Have a Tall Day!

A few weeks ago, as I sent my boys off to their classrooms, I waved them off with my love and a heartfelt wish to “have a good day!” Even as I said it, I realized what a bland and boring farewell this is, day after day, always the same.

Thus began my efforts to enliven the start of each school day with a unique send off. A few terrific, fantastic, even beautiful days later, however, my creativity began to feel a bit taxed. Sometimes I’m stretching a little far for a note of positivity.

One morning, thinking quickly so as to not hold up the drop-off line, I snagged the first adjective I could think of and hollered to my boys, “Have a tall day!” Of course, they only looked back at me like I was crazy, saying “I don’t even know what that means.”

There was no time in the moment for any sort of clever come back. The boys went their way, and I went mine. But the idea didn’t leave me. What did it mean to have a tall day?

My first thought was to compare tall and short. Does either attribute make anyone a better or worse person? I myself am a short person, and so I concluded, of course not. A tall person is no braver for being tall. Neither is a short person cowardly. However, I did admit to myself, I feel braver and more confident when I straighten my back and stand my tallest.

I next asked myself what things around me are tall? And what can they tell me about tallness? Trees are tall. In fact, it was likely the trees around my childrens’ school that inspired this internal discussion in the first place. With their branches lifted high to the heavens, trees speak to me of an attitude of praise and gratitude for all their Creator provides for them. I might then be wishing for my children to have a day filled with gratitude.

Cell towers are also tall. They are designed that way intentionally so that they can send and receive clear signals. In wishing for a tall day then, perhaps I wish for my boys to be clear-headed and ready to learn whatever lessons are in store for them.

Lastly, I thought of mountains. Mountains are very tall. Mountains are strong, steadfast and immovable. Maybe “have a tall day” is a wish for my boys to stand firm, to be a solid rock, to not give in to the various pressures they face today.

Sending my children off to face their day is a routine that doesn’t need to be routine. With a little thoughtfulness and mindfulness, even a simple word like tall can become meaningful. So, don’t just have a good day, or even a great day. Have a tall day!

Dewey’s 24-Hour Read-A-Thon, April 2021 – The To-Read Pile

It’s time once again for the twice-annual 24-hour read-a-thon put on by the folks over at Dewey’s Read-A-Thon. I’m a little late in posting this – the event begins in only a few hours – but I thought I’d throw something together anyway. At least I could put together a list of books I hope to work on during the event.

First off, I’ve always got a book going with each of my three boys. Currently, that is The Two Towers, by J. R. R. Tolkien with the eldest, Inkdeath, by Cornelia Funke with the middle, and Spirit Animals: Rise and Fall, by Eliot Schrefer with the youngest. We usually manage anywhere from three to twelve pages a night depending on how long the chapters are, or how tired the boys are. Somehow, my reading magically puts them to sleep.

Next are the books I’m currently reading for myself. From the library, I have 1Q84, by Haruki Murakami. This book is huge! And I’ve sort of stalled on it. But I’m determined to make significant progress on it over the weekend. On Kindle, I’m reading Dawn’s Promise, by A. W. Exley, and on audio, it is The Song of Achilles, by Madeline Miller. Having books in a variety of formats is very helpful during a read-a-thon.

Also helpful is the pile of alternate books in case I finish one, or a book is simply not working for me at that moment. Up next on the Kindle, I have The Sign of Four, by Arthur Conan Doyle. Finally, I have Reading Lolita in Tehran, by Azar Nafisi and Falling Kingdoms, by Morgan Rhodes waiting in the wings just in case I can’t handle any more of the monster library book. And if I’m really stuck, there’s a jar full of book titles I can draw from for inspiration.

Most of all, I just hope to have a little fun with my books, though I won’t make it for the full 24 hours. After all, there are very important family events to attend such as football and soccer games (highly modified due to COVID restrictions, of course). But if anyone’s looking for me, I’ll most likely be lost in an alternate history, some far away place, or even an entirely different world.

Are you participating this weekend? I’d love to hear about the worlds your reading takes you to. Have fun!

2021 Popsugar Reading Challenge

It’s time once again to plan for next year’s reading line-up. The last few years I have participated in the Popsugar Reading Challenge and have enjoyed the various prompts they have provided. While the last two years I haven’t been able to complete the challenge before the end of the year, I keep moving forward and reading anyway.

When the time came around this year for the new list of prompts to be released, I wasn’t quite sure if I would participate again. I got a little caught up in the ATY prompt list decision making process, almost enough to decide to try that one again. In the end, however, I have decided to go with the Popsugar challenge for 2021. It has been useful to me these past few years to expand my reading experience.

