Last Post of 2015! A Few More Favorites

This time of year is the perfect excuse to make favorites lists, isn’t it?  I can’t help it – it’s in the Blogger’s Code, Article 12.31, Year-End List Regulations.

My Favorite Songs in 2015

I have a playlist in iTunes where I toss new music or whatever songs I feel like listening to, especially while working at a coffee shop with my earbuds in.  Over time I take out what I’m tired of and add whatever’s new.  Some songs, however, stay in for long periods of time.  Here are the songs that have stayed in the Right Now Playlist the longest in 2015.

(Said songs aren’t all from 2015.  They run the gamut from brand new to old and dusty. They’re also not in any particular order except “this should go here.”)

  1. Alessia Cara – Here
  2. Zella Day – Hypnotic
  3. Rudimental ft. Ed Sheeran – Lay it All on Me
  4. Shawn Mendes – Stitches
  5. Amy Stroup – It Must’ve Been Love
  6. Lorde – Tennis Court
  7. Emily Hearn – Volcano
  8. The Strange Familiar – Painkiller
  9. Elle King – Ex’s and Oh’s
  10. Lena Fayre – This World
  11. Blake Perlman – Chameleon
  12. Rachel Platten – Fight Song
  13. The Chainsmokers – Roses
  14. Taylor Swift – Style
  15. Lea Michele – Cue the Rain
  16. Ed Sheeran – Make it Rain

Favorite Books Read in 2015

I read a lot this year – way more than I have in recent years.  I even read some fiction, which, if you’ve been around a while you know I don’t normally do.  I’m not going to go into detail on these – just assume that whatever it’s about, I thought it was awesome.  I’m planning to do a reading challenge this coming year that looks like a lot of fun.  I’m serious enough about it that I made a page in my planner for it.  *laugh* We shall see.

(In no particular order)

On the Threshold: Home, Heartwood, and Holiness by Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew
Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs
Ravensbruck: Life and Death in Hitler’s Concentration Camp for Women by Sarah Helm**
Just My Type: A Book About Fonts by Simon Garfield
Things No One Will Tell Fat Girls: A Handbook for Unapologetic Living by Jes Baker
Marbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo, and Me: A Graphic Memoir by Ellen Forney
Girl at the End of the World: My Escape from Fundamentalism in Search of Faith with a Future by Elizabeth Esther
Fat Girl Walking: Sex, Food, Love, and Being Comfortable in Your Skin…Every Inch of It by Brittany Gibbons
Learning to Walk in the Dark by Barbara Brown Taylor
Living the Farm Sanctuary Life: The Ultimate Guide to Eating Mindfully, Living Longer, and Feeling Better Every Day by Gene Baur

Favorite TV Shows in 2015

You might be surprised at what’s on this list as well as what’s not on it.  Amazing how just in a few years almost my entire favorites list has turned over.

1.  Arrow
2.  The Flash
3.  iZombie
4.  Elementary
5.  Grimm
6.  Hannibal
7.  SyFy’s Face Off
8.  Marvel’s Agent Carter

(I’m planning to start Jessica Jones as soon as I catch up on the four or five shows I’m way behind on – honestly, I only got two eps in on The Vampire Diaries before I wanted to gouge my eyes out, but I’m planning to watch the rest before the season starts up again. I can’t give up on it yet. I just can’t.)

And with that, my dear readers, I leave you until 2016 – in fact there will be a Planner Friday post tomorrow, but I probably won’t keep up posting four times a week after that.  I do however have a lot of thoughts in my brain-go-round, and quite a few things to talk about, which of course makes me think of this, the best way to end anything:

** – Obviously a book about the Holocaust doesn’t really qualify as a “favorite,” but it was definitely one of the best books I read this year.

Become my patron for exclusive online content and read new stories before anyone else!

What I Read in July

This year I’ve been reading way more than I have in the recent past, and I’ve broadened my selection in the hopes of finding inspiration.  Here are the books I read this month:

Swinging on the Garden Gate

Swinging on the Garden Gate: a Spiritual Memoir
by Elizabeth J. Andrew

I really enjoyed this one – it’s pretty much what it says on the tin, and tells the story of the author’s spiritual life.  Her writing style is lush and poetic, which of course I love.  She’s also written books on how to write your own spiritual memoir (one of which I already had and didn’t realize it was the same woman).

