I was able to have three vbacs after an unplanned c-section with my first baby. Some of the challenges in pursuing these vbacs were the same for each pregnancy—2nd, 3rd, and 4th.
This is written out of conversations I have had with women wanting to have vaginal births after unexpected c-sections. It’s not for everyone, and the language likely won’t make much sense to you if you have not experienced what I’m describing.
This is a topic for which I feel deep empathy. I hope that my discussion of caregivers does not offend caregivers reading this. Much of what I describe was subtly implied and my focus here is on the fragility of those hoping to be brave.
Here we go.
Pursuing a vbac takes mustering together as much courage as you can and keeping that courage by your side throughout the pregnancy.
Pursuing a vbac asks you to balance the fragility you feel about your c-section and take it in hand with the hope you feel about a future birth.
It takes educating yourself about the risks which caregivers will be concerned about, and having a sense of what they are going to say before they say it.
Pursuing a vbac means making space to be disappointed when a caregiver may ask you at each appointment—“And…are you still planning to try for a vbac?”
Pursuing a vbac means digging back up the trauma you felt in your first birth, and working through it.
In my case it took acknowledging that this hope was the current deepest hope of my heart, but that it was one I was only just grasping with fragile fingers, because I also somehow believed that my ability to give birth had in fact been sliced from me.
It means going into the required meeting for your “consultation” about a “trial of labor” at a hospital knowing that you may have to disagree when/if they say, “Wouldn’t it be safer to have another c-section?”
All of this is totally worth it.
Here are some things that helped me pursue vbacs:
1. If you have mixed feelings about the care you received in your first birth, consider switching to a new hospital. I would not have undertaken this myself, but the doula I hired for my second birth sensed how hurt and resentful I was about certain elements of my care, and encouraged me to switch to a nearby community hospital.
- Reasons for leaving can be both leaving behind a place of emotional trauma, and pursuing a different type of care, it doesn’t have to be one or the other.
2. Ask for the c-section rate at your hospital. You can check it online, and it is good to ask in person as well. Ask the care providers at the hospital how they feel about their rate, and use it as a discussion tool. This is a good idea for discussion for when you go into your required consultation before the “trial of labor.”
3. Check your personal vbac success rate calculation before you discuss your plan with providers. This will give you a sense of what concerns they may have, like your weight, your previous labor experience, and your age. The facts don’t need to defeat you, but it is good to know them.
4. If you are switching hospitals, visit the previous hospital’s medical records office, and obtain the record of your birth to review with your doula or new caregiver. I went to the medical records office with my little toddler in a stroller, and we sat as the employee printed off a six inch stack of paper and handed it to me. Then I brought that to my new midwife and we talked about it together…
5. Find someone to process your c-section with. This could be a doula. This could be your new midwife. This could be a counselor, or a friend who is a really good listener. Allow yourself to mourn what hurt you about the birth, and then: let it fall away from you. After talking with my midwife, and some of the doulas that I interviewed to hire, I was shocked to find myself felt ready to let my disappointment go and move on.
6. Cleansed of some of the elements of grief and disappointment, now reflect on that birth and think about what you can change for the next time:
- For example, I decided that getting an epidural was not an option for me going into my second birth. I felt that statistically the chances of having another c-section went up dramatically if I got an epidural. So I took that option off the table beforehand, committing to myself that I would not do it. I would sometimes share this commitment and the reasoning behind it with caregivers. They would usually shrug and say something like, “Well, every birth is different.” I felt this was not only statistically misleading, but also it wasn’t helpful to me to hear it, so I did not engage with these comments.
- A decision that followed this decision was that I couldn’t be as overdue with my second baby as I was with my first (two weeks overdue, supposedly).
- So I did two things:
- First, I educated myself about my cycle and learned that I had a 31 day cycle instead of a 28 day cycle. Caregivers typically calculate your due date based on a 28 day cycle, unless you tell them otherwise. Throughout my pregnancy, I had to remind caregivers that I had a 31 day cycle to be sure they were calculating correctly. Sometimes it was correctly recorded, other times it was not.
- As I approached my due date, I asked for any natural inductions that they could offer. That meant making an appointment on my due date for sweeping my membranes.
