Ten Books

I usually don’t participate in the Facebook “tag you’re it!” games (yes, total party pooper—I know…). But when two different friends tagged me to post ten books that have had an impact on my life or stuck with me in some way, I couldn’t resist.

However, in the Facebook post, I didn’t explain why I posted the books I did, so I thought I’d explain that here.

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis

I believe my aunt Kina introduced me to the Chronicles of Narnia when I was a young child. It was my first experience with fantasy literature, and I was hooked. Imagine if there are other worlds out there with talking animals and centaurs and evil witches!

I read the whole series multiple times throughout my childhood, getting lost in the stories time and time again. As I got older, I became intrigued by the allegorical qualities of the books. So intrigued, in fact, that I wrote my senior paper on this topic in high school—and won best paper in my class. (True story!)

The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Emma Orczy

This book has everything you’d want in a great story: action, romance, great dialogue, intrigue, and suspense. I think the reason this book (and the rest of the books in the series) stuck with me is because I loved the unpredictable twists and turns.

It also has a most beautiful love story that you don’t see coming.

Papa’s Wife by Thyra Ferre Bjorn

In this charming book, a young girl convinces her much older employer, a Swedish priest and sworn bachelor, to marry her. It is a beautiful love story set in reality.

It has stuck with me over the years, partially due to the wonderful depiction of life in northern Sweden, but also because the family eventually migrates to the United States—just like me!

Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe

I don’t know how this book couldn’t have a profound impact on anybody who reads it. It was my introduction to slavery and the abolitionist movement. Reading this book helped me understand the power of the written word to enact change.

I wrote what I did because as a woman, as a mother, I was oppressed and broken-hearted with the sorrows and injustice I saw, because as a Christian I felt the dishonor to Christianity – because as a lover of my county, I trembled at the coming day of wrath. ~Harriet Beecher Stowe

I remember reading an especially sad part of this book as a child and not being able to sleep. The next morning, I was so tired and didn’t want to go to school. My dad’s solution was to offer me coffee…

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

I typically don’t read mystery, but since this book was set in Sweden, I decided to give it a try. And look, here it is on my top ten list! Of course, I love it because it’s set in Sweden and is wonderfully shocking and entertaining.

However, as a writer, I love how the protagonist, Mikael Blomkvist, is able to forget about everything and write. He does find time for exercise and spending time with a handful of friends (lovers), but other than that, he investigates and writes. What a life!

Kulla Gulla by Martha Sandwall-Bergström

Oh boy. How do I even begin to describe… Kulla Gulla is the nickname of an orphan who, in the first few books in the series, slaves away at various farms, but always with a great attitude, until she discovers that she is the long lost grandchild of the richest landowner in the area.

Once in a position of power, Kulla Gulla uses it for good and marries a (gasp!) socialist. While I never picked up on the political undertones as a child, now I appreciate Kulla Gulla’s influence on my own political views and my longing for a just society.

Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery

I have recently recognized that many of my favorite moves are about writers. Now I’m realizing that many of my favorite books are also about writers. Anne of Green Gables is no exception.

Here’s another series that I read multiple times in my teens and also at least a couple of times as an adult. I am in love with Anne’s free spirit and creativity. She encourages me to keep writing.

Simple Prosperity by David Wann

Switching gears into non-fiction… This book is the first book I read on voluntary simplicity or “simple living.” I remember vividly reading it early in the mornings with my breakfast before hitting the gym. I literally bounced out of bed every day to learn more.

Before I read this book, I never considered that I had the choice to live simply. That I could get off the hamster wheel and make less money and have more quality. Talk about impact!

Anatomy of an Epidemic by Robert Whitaker

A friend lent this book to me and my husband during a time of deep despair. Within its pages we found stories that sounded just like ours, and we realized we were not alone. We also realized the vast influence of the pharmaceutical industry on psychiatry, the mental illness narrative, and our collective mental health.

It’s possible that this book saved our daughter’s life.