Lost Msg of Jesus

The Lost Message of Jesus
by Steve Chalke & Alan Mann

The Christian friend I’ve mentioned before loaned me this recently after reading my Nosce te Ipsum posts; she wanted to share a way of looking at Jesus that, for her, answered a lot of the same questions I had asked.  It was a really engaging read – its premise is that you have to look at the historical world of 1st century Palestine to really get the nuances of what JC was saying.  I really liked his interpretations; the only complaint I had is that there are no historical references given, just the author saying “Back in that era…”  His description of the time and place made perfect sense, but I would have liked sources to go back to.  I get that it’s not a historical work, it’s a guy saying “Y’all, slow down, I think you might be missing something,” but if you’re going to make statements about how things were, and that’s the pivot point of your argument, you gotta back it up.

Ravensbruck

Ravensbrück: Live and Death in Hitler’s Concentration Camp for Women
by Sara Helm

God, this book.  It took sooooooo long to read, not just because it’s about 768 pages long, but because as you might expect it’s not the most cheerful of subjects.  If the above book skipped the historical documentation, Helm has it in spades; she spoke to survivors, hunted down what few documents remain on the camp, and spent years gathering what pathetically little information there is on a place most people don’t even know existed yet murdered at least 30,000 women. Ravensbrück had an amazingly diverse population, and the internal politics are almost as fascinating as the society the women managed to eke out in spite of the constant threat of death.  Because of the camp’s location, the Iron Curtain obscured its existence, so not a lot survived; but the author finds the handful of still-living freed prisoners, transcripts of the postwar trials, and documents hidden and saved by the forced-labor secretaries to paint an intimate and thorough portrait of life behind that fence.  It was disturbing, of course, but also really moving: in the midst of the greatest horrors humankind could create for itself, there were small acts of defiance, heroism, and compassion that remind you what we’re capable of, even in our darkest days.

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children
by Ransom Riggs

I keep saying I don’t like YA, but the evidence to the contrary is piling up.  I picked this one up at Half Price as an afterthought, and ended up devouring it in four hours one night.  Creepy and atmospheric, it tells the story of a young man (Jacob Portman) whose grandfather told him stories of strange and monstrous creatures at the “orphan’s home” he was sent to during WWII. Years later, Jacob finds out those stories were true, and that monsters really do exist…but so do those peculiar children in the pictures his grandfather had.  Time travel, shape-shifting, firestarting, invisibility – this book has just about everything, including romance, but it all fits together beautifully.  In fact, the discussions of the hollowgast – the evil monsters determined to murder all the gifted children – creeped me out so badly I was checking around corners and listening for weird noises all that night.  I have the sequel, Hollow City, on its way to me right now.

Become my patron for exclusive online content and read new stories before anyone else!

Book Lover’s Freebie

I made these for myself earlier this week and thought, “Hey, other people might like them.”

They’re bookmarks with space for notes – you can keep track of when you started a book, where you got it, what you enjoy about it, and how you’d rate it.  I know I often forget if I’ve finished a book or even opened it before, especially if I didn’t get very far the first time.  I wanted a spot where I could indicate how I felt about a book as I was going along, or anything about it that jumped out at me, like a great scene or quote.  I haven’t decided whether I want to paste them into a journal-type thing, or leave them in the books as a reference for next time.

Either way, I thought some folks might find them useful, so, click on the image to download a pdf of a bunch of them that you can print on paper or cardstock and cut out:

 

Become my patron for exclusive online content and read new stories before anyone else!

Tell me a story to soothe my weary soul…

By popular request, here are some of the spiritual memoirs I’ve read and loved, and the guiding religion for the narrator indicated.

(There are a lot, lot more than these, but the ones listed I actually have copies of, so they were easier to find.)

download (1)Eat, Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert
(general spirituality with focus on yogic philosophy)

I love this book and I don’t care who knows it.  I get all the objections, wealthy white privilege and all that, but the spiritual parts of this book moved me in ways I hadn’t been moved for decades.  The only part I don’t like is the “love” part – I didn’t want a goopy romance, I wanted more of India and Italy.  But still, I love this book like whoa, and I’m so excited about Gilbert’s new nonfiction that’s coming out this fall.

