Five-Minute Friday: Purpose

(Note: “Five-Minute Friday” is an activity I participate in based on Kate Motaung’s blog. Each week, Kate posts a one-word prompt, and people write for five minutes straight, free-write style with no editing and no over-thinking. I admit I did this one untimed, but I did not edit or over-think.)

Today, I benefited from divine intervention, and I am so grateful.

Rewind a handful of years to when a wonderful therapist told me I ought to check out Brené Brown’s work because I “might find it helpful.” I googled her TedTalk and was crying at my office desk halfway through.

Brown is a lot like me – she’s an academic, a Ph.D. who likes data and frameworks and intellectual understanding, and she explained the root of the majority of my “issues” in one TedTalk when she explained her own breakdown “spiritual awakening.”

Since watching that TedTalk, I have read all of her books and taken some of her online classes. I recommend her work to people all the time, particularly people like me who are recovering perfectionists. Her work has changed my life, and I don’t say that casually. (If you think I am a Type A, over-achieving perfectionist NOW, you have no idea how much worse all that was pre-Brené.)

So imagine my delight when I saw her name listed as one of the keynote speakers at this year’s NAIS (National Association of Independent Schools) Conference, which I knew I would be attending as part of my job. (Sir Ken Robinson and Susan Cain were two of the other keynote speakers, so NAIS really went all out this year.)

I scanned the program to see if she would be signing books after her talk, and it seemed unlikely. I even “asked her people” on her FB page in case the program had an error (no response). As I was heading to the airport, I grabbed her latest book, and my favorite, Rising Strong, from my shelf just in case.

This conference was good, but I did not enjoy it as much as last year’s. I had some work deadlines I had to meet that coincided with this trip, so I was on my laptop in between sessions and working well past what should have been my bedtime. My plans to get it all done by dinner last night so I could be rested and truly enjoy Brené’s talk today went out the window when I was still working on a presentation at 1:30 this morning (another story for another time).

Sir Ken’s talk this morning perked me up a bit, but I was utterly exhausted by lunch.

Readers, I committed a cardinal conference sin, which I confess to you now – I skipped a session I had planned on attending so I could take a nap. I have never done this before in my history of conference-going.

Brené was scheduled to speak in the ballroom at 3:15, so I headed back to the conference by 2, hoping to beat the crowd and get a front row seat. The side entrance I had planned to take to the ballroom was closed off, so I asked a staff member how to get back to the main one. She took me through the bowels of the convention center while telling me she is a third grade Baltimore teacher on strike given budget cuts, and as she is a relatively new hire, she expects to lose her job. She told her husband it might be time to move.

As she opened some secret door to let me in, I realized the doors were all closed for a reason – the room was not scheduled to open until 2:45. My escort either did not know the rules or saw me as an exception to them, and as a gesture of thanks, I gave her my card and told her if she wanted to move to Cincinnati, let me know. (I have never done this before, either – a day of firsts!)

The front row was reserved for the conference planners, whom I respect (see earlier note about going all out this year), so I took a center aisle seat 2 rows back. With time to kill, I got out my laptop and continued working on the project that kept me up till past 1:30 when I heard a familiar voice.

Brené’s Texas twang.

She had graced the stage for a sound check.

Brené’s work is about courage and vulnerability and showing up. I proved I’ve read and internalized her message by grabbing Rising Strong and a pen from my bag, tossing my laptop aside, along with my wallet and hotel key, and marching up to the stage. She waved me up the stairs.

“I’m being brave,” I said. “Would you sign this please?”20170303_181356

“Absolutely.” She glanced at my nametag.

There’s some monologue here that I can’t quite recall. I’m pretty sure I told her I loved her and that I was so excited to be having this moment. I realized I had my cell phone in my jacket pocket and asked for a picture, for which she graciously posed.

Of course, her talk was amazing and was the shot in the arm I needed to remind myself of the principles she’s written, which need to be practiced regularly, but, you know, I’ve been “busy.”

One of those practices is gratitude.

So, I am thankful that I put my guilt aside and listened to my body and took that nap. Had I not done so, I wouldn’t have arrived back when I did.

I am thankful I20170303_143450 met the staff member who ushered me in when I shouldn’t have been there.