On Writing by Stephen King

I have read a number of stellar book on writing and this is one of my favorites (and the one that came to mind during the Facebook game). I actually listened to this book, with Stephen King himself as the narrator. Part memoir and part writing manual, it gave wonderful insight into the writing craft.

But best of all, it made me realize that Stephen King is a pretty smart guy and a marvelous writer—and perhaps I should read some of his other books, even though the horror genre is never at the forefront of my mind. I’ve now read several of is novels, including The Stand, The Green Mile, Carrie, The Shining, Doctor Sleep, and 11/22/63. I’ve yet to be disappointed.

Over to You!

What’s your list? Quick, don’t think about it too much. It’s okay if it isn’t the list.

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There Is No Try

As an aspiring Essentialist (just learned this term the other day—love it!), I get very little syndicated content sent to my inbox. However, I do subscribe to Nilofer Merchant’s essays because I love her style and her ideology.

Yesterday, an essay titled “‘Tried’ Is No Longer Enough” landed in my inbox. Nilofer had decided to raise up her voice in response to the tragedy in Ferguson. In the introduction to the piece, she writes:

Each of us is living in working in places where “those in charge” doesn’t match up to “those who are affected”. And that gap between those “in power” and “the powerless” is to me a central source if not the source for so many issues.

This struck a chord with me, because my husband and I have had similar conversations related to mental health as I struggle with the second edition of my forthcoming book. How do I communicate to readers the power relationships that are present in the mental health discourse (i.e. the mental health “script”)?

The script that says that medication should be used as first-line treatment for kids with behavioral and emotional problems.

The script that tells us that mental illness is the result of a chemical imbalance, so it’s an individual issue.

The script that places more value on profit and control than people and compassion.

This is indeed a source for many issues.

She continues, “If there’s one message I’d want you to read, it’s this: see what you can do in your own community. Don’t watch history get made, go make history by making things better.”

Well, that made me perk up even more.

There are so many things wrong with our world. Many of these problems have detrimental effects on our children’s mental health. It’s exhausting to read (and write) about it—let alone do something about it.

Most days I waver between wanting to “go make history by making things better” and escaping to a tiny cottage in Scotland to read, write, cook, take long walks, nap, and do nothing. However, as of right now, the tiny cottage in Scotland is not on the horizon, so I’m stuck with making history—in my own small way.

I told you last week about speaking to the entire school district about mental health. I didn’t try to speak about mental health. I spoke about it. There was a slide up on the big screen that said “Everybody has mental health… Teachers, kids, & parents!” Bam. No getting around it. We must consider teachers’ and children’s mental health in order to optimize learning—and it’s a community effort. Tonight, I’m meeting with a group of brave parents who want to make history by promoting mental health in our community. It’s time!

This is not to brag about my community activism efforts (why would I?). Rather, it’s to show that there are things we can do right now to address some of the problems we have. It doesn’t have to be big. You don’t have to be a speaker or a writer. Indeed, some of the most effective change makers are the ones in the middle of everyday life doing their thing. It’s the teachers who look their students in the eyes and teach unconditionally. It’s the family therapist who doesn’t assume behavior problems equal mental illness, but gets to the core of the problem by involving the whole family. It’s the doctor who uses medication as a last resort for kids. It’s the parent who questions the status quo of the mental health system and demands comprehensive, integrative care.

The most important thing is to do something—not just try to do something. Because, in the words of one of the wisest creatures ever, “Do, or do not. There is no try.”

When leaders say they are “trying” but unable to accomplish their goal, what they are really saying is they haven’t made it a priority. ~Niolfer Merchant

(Credit to my husband Todd for the Yoda quote—it came in response to sending him Nilofer’s essay and inspired this post.)

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Thank God for New Days

Yesterday was tough. I woke up early to prepare for a presentation to the entire school district about promoting mental health. As soon as I turned on my phone, I learned that one of our key presenters was not going to make it due to illness. “We’ll figure something out,” I texted. “No worries.”  (I also sent a virtual bouquet and some love, for good measure.)

