2016 Reading Challenge

If you know me well, you know I love to read. That’s why when I found out about the Goodreads app, I was all over it. One of its features is the ability to set annual challenges for yourself to read a certain number of books. While I wouldn’t say I read large amounts at a time, I do try to be consistent in taking time to read regularly. This year I resolved to read 15 books. Here is some of what I’ve read so far:

The Opposite of Loneliness: Essays and Stories
A collection of writings by a woman who died young, it was both thought-provoking and entertaining. Since the essays and stories were relatively short, it made for a quick, easy read. Sometimes I would have to pause at the end of a story to process what I had just read, and I pondered with awe how this girl came up with so many creative ideas and put them onto paper so beautifully.

Released from Shame: Moving Beyond the Pain of the Past
I bought this book for under a dollar, and I loved it. Right now I’m going through a phase of being fascinated by nonfiction that focuses on psychology, emotional health, personal growth, etc. This definitely beckons you to face the darkness of your past, or it teaches you how to better relate to those who have had a challenging past. While full of sadness, it also offers hope and healing to weary souls.

Women Who Run with the Wolves
This one took me months to read. I started it sometime last year and didn’t finish it until just a couple months ago. But I mean that in a good way. This was a long, dense, but amazing read. It explores ancient folklore and reveals psychological lessons we can learn from various stories. Written primarily for a female audience, it challenges women to embrace their femininity to the fullest. If you decide to read this book, take your time and savor it. Don’t pressure yourself to rush through it or it may become overwhelming.

Sunny Side Up
I guess this is technically a graphic novel. I haven’t read much in this genre, but I really enjoyed it. I was able to breeze through it in a day, and it provided somewhat of a mental break after the other longer books I had been reading. I actually was able to get a galley free from a library sale. Set in the ’70s, the story follows a girl who travels to Florida for summer vacation. It was seemingly light-hearted at first, but I soon realized  it included a more somber twist. Thought-provoking, yet tender as well.

The first book in the Dreamtreaders’ series, this adventure novel explores the world beyond waking reality. It brings the dream world to life in a way I hadn’t thought about before. This was a great book to read before my bedtime to help me wind down at the end of the day. It was exciting and fun, and I can’t wait to read the next book in the series.

Blue Like Jazz: Nonreligious Thoughts on Christian Spirituality
Spirituality is another subject I love reading about. The author is irreverent but genuine, and he brings up some excellent points and questions about the Christian faith. The book follows his journey between his fundamentalist Christian upbringing and his explorations of less conservative, more “worldly” lifestyles. The author’s relatability and honesty about his doubts makes the Christian faith seem less intimidating. An enjoyable read that made me think.

I have other books that I’m reading or have read, but the above list is a handful of the ones that have really stuck with me. Share in the comments what you’re reading this year!


Mall Time

These days the calendar is a blur, and I can hardly remember whether today is Monday or Thursday or Saturday. It doesn’t matter much, because I am trying to work as much as I can regardless of the day.
When I get an occasional break time, I like to walk through the mall if my schedule permits. If it is busy, I avoid it. But on the “off” times – early morning, closing time – I find it rather peaceful. I see the red and gold decorations throughout, with a Santa station in one area. Christmas music plays on the radio. When no one is around, the mall is quite a pleasant place to be.


Woolen and Wonderful

I have had the pleasure of rediscovering a favorite hobby of mine: spinning. After running out of my last batch of wool, I was hesitant to buy more (I do try to live frugally). However, when a friend of mine announced that she was going to a sheep and wool festival, I couldn’t resist asking her to get some wool for me.

That spurred a conversation about how fun it would be to create a blog series on the journey of the wool. As she lives hundreds of miles away from me, she had to send me the wool, after which I would spin it, send it back, and she would knit something from it.

The first adventure in this journey involved the festival itself, which I will link to here, my friend Dorian’s blog (she speaks of this specific wool toward the end of her post).

