she will turn around and smile." 
Truth. There is such rich truth in this novel and it almost seems impossible the characters are not real people. My bond to each of them ran much deeper than I imagined it would -a fact I only came to know at the close of the book as I mourned our time together.

This was a book I was honestly and truly sad to finish. In fact, at the middle of the novel I told a friend I was afraid to keep reading because each word that passed was going to be another word closer to The End. The themes and real life business contained in the pages of this book are haunting and eye-opening and, though not actual in their existence, mimic the struggles and issues that face our world today. I was shocked the way so many of the events in the novel crossed over with the headlines in our evening news (or my morning Skimm email).
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
I don't know that I've ever read so valiantly in a single month as this one. 
Here's my list in the close of the first month: 

A Freebie (5 points):  DONE!
              The Silent Wife by A.S.A. Harrison  
A book you have never heard of before (10 points):  
              The Precious One by Marisa de los Santos (352 pages)
A book that has been on your TBR list for at least two years (10 points)DONE
              Little Bee by Chris Cleave  
A book that won a 2014 Goodreads “Best Book” award (10 points)
              Landline by Rainbow Rowell  (308 pages) 
              OR We Were Liars by E. Lockhart (228 pages)
              OR #Girlboss by Sophia Amoruso (256 pages)
A book by an author who is completely new to you (15 points): DONE
              Calling Me Home by Julie Kibler   
A book by an author you have read before (15 points): DONE
              The Rosie Effect by Graeme Samson 
A book with "light" or "dark" in the title (15 points):
               Skylight Confessions by Alice Hoffman  (262 pages) 
book with the name of a city, state or country in the title (20 points):
               The Dogs of Babel by Carolyn Parkhurst  (261 pages) 
A book with an animal on the cover (20 points)DONE
               A Three Dog Life by Abigail Thomas  
A book that is part of a series with at least four books (25 points)
              The Giver by Lois Lowry   (240 pages) 
A book that is longer than 500 pages long (25 points)
              The Book Thief by John Muzak (551 pages)
A book with an alliterative title (30 points)
              H is for Hawk by Helen McDonald (320 pages) 
              OR Emily and Einstein by Linda Francis Lee (365 pages) 

I did some damage this month... I've been trying to read at least a half hour every single day and, so, that helped with my To-Read list. I'm ending the first month of the Semi-Charmed Life Summer Reading Challenge with a total of 55 points! 

Friday, June 5, 2015

speak up: picnic

Welcome to yet another month of Speaking Up! We're doing things a little more mellow this month with a picnic theme because who doesn't love when the sun finally comes out for us to enjoy. I hope you're spending more time outdoors and less trapped inside. Since the summer is my favorite time of year, I decided to dedicate my vlog to speaking about all the things that are my favorite right now.
And, though I may be biased, I'd recommend you go and enjoy all the goodness that my dear co-host Annie has to offer.

A little bit of spark notes on the myriad of things I shared as loves in this post:
I happened to note my new approach to cleaning and my closet.
And something about the way that I just can't stop reading this book or this one.
And that you should be thinking about joining in on this reading project.
I should have told you I'm loving Podcasts right now.  But I forgot.
But here's my current favorites:

And, now that I'm done telling you everything that I love and can't stop thinking about, it's your turn to share:

For next month, we are thrilled, all kinds of thrilled to Speak Up about: 
See ya'll and your beautiful faces on video promptly on July 3rd

Finally, my guess is some of you are here and wondering about #morethanaframe because that Instagram community is the bee's knees. Cassie and I have decided to take June off from prompts and just let people share as they wish until we start back up with another six week series in July.

Please keep rocking that dang hashtag to death and know that we'll still be there sharing and celebrating with ya'll.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

4 Reasons You Need "Dailies"

In a post from last week, I mentioned that I was practicing "dailies" -a practice I learned from The Accidental Creative podcast (this one specifically). I know daily practices started long, long ago in the monastaries of Buddhist monks. They had routines and rituals they practiced and honored in order to establish a trained mind. I was fascinated by the whole idea and decided I'd take a month to give it a try.

It took me a week to notice a difference in myself. Then the 5 Ways we Rob Ourselves post went live and lots of people asked specifically about my dailies. And, because I love a good question that leads to conversation, I decided to pull a big dailies post together. So, let us jump in!

My routines come in three categories: creativity, health, relationship.

  1. Write 750 words a day. (I've recently heard of and began using and found that my daily goal is SIMPLE when it's a brain dump instead of an attempt at perfection.) 
  2. Think of one blog post idea and write it down. (There's a page in my bullet journal for this.) 
  3. Read for a half hour. 
  4. Organize email inbox. 
  1. Hit 10,000 steps or go to the gym. 
  2. Drink water. (I haven't set a specific number, but have become much more intentional in my water consumption.)
  1. Spend intentional time with Jason. 
  2. Write 2 comments on new-to-me blogs. 
  3. Bible study and journaling. 
I know it sounds like a lot. Honestly, I thought it was a lot. Until I realized it's not because I'm being intentional about getting these things done which makes me more diligent with all of my time. Yes, all of my time. And in being more intentional with every moment, I get significantly more accomplished.

The importance of each in your day is vital. Say you choose to adopt my same dailies, you're going to be disappointed. Not because my dailies suck, but because I created them specifically for my lifestyle. I created them knowing where my strong spots are and where I struggle. They are also reflective of the goals I have -goals that surely do not mirror yours. So, when you take on the task of making your dailies realize they're all about you.

