books + reading · mindfulness

Happiness Is An Inside Job

This summer, I crossed a few books off of my Slow Jams Syllabus. This was a list of books that were in my To Be Read pile for a long while. They survived many episodes of thinning out my book pile, and I can be pretty ruthless about getting rid of books that I know I’m not going to read. The thing was that I knew I wanted to read these books someday.

I set an intention of making these Slow Jams a priority during my Summer Sabbatical. I mostly accomplished this by downloading the books via Audible and listening to them during my many road trips. I often listen to podcasts (or, let’s be honest, toddler jams) on road trips, but I realized that one of the books – Happiness Is An Inside Job by Sylvia Boorstein – was only six hours long, audiobook-style. That’s one round trip to my mom’s house in New York. I’ve crossed only two books off of the list so far, but I’m planning to use my commute to work on many of the others.

Here are my takeaways from Happiness Is An Inside Job:

-This book is based largely on the Buddhist concepts of Wise Mind, Wise Effort, and Wise Concentration. I’ve really enjoyed reading more about Buddhism; one of my favorite books of all time is Buddhism Plain And Simple, by Steve Hagen. I’m going to read another book by Hagen to follow this one up since I am back in this groove.

-Radical acceptance. The idea of saying, “This isn’t what I wanted, but it’s what I got.”

-Boorstein writes about signs that people have attained some enlightenment. One of the things she talks about is the difference between people who say, “A terrible thing happened. Why me?”, and the people who say, “A terrible thing happened.Why not me? These things happen.”

-That lofty word, equanimity. The definition, according to my internet search, is “mental calmness, composure, and evenness of temper, especially in a difficult situation.” There’s not supposed to be a goal when it comes to Buddhism and meditation, I don’t think – I think you’re just supposed to be, and accept your circumstances. But if the stillness, the meditation, and the acceptance bring equanimity – well, that sounds pretty great.

This wasn’t my favorite book – I enjoyed one of Boorstein’s other books, It’s Easier Than You Think, much more. But it was a good read for me in this moment, when I am setting the intention of being more present. (More on that to come.)

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books + reading · parenting

Edgar’s Faves (Best Books List For 12-Month-Olds)

Edgar loves books. This morning, as soon as I’d lifted him from his crib and set him on the floor of his bedroom, he wandered over to the pile of books on his nightstand. He selected A Traffic Jam Of Trucks (a long-time favorite), and asked “Read?” in his tiny toddler voice. Then he plopped down in my lap and we read the book together.

It doesn’t surprise me much that Edgar loves to read. I think kids often end up loving what their parents love, and I am definitely a reader. Tamara is, too, though she has a lot less time to read during the farming season. (Which is about 75% of the calendar year, at least!)

Sometimes, Edgar will occupy himself, playing with cars or a guitar or his dollhouse, and I’ll be able to steal some time reading a novel on the couch nearby. And sometimes – THIS IS MY FAVORITE – Edgar will bring two children’s books over to me, and he’ll hand one to me and then sit down to look at the other one all by himself. Once I have him trained to bring me a novel instead of Corduroy, we will be all set.

Here are some of Edgar’s favorites from when he was around a year old. Enjoy!

Recommended reading from 12-month-old Edgar:

Quick As A Cricket by Audrey Wood. I first read this book at Tamara’s parents’ home in North Carolina. I think of children’s books as either lyrical or plot-based. This one is lyrical and is so sweet and lullaby-ish.

City Block by Christopher Franceschelli. This is a fold-out book about New York, featuring lots of transportation (an Edgar fave) and lots of city sights (a Kerriann fave).

Cars And Trucks From A To Z by Richard Scarry. This tiny book full of cars and trucks (duh) and is really cute.

Mr. Brown Can Moo, How About You? by Dr. Seuss. We first heard about this book from a friend, and Tamara loved it. It’s super fun.

Where Is The Green Sheep? by Mem Fox. I really like Mem Fox’s books a lot. We’ve read a bunch and they have all been well-received by Edgar.

Reading Makes You Feel Good by Todd Parr. ALL TODD PARR BOOKS. I have no idea why kids love them so much. Edgar has loved every single one. Maybe the bright colors? Maybe the simple words? In this particular book, there’s a page with a bookmobile on it, so Edgar would eagerly turn the pages until we arrived at the bus of books, the ultimate payoff.

