Saturday, August 6, 2022

Berry Picking: A Mindful Experience


 


Picking berries – any type of berries – can be so much more than a means of collecting fresh produce for consumption. Foraging for the colorful little treasures can be an experience of heightened awareness and a meaningful connection to nature. The actual exercise in picking berries is meditative in itself, without a conscious effort in deliberately making it a mindfulness activity. When picking berries, you need to prepare. Obviously, a bucket or bowl in which to collect your harvest is a necessity. Good vessels for this include large plastic bowls, pails with handles, or a lightweight bucket in which you can tie a rope and then circle it around your neck allowing your hands to be free for the picking. Another hands-free option is to rope your container to a belt around your waist. This container can be temporary, used only for collecting the berries. Later the berries can be put into quart baskets, jars, or trays depending on how you will be enjoying them. A bucket or bowl used for collecting raspberries should be no deeper than five inches so as to protect the berry. An overabundance of the fruit piled high may result in bruised berries or even a moldy mess. In addition to the container, consider the elements. If you are blueberry picking in bright full sunlight, you will need a protective hat and sunscreen. If foraging for blackberries deep within the woods, you may need bug spray and perhaps, a thin, breathable, yet tight fitted top with long sleeves that will protect you from the brambles. Aside from the practical preparations, you will also need to arm yourself with patience, curiosity, and a little know-how. 

Pink feet after barefoot mulberry picking!

 

As you head to the berry patch or forest and if the terrain is conducive to this, consider taking off your shoes. The therapeutic technique of grounding or earthing, consists of allowing your body to make contact with the earth. Walking barefoot outdoors is known to have many health benefits due to the realignment of your electrical energy to that of the earth. Possible health benefits include reduced levels of anxiety and depression, improved circulation, lowered blood pressure, decreased inflammation and an overall feeling of well-being. As you walk, take note of the solid earth below you. Notice how it is supporting you, holding you. How does it feel? Is there a silky, sandy floor beneath you or a soft, grassy path tickling the soles of your feet? If the circumstances allow, earthing can collaborate nicely with your berry picking excursion. 

 

Throughout the experience, look up at the sky periodically. Take note of the direction of the sun. Close your eyes and feel it’s warmth touching your skin. Reflect on how grateful you are to have the sun shining down on you, as if it’s just there for you this day. Are there any clouds in the sky? Perhaps they are a fluffy white, cotton candy fluff, that you feel you could reach out and touch. Close your eyes and become aware of the air around you. Feel the gentle breeze on your face. Think about where you are right now, on this earth, as a unique part of this beautiful world. Right here. Right now.

 

Blackberries

If the delicious treasure you seek is blackberries, be on the lookout for berries that are fully black, indicating a ripeness. Gently place your fingers around the berry. The berry should be rather firm. Give a very gentle tug, the slightest hint of a pull, really. If the berry willingly releases from the stem, you know it is ready. If it is reluctant, let it be. It needs more time. If the berry is mushy and squishes in your fingers, let it drop to the ground. This gives nature the opportunity for new growth, another berry bush, hope for the future. Be cautious in your pursuit of blackberries, as their branches are thorny. You will need to be fully aware and intentional with each reach into the bush, avoiding the sharp points that silently lurk there. Rest assured, your careful attention to these details will be worth it. 


Ripened blackberries (black) along with unripened blackberries (red.)

 

Blueberries

If sweet, juicy blueberries are what you desire, look for firm berries that are not squishy, split, or shriveled. You want a large, plump berry with a deep blue color. Leave the red ones, as they are not yet ripe. Blueberry bushes often hide their best gifts deep within. At first glance, a blueberry bush may appear bare but as you move branches and step in deeper, you may find the treasure you seek. Look high and toward the middle of the bush. Often clusters of blueberries hang in the undersides of the branches, not right out in the open. Crouch lower and gaze upward, allowing yourself a different perspective. Blueberries are often found in bunches, like grapes. Gently run your hand beneath the bottom of the bunch. With a soft touch, roll the berry between your thumb and finger. If the berry is ready, it will willingly drop into your hand. As is the case for blackberries, blueberries too will resist if they are not ready to be picked. 






 

Raspberries

Raspberry picking is best done at the coolest part of the day. Mornings are great for this adventure! If they are picked when the heat of the day is at its peak, the berries will hold the heat and are apt to become mushy and moldy much faster. In addition, take along a shallow container in which to collect your raspberries. The weight of the top layer will bear down on the previously picked berries and again, they will mush and mold. Raspberry picking calls for a searching eye. They are not so obvious; you must hunt a little. Like blackberries, raspberries will tell you when they are ready. With a finger or two behind the berry and thumb toward you, gently coax the berry off the cane. If it resists, let it be. Another tell-tale sign they are ripe is their color. Ripe raspberries will have a beautiful, vivid color. One raspberry plant can produce 200 berries per season. If you find a lot of the berries are not quite ready, return every few days as the fruit ripens gradually throughout it’s growing season. In Michigan, summer raspberries are usually ready from early July through mid-August. Fall raspberries usually ripen from late August to the first frost.

