Links I Love

Here is where I will share a few links of podcast episodes, blog posts, websites, TED talks, new books, etc. that I favorite each week. Refresh your imagination and fill up your inspiration tank. Happy weekend!

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Srini Rao’s The Unmistakable Creative Podcast is definitely on the top of my new favorites. (It’s not a new podcast, but one I just started listening to.) I’ve been inspired to think differently and encouraged on my nontraditional path of living creatively.

The first one I listened to is with Michael Ellsberg, author of The Education of Millionaires: Everything You Won’t Learn in College About How to Be Successful and The Last Safe Investment: Spending Now to Increase Your True Wealth Forever, both which I ordered second-hand copies of as soon as I finished listening. Spending Now to Increase Your True Wealth Forever isn’t really about spending, but it is about investing, about taking a risk and being willing to live differently in order to have a meaningful life. I sent this one to my son, an Uber-creative person in the hope that he listens too.

The second one is with Kate Swoboda: The Courage Habit. She is the author of a book by that title as well as a life coach who has a training program for other life coaches. In this podcast, Kate talks with Srini about facing our fears and acknowledging they exist, but not letting them run our lives. You need to hear this! I can’t wait to read her book.

In honor of National Poetry Day, here are two blogs that are pure poetry:

Caliath.com is poetry blog from a fellow WordPresser. I’m so glad I found it! This poem is a lovely pick.

David Whyte just released a new collection of poetry: The Bell and the BlackbirdI can’t wait until my copy arrives! Also, view David’s TED talk here.

And lastly, two posts on the importance of poetry: Why Poetry is Necessary by Elizabeth Alexander and How Poetry Can Change Lives by John Burnside.

 

Mystery and Poetry, Two Constant Companions

Since my seventh birthday, I have pretty much been addicted to mysteries. My mom’s friends, Pat and Judy, gave me a couple of Nancy Drew mysteries that year and my mind was opened to the scary, thrilling, who-done-it genre and I’ve never looked back. Sure, I’ve read some disappointing ones full of boring characters or convoluted plots that made me yawn, but, overall, I’ve found mysteries to be soothing and reassuring that no matter what is wrong in the world, by the end of the book, the odd little detective will have solved it and I can go to sleep confident that right triumphs.

I received Louise Penny’s latest book, Glass Houses, as a birthday gift this past year and I just finished it on Sunday. Her series is a little bit cozy, but only on the edges. It has all the depth of a novel, because she goes deep with her characters and most of them carry on from book to book. If you haven’t read her books yet, this is the year to give them a try. Three Pines is an imaginary village outside of Montreal, full of lovable, quirky people that you will want to read more about. No matter what evil they come up against, the townspeople live their unique lives and pull together when they’re needed. This story has to do with a hooded figure showing up in Three Pines, the drug trade in Montreal, and, of course, a murder. That’s all I’m saying. Read it for yourself and let me know what you think.

The other genre I’ve always kept close to me is poetry. I’ve got a poetry book or two going at all times…and so should you. Poetry is for everyone. If you don’t think so, maybe you need to keep looking. Mary Oliver, anyone? I just finished reading (again) Everything Is Waiting for You by David Whyte. Do you ever get days where life seems too much? Where emotions are overwhelming and tears break out for the smallest reason? Maybe it’s my Italian blood, or because I’m an HSP/ INFJ, or because I’ve been through lots of change in my life the past few years, but this happens often. On those days, I read poetry. Something elegant, simple and deep that speaks to the heart of sadness, the edge of elation, down to the bottom and all the way to the top of the emotional gamut. Thank you, David Whyte for breaking open your soul and writing down what spills out. I suggest you, dear reader, get one of his poetry collections and let it sink in. You need it, I’m telling you.

So, what are some of your favorite genres? What are you reading right now?

Educated, (Book Review)

When I started reading Educated: A Memoir, by Tara Westover, I was expecting a story about a homeschooler–an unschooled, perhaps. Within a few pages I realized my error; this was no homeschooling family she belonged to.

Tara was born into and raised in a very dysfunctional and dangerous environment within a large family ruled by fear of their mentally ill father. As she described her experiences out in the wilderness of Utah, her and other family members’ scrapes with death, how her father treated them, and how she perceived these experiences, I just shook my head. This was her normal.

