For everything there is a season

2020 has been challenging in just about every way. Between the pandemic and racial and political divisiveness, this year has been draining at times.

For me, this season has been for reflection and personal growth. It’s been a season for kindness and forgiveness. A season to slow down and reconsider priorities. A season to count every single one of my blessings and help others.

In this season I’m thankful. I just celebrated my 31st birthday and I’m carrying this gratitude with me. I’m not waiting for 2020 to flash by so we can celebrate a new year and forget this one happened.

Instead I’m laughing so hard I cry with my husband. I’m reading more because it’s something I love. I’m cuddling with my pets. I’m cherishing time with family. I’m journaling and writing as a creative outlet and praying about any anxious thoughts.

For me this hasn’t been a season for hustle. It has been a season to slow down and see the good in the bad. It has been a season for grace and self-compassion. Instead of wishing the next 153 days away, I’m going to continue to carry hope and thankfulness with me.

What are you thankful for and what are some silver linings you’ve found in 2020?

May and June in the books

The past two months have been filled with a lot of books. I read a lot of new authors (well, new for me): Riley Sager, Mary Kubica, Elin Hilderbrand, and Jesmyn Ward.

In May I read a mix of nonfiction, thriller, and romance books. In June I really focused on diversifying my bookstack. I don’t want this to just be a trend. For July, I’ve added Rabbit, the Girl with the Louding Voice, Party of Two, and Take a Hint, Dani Brown to my TBR list.

Here’s a look at what I read.

May

35) Mr Nobody by Catherine Steadman – 3/5 stars

This book was just okay. The first half was so good and kept me guessing, but the second half left me wanting more. I wish the plot tied more into Emma/ Marni’s past.

36) The Honey-Don’t List by Christina Lauren – 4/5 stars

I love this writing duo. This book had mixed reviews, but I really enjoyed it. I like the interior design background and grew to really care about Carey and James. I also loved that it was set in Wyoming.

37) Untamed by Glennon Doyle – 3/5 stars

Overall, I liked Untamed. It was a little too preachy at times and the chapters were a bit like stream of consciousness. I also thought that although the takeaway messages from some of the conversations she had with people were powerful, the conversations were stiff and unnatural. I did like the stories about her kids/family, Abby, mental health, letting people be wild, knowing, and the “memos” boys and girls are taught throughout their life about how they should act.

38) The Scent Keeper by Erica Bauermeister – 3/5 stars

I rounded down this rating because of the ending. I loved the characters, the scents, and the growth. It was a lyrical and beautiful story about family and complicated relationships. But I really hated the ending. It ended in the middle of the climax. There was an epilogue, but it was only two pages long and didn’t wrap up the book. I also really wanted to see Emmeline reunite with Henry and Colette.

39) Lock Every Door by Riley Sager – 4/5 stars

This was the first book I read by Riley Sager and not only did I devour it in 2.5 days, but I read his books in quick succession right after this. I read something recently about the best books having endings that feel inevitable but are still able to surprise the reader in some ways. I felt that way about this book. I had a feeling where it was going but then again, I really didn’t. It’s a fast and creepy read.

40) The Last Time I Lied by Riley Sager – 4/5 stars

I also liked this book. I liked the use of flashbacks and couldn’t read it fast enough to figure out what really happened. The twist really paid off and that ending was very satisfying. I absolutely loved the camp setting.

41) Final Girls by Riley Sager – 3/5 stars

After my very own Sager readathon- I thought this one was just okay. It was frustrating to read about the dangerous and stupid decisions Quincy kept making. Although I loved the theme of final girls/horror genre calls out, I thought the first twist was predictable and the second seemed out of place.

42) Every Last Lie by Mary Kubica – 3/5 stars

This is the first book I read by Mary Kubica. My local library recommended it because I enjoyed Riley Sager books. Overall, the book was just okay. it was really frustrating the main character kept taking her children along on reckless trips and leaving them alone in the car. I also found the ending very sad. I’m still going to give her other books a try, but I wouldn’t suggest this one.