Here, then, is my reading list for 2021.

A book published in 2021 – Witchshadow, by Susan Dennard
An Afrofuturist book – Children of Virtue and Vengeance, by Tomi Adeyemi
A book that has a heart, diamond, club or spade on the cover – The Glass Magician, by Charlie N. Holmberg
A book by an author who shares your zodiac sign – All Creatures Great and Small, by James Herriot
A dark academia book – Ninth House, by Leigh Bardugo
A book with a gem, mineral, or rock in the title – Jade Star, by Catherine Coulter
A book where the main character works at your current or dream job – The World According to Garp, by John Irving
A book that has won the Women’s Prize for Fiction – The Song of Achilles, by Madeline Miller
A book with a family tree – The Silmarillion, by J. R. R. Tolkien
A bestseller from the 1990s – The Street Lawyer, by John Grisham
A book about forgetting – The Lost Hero, by Rick Riordan
A book you have seen on someone’s bookshelf (in real life, on a Zoom call, in a TV show, etc.)
A locked-room mystery – The Sign of Four, by Arthur Conan Doyle
A book set in a restaurant – Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant, by Anne Tyler
A book with a black-and-white cover – Code Talker, by Joseph Bruchac
A book by an indigenous author – Race to the Sun, by Rebecca Roanhorse
A book that has the same title as a song – Legend, by Marie Lu
A book about a subject you are passionate about – Praying the Scriptures for Your Children, by Jodie Berndt
A book about body positivity
A book on a Black Lives Matter reading list – Between the World and Me, by Ta-Nehisi Coates
A genre hybrid – The Wolf, by Jean Johnson
A book set mostly or entirely outdoors – Into the Wild, by Erin Hunter
A book with something broken on the cover – Gray, by Lou Cadle
A book by a Muslim American author – The Gauntlet, by Karuna Riazi
A book that was published anonymously – Common Sense, by Thomas Paine
A book with an oxymoron in the title – Wild Justice, by Phillip Margolin
A book about do-overs or fresh starts – The Notebook, by Nicholas Sparks
A magical realism book – One Hundred Years of Solitude, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
A book set in multiple countries – Knight’s Cross, by Christine Kling
A book set somewhere you’d like to visit in 2021 – Hidden History of Portland, Oregon, by J. D. Chandler
A book by a blogger, vlogger, YouTube video creator, or other online personality – Old Man’s War, by John Scalzi
A book whose title starts with “Q,” “X,” or “Z” – Queen of the Night, by J. A. Jance
A book featuring three generations – The House of Spirits, by Isabel Allende
A book about a social justice issue – The Wrong Enemy, by Carlotta Gall
A book in a different format than what you normally read (audiobooks, ebooks, graphic novels) – The Stonekeeper, by Kazu Kibuishi
A book that has fewer than 1,000 reviews on Amazon or Goodreads – The Blending Time, by Michael Kinch
A book you think your best friend would like – Nightshade, by Andrea Cremer
A book about art or an artist – Shadowshaper, by Daniel Jose Older
A book everyone seems to have read but you – The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Your favorite prompt from a past POPSUGAR Reading Challenge –
2015: A book with antonyms in the title – Morning, Noon and Night, by Sidney Sheldon
2016: A political memoir
2017: Steampunk – A Dawn Most Wicked, by Susan Dennard
2018: A book by two authors – Aurora Rising, by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff
2019: A book inspired by myth, legend or folklore – The Son of Neptune, by Rick Riordan
2020: A book with “gold,” “silver,” or “bronze” in the title – The Bronze Key, by Holly Black
The longest book (by pages) on your TBR list – 1Q84, by Haruki Murakami
The shortest book (by pages) on your TBR list – Last Stop on Market Street, by Matt de la Pena
The book on your TBR list with the prettiest cover – Dawn’s Promise, by A. W. Exley
The book on your TBR list with the ugliest cover – Fablehaven, by Brandon Mull
The book that’s been on your TBR list for the longest amount of time – Water for Elephants, by Sara Gruen
A book from your TBR list you meant to read last year but didn’t – Q is for Quarry, by Sue Grafton
A book from your TBR list you associate with a favorite person, place, or thing – Navigator’s Children, by Tad Williams
A book from your TBR list chosen at random – The Invisible Library, by Genevieve Cogman
A DNF book from your TBR list – Serafina and the Black Cloak, by Robert Beatty
A free book from your TBR list (gifted, borrowed, library) – Defiant, by Bobbi Smith

So, there it is, my reading list for 2021. I think it’s a decent mix – a variety of genres, some favorite authors, as well as a lot of new to me authors. I tried to choose as many as possible off my already too large list of books I want to read, but there are still several that I needed to add. I have a few slots that remain unfilled, such as a book about body positivity or a political memoir. I’d welcome any recommendations. Or, share a picture of your bookshelves. I’m sure someone out there has a book on their shelf I’d love to read!