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books + reading · writing

Incredible Plot Twists

I’m so grateful to have time to write, but I’m now learning what it means to be stuck on a plot point. I love the characters I’ve created, but I’m interested in developing more unique story lines and plots for my short stories and for my novels.

This got me thinking about novels I’ve read, particularly about books that either had an ingenious plot (Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro is one example) or books that had an incredible plot twist (a la Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn). I started looking through my Goodreads “Read” list, trying to remember books with plots that really surprised or compelled me. I was able to remember a few, but not many. After I read a book, especially after some time has passed, I am rarely able to recall the plot in detail. I usually have a general feeling of “I loved that book!” or “That book was pretty good.” But, remembering specific plot points or twists? That is a challenge.

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I decided to do some crowdsourcing so that I could get a list of books to either read or study, examining the plot twists and turns of each book and trying to understand the different methods authors use to surprise their readers. This is especially important to me because I am interested in writing mysteries, where my goal is not only to entertain readers, but also to mislead them, to trick them, to do some literary magic that makes them say “Whaaaaaat?” out loud – which I do frequently when an author has genuinely surprised me.

I’m a member of a really fun Facebook group that talks about all things books, so I wrote a post asking for recommendations of books with interesting plots or crazy plot twists, and I got a fantastic list.

The biggest commonalty I noticed among all the books with intriguing plot twists or unique storylines was an unreliable narrator. Sometimes it was a character who had dementia or was hallucinating; sometimes it was someone uninformed; often it was a character who was a liar. It was helpful to notice this commonality; it’s a tool I can try to use in my mystery writing.

There were other things I noticed – authors who seemed to ask intriguing “What if?” questions, such as “What if humans were cloned for the purpose of donating organs?” And then letting their plot roll out from there. I love this. Of course, as soon as I started trying to think of “What if?” questions, I couldn’t think of any. I’m hoping some will come to me in moments of daydreaming.

In case others are interested, here is my list of books with great plots and twists. The books I personally recommend are in bold. Enjoy!

The Heart’s Invisible Furies, John Boyne

The Memory Keeper’s Daughter, Kim Edwards

Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn

One Of Us Is Lying, Karen M. McManus

We Were Liars, E. Lockhart

Never Let Me Go, Kazuo Ishiguro

Dead Letters, Caite Dolan-Leach

The Mysterious Benedict Society, Trenton Lee Stewart

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My Sister’s Keeper, Jodi Piccoult

The Thirteenth Tale, Diane Setterfield 

Behind Her Eyes, Sarah Pinborough

The Storyteller, Jodi Piccoult

The Good Girl, Mary Kubica

Triptych, Karin Slaughter

Heart Shaped Box, Joe Hill

Case Histories, Kate Atkinson

Atonement, Ian McEwan

Fight Club, Chuck Palahniuk

Big Little Lies, Liane Moriarty

The Lacuna, Barbara Kingsolver

 

 

books + reading · parenting

Edgar’s Faves (Best Books List For Nine-Months-Olds)

The most mindful moments of my day are the times when I am reading to Edgar. He will find one of his favorite books and he’ll bring it over to me and Tamara, and he’ll ask, “Read?” in his tiny, adorable toddler voice.

Today I’m thinking about the books he loved most when he was nine months old. Edgar’s love of trucks and buses started at around this time, so pretty much any book with a vehicle in it was a winner for him.

Recommended reading from 9-month-old Teddy:

Subway by Christoph Niemann. I loved this one because it was all about a family exploring the New York City subway system; Edgar loved it because there’s a bus on page seven. So this one was always a win-win.

Mommy, Mama, and Me by Leslea Newman. Tamara gave me this book for Christmas eighteen months before Edgar came home. When he started to request it, my heart melted.

A Traffic Jam Of Trucks. This kid loves trucks.

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Little Blue Truck by Alice Schertle.  Edgar loved this book because of the big yellow dump truck, basically the antagonist of the story. However, it is super-cute – a combo of rhythmic and lullabyish but with some semblance of a plot.