Fun fact: the little fleshy bumps of a raspberry are called "drupelets."

Your mind may begin to wander as you get into a comfortable rhythm of searching and picking however, the task itself will naturally call you back to the here and now. Succumb to that calling. Allow yourself to be consumed by the gift of nature around you. Look about you with an appreciation, a thankfulness to God for His amazing work, the ultimate in creative endeavors. Deeply reflect, with a grateful heart, the miracle of each tiny piece of fruit and how this small, living pome is here right now for you – to bring nourishment, satisfaction, and pleasure. Notice the here. Notice the now. Observe what is before you. Awaken your senses. What a gift to be blessed with the five senses; touch, sound, taste, sight, and smell. Our senses allow us to understand, perceive, and enjoy the world around us. No better time to utilize these gifts than during berry picking.  When looking at a bush, notice the detail of the veins in the leaf, mother nature’s artwork on each tiny green canvas. A living, thriving miracle. Take note of the small point where the leaf attaches to the branch. Incredible how Mother Nature has that all worked out! Touch the soft skin of a blueberry. Notice how smooth it is. Closely examine the seeds within a single raspberry – possibly more than 100 seeds in one raspberry! Amazing! Notice the sophisticated deep, rich hue of a blackberry. Close your eyes and take a deep breath. Notice where that breath enters your body. Do you feel it on your lips? Or maybe at the back of your throat? Feel the air fill your lungs. Oxygen that nature is providing just for you at this moment. How lovely! And listen. What do you hear? The gentle breeze through the trees, birds singing nearby welcoming you to their magic or maybe a chorus of crickets providing a soundtrack for your berry picking experience. Lean in close to the berry bush. What do you smell? Does it make your mouth begin to water? The task of picking berries must always include the indulgence of tasting. It is a must. Try it. Gently pluck the berry from the bush. Take a second to examine it. Perfection! Then pop it into your mouth and allow your tongue to feel the texture and your tastebuds to delight in this treasure. So good, right? 




 

If you are barefoot, pause as you pick with your thumb and forefinger gently cradling the berry still connected to the branch. Consider…the fruit connected to the branch is an extension of the well-established bush that has given it life. Beyond sight, we know the roots are holding it within the earth. You are physically connecting to that berry with your fingertips and therefore those deep, well established roots. The soles of your feet are engaged with the same ground that small berry has depended on for ongoing support, nourishment, and growth. A connection. You are part of this. You, too, can thrive, as the berry has. Right here. Right now. Berry picking requires us to slow down and give our full intention to our surroundings. Using this time to engage the senses and bring awareness to the present will make this warm weather activity a richer, deeper experience. Invite your most observant self to the berry patch. 

 

 

 

BLACKBERRY CRISP

4 cups blackberries 4 tablespoons sugar 3 tablespoons flour * toss together in separate bowl 1 cup quick oats 1 cup packed brown sugar 1/2 cup flour 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon * mix together in separate bowl, then cut in 1 stick of butter In a 11" x 7" pan (sprayed) place berries on bottom and crisp mixture on top. Spread out evenly. Cook at 375 for approximately 30 minutes. Best served warm with ice cream.


YOGURT & BERRY PARFAIT

 Greek Yogurt – Plain or Vanilla

 Granola of your chose

 Sliced Almonds

 Blackberries, Blueberries, Strawberries, or Raspberries

 

Choose a lovely bowl or soup mug (it tastes even better out of a pretty container!) Scoop out desired amount of yogurt, sprinkle on granola and sliced almonds. Add washed berries of your choice. Enjoy!

 

 



             

 

 




Wednesday, July 13, 2022

Space




by Rebecca Walker

Spring 2021

 

I pulled into the gravel drive of the unfamiliar farmhouse, put my truck in park, and texted my husband my GPS location. He immediately texted back asking why I had sent my location. I replied, “Well, I’m 90 miles from home at an Airbnb in the country at a place I’ve never been. I know in the movies the assailant is usually someone the victim is close to but…. just thought you should know my whereabouts.” He responded, “WHAT? Are you safe? Is everything okay?” I reassured him I was fine, just wanted him to know exactly where I was. I hadn’t been away from home in quite a while - not alone. I said a quick prayer, “Please God let this day be refreshing – just what I need.” I took a deep breath, grabbed my yoga mat and headed to the big red barn. 