I spent most of my morning mindfulness practice “figuring something out.” Then I walked our dog—still figuring. I devised a plan that I thought would work well. To make a long story short, the morning took many twists and turns until we ended up almost as planned with a substitute presenter taking our ill friend’s place.

It worked out.

However, during my presentation, everything that could go wrong went wrong. The audio didn’t work for the super cute mindfulness video I was going to show at the beginning of my presentation to set the tone. So I had to rush into CASEL’s core competencies ahead of time, stumbling over words in the process. In order for the audience to see the screen, somebody turned the lights out, so for the rest of the presentation, I stood in the dark looking out over dim faces in the large auditorium. And somehow, I skipped one of the most powerful slides in the deck.

Although I got great feedback from the people I talked to after the presentation, I felt like I hadn’t done my best work. I was drained. The rest of the day didn’t go much better. I came home and ruminated until my husband gently reminded me, “it’s in the past.”

I crashed at 8 p.m.

Today, on the other hand, was awesome. After nine hours of sleep and a morning at the office, I worked at my favorite spots (the co-op and a local coffee shop, Java Johns). During lunch, a colleague came up and told me I did a good job on yesterday’s presentation (thanks!). After work, I rehearsed with a group of talented singers and came home to a cooked dinner. Later on, I chatted with one of my beta readers, a college student, about my book and she told me she wanted all her friends to read it (yay!). And to wrap up the day, I hung out with my high school senior (where did the time go?), and we laughed until we cried as she assembled this tweet:

Thank God for new days!

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On Knowing Too Much and Blogging Paralysis

BLOGWhen I started blogging almost ten years ago in the fall of 2004, I blogged for fun and because I could. I didn’t really think about my audience, what they would find valuable—and I didn’t care at all about being found in search engines (in fact, I found it creepy that people who didn’t know me would read my blog).

I wrote a lot of posts those first months. Forty-three in October and forty-four in November.  The posts were short and sweet—200-300 words (sometimes way less than that). I was my quirky (weird) self. I didn’t capitalize post titles… (One of my favorites from this time: what’s important)

After a few years of this, I started learning more about blogging. I figured out that WordPress was the wave of the future and that blogging was a great way to establish oneself as an “expert.” So I created a WP blog about how to overcome product management struggles (yes, I really did). It was pretty successful. I learned the importance of getting involved in niche blogging communities by commenting and linking to similar sites.

In 2009, I got tired of blogging about product management and wanted to write about my newfound interest in sustainability and simple living. So I started this blog. I was still quite prolific, writing several posts each week. I started to read about blogging best practices—how important it is to bring value or entertainment to your audience and write really high-quality content. I also started learning about something called search engine optimization (SEO) that made your website more “findable” in Google and other search engines. My posts got longer and more involved. As a result, they took longer to write, so I wrote fewer posts. And the past couple of years, while I’ve been working on my book, I’ve really struggled to keep the blog alive and have fun with it.

The point is, the more I’ve learned about writing for the web—what works, what doesn’t—the less fun it’s become and the fewer posts I’ve created. It’s like I have blogging paralysis because I know too much! Well, I can’t really unlearn what I know (that would be bad for my day job), but I can stop taking myself so seriously, get back to basics, and enjoy the process (and not spend hours crafting a single post).

I’m ready to get back to the heart of blogging: as an art form and as a way to express in real-time how I feel about this life and this world we live in. As a dialogue between me and you. I shall write what I please, but I will make it worth your time.

I hope you will enjoy the change.

NOTE: This will replace my weekly Sunday email, because I had to get this out, and I don’t want to spam my tribe.

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I’m Going Wild!

Go Wild CoverI learned of Dr. John J. Ratey‘s work through his book Spark, which discusses the impact of exercise on the brain (spoiler alert: good impact). Since then, I’ve been recommending this book to everybody and also reference it in my upcoming book.

