February fiction

February was a BIG reading month for me, with equal numbers of fiction and non.  I’ll save the nonfiction for next week.  Here’s the fun stuff!

Feb fiction

Lucky Us: A Novel by Amy Bloom

I have to say that this book was an enigma to me.  I really liked Amy Bloom’s other novels, and the characters in this one were interesting and well-developed, but the story took so many twists and turns, which I suppose was part of the point she was making about the epic history of the 1940s, that I stopped caring about what would happen.  Some of the transitions were awkward.  I’m not sure why I finished it except out of loyalty to a favorite author.  Disappointing.

The Boston Girl: A Novel by Anita Diamant

I just love Anita Diamant and will read anything she cares to publish.  I also love stories like this one about immigrants finding their way in America.   Addie Baum is The Boston Girl and answers her granddaughter’s question, “how did you get to be the woman you are today?”  The character was feminist in her own way, wanting to finish school and even attend college at a time of child labor and harsh conditions.  This is a captivating story and a fun read.  Recommend.

Morning Glory: A Novel by Sarah Jio

Blech.  I am really not sure what happened here because I do like reading Sarah Jio’s novels.  This one was so poorly written that I felt annoyed.  The plot was far beyond predictable to be irritating, the characters were not interesting or complex, and I wasn’t at all interested in the nicely tied up ending.  Such a disappointment.  I hate to say that because I usually like this author so much.

The Bookstore by Deborah Meyler

Awful.  I think I read about this in O Magazine and it sounded great because it’s about a woman working in her favorite bookstore.  Except it really wasn’t.  The main character finds herself pregnant just as she’s beginning grad school and is in a very shallow relationship, and then the book just goes on and on about that.  She is sweet, but not compelling enough to read about.  I put it down after a few chapters.

Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty

The beginning pages were all about the petty relationships and battles between school mothers.  I kept going because a good friend loved this book, and I’m glad I did.  It quickly got very interesting.  I won’t spoil it for anyone, but do persevere and read past the first 100 pages.  There are many mysteries to solve and it gets really intriguing.

What Alice Forgot also by Liane Moriarty

Goodness goodness goodness.  There must have been something hormonal going on with me when I started this book because I was crying and having trouble actually seeing the words through my tears. Not just a little emotional… I’m talking heaving sobs, people. Ridiculous.  Anyway, it’s your basic amnesia story.  A 40-year-old woman falls at the gym and then doesn’t remember anything after being 29.  She gets to see what happened in her life without remembering any of it.  Eventually it helps her reassess and make much better decisions.  Thought-provoking and oh so good!

Lisette’s List: A Novel by Susan Vreeland

I didn’t even know Susan Vreeland, one of my absolutely favorite writers, had written a new novel! It was one of the Kindle recommendations after I finished Madame Picasso.  Her books are worlds unto themselves and are filled with art history, excellent and lovable characters, and great storytelling.  This one wasn’t nearly as compelling as her others, but Vreeland didn’t disappoint in creating an entire world unto itself as she always does so well and in inventing vivid characters you can’t help but love.

What have you been reading lately? And are you on Goodreads? I’d love to connect there.

Currently Reading

More monthly book reports

Everything I’ve Ever Read (I think)

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SoulSpacing the rest of your life

Here’s what’s going on with our group… we are in week 7 and we are almost all “behind schedule” and overwhelmed.  Doing such an enormous project (not one room but our entire home) so quickly (8 weeks!) may not have been the best idea.

Xorin was so gracious to agree to be interviewed for our group.  He was incredible… so warm and full of excellent advice.  You can listen to it here.

In the past couple of weeks, I’ve felt huge internal resistance about tackling any more projects or areas in my home.  As recommended, I saved what will be the toughest space for last, building up successes as motivation, and now I don’t want to do it at all.  This particular space is full of personal and sentimental items… old cards and letters and photos.  Every time I go in this space, I look around, feel overwhelmed, and leave.  One day this week, I took one drawer of old photos to look through… and after several hours of sorting and reviewing them, ended up putting them all back where I got them.

I’ve been feeling terrible about myself because of it.  Why can’t I manage to finish what I started?

Listening to the call…  I had an aha moment.  Keeping the process small, soulspacing one room at a time, and doing each phase until you FEEL you are finished (no timelines) would be much easier… and definitely more fun.  Feeling the energy of that completed space would be motivation to move forward with another room.  Of course! Here I am trying to purge the entire house at once, running around like crazy from garage to kitchen to bedroom closet, reimagining spaces and getting them all confused.  And no room is completely through the process.

