Meet Fanny Burney, the Author Every Austenite Has Been Looking For


It is a truth universally acknowledged that Jane Austen left us far too little to read.

If you’ve re-read her novels so many times that your copies have split spines and pages so dog-eared that they’re falling apart, you’re in good company. Austen is still one of the most beloved writers of all time, even two centuries after her death. Her books are continually sought-after, and the movie and television adaptations just keep coming—PBS Masterpiece just aired a Sanditon miniseries, and a new Emma film is set to premiere tonight.

There’s something irresistible about her works—perhaps because they’re equal parts witty and whimsical, they’re somehow satirical and romantic at the same time, and they manage to be deeply insightful and effortlessly enjoyable.

But, before there was Jane Austen, there was Frances (Fanny) Burney, an eighteenth-century author who inspired the next generation of women writers. In fact, when Burney released her novel Camilla in subscription format in 1796, among the list of subscribers was one Miss J. Austen.

When I stumbled upon Burney for the first time, I was instantly smitten. Reading her novels made me feel like I was in a familiar place—they are witty, intelligent, and lovely, just like Northanger Abbey, Sense and Sensibility, and Mansfield Park.

So, who was Fanny Burney?

Burney was born in 1752 in the English county of Norfolk, the daughter of musician Charles Burney. She was supposedly a slow learner, only beginning to read at 10 years old, but from that point on she devoured everything she could get her hands on.

As a young girl, words poured out of her, and she produced piles of juvenilia, including plays, songs, and poems. At 15 years old, she tossed it all into a bonfire—perhaps due to her stepmother’s disapproval, who did not consider writing a ladylike pursuit.

But she couldn’t keep her pen down, and soon she was back at it. She began writing a journal, which she would keep for more than 70 years, commenting on the everyday happenings of London society from the Georgian era into the early years of Victoria’s reign.

A lady of letters

Her social observations inspired her professional work, and in her mid-twenties, she released her first novel: Evelina, or, The History of a Young Lady’s Entrance into the World(1778). Told in epistolary fashion, this satirical book follows the foibles of a young inexperienced girl when she enters fashionable society.

She published it anonymously, but it was so well-received that everyone wanted to know the identity of its mysterious author. Once her identity was announced, her success persuaded her father to reconsider his disapproval of her profession.

Her next novel was Cecilia, or, Memoirs of an Heiress(1782), which tells the story of a spirited young heiress who can only keep her fortune if her husband agrees to take her name in marriage. It was likewise successful, and Burney’s name became even more recognized.

In contrast to Austen’s charming country life, Burney lived right in the center of things—frequenting the theatres and operas of London and even serving Queen Charlotte (wife of George III) for a time. She regularly encountered important men of the time like Edmund Burke and Samuel Johnson.

Later life and legacy

After her stint at court, Burney visited family friends and her sister Susan at Norbury Park, where she met a group of French émigrés settled nearby. A man named Alexandre-Jean-Baptiste Piochard d’Arblay began to court her, and the two married in 1793.

She resumed her writing and published Camilla, or, A Picture of Youthin 1796. Her husband was supportive of her work and acted as her copyist. Camilla was another widely successful book, beloved for its romance, sharp insight into human nature, and endearing characters.

In 1802, they moved to France in hopes of recovering property that d’Arblay lost in the French Revolution. There, Burney continued to write and publish, and her husband took a job in the Napoleonic government. After her husband died, she returned to London and edited her father’s memoirs for publication. She died in 1840 at 87 years old.

Though much-neglected by readers today, her legacy is lasting and important. Virginia Woolf dubbed her the “mother of English fiction.” Her influence can be traced through the next century, carrying us right through Jane Austen’s comedies of manners, Charles Dickens’ insightful realism, and the social satires of William Makepeace Thackeray—not to mention that her reputation as a respected lady of letters also paved the way for female writers like the Brontës and Elizabeth Gaskell.

So, before you pick up that battered copy of Pride and Prejudice for the hundred-seventy-third time, give one of Burney’s novels a try instead. Don’t worry, Austen’s novels will still be there when you’re done.

Rediscovering Your Local Library


If you heard a rumor that the internet and ebooks were making libraries obsolete, it could not be further from the truth. In addition to playing an important role in local communities—offering everything from classes in ESL, technology support services, public space, and so much more to all ages and demographics—libraries still remain the best resource for bibliophiles.

