07 May 2018

When once I proudly proclaimed I would never read a self-help or self-awareness book, or any type of non-fiction that would steer me in any one particular direction, I now cannot put them down. I always stayed away from self-help sections in the bookstores, and now, in my early forties after battling breast cancer, with a toddler who runs my day and life chapters changing each minute (most recently for some really amazing opportunities!), I am easily drawn towards any book that will help actualize my fears, anxieties, change behaviors, learn more, deal more, live better and live happier.

It's been an interesting and absolutely challenging four years. I used to blog all the time and had a decent readership. I was excited about the books I would select to read, finish in a week or less, and then spend time putting together quality content for a thorough review. I then had a baby, was diagnosed with breast cancer when he was seven months old, went through a double mastectomy, chemo, and radiation, and two reconstructions, and while I still (obviously) take medicine every day, I'm thankfully rounding the corner to having it further and further away in my rear view mirror. I have grown more in my faith, learned a lot about patience (that's mostly because of hello, a toddler and all...!), and generally just really begun to appreciate life and living. Now. Now when I'm at the age I am now, I finally think I appreciate more things and recognize more than I ever have before on the toxic things I need to let go off, and the positive aspects I need to make more regular actions in my life.

The Power of Habit (listen to an audio sample by clicking here - the narrator was awesome, by the way) was eye-opening. Find the trigger, or the cue that makes you delve into your habit, and change that cue, and then give yourself a reward for that change. Do it, make yourself do it - even if it means tying your running shoes on first thing in the morning when you really don't want to run. Change the cue to change the routine. 

The last few chapters unexpectedly went down a different route a bit with extremely detailed examples of social habits and crowd influence, which while I found interesting, didn't relate to what I thought the general idea of the book was intending to focus on, which was how habit can be debilitating or positively life-changing, and how the smallest change in the pattern of your behavior can change any of your habits. It's an excellent overview, a fascinating peek into the whys and hows of what we do and how we do it, and I highly recommend it overall. It certainly changed my perspective on what I want to do with the rest of my life, what I want to instill in my son, and how I want to behave for my own personal growth and health. I want to enjoy this life and not be held back by any old habits that walk me down the path of fear and anxiety. I'm done with that, folks.

FTC Disclosure: I downloaded this audiobook through my membership on Audible.com

About the Author
Charles Duhigg worked at the New York Times, won a Pulitzer Prize, studied at Yale and Harvard, and is the author of a multitude of articles and books, including The Power of Habit and Smart Faster Better.

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26 February 2018

The Diabolic and The Empress, by S.J. Kincaid

It's been a while since I read science-fiction, or teen fiction, and now I think I'm properly hooked. With both of these incredibly fun and thrilling rides, I may have decided to stay on the young adult or teen fiction roller coaster of fun for just a little while longer.

The Diabolic is a brilliantly designed story of a young woman who is genetically engineered to be a protector, to fully embody all areas of defense, strength, intelligence, and cunning, in order to protect the one she's assigned to. But when Nemesis has to take the place of the one she's to protect, quite a different path is created for everyone as Nemesis suddenly begins to conflict with the feelings of her duty to protect Sidonia, and her newfound feelings that were not programmed in her.

I really got caught up in this story and enjoyed every second of it. Each page was a complete ride from start to finish, and I was intrigued by this character, Nemesis, who seemed robotic in fight-protect scenes, but felt an internal battle when her own emotions began to creep up on her. I would have wished for more of that developed, more moments when maybe she could have fallen down that rabbit hole for just a second to be fully encased in feelings that were not full love, or full hatred, or full protection, but were ambivalent, or fully geared towards a friendship more than what was programmed. Regardless, that's just me. I loved the story overall!

The Empress is the sequel to The Diabolic, and I must admit that
while I am a little over trilogies, I sort of felt sad that this one was just over when I turned that last page. I wanted even more of Nemesis' addicting new world and thrilling chapters, her new fight she would have to carry on against the one she once truly loved. I wanted more, and I will without a doubt beg for a third installment so I can get my ample fill of this futuristic science-fiction world so filled with religious hypocrisy and zero religious and scientific balance. This was a very well-thought out and written story and Nemesis truly became an interesting character with each page - her struggle between being a cold and emotionless person to one confused with the occasional feeling and sense of new duty was enticing and interesting. I yearn for one more in the series. Does anyone know if there are more?

FTC Disclosure: I checked both books out from my local library in Jacksonville, Florida.

About the Author 
S. J. Kincaid was born in Alabama, grew up in California, and attended high school in New Hampshire. She interned for a politician in Washington, DC, and received degrees from universities in Illinois and Ohio, but it was while living beside a haunted graveyard in Edinburgh, Scotland, that she realized she wanted to be a writer. Several years, several manuscripts, and several jobs later, Ms. Kincaid now lives in California.