43) Winter in Paradise by Elin Hilderbrand – 4/5 stars

This was also my first book by Elin Hilderbrand. I really liked it and thought it was the perfect beach/vacation read. Overall pros: the setting, Irene, Huck, Maia. Cons: the terrible communication between Irene, Cash, and Baker, the terrible relationship between Baker and Cash, and the cliffhanger ending.

44) The Other Mrs. by Mary Kubica – 2/5 stars

I was not a fan of this book. An unreliable narrator, unlikeable characters, and the use of mental illness as a plot device. There were some red herrings and I thought the twists were too obvious and the plot was implausible. I also wanted more details and closure about Sadie’s relationship with her kids.

June

45) White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo – 5/5 stars

This book is written by a white woman for other white people about the difficulties white people have talking about racism without getting defensive. She talks about the unchecked biases many people have while saying they don’t see color and they think everyone is equal and so much more.

46) What Happens in Paradise by Elin Hilderbrand – 4/5 stars

I’ve heard Elin Hilderbrand is the queen of beach reads and I can see why! I thought this book was a great continuation and I loved reading more about the characters. I’m looking forward to the third book of the series that will come out in the fall.

47) The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates – 4/5 stars

I’ll be thinking about this book for awhile. It took me a little bit to get into, but the writing is lyrical/beautiful and includes magic realism. The story is shaped by William Still’s Underground Railroad records. I highly suggest the audiobook version!

48) Whisper Network by Chandler Baker – 3/5 stars

This book took me a long time to finish. I liked how it was twisty and I was surprised when it finally was all revealed. But, the writing itself was tough to get into, especially at the beginning of chapters when it generalized women’s experiences not as a plot point for Ardie, Sloan, and Grace.

49) Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling – 5/5 stars

This was my favorite book in the series growing up and it was so fun to reread it. It’s really the turning point in the series when things get dark and more grown up, but I loved reading about the games and seeing the friendship grow between Ron, Harry, and Hermione.

50) Men We Reaped by Jesmyn Ward – 5/5 stars

This book is beautifully written and is also heartbreaking. Ward’s memoir is written in revers chronological order about growing up in Mississippi and losing five men close to her in a four year period. It’s about grief, race, poverty, family, and more.

51) Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough – 4/5 stars

I finished this book and said out loud, “what did I just read.” I went from liking it to hating it to overall enjoying the ride. The ending was truly shocking and a little like Hitchcock.

52) Get a Life, Chloe Brown by Talia Hibbert –4/5 stars

Man, did I love this book. It’s more steamy than I was expecting, but I loved that the characters are complex. So often a romance novel is “will they or wont’ they” or two people hating each other who end up loving each other. Chloe and Red communicated in a healthy way and were vulnerable and open with one another.

What about you. What books did you read and what’s on your TBR list?

No, things can’t just go back to normal

I saw a few posts in recent weeks from people wanting life to go back to normal. These comments are especially tone deaf in the middle of a global pandemic and national unrest because of the gross racial injustices in our country.

Things can’t go back to normal. We can only move forward. But we can’t move forward until we recognize systematic racism. We can’t heal until we admit that there are racial injustices and actively work to address and change those inequalities. There can’t be justice without accountability and we must address our shameful past to even begin to move forward from our divisive present.

We have to start with humility and empathy and understand that no matter how socially conscious or progressive we think we are, we have old bias regarding racial stereotypes and prejudice.

We have so much to learn, unlearn, and relearn.

I’ve been listening, learning, and checking my heart to figure out how to be a better ally.

I started with reading White Fragility. It’s a book by a white women for other white people about why it’s hard for white people to talk about racism without getting defensive. She highlights the biases white people have toward race while saying they don’t see color and think everyone is equal. It’s an important look at history and how bias are part of every day even if you’re “progressive” and “mean well.” Nice doesn’t mean not racist and racism doesn’t just come from mean/bad people.