One of my best friends just graduated with her master’s in library science after working at several libraries in various roles. She has been teaching me more about what libraries have to offer, and now it is my pleasure to share some of those resources with you, dear reader.

If you ever have questions about what resources are available to you, don’t hesitate to ask your local librarian—they are there to help you discover a new book, locate an answer to a tough question, or find the right research tools.

To get started, here are a few tips and tricks you may or may not already know about:

Your online account

Many libraries are moving towards incorporating newer technologies into local systems. They make it their mission to make these resources available to everyone. In this digital age, many libraries have moved their services online, making it easier than ever to locate and access the resources you need.

Look up your local library online, and see what they have to offer. Many libraries allow you to search their collections online, just like a Google search. This way you can place holds or requests on materials from the comfort of your home.

I love this feature because it saves me extra trips to the library. I will request the book I am looking for, and the library staff will place it on a special shelf with my name on it and send me an email notification that it’s ready to be checked out.

You can also use your online account to keep track of what materials you have checked out and when they are due.

Don’t have a library card? Many libraries allow you to apply online.

Subscriptions, databases, and more

Libraries subscribe to a variety of online resources and databases which are free for you to use. Resources might include genealogical databases like, language learning programs, and online courses so you can acquire new skills. If you have a research project or you want to learn something new, check out your local library first. Knowledgeable librarians can save you time spent searching for answers and library resources can save you money on subscriptions to these services.

Some libraries are moving towards purchasing and lending more unusual items that might also come in handy, from camping gear to digital projectors, sewing kits to sports equipment. Go online and/or ask your local library if any initiative like these exist for your local system.

Interlibrary loan system

Is there a book, movie, or CD that you are interested in, but your local library doesn’t have a copy? Place an interlibrary loan request! I did not come across this service until I was in college, and it has been a game-changer. I was able to borrow books for my senior thesis from other academic libraries and expand my bibliography.

For an interlibrary loan (ILL), libraries borrow materials from other libraries on your behalf. This cooperative effort across library systems majorly expands what resources you have at your disposal. It really comes in handy if you are a member of a smaller community library with a more limited selection. If you are in a more urban area, your library might also share books within the local system itself, which also expands what you can check out.

If you don’t find a book on the shelf, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s not available to you. Place an ILL request online from your library’s website, or ask a librarian to assist you.

Online media and apps

Almost every library offers e-resources today. This means that you can check out eBooks, audiobooks, music, movies, and more right on your computer or mobile device. Many libraries offer these resources through an app that you can download to your phone, such as Libby or Hoopla. Libby is great if you are a member of multiple libraries, as they will allow you to link your account to multiple library cards and browse the different collections each library has to offer.

This is hands down my favorite way to utilize my local library. I can place a hold for an audiobook in the Libby app which is automatically checked out when it becomes available, and I receive an email to let me know I can start listening. If I don’t finish the audiobook before it is due back to the library, the next time I check it out, the app picks up right where I left off. Now I have made a habit of downloading books to take with me on road trips. And the best part is, it’s completely free!

Local events

Libraries are about more than just books. They are important community centers and offer a variety of activities and resources for just about everyone. ESL, tech support, assistance in filing taxes, computer classes, story-time for kids of all ages—the list goes on and on!

If you are new in town and looking to become more involved or make new friends, your local library is a great place to start. I used to participate in a local writers’ group in my hometown that met monthly at the library, and I met writers of all ages through the group. They also host a knitting and crochet circle as well as weekly rounds of chess, Mah Jong, and bridge. Now, when I visit my new local library, I often come by during story time for parents and children under two, which as you can imagine is just adorable. My grandmother is a member of two book clubs at her local library, which has been a highlight of her retirement (and I get to read her copies of past book-club reads when I go to visit!). It’s never too late to get involved!

Libraries also host a variety of one-time events. For example, I check the website regularly to find out about used book sales at the various branches in my city. Consider signing up for e-updates to stay in the loop about what is new.

One of the great benefits to your local library is that it gets you involved in the community in ways great and small. From interacting with other patrons to getting involved with local clubs, libraries can help you to find personal connection in an increasingly digital and solitary age. Libraries are more necessary and vital than ever!

Three Books to Help You Simplify Your Life


As champagne toasts and countdowns ushered in the New Year, many of us jumped to add new habits, workouts, diets, routines, and rituals to our already-busy lives. There is nothing wrong with this—as a self-professed planner junkie and goal-setting veteran, I love me some New Year’s resolutions.

