What I’m Reading – November, 2016

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A perfect vacation in my mind is one where I’m able to read and read and read. At the beginning of November, we went to Mexico to celebrate our 20th Anniversary. I cannot remember another vacation where I was actually finished all of the books I brought with me. This time, I even had to borrow one from the lending library there! It was bliss.

november-readsThe Stand by Stephen King – I finally finished reading this humongous book. According to my husband, it is a science fiction novel which is surprising because I don’t usually read science fiction. I started reading it on my friend Christie’s recommendation. Loved it. There were parts that dragged on a bit but in general, it was an amazing book. A classic representation of good versus evil written in the way that only Stephen King can write it.

Betrayed by Lindsey Harris – This true story was shocking and unthinkable although I certainly was able to figure out who was ruining this family’s life much sooner than the mother was. I did find the book to be predictable and was somewhat frustrated that the mother couldn’t figure out what was going on but I do know that it’s certainly easier to be on the outside looking in and thinking that it must have been obvious when so many involved did not see the truth so it must have been well hidden.

The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena – I had heard this book was along the lines of Girl on the Train and Gone Girl in that it is twisty and relational which is what intrigued me. Considering that this is the first novel by Shari Lapena, I was impressed. While I didn’t find it as twisty as the other books it was likened to, I did find it an enjoyable read.

For the Love: Fighting for Grace in a World of Impossible Standards by Jen Hatmaker – I know that there’s currently some controversy surrounding Jen Hatmaker and I have no intention on commenting on that. This book had been recommended to me and it was very thought-provoking.

At first, I’ll admit that I was really bothered by the chapters that seemed out of place in a serious book. There was a chapter making fun of certain fashion trends and I found that strange because it seemed judgmental in a book about showing love and grace. There were other chapters like that as well HOWEVER, after I decided to see them another way, I wasn’t bothered by them anymore. I decided to see them as commercials. Some of the topics in the book were quite heavy so these “commercials” were actually a nice way to infuse some humour and lighten the mood.

I dog-eared the book in many areas that I want to revisit and give more thought to. I already have plans that will increase the weight I put on relationships in my life based on things I read in the book.

Trafficked by Sophie Hayes – Wow. This is the kind of story that changes your paradigms. I will never think of prostitution or human trafficking the same way again. Trafficked is the true story of a girl from the UK, a smart, pretty, well spoken girl from a middle class family, who was trafficked by someone she knew, someone who was her best friend for 4 years. The terror she experienced defies words.

What I’m Reading – July, 2016

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I just love that I’m getting back to reading again. It’s like an old friend had moved away and is back in town. Part of what got me back into the habit of reading is joining a book club a few months ago.

This month was much busier than usual because I’m working on a new website for a product that I’ve been creating behind the scenes for many months but I was able to make some time for reading because of a camping trip that we went on.

We went camping to Nakusp, BC with my husband’s family, most of his brothers and sisters, their kids, their kids’ spouses, and their kids’ kids. Including us, there were 57 people there! It was pretty incredible. Below is a picture of most of us, taken by my niece Amy of Amy Amirault Photography.

Kostelyk campout 2016I’m not usually a camper. In fact, I don’t even like the outdoors, but I really enjoyed this time with family and I liked the slower pace. I spent some time reading on the beach and just visiting. There was also lots of time spent around the campfire or going for walks. It was such a nice change from the usual chaotic pace of our life.

My July Reads:

The Weekenders by Mary Kay Andrews

This was our book club selection for the month and to be honest, it wasn’t my favourite. I found it to be super predictable. I think that other people would probably enjoy this book but I have a harder time with light reading and this probably fits in that category.

Launch by Jeff Walker

As I mentioned earlier, I am about to launch a product that I’ve been working on for many months so on our long drive to camping, I listened to the audiobook of Launch. I found that the first 5 chapters were well, (how shall I put this?), quite self-serving for the author, but there was pure gold from chapter 6 on.

For anyone planning to launch a book, product or business, I would highly recommend this. I found that listening to it as opposed to reading it allowed me to take notes (Mark was driving obviously as it wouldn’t be safe to take notes and drive!).

Gray Mountain by John Grisham

I like John Grisham books. They aren’t my very favourite ever but I know that I’ll enjoy the read. It was sitting on my very tall pile of books to read. Knowing that I won’t have much time now that we are back from the lazy days of camping, I thought it would be a perfect choice. I’ve only just started it so I can’t say much for it yet but I’m sure it will be a quick read and it sounds interesting.

