Wednesday, May 11, 2016

I Did It (Again!): A to Z Challenge 2016 Reflection



Last month's A to Z Blogging Challenge was the fourth I've completed. It was also by far the easiest. I'm not sure if that's due to the subject matter or the fact that I write more now than I ever have before. Either way, I thoroughly enjoyed it!

One thing I've gotten better with over time as a writer, especially with all the experience of these A to Z Challenges, is to let go of expectations. I've also learned to trust myself. So tomorrow is the day for letter X and I have nothing written? No big deal. I've got ideas and I know something will come of it before the day is done.

When I chose to write about "Books that have been significant to me," I figured that would translate to "My favorite books," but that wasn't the case. Sure, some of the books I wrote about were my all time favorites, but when I looked at my list of titles, I realized the books that packed a punch for me in my life weren't exactly fun easy reads.

When I chose to write about Under the Banner of Heaven, I was a little self conscious. Here in The West, Mormonism can be a touchy subject. Plus, the book's main story is gruesome. Did I really want to confess to loving this book? I followed my gut and went with it. Two days after that post went up, I received a message from a friend who knows the author and she got my book signed for me!


It was positive reinforcement, proving that following my intuition and putting myself out there has rewards. For all the times I put myself out there and no one notices or comments and for all the times I take a risk and fall flat on my face, here was an instance of being noticed and that felt wonderful!

The friend who introduced me to this challenge is also a writer. I've known her since elementary school. After we reconnected through Facebook, we've become pretty good pals again and participate in an online book club, even swapping books through the mail. I invited her to choose the same theme as I did, and so we both wrote about the books that have influenced our lives as writers and as human beings in general. I loved comparing our posts each day. We have very different writing styles and reading preferences yet we overlap from time to time and it's fun to see. We didn't double up on any books but were close on two. She chose On Writing by Stephen King for O, which I almost chose. Then I wrote about Watership Down by Richard Adams for W and she had almost chose that one as well!

All in all this was a fantastic year for me for the A to Z Challenge. I've encountered quite a few blogs that I will visit regularly and made some new connections. I'm already looking forward to next year!




Saturday, April 30, 2016

The Dude and the Zen Master by Jeff Bridges and Bernie Glassman


Okay, I know this title is a little bit of a stretch for Z but it's the closest I could get!  (Plus,  I've written about it before so that proves it's been significant in my life!)

This lovely  book is a collection of transcripts of conversations between Jeff Bridges and his friend/spiritual teacher, Bernie Glassman. I like it so much because the tone is casual. The conversations are full of observations and bits of wisdom that come from living such interesting lives as these men have.

My favorite line in this book has become one of my personal mantras. Jeff says "Everyone you meet is your guru, teaching you something." I'd held that belief prior to reading the book but had never quite put it into words. In the years since I've read this and written about it, this belief has truly become a part of who I am. Every single person I encounter has something to teach me, even if that person in a pain in the butt! (Actually, I've found it is especially true if that person is a pain in the butt!) Likewise, everyone I encounter can learn something from me. Not everyone is open to this sharing of knowledge, but when they are, WOW, amazing connections take place!

Jeff Bridges lives in my community and while I've never met him, I know people who have. Each story I hear reinforces my belief that he's an excellent human being as well as being a fantastic actor! Any time I've seen him interviewed, he exudes coolness, wisdom and gratitude. Maybe our paths will cross some day!

If you're interested in Zen philosophy, and what that looks like in conversation, I highly recommend this book. Even if you aren't particularly interested in Buddhism, I think this book has a lot to offer in the way of inspiring the reader to slow down and truly think about life.





Friday, April 29, 2016

Yes Please by Amy Poehler


Since Tina Fey's book is on my list, I suppose it's not a surprise that Amy Poehler's is here as well. These women are two of my personal heroes and just about anything they do makes me happy!

I rushed to read Amy's book when it came out because I knew it would be hilarious and honest. That it is. What struck me most is her how her positivity shines through on every page. This is not a standard memoir or typical comedian's book of collected bits. It's part memoir, part self-help and 100% funny inspiration!

If you  haven't read the hard cover version of this book, you need to. Even if you've read it on Kindle or listened to audio. You can't miss out on these awesome photos and gorgeous glossy pages. They bring Amy's personality to the page and give her words extra meaning.



Amy tells her story honestly and gracefully. She reminds us it's okay to get pissed off or disappointed but it's important to still be kind and grateful. 

Much like with Tina Fey, I feel that Amy Poehler is a kindred spirit. At times I felt I was reading wise words written especially for me from a best friend! My favorite lines from the book are probably these  "The only way we will survive is by being kind. The only way we can get by in this world is through the help we receive from others." That's something I could have written myself! It's reassuring to hear these words from a woman who has fought hard for her success and remains humble. Do yourself a favor and read this book!


Thursday, April 28, 2016

X is for Crossover


Try as I might, I couldn't come up with a book to write about for X. This happened when I wrote about songs for the challenge two years ago, so I decided to use the same topic, crossover popularity.

I was late to the Harry Potter party. I was in my early twenties and had a snobby attitude of Why would I want to read children's books? A good friend finally talked me in to giving the first book a try. Of course I loved it and flew through the rest, then becoming one of the eager masses anxiously awaiting the release of the next title! Those books are beautifully written, getting a little bit darker with each installment. When I finished the last book, I felt lost.

I assumed the Harry Potter books were an anomaly. I couldn't imagine there would be any other "kids' books" as good as those so I returned to my comfort zone of contemporary "adult" novels for several years.

Then the Twilight craze hit. I didn't notice it at first, but when I did I avoided the books because let's me honest, it sounds lame. A friend sent me a copy of the first book so I dove in and, BIG SURPRISE, I thought it was fantastic and got totally sucked in to the drama. So of course I sped through the rest of the series, but this time I was disappointed. I liked the second book a lot, thought the third was meh and could barely get through the last one.  To this day, I absolutely adore that first book. I've read it at least three times. I'm not saying it's a literary feat, but I enjoy it a great deal!


Since then, I've dropped all my preconceived notions about any genre. I realized I was severely limiting myself by thinking I "couldn't" read something due to my age. Now, I'll read anything. I love that there's so much possibility out there.

