Why I quit making reading lists — and why I’m back

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I didn’t keep track of a single book I read in 2018.

Given how immersed I was in cataloging everything I read up until my kids arrived, that felt strange. Even after I found myself with little energy and less desire to keep up with full-blown reviews, I was updating Goodreads with the audiobooks I’d listened to, at least.

But for 2018? Cold turkey. I was tired. Reading had become less a pleasurable pursuit than a strange struggle to “keep up,” both in the book blogging world and outside it. I felt like I’d created something with write meg! and I needed to crank out content to appease … someone.

Publishers? Readers? Myself?

So I stopped. If it doesn’t give you joy, why do it? And, to be honest, it was all I could do to keep my eyes open until 9 p.m. Once the kids were in bed, I was right behind them. My job is very busy. The house is always a mess. So many responsibilities tug at me day in and day out, and I needed to loosen the hold of those that I could.

Here’s the thing, though: being a reader is part of my identity. I don’t feel like myself without my books. Novels are a vacation. A trip from reality. A chance to escape, to punch out, to be “someone else” for a while.

Without books, I’m … me. Exhausted mom of two.

I wanted to find my way back to reading … but without the self-imposed pressure I’d come to put on myself as a blogger and reviewer. There had to be a better way.

So I rediscovered books in 2018 — just for myself. The kids were sleeping more. Our household was less disrupted. I returned to novels like reconnecting with a best friend — just without the requirement that I evaluate every single one. I was tired of my obsession with counting everything.

Life was stressful enough. I just wanted to read.

So I did. But I didn’t review or catalog. I didn’t set reading goals, nor did I keep a running list of what I’d purchased or finished or borrowed.

2018 became the year of the lost book.

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Turns out … well, I miss my lists.

I am lists. Lists are me.

When I don’t have them? There’s … nothing. A total blank where my favorite reads from 2018 should be.

Did I not read anything compelling last year? Nothing memorable, influential, worthwhile? This can’t be true, especially knowing I give most books the 10-page test — if it doesn’t hold my attention after 10 pages, I quit.

Yet without my trusty spreadsheets and up-to-date Goodreads account, I struggle to think of a single title I loved in the last 12 months.

That just won’t do.

So I’m back. Last week I flipped on the lights of my dormant Goodreads account, shaking the dust from every surface. I’ve finished three audio books since January 1, and absolutely loved Katherine Center’s How to Walk Away. I’m thick in the middle of Michelle Obama’s Becoming and love it so much, I don’t want it to end.

And, of course, there’s my kids’ bedtime reading. The rhyming undercurrents of my daily life.

For Hadley, it’s Five Little Pumpkins. For Oliver, Where Do Diggers Sleep at Night?

I mean, where do they sleep at night?

Do they dream of holes they dug?

Do their moms reach front to backhoe when they give a good night hug?

These are the questions of our era, friends.

And with little readers in the making (and much more reading for me!), I look forward to answering them.

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Not clean eating: Peanut butter chocolate chip cookie dough balls

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I know, I know — it’s the New Year and everyone is like, “Let’s join a gym! Let’s get back on Weight Watchers! Let’s start eating clean!”

And I’m like . . . here are some fake cookie dough balls. Enjoy?

I say “fake” because they contain no egg, so it’s safe to eat them straight out of the fridge. Or the mixing bowl. They really do taste like cookie dough, but with none of the residual guilt/rebellion I usually feel from eating the real stuff against medical orders.

If you also enjoy eating your feelings, these are portable and very pop-able. With the kids and I dealing with back-to-back illnesses since November, I definitely need sugar therapy.

And so, behold: peanut butter chocolate chip cookie dough balls from Mary Younkin of Barefeet in the Kitchen, who is my recipe guru. I live by her cookbooks, which are the basis for my weekly meal plans. Seriously: Mary is it.

This has been adapted just slightly to add peanut butter chips, because … why not?

Also: hi! Miss you guys. Think about you often. Try to scrape together energy to blog again and usually come up empty, but always plan to return.

 

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip
Cookie Dough Balls

Ingredients:
1/2 cup butter, room temperature
1/2 cup peanut butter
1/2 cup light brown sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup quick oats
2 tbsp milk, as needed (I used half and half)
1 cup mini chocolate chips
1/2 cup peanut butter chips

In a bowl, beat the butter, peanut butter, brown sugar, and vanilla until smooth and creamy. Add the baking soda, flour, and oats. Stir to combine. If the mixture is too dry to roll into balls, add the milk. Stir in chocolate chips and peanut butter chips.