Xorin said that our environment is constantly shifting and changing, as is our life, so this process is an ongoing and evolving one.  Things shift and change with time and that’s perfectly ok.

So I’m going to begin again in a much more laid-back fashion.  There will be no rush.  I’ll be in each phase and completely surrender to it, letting what feels right lead me forward.  First, I will stop thinking so much about it!

windchimeIn the interview, Xorin also said that in looking back at his career, he sought projects with passion and creativity and excitement as his goal.  He stumbled upon something that he loves and it was a natural progression and journey.

That sounds so much better than me sitting in my house and trying to dream up what’s next for me. Getting out there and just trying things is the way to go. And no pressure… just because one thing didn’t fill me with inspiration and gratitude doesn’t mean there isn’t something else.

And I also love that he’s ok with being in a pause right now to see what’s next. I am so impressed with how in touch he is with himself, his needs, and his goals.

relaxThis past week or two, I have let myself slow down more than I have in years.  I have let myself lay on the couch and read a book or sit outside in our new sunroom and journal or just stare at the trees.  I spent an entire day with the only to-do being visiting my sister and her new baby.

I must say, I honestly can’t remember what I was filling my days with before! I know there was never enough time and I felt hugely rushed.  But what was I actually doing? I can see why Mr. B was always wondering how I wasn’t feeling like I have so much free time during weekdays when my daughter is at school.

Of course it feels freeing to release physical objects that no longer serve us and to reimagine how to use that empty space.  But these non-physical things are also clutter: fear of being judged, anxiety about success or failure, worry about being accepted, unfinished projects, too many obligations, exhaustion, feeling we are too much or too little, reluctance to let go, toxic relationships, guilt, regret… you get the idea.  We need to peacefully let these things go too.

And so I am facing some of these now.  I am resting.  I am forgiving myself.  I am accepting where I am right now.  I have been decluttering my house and my schedule, but I also need to focus on decluttering my emotions and heart.  And so I also have set an intention that going forward, each and every action should bring forth meaning, peace, growth, or joy.  Most of the time, I can create those feelings inside myself by mindfully participating in daily tasks with wonder and gratitude.  I am asking myself how I want to feel, what I want each occasion to be like for each participant, and what goals it serves.  I am asking myself repeatedly, “Am I speaking and behaving how I wish to be? Is this who I am wanting to become?”

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I’m introverted and darn proud of it

Macro and quotationScreen Shot 2014-12-21 at 5.22.05 PMHave you visited the Introvert, Dear website? I regularly feel validated and uplifted when I do.

I have learned a new way of explaining the difference between introverts and extroverts. It’s all about where your energy comes from.  Both may very much like being with people, doing things and going places, but introverts need recovery time after being with other people, whereas that is exactly what fuels extroverts.

I’ve learned how to appear vibrant and comfortable around groups of people, animated and vocal.  However, I know that I need quiet alone time afterwards.  If it is a huge energy drain, like a large chaotic kids birthday party or chaperoning a kindergarten field trip, God help me, then I make sure to balance it with calm and quiet, at least the same number of hours as the craziness.

I am writing this post on Sunday afternoon just following a busy morning filled with screaming 5th graders planning and performing skits, talking over each other, and just generally being their crazy selves.  Mr. B took my daughter to the Children’s Museum because he thankfully knows by now how I am and that I need some silence after that.  :)

And so I’ll say goodbye for now and go read a book and listen to the birds in the backyard.  See you all on Thursday!

“Isn’t it refreshing to know that what comes perfectly natural for you is your greatest strength? Your power is in your nature. You may not think it’s a big deal that you can spend hours immersed in something that interests you—alone—but the extrovert next door has no idea how you do it.”
Laurie A. Helgoe, Introvert Power: Why Your Inner Life Is Your Hidden Strength

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SoulSpace update: what does your clutter represent?

soul cakeThese past few weeks, I have been working toward settling my frantic, to-do-list self down and finding inner peace.  I know that sounds grandiose and it’s probably really quite simple.  Sometimes clearing outer clutter helps clear inner clutter.  Sometimes giving myself permission to relax isn’t enough and I need outer permission to take it easy.  I need a guide.

I spend most of my time at home and therefore a calming, peaceful home environment that truly reflects my spirit is essential.  I was gifted the lovely book SoulSpace: Transform Your Home, Transform Your Life — Creating a Home That Is Free of Clutter, Full of Beauty, and Inspired by You by my friend Amy about a year ago and I loved using it to guide me toward a home that more reflects me and my family.  Now our 100-person bookclub that Amy started is on week 6, CREATE.  It is a stage all about manifesting.