I took a look at what I consume on social media platforms and made sure I’m following and amplifying black voices, artists, activists, content creators, authors, and more.

I’m diversifying my book stack and am reading more books by black authors. I recently finished The Water Dancer and just started Men We Reaped. Just Mercy, Rabbit, Stamped, Queenie, and Party of Two are also on my TBR list.

I’ve donated to organizations supporting the Black Lives Matter movement and had conversations with people about white privilege and how comments like all lives matter are not valid or appropriate. You cannot tell people how to mourn or how to feel about recent events. And offering up preferable reactions to someone else’s trauma is not only hurtful but it’s harmful. Being defensive, denying these injustices, and making tone deaf comments is not helpful.

“Interrupting the forces of racism is ongoing, lifelong work because the forces conditioning us into racist frameworks are always at play; our learning will never be finished. Yet our simplistic definition of racism -as intentional acts of racial discrimination committed by immoral individuals- engenders a confidence that we are not a part of the problem and that our learning is thus complete”- Robin Diangelo

I’m still learning and I’ll forever be learning. What I do know is that I won’t stay silent. I’ll put in the work to educate myself and continue to act and stand with the many people hurting right now.

April in the books

I had another month of great books including several that have been sitting on my TBR list for awhile. The genres ranged from romance, literary fiction, and suspense to fantasy, historical fiction, and science fiction.

25) Wild at Heart by K.A. Tucker – 5/5 stars

I’m always a little nervous to read sequels because there’s a chance it won’t live up to the first book. But I absolutely loved Wild at Heart. Calla and Jonah were less annoying in this book and I say that lovingly. The characters had a lot of personal growth and it was fun to see Roy and Calla work together as Calla found her place in Alaska.

26) The Wedding Party by Jasmine Guillory – 4/5 stars

I love this universe of characters. This book has been sitting on my bookshelf for too long. It was a quick, fun, cute, and steamy read. I highly suggest The Wedding Date, The Proposal, and now The Wedding Party!

27) Beach Read by Emily Henry – 5/5 stars

I loved this book and it was my April Book of the Month pick. First of all, it’s a book about books. January and Gus are “rivals” from college creative writing classes. It made me giggle because I minored in creative writing and remember the people from workshops who were so good, but so arrogant, Fast forward several years and they are living next to each other. Enter in family loss, heartbreak, trying to find a new normal, and a writing competition and it’s just so fun and heartfelt.

28) Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling – 5/5 stars

It’s so fun to reread the Harry Potter Books. This is my first reread of the Chamber of Secrets since it was published in 1999. I don’t remember loving the second book as much as the others in the series but I actually really enjoyed it. There’s so much I forgot about: Dobby, the flying car, the giant spiders, and the phoenix. All of it was *chefs kiss* perfect.

29) Oona out of Order by Margarita Montimore – 4.5/5 stars

My head is still spinning. My quick take is that this was a fun, modern, pop-cultured filled, emotional read. It’s a book about time travel, and at 19 years old Oona begins to experience her life out of order. Each year on New Year’s Eve when the clock strikes midnight, Oona travels forward or backward and could be in her 50s, 40s, 30s, or 20s. She is quite literally experiencing life out of order. I wish the book went into detail about why it happened or how she was able to warn herself, but alas, I still enjoyed it.

30) Royal Holiday by Jasmine Guillory – 4/5 stars

Another good one by Jasmine Guillory. This book was fun! I loved the royal aspect and the London setting. I also loved that it focused on Vivian, Maddie’s mom. I am looking forward to Party of Two, which will be out in July.

31) Long Bright River by Liz Moore – 4/5 stars

I probably would not have added this to my TBR list if I knew more about it. BUT, that being said, I’m so glad I read it. I went in blind when I saw it available as a skip-the-line copy on the Libby app. It’s a book about addiction and it’s hard to read at times. It also deals with murder and the bond of sisters. It’s not an easy read at 400+ pages of devastating material but I’m glad I read it.