However, adding to an already-full plate often leaves us bailing on our goals before we even hit the end of January. To avoid burnout this February, here are three books to help you simplify your life, live more intentionally, make room for what matters, and set attainable and meaningful goals that you’ll actually stick with.

Grace, Not Perfection: Embracing Simplicity, Celebrating Joy by Emily Ley

I first encountered Emily Ley on Instagram, when I stumbled on photos of her beautifully designed line of planners. The Simplified planners encourage women to find balance in their days and leave white in their schedules for what really matters in life (like the dance parties, tickle fights, and crafting sessions that pop out of nowhere). After catching the Simplified Planner bug, I tried to get my hands on all things Emily Ley, including her various books.

Her first book, Grace, Not Perfection, is all about embracing simplicity in all aspects of life in order to beat perfectionism. The book recounts her own journey as a mom and business owner who got to the point where she was so overwhelmed by her bursting calendar that she knew something in her had to shift. Instead of adding more to her schedule, Ley made a resolution to prioritize and make time for what mattered. She began striving for grace rather than perfection, and her life was transformed. This book walks readers through this process and offers helpful tools, such as tips on effective to-do list writing and slowing down your schedule.

The Next Right Thing: A Simple, Soulful Practice for Making Life Decisionsby Emily P. Freeman

As someone whose ultimate kryptonite is decision making, when I heard Emily P. Freeman talk about learning to say “no” on this podcast episode, I was hooked. If you’re like me and you RSVP to social invitations out of FOMO and agree to do things out of guilt—or worse, you don’t do anything, because you suffer from chronic hesitation and never make up your mind about it either way—then her book is for you.

Freeman explains how unmade decisions become mental clutter, which in turn causes anxiety that leaks into other areas of our lives. She lays out a step-by-step process that turns decision-making into a simple, soulful practice, in terms of both major life choices and the little decisions that fill our everyday lives. She encourages readers to let go of the fear of making the wrong decision and the guilt of saying “no.” For everything we say “no” to, we make room for something else!

Cultivate: A Grace-Filled Guide to Growing an Intentional Lifeby Lara Casey

This book, from the creator of the ever-popular Powersheets (and the host of the podcast that introduced me to Freeman!), is all about cultivating the right goals and routines for the season of life you’re in. Lara Casey recounts her own story of leaving behind a life of overwhelm for one of intentionality by coming to terms with an important truth: “We can’t do it all, and do it all well.” The book does a deep dive into the philosophy behind the goal-setting system that her company, Cultivate What Matters, is known for.

Casey explains that if our goals are connected with what matters to us in the big picture and lead us to where we want to be when we’re 80 years old, we’ll actually stick to them. She encourages women to abandon meaningless goals like “lose 10 pounds” for meaningful ones like “love my body so I can see my grandchildren grow up.” By following the journal prompts she includes throughout each chapter, readers reflect on their own goals and learn how to embrace an imperfect, joy-filled life.

How to Make a Yearly Reading Plan


Aside from the grim weather and Christmas tree removal (so sad!), I love the start of a new year for its goal-setting, habit-making (or breaking) aspirations. Yes, I am guilty of setting unattainably high financial or health goals and failing less than a month later. But I’ve also set more “fun” goals that I have stuck to—and that have still made me feel amazing about myself. My favorite is setting reading goals at the beginning of each year.

Pew Research Center survey conducted last year found that about a quarter of U.S. adults did not read a single book (in whole or in part) in the last year, meaning that many people are missing out on not only the joys of reading, but also the health benefits.

It is certainly not always easy to find the time or motivation for reading books. However, it becomes significantly easier when you make a plan. It may take a little bit of trial and error, but I’ve found that the following steps make reading many books in a year more than possible:

01. Setting realistic reading goals for the year

Before ever putting pen to paper and getting carried away with lofty ideas concerning how much you want to read this year, it’s important to open your calendar and take a few things into consideration. Are there certain months or weeks during the year where you are particularly busy and would have little to no time for reading—for example, busy weeks of work, holidays, a wedding, or a major life event (such as having a baby)? Write those down—take each one into consideration.

There is nothing more discouraging than setting a goal and not reaching it; so, it’s essential that your reading goals be just as realistic as your health and fitness goals. Do you have time for a book a month? A book every other month? Two or three books a month? Take the time to thoughtfully consider the amount of books you’d realistically like to complete, and give yourself the permission to be flexible.