I've tried some YA and hated it (Hunger Games, Maze Runner) but loved others (John Green, Cassandra Clare) which goes for any genre I read. I love contemporary novels but recently had to quit one a friend sent because I just didn't like it one bit. And I felt terrible about it!

But with so many options when it comes to reading material, I do wonder why these YA titles become so popular. Sure some of them are spectacular stories that are well written but not all of them. Does it have anything to do with the fact that the average American reads at a 8th grade level? Did you even know that? The statistics I found are unimaginable. I guess if 44% of American adults don't read a single book in a year, those who do read should be encouraged, no matter what titles they choose.

Do you read YA/ Why or why not? And what do you think about The Literacy Project Foundation's statistics?




Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Watership Down by Richard Adams


I first read this book somewhere around age 12. I had seen the animated version as a younger child but didn't comprehend the story. Reading the novel made me feel intelligent and sophisticated! It was the first "grown up" novel I read and it opened doors for me to other reading material I hadn't yet considered. I was in my twenties before I learned the book was written for children, and I was super disappointed for my young self.

My passion for animals was in full swing by age 12 so I'm sure this book was in the right place at the right time, but I absolutely loved it. This is also around the same age at which I acquired a pet bunny - go figure!

What interested me most about the rabbits in Watership Down was the glimpse into a community of animals living without humans as a main character. They had relationships, mythological beings, and their own language. Wow! While I realized animals in the wild didn't live exactly like this, it sparked my interest in how they might live. This book not only fueled my love of reading, it encouraged my interest in animals and biology. 

The copy pictured above is the one I gave my husband as a birthday gift when we first started dating. The one pictured below is that first copy I had.



I've read this book twice since that first time, but I'm pretty sure I haven't read it in the last 20 years. I've chosen it as my selection for when I host for our book club in June, our theme being Choose Your Favorite Book. The reason I chose this and not The Lovely Bones is because this is my first favorite book. It has been a part of who I am for a long time! Just discussing it evokes a strong emotional response, so I am extremely curious and happy to revisit it at my age to see how it feels and what my friends and I take away from it now.




Tuesday, April 26, 2016

The Value of Believing in Yourself by Spencer Johnson, MD


I had a copy of this book as a kid. I'm fairly certain it came from a thrift store called The Hodge Podge, but I don't know anything else about how I ended up with it.

A couple of years ago, I came across a copy at a yard sale for 50 cents and was so thrilled I wrote a blog post about it !

I can't say whether this book has had any impact on my believing in myself over the years, but I am fairly confident is fueled my interest in veterinary medicine and vaccinations! Over my many years as a vet tech, I'd encounter owners who didn't want to vaccinate their pet for rabies. Sometimes the reason was financial but it was usually ignorance. I can't tell you how many times I had a conversation like this:
                     Client: Why do I have to vaccinate my dog for rabies? We don't have a problem with rabies around here.
                     Me: No, we don't, because we vaccinate against rabies!
 Each time I had this conversation, I thought of this book! I'd think I know the story of Louis Pasteur inventing this vaccine and he did not spend his life doing that so people could decline the vaccine to save $17!



  *Side Note: Last summer I read a non-fiction book called Rabid, about the history of rabies in our culture. Fascinating and horrifying stuff - I highly recommend it if it sounds interesting to you!

So, to say this book was significant in my life is putting it mildly. I find it funny that there is obviously a series of these ValueTale books but this is the only one I have encountered in my life, and twice!

Monday, April 25, 2016

Under the Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakauer


This is the most compelling non-fiction book I've ever read. I hadn't read Krakauer until a couple of years ago but once I started, I couldn't stop! This is my favorite of his by far, but don't let that fool you into thinking it's an enjoyable read!

This book tells a terrible, violent story which book ends the telling of the history of Mormon Fundamentalists. Alternating between horrifying and interesting, the book is a perfect example of Krakauer's style of fact telling without skewing the reader. 

I listened to the audio book and would occasionally find myself standing in my kitchen open mouthed, leaning forward as I listened with anticipation. It was difficult to stop the book when I needed to because I always wanted to hear more, even when it was finished. It was one of those books that left me with an emotional hangover. 

Not only are Krakauer's books incredibly compelling to me as a reader, they are a huge inspiration to me as a writer. I am often mesmerized by his story telling, even when I know how the story ends. As I read, a part of me is hoping that I'm mistaken and the book will actually have the happy ending I'm hoping for!

If you are a fan non-fiction, you'll appreciate his writing. If you like a good story (and have a strong stomach!) you'll surely like his books as well!

Saturday, April 23, 2016

The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger



I first read this book more than a decade ago, before it was widely popular and long before it became a movie. A fellow book loving friend recommended it so I picked up a copy and it instantly became one of my favorites.

This is one of those books that polarizes people. Either you love it or hate it. I haven't figured out what predisposes a person one way or the other, but I've never encountered anyone who thought it was just okay.

I've heard this book described as a romance novel and I guess I can see why, but a better description is to call it an epic love story. I had never read anything quite like it. At the time when I first read it, I was going through my divorce and I think this book crawled into the hole in my heart!

Even though the premise is far fetched, the characters are relate-able. My heart ached for them and rejoiced for them. It's a sprawling story that takes some time to get used to but once you get into it, you'll get swept up!

I was hesitant to watch the movie version because I love the book so much and my concerns were justified. While the film is probably lovely if you've never read the novel, I found it had too many holes and simply didn't do the book justice. Unfortunately that's not uncommon when it comes to book versus movie!

If you've read this book, what side of the polar opposites are you on and why? If you haven't please add it to you TBR list today!





Friday, April 22, 2016

S is for David Sedaris







I was introduced to David Sedaris' work slowly. First, a friend gave me a copy of one of his essays to read. A year or so later, a co-worker made me a CD of Sedaris reading his work to listen to on a road trip and I thoroughly enjoyed it. One of my best friends sent me a copy of Naked in a care package when I was going through my divorce. I read it cover to cover in about a day, and that's when I truly came to appreciate David Sedaris.