32) The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid – 4.5/5 stars

I really liked the writing style of the book. The interview with Evelyn, how everything unfolded with Monique and then the snippets from gossip magazines – it was so good. It was a fast read and the characters were complex. I didn’t rush to this book because I wasn’t a big fan of Daisy Jones and the Six, another book by this author. But, I liked Evelyn Hugo so much more.

33) Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling – 5/5 stars

I’m so glad I’m rereading this series. So far, Prisoner of Azkaban is my favorite. J.K. Rowling has a talent for having a tiny detail that ends up playing a big part of the plot as a whole and I absolutely love that. I’m looking forward to rereading the Goblet of Fire because I remember it being my favorite of the series all those years ago.

34) A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas – 4/5 stars

I didn’t think I was going to like this book. It was slow moving for the first quarter of it and I really didn’t like Feyre. But the more the story went on I started to care about the characters and really liked reading about this world the author created. I will be reading the rest of the books in the series.

What are you reading this month?

May 2020 bullet journal layout

It’s May 1st, the sun is shining, I’m blasting some music and enjoying a day off from work.

As always, setting up my bullet journal for the month was cathartic. I decided to leave out weekly spreads because my events and to do lists are pretty small these days. So instead I added some extra space for writing in the monthly spread.

For my title page I drew some potted plants and added in some color. I decided to add a calendar page but didn’t add a task page. I also had fun filling out the “currently” sticker I found at Jo-Ann Fabrics to show what I’m currently reading, watching, doing, etc.

Next I added another mood tracker, habit tracker, and highlight section. I’ve been having fun writing down the highlight of my day for the past two months. Especially when it seems a little like every day is the same. It’s a good reminder that there is something good about every day. I’ve also enjoyed tracking my mood. I’ve realized that even if I have an off day here and there, most days have been good.

I’m trying to stay active during the time spent at home. I’m joining the summer Tone It Up program by Katrina and Karena and added that into my May section. The program kicks off May 11. For the last page, I added a space to journal about things during this time. The first thing I’ve added is that I’ve learned I’m a sore loser at board games 😉 My husband and I have been playing sequence and banagrams and I don’t like losing.

So, that’s it for May! I might add weekly spreads back in at some point, but for now this is what I’m going with.

Looking for helpers during the pandemic

After weeks of social distancing, quarantining, staying home as much as possible, an overload of information on social media, and daily news briefings, it’s not uncommon to feel tired, anxious, restless, and just plain unsure.

As a journalist, I’ve been getting weary of writing COVID-19 stories at times. Brene Brown recently said that everyone is handling the pandemic in different ways, but collectively, people are tired— physically, emotionally, and spiritually exhausted.

In challenging times, I am reminded of the quote by Mr. Rogers: “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’” It’s a quote that still resonates today.

I’ve been able to look for the helpers in my job and report about some of the things that people are doing to help others during the pandemic. Many people are making face masks for health care workers and donating hospital gowns or other protective gear to nursing homes and others have donated food and time to serve community members.  

There are endless stories of people helping others and I’m choosing to focus on that and look for ways that I can help when the weariness kicks in.

How are you doing? what helpers have you seen during the pandemic?

Bullet Journal ideas when you’re home during the coronavirus

A bullet journal is a great place to be creative, organize notes and thoughts, and keep track of your to-do list. But, what happens when your to-do list is dwindling (read: non existent) along with events and other tasks because of the coronavirus? What happens when each day is pretty similar and you’re keep yourself busy with games, journaling, reading, writing, streaming services, and puzzles? In my case, I created lists!

The first list is some of the songs I’ve been listening to that made me smile. It’s Holy Week and because there won’t be big gatherings for Easter services and events, I’ve been listening to some songs that remind me that God is with me all the time even when I’m home every day adjusting to this weird time.

The second list features things that have brought me joy while I’ve been home. Whether it’s bullet journaling or blogging, I really enjoy creating things. Those outlets have helped me organize my thoughts and not just keep them inside. Sunshine, fresh air, pets, and FaceTime are some of the other must-haves.

