Saturday, July 27, 2013

an antidote for Downton Abbey withdrawal

I am incredibly susceptible to suggestion. If you so much as mention a book you're reading, odds are good I'll add it to my to-read list. Whether I ever actually pick it up is another question entirely.

Last week my friend AE raved on Twitter about a book she was reading. My fiction deficiency is well documented here, so to get a glowing endorsement of a relatively new novel from someone whose taste I find very similar to my own, well.

It became a must-read. Okay. In reality, it was on sale for $12 at Target and I was in the mood to do some impulse shopping.

The American Heiress is the debut novel from British author and poet Daisy Goodwin. I fully agree with this New York Times review from a few years ago that the British title, The Last Duchess, is superior. But you know we Americans are far more intrigued by money than by royalty, right?

Ha. Ha ha ha. #royalbaby obsession, anybody?

I said when I started this blog that I wasn't interested in doing book reviews and that remains true. There's an art to a great book review, and it's not one that I have much patience for. Summaries invariably leave out key plot pieces/subjects of discussion and I hate not being thorough. So I'll just share two themes that I enjoyed from the book.

First and foremost, Goodwin's novel satisfied my longing for Downton Abbey. The plot of the book is incredibly similar to the show (British aristocrat marries wealthy American in order, in part, to save his legacy). The edition I bought has a Q&A with Goodwin in the back and she addresses some of the similarity between the two. I have to confess I found myself comparing the two often (it didn't help that her main character is also named Cora!) which isn't entirely fair since they're two different mediums. I think it's probably easier for me to connect to the characters on Downton Abbey with 3 seasons to watch them develop than Goodwin could accomplish in 400 pages.

Second, I was reading this alongside Lean In. Talk about polar opposites! I felt ridiculous having them both on the table at Starbucks at the same time. That said, I think that because I was processing Sheryl Sandberg's work on women in power I looked at the role of women in The American Heiress with more insight than I probably would have normally. Goodwin wasn't trying to write a treatise on the rights of women in the Gilded Age and I don't want to put words in her mouth (or on her page, as it may be). But it's not hard to see that while a lot has changed for women in 150 years, some things are still remarkably the same.

I flew through the book, reading nearly 500 pages in two days. I read incredibly quickly, so don't take that as me saying it was superb. It was however very good, I don't regret buying it, and I'll look for more from Daisy Goodwin in the future.

Any other Downton addicts out there? What was the last novel you read?

Friday, July 26, 2013

What I'm Reading v.2

It only took me one week to be two days late for my own weekly project. This bodes well.

On My Nightstand
Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead 
[Sheryl Sandberg]

I bought this book about 3 months ago, right before life got super crazy. I set it (and everything else) aside. Brittany and I were talking about it recently and she inspired me to pick it back up. Oh my gosh. You may have caught my Twitter ravings as I blew through the first third of the book.

Let's just say I got my soapbox out more than once. I don't get fired up about many things, but women in leadership is one thing guaranteed to get me going.

I peer pressured Lisa into ordering the book so we can talk about it. I was jonesing for the perspective of another woman in a field dominated by men. If you've read it and would like to get in on that conversation, maybe we can set up a Google+ hangout and chat. Girl power, solidarity, all that jazz.

Recently Closed
The American Heiress

I have admitted on many occasions that I don't read much fiction. I have a bad habit of going back to novels I've known and loved, but it is uncommon for me to seek out new works of fiction. But a friend whose taste I respect was raving about this and it was on sale at Target so...
Thoughts to come later.

Recently Added to Goodreads
Getting to 50/50 & Cinderella Ate My Daughter

If a book I'm loving mentions a book, I want to read it. That's one of the biggest contributors to my little problem.

Around Blogland
Lisa's Yarns
Lisa and I have been blog friends for years now. She's a fellow francophile, book lover, and she's recently found herself a northerner relocated to the south. I might know something about that.

What are you reading this week?

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Let's Talk About Shame

A few years ago some internet friends and I participated in something called the "Summer of Harry" where we re-read all of the Harry Potter books in advance of the last movie coming out. We would get together on Twitter and talk about them.

I'll pause to let you absorb just how nerdy we all are.

I jokingly referred to this summer as "The Summer of Brene Brown" and within just a few weeks that ceased to be a joke. Months ago I picked up her latest book Daring Greatly and was completely enamored with it. If "enamored" can also mean "completely uncomfortable with the way she read my mind and probably large chunks of my journal without my permission." I decided that it might be to my benefit to look at her earlier works first and build up to Daring Greatly, so I put it back on the shelf, bought her first two books (I Thought It Was Just Me & The Gifts of Imperfection), and promptly did nothing.

I dove back into her first book last week and decided that in keeping with the vision of this blog I'd be semi-regularly sharing some observations and asking some questions prompted by her work.

Let's begin!

