Alice Juliet- An Unbirthday Post

Alice Juliet- An Unbirthday Post

Today, Alice is two and a half. (Yes, I still celebrate her half birthday -- we call it an "un-birthday," like Alice in Wonderland, and I got her a couple dollar spot presents -- because she's a spoiled only child. šŸ˜ I haven't done one of these posts in forever, not even for her actual second birthday, which is kind of pathetic, but here we are. She has grown and changed so much over the past several months, and I just want a record (outside of Facebook, since who knows what's going on over there with all the privacy issues! ha!) of how things are right now.

No personality at all. 

I'm about to be really transparent for a minute, so buckle up. We noticed around 18 months that Alice wasn't talking as much as a lot of kids her age, so of course we kept track of her speech development for the next several months. At her two-year checkup, her doctor recommended speech therapy. That's a long story, but the short version is that we took her for an evaluation and she didn't qualify, due to her age and several other factors. We also scheduled an audiology appointment to check her hearing, which was also totally fine.

Since there were no other concerns (she follows directions, understands us, has no relational issues, etc.) we decided to wait it out, and that's where we still are. The therapist even said that her comprehension is off the charts and that she is just absorbing everything and will talk on her own terms. (That's appropriate because she pretty much lives her whole life that way!) Her progress of the last few months has been slow but steady, and she is saying more words all the time.

Here's the transparent part: the last year (specifically the last 6-9 months) has been very hard for me. Selfishly, I want my little girl to be talking and saying all the cute and funny things her cousins and little friends are saying. I know that's dumb; I know comparing her to other kids doesn't help. It's not even so much about the comparison as knowing how much I love it when she does talk and feeling like I'm missing out on more of that. (I realize I have a lifetime of her talking to look forward to, but I'm just dealing with the present moment. =) And, of course, there is the constant frustration, for her and for me and Jonathan, with a communication gap and trying to discipline her (among other things) without her being able to articulate what she wants or needs. (P.S. Saying "one day you'll wish she couldn't talk!" is not helpful and not true. Trust me. šŸ˜‰

I have cried many tears through all this and not been as trusting as I should. I've beat myself for even getting upset about it when she is perfectly healthy and other moms are dealing with much more serious problems. Still, at the end of the day, it's been stressful. I have worried myself into a tizzy over it many times. And even as she is starting to (slowly but surely) talk more, I have made it about me (as I do) and questioned how I could let this happen. I read to her, I talk to her, I give her educationally stimulating toys. Why am I such a failure?? (I know, it's irrational; welcome to my brain.)

Thinking deep thoughts

Finally, though, really just in the past month or so, I have come to terms with the situation and finally feel at peace about it- not entirely, but I'm getting there. Alice is talking, growing, learning, and she will be totally fine. (She's just now two and a half, which is too young to even be considered delayed by many doctors.) But the Lord has helped me to be okay with it and given me hope and peace for the future, and another thing I've been doing that helps is to intentionally note things about her that I like and love (beyond her adorable face). Here they are:

Things I Love about Alice:

- She loves musicals. I have talked about this many times before, but her love of old movies and musicals is still going strong, although we have now successfully incorporated a few animated movies to the mix (she's loving The Aristocats and Charlotte's Web. Clearly the girl has a preference for the Sherman Brothers). I love that she laughs at these movies, dances, gets so into them... the whole shebang. She loves it.

- Speaking of musicals... at the end of literally every song in every movie, she begins to applaud with wild enthusiasm. It's hysterical and she does it every single time, like clockwork. It never fails to delight me.

- Like her mama, she likes to clean and organize. (Granted, she' a champion mess-maker too, but at least she likes to clean them up!) She loves to help me with laundry and dishes, put her toys away, put her shoes and socks away, etc. It's so cute and fills my neat freak heart with joy.

- She is obedient. I mean, she's two, so it's not like she bats a thousand here, but for the most part, she does what we tell her to do, and more consistently than a lot of kids much older than she is.

-She is a tough girl! She definitely cries over absolutely nothing (like getting weighed at the doctor today... #staaahp) but when she falls (which she does a lot because she runs everywhere) or gets hurt in any way she hardly ever even makes a whimper- just gets right back up and goes on. She definitely didn't get that from me.

