The gifts in Encanto, ranked in order of helpfulness

Least helpful Encanto gift, in 8th place: Pepa’s mood controlling the weather. How does this help anyone, particular when Pepa has so much trouble self-regulating? (No judgment, sister, I would be the same.) Edgar pointed out that maybe she could make it rain to make crops grow, but really, throughout the movie, I only see her struggling with The Cloud while her adorable husband Felix offers emotional support/swats The Cloud away.

Second least helpful, in 7th place: Isabela. Like her gift is super beautiful and lovely, but also, just plant some flowers and water them and stuff, you guys. (Note: slightly more helpful after her magical awakening in “What Else Can I Do?”, when she seems to be able to FLY!)

Medium helpful, in 6th place: Dolores’s superhuman hearing ability. I love love love Dolores but her ability seems to be mostly related to snooping. (Prove me wrong because I truly love her. Her part in “We Don’t Talk About Bruno” is my fave to perform.)

Also medium helpful, in 5th place: Antonio – the CUTEST CHARACTER OMG – being able to talk to animals. “The rats told me everything.” Not UNhelpful, but he is surpassed by others.

Fourth most helpful, in 4th place: Bruno-no-no. Like, incredible incredible gift, to see the future! But seems like it doesn’t always serve a productive purpose since everyone gets mad and he can’t change the prophecy. “Eeeevery time.”

Third most helpful: Camilo. I wasn’t sure about this one at first, but I was sold once I watched the movie for like the fifth time and noted all of his helpfulness during the opening scenes. He shape shifts into a super tall dude so he can hang the sign for Antonio’s gift ceremony, and he morphs into the mother of an infant so that she can take a nap while he holds the baby. (Am I disproportionately influenced by that one act of service because I am an overtired parent of an infant? MAYBE.)

Second most helpful: Julieta, my favorite gift, the one I’ve chosen during every family vote. Really, arepas con queso probably do heal most things anyway.

Most helpful: Luisa. Like, when she moves the bridge. And the donkeys. And the CHURCH. And when she PUSHES BACK UP THE HOUSE THAT IS LEANING. So helpful – like all oldest sisters.

Recommended for a “light read”

Every once in a while in my reading life, I want a book that can be classified as a “light read.” Sometimes it’s because I just finished an emotionally intense novel (looking at you, A Little Life) or sometimes it’s because I have a lot going on personally and don’t feel capable of digging into a heavy book.

The problem is – I have a hard time finding something light that I actually care to read. This was true before I became a parent, but it became even more true afterward. If I pick up a book and start reading, and I realize the arch of this book is going to be “girl works in bookshop and finds true love with a customer,” then I quickly lose interest. I need mystery or intensity to keep me engaged – especially when I’m a mom reader who is picking up the book for the ten free minutes she has in the day.

That balance – a book that’s intriguing and engaging, but not too intricate or heavy – is, in my experience, tricky to find. Typically, a book that’s recommended as a beach read doesn’t work for me. I’ve sometimes satisfied this need with a funny memoir/book of essays like Phoebe Robinson’s Everything’s Trash But It’s Okay or Amber Ruffin’s You’ll Never Believe What Happened To Lacey. (Both amazing, highly recommend.) These two books and others like them are perfect for me because the writer’s talent for humor keeps them light(ish), but the essays are discussing topics that are serious – race, gender, feminism, social justice, etc – and that keeps me engaged and reading.

I have also satisfied this need for a lighter read with, surprisingly, a murder mystery novel. Yes, murder is serious and intense – but often, this genre is not as heavy, and will focus more on the central detective/sleuth than on death, grief, and the aftermath of loss. A good mystery can be a page-turner without being gut-wrenching or terrifying.

I’m sure I’m not the only one who likes an easy read every once in a while, so I figured I would share my short list of titles that have worked for me. Enjoy!

Where’d You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple. This is my number one recommendation anytime someone is looking for a light read. Super intriguing mystery but book never gets too heavy.

Young Jane Young by Gabrielle Zevin. Multiple narrators tell a story involving a political sex scandal. My number two go-to for this category.

