Monday, January 8, 2018

Non-Fiction of 2017

Stacks of books bound together on an old shelf
Photo by Simson Petrol on Unsplash

I gave you my fun fiction reads last week.  Those are just the books I read so I can go to New York City or London or the year 1732 instead of living inside my own house with all of its dirty dishes and laundry and children.  Those are the books I take to get me through my kid's swim practice and waiting for him to get out of Chess Club.  But these books... Non-fiction books.  These are my bread and butter, man.  These are the books that change me, challenge me, make me say, "yeah, me too."  These are my true love, even if they are more difficult and take more time. Here are the Non-fiction books I read in 2017 in no particular order:

1.Travels with Charley by John Steinbeck
Let's talk about Steinbeck for a minute.  You see... He was tough for me back in the day... by that I mean, when Mr. Walters told me to read The Grapes of Wrath and I tried for a while, but ended up just BSing my way to an A through all of the class discussions and never reading the book because it was just too... ugh. That's how I feel about Steinbeck's work sometimes.  Other times, I have all the heart-eyes for his work. Like in Travels with Charley. This book took me back to my month on the road in the American West. It took me back to November of 2003 when I packed up Ralph (my purple Ford Ranger) and wandered around camping alone in some amazing places. I loved traveling along with Steinbeck and his dog, meeting the folks and feeling the feeling of freedom on the road.  

2. The Road Less Traveled by Heidi Renee
This is the story of a warrior mom who just does what she has to do to give her son the most normal life possible. Her story of adopting and beginning to raise AJ is that of someone who refuses to give up, and it makes me so proud to call Heidi my friend.  You can find her book here:

3. The Power of Habit  by Charles Duhigg
4. Smarter, Faster, Better  also by Charles Duhigg
Both of Duhigg's books combine deep research with engaging story-telling. The stories that illustrate his research on habits and how we get better at things are memorable and interesting. Definitely worth the read.

5. The Dip  by Seth Godin
So... I feel like Seth Godin's best work is in his blog with short pieces that give you food for thought for the day, and that style hasn't translated well into book-format for me. That being said, The Dip seemed to conquer his normal hiccup, and held my attention well.  Also, it's a very short book, so... concise seems to work well for Mr. Godin. 

6. The War of Art  by Stephen Pressfield
This was my favorite book of 2017. It was inspiring and encouraging and engaging. I loved part of it so much I ripped out the last page and hung it on my joy wall to remind me that I was born to write, born to be uniquely me, and if I get lazy, I am absolutely robbing the world of what I was born to do.

7. Of Mess and Moxie by Jen Hatmaker
Ah, the controversial Jen Hatmaker. First, let me say that we can occasionally disagree with people who write things that we love to read. And we can agree with people whose writing sucks, and we can be kind about it all. And all of this nonsense about her and the church and same-sex marriage... Just whatever, man.  She has studied and worked very hard to come to the beliefs she holds, and she loves and serves Jesus dearly and better than I ever have. I love Jen Hatmaker's books (at least her more recent books). She is real and raw and so much like me. And her books bring women together. I think you'll like it.
8. Payoff by Dan Ariely
It was good. I don't remember what this book was really about, but I remember it had important information in it that I wanted to remember.

9. Deep Work  by Cal Newport
See... This book reminded me that the way I work is in long focused spurts with no interruptions... perfect for a Stay-at-Home-Mom. It was great to have the validation that this is just how some people work most productively, but it was also encouraging to read that we can do deep work by showing up continuously. If you're working on something that needs deep concentration and intense focus, read this... Though I think it might be better as an audio book...

10. Design Your Day by Claire Diaz-Ortiz
I was hoping that this book would give me a little more insight into how to be more productive during my day, and maybe it did a bit... but I feel like it was mostly just more of the same advice on how to be productive... advice that I just still can't figure out how to implement as a 38 year-old scatter-brained Stay-at-Home-Mom.

11. Grace Eventually by Anne Lamott
So... Anne Lamott is a little weird. But she is also an absolutely beautiful struggling soul, and I love her writing dearly. She is real and open and vulnerable. She is so easy to relate to.  Her stories and insights, and me toos are some of my favorites.