This commitment is also what encouraged me to hire a doula, though it felt expensive (see #8).
7. While it was wonderful to have had such a happy, big 9lb 10 oz first baby, I decided it would be better for me to do what I could to have a slightly smaller baby the second time around. For my second pregnancy I tried to stop eating as soon as I was full (rather than finishing the dish just because it was in front of me) and I always ate protein first, carbs second.
- In case this is a question in your mind, I typically weigh around 100lbs and I typically gained 30lbs for my pregnancies. I gained 50lbs in my first. The birth weights for my children were as follows, the first birth was a c-section: 9lb 10 oz | 7lbs 11 oz | 8lbs 5 oz | 9lbs 1 ounce.
8. It is definitely worth considering hiring a doula. Yes, it is expensive. Yes, it could be seen as “only” self care. Even though your insurance won’t acknowledge the money saved, the fact is you could very likely go from a $50k birth to a $2k one. If you have great insurance, your doula fee may indeed be equal to what your insurance charges you for your birth. Keep in mind there are doula services offered at reduced rate for certain income levels, but you would want to research these options early in your pregnancy as they book up quickly.
But you won’t have many births in this life, and hiring an doula experienced with vbacs will very likely completely change the birth for you and your partner. Doulas like to interview their potential clients and they want you to interview them as well. So take some time to call and email people, have an interview together, and share your hopes upfront in the conversation.
That’s everything I would tell you, if we sat together and you said you wanted to try for a vbac this time. Know what you want to fight for and feel bold about sharing it, xo.
It’s yet another rainy day here in midsummer Vermont. I hardly visit our garden these days, as all the plants are waiting for their expected hot sunny days before they look happy. But yesterday was hot and sunny and all of us were outside–reading and lolling while the bugs buzzed the sun down. Our favorite ice cream place and local market are still rebuilding after the recent flooding. Many roads are under re-construction, and the work to get back to what was sometimes seems endless. But the you-pick blueberry fields are open, and Lux is planning to make nutella crepes for the family tomorrow. The two older girls are in three weeks of theater camp, they come home tired but humming and dancing every afternoon.
Three recent favorites for you…
a documentary: I really enjoyed The Vast Library of the Female Mind when I got to see it this spring, and now it is available to watch for free on PBS. It is the story of a Ruth Stone, a poet who lived in Vermont. It is tightly edited and full of many wonderful moments: watching her write on the porch with a grandchild sprawled at her feet, her bemusement in picking up a scrap of a poem from the counter, the way her children seem to have inherited a love for the arts from her very fingertips, when she remarks that the mice who ate her poem scraps from her drawers probably said to themselves, “that was a good poem!” The dilapidated old cabin she adores and lives-in serves as contrast her incredibly brilliant mind. And her voice is not to be missed–Vermonters still remember hearing her on the radio waves, reading poems.
a series: I was floored by the beauty of Growing Floret season two (available on many streaming sites, including Max). While Season One seemed to struggle to comprehend Erin and not accidentally make her look crazy (not to mention just getting in her way all the time), this season seemed to really understand her intensity, vision, genius and focus. I loved every episode but in particular the opening one about the aging rose garden connoisseur was amazing.
an audio book: My Knotted-Up Life by Beth Moore. Beth Moore has been writing devotionals since long before I began attending women’s Bible studies, and they are well known to be a lot of work–pages and pages of Scripture study. I’ve never done one myself, but when I saw she had written a memoir I thought I’d give it a try. The audiobook of her reading with her accent going from Tennesseean to Texan to modern is wonderful, the writing is clever and lively, and the story is wild. Blessed surely, but fraught, broken, bound back up and beautiful. I laughed out loud throughout as I listened, driving up down Michigan’s highways in July, particularly at her wry integration of Southern expressions, most of them gathered from her grandmother. (The audiobook was a free download for me on Hoopla, a library app)
And here are two recent posts from my substack that you might enjoy…
Reading the House of Music: reviewing a fascinating and fun book about a family of seven classical musicians. In this review I remark on KMM’s comment that one can never be too obsessed with their children. My way of understanding this remark is to reflect on how often parents of young children feel driven to court other interests and pursuits, while parents of grown children becomes steadily more focused on their offspring. I am curious if you have any thoughts on this–comments here or in the post or my email.