The second adventure rests with me, the spinner. I was overjoyed when I received the wool in the mail, and could not wait to begin spinning.


She had sent me a bundle of both black wool and white, and I set out to work as soon as I could. I was fascinated by the different textures of the wool; the white was smooth and easy to spin rather quickly. The black wool felt a little more coarse, and it was more difficult to spin a consistent thread.


The string that resulted is called single-ply yarn, meaning it is one strand. From here I took the black yarn and the white yarn and spun them together, creating two-ply yarn. Two-ply will be much easier to work with because it is less likely to twist back on itself, and it is also stronger than single-ply.


I had some leftover white wool, so I spun a little bit of white two-ply yarn to finish it off. I am proud of how it turned out, and of how my little drop spindle has held up all these years. Now I get to send it to my friend to see what she makes with it. Back to you, Dorian.


Theatre and the Internal Battle

Recently I have attended live theatre and loved it. Straight plays especially I am seeing these days contain challenging subject matter that beckons the audience to ask difficult questions. I love it when the art of live theatre serves a purpose in enriching people’s lives. However, recently I have discovered the changes in my taste for entertainment.

As many who know me are aware, I am passionate about emotional and mental health, especially my own. I have spent hours analyzing my emotions, habits, lifestyle, and childhood to determine why I think and feel certain ways, and how to improve those parts of my life that are unhealthy.

How does this affect my tastes for live theatre? I am realizing that the reason many shows are challenging is because the characters are not healthy. It is easy to see the unhealthy decisions of someone on a stage, but it is more difficult to identify those same issues in real life, which is what makes theatre so beautiful. An awareness or a call to attention of a character’s flaws creates a deeper awareness of our own flaws or the flaws of the world. This awareness in turn elicits a response from us, be it a call to action, or at least developing a unique perspective of an area in which one was previously oblivious.

The problem I have is that often I see elements of myself on stage played out in ways that do not allow for a resolution. At the conclusion of a given play, the audience is left to create their own resolution, their own determination to not turn out the way the characters might have. This can be a positive thing, especially if it motivates the audience to live healthier lives. Where I am in my own life, however, seeing dangerous life decisions played out onstage brings me pain because I am trying as hard as I can to avoid a similar fate.

In the midst of my daily anxieties, stressors, and irritants, during which I like to imagine the worst case scenario, I have thought that perhaps one day I will create short dramas to put on a stage to get them out of my head and out of my way in life. I think many people before me have already done that, as we hear stories of artists who lived tortured lives and wrote from dark places. It makes for great drama, because no one wants to watch a story in which everyone is perfectly happy the entire time. My hope is that the events I see onstage will not become a reality in my own life.

And so while I may need to take a break from live dramas to work on my own life, I hope one day I will learn to maintain a certain disconnect from people I watch in stories so as to enjoy them more.

Where You Find Refuge

I love the part in stories when the characters meet in cafes. There is something intimate about a cafe that elicits honesty among those who go there. It is a warm and safe place where people take off their masks, and often where they go to work out their problems. On the other hand, we often see people putting on masks when they go to an expensive restaurant. Do you ever notice how characters meet their friends in a cafe, but they meet their enemies in the white tablecloth-, crystal glass-type atmosphere? In the movie Thor, for example, the people Thor runs into when he visits earth take him to a homely diner. This builds a sense of comfortability among those in the group. In Paranoia, on the other hand, the rivaling companies meet in fine-dining settings, creating tension and competition between each other. [Sidebar: Yes, I realize I just named movies that feature the Hemsworth brothers. What can I say, they’re rather nice-looking and they have accents] I can’t recall how many times I’ve wanted to write a story that includes a scene in a cafe or coffee shop. The worn chairs, the smooth jazz playing in the background, the hot mug warming my hands. A pause in everyday life as I contemplate the adventures awaiting me. But as I’ve heard from many artists, people don’t want to hear a story in which there is no conflict. What does work in a story is when the character has a refuge, a place to escape in the midst of trouble. In novels it may be a hidden cave or an attic. In many movies, it is a coffee shop or cafe. Often I am so distracted by everyday stresses that I don’t want to focus on creating a fictional conflict. But perhaps the escape isn’t so much the location I write about as it is in the actual writing. Hence why it’s taken me three hundred words to say I love coffee shops.