For those of you who don't know who Brene Brown is, click on her name and visit her website to learn more. Back? Great. Her first book is titled "I Thought It Was Just Me (But It Isn't): Making the Journey from "What Will People Think?" to "I Am Enough." Brown is a researcher who has been studying shame for years. The first statement I underlined came in the first paragraph of the introduction, which is typically a good sign.
When people hear the word shame, they often have one of two responses: "I'm not sure what you mean by shame, but I know that I don't want to talk about it," or "Oh, shame. I know it well, but I don't want to talk about it." 
We all experience shame. It is an absolutely universal emotion. (xiii)
She mentions right from the start that even just talking about shame is enough to make us feel shame. It's somehow shaming to be ashamed. Which, if it is a universal emotion, is absolutely ridiculous. If every human being has felt, or will feel, shame at some point, why would it be shaming to talk about it?

I think my initial reaction to this book stemmed from something she hits on in the introduction (which, to be candid, is as far as we're getting today. It's that jam packed with goodness.): "We spend an extraordinary amount of time and energy tackling the surface issues, which rarely results in meaningful, lasting change. When we dig past the surface, we find that shame is often what drives us..." (xvii) This book is like having coffee with that friend who you know isn't going to let you get away with saying things are "fine" but is going to poke and prod until you "spit it out."

So let's just sit on one of the very first issues she addresses (in the title of the book, no less).
Shame forces us to put so much value on what other people think that we lose ourselves in the process of trying to meet everyone else's expectations. (xvii)

In other words - we need to move from "What will people think?" to "I am enough."

I know most of you haven't read this book, which is fine. You don't need to in order to chime in. Because I'm going to go out on a limb and say that each and every one of us at one point or another has felt overwhelmed by the weight of trying to be the person we think we're expected to be - and then experienced shame upon realizing we aren't, or can't, be that perfect model person. As she puts it, "Shame is the voice of perfectionism." (xxiii)

Chapter One talks about understanding shame, and we'll dive into that next week. Today, I'm curious about two things:

  1. How would you, personally, define shame? (no Webster's or Google invited)
  2. What's your reaction to the tidbits I quoted from this book? 

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

What I'm Reading v.1

If you've been around the internet for any length of time, you've probably skimmed your way through a plethora of "What I'm [fill in the blank] Wednesday" posts.

(Aside: can we pause to reflect on WHY iPhone autocorrect insists on capitalizing Internet?? Ugh.)

This is hardly original and I don't even care! It's not inspired by any other blogger I'm currently reading and is solely an attempt to convince myself to consistently publish at least one post per week.

Each Wednesday I'll share with you one or two books I've dabbled in over the past week, the two most recent books I've added to my Goodreads "to-read" shelf, and one blog I've been reading. At this point it's not a linkup, but I would very much like to hear what you're reading. Because I'm not overextended enough and need to expand my lists of things to read.

Here we go! A tradition is born!

On My Nightstand

Grace for the Good Girl
{Emily P. Freeman}
I have so much to say about this one that I don't even know where to start.

Recently Added to Goodreads

Daring Greatly & The Gifts of Imperfection

It's the summer of Brene Brown up in here.

Are we friends on Goodreads yet?

Around Blogland

Where My Soul Belongs
Brittany has, over the past 3 years since we discovered each other online, become one of my very closest friends. She's truly fantastic, not only because she indulges me in all my eccentricities. In fact, I think that my current read (Grace for the Good Girl) might have originally been a recommendation from her.

What are you reading this week?

Thursday, July 11, 2013

the most important and least recognized need of the human soul

To be rooted, that is. At least according to Simone Weil.

Last week my friend Tracee was encouraging folks to do their mid-year check-in on their OneWord365. She was the impetus for my taking time to share what being rooted means to me. Well, Tracee and Ken Jennings (of all people).

I've been reading Maphead this week and the closing quote from Chapter 3 was the real kickstarter to this whole week of actually writing on this blog.

To be perhaps the most important and the least recognized need of the human soul.
That quote comes from Simone Weil's book L'Enracinement, prélude à une déclaration des devoirs envers l'être humain (The Need for Roots: prelude towards a declaration of duties toward mankind in English). Let's just say that I'm going to be going on a desperate search for this book (preferably in French) as soon as the publish button is hit on this post.

I've written already that initially my thoughts about rootedness revolved around stability. A sense of permanence here in Nashville that I haven't had, in a full sense, in my adult life. Shortly after choosing "rooted" as my word for this year, I expanded my notion of what it meant after meeting an amazing woman in California.

Most recently, I've been reminded that as roots grow, they need to be transplanted. If you keep a growing plant in its tiny, original pot it won't thrive. You have to pull the roots up and out before repotting them in a new place where they can continue to grow. So my tendency to fear and prevent uprooting might not always be in my best interest.

The Mediterranean, as seen from Monte Carlo, Monaco.
2008::my grandest transplant ever.

Needless to say this year has turned out to be a lot more thought provoking than I initially expected it to be. And that's not a bad thing.

Where do you stand halfway through 2013? Are you where you wanted to be?

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

a different take on putting down roots

In January, I spent a week serving at the LA Dream Center. If you're not familiar with the Dream Center and the amazing difference they're making in Los Angeles, go check out their website. I first heard of what Matthew Barnett was hoping to do in that neighborhood probably close to 15 years ago at a youth conference I attended.