 

I had seen the retreat advertised through a yoga studio I had attended several times in the past. The yoga studio was about an hour drive from my house but the few classes I had participated in sold me on this retreat. I had reserved my spot and paid immediately, putting the date on my calendar many weeks in advance. I decided this was a priority and though life was very busy, I was going to make this work. I needed to make this work. I walked up the hill to the barn’s entrance as other women also made their way up there, each of us carrying our yoga mats. I didn’t recognize anyone. Just how I wanted it. The first thing that caught my attention when I stepped into that big, old barn was the magnitude of it. The magnitude of the space. Space. I stood there motionless just taking it all in. Space. I had the urge to spin in circles with my arms stretched out to the sides. I abstained from such desire though. It was a huge, empty old barn. The large red sliding barn doors were opened wide welcoming us inside. The building was complete with high rafters, birds perched here and there, strong, sturdy planks of wood beneath my feet, a breeze flowing through it from west to east. So clean and inviting! It was more space than I had experienced in a very long time. I took a deep breath taking it all in then found a spot to roll out my yoga mat and sat down. 

 


The hostesses welcomed us to the retreat, gave us a run-down of the events and then invited us over to a long table off to the side of the barn for an art therapy session. The table had little pots holding different types of succulents – one tiny plant sat at each table spot. Our instructions were to sit at the plant we felt drawn to. I sat down at a Blue Chalksticks plant. I loved how the plant was strong and confident reaching upward while rooted in a tiny terracotta pot. I waited for instructions. The art therapist leading the session asked us to look at the plant – really look at it. The blue-green leaves resembled chalk and the color reminded me of an old-fashioned chalkboard. Seemed appropriate as I am a teacher. Maybe that’s part of what drew me to this particular plant. It seemed happy just doing its thing; full and strong, the crescent leaves pointing upward slightly, cheerful, oblivious to what its peer plants around it were doing. I was liking this plant more and more. The art therapist then instructed us to paint the pot. Paint the pot? No! I was immediately uncomfortable. I was happy with it just as it was. I loved the simplicity of it, the plain, no-nonsense, clean, uncomplicated presence it exuded just as it was. I began to panic a little. This was not what I needed. As others around me began reaching for supplies and requesting particular colors, I held back tears. I had to really check myself right there in my own silent, private struggle. Why did this upset me so? I am an elementary school creative arts teacher. I lead lessons similar to this all the time. I know the time and creativity it took to organize a lesson such as this, and I felt a sort of compassion and understanding for the instructor who had so thoughtfully prepared it. I had to follow directions. For once, I wasn’t in charge of the activity, but I knew the feeling of planning a meaningful lesson and attempting to execute it with resistance from students. I had to cooperate. Reluctantly, I picked up a small, pointed paintbrush and squeezed white paint onto my paint palette. I began making clean lines from the bottom of the pot moving upward, mimicking the movement of the plant itself. Though uncomfortable at the start, each stroke of the brush calmed me a little. I only used white. I executed a simple design. Eventually, the instructor invited us to each share what we had done and why. Mine was very minimal compared to everyone else’s designs, and I was okay with that. When it was my turn to share, I did not confess my initial resistance to the activity but it was on my mind. I did share that I had chosen white – just white- because I needed some calm, quiet, simplicity in my life.  I explained that as a wife, a mom, and a public-school teacher having just taught through a pandemic, I needed simple. I shared that the design symbolized my desire for clean, organized, quiet, uncomplicated, room to breathe, space! There. I had said it. The ladies around me smiled, nodded, murmured comments of understanding and sincerely seemed to get it.  Their reactions didn’t really matter though. I had experienced some sort of breakthrough, a push to acknowledge what I’d been suppressing and began to let it trickle out. 


 

We returned to our yoga mats and was led through a very relaxing, restorative yoga practice. It felt so good to stretch, my body recognizing the poses as old friends with whom I was once very familiar. The muscles, which seemed to hold months of stress, strain, fear, and the weight of other people’s expectations, released with each movement. I could almost see the mental, emotional, physical toxins floating out of my body as sour, rancid bubbles that had been poisoning me for far too long. Oh, how I needed this!  We finished in a seated position and were guided through a time of meditation. Already feeling lighter, I was acutely aware of the scent of the fresh spring air as I breathed it in deeply, the warm breeze gently but surely coming through the large open doors of the barn brushing across my face and my bare arms. It felt so good – so calming, so comforting, as if I were being taken care of rather than being the caregiver for a change. With eyes closed, I began to cry. The tears rolling down my cheeks took me by surprise. I dared to peek at those around me. Everyone had their eyes closed. No one noticed me. I closed my eyes again focusing on my breathing and allowed the tears to fall. They were gentle, not a hysterical sob, just a slow release. Another breakthrough, I believe. Just what I needed. 