I am thankful I packed my book and that Brené signed it.

I am thankful no one stole my laptop or wallet or hotel key as I was fangirling.

And that staff member’s story is not lost on me; I am thankful for a job that sends me to conferences so I can have divine experiences like these.


Words I’m From: Books of 2016

As I wrote in last year’s New Year’s blog, in addition to 16 books, my goal for 2016 was to read more female authors and more meaningful fiction. I succeeded, and 2016 goes down as my best reading year yet, especially since I squeezed in 34 books, thanks in part to discovering that I could read my Kindle while on the treadmill (in font larger than I want to admit), thus combining my reading and my marathon training.

NOTE: It helps to know a person’s preferences when considering their opinions. If you are not already aware of my proclivities, you should know I am drawn to nonfiction on topics about which I am ignorant. I appreciate research and good journalism. I have a dead parent, so themes of grief and loss resonate with me, as do characters who are quirky, strong, and brilliant. 

This year, I have four recommendation levels – Skip, Skim, Read, and Must Read. For more info on each book, click the book, which links to Amazon. Here’s my list and brief appraisals, in order of completion:


Book One: One Person/Multiple Careers

I picked this up after it was referenced in Cain’s Quiet. The concept of “the slash effect” is helpful and inspired the title of my blog site. But the “Getting to Slash” highlighted tips at the end of each chapter is all you need.

SKIM (for chapter highlights)

better-than-beforeBook 2: Better Than Before

So, what Rubin learned about making and breaking habits is that everyone has their own motivations and way of doing so. There are some “hmmm, that’s interesting” moments, but not enough of them that I would recommend the book.


zBook 3: Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald

If you loved The Paris Wife, you will also love this. Though historical fiction, not a true (auto)biography, I very much enjoyed getting a glimpse of Zelda’s perspective compared to how she has been portrayed in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s biographies.


mademoisellechanelBook 4: Mademoiselle Chanel

What a treat! As someone who knew nothing about Chanel, I found this incredibly entertaining and informative (for historical fiction).


daringgreatlyBook 5: Daring Greatly

Excellent, but it’s worth noting that I love all of Brené Brown’s work. It is helpful to be familiar with her work before reading this one, but not necessary.

READ (MUST READ if you like her stuff)

thegiftoffailureBook 6: The Gift of Failure

This should be required reading for all parents, and teachers ought to read it, too. In fact, I’d like to give it out with our school’s admissions letters. Unlike most parenting books, this one contains anecdotes and applications for ALL ages (babies to college).

MUST READ (if you are a parent or teacher)

theonethingBook 7: The One Thing

This book offers a thought-provoking perspective on time management, focus, and prioritizing.




Book 8: Rising Strong

This is Brown’s best book yet, and I thought the others were excellent. I love how she gets a bit more personal in this one to illustrate some of her concepts. I cannot wait to hear her speak at NAIS this March.


thenestBook 9: The Nest

Eh. Easy and enjoyable by-the-pool read, but I wasn’t crazy about the rushed non-ending, and it didn’t have any lasting take-aways.



thestorytellinganimalBook 10: The Storytelling Animal

Wonderfully insightful and entertaining! If you are worried about the decline of reading and/or the rise of video games and technology, read this. It will restore your faith in humanity and storytellers’ ability to shape it.

MUST READ (especially if you are a reader…which you must be if you’ve read this far)

amancalledoveBook 11: A Man Called Ove

Delightful. I would put it on par in tone, style, and themes with Matthew Quick’s The Good Luck of Right Now, which is high praise.




Book 12: We’re All Damaged

Reviewers compared Norman to Jonathan Tropper, who I very much enjoy reading, and after finishing this, I agree. It’s a fast read and extremely entertaining, but there wasn’t anything new to add to the “30-something guy picking up the pieces of his life” genre.


visitingfriendsBook 13: After Visiting Friends

It took me a chapter to get used to Hainey’s style – fragments, seemingly unconnected recollections, etc., but it was a satisfying read along the style of Rosman’s If You Knew Suzy. An adult child uses his/her journalistic skills to research the life – and in this case – death – of a parent who died too young.


afightingchanceBook 14: A Fighting Chance

Listened to it in audiobook form, read by Warren herself, which was a treat. I knew little about the legalities behind the bank bailout and the mortgage crisis, so that information was eye-opening.