Boomsday, No Way To Treat A First Lady, and Supreme Courtship, all by Christopher Buckley. Buckley is a favorite of mine. His books are funny and interesting and his writing is easy to enjoy. He writes funny, light books about serious topics, usually somehow related to politics.

The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde. This book is about Thursday Next, a literary detective who solves book crimes. THIS IS A BOOK NERD’S DREAM COME TRUE. I loved this entire series, but none so much as the first.

Anxious People by Fredrik Bakman. This book is masterful – super compelling and deals with a lot of drama and intensity (the central event in the book is a hostage crisis), but it somehow ends up being light and comical and inspiring.

The Readers Of Broken Wheel Recommend by Katarina Bivald; and, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society by Mary Ann Shaffer. I am listing these two together because here’s the thing – I loved both of these, and I cannot remember why these two didn’t fall flat for me. The Guernsey book involves a bit of mystery and historical fiction. The Broken Wheel book – on paper, it looks like exactly the kind of book I would lose interest in. Yet I loved them both. So if your tastes are similar to mine, they are worth a try!

An Absolutely Remarkable Thing by Hank Green. A super easy read involving a mystery, overnight celebrity, and commentary on society. So good.

Confessions Of A Shopaholic by Sophie Kinsella. I often recommend this book (as well as Bridget Jones’ Diary, see below) to friends who insist that they are not readers at all. I find this book to be so easy to read. It kept my attention because of the (spoiler alert) financial stress the narrator experiences, but it

Bridget Jones’ Diary by Helen Fielding. I often gift this book to people who say they aren’t readers – such a funny, enjoyable read. The book is told entirely via brief and hilarious diary entries, making it super easy to read.

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin. This book has mystery, suspense, and lots of food for book lovers. But I think the reason why it works for me is simply that Zevin is a great writer, especially for this category of reading. (See Young Jane Young above!)

About A Boy by Nick Hornby. Hornby is another writer who just works for me in this category. There are other books he’s written – including, but not limited to, Juliet Naked, How To Be Good, and A Long Way Down – that have been easy reads that kept my attention. While About A Boy was my favorite, everything I’ve read by him has been great and fits the category of “light read.”

A Wizard’s Guide To Defensive Baking by T. Kingfisher. This is the first book I finished in 2021, and it was the inspiration for this post. There is magic, a murder mystery, and battle – but it all involves a 14-year-old wizard whose main magic is related to baking. The book is light, easy to read, but keeps you reading because the plot (murder! kingdom under siege!) keeps you wanting to know what happens next.

Happy reading!

Look at that ferocious gingerbread man! So cute.

Goals for 2022

Every year, without fail, I make a bunch of New Year’s resolutions and I forget about them by February.

Note: I don’t necessarily stop keeping the resolutions by February. I might still be practicing mindfulness or being intentional with my purchases or doing yoga. But a few weeks into the new calendar year, I will have forgotten that this was a goal I set for myself and I’ll just be doin’ what I’m doin’, resolutions irrelevant.

Despite this track record, I still love making a resolution or setting a goal. I find that taking the time to make the decision is helpful, even if I forget about it later. That time for reflection – for deciding what really matters to me and what I want to focus on or achieve in the coming year – is productive. It may not result in a string of gold stars on a sticker chart tracking my writing, but it does shift things for me. Those resolutions come back to me in quiet moments – like when I’m about to have a book shipped to my house and I remember that I’m going to spend three extra bucks and support my local bookstore and not give Amazon more of my dollars. The resolution is present subconsciously, even if I couldn’t tell you what it was if asked at that minute.

Here are my goals for 2022:

  1. Embrace routines for morning and evening that support good sleep, good exercise, and quality Me Time.
  2. Run some races. (Got my eye on a 5K in March!)
  3. Upgrade your exercise routine to include yoga and strength training – IT IS TIME and it will be worth it.
  4. Stay in touch with all your people, however you can! Texts, phone calls, cards, letters, gifts – whatever works.
  5. Spend mindfully – only buy what you really want and feel good about where the money’s going.
  6. Read the books you want to have read – more on this in a later post.
  7. Write every day – morning + evening if you can get it done. All other writing goals are impossible without achieving this one!