 

The day continued with a healthy lunch prepared by a lady who so passionately explained what she had created for us – wraps of cucumber, salmon, horseradish and couscous. A super food smoothie of nut butter and fresh fruits. Cookies made with sunflower seeds, cacao chips, and oatmeal. The meal felt like a hug filled with such love and thoughtful preparation. I believe the food tasted even better because of the enthusiasm with which it was created and presented. I enjoyed the discussion at the table, getting to know these ladies who, like me, had intentionally sought a day of healing and restoration. It seemed we had a lot in common; wives, moms of children who were busy with school including virtual learning, homeschoolers, and other in-person learners. Sports, dancing lessons, clubs, and other extra-curricular activities for their children occupied their time and energy too. And, somewhat surprising to me, many of the other retreat-goers were teachers too. We all needed this time to reconnect with ourselves, seeking space. I wasn’t alone in this. 

 

After lunch we were invited to go on a mindfulness walk. We were presented with different options, paths, directions in which we could venture. We were directed to do so silently, taking in the world around us. I headed north down a dirt road, intentional steps and aware of my inhalations and exhalations. Lilacs! I could smell them before I could see them. Ahh. What a treat! I enjoyed the sound of the crunch of the gravel beneath my feet, the sound of birds singing what felt like a welcome just for me. I stopped to touch a tree. My hand flat against its rough exterior. I allowed the tree to share its energy with me. I considered what this tree had seen and endured during its days in this spot. The storms it had stood strong through, the seasons and changes that occurred around it while it stayed true to itself, the roots firmly planted out of sight from everyone yet providing a firm foundation from which it began, the limbs reaching heavenward, confident, sure of itself, just like my little plant. I quite literally looked up to this tree but, I also really looked up to this tree…. with admiration. What a good example of strength, perseverance, healing and sense of self! I felt gratitude toward this tree and I thanked it for existing in this moment for me. I thanked God for this experience and the miracle of nature and for the awareness brought to me this day. Upon returning from the mindfulness walk, we all shared our experiences. I said, “I guess what stood out to me the most was how much my senses seem to have awakened throughout the walk but also throughout this entire day – the scent of the lilacs, the strength and sureness of the planks of wood beneath my hands and feet as we moved through our yoga sequence in the barn, the deep green of the new grass and leaves on the trees, each delicious morsel of food that was prepared for us, all the space – room to breathe and think and feel…. all of it…” The instructor pointed at me and said, “Yes! That right there is yoga, people! Taking it off the mat and experiencing it throughout the day. Living mindfully.” 

 

Our day concluded with a second yoga routine followed by a sound therapy session. Upon finishing the yoga sequence, we all were instructed to lie down on our mats on our backs with our heads all facing inward toward the middle of the circle. This allowed the sound therapist to easily walk around the circle close to each of us, the sounds of the chimes and singing bowls offering us comfort and healing. We were told there wasn’t much verbal instruction to consider – the singing bowls would just “do their thing” and our minds and bodies would react naturally with no effort. It is difficult to put into words what that session provided for me. I had attended a sound therapy session before, with the same instructor in fact, but this was different. I have no idea how long the session lasted but it was ethereal. At first, mindfully, I focused on my breathing attuned to the sounds presented but then I became detached somehow. Completely separated from the stress that had overwhelmed me for so long. It was light and freedom and space and release. It was a feeling of comfort and safety and healing. I felt God was holding me in his palm of His hand. It was so soothing. I felt I became one with the sounds, the vibrations a part of me. As we were gently drawn out of our serene cocoon, awakening to the present, we slowly sat up and began to share what we had experienced. As I listened to the other women, again, I found I was not alone. Others shared that the breeze coming in the barn worked in a subtle, parallel collaboration with the sounds in turn, providing a hyperphysical experience. Space to be. Space to heal. Space to reboot. 

 

As the retreat came to a close, we all thanked the hostesses, agreeing this experience was surreal, life altering, life improving. When can we do this again? I returned to my truck and reflected on the day. I was a different person than I was that morning when I had sent my GPS location to my husband. I was so relieved, so thankful and honestly, so filled with joy that I was returning to my husband, my children, and my students as ME again! I had let go of the old and was returning with the new, the renewed. My sweet, loving, supportive family! My curious, excited, creative students! They all needed me, and they needed me to be the best version of me. I had jumped out of the hamster wheel of the perpetual go-go-go I had allowed my life to become, and had shut off my auto-pilot. I had provided myself the space which I had unknowingly surrendered in the previous months. I was breathing and thinking and feeling again. The stress and the hurt and the chaos can’t be fixed in one day, no. But that retreat kickstarted my return to self. I had been reminded that it was necessary to take time for me in order to be there for others. I vowed to take what I had experienced and carry it with me as a toolbox in which to return to as needed. I promised myself I would be intentional about seeking space for myself, recognizing this space is vital to my existence and to my growth. I was reminded to set boundaries to allow myself to think, reflect, pray, be present and mindful and to occasionally, as needed, spread out my arms and spin in circles soaking in the space around me. 

 

 


 

Saturday, April 2, 2022

March Book Review

 


I read 5 books during the month of March. They differed greatly in genre; two novels - one historical fiction, one psychological thriller, one memoir, one self-help book and a book of short stories. This was a wider variety than I have done in one month before. 