I went to a used book store that same week and bought copies of the other Sedaris books they had, Me Talk Pretty One Day and Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim. I read them both in quick succession and I've been an adoring fan ever since!

David Sedaris is my number one inspiration as a writer. Once I began reading his work, I tried to emulate him. My writing shifted into personal essay style and not too long afterward, I started my first blog. In his books, I found someone doing what I wanted to do and it was like I finally had permission to start telling my stories.

What I value so much about Sedaris' writing is how he takes every day occurrences and makes them significant. I love his dark, cynical humor and how he can laugh at his misfortune and still tell one hell of a story.

I have three David Sedaris shelves in my house. One on the big book shelf in our living room (pictured above.) That's where I keep my signed copies and all the books that mean the most to me. These guys do not get lent out! Then I have a second shelf on my writing desk where I keep the copies I turn to for reference and inspiration. I buy used copies of his books when I come across them, to pass on to others and I keep those in a stack in my closet.
 
I've been extremely fortunate to attend two of David's readings and book signings at both. The first time I met him I was speechless (which  is a rarity for me!) so the second time I was prepared! I sat in the front row, my notebook in my lap and as soon as he welcomed questions from the audience my hand shot into the air like a rocket. Afterward, I spoke to him more as he signed my books and asked him, to give me some writing advice in an inscription. He answered my questions thoughtfully and honestly. I'm sure not many writers have had an opportunity like that! It's so awesome to have a story to tell about my biggest writing inspiration saying "Ramona, you're over thinking it." I have taken that advice to heart in more ways than he probably intended and I'm much better for it!





Thursday, April 21, 2016

The Reader by Bernhard Schlink


I read this book because it was an Oprah's Book Club Selection, and I didn't know what it was about. If you know me well, you are laughing because I typically don't like WWII novels. The subject is so heavy, it doesn't seem possible to ever do it justice. (I feel the same about historical fiction involving slavery.)

The Reader is the only exception I've encountered. That may be partly because it doesn't actually take place during WWII, but the subject matter is still there.

This book is short, so it's all meat and bones. It punched me directly in the gut (in a good way) because it asks the ultimate question: Can we forgive the people we love of doing horrible things?

This is also one of the few times where I feel the movie version of a wonderful book does it justice. Kate Winslet is fantastic in whatever she does and she plays this part perfectly.

I read a ton of books, and because I read pretty quickly (and because I've had a few concussions,) retention can be an issue for me. I can remember if I read a book and if I liked it or not but I may not be able to recall details. For a novel to stick with me for several years AND I remember the plot line, it shows what a powerful, well written story it is.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Q is for Ramona Quimby



More often than not, when I introduce myself to someone, he/she will ask if I was named after Ramona Quimby. I'll admit it makes me feel a bit bad ass to respond with "No, I was named after The Ramones,"but sharing a name with Miss Q hasn't been a bad deal either.

Having my name in common with Ramona Quimby drew me to these books and surely can be partly credited with my love of reading. Discovering there was not one but multiple books with a character who shared my name was fascinating to the young me.

I related to Ramona Q in many ways. While she had an older sister and I am an only child, I understood her desire for her parents' love and attention, and her good intentions that didn't necessarily always go as she hoped.

I spent many a weekend morning propped up in my bed reading these books, laughing out loud at Ramona's silliness. In her, I found a kindred spirit.

I pick up used copies of these books so I can lend them out, but mostly because I like seeing the different version and imaging how many times they've been passed around. I recently found this vintage copy at Goodwill for 70 cents!


I've been called Ramona the Brave and Ramona the Pest, and occasionally even Ramona Quimby, but it never bothers me. I actually considered Ramona the Brave as a roller derby name!

Ramona Quimby was the first literary character I connected to. I have her to thank for a lifetime of being comfortable with a unique name and my love of reading!

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde


This is one of the first few audio books I ever listened to, when I had a temp job in a warehouse. I clearly recall listening intently to a serious part of the story when suddenly the narrator said "The end." I may have gasped out loud! I had no idea the book was near the end and was caught completely off guard. (This same thing happened with Of Mice and Men, yuck.)

I'm sure being socked by the dramatic ending is partly why TPODG  made my list, but it's not the only reason. This book had been recommended to me a few times over the years but I'd avoided it because I previously wasn't much interested in reading classics. I figured audio would be a good way to get through some of them and I was right!

When I read classics, I'm surprised at how universal the themes are. Even if the language is "old fashioned," the concepts are often relate-able. TPODG struck me in that way, because even though Dorian is vain and kind of a jerk, I can understand why he did what he did and I felt bad for him toward the end.

This book contains one of my favorite literary quotes, “There is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.” The first time I heard it, I stopped the audio book so I could write it down! I don't necessarily believe that for myself, but I can see the truth in it for others and especially as part of this story.

I guess this book is also dear to my heart because it changed my opinions about the classics and led me to read others. And even though I hated Animal Farm and Lord of the Flies, I am glad I am pushing myself to get through the books that paved the way for the contemporary writers and novels I love.

Monday, April 18, 2016

O is for Sharon Olds


When I took my college placement exams, I tested into Remedial Math and Advanced English Composition. I got an A on every paper I wrote in that class and my Professor recommended me for a new writing program the English Department was developing. It was in this group that a professor showed us a video of Sharon Olds reading her poem Topography and I fell in love with it.

As soon as I could, I bought the book containing that poem and poured over the pages. I've never liked writing fiction, and it was here that first I saw a way to tell my story and write non-fiction. Sharon Olds is the first writer who made me say "I want to do that!"

Her writing showed me that poetry isn't always fluff or over my head. Her poems tell stories that are ripe with emotion and the gritty rawness of life. She writes about her father's death, her divorce, about love and sexuality.

I was 18 at the time, and while I didn't have a ton of life experience to draw on, I still managed to fill pages and pages of notebooks with poems. I wrote about love and lust, about boyfriends and family issues. I had been keeping a journal for a while but writing poetry was the first time I tapped into the guts of my writing, the first time I was able to truly express myself with my written words. I still some of those poems tucked away.

I'm not sure when I made the transition to writing personal essay style, which is my preferred style now. I still love poetry and try my hand at it occasionally. I find it helpful for intensely emotional topics, when I can't quite string sentences together yet.

