Girl Power

“When we bond, in those really important, pivotal, transitional moments in our lives, we’re really vulnerable.” Elissa Schappell

“We need people in our lives with whom we can be as open as possible. To have real conversations with people may seem like such a simple, obvious suggestion, but it involves courage and risk.” Thomas Moore

“Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another: What! You too? I thought that no one but myself…” C.S. Lewis

“Once women find sisterhood, there’s nothing stronger.” Zoe Kravitz

let your heart break daily

in conversations 

over song lyrics

during the pause right before the sun rises

while you’re sipping coffee

and looking into the eyes of someone you love

for it’s when we break a little

we come alive

it’s in this space of feeling

we expand

and it’s here

in our vulnerability and openness

we step into our greatest selves

-Danielle Doby

I’ve been thinking a lot about friendships. They came so easily as children, then grew complicated during middle school and high school, and eventually, in college for me, grew effortless once more. 

But then. Marriage. Babies. Stay-at-home motherhood. More babies. 

There came a time when I lost myself in the struggle. The late-night feedings and dirty diapers. A changing body and lower confidence. Post-partum and a sudden surge of anxieties. Seasonal depression. Constant whines and sticky hands. An aching to connect to someone—anyone besides those little people that needed me every second of every day. 

I tried to make friends, but motherhood brought out the crazy in me and those around me. The mommy wars—breastfeeding vs. bottle feeding, epidurals vs. natural, sugar vs. NONE, organic vs. whatever Walmart sells, spanking vs. timeouts, clean houses vs. jungles. The list could go on forever. Any time I tried to make friends, it seemed the only thing people talked about was how they had the right spin on motherhood. 

Honestly, I never cared if someone used an epidural or if they fed their children scraps from leftover chick-fil-A. I just wanted to connect, but I left almost every playdate or get together feeling like a failure. Like I was doing everything all wrong and the whole world knew it. 

I felt more alone after every single effort. 

So, I quit. 

I quit trying. I quit inviting and quit attending anything besides church and family events. I settled into my little family and accepted that this was my new normal. I didn’t need other women; I had my husband and my babies, my mom and my sisters (which, don’t get me wrong, mean the world to me).

Years passed, sometimes painfully slow and other times so fast that I could only chase each moment, wishing it would stay just a little longer. I tried new things. I failed. Then, I tried more new things, until I started to find my way, until I finally felt like I had a pulse, a grasp on life and what I wanted. I began to dream, ever so slowly, but only on my own. 

I don’t know what happened, or where it all began, but one day, I decided to call a friend named Amanda (someone I knew from story time and book club) to join me on a run. That single run turned into an almost daily interaction with Amanda. Suddenly, I was laughing more. I was talking about things to someone that understood—in a female, solidarity, authentic way. 

And then my life changed. 

Soon, my friendship with Amanda grew to include other women—ones that I adore and consider as important as family. Soon, I joined a beautiful writing community where my tribe grew even larger. Add to that, I began going to volleyball every week and building meaningful connections. Kelly, Helen, Tara, Dayna, Ashtyn, Jamie, Keisha, Meg, Amanda, Des, Saige, all you vball and book club girls, etc, etc, etc. (seriously, there are SO many dear people I could name).

We women need each other. We need each other as much as we need to breath. Life is hard, messy, insane, amusing, exciting, and everything in between. Without finding our people, the world feels lonely, depressing, discouraging. 

A single phone call changed my life. I think about that all the time. I might be another phone call away from making another friendship, another life-changing connection. When we reach out to others, we become more. When we talk about things in a real, nonjudgmental way, we give others permission to speak their truths. When we laugh, we lift each other, and when we cry, we do so together. 

So, if you’re feeling like life is a solo journey, I hope you’ll reconsider. We need each other. We need each other’s unique strengths and insights. We need each other’s support. We need connection and service. And as women, there’s nothing like sisterhood. 

Lucky 33

Lucky 33. oh boy….