Wish You Were Here by Jodi Picoult - A friend of mine recommended Jodi Picoult books so I picked up this one as well as couple others that are in my TBR (to be read) collection. This book has a 4.5 star rating on Amazon with over 20,000 reviews. I am calling it "historical fiction" because it takes place in 2020, which is history now! As the pandemic was unfolding and we were faced with "unprecedented" everything, I told my husband that someday we would be reading books set in that time. "Pandemic Lit" is a thing now and this was my first pandemic lit read. The book begins with page one - March 13, 2020...


You know that historical recall type of thing like "where were you when you heard about 9/11" or "where were you when Kennedy was shot?" And now, those of us experiencing the pandemic have that now too...."I remember where I was... what I was doing... what happened... on March 13, 2020." Having just lived through this time, I was drawn in immediately with the book beginning this way. 

This story has a huge twist in it that I did not see coming which was a nice surprise! I love that kind of thing. I feel that the author's opinion on the pandemic, including political views, shown through her characters in the book. I did not love that. Though some of it I do agree with, I am so worn out from everyone's opinions and arguments about all of that. I am so sick of everyone trying to convince others to believe what they believe. That part really turned me off on this one. The story itself was great and again, that twist was clever. I would give it a 4/5 stars.

Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover - This book. Whoa! Tara Westover, born in 1986,  shares the story of her childhood and how she went from living a childhood completely isolated from mainstream society to going to school for the first time at age 17 and then onto Harvard and a PhD in history from Cambridge.  Tara's story is nothing short of a miracle. Growing up in a survivalist family with violent father and brothers, abuse, neglect, a victim of distorted reality, gaslighting... just horrible. One thing that sticks with me is how, once she was finally out of that situation and in college, she faced a whole world that she had been isolated from and in doing so, was shocked and sometimes embarrassed about what she didn't know as well as what she had been taught differently than it actually was - again, distorted reality. For example, in chapter 17, Tara asks her professor (in front of the rest of the class) what the Holocaust is? The professor as well as the other college students assumed she was joking and didn't find it funny. Later she googled "Holocaust" and was mortified by the mistake she had made. This was a significant turning point for her as she was realizing how isolated she really had lived and how little she knew about the real world.  

Educated is a New York Times Bestseller and has won many awards. Interestingly, Westover's mother, LaRee Westover, wrote a memoir too in an effort to tell her side of the story. Her book is called, "Educating" and gets poor reviews. I notice that LaRee has promoted the book HERSELF. This indicates she didn't get much attention for her book. She is trying to sell it herself and it isn't nearly as well received as her daughter's memoir. Nonetheless, I am itching to read her book too! I do not want to spend $18.00 on a book that has not been well received by others so, I'm thinking someday I'll just stumble upon a copy at a used bookstore. 😉 I highly recommend Educated: A Memoir. Excellent book! 

Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones by James Clear - Another New York Times Bestseller! This book is #1 on the Amazon Charts and has a 5 star rating with over 74,000 reviews. It is an excellent book. James Clear gives real-life, applicable, doable strategies for implementing good habits and breaking not so good habits. He gives the neuroscience behind each approach and breaks each strategy into smaller components that build on one another over time to accomplish the overall goal. 

A couple key things that stuck out to me: "Gateway Habits." Gateway habits are small, quick things you do to get you started on the bigger goal. For example, put on your running shoes. That's it. Now, the act of putting on the shoes will open the door for that bigger goal of actually going out running. Or, opening a book with the intent to read just one page. The act of opening the book with just a few paragraphs to cover makes reading a whole chapter that much more attainable. Taking the first step, first SMALL step, gets you all revved up for the bigger race ahead of you. Another thing that I took from his was that having difficulty sticking to habits or breaking a bad one is not YOU, it's your system. Good habits must be obvious, attractive, easy and satisfying. Clear shows us how to make that happen. I highly recommend this book!

The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides - Another New York Times Bestseller and Amazon's Editor's Pick for Mystery, Thriller, and Suspense! Oh, boy! This one I just couldn't put down. I had been hearing a lot about this book and saw it popping up all over as a "must read." So, of course, I had to read it. SO GOOD! It has a twist in it that made me have to take a minute to review/rethink all I had read up until that point. It is the author's first novel and I'd say he is off to a great start. Highly recommend this! 

"An unforgettable―and Hollywood-bound―new thriller... A mix of Hitchcockian suspense, Agatha Christie plotting, and Greek tragedy."
Entertainment Weekly

The Day I Ate Whatever I Wanted and Other Small Acts of Liberation by Elizabeth Berg - This book of short stories was fun and different from what I normally read. Some of the stories were very funny and a couple of them made me a little teary. My favorite story from this collection was, "How to Make an Apple Pie." This story is written as a handwritten letter to Ruthie from her old neighbor lady, Flo. The story begins with Flo telling Ruthie she had recently run into her mother and that her mother asked her to send Ruthie her apple pie recipe. The whole point of the letter to Ruthie is the actual recipe which Flo had never written down ever in her life so her directions include things like, "...a half a squeeze of a half a lemon" and "you must not let the crust know you are afraid of it." Flo continually goes off on tangents in her letter to Ruthie and it is just delightful. You can't help but love Flo. I laughed out loud several times. Very cleverly written. The was a quick, easy read and convenient as you can read one whole story and then put it down for quite some time and when you jump back in, you're onto the next story. This book has won many awards as well and gets high ratings on Amazon. 

