Winter Reading

I used to give a book 100 pages to win me over. Then 50. Now, if I’m not enjoying it after 30 pages, I put it down and leave it behind. I let myself quit reading when I’m not longer enjoying a story, either, even if the book or series is well underway. Last summer, I was in the middle of well-touted book beloved by several of my friends. I had been listening to it on Audiobook and I’d invested 5 hours in it. But I had 9 left to go and I wasn’t willing to give that time to that story. So I took it off my phone, bought another audiobook, and started listening to it instead.

Here are the books I’ve thoroughly enjoyed this winter:

The Veronica Speedwell series by Deanna Raybourn
A Curious Beginning
A Perilous Undertaking
Mystery, romance, young adult; so much fun!

All You Can Ever Know by Nicole Chung
Memoir; adoptee searches for birth parents while she’s pregnant with her first child

Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert
Creative living/writing guide

The Proposal by Jasmine Guillory
Romance; sequel/companion to The Wedding Date

A Quiet Life in the Country by T. E. Kinsey
Cozy mystery, historical, 2 middle-age spinster protagonists; fun romp!

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And here are the books I’m looking forward to reading this spring when they are released:

King of Scars by Leigh Bardugo
Fantasy, young adult; centers on my favorite character from the Shadow and Bone trilogy (which, with the Six of Crows series, is going to be a Netflix series!!!)

The Weight of Our Sky by Hanna Alkaf
Historical, young adult; Beatles-loving protagonist with OCD tries to cross Kuala Lumpur during the 1969 race riots to find her mother

Queen’s Shadow by E. K. Johnston
Fantasy, young adult; the same author who wrote the Star Wars book I pined for and dreamed of as a kid: Ahsoka; George Lucas did Padmé so wrong

The Satapur Moonstone by Sujata Massey
Mystery, historical; sequel to one of my favorite books of last year: The Widows of Malabar Hill

We Hunt the Flame by Hafsah Faizal
Fantasy, romance, young adult; opening line: “People lived because she killed. People died because he lived.”

A Dangerous Collaboration by Deanna Raybourn
The fourth book in the Veronica Speedwell series.

(En)joy

On New Year’s Eve, as we were reading in bed after watching the ball drop in New York City, I told Tyler that I thought my word for the year should be either joy or enjoy. In my mind I’d stylized it (en)joy, at least until one or the other became more apparent.

As with “believe”, my word for 2018, I wanted my word for 2019 to encourage me and remind me of my goals and hopes for this year. I want to relish it. A year without a huge party to plan. A year, hopefully, without last year’s stress. I just want to enjoy being married, spending time with friends, and following whatever whims come to me: wreath design, scarf creation, weekend-long read-a-thons, maybe a dance class. Instead of worrying or stressing, I want to enjoy this year. I want to find joy in all the little things around me. I even thought of a photo I could keep by my desk, a jumping picture in the desert from the same trip to Egypt as my 2018 photo.

So I find it ironic, and tiring, that I got sick on New Year’s Day with a sinus infection that laid me out for two weeks. I haven’t been that sick since I had the flu four years ago. Tyler was also sick. Many of the things that usually bring us comfort, like cuddling and going for walks, were out of reach. We struggled to find the energy to feed ourselves three times a day. We went to work when we felt well enough (which wasn’t often), went to Publix for orange juice and saltines and a different kind of decongestant that might help me sleep. We were in constant need of more Kleenex.

Enjoy? We were miserable.

And now I’m sick again. And things at work are complicated. And I’m still trying to get my name and address changed in all the necessary places. And once again I can’t seem to get enough sleep. And I’m thinking about my word and wondering How?

I have, of course, thought back to the many Sunday school lessons that focused on the differences between happiness and joy. Happy is a fleeting feeling based on circumstances. Joy is an abiding connection to God regardless of circumstances. I have tried to connect to joy by naming things I’m grateful for, like Tyler, blankets we’ve been gifted, sunshine, Gatorade, paid sick leave, health insurance, and money for plungers and Kleenex and pizza someone else made.

I’m stubborn, so I’m not changing my word now. But I am beginning to worry that this year will be a trying one in ways I cannot begin to comprehend. I know I’m tired and therefore prone to some fatalism. But if this year is going to be a difficult one, the joy and enjoyment I’m seeking will constantly be in spite of. Which sucks. But we aren’t guaranteed anything else in life. We aren’t guaranteed time where everything’s great, where the government isn’t shut down, where everyone I love is well, where Tyler and I each have the time to pursue our own interests, where we aren’t plagued by worries.

But neither are we promised a life with no enjoyment at all, no sweetness or fun. And we have had those times this year.

We’ll see what the balance will be.

Mary Oliver

Yesterday we learned of the death of Mary Oliver, one of my favorite poets. I enjoyed seeing her work filling my Twitter feed, including poems I’d never read and many familiar verses.

I can’t articulate well why Mary Oliver was one of my favorite poets. I read her poetry collections slowly, alone, with a pencil to underline beautiful lines, but I inevitably failed to use it because each line is so visceral and enrapturing. Mary Oliver came with honesty in her hands and I floated in her words, comforted. And now she is resting. I pray it is peaceful.