12. Finish by Jon Acuff
This book is great advice for those of us who never finish anything.  It's engaging and encouraging and funny and helpful. Everything I hope my writing could ever be. You won't be sad about reading this. It might even help you reach some of those 2018 goals.  

Love you guys!
Happy Reading!

Monday, January 1, 2018

Fiction Books of 2017

Photo by Anthony Tran on Unsplash

Well, friends, it's that time of year again.  The time of year where I tell you all about the books I read in the past year, and maybe inspire you to try some of them!

Why I read all of these books this year:
1. I LOVE to learn through reading engaging books. It's my favorite.
2. I love to escape through stories. (I learn here too, but it's much different.)
3. Stories inspire me.
4. I get better at life and adulting when I read more.
5. I had a goal of reading 18 books-- 1 1/2 books each month. (I didn't do any audio books last year, but I think I will this year.)  I actually read 26 books in 2017, which means maybe I need to set my goals on the smaller side, and I'll blow them out of the water, because I'm 26 books smarter now than I was on January 1st of last year!  Wahoo!

Here are the fun fiction books I read this year. I'll catch you up on the non-fiction ones I read in a few days.

1. Bridget Jones's Baby by Helen Fielding.
You know what this is, people.  It was a fun, quick escape into the funny and oddly romantic life of that lovable quirky lady.

2. Bridget Jones Mad About the Boy by Helen Fielding.
See above.

3. Happy People Read and Drink Coffee  by Agnes Martin Lugand.
I mean, I'm happy. I read. I drink coffee.  I guess she's got a point. It's about a woman who moves to Ireland after a devastating loss to find herself. Instead, she finds a cranky guy who lives next door. It was interesting enough to read the sequel, which is on my list.

4. One and Only  by Emily Giffin.
I have an interesting relationship with Emily Giffin's books.  You see... She creates interesting characters that make really poor decisions in the "name of love." Like falling in love with your best friend's dad. That's what this book is about. A chick who falls in love with her best friend's dad. But it's not dumb like it seems like it'd be. I mean, it sort of is, but it's also fun to escape and learn how dumb it would be to fall in love with your best friend's dad. I don't advise falling in love with your best friend's dad. But you can read this book.

5. Something Borrowed  by Emily Giffin
Again, interesting character, bad decisions. This chick falls in love with her best friend's fiance and sleeps with him. Don't do this either. I mean, seriously. You are not this dumb. And yet, you'll sort of like this main character, but you'll be mad at her... Kinda like when Rory was being an idiot in Gilmore Girls, and you were like, "Rory! Stop it! You're being so stupid!" I mean, I'm gonna read the sequel, which is told in the best friend's POV. But don't say I didn't warn you.

Books by Lisa Genova
6. Still Alice 
OMG, you guys. This book killed me. Maybe because I have Lyme Disease and that makes me forget words and I've experienced some of these weird, frustrating, scary things, and I fear that this is my future, but this was an incredible story. It's about a brilliant professor who gets early-onset Alzheimers. Read this one for sure.

7. Love Anthony 
Another beautiful heart-wrencher. Love this one about a mom who lost her autistic son and becomes a photographer on Nantucket?  Or Martha's Vineyard?  Somewhere like that. It was good.

Books by Liane Moriarty:
8. The Last Anniversary
9. Three Wishes
10. The Husband's Secret
These are all great. Read everything by Liane Moriarty. I just love her style of story-telling. Always with a twist. Always something engaging. Always interesting characters.

11. Dark Matter by Blake Crouch
Okay, this one was weird. But really good. I'm not usually into Sci-Fi, but even far-fetched multiple universes couldn't derail me from the story of a man who just wants to go home to his wife in his perfectly imperfect life.

12. Good As Gone  by Amy Gentry
If you weren't worried about your kids before, you will after you read this book. It's a beautiful story about a mother and her daughter... The mother losing her daughter, finding her again, and coming home. It's a gory, read it in 48 hours thriller. 

13. Maybe In Another Life  by Taylor Jenkins Reid
You know that thing we do where we wonder what would've happened if I had... Well, you get to watch each decision play out with lovable characters.  Another fun 48 hour read.

