This Tender Land: A Review

This Tender Land by William Kent Krueger
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I read this book as part of the Modern Mrs. Darcy book club.  I really appreciate this book club because they introduce books that I would have never sought out on my own.  This book was no different.  They say if you enjoyed Where The Crawdads Sing then you would enjoy this book, but I haven’t read that book either.  Regardless, I give this book 4 stars.

Odie and Albert’s parents were dead, and since the orphanage was too full, they found themselves at a school in Minnesota whose primary purpose was to provide education to Native American children.  It takes place in the 1930s during the Great Depression.  Odie has struggled at this school and had been on the receiving end of a lot of abuse.

One night, there is a murder at the school, which forces Odie, Albert, their friend Mose, and a little girl named Emmy to escape from the school in a kayak down the river, headed towards the Mississippi River and St. Louis to hopefully find an aunt that might take them in.  Along the way, they meet several different characters that represented the reality for people in that era.  It is almost set up like the Odyssey with a little bit of Huck Finn thrown in. 

It took me a bit to really get into it.  But once I was invested in the characters, I was hooked.  It explored the questions of faith and trust, both in yourself and in others.  Also, there is a bit of magic in the series that could be explained or not, but considering the narrator is actually a storyteller, known for his ability to tell a good story, there are things that may be exaggerated.  However, if you read this book like a float down the river, it is worth it just for the ride.

There is profanity.  The sexual content was implied (there is a brothel in the story, but since this is told from a young boy’s perspective and he is not allowed to be a part of that world, there is little described).  There is also violent content, all still told from Odie’s perspective, so some of it isn’t quite as reliable.  He tends to blame himself for things that he was responsible for, so it can be a little unsure.

The book is excellent, especially if you enjoy a good epic adventure.  There were plot twists I didn’t expect because the misdirection is really well done.  I wasn’t even thinking about the possibilities of those twists and turns until they were already there.  Really good read!

June: What I Watched

Because of everything that has been going on lately, I wanted to seek out my own education of history in this country that I might not have learned in school.  So, in addition to posts and articles, I watched a series of documentaries and movies that I want to share with you today. I will include whether the film had profanity, sexual content, and violent content for trigger warning purposes, as well as for parents who are trying to find content for their kids.

Just Mercy – This movie has been made available for free through the month of June (so if you plan to watch this, you only have a short amount of time left, or you can rent it later if you want).  It was a spectacular film.  Michael B. Jordan and Jamie Foxx are phenomenal actors, first of all.  But the story itself was filled with heartbreak and hope.  It follows the true story of Harvard attorney Bryan Stevenson who starts an organization in Alabama to help people on death row and Johnny D, a wrongly accused black man waiting for his execution date.

Even though I knew the ending of the story, the twists and uncomfortable turns really exemplified their bravery and the failings of the justice system.  There is profanity in the film.  The sexual content consisted primarily of a strip search which included vulgar comments.  The violent content included a bomb threat and a scene with a gun held to someone’s head, also the execution of one inmate.

13th – This was the first documentary I watched this month.  It follows the connection between slavery, a loophole in the 13th amendment, and the state of our prison system today.  More black men go to jail or prison (1 in 3) than white men (1 in 17) even though black people are the minority.  The War on Crime and the War on Drugs heavily targeted people of color and poor communities.  And when prisons became privately run, there was even more of a push for things like mandatory minimums since these organizations were only paid when the beds were filled.  It doesn’t lean more left or right but follows each president as they made choices to keep people in prisons and add more to the prison population.

There is profanity, nudity, and violent beatings and lynchings included in the historical content included in the film, but it was incredibly informative.  It is, however, geared more toward adults.

I Am Not Your Negro – The second documentary I watched based on the notes of American Novelist James Baldwin which were supposed to be for a new book that he didn’t complete before he died.  It includes conversations he had during his life on talk shows and speaking engagements, as well as letters he had written.  There were so many good takeaways from this film.  The conversation he has with a Yale philosophy professor was incredible.  He outlines in that conversation just how much systemic racism as affected his view of the average white man and why he doesn’t trust the average white man.