This year 

I choose to burn my good candles

On a Tuesday at noon

Just because

I choose to use the expensive lotion

The one I keep tucked safe up on the counter

Not ration any of my most cherished belongings

Because I am worth investing in—right now

This year

I choose to wear that thing

You know

The one I told myself I would slip on

When I looked a certain way?

I choose to love my body

This vessel I have been given 

And her seasons as they shift

This year

I give myself permission to change

And keep changing

For I understand

There is an underlying truth when it comes

To becoming—it doesn’t have to mirror anyone else

This year

I choose to let go

Really let go

Of the heavy

Of the half-hearted

No more forcing connection

Where it no longer lives

I choose to nourish

What’s willing to grow

This year 

I choose to be grateful

For the teachings of my yesterday

I honor my wholeness

When I honor my whole story—even the shaky parts

This year

I choose to step forward

Clear eyes

Heart open

Two feet grounded

Palms wide

To the all-is-possible

Unknown

And new

DANIELLE DOBY, I am her Tribe

I’m not a superstitious person by nature. I don’t mind stepping on cracks, opening umbrellas indoors, or watching a black cat cross the road.

But a lucky number? I always have loved 3. In fact, the more 3’s you add, the luckier it becomes to me. So, turning 33 has been so FUN! I am thrilled to live a year in the 3’s. 

The other day, a mysterious package arrived on my doorstep, a package with a book, I Am Her Tribe

I flipped through the first pages, and emotion caught in my throat. Immediately, I knew who had sent the package. Only one person understands my fascination with words and meanings and the magic of growing and becoming. Only one person understands who I get lost in language about the feminine or connecting with earth or a higher power in connection with our earthly existence.

Thanks, Carrie. This book has become my food lately; I’m devouring it. The fact you found this and KNEW I would love it shows how well you know me and that you love me. And, I love you right back!

Words can hold magic—just look at a few of these AMAZING words by Danielle Doby:

I could have made visuals for every single page of her book. Guys, I loved it.

Year 33– I’ve got big plans for you. I will not stop trying, changing, and finding my way through motherhood, marriage, writing, and my many, many other goals. So here’s to new places and faces, to new growth. 33, I’ve decided to make you the luckiest year YET.

My Mama.

Cancer sucks. 

For someone that writes about feelings, sometimes I am not the greatest at processing my own. There are things I don’t often speak about. 

Number one the last year: my momma. 

I didn’t even realize how much I had tucked away my emotions. Don’t get me wrong—they emerged every once and a while (sometimes in an ugly cry that lasted whole days). But, in general, I haven’t spoken about my mom and her battle with cancer. 

Breast Cancer. 

I think most women fear breast cancer, but that fear can into reality. I’ll never forget when I found out about my mom. Christmas break—we were late to something, and she was in downer mood. I thought I had hurt her feelings. I asked what was wrong, hoping to smooth things over. She wouldn’t talk about it. 

Again and again I asked. Finally, in her front room, while my kids played upstairs, she told me that the doctor was concerned at her mammogram. My heart sunk, maybe quit beating altogether. Intuitively, I knew the truth that instant. Then it was a matter of waiting for the official call. 

“Cancer is cruel, but we live in a fallen world and I guess trials are a part of life.” That’s what I’ve been telling myself. “Trials affect everyone.” 

But then came the night she went into the ICU. I thought I might crumble to dust. I may be married and a mom of four kids, I may be “grown up”, but I still need her so desparately. There’s no one like my mom. I’ve never had a fiercer advocate, supporter, love, and teacher in my life. No matter how old I get, I go to her when life gets tough. Sometimes, I don’t even need to go to her because she calls me with her momma instinct. 

So, yeah. 

I believe she will pull out of this. She’s done with chemo now and onto radiation. And through all the fear of the unknown, I have stood in awe of her strength. She has handled this disease with such grace, such faith and trust and willingness to go through everything. She has surrendered—but not in a depressed sort of way. She has conquered. I am so overwhelmed with her quiet strength: her smiles, her jokes about hair loss and being eyelash free, her taking pictures with my dad in matching wigs, her determination to stay active and positive, the way she makes it about me and my family when she is around (she asks if she can rub myneck, watch my kids, feed us dinner, host us at her house…). She is such a beautiful soul. I adore her. 

