When I Grow Up

It’s Not About the Wine, The Problem With Mommy Wine Culture

I’ve admired Celeste Yvonne’s writing for years, so when she asked for help launching her first book, It’s Not About the Wine, The Loaded Truth Behind Mommy Wine Culture, I was quick to sign up. I couldn’t say what I expected, but it wasn’t this. A genre-bender that expertly weaves memoir, self-help and social commentary, this book convincingly makes the case that we, as a society, need to do better.

The author shares her story as a recovering alcoholic, explaining how and why she stopped drinking. She makes no excuses for her own behavior, but points out an unfortunate truth: “alcohol often overpowers the strongest, highest achievers.  … [T]he pressure to drink in work and social settings can override any sensible effort to take care of ourselves.”

Celeste rightfully, takes issue with “mommy wine culture” and explores its deep, dark origins. She argues that moms often bear the brunt of the mental load in families They often feel isolated and inadequate (this is particularly true for first-time moms and those experiencing PPD) and may turn to alcohol (a legal drug) to help cope. While society does acknowledge that parenting can be hard, there are few resources available for those who are truly struggling.

A couple generations ago, people joked about “mother’s little helper;” today there are an abundance of “Mommy needs a drink” memes. Of course, there are problems with this narrative. It encourages us to treat depression and anxiety with a depressant. It also can contribute to relationship and self-esteem issues as well as depression and anxiety in our children. Who wants to hear that a parent needs to drink in order to cope with their (age-appropriate) childish behaviors.

Throughout the book, the author shares her experiences with alcohol and her journey to sobriety. She admits to having worries about being around other people when she first stopped drinking. She thought she’d be considered a “Betty Buzzkill,” and that people wouldn’t want to spend time with her.  She expressed surprise at her discovery that some people stopped at one or two drinks, that not everyone who drank was “out to get blitzed every chance they got.”

While her personal experiences are the heart of this book, the author also includes stories of other women who struggled with their alcohol use. But this is not simply a collection of stories. She has also done her research. I these pages can be found information on credible studies not only about alcohol abuse but also eating disorders, depression and anxiety, all of which often co-exist.

I am not the target audience for this book, but I have known and loved several problem drinkers, and see truth in what she has written. While I used to laugh at the jokes, I too came to the conclusion that I don’t want my children believing they would actually “drive me to drink.” I applaud Celeste Yvonne foe being brave enough to challenge these “norms” and step out into the open to encourage other moms to do the same.

This book is a valuable resource for any woman (and perhaps some men) questioning their drinking habits, who is sober curious, and/or who is looking for support on their journey to sobriety. It should also serve as a call to action for a society that has done too little to support parents during a time that can be among the happiest and most challenging periods of their lives. For those who are struggling, this book presents a clear, encouraging message from someone who’s been there: “sobriety wasn’t a punishment. … sobriety was the reward.”

New Book Promotes Teaching Children Theory of Mind

In their new book, The Emotionally Intelligent Child, Rachael Katz, MS. ED and Helen Shwe Hadani, PhD address the challenge parents have in helping their children develop the social and emotional skills they will need to be successful in life.

While the idea of emotional intelligence has been the subject of research since the 1950s, it is only recently that the term has become part of our parenting “dictionary.” Understanding and naming emotions is important, and involves multiple skills that are learned on a scale which can largely be dependent on one’s developmental level.

The authors assert that “the ability to view a situation from different perspectives forms the core of emotional intelligence because it helps us make sense of others’ thoughts, feelings and actions.” In this book, they recommend teaching Theory of Mind to children. While this is a complex idea for small children, the authors say that this will help children have awareness of their own mental states as well as an understanding that others’ mental states may be different than theirs (while also influencing the mental states of others).

The book presents new ways of thinking about challenging parenting moments – ones that focus on the child’s needs rather than the parent’s discomfort and suggests ways to identify the best times to address behavioral issues. It also offers tips and techniques to help children learn about internal and relationship conflicts and how to manage them. Recognizing that this does not come naturally to all parents, the authors include practical strategies that will be easy to implement in real-life situations.

Importantly, the authors remind parents to pause and consider whether their children’s behavior is developmentally appropriate, i.e. is your child capable of doing/understanding what you are asking of them? They want to help you “parent more patiently and proactively while simultaneously fostering your child’s emotional balance and social awareness.”

New Book Is a Beautiful Love Letter To Mothers Everywhere

So God Made a Mother, the first (because it’s so good there have to be more coming soon) book of compiled essays by Leslie Means, is about, for and written by (mostly) mothers. The collection of nearly 100 essays is divided into chapters: Tender, Proud, Known, Strong, Faithful, Worthy, Unforgettable, Beautiful, each with an introduction written by Means.