Feeling Like Both the Rose and the Rain: thoughts after a day of reflection on our last school year.
Last week we enjoyed the Mario Bros movie in theaters with the kids. It’s a delightful movie with a simple plot, heroic moments, brave moments, a bad guy that isn’t evil incarnate (how novel!) and no parents die in the first 15 minutes of the film. 8/10 would see it again
It features yet another character voiced by Chris Pratt. He’s everywhere these days! I wanted to learn more about this constant presence so I looked up an interview with him from last year on the Smartless podcast. Mid-interview he mentions he is looking forward to going fishing with his 9yr old son for a week at his ranch in Montana, just the two of them. His plan is that they will fish, and they will watch a movie together every night.
Here’s the list he had planned for them to enjoy together:
Rambo: First Blood
Dumb and Dumber
PeeWee’s Big Adventure
Monty Python and the Holy Grail
So these movies are mostly more mature than what I would line up for a 9yr old. But regardless I loved the planning. I can relate to the urge to show them early too, because there is always that fear that your child will watch without you a special movie that you hoped to share with them—whether at a sleepover, on an airplane, or on a device while passing time on a road trip. I’ve learned from experience that you do need throw a soft lasso around the movies you’re hoping to share, so they can be savored together and not slip into the memory murk of “oh I saw that one already,” before you have the chance.
Chris Pratt’s list and plan reminded me of a recent special memory-movie moment I had with the girls. After a New Year’s week in Florida, I was driving the girls up to Orlando to meet up with their grandparents so they could go to Harry Potter World together. Because of a mixup in scheduling, I had an extra two nights before I needed to get them there. Hunting for something special to do together with these free days, I stumbled onto the existence of Legoland just south of Orlando. School vacation week was wrapping up, so there was last minute availability in the Lego-themed hotel. After debating for a few hours if it would work with one adult and four kids, I bought a package of two days at the park with a two nights stay. The Legoland hotel room fits five people, a very unique trait in hotel rooms. The way they manage this is by having a built in bunk bed with a third trundle below that. They do other family-friendly things like putting tiny Lego kits in the room after housekeeping, offering free family-style breakfast downstairs and maintaining the warmest pool temperature I have ever experienced. After a fun first day at the park, walking over five miles together (we rented a stroller at the entrance for the 3yr old), trying as many rides as we could, we collapsed back at the hotel room. I found a place to deliver pizza and realized the hotel TV had all the Lego movies cued up to watch. We decided to try The Lego Movie. If you’ve seen it, you know what we saw: a hilarious and fun not scary movie that makes you think about life as it is as well as reminds you how much you love Lego. We paused it halfway through to share the pizza on the hotel room floor, not wanting to get in on the bedspread, then curled up together on the queen sized bed to finish it together. Every time I see The Lego Movie for the rest of my life, I’ll remember this experience.
What’s a movie you’ve saved to experience with someone?
It’s slow mud-gravel-snowmelt season, when the roads narrow between the stiff hedges of frozen snow and scattered mud potholes. We very nearly collide with our neighbors around the narrow bends. Once we safely pass each other, we hold up two fingers or a full hand, both a greeting and a salute to a successful driving maneuver.
In that perversely modern way where we plan for distant realities we can barely imagine, it’s also summer camp sign-up season (the extension of it, at least, of course official camp sign-up began crisply in January). So I’m thinking about how parents want new things for their children but they also want the things they had for them. So they want kite sailing sessions and wheel throwing class, but also long bored afternoons when you memorize the wood pattern of the steps out front the porch. We want manners and careful, fair language but also nintendo and pizza nights.
The sinister side of generational inheritance when we pass down our dusty animosities and jealousies. But the vibrant side is when you pull off potlucks and teach them to sing hymns and smoothly shuffle a card deck.
Some of the things I had that I can give my children are unstructured days outside, household jobs, allowance, sleep-in mornings when it doesn’t matter what time you wake up, mosquito bites, sleeping outside in the summer, church on Sunday mornings, lemonade from a frozen canister, squinting in the sun at 4th of July parades, and reading aloud together.