There is profanity, nudity, and pictures of lynchings included in the film as it pertains to that era of American media.

Selma – This followed Martin Luther King on the events leading up to the famous Selma march.  It was fascinating to see how everything connected, and how all of the people in the movement did not agree all the time.  Also, all of the intentional planning on King’s part, especially how he understood it would take national attention to change the treatment of black people, much like it is today.

There is profanity in this movie as well.  There isn’t much sexual content, though you hear at one point the sounds of sex, but nothing is explicit.  There is also the violence of what happened, and a lot of that violence is slowed down in the film adding an extra layer of heartbreak.  The violence includes a church bombing, the beatings on the bridge, and a shooting in a diner.

Birth of A Movement – This PBS documentary was under an hour, but it was about history I had never heard about before.  I mean, I had heard about the innovative film The Birth of a Nation, though I had never seen it.  But a lot of the hype around the movie was based on lies and was used to spread lies.  DW Griffith said that the movie was based on a book that reminded him of his childhood, but it was far from the Post-Reconstruction poverty that he knew.  President Woodrow Wilson, who initiated the Jim Crow Laws with the segregation of federal places was also a child of the Post-Reconstruction era which played a part in his racist actions. So, the fact that this was the first movie played in the White House had more to do with connections than the actual quality of the film.  William Monroe Trotter was a Harvard graduate journalist who also protested the film.  There is just such a different perspective shown in this film that I found invaluable.  Also, there are some good interviews with Spike Lee who had to watch this movie in film school to appreciate the techniques without any discussion about the context of the film.

There isn’t any profanity, but there is a mention of the rape scene in the Birth of a Nation movie, and there are pictures of lynchings that occurred in this era.

I really enjoyed using films as a new medium to expand my education this month. In the future, I may share lighter films or documentaries with different subject matters, but this month was filled with unforgettable, though-provoking film and I am here for it. If you have any suggestions for the future, let me know!

Burnout

In a recent therapy session, we talked about everything going on in the world.  From pandemics and protests to family and the daily stresses in life.  It can be so overwhelming, and my therapist replied, “That’s why self-care is important.  It means taking care of yourself so you can be 100% when opportunities that really matter come along, instead of only having 50% to give.”

This reminded me of a story that Jesus told his disciples.  The story begins in Matthew 25:

“At that time, the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom.  Five of them were foolish and five were wise.  The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them.  The wise ones, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps. The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep.

“At midnight, the cry rang out: ‘Here’s the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!’

“Then all the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish ones said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.’

“‘No,’ they replied, ‘there may not be enough for both us and you. Instead, go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.’

 “But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived. The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut.

“Later the others also came. ‘Lord, Lord,’ they said, ‘open the door for us!’

 “But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you; I don’t know you.’

“Therefore, keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.”

Matthew 25:1-14

It sounds like Jesus favors the prepared, but what does it mean to be prepared for the kingdom of God?  I don’t think it means keeping a lamp burning and a pantry full of oil jars.  Look at the previous verses:

“Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom the master has put in charge of the servants in his household to give them their food at the proper time? It will be good for that servant whose master finds him doing so when he returns.  Truly I tell you, he will put him in charge of all his possessions.  But suppose that servant is wicked and says to himself, ‘My master is staying away a long time,’ and he then begins to beat his fellow servants and to eat and drink with drunkards. The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of. He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

Matthew 24:45-51

We aren’t just sitting and waiting, but we are called to take care of the things God has put in our charge.  Friends, family, community.  And sometimes these things can come in the form of unexpected opportunities.  Like a bridegroom at midnight.

I think that the burning lamps are like our influence, our responsibilities to love others in various ways. 

And what is the oil that keeps that flame going?  My ability alone to l love isn’t sustainable, but God’s love is.  And the only way I can utilize the love of God to love others is to stay connected to Him.  I need my jar of oil to keep that lamp of love burning.  Whether it is spending time in prayer, in study, in meditation, in nature, in Holy conversation, in Spirit-led sacrifice, I must continue to remain connected to God.  Maybe that means slowing down, getting less busy, making more room, but whatever it takes, I need to stay connected.