Sheep In A Jeep by Nancy Shaw. This may be my overtired mom taste talking, but I really like all of Nancy Shaw’s sheep books. The sheep go to a shop – they go out to eat – they go for a hike. They’re everywhere! In this book, they ride in a jeep (no surprise why this is an Edgar favorite) and it crashes in the mud (ALSO AN EDGAR FAVORITE).

What Will I Be? by Dawn Allette. Tamara bought this book at a little shop in Hampden before there was an Edgar. It’s so cute – just a little girl daydreaming about what job she’ll have someday. It’s lyrical and colorful and fun. Edgar loves.

Happy Adoption Day by John McCutcheon. On the day Edgar’s adoption was finalized, we bought him this book at Barnes and Noble.  It’s based an a folk song by the same author.  The day he started asking to read it regularly, my heart melted and I was so grateful – for him, for his adoption, and for the world of books that helps us to give language to everything our kids experience.

Edgar hopes that you (and your little one) enjoy!

 

books + reading · parenting

Edgar’s Faves (Best Books List For Six-Months-Olds)

One day when Edgar was just a few months old, I looked up to find Tamara reading him Victor Frankl’s Man’s Search For Meaning.

Now, when you’re reading to a very young baby, it’s more about the sound of your voice than the subject matter of the book. So Tamara and I took advantage of that stage and just read our own books out loud to Edgar until he was older.

However, I found that Man’s Search For Meaning – which is a beautiful and inspiring book about a man who survived the Holocaust – was a step too far. TOO INTENSE FOR A BABY. And, to keep that from happening to others, I decided to make a list of the books Edgar has loved the most throughout his first two years. Edgar has had specific favorites from the time he was four months old, so this list will be produced in segments according to age.

Recommended reading from 6-month-old Edgar:

Peek-a-Who? by Nina Laden. Sweet, simple, and (spoiler alert) a little mirror in the back so our narcissistic babies can gurgle at themselves on the book’s last page.

Some Bugs by Angela Diterlizzi. Tamara is SO GOOD at wandering around bookstores and picking out children’s books. She found this one, which is really colorful, rhythmic, and sweet. When Edgar was crying in the car, I would read this book out loud (from memory, of course) to help him calm down.

The Itsy Bitsy Pumpkin by Sonali Fry and Peter Rabbit’s Halloween by Beatrix Potter. I don’t know if this is a foreshadowing, but tiny baby Edgar loved Halloween. He was always drawn to books with pumpkins and Halloween costumes. Toddler Edgar is pretty skeptical of actual Halloween so far; he tends to look around at all the school-aged kids in costumes like WHAT IS THIS MADNESS.

Sherlock Holmes: A Sounds Primer by Jennifer Adams. It was easy to understand why Edgar loved this one – it was all spooky noises, and what babe doesn’t love that?

First Farm Words. Edgar loved books with really clear pictures labelled with their name. “Tractor. Corn. Farmer. Harvesting.” They are scintillating to read, let me tell you.

Today Is Monday by Eric Carle. Every year when my mom’s kindergarten class graduated, they would sing the song “Today Is Monday” at their celebration. I’d always sing this book to Edgar, and the singable books were big hits at this age.

Edgar hopes that you (and your baby) enjoy!

books + reading

Slow Jams Syllabus

There is a group of books that I keep checking out of the library, over and over again, without ever reading the book.

There’s a similar pile of books on the top shelf of my bedroom bookshelf, and a third group stacked on my bedside table.

These are books about interesting subjects, many of which are highly recommended by friends and the reading community at large.

But I haven’t been able to read them cover to cover.

Nor have I been able to simply move on, which I often do. I long ago resolved to never finish a book that I wasn’t enjoying. I used to feel compulsive about finishing books, even when I lost interest after only a few chapters. Now, I don’ worry about that at all. There are too many good books out there! There is no time to waste reading books that don’t capture me completely.

Yet – I still keep checking these same books out of the library. And I refuse to donate the pile of books in my bedroom to Ukazoo, my favorite used bookstore. I pick them up occasionally – I read a few chapters – and then I ultimately move on to another book.

What gives? And what do I do?

After considering this issue, I noticed that many of these books fit into categories; they are books about writing, parenting, and mindfulness. These are possibly the three subjects I care most about in my life currently.

So why don’t I read these books?

