Own Your Life

lifeSally Clarkson’s latest book, Own Your Life: Living with Deep Intention, Bold Faith, and Generous Love, invites readers to take responsibility for their actions and attitudes and live with greater purpose.

I know, I keep reading books like this.  But I love to optimize systems and my life to make them better, and I keep getting good tips to implement, so I read on (and on, and on) in this genre.  I read that this is a personality trait thing.  So if you’re not the type that enjoys tweaks and continual upgrades, maybe this book is not for you.

I will say that I don’t deeply connect with Sally Clarkson–I think we share similar principles but maybe put them into practice in different ways, again, a personality thing probably–but I really appreciated her thoughts on several topics within Own Your Life.

Clarkson delves deeply into the tension between valuing productivity and valuing relationship.  The two need not be mutually exclusive, of course, but in our culture efficiency is greatly prized and busyness is often equated with meaning, so you really have to be deliberate to prioritize engagement and encouragement.  She notes that when you’re preoccupied with working on something, giving a passive “uh-huh” rather than making eye contact, you aren’t really fooling anyone, and miss the chance to build into the person seeking your attention.  Obviously you have to get the work done sometimes, but her thoughts on being more deliberate and careful about how I connect–especially with my kids–really resonated with me.

Another contrast that struck me was between chaos and gentleness.  Clarkson doesn’t explicitly make that comparison, but her points about identifying and eliminating the sources of chaos in our days, and then considering how gentle responses are more encouraging and loving seemed like a connection to me.  I know that in my life it’s the moments of havoc that lead to my drill sergeant moments when I’m yelling orders and herding the cats kids, usually completely overlooking someone’s need for grace or encouragement.  I’ve been analyzing that sort of thing this year, and realized that 1) we don’t do well with having to get somewhere in the morning, and 2) we don’t do well when we have too many evening activities that make bedtime chaotic.  I can’t tell you what a positive difference it has been to have a co-op that meets in the afternoon, and to move other activities to afternoons rather than evenings.  I still have a ways to go with this, but seeing the connection between eliminating chaos to make room for calm gentleness was a needed reminder for me.

While I wouldn’t say that Own Your Life grabbed me on every page or in every chapter, I did get some significant take-aways that made it well worth the time.  I imagine that most women (although, to be honest, primarily mothers) would find enough value in one area or another to make Own Your Life a solid choice in this genre.  


Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.

Word(s) of the Year: Double Down

DSC_0343When I read The One Thing recently, I was struck by the author’s statement that sometimes instead of filing your goals down to be more manageable, you need to think big and double down on things that are really important to you.

My one word goal for 2014 was grace.  Often throughout the year the word was a reminder to stop beating myself up for mistakes, to let go of perfectionism, and to extend compassion to other people (especially my family).  I read books on grace, studied God’s grace, and found it to be a good theme for the year.  I hope to continue putting that knowledge into practice.

But as I did my end-of-year thinking and praying and planning and goal setting, I increasingly felt like I needed to do some hard things.  Some big things.  I think I may be ready for a push year, and so when I started thinking of a one word goal for 2015, I kept coming back to the idea I read about, like maybe when it comes to my goals and building habits in 2015, I need to take my foot off the brake and double down.

It’s two words.  I know.  Warn me if the One Word Goal Police catch on to me.  🙂

I’m excited about the year ahead.  I made goals for every role of my life as I usually do, but this year I chose a big reach goal for each category.  I may not accomplish all of them, but if I double down I’m sure to get somewhere!

As usual, I’ll be reading–history, fiction, education, life management, read-alouds for the kids–but I’m also excited to delve into a couple of books about language learning and we’ll see what other interesting topics come up.

I’m also planning to launch a newsletter via A Spirited Mind–mostly as a place to put a longer article about a topic or theme from recent reading, some good reading-related links, resources for finding books, great quotes, maybe some interesting word definitions…I haven’t decided if it will be quarterly or monthly (what would be your preference?).  In thinking about what to do with these bits and pieces I collect, a newsletter seemed like a good repository.  Hopefully you’ll think so too!

So whether you’re doubling down or giving yourself grace (or both!) this year, I hope 2015 brings you promise and growth.  Thanks for reading A Spirited Mind and for your thoughtful comments and emails.  I love hearing from you about what you’re reading or thinking about!