Outside the Dream Center, located in the old Queen of Angels hospital

One of the opportunities we had (in addition to visiting with the homeless on Skid Row and helping with clothing distribution) was to go out on home visits to families participating in the Foster Care Intervention Program. In a nutshell, families that are on the edge of being split apart and having their children sent to foster care receive help in getting back on their feet. These are families that would lose their kids for reasons such as inadequate housing, lack of proper food, etc. (not instances where there is any abuse). Sometimes all they need is something as simple as a crib for their baby. We visited several families before winding up in the apartment of a single mom who rocked my world.

She told us her story, how she wound up supporting her daughter on her own and how close they came to the bottom before receiving help from loving people in their church and the Dream Center. What got me, though, was when she asked us if she could share with us "her verse" - the verse she had claimed for her little family and the promises they clung to.

Any guesses?

Of course it was my passage from Jeremiah that inspired my OneWord2013.

This amazingly strong, determined woman shared with us how they felt rocked by the winds. There was so much insecurity in their world, but she dreamed of a time when they were able to stand tall. Like an oak tree in the wind, maybe blown about a bit but securely rooted into the ground. The tree was a safe place to run to, to take shelter from the storms of life. She hoped that her home - when she someday had a home of her own - would be a place that provided safe harbor. That because they were firmly rooted, others would be protected.

That encounter rocked me. That thousands of miles apart, God would bring this woman and I together in such a special, personal way. When we got home, I found this necklace to remind me. To remind me to pray for her, for her daughter, and for myself. That we'd all seek to grow deep roots not only for our own security but for the security of others who come behind us, as rootless as we had been.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013


I went back to my old blog for a moment to pull the post where I introduced my "one word" for 2013. It didn't take me long to discover that I never actually wrote one! My friend Alece started shepherding this OneWord project a few years ago, and last year I joined in for the first time. The concept is pretty simple: you choose a word to be your theme for the year, in lieu of a laundry list of resolutions. In 2012 my word was "pluck" and let me tell you - I definitely learned what it meant to display "resourceful courage in the face of difficulties" over the course of my first year in Nashville.

It took me some time to settle on what I felt like 2013 should be about. Have you ever heard that you shouldn't ask for patience (for example) unless you are willing to be put in situations requiring you to display patience? That was on my mind as I thought about what I was willing to learn this year.

Finally, I couldn't ignore the word that kept playing on repeat in my mind as 2012 came to a close:


The most difficult question I'm asked is "Where are you from?" The idea of place is really important to me, but I have never really been able to put down roots in a place long enough to think of it as mine. I'm 27 years old and I have lived in 5 states and 1 foreign country since I turned 18. As Year 1 drew to an end in Nashville, I knew that I was meant to stay here. And that would require commitment. Roots. Two things that are incredibly difficult for me. It's not that I don't want to have deep roots, it's that I shrink from the thought of someday having to uproot myself (again). That hurts.

In the end, it was reading Jeremiah 17:7-8 that sealed this choice for me:
Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord and whose trust is the Lord. For he will be like a tree planted by the water, that extends its roots by a stream and will not fear when the heat comes; but its leaves will be green and it will not be anxious in a year of drought nor cease to yield fruit.
I want my life to look like that. Unwavering, steadfast. That kind of security comes from the roots up, which meant that this year I was going to have to pay special attention to my roots.

This was intended to be a mid-year progress report, but it's hard to report progress when you never shared the journey in the first place. So today I'll just share my word with you, and in the next couple of posts I'll share some of the highlights on this journey the past few months.

Have you chosen a word for your year? I'd love to hear it!

Sunday, July 7, 2013

I have a confession to make

Okay, here goes.

I judge a book by its cover.

I bought Maphead by Jeopardy winner Ken Jennings solely because of its cover. It caught my eye in a Barnes & Noble months ago with its clever cut out and use of maps. I wasn't entirely sure what it was about, but I know that geography fascinates me so I figured I couldn't really go wrong.

In college I took a course called Cultural Geography. My biggest takeaway from that class was an ability to correctly identify all the countries of the world in their proper place on a blank map. Awesome for cocktail parties, let me tell you. In all seriousness, one of our texts was Space and Place: The Perspective of Experience by Tuan. Thinking about how WHERE I am influences how I filter and experience everything and everyone around me was pretty eye-opening.

Chapter 2 of Maphead opens with a quite from Gabriel Marcel: "An individual is not distinct from his place. He is his place."


For me, everything I am has been shaped by where I've been. I feel most like myself when I'm standing on the Northern California coastline, breathing in saltwater and surrounded by gorgeous little succulents. But that's not the only place imprinted on me...I breathe deeper and find myself most calm and centered in the midst of "big trees" - an inevitable byproduct of growing up in Redwood country and in the lush green forests of Oregon.

Right now, all of that and more is shaping how I interact with my current space/place. Nashville.

At first I thought this book was just going to be Jennings spouting off trivia to show his own intelligence but it's providing a ton of food for thought. This blog is all about the "next page." One of the most important lessons I've learned is that you can't understand what's coming next without a strong grasp on what just passed. You don't know where you're going if you don't know where you've been.

What places are the most important to you? What makes them so special?

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