If you haven't heard of Sharon Olds before, or if you think you don't like poetry, do yourself a favor and give her stuff a try!







Saturday, April 16, 2016

N is for Numbers: The Five Love Languages and The Four Agreements



I couldn't choose between the three books I had listed for F so I figured out a way to use them all!

I'm a list maker. I like outlines and guidelines. These two books appealed to me, and provided me with guidance and support, because they are in a format I enjoy.



The Four Agreements is another of the books I buy when I encounter a used copy, to pass on later to someone in need. This book provides a brief, concise plan for living a true, honest life. These are four complicated concepts summarized in simple language which helps it sink it.

"Don't take anything personally" is one of the greatest pieces of advice I've ever received, from a counselor several years ago.  It took me a while to wrap my brain around the concept, but once I did it blew the doors off my perceptions of the world. Reading The Four Agreements helped drive the idea home. Combined with the other three Agreements: Be Impeccable With Your Word, Don't Make Assumptions, and Always Do Your Best, this little book provides a code of conduct that makes sense and helps you to feel good about the way you're living.





 The 5 Love Languages had been suggested to me several times before I finally got around to buying a copy. I was suspicious of a "secret to love that lasts."

"It's up front with the best sellers," directed the sullen clerk at Barnes & Noble, with a non-verbal Duh. "Everybody has read this book," he added, presumably to make it quite clear to me that I was behind the times.

That clerk was right, I definitely wish I had read this book sooner! It clicked with me immediately and my then boyfriend, now husband read it as well. We both took the quiz in the back and compared our answers. I can't say this automatically solved all over our "issues" and assured us every lasting love. However, I can say without a doubt that this book was an important tool in the process of us
healing from said "issues," understanding each other better, and communicating clearly.

Yes, this book and quiz has helped me better understand my partner, but almost more importantly, I learned my own love languages. This book gave me permission to acknowledge that I am a physical person. It helped me understand it's okay for me to crave physical affection (romantic and non) and that having a sexual nature isn't a negative thing itself, but the ways that I handle it which can be.



Both of these books have played crucial roles in improving my quality of life. They are part of my library which I refer to in times of need.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari


Modern Romance is the newest title to appear on my list. In fact, it's been less than a year since I read it, and out of the 103 books I read in 2015, this was my favorite!

I adore Aziz from Park & Rec and his stand up specials, so I was excited to hear he had a book coming out and suspected I would like it a great deal. And while this book is chock full of his personality and humor, sociologist Eric Klinenberg contributed a great deal as well. It's part humor, part social science study and the result is a one of a kind book that went straight to my heart.

This book spoke to me because it looks at love and romance in an entirely different way than anyone else has. Sure it's hilarious at times, but it's real. Aziz explains this as he tells how this concept came to be: After an unsatisfying text message exchange with a woman he was interested in, Aziz went to an open mike night and did a comedy bit about what had happened to him. He was struck by how many audience members had similar experiences and realized no one was talking about these issues publicly.  So he started on a journey to write a book about what the dating world is like right now compared to what it's been in the past, thanks to the advancements of technology that affect every part of our lives.

When Aziz did a comedy show, Eric would come out afterward and they would invite people to share their stories and answer questions. Participants gave Aziz and Eric access to their phones, text messages and dating profiles so they could better understand habits. They also interviewed people from multiple generations to get an idea of how dating has changed over the decades. It gives a look into the minds and hearts of people as they attempt to navigate the dating world and figure out what they're truly looking for. It's fascinating stuff.

I was married at 24 and divorced a few years later. Dating at 30 was much different than dating in my early 20s. That change is a big deal on its own. Add in text messaging and Match.com and I felt like I had entered a foreign culture. Which, I guess I had. 

If you're a human being with a heart, you'll like this book. If dating was ever a struggle for you, you'll relate to it. But if you've dated in the past ten years, you will connect with it on a completely different level and this book will make you laugh until you cry.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold


If I had to pick one favorite contemporary novel, this would be it hands down. It's the first book I ever read in one sitting! I had seen it in Sam's Club, was drawn to the cover and fascinated by the synopsis on the back cover. I asked for it for my birthday from my mom. The day it came in the mail, I curled up in my papasan chair, cracked open the cover and hardly moved for the rest of the day.

The novel tells a horrible story but does it beautifully. Something about it reached my soul and never left. It made me think about and feel things that no book before it had done. It's certainly a book that haunts you after you finish and that's what I like about it.

I've had more than one person shudder in response to my admission of loving this book so much. I know mothers who hated it or couldn't even finish it. I can understand that. Our life experiences affect our reading preferences, that's one of the things I love so much about books.

When the movie version came out, I went at my first opportunity and may have held my breath the entire time! I was pleasantly surprised and have seen the film a couple of times since then. It's visually stunning and has a fantastic cast.

I've never encountered anyone who doesn't have strong feelings about this book. It's one you either love or hate. And while it isn't for everyone, if you haven't read it and what I've said here hasn't put you off, I highly recommend it! 




Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain


This is the only book on my list that I wouldn't read again! I can't even say I enjoyed reading this one, but it effected me significantly and that's the point of this list!

It's part memoir, part behind the scenes look into the restaurant industry. It's a well written book, interesting and funny at times, but the honest look into professional kitchen life was a bit much for me. I think I went at least three months without eating out after I read it!

Even though parts of the book severely grossed me out, I like that it elicited that strong of a reaction from me. It's yet another reminder of how we are all connected in this world, though we tend to forget that. Each time we go out to eat, we are putting our life into the staffs' hands. That may sounds a bit over dramatic but after reading this book, I don't think it is! We trust that people are going to treat our food with care and show up to work sober, but that doesn't happen all the time!

This book shook up my perspective a lot. Obviously so when it comes to restaurants, but also about people in general. And even though I wouldn't read it again, I am glad I read it in the first place. It taught me that you don't necessarily have to like a book for it to have an impact on your life!



Tuesday, April 12, 2016

The Joy of Appreciative Living by Jacqueline Kelm


I'm sure it's clear by now that I've been significantly affected by non-fiction books designed to help increase happiness and quality of life.

