Book Review, Round Two

My second round of book reviews contains some random, unconnected books. I'm trying to be brave and venture out into the book world again, but it takes time finding books and ordering them from the library, rather than perusing Barnes & Noble and purchasing whatever takes my fancy. Any suggestions for future reads?

If there are any books you'd like me to read and review for you, please let me know! I love excuses to read more than I already do. And I'm happy to share my little adventures into the written word. 

When by Victoria Laurie

Category: YA Fiction
Type: Easy Read
Elements: Suspense, family issues, romance, crime, present day

A sixteen-year-old girl has an interesting gift: she can see anyone's deathdate, alive or dead. Not surprisingly, this ends up getting her caught up in a murder case. The story that follows is both believable and a bit creepy.

This book is definitely geared towards younger readers. I let my inner editor come out and criticize the pages as I read them, which generally means that I'm not caught up in the story enough to forget there ever was an author. The general language of the book made the main character seem much younger to me (unless I'm just suddenly way older than I thought I was...).

The premise of the book kept me going, though, and I enjoyed the little tickles of suspense. There's enough good story here to make it worth the read. I just have to remind myself that I should lean towards more adult books in the future.

The Night Sister by Jennifer McMahon

Category: Adult Fiction
Type: Easy Read (but pay attention to detail)
Elements: Suspense, horror, supernatural, family issues, romance, historical and present day,

This book follows the tale of two sisters, Sylvie and Rose, growing up in the 1950s, and connects their tale with the future lives of Rose's daughter and her two friends. It hops back and forth between past and present in an exciting way that lends a great air of mystery to the whole thing. The entire time, it's obvious that something very off is going on...but you can't really be sure what. 

This is a book that I stumbled upon at my library's "for sale" shelf. It cost maybe a dollar and it looked intriguing, so I brought it home...where it sat on my shelf for a month or two. Then one pregnant night, when I was cranky and bored but didn't want to sleep, I pulled it out and ventured in. 

The Night Sister surprised me with it's weirdness, let me tell you. Generally, supernatural books contain so many otherworldly elements that when the main character blasts someone with magic, you're hardly surprised. But this one was not about magic. It was very grounded in normal life and historical aspects, making the supernatural hints jarring and unexpected. Quite good, if bizarre.

Me Before You by Jojo Moyes

Category: Adult Fiction
Type: Easy Read
Elements: Romance, travel, paraplegics, family issues, and British things

You've most likely heard of this one, since it was recently made into a movie (which I haven't seen yet - yes I am way behind on my movie-watching status, but going to the theater with a newborn is not super feasible).

Let me begin by saying, I LOVED THIS BOOK. It pulled me in immediately. Because of course I love the different language that comes with a British setting. Plus the story just takes your emotions and runs away with them, and my hormonal post-baby heart just ate it up. I think I may have teared up more than once.

A small part of my enthusiasm could have come from the fact that it was the first novel I read post-partum. I was feeling overwhelmed by the baby and confused by what to do in my free time. There are those newborn moments where your mom-brain won't shut up and you feel constantly on edge, only able to think about the baby...a good book really helps gain some perspective. 

What am I reading now? I'm about to pick up Pirate's Alley by Suzanne Johnson. Sounds a bit cheesy, I know, but it says fans of Jim Butcher should enjoy it, so...

Sleepless Adventures: Tips for #NewbornLife

The third trimester is full of all sorts of challenges and preparations, yet somehow most of these preparations involve the labor and delivery of the baby, while all preparations for the baby itself are limited to buying diapers and onesies and putting together the crib. Those things are important, of course, but they don't hold a candle to the self-preparation that you and your husband need to go through for the newborn phase.

I wish someone had prepared me a bit for life with a newborn. Terms like, "You won't be getting any sleep!" and "Give yourself grace!" are so completely vague. They make sense now that I'm in it, of course. But as a means of mental preparation they did nothing to help me.

When I was in my third trimester, I had a lot of people telling me to rest and get sleep while I still could. Which was a bit ironic, considering that was also the time I was having trouble sleeping (being uncomfortably large around the middle and having to pee every ten minutes is not the best combination).

They laughed, so I laughed, and ignored said advice. You can't store up sleep. What is the point of telling me to "get sleep now"?

(Although, think about how amazing it would be if you could save up sleep. Store all of your childhood naps and use their energy for cramming in college or dealing with a newborn. Right now, that is definitely the super-power I would choose.)