14.  The Forgetting Time by Sharon Guskin
So... this one is also a little weird. It's about a little boy who had a previous life. You know how these books go.  When someone tells you about the book, it sounds crazy and far-fetched, and then you read it, and you're like, "Yeah. I get that. These characters aren't crazy.  Why won't people believe them?!  I love them!" This is a great story.

That's it for last year's fiction!  I can't wait to tell you about the amazing things I learned last year in my non-fiction reading!  

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Makin it Rain Cheese and Grace

Photo by Austin Ban on Unsplash

My sweet, generally calm and quiet husband HATES it when things get broken. He sighs and huffs and scolds all of the children. He stomps around, searching for tools in a foul mood
because something is broken. I got news for you, sweetheart, we have 3 boys who basically don’t even have a frontal lobe yet. Shit’s gettin broken.  Like erythang.

I’m not criticizing. I’m the same way when the house gets messy. I clean the kitchen. 5 seconds later, someone’s in there getting a snack, makin it rain crumbs and mozzarella cheese like a boss, putting dirty dishes in the sink… I sigh and huff and scold all of the children. I stomp around pointing and listing off their mess-making infractions in a foul mood because things are messy. I got news for you, sweetheart, we have 3 boys who basically don’t even have a frontal lobe yet. Shit’s gettin messy.  Like erythang.

The problem here is not the broken thing or the mess. The problem is the way we see the broken thing and the mess. Because Jesus said, “In this world, you will have trouble.” The way I said it is, “Shit’s gettin broken and messy.”

The problem is what I THINK the mess says about me. The problem is what I BELIEVE the children are saying to me by making the mess. Because it FEELS like the mess says, “You are a crappy mom who shouldn’t be allowed to stay home with your kids because you never accomplish anything and you have nothing to show for any of your days because the house is always a disaster.” It FEELS like the kids say, “You are invisible and worthless and we don’t care that you just cleaned that kitchen, I am entitled to throw cheese everywhere because you will just clean it up.”

But the mess is just saying, “I’m a mess.” The kids are saying, “I’m still learning fine motor control, and I hate myself when you sigh and scold and stomp around here because of something I screwed up.”  

Because, you see, when something gets messy, my old wounds get split open.

When something gets broken, my husband’s baggage shows up.

The solution, partially, is to clean up the mess and fix the broken thing, but the difficult part of the solution is to tell myself the truth that the mess doesn’t say a thing about who I am. The mess does not give me a measurement of how well I am doing as a person. The other difficult part is to shut my mouth when the mess is made, come alongside the mess-maker, and make it rain grace. Because that might help them to see the mess differently. Because if they grow up to see the mess the same way I do, they will hear the same lies I heard, and their stomping and scolding will deceive their  children. They will be telling my grandbabies lies because I taught them to.

So Ima go figure out how to turn cleaning up cheese into a parable of grace-- like Jesus did. He’s way better at this stuff than I am.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Just a Mountain...

Last weekend, I summited a 12,324 ft. mountain. It was Heaven. I mean, I was hiking at elevation, and I felt like I was dying, so... Also, it was amazing. Also, it was beautiful. Also, it was so much fun, such a challenge, and included hours of giggling and soul-feeding conversation with two dear friends.

The night before, I couldn’t sleep because I was too excited. I went to bed late because i was packing my bag and making preparations for the hike. Gotta have the 10 Essentials, Em. (What ARE the 10 Essentials again?) You should make some of those protein balls you saw on Pinterest. They’ll give you the energy and nutrition you’ll need to get through that hike!

All of a sudden, it was 11:30. I wasn’t in bed yet, and I had to be awake by 5am.

Get to bed, Em. If you go to sleep right now, you’ll be able to get 5 ½ hours of sleep.

Okay. Going to sleep now. Good night, world!  See you on a beautiful, amazing, gorgeous mountain top in the morning! I’m so glad Jen and Tara can come with me tomorrow. They’re the best. Oh. I’ve missed hiking so much. This is just going to be the best day.  I love Rocky Mountain National Park. It is just so stinkin beautiful there!  Hiking is so awesome. I can’t believe God made all of that beauty for us.