The other books I've talked about so far are great for people who are already on a path of personal discovery and growth. While this book is helpful for those people also, it's the first one I recommend for someone who is suspicious of the concept of being able to make yourself happier or of having a gratitude process.

What makes this book different is that it takes a scientific approach. The author's studies have shown that people who actively participate in exercises to record what brings them joy have measurable increases in personal happiness. Those who continue to do the exercises have continued gains in happiness while those who stop have decreases in happiness.

I can tell my story over and over. I can talk about my own experiences until I'm blue in the face. But if someone doesn't get it, they don't get it. This book is full of cases studies and testimonials from participants who were admittedly unhappy and experienced a great difference after participating in the author's study. The straightforward presentation of the data is undeniable. The steps are explained clearly and the 28 Day Plan is completely manageable.

I like this book because it's different from others in the genre. It's not super "touchy feely." When life gets overwhelming, I can lose interest in the "fun" techniques that make me feel better and this book reminds me that I do have the ability to boost my happiness in a simple way.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Interview With the Vampire by Anne Rice


I've loved books since I was a young kid, but I credit Anne Rice and this series of books, with fueling my passion for reading when I was a teenager.

I first heard of IWTV when word got out that it was being made into a movie starring Tom Cruise. Since I've obviously been a book nerd all my life, I thought Man, I want to read that book before the movie comes out. So I did, and it blew me away! I had never read anything like it. It was scary, and sexy and incredibly compelling. As soon as I finished, I went straight to the public library for the sequel, The Vampire Lestat. This was the first series of adult books that I got hooked on. I read one after the other, staying up late at night, my nose in a book.

When I first read Twilight, I pictured Edwards as Tom Cruise's Lestat and thought Well this doesn't make sense at all. Then I realized the vampires in contemporary fiction have shifted into heart throbs who don't want to hurt the humans they fall in love with. Don't get me wrong, I do love that first Twilight book but it's completely different. Anne Rice's vampires are the real deal to me (although I realize they are a different incarnation than the "original" vampires in the time of Dracula.)

If you like newer vampire fiction, give these a try. You won't be disappointed!



Saturday, April 9, 2016

The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin


Do you believe you would be happier if you made more money or drove a nicer car? Really truly happier? Or would you be happier if you could find your keys every time you wanted to leave the house and had a convenient place to hang our coat when you got home?

These are the questions that Gretchen Rubin addresses in her Happiness Project books. What I love so much about her approach is that she doesn't suggest one needs to take drastic measures to improve happiness. In fact, she isn't even suggesting what you do. She's simply sharing her journey - what works and what doesn't - and it never comes across as pretentious or unrealistic.

I read The Happiness Project when I was in the early stages of trying to figure out how to improve my quality of life. Sure, everyone says they want to be happier but what does that mean?

Gretchen Rubin shows how it means taking a look at the "little things" in our every day lives. Identify what brings you joy and do more of that! Identify what makes you miserable and do less of that! Happiness is something different for each person. Where people often struggle is when we compare our lives to others and try to mimic someone else's happiness.

Gretchen's second book, Happier at Home, resonated with me even more than her first. She recognizes that she is a home body and loves to spend her time in her home, with her family, and so she focuses on how to make it a happier place for all of them.

I guess these are considered self help books but the author never says "This is what you should do." Instead, she says "This is what I did, now make it your own." I appreciate the honesty of her writing. Just because she's studying happiness doesn't mean she's happy all the time or that all her projects always turn out well.

These books have motivated me to make changes in my life that have been fun and helpful!

Friday, April 8, 2016

Good Morning by Brook Noel


I happened upon this book in 2009 while perusing the Self Help section of Borders on my lunch break. Having recently watched The Secret, I was at the beginning of my spiritual transformation. I didn't know anything about this book but I followed my intuition and seven years later, I still read it most days. I give this book a lot of credit for helping me transform my life into one of optimism and gratitude, and I've written about it before. 

I thrive with structure and routine - this is the first way Good Morning has helped me. I'm a morning person, so dedicating a chunk of time to myself after I first wake, for coffee, writing, list making and intention setting has transformed my days.

The times I strayed from this routine, (because I love sleep and hated my job so stayed in bed as long as possible each morning) my quality of life decreased. In turn, other parts of my life suffered including my relationship and my physical health.


The book's format is simple and easy to follow. For each day of the year, there is a page with a theme. Fitting into that theme is a quote and a "message" which is the author's entry.  Then there's "Your Turn" which is a paragraph or two on how to apply this Good Morning theme to your daily life. At the end, there is a positive affirmation, which is my favorite part.



I highly recommend this book, or one similar to it, if you feel your life is lacking a structure you would like to have. Establishing morning routine could likely be a first step in making other changes.



Thursday, April 7, 2016

The Fourth Hand by John Irving

Image from Pinterest

I've read, and loved, several John Irving novels. They aren't easy reads and the subject matter is often heavy (incest, infidelity, physical deformity.) I've found I can't fully appreciate an Irving novel until I've completely finished it and taken a few days to process the whole thing.

I don't want to give away too much because I want you to read this book, but I do want to give you a brief summary: A man loses one of his hands in an accident and when he receives a hand transplant, a relationship develops between him and the donor's wife. No room for weirdness or heavy subject matter there, right? Ha!

In typical Irving fashion, this story is bizarre and made me uncomfortable at times. It has stuck with me more than the rest of his, though I'm not totally sure why. The story is an investigation into the power of grief, love, and all the "What ifs" we ask when facing tragedy.

What I love about Irving's characters is the same thing that can make his novels tough to get through. His characters often make choices that have me slapping a palm to my forehead. However, the fact that they make questionable choices, makes them more realistic than people in most novels. There isn't always a happy ending or redemption. Sometimes the characters badly suffer the consequences of their actions, even when they had good intentions. I liked the characters in this book a great deal, even when they weren't always likable per se.

Even though this story seemed impossible, it still felt believable. I could understand why things happened the way they did. This is what makes me fall in love with a novel, and John Irving has mastered the skill.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer


This was one of the first fiction audio books I listened to and the first with multiple narrators. Different voices make characters more compelling and relate-able.