I can’t give them the same chance to tool around on a bicycle, going in circles, letting the handlebars drift to the side, turning the bike as you follow its lead. Our dirt road out front is too hilly and peppered in gravel for that. I can’t give them the constant access to a pool and a hot tub that I had. Instead we troop together to the town pool for an hour or two, and buy a popsicle on the way out, one child insisting she’d stay for another two hours, another begging, near tears, to leave immediately. They won’t be able to bike to their friends’ house whenever they want, the way I did. I hold these small things against myself, wishing they could have all of them. They are able to watch the garden, and stop by for cherry tomato snacks and berries that ripen overnight.
Some other things I want to tell you about this week…
I’m so thankful my friend Nikaela texted me about Rebecca May Johnson’s podcast Dinner Document. I love listening to Rebecca reading through what she calls “recipes and eating notes from the week.” It’s the English accent, it’s the ruminations on household kitchen cooking, its the frequent mention of chips, and the snacks she eats while she’s making dinner, it’s the frank way she braids observations of society with sharing food, it’s the way she mentions where she was sitting while she was eating. Listen on her substack site or any podcast site.
DesignMom posted some tremendously insightful thoughts about oversharing, over-commenting and over-caring in the fraught waters of families that share on social media.
I made this chicken and feta-yogurt dressed salad and found it to be delicious and simple. It even managed to make winter tomatoes taste good! I liked the way the feta just disappeared into yogurt dressing. (gifted article, you should not get a paywall.)
The kids and I watched this free PBS documentary My Garden of a Thousand Bees. I learned all sorts of things I hadn’t known, and I felt it was such a refreshing way to do a nature documentary.
In her Mother’s newsletter Zinzi mentioned micro-seasons (“What new thing does a particular micro-season hold?”) and I wondered what composed midwinter for me. On the surface it feels exactly like a winter that rolls on interminably, with the darkness by dinner always, and the brusque of cold tight shoulders when walking to the car, always. But upon closer examination…yesterday’s walk outside, the fluffy snow had been blown off and left slippery, incredibly iridescent snow. And behind the house, the thick icicles hung out of our reach, looking like manmade glass waterfalls. This week I brought my handwritten order of six seeds to the co-op, where it will join many other orders and be bundled off to Maine. 20% discount and free shipping—that’s like two free seed packets right there. How often we listen to Ben Cosgrove’s The Trouble with Wilderness right now. How next week Vermont’s master gardener community will begin screening movies online at 10am on Fridays and we’ll hop on zoom and see each other’s dimly lit kitchen shelves in the background, and watch something that will remind us summer is coming and feel transcendent in that way. (The series begins with My Garden of a Thousand Bees, which is free for anyone to watch on PBS.) We’ve been sleeping deeply as a household—finally got through an odd stretch of someone always waking up at night and calling out—and despite the bright sunlight through the window in the morning first thing, I feel tugged back into winter’s sleep.
Right now the most curious blips of getting together pop-up—a drink at the nearly empty pizza place, late night zooms with old friends from my kitchen–staying up too late and drinking together from afar, a quick exchange of favorite recent books over lunch on the floor with our kids at the homeschool co-op. All of them carnations on a rosary beaded with more isolated days.
One of the things I have to note that I adore about this stage of winter is how everyone knows where their winter things are. They know how to get dressed for outside, and they know what they like to wear, and everything, at long last, fits!
I opened last year’s planner, just looking for a spot to make some notes to myself for the upcoming week, and realized I had done no less than three of the exact same things this week last year: made lasagna, visited the dentist, saw a friend to discuss poetry. Had I not looked, I would have seen my week composed by a random assemblage of “and so it was.” But instead I should see them all practically as traditions, given that this is the second year I’m doing them. Feels strange, but also comforting. In my emails, google will suggest text to finish sentences. If I type, “sounds” it suggests in faint, hopeful gray: “good.” While I don’t want my google calendar to do the same thing, I’m tempted by the idea of more cyclical planning in the micro sense. Not just holidays marked on the dot, but also observations, visits, check-ins and ideas allotted times of year, weeks, days.
