What's On My Nightstand (The #MinimalismSimplified Edition)

Last month I read Goodbye, Things: The New Japanese Minimalism (Fumio Sasaki) through the Prime library of books available to borrow through Amazon. Although I have been interested in minimalism for a number of years now (even blogging about my attempts to purge in the past), my focus on simplifying and clearing out has definitely evolved into more of a necessity for sanity after we adopted our five kids in 2016.

The draw of minimalism first started about twelve years ago, when the Hubs and I worked internationally and lived out of our suitcases. Whenever we would come back to our home base in the States, I would look around our house and wonder why I needed so much stuff if, the rest of the year, I could live out of a suitcase or two. And thus began my own journey of pairing down and simplifying. Nothing as extreme as Mr. Sasaki and his empty rooms, but resulting in a change of behavior and several large trips to a local non-profit for donations upon our full-time return to life in the U.S. in 2009.

A few years later, during our adoption prep, we did a pretty substantial purge of the house and basement, taking car load after car load to the donation site (to the point that I was becoming embarrassed to show up for fear of looking like hoarders - which, in all honesty, I was beginning to feel like!). After the kids arrived we had to find a way to deal with all of the detritus that children tend to collect - papers from school, craft projects, rubber bands, dollar toys, party favors, and (literally) trash that they beg to keep (I just told a daughter this week that, yes, she had to throw away the paper plate from a church party rather than take it home to use with her dolls). It is a never-ending battle to keep the house cleared of the clutter, and just when I feel like I'm getting a handle on it... summer camps arrive.

The struggle is real.

So when I saw goodbye, things in the Prime library, I didn't think twice before clicking "download" and beginning to read. As I have figure out what it means to have a houseful of people (7 of us), I have developed my own brand of minimalism. Trash goes out, special objects go in the memory box (I have one for each kid), and we regulate a lot of stuff to "jail" if it cannot be put away properly at night. The kids are learning, and we're working to help them figure out the difference between buying for need and buying for wants. I am constantly looking around the house to see if there's something more I can put out. This week, for example, it was 11 mugs that I would have considered "must keeps" two years ago, but I now realize that we use the same 4 mugs all the time, so why keep the rest? Baby steps.

Specifically about this book, I want to say three things:
First, it is well written. I know nothing about the author, but based on the number of times that he mentions an English language learning book or program, I'm making the assumption that English is not a strong second language for him, and yet the book is written in English (again, assuming it was put through a translation process). Well thought out, well laid out, and easy to work through. I enjoyed his 55 and 15 points of minimalism and the lessons he learned from his experience.
Second, I appreciated that he makes it clear that there are many levels of minimalism, and there is room for all. That minimalism may mean purging everything for some, or simply gaining perspective for others. One thing that I took away from his book was the fact that I am, without ever thinking about it, a minimalist when it comes to a circle of close friends. Oh yes, I have a very broad group of acquaintances, of varying degrees of closeness, but a very limited circle of "Inkling" friends, which I'd never thought about in terms of minimalism until I read, "Goodbye, Things".

Finally, I feel it's important to include a caution not to turn minimalism into a religion (which it very much can be for some). Otherwise, if you're interested at all in the Japanese take on minimalism (especially of you have access to borrow books through Amazon Prime), I would recommend this as a good starting point. It wasn't earth shattering or full of things I hadn't already thought of or discovered, but it was still thought provoking, and that's always a good thing, in my opinion.
As I continue in my personal quest to calm the clutter, I have realized that - for me - I'm just looking for a simplified life. I don't want minimalism to take over my life or become a god to me, nor do I want to give in to the tide of paperwork and consumerism that threatens to overwhelm. I will not give up the fight in the Great Stuff Battle, but I also understand and accept that in a house of 7, there is going to be more of it and what seems like rubbish to me is something special to a child. Yes, I want a clear desk to work from, but I also want my Jane Austen action figure right there with me, because she makes me smile. I want clutter-free surfaces in my living room (which I have accomplished and kept - a definite win), but unlike Mr. Sasaki, I also want my couch. There's room for simplicity and minimalism as well as comfort and a small amount of chaos - a livable balance. Minimalism Simplified.


What's On My Nightstand (Recommended Beach Reading)

Let's just make this quite clear: I love Goodreads giveaways. I'm always signing up for them and rarely win, but when I do... well, make room for the Bookworm Happy Dance!! Back in April I won a copy of The Lost Vintage: A Novel by Ann Mah (author of Mastering the Art of French Eating - which I loved), and the {Happy Dance} that went down was intense.