Marianne Williamson’s introduction to the book says it so well: “SoulSpace is about more than how we decorate our homes; it’s about how we care for ourselves. It guides us into a deeper understanding of more than mere home decoration: it teaches us how to create a home that provides not only for our physical comfort but for our emotional comfort too.”

In their new book, Breathing Room: Open Your Heart by Decluttering Your Home, Melva Green and Lauren Rosenfeld write that “your heart is like a home. The home is like a heart. And you, my friend, can make both places open, light-filled, and a joy to reside in.”

They also wisely write that…

“Our physical clutter is simply a manifestation of the emotional clutter we carry inside. If we attempt to remove the physical clutter without consciously acknowledging the emotional clutter it represents, then two things might happen. First, we might resist decluttering altogether because of the natural urge to turn away from our painful feelings. Second, we may find that even if we have the courage to remove the clutter, if we don’t mindfully and compassionately acknowledge our feelings, the physical clutter will return, because the emotions that caused the clutter want and need to be acknowledged and will manifest as physical clutter again and again until we do so. In the first step, we also introduce you to the emotions that tend to generate clutter and teach you how to loosen their hold on your heart.”

Agap being_bf206So.

In beginning this process, I had to accept that I was feeling hugely overwhelmed by the task before me.  In our group, it’s been a very common theme.  We have gradually encouraged each other to shift those feelings of overwhelm toward mindfulness… letting our feelings be there and acknowledging that they are valid.  I have gone from there to anger (at my excess belongings and at myself for allowing it all in) to release and finally landed in peace.

What I’ve found my own piles and stacks to mean is that I was protecting myself “just in case” and also I was surrounding myself with past letters and photos because I couldn’t quite let go just yet.

For example, I was hanging on to 10 extra 11×9 baking dishes because there was still this idea in my mind that I might become more “Martha Stewart”ish and host large gatherings.  Most of the kitchen items fell into this category, like they were all jumbled together in every cabinet or drawer just in case a party is called for.  Well, I realized that I am not likely to ever want that party! I like simplicity and comfort.  I like having one family over at a time so we can really focus on each other and talk.  And it’s the same for having 5 sets of sheets, a closet full of clothes I’ll never wear, maternity clothes and baby clothes sitting in bins in the garage, etc.  It was all a hypothetical life and I felt great letting that fall away, accepting the simplicity of who I am and what I want our home and our life to be in this stage.

As far as keeping sentimental items, I had to draw the line somewhere.  Middle school notes passed between classes evoked good memories, but I know that those thoughts are there regardless of whether I keep the shoebox of papers or not.  They already became part of me when I got them in the first place.  I enjoyed reading them for 15 minutes, reflected about how much I have grown stronger and more sure of myself over the years, and tossed them.  Same for old journals, yearbooks, cards, and letters.  I don’t need 100 cards signed by my grandparents… one or two can represent all.  I condensed 12 boxes of memorabilia down to 1, mainly deciding to keep certain things so that someday I can show them to my daughter.  Also, I may make a collage with some of these special things so I can look at them and enjoy them much more than I ever could when they were hiding in a closet.

Going through these items mindfully allowed me also to uncover some aspects of myself that I want to incorporate much more of in my life.  I’d forgotten how much I enjoy music.  I was reminded that Judaism is hugely important to who I am and I want to make sure I live and embody those values as a role model for my daughter.  (But I don’t need to keep ALL the books I had and donated them to our synagogue for someone else to study.) I let go of lots of sewing projects, but I did keep a couple in case I find time to explore that hobby again because it used to bring me much peacefulness and time to contemplate.

Eliminating the excess became an analogy for the realization I had when I was a child at a slumber party… that even if I don’t have my security blanket and special pillow, I am still quite capable and completely safe.  “Stuff” can’t really keep us safe.

Bliss framed-001CREATE and the final two phases, Elevate and Celebrate, will finish giving us the opportunity to bring those important aspects of ourselves into physical manifestation in our homes.  It’s about displaying those precious photos, living with your true self, being surrounded by a positive, inspiring, and enriching environment every single day.

Xorin Balbes promised at the beginning of his book that “once you face your belongings, confront your fears, unclutter your space, and discover your personal desires and truths, you will have more energy, feel more inspired, access more creativity, and find that you can harness your creativity and find refuge, renewal, and splendor within your own four walls.”

So far it’s all remarkably true.

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Sometimes you just need time to veg

Mo restingThis is my sidekick, Mo, and this is where he and I have been hanging out the past few days.  We head out to our new sunroom and we sit, he in the sun, watching the birds and the squirrels eat our birdseed and the trees sway in the breeze.  I particularly adore hearing the tones of our windchime.  We are content to sit here for hours.