If you do the one word for the year thing, which word did you choose for 2015?

The Bookmarked Life, #6

2The Bookmarked Life is my take on catch-all posts–a record to help me remember this season of life.

Right now I’m:


Flu shots.  I’ve never really gone for flu shots, except in years when I was pregnant and for babies under 2 years old.  But reading The Great Influenza this year changed my mind.  In addition to including plenty of gory detail on just how violently dreadful and horrifying really bad flu epidemics can be (if you think the flu means body aches and mild fever, you are just skimming the surface), the book discussed the epidemiology of how flu strains develop.  I was struck by how even getting an earlier strain protected people (in that they had a better chance of living), and decided that even if we don’t wind up with an epidemic any time soon, being at least partially protected for emerging strains would benefit us.  And we have the aching arms to prove it.

…Furnishing my mind

My friend Julie is an amazingly talented musician who plays with several local symphonies and musical groups.  When she offered us comp tickets to the Carmel Symphony Orchestra we jumped on it!  The big kids really enjoyed the performance and behaved quite well.  Our seats were right up front so we could see the musicians’ faces and fingering in great detail.  I had forgotten how much I love this sort of thing, and I am already making plans for how we can go to other performances near us.  If you’re local, the Palladium is a great venue–beautiful and not expensive, plus easy parking–and the music is wonderful!

…Learning about

In the course of studying the War of 1812 over the last two weeks, we checked out a lot of interesting books.  I start with the assignments and extra resources sections in our Tapestry of Grace week plan, but then I go to the library website and type in a general topic to see what else they have on hand.  Who knew the War of 1812 was such a richly covered topic in children’s literature?  One book we checked out was all about a pirate who helped save Louisiana during the war.  It’s called Jean Laffite: The Pirate Who Saved America and we recommend it for kids who are interested in pirates or history.

…Living the Good Life

This weekend one of the book clubs I’m in is going on a retreat.  The whole group rented a house and we’re going to hang out and eat great food and talk about a bunch of books either set in or about Paris.  I’m taking Eliza since she’s still nursing, but I’m looking forward to getting away for a little bit!  I’m not even taking my computer (which feels scary, since usually I do a big work day on Saturday, but I need the break).  I think it will be fun and  hopefully a good way to connect and rejuvenate!


Randomly our homeschool co-op disbanded, so in my effort to rally some extra-curriculars for my crew we find ourselves not only taking cello and piano lessons, but also hosting a Lego engineering club and a ballet class!  I volunteered to host the ballet class since the teacher (who used to teach at the co-op) was looking for a venue and I had the idea from Lora Lynn at Vitafamiliae.  This week was the first ballet class and it seemed to be a hit!  We have, I think, ten girls meeting in our basement, and the teacher agreed to come to us since we have a well-lit, finished area for the class.  Hannah and Sarah ADORED having a dance class on the premises, plus the fun of having tons of little girls over.  Now I’m wondering how to rig up some sort of mirrored wall down there.


As I kept pacing around the basement trying to get the steps I need for my Fitbit Zip (which is ridiculously motivational for me, by the way–a worthwhile investment!) I kept thinking how it would be easier to hit step goals if I ran for fitness.  Then, in a blinding flash of the obvious, I thought, “I could just…run for fitness.”  After I read Born to Run I got the Couch to 5K app, but never got around to running with it.  I used to run long distances in college prior to tearing my ACL and having extensive knee surgery and a bone graft (long story involving skiing and how I don’t speak French).  Now they say that even with a partial miniscus like I have, you can run as long as you’re careful.  So I’ve been running in the early mornings.  In my basement.  Yes, just back and forth on the carpet.  It sounds weird, but it works because I don’t have to worry about it raining or being cold, or what happens if a kid or four wake up early.  I’m up to running about 2.5 miles now.  On the carpet.  I know, this is a punchline waiting to happen.  Maybe I should invest in a treadmill.  Anyway, I’m looking around for a 5K to sign up for.  Locals, any suggestions?


In addition to our scripture memory, we’re reviewing October’s Party by George Cooper and The Morns Are Meeker Than They Were by Emily Dickinson.  I love autumn.  In celebration, we have a pumpkin on either side of our front stoop (not carved, I just like them whole) and I bought three mums.  When I cut the netting off of the mums, lo they were enormous.  I’m talking like three feet across!  I’m not sure what to do with these specimens.  Right now one lives between our garage doors and the other two are stationed between our front porch posts.  Surely I could plant them?  Would they live through the winter?