This was a book that I really wanted to read when I first heard about it in her monthly e-newsletter (see, I'm actually a fan because I never sign up for newsletters!). Although I tend to prefer non-fiction to novels, I was willing to overlook that fact because I enjoyed Ann's other autobiographical works, and because it was set in France (which, you may or may not have noticed, but I have a "thing" for). I'm happy to report that The Lost Vintage did not disappoint.

The book takes place in two historical points of time - WWII and present day, and covers the lives of two characters - Hélène and Kate, who become forever entwined through the story of Hélène's life that Kate slowly uncovers while cleaning out the basement of a family farmhouse in the French countryside. 

Kate has a complicated history with her family and France, which includes a vineyard farmer-turned-ex-fiance, and an uncle that everyone is a little afraid of. Just after college, Kate and her friend, Heather, find themselves with a summer to kill in France and hearts that are ready for romance. While Heather ends up marrying Kate's French cousin, Nico, and raising a family in France, Kate gets cold feet about marrying Jean-Luc and returns to the United States to pursue a career as a wine expert. 

When she finally returns to France several years later, her world is rocked by the revelation of a deep family secret that dates back to the darkest days of WWII France, and involves a hidden wine cellar, a Nazi collaboration, and a betrayal that is still affecting the family some 70+ years later. I don't want to give too much away, but suffice to say, despite it's status as "fiction", I was compelled to do some light research about the shaming of women in post-war France and was appalled by what I found. This fictional story and character are based on actual events, and were told in such a realistic way that I kept needing to remind myself that this particular story was made up. Mah did an excellent job of painting an accurate picture of the time, and portraying the lives and lies of Hélène and her step-mother. 

Beyond the historical segments of the story, the present-day issues of family feuds, unrequited love, and the almost-impossible Master of Wine examination are entertaining and fuel the remainder of the book. I could have done without the love scenes (though, for a fictional, secular book, I suppose they were tastefully done, without a lot of graphic detail), but I wanted to mention that as a side note for those who may not be interested in a book with premarital relations. 

There were times when I had to put this book down and read something else, but I think that's a tribute to the author as her story drew me in so much that it became too intense to see what else Hélène had to endure. I needed a break from the historical segments, in order to process what was going on. I believe this is due to the fact that Mah did her research on Nazi collaboration during the occupation of France, and the aftermath, and masterfully wove that truth into her fictional characters. 

***SPOILER*** Happy endings abound and Hélène's story isn't as sad as one might suppose. Which I like. It's fiction, I don't want to be bummed at the last page.

The Lost Vintage: A Novel was released to the world this week, and if you enjoy historical fiction, are a secret Francophile, or enjoy a nice glass of vino, then I would say you would find this book to be a highly enjoyable beach read. I'd give it 4 stars out of 5... as long as those previously mentioned topics are of interest to you.

Special thanks to Goodreads and William Marrow Publishers for my Advanced Reader's Edition!


What's On My Nightstand (Summer Reads Edition)

Well hello there! It seems that I haven't written a WOMNS post on the blog in several weeks. For that matter, it appears that I haven't actually written ANY post on the blog in over a month. Oops. Apparently typing it up as a post on Facebook is just easier, and with limited time, I'm all about easy!

That being said, I recently read two books that I had a hard time putting down. The first was One Summer: America, 1927 by Bill Bryson. I've read several of his other books and enjoyed most of them (his book on Australia was probably my favorite - before I read One Summer), but this one really hooked me. If you're a fan of history, random facts, and learning about people that don't necessarily make it into the history books in school (as well as some who do), and if you're not afraid of humor and sarcasm as a writing style, then I'd highly recommend adding One Summer to YOUR summer reading list.

As much as I thoroughly enjoyed One Summer, it was blown out of the water (no pun intended) by Unbroken - the incredible life story of rebel, runner, Olympian, and WWII POW Louis Zamperini. I'm probably one of the last people to read this book, but just in case I'm not, let me tell you why YOU should stop reading whatever you're currently reading and find this book. I read half of it either with my mouth (literally) hanging open, or my hand over my mouth. Starting with his troubled youth where he ran from the police, stole incessantly, and was a general superstar at getting into trouble, we move into his teen years when his older brother, Pete, got him hooked on running. Zamperini excelled at it, smashing the competition in the 1500 and getting himself to the infamous 1936 Olympics in Berlin to run the 5000 (after having only competed in it twice before). Although he didn't win, his ability to dig deep and find an extra measure of strength and energy made his last lap memorable to all who saw it (including Adolf Hitler).