She was indoctrinated to think anything else was “of the devil” or “worldly”, due to her father’s mix of Mormonism and mental illness. I kept wanting her mother to stand up to him, but she rarely did. I cheered when Tara finally escaped in her late teens to attend college, and couldn’t believe it each time she returned to her family home over and over again. Her education outside of her home life, over time, had enough of an effect that she came to view life, religion and the meaning of family differently, but I don’t know if any education could ever erase the effect of those deep roots of shame, guilt, neglect, abuse that she suffered.

I am thankful Tara was able to share her story with the world, that she could find enough courage within herself to walk away from everything she knew and start again. If you haven’t already, you will hear a lot about Educated this year. I suggest you pick up a copy and read it for yourself.

* I was given a free e-copy of this book by NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are completely my own.

Song of a Captive Bird (Book Review)

When I requested this book, Song of a Captive Bird, by Jasmin Darznik, from NetGalley, I knew I’d be in for a reading adventure. I know nothing about Iranian poets, past or present, and not much about Iranian history or culture. Because this was about a poet from Iran, Forugh Farrokhzad, who was also a woman drew me to it–that and the title. The book read a bit like a movie, opening with a mysterious and violent scene that became clear as the story continued and the cultural traditions and expectations were explained.

As it takes place in the fifties and sixties, in a land very far away and different from my own, there was much to be discovered about the way people lived and thought about life in general, and about women, in particular. Forugh suffered at the hands of men–her father, her husband, her lovers, and a male-dominated publishing industry. Her suffering marked her, but her resilience and independent spirit shaped her into who she became. Again and again she defies cultural expectations and pioneers a path for herself and women after her with the words she writes, her work in film, and the way she lives. The poetry that is woven into the chapters is exquisite; I savored the lines and felt closer to the woman whose story was being told.

In addition to learning a bit about Iranian women struggling to become respected and independent during that time period, I learned something of the struggle for Iranians to own their oil and of the violent political turmoil of those days. To me, Forugh is a symbol of progress, of the artistic voice that speaks in every culture and time period, and of every woman working toward being respected and heard with equality.

Reading this book stirred up a desire to read Iranian poetry, of which I am unfamiliar. If you’re like me and know little to nothing about Iranian history and culture, and particularly, Iranian poetry, then I recommend you read this story and start your own journey of discovery.

*I received a free copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review.

 

These Days of Christmas

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Dusk is falling on this second day of Christmas. Yesterday and last night, an Arctic chill blew strong and settled in, seeping through the cracks of this old house. Christmas Day was a quiet delight of waking up late, savoring coffee, opening gifts and talking. At noon, my kids joined us, opening all their gifts and giving us theirs.

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My library never felt so full of cheer and purpose as the kids tore through the presents and littered the floor with wrapping paper, sipped egg nog, and laughed and joked as they tried on new sneakers or tried out drum sticks, in Judah’s case.

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Our homemade meal of pasta with fresh marinara sauce, sautéed ginger-garlic broccoli, flounder, garlic bread and pomegranate margaritas (and sparkling grape juice for the kids) provided a simple means of celebration of the day.

Though the wind continued to whip wildly through the trees and blow snow around, the sun shone and gave a sparkly sense of magic to our White Christmas.

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I sit at my desk and feel the frosty nip on nose and fingers. Evening will most likely be quiet, as none of our kids are here. Alan and I will work in separate rooms, he sketching for a massive order of cards, me writing and planning products to make for my business. Today, my certificate of authority to collect sales tax arrived from New York State; I feel even more officially a business owner than when I obtained my DBA.

I ask the questions every purveyor of goods and maker of anything wish they had the answer to: what do people really want? At the few craft shows where I was a vendor this past fall, people wanted flax and lavender pillows and liked lotions, balms and creams. An occasional sale was for a decorative item, but most were for body care items.

So that is what I’ll focus on this next quarter; however, I want a few beautiful and cute things to draw folks to my displays. I want to branch into paper art cards and aromatherapy bracelets as well as beeswax wraps, garlands and hopefully some watercolor cards or small paintings.

I need to brainstorm, make lists, make a schedule and get going. My bullet journal for 2018 should arrive on Friday, but in the meantime I will make use of the extra pages in my 2017 journal. I will be reading a few new-to-me books on creativity, marketing and entrepreneurialism:

The Strategic Storyteller: Content Marketing in the Age of the Educated Consumer by Alexander Jutkowitz

Entrepreneurial You: Monetize Your Expertise, Create Multiple Income Streams, and Thrive by Dorie Clark, and

Show Your Work! by Austin Kleon.