The third is full of love. I got married in June 2018 and I made a list of things my husband and I have done together in 22 months of marriage. Some of my favorites include traveling- Dominican Republic, North Carolina, Florida, and Texas. We’re also big music fans and have seen a lot of concerts together. One of my favorite memories is seeing Johnnyswim. We did a meet and greet before the concert and told them about how our first dance was to one of their songs. During the concert they gave us a shout out and said the song was dedicated to us. Another couple came back to where we were on the lawn and let us have their seats for the song. we went to the stage and they serenaded us. Just thinking about it still makes my heart happy.

The fourth list was completely different than what you see below. I colored the page green and used a quote: “When this is over: may we never again take for granted a handshake with a stranger, full shelves at the store, conversations with the neighbors, a crowded theater, Friday night out, the taste of communion, a routine checkup, the school rush each morning, coffee with a friend, the stadium roaring, each deep breath, a boring Tuesday, and life itself. When this ends may we find that we have become more like the people we wanted to be, we were called to be, we hoped to be, and may we stay that way– better for each other because of the worst.”
– Laura Kelly Fanucc

I love the quote. A lot. but between the green marker and my terrible hand-writing it didn’t look great. So, enter in the Washi tape, hologram paper, and white paper, it became a list of eight things that cannot be cancelled. I loved how it turned out and it made me happy to make a list of some of the good things that cannot be cancelled while it seems like every event is being cancelled.

My fifth list was a quote that I saw recently that I liked. A snippet includes: “And the people stayed home. And read books, and listened, and rested, and exercised, and made art, and played games, and learned new ways of being, and were still. And listened more deeply. some meditated, some prayed, some danced, some met their shadows. And the people began to think differently…” It’s a good reminder that this extra time at home is also a time to relax and heal. The sixth list is books that I want to read at some point this year. I’ve been reading my way through my bookshelf and have really been enjoying it.

What about you? Are you bullet journaling? If so, what are you creating right now?

March in the books

I read a lot of books this month because I found myself at home with a lot of time on my hands. There were a lot of different genres including nonfiction, detective fiction, mystery, historical fiction, thriller, romance, and fantasy.

Here’s a look at what I read:

15) Everything is Figureoutable by Marie Forleo – 3.5/5 stars

I thought there were several good takeaways. I didn’t know about Marie before reading this book, but I liked her tone and personal anecdotes throughout it.

16) The Silkworm (Cormoran Strike #2) by Robert Galbraith – 3.5/5 stars

I enjoyed the second book in the series by Robert Galbraith (aka J.K. Rowling). I think I still liked the first book better, but I’ll definitely continue reading the series. I can’t help but cheer on Cormoran Strike. I like that he has a lot of flaws but is trying to do good and help people out.  

17) The Sun Down Motel by Simone St. James – 5/5 stars

I loved this book! It’s the perfect book to get you out of a reading slump. I don’t read a lot of books involving ghosts, so I didn’t know if I’d like this, but I definitely did. I enjoyed the different timelines and thought the author did a great job because at times it seemed like the timelines were merging together.  Also, who doesn’t love strong female characters solving mysteries (I’m talking to you, Nancy Drew fans).

18) The Hearts Invisible Furies by John Boyne – 4.5/5 stars

“I realized I was finally happy.” This was not a quick or easy read, but my heart sure exploded while reading it. It was sad and maddening but also heartfelt. It’s hard to do the book justice in a brief review, but I’ll say I just really wanted good things to happen to Cyril and rooted for him the whole time. I enjoyed how the book was told throughout the timeline of his life.

19) Maybe You Should Talk to Someone by Lori Gottlieb – 4.5/5 stars

I would suggest this book, especially right now. The book is about a therapist, her therapist, and the human condition. Something I took away: From the devastating to the difficult, people do better than they think they will because of our psychological immune systems. Feelings are more like weather systems they blow in and out and are not permanent.  