…Seeking balance

Yesterday was kind of a whirlwind, what with school then flu shots then piano then ballet.  It reminded me of how much I am not interested in being the suburban mom-chauffeur that is kind of the default for many families.  One thing I have accepted is that for our family, at least for now, we can’t do any regular evening commitments.  We really just do so much better when we can eat dinner and get baths or showers and have bedtime worship and read aloud a chapter or two of our current family book then get the kids to bed at a reasonable time.  Every now and then it’s fun to do an evening out or meet up with friends, but I’m happy with the decision not to do any night activities this year.  It does help things to feel less frantic and frazzled, even when the only slow and quiet part of the day is at the very end of it!

…Building the habit

Another of my habits for this autumn (order, focus, grace, duty) is grace.  Grace is actually my word for the year.  Here are a few ways I’m working on the habit:

  • For myself – I’m always afraid that I’m cutting myself too much slack, but this year I’m trying to focus on ways that I’m actually doing well rather than on where I’m falling short.  Lots of nights I make a two column list of things that went well in the day and things I’m concerned about, in an effort to clear my head so I can sleep.  This helps me give myself grace for the things that are problems.
  • For my family – Thought patterns matter.  I’m working on catching myself when I fall into negative thought habits, especially with my family.  I’ve been working a lot at recognizing and verbalizing the things everyone does well.  As a mom of four, it can be so easy to just give the squeaky wheels the grease, but I’m finding that when I give everyone grace and recognize the positives, it helps everyone’s behavior more anyway.

…Listening to

How cool is this: there was a visiting pianist at the orchestra concert we went to last week, and for his encore he played an arrangement of Schubert’s Trout piece!  We had just listened to that in our composer study, thanks to Dovey’s recommendation in the comments on the last Bookmarked Life post!  The kids were falling all over the place at how they knew the piece!  It was a great moment.

What are you bookmarking this week?


Note: Most of the links in this post are to my longer reviews, but one is to Amazon, and it’s an affiliate link, just so you know! 

2014’s Third Quarter in Books

This quarter I had an uptick in work, which resulted in a downtick in reading, to my chagrin.  However, I did still read 27 books in July, August, and September, and also read 20 long/chapter books (of around 100 pages or more, not picture books) aloud to or with the kids.  I broke the titles down into categories of Fiction, Life Management/Creative Work, Communication/Relationships, Parenting/Education, History, Memoir, and Faith.  The links below are to my longer reviews, starred titles were my absolute favorites.


  • The Night Circus – An incredible fairy tale set in a Victorian circus that begs to be read on a rainy day, The Night Circus was excellent in audiobook version, and I might skim the print version too.
  • Speaking From Among the Bones – A Flavia DeLuce mystery.  Enough said.
  • The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches – Another Flavia DeLuce mystery. Really, if you haven’t read these, do.  Impeccable plotting, fantastic characterization, funny and smart writing…the entire series is excellent.
  • Children of the Jacaranda Tree – The author used a dissonant writing and narrative style to convey the dissonance of Iranian post-Revolution culture, but those aspects of the book wound up detracting from the story significantly.  Mostly I felt the book suffered from lack of setting and descriptive voice.  Read A Teaspoon of Earth and Sea instead.