Just now, I scheduled a blog post to publish on February 1 of 2022. The body of the post is blank, but the title is: Did I make goals for 2022? And if so, what were they?

I won’t remember. But I’ll probably be closer to achieving them than I am today, anyway. Because Subconscious Kerriann is always working.

What are your 2022 goals that you’ll forget by February? Do share – and feel no pressure, because I’ll forget yours, too. Happy 2022!

My 2021 year in books

For 2021, I set myself a Goodreads challenge to read 75 books.

This was a big goal for me; I’m an avid reader, but I typically read somewhere between 25 and 50 books in a year. I’m so glad I set this challenge for myself, because it really helped me with a related goal of decreasing my social media usage and general phone scrolling. For the first few months of the year, every time I unthinkingly opened a social media app on my phone, I’d think – There is no way you’re going to read 75 books this year if you are constantly checking social media instead of reading your book. I would then close the app and switch over immediately to reading whatever ebook I had checked out from the library at the moment.

The year is just about over, and according to Goodreads, I read 128 books in 2021. That number is a little inflated – or not, depending on your POV on the fine print! The fine print is: I used Goodreads to keep track of all the books I read – and all the chapter books I read with my oldest son, Edgar, throughout 2021. I only included chapter books, not picture books, and I started doing it so I could keep track of what title we were up to in a particular series. It felt satisfying to click “I’ve finished this book!” whenever we finished a title. So far, Edgar has been minimally involved in the Goodreads aspect of our reading life, but we’ll see if that changes moving forward.

I did care to learn if I had actually met my original goal, or if I only surpassed 75 books because of Edgar’s chapter books – so I did the math. There were 46 kid chapter books on my Read list. That means 82 of the books I read were mine and legitimate by anyone’s judgment of my Reading Challenge. Challenge accomplished!

Now, if you started reading this because you’re a book lover like me who wants to hear my favorite books of 2021 – this part is for you!

Favorite novels of 2021: The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue, The Plot, and The Four Winds.

Best YA/children’s books of 2021: The House in the Cerulean Sea; When You Reach Me and The List Of Things That Will Not Change; the Truly Devious series; and Escape From Mr. Lemoncello’s Library. (Did not realize how many good ones I read this year until making this list!)

Best new-to-me author of the year: Kristin Hannah. How did I not discover her until 2021?! Read four of her books and can’t wait to keep going.

Awesome new reads by my favorite authors: A Line To Kill and Moonflower Murders by Anthony Horowitz and The Madness of Crowds by Louise Penny.

Favorite nonfiction reads of 2021: The Brave Learner and Learning In Public.

Highlights of the year: I rarely reread – but this year I reread several books I’ve loved, including The Silent Patient and No Way To Treat A First Lady. So wonderful to rediscover books I’ve read and enjoyed before – and such a good way to read myself out of a reading rut!

If you want to connect with me on Goodreads and see all 128 books I read, please find me here! There’s nothing I love more than exchanging book recommendations with other readers. Cheers to more happy reading in 2022!

5 things I’m grateful for in December 2021

Every month, I make a list of five things I’m grateful for. There is always something to be grateful for – but some months, it’s a lot easier than others to make this list.

1. Our third (!!!) baby boy coming home. I’m still in disbelief – excited and terrified and all the other feels. There is uncertainty when it comes to adoptive family placements for the first few months; I’ve had to intentionally choose to push fear aside by focusing on gratitude. Today, I feel awe and wonder at the timing of life and at the miracle that is this new family of five I’ve got.

2. Watching Edgar, 5 years old, be a “big kid” big brother. Edgar was only 2 when Jonas first came home, so those big brother moments were very different. He loved to “hold” Baby Jonas (though it sounded more like “Baby Donuts” when he said it) – while an adult did most of the work for “keeping Baby Jonas alive” purposes – and he was generally smiley and happy about having a little brother. But now? He holds Baby C, almost independently; he brings wet diapers to the trash and retrieves dry ones; he is majorly helpful with Baby C duty on long road trips, mainly with pacifier support. He delights in Baby C, saying, “Are you so cutie?” in a ridiculous baby voice. He comes running when I announce that I need a “brother helper.” It is amazing and I love it – and him.