This book shows motherhood in all its glory and struggle. Writers share their stories of grief and joy, success and failure, hopes and fears. It is in turn, sweet, evocative and raw. Here you will find stories about parenting, marriage, self-discovery, and so much more. This thoughtfully curated collection will bring smiles, laughs, and likely some tears. It’s not a stretch to say it is for anyone who is, has, or loves a mother.

Full disclosure: many of the writers included in the collection are women I call friends. We found each other through our words, through a Facebook group associated with a once-small website, Her View From Home. I knew none of these women before my first piece was published there, way back in 2016. Since then, I have come to the realization that internet friends most certainly can be real friends and have met many of these women in real life. We have laughed together, cried together, eaten many tacos and drank a lot of coffee. We have shared stories and supported each other on both a professional and personal level. We have become each other’s’ “people.” Even knowing many of their stories, their words in this beautiful book still evoke strong emotions, because, yes, they are also amazing writers.

If you like to read essay collections, particularly about moms, you will enjoy this book. You won’t find my words there (I didn’t submit an essay for consideration), but you will learn more about some of my dear friends. And you will find that they definitely have words worth sharing.

Note: While I did receive an electronic preview copy of the book, I also purchased a hard copy (which is how I actually read it). There was no compensation for this review, the thoughts and opinions are purely my own. – KY

How to Beat Writer’s Block and Have a Better Life

Overcoming Writer’s Block, The Writer’s Guide to Beating the Blank Page by Marcy Pusey is much more than a book on writing; it is a book on the “psychology of creative blocks” that will help the reader understand how he or she works and learns best.  The book explores common reasons people get stuck, delves into the brain science behind these reasons, and offers practical ways to move forward.

The author emphasizes throughout that each person, and their story matters, and deserves to be heard. Her approach is holistic; she shows that creative blocks can stem from physiological issues as well as psychological ones. She explains how writer’s block can take on different forms and lists five different types. A chapter is dedicated to explaining each type, and useful suggestions are offered to overcome these challenges.

The reader learns more about how the brain works (which is fully subconscious) and how we can retrain our brains to be more effective, not only in our writing, but also in our lives. The author recognizes that solutions are not “one size fits all” and encourages the reader to explore their own lives and habits to determine which methods will work best.

While not overly academic, each chapter gives us the chance to “geek out on the brain,” and learn how powerful our subconscious is. We then get to “look under the hood” to learn what changes we can make to be more efficient, and are offered “pro tips,” or actionable advice we can use to make our writing the best it can be.

This is much more than another “how to write” book. While it does offer helpful advice on getting words on paper, it also encourages self-reflection and shows the importance of healthy thought patterns that can improve our self-image and better our lives.

Note: Though a digital copy was provided free of charge, no compensation was provided for this review. It is the honest opinion of the writer. KY

Help Kids Cope With Grief With the Heaven Phone

All children will at some time deal with death. This may be a pet or a human, someone close to them or close to one of their friends. Parents often worry about how to help their children cope with very big feelings, especially if they have big feelings of their own. The Heaven Phone by Sydnei Kaplan may be just what they need.

A charming and useful picture book written in rhyme, it reassures us that death doesn’t have to stop us from sharing our thoughts and words. We don’t even have to speak the words out loud to talk to people in heaven – we need only to think or talk with our hearts to feel their presence. Any phone can become a “heaven phone” to maintain a connection with loved ones who are gone, even when those loved ones are unable to speak back.

Kaplan shares in her dedication that the book was inspired by her daughter, who coined the phrase “heaven phone” while she was seeking a way to talk to her grandmother who died when she was very young. The author states outright that the book reflects her spiritual beliefs, though adult readers can easily adapt it if needed to better match their own beliefs. She has thoughtfully also included conversation starters and suggested activities that offer additional ways to help children (and perhaps ourselves) work through grief.

We all deal with the complicated emotions surrounding death at some point. This book can provide comfort and spark meaningful conversations for people of all ages. It would be a worthwhile addition to any family bookshelf.

Note: An advance reader copy was provided free of charge, but no compensation was provided for this review, which expresses the honest view of the writer. KY

Welcome to the Jungle of Motherhood

Though I am closer to being a grandmother than a new mother, I found much to relate to in Welcome to the Jungle. In this engaging memoir, Anneliese Lawton shares her experiences as a wife and mother through high-risk pregnancies, health scares and postpartum depression. The author is honest, funny and refreshingly blunt in revealing truths that many don’t talk about:  Marriage is hard. Motherhood is hard. These new roles cause most women to struggle with their identity.