I wish I would have done the opposite. As tired as I was pregnant, I still felt good enough to go on hikes and do art and have fun. I had time for anything I wanted. Being a new mom changes everything. I am not simply living life anymore; I am in survival mode. Everything becomes a hurdle to overcome - from taking out the trash to making dinner to maintaining personal hygiene. One of the things I miss the most is the ease of being outside. Especially since fall is my absolute favorite season.

With hindsight, here is my advice for preparation. This is for those third trimester women about to be first time moms. Living with a newborn does not "come naturally." You survive, the baby survives, and you figure out how to be a mom. But the process will take everything you've got. 

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1. Start building your #MomSquad. You're going to have a zillion questions at all hours of the day and night. Have baby books and Google handy. Most importantly, connect with as many mom friends as possible so that you know you can call, text, or email them ANYTIME for their priceless advice/reassurance. Be sure to talk to your own mom as well! Things may have been totally different in her generation, but she is still a wealth of knowledge. 

2. Do practical, physical preparations. If you're not sure where to start, you can head on over to My Ultimate Third Trimester List. Try to stay relaxed, get some light exercise, read up on babies...lots of little things. Talk with your husband about the things you're learning - even if he doesn't seem interested, he will log the info away for later. And speaking of husbands...

3. Spend time with your husband. It doesn't need to be extravagant or well-planned or a "baby-moon." But make it a point to enjoy his company. Do things for him. Have sex. Go on cute dates. Talk to him instead of playing with your phone. Do things you both love to do, like hiking or playing video games or what have you. Why? Because in a few weeks, he's going to be trying to take care of you and all you will be able to think about is your baby. I hate to say it, but you will likely be an emotional, stressed out, milky hot mess for at least three weeks. Probably more like six weeks. Yay fourth trimester. (It's a thing. Look it up.)

4. Go out with your friends. You're huge, you can't drink, and you have to be within ten feet of the loo at all times. But you can relax without listening for your baby's cries. You can wear cute things (even while pregnant) without the fear of your boobs leaking all over the place. So have fun and be a friend while you still have the time, energy, and mental capacity for it. 

5. Do what you love. Just because you're going to be home all the time with a newborn, does not mean that you will actually have that little luxury we call time. Everything that can fall through the cracks, will. Thus I am sitting at Starbucks on a Saturday afternoon to write this post while my husband and 5.5-week-old daughter (hopefully) survive at home. My husband has been an incredible help, allowing me to disappear for a bit on weekends. I do things like wear headphones while clothes shopping. Sitting in the sun. Driving with windows down and loud music, pretending that I am not a mom. It's freeing. Motherhood is beautiful and rewarding, yes. But sometimes you can feel a bit trapped, simply because the change from who you were before is so drastic. So take some time today and just do something that makes you happy. And make sure your phone and the TV are turned off (you'll get enough of those when you're stuck on the couch breastfeeding).

6. Trust your Mommy Brain. No matter how many baby books you read, once that baby is in your arms, all of that information will fly right out of your head and you will feel completely incapable of keeping that little human alive. Don't panic. You have amazing motherly instincts that help you learn about and grow closer to your baby. Think I'm wrong? Watch your husband flounder next to you, asking you questions, using twelve wipes in one diaper change, holding the baby as she cries and looking at you with something akin to fear, asking, "What now?" Part of that is because you're with the baby all day and he barely gets to see her. But the bigger part of it is that you're the mom. You connected with her while she was growing in your womb. You held her first. And if you're breastfeeding, you provide all of her sustenance. So give yourself some credit and go with your gut. You're the best mother that baby is going to have because you are her one and only mom.

6. Remember that you and your baby are figuring out this new stuff at the same time. You will figure it out. Together, and with time. Even though it seems impossible figure out why the baby is crying - again. Even though your boobs hurt. Even though you want to give up, stop being a mom for a day, crawl into a hole and sleep for a month. You keep going. Because once you're a mom, there's no going back. You are that baby's world...and it's time to start being a grown-up.

7. Listen to this song. It keeps cropping up in my head when I'm holding her in the middle of the night, just wanting to sleep. When I'm the only one who can calm her down. When I get to the end of the day and realize that I did "nothing." These newborn days will be hard. But you will also miss them when they're gone, and a new struggle settles in. 