The Wishing Year by Noelle Oxenhandlerdownload (10)
(No particular tradition)

Noelle devotes herself to a year of learning about the power of wishes, in order to manifest herself a new home, a new relationship, and so on.  It’s not exactly spiritual but it’s a good story and very hopeful when it comes to drawing from the universe what you want by presenting what you want to the universe.

 

Leaving the Saints and Expecting Adam by Martha Beckdownload (8)download (9)
(ex-Mormonism)

Martha is an ex-Mormon, and her first memoir details the trial-by-fire she went through.  The second tells the story of her pregnancy with her son Adam, who was diagnosed with Down Syndrome in utero.  She chose to have him despite intense pressure to terminate the pregnancy, and began an adventure of spiritual connection with a child who ended up rocking her world all the way to God and back.  It’s not a “mommy memoir,” it’s a mystical pregnancy memoir, and it’s way cooler than I make it sound.

download (6)download (7)9k=

 Leaving Church, an Altar in the World, and Learning to Walk in the Dark by Barbara Brown Taylor
(Basically Christian)

Barbara is an amazing writer, and her history as a minister makes the spiritual underpinnings of her books feel that much more authentic.  In the first she describes how she and her husband made the decision to leave their church (pretty much what it says on the tin).  The second talks about nature as an altar, and the holiness of the seasons; and the third speaks of all the dark places in our lives that scare us, from caves to our own minds.

download (11)On the Threshold: Home, Heartwood, and Holiness by Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew
(Home as spirituality)

Andrew seeks to connect her spirit to her home, and searches out the holiness in the smallest of things, from fixing a screen door to putting up curtains. Every inch of the house feels like an extension of the soul.

Are You My Guru? by Wendy Shankardownload (5)
(Jewish, with lots of Hinduism thrown in for spice)

Wendy Shankar’s life was going great until bam! she was diagnosed with a debilitating autoimmune disease.  Desperate for relief, she tries all sorts of therapies, and describes them to hilarious effect.  There’s no earthshattering conclusion to her story, but she gives you hope, and you feel like there’s someone out there having just as weird an experience as you are trying to be “more spiritual.”

download (4)Blue Jean Buddha
(Buddhism)

Not a single memoir, but a collection of stories from the “new Buddhists,” refreshingly young voices who approach the Dharma from a wide variety of walks of life.

One Thousand Blessings by Anne Volskampdownload (3)
(Very, very Christian)

I don’t know what drew me to this book other than the beauty of the author’s website (seriously, it’s one of those sites you just want to stay in and roll around in her graphics).  I had wanted to give a friend a copy of the book for Christmas, but read it myself first, and found the writer’s style so beautiful and poetic. It’s a lovely book to give as a gift, so if you read it and find it’s not for you, you can pass it on to a religious friend needing a joy infusion.

Book of Shadows by Phyllis Curottdownload (2)
(Wiccanish)

The first memoir-esque Pagan book I ever read.  It tied the whole “lessons about the goddess” into the story of a woman’s actual life.  It was almost painfully heavy-handed at times by trying to be both a memoir and a how-to, but every page felt like something was there, just waiting to be grasped.  I really wish there were more like these, but less interested in teaching and more just about telling a woman’s story as a Pagan.

Girl at the End of the World: My Escape from Fundamentalism in Search of Faith with a Future by Elizabeth Ester
(Scary Fundamentalist Cult)

downloadThis one was kind of harrowing.  The narrator grew up in one of those home grown Bible cults, and felt so utterly trapped by the expectations of what a young woman was supposed to do in the strict laws (like spanking babies with a belt to “break their spirits”) and the feeling of living with a noose around her neck.  She and her husband eventally break free, but after that, they wander around like war orphans for a while, unsure what ground is safe to walk on.  A compelling read.