While the target audience for this book is millennial women, as a Gen Xer, I am impressed with Lawton’s openness and wish someone had been brave enough to write such a book a generation ago. While it appears things have not changed as much as we might like, I marvel at this generation of feisty moms who seem to have figured out, long before middle age, that being REAL is healthy. Lawton speaks openly and honestly about life challenges, allowing herself to be vulnerable while assuring others that none of us really has it all together.

In talking about  motherhood, marriage, and mental health in today’s world, Lawton shows the struggles unique to millennial moms who grew up in a post-feminist movement world; one that claims to be inclusive and fair but isn’t quite there yet.  It may come as a surprise to GenX readers that perhaps even more than their own mothers, today’s young moms are struggling – they still feel like they can and should do it all and feel that doing less is failure.

Lawton is critical of a society that expects mothers to put everyone else’s needs above their own, then criticizes a woman when she breaks. Despite the strides women have made in the past fifty years, it’s a sad commentary that woman are still expected to “look put together more … do a little nap-time hustle to help pay for the family vacation,” all while “having sex more, and dancing with our kids more, and laughing more, and simply being more.” She proclaims, “Balance is bulls@!t.”

She goes on to give some excellent life advice: Asking for help is necessary, if not for yourself, for your children and your marriage. “It takes a village,” she says.” But the village doesn’t work unless you say ‘yes.’ As much as the village can see you struggling and exhausted and deserving of a nap, they can’t force their way into your home.”

While everyone’s experiences are different ( for example, not every couple starts a family right after marriage — what Lawton refers to as having “signed up for the stressful as f@*k starter pack”), there is something in this book that all moms will relate to. You will time travel to the days after bringing baby home, which “was like a tourist attraction for weeks” with family and friends showing up to see the little star attraction, while mom grew to feel more and more invisible. You will remember how your relationship with your spouse changed after becoming a parent. And you’ll nod along (and maybe chuckle) as you’re reminded that little about raising children is what you expected when you were childless; the mom you become rarely measures up the image of the mom you thought you’d be. Lawton seems to fully embrace these truths, with a warning for parents-to-be: “If you have nice things, expect there to be boogers on them.”

Note: An advance copy of this book was provided free of charge, but no compensation was made for this review. It is the honest opinion of the writer. KY

Learning The Truth About Frogs

Did you know that all toads are frogs (but not all frogs are toads)?

Or that frogs have a lot to say, but few actually say “Ribbit?”

Or that it’s important that frogs blink when they eat?

Ribbit! The Truth About Frogs by Annette Whipple shares these facts plus a whole lot more. This book, part of a series of “Truth About” various animals not only shares fun froggy facts, but also offers ways to find frogs in the wild. It addresses the importance of doing your homework before bringing a frog into your home as a pet and separates the fact from fiction in frog lore.

Full of delightful photographs and color illustrations accompanied by frog commentary, Ribbit! would be equally at home in a classroom or on a child’s home bookshelf. For those who want more truth about frogs, the author has put together an educator guide of activities to keep frog aficionados busy for hours. (Guides for owls and spiders, also part of the “Truth About” series are also available at the author’s website.)

Note: Though an advance digital copy of this book was provided free of charge, no compensation was made for this review and the opinions are exclusively mine. KY

Living an Ordinary Life, on Purpose

In our Pinterest-perfect world, the last thing most people will admit to is being ordinary. Instead, we strive to be more, have more. Our Facebook feeds are filled with highlight reels. We see the exciting lives of our “friends,” some of whom we might not engage with regularly in real life. But think about it:  isn’t it in the ordinary that we derive the most satisfaction? Isn’t it the “ordinary” things that bring us joy?

Mikala Albertson certainly thinks so. In her book Ordinary on Purpose, she lays out a convincing case for embracing the ordinary. She reveals personal details about her life and her marriage that are unimaginable to many. A victim of abuse as a child and wife of a recovering addict, Albertson doesn’t sugarcoat life’s challenges. Instead, she confronts them head on, with cautious optimism, despite her doubts.

While the book relates her struggles, as a wife, a med student and new mother, it also shows her resilience, and the strong influence of her faith. She admits to getting caught up in the unattainable search for perfection and talks about her epiphany: discovering that the things she loved most were everyday, dare we say it, “ordinary” events.

While we may not relate to her specific experiences, all of us can learn from Albertson’s journey to self-acceptance.  She talks about the need we, as humans, feel to be part of the inner Circle (whatever group that may look like in our lives) then reveals a secret, one that many of us need to hear: The Circle isn’t real. There’s no one inside. We’re all on the outside.

In revealing her personal struggles, Mikala Albertson encourages the rest of us to be honest with ourselves, as she has, and to set aside the pursuit of perfection. This book clearly shows us that true joy in life in found in the ordinary. Doesn’t it then make sense to embrace the ordinary, on purpose?