Hiking is also very taxing, and you need to have a good night’s sleep before you hike a big mountain like that.

Right. Good point. Will stop being so excited about hiking and will go to sleep right now and get 5 hours of solid sleep. I know I packed everything, so I could wake up a half hour later and still get 5 ½ hours of sleep.  I will reset the alarm… Wait… Maybe I didn’t pack everything. Better give myself 15 minutes to double check. 5 ¼ hours. That’s enough.  Think calm, soothing thoughts.

I am not going to be well-rested enough. Ugh. I’m going to wake up tired, and this is going to be a tough hike. It’s fine. I’m going to get 5 hours of sleep.  Oh no. I can’t sleep.

It’s okay. Calm, Soothing thoughts.  Gosh, my kids were funny today. I’m so glad my hubby is cool with me hiking. Figuring out when I could make this happen was tough enough. He is such a good dad. I wish he would be the Stay At Home Parent. He’s so much better at all of the Stay At Home Stuff. I am the worst Stay At Home Mom ever. I am horrible at cleaning, decorating, shopping…. I am so much less patient with the kids than he is… Why do I yell like that?  I’ve probably scarred the children for life. Yes. I’m sure of it. I am a horrible, horrible person and parent. I am the worst, and my children are messed up beyond all repair because I am such a terrible screaming, yelling monster.

Well, that escalated quickly. I went from excited to be on a mountaintop to the worst person in the world.

Good thing I’m going on this hike tomorrow. That will be soothing. I’ll be a better person after tomorrow. Crap. Not if I don’t get any sleep, I won’t. Ugh. It’s only going to be 4 hours of sleep now...

You see, summiting a mountain is just like accomplishing any other goal in life.

  1. You put it on the calendar and don’t let anyone deter you from your plans. It’s on the calendar. It’s a priority.
  2. You prepare yourself by gathering the supplies, knowledge, and skills you’ll need.
  3. You wake up early.
  4. You take a step.
  5. You take more steps.
  6. It gets hard. Like really hard. So you rest.
  7. You take more steps.
  8. It gets too hard to continue again, so you rest again.
  9. You take more steps.
  10. You repeat this until you reach your goal.

Basically, make it a priority, prepare, wake up early, and start walking. Keep walking until you’re finished.

It’s not complicated, but it is most certainly difficult, and in everyday life, I struggle during each part of this process.

But my point is…
It’s just a mountain.

It’s just a goal. It's doable. Whatever it is that you are striving for, it’s just a mountain. And you're doing it because you want to. You love this dream. You want to spend time dong this thang. Even if you need friends to give you a push...Make it a priority, prepare, wake up early, and start walking. Keep walking until you’re finished.  The hardest part is getting out of my own way with my worries and fears.
The hardest part is keeping it what it is, because I'm really great at turning it into something it's not.
I just schedule it, plan, wake up, and start taking steps. It gets hard when I tell myself how hard it is. It gets hard when I worry and beat myself up.

But when I do the work and look around, I think, God did this for me? What an amazing world we live in. There is so much beauty and joy in this place. I am so small. I am so brave. I am so powerful. I am so capable. I am so glad I live in Colorado. (I guess you could think something like, “I’m so grateful for what I have” if you don’t live in the same amazing place I do…)

I guess I just need to live my life being able to sleep at night, because if I can do that, I can certainly wake up and climb mountains.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

The Point I Missed... An Addendum

 Photo by Mayur Gala on Unsplash

I missed the point. I thought I knew what the point was, but it turns out I was a bit off. I mean, maybe a little right, but mostly mistaken.

I published a blog yesterday about overcoming setbacks, diligent sacrifice and hard work being the route to success in growing, even if it’s slowly. It was a blog about discipline and failure being holy. It was about a friend who recently ran the Boston Marathon. You can read it here (

I thought the point was “we become better when we fail and keep trying” because every time I thought about my marathoner-friend’s story (working tirelessly to qualify for 6 years and 14,000 miles), I thought about it from my perspective: as someone who is terrified of failing, who hates running, and easily sees only the work and the goal, but has a hard time seeing the joy of the middle. I saw his story as a Rudy-type of story. A story like BraveHeart, riddled with pain and injury. Every run a beating. Every run wrenching his gut. His motivation the idea of being on the big stage he saw growing up… But after he read the blog, he said something, and I realized that his story is maybe a little bit of a Rudy story, but apparently, he’s more like Forest Gump; he just feels like running.