When I wrote last month’s reading recap, I was still waiting for my book club selection to arrive. It was Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson and it was one of the best books I’ve read in a long time. I had read a bit about the author and the book ahead of time and knew I was going to like it. I LOVED it. It was the kind of book that challenges you to think about what you believe about certain things and why you believe them and to think about a section of our society that you probably don’t give a lot of thought to. It was challenging in the best ways and I’ve been recommending it to others.

You can check out what I read last month by clicking here: June, 2016 Reads.

What are you reading right now?

What I’m Reading – June, 2016

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I love reading and always used to have a book in my hand, but for a few years, reading took a back seat to writing and parenting and homeschooling. Even in my downtime, I wasn’t reading because my brain was too tired and TV took less effort. Recently, I rediscovered my love of books. I also joined a Book Club for the first time which I’ve been wanting to do for a long time.

Here are my June reads:

Wonder by R.J. Palacio

I’ve been reading this aloud to the kids for a few months. It is taking awhile to get through as it is leading to such profound discussions. This morning, it led to a science lesson on how genetic diseases are passed down. Mostly, the discussions are about feelings, bullying, jealousy, choices, and our treatment of others.

Wonder is about a boy with facial deformities as well as medical issues. What I love about reading this book to the kids is that it is told from the perspective of many of the characters including the boy, his older sister, friends, a bully, and the sister’s friend. Since many of our kids have special needs and are also all the sibling of a special needs child, it has led to a lot of discussion and even some breakthroughs and healing. If you are parenting special needs kids (or even if you aren’t but want your kids to better understand what it would be like to be in their shoes), I highly recommend this as family reading.

The Stand by Stephen King

Stephen King is one of my favourite authors even though I can’t read his super scary stuff. One of my all-time favourite books is his The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon. My friend Christie has been telling me to read The Stand for years. It’s her favourite book of all time. It’s a really long book (1,200 pages) and it’s one of those books that once you get into it, you can’t put it down. It was because of this book that I created this image to put on my Facebook page!

The house will have to fend for itself. I've got a book to finish reading!I’ve heard that when it comes to The Stand, you either love it or you hate it. I’m only a quarter of the way through it, but I can pretty much tell that I’m going to fall in that first camp. Stephen King is a master of character development.

The book begins with a plague and becomes about a battle between good and evil. I’m still in the early plague stages of the read and already, I’ve wondered if I’m coming down with a case of Blue myself as I got the sniffles within hours of starting to read it. Christie says that happens to her every time she reads it too!

Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson

This is the book my Book Club has chosen for this month. Mine hasn’t yet arrived but from reading the reviews, I know this is going to be a book I love. Many of the reviews reference To Kill a Mockingbird, one of my all-time favourite books and the story sounds like the type of book that I gravitate towards. I don’t know if I would have discovered it without it being selection in my Book Club, so I’m excited and thankful for the opportunity to read it.

I’ll let you know in July what I thought of it. I don’t know if I’ll be able to finish these this month as we have a lot going on (Jonah’s graduation, a niece’s wedding, Father’s Day, homeschool wrap-up, in addition to the usual chaos) but I hope to finish so that I can start on some new books for the summer.

What are you reading right now?

Blogger and The Beast

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When I first began blogging, I did so to keep our friends and family updated on some of our adoption journeys. I found that I liked keeping an online journal of sorts and soon began including things about our homeschooling and family activities as well. I really enjoyed writing and making connections with others through blogging.

It’s a very long story (so long in fact that I wrote a book about it!) but a number of years ago, our family got caught up in a media storm and my somewhat private friends-and-family-blog was suddenly public when I never intended for it to be and I shut it down. A year or so later, I found that I really missed the writing and the social aspect of blogging. I had actually met some people online, particularly those also on adoption journeys or other homeschool families and some had become true friends so I also missed that connection. I decided to give blogging another go but this time on a public blog (this one).

I blogged in much the same way as I always had until the day a friend of mine emailed me and asked me for my grandma’s pumpkin muffin recipe which I had given out countless times before as it’s one of my most requested. The idea came to me that if I put it on my blog, I would only have to type it out once and could then direct anyone who asked to my blog. Now, my recipes are one of the things my blog is most known for.

Another day, I decided to type out a list of date night ideas. Someone pinned it on Pinterest (which I was using and loving at the time but had never thought to pin one of my own posts to) and I got a huge surge of traffic.