3. Watching Jonas, 3 years old, be a big brother for the first time! He is OBSESSED with his baby brother in an adorable and at times creepy way. He is fascinated with his hands – if Baby C is swaddled in a blanket, he tries to pull it open so that he can see his tiny baby hands and perchance rub his cheek on them. He lays beside him when Baby C is laying on his little baby activity mat. He says, “Oh, Charlie, you’re so cute!” while gazing at him in delight. It is oh-so-special.

4. Our Christmas tree – possibly my favorite thing every single holiday season. It is sweet and simple and perfect. You could take away the presents and the music and the outdoor lights and if I still had a Christmas tree with twinkly rainbow lights in my living room, I’d be the merriest.

5. A merry Christmas morning – my favorite morning of the year. Cinnamon rolls, excited kiddos, new books, and a baby to snuggle included.

Merry merry! So grateful for all my blessings.

My favorite present from Christmas morning! (For ME – not the kids. YET.)

This is 39

It’s my birthday!

My most consistent birthday tradition is spending time, by myself or with a kindred spirit, writing at a coffee shop. All birthdays are a great time for reflection, and with my birthday nestled right between Christmas and New Year’s, I find that my mind is usually wandering to reflections on the year past and goals for the year to come.

Last year, my solo coffee shop date didn’t happen because of COVID. This year, the Omicron variant came crashing in mid-December to spoil that plan yet again; while I tested negative for COVID three times during the past week, I do have a wicked cough and I feel pretty confident that no one wants to hear me hacking and blowing my nose at a local coffee shop today.

Thanks to Tamara, we implemented a back-up plan – she is snuggling with the boys in front of a movie while I hide in the bedroom and type away.

So far today, I have typed up drafts of six different blog posts. I’ve set myself some goals for 2022. I’ve eaten a cinnamon roll. I am caffeinated and ready for the day – and the year.

38 was the year when I realized the purpose of stretching – the year when I felt sore periodically and started to worry about my knees. I got vaccinated and I started at a new school. I returned to working in person after a year of working remotely and I struggled hard with that transition – and with some realizations for what I really want from my work life in the future. Edgar started kindergarten and I became a school parent; Jonas started nature pre-school and turned from a wild toddler into a legit big kid.

Then, two months(ish) before my birthday, it became the year when my third baby came home and we turned into a party of five. A last minute event that turned this from a great year into the year when I felt like I might burst with happiness and gratitude and awe.

It has been a lovely mixed-up mess of awesome and hard and I am so grateful for all of it. Happy birthday to me and cheers to the year ahead!

So happy to be gifted this book – it was on my wish list!

Making time for the things that help you feel grounded

You’re a full-time working mom. You have no time intentionally set aside for you; every hour, every minute of the day is devoted to work, family, kids.

It’s not sustainable, and it doesn’t work.

Sometimes, in my working mom life, I feel like I am spinning and buzzing all over the place and barely have my feet on the ground. This always leads to burnout, excessive amounts of caffeine, and, eventually, to me being desperately need of a mental health day to set myself straight.

What I’ve found helpful is the practice of identifying exactly what it is I need to feel grounded as a mom and human being. What are the things that help you to feel like yourself? Maybe it’s ten minutes of meditation or a weekly yoga class. Maybe it’s phone calls with a friend or a trip to the grocery store by yourself. For me, I have zeroed in on the three things I need so I can be okay – so I can feel like me amid all the parenting chaos: running, reading, and writing.

This is especially important to me as I manage returning to my full-time job after my maternity leave with our third child. I am an introvert who needs alone time to be a functional human being, as is my wife, and ever since becoming parents, we’ve tried to make it a priority to give each other weekly time to recharge. Tamara will take the boys for a hike while I stay home to write and read; I’ll take the boys to a playground while she goes for an *actual* hike and does some birding.