Life Management/Creative Work

  • What Should I Do With My Life? People who are perpetual reinventers and tryers-of-new-things will like this book.  People who never ask themselves the title’s question should skip it.
  • Manage Your Day to Day – If you’re a creative and/or flex-worker you should read this book.  I’ve especially benefitted from the advice on how to be the boss of your technology (sorry Facebook, it had to end sometime).
  • *Essentialism* – This exceptional book is not about maximizing your life in 15 minute increments, but more about how to untangle confusion, busy-ness, and triviality to get at what’s most important to you, and then how to protect your time and focus so you can really give your best efforts to those priorities.  The book is excellent and I highly recommend it.
  • The Accidental Creative – Normal time management advice doesn’t always work for creative workers.  This book explains why and gives tips for how to work around that.  I felt affirmed in that I already do many of these things, but also got some new tips.
  • Die Empty – By the same author as The Accidental Creative, this book covers how to be more focused and gives some really helpful advice on curating your information flow.  Curating is a modern requirement I find very interesting, and this book helped me realize that I do have a choice about it.
  • The Art of Small Talk – A light but helpful book about small talk and how to use it, I found this one particularly helpful for business contexts and have been using tips about meetings all summer.
  • Difficult Conversations – This very helpful book not only walks you through how to handle difficult conversations on big and important topics, but also helps you to reframe hard topics for yourself, even if you never have the touchy discussion with someone else.
  • *Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work* – If you’re engaged or a newlywed, put this book back for a couple of years.  If you’ve been married for 5 years or more, read it.  The book is written by a researcher who studies marriages and relationships, and so the findings are based on real data, profoundly interesting, and very hopeful.  I have given this book a lot of thought after reading it, and highly recommend it.  (Note: it’s a secular book, not at all from a Christian perspective, and yet you’ll find that the conclusions are very much in line with Biblical direction on relationships and relating to other people. Fascinating.)


  • The Artful Parent – A helpful book that expands the definition of the artsy parent so you can feel better about not being someone who allows glitter in your environment, and which also contains interesting art projects to try and advice on good materials.
  • Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain – This amazingly helpful primer on drawing will change how you look at things, even if you don’t take the time to try the exercises.  It also seems that the book would be profoundly helpful in teaching children to draw.
  • Real Learning – Without a doubt this book is the most helpful resource on artist study and composer study I’ve read so far.  If you’re a Charlotte Mason fan or homeschooler, this book will be helpful for you.


  • Fever – Although it’s a historical novel, this book illuminates an interesting historical figure and period of change in medical history.
  • The Great Influenza – Although it’s too long, this history of the flu of 1918 is fascinating really illuminated my understanding of geopolitical events surrounding World War I.
  • The Professor and the Madman – An oddly compelling history of the Oxford English Dictionary, with wild stories and the sort of excellent vocabulary asides you’d expect in a book about the OED.
  • Tallgrass – Another historical fiction book that wound up in the history section rather than fiction, Tallgrass have me unique insight into the Japanese interment camp facet of World War II, plus showed me how the experiences of the Dust Bowl and World War I, which I’ve also read about this year, influences people’s perceptions of the home front in World War II.  Not notable fiction, but notable history.
  • The Long Shadow – This wide-ranging book covers the lead up to World War I, an analysis of popular views on the war itself, and then a discussion of the lingering impact World War I had on political, cultural, and social developments up to the present.  Really fascinating and illuminating.
  • The Big Fat Surprise – Fat is not the enemy.  If you really need to be convinced that fat is not bad for you, especially if you need very detailed discussion about just about every study and research project related to nutritional topics, this book may be for you.  It’s interesting as a history of nutritional science (and I use that phrase optimistically).  Otherwise, read Gary Taubes’ book Why We Get Fat instead.
  • Eiffel’s Tower – This interesting history of the making of the Eiffel Tower, the 1889 World’s Fair in Paris, and the fascinating historical figures who converged there is well worth a read.
  • Stitches – I don’t usually like graphic novels, but this one was very thought-provoking and the format fit the subject matter quite well.
  • *How the Heather Looks* – Probably my most favorite book of the year so far, this is a travel memoir of a young family who toured England looking for the sites in all of their favorite books.  I adore that concept and just loved the descriptions and the author’s evident love for literature.  An utter delight for this Anglophile and bibliophile!


  • His Word in my Heart – If you need some inspiration for memorizing longer passages of Scripture, or even entire books of the Bible, this book is for you.  I got a lot out of this short book, although ultimately I realized that my memorizing style is different than the author’s (don’t feel tied to the index card thing).
  • The Family Worship Book – Although I got some helpful ideas from this book, A Neglected Grace is a far, far better resource both in terms of casing a vision for family worship and in providing practical helps.
  • Sabbath as Resistance – Not a complete reference on Sabbath-keeping, but written around a helpful and thoughtful exposition of the Israelites in Egypt, this book has made me mindful of ways that I keep the Sabbath in outward form, but am inwardly still “making bricks” on Sunday.  I wouldn’t say this is the only book you need to read on the topic, but it is a good one.

Long/Chapter Books Read Aloud to the Children (or read to discuss with the children)

What were your favorite books this quarter?