Are you participating in a reading challenge in 2021? If so, which one? I’d love to hear what your reading plans are for the new year.

2020: Failure and Hope

This time last year, my head was full of dreams and goals of all the things I intended to accomplish in 2020. “The Year of Clear Vision,” I called it. And yet, as is so often the case, it turns out, only hindsight is 20/20. There was no anticipating what this year had in store. Even now as it comes to an end, the impact of the year’s events are not fully realized. And may not be for years.

My life personally, has been turned on its head.

Reading:
It took me more than half the year to finally finish the last few books from the 2019 reading challenge. And while I have read more than 150 books, I still haven’t completed my 2020 reading challenge list. Sounds crazy, I know, but a good chunk of that 150 were short audio books I was able to listen to at work, or in the car.

Writing:
I lost my first National Novel Writing Month challenge this year. It would be easy to say, “well, it’s 2020,” and just leave it at that. But if I’m honest with myself, I know that I could have won the challenge if I had exercised a little more self-discipline.

On another writing front, my blog completely fell apart this year. It felt like I was forcing myself to write words I no longer had faith in. Still, I continue to have visitors to the blog. In fact the past two months traffic to the blog has exceeded all other months this past year.

Life in General:
COVID’s biggest impact on me this year would be my employment status. Effective the end of this year, I am resigning a position I’ve held for fifteen years. The longest I’ve ever been with a single employer. But the demands of keeping three elementary aged children engaged in online learning simply became too much to attempt while maintaining a full time job.

If this is the worst 2020 brings me, I will count myself fortunate. Blessed, even. I have read and witnessed story after story of others for whom 2020 has taken a much deeper toll. Hundreds of thousands of people sick and dead from this virus. Countless others jobless, homeless and hungry.

I’d like to say that I’m on my way back to some form of normalcy, but the truth is, I’m not all there yet. There is still a great deal of anxiety and uncertainty. Even so, I hold on to this hope: things will get better. A vaccine is coming. The virus will be brought under control. Children will go back to school. Workplaces will reopen. And while it can never be the same as it was, I have hope we will find our balance again.

Dewey’s 24-Hour Readathon – October 2020

In less than eight hours, the Dewey’s 24-Hour Readathon begins. I’ve decided to participate again in the hopes of getting caught up on some reading. I’m not holding out much hope that I’ll actually accomplish my goals, but I’ll give it a go regardless. I thought I’d share what I plan on reading.

Most nights I read to my boys, so I have one book for each boy. Currently, I’m reading The Hobbit, by J. R. R. Tolkien, Inkheart, by Cornelia Funke, and Spirit Animals: Wild Born, by Brandon Mull.

Read aloud books: Inkheart, Spirit Animals: Wild Born, The Hobbit

For myself, I’m in the middle of several books at the moment. I usually have at least one in each format (print, ebook, audio), and sometimes (okay, frequently) I have multiple books going at once. Right now I’m working on Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army, by Jeremy Scahill, Blood Rites, by Jim Butcher, Shadow of Night, by Deborah Harkness, and an as yet to be determined audiobook.

Currently reading: Blood Rites, Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army, Shadow of Night

While there’s no chance I’ll finish all of the above, I still like to be over prepared. So on deck I have Dead Beat and Proven Guilty, by Jim Butcher, The Foundation Trilogy, by Isaac Asimov, and The Power of Six, by Pittacus Lore.

Up next: The Foundation Trilogy, The Power of Six, Dead Beat, Proven Guilty

Overambitious as always, but it’s all about the fun, right? It just so happens that it’s just as much fun choosing books for the readathon as it is reading them!

What are you reading this weekend?

Read a Banned Book During Banned Books Week

The 2020 Popsugar Reading Challenge includes a prompt to read a banned book during Banned Books Week which in the United States is celebrated the last week of September, for 2020, it runs from September 27-October 3.

I never really paid much attention before to the fact that there is a week set aside to promote the freedom of reading. Though now, it seems to me I should be all about this. After all, the celebration of the written word is what this blog is supposed to be about.