I track my dailies in a really simple way. Last month my daily chart looked like this:

As might be obvious, the who thing came about on May 11th while I was listening to the podcast, so it was a random addition in the middle of the month (yes to bullet journaling!), but it was really fun to figure out how I wanted to format it. Basically, any box that has a bubble in it means I completed the task and the empty ones mean I didn't. 

I've decided that the weekends are a pass, hence the blocks around weekend dates. Some weekends I'll be great and be able to knock everything off, other weekends I wont, but that's a grace area. My goal is to be more aware of my process and, quite honestly, it happens more on weeknights than it does on weekends and I'm okay with that. 

This month my dailies were a forethought so I got to make them a bit more beautiful and clean looking. Here's the spread: 

I'm hoping this will be fun to get to look back at as I read and work and write throughout the month. (If anything, the blank boxes encourage me to work and fill them in.

Todd Henry talks about Dailies and their importance through his novel, this podcast and that one, as well as on his blog. I agree with him with little emoji praise hands and then some. But I also realized these practices were more fruitful and important than I expected. Here are four reasons you owe it to yourself to take on your dailies:

Imagine your creativity as a tall tower. It will only remain standing and accessible if it's base is solidly established. Daily rituals are that foundation.

This isn't like a diet program or fitness challenge, your results will show up fast once your dailies are the right fit for your life. Within a week of beginning mine, I could see a change in my attitude to work and writing and, honestly, life in general.

Ideas are what fuel our workplaces and homes, our churches and business. Without thought and forward movement, we're stuck. But our creative process needs the appropriate fuel and care. This can only be done by understanding what works and what doesn't.

This series has been so rich for me because I had never thought about how I make, what I make, when I make, where I make, but all those factors and more influence the way I create. So, think on it, reflect, maybe write it out (and if you're wild, post it on your blog).

In knocking off those daily tasks, I am more likely to take care of the bullets I've got for work and blog and life in general. Where I have the every day-ness of the rituals, I also have the excitement of checking off the other good stuff.

Well, I've spilled all the words about my dailies. Any questions can go right into the comments.
And I'll close by asking you: 
what three things are going to be found in your dailies? 

Monday, June 1, 2015

On Friendship [And a Giveaway of 50 Shades of They]

*I received 50 Shades of They from The Fedd Agency in exchange for a review. All opinions and views are expressly my own. 

I am not an exceptionally great friend. I mean, I'm good at being a friend to a few people, but I'm not fantastic at having lots of friends. I never have been. It's always brought me frustration because every other girl has their girls. And I don't. That’s not the only way I struggle, in fact, my friendships often are more seasonal than durable. They’re like flowers planted for the sunny months only to be replaced the following year after they're burned by frost and dead. It's hardened me a bit, these seasons and passing trends. 

Losing friends in the scope of my dad's illness has taught me relationships don't always endure the bleakest times in our lives. And I often wonder: could I endure alongside you? The lack of decade-old friends in my life often leaves me with no answer. I guess I might leave when the going is tough or the roads move apart or people change. 

A friend of mine talks often of the hard things her friends are enduring -miscarriages, illness, marital struggles. She requests prayer and advice. I am fascinated by her because her loyalty is so rare. I don't know how I'd manage hard things in my friends' lives. I wonder what it’s like to have a die-hard commitment to someone going through really hard things.

"Because commitment -real commitment- is a rare commodity. We would reather find a way out than a way through. And commitment is exactly what we need from those who are in our lives." 
-Ed Young, 50 Shades of They

The value of endurance from our relationships is underplayed and, maybe, taken for granted. One dear friend who's managed to walk through dementia alongside me while birthing two beautiful boys of her own taught me the way women can be relationship. She showed me that love happens in bleak places, nothing helps like a girl's night out, and vanilla vodka goes best with Coke Zero. 

I've often thought about her and wondered how she's oozes friendship. I watch her and make note of how she makes my heart smile. I often thank God for her. The thing about my friend: she makes me want to be better relationally. 

Enter 50 Shades of They by Ed Young. 

The book is divided, literally, into 50 different conversations and quips on relationship. Young pushes you to evaluate all your relationships -familial, friend, marital, professional- through the filter of a faith in Him. The book is an easy read -I was done with it within a week- with its large font, short chapters and relatable presentations of tales of relationship. Young pulls relationships from the bible and speaks relativity into them, making the ages-old stories into practical gems in our relationships for today. 

While you could easily devour the book in a single sitting, I found myself thinking often how I could read a single chapter (or shade) in the book per week and use it as a central focus for my relational intentions. Using it as a quasi-devotional might sink those lessons and traits in further allowing for greater transformation than reading as I always do. Yes, this would take me almost a year, but sometimes adventures such as making friends are far richer over the long-term. 

Though I didn't agree with all of his points, I did find the way Young critiqued the Church's approach to relationship both fascinating and important. I came to realize some of the traits I most disdain in Church are, in fact, large parts of my own struggle with relationship. I found myself to be encouraged and convicted, cheered on and challenged further. In closing the back cover, I wanted a greater community in my life, a network of relationships that I could enrich and nurture instead of hold seasonally. 

After finishing the book and before writing this review I decided to check out the 50 Shades of They website. I was pleasantly surprised by the content provided there. I ended up watching most of the videos in his 50 Shades sermon series and found Young engaging, interesting, and even charming. His passion for the community, for intentional relationships, is palpable and inspiring.

Want a chance to win yourself a copy of 50 Shades of They
Simply comment below sharing your favorite trait in a friend. Extra entry in giveaway for sharing about the giveaway in a tweet or Instagram photo (remember to tag me: @mrthomasandme). 
(Giveaway will remain open until 9:00am on Thursday, June 4th at which point a single, random winner will be chosen and contacted via email.) 

What's your favorite trait in a friend? 

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