So, tonight when I listened to Taylor Swift’s new album (I’m a loyal fan, and I’m not ashamed), a song came on, stealing my breath. Tears immediately poured out. I almost choked. And I knew I had to write this blog post. 

THIS. 

THIS SONG. 

This is everything I have felt that I haven’t known how to speak aloud. So, here’s my ode to my mama. The lyrics are everything:

The buttons of my coat were tangled in my hair
In doctor’s office lighting, I didn’t tell you I was scared
That was the first time we were there
Holy orange bottles, each night, I pray to you
Desperate people find faith, so now I pray to Jesus too
And I say to you…

Ooh-ah
Soon, you’ll get better
Ooh-ah
Soon, you’ll get better
Ooh-ah
You’ll get better soon
‘Cause you have to

I know delusion when I see it in the mirror
You like the nicer nurses, you make the best of a bad deal
I just pretend it isn’t real
I’ll paint the kitchen neon, I’ll brighten up the sky
I know I’ll never get it, there’s not a day that I won’t try
And I say to you…

Ooh-ah
Soon, you’ll get better
Ooh-ah
Soon, you’ll get better
Ooh-ah
You’ll get better soon
‘Cause you have to

And I hate to make this all about me
But who am I supposed to talk to?
What am I supposed to do
If there’s no you?

This won’t go back to normal, if it ever was
It’s been years of hoping, and I keep saying it because
‘Cause I have to

Ooh-ah
You’ll get better
Ooh-ah
Soon, you’ll get better
Ooh-ah
You’ll get better soon
Ooh-ah
Soon, you’ll get better
Ooh-ah
Soon, you’ll get better
Ooh-ah
You’ll get better soon
‘Cause you have to


That Time I Pretended…

I love the beauty of the outdoors. I can scarcely think of anything as lovely as a sunset, coastal storm, or mountain view (with the exception of babies, people. I’m not unfeeling!). My husband is the same. He finds his greatest peace, greatest sense of self, in nature. In fact, he’s planned his trip-of-a-lifetime for this fall—hiking the Alps!

Little wonder then that we often try to take our children in nature. We want to cultivate this love of the outdoors in our children. We hope they will find the beauty of this earth, see the hand of a perfect creator, and become better people because of it. 

But, every single time…

Gnashing of teeth. Unearthly screams. Flailing at the sight of the smallest bug. Complaints of the heat. Crying when separated by modern toilets. Helplessness. More flailing. More gnashing of teeth. And, so much whining. 

Then, a week later (or however long), I somehow forget my children seem incapable of being outdoors and we try again.

As time has proved, I find myself dealing with the same things all over again…

Gnashing of teeth. Unearthly screams. Flailing at the sight of the smallest bug. Complaints of the heat. Crying when separated by modern toilets. Helplessness. More flailing. More gnashing of teeth. And, so much whining. 

Well, I tried again on Saturday. Mark and I took the kids up to a nature park. Basically, it’s a paved path through beautiful scenery, hardly even comparable to a hike. And, what should have been predictable to us, became once more irritating…

Gnashing of teeth. Unearthly screams. Flailing at the sight of the smallest bug. Complaints of the heat. Crying when separated by modern toilets. Helplessness. More flailing. More gnashing of teeth. And, so much whining. 

It all started with the sign in the parking lot. Basically, it looked something like this (but with actual pictures…). 

The craziness was UPPED. RATTLESNAKES?!?! POISON IVY?!?! Oh my. 

We reached the pinnacle of madness just as we stopped beneath the shade of a giant tree—a tree with an unusually large canopy, a tree with tangled and gnarly roots and branches, a tree that looked straight out of a Tinkerbell movie. 