It is vital to my survival.  Because when hard things happen, when needs arise in my community, in the places that God has entrusted to me, even in small ways, I want to give my all.  I want to lean on the strength of the Spirit to accomplish the things He has planned for me.  And I can only do that if I bring that jar, if I devote that time to keeping that light burning.

Maybe you are feeling spent, exhausted, depleted.  There is a God who is present and waiting to fill your jar with oil, to keep that light from going out.  Because the suffering and injustice will not go on forever, it is nearing midnight and bridegroom is on his way.

Your Voice Matters

I struggle at times with my voice.  Does my writing or posting or creating really matter?

Most of the time, I write because I’m passionate about what I am writing.  Whether it’s faith studies, books, pregnancy loss, mental health, or anything that challenges me or brings a smile to my face.  I love sharing hope and challenge with other people because I love reading about those same things. 

Then, the wave starts to crash.  I forget my purpose and my passion and get engulfed by the numbers and statistics.  I convince myself that others have a better way of saying the same things I say, and I’m just shouting into the ether.

But here is the truth.  Whatever you are creating, however you are creating it, your voice matters.  People need your perspective.  They need the nuance of your words.  They need to know that they aren’t alone.

It’s easy to feel alone.  It’s what the powers of evil want you to feel.  That you are the only one.  That no one hears you.  That there is not enough space to move and speak into the ways God has created you to move and speak.

But here is the truth.  You are made in the image of God.  God is a creator, so it makes sense that you have a desire to create things as well. 

There is a lie out there that says we live in scarcity.  That we have to claw and fight for every moment to prove our worth.  It is such a slippery slope of hurt and depression that could even lead to tactics that don’t reflect who you really are.

But here is the truth.  We live in an abundance of Godly provision.  And we need to trust that His provision is enough.  We are enough.  We can share the love of God, the passion of our life freely and wholly.  We can encourage the voices around us without fear that our own voices will be lost.  There is room for all at the table.

I don’t know about you, but I needed to hear these words.  I refuse to believe I’m shouting into an abyss.  I trust in the Spirit of God who created me to create.  I trust in abundance and not scarcity.  I choose to amplify and encourage the voices around me as well as share my own voice.  I am not alone, and you aren’t either.  Together we can share the passionate voices we were given by our Creator.

Annual Contemplation

This month is when my year starts again, even though it has felt like I have lived many years since January.  But here in the month of June, my birth is celebrated by those closest to me.  And it puts me in a deeply contemplative mood.

Looking Back

This last year was almost evenly divided between growth and stepping back.  Last summer, we did a lot of travel as a family.  We went to a wedding, visited family, and toured New York City.  All things that are more difficult to do this summer.  Last fall, I joined a mom group, a second book club, and found socialization opportunities for my son.  By the end of the year, I had a small village of people who loved on my family and encouraged me as a mom. 

Then, everything seemed to fall apart.  While the very beginning of this year promised a continued growth of that village, COVID-19 spread all over the world and this country bringing uncertainty and stopping pretty much everything.  So, after a few weeks of adjustment, I had new goals to focus on, primarily keeping my son engaged without leaving our house.

And in just the last few weeks, protests of police brutality and all of the conversations around racism and privilege have been brought to the forefront.  Every discussion over breakfast or dinner between Michael and me have been about the things our city and our country are going through, and the action steps we plan to take.

One of my personal goals is to teach my son and make him aware of what is going on at his level.  He’s only two so our conversations are more focused on the beauty in every person and the value that everyone inherently has.  But I know as he grows, we will have more in depth conversations about privileges we have and the honest history of our country.

Looking Forward

It is kind of odd this year.  Usually, I make my birthday a sort of New Year’s Day with its own goals and plans.  And while I have been making some plans this month (particularly in the blogging and writing categories), I don’t’ actually know much about what will happen in the next year.  COVID-19 is still spreading through our community.  Dallas has experienced higher rates of hospitalization and ER visits connected with this virus. 