Karen Armstrong, the Spiral Staircasedownload
(Catholicism)

Karen Armstrong entered a convent at age 17, but was miserable inside its walls.  When she finally left, the confusion and spiritual sadness left her questioning her vocation – until a diagnosis of epilepsy helped her work through some of the experiences she’d never been able to speak of.  Now Armstrong writes some of the most compelling comparative religion books out there (read her biographies of the Buddha and Muhammed, they’re both excellent)

Screen Shot 2015-06-20 at 3.41.52 AMSpiritual Misfit by Michelle DeRusha
(Lutheran)

I mentioned this one in my last post about Jesus – the woman who decided to “fake it till she made it” about God and how eventually it worked.  I did finish reading the book, and by the end I felt a lot more convinced that she’d done more than just clap her hands together to save Tinkerbelle.  She discusses joining Bible study classes that appealed to her inner researcher, and other small groups to try and figure out her place in the church.  Her conclusion seems to be that not everyone is going to have big firework moments with God, and that’s just fine, because if we spend too much time staring up, we’re missing a lot of lovely things down here.  I still don’t think her strategy would (REMOTELY) work for me, but I appreciate her point of view way more since getting the full picture.  I also appreciate that she’s not calling herself “finished” the way a lot of memoirists seem to suggest even when they’re only 30 years old.  Michelle is very well aware of her faith as an evolving thing.

That’s all for now – there will definitely be a second post here, both because I ran out of room and because I’m currently in the middle of two other memoirs that might wind up on the list.

Now it’s your turn, fair reader – what’s your favorite spiritual memoir?  Or even if it’s not a memoir, it could be a spiritual or self-helpy book that has a deeply personal slant from the author so it feels like she’s telling you her story.  Tradition and denomination are irrelevant, just tell me what you love.

Become my patron for exclusive online content and read new stories before anyone else!

Book Review: Veganist by Kathy Freston

I find myself conflicted over this book. I’ve been a huge fan of Freston’s first, Quantum Wellness, since it came out; I always really liked her “lean into it” approach to wellness, which involves making small changes, educating yourself, and letting your mind, heart, and body come into a gentle congruence that is far more lasting than trying to force radical changes on yourself.

I know her approach is a valid one because it’s worked for me. I know there are some people who can go “cold turkey” on change, but after years of frustrated failure I realized I’m just not one of those people. Freston’s approach was a breath of fresh air for me on the vegan front, since practically every pro-vegan book out there emphasizes “you must do it NOW NOW NOW and to hell with your emotional needs, that’s all touchy feely nonsense anyway!” and my forays into vegan online community only reinforced my sense of not-belonging. Hippies, non-atheists, and anyone not “hardcore enough” were clearly not welcome. Neither are fat people unless they’re in the process of dropping millions of pounds on their new miraculous vegan diet. Apparently fat people are bad PR for veganism as the perfect lifestyle. Right.

So in that regard, I understand why Freston wrote her new book, Veganist, and is trying to create a sort of new-agey alternative to the term “vegan” which she sees as too harsh and limiting, more about deprivation than wellness. I think the word “veganist” is ridiculous, but I can see where she’s coming from. To me it feels like Freston knows where I’m coming from, too – it feels like she must have had similar experiences with vegans and decided that if she wasn’t going to be welcomed in their world, she would just strike out on her own.

Personally I’d rather go with Colleen Patrick-Goudreau’s term “joyful vegan” than try to totally reinvent the word; don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater, but emphasize that there is more than one way to be a vegan…because there are many ways, and not all of them are going to attract people. Lord knows most haven’t attracted me.

My problem comes again with the culture of “diet veganism,” and how it’s become the new cash cow…oh, excuse me, the new “hook.” Lure readers in with the promise of guaranteed weight loss, and then fold in some stuff about animal suffering and environmentalism and maybe eventually they’ll read it.

Again…I get it. I understand the “catch more flies with honey than with vinegar” idea. But it still leaves a bad taste in my mouth. It feels dishonest, and not just because promising effortless weight loss is iffy at best, and cynical at worst.

Sure, you might lose weight by going vegan. But you might not. Statistically speaking it’s 95% unlikely you will succeed in the long term if your only goal is weight loss. I can say from experience that veganism is a wonderful choice for your overall health, as long as you are paying attention to your diet and getting a nice variety of nutrients every day; but placing all your hope on the weight loss power of veganism is dangerous…if you’re expecting some kind of fat-melting miracle and don’t get one, then what? How many people are going to go on a vegan weight-loss diet and realize they haven’t suddenly gotten skinny, then say to hell with it and give up before they’ve managed to get to the chapters about what veganism actually *is* all about?