20) The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang – 3.5/5 stars

I didn’t know anything about this book before checking it out- just that it seemed to be a popular romance novel. It was way more steamy than I expected, but I ended up liking these characters and their love.

21) The Boy from the Woods by Harlan Coben – 4/5 stars

I loved many of Harlan Coben’s books and his latest didn’t disappoint. I really enjoyed Wilde and Hester. I thought it was face-pasted and had three big twists. I hope we’ll see these characters more in the future.

22) The Two Lives of Lydia Bird by Josie Silver – 4/5 stars

“Everyone has to find their own way back, and if they’re lucky, they have people who love them to hold their hand.” This book is so pretty and put together on the cover and so dark and gloomy on the inside. It’s a good representation of grief and looking put together while going through something. I enjoyed this book and was rooting for Lydia.

23) Dear Edward by Ann Napolitano – 4/5 stars

I can’t say this was an enjoyable read because it’s heavy with grief and hopes for the future that will never be. It was hard to read the chapters about the people on the plane because of this reason. But, I did enjoy seeing Edward grow and move on with his life despite the grief. I also enjoyed his aunt and uncle and how they healed during this time too.

24) Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling – 5/5 stars

I remember reading the Harry Potter series when it first came out 23 years ago. My mom, brother, and I would pre-order the books at a local bookstore and then pick them up when they came out. I’d read the books in 1-3 days depending on the length. I decided to begin rereading the series for the first time since then and I can’t wait to dive into the others. The first book was so fun and full of magic, wonder, and friendship.

What are you reading?

Working from home vs working from home during the pandemic

I typically work from home unless I’m traveling or at an event, so I thought I had a routine down that works for me- take breaks, create a morning routine, stay organized, go on walks, etc. Turns out that went out the window when it became clear that I was going to be working from home and not attending any type of event for the foreseeable future.

That routine, one full of balance, became a little harder. It became: sit at desk most of the day, become anxious and easily stressed out, and snack whenever I want.

I saw something the other day that really resonated with me: you are not working from home; you are at home during a crisis trying to work.

I took a deep breath in and exhaled.

Right. This isn’t typical, I reminded myself. I keep hearing people talk about adjusting to a new normal and it finally set in that, yes, that’s what I’m trying to do.

I’m trying to set up a new routine that is good for mental, physical, and emotional health during this time. I’m focusing on the things I’m grateful for – a job, health, the many people working in the medical field or working in the grocery stores stocking shelves, and technology to keep in touch with family.  

I’m making myself walk away from my desk multiple times a day, I’m prioritizing time for exercise or a walk, I’m limiting time scrolling on social media or other news outlets, and I’m prioritizing time to create and/or read.

I’m still figuring it out. What is working for you?

We’re in this together

Take a deep breath.

It’s been a weird and stressful week. Church services, social events, sporting events, travel plans and more have been cancelled. The shelves of many grocery stores and convenience stores were wiped clean as people went out and bought items in a panic.

Many people have experienced confusion, anxiety, stress, and feelings of not knowing what to do.

People have been advised to wash hands often and practice social distancing by avoiding mass gatherings and maintaining distance when possible.

And although it can be a scary time for an individual, it’s not about one person. It’s about all of us. It’s about being safe and careful but also being there for one another and lending a helping hand whenever possible.

It’s about choosing to think about others because individual actions impact those around us.

Brene Brown wrote about this recently and said we all need a shift in mindset: “We need to stay awkward, brave, and kind and love each other and stay calm.”

My husband and I spent the weekend embracing the time to slow down while spending time together at home. We worked on home projects, cooked food together, read books, watched some shows, and took our dog for a walk and enjoyed the fresh air.

Times seem weird and hard right now but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a lot to be thankful for.

I’m thankful for the blessings surrounding me. I’m thankful for being able to worship from home today and watch the streamed church service. I’m thankful for friends and family. I’m thankful for the ability to get outside, listen to music, get lost in a good book, and write down my thoughts.

Take another deep breath.

We’re all in this together.