- A lot of my friends with kids this age deal with picky eaters, but Alice doesn't know the meaning of those words. Ha! She does have foods she prefers but she is good about trying new things and, inexplicably, her favorite food is sauerkraut. Who knows?

- She loves a routine. Morning, afternoon, bedtime, bath time... she knows where to go and what to do and wants to do it that way every time. Even more than when she was a baby, she thrives on a schedule.

- She is a great sleeper. Her naps are still not as consistent as I'd like, although they're much better these days since she's so busy and wears herself out, but she sleeps 12 hours just about every single night, which is possibly the greatest gift I've received in motherhood. šŸ™Œ

-And, of course, she's sweet and loving and beautiful and affectionate (at least with me) and hilarious and just a little sunshine. (Remind me of these words the next time she throws a tantrum.)

Seriously, even with her speech issues and typical two-year-old antics, she genuinely brings joy to everyone around her, even strangers. I love her so much and I don't ever want to forget how grateful I am for a healthy, happy little girl. Her doctor told us today that she's perfect. I will take his professional opinion and run with it. šŸ’—

Very Merry Un-birthday to you, my darling girl. Mama loves you to pieces!

The Greatest Showman Strikes a Deeper Chord

The Greatest Showman Strikes a Deeper Chord

I wrote this article for a class, which is why it's a little more formal than the posts I usually share here. Or, in the words of Shawn Spencer, "It lacked all nuance, my signature mocking tone, and was utterly devoid of emoticons." =) 