This week I made a chili for dinner using ground venison from last year and for flavor, italian sausage. I used Melissa Clark’s recipe from her Dinner cookbook, Black Bean and Pork chili, and I didn’t have the fresh sage, but everything else was simple. The ground venison broke down into textured bites and the sausage stayed together in delicious lumps. There is something special about the way tomatoes from a can of diced tomatoes will hold their shape as soft red monopoly houses. We had it for dinner the first night with grated cheddar cheese, tortilla chips, and sour cream on the table. We also had leftovers of Ina’s sour cream cornbread, a slice of which you can place in the middle of your bowl and drape the chili around the edge, like a moat around a safe castle. The second night I had extra black beans which I kept separate, because of course some would rather have a pool of dark black beans instead of a bowl of complicated multi-textured chili. I didn’t know who would prefer which though, and I was curious to see that nearly half of us chose plain black beans over the chili. This worked out perfectly as we had enough for four bowls of chili and two bowls of black beans. Small economies like this are not the most important thing, but I end up keeping a tally of them in my brain anyway. (Wednesday Chef has the recipe written up.)
I can’t decide if the youngest is a greater eater because we never notice what she eats, or if in fact she is not a good eater and I just haven’t realized it because I never notice how much she actually eats. She doesn’t complain about the food and I don’t ask her if she likes it. Sometimes while she is telling us something–at dinner this is usually asking to “do the forms” by which she means “share your rose and thorns,”–I idly notice that there is still plenty of food on her plate. But then my attention immediately flits to something else and I move on. Somehow she became the 3yr old who asks if “they have salad?” at the airport, and for “the black sprinkles” of everything bagel seasoning on her avocado toast, and wants to know what I’m eating and if she can try it.
Earlier in the week I made a really rich but not particularly flavorful chicken stock and used it to make tomato soup. I asked the 11yr old to slice onions for me while making the soup. After that she could go back to her reading, but I said, “Any interest in opening the tomato cans for me?” And she said, “Yes I love opening cans.” Which was something I didn’t know.
I always make the same tomato soup, a very simple version from Martha Stewart originally I think, with sliced onions and garlic cooked down in butter for awhile, whole tomatoes added and cooked for a bit, and then about equal parts chicken stock added and the whole thing blended until the red color is lighter, more golden, from the onions. Unfortunately most of the children did not want the tomato soup (which I could swear on my life they loved this past fall), they wanted the chicken stock on its own, the supply of which had been greatly reduced, indivisibly.
We did end up going outside every morning after breakfast every day since I last wrote, and it has been remarkable. It has involved getting everyone out of bed earlier than we are accustomed to (around 7:30) and coming down for a briefer breakfast. There have been statements, made from pillows, such as “Not a walk today I hope?” and, “Well I don’t think I’ll come.” But after walking out the door, we’ve found new things to notice every morning. It’s been in the twenties and thick sheets of ice have formed on all flat surfaces, but once outside we quickly realize that it’s not as grey/cold/dark/ as it looked from the inside. All of us feel emboldened by this success so far.
Here are 23 very particular ideas of mine for this year. It is worth writing these down because, as Gretchen Rubin observes, studies show that we are far more likely to accomplish or be satisfied with our goals if we write them down.
Here we go…
1. Getting outside first thing in the morning with the kids. If there is a time of life we can do this, it is would be when homeschooling! Getting outside first thing has never been a priority for us, but admittedly it did happen more easily when we lived in a tiny apartment. This year, it’s a priority. Check out these these fun free downloadable trackers for hours spent outside together (I’m not going to use these, just do it on a lets-go day-by-day basis).
2. Drinking more mugs of chai tea in the winter months. I love a spicy chai tea, with its light shoosh of caffeine and warm simmered milk. There are so many chai options in the world, always room to enjoy another! Ones I’ve enjoyed in the past are dona, Bellocq, and Chai Wallahs of Maine.
3. Keep knitting with the kids. In December Lux and I started knitting next to each other on the couch, and then suddenly Joan and Alma were also interested in learning. It felt easy and fun (as opposed to two years ago when we tried and it just didn’t work). The most relieving part about it is that we had absolutely no ambitions for how good or bad it was going to look. I hope we can do some more of this during the inside months.