My creativity spun, and suddenly, I found myself speaking crazy. “Shhhhh…do you know what this place is?” I pointed to a birdhouse (drilled into the side of the tree at shoulder-height). “The fairy king’s throne.” 

Hushed silence overtook the small band of crying children. My girls grew reverent, my little boy wide-eyed. 

“Yes, this is the gathering place of the fairies.” I pointed between the leaves, where the sunlight peeked through. “At night, fireflies light this area, and the fairy king summons his people. If you are careful, if you are quiet, you might see a fairy.” 

We walked in silence, and then something ridiculous happened. Words came out of my mouth. Silly words. Embarrassing words. But fun words. 

“There are certain songs,” I said, leading my entranced children, “certain melodies, that call the fairies.” 

My 6-year-old’s eyes were as round as walnuts. 

“Fairy friends, fairy friends, 

Come out to play. 

Fairy friends, fairy friends, 

See us today.”

I have no idea where these words or the tune came from. Well actually, after reflecting a while, I believe the tune stemmed from the recesses of my mind—a mixture of “Come little children” from Hocus Pocus and “Flower Gleam and Glow” from Tangled.

Then, to the miraculous fates above, the leaves rustled. The wind picked up. Branches snapped. I’m not even kidding! 

“Fairies!” Ivy yelled, pointing to the brush. “I heard them!” 

My 10-year old screamed. “Fairies aren’t real!” 

“How do you know?” I quipped. “Don’t you think a God that can create humans and this perfect earth could create fairies too?” 

Please do not judge me for bringing God into this ruse. I just…I was too deep, SINGING for goodness sake. 

“Well, I guess…” my 10-year old said, clearly still skeptical. 

More hiking, more singing, more rustling ensued. Every time I sang, the ground around us seemed to stir. This spurred my ridiculous display even more. I threw in some Disney Enchanted ahahaha’s (scaled operatic sounds), and my three younger children were enthralled! 

No more gnashing of teeth! Not a single complaint! NATURE ENJOYMENT. 

I only broke character a few times to smile, and that happened only because I saw my husband’s fascinated gaze, the amusement in his smile, and the mischief in his expression. It didn’t take me long to figure out that each time I sang, he would throw small pebbles into the brush beside me. He was acting the part of fairy, and the kids had no idea!

The nature walk became delightful. We climbed through secret passages of branches, finding homes of fairies. We heard the flapping of their wings. My 3-year-old saw a spark of color. 

The sun became very hot, and we started back to the car. By now, I was quite impressed with my charade. So, I sang a little closing song: 

“Goodbye my fairy friends,

I’ll see you once again…”

As soon as we reached the parking lot, my darling 6-year-old came giggling-screaming. “Mommy! Mommy! I heard something! I heard the tiniest ‘bye’. I heard it! The fairies said goodbye!” 

She was convinced to her soul. Her expression, her smile, her authentic excitement—it was palpable. And contagious. 

I was beginning to feel a bit guilty…but then we got into the car, and my 8-year-old said, “This was the best day ever!” 

“That was so fun!” another said. 

“Is it a holiday?” a third said. “Why are we having so much fun?” 

Mark bit back a smile, and my guilt disappeared. Finally, when the kids were distracted, he leaned over. “Wow, Heather, I’m super impressed.” 

A strange sense of pride washed over me. My out-of-this-world imagination is good for something besides writing books. 

Maybe our nature walk was not as perfect and reflective as I had hoped, but my children enjoyed being outdoors! They forgot about bugs and heat and snakes and poison ivy. I’m calling it a win. 

But I can’t wait to recount the story when they’re older. I think we’ll have some good laughs. 

Next Year in Havana

Purchase here

From Amazon:

After the death of her beloved grandmother, a Cuban-American woman travels to Havana, where she discovers the roots of her identity–and unearths a family secret hidden since the revolution…

Havana, 1958. The daughter of a sugar baron, nineteen-year-old Elisa Perez is part of Cuba’s high society, where she is largely sheltered from the country’s growing political unrest–until she embarks on a clandestine affair with a passionate revolutionary…

Miami, 2017. Freelance writer Marisol Ferrera grew up hearing romantic stories of Cuba from her late grandmother Elisa, who was forced to flee with her family during the revolution. Elisa’s last wish was for Marisol to scatter her ashes in the country of her birth. 