He said, “What you left out, and it’s probably quite important, is that I love running. If I had spent all of those runs in misery and not made the marathon, the time spent doing all of it would’ve been a complete waste. But instead I love the process. I love the feeling I get during and after running. I love the people with whom I run. I love the places it takes me and the animals I see along the way. I love how it clears my head and swaps cortisol for adrenaline. I love the simplicity of running, the quiet time… all of it. And while you’re spot on about perseverance and commitment and not letting setbacks stop me, you have to remember that it was a labor of love more than anything else, and I’ve enjoyed nearly every step.”

Well, shoot. I saw it differently. Because historically, when I fail, I quit. When it’s hard, I give up. When I realize it’s going to take me six-dedicated-every-day-years to accomplish something, I say, “peace out.”

But when you look at it like Forest Gump, you just run. You just do it because you love it.

When I think about all of the struggles, all of the ways my life has turned out differently than I thought it would, just yesterday, I thought I needed more discipline. I thought I needed more persistence. I thought I just needed to stop giving up. I thought I just needed to be selfless and sacrifice. And it’s true. I do, need to do those things but the way to get there isn’t to “just have more discipline.” The answer isn’t “just be less selfish.” The answer isn’t “just persist.”

The answer is more love. Extravagant, lavishing, heaping scoops of love for my children, my husband, my writing process, my people. Enormous, gigantic, over the moon love for these endeavors I am pursuing… raising my children well, looking at their mistakes and shortcomings and lack of motivation with love, giant all-consuming, never-ending, unconditional love, love, love. Because…

Love transcends failure. Love transcends injury. Love transcends setbacks and interruptions and not being able to do what you want to do. Love pushes us to move forward, press on, forgive. Love means we catch handfuls of bodily fluids coming out of our children without batting an eyelash. Love convinces us to volunteer for sacrifice over and over again. Just like Jesus.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

The Summer of Nature! June Edition

This summer, I am a woman on a mission. I’m not sure if it is a selfish ambition or if it is out of the purest love and hope of well-being for my children. But we are going back to nature this summer. My kids and I are learning about nature. Camping in nature, hiking in nature, kayaking in nature, planting seeds, observing wildlife, biking, identifying trees… We are doing this nature thang.

Why? Why nature? Why has this become “The Summer of Nature”?

Because nature is glorious, A. But B, because ipad/video games and children. Because it’s so good for our bodies and minds. Because I LOVE LOVE LOVE being outside in nature, and my kids hate it. They whine and complain and they HATE it. But I want them to LOVE it, and my husband has a theory about getting your kids to love something you love: Have the best time ever when you're doing that thing you love in front of your kids. Even if they're making it miserable. Eventually they'll either learn to love it, or tolerate it because they love you, and they can't have any negative emotions tied to it since you only gave them happy ones! This man skies with all of our kids by himself. They all love skiing. He might be onto something.

So, when a friend of mine asked me to tutor her precious little girl, and I agreed, it inspired a whole process of planning educational and outdoor activities to fill the time and teach the things. Because strangely, when someone is paying me for a job, I take it more seriously than when it’s just the well-being of my own children...whatevs, man, I’m trying.

So here’s the run-down on my Broomfield Area Summer of Nature Field Trips and Plans for the month of June.  Our June focus is on Plants.

We have already visited:

  • McKay Lake. (This is perfect for a quick trip. Huge, gorgeous trees, beautiful lake, and a fun spot to look for wildlife!)
  • Horsetooth Reservoir. (Holy Cow is that place HUGE!  I had no idea it was that big or gorgeous!)
  • Big Dry Creek Park (This is a fan favorite with the kids. It has a big playground, and hiking/biking trails with a few big Cottonwood trees and a running creek-- at least right now.)
  • LaVerne M. Johnson Park in Lyons, CO. (Seriously, this is what childhood dreams are made of. Take your children to this park. Then stop at the Lyons Dairy Bar for a $2 Kids Ice Cream Cone on the way home. It’s the perfect day. )
  • Plaster Resevoir (We went on a Nature Walk through the Broomfield Nature Programs. This is great for preschoolers!  My older kids weren’t as interested in the craft/walk, but it’s perfect for 5 and under! Here are some other Nature Programs in Broomfield as well!
  • Our Backyard We had a campfire, and roasted marshmallows with friends. The kids played flashlight tag. It was a whole old-fashioned family fun night.