A few years ago, I had a temp job in a warehouse and was able to listen to my iPod while I worked. After getting bored with music all day every day, I got into Pod Casts and then audio books. While I was listening to this book, I'd occasionally find that I'd stopped moving and was standing still, listening intently!

This book evoked an emotional response in me that few others have been able to do. It's the first (and only?) book I've read with 9/11 as a pivotal event in the story. That alone adds a certain emotional heft. The way the present is woven with the past throughout the book is beautiful.

My friend Lea, also an avid reader, warned me that she cried like crazy at the end of this book. I very rarely cry while reading, so I didn't have that response but I did have what I call an "emotional hangover" after finishing!

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Dry by Augusten Burroughs


I chose a lot of non-fiction books for this challenge. I wasn't anticipating that when I got the idea for my theme. Because I mostly read fiction, I expected my list of books here would be mostly fiction. (I think it's going to come out to about half and half.)

This list isn't about my favorite books, it's about the books that have been significant in my life. When I started, I didn't realize there was a difference. I could certainly chose a novel I loved for each letter of the alphabet, but when I looked closely at my list I realized most of the books that have affected me deeply are non-fiction. That makes sense, since I write non-fiction. I believe our personal stories are powerful, so much more than we give them credit for. I also believe the true things I have experienced in my life are far more bizarre than any fiction I could ever write!

I'd read three of Augusten Burrough's non-fiction books before Dry and I liked them just fine. I like his writing because it's gritty, and he certainly does not sugar coat anything. This memoir of his alcoholism knocked my socks off. The raw-ness of his story telling here is incredible.

I am aware of the power alcohol can have over a person. I have my own experiences of submitting to that power in times of weakness. My stories aren't like the ones told here, but I can understand how the slope could become so slippery as to lead to such situations. Everyone's version of Rock Bottom looks different. I thoroughly appreciated this brutally honest look into someone else's.


Monday, April 4, 2016

Carry On, Warrior by Glennon Doyle Melton



When my friend Melissa, who I've known since high school, tells me "This book reminds me of you," I know not to take her lightly. When she recommended Carry On, Warrior to me, it was pretty new and I'd never heard of Glennon or her blog, Momastery.  It took me about a year to get my hands on a copy (from my library) and I was barely 20 pages in til I was kicking myself, Why did I wait so long to read this book?!?!

One thing I love about reading is how it connects us to the writer's soul. Every so often I encounter a book that makes me think The person who wrote this is my kindred spirit! Not only is the writing so freaking good, but it reaches me in a way the rest of the things I read don't. Glennon is one of these writers (as is Mary Karr, Ann Patchett, John Irving, Elizabeth Gilbert, David Sedaris.) I read this book and I wanted to read every word she's ever written and be her friend!


As a writer myself, there's something extraordinary about the moment when I encounter another person's written words that make me say Yes! Yes! This is what I want to write! It's inspiration, but it's mostly a feeling of belonging, a feeling of I'm not the only one who feels this way so I should write my story. Glennon writes her truth, which is not always pretty, or funny, or easy to stomach. That reminds me I'm not alone in my struggles, and it unites those of us with similar stories/desires/hearts.

This is a book I go back to over and over for reminders. My copy full of sticky notes and highlighted passages. I consider it a guide book for life!

In an essay titled On Weaving and Repentence, Glennon talks about how when she first married, she experienced  her husband's family "as an unfamiliar culture." That hit home for me. I read this years before I married my husband, but we'd been together for a few years and I was struggling to find my place in his large family, after spending my entire life in my small one. She reminds us to think of our mother-in-law's family as a special rug she has been weaving. This particular passage is exactly what I needed: "And Daughters-in-law, notice the beauty of the rug your mother-in-law spent a lifetime weaving. Remember that her pattern is mostly firmly established - no need to suggest improvements. Be kinder than necessary, being mindful that the piece of art it took her a lifetime to weave - her masterpiece - she gave to you, to keep you warm at night." That gave me permission to not worry about all the little BS when I go to my mother-in-law's house. Also, it gave me the permission I needed to have boundaries and traditions in my own home that are mine.

I now follow Glennon on social media and frequently visit her website. She is one of my personal Gurus! She leads by example, being honest and vulnerable, showing love and kindness. Check her out at momastery.com.





Saturday, April 2, 2016

Bossypants by Tina Fey



I've read this book twice and listened to it on audio once. It's the first one I recommend when friends ask for suggestions for "a light read."When I find a copy at a thrift store or yard sale, I buy it so I can pass it on to someone who will appreciate it.

Tina Fey is one of my personal heroes because she is a normal human being. She has succeeded because she's worked hard for years. She's super talented, brilliant, hilarious, and humble.

I love Tina Fey because she reminds me a lot of myself. And because she reminds women that we can do whatever we want. I love how together, she and Amy Poehler show the world what a female friendship should look like and how women should support each other. They are stunning examples for girls and young women.

I love this book not only because it's funny but because it's honest. Tina Fey doesn't apologize for who she is or where she came from. She admits her mistakes, and points out flaws in the system.Her writing and story telling are spot on.

If you haven't read it, you should! If you have read it,  try it in a different format. I promise it never gets old!

Friday, April 1, 2016

Are You There You God? It's Me Margaret. by Judy Blume


We must, we must, we must increase our bust!  This is the response I got from several of my girlfriends when I told them I was writing about this book for my first post of the A to Z Challenge!

When I first read this book, in my pre-teen years, I connected strongly with Nancy Wheeler. I was also an only child and had moved a few times in my childhood. First published in 1970, AYTGIMM was already a bit behind the times when I was reading it. I knew women didn't wear belts with their pads anymore, but that was pretty much all I knew about the subject. This book was my first real introduction to the world of puberty and the changes I could expect.

And like Nancy, I was also a late bloomer in my circle of friends. (One of my friends was having sex before I'd even gotten my first period!) I thought I was the slowest, least attractive female on the planet. But even though those times were tough, I always knew they'd change. I knew I'd catch up to everyone else eventually.