READ (and a MUST READ if you know nothing about the bank bailout or Warren’s journey to the Senate)

theireyeswerewatchinggodBook 15: Their Eyes Were Watching God

I was assigned to read it in high school and, if I did, I do not remember it. I certainly appreciated it as an adult more than I would have in high school. I understand why it’s a classic.


sexobjectBook 16: Sex Object: A Memoir

A page-turner, and a must-read for feminists everywhere, girls/women everywhere, and the men who love them. The somewhat casual references to drugs didn’t resonate with me, but so many of her gendered experiences and observations did, unfortunately.

READ (and a MUST READ for those noted in above description)

mylifeontheroadBook 17: My Life on the Road

Coincidentally, I read this during and after a diversity leader training week, and so many of the themes of the week were tied together through Steinem’s stories. From her take on taxi drivers and truckers to the 2008 election and the lessons she has learned from Native American friends, Steinem is insightful and makes a convincing case for going out on the road to hear people’s stories. Ultimately, too, it is a love letter of sorts to her father.


alittlelifeBook 18: A Little Life

This beautiful, not-so-little book reminded me that, yes, I DO like fiction. This literary feat is heart-breaking and disturbing and hopeful, and I am glad I invested the time to read it. I had nothing in common with any of the characters, but I defy anyone not to have empathy for them.

MUST READ (but be aware this takes you to dark, twisty places…this ain’t no “feel good” book)

selloutBook 19: The Sellout

As a White person, I liked how uncomfortable its satire of U.S.’s racial history and current structure made me. I am not sure I fully appreciated its humor, but I can see why it’s so well-reviewed.


betweentheworldandmeBook 20: Between the World and Me

Powerful. I am so glad I read this in preparation for the lecture I heard Coates give “On Race in America.”


thevegetarianBook 21: The Vegetarian

I read this upon a “book hookup” my library offers (similar to Netflix’s “because you watched this, you might like this”). I never would have picked it up otherwise. Reviewers have likened it to Kafka and commented on the mystical qualities, and it ended up making many “Best of 2016” lists. I am still thinking about it and scratching my head, aware it would probably take a second read to pick up all the nuances.


thegirlwiththelowerbacktattooBook 22: The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo

If you like Amy Schumer, this is worth the read, but do not expect many laugh-out-loud moments. There is much more substance – and pain – here than I was expecting.

READ (if you like Schumer; SKIP if you don’t)

einsteinsdreamsBook 23: Einstein’s Dreams

The short scenarios – fictional accounts of Einstein’s dreams – are philosophical, poetic, and sometimes metaphorical. But I didn’t LOVE it.



pleaselookaftermomBook 24: Please Look After Mother

I picked this up after reading an article in Time Magazine about women who recommend books to people based on their life situations (kind of like real-life versions of the bookseller in The Little Paris Book Shop). As I am trying to read books outside of my normal go-to, this fit the bill (i.e., I have read embarrassingly few Asian writers, but this is the second Korean title I’ve read this year!). I very much enjoyed the second person narration and different perspectives.


the5dysfunctionsBook 25: The Five Dysfunctions of a Team

A speaker at a conference session on school leadership recommended this book. I had been noticing differences between my prior team to my current one but wasn’t quite able to figure out the “it.” This fable and its characters helped label some of my observations – and also show me where I fit into the dynamic.

SKIP (unless the title applies to you, in which case, SKIM)

deptofspeculationBook 26: Dept. of Speculation

Read it on a recommendation from a Buzzfeed site that listed the “49 Most Underrated Books,” and I would agree. Its style is unlike anything I’ve read, and it took me a little bit to determine that I liked it, but what a compelling read.


everything-i-never-told-youBook 27: Everything I Never Told You

Many people have mentioned this book over the last year, and I didn’t think much of it until I saw it on my school librarian’s shelf. She had a spare copy and gave it to me. I read it in two days while waiting for a public library book to reach me. Gripping. Love the multicultural/identity aspects, the gender aspects – there’s a lot embedded in these 292 pages.


anotherdayinthedeathBook 28: Another Day in the Death of America

Interesting premise – pick a random day and chronicle all the gun-related deaths of America’s youth. Younge weaves in his subtle (and, at times, not so subtle) commentary and research from outside sources to present a scary reality.


thesecretsofhappyfamiliesBook 29: The Secrets of Happy Families

Just as Feiler says in the opening, he presents tons of ideas, and not all will appeal to you, but there are many from which to choose. The book reminded me of ideas I had forgotten, taught me a few new tricks, and took me on a trip down memory lane a bit with what I remember from my own upbringing.