“When the sharpest words wanna cut me down,
I’m gonna send a flood, gonna drown ‘em out.
I am brave, I am bruised, I am who I’m meant to be.
This is me."
These lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, sung with a breathless intensity by Keala Settle, are the heart and soul of The Greatest Showman, a musical that, in just over a month, has become an unqualified hit, topping the Billboard 200 and iTunes charts and bringing in well over $100 million at the box office. The film tells the story of P.T. Barnum’s ascent to fame and the way his circus changed entertainment forever.
Given the beautifully written score, dazzling costumes, all-star cast, and excellent performances, the movie’s commercial success is no surprise. However, this particular film, and its soundtrack, are quickly becoming ubiquitous in the tradition of Rogers and Hammerstein and Walt Disney. The movie owes its popularity not only to the director, composers, and actors, but mainly to the word-of-mouth and social media frenzy that has spread The Greatest Showman – and its message – like wildfire. Beyond the broad appeal of stars like Hugh Jackman (Wolverine in a musical?) or Zac Efron and Zendaya, who both attract the Disney Channel demographic, there seems to be a deeper resonance that transcends its entertainment value. The film and score speak to the desires of our souls: acceptance, forgiveness, and redemption. That these elements are also found within the gospel of Christ is hardly a coincidence and can serve as a powerful reminder to believers.
As mentioned, “This Is Me” has become the movie’s theme song, inspiring hundreds of covers and earning an Oscar nomination. (Keala Settles, who plays the “Bearded Lady” Lettie Lutz in Barnum’s circus, will be performing the song at the Academy Awards.) Lettie and the rest of the circus “freaks” sing “This Is Me” after Barnum, their former champion, excludes them from a party. His rejection is merely another wound to add to the lifelong sting of shame felt by these people who are startlingly, painfully different. As Lettie comments, “Our own mothers were ashamed of us.”
The response to this particular song has been overwhelming, and not just because of its powerfully anthemic melody or Settles’s inspired performance. It is speaking to people at a spiritual level – who hasn’t felt shame for simply being themselves? To be despised, feared, or rejected for whatever is “different” is a rejection of a whole person – one who is created in God’s image. Such was the life of the circus performers; in a time in which “sameness” was valued as a moral principle, to be an “oddity” not only broke propriety, it was practically criminal. The film also portrays the relationship between Barnum’s partner Phillip Carlyle and Anne Wheeler, an African-American acrobat performer in the show whose only “difference” is the color of her skin. Their relationship was indeed considered criminal by many at the time, and it takes a tragedy for them to overcome the prejudices keeping them apart.
The circus troupe also finds among themselves a community, a respite from those who kept them hidden away. They quickly bond by finding common ground in their very “otherness” and ultimately in the art they create together. When protesters gather with angry accusations and demands for the performers to once again go into hiding, the group rallies together to defend each other. Even when Barnum goes bankrupt and their theater is burned down by the protesters, the performers insist on finding a way to rebuild, because to accept defeat is to lose the only family they have.
Brokenness and Redemption
            Beyond Barnum’s charm and charisma, his most prominent trait is ambition. Even as a young boy, he promises his future bride:
“I think of what the world could be,
A vision of the one I see,
A million dreams is all it’s gonna take;
A million dreams for the world we’re gonna make.”  
But what began as a lifelong quest to create a life of adventure that he and his childhood sweetheart Charity had planned slowly morphs into a relentless pursuit of approval and fame. While Barnum is not rejected for the same reasons the performers are, he still feels the sting of being considered “less than” by the merits of his birth. Class distinctions were deeply ingrained in society and rising above one’s station was no small task. Proving himself, especially to his condescending father-in-law, becomes less about monetary success and more about achieving a certain notoriety that even the city’s upper crust cannot ignore. Jenny Lind, the “Swedish Nightingale” who tours with Barnum and represents that “other world” in his mind, is portrayed as his ultimate temptation, the prize to accompany his journey to fame and fortune. As she sings, “Towers of gold are still too little, these hands could hold the world, but it’ll never be enough… for me,” we are given a look into each character’s yearning for what they cannot have: Barnum for success, Phillip and Anne for love, and Charity Barnum for the heart of her husband.          
Fortunately, at least in this semi-fictional portrayal, Barnum ultimately refuses the opportunity for an adulterous affair (although one could argue that an emotional one had already taken place.) While he does have the good sense to return to his family, he quickly realizes just how much he had truly sacrificed for his so-called success. In the wake of the disastrous fire started by the mob of protesters, he faces both financial and personal ruin. It is his own employees that encourage him to fight for what they have created – not just a show, but a family. In one of the movie’s most compelling scenes, Barnum sings (in perhaps Hugh Jackman’s best performance in the film) of chasing “someone else’s dreams” and how -- looking at a picture of his wife and daughters -- he can now “remember who all this was for.” Naturally, the movie’s happy ending shows the family (both the circus and the Barnums) reunited, Anne and Philip happily in love, and the circus as magical as ever.
            Other recent movie adaptions of musicals, such as Sondheim’s Into the Woods or even Disney’s live-action Beauty and the Beast, have enjoyed commercial success, but there is something about The Greatest Showman, a cult-like following that has risen up and surpassed any love for similar movies. Those who love it really love it; audiences are not just seeing the movie once, but multiple times, and listening to the soundtrack on repeat. (The fact that a “sing-a-long” version of the movie was made available in theaters only a few weeks after its original release, with audiences already singing the songs from memory, is proof of this.)  Perhaps, beyond the fact that it’s just plain fun to watch, audiences are also refreshed by a family-friendly movie, one that relies on pure entertainment value and not sex or profanity for its excitement.
Furthermore, is 2018 all that different from Barnum’s day? Compared to the 19th century, diversity and tolerance are certainly more “mainstream,” but, ironically, the very resources that connect us also have the ability to divide and alienate like never before. Technology makes it easier than ever to reject or ridicule those who are different in some way -- whether physically or ideologically, we know that “different” is usually equated with “wrong.” No wonder people are thrilled at being told otherwise.
What can we learn from this public response? The Greatest Showman’s message is inspiring, but ultimately that message is meaningful to us as Christians because its truth is found in Christ. We can unapologetically declare “this is me” -- not just as an empowering statement but as God’s handiwork, “fearfully and wonderfully made” by the Creator of the Universe. We should also be reminded that we are surrounded by people who feel marginalized or alienated and are in search of acceptance or redemption. We can offer them our compassion, our love, and ultimately the Good News of salvation.

With the ugliest of hate speech found across both political aisles, emboldened white supremacy, belated responses to widespread sexual abuse, and other political, racial, and religious tensions in America today, a movie that preaches (or sings) about positive, uplifting themes is worth celebrating. However, as C.S. Lewis reminds us, “God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because… there is no such thing.” People can offer love and acceptance that only repairs so much damage; ultimate healing is found in Jesus. The response to The Greatest Showman reminds us that people are desperately seeking fulfillment and connection, and we have a message for them that will outlast any brightly lit theater or memorable song: the gospel of Jesus Christ. With His gift of eternal life, we can truly look forward to being “home again.”