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06 December 2017

How We Read My Son's Favorite Children's Books

First and foremost, let's just get this out of the way. What I am sharing is what works for my son. There is no magical solution for every child, and it takes time to figure it out. Sometimes it takes longer than other kids, and THAT'S OKAY. No child is perfect. What worked for your parents or another parent and their kid, may not work for you. And again, THAT'S OKAY.

Every child is uniquely different and does and likes things a certain way. It's our challenge in life to figure out our kids and by the time we do, time has gone by so fast, anyway. Don't judge yourself as less than another mom or dad because their kid does something different than your kid, or their kid is doing something you wish yours would do. Stop self-shaming. Stop allowing other parents to shame you. And ask yourself this question, "have you judged others and maybe made them feel less than you because you feel your parenting skills are better?" It happens. I've done it. I've sat there and judged others for small things. It's a slippery slope, but I have to pull myself away from the toxicity and remind myself that just as our kids aren't going to be perfect, neither are we. We all make mistakes, we all choose different things to teach our children. Sometimes that means a doughnut and not a carrot. It happens. I guess the only real "rule," if there is one, is that when you notice yourself judging others, apologize. When you notice others judging you, walk away, remove the toxicity, pray for them, whatever works for you. I want my teeny, tiny little corner of the internet to be a judgement-free zone.

Phew. Done with that part. On to the books!

When my four-year-old son likes a book, he doesn't just like it, he LOVES it. To the point where we read it for nap time, bedtime and any other random time in-between for about two weeks. We exhaust it to the point of no return. If he likes it and I don't, oh boy. There be a struggle, insurmountable beyond an average stressful day, right? But if we both like it, an adventure we shall have!

The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore is one such book that will always make our all-time favorites list. I absolutely choked up on the final pages, and my son still brings this book up when certain moments in our day remind him of the story. The fifteen-minute short-film on YouTube is beyond amazing. You can find my review with all the links by clicking here.

Our current favorites, in no particular order, are the ones pictured above and listed below. He loves them all, but right now, he really leans towards Nightsong, by Ari Berk and Loren Long. And I can't blame him, it is quite a sweet tale.
  • Little Cub, by Olivier Dunrea - a little bear cub in the woods with no one to care for him meets an Old Bear who has no one to care for either.
  • Boy + Bot, by Ame Dyckman and Dan Yaccarino - A boy meets a robot and they become instant friends.
  • Gracie, the Lighthouse Cat, by Ruth Brown - Based on events in the late 1800s of a daughter and her family's lighthouse when she helped save a shipwrecked boat, this story is based on a cat named Gracie who saves her kitten from the storm as well.
  • Angry Dragon, by Thierry Robberecht and Philippe Goosens- A boy with big emotions and how to process anger or disappointment.
  • Where the Wild Things Are, by Maurice Sendak - the classic tale of the adventure of a little boy meeting the wild things.
  • Nightsong, by Ari Berk and Loren Long - a baby bat learns how to use his voice to "see" in the night and grow braver in his flight.

But how does any book become our favorite?

My son's default answer is usually "no" to everything new at first, so getting him to try a new book can be a struggle. When he does agree to it (normally because I start reading it out loud for myself), then he begins to listen and absorb.

It becomes "our favorite" with these three things:
  • Beautiful illustration
  • Meaningful story
  • Presentation, presentation, presentation
The last one is the key, at least for me and my son. If I really like a story's message, or appreciate the artwork and want my son to experience it also, I have to get my game on. I have to be ready to act out the story as much as I can. I've sometimes even gotten up and acted out a page. But it's usually in my voice only and how I deliver the words that matters to him. I'll sometimes change words or sentence structure, adapting it to the way I know the message will become clear for him on the first few times reading it. There's no rule that says you have to read each word exactly as it's written on the page, right? After all, when you read a book and there's a complicated scene or sentence, doesn't your mind try to translate it to something you're more familiar with? Why not use that same tactic when reading to your children? I know how my son looks at things and what words he likes to hear, so I'll add them in where I can to help the story move for him and he can better understand it. I don't change it drastically, of course, or permanently; I simply insert extra words he knows into the sentence, or I replace one word with another.

There have been books I read alone at first. I want to see what is important to the story, or what pages might be more meaningful for my son, so I'll focus on those pages by really voicing those sections and pointing out hidden pieces of the artwork. Just reading it flatly, with only slight variations in my tone, makes the story less interesting for both of us. I am as invested in what my son reads, and I want to spend those precious few moments with him in a substantial way. I work full-time and my husband is gone Monday through Friday for the next few months training for a new job, so everything becomes harder and significantly more important for each minute with my toddler.