Books are banned or challenged for a variety of reasons, usually because the content is objectionable in some way. It might be considered too sexually explicit, or be seen to promote ideas or values contrary to the social norms of a particular community. They might be banned on religious or political grounds.

The American Library Association established Banned Books Week in the 1980s in response to an increase in challenges and protests against certain books. In the United States, book censorship and banning became legal under the Comstock Law of 1873, which banned the use of the U.S. Mail to distribute materials considered obscene. In the decades following, this law has been challenged in the courts many times. Though it has been partially repealed, parts of this law remain on the books.

There are a number of books that have been banned or challenged over the years in the United States. From classics like To Kill a Mockingbird and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn to popular series such as Harry Potter and Fifty Shades of Grey.

Personally, I don’t believe that books should be censored, banned or restricted. The only exception is that books that are inappropriate for certain audiences – namely children – shouldn’t necessarily be readily available. Parents should have the right to decide what is appropriate for their minor children.

Not all countries around the world have the same freedom of speech that is a foundational right in the United States. Books are banned because they promote religious or political views contrary to the reining authorities. Some countries, such as North Korea, ban all books from outside. Some countries have even gone so far as to impose a death sentence on the author of an objectionable book.

This is the case with Salman Rushdie, author of several books, including The Satanic Verses. First published in 1988, this book was immediately met with accusations of blasphemy by Muslims around the world. The sale and importation of the book was banned (and remains so) in several countries, and on February 14, 1989, a fatwa was issued on Rushdie ordering his execution. Rushdie was forced into hiding, and remained so for nine years. Even as recently as 2016, the fatwa on Rushdie remains in effect.

This is the book I have chosen to read for the Popsugar reading challenge. In college, I had a roommate from India whom I have tremendous respect for, and it was she who first brought this author to my attention. Though that was now several years ago, I have not forgotten, and I’m finally stepping up and reading this book.

I challenge you this week to find a banned book and read it. Visit your local library (virtually if they aren’t fully open right now), or a local bookstore. Odds are they’ll have some sort of display about banned books. Check one out and read it. Find out why it’s been banned, and where. Go on, read dangerously!

Lost Words: Finding My Voice in the Midst of Chaos

I haven’t posted to the blog for more than three months. I wish I could say that during this time away, I created a stockpile of posts ready to share with the world, but sadly, I did not. In fact, I’ve barely written anything at all since the end of May. There is much I’ve wanted to say, but I just haven’t had the right mind set to put the words to paper.

During my down time I’ve been doing a lot of soul searching. Trying to decide if it’s worthwhile to continue to pursue this blog. I’d like to say that the chaos of a global pandemic, followed by race protests, followed by a bitterly divisive election campaign is the reason I’ve been struggling. But if I’m honest with myself, my blog was already in decline long before all the madness started. My heart just hasn’t truly been in it.

I was pushing myself to write just one weekly post – Unlock the Muse – a post intended to offer inspiration and encouragement to other writers. In reality, I was in desperate need of that inspiration and encouragement myself.

Toward the end of 2019 I began forming ideas about what I hoped to accomplish in 2020. I dubbed it the “Year of Clear Vision.” I set for myself ambitious writing and reading goals and made a detailed plan of how I was going to accomplish them.

The year started out okay, but I should have realized a lot earlier how much pressure I’d put on myself. By the time March arrived and the reality of COVID-19 began to settle in, I knew I was in trouble. Or, my blog was at any rate. Still, I stubbornly persisted in pressing forward with my goals. I strove endlessly to remain upbeat and positive through increasingly discouraging reports.

Then George Floyd was killed, unleashing massive protests against racial injustice and police brutality. I wanted to speak out, to offer my support to this cause. But I couldn’t find the right words. My positivity had run out. I’d reached the bottom of the well and found I had nothing left to say.

Initially, I thought perhaps I’d just skip one week of posting. I’d take the week off and use the time to find the right words. The next week came and went, and still I didn’t know what I could say. What inspiration and encouragement could I find in the circumstances in which we found ourselves? As a white woman, all my own raging thoughts felt inadequate and wrong. It wasn’t my time to speak.

June soon gave way to July and then to August and I still could not find my voice. I knew by then that my little blog – if it was to continue – could not remain what it was. The world had changed too much. I had changed too much.

One thing has not changed. I still love words. And that is what my blog was initially created to celebrate. Words. My own as well as those of others. Over the past several weeks I’ve thought about what I have loved most about blogging.