Ruby does not like my attention to be anywhere but on her. 



I am looking forward to spring and warmer mornings where I can enjoy my coffee and books outside. I have already begun my first April book, One Italian Summer by Rebecca Serve. I began it yesterday (April 1st) and have it almost done! I am on spring break so.... it's justified. I am loving this book so far and inspired by it, had to make pasta for dinner last night and am planning my (someday) trip to Positano, Italy. 





Saturday, March 5, 2022

February Book Review



This past month I read 8 books. I have had some ask when I have had time to read. I did a lot of reading in the car riding to wrestling meets on the weekends. I was sick and home for a week so I had some extra down time to read then when I felt well enough. We had some February snow days in which I would get up before my family and take my time reading and drinking my coffee. Then, of course, there were a few nights I stayed up too late for "just one more chapter." I have begun a habit of having my current book in my bag with me at all times. I sneak in a few pages here and there and have found great comfort in getting lost in a good story as a way to decompress.

American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins - This book gets over 65,000 reviews on Amazon with an overall 4.5 star rating. It has received many awards and is a New York Times Bestseller as well as an Oprah Book Club pick. It is highly recommended and talked about. Stephen King said, "I defy anyone to read the first seven pages of this book and not finish it." He's right. It's true. It pulls you in immediately and you are emotionally invested right off the bat. You can't help but keep reading. It was an excellent book and very well written. I have to warn you though, this is not an uplifting book by any means. It is deep and dark and heavy. I found myself traveling right along with Lydia and Luca and my gosh, it was so stressful! It is also hope and perseverance and determination and strength and resilience and the depth of a mother's love. 

Ugly Love by Colleen Hoover - Well, my friend Rebecca has me hooked on Colleen Hoover books. I have read several books now by Hoover and they do pull me in. This book is steamy! Steamy! 🔥 It is also complicated and emotional. I found myself wanting one thing to happen then changing my mind, then reconsidering... It is a popular book on Amazon. It has over 30,000 ratings and while published in 2014, it is #20 on the Amazon charts this week. My friend Rebecca has read so many Colleen Hoover books - maybe ALL of them! Go check out her book lovers Instagram account:  bookobsessedmommyBecca’s Book Shelf 

Verity by Colleen Hoover - Yup. Another Colleen Hoover book. THIS BOOK!!! WHOA!! Just, whoa.  I couldn't put this book down. The beginning is shocking right away then takes a turn. From there it was all so heartbreaking and devastating, mysterious and addictive. And then, THE ENDING! Whoa! Again, just whoa! I was very much taken by surprise and truly needed some time after closing the last chapter. I had to have time to process, reflect, recover. It has such a twist. This is such a cleverly written book. Very creative and shocking. This book, too, comes highly rated and reviewed. It is intense and was one of my favorite reads this month. Prepare yourself. 🙌

Get Out of Your Head: Stopping the Spiral of Toxic Thoughts by Jennie Allen - this was the only self-help type of book I read this month. I actually was re-reading it, as I first read it in 2020. This is an excellent book - the kind of book you will want to read, highlight, allow to sink in and then pull it out again in the future. I often read a book and then pass it onto a friend but this is one I will be keeping. Allen reminds us that the Bible instructs us to "take every thought captive." She shows us applicable strategies for taking hold of every thought and reminding us WE HAVE A CHOICE whether to entertain every thought or let it go. We don't have to believe everything we think. That's mind-blowing to me. I love the biblical premise of the process she suggests and the constant reminder that we can control our mind and, in doing so, prevent the enemy from infiltrating our lives with overwhelm, helplessness, hopelessness, etc. I highly recommend this book! This is a top seller in Christian self-help reads, rightfully so. Go grab a copy for yourself.

The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner - I loved this book. It is suspenseful and exciting. I thought it cleverly written with a dual timeline of current day and the 1790s. The storyline sends us to the past then in the next chapter, the story is paralleled but in present day. It is healing and murder and secrets and scandal. It is peace and turmoil. It is magic and mystery. It is filled with twists and turns and surprises as the main characters' lives weave together over the centuries. This book gets marvelous reviews, however, critics of the book argue that the story contains inaccuracies of historical London, is off on its 1790s use of English language and phrases used, as well as geographical discrepancies of London. This is an American author writing a story (a wonderful story, in my opinion) set in London. I have no idea if the arguments are true. Probably. But I only leave my own little world here through books so I don't know London well enough to agree or disagree with those reviews. I think it's brilliant! I did do a little research and found Sarah Penner loves to travel and London is one of her favorite spots, so that's something, right? You all should read this one.