4. Get this book and learn more about Classical music.
5. Settle on cycle of ten dinner meals that we all love and get the kids integrated in helping me make them on a daily basis.
6. Settle on simple and clear lunch options and daily snack options so the kids can start making their own lunches and allowed snacks without asking me. This one is inspired by Jodi Mockabee’s book (which I did get for Christmas!).
7. Reengage with my sense of style. As part of my general re-emergence from early motherhood (which I feel ended March 2022 when Esme turned three) I feel that I’m sort of grasping at my personal style these days. I ruthlessly paired my closet down to tops that could get stretched and stained, and I haven’t had more than a few pieces of clothing that I actually love for a long time. I’m ready to spend some time (and ahh…money) figuring this out again. I may try a subscription service like Nuuly for a few months, just to experiment.
8. Learn to make homemade yogurt. At last we have a great reliable source of raw milk! This will be fun to try.
9. We had a better garden last year than we had the year before, and now I have even more ambitions for this year. I’ve dialed-in some vegetables that we love that grow well, and am ready to try for our biggest harvest yet.
10. Another gardening goal: plant a sage section. Sage grows easily around here and wouldn’t it be fun to have enough sage to lop a bundle of it off and make your own smudging sticks?
11. Work on my teeth. Sigh…I’ve been putting this one off for awhile. It’s going to be expensive and slow and probably painful at times; and it would be just so easy to ignore! But I have two fake teeth and bridges that are a little over twenty years old and need replacing. And one central tooth that died awhile ago and is steadily turning permanently yellow. I have gum recession, and I need braces to ever-so-slightly realign my upper jaw. It was really easy to delay when I was pregnant/breastfeeding but the time has come!
12. Thank Joe consistently for all the things he does for our family. Some of them are how he always has new songs for us to listen to, how he takes project ideas and turns them into actual things in the world, how he helps me clean the whole house on days when it just has to happen, and how he patiently helps the kids do things I hate like measure stuff and cut straight lines. I also want to make a point to say these things in front of the kids.
13. Work on my book! I’ve been going through all my private writing from the last ten years, and I am teasing it into a concrete piece. I have a goal of trying to send out small selections to writer friends for their perspective and critiques. I feel squeamish about committing to a timeline, but a goal of sending one email with attachments once a month seems doable, I think?
14. Use a sticker chart to encourage my writing just like Catherine Newman does.
15. Make some plans with Joe for a dream kitchen renovation. We have lots of ideas for improving our kitchen, but an actual plan feels a long way away (to say nothing of a mood board). Just want to start pulling together concrete ideas. I’m convinced there is no more important room in the house.
16. Visit my friend Ashleigh in Mississippi.
17. Make a mood board for a writer’s cabin in the back field (and I could imagine more than one out there, if any daughters eventually wanted one!).
18. Savor my babies. I have an oldest who loves to talk and celebrates the moments of conversation we have alone together. I have two middle kids who pop up to give thanks and hugs for things that they are excited about. And a youngest who loves to snuggle, giggle and read together. It’s a noise overload every day and the moments are often a blur, but such a stage of life!
19. I must quote at least two from this brilliant collection of goals by publiclibraryquilts: “We are loving our wholesome hobbies. We are planning lots of books we might never write & that’s just fine.”
20. Get away with Joe for two weekends. Could be a long way away like an island off the coast of South America, could be close like a hotel just around the corner.
21. Memorize more Bible verses as a family. Believe it or not, one of the children suggested this one to me!
22. Find 6-12 clean wines (ideally biodynamic) that don’t bother me with headaches or heavy hangovers. You can subscribe to services that will do this for you, but I know my local grocery has good affordable options, I just need to figure out which ones they are, and then only buy those ones.
23. Every month, try to make granola, Heidi’s cashews, and sprouted almonds. All delicious and nice to have around.
pretty fresh-start-feeling art by Rebekka Seale
I spent an evening chasing the titles of the books I read this year. I thought there were a myriad of apps tracking this for me, in addition to my library accounts, and perhaps Amazon kindle had my digital rentals as well? But: no. None of them kept up! What are internet cookies* for anyway?