Arriving in Havana, Marisol comes face-to-face with the contrast of Cuba’s tropical, timeless beauty and its perilous political climate. When more family history comes to light and Marisol finds herself attracted to a man with secrets of his own, she’ll need the lessons of her grandmother’s past to help her understand the true meaning of courage.

My Take: 

I really enjoyed the way Cleeton shared two women’s journeys, separated by generations. Interestingly enough, their lives mirror one another in many aspects. I can’t help but wonder if that happens more often than we know. Maybe we would do well to learn more about the lives of our parents, grandparents, and so forth. 

Some of my favorite parts…

Elisa, a girl of nineteen, fell in love with a revolutionary. Wars, water, and time separated them. Elisa thought Pablo dead. When Marisol, their granddaughter, questions Pablo about why he did not go to Elisa, he says:

“It’s not the life I imagined for myself, the one Elisa and I dreamed of, but the older you get, the more you learn to appreciate the moments life gives you. Getting them certainly isn’t a given, and I feel blessed to have carved out a life here where I could be happy even if it wasn’t quite the happiness I envisioned, if the things I dreamed of never quite came to pass.”

Cleeton’s wisdom rattled me. Life rarely turns out how we expect, but there are moments—moments that can steal your breath, moments that can warm your heart. I love this idea of enjoying what life has to offer, even if it doesn’t go exactly as you planned or originally hoped for. 

Later on, Pablo explains further:

“It was enough to hope that she was happy.”

Marisol: “It feels so incomplete.” 

Pablo: “Life so often is. It’s messy, too. This isn’t the ending, Marisol. When you’re young, life’s punctuation so often seems final when it’s nothing more than a pause. When I learned Elisa had married, I thought our story had ended. Accepted it. And now, almost sixty years later, you’re here. I have a granddaughter. A son, a new family. A piece of Elisa. You never know what’s to come. That’s the beauty of life. If everything happened the way we wished, the way we planned, we’d miss out on the best parts, the unexpected pleasures…

“We all had a vision; we had a plan. Fate, God, Fidel, they all laughed at that plan. I thought I was on one path, and it turned out to be something else entirely. That’s doesn’t mean it’s all bad, though.” 

Seriously. If I had a dollar for everything in my life that turned out differently than I envisioned… I’d have more than $50 for sure. Ha. Really, life is much more like a switch-back hike than a straight road. Nothing is so clear or so easy or so direct. 

Overall, I enjoyed this read. I found the story of Elisa and Pablo most compelling, but I loved watching Marisol piece things together. I learned about the history of Cuba, and I once again fell in love with the states. One of my favorite quotes at the end highlights this fact. Marisol grew up believing she would find a part of her home in Cuba. However, when she finally gets a chance to visit Cuba (after Fidel’s death), she finds that Cuba is not home. She says:

“There is no home for us in a world where we can’t speak our minds for fear of being thrown in prison, where daring to dream is a criminal act, where you aren’t limited by your own ability and ambition, but instead by the whims of those who keep a tight rein on power.” 

My only complaint, my personal sensitivity. I’m not a fan of some of the PG-13 scenes. 

Happy reading, 
<3 H

He loves me so.

Planning Girls’ camp for my church has been overwhelming. So many details. Last night, one of the other leaders sat on my couch to discuss the many things I have to do in the next couple days…

My 3-year-old came to me crying, begging me to open the door to go outside. He needed to go outside and the door was stuck. I tried to comfort him, but I kept talking to Suzanne, trying not to get impatient. Summer days are long, you guys.

Again. Jude pled. “Mommy, open the door! I need a flower.”

Again, I told him to wait, that Mommy was talking to someone.