One True Loves - by Taylor Jenkins Reid - This story was highly entertaining and kept my attention. I found it quite heartbreaking though. Like, I FELT it physically. More than once, I finished a chapter then had to go hug my husband. Ugh. My heart hurt while deep into this story. The author makes you fall in love with each character to the point where you just don't want anyone to be sad....but how could there possibly be a happy ending under these devastating, complicated circumstances?! I was on board - following passionately right along with the storyline until one point, about 3/4 of the way into the book. Then I was like 😟. Ugh! This does not sit well with me. I had put myself "in" the story up until this particular point. Then I found it, well, shall we say, straying far from my own morals? I don't know... just disappointed with that turn but Reid wrapped it up well in the end and it was a happy ending after all. This book gets good reviews. I would have to give it a 4 out of 5 stars though. That one part just wasn't something with which I could connect.

The Midnight Library by Matt Haig - my friend, Danielle recommended this book to me a few months ago and a family member got it for me for Christmas. LOVED, LOVED, LOVED it! Amazon reports it as "The #1 New York Times Bestselling Phenomenon." Yup! That's accurate. It is really amazing. It starts out sad, devastating, hopeless, depressing but then!!! So clever! The enemy of hopelessness meets its match when the main character finds herself caught somewhere between life and death at the Midnight Library. She is provided the opportunity to rewrite her story, to see where a single choice at any given point in her life could steer everything she knows in a whole different direction. All the "what ifs" right there in the stacks of books! It is just extremely creative, introspective, clever, emotional and thought provoking. It makes you examine your own life and consider the paths you've taken and how they may have been based on one simple choice at one little time in your life that seemed rather insignificant at the time. Great book! I HIGHLY recommend this as do 100,000+ other readers. Go get it!

The Last Thing He Told Me by Laura Dave - This book, also a New York Times Best Seller with more than 74,000 Amazon ratings, continues to be very popular and very talked about. It is love story, crime, mystery, and thriller. I was caught up in it right front the start, addicted and pulled right in to the excitement. Gotta admit though, later on in the book, I was a little less immersed. I couldn't see authenticity in some of the choices the main character made in attempting to protect her step daughter and unravel the mystery of her husband's disappearance. At some points, I was just like.... hmm, no, I don't agree with where that turn ended up. Like, one of the biggest, scariest enemies in the book is someone they befriend, cautiously so, but still.... if in reality a man did what this guy did in no way would you subject your child to him again nor set foot in his house to get to know him better... nah. Dave lost me at those moments and at those points in the book, I was much more capable of putting the book down and doing housework. I'd give this book a 3/5 star review but it's currently #14 on the Amazon charts so, clearly, others enjoy it very much!


Always a dog nearby when I'm reading. 


As I've shared before, the winter months are my time to sink into books. It's a huge element in making winter tolerable and ENJOYABLE for me. A good book, a cup of tea, my dogs snuggled up close and snow falling outside is just the ultimate cozy for me. As we look forward to spring (and I am SO looking forward to spring) I can't promise that I'll read 7 or 8 books a month but for January and February, these stories have helped me enjoy our Michigan winter in my own way.





Friday, February 4, 2022

January Book Review



Every year after Christmas, I look forward to snuggling in for the winter months with some good books. I received several books for Christmas from my ongoing wishlist and got a Barnes & Noble gift card from my son, Hugh. When January 1st arrived, I was well prepared. The following is a little personal review of what I thought of each book I read this past month. Each title is a link so that you can find the books on Amazon.



 1) The People We Keep by Allison Larkin - This book caught my attention on the first page when it stated that the story begins in 1994. That was the year I graduated from high school so I already felt I could connect in some ways to the main character, April, who is a teenager. I could at least imagine what school might be like for her but couldn't relate to the fact that she was living in a motorless motorhome that her father won in a poker game. Her father, however, is never around having left her on her own while he began a new life with another woman in a real house. After a fight with her dad she "borrows" her dad's girlfriend's car and leaves on an adventure all her own with not much more than her guitar. The story continues with the challenges she faces, the people she meets, and the connections she makes along the way. It is a sad story but inspiring as well as April's fierce independence and determination leads her to many new people who each play a part in her life. It was a good story. 


2) The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid - I kept seeing this book pop up on "Gotta Read" type of lists and ads. As I write this, it has over 48,000 reviews on Amazon with 4.5/5 stars and #4 this week on the Amazon Charts. It's a popular one! 

