Thursday, January 26, 2017

Thoughts on Audiobooks from a First-time Listener

In an effort to meet my goal of reading 40 books this year, I decided to give audiobooks a try.  I have tried listening to novels on maybe two other occasions, but never actually managed to finish the book I was "reading."  With that as an introduction, here are my thoughts and advice on audiobooks (with the obvious disclaimer that I speak with no authority on the subject whatsoever!):

1. Audiobooks are excellent background noise for mindless tasks. Washing dishes, folding laundry, picking up toys, grocery shopping, etc.  I found those chores to be so much more enjoyable bearable with the distraction of a good story playing in my ears.  But as soon as I tried to do anything that required a thought process (reading and answering emails, scrolling through Instagram, playing Two Dots (as you can tell, my "thought process" activities are quite mentally stimulating!)), I had to stop and rewind about five different times to figure out what was happening in the story.  Clearly, my multi-tasking abilities do not include listening and reading and thinking all at the same time.

2.  Audiobooks are great for "popcorn plots."  I'm pretty sure I just made that term up, but a popcorn plot is one that requires little to no thought process. (Hmmm.... I'm starting to see a theme here.)  Think summer blockbusters - big explosions, predictable romances.  A story that is so full of stereotypical archetypes, that you don't need to utilize any deductive reasoning to figure out where the plot is headed.  I have nothing to compare this to, but I'm pretty sure non-fiction audiobooks would never work for me.  I usually read non-fiction with a pencil in one hand, ready to make notes in the margins or underline important words or star key passages.  I was listening to Sarah Dessen - the queen of the quintessential YA Romance novel - so keeping track of the story and characters was not rocket science.

3.  Audiobooks are not good for falling asleep.  Duh.  This is probably embarrassingly obvious to just about every other person alive.  I really enjoy reading a book to help me fall asleep at night (the moment when you realize that, yes, it's time to turn off the light because you just smacked yourself on the nose with your book as it fell out of your hands and onto your face?  Oddly satisfying.), so I thought I would try it with the audiobook, figuring I would feel myself falling asleep and turn off the player when the time came.  Uh, nope.  Didn't happen.  What did happen was that I woke up at like 3 o'clock in the morning, with my earbuds still in, the audio still playing.  Seven chapters and half a battery later, I turned the thing off and rolled my eyes at myself as I drifted off to sleep for the second time.  Again, duh.

4. Audiobooks are fun with the right technology.  This is totally untested, but I think I would enjoy an audiobook even more on a different platform.  I checked out a Playaway device from the library, which required headphones to listen, which was okay when I doing mindless tasks late at night, but not so okay when I was wanting to listen to the story during the day and my children, for some reason, wanted my full attention.  I know there are online services and mobile apps for buying and renting audiobooks, so for my next listening experience, I want to try something I can download on my phone.

So there you have it.  My completely unqualified review of audiobooks.  I'd love to know your thoughts and advice (qualified or otherwise). Favorite titles or genres?  Favorite apps or services?  Favorite mindless task to complete while listening?

Sunday, January 8, 2017

This Does Not Define You

Have you seen Moana?  If you haven't yet, I highly recommend it.  Catchy songs, memorable characters, and a heart-warming story.  Fun for the whole family.

My favorite part of the movie is at the end, when Moana realizes that Te Ka, the lava monster they have been fighting, is actually Te Fiti, the goddess whose heart had been stolen and which they were trying to return to her.  In the beautiful climax moment, Moana slowly and bravely approaches the enraged Te Ka and sings,

They have stolen the heart from inside you
But this does not define you
This is not who you are
You know who you are

In essence, Moana is telling Te Fiti that her tragedy does not define her.  The monster she turned into in order to compensate for the grief and anger she felt at her loss was not truly who she was.  Te Fiti only needed to remember who she was in order to return to her true goddess form.

Yesterday marked the five-year anniversary of the death of a close friend.  His death was sudden and tragic and just plain heartbreaking.  At the time, and in the months following it, I very much felt that this incident would define me for the rest of my life, that I would never be able to overcome the trauma of his passing.  And while I do carry the memory of that loss with me, I have since learned that with time and faith, wounds heal, scars fade, and, more importantly, my loss does not define who I am as an individual.

Over the past few days I have been thinking not only of this tragedy, but also of other tragedies that have been occurring in the lives of acquaintances and loved ones.  I don't pretend to know how it feels to lose a child or a parent, or suffer a miscarriage, or any number of trials that can occur in one's life, but I do know that our lives are not defined by what we have lost or the pain we have felt.  Our identity is not determined by tragedy or trauma.

Whether it's a job title or career path, your body after having had a baby, a significant relationship, the physical ability to perform a task due to injury or illness, the enjoyment of a hobby or interest or talent, or, yes, the passing of a friend or child or sibling or parent - whatever it is that is stolen from you for a period of time (or even for this lifetime) - this does not define who you are.

Is there a mourning period for your loss?  Of course.  Does it feel like the pain and sadness will never end?  Oh my goodness, yes.  But there truly is a light, however dim, at the end of that dark tunnel.

We were created to have joy.  What this tells me is that even though we may experience it, sadness is not who we are meant to be.  We are not meant to be in pain or be angry or be weighed down by grief for our whole lives.