This is one of the first books that truly had an impact on my life. I can't recall how I ever got a copy, but I had it for many years and read it so many times. I'm honestly surprised I don't still have my original copy. I picked one up at a used book store recently. As I thumbed through it, reading passages here and there that are still familiar after all this years, I was struck with a sense of awe that a book could have such an impact on generations of women's lives. For that, I am eternally grateful to Judy Blume!

Monday, March 28, 2016

I Really Want To Judge You But I Can't


Image courtesy of totallandscapecare.com







There’s one particular house in my subdivision that always has lovely seasonal decorations, and not just major holidays! I pass it on the days I take my longer loop through the neighborhood with my dogs. I so enjoyed the red sparkly hearts swinging from the tree branches in February, that I’ve been considering writing a note and taping it to the front door, to let the owners know their efforts make my walks a bit more pleasant. I think about it each time I pass, but then promptly forget about it until I approach the house the next time.

Last week I was admiring the giant Easter Eggs dangling in the trees and thinking Dang it, I’ve got to remember to write that note, when my eyes moved from a cute concrete bunny to a sign staked into the grass that read: TRUMP: Make America Great Again. My thought was Oh, son of a B, and my heart sank. I continued walking, wondering if I still want to write that note or not?

I automatically made a LOT of assumptions about that homeowner in a split second. That sign tells me all I need to know, right? 

That’s what I thought at first. But what if someone put that sign on a friend’s lawn as a joke? (Talk about a total dick move.) Maybe it’s a rental and the landlord put the sign out or perhaps one spouse supports Trump and the other doesn’t. Could they be getting paid to have the sign in their lawn? There could be a myriad of reasons as to why that sign is there... 

Of course the most logical (and “worst case scenario”) is that the person who lives in the house and hangs d├ęcor that brings me so much joy believes Donald Trump is a great choice for a leader of our country. 

I do NOT believe that. I see Donald Trump as a hateful human being and I fear for the future of our nation if he is elected President. 

However, my politics may differ from that households’ but clearly we celebrate the same holidays and enjoy colorful decorations. Surely we may have other things in common?

I was working on my initial thoughts for this post over the weekend, writing by hand at my mother-in-law’s kitchen table, my ten year old niece was across from me coloring. We worked in comfortable silence for a while, then she asked “What are you writing about?” I looked down at my pages in a panic. My initial  thought was Oh just stuff for my blog, but she deserved a legitimate answer. 

I pushed my notebook aside and explained. I was impressed by how intently she listened, smiling at my description of the decorations and nodding in appropriate places. I finished by explaining my blog and saying "I like to write about the ways people are connected that we don't realize. Like how that person's decorations make me really happy but they don't know it. Even though that person likes Donald Trump and I don't, it doesn't make me like the decorations any less." She tilted her head to one side while considering, then nodded and said "That makes sense."
  
And right then, I knew I had my answer. I need to write that dang note.


To be continued…

Monday, March 21, 2016

A to Z Challenge 2016




This year will be the fourth time I've tackled the A to Z Blogging Challenge. The challenge involves posting 26 blog entries in the month of April! It's one of my favorite things about blogging and I typically look forward to it all year. This year it snuck up on me. The thought occurred to me while I was in the shower last week (As in Oh sh--, it's almost April!) and I thought for a moment about skipping it this year: I usually like to prep ahead of time, I have a work trip coming up in April,etc. But when I sat with the idea of not doing the challenge, it didn't feel right. I like to choose a theme for my blogging challenges because it makes it easier for me to think of topics. In the past, my A to Z  themes have been my favorite thingssongs that move me, and last year I wrote about life lessons I've learned.

As soon as I made the conscious decision of Yes, I'm going to do the challenge this year, my idea for a theme hit me: I'll write about the books that have been significant in my life. I've been wanting to start regular posts about the books I read so this will be a great way to get on to the topic!

I only have a couple of friends who read as much as I do, and one of them happens to be a writer and the person who introduced me to the A to Z Challenge. I invited her to use the same theme and she agreed. I can't wait to compare our lists because even though we both read a TON and even swap books at times, our reading preferences vary quite a bit. We also vary greatly in our writing styles yet we do a lot of proofreading and critiquing for each other. That's part of what I love so much about books, about reading, and writing, there's something for everyone.


I hope you enjoy learning about the books that have been significant in my life. My friend's blog can be found here, so you can follow along with both of us! Keep watching for those posts to start April first! (And hopefully you'll hear something else from me in the mean time!)

Monday, March 14, 2016

Feeling All The Feels Is Hard Work



I went to a church service yesterday to see my husband sing. During the prayer at the end of her sermon, the Pastor referred to four victims of two separate tragic crimes which occurred in our town last week. I was tearing up as we said Amen. My husband's solo was immediately afterward and then the congregation sang Amazing Grace. Talk about a triple whammy. I couldn’t stop crying.

I couldn’t sing. I couldn’t look at anyone. All I could do was cry. And feel. All the feelings at once: proud of my husband, grateful for him and our marriage, love for his family who was there, and for my family that is far away, grief for the crime victims, grief for losses in our family, for friends fighting cancer. Each feeling was connected to the next until they became one giant pulsing emotion.

After the service, my husband received several compliments on his solo. “You brought your wife to tears,” commented one white haired lady with a smile. My sweet husband smiled and rubbed my arm. He knew the truth.

I don’t know the victims of the homicides in our town. That doesn’t make the violence any less senseless, the losses any less tragic and horrific. I think of their grieving families and my heart breaks.
 
At home, my husband came downstairs after changing out of his suit to find me lying on the couch weeping again. He came over to comfort me but didn’t speak. “You know what’s weird?” I sniffed, “Right now, I’m crying because I’m so grateful that everyone I love is alive.” 

He sat with me for a while, then left to make us some tea. I got down on the floor with my dog Charlie. He’s a very emotionally intelligent creature. (I have a friend who refers to him as a Buddha.) I curled up beside him and he touched his nose to the top of my head and we stayed this way for a while. I called to my husband to come and take this photo because this was real. This is what it looks like to be a sensitive, emotional human being who gets overwhelmed by feeling and thinking and loving. Sometimes I just can’t move. 



My husband is a sensitive empathic soul as well. He says “It’s a blessing and a curse.” I don’t necessarily think it’s ever a curse but it isn’t always easy or fun. 