The Irish Harp

Summer 2012

It was my dream to play a harp in Ireland. I had spent years learning how to play the Irish harp, but only in America. Now that I was in Ireland, I thought it would be fun to play a “real” Irish harp. To my surprise, it was more difficult to find a harp to play than I thought it would be. I explored the streets of Dublin, but I never found the harp store. I visited a music store in Limerick, but all they had were ornamental harps, having no more than 4-10 strings. I became discouraged, but I did not give up hope. I knew I would have one more chance to find a harp during the evening of music at Newport.

When we arrived at the school house which held the event, I stepped inside and eagerly scanned the room. I saw a multitude of children playing violins, accordions, whistles, and drums. Then it caught my eye. Standing off-center in the midst of the children’s ensemble was the instrument I had been looking for: the Irish harp. My body shook, partly from the chilly air and partly out of excitement. I desperately hoped for an opportunity to play before the night ended, but I was nervous too. What would everyone think of me, an American, playing Irish music on an Irish instrument? I hoped that I would do it justice.

When my name was called and I was asked if I wanted to play the harp, I nodded eagerly. Rising from my seat, I stepped toward the front of the room, where the harper from the ensemble set the instrument next to an empty chair. I sat down to get familiar with the harp while Denis Carey introduced the piece I was about to play, which was an original composition of his. I am glad he did the talking; I couldn’t have spoken if I wanted to, my voice being scratchy from my cold. While he spoke, I ran my fingers over the strings, feeling the sound. The tuning was slightly different from what I was used to, so I decided it would be easier to transpose the piece from its original key to the harp’s current tuning so I wouldn’t have to change it. The harp itself stood probably less than 4 1/2 feet tall –– shorter than my harp back home. It rested just beneath my right shoulder as I stretched my arms over the soundboard, ready to play. In a matter of seconds, the introduction was over; it was time to play.

I began to play the first chords of a sad, sweet farewell tune, and the magic melody resonated off the soundboard, reminding me of my harp back home. My fingers glided over the unfamiliar strings –– rougher than nylon, but smoother than gut –– I’m not sure what they were made of, but I enjoyed their timbre. In those few moments, my nervousness, the cold, and the people listening all disappeared as I became absorbed in playing. In those moments, nothing existed but the music and me. I played a few wrong notes, which I hoped I covered up smoothly enough, but it almost didn’t matter. The harp was playing itself, and I was along for an enchanting ride.

As the notes of the final chord drifted away into the air, the room erupted with applause. I stood, smiling, and began to walk back to my seat. I received several compliments on my playing from people on the way, but there was no greater compliment than the praise from the composer himself, Denis Carey. I hoped he hadn’t noticed the wrong notes I had struck, and he didn’t appear to. His smile was almost as wide as mine as he told me how much he enjoyed my playing.

I sank back into my seat, filled with a joy deeper than words. My dream had come true.

Phones and Fireworks

The temperature was perfect that night, but I had forgotten how cool it was with so many bodies pressed up against me. There really is no such thing as personal space in a crowd. How anyone was enjoying themselves and the loud music, I have no idea.

The scene I mentioned above was not of a club, but of downtown Nashville on the 4th of July. Some friends and I braved the thousands of bodies to get a good view of the fireworks show. One person in our group said, “I would love to get on that rooftop over there,” and he indicated a bar nearby with a rooftop patio, where the crowd was less dense. I readily agreed, and we snaked our way to the door, where we had to wait in line.

Somehow we managed to get in, and finally I felt like I could shift my weight comfortably without the fear of being accused of copping a feel of whoever was closest to me. It was still crowded on the roof, but much less stressful.