Some of the cool things I have planned for the rest of June are:

In Rocky Mountain National Park, these Night Sky Programs look particularly cool.

Happy Trails, friends!  Hope these are helpful!  See you outside!

Thursday, March 16, 2017

I Should've Said...

International Women’s Day was 8 days ago, but I am notoriously bad at planning ahead, so here we are… A little late. The next few posts will be dedicated to a few of the bravest women I know. They have incredible stories, and I would love to share them with you. We will start with Margaret “Jean” Grinnell. My beautiful grandmother.  Here she is:

Isn't she beautiful? This picture was taken the last time I saw my Grandma Jean. It was Christmas time. My kids did not want to go visit her. To be honest, I probably wouldn’t have wanted to as a 7 or 8 year-old. There’s a weird smell in nursing homes. And it’s awkward. They repeat themselves. They forget who you are. You don’t know what to talk to them about or ask them about…

So to prepare them, I said, “Think about things you might want to know about life when she was a kid, because she’s 92, and she was a little girl a long time ago.”

I said, “If you want to bring a game to play while we are there, you could ask Grandma Jean if she wants to play.”

I said, “Sometimes nursing homes have yucky smells, but it is very rude to comment about them. If there is a yucky smell, just tolerate it.  And sometimes it can be boring to visit older people because they just sit there, but that’s just because they’re very tired. If you are bored, make conversation, but you will not whine and complain that you are bored. Do you understand me? Grandma Jean loves us and wants to see us. She is probably lonely and tired and when you are lonely and tired, you need your family, so we will go, we will talk to her, and then we will drive to see your cousins.”

We went. She called them stinky boys. We laughed. I told the boys about her lemon pie, and she complained that she hadn’t had one in years. (My mom had just brought one the week prior.)  She told stories about their Grammie Mel, which they loved. We hugged and chatted. My boys played MadLibs and matchbox cars in the corner. Then we left.

A couple of weeks ago, Grandma Jean had the flu and died in her sleep.

And I can’t stop thinking about what I should’ve said to my kids. I had made a big deal about how they were to behave while we were there. They should tolerate the inconvenience… But what I should’ve said was, “Boys, take a good look at this woman’s face. Because this is what strength looks like. This is what tough looks like. This is what brave looks like. This is what it looks like to have a good sense of humor. This is what not giving up looks like.”

Because if Grandma Jean was anything, she was strong. She was tough. She was brave. She had a good sense of humor, and she didn’t give up.

She raised 7 kids alone. SEVEN. The youngest was 2 when my grandpa died. SEVEN kids for years and years and years. All by herself.
Sure, she probably watched more John Wayne movies than is good for a person. Sure, she threatened to make you a “flat talkin grease spot” if you misbehaved or feed you a “knuckle sandwich” if you whined about being hungry, but she loved fiercely. She lived bravely, and she laughed heartily. And she was tough. Boy was she tough.

She was so tough that when my kids are older and stressed about school, sports, music competitions and the like… When they are overwhelmed and want to give up, I will pull out this picture, and say all of the things I should’ve said that day. I’ll say, “Take a good look, kids. This woman is a part of your heritage. She is your Great Grandma. She never gave up. She was poor and alone and raised 7 kids that way. And you know what she’d say if she saw you sitting here whining about what you’re whining about? She’d say, “If you don’t get your ass out the door in 5 minutes and do what you said you’d do, I’m gonna make you a flat talkin grease spot and then drop you off at the Salvation Army. Now quit your belly achin and get.” I love you. Have a nice day.”  

She didn't have much sympathy, but then again, I don't think we need sympathy. We need true grit, and that, she had in spades.