This is what works for me, but it is different for every child. Don't get caught up in what the "perfect" moms and dads are doing. Don't let the judgments of others make you feel less than anything. You are YOU. You are just as important and only YOU know your child better than anyone else. I believe it's true that evaluating yourself to see what you can improve is important, but what I have to remind myself of is that this should make you feel good, cleansed even. Because while change is always hard, if the process results in something good for you and your family, then it is absolutely healthy.

I recently had to go through this self-evaluation and assessment of what my family needs and I'm not going to lie, it was emotionally SO hard. But, it made such a positive change for my entire family. And while I can't be the full-time stay-at-home mother right now, I have to try what I can, but definitely throw that awful mom guilt right out the door.

At the end of the day, what matters is that you:
  • "Show up" as much as you can for when your child needs you. Just show up. I don't mean for just special school performances, but showing up and being there for them when you think a change needs to happen for their benefit. And be ALL IN when you do show up.
  • Try something different.
  • Do what you can, but be realistic and don't be afraid of your limitations.
  • Always, always keep your school looped in to expand your network. They understand. They get it. They understand a lot better than us first-time moms do sometimes, you know?
Love is supposed to be pure and good and you know in your gut what is right. I strongly believe this extends into everything in your life. Choose what you know is the right thing to do for both yourself and your child.

Sooo... this became less of a post on favorite books and how I read books to my son, and more about being a first-time mother and not letting others self-shame... :) Oopsie!

18 November 2017

When to Listen to an Audiobook

Traveler's Notebook & postal pouch by SojournerUSA, coffee by Starbucks' Breakfast Blend
In trying to make blogging my regular habit again, I took a look at my Audible cloud list, and realized how many books I've listened to over the years that still resonate with me today. To those who are new to audiobooks or feel it's something for people out of touch (hey!), fret not. I also had a hard time adapting and learning how to listen to a book versus reading it. It just wasn't something I was used to and after many failed attempts, it then became an acquired skill. It changed once I found a story I immediately connected with and was read by an engaging narrator. I was then forever hooked to this new way to "read." (Side note: Many years ago, I was at the mind-blowing BEA in New York and attended the APA Audiobook and Author Tea side panel. I choked up, as did many, when an attendee who was blind stood up and said, "thank you for making these audiobooks and doing them so well now. I can finally read again.")

But when should you listen to an audiobook? (Whenever.) Are there specific ways to listen to it?  (No.) What if you're not used to it? (Okay. So what? Try.)

Simply put, all I need is my iPhone and earbuds (iBuds? earphones?) and that's it. I do have an Audible membership, but you can always download books from your local library as well.

When to Listen to an Audiobook
  • Errands (grocery store, post office, etc.)
  • Long road trips
  • Short road trips
  • Any time in the car
  • Silent moments between partners in the car and you can sneak your headphones in
  • Staring placidly out at any body of water, drinking coffee or tea
  • Running (this I highly recommend. I found when I listened to music, I used to run at the pace/beat of the song. Thus, if I needed to slow down but was listening to a fast song, I would run faster than I should. Listening to an audiobook helped me control my pace. And trust me, It, by Stephen King and read by actor Steven Weber is entirely MUCH freakier while running at night. Passing sewers is a completely different experience.)
  • Cleaning the house
  • Then really cleaning the house
  • Then using the Flylady, Clutturbug, or Melissa Maker techniques and really CLEANING the house
  • Taking a shower (No lie. I will use the Bluetooth connection to a small mobile speaker and listen to the book while I take even a short shower.)
  • Gardening
  • When Netflix has too many options (or Amazon or Hulu)
  • When taking the crazy toddler to the playground
  • Journaling and needing background noise
  • Playing with art and watercoloring away
  • Bible journaling
When Not to Listen to an Audiobook (Say what now? When to NOT listen?)
  • I... well, I guess when you're trying to nap
  • If something is on fire?
  • ...
I've listened to so many audiobooks that my commute anywhere is not right without a story filling my head. Right now, I'm listening to Sleeping Beauties by Stephen King and Owen Meany that was part of Ti's Book Chatter readalong and that I optimistically dove into but failed miserably to read while she was hosting it. Then, as my history would predict, once any readalong timeframe concludes, I jump into it only then, and with full enthusiasm.

The main message is this: Try. Just try it out.

Find something that you think you might like and start listening to it while heading on a road trip or doing long errands and just pop it on. Don't get overly ambitious and first try with a thirty-four-hour audiobook; instead, pick something that has rave reviews for both story and performance, fitting in a genre you like, and pick something around eight to ten hours long, maximum. Something that would fit in your "wheelhouse," as we say in the corporate world, when most of us don't know what it means. Try. If you're not connecting to it, move onto something else. But always give it a shot just in case. You might be missing something that you end up truly loving. That was how it was for me. Now, I can't go a single day without at least five or ten minutes with a story. That is one habit I don't quite anticipate ever giving up.

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