So much of life can be temporary or fleeting, and if losing something causes us to question who we are or doubt our purpose on earth, then maybe we need to reevaluate.  It is my belief that who we truly are does not depend on titles or material possessions, but rather in a divine nature that has been inside of us since before we were born into this life.

Circumstances beyond our control may steal our happiness for a time, but this does not define us.

We know who we are, or rather, whose we are.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Who Needs Sleep?

Who needs sleep? (Well, you're never gonna get it)
Who needs sleep? (Tell me what's that for)
Who needs sleep? (Be happy with what you're getting,
there's a guy who's been awake since the Second World War)

Anyone else remember this Barenaked Ladies song?  No?  Just me?  Okay...

As a mother, especially a mother of little people, sleep is a precious and rare commodity, elusive and even at times non-existent.  During those first months home from the hospital, sleep is such a distant memory that the thought of what you have been missing for weeks on end brings tears (and lots of them) to your eyes.

This is the part where I admit, though, that both my boys are actually excellent sleepers.  Both started sleeping through the night right at about 8-weeks old (like, 10 hours of sleeping though the night), and other than the normal sleep regressions, teething and whatnot, once they are asleep, for the most part they stay asleep.  So these days I cannot really blame my sleep deprivation on my 2.5-year old and 4-month old.

Nope, my lack of sleep is completely my own doing.

As soon as both boys are officially asleep - usually somewhere between 8:00 and 9:00 PM - there is a magic moment of realizing that I am "Free!  Body and soul free!" It's a monstrous joy, the thought that I can finally live for myself.  My fancy runs riot along the hours ahead of me (any Kate Chopin fans out there?).  There is so much I could do!  Get some work done on the computer, watch a show, read a book, write a blog post, work on a house project, exercise!  

But then I realize I am tired.  And then I start looking around at the day's devastation all around me.  And then I am exhausted.

Sleep, of course, is probably the best thing I could be doing in times like these, but for some reason I just can't bring myself to go to bed.  It almost feels like a FOMO thing (Fear Of Missing Out).  If I go to sleep, then I am missing the opportunity for alone time, because heaven knows I'm not going to be getting any of it for at least the next 24 hours.  Or maybe it's fearful anticipation.  If I go to bed, then that means I have to wake up, and when I wake up, that means the kids are awake and it starts all over again.  So if I never go to bed... then the kids will never wake up! (I don't claim that any of this has any logic to it.)

So whether it's FOMO or just plain FO, I weirdly stay up incredibly late doing nothing particularly productive or even relaxing or entertaining.  And the sleep deprivation continues.

Actually, I usually end up scrolling through pictures of my boys on my phone, missing their cute faces...

Sunday, January 1, 2017


To be completely honest, I actually don't enjoy New Year's Eve.  The holiday, that is.  In my younger years, I found it to be extremely anti-climactic, and the sentiment of "What's the big deal about this event?!" has followed me to the present.  I'm not ruling out one year finally finding the magic in celebrating the countdown festivities with kids and family and friends, but right now my general attitude towards NYE is a shoulder shrug and a half-hearted "Meh."

What I do enjoy, though, is the concept of a New Year.  A new start, a new leaf.  A do-over, a second chance.  A clean slate, a blank canvas.  An opportunity to think and act differently, to do and be better.

However, before you can achieve all that newness and betterness, you must, of course, reflect on the previous year's highs and lows, strengths and weaknesses.  From there you can begin to make plans and set goals for the next calendar year's success.

My reflections these last few weeks of 2016 have been all over the place, but especially in the last day or so, I have been thinking of the personal changes I want/need to make in order to be a better version of myself.

These past four months of being a stay-at-home mom to a toddler a baby have been difficult, to say the least.  I did not anticipate the change from being a full-time teacher to a full-time mom to be this hard.  Survival mode was my permanent setting for the first two or three months, and even now it's still my daily default.  At times I look in the mirror and don't even recognize myself.  I know I'm not the first and certainly not the last person to come to this realization, but motherhood is exhausting, dang it!  The physical, mental and emotional toll is overwhelming.  The feelings of isolation and loneliness are real.  The social media-induced guilt and stress are real, too.

For me, the outer display of this inner tornado of emotions is usually anger or tears (or both!), directed first towards myself, and then to those closest to me.

Tonight was no exception.  The boys and I have been quarantined inside the house for the past three days with varying degrees of colds, coughs and runny noses, and tonight I reached a breaking point.  Call it cabin fever or whatever, but I momentarily lost it.

Two tender mercies pulled me back from the edge and gave me a lot to reflect on.

As I sat in a chair, eyes closed, tears silently falling, my sweet, perfect little 2-year old came to my side and said, "You're fine, mommy.  You're fine."

Later, as I was trying to convince a very wide-awake 4-month old to, please, go to sleep, he looked at me through the dim lights, eyes dancing, and just laughed and laughed and laughed.

First Reflection:  I'm fine.  I'm going to be fine.  Everything's going to be fine.  Whatever changes and goals I work on for 2017, it will be fine.  I don't have to be perfect, don't have to do it all, don't have to have it all together.  I'm fine.  You're fine.  We are all fine.  (Thank you, Jackson.)

Second Reflection:  A baby's laugh can cure anything and everything. A baby's laugh is also the perfect reminder of what really matters most.  (Thank you, Charlie.)

Here's hoping your 2016 reflections bring you peace and comfort for 2017.
Happy New Year!  Happy New You!