02. Breaking your list into different genres or seasons

After you determine how many books you’d like to read over the course of the year, it can be fun to break that number down into different genres or types of books you’d like to tackle.

Last year, I decided to vary my regular fiction reading (both classic literature and new-release fiction) with a mixture of parenting, health, and self-help/spiritual books. This helped me to read more books from unfamiliar genres without burning myself out, since I always read a fun fiction novel in between the sometimes “less fun” books.

It’s also important to note that if setting any number of books is stressing you out, then you don’t have to pick a number! You can choose to focus solely on different genres you want to explore—for example, deciding that you are going to read only American history nonfiction books and historical fiction novels this year. Another fun way to do this is to determine your book selection based on the season, or time of year—reading only Christmas-themed books during the holiday season or only books with a summer setting during the summer months, for example.

03. Setting up a method to track your books

In order to keep up with your reading plan over the course of the year, it’s essential to establish some method to track every book you read. Giving yourself that concrete sense of accomplishment will really help you keep up momentum throughout the year. There’s the old-fashioned pen and paper method. I once attempted to keep a separate reading journal, including my own summaries and reviews of the books I read, but it lasted only a few books. While this level of dedication may work for some people, I learned that I needed something simpler. So I made a “reading list” at the end of my paper planner in the notes section.

Creating a simple Google spreadsheet is another easy way to keep track of books—with the added bonus that it lives forever online, making it easy to reference past years (especially when you create a new tab for each year). Whether you use paper or an online spreadsheet, I recommend making separate columns for the title of the book, the author, the genre, the month you completed it, and a simple rating out of five stars.These five simple steps take only a minute to record, and they serve as a good reminder of the kinds of books you’ve read and whether or not you enjoyed them overall.

For those readers who want to step up their game and join a community of readers online, there is a plethora of different apps and websites that allow you to create and save your book list and goals, as well as discover other books based on your interests, rate and review books, and discuss them with other readers online. Goodreads is the largest platform for readers, but you can also check out sites like LibraryThingLibib, and Riffle and determine which platform is the best fit for you. Sharing your reading lists and goals with a whole community of readers can inspire and motivate you to complete your goals!

04. Making it fun by including incentives or joining a reading group

As is the case with all goal-setting, it is often helpful to create small incentives or rewards for yourself in order to help you stick to your reading plan. These can be as large or small as you want them to be. As someone who loves to collect 10 more books before I’ve finished the two in front of me, telling myself that I can buy a pretty new book after I’ve completed the books I’ve picked out for the next three months is a great incentive for me.

To make tackling your reading goals even more enjoyable, find a book club to join—or start one! Not only will reading alongside others motivate you to keep reading, but you will also benefit greatly from having people with whom you can discuss and dissect the book. If a book club sounds too intimidating or time consuming, you can also join different reading clubs or online forums for book discussion and other reader’s reviews of a book (Goodreads is, again, a good place to do this).

A yearly reading plan is more than another list of things to accomplish over the coming year. It is a way for you to challenge yourself as a reader, motivate yourself to explore new genres or books you don’t typically read, and have fun doing it! 

Don’t Let the ‘I Should’ Mentality Kill Your Christmas Spirit This Year


Invitations to parties. Gifts to buy. Traditions to maintain. Festivities to enjoy. The activities that come with the season can be overwhelming. While the holiday season brings a lot of joy, it can also be stressful and bring anxiety.

I’ve realized that my stress around the holiday season arises from the Santa-size list of things I feel I should be doing. Whether it’s putting up Christmas lights or baking six dozen cookies for a cookie exchange, I mindlessly do these holiday activities simply because I think I’m supposed to.

But this isn’t the holiday I envision for myself.

I envision a holiday season where my days are slow. Where I drink coffee, read my favorite Christmas stories, and listen to holiday music on Saturday mornings. Where times with friends and family are rest-filled and restorative because I can enjoy their presence instead of fretting over my to-do list. Where opportunities to serve my community are filled with blessing versus burden.

Too often, our schedules are full and our commitments overwhelming because we act on the unquestioned assumption that more is better. Another party we should attend. Another Christmas gift exchange we should buy for. Another new recipe we should make. We believe these activities will give our December significance and meaning.