Friends who read my blog and Facebook posts often compliment me on my positivity and gratitude practice. I appreciate that people notice. That’s the upside. I usually don’t discuss the flipside, but I feel called to talk about it today.  

As one of my favorite writers/self-help Gurus, Glenn Doyle Melton says, “Life is hard—not because we’re doing it wrong, just because it’s hard.”

When we live fully, when we love fully, when we appreciate life as much as we can, life is difficult. That shit hurts. When we drift through our days without looking around or being passionate about things, it can be easier. I can’t tell you how many times in my life I’ve thrown up my head back and wailed “Why do I have to care so much?" knowing that if I cared less, I'd hurt less.

The thing is if I didn’t care so much, I wouldn’t be me. If I didn’t check cardboard boxes along the road to make sure there aren’t kitten inside, if I didn’t weep when I read the last Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants book, then I also wouldn’t connect with the performers I work with or be in tune with my pets’ health. It’s all the same muscle. Is it my brain or my heart or my soul? Or a combination of the three? I have no idea but it’s real. 

I know I'm not the only soul like myself out there. We're trained from a young age to be ashamed of our emotional selves and hide them. So what do you do when the feelings get to be too much?




Friday, March 4, 2016

What the Trump is Going On?






I've noticed something interesting happening in my Facebook feed lately: People who usually don't discuss politics are going there. Big time. And the folks who do commonly discuss politics are RAGING.

I like seeing people get fired up. I enjoy seeing the people I care about passionately express their views. Even when I don't agree with them.

I have a lot of Facebook friends who are conservative, who are Christian. I might not I hang out with them on a regular basis, but they are people I like and respect. I am not Christian and I consider myself liberal but contrary to what you may think, I do have quite a bit in common with those friends. We all believe in a higher power, we believe in showing kindness and love to others. We understand that it takes all kinds of people to make the world go round.

I usually don't chime in on political discussions on social media because I don't want to argue. I once ended up in a heated debate with a friend of a friend over the use of antibiotics so I can only imagine how I might get if the subject was a bit more "touchy." Occasionally I'll comment on a discussion, but for the most part I read what other people write and process that on my own.

Over the last couple weeks I've seen a comment more than once that has struck fear in my heart and made me realize I need to speak out. The comment went along the lines of "I'm disgusted with all of the candidates so I'm not going to vote," and was followed by a "Me too" and a "Me three" and so on. These particular folks were discussing the Republican candidates so I can feel their pain, however I don't think not voting is a solution.

I didn't say that on my friend's post. Now I wish I had, but it seems creepy to scroll back three weeks and comment. I saw similar posts from other friends, including comments about the Democratic candidates. I've had a real life discussion with an acquaintance who admitted apathetically "Oh I don't know that I'll even vote. I don't know enough about what's going on."

I didn't speak up to any of those people. I'm going to blame it on the fact that I'm a writer! I function better when I can take time to process my thoughts and express myself in writing. So here it goes:

Come on people, get your shit together and vote. If you're disgusted with all the candidates, write in the one you think would do the best job. If you "don't know what's going on," educate yourself. Every candidate has a website, go to it and read their positions on the issues. Do research. If you don't vote, you're perpetuating the problems.

The reason it's easier to be apathetic is because otherwise you need to look inside yourself and say "How do I truly feel about this particular issue (abortion, healthcare, war, drones, gun laws, etc,) and which candidate is closest aligned to my view?" It's not easy and I know I haven't done it about every issue but I took some time to look and said "Okay, now I know what they stand for so I'll think on it." 

Apathy is not the answer. Throwing your hands up and saying "Everybody sucks" doesn't change anything. I've realized that my saying "I'm going to stay quiet and not give my opinion" is a different version of that.  So let's talk about it.


Thursday, January 28, 2016

Does This Blog Post Make Me Look Fat?



My friend Amber is participating in a 365 Grateful Project this year. Each day, she posts a photo to her social media of someone/thing she is grateful for that day and a little blurb about the person/thing. As we hung out one evening, she asked if she could take my photo for that day’s post. I was honored.


When I got home and logged on to Facebook, her post popped up right away. The first thing I thought was Oh God, I look so fat.
 
Here’s what she wrote: “1/14/16 - Ramona - I am so happy to have this woman as part of my tribe. She is fierce and strong and sensitive and kind. She has taught me so much in the past couple years of friendship.” That’s incredible. You wish someone would write that about you on Social Media, right? It’s wonderful. But before I could let in sink in how kind and true her words were, I sat there berating myself for a fat face, bad haircut and wide body. 

Would I ever say anything like that to one of my friends? Never. I don’t think I’d even talk like that to someone I dislike. So why do I do it to myself?

I could list all the reasons I’ve gained weight since I've retired from roller derby. Some are valid reasons, some are excuses, but I’m not going there. I’m working on accepting that yes, my body is different than it was two years ago. It’s not good or bad, it's different. It simply is. 

The thing is, I know my body is amazing. This body of mine has played roller derby, given and taken hard hits, run races, hiked to mountain peaks, skied down mountain faces. It walks my dogs every day. This body has worked many long hours on tired feet. My body has danced, laughed, cried, taken lovers. This body has hugged some of my favorite people in the whole world. My body has healed from severe illness and injury, miraculously recovered from hangovers and migraines. It displays my beautiful tattoos, houses my soul. 

All of those things are astounding. They require strength, compassion, perseverance. Why is it so difficult to remember that my body is me? It's not a separate entity to be fought against.

Now, I want to go back to Amber’s 365 Grateful post because do you see what I did? I made it about me when it isn’t at all. 

So what's the post about if not its subject? Is it about Amber? Not really. Each post is about love and connection. Most of her photos are of people and in every single one of them, that person has a big smile and is obviously feeling loved.

With each post, Amber is giving love, showing appreciation, putting it out into The Universe without asking for anything in return. Maybe the least I can do is accept that graciously. Instead of disliking my photo, I try to look at it and see what she sees.

There's a gap between perception and reality. Sometimes it's bigger than others. The way I see myself is not the way others view me but what is true?

My sweet friend has inspired me so much with her posts, and I plan to start my own 365 Grateful Project on February 1st!