Scoop out the dough and roll with hands into 1-inch balls. Store covered in the refrigerator until ready to eat. Will keep three days in the fridge, or up to two months in the freezer.

 

 

The best part of getting pink eye

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Whenever I get sick (which happens all too frequently, with two kiddos in the house), I’m forced to sloooooow dooooown.

To realize that all those can’t-miss, urgent projects can wait.

That the chores I “must” keep up can wait as well.

The harried pace of life is just … life. Most of the time, anyway. But getting sick reminds me of being off after having my babies: when the days extend and stretch in entirely different ways, casting my obsessive email-checking self into shadow. Whittling my world down inside the walls of my own home. Setting my schedule to the daytime court shows I used to love growing up.

The “good” thing about getting pink eye this week? It’s highly contagious, but not debilitating … like, say, the flu. I can’t leave, but I can actually tackle projects around the house!

And with the kids at day care and my husband at work, I’ve been home … by myself.

For two days.

(Insert joke about You Know You’re a Parent When … getting pink eye is exciting. But that’s where I am.)

With my unexpected break, I’ve scrubbed most surfaces with Clorox wipes; done several loads of laundry, including all bedding; vacuumed; organized the kids’ toy bins; cleaned the fridge of all its leftovers; loaded the dishwasher twice, and actually emptied it. No more grabbing mugs and cereal bowls until my husband and I start squinting to assess whether it’s even clean or dirty anymore.

I’ve also watched a lot of “90 Day Fiance” and “Married at First Sight,” because the TV is mine and no one is here to judge me. I wrote a column in my living room with both eyes open, because it wasn’t 11 p.m. on a work night. I’m writing this post, too.

With two prescriptions putting a dent in both the pink eye and upper respiratory infection, I also went to the library today. I was able to switch out the long-ago-listened-to audiobooks I’ve been renewing out of laziness, because it’s been weeks since I made time to stop for new reads. And I had lunch with my dad — something we haven’t been able to do since I took a new job last summer. I really miss that.

I can’t tell you the last time I went out in public wearing my glasses, rather than contacts — or when I chose to forego makeup completely. I haven’t thought about what I’m wearing and how I look in it, or whether it’s covered in chocolate pudding after my three-year-old used the leg of my pants as a napkin.

The pace is slow over here. I started cooking chicken for a tamale casserole I’m putting together for dinner. It’s easy, but has multiple steps — not something I would normally attempt on a weeknight. But I have time.

It’s not that “normal” life — life as a working mom of two young kids, a busy wife, an anxious human — isn’t great. But it can be tough. Full, but with little space for me to collect myself. Rarely any time alone, aside from my long drives back and forth to the hospital where I work.

It’s easy to forget who I was … you know, before. Before I was so needed by two little people with darling faces and wide eyes.

What I used to like to … do.
Hobbies I enjoyed.
Projects I attempted.

This break was unplanned. It didn’t include daiquiris or tropical waters. I got freakin’ pink eye! It was gross.

But tomorrow, I’ll get up and return to work and our family routines feeling much more refreshed. Put-together. Caught up. Ready to tackle it all again — with coffee.

Feels kind of like cheating, though, with it being Friday and all.

Still. Little victories.

 

A soft place to land

Playground

File it under “Things I’ve Had to Get Used to as a Parent.”

That’s a pretty thick folder.

Spending time outside is a way of life. This wouldn’t be a problem except I hate to sweat, can’t deal with bugs, and feel my skin sizzling to a nice red crisp within .10 seconds of being exposed to daylight.

My kids, of course, love it. Hadley adores being in her stroller and swinging the hours away. Ollie, too, loves running around like a nut, getting good and sweaty, and catapulting himself down the slide.

Well, “catapulting” is a little strong. Much to his anxious mother’s relief, Oliver is a pretty cautious kid. He doesn’t leap from couches or reach out to hot stoves. My three-year-old takes me at my word when I tell him something is “dangerous,” and one of the first two-word phrases he strung together was “be careful!”

I struggle often with the push/pull of my anxiety and letting my children be children. What constitutes a legitimate danger, and what is simply a normal part of growing up? It takes all my willpower — a lot of willpower — not to shadow my kids like the proverbial monkey on their back. I’m glad that Oliver runs around at “school” without me, because I don’t think I could handle seeing him on monkey bars.