Anyway, I went about looking for signs to recall what I was reading—email mentions, texts, photos, Instagram stories. I wondered if I had read 30 books this year (nearly, somewhere around 28). Then I wrote them all down on a piece of paper in a journal. Foolproof!
Here are some of the books that passed the attention gauntlet, and won their place in my hands and flighty mind for the duration of their pages. They were all great, or I wouldn’t have finished them.
Going to take my Marie Kondo moment and say: Thank you books, for being part of my year.
More than a few peculiar memoirs this year, mostly because I fell completely for Anne Truitt’s four books that are edited journals about her life as a sculptor and doting mother. I loved the way she cataloged work as a sculptor alongside housekeeping, being a single mother, and life. I loved learning from how incredibly hard she worked at the work, even when her art was not selling or getting critical reception. I loved entering her mind at different ages and stages in her life, from her 40s. These books inspired me in my own writing, because the way she wove daily life together with meta-aspirations is exactly the type of writing I love to do.
For those of us who grew up hearing Elisabeth Elliot on the radio, hearing about she and Jim from church mission culture, or simply reading her books, the book Becoming Elisabeth Elliot was an incredible read. Through extensive journal excerpts and letters (so many letters!) the author documents how Elisabeth became one of history’s extraordinary persons, through her devotion to God and the moral framework she believed in.
The Candy House is on a lot of the best books of this year lists. It’s a surprisingly easy read about a future where people upload their memories to connect with one another, written from nine (maybe? I lost count) different intertwining perspectives. Like another of her books, A Visit from the Good Squad, it’s written with this light spirit and is somehow pleasant and funny while tussling with this dark sci-fi premise. Note you do not need to read Visit from the Goon Squad first.
Similarly light yet deeply thoughtful, the sci-fi books Station 11 and Sea of Tranquility were two of my favorite books of the year. If you read Station 11, you then get to watch the hbo series which has amazing costumes and fascinating twists on the original plot.
In April Joe and I went to the warm white sands of Canouan island for my older brother’s epic 40th birthday party. The hotel, Soho House, felt like a gorgeous open air home run by an invisible benevolent being, and the lobby had small piles of chic worn beach reads for the taking. There I found The Wreckage of My Presence a hilarious memoir about mothers, being a mother, and love in general. So happy and SO sad at times. Don’t want to give too much away, but it’s an amazing read, terry clothed beach lounger not required.
I picked up Lessons by Gisele Buchen at a summer used book tent sale, the type with cardboard boxes lining tables setup over lawns and under tents. Somehow I finished it just as she and Tom Brady divorced. Sad timing! I enjoyed reading about her modeling career and all her hard work inspired by her parents’ faith in her. If you read the book you learn she values family more than anything, so I can only imagine how heartbreaking that divorce was.
At one point this year I did a send-a-book chain on Instagram. I have no idea how it worked out for the 40ish people who signed up but I did my best to maximize the system by mixing up the names instead of putting them into one-chain pyramid with me at the top (as most chain letters are structured). Through that I received 8 books from strangers and really enjoyed 3 of them: Panchinko, Untamed, and The Color of Water. I loved The Color of Water, it was astounding how his mother had shaped their family, and how much he admired her, while he was also honest about how difficult his childhood was.
In January we knew we were going to Paris and Croatia in the early summer, and some reading was influenced by that. Joe and I both loved An Editor’s Burial which is a collection of stories that inspired Wes Anderson while he was writing The French Dispatch screenplay. Arguably his inspiration is better than the actual film; An Editor’s Burial is filled with gems. For Croatia I read Balkan Ghosts, a fascinating collection of essays about the different Balkan countries. And Lea Ypi’s Freedom, about growing up in Albania (which bizarrely is directly across a slim sea from Italy, but seems a world apart).
First book of last year was a re-read that I could read every year for the rest of my life: Circe by Madeline Miller. Last book of 2022 was Essential Labor: Mothering as Social Change an absolutely beautiful and thoughtful book about the kinds of care we have around us, and what we offer one another. I would recommend it to anyone, mother or not.