My Favorite Books of 2017 (and How I'm Reading Differently This Year)

My Favorite Books of 2017 (and How I'm Reading Differently This Year)

Oh, hey... remember me? Miss Accidentally Took Six Months Off from Blogging? (Oops! That's a hurricane, grad school, sickness, new job/schedule, and the holidays will do. Did I cover every excuse? =) But I'm back, at least for now, and have several things I'm excited to post about over the next few weeks. First up, as always, is some book talk.

Here we are... all alive and well! In case you forgot what we looked like. =)

I read more books in 2017 than I ever have before. In fact, I probably read more books last year than I had in most of my other adult years combined (2015-2016 being the exception.) My goal for 2017 was to read 200 books, and I ended up reading 237. I realize to most people that's an insane number and I haven't shared the number anywhere publicly because I feel like people will judge me and think I neglected my family or something. Ha! (That's only a little bit true. =) I will include the caveats that a) I read really fast, b) I read a lot of middle grade fiction, which I can usually knock out in a couple hours, and c) I have one child and no "outside" job. Beyond that, I just really like to read and it's basically my only hobby. I watch some movies with Alice and watch TV at the gym, but that's pretty much my only screen time (besides social media/checking my phone, which I admittedly do too much), but I make time to read and devote most of my free time to it, so there you go.

My favorite this year are a mix of fiction and non-fiction, as usual, and are (obviously) only a small representation of the dozens of books I actually read. I could have chosen more than this group, but these are the ones that were the most memorable or that I recommended the most.

Only the best graphics for you, my loyal readers. (#noskills)

Girl Waits with Gun by Amy Stewart. I read this last January, and I've recommended it so many times this year! The title is meant to sound like a newspaper headline and the book is about a family of sisters (of course I always love a sister story). Even though the plot involves a stalking/harassment case and I normally steer clear of anything remotely scary or true crime related, the tone is light and humorous and fun. I really loved this. (The next two books in the series aren't quite as good as the first one but still enjoyable.)

This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett. I've decided that I prefer Ann Patchett's nonfiction to her novels, and this collection of her essays was no exception. It's not just about marriage; the topics range from her dog to her writing life (guess which one of those I liked better. =) I just love a good memoir and this is definitely one of those! Of course I enjoyed the insights into her writing life/process, but the most fascinating chapter was the essay about her summer spent training and applying to become a member of the LAPD (her dad was a former cop in Los Angeles.) SO interesting.

The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson. With everything going on in our country, I have wanted to learn and expand my understanding of racial history and relations in America. This book, following three individuals and their journeys from the South to the North and West, provides not only a balanced, in-depth look at African American history in the 20th century (and into the 21st) but also gives context to some of the issues (such as government housing) that are still a problem today. Often people assume that racism is no longer a problem (which is clearly not the case) but also wonder why minorities today are still hurt or angry over wrongs done to their ancestors. This book makes that particular issue much clearer.

First Women by Kate Anderson Brower. I love behind-the-scenes stuff (definitely a bonus features/"making of" junkie) and I especially love inside looks at the White House, so this was right up my alley. I was nervous about how it would portray certain First Ladies positively or negatively according to their political party, but I found it was pretty even-handed. Also, these women can seem larger than life and, like other famous figures or celebrities, often don't even seem real, but this book humanized them in a personal, poignant way.

Textbook Amy Krouse Rosenthal by Amy Krouse Rosenthal. I read this book last summer, promptly fell in love with the author, and then was heartbroken to learn that she had recently passed away. I had read this article (have a tissue ready!) but hadn't made the connection that she had written it. This book is super quirky and different from anything else I've read, both in content and format, but I loved it. There's actually a feature that allows you to text along for certain music and other things she references, and I only followed along for about half of those, but they did enhance the experience. It's kind of hard to describe this outside of just calling it a memoir, so you need to read it for yourself, but it's delightful, and all the more meaningful now that the author has died.