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Your baby will be the most perfect, beautiful thing in your eyes. Your love for this tiny human will astound you with its capacity. But that child will test you till your frustration turns to anger and your patience is in shreds on the floor. You will realize that you are an utterly selfish being. It's an ugly thing to see in yourself. I've taken to chanting, "Mummy loves you," over and over again. It's my mantra to keep me sane and remind myself that as upset as I will ever be, I will always love her. That's what matters. It's an incredible picture of the love God has for us every second of every day.

So if you're still pregnant (or single or married without kids) and you have enough energy, then do yourself a favor and don't just sleep. Get outside. Go play. Be productive. Enjoy life. Spend a few moments alone in the silence, before those times become nothing more than blissful memories.

P.S. I promise I am still enjoying life, still trying to get outside, interact with other people. Sleep just takes precedence a good deal of the time.

The Things That Stop You Dreaming

This is a post that I wrote a week or two before having Roxanne. In part, it encouraged me to re-read over my positive thoughts from before. But at the same time, it made me a bit sad. This morning I am frustrated and tired and feel like trying to plan things is the equivalent of stomping around in quicksand. I am cranky and stinky and I have very little desire to be a mom right now (the fact that it is morning could slightly be affecting this).

I feel great physically. Ready to get out of the house, be active, see people. But just when I think I can plan around my baby's schedule, she pulls some dramatic stunt (like refusing to sleep at a time that is normally easy to put her down, or nursing for an entire hour). Then I just decide to throw out the schedule and make plans anyway.

That doesn't always work either.

I know she's still young and all that, but if I let myself stay home all the time I will go crazy. The smell of milk, the state of my hair, the fact that some days I don't brush my teeth...Maybe going out is exhausting. But it gives me a reason to look presentable and feel sort of like a real human again.

Thus follows my throwback post on my ideal mom-self and what I hoped that it would look like. Day by day, I will get there. I will be a mom that my daughter can look up to.

The Things that Stop You Dreaming by Passenger
"Well if you can’t get what you love
You learn to love the things you’ve got
If you can’t be what you want
You learn to be the things you’re not…"
I've been thinking about how consistently my fear of being a parent comes back to haunt me; in the mornings when I don't know what to feed myself for breakfast, at night when I feel Comet's kicks and I try to imagine what it will be like to hold her in my arms instead of my belly, and in the afternoon silence of our little apartment when I am alone. Basically, any minute I am not completely absorbed in something else.

It's difficult to pin down the fear because it is not one simple thought. It is a million facets of the same thing.

But instead of spending time logging all of these fears, big and small, that make me cringe at being a parent (and make me stare at my belly, telling Comet that she can wait as long as she wants to get here because I am so. not. ready.), I'm going to list all the things that I want to be. 

The flip-side of fear is love. Love casts out fear, because when you are loved with the unconditional love of God, you are worth it. You are important. And you have all you need to be content with life.

When I feel sheltered by His love, I am so much more free to love others and to enjoy the things around me. I worry less about being "productive" and more about what's actually important. That's why I need to take this time to write down the things that are important to me. It will remind me later who I wanted to be so I don't lose the versions of myself that I love best.

This is also why I will not make a list of things that I want my daughter to be or things that I want our family to be, because that would require fitting other persons into a box of my own making. It would involve a type of control that I should never have.

This is a list for me. Because if I take the time to be who I want to be, than who my family is will flow from that naturally. And hopefully, I won't be as focused on changing who they already are.

My Ideal Mom-Self
  • She likes to braid her hair or twist it up into something cute, because it makes her feel a little more put-together even when she's not.
  • She takes tons of photos to keep all the memories for years to come.
  • She is still adventurous. Just with a baby on her back. 
  • She takes time out of her day for herself - not because she is selfish, but because she knows that she will fail at taking care of her family if she herself is not taken care of. If she misses her me-time, she will demand more of her husband and the relationship will become strained. 
  • She writes. Maybe not consistently or astoundingly, but she puts words together and that is enough. 
  • She allows the imperfections in her home to exist, without letting them dictate a life of stress. Things like dirty dishes and dusting that never gets done and wearing clothes for more than one day and a house that feels messy. Things that can be a big deal...or things that can be forgotten in light of laughter and memories. 
  • She does not get discouraged when her efforts to serve the perfect dinner or have the perfect family outing fail miserably. 
  • She lets her husband know that he is still #1, even if it feels like the baby is eating up her life. 
  • She lets her husband make her laugh (which he is so good at), even when all she wants to do is hold on to the fear/pain/exhaustion and wallow in it. 
  • She remembers what is important to her: time with God, being outdoors, staying healthy, being creative (whether with food, words, or art), time with family, and continuous growth.
  • She makes other people feel important and loved through encouraging words and actions. Motherhood is not a race or a competition; each mom must get through the days in any way that she can.