This scenario played out a few more times, and my little boy was in tears. Eventually though, he disappeared. A few minutes later and I heard a tapping at the back door.

There stood my boy, who had somehow found his way outside by himself. I opened the door, and he held up a single flower for me.

He had wanted to go outside to pick Mommy a flower, and that was more important to him than anything else. His determined spirit to do something kind for me brought a burning in my chest.

That kind of love is what stories are made of. My little Jude melts me. A mother’s love is nothing short of heavenly. At times.

Remind me that in a week….

What the Wind Knows

Purchase here

From Amazon:

Anne Gallagher grew up enchanted by her grandfather’s stories of Ireland. Heartbroken at his death, she travels to his childhood home to spread his ashes. There, overcome with memories of the man she adored and consumed by a history she never knew, she is pulled into another time.

The Ireland of 1921, teetering on the edge of war, is a dangerous place in which to awaken. But there Anne finds herself, hurt, disoriented, and under the care of Dr. Thomas Smith, guardian to a young boy who is oddly familiar. Mistaken for the boy’s long-missing mother, Anne adopts her identity, convinced the woman’s disappearance is connected to her own.

As tensions rise, Thomas joins the struggle for Ireland’s independence and Anne is drawn into the conflict beside him. Caught between history and her heart, she must decide whether she’s willing to let go of the life she knew for a love she never thought she’d find. But in the end, is the choice actually hers to make?

My take:

Ireland is my greatest love, as far as places go. If you’re wondering, you can read my sappy post here. So, when I heard about What the Wind Knowsand that it’s set in Ireland…I was hooked. Then, I opened the first few pages. I grew teary. The words were more like music, and I have found myself crying more than a few times at the sheer beauty of Harmon’s words. So, so lovely. I cannot explain why her words affect me, but they do. 

I do not want to spoil the story, but it is filled with love, history of my favorite place (my love, Ireland), stories that make me wonder and imagine, and words that make me think about freedom and the history of mankind. 

From the beginning: 

“The wind you hear is the same wind that has always blown. The rain that falls is the same rain. Over and over, round and round, like a giant circle. The wind and the waves have been present since time began. The rocks and stars too. But the rocks don’t speak, and the stars are too far away to tell us what they know.”

Goodness. Those words, those ideas—all things I have considered many times. I’ve even mentioned similar things in my books. Nature is such a part of me. I believe it should be a part of all of us because nature knows. This earth has witnessed everything, and it has stories to tell. Also, I really do believe that weare part of nature…or at least, we once were. Technology and busy lifestyles have separated us, and people live separate from nature, separate from the earth in a pretend and false world, a world created by iphones and tvs. 

Next. This love story. I cried a few times. Harmon writes so beautifully! I had to read more than a few passages to my husband. Hahaha. I even said, “I hope you love me like Thomas loves Anne,” because…Well, just read a few excerpts from Thomas’s letters:

 “I love her with an intensity I didn’t think myself capable of. Yeats writes about being chaged utterly. I am changed utterly. Irrevocably. And though love is indeed a terrible beauty, especially given the circumstances, I can only revel in all its gory gloriousness.”

“I can’t imagine all men love their women the way I love Anne. If they did, the streets would be empty, and the fields would grow fallow. Industry would rumble to a halt and markets would tumble as men bowed at the feet of their wives, unable to need or notice anything but her. If all men loved their wives the way I love Anne, we would be a useless lot. Or maybe the world would know peace. Maybe the wars would end, and the strife would cease as we centred our lives on loving and being loved. Our marriage is only hours old, and our courtship is not much older than that…But it is not the newness of her, the newness of us, that has captured me. It is the opposite. It is as if we always were and always will be, as though our love and our lives sprang from the same source and will return to that source in the end, intertwined and indistinguishable. We are ancient, Prehistoric and predestined.”