Eventually the orchestra played their first notes, and sparks flew into the air. Right in the middle of our view was a pole flying the American flag, which was really neat, because, America! (or as the more obnoxious people put it, U S A! U S A!)

I couldn’t help smiling in excitement at the colorful explosions that showered us with ash and drowned out almost any other sound. As I enjoyed the display, I noticed people pulling out their phones and taking pictures of both the fireworks and the flag. It saddened me a little, as I saw the phone of the man in front of me, because the pictures it took were dark and grainy, nothing like the grandeur of the real thing.

I wondered, why are people diminishing this experience by viewing it through a camera lens? Surely the technology with which they are capturing this moment doesn’t compare to being able to see it with their own eyes?

I get that people want a token of that memory, something to look back on, something to show their friends. But in my opinion, sometimes people are so caught up in capturing a memory that they forget to create a memory. So what if you can’t show a grainy picture to your friends later? You still had the experience, and can relish the memory. And sometimes memories that you can’t share with people are more special than the ones you can.

I’m not against taking pictures – I take pictures. But many times I would rather just get lost in the moment, and enjoy the here and now before it slips away.

Things I Love: Books

I love books. Not the ones you get on a Kindle. I mean the real, yellowing-page-worn-spine books. Or even the newer ones that crackle when you open them for the first time. For me, nothing beats the satisfaction of watching the thickness of the remaining pages to be read dwindle, and being able to close the flap for the last time after having finished.

Last summer I read about nine books, so this summer I’ve made a goal to read ten. I recently became more active on my Goodreads account, which I would recommend to people who like to read or want to read more. It’s a great place to organize books you’ve read and books you want to read, as well as see what other people are reading and learn about new books.

So far this spring/summer I’ve read two books: The Guardian by Robbie Cheuvront and Erik Reed, and The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan. Since I’ve already finished them, I won’t talk much about them here. However, I may talk about books I’m currently reading in future posts. And of course, I would welcome any suggestions for books to read in the future!

Things I Love: Quiet Time

I stepped outside onto the porch to sit and spin some yarn, and I was surprised with the silence that greeted me. After having spent months in an urban area, getting away to the middle of nowhere for a few days has been a refreshing change of pace.

All that lay before my eyes was a scene of green, with the grass and the trees reaching up to the overcast sky. Sometimes the sun peeked through, but then a gust of wind would cover it up again with clouds. It was the perfect temperature to sit and spin.

As I watched a blue jay and a woodpecker explore the nearby bird feeders, my mind wandered far away to more pressing issues on my mind. I allowed myself to reminisce about the past year, and thought about both happy and sad memories. I didn’t come up with any new conclusions, no solutions to the world’s problems, but it was peaceful. And the more peaceful one can be, I think the more enriched that person’s life is.

My First Massage

There’s something beautiful about surrendering your body to the care of another. It’s humbling, but it’s also rewarding. Humbling, because you’re allowing someone into your personal space; rewarding, because there is a certain freedom that comes with being able to let go.

My birthday was recently, so I wanted to treat myself to a professional massage. I’m not a very touchy-feely person, so I wasn’t sure what to expect, being a little weirded out by the idea of someone touching me. But the therapist greeted me with a warm smile and made me feel at ease right away. She led me into a small, dimly lit room where soft music played in the background, talked me through what to expect, and then left me to get settled onto the table.

She started with my head; I had forgotten that head massaging was a thing. But it was great. She moved her way around the table, working on different parts of my body, not neglecting even my hands and feet. She massaged muscles I didn’t even realize I had, causing me to want to just melt with relaxation. It was only thirty minutes, and I was sad that it went by so quickly, but I felt wonderful afterwards. Not happy, exactly, but more at rest. Less stressed out than I had been after a long week.

Getting a massage might not be for everyone, but if you’re looking for a way to relieve some stress, I would definitely recommend it – especially if you’re like me and enjoy trying new things.

Aroma Therapy


photo by Google Images