While this is still a priority, the math gets trickier with each additional child added to the family. The only time I can (usually) count on for myself is early morning – extremely early morning. Like, the alarm on my phone starts beeping at 4/4:30 a.m. early morning.

I usually get big eyes and confused faces when I explain how early my alarm goes off. When I walk people through it, however, it starts to make sense. I’m a morning person, not a night owl – my energy depletes throughout the day, and so late evening will never be a good time for me to read or write. I go to bed pretty early – 8 or 9 p.m. if I can manage it – so I get a decent amount of sleep in before waking up at 4. And for me, as a human being, I crave a few hours to myself – hours when I am not responding to others, hours when I can get lost in my own thoughts and get a few of them down on paper.

It’s 4:52 a.m. as I type this. I’ve been writing for a little while, and in a few minutes I’ll go for a run. (A short jog with intermittent walking – for me, running does not have to be strenuous, but it does need to happen daily.) If I have time when I get back from running, I’ll read the book I am currently enjoying – Making A Literary Life by Carolyn See. (The amount of time I read is not critical – but I need to be engaged with reading a good book that I’m excited about, or I feel lost and spectacularly ungrounded.)

Will I feel like a human being after these three rituals? We’ll see. With a ten-week-old in the house, I’m short on sleep and there are many transitions happening in our family life. But these grounding practices get me a little closer to my goal of functionality every time I make time to get them done. And anything that helps me to feel steady on my feet instead of spinning wildly is worth the time.

All photos will include a Christmas tree whenever possible

Introduction

Hi! I’m Kerriann. I’m a writer, a therapist, and a lover of all things books + reading. Just over a month ago, I became a mom of three (!!!), and as I type this post, I am days away from my return to work after six weeks of family leave. (Cue groan + sad face about returning to work and about the state of paid family leave in the U.S. – extremely grateful to have been in a position to take ANY paid time off at all, but boy, do I sure wish it could be more!)

Ever since becoming a mom of three, my heart and my brain have been bursting – with love and with creativity, respectively. I have so much I want to say – about being a mom, about being a working mom, about being a writing mom, about navigating family life after transitioning from human-to-human parenting to a zone defense. SO much to say – and so little time for actual writing.

The idea to launch this new site came to me as I’ve been contemplating how to organize my writing and the rest of my life.

We’re an adoptive family – all three little ones adopted via the same adoption agency in Maryland. All adoption stories are different, but for us, we didn’t really experience a “nesting” phase in the months leading up to any of our children’s births. We didn’t know when the babies would come home, so we didn’t decorate a nursery and stock up on baby blankets and set up organizational systems. For us, it was more like, “Buy a car seat and put it someplace you can’t see it every day. When the adoption agency tells you your baby is coming home, stop at Target en route for diapers and wipes. Everything else, you will figure out on-the-job once baby is home.” It’s all worked out.

Yet in the six weeks since our third baby came home, I’ve noticed myself organizing and nesting . I am keenly aware of the simple facts of our life: full-time working mom (me), mom about to start a two-year graduate school program (my wife), and three boys, ages 5, 3, and nine weeks. There are a lot of moving parts to our life, and anything I can do to simplify things will definitely be a high five to my future self.

So – what does this have to do with my writing life and launching a new blog?

I have been blogging for years – I started in March 2015. When I originally started that blog (still in existence here!), it was a therapeutic outlet for me during the seemingly endless wait for our first baby to come home. I’m proud of a lot of the writing I accomplished there, but much of that early content is more online journal entry than nonfiction essay. I have a few goals for my writing life and I’m feeling the need to produce a blog and content that are more polished and focused. As I’ve been nesting and organizing and decluttering, I realized that what I wanted was to launch a new site – a blank space where I can start fresh without deleting any content from my former blog. (Those raw, emotional posts about the adoption wait? I want my kids to be able to read them someday, if they want. More on that later.)

That’s why this space exists – it’s the clear, uncluttered space of a mom who’s trying to keep her thoughts, her work, and her kids’ clothes organized. I am so happy to be here – just Kerriann, writing. And I’m glad you’re here, too!

Photo of our perfectly imperfect Christmas tree