*Speaking of cookies, I couldn’t decide how to best hyperlink these books. Most of them are linked to Bookshop, which has a nice interface and is a place you could buy the book. But realistically what you need, as a reader, is a hyperlink where you could add these to a to-read list and get them from your library. I’m not sure where you should do that. I think goodreads is stuck in the mud–despite knowing everything I’ve read for years now, they do not give me any good recommendations. So I’m on the hunt for a new book tracking app–I think the space is realllly ready for a cute enthusiastic app that makes you want to read and helps you keep nice lists! Right now I am trying out the app Storygraph.
I am enjoying watching Jamie Beck publish her book of photography and reflections, An American in Provence. Jamie has always been a vivacious spirit on instagram, honest, encouraging, and clearly very driven by creativity. A reviewer was quoted as saying Jamie’s book makes her the “Peter Mayle of today,” a crisp comparison. Mayle’s stories about France were edited for entertainment value and were somewhat cliche, but their spirit of fondness and optimism was at the heart of his success. Jamie’s photographs are posed and edited and firmly romantic, yes, but she seems to nudge the reader into relishing the beauty as much as she does.
(The book designer hand wrote the manuscript to use in her designs–a pile of handwritten pages never fails to catch the eye.)
Jamie shared her ambition to publish a book with her Provence work on her blog back in 2018 on a list of resolutions. It’s a long list of goals and ambitions and it’s really fun to see, four years later, her celebrating this accomplishment. There are many things on that list she likely didn’t accomplish that year, or the year after, or ever. But she bravely wrote them down anyway and even shared them to encourage other creatives in their work.
This is just a post to celebrate all this.
Below: I doubt photographs like this are in her Provence book, but this is a great example of the sumptuous surreality that Jamie often does in her work. Playful, always lovely, somewhat startling.
In a video discussing the images from the James Webb telescope, Bill Nye remarks “My grandparents did not know there was relativity. It wouldn’t surprise me if in 10 or 30 years there is some discovery about dark energy and how these things interact that will change everything.”
One of the central essences of my being right now is the many selves, and the fact that all the selves are not entirely transparent with one another. As a stay-at-home mom it is paramount that I pick projects carefully, though they vie so eagerly for my attention, promising just a bit of work to complete them and the resulting feeling of accomplishment that can sometimes feel so far away when raising up little humans. Overcommitting would have huge consequences to our household—the food gathering with attempted economy, the food preparing with attempted taste, the procurement of needed clothing, the care and keeping of said clothing, the physical engagement of reassuring little bodies as they go about their growth, tracking health and wellness and adaptions to schedules and commitments as needed, noting talents and interests and finding ways to foster them that are affordable and fair to the rest of the family, the constant attempted organization:”a place for everything and everything in its place,” following up on bills, insurance, appointments, registrations, the various gifts, notes and acknowledgements needed to remain in good standing in one’s community, and if one wants to travel—the tickets, reservations, visas, itineraries…
But I need to commit to some things as my brain will fret if left to only engagement within the household, or worse, household plus a cursory engagement with national news learned via headlines and editorials. So I have these other whole self interests. My blog. Keeping up instagram documentation here and there. Reading a lot. Being involved in leadership at my church and my local library reminds me I am indeed interested in how organizations grow and change. Helping as much as I can at our homeschool weekly co-op. And then taking on projects for myself, like trying to write better, and more often. Physically tiring workouts three or four times a week, in thirty minute increments. Reading books from spiritual thinkers in attempt to keep my mind open to the work of God. Learning to garden. Trying new recipes.
When I say the selves are not entirely transparent with one another, I mean that I don’t try to explain all of my interests to anyone from one of these parties mentioned above. Sometimes I catch myself explaining something I don’t really want to explain, a fraction of the pie that I’d rather leave under the darkened tin for now, a bit of dark energy related in some way to the whole movement, but undefined for now. I don’t think all of this is unique to my spirit. I think we are intuitively woven to have many selves. I think we resist the very suggestion of being a replicable cog. Hence the exuberant human spirit of rebellion: I will not be what you expect. But, I will be much of what you love.
Seasonal psa: As of September 26, it is Poetry Unbound season. Listen in at your next podcast opportunity.