I think part of the reason why is that I don’t have as much reading time as I used to now that I’m a parent. And, related – I absolutely love reading fiction. I will always choose a compelling novel over a non-fiction book, every single time.

But – I still WANT to read these books! They’re on my list because I believe that they’re going to help my grow in my knowledge and my skills in some way. They’re on my list because I want to be a better writer, a more intentional parent, and a more successful meditation practitioner.

So this is what I’ve decided: I’m going to create a Slow Jams Syllabus. (I call these books Slow Jams, because I enjoy them, but don’t plow through them the way I did with all 13 of Louise Penny’s mystery novels.) It’ll be a syllabus, like in college – a list of required reading that I am requiring for myself.

I’m going to give myself a tentative “deadline” for completing the syllabus, although there is NO CHANCE I will stick to this goal if I start a book and find that it’s not as good as I thought it was. This is really all about ME – what I want to do and to learn, how I want to grow. So there’s no need to stick with it if it’s not working for me.

However – having a deadline will help me to be realistic about the not gonna happen factor. If I haven’t read one of these books by the end of 2019 – then it’s probably just not for me, and should be replaced by a title from the wait list. (Oh, yes – there is a wait list. SEE BELOW.)

Syllabus listed below. Happy reading!

Kerriann’s Slow Jams Syllabus (semi-required reading, to be read by January 2020)

No Drama Discipline, Daniel J. Siegel

Parenting From The Inside Out, Daniel J. Siegel

The Soul Of Discipline, Kim John Payne

Story Craft, Jack Hart

The Portable MFA in Creative Writing, New York Writers Workshop

Writing To Change The World, Mary Pipher

Bestseller, Celia Brayfield

Writing Mysteries, Sue Grafton (and many others)

Meditation Now Or Never, Steve Hagen

Full Catastrophe Living, Jon Kabat-Zinn

Traveling Mercies, Anne Lamott

No Bad Kids, Janet Lansbury

The Wait List

Happiness Is An Inside Job, Sylvia Boorstein

Buddhism Is Not What You Think, Steve Hagen

MBSR Every Day, Elisha Goldstein

Start Here Now, Susan Piver

The Happiest Kids In The World, Rina Mae Acosta

The Untethered Soul, Michael Singer

Designing Your Life, Bill Burnett

The White Album, Joan Didion

Bark, Lorrie Moore

Wherever You Go There You Are, Jon Kabat-Zinn

books + reading · reading

Accidental Accomplishments #mind #body

It’s snowing in Maryland! The office is closed and I am holed up at home with a fire roaring and Teddy napping. I’m taking advantage of the unexpected playtime by listening to The Girl Next Door (my new favorite podcast!), writing, and reflecting on a few random things.

One of my favorite things so far in 2018 has been a new Facebook group I’m in called We Like Big Books and We Cannot Lie! It was started by a hilarious and wonderful friend of my sister, and it’s basically a big group of people who love books and reading and love talking about books and reading. I’ve gotten a ton of great recommendations for books I wouldn’t have even heard of.

As a result, I have read 26 books in 2018 so far. For me, THIS IS A LOT! (Now, two of            these were super-short books, and three were skimmed toward the end.  But the                other 21 were 100% legit!)

Reading a lot of books is not really a goal of mine, so this sort of happened by accident. But I think it helps that I’ve had an amazing group of people making recommendations and encouraging me to read outside my comfort zone.

One of my other unplanned accomplishments in 2018 so far is this: I have given up caffeine.

GASP.

I didn’t really plan on tackling this, but Tee decided to switch to decaf coffee to help with sleep, and I decided to join her. It was a tiny bit about solidarity and supporting Tee, but my decision to give it up was mostly because it gets uncomfortable being ‘addicted’ to a substance, even if that substance is caffeine. When I’d get stressed, I’d immediately reach for a diet Coke or a coffee. It got expensive and annoying; I don’t want to have to reach for something external to deal with internal anxiety or stress.

Additionally, I frequently had to reach for Tylenol PM to aid my sleep, if I drank too much caffeine during the day. Last night as I was falling asleep, I realized that it was several days since I’d had to reach for a sleep aid to help myself. I’ve been sleeping more deeply and waking up more easily.  It’s wonderful.