I was expecting a story about a glamorous, maybe manipulative, woman who had 7 husbands. Judging a book by it's cover, I expected she went through so many husbands because she was a gold digger but I was off on my prediction. The main character, that glamorous lady in the emerald green dress on the cover, did indeed go through husbands one right after another but for very, VERY different reasons than I was expecting. It was heartbreaking but uplifting as well. I LOVE the way the story unfolded as the woman is telling her life's story to a writer, the only writer she will allow to hear her story, Monique Grant. The book jumps back and forth from Evelyn's life in the past to Monique's life in the present. The story implies there is some connection between Evelyn and Monique but the connection is not revealed until near the end and it is quite a surprise! This book reveals the stresses of keeping up appearances living in the spotlight. I have never been famous so I have no idea if the depiction of it all was accurate or not but it did make me think. And it made me feel sorry for those living under the close eye of adoring fans, paparazzi and critics too. Between the first page and the last, I felt sorry for Evelyn, hated her, loved her, hated her again and then ended with a "oh, I feel so sorry for her.." feeling. It was a good read. 


3) The Book of Lost Names by Kristin Harmel - Oh, my goodness, I LOVED this historical fiction story! I couldn't put the book down. I read that it is inspired by a true story. It takes place during World War II and is about a woman who takes part in a secret library system to keep track of children who were separated from their parents during this tragic time. This book is so clever and heartbreaking and exciting and tragic and romantic.... all of it. Surprise ending. Melt my heart. All the feels! LOVED it! 


4) It Ends With Us by Colleen Hoover - this book was recommended to me by a friend. As I write this, it is #2 in the Amazon Charts this week and has over 58,000 reviews and 4.5/5 stars.  

It was super good. I immediately found it to be an easy read, a fast read, a book I couldn't put down. I felt so proud of Lily, the main character, and so sad for her too. I was frustrated with her at times and empathized with her at others. It was good, and I know it will really resonate with some readers in a very specific way.  This book made me go in search of other books written by this bestselling author. Good stuff!


5) The Winter People by Jennifer McMahon - Oh, my good gracious! THIS BOOK!! It is a suspense thriller which is not usually my favorite genre but this caught my attention. So here is me reading it....a few pages in...."Umm, maybe I shouldn't be reading this. Am I going to end up having bad dreams?....I'll just read a few more pages...." Then I couldn't put it down. ADDICTED! So then a little further in, I would be like....."Ugh....is this good for my mental wellness? Is this too scary? Too creepy? Too psychologically disturbing? Too ghostly and thrilling? But then again, I kind of like ghostly and thrilling..."and then I'd keep reading and again, couldn't put it down. It is spooky and heartbreaking and scary and exciting and dark. I'm not going to say I loved it because it is so tragic and stressful that it is hard for me to "love" any part of it but I was for sure hooked on it. If you like psychological thrillers, you will enjoy this one for sure!


6) Out of My Mind by Sharon M. Draper - This is an Amazon "Teacher's Pick" young adult novel with over 9,000 five star reviews and a repeat New York Times Bestseller! 

One of my 6th grade girls mentioned it to me as a book she enjoyed. In an effort to connect with her, I immediately grabbed the book from our school library and read it in under 24 hours. The Denver Post said of this book, "If there's one book teens and parents (and everyone else) should read this year, Out of My Mind should be it." I have to agree. The story is about Melody, an 11 year old child with cerebral palsy. Melody is incredibly smart but is unable to talk, walk, or move much at all and is therefore, unable to communicate well with anyone - her family included - and she is "stuck" in her head basically just observing life around her but unable to express her own thoughts. I felt such intense frustration for Melody because, of course, I, as a reader, could see what was in her mind and I SO wanted her mother, teachers and classmates to understand. There is an incredible change that allows her to "get out of her mind" as the story evolves and I felt like cheering right out loud! I can see why my 6th grade student recommended this book and I'm glad she did. And that leads me to the last book, Out of My Heart which is the sequel to Out of My Mind.


7) Out of My Heart by Sharon M. Draper - When I looked up the book my student had recommended I found that there was a book 2! My student didn't know this! I ordered it and read it before giving it to her. I hope she has been reading it during our snow days this week. 

This middle school novel was very good too! In the sequel to Out of My Mind, Melody has the opportunity to attend a summer camp meant for children with disabilities. She makes new friends, finds some independence, learns a lot about herself and discovers personal strengths she didn't know existed. I love a good summer camp story but I admit, I liked Out of My Mind better. I can't wait to discuss these books with my 6th grade student. 


Anyone else use the website, Goodreads? I kept coning across books that had Goodreads recommendations or that stated they were on the Goodreads Choice Awards List. I was curious so I hopped on over to goodreads.com and checked it out. It's fun! You can keep an ongoing list of books you want to read, books you've read, books you are currently reading, etc. You can set a reading goal for yourself and it tracks your progress. You can do your own reviews and even post those reviews to a blog or social media. 

It is February 4th and I have finished two novels this month, so far. Thank you, Mother Nature, for the snowstorm!  What are you currently reading?


AN