“Shoulding” distracts us from the things that matter most to us. When our lives are filled with things that we should be doing, we start operating on autopilot versus intentionally investing ourselves and resources in the activities, people, and places that matter most to us.

This propensity toward shoulding manifests itself as stress because we’re filling our schedules to the brink and fear what people think about us if we don’t conform. According to the Mayo Clinic, stress can lead to health problems such as headaches, muscle tension and pain, fatigue, changes in sex drive, and chest pain. It can also mean anxiety, a lack of focus and motivation, irritability, anger, and depression. Without proper stress management, your body may suffer during the holiday season, compounding the problem and causing you to miss out on the enjoyment that comes with the season.

There’s no reason for the holidays to be a time of to-do lists and going through the motions of what it means to celebrate the season. By keeping a few things in mind this year, I’m making a commitment to enjoy this time and do things because I want to, not because I should.

Envision Your Ideal Holiday

Cast a vision for what you want your holidays to look like. Are your goals to savor time with family and show your neighbors that you care about them?

Lara Casey writes in Make It Happen, her book about meaningful goal setting:

“Our chase for success so easily disguises itself as a ‘should’—because everyone around us is doing it. You should be working hard at the expense of time with your family if you want to be successful. You should be staying up late to get ahead if you want to make it. You should climb the success ladder now, so you can live a joyful life when you retire. You should, or you won’t be enough.”

Maybe you’re living in a new city, and you want to enjoy the holiday activities of that city. As I look to the holiday season, I’m excited to decorate and enjoy the home my husband and I just moved into, participate in the life of my local church, cook and bake in my kitchen, and spend time with my family and closest friends. Whatever your vision is for the holidays, describe it with words, an image, a Pinterest board, etc., and let yourself be inspired.

Determine Your Priorities

If you don’t set boundaries on your schedule and emotional resources, someone else will. Don’t feel obligated to say yes to requests immediately, and recognize that when you say yes to one activity, you are always saying no to something else.

Keeping a hold on your time during the holidays doesn’t make you a Scrooge; it makes you smart. Author and speaker Greg McKeown calls this “essentialism.” In his book, McKeown defines essentialism as the disciplined pursuit of less:

“Essentialism is not about how to get more things done; it’s about how to get the right things done. It doesn’t mean just doing less for the sake of less either. It’s about making the wisest possible investment of your time and energy in order to operate at our highest point of contribution by doing only what is essential.”

Essentialism is simultaneously liberating and requiring work. It frees us from the burden of doing everything, but it calls us to make the hard choice of where we’ll invest ourselves and resources.

Ensure that you have ample time to dedicate to your priorities and commitments by scheduling chosen events into your calendar, including the time you’ll need to prepare for them. For example, if you’re headed to several parties, and you’re expected to bring a dish or a present, set times for cooking, shopping, and wrapping.

Adjust Your Attitude

A full schedule is not the enemy, but a full schedule filled with activities that you don’t care about is. Once you set your priorities and choose what you want to do instead of what you think you should be doing, invest yourself wholeheartedly. As Jim Elliot wrote, “Wherever you are, be all there.”

Convince yourself that you’ll be gaining more, not missing out, by limiting your holiday to-do list. When I choose to invest myself in the things that matter to me—spending time with family and friends and enjoying the little details of the season—I find deep satisfaction in the holidays because I’m investing in the activities that give me a strong sense of fulfillment. I may not curate an Instagram-worthy holiday experience, but I will accomplish what’s important to me.

Bob Goff, New York Times bestselling author of Love Does, writes, “I used to be afraid of failing at something that really mattered to me, but now I’m more afraid of succeeding at things that don’t matter.” Shoulding distracts us from the activities that we are uniquely called to do and feel passionate about. Shoulding consumes us with obligations that don’t matter to us or don’t bear significance when looking beyond the holiday season.

Shift your focus to the things that bring you joy—not the things that everyone is supposed to enjoy. This small change will ensure that your holiday is meaningful and personal to you and your family.

I’m choosing not to should on myself this season. Instead I’ll simply invest my time and resources in the things that matter to me. And come December 31, I think I’ll be glad about that decision—and I’ll have a lot less stress.

Hard Books As an Antidote to Burnout


If you’re anything like me, sitting down with a copy of War and Peace isn’t the first impulse you have during a time of especially vicious burnout. When life seems to be coming at us from every direction, our reading tastes tend to turn to the lighthearted, the fanciful, and the familiar. After yet another exhausting day of studying, working, or parenting, it can even feel easier to just forego books altogether and let YouTube put us to sleep.