I mean, sure Atkins is more appealing for dropping pounds! You eat all the bacon you want! Contrast that with veganism, and which do you think will win out? It’s obvious, because weight loss isn’t the main benefit of veganism. You don’t abstain from half the Standard American Diet just to be a size 6; you need more than that to motivate you to make such a profound change. Atkins has no greater meaning; it’s just about creating chemical conditions in your body (dangerous ones) that cause you to drop pounds. End of story. Veganism is so much more than that, because it didn’t start out as a way of “slimming.” It’s not for people who want the same-old-same-old and to be able to do things the same way they always have just using low-fat mayo instead of regular. Veganism changes your life from the inside out.

I find it a disturbing commentary on our society that if you try to tell people veganism is a compassionate, spiritually uplifting, overall healthy way to live for your body, mind, and soul, they roll their eyes at you and crack some lame-ass joke about bacon; but if you start off by touting veganism’s “guaranteed” weight loss, you wind up on Oprah, Martha Stewart, and magazine covers galore.

I’ve heard a lot of vegans bash Kathy Freston for not being a “real vegan” because she is more concerned with 95% integrity than 100% purity. She believes – quite rightly in my opinion – that it’s impossible to be 100% pure vegan right now because of how manufacturing, shipping, and research are conducted, but that shouldn’t stop us from doing the best we can. She also believes that it’s more important to make veganism accessible than to pitch an ungodly fit in a restaurant when there’s a half-teaspoon of butter on your bread. I can absolutely see where hardcore vegans would be outraged over that…but still, I have to say I see Freston’s point.

I just don’t see how being black-and-white has ever helped anyone change. You can’t guilt yourself into compassion any more than you can hate yourself healthy. The thing about loving energies like compassion and healing is that they arise from a place of wholeness and positivity, not one of blame and anger; they come from having your eyes opened. True change comes from opening your arms, not turning your back.

Whatever you think of Freston’s approach, what I like about it is that it isn’t judgmental and doesn’t emphasize the shalt-nots; her way of leaning into wellness involves having your horizons broadened to the abundant health and spiritual freedom that becoming a plant-based human offers. “Promising” anything as a result of a dietary change is a mistake, in my opinion, but it’s a bold move either way. I personally would be much happier to see a million people go 80% vegan and stick with it for five years while gradually upping that percentage than 1 million people go “diet vegan” for a year and give up six months in because it’s “too hard” and their only motivation was ass size. The more reasons you have to do something, and the more they resonate to your heart and spirit (not just your ego), the more likely you are to do the homework, make the plans, and take the time to succeed.

But that never happens overnight. It’s a gradual unfolding, not a switch flipped on and off. There are a lot of mini-switches, sure, but it’s very rare that people wake up one morning and say, “Aha! Today I become a ventriloquist!” and nothing gets in the way. Our culture is terrified of losing time, wasting time…spending time. We want everything to happen in 30 days or less, preferably for $19.99 or less, and if you know anything at all about the human soul, you know that isn’t how things happen. Force creates resistance – and resentment. Is your relationship with your body one that needs more resentment? Or force? Do you need to give yourself something else to fight against? Or would you rather give your body the choice to move into a new way of being at a pace that will become a lifelong change rather than a series of false starts?

I know whereof I speak, here. I’ve been trying to go vegan for five years now. Every single time I’ve tried to go cold tofu, and every single time, I’ve failed, because I wasn’t ready, didn’t have all the tools and information I needed, or the support system I needed in place. If I had taken my time and allowed the philosophy to mature, sought out support, and gathered as much knowledge while making a series of smaller changes, I think I would have been much more successful from the beginning. That certainly seems to be the case this time; I’m working slowly, without judgment, learning more about myself than ever before, and it’s working. I feel safe in this kind of change, my puppy mind is waddling her way along with her tail high and ears perked in curiosity, and I’m so glad I read Freston’s first book, or I might never have come this far.

And so, silly word or no silly word, I have to give a thumbs-up to Kathy Freston’s efforts at taking veganism mainstream, and I wish her luck. She’s certainly made a big difference in my life, and I honor her for that.

Become my patron for exclusive online content and read new stories before anyone else!
Scroll To Top