Okay, the final quote, about those before us: 

“I’d often wondered, absorbed in piles of research, if the magic of history would be lost if we could go back and live it…Like the old man looking back on his youth, remembering only the things he’d seen, did the angel of our gaze sometimes cause us to miss the bigger picture? I didn’t think time offered clarity so much as time stripped away the emotion that colored memories. The Irish Civil War had happened eighty years before I’d traveled to Ireland. Not so far that the people had forgotten it, but enough time had passed that more—or maybe less—cynical eyes could pull the details apart and look at them for what they were. 

“But sitting in the crowded session, seeing men and women who had lived only in pictures and in print, hearing their voices raised in argument, in protest, in passion, I was the furthest thing from objective and detached; I was overcome…

“I’d been wrong about one thing. These were not average men and women. Time had not given them a gloss they had not earned. Even those I wanted to loathe, based on my own research and conclusions, conducted themselves with fervor and honest conviction. There weren’t posing politicians. They were patriots whose blood and sacrifice deserved history’s pardon and Ireland’s compassion.”

I cried at her words. Harmon has an uncanny ability to dictate things to the reader’s heart. I could not help but think of American History and the many founding fathers. I do believe Time gave us the best. I believe Time (Or, if I’m being honest, God) plants people in the exact places they are needed for the best of all mankind. 

So, final thoughts: definitely worth the read. I binged it in a few days, as made evident by the piles and piles of to-dos around the house…I do, however, feel like I have to acknowledge that some scenes were PG-13…so there’s that, if you are a sensitive reader (which I mostly am).

I doubt I’ll get any more reading in for a few weeks. Family for the fourth and Girls’ camp for my church are about to ruin my sanity (preparations, that is…). 

<3H

Delayed Summer Reading

Life has been a continuous craze lately, but I’ve determined I have to read more. I’m aiming for a book a week, but I know that is far-fetched considering my kids are home all day. However, I am going to try. And when I read a book that I think needs sharing, I’m going to post about it.

Up first: Educated: a memoir by Tara Westover

From Amazon:

An unforgettable memoir about a young girl who, kept out of school, leaves her survivalist family and goes on to earn a PhD from Cambridge University

Born to survivalists in the mountains of Idaho, Tara Westover was seventeen the first time she set foot in a classroom. Her family was so isolated from mainstream society that there was no one to ensure the children received an education, and no one to intervene when one of Tara’s older brothers became violent. When another brother got himself into college, Tara decided to try a new kind of life. Her quest for knowledge transformed her, taking her over oceans and across continents, to Harvard and to Cambridge University. Only then would she wonder if she’d traveled too far, if there was still a way home.

My take (SPOILERS):

Wow. 

Educated is not a light memoir. Tara Westover talks about the brutal reality of her childhood, adolescence, and even adulthood. Raised by radical parents (which do not represent mainstream members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints by any means)—survivalists and doom’s day preppers—Tara was taught that anything associated with the Federal Government was corrupt and infiltrated by the devil. She did not have a birth certificate until she was nine years old, she never received immunizations (until well into her graduate programs), she never stepped foot inside a classroom until college, and her parents believed the medical establishment was evil—so no school (public nor home schooled really) and no doctors or hospitals. 

The story that follows is heartbreaking. The Westover family ran a junkyard. Their practices fell short of every safety precaution known to man. The injuries were insane—impalements, serious burns, disastrous falls, concussions and traumatic brain injuries, lots and lots of wounds that should have been treated in the hospital. Instead, Tara’s mom treated everything with oils and herbs (and subsequently founded the Butterfly Express Essential Oil Co.). And, to make matters worse, besides the hazards of working with her father, Tara suffered severe emotional and physical abuse at the hands of one of her brothers. 

Against all odds, Tara miraculously got into BYU.

And an education changed her life.

I am so impressed with Tara’s tenacity and drive to learn and defy the odds that were thrust upon her. However, I cringed reading about how judgmental she was… She believed 99% of those she met at BYU were “gentiles” or fallen or of the world. I get it—she was a product of her childhood, her parents’ strange ideas. If anything, Tara’s story inspired me to be less judgmental of those I deem “judgmental”. Honestly, we have no idea of another person’s background nor the lens that they see the world through. 