A Million Little Ways

A Million Little Ways: Uncover the Art You Were Made to Live, Emily P. Freeman writes about finding a way to fit your art into your life.  If you’re in a phase of life where you aren’t already pursuing your art full-time for whatever reason, this book will really resonate with you.

The book tackles subjects like uncovering your art, overcoming your internal arguments against it (like “it’s a waste of time” or fear of criticism), and finding time for it.  I loved how Freeman countered the idea that art is selfish with the perspective that if our goal is to glorify God there are a million ways to do that in our day to day lives.

I found A Million Little Ways encouraging and would recommend it to anyone who is familiar with the push and pull of balancing a dream with daily tasks, finding time to pursue an artistic goal, or who needs inspiration for finding the glory in the everyday.  While it may ring most clearly to the writer mama set, I think the ideas Freeman writes about are far more broadly applicable.


Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.

The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness

“Paul’s self-worth, his self-regard, his identity is not tied in any way to their verdict and their evaluation of him.”

In The Freedom of Self Forgetfulness, Tim Keller writes an exposition of 1 Corinthians 3:21-4:7 that focuses on how the gospel uniquely gives us freedom from our egos.  Noting that superiority complexes and inferiority complexes are essentially the same problem (seeing your identity and worth in light of your relation to other people), Keller writes how the gospel allows us to root our identities in Christ–giving us the freedom to acknowledge our sin but not be drowned by it, and to accomplish our work without fearing other people or being enslaved to their opinions.

As a recovering people pleaser, The Freedom of Self Forgetfulness was very helpful to me.  I always appreciate how Keller stays close to the text and yet provides compelling and fresh insights and contextual information.  The book is like a sermon combined with a Biblestudy–it’s short (and only $1.62 on Kindle!) but meaty.  I think it would be good for a discussion group, but it was also good to read as part of a personal devotional time.  Although I think the book would be best recommended for people who have an issue with caring too much about what other people think, I doubt that anyone has a complete lock on self-forgetfulness, and the book is in-depth enough that I think most people could get something out of it.


Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.  Thanks for clicking through my links to Amazon; I appreciate the support for A Spirited Mind!

Word of the Year – Grace

When I thought about a word for 2014 at first I was leaning toward legacy–maybe I should evaluate the many and various things that always threaten to overwhelm me in light of whether or not that thing will matter in the long run.  But the more I thought about it, the more that thought made me tired.  I’m tired, friends, eight ways to Sunday.  I’m tired of trying to wring out more minutes from each day, of trying to be more efficient, of feeling like I have to explain my choice to sleep until 7:00 or justify my decision to hire a babysitter.  I’m tired of the fact that the first word that springs to mind when someone asks how I’m doing is “busy.”

Grace.  I need grace.

I need to give grace to myself.  I  am my own toughest critic, and I don’t often struggle with doing too little.  I’d like to give myself grace–to stop beating up on myself, to stop holding myself to a false standard of perfection, to cut myself some slack sometimes.

I need to give grace to my family.  We get in this whirl of life so easily around here.  I work hard at keeping lessons interesting and resisting the urge to view the children as a unit, but I think grace might be needed for times when things are crazy–to take a deep breath and regain perspective and give grace to a bunch of kids who are learning how to obey and respect each other just like I still am.

I need to soak my spirit in God’s grace.  I read something on Elizabeth Foss’s blog (I’m constantly encouraged by her writing) about how only God is omniscient so I don’t have to read everything on the internet right now.  And I was struck, in the way that only a blinding flash of the obvious can strike a person, by the thought that God is not asking me to be omnipotent, omniscient, or perfect in any way.  He is perfect in every way so that I don’t have to worry about the myriad ways I fall short.  I realize that for some that could sound like a cop-out, but again, I’m not prone to the doing-too-little side of the pendulum.  I’m thinking that for my annual Bible reading plan I might go through the scripture specifically noting where God gives grace.  I think my soul needs to delve into this well.

So I think 2014 will be the year of grace for me. A little extra note of beauty.  A little bit less efficiency perhaps, but a lot more focus.  More gentleness.  More understanding of and pointing toward the only reason anything works for me at all.  Grace.


What have you read on the subject of grace?  I like to read a lot in my word of the year topics, so please let me know if you have any suggestions!