These ideals all come with pretty images in my head. I know that parenting, like everything else in life, does not consist of picture-perfect moments. I know that so many days will be full of things I don't want to deal with. And I know that I will want to be selfish.

I'm sure some of these things will fall by the wayside and others will take their place. I am never my true ideal - no one is. Still, it is a reminder that I am a person, that I have choices to make, and I get to be the person that I take time the to cultivate. Yes, I am a wife. I am a mother. 

But I am also a girl. Just a girl.

And the important thing is this: if you can't be everything you want to be, you "learn to love the things you've got..."

Tell me how you envisioned yourself as a mom (or any other huge life change, like landing your dream job or getting married) before it happened, and what changes - both good and bad - occurred as the years went by. Have you evolved into a person that you like? Or is it time to reevaluate who you are and start again?

God doesn't let us stay stuck either. He puts us through things (like parenthood) to change us into the people He wants us to be, and to make us inescapably dependent on Him.

"And you shall remember that the Lord your God led you all the way these forty years in the wilderness, to humble you and test you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not. So He humbled you, allowed you to hunger, and fed you with manna which you did not know nor did your fathers know, that He might make you know that man shall not live by bread alone; but man lives by every word that proceeds form the mouth of the Lord." ~Deuteronomy 8:2-3

If you're dealing with any of these issues - unexpectedly pregnant, afraid to be a mom, guilty because you're not joyful with this new change - head on over to this post by Paige. I just started following her blog and I am so encouraged by her!

Selfish Mommy

You would think that being home all the time allows me to write whenever I want. But when the words start coming to me, I am usually curled up in the dark bedroom or caught without a free hand. This results in hastily adding notes to my phone when I can. Having a newborn is hard. 

I started this post last Saturday. As in, September 24th. I was excited because I had something to write about and I was writing and it felt superb. However, having a newborn means making tough decisions: do I sleep, or eat? Do I shower, or step out onto the balcony for a few minutes of fresh air? When you have to decide between vital things that make you sane (and alive), writing keeps getting pushed back. 

I didn't get it, this being a mom full-time thing. I never gave a thought to how tough it would be to simply have to feed her all the time. That breastfeeding means learning how to do six different things with your one free hand and surviving on what feels like no sleep and forgetting to eat because all you want to do is sleep.

And when the baby falls asleep on your chest and you cannot move, your feet become an amazing resource (I've used my feet to nab a notebook, pens, my water bottle, the remote...).

Mastitis happened this week, too, and that turned sleep into my number one priority (as if it wasn't before). I fed her, then tried to lay down whenever she did. Everything hurt. Which meant that even when she was asleep I sometimes couldn't fall asleep myself.

Then 2am would roll around, time to feed her again; and I end up hunched over her little body, trying to keep her awake enough to eat even as my own eyes are refusing to stay open. It was in these miserable seeming moments that I began to search for something. Anything. A distraction to keep me awake, a crumb of encouragement that would make me not want to sob.

In reality, I should have taken a deep breath and prayed. I should have picked up my Bible and let His words be enough. But I am stubborn. 

As it turns out, He met me in those mornings anyway. God's love is reckless and oh-so-relentless and He won't let me go. He used others to rescue me from the dark pit of fear and self-pity. And while He gets all the glory, I'd also like to thank the ones that He used. They both humbled and encouraged me during these dark, long mornings.

Firstly, there is this post. Jen over at Our Little Sweet Nest shined a piercing light of honesty into the darkness of my thoughts that morning. I needed to hear what she said. Why?

Because I have been an ugly mom.

I have cried because I am mad at my baby and it scares me.

I have sat like a zombie on the couch not knowing how to do anything normal anymore...and hating that fact about me.

Somehow, I have managed to allow myself to feel burdened in being alone while I parent. To get upset - even angry - when my daughter is hungry again and I just don't want to breastfeed her. To lose it because I'm tired and I know that I will basically be tired for the rest of my life. Because I am a mom now.

I have had so many ugly mom moments already...and I've only been a mom for three weeks.