Some of my favorite posts have been my responses to the occasional daily word prompts on Word Press. These posts were often personal in nature, frequently about my experiences as a mom of three boys. I had fun with these posts and really enjoyed sharing them.

I enjoy the reading challenges, and appreciate how they provide automatic ideas on what to write about. And it turns out, my book review posts are some of my best viewed. However, I soon fell behind on reading – and therefore reviewing – the books on my reading list. The blog started to feel like more work than I wanted it to be.

I love the freedom the blog allows me to write whatever is on my mind. I can share about the great book I just read, or I can offer a bit of wit or wisdom I’ve gleaned somewhere. And I have really enjoyed posting a weekly writing prompt and trying to use it to inspire my own writing.

What does all this mean for the future of my blog? I don’t quite know yet. But changes are coming. Dramatic changes. I still hope to primarily be a source of inspiration and encouragement. I want to share lighthearted posts, reviews of really great books, the whimsy of my children and yes, maybe a tough thought piece now and again.

I miss being here. I haven’t dropped off the face of the earth. I’ve been truly amazed at how many people continue to stop by even when I’m not updating the site. I’m hopeful I can turn this corner, but I’m not entirely there. Not yet. I haven’t yet found my new normal in this topsy turvy world.

Unlock the Muse – May 26, 2020

While many places around the world are reopening after the pandemic closures, there are still so many people getting sick and even dying from this disease. People are returning to work, engaging again in normal activities. But there is still so much anxiety and uncertainty. But here’s my hope for you: stay strong and be resilient. Adapt and change where you must, but stay true to who you are. Hold on to your dreams and goals. They’re still worth pursuing.

Inspire
Here’s your writing prompt for this week:

Describe your mother: her smell, walk and talk. What are your feelings toward her? Did she change much from the time you were a child to when you became an adult?

After you write about your own mother, do this exercise for the main characters in your current work in progress. Is your hero a mama’s boy? Does he hold resentment for his mother? Give your characters an emotional back story.

Encourage
It’s the final week of May, and therefore, it is play week. Here’s a roll of the dice from Rory’s Story Cubes to inspire your creativity…

StoryCubes24

Happy writing.

Unlock the Muse – May 19, 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic has upended the world. Even with things beginning to reopen, nothing is as it once was. And likely never will be the same again. There is still so much uncertainty about what will happen in the future. I can’t help but be concerned about what will happen with our schools come fall.

Uncertainty and anxiety have made creativity more difficult for me. I try to be strong and keep working on my writing, but the interest often isn’t there. Maybe this is okay, and I shouldn’t push myself so hard to write when the words just aren’t there.

Inspire
Here’s your writing prompt for this week:

Start a writing ritual. Many authors (Jack Kerouac, Stephen King, Somerset Mougham) have used quirky rituals to help get them in the creative mood to write.

If you’ve used some sort of writing ritual before, but maybe find that is isn’t working for you, create a new one. Use the energy of this “new normal” we live in to build something new. And so, clear your work space, clear your schedule, clear your mind. Find something meaningful in every moment, and just write.

I’d love to hear about your writing rituals. What works for you? What doesn’t?

Encourage
re·sil·ient
adjective

  1. (Of a person or animal) able to withstand or recover quickly from difficult conditions.
  2. (Of a substance or object) able to recoil or spring back into shape after bending, stretching, or being compressed.

The word resilient, meaning “springing back,” dates from the 1640s. It comes to us from the Latin resilientum, “inclined to leap or spring back.” (from etymonline.com)

Resilience is the ability to withstand or recover quickly from difficult conditions. We’re all living in difficult conditions right now. It isn’t over yet. It’s okay if you haven’t been able to “bounce back.” I know I’m not there yet.

Stay strong, and happy writing!

Unlock the Muse – May 12, 2020

Last week I talked about resilience being the ability to bend without breaking. But I think it is even more than that. Resilience is about bending without giving way under the pressure, without losing the core of what makes you who you are.

Things are beyond hard right now. For a lot of different reasons. It’s impossible not to be changed by what we’re going through. But stay strong, be resilient, and hold on to who you are.

Inspire
Here’s your writing prompt for this week:

Is there a child around the house or in your life? Write a poem or prose piece about him or her at this age. Hold onto it, and give it as a gift when the child is grown.

Have children at home? Children grown and gone? Maybe your “children” are of the furry variety. Whoever that child is in your life, write something for the person they are right now, and for the person you hope they will one day become. If there’s no child in your life, write for the child you once were.

Encourage
I’ll leave you this week with this little thought from author C. S. Lewis:

Resilience Quote 2

Happy writing.