By that point, I had a really solid group of loyal readers who tuned in every day to read my ramblings about parenting or hear about our latest homeschool activities or field trips or my attempts to purge the clutter or our latest trips to the hospital with our daughter. Between the consistent loyal traffic and the new Pinterest traffic, I could see that it might be time to monetize this little hobby of mine to try to offset the costs and provide income for our family.

So began my journey into professional blogging. I put ads on my site and used affiliate links. I began to write more professionally and less like I was talking to a friend over tea. I wrote and sold e-books and then cookbooks. I went to blogging conferences where I met some of the most incredible and inspiring people. I took classes and listened to podcasts and read books. I bought a real camera and tried to learn how to use it. I set work hours and had many late, late nights.

I changed the way I wrote and the way I chose the topics for my blog posts. Sometimes I would write about something that had just happened in our lives or something that was on my heart. Sometimes I wrote something I hoped would inspire or encourage or make a difference. Sometimes though, I wrote what I thought would do well on social media or that I thought had the potential to go viral. And I wrote in a particular way, worrying about SEO (that’s search engine optimization) and images and the right word count.

This photo for example would be included so that this post could get pinned and shared on Pinterest, thereby bringing in more traffic which translates into more page views which translates into more money. Note that the photo is vertical and is a stock image which I purchased because blogging at the professional level costs money too.

The Blogger and The BeastThere are monthly costs for web hosting, tech support, certain plugins, stock photos, high speed internet (which is a high cost if you live out in the country like I do), photo editing software, social media schedulers, email list subscription services, and more. There are equipment costs like a laptop, good camera, tripod, light box, and props and backdrops for photos. There are occasional larger costs such as web design, book covers and formatting, or video production for a course you’re creating.

There is the pressure to churn out new content and for it to be “pinnable” and “shareable”. The pressure to learn and keep up with new social media platforms (Periscope, Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook Live, to name just a few) can distract from other things. There is an enormous list of things to do to promote that new content once it’s been published. It can all take your focus off of why you started blogging in the first place.

There are days when the pressure to bring in enough page views, thereby enough income can become consuming and take the fun out of blogging. Then there’s the jumping through new algorithm hoops, feeling like you’ll never measure up to other bloggers, feeling like you’re not in the inner circle of popular bloggers in a particular niche, feeling like no one is being transformed by what you are writing.  That is the beast of it.

There is however the beauty. I love the opportunities that professional blogging has brought into my life. I love the constant challenge of it as it is continually changing. I love the chance to network with other bloggers and the way that many of them encourage and help each other instead of competing or sabotaging. It’s a beautiful community. I love the emails from readers telling me that something I wrote changed the way they look at things or encouraged them. I love this job more than any I have ever had in my life (other than being a mom). I even enjoy writing the posts that I “have” to write.

I have however recently begun to miss some of the aspects of the way that I used to blog. I miss writing just for the sake of writing and the sense of community that fostered with my readers. I miss the intimacy of sharing when I thought that maybe a few hundred people would be reading it rather than the pressure of deciding just how much to share knowing that potentially millions may read it.

Maybe I just want to tell you that my daughter competed in her first horse show this weekend, the same daughter who didn’t used to be able to go outside and is technically allergic to horses and pretty much everything else and I want to tell you because it amazes me and I feel so blessed. I just want to share that and not because it’s part of a sponsored asthma campaign. I want to tell you about the homeschool track meet today where I was the leader of the 14 year old boys and they were polite and kind and sportsmanly and nothing like society’s stereotype of teen boys. I want to tell you about the books I’m reading and the activities we did that failed or the recipes that tasted awful.

So this blog is going to become a blog again. Yes, I will absolutely still share recipes with pictures that will hopefully continue to improve as my photography does. Yes, I will still share our sensory activities and our science experiments. Yes, I will still optimize most posts for SEO and make the right sized images in most of them. I have worked very hard for three years to build this career and I still have a mortgage to pay!

But, I will also write just to write sometimes or just to share a thought or an idea or a failure I experience. Those posts won’t have the “right” images or the “right” word count or the “right” keywords. They will just be me being me. I don’t know if anyone will read the old-style blog posts, but I’m hoping that some will. I hope that some of my loyal readers will pop in to read while they sip their morning tea or before they go to bed at night and that they will also say “hey” and let me know what’s going on in their lives. I want this to become more of a conversation again, like two old friends chatting while their kids interrupt and make noise in the background, more like my real life.

The Blogger and The Beast