We went to the playground yesterday, and it was the first time I spent most of my time on the ground instead of squeezing myself into child-sized spaces. Oliver climbed a kid-friendly rock wall and went down a tall slide. Without me.

It was a big moment.

Anxiety confuses and deceives you, making everything feel like a fight-or-flight situation. Being a parent has meant I must get used to stepping back and letting my kids get dirty and sweaty and potentially bruised.

I don’t like it. It goes against my very nature. But I can step outside my nervousness and realize that “protection” is an illusion. No one can be protected all the time.

All we can do is be there to guide them.

And remain a soft place to land.

 

 

 

Wordless Wednesday: Cherry blossom time

Want to pretend it’s two months ago? Cool!

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Cherry blossom time in Washington is the best time.

The peak bloom along the Tidal Basin was later than anticipated, and the timing worked such that my parents and I could go with my mother-in-law — her first time seeing them — and enjoy a cool, gray morning under the budding trees on April 7.

And that’s all I’ll say. “Wordless,” I know.

 

The Pup Invasion: A Parent’s Lament

Only Paw Patrol

To be honest, I’m not even sure how it happened.

There was life before “PAW Patrol,” and now we’re stuck in the painful after. A place in which time has no meaning, because all that exists in my 3-year-old’s world are Chase, Zuma, Skye, Rubble … and rice with butter, his primary food group.

Up in the morning? “PAW Patrol.” Last request at night? “PAW Patrol.” Bedtime stories feature even more tales about “the pups.” While I’ll admit to feeling my heart melt at Ollie’s request for “Good Morning, Adventure Bay,” which he says in a distinctly Ollie-like way that would be impossible to type out, I’m generally annoyed by the whole Nickelodeon-funded mess.

Oliver has had plenty of obsessions before. There were tractors, of course, and the ongoing love of farming equipment. Back when his vocabulary was limited to things like “up” and “milk,” “tractor” somehow worked its way in there.

And then we had “The Muppets,” all we watched for the first year of his life, followed by “Big Hero 6” and “The Lorax.” Now he’s especially into Blippi, a true icon amongst the Pull-Up set.

And those? I’ve been fine with those. See, unlike those programs, which have some vague humor that lets adults tolerate — or even enjoy — them,  “PAW Patrol” is just mind-melting. Boring. Colorful, but in an “assault on the senses” kind of way. 

I love the pro-“PAW Patrol” message that pops up before every episode, too. Going on missions with the pups helps children think critically! Encourages teamwork! Builds character! We’re basically curing cancer over here!

Look, Nick: you don’t have to try to make us feel good about this. I know my kids spend far too much time in front of a screen already. I put “PAW Patrol” on because it encourages my toddler to sit in one place long enough for me to mop up the milk he spilled or comfort the sister he pushed. I know it ain’t about the teamwork, OK?

I’ve tried placing limits on how much we’re tagging along with Ryder et. al., but the truth is that Oliver just really loves this show. Hadley tolerates it, so we alternate with episodes of “Sesame Street” because we’re learning all about “taking turns.”

When the kids fall asleep, Spence passes out on the couch and I finally have the remote all to myself, I usually … turn the TV off. I have a DVR full of shows I’ve stockpiled, but I rarely have the energy or focus to enjoy any of them. I’m trying to start reading again (slow process), and I give that preference.

But mostly? I crave silence. Space. My sister makes fun of how low we keep the volume on our TV, but all the noise — so much noise — coming at us all day just gets to be too much. By 10 p.m., I’m done. I want the darkness and nothingness. I might even need it.

I’ve even found myself turning off my car radio and driving in silence. The quiet helps me scrape some thoughts together. I actually do my best thinking on my morning commute.

Probably because that’s the only time my husband and I don’t have furry problem-solving guests in our home.

“PAW Patrol” is annoying, but I know it’s just a phase. Oliver will soon move on to the next toddler fever dream. Hadley will advance from Elmo to “Doc McStuffins” or something similar, and pretty soon we’ll have a rumble going on in the living room.

Or maybe we’ll actually … go outside. Just for a little bit. Blow some bubbles. Take a walk. Decorate the driveway with my mediocre chalk designs and Ollie’s scribbles.

It’s almost summer. Even with my husband and I working full-time and the kids in day care, it still feels like a lighter, freer season.

The perfect time to step back from the screens.

I promise I’ll try.