Plus, this is an election year.  I do plan to research at an even deeper level what is on my ballot, not just the president choices, but everyone up for a place in local, state, and national positions.  But I don’t know what that outcome will be.

So, that makes it difficult to make specific plans.  I do know that I want to continue focusing on the things I’m passionate about while balancing self-care and the needs of my family.  I want to embrace slowing down and taking moments to reflect as well as to look ahead, making thoughtful decisions without worrying about pleasing other people.  Ultimately, I want to do things that honor God and encourage others around me to follow in the footsteps of Jesus.

I am thankful for the last year and its many, many lessons.  I sort of hope that next year will be a little lighter on the challenges. But whatever may come, this last year has taught me even more that I can lean on God and my family. Life is hard, but we can definitely do hard things. And I look forward to the adventures that are ahead.

What I Read In May

Whereas April was a great reading month, where I felt like I was devouring book after book, May sort of slowed down. I still managed to read four books, so I’m not in a slump. I just learned what I like and don’t like in my books, honing my tastes even more.

Here are the books.

How to Stop Losing Your Sh*t with Your Kids: A Practical Guide to Becoming a Calmer, Happier Parent. I read this right after “How to Talk so Little Kids Will Listen” and I think they work pretty well together. This book focused more on anger management in parenting, how normal it really is and ways to prevent it. Of course, it also talked about how to deal with the aftermath when you do lose it with your kids, because it’s going to happen, but it did it in a nonjudgmental way. Carla Naumburg has a social worker’s background, which really drives the book. Also, as you can probably guess in the title, this book has a bit of profanity. I think most of the chapter titles included some form of a cuss word. However, if language bothers you, I urge you to look past it because this book has so many great points and tips on how to interact pretty much in any relationship. I realize that this is technically a parenting book, but it felt more like an anger management book that used parenting in its examples. Definitely a recommendation.

Journey to the Center of the Earth. This was my first Jules Verne book, which was a book I read for the Life’s Library book club. And I did not like it one bit. I can see why Verne is such a lauded author. He seamlessly interweaves real science with fantasy. In this particular book, it’s geology and mineralogy that are highlighted, but it really goes into the details of these sciences. I just wasn’t interested in the long paragraphs about gems and rocks and the tools that are used. Also, the narrator (the nephew of the professor who goes on the journey with him) is really dramatic and whiny. While I think it is meant to actually create drama and intrigue, I found myself just rolling my eyes a lot. I see value in the book, see why others might like it, especially if they find those sciences fascinating, but it was not for me.

Lovely War. Julie Berry tricked me. This was the May book for the Modern Mrs. Darcy book club, so it wouldn’t have been I honestly would have sought on my own. And when I realized it started with a conversation between Greek gods which transforms into a story of four people during WW1, I thought it would be slightly interesting (because I am a fan of mythology). Hazel and James are the first couple introduced and their pining love story was really sugary sweet for me. Little did I know, I was being lulled into feeling safe, like this was one of those sweet historical fiction romances with a little drama and action on the side. And then, bam! After meeting the other couple (Aubrey and Collette), the story roller-coasters me into racial injustices and death and loss and pain and mental health issues when I least expected it. By this point, I’m invested in these characters to the point that I literally threw the book down towards the end, disbelieving where Berry was taking me. It is so good, worth every page, even the sweet romantic ones. Usually I award 5 stars if the author makes me cry, but this author managed to pull a plethora of emotions out of me. If I could give more stars, I would. Big recommendation!

The Gilded Wolves. I bought this book last year because I loved the cover. I’ve never really bought a book for that reason, but it also was hyped at the time by booktubers I followed, so I thought why not? Roshani Chokshi pulls from various beliefs and mythologies to create a world set in the 1800s where people have “Forged” powers, the ability to create things from other things, whether with matter or the mind. Basically, the plot is a heist. The main characters all come from different backgrounds with different abilities (some can forge, others do not), and they are a part of the heist for different reasons. It was very Oceans 11 in that respect. I’m not actually a fan of the heist plot, but the book has other merits. Each chapter comes from a different perspective and the book ends on major cliffhangers. I definitely want to read the next one but only because I am curious how relationships will be repaired or completely broken. If you like a good heist book, this is definitely one for you!