I’ll also be revisiting one of my favorite books on creativity: Todd Henry’s The Accidental Creative: How to Be Brilliant at a Moment’s Notice. Here are some excerpts from this perennial favorite of mine: In regards to the fear of failure, he says, “A lifetime of mediocrity is a high price to pay for safety. Paranoia undoes greatness. You need to push through those places where it’s easier to gravitate toward comfort instead of aggressively pursuing your best work.” (p. 56) His chapter on energy management opened my eyes to how it affects creativity. “Creative work requires that we stay ahead of our work,” says Henry.

Tomorrow’s ideas are the result of today’s intentions. When you rely on a ‘just-in-time’ workflow, you will quickly find it difficult to do quality work–and you’ll also find yourself lacking the drive to do anything about it…energy management will require the most discipline if we want to change our habits and restructure our life in a healthy way. Striking the right balance when instilling practices around energy management will feel a little uncomfortable, perhaps even painful, at first. But experiencing the results of effective energy management makes these practices worth all the temporary discomfort.” (p.117) Chapter 9 has a weekly, monthly and quarterly checkpoint, which has questions to ask oneself in order to help redirect, focus and challenge growth. Just riffling through this book reminds me how much I need to reread it!

As this year slowly winds to an end, I hope you’ll find the time to recast your vision for your life, to redirect and focus your energy and creativity, and to challenge yourself in new ways. Stay tuned this week as I will be announcing the first in a series of book giveaways!

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Shortie Book Review

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I went out on a limb and read a book outside my comfort zone: Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng. The reason it’s not the type of fiction I would usually pick up is that the story starts with a child’s death. Although I haven’t yet taken Anne Bogel’s reader personality quiz, I have a feeling I read fiction to escape. And hopefully to escape into a world that differs from my own–adventure, danger, foreign countries, suspense, bravery, etc.

This book began with the worst thing any parent could imagine: experiencing the death of a child, so I expected if it started from an extremely low point, it had to get better. To her credit, Ng writes in a graceful, fluid style that is easy to read and soothing to a lover of words. The story is basically about one family’s dysfunction and the heart-heavy path each one takes as they find a way to keep on living after their daughter and sister’s death. I didn’t really relish being the observer of their grief process. I never enjoy sad books, especially if they’re fiction, because I become too emotionally involved in their fictional lives. It takes a toll on me and I feel like everyday life does that already.

Anyway, if you like sad stories with a glimmer of hope at the end, this one might be for you. If you aren’t great at handling dark and oppressive family dramas, then skip this one.

Three Books I’ll Read This Advent

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A friend asked me for Advent recommendations today, so I thought I’d share them here. I learned about Advent when my children were little because I was looking for ways to make our Christmas traditions richer and not simply about getting gifts.

Because I wasn’t raised in a Catholic or a Protestant mainline church, I never knew about the tradition of Advent and how it could make the season longer, filled with greater anticipation and really, more meaningful. I entered into this willingly. I realize if one was dragged to church and didn’t connect the ritual with the symbolism and it didn’t mean anything significant, it would be a dull and empty tradition. I never wanted that for myself or my children. Most of the people I knew when I started this journey didn’t understand what Advent was or why it was important. I brought it up once a year as I built this tradition into our own family life. We used a few different wreaths to light candles, finally settling on this wooden one, handmade by Ann Voskamp’s son.

This year, I purchased four white pillar candles and a metallic charger that I lined with evergreens for my Advent wreath. On Sunday evening, I’ll light the first candle.

But, here are a few of my favorite Advent books to read or share with others:

My all-time top of the list is God Is in the Manger: Reflections on Advent and Christmas by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. I have the Audible version of this and listen to it every year, but I also like to read it. The readings are short, but extremely deep and even more so when you realize Bonhoeffer was writing from his Nazi- guarded prison cell during World War II. If you purchase one book for Advent, this should be the one.

My next most-read Advent book is Watch for the Light: Readings for Advent and Christmas, a collection that includes the writings of various authors, including C.S. Lewis, Henri Nouwen, Annie Dillard, and Kathleen Norris, among many others.

One I purchased several years ago as a Kindle version and will re-read this year is Silence and Other Surprising Invitations of Advent by Enumo Okoro. In the preface, the author says, “Advent is a season to ponder, to listen, to understand that prayer is as much about cultivating stillness and attentiveness as it is about offering our words to God.” It’s not easy to cultivate stillness amidst this busy time, is it? Counter-intuitive, but so nourishing for our souls. At least, for this soul.

Do you observe Advent? Do you have favorite resources?