But picking up a “challenging” book might actually be a challenging form of self-care that can help mitigate the symptoms of burnout. Far from being draining and adding to our already heavy workload, reading challenging books can relieve frazzled feelings and restore our minds while helping us find catharsis in our daily lives.

Returning to focus

For me, burnout often manifests with scattered attention and fragmented energy. I feel pulled in so many directions at once by my to-do list that it’s impossible to actually address the important issues among the ones clamoring for my attention. Regular tasks become hard to organize, and if I manage to get them done, it feels like I have nothing left in the tank for what I really want to do.

Challenging books can, counterintuitively, help ease this frustration. These works demand all of our attention and energy to absorb, helping us reorient our inner lives into a more linear and focused pattern. You just can’t read A Tale of Two Cities or The Silmarillion while simultaneously answering emails on your phone and cooking dinner. To follow the story and really enjoy the rich prose of these and similar works, the reader must let her mind rest on the story and the story alone.

I know what you might be thinking: “Great, the last thing I need is another demand on my attention.” But hear me out. When you pick up a long or challenging book like The Brothers Karamazov, the very act of comprehension in reading requires that you put down the phone, cancel distractions, and pay attention to only one thing. This simple act of directing your attention at one thing is in and of itself helpful for resting your overworked mind while giving you the reward of a great story. With a good hard book, there are no consequences, no deadlines, no tests, in fact, no real demands on you at all. During high-pressure times, I’ve found real solace in this demand-free space.

The pleasure of accomplishment

Another big contributor to burnout is the lack of closure or reward and the repetitive weight of seemingly endless tasks, like keeping up with bills, packing lunches, or commuting. In contrast, books have a clear narrative and physical form, and good ones have a moment (or moments) of definite catharsis. They have a beginning, middle, and end. Their very structure stands in stark contrast to the habits that burn us out: they aren’t repetitive tasks or formless to-dos.

Finishing a chapter, a section, and eventually a whole book can help you achieve a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction. For too many of us, the cathartic feeling of total completion is rare in our everyday adult lives. Reading a challenging book and actually finishing it can inject a dose of that satisfaction into an otherwise frustrating day.

Something you get to do, not something you have to do

It’s easy to feel like we’re always working. From checking email first thing in the morning to picking up after family members to using her free time to clean, shop, pay bills, and do battle with the IRS, the modern woman puts in a lot of hours. Although reading “hard” books does require a little effort, it’s really helpful to think about doing so as real leisure—adding another thing to life’s never-ending to-do list is the opposite of the point. Although I am a huge proponent of reading on a schedule, the minute you see reading as a task you “have” to do rather than a beautiful activity you “get” to do, the fun is over. For this reason, it’s really important to choose books that you actually want to read; if a book gives you a sinking feeling when you look at it, put it back! Do you enjoy fantasy? Pick up some Tolkien or an epic poem like Beowulf or the Odyssey. Romance? Try Madame Bovary or Lorna Doone. Politics? Grab Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America. Non-Fiction? Susan Wise Bauer’s History of the Ancient World or Oswald Chambers’ Witness are both enthralling.

Think of it this way: having access to both the “hard” books and the education necessary to read them is a rare combination, possessed by relatively few women throughout history. To read is not only to rest, but also to delight in a precious gift.

Reading is also one leisure activity in which there need be no guilt. This is a neat feature of books—I’ve felt guilty many a time after a four-hour binge on Netflix, but never yet have I felt like time reading was ever misspent or “lazy.” There’s nothing wrong with watching movies on streaming services, but let’s be honest, rarely does spending our tired hours sitting in front of a screen make us feel better. (Most of the time, I find it just makes me feel “not-worse.”) Not to mention, I have found that it is easier to justify “me-time” to your family members or co-workers if you’re wielding an impressive book (as opposed to an iPad or a pair of headphones).

The inspiration of stories

One of the many rewards of these difficult books is the potential they carry to inspire and support us as we confront difficulty and stress. Besides their anti-burnout properties, books offer delight, inspiration, and a deeper connection to what makes us human. For example, as a mariner, I identify with Ishmael’s famous words on the first page of Moby Dick about hearing the call to the sea when I feel “a damp, drizzly November in my soul.”