Those are all of the books I read in May. Of course, this next month I’m going to be reading different books and sharing book reviews a bit more like I used to share them, one at a time. But that’s a discussion for next month. Happy reading!

What books have you read lately, or what books should I have on my next TBR?

A Personal Note For The Weekend

Oh my goodness, you guys. This week has been a crazy year, hasn’t it? I remember joking that January seemed to go on forever, but then came COVID-19 and quarantine, and now peaceful protests and violent encounters happening every day across our country.

In the midst of everything, my uncle passed away this week.

I don’t talk much about my extended family, or really a whole lot about my family in general since the birth of my son. I wasn’t exactly close to my uncle. Growing up, I saw him for only a couple of days a year around Christmas. He used to make the best manicotti on Christmas Eve.

Even though I wasn’t very close to him, I know my family is hurting. This is my dad’s younger brother. My grandmother and my uncle’s two adult children are having to make difficult decisions this week, and I can’t be there in person to support them. Though I am supporting all of them from afar through phone calls, texts, and Zoom. It’s all just still very difficult.

Grief is weird. We grieve pretty much any time there is change or transition in our life. And there are a lot of people grieving right now for so many reasons. There is so much pain and sadness, that I feel tempted to put my own grief on the back burner to focus on others.

But the funny thing about grief is that it really doesn’t let you do that. When it needs attention, it demands it. I’ve felt that weight this week, physically, mentally, and emotionally. It’s affected my ability to carry out every aspect of my life.

So, I’m going back to the basics this weekend of making sure I have space to grieve loss, grieve with others, and still manage to do the day to day (I mean, I’ve still got a toddler running around here, I can’t let it go to total chaos). I’m still committed to learning and listening. That’s not going to stop. So I’m taking the opportunity to slow down, to pay attention to what needs to be done right now and to listen to where God is leading me next.

Still Listening

Due to the climate in our country, I don’t feel like I can do what I normally do on the first Wednesday of the month and talk about what I read last month. I will move that blog post to next week. There are so many really great resources being shared right now that help describe and explain that Black experience in America, white supremacy, and systemic racism. One link that was passed around on Facebook and other social media sites was this list of various articles, books, and documentaries which is a great start.

Last year, I read two of the books that are being suggested (one of which is on the above list). I’ve already shared my thoughts on these books, so I will link those reviews here.

The first is I’m Still Here by Austin Channing Brown.

The second book I read last year was White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo. I didn’t write a review for this book on my blog because I was taking a break at the time. I did, however, write a review on GoodReads which I will link here.

Both of these books are excellent. There are also some really good Black Fiction writers that I would recommend if nonfiction isn’t your genre. Tomi Adeyemi has written two books in her series, the first being Children of Blood and Bone which is based on African mythology. There is also The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas and her second book (not a series but set in the same world), On The Come Up. And finally, If You Come Softly by Jacqueline Woodson, which I read with the Life’s Library book club. It’s not her most recent or most famous piece, but it is really good. Her backlist is definitely on my TBR list.

Whatever you decide, I hope you enjoy a fresh perspective on the world. Diversity brings creativity and beauty to the written word. It can help us grow in empathy and understanding, prodding us on to action.

Say Something

If any of you use the Enneagram, I’m a 9w1, with a pretty strong wing 1 at that.  I abhor conflict and confrontation.  I don’t feel like I have anything to say that really isn’t already being said.  And, on top of that, I labor over the words I do say because I feel like they have to be perfect. And that keeps me silent for quite a while.

But you get to a point where you realize you need to speak up.

This week, I have read and listened to the pain that the Black community has experienced and is experiencing every day.  I listened to Otis Moss’s lament for Ahmaud Arbery.

I listened to the IGTV video of a conversation between Charlie Dates, a Black pastor in Chicago, and Beth Moore.