I love that I can breastfeed and bond with my baby girl that way. It is a natural, beautiful, amazing thing. But because I am the only one who can feed my daughter, I have allowed myself to sometimes wish that "burden" away.

It's too much pressure.

I'm not really that good at it.

Why can't I have a break from it?

Why do I allow these thoughts to enter my head? I get to be Roxanne's mom, teach her everything, spend every day with her instead of going to work and leaving her with a nanny. I get to witness every coo and smile and flailing arm. Every peaceful sleeping face and every intense cry.

Jen reminded me that there will always be a stage that my daughter is going through. Always something good and something hard. That means that each phase has an end: a hope-light at the end of the tunnel. But that also means that that tunnel is a staging area for the next phase of life. A never-ending cycle, one that I should not waste any time trying to change.

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The second thing was this post.

Short, simple, to the point. Obvious, even. And yet just what I needed to hear:
"We need to take the time to start treating our loved ones and friends the way we treat strangers.  It is so easy to get caught up in the daily grind, get stuck in your routine and just assume things go without saying." ~ Lindsay Wride

You cannot assume. When quick words of anger and frustration are always around because you're tired and everything grates on your nerves, you cannot assume that those around you know you still love them. You cannot assume that they love you back - you need to hear it, or you feel like you may cave in a little

My mom visited me for a week, taking care of me while I take care of the baby. She washed my laundry, bought groceries, run errands, helped me find a pediatrician, made meals, held the baby while I ate and slept and showered, listened to my joys and woes, and changed countless diapers. There's nothing quite like a mom, is there? I hold my own daughter in my arms and realize that nothing else really matters anymore. And it is then that I begin to see how much my own mom must have sacrificed for me. Every. Single. Day. How anytime I speak poorly to her or push her away or forget to call her back I am hurting her mother's heart because no one but God can love me more. She has and continues to do so much for me - even when I am in Colorado and she is in Ohio. I can never thank her enough, can never return exactly the same love to her. But I can say that I know now, a little bit, what this mother's love must mean.

Have I thanked her? Yes. But I have also spoken to her harshly at times. I have made demands. I always had something else that I asked her to do, instead of simply sitting next to her on the couch, enjoying the sight of her playing with her granddaughter.

Then there is my husband. Out the door by 6:30 every single morning, he works hard all day doing manual labor so that I can be a stay-at-home mom. And then comes home and asks me what I need. He takes the baby in the middle of the night when I wake him crying because she just won't sleep. He changes her poopy diapers (she saves them till he gets home, haha). He plays with her while I get ready to breastfeed. Lets me watch my silly show he doesn't care about while we eat dinner. Never raises his voice when I become irrationally weepy or angry with him.

Have I thanked him? Some days. Others I am too self-involved, too sure that I am doing all that I can take and it's his turn for once. How incredibly selfish. It is my new goal to pray for him every day and vocalize my love and gratefulness so that I do not take this amazing man for granted.

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The third thing that got to me on this one particular morning was one of my good friends. She shared a few things that God had spoken clearly to her about while she'd been listening to a sermon. The things He told her were hard to hear. But she listened. And she accepted them for what they were. This woman has been my friend since I was smaller than a beanpole and I am constantly amazed at her passion for Jesus. No matter what she goes through, God just leaks out of her and touches everyone around her.

I immediately realized how little I have wanted to hear God's voice lately. I'm afraid of what He might say about my life. I have huge chunks of time in quiet darkness while breastfeeding that I could be in His word, in prayer, in podcasts...that I waste because I just want to "get through it" and go back to bed.

Simultaneously I saw that I have been utterly caught up in the physical lately. Sure, it might make sense, with a new baby that has specific and constant physical needs that I need to tend to, leaving me uncertain what my own physical needs are. But this is no excuse for ignoring the spiritual.

Anytime I am physically under pressure, I find myself being spiritually attacked in miniscule ways that I ignore. I start to drift into myself more. I try to do it all on my own - super adventure girl will keep stumbling until she falls. It's unhealthy and it puts extra  strain on the people trying to help me, when I could have saved us both stress and energy by letting them help me in the first place. Here's to accepting help and acknowledging that I can't do this on my own. I can't. I need God. I need people.

A few quotes from this time that have made me laugh in spite of it all:

"You're the best mom Roxy is ever going to have." ~my husband

"After all, Moses survived in a river in a basket for a period of time. I'm sure Roxanne can survive for an hour while you eat and watch a show." ~my older brother, Curtis