So you can imagine that I was quite excited to receive a pre-ordered copy of Ratey’s new book Go Wild: Free Your Body and Mind from the Afflictions of Civilization (co-authored with journalist Richard Manning) on my Kindle a few weeks ago.

I started reading and realized that Ratey, Manning, and I agree on a lot of things (no surprise there). We agree that many of our afflictions stem from our less-than-healthy lifestyles. We agree that some of the most important keys to physical and mental health are nutrition, exercise (movement), rest (sleep), mindfulness, connection with nature, and reliable relationships (or a tribe). And we agree that living more like the way we lived when we were evolving as a species is ideal (albeit somewhat challenging in our society).

We are designed to be wild, and by living tamely we make ourselves sick and unhappy.

Inspired to Go Wild

Even though I’ve written about a lot of the same things in my book, Go Wild really inspired me to make some changes—or upgrades—to my lifestyle.

Nutrition

Want to go wild? Here’s how. Don’t eat sugar, not in any form.

On August 1, I’m going to cut out sugar and start the process of eliminating grains and processed food from my diet. Between reading Go Wild, Grain Brain, Year of No Sugar, and Food and Behavior in the past several months, I’m re-convinced that sugar is evil and that we’re probably not supposed to eat grains, especially refined, modern grains. And processed food is a no-brainer. Who really feels good after eating manufactured food stuff? (But it’s so convenient!)

I’ve stocked up on veggies from our CSA, fruits and berries, nuts, smoked salmon, eggs, and roast beef. I plan to eat a wide variety of food, which is one of the book’s key points related to nutrition. Maybe I’ll start buying veal on Amazon. (Yes, that’s a thing.) Or maybe I should just befriend one of the many hunters in our community…

Movement

Movement builds our brain because movement requires a brain.

I’ve been a fan of “moving naturally” ever since I heard that term in the book The Blue Zones. The Go Wild authors recommend doing a variety of movements à la CrossFit. CrossFit looks super cool, and maybe I’ll look seriously at it at some point soon, but mostly I’m excited about doing more trail running.

I’m mostly a treadmill runner—to save my knees. However, I’ve found that trail running is also okay for my aging joints. There are amazing trails just a short bike ride away, so on weekend mornings, I slap on some bug spray, don my BugBand, and head over to the wooded bluffs. Running in nature makes you extra wild!

Sleep

Everyone needs eight and a half hours of sleep out of every twenty-four.

Ever notice that you have a more difficult time controlling your emotions (and being a nice person) when you’re sleep-deprived? I talked to a couple of mental health counselors recently, and they both said that they tell their depressed clients (mostly college students) that if they can only do one thing, they should make sure they get enough sleep.

I typically get seven and a half hours of sleep on a good night. Ratey and Manning recommend eight and a half hours of sleep for every twenty-four. Interestingly enough, it doesn’t have to be continuous sleep to be valuable. As long as you get the right quantity, you’re good. I kind of like to sleep, so I’ll definitely be going to bed an hour earlier so I can fit that extra hour in.

Mindfulness

A calm brain is like a still lake. ~Richard Davidson

When we practice mindfulness, we are able to participate in life—what’s happening right now—rather than always thinking about things that happened in the past or worrying about the future. This is the best state for our brains, and it helps us handle distress and difficult emotions. It also allows us to be more focused.

I’m excited to be taking a six-week introduction course to mindfulness through Mindful Schools right now. It’s been very helpful to help me establish a formal practice (ten minutes of focusing on my breath every morning), but also provided a deeper understanding of mindfulness in everyday life. I highly recommend it!

In Sum

To summarize my commitment to going wild(er), I will:

  • Eliminate sugar and grains from my diet over the course of the next 31 days.
  • Enjoy a round of trail running at least once a week.
  • Sleep eight and a half hours most nights.
  • Practice mindfulness daily for at least ten minutes.

Have you taken similar steps in your own life? Do you think I’m crazy? Let me know in the comments.

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