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#GeorgeFloyd #ChristianityAndRace

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I watched another conversation with Charlie Dates and Watson Jones, another Black Chicago pastor, as they reacted to George Floyd’s death and all the frustrations and anger that they felt.

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2 Pastors talk the tragedy of May 25, 2020

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And I watched the beautiful video from Nicole Walters, a Christian entrepreneur in Atlanta, who speaks of her life experience as a Black woman in America.

What has happened and is happening to Black people is wrong.  What happened to George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Botham Jean, and the hundreds and thousands of other Black men and women who have been persecuted and died in the streets, in the stores, and even in their own homes is wrong.  It is evil.

I acknowledge that I have advantages and privileges given to me simply because of the way I look.  And I want our country to do better.  I want to do better.

I promise to continue listening and to promote the voices I’m listening to for others to hear.

I promise to lean into the discomfort.  I know I will get things wrong.  Even though I have felt pain, been isolated and ostracized, and know loss, I will not ever completely understand the Black experience.  I will only use my experiences to drive my empathy not to explain the experience of others.

Hebrews 10:34 says, ”Sometimes you were publicly exposed to insult and persecution; at other times you stood side by side with those who were so treated.”  Christ stood with the persecuted, the blamed, the outsiders, the oppressed.  And I want to stand with Christ.  So, I stand with them.

A Day In The Life

I have been obsessively watching Vanity Fair Does In A Day videos on YouTube. It fascinates me how celebrities and even average people choose to spend their day. Especially in this time of quarantine. So, I thought I would share a typical day.

I wake up between 5 and 6 in the morning. I get in a Bible study, wash my face, maybe shower if I didn’t do it the night before, and basically get ready for the day. If I have any time left over, I usually scroll through Instagram and check email. And if I have time after that (which I usually don’t but there have been unicorn moments) I will read one of the current books I’m reading.

Then it’s breakfast and outside activities (which include tending my garden) for most of the morning unless it’s raining. If it’s raining, then it’s usually reading books to the boy or doing puzzles or board games (there is an entire brand of board games that are mostly geared towards two years old and up. Check it out at Amazon here).

Lunch usually happens in the 11 o’clock hour, and then nap time directly afterwards. This is the time I get to really read, watch one episode of a show or part of a movie, do some laundry, maybe tidy or organize an area, or nap. Naps usually take precedence.

Then when nap time is over, it’s more time outside or maybe even some tidying up and light cleaning (especially if it is raining). There is some independent play thrown in there that allows me to focus on something else (like writing a blog post or doing some light planning like summer bucket lists or TV show/Movie bucket lists). But for the most part, it’s just play time.

Dinner prep starts in the 5 o’clock hour, depending on what I’m making. Most of my meals are pretty much either dump and go or they take about 15-20 mins to make. Sometimes I even get some toddler help (like when I make homemade pizza).

Dinner is around 6. This is when the husband is home and has some father/son bonding time. So, after dinner I either go on a run or a walk (doing the couch to 5K presently) or I clean up the kitchen. Then, if I exercised, I will clean the kitchen and do whatever else I need to do to prep for tomorrow. If it was an off day for exercise, I catch up on a video that I missed from Modern Mrs Darcy book club, or catch up on Marco Polos, or do some yoga or read or scroll Instagram or YouTube. Usually it’s some combination of a few of those. Then, I do the bed time routine with my husband and son.

Once bed time routine for the boy is done, it’s about 8 or 9. The later it is, the less I do. Lately, I’ve been taking my showers at night. I usually put on an overnight face mask after the shower and get ready for bed. Then, I will read and try to stay off my phone. And then it’s lights out.

This is probably the most typical day. There are a lot of interruptions. Sometimes my attention is desired more. Sometimes I don’t have a lot of focus. But I do give myself a lot of grace, and I wash my hands. A lot. (I use this brand of lotion to help my hands from cracking, after I dry my hands off). And of course, I didn’t include every detail of my morning routine or bed time routine or even every detail of my day.

Hope you are all finding ways to find rhythm and sanity in your schedules. Until next time…wash your hands.