If it’s a damp, drizzly November in your soul, go to sea with Ishmael. Adventure through magical lands with King Arthur and his knights. Tell myths with the rabbits of Watership Down. Reckon with your soul alongside Anna Karenina. These and many other stories between the covers of challenging books have the power to lift the veil of stress and busyness that so often clouds our vision and to replace it with beautiful stories. In the words of Declan O’Donnell, the protagonist of Brian Doyle’s The Plover, “For thousands of years we said [we wanted] gold and food and land and power and freedom and knowledge and none of those were true . . . because we are starving for story, our greatest hunger.”

Making of a Mom: Rediscovering My Silly Side


“Mom, let’s play outside! Come on!” my daughter pleaded. She raced to where I was sitting in the living room, imploring me with her big brown eyes and begging hands. “Fine,” I said, “but you need to change out of your pajamas first.” She skipped back to her room, and 45 minutes later, after myriad toy distractions and several reminders, she finally came back out to the living room.

I sighed. She had only managed to get one arm out of her pajama shirt, leaving the abandoned sleeve to dangle sadly. The smirk on her face seemed to mock me. Hadn’t she been the one who had begged to go outside, who had been so confident that playing outside, right now, was her ultimate purpose in life?

In similar situations, I would have been tempted to scold her for not being done yet, for not completing such an easy task. But on this particular day, I looked at her failed attempt to get dressed, smiled, grabbed her floppy sleeve and started shouting, “My daughter lost an arm! Emergency!” I scooped her up in my arms and ran around the house pretending to be frantic.

When I set her down, still giggling, she promptly changed her clothes, only pausing to say, “Mom, you’re the best mom in the world.” Her words unexpectedly touched my heart. You see, our spunky five-year-old joined our family only 14 months ago through adoption. Seeing her genuine, life-is-good smile was a strong reminder of how important it is for me to just have fun with her.

The truth is that these types of “fun mom moments” haven’t come as naturally to me as I had hoped. I am thankful I’m learning this about myself now, so early on in the motherhood journey. Although my momma experience is limited, I discovered pretty quickly that I had lost touch with my silly side; I took myself too seriously. I took my schedule, my to-do list, even my need for balance too seriously. I needed to lighten up. I still do.

I’ve always known that I’m not the most laid-back person, but motherhood seemed to make me even more tense, more controlling, less able to enjoy the moment. I couldn’t be silly because I was too worried about making it through whatever task we were doing. Time to brush your teeth, time to clean up, time to learn—even play became another item on the to-do list.

Maybe seriousness was my default response because I felt the weight of parenting this precious little one and the responsibility of teaching and guiding her, and I was deeply afraid of failing. Or perhaps it was my deep awareness of the loss, grief, and brokenness that is wrapped up in every adoption story. Maybe this is what caused me to tighten up and overdo my serious adult persona.

Through prayer and brutally honest feedback from my husband, the message finally started to sink in: “Jenny, chill out. Get over yourself. Stop clinging to fear and control and have fun.” I am learning that this advice is critical, not only to finding joy in parenting, but also to being a present and effective mom. In their book The Connected Child, Karyn B. Purvis and David R. Cross strongly advocate playful engagement as a way to build trust and deep connection with children. Their advice especially rings true for kiddos like mine who have come from hard places on their foster/adoption journey and have difficulty connecting with and attaching to adults. Purvis and Cross encourage adoptive parents with the truth that “play allows you to safely touch the heart of a vulnerable child. Shared silliness, laughter, and games all demonstrate to a child that you mean no harm . . . and the pathway gets cleared for trust and learning.”

Play has been such an important part of my motherhood journey; it has been the secret ingredient in bonding with my daughter and breaking down my own fear and need to control. It’s crucial to her healing and is a huge part of what will open the door for me to teach her and guide her to become the woman I know she was made to be.

Now I’m learning how to play again, how to laugh when my daughter balances her spoon on her nose instead of immediately correcting her for not being an expert utensil user. I’ve learned to be okay with changing my clothes five times a day and taking two showers—even to be thankful for this, because those extra wardrobe changes meant we had been making mud pies and hunting for potato bugs. I’m learning to ditch my flawless schedule, laugh more, and nitpick less. I’m finding my silly side again. Of course, I still have days where I fail and find myself locked into “serious-mom mode.” But it’s getting easier. As the days go by, I’m getting better at inviting my silly side to the party. And my whole family is laughing more because of it.