Home Cooking: A Writer in the Kitchen by Laurie Colwin. This book might be my favorite kind of memoir. Writing AND food? I've decided why I love food memoirs so much. I have always (like, since I was a little girl) loved to read cookbooks (even though I tend to read them as fiction, as in, "this would never happen in my life." Ha!) But reading about other people's rich, fulfilling experiences with food and cooking is fascinating to me, maybe because I am so shaky (literally) in the kitchen and it's fun to read about people who know exactly what they're doing with any number of cooking tools and unidentified produce. Anyway, this includes a lot of recipes (very loosely worded) and a look at the author's life in New York City (my favorite!) as a young woman. So good.

A Wrinkle in Time Quintet by Madeleine L'Engle. I'm ashamed to admit that I hadn't read anything by Madeleine L'Engle before this year (although I did read these before the movie previews were out, so I'm not that trendy =) but they have quickly become favorites. Her writing is just so beautiful and strange... in the best way. I chose this series because I loved it the most but I read a handful of her other books too and loved them all. I am currently working my way through A Circle of Quiet, reading it in small doses for maximum reflection/enjoyment, and even though I have a kindle version I'm planning on ordering my own physical copy because I'm highlighting every few paragraphs. Grab a copy of AWIT before the movie comes out! Costco has a lovely box set. =)

The Four Tendencies by Gretchen Rubin. Man, Gretchen Rubin just continues to kill it with every new book. Her books have been favorites for years, her podcast is one of my can't-miss shows, and I just really love all her stuff. That being said, I think this is her most helpful book to date. It's not quite as personal or light-hearted as some of her past work, but the information is SO fascinating and insightful. Everyone should read this: spouses, parents, teachers, friends. If you have relationships with other humans, it will help you, or at least help you help yourself.

Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan. I put off reading this middle grade book for a long time because I was intimidated by the length (right at 500 pages!) but it doesn't feel that long at all. It's a very fast read and such a wonderful book. It follows three kids whose lives all end up intersecting because of a magic harmonica (way better than it sounds. ha!) and a lot of it takes place in Europe right before the start of World War II, which is one of my favorite eras to read about. If you have kids, I've heard the audio version is amazing and would be a good choice for "stuck in the car" entertainment.

Messy Beautiful Friendship by Christine Hoover. I just loved this. I rarely buy books but purchased my own copy of this one, which is a pretty good indication that I thought it was great. I wish everyone woman could/would read this book. Adult friendships are weird and harder than we want them to be (most of the time), and women especially can have all kinds of complicated feelings about friendship with other women. Portions of this book were like looking into a mirror of my own tortured thoughts regarding loneliness and community... and then Christine (sure, we're friends!) proceeded to destroy all my reasonings about being too afraid or awkward or whatever to reach out more. Convicting but so needed.

Honorable Mention:

Sisters First by Jenna Bush Hager and Barbara Bush
Capital Gaines by Chip Gaines
The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart
The Residence by Kate Anderson Brower
Red China Blues by Jan Wong
Between Heaven and the Real World by Steven Curtis Chapman
The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls
A Mother's Reckoning by Sue Klebold
My Kitchen Year by Ruth Reichl
The View from Saturday by E.L. Konisburg

So yeah... 237 books last year. A LOT. I loved watching my lists grow longer and my numbers go up, and of course I read a lot of great books, but I felt almost a frantic need at times to read or finish books, which of course is stupid because no one was putting any pressure on me but me! I want to read less this year (or at least, I've chosen a smaller number and if I exceed that, so be it) and really relish my reading experiences. I do read fast, but there's a difference in reading fast and flying through books with little to no comprehension (which I confess happens sometimes.) I also want to give myself permission to abandon more books that I'm not enjoying or even not LOVING... I know not every book is going to be a top ten winner but there were plenty of books I finished last year that I knew were a waste of time. Life's too short to read dumb books! =)

One more note: I've started a book club on Instagram! I'll be posting to my blog's Facebook page occasionally too, but most of the action will take place on IG. If you want to join in the discussion, follow along at @dashofashblog. =)

As always, if you've read anything good lately, do tell me what it was. And if you want more recommendations, I really do love giving them, so leave a comment or send a message! I never get tired of book talk!

Happy New(ish) Year! Here's to my not disappearing again. =)