My favorite parts of the book came near the end. 

In a particularly discouraging time, one of her professors (Dr. Kerry at BYU) urged her to continue her schooling. He said, “You are not fool’s gold, shining only under a particular light. Whomever you become, whatever you make yourself into, that is who you always were. It was always in you. Not in Cambridge. In you. You are gold. And returning to BYU, or even to that mountain you came from, will not change who you are. It may change how others see you, it may even change how you see yourself—even gold appears dull in some lighting—but thatis the illusion. And it always was.”

Another idea she presented was from Isaiah Berlin’s two concepts about freedom:

  1. Negative liberty: freedom from external obstacles or constraints
  2. Positive liberty: freedom from internal constraints

I loved this! I need to read more about these two concepts. She quoted Bob Marley, “Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery, none but ourselves can free our minds.” 

Lastly, she spoke about a question sprawled against one of her class boards (Dr. Kerry again): Who writes history?  Throughout her education, she had learned that historians were no different than her—SHE wrote part of history. And so can we. 

Tara Westover writes a compelling tale of growing up, family loyalty, learning and growing, and how—or if—all of those things can be reconciled. Definitely worth a read 🙂

<3 H

For Andrew, I mean, Amanda.

A Provision for Love is LIVE!!! I am so thrilled about this book, how it finally came together in a fun way.

However, let’s talk dedication. I’ve already gotten a few questions about it. In order to understand this, let’s travel back in time to London, circa Sept. 2018. My friend Amanda and I were lost. The tube dropped us off at a different station than we were accustomed to, and our phones (due to a storm) were not working in the slightest! 

So, along came Andrew. He offered to help us find out way to our hotel, and we accepted his help gratefully! However, along the way, we found out that Andrew was perhaps the grumpiest, most bitter man we had ever met. He seemed like a character from one of Jane Austen’s novel–perhaps even a grumpier Mr. Darcy. That’s stretching it; Andrew was not nearly as dreamy or rich or kind. 

He was just grumpy. 

Anyway, the next day Amanda and I missed our train to Paris. After a sequence of misfortunes, Amanda turned grumpy. 

Trying to lighten the mood, I said, “HEY, ANDREW.” 

She did not think I was funny. 

And so, our first friend fight ensued, which is HILARIOUS now. So, being the obnoxious friend that I am, I decided to dedicate this book to her but only after calling her Andrew first. 

There, our first friend fight immortalized. 

Love you, MANDY!

12 Years.

Today is my 12-year anniversary of marriage to this great guy! As I’ve thought a lot (and I mean, a lot) about marriage and love and everything in between, some words came to me. (Did you expect anything different, coming from a romance writer?!)

I sat down to write him a love letter, as I do every year on our anniversary, but this time…it was less like a letter and more like thoughts. So, for vulnerability’s sake, I’m sharing with you, my dear readers (Brene Brown is to blame for this. You should watch her ted talk on vulnerability).

Thoughts from an imperfect wife:

***

Marriage is not a sunrise nor sunset; neither is it a flower nor a snow-capped peak. 

Love does not roll in like an ocean surf nor blow with the breeze. Marriage is words whispered on a pillow in the silent darkness, a hand to hold when life gets rocky. Marriage is a smile at the end of a long day, laughter when everything seems to go wrong. Marriage is a knotted rope, the security and strength that catches one another each time one falls. The joining of two lives is forged by the sweat of one’s brow, found in heartache’s silence and triumph’s joy.

Marriage is built in the bending and breaking and building again. Then breaking and bending and building once more. 

Marriage is the masterpiece of what we can become, like sunshine shining through the cracks of imperfection and into the cathedral of a devoted heart. 

***

And…in case you thought my life was a fairytale…this is the anniversary text I got from my husband today while he sat in the hall at church with our grumpy three-year-old.

“Happy 12 Year!”