SKIM/READ (Apparently, he has a Ted Talk on the same topic. I haven’t watched it, but that might be a good alternative to reading. If you only read one parenting book, make it The Gift of Failure.)

thelifeweburyBook 30: The Life We Bury

I loved the characters and their stories, and the overall lesson that we need to hear people’s stories to develop connection and empathy. I did not love the over-the-top, almost movie-esque ending…but that said, it would make for a great movie!

READ (If you liked Everything I Never Told You, you will like this.)

laroseBook 31: LaRose

This title was on a couple of the “Best of 2016” lists, so why not? I do not know as much as I should about Native American culture, so I appreciated that theme throughout.


whenbreathbecomesairBook 32: When Breath Becomes Air

I have read many great books this year, but this one might take the cake. I love a book that combines science, literature, faith, family, poetry… It’s an engrossing read that is deceptively simple but so thought-provoking. It’s the only book I read this year to make me cry. And I’m not a crier.


themothersBook 33: The Mothers

Fabulous read. I particularly appreciated the viewpoint of the boy/man post-abortion and the long-lasting effects this secret had on the characters.


thegirlsBook 34: The Girls

I started this and then put it down for another title, less than enthralled. My return confirmed my initial judgment. I do not understand why this book is on all the “Best of 2016” lists.

SKIP (Like don’t even give it a second thought)

*   *   *

Women Authors: 21/34 (excellent!)

Works of Fiction: 18/34 (okay, this is slightly more than half, which isn’t great, but given my original goal was just 16 books, and I ended up reading 18 works of fiction, I am calling it a win!)

My goal for 2017 is to read at least 34 books like I did this year, but I am freeing myself of any other particular constraints. I always welcome suggestions (have already finished All the Single Ladies and am into Commonwealth now).

Happy reading!



Five-Minute Friday: Heal

(Note: “Five-Minute Friday” is an activity I participate in based on Kate Motaung’s blog, linked at the bottom of the page. Each week, Kate posts a one-word prompt, and people write for five minutes straight, free-write style with no editing and no over-thinking.)

The cover story of Time magazine’s most recent issue focuses on the power of exercise, more specifically exercise as medicine and its power to heal. The story starts with an experiment on mice that had a genetic disorder that causes them to age prematurely. The scientists let half be sedentary and the other half exercise. After a period of time, the sedentary group of mice showed the effects of their disease, but the same diseased mice that exercised appeared not physically different than mice that didn’t have the disorder. Exercise apparently stalled the effects.

This revelation can hardly be called one since it echoes what Hippocrates and others from centuries ago have long argued: with diet and exercise, we can heal ourselves. But, thanks, Time, for the reminder.

My husband and I are training for the Chicago Marathon…again. This will be the third year in row we will have run it, and I am happy to say this is my best training season yet. The last two years, I had aches and injuries – tendonitis here, tendonitis there, a wonky knee here, an angry foot there. But last week, we successfully ran 20 miles, and I have never done that consecutively in training. Our mid-week runs have been speed workouts on our country club’s treadmill, mainly to avoid the ridiculous heat and humidity that Cincinnati can’t seem to shake, and I think these have contributed to our successful season.

20 miles on a Sunday is excessive, I admit, and my preferred leisure run post-marathon is probably 5 miles, maybe an occasional 8 for a challenge. But I have long since relied on running to cure what ails me. I don’t always get the benefit of a runner’s high – in fact, I can probably count the times on one hand, and I have years of running behind me – but I have yet to find a comparable activity to achieve the mental clarity and sense of accomplishment running gives me.