Note: Though an advance digital copy of this book was provided free of charge, no compensation was made for this review and the opinions are exclusively mine. KY

Discovering Beauty and Purpose While Hiking the John Muir Trail

The Trail by Ethan Gallogly, PhD, is a novel, but it reads like a memoir. A sort of On the Road for the Thru-Hike crowd, the book tells the story of Gil, a young man who has agreed to accompany his late father’s good friend, Syd, (who is dying of cancer) on his quest to complete the John Muir Trail. The two face struggles on the trail and meet a number of interesting characters. As is true with any great undertaking, both discover something new, about themselves and each other.

From the start, the reader sees that Gil is no camper, or even hiker. His gear is all purchased shortly before this trip and he is a bit dismissive when others try to advise him. As the novel starts, readers of A Walk in the Woods may expect this to be another story of a hapless hiker and things gone wrong; while the reader does get some laughs at Gil’s expense, the story quickly moves in another direction. The book is not so much a tale of a hike, but of the trail and the characters, both of whom are searching for meaning in their lives, even if they don’t recognize it themselves.  Their interactions with others over the course of a month are intermittent but influential; these other characters’ stories become intertwined with Gil and Syd’s stories as they meet up again and again.

The Trail is the story of inter-generational friendship, personal growth, facing ones darkest fears, and discovering oneself. Presented as a daily hiking log, the book also tells the reader about the history and geography of the John Muir Trail and its surroundings. The text drifts into the didactic at times, but since the character doing the telling is a retired professor, it somehow works.

Line drawings by Jeremy Ashcroft complement each chapter and give the reader a visual, making it clear how much of an accomplishment each day of the hike truly is. The book is very much an entertaining read that will make you want to visit, if not thru-hike one of America’s treasures: the John Muir Trail.

Note: A digital copy of this book was provided free of charge for review. No compensation was provided; the opinions are that of the writer.

Journaling Together: A Simple, Yet Novel Mother-Daughter Bonding Experience

A little backstory – Sometimes we see a Facebook post that speaks to us. It may be the topic, the writing style or a combination of both. This may lead to following (or “liking”) said person so that we continue to see more of their posts. Several years ago, I discovered the blog and Facebook page “Playdates on Friday, by Whitney Fleming.” I liked the author’s approachable style and topics. Some time after, we both landed in the same online writers group. Shortly after that, we met in person at a writers’ retreat where I learned that Whitney is the real deal. We became friends.

When your friend writes and publishes a book, you read it. When I heard about Whitney’s first book, Gratitude Journal for Teen Girls and Moms: Shared Prompts for Connection and Joy, I thought it was a sweet idea, even if it wasn’t the sort of book I usually buy. I’m also not the target audience (or so I thought). My kids are grown but this book sounded like something my sister and teen niece might enjoy.

Not only am I “beyond” the target audience, I am not a consistent journal writer. I’ve used a journal on occasion – I kept a diary fairly regularly as a teen, but as a rule, I don’t make it a habit. I’ll also add that I am generally resistant to journal prompts. But every book has its audience, and it’s not always me. I knew I could look at this book and give an honest review.

To my surprise, I LOVE this book. The prompts are varied, from quick and easy fill-in-the-blank type questions to introspective ones that invite longer, more thoughtful responses. Whitney has also cleverly inserted opportunities for mom and daughter to put in their own responses, then respond to each other’s answers. My favorite of these asks each how and why they are proud of each other.

The book opens with short instructions, basically telling you to “do you. ” It stresses flexibility, a much needed attribute in today’s over-stressed and over-scheduled world. The purpose of this journal is to share thoughts and ideas that will help you grow closer. Moms will get insights into what their daughters are thinking and feeling; they’ll learn about what it means to be a teen today. Daughters will learn that Mom understands more than they realize; she may not have walked in their shoes, but once wore a pair very similar. As a family historian, I see more value in this book. I imagine years from now many women will treasure these journals and perhaps share them with the next generation.

Honestly, my only issue with the book is the title. I feel this book has value for any mother/daughter combination. While teen references are scattered throughout the book, most of the prompts apply to everyone (even sons!). And those that specifically reference the teen years can easily be adapted to young adults. In fact, I asked my three adult daughters to take this journaling journey with me. Perhaps soon three altered-cover copies of this book (with an X over the word “teen” – or maybe taped over with each girl’s name in its place) will make frequent appearances on my desk. Maybe I can be a journal-er after all.

Note: I received a complimentary advance reader copy of this book, but no compensation was provided for this review. It is the honest opinion of the writer. KY