In an earlier version of this post, I quoted six of my favorite Mary Oliver poems. However, a friend rightly point out that Mary Oliver’s works are all under copyright. I don’t want to keep anyone from paying for her art by supplying her words here, so I’ve replaced the poems with links to some of my favorite collections of her works. If you haven’t invested in one of her collections, or if (like me) you’re wanting to get another one, I heartily recommend these three.

A Thousand Mornings
Dog Songs
Owls and Other Fantasies

Color Questions

A couple of days before my brother proposed to his girlfriend, I texted him to ask what her favorite color is. I wanted to send them engagement gifts in time for the big question and wasn’t sure what color to pick for hers.

He texted back, “Green (I think, double checking).”

I started to text back, “No wait! If you don’t know, you don’t want to ask outright!” But I didn’t. After all, I wouldn’t get upset if my husband didn’t know my favorite color. Actually, I was pretty sure he didn’t. I couldn’t remember us ever talking about it, and if we had it’d been years earlier. We’d known each other 9 years before we started dating, after all. We simply didn’t have as many of the expected “get to know you” conversations in our remembered past.

So I looked at my husband and said, “My favorite color’s red. I don’t expect you to have known that.”

His ears hadn’t been ready to listen, and I hadn’t given any context, so he asked me to repeat myself and then asked a couple of clarifying questions. Once done, he said thoughtfully, “I wouldn’t have guessed that.”

“I didn’t think so,” I told him. I don’t use it in decorating or wear a lot of red or anything. “But I wanted to tell you.” Then I asked, “What’s your favorite color?”

“It’s blue.”

“Okay,” I answered. “That’s what I would have guessed.”

The summer after I graduated from high school, my youth minister, his wife, and our head pastor took as many graduates from the church as wished to go (as I remember, there were 3 or maybe 4 of us) to a lake in TN for a long weekend. As we played cards after dinner the first night, one of my fellow grads sat forward.

“I want to confess something,” she announced, loud enough to attract the entire’s room’s attention.

We weren’t from a denomination where confession is done publicly or in a structured time/place, so no one seemed to know quite what to do.

“My whole life,” she continued after a moment, her face rapturous, “whenever someone’s asked what my favorite color is, I’ve said green. But really, it’s blue.”

The room fairly erupted into laughter and applause.

She hurried to explain, “Everyone always says their favorite color is blue, and I didn’t want to be like everyone else, so I said green. But it’s really blue.”

The adults fanned their faces and sagged with relief into their chairs. “I thought this was going to be something serious!” one exclaimed.

“Well,” said my friend, still in a very good mood, “it is. I’ve always known the truth about myself but I didn’t share it. And we’re talking about who we want to become when we go to college. I just want to be more myself, and have the confidence to say what’s true even if it’s the same as everyone else.”

I, meanwhile, did a gut check of my own favorite color. It’s red, isn’t it? I questioned, searching my feelings as I outwardly applauded. Yup. Definitely red. I didn’t have a cool revelation to share and shock everyone—which held a measure of appeal to me—but I knew my favorite color.

My brother soon texted back, “Her favorite color is blue and I sense I’m in a teensy bit of trouble.”

“Uh oh!” I answered. “Tyler didn’t know mine either if that helps.”

Except, now I’m wondering.

I just picked out colors for a wedding and a whole registry worth of household items. How much red had I chosen? I looked up from my brother’s texts and studied the room: a Christmas pillow on the armchair, the wreath on the door, the tree skirt. That was about it. The watercolors I’d bought for our home didn’t include red. Our quilt was mostly purple with stripes of neutrals and bold colors in the same palate. Our dinnerware wasn’t red. The clothes I’d bought that fall included 2 red sweaters, but I had many more neutral sweaters, and my closet hadn’t felt complete without a purple one. I never pushed for red towels and I’d originally planned to change the red, grey, and white shower curtain in one of the bathrooms, but it grew on me.

So how do I feel about red?

I still get a zip from it. The 2 red stripes on the quilt. Red cars. Red Christmas accents. My Atlanta United jersey. My car.

In general, I find red more imposing than I used to, and than I prefer. I don’t want to see red walls or red linens every day for the whole year. No red drinking glasses. No red towels. No red coats or art. A friend chose red as her accent color for her winter wedding, and I liked it, but I was glad I’d chosen sapphire blue, with a little peachy pink for variety.

What colors am I preferring these days? I looked around again. My coat, favorite long and short-sleeve shirts, much of the quilt, and new journal are all purple. Our towels, koi watercolor prints, cooler, bridesmaid dresses, bouquets, new cell phone, and favorite highlighter are all blue.

I don’t know that all this constitutes a change in my official favorite color. I don’t have to decorate with or wear a color for it to be my favorite. But I also know I’m not the same person I was as a child and teen and high school graduate. Gratefully so. It’s conceivable that one’s favorite color might change. And maybe that’s the case with me.

Why am I think about all this? It’s a new year. And at a new year, I tend to evaluate myself and my life. What’s working for me? What would I like to build differently or new this year? What do I know about myself that I didn’t a year ago? Some years I think about shoes, some years I think about colors. And, since I’ve been sick with a bad sinus infection since NYE, missing days of work on top of the holidays I already had off, I’ve had a lot of time to look around my apartment and wonder.