This is new to me.  I just don’t sit still very much… I prefer to be engaged in action or in mind (or both).  But I am highly enjoying it! Finding that inner spiritual quiet has been enjoyable and calming.  And I have long intended to do this but never actively pursued it.

Following several weeks of purging about 1/3 of our possessions, I literally have the physical space to breathe and relax.  And just as I suspected, that outer world is a macrocosm of our inner world.  It was necessary to clear out all the “stuff” so that I could stop focusing on all of it… moving it from here to there, organizing it into various shelves and containers, cleaning or dusting it, looking for something.  Now there’s nothing more to do… we don’t own any more than we need and use and I know exactly where every single thing is! This frees up a huge chunk of time… hence the days vegging in the sunroom.

birds fountainI am loving the quiet commune with nature.  I’m enjoying my reflections.  I like that I actually feel and inhabit each moment in the day, as opposed to my usual way of rushing from one thing to another and then wondering where the day went.  I also think and feel somehow that I am supposed to do this.

I know many of you cultivate this quiet as a regular part of your day.  Tell me what your own ritual is and how it helps you.  I’m intrigued!

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Soulful home – the discover stage

When I was originally making choices and trying to incorporate color into the living and dining rooms, I had absolutely no idea how to go about it.  I was very conscious of how my house would look to others.  I chose pieces and arranged my shelves based on that.

living roomThree years later, I honestly no longer care if it’s beautiful by anyone else’s standards except for the three of us who live here (and generally those other two go along with what I like, which makes it easy).

“DISCOVER is about taking our fantasies and incorporating them into our daily lives via actual, tangible things we can touch and hold, pack into the backseats of our cars, and install in our bedrooms, kitchens, living rooms, or gardens to remind us of an integral part of our souls.”

Balbes writes in SoulSpace that it’s very important in the Discover stage “to step outside your usual paths” and go to different stores, using Discover “to translate your dreams in to reality… open your eyes to the possibilities inherent in the unexpected.” It’s true that you have to think outside of the box.  If you need a table, you may end up making one out of two sculptures you love and a piece of glass or wood.  The important aspect here is to allow yourself time to come upon things you absolutely love.  (This stage, like all the others, is not meant to be completed in one week.)

In our Facebook group, we are sharing Pinterest boards mostly.  It’s fun to shop from your own home and that’s mostly what I’ve done.  I also love that Discover is one of those stages that you continually come back to.  Your home is never “done” because we who live in it are always changing.  Reading that helped give me permission to let go of some things that I really don’t care for anymore.

living room 2If our home is to be a sanctuary, it needs to be a respite and an inspiration to us.  That means comfortable furniture and soft blankets, soothing artwork, and peaceful sounds.  As Balbes writes, “home should be a place [where we] could grow, learn, live, love, and achieve in, a place where [we] could truly feel inspired and at peace.”

Technically, I think we could do this with IKEA furniture, but since we’re able to expand our horizons a bit, I’m enjoying looking for different things that speak to me.  For the most part, Mr. B and I have the same taste and he’s fine with my purchases.  I am ok with some empty spaces because I know we will come upon something that we love and we’ll be able to put it in that perfect spot.  It’s a pretty big adjustment for me… not rushing to fill a space just to call it done.

Creating nooks for conversation and shared activities can do wonders to bring people together. Create more intimacy at home, and you will become more intimate in the world.

I’m definitely spending part of every day sorting and purging, but I am also enjoying some downtime.  Our new enclosed porch is the perfect spot for dreaming, reading, and resting.patio sofa

Different parts of it get sun and different times, and the evenings are nice too… I hung up some twinkle lights.  We have been eating dinner out there.

patio tableI love it when I’m doing laundry and I look out the window and see this…

patio nookIt’s sort of an invitation, don’t you think?

This week I tackled some of the garage and attic (one little family – so much stuff!), the playroom (huge project!) the hall closet, a bathroom cabinet, and a few drawers here and there.  Here’s a “before and after” of our hall closet, just for fun.  That simple over-the-door unit really helped with gift bags and ribbons! I was having a hard time seeing what I had with all my small bins and I usually left a mess behind. Also, I am hugely simplifying our containers of holiday crap decorations that were in this closet and storing them in a few labeled Rubbermaid tubs in the garage, one per holiday only.

hall closet before and after

“On your Discover journey, look for objects and pieces that hold an idea of what you want to become or that embody an important way of being that you would like to master.”  I want to become relaxed, comfortable in my own skin, connected to nature.  Tell us… do you already do this? Is it time for a refresh?


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