After his Olympic debut (which, at 19, he assumed would be just a preview to his real goal of attending the 1940 Olympics in Japan), he attended college, ran a 4:08 mile, and then joined the air force in 1941 after the war broke out. He soon found himself on the crew of a B-24 that took part in the bombing of Nauru and flew back to base with hundreds of holes - so many, in fact, that the plane (called, Super Man) had to be scrapped - only to have their base bombed later that night. Louie survived, as did his friend - and pilot - Phil. A few weeks later, Louie and Phil, along with a new crew, were directed to take a derelict B-24 (The Green Hornet) up on a search and rescue mission that soon resulted in an ocean crash that would kill all but three of the crew. For the next 47 days, Louie (with broken ribs from the crash), Phil (who never flew again), and Mac (who died on day 33) drifted over 2,000 miles in a tiny rubber life raft, fighting off sharks (including a great white), delirium, and hopelessness. Without food or potable water, they lost over half their body weight while surviving on the occasional fish or hapless bird that came their way, and praying for it to rain so they would have something to drink.

Just when you think it can get no worse, they arrive in the Japanese-held Marshall Islands where they are taken prisoner and thus begins 2.5 years of living hell. I seriously could not even begin to fathom what they went through - the daily beatings, the mental torture, the lack of food, adequate clothing, and medical care. It was, truly, beyond description, especially when it came to one particular guard called, simply, The Bird. Facing imminent death as a result of the Japanese "kill all" order for POW camps, Louie believed that this was it - but then the Emperor signed the surrender of Japan and suddenly Louie was free. After his return to the U.S., he was hailed as a national hero - the Olympic champion who was declared dead came back to life. He married Cynthia Applewhite in 1946 and all seemed to be going well - but the mental anguish was just beginning. With the Bird appearing in his nightmares every night, Louie began to spiral out of control, drinking heavily, driving Cynthia and his daughter away, and fixating on one day returning to Japan to kill the Bird.

Hitting bottom, Cynthia finally argued him into the Billy Graham tent revival in Los Angeles in 1949. From that day on, Louie was a new man. After giving his heart to Christ, Louie never had another nightmare about the Bird. By October of 1950, he was back in Japan - not to kill those who had treated him so inhumanly, but to offer them forgiveness and share the love of God with them. Zamperini spent the rest of his life working with boys who - like him - had hit bottom and had no where else to go. Although he never participated in another Olympic games as an athlete, he carried the torch multiple times, including at the 1998 Nagano games where he ran past his final POW prison camp. To the end of his life (he passed away in 2014 at the age of 97), Zamperini desired to give his forgiveness to the Bird, but the Bird (real name Mutsuhiro Watanabe) refused to see him, holding to his deluded belief that he had done nothing wrong.

*   *   *  

The older I get, the more I find myself drawn to the jaw-dropping stories of WWII, both on the European and Pacific fronts. Louie Zamperini's inspiring will to press on through whatever life holds and his determination in the face of certain death are certainly reasons to read this book, but the story in Unbroken is made all the sweeter because of the dramatic life change brought about by being born again. His faith in Jesus turned his life #rightsideup - and that's something that resonates with me.

One Summer and Unbroken are definitely books that should be added to your summer reading list, but if you're only going to try one - pick the latter.

What's on YOUR Summer Nightstand?


Be Anxious For Nothing (Part 3)

If you missed the first two posts about this, you can find them HERE.

When I got into the car after coming out of the doctor's office with the information that I was, in fact, having panic attacks, I felt a sense of relief. I wasn't dying, I wasn't going crazy, and there was actually something I could do about it. As an INTJ, I needed to know those things in order to begin the process of "fixing" it - in this case, the "it" being me. 

My doctor had offered to refer me to a counselor, and although I refused that offer for myself, I want to clearly state that I am not against counseling as a way of learning how to cope with stress and panic and anxiety. In fact, we sent a couple of our kids to counseling after we brought them home, because it can be very beneficial to have someone else lead you through it, to see yourself in it, and figure out how to come out on the other side. That being said, it was not something that I chose to do for myself, nor is that a decision that I regret making. As an INTJ, introspection is something that comes easily to me, it's part of who I am, so with God at the helm, I spent the next few months digging into His Word and seeking His guidance as I walked through this season of anxiety and darkness.

For me, my panic attacks were completely and utterly irrational, and that really annoyed me! On an almost nightly basis, I would find myself huddled on the couch, sobbing, and begging God to help me, while the Hubs sat next to me, helpless to do anything more than pray - which he did a lot of. Over the Christmas season, it got to the point to where I didn't really want to leave the house, because when I did, I would panic. We turned around and went home a lot that month, or sat in a parking lot while I tried not to hyperventilate. It was - without a doubt - one of the craziest seasons that I have ever experienced. But here's the good news: I made it through and I came out of it with a much bigger view of God.

On the nights when the Hubs didn't have an answer to my question, "Am I ever going to feel happy again?"... God was there. 

In the moments when I woke up in terror, heart pounding, terrified that I was dying... God was there. 

When it felt like everything I had ever been certain of was slipping away... God was there. 

In my moments and hours of panic, I turned to God's Word, meditating on passages of Scripture like I had never done before. The Psalms came alive to me, and I suddenly felt like I could identify with David when he was crying out for God to save him. My daily battle cry came directly from Psalm 18:2, which says:

In the moments when it was all I could do to whisper His name, I began to add, "my Rock, my Refuge, my Fortress" to my prayer. When Satan would swoop in and attack, my defense was to cry out to God as my stronghold. When the fears would overwhelm me, I trusted in the One who is my Deliverer - even as He was King David's. What became more real to me than my fear was the fact that our God never changes. He is the same today as He was yesterday, the same for me as He was for David. God revealed Himself to me in those times of terror in ways that I had never before experienced, and I began to count my panic attacks as blessings, for the way they drew me closer to my Savior.

It was during these months that God also began to use the works of A.W. Tozer to convict me about my small view of Him, and I look forward to sharing about that in the next post.

Remember: every person, every case, is different. If you are feeling lost and alone, please, by all means, find a qualified - preferably Biblical - counselor to help you walk through this time! 


The Grass Won't Mow Itself

Working in front of a fireplace on Monday... working with the windows open on Thursday. This is spring in East Tennessee! 

In other news, today at 3:30, Spring Break (Part Deux) began, with the kids home for the next 4 days as we celebrate Easter. It will be a different celebration this year as they are all Christians (which they weren't last year), and we have been reading through the Gospels so that they have a better idea of why we celebrate. In the words of one child when she realized what Jesus did for her, "Wow. That was really nice of Him!" Now there's an understatement, but it's an improvement on last year! And while the older four are beginning to get it, the youngest asked when we were going to do that "egg thing". She's 5... we'll get there. 

My reading has slowed down a bit the last couple of weeks (thus the lack of WOMNS posts), but I'm currently reading an early readers version of The Lost Vintage that I won from a Goodreads giveaway. Every once in a while it pays to fill those forms out! Anyway, I read both of Ann's previous books, including Mastering the Art of French Eating (which I loved), and so far I'm really enjoying her foray into novels. I try to read a few pages every night, but honestly, most nights I find myself nodding off and wake up only when the book falls out of my hands and hits my head. Winner, winner, chicken dinner. I'm officially old now. 

And speaking of old... over the last year, my pants have become increasingly tight, much to my dismay. As I recently told a friend, most women who complain about the weight they've put on have biological kids to point at and blame for it. And while I have 5 children, I can hardly point at them as the cause of my weight gain...unless I try to chalk it up to stress eating (which I really don't do). Sadly, this new phase of life appears to be tied to heading downhill to 40 and my family genes finally catching up to me, but I'm not going down (or rather - up) without a fight. 

Which is why, last week, I informed the Hubs that he needed to drag the mower out of mothballs because I was going to kill two birds with one stone - save money by not paying someone else to mow our acre (as we have for the last few years), and get some much needed exercise in. On Sunday afternoon he showed up with a new self-propelled mower (as our old mower had finally given up the ghost), and I spent about 2 hours pushing it up and down our hill. I only got about 1/4 of the yard done. Why did I think this was a good idea?? At any rate, it's scheduled to rain tomorrow, so I guess that means that I need to change my clothes and hit it again while he makes dinner. That grass isn't going to mow itself... sadly

Leave me a comment below and let me know what's new in your world! And for those who are celebrating - Happy Easter! 

He is Risen!


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